Sitting with my grandpa’s photograph albums on my lap and talking to my grandmother after Sunday lunch many years ago she looked at me and stated, in a tone which sounded somewhat incongrously jealous for a woman in her late seventies, “those books are just full of photographs of his ex-girlfriends”.
My grandpa who was sitting opposite, either didn’t hear this remark or chose to ignore it – the snooker on the television providing a timely distraction. It is true that the books do have quite a few photographs of beautiful young women of the Raj but as far as I can work out only one of them was actually a girlfriend of my grandpa.
As I have mentioned in the previous post, Marguerite Mumford from the Nilgiri Hills, there are an extraordinary number of photographs of one elegantly beautiful young woman whose name was Marguerite. The photographs of her are always infused with a certain playfulness during day trips to the beach or picnics by the river. There is something personal and intimate about the photographs of her. Marguerite obviously loved to play to the camera or to be more precise she loved playing up for the photographer, flirting with both the camera and the man whose eye followed her through the lens – my grandfather.
As a family we had often asked my grandpa to add the names of the people to the photographs in his albums and at some unknown point in time, he must have succumbed, and done just that.
As time wore on, I became more intrigued as to whom Marguerite really was. I wondered why their romance had ended. Would I be able to find out anything else about her? I spent hours scouring the internet in the faint hope that I might be able to find someone from her family who I could share her beautiful photographs with, but sadly to no avail.
After months spent searching my hope began to wane and eventually almost petered out entirely, but I never stopped wondering about her however, or what had become of her.
Recently I was pouring over the pages of the albums once more and I noticed the faded words Marguerite ‘Lovedale’ that my grandpa must have written more than twenty years ago.
Intrigued as to what the word ‘Lovedale’ meant I returned once more to the computer and within seconds I realised that this was the break I had been looking for. Lovedale is the nickname of the Lawrence Memorial Military School in the town of ‘Ooty’ in the Niligiri Hills. My great-grandfather, Algernon Edwin Scott, had a summer-house in Ooty and my grandpa would spend weekends with him whilst he was studying at St Josephs College in Canoor. Ooty would have been the place where he must have met Margurite and their relationship subsequently blossomed.
I immediately contacted the school in Ooty. They in turn put me in touch with ex-pupils who although now in their late eighties and nineties were still in touch with one another. My search led me to a woman in America called Moira who very kindly informed me that she was still in touch with one of Marguerite’s sisters, Gladys, who also lived in America.
After months of searching it all happened so very fast, and I was soon sharing the photographs I had of Marguerite and one of Gladys that my grandpa took in New Delhi sometime after the Second World War. Gladys remembered my grandpa very well and the family then told me that Margarete was still alive and living in New Zealand, but she was now ninety-six years of age and living in an old people’s home. They told me her memory had dimmed, but she was physically quite well.
I was then put in touch with Alecia, Margurerite’s daughter who also lives in New Zealand. and I began sending them pictures of the young Marguerite – images I presume they had never even imagined existed, let alone ever see.
In my eagerness and excitement at re-uniting people with a now-life-time-ago-history, I also sent a photograph of my grandpa. Marguerite’s poignantly hopeful reaction was simply, “is Bertie here?” It hadn’t occurred to me that these long-forgotten photos would upset anyone. I was told that my grandpa was the love of her life and after she had left India she had married an Irishman and they had moved to New Zealand.
It had been obvious to me all along, by the very nature of the photographs, that they were in love. From the moment I first found negatives of Marguerite I could see thay were kept very carefully and separately from the rest of grandpa’s photographs. It was very apparent that they both meant an awful lot to each other. Proof if it were needed of the indelible nature of first love.
Jason Scott Tilley