Hi, I’m Molly the Heritage Graduate Trainee. I have been working on the HLF Service Scrapbooks project. This revolves around ten nurses who created scrapbooks and wrote diaries detailing their lives in the First World War. They are such brilliant documents. The scrapbooks were owned by a nurse and passed around to the people she encountered. The books have contributions from nurses and soldiers from Australia to America, Ireland to India. Each one of them captures a unique experience of wartime through poetry, paint and a few jokes. Every time you carefully turn their restored pages you find something new. A century old riddle can still have me puzzled (can you figure out what the cryptic ‘YYUR YYUB ICURYY4ME’ means?) and an old joke can still make me crack a smile –
Two in a hammock
Attempted to kiss
In less than a minute
sıɥʇ ǝʞıl pǝpuɐl ʎǝɥʇ
With HLF funding we have been able to conserve and digitise these precious books, with the end goal of having a web resource to host them on. This resource will also include biographies of each nurse – including every scrap of information and any hidden secrets we can find about them.
I realise I have been using ‘we’ and you may be unsure who this refers to. I will take this opportunity to introduce you to the fantastic HLF VOLUNTEERS (I wanted this to be in sparkly letters but I couldn’t work out how to do that). One of the loveliest part of this job is working with the RCN Members who volunteered to help us. There is a small army of them (36 to be precise) helping us with everything. As I write Jayne Knill is opposite me furiously tapping away at a transcription.
Transcription is the stage the stage we are currently up to. The books have been conserved and we have spent a few months digitising them. Using the pages we have beautifully, carefully, painstakingly digitised we are now transcribing from them, transferring each illegible word to a legible typed document. This is quite a lengthy process – we have nearly 1000 pages to do in total – but with the help from my number one nursing squad we have managed to transcribe nearly a third of that already. Don’t be deceived by how quickly we have done this, it can be very tricky.
My number one tip for palaeography (a great word – feel free to use it, see if you can work it into a conversation today) is to remember that people in the past are just as prone to mistakes as we are today. The texts we are deciphering are littered in spelling mistakes and bad punctuation, all of which can make it difficult to get at their meaning. I really don’t know how people in the past had the patience to read letters from people with bad handwriting. Props to them. The pages above from Carter’s book really tripped us up by having both terrible handwriting and being in another language – possibly German? If there are any willing translators out there we’d be grateful if you could tell us what it says.
Another top tip is to remember you can make mistakes too, so go back and check! Due to my misinterpretation of a few letters I almost gave one poor soul syphilis instead of typhoid. Asking someone else what they think a word is can save a transcription from such grisly errors. Once we have every single word documented we will be moving on to indexing – recording the names of every person mentioned in the scrapbooks. Hopefully this will help a few family historians find long-lost relatives. Wish us luck!