Mary Downing’s Writing Box

Below are listed the contents of Mary Downing‘s (or Aunt Mary’s) Writing Box in the possession of her great niece Juliet. The letters from the trenches have generally been transcribed here as the originals are written on poor quality paper and in pencil and are somewhat illegible.

Letters from Wilmot Evans

Wilmot Evans is six years junior to Mary Downing but they had grown up as next door neighbours in Hagley. The letters below show an increasing closeness between the two. Mary clearly chose to keep these letters above many others. The background to the first letter is that the South Staffordshires returned from Maritzburg in Sep 1914. Within two weeks Wilmot, a second lieutenant, was in the thick of fighting in the first battle of Ypres, where many of his battalion were wiped out, with an especially high toll of the officers of his rank. Wilmot was wounded on 16 May 1915 and returned first to England and then as the letters relate to Jersey. The planned offensive on the Somme did not in fact come until the 1 Jul 1916 – the day that he died alongside some other 60,000 fellow soldiers killed or wounded that day.

Letters from Noel Downing

Noel Downing was Mary’s only brother and four years younger than her. He was good friends with Wilmot Evans from childhood.

Letters concerning the Royal Red Cross

The Royal Red Cross is a military decoration established in UK for exceptional services in military nursing.  Mary was awarded ARRC (Associate or Second Class) in Oct 1917 for her service as Staff Nurse at Studley Court Hospital, Stourbridge from Nov 1914 to Jul 1917.  Her investiture took place at Buckingham Palace on the Saturday 20 Apr 1918. It was followed by the reception at Marlborough House held by Queen Alexandra. All letters addressed to Ethel Mary Downing in Ilkeston, Derbyshire.

  • Telegram requesting to attend Buckingham Palace, 17 Apr 1918 (see below)
  • Letter announcing reception to be held by Queen Alexandra at Marlborough House, 17 Apr 1918 (see below)
  • Letter of Congratulations from the Board of the Ilkeston Hospital, 1 May 1918 (see below)
  • Letter of Congratulations from her mother, 28 Oct 1917
  • Letter of Congratulations from her father, 20 Dec 1917
  • Letter from her aunt Ida Downing, Stourton Hall, near Stourbridge, 1 Nov 1917
  • Letter from her aunts Louie and Dolly (Showells), Aberdeen, 7 Nov 1917
  • Letters from her former colleagues:
    Miss Lucy M. Stuart, Greenbank, Wordsley, Stourbridge, 26 and 30 Oct 1917
    Mrs Bertha Elizabeth Merewether, Adhurst St. Mary, Petersfield, 26 Oct 1917
    Dr George Dudley and Miss Georgina Dudley, High Street Stourbridge, 27 and 28 Oct 1917
  • Letter from Annie Katharina Gibbs, Temple Hill, East Budleigh, Devon, 17 Nov 1917

Letters from others

  • Letter from nephew Glyn Williams – Grosmont {School}, Bognor, 25 Feb 1920
  • Letter from Aubrey Webster – BEF, Calais, 5 Apr 1916
  • Letter from W L Browne – Ashley House, Shrewsbury, 20 Apr 1889 (“to Bobbie”)
  • Letter from Mr Callaghan – YMCA, Sheerness, Aug 1915 (a former patient)

Collection of poems

Includes a satirical poem called “Marriage Bells are Ringing” and probably composed by Mary herself. The poem is about the second marriage of her aunt Kate David (nee Showell) to Archie Trow in 1902 and their move to South Africa. The important thing is that it’s written on a NUWSS (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) headed paper which shows Mary as Secretary of Stourbridge & District Society (see below).

Diary for the year 1912

The diary includes day-by-day account of the family’s month long trip to Paris in Apr 1912.