Song and Dance
When I got to the age where I was able to toddle around, I and my sister Sarah were sent each week for dancing lessons at Miss Ballantine’s in a red brick house in Hans Place near Harrods. All I remember was that there was someone playing a piano in the corner of the first floor room and we were given stars on our shoes and two or three smarties if we did well. Of course, I seem to remember I had more stars than Sarah although she may dispute such a recollection.
We all enjoyed the dancing lessons given to us later on at school, whilst at St Andrews University I helped run the Scottish Reeling Club. In turn this led to my Burns Nights held here at the Castle which is always one of my happiest weekends in the most the wintery of months. I tend to be light on information when I ask people to come, simply saying that will be a little dancing but that it is just a great party.
We always have the most tremendously eclectic group of friends, quite a few of whom have never reeled before. In fact, a wonderful French friend of mine is still talking bemusedly about it two years later. Dancing and song, very simply, bring people together.
On the Heroes at Highclere weekend, the Gatsby Girls are once again coming to teach us all how to dance on both the Saturday and Sunday. It is such fun both learning the routine and watching all those taking part, and impossible not to laugh and smile. It is, I suppose, our own version of “Strictly Come Dancing” at “Downton”. There are other bands who will entertain us and, of course, on Sunday, a bagpiper: the Pipe Major of the Queen’s Royal Hussars, which was the 6th Earl of Carnarvon’s Regiment, and who has been very kindly organised by the officers of that regiment.
In her book “Fighting on the Home Front”, one of our speakers, war journalist Kate Adie, looks at the impact of music and theatre on the morale of first world troops by telling the story of Lena Ashwell. Lena was another extraordinary woman: a suffragette and theatre impresario, she took on the War Office and, with the help of the Women’s Auxiliary Committee of the YWCA and its royal Patron, Princess Helena Victoria, bought shows and concerts to troops in France, Malta and Egypt.
At first the War Office did not feel any need to entertain the troops who were simply expected to amuse themselves in the breaks between fighting. However, boredom soon led to bawdy skit and song routines being staged by soldiers in drag, something definitely not approved of at the time. The Princess, Lena and, eventually, the War Office decided something a little more morally uplifting was needed and the first concert tour got underway in January 1915. Over the course of the war more than 600 artists, including nearly 350 women, gave endless performances in derelict sheds, railway stations, ships and deserts. Tens of thousands of troops attended and there is a particularly poignant description of a performance by Ivor Novello, who had just written “Keep the Home Fires Burning”, performing his song with the refrain echoing back from over the entire army camp.
The Dowager Countess of Carnarvon too organised choirs for the soldiers returning from the Front – she thought it would help them “travel through” their stress since it requires breath and concentration as well as bringing people together.
Veterans from all countries face the same challenges as their forbears. Singing and choirs are one form of therapy for them and their families thus we are delighted that the Military Wives’ Choir is also joining us on the Sunday. However, I am also aware that, in some cases, more is needed. One of the challenges of distress in mental health is that it is not visible like a broken leg. It may not become apparent until several years after the initial trauma and it needs a practical approach.
I know that therapy centres help enormously and so one of the charities we are supporting in the UK across the weekend is Combat Stress. It was a delight and an honour to meet one of the veterans they have helped and I look forward to learning more about their work in the coming month.
MY DEAR LADY CARNARVON ,
ANOTHER AMAZING HISTORY ON HIGHCLERE CASTLE. I LOVE IT.
Thank you Maria!
To paraphrase Aldous Huxley, music says the unsayable.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Our heartfelt thanks for your calling on Robert to interview regarding Combat Stress. PTSD is a “real” affliction affecting a great number of our returning military. Learning more about combat stress and how it affects the human mind and body will lead to even more treatment answers to this insidious life spoiler. You are appreciated for your leading edge guests with important stories to tell. Thank you.
Thank you for your appreciation and if we can share it, we can help
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
What a touching subject you have featured this morning. Song and dance have played an inspirational yet sad place in our daughters friend group over the last week…
My daughters best friend is the lead singer and guitar player in her own band the musicians ages range from 13 to 15. Last week one of the boys was diagnosed with Leukemia and a very emotional exchange between the friends ensued. Upon visiting him in the children’s hospital this past weekend they brought him his guitar so he could play in the “music therapy room” in the hospital. As the band of friends tried to lift his spirits and their music and dancing has brought them closer together on behalf of this sweet boy & his family.,. Thank you for your attention & conversation; music and dancing heals the soul….
Wonderful helpful information. I commend you for this bit of awareness to those of us who don’t
really know the extent of the problems. Thanks very much.
A noble effort from the women of Britain to open their hearts to the returning veterans of war and to focus on bringing happy times through entertaining and how to help those with the deep trauma of war.. Congratulations on your centennial!
