Millinery Is War By Other Means

Capture2dm 14 sep 1914

As Clausewitz almost said, War is Millinery by Other Means. Or do I mean Millinery is War by Other Means?

Eleanor Louisa Black-Hawkins née Young was rather pleased with her little joke, only slightly marred by the fact that she doubted whether anyone else in St Mary Bourne had ever heard of Clausewitz. This was one of the reasons she liked to divide her time between Hampshire and her Kensington pied à terre. She knew that this did not endear her to her St Mary Bourne friends, and particularly irritated her rather self-satisfied sister-in-law, Frances Hawkins Selfe, who had profited from one of her absences in the metropolis to set up a ‘ladies committee’ to be part of the war effort, thus establishing herself as ‘queen’ of the village, at least for the duration of the war.

It was really insufferable.

But Eleanor knew what to do. ‘Box clever!’ as she had constantly been urged as a child by her somewhat manipulative father – any counter-offensive needed to be on different turf, it would never do to engage in single combat on Frances’s own territory. And of course it was essential that such a counter-offensive be plausibly deniable.

The answer leapt off the page at Eleanor as she opened her morning newspaper. Millinery, very expensive millinery, was the key to solving her dilemma.

As the advertisement cleverly hinted, it was her civic duty, particularly in a time of war,  to keep the ladies of Derry and Toms millinery department gainfully employed. Why, without her and her friends, the sales assistants would be out on the street and might even starve. Or worse!

There was a meeting of the ladies committee next week, which Eleanor would graciously attend. Before that, she would nip up to London to dear Derry and Toms, just round the corner from Oakwood Court, and choose a hat. A hat that made a statement. In fact the hat in the illustration was just the thing. A hat that brooked no gainsaying. A hat that would carry all before it.

As the meeting was in Frances’ own house, she would not be wearing a hat. But it would be entirely appropriate for Eleanor as a visitor to wear one. And not one of your 12/9 hats, either. She rather thought that the one in the illustration would be the one selling for fifteen guineas. What fun – she hugged herself in anticipatory glee. And to think she had been in rather low spirits when she had got up that morning.

War is not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means.”

pp 75-89  (From the Michael Howard/Peter Paret translation, Princeton University Press, 1976/84, based on the original in German, Vom Kriege, Dummlers Verlag, Berlin, 1832.)

A Ladies Committee: The Germination Of An Idea

Henry and Frances Selfe - Copy

Courtesy Hockmeyer tree

Frances Hawkins Selfe leant back in her chair at Spring Hill, closed her copy of ‘Cranford‘, and poured herself another cup of Lapsang Souchong. Dear Mrs Gaskell, though her writing was considered old-fashioned now, this was one of her favourite novels – she was always particularly amused by the opening lines:

‘Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple comes to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the… evening parties or he is accounted for by being with his regiment…for deciding all questions of literature and politics without troubling themselves with unnecessary reasons or arguments; for obtaining clear and correct knowledge of everybody’s affairs in the parish…for kindness (somewhat dictatorial) to the poor, and real tender good offices to each other whenever they are in distress, the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient.’

Frances and her husband, Henry (Selfe), had moved into Spring Hill after the death of her brother, Thomas, here in 1892. Her other brother, Edwin Black Black-Hawkins, was living at Bourne Court, that is when he and Eleanor were not in London or gadding about somewhere on the Continent.

Born in 1831, she and Henry had had thirteen children, all of whom had lived into adulthood.Henry and Frances Selfe in Wiltshire with children Here they were in happier days, outside their Wiltshire house. Unfortunately, Mrs Beeton had beaten her to it, but she had often thought she should have written a book about how to manage a husband, a house, a staff, and as many children as the old woman who lived in a shoe. ‘Household Management’ had been published in 1861, five years after her marriage to Henry, by which time she had worked out most of her domestic problems for herself. But she would still give it to her daughters and daughters-in-law, nothing else had surpassed it.

What Mrs Beeton had omitted, however, was anything on the subject of the management of villages. And it was this that was preoccupying Mrs Selfe that afternoon. She knew all about war from the wives’ and daughters’ point of view: why, in her own lifetime her family had been involved with two Opium Wars, two Afghan Wars, the Crimea, the Mutiny and two Boer Wars. And the women at home always got together and did what they could to support those at the front.

As she mentally surveyed her fellow females in St Mary Bourne, it became quite apparent to her that only she could organise this. But she needed to be careful how she set about it – it would be counter-productive to be too domineering, and there might well be others who considered themselves the best for the role.

The thing was a pre-emptive strike – if she were the first to call a meeting, it would be hard for others to dislodge her later. She would try that old favourite, ‘I have been approached with a view to getting together a group of us ladies to take on war work…’

Her own military campaign would begin that very instant. She summoned to her presence her unmarried daughter, Margaret, now aged fifty. Still, since Henry’s death a decade ago, she was a great solace. And now she could make herself useful. A great many letters needed to be written and sent out all at once. Afternoon tea, two days hence.

Now, whom should she invite? Well, Mrs Douglas from Gangbridge House. Mrs Royds, the doctor’s wife. Mrs Judge from Bourneside. Mr Atkins, of Diplands, was unmarried. Her own sister-in-law, Mrs Black-Hawkins, was away as usual. As were the Holmans, from Dunley.  Dear Mrs Tovani, the vicar’s wife, was of course in Hurstbourne Priors, because that was the seat of Lord Portsmouth. Rather a silly feudal hangover, when St Mary Bourne was so much larger. Anyway, she would have to ask Mrs Binns, the curate’s wife. Mrs White, from Barford perhaps? To work, to work!

Spring Hill and Diplands Ordnance Survey Map 1875

Spring Hill and Diplands
Ordnance Survey Map 1875