on the move - no camels

James Sansom: April 8th 1918 Too good to last long, we move again today on a 4 days march to Ludd which is the rail-head, a distance of 40 miles by road. We have no camels now but horse transport.

April 12th 1918 We stay 2 days at Ludd, the country found here is glorious with orange groves and other fruit trees, although the nature of the country is sand.

April 15th 1918 We get on cattle trucks here to train for Kantara which we reach at midnight after 16 hours in the trucks. We march to our camp about five miles away and settle down


Robert under fire

Lady Mary's diary April 17th 1918:

At the time you can force yourself to do anything. Robert’s food was once brought him when shells were flying and he was in the open. He decided to finish before moving under cover.

When he got up to move he found it had affected him a good deal. He found himself half paralysed.

[Mary is recalling Robert’s time with a Royal Field Artillery battery a year earlier. He was injured in early 1917 and spent all of 1918 recovering in Dorset.]


Swimming in the Suez Canal

During this time [16-27 April] we march to the Suez Canal nearly every day for swimming and have a good time generally [like these Australian boys in the picture.

[Coming from the Isle of #Portland in #Dorset, quarryman @JamesSansom230 would have been quite at home splashing about in the Suez Canal in late April 1918, while his division waited to join troopships in Alexandria]


Pure vowel sounds

Olive's diary April 22nd 1918

After working I played songs for Cheshire and gave him some hints. Beautiful voice and pure vowel-sounds. Nurse Palmer sang, style and go but dreadful shrieks. She entreated me to give her lessons.

[Birmingham-born Howard Cheshire (pictured front) was a GPO Messenger Boy aged 14 in 1910 and enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry in 1915. He married Kate Phillips in 1923 and they had two children.]


Leaving for Alex

April 28th 1918 James Sansom: We leave Kantara for Alexandria docks where we arrive on the 29th. [picture of troops arriving at Kantara in 1918 by Pryce Evans of the 4th Welsh Regiment, is from @ww1imagesegypt]


Leaving Palestine


Setting sail

James Sansom: April 29, 1918 Arrive at Alex and board the liner “Malwa”. Tomorrow we sail for Marseille.

April 30, 1918 We leave Alex with six other ships taking the whole 74th division. We have an escort of 6 torpedo boats, two seaplanes and a balloon.

[Sansom was lucky - three weeks later HMS Leasowe Castle carrying 2900 troops plus crew on the same journey would be torpedoed by a German U boat 100 miles off Alexandria with the loss of 102 lives.]

May 7th 1918 We reach Marseilles after a fairly uneventful voyage [from Alexandria] We get off the boat and march right through the town to a rest camp with people cheering us all the way.


Jack Counter VC

After six men were gunned down before him near Boisieux St. Marc in France, Dorset’s Jack Counter dragged himself face down along the ground, through barbed wire with a vital message for HQ.

His action in April 1918 won him the VC for an act of bravery remembered both in Blandford and his later home Jersey.

Private Counter, who died in 1970, was serving in the King's Liverpool Regiment when he volunteered to carry a vital message from the front line “under terrific fire”.


Letter to Robert

Lady Monkswell: 2.5.18 Letter from 415107 R Burt - Robert’s former batman, injured and working at an “aerodrome in the rear”

My Lord, Pleased to have your letter today but sorry to hear you Lordship is not improving much. Well my Lord, there is no doubt that active service takes it out of you. When one has had over two years and a half of it, it takes its toll. I close hoping that your Lordship will soon be better. Your obedient servant R Burt


We head for Northern France

James Sansom: May 8th 1918 We march to the railway station [in Marseilles] and entrain for N. France. We spend three days and nights in the train passing through some beautiful country.

May 12th 1918 We eventually arrive at the town of Noyelles [8 days on a ship from Alex and 3 entrain] from where we march to the village of Le Titre where we go in billets and barns etc. It's the first time we have lived in any building excepting a Monastery for three years

[It's taken Portland quarryman 12 days to get from Alexandria to northern France and a very different war from the sand and camels of Egypt. After three years living under canvas he's billeted in a building at last.]



Portland quarry worker James Sansom could count himself lucky - three weeks later HMS Leasowe Castle carrying 2900 troops plus crew on the same journey would be torpedoed by a German U boat 100 miles off Alexandria with the loss of 102 lives.


Small concert

Olive’s diary 8 May 1918

Small concert. Men very restive wanting rag-time etc so I spoke my mind, telling them musical people could not play them and reduced them to a chastened frame of mind. I asked what they would have - sentimental or scotch. A weak voice answered: “Anything you like Miss ’Arcourt.”


Crutchley VC honoured




Huge day in Dorset Naval history


Ostend Raid

Lady Mary's diary May 10, 1918 At 1am the old Vindictive, 6000 tons filled with concrete was forced into Ostend harbour and sunk. Another Zeebrugge (17 days ago). Engineer Lieut Cdr Bury severely wounded.