Thank you – you are right, it is a great team and yes it is women helping out…
I think women offer bear the brunt when times are tough, but it is not obvious. I have great team here – sometimes needing champagne…
You really are an amazing woman, Lady Carnarvon. Thank you for providing the place and platform for raising money for these worthwhile charities.
You are a gem.
Next week I am going to share a link to an online auction – so I would be so grateful if that were shared as widely as possible, it should be the real benefit of the internet. There is an excellent and heart warming USA charity too.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Although PTSD (Combat Stress) is very real, many people are not aware that an individual can try and often succeeds in concealing symptoms. Often, only those nearest to the individual can identify the need for remedies. Many symptoms present as drug and alcohol dependence, the inability to cope with everyday stressful situations, the inability to have successful relationships (hence, a high divorce rate), startled at loud noises, insomnia and nightmares, and various physical symptoms. It can tear down the fabric of a person from what they once were to a very different person.
Thank you for addressing this subject and giving it the attention it deserves.
Thank you for your comments I am not a therapist but know that they are needed and can help.
I love any news about helping people with combat stress! Mental illness still has a stigma attached to it and PTSD is so widespread. It warms my heart that you are joining in the cause to educate and help these people. I hope to come and shake you hand someday and give you a hug!
Hugs are good! Thank you
Thank you for sharing.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Than you so much for sharing this with us. I to love dancing especially ballroom dancing, I play the piano as well, and have for many years. Maybe one of these years I can visit Highclere Castle, and meet you.
How wonderful to read about the public events you have at Highlere! I can be there vicariously through the writings you share, which you write so articulately! It was so encouraging to read about your support of the mental health therapy organization for soldiers! Thank you!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Thank you for penning yet another intriguing piece. A particular aspect has aroused my curiosity. In that regard, I refer to the references made to Lena Ashwell, Princess Helena Victoria, the YWCA and the Women’s Auxiliary Force.
It has been my understanding that Lena Ashwell’s “artists” held their concerts under the auspices of, not the YWCA, but rather the YMCA and that applied both “at home and abroad”. I recall reading that the YMCA uniform was tailored to the feminine figure with a badge to signify their role
Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Helena Victoria (“Thora”) was certainly instrumental in all this. The Princess gave incredible support to both the YMCA and the YWCA, but it is my understanding that the Women’s Auxiliary Force was part of the YMCA, not the YWCA. In that regard, I recall reading an article of some years past referring to the members of the WAF as the “Forgotten Angels” of the WMCA.
Now, I point out that the above comes from my recollection (and interpretation) of what I have read. However, one would assume that in 1914 the entertainment of the troops was the providence of the YMCA, rather than the YWCA.
In any event, it apparently was Princess Helena Victoria who lay down the ground rules as to who was suitable to entertain the troops in WW1. The women had to be well-established stars of proven talent, with not a stain on their character!
Importantly, these were remarkable women. They had to cross the English Channel, make their way through quagmires and perform in military camps, on railway stations, race courses etc.
The first concert party of which I am aware took place in February 1915 at Camp 15, Harfleur, in Normandy. Many braved the Channel on multiple occasions travelling back and forth between London’s West End and the Front. And of course there also were the performances in the Middle East.
Obviously, these women had a profound affect on maintaining (& moreover, undoubtedly raising) morale. Their efforts also were obviously appreciated greatly by each and every “Tommy Atkins” that they entertained.
In her memoir, Lena Ashwell described how one night in the darkness her performers were escorted by lines of “Tommies” guiding their steps to the waiting transport with flickering matches in a makeshift guard of honour. She never forgot that moving image.
It would be remiss not to also make mention of the many, many other members of the YMCA Women’s Auxiliary Force whose assistance was not through entertainment but in volunteering to work in canteens and at YMCA Huts in France. By early 2016, there were over 1,000 YWCA workers stationed in France, almost half of whom were women and virtually all of whom were volunteers paying their own expenses.
A handful of these workers were awarded the “Croix de’ Guerre avec palme”. One of them was a young English woman named Betty Stevenson. A PDF tribute to her can be found on the web at:
As referred to at the end of that Article, the Women’s Auxiliary disbanded in 1997 after 85 years of service. It was replaced by YMCA Friends which includes as its members both sexes of all ages.
My apologies for a somewhat long winded ‘indulgence’ into a topic of historical interest. And one that should never be forgotten.
Correction: Although the above-mentioned Article does refer to the Women’s Auxillary being disbanded after 85 years, if that occurred (as stated) in 1997, then the WA’s duration of service was 82/83 years, it apparently having being established in December 1914.
If the above link to that Article fails, try the following: https://webzoom.freewebs.com/yretired/betty%20stevenson%20ymca%20-%20THE%20HAPPY%20WARRIOR%202014.pdf
I saw this quote somewhere: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything”. Thank you what you do to embrace this spirit.
