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A very well-connected gentleman: the papers of Wester Wemyss

16th May 2014 in Archives Centre, Our Collections

The Archives Centre holds the papers of Lord Wester Wemyss, a very well-connected gentleman and Admiral of the Fleet. A great-grandson of William IV and Mrs Jordan, he mingled with his royal cousins and other dignitaries across Europe, sending the best information and gossip back to his wife in Switzerland.

During the First World War, Wemyss organised the creation of a new naval base at Moudros in Lemnos, from which the fateful Dardanelles Campaign was launched. He took part in the campaign, commanding H.M.S. Euryalus, and later represented the British Navy in the negotiations for the Armistice of 1918.

Wemyss’ unique perspective of these events is revealed in the letters he wrote to his wife, which have only recently been catalogued in detail.  Included in these letters are details of the realities of war, from a rather surreal-sounding shooting party which provided a brief respite from the conflict: “It is curious shooting partridge almost in the camp and in the sound of guns and muskets” (WMYS 7/11/3) to the sombre reflection, after reporting a particularly awful story from the battle of Verdun, “Sometimes one is almost led to believe that Providence means to depopulate the Earth” (WMYS 7/11/3). Throughout, Wemyss persistently looked forward to a time when he would have “something better than the war to talk about and the casualty lists to read” (WMYS 7/11/2).

At last, in November 1918, Wemyss wrote this brief note (signed in his usual style for these letters, “Tom Cat”) to explain to Lady Wemyss why she’d not hear from him for a while. In it he described setting off in Ferdinand Foch’s railway car to be part of the signing party of the Armistice which ended the First World War thus: “I am off this afternoon for an unknown destination to carry out my job.” (WMYS 7/11/4).

Letter from Wester Wemyss, WMYS 7/11/4