Children killed in bomb attack

One hundred years ago, on the 25th of May 1917, 95 people were killed and 192 injured when bombs exploded in the busy streets of Folkestone on the Kent coast in England.  In the late afternoon, as people went about their business, German Gotha planes dropped several bombs without any warning.  More than half of those killed were women and children.  Authorities had decided not to install warnings in the seaside town because they didn’t want to scare off visitors.  Reports in the Dover Express at the time describe “the ghastly scenes in the main street of the town where the dead and wounded were lying about in the streets, mixed up with dead horses and smashed vehicles and wreckage from the shops”.  A large number of people were killed outside the greengrocer’s shop.

The German press was thrilled with the success of the raid which proved the Gothas were capable of dropping bombs from a great height in daylight.  Even though the news was heavily censored in England people feared it was only a matter of time before the bombs reached London.

Annie and Portia Wheeler, like most people in the capital, had grown accustomed to air raids.  As soon as a warning sounded Annie headed to the basement with her writing pad and work book.  Many of the long letters to Mary Trotman, in Rockhampton, were written during air raids.   The air raids gave them a chance to catch up on their increasing workload.  The number of soldiers on Annie’s books doubled in 1917.  Annie’s Christmas present, “Just the Link Between”, written by the central Queensland community left no doubt about the value of her work.  Compiled by Nellie Coar, the book was a 1917 calendar containing 365 expressions of gratitude and appreciation; one for each day of the year.  Dorothy Boyle’s entry on the 26th May sums up the community’s feeling.  A copy of the book is in the SLQ Collection.

May extract from 'Just the Link Between'Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 11.16.49 am

May also contained a military march composed by Helena Miller.  It was called “The Wheeler”.  One hundred years after it was composed Brian Cleary recorded the music. Click on this link to listen to it.  The Wheeler

Annie had become the link between the mothers and their sons which the drawing on the cover represents.  Inside links of chain are a soldier, Annie in the middle and his mother and father reading her letters in the paper.

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December 1916

One hundred years ago, on the 30th November 1916, Annie Wheeler wrote to Miss M.S. Trotman (Mary Stewart) from her boarding house in Lancaster Gate, London.  Annie and Mary had both worked for Doctor Voss in Rockhampton; Annie, a nurse and Mary, Doctor Voss’s secretary.  “Mothering” her boys required money and Rockhampton based Mary was Annie’s financial lynchpin, setting up and managing bank accounts and money transfers, raising funds and co-ordinating fund raising efforts.  Mary was also the primary contact person for Annie and Portia and the boys’ families.  Rather than write to every family about their sons, bothers and husbands,  Annie wrote detailed letters to Mary who ensured the letters were published in the local newspapers, “The Capricornian” and “Morning Bulletin”.

Annie’s letter of the 30th November (a digitised copy is available on Trove) began by expressing her gratitude, “I really do not know how to express my gratitude to all the kind friends who helped Miss Nellie Coar to send me that splendid donation of £86 to spend on my boys.” According to the Reserve Bank of Australia Inflation Calculator, this would be equivalent to about $8,376 today.  Nellie Coar raised this money by publishing a book “Just the Link Between”.  The book (a copy is in the SLQ collection) is really a calendar with quotes for each day of 1917 submitted by people who wanted to thank Annie.  Advertisers paid for the cost of the book and all proceeds from sales were sent to Annie.

Annie acknowledged many other donations totalling £143, almost $14,000 today.  With winter upon them Annie used the money to make up parcels to send to the boys. Since her last letter to Mary Trotman Annie had sent off “fifty-three parcels to one of our battalions, each containing a warm under vest (with long sleeves), a muffler and a pair of knitted socks”.  There was also “playing cards, cribbage boards and race games”.

Another Queenslander, Belle Glasgow, wife of then Brigadier-General William Glasgow was living at the same boarding house at Lancaster Gate as Annie and Portia at the end of November 1916.  Belle had left her two daughters in Gympie and was living in London to be closer to her husband.  The Glasgow letters are part of the SLQ collection.