Hidden behind the veil – December 1916

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)


Teresa’s sister, Gioconda, was still in London working as a secretary for the Admiralty. She had no holiday on Christmas day, although she and her fellow workers were treated to a lunch with plum pudding in a restaurant in Haymarket. She calls the secretary work ‘as dull as can be’ and longed to return to Italy in Spring 1917.

Hackert Painting 044

This delightful sketch in one of William Hulton’s sketchbooks from 1907 shows a young woman drawing. It may possibly be his eldest daughter, Gioconda, who appears to have been a keener artist than Teresa.

On Christmas Eve Gioconda’s friend Lady Helen D’Abernon wrote to her. Lady Helen felt that ‘the end of the year brings home to us once again all the harvest of ‘the young, the fair, the brave’ that the Reaper has, since last Xmas, gathered in. I sometimes wish I had a confident, clear vision of what lies hidden behind the veil.’ Her thoughts were doubtless echoed by many others uncertain of how the war would end and thinking about loved ones who would not see Christmas 1916.

1916 had seen the Joint War Organisation becoming more involved with hospitals in Italy and other allied countries. This help was greatly needed. On the 13th of December avalanches in the Dolomites killed around 10,000 soldiers, injuring many more, in what became known as ‘White Friday.’

Mountains WWI 1

These photographs preserved in one of Teresa’s wartime albums show the mountainous terrain in which many soldiers fought in Italy.

The Front Line was as dangerous for Red Cross helpers as it was for the soldiers. On the 9th of December 1916 Sir Alexander Ogston, Medical Officer in the First British Ambulance Unit for Italy, requested that every vehicle moving within the zone of fire should carry an Emergency Field Dressing, and steel helmets must be worn. The Joint War Organisation were also involved in making it easier for British prisoners of war to receive parcels.

outpost in the snow

An Italian army outpost in the snow

For Christmas 1916 Mrs Watkins and her team supplied the recreation huts in their charge with Christmas trees and made up parcels for the soldiers, inscribing them with good wishes. 9,000 of these parcels were given out at two of the largest recreation huts!

In Britain collection boxes were to be found in places like train stations for people to donate towards providing soldiers with Christmas gifts. This box of Fry’s chocolate in the Imperial War Museum collection was sent to British soldiers fighting in Italy. The tin contains a postcard which bears the inscription: ‘With your presents to your soldier friends include a box of FRY’S CHOCOLATE AND COCOA, IT WILL SUSTAIN THEM.’

December 1916

This tin of Fry’s chocolate in the Imperial War Museum collection was sent to British troops in Italy during the First World War. © IWM EPH 9833

Redfern was the designer of uniforms for the Red Cross. However, with limited means of heating in winter many nurses found wearing uniforms cold. Photographs show Teresa wearing her furs with her nursing uniform and some nurses wore ‘keep-me-cosy’ knitted spencers (short jackets) under their uniforms.

Teresa with furs

Teresa keeping warm with her thick coat and fur muff in 1917


Lord Berwick (1877-1947)


Michael Noel-Hill, who later inherited the title of Lord Berwick, becoming the 9th Baron, had gone to serve in France in 1915 at the age of 18. In 1916 he wrote to Lord Berwick, who was in the British Embassy in Paris, to thank him for a parcel of fruit, cigarettes and soap sent to him during a time in hospital. He had persuaded the doctor to mark him as fit to return to his battalion. Unfortunately, in 1917 he was wounded again and remained in England for the remainder of the war.

Charles Michael Wentworth Noel-Hill, 9th Lord Berwick Aide-de-Camp ViceRoy, India 1922

Michael Noel-Hill as Aide-de-Camp ViceRoy in India, 1922.

On the 21st of December Lord Berwick wrote to Teresa commenting on how the various nations at war with each other were faring ‘at the end of an eventful year, and at the beginning of what is probably a still more critical time. It seems as though it was seriously becoming a war of peoples and no longer only of armies. In the struggle I fear a little for the Latin nations’ stamina.’




For people living close to Attingham, the year 1916 had marked the beginning of fighting from the air as the Royal Flying Corps began to fly Sopwith Camels from Tern Hill in 1916. Sopwith Camels shot down more enemy aircraft than any other type of Allied plane during the First World War. In 1917 the Royal Flying Corps also used Shawbury as an airbase.

December 1916 1

A photograph of a Sopwith F.1 Camel plane in the Imperial War Museum Collection. IWM Q 67737

There were many changes afoot in the country generally. On the 7th of December 1916 David Lloyd George became Prime Minister of Britain. He had been the Minister of Munitions between 1915 and 1916. He helped boost morale after the Shell Crisis of 1915 as output of munitions increased, this success bringing him popularity.

Lloyd George

This photograph shows a Lloyd George Toby jug manufactured by the Royal Staffordshire Pottery. The jug can be seen at the Lloyd George Museum. (c) the Lloyd George Museum.

On the 15th of December the French began their last offensive in the Battle of Verdun, forcing the Germans to withdraw. In total the French and Germans had suffered nearly a million casualties in the battle.

Hackert Painting 042

This print memorialising Verdun is in the Attingham collection in store at Attingham Park

December 1916 was a worrying month for people in Britain as the German U-boat Campaign began to make an impact. Local authorities were granted the power to take over land for food production. During the war the number of allotments trebled and city parks were used to grow produce. George V replaced the geraniums in the flower borders at Buckingham Palace with potatoes.

Even children’s Christmas presents were affected by the war. Before the war a lot of wooden toys had been made in Germany but when war broke out supply was interrupted and convalescent soldiers and refugees began to make toys instead.

decemeber 1916

This Father Christmas toy in the Imperial War Museum Collection was made by Lance Corporal Charles James Frampton whilst he was in hospital due to injuries sustained on the Western Front (c) IWM EPH 4695

The Women’s Institute (WI) also hoped to address the demand for British made toys by producing Cuthbert rabit toys. Unfortunately, individual variations in hand sewing made it hard for the toy to be standardised and there were many misshapen Cuthbert rabbits!

The Atcham WI was established in 1920 and used the Malthouse in Atcham for its meetings. The building was donated to the community by Lord Berwick after the war as a memorial.  Lady Berwick was a keen member of the Atcham WI and held the role of President until her retirement in 1962.


lady-b-wi-party-costume, Xmas 1926

Teresa, Lady Berwick, dressed in costume for a Women’s Institute Christmas party in 1926.


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