Edith Elizabeth APPLETON  O.B.E.  R.R.C.

This page last updated: 30 November 2014

A new and updated version of this page is now available on Edie's new website:

This original version will remain here for the time being.

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Before you embark on this page - a word of warning.  While it contains lots of images and much fascinating information from the indefatigable M. Millet, this page is long, very long.  To be honest it is really a combination of a personal indulgence on my part (we had such an interesting time in Etretat during our visit in March 2009 and this was our first visit to one of the locations where Edie had spent time between 1914 and 1919) and a way of thanking Alain Millet for all the information and images he has so generously provided for us. No doubt the page will be added to as further information about Etretat materialises. 

Perhaps at some stage the page will need subdividing but, for the time being, you are invited to persevere; there are some delightful surprises on the way.  If you have any feedback or comments, please contact us via the Visitors Book.

Dick Robinson - May 2009

Information about Etretat from Alain Millet

In January 2009 Alain Millet, who grew up in Etretat, contacted us via the Visitors Book with the message below and, subsequently, with a number of images which link to Edie's dairy. In March 2009 we (Lisa and Dick Robinson) visited Etretat and spent a wonderful day with Alain exploring the town and some of the villages nearby as well as poring over a large number of images which Alain has collected over the years from old photographs and postcards.  I have now added many of those images here below as well as some photos taken during our visit which show the town of Etretat looks now.

Our journey back home included an overnight stop at Eu and we made an all too brief visit to Le Tréport and the cliff top site of the Trianon hotel which became a hospital in 1914 and in which Edie worked from June to November 1918 (see Volume 4 of her diary ).  For more information on our visit to Le Tréport see: http://www.edithappleton.org.uk/Vol4/LeTreport/HotelTrianon.asp.

Now, back to Etretat; Edie was at General Hospital No. 1 there from November 1915 and she makes many references to the scenes illustrated below.  The two volumes which cover the Etretat period are:

Edie included a good number of her own drawings in the diaries but it is such a treat to have these pictures as well.

Here’s what Alain told us when he first got in touch.  All the subsequent comments in blue are his:

A very interesting diary. I lived in Etretat from 1949. For years, I worked as a hobby on Etretat History and I wrote a little (unpublished) book on "Etretat 1914 - 1918". From 1960 I collected every information I could, from British veterans, from Cecil Smith who was the chief of the British "chaufferettes" who drove the ambulances, from two daughters who had been interpreters for the British (and American) hospitals in Etretat, from inhabitants. I tried to find where were all the British hospital services and annexes: messes, X-ray house, barracks. What I get connects with Miss Appleton's diary and completes it. To visit the Normand country, she used a book whose title is "Etretat the hamlet of the setting sun" written by an American painter Henry Bacon. It has been published in London in 1895. You could get a copy of the English original at the British Library London. I translated this book into French with M. Philippe Vatinel. We published it in 1983.

There are a lot of images here plus notes to explain them so I have bunched them together under the following headings. Either scroll down or click on the ones which interest you.

1. Etretat town locations


(Place de la Mairie, the cliffs and the beach, the cave le Trou à l'homme, La Residence, Villa Odile, Villa le Maupas, the Lighthouse, Château du Tilleul, the Railway Station)
2. Hospitals,hotels ambulances
(Hôtel des Roches, La Villa Orphée, Hôtel Blanquet, Villa des Fleurs, The Casino, Ambulances etc.)
3. Churches, cemetery, burials, processions, rituals (Protestant, RC, Presbyterian/YMCA/YWCA, war memorial, cemetery church, graves, Indian cremation on the beach, Ascension Day Blessing of the Sea)
4. Local villages and towns
(Bénouville, Gonneville-la-Mallet, St Jouin-Bruneval, Fécamp)
5. Painters, writers, etc (Painters, Writers, Composer)

Here are the images, each with a brief explanation. 
The black and white images are all from Alain Millet and the colour photographs all taken by Dick and Lisa in March 2009.
Click on each image to enlarge it.

Section 1. Etretat town locations

1a.  Place de la Mairie



La Place de la Mairie

Alain and Lisa in La Place de la Mairie

Lorries along La Place de la Mairie

Plaque in Etretat

1b.  The cliffs and the beach


Porte d'Aval

Click images to enlarge

Porte d'Amont









More pictures of the
Porte d'Aval at sunset....






Click images to enlarge




....which illustrate just why Etretat is known as  Hamlet of the Setting Sun (see 5b below)


Left: snow on the beach (date unknown)

Click images to enlarge

Right: 'Lac' formed by tide.
M. Millet was VERY pleased to
see this photo of the Lac.  Apparently I was very lucky to witness this - "un phénomène rare" says Alain.


Le Trou de l'Homme cave.


Mentioned by Edie on 14 August 1916 in Volume 3 of her diaries.


Click images to enlarge

The women of Etretat doing their washing in the spring water which flowed across the beach and down into the sea (see Edie’s diary entries for 6 December 1915 in Volume 2, Part 2 and for 14/15 November 1916 in Volume 3). The first postcard shows the Falaises d’aval in the background – a subject often sketched by Edie. The second image shows the washerwomen again and with a ship convoy in the background – again a theme mentioned by Edie more than once.

Alain comments: You can see the women washing at the end of the underground river near the Roches Noires. Every morning, under the command of their "chief", Victoire Paumelle, those women took the linen to wash from the hospitals. On the sea there are cargos and what seems to be a destroyer.


Click images to enlarge

Here are a couple of our pictures showing how the same area of beach looks now - complete with two somewhat underemployed washermen (DR and AM)!

As the daughter of a Trinity Pilot, Edie had a special interest in the sea and  wrote, on many occasions, about the fishermen and their activities.  On our visit there was just this one solitary fishing boat to be seen.

One of the fishermen busy gutting dogfish (?). See Edie's mention in
her dairy on 17 March 1916.




A box of freshly caught crabs. Read Edie's crabbing encounters on
17 March 1916 and 14 July 1916.

This charming sketch by Edie appears
in her dairy on 30 May 1916 with the caption:  '
Dead calm morning - no sun
- 1 fishing boat - many diver ducks'.

Read her description of fishermen
at work on 12 June 1916.


1c.  La Residence, Villa Le Maupas and Villa 'Odile'

Left: Officers outside La Residence
 - in WW1 it was the Officers' bar.
AM names those numbered as:
1. General Moore, 2. Colonel Lemon and 3. Father Evans

Click on this image to enlarge


Right: La Residence now a
hotel and restaurant
Image borrowed from hotel's website


Left: Villa Le Maupas, the officers' mess in WW1. The towers were added later.

Click images to enlarge

Right: La Residence on
left and Villa 'Odile' (? ahead) - the office of
the Military Police

1d.  Le Phare d'Antifer - the Lighthouse

Left: as Edie would have
known it. She mentions
visits during her walks
on 3 Jan 1916 and on
26 Oct 1916.


Click images to enlarge


Right: the 'new' lighthouse
as it is today

1e.  Le château du Tilleul

Shame about the lost spires!

Click images to enlarge

Strange that Edie doesn't mention this impressive building which is just outside Etretat on the D940.

1f.  The Railway Station

  AM: When a convoy arrived in Etretat Railway Station, the light wounded walked to the centre of Etretat. Busses drove those who couldn't walk and the ambulances drove the heavy wounded. On the extreme left of the photo you can see Cecil Smith the chief of the "girl drivers". I met him when I was young. He spoke very well French but in a strange manner. He had learned French through the lines of Victor Hugo and a French Bible.


Click image to enlarge

Click images to enlarge


German prisoners working at Etretat railway station


Ambulance train in Etretat railway station.
Edie makes many references to ambulance trains arriving
from the front with large numbers of wounded men.


The station today - sadly at the end of a defunct railway line.

