Tag Archives: First World War Italy

Triumphs and losses – October 1918

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

The Spanish Flu pandemic had been sweeping the globe since early 1918. Teresa and others called the virus outbreak Spanish Flu because it was mainly reported in Spanish newspapers.  It was causing havoc all over Europe but because most European countries were at war with each other reports were suppressed to conceal the impact of the virus on their forces.  Spain was a neutral country, not involved in the fighting, so the epidemic was reported in their newspapers giving rise to its association with Spain.

Teresa’s friend Lillian Carlyle wrote to her that some of the people they knew had Spanish Flu, including Christobel the daughter of Evelyn Gordon-Watson with whom Teresa worked at the Italian front.

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Mrs Gordon-Watson and her daughter Christobel with a group of soldiers (c) Hamish Scott

Teresa suffered acutely when she caught the Spanish Flu and was brought lower than during any of her previous trials during the war. She later admitted in her diary: ‘while I was ill, I heard of the deaths from ‘flu of a number of friends, among whom 5 or 6 young men and girls – and for a time I quite hoped my time had come too.’

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Teresa (in the centre) is photographed with two fellow nurses at the opening of a new rest station for soldiers managed by Mrs Watkins (c) Hamish Scott

Many people whom Teresa’s sister Gioconda was acquainted with had Spanish Flu, including Joan Bentwick who Gioconda worked with as a secretary in the Intelligence Division at the British Admiralty. Fortunately Joan survived. Another acquaintance of Gioconda’s, Miss Heynes, died after only three days of sickness. Gioconda was offered Miss Heynes’s place working in the British Embassy in Rome.

Gioconda, Rome 1918

Gioconda photographed in Rome in 1918

Before Teresa fell ill she went to meet Mrs Watkins, the leader of the group of war nurses, at Verona. On October the 11th a fellow nurse, Georgiana R. Sheldon, wrote to Teresa from the American Hospital for Italian Wounded: I hope that you will let me know how things have been arranged and whether you and Mrs. Watkins are going directly to Gardone to arrange the convalescent home.’

The other hospital staff at the American Hospital were leaving but Georgiana stayed: ‘I feel the need of a change more than I can tell you, but, at the same time, I do not think this is the moment to travel, and also I do not like to leave the Hospital when, at any moment, there may be a possibility, although I hope not a probability, of an outbreak of the influenza in our midst. This morning we heard that little Nadine Kirsch has died of it and the boy, Giulio, is very ill indeed.’

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Georgiana Sheldon’s signature is fourth from the top among the signatures preserved in Mrs Watkins’s wartime album (c) Hamish Scott

Georgiana appreciated keeping in touch with Teresa, adding humourously: ‘Do send me a card, now and then, and tell me how you are and keep up our spirits here. You must not forget that you have a life of excitement and must therefore stand by the dullards who are here in Florence.’

The situation for the Italian army was hopeful in October 1918 as they mounted an offensive targeting Vittorio Veneto and broke through a gap near Sacile. On the 24th of October Italian divisions incorporating British, French and American soldiers crossed the Piave River and attacked the four remaining Austro-Hungarian armies.

vittorio veneto

British horse drawn transport and an Italian motor ambulance crossing a temporary bridge in October 1918 during the Vittorio Veneto offensive (c) IWM Q 26722 

The Austro-Hungarian defensive line was destroyed with 30,000 Austro-Hungarian soldiers killed and over 400,000 taken prisoner. On the 3rd of November 1918 Austria-Hungary sent a flag of truce asking the Italians for armistice. The armistice took effect on the 4th of November 1918 at 3pm.

The war was almost over and the casualties near the end of the war are poignant. On October the 25th Teresa received a letter from Adolf Keyeux, the Belgian refugee boy who she had helped with his education in England where he had fled in 1914. Adolf had just joined the Belgian Army in the Field. On October the 17th the Belgian King Albert had entered the city of Ostend on the Belgian coast.

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The reverse of an envelope enclosing the letter sent to Teresa by Adolf Keyeux

Teresa kept the letter, noting that it was found on the body of a dead German officer who had taken it from Adolf who had been killed. The letter is even more heart-breaking because of the cheerfulness with which Adolf writes telling Teresa that ‘we are very heartily welcomed everywhere in our reconquered county’ and went through Bruges just after the Germans left, which felt like ‘a real triumph’ as ‘all the people were out, shouting & cheering us, thousands of flags were flying.’

Adolf adds: ‘You will excuse my writing you such a hurried letter but we are so busy in these times. If we push the Germans back, it is not always without pain. I am now in a post that is what may be termed a ‘good job’ but I have plenty to do. It is often dangerous but always I remain lucky and as I volunteered to see interesting things, I am just in the right place.’

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Teresa’s future husband, Lord Berwick, was to fall victim to Spanish Flu in December 1918. His time in hospital recovering from the illness prompted him to worry about the fact that he was thirteen years Teresa’s senior. He wrote: ‘when I went into hospital I felt so old and tired and the Drs. made me think that I was not very strong, so that I began to think that it was too late to start life again.’


Lord Berwick on his wedding day



People in Shropshire received news of many Allied victories in October 1918. The end of the war was coming into sight. Teresa’s friend Tiny Cox, working in a London hospital, wrote that ‘we are literally working 12 hours a day – considering the heavy fighting & grand news now the casualty lists have been unimpossibly small. I’m to think we may really be without a war in a few months.’ 


This photograph in the Imperial War Museum collection shows pipers of the Gordon Highlanders marching though the newly liberated Douchy-lès-Ayette in France in October 1918. © IWM Q 11412

Allied troops renewed their offensive in France, beginning a series of battles that forced the Germans back. The Allies broke through the remnants of the Hindenburg line. The German army retreated and many prisoners were taken.

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.’

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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.’

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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.