Dorothy Annie Curzon Priest was a pupil at King Edward VI High School for Girls from 1910-1914.
She was the daughter of Henry and Gertrude Priest and lived with her parents and two sisters in Bunbury Road, Northfield. Her father was a successful businessman who manufactured motorcycles.
She kept a diary for the first year of the war, which not only gives one girl’s reaction to the conflict but of the day-to-day happenings in her area, the impact of war on the people of Birmingham and how the local newspapers kept the city informed.
The diary has survived and here is some of what she recorded, beginning on the night before the declaration.
Daddy went to town tonight to get the latest news.
Things are happening at such a rate that I can’t keep up with and understand it all.
Last night came news that Germany had invaded France, this was confirmed today. Sir Edward Grey made a fine speech and explained the situation. Mr Redmond said that the Nationalist and Ulster volunteers would defend Ireland.
Keir Hardy and other Socialists and Labour men spoke against war and were not heard with approval.
At present our situation seems to be: We have received no ultimatum and made no promise to fight but we shall if Belgian neutrality is threatened or if France is attacked by sea on the North coast.
Navy Reserves have been mobilised and the Army is being mobilised. Bills are passed in Parliament without any discussion in no time. Bank Holiday is to extend for two more days and Bank rate raised to 10 per cent.
I can’t write any more details tonight as it must be nearly 12pm. We waited till ever so late for Daddy to come home. He waited to get a 10 o’clock Mail.
Germany has declared war on Belgium.
England has sent an ultimatum to Germany to respect Belgian neutrality, which expires at midnight tonight. Mr (indecipherable) says they will fight for some time. Things will only be settled now by war.
I quite expect to see in the morning Mail “War declared between Great Britain and Germany”.
We must be very careful with food for fear of the country running short. The children are disgusted with me for talking so much about being careful but Daddy says we must. The Territorials were all about Cotteridge this afternoon.
War is declared and by us. It’s no good my trying to keep an account of the great events; there are too many and I haven’t much time to write. This morning I saw the Cotteridge company of Territorials march to the field by Dr Jordan’s and drill and then go back.
They went by the 2.16 from Kings Norton (1.55 from town). We saw them from our windows. Everybody’s horses and wagons are being taken for the war. Some are at Portsmouth, Avonmouth etc; they were only taken early this morning.
People seem very serious. No one seems to have “war fever”.
Calling out the Reserves has made a great difference to the country; postman, police, fireman and lots of others have left their work. At K.N. (King’s Norton) seven out of 13 postmen have gone and those who are left have a hard time.
The postman didn’t get here until about 8.30 this morning and he looked dead beat. I must get up very early in the morning to see Daddy off as he is going off early, and to get news.
Pet (Dorothy’s sister) and I were awake last night until after 12 o’clock and we heard distant shouts about 11.45, evidently when the Declaration of War was made public.
We also heard bugles about the same time and Pet heard people shouting along the road.
Nothing much has happened today. They say our fleet is (indecipherable) for the Germans and chasing them near Sheringham and that a battle is imminent.
If only we can win a great victory the sooner we fight the better.
We are in the right.
“Thrice is he armed that has his quarrel just” (Henry VI part 2). They say there is to be plenty of food if only people won’t get frightened. Liege was still holding out this morning. We and the French have captured 15 or 16 German ships. The Colonies are helping splendidly. We seem to almost forget this is only the second day of war in England.
Yesterday morning seems such a long time ago.
No news in the papers. I went into town today by train. There was a tremendous crowd outside Suffolk Street recruiting office. It gave me a thrill to see them. There were more crowds outside the Town Hall.
Wounded were brought to Moor Street to be taken to the University which is now called Bournbrook Hospital. I didn’t see them but I saw small crowds in Bristol Street who had seen them or were waiting for them.
Then later I heard the band taking recruits up Corporation Street to the station to go off.
And to finish, Joan and I saw a train go through Kings Norton station about 1.40 of which the front coaches were full of soldiers. Joan swears she saw Scotch caps and I know I saw khaki, so probably they were Highlanders (and not Russians).