Letters documenting royal life in Norfolk during the First World War have been uncovered
- Credit: Archant
Intimate details of royal domestic life in Norfolk during the First World War have been uncovered among a Holt man's inherited family papers.
Letters from Robert FitzGerald's grandfather, Robert Joseph Willan, to his wife Dorothy tell of shooting parties, jokes, temper tantrums, illnesses and personalities at Sandringham during part of 1915.
Mr Willan, a Royal Navy surgeon, had been commanded by King George V to oversee the health of one of his sons, Prince Albert.
The prince, then aged 19, later became King George VI, father of the present Queen. At the time he was serving in the navy and suffering from repeated gastric illnesses.
Mr Willan's royal duties meant he spent three autumn months in Sandringham, staying in York Cottage on the estate, with occasional trips to Buckingham Palace.
His detailed letters have recently been brought together in one document by Mr FitzGerald, of Beech Close, High Kelling, who was passed the correspondence by his brother, David.
'I vaguely knew about it, but I had never seen it. It dropped into my lap about six months ago and when I read it my eyes were out like organ stops,' said Mr FitzGerald.
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He has few memories of his grandfather, who achieved the rank of rear admiral, had a distinguished naval and medical career, and died in 1955 when Robert was 11.
'I do remember that he was a really lovely, gentle and kind. I recall visiting him in London and him getting out some cash and giving it to an ancient spinster aunt saying: 'Take the boy to the theatre',' he added. The letters reveal that Mr Willan became a trusted confidant of George V and his wife, Queen Mary, and was well-liked by Prince Albert and his younger sister, Princess Mary. At one time the prince sent Mr Willan's three-year-old daughter Olive, who became Mr FitzGerald's mother, a toy dog and, on another occasion, he drew her a black cartoon-style cat in military uniform which Princess Mary gorily embellished with blood dripping from its brandished sword. Mr FitzGerald is also the proud owner of a pair of antlers given to his grandfather from a stag which Prince Albert shot at Balmoral.
He said: 'I have always had a huge interest in that period and it's rather wonderful that this little treasure trove should come my way.'
Excerpts from the correspondence
October 9, 1915
'The King asked me if I would care to accompany the shooting party so at 10- we departed.... Lady Farquhar and the Queen with Princess Mary joined us at lunch which was held in a huge marquee in the middle of a stubble field. Outside was a big charcoal stove for it was a real 'Carlton Hotel £2-2-0' [the modern equivalent is £218.57] lunch! But of course done privately by Lord Farquhar.'
... 'When the Queen says goodnight she shakes hands all round. When PA and PM say goodnight to the Queen they first kiss her hand then her cheek. They kiss the King on the cheeks.
October 11, 1915
'Did I tell you that they practise the daylight saving 'dodge' here? All clocks are half an hour in advance of railway time so as to get an extra hour of daylight. As one seldom goes out of the grounds it does not matter. It is referred to as 'Sandringham time' as opposed to 'ordinary time' (this policy was established by King Edward VII, when he was Prince of Wales, and allowed more daylight shooting time on the estate).
October 16, 1915
'A great saying of the children here is 'I am zee Queen of zee Nezzerlands'! This is what the Prince Consort (Dutch) said to King George when the latter politely enquired at a big coronation function of the said prince as to who he was! 'The court are very bitter about the ingratitude of the King and Queen of Greece for the latter have received so much financial aid from the Royal Family and they are just as sick with Ferdinand of Bulgaria or 'Ferdy' as he is always referred to .... 'Ferdy' came over for the King's coronation. It appears he can't ride at all so in addition to a quiet horse having to be allotted to him they had a man on either side of his nag to steady him if looked likely to fall off ... and he had the cheek to send a messenger to the King saying that he would be glad to have the horse as a souvenir. King George sent a forcible 'go to hell' message back to Ferdy!'
October 19, 1915
'This afternoon I was shown all round Sandringham House. By jove it is a beautiful place – far nicer than I ever thought. But it is spoilt by there being too many treasures – cases of watches or miniatures or jewels all tucked in so tight with priceless things that you can't appreciate a single one of them. And the tables of various rooms are so covered with 'em that there is no room to write or deposit anything on them. And all the rooms are packed with pictures from ceiling to floor. On a window frame is scratched 'Louise' 'Victoria' and 'Harry'. 'Harry' being the family name of the Queen of Norway.'
October 22, 1915
'Yesterday we went to Snettisham Beach to have lunch in Queen Alexandra's bungalow there. It's just a two-roomed (with WC) place. It is built on the edge of the beach (on the banks of The Wash) It is built very quaintly. Like Sandringham it is very much over furnished. It was built in 1907 at the time Shackleton returned therefore most of the decorative china is penguins etc! The caretaker had lighted the kitchen and sitting room fires beforehand. PA and PM rode while Mlle and I came in a huge wagonette drawn by two huge grey horses. The footman deposited the lunch baskets and we did the rest. PM made the salad and boiled the eggs making a furious dash for the kitchen shouting that she'd forgotten all about the beastly eggs and that they'd be as hard as bricks as they'd been boiling for over four minutes! Prince Albert made toast at the kitchen fire while I did the same in the sitting room. Mlle laid the table so we were all as busy as bees. The place was well stocked with crockery – all Danish – a good deal of unnecessary gear came in the way of silver plates forks spoons etc. I must say it was a very jolly luncheon feast.'
October 31, 1915
'I shot very badly. We had the usual enormous lunch in a tent. Lord F ate: soup, hashed venison (hot), chicken casserole (hot), tongue (cold), boiled apple pudding (hot), cheese, fruit, coffee, two glasses of whiskey and soda, one glass of port, brandy liqueur – not bad for a man of 71!!! Instead of one 'little hole,' nature must have given him four at least!'
November 1915 Buckingham Palace
'There is great consternation here for Mr and Mrs King (!) are motoring through tomorrow and as they have the car sealed up everyone inside nearly vomits for even a short journey so a 120-mile ride is no joke. Lady Mary Trefusis solemnly asked me if I could suggest anything to produce a few sneezes so that she could be regarded as infectious and therefore to go by train!'
November 3, Sandringham
'This afternoon we played golf and, wonderful to relate, finished a nine-hole round properly, ie we scored. PA is a shocking bad sportsman at any game. If he is losing, his temper goes. If he is playing bezique he wishes to tear the cards up. If he's playing golf he uses diabolical language, kicks his bag, empties his clubs and tries to break them all up. Yesterday, while busy with the latter, I asked him what the devil he though he was doing – after that things were better for he knows I have got the King's ear and he is frightened. I told him that if he did not try to curb his temper he will kill somebody one day. He replied yes, he was afraid so, for he had already nearly done so. He told me that he threw a lump of metal at David [his older brother, later Edward VIII]. This struck him in the side and he had to be put to bed'.... 'It really takes all my time to put up with it. It make me feel quite ashamed and miserable. Still I have to put up with it because it would ne'er do to get kicked out!'