“Every man in uniform (or in bits, alas)”

Maysie Wynne-Finch wrote to her brother Ralph from her temporary home in Windsor, with more details of the tragic accident which killed their friend Desmond FitzGerald (1888-1916). Desmond was the younger brother and heir apparent of the Duke of Leinster, Ireland’s leading peer, a mentally ill bachelor. Youngest brother Edward (1892-1976), who eventually succeeded to the title in 1922, had rashly married a chorus girl. Maysie had also recently met a number of friends on leave. Their mother Lady Mary Glyn also wrote to Ralph with the story of a new recruit.

March 20/16
Elgin Lodge
Windsor

My darling R.

Yes wasn’t Desmond [FitzGerald]’s death tragic. He’s a real loss from every point of view, it seems too one of those ghastly unnecessary things. The RC parson – one Lane Fox, incidentally poor General Pereira’s brother in law, he is too, was playing about with these bombs. Some say it was his fault, others a pure accident no one could have avoided, but the thing went off, killing Desmond & 2 or 3 men, & wounded others including young Nugent, a desperate body wound. He’s had a fearful operation, but they say will live. The wretched man himself has had ½ his face blown away & ½ his hand. A gastly [sic] thing. Poor old Freddy. They say master Edward is already bitterly regretting his wife who is a perfect terror & drinks. However I doubt her letting him divorce her now that he must be a Duke. It’s too dreadful.

We went to London for Sat night & to the Hippodrome. Really a funny show. Harry Tate being sea-sick too priceless, it nearly makes one sick too. Rather to my surprise we met Arthur & Amy there. He went back yesterday after a week’s special leave, he looks ill… We also saw old Wisp. He looks pretty well & I saw no signs of the lost stone – which he’s reported to have lost as a result of Flu – but he’s got 6 weeks leave, which is nice for him. John saw Jerry Sturt yesterday. Poor boy – he’s no better apparently, though they still say he will be. He can’t even stand yet though. He showed John an interesting letter he’d had from Beeky. In it he says the French at Verdun put all their Colonial troops in front & their losses were heavy, also at the 1st push they ran, which gave that 1st small Hun advance, but since then they have been alright. He also said Master Bosch used no gun smaller than a 5 pt 7 during all that fighting – no one seems to know why, unless to save their smaller ammunition for the “advance”.

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Grim, but good: German dead stacked like flies on French wire

Maysie Wynne-Finch was beginning to settle down in Windsor. She continued to be outraged by cronyism in high places – and not a fan of Winston Churchill.

Mar. 10/16
Elgin Lodge
Windsor

My darling R.

Thank heaven our stay was not long in the White Hart. We like this little house more every day, it’s getting quite nice as we have got more of our own stuff here, lamps etc. I do wish you could come and stay!…

Yes, the Russian doings seem to be near to you. I hear one Division was returned from Egypt without even landing not long ago. It certainly appears that things are working up to the grand finale in the west. The French are splendid. John saw a man who had been talking to Clive our liason officer at Verdun, last Saturday 4th, Clive had returned that day, & said that Friday night 3rd, the French had a single man of their general reserve up – & were absolutely confident. That’s a week ago, but as far as one can judge from the papers things have not altered much. Clive also said he’d seen himself the Hun dead as the papers described like flies on the French wires by 100s & also in dense droves packed upright in dead stacks. It’s grim, but good.

Rumour has it, too, that as at Ypres in 1914 the Huns were heavily doped, & appeared quite drugged as if not knowing what they were doing. Mabel Fowler told me, who had heard through General Ruggles Brice, who was on leave from France & had seen a French General who told him.

Poor Meg, these are anxious days. No one seems to doubt that some kind of naval activity is coming. Jim wrote as much to me. Wasn’t Arthur B’s answer to Winston perfect. The latter seems to have taken leave of his senses. The only thing that gives me misgiving is that the Admiralty have sanctioned that scandal of G Sutherland’s command. You must know all about it – probably have sent him. It’s too outrageous – Eileen worked it through Lambert one hears, but why was it allowed? Lambert isn’t alone. Eric Chaplin military advisor, forsooth. It beats even army staff appointments!! I never thought the navy would have civilians in sailors’ shoes – it’s affair disgrace….

