From prison to Parliament

Future Irish President Eamon de Valera made his first appearance on a world stage in July 1917 when he won a parliamentary by-election for the constituency of East Clare, aged 35. He was a veteran leader of the Easter Rising the previous year, explaining Florence Vansittart Neale’s disapproval.

11 July 1917

Set back by Ijder. Fear our troops surrounded.

Sinn-Fein man got in for Clare – rebel – released from prison….

Heard Bubs had put in for leave.

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

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“We look on you as a sure winner” – but party politics are finished

Ralph Glyn was worried that the constituency being nursed for him on his return after the war might be being poached while he was at the front.

12 Woodside Crescent
11th June 1916

My dear Glyn

I received yours of 29th May only last evening and hasten to reply so that you may keep your mind at rest. I am quite positive that old Smith Park has no thought or desire of becoming candidate for College Division – I do not even think that at the moment he has any thoughts of trying to get into Parliament but I repeat most confidently that I am quite sure he has not his eyes on College. He has expressed his desire frequently, in which I believe he is sincere, that when the election comes he may still be President [of the Unionist Association] and so be the Leader of the local organisation which returns you as Member for College Division.

Neither Park nor any of your friends have any wish for a change of candidate. But if unfortunately such an occasion should arise, take it from me, of course confidentially, that the Colonel would not be the candidate. Whilst the opposition would welcome him, our own side would not adopt him. He has put up the backs of some of our principal workers, quite unintentionally but still he would not command enthusiasm.

For all that he makes a very good President and would make a better one still if he would only be a little more free, so far as the Association is concerned, with the shipping profits. He takes far too much the business view of everything & I expect his letters to you have been on that line.

At a time like this when everything political is dead (certainly it is in College) I don’t think it necessary for the candidate to be on the spot. Indeed being on active service strengthens his position in the constituency.

You retain the confidence of your friends & have earned the respect of your opponents. Your position in College today is stronger than ever and I do trust you will now drop once and for all any of those fantastic ideas you have formed and believe me when I tell you that you are the one & only candidate your friends & supporters wish, both on personal grounds & because we think you are the likeliest candidate to carry the seat. We look on you as a sure winner.

College don’t wish a “commercial magnate” – they prefer a soldier who has been & seen. As regards politics after the war, I quite agree with you there must be a great change. People at home recognise this as much as those who have been overseas. The party system on the old lines is done. However we must “wait & see” how things develop. Meantime don’t worry but first let things go on as they are & whatever you do, don’t let Sir George Younger lure you away from College. If he does there will be a fine row.

I have written you quite straightly & frankly. Glad you are getting a run home & do hope your new appointment means good promotion. If you go again to France you may now come up against quite a lot of the College Boys. I suppose you know John Grant has been out there now for many months. He was home on leave early in May looking better than ever he did in his life & in splendid spirits.

Hope if you get leave you will manage a run down to Glasgow. All your friends will be glad to see you. Let me know.

Trusting you are well & fit as this leaves me.

Yours sincerely
A E McDonell

Letter from Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/37)

Cadets in training “lie on the floor, don’t need beds”

John Maxwell Image, the elderly Cambridge don who had married Florence Spencer from Cookham, wrote to a friend to express his frustrations with the lack of progress in the war, and to talk about wartime life in Cambridge.

29 Barton Road
12 March ‘16

I think I must copy you in reading the M[orning] Post. The rags we take in are D. Mail for me, and Times for la Signora, who won’t stoop to the Mail, tho’ aware that the letterpress in each is identical.
Jackson has once or twice indicated to me that his paper is now your MP. I used to value the Times for the letters written to it. But there are no good letter-writers now-a-days.

Perhaps the new man in East Hertford may wake up Independent Members next Tuesday, if there are any such in Parliament. The Air attacks, and the Naval attacks, which we must with certainty expect will involve novelties that our drones have never dreamt of.

