Having kept a journal since I was 18 (and sporadically, when they were still called diaries, before that), I was excited when, several years ago now, I was invited to view a new personal archive at the Norfolk Record Office.
I was told to expect “something special” but then every time I have visited – I freely admit it is one of my favourite places – I have loved whatever I have been shown. However, the illustrated journals of Hilda Zigomala (which range from 1889 to 1919) were nothing short of spectacular. It was almost with reverence that I opened the first of 14 large books (there are 15 in total but one is missing) and, without wanting to sound sentimental, it was as if the love and joy she was feeling had somehow been imbued into the pages, especially after her only son, John, was born. In fact, it used to be a family joke that John should “never do anything he would not wish me to put in the book”. (I’m sure the older children of bloggers can relate to this.)
She captured almost 30 years of family life with drawings, photographs, paintings and pasted in mementos but, being fairly well to do, she often socialised with royalty, took trips abroad (and was stationed in India for several years with her husband, Jack) and visited some of the great houses in this country, so they also give a fabulous insight into high society of that time.
But then, having known “sunshine” pretty much all their lives, “in a slash” it was “entirely blotted out” when their beloved boy was killed in an accident while helping with the Russian Relief Effort following the first world war (during which he was twice injured but survived). He was just 21-years-old. Hilda felt unable to continue with her journals, which she described as a “labour of love” after that but instead dedicated her life to helping others so that John would be proud when she eventually joined him in death.
I have been lucky enough to write about them several times since that visit, including a story that went in The Weekend section of the EDP on Saturday. Hopefully you get a sense from the picture below of what I mean when I say spectacular.
To me it seems almost like parent blogging could be considered the modern equivalent of what Hilda was doing – although I imagine slightly less time consuming than hand drawing pictures. We are all trying to capture a little slice of our family life – although in 30 years, I wonder what format we will be using then!
Anyway, whether you are from Norfolk or not, these journals are well worth a further look. If you are unable to get to the record office, a project called To End All Wars has used a selection of her journal pages which are available to view online here.