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Voices from 1918

Welcome to Voices from 1918 - a project from arts organisation ScreenPLAY in which we paint a picture of life in 1918 through the the diaries and letters of people who were there. Our five Twitter feeds are recording events on a day by day basis as experienced in 1918 by our diarists and writers: @Voicesfrom1918 @LadyMonkswell @MarieStopes1918 @JamesSansom230 and @OliveHarcourt.
The blog is a growing archive which will form a searchable record at the end of the project.
Voices from 1918 has been developed by artists Sharon Hayden and Alastair Nisbet in partnership with Wimborne Community Theatre, Dorset History Centre and the Priest’s House Museum, Wimborne with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Nursing orderly

Olive Harcourt was a singer and musician of international repute who trained in Dresden and lived in Germany for some years. In 1916 she put her musical career on hold to come to Dorset with sister Florence to work as an orderly at Beaucroft Red Cross Hospital in Colehill.

Her diaries are full of colourful stories about life in a small Red Cross Hospital.

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Stretcher bearer

At the start of 1918 Portland quarry worker Jim Sansom had been a stretcherbearer in the heat of Egypt for two years. He writes: “Twenty of our fellows got typhus and four died in January but after isolation and rest we were marching back to the front by early Spring”

James was born in 1895 into a Portland Baptist family. At the age of 17 he want to work in Pearce's Quarry with his father and brothers as one of the family crews where sons learned their father's trades.

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Victorian diarist

Mary Collier, Lady Monkswell is a Victorian diarist and widow of the late Liberal politician 2nd Baron Monkswell. He had been Minister for War in 1905 and Mary who was in her late 60s by 1918 was extraordinarily well connected with a sharp eye and keen interest in current events. She writes with emotion and feeling - often before things are reported in the newspapers.

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Women's rights campaigner

Marie Stopes shocked polite society by challenging the Victorian idea that it was improper for a woman to enjoy sex. Her book Married Love, published in March 1918 became an instant best seller with six printings in a fortnight.

Later, in the early 1920s she moved to Portland, Dorset where she founded Portland Museum.

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Among the bullets...

March 07, 1918 James Sansom: Three miles from the front line. We stay here till the evening of the 8th when we stretcher bearers start for the reserve lines to form an ADS [Advanced Dressing Station]

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too drunk to salute...

March 08, 1918 Olive Harcourt: During a discussion on saluting, Ward said he did not salute an officer who was very drunk.

Robinson said he should salute the uniform and not the man so Ward answered “Yes but I ain’t agoin’ to salute the public ’ouse what he’s got inside ‘im”

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Love affairs

March 13, 1918 Olive Harcourt: Prewer and Fuller gave me a tiny screw of saccharine and told me they thought I was just as sweet as that. Long talk by Prewer's bed with him and Fuller about the latter's love affairs. Gave them toast.

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Six steps of separation

“They say there are no more than six steps of separation between any of us”, writes Voices artist Alastair Nisbet, but he never expected it to apply to a middle aged nurse’s 100 year old diary from WW1.

“While reading Olive Harcourt’s account of her time at Beaucroft Red Cross hospital in Wimborne, I was astonished to find a link with my first art teacher at secondary school - Mr Fuller.

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Prisoners!

March 20, 1918 Lady Monkswell: Extraordinary emotion: Some 25 German prisoners marched into Brooklands opposite. Of all ages, in their shabby grey uniforms, guard of 5 Tommies with fixed bayonets. I went down the road just as they came up. Feminine crowd but no groaning. Very fine, warm

March 21st: The result of the U-boat destruction to allies, neutrals and ourselves. Out of 33 million tons of merchant shipping, two and a half million tons have been sunk. This means 8 ships in a hundred or one in 13. Put plainly, it’s bad, but not nearly as bad as I had expected.

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Dear Eric

March 21, 1918 Lady Monkswell: To Mrs Dyer's, as far as Parnham Down with Robert and Lorna. Met Mrs Pitt-Rivers, Lady Avebury’s sister in law. She was in coat and boots - Land Women’s costume, becoming and suitable. Heard of dear beautiful Eric Lubbock's heroic death last year (air man)

Captain Eric Lubbock MC of the 45th Squadron Royal Flying Corps was Lady Monkwell’s nephew. His A1082 Sopwith Strutter was attacked by 2 Albatros D.IIIs and shot down, at Railway Wood near Ypres in 1917. Both Lubbock and observer John Thompson were killed

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More prisoners!

