Friday, 24 February 2017

A Very British Romance, part 11: Climb Ev'ry Mountain

More from Connie and Angus, written by Margaret.

Le lac de Gruyère by Ludovic Péron (Creative Commons 3.0)
Le lac de Gruyère by Ludovic Péron (Creative Commons 3.0)
On the evening of Sunday 25 February, Connie is writing to her dad while no one else is in the salon. 'I feel very clean and comfortable, and can imagine you saying "what do you think to a bottle of champagne", it's the kind of after a good days shoot feel you know?'

At church that morning Captain Reynolds and Captain Peak read the Epistle and Gospel. They sung a lot of hymns that were not exactly appropriate to the church calendar, 'it is a case of "do the men know this one", if so we have it, and it is a treat to hear the singing.'

Directly after church they changed into strong boots and puttees, short skirts and jerseys, the boys carried cameras and sticks and went to climb Mont Cray. They stopped to eat lunch and take some snap shots 'I'll send some on later when they get developed'. Climbing on through the wood, some of the places were thigh deep in snow, and some places no snow at all. 'It was so hot we had to sling our jerseys round our waists, and neither Muriel or I wore hats.'

Mrs Leybourne went more than halfway up, then waited for them at a little cow shed. Connie tells how the last part of the climb was very stiff. They dug their boots into the soft snow and scrambled up the last steep part. 'The view from the top is certainly the most magnificent and extensive that I have ever seen. Mont Blanc and the Jung Frau looked quite close, and yet Mont Blanc would be 50 miles away, and in France… The range of peaks was marvellous with the sun on them, and the shadows sharp and clear. And a sapphire blue sky behind without a single cloud’, and they could see Gruyere and Bulle down in the opposite valley. 'I feel very pleased with myself that I really managed to get to the top, I so easily give in when there is hard work to be done'.
Grandes Jorasses and Mont Blanc by Björn S... (Creative Commons Licence 2.0)
Grandes Jorasses and Mont Blanc by Björn S... (Creative Commons Licence 2.0)
Connie next gives us a clue to Angus's injury; we know only that he spent six months in Hospital while a prisoner of war in Germany. 'The coming down was a most painful business for the legs especially in the deep snow. We tumbled all over the show. Angus felt the coming down very much, his ankle would not bear the strain, but he was saying last year when he went up he was using two sticks, so that is an improvement.'

The mention of Angus prompts her to ask her dad, 'By the way. Is there no possibility of Angus being able to take his written exam out here, there seem to be ever so many officers who are taking various exams out here, it will be difficult for him to study here but at any rate it would be studying with some definite object. I wish you would make some enquiries and let me know, or better still write to Angus.'

By this time the British internees have been in Switzerland for eight months and workshops and training courses have been established, and instructors brought from home. Lieutenant Colonel Picot writes that Captain Reynolds, (the one who read the Epistle), has charge of the motor engineering workshop in Chateau d'Oex, and it is very successful. In January 1917, thirteen British internees were inscribed on the rolls of Swiss Universities. Picot states that before the war, the British Army resisted the idea that they should provide training for men in trades that would be useful to them in civilian life; being professional soldiers, the men themselves did not require it and the cost had been judged prohibitive.

As the internees' health and mobility began to improve, work was at first voluntary. Later it became compulsory and the men were allocated to different categories according to their abilities. They worked varying amounts of hours and were paid an allowance; four to five hours of work a day in the workshops paid 1 franc a day on average. Many private businesses such as Nestle in Switzerland, and Auto-car of London donated expertise and equipment. As the men regained their strength and acquired the necessary skills, they were able to work in the Swiss factories and businesses, and were paid at the same rate as the Swiss workers.

Connie’s dad has sent the information she needed about the bank and she has written another cheque out for £10.00. She thanks her mother also, for the transfer of the DLI Crest. Mrs Paton mentioned in a letter, a cutting she had sent to Connie but it didn't get through, 'What was the cutting about? Was it the meeting you mention at which Mr Leith, Mr Gratton Doyle and Ernest spoke? What was it all about?'

It would be very interesting to know what that meeting was about, but quite understandably, this correspondence is, in parts, rather like the famous cheese from Gruyere.

