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8 Jan 2018

A treasured family photographic postcard

A much-loved postcard
 Just old enough to remain still enough for a studio photo, the little boy in the centre of this photo is my father aged nearly three.  He is pictured here with his family in a photographic postcard from a professional studio in Southampton during World War 1.

In my Tucker family shoebox, I had three copies of this photo, all of them well-preserved and treasured by their original owners.  And to my irritation, the photo had no date inscribed.
One of the reproduced and precious copies.

However, it was not until 12 months ago that I first saw this copy.  My cousin Philip Davis's widow had sent it to me in a bundle of his ancestral photos.  This copy was different: much crumpled and formatted in the popular postcard format.

Photographic postcards like this can tell us a great deal about our ancestors and the times in which they lived.  This photo was taken at Applin's Photographic Studio, 8B Commercial Road, Southampton in England's south-east.  In 1917, there were 28 photographers in the town.  Applin's studio was one of a handful of High Street studio photographers.  George Augustus Applin (1873-1944( was Southampton born and bred like the subjects in this photograph so was likely to be trusted.

His studio was well situated in Commercial Road, then as now one of the major retail and commercial sections of Southampton.  He had commenced work from home in the 1890s, established a studio in Victoria Terrace in 1904 and moved to Commercial Road, ideally located next to tearooms in 1916.

This was a time when the middle class could take their own photos using a box brownie.  The Eastman Company's Box Brownie cost only $1 in America, affordable by this family.

However, this photo was too important to trust to amateurs.  They wanted a studio photo.  It was not the first time the family had used a professional studio, usually Edwarde Photo Studios in St Marys Road, Southampton.

Photographic postcards were very popular during World War 1 when this photo was taken.  This one is a sepia photograph with no other markings on the front, produced from a negative and printed straight onto photographic cardboard, probably stock produced.  The back is identified as a Post Card with a square to place the stamp and the left half for correspondence and the right side for the address - no different from today - exactly 100 years later.  The identified studio appears to be ink stamped on the side.  The typeface is lighter than the other wording.

The photo is 13.5cm height by 8.5cm width with rounded corners.  It is far more creased and worn than other copies of the photo.  It is a family photo of a soldier in British Army dress uniform and the other family members in their best clothes.

The family comprises Sydney George Tucker (1882-1919), his wife Edith Annie Tucker nee Reed (1884-1973) and their children Jessie Agnes (1908-1927) on the left, Cecily Mary (1910-1999) on the right and Robert Sydney George Tucker (1914-2011), my father, standing on the chair leaning against his mother.  Sydney has his hand on Jessie's arm.  It is a very formal pose, as befitted the solemnity of the occasion.  A plant stand appears in the background; otherwise, the background is plain.

The photo is dated 22 April 1917 and all birthdates are listed so we know exactly how old each member of the family is. The postcard section also notes the date the couple became sweethearts (Edith's 14th birthday), their engagement date (the night before her 21st birthday) and their marriage date in 1907.  The scribe, mother Edith, writes with ink and probably through tears: only she, and possibly elder daughter Jessie knew something of Syd's imminent departure.

It was a record of the family at a momentous occasion: for the first time, the head of the family was going away for a long time to a place of great danger.  They all wanted a record of this moment and an item to remind him of the family and them of him.

A former dedicated member of the Volunteer Rifle Service, Hampshire Regiment and the Territorials, Syd Tucker had joined up in November 1915 but had been based at home until late 1916.  As a 33-year-old family man, he was mature enough to not rush into war, despite his love of his military activities - much competitive cycling and shooting and comradery.

The crumpled nature of this postcard and its wording suggest that this was the very copy of the photograph that Syd carried with him throughout 1917 at Passchendaele and other significant battles until he was badly wounded and repatriated in December that year.

Subsequently, he was an in-patient at the Southampton War Hospital and later at Pankhurst on the Isle of Wight where the postcard probably accompanied him. It was later returned to Edith after his far-too-early and tragic death in April 1919.

NOTE: The substance of this post was first researched and written for an assignment in the unit Photos, Images and Objects in the Diploma of Family History at the University of Tasmania, 2017.

[1] Kelly’s Directory (Southampton) Classified Trades Directory Nursing Institutions to Yeast Merchants http://www.plimsoll.org/images/30078c_tcm4-145793.pdf pp783-4, Accessed 9 May 2017
[2] S.K May, ‘Southampton Victorian Photographers: George Augustus Applin‘ http://www.southamptonvictorianphotographers.org/applin-augustus-george.html Accessed 9 May 2017
[3] Kelly’s (Southampton) Directory 1916-17 Street Listing Clarendon Road to Holt Road http://www.plimsoll.org/images/30074b_tcm4-144053.pdf  p 116, Accessed 9 May 2017
[5] Tony Allen ‘Real photographic postcards from the Great War 1914-1918 ‘https://www.worldwar1postcards.com/real-photographic-ww1-postcards.php Accessed 10 May 2017


  1. What a wonderful memento. The reproductions just don't evoke the same things as the well travelled photo. I wonder if Sydney kept it in his breast pocket close to his heart?

  2. What a wonderful photo. But so much more. So much vital information to glean. Great post

    1. Thank you Pauline. Much of this I learned through the UTAS unit called Photos, Images and Objects.

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  4. Great feedback thanks Margaret. We were tossing up not doing that unit. It is so hard to decide which one to leave out

  5. G'day Margaret,
    Thought I recognized the format of our final assignment for PIO at UTAS.

    You did a great amount of research and are very lucky to have the original and the copies.

    1. I sure am Sue. I love researching about Southampton. My dad's ancestors lived there for 200 years. M.