Category Archives: 1918

Short staffed – September 1918

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

By September 1918 Teresa was again working with Mrs Marie Watkins and her team of nurses helping soldiers on the Italian Front. A letter dated September the 20th 1918 from Mrs Watkins told Teresa: ‘I will wire to you as soon as things are difficult & count on your help.’

Teresa’s assistance was valuable as some of Mrs Watkins’s team were ill. Bridget Talbot was ‘in hospital with Jaundice’ and the soldiers’ canteens she took charge of were closed until she felt well again. Another nurse, ‘Mrs Gordon-Watson is at the hospital at Bordighera convalescing – Lillian Trelawny will tell you all our news. She is a great success here.’

Mrs Watkins album 253

Mrs Gordon-Watson and a fellow nurse with some Italian soldiers. The baskets of fruit and jugs suggest that they are serving refreshments to the troops. (c) Hamish Scott

Mrs Watkins writes that ‘the ambulance solution is undecided & if the B.R.C. [British Red Cross] don’t provide one I shall try to collect the money + believe I could do so easily.’

She adds: ‘I shall have to have another uniform made – could you find out if there is a good tailors in our new neighbourhood – say Verona.’ In her next letter she told Teresa to ‘decide if you prefer B.R.C. or the order of St. John – I belong to the latter which is much more interesting historically. The uniform of the former is blue – and the latter black.’

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The hospital at Fasano where the team of nurses worked from 1918-19. Mrs Watkins is seated at the front wearing black (c) Hamish Scott

Mrs Watkins and her team had begun their war work using their own funds. As these ran low in February 1917 they joined the Joint War Organisation, formed by the combined Red Cross and the Order of St. John, using the organisation’s funds to continue their work. It seems that Teresa had a choice between the uniforms of the two organisations.

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Teresa wearing a formal Red Cross uniform and headdress in 1919

On the 10th of September 1918 Teresa wrote to her sister, Gioconda, from Castel del Piano, Perugia describing her work. This mostly involved dealing with supplies as she had done earlier in the war:

Mrs G. W. [Gordon-Watson] was ill all the time and at last General Newlands (R.A.M.C.) who is a friend of theirs heard about it & sent a doctor & an ambulance + insisted upon carrying her straight off to an English hospital partly for nurses at Montecchio near Vicenza – so Christobel + I remained alone for a few days until Mrs Carlyle arrived + I left.’

Mrs Watkins album 236

Teresa’s fellow nurse Christobel Gordon-Watson holding two pigeons. No explanation as to why is given but pigeons were used for war work in the First World War (c) Hamish Scott

Teresa was ill herself, suffering from an awful toothache for a fortnight. ‘However, in spite of all these unpleasant accidents it was I repeat very jolly – we had several nice friends who came to see us + brought presents of food, etc., as usual; + we were made much of by everyone.’

Teresa anticipated World War Two when she wrote that the war ‘might easily be very bad for the character; having whole armies at one’s beck + call makes it quite difficult to return to the simple status of one among thousands when one comes back to civilian life again!’

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A 1941 photograph of Lord and Lady Berwick in the garden at Attingham

Teresa enjoyed looking at the old buildings and churches in the picturesque town of Perugia where she was staying with four other nurses. She wrote: ‘The country is lovely, olives + cypresses + brown hills & beautiful sunsets.’

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Teresa wearing her Red Cross headdress whilst in Florence in 1918

Teresa was living in ‘a most charming old villa, rather délabrée for it had been uninhabited for years. However, Anna who is a perfect wonder has managed in a very few weeks to make it very pretty and comfortable. The house is full of pictures, prints & all sorts of pretty furniture, so that she has good material to work with, and there are pretty painted rooms etc. & a long terrace garden with open work brick walls + gates & altogether the makings of a lovely place.’

Teresa added that: ‘My plans for the future are very unsettled but I hope to hear from Mrs Watkins that the convalescent home on the Faccia di Garda is really coming off + in that case I shall join her again very soon.’

She did manage to get a break from her nursing duties to meet her father in Florence where she went to go shopping and have her hair shampooed.

The war was going well for Italy. On the 15th of September the Allies pushed the Bulgarians out of Serbia. Italian, French and Serbian troops made rapid gains, advancing nearly twenty miles northwards from Greece in three days.

Family friend Lady Helen D’Abernon sent a letter to Gioconda who was in Rome. She wrote how strange it was to see German prisoners working in the woods and growing crops. She laments that her estate at Esher Place in Surrey suffered four years of overgrowth and neglect since the war began due to the shortage of staff.

Servants at Attingham Hall in the 1930s

Servants at Attingham Hall in the 1930s

During the war 400,000 people left domestic service to enter the armed forces or war production jobs like metalworking and engineering. Of the one million women working in munitions a quarter came from domestic service. Before the war there were few jobs open to women and domestic service was the dominant female occupation.


This poster in the Imperial War Museum collection gives an idea of the propaganda spread to encourage women to enlist for war work © IWM Art.IWM PST 13195 

Wealthy families encouraged their menservants to enlist by promising to guarantee an income for their families and to keep jobs open if they returned. Some wealthy households replaced footmen with ‘footgirls’ but most reverted to Parlour Maids. There were female chauffeurs and gardeners. As a result women’s wages increased.

The war created great social change and the world of domestic service would never be the same. After the war the Berwicks struggled to hire and retain staff for Attingham.

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Lord Berwick had served with the Shropshire Yeomanry as a Lieutenant since before the First World War. On September the 28th 1918 he was promoted to the rank of Captain.

