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. 

An Essex nurse on the Western Front: Sister Katherine Evelyn Luard (1872-1962)

On International Women’s Day 2015, we thought we would highlight the story of one extraordinary Essex woman, Sister Kate Luard. A version of this post first appeared in Essex Life magazine.

Katherine Evelyn Luard was born in Aveley in 1872, the tenth of 13 children, the daughter of a vicar. She grew up at Aveley Vicarage, and then Birch Rectory near Colchester.

Kate Luard Birch Rectory

Sister Kate Luard in her Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve uniform in the doorway of her family home, Birch Rectory. Reproduced courtesy of Caroline Stevens.

Kate, known as Evelyn or Evie to her family, was aged 42 when the First World War broke out, but she headed straight to France, arriving there on 20th August 1914, just 16 days after war was declared. She had previously served as a nurse in the Boer War in South Africa in 1900-1902, and joined the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Reserve as a Sister. She worked as a nurse on the Western Front until December 1918, in field hospitals, casualty clearing stations, and on ambulance trains. She was awarded a Royal Red Cross and bar for exceptional service in military nursing.

Photograph of one of the hospitals Kate worked in on the Western Front (D/DLu 55/10/5)

Photograph of one of the hospitals Kate worked in on the Western Front (D/DLu 55/10/5)

Kate and her family exchanged hundreds of letters during the War, many of which are held at the ERO, and she also kept a diary, which was published anonymously in 1916 as Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front, 1914-15; a copy is available in the ERO library. A collection of her letters was also published in 1930 as Unknown Warriors: the Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918. A new edition of Unknown Warriors was published in 2014 – you can find out more about it here (again, a copy is available in the ERO library).

Just a few of the many letters the Luard famiy exchanged during the War

Just a few of the many letters the Luard famiy exchanged during the War

Kate’s letters home are a mixture of descriptions of her nursing work and requests for her family to send her food and other home comforts. In one letter written from the Hospital Ship Carisbrook Castle at St Nazaire she describes a night transferring sick and wounded soldiers from the hospital train she was then stationed with:

When you stand off for a few hours from the gruesome details & pathetic streams of broken, dirty, ragged bandaged cripples that one is occupied with all day it gets more & more infathomable & heartbreaking. 1500 were disembarked from the trains yesterday & they are still streaming in. One train of bad cases yesterday took 8 hours to unload.

Kate Luard letter

First page of a letter from Kate Luard to her family written from the Hospital Ship Carisbrook Castle (D/DLu 55/13/4)

In another letter written from Rouen Kate asked her family to send her a tin of bullseyes, a tin of oatmeal biscuits, tea, Slade’s toffee, chocolate almonds, a large homemade spice cake, a tin of honey (if such a thing existed), and nut-milk chocolate. She also asked for an aluminium camp candlestick, a probe and a comfortable cushion to use on the uncomfortable hospital train.

Kate worked on the Western Front throughout the war, and returned home in 1918 to care for her sick father. She later worked as matron of a house at a boys private school, and in the last years of her life she lived in Wickham Bishops with two of her sisters.

If you would like to discover more about Kate, have a look at the published versions of her diary and letters in our Searchroom library, or you can order up the documents we look after that relate to her for yourself. If you would like to find out more about our county during the War, keep an eye out for our First World War displays and events throughout 2015.

Essex at War on film

We were lucky enough to have Chris Church of Wire Frame Media film at Essex at War, 1914-1918 at Hylands House on Sunday 14 September, who has produced this fabulous short film capturing a flavour of the day. Have a watch for a snapshot of what went on, and if you came along see if you can spot yourself!

If you came along and would like to tell us what you thought of the day, do please fill in our short survey here.

Secrets from the Asylum

Tonight on ITV the inimitable pub landlord, Al Murray, amongst others, will be discovering the secrets of their ancestors’ lives. One of Murray’s ancestors was committed to an asylum and the show will follow his discovery of what that meant for her and the other asylum “inmates”.

1st Edn OS Map 25" showing the County Lunatic Asylum in 1975

1st Edn OS Map 25″ showing the County Lunatic Asylum in 1875

After The Asylum Act of 1845 it became a requirement for each county to have its own asylum. The Justices of the Peace in Essex opened their County Asylum at Warley near Brentwood in 1853 at a building cost of some £66,000. It was then designed to hold 450 inmates. The institution finally closed its doors in 2001 and much of the site has now been re-developed into luxury flats. To get a flavour of what the asylum was like at the end of its life this website has a number of very good pictures.

A/H 10/2/5/18 - A page from one of the female case books. The words used to describe her illnes are somewhat different to how we would describe them today. "Acute melancholia, morbidly despondant..."

A/H 10/2/5/18 – A page from one of the female case books. The words used to describe her illness are somewhat different to how we would describe them today. “Acute melancholia, morbidly despondent…”

Those documents which had survived the passing of time and the closing of Warley Hospital have now been passed to us at the Essex Record Office. These include Managers’ Minutes, Reception Orders, Case Books and Patient Indexes. We also have a range of Burial Registers which were kept by the Justices of the Peace. The majority of these documents fall under our A/H 10 reference and many of these can be searched in the Record Office, though it is worth bearing in mind that most records less than 100 years old are closed to the public and will have to be searched by one of our archivists (the exception to that being the Burial Registers which are held under references Q/ALc 12/1 to Q/ALc 12/5 and these are currently available to view on our catalogue Seax).

Q/ALc 12/1 - This is the first of 5 burial registers for the graveyard at Warley Hospital. They run from 1856 to 1935. Some burials of patients from Warley are also recorded in the parish graveyard of St Peters, South Weald.

Q/ALc 12/1 – This is the first of 5 burial registers kept by the Justices of the Peace for the graveyard at Warley Hospital. They run from 1856 to 1935. Some burials of patients from Warley are also recorded in the parish graveyard of St Peter’s, South Weald

Q/ALc 12/1

Extract from Q/ALc 12/1

If you are interested in what you discover with Al Murray tonight and want to find out more about life in the asylum or if you think you may have a relative who may have been in the County Asylum, please feel free to visit us or get in touch to discover the secrets that our records might hold.

‘Noble reponse to the call’: a look at the Essex County Chronicle of 14 August 1914

Following our recent post on how the Essex County Chronicle reported on local responses to the outbreak of the First World War, today we take a look at a few of the stories published the following week on 14 August 1914.

These snippets from the Chronicle give us a bit of an insight into the sorts of things that people were talking about and doing as the world slid into chaos around them.

 

Joining up

The Chronicle reported that:

‘Essex has already made a noble response to the call to arms, and every day brings trained men from her sons to rejoin the colours and come once more to the aid of the Empire. Recruits, too, are pouring in at all the offices, and both men and women are volunteering their services in whatever capacity they can best be of use. There is no shirking. All classes and people of all creeds stand together’

Recruiting for Kitchener’s New Army had already begun, and it was reported that large numbers of Essex Territorials had already volunteered for it.

The Chronicle also reported on a special meeting of the Essex County Territorial Force Association that had taken place in Finsbury Circus, which was addressed by the Earl of Warwick:

‘I don’t want to depress you too much, but you all must know the terrible anxiety that must exist for a very long time to come. Two enormous armies are face to face – the largest in the history of the world. We have been brought into this conflict, peace loving people as we are, through no fault of our own. We have to try in every way to go through with it for the best interests of this glorious old country. Not only are you fighting for everything you love and cherish, for your hearths and homes, and sacrificing yourself in their interests, but you have got to remember that this war has got to be fought to a finish.’

A report on mobilisation read by the Secretary stated that the force had started to receive call ups for various sections on 30th and 31st July and that ‘in the county of Essex they had been as prompt as any other county in England. All the Territorial Battalions were now mobilised’. They had been 1100 under strength, but all vacancies had been filled.

IMG_4008

Paranoia sets in

One story reported on 14th August suggests that parts of the county at least were on edge, and a tragedy was narrowly averted at Warley Barracks:

‘In the night one of the magazine guards of Warley Barracks fired at a stranger who made no reply when challenged. The man’s hat flew from his head, but he escaped. One of the subsequent shots fired at the fugitive struck a member of the Army Medical Corps, who had to receive medical attention.’

A young man visiting Harwich meanwhile had filled some time by sketching on the pier: ‘He was promptly arrested by the military sentries on duty, and taken to the Redoubt. After detention for two hours he was released’. His story was presented as a warning to others.

Anti-German feeling was also quick to set in amongst some people, as is shown in this story from a hearing in Stratford:

‘At Stratford on Saturday, in binding over James Webster, 42, a labourer, of Buckhurst Hill, who was stated to have been engaged in an argument with an Englishman, whom he accused of being a German. Mr Ehot Howard said he hoped Englishmen would not annoy persons simply because they bore German names. Many of them were most faithful Englishmen, especially those of Jewish extraction, who had left their country to avoid oppression and appreciated the freedom of England. There was a large German colony in England who were most enthusiastic British subjects.’

 

Essex people trapped abroad

Some Essex residents had been in Europe when the war broke out, and some ran into trouble before they managed to make it home.

The Bishop of Colchester had been on holiday, and was arrested in France as a spy for snapping a photograph. The Chronicle reported that he was ‘pounced upon by the military and taken to a guardroom’, but after explaining managed to make it safely back to Colchester.

There had, meanwhile, been more anxiety in Brightlingsea. Several local men who had been at sea working on racing yachts had been held by the Germans. One man had returned home but others were still on the continent:

‘Capt. E. Sycamore, of Brightlingsea, arrived home on Tuesday from Denmark, where he has been staying with the British Consul, after having been detained in Germany. He states that he had some rough experiences in Germany, being twice imprisoned. He left his crew in Denmark; they were expected to follow on. Captain Sycamore arrived with nothing beyond the clothes he was wearing, all his other luggage having been taken from him while in Germany. Capt. Sycamore brought a reassuring message with regard to Captain James Taylor, of Brightlingsea, who, with his wife, is imprisoned at Hamburg.’

IMG_4012

County defences

People had already begun to mobilise to prepare to defend their county. In Maldon, for example, a meeting had been held at the Drill Hall to form a town guard for the borough and district. The guard was for men too old to join the Territorials who wanted to play a part in defending their homes. Nearly 100 people were reported to have attended, and apparently a large number of men enrolled and began to drill almost immediately.

IMG_4014

Unemployment and poverty

Across the county, local leaders had received telegrams from the Prince of Wales asking them to assist in the setting up of local branches of the National Relief Fund.

As mentioned in our post on August’s document of the month, unemployment and poverty were rapid consequences of the outbreak of war. Cllr Booth, Vice-Chairman of Burnham Council, said at a specially-called meeting to consider the local consequences of the war:

‘it would be necessary to form a relief committee, and that was his chief object in asking for the meeting. There was likely to be much poverty in consequence of the war, and they ought to make provision for this. He suggested that, with a view of providing employment, this would be a good time to proceed with the sewerage scheme. They were all agreed that this was necessary, and perhaps they might get assistance in carrying it out. He knew it would be expensive to borrow money at this time, but they ought to do what they could to provide employment.’

Local employment already being affected; the Mildmay Ironworks had had orders for piano frames cancelled, and the oyster trade was likely to have a bad winter. The council agreed to ask the Surveyor what useful and necessary works the Council could do to provide employment, and Mr Booth also proposed formation of a Relief Committee.

 

Preparations for the wounded

Local people quickly began to prepare to aid the expected numbers of wounded. In Burnham, a meeting was held at Mill Cottage to make arrange making clothes for wounded servicemen. The group who met had already received offers of help, both financial and personal. A series of first-aid lectures had also begun, and arrangements had been made to open two or three hospitals as temporary schools in the expectation that the wounded from naval engagements might be brought to the area.

IMG_4015

There was also a report on local Red Cross work. The Essex Branch of the British Red Cross was reported to consist of 73 Voluntary Aid Detachments, with a total personnel of about 2,000, three quarters of them women.

People had also been quick to volunteer buildings to be used as hospitals:

‘Since the commencement of the war many generous offers of private houses, institutions, and other buildings for use either as hospitals or convalescent homes have been made, and in many instances steps have been taken to equip some of these buildings at short notice.’

These buildings included Easton Lodge, Dunmow, Hylands House, Widford, Birch Hall, Theydon Bois and Sewardstone Lodge, Waltham Abbey. Many schools and other public buildings had also been identified as possible hospital sites.

The Palace Hotel in Southend, for example, had already been set aside for use as a naval hospital, to be known as Queen Mary’s Royal Naval Hospital, with accommodation for at least 400 patients.

IMG_4016

There was to be much, much more published in local papers on the war and the impact it was having locally over the coming months and years, and they make fascinating reading. If you would like to see for yourself, the ERO has some local newspapers available on microfilm, or you can visit ERO or any Essex library to use the British Newspaper Archive online for free.

All images reproduced courtesy of the Essex Chronicle

 

To find out more about First World War records at ERO, join us at the following:

A Righteous Conflict: Essex people interpret the Great War – A talk for the Essex History Group by Paul Rusiecki, Tuesday 2 September, 10.30am-11.30am, free, no need to book

Essex at War, 1914-1918, a day of events at Hylands House, Sunday 14 September (details here)

Twentieth Century Oliver Twists

Ruth Costello, Archivist

The surviving records of St. Michael’s Hospital in Braintree and the committee which ran both it and the Julien Courtauld Hospital in Braintree have now been catalogued (A/H 19 and A/H 20 respectively).

OS Map of Braintree, 1920s

OS map of Braintree showing the union workhouse, 1920s

St.Michael’s Hospital was the former workhouse for the Braintree Poor Law Union and many of the records deposited relate to the period before and just after the creation of the National Health Service, when the Hospital still maintained people due to poverty rather than illness.

Many of the records have to be closed to researchers as they contain confidential information regarding patients, although staff may be able to release information to next of kin.

One exception is the minutes of St. Michael’s Staff Welfare Committee (A/H 19/1/1/3).  In December 1947, the Committee discussed complaints by male residents concerning insufficient food.  It was suggested that this was due to a lack of understanding by long term residents of the effects of rationing.  At an earlier meeting in October of that year, the Committee had discussed the possibility of using whale meat in stews and meat pudding and decided that it would be a valuable addition to the diet when people had acquired a taste for it.  To modern readers, this would suggest that the quantity of food wasn’t the only problem for residents…