Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Mildred Aldrich

I first became aware of Mildred Aldrich through looking at Matt Jacobsen's wonderful website

Now, I am 'haunted' by Mildred Aldrich's "Hilltop on the Marne" - it spans about two months from July to September 1914 and is in the form of extracts from letters written to a friend in America.  It is, to my mind, extremely well written and makes you want to find out what happened next.

Mildred, an American writer, had lived in Paris for sixteen years before deciding she needed to find somewhere quiet to spend her retirement years.   It took her just over a year of searching to find the cottage overlooking the River Marne.  After a little restoration work, she moved in in July 1914.

Her story is amazing - you can find it on the Internet, entitled "Hilltop on the Marne".  Mildred travelled to Paris and back twice during those early days of WW1 and, in spite of earnest requests from departing neighbours that she should accompany them, she refused to leave her home.

Mildfred describes being relieved that she stayed put when she hears reports of how the refugees were stuck on the roads.   She also describes the arrival of various groups of soldiers - two lots of British and one of French - and her efforts to help them with refreshments. When the French arrive, some are billeted in her house.

I should love to know what happened to the Uhlans rumoured to be camped out in a wood near the River, or to Captain S- of The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 13th Infantry Brigade, 15th Division of the British Expeditionary Force, one of the first soldiers Mildred comes into contact with.

Photo:  German Uhlans - courtesy of WW1 Buffs Facebook Page.

Monday, 29 July 2013

"Fifty Amazing Stories of the Great War" - Esmee Sartorius, Nurse in WW1

Also mentioned in this lovely book which I purchased from the recycling shop at our local Re-cycling Centre last Monday (22nd July 2013), is Esmee Sartorius who wrote about women who nursed during the First World War.   Esmee recorded her experiences in "Everyman at War", published by J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd.

Esmee, along with many other women, volunteered to help as soon as war broke out in August 1914, joining the St. John's Ambulance.    By 14th August, Esmee was in Brussels.   She and her cousin were asked to report to the Grand Palace to start work but the Germans were very close to Brussels and so they were ordered to Antwerp.   Due to the seriousness of the situation, the nurses were given the option of returning to England.   Esmee and her cousin, however decided to stay in Brussels.

After a fruitless tram journey and search for some wounded soldiers reported to be just outside Brussels, the girls were ordered to proceed to Charleroi.   They had ten minutes to get ready before being whisked off in a Belgian Red Cross car to Charleroi, which they found in ruins and still burning.  They spent a sleepless night in the house of a kindly Belgian family who offered them shelter, the house shaking all night long from the explosion of artillery shells.

Next day the girls marched off to Marcinelle, five miles from Charleroi, where they met up with a British Matron and two other nurses.   They had plenty of work nursing wounded French soldiers under German guard.  

Esmee says "Life was one continual series of shocks;  strange noises made us think we were being shelled; the electric light going out one night made us vividly imagine we were going to be blown up.
Our patients were taken to concentration hospitals in Charleroi or to Germany, as soon as they were fit enough to be moved."

I shall definitely add Esmee to my "Inspirational Women" section of the Exhibition.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Mildred Aldrich

When it comes to inspirational women, I just had to add Mildred Aldrich.  I have mentioned her before in the blog but I have now had time to read a little more of her amazing story, first published in 1915 by Constable and Company, London - "A Hilltop on the Marne".

Mildred was an American writer and journalist who moved to Paris.  She decided to retire 'somewhere quiet in the country' and, at the age of 61 in June 1914, Mildred moved to a cottage on a hill overlooking the River Marne.   It surely doesn't take much imagination to work out what happened next, especially since Mildred mentions that "trains to Belgium, Metz and Strasbourg pass within sight of my garden"...

I have often wondered how people found about what was happening in an age when scarcely anyone had a telephone and long before radio came on the scene, let alone television.  Mildred answers that question telling us that in France at any rate, the local (equivalent of a) policeman went down the road banging a drum and posting up copies of the Order for Mobilisation.

After that, Mildred goes on to say "I silently returned to my garden and sat down.  War again!  This time war close by - not war about which one can read ... in the newspapers".

On 24th August 1914 Mildred wrote: "Brussels occupied Thursday, Namur fallen Monday."

Mildred wrote extensively about her experiences and her writing, in my humble opinion, makes fascinating reading. She was a friend of poet Gertrude Stein and mixed with many of the literary stars who lived in Paris in the early part of the 20th Century.   Do try to read some of her work.

