New beginnings – January 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

The New Year saw Teresa embarking on a fresh and exciting role to help the war effort. After offering many times to do intelligence work and facing the rebuttals of those who felt that it was not the kind of work suited to a woman, she was finally entrusted with the translation of top secret documents.

Teresa Hulton, May 1914

Teresa Hulton, May 1914

Behind Teresa being allocated the job was John Alfred Spranger of The Royal Engineers. He had known Teresa before the war and, like her, had been born in Italy of British ancestry. In one of his letters to Teresa he described an important document: ‘it is a strictly secret document and not one we can leave in the hands of anybody whom we are not more than sure of.’ Teresa was warned not to ‘mention the contents of any letters on this subject’ and was told to ‘destroy them all as soon as read by burning.’

Envelope from the war years

Envelope from the war years

Spranger also advised her to be careful not to arouse suspicion by disrupting her usual occupations to work on translating. Teresa worked fast and within a week of being asked by Spranger she had translated the secret document. A couple of letters from Spranger are all the evidence that remains of Teresa’s intelligence work. It is tantalising to consider what the documents and letters might have contained but unfortunately she seems to have followed orders and burnt most of her correspondence relating to this work.

Teresa’s family marvelled at the way that she worked so tirelessly despite not feeling well, often suffering from migraines. Her sister, Gioconda told her: ‘I wonder how you will manage to carry out regular paid work, when you do not feel well – do not over do yourself & knock up! It is really splendid of you to be doing something quite respectable & no doubt you are proud of yourself, – but it makes me feel rather a worm!’

Soon, however, Gioconda and Costanza began a Red Cross course which Gioconda described as ‘wonderful & interesting & I should be delighted with it if it had remained at the cocoon-stage of theory – but I am sure I will loathe the practice. The other day we assisted at an operation – Mother wanted to funk it, but as I held firm she ended by coming also.’

Gioconda Hulton, Florence, February 1916

Gioconda Hulton, Florence, February 1916

Gioconda described the operation as ‘so absorbing one quite forgot to feel sick & never thought of fainting! Some people were taken out in a fainting condition we were told afterwards, but it was chiefly due to the heat & to the smell of chloroform which was quite strong.’

With the New Year came new worries. German airships were beginning raids on Britain and Gioconda commented that in Italy ‘everyone talks of war & there are days when I feel as if we were on the very brink.’

Damage caused by the first German airship raid, Kings Lynn, January 1915

Damage caused by the first German airship raid, Kings Lynn, January 1915 © IWM (Q 53585)

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

The New Year also heralded changes in Lord Berwick’s life. He sought a reappointment with the Embassy in Paris, thinking that he could be more valuable there than in the army. At the Embassy, Lord Berwick was responsible for taking despatches and escorting army officers to headquarters. His Major wrote to him: ‘You have done useful work and we will miss you greatly. But we ought to work just where we are most useful.’

Lord Berwick (left) during WWI.

Lord Berwick (left) during WWI.

Before going to Paris, Lord Berwick met Teresa for lunch in London. Teresa was evidently thinking of him as a possible husband. Her mother wrote asking if Lord Berwick had ‘finally freed himself from the French shackles,’ alluding to his relationship with a French lady. Her mother also commented: ‘Lord Berwick is bucking up a bit.’

Lord and Lady Berwick on their honeymoon, 1919

Lord and Lady Berwick on their honeymoon, 1919.


Despite the worry and bustle created by the war, there were many joyful occasions. On the 22nd of January, Mr and Mrs Van Bergen entertained local school children at Attingham on the last day of their holidays. There were refreshments, conjuring tricks and a Punch and Judy show. Gifts were given with toy guns and dolls for the younger children and watches with cases for the older ones. In 1919, as the Van Bergens’ tenancy drew to an end, Teresa, Lady Berwick, wrote (from London) to her mother about these parties. She wanted to return to Shropshire because ‘I should like to see how they do it.

Attingham Hall during the early 1900s. View towards the west side of the house.

Attingham Hall during the early 1900s. View towards the west side of the house.

The Van Bergens would probably have had help from their servants in preparing for the party and tidying up afterwards. However, by 1915 the war was having a major impact on the number of people in domestic service. In January 1915 Country Life posed questions to be answered by those who employed male staff, including:

‘Have you a Butler, Groom, Chauffeur, gardener or Gamekeeper serving you who, at this moment should be serving your King & Country?’

Are you employing more servants than you need?

Are you employing more servants than you need? A poster from 1916. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 7891)

One response to “New beginnings – January 1915

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: