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Dig Out Your Mouldering Ancestors. Then Hang ‘Em Up.

By Paul Dunwell, writing for EasyFrame
© Copyright EasyFrame 2018

What This Article is About

Everybody has ancestors. Let’s be right, there must be about 20,000 generations of them if we simply stick with humans but refuse to be associated with the amoeba, chimps and sundry embarrassing relations who (and let’s give them credit) might not merit much consideration but got us from single-cell organisms to homo erectus.

Yet, unless those ancestors could afford to patronize a painter or owned a cave-wall like that at Lascaux, you’ll probably now be dependent on photographs taken since 1814 if you want to celebrate their lives – and how they contributed to us being here.

This article explains why those pictures of your illustrious predecessors shouldn’t be left to moulder in some dingy attic. And why you ought to give them the frames, and the wall-space, which they deserve.

Most Families Have Their Own Action Heroes. And Yours Will Be No Different

My great-grandfather David Thornham Dunwell was a hard-hat diver in the early 20th century. His work-clothes would have included a waterproofed canvas suit and a six-bolt face-plated helmet. Made of copper and brass or bronze, and probably manufactured by Siebe Gorman, the helmet itself was called the ‘bonnet’. And it sat on the so-called ‘corselet’ which he bore on his shoulders. The bonnet would require a 45 degree turn to secure it on the corselet’s flange. Meanwhile David’s lead boots would have been one-size-fits-all affairs with brass toecaps and half-inch ropes for laces.

John Wayne in Reap the Wind

Kitting up, he would have had a team of as many as 10 people to assist him in getting this gear on – and to operate the air-hose and three-cylinder pump that enabled him to survive and work at depth.

This is primitive stuff. The picture I have is endorsed ‘ca 1902′. And coincidentally that is the year before man first achieved powered flight. So he was the equivalent of Buzz Aldrin. If it sounds like I’m proud of being his ancestor then you’d be right.

I am guessing he was a tough nut. I’m a BSAC-qualified diver myself. I’ve been caught on a fishing-net and had to take my tank off to turn around in a cave. I’ve had a demand-valve fail so my oxygen stopped without warning too. So I understand the odd attraction of tiptoeing around Davy Jones’s locker. But in my case the loss of air was in a swimming-pool so there was no harm done. My great-grandfather must, in contrast, have encountered daily risks including the ‘bends’ (decompression sickness) and the ‘narcs’ (nitrogen narcosis), and getting his airline trapped, never mind the risks of errors by his crew (in that era 20% of disposable income went on alcohol; it hardly bears thinking about, does it?) All of that would have made a mockery of today’s ‘health-and-safety-at-work’ culture. It’s anybody’s guess why my great-grandfather did it. But it will have been well-paid and he had 13 children to feed. (Thirteen kids was pretty normal in that era; they’d not all be expected to make it to maturity.)

It seems to me that it would be a crying shame to keep this picture of him, and there is only one, in a damp attic where it would probably lie unnoticed until whoever found it would have no idea who he was – and why I’m pleased to have been associated with him.

David Dunwell seems to have been a colourful character who operated in a grey world. But he wasn’t the only great-grandfather who was a hero. Another, below, was too.

George William Kersby

War Hero – One Who Did the Right Thing and Suffered Abuse for It

My other great-grandfather, George William Kisby, was a principled man. I don’t think he was in any hurry to enlist for The Great War. And running a sprawling business he’d be in a protected occupation. But in late 1917 volunteers to participate in the carnage were thin on the ground so he was bundled off into the Yorkshire Regiment and the Army Pay Corps. And sent to the front. Somehow he was wounded in the temple when a bullet passed clean through a helmet that later hung in one of his shops for years (my dad still has it). But that isn’t why he was a hero.

He became a hero the moment he stepped up to the plate to stop some other tommies who were robbing the body of a dead German soldier in a trench. He pointed to the photograph, tossed into the mud, of the man’s wife and kids. And, explaining that the enemy was self-evidently a man just like them who was only following orders, he said that if they couldn’t behave better than the Germans then it wasn’t a war he was interested in fighting. Unimpressed, his colleagues beat him up. But after that this man, who I always saw as an immaculately-dressed establishment figure, one whose bow-tie and fob watch were apparently worn 24/7, who used to sit in a parlour beside bell-pulls for long-since-gone servants, was a rebel who wouldn’t stand for the national anthem.

That moment of heroism in the trench, and I only heard of it by accident from my much-loved and now-departed Uncle Don a few years back, was an epiphany – a moment of realization. My great grandfather must have known he was asking for trouble. Yet he spoke up anyway and demonstrated the sort of moral bravery that we all ought to try and muster when it counts, even if the rest of the world seemingly disagrees. In this context I am reminded of Lord Reith writing that ‘It is royal to do the right thing and to suffer abuse for it’.

I should add that in civvy-street he also repeatedly bailed out his step-son, then his step-son’s son too, and notably gave the lad a shop after he had been caught with his hand in the till. Legend has it that he told the miscreant “I didn’t know you needed the money that much”. Then he gave the thief deed and title to his business – lock, stock and barrel. But his generosity didn’t stop there. Subsequently, on his death, my great-grandfather left everything he had to that line despite their history of deceit and lumbering him with bills for a racehorse and more. So it would be hard to find a more honourable and charitable man.

Proof That I Did My Bit Too

So much for the ancestors. But, of course, we need to keep generating people who’ll make ours a better planet. And, in that context, it’s worth preserving evidence of their achievements as you go. The lass below, Natasha Beth, is one of my four kids, all of whom are great. As I write she’s 18 months into wandering the world and has been assisting in the aftermath of at least two earthquakes. The headline, if you don’t speak German, reads: ‘Do you want to improve the world today?’

Framed picture on wall

Conclusion

It is pretty damned certain that you have ancestors that are every bit as interesting as mine. Or moreso. Ancestors of whom you can and should be proud. And they’ll have been caught on camera. But the images are probably sitting in your attic, or that of an elderly relative, and have been forgotten. Moreover the associated detail will be forgotten if you let those relatives die without joining the dots, mating the images with facts. So there’s no better time than now to dig out your mouldering ancestors. Then hang ‘em up.

You’ll need them framing first. EasyFrame is an obvious and affordable supplier, whether you want to source all you’d need to do the job yourself or have them do it for you.

Any good framers will be able to show you a vast range of different solutions and advise on what might be the most suitable given the work and its proposed location.

EasyFrame is on 01234 856 501 and / or sales@easyframe.co.uk and they’ll always chat even if you don’t want to buy!

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