Heartily sick of seeing soldiers, thank you

Soon after his Harwich experiences with the YMCA, Sydney Spencer of Cookham paid a visit to Kenneth ‘Jumbo’ Oliphant, the friend he had worked there with, and the latter’s mother, in Woking, Surrey. They had both had quite enough of the army.

Sept 30th
At home in Cookham

I spent from last Saturday tea time till Tuesday at St Margaret’s, Fern Hill Park, Woking, with Kenneth & Mrs Oliphant. It was a most restful time after the stress of Harwich. As soon as we got into the house Mrs Oliphant told Kenneth that the King was reviewing troops in Woking & would we like to go. It was pathetic. We had been seeing soldiers until we were heartily sick of it & here they were again. We declined the invitation smilingly…

Fred Oliphant [Kenneth’s brother] has a commission in the Seaforths and Granville [another brother] in the old Public School & University Corps. Higham of Oriel wrote me that Wright is also in that corps. I expect he will be as merry in that as he was up at Keswick.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

A midday reminder of the brave men fighting for King and Country

The church bell of St Nicolas’ Church in Newbury was rung daily during the war. The parish magazine explained to parishioners why this was:

The daily ringing of the Bell at mid-day is intended for a reminder to us of the brave men who are fighting for King and Country by sea and land, and as a call to us to offer up a short prayer for them at that hour, wherever we may be: and our Bishop has expressed the hope that this time may be one in which every parish may learn afresh the lesson of Prayer.

Newbury parish magazine, September 1914 (D/P89/28A/13)

The war’s challenges for the church

The Bishop of Oxford had a message for churchgoers in September 1914 in support of the war:

Our thoughts, prayers and cares are all converted into one channel by the tremendous war. We are called to live through one of the great moments of history. A war of nations on so vast a scale, vaster than anything yet known in history, must in its issue involve tremendously deep social, as well as political, changes, at home as well as abroad. It challenges us, therefore, as the Church of Christ in manifold ways. I believe that we are nearly unanimous in feeling that our country could not have remained neutral; and no doubt, therefore, the primary challenge which the war makes to us is to be instant in prayer so that by our prayers we may effectively support our country, further the efforts of the allies on the terrible road to victory, and bring comfort to the wounded, the sick, the desolate, and peace to those who fall in battle. Let the Church show that it really believes that prayer does work and liberates the hand of God to act…

But besides this there is another challenge which the war addresses to us which it is perhaps not so easy to meet. If we believe that God’s “never failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth” (and there are no words which will be more constantly in our minds than these) then we must expect that, as the outcome of the war, new and yet unforeseen duties will be laid upon us. There will be now, if ever, need for the prophetic spirit in the church to interpret the mind and purpose of God. God is doubtless making a quite fresh claim upon us to bring our private and social life into harmony with Him and into submission to His Will. The war will engender a new spirit of seriousness, and there will be many more than usual ready to listen to the message of God…

Or again, will not this tremendous crisis infuse into our faith a fresh seriousness? We have been getting lamentably vague in our religious convictions…Can we not rise in this great crisis to a belief in our Creed which will make us study it more deeply and dare more and do more for it?

Once again, there is so much in our private and social life that is rotten and hollow. There is a vast amount of sexual uncleanness indulged in, ignored and half tolerated. There has been a lamentably excessive love of pleasure and luxury: an inveterate “love of money” which “is a root of all kinds of evil”; a widespread shallowness in thinking and feeling; a growing bitterness in class relations. Now there is upon us a claim, an urgent claim, for a repentance both individual and national. God has a great and as yet undisclosed purpose for us. Whether we shall be worthy to know it, and then whether we shall have courage to follow it, will depend upon the number of men and women who recognise in their heart of hearts the necessity for a return to God.

Printed in Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, October 1914 (D/P120/28A/14)

We must pray for our enemies

The church of Dedworth was another to have strong religious views. The incumbent advised, in the magazine the church shared with Clewer St Andrew, that prayer should be for the enemy as well as for our own side:

Our minds are naturally filled with one great subject – the War – and so much has already been said and written to help us how we should act during this time, it seems difficult to add anything further. But one or two thoughts about our prayers: How real they do seem to be now: we can realize better the duty and privilege of offering up to Almighty God, intercessions on behalf of our dear ones, our land, our empire – we feel how earnestly we can plead for justice, and peace with honour.

What do we pray for? ]

(1) That all may be carried out according to the will of God, and that His love may be made manifest, and clear throughout the world. We hope for victory, but that too we must leave to the decree of God.
(2) For all engaged in the war in any way; remember as Christians we are bound to pray for all, whether fighting for, or against us.
(3) For our empire, that selfishness and greed may disappear, and all may be self-controlled, and thoughtful for others.