David, what a most appropriate quote to recite for this blog.
It is attributed to Plato and actually is preceded by the sentence:
“Music is a moral law.”
Dear Lady Carnavon. I am so glad I one day happened upon your blog site. I have been so entranced with Egypt and Lord Carnavon since I was a small child. Your Castle is beautiful and how fortunate for some people to actually be able to be amongst all the history there and see your amazing place. I envy them so much as it’s one of those places you dream about visiting but know it will never happen. Blessings to you and I so look forward to your blog. That is how I live my dream. Judy Engstrom
Once again, tears and delight at your special way of connecting with people. God bless, Anne.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I am just reading today’s’ blog. It is a subject close to my heart. As I have written before, my husband was in the Vietnam War. It is only in the last two or three years he ( or any veterans of that war) has been given the proper welcome home they deserved back when they actually came home. It made him almost feel ashamed of serving. this also made it difficult to deal with all the things he went through while over there, since he didn’t feel he could talk about it openly. I still believe he has had PTSD all of these years. It manifested itself in a lot of anger at times. So, I am so very grateful to you for shining light on this very misunderstood syndrome. God Bless you!
See you in few weeks!
Linda S. Smith
I am very glad you are coming here – we can all say they are not forgotten and thank you.
I loved reading this story, It sounds like a brilliant night with everyone enjoying themselves God Bless you and thank you for keeping us informed Love Andrew
Further to my earlier post, I have been able to track down the existence of an article that was written by Lena Ashwell entitled “A Year’s Music at the Front”, which was published in the Strand Magazine during what appears to have been 1916. Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate the entire article but here is a link to a photograph of the first page of the article:
(For ease of reading “zoom in” on the article with your browser.)
On the first page of that article, Lena Ashwell confirms that the suggestion of use of YMCA Huts for “concerts” by performers was made by the Ladies Auxillary Committee of the YMCA of which Princess Victoria was the then ‘Chairman’. “It was February, 1915, that the “Concert for the Front” scheme was started through the YMCA.” The YWCA was not involved – at least not directly.
It also is of historical interest to note that the Princess is referred to in the article by her (then) name of Princess Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein; the article having been written before the King changed the name of the Royal Family to “Windsor” in 1917.
The article is well written and presents as an enjoyable read. The opening paragraph draws one into the article. I would be most interested to read the entire text. Maybe an expert in this subject, such as Ms Adie, might be aware of how one can obtain access to it? Any assistance from fellow bloggers also would be greatly appreciated.
It appears that in January 1915 a British entertainer called “Spencer Hicks” took a troop of performers to France to entertain the troops. From the above article by Ms Ashworth that tour pre-dated even the formation the YMCA’s “Concert for the Front” scheme. However, other than for a one sentence mention of that earlier tour, I have not been able to find anything of detail about it or indeed Spencer Hicks. Again, it would be interesting to learn more.
PS I also have learnt this morning that Lena Ashwell’s second (& final) husband was the Royal Obstetrician, Sir Henry John Forbes Simson. Among others, he delivered both Queen Elizabeth II and her sister, Princess Margaret.
Update: I still haven’t been able to locate the full text of the above-mentioned article by Lena Ashwell. However, I have found online a copy of Lena Ashwell’s novel from 1922 “Modern Troubadours: A Record of Concerts From the Front”. Free access to the entire book is available online at:
(Somewhat surpisingly the online version is of a very good quality and easy to read.)
Imagine Jamiroquai playing in the castle!
Lady Carnarvon, I have to say your dedication to service and community and the welfare of others which you unselfishly give of yourself makes you worthy of a crown! I do look forward to meeting you on my next trip to the UK and visit to Highclere.
With much admiration,
David Charles DuBois/Chicago,USA
Another beautiful article! While I enjoyed reading all of it, I especially enjoyed and appreciated the video at the end…regarding combat stress. Thank you for your dedicated work in spotlighting PTSD! By the way, I was privileged to live in England in the early to mid 80s. I have been blessed to return to my daughter’s birthplace twice more and in 2013 was treated to a visit to your beautiful home, Highclere! Thank you for opening your home to the public. And thank you for your delightful and interesting blog!!! P.S. I have your books and cherish them!
May God bless you for this wonderful commemoration and helping people recover from PTSD; so they can incorporate themselves into normal life.
I cannot wait to visit again. We were there on June 23. My daughters would like to come with us on our next visit
Jo Anne Livingston
Well I hope you bring them!
Excellent article – thank you. However did you know that although Ivor Novello wrote the music for the song “Keep the Home Fires Burning!, the lyrics were written by an American lyricist – Lena Gilbert Brown Ford who was killed during an air raid on London in 1918? https://femalewarpoets.blogspot.com/2016/06/lena-gilbert-brown-ford-1870-07-03-1918.html
Hope absolutely fascinating!