Tag Archives: Belgian refugees

A kindred spirit – January 1916

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

In January 1916 a new member of Mrs Watkins’s team joined Teresa at the Italian front. Her name was Bridget Talbot and she was to form a firm friendship with Teresa, keeping in touch with her for many years.

Bridget Talbot, October 1917. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget Talbot, October 1917. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Teresa and Bridget’s lives have marked similarities, both in terms of their wartime experiences prior to working in Italy and afterwards. Furthermore, like Teresa, Bridget became the owner of a beautiful house, Kiplin Hall, which she was keen should be preserved for posterity. Like Attingham, today Kiplin Hall is open to the public.

Kiplin Hall, North Yorkshire. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Kiplin Hall, North Yorkshire. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Prior to working on the Italian front, Bridget had organised the Little Gaddesden Cooperative Allotment scheme in her home village near Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. When Belgian refugees fled to England after the German invasion in August 1914 Bridget was on the Belgian Refugee Committee, which organised depots at Alexandra Palace and Earls Court in London to house refugees.

Bridget Talbot as a girl. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget Talbot as a girl. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

In 1914 she attended a training course in home nursing and First Aid to prepare her to work as a war nurse. In January 1916 Bridget travelled through France to the Austrian-Italian war zone. She worked alongside Teresa and other nurses at First Aid stations and canteens at Cervignano and Cormons to assist wounded Italian soldiers as they went by train to the base hospitals.

Bridget Talbot, early 1900s. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget Talbot, early 1900s. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget’s diary entry for the 5th of February 1916 gives a vivid picture of the arduous and frightening experiences that the women faced. She wrote:

rose at 5 in the pitch dark to do train of wounded. Felt very weird & warlike crawling down feeding men by the light of a lantern with the sun rising over the A. hills.

Bridget Talbot (centre) and soldiers, taken during her time working with Mrs Watkins in Northern Italy.

Bridget Talbot (centre) and soldiers, taken during her time working with Mrs Watkins in Northern Italy. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Like Teresa, Bridget was involved with a variety of work on the Italian Front. For example, Bridget helped Countess Gleichen and Mrs Hollings develop X-rays at the Villa Trento hospital. Sometimes they worked in a Red Cross car, experiencing Austrian fire at close quarters. Between December 1915 and October 1917 12,600 X-ray examinations were made by the sisters and their team. Interestingly, when Teresa had moved to Shropshire after her marriage to Lord Berwick, she received a telegram from Countess Gleichen asking if Lutwyche Hall, Wenlock Edge, was haunted!

Teresa Hulton (far right) in a Red Cross vehicle at the Villa Trento, 1916.

Teresa Hulton (far right) in a Red Cross vehicle at the Villa Trento, 1916.

Bridget remained with Mrs Watkins’s team until 1919, when she moved to Turkey to work with Russian refugees. After the war she was awarded the Italian Medal for Valour, the Croce di Guerra, and an O.B.E. In WWII Bridget invented a torch for life-jackets which saved the lives of many men in the Merchant Navy, Navy and RAF. Bridget focused particularly on the Merchant Navy whose ships, containing food for Britain, had been fiercely targeted by enemy ships during WWI.

Bridget Talbot at a horse show behing the Italian-Austrian front line in September 1918. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget Talbot at a horse show behind the Italian-Austrian front line in September 1918. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

From the 1920s onwards Bridget worked tirelessly to save the threatened country houses and estates of Britain. This included helping to persuade the National Trust to purchase 5,000 acres of woodland on the Ashridge estate.

Bridget Talbot, c.19150. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget Talbot, c.1950. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Her struggle to save Kiplin Hall lasted for over forty years. She tried to interest many organisations in using the house, from educational to social welfare and environmental bodies. Bridget visited Lord and Lady Berwick at Attingham on several occasions and like them wished to leave her home to the National Trust. However, the agents for the National Trust at the time refused to accept Kiplin Hall. Bridget took matters into her own hands and in order to preserve the house she set up the Kiplin Hall Trust in 1968. The Kiplin Hall Trust still manages the house today.

Bridget Talbot in her later years. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Bridget Talbot in her later years. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Before the war, whilst studying at Trinity College, Oxford, Lord Berwick became friends with the Oxford don and Classical scholar R.W. Raper. In 1902, Raper recommended that Lord Berwick try for a position in the Foreign Office as an Honorary Attaché. The following year Lord Berwick’s diplomatic uniform was made and it remains in store at Attingham today. The uniform consists of a hat, coat, trousers, sword belt, sword and scabbard. To see these objects, please search ‘609711’ on the National Trust Collections website.

Bicorn hat, part of Lord Berwick's diplomatic uniform made in 1903.

Bicorn hat, part of Lord Berwick’s diplomatic uniform made in 1903.

At the beginning of 1916, Lord Berwick was once again working in Paris at the British Embassy. He remained involved with the British Embassy in Paris and assisted with the peace negotiations at the end of the war.

Lord Berwick as a young man at Oxford University, c.1898. His uncle, the 7th Baron Berwick, died in 1897 and Thomas became the new owner of the Attingham estate.

Lord Berwick as a young man at Oxford University, c.1898. His uncle, the 7th Baron Berwick, died in 1897 and Thomas became the new owner of the Attingham estate.

Attingham

In January 1916 the Military Service Act was introduced conscripting able-bodied single men aged eighteen to forty-one. The huge losses to the British army and the fact that fewer men were volunteering to fight meant that such measures were deemed necessary. The introduction of conscription meant that more women workers were needed to take the place of men called up to fight.

