A spoke in the wheel – August 1914

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

On the 4th of August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany. Germany had invaded Belgium, violating the country’s neutrality. When Britain’s entry into the war was announced, Teresa was in London visiting her Aunt Mary and friends Lillian Trelawny and her sister, Maud.

Although the war was to have a momentous impact on Teresa’s life, at first, the Hultons did not seem to realise how serious the situation was and continued with their normal lives. Teresa’s 24th birthday fell on the 6th of August. Her sister, Gioconda, sent a list of friends to visit in London and Wales before she left Britain to begin a motoring trip around France.

Teresa in a car in the 1920s

Teresa in a car in the 1920s

However, as the situation worsened it was decided that the excursion in France should be cancelled. Gioconda wrote jokingly to her sister, still not fully taking in the severity of the situation:

‘On the whole if anything can make up for the disappointment of not starting on your motor trip, you should feel proud that the occasion has proved to be nothing short of the famous and much predicted inter-European complication & that the cataclysm predicted for 1916 has been anticipated by two years to put a spoke into your wheel!’

In the same letter, Gioconda humorously pictures that when they next meet after the destruction of war it shall be ‘in some cave, each of us wearing the relic of what was once a dress & tiring of bilberries & lizards. No part of the world will be safe except the island of Tristan da Cunha which even the seagulls disdain.’


Whilst Britain was preparing for war, Italy enjoyed advantages as a neutral country. Gioconda wrote that whilst Teresa sees ‘only very biased accounts of the war- here, as the country is still neutral, the correspondence is excellent & comes from every part,’ although ‘one has to pick one’s way through the various so-called official reports like a skilled acrobat.’

Italian flag in the Attingham collection

Italian flag in the Attingham collection


Later in the month, Gioconda suggested to her sister that war work in England might be a ‘lucrative occupation,’ especially helpful as the Hulton’s financial situation was worsening. The family found their income, much of which had been invested when in Munich, nearly halved. The idea also appealed to Teresa’s practical and compassionate nature and the pitiful sight of droves of Belgian refugees arriving in London may have inspired her to help them.



Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Following the outbreak of the First World War, Lord Berwick, aged 37, was stationed for six months with the Shropshire Yeomanry at Morpeth in Northumberland. He had been attached to the Shropshire Yeomanry since 1900 but worked at the British Embassy in Paris between 1903 and 1911. The Shropshire Yeomanry had its origins in the French Wars of 1783-1815 and was initially designed as a mounted ‘Home Guard’ to serve in times of unrest. The men were generally workers on the landed estates and the officers were country landowners.

On 4th August 1914, Lord Berwick received a letter from the Yeomanry:

‘As you have probably seen, the Yeomanry are mobilising. The Colonel has given you the vacant place. Could you turn up at Shrewsbury as soon as you can.’

Lord Berwick and the Shropshire Yeomanry

Lord Berwick and the Shropshire Yeomanry



In Shropshire, plans were under way that would be the beginning of Attingham’s role as a war hospital where sick and wounded soldiers could recuperate. At a meeting held in Shrewsbury shortly after the outbreak of war, Captain Harry Antony Van Bergen, the tenant at Attingham offered the house to the Red Cross as a convalescent hospital. Lord Berwick agreed, although he was concerned that smoking might damage the decorated ceilings.

Harry Van Bergen was a Captain in the Kings Royal Rifle Ref and fought in France from 1914 to 1915, being awarded the Burma Star. Before tenanting Attingham, Van Bergen had lived in Paris where, with a friend Dr Magnin, he created the American Hospital Association in 1906. This aimed to offer expatriates access to American-trained doctors. In 1909 a new 24 bed hospital opened in Neuilly-sur-Seine. During WW1 the hospital provided a volunteer ambulance service which helped over 10,000 allied soldiers.

Captain Van Bergen and his wife at Attingham

Captain Van Bergen and his wife at Attingham

Ethel Benbow, who grew up at Home Farm on the Attingham estate, recalled the Van Bergens:

‘Henry Van Bergen went into the war hoping that ‘his son wouldn’t have to go after him. It would save him. So we didn’t see a tremendous lot of him because he joined up. But she was extremely nice.’

Men and a donkey at the Attingham hospital c.1917

Men and a donkey at the Attingham hospital c.1917


4 responses to “A spoke in the wheel – August 1914

  • Claude Hart

    Having just read this piece, I looked at my great grandmother’s perpetual calendar that sits on my desk. On the 4th August 1914, it sat on the counter of the French laundry she owned, just off the Tottenham Court Road in London. Strange, but I felt a definite frisson as I glanced at it. What were the feelings amongst the laundry staff on that day 100 years ago? Luckily, my French grandfather was wounded very early in the war and was, therefore, not really involved in the major battles that the French fought – otherwise I might not be here writing this!

  • Sarah Kay

    Saraid – Have only just had chance to read this – Absolutely brilliant! and so much new information.

  • Short staffed – September 1918 | attinghamww1stories

    […] again. Another nurse, ‘Mrs Gordon-Watson is at the hospital at Bordighera convalescing – Lillian Trelawny will tell you all our news. She is a great success […]

  • Settling in Shropshire – After the war | attinghamww1stories

    […] The Van Bergens moved out of Attingham in March 1920, having purchased Ferney Hall in Onibury, Shropshire. In a letter to Captain Van Bergen, Lord Berwick wrote that he was sorry that he was leaving Attingham as it was good to have a friend living there. Lord Berwick wrote that the Van Bergens would always be remembered for allowing Attingham to be used as a war hospital. […]

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