A British Family on the Rhine, Sennelager 1952–1959 (part 1)

This album opens with a photo taken on Saturday, 24 October, 1953. It shows Susan Rebecca lying in her cot, four hours old. On the same page, her mother, Dorothy, is photographed briefly before and briefly after the birth. Some of the early images in this album were taken at such intimate moments I troubled over whether to publish them. I am still not sure if I have made the right decision.

This is an album belonging to a young military couple stationed in Sennenlager – BAOR (British Army on the Rhine) in the 1950s. Its name literarily means ‘camp on the Senne’, an area in military use since the 19th century. It is hard to know who inscribed the album, as the wife is varyingly described as ‘Dorothy, ‘Mummy’ and ‘My, and her husband only as ‘Daddy’, all in the same handwriting. Notes on the back of some of the photos point to someone trying to archive them; perhaps Susan Rebecca.

Susan is photographed first weekly, then monthly. At 10 months old, she is photographed in ‘Walton-on-Thames’; at 11 months, ‘In the park at Hackney’ and feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. As the album goes on it gets even more confusing. There is a photo of Susan under which is written ‘End of my first year’. The family had returned to Sennelager by 1955. Within a year or so, Dorothy had given birth to another daughter, Nicola.

Towards the end of the album, the photo format changes to a square with pretty crimped edges. The images depict our nuclear family’s trip to Africa. There is a photo taken in a marketplace where Dorothy and Susan are the only foreigners to be seen. The most striking image is of three-year-old Susan sitting in a classroom, her luminous little white face and golden hair bobbing in a sea of sun-burnished blackness. One wonders now whether its impact is aesthetic or political…

Nigel Shephard

Published by The Family Museum

We are an archival project about amateur family photography, based in London and set up by filmmaker Nigel Shephard and editor Rachael Moloney.

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