I have been very anxious about John. He has been ill and told Belle not to tell me as I worry like an old hen. Everard says he’s very thin but that he is well again but I am never sure if he says that so I will not worry, and John really is ill. If only they were all back here again I’d be the happiest mother in the world. I must hang on to hope.
I am still waiting for rain as no amount of hosing plants is the same. The best things in the garden are the water lilies, blue and white, in the old sunken bath. The old man I now have for the summer, half a day a fortnight, is enchanted with them.
I received a letter from Joe’s brother Frank Makinson last mail who, at the time of writing, had been given twenty-one delayed letters. Poor Frank has had a very hard time of it. His cousin, Roger, died as a result of a bullet wound he received on Gallipoli when he was washing his clothes, not even in battle. What rotten luck. Frank is in a much depleted battalion that is now chiefly made up of recruits. Joe was very pleased to read the letter from his brother.
I also heard from my wounded soldier, young Athol Percy. He was seventeen when he enlisted and is now only eighteen. He was wounded at Lone Pine and has been in hospital in Heliopolis for a long time. At the time of writing he was on light clerical duties but hoped soon to be back in the fighting. I have been sending him comforts including some of the cigarettes I buy for the boys.
In a few days time I am resuming work at the Red Cross rooms after my holiday. I am one of a number of women helping Dr Mary Booth establish a social club for soldier’s wives and children. These poor souls often want a helping hand and a kind and sympathetic word. One must be careful to choose the right people to help them for no patronage or condescension must be in it. We help them with their money, lend or give them maternity outfits, then fix up with the Lord Mayor’s Fund if they want that help. It is so sad to see some of these women who are so timid they would rather pawn their things than apply to the Patriotic Fund for help. We have social gatherings, simple entertainments and the inevitable cup of tea, which includes a slice of cake. So there is no question of charity all pay one penny. It is better so. It makes my heart ache to hear some of the trials of these poor women and the patience with which they bear them makes me feel ashamed of myself for thinking too much of my worries.
I am so vexed to read that Gerald has not been getting my mail since he was on Gallipoli. I send off letters and parcels every week and have never missed a mail to any of my soldiers. I am still waiting to hear if Gerald’s birthday and Xmas parcels arrived safely. One was a big bale sewn up in hessian which contained his and Colin’s sheepskin vests. I sent it last October by the 12th Light Horse Comforts Fund.
I went again yesterday to see poor Mrs Guthrie. She is very plucky and brave but looks sad and drawn and restless and can’t realize her loss. Janet is also still feeling Nipper’s death very much. She was extremely fond of her brother and has been a great comfort to her mother. Poor Alec was very depressed last time he wrote from Egypt where he is in the 1st Light Horse. He knew that Nipper was ill but had not yet heard of his brother’s death. Nipper did splendid work as a stretcher bearer and was the first Australian soldier buried at Heymouth. I feel so much for them. Mrs Guthrie has agreed to come with me to the meeting to consider getting up a Club for Soldiers Wives and Mothers.
I sent off £10 each to Gerald and Colin in response to a cabled request. Annie was away in the mountains at the time, so repaid it when I dined with the Bulls last Tuesday, now with two sons less at the dinner table. Annie wants me to go with her to choose a frame for Clifford’s enlargement. His photos were excellent, taken by a man called Sydney Riley and they take off 25 percent for soldiers. Fancy poor old Colin suffering so much with his hand. I have heard a lot of the men suffered from frostbite on Gallipoli. It was so hot at the Bull’s place, making it hard to imagine it being so cold, but about 8 o’clock a southerly came up, the worst and strongest I remember, a regular old timer. They wanted me to stay the night but I had too much to do the next day so fought my way to the station about 9.30 pm. The trim blew clear off my hat. The next day there was dirt inches thick all over the house as I had left the top windows open.
I had a soldier’s wife over here last Tuesday, poor thing. She had heard somewhere that Everard had met her husband in England and she came over. Couldn’t wait, she said. She was quite a girl, only twenty-four or twenty-five though she has two children, six and four. She stayed two hours. She is a Londoner and was awfully glad to see me and tell me all her troubles.
Belle has just arrived back from for a month’s well earned rest at home in Cessnock. I missed her very much. I so enjoy having her here and it helps me feel closer to my boys, knowing how fond she is of John. She is now Sister Crawford and hopes to get to the war the first chance that is offered. She came over yesterday for tea and stayed the evening. We had a lovely night together. She loves reading Gerald’s letters and has a very warm affection for him.
I have just finished making a big batch of hot scones, all the time thinking how Everard, John and Gerald would love them with strawberry jam and plenty of butter. How I wish they were all here to eat them with me. It is hard to always keep smiling and is very, very lonely at times, and I feel lonelier when I go out among people. I like being at the Bulls but the majority of people are trying. I like it best though at home, for everything there has something to remind me of my dearest ones so far from me.
First a card, rescued from a biscuit tin, arrived from Gerald written while he was on Gallipoli, then a long and interesting letter about their retreat, begun on board ship in the Mediterranean Sea while the boys were waiting to go ashore and longing for a square feed. He received not a single letter whilst on Gallipoli, but on his birthday, December 21st, a whole batch was waiting for him, which pleased him very much, but no parcels or papers were to be seen. I copied out the letter and sent it to Mrs Dowling-Brown whose son Laddie was with Gerald as they crept down to the beach, socks pulled over their boots. It makes my heart beat fast to read of it. They were part of the rear guard so had to remain until the last, covering the others’ retreat with machine guns while on watch up on Camel’s Hump. It must have been an extremely nerve-wracking wait. He wrote, If Johnny Abdul had taken a tumble he would have poured shrapnel on us. The only scare they had was when they reached the beach where a Howitzer canon fired shrapnel, but only once. I can hardly bear thinking of what would have happened if the Turks had realized the Anzacs were retreating. Thank God they are safe.
On Saturday afternoon I went out to the Bull’s and found a tennis party on. Poor Gladys had fifteen there. I wanted to come home to tea but they simply would not hear of it, indeed, wanted me to stay the night. I am quite at home there now. They are very genuine, kind people and always very pleased to see me. It means so much to me to have a family I feel part of while mine are all far away. While Gladys was getting tea ready I went into the kitchen with her and Annie to make the salad dressing and the rest gradually sauntered in from the tennis court. Norman spied a watermelon and he and some of the others started on it straight away. Another started cutting up the lettuce and Annie went on cutting up a joint of lamb and wet ears all round her. Mr Bull’s part was cleaning the knives, twenty-nine of them in all, that he laid out like little maids in a row. Of course we talked of nothing else but our boys. The Bulls are looking for another house but I fancy Annie would rather stay where she is till Clifford and Colin come home again.
There was a terrible piece of work here last Monday. Between three and four thousand soldiers interned at Casula and Liverpool broke camp, then absolutely wrecked the Liverpool pubs. They came to Sydney after taking possession of the trains and were fired on by the guards who killed one man and wounded others. Belle had eighty casualties in the Sydney Hospital alone. The pubs were ordered to close at 6pm. and have remained so ever since and altogether it was pandemonium. I happened to be at the Soldier’s Club in George St and saw them all marching past, trying to get the soldiers there to join them. The authorities were perfectly hopeless and helpless. A thousand men have been dismissed from the camps, and all because they refused to do four and a half hours per week extra drill issued by the new regulations. There is to be a court martial shortly. Lots of soldiers have been sentenced to various terms of imprisonment and thousands discharged from camp altogether.
I received a letter in reply to mine from Mrs Dowling Brown, Laddie’s mother, thanking me for passing on Gerald's letter to her. She had not heard from Laddie so was very pleased to read it.
Then there was a postcard from Everard written March 3rd from Lancashire, where it was snowing!
March 11th, Austinmer
My nerves had a big upset last week when I received a report that Gerald was wounded. Many friends were quickly on the telephone to see if it was true and the editress of the patriotic column of the Sunday Times rang and asked me about it. By then I realized that I had received mail from my boy written later than the reported date of his wounding, so I knew it could not be true, but the first fright of it was very disturbing. It turned out to be a mix up with another Digby, one I do not know, from Waverley. I have contacted his father and it turns out that he has two sons in the 6th Light Horse, Cecil and Norman. I am also worried about John as he had another close call and was gassed. I know no more at the present but pray he is all right.
My brother Jack has recently been to visit before he also goes off to the front. It was so good to see him after so long. Western Australia is a long way to go for a visit. He is a dear man. He and Alma had such a sad time with the loss of their little boy, Geoffrey, who was only four years old, their only child. He would be nine by now. Jack was not keen to join the army but felt he should do his duty, so Alma will stay with her parents in Melbourne while he is gone. I saw him off on Saturday last, then went out to the Bull’s for the night. Norman and I had a great concert on Sunday morning. He played the flute accompaniments beautifully. Annie had received a cable from Clifford to say he had seen Colin. It made her very happy, thinking of her two boys together. She has set a hen so as to have young fowls ready for Xmas when our boys come home, for surely the war will be over by then.
The Herald recently printed an article by Everard on his Xmas Day in France. He had been looking for a little bit of home and found it at this Australian Hospital at Wimereux. All the staff are Australian and the place was decorated with wattle and other Australian foliage which took him back here to his little cottage in the south. It was so interesting to read of their day, the hospital and the patients, and imagining my husband’s day there. What a merry time they had, despite being wounded and out of the fighting.
I am trying to get through a mass of correspondence that has been accumulating heavily for the past month, but I never want to write to anyone but my own three soldiers.
Three nights ago Joe, Belle, Gladys and Marie were here to dinner. They came to give a farewell dinner for four soldiers who were going to the Agricultural Ground previous to embarking on a transport to Egypt. Unfortunately the poor men’s lorry got stuck halfway from Liverpool and they didn’t arrive in Sydney until nearly 10 pm. What a shame for them. We had Japanese lanterns in the garden, a lovely bit of silverside and a tongue, tomatoes, beet and green salad, heaps of chipped potatoes, apple pie and a huge fruit salad and lots of cream, and they missed out on it all.
I came down here to Austinmer yesterday for a rest, a few days surfing with my friend Miss Allen. The cottage is very nice, on the edge of a cliff and the ocean right in front and to the side of us. You just walk down the cliff to the lovely beach and there is a bathing place cut in the rock for those who don’t surf, but I love surfing. I was in the sea at 6.30 this morning and it was great. For lunch we picnicked outside and I hope to walk to Thirroul this afternoon. It is so peaceful and relaxing here I wish I could stay a month, I felt better the moment I got here. I imagine my men and Colin down here. What a time we will have when they do come back.
Sunday, March 26th
A week ago was John’s birthday, a year since he left Sydney. I remember we went back in a motor after seeing him off and had refreshments at Neutral Bay wharf. Poor old Janet Guthrie was so nice to me that night and we little thought Nipper was destined never to return. Mr Bull and I are dreading getting a cable to say that Gerald and Colin are in the thick of it again. When they come back we will get a cottage at Austinmer and have a great time in the surf and the sun. We are anxiously waiting for mail from Egypt, especially as I saw in today’s casualty list that Rex Coley, 3rd of the 12th Light Horse, the boys’ old tent mate, was sick in hospital. I have heard that the water out there is what is making so many Australians sick and giving them enteric.
Belle came over to stay the night last week and started to knit her first pair of socks, for John who, she says, has applied for a Base Hospital. She dropped lots of stitches and made a great joke of it and I wonder if she will ever have them finished.
We have been very busy opening another branch of the Sydney Centre for Soldiers’ Wives and Mothers at Waterloo. A thousand women in that district are now on the books so it will take some running.
Having sold her house, Mrs Lloyd is in Sydney to catch the Niagra. She is getting very feeble and I think she’s very foolish gadding off to England in these war times when risks are so great and travelling uncomfortable.
The 25th of April is Anzac Day and I hear the city is to be illuminated. Why, I don’t know. A day of sorrow I should think, with all those splendid young lives lost and to no purpose. The War Chest will sell badges in memory of those who fell.
I spent today having a good spring clean after the dusty summer and tomorrow will do some blanket washing, but without my boys to dance on them in the tubs. I am sending them next mail some gold tipped Virginian cigarettes, as requested, that I got on special terms from Mrs Blashki for 18/6d per 500, along with magazines and papers.
The garden is a perfect picture, or so say all who see it. April is a very good month in the garden. It will be my birthday on Thursday next. My cold is better but my spirits are down to zero.
I came across a lovely memory when I was tidying up today, a letter Everard sent to me when I was down in Melbourne staying with Mrs Lloyd when the boys were little. He loves amusing us all with his drawings and always drew amusing visual jokes for the boys as they were growing up.
Easter Monday, April 24th
A big religious service is to be held in the Domain tomorrow with big recruiting rallies in the afternoon and evening, and street collections for the returned soldiers. I do hope they get a big sum but the public is very chary of giving at the moment as the Government seems to be grabbing and hoarding all the funds instead of paying them out as was the original intention.
I celebrated my birthday on March 30th with the Bulls who took me to see Britain Prepared, a series of films showing how England prepared for the war. They were excellent. In the afternoon I had tea with Belle at Farmers. How I wish this cursed war was over. I am feeling desperately lonely and the uncertainty of where Gerald will be sent next is making me very anxious. I try to Keep On Smiling as he suggests, but it is not easy, though the news of the downing of a Zeppelin did bring a smile to my lips.
Gerald sent me some lovely photos taken when he and Clifford met up. I am so glad he and Colin were able to see Cliff on his way to France. I fear for Clifford as things seem to be getting worse and worse. I wish the French and British could get a really good decisive victory, but it seems like a tug of war.
Belle got a letter from John last mail. He had been through some hot times and had some narrow escapes. I am feeling the absence of my men very much lately. I did not go to the races or the show this year. I don’t feel at all inclined to gaiety. Last year was the landing at Gallipoli, just a year tomorrow, and I can’t help but think of all those fine young fellows falling there and the lonely graves on the historic hillside – and all in vain. Lives bungled through some fool’s mistakes. I saw a General’s report that the whole thing was an impossibility and blunder. Thank God Gerald and Colin are out of it and I trust there will be no more mistakes. I wish my boys could surprise me and walk in the door as they used to when they came down from the station. Will this cursed war never end?
