Margaret’s WW1 Diary
Margaret Kelly was born in 1879, in Ottery St Mary, Devon. She was the eldest daughter of Rev. Maitland Kelly and Agnes Leigh Clare Kelly, after her Stepmother’s untimely death in 1891, Margaret became matriarch of the Kelly Family, responsible for the running of the household. In 1899 her father inherited Kelly House from his brother Reginald and became squire of Kelly. Margaret came to the property with her father, which remains the family home of the Kelly family to this day
It is fair, indeed necessary, to recognise many aspects of her identity when considering the tone and opinions she uses and espouses in this memoir. First, she was a lady with Victorian schooling, living in Edwardian England. She was a subject of what remained the world’s largest and most successful empire, and was in a position socially to enjoy the benefits this would bring her.
Margaret knew her place, which was very close to the top of the pile. As a young lady, her days – as we shall see – were largely concerned with calling at other large houses to “inquire” and taking tea with other people of her class. Her father took rooms in St James, London, and rubbed shoulders with knights of the realm, Admirals and Generals of His Majesty’s military. She had a fleet of servants, and access to the most modern and expensive of things.
The journal we are publishing here was written at a time of flux. Quite apart from the events of the coming War, Margaret was involved in the Suffrage movement, often acting as chair of the local (Launceston) branch. She was using a horse and cart to take the engine of the motor car to be repaired. She was receiving telegrams, using telephones, and hearing of the latest “wireless telegraphy”. Zeppelins were flying over Europe, Bleriot was navigating the channel, truly massive naval vessels were being launched.
Today, we think of the invention of the internet and the rise in power of the mobile phone as the big leap forward, but in truth these are reimagined and accelerated versions of the newest technologies of over 100 years ago. As a 30-something woman in 1914, Margaret had herself witnessed the spread of the telegram service, telephones arriving in private homes, and vehicles moving on roads at dizzying speeds.
Socially, Margaret saw three main classes within the British system. She refers to them often. They are ‘her’ class which is never actually named, the Farming class and the Labouring classes. In modern times, these terms are laced with condescension and even a patronising overtone, which to Margaret would have been quite alien. Simply put, she was born into the landed gentry, and would eventually die there. People other than her had their own places within the great machine. While her words at times may seem harsh, I hope they will be read with a little understanding.
Her words are also rather caustic when dealing with her acquaintances and the people of her little Devon community. Reading her work, it is tempting to think that this was written purely for private consumption, as she is seldom moved to apply reserve to her descriptions. If one is looking fat, ill, or acting boorishly, it will be noted. And heaven protect those who fail to attend church with regularity.
So, on one hand she was representative of the staid and unbending British upper classes, and on the other she represented a rebellion against the conservative. She was calling for more honest and fair representation, at a time when doing so could earn you the enmity of very powerful people. She was of the old school and yet thrust into the most up to date of contraptions, there to hurtle about the countryside to “take the air”. And while having the wealth to own the most precious of dresses, she chose to make her own Red Cross uniform, buying the proper material and sewing in the evening, rather than to have her seamstress run it up.
After all, there was a war on. If Britain could not rely on the fortitude, temperance and – one thinks above all – the righteous indignation of the women of our upper classes to see us through, then truly we were lost. And woe betide any healthy man over the age of 19 if he did not volunteer for active service.
Over the next few years, we have carved out an ambitious project to follow the wartime diaries of Margaret Kelly, written over 100 years ago starting immediately before the outbreak of the first World War in August of 1914.
Over the subsequent four years, Margaret kept a personal journal which described both the activities around her, and those from around the world. Sometimes in detail, and other times distressingly vague, she records the number of eggs harvested from the chickens, the places where she takes tea, and her efforts to learn to bandage effectively, and nurse wounded soldiers.
She also provides a fantastic insight into life as a young woman at the time, and the events which were rapidly shaping her world. From the famous speech on the eve of war, to the sinking of ships, railway accidents and shipyard explosions, she records her horror at the loss of life, and her hope that someone or something can intervene to stop the march of slaughter across Europe.
Her journal entries will be published here on the 100 year anniversary of their writing. Some times, especially towards the early days, she writes nightly. As the war progresses, Margaret becomes embroiled in an effort to be more useful herself, and she goes for weeks without an entry. Patience will reward though – we will fill the intervening days and weeks with appropriate comments and posts from her surviving relatives and guest writers.
Margaret’s own entries will be titled “Journal Entry: [Date]” – to prevent confusion. They will be transcribed for ease of reading, and annotated where appropriate and useful. Spelling – and the occasional, forgivable spelling mistake – is down to Margaret, and while the language can be a little hard to follow, the sentiment seems to shine through.
Any questions regarding individual posts can be directed to the Comments section below that post, or more general queries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org We regret that Margaret cannot answer in person – having been in eternal repose for over 40 years now, but her surviving family will make every attempt to do her memory justice.
The Kelly Family continue to live at Kelly House, many parts of which are described in Margaret’s diary. For more information, or to visit or stay at Kelly, please see www.kelly-house.co.uk
We hope you enjoy your time on Margaret’s blog,
C, S, W, E, J and the rest of the team at Kelly House