Tag Archives: Mrs Watkins

Outposts of Mercy – March 1916

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

Teresa was as busy as ever with supply work for hospitals in Italy. She worked at this task with Bridget Talbot, who wrote asking if Teresa could quickly find some supplies for Hospital 022 as the big new wards of around a hundred beds had ‘got no pillows, very few sheets and no bed covers.’

Interior of an Italian Hospital Train, filled with wounded soldiers, somewhere on the Italian Front, 1915. © IWM (Q 53780)

Interior of an Italian Hospital Train, filled with wounded soldiers, somewhere on the Italian Front, 1915. © IWM (Q 53780)

The need for rapid expansion indicates the strain that the fighting was putting on war hospitals. Mrs Watkins’s team were run off their feet but it was worthwhile, as Teresa’s friend Julia assured her how grateful the wounded soldiers were for all the work that the nurses were doing for them.

The heroism of Mrs Watkins’s team is captured by E.V. Lucas in Outposts of Mercy, a pamphlet about the efforts of the Red Cross in Italy written during the First World War. E.V. Lucas visited Mrs Watkins’s team at Cervignano, where he met Teresa.

Outposts of Mercy by E.V. Lucas. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Outposts of Mercy by E.V. Lucas. Image courtesy of Kiplin Hall.

Lucas wrote of the danger that the team faced since Cervignano was ‘a constant target for Austrian aeroplanes.’ The nurses lived in ‘a tiny wooden cottage beside the rail, just big enough for the fires which boil the coffee and milk for the poor fellows in the trains, and anything but big enough for the ladies to dwell in comfort.‘ Photographs show that at this time, compared to later in the war, the uniform and equipment used by Teresa and her companions was basic.

Teresa Hulton (left) with Mrs Nott (centre) and Contessa Carafa (right) in a hut a Cervignano, northern Italy, May 1917.

Teresa Hulton (left) with Mrs Nott (centre) and Contessa Carafa (right) in a hut at Cervignano, northern Italy, May 1917.

E.V. Lucas gave a vivid picture of the women going about their work:

‘What the soldiers in an English hospital train stopping at a village station in Essex, say, would think of three Italian ladies, unassisted, carrying hot coffee and bread from bunk to bunk along two or three hundred yards of compartments, I cannot imagine; but the grateful Italians have come to look upon the converse phenomenon without surprise.’

Newspaper clipping from the Tribuna Illustrata showing Mabel Campbell and Teresa Hulton helping the wounded soldiers on the train at San Giovanni di Manzano, northern Italy, taken between October and December 1915.

Newspaper clipping from the Tribuna Illustrata showing Mabel Campbell and Teresa Hulton helping the wounded soldiers on the train at San Giovanni di Manzano, northern Italy, taken between October and December 1915.

The ministrations of Mrs Watkins’s team were especially useful as ‘the authorities have had to make the meal time-table inflexible, so that a wounded man, brought in just too late for, say, breakfast, would have no chance of food until lunch, even though he had long been fasting.’

Wounded soldier carried on a stretcher, Italy, taken between 1915 and 1918.

Wounded soldier carried on a stretcher, Italy, taken between 1915 and 1918.

To see a short British Pathé film of a railway station canteen during WWI, please click here.

The toll that the war had taken on armies of all countries by March 1916 was vast. Many people must have feared that they would be the next to hear the news of a loved one’s death. On the 6th of March Teresa’s friend, Lady Helen D’Abernon, wrote that her nephew had been killed. Already he had been wounded twice since he joined the army and since August 1914, 28 out of the 30 officers in his battalion had died.

Lady Helen Vincent, who became Viscountess D'Abernon from 1914.

Lady Helen Vincent, who became Viscountess D’Abernon from 1914.

For others, the war brought new opportunities. Teresa’s sister, Gioconda, secured a post as a secretary in the Intelligence Division for the Admiralty in London. On the 27th of March she began her work and was to hold the post for several months, although, as with nursing, she was to find it not to her taste.

Teresa and Gioconda in a gondola in 1908

Teresa and Gioconda in a gondola in 1908

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Lord Berwick was working in Paris at the British Embassy in early 1916 but he remained in contact with his Shropshire Yeomanry friends. From the 14th of March 1916 to April 1917 the 1/1st Shropshire Yeomanry was based in Egypt. The order to sail to Egypt was mentioned in a letter to Lord Berwick from H. Heywood-Lonsdale, an acquaintance in the Yeomanry. He wrote to Lord Berwick from Gorleston a most infernal hole where we have had the roof burnt down over our heads.’

Shropshire Yeomanry badge on Lord Berwick's uniform in the Attingham collection.

Shropshire Yeomanry badge on Lord Berwick’s uniform in the Attingham collection.

Heyward-Lonsdale also described possible future movements:

‘I rather think we shall go to Salonika very soon’ and he hoped that the regiment shall spend ‘next winter in Vienna.’

And commented on the war in France:

‘…your appreciation of the Verdun affair is interesting, we have heard 3 of the forts have fallen, hope French are preparing a surprise for the Bosch.’

[For a list of slang terms used at the Front, please click here and scroll to ‘Allies and enemies’.]

Lord Berwick’s friend, Heyward-Lonsdale also went on to explain entertainments for the Yeomanry:

‘A paper has been started, run by the Doctor and Guy Rogers THE SHROPSHIRE WAR PAPER on the lines of THE SPORTING TIMES. Poker parties carry on.’

 He thanked Lord Berwick for his letter and informed him that Berwick had a mess bill of £4.7s.11d outstanding.

Lord Berwick at a desk taken between 1900 and 1919.

Lord Berwick at a desk taken between 1900 and 1919.

Attingham

Demand for British war hospitals increased and in March 1916 the War Office took over Cross Houses workhouse, near Attingham, as a hospital. The 321 inmates were accommodated in other workhouses or hospitals. The workhouse was named the Berrington War Hospital due to its proximity to Berrington train station.

Berrington War Hospital, formerly the workhouse at Cross Houses, Shropshire.

Berrington War Hospital, formerly the workhouse at Cross Houses, Shropshire.

The Attingham and Berrington war hospitals worked closely together. Berrington was the central hospital, acting as a clearing hospital for wounded soldiers. Attingham was one of several auxiliary hospitals that received patients from Berrington. There were over 3,000 auxiliary hospitals in Britain.

Wounded soldiers were sent by train to Berrington station. The hospital bell was rung and to alert people at the hospital that there was a train load of wounded soldiers to be collected.

Wounded soldiers, a nurse and a dog outside Attingham Hall, c.1917.

Wounded soldiers, a nurse and a dog outside Attingham Hall, c.1917.

Hilda Evans, born in 1902, vividly recalled the first convoy of 127 soldiers arriving at Berrington station. In an oral history recording she explained that initially, there were no nurses here at all, and they had to collect the people round. My mother was one – to help until they got the nurses here. And when they used that awful mustard gas, in the First World War, the poor lads were brought here with great holes burnt in their backs. It was dreadful to see them, dreadful; shocking.’

The aftermath of a mustard gas attack on the Western Front in August 1918 as witnessed by the artist, John Singer Sargent. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1460)

The aftermath of a mustard gas attack on the Western Front in August 1918 as witnessed by the artist, John Singer Sargent. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1460)

To see a 1915 photograph of patients in a gas ward receiving a salt bath treatment for their mustard gas burns, please click here.

Hilda Evans also described how the wounded men came ‘straight from the trenches here, because we had to cut their clothes off and they’d be full of lice and all sorts of things. It was dreadful. And they used to make a big bonfire and burn all their old uniforms, because they couldn’t do any good with them.’

Troops of the 2nd Australian Division in a support line trench checking their shirts for lice, northern France, May 1916. © IWM (Q 582)

Troops of the 2nd Australian Division in a support line trench checking their shirts for lice, northern France, May 1916. © IWM (Q 582)

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A guardian angel – February 1916

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

On the 2nd of February 1916 Bridget Talbot wrote to Teresa asking her to assist with finding bed spaces for an overload of patients that had arrived. She also asked for Teresa’s help in finding supplies for various Italian Red Cross hospitals. They were especially in need of shirts, nightshirts, sheets, pillowcases and bed covers. A photograph in one of Teresa’s photograph albums shows that the Italian army sometimes used wheeled carts drawn by dogs to carry supplies.

Dogs pulling carts containing supplies, northern Italy, taken between 1915 and 1917.

Dogs pulling carts containing supplies, northern Italy, taken between 1915 and 1917.

