Item 181 - Letter from Venetia Montagu to Edwin Montagu

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MONT II/A/1/181

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Letter from Venetia Montagu to Edwin Montagu

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  • 23 Dec. 1917-10 Jan. 1918 (Creation)

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24 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.—Has just recovered from a cold. Duff came to dinner on Friday, and he and Katharine last night. After lunch at Lower Berkeley Street she went with Olga to a concert organised by Bruce Ottley at the A.S.C. camp at Blackheath. Describes the concert and the entertainment in the mess afterwards.—(24 Dec.) Is going to Alderley on Friday. Has bought some presents for her dinner guests tonight. They are going to a party at Nancy’s afterwards.—(25 Dec.) Her party was a success; Hugo’s stunts were marvellous and Birrell was divine. After a little chemin-de-fer some of them went on to Nancy’s for more cards. Is dining with Diana and Duff, then going to the Baroness’s.—(26 Dec.) She had Christmas dinner with Duff and Diana in Diana’s bedroom, and discussed whether a dirty intellectual like McEvoy would be preferable as a lover to a clean ‘turnip-top’ like Lord Derby. Then she and Duffy went to 139 [Piccadilly, the Baroness’s home]. Freyburg says that Winston is becoming unpopular again on account of his rather dogmatic Cabinet memorandum; Haig is said to be furious. [27 Dec?] She gave a dinner-party today, and some other guests joined them later. Constance danced ‘in a state of almost complete nudity’, Hugo almost died doing a Spanish dance, Miss Lillie sang, and the men gambled. Diana has given her a cushion for Breccles, and the Aga a pendant worth about £150.—[28 Dec.?] Is dining with Adèle.

[Alderley.]—Lady Essex’s party was fun. Duff, who was in uniform for the first time, is looking out for a rich mistress but is not inclined to spare much time for one. Has arrived at Alderley. This afternoon the children performed ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ very well. Oliver is expected home on leave soon, Anthony in about three weeks. Lutyens says work has begun on the plumbing at Breccles, and she hopes to have the house furnished in time for an Easter party.—(31 Dec.) Describes her usual daily activities at Alderley. Is working on the curtain for Montagu’s bed. Oliver is expected on Wednesday. The past year has been fun, and she hopes that the next will bring ‘a great Indian success’. Asks when he is due back.—(3 Jan.) Oliver, who has arrived, has been awarded the DSO. ‘He’s been at Passchendael since Oct. which I believe is hell for the Artillery, so I expect he deserves it.’ Has bought a looking-glass.

[24 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.]—(4 Jan.) Has heard that Patrick has been killed. Wonders how many other young men will be killed, and reflects on the effect on Diana, who is away. Cardie, Rawle, Freyberg, and Goonie dined with her. Rawle is in love with Miss Bagnold. Goonie told her of the invention of ‘a form of explosive bullet’. Has received Montagu’s telegram from Bombay.—(5 Jan.) Has started working at the hospital again. She lunched with Dombie[?] and Heseltine. Sylvia’s baby, Juliet, is ill; fortunately, Anthony is expected home soon. Heseltine has offered to do jobs for her while Freeth is away, and she may get him to write to the ‘Coal Controller’, as she is short of coal. Food is also difficult to obtain. Is dining with Katharine.—(6 Jan.) Juliet is out of danger. She lunched today with Frances, then visited Phyllis, who is miserable about Patrick. Cardie, Goonie, and Lionel Cohen came to dinner. She has not had a letter from him for three weeks. Lloyd George seemed significant, and she wonders if there is hope of peace.—(8 Jan.) She lunched at Anne’s yesterday with Juliet, Adèle, and Goonie, and they went to the cinema. She dined with the Burns, and sat next to Reggie, who is more hopeful about peace after Lloyd George’s speech, though he thinks it was intended to cause problems for the Labour Party. Beatrice G. is over from Ireland, where she has put Alice [Lady Wimborne] into the shade by her entertainments. Afterwards she played bridge. Today she lunched with Anne, went to the South Kensington Museum, and dined with Duff, who left early for his duties as a picket officer.—(10 Jan.) Lutyens has sent the altered plans for Breccles. She encloses letters from Surtees on financing them. Diana, Claude Russell, Lord and Lady Islington, Gilbert Russell and his wife [Maud], and Goonie dined with her last night. Diana looked ill, and has taken to bed ill today. Hugo came afterwards, and they discussed his idea for decorating the gallery at Breccles. Today she lunched with Freyling, who leaves tomorrow. Has received Montagu’s letter, and is sad he that he does not expect to be back till April. Stuart has gone to France; ‘I never see Gladys thank God’.

