We Also Served by Vivien Newman

We Also Served cover

We Also Served by Vivien Newman is subtitled The Forgotten Women of the First World War. I’ve always been interested in WW1 so I’ve read a lot of books about the period but I still found a lot of new to me information in this book.

It begins with the feverish knitting of socks, scarves, gloves and such comforts as were desperately needed by the soldiers in the trenches and sailors. Even young children were knitting socks, one poor little eight year old boy was said to have been knitting almost right up to his last breath, but it was mainly females who were doing the knitting. The women in Dundee knitted over 6,000 pairs of socks in the early months of the war! It was a great way of making women feel that they were doing something for the war effort, they couldn’t go and fight but with so many women having a husband, brother, son at the front they wanted to do their bit. Knitting was approved of by the powers that be but when it came to doing anything more involving such as nursing women were told they couldn’t go to the front. Famously (if you know anything about this subject) the Scottish surgeon Dr Elsie Inglis was told to ‘Go home and sit still.’ The British government wasn’t interested in help from women. The Serbians, French and Belgians were much more sensible and Elsie Inglis and her nurses are still revered in Serbia today.

Early in the war women were recruited by the government to hand out white feathers to men that they thought should be in the army, a way of shaming them. I must admit that I hadn’t realised this was originally organised by the government.

Later as the war dragged on women were taken on in war service as nurses, munitions workers, were recruited in the armed forces (not armed of course) land girls, who were particularly disliked because they were used to free up men for the front. Their wives didn’t want their husbands going to war and up until then farm workers had been safe from conscription. Women were recruited as spies and if caught they were executed. The stress and strain of the horrific experiences of nurses led to them suffering from shell-shock and what we now call post traumatic stress disorder and sadly nurses did commit suicide.

This was a great read although at times infuriating as women were treated so badly, earned much less money than the men when they worked in munitions, despite the horribly dangerous work which often ended up with them being blown up or poisoned by the chemicals. Those accidents were hushed up.

The women who had been despised by male workers often ended up being admired by them because of the hard work and long hours they put in – and of course most of them had to go home and start doing all the work there too, so never got any rest at all. However, when the war ended the women had to give up their work and go back to the kitchen sink and often the only option open to them was to go back into service as a maid. Their efforts did go a long way to women getting the vote, but only if they were over 30 at first.

Thank you to Pen and Sword History and NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of the book for review.

We will remember them

Hooge crater cemetery, Ypres, Belgium,
Hooge Crater Cemetery Panorama of Graves

Langemark German war cemetery, near the village of Langemark, part of the municipality of Langemark-Poelkapelle, Belgium.

German War Graves, Langemark, Belgium

Tyne Cot war cemetery, near Zonnebeke, Belgium

Graves and Memorial Cross, Tyne Cot Cemetery

Trooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell

Trooper to the Southern Cross cover

Trooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell was first published in 1934 but my copy is a Virago reprint. I can’t imagine why they chose the cover image for it which is apparently called Self Portrait by George W. Lambert. It belongs to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, but other than that being in Australia it is a poor choice for this book.

This one isn’t one of Thirkell’s Barsetshire books. It is I’m sure very autobiographical as Angela Thirkell did sail to Australia on a troopship with her second husband just after the end of World War 1. This is an account told by Major Bowen who is newly married and taking his young English wife back to Australia with him. He’s a doctor and had been in the thick of it in Egypt, Gallipoli and France, but now the Australian Imperial Army is sailing home.

There’s a lot of humour in this book although the voyage itself is a complete nightmare as the ordinary Australian soldiers (diggers) were well known for being undisciplined and out of control. ‘Borrowing’ was their way of life and everything that wasn’t screwed down was stolen and stolen again. There are also prisoners on board but they seem to be able to get out and about as they feel like it.

Hundreds of men women and children have been squashed into a ship which had originally been part of the German Navy but had been confiscated from them at the end of the war. Knowing this would happen the German sailors had spent their time disconnecting all the pipes and reconnecting them wrongly. Salt water was coming out of the cold water taps and there was no hot water, but steam came out of some pipes. The ship’s engineers were having a horrendous time trying to rectify it all, and the heat was terrible.

Meanwhile the diggers were spending their time gambling and fighting when they weren’t stealing things. According to the narrator the problems were caused by the large number of soldiers on ship who were of Irish descent, of course the Catholics and Orangemen were at daggers drawn and Major Bowen had the job of patching them all up again. He even had to resort to violence himself when he was attacked.

However the women on board were at no danger from the men who seemed to have a respect for them – even if some of them were real ‘wowsers’, and the most violent of men would meekly stand and take a bawling out from a woman if their child had been woken up by them. Many of the diggers were fathers and had missed their children, so sometimes the nursery was full of diggers taking a turn at dandling the babies.

I prefer the Barsetshire books but this was a hoot too, and very true to life I think as during World War 2 the Australian army was notorious for bad behaviour. After towns were wrecked by Aussie soldiers word would get about and ports refused to allow them to disembark – so I’ve been told.