Parliamentary Recruiting Committee Poster No.151, 1916. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 5253)

Parliamentary Recruiting Committee Poster No.151, 1916.       © IWM (Art.IWM PST 5253)

The increasing losses and injuries suffered by those in the British army are illustrated by the many casualties that the Attingham hospital, and other nearby hospitals, saw during 1916. In 1916 a total of eighteen ambulance trains came to Shrewsbury with 2,838 men.

Nurses and soldiers at the Attingham hospital, c.1917.

Nurses and soldiers at the Attingham hospital, c.1917.

Growing numbers of wounded men needed tending and feeding. However, for people throughout Britain, the war was taking its toll on the amount of supplies brought in from overseas. In 1916 commodities began to go up in price and the financial strain on war hospitals in Britain was heavy. However, the Shropshire hospitals were complimented by the Red Cross Headquarters in London for running their hospitals at a lower cost than those in other counties.

Nurses and soldiers in the Outer Library at Attingham, c.1917.

Nurses and soldiers in the Outer Library at Attingham, c.1917.


Heading for Italy – May 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

On the 8th of May Teresa finished her quarantine for German Measles and was able to visit the refugees that she had been helping at Edmonton, London. However, few remained there and Teresa’s work consisted mainly of tying up her duties and making sure that the refugees were as comfortably settled as possible.

Belgian refugee children, 1918

Belgian refugee children, 1918. © IWM (Q 27757B)

One example of her kind work was with Adolf Keyeux, a bright young Belgian refugee who wanted to continue with his studies. By mid May, Adolf Keyeux was resuming his studies in Leeds where he was to remain until he was old enough to serve in the army in 1918 in Belgium, his homeland. He continued to write to Teresa regularly.

A colleague from Edmonton, Edith Thorndike, told Teresa what an excellent job everyone felt that she did helping the refugees:

I wonder if you know how much you helped the Belgian work really – your method of working was so thorough and you won’t mind me saying now that it was much appreciated at Edmonton!

Strand Workhouse Edmonton from north entrance to Belgian Refuge c 1915

Strand Workhouse Edmonton from north entrance to Belgian Refuge c 1915. To see more information on the Edmonton workhouse please click here.

By late May, Teresa’s refugee work in England had come to an end and she made plans to leave for Italy to rejoin her family. However, her return was hastened by the major events unfolding in her home country.

On the 23rd of May 1915 Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, entering the First World War on the side of the Allies: Britain, France and Russia. When the war had begun it had been expected that Italy would take sides with Germany and Austria-Hungary, with which it had formed the Triple Alliance. The reason for Italy joining on the side of the Allies was mainly to gain territory in southern Austria-Hungary, where Italian was the main language spoken. When war was declared crowds gathered to cheer the Italian royal family. Click here to see a photograph of this event.

Italian flag in the Attingham collection

Italian flag in the Attingham collection

Italian soldiers were moved to strategic points on the border that the country shared with Austria-Hungary. Teresa’s mother, Costanza, wrote to her daughter: ‘people are going to Venice to see it for the last time!

Teresa’s friend, Lady Helen D’Abernon, commented that her old life in Venice felt remote. She worried how the beautiful architecture and artworks in Italy would fare during the war.

Upon her return to Italy, it is likely that Teresa fulfilled her long-held ambition to do a period of Red Cross training. This would have involved  lectures, practical training and exams in both first aid and nursing. She received her Italian Red Cross certificate in October 1915.

Teresa's Italian Red Cross Certificate, 1915

Teresa’s Italian Red Cross Certificate, 1915

By May, Lady Helen D’Abernon had finished her work at Guy’s Hospital, London, but was thinking of nursing in France. She wrote that in ‘these days of tension and anxiety’ it was impossible to sit in the sun with folded idle hands.Helen found nursing ‘very interesting’ but also commented:

‘…judging from past experience it is not a thing one can do by halves – but rather a kind of vampire devouring all one’s zeal & strength & energy.’

 

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Teresa enjoyed a brief meeting with Lord Berwick on her journey back to Italy. She stayed for two days in Paris where Lord Berwick was stationed as Honorary Secretary to the British Embassy, and arranged to have lunch with him. Lord Berwick enjoyed her company and their friend, Fred Stratton, told Teresa that Lord Berwick ‘said nice things’ about her.

Lord Berwick in his 20s or 30s.

Lord Berwick in his 20s or 30s.

 

Attingham

May 1915 was in many ways a time of tragedy. The Second Battle of Ypres raged throughout much of May as both sides tried to gain control of a strategic town in Belgium. It was the first time that Germany had used poisoned gas on a large scale on the Western Front. The battle resulted in 70,000 Allies being killed, wounded or missing.

A destroyed North Midland Farm, Messines Road, May 1915.

A destroyed North Midland Farm, Messines Road, May 1915. © (IWM Q 60496)

The dead included Herbert John Martin (16424) of the Atcham parish who was killed on the 25th of May at Ypres. At 37, he was the oldest man in the parish to die as a result of the war. He had been a private in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. He had enlisted in December 1914, arrived in France on 4th May 1915 and was killed in action on 25th May. He is remembered on the plaque in Atcham and on the Ypres Menin Gate Memorial, Belgium.

With thanks to Neil Evans and Phil Morris for their work on the Shropshire Roll of Honour.

There was tragedy on the seas too as on the 7th of May the Lusitania sank, with over a thousand passengers and crew meeting their deaths. The ship was torpedoed off the southern coast of Ireland by a German U-boat. The sinking of a non-military ship carrying 128 Americans caused great protest in the USA.

