Mary Collier, Lady Monkswell is a Victorian diarist and widow of the late Liberal politician 2nd Baron Monkswell. He had been Minister for War in 1905 and Mary who was in her late 60s by 1918 was extraordinarily well connected with a sharp eye and keen interest in current events. She writes with emotion and feeling - often before things are reported in the newspapers.
Lady Monkswell's diary 2nd January 1918 - cold but sun
Going up to the town I met a splendid staff officer - a Captain called Angus, walking up with Cosmo - my niece’s husband.
Robert went with me to Mr Leigh and we got the sugar ration straight. Walked up Whitesheet hill with my son Eric and Miss Mills - A world bathed in Golden haze. Delicious air. Tea with Eric niece Frances and funny baby Hugh.
Lady Monkswell's diary: Saturday 5th January A steeple-chase walk with Mr Kit. got over stream below Knoll Farm, saw plovers, head their cry.
Ethel [my niece] to lunch. We talk of war conditions and her own work in Navy camouflage.
At Shipness [in Scotland] she plants and tends the garden and drives and cleans the car. One day they saw ten great liners, filled with Americans, go past between them and Arran - other great ships are constantly going by. Frances to tea and Mr Kit. Cosmo nearly as worn out as Robert. Pretty sure he is not to be sent abroad.
This letter from Lord Devonport asking people to reduce their consumption of bread was in Lady Mary's scrapbook of war cuttings.
Ships were being sunk by U-boats and people were being told to eat less food - by a grocer. “This we did in great measure.” she says
Sunday 27th January
Beaminster Red Cross Working Party. Mrs Partridge collected 224 and made and sent 1911 garments. Pretty good I think.
Monday 28th To Dor: Small meeting about the two old Belgians, now removed to Paignton, the last of the 13 we have supported since the great flight in September 1914. Rumours of air raid. Yes. One Gotha shot down. [by Sopwith Camels over Essex]
Tuesday January 29th On this day in 1915 Robert’s poor little wife died and left us lovely little Lorna, the beloved
Monday February 10th 1918
Letter from tea merchant Young that the country is packed with tea. No anxiety for us. To Parnham, found Ryles alone. Absurd baby came in and howled. Mr R had heard from Bishop R that the late German liner Wilhelm II, now Leviathan came into Liverpool with 7000 Americans. Pleasant twilight walk home.
Lady Mary Tuesday March 5th
Poor dear Mrs Toleman, our excellent cook, took her boy (7) to Torquay hospital - successfully. She is stronger and much braver than I am. Scott went in car to meet her at Crewkerne. Mrs T fainted in car! After 12 hours rushing and exertion and emotion.
Thursday 7th March Raid on London, (Northern lights assisted the enemy)
Lady Mary Saturday 9th March
Sale of War Bonds - 100 million asked for and more than 138 million subscribed. In Bridport, 15000 were asked for on Monday and by Tuesday evening 29000 were received and by Saturday £68,500.
Sunday 10th March Striking account from Frances of War Bond sale at the Tank in Trafalgar Square. No dignity at all - more like a fair. Immense shabby crowd, lined up to pay in their saving to help their country! All to the strains of an inferior band. What a scene. Total: £138 million
Lady Mary's diary: Friday 15th March
Carrots and onions sowed. Almond tree in blossom. Took Mr Kit to Whitesheet wood (by the arm) his eye still covered out of doors. Lovely up there. He sat on my ruff, taking a nap while I wandered round and picked some primroses. A wise speech from Balfour about Russia and Japan - a good day.
Saturday 16th March A new walk. Bridport road to Beech Avenue through meadows to top of down over Slape. Down to Orchard Farm where a strapping girl with fierce dark eyes and cheeks like cherries let one thro’ the farm.
March 21, 1918 Lady Monkswell: To Mrs Dyer's, as far as Parnham Down with Robert and Lorna. Met Mrs Pitt-Rivers, Lady Avebury’s sister in law. She was in coat and boots - Land Women’s costume, becoming and suitable. Heard of dear beautiful Eric Lubbock's heroic death last year (air man)
Captain Eric Lubbock MC of the 45th Squadron Royal Flying Corps was Lady Monkwell’s nephew. His A1082 Sopwith Strutter was attacked by 2 Albatros D.IIIs and shot down, at Railway Wood near Ypres in 1917. Both Lubbock and observer John Thompson were killed
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.]
