THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

59 posts categorized "World War One"

16 January 2018

Indian Army Peace Contingent’s visit to Britain 1919

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On 19 July 1919, there was a large Victory Parade through the streets of London to mark the end of the First World War. Around 15,000 troops led by the Allied commanders marched to the cheers of thousands of spectators. Bands played in London’s parks, and a memorial to those killed and wounded was unveiled in Whitehall.  The Indian Army had been invited to send a representative contingent to take part in the parade, but problems with shipping and an outbreak of influenza, prevented the contingent from arriving in time. Instead, it was decided that the Indian contingent would have its own Victory March through London as an acknowledgement of the vital role the Indian Armed Forces had played during the War.

Indian Contingent 1919 © IWM (Q 14954)Indian Contingent (Sikhs) passing along the Mall © IWM (Q 14954)

The India Office Records has a number of files on the arrangements for the Peace Contingent’s visit to England, which make fascinating reading. The Contingent consisted of a British detachment of 11 officers and 270 men, an Indian Army detachment of 27 British officers, 465 Indian officers and 985 Indian other ranks, and 34 Imperial Service troops of the Indian Native States. The Contingent arrived in the camp at Hampton Court on 26 July. 

Camp Orders  IOR L MIL 7 5873IOR/L/MIL/7/5873 Noc

Camp Passes IOR L MIL 7 5873IOR/L/MIL/7/5873 Noc

The procession on 2 August started at Waterloo Station, continued across Westminster Bridge, along Whitehall, and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. The King inspected the Contingent on the East lawn of the Palace, and presented some awards, including the Victoria Cross to Naik Karanbahadur Rana of the 2nd/3rd Gurkha Rifles. The King then gave a speech thanking the men for their service during the War, which was repeated in Urdu by General Sir Frederick Campbell. The troops were then given tea before returning to their camp.

Diary of Tours IOR L MIL 7 5873IOR/L/MIL/7/5873Noc

After the King’s inspection the British troops were demobilised, but the Indian troops stayed for several weeks camped at Hampton Court. The troops were entertained with outdoor games and sports and in the evenings lectures were given, and a cinema was established by the Young Men’s Christian Association. Groups of officers and men were taken on day trips to London and other parts of Britain. These trips included a bombing display by the Royal Air Force, the steel works of Vickers Ltd in Sheffield, the shipyards of John Brown and the Fairfield Engineering Works on the Clyde and Portsmouth Dockyard. In London trips were organised to the Houses of Parliament, Tower of London, Kew Gardens, St Paul's Cathedral, and also to some schools. There were also regular shopping trips to the West End.

Bombing Display IOR L MIL 7 5873IOR/L/MIL/7/5873 Noc

 

London Bus Guide for 1919 IOR L MIL 7 5873London Bus Guide 1919 IOR/L/MIL/7/5873 Noc

The Peace Contingent left for India in the middle of September 1919, and the India Office marked the occasion by issuing a souvenir book, beautifully illustrated by the artist W Luker Jnr. 

Souvenir Book IOR L MIL 17 5 2420NocIOR/L/MIL/17/5/2420

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Our Indian Army. A record of the Peace Contingent's visit to England, 1919 (India Office, 1919): IOR/L/MIL/17/5/2420
India Office Military Department files on the Peace Contingent’s visit: IOR/L/MIL/7/5872-5876

 

25 December 2017

A Tommy’s Christmas Day letter 1917

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On Christmas Day 1917 Sergeant Frederick William Spires was serving in the Machine Gun Corps in France.  He wrote a touching letter to the Derby Daily Telegraph, thanking the people of his home town for gifts sent to the soldiers.

