Now they know what war means

Meg Meade wrote to her brother Ralph in Egypt. She was staying with their parents in Peterborough, and had heard from her naval husband.

Peterborough
Jan 26th [1916]
My darling Ralph

I hear that the beautiful Lady Loughborough was an Australian called Miss Chisholm & she married out in Egypt the other day.

I sent the Gallipoli bomb to Miss Jackson at that Irish address. I have not yet heard if it’s arrived alright.

I sent £1 to the Home Office for permission for you to wear those foreign orders, & they have acknowledged the money without saying where the warrants have been sent to…

How I envy you in beloved Egypt, & near the Nile!

Jim writes very well, but they have no news. His destroyers are joining up every day, & the gales never stop blowing for an hour…. Jim sent me really a heavenly rhyme about Royalist & her officers which I am copying out for you. Isn’t it priceless.
Maysie will tell you all her news. Poor John has got to have his jaw cut again before it can heal.

The parents seem very well, & Mamma has a thousand irons in the fire as usual, & sometimes get her fingers burnt, but she always retaliates! She’s started a first class Red X workroom in the Knights Chamber which of course infuriates the other Cross Red women who aren’t Red X here!

There is no chauffeur & no gardeners. We live in the hall & dining room & Dad’s study. Mr Green & the housemaids are supposed to run the garden!! So Dad & I had a morning’s weeding today, one had almost to push one’s way along the Monastery Garden through the weeds. But the War has reduced all gardens to that. Dad busy with the hoe, poking, pushing & destroying, muttered pathetically, “Poor dears” & I found he was addressing the weeds!

PS I went to see Aunt Syb who is wonderful, & Joanie, who is the same, but she seemed to me so altered in the face. Something has happened to her eyes, & they seem shattered by the sorrow and shock, & who can wonder. It is so awful.

[On a separate sheet is the poem:]

A sailor bold to me did tell
This story once as evening fell
Of how he’d sailed the wintry seas
From Iceland’s banks to Hebrides

His craft the good ship “Royalist”
Was trim as maiden ever kissed
She never sprang no leaks nor broke
Her engines down or made much smoke

The Captain, he was Jimmy Meade
Who always loved to go full speed
The Germans didn’t like him much
He had a sort of Nelson touch
About him that they didn’t find
Congenial to their heathen mind
In fact he had been known to shell
Their ships & send them all to H*ll
Without so much as “By your leave”
This made the honest Germans grieve

She had the best of No One’s
Whose hobby was to play with guns
He’d run them in, and run them out
Scraps, paint, red lead inside & out
And then he’d fill them up with props
And go & try all sorts of dodges

The Chief played chess & smoked a pipe
He was of gentle trusting type
Except when people asked for stores
He, feigning sleep, replied by snores
One thing however made him whistle
And always caused his beard to bristle
That was a message from the Bloke
“Be good enough to stop the smoke”.

The Doctor was the censor bad
Who made the honest sailor mad
By crossing out the spicy par
He’s written home to trusting Ma.

It goes on with various others, & one about the Pilot, who had a saucy soul

He liked fair ladies’ legs I think
And drew them well with pen & ink

!

Their father the Bishop also wrote to Ralph:

The Palace
Peterborough
Jan 26 [1916]

Darling Ralph

We got your letter of 17th today. I am so sorry that dear good General Callwell is off to Russia & will be away for Xmas time, You are indeed having a busy & interesting time – full of work & such a great experience of the country & people of Balkans will help you to bring through successfully & usefully – but it must be a strain on body and mind & I hope you are taking some care of your poor old body! & I am glad to think you will have moved to Ismailia from Cairo by this time…

Yesterday we actually had luncheon at the Deanery! to meet the Bishop of Malines who is over here in England to care for the Belgians who are in this country. 240,000! he tells me – & we have a good lot here who are now well behaved & all at work, on munitions or other work – men & women – so that there is very little, if any, need of financial support for them.

.. Your car is here – safely “put by” by Swayne [the bishop’s chauffeur] before he left. He is accepted for M-ambulance work & will get high pay.

Your loving father
E C Peterborough

Lady Mary also wrote to her son:

Peter[borough] Jan 26 1916
My own darling own own Scraps

I had to speak at the Co-operation Hall on the 19th, Ednesday, & tried to say something which would make them say “After all, we are at war”. It was awfully nice for they had prepared a surprise for me and all brought me parcels of things they had made for the “sick and wounded”. A little echo of the row in the papers and the action of the idiots on the Red Cross Committee.

Then on Thursday 20th I had to go to Hinckley & speak to over 200 women in the evening. Again “Our calling in the war. What is it?” There was a dinner before it in the vicarage, & a talk after till past midnight….

Tuesday 25th we … had luncheon after Deanery meeting to meet the Belgian Bishop sent over by Cardinal Mercier to look after the Belgian refugees. We thought we had better accept but knew what we were in for – Mayor & Mayoress, Sir R & Lady Winfrey & the Precincts lot, and all the Roman Priests that could be collected! Miss Ingram there, quite beside herself with felicity – nearly prostrating herself, and showing off her French. It was a very funny party. We were sent in arm in arm & I sat between the Dean & the Mayor. The Mayoress (Lettice Gamp – a dear old thing! & so good). I think it was right to go.

We have had people dropping in like old times with lengthening days – Bettina Cavendish, Hermione Buxton, Mrs Hornsley and others, & Dad had a chapel crowded with people on Monday & some stay to tea after it. In fact I have never been alone and Meg goes on repeating “awful life” – “a dog’s life”. But I don’t feel that about it! & the result of the conflict is a wonderful rally round us of all the nicest people….

I have not seen Aunt Syb, but Dad has. Meg says she is wonderful, but gives a piteous account of the change in Joan, & how “her eyes look different”. It was bound to be for I think they had all had a sort of determination to put from them the darker side of war. As Stamm said that August after tea with the talk that then prevailed, “They don’t know or realize what war means”. Many waters have flowed under the bridge since then, but even in April when Uncle George died death had not touched them in the same way…

Letters to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/3)

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