In the window of a local charity shop is a silver locket. I walk past the shop most days, but today something catches my eye and makes me go back for another look. The locket is priced at £8, and is battered, with a mismatched chain, but what attracts my attention is that it still has old photographs in it. On a whim, I go into the charity shop and buy the locket. The volunteer seems a bit bemused about why I am so sure I want this particular piece, but I feel that I can’t simply walk by and leave it there – this was someone’s life, someone’s loves, someone’s history, and it’s too sad to just let it go. I decide to write about it.
I like detective work, and my partner is an experienced researcher, so between us we should be able to find out a bit about the locket and its history. First of all, I clean it up and repair the chain. The locket is stamped ‘Silver’, not hallmarked or marked 925, but that’s perfectly usual for small 20th century British silver items and doesn’t help us much. The chain is newer and not such good quality as the locket, which is machine engraved and quite heavy.
Inside, there are three photographs – a middle-aged man on the left, and a middle-aged woman on the right with another photograph half tucked behind it. With the tip of a penknife I carefully prize the clear plastic cover off the right hand side, and take out the photographs. The middle-aged woman (let’s call her Mum) is standing in front of a sash window, which has net curtains. If this is her home, she probably cursed when she saw the photograph, because the curtains aren’t hanging straight! She’s wearing a striped dress with a wide, white collar, fastened with a brooch, possibly a cameo (my partner tells me that the style is 1930s or 1940s, as is the man’s shirt collar). She smiles gently, straight into the camera lens.
The photograph which is tucked behind Mum is of a young woman, perhaps in her teens, with a dark wavy bob. She is side on to the camera, and looking down – the photograph is cropped, so we can’t see what she’s looking at – something in her hands? A book? A kitten? A flower that she has picked? This one is also outdoors, but on a path beside an old building with trees and what looks like creeper. The sun is shining. Is this her home, or is she on a day out somewhere?
I wield the penknife blade again, this time on the left hand side, and remove the photograph. I turn it over, and this time I’m in luck – there’s faint pencil writing on it. ‘Dad Taken L……. 1939’. My partner was right about the dating. It’s really frustrating that the location is so faint and impossible to read, despite my efforts to digitally enhance my photograph – if you can make it out, please contact me! Dad has a moustache and round spectacles. He wears a white shirt, a tie with broad stripes, and a waistcoat. Like Mum, he’s standing in front of a sash window, although it’s hard to tell if it’s the same location – the frames certainly look similar. He is dark, too, much thinner than her, and with a serious expression. The reflections in his glasses mean we can’t see his eyes.
Who were they? Is the girl with the dark hair the owner of the locket, or maybe her sister? Posing for the camera in his shirtsleeves in the summer of 1939, in the calm before the storm, little does Dad know that only a few weeks later the country will be at war again. He is old enough to have served in WWI, but too old for active service in WWII – he will likely go into the Home Guard, or be an ARP warden. Mum will have to grapple with rationing, clothing coupons, and making sure that not a chink of light shows through those net-curtained windows. The girl will be old enough by the end of the war, if not at the beginning, to serve in the forces or the Land Army, or to do a job vacated by a man who is away fighting. If the photographs are from near where I found the locket, in Norfolk, she may fall for one of the American airmen at a local base. Did these people, and the house, make it through the war, or was this locket worn as a memorial when all that was left was the rubble of an air raid? Was the locket loved and cherished, worn daily until arthritic hands could no longer manage the clasp? How did it get so battered, almost as if it has been trodden underfoot? And eight decades on, how did this precious memento of the summer of 1939 and three people’s lives end up, unloved and unwanted, in a charity shop in Norfolk?
If you know who the people in these photographs are, please get in touch! And please share this post on social media, so that as many people as possible can see it and maybe we can solve this mystery together.