Things didn’t always run smoothly with Teresa’s work organising supplies. George Barbour of the First British Ambulance Unit for Italy commented:

Your six bales came today and I spent half an hour with the canteen folk trying to make out what the clever idiot who numbered the bales last had been trying to do. All your numbers had been either obliterated, printed over or used again to form other numbers and the order was completely muddled up.’

In addition to dealing with supplies and donations sent to Mrs Watkins’s team, in February Teresa was also working at an American Red Cross hospital in Florence. Evelyn Gordon-Watson, a Red Cross nurse who was a friend of Teresa’s, wrote: ‘how grateful everyone is, you are really a guardian angel.’

Letter concerning Teresa Hulton's work at the American Hospital in Florence, 1916.

Letter concerning Teresa Hulton’s work at the American Hospital in Florence, 1916.

Being so busy with war duties, the last thing that Teresa needed was to fall ill. Unfortunately she developed a cold and her sister, Gioconda, wrote to her warning her not to tire herself out doing housework. Teresa and the other nurses had to do their own housework in the chalet that they occupied. With the Hulton’s money difficulties and impact of the war on domestic labour, the family were also short of servants.

Teresa Hulton in white Red Cross uniform, 1916.

Teresa Hulton in white Red Cross uniform, 1916.

However, some of Teresa’s friends had worse problems to contend with. Evelyn Gordon-Watson wrote that one of the new huts at her hospital was shelled during the night, which frightened the patients. Luckily no one was hurt.

Mrs Gordon Watson (left), Teresa Hulton (centre) and Mrs Watkins with cat (right) at the soldiers’ canteen at Cervignano, Northern Italy, October 1916.

Mrs Gordon Watson (left), Teresa Hulton (centre) and Mrs Watkins with cat (right) at the soldiers’ canteen at Cervignano, Northern Italy, October 1916.

Due to the difficulty of bringing nurses from Britain, early in 1916 the British Red Cross organised First Aid lectures. They were delivered in Rome by the eminent Italian surgeon Professor Bastianelli, along with a series of Home Nursing lectures conducted by Sister Mary Sales. Exams were held at the Villa Trento hospital near Udine, Northern Italy. Classes were also organised in Milan, Genoa and San Remo to try and recruit more Italian-speaking V.A.D.s.

The Villa Trento hospital, near Udine, northern Italy. © IWM (Q 83686)

The Villa Trento hospital, near Udine, northern Italy. © IWM (Q 83686)

The Villa Trento hospital during WWI. Image courtesy of the British School at Rome photographic collection.

The Villa Trento hospital during WWI. Image courtesy of the British School at Rome photographic collection.

In February 1916 Teresa’s sister, Gioconda, travelled from Florence to Surrey, England. Here she stayed with the family of John Fletcher, her grandmother’s half-brother.

Gioconda visited her friend, Lady Helen D’Abernon, who showed her the ‘instruments for anaesthesia all neatly stowed in a small dressing-case.’ Gioconda was not keen on nursing and in a letter to her sister added wryly: ‘of course I looked solemn & experienced as we discussed them!’

However, Gioconda still dreamed of playing a useful part in the war effort. She contemplated doing war work in England, possibly in a munitions factory. This was an interesting choice as such work was often done by lower class women.

Ministry of Munitions 1916 poster

Ministry of Munitions 1916 poster. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 0402)

 

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

Unfortunately, few wartime letters to Lord Berwick survive in the Attingham archives. However, throughout the war we know he kept in touch with friends that he had met in the Shropshire Yeomanry. One such example is H. Heywood Lonsdale, who wrote to Lord Berwick at the end of February 1916.

The Shropshire Yeomanry, early 1900s. Lord Berwick is stood on the far right on the back row,

The Shropshire Yeomanry, early 1900s. Lord Berwick is standing on the far right on the back row.

 

Attingham

The convalescent hospital at Attingham was kept busy as casualties continued to mount. February 1916 saw the beginning of the Battle of Verdun, the most extended battle of the First World War. Verdun, located in the north-east of France, had been a French military base since Roman times.

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

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

Following a heavy bombardment, the German forces launched a major attack against the French intending to cause heavy casualties. Fighting continued until December 1916 and it is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 men died at Verdun.

French troops firing a rifle grenade in a trench in Fort 4 Vaux, February 1916. Fort Vaux was the second fort to fall during the Battle of Verdun. © IWM (Q 49098)

French troops firing a rifle grenade in a trench in Fort 4 Vaux, February 1916. Fort Vaux was the second fort to fall during the Battle of Verdun. © IWM (Q 49098)

To see a map of the Verdun battle sites, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.

