White flags

The war definitely seemed to be approaching the end.

Will Spencer
28 October 1918

Seeing Herr Dr Mai in the Rondel, I asked him whether he had already been for his morning walk, & he replied that he had not, & would be glad to come with me. He told me that he had just fetched his paper, & seen that Ludendorff had resigned. I told him that I had just read in yesterday’s paper the report of a speech of Lloyd Geroge’s, in which he spoke of what England had still to learn from Germany – that the German people was a better educated people than the English, etc.

Florence Vansittart Neale
28 October 1918

Allenby in Aleppo! We still going on.

Balfour & Lloyd George went to Paris. Seems like preliminaries.

Submarines going back to base with white flags & saluting our merchant men!…

Made a helmet. Talk of Kaiser abdicating. Ludendorf resigned.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

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“Sickened by this uncalled for impertinence of President Wilson”

Percy Spencer spent part of his leave with his parents in Cookham, then headed for his sister’s house in Cambridge. Brother in law John Maxwell Image had some more to say about the political scene – he was very unimpressed by US President Wilson!

24 Dec. [1916]

Florence specially bids me join her good wishes with mine to Mrs Smith and you, we can’t at this juncture say for a Merry Xmas, but our heartfelt good wishes that you may have a Good and Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.

She got back here on Thursday [from Cookham]: and is at this moment in bed with a rancorous cold which she brought back from her voyaging, together with her brother. Poor fellow, he had to leave the very next morning (and is back at the Front by now): but he longed to see me, just once again. He is one of those fine fellows whom you feel you can trust through thick and thin. Florence showed me a thing he values far above medals – an autograph appraisement of him by the General. It is scribbled in pencil, but I never read stronger and I may say more affectionate words of the way he is looked up to and regarded by the entire Staff of the Brigade; and (it would have been tame without that) of his coolness under fire and his courage. Prizing it as he did, he would not take it back, but left it for safety – not with his parents, but with Florence. It is touching to note how the brothers, one and all, turn to her for everything.

I have never felt more bewildered – more sickened – than by this uncalled for impertinence of President Wilson. Does he dare to pretend that, in his view, the desire of each side is “virtually the same”, to secure the “rights and privileges of weak peoples and small states”?!!!

To quote the Observer, he would “present Germany with a gratuitous certificate of moral equality. Take the Hun out of quarantine and provide him with a clean bill of health”.

The Right Answer is the answer of Jehu.

Let Mr Wilson ponder what will be the lot of America, should Germany establish the world-empire she is striving for.

Nevertheless, ever since Agadir in 1911, I have placed full trust in Lloyd George as a fighting chief – once he could shake clear from “Wait and See”. He has done that now. He is practically a Dictator. It may not be pleasant for the home-folk, but it is the winning card. Once more is true the claim, “I know I can save this people, and that nobody else can”. It is Lloyd George or nothing.

Carson, no doubt, might: but he is older: and would he have received such unanimous acceptance?

How will the worn out Balfour manage at the FO? He was so singularly gauche in his announcements from the Admiralty that I am of those who see, in his appointment and that of Lord Robert Cecil, a sop to the Salisbury influence. He resembles Grey in being a gentleman. In other things I hope he will be clearer and keensighted.

The Hall was full on Wednesday – 199 Cadets and 37 Dons and Officers. Government limitation of 3 courses. I had 1. Hare Soup. 2. Wing Fowl. 3. Mincepie – and felt far more comfortable than after the gorges of old time. Wines were Fizz and Port, only. The former foamed forth during the soup. The Master and VM were unable to come, and I was in the Chair: and let in for some of the oratory. It was a joyous party. The boys (nearly all of whom had served at the Front already, and had wounds and medals to shew) were so sweet and friendly. They buzzed round, begging your signature on their menus. They set such store by this, and send the cards home to the ends of the earth. I signed my name well over 100 times. Fortunately I had the Colonel on my right, so I got him to stand up and send them to their places; else we should have got no forrader, at one time. At 10 he and I eloped: but the fun went on – and what most relieved me was that I escaped the sickening song Auld Lang Syne…

Your most affectionate
Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

“Sun punishment” for prisoners of war

Meg Meade, visiting her sister and brother-in-law in Windsor, met a former prisoner of war with harrowing reports of German treatment.

