Friday, 01 July 2016

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: Somme Special

A century has passed since the white heat of the Great War. How did The Lady reflect the changes wrought by the conflict?

Written by Thomas Blaikie

First World War Archive

Exactly 100 years since the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1 July 1916), and thinking about the First World War, I have decided to delve once again into the archive of The Lady: what impact did the war have on manners and behaviour?

Superficially very little, but in a quiet way The Lady in July 1916 reflects the lives of women in wartime. Daily Difficulties was a regular feature in the magazine, a kind of competition where a problem was set (in other words, a manners dilemma) and readers were invited to submit their solutions, which were then ‘marked’. The names of those who had supplied both ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ answers were printed in the magazine. Here are two Daily Difficulties that reflect the times uncompromisingly.

Mrs A’s son is a private soldier on active service. He has been overwhelmed by kind friends sending him ‘comforts’ of every kind, but he has requested that no more clothing be sent to him unless he specifically asks for it – because often what is given he is not able to keep unless it is absolutely necessary. But when his mother’s friend, Mrs B, calls on Mrs A, she reveals that her little daughters are busy knitting scarves for her son and what is his address so they can send them to him?

What to do?
Should Mrs A be brutally honest? Is the priority to spare her son the burden of all this knitwear in a time of war? No, quite the opposite: she must give Mrs B the address and think no more of it. Excess items can always be given to other Tommies who don’t have as many friends. Not everything is just going to be chucked away, whatever her son says. It would be wrong to rebuff Mrs B and her poor little daughters. Besides, the soldier will surely be pleased by their efforts in particular since they are so young. This solution is effective for contemporary and more trivial versions of this problem: overwhelming quantities of ‘stuff’ donated for a bring-and-buy sale? Well, never refuse a gift. It’s up to the organisers to find a use for what they can’t use.


The second ‘Difficulty’ concerns a timid lady who has been asked to help out at a Flag Day (ie, a charity event for the war effort) by a formidable titled lady with whom she is not on visiting terms. Subsequently timid lady turns down other requests for help because she is already committed. But it is now the day before the Flag Day and timid lady has heard nothing from titled lady. She wonders if she should dare to approach this elevated person, but surely it is too late? Also, to further her unhappiness, she realises that those she refused to help will assume she was just making excuses and not telling the truth if she is nowhere to be seen on Flag Day.

Is it to be assumed that titled lady is just too grand to care? Or that timid lady should give up her as a bad lot and offer to assist elsewhere? Or that social niceties regarding visiting should take precedence over fundraising? No, absolutely not. Titled lady is probably awfully busy with armies of ladies to organise for Flag Day. She might well have sent a message or letter that went astray (I’ve often mentioned how we falsely ascribe bad intentions to others). Timid lady should telephone her at once or even call on her (forget all the complicated rigmarole re: who could visit whom). She would in fact be at fault if she didn’t because she had promised titled lady that she would help. Getting hold of some flags from titled lady and finding a place to sell them is all she has to do. Even if titled lady has forgotten her it’s hardly a terrible strain on her to give her some flags to sell.

So, for The Lady then, as we hope now, common sense was always more important than narrow social correctness.

Please send your questions to or to The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

Forgot your password?
Click to read our digital edition

Boarders Dormitory Master-Mistress
We are looking to appoint a Dormitory Mistress/Master for 5 nights per week, weekday evenings and nights only, term time. (35 weeks). [...]


Housekeeper to Headmaster
We have an opportunity for an experienced live-out housekeeper. You will provide a cleaning and hospitality service for the Headmaster and his guests and help to ensure the household runs efficiently. [...]


Full Time Housekeeper, Nanny
We are looking for a full time, live-out housekeeper/nanny. We are a relaxed young couple living in a large country house, and will have one newborn baby. [...]


Experienced Carer, Companion, Housekeeper needed
Our elderly mother needs a live in carer/companion on a part time basis. Must be warm hearted, calm & compassionate, with a good sense of humour. [...]


Cook, Housekeeper wanted
Good cooking skills required to cater for light meals for the Principal and a small staff, as well as occasional lunch/dinner parties. [...]




What the stars have in store for you this week.2017

Capricorn Aquarius Pisces Aries Taurus Gemini Cancer Leo Virgo Libra Scorpio Sagittarius

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter