Treasure 32: the wartime diaries of Maria Gyte

This treasure is nominated by two former members of staff, who have prepared the text used in this post.  Firstly, let’s hear from Glynn, officer for the Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War project:

I am nominating these diaries, not just because they have relevance to my role with the First World War, but because it is what archives are all about. They are a reflection of real life that cannot be understood so well through history books written by someone years later.

Maria Gyte was at the centre life in the village of Sheldon through war and peace. She suffered the greatest loss a mother could with the death of her son, Tony, in France. The diary covering 1917 records the way in which she learned the terrible news through a third party and her repeated sadness that Tony ‘now lies in a foreign grave’.

Treasure 32 M Gyte diary.JPG

Despite the obvious grief and some hardship, one of the great things about the diary is the comic contrasts. After recording the dramatic world events, village life intervenes with the news that ‘Ben Naylor killed Ed Brocklhursts pig (18stone 10lbs)’ and a few days later that they had roast pork for dinner.

Phil, formerly our Caretaker, and latterly a volunteer on the Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War project, writes:

Words have always been very special to me- they convey not just facts, and detail but emotion, subtlety. I love to write as much as I love to read; I garner facts and squirrel them away….

In its awfulness, the Great War was unparalleled in the futility, suffering and loss that it generated. Men, through their sense of duty, freely gave themselves for King and country; they accepted all they were asked to do. That duty ended in ‘No man’s land’ for countless thousands- lives, mostly young- cut short by a bullet, shell, gas or shrapnel. Human beings were cruelly used for such little gain.

Lives in the trenches were often brutally short; so many men simply disappeared into the mud and mayhem of the battlefield. Some so badly wounded, even when brought back to the dressing stations for treatment, survived only to die soon afterwards. One such, a young Private; a farmer’s son, honest, quiet, loved! Tony Gyte; died of wounds one grey November morning in 1917. Passchendaele! One of the by-words for muddy, bloody horror.

We know about Tony because of the love, grief and passion of one woman- Maria Gyte, Tony’s mother, who kept a diary of her thoughts, her day to day trials and tribulations; the mundane the highlights of a hard, but eventful life in the tiny Derbyshire village of Sheldon. The published compilation ‘Diaries of Maria Gyte: 1913-1920’ is without doubt my ‘treasure’ to contribute towards the ’50 Treasures’. It is a book with no equal!

Tony’s final resting place is in one of the very many military cemeteries in Flanders- a fact that distressed Maria immensely for the rest of her life. Maria and Anthony, (Tony’s father) ‘rest’ under the trees in the churchyard of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church, Sheldon. Tony’s short life is commemorated on the gravestone, along with those of his parents and one of his four sisters. The inscriptions and carvings on the stone tell their own moving tale. It was worth the 50 mile round trip to see this most moving of tributes, to feel the connection with the Gyte family, and sense their overwhelming loss….

Two short extracts: 

Aug 4th [1914]

Rather gloomy at times. Men working on the hay (Waterlands).  W[ilia]m mowed croft heads.

Nothing can be talked about but the war. This has come so suddenly…….England has fought for peace but it is feared that she will have to fight as Germany is proving very aggressive…..W[illia]m also mowed Little Butts.

England declared war on Germany.

 

Nov 13th [1917]

Fine. The dreadful news came (officially) that our poor Tony had died in the field ambulance on Nov: 2nd. We are all in a sad way. poor lad it is only six months since he went into training and now killed in the beauty of his manhood……..My poor dear Tony, gone for ever and we shall never see his face any more on this earth.  How shall we bear it?

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Advent Calendar – Day 24

Almost there…

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Christmas card painted by John Chaplin, with Edgar Osborne, sent from Palestine in 1917, during World War One (Ref: D5063/3/3)

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Inside the card reads:
Palestine 1917
Christmas 1917
Two campaigners send you Greetings, dear Lill
Edgar
John Chaplin

 

 

 

 

Born in Bournemouth in 1890, Edgar Osborne was County Librarian for Derbyshire for 31 years (1923-1954). During World War One Edgar served on the Bulgarian Front and in Palestine, from where he sent this card to Lill, possibly his future wife Mabel Jacobson, whom he married in 1918, not long before the end of the war. Other papers of Edgar’s from this time are available to view online via our catalogue, as part of our WW1 digitisation project. Although not available to read online, this series of papers contains a very moving story about Edgar’s experience in Palestine, including how he spent Christmas Day 1917 (ref: D5063/3/2).

After the war, Edgar resumed his career in librarianship, becoming County Librarian of Derbyshire at the age of just 33. During this time, he introduced new services, such as mobile libraries, and developed his own interests in literature, especially in children’s books – an interest featuring heavily in his archive collection, which also includes Edgar’s diaries written during World War Two and papers relating to his retirement in 1954.

Absent voters list for Ilkeston in 1918 now online

Hello everyone.  I have just this minute updated the catalogue with copies of the absent voters list for the parliamentary constituency of Ilkeston in 1918.  The names you can find inside are those of people who were still enrolled in the armed forces at the end of the war. You can find all three absent voters lists on our catalogue – the others cover Western Derbyshire and Chesterfield.  Click on the one you want to use, and this should open up a catalogue entry with sections of the volume shown as downloadable pdf files.  And that’s it!  No other absent voters lists survive, as far as we know.  (Please let us know if you have heard different.)

Sugar Day

sugar day

We perhaps think of rationing as a World War Two phenomenon, but it was also in force during World War One.

However, it was not introduced until near the end of the war, in 1918, first of all in London and then extending to the rest of the country by the summer.

This postcard is part of my grandfather George Henry Slater’s First World War archive, currently on display at Derbyshire Record Office. It shows a shop in Derby with an eager crowd of housewives outside. I love the little girl turning to frown at the camera; I wonder who she was? Fashions are changing: skirts are shorter and hats less extravagant.

If anyone can identify the shop, we’d love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, do visit our display on George, at Derbyshire Record Office until the end of April.

Sue Peach

Local Studies Librarian

Sue’s Soldier: Tom’s Tree

Sues Soldier image

Another anecdote that we didn’t have room for in our vitrine display is George’s story “Tom’s Tree”. George served in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and may have been a sniper some of the time, though as my mother said, he never talked much about that aspect. Understandably, picking men off in cold blood was not a popular duty.

My mother had told me “One time there was a German sniper hiding in a shelled-out farmhouse picking our men off one by one. My Dad and his mates hid in a moveable tree stump to retaliate”.  Although this sounds straight out of “Blackadder goes Forth (‘Baldrick, it’s your turn to be the tree’…   ‘But it’s always my turn!’), George did indeed write a short story called Tom’s Tree, which we understand the Illustrated London News published in the mid 20th century, though we haven’t been able to verify this yet. In George’s original, it’s the German who hides in a tree and is spotted by a keen-eyed Yorkshireman who just happens to notice that one particular tree seems to have moved each time you glance in its direction… 

George’s display is on at Derbyshire Record Office until the end of April; do come and pay him a visit.

Sue Peach, Local Studies Librarian

 

Sue’s Soldier: the mystery letter

mystery letter 1915 2

There was so much in George Henry Slater’s World War One memorabilia that we couldn’t display it all in our vitrine wall (Sue’s Soldier: on at Derbyshire Record Office until the end of April)

One of these items is the Mystery Letter. On Buckingham Palace headed notepaper, dated 3rd November 1915, it reads: “The Private Secretary begs to acknowledge the receipt of Mons: G Vermenlen Geelhand de Mergem’s letter of the 2nd inst: which has been submitted to the King, and for which the Private Secretary is commanded by His Majesty to thank Mons: de Mergem”.

We have no idea what this very official-sounding communication is doing in the archive of a humble rifleman’s family, so if anyone can throw any light on it, we’d be most grateful.

Conservation of WWI electoral rolls

With the anniversary of the start of World War I upon us, like many heritage institutions around the country, the Conservation Team at Derbyshire Record Office have been working to preserve and conserve documents from the first world war era. Particular priority has been given to those documents which will be used the most by the public, and at the moment we have decided to work on electoral registers from the period 1914-1919. Continue reading

rave review

secretrooms

I have just finished reading the enthralling “The Secret Rooms” by Catherine Bailey. She set out to write a history of the impact that the Great War (1914-18) had on the  Duke of Rutland’s estate at Belvoir in Leicestershire, but found herself drawn instead into a real life mystery concerning the forbidding locked rooms where the 9th Duke died in 1940, which had been kept closed ever since…

She discovered that three separate time-spans had been completely erased from the records in these rooms, the Muniment Rooms where the estate documents live, and had been deliberately deleted across all categories of records; the clear perpetrator must have been the Duke himself, who literally died in the attempt.

A real page turner ensues, with a child’s tragic death, swindled inheritances, and intrigues at the very top of the British World War One Command. The 9th Duke had not managed to completely destroy the trail, and Catherine Bailey was able to piece together most of the sad, dark story.

If you love archives and libraries (and you do, you are reading this), I highly recommend this gripping read, which dramatically highlights the importance of irreplaceable original documents and the amazing real life stories they illuminate.

Borrow it from your local library!