[ First World War diary of an English nun in a convent in occupied Belgium ] Typescript 'Diary | Convent de St. Sacrément, Oyghem [ Ooigem ]', being the First World War diary of 'Madame St. Joachim' [ i.e. Margaret Ann Shippam ].

'Madame St. Joachim' [ i.e. Margaret Ann Shippam (1867-1956) ] of the Convent de St. Sacrément, Oyghem [ Ooigem ]', Belgium [ alleged German war atrocities, First World War ]
Publication details: 
Without date or place. The diary entries are dated between 10 November 1914 and 'June, 1919/ July, 1919'.
SKU: 20070

For more information on Shippam and her convent see 'A village and a world at war: sister Joachim (1867-1956) and World War I in Ooigem' by Dr Luc François, Journal of the West Sussex Archives Society Number 78 Autumn 2010. 133pp., 4to. On the rectos of 133 leaves, attached to one another in a cream card folder with green ribbon. In fair condition, lightly aged and worn, in worn and chipped folder. A few emendations (expansion of abbreviations, insertion of missing words) in light pencil. The typescript is a carbon copy. The only other copy traced (presumably the top copy of the typescript) is among the Shippam family papers in West Sussex Record Office. The diary begins (10 November 1914) with a description of 'G[erman]'s […] on the road coming from Desselghem, and going by the chateau; they were in great numbers; they were going at a good trot. [T]wo or three minutes afterwards others were perceived coming from Courtrai way. They passed our house; when they began to pass we were in chapel, saying the Office. The chapel is quite a way from the street, but the noise of the horses hoofs was like the roaring of water in the distance. [M]ost of us knew what it was, but one or two couldn't think what it was – there was a short interval of two or three minutes and more filed by. [W]e were then in the refectory at dinner – the refectory being underground we couldn't see anything but the horses hoofs and legs. [T]here was a great number of waggons with provisions etc., etc., no cannons[,] two or three motors; at the end of the street a cart broke down. [T]he word halt was given. [T]he refectory was quite dark because of course the whole stream stopped[,] the street was full. [T]here were we eating our dinner with the enemy outside our windows; in all from 15 hundred to 2,000 passed. To replace their broken down waggon, they went to the farm and got one[,] took it, no one seemed to be very excited or impressed with their passage through. During the halt, it seemed that all the inhabitants were out at their doors – even women with infants in their arms – were looking curiously on. Madame, who was either opening or shutting a window, got a military salute from an officer – Isn't Almighty God good to us. As yet, they have done nothing here when going through.'A vivid and spirited diary, well written, with some day-to-day news of the convent, but predominantly concerned with the war, and surprisingly partisan for a nun (she refers to 'the enemy' and 'the Boche'). References throughout to what would appear to be family members (Cecil and Percy, Freda and Gertie, Arthur). The following extracts give an indication of the tone and contents. On 19 January 1915 she writes: 'Last week, a man returned to Harlebech. [I]t is the station before Courtrai on the big line – he had been taken by the G[erman]'s. to bury their dead. They paid him 10 frs. a day: after a few days he managed to escape – he said, what I have seen is too horrible for words – I'd rather die of hunger in my cottage than continue to see what I have seen – the civilised G's bury their wounded when still alive – this man heard some of the poor men say, wait till I am dead and no attention was paid, isn't it awfull; [sic] they are worst [sic] than savages; it isn't the first time we have heard it; a man from here saw the same – I trust none of our Tommies fall into their hands'. And on 21 February 1915: 'The gentleman who came said the papers by no means exaggerated all that was done – the reality being far worse; there were two little children going along crying (probably their parents had been killed) a savage caught hold of them and buried them alive!!! all the horrors cannot be described – those who are still alive say it is nothing to have lost ones fortune to have been burnt out of our houses – but so many dear ones are missing whom we can never recover again'. On 25 April 1915 she describes how the previous Sunday 'an aeroplane, containing 2 Frenchmen had to alight, between here and Courtrai, as their machine had gone wrong; they were in hopes that they would not have been perceived by the G's. but they were: rather than let their machine fall into the hands of the enemy, they set fire to it: the younger of the two fled and the elder one threw himself into the river but perceiving his machine was not burning sufficiently he went to kindle it and then again returned to the water; some small children saw him and told the G's. that there was a man in the water; he was caught and made prisoner, but one of the Officers invited him to sup with him; the next day they searched the farms for the missing one, but he was not found – its to be hoped he got back to the front.' Two days later, on 27 April 1915, she reports that the previous week 'a train passed by Boulers containing Allies made prisoners by the G's. [T]hey numbered in all about 900; a great number of French and Senegals, a few English and three Belgians. The inhabitants took them chocolates oranges etc., and there was great demonstration notwithstanding the displeasure of the G's. [O]ne of the Tommies spoke in English to someone who understood, and said it won't be long before the war is over now.' On the same day she writes of a 'very good and fervent Catholic' German who, when asked about 'atrocities at the beginning of the war […] answered, they didn't do half or quarter what the Kaiser had commanded'. And on 15 July 1917: 'Every one in the village is punished – by whom? by the poor G's.!!! after 5 p.m. no one can leave his or her house and in the front the shutters must be closed – no one must be seen at the windows; this is the third day – it makes one smile!!! and why are we all punished? because several of the young fellows who have been taken by the G's. to work for them did not turn up the day appointed for the departure – they have run away and can't be found. Their parents who are held responsible for them have been taken and shut up – a young girl of 16 (she comes to us twice a week) for french lessons wouldn't let them take her mother (her two brothers have run away) she is shut up in her place. [D]uring the day they are shut up but at night they can go home to sleep.' On 21 April 1918: 'The Kaiser has been at Courtrai – he is so afraid of his own soldiers that no one was allowed in the street where he put up!!! […] The K. told his men that they must get to Dunkaque, [sic] Calais, and Boulogne; a General said it was impossible and gave his “demission”'. On 16 October 1918: 'The Boches are going to blow up the three bridges over the Lys and the canal. Much danger. Shells flying over the chapel all the time. […] At ½ 2 I gave an English lesson to the children; after which went up to my cell to put away my books; was just beginning to get their goûter ready when all at once a tremendous bang, and falling of glass; a bomb had fallen on the house!!! Nuns, children, everyone made a rush to the cellar, and there in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, we prayed, as thinking they would never again see their parents. A ¼ of an hour afterwards, another bomb – an incendiary one, which happily fell into the resevoir; the latter burst open, the water poured forth. Had I been in my cell, I should have been killed; several pieces of shrapnel came in at the window, the room above greatly damaged, as also the children's dormitory. | During two hours, bombs from aeroplanes, shells whizzing over our heads, and making a most tremendous noise. Notre Mère, as near the Blessed Sacrament as she could be, multiplied the invocations. She was weeping, and heard to say, “Lord, break up everything, if such is Thy Will, but do not take my children!” The old ladies, (lady boarders) begged of the Chaplain to give a general absolution.' The group are forced to shelter in a cellar for some time, before being led to safety. On 10 November 1918 she has a meeting with her 'kinsman' Arthur. She 'perceived an English Officer who had just entered the kitchen. […] The Sister by the side of me said, “Speak to him”. I went forward a few steps; he came forward a few steps; we were near one another. I was just going to say “I'm English,” when all at once I exclaimed “Arthur!!!” and he, “Daisy!!!” and we were clasped in one another's arms.' Later in the day she encounters some Americans: 'on several occasions they were much pleased to find I was “English”. They were obliging but gave us “nothing for nothing”, not generous like the “Tommies”.' The final entry describes the death of the 'dear Reverend Mother'.