A great French victory

The Battle of Verdun came to an end after nine months of fierce fighting on the River Meuse. The Germans offered to negotiate peace terms on terms favourable to themselves.

17 December 1916

Germany’s peace terms come here thro’ America!!

A great French victory at Verdun – taken 11,370 prisoners (284 officers), 115 cannon, 44 mine throwers, 107 machine guns.

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

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“Our streets and homes are becoming rapidly emptied of men”

The war was increasingly striking home as more and more men joined the armed forces – and more and more died.

THE WAR

The Naval Battle off the coast of Jutland and the tragically sudden loss of Lord Kitchener have brought home to us as nothing else has, the awfulness of the war. We can however thank God that we really won the victory, which will probably become clear to us when we read Admiral Jellicoe’s eagerly awaited Despatch and we can truly thank God for the magnificent character of Lord Kitchener and the splendid work which he has done for the Empire. We have also had an additional cause for thankfulness in the wonderful recovery of our Russian Allies and their victories over the Austrians, and also for the courage and grand resistance of the French before Verdun. Please God we shall have still more reasons soon for rejoicing.

Our streets and homes are becoming rapidly emptied of men, and a number more have joined up since last month. There are now from many families several brothers serving, and our sympathy is due especially to those mothers who have several sons at the war.

Several of our old lads have nobly laid down their lives, among whom are Sidney Walter Jones, John Thomas Owen, Ernest Buckle, William Henry Palmer, William Bellinger, and Ernest Westall. Moreover Lieut. William N Gardiner, grandson of the late Rector of Newbury, also died in the Naval Battle, in which Owen, Buckle, Palmer and Bellinger lost their lives. And yet how inadequate is this expression, for indeed they have, we trust, through death found a better and a more glorious life than any that can be ours here.

The Women’s Intercession Service on Friday afternoons is being well attended, though there are a great many more who could come, if they would: the members of the congregation are asked to put any special requests for prayer in the little box which hangs on the church wall, near the Intercession List, and these are used during the service: a certain number of names from the List are also read out.

Newbury parish magazine, July 1916 (D/P89/28A/13)

“I cannot keep from loathing the German vermin”

Lady Mary wrote to her son to Ralph to express her horror at the treatment of British prisoners of war suffering from typhus in a camp at Wittenberg the previous year, which had recently been publicised.

April 11th
In the train

We are reading your General’s Gallipoli despatch and the papers are full of Verdun – and there is the check again in Mesopotamia. The story of Wittenberg is beyond my reading. I cannot read these things & keep my mind clean of loathing of the German Vermin as Collingwood calls them, “not men but Vermin”….

I wonder if you have come across Marmion [Guy], GSO, DSO, I think he is on your Staff BMEF?

I had an amusing talk with a typical Farmer Churchwarden who is an ardent Tariff Reformer, & says there ought to be a determination not to go back to Free Trade if the farmer is to be compensated for putting his farm under wheat & all the labour – that wages must be raised to enable every one to afford a 6d loaf. How? Said the Shoe Manufacturer Churchwarden – how are you going to do that? He was busy turning out one million heels for boots (Army) a month & has a big order for Russia. He gets his leather from France – 26 and 30 tons ordered & now 30 on its way. He keeps only eight men & is doing all the rest with women labour. The farmer was on the tribunal for exempted agricultural labour – a strange agreement was arrived at by them that if the Government had asked for it they should have compulsory service 3 months after war broke out. They were both interesting men, and a sort of labour leader parson Atkins joined in with very real knowledge of all the conditions. His father is an old clergyman in Leicester, who was a working man’s son….

Letter from Lady Mary to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/4)

A birthday stroll up the trenches

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with the latest from the front. So far he had avoided service at the front line, but was not far away. He was optimistic that the end was in sight.

Apl 7 1916
Dear WF

I must steal an hour and let the work go hang, for yesterday I sent you a card, “letter follows”, and if one doesn’t hop along hard on the heels of that promise, there’ll be trouble, I know.
This war business is getting a confounded nuisance; I’m really getting no proper opportunity to enjoy this lovely spring – and that’s a pity for it’s a lovely country we’re in – hills, woods and water, and so far a most peaceful time. But – well, guess where I am.

To celebrate my birthday (by the way, many thanks for your jolly letter and present, I’ve only just dipped into the first 100,000 but can already see it’s written by one of us) – well, dear old Will sent me a manuscript of his song, which I’m in for, and trembling I shall lose, and for which I haven’t yet been able to write and thank him.
[Censored]…

But all this time you’re dying to know how I celebrated my birthday. I took a stroll up the trenches. At least it began as a stroll, continued as a wade, and climaxed as a swim. Lovely place, Flanders! Anyway I’ve been along the firing line and into a sap towards the German line. To have kept out of that for over 12 months is something to brag about, and to achieve it after all that time, even something more to be proud of.