‘Through the medium of your paper I should like to thank the Mayor and residents of Derby in the name of all the Derby boys out here now for the little present and good wishes that arrived here yesterday.  Such acts of kindness and thoughtfulness at this season help to take away that dull, lonely feeling that we are all apt to have, for if ever “Tommy” thinks of home it is at Christmas.  This is my fourth in France, so I know that “Christmas feeling” only too well.  The present and good wishes seem to draw Derby a little nearer to us, for we know that we are not forgotten, even in the midst of war-time household worries.  May our efforts really and indeed result in lasting peace, and goodwill, and may it be soon for the sake of the anxious ones at home.  I am sure all Derby Tommies will join me in wishing the old, old Christmas season wish, and that the Mayor and residents will have a brighter New Year.’

Spires 1Derby Daily Telegraph 31 December 1917

In December 1918, Sergeant Spires wrote another letter to the newspaper from his station at Grantham in Lincolnshire.

‘Through the medium of your paper, I should like, in the name of all “Tommies” of St. Chad’s parish, to thank the parishioners for the small cash present and the kind thoughts and thanks for past sacrifices in the great war.  I’m sure we appreciated all the kindly thoughts. It is pleasant to know that we always stand in the memories of our fellow parishioners, although we have been so long absent.  Our greatest satisfaction lies in the knowledge that what we have done during the past four years and the hardships we have endured have not been in vain, and the war has come to the satisfactory end that we all fought for.  I, for one (as well as my own brothers), do not regret my four years in France and Belgium.  I think our only regret is that so many of our old chums from boyhood  have been killed in the great fight for right, and are not here to see the result of so great a sacrifice.  May the peace be a lasting peace, and that we shall know no more war.  I sincerely hope that in all homes there will be joyful reunions for the Christmas season, and absent ones will return, though such is not my own luck for this my fifth Christmas. – Again thanking St. Chad’s parishioners, and wishing them a right merry Christmas and the brightest of New Years.’ 

Spires 2Derby Daily Telegraph 14 December 1918

The outbreak of World War II shattered Frederick Spires’ wish for lasting peace.  He re-enlisted and served as a warrant officer in the Sherwood Foresters.  Sadly Frederick died in Derbyshire Royal Infirmary on 9 October 1943 aged 54.  He was buried in the churchyard at Findern and his grave is marked by a military memorial.

Spires 3Grave of Frederick William Spires at Findern Church, Derbyshire

 Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Derby Daily Telegraph via British Newspaper Archive or findmypast

 

24 November 2017

Dr Elsie Inglis and her father John's teenage misdemeanours

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Delving into the India Office collections sheds new light on the life of a First World War heroine and, more intriguingly, on her father.
 
The woman in question is Elsie Inglis who died 100 years ago, on 26 November 1917. She was, unquestionably, a remarkable individual. Not only was she prominent in the suffragist struggle, but having qualified as a doctor in 1892 during the First World War she went out to Serbia with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service. Undaunted by the patronising attitude of the War Office and a typhus epidemic, after Serbia was invaded in the autumn of 1915 she found herself interned and repatriated. Nevertheless she returned to the fray the following year leading a medical unit in southern Russia and Romania. In April 1916 she became the first woman to be awarded the Serbian Order of the White Eagle.    

  Inglis  Elsie (Wellcome)Image from Dr Elsie Inglis by Lady Frances Balfour (1918) Wellcome Collection    Cc-by

What is less well known is the fact that she was born in Naini Tal, India, on 16 August 1864. Her father John Forbes David Inglis had been posted to India as an East India Company writer in 1841, marrying Elsie’s mother Harriet in Agra on 7 February 1846.  ‘Elsie’ was not, in fact, her real Christian name, as the church register entry shows that she was baptised ‘Eliza Maude’ on 12 October.

  Inglis  Eliza Maude baptismIOR/N/1/110 f. 76 Baptism of Eliza Maude Inglis 1864 Noc

 

A small cache of letters in the private papers collection however, shows that Mr Inglis very nearly didn't make it to India. On 29 May 1839 the Principal of the East India College at Haileybury, Charles Le Bas, wrote to his father:

'It is with unfeigned grief that I have to announce to you, that we have been under the afflicting necessity of rusticating your son for the remainder of the present term. You will doubtless recollect that, on a former occasion (Nov. 1838), I had the painful duty of inflicting on him … a solemn Reprimand & Admonition, for joining a late, and very turbulent party, by which much mischief was done, and several students greatly annoyed and molested. His recent offence is, that … he dined at an Inn at Hoddesdon, and returned to College in a state of very questionable sobriety … '.

