“The bomb passed through the bows, exploding on the other side”

Three of the Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist, whose base was at Clewer, were shipwrecked on their way home from India thanks to enemy action.

April, 1918
My dear Associates

You will all be interested to hear that we have just welcomed home from Calcutta Sister Alexandrina, Sister Marion Edith and Sister Edith Helen after a really perilous voyage. The only route available was via Colombo, which they reached by train from Calcutta. The first part of the voyage through the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea was very enjoyable, smooth and lovely weather.

Good Friday was spent in the harbour of Suez, and Port Said was reached on Sunday morning. Along the banks of the Suez Canal they saw many races of the recent fighting in Egypt – deserted trenches and dug-outs, and in one place a camp of a considerable size, but their own course was perfectly uneventful.

After waiting four days at Port Said, their steamer joined a large convoy of vessels bound for England, protected by several destroyers and sloops. All went well during the first six days, and then, at 7 a.m. on a date I am not allowed to mention, the ship was struck by a torpedo. Mercifully no one was seriously injured, the bomb having passed through the bows, exploding on the other side.

Fearing another attack, the Captain immediately transferred all the passengers to the boats, and after rowing about on a rough sea for two hours, a sloop picked them up, and conveyed them to Bizerta, a French town on the coast of North Africa, the actual site of ancient Carthage, about four hours by rail from Tunis. At once everything was done on a most generous scale for their comfort and protection, and four days later a mail boat from Tunis conveyed all the passengers to Marseilles, and from there the homeward journey was continued via Paris, Havre and Southampton….

Letters to Associates of the Community of St John Baptist (D/EX1675/1/24/6)

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“A cheap and illogical effusion” and “cheeky suggestion” from the American President

Captain Austin Longland was on his way home to Radley for a spell on leave. The SS Kashmir was a P&O cargo ship which had been requisitioned to carry troops.

Jan 25th ’17

P&OSNCo
SS Kashmir

Another note to show you that I am comfortably settled, with far better accommodation than the Atlantic Transport Line gave me on my outward journey – but a fat old doctor in my cabin who looks as if he would snore. The 6 are all together on the boat, so I shall have their company for meals, tho’ their higher rank prevents me from sharing a cabin with any of them.

So, given a calm journey, we ought to have quite a nice trip, especially as I have still escaped any duties, and should now I think get right back without having to shepherd any men.

Each day this week I have taken a walk in the afternoon, and am getting to know the place a little. Should be able to how you round if ever we spend a winter in the South of France! Had hoped to get ashore for one or two small things, but once on board they won’t let us off again. If ever I come on leave again, by the way, I shall be wiser in many ways!

Marseilles is a very large place, without much character, lying at the head of the bay, its harbour guarded partly by a chain of islands where are German prisoners. ..

They would never give us any idea when we were likely to go, or I could at least have wired my address and got a letter from you. As it is there is probably one on the ship, and I shall have to travel in its company for a week or more before I see it. There may even be one or two fresh ones awaiting my return among all the relics of last year.

What a cheap and illogical effusion Wilson has put forward as his answer to our and the German terms, – with a cheeky suggestion that only such arrangements between the European powers can obtain as commend themselves to the USA.

ACL

Letter from Austin Longland of Radley (D/EX2564/1/8)

A P & O ship strikes a mine and passengers take to the lifeboats

Two Anglican Sisters from Clewer had to take to the lifeboats on a dangerous voyage home from India. The incident was hushed up, and the ship repaired.

17 December 1916

Sister Katharine Hope & Sister Georgina arrived about 1 pm having come overland from Marseilles. Their ship, the Caledonia P&O, had struck a mine when about 1 ½ hours journey from Marseilles. Though she did not sink & eventually reached Marseilles, all the passengers had to take to the boats. Our Sisters were taken off the life boat by one of HM destroyers and brought to Marseilles. The only lives lost were those of 2 of the crew.

The P&O particularly requested that this accident should not be publicly spoken of, for fear of the news reaching German ears.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

‘He has now volunteered for Field Ambulance work at Salonika’

Will Spencer had news of several of his brothers. Stanley and Gilbert, both art students and a year apart in age, were very close to one another, and both had joined the Royal Army Medical Corps.

31 August 1916

Letters from Mother & from Florrie. Both contained the news that Gilbert had recently written from a hospital ship at Marseilles. He has now volunteered for Field Ambulance work at Salonika. Stanley hopes he may be going to Salonika, as he so much wants to be with Gilbert. Horace better, & making himself useful by making tables & chairs.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)

Perilous voyages

Sisters of Clewer’s Community of St John Baptist returning from working in India endured a scary voyage home, fearing attack from German mines:

April 6th, 1916

I have been asked to let you know… that the Annual Service of St John Baptist Calcutta Mission Association shall beheld (D.V.) at St Barnabas’ Church, Pimlico, on Tuesday in Whitsun Week, June 13th… After the service a gathering of associates and friends will take place at St Barnabas Church Room, Ranelagh Grove… and the Sisters who have recently returned from India will be there…

It has been a very great pleasure to welcome home 4 Sisters within the last two months, Sister Frances Anne, Sister Mabel Theresa, Sister Beatrice Mary, and Sister Mary Evelyn, after really perilous voyages. From Port Said to Marseilles all the passengers were requested to take their lifebelts with them wherever they went – boats were lowered, and rafts prepared in readiness for whatever might happen, and for a long distance their steamers took a very zigzag course, which proved to be most trying experience, and, of course, lengthened the voyage. When the Channel was reached the steamer which brought the last home-coming Sister just crept along, preceded by mine-sweepers, and followed by a number of smaller boats anxious to share in the safety this afforded.

Evelyn, Superior CSJB

Letters to Associates of the Community of St John Baptist (D/EX1675/1/24/6)

“I wonder what the Archangel Michael thinks of destroyers and aeroplanes”

The Bishop of Peterborough and his wife wrote to their son Ralph, serving in the Dardanelles, with the latest news of political developments at home, and an encounter with two disillusioned soldiers serving with the Canadian forces. See here for more about Munro.

Nov 13 [1915]
The Palace
Peterborough

My darling Ralph

Thank you so much for your great letter to me of Nov 2nd & telling us of your going off in the Destroyer on work – & that we possibly may catch you by a letter to Marseilles – so here it is.
You will indeed have a good experience – & going about in this way will be full of new interest – but I can understand your reluctance to leave General Headquarters. I see that General Munro is gone to Salonika, & when I saw it in today’s papers, I wondered if you would have gone there with him – but you will not have gone off on your “destroyer cruise” before he left.

Everyone tells us that Munro is first rate & I heard also that in France he did a job that Haig got praised for & held a tough corner & saved us at one time, & then was not as fully appreciated for it as he should have been.

Your name appears in today’s Times, with K’s and 3 or 4 others, as “persecuted” by HM to wear your Servian & Russian orders – so there you are!

God bless & keep you
Your loving father
E C Peterborough
(more…)

Rather a drag in operations at the Dardanelles

General Charles E Callwell wrote again to Ralph Glyn on the latter’s way back from his mission to organise ammunition for Gallipoli. He had some inside information regarding Cabinet discussions.

War Office
14th August 1915

My dear Ralph

Many thanks for your letter from Marseilles. You are one of those people who possess the gift of getting things done and I highly appreciate your successful efforts to rush that ammunition stuff through so satisfactorily and rapidly, and I am taking care to let Braithwaite know that the Medforce in reality owes its receipt mainly to you – I am assuming that you have not been submarined or wrecked or any dreadful thing. I told Winston the other day that Lord K had gathered somehow that you had been relling him (Winston) about ammunition requirements at the Dardanelles and had not been pleased. Winston was full of regrets but added “Well, after all it was worth it”.

