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An aspect of hobby researching

Henry Elkins own up

It serves anyone with a hobby interest well to remember two things, i.e. that:

Firstly – it wise to keep your feet on the ground and remain humble. No matter how much you read or research, there are bound to be hundreds of others, of similar tastes and interests, who have been at it longer than you – and probably more diligently, even to the point of single-minded obsession – many of whom will have probably forgotten more than you will ever know.

Nobody can ever know everything, of course, but the message is that, for the sake of both credibility and peace of mind, it is best to avoid arrogance and bombast as regards your chosen subject, especially when public speaking. You never know who might be in the audience and some of them might – intentionally or otherwise – ‘show you up’ when and if it comes to question-time.

Secondly – and this is almost an antidote to the above – in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

As no doubt innumerable schoolmasters down the ages have found – e.g. when suddenly handed the task of teaching a new subject with which they are unfamiliar – as long as you are at least one chapter in the text-book ahead of your charges, you have a half-decent chance of keeping your head above water. This may not do a great deal for your stress levels or blood pressure, mind, but it’s worth remembering.

On a personal level, my own hobby interest is Edwardian society, including sport, through to 1918 – the conclusion of World War One.

In this context, I have joined several organised’ guided tour’ parties, and made many research trips of my own, to WW1 battlefields. On the very first of these, I learned the first of my above ‘things to remember’, with bells on.

Seated in front of me on the coach on our three-day trip was a mild, thirty-something, administrative clerk from Portsmouth City Council who – from just looking at a copy of a faded black and white photograph of a soldier – could not only identify his regiment and rank, but the year the photograph was taken and whether or not he had been decorated or wounded, all just from the badges (and the positions of the buttons) on his uniform.

This was at a point where I was still struggling to guess the soldier’s nationality, never mind anything else.

As an illustration of the second of my ‘things to remember’ – i.e. don’t entirely underestimate the value of at least some knowledge, if you have it – I can cite the fact that, on two occasions, I have been contacted by people researching Edwardian sport on the recommendation of no less an authority than Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, where – on and off over four years or so – I had spent several weeks researching a specific project.

Furthermore, perhaps surprisingly, I was able to field and answer their queries!

All the above is a preamble to my point today.

Trawling around the website of The Independent this morning, I came across an article by John Lichfield on the subject of Christmas a hundred years ago – the last before World War One began – see here – THE INDEPENDENT

asquithA perfectly serviceable piece in its way but, as I was reading it (with my hobby interest hat on) one particular statement grated with me.

In a reference to Raymond Asquith, the highly-talented eldest son of the Prime Minister who was killed on the Somme in September 1916, the writer gave his age at death as 27.

I can understand how the mistake was made. Raymond Asquith was regarded as an outstanding member of WW1’s ‘Lost Flower of Youth’, but in fact he wasn’t that young.

Her was born on 6th November 1878 and was 37 when he died (in fact, nearly 38), not 27.

It’s the kind of detail that – inevitably – only an ‘anorak’ would pick up. But then, as ‘Britain 1900 to 1918’ is a hobby interest of mine, I suppose I qualify as one. The things is, however, that this simple tiny error, buried deep in this Independent article, rather spoiled its overall effect for me.

I hope, dear reader, you can understand that …


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About Henry Elkins

A keen researcher of family ancestors, Henry will be reporting on the centenary of World War One. More Posts