In November 1913, Stephanie Hyde Parker, aged 18 years, was given a red leather bound scrapbook embossed with her initials as a gift from her parents. Stephanie decided that this would help her record the events and people she met as she went through the social whirl of the London season. However, the clouds of war were gathering over Europe and on the 4 August 1914, the tone of her scrapbook changed, as she recorded the declaration of war and the effect it had on her family and friends.
Philip Windsor, a volunteer at Melford Hall has been reading through the pages…
Making her debut into polite society, Stephanie Hyde Parker was the only daughter of Sir William and Ethel, Lady Hyde Parker of Melford Hall. One can imagine, not only her excitement at the numerous dances and house parties that would require a wardrobe of new clothes; but also her trepidation – would she be popular and fit in with the other debutantes, would her dance card be filled, but most importantly, would she receive many invitations?
Within just a few months, Stephanie had spent time away at various house parties and balls, including a stay with her mother at Lordington House in Hampshire, where her sketching leads us to believe she had great fun playing roulette as well as other gambling games. It was then home for Christmas and New Year with the anticipation of many more exciting plans for 1914, starting with the Suffolk County Ball in January. However, Stephanie could never have imagined just what 1914 would have in store!
Although she continues to record the social events she experienced, they become more somber and with war always in the background. It was during this time her family and friends attend and support fundraising events for the British Red Cross. In fact, Stephanie herself joined the Red Cross’s Voluntary Aid Detachment, looking after wounded soldiers at Sudbury Belle Vue. This too is captured in the pages of her scrapbook.
In 1914, 40,018 women were members of Red Cross detachments – including some famous names, such as Agatha Christie. As men were fighting on the Western Front, women performed many jobs that had been previously considered “unladylike” and unsuitable. The most prevalent occupation was working as a VAD and in many cases, women in the local neighbourhood volunteered on a part time basis.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the Red Cross had secured buildings, equipment and staff, and the organisation was able to set up temporary hospitals as soon as wounded men began to arrive home from abroad. The buildings varied widely, ranging from town halls and schools, to large and small private houses, both in the country and in cities. The most suitable ones were established as auxiliary hospitals.
Belle Vue House became one of 33 Red Cross hospitals in Suffolk during that time and was used for convalescence between 1914 and 1918. Servicemen often preferred auxiliary hospitals to military hospitals because they were not so strict, they were less crowded and the surroundings were more homely. At Belle Vue, patients returned from war were recovering from frostbite, gunshot wounds and shellshock.
She also writes in her scrapbook, the news that 4000 troops were billeted at Melford Hall and neighbouring Kentwell for a duration of 12 nights. Both gunners and infantry were part of the East Anglian Division of Royal Artillery (territorials) who were heading to Bury St Edmunds from Braintree. Soldiers on the march were still a novelty at this early stage of the war and villagers would have greeted their passage with tea and fruit. It’s said that plums seemed very refreshing at the time, although some of the men were later to regret their enthusiasm!
It’s estimated that around 500 men left the west Suffolk village of Long Melford to fight in the First World War and the names of the 95 who lost their lives in the conflict are listed on the village war memorial. Just how many of this small village did Stephanie know?
We look back to this period on Sunday 17 August, when there will be a special afternoon commemorating the First World War at Melford Hall. We will be re-creating the fundraising event for the Red Cross detailed in Stephanie Hyde Parker’s scrapbook, in what will be the chance to see Red Cross nurses working hard towards the war effort and soldiers preparing to leave for the Battle Front.
Images: With the kind permission of the Estate of Stephanie Duke (née Hyde Parker).