A letter from Gerald received on May 15th has put my mind to rest as I was afraid he may have been sent to France. The terrible fight for Verdun has been raging for over two months now. It makes me so glad the boys are safe in Egypt and don’t go for commissions in other regiments but stay where it’s safer, as an ordinary private or trooper. It is more than a year since Gerald left Dunumbral Station for Liverpool, the longest year I have ever known. Everard left me on 4th July 1914, so by the time he gets my next mail it will be two years. It’s a long and cruel separation for us all. I am looking after things at this end as well as I can. Someone must see to them. A great deal crops up that wants looking after and I am just getting over an attack of bronchitis which has set me back.
It worries me when Gerald writes he has not heard from me for some time. I have never missed a mail since Everard left in 1914. This last one I sent off parcels containing two hundred cigarettes, magazines, some eatables and tissoh silk shirts which I am told will be very comfortable.
Mary Makinson and her mother are doing their level best to keep Joe from enlisting. I think it’s a rotten shame. He has finished his exams but doesn’t yet know the results. I shouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t enlist at all. His sister keeps telling him it will kill his mother and works on his feelings of duty. However, we shall see. Another Neutral Bay boy, Arthur Hill, has come home invalided. He lost his leg as the result of wounds he received at Gallipoli. One wonders if there will be any boys left in this district be the end of the war. The prevailing thought is that this cruel slaughter will end in November, but Germany never seems to be at a loss for men, money or ammunition.
Belle has gone home for a week’s special leave - her uncle motored her up to Cessnock. She was very overworked at the hospital. She is dying to get to England but the government is not sending any more nurses and if she goes on her own she has to pay for herself, which I doubt she could manage. I wonder has she heard from John. I think he may have been writing too much from the censor’s point of view because I haven’t heard from him for six weeks. I had a cheerful letter from Everard who is still doing his best to get on active service. He enclosed a poem he wrote for me, A Soldier to his Wife, which moved me deeply.
Agnes Bennett left Cairo some time ago. I think she’s coming out again soon, as I believe she only went for six months. I was so disappointed that she and Gerald never managed to meet up though she was looking for him.
A lovely start to the day. This morning I received a parcel from Gerald containing his beautiful belt. It is a broad blue one onto which he has fixed over fourty badges and buttons of various regiments which he collected whilst on Gallipoli Peninsula. Some of then are very handsome. Its arrival cheered me up after reading in the paper this morning of our appalling losses. It’s really heart rending. Those damnable Germans seem to have no end to their resources. I took the belt up to the Bennett’s after lunch to show them, having spent the morning potting geraniums, and they greatly admired it. Agnes’ brother Bob is in France now. I dread the casualty lists from there, surely Australia has sacrificed enough. I am truly glad Gerald is not there and that John is not in direct fighting. I think the casualty lists will be cruel and the war seems to have no end in sight. The Richards family from nearby here lost their only son in France last week, poor boy. I am sometimes very despondent over it all, not for myself but for the thousands of mothers of all nationalities who have gone through agonies of sorrow for their killed.
The news has been terrible with the Battle of Jutland a week ago, the biggest naval battle of the war. I cannot imagine it, 250 ships firing on each other. Papers reported appalling losses of over 5000 men and officers. Who would ever think they could inflict such losses on the British Fleet. One dreads opening the papers.
On Tuesday I was packing at the Town Hall and on Wednesday I was at the South Sydney Centre. We have knitting, dressmaking, cooking and first aid classes. Also kindergarten for the babies which, I may say, are numerous in South Sydney which includes Waterloo, Redfern, Alexandria, Botany, Mascotte and Daceville. We have been able to do a lot of good amongst the women. They bring their photos of dear ones along and talk of them in just the same way as we ourselves. Some of the mothers have lost sons in the battlefield. We get some very sad cases.
The next evening I went out to the Bulls and stayed the night and had some of Marie’s excellent cooking. I like Col’s sisters very much as they are both so natural and sensible and Marie is such a dear girl. I came home early next morning as I had to be in the dentist’s chair by ten o’clock.
The battle for early closing is still going strong with the Temperance voting for six o’clock. The agitation is great on both sides but the outcome is to be decided in three days time with the Referendum.
As I write I hear the usual greetings of whistling of the ferry boats so I suppose another transport is on its way to the front. Tomorrow is a holiday for the King’s birthday. Gerald was still here at this time last year. I am sending him a mouth organ in his next parcel, as well as strawberry jam, tinned fruit, chocolate and some cool singlets. A couple of times I have had to take the parcels back when they are over weight. I was cooking a nice piece of pork today and thinking how much my darlings would have liked it with apple sauce and green peas and tomatoes and a large apple tart and banana custard. I remember taking a leg of pork to Liverpool camp once.
Friday, June 23rd
I wrote my last entry never imagining that on the other side of the world it was the tragic end of the British War Minister, Lord Kitchener, when his ship hit a mine. I am sure his death was the work of German spies. There is little other detail except that twelve survivors got ashore. The whole thing is inexplicable to me.
