Untold lives blog

40 posts categorized "Writing"

29 December 2020

Suffrage scrapbooks: forgotten histories of political activism

When you picture a scrapbook, you likely conjure up an image of a homemade album dedicated to the family or a hobby.  It’s less likely you’ll think of scrapbooks as records of political campaigns, such as women’s suffrage.  Yet here at the British Library, 37 bulging hardback scrapbooks tell us a personal history of suffrage activism through the eyes of Alice Maud Mary Arncliffe Sennett (1862-1936).

Women's Social and Political Union membership card from the scrapbook of Maud Arncliffe SennettWomen's Social and Political Union membership card from the opening volume of Sennett’s first scrapbook. , British Library C.121.g.1.


Actress turned businesswoman; Sennett was a dynamic, strident suffrage campaigner.  She served time in prison on Black Friday in 1910 and again in 1911 after smashing the Daily Mail’s office windows.  She also set up the Northern Men’s Federation for Women’s Suffrage.

Article 'Why I want the vote' published in The Vote 26 February 1910An article 'Why I want the vote' written by Maud Arncliffe Sennett in 1910 for The Vote, journal of the Women’s Freedom League.

Through all this campaigning, she scrapbooked prolifically.  She kept the key from her husband’s stay at Bloomsbury Street hotel before he picked her up from prison.  More conventionally, she carefully lifted articles from a plethora of publications, encircling them with annotations.

In one instance, next to an article on Herbert Asquith published in 1910, she criticised his ‘cruel looking mouth and sinister eyes’ and wrote how she would like to ‘shoot Asquith right at the place where his heart ought to be’.  Sennett’s scrapbook facilitated her critical engagement with press coverage on women’s rights.

Sennett also used her scrapbooks to record the support networks underpinning her activism.  One way she did this was through preserving congratulatory letters praising her public speaking.  In her first scrapbook, she included a letter from suffrage activist Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, who described Sennett as the ‘one of the greatest platform successes she had ever known’.

Before this letter however, Sennett pasted in another one.  It was from her servant Bessie.  Working for her mistress since at least 1906, census records identify Bessie as Eliza Punchard, who lived with her husband and three sons in Beckenham.

After hearing Sennett’s speech, Bessie wrote, 'Do you know you made a simply splendid speech, I was so proud of you’.  She continued, writing how she would happily go to prison of her accord if it would help the cause; she would ‘make the sacrifice in my own right not to feel that you will be worrying over me if I should go’.

Lifting the cover of Sennett’s fourth scrapbook powerfully articulates Sennett’s appreciation of her servant’s support.  In a beautiful, flowing font, Sennett dedicates her scrapbook to Bessie, ‘the only one true and trusted friend I have found…the star to which I have hitched by wagon of loneliness’.  Bessie’s support meant a great deal to Sennett, so much so that she immortalised it in the front of her scrapbook.

Sennett’s scrapbooks offer an intensely personal history of the suffrage activism, blurring the lines between the personal and the political. She chronicles the exceptional and mundane, turning to an assortment of materials to offer her history of the suffrage campaign.

Over a century later we are given a tantalising glimpse into the material, emotional histories of suffrage activism, as well as forgotten women such as Bessie, who played a vital part in women’s political campaigning.


Cherish Watton
PhD student studying a history of scrapbooking in Britain from 1914-1980 at Churchill College, Cambridge.  She founded and runs the website Women’s Land Army 
@CherishWatton


Further Reading:
Read more about Arncliffe-Sennett’s scrapbooks.
Read more about suffrage scrapbooks in the American context in Ellen Gruber’s Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. Oxford University Press, 2012, chapter 5.

 

08 December 2020

Mermanjan’s diary

After writing on this blog about Mermanjan, an Afghan noblewoman who had run away from Afghanistan to India in 1849, I studied her diary which was donated to the India Office Private Papers by my grandmother.

The diary is dated from 1868 to 1875, from the time when Mermanjan was in her mid-30s, married for five years to her second husband, an Irish doctor called Francis O’Kearney and living in Mahabaleshwar near Bombay.  Her first husband and great love of her life, Captain Thomas Maughan, had died suddenly seven years earlier.

