Very good news

Lady Vansittart Neale visited her married daughter on the east coast.

15 August 1918

Bubs’ birthday. Boy on manoeuvres all day. We all 3 sat out on beach, then to Felixstowe for afternoon. Many battle cruisers out. F. nice cheerful town….

Very good news. Lassigny Heights taken by French.

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

Watching ships in camouflage

HMS Vindictive was deliberately sunk to block the port of Ostend.

9 May 1918

Eastchurch… Lay out on cliffs. Watched ships, camouflaged & others. Also “Archies” in the sky & aeroplanes. After tea to see [illegible] & trenches.

Blocked Ostend by the old “Vindictive”, most successful.

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

Camouflage ships

Florence Vansittart Neale was on the Isle of Wight on holiday, and was interested to see camouflaged ships.

18 April 1918

More boats about. Saw 2 camouflage ones!…

Began battle Hill 60. We took it from the Germans. They counter attacking daily.

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

“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)

Loss of a dreadnought

Florence Vansittart Neale may be referring to the sinking of the dreadnought-class ship HMS Vanguard on 9 July 1917 at Scapa Flow. It was a catastrophic loss of life.

14 July 1917

Heard loss of “Dreadnought”.

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

“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

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.


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

Germany wanting to make peace

Florence Vansittart Neale was excited by news of possible peace negotiations.

5 January 1917

Germany wanting to make peace notes!

Transport [illegible – possibley Ivernia] sunk.

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

Armed ships on the Thames

Even the River Thames was now regarded as a dangerous place.

10 December 1916

Mrs Martin tells me her niece tells her, whose husband works in Woolwich, all merchant ships go down the Thames now as mid guns each end.

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

Torpedoed in night attire mid the cold wind and pouring rain

A Winkfield man returning to his job in the colonies was in a ship sunk by enemy action.

A member of our choir, Mr. J. Moir, has lately experienced an unpleasant and thrilling adventure. He left England early in October to return to duty at Nairdi, but in the Mediterranean his ship was torpedoed and sank in seven minutes.

Fortunately all were able to get into the boats safely, and after an hour or so were rescued by a British destroyer, but only just in time, for a great storm arose, and their plight on the deck of the little vessel in night attire mid the cold wind and pouring rain was far from enviable; however after a few hours they were safely landed, and Mr. Moir eventually reached England none the worse except for the loss of all his belongings.

He left England again on November 17th and we sincerely trust that this time he will arrive safely to again take up his Government work at Nairdi.

Winkfield section of Winkfield District Magazine, December 1916 (D/P151/28A/12)

Collision in the Irish Sea

The tragedy referred to here was the sinking of the SS Connemara (a passenger-carrying steamer) and Retriever (a coal vessel), which collided at the entrance to Carlingford Lough in Northern Ireland on 3 November 1916. There was only 1 survivor. Some of the victims were young Irish women travelling to England to work in munitions factories.

4 November 1916

Collision in Irish Channel owing to storm. 90 killed!

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

Will the government have enough pluck to shoot those who oppose conscription?

Ralph Glyn’s parents both wrote to him on New Year’s Eve. The good bishop was quite gung ho (and one might think not very Christian) about deporting Germans and even shooting conscientious objectors! Lady Mary was still fussing about her quarrels with a rival Red Cross workroom.

The Palace
Dec 31 [1915]

My darling Ralph

Here is my New Year letter to you…

Things at Salonica [sic] seem doing well – & our forces must be growing there – as we see daily accounts in the papers of “more troops arriving” – and I am glad that the French General has taken the enemy consuls & staff & put them on board of a French man-of-war – so they have got rid of them as spies – & it is good. Tonight’s paper tells of an English cruiser blown up in harbour – “HMS Natal, captain Eric Back, RN armoured cruiser sank yesterday in harbour as the result of an internal explosion”. This seems to me only another reason why we should ship away every German in England & send them to their own country, as it is no use keeping the enemy here to do such mischief as blowing up our ships in harbour – as I should say it must have been done by some bomb put on board by a German.

We have got our conscription so far, & shall hear all about it on Thursday. It is high time the “Government” (so-called) made up their minds to the inevitable – & the “country” will back them up certainly – & now we shall “wait & see” if the Government will have pluck enough to shoot those that oppose them.

Much love – & take care of your dear self.