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TRANSCRIPT:

24 Queen Anne’s Gate, S.W.
Sunday Dec 23rd 1917

My darling Ted, I’ve felt wretched since I wrote to you last with a foul cold which I thought must be measles starting, but that fear proved groundless & I’m once again all right. During this time I’ve seen no one and hardly been out. Duff, who was in the same state came and dined with me Friday and he & K came last night, they were a great stand by. Today I’ve emerged from my seclusion and spent a truly strange afternoon and evening (just in mid-night) As I was lying in bed this morning Olga rang up to ask if I’d go with her to Blackheath to a concert given there by the A.S.C camp. Organised by Bruce Otley (Alan will tell you about him) So as I was feeling rather bored by my retirement I said I wd and after a very hasty lunch at Lower Berkeley St went to Charing X where I found Olga in the company of Miss Braithwaite, Mr Keyes, Mr Norman Forbes, Mr Haydn Coffin and a few other such worthies. We all got into a luxurious Pulman† car and went off to Blackheath. There were 2 people there (both A.S.C officers) who knew you, one Templar who was at Clifton with you and another Douglas Straight who was in India in the police and after at the M. of M in the secret service. Both of them were very kind to me. We arrived to find to† old fashioned horse busses to take us to the camp where the concert was to be held in a vast drill hall. It was icy cold and every one seemed rather fussed. Presently Hugo turned up looking most bedraggled he had been painting the scenery up till 4.A.M. The concert was most superior. Teddie Gerrard and all the stars who came down with us and Olga also obliged. The Baroness was there, she is in love both with Otley and Teddie, most with the latter and was not very pleased therefore to see Olga, she’s also jealous of everyone with Hugo and therefore not pleased to see me, who she suspects of designs on him! However in spite of this we had rather fun. After the concert we went to their mess (a lovely house built for Queen Caroline) and were regaled first with port & brandy (mixed) to keep out the cold. Then followed the most magnificent dinner. Oysters, turkey, goose, porks, pheasants, hams, pasties, plum puddings, mince pies crackers. There were about 60 people there we sat at 3 large tables. At one end was Templar, Olga, Hugo, me Otley, Baroness, Teddie a major. There were speeches by everyone including Teddie and Hugo! and all was as merry as it could be. Then after dinner more songs and music. By this time you wd have thought it must be about 11 and time to go, but to my horror on looking at my watch I found it was only 9.45 and the train only went at 12! Everyone was beginning to leave and the prospect of 2 hours more then a train journey was fearful. The Baroness had a taxi in which she was taking Teddie, Hugo & the man with whom Teddie dances (and incidentally sleeps!) Olga suddenly became very indignant with the Baroness for not offering us a lift and said so unluckily to Hugo. He said he wd arrange it and sent to find her. About half an hour after she came down looking very angry and said “Hugo says I must take you with me, he has been very rude, I can only think he is either very tired or very drunk” I was appalled by this rushed up stairs and found Hugo white with rage having had the most almighty row with her, starting over this, but going on to every grievance they both had. Finally after a good deal of anger we all 6. (Baroness Olga, Teddie, me, Hugo, the man.) got into the taxi and off we went. As you can imagine our drive was somewhat electric as Hugo was still boiling rather. Are you too horrified at the low company I keep since you’ve gone darling? Diana says you will be and that I must start dropping them now, against your return. I feel I’m rather in the mire, but what is one to do? Goodnight darling.

Christmas Eve. I shall go to Alderley on Friday as I shall be clear of measles quarantine by then. In the meantime I’ve had an agonising rush of last presents got in a great rush. I’ve a dinner tonight and I felt how flat it wd be to have nothing for them so I’ve got mufflers for the men and scent for the women. We go to a party at Nancys after. {1}

Xmas day. The party last night was rather a success, dinner great fun. Hugo in marvellous form doing all his stunts and Birrell divine and loving them, we talked a good long time after dinner then when Birrell left played a little chemin de fer and finally at about 1, Freiburg† Geoffrey, Constance, the Baroness, Hugo Duff and Bruce Otley packed into one miserable taxi and went to Nancys. There we found the regular rather dank party, ice cold house, all the fires nearly out and very few women and lots of men. After a dreary interval we again settled down to our round game and played till past four. Freiburg takes to the cards as to his mothers milk. I’ve had rather a dismal day today {2} no fun going and have just sat at home cursing the cold, now I’m going to dine with Diana & Duff & after to a party at the Baronesses. I’ve missed you particularly these last few days!

