Authors: Gavin Fuller
The letters published in the
during the First World War tell a different story to the entrenched notion that it was the âwar to end war.' Curiously the battles of the war don't engender a single letter in the newspaper â whether this
was decided upon as a policy decision by the newspaper or even perhaps the authorities rather than the readers is, alas, one lost in the mists of time, but it does seem remarkable that even events such as the sinking of RMS
did not generate letters of outrage in the newspaper.
Nevertheless the four and a quarter years of conflict meant that the
's readers found plenty to write about and the paper became host to a number of letters from the great and good â members of the Royal Family, leading politicians and authors all put (or had put on their behalf) pen to paper to the Editor. One thing that is striking when reading through the newspapers of the war is the number of letters asking for donations, whether it be money or other articles; this book could have been filled with the letters from those asking for our readers' assistance, and even as the war drew to a close there were still contributions of this type appearing. In the early days of the war, these letters do make one wonder just how efficiently the supply chain to our armed forces was being organised by the Government; a request for readers to donate field glasses to officers for example, or to supply mufflers for our soldiers, or stockings for our sailors doesn't really reflect well on the powers that be, whilst others cast a sadder light on things.
What our letter writers often do though, is provide another aspect to a country facing a war like none it had fought before, and this throws up a number of questions. For
example, âJust what should our clergymen's response to this situation be?' created a serious debate amongst our readers. The frustrations of men not in the full flush of youth but who wished to do their bit for King and Country are, perhaps unsurprisingly with this newspaper, writ large, as are the grievances with those who are in that flush but not perceived to be doing so. It is prescient that the first letters of the war are concern for the nation's food supply given what was to ensue with the German submarine campaign against our merchant shipping. Some of the letters make one's jaw drop â a canon extolling the joys of the French Riviera or our organ builders arguing that just because there is a war on why should people stop buying their products? And some make one wonder â why on earth would a council deem the lending of fiction from its libraries unsuitable during wartime?
Just as it was a war beyond comprehension on the front line, it was also a war felt and fought on the home front like none before. Collected together for the first time, these letters paint a portrait of a society scarred by tragedy, guilt and grief, but also of a country battling to give their all and to âdo their bit'. Most of all they reveal a nation joining together as they try and come to terms with a war that would alter the course of their lives forever.
4 August 1914
SIR â At a time of national crisis, when less than ever can we calculate what may be the requirements of the future, it behoves all patriotic people to take the utmost care and thought that nothing, however small, which may be of eventual service to the people is neglected.
In view of this we venture to suggest that the multitude of small unused or uncropped plots of ground should at once be planted with such food plants as it is possible to sow at this season of the year. It is too late for corn of any kind, too late for potatoes. Turnips, however, should do well after the rains of the last few days. Turnip-rooted beet, carrots and onions â of suitable varieties â would in a favourable autumn yield fair-sized bulbs.
Every day is of importance, as the time is not far distant when vegetative growth will cease for the year.
There are also in almost all gardens beds surplus stock of cabbage and savoy plants. Let them be planted out as far as can be, and let the remainder be at once given to cottagers and others who will do likewise.
These may seem trifling matters, but the day may come when trifles count, and from personal observation of the enormous number of unused corners and odd plots of land, we are convinced that the total increase of foodstuffs would
be by no means small if everyone with land would do as we suggest.
It should also be impressed on farmers not to leave vacant any land that may be profitably used in the manner we are urging.
W. Wilks, Secretary, RHS
Frederick Keeble, Director, RHS Gardens, Wisley
Royal Horticultural Society, Vincent Square, Westminster, S.W.
7 August 1914
SIR â All patriotic men desire at this critical period to do their duty to their country. It is a mistake to suppose that military service is the only, or in many cases the best, means of carrying out such duty. There is at the moment no greater national need than the speedy harvesting, without interruption, of the present bountiful crops of wheat and other cereals in this country, and the resowing of the land with similar crops as soon as possible. In some districts the shortage of agricultural labour is considerable, and is daily increasing. This is due partly to the calling up for military service of Reservists and the embodiment of the Territorials, and partly to the non-arrival of the Irish labourers who usually visit England at this time to help with the corn harvest. The difficulty is accentuated by the impressment for military requirements of many of the farm horses. Local
labour exchanges are being instructed by the Board of Trade to help the farmers at this crisis as much as possible, and the Board of Agriculture is sending a circular on this subject to local chambers of agriculture throughout the kingdom. May I suggest that civilians, regardless of all social distinctions, who are at present unable to serve their country in other ways should, through the nearest labour exchange or otherwise, offer forthwith their patriotic assistance, either continuously for the next three weeks or alternatively during the weekends, in the process of getting in the harvest?
House of Commons
American's Strong Protest
SIR â I today have addressed to the American ambassador a note, a copy of which I beg to enclose to you. The matter is one of such moment that it ought, I feel, to be given currency in your columns.
S. Gross Horwitz
MY DEAR SIR â I note with deep regret and concern that the affairs of the German Embassy have been taken over by you. A more unfortunate diplomatic performance it is difficult for me to conceive. At a time when all the nations of the earth â the United States in particular â have been engaged in promoting the cause of peace, the German bravo privately has been engaged in hatching the means of profiting by their pacific policies. The world is now awake, and realises that the disturber of the repose of all men, this German blusterer, drunk with self-infatuation, would sacrifice all interests to his own. Millions already are sufferers as the result of his unprovoked iniquities. Locked up in London, I, an American citizen, find myself unable to obtain even funds; thousands of others the same. Bankruptcy upon vast masses of beings already has fallen, and upon vast masses more must bankruptcy fall unless the course of this latter-day barbarian promptly be arrested. That, in such circumstances, the American nation should, directly or indirectly, give sanction to the German cause by lending itself to the transaction in London of German affairs is pollution to the American name.
In a just cause the law of nations sanctions such a course, but not in an infamous one. Far from it. International ethics justify, on the contrary, a banding together of all nations against an imperious brigand, bent upon subjugating all people to his will. The country which has deputed you hither, he has insulted equally with all other countries. He has, in
other words, caused an incalculable number of human beings throughout the world to suffer in an infinite variety of ways. It, therefore, is, I feel, incumbent upon some American citizens sternly to protect against the action which the American Embassy has taken. Hence do I beg leave to request in my own name, and in the name of hundreds of thousands of other Americans, I feel sure, that you will at once notify to the German people that you are unable in any capacity to act for them.