Your wire from Marseilles about your transport going through went to QMG2 before I ever saw it, hence the return wire. The only way to make sure that a wire intended for me goes to me in this place seems to be to address it by name. Wortley has always been an opponent of anything going by the Marseilles route and was I think a little surprised and chagrined to find its advantage so clearly demonstrated thanks to you.

I had not heard of Sykes’ mishap and hope that he is all right again both on his own account and in view of the importance of having him fit and well for the work out at the Dardanelles. We are watching the progress of events out there anxiously, as there seems to have been rather a drag in the operations after the first landing at Suvla Bay just at the moment when it was all-important to push and get as much ground as possible. They also seem to be in a good deal of difficulty in respect to water at that point, but this will probably right itself as they settle down. I trust that things are getting cleared up at Mudros where it is evident that there has been shocking congestion of traffic, coupled with want of push by somebody to get things done and straightened out.

They are having the devil of a Cabinet Sub-committee to recommend what forces we should be prepared to put in the field next year. Crewe and Curzon and Austin and Selborne and Winston and Henderson, and I had a long afternoon with them yesterday. Curzon and Austin are towers of strength, Crewe makes a suave chairman, Winston talks infinitely and Henderson tells inappropriate anecdotes. I daresay that in due course they will adumbrate something useful, but in the meantime they want a lot of information which I am sure K will jib at giving them. They all seem to be for compulsory service, but were not inclined to fall in with my urgings that there should be an announcement of the intention at once in view of its moral effect upon Allies and enemies.

Your Italian friends have not done much beyond talking at present, but Delme Radcliffe writes that he was taken aside on the battlefield the other day by Porro and Cadorna and that the latter was very sympathetic and made a lot of enquiries. Why they will not go to war with the Turks I cannot make out, seeing that the Turks have so stirred up Tripoli against them that they have not got much more dry land left than Birdwood has at Anzac.

Yours ever

Chas E Callwell

Letter from General Charles E Callwell to Ralph Glyn c/o the British Embassy at Athens (D/EGL/C24)

“We want a definite success in the Dardanelles”

Ralph Glyn was back in London for the moment – but about to set off again to organise the transportation of some desperately need ammunition to the Dardanelles.

War Office
Whitehall, SW

2/8/15

My dear Ralph

We are not quite sure whether you got those three secret Admiralty charts or not, although they were left on your table at 6 pm yesterday & I saw you with a bundle about 7.30. But – anyway I am having a set sent to Sykes to make sure. I shall be glad to hear how your transport arrangements have panned out; in a letter from Le Roy Lewis received today it is stated that the trains from Boulogne with this ammunition will take 54 hours and I do not know whether that will ensure its being at Marseilles by the morning of the 5th.

Lord K is not inclined to move about the Italians if they will not declare war. Grey is going to press them to take the plunge but I doubt if he succeeds. [I will?] write to Delme to do what he can to keep the Dardanelles before Cadorna & the King but what we want is a definite success in the peninsula which your ammunition and your howitzers may contribute to bring about.

Yours ever

Chas E Callwell

By the way, if you want letters sent by the bag, you had better have them sent to me, same as Altham, only in good time. People forget that there is no delivery on Sunday and that if there was, I do not arrive here till half an hour after the bag has departed from Victoria.

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

Special orders for Ralph Glyn

Ralph Glyn was sent on a secret mission to the south of France:

Captain RGC Glyn, General Staff, of my Directorate is under orders to proceed via Marseilles to GHQ – MEF on special duty. He will leave London (Victoria) at 8.30 am on August 2nd. Captain Glyn is taking out some secret documents and will be accompanied by his soldier servant – Pte Coxon – ASC.

I shall be obliged if the necessary warrants and permits may be issued.

July 31st 1915
Chas E Callwell

Safe conduct for Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C24)