December 1918 – Margaret Box home soon, or not

By late December 1918, Margaret Box had been Nursing in Salonica and Serbia for around three months, and her Father, John Robert Box must have written to Scottish Women’s Hospitals, with the aim of sending her a tie as a Christmas present. On the morning of 20th December they sent him a letter, telling him that they would not obtain the tie, as his daughter would be returning home soon.

On the afternoon of the same day they wrote again, to tell him that she would probably be there for another three months, and that it was very cold there !

Margaret did indeed return to Britain in April 1919, but it must have been a little worrying for her parents to have Margaret in such a distant and cold foreign country over Christmas.

New Year 1978 and Box Family history from Margaret Box

Every time I dig into the treasure trove of family letters I find that both sides of the family seem to have been in the habit of cramming as much into a letter as possible. This letter, send from my Great Aunt Margaret – of Nursing in Salonica and Serbia fame – to my mother in January 1978 is no exception. It starts with some remarks about Christmas presents, but then moves on to cover a lot of ground in Box Family history. I suspect Margaret is answering questions my mother asked in a previous letter, as she jumps straight into the topic of a shawl.

6 Furness Close, Furness Road


East Sussex BN21 4EZ

6 Jan 1978

My Dear Jane

I expect you are home again now after your Christmas with the Lines, I expect as usual it was a full & busy time with all the members crowding in.

Thank you ever so much for the nice Scots calendar. I recognize some of the places – & also the hippeastrum, which is now in the cellar beside the boiler, the warmest place I have to bring it to life as I have not got a radiator with a shelf on it. Do you remember you sent me one in 1970 white and pink feathers, I sitll have in in the kitchen window facing south & in 1977 it excelled itself, two stems 30 ins. high, four flowers on each, it was the biggest & best effort it has made all these years, people going by the house stop to look at it. I repotted it last August, Norah had one of the young off bulbs, but I don’t think it will flower this year, now it will have competition with the red one ! I also loved the dear little Tunnicliffe and the blue tits, I have read his life & he is one of my favourite bird artists.

The Paisley Shawl belonged to & was worn by my Grandmother Box, as an outdoor coat, as was the fashion then. Aunt Edie had it & on her 90th birthday in March 1958 in the nursing home in Eastbourne she had Rose, Mary & me to tea & draped the shawl around her. She died a year later & I inherited it, it was in very good condition & I expect it still is.

A friend of mine had one made into a “housecoat” but I think it a pity to cut it up, a bed spread seems about the best use for it nowadays. I expect it must be quite valuable – being all wool and well over 100 years old.

What went on at Launceston ?? My Grandfather Box was born in 1814! was baptized and married there in St Mary’s Church, went to Clerkenwell in London & set up his clockmaker’s business. My father (& the others I suppose), was born there, so they were Cockneys being born within the sound of Bow Bells, the church in Cheapside.

Sometime ago I saw on the Tele. craftsmen working in quaint old rooms & corners in silver, clock making & repairing & other old crafts still in Clerkenwell – well worth a visit if you can find the area somewhere behind St Bartholemews in the City.

When Evelyn Green died last year she left me a miniature of John Box of Launceston., born in 1788, he was my grandfathers father, my great grandfather, he was a clockmaker well known all over Cornwall specially for grandfather clocks. His father was William Box of Marhamchurch, the iron foundry, there was also one in Launceston, which for a time Uncle Arthur ran, he was Leonards Godfather & Leonard used to go & stay with them in Launceston.

Evelyn was the only child of my youngest Uncle (Charles). She married but has no children. I want you to have the miniature when I pass on.

The Los Angeles Box’s are descended from the Marhamchurch lot. This Christmas they have sent me a snap of Bill, his 2nd wife (Bill’s first wife died when their youngest was 2 years old) & their combined family. They are all grown up now & Tom, the eldest got married last summer, the first & only one of Bill’s family to be married. There were six of them, 4 boys & 2 girls, but the 2nd boy, John Robert, was killed in Vietnam.

I have a business card of myMy Grandfather, WIlliam, W.B.Box, chronometer and watch manufacturer, 21, Upper Charles Street, Northampton Square, London”. I expect it was all bombed in the war & gone now.

My maternal Grandfather was a master baker & confectioner in Gresham Street, also near Cheapside & within the sound of Bow bells, he also had a “Coffee house” in Moorgate Street where of course he also dealt in wine.
He catered for banquets in Guildhall & also the Yacht Club on the Thames & was a city alderman.

Now it is bedtime ! so I will say Goodnight & wish you all a happy & adventurous 1978 full of interest & love, bye the way if you plant a clove of garlic beside your rose bush it will banish the green fly !

Much love


p.s. My grandfather W.. B. Box when he was young made a small engine or machine in brass probably in Launceston. Later this was kept in our house on a small inlaid table, it had a glass case, it was about the size of a mantlepiece clock. Leonard inherited it (& the table which I think you have) & kept it at the office no. 28.

You must get it from Mr Smith, who will soon be retiring, it is a family heirloom. Your father-in-law would be interested in it. M


Paisley Shawl

The Paisley Shawl does not appear to be in the collection of cloth heirloom items, such as Blackout Curtains from Little Cucknells, and the waistcoat which William Braund Box wore at his wedding to Rosina Williams. It does however remain in the family, and is a thing of beauty, made of Cashmere wool, as well as remarkable size ! (3.42m x 2.66m)

Aunt Edie would be Edith Alice Bryson Box (1868-1959), daughter of William Braund Box and Rosina Williams, and Margaret’s Aunt.

Launceston and Clerkenwell

I think Margarets grandfather, William Braund Box was baptised on 5th June 1815, in Lawhitton, which is a little village 3km from Launceston, with is own church (St Michaels), but I only have a date and place for this. Family records show he was married on 10th February 1845, He had already been living, in the 1841 Census, in Finsbury, I assume as a lodger, with his profession shown as Watchmaker. He must have returned to Cornwall to marry, and by 1851 he is living at 21, Upper Charles Street in Clerkenwell. where my Great Grandfather, John Robert Box was born in 1849.

By a curious coincidence my Great Great Grandfather on my father’s side, Abel Lines (1807-1877) was born in Clerkenwell, although he had moved to Saffron Hill by the time Joseph Lines was born in 1848.

Miniature of John Box

I think the miniature referred to is probably this

John Box (1788-1849)

Evelyn Alice Box (1894-1977), daughter of Charles Joseph Box, married John Lawrence Green.

I know from several sources that John Box’s father was William Box, but although the inherited family trees show his wife at Sarah Pope, other evidence suggests Thomasin Heard.

Los Angles Box family

My parents went and stayed with them and were in touch. I may revisit this to update how exactly they fit in. I think they saw the announcement of my Grandmothers death, and got in touch then.

William Webster (1823-1889)

The maternal grandfather, and master baker was William Webster, who married Elizabeth Reitze, daughter of Justus Reitze. He will probably get an article of his own.

The small brass engine

This does not sound like the Model Beam Engine now in the museum in Launceston, I do not think I have seen it, so it may have never been retrieved from Mr Smith (who was my Grandfather’s Clerk).

The Box Model Beam Engine

One of my ancestors made a Model Beam Engine, which is now housed at the Lawrence House Museum in Launceston.

According to my mother’s notes (which are on the rear of the black and white picture, the Beam Engine was made by my Great Great Great Grandfather, John Box (born in 1878)

Although according to an article in “Cornish and Devon Post and Western Counties Advertiser, on Saturday, April 4, 1896” (reproduced in my post on ‘The Box Family of Marhamchurch Foundry‘) it was his son, William Braund Box, my Great, Great Grandfather, who made the Beam Engine. The article and Beam Engine get a mention in the article ‘The Northumberland Foundry‘ on the Launceston Then web site.

Margaret Box, who lent the Beam Engine to the museum, among her many adventures, was a nurse in Salonica at Serbia the tail end of the First World War, and her letters are transcribed in a series of posts indexed at ‘Margaret Box, nursing in Salonica and Serbia‘.

Arrived Safely in Salonica in 1918

My Great Aunt Margaret volunteered as a Civilian Red Cross Nurse in 1918, traveling to Serbia via Salonica (Thessalonica) to work at the military hospital in Sarajevo.

The post ‘Margaret Box, nursing in Salonica and Serbia‘ acts as an index to the letters she wrote. On 20th October she sent a telegram to her father, John Box to let her parents know that she had arrived safely in Salonica.

Margaret Box, Somewhere in France in September 1918

Margaret Box, my Great Aunt, traveled to Serbia as a nurse in 1918. Following on from her previous letter, where she was leaving Southampton on the 17th September, she writes this one on the morning of the 18th, from ‘Somewhere in France’. She would have been a long way from the battle lines, where the Battle of Épehy was being fought.

The post ‘Margaret Box, Nursing in Serbia and Salonica‘ acts as an index and timeline to the letters she wrote and is updated as I transcribe them.

Somewhere in France

Wednesday morning

My dear Father,

We have had a good journey across – no mishaps of any description. We camped out on deck for the night as there were no bunks available (I would not have got in one if I could !) so my eiderdown & sleeping bag came in very useful – also the little air cushion Leonard gave me.

It was a fine night & the sunrise this morning as we came in was glorious. I shall not forget my first view of France & wish you could all have seen it too. At present we are having a jolly nice rest & awaiting lunch. This is such a nice old fashioned house with plenty of easy chairs & kind people to look after us.

We have been out this morning to have a look round – it was frightfully hot but very interesting.

I wonder if Norah has fixed up yet where to go & when.

Much love to all

Your loving daughter

Margaret Box

Have you had the photo’ proofs yet ? I hope they will be printable.


Norah was Margaret’s younger sister. She later became a nurse too, but would have been 19 at the time of this letter.

Margaret Box leaving from Southampton

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

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

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.

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

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

Margaret Box letter from Rome – September 1918

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,

Margaret Box


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-19

From (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.