Lady Harriet Julia Jephson was an artist and writer, who wrote about her travel experiences in Notes of a Nomad, published in 1918. The Great War hung heavy over her narrative, and she reflected upon her many acquaintances who had been lost in the war. One in particular, caused her to remember a Christmas anecdote:
This cruel war, alas! has robbed each of a gifted son. Keith Anthony Stewart, a singularly brilliant scholar and athlete, a most lovable character and gallant soul, fell leading his platoon at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May, 1915. His noble, dauntless spirit showed itself even as a small child. At one time he had a great idea of the Navy as a future career, which Lord Galloway discouraged. One day Keith was out in a boat in Galloway Bay with his father, and the sea being very rough, poor Keith was desperately sea-sick.
“Aha, my boy,” said his father unsympathetically, “what about the Navy now?”
A small, very white face raised itself from the bottom of the boat, and a weak little voice replied:
“I would never allow this to deter me.”
It was curiously characteristic of the brave, bright lad whose early and glorious death left a void in more hearts than those of his immediate family.
Again I remember an instance of his baby pluck and unquenchable spirit. When living in Bolt on Street we gave annually a children’s party at Christmas. Once I had dressed up my husband as Father Christmas, discreetly turned all electric lights out, and after much rustling of paper in the chimney and a noise as of a colossal cork coming out of a Brobdingnagian bottle, the lights were turned on and there stood Santa Claus in all his bravery of meretricious icicles and woolly snow! Father Christmas perjured himself by announcing that he had come all the way from the North Pole to give English children their Christmas presents. He went on further with Munchausen tales of adventures in snow and ice; told how the children at the North Pole lived on puddings made of whales’ blubber and pies of seals’ meat. Finally he wound up his peroration by saying:
“I return to the North Pole to-night. Now, will any of you children come with me?”
There was dead silence for a moment, then up stood Keith (almost the smallest child there) and said:
” I will go with you, Father Christmas!”
Dear, dauntless boy and gallant soul! Keith’s only brother, Lord Garlies, is still a prisoner in Germany, where he has been, alas ! since 1914, spending the springtime of his life in captivity.
Keith Anthony Stewart was the younger son of the 11th Earl of Galloway (colloquially known as “Lord Garlies”). He was killed in action on 9th May 1915, at the age of 20. His older brother, mentioned in this extract, was Randolph Algernon Ronald Stewart, the 12th Earl of Galloway. He survived the war, and died in 1978, at the age of 85.
In the same volume is a lovely little story about an Italian girl who wrote to the Queen:
Italian children are very unlike the somewhat bovine, stolid type one sees in Germany. They are all fire and energy, enthusiasm and passionate temper; and no one has ever found them wanting in affection. Their soft cadences and the beautiful Italian tongue make their speech a pleasure to listen to, and they have pretty, graceful ideas and original thoughts. I heard a pathetic little tale when last in Rome of a small peasant girl who, before Natale (Christmas), knitted a pair of stockings and sent them to the Quirinal as a present to the Queen. On Capo d’Anno (New Year’s Day) the Queen sent the child a little purse filled with money, a box of sweets, and a charming little note of thanks. The girl wrote back:
“I thank you for your kindness, but alas! my father took the money and my brother ate the sweets!”
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