Mary Russell’s War (six): Tutors and trenches

Mary Russell’s Great War journal has come to light, beginning on August 4, 1914. This is week six. (For the other weeks, click here.)


German Cruiser Nurnberg, 1914

8 September 1914

School is now fully under way. Not that Levi and I are directly concerned with classrooms, but our tutors follow the schedule of public school, so we are now as occupied with books and chalkboards as any child of the city. I have two tutors this year. In the afternoons, a nervous ex-schoolmaster with dandruff over his shoulders coaches me through the scientific side of the curriculum, while in the mornings, the same teacher I have had since we returned here two years ago, Miss Warren, is responsible for the less meaty part of my education, from American and English history to Greek philosophers. This year she has also taken on the duty of driving some modicum of general knowledge into Levi’s single-track mind, an up-hill battle. Soon, I shall suggest to her that if she can shape her material into some kind of puzzle to capture Levi’s attention, she will have better luck with the content.

Speaking of battles: several hundred thousand Frenchmen are furiously digging a complicated system of entrenchments outside of Paris. Is the idea that the Kaiser’s men will fall into it as they press forward?   Trenches seem hardly more adequate than a row of sharpened stakes when it comes to foiling the advance of a modern army, or even slowing it much: every fortress in the north of France is now in German hands. I see on Mother’s face, and in the long hours at her war work, that she dreads one morning to hear the news-boys’ shout, “Kaiser crossing the Channel!” Her ladies’ maid, Phillips, has left for home, and Mother has said she will not replace her, but instead devote the salary to buying aeroplanes.

In the meantime, on this side of the world, last week the Leipzig’s sister cruiser, the Nurnberg, was finally spotted:


Commander of German Craft Says Vessel May Be His Coffin

HONOLULU—The German cruiser Nurnberg, whose whereabouts have been a mystery since she left here early last month, appeared off this port early today.

Inasmuch as the Nurnberg left this port thirty-five days ago, just before war was declared between Germany and Great Britain, she is entitled now to take on as much coal and no more as will carry her to the nearest home port and may remain in Honolulu twenty-four hours.

Where that port now is becomes a point for the international lawyers to decide. The British have seized German Samoa, and the Japanese are blockading German’s naval base in Kiso-Chow bay.


Nothing has been seen of the German cruiser Leipzig, the only other German warship in the Pacific not bottled up in Kido-Chow bay.

It is difficult to locate “Kido-Chow” on the atlas of China, that being one of those cities given half a dozen completely unrelated spellings. Micah, who took a day off work from his bookstore in Chinatown to help Mother in the garden, found it for me. He tells me that the word is something closer to “Chiaow-show”. Between its typographical errors and the willful mistakes, the Chronicle is proving less than dependable as a source of geographical knowledge.

I scoured the papers in vain for any further arrests of English literary figures out for a stroll on the coast. Were I a famous writer, I should do my best to be captured staring out to sea, a flag-like scarf clasped in my hand. It would no doubt do wonders for one’s sales figures.


Today’s paper, which I read after having written the above (one’s parents, inevitably, are granted the day’s news first) contained an exciting update:


British Dreadnought Australia Reported to Be in Chase of Kaiser’s Nurnberg, Which Left Honolulu September 1st, After Taking Coal.

It is believed here that the Australia cable to British Columbia was cut by the Nurnberg.

My fellow Californians seem completely oblivious of any threat. Mother has her war work, Father clearly is up to something (he has yet to explain that letter from the War Office!), but what are those who are technically under age to do? Are Levi and I—objectively speaking, two of the more gifted minds in the city—to concern ourselves with nothing but mathematics and English poetry? After much discussion, he and I went to Father in the library this evening to put the proposition before him, and in the end, Papa did at least agree to tutor us in German, one of the languages in which he is fluent.

That will not be sufficient, but at least we have succeeded in planting the thought in his distracted mind.


  1. Sue Thompson on September 8, 2014 at 6:39 am

    Being English, my knowledge of WW1 has concentrated exclusively on the events in Europe, to the extent that I was unaware that the US had been involved at all before the decision to send troops somewhere around 1917 (?). Forgive my ignorance. And my thanks to Miss Russell for sharing her experiences and knowledge of the period, and filling this apparently large gap in mine.

  2. Merrily Taylor on September 8, 2014 at 7:16 am

    One of the things I love about this is Mary’s keen eye and youthful arrogance. She has no doubt whatsoever that she and Levy are among the best minds in the city, or that even in their tender years, they will be able to aid England in the war. This of course, is the sort of thinking that will make her a superb apprentice, and later, protege, for Sherlock Holmes!

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