Gerald has written from Tel-el-Kebir where he has been since April. I hope he will stay there until the end of the war, out of the firing line. It is said that soldiers in Egypt want badly to go to France which they regard as the real war, but the stories that come from there make me quake at the thought of Gerald leaving Egypt. It is enough John being there.
Belle is very excited. The Red Cross has advertised for twenty nurses to go by the hospital ship Kanowra to France on July 1st. She answered the ad but tells me so did seventy others and it will be decided tomorrow. I do hope she gets it, but the one drawback is that Belle’s French is practically nil and they want those who can speak French so I have been trying to brush her up on it. A French teacher is to go with them on the boat. There is wild excitement at the Sydney hospital as six sisters there applied, but apparently none of them speaks French either, which may work in Belle’s favour. I am trying to use some personal influence for her success. My position on the Red Cross Committee may help.
War work continues full swing. I am to be working every Thursday at the reformed 12th ALH Battalion Comforts Fund. Next Friday is Button Day for the War Chest who have done a great deal of good work and spend their money as soon as they get it and don’t hold it up.
I had lunch with Lady Graham at the Womens’ Club, Stuart Graham’s mother who is recently returned from Egypt where she went to see her son at Heliopolis. He is now in France.
Joe Makinson has passed the first part of his exam but the final is not until October so his chances of enlisting are few, and his people won’t hear of him going until he has passed.
I look forward to seeing the Bulls as it has been three weeks or so. The weather has been too severe to go out there and I am in the dentist’s chair three times a week, having some serious work done, including some crowns. The weather is cooling down and I do not like the long winter evenings. It is very lonesome.
I have no idea where Gerald is now as I have not heard from him for a long time. There was a report that the 12th had gone to Mesopotamia. I am hoping this isn’t true as this is the last place on earth for soldiers as there are no hospitals or sanitary arrangements. Everard called it one of the colossal muddles of the present campaign.
This last mail I posted a stack of magazines to Egypt and France and some candles. I padded the corners of Gerald’s with green mosquito netting which might come in handy for covering food from flies which seem as awful pest over there. The War Chest man said that the regiments want tinned fruits, cakes, puddings and sweets as they do not get them from the ordinary stores and the men like them better than anything. I wonder if the war will be over by Xmas. The Germans are holding out well considering all the Allied forces against them.
Belle has resigned from Sydney Hospital. She was broken hearted to miss out on a place to France. Nobody could understand it. Bad luck for John, too. He would have seen her. She said that as long as she stays at the hospital the matron won’t let her go as she hates losing sisters. She will take up private nursing if she can’t get in to a military hospital. Matron won’t speak to Belle since she resigned, the old cat.
I can’t seem to think of anything else but my soldiers coming home safe to me. I keep all their things just as they were before they went away. Belle got a letter from John - he had just gone back to France after a week’s leave. Truly it’s ghastly these casualty lists. I nearly always see the name of someone that I know. Another old friend of Everard’s lost a son and Alec Guthrie has been in hospital again. He told his mother he had written a letter about it but she never got it, so the poor woman has no idea how badly ill he was.
The Bulls have sold their house at Ashfield and are having new one built at Burwood. I can’t imagine any further upheaval like this, and if it were me I would have to wait until this war is over.
The almond blossom is beginning to flower in the garden. Spring ought to be very good this year after the rain.
Last evening when returning from town I saw the blue and gold badge of the 12th Light Horse so I spoke to the wearer to see if he knew Gerald or Colin. It turned out it was Rollo Williams. I should have recognized him as I have known him since he was a young boy, but he looked so ill. He has been discharged from the army on account of his health, poor chap.
I like to think the best of people, but some are so low and in these times the lowest down thing anyone could do is open a soldier’s parcels and take things. That is what one of the postal clerks and his wife were doing, then selling them. They got five years. I am glad they were found out and I can only hope my darlings’ parcels were not robbed. In the last ones I sent an iced cake each, sweets, prunes, cheese and magazines.
I am sorry that I have had to give up the South Sydney Centre. I found the atmosphere too trying for me, the rooms too hot and the flies are awful. Then, too, the same old thing – too much work on some and not enough on others. John says his socks wear out rapidly owing to the wearing of rubber boots so I am using the time I was at the Centre with more knitting. I have also been busy in the garden as I want it looking A-1 for when my men come home to the place they long to be.
I have just heard that another of Gerald’s schoolmates, Geoff Walker, lost his life some time ago in an aeroplane accident in England. His brother was killed in France. It is heartbreaking, this awful news that families must endure. Every day brings the most terrible news, especially from France. The Somme is a blood bath.
