Who doesn’t want to know the history of their grandfather’s moustache? I hadn’t realised the relevance of this topic until trying to trace the history of Joseph Taylor Dinnis during World War 1. It began when I looked back at photographs of my grandfather and then read a great book ‘Dating Old Army Photographs’.
This opened up a whole new world to me, I hadn’t realised how large this subject could be. I’m one of those people who thinks I can master a subject in five minutes by reading one online article. Honestly, you think I’d have learned by now that it takes people a lifetime to research these things and I really shouldn’t think I can just pop in and pick up the knowledge in no time at all.
It took me about five minutes to realise the depth of the subject matter. It isn’t as easy as I thought to just read a book and be able to date my photographs. Of course it isnt’! So here is what I’ve learnt so far, in several days.
I learnt that ‘Facial hair’ is an ‘Accoutrement’. Beards, whiskers and moustaches were often worn by soldiers along with the clean-shaven look, but all have their fashion and their own time to be worn. I had all my photo’s lined up ready to date them.
I had expected to find out about the uniform to help date a photograph, but had never thought about facial hair as an ideal dating tool. From the images above we can see that Joseph was clean-shaven all the time apart from the photograph with Annie in 1916.
This also made me aware that I had never seen any facial hair on any of the adult males in my family: no uncles, father, even neighbours and friends. I had given this no thought, but now I do turn my thoughts to it I wonder if it’s just coincidence, fashion or a combination of the two.
The book tells me that moustaches had their day in the early 1900s when ‘it was customary to leave the upper lip unshaven and produce a vigorous moustache.’ It goes on to say:
“The practice was still widespread at the beginning of the First World War, when huge numbers of bare-lipped recruits joined the bristling regulars. Many of the newcomers fell in with the moustache-growing tradition, but their taste was often for something smaller and more carefully cultivated. The results did not impress the authorities, and in due course the order went out that ‘unsoldierly’ moustaches were not acceptable: a soldier must either grow a full and manly moustache or refrain from growing a moustache at all. Given the choice of all or nothing, many men settled for nothing, and since the First World War the majority of soldiers have been clean-shaven.”
This fits in with my photographs of Joseph Taylor Dinnis, and also with my memories of the male members of my family after the Wars. I don’t recall any having facial hair, even though it must have been very difficult to keep up the regime of shaving while they were away.
Dad (Gordon) was badly injured in World War 2, and writing home in 1943 he says:
“Well Mum, now I have a big surprise for you. Yesterday, being my 21st birthday the Sisters made me a big cake with the words 21st Birthday Greetings on it. Then another Sister brought me in a parcel which contained a Cake, bottle of Gin, Sweets, Cigs, Razor, Soap, Toothbrush and Blades.”
He goes on to say ” Oh, please don’t send me any more razor blades, as I have got a different kind of razor now. I lost my small pack when I was wounded, but there was nothing important in it.”
So even when lying in a hospital bed, shaving was very important and something he gave some thought to. Which is amazing to me, considering what he was going through. I was also somewhat surprised that the Sisters would consider Gin, cigarettes and sweets to be suitable gifts.
As a young child my father would take me to visit his mother on Sunday mornings. His brother Jack still lived at home and I fondly recall how he would enjoy appearing out of the kitchen (they had no indoor bathroom) his face covered in shaving foam and chase me around the room.
Who would have thought the original thought of dating old Army photographs would have led me to such memories!