My Great Aunt, Margaret Box, traveled as a Nurse to Salonica and Serbia (where the First World War was still being fought), wrote many letters home, which fortunately have been preserved.
This article, entitled Margaret Box, nursing in Salonica and Serbia, acts as an index to her letters and puts them into context.
On 24th September she wrote to her mother from Rome, and the letter was received on the 3rd October.
My Dear Mother
It seems a long time since I wrote to you last & I am wondering if you have received all the post cards & letters & how long they took to come.
It is very hot here & we have got out all our thinnest garments. Miss Murdoch arrived yesterday so the four of us are all together – we have a huge room with blue plush curtains & chairs & one big bed raised on a dias with a blue plush canopy over – we call it the “state apartment” it is so grand, there are 2 small beds put up in the same room so you can imagine how huge it is. I slept here one night by myself & it was the best night I have had for a long time – I went down to “petit dejeuner” at 9.45am instead of 8 a.m. – you should have heard the “jabber jabber” !
We are very comfortable in this hotel & the people are very kind to us, it is much nicer than the last hotel we stayed in when I wrote last. Water is very plentiful here & I am glad to say we can get hot baths.
The 1st day we arrived here we lost our way coming back to the hotel – none of us could understand a word of Italian. I asked a soldier – a whole crowd collected & an awful palaver went on – at last fortunately someone arrived who could speak a few words of English & we got back safely.
We know our way about now all right. One night we went to see the Colosseum by moonlight, it was a gorgeous sight – a great many people were there picnicing etc. We drove in a little Victorian carriage which waited for us while we explored a bit then took us back again.
The English soldiers are awfully good to us & indeed I don’t know where we would be without them. There’s a club & canteen near us where we can go & get tea or an English breakfast. A sergeant took as along there yesterday & introduced us to a Scotch lady – such a dear – she is a secretary there & welcomes all Britishers. We are going along to see here this afternoon.
I bought 3 grey handkerchiefs yesterday to use in the train – everything gets so horribly black. It is very funny to go shopping but you can understand such a lot by signs. I also went into a chemist’s to get ammonia – latin was very useful on that occasion & my nose soon told me I had the right stuff.
There are a lot of “Kindred Spirits” passing through here every day & we always have a lot to say to each other. I have not me anyone from my place yet, but several know girls that I know. I shall be glad to get work but have not the least idea when it will be.
I suppose Mary has gone away to Newbury & I wonder whether Norah has settled in anywhere yet. I am longing to hear all home news. Please tell Leonard the air cushion has been most useful in propping up my head in the train – that was a very happy thought of Captain Whittaker’s.
We have come through magnificent country, far grander than I had imagined possible, there was snow on some of the mountain peaks, although it was so very hot.
We have been round sightseeing quite a lot & there is still a great deal more to see.
There are a lot of fountains about & they look so pretty & are very cooling if you get near. One lady yesterday lost her red straw hat which was gaily sailing round & round a fountain – a man was trying to fish it out on a broom, but he was not long enough. It is extraordinary how the women and children go about without hats in the strong sun. I was very glad to get my panama out of my kit bag. I am wearing one of my grey overalls & not much underneath – most people seem to carry fans about & you see them fanning themselves everywhere.
We are all very well, but hot & seeing everything we can. In fact we are having a very good holiday.
Please give my love to the Walkley’s, I gave in Mr. Walkley’s name again yesterday, so he may be hearing something of me.
We get a lot of beautiful fruit here, peaches, pears & grapes are most common – we have these instead of puddings – very nice too !
Very best love to you all
Your loving Daughter,
Norah – Margaret’s younger sister, would have been 20 at the time. Margaret also had three older sisters, Rosina (Rose) and Dorothy who are not mentioned in this letter, and Edith Mary, known as Mary.
Leonard – Margarets brother, 32 at the time, and not yet married to my Grandmother.
Miss Murdoch was probably
MURDOCH Miss Bessie Bannerman, Nurse America Unit 17-Sep-18 2-Sep-19From http://www.scarletfinders.co.uk/139.html (which does list 3 other possibilities
and one of the ‘other two’ who make up ‘the four of us’ – was probably Miss Louise Esson Sinclair (from other letters and the same source)
Neither do I know who Captain Whittaker is, or the Walkleys, although if they crop up again I may have some more clues.