Your loving father
E C Peterborough

Dec 31 1915
My own darling own Ralph

The news of the loss of the “Natal” has come this evening to us here – and one dreads to think it may be another treachery or labour trouble – but the news is good of the full Cabinet meeting and one feels sure that the country will be sound on the question of these men who have held back…

I hear of Edith Wolverton coming here but not to see us. I think the war makes these women quite queer. They are so anxious to be petite maitresse & do not understand how it is all lost in provincial towns where everyone on the spot wishes to emulate any “star” that wishes to “shoot”. We are very happy with our canteen and it will give us plenty to do and I shall hear I suppose soon about the other crazy emulation over Red Cross. They are all quite sick with anger I have my private workroom and the Sham Committee find they are quite powerless to stop it but I am quite willing to co-operate it when they become real. I am in close touch with Headquarters. Oh! me, when will these silly little fusses be read over by you and where! And it will all seem so silly and so paltry and hard to believe that men and women can be so mean and self seeking over work for the sick and wounded at the Front.

We keep quite quiet and say nothing, but they are spluttering into the papers with their silly complainings. It may have to end in a private official enquiry but Winfrey has managed to save his face by registering one committee under all three – Queen Mary’s Needlework, Sir Edward Ward’s Voluntary Association & the Red Cross! All this with one Fund and the same little creature as accountant that went against affiliation to centre at the beginning & start of all the fuss. I am afraid the expenses are enormous, and that I shall have difficulty in getting the money unless we can get the whole thing put under one authority & one Fund….

Letters from E C and Lady Mary Glyn to their son Ralph (D/EGL/C2/3)

None can fail to see the Satanic origins of the war

The Community of St John Baptist, the Anglican Sisterhood at Clewer, were supporting the war in prayer.

December 4, 1915
My dear Associates,

The Novena of Prayer for the World War has begun, and very many of you will be joining in prayer with the Community, a cooperation which we value more than any other part of the activity of our Associates; and let us pray that our people may learn how to pray; they have much to learn, of not why so small a number at Intercession Services? Why the demand so often made that priests should join the colours, and fight at the front? The priest who celebrates daily, or often at his Altar, is doing more for his country than by fighting, however bravely, at the front. The real battle-ground is probably not Flanders, nor Gallipoli, nor anywhere else on earth, but the heavenly places themselves. Spiritual foes must be met by spiritual forces, and none can fail to see the Satanic origins of this present war, with all its unexampled cruelty, and murder, and its most skilfully organised campaign of lying, and treachery, both individual, and diplomatic.

As this letter reaches you, two of our Sisters, Sister Alexandrina and Sister Dorothea, will be on their way to India, in the P & O SS “Caledonia”. Two more, Sister Mary Frances and Sister Kathleen Prisca, will sail in the SS “Kaiser-I-Hind” on January 1st. I commend them to your prayers; the prayer “for those in peril on the sea” has now a new and terrible significance….

Arthur East, Warden CSJB

4 December 1915
Sister Alexandrina and Sister Dorothea started from here at 7.20 for Liverpool St & Tilbury Docks, where they embarked on the Caledonia for India. Mother went with them to London & returned in the afternoon. Two Sisters went to see them off at the Docks. Originally it had been arranged for them to start on the 27th Nov. in the Moldavia, but that ship was suddenly requisitioned by government.

Letters to Associates and Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/24/6; D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Everyone is loud in criticising the Government

Meg Meade and her husband were blissfully happy while he was home on leave. She wrote to her brother to tell him about the national mood – one of anti-Government – and chaos with shipbuilders having to be unrecruited from the armed forces.

30th Oct
23 Wilton Place

My darling Ralph

Since last writing to you I haven’t written any letters. You know what it is with at home. We are out all day & if we are at home alone together, Jim reads to me. There’s a picture of domestic bliss!…

Will you thank Willie so very much for his letter. I am sending 100 cigarettes & some tobacco under cover to you. The cigarettes are his, & could you have the tobacco? As Maysie who I asked to settle up with Major Wigram about sending these things in the bag says that they make a great favour of sending anything in the bag, which is annoying, & Maysie fiercely refuses to allow me to send more this time. I am sending the rest of Willie’s order by post immediately….

Jim goes tomorrow (Sunday) night or Monday.

