Letter from Alfred Forbes Johnson to his wife Essie, 8th July 1918.

The land is covered in poppies and corn flowers and all sorts of wild flowers. It is very different from what it was like in the winter.

I went down to some sports yesterday. They tried to get me to run an officers obstacle race but when I saw the first obstacle, climbing up a 20ft rope to get over a pole, I decided my running days were over.



8th July 1918 - Letter from Alfred Forbes Johnson to his wife Essie:

I wish I could have as many baths as I liked in a day. All our water has to be carried in petrol tins about a mile, so there is little to spare for baths


German guns

August 9 1918 Letter from Alfred Johnson to wife Essie

You will know by now where we are from the news in the papers. We have been taking part in a very successful affair.

As far as we are concerned it has been an affair of very hard work to get ready in time and nothing else at present we are in a captured Hun battery with some idea of using his own guns. We are miles from our supplies and it is difficult to get any rations.


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.


Pound Day

Olive's diary 14th August 1918 Pound Day

I had a tent and did palmistry. Sister got it so nice with a divan covered with the hall tablecloth. Tyler got up as a Hindu attendant in white pyjamas and a sheet. He perspired in the sun and the black came off on his things.

Some thought he was the fortune teller and were afraid to come. My first visitors were VADs from Newton. Then I saw 3 pairs of legs hovering about - khaki legs, flannel legs and knicker legs each urging the other in first - Rex, Solly, Sugden and Ray - young scamps out for fun!

Solly has 2 heart lines which I have never seen before and cannot find out what it means. Two interesting hands were Rev Helps and Rev Allan, the first the true soldier type and the latter a visionary. He preaches spiritualism. The boys returned with flappers all day.




Palm reading takings

Olive's diary 15th August 1918

I took £2.0.8d in my palm reading tent. In all they took £104 and £25 in goods. I was having a nap at 3pm when I was sent for. A convoy coming in an hour! I went and Florence [my sister] helped later. Got very tired


The Band plays on

16 Aug 1918 letter from Alfred Forbes Johnson to Effie

This is a weird state of affairs. The Hun is shelling something about a quarter of a mile on the left, and on the right there is a band playing.

Reading Emma by Jane Austen. It was a queer sort of society of those days, but I suppose it is not much different now in quiet parts of the country.



August 16th 1918 Florence and I drove in donkey cart, through Uddens Wood.

Got splendid blackberries and harts-tongue ferns. Jack [the donkey] very fresh and shied a lot


My Archives


Mothers not surgeons


Your book has helped us

Letter to Dr Stopes from a wife in Ledbury about Married Love 17 August 1918

“Your book has cleared up so much for us, and it was written so nicely.” Her husband had just returned from active service in France in July.



Olive's diary 20th August 1918

I Here's a picture of dear Viola - Nurse Belgrave from my diary. She's on the right in the second row. She tended wounded Frenchmen at Arc-en-Barrois for 8 months and would be so proud to know that the efforts of all those women in France has been recognised



20 Aug 1918 letter from Alfred Forbes Johnson to Effie

I’m 2nd in line for leave if the present rate keeps up and the Hun does nothing desperate. I have had a days work translating German papers relating to their guns. Reading: The Vicar of Wakefield, Oliver Goldsmith, (1766)



Olive's diary 20th August 1918

I had long wished to dream of ES [Major Edmund Street] and last night asked. I dreamt vividly of him and that we were travelling together and in a large room he asked me to sing “Home Sweet Home”. [Major Street died of wounds on October 21, 1916]


Wedding Night question

James from Cleveland, Ohio writes: “I note your discovery of a periodic rise in the sex feeling in women. Would you advise picking out one of these periods for the wedding date?

I suggest he reads my book.

He goes on to ask “Would you please give me a few hints as to the best method of bringing about the proper state, especially with regard to the best approach on the first night?

James is obviously anxious about doing the right thing.

And finally he asks “If the wedding night is spent on board a sleeping car would it be better to put off first intercourse until the quiet of a hotel. I ask you these questions so I can start off right. Thanks very much James.

My advice to all newlyweds is to postpone the first night together until you are at peace and quiet with each other



My work on paleobotany is what lead me to eventually come to reside in Portland and bring up my beautiful son there, enjoying sitting amongst the rocks. I also established Portland Museum and gave them my collection of fossils.



Throughout the Great War I worked with Amgueddfa Cymru and other museums about my other passion - paleobotany or fossilflowers.



I was funded to go to Japan and in 1907 I took a long overseas journey - and found what were then the earliest known flowers and fossil insects from the Cretaceous period.


Portland Museum

I was the first curator of the Museum and I left it my Cretaceous plants from Japan, Carboniferous coal balls and paper archives.

In 1924 the building I bought looked like this (above) However did I find the time!!

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Explore by day, month or person here on the blog or on our five Twitter feeds: @Voicesfrom1918 @LadyMonkswell @MarieStopes1918 @JamesSansom230 and @OliveHarcourt.

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.

Thanks to all who have helped us with this project: Maria Gayton and staff at Dorset History Centre where we found Lady Mary Monkswell’s diaries; Joan Cocozza, ward of nursing auxiliary Olive Harcourt; Portland Museum where we found James Sansom’s diaries; the British Library and Wellcome Libraries; Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne and Gill Horitz from Wimborne Community Theatre.

We’ve used a new simpler type of blogging system which we beta tested for indie developer Janis Rondorf of Instacks software.

Posts created as simple text files are dropped into a folder on the webserver without the need for complicated formatting making it easy to upload material quickly.

We’re always happy to share more details about our work - email us using the link at the bottom of the page and we’ll get back to you.

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