Raising a hat to America – April 1917

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

Teresa had an unusual reason to be glad that the USA entered the war in April 1917. She won a new black hat, made by Verlaine in Paris, in a bet for correctly guessing when America would enter the war. With its wide brim and flat crown, the hat was the height of fashion. New hats were a treat and due to wartime shortages old ones were often dyed and given fresh trimmings to make them look new.

by Verlaine

Teresa’s black Verlaine hat won as a bet with American Art Historian Bernard Berenson about when America would enter the war

The hat was obviously a favourite of hers as there are many photographs taken after the war showing Lady Berwick wearing this hat at Attingham and Cronkhill, including at a garden fête in 1924.

Verlaine hat 2

Teresa in her black Verlaine hat at a bric-a-brac stall at an Attingham garden fete in 1924

Teresa wrote on a note accompanying the hat: ‘This hat was given to me by Bernard Berenson in Florence 1917 as a result of a bet that America had declared her entry into the Great War – bought from Bossi.’

In spring 1917, helped by General P. D. Hamilton, Mrs Watkins established a Recreation Hut and canteen for soldiers at Villa Freifeld. Teresa’s fellow nurse, Bridget Talbot, was put in charge of Villa Freifeld. At the Recreation Hut artillerymen could enjoy concerts, whist drives, lotteries, sports and other entertainment.

Mrs Watkins album 141

The opening of a new Recreation Hut run by Mrs Watkins’s team (c) Hamish Scott

One activity that soldiers could enjoy during their time at the Recreation Huts was reading. In April 1917 Mrs Microlini sent Teresa a bundle of literature in Italian for the soldiers to read. Teresa herself enjoyed reading when she had a respite from her nursing duties. On the 6th of April a fellow nurse, Estella Magre, writes that:  ‘I saw you had among your books the ‘War of the Worlds‘ of Wells. Might I ask if you would be so very kind as to lend it to me, also any other interesting book?’ There are no books where Estella is and she is ‘almost afraid of forgetting how to read.’

Picture Store 039

This pamphlet was written by family friend Nerina Gigliucci and given to Teresa’s sister, Gioconda. It is sad reading as it is a tribute to the lives of nurses who died on the Italian Front during WWI.

Other items that Teresa received give an idea of the vast work load. On the 6th of April 1917, Good Friday, Rachel Scott sent Teresa enough coffee and sugar for a train of 300 men, along with instructions of how to make it up economically. This photograph from the Imperial War Museum collection shows British troops near Ypres enjoying cups of coffee.

april 1917

Soldiers drinking coffee at a dug-out near Ypres, 1918. Photograph in the Imperial War Museum collection, IWM Q 8398

Given the number of men on this one train, it is unsurprising that Dr. Thomas Ashby writes that he is very overworked with the ambulance work that he is doing. A pacifist and a conscientious objector, Thomas Ashby felt that joining the ambulance unit was a way to help those injured in the war. In April 1917 a Red Cross consignment of hospital stores for Italian war hospitals was sunk in the Mediterranean, which was a blow at a time when supplies were urgently needed.


Thomas Ashby with a bunch of primroses picked at Ponte San Pietro (Rome) on the 17th of February 1925 (c) George R. Swain, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan, neg. KS 304-12


Teresa received another unusual item on the 28th April of 1917. M.T. Hindson of the ambulance unit wrote that ‘Lord Monson suggested that you might like to have one of our special patent dryers which a man in our village makes. Please accept this one herewith. I hope you find it more useful than ungainly.’

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Italian villagers pictured in Mrs Watkins’s wartime scrapbook (c) Hamish Scott

As well as giving wounded men refreshments and dealing with supplies Teresa’s nursing work was busy. Teresa wrote to her mother, Costanza, on the 23rd of April 1917:

We had a succession of ill men in here, a man with a high fever who came at half past-eleven and in spite of all our insistences was only conveyed to hospital at 4. At the same time a man rushed in with a finger lopped off, hanging by a bit of flesh and I had to operate on him and send him to hospital’.

Teresa Red Cross 1915

Teresa bandaging a soldier’s hand in 1915

On the 26th of April Costanza replied, scolding Teresa for having taken the initiative and operated on the man’s finger. Costanza’s previous letter to her daughter had been in a different tone:

I have seen Mrs Watkins and found her very nice – she is another who has ‘discovered’ you! These people who tell ME such wonderful things about you always amuse me – Having discovered you myself 27 years ago, I hardly need to be told about you! But it is always pleasant.

Hulton, Costanza. Part of Frame with William compressed

Teresa’s mother, Costanza Hulton

Not surprisingly, it seems that more help was needed at Cervignano where Teresa was based, although there were problems as resources were stretched. Costanza wrote that ‘Mrs Watkins is very preoccupied about WHO is to go to Cervignano to be with you there. Mrs Mott, it appears, wants her expenses paid, so there is a serious hitch there.’

Mrs Watkins album 119

This photograph in Mrs Watkins’s wartime scrapbook shows a building at Cervignano used by the nurses (c) Hamish Scott


Lord Berwick (1877-1947)


From April 1917 to the 1st of May 1918 some of the Shropshire Yeomanry (KSLI) fought in Palestine. They received the following Honours: Gaza, Mansourak, Beersheba, Sherin, El Tireh, Beitonia, Jericho, Seiwad, Burj Lisanch. Lord Berwick rejoined the 2/1st regiment of the Shropshire Yeomanry in spring 1917, although he never fought abroad.




In April 1917 the Attingham war hospital was enlarged to 50 beds.


The hospital ward in the Outer Library at Attingham

On the 25th of April 1917 nineteen-year-old Reginald Herbert Bywater was killed in action. He was the son of William Bywater, a shepherd in Atcham, who lived with his wife Emily at 1 Cronkhill Bank, Crosshouses, Shrewsbury. Reginald was a private in the Manchester Regiment and enlisted in Stafford in December 1915. He is memorialised in a plaque in St Eata’s church, Atcham, and is also remembered on the Berrington War Memorial and upon Arras Memorial, France.

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Patients and nurses in the Outer Library ward at Attingham

The Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News wrote of him on the 2nd of March 1918:

‘Mr. and Mrs. W. Bywater, Cronkhill, Cross Houses, Shrewsbury, have received many expressions of sympathy on the death of their son, Pte. Reginald Herbert Bywater (19) Manchester Regt. He was reported missing on April 25, 1917, and is now officially presumed to have been killed on that date. He joined the army in Sept., 1916, and had been but five weeks at the front when he fell. Before enlistment he was in the employ of the late Sir Henry Wiggin, Walton Hall, Eccleshall and previously with Col. E. W. Herbert, C. B., Orleton, Wellington. He was an old member of the Berrington Church choir, and was deservedly esteemed by all to whom he was known.’

In April 1917 Dunham Massey, now owned by the National Trust, became an auxiliary hospital called the Stamford Military Hospital. During the war over 5,000 properties were offered for use as auxiliary hospitals and 3,244 were established. By 1917 the hospitals had a combined total of 81,505 beds.


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