A spy in the bedroom?

Bisham Abbey experienced its own brief spy alarm, thanks to Elizabeth “Bubbles” Vansittart Neale. This was a rare light hearted moment, on the day the first contingent of wounded soldiers arrived for nursing, transferred from larger military hospitals elsewhere such as Netley in Southampton.

31 August 1914
Bubs terror, thought German spy in outer bedroom. Proved to be funny.

Wounded arrived. Some [from] Netley, London, Cambridge.

Recruits still wanted. Kitchener’s 2nd army 100,000. Ken to return as 2nd Lieutenant to his old regiment at Wrexham.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Schools lose teachers and premises to the forces

Several Berkshire schools lost teachers to army service as the autumn term started on 31 August 1914, while one school (attached to the garrison at Windsor) closed entirely, and another, in Reading, closed for a short period.

Windsor Royal Free Boys’ School
Reopened school with all the staff present.  Admitted several boys from Garrison School which has been closed in consequence of the war.

Wokingham Road School, Reading
Wokingham Road School having again been requisitioned for military purposes, I am authorised by the Chairman to say that the whole school is to be closed from 4 o’clock this afternoon until further notice.

Hurst CE Boys’ School
School reopened.  Mr Newitt, having been called up for service with territorials, has terminated his duties here.

Crowthorne C.E. School
School re opened this morning at 9. Mr Whittingham being a member of the territorial force has been called up for duty, on account of the outbreak of the European War. All the other members of the staff were present.

Windsor Royal Free Boys’ School log book (C/EL/72/3, p. 132); Wokingham Road (later Alfred Sutton) Primary School log book (89/SCH/37/1, p. 219); Hurst CE Boys’ School log book (D/P73/28/23, p. 2); Crowthorne CE School log book (D/P102B/28/2, p. 278)

A sad wife

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey had an active social life. Various friends were joining up in various capacities.

30 August 1914
Ken turned up en route for Abney – not had his call yet. Harold [Vereker] off to Aldershot this afternoon. Mrs [illegible – Serwold?] brought things made by her women for hospital. She looked so sad; her husband in 2nd battle. Maud M. came bringing young Baron Marscolti; he going on Sir J French’s staff. Told us about Italian ambassador informing Churchill to mobilize!

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Pray that God may keep us cool and steady

The Hare Hatch area of Wargrave responded to the war with a call for prayer.

Hare Hatch Notes
The news from the seat of war is satisfactory. But first and foremost in this crisis comes the Duty of Prayer. We must pray for ourselves, that God may keep us cool and steady and ready to perform whatever part. He calls us to do at this time. We must pray for those we love who have left us at the call of the King and Country. We must pray for those in authority, our King, our Government, our generals, our admirals, our soldiers, and sailors. We must pray for those sick and wounded, those in sorrow, distress and anxiety. Our services on Sunday and our week-day Intercession services give us this opportunity, come and join us if you have not already done so.

On Friday, August the 28th, the members of our Sunday School had their annual Tea at the Lodge. After tea we had a united Intercession service in the Mission Church. A special collection on behalf of the families of our soldiers and sailors at the front amounted to £1. 13s. 10d.

Sunday, August the 30th, was our special day of Intercessions. We had large congregations at the morning and evening services. The offertory throughout the day being devoted to The British Red Cross Society for providing requisites for the sick and wounded amounted to £3. 9s. 6d.

Wargrave parish magazine, October 1914 (D/P145/28A/31)

More on BCC staff joining up

BCC’s Finance and General Purposes Committee considered the question of employees joining up the day after the Staff Sub-committee. They also agreed to support the National Relief Committee.

29 August 1914
Report of the Finance and General Purposes Committee

The Committee have considered the question of the amount to be paid to employe’s of the Council in receipt of a weekly wage when away from duty on active service and rcommend
That, without discriminating between married and single men, the County Council pay such sum as after deduction of military or naval pay and separation allowance would bring the amount received by the employe’ up to full civil pay.

The Committee recommend that, following the suggestion contained in the Local Government Circular of 17th August, a sum not exceeding £100 be provided on account of the administrative expenses of the Berkshire Committee of the National Relief Fund.

BCC minutes (C/CL/C1/1/17)

Bows for Belgians

Elizabeth “Bubbles” Vansittart Neale was among the young women raising money for Belgian relief by selling ribbon bows in the Belgian national colours.

29 August 1914
Bubs had been to Maidenhead to sell bows etc for Belgian Fund – £200 in the day.
Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Jobs to be kept open for BCC staff joining up

The Berkshire County Council Staff Purposes Sub-committee, recommended in a report dated 28 August 1914, that not only should jobs should be kept open for staff joining up, but they should continue to be paid. They almost certainly failed to realise how long the war would last.

The Committee recommend
That in all cases where members of the staff have been called up, or may hereafter volunteer (with the permission of the head of his department) for naval or military service during the war, their civil posts be kept open for them until their return from service, and that such service count for increment of civil salary.

Berkshire County Council minutes (C/CL/C1/1/17)

Line still unbroken, with Indian troops in reserve

Not only did Florence Vansittart Neale have to lose a footman to the armed forces, her daughter Elizabeth (nicknamed Bubbles or Bubs) was going to nurse the wounded.

28 August 1914
Sent off my recruit, George Bennett our 2nd footman…

To Windsor to find rooms for Bubs & May [Turner?]. Got them opposite hospital. Brought back dear little cat, most friendly….

Fussed over hospital clothes. Mrs [Beever?] & Mrs Acland came to tea – she also running hospital at Welwyn….

Meeting at Vic: [illegible] about National Relief Fund.

Fierce battle still going on. Sir J French says line not broken. Fighting against much larger numbers. Line still unbroken. This going back rather. Fear heavy casualties. Another army ready, & Indian troops.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“Once bit twice shy”: a job for Apsley Cherry-Garrard

After the collapse of his scheme to use dogs to look for wounded soldiers, Apsley Cherry-Garrard was in no hurry to accept a war job, but he told his lawyer was considering another opportunity. He was not among those expecting the war to be over by Christmas.

Dear Mr Farrer

I have not been in [to the lawyer’s office] because I am not sure if I am going to take a job helping to run a converted yacht with wounded etc. I want a job if possible, but the doctor here [at Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire] refuses me medically – however I think something will turn up. But I won’t be hurried – once bit twice shy. So perhaps it is better to wait a while – especially as Kit [Drover?] says that war is going on 3 years.

Yours very sincerely

Apsley Cherry-Garrard

Aug 28

Letter from Apsley Cherry-Garrard to Arthur Farrer, D/EHR/Z8/127

More from Mrs Vansittart Neale

Just a brief note from Florence Vansittart Neale today as she continued to busy herself getting Bisham Abbey ready for hospital use:

27 August 1914
Painted bedsteads & worked….

Special Constables – George Trent volunteering.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

The recruiting sergeant came today

One of the servants at Bisham Abbey was persuaded to join up, while his employer devoted herself to hospital work.

26 August 1914
Recruiting sergeant came & 2 others. George [servant?] to go tomorrow…
I had visitors – Col. Pigott, Agatha Makins, Miss Williams Freeman, then Mrs Jay & Mrs Bruce. They stayed ages. Too late for Marlow Hospital….

Made brush bags in evening. No further news.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Retreating all along the line

While the Vansittart Neales served at home, news of the Allied forces was gloomy:

25 Aug 1914

I stayed in all day – at least out on lawn making brush bags.… Bubs cleaning out GG room. All to church. Meeting after about Special Constables. 30 names given in.

Namur fallen. Allies retreating all along the line, but hear it is not so important as we feared. English held their own. 20,000 casualties.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Weeping on the quays: news from the Channel Islands

A member of Maidenhead Congregational (now United Reformed) Church shared his dramatic first-person account of how the outbreak of war hit the Channel Islands, where he had gone on holiday, in the church’s magazine.

I have just arrived from Guernsey after a riotous holiday among the Channel Islands, lasting in all some four days…

On the quay whence I returned at mid-day, I found that part of the pier opposite a fair-sized passenger boat next to ours, roped in and guarded by the police, only the French reservists, for whom the boat was provided, being allowed to pass. There were many piteous scenes on the quay. I saw a young fellow of some twenty-five or so pretending that he was a brave man, with a little old woman weeping on his heart. He needn’t have been ashamed of the tears glistening in his eyes though he controlled himself so well for his mother’s sake. Poor little mother – he was her last one.

