Letter to an Unknown Soldier

In this year marking the centenary of the First World War there’s a great project that some of you may like to partake in.


The Letter to an Unknown Soldier is an art project which invites the public to write a letter to an unknown solider. It can be about anything that you feel you would like to express – a familial story, an imagined letter from a sweetheart or a review of what we have learned about war since then. Then upload the letter to the website. The site will remain open until 11 p.m. on the night of 4 August 2014. This time marks the centenary of the moment when Prime Minister Asquith announced to the House of Commons that Britain had joined the First World War. After this the letters will be archived online by the British Library.

More info can be found here

I think this is a great idea and I’ve already submitted my letter. Which I’ve posted below for you all to read.



To an Unknown Solider,

I’m writing this on a train. I had meant to sit and write this peacefully at my dining room table, taking a few brief organised moments to reflect on you and your war and your sacrifice. But that didn’t happen because this world is busy. My world is busy, chaotically busy. But my world is peacefully chaotically busy. Sitting across from me is a lady with a cup of coffee in her hand. The steam raises and twirls in the rattling carriage. I think of your fingers, frozen and bent. Hunched in the winter night, roaring guns and shuddering bones. What relief a good cup of coffee would have been to you. It’s warmth as you held it, sipped and swallowed. Filling for a moment the hollow form in the uniform. Now I can smell it, so familiar to me – rich, nutty and transportive, to a world of soft sofas and Sunday morning newspaper reading. In my world we call a cup of coffee a ‘little luxury’. We buy overpriced cups topped with creamy foam and chocolate dust (sometimes in the form of a heart) because we’ve earned a little treat. We made it through that boring meeting, or our gym session, or its Friday and we all deserve extra love on a Friday.  This is my world – full of daily luxuries. It’s not like this for everyone. Somewhere in this world someone would still grasp a cup of coffee as you may have done, as if it were life itself. But my world, my world that I ride this train through is not that brutal. It is safe and warm and full of luxuries because of you. Thank you seems feeble, but it is sincere.

A very grateful woman on a train.



As any of you who have read this blog for a while will probably have picked up on, I’m an archaeologist in training. Or maybe now that my training is nearing its end, just an archaeologist – I’m not sure how I have to prove myself before I can officially say that.

Well regardless of the technicalities, my passion, joy and profession is archaeology. So on this International Women’s Day 2014 I wanted to draw attention to a wonderful group of women who run Trowleblazers. Their blog highlights the work of kickass women in the fields of archaeology, palaeontology and geology from years gone by, who have largely been forgotten.

Jericho StaffKathleen Kenyon with her Jericho staff.

I had been thinking for some time about writing a post profiling inspirational women in archaeology, like Gertrude Bell or Kathleen Kenyon, who dug the famous Jericho site and was acting Director of my own fair institution for a time. However when I discovered the Trowleblazers blog and twitter last year I promptly realised that their collective effort could do a much better job of it than me, so I humbly draw your attention to their good work.

The courageous and brilliant women documented by Trowleblazers are a true inspiration to me, and the knowledge of their work keeps me motivated and striving to be the best ruddy archaeologist I can be. I truly thank them and their trowels.

Hilda Petrie.


Hidden Gems

As an archaeologist in training I spend a great deal of time using archives of one form or another such as journal repositories or actual ‘pick ‘em up and given ‘em a feel’ object collections from museums.

Whilst the areas I research day to day are probably considered too vintage even for the most die-hard of retrophiles (I’m currently working on projects spanning 3500 BC to about 300 AD so a touch beyond even Victoriana fans) I thought it would be nice to put up a few online archives and resources for vintage enthusiasts which may or may not have been considered previously. With such amazing visual and documentary information available through blogs, Pinterest, tumblr, Instagram and all the other wonderful social networking platforms I think it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are huge swathes of material available about the things we love in places that are slightly off the beaten track…

Museum Collections

I think some people may not be aware that most large museums, particularly in the UK and USA put their collections online for public access. These usually have a far greater number of objects to view than could ever possibly be displayed in the museums themselves. As such they are great resources for snuffling out hidden vintage truffles. A few of my favourites include;

The Imperial War Museum’s online catalogue (here), that has a wealth of material from photographs to uniforms. I’ve used it often to look up details of WAF uniforms etc. and it is probably a good tool if you are purchasing military pieces online and want to find out a bit more info. You can type in keywords such as ‘Blitz’ or ‘WVS’ and bring up lots of great stuff like these breeches!