After spending an afternoon in Bruges we drove on to Ypres or Ieper as the locals prefer to call it nowadays. We were there last year for the first time, mainly because we wanted to attend one of the services of remembrance that are held every evening at 8 pm at the Menin Gate. You can just see the edge of the massive gateway to the town in this photo. It has thousands of names of the ‘fallen’ on it. The road is closed off every evening which does annoy some of the locals, but as so many visitors are going there just to track down family graves, and it brings a lot of money into the local economy, I think it’s something that they’ll just have to put up with.

Menin Gate from street

The photo below is another view of the Menin Gate taken from the west.
Menin Gate from West

Below is another view of the Menin Gate and the moat which surrounds the town.
Menin Gate from ramparts

The photo below was taken from the ramparts near the Menin Gate and the houses are on the other side of the moat. They’re all individually designed and some are very smart looking.
houses in Ypres Belgium

I didn’t take any photos of the town of Ypres this time but you can see some I took last year here.

And we stayed at the same hotel which you can see here, we had much better weather last year.

This year we just took the photo below, in the evening.
Hotel Kasteelhof ‘t Hooghe

Flambards Divided by K.M.Peyton

Flambards Divided cover

Flambards Divided by K.M. Peyton is the last book in the Flambards series, published in 1981 and aimed at older children, teen readers I suppose they would be described as nowadays.

It seemed apt to be reading it while I was in Belgium looking at World War 1 cemeteries and such, because the setting is towards the end of the war. Christine is of course a young widow with a small daughter and after spending lots of her inherited money on improving Flambards as a farm and trying to make it pay her cousin Mark has come back home from the war where he was very badly wounded.

Christine has married Dick who was a servant at Flambards before the war. Their marriage isn’t popular because everybody disapproves of her marrying so far below her station and Dick is too stubborn to want to get on with the neighbouring landowners. Christine isn’t happy that Dick has taken over the running of the farm and wants no input from her at all.

When Mark arrives back at Flambards the atmosphere is poisonous as Mark and Dick have a lot of animosity, with good reason. Christine finds herself in the middle of two warring men and everything begins to fall apart for all concerned.

This book shows how World War 1 changed everything in social terms and also how the death of so many young men made it necessary to change laws to take account of the imbalance of the sexes.

This is an enjoyable series which of course was made into a TV serial but I’m sure that the TV series only dealt with the first two books. It’s a shame that nobody thought to make a new series of the whole set as it would have been ideal viewing during these centennial years.

As it happens Jack has just done a blogpost about the Menin Gate in Ypres and if you’re interested you can see it here.

Ypres (Ieper) in Belgium

Ypres Buildings

In Britain we say Ypres (Eeprr) in the French fashion, I’m not very good at that French ‘r’ rolling thing. Anyway, that was how it was pronounced locally at the time of World War 1. The British troops of course decided that it was much easier to call the place Wipers. After the war the Flemish people of the region decided that it was about time they dropped the French way of doing it, after all it isn’t in France it’s Belgium. So now it’s called Ieper (Eeyeper) well that’s what it sounds like to me. The whole town was flattened as it was right on the front line, and it had been such a lovely mediaeval town too.

Ypres Building

After the war there was a discussion about what should be done about the place. Churchill was keen to keep the whole area in ruins as a memorial to the dead. Understandably that didn’t appeal to the locals who just wanted to get back home and get on with normal life. So the decision was taken to re-build as close as possible to what had been there before, and I think they made a good job of it.

Cloth Hall fountains

The fountain above is obviously modern, I love fountains, there aren’t enough of them around, in Britain anyway. It was hot while we were there and in common with lots of old places Ypres has now and again a whiff of old drains but the town also smells of chocolate, very enticing.

If you go to Ypres be sure to visit The Flanders Field Museum. It’s one of the best museums I’ve ever visited – and I’ve visited a fair few in my time. Give yourself at least three hours to go around it.

Ypres is just a small town surrounded by farmland, interspersed with many cemeteries and memorials. I read somewhere that the farmland had been very poor prior to the war, but afterwards it was the most productive farmland in Europe. I don’t know if that’s true but it is an undeniable fact that it was certainly very well fertilized, what an awful thought.

It’s a dangerous job driving a tractor on these fields as unexploded shells are ploughed up all the time and sometimes they explode when they’re disturbed, killing or maiming the poor driver.


If you’re interested you can see some images of The Wipers Times here.

Hooghe, Ypres, Belgium

I’ve had an interest in World War 1 since schooldays, my maternal grandfather was apparently one of those crazy lads who lied about his age to join up. He survived the war but died when I was very young.

Hotel  Back

Anyway when we knew we would be going back to Holland we decided to combine a trip to Ypres (Ieper) in Belgium, so we booked up two nights away in Kasteelhof ‘t Hooghe mainly because the location seemed ideal to us. The photo above is of the side of the hotel and our room was just to the right of the middle of it, the window before the little gable roof and the door and two windows after that, if you look closely you can see our balcony.


The view from there is of a wee lake which has been formed from mine craters. It’s all very peaceful now but as you can see from the defensive concrete pill box this was once a very hot place to be. In fact the trench there was first dug by Germans and it was here that they used a flame thrower for the very first time. It was very strange to be sleeping about 30 yards from where that happened. A part of the trench has been preserved by a local history group and there are piles of rusting bits of shells and such lying around. Shrapnel is being dug up all the time and it’s a dangerous job ploughing fields around here as ploughs often disturb unexploded shells. Farmers are sometimes killed if the shells go off after being dragged up.


You have to imagine that there would have been no trees back then as they would have been blasted to bits in no time. The sheep grazed right beneath our window in the daytime but in the evening they moved elsewhere.

Hotel  Kasteelhof 't Hooghe in Ypres

Above is a photo of the front of the hotel. Originally there was a very grand castle nearby and they had the misfortune to have the war taking place on their doorstep. In no time there was nothing left of the castle and after the war the owner had this building built which he called a cottage, it was to be a stopgap home for him. He intended to rebuild his grand house but it never happened. It’s a nice place and I would go back again, and probably will as there is plenty to see around there and we only had time to scratch the surface of all the places of historical interest.

If you’re interested in what went on in the area during the war have a look here.

Blackie’s Children’s Annual

I have a lot of collections of ‘stuff’, often completely useless and worthless but just pretty, such as shells and stones and there are the books and china of course, old brooches and boxes, old postcards… the list goes on and on. But I’m absolutely not going to start a collection of Blackie’s Annuals although I believe they are collected by a lot of people.

Blackie's Children's Annual

I just came across this one at the weekend whilst looking for something completely different – a set of pine shelves which I want for the kitchen but am having no luck finding. In fact today I just bought wood to have a go at making them myself, with Jack’s help. I wish I had been able to take woodworking classes when I was at school, I would have loved that.

Anyway, I’m rambling, back to Blackie’s Children’s Annual, I couldn’t resist buying this one but unfortunately it doesn’t have any clue inside it as to when it was published. It must have been sometime during World War 1 because of the endpapers, beautiful wee soldiers, in kilts too albeit rather short ones.

Front Endpapers

Back Endpapers

Also the very first story in the book is about a father going to war, he’s in the Special Reserves and the family’s ‘fraulein’ is having to return to Germany. So I’m plumping for Christmas 1914 for the publication date although Jack thinks they wouldn’t have had time to get it published in time for Christmas 1914. I think it was probably all ready long before Christmas and they just added the first story about the war and the endpapers to catch the spirit of the times. After all – the war was going to be finished soon wasn’t it?!

Actually I’ve just realised that the front cover was almost certainly designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh as he did a lot of work for Blackie’s books as well as designing Hill House in Helensburgh for him.

If you’re interested there are more images of Blackie’s books here.

World War 1 – 100 years ago today

As you will almost certainly know, it is exactly 100 years since Britain went to war with Germany, August, 4th at 11pm. It’s a subject I’ve always been interested in, although I never knew my grandfather who was involved in it from the beginning, he was one of those crazy youngsters who lied about his age to join up.

Although I have studied the war, it’s really the social history of it which interests me most, and to that end I’ve collected postcards from the time, all sorts of different ones – sentimental, patriotic and humorous.

Below is one which must have been sent to many a soldier from sweethearts, reassuring them that no matter what their injuries might be, they were still loved.

WW1  Postcard

Bullets and Billets by Bruce Bairnsfather

bullets and billets

I’ve been collecting the Fragments From France magazines for years and I think I have just about all of them now, they contain the cartoons which Bruce Bairnsfather drew during World War I. I happened to be in the Oxfam bookshop in Perth on Saturday (it was the busiest shop in town) and I spotted an old copy of Bairnsfather’s book Bullets and Billets. As you can imagine, I snapped it up fast and it went straight to the top of my reading pile. It was first published in December 1916 and I have no idea how many were in the original print run, but my copy is a reprint which was also published in December 1916. I think it must have been a very popular book.

Bruce Bairnsfather was born in India, into a military family but he didn’t get into military college and had a career in advertising before World War I. Like most men at that time it was inevitable that he became involved in the war.

As Bairnsfather was a machine gun officer at the Front and he was writing the book in quiet moments, it’s all completely authentic and full of that black humour which was so vital in keeping men going through the horrors that they were experiencing. I’m about a third of the way through it, it’s actually a very quick read and I’d say that if you are at all interested in the Great War era then you’ll find it really interesting – and amusing of course. Luckily I’ve just checked Project Gutenberg and it is available for download, have a look here. If you prefer a real book then it has been reprinted lots of times over the years and is easy to get a hold of.

If you want to see some of Bruce Bairnsfather’s cartoons, look here.

If you want to know more about Bruce Bairnsfather have a look here.