Wednesday, 31 December 2014

'Let us hope 1915 will see peace restored on Earth'

Madge Sneyd-Kynnersley
Let me introduce you to Madge Sneyd-Kynnersley of Weymouth, a lifelong diarist whose journals from 1914-18 thread their way colourfully through the book I'm working on at the moment Weymouth, Dorchester and Portland in the Great War. In 1914 she was in her early 20s and when war was declared she and three sisters volunteered immediately to work as Red Cross nurses.
This is how Madge summed up the year of 1914, a year in which the usual social routine of her middle-class family in the naval town of Weymouth was rudely interrupted by conflict:

1914 was on the whole a bad year.
The great European war began on Aug 4th and so far Germany has had the best of it – has taken nearly all Belgium and a lot of Poland in spite of all the efforts of the allies – tho’ they say she is bound to be crushed – already the flower of England’s manhood has been killed and the war of the trenches seems endless.

'1914 was on the whole a bad year' - a page from
Madge's diary (Copyright: Sandes Family)
In the beginning of the year mother was constantly ill becoming worse and worse. In April however we got a trained nurse and after a week's care mother was completely cured. In the first 6 months of 1914 I got to know Spencer Russell [a naval officer whom she would later marry] very well and saw a great lot of him. I was only away 14 days this year, visitng family in Woburn in July, but this time saw the passing of peace and the beginning of war. By the time I returned to Weymouth the Fleet had been mobilised and Spencer and I did not meet again [until 1915] tho’ we wrote. After war began we all became Red Cross nurses and I nursed at Sidney Hall and Princess Christian Hospital – chiefly Belgians. 

In the summer the French Fleet paid a visit and the ladies of Weymouth gave a ball to them, also I went to a dance in the King George. We were also friends with the people in the HMS Superb (Maycock and Co) and saw a lot of them. I had 3 days in London and saw 3 plays there. Muriel Sargeant, Gladys Mayer, Enid Martyn and Violet Buck stayed with us. The last persuaded me to try and make peace with Uncle Abel by my attempt failed.

This year therefore was a patchy one – parts black and terrible – other parts unusually nice. Let us hope 1915 will see peace restored on Earth and the desires of all our hearts granted.

Madge's sister Sylvia was also a diarist, but her summing-up of 1914 was rather more pessimistic:

The year 1914 has gone. I hope I shall never know on like it, with such terrible times as I have been through. In the whole of time I think there has never been such misery as Europe has known. We can only wait for better times.

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