Life on the Home Front 1915-18

Extracts from the Household Annuals of the Phillipson Family

transcribed by Margaret Penaluna

Writings by Mother, 1915

‘It has been a year of terrible anxiety and sad forebodings - a year ago we were told again and again that the war could not continue long, but after months of shattered hopes we are still waiting for the dawn of the day of peace, but the problems at the end of this year are even more perplexing and intractable than when we wrote for the Household Annual a year ago, and we are sad at heart for hope deferred.’

Most of her memories of this year concern the minutiae of everyday life, church services attended, various illnesses in the family, and times spent with friends and loved ones. Of particular note are her thoughts on Sydney’s and Dryden’s enlistment in the army.

‘May 5th was a sad and memorable day. Sydney went to Manchester and enlisted in the Army Service Corps - Motor Transport Section - next day he left early in the morning for Richmond to go into training. It was a great grief to me, one of the saddest days of my life. On this day the Lusitania was sunk by the Germans with a terrible loss of life  -over 1500 lives; it was a fearful tragedy.

November 5th Dryden came home bringing the startling news that he had enlisted in the R.A.M.C. - it came as a great shock and it was a great trouble to all of us.’

At Christmas she writes ‘This will be the first time either of them has spent a Christmas away from home - there will be many a home desolate this Christmas time - some have dear ones in lands far distant, while some have gone from their homes never more to return.’

She ends her writings by hoping that the following year will soon end this tragic war and bring us Peace.

Ernest looks back on 1916

Once again it is ours to greet our readers under the shadow of this great and terrible war. Our hopes of twelve months ago, that these hostilities would cease, have not been fulfilled, and the burden of weary days over-laden with dread anxieties is still upon us.

I have been looking over back numbers of our Annual since I took over the editorship eight years ago, and I find in the preface of each year a certain wistful looking forward into the uncertainties of the future, and a certain grateful recognition of the mercies of the year completed. And tonight it comes to me with a new and overpowering force that life contains more than enough of uncertainties and dangers in normal and peaceful days, but beneath the shadow of war such uncertainties are multiplied a thousandfold.

We have known the anxieties of parting with soldier boys, for three have gone from our home; and how our hearts have ached as we have thought of them in the hardships of their new life, especially since two of them, Dryden and Sydney, went out to France. It is a strange pass when we welcome sickness to our loved ones, but the news that Sydney had trench fever was hailed with a sigh of relief, for it took him from dangers far worse, and when we were privileged to have him at home to recover - well the joy was too great for expression. He too is grateful to come from “the Hell on the Somme” to the light and love of home and the homeland.  Dryden in France, and Harold on our coastal defences are ever in our thoughts.

It is usually at these times that we wish our readers a Merry Christmas - this time the words sound hollow. They appear to mock us - the only ones to whom the words may become reality are the youngsters who are as yet too young to realise how far we have wandered from the Angel song of  “Peace on earth and Goodwill to Men.”

Amidst all the chastening influences of this gloomy Christmastide we wish our readers as much peace as maybe, as much quiet confidence as trust in an all-wise providence may give them, as much joy as may come from the knowledge that we are bound together as a family in an undying love -and to all - freedom from pain, relief from anxiety, and a new and well founded optimism.

And may the year 1917 bring with it a lifting of the clouds of war, relief from painfulness, and a return safe to the homestead of the boys who have gone forth to do battle for their country.’

Retrospect – 1916 by Mother

‘It is with mingled feelings I begin to write my retrospect of the year 1916, the saddest, blackest, most anxious year of my life. A few more days and we shall have reached the end of it, with all its doubts and fears. We are hoping and trusting that the New Year may bring to us, and thousands of other homes - brighter and more hopeful days…

While this year has been for many reasons a sad and anxious one for us, still we have much to be grateful for as a family - our dear ones at home and abroad have thus far been spared to us…

Last Christmas was a sad and lonely time. Dryden and Sydney spent Christmas Day away from home for the first time and under very different circumstances to all previous years. It was a great trouble to us to have 5 of our family away unable to spend Christmas with us…

Feb 14th Ernest medically examined and passed fit for Military service…

Feb 18th Ernest sent in his first appeal for Exemption…

February 21st telegram from Sydney to say that he was coming home and has some news to tell – which proved to be that he was going into training for a commission and on 26th he left home after a short leave to go to Denham for his training.