March 22, 1918 Lady Monkswell: German prisoners in Mrs Pinney’s house, in spite of her. She came here and poured out to Robert, half crazy.

To Parnham, white magnolias lovely, inhabitants sad and very dull. Old red camellia out. 84 enemy machines destroyed to 27 of ours. Very fine, hot.

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Me Unmarried

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General Allenby

By the end of March 1918, stretcher bearer James Sansom and the troops on the front line in Palestine reach the Jerusalem to Nablus road, having taken Jerusalem from the Turks at the end of 1917.

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Night Attack

March 29th 1918: Stretcher bearer James Sansom of 230th Field Ambulance is in the line on the Jerusalem to Nablus Road with 74th division. A night attack on Amman is being launched in a few hours

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Camped on hillside

April 1st 1918 We come out of the line now for another rest and have a camp on a hillside amongst beautiful natural scenery. Except for the sound of the guns and an occasional enemy aeroplane or two we nearly forget there is a war on

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on the move - no camels

James Sansom: April 8th 1918 Too good to last long, we move again today on a 4 days march to Ludd which is the rail-head, a distance of 40 miles by road. We have no camels now but horse transport.

April 12th 1918 We stay 2 days at Ludd, the country found here is glorious with orange groves and other fruit trees, although the nature of the country is sand.

April 15th 1918 We get on cattle trucks here to train for Kantara which we reach at midnight after 16 hours in the trucks. We march to our camp about five miles away and settle down

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Kantara

James Sansom: April 15th 1918 We get on cattle trucks here to train for Kantara which we reach at midnight after 16 hours in the trucks. We march to our camp about five miles away and settle down

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Swimming in Suez Canal

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Leaving for Alex

April 28th 1918 James Sansom: We leave Kantara for Alexandria docks where we arrive on the 29th. [picture of troops arriving at Kantara in 1918 by Pryce Evans of the 4th Welsh Regiment, is from @ww1imagesegypt]

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Setting sail

April 29, 1918 Arrive at Alex and board the liner “Malwa”. Tomorrow we sail for Marseille.

April 30, 1918 We leave Alex with six other ships taking the whole 74th division. We have an escort of 6 torpedo boats, two seaplanes and a balloon.

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Entrain for N.France

May 8th 1918 We march to the railway station [in Marseilles] and entrain for N. France. We spend three days and nights in the train passing through some beautiful country.

May 12th 1918 We eventually arrive at the town of Noyelles [8 days on a ship from Alex and 3 entrain] from where we march to the village of Le Titre where we go in billets and barns etc. It's the first time we have lived in any building excepting a Monastery for three years

Notes: It's taken Portland quarryman 12 days to get from Alexandria to northern France and a very different war from the sand and camels of Egypt. After three years living under canvas he's billeted in a building at last.

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Crutchley VC honoured

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Ostend Raid

May 10, 1918 Lady Monkswell: At 1am the old Vindictive, 6000 tons filled with concrete was forced into Ostend harbour and sunk. Another Zeebrugge (17 days ago). Engineer Lieut Cdr Bury severely wounded.

Commander Godsal, killed, Lieut Crutchley, finished the Vindictive’s position across the canal and fired the charges that sunk her. The Lieutenants of the motor launches that saved the crew of the Vindictive were GH Drummond and Bourke.

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Commemoration

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Air raids

James Sansom: May 21st 1918 Several air raids over the past few days - including a particularly bad one today, causing several casualties.

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No tunics?

Letter from Alfred Johnson to his wife Essie:

May 22nd 1918. We are having gorgeous weather and are walking about without tunics. I expect some superior officer will shortly object and we shall have an order. "It has been brought to notice that officers are going about without tunics. This practice must cease forthwith."

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Poppies and cornflowers

May 25th 1918. Letter from Alfred Johnson to his wife Essie: "This country is an absolutely bare waste but in the last month quite a lot of wild flowers have come up, so that it is not so bad as it was in winter. There are lots of poppies and cornflowers & many small things I don't recognise. We had some lilac in the mess."

The academic and artillery officer often read a book a day on duty, because visibility was so hazy at the OP - Observation Point. Today he was reading Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens, (1850)

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Old Contemptible

Sgt Hugh Joseph Kennedy from Weymouth’s Nothe Fort Red Barracks, 2nd left back row joined RAMC’s no1 Stationary Hospital in Le Harvre in Aug 1914, and served in France until March 1919 with promotion to Warrant Officer class one

Based in Weymouth from 1910, He was one of the BEF Britain's regular soldiers dubbed ‘a contemptible little army’ by the Kaiser - the Old Contemptibles. His unit was at Le Mans until Oct 1914, then Rouen through the rest of the war.

