‘Is this really the last night’? A letter home from Sister Kate Luard, 10th November 1918

100 years ago, on 10th November 1919, Sister Kate Luard wrote a letter home. It was the last night of the First World War, and after everything she had witnessed and experienced in the last four years, she was trying to process that it would all soon be over.

Katherine Evelyn Luard was a remarkable woman. Over the last four years, as part of our contribution to marking the centenary of the First World War we have followed her progress as she nursed countless men on the Western Front. While she cared for the wounded, the sick, and the dying, she frequently wrote home, telling her family what she was experiencing.

Kate’s letters give a sense of a woman of enormous energy and adventurousness with a strong ethos of duty and service. A professional nurse, she trained in the 1890s when nursing was still not an entirely respectable profession for a young woman. She served as a military nurse in the Boer War before returning to civilian nursing. On the outbreak of the First World War she volunteered again as a military nurse, and arrived in France just days after the war had started. Apart from short periods of leave, she remained on the Western Front throughout the conflict, only returning home in December 1918 to care for her aging father.

The letter she wrote on the 10th November 1918 is an extraordinary document, and we thought it worth sharing with you here in full, 100 years after it was written. The letter will be on display in the ERO Searchroom until January 2019.

The first page of Kate Luard’s letter home written on 10th November 1918

 

Sunday night                                                                                        Nov 10th

Dear G & N, you have given me the details about Oxford that I was wanting to know, but Ellie must tell me all the heavenly & funny things Joan said one day.[1] Rose’s letter today of her friend who died the day they found it out shows what a treacherous illness it is: just the same happens here.[2] While I am writing to the mother to say he is seriously ill, a slip comes from the Ward to say he is dead. And I don’t think any doctoring or nursing has the slightest effect in this virulent pneumonia. You might as well give an empty cylinder as give oxygen: their lungs get blocked & their lips and faces turn black & it is all over. The delirium is one of the most difficult parts when you are short of staff. I stopped one dying Sergt who was getting out of bed with nothing but a pyjama jacket on, because he wanted to get to his men. “No officers?” he kept saying “Are there no officers? then I must take charge.”

[Vertically up the page] What a nice letter from A.F. London about the Salonika Army

Or they get a fixed idea that they are ‘absent without leave’ & must ‘rejoin my battalion’. None of us have ever seen it before in this virulent epidemic form, & the mortality is extraordinarily depressing. In one ward 17 out of 21 died in a few days. Everyone in the influenza wards has to wear a gauze mask & we make a point of off duty time for them. So far only 1 Sister & 2 VADs & three orderlies have gone sick with it, & they are not pneumonic. Several sisters & 1 VAD have died at the Sick Sisters Hosp. No. 8 Gen.

I think it is abating a little. I am so glad Rose is having a rest. Did G go back to Mr A’s?[3] When does Daisy come back from Nash?[4]

There is the most angelic baby Gerry here who had his leg off yesterday. He is so pleased that his mother will see him with a new leg with no pain in it! He has shining golden hair, blue eyes & a child’s smile. Everyone spoils him.

We haven’t nearly so many in now. All our best wards are British again.

About the War, is this really the last night our own RAF will go over dropping destruction into hundreds of Germans? They have already stopped coming over to us I believe. Is tomorrow morning the last time of ‘standing to’, & listening posts, & firesteps, & swimming canals under mg [machine gun] fire & Zero hours & fractured femurs & smashed jaws & mustard gas & the crash of bombs & all the strange doings of the last four years?

It is quite impossible for a war-soaked brain like mine to think in terms of peace; war has come to be natural – peace unnatural.

[Vertically up the page] 1000 thanks for all your letters

This afternoon at the lovely big service at the Cathedral just like St Paul’s with beautiful singing, & the sun lighting up the tracings of the roof, one realised that all the War Intercessions of the last years are about to be answered & as far as actual War goes will be meaningless after tomorrow, though the sick & wounded & bereaved part goes on yet. What a vital set of new Intercessions the Nations will need now, with the warnings of Russia Bulgaria Austria & Germany all disrupting in turn.

There’s nothing Bolshevik about us or the French thank goodness. The French are so domestic & practical & matter of fact just now. In Rouen (apart from the British occupation it amounts to that) you’d never know there’d been a War.

I can’t help wishing Foch[5] had asked Douglas Haig as well as his old pal & Rosie Wemyss[6] to meet the German Plenies. He wouldn’t have won this War without us.

I wish we could ask RW to lunch one day & make him tell us about it, the bowing & saluting & Foch refusing point blank to suspend hostilities during the 72 hours.

What I feel nervous about is who’s going to be responsible for carrying out our terms if they accept them, now they’ve booted out William & Max, & probably Hindenburg & Tirpitz & Ludendorff & Hertling & Hollweg & everyone who has ever run the ship of state? Can the saddler control the nation?

All these awakening citizens must feel such dupes & fools to have bootlicked the Hohenzollern inflation so long. The brave ones who have died for the Fatherland will never know that it wasn’t for the Fatherland at all, as far as victory goes, though perhaps all this mess up will be their salvation in the end, as it has ours.

In a way it seems almost a bigger change from War to Peace than it was from Peace to War – perhaps because there was nothing very glorious about out last 10 years of peace & everything about our 4 years of War has been very glorious.

Goodnight

Love to father

KEL

 

[1] Joan was Kate’s niece, who had just died of influenza, aged 19. Ellie was Joan’s mother. Ellie had already lost her husband Frank, Kate’s brother, who was killed at Gallipoli.

[2] Rose was one of Kate’s sisters

[3] G is Kate’s sister Georgina

[4] Daisy was another of Kate’s sisters

[5] Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Supreme Allied Commander during the war, who represented the French at the Armistice Negotiations

[6] Rosslyn Wemyss, a senior naval commander who represented the British at the Armistice negotiations

 

Letters from the Western Front: The Allied Advance, 1918

This post is published with thanks to Caroline Stevens, Kate Luard’s great-niece, who supplied the extracts from Unknown Warriors.

When we last left Sister Kate Luard she had just reached the end of April 1918, after a dramatic few weeks in which the German Army had broken through Allied lines during the Spring Offensive of 1918. Kate and her colleagues had evacuated their hospital and retreated along with the rest the British Army.

Between May and August 1918 the Germans made no further progress and it was clear the German army was overstretched and weakened from their Spring Offensive; and the Allies launched their counter attack in the summer of 1918. The Germans at Amiens had not had the time to build up their defences and the British Expeditionary Force’s combined artillery, infantry and tank offensive, with the French Army as well as troops from the United States and Italy, launched an offensive decisively turning the tide of war toward an Allied victory.

The Allied offensive began with the Battle of Amiens on 8 August and continued to 11 November – known as the Hundred Days Offensive.

Kate Luard rejoined No.41 casualty clearing station at Pernois between Amiens and Doullens on 9 May. Here she sometimes had time to write home about the landscape and countryside  before the Allied Advance commenced.

 

Monday, May 13th. Pernois

There is so much to see to in starting a new site with a new Mess consisting of Nothing, with the patients already in the Wards when we arrived, that there has not been a moment yet to unpack my kit, barely to read my mails, let alone to write letters, other than official and Break-the-News, till now 10.30 p.m.

We had our first rain to-day with the new moon, and the place has been a swamp all day.

The great Boche effort is supposed to be imminent and this wet will delay and disgust him.

The C.O. of this Unit is very keen, full of brains, discipline and ideas. Everyone is out for efficiency and we are all working together like honeybees. There is a very fine spirit in the place. The Sisters are all so pleased with our unique Quarters that they’re ready for anything. The C.O. has gone this time to the opposite extreme from daisies under our beds and we are sleeping in the most thrilling dug-outs I’ve ever seen.

The Camp itself is very well laid out with roads to the entrances to the wards for Ambulances, to save carrying stretchers a long way. We evacuate by car to the train at the bottom of the valley.

 

May 22nd, and the hottest day of the year.

This full moon is, of course, bringing an epidemic of night bombing at Abbeville, Étaples and all about up here. … I had a lovely motor run to the Southern Area B.R.C.S. [British Red Cross Society] Depot yesterday, through shady roads with orchards blazing with buttercups.

  

May 25th

Nothing to report here: people seem to think he [the Germans] has his tail down too badly to come on, and it looks like it. An inimitable Jock told me to-day that you only had to fill a Scot up wi’ rum and he could do for as many machine-gun nests as any Tank!

  

May 28th

There’s nothing to say that one may write about, but a good deal to do.

  

Whit Sunday

We had a divine day here and it’s a translucent night of sunset, stars and moon and aeroplanes, and spoilt by the thunder of the guns which are very busy now on both sides. This is a Sky Thoroughfare between many Aerodromes and the Line, and from sunset onwards the sky is thick with planes, and the humming and droning is incessant and very disturbing for sleep. There are a hundred interesting things one would like to tell you, but everything comes under forbidden headings.

The men have the same spirit, the same detached acceptance of their injuries, and the same blind unquestioning obedience to every order, the same alacrity to give up their pillows … as at the beginning of this War. And they are all like that – the Londoners, the Scots, the Counties, the Irish, the Canadians and the Aussies and the New Zealanders.

The Jock is helping in a Ward and bends over a pneumonia man helping him to cough, or cajoling him to take his feeds, with an almost more than maternal tenderness or … helps with a dressing with a gentleness and delicacy that no nurse could hope to beat.

Their obedience is another unfailing quality. When a convoy comes in at night they’re out of bed in a second, filling hot bottles, and undressing new patients and careering round with drinks. If a boy asks for a fag after a bad dressing they literally rush to be first to get him one of theirs.

I could do with some more Sisters. Must do a round now and see what’s likely to be wanted during the night.

The Officers’ Ward at the 41st Casualty Clearing Station, by J. Hodgson Lobley (Art.IWM ART 3809) image: The interior of the large tented officers’ ward of a casualty clearing station. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/16920

  

Tuesday, June 4th, 10.30 p.m.

He is at this moment making the dickens of an angry noise about 100 feet directly overhead: whether he means to unload here or not remains to be seen. We’ve had rather a busy week …

The weather continues unnaturally radiant. I have never worked in a more lovely spot in this war. There is always a breeze waving over the cornfields and the hills are covered with woods near the valleys, with open downs at the top. Below are streams through shady orchards and rustling poplars – and you can see for miles from the downs.