  Haileybury K top Vol 15 no. 74‘The South Front of the College at Hailey-Bury, Herts’: K top Vol 15 no. 74 Noc

The reply penned by Inglis Senior has not survived, but the Principal’s letter of 1 June shows that he was very reluctant to expel the young man:

'That the intelligence, which it was my misfortune to communicate, has "cut you to the heart" I can most readily understand. For, there is no hypocrisy in saying, that it has had almost the same effect upon my Colleagues and myself! … I do most ardently hope that your son will return to us, impressed with the necessity, - and, let me add, with the facility, of avoiding , in future, all such trifling with his own good, and with your peace of mind … '. 
 
Clearly his elders and betters made young Inglis see the error of his ways, otherwise Elsie might never have been born!

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading:
Leah Leneman, In the service of life: the story of Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (Edinburgh, 1994) – shelfmark YK.1995.b.6352
Margot Lawrence, Shadow of swords: a biography of Elsie Inglis (London, 1971) shelfmark – X.329/4826)
IOR/N/1/110 f.76 – baptism of Eliza Maude Inglis available online via findmypast
IOR/J/1/57 ff.213-230 - East India College papers of John Forbes David Inglis available online via findmypast
IOR/N/1/69f.44 - marriage of John Forbes David Inglis to Harriet Lowis Thompson available online via findmypast
India Office Private Papers - Mss.Eur.B164 Davis Deas Inglis Papers

 

09 November 2017

Testimony from the Trenches: personal journeys of WW1

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First-hand accounts of war provide us with details missing from official reports, and offer insights into personal survival strategies, ranging from the mundane and superficial to the profound. Collections at the National Archives, Imperial War Museum and National Army Museum cover official and non-official narratives, ranging from military documentation and papers of high-ranking or well-known officials, to the private collections of individuals from the rank-and-file.

The British Library also holds personal archives relating to a number of conflicts, including the recently-catalogued archive of Alfred Forbes Johnson, which will shortly be available for consultation in our reading rooms (Add MS 89235).

AddMS89325box

Letters in the archive, following re-housing. Copyright held by Tim Johnson, on behalf of the family of A F Johnson.

Lieutenant Johnson was drafted into the Royal Garrison Artillery from the Artists’ Rifles in 1917, and discharged in the spring of 1919. His archive consists of trench maps, retrospective war diaries, collected memorabilia and correspondence with family members.

AFJportraitPortrait of Alfred

Daily letters to his wife Essie allow a good grasp of how he, his colleagues and family managed and made sense of their imposed obligations. Alfred’s philosophy was to spend life productively, no matter the circumstances, and with good humour.

'This is a weird state of affairs here. The Hun is shelling something about a quarter of a mile on the left, and on the right there is a band playing.' (16/08/1918)

His strategies included exploring the landscape, villages and towns of France and Belgium, engaging in debates of the day with Essie and the Mess, and involving himself in lectures, sports and intellectual activities. Most significantly, the British Museum employee read avidly, favouring satire, the humour of Dickens, and other classics, popular novels and magazines of the day.

'I generally manage to read a book every time I am at the O.P. as there are generally many hours in the early part of the day when it is too hazy to see anything.'

AFJreading

Magazines which Alfred and colleagues read at the time are held in the Library’s journal collections. A flyer included advertises how reading material was distributed to the troops. The Sphere illustrates the first tube strike in London in 1919, which Alfred discusses with Essie at the time.

Alfred expresses regret at losing out on bonding with his new-born son Christopher in his two year absence. Yet he gained from his experience too: a Military Cross, a vastly enriched literary repertoire, skills in French, German, Italian, and even a new-found tolerance for Americans!