Lifebelt from the RMS Lusitania, torpedoed without warning and sunk by the German Submarine U20 on 7th May 1915, with the loss of 1198 lives.

Lifebelt from the RMS Lusitania, torpedoed without warning and sunk by the German Submarine U20 on 7th May 1915, with the loss of 1198 lives. © IWM (MAR 127)

May 1915 also saw the fall of the Liberal Government and the establishment of a new coalition.


A tiresome time – April 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

In early April Teresa decided to give up her work at the Postal Censor office and to stop translating secret documents. She wrote that the work required her to be a ‘blend of Sherlock Holmes and Scarpia,’ which she felt did not suit her. [Scarpia was the Chief of Police in Tosca, a French play and later an Italian opera set in Rome in 1800.] Her war work elsewhere was also coming to a close. Although she still found helping the Belgian refugees fulfilling, by April there were few new arrivals and most of the Belgians had left to work in places all around Britain.

Censura mark on letter

Censura mark on letter. Click here to watch a film about postal censorship during the war.

Eager to remain in Britain, Teresa thought of applying for a job teaching languages in Manchester. Being fluent in several languages, including Italian, French and German, the work would have been ideally suited to her. However, her mother, Costanza, was not happy with her daughter’s ambition as she felt that it might not be suitable for her. She wanted Teresa home. It had been nearly a year since they had last seen each other. On the 23rd of April Costanza wrote:

‘…there is a doubt in my mind that you may have some other reason for wishing to stay on in England which you have said nothing about. I mean that you may think that by coming away now you are risking losing a possibility of marriage which you would like. If this is the case, please tell me so frankly.

Teresa's mother, Costanza, 1913.

Teresa’s mother, Costanza, 1913.

Her mother’s suspicions may have been right. Lord Berwick, who was working in the Paris embassy, continued to correspond with Teresa after their initial meetings before the war began. In April he gave her the card of the artist Fred Stratton, knowing that Teresa would enjoy visiting his studio. Teresa came from an artistic background and the love of the arts which she shared with Lord Berwick was later to be evident in their tasteful restoration of Attingham.

Lord Berwick at a desk taken between 1900 and 1919.

Lord Berwick at a desk taken between 1900 and 1919.

Fred Stratton and Teresa seem to have got along well and he wrote to her later to thank her for her cheering visit. He told her:

You know I said that I felt as if I had known you always – well you greet me as if you had known me always.’

Teresa’s friendliness was doubtless a great asset to her war work but her plans of staying on in Britain were to be dashed. By the end of April she was suffering from a ‘troublesome cough‘ which was diagnosed as German Measles. Due to her illness, on the 22nd of April Teresa was obliged to give up her work with Belgian refugees.

On the 26th of April Teresa left the London home of her Aunt Mary, with whom she had been staying for much of the war. She went to stay with her uncle and godfather Jack Hulton and his wife Blanche in Surrey.

Teresa described to Gioconda her frustration at being confined due to her illness. She hated having to ‘remain shut up in my room or else come & sit in the garden but absolutely in quarantine! It is most tiresome.’

Teresa Hulton in 1914.

Teresa Hulton in 1914.

As she recovered, Teresa was able to occupy herself with dressmaking and helped in the garden, doing tasks such as cutting the lawn. With servants having left to do war work, her help would have been much appreciated.

Teresa with two dogs, Potten, England, 1915.

Teresa with two dogs, Potten, England, 1915.

During the war, many genteel ladies began to do practical gardening tasks, which would have been virtually unthinkable before. In 1915, Mary Hampden, author of Every Woman’s Flower Garden, wrote:

 ‘Years ago women – always defined as ladies –  piled outdoor tools in semi shame, afraid of being considered vulgar or unfeminine; now the spade is recognised as an honourable implement in female hands.’

Teresa Hulton in 1913.

Teresa Hulton in 1913.

Teresa’s illness and the fact that she had to give up her war work in Britain made it seem like a good idea to return to her family in Italy. Keen as ever to do all that she could to help the war effort. It is likely that Teresa’s mind turned to her future work. Letters show that she was already taken by the idea of nursing.

The ‘romance’ of the Red Cross was commonly advertised in the press and periodicals of the time, encouraging many young ladies, mainly of the middle and upper classes, to become nurses. Hearing how casualties of war were mounting with the second battle of Ypres beginning in April, Teresa may have felt a desire to be able to do something to help wounded soldiers. Nursing was to become her occupation for the next three years.

1915 oil painting of a nurse, soldier and child by William Hatherell.

1915 oil painting of a nurse, soldier and child by William Hatherell. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 5194)

 

Attingham

The Attingham war hospital remained busy and the growing demand for more auxiliary war hospitals in Shropshire was met by the opening of Stokesay Court as a war hospital in April 1915. For more information on the Stokesay Court hospital, please click here. For information on their forthcoming event on 18th and 19th April to commemorate the opening of the hospital please click here.

 

 

 


‘Memorable, unusual years’ – March 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

By March 1915 war casualties were mounting and still the fighting showed no sign of ending. Conflicts in Europe had a great impact on Teresa’s refugee work. One example of this was the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, which began in France in March and cost the British over 11,000 casualties.

A 2.75 inch mountain gun at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, France, March 1915

A 2.75 inch mountain gun at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, France, March 1915. © IWM (Q 67854)

On the 11th of March Teresa was informed by the War Refugees Committee that ‘for the time being the number of arrivals have decreased considerably owing to the difficulty of transport.’ The fighting meant that it became nearly impossible for Belgians to flee their country and reach safety in Britain.

