The following are extracts from Edie's letters on the influenza pandemic of 1918/19.
Everard’s ship was due at Freemantle yesterday but I have heard nothing further. The transports are coming in every day but a lot of them have to go into quarantine for this wretched influenza. I hope Everard’s is a clean ship.
Everard arrived in Sydney on Boxing Day - they were quarantined in Melbourne as I feared.
We are all going around liked masked burglars in Sydney on account of the influenza, everybody masked down to the smallest child. All schools and churches, picture shows and theatres are shut, also all public houses. All race meetings are stopped and auction sales except those in the open. Mask wearing is very trying in this hot weather so I go out as little as possible. All Red Cross depots are closed but I am spinning at home for the knitting machines.
It was unlucky this wretched influenza should break out just as he came home, as it keeps us from going out. He might like surfing or walking or something.
The law on masks has been relaxed and we only have to wear them on trams, trains and in the cabins of ferries. I am sorry to see influenza is so bad in England. I only hope John escapes it as he is so liable to colds
Adjusting to having a man in the house again, after his being away at war for nearly 5 years, Edith looks as if she is practising social distancing.
On the exploration of my ancestors there is always that wish that they will be good people. By this, I mean that they treat other people well; they do not take advantage of people worse off than themselves and so on. The imposts on families leading to the chasm that existed between the landed gentry and the workers, resulted in tragedy at social, economic, religious and personal levels, But the Digby Family has been portrayed and caring and kind, so when transcribing the letters describing the Digby family life and those of their workers at Drumdaff, the question would inevitably arise in my brain – is this true or is the author not wanting to upset the reader.
I recently received an email from a man whose family is part of the story of Life of the Workers. Without any prompting from me, he wrote: “The stories handed down to me about the Digbys agrees with your story, their Landlord/Tenant relationships were good ones, unlike most of the other ones. If it was otherwise I would say.”
The following story verifies this.
The local Relief Committee during the Famine, Roscommon
Whilst we hear many stories of the most terrible conditions of people during the Famine, there were those who worked together for the relief of poverty and need. One of these was the Rev. Mr Hawkes, vicar of Farraher, who was also a member of the Relief Committee and a relative of Catherine Digby nee Hawkes). The Committee was sent a letter in July 1846, complaining of the actions of Rev. Hawkes and organization of roadwork by a party of 92 men and women, 14 boys and ten carts, a number “twice as numerous as it ought to be”.
To this work force, Reverend Mr. Hawkes “directed the Overseer not to employ carts but to perform all this wheeling by means of barrows. Of these he had but a small supply…” As a result many of the number had no work to do, so were directed by a Mr. McDermott to sit on a fence and watch, and told that they would “still be paid as much as if they worked.” The letter ends calling for the removal of the Hawkes and McDermott from the relief committee.
It is clear that the Rev. Mr. Hawkes lost his standing with the government officials due to his standing on the siding with the people and two months later the Committee was reorganize to preclude his memberships and that of McDermott..
In another incident, the Vicar of Kilgefin, Rev. William Beeche, secretary of the Committee, was informed that the Relief Commission would not grant aid unless subscriptions were first raised from local landowners. He wrote to say that George Digby of Drumdaff had undertaken “to provide for all his tenants without exception.” He himself had bought two milch cows to provide milk for the poor.
William Beeche wrote:
All this will take a great burden off the Relief Committee. I consider George Digby’s offer as an equivalent to a subscription of one hundred and fifty pounds. I have taken a copy of your letter and sent it to all absentee landlords. I hope your Excellency will consider I will be entitled to some relief and positively declare that many are half-starving.
Beeche was told that he had to submit a more considerable sum that the initial eighteen pounds he raised, for which he was matched with thirteen pounds. From then on Kilgiefin did not receive any more aid and six months later he wrote to The Society of Friends in Dublin that “the people are falling like leaves”.
One of the people I recently contacted through messages is a descendant of a 12th Light Horse soldier. He left a wonderful diary that takes you, day by day into the lives of the soldiers in Egypt, including both Gerry Digby, my grandfather, and his dear friend Colin Bull. How thrilling it was to be there with them.
