Annie sorts out the money.

January 1917 – Annie Wheeler needed to lend money to soldiers on leave from France because the money their mothers had cabled hadn’t arrived and by the time they received their pay they would be back in France.  While Annie didn’t mind lending money to her boys, money was tight and she refused to be the victim of bureaucratic incompetence.

The soldiers needed money on leave, in hospital, recovering from wounds or illness, even as prisoners of war.  While privates were paid six shillings a day, they only received five with one shilling paid on discharge or death.  If the soldier was married, two shillings a day were deducted for his dependents.  According to the Reserve Bank’s Pre-Decimal Inflation Calculator, six shillings in 1917 equates to around thirty dollars today.  If this doesn’t seem very much, it wasn’t, the amount was slightly below the basic wage, but more than the British or New Zealand soldiers received.   Additionally, a soldier’s pay was docked if he was found guilty of even a small misdemeanour such as drunkenness, returning late from leave, disobeying an officer, going AWOL or contracting VD.

When Rockhampton mother, Clara Hutton’s twenty-year-old son Falconer needed money after he was wounded (a bullet ricocheted off his rifle onto his face, forcing fragments of his cheek bone and eye socket into his eye) she had no idea what to do, so wrote to the AIF who told her the safest method of transmitting money was through the Commonwealth Bank. “This institution has full information as to the addressing of cables.”

The Commonwealth Bank, only a couple of years old when war broke out played a crucial role in making sure soldiers received money from Australia. The bank established agencies aboard naval ships and opened branches in Australia and abroad.  They also formed relationships with may overseas agents so soldiers could cash Australian notes and coins at a pre-negotiated rate.  At branches in London and training camps in the UK, staff helped soldiers transfer and receive money as quickly as possible with all charges borne by the bank.  With the help of the Red Cross the bank was able to ensure POWs had access to funds to purchase food and comforts – see my previous post for more information about the conditions for POWs.

The problem Annie Wheeler faced in 1917 was the same problem we face today if we need information about a bank account that is not our own.  Soldiers wrote to Annie from France asking her to cable their parents for money so it would be there when they had leave. Mothers wrote to Annie telling her they had cabled money but sometimes when the soldier was on leave the money hadn’t arrived.  Annie tried to sort it out but bank staff refused to give Annie any information about the accounts.  Frustrated, Annie approached Mr Elliot at the Queensland Agent-General’s office to find a solution.  Elliot introduced Annie to the Commonwealth Bank manager, Mr Campion who “promised anything in his power to help”.  He suggested Annie mark her letters to him “personal” and “he would see himself that I received the information I required.”  Annie was delighted and told him “his kindness would be much appreciated by the mothers of Central Queensland.”

Further Reading

More information about the Commonwealth Bank during the first world war – http://museum.rba.gov.au/exhibitions/from-bank-to-battlefield/challenges-of-war/

Mrs Clara Hutton’s letter to the AIF is on her son’s file and can be accessed via the NAA website – naa.gov.au.

Annie’s letter, 3 March 1917, published by “The Capricornian” is available via Trove – trove.nla.gov.au

 

Warm things, clean shirts and underpants needed.

11 January 1917.  Annie Wheeler was busy sending out New Year Parcels.  It was bitterly cold and the soldiers needed gloves, scarves, mufflers, mittens, warm socks and underwear.  Central Queensland women had organised themselves and had been knitting and sewing for months.  Mrs Hopper had volunteered to make 50 pair of socks.  Mothers also sent parcels, for their sons, directly to Annie who had a better chance of making sure they arrived safely. Annie had a knack for finding a soldier even when she only had the name of the ship he embarked on, though she did lament that once a soldier arrived at Salisbury Plains, a training camp in England, it was like “trying to find a needle in a haystack”.

Of course the parcels had to get to England first and the journey from Australia was more precarious for parcels than for passengers.  If the ship was hit by a U-Boat, passengers could be rescued whereas all possessions including parcels and letters were left to sink with the ship.