Unfortunately Mermanjan didn’t write much about her inner thoughts or feelings in the diary, only writing short and factual entries about her daily life immersed in British colonial society.  Her diary entries revolved around her pets - dogs, cats, turkeys, fowls and chickens, plus their eggs and hatchlings; visits for tea from couples with European names (Captain and Mrs Boyd seem to be a favourite); walks down the hill; the weather; town gossip about births, marriages and deaths; social events such as croquet parties, shooting, trips to the theatre; complaints about her ‘bad’ butler or cook who ran away; and lists of expenses.  The diary also contains newspaper cuttings, excerpts from letters and essays, and pencil drawings.

There are some glimpses into the difficulties of her private life.  She mentions twice that her husband Frank was unkind to her when she was sick, not checking up on her all night to even offer her a cup of tea, and offering her some pills that made her very sick, saying he was ‘very unkind to me, never spoken one kind word to me’.

One pencil sketch shows the back of a woman in Victorian dress making tea, which might be a self-portrait from a mirror.

Sketch of woman making teaSketch of a woman making tea Mss Eur E304/4 (Copyright - heirs of Mermanjan O’Kearney)

Nearer the end of the diary she includes a sketch of a girl on a horse, which might be of herself when she ran away from Afghanistan to India to join her first husband. 

Sketch of a girl on a horseSketch of a girl on a horse Mss Eur E304/4 (Copyright - heirs of Mermanjan O’Kearney)

She also writes a word-for-word copy of the account of her late husband Thomas Maughan, telling how he met her in Afghanistan while serving under the flying column of Sir Walter Gilbert, maybe to reaffirm his version of the story.

Although the diary does not reveal great insights into her personal life, it reaffirms Mermanjan’s story of meeting her great love Thomas Maughan in 1849, and shows she was obviously not happy in her second marriage and distracted herself with various pets and social engagements in the present and happy memories from the past.  It is highly unusual to have written accounts from Muslim women from the time, especially in English, although admittedly she was fully integrated into British colonial life.  She is guarded about her innermost thoughts, but there are some glimpses into her difficulties behind the façade of social events.  Her diary and drawings probably provided temporary relief and a source of comfort for her in this unhappy and difficult period of her life.

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Mss Eur E304/4 Diary kept by Mermanjan, 1 Feb 1868 - 10 Jan 1875 

02 December 2020

Wilfred Owen: One Hundred Years of His Poems

One hundred years ago, the first edition of Wilfred Owen’s Poems was published and established Owen as the enduring lyricist of the Great War.  Some of these poems have seeped deeply into the nation’s psyche.  Poems such as ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ and ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ are staples of remembrance ceremonies every year.  They resonate through the decades; they expose to school children, via their English literature curriculum, the pity and devastation of war.  Owen’s contribution to our collective understanding of the Great War has meant his words and image have been referred to, or explored, in all sorts of cultural outputs: in biographies, in novels, TV series and film.  He will be forever remembered as one of our greatest war poets and his premature death will always be used as an example of the ultimate sacrifice.

Photograph of Wilfred Owen in military uniform 1916

Photograph of Wilfred Owen by John Gunston, 1916. Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence
   NPG P515


Owen’s published poems have been well discussed over the century that followed their publication, but the manuscript drafts of these poems held at the British Library offer even more insights into the motivations and inspirations behind these poems.

These manuscripts held at Add MS 43720 and Add MS 43721 include Owen’s notes, including this fascinating page that collates the themes and threads that run through the series of poems.

Poem notes by Wilfred OwenPoem notes by Wilfred Owen, Add MS 43720. f.2. Friends of the National Libraries: Manuscripts presented by, through or with the aid of:: 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1935.© The Wilfred Owen Literary Estate . This item can be used for your own private study and research. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

Owen carefully curates his collection through these notes, selecting poems that highlight the themes he wishes to present.  These themes include the inhumanity, the deceptiveness and the impact of war, as well as the idea that future generations will forget the suffering of these men.