Or is it totally defunct?  Check this out:

And if you enjoyed that....this will break your heart:
http://danetlemodelisme.free.fr/la_gare_d_etretat/index.html !

Click image to enlarge

Section 2. Hospitals, hotels and ambulances

2a. L'Hôtel des Roches

  L'Hôtel des Roches was one of those converted to hospitals
and for a time Edie's ward was there.

There is another image of Les Roches, as well as many
other views of Etretat in the early 1900s at this website: http://www.cartophile.de/pays_de_caux.html. Well
worth a look.


Click image to enlarge

2b. La Villa Orphée

La Villa Orphée was the home of the VADs but had a more celebrated occupant in the previous century; it was the summer home of the composer Jacques Offenbach who had it built in 1858. See 5c below.

Edie had quite firm views on VADs, as did many other professional nurses working alongside these volunteers, and makes many mentions of them.  Have a look at her comments on 29 November 1915 and on 30 January 1916 - a bit naughty! In fairness she spoke very highly those who earned her praise.

VAD info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voluntary_Aid_Detachment.

Click image to enlarge


2c.  Hôtel Blanquet

Click images to enlarge

'Detective' Alain Millet has come up trumps on these two pictures of the Hôtel Blanquet and its annexe. He comments: The Hôtel Blanquet was the home of the Matron and many nurses. Edith Appleton lived in a bedroom on the second floor of this annexe. This room had a french window, a balcony and a direct view on the shore and the sea (see her entry for 15 February 1916).  Edith wrote much about the gales and the broken windows or curtains in her room.  It must be said that this annexe faced the hard dominant NW winds. When we compare a map of the shore in 1913, a sketch drawn by Miss Appleton (see sketch under entry for 27 May 1916) and various paintings by Claude Monet ('Le départ des bateaux' and 'Bateaux sur le plage') it seems that Monet occupied this room in 1883 and in November 1885. See section 5a below for the evidence supporting this theory.

Did Edie ever know about the illustrious former occupant of her room? It wasn't until we visited Etretat in March 2009 that I learned how Etretat had been a favourite haunt of many famous artists and writers: the Etretat Tourism website lists them all. But Edie never mentions them; she had other preoccupations one must assume.

2d.  Villa des Fleurs and the Casino

Villa des Fleurs - home of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps but this would have been later - after 1917 when
the WAAC was formed.                    
Click images to enlarge


The Casino - site of hospital annexes 3, 4 and 5.
Edie was in charge of these at various times.

2e. Ambulances

  Cecil Smith’s ‘chaufferettes’ who drove the ambulances (there are many mentions in Edie’s diaries about the ambulances and their drivers). See Alain Millet's note about Cecil Smith in section 1f above.


Click image to enlarge



Tents used for wounded. AM: On this picture the tents are used make fun during a St Patrick's Day. But in July 1916, during the battle of the Somme, they have been used to shelter the most heavy wounded who can't find places in the hospital annexes. Hundreds of wounded soldiers were lying on stretchers on both sides of all the streets of Etretat. The number of the dead was so high (60 on certain days) the British Army asked Ambulance, lorries and farmer horse powered wagons to drive the coffins to the church yard. Many gassed soldiers where buried in sheets for the coffins were too small for them.

Click image to enlarge


Click images to enlarge

Ambulances, Rue Monge. May 1917


Ambulance for heavily wounded soldiers - at station


  Bus for lightly wounded soldiers




Click image to enlarge


Section 3.  Churches, cemetery, burials, processions, rituals

There were a number of churches in Etretat, some newly established in other buildings when the town became a hospital base for British and other foreign nationals.  It seems that some were heated while others were not and the former were no doubt more popular with wounded men. Edie makes frequent references to her church attendance, and often expresses her views about the quality of the clergy! On occasion she played the church organ; see her diary for 24 April and 10 July 1916.

3a.  Churches, etc.

Left: behind this ambulance is the Anglican (heated) Church in one of the annexes of the Hôtel Blanquet.


