“England is worth dying for” – and Winston Churchill is the devil on earth

Meg Meade let her brother Ralph know the details of the last moments of their cousin Ivar Campbell, together with news of various friends and relations – plus her very unflattering views of Winston Churchill. Ralph had political ambitions, and subsequently became a Conservative MP. The controversial Noel Pemberton Billing, mentioned here, had just won a by-election standing as an Independent, but his political career (perhaps fortunately) lasted only a few years.

March 16th [1916]
Peter[borough]

My darling Ralph

I hear Wisp is coming to London as he has six weeks leave, lucky thing, but the reason is he has had such a bad dose of flu he has lost a stone! Jim says lots of them have had it in the north. If it produced leave on that scale, & Jim doesn’t catch it, I shall have to send him a bottled germ of it!

I posted my last letter to you from London when I went up to see Arthur. He was looking very well indeed, he says the English soldiers have invented a sort of pidgeon French which is now used by the French soldiers to make themselves understood by the English & vice versa, & it’s frightfully difficult to understand. One day Arthur came out & found his servant looking up into his horse’s face & saying “Comprennie? Comprennie?” He said Frenchwomen always come to him about every conceivable thing, even to if they are going to have a baby, & one had highstrikes [sic] in his office the other day.

I hear that Bertie is convalescent on crutches now & they are trying to prevent his being sent home to England on account of his health.

Poor old Mrs Hopkinson came in here today, broken hearted; for Pen’s husband, Colonel Graeme, was killed in France last Friday behind the lines by a stray shell. Killed outright mercifully. But oh dear, how sad one is at these ceaseless sorrows, and all the broken hearted people all round one. “But England is worth dying for” as Noel Skelton wrote to Aunt Syb about Ivar. I dined with Aunt Syb the night I was in London. She is so wonderful, so is Joan, but it has told hard on both of them. Aunt S has aged & Joan carries the mark in her face too…

Niall dined too with me & Aunt Syb. He had just returned home from a trip to France where he had been to see all the Highland regiments. He gave quite interesting accounts & an awful description from an American who he (Niall) had talked to, & who said he had been through a part of Poland 800 miles long by 200 miles broad where there wasn’t a living hen. Nothing alive! The Poles had no museums, & the priceless treasures of the country were kept in private houses, so there is nothing left! Niall had a wonderful yarn that we had dropped nets so successfully outside Smyrna harbour that we had bottled up 17 German & Austrian submarines inside.

When he left after dinner Aunt Syb read me some of Ivar’s letters, he certainly knew how to write & drew such wonderful descriptions. He was happy to go to the East & his letters to the last were cheery. He was one of the first to be wounded in that battle, & they got him down to the Base Hospital. He was shot through the chest & lungs & lived about 24 hours after it, only partly conscious, & described very well by a nice chaplain, whose letter has been a great comfort to Aunt Syb, as if Ivar were “like a man on the edge of a deep sleep. He complained at last of feeling sick & sat up in bed. They came at once to dress the wound again & he fell back dead in their arms. He wanted to be brought home but that of course wasn’t possible & they buried him on the banks of the Tigris. Poor darling Ivar, such a gallant soldier he made, & Aunt Syb says he had made up his mind to stop in the Army. He had great gifts & so good looking, how well I remember all our games when we were children here together, & when we climbed trees beside the river at Kilkavock….

I also lunched with Pelly that day I was in London. He told me that General Callwell has gone out to Russia again, this time he has gone to the Caucasus, Pelly believes, & he didn’t know when he’ll be back….

I am so very delighted Captain MacClintock has got the DSO, & Roger Keyes got something too, & so many of Jim’s friends, in this last list of Dardenelles [sic] honours for sailors.

Jim’s role is going to change again in a month’s time. C in C wants ships like Royalist so much that he grudges them to flotillas so Jim had the choice of joining a cruiser squadron & keeping Royalist or shifting into a smaller & much more uncomfortable ship, which is only a Destroyer Leader, & remaining with the Flotilla. So he has chosen the more dashing role & gives up the Flotilla, where he’s had hard paper work & not much sea going. He is well, but Heaven only knows when he’ll get a chance of coming south, and it seems a long long time since he went away, but I’ve been luckier than most I must say.

Hereward [Wake] is now working at the War Office, but he & his wife have a house in London, 10 Westbourne Street, Hyde Park, W. I am going to try & see if he can’t get Algy a job in Egypt somehow, but Pelly told me, as you did, that it would be no easy matter.

Algy was here for Sunday. I do admire his pluck so. He brought his small motor here, which he can drive quite well now, & he hops nimbly in & out to wind it up. He is depressed about his deafness, but I don’t think he is as deaf as he was. He is anyway very depressed at his life under the present conditions. His old Colonel has got on his nerves, & there seems to be little or no work to do.

Well, so long my darling, bless you so, & I am longing to see you home again soon, but all the same, you are doing better work where you are I suppose, so the longing to see you must go with other longings to swell the big one that the War will end soon, or that we may soon have the end in sight.

Meantime there are plenty of rumours of the sea scraps, but one can’t believe much & one can write still less.

So long my own darling, my dearest love, from your lovingest
Meg

I will try to find you a small Naval handbook…

I do so hope you’ve got your Badminton now, one went to you to Dardenelles [sic], & I sent you another one about a month or 3 weeks ago to this same address I’m writing now. I can’t understand why neither of them have reached you.

PS What did you think of that devilish Winston’s speech. I’m now quite certain he’s the devil on earth, or else he is a lunatic, but anyhow he is safely shown up as such & one can only hope that no man will ever trust his judgment again about anything. I think that Billing being returned as an ‘Independent’ for East Herts marks a political epoch, don’t you. The first thin edge of a wedge in the party caucus.

The laundry motor van tried to see if it was made of harder stuff than Dad’s, & apparently it was, for although the washing continues to go about, Dad’s motor has had steering gear & splashboard smashed, but it’s insured alright. I hear today the laundry van say it was our chauffeur’s fault, so there’ll be a row, & our washing must be withdrawn as a dignified protest, in spite of the fact we’ll have to go dirty, for there’s no other Laundry. It’s the good hand of Providence preventing us having joyrides in wartime I think, for as Dad has a spare week we had meant to take the car & go to Normanton, Hinchingbroke & Burghley.

Letter from Meg Meade to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/3)

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