The Austrian offensive seems to have vanished into mid air

Officers were well treated on their visits home, on leave or wounded.

Florence Vansittart Neale
22 June 1918

I & two officers motored to Oxford. Saw Dorchester, had lunch en route. Saw Magdalen, New College & Christ Church. Two MO Canadians here for Sunday, Captains Johnston & Reay. They out all evening. We brought Phyllis home. She left Oxford.

Joan Daniels
June 22nd Saturday

Bruce McPherson has come for the weekend… Bruce has had a very nasty wound in the back of his head which he got last October.

The Austrian offensive seems to have vanished into mid air.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and Joan Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

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Italians doing well

Our Italian allies were making decisive progress against the Austrians.

20 June 1918
Italians doing well against Austrians.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Sneezing gas or hay fever?

Sydney was plagued by hay fever and thirst.

Sydney Spencer
Monday 17 June 1918

Got up at 6.45. Paraded at 7.45 for inspection. After inspection half an hour’s PT followed by a half hour’s run & then dismissed. Spent a lot of time reconnoitring. It was a scorching hot day, & the scent of clover fields so strong & pollen so strong that 4 out of 8 of us were set to sneezing violently. Some thought that it was sneezing gas as we were shelled pretty closely while on the trench line in front of A-y Wood, but I don’t think so.

This reconnoitring scheme took place from 9.30 till 3.30, 6 hours in a scorching sun with two biscuits & not a drop of drink! ‘No [won?]’ as the troops would say. The landscape was lovely. Saw numbers of swallow tail butterflies, scarlet pimpernels in abundance. A glorious walk if it had been a pleasure walk. A sleep. Dinner at seven. A turmoil of chits & arrangements & bed finally.

Joan Daniels
June 17th Monday

This morning the Austrian report said they had taken 10,000 prisoners, but tonight the paper says that they were completely squashed, which is a good thing. I am afraid the McKenzies will be anxious about Leslie, but trust he is alright.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer in France (D/EZ177/8/15); and Joan Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

Germans “too downtrodden to rise”

Florence Vansittart Neale was glued to every wild rumour about the war, while Will Spencer’s love for his German wife had only grown stronger through their difficult years of exile in Switzerland.

Florence Vansittart Neale
November 1917
[inserted before 23 November]

Hear P. Innes says state of Germany awful. People too weak to rise, able bodied men only able to work half time, too downtrodden to rise.
Hear the Pope instigated the Italians to give up. He encouraged Austrian spies everywhere!

23 November 1917

Hear Boy cannot get Paris leave. Hope for January…. Hear most domestic servants to be requisitioned for work – only allowed 1 servant each person! Counting the gardeners!!!

Hear General Plumer & staff have been in Italy 3 weeks to see how many necessary to keep Italy. Our troops must go over Mt Cenes pass.

Hear through Marga that a Florentine Regiment who deserted was sent back to Florence with “traitors to their country” on their brassades.

Hear many battalions would willingly shoot 1 in 10 of strikers [illegible].

Will Spencer
23 November 1917

During the afternoon I called & had an interview with Herrn Fursprech Engeloch. Father need take no further steps to obtain attestation of my residence in Cookham before Jan. 19/15, as it may not be needed. As soon as the matter comes before the Gemeinde (I told him we had chosen Oberburg [as their official home town in Switzerland]. Herr E. will let Oberst Reichel know, in order that he can then write on our behalf, stating that we are friends of his, as he has kindly offered to do. Probably the best means of letting the German authorities know that I had become a Swiss subject would be to apply to have Johanna’s money sent here, mentioning thereby that I am a Swiss subject, & if that is questioned, to then place the matter in the hands of the Swiss Political Department. My naturalization cannot finally be ratified until the Grosser Rat has met again. It only meets twice a year, & will meet next, Herr E. said, in Feb. or March, or at the latest in April….

