Sunday, 24 April 2016

A month full of Zeppelin raids, torpedo-testing, and sleepy Anzacs

Madge Sneyd Kynnersley
A pocket diary may seem far too small to record fully the momentous events of history, but it's amazing how capacious some can be when you open them up. Take Madge Sneyd Kinnersley's, for example. Her pocket diaries from the Great War years cover every significant event you can think of, despite there being only a few lines per day to write on. She also wrote some wonderfully succinct descriptions about ordinary life in the early 1900s.

Madge was living in Weymouth with her widowed mother and three sisters when war broke out. She kept a diary every day, and her notes proved invaluable when I was writing my WW1 books. In Letters from the Trenches Madge's ascerbic comments on life as a Red Cross nurse were particularly amusing, and in Weymouth, Dorchester and Portland in the Great War her diary forms a colourful thread which runs through the book, illustrating the social history of the time.

The extracts below show what a lively writer Madge was. She talks about 'the Range' where she worked as a clerk - this was the Royal Navy's torpedo testing range on the edge of Portland Harbour. She mentions friends and family, including her sisters Kitty and Sylvy. She also refers to the wounded Anzac soldiers who were sent to convalesce in Weymouth; the devastating raids by German Zeppelin airships; and to the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. Where necessary, explanations are given in italics.

APRIL 1916


1 April, Saturday - Range till 1.45pm. Glorious day, sat in garden and went to tea at Pav [Weymouth Pavilion] with V Bragge and Miss Anderson ... Zep raid last night on eastern counties and zeps shot down and crew taken by us, off Thames.

Weymouth Pavilion often crops up in Madge's diary as a recreational venue. The Edwardian original, pictured left, was built to enhance the town's reputation as a first-class holiday resort and opened in 1908. Sadly, however, it burnt down during refurbishment in 1954 thanks to an accident involving a blow-torch. Work began on a replacement theatre and ballroom four years later.

4 April, Tuesday - Zep raids 3 nights running!

6 April, Thursday - Theatre to see 'Fanny's First Play' with mother at 6pm. By Bernard Shaw - good. Baked beans for lunch and meringues for tea

This popular play premiered in 1911, when George Bernard Shaw was 56. The playwright courted unpopularity during the First World War by denouncing both sides.

Madge's sister Rosie
8 April, Saturday - Kitty had wire from Devonshire House [Red Cross HQ in London ] asking her to go to Military Hospital at Cardiff but she has just signed on at Exeter for 6 months.

Madge and her three other sisters - including Rosie, pictured left - all worked as Red Cross nurses at some time during the war.

11 April, Tuesday - Sylvy and I went to vulgar but funny revue at Pavilion 'Fine Feathers'. Sleepy Anzac behind me collapsing on my shoulder.

16 April, Sunday - Spencer [the serving naval officer whom Madge was courting] has got a brand new destroyer, the Munster!!

18 April, Tuesday - Range. Code came from Gosport and we stayed till  6.45pm trying to decode it and at last I was the one to find the clue. Sylvy wired for by army pay for next week.

Madge's sister Sylvy had applied to work at the army pay office in Exeter.

21 April, Good Friday - Lovely day. Lay on beach all morning. Attended last half of 3-hrs [church] service at Westham. Long walk over Lodmore with Sylvy in evening.

22 April, Saturday - Holiday. Town and shopped.

23 April, Easter Sunday - Trinity [Church] at 11am in green and tweed as dark blue at cleaners!

24 April, Easter Monday - Sylvy went to Exeter to try army pay for a bit.

26 April, Wednesday - Range, we torpedoed WD motor boat Vulture, hole right thought her!!

27 April, Thursday - Range, no work. Sat on balcony and walked on beach at lunch. Very sore throat. Sinn Fein rebellion in Ireland. Rebels take GPO and many parts of Dublin, also other parts of Ireland. Sir Roger Casement taken prisoner and sent to Tower trying to land ammunition in Ireland.

Sir Roger Casement was later hanged by the British for his part in working with Germany and the Irish nationalists in planning the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916.

30 April, Sunday - Fall of Kut. General Townsend after being besieged since December had to surrender to Turks, all attempts at relief having failed and relief ship gone aground. Lovely day.

The humiliating British surrender at Kut-al-Amara, a town on the Tigris in Mesopotamia, came after a five-month siege by the Turks.

You can read more from Madge's marvellous diaries in my books Letters from the Trenches and Weymouth, Dorchester and Portland in the Great War .

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