Sunday 11 November 2018


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.
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,
DepĂ´t of Sir Edward Ward, D.G.V.O.,
45, Horseferry-road, S.W.1.
That is, you might say, the last post.

Friday 9 November 2018

War Needlework

From the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, November 9th 1918.



EVEN now there are plenty of women without definite war work.  Many are too elderly, too delicate, or too much tied at home to undertake work on the land, in a canteen, in a hospital; they feel that it is only a few hours a week, perhaps, which can justly be spared from their household duties.

It is to these that I would appeal.  There is work which is needed, which is definitely "war work," and which will occupy just as much or as little time as they can honestly give to it.

There are few places now in the British Isles—more's the pity—which are out of reach of a military hospital.  From the very beginning of the war, it was evident that occupation and amusement for the thousands of wounded men in the hospitals was desirable and necessary, but it must have been a bold spirit who first suggested needle-work!

At the start, it was rather uphill work: the men were shy—afraid of ridicule.  Bit by bit the feeling wore off; a few took to the new departure enthusiastically, others followed, and now needle-work is the fashion. One need not press the men; they are eager to begin.  Groups collect round the beds to advise, criticise, and compare; such feminine terms as "broderie anglaise," "stem-stitch" and "long-and-short" are bandied freely.

And the embroidery of all kinds accomplished by these men, who probably never touched a needle until a few months ago, is nothing less than wonderful.  One need not fear unresponsive or dull pupils; personally, I think men are even quicker than women in picking up the stitches, in learning to knit, to crochet, to plain-sew. 

With the increase of pupils and interest, with the growing tendency in doctors and nurses to recommend and encourage needle-work, especially for the nervous patients—it is often definitely ordered, now, as part of the regime—the need for teachers has also grown.  In this district—a group of six or seven general and subsidiary hospitals—we could do with much more help.

Teachers for every kind of needle-work and handicraft are needed, from elaborate embroidery down to the plainest of sewing.  "Soft-toy making" is a very favourite industry, and this requires only careful cutting-out from good patterns and neat, strong stitching.

In some hospitals, the men work for their own pleasure only, but it is generally more satisfactory when the articles are destined for sale.  At our hospitals we have made many hundreds of pounds for war charities by the sale of the men's work.

Moreover, where some of the hopeless cases are concerned, needle-work will be far more than a recreation. One man—doomed to lie on his back, probably, for the rest of his life—has already made a good sum of money by embroidering regimental badges, which he executes in a really wonderful manner. 

I am sure no one who takes up this work will wish to give it up.  If one has little time, it need not be exacting: if one has much, it can all be profitably occupied.  It is interesting, and it gives one the opportunity to get intimately in touch with the men.  That, in itself, even from a selfish point of view, is worth doing; indeed, in the case of our wounded men, I am not sure that the teachers do not learn more than the taught.

Tuesday 6 November 2018

Games for the Soldiers

From The Times, November 6th 1918. 



Sir,—Can you find room for a line, less irrelevant than it seems for these tremendous times?  The men may soon have more time for games during the coming winter abroad, and I write to ask for any good outdoor or indoor game that can still be spared to be sent to Sir Edward Ward, D.G.V.O., 45, Horseferry-road, S.W.1.  One from every house will be enough.  A post-card sent to me at 8, King’s Bench-walk will produce a list of desiderata.
Yours faithfully, 
8, King’s Bench-walk, Inner Temple, E.C.4. 

[I like the throwaway line 'one from every house will be enough' - a previous request for games from John Penoyre had received a poor response and he had had to write a follow-up letter saying that every household has at least one game - 'the game I am asking for now'.  He was very good at wording his demands in a witty and charming, but still very forceful, way. ] 

Saturday 3 November 2018

The Influenza Epidemic in Halifax

From the Halifax Courier, November 2nd, 1918.


Grave concern is being aroused throughout the country— and, indeed, in India, America, the Continent, and countries far and near—by the persistence and danger of the influenza epidemic.  In this district there is greater freedom from its ravages than in many places, and no drastic steps have yet been necessary to safeguard the public health by the general closing of schools and institutions where people meet in large numbers.  But there is every reason for care; during the week cases have become more numerous, and some very pitiable instances have occurred of families being stricken.  Government authorities are handling the matter in the hope that research will throw light upon the cause and the remedy, both of which seem very much in doubt.  The actual influenza is very like other visitations, but the secondary infections are of a more acute character than usual.  They are pneumococci and streptococci—terms which are not illuminating to most people but which being interpreted mean septic pneumonia—an affection of the lungs which is drastic and rapid in its action.  There is the official assurance that the food rations are not considered a direct cause of, the spread of the disease.  That is satisfactory, but it is mere common sense to say that the restricted diet and “war strain” (in all its forms of anxiety and overwork) must contribute to a lower vitality and that a condition is created in which influenza flourishes.  The moral is that each individual has a responsibility—not only for himself or herself, but for the community.  Where influenza exists the utmost care should be taken to limit infection; where there are “ordinary” colds, and especially if any temperature accompanies them, bed is the best place (many have caused havoc to themselves and others by struggling on with their work when obviously unfitted for it); and where there is no illness it can most surely be avoided by most careful attention to personal health, embracing cleanliness (not forgetting the frequent cleansing of the throat), adequate rest and plenty of fresh air.

-- -- -- -- 



During the week influenza has spread rapidly in Halifax and several cases of pneumonia have resulted.  Some of these have proved fatal, the most distressing case recorded locally being from Primrose-street, Claremount, where Mr. and Mrs. Ashworth and three children have all died.  Two children were buried last Saturday, the father and mother were buried on Wednesday, and the youngest child, aged four months, died on Thursday.  In several instances, where there was no one at home to look after the afflicted, the patients have been removed to the Gibbet-street hospital, where they have received every attention.  From Southowram Bank, a father, mother and child were attacked, and there have been cases in all parts of the town.  A man who lived by himself was suffering from influenza for two days before he could obtain assistance, and then it was too late.  Pneumonia had developed and he died yesterday.

