Miss Iris Hotblack – Lewes resident 1914-16

I’m eager to locate the diary of Iris Holt (sic), actually ‘Iris Hotblack’, who as a young woman I understand wrote about living in Lewes in the first months of the First World War.

According to Catriona Pennell in ‘A United Kingdom’

‘Balury’ Morton, serving in France with the Royal Field Artillery, told his fiancée, Iris Holt (sic), in Lewes, Sussex on 18 December how he hoped that the bombardment would ‘wake people up a bit’ to the realities of war.

REF: Liddle: AIR 224: A.H. Morton, 18 December 1914.

HOWEVER: According to the Liddle Archive she is Iris Hotblack, not Iris Holt. The name of her fiancé Alan Handfield Morton, is correct.

Iris Holt (sic), in Lewes, Sussex, wrote on 30 September how she lived in terror of the casualty lists. Her cousin Nell had been left a widow two months after her wedding.

Rather than this being written in a diary as Catriona Pennell suggests, Iris wrote regularly to Alan Morton – it is these letters that are being quoted I believe.

REF: Liddle: AIR 224: A.S. Morton, 30 September 1914.

Iris Holt (sic) wrote to her fiancé on 30 August, telling him how she had convinced two men to enlist because all her ‘men friends have either gone or enlisted’ and she felt it was her duty to encourage them.

One can only speculate that is it one of these ‘men friends’ to whom she writes and whose letters are also in the Liddle Archive.

REF: Liddle: AIR 224: A.S. Morton, 30 August 1914.

In September Iris Holt (sic) told her fiancé how her home town of Lewes, Sussex, ‘had her population doubled at a days notice’. In October she added that she had no idea that that many men existed in the country.

REF: Liddle: AIR 224: A.S. Morton, September 1914.

Iris Holt (sic), writing from Hove on 10 September, told her fiancé how she felt continuing as ‘normal’ in wartime was wicked and callous in contrast to his life as a combatant. ‘We loathe ourselves for being so helpless and useless and to go more or less pleasure seeking as usual and yet there is no alternative … the hardest thing is to have to be left behind and to on on living as usual’. In October she attempted to bring some normality back into her life by organizing hockey games for local girls, something she had been actively involved in before the war. People were at first against the idea and it was not until mid-November that Iris found girls comfortable with the idea of playing sport in wartime.

REF: Liddle: AIR 224: A.S. Morton, 10 September and November 1914.

Holt, Cecil (sic) Brother of Iris Holt (see below), he was serving with the 6th Cyclists Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment in Norfolk on home defence duty in 1914. Holt, Iris Living in Lewes, Sussex, she was engaged to Alan Handfield ‘Balury’ Morton serving with the 40th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery in France in 1914. Sister of Cecil Holt (sic).

Actually her brother is Harold Cecil Hotblack (1892-1937) (Ancestry)

According to Liddle archive: Iris Hotblack received letters from Lieutenant C Fawcett, 6th (Cyclists) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment (1914-1916). Not her brother.

The Liddle Collection in Leeds tell me they have the following:

Morton, Alan Handfield (b 1890). Born in Wandsworth, South London. Lieutenant, RFA (Royal Field Artillery) and Major, RFC (Royal Flying Corps) and RAF (Royal Air Force). Served with Nos. 6, 8 and 13 Squadrons as an Observer on the Western Front.

Press cuttings (Nov 1914, May 1916, nd)

Leaflet about the Suffolk Regiment (nd)

Christmas card and related ephemera (nd)

Miscellaneous papers (1917, nd)

National Registration Certificate (1915)

Savoy Hotel dinner menu (May 1916)

Photocopied recollections, 1890-c 1971 (nd)

4 bundles of correspondence with Iris Hotblack (1914-1916)

21 photographs, including one of his father’s grave (Major PF Morton, d 1916) (1918, 1950, nd)

2 bundles of letters (1914-1915) written to Iris Hotblack from the Western Front by 2nd Lieutenant C Fawcett, 6th (Cyclists) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment (1914-1916)

1 bundle of letters from A Morton to various correspondents (1916)

1 bundle of miscellaneous correspondence (1916-1917)

7 postcards (1914-1917)

2 bundles of letters from A Morton to Iris Hotblack (Jan-May 1915, 1916).

The story develops courtesy of Ancestry

Given the above, I am delighted to discover that Alan Morton married Iris Hotblack in Lewes in June 1916.

She died in March 1972 in Devon, he died in June 1974 in Eastbourne.

It looks as if they spent 20 years living in Indonesia.




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