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.


Deck the halls with…paperchains! – December 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

Teresa’s work at the canteen and hospital at Cervignano continued to be busy in December. By the end of 1915 fighting along the Isonzo near to where she was based had cost the Italians 230,000 casualties and the Austro-Hungarian army 165,000. To see a map of the Italian Front and to read more about it please click here.

Information in the Attingham archive indicates that Teresa usually did her canteen work in the morning and helped out in the hospital during the afternoons. Her tasks at the hospital included dressing wounds and giving medication. Having had very few moments to spare for correspondence, Teresa was glad to have time off to return to her family and catch up on their news at Christmas.

Teresa treating a wounded soldier in the American Hospital in Florence, Italy, 1915.

Teresa treating a wounded soldier in the American Hospital in Florence, Italy, 1915.

Teresa proved to be useful in many different departments of war work in Italy. As well as nursing and serving in the canteen she found time to deal with supplies sent to Italian hospitals, canteens and rest stations under the care of Mrs Watkins. The expenditure on the distribution of stores made by the Joint Committee, formed of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John, rose to nearly £1 million a year during the war.

British Red Cross Letter in the Attingham Archive.

British Red Cross Letter in the Attingham Archive.

The station canteen set up by Mrs Watkins mainly served the special hospital trains that took wounded men to the war hospitals. Removable beds supported on brackets had been added on either side of the carriages. Some trains could carry up to 500 wounded men and had an operating table, dispensary and kitchen. By 1917 providing and running these trains had cost the Red Cross over £60,000.

Interior of an Italian Hospital Train, filled with wounded soldiers, somewhere on the Italian Front, 1915. © IWM (Q 53780)

Interior of an Italian Hospital Train, filled with wounded soldiers, somewhere on the Italian Front, 1915. © IWM (Q 53780)

As well as the canteen at Cervignano, some of Mrs Watkins’s team were working at San Giovanni di Manzano. At San Giovanni di Manzano there were three workers headed by Mrs Gordon-Watson and aided by local Italian women. They fed the wounded at the principal clearing station for the Gorizia front. Despite the severe fighting, they worked day and night with up to 2,000 wounded men passing through in one day.

Mrs Gordon Watson (left), Teresa Hulton (centre) and Mrs Watkins with cat (right) at the soldiers’ canteen at Cervignano, Northern Italy, October 1916.

Mrs Gordon Watson (left), Teresa Hulton (centre) and Mrs Watkins with cat (right) at the soldiers’ canteen at Cervignano, Northern Italy, October 1916.

As well as Mrs Watkins’s team, many other women were helping the wounded in Italy. In December 1915 Lady Helena Gleichen and Mrs. Hollings were attached as a radiographic unit to the army in Italy. They had been trained as X-ray operators and had raised private funds to purchase motor-cars fitted with X-ray apparatus. Between December 1915 and October 1917 they made 12,600 X-ray examinations.

Their work was commented on by G.M. Trevelyan in his book Scenes from Italy’s War, New York, 1919, p.108:

‘There was no more characteristic sight on the roads than the radiographic cars being driven by Mrs. Hollings and Countess Gleichen from hospital to hospital at the front.’

Bridget Talbot, one of Teresa’s friends who worked for Mrs Watkins, sometimes helped the two ladies with developing the X-rays.

To see a photograph of a mobile X-ray unit from the First World War, please click here. To see an oil painting by Lady Helena Gleichen depicting troops moving into Gorizia during the war, please click here.

 

Lord Berwick (1877-1947)

In 1915 Lord Berwick received news that his relative and heir, Michael Noel-Hill (1897-1953), later the 9th Lord Berwick, had joined the army. At the age of 18, Michael was gazetted to the Rifle Brigade and went out to serve in France. Michael had a passion for shooting which had started when he was a boy from shooting sparrows and rabbits during his holidays.

Charles Michael Wentworth Noel-Hill, later 9th Baron Berwick, June 1922.

Charles Michael Wentworth Noel-Hill, later 9th Baron Berwick, June 1922.

Following Lord Berwick’s death in 1947 the title passed to Michael and he became the 9th Baron Berwick. However, he was seen as too incautious to entrust with the care of Attingham, so in the 1930s Lord Berwick begun discussions with the National Trust about the future of the Attingham estate.