Wilfred Owen's handwritten quote from W B Yeats

Add MS 43720, f.9.  Friends of the National Libraries: Manuscripts presented by, through or with the aid of:: 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1935.© The Wilfred Owen Literary Estate . This item can be used for your own private study and research. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

The manuscript volume also contains quotes from W. B. Yeats’ poems, including this from 'The Shadowy Waters'.  This poem is a telling of a supernatural journey to the end of the world and life, where the narrative seems to disappear into the mist and murk of the imagery.  This quotation precedes Owen’s poem 'The Show'.  In this poem, the narrator seems to float from above in the mist and the dank, watching the trails of soldiers below, all journeying on towards the end.  Owen also admired Romantic poets such as Keats and Shelley, as well as Laurent Tailhade, poet of the Decadent movement whom he had met whilst teaching in France before the war.  He would meet many contemporary poets and writers, including Robert Graves, H G Wells and Robert Ross whilst in recovery from shellshock in 1917.  This combination of influences means Owen’s work finds itself at a number of intersections: between the Romantic and the Modern, the heroic and the pessimistic, and between established and the transgressive.

Draft of Anthem for Doomed YouthDraft of Anthem for Doomed Youth, Add MS 43720, f.17.  Friends of the National Libraries: Manuscripts presented by, through or with the aid of:: 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1935.© The Wilfred Owen Literary Estate . This item can be used for your own private study and research. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.


However, the relationship that perhaps most influenced Owen’s poetry was that with Siegfried Sassoon whom he met in 1917.  Sassoon assisted and encouraged Owen.  He helped Owen channel the horror of his memories into visual material in his works.  Sassoon’s hand in Owen’s poems can be literally traced through Owen’s drafts.  Sassoon has annotated the poem in pencil.  Sassoon edited this and other poems when Owen showed him his drafts at Craiglockhart Military Hospital in September 1917.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

 

17 November 2020

William Adams in Japan– a new digital resource

William Adams, 'the first Englishman in Japan', died on 16 May 1620 at Hirado.  Events planned in Japan and the UK to mark the 400th anniversary of his death have unfortunately had to be postponed because of the pandemic.  However the British Library has been able to contribute to the celebration of a remarkable life.  Letters written by Adams during his years in Japan are preserved in the East India Company archive, and we are delighted to announce that digital copies of these are now available to access freely in our Digitised Manuscripts resource.

Firando (Hirado) from the sea 1669 with a Dutch shipFirando (Hirado) viewed from the sea-  Arnoldus Montanus, Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in't Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669)

Adams joined a Dutch merchant fleet as chief pilot in 1598.  He arrived in Japan on board the Liefde in 1600 and built a new life for himself under the patronage of Tokugawa Ieyasu.  William Adams worked for both the Dutch and English East India Companies after they arrived in Japan in 1609 and 1613 respectively.

Firando (Hirado) Castle 1669The castle at Firando (Hirado)  - Gedenkwaerdige gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappy in't Vereenigde Nederland, aen de Kaisaren van Japan (Amsterdam, 1669)

The earliest letter written by William Adams in the English East India Company records is dated 23 October 1611 in Hirado.  He had heard that there were Englishmen at Bantam (Banten) in Java and so the letter is addressed to unknown friends and countrymen.  Adams gave an account of his life, explaining how he came to be in Japan, what had happened to him since his arrival, his relationship with Tokugawa Ieyasu and the honours he had received.  He had been refused permission to leave Japan and asked for word to be sent to his family that he was still alive.  Adams gave information about trading contacts with the Dutch.

This letter was received in Bantam by East India Company merchant Augustine Spalding.  He sent a reply via the Dutch, together with a bible and three other books.

On 12 January 1613 Adams answered.  He had received a letter from Thomas Smythe, Governor of the East India Company, promising that a ship would be sent to Japan to establish a factory (trading post).  Adams passed on to Spalding valuable commercial intelligence and advice about the best way of establishing trade with Japan.

Letter from William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam 12 January 1613IOR/E/3/1 ff. 157-58  Letter from William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam 12 January 1613  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Adams wrote from Hirado on 1 December 1613 to the East India Company in London, announcing the arrival of John Saris in their ship Clove.  He detailed Saris’s reception at court and described how Saris was unhappy when he was not permitted by Japanese custom to hand a letter from King James directly to the emperor but only via his secretary.  Saris asked Adams if he would serve the English East India Company and, after considerable negotiation, a salary of £100 per annum was agreed.

