I had read the wartime story of Stourhead House in Wiltshire some time ago, and came across it again recently while reading through The Country House at War, a National Trust book written by Simon Greaves.
Alda Weston, Lady Hoare, of Stourhead kept a diary throughout the years of the First World War, during this time also helping to care for recuperating soldiers at the nearby Mere Hospital, opening up her house to entertain them, boost morale and aid their recovery with piano recitals, picnicking and boating at Stourhead itself.
Lady Hoare’s only child, Harry, had been seriously injured leading an attack at Mughar Ridge in Palestine on 13th November, 1917. Despite the severity of his wounds, Sir Henry and Lady Alda had, at the beginning of December, heard that Harry was “out of danger and doing well”. A second report from the War Office then arrived explaining that Harry was, in fact, “dangerously ill”.
Lady Hoare’s diary from the days that follow is a heartbreaking, desperate account of alternating hope and despair, played out over the days directly before Christmas. It’s a powerful reminder of how the immense suffering of the war didn’t discriminate against class.
Thursday December 13
Harry is never out of our thoughts & we talk & talk of him. But I keep ‘going’.
Friday December 14
I not out. Ever awaiting, longing & dreading news Harry… I do not leave house; wait ever telegram of Harry. But at 3 I walked twice the length South Lawn for air…
Sunday December 16
Very cold grey dreary day. Snowing hard till 12. Henry advised me not go Church… We’d earnestly hoped by 10a.m. to have had wire from Harry’s Doctor, which should have been here at, & any time after, 7p.m. on Sunday. But none has come. We read the Service together in ‘South-Room’ & together prayed for him.
Thursday December 20
Fine. Snow all around. Still no telegrams. I got out on ‘South Lawn Walk’. 2.45 to 3. Shall we never hear? In his letter of Nov 23rd he said he’d ‘sent us a wire’, that we never got.
Friday December 21
At 9.50, in ‘South-Room’, at last come 2 wires, both dated Dec 18th, one from our own son’s Doctor saying ‘Wired you fifteenth condition improved – since, still improving’. The 2nd wire is from Freddy Wingfield-Digby: ‘Saw Harry yesterday – Progressing satisfactorily.’ Together we knelt & humbly thanked God for his unspeakable mercy… In afternoon I gave away at school my prizes to all my children. Henry went into Mere Hospital… Snow thick lies all round. Very cold.
Saturday December 22
In ‘South-Room’ I wrote my Xmas-letters – told to all the good news of Harry. At 2p.m. in ‘South-Room’ they bring another wire, from Doctor ‘Alexandria, Wed.y 19th, 1.30pm. Serious relapse. Very dangerous.’ I wire back imploring earliest news… I pray up in bedroom, by his bedside… Henry returned at 7.15p.m. – I told him. We are prepared for the worst. God give us strength to hear it.
Sunday December 23
A sad sad day. We went to morning-church… I wept today hidden by our old pew. We spent rest of day together in South-Room as sun sank in a red glory. ‘Oh Henry perhaps it means better news’ I dare to hope a moment. He shook his head.
At 11.55 in ‘South Room’ where both had put in a hard morning’s business, to keep from the awful dread, came, just as we finished, the realisation. ‘He died of wounds on 20th December’.
Henry & I spent all today in the ‘South-Room’… We have read the Xmas Service to ourselves & sat at our lonely Xmas dinner, with his empty chair.
Sir Henry and Lady Alda later learned that Harry had died on 19th December. He was 29. They never recovered from his death.
More excerpts from Lady Hoare’s diary can be found here.
This blog post was written by Lora Jones and first appeared on andwewereyoung.org.