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Lord Berwick’s uniform as a County Deputy Lieutenant is now in Shropshire Regimental Museum 

By the 22nd of September 1918 Lord Berwick had returned to his cipher work in Italy following a visit to Attingham. He wrote to Teresa: ‘I found my home very untidy, the Park overgrown with ragwort and thistles, and the paths round the house non-existent. Also my tenant (who must be an Irish-American) had selected the front lawn as a place to keep an enormous sow and young pigs! He is protecting himself behind the Defense of the Realm Act to get out of most of his responsibilities, feeding the deer, keeping up the vinery and the place in order, in fact the Lease is practically a dead letter, not a satisfactory state of affairs.’

On his way back to Italy he stopped at Paris, which he found ‘unrecognisable, one is hustled on the pavement by burly and very plain Y.M.C.A. workers, the American twang meets one at every turn, and American lorries crash along the Champs-Élysées. I suppose one must not be ungrateful for this welcome though rather noisy help in the war effort.’

Unfortunately upon getting back to Italy he developed ‘a very high temperature which continued till Friday. I rather foolishly offered to continue my work, as there was no other cipher officer here, it was a great effort and had the effect of prolonging my illness.’

By the 30th of September Lord Berwick was taken to an Italian clearing station ‘as my temperature was going up again and I could not get proper treatment and food where I was.’ He was transferred to a Base hospital. ‘How I wish I could find myself being handed a cup of tea enroute by yourself, or find you at the Hospital where I am going. But fate seems to be very unkind to us at present.’

The many long letters that Lord Berwick sent Teresa at this time illustrate their growing attachment in advance of their marriage in June 1919.

Piave River – June 1918

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

Photographs in the Attingham collection reveal information about Teresa’s life in Italy in June. An Austro-Hungarian offensive launched in June 1918 was resisted by the Italians and marked the culmination of Austro-Hungarian attacks on Italy. On June the 15th, urged by the Germans, the Austrians began an offensive along the Piave River in Italy. They planned to take Venice and destroy the Italian army.

This photograph in the Imperial War Museum collection shows Italian Marines taking up positions along the Piave Front (c) Imperial War Museum Q 19081

The Austro-Hungarians crossed the river but they had insufficient supplies to hold their position and had to withdraw. By the 23rd of June the Italians had recaptured all their lost territory and the Battle of the Piave River ended. The Austro-Hungarians suffered massive casualties with 60,000 killed and many wounded or captured. Austro-Hungarian soldiers on the Italian Front began deserting.

Teresa’s wartime photograph albums include pictures of many interesting incidents. In the album of photographs dated May 1916 to August 1918 there is a photograph showing two men parachuting to safety from a military balloon after an enemy attack. Balloons were useful for observation in the war and the first parachutes were used by balloon crews during this time.

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A quickly snapped photograph of men descending from a balloon using parachutes

Later a photograph shows Teresa about to make a hot air balloon flight near Asolo. Mrs Watkins also had a ride in a balloon. The man who took Teresa up in the balloon was Captain Gallese, the man shown coming down in the parachute. The photograph also depicts an armoured vehicle.

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Captain Gallese, Mrs Watkins and Teresa take to the air in a hot air balloon

Another happy time captured in the images is the garden party held for Bridget Talbot in June 1918. Bridget Talbot had worked alongside Teresa doing canteen, nursing and supply work. They remained friends after the war and Bridget visited Attingham when Teresa later became Lady Berwick. Between 1920 and 1922 Bridget Talbot worked in Turkey helping Russian refugees.

Teresa continued to regularly correspond with her future husband Lord Berwick. Following his declaration of his admiration for her in May she wrote to assure him she remains his ‘unchanging friend’ but is worried about discussing her feelings in letters due to them being read by the censors.

Lord Berwick replied on the 11th of June: ‘I fear that it is I who have embarrassed you, more than the Censor: if so I am very sorry. What I wrote you after seeing you in Venice was written on no sudden impulse, I tore up many sheets of paper trying to tell you what was so much in my mind. I am not good at self analysis or describing my feelings, but I felt then and still feel for you, after these few weeks of settling down again, so very much more than ordinary friendship, that I felt I must tell you this, and your kind answer gave me great pleasure. In the interval nothing has happened to make me think that I was wrong to tell you this, and I hope I have done nothing to make you think less kindly of me.’



A camp for German prisoners of war had been established in Shrewsbury and some prisoners undertook agricultural labour, although it is unknown if they worked at any farms on the Attingham estate.

Prisoners of war in Shropshire

reference number: PH/S/13/A/5/354 German prisoners of war at a camp in Shropshire (c) Shropshire Archives reference number: PH/S/13/A/5/354

German prisoners were not the only new arrivals. In the latter stages of the war troops from the USA and Canada were stationed in Shropshire. By summer 1918 the American army had become very involved in the war. At the Battle of Belleau Wood troops from the USA experienced significant casualties with 1,811 men killed before they won the wood from the Germans.

Spanish flu began, killing many of the troops already weakened by war. An estimated twenty five million people worldwide died in the epidemic in just six months, more than were killed in the war. Those infected by the flu pandemic in 1918 included British Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

Many people were still doing their bit for the war effort. Princess Mary, the daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, began a nursing course, working at Great Ormond Street Hospital in June 1918. After the war she became Commander in Chief of the British Red Cross Detachment.

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Queen Mary and Princess Mary photographed at the Trooping of the Colour in Hyde Park on the cover of The Sphere, 12 June 1920 (c) The British Newspaper Archive