Blanche Horton, a Witness at the Treaty of Versailles
Read Blanche's diary as she witnesses the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
We shared the first half of Blanche Horton’s diary in December 2018, 100 years after she arrived in Paris as a British Delegate to the Peace Congress. We’re now sharing the second half of her diary, 100 years after she attended the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
Rumour, suspicion and frustration
At the end of April 1919, Blanche recorded in her diary the ‘rumours of interest heard this week:
- We are all having a week’s leave after 4 months
- We may get War Bonus instead of the £20 allowance
- Some of us will go home at the end of May
- Other will remain till September.
Our spirits vary according to our belief in the above.’
In early May, Blanche’s suspicions were confirmed, and she learned that she was to stay ‘on here till September! SEPTEMBER!!!… Only hope no one else will be plonked in my room or I shall be sick.’
Room sharing was essential to fit the huge numbers of delegates into the Majestic hotel. The cramped conditions at the hotel are revealed when Blanche wrote on 2 May 1919 of her disappointment at not being able to change her books at the library, on account of it being used as a ‘bedroom for the faithful chef.’ Blanche describes the chef as faithful because he did not take part in the strike in Paris on 1 May.
On the day of the strike, there was no electric light, so Blanche and her colleagues ‘dined with one candle on each table in case of emergency’.
Delegate romances: ‘yet another engagement’
It seems almost inevitable that, despite the precautions of the chaperone, romantic relationships sprang up between delegates. In July Blanche wrote that:
‘Miss Bingham has tactfully or tactlessly informed one couple that they are making themselves conspicuous + should announce their engagement. Enough to put off any young man I should think. However we shall see. Yet another engagement has come to light so we ought to complete the dozen if we are here much longer.’
Blanche seems to use coded language when writing about interactions with men, perhaps to hide the full truth about engagements between the sexes should the diary be read in the future. In July 1919 she wrote allusively:
‘Mr W. knows I have been home + unless he has lost his memory also knows I did not go to see him so I must be diplomatic and write to Dulcie + send a message. If I write direct he will know that I know that he knows!!.’
Unfortunately, we don’t know what this diary entry means.
A trip to the front lines
On Wednesday 14 May, Blanche describes a trip to the front lines after travelling to Rheims. She describes:
‘a most terrible scene of desolation one could imagine + the lines a perfect network of trenches with a very narrow “no man’s land” and an occasional fort – all battered and scarred and with a few scattered graves. Saw several Boche tanks abandoned on the battlefield – some nose down in trenches. Rheims itself looks a hopeless ruin. How the people remain + make their pathetic attempt to go on with their daily work is almost marvelous. I saw shops which are no more than half ruined sheds – just what is left of the original houses.’
On the terrace at Versailles
Blanche’s growing frustration with how long she had to stay in Paris is made clear in July when she wrote ‘I’m sick of the whole Accounts Branch – loathe the sight of them all.’ Blanche and her colleagues’ despondent thoughts of ‘nothing else… except what we shall do at home on leave – also whether we shall return or not’ were suddenly interrupted in June 1919 by sirens, signalling that ‘the German decision was being announced to the public.’
Blanche went out with a friend that evening ‘to the Boulevards’ where ‘there were crowds of people and we were lucky that we escaped being caught and ringed about by the numerous little bands of students.’ One of the girls ‘arrived back with a scratch across her nose!’ and ‘a proposal of marriage from a drunken American – rather a triumph for the first meeting even in Paris!’.
On 28 June 1919 Blanche describes being on the terrace at Versailles while the Peace Treaty was signed:
‘We had tickets of admission to the Terrace so saw the Delegates at the windows + on the balconies after the ceremony, but saw little else. The drive up to the chateau and down again to the town, between lines of soldiers on horseback + on foot, many of them with gorgeous [?] was wonderful. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
The instant all the signatures were on the Treaty an officer signalled to the [batteries?] and the guns were fired for some time while all the car drivers sounded their hooters for all they were worth. The ceremony was much shorter than we had expected (thank goodness for that, as we were standing outside all the while on the terrace just waiting. The fountains were played when the guns were fired but only for a short time. They had stopped before we left the grounds.’
After the daytime ceremony, Blanche describes the following party as a ‘night for the gods’:
‘We all had champagne… last night. I need say no more! Of course we went out after dinner and you should have seen Clem being embraced in the street by a French soldier… One other girl is not leaving her room just yet. She has a black eye.’
As the celebrations marking the signing of the Treaty continued into July, Blanche continued to feel ‘horribly depressed’ about the uncertainty of how long she would have to remain in France, which was exacerbated by speculation, uncertainty and rumour. Although she writes of the spectacle of seeing ‘division after division’ of the French army marching past her during the procession in July, she wished she could have seen the British army’s procession.
Despite the proclamations and processions, peace did not seem entirely certain and Blanche describes how the British Commission was attempting to ‘try + smooth matters as Frenchmen were being murdered by the Italians.’ Continuing peace did not seem certain, and just one month after the Treaty was signed, Blanche wrote ‘if the Peace is not soon settled there are two possible wars in prospect.’ At the end of July there was still ‘no definite news of the end of the Conference.’
Blanche wrote her last diary entry on Saturday 16 August, and it is particularly full of frustration and disappointment at not being able to go back home to England:
At the time of writing, Blanche did not know she would actually be in Paris for another seven months. She never wrote in her diary again, so we do not know how she spent the rest time of her time in Paris or what she thought about such a long delay.
You can see Blanche’s diary on display at The Postal Museum until 30 July 2019.
– Joanna Espin, Curator