Connie has finished dinner, she is feeling pleasantly tired and so says goodnight:
'Heaps of love and kisses to you both. I thought of you both on the 22nd [wedding anniversary], strange coincidence that I should get my engagement ring on that day.
Love from your bairn Connie.'

Congratulations are definitely in order.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Arras Memorial

Battle of the Scarpe. Working party of British troops going up to the forward area along the Arras-Cambrai road, April 1917. © IWM (Q 2030) IWM Non-Commerical Licence
Battle of the Scarpe. Working party of British troops going up to the forward area along the Arras-Cambrai road, April 1917. German wicker shell cases in foreground. © IWM (Q 2030) IWM Non-Commerical Licence
This spring sees the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Arras, which took place 9 April to 16 May 1917. The British led the offensive on German defences, this time on a much narrower front than the Somme the previous year. There was large support from Canadian troops. 

It was a significant battle for the Durham Light Infantry with seven battalions taking part in the action:
5th, 6th, 8th, and 9th Battalions as part of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division
10th Battalion as part of the 14th (Light) Division
15th Battalion as part of the 21st Division
18th Battalion as part of the 31st Division

All but 18th Battalion took part in the First Battle of the Scarpe (9-14 April), to the south of the line, whilst Canadian troops attacked at Vimy Ridge. All the battalions were involved in the Third Battle of the Scarpe on 3-4 May. 

7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, a pioneer battalion, were also in the Arras area for some of the battle, working on the Tilloy-Wancourt Road, east of Arras. 
British troops fixing scaling ladders in a trench on the day previous to the opening of the Arras Offensive. Near Arras, 8 April 1917. © IWM (Q 6204) IWM Non-Commerical Licence
British troops fixing scaling ladders in a trench on the day previous to the opening of the Arras Offensive. Near Arras, 8 April 1917. © IWM (Q 6204) IWM Non-Commerical Licence
To mark this upcoming anniversary, Jo recently put a call out to our volunteers for people to research the DLI men on the Arras Memorial, and had a great response.  There are already several stories live on the Durham at War website, and here are links to a few of them:
William Bonner

Norman Fawcett

John Charles Gainsborough

Friday, 10 February 2017

A Very British Romance, part 10: High society

More from Margaret's story on Angus and Connie.
CantonVaud coat of arms, Les Archives cantonales vaudoises
CantonVaud coat of arms, Les Archives cantonales vaudoises
It is Saturday 10 February 1917 and Connie is writing to her dad. It will be no surprise to dads reading this that the first two pages are about money. Connie is having difficulty accessing her cash as the local Bank Cantonale Vaudoise needs authorisation from England that she has money to draw from, which could take two or three weeks. Meanwhile Mrs Leybourne and Angus are advancing her money. She has a journey of three to four hours to cash a cheque at the Banque Federale, Lausanne, which she can't do very often. She suggests that, '...someone had better tell Mr. Lambert at the bank [at home], that the Lausanne bank will be very little use, only when I am down there.'

As she says, 'Isn't it a good thing I get on well with my probable future relations? Mrs Leybourne is kindness itself, and certainly is a brick at giving Angus and I opportunities of being alone together, for when all is said and done, we are really just learning to know each other, and I think it will end quite alright. This is of course private, for the family only. Although in a lot of things our temperaments are different, we suit each other so far. A1.'

Mr Kirkup must be wondering, as he reads Connie's letters, if he was right to give her permission to undertake such a journey and on such an errand. His beloved only daughter stranded in Paris; the door to her sleeping car left open; un-attending attendant fast asleep; Angus continuing to hurtle down mountains regardless of his new status as an engaged person; and now Mrs Leybourne relaxing her chaperone duties. And to cap it all, the bank business to sort out. 'Dear old Dad'.

Connie’s Mother, on the other hand, will no doubt be impressed to know that she is 'now living in "high" society, or at any rate within sound of their aristocratic voices. The Dowager Countess of Stair and her daughter Lady Marjory Dalrymple are staying here... Lady Marjory is quite 6 foot 2 in height, isn't it awful?'

To quote an earlier letter, "What a cat Con is", you might think. 

