My Great Aunt Margaret Box went to what was then Serbia as a nurse with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in 1918. By January 1919 the fighting has been over for some time and the Spanish Flu, which had been one of the main causes of hospitalisation amongst people and soldiers was on the wane. Here Margaret writes to her sister, Rose, one of a number of letters she wrote which I inherited. Unfortunately the letters she received were not preserved, which turns parts of some of Margaret’s letters into intriguing puzzles.
Jan 13th 19
My Dear Rose,
I was so sorry to hear that you had the ‘flu’ & sincerely hope that you did not have a bad attack but recovered quickly. I wonder how long you stayed in the Nursing Home – you chose quite a nice place to have it – did not you ?
How is the Yapping or Yabbing getting on ? I hope you like the work as much as you expected – it must have been very interesting getting about so much. I must say I am starting to get a taste for roaming. Strange to relate we are still here & have been here 5 weeks now but we may be moving at any time. Sturt & Drummond & 4 others started home last Monday. I sent a letter home which I hope will arrive before this one. We have no idea where they are now or when they will get home. I miss them very much indeed & shall be very glad to be transferred to another hospital. I am trying to get to the one that Miss Sinclair (I came out from Waterloo with her) is now in & hope I shall manage it.
All this week there has been great excitement, last Tuesday was the Serb’s Xmas & they have had a great many feasts or ‘Slavas’ as they call them & we have been invited to quite a lot. One morning several of us set out with 2 Serbs & visited 4 houses, each one had a ‘Slava’ in progress. After being received by a string of the family we all sat down in a ring round the room, the daughter of the house came round with a tray of delicious fancy cakes, we took one each, next came a liqueur each, then a big dish of jam (called ‘ceramkou’ ‘slatka’). You take a spoonful, put the spoon in a special glass then drink some cold water. Everyone takes one spoonful out of the big dish, after that comes coffee then a cigarette each. It is exceedingly rude to leave before the coffee comes round. When you have finished you say Goodbye, the gentleman of the house kissing your hand. All this performance happened in each house & then we came home.
At one place 2 Turkish ladies were there & when they heard men’s voices outside they covered their faces with their hands – someone fetched their cloaks & after pulling down their little black veils they stalked out.
Tomorrow night is Serbian New Year’s Eve, there is to be a big ball to which we are all invited – we go to everything we get a chance to, just to see the funny customs & clothes.
This morning my V.A.D. and I started off for a walk – it was a lovely day & we trudged up the mountain. We swarmed up a rocky little gorge by a stream where we picked primroses & winter roses – the latter are green flowers something like single anemones , we also got catkins and palms. We scrambled up to the top & found 4 guns with a Serbian guard. I spoke to one man in Serbian & he said he did not speak English ! We gave them some cigarettes & the sergeant gave us some tea in his wooden hut, then he walked a little way back with us & invited us to go another day to see something 3 kilometres farther on but we can’t make out whether it’s a cafe or a fort ! He asked us whether London was anything like this place & we said “not much”.
I have only a week more of night duty & shall be glad to finish it because there are too many night ‘birds’ crawling about. They don’t appear in the day time & they have tasted enough of me.
Please give my regards to the Walkley’s – I hope they are all right. Has Leonard come home yet & I wonder how Mary and Norah are getting on.
How is Father’s rheumatism this winter ? I hope Mother is all right & that the maid is satisfactory. I wish a bit fat mail would arrive it is a fortnight since we had any letters. I had a long letter from Aunt Rose last mail. I heard that Uncle Fred wrote to me for my birthday but have not received his letter yet. I hope Auntie Fred is keeping well.
I don’t seem to have anything more to say, I am terribly sleepy & it is only 4 A.M. I go off duty at 7.30 A.M.
Very much love to all
Your loving sister
Unfortunately what Rose was doing in her Yabbing is a complete mystery to me.
Walk with V.A.D.
The Voluntary Aid Detachment was comprised of civilians who had volunteered to help, mostly with nursing, but unlike Margaret, who would in theory have been paid, the V.A.D.s were not. Margaret mentions problems with money in several of her letters, so the difference is not as great as it might appear. She refers to several VADs in her letters, so I am not sure which one this is.
Aunt Rose and Uncle and Aunt Fred
Aunt Rose would be Rosina Ann Braund Box (1865-1936), who was living with her sister Edith Alice Bryson Box (1868-1955) at 6, Downside Crescent, Hampstead. Edith does not get much mention in any of the letters I have.
Uncle Fred was Frederick Braund Box (1861-1946) and he married another Edith, Edith Reitze Webster (1860-1951). She was presumably known as Aunt Fred to avoid confusing her with Aunt Edith, sister of Aunt Rose. Edith Reitze Webster was also sister of Ada Webster – the Mother that Margaret hoped was all right.