The archive also includes letters from other serving family members. Alfred’s brother-in-law Reggie died of wounds following his involvement in supporting front-line duty. The battles at Loos and Polygon Wood have since become notorious landmarks for reckless objectives in warfare.

'The German Minenwerfers are terrible things, you hear a slight pop & then see the bally thing coming over, it is very hard to judge where they will let, so you are kept in suspense with your eyes protruding out of your head watching the torpedo till it hisses down…. Dugouts werent much use against these blighters.' (20/04/1916)

The young man eagerly describes his knowledge of German and British ammunition, makes frequent requests for Lemon Fizzers from his mother, and tells of his generally uncomfortable experience:

'In the night we have heaps of company, rats & mice & the other livestock.. everytime you wake [the rats] are fighting & squeeking all over you.. the other night one took a flying jump on to my face, he had been washing his feet I believe, it was just like a wet rag.'

In what was to be Reggie’s last letter he anticipated that American involvement would bring about an end to the war; it was to be the last his family heard from him.

'Essie hasn’t given my pants away has she? I shall want them when Peace is declared, which may be soon if America has declared war.' (04/05/1916).

19CountyLondonRegimentPhoto sent on to Reggie's next of kin following his death

Find further stories of servicemen from the British Library collections at Europeana 1914-1918, as well as many commissioned articles exploring the effects of the war.

Layla Fedyk

Cataloguer, Modern Archives and Mss

14 August 2017

Ranjitsinhji, our glorious hero bold

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The first Indian man to play cricket for England, KS Ranjitsinhji, was described in these glowing terms in a song written in his honour. His cricketing career in England began while he was studying in Cambridge. He played for Sussex from 1895 to 1904 and for England against Australia from 1896 to 1902.

Ranji - Driving MBM 1896

KS Ranjitsinhji, Mirror of British Merchandise, 1896

In 1899 he achieved an amazing first for cricketers – over 3,000 runs in one year. Incredibly, he managed to repeat this in 1900. The Ranji song is featured in the British Library’s Asians in Britain web pages where you can learn more about his life. The web pages were initially developed through projects led by Professor Susheila Nasta of the Open University, including Making Britain: South Asian Visions of Home and Abroad, 1870-1950  

The Asians in Britain web pages tell the story of the long history of people from South Asia in Britain and the contributions they have made to British culture and society. They include ayahs (nannies), lascar seamen, politicians, campaigners such as suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, scientists and authors. The web pages also highlight the vital contribution people from South Asia made during the world wars.

Naoroji portrait MBM 1892
Dadabhai Naoroji, elected MP for Finsbury, 1892
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892

The Ranji song is among many fascinating and beautiful items currently on display in an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham, Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage.

Connecting Stories with logos - small

For further details about the exhibition, events and opening hours please see the Library of Birmingham’s website. The exhibition and community engagement programme continue the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham. They are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and exhibition curator


Further information
Asians in Britain web pages 
Making Britain Database 
#ConnectingStories

Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, (London, 2002)
Susheila Nasta with Florian Stadtler, Asian Britain: a photographic history, (London, 2013)
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892, 1896 Reference: 14119.f.37

10 August 2017

First World War Indian soldiers' letters in 'Connecting Stories' exhibition

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The exhibition Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage features extracts from letters written by two soldiers of the 33rd Punjab Regiment fighting on the Western Front during the First World War. The Censor of Indian Mails gathered information about the morale of the soldiers, and would prepare regular reports for the information of Government and the Army, appending translated extracts of soldier’s letters to illustrate his reports. The Censor’s reports and soldier’s letters are part of the India Office Records held at the British Library.

Punjab Regiment Photo 24-(352)
A Punjab regiment on the march in Flanders, 6 September 1915; Photographer: H. D. Girdwood. British Library: Photo 24(352)

The Punjab Regiment suffered heavy casualties in the fierce fighting in Flanders in 1915, and the letters reflect the extreme stress the two soldiers were experiencing. Of these letters and others from soldiers of the 33rd Punjabis, the Head Censor commented that the writers appeared to be dejected, and that the regiment had lost nearly all its British officers. Subadar Pir Dad Khan wrote in Urdu from the front on 2 October 1915 that “This country, which is in the likeness of Paradise, now seems to me worse than Hell! (because of the bad news which comes from the Regiment)”.