I am already getting things together for great Xmas parcels for my men, including three big cakes and have been planting a lot of young seedlings for when they all come home. As I write I can see the fool cat sitting on the sunny window ledge. The yellow mongrel is lying on the carpet with his forepaws crossed and Peter is casting murderous glances at some doves which are just out of his reach in the oak tree. All this I can see from the window in the drawing room and far away down the harbor the steamers are all whistling their farewells to troopships going to that horrible war.
Today I was thrilled to open the Herald and see John’s account of fighting in the Somme, written on July 1st, the day of the attack. Reading it made me feel I was there, though by the time I had finished I was truly glad I was not, and wished, too, that John had been far away. His descriptions were very graphic, of blue drifting smoke stabbed with flashes of red and men disappearing over the top, digging in and bayonetting. All this he saw through glasses glued to his eyes. Back at his aid post he spent his time treating what he called ‘the wreckage and wastage of war’ as they came in. Then came the prisoners in batches of up to one hundred, most having had nothing to eat for days. Bodies lay in no-man’s land all day, waiting to be buried, while the German dead lay further away in heaps. John entered the dug-outs in fear and trembling but they were only occupied by the dead. All of this, in his eyes, was ‘expressions of the horror of war’. This is not something my boys ever write about to me so it is a hard thing to read it.
Belle writes to me often from the Cootamundra Military Camp. She says it is a miserable place for soldiers. She has a better hope of getting away now she is in a military hospital and is hoping it won’t be too long. I miss Belle dreadfully. We used to meet twice a week regularly and have tea or dinner together according to her times off.
I have had so much sad news recently. Yet another Neutral Bay boy has paid the ultimate price. Stuart Graham died in France, poor old chap. A notice appeared in the Herald six days ago. He had every prospect. France must be frightful. It’s a sad blow for his mother, Lady Graham, she a widow and he her only child. Her husband has been gone only three years or so and now she has no-one left here. Also, we heard that Colin is ill but have no further details. This is such a trying time for his family, especially Annie, this not knowing. And Benjy Pulling is wounded and in hospital, a shell wound to his shoulder. The Pullings have already lost one son. God protect the other two. I have been very upset all last week thinking of these young lives lost and their families. The whole horror is appalling. Wallie Bennett was here last night. They are still waiting to see how his brother Bob fares. Janet Guthrie was here also, and Joe Makinson, so it was a sad gathering all in all, though Joe did his best to cheer us up.
The fight to get conscription is still being fought by our Prime Minister Billy Hughes. It seems he may call another referendum next month and all soldiers will have a vote. I can’t think how they are going to collect votes from men in the trenches. The Labour League says it has expelled Hughes for his support of conscription, but he defies them to do it, says that legally they can’t. It’s a pity conscription was not decided without throwing responsibility to the people and costing all that money which should go to war and patriotic funds.
I have been learning wool spinning for the Red Cross Spinning Circle and am getting on splendidly. It is necessary as they are now very short of wool for knitting. I go the same day as Gladys Bull. On October 2nd I am to ornament a lorry on which the Red Cross has an exhibit. I am one of the spinners. We are to be dressed in white with red aprons and white caps and sit on bales of wool and spin. There are to be sewing ladies with machines, girl cooks and blind soldiers making baskets. I don’t care much for this sort of thing but the Trades Hall asked the Red Cross executive to put on an exhibit and we could not refuse as they contribute largely to our funds.
I did not go out to the Bulls last week as I intended, as the news of Stuart Graham’s death disinclined me to company and I needed some days for resting.
Belle got up from Cootamundra this morning at 5.30 am and I met her later at the Womens’ Club where we had a little afternoon tea party all to ourselves. She looks very well in spite of having recent influenza. She lives in a tent down there and says it feels strange to be in a house again. We spoke of our dear ones and had a good chat but she has to return tomorrow night as the camp is to be moved. Meningitis has been pretty bad down there.
All I want is to see my three soldiers home with me again. It has been a long and heartbreaking strain, but as long as they are spared me I will willingly endure it. I dream of them, then wake to find an empty house. I have been busy making a great birthday cake for Gerald decorated with wattle. I sent him a parcel of all his favourite things as well as bon-bons and cigarettes. I do hope he enjoys the contents.
The Labour League is so against conscription that a riotous time, they say, is in store. Already four Labour men have been arrested at the Trades Hall for treason. I do not think myself that Conscription will be carried out but Hughes will find some other way. It seems an awful thing to force men to enlist, yet if the voluntary system fails, what else is there to do.
One of John’s has-beens lost a brother at the front, poisoned by gas. This is an awful time for us all. Twelve thousand Australians were killed or wounded at Pozières – some say six thousand. A lamplighter told me that his son and one Corporal were all that came back out of sixty-three. Dr Norman Broughton who went over with John has been killed in France and I have just heard that Joe Makinson’s brother, Frank, is reported missing since last month. I do hope he’s a prisoner and not killed. The poor chap was at the landing at Gallipoli and went through everything.