I saw a man of thirty or more with a wife and six children. She was crying softly in the midst of the scared little ones wondering, poor soul, if Heaven really would provide – he was too drunk to understand. I sighed my relief when he went on his way and left no mark of remembrance on her face. There was the soldier’s wife and mother who stood upright with a proud smile on her face and a cheery kiss and pressure. It was a fine sight and a brave one, but I wondered what it would cost her that night.

Jersey is a tactically valuable island and well guarded. I was assured that they can put 35,000 men fully armed in the field to-morrow and most of them expert shots. The whole force is mobilised and one passes the forts with the consciousness of a dozen eyes watching. Guernsey is much the same and at present very short of labour: loading cargo was difficult from sheer lack of loaders. Our stoker had gone and been replaced by passengers, but the remainder of the actual ship staff escaped. Most of the jetty workmen had gone; many of the tradesmen had downed tools and answered the call of their honour. A prosperous barber with two shops at Guernsey and one at Jersey had obeyed with the rest, and in the one remaining shop left open customers were shaving themselves and paying well for the privilege. Yet, in the midst of it all Candie Gardens were full of a laughing, flirting crowd, the picture theatres were packed and life went on as before with all the more noise perhaps, to drown the weeping of the poor abandoned women.

We left in the morning: I have a vague recollection of being wakened about 2.30 a.m. to the tune of some violent abuse because some rope had fouled the steering gear; but my day had been packed too tightly for anything to compete with Morpheus and this may have been a dream. Eight o’clock found us listening to the rhythmic clatter of the broken flints falling from the machines on the quay-side at St. Sampson’s. The hours passed but no loading commenced and it was not till the Tuesday evening that the captain was notified not to sail without further orders from London.

I caught the Weymouth mail at St. Peter’s about twelve the next day; the same scenes were evident here and the Southampton boat was crowded with reservists called to the colours: enthusiasm, bombast, genuine indignation, anxiety for the dependants, all were there; but faith in the Old Country and certainty of success glowed in the faces of all. I felt proud of them all and proud of the accident of my birth.

The passage was a good one and we took it calmly. Nothing happened till we were quite out of sight of land; then appeared six great torpedo boats, of French design, standing like sentinals between us and the English shore. One of them detached itself and came racing towards us at fifteen knots or more, rounding our stern with a graceful sweep that brought a cheer from us all.

At the entrance of Weymouth harbour we met a pilot boat which questioned our captain, exchanged code passwords and finally gave us the clearance signal to protect us from the guns on shore. So we passed to the train and home.

It was good to be in England, good to feel the protection of those grey monsters in the harbour- cruisers, gunboats, torpedo boats, that stood between us and the enemy; above all, good to know the quiet strength, the steady purpose and watchful care. We were very quiet in our packed carriage for a time, the influence of our experience lay heavy upon us, and our own thoughts were our best companions. Then we talked of what we ourselves could do, and the darkness fell on a thousand earnest resolutions.


Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, September 1914 (D/N33/12/1/4)

Believe our troops in great battle

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey continued to worry about the war news while making preparations for Bisham Abbey to be used as a hospital.

24 August 1914
No news but great battle begun. Believe our troops in it. Worked hard at bedspreads sitting out with baby Bridget [her niece Bridget Pope] asleep. H[enry] took E and me to docks, & then dropped E at Stoney Ware. Fremantle turned up with Nobles to see hospital. North Room ready. Made brush bags. Later news Namur had fallen. Pope family motored to Beechlands, quite successful.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Turn to God in a time of trial, urges the rector of Burghfield

When the war broke out, the Revd William T George, rector of Burghfield was on his summer holidays in Scotland, where he had swapped duties with another clergyman. He wrote to his own flock with fatherly advice:

27 Stafford Street
August 23rd 1914

My dear parishioners and friends

I wish that I could have been with you during the stress and anxiety of the past month. I had, however, undertaken important duties a one of the principal churches here in which we have very large congregations every Sunday, and moreover, the Rectory is occupied by others until September 9th, when I hope to return.

I am glad to hear that all goes well in our parish. May this time of trial draw us all nearer to each other and nearer to Him Who is “our hope and strength, a very present help in trouble”. Will you all read and try to act upon the advice given by our Bishop in his letter which is printed in this magazine.

Commending you all to the love and protection of the Almighty God Who is able to make all things work together for good to them that love Him.

I remain,
Your friend and pastor,
William H George

Burghfield parish magazine, September 1914 (D/EX725/3)