Belgian refugees leaving Ypres, 2nd November 1914.

Belgian refugees leaving Ypres, 2nd November 1914. © IWM (Q 53383).

Despite this, Teresa was still busy helping the many refugees already in Britain. Adolf Keyeux, a young Belgian refugee who had previously received assistance from Teresa, wrote again to her in March. He asked for help in getting a permit to allow him to return to the Continent for a few days to visit relatives. By the 25th of March his journey had been arranged, but he returned to Britain soon after his trip to continue his studies in Leeds.

At the time any travel overseas was difficult. Teresa’s friend, Lady Helen Vincent, wrote that it would be impossible for her to journey to Venice and visit Gioconda, Teresa’s elder sister. Helen poignantly wrote:

‘1914-15 will ever rank as memorable, unusual years – not only in the History of Nations but in the infinitely insignificant story of individual lives.’

Helen Vincent, later Viscountess D'Abernon in her nurse uniform.

Lady Helen Vincent, later Viscountess D’Abernon in her nurse uniform.

 

With so many men away fighting, the British government was keen to do all that it could to encourage women to fill their places of work. On the 17th of March the Board of Trade issued an appeal for women to register for war work at their local Labour Exchange.

A Women's Land Army worker during WWI

A Women’s Land Army worker during WWI. © IWM (Q 30887).

As for many women, war work was financially beneficial for Teresa and she wrote to her sister about her income:

I tell you that I, who am always short, find I am very well off under the present regime, you can take my word for it! Besides, uncles & aunts have a way of tipping you when they see you.’

Teresa Hulton, 1913.

Teresa Hulton, 1913.

Balancing several different work commitments was a skill honed by both Teresa and many other women during the war. Doing so helped her find a sense of strength and independence that surprised her family.

During March, Gioconda was still worried about being unable to settle to war work herself. She wrote:

I feel myself utterly incapable of continued useful work: do you think I should ever be of any use anywhere?

The prospect of joining Teresa in Britain was still appealing but the journey was fraught with danger and not an expense that Gioconda could easily afford. At the end of the month, there was a glimmer of hope as Gioconda was given work in an Italian hospital for a week. However, she soon felt that nursing was unsuited to her.

In contrast, the sisters’ friend Lady Helen Vincent was glad to have started nursing at Guy’s Hospital in London, although she wrote: ‘the hours are early & late & long.’ In her letter she also commented: ‘these big hospitals provide one with all opportunity of studying every conceivable malady that poor suffering flesh is heir to.’

Sign hanging outside Charing Cross Hospital at Agar Street, London, September 1914.

Sign hanging outside Charing Cross Hospital at Agar Street, London, September 1914. © IWM (Q 53311).

 

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Lord Berwick wrote to Teresa on 3rd March 1915 from Paris where he was an attaché with the British embassy. He told her that:

‘I have been here about two weeks, and I feel quite at home again, but at first I felt it rather being kept at a desk again all day instead of getting plenty of fresh air and exercise.’

Much of the work was interesting but, ‘I had hoped for rather more military work than I have.’ He found Paris ‘quiet’ and ‘solemn’ and urged Teresa to let him know if she came to Paris at any time. The two were to meet in June as Teresa was on her way back to her native Italy.

 

Attingham

In March 1915 the British navy imposed a sea blockade on German shipping imports, meaning that no food or medicines could be brought from Germany to Britain. Despite the shortages and rationing of food in Britain, people were keen that the convalescing soldiers in auxiliary hospitals should be well fed. Egg collections were set up throughout the country to donate eggs to the wounded. Posters show that egg collecting was one way for children to do their bit for the war effort.

Egg collection poster from WWI.

Egg collection poster from WWI. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 10836)

 

In spring 1915 a Mrs C. Dugdale and a Mrs Swire started an egg collection for use in the hospitals in Shropshire. Red Cross publications of the time show that custards and soufflés were an important part of diet of recovering soldiers and would have been served at the Attingham hospital. Between 1915 and 1918 254,511 eggs were collected for use in the Shropshire war hospitals. Some of the eggs were probably provided by tenants of the Attingham Estate. Click here to listen to a short recording about egg collections in Shropshire.

The Walled Garden at Attingham played an important role in providing food and possibly medicines that were scarce in Britain due to the war preventing foreign trade. The Attingham Estate also provided wood to the Army Pay Office in Chester and some of the tenanted land was used as a rifle range.

Two ladies from the Women's Land Army fruit picking during WWI.

Two ladies from the Women’s Land Army fruit picking during WWI. © IWM (Q 30845).

Stokesay Court, another VAD Auxiliary Military Hospital near Attingham, was opened on April the 19th 1915. To discover more about the fascinating story of the Stokesay Court hospital, please click here.

To mark the centenary of the opening of the hospital, over the weekend of Saturday the 18th and Sunday the 19th of April 2015 Stokesay Court will be holding a Red Cross Hospital Centenary Weekend. This will include tours, re-enactments, a concert based on First World War concert programmes and the reading of letters and other information from the fabulously detailed archive relating to the hospital. For more information about the event, please click here.


A piece of cake – February 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

As well as helping at two centers for Belgian refugees, doing secret intelligence work and working in the postal censorship office, Teresa made time to lend a hand at events put on to raise funds to help the war effort. On the 16th February 1915 Teresa and some of her friends were selling at a sale of cakes and preserves in aid of a Belgian field hospital.

