22 May 1915

Today Kittie moved from Foxwold, the Pyms’ home in the Weald of Kent, to Emmetts, about a mile away. We know this from the fact that the Visitors Book at Foxwold was maintained meticulously. Emmetts was the home of Violet Pym’s parents, Catherine and Frederic Lubbock, and Catherine was the half-sister of Kittie’s first husband, Archie Ripley. The Visitors Book for Emmetts in the early twentieth century appears to be lost, but we can work out when Kittie was there from the redirected addresses written on George’s envelopes by Elizabeth Ellis, their housemaid in Hampstead.

Today, a Saturday, Kittie received George’s letter of 16 May (see my post of that date) and George wrote to her from the troopship R.M.S. Orsova:

My dearest Mrs P., here we are in the great big harbour of Alexandria, out in the midst, among shoals of ships, with coal barges, launches, sailing boats alongside, full of brown fellahs and big strong Africans, all shouting and blowing steam whistles with all their might to make as jolly a row as they can and a windlass hanking away and nurses and officers and tommies all peering over the sides and chatting idly in a tropical air. We’ve been here 24 hours without exact news. But at the moment it appears likely that we shall dump the nurses, doctors and chaplains here ashore and sail on in this ship to the Dardanelles. Still quite obscure what unit we are to join when we get there. Very likely territorial, very likely something better; can’t tell.

[…]

The officers widowed by the landing of 40 sisters at Malta are cheerful again. A captain is engaged to be married to a nurse. Almost in the Bay of Biscay — quite an old story.

Well, so we’re up against it again; but I expect I’ll be kept in reserve at first and only come in for the sack of Constantinople when the Italians have cleared the way. So on thro Bulgaria and Servia or whatever comes next, and meet Fred in Berlin coming from the opposite side.

[…]

I was a triple widower myself at Malta, losing three little sisters from the London Hospital who always walked and talked and sat together.

I’m challenged by a very nice man to chess. I know him very well; I don’t know his name. I hardly know anybody’s name.

Your very tender P.

George’s recent reading of Tolstoy (see post of 16 May) seems to have influenced the syntax of the first sentence above; it is not at all characteristic of him. What he says to Kittie about his destination is deeply ambivalent. He wants to reassure her that he will not be in danger, hence referring to being attached to a Territorial battalion and being kept ‘in reserve’, but he also cannot hide that he hopes his fighting role will be ‘something better’.

Similarly, his fantasy of sacking Constantinople and then moving up through Bulgaria and Serbia and on to Berlin may be just that, and intended humorously, but the ultimate objective of the Dardanelles campaign was to occupy Constantinople, and George could speak Bulgarian, Serbian and German. His youngest brother, Fred (see my post of 1 November 2014), was now on the Western Front. He was killed at Ypres on 3 April 1916.

On the Orsova George had drawn portraits of various nurses, including presumably the ‘three sisters’, and given them to the sitters.

Next entry: 23 May 1915

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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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