In October 1916, the S.S. Arabia left Australia with 439 passengers, 169 of them women and children and much needed parcels and letters for Annie to distribute.  Some of the items were for central Queensland soldiers who were prisoners of war and had told Annie the food the Germans gave them was not fit to eat.  Annie liaised with the Red Cross to make sure the necessary items got to her boys.  Annie would eyeball whomever she needed to eyeball in the Red Cross and Army HQ offices to ensure she got what she needed. Sometimes she paid for additional Red Cross supplies.

In her letter of 11 January 1917, one hundred years ago today, Annie detailed the contents of the POW Red Cross parcels to Mary Trotman, her able deputy working in Rockhampton.  The parcel contained “biscuits, beef dripping, tea, milk and sugar in tablets, soup in tablets, equal to nine plates, tin salmon, macaroni, coffee, vegetables, 12lb of army rations, beef-a-la-mond, rabbit, golden syrup, marmalade, Quaker oats, corned beef and ginger pudding”.  The POWs relied on the Red Cross Parcels.

As the Arabia sailed through the Mediterranean on 6 November 1916, no one sensed any danger but as the stewards started to serve pre-lunch bowls of beef soup the ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat without any warning. The torpedo hit the coal bunkers and passengers were thrown to the decks.  Some had deep lacerations and were badly concussed but their daily life-boat drills saved their lives; all the passengers escaped the sinking ship.  Eleven of the crew were killed and the cargo was lost.  When Annie heard about the disaster she was distraught and needed to find money to replace the supplies she feared were on board.  She was very relieved when letters and parcels showed up in the second week of January, and told Mary Trotman “so no doubt we have had mails via America and Suez.  A parcel of socks addressed to Private Orrock arrived.  These must be the 50 pairs from Lake’s Creek which I thought had gone down in the Arabia. I am so delighted they have turned up safely. Please thank Mrs Hopper and all those who put such splendid work into them.”

The sinking of the Arabia without warning increased tensions between Germany and the US who were poised to enter the war.

Further Reading

More information about the sinking of the Arabia  – http://www.peoplehelp.com.au/stories/arabia.html

More information about the relationship between Annie Wheeler and M.S. Trotman scroll down and read my previous post dated 30 November 2016 and titled December 1916

January 1917 – great thick flakes of snow

The first week of the 1917 new year was very cold.  Snow fell in “great thick flakes”.  The residents of 9 Lancaster Gate, Hyde Park huddled together around a dwindling fire trying to keep warm.  Coal was in short supply and the coal man had not made his scheduled delivery. Around the fire were Annie Wheeler and her daughter Portia and Belle Glasgow.

Belle was the wife of Brigadier-General TW Glasgow, known as William or Will.  Belle travelled from Queensland to London in 1916 to be closer to her husband during the war, leaving her two daughters, Joan and Beth, in the care of her family.   In his biography of Glasgow, Peter Edgar tells a story that when Belle heard from a returned soldier William was having “the time of his life” she booked her passage to London.  It is clear they discussed her coming to London but William would have liked “the show to be over” before she did.  While holidaying in Sandgate she cabled William and he agreed for her to come.  He may have thought she was bringing the girls who were only eleven and seven at the time and wasn’t happy she was coming alone.  He wrote to Joan, the eldest, “I have now just had a cable saying she (Belle) was leaving on the 16th of September.  I wonder what she is doing with you and Beth?  Have you gone to a boarding school, to Gympie or Granny?  It would have been lovely if she had brought you over.”  (A photo of his original letter dated 22 September 1916 is at the top of the post)

Their letters, which are part of the State Library of Queensland’s collection (Sir Thomas William Glasgow and Lady Glasgow Papers), give an extraordinary insight into their marriage which was intimate, loving, ordinary and complicated with its ups and downs like all marriages.  While the story is a little one-sided (Belle was the meticulous record keeper and only William Glasgow’s letters to her are available) it is possible to imagine the contents of her letters to him because of Will’s references to them and Belle’s letters to her daughters are full of information that give a sense of her personality and what mattered to her.  Belle’s father was a journalist who had owned “The Gympie Times” and her talent as a writer is evident in her detailed descriptions of London during the war.

