Margaret Box leaving from Southampton

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My Great Aunt, Margaret Box, went nursing in Serbia 1918-19, towards the end of the First World War. This post is an index of the letters she wrote home and other documents related to her travels. On 17th September 1918 she set sail from Southampton, heading for France at the start of her journey.




My dear Mother

We had a very comfortable journey down in the train & had to come on board straight away. We start this evening & reach Paris some time tomorrow.

One of our party has got to stay the night in Southampton as her passport has not arrived, so the 4 of us are going on together – we expect she will join us in Paris the next day.

We have just had a good “supper tea” & are fixing up our night quarters.

Three of our party have been abroad a good deal & know all about it so we are getting on fine.

I hope you all got back all right – we did have a fine family gathering didn’t we !

The ‘S.W.H’ in Kahki is a transport driver going to Salonica – the tall girl is an Orderly going to ‘somewhere in France’ & the other 2 are Staff Nurses going to Salonica. Miss Danby has not turned up.

We are all very excited & enjoying ourselves fine, the others are all very nice.

I will write again the other side.

Very best love to all –

Your loving Daughter



I assume a picture should go with this, but I have not found it.

Miss Danby is probably

DANBY Miss Gertrude Elizabeth, Sanitary Orderly London 25-Sep-18 1-Sep-19

From S.W.H. names

Inoculations, Suffrage and People’s Votes

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On Saturday I, along with many others, went to London to campaign for a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal. The whole Brexit issue is contentious and I feel it is important for politicians to know that they are being scrutinised. This is particularly since the right to vote is, in historical terms, quite a recent and precious thing.

A little over a hundred years ago my Great Aunt Margaret was preparing to travel, as a nurse, to Serbia – where the final acts of the First World War were still ongoing. The overview of her letters can be found here, and an early postcard from 9th September 1918 shows a confirmation of receipt of her her inoculation certificate (although against what is not specified).

The postcard is sent from the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, but in a voting context the interesting part is the top heading of the postcard, which shows that this was part of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. (There is much information about these in the linked Wikipedia articles). Margaret Box appears in the List of SWH names.

Even after the 1918 Representation of the People Act, Margaret would not have had a vote, as she was only 27, and the franchise only extended to women who were over 30, and even then only if they were registered property owners.

Inoculations, Voting and Marching

I tend to think of some things in terms of Information, so from that viewpoint an Inoculation is a signal, being sent to your body that says ‘Watch out for stuff like this’. Signaling in your body is very important to keep you alive and well, and people where that signaling system breaks down do not usually survive long.

In the same way the flow of information, in both directions, between the people and politicians is essential for a healthy democracy. If – as they claim, and as I believe the majority of politicians do – Government exists to carry out the will of the people, then sending signals, by voting, referendums, writing letters, sending petitions and sometimes, by marching is important. Information should flow in the other direction also, and that information should be honest and trustworthy.

Sending distorted information to the public, as an untrustworthy signal, to invoke a particular response, will be exposed by the eye of history (or sometimes earlier by investigative journalists), but breakdown in this signaling process is as bad for the body politic as Leprosy (with its damage to the ability to feel pain) is for the human body.

Margaret Box – another letter from Bralo, October 1918

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This is one of a series of letter written by my Great Aunt, Margaret Box while she was nursing in Salonica and Serbia in 1918/19 at the end of the First World War. This letter is written to her mother from the 49th Stationary Hospital, in Bralos, Greece on 11th October 1918, and follows on from her letters on the 5th to 7th October. Her next letter is still from Bralo on October 14th.

49th Stationary Hospital



My dear Mother

We are still here in the same place as when I wrote last, we have been working in the wards to help the Sisters as the work has been so frightfully heavy & they have not been off duty at all for a month. I hope we shall be going on soon for I begin to want to be settled in my own place !

The work is getting much lighter every day & they hope soon to get to normal conditions.

This morning we went for a lovely walk – we struck out across the fields in search of a wood – on the way we met herds of goats – most of them are black & wear bells round their necks – the goatherds are most extraordinary looking individuals – they are very swarthy with bushy beards & hair & little round caps on their heads. They usually wear kilts & tight breeches & their legs swathed up in something & bedroom slippers made of goatskin with the toes turned up & big black pompoms on each point. Then they have coats made of goatskin with sleeves & a monks hood. The whole ‘caboodle’ must be horribly dirty – they always salute & say something extraordinary – occasionally you meet one who says “hello Charlie” & thinks he has greeted you in polite high class English ! Well – we looked for the wood & came to about 1/2 dozen little oak trees – welcome shade in the boiling sun tho’ they were no taller than ourselves – then we turned off to the right & made tracks for the mountains – we came to a little river & met another crowd of goats coming across – they did not like getting their feet wet & it was so funny to see them hopping across – they were so long making up their minds before jumping. We got across by the help of a big stone in the middle & some long leaps. On the other side we met cows & Miss Sinclair was terrified of them – so we had to creep by stealthily while they were scraping in dried thistles (this is what the grass consists of) – we then got on to the road & across to the foot of a mountain. We only climbed up a little way & sat on a rock & ate chocolate & biscuits, I suddenly thought of the scorpions I heard so much about but could not see any – only a big tortoise – presently a Greek started shrieking at us & waving wildly at us & we saw he was holding in a dog – so we took to our heels and & ran – some of these dogs are horribly wild & he just saved us that time. We then walked along the road at the foot of the mountains & soon came to a village – the cottages are very picturesque tho’ all over the place & very dirty – they have bright blue shutters, are chiefly built of white stone & have brown tile roofs kept on (!) by large stones & rocks. We saw several old grannies walking about spinning as they went – in one hand they hold a stick with a bunch of flax on top & in the other hand a large bobbin & wind the cotton on to it. I don’t know how they do it but it looks very simple. The children ran after us & gave us sweet herbs from the gardens & said a lot of Greek – we saw a lot coming out of school with such gaudy school bags nearly all bright blue. Nearly everybody rides a donkey from old grannies down to little girls & nearly everyone goes sidesaddle even the men – they always have crowds of bundles hanging round the poor donkey.

