1 February 1915

Nina Astley (Corbet), c.1917

Nina Astley (Corbet), c.1917

Tel.: Stockcross                                                       Benham Valence,                                                                                         Newbury.

Jan. 31 1915

My dear George

I wonder how you are liking yourself in your new surroundings. If ever you have a spare moment, do send me a line. This address of course will always find me, but tomorrow I go for a week to The Croft Torquay. Lesbia has been there for a fortnight with my Mother and is already much the better for her visit.

I saw Kittie on Friday [29 January] — she was I was glad to see a little better — not very stalwart yet! But even a slight improvement is a comfort. She makes one very anxious at times.

Jim writes always cheerfully, he keeps well — since he’s retired to Hospital with an attack of colic — a disease which he said he had always thought was confined to horses and the very youthful! He is near La Bassée. Reg is still watching for Zepps in London. Their Barricade business is fallen thro’ for the moment, as the W.O. won’t indemnify them should they shoot and kill a spy! They might be had up for murder. The W.O. say they can enlist as “Tommies” if they like, but they don’t like — for naturally if they had to enlist they would do it in something else, not a hybrid police force.

Show you forgive all this twaddle by sending me a line. I do hope your wounded leg is better.

Yours ever


Only 7 patients here now.

George Calderon received this letter today, a Monday, at Fort Brockhurst. The writer is Nina Astley, by her first marriage Corbet, who had been Kittie’s intimate friend since they were teenagers, and who had helped bring George and Kittie together after the death of Kittie’s first husband in 1898.

Nina was a prolific and extremely skilful letter-writer. She hardly ever had cause to write to George, and in fact there are only two other letters from her in his archive. Here she has wonderfully, apparently casually, woven together an inquiry after his health and snippets of family news. But the real point of the letter is its middle, where she tells George about Kittie’s condition. Kittie may be ‘a little better’, but the exclamation ‘not very stalwart yet!’ subtly suggests the cause of her condition in the first place. ‘She makes one very anxious at times’ is surely designed to play on his conscience.

The Croft, Torquay, was the residence of Nina’s mother, Eliza Stewart. ‘Lesbia’ is her daughter by Sir Walter Corbet, Kittie’s godchild, born in 1905. ‘Jim’ is her son Sir Roland James Corbet (see previous posts). ‘Reg’ is Nina’s husband Reginald Astley, who at 53 was a Special Constable raring for some action. Zeppelins had attacked Yarmouth and North Norfolk on 19 January 1915, killing two and injuring several others.

Nina was writing from Benham Valence, where she was staying with her sister-in-law Constance Astley, who was the mother of Dick Sutton by her first marriage (see previous posts about Sir Richard Sutton). The house had been a Red Cross hospital since late 1914.

We do not know what George replied, as all of Nina’s letters were burned by Reginald Astley after her death in 1921.

Next entry: They all fall down


About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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