New Year’s Eve, 1914 (Thursday)



Western Front: An anonymous British nursing sister makes the best of new year in a war zone:

Thursday, December 31st, New Year’s Eve. – Still at Sotteville, and clemmed with cold. There was no paraffin on the train this morning, so we couldn’t even have the passage lamps lit.

This afternoon I went with Major – and the French Major and the little fat French Caporal (who is the same class as the French major – or better) into Rouen, and they trotted us round sight-seeing. The little Caporal showed us all the points of the cathedrals, and the twelfth century stone pictures on the north porch and on the towers, and also the church of St Maclou with the wonderful “Ossuare” cloisters, now a college for Jeunes Filles. We had tea in town and trammed back. This evening, New Year’s Eve, the French Staff had decorated the restaurant with Chinese lanterns, and we had a festive New Year’s Eve dinner, with chicken, and Xmas pudding on fire, and Sauterne and Champagne and crackers. The putting-on of caps amused everyone infinement, and we had more speeches and toasts. I forgot to tell that the French Major’s home is broken by the Germans, and he doesn’t know where his wife and three children are. On Xmas night, during toasts, he suddenly got up and said in a broken voice, “A mes petits enfants et ma femme”.

[from the (anonymous) “Diary of a nursing sister on the Western Front, 1914-1915“]

and so begins 1915…

27th October 1914 (Tuesday)

BORN TODAY: in Swansea, Wales – Dylan Marlais Thomas, Welsh poet who wrote exclusively in English.


War at Sea:  Twenty miles fromTory Island, on Ireland’s North West coast, American tourists on the liner “Olympic” snap pictures  of the British Dreadnought class battleship “Audacious”  after it is seriously damaged by striking a mine.  Later in the day, despite efforts to tow it to safety, Audacious blows up and sinks in the Atlantic. All of the crew are safely evacuated before the explosion, but an officer on another vessel is killed by a stray piece of armour plating blown half a mile by the blast.

Today she lies on the sea bed 17 miles from Tory Island. Public announcement of her destruction was postponed for over 4 years, until shortly after the end of the war.

[Burg and Purcell, and Wikipedia].

Thoughts of eternity: An anonymous French soldier writes to his mother from the front:

“Let us eat and drink to all that is eternal, for tomorrow we die to all that is of the earth. We acquire an increase of love in that moment when we renounce our mean and anxious hopes”.

[Letters of a Soldier, 1914-1915]


New Zealand farmer Goerge Adkin spends a hot day at the local cattle market, including dinner (lunch) at the Jubilee Hotel and photographing the main street and Town Hall.



21st October 1914 (Wednesday)

BORN TODAY: in Tulsa, Oklahoma – Martin Gardner, mathematical gamester and “widely-read debunker of pseudoscientific canards”.


War on two fronts: the German army is heavily embroiled on the Western Front at Ypres and simultaneously on the Eastern Front, near Warsaw, where the Russians have driven the German forces back across the Vistula.


In the south of England a group of sightseers are enjoying an end of season trip to the seaside in a modern “charabanc” (pronounced in english – sharrabang)…

… meanwhile on the other side of the world, farmer George Adkin spends  his day in the rain, tending his sheep: docking the lambs, dagging the ewes and building a punga sheep bridge.


5th July 1914 (Sunday)


~ in Denmark – Gerda Gilboe, actress daughter of a blacksmith father.

~ In Budapest – Annie Fischer, child prodigy pianist.

World Affairs: The German Emperor issues the infamous “blank cheque”, promising his full support for Austria in its efforts to punish and diminish Serbia, whatever the wider complications it might cause across Europe. He urges Austria to “march at once” and expresses confidence that Russia was not ready to go to war.

Tourism: Middle aged American tourist Rachel Halsey is spending a day and a half  in Venice:

“In the evening, we took a most beautiful gondola ride. The gondolas are very comfortable and the easy way the gondoliers stand and row with one oar is remarkable. Many of the private gondolas are beautiful. Our gondolier sang selections from operas for us. It seemed strange that anyone in such a lowly position should know operas instead of ragtime. The music gondolas decorated with lanterns were numerous and voices good. To lend to the enchantment, the full moon was shining down in all its splendor.