He also sent me the photo below, of Gerry (back) Colin and Col's brother, Clifford, (left) which I have sent on to the Bull family. One of the most wonderful aspects of all this research is sharing. You just never know what is going to turn up.
The following excert from the war diary of
Today is Day 1 of my return to and updating of my website and much has happened in the time between now and then. Instead of going through the unrolling of events over the past years, I would like to tell you of my thoughts for today on a small miracle. It is about the unknown impacts a seemingly small gesture can have through time.
Early in the First World War, after my great grandmother, Edie, had seen off first her husband, then her older son as a doctor to Europe, and lastly her younger one to Egypt, she was left living alone for the first time in her life. With her dedication to war work, she did not have a great deal of time for socialising, but one place she sought company was at the Womens' Club. One day when she called in there for lunch she found an envelope waiting for her, plain and buff coloured, with the words For Mrs Digby with Mrs Ranken's love. Inside was a poem, A Mother's Song, a heart rending reminder that, no matter what country you were from, no matter what relationship you have to the soldier, whether son or brother, "it little matters whose boy if you are one boy's mother". To include this in Violet and Rose's performance reading of A Dreadful Time for Mothers, the wonderful Nadine Budge put the poem to music which adds much to its power and poignancy, and reduces many to tears.
As I listened again to it today, I started reflecting on the story, the journey of this poem. When Mrs Ranken carefully wrote out the words, as she waited for the ink to dry, folded it, popped it into the envelope, as she wrote on the envelope to ensure Edie would receive it, there is no way she could she have envisaged the journey it would take, and the effect it would have on those who read or heard it over the years. That Edie kept it so carefully so that it made its way through time to touch us as we listen, to me is nothing short of a small miracle. What a story it could tell.
Violet and Rose, AKA Clare Larman and Maureen Hartley, who took Edith's story, live, into the public arena.
April 25 at 12:44 PM
Today, on Anzac Day, Maureen Hartley and I, of Violet&Rose productions would like to share a small glimpse of our show 'A Dreadful Time for Mothers' that we have had the honour to present as Readings at the Old Treasury Building in Melbourne @oldtreasurymelb and in Brisbane over the past 18 months. These snippets were recorded from our homes yesterday.
We were fortunate to be able to access Maureen's friend Penny Bristol-jones ' Great-Grandmother Edith Digby's diary and letters that she wrote from her home in Neutral Bay, Sydney during WW1. Edie had a husband and two sons serve in the Great War. Everard, her husband, was in the Suez Canal when war broke out in 1914. He was an Officer and stayed for the duration of the war. Their eldest son John, a Doctor, joined up in March 1915 - he was 22, and their youngest son, Gerald (and Penny's Grandfather) followed at the age of 20 in August 1915.
Edie was alone at home during that - in her words - 'long and lonely' time. She wrote copious letters to her men to keep up their spirits, and poured out her heart in her diary as she watched from her front window more and more troopships leave the Harbour taking men and women to 'this cursed war'.
Edie's writings give us a rare and full glimpse into the lives of the many women who were at home - sometimes alone for the first time in their lives - loyally sending letters and comfort parcels, knitting socks for soldiers, attending to the families who were left destitute, rallying to end the war, and 'keeping the home fires burning' in anticipation of their loved ones returning to them. Edie taught spinning for the Red Cross and worked tirelessly to stay busy. She tended a beautiful garden, dreamed up many tasty dishes to feed her men on their return, had various pets to keep her company, kept a close circle of friends who were her life blood and battled her own demons in quiet throughout this time.
Edie was awarded for her services after the war.
Ironically, Edie wrote a lot about the Spanish 'flu, or 'the influenza' as she referred to it, and how it affected them. Mask wearing was mandatory, schools, pubs, theatres etc were closed, and there was a general feeling of isolation. Sound familiar?!