March 23rd
Elgin Lodge
Windsor
My darling Ralph

Have you heard that Asquith came home sober the other night, so his dog never recognised him & bit him!! And another evening after he’d had a good dinner he played bridge with some friends. He seemed alright except he would go on trying to cut the matchbox!

It is not yet settled whether Jim keeps the flotilla or goes to LCS, in any case he keeps Royalist. He writes as if the last alternative is the decisive one, but it’s contrary to various [illegible] I’ve heard in London. However everyone agrees he is right to stick to Royalist…

I came down here on Thursday to stay with Maysie & John, & this is a nice little house with a hideous outside… John looks well, but his jaw is still oozing, I believe… This evening a Coldstream soldier is coming up here to see them, as he’s been a prisoner in Germany since Sept. 1914, & has weird tales of the punishments the Germans dish out, but of course it must be a grand occasion for a yarn. No one here can contradict him when he says he has twice been put in prison 3 days on end in darkness & then one day in daylight to make him blind, & he says they use “sun punishment”, making the prisoner remain in the sun without a hat & facing the sun all day…

There are many stories about “Moesa” getting out & getting home. All or more may be true, but one thing’s certain, & that is 2 ships without lights may pass each other on a dark night without knowing the other’s there, even though they be only a few 1000 yds apart, & the sea is quite a big place you know. Lack of coaling facilities will & has prevented them sending many Moeses out, & they are so very liable to meet a nasty sticky end.

And I was very impressed about your remarks of the Navy in the East. I’m afraid the Army won’t come out well in comparison of wasting material with the Navy. It seems a too difficult job for both services. They are burning military saddles here when they don’t know what to do with them, & there are too many tales of Staff officers’ expensive motors to quote, but they’d put into shade your grouse about an Admiral using motor boats as despatch carriers. As for the Navy’s job as Transporters in general, they don’t seem to have done so very badly when you come to think of the millions of men they have been carrying up and down the world to every military expedition which the WO has thought good to attempt. If there’s one thing quite certain it is that the Army can’t move hand or foot without them, & are entirely dependant on the Navy in whatever part of the world they’re fighting in.

Do tell me some more Naval items from the Desert, darling. Anyway you’ll approve of the way that Arthur Balfour & Hedworth Meux smashed up that mad viper Winston. I never heard such tales as Jim Graham told me of Winston’s organization of the Naval Brigades in the beginning of the war. However as some sailor said, “Thank God Winston was got busy with his Naval Division & Flying Brigade, & the Navy was saved owing to the fact he was too busy to interfere with it!”!…

Your ever very loving
Meg

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

Every man worth anything is on war service

Lady Mary Glyn wrote to her son Ralph with the latest news, ranging from air raids to the family members affected by the war.

Feb 8th 1916
The Palace
Peterborough
My own darling Scrappits

We have had a Zepp excitement since I wrote – no, I think we did tell you? Poor Loughborough has suffered; one factory refused to put out its lights & they did a lot of damage there and killed 11 people. Other places escaped by clever devices, and the Bosch was well let in, but on the whole it was a fine performance on their part.
I wonder what you think of the trawler and her skipper. I am sure he did the only thing that was possible?

There are so many rumours about the war & the growing conviction that the autumn is to see the end of the war – I wonder!

John & Maysie have been here for Sunday – 5th to 7th. He had to see his Colonel on Monday & today we hear he is made Adjutant & takes up duty at Windsor, so they are looking for a house….

Aunt Syb writes of your letter to her with real gratitude… I did not try to see her last week having to do so much, and she was I hear all day at her hospital. Aunt Far has been writing in the Oban Times, and in a very characteristic way. I hope a better memorial may be published in Ivar’s own letters some day. He is one of those who found his life in losing it: and I think of him as he was, ever in the old days, & as we met again outside the Inverary Church at his father’s funeral…
(more…)

“Blunder after blunder – what can you expect from politicians if the only soldier of influence & in power is no d— use.”

