by Morgan Leigh, BA History Student
The object of this blog is a diary from 1914 that belonged to Winona Rosalie ‘Jess’ Armstrong. This is the eighth of Jess’s diaries in the Armstrong collection at Special Collections. The collection houses 24 of her diaries written between 1906 and c. 1980.
This diary, measuring 14.8 cm by 21cm (A5), is labelled a ‘home diary and ladies note book’. It was published and printed by ‘Boots cash chemists, Nottingham’. The hardback cover, which is green in colour, has a silver foil print which reads ‘Home Diary for 1914’. It features a pink ribbon page marker that is attached to the binding. The diary has an aged quality, that is indicative of its frequent and daily use, but it has been well preserved.
The diary has a table of contents that accounts for forty printed pages of various measurements, calendars and articles before the diary entries. Some of the most intriguing articles include: ‘Have you made your will?’, ‘How to act in case of poisoning’ and ‘Hints to dog owners’. 1 With this being a diary marketed towards ‘ladies’ the information included is very gendered and as a result there is a plethora of articles relating to domestic and caregiving duties.
There is something so familiar about the design of this diary. A similar one could surely be found for sale today and there is perhaps a comfort to be found in its recognisable features. The name of the month, days in said month and week of the year figures are printed at the top of each page. The entry spaces are organised into four sections per page, each containing about eight lines for writing: Sunday through until Wednesday are on the left side, and Thursday to Saturday on the right with the fourth section on the right side allowing for ‘Memoranda’. Jess often utilises this extra space for her Saturday entries. On the contact information page she lists her address as ‘Moyaliffe, Thurles, County Tipperary’ as well as entering her glove, shoe and collar size in the provided spaces 2. The diary was gifted to Jess by her governess Catherine ‘Heppie’ Hepburn on 1 January 1914, as indicated by the inscription inside the cover.
Jess on the page
Jess uses her diary to note the main events or activities of her day. The expression and tone of her writing is familiar and relatable, so it is easy to become engrossed in her accounts. Jess writes in almost every available area on the page, sometimes writing two lines to a single lined space and filling the header at the top of the page. The layout of the diary is perhaps ill-suited to her, as the small entry sections leave her very little space to recount her day.
One could argue that she has more to say than the diary allows her to, and it is easy to imagine her filling a half page per day. Despite her use of the limited space, Jess manages to keep her daily entries separated by sometimes creating her own boundaries with crooked, hand-drawn lines. One day is always made to be distinctive from the next regardless of how much she crowds onto the page. Her handwriting is not the easiest to decipher at first glance, which is not aided by the limited space. With some time, one becomes familiar with the curl of her lettering and the stroke of her pen and it really just becomes a part of her charm.
The war from Tipperary
In September of 1914, Jess and her sister Lisalie ‘Tom/Tommy’ were sent to stay with their father Captain Marcus Beresford at Moyaliffe Castle in County Tipperary from England, where they had been staying with their mother, Rosalie. They set off for Ireland on Monday the 14th of September and arrived at Moyaliffe the following day.
In Moyaliffe, Jess’s days were filled with visiting neighbours, writing letters and caring for her brother’s dog ‘Dusky’, who had travelled to Moyaliffe with her. She writes often of her walks in the countryside and nearly always makes a mention of tea. The structure of her day seems to revolve around what she did before and after tea; there is such a consistency to it that it is difficult to not regard it as important. Her daily life is sharply contrasted with the news she encloses of the war. Jess includes a few lines about the war in most of her entries around this time. Her record is a mix of accounts from her family and more general information that could have been collected from newspapers.
It is that surreal reminder that although affected by it, life carried on outside of the war. Even if it shaped experiences of the time, Jess’s account serves as a reminder that some form of normality was still to be found. As a young woman from a military family, she was surrounded with the realities of the war. She makes various mentions of family friends who have been killed or are missing and she keeps track of her brother Pat, a cavalry officer, by noting the dates on the letters he has sent the family. These are clearly consuming thoughts, and her entries, although short, express her experience of being removed from, but personally invested, in the war effort.
Perhaps it was an attempt at seeking out or maintaining some form of normality that Jess documented her life so consistently. She had been keeping a diary for several years at this stage and therefore it would have been a part of her daily routine. One can picture her writing about her day just before bed or first thing in the morning, in a state of pure habit. It is easy to become lost in Jess’s world through the pages of her handwriting. Her diaries are an incredibly valuable resource for those interested in perspectives of the First World War, the life of an Irish country house, or even diary keeping. The consistency of her writing is not only valuable but a true joy to encounter.
You can learn more about Jess and her family in the First World War here. There is more information available about Jess’s 1914 diary through the Special Collections website, which includes links to view it online.
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