The Earl of Stair (Major) [John James Dalrymple], his wife, and two of his children, have a tiny chalet belonging to the hotel up the hillside, 'I believe it has 5 rooms only, and the Earl laid carpets, hung curtains etc. and enjoyed it when they came a fortnight ago.'

Lieutenant Colonel Picot mentions that the internees' allowance, provided by the British Government, for accommodation was not considered sufficient by some Swiss hoteliers; they 'naturally' preferred to entertain those who could afford to pay more from their own private means.

'Lady Peak (biscuits), her son Captain Peak, and her daughter, have another little chalet; they are very nice and friendly. I'm supposed to be like Miss Peak, can't say I see it very much, she is much livelier than I am.'

Connie, Angus, Muriel, and Captain Jackson of the Buffs [Royal East Kent Regiment] have decided to get up a Pierrot troupe. They have also asked a Captain Brown to take charge of the electric lighting effects; he comes from Chicago and was in that line before the war. Connie has asked the boy called Nelson, who she previously had mentioned had lost his leg, to turn over the music for Mrs Leybourne. 'Poor boy, sometimes he looks very sad and sick when he sees us going off on expeditions. It is dangerous for him on his crutches on the snow, it is so slippy.'

Connie next describes one of their expeditions; lunch at Madame Pittet's at Chateau d'Oex, 'who must be making a fortune with all the British internees; everyone beetles up there in an afternoon.'

'When we got up to the run, we came across a Captain Barnes who offered us the loan of a luge to enter the races, so Angus entered in the men's singles, and Muriel and I in the ladies doubles.
I don't think we won anything, we laughed so much, we landed into the snow drifts four times at the side, jumped up and pulled our luge on to the track again and off we went bumping down.'

Afterwards they all went to Soldanelle, the internees' hospital - they had been invited by one of the officers, there were three officers and three ladies and they had a jolly tea.

She is getting very tanned and fit and the next day is Muriel's birthday, and she and Angus are thinking of going shares on a pair of skis for her.

'Heaps of love and kisses to you both… I'm so glad I have got all your photos out here (including Punch's).’

A note she has written in the margin of the first page of this letter says that,
'The snaps [she has sent] were taken with the little Brownie Camera I have bought, hope to send you more later.'

Friday, 3 February 2017

A Very British Romance, part 9: Out and about in Switzerland

Margaret brings us more from Connie, her first letters home after getting settled in Switzerland.
The top of Connie's letter home (letters copyright The Leybourne Family)
The top of Connie's letter home (letters copyright The Leybourne Family)
Connie writes home to her parents twice a week while she is away in Switzerland visiting Angus, and calculates that they should have a letter every third or fourth day. Her next letter is dated 1 February 1917 from Le Grand Chalet, Rossinieres.

'My one wish here is that you all could see it all. The scenery is grander than Engelberg, but otherwise things are much the same. Life here is totally different from life in England. One cannot realise a hideous war is in progress all over Europe, except the sight of the men and officers who knock about. The place is full of them. I never met a more cheery crowd in all my life, of course they all want to get home… One man in this chalet is minus an arm, his wife and child are here; another boy of 20 is minus a leg. I see he is trying his temporary leg until he gets his proper one. The major here has to go into Hospital to have his leg off within the next few weeks, and so on.

Last night at the hotel where there was dancing, it was a pathetic sight to see a great strong officer dancing with one sleeve loose, the arm that should have been holding the girl's hand. But how they joke about their lack of limbs. One man here (all officers) is minus an eye, enough of this.'

Connie changes the subject and tells how Mrs Leybourne and Muriel ran down the path to meet her when she arrived with Angus, and made her feel absolutely at home at once. Mrs Leybourne has a private sitting room, the only one in the chalet, and it allows them to have their meals there instead of the public rooms. She describes her own room as typically Swiss. All her luggage arrived and she has begun to settle in.

Their first outing was up a nearby mountain to Caux where Angus and an American were entered in the Bobsleigh races. 'They came off with some small cups and medals.' Mrs Leybourne insisted on paying Connie's expenses for the weekend and they had a very jolly time. The following Tuesday Connie went with Angus to Chateau d'Oex to have lunch, and 'Angus showed me his book-binding establishment (to teach the men to bind and to frame pictures), and also his lending library for the men, all the books have been given'. She also visits the Red Cross Hut that has just been opened and is introduced to Miss Simey and found out that she is the sister of a girl she went to school with.

