Kate Frye had worked as an organiser for the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage from 1911 until the summer of 1915. In January 1915 she had married her long-time fiancé, John Collins, an actor who had for many years been a member of the Territorial Army. Now an officer, John was stationed at Shoeburyness with the Essex and Suffolk Royal Garrison Artillery until shipping out for France in December 1916. He spent the next two years on the Western Front and in June 1917 was awarded the Military Cross. His letters home to Kate are held by the Imperial War Museum.
Letter from John 1 Nov 1918
So it is all over or practically so I wonder what happens next. Please to look for a flat for us duckie. I am longing now to get home to my dear one for good. Oh, won’t it be lovely.
It is a very wet day and I have been running about all day expecting anything but I don’t think we shall ever move again except to go home. There is practically no great excitement here over this morning’s news. Everyone seems to take as a matter of course. It feels just like the end of a term at School where one does not quite know the time the train goes home or how to employ ones time until that is known. It is a most peculiar feeling. I expect the feeling will suddenly burst out however. I wonder how the people at home are taking it. Oh dear Muzz you don’t know how lovely it is to think I shall soon be home with you. It is almost unthinkable after all these years but it’s going to come true after all. I am quite well and safe and fancy I have heard the last shell burst that I shall ever hear. I am now thinking of getting up some of the plays and a concert. What about my mustache – shall I take it off yet, or when I get home? There used to be a German Captain in this house. He was in charge of a German Dog School and he had an English wife who was here with him. The old party who owns the house says that his wife hated the Germans much more than the Belgians did. They left one Doberman behind a great big wolf dog not a bad party but a bit wild. Well dearest there is no more news except that I do love you ever so much.
On the day the War ended Kate was at home in her cottage at Berghers Hill in Buckinghamshire and wrote in her 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 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 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.
Sunday November 17th 1918 [Berghers Hill]
A fine day, though cold. Woke up at 7 and went off to Church as a beginning to my day of Thanksgiving. I did wish I could have had a letter from John but I tried to give a whole hearted thanksgiving for our many and great mercies….[After Church] When I got in the Postie has just been bringing me a letter from John, written on the 11th. Oh I was thankful and feel indeed to have a grateful heart. He is safe and well and of course very very pleased and looking forward to coming home. [In afternoon] Mother, Agnes and I off to the special service of Thanksgiving at 3 o’clock. The Church was just packed, every one there including Sir John and Lady Thomas. Such singing and the reading of that wonderful and extraordinary lesson from Isaiah – a nice sermon from the Vicar and the singing by him more or less of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.
Kate wrote many plays during her lifetime but the only one published, Cease Fire!, was set at the Front, in a cellar of a ruined house ‘Somewhere in France’, during the final hour before the Armistice was declared. One of the main protagonists is clearly based on John, the character’s military career following the same somewhat idiosyncratic pattern as had his, his deep love for his wife driving the plot. Published by Samuel French in 1921, ‘Cease Fire!’ reads very well today.
You can read more about Kate – and John – in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary and Kate Parry Frye: The Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette. Both books are drawn from Kate’s voluminous diary, now held by the archives of Royal Holloway College