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Ask our experts :: Identifying an occupation from a family portrait

Our resident experts are on hand to answer your queries. Here, Inside History reader Beth Venning asked military historian Neil Smith for help in identifying the occupation of her grandfather, George Pearce, based on clues in a family photograph.


Our research officer at the Milton Ulladulla Family History Society suggested I send my photo to Inside History to see if it could be identified. The photo (above) is of my grandparents, George and Elizabeth Pearce. It was taken around the early 1900s in England. In the 1911 Census, George was listed as a garage proprietor and motor man. I’d love to know more about his uniform and possible occupation at the time of the photo. The initials on the cap are GR and there is a crown underneath. The collar has a silver “2” each side. I doubt it is military. I’d appreciate any help in this matter — mysteries are such fun to solve!


Neil Smith says: This is a difficult question to answer. George is certainly not wearing a military uniform. I have considered all clues, the studio setting and even his facial appearance. The dark blue serge tunic and trousers aren’t definitive. His cap style is common and probably includes a coloured band. I suspect the “GR” stands for King George V. He wears no ribbons that might suggest a military background. No pattern can be discerned on the metal uniform buttons and he carries a chain attached I believe to a whistle. The number “2” on his collar suggesting a district doesn’t help. The buttons on his sleeve don’t help either nor do the embellishments on his epaulettes, which may simply be similar to those on his cap. There are no clues from his trousers or footwear to indicate service as a driver or in some other mounted capacity.

So what might he be? The monarch’s badge suggests British Government employment. But George’s attire doesn’t match the police, railways or postal services c1900. My suggestion is that he was a courier or security officer with a bank — perhaps the Bank of England. It could be illuminating to backtrack through earlier census records in an effort to solve the puzzle.

Lieutenant Colonel Neil C. Smith AM is head of Mostly Unsung, which publishes on a range of Australian and British military history. 

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