The shops were perfectly entrancing, and before you knew it you could hear yourself saying – I’ll take this, I’ll take that – corals – Roman pearls, scarfs, beads, pictures, Venetian glass, laces etc. Heard a concert in the square the second night. Have forgotten our trip to Lido the little summer resort – about 20 minutes ride from Venice – very pleasant, but not especially interesting. Still water bathing – some of the girls had on men’s bathing suits – no shoes or stockings. Very warm weather and fleas, fleas, fleas! Scratch scratch!”

4th July 1914 (Saturday)

BORN TODAY: in Turin, Italy – Giuseppe Bertone, car designer.

World Affairs: At their private estate in Arstetten in Austria, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie  are laid to rest in the family vaults in a private ceremony. [Almanac of World War 1].

Meanwhile, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany declares that he is in favour of “settling accounts with Serbia”, and writes to the German ambassador in Vienna that “we must finish with the Serbs, quickly”.


Tourism: American tourist Rachel Halsey spends her day on a train travelling from Munich in Germany to Bozen in Austria. “Fourth of July in a foreign country with no fireworks and only an American flag to celebrate with”. In her dairy she confides that she finds Bozen “quaint and beautiful”  and that “Americans seem to attract much attention here – people simply stare, even stop, turn around, and gape.” In a few hours she will be heading south to Venice…

Sport: In Lyons, France – German Christian Friedrich Lautenschlager wins the French Grand Prix, driving a Mercedes for 20 laps (7 hours  and 468 miles) at an average speed of 66 miles per hour.




18th June 1914 (Thursday)

BORN TODAY: The Victorian [that is, the South Australian] Croquet Association. Centenary celebrations  “will start with cutting the birthday cake at the AGM on 17th June 2014, followed by a luncheon at the opening of the Croquet Victoria season, on 6th August 2014”. [Croquet Victoria – “Advancing Croquet in Victoria”].

Accidents: At Carr Bridge, Inverness, Scotland – flooding causes a bridge to collapse, and a derailment and fall from a height for a Highland Railways train. Five drown and ten are injured.

Early flight: At the International Airplane Safety Competition in France, US inventor Lawrence Burst Sperry demonstates his new three-way gyrostabilizer (autopilot) by having himself and his engineer stand on the wings of the aircraft with the pilot’s seat empty, during a flypast.  There are claims that in 1916 he used his new invention to become the founding member of the “mile-high club”. [Wikipedia]. What is more certain is that his last flight took place on 23rd December, at the age of 31, when his craft was lost in, and his body later recovered from, the English Channel/ La Manche.





3rd January 1914 (Saturday)


~ In  Trieste, home of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, – Caffe San Marco, a (now) historic coffee house in what was then “a buzzing cosmopolitan city frequented by artists and philosophers such as James Joyce, Italo Svevo, Sigmund Freud, Dragotin Kette, Ivan Cankar, Scipio Slataper and Umberto Saba. The city was the major port of the Austrian Riviera and perhaps the only real enclave of Mitteleuropa south of the Alps” [Wikipedia].

Unfortunately the outbreak of the first world war later in the same year completely destroyed the coffee shop (although it was later reconstructed).

~ Also born today, in the baroque palace of Hetzendorf, near Vienna – Archduchess Adelheid Maria Josepha Sixta Antonia Roberta Ottonia Zita Charlotte Luise Immakulata Pia Theresia Beatrix Franziska Isabella Henriette Maximiliana Genoveva Ignatia Marcus d’Aviano, eldest daughter of Archduke Charles, who succeeded the Emperor Franz Joseph in 1916.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) the first world war also swept away the Hapsburg dynasty, which – unlike the coffee house – was not later reconstructed for the benefit of tourists. The young Archduchess was exiled to Madeira in 1919. Although she returned to Vienna in 1933, she later emigrated to the USA to escape the nazis.