I was sorry to have to tell Johanna how long we might have to wait for the ratification of our naturalization. After we had had coffee in Johanna’s room, something moved me to tell her that I had learned to know her better & that she had become more to me than ever during these last years – in some ways years of trial – in Switzerland. Johanna had afterwards to go into the town, but she would not let me go with her, as I was not quite up to the mark, & she thought it better for me to rest. When she returned, she thanked me again for what I had said. I said that I was sorry that they were only words that I had spoken, that I felt such things were better expressed in deeds, but she comforted me with the assurance that what I had said had not been merely words.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)

“Our streets and homes are becoming rapidly emptied of men”

The war was increasingly striking home as more and more men joined the armed forces – and more and more died.

THE WAR

The Naval Battle off the coast of Jutland and the tragically sudden loss of Lord Kitchener have brought home to us as nothing else has, the awfulness of the war. We can however thank God that we really won the victory, which will probably become clear to us when we read Admiral Jellicoe’s eagerly awaited Despatch and we can truly thank God for the magnificent character of Lord Kitchener and the splendid work which he has done for the Empire. We have also had an additional cause for thankfulness in the wonderful recovery of our Russian Allies and their victories over the Austrians, and also for the courage and grand resistance of the French before Verdun. Please God we shall have still more reasons soon for rejoicing.

Our streets and homes are becoming rapidly emptied of men, and a number more have joined up since last month. There are now from many families several brothers serving, and our sympathy is due especially to those mothers who have several sons at the war.

Several of our old lads have nobly laid down their lives, among whom are Sidney Walter Jones, John Thomas Owen, Ernest Buckle, William Henry Palmer, William Bellinger, and Ernest Westall. Moreover Lieut. William N Gardiner, grandson of the late Rector of Newbury, also died in the Naval Battle, in which Owen, Buckle, Palmer and Bellinger lost their lives. And yet how inadequate is this expression, for indeed they have, we trust, through death found a better and a more glorious life than any that can be ours here.

The Women’s Intercession Service on Friday afternoons is being well attended, though there are a great many more who could come, if they would: the members of the congregation are asked to put any special requests for prayer in the little box which hangs on the church wall, near the Intercession List, and these are used during the service: a certain number of names from the List are also read out.

Newbury parish magazine, July 1916 (D/P89/28A/13)

“It is appalling these awful losses, goodness knows where we find all the officers”

Two of Ralph Glyn’s fellow officers wrote to him with their opinions on the war.

June 20th [1916]
Dear Glyn

Very many thanks for your letter. I was very pleased to hear from you. Georgevitch has evidently done something to get himself into very hot water, I believe the question of decorations has something to do with it, anyhow he is absolutely shelved. You will have heard that a Colonel Nikolauivitch has been appointed Military Attache in London; it is just as well no one proposed Georgevitch for there, as he would have been refused. When they were discussing the question of who to send, they privately asked me & I suggested G, but was at once told that his name would not be entertained for a moment. I fear that there is nothing more that can be done for him. He got into trouble once before I understand over his treatment of his soldiers, & was for this reason only not with a battery in the Field Army.

It is appalling these awful losses, goodness knows where we find all the officers. Still one hopes on the whole the thing is going well though slowly.

I am glad to say I am better, though I have had a bit of [fun?] lately, everyone is having it too. [Hemlis?] & his division have left as you will have heard, most of them I believe going to help at Malta & elsewhere. The country is [illegible] fun from Typhus now, & there is a general air of cleanliness & sanitation about. All his troops practically are inoculated against Cholera.

My wife has been in the North all this time working up relief funds for Serbia, & has collected quite a lot of money; so anyhow you would not have had a chance of meeting her, thanks very much all the same. Things are very quiet here, but I am busy enough with wires & things the WO want. We were visited by 3 Austro-German aeroplanes the other day who dropped some bombs & made a lot of noise, but did not do much damage. We bagged one on its way back.
Wishing you the best of luck.

Yrs sincerely
Arthur Harrison

(more…)

Russians pursuing Austrians

Florence Vansittart Neale was excited by news of allied success on the eastern front.

12 June 1916

Russians pursuing Austrians. 100,000 prisoners.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Italian Intelligence methods are “totally different to ours & in my humble opinion rather unintelligent”

An Intelligence officer contact of Ralph Glyn’s trying to work out how the Austrian army was deployed was unimpressed by his Italian counterparts.

