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The Family Budget

By Paul B Elmhirst

A remarkable collection of letters written by seven Elmhirst brothers and their sister during the First World War

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978-0-956854308 [A20]

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THE Family Budget
1914 – 1919

A remarkable collection of letters written by seven Elmhirst brothers and their sister during the First World War

It is not easy to put this remarkable collection of letters, written during the First World War, into a single category. From war and travel to social commentary and family dynamics; it covers all of these and more besides. The eight short biographies that make up the final section of this book range from the illustrious to the mundane, but they all contain interesting references, some humorous, some moving and some quirky.

The Family Budget was the chosen name (taken from a Gaullish definition of ‘budget’ meaning a bag and its contents) for the round robin correspondence conducted by seven Elmhirst brothers and their sister between 1914 and 1919 when they found themselves separated by war and circumstance. They wrote their intimate and often entertaining letters from the family home in Barnsley, from Cambridge, The Somme, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, India, HMS Indomitable, Winchester College, Rugby School and elsewhere. Even the deaths of brother William on the Somme and brother Christie at Gallipoli did not end the travels of The Family Budget.

The letters touch on a myriad of subjects, for example: Turkish shells whistling overhead, a beating at school, duck shooting on Anglesey with a Lewis machine gun, rook pie, a sketch for the soldiers (in drag), “Ee, Sir made a champion lass”, just clearing the cliffs of Antrim to crash land an air ship in a field of cows, a young brother’s warning to an older brother at Gallipoli, “mind you get slightly wounded, whatever you do don’t get nipped by a fast one”, or perhaps their sister’s prowess at over arm bowling and the dismissal of a rival school team for no runs.

The biographies (or brief lives) are varied. Brother Leonard decides not to take holy orders, but becomes Rabindranath Tagore’s secretary, marries an American heiress and founds the Dartington Hall Trust. Brother Tommy, as a midshipman on HMS Indomitable, takes part in the battle of the Dogger Bank. He joins the RAF on its formation, fights Rommel in WWII and sets up a brothel in Cairo. As the first C in C of the Indian Airforce he is responsible for Gandhi’s funeral. One day to prepare and a million people expected to attend. Brother Vic is sent (on camel) to patrol the area between Tehran and Baghdad, “to see what the dammed Bolsheviks are up to”. Brother Alfred, a stalwart member of the Labour Party, takes on the traditional role of squire to look after the family estate on the outskirts of Barnsley. Sister Rachel, as a young girl, looks after her ferrets and bathes in the local colliery pond. A few years later, in Malta, she is invited to tea by the Queen of Rumania.

These lively letters will soon be 100 years old, but the spirit and love expressed in them is undimmed. You will not find another book like The Family Budget.


Paul Elmhirst, who lives near York, is a retired solicitor. He has been married to Philippa for forty years and they have two sons and four grandchildren. He was brought up on the family farm in Worsbrough near Barnsley, part of which has been in the ownership of the family since the early 14th Century

He attended Ward Green Primary School in Worsbrough until he went to Dartington Hall School in Devon (which was founded by his Uncle Leonard and Aunt Dorothy). After a gap year of muck-spreading and canoe instructing he went to Keele University where he read Biology and Philosophy and was introduced to John Aubrey’s ‘Brief Lives’ by Professor Anthony Flew.

Upon graduation, having failed to interest The Slade or the Atomic Energy Commission in his talents, he took articles in his father’s law firm and, eventually, qualified as a solicitor. For forty years he dealt with crime, divorce, property and probate law and, largely by accident, wrote the Which? Guide to Wills and Probate.

He has been researching the Elmhirst family history at a leisurely pace since his retirement. As a result of that research he has plans for further projects on the Elmhirst family history that will cover blackmail, trespass, bigamy, censure by the vicars choral and other scandals (all of which took place a long time ago).

His appearance has been compared to Charles Darwin on many occasions, but he is also proud to have been mistaken for Monet (at Giverny) and the Archbishop of Canterbury at a recent course on investment for charity trustees.

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