Teresa and her stall at the Attingham garden fête, 1924

Teresa and her stall at the Attingham garden fête, 1924.

Teresa did all that she could to help the Belgian refugees and had taken one of the young Belgian boys, Adolf Keyeux, under her wing. He was especially bright and Teresa made an effort to help him with his education. Eventually she assisted him in gaining a place to study in Leeds. Throughout the war he sent letters and cards to her, updating her on his progress and asking for her advice and assistance.

Teresa reading in 1912

Teresa reading in 1912.

Other people who were also concerned with the care of the Belgian refugees had more trouble. On the 28th February Teresa received a letter from H. E. Ayris who had taken on Monsieur and Madam Busscherts, a refugee couple who had come from the Edmonton centre, London.

Belgian refugees leaving Ypres, 2nd November 1914.

Belgian refugees leaving Ypres, 2nd November 1914. © IWM (Q 53383)

 

The Busscherts had just had a baby, which was putting pressure on Mr Ayris’s resources. He wrote asking Teresa whether he could seek financial help from the committee established to care for Belgian refugees. Times were hard for the Busscherts family as their Belgian landlord threatened to seize their possessions unless they forwarded him rent money.

As well as assisting the refugees, Teresa was also keen to help her own family, especially her sister, Gioconda, who found it difficult to settle to doing war work. Gioconda wanted to join Teresa working with the refugees in London but their mother, Costanza, felt that it might be ‘too much responsibility. She is so dependant and has so little initiative, and if she only has you to lean upon, you may find her too heavy.

Gioconda in Italy, 1908.

Gioconda in Italy, 1908.

 

Attingham

1915 marked the beginning of a busy few years for the British Red Cross hospitals in Shropshire. In 1915 a total of twelve ambulance trains came to Shrewsbury with 1,666 men. About forty were taken to the Royal Salop Infirmary and many soldiers were so badly wounded that they had to be carried to the institution on a hand ambulance. In February Mrs Van Bergen, the tenant at Attingham Hall, visited the Royal Salop Infirmary, eager to do all that she could for the wounded soldiers.

Wounded soldiers and a nurse at the Attingham hospital, c.1917.

Wounded soldiers and a nurse at the Attingham hospital, c.1917.

As the Commandant of the Attingham hospital, Mrs Van Bergen’s uniform would have been much grander than that worn by the nurses as a mark of her higher rank. Her uniform would have consisted of a scarlet two-piece jacket and skirt, a blouse with a collar and tie and a hat with a ribbon and a badge of rank.

(Source: Storey, Neil R. & Housego, Molly (2010) Women in the First World War, Shire Books)

The Van Bergen family, c.1917.

The Van Bergen family, c.1917.

The convalescent hospital at Attingham took in many patients. Less badly injured or recovering soldiers were taken in ambulance wagons or in borrowed motor cars to local military hospitals like the one at Attingham. Helpfully, a motor ambulance, funded by members of the Ludlow Race Society, had been presented to the Shropshire Red Cross Society in January 1915. To see a British Pathé film of WWI ambulance vehicles, please click here.

Motor car at the front of Attingham Hall, c.1917.

Motor car at the front of Attingham Hall, c.1917.

Mr Van Bergen wrote to Lord Berwick’s Land Agent, Louis Dease, in February 1915 asking if it would be possible to make two tennis courts at a corner of the field near the river. He also mentioned that grooms with the army, which used Attingham’s stables to train mules and horses to send to the Front, sometimes left the gates open and livestock escaped.

February must have been a worrying month for many people in Britain as Germany declared that the waters around Britain were a war zone in which naval, merchant and passenger ships could be sunk without warning. On 18th February 1915 German U-boat attacks began and soon the number of ships being sunk was outstripping the number being built.

Lifebelt from HMS Formidable, sunk on the 1st January 1915 in the English Channel by torpedoes from German U-boat U24. © IWM (MAR 66)

Lifebelt from HMS Formidable, sunk on the 1st January 1915 in the English Channel by torpedoes from German U-boat U24. © IWM (MAR 66)


An all-consuming war – December 1914

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

By December Teresa had given up most of her work with Belgian refugees at Edmonton, London. Although she continued helping at the Aldwych refugee centre, she was thinking of leaving and trying another form of war work.

Teresa (left), her sister Gioconda (centre) and their mother, Costanza (right), May 1909.

Teresa (left), her sister Gioconda (centre) and their mother, Costanza (right), May 1909.

In a letter to her sister, Teresa explained that she wanted to work as a nurse. Teresa may have been pleased when her cousin Rosemary suggested that she should join her working at a hospital in Dunkirk run by the Duchess of Sutherland. Click here to see a paining of the Duchess of Sutherland and here to discover more about her war work.

However, letters in the archive reveal that work at the Dunkirk hospital seemed to be just as exhausting as work with the Belgian refugees. Rosemary described how she often had to stay up most of the night as she was so busy. Many trains arrived at Dunkirk containing as many as 600 soldiers. There are some evocative paintings by French soldier, Victor Tardieu, which can be seen by clicking here and scrolling down.

Despite Rosemary’s description of the busy hospital, Teresa applied for the post of hospital secretary at Dunkirk. Unfortunately her application arrived too late as someone else had just been appointed. Undeterred, later in the month Teresa applied to work for the Postal Censor Bureau in London and was offered the job.

Censura mark on letter

Censura mark on letter. Click here to watch a film about postal censorship during the war.

