I was deeply charmed by this story, perhaps in part because it is so small scale. In the summer of 1914, William and Marta Pattison, residents of Middlesbrough, found themselves divided by world events. Marta had gone on summer holiday to visit her family in Germany, taking their two children Frida and Renee with her. William was to go join them for his two weeks vacation from his job as an office clerk at the Cleveland Salt Company. Instead, the Great War intervened and they found themselves caught on opposite sides of the lines.
The couple's granddaughter, Barbara Bishop, has now made available selections from the diaries that both of them kept during their separation.
WILLIAM: July 31 Received a letter and newspaper from Marta saying that war rumours were in the air....At the end of the letter, Marta says: 'I wish I was at home and all this horrid war up in the moon. It is spoiling my holiday because one gets quite nervous.'Their separation turned out to be unexpectedly short. In October William came down with appendicitis and then peritonitis. His life was considered to be in danger and with the help of the Masons it was arranged for Marta to get into neutral Holland and from there back to Britain where she helped nurse William back to health.
This made me fearfully uneasy, for I have been relying on their knowing the position better than I did - there was little or no excitement here... That night I sent a telegram to Frankfurt saying they should go at once, with Otto, to Rotterdam, if it was safe to travel and I would go to Rotterdam with them.
MARTA: July 31 Mobilisation is expected hourly. I went therefore to the station to send my husband a telegram. It is too late to get away ourselves, as all trains are being held ready for troop transport.
The station is occupied by troops. I sent the telegram: I STAY PLEASE DO NOT COME. LOVE. And yet, I wish I were with my dear Willy, for I feel dreadful. Everything is in turmoil, I think sometimes I must be dreaming.
It is a terrible state to be in.
WILLIAM: August 1 After an almost sleepless night expecting a reply to my telegram, I was at the office at 8.30 and found the telegram I was expecting....It said: 'I am staying here, please don't come.' So now I don't know whether they will set off or not.
MARTA: August 1: A telegram arrived from my dear husband saying that if it was safe, I should leave at once and he would meet me in Rotterdam. I was naturally very bothered by this [but].. it happened as I had feared, there was no longer any proper rail connection, and Otto was only able to send a telegram - in German - saying: TRAVEL NO LONGER SAFE. MUST SAY HERE.
So the war that I feared has come. All around, there are weeping women and children saying Goodbye to their loved ones. There are many hurried weddings, where the man has to go away.
It is dreadful to go down the streets. Everyone is rushing about, vast numbers of cars, and the soldiers all in new uniforms - everything has a warlike look about it and there is no longer any hope of my [Willy] getting back home soon.
August 3 Renée can now walk very well, and Friedele speaks German very well. If only Willy could see and hear it all. I wish I knew if he is well and if he has the same longing for us as we have for him.
August 4 What a night that was! We now know that we are really at war. I was wakened during the night by continuous gunfire, and Mother, Father and Otto were up too.
And now, the worst of all: England has declared war on Germany! And I am quite cut off from my dear husband and cannot write to him any more. What will become of him?
WILLIAM: August 4 The eventful day. Rumours abroad that Germany has declared war on England. Government have proclaimed a four day Bank Holiday. Banks do not open until Friday - bank rate is 10% - unprecedented!
August 5 Very bad night, and troubled all day with awful thoughts, but glad Marta and the children are with their own people.
MARTA: August 7 The first great victory! Liège has been taken by the Germans. Everyone is rejoicing over the victory, but I had a terrible longing today for my dear one. My postcard came back, but I also got 2 letters from Willy, and of course that raised our homesickness again. If only I knew how he is!
Friedele (Frida) and Renée always kiss his photograph with me.
WILLIAM: August 14 This was to have been the day of my departure to Frankfurt, to spend my fortnight holiday, but alas, there seems to be no immediate prospect.
MARTA: August 14 How often and how many times have I been thinking of my dear Willy today! It was today he was to have set off for here: and I am still having to wait. My poor dear boy, I wonder how much you will be thinking of us.
WILLIAM: August 19 Today is the anniversary of the day we got engaged in 1909 and I have had a terrible day, thinking about them all.
MARTA: August 19 How different today would have been if my dear Willy had been here! It is 5 years today that I promised to be his wife, and what happy times we have spent together since.
WILLIAM: September 1 A paragraph in the papers refers to a possible exchange of women and children between England, Germany and Austria. Wrote at once to the Foreign Office. TWO LETTERS, ONE IN GERMAN, ONE IN ENGLISH, CAME FROM MARTA, OTTO AND FATHER!!.....Rode at once to Pembroke Street with the news.
Mother and Lily wept, and father looks years younger already.
MARTA: September 2 The police came wanting to see my papers today. I wonder what they want?
September 6 I got another letter from my dear husband. This time it came via Norway. It was sweet to see Renee and Friedele kiss it.
In the afternoon I sat there with the letter in my pocket, and Renee came up to me, took it out and said 'Daddy'. Poor little dears, I am sure they miss Daddy as much as I do.
WILLIAM: September 21 Marta's 27th birthday.
September 22 About 50 more Germans from Middlesbrough were taken away for internment at York yesterday, as Middlesbrough has been declared a prohibited area.
October 10 This is a crucial time. We are living in stirring times. My brain seems bewildered with such frequent occurrences and my head always aches.