We had two French girls, sisters of 19 and 16, in, badly gassed and one wounded. I took them to the French Civilian hospital at Abbeville the next day. They were such angels of goodness, blistered by mustard gas literally from head to foot, and breathing badly. They came from near Albert.

Fritz has made a horrid mess of Abbeville since we were there a month ago: 10 W.A.A.C.’s [Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps] were killed at once one day.

 

Sunday, June 16th

The hills are covered with waving corn, like watered silk in the wind, with deep crimson clover, and with fields of huge oxeye daisies, like moving sheets. To-day there is no sound of guns and it is all Peace and loveliness. All the worst patients are improving and the Colonel has come back from his leave. We are able to get fresh butter, milk from the cow, and eggs, from the farms about and generally fresh vegetables.

 

Monday, June 17th

Last night he was over us again and working up to his old form: he passed overhead flying very low a good deal from 11 p.m. The sky illuminations in this wide expanse on these occasions are lovely: searchlights, signals, flares and flashes. We had a busyish night with operations.

  

June 29th

We are still very busy with influenza [the start of the great influenza epidemic] and also some badly wounded. Jerry comes every night again and drops below the barrage: I think he gets low enough to see our huge Red Cross. Nearly all the wards are dug in about 5 feet and were much approved by the D.M.S. yesterday.  There are four badly wounded officers who need a lot of looking after. The problem is to get the influenzas well enough to go back to the Line and yet have room for the new ones.

British and Belgian wounded, 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205238965

  

Tuesday, August 6th

For a week past the air has been thick with rumours of a Giant Push, of Divisions going back into the Line after only 24 hours out, of 1,000 Tanks massing in front of us, Cavalry pushing up, and for 5 nights running we heard troops passing through our village in the valley below to the number of 40,000. To-day two trains cleared us of all but the few unfit for travel, and to-night we have got the Hospital mobilised for Zero and every man to his station. As the 1st Cavalry Division was trotting by in the dark, the men calling cheerily, ‘Keep an empty bed for me’ or ‘We’re going to Berlin this time’.

  

Wednesday, August 7th. 11 p.m.

Brilliant sun to-day, after the heavy rains for weeks past. We’ve had a long day of renewed preparations.

All is ready for Berlin. I’m hoping breathlessly that they hold back my leave to see this through. 

 

Thursday, August 8th, or rather 4 a.m. August 9th

20,000 prisoners, 20 kilometres, 200 guns, transport captured, bombs continually on the congested fleeing armies – and here on our side the men who’ve made this happen, and given their eyes, limbs, jaws and lives in doing so. It is an extraordinary jumble of a bigger feeling of Victory and the wicked piteous sacrifice of all these men.

I have 34 Sisters and the place is crawling with Surgeons but we want more stretcher bearers. 

The Operating Theatre, 41st Casualty Clearing Station, by J. Hodgson Lobley, 1918 (Art.IWM ART 3750) image: The interior of a casualty clearing station with a patient under anaesthetic lying on an operating table surrounded by five medical staff, all dressed in white. In the foreground is a table full of medical instruments and an array of gas canisters and breathing apparatus. Two further medical staff are visible in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/16912

 Saturday, August 10th, 10 p.m.

By now we [the Allies] should be in Marchelepot again. It is fine to hear of our bridges at Péronne and Brie, that we knew and saw being built by Sappers, being bombed before he [the Germans] can get back over them. (The sky at the moment is like Piccadilly Circus, with our squadrons going over for their night’s work.) The wounded, nearly all machine-gun bullets – very few shell wounds, as his guns are busy running away: very few walking wounded have come down compared to the last Battle – in fifties rather than hundreds at a time, but we have a lot of stretcher-cases. Of course we are all up to our necks in dealing with them, with ten Teams.

There are great stories of a 15-inch gun mounted on a Railway, with two trains full of  ammunition being taken. … We have a great many German wounded. For some never-failing reason the Orderlies and the men fall over each other trying to make the Jerries comfortable.

Must go round the Hospital now and then to bed. The Colonel tells me that nothing has come through yet, thank goodness, about my leave. He says he has written a letter to our H.Q. that would melt a heart of stone.

 

August 11th

Orders have come for me to ‘proceed forthwith’ to Boulogne for leave. That probably means that I shall not rejoin this Unit.


Kate was right – after her return from leave the rest of her letters were written from two Base Hospitals, where she remained until the end of November 1918. You can read more of her letters in Unknown Warriors: the letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918. 

Letters from the Western Front: A nurse’s view of the German Spring Offensive of 1918

This post is published with thanks to Caroline Stevens, Kate Luard’s great-niece, who supplied the extracts from Unknown Warriors.

In spring 1918, the German army launched a series of attacks along the Western Front, advancing further than either side had since 1914. Nursing Sister Kate Luard, of Birch, near Colchester, was caught up in the Allied retreat, and wrote home about her experiences as the dramatic events unfolded (you can read more about her in our previous posts).

The Germans were attempting to defeat the Allies before the arrival of troops from the United States, and were able to reinforce their lines with troops freed up after the Russian surrender in late 1917.

During 1917, Kate had nursed behind the lines at the Battles of Arras and at Passchendaele. 1918 was to prove no less eventful for her.

To help put the letters into a geographical context, the locations from which Kate wrote at this time are tracked in the map below. The letters quoted here are reproduced in Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France, 1914-1918.

Preparations

The Allies were expecting a German advance. As part of the preparations, Kate received orders on 6 February to report to Marchélepot, in the most southern sector of the Somme area, to set up a new Casualty Clearing Station (CCS).

 

Wednesday, February 6th 1918. Abbeville

Orders came the day before yesterday to report here, and I find it is for my own Unit, at a place behind St Quentin – a line of country quite new to me. None of my old staff are coming but a new brood of chickens awaits me here and I take three up with me to-morrow. In a new Camp after a move there is nothing to eat out of and nothing to sit on, and it’s the dickens starting a Mess and equipping the Wards at once. They sent me all the 60 miles in a car.

 

Thursday, February 7th.  Marchélepot,  south of Péronne. 5th Army

We left Abbeville at 9 p.m. by train to Amiens and got there to find two Ambulances waiting for us. The rest of the run was through open wide country and all the horrors and desolation of the Somme ground, to this place – Marchélepot. There is a grotesque skeleton of a village just behind us, and you fall over barbed wire and in to shell-holes at every step if you walk without light after dark. There is no civil population for miles and miles; it is open grassland – a three years’ tangle of destruction and neglect. All the C.C.S.’s are in miles of desolation behind the lines.

DESTRUCTION ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914-1918 (Q 61242) Ruins of the church at Marchelepot, 19 September 1917. It was abandoned by the Germans during their retreat to the Hindenburg Line in March 1917. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205308701

The Colonel and the Officers’ Mess gave us a cheery welcome, and the orderlies are all beaming and looking very fit. I’m thankful that only three Sisters came with me as we found no kitchen, no food, no fire and only some empty Nissen huts, but the Sisters of the C.C.S. alongside have fed and warmed us … sleeping comfortably on our camp beds in one of the Nissen huts and shall have the kitchen started to-morrow. The Hospital has only been dug in since Sunday week – shell holes had to be filled in and grass cut before tents could be pitched or huts put up.

 

Saturday, February 16th

I expect you’re having about 20 degrees of frost as we are here. Everything in your hut at night, including your own cold body, freezes stiff as iron, but there is a grand sun by day and life is possible again. The patients seem to keep warm enough in the marquees with blankets, hot bottles and hot food, but it is a cold job looking after them.

Fritz has begun his familiar old games. Yesterday he bombed all round, but nothing on us. We are wondering how long our record of no casualties will stand: we are a tempting target, and have no large Red Cross on the ground, and no dug-outs, elephants [small dug-outs reinforced with corrugated iron] or sand bags.

This afternoon I went to Péronne. It was once a beautiful town with a particularly lovely Cathedral Church, white and spacious; only some walls and one row of pillars are left now.  It is much more striking seeing a biggish town with its tall houses stripped open from the top floor downwards and the skeleton of the town empty, than even these poor villages, in rubbly heaps.

 

DESTRUCTION ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1917-1918 (Q 81469) The Cathedral at Peronne in ruins, 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205325839

Sunday, February 17th

Terrific frost still. Drumfire blazing merrily East. I have been trying to draw these ruins. Nothing else of this 15th Century white stone church was visible from where I stood on a heap of bricks. It is quite like it [her sketch], especially the thin tottery bit on the right.

On the other side of my heap of bricks I then found an Official War Office artist [Sir William Rothenstein] drawing it too, and we made friends over the ruins and the War.

LMG209078 The West Front, Marchelepot Church (gouache on paper) by Rothenstein, Sir William (1872-1945); 26.8×53.3 cm; Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery) U.K.; English, in copyright
PLEASE NOTE: The Bridgeman Art Library represents the copyright holder of this image and can arrange clearance.

 

Monday, February 25th

There is a cold rough gale on to-day, which is a test of our newly pitched Wards and of our tempers. Work is in full swing …. The Colonel knowing my passion for solitude has got me an Armstrong Hut as at Brandhoek and Warlencourt, instead of a quarter Nissen like the rest. It is lined with green canvas and has a wee coal stove and odds and ends of brown linoleum on the floor – all three luxuries I’ve never had before. It looks across the barbed wire and shell-holes straight on to the ruins and the Church.

A terrific bombardment began at 9.30 this evening. We have seen a good deal of Professor Rothenstein. He brought his drawings over to our mess to see.

 

February 28th

I suppose the newspaper men have long ago got the opening lines of their leaders ready with, “the long expected Battle Wave has rolled up and broken at last, and the Clash of two mighty Armies has begun”  etc. etc. It may not be long until they can let it go. Yesterday the C.O.’s of C.C.S.’s of this Army were summoned to a Conference at the D.M.S.’s [Director of Medical Services] Office and given their parts to play. We have arranged accordingly and proceeded in all Departments to indent for Chloroform, Pyjamas, Blankets, Stretchers, Stoves, Hot Water Bottles and what not. The R.E. [Royal Engineers] are working rapidly; Nissen Huts springing up like mushrooms, electric light and water laid on, bath houses concreted, boilers going, duckboards down, and Reinforcements of all ranks arriving. A train is coming to clear the sick to-morrow.

 

Saturday, March 2nd

Nothing doing so far. Everyone is posted to his right station for Zero and meanwhile the usual routine carries on. To-day there is the most poisonous blizzard. The thin canvas walls of my wee hut are like brown paper in this weather, this violent icy wind blows the roof and walls apart and layers of North Pole and snow come knifing in …

 

Monday, March 4th

A mighty blizzard snowstorm has covered us and the Boche and there is nothing doing here. Later. the DMS has just been around again with more warnings; and consequently renewed preparations for Zero.

I’ve got some primroses growing in a blue pot, grubbed up out of a ruined garden before the snow. The only way of getting in to my Armstrong Hut at first was across a plank over a shell-hole. The R.E. are  fortifying our quarters against bombs. We take in every other day and evacuate about every four days – almost entirely medical cases.

 

The attack

The German offensive began on 21 March 1918. An artillery bombardment began at 4.40am, covering a target area of 150 square miles. Over 1,100,000 shells were launched in five hours. On the first day, the Germans broke through the Allied lines in several places, and the British sustained over 7,500 deaths and 10,000 wounded. Within two days the British were in full retreat, including the Casualty Clearing Stations.

 

Friday, March 22nd

A ghastly uproar began yesterday, Thursday morning, March 21st. The guns bellowed and the earth shook. Fritz brought off his Zero like clockwork at 4.20 a.m. and in one second plunged our front line in a deluge of High Explosive, gas and smoke, assisted by a thick fog of white mist. Our gunners were temporarily knocked out by gas but soon recovered and gave them hell, which caught their first infantry rush, but they came on and advanced a mile. We suddenly became a front line C.C. S. and the arrival of the wreckage began, continued and has not ended. We began about 9.30 with our usual 14 Sisters and by midnight we numbered 40 as at Brandhoek. Only two Ambulance Trains have come to evacuate the wounded, and the filling up continues. The C.O. and I stayed up all night and to-day, and we have now got people into the 16-hours-on-and-8-off routine in the Theatre etc. We had 102 gassed men in one ward, but only 4 died. Ten girl chauffeurs drove up in the middle of the night with five Operating teams from the Base.

THE GERMAN SPRING OFFENSIVE, MARCH-JULY 1918 (Q 11586) Battle of Estaires. A line of British troops blinded by tear gas at an Advanced Dressing Station near Bethune, 10 April 1918. Each man has his hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205193875

Friday night, 11 p.m.

Just off to bed after 40 hours full steam ahead. Everything and everybody is working at very high pressure and yet it makes little impression on the general ghastliness. This is very near the battle, and gets nearer; there are fires on the skyline and to-night bombs are dropping like apples on the country around. The artillery roar has been terrific to-day. Good-night.

 

Palm Sunday, March 24th, 9 a.m. Amiens

The night before last after writing to you, things looked a bit hot … and the map was altering every hour for the worse …  ours was the place where they broke through and came on with their guns at a great pace. All the hot busy morning wind-up increased, and faces looked graver every hour. The guns came nearer, and soon Field Ambulances were behind us and Archies [anti-aircraft   guns] cracking the sky with their noise. We stopped taking in because there were no Field Ambulances, and we stopped operating because it was obvious we must evacuate everybody living or dying, or all be made prisoners if anybody survived the shelling that was approaching. Telephone communication with the D.M.S. was more off than on, and roads were getting blocked for many miles, and the railway also. We had a 1000 patients until a train came in at 9 a.m. and took 300. Every ward was full and there were two lines of stretchers down the central duck-walk; we dressed them, fed them, propped them up, picked out the dying at intervals as the day went on, and waited for orders, trains, cars or lorries or anything that might turn up. At 10 a.m. the Colonel wanted me to get all my 40 Sisters away on the Ambulance Train, but as we had these hundreds of badly wounded, we decided to stay …

At mid-day the Matron-in-Chief turned up in her car from Abbeville and came to look out for her 80 Sisters – 40 with me and 40 at the other C.C.S.  A made-up temporary train for wounded was expected, and we were to go on whichever Transport turned up first and scrap all our kit except hand-baggage. … the Resuscitation Ward was of course indescribable and the ward of penetrating chests was packed and dreadful. Some of the others died peacefully in the sun and were taken away and buried immediately.

At about 5 p.m. the Railway Transport Officer of the ruined village produced a train with 50 trucks of the 8 chevaux or 40 hommes pattern, and ran alongside the Camp; not enough of course for the wounded of both Hospitals but enough to make some impression. Never was a dirty old empty truck-train given a more eager welcome or greeted with more profound relief. The 150 walking cases were got into open trucks, and the stretchers quickly handed into the others, with an Orderly, a pail of water, feeders and other necessaries in each. One truck was for us, so I got a supply of morphia and hypodermics to use at the stoppages all down the train.  Then orders came from the D.M.S. that Ambulance Cars were coming for us, so the Medical Officers took the morphia and most of our kit. There were 300 stretcher cases left but another train was coming for them. The Sister in charge of the other C.C.S. told me Rothenstein [Official War artist William Rothenstein whom Kate met when they were both sketching at Marchelepot was helping in the Wards like an orderly.

The Boche was 4 miles this side of Ham, just in to Péronne, and 3 miles from us – 13 miles nearer in 2½ days. I am glad I have seen Péronne. The 8th Warwicks marched in on March 19th 1917. The Germans will take down our notice board on March 23rd 1918 and put up theirs.

We got off in 4 Ambulance Cars escorted by three Motor Ambulance Convoy Officers. They had to take us some way round over battlefields and ghastly wrecked woods and villages, as he was shelling the usual road heavily between us and our destination (Amiens).  We rook five hours getting there owing  to the blocked state of the roads, with Divisions retreating and Divisions reinforcing, French refugees, and big guns being trundled into safety. He chose that evening to bomb Amiens for four hours.

 

Sunday, March 24th

The Stationary Hospital people here (Amiens) were extraordinarily kind and gave us each a stretcher, a blanket and a stretcher-pillow in an empty hut. They had not the remotest idea they would be on the run themselves in a day or two.

 

Monday, March 25th. 10.30 p.m. Abbeville.

It is in Orders that no one may write any details of these few days home yet, so I am keeping this to send home later, but writing it up when I can.

Yesterday afternoon I dug out Colonel Thurston, A.D.M.S. Lines of Communication, and asked him for transport from Amiens to Abbeville. On the Station was a seething mass of British soldiers and French refugees. The Colonel had brought the last 300 stretcher cases down the evening before in open trucks with all the M.O.s [Medical Officers] and personnel. Our wounded were lying in rows along the platform with our Orderlies; they had been in the trucks all night and all day. Some had died; the Padre was burying the others in a field with a sort of running funeral, up to the time they left. They were taken straight to their graves as they died.  Now our C.C.S. has no equipment, we shall all, C.O.s, M.O.s, Sisters and men, be used elsewhere.

 

Wednesday night, 27th

Yesterday I was sent up to No.2 Stationary Hospital [in Abbeville] to do Assistant Matron by Miss McCarthy [Matron in Chief] and we’ve had a busy day, admitting and evacuating.

 

Saturday, Easter Eve, March 30th 1918.

Yesterday evening Miss McCarthy turned me into a Railway Transport Officer at the Railway Station, and it is the most absolutely godless job you could have. You must have command of a) the French language, b) your temper, c) any number of Sisters and V.A.D.s, d) every French porter you can threaten or bribe, e) the distracted R.T.O. and his clerks.

No mail has reached me since we cleared out this day week; do write soon to No.2 Stationary Hospital. I am quite fit.

 

Easter Monday, April 1st

It has been a dazzling spring day after the heavy rain – spent as usual at the Station – not as R.T.O. this time but as A.M.F.O. (Army Military Forwarding Officer). The day after I last wrote to you, I had a 24 hours’ shift of R.T.O. … puddling about the platforms in the cold and wet. There are no waiting rooms, and the place was a seething mass of refugee families, and French soldiers and my herds of Sisters and kits. But they all got safely landed in their right trains and no kit lost.

 

Easter Tuesday

Had a very busy day at Triage as A.M.F.O. with my fatigue party fetching and loading kit. And a message came through from Miss McCarthy this evening – was I ready and fit for another C.C.S.? The answer was in the Affirmative.

 

Wednesday, April 3rd

Letters at last, joy of joys. The Times man is right … and it is all the things he has to leave out of his accounts, the little things officers and men from the Line tell us, that would show you why. And there are weeks of strain ahead …

 

Saturday night, April 6th

All your letters of the first day of the Battle are coming in. I didn’t quite realise you’d be really worrying. It came so suddenly, and running the wounded and the Sisters gave one no time at all to think – I couldn’t have let you know any sooner. We are plunged in work just now. Every available man has had to be put into the Wards – all the Clerks, Assistant Matron – everyone but the Cook and mess V.A.D.s. I am running two ramping Wards and everyone else is at full stretch. R.T.O. and A.M.F.O. are finished for the time being. All these three Hospitals are understaffed just now and are doing C.C.S. work. We get the men practically straight out of action …

 

Friday, April 12th. Namps

Orders came for me on Wednesday to take over this C.C.S. [No.41] at Namps. It is an absolutely divine spot, south of Amiens. The village is on a winding road, with a heavenly view of hills and woods, which are carpeted with blue violets and periwinkles and cowslips, and starry with anemones. The blue of the French troops in fields and roads adds to the dazzling picture but inside the tents are rows of ‘multiples’ and abdominals, and heads and moribunds, and teams working day and night in the Theatre, to the sound of frequent terrific bombardments. It has never been so incongruously lovely all round.

THE GERMAN SPRING OFFENSIVE, MARCH-JULY 1918 (Q 10932) Actions of Villers-Bretonneux. Wounded German prisoners at a Casualty Clearing Station at Namps, 26 April 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205246573

This is the place where four derelict Casualty Clearing Stations amalgamated and got to work during the Retreat, without Sisters. Now it is run as one with a huge collection of Medical Officers and Orderlies and Chaplains from Units out of action, and with odds and ends of saved equipment. It is still very primitive with no huts and no duckboards and only stretchers, with not many actual beds, but it is quite workable.

The patients are evacuated as quickly as possible, and the worst ones remain to be nursed here. Of course, the rows of wooden crosses are growing rather appalling, but some lives are being saved.

We live four in a marquee in a field below the road and have daisies growing under our beds, no tarpaulins or boards. I’ve acquired a tin basin and a foot of board on two petrol tins for a wash-stand and am quite comfortable. Our compound has five marquees. French Gunners stray in and sleep on the grass all round us, and a constant stream of Poilus [French WW1 infantrymen] passes up and down the road. It is very noisy at night. The Cathedral has had two shells in it.

We live on boiled mutton every day twice a day: tea, bacon, bread and margarine in ample quantities does the rest. Our Mess Cookhouse is four props and some strips of canvas; three dixies, boiling over a heap of slack between empty petrol tins, is the Kitchen Range, in the open. We get a grand supply of hot water from two Sawyer boilers under the tree. The French village does our laundry.

 

Sunday, April 14th

He [the Germans] is at Merville, and what next I wonder? Here we are holding him all right, but each night of uproar one wonders when we’ll next be on the road again. The weather has changed and the dry, sunny valley has become a chilly, windy quagmire. There are no fires anywhere and very little oil for the lamps; it is very difficult to keep the men warm, and the crop of wooden crosses grows daily.

 

April 22nd

We are on the move again. The patients left to-day and the tents are down this evening. I expect we shall go to Abbeville, while they dig themselves in at the new site North of Amiens. Everything is very quiet here, except occasional violent artillery duels and bomb dropping at night.

 

Tuesday, 23rd

A month since we up and ran away from Jerry. It is Abbeville, and we are sitting on our kit waiting for transport. I wonder how black it looked in England on Saturday week, when Haig said “We have our backs to the wall” – worse than close to, probably.

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Kate remained on the Western Front to the end all the way through to the end of the War. You can read more of her letters in Unknown Warriors: the letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918. 

Letters from the Western Front: Sister Kate Luard’s 1917

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager, with thanks to Caroline Stevens for sharing extracts from Kate’s letters relating to the Battle of Passchendaele

As 2017 draws to a close we may well reflect on what the year has brought, to ourselves, our families and friends, and the wider world.

Doubtless our ancestors did the same thing 100 years ago, as the First World War dragged on into the new year.

Sister Kate Luard, an Essex nurse who volunteered for military service, had by this time been serving as a nurse on the Western Front for three years and three months. She must have seen countless soldiers suffering from all sorts of unthinkable wounds pass through her wards, and still there was no end in sight.

1917 brought some of the biggest challenges and most dangerous situations that Kate would face during the war, and these are detailed in the letters she sent home to her family. To help put the letters into a geographical context, please see the map at the end of this post which tracks some of the locations where Kate wrote from during 1917. Many of the letters quoted here are reproduced in Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France, 1914-1918 – these are referenced here as UW.

Some of Kate Luard’s letters sent to her family during her First World War service

From early March until early June 1917 Kate was with No. 32 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) in Warlencourt, in between Bapaume and Beaumont-Hamel. Her early letters from there describe the business of getting the CCS ready to go, in preparation for what would become the Battle of Arras. The construction of huts and tents took place in the snow and within range of the German guns. On Sunday 4th March she wrote of her first night there:

We had a lively night last night. We were cosily tucked up in bed with dozens of blankets, and our oil stoves burning in our canvas huts and I’d just put my lamp out, when big enemy shells came whizzing overhead from two directions. They burst a long way past us, but made a tremendous noise being fired (from a big naval gun they run up close to their line), and loud screams overhead. Our 9.2s and 12-inch in the wood here kept it up all night with lions’ roars. (Sunday 4th March 1917, UW)

In her role as sister in charge, Kate was not only responsible for organising the nursing staff and orderlies, but also for running the Mess and keeping everyone fed:

Feeding them is going to weigh heavily no my chest. It is one person’s job to run a Mess at the Back of Beyond, and I have this Hospital (700 beds) to run for night and day, with the peculiar difficulties of a new-born unfinished Camp, and emergency work. For the Mess you settle a rice putting, but there is no rice, and the cows have anthrax, so there’s no fresh milk, and the Canteen has run out of Ideal milk. Well, have a jam tart; lots of jam in the British Army, but no flour, no suet, no tinned fruits, no eggs, no beans or dried peas, not one potato each. But there is bacon, ration bread and tinned butter (when you can get it), jam, marmalade sometimes, cheese, stew, Army biscuits, tea, some sugar, and sometimes mustard, and sometimes oatmeal and cornflour. Also we have only 1½ lbs of coal per person per day, so when that is used up you have to go and look for wood, to cook your dinner and boil your water. Everyone is ravenous in this high air and outdoor life, and so long as there’s enough of it, you can eat anything. None of them I hope will grumble if we can work up the true Active Service spirit, but it is an anxiety. (Monday 12 March 1917, UW).

Once the hospital was ready to go but the fighting not yet begun, Kate and two other nurses took the opportunity to explore the surrounding areas:

Then you come to what was Gommécourt. It must have been, when it existed, full of orchards, and half in and half out of a wood. Now there is one wall of one house left. The wood and the orchards are blackened spikes sticking up out of what looks now like a mad confusion of deep trenches and deep dug-outs battered to bits. We went with an electric torch down two staircases of one and stepped into a pond at the bottom. Some are dry and clean and have the beds still in them. You step over unexploded shells, bombs and grenades of every description – and we saw one aerial torpedo – an ugly brute. I picked up a nose-cap; and the sapper who was with us said hastily, ‘That’s no good,’ and snatched it out of my hand and threw it out of sight; it still had the detonator in it. Then he picked one up without its detonator and gave it to me… Here you get to see the culmination of destruction for which all civilised nations are still straining all their resources. Isn’t it hopelessly mad? (Friday 23 March 1917, UW)

(Q 4915) Branchless trees and shattered house. Gommecourt, March 1917. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205237124

The Battle of Arras began on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917. The following day Kate wrote:

The 3rd Army went over the top yesterday… all is splendid, but here are horrors all day and all night… All are doing 16 hours on and 8 off and some of us 18 on and 6 off… Stretchers on the floor are back-breaking work, and one’s feet give out after a certain time, but as long as one’s head and nerves hold out, nothing else matters and we are all very fit… The wards are like battlefields, with battered wrecks in every bed and on stretchers between the beds and down the middles… The Theatre teams have done 70 operations in the 24 hours. (Tuesday 10 April, UW)

By 25th July 1917 Kate and No. 32 CCS had moved on to Brandhoek, to specialise in treating severe abdominal wounds. They were stationed close behind the lines at what would become the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele). Kate was in charge of 40 nurses and almost 100 nursing orderlies.

This venture so close to the Line is of the nature of an experiment in life-saving, to reduce the mortality rate from abdominal and chest wounds. Hence this Advanced Abdominal Centre, to which all abdominal and chest wounds are taken from a large attacking area, instead of going on with the rest to the C.C.S.’s six miles back. We are entirely under Canvas, with huge marquees for Wards, except the Theatre which is a long hut. The Wards are both sides of a long, wide central walk of duckboards. (Friday 27 July, UW)

The Interior of a Hospital Tent (Art.IWM ART 1611) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/23728

Everything has been going at full pitch – with the 12 Teams in Theatre only breaking off for hasty meals – the Dressing Hut, the Preparation Ward and Resuscitation and the four huge Acute Wards, which fill up from the Theatre; the Officers’ Ward, the Moribund and German Ward. Soon after 10 o’clock this morning he [Fritz] began putting over high explosives. Everyone had to put on tin hats and carry on. They burst on two sides of us, not 50 yards away – no direct hits on to us but streams of hot shrapnel.  …. they came over everywhere, even through our Canvas Huts in our quarters. Luckily we were so frantically busy. It doesn’t look as if we should ever sleep again. Of course, a good many die, but a great many seem to be going to do. We get them one hour after injury, which is our ‘raison d’être’ for being here. It is pouring rain, alas, and they are brought in sopping. (July 31st, 11pm)

Stretcher bearers at Passchendaele (Imperial War Museums)

It has been a pretty frightful day – 44 funerals yesterday and about as many  to-day. After 24 hours of peace the battle seems to have broken out again; the din is terrific. (Wednesday, August 1st, UW)

Crowds of letters from mothers and wives who’ve only just heard from the W.O. [War Office] and had no letter from me, are pouring in, and have to be answered. I’ve managed to write 200 so far, but there are 466. (Monday, September 3rd, UW)

On 5 September Kate was allowed a spell of leave and she returned to England for a couple of weeks, returning to France at the end of September. She spent the remainder of the year with two other Casualty Clearing Stations – No. 37 at Godeswaersvelde and then No.54 CCS at Merville before rejoining No.32 CCS at Marchelepot in early 1918. At Christmas, she wrote home to her father:

My darling father,

This is timed I hope to bring you my very dear love on Xmas Morning – I do hope you will all have a happy day…

This 4th Christmas in France looks like being a comparatively peaceful one so far, but the peacefulness is only on the surface. Both sides are stiffening up like two dogs showing their teeth…

The Division is busy giving concerts in our big theatre this week. Each Battalion has its own Troupe, and the rivalry is keen.  Some are excellent. We Three Sisters are the solitary and distinguished females in a pack of 600 men and inspire occasional witty & polite sallies from the Performers.  We sit in the front row between Colonels of the 3 DG’ s and 2nd Black Watch & others, now commanding Welsh Battalions.  Each concert party has its star “Girl” marvellously got up as in a London Music Hall.  Some sing falsetto & some roar their songs in a deep bass coming from a low neck & chiffon dress, lovely silk stockings & high heels!

We’ve had a bitter North Wind & frost today & all have chilblains but not badly. Still only our 3 heroes in the Ward.

Best love to all

Your loving daughter

KEL [Kate Evelyn Luard]

(ERO ref. D/DLu 55/13/1, included in postscript of new edition of Unknown Warriors)

There were 11 more months of the war in store, and Kate remained on the Western Front to the end. You can read more of her letters in Unknown Warriors: the letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918. 