"A Hilltop on the Marne" is available on Gutenberg.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Female Intelligence Agents in World War One and the British Army's Official WW1 Ratcatcher

I am now busy preparing the panel on 'female spies' of World War One and I have found some amazing stories.

I also discovered another book in the little re-cycling shop at our local Re-cycling Centre - this one is later than the RN Sick Berth Attendant's Manual I told you about earlier.   This book is a gathering of "Fifty Amazing Stories of the Great War" and is dated 1936, published by Odhams Press Ltd., London.

There are a few pages missing from the end of the book and it is not in very good condition but it is possible to read some of the stories and the one that interested me most was 'Marthe McKenna's "A Journey to Brussels" from the book "I was a Spy", Jarrolds, London Ltd.

Marthe was an agent for British Intelligence during WW1.   Her family were rendered homeless when their house was burnt down in August 1914 and the family became separated.  Marthe, a trained nurse, was sent to work in a German military hospital in a town called Roulers in Belgium, where she was reunited with her family.

Marthe's parents ran a cafe and she worked there in her free time, that along with her work at the hospital enabled her to collect valuable intelligence to pass on to the British.  The story in the book tells of a hair-raising trip to Brussels that Marthe undertook during the War in the company of a German Army Officer, hoping to obtain valuable information.   She mentions how shabby and forlorn Brussels looked and how little there was in any of the shops.

Marthe was found out and arrested but the fact that she had nursed wounded German soldiers so well, for which she had been awarded an Iron Cross medal, meant that her sentence was commuted to imprisonment.   After the War, Marthe married an English Army Officer and moved to Westroosebeke where she wrote her memoirs.  Winston Churchill wrote a Foreword for her book.

Amazing Find!

The most fantastic thing about finding and purchasing this book is that one of the selection of Fifty Stories was an extract from an account I had read early on last year when I began researching for this project.  It was about the British Army's Official Rat Catcher.   I had lost the Bookmark I made of the account and, in spite of an extensive search, and leaving messages on Forums and Facebook Groups, the one and only answer to my requests asking if anyone knew his name was a rather unhelpful "Roland" - which I am afraid meant nothing to me!

His name was in fact Philip Gosse, his story is fascinating and an extract from his memoirs is included in the book I found last Monday - from his book "Rats" published by Longmans Green and Co. Ltd.

Is that not an amazing find?

I am now planning another sub section to my project - "Interesting Facts of World War One".  What do you think?

Mor Female Intelligence Agents will be featured in my exhibitions.  The next one is to be held at The Ace Centre, Cross Street, NELSON, Lancashire BB9 7NN from Thursday, 15th August 2013 until 3rd September 2013.

Friday, 26 July 2013

"Understanding the causes, course and consequences of the First World War" ...

Diane Lees, Director of the Imperial War Museum says:

" can't understand the world today unless you understand the 'causes, course and consequences' of the First World War.

I agree with Diane.  It took me a few years but I figured out some time ago that most of the social problems of our society seem to have had their origins in a general inability to deal with the aftermath - especially regarding the mental health of those returning from the areas of combat.   With the knowledge we have today of 'combat stress' and 'post traumatic stress' it is hard for us to remember that in the early part of the 20th Century not as much was known and only a few people were pioneering the work in that field.

I am still finding out so much about WW1 that I did not know.  I think I have already mentioned Terence Zuber's amazing, eye-opening book "The Battle of the Frontiers Ardennes 1914"* which is extremely helpful and illuminating when it comes to understanding the causes of the First World War.

*(published by Tempus Publishing, Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK, 2007)

Talking of the Aftermath - have you looked at Mary Riter Hamilton's paintings?   Mary is definitely one of my Inspirational Women.   She travelled from Canada where she was already an established artist of international repute (she was turned down as an official WW1 artist on the grounds that she was a woman) to Flanders in 1919 in order to paint what she saw for the Canadian Amputees Association.  She stayed for three years, living in a tin hut and painting the most amazing pictures of the mess left.  Mary lived among the Chinese workers who cleared away that mess and she had some quite hair-raising adventures.  It was a real 'no man's land' - there was little to eat and not much water because the water table had been contaminated very early on in the War - corpses, dead horses, etc. caused toxic substances to leak into the water table. Apparently all the water needs of the troops, horses, hospitals, etc. had to be transported from England in barrels and boiled before use  It is hard to envisage when you go to that area now and see it all green and tended what it must have been like - especially for those who had to flee their homes.   Can you imagine when they returned how they must have felt.   And it all happened again barely 21 years later.

Mary was so horrified by what she saw and experienced that she never painted pictures again instead turning to textile design.  She donated her paintings to the Canadian National Archive where they are carefully stored.

Find out more here 

The picture shown is entitled "Sanctuary Wood" - with grateful thanks to the Canadian National Archives - just one of 350 paintings that Mary painted while in France.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Women who 'stayed at home' during WW1

Thursday, 25th July 2013

Please don't imagine that, because I am seeking out 'Inspirational Women' that in any way diminishes the high regard I have for those who 'stayed (or indeed stay) at home'.   I know that running a home is one of the hardest and most rewarding things a woman (or a man) can do - especially if there are others to care for - "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world".+

Those wonderful people at the Atlantic Canadian Poets Archive - Patrick O'Reilly and Lisa Banks - sent me a pdf of a magazine they have in their Archive so that I could find some more women poets and their poems from Newfoundland.  The magazine is called "The Distaff" and it was published in 1916 in aid of The Red Cross Branch of  The Women's Patriotic Association, Newfoundland which, at that time was a separate country from the rest of Canada. Check out the Atlantic Canadian Poets Archive -

"The Distaff" is full of really inspirational women and is, I feel, a real tribute to all the women the world over who 'kept the home fires burning'** during the First World War.  It must also surely be a microcosm of what was happening elsewhere at that time.

For instance, just look at the sheer volume of items knitted (imagine the amount of wool needed, knitting needles, etc. not to mention the hours of dedicated work actually knitting the garments) from 1914 - 1916:

"Socks (pairs) ... 62,685, Shirts ... 8,984, Cuffs (pairs) ... 6,080, Mufflers ..... 2,422".

A similar report appears for bandages and other medical items.  A truly wonderful achievement.

Also mentioned are women who went to nurse in England - and I am sure there were women who also went from Newfoundland to nurse overseas;  and women who went to help out in other ways by visiting the wounded men and reminding them of home.

There must surely have been a need for the men and women fighting at the Front to know that things back home were all right:

"Stands the church clock at ten to three
And is there honey still for tea."*

I was surprised to see an advertisement on the back page of the magazine under the heading 'Special Electric Gifts!' - electric grills, electric toasters, electric percolators, kettles and egg boilers.  I wonder how many families in Britain had such household items in 1916?

Absolutely wonderful - educative and inspirational - thank you so much Patrick and Lisa.

+ William Ross Wallace, 1865

* Rupert Brooke, "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester", 1912
** Apologies if you all know this - Lena Guilbert Brown Ford wrote the lyrics to that song in London during WW1.  I have added Lena to my list of Female Poets - Edith Piaff believed that all songs were poems. . .

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service and Hospital Ships during WW1

Following on from my report about discovering a 1914 copy of an RN Sick Berth Attendant Manual last week in the recycle shop at our local recycling centre, I searched the Internet for ' HMHS China' which was written in ink on the front cover and found some photos on the QARNNS website.  I then made some enquiries with the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service and received the following wonderful reply from Jean Bancroft, who is a volunteer with the Service.   

"The photos (of HMHS China) can be seen on the QARNNS Association website  You will see a list of headings on the right – look for ‘Archive’ – click on that and then look for the heading WW1.  You will then see some of the hospital ships in which QARNNS Sisters served (unfortunately we don’t have photos of them all) including photographs of Sisters in HMHS Garth Castle and HMHS Plassy as well as HMHS China.  

The Sisters in hospital ships certainly faced danger; three were in HMHS Rohilla when she broke up and sank, with loss of life, in heavy seas near Whitby in October 1914.  The Sisters were congratulated by the Admiralty for their ‘admirable conduct’ and were awarded the Royal Red Cross. Also, four Sisters were in HMHS REWA when she was torpedoed and sunk in 1917.
If you would like to see an early film clip of King George V meeting QARNNS Sisters on HMHS Plassy in the North Sea in June 1917, the website to find it is   In the search box enter HMHS Plassig (Plassig being an original error on the clip, as is calling the ship ’Plassey’ instead of ‘Plassy’).  The clip lasts for 1 minute 51 seconds and is entitled ‘King George V inspects nurses, staff and officers on the hospital ship Plassey’.  

Jean also checked their Archives to look for the name B. Bracewell which is written on the book I found, but could find no trace.  She thinks he would have been a Sick Berth Attendant.   Jean very kindly scanned and attached a photo of RN Sick Berth Attendants on another Hospital Ship - HMHS Garth Castle - which I though I would share with you.  I know they aren't 'inspirational women' ...

