Sunday, 11 November 2018

Armistice

And so it was all over.  Not altogether - news of men who had been killed in the last hours of fighting continued to arrive for some time longer, which must have been especially hard to bear.  And there were men who died of wounds after the armistice took effect.  There were prisoners of war on both sides who had to be returned home, and wounded and broken men in hospitals, some of whom would never recover fully.  Food and fuel shortages at home did not instantly disappear, and Spanish flu was killing millions of people throughout the world.  But still, the armistice was undoubtedly a huge relief.

My family did not lose anyone during the war. My mother's father was in the Royal Navy; he joined before the war, and was a stoker.  He was at the Battle of Jutland and later served in K-class submarines, a strange and disastrous class that were designed to be fast on the surface as well as underwater and so needed stokers.  It must have been a very unhealthy environment in the engine-room - he developed T.B., was discharged from the Navy and died in the 1920s, when my mother was only 6 years old.  Her mother married again in the 1930s, and her second husband, my Grandad, had been in the Army during the war.  He was wounded in the knee, and wore a caliper on his leg, with special boots, for the rest of his long life - he lived to be 96.

I will give the last words of this blog to two people who have appeared in it several times.  Alice de Winton had been busy throughout the war, amongst other things collecting supplies of comforts for the troops from the knitters of Breconshire.  She was notably brisk in issuing her demands, as in the following letter in the Brecon County Times on the 5th December:

To the Editor of the COUNTY TIMES.
Sir,—Will all the knitters of Breconshire please help again and make 300 pairs of mittens for the 2nd S.W.B. [South Wales Borderers], now marching into Germany.  Germany is very cold.  Col. G. Raikes, D.S.O., is begging for mittens.  There is wool at 89, The Watton, Brecon.  Here is the pattern for knitting.  Eight pairs should be made out of 1lb. [one pound, or about 450gm.] of wool. Please begin at once.
PATTERN FOR MITTENS. 4 No. 12 needles. Cast on 48 stitches. Knit 24 rows, 3 purl 3 plain.  Knit 20 rows, plain.  To make hole for thumb—turn and purl all 3 needles turn and knit plain all 3 needles (as for back of sock heel).  Do this 12 times.  Then knit plain all round six rows; 12 rows, 3 purl 3 plain. Cast off loosely.
ALICE M. DEWINTON.
John Penoyre's style was very different.  He wrote regular letters to the newspapers (mainly The Times) from October 1914 on, always witty and erudite. He started out collecting sweaters that could be dyed khaki, then when the supply of ready-made sweaters began to dry up, asked for sweaters to be knitted.  He also collected field-glasses for army officers - officers had to provide their own equipment, and the supply of field-glasses rapidly dried up, so he asked for the families of officers who had been killed to donate them.  Towards the end of the war, he started to collect games for the troops in France, and these requests continued for some time after the Armistice.  The letter below to the editor of The Times, which appeared on January 29th, 1919, shows that demobilizing the troops on the Western Front was a long and tedious process.  (Notes: The "ever beneficent hut" probably means one of those run by the Y.M.C.A.  Woodbines were a brand of cigarette (smoked by my Grandad).  Hephzibah was, I think, John Penoyre's housekeeper, though I doubt if that was really her name - she is often mentioned in his letters. Sir Edward Ward, the Director General of Voluntary Organisations, has also been frequently mentioned in previous posts.)
Sir,—You cannot hope more than I do that this will be my last letter to you. The fact is I spent Sunday checking officers’ receipts for games recently sent them for their men, and their letters are such that I really have no choice left me but to beg for more.  With the sweater letters of the 1914 pneumonia epoch and the field-glass letters after Neuve Chapelle in my mind, it is curious to have to admit that these requests are quite as compelling.
It seems the days are miserably wet, the evenings are desperately long, many of the men are miles away from the ever beneficent hut, and there are limits, both linguistic and convivial, to the charms of the estaminet nearby.  “So we hang about, smoke interminable woodbines, and read old, old newspapers, till one of these splendid consignments comes to help us through many a weary evening,” and much more to the same effect.
If your readers care to know what games are most in demand here is the list: — Cards, dominoes, darts, draughts, halma, lotto, and ping pong. You will see that we are conservative.  Yet taste has changed in one particular, thank goodness.  I was never yet asked to amass Noah arks—which I read were in great demand in the Crimea of all places.  We also badly want more cigar boxes for packing games: those that hold 25 or 100: we have enough of the size holding 50.
The address for sending everything is that given below.  My quarters have had to be cleared of both comforts and games since the armistice—when Hephzibah, ever in the mode, presented an ultimatum.
Yours faithfully,
JOHN PENOYRE.
Depôt of Sir Edward Ward, D.G.V.O.,
45, Horseferry-road, S.W.1.
That is, you might say, the last post.

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