It was a perfectly peaceful sunshiny day and I thoroughly enjoyed my tour, as the geography of the country makes this part of the line peculiarly interesting.

How much longer shells and us will be strangers, I don’t know. It’s now about 3 months since I heard one close.

There have been a good many aeroplane duels and I saw a very pretty one the other day in which our fellow drove the Hun to earth. Our fighting plane was naturally slower than the German scout machine, but what we lacked in speed in the can, the airman made up for in skill. The way he manoeuvred into range and by cool planning overcame his sped handicap was quite pretty from our point of view.
The Daily Mail is pretty well informed about our movements, I notice, but its air knowledge is very slight, I believe. I took an opportunity of talking “Fokker” to some of the air service and was rejoiced to learn that it’s looked on simply as a paper campaign, the superiority of the enemy, type for type, being purely imaginary – in fact I was told the boot is entirely on the other plane, and I believe it.

Sorry you’ve been troubled with Zeps. I expect though with the next moon you’ll have seen the last of them. Our aeroplanes in the summer will, I imagine, be a sure defence.

I suppose and hope there’ll be a terrific bust up soon – a strong push, all together, ought to write “finis” to Germany.

Of course, if Germany will kindly continue to do the pushing, tant mieux.

And Verdun is a very hopeful sign of her impending crash, I think. To my mind it means the gambler’s throw or political pressure.
But that’s shop. However, even here in peaceful slumbering valleys it’s still war. Every night we sally forth to slaughter rats (game abounds).

There’s nothing else to say but “good afternoon”. Oh, yesterday I saw a jolly sight – a popular horse bolting with an unpopular officer – they made a splendid if undignified race of it, but a fatal error of judgment on the part of the officer, who assumed the horse would carry on straight through the chateau instead of swerving to the left towards its stable, lost him the race by a short length, only the officer leaving the course and carrying straight on towards the house….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/6-7)

“Things inside Germany don’t seem happy which is all to the good”

A Foreign Office friend of Ralph’s wrote with the latest news and rumours.

Bridgeton
Orton
Morayshire
21.3.16

Dear Glyn

We have been so terribly rushed at the FO that I have hardly time to write to anyone about anything nowadays…

I am up here for 10 days leave & am fishing hard. Up to now I haven’t done well, though there seem to be a lot of fish, but I am out of luck. My host got 7 today & I only got one though I believe I was on the best water. It is awful good getting away for a bit from the FO as one gets very stale after 3 months or so [work?].
Things seem to be going pretty well all round, though as usual London is full or was full when I left 4 days ago of gloom & rumours. However none of the latter ever seem to come true.

You must be having a pretty strenuous time too. I believe the Huns are having a nasty knock at Verdun & it ought to keep them quiet for some time; meanwhile things inside Germany don’t seem happy which is all to the good. I think they expected to take the place all right & rather calculated on the effect it would have on their own people & on the neutrals.

Yours sincerely
E Drummond

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/18)

“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”.

(more…)

Tremendous slaughter at Verdun

Florence Vansittart Neale was impressed by German casualty levels, while Sydney Spencer was sent on another training course at home.

Florence Vansittart Neale
17 March 1916

Verdun still going on. German slaughter tremendous.

Sydney Spencer
March 17th

I am detailed to attend Grenadier course at Godstone, Surrey, on March 21st (Tuesday).

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

A fine body of young women

The Revd E C Glyn, Bishop and Peterborough, and his wife Lady Mary both wrote to their soldier son Ralph. The Bishop was anxious that his letters were not reaching Ralph:

The Palace
Peterborough
15 March [1916]

My darling Ralph

Thanks for your letters – & your news – but we long to hear what & where your next move will be.

I have written by each “bag” every week, & I can’t understand if & why you have not had a letter from me each time! Unless it is that Captain Kellet does send every letter as well as General Callwell used to do! I wonder what is to be done with General Callwell & if he will want to get you for his work somewhere?…

Lady Mary was busy with her own war work, not to mention a feud with a rival Red Cross branch.

March 15, 1916
The Palace
Peterborough

My own darling and blessing

This has been a bad week for me and there has been nothing but futile fuss, perhaps – but fuss! And I have had no leisure. Meg went to London on Thursday, and was away one night in London, and all Friday I was at the Rest Room seeing to Canteen worries…

I went to see Colonel Collingwood who has seen your reappointment as GSO General Staff vice [under] Captain Loyd, & he was much excited and wanted to know what it meant. I could only say I supposed some redistribution of work at the end of your previous work of all this winter. But it set me thinking and this week with the news of Verdun always in one’s head, with the rumours always in every paper of German naval activity, and of the mines everywhere, one knows that one needs to have a stout heart for a stae brae….
The Rest Room is crowded out some days with the troops moving about, and we had over 1100 last month. We have a splendid hand of workers night and day.