 

 

 

 

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Locations mentioned in this blog post where Kate’s letters were sent from (click each marker for more information):

Unknown Warriors: Sister Kate Luard’s letters, autumn-winter 1915-16

One of the stories we have been following over the course of the First World War centenary commemorations is that of Sister Kate Luard (read all our posts about her here). Kate was born in Aveley in 1872 and grew up in Birch near Colchester. On the outbreak of the war she volunteered to nurse on the Western Front, and remained there for the duration of the war.

During this time she wrote numerous letters, the majority of which are cared for at ERO. Her great niece, Caroline Stevens, has put together the following extracts from her letters written home at this time 100 years ago, when Kate was posted to No.6 Casualty Clearing Station.

Kate Luard letters

A few of the letters in the Kate Luard collection deposited at ERO

During the Great War of 1914-1918, Kate Luard served principally on ambulance trains, casualty clearing stations and a field ambulance, but was also posted at times to Stationary and General Hospitals in the base areas.

On 17 October 1915 she was sent up the line to take charge of No.6 Casualty Clearing Station at Lillers in France following four months at a base hospital, No.16 General Hospital. Her second book, Unknown Warriors, commences on this date and in this her letters home are a record of her times in various casualty clearing stations. This included time as Head Sister at No.32 CCS which became one of the most dangerous when the unit was relocated in late July 1917 to serve the push that was to become the Battle of Passchendaele, and where she had a staff of forty nurses and nearly 100 orderlies.

Tented nurse's quarters at a Casualty Clearing Station  (Courtesy of Sue Light)

Tented nurse’s quarters at a Casualty Clearing Station
(Courtesy of Sue Light)

A casualty clearing station was part of the evacuation chain of the wounded from the battle front starting with the regimental aid post just behind the front line, then an advanced dressing station and on to a field ambulance before transfer to a casualty clearing station. CCS’s were normally located near railway lines and waterways so that the wounded could be evacuated easily to the base hospitals. A CCS often had to move at short notice as the front line changed. Although some were located in temporary buildings, many consisted of large areas of tents and marquees and often several were near each other to enable flexibility.

The following are extracts from Unknown Warriors, which was republished in 2014 by the History Press. For more information about Kate Luard and her family see www.kateluard.co.uk

 

October18th

The sister has been showing me round and handing over her books and keys of office. The poor lads in their brown blankets and stretchers looked only too familiar. When there is a rush, the theatre Sister and I stay up at night as well. The CO [Commanding Officer], the Padre and myself are the only people allowed to do the censoring. I do it for the Sisters. I shall have to be very careful myself, not to mention names, numbers passing through, regiments, plans, or anything interesting.

 

Thursday, October 28th

The weather is beyond description vile, and the little cobbled streets are a Slough of Despond and a quagmire. The King has been about here yesterday and today, and was to have held a very sodden and damp Review a mile away, only he had an accident riding and had to be carried away instead: no one knows if it was much or not.

 

Saturday, October 30th

A boy came in at 6 p.m. with his right arm blown clean off in its sleeve at 2.p.m. He was very collapsed when he came in, but revived a little later. ‘Mustn’t make a fuss about trifles,’ he explained.

 

Sunday, October 31st

This afternoon we took a lot of lovely flowers to the Cemetery for our graves for All Saints’ Day. It took all afternoon doing them up with Union Jack ribbon, and finding the graves. There are hundreds. It was a swamp of sticky mud, and pouring with rain.

 

All Saints’ Day 1915, November 1st

A Scotch RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) officer, who was with his Regiment all through, was talking about the early morning of the 14th, after we had tried to take the Hohenzollern Redoubt on the 13th. Our dead and wounded were lying so thick on the ground, that he had to pick his way among them with a box of morphia tabloids, and give them to anyone who was alive: tie up what broken limbs he could with rifles for splints, and leave them there: there were no stretchers.

 

Wednesday, November 3rd

A lad had to have his leg off this morning for gas gangrene. He says he ‘feels all right’ and hasn’t had to have had any morphia all day. You’d think he’d merely had his boot taken off. Some of them are such infants to be fighting for their country. One has a bullet through his liver and tried to say through his tears ‘there’s some much worse than what I am.’

 

Friday, December 3rd

Captain D. is a scrap better to-day, able to emerge from bromides, and talk a little. He told me that when they were holding the Hohenzollern trenches in that worst weather, when they stood up waist-high in liquid mud, two of his men slipped under it when they were asleep and their bodies were dug out next day.

 

Sunday, January 16th

D.F. the boy with the head wound, has been peacefully dying all day; his hand closes less tightly over mine to-day, but his beautiful brown eyes look less inscrutable as he gets further from this crooked world.

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Unknown Warriors coverUnknown Warriors is available in the ERO library, or you can find out more about the book and Kate herself here.

Essex at Agincourt

Following Essex at Agincourt on Saturday 31 October 2015, archivist Katharine Schofield has written a summary of the involvement of Essex noblemen in this famous battle.

The Battle of Agincourt was fought on St. Crispin’s Day, 25 October 1415.  It was perhaps the most famous battle of the Hundred Years’ War, when the outnumbered English forces defeated the French, with the English longbow archers making a decisive contribution defeating the French cavalry.  The battle was immortalised in the 16th century by William Shakespeare in the play Henry V (written c.1599) and by Michael Drayton in his poem Fair stood the wind for France (c.1605).

As Prince of Wales Henry V had fought the Welsh and it was not long after he succeeded his father Henry IV I in 1413 that he sought to raise an army against the French and renew the claims of his great-grandfather Edward III to the French crown.  In December 1414 Parliament granted him a tax for war against the French.  Henry V and his army landed in northern France on 13 August 1415.

The campaign started with the siege of Harfleur.  The town did not surrender until 22 September, by which time the summer, and the best conditions for military campaigns, was nearly over.  The English had also suffered casualties during the siege, notably to dysentery and other diseases.

The siege of Harfleur

The siege of Harfleur (BritishBattles.com)

Among those who died at Harfleur was Michael de la Pole, 2nd Earl of Suffolk and lord of the manors of Langham and Nether Hall in Gestingthorpe.  His son Michael, 3rd earl, was to die a month later at Agincourt.

Another man with Essex connections, Lewis John, was among those invalided home from Harfleur; he went on to serve as sheriff of Essex, 1416-1417 and 1420-1422.  He originated from Wales and had come to London, presumably to make his fortune.  By the time he died in 1442 Sir Lewis John owned land in a number of counties, including West Thurrock and East and West Horndon in Essex.

Having gained only one town for all the money spent raising an army, Henry V was reluctant to return to England and so set off to march to the English garrison at Calais, reasserting his hereditary claim to lands in northern France.  The French army that had been unable to save Harfleur was now ready to face the English.  Henry’s forces had been weakened by illness, had inadequate supplies of food and had marched 260 miles in two and a half weeks, but did not want to delay battle in case the French were able to bring up more reinforcements.

The two sides faced each other; as the French cavalry advanced they were trapped in muddy ground and caught in the deadly fire of the English archers and were unable to advance on the English forces.  Among the French casualties were the constable and admiral of France, the master of the royal household, and the Dukes of Brabant, Alençon and Bar.  Around 1500 noblemen were taken to England as prisoners, including Charles, Duke of Orleans, the Duke of Bourbon, Jean Le Maingre, Marshal of France and the Count of Eu.

The battle itself achieved very little immediately.  Henry continued his march on Calais and then returned in triumph to England.  However, the defeat and death or capture of so many of the French nobility meant that when Henry returned in 1417 he was able to capture towns and castles across northern France.

Catherine of Valois

Catherine of Valois

In 1420 the Treaty of Troyes was signed.  Henry married Katherine, daughter of Charles VI of France and was declared the regent and heir of the king.  Henry’s triumph was short-lived.  He died in 1422 leaving his nine month old son Henry VI as king.  He was crowned king of England in 1429 and king of France at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1431.  However, Charles VI’s son Charles VII was able to regain French territory, and by 1453 English possessions in France were reduced to Calais.  Henry VI was ultimately to lose his throne to Edward IV in the Wars of the Roses.

A number of Essex lords had raised men from their lands to form part of the king’s army.  It is likely that not only the lords, but some of the men in their retinues would have come from the county.  One of the great lords present was Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick depicted in the battle by Drayton as ‘Warwick in blood did wade’.  Although his lands were mostly elsewhere, he was lord of the manor of Walthamstow. 

Richard de Vere, 11th Earl of Oxford was almost the same age as the king, and they had both served Richard II as pages.  His grandfather John, the 7th earl, had fought at Crécy and Poitiers in the reign of Edward III.  He supplied 39 men-at-arms and 60 archers to the campaign.  He commanded the rear of the army as it marched from Harfleur, and took a prominent role in the battle, capturing Jean, Sire de Ligne.  Drayton wrote that ‘Oxford … cruel slaughter made’.  He was rewarded for his role in the battle by becoming a knight of the Garter in May 1416, in place of Edward, Duke of York, one of the notable English casualties of the day.  Oxford died in 1417 and was buried at Earls Colne.

Richard de Vere effigy

Effigy of Richard de Vere, 11th Earl of Oxford, 1385-1417, at Earls Colne

The Bourchier family originated from Halstead and Sible Hedingham and served against the French at various times during the Hundred Years’ War.  Sir William Bourchier, a justice of the peace in Essex, fought at Agincourt and also on the 1417 expedition.  He had inherited lands at Little Easton, Broxted and Aythorpe Roding from his mother Eleanor de Lovayne and was also lord of the manor of Wix.  In 1419 Henry V rewarded him with the title Count of Eu for his service in France.

Humphrey, 6th Lord FitzWalter died aged only 16 while on campaign.  His younger brother and successor William, baptised at Woodham Walter, also served on the campaign and was present at Agincourt.  He went on to campaign in France in later years and drowned returning to England in 1431.  He was buried in Little Dunmow.

As well as the great lords present at Agincourt, a number of Essex gentry also fought in the battle.  Sir Thomas Erpingham was in charge of the archers who had such a devastating effect on the course of the battle.  He is said to have launched the archers’ attack by throwing his baton into the air as a signal to fire and shouted ‘Now Strike’.  His lands were in Norfolk, although he did hold four Essex manors through his wife, including Little Oakley.  His retinue of 20 men at arms and 60 mounted archers included Sir Walter Goldyngham who was present at the battle.  The Goldynghams had first been granted a manor in Bulmer by Robert Malet, one of the tenants-in-chief listed in Domesday Book.  This manor came to be known as Goldingham Hall.