Thank you very much indeed Jean.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Pivotal Conflict - The Franco-Prussian War 1870 - 1871

I had to find out more about the 1870 - 1871 conflict mentioned in yesterday's post.  This was in fact the Franco-Prussian War.   In the UK we were not taught about this pivotal conflict which means that we would never fully understand why the First and therefore the Second World Wars took place.

In his book "The Battle of the Frontiers Ardennes 1914", Terence Zuber tells us that, prior to 1914 both France and Germany had spent 40 years arming and training their armies.   The reason for that must surely be the failure of the Franco-Prussian War to provide an outcome to keep both sides happy.

So we need to brush up on our history in order to understand what happened and if truth be known to heal the wounds and make sure it does not happen again.   Who was it who said "if we do not learn from the lessons of history, we are condemned to relive them"?

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Surely a most Inspirational Woman

On the Internet site during my background research for the forthcoming exhibitions, I noticed the name of Baronne Henri Cottu, who was born Marie-Louise Sophie-Elise DAUPRAT.  She married Baron Henri Cottu in Paris in 1876.

On the website it stated that she had nursed during the 1870 - 1871 War and also during the 1914 - 1918 War and that she had received Palmes d'Or medals from the French Service de Sante Militaire.

I should love to find out more about this amazing woman but I am finding it difficult.   If anyone has any information, please get in touch.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Amazing find!

Yesterday, (16th July), I found a small book in, of all places, the little shop at our local re-cycling tip.  

The book is dated 1914 and is a "Manual of Instruction for The Royal Naval Sick Berth Staff".  Inside the front cover is written in ink 'HMHS China' and on the side is B. BRACEWELL.   

I searched for the Hospital Ship "HMHS China" on the Internet and found a wonderful photograph on the QARNNS website.   Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Services has the most fascinating history, having been founded long before the First World War.

I have applied for permission to use the photograph and have also sent off e-mails to try and find out more about the Hospital Ship and the person who owned the Manual in the first place.

I will let you know how I get on.

In the meantime, I am busy reading Terence Zuber's wonderful book "The Battle of the Frontiers Ardennes 1914".   A former US Army Major who studied in America, France and Germany, Zuber has walked the battleground and searched through original documents and eye-witness accounts.   The book is amazing and definitely a must for all interested in the history of the First World War. 

Monday, 15 July 2013

Women who fought during WW1

The contribution of women aside from 'keeping the home fires burning' (the lyrics for which, incidentally were written by an American woman who was living in London during WW1 - Lena Gilbert Brown Ford - which means I have included her in my list of poets), is truly amazing.

There are some excellent books written in America which deal with the subject of the contibution of women in depth.  Apparently, more than 45,000 women travelled from America to help out in some way.  During the First World War, several female American journalists went to interview some of the Russian women who enlisted to fight in the Russian Army.

There is a report published on 13th January 1916 in the American newspaper "Reading Eagle" which details the exploits of one or two of the hundreds of Russian women fighters -

It seems that, unlike their Russian sisters, Italian women were not allowed to fight.  The newspaper report tells of a young school teacher called Luiga Clapppi from Florence, who purchased a uniform, obtained a rifle and enlisted in a volunteer force.  The whiteness of her hands apparently gave the game away.

Two Frenchwomen - Helene Dutrieu and Marie Marvingt - were aviators who flew reconnaissance missions for the Allies during WW1.

And of course there were those who worked as spies, as well as ambulance drivers, nurses, entertainers, etc. behind the lines but nevertheless 'in the line of fire'.

I have plenty to keep me busy trying to find all these amazing women.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Elsie and Mairi go to War

Apologies!  I have neglected this section because I have been working very hard on trying to locate poets.  That does not mean I have forgotten those Inspirational Women - far from it.

Reading a book today about male soldier poets of WW1, I read a paragraph that mentioned that women did not fight during the First World War.

If you look at the excellent Facebook Page WW1 Buffs, you will see that there were quite a few women who did in fact fight.  Women like Flora Sandes, a clergyman's daughter from Suffolk in England, and Dorothy Lawrence.  

Then there were the women who travelled to the various theatres of war in order to nurse the sick and wounded.  Women like Elsie Knocker an Mairi Chisholm who remained in Belgium for the duration of the War and whose adventures there are hair-raising.

I am currently reading "A Great Task of Happiness  The Life of Kathleen Scott" by Louisa Young (Macmillan, London, 1995).  Louisa Young is Kathleen Scott's Granddaughter and the book is enthralling.   I shall definitely include Kathleen Scott in my Inspirational Women of World War One Section.