Commander Godsal, killed, Lieut Crutchley, finished the Vindictive’s position across the canal and fired the charges that sunk her. The Lieutenants of the motor launches that saved the crew of the Vindictive were GH Drummond and Bourke.



Olive's diary May 11th 1918

Pratt and Billings operated on. Pratt had rigors & lost his speech. Put out his frail hand to me when I went in after the operation. Very glad to see him trying to speak. I discovered one thing he was trying to say - his wife should not be frightened when she came.

Pratt later wrote to Olive: Into your chain of friendship, please weave me a link. William Pratt, The Shrubbery, Tooting Graveney


Air raids

James Sansom: May 21st 1918 Several air raids over the past few days - including a particularly bad one today, causing several casualties.


No tunics?

Letter from Alfred Johnson to his wife Essie:

May 22nd 1918. We are having gorgeous weather and are walking about without tunics. I expect some superior officer will shortly object and we shall have an order. "It has been brought to notice that officers are going about without tunics. This practice must cease forthwith."


Old Contemptible

Sgt Hugh Joseph Kennedy from Weymouth’s Nothe Fort Red Barracks, 2nd left back row joined RAMC’s no1 Stationary Hospital in Le Harvre in Aug 1914, and served in France until March 1919 with promotion to Warrant Officer class one

Based in Weymouth from 1910, He was one of the BEF Britain's regular soldiers dubbed ‘a contemptible little army’ by the Kaiser - the Old Contemptibles. His unit was at Le Mans until Oct 1914, then Rouen through the rest of the war.


We will Remember him


Poppies and cornflowers

May 25th 1918. Letter from Alfred Johnson to his wife Essie: "This country is an absolutely bare waste but in the last month quite a lot of wild flowers have come up, so that it is not so bad as it was in winter. There are lots of poppies and cornflowers & many small things I don't recognise. We had some lilac in the mess."

[The academic and artillery officer often read a book a day on duty, because visibility was so hazy at the OP - Observation Point. Today he was reading Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens, (1850)]


Answering the blessed telephone

May 23 1918 Lieut Alfred Johnson to wife Essie:

I am on the telephone to-night, a job I don't like. One feels afraid to go really sound asleep. I see you had a pretty big raid on Sunday. He dropped a few round here last night but I was tired after a long day and never woke up.

In April he wrote: I wonder what they would do in this war without telephones. I have answered the blessed thing about 10 times in the last hour. It is very annoying to be rung up by H.Q to know why you have only fired 30 rounds, which they then discover to be the correct amount.


Reading through the war

When visibility was poor, artillery officer Alfred Johnson read when he was at the OP [observation post] Wife Essie sent books ranging from suffrage writer May Sinclair to Tolstoy, Dickens and John Buchan. Here's what he got through in the first half of 1918:

Tom Cringles Log, Michael Scott, (1915); The Life of Wilkes, Horace Bleackley, (1917); Life of Johnson, James Boswell, (1865); Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy, (1877); May Sinclair [a member of the Woman Writers Suffrage League]; 39 Steps, John Buchan, (1915) ; Gibbon; The Loot of Cities, Arnold Bennett, (1903); The Stucco House, Gilbert Cannan, (1917); Land & Water, magazine; E. V. Lucas, [Collection of letters]; Martin Chuzzlewit, Charles Dickens, (1842); Leonora, Five towns Tales, Arnold Bennett (1903/ 1905); Edmond de Goncourt; Elizabeth and Her German Garden, Elizabeth von Arnim, (1898); Barnaby Rudge, Charles Dickens, (1850); The Egoist, George Meredith (1879); The Amateur Gentleman, John Jeffery Farnol, (1916).


A Warped mind

letter to Dr Marie Stopes, postmarked Blackpool, unsigned:

You invite correspondence over your book Married Love. I beg to disagree with your conclusions which I feel come from an unhappily warped mind. I consider the book not only unwholesome but to some temperaments most harmful.


Villers Sir Simon

James Sansom: June 3rd 1918 We have left Le Titre and after various moves and marchings, arrived at Villers Sir Simon, another village where I and several more have the good fortune to be billeted in a farm. We get a good many raids here also.

June 30th 1918 After several weeks here at Villers Sir Simon, we move again to Givenchy.

