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Nanna Liz's precious photos

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia

"Gather round, and I'll tell you a true story about those two photos sitting there on the cabinet," Liz Coulthard told her grandchildren in Christie Downs, South Australia, as she settled back into her comfortable armchair. This is her story.

It all began a long, long time ago, during the second World War, when I was a little three-year-old girl living in a place called Bootle, near Liverpool, in the northwest of England, (no, love, it had nothing to do with the Beatles. They came later, but they too lived in Liverpool).

My dad - your great-grandad - was away fighting with the British forces in Italy. I missed him so much that I kept his picture under my pillow until he finally came home, then I let my Mum put it on the mantlepiece for everyone to see.

(Nanna Liz showed them this photo)
your great-grandad

It was only by a great stroke of luck that we ever got hold of that photo in the first place.

In January 1944 my Mum went to the pictures. That's what we called the local picture-palace or cinema. There was no TV in those days. They screened a newsreel called "Snow in Italy", that showed Tommies (that was what British soldiers were called) helping to clear snowdrifts around the country - and in one scene there was a clear shot of my Dad!

What happened next is told in this old clipping from one of the local newspapers. I'm not sure which newspaper it came from, but it would have been the Bootle Times, the Bootle Herald or the Liverpool Echo.

(Nanna Liz showed them this clipping)

Sees husband on News Film

Mrs. McLeod, of Hood Street, Bootle, was in the audience at the Gainsborough Cinema recently, to see "Five Graves to Cairo". She arrived just in time to see the news-reel, and watched the show showing our soldiers in Italy with particular interest, for somewhere out there Signalman Joseph McLeod, her 30-years-old husband, was fighting. On to the screen flashed a picture of soldiers drinking cocoa and others digging in the snow. Mrs. McLeod looked at it for a few seconds and then thrilled with excitement, for she recognised her husband as one of the men. Mrs. McLeod knew many other women who had thought erroneously that they recognised husbands, brothers or fiancés in news-reels, but her belief was confirmed when she saw her mother-in-law, who had seen the shots at the Princess Cinema, and was convinced that she had seen her son.

A letter which removed any doubt arrived the following morning from Signalman McLeod. He told his wife and mother to "look out for him on the pictures," and described the scene in which he appeared.

Mrs. McLeod, Jr., went to the Princess Cinema, Kirkdale, so that she could see the scene again. After the show was over she explained to the manager her interest in the film, and he gave her a cutting of the strip. Unfortunately, this could not be reproduced.

Signalman McLeod has been in the Army for three years, and was posted overseas twelve months ago. He has one child, a girl aged three.

That little girl was me! What really happened was the cinema manager kindly agreed to re-run the film for a private viewing, and gave my Mum a single frame from it, and she later persuaded someone to turn it into a print. And that's the photo I've just shown you - still one of my proudest possessions.

But that's not the end of the story. After leaving Commercial College in Liverpool I became a shorthand typist for two years - just waiting until I was old enough to join the Bootle Police Force, where I was employed as a policewoman for four years.

Then I married your Pops, and retired from the police when I was expecting our first baby. Next, we migrated to Australia, where I've worked as a sewing machinist, presser, store detective, and a pattern maker for a wetsuit manufacturer.

About 18 months ago I had tried and tried to find out where I could get a copy of that wartime film, or at least SEE IT. I knew the name of the clip, and one evening at home, whilst using the internet, I decided to look at ITN's Archive site, for clips of the old serials like Coronation Street, that I'd watched in England.

I noticed that ITN also had some old wartime newsreels, including wartime clips from Pathe News. I forgot about Coronation Street, and after typing in ww2Snow in Italy it came up with several possibilities, and I finally found it! I was so delighted I burst into tears. I had been trying to find it for more than 60 years!

We first read a shorter version of this delightful story in a newsletter published by LOST COUSINS, one of Britain's best genealogical websites, which helps thousands of virtual visitors locate their cousins and other relatives. Its founder, Peter Calver, kindly asked Liz Coulthard to contact us, and she was happy to recount the details.


Story first posted January 2007

Copyright © 2007

Eric Shackle

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