The Christmases of the First World War, one hundred years ago, were surely difficult ones for Agnes Maud, the mother of the Rope family.
Of her six siblings, four were directly involved in the war effort, and none was living at home with her in Shrewsbury.
It must have been in a spirt of courage then that she asked her artist daughter Margaret to design a special family card for Christmas 1916. Marga duly obliged, and the result you can see below.
Margaret’s father, Henry Rope, is absent of course. He had died, prematurely, at the age of just 50, nearly twenty years before. There is a plaque in his memory in St Mary’s Church in the centre of the town.
The card is a kind of visual update on the children’s lives.
Henry, the eldest, was studying to be a priest; he’s shown with his head in a book as he was a great reader. Later he also became a published poet.
Denys had become a doctor by this point, and it’s believed he spent a deal of the war abroad attending to wounded soldiers. This may explain the dots around his head – suggesting heat (?)
Michael had spent part of the war supervising railways in Africa, but by late 1916 he had joined the Royal Naval Air Service, a precursor to the RAF.
It’s interesting to speculate about the airship he appears to be holding: is it a German Zeppelin of the sort the air service had to combat, or is it a British navy ‘blimp’ airship? Michael became famous after the war as a designer of airships, but perhaps he was already working on airships by late 1916…
Irene, Marga’s sister, volunteered to go out to Serbia as an ambulance driver, joining an unusual group of women who just wanted to get involved in the ‘action’. You can see the full story of this remarkable woman by clicking here.
(Bizarrely, at one point during the war, in southern England, Marga and Irene were arrested as German spies. They were riding their motorbikes, and, as it was so unusual for young women to be doing such a thing, they were immediately held on suspicion).
About Monica, the Sister of Charity nun, very little is known. Family lore says that she was so badly affected by her war work – tending to damaged soldiers in a London hospital – that it unhinged her mental state. It’s said she never recovered and had to be looked after by her fellow nuns until she died.
And so to Marga herself. As usual she depicts herself as unattractive and last in regard (though she was actually second-eldest). The real fact is however that she was already running her own successful stained-glass studio in London; she was one of the main bread-winners for her mother.
Fortunately, all the family members survived the war.
As is fitting, Agnes Maud, the matriarch, fills most of the card.
She was, by accounts, a formidable woman, and some older people in Shrewsbury remember her still and tell stories about her. Apparently, she disliked motor cars, and even in old age walked up the steep hill to services at Shrewsbury Cathedral from her home (a house known as The Priory, which now forms part of the town’s Sixth Form College). On winter days, when darkness fell early, she would use an old-fashioned candle lantern to light her way.
… and the dog? Ah, whoever he or she was is lost in the mists of time….
This card is one of the interesting ‘surprise’ items on the official Margaret Rope website: http://www.arthur.rope.clara.net/oldsurprise2.htm
The card must have been copied and sent out to a number of people, as one than one copy survives. It can be see by the public at the Margaret Rope Archive in Suffolk.
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