[After two and a half years in the heat and dust of Egypt and Palestine, stretcher bearer and Portland quarryman James Sansom of 230 Field Ambulance has arrived in the Pas-de-Calais waiting to go in the line for the first time in France]


U-boat raids off US coast

Daily Telegraph: New York, Wednesday 6 June 1918

The tales of suffering and heroism by crews and passengers off the Atlantic coast are bringing home to the American people a fuller realisation of what has been taking place off your coast in the past four years


Secret Service raids

Daily Telegraph 6 June 1918

Indiscreet Joy

Federal Secret Service agents last night raided several New York clubs, patronised almost entirely by Germans, and broke up gatherings of Germans who were joyously celebrating the operations of the U-boats


A full ward

Olive’s diary June 6th 1918:

A full ward again with some nice men this time. Hewitt very badly hurt. He told Florence he always liked the days I go. Buckley said I was the first one to speak when he arrived and that when I laid my hand on him he felt at home at once.

[Beaucroft was one of 3000 auxiliary hospitals run by 90,000 Red Cross volunteers in WW1. Buildings ranged from town halls and schools to large and small private houses. Soldiers preferred auxiliary hospitals because they were not so strict, less crowded and more homely]


U-boats on American coast

June 6th 1918 Field of hay carried. Went to Mrs Bartlett about donkey for Lorna. Enemy at the Marne but “held firmly” there. U-boats on American coast - Stirs them up

June 8th 1918 Came here fortnight today [near Chideock] Watched an air-ship pass close, Lorna waved to it. It hung over Bay all PM. Sea planes came up from both sides, also destroyers, great firing about 11pm. Did they get a U-boat? I think so


Moidart sunk

Sometimes we can use an account of an event recorded in a diary and do more research to build a fuller picture of what happened.

On June 8th 1918 Lady Mary Monkswell witnesses an attack on a U-Boat - a rare thing for anybody to have seen.

She writes “Came here fortnight today [Chideock] Watched an air-ship pass close, Lorna waved to it. It hung over Bay all PM. Sea planes came up from both sides, also destroyers, Great firing about 11pm. Did they get a U-boat? I think so.”

We know that something happened in the sea off Chideock but what exactly? If we look at records of U-boat losses and U-boat sinkings in Lyme Bay we can see a fuller picture.



15/6/18 Ltr from Alfred Johnson to wife Essie:

I have had a letter to say I have been promoted to First Class, which means I get £300 a year, or £24 per month. There will be another soon as I am now a full Lieutenant. Reading The Egoist by George Meredith (1879)


War Bonds

18.6.1918 - advert in today's paper


Bride to be

anonymous letter postmarked Edinburgh to "Dr Marie Stopes" about my book Married love :

I mean it in no profane way when I say that you have “proclaimed liberty to the captives.” Yours faithfully, a bride-to-be


George Bernard Shaw

Letter to Marie Stopes:

Great Southern Hotel, Parknasilla on Sea, Co Kerry 24th Sept 1917

Dottissima Short of rewriting this play, [The Race or Ernest’s Immorality, a play in three acts] I can do no more with it than cut 20 pages just to show you how you should cut the rest.

You haven’t used your brains on it one bit. Would you find me very interesting if I had nothing more to say than “dowdy frocks, fiendish ideas, blue stockings and spectacles” and such like reach-me-downs?

You think you can make a motor bicycle by tying a second hand tool bag on an old poker and hanging a few worn out ribbons on it; but you can’t.

ever GBS



June 22 1918 Lieut Alfred Forbes Johnson to his wife Essie:

If you are not for OP [observation point] you are on night duty or taking the early morning parade at 7 o’clock, or starting an aeroplane shoot at 5 am. I seem to get about one full night a week in bed

Reading: 'The Amateur Gentleman', John Jeffery Farnol, (1916)



24th June 1918 Letter from Alfred Forbes Johnson to his wife Effie:

As to the books I know I should not look a gift horse in the mouth, but really are you trying to get rid of the rubbish off the shelves?



June 30 1918 Letter from Alfred Johnson to his wife Effie:

Reading: Edmond de Goncourt. I generally manage to read a book every time I am at the O.P. [Observation Post] as there are generally many hours in the early part of the day when it is too hazy to see anything



Olive’s diary July 1st 1918

Began work at Beaucroft again [as a nursing orderly, after three weeks break in London] A convoy had come while I was away [like this one at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading picture: BBC]

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Explore by day, month or person here on the blog or on our five Twitter feeds: @Voicesfrom1918 @LadyMonkswell @MarieStopes1918 @JamesSansom230 and @OliveHarcourt.

Voices from 1918 has been developed by artists Sharon Hayden and Alastair Nisbet in partnership with Wimborne Community Theatre, Dorset History Centre and the Priest’s House Museum, Wimborne with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Thanks to all who have helped us with this project: Maria Gayton and staff at Dorset History Centre where we found Lady Mary Monkswell’s diaries; Joan Cocozza, ward of nursing auxiliary Olive Harcourt; Portland Museum where we found James Sansom’s diaries; the British Library and Wellcome Libraries; Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne and Gill Horitz from Wimborne Community Theatre.

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