It is some time since I last mentioned my own daughter Kit on these pages. The story following the most happy event of her wedding (see March 1st) has been too painful to tell until now.
Her marriage to Lieut. Marshall lasted less than three months. He contracted meningitis and died in hospital in Portsmouth on May 12th 1915. During his illness and following his death, Kit showed great fortitude. May I leave it at that?
Only five months later and she is, I am proud to say, in France, driving a car and working in connection with St. Leonard’s School YMCA hut, Camp 18, Harfleur Valley, near Havre. Albeit behind the lines, she has been seeing a lot of the Tommies and it is most interesting to hear about them in her letters.
27/10/15. “Lots of our men went up to the Line tonight; it is rotten saying goodbye to them… I wonder if we shall ever see them again? I picked up and took three men down to Havre who were going to ‘Blighty’ this morning. One man had been blown up by a trench-mortar and had had one side of his head dislodged. Another man had had cholera and enteric on August 21st in hospital at ‘Eatables,’ came down here for a rest, and had been doing fatigue for three weeks, though his nerves are gone.”
Kit has also noted that Tommies doing fatigue get a shilling a day, whereas the local navvies get three times as much. She comments,
“No wonder our men get fed up. A lot of things want straightening out.”
29/10/15. “The King visited the camp yesterday, and he looked ill and worn. Only a few of the soldiers around saw him, as they had been on fatigue the day before in a downpour of rain, and of course were soaked to the skin. They have no change of clothes and consequently could not appear properly dressed, so had to stay in their tents till he had gone.”
It must have been soon after this that the King was himself injured.
As with our young subalterns, Kit is meeting the sort of people she could not have got to know in normal life. She has been asked to help write their letters and deal with tales of domestic woe.
“One man came and told us a most pathetic story yesterday. He had been home on leave and when he got to his house, he found it was shut up and his wife and ten months old daughter had gone off with a Belgian refugee…”
The Tommy who has surprised her most is a strongly built north country miner, who was able to quote Shelley and Keats to her and wanted her to teach him Latin (“I have got a Latin grammar in my tent,” he told her).
How did he come to be so educated?
(7/11/15) “You see, I like my books better than women, and they call me a woman-hater – It is funny I should be telling you that, isn’t it? But I have been living in lodgings, and I have never met a woman who liked poetry.”
Having had 23 teeth out recently, he could not return to the line until a new set of false teeth arrived, so Kit got to know him even better and has found that he has the most extraordinary knowledge of poetry.
“…he floors me completely in all save Swinburne and Kipling, which two he does not know. But what surprises me is that things we have been educated up to, such as Milton’s sonnets, Dante, Spenser and the like, he has discovered and read for his own enjoyment. He has never discussed poetry and his opinions are entirely his own. Ever since he was ten he has lived in lodgings, thirty-five of them, and he is now twenty-five… Browning he quoted freely, Tennyson, Longfellow etc, but Shelley and Keats he knows to perfection and just glories in them.
One day he said, ‘Have you read Kubla Khan?’ I told him it was one of my favourite poems. He said he thought it was the one inspiration Coleridge ever had and was most interested to hear it was a dream…”