Kittie’s story

As I have said before, none of George and Kittie’s letters to each other written whilst he was at Fort Brockhurst has survived (there is an envelope addressed to her by George and postmarked Gosport 3 May, but no letter inside it). In fact no letters written by her are known from the middle of April till the middle of June 1915.

This makes it difficult to picture what Kittie was doing at this time, and one would like to.

The Belgian refugees Jean Ryckaert and Raymond Dereume were still living with the Calderons at 42 Well Walk, and we know from George’s letter to William Rothenstein of 1 January (see post) that this was quite a strain for her.

Although she had not been able to go straight to her friend Nina Astley (Corbet) after she received news on 17 April of Jim Corbet’s death on 15th, it is possible that she attended a service for him at St Bartholomew’s Church, Moreton Corbet, about now. Moreton Corbet is the ancient seat of the Corbet family (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moreton_Corbet) and St Bartholomew’s contains many superb monuments to them, including a plaque commemorating Jim (Sir Roland James Corbet). Jim’s elder brother Vincent, and their father Sir Walter Orlando Corbet, are buried in the churchyard and Kittie had attended both of their funerals.

As we know from various third persons, Kittie was constantly fighting off (unnamed) illness at this time. It must have debilitated her. One wonders whether, on top of managing the large house, refugees, and her numerous friends and George’s relations who were worried for them both, she was able to work very often as a V.A.D. nurse.

The deadly underlying stress for her was, of course, knowing that now George was in a Reserve Battalion he could be sent to a front at any time. The first news of the Gallipoli landings had hit the British newspapers on 27 April, but very little still was divulged about them. It probably did not occur to Kittie, or even George, that he might be sent there; but what was happening at Ypres now was bad enough. Kittie’s friends had tried diplomatically to steer George away from active service abroad. Her own attempts may well have ended in tears. But recall what she said in her memoirs about her ‘suggestions’ to George for work on the home front: ‘They were worth Nothing.’

Next entry: The Turkish counter-attack

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
This entry was posted in George Calderon, Personal Commentary, Timeline and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Kittie’s story

  1. Clare Hopkins says:

    Not so much a comment as a question.

    Several times, as I have followed this excellent blog, I have found myself wondering both about Kittie’s childless state, and whether her ‘unnamed’ illness is in fact the menopause. The latter was presumably too unmentionable ever to appear in a lady’s letters. But did Kittie ever touch on her desire to have children – the evidence suggests she enjoyed their company very much – or did she express regret that she did not? The fact that she had none by either of her two husbands suggests she may have had a gynaecological problem. Was Jim Corbet the son she wished she had had? Or was she glad not to have had sons, given their likely fate in the War? And moving into the realms of speculation, if George had had step-sons of military age or younger children of his own, would he have felt differently about enlisting himself?

    Several questions in fact!

    • Pure gold again, Clare: thank you very much! These perceptive, penetrating questions have thrummed unerringly to their target…my thick head! I cannot understand why I never thought of the menopause as Kittie’s ‘unnamed illness’ before. OF COURSE! The overwhelming chances, I believe, are that you are right. There is good written evidence of the symptoms in August 1912, and I think I may have thought that if it were the menopause she would be over it by 1915 — but I’m quite wrong there, especially as there was no effective treatment of its causes at that time. Kittie’s age in 1912 is right (45) and in January 1915 George writes to Rothenstein that she has been ‘far from well for a long time’. Because the next specific illness mentioned in writing is ‘pernicious anaemia’ (1920), I had quite wrongly assumed that was what she was suffering from in 1912 and 1915 too. No, I think her underlying unwellness 1912-15 probably was menopause.

      On the other hand, there is some evidence that she had always suffered from anaemia. If this was caused by iron deficiency it could have affected her fertility. I haven’t found any reference in her own papers to a desire to have children, but her first husband was assuming they would have children and there is no evidence that George did not want them. There is a very veiled indication in 1905 that they had been unsuccessfully trying for children. In her writings, at least, she never expresses regret that she never had children.

      She was famously supportive of her women friends who did have babies, and one who had a miscarriage. I don’t think Jim was the son she wished she had had; she simply loved him and Vincent because they were her closest friend Nina’s children. In this connection, it’s important to know that her god-daughter Lesbia was not the child she wished she and Nina had had: Sir Walter and Nina Corbet named their daughter Lesbia because she had ‘a beaming eye’ as in Thomas Moore’s poem ‘Lesbia Hath a Beaming Eye’, set to music by the Corbets’ friend Charles Villiers Stanford. George and Kittie were godparents to countless children, who greatly valued their ability to give them fun and independent advice.

      Your ‘realms of speculation’ are also very challenging. I’d never thought of them before! I am pretty sure George’s attitude to his sons/step-sons going to the War would have been similar to his friend Henry Newbolt’s — rather hard and uncompromising by today’s standards. But if he had had step-sons of military age or younger children of his own, I do think there’s a possibility he would have done what Newbolt did, viz. worked on the home front.

      Wonderful questions, and my answers of course are not definitive!

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