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A photograph of my grandmother, Kathleen Beatrice Harper, ca. 1914

Posted by on October 27, 2012

Here is Beatie, as her family called her, sitting for her passport photograph at the start of a journey that would change her life. She is 21, with a charming smile, dark eyes and dark hair parted in the middle and pinned back behind her ears.

Beatie’s passport photo ca.1914

She is wearing a long, sombre skirt and jacket with a silky bow, a high- necked white blouse with a necklace, dark stockings and shiny shoes. It is probably her Sunday best. She is holding, unexpectedly, a fur muff into which she has tucked her hands. You can just see part of a ribbed cuff or glove on her right hand. Perched sideways on a bamboo and cane table she looks young, excited and happy. She is ready to make the voyage to Alexandria.

What is remarkable about this photo is that it is the earliest that we have of my grandmother from this period. There are no pictures of her early life. As one of twelve children of a farmworker in rural Surrey, her family would not have had the money to use such cameras as were available. She may have appeared in photographs of the family she worked for as a housemaid from the age of about 14 when she left school. We do not know how she made the journey to Egypt – neither the name of the ship nor port of embarkation – but assume that she was employed by a family, possibly as nanny or nurserymaid. As it was so near the time of the outbreak of war, it is likely that the head of the family was connected to the Army or administration. Beatie traveled with one of her sisters.

Many years later, one of her surviving sisters wrote on the back of the photo when she sent it to my mother, Peggy. The handwriting is very similar to my grandmother’s, so they were probably taught in the same school.

The back of the photo, sent to Beatie’s mother
(click on the photo to enlarge)

It must have been an extraordinary experience for a young woman like Beatrice, who had had very little education and had mainly worked in domestic service. She would have had few opportunities to travel, even in England. Her words to her mother on leaving reveal a great sense of humour and courage too, showing that she saw it as an adventure and a chance to transform her life.


One Response to A photograph of my grandmother, Kathleen Beatrice Harper, ca. 1914

  1. Tracey Messenger

    A wonderful photograph, Susie, and an intriguing story. I’d love to know more about Beatie!

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