8 May 1915

Today Kittie accompanied George to Brockhurst, where they stayed two days, probably at a B&B called Warwick House run by a Mrs Seymour. On the train journey, it is highly probable that George bought The Times and read a sensational letter in it from his old college friend Michael Furse.

Furse (1870-1955) was now Bishop of Pretoria. He had just been visiting a South African infantry brigade on the Western Front, where he had witnessed the effects of the Germans’ gas attacks. He described what he had seen in the strongest possible terms, concluding:

There is only one way to counter this sort of devilry and avenge the lives of the men who have thus been murdered, and that is for the Empire to concentrate its whole energies to supply every man and every legitimate munition of war that is necessary to smash this enemy, and that, too, right away, without one week’s unnecessary delay.

Furse’s mission, spelt out in two more letters to The Times this month, was to galvanise Asquith’s government into addressing the Empire’s munitions crisis (the dire consequences of which he had seen in France) and ‘mobilising the nation’ for the war effort by introducing National Service. Lloyd George followed up Furse’s allegations of an official cover-up about the munitions crisis and took his advice to tour the country telling people ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the lack of adequate weapons’. Within a month Lloyd George had become Minister of Munitions.

Michael Furse in 1903

Revd Michael Furse, 1903. By courtesy of the President and Fellows of Trinity College, Oxford

George Calderon had shared Michael Furse’s interest in amateur dramatics at Oxford, but was wary of his muscular Christianity and ‘parsonic mind’ as George called it. After the death in 1898 of their mutual friend Archie Ripley, Kittie’s first husband, Furse offered her counselling. Kittie intimated to George that she felt Furse was making a pass at her and abusing her trust. George doubted this, and made a secret one-day visit to Oxford (where Furse was then Chaplain of Trinity) to ask Furse the truth. Reassured, George himself continued to court Kittie. They were married by Furse at St James’s, Piccadilly, in 1900.

Whatever George’s views of Michael Furse as a ‘parson’, it seems highly likely that he approved of Furse’s letter in today’s Times.

Kittie was now with George for three days and two nights before he embarked. She became secretly worried:

He was full of zest, playing tennis, making final preparations. But I was anxious about him physically, in spite of his energy, in spite of that extraordinary look of youth. If for a moment at rest in our lodgings he would fall asleep in his chair, when night came he would literally fall into bed and sleep what looked like a sleep of sheer exhaustion. This was difficult to combine with his unflagging and evidently spontaneous energy in all directions. It frightened me, but there was no use saying anything, [for] he had passed the medical test for Active Service. I tried to persuade myself that this sleepiness was nature’s way of recuperating herself, yet in spite of my efforts the conviction remained, and still remains, that his strength of purpose was such that he simply hypnotised the Medical Officer into believing him fit.

I will try to put this in context tomorrow.

Next entry: Hypothesis, or conspiracy theory?

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About Patrick Miles

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