Belle came up from Cootamundra yesterday, a military order. She had to report to Barracks this morning and came to me this afternoon. We had tea in the garden which is absolutely rioting with roses, sweet peas, carnations and every sort of annual almost. It looks as if her wish is coming true and she will get away, and while I am happy for her I will miss her most terribly if she goes to Egypt.
I have sent off huge cakes to the boys, Miss Pile On The Butter, with what may be a forlorn hope that they receive them. I have been told there are so many Xmas parcels they can only take what they had room for, so fingers crossed mine get through. The Germans are also doing their best to stop transports with submarines in the Channel and they have partly succeeded. They are fair devils.
I am sorry to say that it looks as though Australia has said No to conscription. Our new motto should be Led By the Nose. I feel sick over it. All single man between 23 and 35 were called to enlist three or four weeks ago and the applications for exemptions shows there must be a good number of shirkers around.
I went last week for four days to Manly with a friend who has a cottage there. I thought I’d like to surf bathe, but directly I got there a southerly came on. However it was a bit of a rest that I sorely needed, after helping in the referendum with clerical work and canvassing until my throat was sore. I have also been selected as a spinning instructress that means little trips to the country at the expense of the Red Cross, teaching country folk to spin. I am told it is most enjoyable.
Things have been fairly exciting in Sydney. The International Workers of the World men have been trying to burn down the city and done lots of damage, setting fire to shops using chemicals in conjunction with cotton waste. The election officers were on their guard yesterday to make sure referendum ballot boxes didn’t contain any cotton waste which might help them meet the same fate. It’s not nice to think Australia has gone back on its mates by voting No.
Yesterday was Gerald’s birthday, his second since he left. I was thinking of him all day, wishing he was here. I am hoping he will catch up with Belle now she is in Egypt. I sent him off some flannel shirts which should be welcome as I hear it’s getting cold over there and Colin asked his mother for some. I thought this postcard would amuse him. It is one of two I sent.
The Bulls have been so hospitable to me since she left, knowing how much Belle means to me and how I feel her absence and that of my men, especially on their birthdays. They invited me to lunch with them today, Mr Bull, Annie and Marie, at the Club. They are genuine people and kind hearted to me always.
I have been fearfully down and lonely clearing up the house. I had a little back verandah porch built over the kitchen window that keeps the kitchen cool and makes an excellent sleeping out porch. I paid for it all myself with the usual fiver from Aunt Alice.
I am going on Sunday, Xmas Eve, to friends though Xmas without my men is never the same. It really seems as if this war will never stop. It has taken away such a fine lot of men, including my wounded soldier, Athol Percy, who is now but another of the thousands of young men killed. I have been writing to Athol since September last year and now he is gone, killed on his birthday, November 16th. My thoughts are with his mother, yet another woman whose son has been taken from her.
It is some comfort to know that my boys are well. Some poor fellows look so ill when they return. I flatter myself that my judiciously chosen parcels have something to do with keeping their spirits up. The last contained edibles, shirts and a pair of kneecaps, posted yesterday on Gerald’s birthday.
My faithful little Jo, has left this life. I miss him very much but he was thirteen, a great age for a dog. I can fancy his little brown ghost running round the garden and through the hole in the fence and tearing up the hill with his little yelp.
Continue to 1917
1915 deaths recorded by Edith.
MAKINSON, Roger Henry, aged 32, June 12, 1915, died at sea in a hospital ship off Gallipoli. He had been shot through the neck when washing his clothes. Cousin of Joe Makinson.
PULLING, Charles Willoughby Lee, aged 24, schoolmaster, killed in action (k.i.a.) August 7, 1915, Gallipoli. He was a school boy at SCEGGS and from North Sydney.
GUNNING, George “Strawberry”, k.i.a. Aug. 8, 1915, Gallipoli. His whereabouts were unknown for many months, with a mistaken report that he had been taken to hospital in Alexandria. He was finally declared dead on March 4th, 1916. He was a student at SCEGGS.
LOWE, Eric Lyndon, aged 18, died Sept. 10, 1915, in London of gunshot wounds received at Gallipoli on August 22nd.
GUTHRIE, Edward Percy Malcolm,’Nipper’, aged 21, died November 16, 1915 of sickness, stated to be acute appendicitis, Royal Hospital, Weymouth, England, six days after an operation. Nipper was at school with Gerry at SCEGGS and family neighbours in Kurabba Rd.
Dearest Mother, Only a line or so to tell you I am still alright and the same applies to Col. We are pegging along alright despite the cold weather. I might mention that I haven’t had a bath for three weeks, nearly a month, water is pretty scarce over here and the same applies to writing paper etc. This card comes out of a biscuit tin, part of our rations. Got a letter from John yesterday, he writes from Belgium, he may be going to England on leave and will go over to Wales to see the old man. Be good.
Love from Beau.
