It was a very dull overcast day in the History Department of the large West Country University, and post-graduate student Holly Cogdale picked up her one-hundred-and-umpteenth old and dusty book for ‘repair and preservation’; then she had to decide whether it was of historic value for inclusion in the hallowed halls of the already extremely well supplied University Library, to be passed to another educational establishment or sent back to the Chalonier family for storage in their family archives then present a large paper on historical book discovery, damage, preservation, revue and interpretation that might be worthy of her PhD.

Chalonier Hall was having a massive clear-out prior to some long-needed repairs and renovations to the ‘late Georgian built onto the original Elizabethan’ structure. The Chalonier family were ‘comfortably rich’, courtesy of lots of hard-earned money well invested and also well spent when necessary, since the 10th Lord Chalonier had turned around the family fortunes between the Wars, and both of his sons had graduated from her university after the war and had been supporting it ever since.

From her research and reading Holly knew that the Chalonier’s could date their family way back prior to the Civil War when the family, apparently descended from French nobility with some minor royal blood, had been far-sighted enough to come down on the side of Parliament and the twelfth Lord Chalonier was still a regular visitor to the House of Lords where his kin had sat since before the restoration.

The Post-grad picked up the next book and made to flick it open, this trawl through three hundred years of history was not anywhere near as interesting as she had hoped and the Chaloniers’ were, to be honest, a boring. She picked up the next book and looked at the label, there wasn’t one, so she laid it on her desk and made to pull the front cover open. It appeared to have been glued shut, the type of gum used suggesting to her expert eye that this was not an old book, at least not in terms of some of the other Chalonier bequests.

She turned the book over to check the other binding and felt something slide inside it; that was weird — almost like the thing was hollow. She gave it a further shake and there is was. She thought about what this might mean, and immediately thought of the back-of-a-magazine money-saving-idea treasure box she had made for her kid sister’s birthday when she was a struggling and very poor first-year undergrad.

She’d bought a large thick heavy book from a charity shop and held it closed with elastic bands. Then, using PVA glue she painted the bound pages four or five times until the glue set and book were solidly shut. Taking a sharp kitchen knife she sliced around the top and a small portion came open. Using a ruler, a Stanley knife and a lot of patience she cut out a large square shape leaving an inch thick wall of paper around the edge. She painted the inside of the new ‘box’ with PVA glue and once dried presented it to her sister who had the best birthday present ever, safe storage for her secrets, especially from her brother.

And here, sat in a library preservation room she had found another; OK it looked to be sixty or seventy years old, but a treasure box none the less.

She put the book into a padded envelope and went down the engineering department and her friend Dan who passed the book through the University’s very own x-ray scanner, and he confirmed that while he could hear something in there it wasn’t coming up on the scanner and he guessed it would be more paper.

No great treasure then.


So she took the book back to her workroom and took down the small mask from the shelf and put it on along with the safety glasses just in case there was something unpleasant in there. Finally, Holly switched on her table lamp, took out a scalpel and felt around for a suitable place to cut. Measuring down five millimetres and taking her steel ruler she did what she had done to her charity shop purchased ‘Complete Works of William Shakespeare’ all those years ago and sliced into the book with all the care of a surgeon.

The blade went 10 millimetres in until she knew she was all the way through and she inspected her work, using her fine blue Sharpie to mark the blade to that measurement. Satisfied, she cut along the front edge of the book — no drama. then checking again before slicing along the top edge. Finally, she turned the book over and did the same to the bottom.

She took pictures of her handiwork from every angle before laying the book flat, tucking her cotton-gloved hands under the front cover and raising it.

She turned the light and saw it was a gummed book treasure box like she had made and it contained sheets of paper.

She picked up the first one and read,

“My Special Family Diary” with a date suggesting that it had been written in late 1951.

Not ancient history as she had already guessed, but she photographed the top page with her rostrum camera and lay it flat on the inside cover of the book that had kept it secure for almost seventy years.

She read on.


This is the story of my family, or at least the family I have married in to. If you are reading it this means that you have worked through the hundreds of other small books in the loft where I have secreted it above the study and with all of the other diaries, accounts books and various others of its size but definitely not its nature.

My tale starts in early nineteen sixteen, King George V was on the throne and leading us through the Great War.

I was born a Victorian, grew up an Edwardian and lived in a leisurely time when the right women wore long gowns and lace and lived respectable lives until they married the right men, raised large families to keep doing the same, and the sun never set on the British Empire. My coming out party had been some years before and I got into the whirl of ‘the Season’ in my eighteenth year when my hair was pinned up, my dresses lengthened and was presented at court to the new King George that summer of my debutante year.

We lived in our grand house in London occasionally spending long weeks at my grandparents’ country estate when it was fully opened at Easter. I went to my very first Derby Day, looked gorgeous during Ascot week, more so during the Henley Regatta, went to galleries, the theatre and more parties than I can even remember. What I now know was that I Lady Katherine Morriston of the Westonly Morriston’s was being paraded like a race horse in my finest clothes so I could be seen by the very best men and my net worth and breeding potential could be assessed like thousands of my peers before and after me. When speaking with friends over the years I was to learn that I did raise considerable interest, not just because of my families wealth but of my good looks, pleasant speech and kindness, and what the older matriarchs would have called ‘breeding potential’ based not only on my Mother’s and my Aunt’s fecundity, but on my general good health, the redness in my cheeks, the wideness of my hips and the size of my bosom. As I said, like I was on sale in a stable yard. I’m not angry, nor did I or do I feel used or abused; it was – effectively — what girls of my class and upbringing were raised to.

At nineteen I had married The Honourable George John Charles Chalonier, fourth son of Charles – 9th Lord Chalonier, and was not really enjoying it.

My family had made their fortune in India through hard work and good luck. On his return from Bombay after twenty years on the sub-continent, my great-great-grandfather bought our estate in Oxfordshire and was ennobled by a very young Queen Victoria for his sterling efforts in civilising the population of the great sub-continent while making a vast amount of money from them. It truly was the ‘Jewel in the Crown’.

My husband’s family were old English and could date their peerage back to King Charles 1st, but they had lacked my family’s two highest traits, work and more importantly luck and their finances were not perhaps all they could have been. Lord Charles had four sons and although always kind and pleasant to me seemed none too fond of any of them. They had all graduated from their father’s old Cambridge College to some extent and only the second youngest seemed to be making his way in the world and had stayed on there to study for his Doctorate and then to teach Classics.

The other three, including my Husband, seemed best equipped to marry, then follow ‘the season’ and go to weekend summer house parties and racing in the summer, then shooting, hunting interspersed with drinking and card-playing as the weather chilled; just as men of their breeding had been raised to do for many years. Only Lord Charles could be accused of doing anything slightly constructive and even that was to breed racehorses and he wasn’t terribly good at that.

With the murder of Archduke Ferdinand we found ourselves at war with Germany and Austria-Hungary and before we knew it I was at Chalonier Hall and wishing a fond farewell to my two brothers-in-law Charles and Edmund who had both volunteered for service in their county regiment, the same one that Lord Charles had served in during the Boer and Zulu wars. My brother’s-in-law looking tall and gallant in their khaki uniforms with jodhpurs, set off with highly polished riding boots and Sam Browne belts and their very sharp looking peaked caps set jauntily on their heads.

Their youngest brother and my husband George seemed only moderately interested in their departure and had actually suggested that only I go to the hall to see them off, as he still had some business to do in London. I had a rough idea of who, rather than what, that business was. I said that his father would be angry but George’s response was that seeing as both of the glory-seeking idiots would be home by Christmas with the rest of the British Expeditionary Force why should he waste his time travelling out to the family seat.

The second Chalonier son, Edmund was the first to fall for his country, killed in a defensive action at the Battle of the Mons due to an open and vulnerable flank caused by the sudden retreat of the French. The BEF fell back to the Marne and following this a line of trenches opened up across the continent and became the Western Front.

The eldest Brother Charles was killed in the First Battle of Ypres, by which time third brother Henry the Cambridge Academic had enlisted and was an officer in the Coldstream Guards. He had only been in France for five weeks before he led his platoon of Guardsmen into the Somme battlefield where he was to fall on the third day.

My husband George finally joined the county regiment disappointed that his connections, unlike brother Henry, couldn’t get him a commission into the more socially exclusive Guards Brigade and I went to the station with him to see him on his way, but he did little more than kiss my cheek and threaten me that if in his absence anything happened to either of his dogs I would know about it when he returned.

I had one letter from him from his camp on the Sussex Downs and even that was to tell me that while some of his brother officers’ wives were visiting I was not to, the last thing he needed was me being around for his colleagues to tease him for. I later found at that he stayed in the occasional local hotel with one of three women, neither of whom he was married to, two of which I knew.

I eventually heard through my father-in-law that he had sailed for France and his Battalion was going forward into Belgium and the next push. Lord Charles did seem slightly worried now, seeing as the last of his sons had headed off to war leaving him with three daughters-in-law but no Grandchildren.

Late in the autumn in that morning’s Times, my eye was drawn to the casualty lists and George’s regiment. I read that Lieut. Chalonier G was ‘missing’ and I dropped the newspaper in shock. It was picked up by a maid who looked at the page, sniffed and said a simple,

“Chin up Lady Chalonier, where there’s life there’s ‘ope!”

I wasn’t convinced there was either. But the next morning I received a telegram from Lord Charles telling me that my Husband had been quite badly wounded but was in a military hospital in France while they got him well enough to be sent home. In the meantime The Times had a further mention of him and his outstanding bravery, suggesting that even though terribly wounded he had held the enemy back from the very important Hill 861 single-handed after all of his men had been killed by the German Artillery that had left him so terribly maimed.

Another two weeks on and still with no news I had a telephone call from his Regimental Headquarters telling me to go to Charing Cross Hospital where Charles was being taken to straight from Waterloo Station where he had arrived that morning.

I was shown to his bed and Lord Charles was already there, being very matter of fact and quite bullish despite his remaining son being wrapped in blood-stained bandages and showing no signs of life. His head was almost completely wrapped while his right side was equally well wrapped and padded.