Connie has been skiing and of course fell about but enjoyed it thoroughly. Then in the afternoon of the same day, they met with a Canadian whom Angus had been six months in hospital with in Germany, and who was a marvel by all accounts. Half his thighbone was taken away and he was over a year in hospital.  'As I said in my last, I am very happy and contented, you understand? and everyone is very kind and do their utmost to give me a good time.’

On 6 February, Connie writes to her Mother and proposes that she write to her on Wednesdays, and Saturdays or Sundays to her Dad, but that they mustn’t get anxious if they do not get the letters up to date, because the post is so uncertain and she is not always in the house in time for the post. However, she has found time to buy a 'new jersey cap and scarf, it is such a smart place here. Muriel and I have the same now.' It is time for dinner and she has had a bath, 'as baths are rather a difficulty here, and I find this is the best time to get hold of one. (No! I won't go over the doorstep)… Mrs Leybourne looks after me as if I was her own daughter.'

Going out of doors after a bath was a very dangerous thing to do in the olden days!

Angus has taken her to Gstaad for lunch, a sale of flowers and other articles went on in the big lounge of the Hotel, in aid of the Belgian Red Cross. Internees from many of the different nationalities were there.

Fund raising was an on-going and major concern to help finance the needs of the Internees. 113,000 francs were raised between May and Dec. 1916. Mrs Grant Duff (later Lady), wife of the head of the British Legation in Berne, was the tireless and staunch leader of the 'British Legation Red Cross Organisation' (BLRCO), until she handed over the task to Lady Rumbold in October 1916, at which time the organisation came under the auspices of the 'Central Prisoner of War Committee' in London. It was Lady Grant Duff who introduced and ensured the success of the delivery of a separate parcel of a loaf of bread to each individual British POW every week; the prisoners had mentioned in their letters that it was bread that was needed most. The Continental baking did not always meet with the approval of 'Tommy Atkins'; there was too much crust for his teeth. 

The French system of sending flour and having the bread baked in the camps was not proving successful. The loaves however were delivered, as the men acknowledged delivery by filling in and returning a receipt. 98% of the parcels reached their destination; from a total of 13,000 in July 1915, to 100,000 in September 1916.

As Lieutenant Colonel Picot attests in his report, 'it was good work nobly done.'

Officers of 8th Battalion, Durhal Light Infantry, Angus is top left, 'Willie Coulson' is centre back, Connie's brother Philip Kirkup is bottom right, August 1914 (D/DLI 2/8/98)
D/DLI 2/8/98 Officers of 8th Battalion, Durhal Light Infantry, Angus is top left, 'Willie Coulson' is centre back, Connie's brother Philip Kirkup is bottom right, August 1914
Angus and Connie returned from Gstaad in time for dinner and were invited, 'by three of the officers to dine with them, they had some friends up from Chateau d'Oex. None of us were very keen as we had heard that one of the ladies was not very desirable. However she wasn't so bad, only had a very loud laugh, her husband…was mining in Canada before the war. One man, Captain Colley…was in Germany with Willie Coulson, he said it was a terrible disappointment to Willie when he didn't pass. I think he was kept a month at Constance before being told he had to return to Germany. Later on we sang.'

On the Sunday they went back to Gstaad, where hundreds of officers and men had gathered to watch the ski jumping. 'It was a most marvellous sight.' and she goes on to describe how they gasped when the first skier came down, 'and especially so when he crashed down to the bottom, turning somersaults, but up he jumped, not one appeared to hurt even their little finger.'

Yesterday it snowed and they stayed quietly in doors. Before signing off in her usual way, Connie adds a note in the left hand margin of the page, 'By the way, when you go to Newcastle, will you get a transfer for a cushion, of the DLI Crest. Mrs L has some satin here and says she will work it for me. What about silks, ask if they can be sent out of England.'

I wonder if she got the cushion made and kept it with that first little silver cup?