Teresa had difficulties finding accommodation in London. She had been moving between the homes of various friends and relatives in the city since early summer. Teresa planned to stay in England more permanently to do war work, therefore, this arrangement was no longer practical. There are numerous letters written between her and friends who advised her on various Ladies’ Clubs where she could stay.

With the weather turning chilly, Teresa found that her wardrobe, which she had packed expecting to remain simply for the summer, was unsuited to the English winters. Gioconda sent Teresa ‘a box containing a muff & collar of hyena (or whatever it was) by sea.’ Gioconda was amused that ‘the captain refused to accept money for the stamps thinking the box contained clothes for the front.’

Teresa Hulton wearing her furs in November 1915 on the Italian Front.

Teresa Hulton wearing her furs in November 1915 on the Italian Front.

In Italy, their mother, Costanza, was making shirts for a soldier’s organisation. Despite the country remaining neutral, the war was very much in everyone’s thoughts.

This was even more so in England. On the 10th of December Teresa’s friend, Lady Helen Vincent, wrote ‘we all talk, think, sleep, eat of nothing but the war. I can hardly remember the time when I have spoken for more than two minutes of anything else. But when all this horror & suffering will end remains devilishly veiled & uncertain.’

Helen Vincent, later Viscountess D'Abernon

Lady Helen Vincent, later Viscountess D’Abernon

However, there were light-hearted moments. On the 23rd of December Teresa helped with the War Dependents’ entertainment put on by the London General Omnibus Company. Her help was much appreciated and the entertainment must have been a jolly start to the festive season. To see a poster for a similar event, please click here.

Teresa Hulton in 1912.

Teresa Hulton in 1912.

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

In December 1914 Lord Berwick was still with the Shropshire Yeomanry stationed on the East Coast of England as part of the Home Defence. For more information on the Shropshire Yeomanry, please click here.

On 16th December 1914 Lord Berwick wrote from The Royal Hotel in Lowestoft to Teresa Hulton:

‘we are kept rather busy here … If the Germans select to raid this point on the coast, my regiment is rather critically placed, as our Brigade is rather scattered, and we should have several hours to hold on before other troops can be brought up by train.’

Lord Berwick in his uniform.

Lord Berwick in his uniform.

Attingham

At the Attingham hospital the staff and wounded soldiers were preparing for a very different Christmas to that of 1913. The peaceful surroundings of Attingham Park must have been a blessing to the soldiers who came here 100 years ago.

The Outer Library at Attingham as a hospital ward for wounded soldiers.

The Outer Library at Attingham as a hospital ward for wounded soldiers c.1917.


Troubled times – November 1914

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

Despite its huge size the Aldwych centre, were Teresa worked at the start of the war, was full of refugees by November. Teresa played a vital role in helping refugees find work and dealt with travel expenses as refugees were moved all over Britain. Other refugees stayed in London with many finding work in armaments factories near Edmonton, north London.

Teresa was clearly much loved by the refugees that she helped. It must have been satisfying for her to receive many ‘thank you’ letters from refugees telling her how pleased they were in the situations that she had found for them.

Wounded Belgians in a Scottish hospital were also grateful for her help in finding their relatives. Many letters in our archive from the refugees are written in French. Teresa’s fluency in this language must have helped her communicate with the refugees and would have been reassuring to them in a foreign land. Members of the Interpreting Department of the Women’s Emergency Corps were often sent to help the Belgian refugees communicate with people in Britain.

Belgian refugees leaving Ypres, 2nd November 1914.

Belgian refugees leaving Ypres, 2nd November 1914. © IWM (Q 53383)

Despite this, the vast amount of work left Teresa tired. She wrote to her sister, Gioconda, explaining her busy daily routine:

this work at the Rink [Aldwych Centre] is so hard & finding that I come home quite exhausted and after dinner have to write letters and organise the refugee’s business. I go off at about 20 past 9 + from the moment I arrive at Aldwych am up to my eyes in work + besieged by refugees all clamouring to be allocated – we can just snatch half an hour for lunch… then go back to work again & never stop till 7! Then home, change, dinner & refugee correspondence interspersed with political discussions with darling Lady Wenlock who is so keen & insists on entering into long conversations when I am trying to write. I crawl off to bed about half past 10 or 11. I am so tired I simply cannot think to write! Irene comes back from Eastwick in a day or two & then I mean to work less hard at the Rink- for I have been in her place all this time.’

Teresa Hulton at a writing desk in her family home in Venice, 1913.

Teresa Hulton at a writing desk in her family home in Venice, 1913.

 

Another problem for Teresa was the Hulton’s financial situation. Allowances for all members of the family were cut because her father, William Hulton, had invested in Deutchsbank when in Munich and his investments were going badly. Her mother, Costanza, explained that the family annual income was reduced from £925.00 to£583.00 and that it might not be possible for them to afford to continue living in their Venetian home.

 

Teresa’s income from refugee work was helpful and she told Gioconda that she had ‘heaps of money and never any time for shopping!’ She wished that her sister could join her but lack of money and the war made this difficult. Instead she advised Gioconda to ‘work at the Red Cross work this winter in Florence.’ She commented: ‘I bitterly regret not to have done any of that.’

Gioconda, Teresa and their friend, Mary in St Marks Square, Venice, 1914.

Gioconda, Teresa and their friend, Mary in St Marks Square, Venice, 1914. Mary was Teresa’s close Hungarian friend and many letters from Mary remain in the Attingham archive.

Gioconda took her sister’s advice and wrote that she and her mother, Costanza, were thinking of beginning a course in Red Cross instruction. Feeling that the workload as a nurse would be less overwhelming for Teresa, Costanza suggested that she undertake a nursing course at Guy’s hospital, where Teresa’s friend Lady Helen Vincent was training to become a nurse. Costanza advised Teresa that a ‘woman who has small but chronic disability, like your headaches, is a fit person to be a nurse.’

 

Attingham

Although many local people were fond of the Attingham tenants, the Van Bergens, others were suspicious of the Dutch-American family. When two nephews came to visit the Van Bergens and took photographs of the view from the roof of Attingham many people thought that the boys were spies.

Attingham Hall during the early 1900s. View towards the west side of the house.

Attingham Hall during the early 1900s. View towards the west side of the house.

Besides the hospital that had been set up in the house, other areas of the Attingham estate were put to use for the war effort. The War Office used the stables rent free as stabling for remounts. Mules were trained to send overseas to the Front. In 1919 a detailed compensation claim for dilapidations caused to the stables at Attingham and Cronkhill was made for £584 10s 3d including £2 5s to ‘Renew linings to windows gnawed by mules.’ £500 was offered and the claim was settled.

The Stables at Attingham Park. Photographed by Country Life in 1921.

The Stables at Attingham Park. Photographed by Country Life in 1921.

 


Kitchener in petticoats – October 1914

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

October was to be a busy month for Teresa who continued her work in London dealing with donations of money and clothes for the Belgian refugees as well as helping them to find work, such as sewing, working on farms, giving music lessons and working as gardeners. Letters show how grateful the refugees were for her help, particularly when she helped reunite them with their families.

Belgian refugees receiving clothes, Ostend, 28th August 1914

Belgian refugees receiving clothes, Ostend, 28th August 1914. © IWM (Q 53217)

 

As well as working at the refugee centre at Aldwych, Teresa also found work at a centre for Belgian refugees at Millfield House, Edmonton, which had formerly been a workhouse. Teresa proudly described her work in a letter to her sister Gioconda:

‘My Millfield House Refuge is going most beautifully. My only fear is now that the refugees will soon give out – I shall be upset giving up this work – I got 35 to Darlington today, 50 to Brunner, Mond & Co, Northwich tomorrow, 50 to Keighley etc. besides various smaller departures. Everyone seems quite pleased with me + my work and I think you may say a little about my achievements for I quite inspire respect!’

Strand Workhouse Edmonton from north entrance to Belgian Refuge c 1915

Strand Workhouse Edmonton from north entrance to Belgian Refuge c 1915. To see more information on the Edmonton workhouse please click here.

Gioconda replied that she followed Teresa’s ‘instructions to brag a little about’ her war work. Gioconda told her sister:

‘I expect that by the time you come back to Venice, (if Venice exists any more & is not reduced to a heap of muddy bricks) you will have gained the reputation of being Kitchener in petticoats.’

Lord Kitchener poster

Lord Kitchener poster. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 2734)

 

Teresa was enthusiastic to help the war effort as much as she could and applied for work censoring letters. The disappointing reply which she received shows the prejudices that many women faced at the time. She was told:

I do not know if they would allow a lady to do the work of censoring letters, and I am afraid you would find it very uncomfortable working in camp; and of course you could not live here, as it would be still more uncomfortable and rough for you.’

 Teresa had applied to carry out this work at Frith Hill camp, a prisoner of war camp in Surrey that Londoners came to visit as a day trip! To see more information on the Frith Hill camp please click here.

Postcard of the Frith Hill camp, Surrey.

Postcard of the Frith Hill camp, Surrey. Image courtesy of Picture Postcards from the Great War 1914-1918.

 

Teresa was far from the only lady pushing against the constraints placed on women. Gioconda’s friend told her of a newly married lady who went with her husband to Galicia dressed as a soldier but was discovered and sent back.

October also saw the Hultons affected by the tragedy of war. A family friend, Katherine Bernard, lost her younger son and wrote to thank Teresa for her condolences. She described that though she felt sometimes that she ‘couldn’t bear the idea of never seeing him again in this world’ she tried to find comfort in the fact that she knew where her son’s grave was and that his actions were ultimately successful, writing ‘It seems to give one immense Brotherhood all this sacrifice + suffering for so fine a cause!’

Katherine was far from alone in her loss. October 1914 marked the beginning of the First Battle of Ypres fought over a strategically important Belgian town. The battle left around 56,000 British casualties.

First Battle of Ypres, 1914. Distrubution of mail on the roadside near Ypres. The 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards, October 1914.

First Battle of Ypres, 1914. Distrubution of mail on the roadside near Ypres. The 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards, October 1914. © IWM (Q 57197)

 

Attingham

With casualties of war mounting, Attingham Park Auxiliary Military Hospital was much needed when it opened on the 20th of October. The first patients were Belgian officers and privates. The Outer Library was used as a ward and had previously contained a billiard table but this was moved to the Picture Gallery when the hospital began. In 1914 there were only 11 beds and this had increased to 60 by 1918.

The Outer Library at Attingham Park as a hospital ward during WWI

The Outer Library at Attingham Park as a hospital ward during WWI

Mrs van Bergen, the tenant at Attingham, was the Commandant of the Attingham hospital and she was in charge of all hospital affairs except for medical and nursing services. Medical attendance was provided locally and voluntarily, with Mr R. de Salis Stawell, a medical practitioner in Shrewsbury, acting as the surgeon. Mr R. de Salis Stawell  was later awarded an OBE for his war work. Two nurses, Sister West and Sister Johnson, were joined by numerous staff in other functions as well as medical staff from nearby Berrington hospital if required. Many local women volunteered at the hospital.