Lord Berwick and his dog on the Portico steps at Attingham, 1938.

Lord Berwick and his dog on the Portico steps at Attingham, 1938.

Michael’s behaviour may have been due in part to his experiences during the war. James Lees-Milne was the National Trust agent who came to talk to Lord and Lady Berwick about the bequest of Attingham. Lees-Milne described Michael Noel-Hill in his book People and Places:

His Life epitomised the tragedy of a man of decent disposition but weak character, knocked endways by appalling experiences during the First World War and its aftermath. He was perennially out of pocket. Not that his cousin Tom did not at times come to his rescue and occasionally settle his debts. Nevertheless grinding poverty tends to make a black sheep blacker, and other troubles multiplied.’

 

Attingham

Christmas 1915 offered a jolly respite from the horrors of war for the soldiers convalescing at Attingham. Photographs from c.1917 show the Outer Library cheerfully decorated with paper decorations and a large Christmas tree. Convalescent soldiers often helped to make decorations like paper chains and Chinese lanterns.

Wounded soldiers in the Outer Library at Attingham, c.1917.

Wounded soldiers in the Outer Library at Attingham, c.1917.

The egg collection fund set up for Shropshire auxiliary hospitals at the beginning of the year had been a great success. In 1915 a total of 70,927 eggs were collected for the Shropshire hospitals to aid the diet of the men.

Egg collection poster. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 10825)

Egg collection poster. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 10825)

 

 

 


Not a moment to spare – November 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

Teresa’s work both at the station canteen and as a nurse at Cervignano, northern Italy, proved to be extremely busy. Between the beginning of November 1915 and November 1916 the number of soldiers cared for by Mrs Watkins’s team amounted to over 42,000.  Estimates suggest that between June and November 1915 60,000 Italian soldiers had died and over 150,000 had been wounded.

Wounded Italian soldiers, taken between 1915 and 1918.

Wounded Italian soldiers. Photo taken between 1915 and 1918. © IWM (Q 65149)

Although Teresa received plenty of letters from family and friends, she often found no time to answer them immediately. Many letters sent to her at this time have notes pencilled on the top to remind her of what she wanted to include in her reply when she found a spare moment to write back.

Letter to Teresa Hulton, February 1916.

Letter to Teresa Hulton, February 1916.

As with many war hospitals, including the one at Attingham, people raised funds so that the soldiers could have occasional luxuries. On the 11th of November Teresa wrote that she had been giving out chocolate biscuits and cigarettes to a train of soldiers that arrived at Cervignano station.

Teresa Hulton (left) helping the soldiers from the train, 1915.

Teresa Hulton (left) helping the soldiers from the train, 1915.

A wonderfully detailed letter to her sister, Gioconda, sent on the 27th of November gives an idea of what life was typically like for Teresa as a nurse and at the soldiers’ canteen at the time. She commented that the hospital was regularly receiving ‘wounded trains between 30 & 60‘ from Cervignano station. Teresa also apologised to her sister:

These days we have been so busy that I have simply not had a moment for writing. On Monday Miss Quather went away, which was a blessing as she was rather a terror and Mrs Watkins and I were longing for her to go.’

Gioconda Hulton, November 1915.

Gioconda Hulton, November 1915.

Miss Quather was replaced by a new nurse, Mabel Campbell, whom Teresa was to find easier to get along with. Teresa and Mabel stayed in touch with each other after the war.

Teresa explained to Gioconda that on first impressions Mabel ‘is rather like a boy, for she has had a lot to do with boats, so knows how to make things look very neat and clean.’ This was surely a trait that would have been welcome when it came to keeping the bustling hospital and canteen organised!

Mabel Campbell worked alongside Teresa Hulton on the Italian front.

Mabel Campbell worked alongside Teresa Hulton on the Italian front.

Teresa also described the character of the Italian surgeon, Professor Terzulli, he was ‘a very quiet man but clever and pleasant.’ In between his medical duties he helped grind the coffee and cut the bread for the soldiers’ canteen. Teresa mentioned that she had assisted this kind-hearted man with surgical operations.

Hospital room at Gradisca, northern Italy.

Hospital room at Gradisca, northern Italy.

Other new acquaintances included many British ambulance workers who supported the Cervignano hospital. One such ambulance driver was Dr Thomas Ashby, an archaeologist and Third Director of the British School in Rome. As a pacifist and conscientious objector, he took on the role with the Ambulance Unit so that he could contribute without fighting. Dr Ashby helped Teresa to find petrol for the car that she drove and to have it repaired so that she could use it for war work. For further information on his WWI photograph collection, please click here.

