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…

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!”

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.