Monday, 4 August 2014

'Great Britain declares war - and may we win it!'

Weymouth on the even of war was unprepared for conflict
At the turn of the century Weymouth was a lively seaside town, made popular by the patronage of King George III in the late 18th century. Across the bay was Portland Harbour, a major naval base, and to the north was the garrison town of Dorchester, home of the Dorsetshire Regiment. With its naval and military presence, South Dorset would play a key part in the First World War, but in 1914 no-one was prepared for the events that unfolded that summer.

Madge Sneyd-Kynnersley, a young woman who lived Weymouth with her widowed mother and three sisters, kept a daily diary during the war years and her entries give a fascinating insight into the way town life was affected. In the days leading up to the conflict she followed events closely, both on the Continent and in the local area ...

July 30: On verge of war. Russian has to back up Servia [pre-war spelling of Serbia], and Germany Austria. So France (allied with Russia) and England (entente) is also involved...Spencer and Fanny [a naval friend and his sister] at The Pavilion on Tuesday when urgent message for all officers and men to return to ships came and just time to dash home and say goodbye, great scenes at pier Tuesday night.

July 31: Situation still worse. Waterworks and Ridgeway Tunnel patrolled, soldiers in and around Weymouth, our boom defences down and no ships allowed in harbour ... Urgent Red Cross meetings, mine in Watts’ garden.

August 1: Germany proclaimed martial law, will soon mobilise. Has sent ultimatum to Russia. Scarcely any hope. Food going up so Sylvia [her sister] & I went to town and bought 21lbs biscuits, 1 ton coal, 12lbs jam, 4lbs tea, also cocoa, beans, macaroni, Horlick, flour and soap, candle!

Sunday, August 2: St Johns Church, war sermon by Mr Coryton
August 3: Navy mobilised. Reserves called out. Germany declares war on France, asks England to remain neutral if they don’t blockade French coast. Cabinet divided. Shall we desert France? Gladys [a friend] and I bathed, we all went to tea and tennis at Lithgows.
August 4: Germany in violation of treaty invades Belgium to get to France’s weakest spot. England send ultimatum (Belgium having appealed to us) 12 hours grace for Germany. German prize ship captured here, we took her coal. Sylvia at Red Cross practice ... Army mobilised. Banks closed till Friday.
August 5: ARMAGEDDON Great Britain declares war on Germany last night and may we win it. Belgians repulse Germans. Great naval battle at any moment. Two [suspected German] spies from Westham tried to poison water last night. 7,000 Territorials to be billeted on Rodwell people tonight. C&M Stores closed.
Madge and her sisters' diaries will be continued from time to time on this blog; you'll also be able to read more of them in my book 'Letters from the Trenches', which is being published in November.

(Copyright © 2014 Jacqueline Wadsworth)

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