Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)
May 1916 saw Teresa moving between different places in Italy as part of her war work with Mrs Watkins’s team. In early May letters show that Teresa was in Florence with the Rucellai family.
However, she soon left to help at the station canteen at San Giovanni di Manzano. The writer, E.V. Lucas, described his visit to the station at San Giovanni di Manzano in his pamphlet Outposts of Mercy. Walking through a hospital train at San Giovanni di Manzano when Mrs Watkins’s team were at work, he wrote of the wounded soldiers: ‘the dominant impression once more was of dark eyes pathetically patient, with no resentment against fate, but far from understanding what it all meant.’
Trains at San Giovanni di Manzano had a special wound-dressing compartment where nurses would have given medical assistance. Photographs in her wartime album show Teresa bandaging wounds.
E.V. Lucas wrote that the cook on one of the hospital trains at San Giovanni di Manzano had worked in the Euston Hotel kitchens for fourteen years before going to Italy to help with the war. Teresa was fortunate to know Italy and the Italian language so well, since many other helpers on the Italian front had not left Britain prior to the war.
As well as their usual fare, some lucky soldiers at San Giovanni di Manzano received wine on the 23rd of May 1916. It was sent by the Knights of St John of Malta and Teresa’s photograph album contains an image of the barrels of wine arriving for the troops on a train pulled by oxen. The wine made quite a contrast from the jugs of milk that Mrs Watkins’s team had been serving to the soldiers!
Mrs Watkins had established centres for recuperating soldiers throughout Italy by 1916. Photographs dated 18th of May 1916 show Teresa, Mrs Watkins and others attending the inauguration of the rest centre for the soldiers (Casa del Soldato).
By the end of May, Teresa moved on to do war work at Palmanova, north-east Italy. The journey proved quite eventful. She wrote to her mother:
‘We left San Gio. on Thursday, driving in a huge officer’s bus like a sort of motor Noah’s ark- as we had about 30 pieces of luggage, pots and pans, watering cans & what not, it was just as well.’
Teresa’s father, William Hulton, also travelled around Italy during May. However, in contrast to Teresa’s bustling lifestyle as a war nurse, his painting trip to Asolo, which he described as ‘very pleasant‘ with ‘the gardens full of roses’ sounds very tranquil. He attended a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and played at a card party. He described the delicious meals that he has enjoyed, including a cooked breakfast, lamb, truffles and wine.
May was a tense month for the Italian army, a topic touched upon by William Hulton in a letter to Teresa: ‘we’re anxious for a line from you, when you have time; but with this new offensive on the part of the Austrians you must be busy.’
The Austrians attacked mountain positions in the Trentino and the Italians withdrew. However, the offensive was halted as the Austrians had to stretch their supply lines over difficult terrain and Italian reinforcements arrived. To see a map of the Italian Front and to read more about it please click here.
Supplies were vital to success or failure in the war. An idea of the scale of resources needed for the war hospitals alone is indicated by the many letters which Teresa received mentioning supplies. In May 1916 her friend, Bridget Talbot, wrote that she had been sent ‘50 bales during the last week but there still continue to be urgent demands for mattresses, sheets, pillows, pillowcases, cotton shirts + cotton socks + thick soled slippers for the garden.’