Mrs Van Bergen (left) and a nurse at Attingham Park during WWI

Mrs Van Bergen (left) and a nurse at Attingham Park during WWI

Convoys of wounded soldiers usually went straight to Military Base Hospitals before being sent to the voluntary hospitals, but in Shropshire trains came straight from Southampton or Dover. Initially there were no ambulances and hospitals had to rely on the kindness of tradesmen in Shrewsbury for the use of their commercial vehicles and on loans of private cars. To view footage of soldiers leaving a ship and boarding an ambulance please click here.

Wounded soldiers and nurses in a car at Attingham Park during WWI

Wounded soldiers and nurses in a car at Attingham Park during WWI.

The patients at Attingham were generally less seriously wounded than at other hospitals and needed convalescence. The servicemen preferred the auxiliary hospitals to military hospitals because they were not so strict, less crowded and the surroundings more homely. Photographs show the Outer Library ward with flowers and pretty bedspreads. By 1918 there was an average number of 33 patients resident daily and on average patients stayed for over a month.

Nurses and wounded soldiers in the Outer Library at Attingham Park during WWI

Nurses and wounded soldiers in the Outer Library at Attingham Park during WWI.


The shadow of war – September 1914

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

By September 1914 letters show that for many, the reality of war was beginning to sink in. Teresa’s friend, Lady Helen Vincent, wrote:

‘The awfulness of this gigantic war is being brought home here when we see so many wounded & increasingly worse accounts of one’s friends. A child bride of last year is today a widow.’

Helen Vincent, later Viscountess D'Abernon

Lady Helen Vincent, later Viscountess D’Abernon

 

Teresa too was moved and on the 10th September wrote to Lady Vincent that she would like to work with Belgian refugees. 160,000 Belgian refugees flooded into Britain between 1914 and 1915 as the Germans invaded Belgium. Upon arrival, many came to London where Teresa was staying with relatives.

 The Mayoress of Hampstead, London, with whom Teresa was to work, made a plea to help the refugees:

I appeal to the inhabitants of Hampstead for the Belgian Refugees, who consist mainly of women and children, and who are arriving here in hundreds almost daily. After the gallant resistance that Belgium has offered, with the result that their country is overrun by the German army, it is only right that we here in England, who are luckily exempt from this scourge of invasion, should do something to help these people who have lost their homes and all they possess. They are arriving absolutely penniless, and in most cases with only the clothes they stand up in.’

From The Tablet, September 1914.

To see British Pathé footage of Belgian refugees receiving help during WWI, please click here.

Belgian refugees outside Hudsons Furniture Repository, Victoria Station, London, September 1914. © IWM (Q 53305)

Belgian refugees outside Hudsons Furniture Repository, Victoria Station, London, September 1914. © IWM (Q 53305)

Lady Helen Vincent was well placed to help Teresa find work and got in touch with Edith de Mullway of the Aldwych Belgian refugee centre who arranged for Teresa to visit to see what duties were required.

The Aldwych centre was set up in a roller skating rink that had been taken over by the War Refugees’ Committee. Roller skating was popular in the Edwardian times and in 1911 the Aldwych roller skating rink was used as a meeting place for suffragettes. To view an interesting blog post about the Aldwych centre and its use before the war please click here.

 

The Old Skating Rink, Aldwych, in use as a clearing house for Belgian refugees, October 1915.

The Old Skating Rink, Aldwych, in use as a clearing house for Belgian refugees, October 1915. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 2238)

 

The centre provided food and accommodation for the refugees and tried to find them work and homes. By the end of September Teresa was working as an allocator, helping Belgian families find homes and jobs in England. Many of them took the place of gardeners, labourers and servants as these roles were left empty as people were called up to war or left to do war work.

Teresa also dealt with donations and provisions sent to the centre, an important grounding for her later role in Red Cross hospital work in Italy. The Aldwych centre dispensed medicines and provided medical aid for an average of 60 patients daily. At the end of September there was an illness scare amongst the refugees and Gioconda wrote warning Teresa to be careful not to fall sick.

Teresa as a young woman

Teresa as a young woman

 

Although Italy remained neutral, it too was beginning to feel the effects of the war. Gioconda wrote that Italy’s commerce was affected by the war and that ‘there seems to be no money to spend & the outlook is very black.’ Gioconda gave a vivid account of how war affected the atmosphere in Venice by the end of September. She wrote:

‘Venice is very curious just now. Very few of the people generally to be seen at this time of the year, the Piazza almost deserted & of friends & acquaintances hardly a soul- on the other hand there are many suspicious looking individuals about- nondescript types both male & female- Then there are quantities of soldiers of every kind.’

 

 

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Lord Berwick was stationed with the Shropshire Yeomanry in Morpeth, Northumberland. To see a short film about the type of training he may have undertaken with his regiment, please click here.

The Shropshire Yeomanry, early 1900s

The Shropshire Yeomanry, early 1900s. Lord Berwick is on the right of the picture and is the last man on the back row.

 

Attingham

By January 1915 there were 25 Belgian refugee families in the Atcham rural district, the parish in which Attingham is located. They may have helped on the Estate.

Cutting the grass in the early 1900s at Attingham. This photograph was taken by the side of the Outer Library on the west side of the house.

Cutting the grass in the early 1900s at Attingham. This photograph was taken by the side of the Outer Library on the west side of the house.

To follow the monthly posts of this blog, please click ‘Follow’ in the small grey box on the bottom right of the screen. Thank you.