There are lots of vineyards all round, very sweet raisin grapes & the boys & girls come crowding up & give up heaps of grapes – they are so generous. We got back in time for lunch – very late & dusty, but we had a fine walk – we picked some baby cyclamen growing in the bank, such pretty pink ones – they say the flowers will be coming out soon, at present everything is dried up with the summer heat.

Tonight we have had another awful thunderstorm & such rain.

I wish you could see these lovely mountains. Mt Parnassus is just beautiful – they say it is the home of the Muses. I admire their choice.

Tomorrow we are going for a most gorgeous motor ride – I hope the rain will have stopped by then – anyway it will have ‘laid the dust’

There are crowds of locusts about – they are like huge brown grasshoppers and hop first rate.

It is time to put the light out so I must say Goodnight.

Very best love to all

Your loving Daughter

Margaret Box.


The storm lasted nearly all night but this morning the weather is perfect – a few tents blew down but they were small ones – ours is a big one & quite secure. I like living in a tent, shall want to pitch one on the lawn when I come home ! There is no furniture to dust ! & you can make your front door whichever side you like, when it rains you shut it up all round, pick up everything off the floor & get into bed. Sometimes a little rain blows in underneath the tent but it does not come through the top.

There is no motor available this morning so we shall not get our ride, it is such a pity for it is a glorious day. We are going to try & fix up a picnic instead

Very much love to all



Spanish Flu

The reason the Sisters at the were so busy is almost certainly victims of Spanish Flu, rather than war casualties, as there was no fighting in this part of Greece during World War I. Spanish Flu killed 50 to 100 million people, as compared to around 40 million casualties of World War I, although some of those were killed by Spanish Flu.

Miss Sinclair

From the list of SWH Names, she was probably

SINCLAIR Miss Louise Esson, Nurse America Unit 17-Sep-18 1-Aug-19

as Great Aunt Margaret was

BOX Miss Margaret, Nurse London Unit 17-Sep-18 1-Mar-19

Here is a map to show where the camp was.

Margaret Box letter from Southern Italy – September 1918

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On the 30th September 1918 my Great Aunt Margaret Box wrote to her Mother from 79 General Hospital, Italy, which was in Taranto, an important Italian naval base. This follows on from her letter from Rome, and is part of the story of her adventures nursing in Solonica and Serbia.

c/o 79 General Hospital




My dear Mother,

I hope you received the post cards safely, we all had a lovely week and saw a lot of wonderful things. We went to several Operas & enjoyed them immensely – the music and singing were very good indeed. We are getting on splendidly – I wish you could have seen us last night in little beds all in a row covered up in mosquito nets ! I slept like a top all night.

I was so pleased to find a letter waiting here for me from Gadlein the Guy’s Nurse who is at York Rd now – she was here nursing for a time before she went to York Rd. to knew the address all right.

It was raining a lot yesterday & our shoes are caked in mud – just the Hailsham sort ! they say the only way to remove it is to wash the shoes. Today the weather is perfect – not a cloud to be seen. We ope to get a few of our own things washed this morning – dirty handkerchiefs collect so quickly. My cold has quite disappeared – ‘weeks’ ago & we are all quite fit & well.

I have only read about 2 pages of my book! there is so much to see & always someone to talk to !

Yesterday we had a find picnic lunch, 2 of us and 2 Majors – we had cold chicken – which was procured at a little station by the way – & which we are in a very primitive way – not having any knives or forks – but as we were all gnawing bones nobody could say anything about his neighbour. Anyway we all enjoyed it. This evening I may get a chance to read a little – we have a very comfy little lounge here & we expect to have a quiet evening. I have got a very nice little picture of the Tiber & Castle Sant’ Angelo with the dome of St Peter’s in the distance. I do hope it won’t get spoilt but there is not much room in my kit bag.

I wonder how everyone is getting on & if you are all settled let. Has Rose been in to see ?Corin ? How is the garden looking ? I am trying to remember what green grass looks like ! There are some lovely convolvulas growing up these huts very large & such a beautiful blue colour. Did I tell you how we went to the Zoo on Friday last ? the animals are not kept very well now as there are not enough men, we saw some fine polar bears, lions, tigers & some kangaroos that did gymnastics for our special benefit. There was a huge mimosa tree growing there – it was pretty – I picked 1 little bits off it.

Please will you give my love to Ethel when you see her – I expect you told her how pleased I was with the handkerchiefs & am so sorry not to have thanked her myself for them. I hope Father is keeping free from rheumatism – I suppose that depends on the weather – it is difficult to imagine cold winds & rain at the present moment.

Very much love to all the family, hoping you are all very fit.

Your loving daughter

Margaret Box