For the latter part of the First World War Kate Parry Collins (nee Frye) lived in a cottage in the tiny Buckinghamshire hamlet of Berghers Hill – on tenterhooks for news of her husband, John, who had been fighting in France since the end of 1916. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery during the Battle of Arras – and, to Kate’s great relief, came through the war unscathed. We can imagine the emotion that lay behind the following entry in her daily diary.
Monday November 11th 1918 [Berghers Hill]
I was thinking and wondering every inch of the morning, and could not settle to anything. Was cleaning a collection of shoes about 11.30 in my room, the windows were open – I sat up and listened. Boom-Boom-Boom – then a Hooter and then I thought it time to bestir myself and went in to Agnes [her sister] then downstairs to Kathleen [the daily maid] and out to listen to the various sounds proclaiming that the Armistice has been signed. And thank God for our many and great mercies. Mother was down the hill and had called at the Manor House – the news was all over the green [Wooburn Green] and soon up here – and the remarks of the hill were marvellous. As soon as I could settle to anything I sat me down and wrote to John. Is he safe, and will he really be spared to come home to me?
[She eventually manages to buy a copy of the Daily Telegraph] ‘Yes, the glorious news, as announced ‘Surrender of Germany’ Armistice signed at 5 a.m. Cease fire at 11 a.m. The D.T. has news of Abdication of the Kaiser and Crown Prince, and flight to Holland. The whole of Germany is seething with revolution. It seems as if it will be a second Russia.
Ten years later, Kate and John were living in a tiny north Kensington flat. For the past three years, at 11 o’clock on Remembrance Day, they usually visited the Royal Artillery memorial at Hyde Park Corner – John having been a member of the RA. But on this special 10th anniversary of the Armistice they planned to join in the main London celebration. Kate was determined that she would have a Sunday free from domestic chores in order to dedicate herself to remembrance.
Saturday November 10th 1928 [Leinster Square, London]
A great day of preparation so as to be free for Remembrance tomorrow. So John went out for me and did the rest of the shopping and I first did the usual housework and a bit extra then dinner at 5.30. Shoulder of lamb, onion sauce, potatoes, sprouts, apple crowdies and a large one for tomorrow. Then cleared away, washed up, put all ready for the morning and scrubbed the kitchen. Sat down rather broken – but determined to wake at 7 tomorrow.
Sunday November 11th 1928
I woke at 7.30 and up straightway and J and I both up to breakfast. Up – washed breakfast and off. Train to Westminster – a packed tram and an impossible place – such a crowd. I jumped on a bus to get out of it. fortunately it took us to Charing Cross. We tried Whitehall from top – no good. I was afraid of the crowd – so eventually just off by Whitehall Court and heard the singing and the last post – a marvellous two minutes silence. A rest in the Club – then an hour and a quarter pilgrimage to pass the Cenotaph – again most wonderful. Came on to rain so made for Lyons for lunch in Victoria Street. Then to go through the Abbey past the Tomb [of the Unknown Warrior] and for the 3 o’clock service.
Home by bus, raining still – the queue [stretching] from Trafalgar Square. Our dinner – frightfully tired. Service on wireless. Bed – then Albert Hall meeting in bed with one earphone each up to 11pm. A really wonderful day of Remembrance.
Twenty-eight years later, after several years of caring for John at home as he became increasingly afflicted with dementia, Kate was finally forced to allow him to be admitted to the local asylum. They did not have sufficient money to pay nursing-home fees. She recorded the following entry in her diary on the first Remembrance Day after he was lost to her.
11th November 1956 [Hill Top, Berghers Hill]
To Cenotaph at Wooburn. I sat and wept – but tried to pull myself out of the tears. But so sad without John here with me. Remembering all the 11 o’clocks we had heard together.
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 – do read the e-book, Kate Parry Frye: the long life of an Edwardian actress and suffragette published by ITV as a tie-in with their series ‘The Great War: The People’s Story’. It can be downloaded from from iTunes – : http://bit.ly/PSeBKPFITVal. or from Amazon.
I’d love to hear what you think of Kate and the life she lived.
To read in detail about Kate’s involvement in the women’s suffrage campaign – in a beautifully-produced, highly illustrated, conventional paper book – see Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary.