Men at work

24th October 1914

Postcard to Miss M Crawshaw, 29 Strathleven Road – dated 26-10-14 but stamped 24 Oc 14

Dear Till

Just a PC to thank you for handkerchiefs which I was glad to get. We are still having a busy time of it and also plenty of work. As Aunt got my letter which I wrote her. Glad to hear that you are getting on alright and still doing the stammering Sam. I have answered Muff’s letter , which she wrote me. Now I think this is all this time trusting this finds you all in the best of health and hope to hear from you soon.

I remain

Your loving Brother

BID xx

This is one of those postcards you might give a cursory glance at and move on from. It doesn’t contain any news, nor does Frank try to converse with Mabel. However, I think this postcard carries much more weight, once you know what Frank has just experienced over the last ten days, and the two months before that.

I think that it is the postcard equivalent of a big hug. He doesn’t describe anything about what’s been happening. I think he just wants to connect with someone he loves deeply – and writing is the only way he can do this at this time. He tries a little repeated joke at the expense of his father, “stammering Sam”, but other than that, the tone is loving and the sign off is very formal which just adds to the postcard’s poignancy.

The Dorsets spent another day in billets with the Cheshires. The Germans sent over a lot of high explosive shells that afternoon directed at Festubert. At 6:30pm they were sent into Festubert to repair the damaged roads. An hour later they were sent back to their billets and told to remain on high alert.


A train journey without a destination

7th October 1914


The Dorsets paraded at the ungodly hour of 3am and marched north through the Bois de Compiègne in order to preserve secrecy. Then began a day of complicated movements, confusion and delays. I’ll try to explain it as simply as I can without inducing sleep.

Such a large amount of Allied troops were moving along the line that it put tremendous strain on transport systems. The 15th Brigade was assigned four stations along the line. Compiègne, Le Meux, Longueil Ste Marie, and Pont Sainte Maxence. The Dorsets entrained at Compiègne.

The Dorsets still didn’t know where they were going. I think they were probably hoping to get far away from the German guns. But rather than a long train journey they were disappointed when they pulled into Abbeville, stopping briefly in Amiens after a journey littered with stops and delays.

Abbeville station was overflowing with arriving troops so they were sent back along the line to Pont Remy where the Railway Transport Officer immediately tried to send them back to Abbeville. By now the trainline was so snarled up with traffic that this proved impossible. I imagine senior officers were now at the end of their patience with trains and so the Battalion started to detrain.


A few notes from yesterday’s letters

Frank’s letter is very playful. He has a really cheeky sense of humour and clearly loves winding his sister up in a good natured way, like all brothers do. Today we’re looking at names in the letters.

Who is Ciss? Is this their sister, Doris? Does he mean to write “sis”? Frank assumes that Mabel is in touch with her so it could well be this simple explanation. Ciss would also be a contraction of Cissy? I cannot find anyone of that name in the immediate family.

Muff now turns out to definitely be someone else other than Caroline Webster. I thought this might be the case from the language in the last letter. Frank writes “Heard from old Muff she wrote me a letter from the old people and hopes I am alright and trusts to see me soon”. Can we assume that Muff is an older member of the family? And is she a Crawshaw? I’m not sure. The most obvious person to investigate first is the maternal grandmother, Phoebe Webster, née Oakley. She’s living in Tottenham in 1911 with her husband Matthew and youngest daughter Lilian. She would have been 72 by October 1914. Is the “old people” an old people’s home? Or could it be that the person is living with the old people. If this is the case then Muff could be Lillian Webster. She would have been 25 in October 1914. Geoff’s notes indicate that he knew an Auntie Muff in the 1930s, so it can’t be the grandmother, surely? I’ll do some more rummaging around Lillian Webster when I get more time.

“You and Aunt are still Tangoing it I would if I was there”. I wonder if this is a reference to the dance craze of the time? The tango was sweeping, or should I say striding, through the Capital on its way up from Paris. Commercially astute tea rooms and restaurants had started putting on Tango Teas, afternoon tea with a demonstration of the tango by a professional dance couple. The excellent Edwardian Promenade blog does a much better job of describing the tango phenomena than I will ever do.

Another name to track down is “stammering Sam”. I think this one is easier to solve. Frank follows this line with “You know that old saying follow in Fathers footsteps”. Their father’s full name is Frank Samuel Crawshaw. Was he also known by his second name? It wouldn’t be a surprise knowing this lot. We find out that Frank Senior probably had a stammer. It’s a bit cruel of Frank to tease his father’s affliction but it appears to be a genial comment, not a barbed one.

“Remember me to Wallie and thank him for his Bovril”. Wallie is Caroline and Matthew’s son, Walter Matthew Coulson Webster. Born in 1900, he’s only 14 at the time of this letter and was just starting work. We’ll hear more about Wallie in the future.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the strange goings-on at Number 60.