Untold lives blog

11 posts from May 2015

08 May 2015

Henry Treece – history in the making

Amid the many accounts of VE Day, I was interested to find the name of Henry Treece - perhaps now most familiar as the author of historical novels for children, certainly so to me, since three of his children’s books are on my shelves at home. In the Second World War he served with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and in Leaves in the storm, a collection of diary entries and recollections of the war, which he edited with Stefan Schimanski, he included his own account of “The end of the war in Europe”.

Title page of Leaves in the stormPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the final entry, dated 9 May, Treece describes his arrival at King’s Cross in North London on VE Day in 1945. In a day of mixed emotions he is moved by a fanfare for service personnel, stands proudly with others in uniform for the National Anthem and later joins the crowds in front of Buckingham Palace to see the King, Queen and Princesses on the balcony. His account evokes a sense of the overwhelming number of people on the streets, in restaurants and pubs, and the unfamiliar sight of lights blazing from shops and public buildings. Yet he also conveys his shifting moods and ambivalence towards the celebrations as he walks back from the station against a backdrop of fireworks, bonfires and singing – because “The war is only half-over, and many who are dancing and singing to-night will dance and sing no more”.

VE-Day celebrations, Trafalgar Square, London
VE-Day celebrations, Trafalgar Square, London, England, May 8, 1945 - Lieut. Arthur L. Cole. Canada. Department of National Defence. Library and Archives Canada, PA-177086      CC Some rights reserved Some rights reserved

For Treece himself, the end of the war meant an eventual return to teaching. In the 1940s he was primarily a poet, part of the New Apocalyptics or New Apocalypse, a slightly notional grouping of poets named from an anthology, The New apocalypse [1940], to which he contributed prose, criticism (relating to Surrealism) and several poems. In the 1950s, however, he turned to works of fiction, and one of his earliest books for children was Legions of the eagle (1954). His many tales of the Vikings, Romans and Celts, were illustrated by Charles Keeping, Christine Price and William Stobbs, among others. He died in 1966 and The Dream-time, his last, more experimental, book, was published posthumously in 1967 with a postscript by Rosemary Sutcliff.

Alison Bailey
Lead Curator, Printed Heritage Collections 1901-2000

Further reading:

Leaves in the storm: a book of diaries. Edited with a running commentary by Stefan Schimanski and Henry Treece. London: Lindsay Drummond, 1947. Shelfmark: 09101.b.10.

Dorian Cooke, J.F. Hendry,…Henry Treece, The New apocalypse: an anthology of criticism, poems and stories. London: Fortune Press, [1940]. Shelfmark: 12299.b.11.

Henry Treece, The Dream-time. With a postscript by Rosemary Sutcliff. Illustrated by Charles Keeping. Leicester: Brockhampton Press, 1967. Shelfmark: X.990/1217.

To find other works by Treece in our collections – search under his name in our online catalogue.


05 May 2015

Anne Blunt - ‘Noble Lady of the Horses’

Lady Anne Blunt née King (1837-1917) was a keen artist, horsewoman and traveller. She recorded her experiences in a series of diaries and in her beautifully illustrated sketchbooks, which are held at the British Library (Add MS 53817-54061).

Watercolour of camels by Anne Blunt
Watercolour by Anne Blunt Add MS 54048  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Anne was born on 22 September 1837 to William King, first Earl Lovelace and his wife Ada, the only daughter of Lord Byron and his wife Anne Millbanke. After the death of her mother when Anne was only 15 her father took her on many continental travels where she learnt four languages and began sketching the scenery she encountered. It was whilst travelling that she met her future husband Wilfred Blunt. They married in 1869 when Anne was 32 and had four children, only one of whom, Judith survived into adulthood. In 1872 Wilfred inherited a family estate in Sussex and the couple built their home Crabbet Park.

Wilfred Blunt Anne Blunt   Wilfred and Anne Blunt Add MS 54085
Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The couple travelled widely including across Europe and to parts of India. It was however, the Middle East that sparked their interest with Wilfred the politics and Anne the horses. The couple began a stud in 1878 breeding only with horses with excellent confirmation and lineage. Anne’s diaries reveal their travels across the desert visiting sheikhs and providing critiques of the horses they saw. Anne had a good eye for confirmation and the extract below shows one of many assessments she made:

Diary of Anne Blunt from 1881
Diary of Anne Blunt from 1881, Add MS 53911 f.11  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


    Watercolour of desert scene by Anne Blunt
Watercolour by Anne Blunt Add MS 54048  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1882 they opened a second stud outside Cairo called Shaykh ‘Ubayd. Anne was by now fluent in Arabic and had a good insight into the people and their customs.  She was also compiling a book on the Arabian horse, and her notes were later used in her daughter Judith’s volume, The Authentic Arabian Horse (1945).

