Monthly Archives: December 2019

Plum pudding – December 1917

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

The Hulton family’s friend, Lady Helen D’Abernon, wrote to Teresa and her sister Gioconda on the 1st of December 1917 from her home at Esher Place, Surrey, to announce that she was starting for Italy and hoped to meet the sisters there. Helen was glad to get news from the sisters as Gioconda has been late writing to her, or, as Helen amusingly puts it, ‘characteristically negligent of days and years!’

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A photograph of Helen D’Abernon in the Attingham collection

Helen remained hopeful that Venice might not be seized by enemy forces, wishing that ‘the Huns may not enter in & possess the river-roads & palaces we love so well? I gather that fate even now may be casting the dice – today’s papers are full of ‘increased & incessant pressure on the Italian Front.’ Here everything is increasingly strenuous and uncomfortable, but industry has never received such projects.’

Attingham Park © National Trust / Claire Reeves

This lovely toy gondola was owned by Teresa as a child. To find more, click here to see the National Trust Collections website

Helen wondered if the Hultons were able to save their treasures in their bomb damaged house. She was worried about saving the things that she left in Venice and damage to the houses of their friends, remembering the ‘chairs, vases, paintings and Murillo glass so beautiful and precious.’

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These scenes of houses around a Venetian canal are part of a booklet in the Attingham collection showing Venetian scenes by the artist Emil Pirchan (1884-1957)

Worry about the Austro-Hungarian army taking Venice was playing on Teresa’s mind and she asked her future husband, Lord Berwick, in a letter of the 29th of December:

‘Could you tell me what you really think is likely to happen about Venice. You are in a position to know what the British opinion is. If Venice is really bound to fall, we could be a great effort get away a good deal of stuff from our house. I cannot make up my mind what the chances are. I talked it over with Lord Monson (B.R.C.) and Captain Dunstan, but really I have little faith in their opinion. It is such a strange time, one hates to sit back and do nothing and then perhaps regret it ever after. My mother is so attached to many of our smaller belongings in Venice.’

Lord Berwick wrote back to reassure her that he expected the Austro-Hungarian army to retreat in Spring 1918 and that there was little danger to Venice, which greatly relieved Teresa.

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Another Emil Pirchan scene of houses overlooking a Venetian canal

Teresa’s mother, Costanza, reassured her: ‘don’t worry about Venice. If I can stay with Mrs Eden, I shall go as soon as possible and then I shall collect small things about the house and make up a trunk or two of them. You must send me a list of your own special treasures.’


This lovely striped trousseau dress was owned by Costanza and was among the many items carefully treasured in the family home in Venice.

Costanza writes: ‘I myself don’t at all want to see the pressure on the Western Front relaxed – Britain’s first duty is to herself, second to Belgium and third to Italy.

Costanza would have been reassured by Helen D’Abernon’s news that Britain ‘whilst longing for peace, remains solid against having it forced by the Germans, without any guarantees of future security from a repetition of these years of horror & pressure and aggression.’

On the 16th of December Teresa was staying with Helen D’Abernon at her home in Venice. The war does not seem to have made travel too difficult as by the 30th of December Helen was back in England. There she was overwhelmed with Red Cross work and had so many piles of letters to answer that she feared developing writer’s cramp.

Attingham Park © National Trust / Saraid Jones

This wintry scene shows Teresa aged 15 in Munich, where the family lived for a time for Teresa to train as a pianist.

Helen’s letter expresses her sympathy for the death of Teresa’s grandfather the senator and historian Pasquale Villari (3rd of October 1827 – 11th of December 1917). Costanza’s mother, Linda, had married him in 1876 after the death of Costanza’s Italian father Vincenzo Mazini.


A sketch of Pasquale Villari in the Attingham collection.

Helen sent Gioconda and Teresa a photograph of her nephew, Graham, who might be wounded in Italy, as he was fighting there. She says that her sister (Graham’s mother) was anxious that she could do nothing to help if this happened. Helen asks Teresa and Gioconda to get in touch with the English hospital and ensure that he has the best care and doctors if he is wounded. Earlier in the war Helen had lost another nephew.

Italy was an especially difficult place for soldiers like Helen’s nephew to fight in. The Italian Front stretched 400 miles from Switzerland to the Adriatic Sea, mostly along mountainous terrain. During the war an estimated 40,000 men died in avalanches with 10,000 dying in one day on the 13th of December 1916. By December 1917 the Italian army had suffered most of the deaths it was to incur in the war. Shellfire in the rocky terrain had caused more deaths per round than on the soft ground in France and Belgium. As Rudyard Kipling described in a letter to his wife and daughter, ‘A shell hole on stones is simply a funnel of finely shattered stone.’

dead soldier

A photograph in one of the wartime albums at Attingham showing three men clustered around the body of a dead comrade in a wintry landscape in Italy.


Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Lord Berwick’s Shropshire Yeomanryfriend Lord Forester wrote to him on the 18th of December 1917:

‘I shall be very glad if you are seconded from this regiment and not placed on the General List. I hope you enjoyed your time with us, if somewhat monotonous at times, still we had moments of amusement and I, for one, shall always look back with pleasure at the 2nd Shropshire Yeomanry days. I trust that you will like your new job and that, before long, the Hun will be finally polished off and that we shall all meet again. Truscott is going to take on your old messing job and should prove a worthy successor to you.’

KSLI Xmas card, Reg museum

Lord Berwick was part of the 2/1st Shropshire Yeomanry. The 1/1st and 3/1st Shropshire Yeomanry amalgamated to the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI). This Christmas card in Shropshire Regimental Museum was sent from men in KSLI. (c) Shropshire Regimental Museum.

Lord Berwick’s new job as a Cipher Clerk in Italy had many benefits. He enjoyed a lavish Christmas dinner in the Officer’s Mess at the British General Headquarters. The menu consisted of:

Consommé aux Nickis

Bar Sauce Mayonnaise

Timbale D’Epinards, Spinach a la financiere

Pintade (Guinea Fowl) a la broche (split)

Italian Salade

Plum Pudding

Fruits – Coffee – Liqueurs

Wines Valpolicella – Chablis -Barolo-Mousseux Cora – Matthews – Dunbatos Teatro



In December 1917 ten emergency beds were added to the Attingham hospital. Many wounded soldiers spent Christmas recuperating in the hospital and on the 31st of December 52 patients remained at Attingham.

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Recuperating soldiers pose in the festively decorated Outer Library ward in the Attingham war hospital.

Whilst in hospital soldiers received cigarettes and tobacco distributed by the Red Cross. By the 31st December 1917 the Red Cross had distributed 614,000 cigarettes and 1275 lb. of tobacco at a cost of £345 to war hospitals in Shropshire. The cigarettes and tobacco were paid for by the County Fund. The egg collection for wounded soldiers in Shropshire hospitals had also done well in 1917 with a total of 62,789 eggs being collected.

Princess Mary's fund, Reg Museum

Princess Mary’s Fund was another organisation that distributed tobacco and cigarettes to soldiers in the war, as seen in this example in Shropshire Regimental Museum. (c) Shropshire Regimental Museum

Although Lord Berwick’s tenants the Van Bergens made technological improvements to Attingham, they did not care for it to Lord Berwick’s high standards and the housekeeper, Sarah Jones, wrote to Lord Berwick’s agent in 1917 saying ‘I am afraid there will be a lot of things spoiled.’

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A recuperating soldier photographed stood in the snow outside the Attingham war hospital.