It was strange; the thing I remember about those three hours was how quickly they seemed to go and how all I could do was look at the change in him. He had lost weight since he’d enlisted, gained his commission and them gone to France, and it seemed all of the training had broadened his shoulders, tightened his chest and abdominal muscles and flatten his stomach. In a tender gesture I had never seen before from his Father, Lord Charles had brushed gently at the unmistakeable clump of Chalonier wiry black hair stuck out from the top of the bandages, even that seemed fuller and almost with a faint curl to it.

George, although looking like he had been badly wrapped for mummification, the army had made a new man of him reducing his fat belly and making him very fit and toned despite his injuries. That was strange, George had been the single most unathletic human being I’d ever known.

Before the war, he’d insisted on driving or riding everywhere, even out to the gun line for partridge, grouse and pheasant shooting. He was one of the few of his kind that had never stalked a deer to a successful outcome always giving up before the end, and after marrying me stopped riding to hounds because he said that the heavy saddles brought on his hemorrhoids; but looking at him now it was plain that somehow he must have taken to the military life and the exercise, despite his two year grumbling insistence that he stay at home to ‘manage the estates’.

His father had looked askance at him for that — on the rare occasions he went to Chalonier Hall, he did little around the estate office, choosing only to shout at those that WERE doing something, demand tea, demand whiskey or bully anyone younger or smaller than him.

After that last Christmas dinner in 1915 Lord Charles had handed George the portrait of his uncle, his cousin and his two eldest brothers all in their khaki uniforms, looking out from pride of place on the mantlepiece, and Daddy’s single glance at the four and then back at his still civilian son had him burning deep with resentment, not the English pride his father was hoping for.

George Chalonier finally applied for his commission during that Christmas holiday, not through the urgings of his friends, family or his Father who had taken to wearing his uniform as Colonel of the Regiment, but quite simply because he wanted to sneak in and choose his regiment before conscription was finally introduced in January 1916, even going so far as to show a letter to the recruiting officer quoting the various ailments his Harley Street Physician had now apparently cured him off, thus rendering him fit to take his place in his county regiment and to lead his men against the foe; the men from his home county, from his estates, from his villages, lead them into battle against the hated Hun.

Not forgetting of course that many of those self-same men had been fighting the hated Hun for two years already.

He was sent to his Officer Training Battalion in Newmarket spending four months there and leaving as a newly commissioned Second Lieutenant, but finding my grandmother’s one time groom and footman Daines, now a battle-hardened Lance Corporal, at the training battalion with the Company Lines all a chatter about his being awarded a Military Medal to go with his Mons Star ribbon on his chest and his wound stripe fresh on his arm, the latter from the Battalion’s hard fighting. George hated that someone he knew off and had some secrets about was the topic of conversation, more so than 2nd Lieutenant Chalonier, the third of his family, son of the Colonel of the Regiment and he must have hated that. So much so that he made it his day’s work to get the hero assigned as his orderly. He needed a man to look after him, why not have one that knew his place and knew how to be a gentleman’s gentleman.

The Battalion was preparing to go back to France and the last thing it needed was a trained and experienced man like L/CPL Daines taken out of the line to be an orderly, and his request was rejected, and he ended up with Private Scott, a barely literate boy who struggled to prepare his own kit let alone look after someone as prestigious and worthy as the next Lord Chalonier.

George wrote to his father telling him how Daines was an impertinent fellow who objected to his return to being a servant after two years of warfighting and but his complaint fell on deaf ears. Next, he complained to the Battalion Commander but he knew of Daines’s value to the Battalion and this too fell on deaf ears. Finally, he met his new company commander in the mess and was delighted to find that he was an old school friend that had been away as ADC to the divisional commander and after a year of bringing the right drinks and acquiring the best quarters he sent back to the Battalion in glory as a Major. He was very much cut from the same cloth as my husband and had never met, certainly never fought beside the ‘impertinent Daines’ and a charge was found that was sufficient to have the company favourite busted back down to Private soldier ‘to teach him a lesson and his damned place’ – much to the chagrin of many of the ‘Old Contemptibles’ in the Battalion who by now knew Lieutenant Chalonier for the lazy tyke he was, more interested in his own comforts than he was for the fighting ability of his battalion.

The Battalion was finally ordered from their French Training depot that summer to support the third Battle of Ypres which started well but was to descend into the mud and misery of Passchendaele.

The report in The Times stated how George’s ‘A’ company had been ordered forward into a heavily shelled position that was key to the defence of the entire sector from which few returned. George was found in a bloody shell-hole with two dead soldiers and the remains of others, still shooting a rifle propped on some barbed wire and responsible for the three dead and four wounded Germans before him that had been advancing and trying to take Hill 861 that so many had died for.

When reinforcements finally arrived he was badly wounded, with bullet and shell fragments doing great damage to his face and later blast damage to his entire right side. He only survived thanks to the inspirational and lifesaving work of a young Royal Army Medical Corps Surgeon who had pretty much stitched his face back together, then cleaned the mud and as much shrapnel as he could find out of the horrendous wounds on his leg, chest, and shoulder.