Click images to enlarge


Right: the Protestant and Anglican (not heated) Church


Click images to enlarge
Left: Etretat Roman Catholic Church (not heated)


Right: Villa Les Vagues was the (British) Roman Catholic church and the fact that it was heated was enough to entice some Estretatais to follow the offices here, says Alain M.


Left: Presbyterians used a room in this YMCA building which also had rooms for card players, as well as programmes of magic lanterns.

Click images to enlarge

Right: Villa La Mouette was home
to the YWCA.



Father Irwin wasn’t mentioned by Edie but here are Alain’s comments about the Padre and the fisherman in this picture:

One of your correspondents [in the Visitors Book] asked about the chaplains in the military hospital. In Etretat a painter drew Father Irwin drinking coffee with a local fisherman he called "The Admiral". On the table, one can see coffee cups and a good bottle of Calvados. This, in Normandy, means that Father Irwin was very well integrated and liked!!!


Click image to enlarge


Burial procession.  Alain Millet writes: It shows the ambulances driving dead soldiers to the church yard. They are escorted by GVCs (Old French territorial soldiers) and are followed by British soldiers. During the burial, the man with the small trumpet played the last post and the soldiers fired their guns to the sky. The photograph was probably taken after the battle of the Somme when the dead were still very numerous. Before that period, the ambulances were preceded by a military band. They started from the morgue on the seashore. The musicians and escort walked slowly - Marche Funêbre de Chopin. As they arrived in front of the 31 rue Alphonse Karr (where I lived from 1949 till 1973) the commanding officer told "Quick march". They doubled paces till the church yard.


Click image to enlarge


  Escort for burial of GVC (old French territorial soldiers)



Click image to enlarge

3b.  The Cemetery, war memorial and graves

Left: the 1914-18 war memorial
just outside the cemetery



Click images to enlarge



Right: the Church at the Cemetery



Left: the text here is on an information board at the cemetery. 

To view it in a readable size you need to click separately on the upper three paragraphs and the lower two paragraphs.

Views of the lower part of the cemetery:
above during WW1 and below in 2009

Click images to enlarge

3c. Indian Cremation on the beach

  This painting is by American artist, Henry Bacon, dated 1884. He painted many scenes in Etretat including one of the washerwomen at work on the beach. Bacon also wrote a book: Etretat - Hamlet of the Setting Sun. See section 5b below.

The scene he depicts here is the Cremation of the father of an Indian Prince. Edie relates the story in her dairy on 7 December 1915.

This story is also related on the Etretat Tourism website - the section on local legends

Click image to enlarge

3d.  Ascension Day Blessing of the Sea

The Blessing of the Sea on Ascension Day is recorded
in some detail by Edie on 2 June 1916. This event is
still celebrated every year on Ascension Day.




Click image to enlarge


Section 4.  Local villages and towns

While in Etretat we visited some of the villages which Edie mentions, particularly those nearby to which she often walked.

4a  Bénouville

Bénouville: a favoured destination for Edie and we were very happy to find that, on our visit, we were retracing her footsteps exactly 93 years to the day: see dairy for 21 March 1916. The primroses she wrote about were everywhere

Click images to enlarge

Left: the chateau Edie refers to on 13 June 1916.


Right: Bénouville church into which Edie 'peeped' on
21 March 1916

4b.  Gonneville-la-Mallet

This extraordinary building, the Hôtel des Vieux Plats, is still in existence but looking a little run down now.  The black and white pictures are roughly contemporary with Edie's visit on 9 January 1916.                                                Click images to enlarge




<  These two photos show how it looks in 2009.    >






4c. St Jouin-Bruneval

  Left: Hotel de la Belle Ernestine.
Click image to enlarge

On 15 July 1916 Edie records a trip to Le Havre. On the return trip she "came back along the Étretat Rd as far as the turning to St Jouin. Then we alighted & found our way to St Jouin - a charming little seaside place famous for its old Hostess - La Belle Ernestine - & the home she lives in, where one can get tea.
Edie met La Belle who read some poems. 
Click here to read Edie's account.

