February 8th 1917, Annie Wheeler wrote to her friend Mary Trotman in Rockhampton thrilled to receive the photograph of Charlie Snelling who was the first Rockhampton boy to win a decoration. Lieutenant Snelling (he was given a commission following his decoration) was a regular visitor to Lancaster Gate and Annie was very fond of him. He was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal for “staying behind and blowing up his machine guns when he found their position could not be held”. The Distinguished Conduct Medal is the oldest British award for distinguished, gallant and good conduct in the field and is the second highest award for gallantry in action after the Victoria Cross. Less than half a percent of all men enlisted received this award. Annie told Mary “he is very modest this brave boy and will not talk about his deed of heroism.” Charlie gave Annie “a piece of the ribbon which General Birdwood pinned the medal on his breast.” Annie had seen Charlie at the end of January and they went to Kensington Pond to see if there was any skating but unfortunately the ice wasn’t safe. The danger signals were also up at the Serpentine.
Many central Queensland boys were being given commissions in January 1917. In Annie’s letter of February 8th, she mentioned Jack Fryer, Mr Bensley and Mr Colvin had all received commissions and were on leave waiting to head back to France. Commissions were a hot topic of conversation in London as some people attempted to use their network of friends to influence decisions. Brigadier-General William Glasgow complained to his wife “if all these youngsters were as keen about their work as they are about their promotions their promotion would come without their worrying about it.”
Meanwhile Belle Glasgow was looking for a flat of her own. She was tired of boarding house life and William wanted them to have a place of their own when he was on leave. He wrote to his daughters Joan and Beth back home in Australia, “mother is thinking of taking a flat in London and she has quite a nice one in view. It will be like going home when I go to see her in London next time.” At the end of January, early February William was having “a fit of the blues” and found small things worried him and he was taking things too seriously. Their relationship was also strained at times; he became upset if she didn’t write regularly and she found it difficult to find something to write about every day. His letters are full of their attempts to resolve their difficulties. Reading their letters one hundred years later, Belle either couldn’t grasp the danger her husband faced or chose to focus on the small domestic issues of their lives in a way to survive the war and its horrors. Maybe William was soothed by the distraction. Their physical intimacy was also a comfort. On February 8th, he mentions her reference to her small bed and tells her “I wish I could share your small bed. I think it would add to both our comfort.”
Annie Wheeler’s wartime letters to Mary Trotman have been digitised by the National Library of Australia and are available on Trove. trove.nla.gov.au
William Glasgow’s wartime letters to his wife Belle Glasgow and their daughters Joan and Beth have been digitised by the State Library of Queensland and are available on their website. slq.qld.gov.au
The Australian War Memorial for information about wartime awards and decorations. awm.gov.au