Mary Russell’s War Journal (thirty-two):old sweaters and Paris veils


9 March 1915

This month’s instalment of The Valley of Fear reached me two days ago, although I have to admit, it has not done much to clarify the mystery around the story’s murder. I could see from the very first that any victim whose head was all but obliterated by a shot-gun is a victim whose identity the reader needs to question, and with this current episode, one is led to suspect that the man McMurdo, far from being the criminal and bounder he appears, has another purpose behind his presence in the Valley. In the hands of a truly clever writer, one might begin to suspect a double-bluff, however, I fear that Mr Conan Doyle is too straight-forward for that.

As for “Birlstone Manor”, Sussex has proven rich in candidates. Brief research through my mother’s collection of Sussexiana has given me a plethora of moated houses, an investigation of which will have to wait until the roads have dried enough to permit use of a bicycle. I was surprised at first, until I reflected on this part of England: as enemies from Norman French to the Kaiser’s Boche well know, the south coast is Britain’s open underbelly, and it would well behove any king to have a string of fortified allies between the south coast and London. War is not a new thing to this land.

As to the current horrors, The Times informs me that 12,369 re-dyed old sweaters have been sent to the Front, along with countless socks and other bits of knitwear, for the benefit of our clearly desperate soldiers. In the meantime, the Bishop of London has dedicated a motor coffee stall on its way to France, that he might promote temperance among the serving men: heaven forbid that men clothed in mud-soaked and ill-dyed jumble-sale rejects should be handed a mug of alcohol to warm their bones. Regular articles on “Daily Life in the Army” describe a continuous assault of artillery on the nerves, the diabolical cleverness of German snipers, and an omnipresent rattle of machine guns, while their wounded officers retreat to the luxury of Woburn Abbey and Blenheim Palace for their recuperation.

This may or may not have to do with the article concerning a “young woman of independent means” who lives in Bayswater, and was charged with assaulting a Captain home on sick leave with her umbrella, saying that she had been insulted by men like this.

In Paris, meanwhile, debate continues over the coming width of ladies’ skirts and the most flattering way to arrange one’s veil.


  1. Merrily Taylor on March 9, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Poor Russell…both Doyle and the War are getting on her last nerve. Hang in there, Mary, better days are ahad!

  2. Nora on March 9, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Love these stories leading up to her stumbling over Holmes! Feel so sorry for those poor boys at the front! Hope, as others have said, that these ‘war’ days are in book form soon. I will be in line, money in fist!

  3. Wesley Williams on March 22, 2015 at 8:54 am

    I remember reading of a company commander (Capt ?) who was called back to HQ for a meeting, was able to “acquire” only a single bottle of whiskey, and thinking of his men sent it to the company by his adjutant with the attached note: Have a drink, but remember the next man and pass it round to all.”
    That one (qt.) bottle was passed through out the entire company (approx 350 in number) with about
    2 oz. remaining! The thoughtfullness of an exceptional officer, and devotion of exceptional soldiers.
    The shining examples of the “Nobility of Man” in the midst of terrible conflict and hardship.
    Princess Margeret’s Christmas pipes sent to the troops, Fighter pilots showing respect for each other
    in spite of enemy or ally, The Christmas “truce” of 1915, and more humor and funny stories than one would expect. that men could find laughter in such conditions to remind them of their humanity and their

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