Bank of N.S.W.,
Richmond, 28th Feb
Dear Mrs Digby,
Thank you very much indeed for sending your son’s very interesting letter to us. We have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The dear boys. I can picture them coming off that Camel’s Hump and oh, how quietly they w’d steal along those saps to the beach & the wonderful feeling of safety once they were on the "Arron". Hope you will forgive me keeping it so long but we have so many friends to show it to. When you are writing to y’r boy will you give him my love & say we are all so comforted to know he is with Laddie & we hope he will be able to keep together. Laddie has not told us a word about the evacuation.
Again, many thanks for your letter & also for ringing up that Sat. morning. It was so nice of you to do so. Kind regards
Janet Dowling Brown.
A snowfall is going on outside as I sit in the Lounge writing to my sweetheart. I have been in France and am on my way to Scotland in response to Telegram wishing me to rejoin tomorrow. I have no instalment of my narrative written, so I am sending this as an interim note to tell you I am well and in excellent health. I am looking forward to getting your letters tomorrow at Greenock. Keep your spirits up, Dad.
When John Digby and fellow doctor and friend, Eric Blashki were due to leave Sydney Mrs Blashki had held a farewell party for them. This hand-made card of well wishers survives as testament to the occasion, signed by attendees including those three. Minnie and Aaron Blashki, Jewish, Polish immigrants, developed a number of businesses in Sydney, including the Eagle Tobacco Co, and it was from innie that Edie bought cigarettes she sent to her sons and others during the war. The Blashki's second son, Roy, lost his life in France, and in about 1930 Minnie and Aaron sold their businesses and settled in London near their daughter, Viva, whose signature appears on the farewell card above.
To his wife
The mother of soldiers
Space, dear my love, your lip from mine may
And only on the wind desire be cast.
As homing pigeon arrows straight this fast
Love flies to bear my heart beat to your
Call Hope and Courage, with their brother
Gentle withal to soothe a gnawing pain
Give them a home nor fear but you will
True friends to stand in trouble by your side.
Mortals are foredoomed to mortal woes;
We need the love of loves to sustain
Our strength whereas dark cares about us
For love unselfish breaking bank sets free
Waters of kindness for our neighbour's pain
Send, dear my heart, a heart beat back to me.
Greenock E.Digby 2 4/16
SOUTH SYDNEY CENTRE, SOLDIERS' WIVES AND MOTHERS.
New Centre Opened
'The fact that we have 300 members in our South Sydney Centre for Soldiers' Wives and Mothers, and between 30 and 40 women attending daily during the week,' said Mrs. Cooper Day at the opening of the new centre at Wentworth Hall, Botany-road, 'justifies our existence.'
The opening ceremony was graciously performed by Lady Helen Munro Ferguson at a crowded gathering. The manifest success of the undertaking is mainly due to those who fully realise the bond of sympathy which exists between women of all classes at this time.
Lady Helen said that war was such a new experience that we hardly realised what it meant to us and all around us. We felt like people that had been suddenly plunged into darkness, and looked round for a familiar hand. The object of the Association was to link the hands together and help the members to adapt themselves to the new conditions, to fight their battles, and to give them the courage that made their husbands and sons go forth to fight for their country.
Billingsgate Bill to his girl - From the Front
Yes - I've been and joined the Harmy
Tho' I doubt you'll think me barmy
But now that Kaiser Bill
Has invited us we will
Of fighting have our fill
Oh! They landed us in France,
And they lead us quite a dance
For they stick us in the trenches
Full of water, dread and stenches -
In the Force of Johhny French's
The Germans they ha' shelled us
In retreaten' they've excelled us
Now my right hand man is groanin'
And my wounded mates is moanin'
Like a parson bloke intonin'
Now we're in the thick of battle
And the ?? start to rattle
Gawd! He's got me clean and true -
And I runs the begger through
As I dies I think o' you
J. L. D. (undated)
A private cable has been received intimating that Dr Stuart Graham, aged 25, the son of the late Sir James Graham & Lady Graham of Neutral Bay, has been killed in France
SMH September 12th
1916 deaths recorded by Edith
GRAHAM, Stuart Millard (‘Peter”), aged 25, died 22 August, 1916, of wounds. He was from Neutral Bay.
MAKINSON, Francis Thomas Telesphonus (Frank), aged 37, died Aug 29, 1916, France. Frank was a solicitor’s clerk working at Ocean House, Moore St, Sydney, the same address as Everard’s offices, and was from Neutral Bay.
PERCY, Athol Eric Charles, k.i.a. on his 19th birthday, November 16th 1916, France. He had claimed to be 18 years old on enlistment in 1914, but had put his age up by one year. He was a ‘wounded soldier’ Edith began correspondence with in 1915.
Wounded & repatriated
HILL, Arthur, of Neutral Bay. Received wounds to his hand and right knee in May 1915, was repatriated back to Australia in March, 1916 and discharged from the AIF in July.