How should we pray?
(1) Not with pride, or with any spirit of boastful assurance on account of the greatness, and power of our empire, but with the utmost humbleness, confessing our sins, asking pardon of God for our own, and our nation’s short-comings.
(2) We should surely try to be present, at any rate, as often as we can, at the Holy Eucharist. It is at that service all the Catholic Church of Christ meet at the great Prayer Meeting at the great Service of Intercession.

Clewer St Andrew parish magazine, September 1914 (D/P39/28A/9)

War is an instrument of justice which produces the highest virtues

The vicar of Wargrave had to write an open letter to his parishioners in the church magazine in order to explain some controversial sermons he had delivered in support of the war:

When I last wrote in the Magazine the clouds of war were beginning to gather over Europe, and since then have burst, with the appalling result that most of the civilised world is in a state of war, and it seems as if those few countries living in peace must soon draw the sword on one side or the other.

I feel that my personal views on war are at variance with those of many who write and speak of war as something contrary to the Will of God, and necessarily evil. It seems to me that war is very definitely an instrument of justice amongst nations, and that a ‘peace at any price’ policy would be far more likely to hinder the coming of the Kingdom of God than to help it. I cannot help thinking, too, that there is much hypocrisy in the way in which we speak of the battlefield as if it was a perfect carnival of evil.
Probably more sin is committed in one night in one of our large cities than you would find on all the great battlefields in the world’s history. I rather take the opposite view that the battlefield produces virtues of the highest kind.

I put these suggestions forward in rather a crude form, and necessarily expressed very briefly as some have asked me about certain points raised by my sermons on the subject, and I think my standpoint was rather misunderstood. No one desires or prays for peace more fervently than I do, but I am convinced that in the present case there can be no real abiding peace except through the arbitrament of war.

Yours very faithfully,
B. Staunton Batty.

The magazine also reported less contentious matters relating to the war

Wargrave at The Front
The Vicar has been compiling a list of men from Wargrave who have answered their country’s call in her hour of need and danger. It will be published shortly under the heading “Wargrave’s Roll of Honour”. The number of names upon the list is 47 at present, and there are one or two more to be added.

More men are wanted especially between the ages of 19 and 30. Such an opportunity of playing the man in service of King and Country may never present itself again to this generation, and only the most urgent necessary reasons should keep any man at home from this crisis. The present campaign is the greatest the world has ever seen and to help in the victory will indeed be a glorious recollection to carry through life.

Hare Hatch Notes
The discipline of the war is having a marvellous effect upon our people, in that it is developing in them a sense of the seriousness of life. It is a fine purpose which has been awakened in our people, we have now the opportunity of a lifetime. The call to our young men to join the Army ought not to be neglected, the nation requires them if only for home defence, every young man should see to it now, ere it be too late, to do something in answer to this call. But there is a definite call, a higher call, which everyone must respond to, the call to prayer and mutual helpfulness. We urge upon all classes in our midst the necessity of prayer, simple and self-denying living. There will be much loss and suffering to be borne. None of us will (or want to) escape. We must bear our part in helping one another. Already evidence of this is forthcoming. Let there be no panic, no exaggeration, no selfish seeking of our own. Let us make sure we see God’s hand and hear His voice…

The Mission Church will be open daily from 10 to 1pm for any who care to use it for private devotion and meditation whilst the war lasts. Every Wednesday and Friday Litany will be said at 12, suitably adapted for present needs. Intercession Services, Wednesday and Friday at 6pm. We strongly urge our men-folk to come to the intercession services, as they leave off work. Let our worship and prayers follow those who are fighting for our national honour and security.

Crazies Hill Notes
In order to meet and to encourage a widespread desire among our people to pray for their country in this time of war and anxiety we have arranged the following Services of Intercession. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 8.30am and 7.0pm, Wednesday 8.30 and 3.0, Saturday 8.30. Many are using these services already. WE now invite all others to do so, firmly believing that such intercession is not only comfort to those who pray, but have also effects in more distant directions than we can see or even imagine.

In this time of war we must not neglect or forget our other claims. This is addressed specially to the holders of Missionary Boxes. Our missionary services will not be discontinued, but dates will be given them which will be announced later in church.