We have more men, and better men, and more money. Yet there we stick, just to be attacked when and where Germany chooses. A fixed figure for the hand of scorn – yes, what scorn! All the trumps: but the player, Asquith! “What War needs is not men, but a Man”, said Nap.

The Zeps (or possibly a Zep) was over Camb[ridge] the other night. We slumbered peacefully and knew nothing till next day. One Airship was seen by the crew of the antiaircraft guns by Story’s Way on the Huntingdon Road. And the electric lighting was shut off at the works: so we heard from one or two people who tried in vain to turn on theirs that night. I don’t think that last precaution had been taken before, but I walked back to Trinity on the night of the Book Club Sale without a glimmer. I had ordered a taxi, and they phoned at the last minute that the fog (it was a sudden fog) was so blind that they dared not send a carriage out. I had in my pocket a flash torch – rapidly expiring – but it just lasted.

We are to have 400 Cadets (i.e. candidates for Commissions) in Trinity. I sat next Major Reddy, the Commanding Officer, who has most healthy ideas of taut discipline – e.g. 4 men to a set of rooms: “they lie on the floor, you know” said he: “don’t need beds”. They will begin in the New Court. How will you keep them quiet at night? I asked. They must be in College at 9.30, for they have to be up early, usw.

Our next door neighbours, the Comptons – he a young son of a Fellow of Caius, she, one of the most beautiful girls ever seen – are on very friendly terms. Alas, he goes off on War Work in May – and the home will be broken up. Yesterday the Signora [Florence] devoted herself to cutting out and sticking War clippings in our scrapbook, whilst I looked on….

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

“Why is the atmosphere of life more cheerful nearer to all the horrors and ugliness of modern war than it is behind?”

Ralph Glyn had political ambitions, and the College constituency in Glasgow was being nursed for him. He had narrowly lost the 1910 election to a Liberal (he was a Conservative/Unionist). While serving in the army he delivered a lengthy statement to those he viewed as future constituents. Unfortunately for him and all his work, the constituency was abolished before the 1918 election. The paper itself, however, is an interesting insight into the views of an intelligent officer into attitudes at home and at the front.

GHQ
MEF
November 1915

I have been asked by one or two friends in the College Division to write a letter that may be a link between so many old friends of those former days, when Peace was not understood, and myself. To do this as I would wish by personal letter my work here will not allow. I must ask everyone who reads these lines to believe how sincere are my wishes for as happy a New Year as these days permits to be theirs.

I write these lines because I have always been open with my friends in Glasgow, and I believe you will all understand how it is impossible to write “news”.

There are many who have been all the time in France, or in Gallipoli, whilst some have been in both theatres of operations; but there are few officers now who have not spent some time at home, either wounded, or on leave or duty, and so it is possible to take a comprehensive survey of men, matters and means.

The newspapers are the only medium between the Public and events that happen behind the veil of the censor. Letters from friends and relations pass from the Front to those at home producing for a period a clear gleam of light – sometimes too vivid – of what is fact and reality at one small point of that vague term “The Front”. The days are shortening, the winter with all its horrors is close upon us and we are all well aware that if only something could be lifted the Future would be brighter and more easy to face. To arrive at any satisfactory conclusion we must try and see things as they are – undisguised but very possibly naked and ashamed. No time should be lost in establishing both at “the front” and at “the back” a “New Feeling” based upon the firm belief that at last true bearings have been taken, the clouds have lifted and the sun seen long enough to enable the exact position of the ship to be located, and that each and all having but the one port open to them are determined, in spite of all stress of weather, to reach their destination without undue delay.