On 4 January 1917, exactly one hundred years ago today, Belle wrote a four-page letter to her daughters describing her visit to Westminster Abby and giving them a potted history of the people buried there.  She told them the tombs were covered with sandbags as protection against the Zeppelin raids.  Belle described the snow falling “in great thick flakes”.  Some days a glorious bright and sunny day would change before she had a chance to walk outside.  “London with its many and various climate changes in one day is a queer place.” Belle relayed information about various family members who had been injured in the war and talked about recovering from her cold.

William’s letters to Belle while he was in France are full of domestic matters.  He rarely mentions details of the war but he tells her how he feels each day.  He commanded the 13th division and his anguish when his soldiers are killed is palpable.  He writes to Belle each night before he goes to bed and he relied on her letters.  In the first week of 1917 he received a letter with her handwriting on the envelope but found it was a letter Belle had forwarded.  He tells her how disappointed he was when he opened it and saw there was no letter from her.  He wrote care of the Queensland National Bank in London and they forwarded the letters to Belle at Lancaster Gate.

No ringing in the 1917 new year

The mood in London was sombre as the new year approached.  No grand public celebrations were planned, indeed ‘no bells were rung, no sirens sounded on the river, no cheering.  Few wishes were exchanged.  The few that were took the form of “a happier year” or “a better year”.[1] There is no mention of new year celebrations in Annie Wheeler’s or her daughter Portia’s letters.  It is business as usual; visiting injured soldiers, writing to families, sending parcels, hassling the war office for information about missing soldiers, volunteering at the Anzac Buffet and raising money to fund their work.

The new year was business as usual for the soldiers too; the job of killing Germans and being killed continued. Soldiers who had witnessed the horrors of the Somme and Verdun were no longer the romantics who had signed up for king and country but hardened veterans who ridiculed patriotic talk and were more likely to despise their incompetent commanders than the Germans they fought.  Paul Ham, in his new book on the battle of Passchendaele, describes soldiers marking the 1917 new year by singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ but changing the lyrics to reflect their state of mind.

‘We’re here because we’re here,

Because we’re here, because we’re here

We’re here because we’re here

because we’re here because we’re here’[2]

The English public was also unable to escape the realities of a war entering its third year.  Badly wounded and disfigured men filled the streets of London and these men, scarred and missing limbs, were the lucky ones as the number of dead and those languishing in  hospitals continued to climb.

At the end of December 1916 Annie wrote “At last I have found Don and Calder Mowat.  The former is at Brankesmere Hospital, Southsea and Calder is at the Third Western General Hospital, Cardiff.  Don is suffering from trench feet but is able to get out sometimes in a bath chair.” Don’s feet were so bad he wasn’t able to re-join his unit until April 1917.  He suffered gunshot wounds in 1917 and again in 1918 and then re-fractured his arm in a fall.  This injury precipitated an inquiry as there was some doubt as to whether it was caused by an accident or self-inflicted.  The inquiry concluded it was accidental and Don survived the war.  His younger brother Calder did not survive.  Calder was killed in action in France in April 1918.  He was only 21.

Annie had also been looking for George Phillips and on the 29th December 1916 received a letter from his brother, Arthur, telling her George was in Southmead Hospital, Bristol.  George who was only 19 when he enlisted was wounded at Gallipoli and caught rheumatic fever, from which he never really recovered.  He was discharged as medically unfit citing shell shock and rheumatic fever.  His older brother Arthur also suffered shell shock after being wounded in action in France.  Not long before he wrote to Annie he went AWOL for several days and when he returned he was fined ten days pay.  Reading their files (digital copies are available on the NAA website) it is clear both brothers were deeply traumatised by their experiences and spent the war in and out of hospital.  Neither brother married.

Further Reading 

Ham, P. (2016). Passchendaele – Requiem for Doomed Youth. Sydney: William Heinemann.

