Saturday, 19 April 2014

What a difference a year makes!

I can't believe how much my life has changed since I decided to 'get off my butt' and start living. I used to have a house which although not immaculate, at least had a good going over once a week. Now I'd much rather be writing than dusting. Even my leisure time has changed. Everywhere I go I'm constantly thinking of new story lines. Even a simple trip to the supermarket has the potential to be the setting for a disaster of some sort in my fevered imagination.
Take a family day out recently, for instance.

We love going to visit stately homes and we're fortunate in that we live very close to Blenheim Palace, the birth place of Winston Churchill. To mark the centenary of the start of World War 1, the palace has an exhibition about the involvement of the Duke of Marlborough, his family and those employed on the estate at the time, in the war. My husband and son wanted to see the exhibition, but as I'm not really interested in anything to do with war, I took a notebook with me intending to sit in the warmth of this lovely Spring afternoon and make some notes for my next short story.

However, when we arrived I decided that I might as well have a look. I arranged a place to meet up with my family should I finish looking round before they did, a distinct possibility I thought! What I didn't expect was that I would end up taking notes about the stories shared in the exhibition or that I would end up conducting an interview with one of the characters!

Dotted around the stables in among all the uniforms, weapons and model aeroplanes, were pictures and stories of some of the estate workers and what they did during the war. I was fascinated by some of the stories and thought that they would make for great plots for a short story or, dare I say it, even a book! I got out my notebook and pen and began to make notes. At one end of the room, there was a display about the involvement of women especially as nurses or VADs, women who weren't trained as nurses, but who helped out in the field hospitals. Standing beside this display was a young woman dressed in the uniform of a WW1 VAD.
            'Oh! You're making notes! Let me introduce myself, I'm Nellie Hozier, sister Of Clementine, Winston Churchill's wife.' she said.
I explained that it was actually her that I was making notes about. So she offered to tell me her story in person.

Young woman dressed as Nellie Hozier.
Nellie was 47 at the outbreak of the war and was accepted as a VAD, which was unusual because of her age. She was posted to Mons, in Belgium. She hadn't been there very long when the Germans attacked and she was taken prisoner. Along with all the other prisoners of war, she was taken to Marne in France and kept in a house there. They were well treated, but as winter approached she was very cold as she was still in her summer uniform. After three months she was released and came home. she didn't return to the front, instead she carried out voluntary work back in Britain.

I found this quite interesting, but I didn't think that it compared to some of the stories of the estate workers, such as Arthur Hine a Clerk, who became a dispatch worker. In October 1914 he came across a young girl, a toddler, outside a burning house in Antwerp. There was no sign of her parents, so Arthur put the child on his motorbike intending to leave her at the next safe place he came too. Instead, he ended up bringing the child back to Blenheim where she was looked after by his family. The story continued that as of the present, they don't know what happened to the girl after the war. A mystery to be investigated or perhaps a story to be written! Did she return to Belgium after the war? Did her parents survive and come looking for her? Or did she perhaps marry one of the sons of the Scroggs family, who also lived and worked on the estate at the time? See! Fevered imagination!

 One of the stories that really captured my imagination was that of Lady Alexandra Phyllis Hamilton, the cousin of the 9th duke of Marlborough. Her story goes that on the 11th October 1918, she was on the Irish Steamer RMS Leinster when it was hit by a German UB-128 submarine, when sailing out of Dublin Bay. She drowned, along with two of her servant's, Martha Bridges and Eleanor Strachan. The ship's captain, William Birch, later reported that when he went down to the saloon to check on the passengers after they'd been hit she said to him; 'We are alright, not a bit excited.' He then heard her say; 'I'm a strong swimmer,' as she handed her life belt to another of her servants. Heartbreaking! All the more poignant as it was so near the end of the war.

The day I'm writing this blog, we're planning a trip in the afternoon to Kelmscott Manor, the home of William Morris, of the Arts and Craft's Movement. Who knows what deep, dark secrets or potential story lines I'll uncover there? :)

Photo's of notebook and pen and 'Nellie Hozier', Isabel's own.

Photo of RMS Leinster courtesey of

No comments :

Post a Comment