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Villers Sir Simon

June 3rd 1918 We have left Le Titre and after various moves and marchings, arrived at Villers Sir Simon, another village where I and several more have the good fortune to be billeted in a farm. We get a good many raids here also.

June 30th 1918 After several weeks here at Villers Sir Simon, we move again to Givenchy

July 4th 1918 After two days in Givenchy we move entrain to another village Estree Blanche where we remain for a while. We are in a camp which was used for German PoW and we have the epidemic amongst us that is raging all over the country

July 20th 1918 We march to Berquette on the Merville front and go in the front line for the first time in France. We get plenty of football practice here and good food

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Home Leave

James Sansom - August 9th 1918 I leave Berquette to go on leave to Blighty after an absence of three and a half years. I arrive at Calais on the 9th and sleep there for the night. Of course there is a big enemy air raid but fortunately few casualties

August 10th 1918 I embark for England after having breakfast at Calais and have a fine trip across, reaching home [Portland, Dorset] at midnight.

30th August 1918 After an enjoyable 14 days back home on Portland, I have had a miserable time returning, not feeling very jolly till I reached the unit on the 28th. After a couple of days messing about we move entrain today for Lillers.

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Letters home

Saturday Nov 2nd 1918. 74th General Hospital BEF letter from Alfred Johnson to his wife Essie: I have been marked as fit and shall be probably leaving here on Monday.

Mon 4/11 1918 Letter from Alfred Johnson to his wife Essie I crossed over from Trouville by boat today. If there is a shortage of small houses I think it would be better to take a maisonette than to stop at Haverstock Hill. It may be many months before the shortage is righted. Reading: 'Pride and Predjudice', Jane Austen, (1813)

7.11.18 letter to Essie from Alfred Johnson What do you think of the news now? The Germans must realise the hopelessness of their position and I should not think will go on long however stiff the terms are. They have absolutely nothing to gain by continuing. Reading: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, (1900)

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Celebrate

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Letter from Ambrose Pinney

Namur, November 1918

My Dear Lady Monkswell, How very nice of you to write to me. It was a great moment when the Hun finally caved in, and since then the situation has not been without a humour of its own.

By mistake we captured some Hun prisoners after 11am. Various regiments wired in as to what was to be done with them. GHQ said that they were to be released at once and followed it up with a number of worries as to why their orders had not been obeyed.

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A Memorial Book

Letter I have received from the Commons about setting up a Memorial Book to remember those members of both houses, their sons and grandsons, who have died in the conflict

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Cosmo Gordon

Friday 29th November 1918 Lady Monkswell: In dog cart to Mrs Pinney’s, she most cheerful: walked back. German Admiral asks to fly his dishonoured flag. Not so, says Admiral Beatty. Letter from Cosmo Gordon from Russian Hospital in S. Audley Street where I had written to him, dear fellow.

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Letter to Essie

30 November 1918 Lettter to Essie from Alfred Forbes Johnson: 
I know you are very lonely and I am sure the war has given you a much worse time than it has on me. I have really had a good time on the whole except for moments and there is only one day that remains as a nightmare.

As to my not saying anything of the future it is because it is so far ahead and we are not feeling that we shall be home soon now.
I see the delegates at the peace conference seem to be making comfortable preparations for a lengthy stay. Meanwhile parliament is dissolved so no awkward questions can be asked, and as far as I can see nobody here is likely to get a vote.

04.12.1918 Letter from Alfred Johnson to his son Christopher in Bury, Lancs where he is living with his grandmother. Wishing you a happy birthday. Before your next birthday comes I shall be living at home with you and mother.

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Old Blockade

Old Blockade - by a boy at Dartmouth

Observe how doth the British Navy

Baulk the Bavarian of his gravy

While the fat Boche from Köln to Munick

Cannot expand to fill his tunic.

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Foch's sayings

Lady Mary's diary: Monday 2nd Dec 1918

Everyday, news so interesting and good we hardly know ourselves. From Clemenceau’s speech at the Fr Embassy. At a critical stage Foch said: “I can’t hold can I, then I’ll attack.”

Another famous saying: [by Foch] “I shall fight in front of Amiens, I shall fight in Amiens, I shall fight behind Amiens.”

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