On the same day, Adams wrote to Thomas Best at Bantam updating him with the latest news.  He said that he had intended to go home in the Clove but changed his mind because of discourtesies shown to him by Saris.

Other letters are addressed to English merchants in Japan and to the East India Company in London, with news of people, trade, and Japanese politics.  The final one in the archive was sent in November 1617 from Adams at Sakai to Company merchant Richard Wickham at Hirado.  400 years after his death, the voice of William Adams can still be heard through his written legacy.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator. East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/3/1 ff 116-29 William Adams at Hirado to his ‘unknown friends and countrymen’ at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff 157-58 William Adams at Hirado to Augustine Spalding at Bantam
IOR/E/3/1 ff 203-04 Contract between William Adams and the East India Company, Hirado
IOR/E/3/1 ff 209-11 William Adams at Hirado to the East India Company in London
IOR/E/3/1 ff 212-13 William Adams at Hirado to Thomas Best at Bantam
IOR/E/3/2 f 43 William Adams at Hirado to Richard Wickham at Edo
IOR/E/3/3 f 78 William Adams at Shizuoka to Richard Wickham at Edo
IOR/E/3/4 f 143-44 William Adams at Hirado to Sir Thomas Smythe in London
IOR/E/3/5 f 189 William Adams at Sakai to Richard Wickham at Hirado

Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Japan, 1613-1623 (London: British Library, 1991)

William Adams - from Gillingham to Japan

 

17 September 2020

Sylvia Pankhurst’s Toilet Papers

The panic bulk buying of toilet paper and dried pasta?  Or Captain Tom Moore’s long march for the NHS?  It’s too soon to tell which aspects of 2020 historians will focus on.  However, as Sylvia Pankhurst’s biographer, my own obsession with toilet paper began a few years before the Covid-19 pandemic, and it began in the British Library.

Many people remember Sylvia Pankhurst as the suffragette sister from the first family of feminism who stayed true to its socialist beginnings throughout her great life.  Fewer reflect upon the whole arc of that life; one of art and resistance against war, fascism, racism, colonialism, and inequality.

Head and shoulders portrait photograph of Sylvia Pankhurst 1938

Head and shoulders portrait photograph of Sylvia Pankhurst by Howard Coster, 1938 NPG x24529 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Sylvia was the most incarcerated and tortured of the Pankhursts, but her prison career did not end there.  In 1921 she was once more His Majesty’s guest in Holloway Prison.  This time her crime was not the struggle for women’s equality but sedition, in publishing anti-war articles in her newspaper the Workers’ Dreadnought.  Her health compromised by previous imprisonment and torture, and suffering from endometriosis, one of the bravest Britons of the 20th century served another prison term, this time as a newspaper publisher defending freedom of the press.

Sylvia used her six-month solitary sentence to write.  A political prisoner, her only permitted writing materials were a small slate and chalk.  Yet she was prolific during this period.  On release, she published the poetry anthology Writ on Cold Slate, whose title sonnet agonizes about writing under such conditions.

Whilst many a poet to his love hath writ,
Boasting that thus he gave immortal life,
My faithful lines upon inconstant slate,
Destined to swift extinction reach not thee.

So, I wondered, how did these faithful lines reach us?

My excavation of British Library manuscripts revealed that artist and writer came up with a practical means of transcribing her writing and smuggling it out of Holloway.  Sylvia drafted her ideas with chalk on slate, then reworked them with soft pencil on standard issue HM Prison toilet paper, concealed in the underclothes of her uniform.  These contraband manuscripts were smuggled out by her friend Norah Smyth on prison visits, and other prisoners on release.  Sylvia’s suggestive wipe-away slate metaphor led me to the discovery of the fragile toilet paper reality.  The compressed, previously unsorted bundles surviving today in the BL contain not only poetry but a previously unknown and nearly complete five act play and clandestine correspondence that I spent six months painstakingly transcribing and putting in order for future researchers.

Sylvia complained to Norah that ‘the stuff I write all rubs off because it flops around in my pocket,’ but this line has survived for a century on its little square of rough toilet roll, along with hundreds of other sheets of beige, perforated prison issue toilet paper.  Sylvia Pankhurst died in Ethiopia in 1960, honoured with a state funeral.  When an earthquake and coup followed, her son unsuccessfully attempted to give a portion of her extensive papers to the British Library for safekeeping.  Refuge was instead found in Amsterdam.  Years later, Richard Pankhurst once again offered the BL the opportunity of a further cache of his mother’s papers, including – bundled up in bulging brown envelopes – this toilet paper in which I have found such treasure.  Thank goodness for second chances and for writing under lockdown.

