National Volunteers’ Week: Tom Seal, Transcribing Volunteer

Museum of the Order of St John Tom Seal, Transcribing Volunteer
Tom transcribing a book of letters from 1915.

I’ve been volunteering at the Museum of the Order of St John for over three years as well as being a long-serving  St John Ambulance volunteer. I’m currently working on a project to transcribe the official letters sent out by the St John Ambulance Association Headquarters during the First World War. While a lot of the letters are very typical of what you would expect – responding to enquiries about local first aid courses, sending out administrative forms to divisions around the country, and so on – I’ve really enjoyed getting more familiar with the style of language used a hundred years ago. While today we may begin a letter with “In response to your letter dated 1st June 2017” the letters I am transcribing often begin with phrases like “I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 1st June 1917”, and rather than “Yours sincerely” at the end of the letter the writer will close by saying “I remain, Sir, your most humble servant”. It all sounds very overly formal to us now, but during the First World War that was the way letters were written! An extra challenge is that these letters were produced on a typewriter and did not always print perfectly straight onto the copy paper, so reading words printed over each other or trailing off at a steep angle can be quite difficult – but the Museum Team are very good at being a second pair of eyes!

I have also enjoyed seeing where all these letters have been sent, around the country and, in some cases, the world! I am very impressed by how often it seems that letters were posted to the Headquarters in London from anywhere in the British Isles, and arrived the very next day, even though the country was at war. These letters were sent to and from people from all walks of life, from day labourers training in First Aid at their factories to lords and ladies offering support to the work of St John Ambulance on the front.

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