Any my Red Cross Room is such a joy – it was quite full last night and I have enough money to go on, but must soon get more; the material is very expensive, & the County Association (now definitely under Sir Edward Ward) gives no grants to these private Rooms. The Town depot now “under the War Office” and having a pompous Board announcing its connection with the British Red Cross & the “Northampton Red Cross (??)” has collected 680 pounds, and intends to get 1000£ in order to sit upon all BRC work. Not sent to the War Office – to be distributed by them, & not by our Headquarters, 83 Pall Mall. It is from here quite incomprehensible when one knows how these people have behaved, & the lies they have told to cover up the defects of their organization, but I suppose Sir Edward had to level up all sorts of abuses & get the whole into his hand before any order could be restored. And the BRC did not organize its work in time. Now the Central Work Rooms have had to move from Burlington House to 48 Gros: Square & they have taken that big corner house for six months.

Sir George Pragnell’s death has been a blow, as I felt safe behind him from further attack – but the Stores Manager at 83 is so delighted with the work we have now sent up that our position will be assured. Another enemy – not me – quashed!

It is a complication that the Lady Doctor who is our splendid and most efficient Superintendent is expecting to add to the population! (more…)

Sad but interesting: blinded by the war

Florence Vansittart Neale visited St Dunstann’s Hospital, where blinded soldiers were being rehabilitated.

14 March 1916

Fighting at Verdun begun again. French seem confident. Went to see Helen, stayed about 1 ½ hours. C is back from German lesson, trying for PO censorship. Evelyn [possibly Evelyn Dickinson, wife of Henry Vansittart Neale’s nephew] & I to St Dunstan’s to see blind men’s work. Very sad, but interesting.

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

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)

French still holding Verdun

More war news from Florence Vansittart Neale:

7 March 1916

Zeppelin raid.

French still holding Verdun.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/167/8)

France has won her soul at Verdun

Lady Mary Glyn was impressed by the ongoing Battle of Verdun. French general Philippe Petain was to end as the infamous leader of the collaborationist Vichy regime, but he was a hero of the First World War.

March 6 1916

Verdun is a wonderful story and full of great history – that such fate should hang so long in the balance must test endurance to the utmost and France has truly won her soul? I wonder if you met General Petain or any of the men on his Staff.

Evening papers came in with accounts of Zepp: raid, & there are rumours here of Burghley Park having had a bomb…. It is most bitterly cold, & I think it must have been cold enough to freeze even a Bosch…

Letter from Lady Mary Glyn to her son Ralph (D/EGL/C2/3)

The French line at Verdun is not broken

Florence Vansittart Neale noted the latest French war news.

5 March 1916

Verdun battle still going on after lull. Been fighting French about fortnight. Not broken French line. They supposed casualties 50,000, Germans reported 150,000! Hope Roumania siding with us.

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

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)

“More brains than bowels”

Ralph Glyn’s mentor General Charles Callwell, just off to Russia, let him know what was going on at the War Office and internationally. For Czar Nicholas II’s impressions of Callwell, see his letters.

Central Station Hotel
Newcastle-on-Tyne

4th March 1916

My dear Glyn

I got your letter just when leaving. It looks as if things were going to be very dull in Egypt and, with the reduction of garrison, I suppose that there will be reduction of staff. Perhaps you will find yourself nearer decisive events before long. Latest news from Verdun seems quite satisfactory and Joffre two days ago was quite satisfied. Robertson had gone over to see him and Haig.

Wigram and I are for the Grand Duke’s HQ but go to Magily first to see the Emperor & Alexieff. I have a GCMG for Yudenich, who commanded the army that took Erzerum, which should make us popular & will justify our getting pretty well up to the front. Whe we get back to Moscow we may go on to Japan – I have a sack of decorations concealed at Christiania to serve as an excuse – so as to see how things are on the Siberian railway & at Vladivostok, but I could not get Robertson to make up his mind. The King told me that AP [Arthur Paget] put in from Petrograd for a trip to the Caucasus, suggesting a decoration for Yudenich as justification; but he was too late, our trip having already been arranged. We may meet him at Stockholm or some such place. Mac[law?] is going with us as far as Petrograd, he has managed to put in about three months at home on an irregular sort of sick leave and strikes me as having more brains than bowels; he is coming down here later and we start tonight. The passage across is no citch [sic] as it is bitterly cold, it is always rough, & the steamers are small & asphyxiating, proving altogether too much for Wigram and our recruit-servant.

The War Office has quite settled down on its new lines and the breaking up of the MO into MO and to MI seems to work very well and to be a decided improvement. Most of the old gang remain on and some of them look rather tired.

Wishing you the best of luck

Yours sincerely
Chas E Callwell

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