Kate Frye’s Diary: The Lead-Up To War: 3 August 1914

On 7 August 2014 ITV will publish an e-book, Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette.  Based on her prodigious diary, this is my account of Kate Frye’s life and is a tie-in with the forthcoming ITV series ‘The Great War: The People’s Story’, in which Romola Garai plays Kate. 

To discover more about the entirety of Kate’s life – her upbringing, her involvement with the suffrage movement, her marriage, her London flats, her life in a Buckinghamshire hamlet, her love of the theatre, her times as an actress, her efforts as a writer, her life on the Home Front during two world wars, her involvement with politics – and her view of the world from the 1890s until October 1958  – download the e-book – £4.99 – from iTunes – http://bit.ly/PSeBKPFITVal. or  £4.99 from Amazon.

KateAs a lead-up to publication I thought I’d share with you some entries from Kate’s diary from the month before the outbreak of war. Through her day-to-day experience we can see how the war stole up on one Everywoman. Kate was at this time 36 years old, living in a room at 49 Claverton Street in Pimlico and working in the Knightsbridge headquarters of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was now nine years since she had become engaged to (minor) actor John Collins. Her father died in March 1914 and her mother and sister, Agnes, now all but penniless, are living in rented rooms in Worthing. For the previous few weeks Kate’s fiancé, John Collins, had been renting  a room in another house in Claverton Street but he has now left for the West Country, to take up a position with a touring repertory company. Kate is feeling rather bereft.

Kate has just begun her summer holiday – staying with her mother and sister in their rented rooms in Worthing.

Monday August 3rd 1914

I think the Blackest Bank Holiday that the world has ever known. What an appalling day – the most dire and awful depressio over everyone – like a pall shutting out the idea of holiday – jollity, sunshine and air – everything dead and dumb and yet one’s nerves turned up to a frightful pitch.

A European War and England must be drawn in. It is all rushing upon us now – a huge welter of realisation of what we are in for – what our navy means to us, and what the machines of death will bring to innocent men and their wives and families.

I am all for peace – always for peace, war is too repulsive, but I am for the honour of England too – and come what may we must link ourselves with France and help keep off the aggressive – brutal – nation that is at her doors. What an awful day. I shall never forget it.

Agnes in bed very seedy in that miserable dark hole of a room – would not even have the blind up all day. I went out in the morning and evening for strolls – not a smile on the face of anyone one met – simply a grim, hard, and quiet manner, but terror at our hearts. What will the war mean towards us?

Read the papers all the afternoon. The Bank Holidays are to continue for 3 more days to let the staff get things into order and issue £1 & 10/- notes to make up for the shortage of gold. Some people are getting panic stricken – taking out their money. Then some people are buying up huge quantities of food stuffs and stocking their houses as for a siege. How mean and beastly of them – the people with money trying to get some advantage over the poor who cannot hoard – and of course creating an artificial demand and raising prices needlessly. One lady bought 18 hams – besides a huge amount of other goods – some people giving orders of £75. I hope their foodstuffs will be chasing them round the house before they can eat it. 

Travellers are getting stranded in Austria and Germany where they are mobilizing and using the railways for that purpose so that people cannot get home. Oh dear – oh dear. It’s awful.

I did not go out after tea but greased Mickie’s skin for 2 hours. He is in an awful state. I brought a small pot of my stock of grease when we left the Plat last September.

Well, Kate’s words speak for themselves. Hers was the experience of most of Britain – a month ago she would never have dreamed that the country was about to enter a European War. Then, on 3 July,after a morning of canvassing for ‘votes for women’ in Peckham,  she and John had pottered down to Worthing for a short weekend-break.  As unremarkable a couple of days by the seaside as one could imagine. Here she was in Worthing again – and the world she had known was turning upside down.

Worthing Parade, 1914

Worthing Parade, 1914

Do look at this article on Worthing History  to read about the enticing range of entertainments Worthing had to offer on that Bank Holiday Monday while Agnes, typically, lay in her ‘dark hole of a room.’ Kate, although she may not have gone to listen to the illuminated concert on the Parade, at least went out to sample Worthing’s mood and when at home soaked up what information there was in the papers. Knowing  how near to penury her family now  was, we can recognise why she took a very personal interest in the reported selfishness of the wealthy.

NOW PUBLISHED (7 August) Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette download the e-book – £4.99 – from iTunes – http://bit.ly/PSeBKPFITVal. or  £5. 14 from Amazon.

See also Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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