Ashby and the First World War: letters at the front

Our Archivist Alessandra Giovenco was recently surprised to receive an enquiry from Holly Kirby, researcher at Attingham Park in Shropshire.

As part of the National Trust’s commemorations for the centenary of the First World War, Holly has been looking into the life of Teresa Hulton, who, after the war, became wife of the 8th Lord Berwick and lived out her days at Attingham. The connection with the BSR, however, is to be found far from the wooded valleys of Shropshire.

At the start of the First World War Teresa worked in London with Belgian refugees but in 1915 she moved to Italy to serve as a Red Cross nurse on the frontline and at a soldiers’ canteen  at Cervignano station. Some of you may remember our coverage of last year’s First World War exhibition of wartime photographs by the BSR’s third Director Thomas Ashby. It turns out that a copy of the photograph below was found with some of Teresa’s other documents — Teresa and Thomas Ashby worked together for the Red Cross in Italy, and many letters from Ashby are to be found in the Shropshire Archives.


Thomas Ashby at the front 1915-18. Image courtesy of BSR Photographic Archive.

Below is an extract from Holly’s blog, but if you want to delve deeper, you can see past blog posts at (we were pleased to hear that there will be more Ashby updates in the coming months!). This particular extract is taken from the November 2015 post.

‘Other new acquaintances included many British ambulance workers who supported the Cervignano hospital. One such ambulance driver was Dr Thomas Ashby, an archaeologist and Third Director of the British School in Rome. As a pacifist and conscientious objector, he took on the role with the Ambulance Unit so that he could contribute without fighting. Dr Ashby helped Teresa to find petrol for the car that she drove and to have it repaired so that she could use it for war work. For further information on his WWI photograph collection, please click here.

Dr Thomas Ashby during the 1915-1918 war.

Dr Thomas Ashby during the war.

By 1917 nearly 1,300 ambulances owned by the Joint Committee formed of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John were serving the front line of fighting. Sixty were in Italy. A ‘Transport of Wounded Fund’ was established to help meet the cost of running the vehicles, which averaged £4,500 a week. Ambulance drivers usually took the wounded from the field hospitals to clearing hospitals and from there to hospital trains. However, at times they collected wounded men from first-aid posts where they were often under shell fire.

Ambulance convoy, Arquata, northern Italy.

Ambulance convoy, Arquata, northern Italy. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 5408)

 Although it was hard work, Teresa was delighted with her new occupation, writing: ‘I should like to stay on here until the end of the year.’ Like many women, Teresa found that war work had financial benefits and informed her sister of her situation: ‘I have plenty of money to spare as life here is so cheap.’

Teresa Hulton on the Italian front.

Teresa Hulton on the Italian front.

Holly would like to thank Saraid Jones, Interpretation Officer at Attingham, for coordinating and editing the Attingham blog, and Jean Davis, National Trust volunteer, for her help in researching the wartime letters written by Teresa’s mother, Costanza.

Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager)