Saturday, 17 October 2015

Sisters' diaries shed light on provincial life in WW1 Britain

Weymouth Pavilion, where Madge Sneyd-Kynnersly watched
'Prisoner Of Zenda' and heard a Russian exile speak in 1915.
This fine building was destroyed by fire in 1954
Among the most popular characters in my new book Weymouth, Dorchester and Portland in the Great War are four Weymouth sisters whose diaries and snapshots I've used throughout to illustrate how war became part of everyday life at home. The Sneyd-Kynnersley sisters - Kitty, Sylvia, Madge and Rosie -  lived with their widowed mother and were in their late teens and early twenties when war was declared. All kept pocket diaries which, during the war, contained frequent references to the fighting and to casualties - especially when people they knew were involved.

In my previous post I included entries from Madge's 1915 diary in which she writes about the Battle of Loos. In this post I have transcribed (below) another week from Madge's diary which this time makes no direct mention of the war. But these entries, written exactly 100 years ago between 18-24 October 1915, are just as fascinating because they document the social history of the time, as well as Madge's very busy life!
Madge Sneyd-Kynnersley

The entries make reference to her work as a private tutor and the fact that, during her spare time, she was learning shorthand and typing in order to find office work. She talks about gramophones (hugely popular during the Great War), fashion, playing bridge, and going to the pictures. The conflict still manages to creep in, but subtly... for example in the mention of 'patriotic' handkerchiefs given as a birthday gift, and a flag day held to raise money for wounded Russian soldiers and the Red Cross. The unpredictable policitcal situation in Russia is also evident in her reference to a talk given by a Russian exile, Alexis Aladin.

Monday, 18 October: Taught. Shorthand at 6pm, afterwards calling on Simons, and town with mother [shops stayed open well into the evening]. M Onslow [a friend] to supper and bridge.
Winter fashions and furs, 1915

Tuesday, 19 October: Taught. Dentist. Sylvie's birthday: many happy returns of day. Mother gave her Onoto [a make of pen], Kitty patriotic hankies, Rosie cigarette lighter, me Turkish delight, gold hairpin case for vanity bag. M.Onslow to bridge with streaming cold.

Wednesday, 20 October: Taught for last time. Got paid 3 guineas and Lady H. [Madge's employer] said Betty had so enjoyed it! Tea with the Bragges, sat in kitchen with gramophone and saw their new clothes and furs.

Thursday, 21 October: Red Cross and Russian Flag Day. Mother having a district, I sold around Greenhill, got a good deal but wet day unluckily. Mina and Miss Chapman selling in pack, also Sylive, Ida W and Morris boys selling. Thousands sold at St Johns Schools where kids illegally sold in streets beyond our district! Very good lecture at Pav [Weymouth Pavilion] by Russian member of Duma Alexis Aladin, awfully interesting and funny broken English, us selling programmes etc. Tea at Mayor's expense in Balcony with M.Sanctuary [a friend]. Taxi home - wet day.
A wartime advert for gramophones

Friday, 22 October: Dentist  at12. Fitted at Crabbe [outfitter] for old blue skirt for which he has made a hip-yolk [dress alteration]. Prisoner of Zenda and tea at Pav.

Saturday, 23 October: Wet day. Sylvie and I went to Tiny Morgan's wedding. Smart. She in short frock. Then pictures at Jubilee [Hall]. Good. Jungle [possible reference to1915 silent movie, 'Perils of the Jungle']. Cooncan [card game] at Onslows.

Sunday, 24 October: Wet day.

The Sneyd-Kynnersleys' WW1 diaries reveal in colourful detail how family life was affected by the war. They describe everything from food shortages, blackouts, and 'spy mania', to new opportunities for women in the workplace, and the Spanish 'flu epidemic which devastated homes at the end of the conflict. You can read more in my new book Weymouth, Dorchester and Portland in the Great War.

Pages from Madge Sneyd-Kynnersley's 1915 diary

Copyright © 2015 Jacqueline Wadsworth

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