Dr Thomas Ashby during the 1915-1918 war.

Dr Thomas Ashby during the war.

By 1917 nearly 1,300 ambulances owned by the Joint Committee formed of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John were serving the front line of fighting. Sixty were in Italy. A ‘Transport of Wounded Fund’ was established to help meet the cost of running the vehicles, which averaged £4,500 a week. Ambulance drivers usually took the wounded from the field hospitals to clearing hospitals and from there to hospital trains. However, at times they collected wounded men from first-aid posts where they were often under shell fire.

Ambulance convoy, Arquata, northern Italy.

Ambulance convoy, Arquata, northern Italy. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 5408)

Although it was hard work, Teresa was delighted with her new occupation, writing: ‘I should like to stay on here until the end of the year.’ Like many women, Teresa found that war work had financial benefits and informed her sister of her situation: ‘I have plenty of money to spare as life here is so cheap.’

Teresa Hulton on the Italian front.

Teresa Hulton on the Italian front.


The soldiers’ canteen – October 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

By early October, Teresa had arranged to work at the soldiers’ canteen set up by Mrs Watkins in Cervignano, northern Italy and was eagerly preparing to travel there. She made final arrangements with Isabel Campbell, the friend who had invited her to join her at Cervignano. Isabel’s letters offer an interesting insight into details of the life that Teresa was to lead working at the station canteen.

Isabel informed her of the living costs which were between 35 and 40 lire. She wrote:

‘…at present we eat in the station restaurant, which is rather poisonous, but when the canteen is finished we hope to do a lot of our own cooking there, and that would make things no doubt cheaper.’

Teresa Hulton May 1915

Teresa Hulton, May 1915

The women working at the canteen were temporarily staying in rooms at a villa, which Isabel described to Teresa:

 ‘…it is not very comfortable but I don’t know whether you mind that, no luxuries of any sort, such as hot water, and other discomforts the nature of which you can guess. But on the whole we manage to enjoy ourselves very much indeed.

 We also have daily air raids, generally one for breakfast, and another for tea, and two bombs have been dropped not far from our little chalet. But I don’t suppose that worries you.

 As accommodation is very scarce you might also have to share a room with me for a bit until we settle down.

 Now after reading all these unpleasantnesses I will tell you the nice things. They are building us a quite charming chalet outside the station opposite the platform from which the wounded entrain.’

By mid October, Teresa had joined Isabel Campbell in the canteen work.  In total, there were six workers between the two canteens for the soldiers that Mrs Watkins had established. Most of the other women had come out from Britain to help and could speak little Italian, so Teresa’s knowledge of the language was useful in communicating with the Italian soldiers. To see British Pathé film footage of a wartime railway station canteen, please click here.

Italian flag in the Attingham collection

Italian flag in the Attingham collection.

In addition to working at the soldier’s canteen, Teresa continued with her nursing work in an Italian war hospital. Her experience dealing with supplies sent to the Belgian refugees in London put her in good stead as many of her friends sent her parcels of items containing sheets, pillowcases, food and clothing for the wounded soldiers. Knitted socks seemed especially popular to send and were doubtless much appreciated as autumn set in! Similar work was being done to supply British soldiers, as is seen in this IWM film of 1916.

Standard issue khaki wool socks from the First World War.

Standard issue khaki wool socks from the First World War. © IWM (UNI 12582)

In October, a growing number of casualties flooded into Italian war hospitals. The Serbian Army faced defeat and made a horrendous retreat through mud and snow across the mountains of Albania to reach Italy at Corfu. Fortunately, the help of a Mrs Mabel St Clair Stobart and her ambulance column saved many lives.

Another heroine of the Red Cross was Edith Louisa Cavell (1865-1915). She was the matron of a Belgian hospital who saved the lives of soldiers from both sides. However, when she helped wounded Allied soldiers escape to neutral territory, the Germans had her tried and executed by a firing squad in Brussels on the 12th of October 1915.

Recruitment poster with portrait of Edith Cavell.

Recruitment poster with portrait of Edith Cavell. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 12217)

By October 1915 war hospitals in France, where friends and relatives of the Hulton sisters were working, were crowded. Their friend, Lady Helen D’Abernon, who was nursing in a hospital in France, wrote how tired and ‘much older’ she felt. She was glad to return to visit her mother and arrange to begin a course in specialist anaesthetics nursing.