Maysie Wynne-Finch informed her brother Ralph about her wounded husband’s latest operation. She had also met an old friend, the distinguished soldier Sir Hereward Wake (1876-1963).

Jan 28 [19]16
11 Bruton Street
My darling R.

Here we are back in London & my poor John in hospital & to be cut open again in about ¼ hour’s time, so if this letter is ga-ga – you’ll understand. His face swelled up again so badly that we had to come up to London on Friday. We saw the surgeon yesterday who said he must operate at once or the abcess might burst outwardly & there’d be the devil then of a mess. This morning they gave him proper anisthetic [sic] & it will be a longer job than last time, I fancy, as they have to dig out the wisdom tooth & then clean up & scrape the jawbone….

In the train on Friday we met Hereward & Daisy Wake… H looks better & is back in his old dept at the WO… He spoke strong & straight over the hopelessness of the conduct of the war in general, & says all the blame lies at our door. There is no doubt it’s the general opinion on all sides now – how can it be otherwise. Blunder after blunder – what can you expect from politicians if the only soldier of influence & in power is no d— use.

I saw poor dear Aunt Syb yesterday. She is quite splendid, but it just breaks our heart to see & hear here. It’s terrible. No doubt you know far more about Frank Balfour’s doings than I do, but he seems to have done a splendid thing, & to have had the fact duly appreciated, not at all always the same thing. I am so glad. Poor Lesley is naturally in a great state of anxiety over Arthur. They have been in action. I am lunching with Addy & the Admiral today. Judging from a conversation on the telephone he is wildly excited, off to France tomorrow, & evidently determined to be in the thick of anything going. There seems to be considerable liveliness too just now, judging from the casualties anyhow.

Later – John’s op quite successful. They cleaned up the bone & removed the wisdom tooth. He has been in great pain, poor darling, all day…

Letter from Maysie Wynne-Finch to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/3)

An American Spiritualist’s presence of mind saves the dispatches

Ralph Glyn’s sister Meg Meade wrote to him optimistically after a disappointing Christmas. She had seen one of the patriotic/propaganda films which were circulating, and also had a remarkable story to tell about the American woman who saved British secret papers when the ship she was travelling on was captured. Charlotte Herbine was a leading Spiritualist – a phenomenon of the period in Britain and the US. Although she was a neutral American, her sympathies were firmly pro-British, and she sponsored a war hospital in London named for her “spirit guide”, Dr Coulter, which was next door to the American Embassy. She was clearly a lady of great resolve and character. Perhaps her experience running seances had developed a gift in misdirection which helped on this occasion.

Dec 29th [1915]
23 Wilton Place

My own darling Ralph

I wonder if this can reach you to wish you a very happy New Year darling, & all the best things in the world for 1916. Today I feel that victory must be in sight now that the Government have really faced that we must have conscription, & it is splendid, isn’t it? Xmas wasn’t Xmas this year, but a dismal caricature. On the very day I was to have taken the babies to Peter[borough], Mother sent me a telephone message to say her kitchenmaid has just developed measles so of course we couldn’t go, & I did feel miserable…

John went to a Medical Board on Dec. 23rd who found that the holes in his back are no better now than when he left hospital in the end of October! So they gave him another month. But it doesn’t prevent him from shooting every day, & they are having a happy time together….

The great bit of news in the Meade family circle is that Cecil is going Commander in Chief at Portsmouth next March! He came to London 23rd to 28th Dec. to fix it up, & he returned to “Madeira” till the end of Feb. when he comes south again for a month’s leave before taking on Portsmouth on March 5th. Of course he is quite inconsolable that he is not afloat but still I am so glad he’s got the billet if it’s only for the sake of Addie & the boys. But of course he’ll find it difficult to collect the cheery sort of Staff that he’ll want, because all the best men are afloat, & naturally wish to remain so…

Aubrey Smith took me this afternoon to a Cinematograph show at the Empire, all about soldiers training to start with, & then there was an interval during which Arthur Balfour came on the stage & began his speech by saying “Though I am unaccustomed to this stage of operations”, loud laughter & applause, & he went on to explain what the being of the Grand Fleet meant to everyone, & put it very well, & then followed a wonderful show of portions of the Grand Fleet at sea, & the sea was rough in some! Queen Elizabeth came in for a lion’s share, the photographer must have lived on board, & then we saw a lot of the Iron Duke too, & light cruisers, destroyers, mine sweepers etc etc.