On Monday 28 February Harold attested and was passed for General Service. On the 8th March Harold went before the Medical Board at Preston, and was passed for B iv…

March 14th Earnest had word from the Clerk to the Tribunal that he had Exemption until Decr 31st – a time of rejoicing. 

March 18 Harold had notice to report at Preston at the end of the month… Again on 22nd March came a notice for Harold to report at Preston which he did when he was told to get into Munition Work until his Class was called up…

April 8th Dryden came home on first and final leave till Wednesday afternoon. On Sunday night Dryden took the service and preached from the text “Oh that I had the wings of a dove, then would I fly away and be at rest.”… April 14th came the sad news that Dryden was ordered out to France with the 27th Motor Ambulance Convoy.  This was sad news for us - however his going was postponed by an outbreak of measles, and instead he was sent to Catford.

On 19th April a letter came from James asking Harold to go to Connahs Quay and he would endeavour to get him into Munition Works – he accepted this kindly offer believing it to be for the best and knowing he would be well cared for and not very far from home. John and Sissie made a similar kindly offer – but the distance was much greater and he had the idea that the presence of another man in Sissie’s home might have adversely influenced matters in John’s appeal case…

June 6th Sad news for our nation – Lord Kitchener drowned and 700 men with him…

July 9th we held our Camp Meeting – John preached in the afternoon and Sydney read the lesson. James and wee John came to see us from Burnley…

July 12th a letter for Sydney addressed ‘2nd Lieut’ telling him to report to Oswestry…

Monday 21st poor Harold reported at Preston and did not come back – this was a great trouble... On Tuesday came a PC from Harry saying he had been put into the Royal Field Artillery and had to go to Salisbury Plain at 10.50 on Monday night. 

Monday 28 August Roumania [sic] declares War against Austria. Sept 1st Feath[erstone], Winnie, Nellie and I went to Bury to see the films “Britain Prepares”… 

Sep 25 came a letter from Sydney saying he had received no letter from England since he left home. Uncle Emerson came about six o’clock – We had a terrible and exciting experience about midnight when the Zeppelins came over our heads and dropped bombs not far from our house…

Saturday 28th [Oct] We had a social and Sale of Work for the soldiers from our Church – it was a great success and realised nearly £30…’

Ernest, the Editor, Household Annual 1918

What memories crowd in upon us this week - the bells of Victory have been ringing - the war banners have been furled and the flags of a triumphant peace are on every hand floating in the breeze. The Prime Minister in his Guildhall speech exclaimed “I have waited for this hour”, and the sentiment finds echo in all our hearts - with what anxious hearts people everywhere have watched for the Dawn. It comes to us with rich benediction, with a sudden easing of the burden of anxiety, an awakening from a nightmare of fifty two months.

A letter from Sydney, dated Monday, 11th November 1918

My own dear ones,

I suppose you will have heard the glorious news “La guerre est finie”.  I am celebrating peace now in the port of disembarkation, there is great excitement. At 11am this morning all the hooters of all the ships in the port went simultaneously- there was a splendidly thrilling noise.

As to my final destination-where we are going etc.- I know nothing. But that does not trouble me. “The long long night is over.” Smiles are beaming on every face here. Isn’t it glorious?

I am well and naturally in excellent spirits, as we all are. It is a day worth living for- a consummation of hopes which shatters every thought in myriad atoms of joy.

My love to you all and not least to baby whom soon I hope to see again

Yours ever lovingly, Sydney 

A letter from Dryden

Dryden, who has completed over 3 years’ service in the RAMC  and was with our army at the time of the Somme battle, who shared in the disastrous retreat of last March, and who had the joy of seeing the great turn of the tide and the consummation of victory in theses latter days writes:

Dear ones

Since I wrote the foregoing we have heard the great news. The war is over, and you will be rejoicing with me in the fact that Sydney will not have to fight again. Yesterday I was too excited and relieved to write, but today I am beginning to realise that it is true and that the end of the world’s great tragedy has come. We have had no wounded for over two days. Thank God it is over. What an anxiety has been lifted from all our hearts. I will write again soon

Yours as ever Dryden

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