White, J. (2014). Zeppelin Nights – London in the First World War. London: Vintage Books.

 

 

[1] (White, 2014)

[2] (Ham, 2016)

December 1916 – Miss Kitty Moir visits Annie and Portia.

“Where am I to begin to tell you about everything that has taken place since I wrote last? Kitty Moir was writing to her mother Mrs T. Moir not long after arriving at Girton College Cambridge in 1916.  The letter was published in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin in January 1917 and is available on Trove.  The city of Rockhampton was very proud of Kitty and the newspaper had written many stories about her academic successes over the years.  Kitty was the first Rockhampton woman to be awarded a Masters of Arts by the University of Sydney and the first Australian woman to graduate with first-class honours and receive the University medal for modern languages.  Kitty then became the first woman to win the James King Travelling Scholarship and in 1917 began her studies at Cambridge.

When Kitty arrived at Plymouth from Australia there was a letter from Annie Wheeler – Annie would meet her at Paddington Station in London.  Kitty had a little trouble clearing customs because of a tin of wattle Mary Trotman had sent Annie.  When they opened the tin the wattle had gone mouldy and Kitty begged to let it through.  She must have realised how much it would mean to Annie.  When Annie wrote to Mary she told her “it was with sorrow I have to tell you the wattle and bottle brush was all mildewed when it arrived; but I was able to get two or three little sprays out of the centre.”  She went on to say she had “no words to express her gratitude to the dear people who gathered it and packed it.  Home seemed very near to me when I saw it.”

When Kitty arrived at Paddington Station it was almost nine o’clock at night and the station was so crowded she didn’t think she would be able to find Annie Wheeler but as she was waiting for her luggage Annie found her and took her in the waiting cab to Lancaster Gate.  After a welcome night sleep in a comfortable bed on dry land Annie wasted no time and took Kitty to meet Sir Thomas Robinson, the Queensland Agent General who told her to consider him her “English Godfather”.  Annie helped Kitty set up her bank account and transfer the money she would need for university.

Everything in London was new to Kitty and she found the underground so different and the London buses wonderful.  She was struck by the fact they were two storied and you had to climb the stairs while they were moving and was even more struck by the fact they have girls as conductors.  She enjoyed being in London and seeing Annie’s work and was there when a number of soldiers stopped by to visit.  Kitty told her mother “Now that I have seen the grand work that Mrs Wheeler does, I do not feel that people have been nearly grateful enough to her.”

A few days later when it was time to leave for Girton College, Portia took Kitty to the station in a taxi because Annie had a meeting at the Agent General’s office.  The Christmas work was not yet done.

December 1916 – Portia falls in love.

In December 1916 Annie Wheeler and her daughter Portia were busy seeing the many Queensland soldiers who were on leave or furlough in London. Their letters are filled with the names of soldiers they’ve seen. “Wilfred McLaughlin had lunch with us the same day.  He is on furlough.  Bill Orrock was here last week.  Jack Atherton came on his way to flying school. Noel Trotman came down from Grantham for four days leave.  He had tea and dinner with us today.”

In the middle of December Fred Fox came in and had tea with them. For Portia, something about Fred set him apart from the other soldiers; her heart quickened and butterflies filled her stomach.

Fred joined the army on the 4th September 1914 and on the morning of the 25th April 1915 was one of the first to step onto the beach at Gallipoli.  He was part of all the Australian efforts there until he was hospitalised on Lemnos with fever a few weeks before the evacuation.   Fred’s brother Norman was also at Gallipoli and they were sent to different parts of Egypt at the end of 1915.  Norman was badly wounded in a training exercise and Fred desperately wanted to see him.  Denied leave, Fred talked to his superiors and they agreed to turn a blind eye to his absence.  According to his son Norman (presumably named after his brother) who has written an extensive family history available online,  (www.foxfamilyhistory.com) Fred walked for a night and day across the desert but was unable to reach Norman before he died.

