The thing about history is that it is full of mystery. We research our family because we want to know – we want to solve the mystery of the past and where we come from. But for me it’s not just my own family, or those of my clients that I find interesting, sometimes you come across something that sets you off… a mystery that is crying out to be solved.
Postcards are a great example…
While visiting Tintern Abbey I popped into the local antiques shop and found a postcard I just had to buy. Now this card is a bit special. It’s a scene of a military parade. A HUGE military parade….but I had to buy the postcard because of one person in that picture. Amongst the throng of the crowd there is a girl… standing alone… looking directly at the camera. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I can get obsessed, but this girl has really been haunting me. Who is she, why was she there…WHERE was she, and why is she standing there on her own??
After a little bit of research I *thought* I knew where the photo was taken and when.
The dress of the crowd is Edwardian, there are trams, there are horse drawn carriages, there are tropical trees, a huge square and a garden. There is a church on the left of the picture in the background. Then there are the soldiers and the flags.
I thought this was a parade around the time of the Boer War through Durban, South Africa. I came to this conclusion by looking around and found some photos of Durban that may fit the era. The circular “pond” is the same as those in Durban. But I was wrong. Something just didn’t fit.
So I looked more closely.
I now have the answer and it’s not Durban. It’s Malta! I actually now know more about the photo than I would ever have hoped, and it goes to show that you shouldn’t give up. The internet is a great source of information but this mystery shows that just because something isn’t on the internet one day… doesn’t mean it won’t be there tomorrow.
Where did I start? Well after trawling through the usual picture archives, trying to find out about areas, I came to the conclusion that
- It wasn’t the UK,
- It was turn of the century
- It was a massive parade
- There were some flags to research
- The soldiers had tropical type helmets with badges on
- There was a bridge
- It probably wasn’t raining.
I’d tried before with no luck to pinpoint the area… without some form of identification it was going to be difficult. There are hundreds of towns with round ponds, churches and squares surrounded by buildings. Turn of the century parades were pretty common too. What worried me about the Durban theory was the lack of a bridge… even though I know urban landscapes change, a bridge usually stays in some form… and Durban didn’t have one (yes I even Google-earthed it, and wasted a whole bunch of hours driving an imaginary car up and down the town, it was fun though).
So by now, I was getting pretty fed up. I didn’t think I’d find anything.
There was one solid, identifiable piece of information on the postcard that I knew I could research… Gyska written on the back of the postcard. Ok, so it was a long-shot… but still!
When I first found the postcard again I typed the word into all the search engines I could think of, and nothing came up. So I left it a couple of weeks and then sat down with an afternoon to spare, determined to find conclusive proof about the picture. As I said… after looking closely I was uneasy about the Durban fit.
Knowing that nothing came up the first time, I typed Gyska into Google. And the only thing, apart from the usual gobbledygook and rubbish-that-wasn’t-connected-at-all that came up was a postcard site of a place in Malta. Hmmm thought I, lets have a look.
It didn’t connect to what I was looking for, although it was the right age, so I looked for early 20th Century Malta in the postcard site…..and look what came up!
So it’s a postcard of the Phoenicia Hotel in Valetta, Malta built in 1939. Recognise the bridge?? Exactly the same. RESULT! The hotel is still there and is a five-star luxury one….very swanky.
It’s a shame to see that the lovely square has been built on, but the “pond” is also there. Without a doubt, this is the same place…even the cracks on the side of the wall by the bridge are the same. So there you have it… a postcard is put on a sales site, it’s up for only a week or two and I managed to find it at the right time. With two days of the auction to go!
So, now I know WHERE the photo was taken. I need to know WHEN and WHY.
I noticed weird cloaked figures in my postcard that looked like headless monks. Did I mention that? We’ll they’re there… one is to the left of the bridge, above a horse. On a whim I decided to enter “Maltese costume” into the search engine… and was led to another postcard site (at this stage I’m just about bowing down and paying homage to the great God of auction sites). Here is the costume I saw in the mystery postcard… it fits completely and the date? 5th March 1903… not bad eh? I thought that my pic dated around 1904!
Right… so the time fits, and although this costume in itself doesn’t prove anything, it does show that headless monks weren’t wandering around Valetta (well… not that we know of).
But what could happen around the turn of the C20th to mean a big parade? Well armed with the place and a rough date, we get an answer. Dear friends… King Edward VII visited Malta in April 1903 on his first tour since accession to the throne, and while there he constituted the King’s Own Malta Regiment of Milita, who also happen to have white tropical style helmets with a cap badge. Now, while the Duke of Cambridge seems to have gone ahead of the King, I think we can be fairly certain that such a huge parade, as in the mystery photo, qualifies as a Royal parade. However the regiment that we can see in my photo may… the Kings Own Royal Regiment
Below are two photographs from the Kings Own Museum, please visit them and show them support
I am now 95% sure that what we have is a photograph taken in April 1903 for the King arriving in Malta.
Who the girl is and why she’s on her own….well I may have to make that bit up 😉