Back to Australia

Bisham Abbey had two visitors. Phyllis Vansittart Neale was at home for a break from nursing, while a wounded Australian visited before being sent home.

10 August 1917

P. had long lie…

Captain Yates (DSO) came. Fractured skull. To go back to Australia.

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

24 hours

Florence Vansittart Neale’s daughter came home on leave.

9 August 1917

We fetched Phyllis home for her 24 hours…

Heard officer wished to come next day for a week.

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

Feigning dead for nine hours

It was anguishing news at Bisham Abbey as a number of friends and acquaintances of the Vansittart Neales were killed or injured, while daughter Phyllis was nursing others.

12 May 1917

Tom Coster killed. Bob Silver wounded. John Sawdalls missing! G. Harding feigning dead for 9 hours….

Had swab working party out here….

Heard Pussycat in officers’ hospital.

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

The King orders food economy

The Food Economy Campaign was launched by a royal proclamation read aloud in every church in the country. Two of our diarists were present.

William Hallam
6th May 1917

Up at 8. To St. Paul’s at XI. A bright day- no rain. But a bitterly cold E. wind until the afternoon. The King’s proclamation was read out in Church before the sermon – ordering economy by everyone in the matter of food stuffs.

Florence Vansittart Neale
6 May 1917

Willy [the vicar of Bisham] read King’s Proclamation & preached on Food Economy, & again in evening.

Heard from Phyllis: she on duty straight away. Sleeping in Merton. Meals Masonic Hall!

Diaries of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25) and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

A fighting board at the Admiralty

Phyllis Vansittart Neale started nursing in Reading – less exotic than France, but still working with seriously wounded soldiers. Her father Henry, at the Admiralty, found changes afoot.

5 May 1917

H., I & Phyllis last dog walk – we on to Vicarage with flowers to say goodbye to Willy. We all motored to Reading & Pussycat [Phyllis?] started on her new venture.

3 [SJ?] destroyers mined in Channel. We going on in Western Front, very hard fighting.

2nd dish asparagus – economising in salmon!

Changes at the Admiralty – a fighting board – Lloyd George has been at it.

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

To tea in a motor bike and trailer

The Austen-Leigh family were related to Jane Austen. Honor (1881-1970) was the daughter of Arthur Henry Austen-Leigh (1836-1917), who lived in Reading and was a former vicar of Wargrave.

4 May 1917

Phyllis heard she must go to Hospital Saturday….

Austen-Leighs to tea – in motor bike & trailer. Honor to go again to France. Phyllis & Gladys furious!!

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

Russian diplomats delighted at revolution

Florence Vansittart Neale reflects in more detail on her experience seeing the tragic sight of the sunken Gloucester Castle hospital ship.

5 April 1917
I saw the Gloster Castle partly submerged, it had been towed into the Solent. Hospital ship torpedoed, burnt engines, darkness, people in boats 2 hours before picked up by destroyer.

Heard our hospital ships painted black & no lights.

Phyllis tells me one ran into French mines, hit & then destroyer sank. No wounded on board but nurses& orderlies.

Mrs James says when 20,000 prisoners were taken there, we may [have] her flag & feel the end is nearly coming! She says Russian attache’s & legation delighted at revolution.

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

An offer to go to Italy

Phyllis Vansittart Neale was invited to nurse in Italy.

2 March 1917

Phyllis & May [illegible] to tea at Cliveden. Nurses forgot they had invited them! Phyllis offer from Devonshire House to go to Italy – field ambulance hospital at once, but refused it.

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

Off to France in a few days

The Vansittart Neales were friends of the Nicholl family who lived at Bear Place, Hare Hatch. Charles Nicholl, a solicitor in his late 30s, served with the Oxfordshire Yeomanry in France.

1 February 1917
Phyllis & I motored to Bear Place. Charlie & N there. He off to France in few days: 2nd in command of his old regiment, become a Major again.

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

War production papers

It isn’t immediately clear who the Mr Attlee Florence Vansittart Neale knew was.

31 January 1917
Phyllis & I to Marlow to take new war loan. Gave papers about war production to Mr Attlee.

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

Six months on the Somme underage

Florence Vansittart Neale and William Hallam came from different backgrounds, but both their daughters were affected by the war. Phyllis Vansittart Neale, now 25, was nursing, while the teenage Muriel Hallam’s boyfriend had been called up, having already seen service underage.

Florence Vansittart Neale
9 January 1917

Got telegram from Phyllis, arrived Monday night in London – crossing 5.45. Henry went to [illegible] & on to London, & came down same train. I met them at Maidenhead on my way from Polly….
Phyllis seemed very well, except chilblains on her hand.

William Hallam
9th January 1917

Poor Muriel’s sweet-heart Frank Brittain has been called up again for the Army. He had 6 months on the Somme and was then claimed by his father as under 18. Now he is 18 this last week & has to join up again.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

The wind is raging

Florence Vansittart Neale looked forward to daughter Phyllis’s homecoming, but storms made her worry about her journey home.

8 January 1917
Phyllis to leave hospital today. The wind is raging & where is she, probably still at Boulogne.

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

Difficulties for the Vansittart Neales

The Vansittart Neale girls were struggling with their nursing work, while Sydney Spencer had spent Christmas at home on sick leave. He returned to Yorkshire to find his battalion had moved again.

26 December 1916
Florence Vansittart Neale

Heard from Bubs at last. Very bitter. She in new hut. Medical ward. Her clock stolen. P’s hands full of chilblains.

Sydney Spencer
December 26, 1916

I arrive at new quarters, F block Hillsboro barracks.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12)

Getting ID papers

Phyllis Vansittart Neale of Bisham prepared to go abroad to nurse the troops.

9 June 1916

Phyllis & I by 9.45 to London. She to Pall Mall for identification papers. Interviewed by Frank Farrer….

Phyllis & I went shopping – Harrods….

Quiet evening. P to Devonshire House – saw other nurses. Has to leave London 3.30 next day.

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

Awful news – Lord Kitchener drowned

One of the biggest shocks in the war was the tragic drowning of national hero Horatio, Lord Kitchener on 5 June 1916. We have heard from Ralph Glyn and his friends that Kitchener was not well thought of at the War Office or by politicians, but he was very popular with the general public. He was heading on a diplomatic trip to Russia when his ship was mined. 600 others were also killed. Florence and Phyllis Vansittart Neale seems to have heard the shocking news while visiting Florence’s sister-in-law Constance and the other Sisters at Clewer.


Florence Vansittart Neale
6 June 1916

Did some village visiting about women on land….

Phyllis & I to Clewer for tea, then meeting at Windsor – National Mission. Canon D. told me about Lord K. drowned – too horrible!!…

Awful news. Lord Kitchener and all his staff drowned. Struck a mine off Orkneys going to Russia!!

Lord Kitchener started for Russia in heavy storm. Ship mined. All drowned.

CSJB Annals
6 June 1916

News reached us that Lord Kitchener & his staff had been drowned on the evening of the 5th near the Orkneys. He was on his way to Russia in HMS Hampshire. The ship struck a mine.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8); Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)