London Attacked

German Gotha bombers attacked London in a deadly daylight raid one hundred years ago on July 7th 1917.   Gotha planes which could fly higher and undetected in daylight had replaced Zeppelins and Londoners were unprepared for the attack.  Witnesses mistakenly assumed the planes were their own until they saw the deadly bombs drop over the East End and London city.  57 people were killed and almost 200 injured.

Annie Wheeler cabled her friend Mary Trotman in Rockhampton because she knew she would be anxious when she heard about the raid.

There were no warnings and the first Annie knew of the raid was the sound of guns in the distance at about ten-thirty in the morning.   When the sounds came nearer and nearer she realised “the enemy airplanes were overhead and thought it time to go down to the basement.”  Annie told Mary Trotman “everyone – even the little children – was quite calm”.  She reassured Mary, “no bombs were dropped in Victoria Street” where she was living.

95 British aircraft were sent up to defend the capital.  Annie realised the guns she had heard were “our own anti-aircraft.”  After a while Annie went up to the roof to see what was happening and counted about “thirty enemy planes” overhead.  “We just got on the roof in time to see the last one disappearing.”  The British planes chased the enemy aircraft over the channel bringing down one plane but losing two of their own.  Three young British airmen died.

Eleanor Bourne, the first Queensland woman doctor working at the Endell Street Military Hospital also watched the raid.  The bombs hit the General Post Office and the roof caught fire.  “The daylight raid was rather exciting and it was hard to believe that the buzzing planes looking like a swarm of flies, might really drop something dangerous; on this occasion the hospital was showered with bits of burnt paper from the nearby General Post Office which got hit.”

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Londoners were angry and scared and demanded better defences and warning systems.  Many directed their anger at the Germans living in London and riots broke out across the city.  3000 people vented in Upper Holloway, 1500 in Tottenham attacking German bakeries and tailors.  Windows were broken, money and goods stolen, police were injured and arrests made.

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Even though press reports were limited, these raids spread fear and caution among Londoners who until now had thought the raids more an entertaining spectacle.  More people headed for the basement rather than the roofs as air raid procedures and better warning systems were developed.

Further Information

Annie Wheeler’s letter to Mary Trotman, published in the Capricornian on the 15th September 1917has been digitised by the NLA and is available online -https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/69801339/6829485

Eleanor Bourne’s papers, (OM81-130 Eleanor Elizabeth Bourne Papers) held in SLQ, have been digitised and are available online – http://www.slq.qld.gov.au

New Scotland Yard Reports of the riots in London on the 7th July 1917 have been digitised by The National Archives UK are are available online – http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/firstworldwar/spotlights/p_riots.htm

The photograph of bomb damaged buildings in St Pancras Road – (c) IWM HO76 – is part of the Imperial War Museum Collection.

Where are they?

While the Battle of Messines was a success its ferocity left more than ten thousand Australian soldiers dead, wounded, missing or suffering severe shell shock.  Soldiers who made it back found their battalions decimated.  Sometimes they had seen a mate fall but that was the last they’d seen of him.  Desperate for news, unable to find out any information in France or Belgium, they cabled or wrote to Annie Wheeler telling her their mate was missing and asked her to to investigate.

In June 1917 Annie’s list of missing was growing.  Some boys, Lonergan and Lupton hadn’t been seen since the Battle of Bullecourt and others Palfrey, Boyd and Dodd since Messines.  Annie gave their names to Mary Chomley who headed the Red Cross Prisoner of War Department who also made enquiries.  In early June Annie got a letter from Lonergan, letting her know he was a prisoner of war and then a few days later Alexander Lupton’s letter arrived.  He was also a prisoner of war.

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A little later Annie located Dodd and Boyd in POW camps but unfortunately she discovered Palfrey had been killed in action.  Arthur Nixen wrote to let her know his brother had been wounded but his brother-in-law Bert had been killed.  Annie was able to tell Arthur, Bert wasn’t dead but was a prisoner of war in Germany.  As soon as Annie knew where her boys were she sent parcels of food and other comforts.  The Red Cross sent parcels for a small fee and families cabled Annie money to pay on their behalf.

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There were often mix ups in the cables but if the money didn’t arrive Annie would pay the Red Cross herself.  William Humphries’s money had been cabled under Humphrey’s but luckily it was the Commonwealth Bank and Annie was able to sort it out.  Annie was scrupulous with her accounting and acknowledged every donation.  In June ten pounds was cabled to Mrs H. J. Wheeler.  The bank manager realised it was meant for Annie but it took Annie months to work out the money was from the Rockhampton Bowling Club.  The Central Queensland community appreciated Annie’s work and with donations increasing Mary Trotman urged Annie to hire some help to “keep pace with the letters”.  In late June Annie took her advice and put an ad in the British Australiasian for a “shorthand writer and typist, Queenslander preferred”.

Annie often ran into boys from home.  Returning to the station after visiting Lieutenant Watts in Harfield Hospital she came across Angus Leitch lying on a stretcher on the platform waiting to be taken to the same hospital.  Going down in a crowded lift in Paddington station two soldiers turned around and exclaimed “Mrs Wheeler”.  It was Private Godsell.  He recognised Annie’s voice.  He had sold Annie boots when he worked at Davis and McDongall’s in Rockhampton.

Sadly one hundred years ago on the 26th June she received news her friend George Hartley had been killed.  George had been a frequent visitor and she had only seen him in May on his way back to France after being wounded at Bullecourt.  His cousin Claude Murphy had cabled her.  George had died in a clearing station and Claude had gone back to the village behind the casualty clearing station to see if he could find the place where George had passed away.  He was unsuccessful at the time but told Annie he would find out the particulars of George’s death.  Annie’s heart went out to Claude who had lost a brother and two cousins within a month of each other.

Further Information

Annie’s letters to Mary Trotman printed in The Capricornian have been digitised by the NLA and are available online.

Soldier’s war records have been digitised by the NAA and are available online

 

 

 

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

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

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.