Why is the atmosphere of life more cheerful nearer to all the horrors and ugliness of modern war than it is behind? There is nothing in any trench in France or Gallipoli to equal the gloom of many a house at home. The individual man is happy when he knows he is doing “his bit” and has that feeling down his back of something worthy of accomplishment being well done. But this same feeling should animate those miners, munition-workers, ship-builders and all that other host at home, whose work is as vital to the war’s success as any gallant action in the trenches. Why is there this feeling of unrest and mistrust in so many quarters? “Out here”, be it in France or Gallipoli, this war acts in one way all the time and without variation. The Regular Army has almost ceased to exist as it was before the war. Officers and men have fallen and others have taken their place. The tradition of a great regiment holds all the new comers in its sway and the magic mantle of “esprit de corps” stirs through the new blood of the recruit, officer and man, tempering and making him part of the original stock. The Reserve ceased to exist when war began; because by our system the fighting force of the country, Regular and Reserve, were and are one and indivisible. Any gunner will tell you that had it not been for the “dug out” the new armies could not have been born. The “dug out” has much to bear from the gibes of younger men who too often assume that all “dug outs” must be musty and old, stupid and out of date, but he can console himself with the knowledge that without him the Regular serving soldiers could not have kept the machine running.
(more…)

A roaring farce

Ellen, the daughter of newly elected Glasgow MP John MacLeod, wrote to Ralph Glyn with details of the campaign. Her father beat rival Gavin Ralston decisively in the end,with over 5000 votes to little more than 500. Oddly to today’s eyes, both candidates were Unionists, with no other parties standing. College Division, incidentally, was the Glasgow constituency Ralph was “nursing” with a view to standing in the next General Election.

Rughriach
Connel
Argyll

Sept. 26, 1915

Dear Mr Glyn

I think “many happy returns of the day” is rather a happy remark to make to you when your name appears as having been decorated by the Czar. Many congratulations. Of course that makes College Division a certainty now!

Father’s election was a scream! The whole thing was a roaring farce, but the trouble involved was too sickening. Imagine the GPF getting up at 7.30 a.m. in order to make speeches at the dockgates. His sacred second cup of coffee had to go to the wall that day! The story goes that one of Mr Ralston’s meetings the hecklers were busy. Ralston managed to give them sly answers which evaded the point but served as an answer. This annoyed the hecklers to distraction. At last they gave it up and the last of them sat down. Ralston said “And now my friends I would like to ask myself a question”. A voice from the back of the hall “And a rotten silly answer ye’ll get!” (Rotten was not the word used though!)

Mother & I were fortunate in getting seats in the Serjeant-at-arms gallery to see him take his seat in the House, make his bows, etc. It was v. interesting.

I hope you are keeping fit & having an interesting time…

George is off to France, but of course we don’t know when. He was very happy to get off after 12 months training in Wiltshire.

Norman is at Portsmouth undergoing gunnery training prior to getting a new “small craft”. He has been on a detector net trawler the last few months.

I must now go & write to your GPF who is performing Parliamentary duties. (Doesn’t that sound fine!) One of the evening papers said he well deserved the nickname of “Conscientious John”. What new insult will they hurl at him next!

With renewed congratulations

I remain

Yrs very sincerely
Ellen MacLeod

PS Awful thought! I quite forgot to put Captain Glyn at the beginning. Very sorry, I hope you’ll forgive.

Letter from Ellen MacLeod to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C31/23)

“We will grip munitions yet”

John MacLeod (1857-1934) was a wealthy stockbroker who was about to be elected Unionist MP for Glasgow Central. His son George (1895-1991) was serving in the army (and later founded the Iona Community). He wrote to Ralph Glyn with some thoughts on the war.

149 West George Street
Glasgow
18th June 1915

My dear Ralph Glyn

Greetings and hearty ones to you. Is it true that you are going on a mission to Iceland, & taking St Kilda on the way home, as these are the only spots where your influence has not been felt.

Private: I understand Central may be offered to me. If it is done with unanimity, under present conditions I’ll take it. My presence won’t be required in London much except on special occasions for me. It will be the climax of my life, & I never dreamt of such a thing occurring. But it may not come off…

I think things are going all right. We will grip munitions yet. These glorious Russians. Italy is very good. What are the London odds for Roumania, Bulgaria & Greece.

Heartiest wishes

Yours as ever
John M MacLeod

Letter from John MacLeod to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C31/7)