Sir Nicholas Thorley, lord of the manor of Bobbingworth fought in the retinue of Henry’s brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.  He survived the battle and went on to serve as sheriff of Essex 1431-1432 and later married the earl of Oxford’s widow Alice without royal permission.  For this omission Thorley was imprisoned in the Tower for three years and his wife had to pay a fine of one year’s value of all her lands.

Other Essex gentry present at the battle were Sir John Tyrell of Heron Hall in East Horndon who was also part of the Duke of Gloucester’s retinue.  Having survived the battle he went on to serve as sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire in 1423, speaker of the House of Commons and was treasurer to Henry VI’s household.  He married Alice de Coggeshall, daughter and co-heiress of Sir William de Coggeshall of Little Coggeshall. 

The Waldegrave family acquired the manor of Navestock in the 16th century.  Sir Richard Waldegrave, present at Agincourt, held the manor of Wormingford by service of 10d. ward penny (a sum paid for watching a castle) per annum. Others who served included Robert Helyon of Helions Bumpstead with six esquires and three mounted archers and Sir William Mountneney of Mountnessing. Sir John Hevenyngham, lord of the manors of Little Totham, Eastwood, Fleet Hall in Sutton and Goldhanger fought in the retinue of the Earl of Norfolk. 

Seals of Richard de Waldegrave

Seals attached to D/DAy T1/13, from left to right: monogram, RW; an ermin’s tail in a crescent moon: legend, Solu[m] deo honor [et] gloria; arms and crest of Waldegrave: legend, S’ Ricardi de Waldegrave

We hope you have enjoyed our mini series on the connections between Essex and the Hundred Years’ War and the Battle of Agincourt – a small display of documents dating from 1415 will remain in the Searchroom until Christmas.

Fighting the Hundred Years’ War: war indentures

In this next installment in our mini series marking the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, Katharine Schofield investigates some of the documents we hold which show medieval kings raised their armies to fight the Hundred Years’ War. Find out more about Agincourt and the Essex gentry who took part at Essex at Agincourt, a one-day conference on Saturday 31 October 2015. This is a joint event with the Essex branch of the Historical Association, and all the details can be found here.

After the Norman Conquest society and most importantly land-holding was arranged on a feudal basis.  William the Conqueror divided the English lands between his supporters, the tenants-in-chief named in the Domesday Book.  They held their lands directly from the king in return for military service, generally considered to be a maximum of 40 days a year.  In turn they rewarded their military supporters with land.  This process called subinfeudation continued down through the landholding classes to the knight at the bottom.  A knight’s fee was sufficient land to support a single knight.  This would include the knight, his family and servants, as well as providing him with the means to provide horses and armour to perform his military service.

When a knight died without a male heir his lands could be divided between heiresses (and their husbands).  The knight’s fee would be split into parts called moieties which owed fractions of a knight’s service.  Since it is difficult to provide a fraction of a knight (at least before a battle), it gradually became customary for payment of scutage (literally shield money) to be made in place of military service.  In some cases a payment would be made because the land was too divided, in others the landowner might be too old or too young to fight.  The money would then be used to hire mercenaries to fight in wars.

Scutage roll from Layer-de-la-Haye, 1240-1360 (D/DR M25)

Scutage roll from Layer-de-la-Haye, 1240-1360 (D/DR M25)

By the early 14th century the feudal system had been replaced by contracts between the king and an individual lord.  These contracts or indentures of war were agreements whereby the king agreed to pay the lord a sum and in return the lord was bound to supply a fixed number of men.

The agreement was written out twice on one piece of parchment and then divided with a wavy or indented line (hence the name) so that in the event of a dispute the two parts could be proved to have once been together.  The king’s copies are held at the National Archives in the records of the Exchequer.

Two of the indentures which would have been given to the lord survive in the Essex Record Office.  They are both written in Anglo-Norman French.  In the medieval period Latin was the language of record, used in the courts and official and legal documents.  However, French was the language of the king and his court until the 15th century and some documents including correspondence and agreements were written in French rather than Latin.

The earlier document dates from 1384 and is an agreement made between Richard II and his half-brother Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent (D/DRg 1/62).  The earl was the governor of the castle and town of Cherbourg and was given £4,000 to provide a sufficient garrison and artillery to defend it.  The earl’s seal shows a hind or white hart.  Richard II also used the white hart as his personal badge.  It is thought that it may have derived from the arms of Joan ‘The Fair Maid of Kent’, the mother of both Richard II and Thomas Holland.

D/DRg 1/62

Seal of Richard II

Seal of Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent

The second (D/DL F15) is dated 8 February 1417 and is an agreement for Henry V’s second campaign in France, following the siege of Harfleur and the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.  This campaign was one of successful conquest resulting in the Treaty of Troyes which made Henry V heir to the French throne, and arranged his marriage to Catherine de Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France.  It is an agreement made between the king and Sir Roger Fienes of Herstmonceux in Sussex.  Sir Roger was to supply 10 men-at-arms and 30 archers, 20 of whom had to be mounted.  The online medieval soldier database www.medievalsoldier.org lists the names of the men-at-arms archers in Sir Roger’s retinue.

D/DL F15

‘War Charter’ between King Henry V and Sir Roger Fynes concerning an excursion into France, 1417. Includes detailed instructions regarding Sir Roger’s liabilities while on active service. It was this second campaign of Henry V which ended with the Treaty of Troyes in 1420. (D/DL F15)

The indenture specifies all the terms and conditions, including the daily wages to be paid – 2s. for Sir Roger, 12d. for the men-at-arms and 6d. for the archers.  It also agreed further payment, depending on the length of the campaign, the division of prisoners (the ransoms would bring reward) and other prizes that might be gained from the campaign.  Sir Roger was bound ‘to be with his said retinue well mounted armed and arrayed according to their estate at the port of the town of Southampton’ on 1 May 1417.  It is likely that a knight such as Sir Roger would have had at least six different types of horses, including a war-horse for battle as well as pack-horses to carry his equipment, the men-at-arms four and the mounted archers one.  They would then be shipped overseas at the expense of the king.

Waging war in this way was an expensive business.  The need to finance the campaigns of the Hundred Years’ War meant that Edward III and his successors had to summon Parliament more frequently to grant taxes to pay for the war.  The tax usually levied was called a fifteenth and tenth and was first introduced by King John and continued to the 17th century.  This was levied on movable goods and was at the rate of one fifteenth for rural areas and one tenth for urban areas and royal land.  In the 47th year of Edward III’s reign (1373-1374), William Reyne, one of the bailiffs of the borough of Colchester proposed a means by which the burden of the tax on the burgesses could be reduced.  All men, both burgesses and ‘foreigners’ [forinceci] (from outside the town) would pay the tenth.  In addition all ‘foreigners’ outside the borough who traded within the town would also be assessed to pay the tenth, instead of the rural rate of the fifteenth.  This forced people of fairly modest means such as farmers, dealers and fishermen to pay at a higher rate than they might otherwise have expected.  It was obviously successful as they chose to use the same method the following year.

In addition the king also had the right of purveyance, which derived from feudalism.  This was the right to requisition goods and services for royal use, and was particularly used to feed and supply armies and garrisons.  It was a system that was open to abuse by the royal officers and was unpopular.  Both Edward III and Henry V used purveyance to equip their armies for France.  Despite these taxes, the kings had to turn to moneylenders, including Italian bankers, for extra finance.  In 1338 wool was shipped from Harwich to pay the Bardi (Florentine) financiers who had lent the king money.

To find out more about the Battle of Agincourt from expert speakers, join us on 31 October 2015 for Essex at Agincourt; all the details of the day are here.

Essex and the Hundred Years’ War

2015 marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V’s famous victory against the French on 25 October 1415. To mark this milestone, we are hosting Essex at Agincourt, a one-day conference on Saturday 31 October 2015 looking at the contribution made by our county to Henry’s campaign. This is a joint event with the Essex branch of the Historical Association, and all the details can be found here.

In this blog post, ERO’s medieval specialist Katharine Schofield takes a broader look at the context of the Hundred Years’ War and the part that Essex played in some of its campaigns. Read on for a quick crash course in this century-spanning medieval conflict.

 

What was the Hundred Years’ War?

The Hundred Years’ War lasted from 1337 to 1453 (116 years).  Instead of a continuous war, it was a series of campaigns and battles, sometimes interrupted by periods of peace, between England and France for control over the French kingdom.  Apart from the main English campaigns, smaller forces were sometimes sent to support English allies in France.

The Battle of Agincourt, from Chroniques d’Enguerrand de Monstrelet (early 15th century) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In 1316 King Louis X of France died, leaving a daughter and no son.  At a time when power was derived largely from military might, an heir who was a daughter or an under-age son was considered to be disastrous.  The king’s younger brother successfully claimed that women could not succeed to the French throne and followed his brother as Philip V.  He in turn left daughters and was succeeded by another brother Charles IV in 1322.  When Charles IV died in 1328 he again left a daughter and no son.  The closest male relative was his nephew Edward III, son of his sister Isabella, ‘the She-Wolf of France’.  Edward’s claim was disputed as it was through his mother and instead Charles’ cousin Philip, Count of Valois became Philip VI of France.

After gaining control of his kingdom from his mother and her reputed lover Roger Mortimer in 1330, Edward III initially waged war against Scotland.  Philip VI of France supported his allies the Scots against the English, threatening the remaining English lands in Gascony (the area to the south and east of Bordeaux).  This interference was one of the reasons which led Edward III to claim the French throne for himself.  In 1340 Edward III began to call himself king of England and France, a title held by every successor until it was abandoned by George III in 1800.  He also added the French arms of the fleur-de-lys to the royal arms.