I did give Sir Ed. Carson your letter. Everyone is loud in criticizing the Government, but that don’t seem to move them. We lunched with Edith yesterday & met Lord Derby there. He said he had just received a letter signed by 6 men saying they would rejoin their regiments & enlist the moment that F E Smith was sent back to rejoin his regiment instead of sitting at home on a salary of £20,000, or whatever he gets! Lord Derby had some very amusing stories of Mrs Asquith. Sir John French went to see her, & she threw her arms around his neck & said, “Oh John, John, how splendid you are, but what a lot of worry you give Henry!” She also wrote to Lord Derby & asked him to spare “Henry”’s chauffeur, valet & footmen, as he being Prime Minister, his comfort was essential, so she asked Lord Derby to see they were not recruited. Lord Derby said that he expected we’d have conscription in 6 weeks time, but that’s too good to be true. He said that when he came to work his job, he found the most awful chaos, all the men who had been “starred” on the pink papers ought not to have been, & the ones unstarred ought to have been starred. By some oversight none of the shipbuilders in Cammell Laird’s yards were starred, so they could have been enlisting as hard as they could, & in consequence a certain new light cruiser called the Constance which Jim thought he’d a chance of getting has been tremendously delayed, & they are having to bring the men back to the yards again. Another employer wrote to say “all his men were starred, but they ought to be unstarred”. The WO left the “starring” business to the local recruiting people, who seem to have starred anyone who gave them half a crown.

I wonder if you have heard that Jim is to be a Captain D1! & have 20 of the newest & latest destroyers under him. Captain D of 12th Flotilla he will be, & he keeps the Royalist according to present arrangements. Isn’t it splendid. Royalist will have to be fitted out as a D’s ship, so I hope it won’t be 7 months before I see him again. He will take the new destroyers as they are turned out.

…Maysie & John are still at Bruton Street. He’s alright practically again except for his face. The abcess in the jaw. They are going to cut out the bit of dead bone on Monday, & he has been given 2 months to recover in, so that’s good….

We live in fogs now. No Zepps have penetrated to London lately although they visited Chatham I hear in the night before last….


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

Aimless trenches in the sand

After his stay in Yorkshire, John Maxwell Image spent his summer holiday on the south coast. He found the resort unaffected by the war in some respects – but very much so in others, with hysteria over lights at night and suspicion of foreigners.

Tuesday [3 August 1915]

The town looks as usual by day – swarms of naked legs on the sands, Pierrots, and a sea as well filled as ever I saw it with steamers and sailing brigs and schooners and ketches nonchalantly in the offing. War? Not a trace of it – by day, unless perhaps khaki gentlemen digging aimless trenches in the shingle (and it is to be hoped, useful ones elsewhere).

But at night – not a street lamp glimmers! Just now there is a full moon: else one must grope with a flashlight, I suppose, out of doors. Indoors every window veiled with opaque curtains so that nothing is visible seaward. Seven people were hauled on one day last week, and fined a guinea apiece for shewing momentarily a light. The Zeppelins are like the Proctors. Patriotic magistrates are making quite a purse. On my first night a Policemen knocked and sent up a message that the “fluttering of my blind (the window was open) bore the appearance of signalling”!!!

On Sunday morning the town was placarded with a long printed notice re German submarines: how to detect their presence, and where: reward of £100 if your information leads to capture, etc, etc.

A destroyer – poor dear, I know her by sight now well – on her daily monotonous patrol along the coast. Last evening it was blowing a quarter gale – not a ship visible except only one – the faithful Destroyer.

Sometimes a Parsifal airship hangs over the sea, glistering like a huge silver fish.

We are taken care of!

Also on arrival at Hotel or Lodging you are presented with a paper to be signed. Name, sur and Christian, and nationality are all that are required of a Briton: but aliens of whatever nation have to answer all manner of rude questions. Penalty for lying or refusing, £100….

Ever affect.

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/1)

Spicy news about spies

Florence Vansittart Neale in Bisham was excited by the war news, including spy stories, while William Hallam in Swindon scoffed at rumours that the war was causing bad weather.

Florence Vansittart Neale
7 June 1915

More Zeppelin raids (Gravesend). Our aviator brought one down in Belgium….

Mr Courtney [came] with very spicy news – spies here!!

I hear spy told about ship full of explosives at Gravesend. Zeppelin came, but did not hit it. Demolished a whole street, & according to the Maidenhead tailor, soldiers got out 15 of hand & shot 15 of Zeppelin crew (but I don’t think we got it in England!!)

Hear that Selfridge is full of explosives!!

Hear much damage done at Woolwich arsenal by Zeppelin.

William Hallam
7th June 1915

Very hot and dry again yet according to some – a good many in fact – foolish people, we should have had it wet all the time this war lasts, for a time ago when it was so wet they said it was caused by so much heavy gun fire. Very hot to-night.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8) and William Hallam (D/EX1415/23