MI2C
War Office
Whitehall
SW

3.V.16

My dear Glyn

Many thanks for your two last letters & the paper on artillery. I’m just back from a visit to the Comande Supremo, where I had a chance of seeing the Italian Intelligence at work. Their methods are totally different to ours & in my humble opinion rather unintelligent. However of that more when we meet again.

Since your last letter of 25/4/16, the Italians claim to have identified the 57th, 59th Divs & 10th Mountain Brigade from Albania in the Trentino. The 57th & 59th Divs appear to form an VIIIth Corps (not an XVIIIth, as they previously swore). I don’t think much if anything has gone to Macedonia from Albania. The containing force there at the moment appears to be 47th Div (probably keeping order in Montenegro), 53rd Div & 10th, 14th, 17th Mountain Bdes, two of which may be incorporated in the 62nd Div, if it still exists.

The only artillery unit I can definitely locate in Balkans is the 2nd Howitzer Bg of the 10th Mountain Artillery regiment (from intercepted correspondence of interned Austrian!) with the 103rd German Div. There are certainly many more Austrian artillery units there, but Lord alone knows which they are. The Italians won’t dish up the enemy artillery on their front other than in terms of guns – never by numbered regiments, batteries, etc, as the normal GS does, & information from Russia, seeing that the Intelligence mission is at Petrograd dependent for its information on Russian War Office, & not at GHQ, is correspondingly scanty & inaccurate.

The composition of units in the AH [Austro-Hungarian] army changes so rapidly that any attempt to reduce it to cut & dried book form in watertight compartments (as you can with the Boche army) seems foredoomed. The book as soon as written is found to be out of date.

However everyone here is anxious that I should carry on with it; and it certainly has been useful here in many ways, so I am going to produce it eventually. But it is awful work, so little reliable information being forthcoming, & so much being left to pure conjecture, that I sometimes give up all hope of making anything out of it.

I had a very interesting visit to the Italian front, of which I will tell you something; it was a welcome change after all the months of unrelieved monotony I had had at the WO.

No time for more
Yours

E M B Ingram

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/34)

The hell of a job: British intelligence

An Intelligence officer friend of Ralph Glyn wrote to him with another glimpse into the newly reorganised forerunner of MI6.

MI2c
22.ii.16
My dear Glyn

Thank you for yours of the 15th inst. yes, I alone survive of the old MO2c push. Con is back from GHQ in command of MI2c & the staff has been increased to 5 & possibly 6. I have forsaken the Hun for the Austro-Hun: Austria having been combined with Germany at last in this section (I can’t think why it was not done before). Cox has handed Austria over to me wholesale: it is a hopeless task taking over from old Perry. No handbook since 1909 in spite of the 1912 reorganisation. I hope to get out a booklet on the Infantry by end of March, showing present distribution. The whole army works by Battalions in the most complex way & it is the hell of a job.
Meantime we shall send you once a month a distribution & assumed composition of Austro German forces in the various theatres, which should keep you fairly up to date.

At end of March a new edition of “German Army in the field” will also be published, copies of which will be sent to you.

WO news is very prolific in that a complete reorganisation on very (apparently) sound lines has taken place. A tendency however is showing itself to devote too much attention in the highest quarters to masses of detail which really only concern the subsections or the forces in the field, & thereby to neglect the larger issues. I speak however only of the MI Directorate & it is only a personal opinion so “tell it not in Gath & publish it not in Askalon” [a Biblical quotation].

Wigram, having gone with the DMO to Russia, has returned with ‘Stanislavs’ upon his breast; he returns next week to Petrograd & is having the hell of a time. Buckley remains MI1 (Col) but his activities are narrowly restricted to ‘Intelligence’. Between you & me, he seems to have fallen slightly into the background; after so long a sojourn in the limelight it must be very galling to him & I feel very sorry indeed about it.

Look me up next time you’re back in England & we will dine together & prattle of affairs in general.

Goodbye & good luck to you.