I was very amused at your indignation about Mr Jack Wilson having been collared on the Greek boat by the Huns. All sorts of rumours flew about London about that adventure. First we heard that the bag of important despatches had only “been saved by the resource & presence of mind of an American lady”. Lucky that skirts are wide nowadays! And it turns out that the American lady is no other than the great Mrs Herbine! Does that convey anything to you? Perhaps as you don’t live in such proper spirituelle circles as I do! her fame may not have reached you. Mrs Herbine is the medium of Dr Coulter, who is the spirit of 10 combined famous Americans! (Some spirit!) A large “circle” attend her weekly sceances [sic] when Dr Coulter will only communicate if the circle sit round a table with the white tablecloth & fruit on the table, also flowers! Lord Sandwich is a prominent figure in the circle.

Apparently the King of Greece is also a member of the circle, & Mrs Herbine had just been to Athens to tell Tino from Dr Coulter that he must do whatever the Allies wanted him to do! & she was returning to England on the same Greek boat that carried Mr Wilson & the dispatch bags. Mrs Herbine was on deck when the submarine was sighted. She hurried down to Mr Wilson & said, If you give me the bag of important dispatches, I will see that they reach the War Office in London alright. She also told him to write out some false cipher telegrams, put them in his other bag, & throw it overboard so that it should float, & when the Huns collared it they should think that it was the one & only important bag he carried! This was all done & the Germans duly duped & they never searched the boat or Mrs Herbine for another bag! Mrs Herbine then discovered someone on board who had passports which would bring him to London a week earlier than she could arrive, so she gave him the bag which was safely delivered. The WO say they can’t publicly thank Mrs Herbine, as being an American subject, she really infringed the laws of American neutrality. It’s a comic story, but what foundation of truth it has I’m not prepared to say, though it [is] generally believed to be true.

…Your ever loving
Meg

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

Kitchener’s mission

In November 1915 Lord Kitchener visited the troops at the Dardanelles, and also tried to persuade King Constantine of Greece to join the Allied side. The Vansittart Neales got privileged access to this information.

14 November 1915
We all to church, National Anthem. Archie Balfour at Stoneyware. He came to tea. Told us K’s mission! Square Turks, then to Tino!!

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

“This frightful drain of carnage”

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image (a friend of the Spencers) fulminated against failings in the Navy, and in particular criticised Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty. Admiral John Fisher had just resigned as First Sea Lord in protest at Winston Churchill’s mismanagement of the Dardanelles campaign.

Tunbridge Wells
Wednesday 19 May 15

Whose empirical rashness cost us the 3 Cruisers, the Formidable, the Monmouth and Good Hope?

God bless Jacky Fisher, if he rids us of this intolerant, and intolerable, meddler.

But our friend the Censor will refuse to let you read these sentiments of the average, well-educated Englishman. Will he permit me to add that I should welcome Arthur Balfour as First Lord? – or in any other capacity, to strengthen a Government “odious” (Crewe’s pet word) to one half the electors.

“England must wake up” (so His Majesty once told me he originally expressed the famous phrase) – but she is bovine still – and this frightful drain of carnage means the drain of her best. The Spring is perished out of the year, and our next generation will be bred from inferior stock.

God bless you both.

Your very affect.
Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don (D/EX801/1)

RIP Gilbert Houldsworth

Family and friends of the Vansittart Neales were doing their bit in various ways. Florence’s daughters were getting vaccinated in order to become nurses, while one family friend had already made the ultimate sacrifice. William Gilbert Houldsworth, a 23 year old Lieutenant in the Scots Guards who had joined the army in May 1914 just after graduating from Oxford, was severely wounded at the Battle of the Aisne on 13 September, dying ten agonising days later.

23 September 1914

Both girls inoculated…

Jamie Balfour wounded – hope slightly. William went off to Malvern to join the Worcesters. Gilbert Houldsworth died.

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