Susan Lushington’s letters from soldiers

Susan Lushington (1870-1953) was the daughter of Vernon and Jane Lushington of Pyports, Cobham, and Kensington Square, London. Vernon was a County Court Judge in Surrey and was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, counting the designer and writer William Morris among his friends. After Vernon’s death in 1912, Susan Lushington went to live at Kingsley in Hampshire, a few miles south west of Farnham and near the army camp at Bordon. Susan’s passion was music and she threw open her home to any soldiers who wanted to come and enjoy music and refreshments. Many must have enjoyed this brief break from the routine of army life and once transferred to the Front wrote back to Susan often expressing their gratitude in surviving letters held in the Lushington archive at Surrey History Centre.

In December 1915 Trooper Robert Bamber of the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry wrote to Susan as promised at their last meeting on Bordon Station, identifying himself as one who ‘used to ask you to play a melody on your violin’ and mentioning that ‘a lot of different chaps’ have pleasant memories of her, although ‘some will never return to that peaseful [sic] village’ of Bordon. Private Arthur Parfrey, in the 8th Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment thanked Susan ‘for the opportunities you gave me for music when I was in camp at Bordon. Is it not wonderful, Mr Cawthorne, the violinist whom you introduced to me, is still here with me and in the same billet’.

Gunner Christopher Wendell, writing from Salonika, in the Royal Field Artillery in the summer of 1917 recalled ‘happy times’ which gave him ‘food for pleasant reflection’. At Christmas 1917 he organised a small choir to sing carols and ‘our colonel actually complimented us on our vocal efforts and our hopes and fears as successful wassailers were dispelled … the menu provided was all that could be desired. So that you see it is possible to enjoy Xmas on a huge hillside in the Balkans’. At the end of the war Wendell took part in 22nd Divisional Theatre Company performances of the operetta ‘The Chocolate Soldier’ in the Balkans.

There are also letters to Susan from soldiers who were to lose their lives in the conflict including Lieutenant Marmaduke Robert Hood Morley, of the 8th Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, son of Noel and Jessie Morley, of Lychwood, Worplesdon Hill, Woking, who was killed on 1 July 1916 aged 22 and is commemorated on Woking Town Memorial. Lieutenant Gilbert Talbot (1891-1915), son of Edward Stuart Talbot, Bishop of Winchester, and Lavinia Talbot, served in the 7th Battalion, Rifle Brigade. He wrote to Susan on 18 March 1915 from Farnham Castle, the home of the Bishop of Winchester, ‘I hope I shall see you before I go. We’re now in camp at Aldershot and expect to go very soon, though we know nothing definite’. He died on 30 July 1915.

Some letters highlight nostalgia for a past that has gone, never to return. Lieutenant Colonel Lord Alexander George Thynne (1873-1918), MP for Bath, 1910-1918, youngest son of John Alexander Thynne, 4th Marquess of Bath, wrote to Susan on 20 July 1918, recalling days at Oxford in the 1890s ‘when a canoe on the Cher[well] seemed the acme of laziness and bliss. I can still see you playing in the orchestra of the Frogs [play by ancient Greek author Aristophanes] with Hubert Parry conducting. It is those sort of memories that make one hate the beastliness of these days of war. The most irritating thing is the waste of good years spent in this manner of life – years that can never be caught up again’. He was commanding officer of the 6th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, and was awarded the DSO and Croix de Guerre. He was killed in action on 14 September 1918.

The archive also includes letters from Franklin Lushington (1892-1964), who fought in World War I and World War II. He was the author of ‘The Gambardier: giving some account of the heavy and siege artillery in France, 1914-1918’ (written under the pen name Mark Severn, 1930) and ‘Portrait of a Young Man’ (1940), both of which include descriptions of his service in World War I. Franklin served in the Royal Artillery and wrote to Susan on 29 March 1917 (SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b), ‘I have got a very good battery with nice officers. My Captain (you know I’ve attained the lofty rank of Major ?!) is a topper and thoroughly efficient. He is a ranker and has the DCM. Of the others one is an author, writes things under such titles as a “Literary Pilgrim in England” and has a son of 18 in the Army! [This was the poet Edward Thomas, killed a few days later on 9 April at the Battle of Arras]. Another a Professor of Philosophy from Edinburgh University. A third an Australian boy of 19 and the fourth also a boy fresh from a public school. They are all gentlemen and good fellows, which is such a blessing’.

Letter from Franklin Lushington to Susan Lushington referring to the poet Edward Thomas, 29 March 1917, SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b

Letter from Franklin Lushington to Susan Lushington referring to the poet Edward Thomas, 29 March 1917, SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b

On 24 April Franklin wrote to Susan again ‘I have been having a very strenuous and rather a rotten time out here. Been right in the thick of things from the start. It was desperately cold and uncomfortable a week ago. We are living in the open or in disused trenches or in holes we’ve made for ourselves. I find the incessant noise very wearing, also I have buried two of my officers in the last fortnight which has upset me badly – two of the dearest and best chaps that ever stepped’.

Envelope of letter from Franklin Lushington to Susan Lushington, marked as passed by the censor, 29 March 1917, SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b

Envelope of letter from Franklin Lushington to Susan Lushington, marked as passed by the censor, 29 March 1917, SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b

On 29 November 1918 Franklin gave Susan a very downbeat account of the Armistice, ‘I’ve seldom spent a more depressing day than November 11th, and everybody I’ve met from other units says the same. I don’t know how to account for it but here are a few suggestions. 1) the reaction. For some weeks we had all been at the highest pitch of excitement, all working at top pressure day and night, chasing the Hun back and back. Then suddenly there was nothing to do and one realised one was filthy and unwashed, tired out, miserably uncomfortable, living probably in some dirty little battered village in which the Germans had left nothing but the manure heaps; 2) nothing but water to celebrate with!; 3) we all kept thinking of Piccadilly or Trafalgar Square and why weren’t we there this night of all nights? 4) We regretted, whilst quite recognising the sound sense in an Armistice at once if we could get our own terms, not having a whack at the Hun in his own country. I dearly wanted to shoot at a Hun town! Altogether it was a dismal affair!’ (SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/26a-b)

Browse¬†Susan Lushington’s First World War correspondence further.

Search the Lushington Archive on the Exploring Surrey's Past website

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