Right: sketch by Edie of a painting of
La Belle Ernestine frying an omelette.


There's lots more information about, and pictures of, La Belle Ernestine on the web; just google her name.  Meanwhile, have a look at her page on the official website of the village at: http://www.saint-jouin-bruneval.fr/auberge-de-la-belle-Ernestine.htm

4d.  Fécamp

  On our way home we passed through Fécamp and stopped briefly to look at the Palais Bénédictine. Edie visited it on 26 January 1916 and wrote quite a detailed account of the whole process with a couple of small sketches.

Lots more information on the official website: http://www.benedictine.fr/lepalais_frame.html.



Click image to enlarge

Section 5.  Painters, writers, etc in Etretat

If you are still here this far down the page you've earned this description of late 19th Century Etretat; it all sounds so much better in French!

Après la guerre de 1870, Etretat est la station balnéaire en vogue. Le tout Paris artistique et littéraire s’y retrouve : ce sont les peintres amateurs de sites pittoresques ; Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, des compositeurs comme Offenbach, des romanciers comme les Dumas père et fils et bien sûr, un habitué des lieux : Guy de Maupassant.

5a. Painters

To view the works of internationally celebrated painters who spent time in Etretat just google "Name of painter + Etretat" (e.g. Eugène Isabey, Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Eugène Boudin, Matisse).

Claude Monet is of particular interest to us because he may have used the same room in Hôtel la Blanquet as Edie - see section 2c above for Alain Millet's argument. The evidence for this is how Monet's painting 1883 or/and November 1885 is very like Edie's sketch of 27 May 1916.

Above: Monet's Bateaux sur le plage 1883.   
Click this image to enlarge

Right: Monet's Le départ des bateaux, Etretat 1885



This is the sketch which accompanies Edie's diary entry for 27 May 1916. She writes: "The cold gave me rheumatism but today looks beautifully sunny & warm - & the sea is as calm as a millpond."
The next day she reflects:
The sky last night was a joy! Dark crimson with black clouds - sea white calm silver - with the red reflected on it."

This boat-which-is-now-a-hut is strikingly similar
to those depicted by Monet in the paintings above.

Certainly the angle from which Edie sketched the boats and huts in her 6 a.m. drawing is very similar to that of Monet's two paintings. So, Detective Millet may be correct; again, see section 2c above.

A less well known painter who is, nevertheless, of great interest to us is the American, Henry Bacon. One his paintings is already illustrated in section 3c above: the Hindu cremation.  See more information on his writing in the next section.

5b. Writers

Several celebrated French writers lived in Etretat, notably Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) who spent most of his childhood in Etretat, at "Villa des Verguies". In 1883 he built his own house in Étretat, "La Guillette", in the mediterranean style in "Le Grand Val", since renamed rue Guy-de-Maupassant.

Others included Alexandre Dumas (pere et fils), Victor Hugo, Samuel Beckett, André Gide.

Edie makes three mentions in 1916 (11 May, 3 June and 22 June) of Etretat - Hamlet of the Setting Sun but without mentioning specifically the book which was written by the American painter, Henry Bacon (see section 3c and section 5a above), and was published in London in 1895.  In 1983 Alain Millet published a translation in French with a colleague, Philippe Vatinel.

Morris Werner, an American private who worked in Etretat hospitals between May 1917 and January 1919, wrote a book entitled Orderly! Alain Millet writes: Mr Werner's book added many little details to what I knew and wrote about the casino, the Hôtel des Roches Blanches, the Hôtel de la Plage..." The book was published in 1930 by Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith and is described as "excellent details on work in a base hospital from an orderly's point of view; gently ironic and anti-war." Werner wrote fifteen other books, primarily biographies and historical works of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, published between 1923-39.

5c. Composer

Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), whose works include the grand opera Tales of Hoffman, Orpheus in the Underworld, La Belle Helene, and La Vie Parisienne, built Villa Orphée in the town; see section 2b above.

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