Photograph of Anne and Wilfred Blunt on horseback
Photograph of Anne (AB) and Wilfred Blunt (WSB) on horseback Add MS 54085 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Anne’s marriage however was not happy and in 1906 the couple were legally separated after Wilfred’s mistress Dorothy Carleton (later adopted as his niece) moved in to the family home. She went to live with her daughter Judith and son-in-law near Crabbet Park and spent the winters at Shaykh ‘Ubayd. In 1913 she moved out to live in Shaykh ‘Ubayd permanently and died in Cairo in 1917.

Photograph of Anne Blunt on horseback
Photograph of Anne Blunt on horseback taken by Gertrude Bell Add MS 54085  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Anne’s passion for breeding the Arabian horses she loved has had a huge impact on the breed itself and the majority of Arabian horses today would have at least one Crabbet ancestor. For this passion she became known and respected as the ‘noble lady of the horses’ by many of her friends.

Watercolour of desert scene by Anne Blunt
Watercolour by Anne Blunt Add MS 54055 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Laura Walker
Lead Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts 1850-1950


Further reading:
Lady Anne Blunt. Journals and Correspondence 1878-1917, edited by Rosemary Archer and James Fleming (Alexander Heriot 1986)
Oxford Dicionary of National Biography - Rosemary Archer, Blunt [née King], Anne Isabella Noel, suo jure Baroness Wentworth (1837–1917), traveller and breeder of Arab horses
A.V.F. Winstone, Lady Anne Blunt. A Biography (Barzan 2003)


01 May 2015

Indian soldier's letter to a friend, 1 May 1915

 Today Untold Lives features another in our series of postings focusing on extracts from letters written by Indian soldiers serving in France, or recovering from their wounds in the Indian hospitals in England.

In his report for the week ending 8 May 1915, the Censor of Indian Mail wrote that “The prevailing topics of correspondence in the letters are, as usual, despondency as to survival owing to the large number of casualties at the front and a keen desire to return to India. A pleasing feature is the mention of the very good hospital arrangements made for the comfort of the troops”.

  Hospital beds in Brighton Dome
Dome Hospital Brighton, showing some of the 689 beds Photo 24/(1) Images Online  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The truth of the Censor’s comments can clearly be seen in an extract from a letter written by Isar Singh of the 59th Rifles, recovering in the Indian General Hospital, Brighton. On 1 May 1915, he wrote in Gurmukhi to a friend in the 30th Punjabis in India.

“The battle is being carried on very bitterly. In the Lahore Division only 300 men are left. Some are dead, some wounded. The division is finished. Think of it – in taking 50 yards of a German trench 50,000 men are killed. When we attack they direct a terrific fire on us – thousands of men die daily. It looks as if not a single man can remain alive on either side – then (when none is left) there will be peace.”

“When the Germans attack they are killed in the same way. For us men it is a bad state of affairs here. Only those return from the battlefield who are slightly wounded. No one else is carried off. Even Sahibs are not lifted away. The battle ground resounds with cries. So far as is in your power do not come here. If you come, get yourself written down ill of something in Marseilles and say you are weak. You will do better to get the Doctor to write down that sickness you have in the head. Sick men do not come to the war. Here things are in a very bad way. In France the news is that dogs churn the milk in machines and look after the cattle. A man who keeps a dog has to pay 5 rupees a month to the King.”

“Do not be anxious about me. We are very well looked after. White soldiers are always beside our beds – day and night. We get very good food four times a day. We also get milk. Our Hospital is in the place where the King used to have his Throne. Every man is washed once in hot water. The King has given a strict order that no trouble is to be given to any black man in hospital. Men in hospital are tended like flowers, and the King and Queen sometimes come to visit them.”

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Reports of the Censor of Indian Mails in France, Apr 1915-May 1915 [IOR/L/MIL/5/825/3, folios 318, 337 and 338]- Read online