Kate Frye’s Diary: War: 6 August 1914

Tomorrow – 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. For details of the TV series and its accompanying books see here.

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 – but has now begun her summer holiday, staying with her mother and sister in Worthing.

Thursday August 6th 1914

A fearful wind all day. Up late and household jobs seeing after Agnes etc – out at 12 with dear love, bought a paper and sat in a shelter reading it until 1. There is very little official news, but I think there is no doubt they are arranging for an expeditionary force to go to help France and Belgium. Germany seems ruthlessly violating every treaty that was made and will soon end by not having a single friend in Europe or elsewhere. The Belgians area making a most spirited and heroic defence of their forts – and so far the Germans have had a set back which could never have calculated upon. They thought the Belgians would let them calmly walk through their country to attack France. A nice sense of honour  they must have got themselves. We have the sinking of a German mine layer to our credit.

The reading of the paper and rushing out for the latest Editions has become a vice with me, but I can’t keep away from them. Read in the afternoon, and who should arrive but Stella Richardson at 3.30 till 4.45 and had tea with us. But I felt in no mood for her with her cheap opinions. I am afraid I flared out at her. Agnes was of course in bed all day, said she felt a bit better.

I had a card from John – he has his orders – has to report himself at Shoeburyness on Sunday. Oh dear!!! A letter from Constance full of War news – their men being called up – the younger generation volunteering etc – and Jack Gilbey off to the front. That pretty gay young lad. What a responsibility the Kaiser has taken upon himself to be sure. Oh if only someone could get at him and his precious son and do for them. John thinks banishment to Bacup the best punishment – we want to get him here and hammer him all over beginning with his feet. I have heard someone suggest cutting his head off and making it into sausages for the Germans to eat – and that she would willingly turn the handle. I wonder what history will make of him?

John's card_0001

Johns's card, written on Wed 4 Aug and posted on 5 August from Exeter, where he was playing with a touring theatre company

Johns’s card, written on Wed 4 August and posted on 5 August from Exeter, where he was playing with a touring theatre company

It was ironic that Stella Richardson should choose this moment to call. She was very much a representative of the ‘gay and reckless’ life that Kate had once enjoyed. You will be able to read about Stella – and her husband – and their relationship with Kate – in Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette.

Kate’s diary is certainly a faithful record of events. On the Today programme this morning a naval historian mentioned the sinking of that mine layer as being one of the first naval actions of the War.Moreover,  I think it’s interesting that on a day such as this – with no knowledge of what lies ahead (perhaps, despite what John predicts, the war will be over by Christmas) – that Kate thinks, however fleetingly, in terms of the Kaiser’s place in history. While concerning herself with the quotidian, she is well able to appreciate that hers is but one moment in time. It is this self-awareness that gives the diary a measure of importance as a document of social history.


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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