Yours ever
G M B Ingram

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/8)

Thankful not to be in the trenches

Wounded officer John Wynne-Finch wrote to his brother in law Ralph Glyn from his convalescence in Wales.

John to Ralph (D/EGL/C2/3
Voelas
Bettws-y-Coed
N Wales
Jan 19th 1916
My dear Ralph

We have most certainly had a lovely long stay here. All thanks to my very “tuppenny-halfpenny” wound which refused to heal. During this time I have done a good deal of shooting, and the total bag for the year is really rather good and has beaten all previous records for the years when no pheasants have been reared. Over 1000 pheasants have been killed, and about 400 partridges, and very little shooting was done before the end of November.

The weather here has been very bad, and there have been many occasions when we have wondered how Jimmy was feeling in the North Sea. The gale here on New Year’s Day was of most unprecedented violence, and did a great deal of damage, bringing down over 100 trees in one wood alone. But owing to the war, one can luckily obtain a very good price for timber, and it is so much in demand that I have been able to sell them all, whereas in the ordinary course of events one can get no sale here on account of the cost of carriage….

The rain has also been a most tiresomely frequent visitor, as Meg found to her dismay, during the week she was here. On this account I have very often felt thankful that I was not biding my time in the trenches of Flanders….

My next Medical Board is due in a few days, when I suppose they will pass me fit for duty at Windsor, whither I suppose we shall have to go, to be there I suppose about 2 months before they send me out again.

The war news of the last few days has not been of the very best. The end of Montenegro will not help us very much in the Balkans I am afraid. I would have expected Italy to have sent troops there, because I don’t suppose it will be any help to her to have the Austrians with a longer sea-board in the Adriatic.

The Persian Gulf business also seems a very tough job. It was most awfully sad about poor Ivar. They seem to have had a very severe handling out there. Nevertheless they seem to be making a slow but sure progress, and will no doubt join up very soon.

As regards myself I have been very lucky in getting promoted Captain, after such few years’ service. But it was all due to the formation of the Guards Division and the consequent augmentation of the regimental establishments.

You probably know that Godfrey Fielding now commands the division, and Cavan has got a Corps, XIV, to which the division is shortly to be transferred, so as to be under his command.

The evacuation of Gallipoli was a most astoundingly wonderful feat; and I am simply longing to hear something about it. I often wonder now after reading the Turkish “official” communiqués what amount of truth there is in what they say as regards the booty etc, which they took. It is always difficult to believe anything these days, from whatever source it may emanate.

Maysie still keeps her pack of hounds; and Connell is as naughty and bad as possible. In the house he is no better than a travelling water-cart.

The whole country seems to be full of soldiers; and London is simply one mass of them. Those on leave from France, looking too untidy and dirty for words. One sees also very large numbers of men, of every class, wearing the khaki armlets of the Derby scheme.

I hope you are keeping fit.

Yours ever
John C Wynne Finch

Lady Mary Glyn, Ralph’s mother, also wrote to him.
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“A leader will appear – but my! how he’s dawdling”

Meg Meade wrote to her brother with the latest news, and the reactions in their circle at home.

23 Wilton Place
Dec 20th [1915]
My own darling Ralph

It will be very horrid to think of you in cold Gallipoli for Xmas, but we’ll all be thinking of you darling…

Jim has been told off by JJ [Jellicoe] to take charge of the 125th Flotilla, & I suppose his appointment may be gazetted soon. But perhaps not in wartime. He starts off with 3 destroyers, a depot ship, & Destroyer Leader until the rest of them join up. I’m certain he’ll make it a smart flotilla.