Dec 26th 1917. We had a very pleasant little dinner in Diana’s bedroom just us 3, but with all the Xmas appurtenances. crackers, turkey, mince pies. We had a very animated conversation after as to whether one wd choose as a lover a dirty intellectual, McEvoy, or a clean turnip top, Lord Derby, Duff & I were in favour of the clean and Diana very much the reverse. Duffy & I went on to 139 where we discovered a ball going on. Not much fun, I had a long talk to Freiling† who tells me that Winston is again getting very unpopular as he has written a long cabinet memoranda† in which he lays down rather dogmatically what he thinks the strategy should be, & Haig is said to be furious. I dont know if its true, it seems strange he should be such an ass. Then Hugo did a few stunts in a corner and then I left; home by about 3 rather sleepy after 2 hours the night before. Today has aged me by 1000 years. I had anyway a dinner and thought a party after wd be rather fun, & Teddie Gerrard was coming and a few others. As usual the piano difficulty loomed large but I thought I had solved it by borrowing Nellies and Bruce Otley said he could have it transported in a waggon. {1} However at about 1 he telephoned to say he couldnt, thereupon a nightmare afternoon followed, going from place to place trying to get someone who wd move the vile instrument. Nothing could be found till finally Nellie suggested that her greengrocer might be able to lend a barrow, he could and on this lowly and unstable vehicle the piano finally arrived having been pushed by Duff & Hugo’s soldier servants! {3} Our dinner consisted of me, Lavery, Geoffrey Olga, Duff, Nellie Freiburg, Viola, Otley, Nancy, Cardie Kitty, Ivo, Mrs Lavery, Sidney Fairbairn. and afterwards about 20 people came, Hugo, Baroness, Constance, Teddie Gerrard, Miss Beatrice Lilly, several soldiers. I dont think it was much fun, tho’ I enjoyed it at the time, but now I’m ashamed of it. Constance danced in a state of almost complete nudity. Hugo did a marvellous Spanish dance but nearly died of it, Miss Lilly sang and the men gambled. Duff again lost this time about £100. So altogether I feel rather out of tune with parties and done mean to give any more. Perhaps this is because they left at 4.30 and I had only 2½ hours in bed. Do you think it all sounds very shameful? Fortunately Boxing day excuses much. Diana has given me a lovely cushion for Breccles & the Aga a very rich pendant Small, hanging on a black velvet ribbon to go round the neck thus [There follows a rough sketch] the middle a large diamond, as it cost about £150 perhaps I may change it! He gave Diana a black & white broach† such as you gave me [There follows a rough sketch]. Otherwise I had nothing. Today I dine with Adèle and go to Alderley tomorrow. I’ll write from there. {3}

Alderley Saturday 29th. Fair fun at Lady Essex, except that Lionel Earle was there who I truly abominate, fortunately I didnt sit next him, tho’ had to play bridge at the same table. Duffy was in his blue uniform for the first time and looked to[o] lovely, they all fell rather in love with him, particularly Ava, as he is looking out for a rich wife or mistress I think he couldnt do better. His difficulty about a mistress is that he’s afraid she would need too much time, lunch and dinner at least twice a week and he doesnt feel inclined to give up as much as that. I got here yesterday to find no one but the family & the children, I shall stay a week, then return sobered & chastened to London. Still I shall get through a lot of work, drink no wine and sleep a lot, all of which must be good.

The children acted “She stoops to Conquer” this afternoon, quite well, Rosalind particularly who looked very pretty. Oliver is expected home any day on a months leave and Anthony in about 3 weeks.

I had a letter from Mr Lutyens saying that the plumbing was well started at Breccles. I think I must go down there one day to see what they are up to. I shall be very sad if we cant have an Easter party there, but I’ve been very lazy about the furniture. Still all the beds, and linen are bought and 3 sofas, which with one that I have here, and 2 of yours at 12 K.P.G. makes a little something on which to start. Curtains and carpets tho’ appall† me. {3}

New Years Eve 1917.

There has truly been nothing at all to write about, day succeeds day in most wholesome monotony. I’ll tell you one then you {3} know all. Get up about 10 work till 12.30 go for a short walk for Huck’s sake. Lunch, another tiny walk, in at 3, work till 5 whilst David Copperfield is read aloud to the children, tea, play lethargically with the children, work again till 7.30 dinner, bridge and bed at 10. Can you imagine a more exemplary day. The result of all this is that by the time I leave here I shall very nearly have finished one of your bed curtains. Oliver is expected Wednesday.

This time a year ago we had just arrived at Monte Carlo. What fun that was. I think on the whole 1917 has been fun dont you, particularly the 1st 7 or 8 months of it, or even up till you left, and even these last 2 havent been quite intollerable†, but their fun has consisted largely in looking forward to the joys of the spring and summer, anyway if 1918 is as good I shant complain. For you I hope it will bring a great Indian success. I was disappointed at not getting a letter from you this week, I’m longing to hear more of how you are getting on. I’m afraid there is no chance that you’ll be back before middle March. When you do start and when you know if you’ll be in Cairo at all do send Scatters a telegram I’m sure he’ll want to see you and probably could manage it. Just the date and your name, he’ll understand.

Bless you darling all my love in 1918.

Thursday. 3rd Jan 1918. Still the same, Oliver arrived yesterday. He’s got his months leave and a D.S.O. which is very satisfactory. He’s been at Passchendael since Oct which I believe is hell for the Artillery so I expect he deserves it. He seems very well. We played our old game Commerce last night with great success. Elizabeth and I were left in till the last, then she won which was very suitable. I went over to Knutsford where I bought a looking glass, one to stand on a dining table and rather a pretty little bureau, very dark satinwood but with nice inlay. [There follows a rough sketch of the bureau.] That type, it will do very well in a bedroom. All the details inside are good. It was not very cheap however £20. But mother and father had given me £10 so we shant have to add much. I’m really going to put my back into furnishing . I must spend a night at Norwich next time I go to Breccles & look at the shops there. I go back tomorrow to London and will write from there. I feel frightfully well after this week, far better than I did before. {4}

Friday 4th. Just got back to be greeted by a telephone message from Cardie telling me that Patrick has been killed. It seems there is to be no end till everyone one knows is dead. Already practically Duff is the only one left of that lot and he goes in March. Scatters or Anthony I suppose will be the next. I dont know what Diana will do. She is away at the moment. Cardie, Rawle Freiburg & Goonie dined with me tonight, quite fun, we gambled a little after, but nothing much was lost or won. Rawle stayed on for ages after the others had gone singing the praises of a Miss Bagnall with whom he seems to be much in love, I hope I listened with sufficient interest and sympathy. Goonie tells me (she says its a secret) that there is a wonderful new invention against the Gothas (this will please Alan) its a form of explosive bullet which shatters everything within a fairly wide radius. They are said to have got 4 (or 3) machines on Thursday at Dover when they made an attempt. The crab of the thing is that its slow, difficult and expensive to make. but if true sounds marvellous. I found your telegram from Bombay on my return today. Thank you ever so much.

Saturday. Back at the hospital again where we are quite busy, full and fairly bad cases. Bomber {5} and Heseltine lunched. I’m sorry to say Juliet (Sylvia’s baby) is very ill with broncho pneumonia. At lunchtime, when I telephoned to Alderley they were dreadfully anxious about her. She is a very nice child and I’m afraid Sylvia will be very miserable if anything happens. Fortunately Anthony is expected back on leave very soon. Heseltine very sweetly offered to do any jobs for me whilst Freeth is away. I think I shall probably want him to write to the Coal Controller who preserves an absolute silence with regards to our Coal business {5}, tho’ I’m getting very short of coal. Food is getting, for the moment, quite difficult to get, today we are without meat or butter. I’m afraid there will be rather a row if it goes on, as people are sick of waiting for hours in queues. I’ve not been out since lunch, Katharine is dining with me, just us two. 8.PM. I’ve just telephoned to Alderley, Juliet is a tiny bit better. {1}

Sunday evening. Juliet is said to be out of danger today, so the disease tho’ very sudden leaves almost as quickly as it comes. K & I had a delicious evening together. Today I lunched with Frances Barbara McL was there and after went to see Phillis who is very miserable about Patrick poor child. He was killed by a chance shell when he was going round the lines. In a week he wd have been home for 10 weeks on a staff course.

I got in fairly early and painted and paid your bills till dinner when Ca[r]die, Goonie & Lionel Cohen dined and have just left after a little gentle bridge.
I shall finish this tonight as the mail leaves tomorrow and I shant have a chance of writing more tomorrow.

No letter from you again this week, which makes 3 since I last heard. Perhaps one has gone down. Its a great disappointment, I look for[ward] {6} to them more than to anything. It may come tomorrow of course.

Ll G’s speech seems very significant, do you think there is a hope of peace?

How I wish you were home.

I hope you are having fun. Give my love to Alan, I started a letter to him and will get one off by next mail I swear. Read him a lot of this if it amuses him.

Much much love

Your
V.

Tuesday Jan 8th

After all the mail doesnt leave till Friday so I’ll add an extra line and one to Alan. I lunched with Anne yesterday, a large party of women, Juliet, Adèle Goonie, and after all went off to a Cinema together! Then in the evening I dined with the Burns, I sat next to Reggie who was very sweet and what I liked even more very hopeful about Peace after Ll G’s speech tho’ also very characteristically attributing its delivery to a desire on Ll G’s part to “sell” the labour party and bitch their forthcoming Conference. Beatrice G was there over from Ireland where she has completely put Alice into the shade by giving more numerous and more amusing entertainments. I think with typical Vice Regal stupidity Alice has quarrelled with Beatrice as she resents her driving about in a showy carriage and pair in the streets of Dublin! Beatrice sent you her love, she said she’d got a letter from you which had pleased her very much. Afterwards I played bridge with Mrs James, Pamela & Sir J Cowans and won 25/. Today nothing much, lunched again with Anne and went with her to S. Kensington Museum where she is on the look out for a pattern to work. In the evening Duff & I dined together and he went off early as picket officer so I’m home. Its freezingly cold and very beastly.

Thursday. Lutyens has sent me the Breccles plan’s† just the bathrooms and those little alterations, but they seem very satisfactory. Less so the enclosed letters from Surtees as 5% seems a lot to pay. If we have to raise more for alterations and I’m afraid we shall I think I’d best try and get my trustees to do it. Diana Claude Russell, Lord & Lady Islington Gilbert Russell, his wife & Goonie dined last night. We were rather short of men, but Hugo R had chucked at 7.30 and Goonie arrived unexpectedly. It wasnt very amusing, Diana looked very ill & today has collapsed again into bed with a temp & sore throat. Hugo came after dinner. I’ve got a great plan for him to decorate the top long gallery at Breccles. His idea is an Italian 18th century hunting scene, trees oranges, thick flowing grass, strange birds stags being pursued by greyhounds, hunters and hawks all done in tempera onto the plaster walls we would do these ourselves under his direction, perhaps have two scene painters down to help. Dont you think it sounds perfect. Its very light room so we could have very bright colours and it would be the making of it. He and I got so excited talking over this after the others had gone that we found it was nearly one a m and we were very hungry so we went down to the kitchen and found a few mushrooms which we cooked and some dripping in which we fried some bread. It was delicious. I shall take him to Breccles for a day soon so that he can see the actual sight for himself.

Frieberg† has lunched, he leaves tomorrow. I like him but he’s a bore and that’s the end of it.

Your letter has just arrived. Thank you a 10000 times for all of it. I was rivetted by it, tho’ I fear very wooly† as to the various demands of all your deputations. I’m sad to see that you dont expect to be back till April, particularly as Jack I. told me he thought March. Still nearly half the time has passed so you’ll be here soon.

Stuart has gone to France, I never see Gladys thank God.

This is very hurried as I’m now told the mail leaves tonight.

Bless you
V.

—————

Written partly in pencil, partly in ink (see below).

{1} The writing changes from ink to pencil here.

{2} A page ends here, and the writing changes from pencil to ink.

{3} The pencil was changed here.

{4} The writing changes from pencil to ink here.

{5} Reading uncertain.

{6} ‘for-’ is at the end of a page, and the writer omitted to complete the word on the next one.

† Sic.

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