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
May 10th 1918— Voices from 1918 (@VoicesFrom1918) 10 May 2018
Huge day in Dorset’s naval history. Cdr Godsal, from Sturminster Marshall posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre and Lieut Victor Crutchley from Nettlecombe the VC for their part in the second raid on Ostend, @BBCDorset pic.twitter.com/UP3GnVhZx3
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.
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
Lady Mary's diary 17 August 1918
News very good. Nothing else matters. I have returned to my old manner of life. I thank God for the support of Robert and little Lorna - during those terrible weeks of the enemy offensive when we drove him back beyond the Marne. My dear old piano sounds very sweet.
Lady Mary's diary 19 August 1918
Arranged glass bowl with clematis, maiden hair and geraniums for the Women’s Institute Summer Show (lovely) for which they sent me a “Highly Commended” card. Round by Poorstock: summer beauty and new cornfields standing thick with sheaves
20th August 1918 News good. To Mrs Pinney: she sent dog cart for me. High bred hunter who did not care about harness. Had to be led up drive. I scrambled in and took reins and the groom climbed in somehow when we’d started. Exciting.
The news of our advance on the Western Front is so good that we feel the dawn is indeed breaking. Excellent letter from Lord Hugh Cecil [MP for Oxford University] about dictating the peace.
I took Gertrude to Strode Manor in Hunt’s governess-cart and saw the dear Ryles [from Parnham] settled in their new home: 450 ft above the sea, a delicious home where in spite of health, war and many other drawbacks, Anne has laid out for herself and children a happy life.
Lady Mary's diary: Aug 27 1918
I took my khaki scarf I had knitted to Mrs Partridge who collects for Red Cross. Found their large son Major P and wife. He presently relaxed and told most interesting details of his job at Rouen A working camp of 4000 Boches under 80 guards and barbed wire
Lady Mary's diary - Aug 28th 1918
Mrs Dyer slept here [in Beaminster], agreeable talk of the Canadian advance before Amiens, her brother is a Canadian general. News very good, thank God
29th Aug 1918 Called on Drysdale, found handsome girl Stella D digging her potatoes in farm workers’ clothes. She does the entire garden herself. Immense number of flowers (for their seed) the bunn rabbits for food. Wartime
Lady Mary's diary: Sept 4th 1918
The collection of blackberries has begun in my pump-room. A few of the hundred baskets arrived, oceans of bb juice flowing all over the floor. To go to Whitchurch, Hants. Helped all I could.
note: In the latter years of the war, increasing losses of shipping to U-boats in brought a fear that the country might begin to starve. Rationing had started at the end of 1917 and a government committee was set up to find ways of using every available natural resource to feed the people.
Schools in 1918 were asked to ‘employ children in gathering blackberries during school hours’ and thousands of children took part in what became known as the Great Blackberry pick.
Lady Mary’s diary: Sept 6th 1918
News very good. List of 150 U-boats and the captains’ names we have sunk, and that is not all, “but enough”. Most impressive. The worthy Ebdon brought in a ton of coal, to my great relief.
September 7th 1918 News very good a new world. In pony cart to Mrs Dyer Mrs Ryle and Drysdale. Took Mrs Kitson. After pleasant talk & tea, Mrs Kit and I walked by Melplash Court. Fresh warm wind, lovely: saw a pair of wheatears, brown body, grey breast, white back edged w. black.
Lady Mary's diary: Sept 12th 1918
Half a ton of blackberries have been collected by the schoolchildren in four days [to be made into jam for the soldiers] My pump room is full of 28lb baskets and hampers and the stone floor indelibly stained with the juice
Lady Mary's diary: Sept 13th 1918
Mrs Pinney and old Mrs Brisk both aged 70 carried me off behind two raging horses to Horn Park - I only went there to see Ambrose. He came in from shooting with old Mr Brisk and his son Joe looking very thin. But fine and gay to see these two young men.
Ambrose has gone through 1000 dangers and all his brother officers are gone. Joe (6ft 4in) frightfully wounded and lame but going back to France next week. I raced back down the hill through the darkening evening
Lady Mary’s diary: Sept 17th 1918
Robert walked over from Seatown and I had the best pm seit lange [for a long time]. He sat in his own chair, read George Trevelyan’s “Carlyle” settled my accounts. Went over to see DVG, had tea and we started together as far as in sight of Slepe talking of everything.
Here we parted, the autumn evening, the romantic winding road; he looked back and waved two or three times, just as his father would have done
Lady Mary’s diary: Sept 18th 1918
Sir Robert Williams [Dorset West MP] duly appeared about 6 of. I found him much worn with his son’s death in France and his clever wife’s death.
I think he liked talking to me. I gave him a meagre dinner and we went up to the hall where he addressed some 60 electors. He speaks badly but one loves him rather. I much enjoyed his company. He is much in distrust of the socialists’ power. Expects an election in November.
[In 1918, 70 year old Sir Robert Williams, Baronet of Bridehead had been West Dorset’s MP for 23 years and would hold the seat until 1922 when he stepped down. The father of eight lost his wife Rosa, 19 years his junior, in 1916. He died in 1943 aged 94.]
Lady Mary’s diary: Sept 19th 1918
A most successful trip to Seatown. We all crammed into car. M’Coy and dog on the box. Had wired Robert to say we were coming - telegram unopened. Rather stunned to see us but we had brought our own lunch. But he had plenty.
Little Lorna taller but too thin, very lovely. DV.J. actually walked up eastern down, looked a different creature. Robert and I raced up to Thorncombe Beacon, sea broad stitches of silver and blue, stained with purple shadows of the clouds. Violent storms. 12-6 of
Lady Mary’s diary: Sept 24th 1918
I hear tonight of a railway strike, no Great Western trains running. These traitors should be shot
Lady Mary’s diary, Wednesday 25th September 1918
Anxiety relieved about treasonable strike by letters arriving only two hrs late and newspaper. To Trotman’s for tea, the happy Owen and his handsome wife. One fine peach which I gave to Mrs Kitson.
Lady Mary’s diary: Sept 27th 1918
Railway strikers at Dorchester pelted by the wounded Tommies - serve them right. To Stoke Abbot in pony cart with Mrs Russell to call on handsome Mrs Owen who has transformed poor Owen into a human being.
Saturday Sept 28 So many Victories thank God, can’t take them all in - all along the Western line N to S, Belgians, us, the French, the Americans. 40,000 Turks prisoners in Palestine, Bulgaria wishing to resign. The news is simply splendid
Lady Mary’s diary: Monday September 30th 1918
At 5 of the clock, a rumour that Bulgaria had laid down their arms: at 7 ’o a telegram from Winnie Cuddesdon that the Servians there had heard this. This is [underlined] news
Tues Oct 1 1918 The splendid hope confirmed. Bonar Law at the Guild Hall told them Bulgaria had surrendered. They are treacherous barbarians but we are taking no risks. The great change is that Germany’s desired command of the East is over.
Bulgaria has almost 4 million people and is about as large as Ireland. This will give us command of a large piece of the coast of the Blk Sea, of the Danube, and the Berlin-Bagdad railway thro' Bulgaria
Lady Mary’s diary: Weds October 2nd 1918
Did nothing but study the map. Am pretty well up in the various sectors. pm walked and turned in by chance at Jephson’s cottage. They kept me to tea and I had a most moving talk with Captain the Rev. He thinks the German game is up. He was all thro’ Gallipoli.
[William Jephson, former curate at Beaminster, and Rector of parishes including Highclere in Berkshire, had served as chaplain with the 9th Hampshires in England, Egypt & the Dardanelles. He played first class cricket for Hampshire until 1914 and later captained Dorset]
Lady Mary’s diary: Mon Oct 7th 1918
The Germans being driven back at all points this morning, wish to open negotiations with America for “an honourable peace” an impudent German peace: that will not do. A great emotion to think they have come to this. They are burning our beautiful old French towns as they retreat. I hear my beautiful old Laon is in flames. No cathedral safe.The French will take their revenge at Berlin. This day week Bulgaria surrendered unconditionally and today the cry is the Germans shall do the same and receive their punishment
Lady Mary’s diary: Oct 10th 1918
President Wilson replies to the German Chancellor that there will be no pause and no talk till they have cleared out of all their conquests France, Belgium, Servia, Romania, Montnegro, Italy, Russia and Poland. Saw a very noble cartoon by B Partridge “Die Wacht am Rhein” the exhausted Hun like a beaten wild beast.
Friday Oct 11th 1918 We hear today that our enemy has sunk “Leinster” an Irish liner crossing from Dublin - lots of women and children and this when they want peace. And a Japanese passenger steamer. Altogether some 800 lives lost. We have taken Le Cateau.
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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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