Winter in the south of France

One hundred years ago Australian soldiers were resting away from the line.  After enduring nine months of sheer hell in the deadliest battles of the war men were moved to the south of France.  During this time most tried to forget about twisted body parts, suffocating mud and death and took leave in London and Paris, immersing themselves in all these cities offered.  Scotland, Wales and Ireland were also popular destinations because of their physical beauty and peacefulness.

Brigadier General William Glasgow and his wife Belle spent time in Wales.  Glasgow had been in hospital in London with a severe cold and they chose Wales to recuperate and reconnect.  Glasgow referred to his leave as a late honeymoon.  Belle describes her husband, his throat still scratchy from his cold, serenading her before bed with the song “Ding, dong, ding, dong, ‘tis my wedding morning.”  Croaky as an old frog he held a paper in his hand and imitated the antics of a tenor singer.  William was the reason Belle left Australia and every moment together was treasured.  When they arrived back in London William was granted a few more days leave which they spent at the Berners Hotel.  London with William was everything Belle craved; they dined with the Queensland Agent General, Sir Thomas Robinson and his wife and watched the Lord Mayor’s Procession from the offices in the Strand.  It was the first time women took their place in the procession with the military and navy.  They were part of the land army and carried forks, spades and reaping hooks.   Belle was fascinated by the captured German tanks, guns and Gotha planes that were part of the procession.  She talked to Lady Dawson whose husband was the King’s physician and admired her three daughters who wore claret coloured velvet dresses and fur trimmed toques to match. Farewelling William at Charing Cross Belle met Charles Bean, Australia’s official war correspondent and other high-ranking officers and told her daughters “father holds such a high place in people’s opinions you must live up to the same standards.  A general’s daughters have many eyes on them.”

Feeling flat and lonely without William, Belle suggested they spend Christmas in Paris.  Even though this was possible as William was scheduled to be out of the line for several months he felt he should spend Christmas with his men; they couldn’t get back to their people so he should be with them.  Disappointed, Belle hatched a plan relocate to the south of France and William encouraged her to investigate the possibility and enlisted a property agent to find them a house near Cannes.   Belle soon found wives faced many obstacles getting to France.  Eventually she found a contact in the AIF to assist but when she asked William if she would be able to visit his quarters when she was there he immediately dismissed the idea, “I would not care to have you here as it would open up to all sorts of questions and people would be only too quick to ask questions”.   Undeterred Belle continued to plan until William told her to stay put.  Plans had changed and William was on the move again to the “one place she hoped he wouldn’t be sent.”

Further Information

The Glasgow papers are part of the State Library of Queensland’s collection.

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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.