Monthly Archives: September 2018

Humanity and inhumanity – September 1916

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

An increasingly common ailment that Teresa dealt with in her nursing work was trench foot, an affliction that many Italian soldiers were suffering from due to having to stand in cold, wet, unhygienic conditions. She wrote in her wartime reminisces that ‘the hospital attached to our clearing station, 65a Sezione di Sanità, took in about 150 cases of frozen feet, 1st and 2nd degree,’ and she helped to ‘rub and bandage frozen feet.’ If left untreated trench foot turned to gangrene and an amputation was necessary. To combat trench foot soldiers were required to change their socks regularly and to coat their feet with a grease made from whale oil.

Trenches 1916

These photographs taken in 1916 show Italian soldiers in trenches

In his pamphlet Outposts of Mercy, E. V. Lucas describes the scene at San Giovanni where some of Mrs Watkins’s team worked:

‘Such as could not walk, but did not need stretchers, were carried from the shed to the train, a considerable distance, on the back of two or three sturdy fellows who made nothing but a joke of it and showed no signs of fatigue… the comic element disappeared and one thought only of the humanity of man to man that can follow man’s appalling inhumanity. Besides, war makes so many odd things natural.’


These photographs taken in September 1916 show Teresa having a break from her hospital duties in the company of her friend Contessa Edith Rucellai. In the first photograph Teresa may be knitting, something that many women did in their spare time to help the war effort.

Teresa was still dealing with hospital supplies. A letter dated September 1916 records that she was sent a cheque for £30 from the Italian Red Cross for her work.

Italian Red Cross Letter 1916

A letter dated the 20th of September 1916 that accompanied a cheque sent to Teresa from the Italian Red Cross

At the end of September the Hulton’s house in Venice was damaged during an aeroplane raid. A bomb smashed Murillo glass light shades and landed on a paved floor. The caretaker had to step over the unexploded bomb when he entered.

Mrs Watkins album 138

This photograph from Mrs Watkins’s wartime album shows soldiers surrounding a crashed aeroplane, included by kind permission of Hamish Scott

It was a frightening time for the Hulton family. They worried what they might have lost and they had little money to repair the house. One of Teresa’s fellow nurses, Bridget Talbot, told her sister: Teresa has had a bomb through their house in Venice right from top to bottom.’

On the 21st of September Teresa’s father William Hulton wrote from a hotel in Venice where he was staying until the house was habitable again:

‘Am getting things sound – debris and dust removed – and this morning commenced operations on front door till now hermetically closed… shall leave the shell holes just as they are until after the war.’

Venice April 2016 Margaret Fox

The Hulton family home in Venice survived the war, this photograph was taken in 2016 and included by kind permission of Robin and Margaret Fox

Teresa’s friend Anna sent her condolences. ‘I am so sorry to hear of the terrible damage done to your house by the bombs those fiends have thrown on Venice, there is no spot there where a bomb can fall without doing irreparable damage!! I cannot even write calmly about danger to Venice! It is so brutal, so needless, so useless, if anything can be called useful in his horrible modern warfare.

Venice maybe Oct 1905

Teresa’s photograph albums include this image of Venice taken before the war

Teresa’s sister Gioconda was finding it harder than she had thought to leave her work at the Admiralty in London and return to Italy. She wrote: ‘I do not think I can possibly get away as soon as October after all. I do not feel as if I could go without giving the powers that be a month’s warning (it sounds like the cook!)’

Gioconda had no idea what war work she would like to go into once she left the Admiralty, telling Teresa that ‘admirable as nursing is I have not the slightest inclination for it.’

Mrs Watkins album 251

This photograph from Mrs Watkins’s wartime album shows that by July 1919 Gioconda was helping as a nurse in Fasano. Gioconda is pictured holding Angelina the cat. Included by kind permission of Hamish Scott.

Gioconda complained that she had to work until seven in the evening, so had little time to meet friends. However, she found time to see family friend Louise Trelawny and ‘we do nothing but discuss the war.’ They visited a prisoner of war camp and ‘it was quite interesting & one hardly knows which to pity most the prisoners or the sentries – but as far as comfort is concerned I think the prisoners had the best of it.’

Gioconda met Mrs Watkins who was visiting England and ‘talks of a hospital & wants you to work within it but I really think that is not the work for you – unless you did the management part. She has a high opinion of you.’

Mrs Watkins album 271

Mrs Marie Watkins, photograph included by kind permission of her descendant Hamish Scott


 Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

 Lord Berwick continued with his diplomatic work in Paris, although sadly few letters from him dated from this period survive.

He was close to his elder sister, Mary Selina, and corresponded regularly with her. Unfortunately it appears that no letters between them written during the First World War survive, although after Lord Berwick’s marriage to Teresa there is plenty of surviving correspondence between the siblings. Perhaps Teresa encouraged her husband to adopt her habit of hoarding letters!

Mary Selina Noel-Hill

Mary Selina Noel-Hill, sister to the 8th Lord Berwick



September 1916 brought new developments in Britain’s war. The first German airship was shot down to the north of London. On the 15th of September the first use of tanks on the battlefield occurred as part of the Somme offensive. The tanks were manned by eight soldiers and had two side canons and four machine guns.


A British Mark I tank at Thiepval, 25th of September 1916. Photograph in the Imperial War Museum Collection, Q 4286