As mothers ourselves, Maureen and I could not comprehend the heartache these women must have felt, and their stoicism was inspiring to us. We felt privileged to be able to give voice to Edie's words, and went about editing and bringing together a show that could let Edie's voice shine without props, costume or paraphernalia. We called it - in Edie's own words - 'A Dreadful Time for Mothers'. We invite the audience to just 'sit back and listen' for 50 minutes as Edie takes us on a journey, now over 100 years old. Poignantly, our first Reading was on November 11, 2018. We hope to once again present this in November this year - all being safe to do so.
We hope you enjoy these very short excerpts and keep a small candle burning (virtually or physically) and remember not only the men and women who fought during War (any war) and whose memory we honour today, but for those who stayed at home, keeping the Nation going, and hoped (sometimes in vain) and prayed for the safe return of their loved ones.
I will keep my Dad's memory alive today. James William John Larman served in WW2 in New Guinea, and I'm sure, though I never knew my Grandparents, that their thoughts would have been very similar to Edie's in that they longed for his safe return throughout that horrendous time. Obviously he did, went on to marry Pat and had seven children together. We were proud of our Dad. His Army buddies were his closest and most valued friends.
Lest We Forget
PS Lovingly collated by Penny Bristol-jones is the whole of Edie's writings. Go to: digbystories.com
PPS Also, Phoebe Hartley , Maureen's daughter made a beautiful podcast of this story that can be heard today at 5.30pm on Radio National's The History Listen called Edie's war.
Thanks for listening and reading this long tract!
Planning meeting for the Brisbane Anywhere Festival, 2019
Stencils Edie used to decorate the comfort parcels she sent to her men.
setting up the installationof Edie's collection for Brisbane
Edie's dress collar, needle holder and photos she kept of her men.
From Violet&Rose Productions Facebook page...
"Heading to Brisbane at the end of the month to be a part of the Anywhere Festival.
We're presenting 'Til The Boys come Home. Readings from the diary and letters of Edie Digby an Australian woman whose two sons and husband were overseas fighting in WW1, and immersed in a beautiful Exhibition of her family's memorabilia preserved by Edie's great grand-daughter and Installation Artist, Penny Bristol Jones.
If you're in Brisbane or surrounds, come along - we'd love to see you there!"
SHARING STORIES – MAKING CONNECTIONS
I have always loved stories. One of my very earliest and treasured memories is of my grandfather Gerald Digby reading to me, a wide eyed four year old, as I snuggled up beside him in bed each morning when he and Gran came to stay with us.
Story telling is as ancient as human habitation of our planet, it is what we humans do, and have done for as long as we have been able to communicate. Story telling is essential to our forming connections, connections to place and people, to imagination and ideas. It is a way of knowing and sharing your heritage, and through this having a stronger understanding of self. You have only to watch the TV show, Where Do I Come From? to see the importance to each individual as they gain answers to this question. My own mother-in-law did not find out where she came from until she was in to her 70’s, when she not only discovered her heritage, but met 3 sisters she never knew existed, and saw a photo of her birth mother for the first time in her life. To witness her joy was one of those unforgettable moments in my life, and still brings tears to my eyes.
I was born in Australia, a country whose first peoples have a culture that is, at 60,000 years, the oldest continuing culture in the world, maintained through story telling, passed down through generation after generation. Stories form connections between people through time, they form connections with place, with earth, sky, water, mountains and forest. It is through story telling that we accumulate knowledge, sustain spirituality and gain wisdom, all of which enrich us.
Ireland, too, has a long tradition of oral story telling, one which is being celebrated across the country through Heritage Week. I am enormously honoured to have been asked to be part of this celebration, and thank Caitlin Browne in particular for inviting me. Not only am I thrilled to be part of this celebration of culture, but to finally come back to Ireland. After nearly 30 years.
For nearly twenty years I have been collecting and collating information and stories from my family's past, much of it from Ireland. It has been like creating a huge jigsaw, gathering the pieces and finding a place for them between and connected to others. Little pieces of a story that seem to have no relevance can, months or even years later, unexpectedly become a gem that forms a link between seemingly unconnected parts of a story, or links to another person out there who also shares some aspect of your story.
I have had many experiences that illustrate this. I will give you one example, not from my grandfather Digby’s Irish side, but my grandmother’s whose family, the McKees went to Australia from Kilkenny and Tipperary. It is a touching and beautiful example of a family story making a connection that filled a gap and healed a heart.
McKee family members sailed to Australia, first one brother with his mother, wife and three children in 1840, then the other, a widower with three children in 1856, after spending time in America where his wife died. My great grandfather Charles McKee eventually took up farming land in central Queensland around 1904 with his wife Annie and seven children – and where they had three more children. Charles and Annie were great believers in education for all their children, boys and girls, and so erected a timber schoolhouse and employed a governess. At some stage the local Anglican Minister sent to the McKees a man named Fred Langston who was dying from cancer and wanted to spend his last days in the bush. He was accompanied by two of his sons and while their father camped out the young boys joined the McKee children in the school house. Fred died in 1911, but the boys stayed on with the McKee family until adulthood when they went off to make lives of their own.
Like many people, over the years I have made entries to various genealogical websites, sharing information as well as seeking it out. One day, some ten or so years ago, I received an email from a woman saying she had seen my entries about the McKee family on a website, and although she wasn’t family, she wondered if I may be able to help her. Her father, it transpired, was one of the sons of Fred Langston who grew up with my family, but the only part of the story his daughter was ever able to extract from her father was that his father had died when he was a boy. He must have mentioned the McKees, for the name was familiar to her, prompting her to contact me. The circumstances of her father’s life and her grandfather’s death were a mystery she had been trying to solve for years, and despite searching all death records, cemetery records and anything else remotely plausible as a lead, she had no success, just dead ends. She was particularly desperate to find her grandfather’s grave, and was there, she asked, anything in my McKee records that might help?
As I read through the message the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and my scalp began tingling. Fortunately I was fairly quickly able to find what I was looking for. Firstly were notes of a conversation with my grandmother, Frances McKee, about her life growing up on the property that not only included the story of Fred, but, in addition, there was a crudely hand drawn map and beside “creek” and not far from “Road” a rough square. Written beside it were the words GRAVE (LANGSTON, POSSUM SKINNER DIED TB). (TB, as we later discovered, was incorrect). Not only had the whereabouts of Frederick Church Langston’s resting place been found, but also some of his story. You can well imagine how relieved and thrilled his grand-daughter was to have finally solved the mystery of his death, and to read the story of her family’s time on the McKee property.
This experience and others like it, have reinforced my commitment to sharing my stories, for they are not just mine, but belong to anyone whose life is enriched by anything the information in my care might add to their story.
I have been extraordinarily fortunate to become the keeper of the documents for our family. The Digby collection I was entrusted with is quite remarkable in its breadth and depth, particularly given the fate of so many Irish records in the past. I come from a long line of hoarders. Handed down through the generations of our family was a treasure trove of primary source material, not just from Ireland but continuing on after Everard Digby’s arrival in Australia in 1881, and through to the 1960’s with letters from Mrs Elizabeth Gillooly and Mrs Elizabeth Smyth and others from Roscommon to my grandparents, Gerald and Frances Digby (he being Everard’s younger son).
In these letters memories from the past as well as current news was exchanged, maintaining connection both between the two families that began who knows how many generations ago, and between present and past. Mrs Gillooly wrote:
As I write in the parlour I see the daffodils in bloom on the lawn…they were sown by the Digby family many years ago and never failed to bloom since.
Bev set off back to Melbourne this morning so I have been floundering along with the web site on my own. Placement of photos and page layout are the challenges for me at the moment. A busy week ahead with lovely Eileen arriving tonight from her sojourn with the Dalai Lama at Uluru. She is here til Thursday and I am very excited. I will have to juggle my time with my school mural project and a visit to the knee doctors...bits of me are wearing out now I am 70.
An exciting evening with my friend Bev who is teaching me how to set up a website to share all my family stories on. Fuelled by some lovely chocolate, we are sitting at the red laminex table in the kitchen, me taking notes and practising, and Bev patiently coaxing me along.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Header Photo Acknowledgement - From the Roscommon Library Facebook Page 24/8/18-Photographs courtesy Glynn Photography, Castlerea. #heritageweek18"