A Bridge in France, maybe!
When E. Le Deley of Paris published this postcard, no title appeared on the card to reveal the location of the scene. The card was mailed to England in October 1917. The LeDeley firm was founded by the photographer Ernest Louis Désiré le Deley (1859–1917). The company was a major publisher of heliotype, black-and-white postcards. Le Deley’s sons succeeded him and successfully continued in business until a 1930 bankruptcy.
This card has been added to my World War One collection. It was one of 39 that were posted by Private Jack Thorpe to Miss Hards, The Hall, Ashford, Bakewell, Derbyshire, England between 1915 and 1919. Each card carries an army censor mark and many also have army or field post office marks. The images are incidental, the appeal is the social history aspect in a years-long correspondence.
This card – as do most – has a routine message, “Sunday. Dear M, It’s a lovely day here, have been out all afternoon. I’d rather be where you are now for all that. Did you get a P/C posted Friday – Fondest love J.”
My first “search point” was the 1911 census. I found Walter Hards living at “The Gardens, Ashford Hall.” He is a 50-year-old gardener living with his wife Elizabeth, Annie a 13-year-old daughter (who was much too young for “Fondest Love” postcards), and Harold an eight-year-old son. This was a good find but when I remembered the greeting, “Dear M,” I realized my search was not complete. I would have to go back to the 1901 census to find a daughter whose first initial was “M.”
The 1901 census recorded Walter and Elizabeth at the same home with three daughters, one of which was Margaret. By 1915 – the start of the correspondence – Margaret would have been 21 years of age and ‘Fondest love’ would seem more appropriate. “Dear M” was found to be Margaret.
To learn more about Margaret, I returned to the 1911 census and found a 17-year-old Margaret living with Samuel William Dunn (a clergyman) and his family at the vicarage in Ashley where she is a servant. It wasn’t an easy find. Her surname was listed as Hords.
While the person who mailed this card only signed as ‘J’ I knew from other cards that he was Private J. Thorpe or Jack and was with the 6 S F. The 6 S F I took to be the 6th battalion of the Sherwood Foresters. The Sherwood Foresters were also known as the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment.
I was looking through the cards for other clues and found one where Jack started with “Dear Madge.” So, Margaret was Madge. Another card started “Dear Ma.” I thought it strange that someone would shorten Madge to Ma until I realized that three of the cards were addressed to Mrs. G. G. Thorpe, Jack’s mother.
Jack’s father, George Gyte Thorpe was an easy find in the census. He was living with his wife and six children, one of whom was a 20-year-old named John William Thorpe.
I have not yet studied the cards in detail and in cases of place names redacted by censors there is no way to learn important locations. Jack was hospitalized at least once although he never mentions conflict or the enemy although he does frequently refer to the weather and even to a game of cricket he played.
The 6th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters did serve in France almost continuously from 1915 until demobilization in 1919. They saw action at many flashpoints including the Battle of Cambrai.
The last card of the group is dated January 1919. It shows the Pont des Trous (Bridge of Holes) in Tournai, Belgium. Jack clearly survived the war and returned home safely – two facts that cannot be verified. Apparently there are no further records that I can attribute to John William Thorpe. I hunted for a wedding between Jack and Margaret to no avail. In fact, I cannot find a wedding for either Jack or Margaret.
Their fates? Unknown!