It is estimated that about 600 school children in Halifax are suffering from the “flu,” and Portland-road School has been closed until Monday week.  In the case of the other schools the scholars will assemble as usual, but instead of going into the school buildings they will be given exercise in the open air.  Offices and mills are more or less affected by it, but it has not spread to the same extent as the epidemic of a few months ago.  The present disease, if not checked at the beginning, attacks the lungs with great severity.  It is therefore important that early symptoms—generally cold in the head and sore throat—should not be neglected.

[This seems a more realistic view of the influenza epidemic than that in the previous post.]

Friday 2 November 2018

Woollies and Spanish Flu

From Illustrated London News, November 2nd 1918.


A quest we are all on these days is for woollies—chiefly those to send to the men who are campaigning, for victories will not keep the dear things warm.  We can get the best for them if we can show that we want it for fighting men, for the chief output of the Wolsey manufacture is for the use of the Army and Navy.  A bellicose lady was arguing that her old man wanted it as badly as any soldier, because coal was so short and he could not fight to keep himself warm.  Another woman took up the challenge, and told her that but for the fighters, who had to be out in all weathers, her old man would have no grate to put coal in nor house to put a grate in.  This was conceded, and the pair proceeded to extol the merits of Wolsey; and finally some was found for the bellicose lady's old man. whereupon she was converted to peace, but neither a Hun nor a pro-Hun version of that blessing.

No one has one good word for the latest scourge, the "Spanish flu."  Spain will, it is said, break her neutrality if we go on calling it so.  Women go about handkerchief to nose and reeking of antiseptic; the two pet pastimes are sneezing and skipping—the first not caused by flu, but by the use of Kruschen Salts to prevent it by getting rid of the germs; the second by way of keeping warm in the healthiest way.  An impromptu sneezing party proved rather a frolic; the guests passed round the salts, sniffed, and sneezed into properly disinfected handkies in a disinfected room.  There may be developments with competitions, the best sneezer to get a prize; or, if members of the minority sex are present, bets might enliven the proceedings, which would certainly often become hilarious.  Jokes apart, there is no better preventive of the prevailing malady than a good sneezing fit once or twice a day.  It is not for the good of the community that it should be done at large...... discreet sneezing properly environed is to be encouraged, and no one need fear enemy influence in the Kruschen Salts ..... — it has been all British for 160 years, and continues to be so.

[This seems a remarkably flippant view of Spanish flu, given the huge number of people that died, world-wide.  Wikipedia suggests that in the countries involved in the war, reports in 1918 minimized the effects of the epidemic.  In Spain, which was neutral, reports were more accurate. and hence it seemed to be more virulent and deadly there - hence the name.]

Sunday 28 October 2018

Economising on Fuel

From the Sheffield Independent, 28th October 1918.


How Lady Leitrim Practises Economy.

One of the simplest and best ways that householders can adopt to ensure that their coal rations will not be exceeded is to weigh them out every day.  This is the coal-saving plan adopted by the Countess of Leitrim.

"Each day's fuel ration," she explained to a Press representative, "is carefully weighed, and may in no circumstances be exceeded.  It works out at 49lb. a day in summer and 56lb. in winter."

The Countess manages to limit herself to that small ration by the greatest household economy at her home in Cadogan square.  "The hot water system is for the most part suspended," she states, "and cans of water are carried to the bedrooms from the kitchen.  One gas-fire lit for three hours daily and one coal-fire started in time for tea in one small room, where all meals and recreation are taken, constitutes the entire heating of the living rooms.  The hot water pipes for central heating are cut off, and a small stove in the hall substituted.  All unnecessary electric bulbs have been removed from passages and staircases—an economy which is being adopted by many of my friends.  Instead of 26 tons of fuel, 70,000 feet of gas or 450 units of electricity hitherto considered the minimum possible for running the house, 17 tons of fuel and 420 units of electricity and very little gas are being managed with this year."

[I can't help thinking of the servants at the Cadogan Square house.  They would undoubtedly be the ones to do the carrying of cans of water to the bedrooms, and if there were only two fires allowed in the entire house, it sounds as though the servants' areas were entirely unheated.] 

Wednesday 17 October 2018

A Red Cross Hospital in Wales

From the Brecon & Radnor Express, 17th October, 1918.

Sir,—Our first convoy of 30 patients since the re-opening of the Hospital, arrived on Saturday evening, 12th.  We offer most grateful thanks to Col. Kennard, Miss Williams (Penpont), Rev. H. Church Jones, Messrs. Nott and Co., and Miss Nancie Jones, who lent cars to fetch the patients from the station.  Owing to an accident on the line the train was an hour late, and the patients arrived very cold and hungry, so it was all important they should be brought swiftly to warmth and food.  We also offer thanks for following gifts:— Sack of potatoes from children of Llandilorfan Council School, grown in the playground by the children; 2 rabbits, Miss Davies. Penwern; 4 gallons milk. 5 lbs. butter, Mrs McClintock; 2 lbs. honey, Mrs Stubbs, per Miss Best; tomatoes for men, Mrs Raikes.  We hope our kind friends who have sent us vegetables, eggs, etc., will remember our wants.


[Earlier in the war, Miss de Winton ran the War Clothing Depot in Brecon, and issued regular requests for local knitters to produce socks, mittens, etc.  In fact, she was still doing that, while also, as this letter shows, running the Penoyre Red Cross Hospital.]