One hundred years ago today Annie Wheeler and her daughter Portia were on the move again.
They’d started their operation in Eastbourne but by May 1915 the commute to London was too time consuming. When they stayed for short periods at the Strand Hotel in Westminster they achieved so much more and decided to move closer to London. A lovely house in the new suburb of Pollard Hill, just opposite a large recreation ground and looking out towards Epsom Downs, worked for a short time but as the number of soldiers arriving from Australia increased and the wounded flooded hospitals in London, Annie and Portia’s daily workload grew.
Next stop, a boarding house owned by a Brisbane woman at Lancaster Gate, Hyde Park. Initially the residence was ideal and the short bus ride to AIF Headquarters on Horseferry Road made the work manageable. But by February 1917 when Annie was receiving 65 letters from soldiers each week, in addition to letters, cables and parcels from home, all needing to be actioned in some way, travelling back and forth from Lancaster Gate, sometimes several times a day, was inefficient.
When a flat became available at Westminster Gardens, Artillery Row, just off Victoria Street Annie was delighted. She wrote to Mary Stewart Trotman on the 22nd February telling her “we are moving tomorrow into a flat in Victoria Street. It will be much nearer Headquarters, Anzac Buffet, the Red Cross and the cable office and of course nearer for the boys. They have been very good in coming out so far to see us.”
Annie’s typical day at the end of February 1917 centred around these organisations.
Annie received a letter from Stephen Joyce, a prisoner of war in Germany, requesting a uniform from the Red Cross. Annie went to see “Miss Chomley, she looks after the prisoner of war department and Corporal Joyce’s uniform has been sent.”
Mary Trotman cabled Annie wanting information about Sergeant J McDonald. His family had been told he was wounded but didn’t know what hospital he was in. Annie found his number was entered wrongly in the hospital records and had to go to headquarters to sort it out. She found him at Wisbech V.A.D Hospital and sent him a letter.
Private Case had been hospitalised and asked Annie to find his brother. “On inquiring at headquarters, I found that Private Reginald Case disembarked at Plymouth in 10th January and is now at Codford.”
The Anzac Buffet (see my previous post Annie’s Little Dug-Out ) was a major meeting place. On February 22nd Annie and Portia saw Max Turnbull, Private Moore and Jack Atherton and could report on their movements.
Parcels of socks and gloves also arrived from home and Annie was busy sending them to the boys of the front. February was bitterly cold and many were suffering from trench feet and frost bite. The boys rarely complained, instead telling Annie about the upside of the cold weather. “The shell-holes and pools are frozen and they have been skating. The nails and clouts in their boots act as skates.”
Annie’s letters to Mary Trotman have been digitised by the NLA and are available on Trove.