Ior!l!mil!5!825!6_f065v
Reports of the Censor of Indian Mails in France: Vol 1, IOR/L/MIL/5/825/6, folio 999

Jemadar Ghulam Hassan Khan was writing to a friend or family member in Rawalpindi in the Punjab in early October 1915. He wrote that he arrived in France on 19 September 1915, and by 23 September he had reached the trenches. The regiment immediately went into action, suffering great losses, but achieving a good name for itself. Writing close to the trenches, he noted that “It rains day and night - both sorts of rain. I cannot describe it. If God is merciful to me, I will escape with my life, otherwise not. To describe what is happening is one thing, to see it for yourself is an entirely different matter. Even if I were to write a whole book about it, it would fall short of the reality.” He went on to say that the men were fully supplied with everything they wanted in the way of food, matches, tobacco, etc., but that “The cold is what we suffer from most, besides the constant rain and hail of shells. I cannot complain to anyone except God.” A note by the Censor at the end of the letter says that the letter was passed by the Regimental Censor, but subsequently withheld. This was more than likely due to Ghulam Hassan Khan’s closing instruction to his correspondent to arrange a code so they could communicate with each other more secretly.

Connecting Stories is at the Library of Birmingham until 4 November 2017. It was created in partnership with the British Library and generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours, events and family days are on the Library of Birmingham website.

The reports of the Censor of Indian Mails in France, including extracts from soldiers’ letters can be found online.
 
John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further information:
Reports of the Censor of Indian Mails in France, Aug-Oct 1916 [IOR/L/MIL/5/825/6, folios 980-981, 999]
#connectingstories
#brumpeeps

29 July 2017

Frank Derrett: With the 'Cook's Tourists' in Salonika

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During the centenary of the First World War, we have been remembering the staff of the library departments of the British Museum listed on the memorial to British librarians at the British Library.  Today we remember 531860 Private Frank Derrett of the 2/15th (County of London) Battalion of the London Regiment, the Prince of Wales's Own Civil Service Rifles, who died of wounds on 22 July 1917 at Salonika (Thessaloniki) in Greece.

Frank Derrett was born at London in 1883, the son of John William and Emma Derrett, who lived at James Street, Marylebone.  Census records from 1871 and 1881 describe John William Derrett as a china and glass dealer, and Emma continued running the business after his death in 1889. The 1911 Census shows 63-year-old Emma Derrett living at 35 James Street with three sons (including 27-year-old Frank), two grandchildren, and two boarding valets from Switzerland.  Frank Derrett married Alice Edmunds at Marylebone in 1912, and they had a son Frank Lionel.

Frank Derrett joined the British Museum as a Boy Attendant in the Department of Printed Books on 23 January 1899.  At the time of his death, he had worked for the museum for 18½ years, from August 1903 as an Attendant in the Reading and Newspaper Rooms.

Frank Derrett enlisted in the Civil Service Rifles in September 1915, becoming part of its second line battalion.  Throughout the war, the 2nd Civil Service Rifles formed part of the 60th (2/2nd London) Division, which served on the Western Front from June 1916 before moving to Salonika in November 1916.

The Macedonian Front is one of the lesser-known theatres of the First World War.  A small Franco-British force first arrived in Salonika in October 1915, ostensibly to support the Serbian army.  While the force arrived too late to prevent a Serbian reverse, it remained and consolidated on Greek soil, establishing a defensive line in Macedonia.