Your ever loving
Maysie

[PS]…
Wasn’t it dreadful about dear Desmond. The only hope too in that family. That dreadful Edward & his worse wife. He’s trying to divorce her already I believe. She’s a terror.

Desmond was delightful & had done so well. It seems too so unnecessary. He was showing some kind of bomb to some General & as usual it went off. Desmond & young Nugent both killed.

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

“It gets nearly unbearable at times”

Naval wife Meg Meade wrote to her beloved brother Ralph tyo encourage him in his down moments.

March 9th [1916]
Peter[borough]

My own darling Ralph

I am so very delighted that your chiefs have said such nice things to you & encouraged you to stay in the Army when you leave, but why should that be for ‘my ears only’! because it prevented me telling the parents I even had a letter from you & I felt most deceitful! & they would so love to know about it, so mind you tell them in your next letter…

Darling, I think your last letter sounded downhearted, but perhaps you were trying it on with me & I am glad to see you look anything but moping in the Staff photograph which has fetched up alright. Don’t talk about being a poor devil or growing old! We are all in the same boat as far as that is concerned, & I am looking forward to happy times after the war when you will marry & settle down with a nice Mrs Ralph, who will refuse to allow you to be either pathetic, a poor devil, or old!! It will come true alright. Don’t worry your head, but cheer up & get your ingenious mind to work on how we can finish off these d-d Bosches in the shortest possible time.

It was very kind of Captain(?) Gascoigne to bring that photograph…
I am going up to London today to see Arthur Clanwilliam who is passing through London from Ireland on his way back to the Front, & I will order the magazines you want.

As to the Natal sinking, of course London was full of contradictory rumours, & we shan’t know the truth for a long time. I believe that the Captain’s wife & Commander’s wife were on board & lost their lives, but there wasn’t a party.

I don’t think that will worry a Censor to read, as it’s common property.

Jim’s very well, but having hard work, as he’s been given 24 boats instead of 16. There may possibly be a chance of my seeing him next month which I am panting for. I was reckoning up the other day & find that of the 20 months duration of the war I have only seen him for 14 weeks of it. But it can’t last for ever, although it gets nearly unbearable at times!…

Darling, I won’t hear of you giving me a birthday present. It’s not done in wartime, only I send you a kiss for your darling thought.

Aunt Far’s letter of economy to the Times the other day called Physicians Heal Yourselves, addressed to the Government after the ridiculous speeches by ministers in the Guildhall, was a jolly good letter. She is, I hear, drowned with letters from people all over the country describing the uncontrolled Government waste that goes on everywhere….

I know you will be said too about Desmond FitzGerald’s death, killed whilst showing how a bomb worked to a General, such a waste of his life. I haven’t heard if the General was killed too.

Bless you so, & I do hope we shall soon hear that you are on the way home for “a drop of leaf” as Jim calls it….

From forever
Meg

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

Is God really sitting on the fence?

Lady Mary Glyn, wife of the Bishop of Peterborough, wrote to her son Ralph. The Bishop was planning to retire in the near future, as he felt out of pace in the changing Church of England. The increased numbers of men being called up had led to a shortage of people willing to work in domestic service.

Sunday evening, March 5th 1916
My own darling blessing and own son and Scrappits

The Mission will bring the Bishop of London here on April 4th. He is made in his own words “Chief of Staff” and more & more I feel how trying these modern methods are for men of Dad’s age and experience – and “Chelmsford” has actually talked of “God, if I may say it with reverence(!) is sitting on the fence! – isn’t it inconceivable that a man can say such a thing as this with regard to the Almighty, & the victors in this war! If that is to be the tone of our leaders, Dad will be quite out of it!…

We have kept on Tuke, the chauffeur, after a month’s trial & have had to allow him to have wife (& 2 children) at the Lodge. She is very young & had a Zepp scare, & could not bear to be alone in London. We are not doing up the house, & she is only there till Easter; we find the furniture from here. she will then probably move into rooms – but as the married groups are being called up, it is most probable so young a man will have to go & we do not want to be involved in his family here. The whole question of servants will be very difficult, and we must do with as few as possible, and they must be able-bodied and “willing” to work, not watertight compartments refusing “menial” work one for another. A soldier man and his wife are my idea, but we must try to run at first with those who will stick to us….

