The Italians “prefer money to fighting”

Ralph Glyn, a young officer attached to the War Office, was on a diplomatic mission to our allies in Serbia. He took the opportunity of a break in Rome to report on a country preparing to join the war – sometime. Colonel Sir Charles Lamb (1857-1948) was the British military attache at Rome, while the less positive Captain William Boyle (1873-1967),_12th_Earl_of_Cork was the British naval attache. Both were from upper class families – Lamb was a baronet, while Boyle was cousin and heir to the Earl of Cork and Orrery. Italy eventually declared war on Austria in May 1915, and on Turkey and Germany in August. We will be hearing much more from Ralph Glyn and his family – see the Who’s Who page for more information.

Syracuse 26/1/15

Dear General

We have arrived here after a very good journey with a break at Rome. We cross to Malta tomorrow night arriving there on the 28th. I don’t know whether we shall leave that day or the following but it is blowing a bit and I doubt if we shall reach the Piraeus before the 31st.

When I was in Rome I had a long talk both to Colonel Lamb & to Captain Boyle. They have both the fixed idea that Italy will not come in for some little time. Boyle is doubtful if they will come in until some very good excuse is forthcoming. He thinks that the Italians would feel some difficulty in going against their old ‘friends’ without some obvious cause. The northern manufacturing centres are making so much profit that they prefer money to fighting. Their naval yards are working overtime but very few extra men are being employed. All the energy is being devoted to military rather than naval work. Boyle pretends to believe that he will know the Italians mean to fight when they ‘come in’. I rather think he wants to get a ship out home!

Lamb on the other hand, although he has only been out a very short time, has found out a very great deal. Nobody better could be in his job. He has looked up all his old friends & learnt a great deal from them. Besides this the King gave him a long audience when he went to the Quirinal. Colonel Lamb was when I saw him writing a long report which will be in your hands as soon as this. From what I gathered Lamb is sure that Italy will come in – late in April. The transport section is the difficulty. There is no organised mechanical transport & the Rome WO is divided into two – Operations & Transport. All the Transport staff officers on mobilization go to their various districts & there bring together what transport is on the district list. It is now thought to be too late in the day to have a service for ‘conductors’ & the trouble already looms large. To operate until the snow is off the hills is almost impossible. Bologna will be the advanced base, & the doubling of the railway through the Appennines is not yet completed – this is another worry. The whole of northern Italy was full of troops on the move as we came through & the Swiss have strong guards at all the stations. There is an idea in Rome that the Germans & Austrians are now massing troops near Triest [sic] & that their objective is not Servia [sic].

It is difficult to believe this as they can have no object in bringing Italy in against them, & much might happen if they give the Serbs a knock before Italy or Roumania [sic] come in.

The Italians have found that much of their Krupp bought shells are loaded with faulty powder. They are busy now emptying & refilling. This puts their normal output back a good deal. They can put 1,200,000 men in the field with 259 4-gun batteries. The Deport gun is great success & the mobile militia batteries are being given the Krupp guns as the Deport are given to the active batteries.
These are only very rough impressions – I know you will so soon have full details from Col: Lamb.

I shall hope soon to send you other letters more worth reading.

I am, Sir,
Ralph Glyn

Letter from Ralph Glyn to General Charles Callwell (D/EGL/C24)

An exciting journey home

Neighbours of the Vansittart Neales had an exciting story to report of a voyage home from India hampered by the fears of attack from enemy shipping.

25 October 1914

Harry & Bob Paine came here. Both returned from India. Exciting voyage home. Large convoy destroyers. German boat signalled to them, but was caught. Took 39 days to come.

Added from end: German submarine sunk by a Fremantle. Four destroyers sunk. We lost 2 men & 4 wounded.

Somebody asked Kitchener “Should we end up top dog?” He said No – Person, much disturbed, asked why! “There won’t be any other dogs!!”

Told by Colonel Scott our government had given order for Army khaki to Austrian firm a few years ago. So that is why we can’t get it. We are now trying to get the dyes.

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

Longing to hear the army is reinforced

The realities of war were beginning to dawn on Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey.

18 September 1914

Feel uneasy about our army. Long to hear it is heavily reinforced…
Saw Evelyn Bradford killed. Austrians almost demolished. Kitchener predicts continuance of war.

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

Talking to the men, and enemy vessels spotted: Sydney Spencer’s adventures at Harwich continue

Sydney Spencer writes about his work with the YMCA at an army camp in Harwich:

Sunday September 13th

This morning we have been to Gravel Hill – that is to say Dr Marks and myself – as he was shorthanded & wanted help. I enjoyed going with him as I had an opportunity of getting into conversation with some half dozen of the men, & a very nice talk it was too. From the window where we were (the YMCA abode here is a four roomed house) we could see right out to the North Sea…. Last night just before we closed up, I had a little talk to one of the guards, who gave me some very interesting information. The River Stour goes by just below our canteen at Packerton, & he pointed out to me 15 destroyers lying in the harvour. They are distinguished by the cross at the mast heads. They had torpedo tubes at the stern, & also ship maxims like small cannon – which the guard described as being like bears, & so they are too. Also he shewed me the Austrian trading vessel which was captured & fired through the middle, & which turned out to be a mine layer, also a German boat a little nearer to us, & close at hand a large German trading boat which had on it a cargo of boots – he stated their value at £2,000,000, but that with a very little thought appears obviously impossible.

I am up at Gravel Hill again this afternoon. There is a “Tommy” here who is struggling with a letter to his mother. He is a finely built man, young & brown & boyish. He is sprawling in his chair & obviously finds the writing a greater nuisance than trench digging! His face is intensely serious, his pen travels up & down each letter laboriously …

Outside there hangs on a piece of wire a large iron ring. This is used as a clock, which unfortunately gives no other time than the hour. A man has just struck two upon this weird bell. The men have just been having their dinners. The tins they have them in are kit shaped, & the meat they have! It is simply lumps of meat clipped up & boiled in pots. The grease & fat & smell are really when blended together something too awful. Poor old Percy, that is all I can say. He must be having a beastly time of it all round. I only hope that he has accepted a post with Mr Holliday.

Business is slack here & I have a little time to spare for writing. Right out to sea I can see a couple of ships which look like destroyers although I can only see smoke as from one funnel.

I am to go oout to Packerton & sleep with Hayes in the marquee. That will be splendid work as we shall have a chance of knowing and talking to the men. The only thing is that I should have loved to have “Jumbo” with us too.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 13 September 1914 (D/EX801/12)