WWI soldiers hrh-alexander

The commander in chief of the Serbian army, His Royal Highness Regent Alexander, with other high-ranking officers on the battlefield in Macedonia. World War One Collection Item

The 2nd Civil Service Rifles spent some time at Katerini before undertaking an epic seven-day march to Kalinova in March 1917.  As part of 60th Division, they played a supporting role in offensives near Lake Doiran (Dojran) on 24 April and 8 May 1917.  In the following days, the battalion had a tough job consolidating positions on hills known as the Goldies, which is where they suffered the majority of their active-service casualties during the whole campaign.

By early June, however, the 60th Division was already on its way back to Salonika, having been posted to yet another theatre of war. The 2nd Civil Service Rifles sailed to Egypt on 19 June, from where they would take part in the campaign in Palestine (the frequent travels of the battalion gained it the nickname, the "Cook's Tourists").  It seems that Private Derrett was left behind in Greece, either in hospital or attached to another unit. He died of wounds on 22 July 1917 aged 34, and is buried in Salonika (Lembet Road) Military Cemetery in Thessaloniki.

Frank Derrett's gravestone includes an epitaph chosen by his widow: verses adapted from a sentimental late-19th century hymn The Christian's goodnight -"Sleep on, beloved, and take thy rest; we love thee well, but Jesus loves thee best".

Michael Day
Digital Preservation Manager

Further reading:
P. H. Dalbiac, History of the 60th Division (2/2nd London Division) (London: Allen & Unwin, 1927).
P. Davenport, A.C. H. Benké, eds., The history of the Prince of Wales' Own Civil Service Rifles (London: Wyman & Sons, 1921)
Cyril Falls, Military operations: Macedonia, 2 vols (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1933-35).
Jill Knight, The Civil Service Rifles in the Great War: 'All Bloody Gentlemen' (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2004), pp. 147-177.
Mark Mazower, Salonica: city of ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950 (London: Harper Collins, 2004).
Alan Palmer, The gardeners of Salonika: The Macedonian Campaign, 1915-1918 (London: André Deutsch, 1965).

 

13 July 2017

Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage

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LANDSCAPE SCREENS 1920 x 1080 PXLS


This family-friendly exhibition, launching on 15 July, will tell the story of the close connections between Britain and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1600 to the present day. It will show how those connections have influenced our food, culture, fashion, politics and heritage and made us who we are today.

Item 67 - Sophia Duleep Singh selling Suffragette 1913The exhibition continues the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham, bringing together their rich and complementary collections to illustrate this important but little-known aspect of British and local history. There will be over 100 exhibits which highlight many different voices from the past.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh is one of many people who will feature in the exhibition. (Image from IOR/L/PS/11/52, P1608)

Exhibits include letters, posters, photographs, advertisements, surveillance files, campaigning materials, oral history,music, and even a children’s game and a 19th century paper bag for Indian sweets. I and my co-curator of the exhibition, John O’Brien, hope that the variety of exhibits will prompt visitors to consider the many ways that history is

recorded and how gaps and silences can be filled.

The exhibition aims to capture Birmingham's importance in global trade and as a centre of industry.

Item 85 - 14119_f_37__MBM_D B Harris_advert

Mirror of British Merchandise, 1888

The Library of Birmingham's collections include stunning images by local photographers past and present which will be showcased in the exhibition. The image below is a photograph by Paul Hill of the Dudley & Dowell foundry at Cradley Heath, 1972, Library of Birmingham MS2294/1/1/9/1. (Image courtesy of Paul Hill.)

Item 92 Foundry worker by Paul Hill

 Capturing images of Birmingham’s richly diverse community is an important part of the exhibition and engagement programme. A selection of photographs will be included in the exhibition to give a vivid picture of Birmingham and all the people who live there today. Anyone in Birmingham can get involved now by sending their photograph via Twitter #brumpeeps. Exhibition visitors are also invited to ‘make their mark’ and share their own stories. 


Please see the Library of Birmingham's website for activities throughout the duration of the exhibition, such as family days, oral history training and talks at local libraries. 

The exhibition and community engagement programme have been generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and exhibition curator 


Further information
Asians in Britain web pages
Library of Birmingham website for details of opening hours and events
#connectingstories
#brumpeeps