Harry Belson was born in East Ham in 1892. His father, Robert, was a publican from a farming family in the Norfolk Broadlands and his mother, Matilda Tomkins, came from a Welsh family who had settled in Kent to work at the Woolwich Arsenal. Grandpa Harry grew up in Braintree, Essex, but the family had also lived in Eynsford and St. Mary Cray in the years before the outbreak of World War I.
When I was growing up, visits to spend a few days with my maternal grandparents in the Essex village of Gosfield formed an essential part of Easter, summer, or half-term holidays.
Amongst my favourite memories are the gentle walks with my Grandpa to visit local landmarks, along the way hearing stories from his own childhood in rural Essex and Kent, his commentary on current topics such as industrialised farming, and learning about his service with a field ambulance corps during the First World War.
Many years later, as his only grandchild, I came to inherit Harry’s collection of old books, and a box or two of other artefacts, including the old Kodak photograph wallets in which I discovered contact prints of photographs from his campaigns in WWI, along with crisp greaseproof wraps enclosing the celluloid negatives.
It has weighed on my mind for some years that if I didn’t tell this story no one else would, and that while the photographs might end up in the appropriate archive the personal story behind them would be lost forever.
The archive photographs in this blog are all scanned from the contact prints, and the accompanying narrative taken from handwritten notes on the back of the prints, in the margins of regimental histories, and on campaign maps. The negatives are safely packed away in a metal box, awaiting more expert advice on how their contents should be preserved for posterity.
Demob and Civilian Life
Harry Belson was demobilised in June 1919, returning to his family home in Braintree. His war record was tacitly recognised in civilian life where he was offered the post of solicitor’s clerk in the local law firm of Holmes & Hills. He married my grandmother in the early 1920s and their only daughter – my mother, Barbara – was born in 1923. The family moved to Halstead where my grandfather ran the firm’s branch office until his retirement following a heart attack in 1960. Happily he recovered fully and lived long enough to celebrate my coming of age in 1975.
© Paul Barham, February 2018