A Knight’s Tale (11: A Pack Of Ravening Wolves)

I have inserted the following section into https://derrickjknight.com/2021/08/05/a-knights-tale-10-after-the-revolution/

Mabel further tells us:

“Hardly a night passed without hearing shots and people shouting and running. After a while I got accustomed to it so that it did not wake me.

At night the soldiers would raid the grocers’ shops and get out the wine. One day outside my house I saw a stream of wine running down the gutters. The soldiers had been ordered to get rid of all the wine they could find, and they were pumping it out of the cellars.

Clothing got to such a price that people were often stopped in the street and forced to take off their clothes, boots, and other articles, going home almost naked. A girl of 18 years was made to take off all except her chemise. “now go home, dear, or you will catch cold, they said. She was a friend of one of my pupils.”

It seemed an important omission.

To continue, in Mabs’s own words:

“One of our first preparations was to have a sale of our smaller properties – such as linen cloths, embroideries, and objects which we could not take home with us. Then followed a very curious sight – English ladies standing in the street displaying costumes, coats, etc. How eagerly these were bought by the Russians. On the day of departure the drossy driver, who came to fetch my elder sister with her luggage, stopped her when she was to clean out her porridge pot before giving it to him. “Oh, please let me have it as it is” he cried, not wishing to lose even a mouthful of food, so precious as it was. The journey was by no means pleasant – one consoling thing being to be able at the different stations where we stopped, to take our teapots up the platform to the hot water supply and get a cheering cup of tea.”

Remembering that WW1 was still not over, this was their convoluted route home:

“We travelled via Finland, crossing the Gulf of Bothnia to Sweden and through to Norway.

At Voss in the hotel we had a most wonderful meal, the best we had had for months. I am afraid we all looked like a pack of ravening wolves, and indeed manners seemed a detail. The waitresses just stared at us in amusement. One day we were taken for a lovely drive round the fiords.

The came the dangerous crossing from Bergen to Aberdeen.

After staying one night in Aberdeen we arrived in London in October, about two weeks before the Armistice.”

Mabel and Ethel stayed at a hostel in London. After a few days they both found jobs: Mabel, fluent in German, at the Prisoners of War Bureau; and Ethel doing secretarial work at the Grand Hotel.

After the Bureau closed down Mabel returned to her normal profession in May 1920. This was a pleasant two year post teaching the four daughters of General Hessey at Hellingley, near Eastbourne.

Each summer, in order to keep up her languages and foreign travel, she took holiday engagements in Holland and Belgium.


      1. After starving like that, I’m not surprised. They surmise that starvation may have been at the root of many of Audrey Hepburn’s issues.

  1. My gosh! Such vivid writing. What a gripping television series it would make! Here are a couple of the detail that stood out for me: The driver who wanted the last spoonfuls of porridge, people being forced to strip their clothes, the cheering cup of tea. So very glad you are taking your time with this and are featuring it as your own series.

  2. Wow–stripping people in the street for clothing! I guess clothing and wine were too bourgeois?
    I agree with Laurie’s comments above.
    What a journey they had! It makes one really feel for those who were not able to escape–and yet, I know conditions for many were horrible under the Tsar. That’s why my relative left.

  3. I think the writing talent runs in your family, Derrick. The descriptions in your great-aunt’s diary are so vividly picturesque, they almost read like fiction, if I had not known them to be accurate.

  4. This is a gripping narrative which draws us right into the events. Exciting for us a distance away, yet how frightening to actually experience them!

  5. This has me on the edge of my seat! It is playing like an award winning movie in my head…this to me is a sign of great writing.
    You’re doing a beautiful job writing down your family history, Derrick! And what a boon to have Mabel’s own words to weave into your book. Wow. This gets me joy-teary-eyed. You are both such excellent writers! šŸ™‚
    Again, reading of these precious lives makes me so grateful for everything we have today. And grateful to them for being such amazing women and role models.

  6. Fascinating personal history! I hope you have this all in one document. Who knows, maybe it could turn into a book or even a movie!

    1. Thanks very much, JoAnna. These are all extracts from my late brother Chris’s papers – I believe Elizabeth has seen the original, so I may be able to check.

  7. So graphic and interesting, Derrick. Mabel and Ethel certainly had a tale to tell…I was only seven when told that Dad was “Going Off to fight in the war,” and my older brother said “Will you shoot Hitler Dad?!” which caused a laugh…It was September, 1939. The start of our first, big adventure. Cheers.

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