Edward III described as King of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine in the Maldon Borough charter of 1330 (Eduardus dei Gra[cia[ Rex Angl[orum] Dommus Hibernie Duc Aquit[ane]) (D/B 3/13/3)

Edward III described as King of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine in the top line of the Maldon Borough charter of 1330 (Eduardus dei Gra[cia[ Rex Angl[ie] Dominus Hibernie Duc Aquit[ane]) (D/B 3/13/3)

Henry VI described as King of England and France and Lord of Ireland on the Maldon Borough charter of 1454 (D/B 3/13/8)

Henry VI described as King of England and France and Lord of Ireland on the Maldon Borough charter of 1454 (Henricus dei gracie Rex Anglie France Dominus Hibernie) (D/B 3/13/8)

The Battle of Sluys

The first English victory of the war was the naval Battle of Sluys on 22 June 1340 which led to the almost complete destruction of the French fleet and resulted in English control over the Channel, removing the threat of invasion.  Edward III sailed to the battle on La Cogge Thomas from Harwich, with 200 ships.   A further eleven ships were left behind under the command of the town’s bailiff, John But, to act as reinforcements.

 

Essex and the supply chain

The start of the Hundred Years’ War brought importance and prosperity to the port of Harwich.  The town had only been established by the Bigod family in their manor of Dovercourt in the mid-13th century.  Edward III used it as an important base in his war against the French.  In 1338 he granted murage (the right to build walls) to the town.  It was at Harwich that Edward III first sent out letters signing himself King of France in 1340.  In 1347 the town supplied 14 ships and 283 seamen for the Siege of Calais in 1347.

A much later view of the port of Harwich (I/Mb 170/1/3)

A much later view of the port of Harwich (I/Mb 170/1/3)

The records of the Exchequer at the National Archives record the expenses of the sheriff of Essex, William de Wauton in 1340 for the ‘divers provisions for the use of the King for his passage beyond the seas’.  All the Essex hundreds had to send material and food to Maldon or Manningtree, from where they were shipped to Harwich.

Goods such as canvas supplied from London and rope bought in Suffolk , together with money for wages sent from London were all transported to Harwich.  The accounts record that Essex supplied four gangways (pontes) 30 feet long and 5 feet wide.  The county also provided stabling for the horses on the ships, with 418 hurdles 9 feet long and 6 feet wide ‘roughened and close woven’ to prevent the chargers’ hooves penetrating and 116 long racks, 24 feet long.

Places throughout the county supplied goods – hurdles came from Purleigh, Totham, Terling and Hatfield Peverel, racks from Heybridge and 864 boards arrived from (among other places) Broomfield, Feering, Messing, Coggeshall and Colchester.

In the 1340s the English and French were involved in a war in Brittany over the succession to the duchy, each supporting a different side and ally in the conflict.   In 1342 the sheriff of Essex was required to supply 1,098 sheaves of arrows and 1,000 bowstrings which were sent to the Tower.  In that same year 10 ships from Harwich, five from Colchester, four from Brightlingsea and three from Maldon formed part of a fleet to take the English commander Sir Walter de Manny to Brittany.

In July 1346 Edward led a land campaign against the French.  Essex again played its part in the campaign.  The county sent 200 archers, 160 bows and 400 sheaves of arrows and the county’s towns were required to supply armed foot-soldiers, 20 from Colchester (later retained for the town’s defence), 6 from Saffron Walden and 4 each from Chelmsford, Braintree and Waltham Holy Cross.  At the beginning of the year the sheriff had been required to supply another 1,000 hurdles, 24 gangways, 2,000 boards and 200 empty tuns for water.

 

The Battle of Crecy, from a illuminated manuscript of Jean Froissart’s Chronicles

The Battle of Crécy

On 26 August 1346 the English archers demonstrated the power of the longbow winning the decisive Battle of Crécy.  In October Essex was required to supply another 30 archers and in February 1347 an additional 200.  After Crécy the English forces went on to besiege Calais, which after a year surrendered in 1347.  It was to remain in English hands until 1558.

 

The Plague

Following these victories, Europe was devastated by the Black Death.  The bubonic plague moved across the continent, killing an estimated third of the population of England alone.

 

The Black Prince

It was not until 1356 that Edward’s eldest son Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) led the next major campaign in France, this time not in the north, but closer to the English lands of Aquitaine.  The second major English victory, again with the aid of the longbow, came at the Battle of Poitiers on 13 September 1356.  Among the French prisoners captured was John II, King of France.  Edward III’s final invasion of France followed the battle but John II’s son, the future Charles V, forced the king to negotiate the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360 which allowed the return of John II to France in return for hostages and a ransom of 3 million crowns.

 

Richard II, Henry IV

Edward III died in 1377 and he was succeeded by his ten year old grandson Richard II, the son of the Black Prince who had died in 1376.  In 1380 Charles V of France died and was succeeded by his eleven year old son Charles VI (the Mad). There were no further land campaigns by the English in France until Henry V succeeded his father Henry IV in 1413.

 

Henry V

Henry V reasserted his hereditary claims in France and in August 1415 sailed from England to besiege the town of Harfleur.  Following the town’s surrender Henry V’s army met a much larger French force at the Battle of Agincourt on 25 October 1415.  Despite being heavily outnumbered, the longbow was again of great importance in the victory of the English forces.  Civil war followed in France and when Henry returned for another campaign in 1417 he was able to force concessions on the French.  In 1420 the Treaty of Troyes recognised him as the regent of France and heir to Charles VI and in that same year he married Charles’ daughter Catherine de Valois.

Marriage of Henry V of England to Catherine of Valois British Library, Miniature of the marriage of Henry V and Catharine de Valois: Jean Chartier, Chronique de Charles VII, France (Calais), 1490, and England, before 1494, Royal 20 E. vi, f. 9v,

Henry VI

In 1422 Henry V died leaving a nine month old son Henry VI.  A month after his father’s death he became king of France when Charles VI died and was crowned king of France in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1431.

Henry V left his younger brother John, Duke of Bedford as his regent in France.  The English victory at the Battle of Verneuil on 17 August 1424 again saw the pre-eminence of English archers as a weapon of war and marked the end of the great English successes in France.

In 1428 the English laid siege to Orléans but the French were successful in their resistance, inspired by Joan of Arc and went on to defeat the English elsewhere.  Joan of Arc was captured in 1430 and burned at the stake in 1431.  However, this failed to improve the fortunes of the English army, who continued to suffer defeats.

 

Coastal raids on Essex

In between the major land campaigns, there were minor skirmishes and raids on the coastal towns of each country.  In 1451 the Harwich court roll records a raid by the French in which nine people were killed.  John Sexteyn, John Hervy, Peter Coylour and Richard Smyth were charged at the borough court that having sworn to watch the town of Harwich [villam derwych] faithfully during the night, the town was spoiled and destroyed.  The court promised further enquiry into this matter.

The jurors present that John Sexteyn, John Hervy, Peter Coylour and Richard Smyth were charged and sworn to watch the town of Harwich [villam derwych] faithfully during the night when it happened that the town was spoiled and destroyed [expoliairi et destrui] by our enemies and our neighbours to the number of nine were slaughtered; whether in this default or not at present they do not know’; therefore they have to inquire and make their verdict at the next court (St. Barnabas 29 Henry VI 1451)

The jurors present that John Sexteyn, John Hervy, Peter Coylour and Richard Smyth were charged and sworn to watch the town of Harwich [villam derwych] faithfully during the night when it happened that the town was spoiled and destroyed [expoliairi et destrui] by our enemies and our neighbours to the number of nine were slaughtered; whether in this default or not at present they do not know’; therefore they have to inquire and make their verdict at the next court (St. Barnabas 29 Henry VI 1451)

Only the year before John Sexteyn and John Norys had been 3d. each for entertaining [hospitare] the watchmen [vigilatores] of the town when they ought to be watching.

IMG_8030

John Norys and John Sexteyn amerced 3d. each for entertaining [hospitare] the watchment [vigilatores] of the town when they ought to be watching and ? [? Guarding] for the good of the town (St. Barnabas 28 Henry VI 1450).

It is likely that there were further raids as in 1456 the court rolls records that Adam Palmere was presented at court for having shown our French enemies [inimici nostris franc] the very secret way of our port of Orwell leading their ships in safety to the grave damage of the town and against the ordinance and statute of England.

Adam Palmere showed to our French enemies [inimici nostris franc] the very secret way of our port of Orwell leading their ships in safety to the grave damage of the town and against the ordinance and statute of England (St. Barnabas 34 Henry VI [1456])

Adam Palmere showed to our French enemies [inimici nostris franc] the very secret way of our port of Orwell leading their ships in safety to the grave damage of the town and against the ordinance and statute of England (St. Barnabas 34 Henry VI [1456])

The end of the War

The Battle of Castillon on 17 July 1453 is generally held to be the end of the war.  By the 1450s English attention moved away from France to civil war in England (the Wars of the Roses) between the Lancastrians represented by Henry VI’s supporters and the rival claim of the house of York.

 

Essex men who took part

As well as the money and goods contributed to the military campaigns of the Hundred Years’ War, Essex also supplied men to fight in the armies that went to France.  In addition to the sailors from Harwich, Colchester and Maldon, men from the county would have fought in the retinues of the knights and lords who took part in overseas expeditions.

John de Vere, 7th Earl of Oxford fought at the Battles of Crécy and Poitiers and at the siege of Calais.  He died in France while on campaign in 1360.  His grandson Richard de Vere, 11th Earl of Oxford was one of the commanders at the Battle of Agincourt.

William de Bohun, 6th Earl of Hereford, 5th Earl of Essex and 1st Earl of Northampton held the lands in the county originally held by the de Mandeville family, mostly in the north and west of the county.  He fought at Sluys, Crécy and Calais and was buried at (Saffron) Walden Abbey in 1360.

Robert, 1st Lord Bourchier fought in Brittany and at Crécy and was buried in Halstead church.  The Bourchiers were lords of the manors of Abels and Stanstead Hall in Halstead and later Prayers in Sible Hedingham and Little Easton.  They inherited the manor of Little Easton through marriage from Sir John de Lovayne who was killed at the siege of Calais.  Robert Bourchier’s eldest son John, his grandson William, Count of Eu and his great-grandson Henry, Earl of Essex all fought in campaigns in France, William at Agincourt.

John de Coggeshall was among those killed at the siege of Calais, having fought at Crécy.  He was the eldest son of Sir John de Coggeshall, lord of a number of manors including Little Coggeshall and sheriff of Essex for a number of years.

Other Essex men killed in the siege of Calais included Sir William de Wauton, who fought in the retinue of the earl of Oxford and was buried at Tilty Abbey and Sir Robert de Lacy, lord of the manor of Newnham Hall in Ashdon.

Knights and landed families of the county were represented in the retinues of the great landowners.  John, son of Henry Helyoun of [Helions] Bumpstead was in the retinue of the Black Prince in 1346.  Sir Baldwin de Botetourt was master of the Black Prince’s horses and a member of his bodyguard at Poitiers.  He was rewarded by the grant of the Crown’s manor of Newport in return for a rose rent.  Sir Richard Waldegrave whose family held the manor of Wormingford fought in the retinue of earl Humphrey de Bohun in the early 1370s.

________________________________________________________________________

Essex at Agincourt

A joint event with the Essex branch of the Historical Association to mark the 600thanniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V’s famous 1415 victory against the French. Join us for talks from Professor Anne Curry, internationally-renowned expert on the Hundred Years War, Dr James Ross, an expert on the medieval nobility of East Anglia, and the English Warbow Society.

Saturday 31 October, 11.00am for 11.30am-3.30pm

Advance booking essential

Tickets: £15 for non-HA members; £7 for HA members, including refreshments and lunch

Non-HA members: please book through the ERO on 033301 32500

HA members: please book through the Essex branch of the Historical Association on clem.moir@btinternet.com or 01245 440007

Part of the Chelmsford Ideas Festival

Magna Carta: Essex Connections – 1203 charter and letters patent of King John

Ahead of Magna Carta: Essex Connections on Saturday 23 May, thought we would take a look at two ERO documents from the reign of the infamous King John (1199-1216).

These two documents are featured on the University of East Anglia’s Magna Carta Project website which brings together all of the charters of King John’s reign.  Professor Nicholas Vincent, an expert on Magna Carta, leads this project and he will be speaking about Magna Carta at the Essex Record Office’s mini conference on 23 May.

King John issued several thousand charters during his reign. The Magna Carta Project site explains that:

‘The word ‘charter’ covers a multitude of possibilities, but in essence defines a single sheet of parchment on which were recorded commands, requests or most often grants by one party to another… [charters] are often our best, and sometimes our only means of access to the realities of power, of landholding and of administration.’

The Magna Carta Project has been tracking down all the surviving charters of King John’s reign, which can be found in archives around the country (including here at ERO) and bringing digital versions of them together online

The two ERO documents which have been included in the project date from 1203. One is a charter, and the other a letters patent.

The oldest Essex royal charter in the Record Office was granted by King John on 2 May 1203 (D/DB T1437/1).  The charter confirmed the judgement made by the king’s justiciar Geoffrey FitzPeter (‘fil Petri’ son of Peter) in the royal court (more on him in another post coming soon).  The judgement was that Constance Furre should inherit the lands in Heydon (‘Heyden’) and London of her father Robert Furre, having been judged to be the rightful heir in the court.

D-DT T1437-1

This charter was granted while the king was at ‘Auriualla’, the modern Roche d’Orival near Rouen in Normandy.  At a time when royal justice was only dispensed by the king or his chief officer, and the ability to defend land through military might was essential, the inheritances of women were particularly vulnerable to counter-claims by others.

This document begins in the conventional way:

‘Joh[anne]s d[e]I gr[ati]a Rex Angl[orum] Dominus Hyb[ern]ie, Dux Norm[annie] et Aquit[annie] Com[es] And[egavie] archiepi[scopi]s epi[scopi]s abb[ati]b[u]s com[itibus] bar[onibus] justice[ariis] vic[ecomitibus] prepo[si]tis minist[ri]s et omnib[u]s ball[ivi]s et fidelib[u]s suis sal[u]t[em]’

(John by the Grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, sheriffs, reeves, officers and all bailiffs and subjects greetings.)

This is almost identical with the opening of Magna Carta, which included foresters between the justices and the sheriffs.  John was the first English monarch to describe himself as Lord of Ireland, a title he held before he became king.

The Great Seal affixed to the charter confirmed the king’s approval of the contents and would have been used to signify his agreement to Magna Carta.  Seals were made of wax and the royal seal was produced using a double-sided metal mould (matrix).  It is conventional for royal seals to show the monarch seated on one side holding the orb and sceptre, ready to dispense justice which comes down from the crown.  On the other side it is customary to show the monarch on a horse ready to defend the country. The seal here has survived remarkable well considering it is over 800 years old, and it is still possible to make out traces of the royal images impressed into it.

D-DB T1437-1-01 D-DB T1437-1-02

The charter was accompanied by a royal grant by letters patent of 2 April 1203 (D/DB T1437/2).  This document confirms that the lands had been delivered to Constance and in turn she declared (quitclaimed) that she had no further claim to the lands, having been paid 15 marks by Thomas de Heydene (the lord of the manor) when she married.  Constance kept 1 virgate (approximately 30 acres) of land for herself.  A mark was valued at 13s. 4d. and it is estimated that today 13 marks would be worth around £5,000.  These letters patent were given at ‘Mullinell’ (Moulineux) in France.  The green wax on this seal was used because it was a grant by letters patent (open letter).

D-DB T1437-2 watermarked

Two of the men named as witnesses in this document – Geoffrey FitzPeter and Hugh de Neville – both have interesting stories and Essex connections which we will explore in forthcoming posts.

In the meantime, get in touch on 033301 32500 to book your ticket for Magna Carta: Essex Connections.

Magna Carta: Essex Connections

To explore the significance and legacy of this famous document, both nationally and for Essex, join us for talks from:

  • Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, who has been leading a major project researching the background to Magna Carta
  • Katharine Schofield, ERO Archivist, on Essex connections with Magna Carta and the impact it had on the medieval county

Saturday 23 May, 1.15pm for 1.30am-4.15pm

Tickets: £8, including tea, coffee and cake

Please book in advance on 033301 32500

ERO is stronger with Friends: purchase of the Saulez collection

The Friends of Historic Essex are a charity which supports the ERO. Throughout the centenary of the First World War, the Friends and ERO are working together on the Essex Great War Archive Project, which aims to preserve documentary evidence of the period for educational study, family history research and community histories. The project includes looking out for documents relating to Essex people and places during the War, and where possible acquiring them for our collection.

If you would like to help, would you consider making a donation or becoming a member of the Friends? Details are available on the Friends’ website.

Here, Archive Assistant Sarah Ensor shares details of the most significant purchase made as part of the project to date – the Saulez family collection. (A version of this article first appeared the Autumn 2014 edition of the Essex Journal.)

The Friends of Historic Essex have recently acquired a family collection which has since been deposited at the Essex Record Office (Accession A14026).

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DP-511-28-1 Robert Travers Saulez crop

Rev. Robert Travers Saulez (D/P 511/28/1)

A large part of the collection consists of letters and telegrams from and relating to the sons of the Reverend Robert Travers Saulez (right). Robert was born in India in 1849 where his father, George Alfred Frederick Saulez, was an assistant chaplain at Nainee Tal. After gaining his degree from Trinity College Cambridge Robert served as curate in Lancashire, Hampshire and London before moving to Essex in 1886. According to Crockford’s Clerical Directory he was vicar of Belchamp St. Paul from 1886 to 1901 and rural dean of Yeldham from 1899 to 1901, vicar of St. John, Moulsham from 1901 to 1906 and rector of Willingale Doe with Shellow Bowels from 1906 to 1927. He retired to Twinstead where he died in 1933.

Robert and his wife Margaret Jane had three sons and a daughter between 1882 and 1887. Their sons, Robert George Rendall, Arthur Travers and Alfred Gordon were all educated at Felsted School and later served in the army. The letters deposited appear to date from towards the end of the Boer War through the Great War and beyond.

Robert George Rendall Saulez answered the call to serve in the South African Constabulary from 1902 to 1904 so is likely to be the author of the earliest letters in the collection. He volunteered soon after the outbreak of the Great War and served with the Army Service Corps in Egypt and Palestine. He was a good horseman and was recognised during the war for his share in providing an efficient transport service by ‘Horse, Camel or Motor’. After the war he served in the Supply and Transport Corps in the Indian Army until about 1922 after which it is believed he settled in the country.

IMG_4287 edit

Bundles of letters fill the boxes

On leaving school Arthur Travers Saulez attended the Royal Military Academy before joining the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was posted to India in 1907 but returned to England prior to 1914 and was sent to France in May 1915. He achieved the rank of Major and having survived the Battle of the Somme was killed on 22 April 1917. The pencil in his diary which is amongst the collection is lodged in the page of the week of his death. A window was erected in the church at Willingale Doe in memory of Arthur Travers Saulez by the officers, NCOs and men of his battery.

IMG_4296 edit

The diary of Arthur Travers Saulez, with the pencil still marking the spot where he made his last diary entry before being killed in April 1917

 

Hart’s Annual Army List for 1908 shows that the youngest of the brothers, Alfred Gordon Saulez, had joined the Army Service Corps in 1906 and when war broke out he was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. Like his brother Arthur he rose to the rank of Major but unlike his brother he survived the war; however nothing is known of his service throughout the conflict so hopefully some of his letters are in the family collection and will reveal more. Following the Armistice he was posted to Mesopotamia where he died in 1921 apparently as a result of the ‘excessive heat’; he left a wife and two children.

IMG_4307 edit

One of the more unusual items within the collection – a remedy for poisonous gas

Robert and Margaret’s daughter Margaret Hilda embraced the opportunity that the Great War gave women to be involved. She served with the Scottish Churches Huts which, like the YMCA, provided support behind the lines in France. Following the war she married Wilberforce Onslow Times at St. Christopher’s in Willingale Doe with her father conducting the service.

D-P 388-1-11 image 95

Marriage of Margaret Hilda Saulez, with her father as minister (D/P 338/1/11, image 95)

Until this collection of over 300 letters and other items can be sorted and catalogued the full story of this family’s experiences serving their country remains untold. It is hoped that funding can be raised to expedite the cataloguing and storage of the collection and the provision of an educational resource for students and people of all ages. If you as an individual, group or institution are interested in helping fund this project then please contact the Friends of Historic Essex by e-mail or by writing to them care of Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT.

You can also help to support the Essex Great War Archive Project by coming to a fundraising quiz organised by the Friends on Friday 17 April 2015 at Galleywood Heritage Centre – full details, including how to book, can be found here.