Monthly Archives: June 2018

An uphill struggle – June 1916

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

A year after Mrs Marie Watkins began her work in Italy, her venture to help Italian troops was rapidly expanding. In Summer 1916 the Direttore di Sanita of the 2nd Army Corps asked Mrs Watkins’s team to provide furniture, outfits and comforts for a new convalescent home for wounded soldiers. Furniture was sent from a London Committee. The home held 100 beds by the time that it had to be evacuated as the Austrian army were about to invade in October 1917.

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Mrs Watkins at Teresa photographed in 1917 at the rest station for soldiers at Ronchi in the Province of Gorizia (c) National Trust

As well was her main duties working with Mrs Watkins’s team, like many women Teresa helped the war effort in her spare time by sewing and knitting garments for the soldiers. Carlo Luglioni writes that he is grateful for the socks that Teresa had made for him as his division is ‘next up in the mountains.

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A postcard written from Teresa to her mother on the 5th of June 1916

Much fighting was done in the mountainous territory controlled by the Austro-Hungarian army. Italian troops often fought uphill and frequently faced avalanches and snow.

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The address on the same postcard from Teresa to her mother

The mountainous terrain of the Alps made moving troops and equipment dangerous and slow. At times scaling rock faces was required to reach the desired destination. Some Italian troops took cover in trenches dug into the limestone plateaus in the Alps.

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Photographs in one of Teresa’s wartime albums showing the kind of mountainous terrain in which the Italian army fought (c) Holly Kirby, National Trust

As well as the difficult terrain that they faced when attacking Italy, the Austro-Hungarians had difficulties in their other campaigns. Things were not going well in their fight against Russia. A major Russian offensive in western Ukraine forced the Austro-Hungarian army into steady retreat. On the 18th of June Teresa’s father, William Hulton, wrote to her that he now felt ‘very little anxiety about the Austrian offensive in Trentino.

Although she disliked her war work for the Admiralty in England, Teresa’s sister Gioconda had plenty of friends around her. Lady Helen d’Abernon asked Gioconda to come to a theatrical performance that she was holding to raise funds for a war hospital. This would doubtless have provided an entertaining break from Gioconda’s tedious secretary duties.

Gioconda Mary Hulton (1887-1940) at the Palazzo Contarini del Zaffo, Venice - April 1903

Giconda photographed in April 1903 at the Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo in Venice (c) National Trust

Although there were light-hearted moments, tragedy touched the lives of many people. In June 1916 Bridget Talbot, Teresa’s friend on the Italian Front, received the devastating news that her younger brother, Geoffrey, had been killed in an air crash at Dover. He had been serving in the Royal Naval Air Service.

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Signatures, including that of Bridget Talbot, in Marie Watkins’s wartime album (c) Hamish Scott

To discover more about the lives of Geoffrey and Bridget’s other siblings during the war, please click here.

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In Shropshire people received news of the Battle of Jutland fought from the 31st of May to the 1st of June 1916. A decisive naval conflict, it was the only time that British and German ‘dreadnought’ battleships were to fight during the war.

The British Grand Fleet confronted the German High Seas Fleet in the North Sea, off the coast of Denmark. Although the British lost more ships, the German fleet was driven back to its ports and remained there for the rest of the war. Both sides claimed victory but the British remained dominant in the North Sea and the naval blockade of Germany remained until the end of the war.

June 1916 Battle of Jutland IWM

This painting by Jan Gordon, now in the Imperial War Museum collection, shows sailors wounded in the Batte of Jutland being tended to by orderlies and a naval doctor (c) IWM (Art.IWM ART 2781)

Following the battle, William Hulton imagined that it must be an exciting time for Gioconda in her work as a secretary for the British Admiralty. He wrote: ‘there must be a great deal going on at the admiralty, and she must be hearing how it all happened and how we came to lose so heavily.’

Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener drowned aged 65 on the 5th of June 1916 when HMS Hampshire sank west of the Orkney Isles, Scotland. He was making his way to Russia to attend negotiations when the ship struck a mine laid by a German U-boat. Over 600 people on the ship died. Lord Kitchener had become Secretary of State for War in 1914 and had foreseen that the war would be lengthy. David Lloyd George succeeded Lord Kitchener as Secretary of State for War. To discover more about the museum dedicated to him click here.

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This iconic 1914 poster shows Lord Kitchener rallying men to join the army. Poster in the Public Domain, accessed on Wikimedia Commons

The fighting on the Western front was intense. Around 500,000 men had been lost already in the battle over the French town of Verdun. The 24th of June 1916 saw the Allies begin an artillery bombardment of German trenches on the Somme in preparation for the advance. Over 1.5 million shells were fired in an attempt to blow up trenches and barbed wire which might hinder the progress of the Allied soldiers during the attack.

William Hulton suggested that Teresa should join the Red Cross nurses on the Western front, writing to her: ‘it would be satisfactory if you could break up work from Cerv. and get away to the Western front, where your work would be more appreciated at this trying moment.’ However, Teresa decided to remain in Italy where her war work seems to have been just as demanding and appreciated as it would have been on the Western Front.