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The Diary of Winifred Frances Wynne for 1916

Winifred Wynne with her sister Emily and brothers Charles and Jack c1896. TCD MS 10247/17/82
Winifred Wynne with her sister Emily and brothers Charles and Jack c1896. TCD MS 10247/17/82

A large section of the papers of the Wynne family of Avoca, Co. Wicklow, were presented to the Library in 1987. The great strength of the collection – apart from the evidence it contains of the family’s business entrepreneurship and estate responsibilities in Ireland and Germany – lies in its WWI material; two sons served, one died, and two of the sisters worked in the censor’s office in London, during the Great War.

There is a small amount of 1916-related material, principally the brief diary (nine folios in all) kept in April and May of that year by Winifred Frances Wynne (b. circa 1880). Miss Wynne’s diary is characterised by distance, not only from the actual events but distance also from the motivations of those involved. In this it may be contrasted with other diaries of the time. In Lily Stokes’ diary for example (TCD MS 11507) the author’s dynamic first-hand account of things observed (indeed, sought out) in the streets of the capital carries great immediacy. The Wynne diary may also be contrasted with Nancy Campbell’s memoir (TCD MS 10238); Campbell not only had some contact with the events during and the people involved in the Rising, but she also articulated a great personal enthusiasm for the cause of the nationalists, which adds considerably to the experience of reading her words.

Diary of Winifred Wynne 25 April - 4 May 1916. TCD MS 10247/12 f2v
Diary of Winifred Wynne 25 April – 4 May 1916. TCD MS 10247/12 f2v

Winifred Wynne concentrated principally on domestic disruption and accounts of the rumours she heard as she stayed with a friend in Rathdrum. The personal inconvenience started when she and Carrie Johnston, who with Winifred was preparing an exhibition of alpines for the Spring Show, were obliged to disembark from the train along with their 12 pieces of luggage, 2 dogs, a canary, some eggs, plants and some sacks of moss.

As time went on the domestic issues which were most pressing concerned the interference with food and fuel supplies. The family adopted a ‘paraffin-saving’ regime of late breakfasts and early bedtimes, and followed a vegetarian diet – meat being unobtainable – featuring potato cakes, seakale & rice-pudding. Winifred also recorded: ‘We had excellent home-made brown bread, made with an admixture of bran & a less worthy variety made with chicken meal!’

Winifred Wynne with her sister Emily aged around 16 TCD MS 10247/17/66
Winifred Wynne with her sister Emily aged around 16. TCD MS 10247/17/66

Another feature of this diary is the author’s recording of the rumours which very quickly made their way out from the city to Wicklow. Wynne was well aware that not everything that was said could be believed, and indicated this awareness by the generous use of exclamation marks. The streets, she was told, were ‘up to your ankles in blood!’; there were ‘20,000 troops arrived from England!’; St Stephen’s Green was ‘heaped with dead’; she also heard that there was a German invasion on the coast of Norfolk; that the rebels had been gassed out of the G.P.O., ‘the military having arrived with complete gassing outfits!’; and, fifty years too early, she was informed that Nelson’s pillar had been knocked down.

List of 'Colonial Soldiers' to whom a silver cup was to be given by the OTC. TCD MS 2783 f32
List of ‘Colonial Soldiers’ to whom a silver cup was to be given by the OTC. TCD MS 2783 f32

One of the tales Wynne recorded is the account of ANZAC troops assisting the defence of the city centre from their position on the roof of Trinity College. A number of published works over the last century mention the presence of these soldiers but failed to give specifics. Miss Stokes referred in her diary to ’30 Anzacs’ being supplied with beer by the O.T.C captain in College while Miss Wynne refers less ambitiously to ‘four Australians’. It was only in the 1990s that a full list of the ‘Colonial’ soldiers was published, which revealed that they also included a lone Canadian bugler and a couple of South Africans. The names and units of the 14 men are recorded in the O.T.C. records on the list of those to whom silver cups were given in recognition of their service to the College and the city.

Jane Maxwell

Manuscripts & Archives Research Library

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