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

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


New Opportunities – September 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

In September 1915 Teresa began work as a nurse in a team headed by Mrs Marie Watkins. Although it is likely that she received training and was working as a nurse before September, few letters have survived from this time to know definite details. However, a postcard dated the 21st of September has been preserved asking Teresa to start hospital work at 8am the next day.

Teresa in her white nurse uniform, 1915

Teresa in her white nurse uniform, Florence, Italy, October, 1915.

September was a busy month on the Italian Front and many people tried to help the soldiers. The first unit of the British Red Cross Society in Italy arrived on the Isonzo Front in September 1915. A field hospital at Villa Trento, near Udine, staffed by British sisters and V.A.D.s sent by the Joint War Committee, broke down the Italian resistance to the idea of employing women at the Front. For further information on V.A.D. work in Italy, please click here and scroll down to the second to last section. To see a V.A.D. recruitment poster from 1915, please click here.

First World War nurse

First World War nurse. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 13669)

Exemplary for her assistance to the Italian army was Mrs Watkins, who set up and ran rest stations for soldiers. She become a valuable friend to Teresa who worked with her for much of the war. Mrs Watkins gathered funds for the work done by her team from British ‘lovers of Italy.’ The Italian Ambassador was the patron of her scheme whilst the Count De La Feld, secretary of the ‘Pro Italia’ society in London, became the treasurer.

Teresa (right) sitting with Mrs Watkins (centre) at Costalunga, South Tyrol, Italy, August 1918.

Teresa (right) sitting with Mrs Watkins (centre) at Costalunga, South Tyrol, Italy, August 1918.

Mrs Watkins and her team established station canteens for the trains carrying wounded soldiers at Cervignano and San Giovanni in northern Italy. Teresa was based mainly at Cervignano, an important town in the Province of Udine and not too far from Teresa’s home in Venice.

Work was offered to Teresa on the 30th of September, when her friend Isabel Campbell wrote asking if she would like to join her working at the canteen that Mrs Watkins had set up for the soldiers. Isabel’s letter gives an interesting account of the preparation for the canteen:

Dear Miss Hulton,

I suppose you don’t by chance want a job do you? Tiny Cox told me she thought that perhaps you might be doing nothing.

We are starting a canteen here on the invitation of General Cadorna. So far only I was working by myself out here, as they are building us a chalet which is not finished yet. But when it is we shall want two or three people to help us. When we know how much work there will be to do we are sending back to England and one or two are coming out.

I was wondering if you would care to come and help us, as our Italian is most rudimentary, and you would be quite invaluable. If you could come I will let you know full particulars.

We have got billets here which are quite comfortable and clean, and I think we shall have great fun later on. Of course one doesn’t know yet if there will be little or much work. It would be very nice if you could come.

Yours sincerely,

Isabel V. Campbell’

British Red Cross Letter in the Attingham Archive.

British Red Cross Letter in the Attingham archive.

As well as the canteens, Mrs Watkins also created huts called ‘Case del Soldato,’ which were used by recuperating soldiers for recreation. At these rest centres wounded men taken from the trains were cared for until ambulances arrived, soldiers fighting locally could find sanctuary when they were sick and wounded trains could stop for the soldiers to be fed and to hand over laundry to be washed.

Teresa treating a wounded soldier in the American Hospital in Florence, Italy, 1915.

Teresa treating a wounded soldier in the American Hospital in Florence, Italy, 1915.

Funds raised by Mrs Watkins and her team also helped to supply X-ray apparatus and motor-cars that were run by women. To see a photograph of a mobile X-ray unit from the First World War, please click here.

Women transported supplies and wounded soldiers. Letters in the Attingham archive show that Teresa could drive and used a car for war work.

Teresa sitting in an ambulance vehicle at San Giovanni Manzano, northern Italy, October 1915.

Teresa sitting in an ambulance vehicle at San Giovanni Manzano, northern Italy, October 1915.

As well as numerous British helpers, some American volunteers also went to the Italian Front. These included the author Ernest Hemingway, who was severely wounded in July 1918 whilst performing his duties as an ambulance driver. His 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms features an ambulance driver who falls in love with an upper-class English V.A.D. nurse in wartime Italy.