Rachel Holmes
Author 

Further reading:
Pankhurst Papers - British Library Add MS 88925
Rachel Holmes, Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel (Bloomsbury, 2020).

21 June 2020

Fanny Barlow’s letters to Papa

Whilst Sir George Hilaro Barlow was governor of Madras (1807–1813) his daughter, little Frances ‘Fanny’ Barlow (1801–1887), was practising her hand at written correspondence, stating proudly in a letter to her father in 1808, ‘I have written all this letter myself’.  Before his redeployment to Madras, George Barlow was governor-general of Bengal, a powerful position in the East India Company, and he is therefore a prominent figure in Britain’s imperial history. 

Portrait of Sir George BarlowSir George Barlow NPG 4988 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence


Like many imperial families at this time, the lives of his female relatives are less well known and rarely are we attentive to the voices of their children.  However, family history, through the use of personal papers and archives, can help bring them to the fore.  This blog post illustrates how the British Library’s catalogue can be used to begin to build up a picture of Fanny’s life.

Fanny was one of fifteen children, and the fourth daughter, born to George and his wife Elizabeth née Smith.  Her letters, along with the rest of the family’s papers, are held in the India Office Records and Private Papers, and they provide a new perspective, a unique view into the ways that 19th-century girls put their epistolary skills to use in order to maintain a sense of connection and intimacy with parents who lived thousands of miles away.  For young Fanny, her letters were often the only means of regular communication with her ‘dear Papa’.

First page of a letter from Fanny to George Barlow  1808British Library India Office Records and Private Papers, Mss Eur F176. First page of a letter from Fanny to George Barlow, 1808 (photograph taken by the author).


British children born in India were increasingly sent to live with their extended family in Britain, owing to growing concerns about the effect of the tropical climate and so-called ‘native’ influence on their bodies and minds.  After completing their education, the children of imperial families sometimes returned to India to follow in the footsteps of their parents.  But until then, they were entrusted to relatives in Britain who also wrote letters to the parents reporting on their development.  For example, Fanny’s uncle, Reverend Thomas Barlow, assured George that ‘the air of Devon perfectly agrees with [her], [and] her constitution does not betray any symptoms of her having been born in India’.  This guardianship of the Barlow children which fell upon aunts, uncles, and grandparents, served the dual purpose of enabling George to carry out his duties on the Indian subcontinent whilst also protecting Fanny and her siblings from the perceived ‘perils’ of growing up in a colonial environment.

Additional pages of the letter from Fanny to George Barlow 1808

British Library India Office Records and Private Papers, Mss Eur F176. Additional pages of the letter from Fanny to George Barlow, 1808 (photograph taken by the author).

The Barlow children’s letter-writing was prolific, covering a variety of topics, everything from their daily routines to musical accomplishments and thoughts on what they were reading.   George would have been sent reams of personal and business correspondence, so Fanny had to work hard to gain his attention.  In 1811, four years into his governorship in Madras and when Fanny was nine years old, she wrote strategically to George to coax a much-awaited reply from him: ‘I do not recollect that I ever received more than one letter from you, and it will give me great pleasure to receive an answer to this’.  Fanny’s life with her extended family in Devon and London was so disparate from her father’s in India, but letters helped her to fill the void between them… even if his replies were not as frequent as she would have liked.

Ellen Smith
Funded Midlands4Cities AHRC DTP PhD student at the University of Leicester, researching family life in British India c. 1790–1920.


Further reading:
British Library India Office Records and Private Papers, Mss Eur F176: Papers of Sir George Barlow, East India Company servant, Bengal from 1778; Governor-General of Bengal 1805-07; Governor of Madras 1807-13; and papers of his children, 1781–1860.  Particularly, Mss Eur F176/1-24: Family Correspondence, c. 1781–1846.
To trace Fanny’s letter-writing into adulthood see also, Mss Eur F176/96-100: Papers of Frances Barlow (1801-87), fourth daughter of Sir George Barlow, c. 1846–1860.
P. J. Marshall, ‘Barlow, Sir George Hilaro, first baronet (1763–1846)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2008).
For more on the Barlow family, but not concerning Fanny specifically, see, Vyvyen Brendon, Children of the Raj (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005), pp.11-40, and for a study on the fascinating love affair that broke up the Barlow family see Margot Finn, ‘The Barlow Bastards: Romance Comes Home from the Empire’ in Margot Finn, Michael Lobban, and Jenny Bourne Taylor (eds.), Legitimacy and Illegitimacy in Nineteenth-Century Law, Literature and History (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp.25-47.
Elizabeth Buettner, Empire Families: Britons and Late Imperial India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

 

02 June 2020

A rebus puzzle

During the last few months you’ve probably puzzled over at least one emoji quiz, one of many inventive online distractions people are sharing to while away the time during lock-down.  These quizzes have something in common with the 'rebus' – a kind of picture puzzle which gained popularity in Europe from the 16th century onwards.  In place of words, the writer inserts pictures and letters whose names sound out the meaning of the sentences.

A childhood letter in the form of a rebus addressed to two young girls survives among the papers from the Granville family archive preserved by Harriet Cavendish, later Lady Granville (1785-1862), now part of Add MS 89382.

Lady Harriet CavendishPortrait of Lady Harriet Cavendish, Countess Granville (1785-1862) by Thomas Barber the elder, from the collections at Hardwick Hall © National Trust 

In 1790, young Harriet and her siblings Georgiana and William, the three children of William Cavendish, fifth Duke of Devonshire (1748–1811), and his wife Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757–1806), were joined in their nursery at Chatsworth by two new playmates – five year old Caroline Rosalie St Jules and two year old Augustus Clifford.

View of Chatsworth House by Paul SandbyView of Chatsworth House by Paul Sandby, published by George Kearsley in The Copper Plate Magazine 1775. British Library, Kings Topographical Collection. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Caroline and Augustus were actually the children’s half sister and brother. They were the illegitimate children of their father, the Duke, and his mistress, Lady Elizabeth Foster, who had been living with the Duke and Duchess in a long-lasting ménage à trois.   The children had been born abroad where they spent their earliest years, and only came to live with their mother at Chatsworth in 1790.

Caroline was almost exactly the same age as her half-sister Harriet (or Hary-o, as she was called by the family).  Both girls had both been born in August 1785, though far apart.  From this time on, from the aged of five, they spent the rest of their childhoods together.  Besides having the company of their three brothers and sisters, they were often joined for visits and on holiday by Hary-o’s cousins, including Caroline Ponsonby, later Caroline Lamb, who was also born in 1785, the same year as the two sisters.

The rebus letter is addressed to both Hary-o and Caroline St Jules, but it is unsigned.  Could it have been written by their cousin Caroline Ponsonby?  Or was it from another young friend of their acquaintance?

Rebus
Rebus letter to Harriet Cavendish and Caroline St Jules. Undated c. 1795-1800 (Add MS 89382/3/5) 

Can you read the letter? If you know the French for 'well' and 'sea' and the names of the notes in the sol-fa music system you are nearly there!  Our imperfect attempt is at the end of this post.  Bonus points if you can hazard a guess at the identity of the village or town drawn at the foot of the page.

This charming and affectionate letter must have held particular significance for Hary-o, who kept it all her life.  It came to the British Library folded in a silk purse, along with surviving letters from her mother Georgiana and other treasured papers.

Tabitha Driver
Cataloguer, Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Address: A[mi] Le[Dé] Henriette [E] [A] Mademoiselle [Ka]roline St Jeule

Letter:
Accep[Té] cheres [E] douce a[mi]
Acceptez chères et douces amis
[Sept] fidelle pettit ^gaie [ré- bé/si(?)]
cette fidelle petit gaie rebus
[E] [croix] combien les [heures]
Et crois combien les heures
[Cent] les [deux] [Dé]lice de ma vie
Sont les deux délices de ma vie
[E –la], Je [ré]grette a[mer]ment
Hélas, Je regrette amèrement
Que je ne [puits] vous conter a pres[cent]
Que je ne puis vous conter à présent
Ce qui [E] passé de[puits] quelque Jours
Ce qui est passé depuis quelques Jours
[Cent] les [deux] a[mi] de mon [coeur]
Sans les deux amis de mon coeur
Maïs jamais Je ne soufrir[ré]
Mais jamais je ne souffrirai
[Un] jour de passé (?) [cent] [ex]primé
Un jour de passer sans exprimer
A mes a[mi] bien aimee
À mes amis bien aimées
Que je ne [puits] les oubli[E]
Que je ne puis les oublier