Fred’s son believed Portia and Fred met during the war, probably earlier in 1916.  Annie first mentions Fred in a letter to Mary Trotman which was published in the “Capricornian” in June 1916.  Apparently Annie had had a letter from H.J. Wallace.  “He said he had seen Fred Fox so we know he is in France, and we hope to see Fred and Peter Stuart soon.”  Between June and September 1916, Fred was with the 49th Battalion in France.  The Battalion “moved into the trenches of the Western Front for the first time on 21 June. It fought in its first major battle at Mouquet Farm in August and suffered heavily, particularly in the assault launched on 3 September”(awm.gov.au/unit/U51489/).  On 23 September Fred was sent back to England for further training.

By Christmas 1916 Fred had been part of the horrors of Gallipoli and Pozieres.  The official war correspondent Charles Bean was also at Mouquet Farm and in his official history describes “the flayed land, shell–hole bordering shell–hole, corpses of young men lying against the trench walls or in shell–holes; some – except for the dust settling on them – seeming to sleep; others torn in half; others rotting, swollen and discoloured” (ww1westernfront.gov.au/pozieres-windmill/aif-memorial-mouquet-farm/mouquet-farm.php).

Fred had seen all this and it was this man Portia was falling in love with. After the war Portia and Fred married and Annie walked her daughter down the aisle.

 

 

 

 

 

7 December 1916

On the first weekend in December 1916 Annie Wheeler and her daughter Portia were in Eastbourne having a well-earned break before starting on the Christmas work.  Annie’s husband, Henry Wheeler’s family lived in Eastbourne and Annie was very friendly with her sister-in-law Portia.  Henry died of complications from a horse-riding accident in 1903 and Annie and her daughter Portia were in England because Henry wanted young Portia to finish her education in England. Eastbourne was a Victorian seaside resort town in Sussex and about an hour and a half by train from Victoria Station.

When they returned to Lancaster Gate they started their Christmas work.  Annie had received twenty-five letters from Queensland mothers and needed to write to each of their sons.  Many of the letters asked Annie to send cakes or socks or warm vests to their sons and contained money or details about how the money would be transferred. Parcels to the front from Australia often went missing and mothers knew Annie’s parcels had a better chance of getting to the boys. Not only did Annie and Portia have to answer each of these letters but they had to buy the supplies, make and send the parcels.

On Monday 4th December 1916 Annie went to Mrs Hall’s tea party. Mrs Hall entertained eight boys from the Australian Hospital in Southall every Monday afternoon.  After they had tea, sandwiches, bread, cake and homemade soda, a friend would sing, play and recite for them.  Annie would ply the soldiers with questions asking who they had seen, whether they’d heard anything about so and so?  Annie used this information to follow up requests from families who were desperately looking for their sons and brothers.  Some hadn’t heard anything for months or in some cases years.

In Annie’s index card boxes, which are part of the State Library of Queensland collection, there is a card for Percy Augustus Hiron.  Mrs Hiron wrote looking for word about her son Percy.  She hadn’t heard from him and heard rumours he was shell shocked or injured.  She believed she hadn’t heard from him because “he was no scholar.”  There is correspondence between Mrs Hiron and the military in Percy’s war records digitised by the National Archive of Australia.  Percy was wounded at some stage and did recover but perhaps more interestingly and something they didn’t tell Mrs Hiron was Percy was court-martialled and trialled in 1917.  It seems he and another soldier were escorting two prisoners who escaped.  Percy and the other man (Baker) were not carrying their rifles and were unable to do anything to stop the escape.  Not carrying their riffles was an offence and the reason they were court-martialled.  They elected to be tried together and at their trial they were acquitted and returned to their unit.  Percy survived the war.

Also on this day 100 years ago Lloyd George became prime minister and in December 1916 Belle Glasgow (wife of Major General William Glasgow) who was staying at the same boarding house as Annie and Portia, wrote to her daughters, who were in Gympie, telling them London was so dirty she had to wash her hair once a week.  Belle’s letters are part of the SLQ collection.