Tuesday, January 1, 2013

In Between Stairs, the Middle Class in WWI




This ad for the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco is following me around the Net. That's because I did a Google seearch for it a few weeks ago. I wanted to know whether that hotel was around in 1920. The Eye in the Cloud.

I am compiling letters from WWI and one of the letters, from post war 1920 has no first page. A woman who has lost her love in the war is travelling across the US. This is the Great War from a Canadian and US MIDDLE CLASS PERSPECTIVE. In-between stairs.

Here's the plot synopsis:

 In 1914 my husband's grandmother, Marion Nicholson (the subject of Biology and Ambition) is a newly wed with a child on the way. She asks her sister Flora (the subject of Threshold Girl) to move in with her in her flat in Notre Dame de Grace in Montreal. Her other sister Edith is living in Richmond, Quebec with her Mom Margaret. Edith is a teacher at St. Francis College High School. Her Dad Norman is also at home, but roaming around doing odd jobs. Tighsolas, their brick encased Queen Anne Revival style home has just been equipped with electric lights! (I think in Downton Abbey it opens with the house being so equipped.)

Only the men discuss the war and they are not for it. They anticipate a slaughter.  The women only talk about the day to day in their letters. But by 1916, the war has influenced the day- to -day as prices are going up. Marion's husband is making a Victory garden and so are her neighbours in Westmount, where she has moved.

Then there's the Conscription Crisis and the woman start mentioning the war. Being a good Liberal Marion is not for Conscription, but she notes that she doesn't want 'her own' to go to War.

Then many of their male friends start going off to war and the women become engaged in support services, making socks, organizing Red Cross Fundraisers.

A male friend who is working in a bank in Edmonton has a brother in the Highlanders. When the Americans enter the war these colourful soldiers from Quebec and Ontario are sent to New York to encourage American men to sign up. They make headline news.

In 1917 Edith Nicholson gets a job at Sun Life Insurance in the City and becomes active in the YMCA's Red Triangle support efforts.

Flora's boyfriend writes her letters from the Front. She considers going over as a nurse VAD. Her boyfriend advises her not to do this: "DO no come over here. Stay as far away from this place as possible. It is not bonne over here."

Brother Herb Nicholson, working in a bank out West, gets his boss to get him an exemption from the draft. Margaret's sister in Evanston Illinois writes her and tells her how proud she is of her boys who have joined the war effort. Has Herb joined? she asks. He should, she says. It will make you proud.

But then her son dies in the barracks and she falls to pieces... Then the Spanish Flu starts taking its toll. Many of their female friends die.  SO IT GOES.

It's all real life, but it could be fiction.



Edith Nicholson in her Naval League Uniform. Second from right. In Jan 1919, just shortly after the war ends, Edith is selling tie pins and autographs at a speech given by a WWI Naval Commander. Reminds me of the High Wood Poem written by a soldier Philip Johnstone, anticipating War Tourism while in the trenches.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is High Wood,   
Called by the French, Bois des Furneaux,   
The famous spot which in Nineteen-Sixteen,   
July, August and September was the scene   
Of long and bitterly contested strife,   
By reason of its High commanding site.                                                   
Observe the effect of shell-fire in the trees   
Standing and fallen; here is wire; this trench   
For months inhabited, twelve times changed hands;   
(They soon fall in), used later as a grave.   
It has been said on good authority   
That in the fighting for this patch of wood   
Were killed somewhere above eight thousand men,   
Of whom the greater part were buried here,   
This mound on which you stand being.... Madame, please,   
You are requested kindly not to touch   
Or take away the Company's property   
As souvenirs; you'll find we have on sale   
A large variety, all guaranteed.   
As I was saying, all is as it was,   
This is an unknown British officer,   
The tunic having lately rotted off.   
Please follow me - this way ..... the path, sir, please,   
The ground which was secured at great expense   
The Company keeps absolutely untouched,   
And in that dug-out (genuine) we provide   
Refreshments at a reasonable rate.   
You are requested not to leave about   
Paper, or ginger-beer bottles, or orange peel,   
There are waste-paper baskets at the gate.

I see that the third season of Downton Abbey is about to air on Masterpiece Theatre. I didn't wait to watch the second season, which was about Great War. I bought the UK dvd. But I waited this time and all I have to do is set the recorder.

My husband and I ate some Indian take out and drank a little wine and went to bed at 10 pm. At 12.05 we got at call and I assumed it was my son who lives in a nearby place, but no it was my son who was in Sydney.

I got up and contacted him on Skype and he said he had watched the New Year's Eve fireworks at the Sydney Opera House. He said it was very crowded, he thinks about 5 percent of the entire population of Australia was there. And he says it was hard to get to by roads.

So today I downloaded a photo montage of New Years celebrations around the world that started with the Sydney Opera House, just to see where my son had been.

And I got this ad. So now I will get an ad for Tourism Australia.

I thought my son would like the summer in Australia, but he says it is too hot, with the sun high in the sky.

He is coming back, via Malaysia and Singapore. I told him to track down where his great grandmother is buried in Kuala Lumpur.  She was a British colonial who lived most of her life in Malaysia - and her story is here at Looking For Mrs. Peel