They seem to have had an awful gale up there lately, & his passage north wasn’t to comfortable either. It’s only daylight from 9 am to 3 pm now apparently, they’ll be thankful when the shortest day is over. Algy Harris dined here last night. He was passing through London to take up a job under some Colonel of coastal defences, somewhere in the middle of the Lincolnshire coast. He seemed very lame indeed, poor Algy, he has been badly in the dumps, & not feeling at all well. He ought to get to a warm dry climate but everything seems up against him, & he’s very deaf now. But he hears alright when he uses a sort of telephone thing. I do wish one could help him to get out to Egypt or some such place. He’s very good & brave, but it is all bitterly hard on him. Soldiering is the one aim of his life, & he feels he’s a failure, but that’s not his fault, poor dear…

Everyone seems naturally very depressed at the news from the East. It’s horrible, isn’t it, one must just go on hoping & believing that a leader will appear, but my! How he’s dawdling. I met the French Naval Attache lunching today with the Aubrey Smiths. It’s hard for such people to understand why under the circumstances we don’t have conscription, and I don’t blame them for being both annoyed with us, & they must have not a little contempt too for being too optimistically blockheaded. I hear that Mr Jack Wilson, who was nabbed by the Austrian submarine, completely lost his head at the critical moment. He threw overboard one bag of important despatches without weighting it, so that it floated on the water till the Austrians picked it up. But I heard that his other bag of important despatches was “saved owing to the presence of mind & resources of an American lady”. I wonder if she chewed the contents, or hid them up her skirts….

Meg

Letter from Meg Meade to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/2)

An ultimatum to Bulgaria

Florence Vansittart Neale keenly followed the war news. Bulgaria had been neutral for the first year or so of the war, but by the autumn of 1915 was edging closer to the German side.

3 October 1915
Russia sent ultimatum to Bulgaria to demobilise & send away German & Austrian officers. Give them 24 hours to decide!

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“Send me an Austrian explosive bullet”

Colonel Stanley Leonard Barry (1873-1943), a career soldier and Boer War veteran, was ADC to the Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France. He was the youngest son of Sir Francis Tress Barry, MP for Windsor 1890-1906, and had grown up at St Leonard’s Hill in Clewer. For more about the explosive bullets, see here.

Head-Quarters
British Army

Dear Glyn

Don’t forget to send me one of those Austrian explosive bullets cut in half like the one you had over here.

Things fairly quiet here at present & no news.

Yours truly, Stanley Barry

July 17 [1915]

Letter from Stanley Barry to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C31/10)

“Primitive and different” in the Balkans

A friend of Ralph Glyn’s was following in his footsteps in Serbia.

88 Ebury St
SW

14th July, 1915
Dear Mr Glyn,

I am just home from Serbia where I have been for the last 3 months – an interesting time at Belgrad [sic]! Everywhere I heard much of you – even once when I fussed about a particularly dirty looking bedroom in the Olympos at Salonika I was assured that it must be the best they had, as it had had the honour of being occupied by you. Even so far as Nish and Belgrad [sic] I used to hear people discussing the young officer who was “very much not married” as they put it!!

Other more serious people told me of the splendid work you did. I always told you that you would succeed, didn’t I? May I congratulate you and offer you my best wishes for its continuance and your safety through this beastly war.

I’m going back to the Balkans almost at once and expect to be out there until the war is over. The spirit of unrest entered into my soul a long time ago and I cannot settle anywhere for long….

The Balkans are interesting in that they are primitive and different and I like the language; also I’ve learnt a lot about medicine, which I always wanted to do but couldn’t. I saw Typhus at its worst in a hospital, of which I have been acting as secretary, within 100 yards of the Austrians, and now I’m anxious to get back before the line gets closed or cut. The Germans have sent about 60,000 to Comlin to strengthen the Austrians there, which looks like another walk through Belgrad [sic].

Do write sometime and tell me such of your doings as are not government property.

Yours
AEM

Letter from “AEM” to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C31/9)

Thinking seriously of investing in War Loan

War Loans were a way of encouraging people to voluntarily invest their savings in a kind of government bond. Both Florence Vansittart Neale and William Hallam were interested in the proposals.

Florence Vansittart Neale
23 June 1915

Russian success at the Dniester. Austrians driven back, 4000 prisoners. French success at [illegible].

Papers more cheerful this evening. Russians better, big success! Explaining War Loan – small investors in PO.

William Hallam
23rd June 1915

To-day I have been seriously thinking of taking up another mortgage on this house of 100£ and investing it in the War Loan at 4½ P.C.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8) and William Hallam (D/EX1415/23)