‘Memorable, unusual years’ – March 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

By March 1915 war casualties were mounting and still the fighting showed no sign of ending. Conflicts in Europe had a great impact on Teresa’s refugee work. One example of this was the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, which began in France in March and cost the British over 11,000 casualties.

A 2.75 inch mountain gun at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, France, March 1915

A 2.75 inch mountain gun at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, France, March 1915. © IWM (Q 67854)

On the 11th of March Teresa was informed by the War Refugees Committee that ‘for the time being the number of arrivals have decreased considerably owing to the difficulty of transport.’ The fighting meant that it became nearly impossible for Belgians to flee their country and reach safety in Britain.

Belgian refugees leaving Ypres, 2nd November 1914.

Belgian refugees leaving Ypres, 2nd November 1914. © IWM (Q 53383).

Despite this, Teresa was still busy helping the many refugees already in Britain. Adolf Keyeux, a young Belgian refugee who had previously received assistance from Teresa, wrote again to her in March. He asked for help in getting a permit to allow him to return to the Continent for a few days to visit relatives. By the 25th of March his journey had been arranged, but he returned to Britain soon after his trip to continue his studies in Leeds.

At the time any travel overseas was difficult. Teresa’s friend, Lady Helen Vincent, wrote that it would be impossible for her to journey to Venice and visit Gioconda, Teresa’s elder sister. Helen poignantly wrote:

‘1914-15 will ever rank as memorable, unusual years – not only in the History of Nations but in the infinitely insignificant story of individual lives.’

Helen Vincent, later Viscountess D'Abernon in her nurse uniform.

Lady Helen Vincent, later Viscountess D’Abernon in her nurse uniform.

 

With so many men away fighting, the British government was keen to do all that it could to encourage women to fill their places of work. On the 17th of March the Board of Trade issued an appeal for women to register for war work at their local Labour Exchange.

A Women's Land Army worker during WWI

A Women’s Land Army worker during WWI. © IWM (Q 30887).

As for many women, war work was financially beneficial for Teresa and she wrote to her sister about her income:

I tell you that I, who am always short, find I am very well off under the present regime, you can take my word for it! Besides, uncles & aunts have a way of tipping you when they see you.’

Teresa Hulton, 1913.

Teresa Hulton, 1913.

Balancing several different work commitments was a skill honed by both Teresa and many other women during the war. Doing so helped her find a sense of strength and independence that surprised her family.

During March, Gioconda was still worried about being unable to settle to war work herself. She wrote:

I feel myself utterly incapable of continued useful work: do you think I should ever be of any use anywhere?

The prospect of joining Teresa in Britain was still appealing but the journey was fraught with danger and not an expense that Gioconda could easily afford. At the end of the month, there was a glimmer of hope as Gioconda was given work in an Italian hospital for a week. However, she soon felt that nursing was unsuited to her.

In contrast, the sisters’ friend Lady Helen Vincent was glad to have started nursing at Guy’s Hospital in London, although she wrote: ‘the hours are early & late & long.’ In her letter she also commented: ‘these big hospitals provide one with all opportunity of studying every conceivable malady that poor suffering flesh is heir to.’

Sign hanging outside Charing Cross Hospital at Agar Street, London, September 1914.

Sign hanging outside Charing Cross Hospital at Agar Street, London, September 1914. © IWM (Q 53311).

 

Attingham

In March 1915 the British navy imposed a sea blockade on German shipping imports, meaning that no food or medicines could be brought from Germany to Britain. Despite the shortages and rationing of food in Britain, people were keen that the convalescing soldiers in auxiliary hospitals should be well fed. Egg collections were set up throughout the country to donate eggs to the wounded. Posters show that egg collecting was one way for children to do their bit for the war effort.

Egg collection poster from WWI.

Egg collection poster from WWI. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 10836)

 

In spring 1915 a Mrs C. Dugdale and a Mrs Swire started an egg collection for use in the hospitals in Shropshire. Red Cross publications of the time show that custards and soufflés were an important part of diet of recovering soldiers and would have been served at the Attingham hospital. Between 1915 and 1918 254,511 eggs were collected for use in the Shropshire war hospitals. Some of the eggs were probably provided by tenants of the Attingham Estate. Click here to listen to a short recording about egg collections in Shropshire.

The Walled Garden at Attingham played an important role in providing food and possibly medicines that were scarce in Britain due to the war preventing foreign trade. The Attingham Estate also provided wood to the Army Pay Office in Chester and some of the tenanted land was used as a rifle range.

Two ladies from the Women's Land Army fruit picking during WWI.

Two ladies from the Women’s Land Army fruit picking during WWI. © IWM (Q 30845).

Stokesay Court, another VAD Auxiliary Military Hospital near Attingham, was opened on April the 19th 1915. To discover more about the fascinating story of the Stokesay Court hospital, please click here.

To mark the centenary of the opening of the hospital, over the weekend of Saturday the 18th and Sunday the 19th of April 2015 Stokesay Court will be holding a Red Cross Hospital Centenary Weekend. This will include tours, re-enactments, a concert based on First World War concert programmes and the reading of letters and other information from the fabulously detailed archive relating to the hospital. For more information about the event, please click here.

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