Mary Russell’s War (nine): Gold braid and child snipers

29 September 1914

Catastrophe has struck. It is the end of everything. And I have no one to blame but myself.

On Saturday afternoon, at long last, the Parents took Levi and me into their confidence.   Too late.

The letter Papa received from the War Office concerned his intention to enlist in the American army. We are neutral, yes, but that does not mean the government wish to be unprepared. His ability with languages, his family connexions, and some ill-defined (to us, his family) connexions with the Intelligence community conspire to mean that he could be of considerable value, to this country and to England. Not at the Front—even if his limp would allow him to be sent overseas—but in an office in Washington, DC.

Both he and Mother have known for some time that this was coming: this, it seems, was the cause of their disagreement last month. Her immediate impulse, on War’s declaration, was to go home to England, but his utter conviction and her common sense came together in a decision that England was no place to take a family. Once that agreement was reached, they were merely waiting for certain arrangements to be made before revealing their plans to us.

Bitterly, I now learn that Mother was on the edge of convincing him that San Francisco was the safest place for us: that she, Levi, and I would to remain here, continuing with our schooling and her aeroplane-fundraising, rather than (as he wished) that we retreat to my grandparents’ house in Boston. She was on the edge, I say, until…

My fault. Had I not tried to do my part for the War effort, had I not gone after a German spy, the three of us would be waving Papa off at the train station next week. Instead, we shall all board the train with him. It seems that he cannot trust his fourteen year-old daughter to stay out of trouble. Cannot trust his wife to keep control over said daughter. We shall go to Boston, to that fatuous woman, my grandmother, with her small dogs and her flowery hats and her too-warm house that smells of lavender.

Papa had Micah help haul the trunks from the attic, and Mama has begun to pack them, without knowing for how long. Papa wants to go down the Peninsula to the Lodge on Saturday, to retrieve some things we left there on our July holiday there, and to close it up for the coming months. Even years. I would like to accompany him—would like the whole family to go, since it is a place where we have been happy, and which we may never see again. But Mama says we may not be sufficiently packed up by the week-end, and that we probably won’t have time.

My fault, all of it.

And in Europe, the War continues to sink its teeth into civilisation.

Uniforms of French Officers Good Targets

Expert Declares Disproportionate Loss Due to Too Much Gold Braid

and Lace on Clothes.



Man’s Head Blown Off, Child is Crippled and Damage is Done to Buildings.


A Twelve-year-old boy has been fighting hard in the rifle pits in the public gardens at Belgrade. He is the pet of the full-grown soldiers and lives the same life as they do, and takes his full share of the sniping, as he is a first-class shot.

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 3.28.45 PM

And in further news, a Christmas ship full of gifts is being put together for Europe. No one talks any more, of the War being over before then.


  1. Merrily Taylor on September 29, 2014 at 5:45 am

    Oh dear, I find myself wanting to cry, “Oh, Russell, please don’t blame yourself,” and “Please don’t go to the Peninsula!” Foreknowledge is not always enjoyable. The only comfort a reader has is the assurance that all this sorrow will bring her to Holmes. Still…this makes one sad.

  2. Sue Thompson on September 29, 2014 at 6:08 am

    Oh Merrily I do agree! Young Mary was so carefree and lacking in responsibility; safe in the knowledge of her parents’ love and care, even if they were exasperating. I foresee a need to reread her later adventures very soon, and wonder if Ms King shared that foresight when she thought of this series? Thank you Laurie!

  3. Viktoria on September 29, 2014 at 6:40 am

    These posts have inspired me to start reading the Russell-books all over again. I find I am enjoying them even more this time around, even though I know what´s coming. Can´t wait for February!

  4. Lenore on September 29, 2014 at 9:05 am

    By the way, where IS the Lodge – Santa Cruz?

  5. Laurie King on September 29, 2014 at 9:23 am

    The Lodge seems to be somewhere along the Peninsula between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay.

  6. Chris on September 29, 2014 at 9:35 am

    i’m sure I glimpsed it when I drove that route…..

  7. Sabrina Flynn on September 29, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    I’m loving these, but I’m also cringing for what is to come. Poor Mary Russell!

  8. Bridgette on September 29, 2014 at 9:01 pm


  9. Bea Cashmore on October 1, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Just finally found the time to read Mary’s 9th wartime entry. It is so sad to read the guilt-ridden words, and hear the self-criticism behind them. Even before the terrible accident, Russell was her own worst critic. I have to wonder what created that? On a more positive side, her passion and involvement with the War are amazing, and make her (in ways) mature beyond her years. She never ceases to impress me.

  10. Catherine on October 11, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Is there any evidence indicating whether Mary Russel ever crossed trails with Maisie Dobbs, the
    psychologist and detective? They might easily have worked the same battle fronts in WWI.

    • Laurie King on October 11, 2014 at 7:35 pm

      So far there’s no indication that the two met, however, there are volumes of the Memoirs yet to transcribe…

      • Merrily Taylor on October 12, 2014 at 5:58 am

        Not to mention Phyrne Fisher, who was also there and who is exactly the same age as Russell. Somehow I think Russell and Phyrne would have hit it off, although Phryne is a bit more….experienced….than Russell in certain areas…

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