“When oh! when? Not a glimmer of an ending yet!”

Violet, Countess of Mar and Kellie (1868-1938) wrote to Ralph Glyn with news of a royal romance. Nada (short for Nadejda) de Torby (1896-1963) was a cousin of the Czar of Russia and through her mother a descendant of the mixed-race Russian poet Pushkin. Prince George of Battenberg (1892-1938) (later the Marquess of Milford Haven) was the uncle of Prince Philip and brother of Earl Mountbatten, and is buried in Bray. The happy couple would get married in November 1916. But Violet was also worried about her own sons, aged 17 and 20, when the war seemed unending.

May 13, 1916
Alloa House
Alloa, NB

Dearest Ralph

Jock [her son John Erskine] was up here for his 21st birthday on Ap. 26th & he had a good many boys & girls here to give him a cheery week, but Portia & Cynthia Cadogan have spent the last three weeks just missing Pneumonia following Flu, and the 1st is up & creeping about the house, & Cynthia will not get out of bed! So I have had a busy time in addition to all my committees & war work.

Nada Torby & Prince George of Battenberg got engaged up here on Ap. 10th. Then New Zealand & Australia in a fog rammed, so he got leave (New Z. his ship), much to Nada’s joy. They are radiantly happy, & are both very lucky I consider. Beatty has a fine command up here, 2 new flotillas – & the “wobbly eight” departed lower down…. Rumours of 5th Bat. S coming to this part. Q. Eliz. & co. Hope you understand all these hieroglyphics.

Edward Stanley’s thigh wound not serious I hear, but fear Harry Ashley very severe in spine. He may not recover, & if he does may be always paralysed – too sad. Only just 22, & his mother’s only child & adoration. She is gone over to France to be with him.

That Irish business too awful. I heard of 16,000 casualties but can hardly believe that. Dillon’s speech even more disloyal than reported in yesterday’s papers (12th) & has had a bad effect in Ireland! Much better leave Maxwell in entire command there for a bit. Asquith, Birrell & Co should all mount the scaffold!
Expect you saw a bit of the P.O.W. He is back here, & I suppose will go to France again soon. Do you ever see Scatters Wilson? He is coming home on leave about June 10th. Neil Primrose I shall not see, as he cannot get south before middle of next month for a fortnight or so. Jock’s Medical Board may pass him for active service next month, but I doubt his inside letting him stay out for long. He cannot walk 4 miles!

Tommy [possibly her younger son Francis, born in January 1899] joins the Special Reserve of Scots Guards in Sept. till end year. When oh! when? Not a glimmer of an ending yet! He will be 17 ½. I can hardly believe it!…

Yours ever
Violet M.

Letter from Violet, Countess of Mar and Kellie (1868-1938) to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C21)

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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)

Catching submarines with cables

As the wife of an Admiralty official, Florence Vansittart Neale was especially interested in naval news and rumours.

3 March 1915

Hear we have caught 4 submarines – put cable down & drag them. Keeping it dark so more may come out!

Heard 2 submarines German waiting by Dover to blow up “Queen Eliz:”, she at Dardanelles.

Bad fire at Portsmouth Dockyard – close to building yard of new ship. Hear 2 men were shot.

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

Germans in England claim to be Swiss

Florence Vansittart Neale and her Admiralty official husband Henry, owner of Bisham Abbey, were holidaying on the Isle of Wight, but kept in touch with war news.

28 February 1915

To Trinity – saw telegram of Dardanelles outer fort destroyed. “Queen Elizabeth” there. Heard from [illegible] officer there last Friday. Went to tea with Venables. Watched “Mine destroyers”, also ship at night – queer lights.

Heard new ship “Queen Eliz:” at Dardanelles. Three times put back – spies on board – narrow risk of explosion – changed suddenly whole of crew.

German here (Ventnor) Freemasons tavern always a German before the war, now says Swiss & put up sign “Hier spricht man Suisse”. V’s tell me a German tailor opposite called Fess – also man “Spenser” with motor boats & pilot boats for hire in secret service here. Rumoured also in German Secret Service. Had German uniform & refuses to let any of his sons fight for England. (Wrote Sir G. Greene March 21st.)

Heard from Mrs Sholto Douglas at that air raid in Essex, bombs fell only 200 yards from barracks (artillery) – full of terriers.

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