I hear Aunt Syb has heard from the captain and chaplain [about her late son Ivar] as I think I told you, but I did not see her this time in London & get most of my news from Aunt Eve. Aunt Far tells me Frank sent for his sword which she mercifully insured before sending it in the Maloja….

Oswald is on some General’s Staff at Alexandria, but Meg does not know whose staff it is, & you must by this time know. Aunt Alice was full of talk about [illegible] and his work, of Harry busy in Soudan [sic] getting together 25,000 camels and provisioning Salonika from the Soudan, and she thinks Gordon must be singing Te Deums in Heaven over it. She was also full of information as to the gear of Belgians being bought and open to bribery by the Huns & need for much taking over.

And by the time you get this Verdun will be decided and how much else. It is wonderful to know France has won her soul and is able for such a crisis in calm fortitude to bear this tremendous shock and to await events with confidence. And I think the rumours everywhere of naval “liveliness” are reflected in Meg, as I think she is tremendously anxious & prepared to hear of some engagement.

Mr James said London was full of rumours yesterday & stories of prisoners brought to Leith, and they had anxious days with no letters last week and it was such a relief when one did come on Friday 3rd… Your dear letter of the 24th reached me in the morning and was under my pillow that night… I know you must have many blue moments in the strange sad searching of that desert world of departed aeons and of sunshine that is all too brazen! But yet I am thankful after Gallipoli you have this climate, and conditions in which “recuperation” after that time is made possible, but I do long for you unbearably…

France is a nightmare just now, & news has come to us through Maysie of Desmond FitzGerald’s death, an accident with a bomb which he was showing to the Colonel. One has to believe it was somehow to be, and he is saved from a suffering in some way by this tragic way of dying.

Letter from Lady Mary Glyn (D/EGL/C2/3)

German villagers detest the war

Meg Meade, whose husband had just returned to his ship, wrote to her brother Ralph Glyn with an example of War Office inefficiency, but was optimistic that the war must be halfway through by now. She had also had a chance to talk to Lord de Ramsey, the blind elderly peer who had been trapped in Germany at the start of the war, and had finally been repatriated. He revealed that the ordinary Germans were not the evil creatures of patriotic propaganda.

Dec 3rd [1915]
23 Wilton Place

My darling Ralph

I was so glad to get your letter as I was wondering where you were. It’s most unfortunate Fritz is so active just where you want to go, but these little things will happen in war time, I suppose. I saw Captain Taylor at Addie’s today. D’you remember he was Cecil’s flag captain in Collingwood, & he has been very ill, & had bad operations. He’s Flag Captain at Chatham now, but hopes to get a ship in February. I asked him why the Frogs couldn’t deal better with Fritz in the Mediterranean, & he only shook his head. Apparently we agreed long ago that they should take that job on, but I suppose it will end in our having to take that on as well as everything else.

I met Lord Camden lunching with the de Ramseys today. You know his wife was very ill, & he was to be sent for by the War Office from the Dardanelles where he was with his regiment. Well, the bright War Office succeeded in recalling Lord Hampden who was also in the Dardanelles, telling him his wife was very ill, so the poor man came tearing home in a great state to find his wife quite well & very surprised to see him. Then Lord Camden was eventually got hold of, & as you can imagine he had an anxious time coming home as he only knew that his wife had been ill enough for him to be sent for 3 weeks before! But when he got home he mercifully found she had recovered. Lord de Ramsey’s accounts of his 18 months in Germany are most amusing. He declares that the peasants & villagers of the part he was in were always nice & civil, & there was no hatred, & he says that they all unanimously detest the war. Jim went back to Royalist yesterday afternoon & I am consequently feeling very low & depressed, but the war must be halfway over surely. I heard today that Kitchener’s secretary FitzGerald who has returned to London with K. says “The end is not even in sight yet”. The Huns certainly get what they want whichever side of Europe they attack. Oh if only we had a great man to deal with the swine.
I went to a Gymnasium again yesterday & beat my section at jumping which was satisfactory. I find it a splendid way of getting exercise in London, & the only way…

Maysie writes that John’s back isn’t healed yet. They return to London on 21st for 2 Boards, but personally I don’t see how John will be passed till Jan or Feb for – as Maysie neatly puts it, “John must have teeth pulled out & put in!”…

Your own loving
Meg

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