Tuesday, 28 October 2014


Having missed the opportunity to assist with humanitarian aid during the Boer War Mabel Adamson was not going to be left behind for this one. As this had been a completely impulsive decision, Mabel did not arrive with a plan but with a zest for adventure. At forty five years of age, like so many women of her day, the war gave her a new purpose - and one that had never been so fulfilling.

Mabel and Anthony arrived in Liverpool on October 27th, 1914 to a very different England. The first change she encountered was that strict immigration restrictions had been put into effect. "It is very difficult getting into England now," she wrote to her mother. "All the passengers were assembled in the saloon and no one is allowed off until they are cross-questioned as to their nationality, business, etc, and all foreigners have to have passports." Gone were the days of easy travel as this emergency measure would never be repealed.
Mabel Cawthra Adamson c.  1910

Mabel would have to adjust to the new paper money being issued by the banks as well. During the financial panic that followed the declaration of war, gold sovereigns, which had been the hallmark of the British Empire, were recalled by the banks under the Currency and Bank Note Act of 1914 for fear of money hoarding. The Currency and Bank Note Act gave His Majesty's Treasury the power to issue one pound and ten shilling bank notes as legal tender which would increase the availability of money by printing it.

The city of London was changed too with patriotic flags hung on every post, recruiting posters in every window, excited newsboys selling local and foreign papers and Red Cross collection boxes everywhere. At night a blackout was imposed on the city, with shop windows covered in dark paper, street lamps turned off and only red lanterns hung to guide traffic. One large search light scanned continuously at the entrance to Hyde Park giving an eery glow to the fog.

In spite of signs everywhere that war was raging not so far away, Londoners themselves seemed to be disconnected from the horrors and almost appeared to be enjoying the spirit of pageantry in the city. "We danced every night," one socialite of the time remembered years later. "It was only when someone you knew well or with whom you were in love was killed, that you minded really dreadfully."

A columnist wrote,"It requires some effort to realize that London is almost within hearing distance of the great battle of the Aisne. Business proceeds very much as usual...the shops are crowded with busy, animated but very matter-of-fact shoppers...one has to wait for a table in a popular cafe...the only real reminder is the sign 'Quiet for the Wounded' that swings outside Charing Cross Hospital." 

Although in time, the wounded in their bright blue convalescent uniforms and women wearing mourning black would start to dominate the cityscape, in these early days the only people that seemed to be affected by the war were the thousands of displaced Belgian refugees flooding into England. By mid-October, more than a hundred thousand had crossed the channel.

Mabel Adamson was determined to make a difference with the war effort and the Belgian refugees became her new focus. As an initial gesture, she had brought with her trunk loads of old clothes collected from all her friends and acquaintances in Toronto. She had no intention of leisurely passing the time away between Agar's visits on leave like so many of the other women and eagerly got right to work.