The Metropolitan Museum of Art (here), is fabulous for looking up historical costumes such as this great Schiaparelli trouser suit…


V & A (here),much like the Met previously this is a beautiful collection of historical costumes from around the world.

Text Sources

Wishbook (here) is a site that frankly looks awful, is hard to navigate, and doesn’t appear to have been updated in about five years, however it does have an assortment of full page and colour Sears Christmas catalogues ranging from the 1930s to 1980s. What a nice way to spend an afternoon. I know from reading about it on Johanna Ost’s blog that you can also view Sears catalogues on Ancestry.com but you have to register for week long free trail and I haven’t got round to that yet.

Sears1947_Page0088I really think that I need a round the neck mirror.

Archive.org is a huge repository for all manner of text based resources. I find it can be pretty hit and miss to browse but if you know what you are looking for it’s worth a go.

Publishing Archives

Most magazines will have some form of established archive somewhere. Getting access to it though is another matter. Vogue (here) have, according to the blurb, 400,000 images online available to browse. However it does require a subscription fee and I suppose is really aimed at industry insiders rather than casual observers.

The British Newspaper Archive (here) is brilliant as it lets you search for all sorts within regional as well as national publications.

Government Resources

The National Archives (here) hold documents relating to anything concerning the administration of the UK Government so there are military records, documents on crime and British politics in the 20th century. They have a handy tagging system too which makes searching easier.

Speaking of crime The Old Bailey Online (here) is frankly one of the most joyous things to happen in the lives of post-medieval historians since Victoria’s coronation. The Old Bailey has digitised all of its court proceedings since I believe 1674. During the last year I have been doing various bits and pieces of research in to aspects of Victorian British life (in fact more accurately, Victorian British death) and this site has been a fascinating and life saving find. It really is a pleasurable way to spend a Sunday afternoon; armed only with a coffee and a curious mind, delving into criminal grubbings of the Victorian streets from your sofa. Just a note on searching, the search function looks for words in the body of the text so think like an eighteenth century lady or gentleman when picking your vocabulary. Also if you are interested in aspects of homosexuality and the law at this time you will be very hard pressed indeed to find any references to. The legal system didn’t recognise homosexuality as a specified term in its own right because they thought that if it was defined it would, you know, exist, so other very vague and entirely irrelevant terms are used instead which make it impossible to pick out people charged with homosexual ‘crimes’ and those accused of disorderly conduct.

Never underestimate the resources of the good old local council or library website. Many local councils will have digitised collections from various sources but usually held in the local library which give fabulous insights into your area’s history. This project, Picture Sheffield (here) is pretty snazzy and easy to navigate.

Media Archives

Auntie calling! Yes it’s the good old Beeb. God I love the BBC. I honestly think that I’ve learnt more from the BBC in my lifetime than I did from the entirety of secondary school. Anyway, due to it’s whole publically funded obligations and all the BBC stick oodles of their older radio and TV productions online for any Tom Jack to peruse (here). Who doesn’t want to hear Clement Attlee’s Olympic welcoming speech or an interview with Agatha Christie? See it’s so vast I’m still only on the A’s at the moment.

Another BBC classic is of course Desert Island Discs (here) which has been running since 1942! Here you can listen to all of the old episodes featuring a truly staggering array of castaways. I listened to Dianna Mitford’s not long ago. I mean this sincerely and without malice even though I know it sounds cruel, but it was utterly fascinating to hear someone speak who was so truly in denial about the world.

The BFI archive (here) is also great and has a whole host of clips from long forgotten silver screen gems.


Lastly I think some tumblr streams can serve as archives, especially this one; Valentino Vamp (here), which is dedicated to pictures of Hollywood actors. The lovely person who runs it puts very handy and accurate tags on the bottom of each photo with which to filter the images. I’ve been following this one for years and always find some new beauty to swoon over.


I hope some of that may be of interest. Happy investigations!