 

11 February 2020

Internment during the Second World War – Part Two: an album created by a Prisoner of War in Italy

Here is the second of a multi-part series on internment, highlighting the experiences of both civilians and military personnel detained across the globe in the Second World War.

Internment was often a negative experience, but here is something positive which came out of it - a scrapbook put together by British prisoner of war W. “Bill” Millett interned in Rezzanello, Italy.  His regiment was captured in early 1941 while in Africa.  The album features contributions from various men in the camp, Britons, Australians, Indians, and others.  The entries include poems, prose, sketches and even watercolours, showing the talents of these prisoners of war. Bill was evidently held in high regard by others in the camp. Londoner Captain S.G.M. Wright sarcastically reflects:

‘When I look back on these days,
I shall remember you Bill,
With your peculiar annoying ways,
Which, I see you possess still.’

There are 53 contributions, many providing an insight into life in the camp.  One concerns food: ‘The burial of one more (breakfast) at Rezzanello’. The author longs for eggs, bacon, and coffee.  Another regards gambling: ‘Smoke filled eyes and tongues all furry, scarcely seeing in the gloom, Knights of the Round Table, see them, in the castle anteroom.’  Perhaps the most insightful is this two-page drawing showing important times of day, including waiting for the toilet:

‘Another Day’ - sketches by Arthur Powell‘Another Day’ by Arthur Powell, 13 December 1941 – Add MS 89265 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The illustrations include sketches of men, women, children, regiment logos, and even two watercolours of horses.  Horse racing is a theme which consistently appears throughout the album, generally with the jaded pessimism of experienced gamblers.  Most however, appear when the contributors ask Bill to come and see them after the War.  This belief that the War will be over soon persists throughout.

While most contributions are written in English, the album contains prose in other languages too.  One man wrote a couplet in Persian which he saw in Delhi, which he (doubtfully) ascribes to Firdawsi; it contains a few mistakes and is composed in reality by Amīr Khusrau Dehlavī.  Another man gave a short passage in Morse Code:

Couplet in Persian Giles Farmer, 27 January 1942 - Add MS 89265  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence                            

 

Passage in Morse CodeL.Canty [undated] - Add MS 89265 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Dickie Findlay-Shirras of the Gordon Highlanders takes the prize for most impressive prose, writing in a combination of English, French, Italian and German!
 

Message in a combination of English, French, Italian and GermanDickie Findlay-Shirras [undated] - Add MS 89265 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Unsurprisingly, many entries contain philosophical thinking on the effects of internment.  Perhaps Major Brian Ashford-Russell says it best, identifying the positive outcomes of their imprisonment:

‘If our forced sojourn in Italy
has taught us tolerance… given us a better understanding
of the problems and comradeship
of the members of the great-
British Commonwealth, then the
Days will not have been wasted
And we may regard ourselves
As making a real contribution
To the peace, if not to the war.'

The album is not a typical prisoner of war diary.  Judging from the album, men interned at Rezzanello appear to have been treated leniently and with relative freedom.  Major H.A. Moorley, nicknamed Sinbad the Sailor, should have the last word:


 ‘And if ever in the afterwards,
I am called upon again,
To languish in a prison camp,
in sun or snow or rain,
I hope that arrangements are made,
By the Powers that Be to see,
That the same eight cheeky blighters,
Are in a room with me.’

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Further Reading:
Add MS 89265 - Album of W. (Bill) Millett, Rezzanello prisoner of war camp, Italy.
BBC News, ‘An Italian adventure’   17 October 2005
Charles Rollings, Prisoner Of War: Voices from Behind the Wire in the Second World War (2007) (especially pp.272-281).
The Memory Project, ‘Veteran Stories: Arthur Powell’ 
 

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