In connection with the Red Cross Society, Miss Cole has arranged sewing meetings in the Hall at 3.30 on Wednesday afternoons. All workers are invited. We are sure that no one will refuse to respond to the appeal to contribute a little time and trouble to providing small comforts for our gallant soldiers and sailors…

We congratulate Crazies Hill on its efforts to contribute to the various relief funds. We were able to send £5. 4s. 10d., to the Prince of Wales’ Fund, and £1. 16s. 3d, to the Belgians’ Relief.

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

Lower Sandhurst School loses another member of staff

Having already said goodbye to one of the teachers, on 28 September 1914 the school lost a second staff member, when the caretaker left to join the army.  The headmaster, already doing double duty by teaching an extra class, notes:

Reported to Education Secretary that the caretaker is leaving to join the army on Saturday next.

Lower Sandhurst School log book (C/EL66/1, p. 294)

A pre-war visit to Portsmouth docks remembered

The choir of Pusey had a personal interest in the fate of the Royal Navy, thanks to a recent dockyard visit on their annual seaside outing, as the parish magazine notes:

On July 9, some members of the choir visited Portsmouth and Southsea. In view of the War the memory of this excursion will be especially interesting, for through the kindness of Lieut-Commander Leonard Patch and Commander Arthur Barrow, the party was privately conducted over the dockyard and spent an hour on H.M.S. Good Hope. Lieut-Commander Patch is now at sea engaged in the War on the first-class cruiser and flagship Bacchante, while Commander Barrow (probably in the North Sea) is on the battleship H.M.S. Africa.

Longworth and Pusey parish magazine, September 1914 (D/P83/28A/9)

A crowded church parade

Florence Vansittart Neale found the morning service at Bisham Church full with people involved with the war effort.

27 September 1914

Early church – Church parade – Nat. Reserve, nurses, men’s VAD, Scouts and Guides, band. Church crowded.

Harold accepted Naval Brigade.

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

Never more needful to celebrate harvest than in the face of an enemy driven by greed

Harvest festivals have a long tradition in England. Like other aspects of rural life, the normally joyful occasion was affected by the war. The people of Hare Hatch were determined to keep the usual spirit as far as possible, while the parish of Cookham Dean was keen to support its young men who had joined up.

Hare Hatch
Harvest Festival
God has mercifully granted us this year, when we so sorely needed it, a super-abundant harvest, which has been safely garnered in with glorious harvest weather, and never was it more needful to remind one another of God’s goodness and mercy at a time when we are faced by an enemy in a war forced upon us by those whose chief ambition is envy, treachery, and greed. We could not, therefore abandon our festival services.

On Sunday, September 27th, we met together in the Mission Church, which looked its very best, so tastefully decorated with flowers, fruits, and vegetables. The services were well attended. The Rev. S. Street officiated at the morning service and celebrated the Holy Communion. At the afternoon service for children, Mr F. Miller gave the address. The evening service was conducted by the Vicar. The offertories throughout the day, being in aid of the District Nurses’ Fund, amounted to £4. 6s. 9d. The flowers, fruit, and vegetables were sent to the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading.

Cookham Dean
Thanksgiving services for the harvest were held on Sunday, September 27th.  …  A hamper of fruit was sent to the home of the Royal Military Barracks, Reading, in the hope that it might eventually reach our lads in barracks there.

Wargrave parish maagzine, Novemebr 1914 (D/P145/28A/31); Cookham Dean parish magazine, October 1914 (D/P43B/28A/11)

Making garments for wounded soldiers and sailors

Ladies attending Broad Street Congregational Church in Reading were hard at work making clothing for the wounded:

A Working Meeting is being held in the schoolroom every Tuesday from 3 to 7 p.m. for the purpose of making 100 garments for our wounded soldiers and sailors. All ladies are cordially invited to attend these meetings.

Further east, Henry Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey spent the then-enormous sum of £2 on wool for his wife (and the women of Bisham?) to knit for the troops, on the day she heard a young relative was at the Front.

26 September 1914
H. bought £2 wool! for knitting….

Lance [Pope] in fighting line since Sep 10th.

Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, September 1914 (D/N11/12/1/14); diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

The last of active service?

Having completed his stint with the YMCA, Sydney Spencer thought it was all over. He would, of course, be proved wrong – we’ll be hearing from him again.

Sept 25th
At the Savages’ Shakespeare Hotel, York Road, Waterloo WC
Oliphant and I are sleeping the night here. Our experience at Harwich is over. I have seen my last of “Active Service” I suppose either for good or for a time.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

Trouble and anxiety

The vicar of Christ Church in Reading had some words of advice for parishioners:

The English nation has been drawn into the trouble and anxiety of a great war. What can we as individuals do to help? I cannot use better words than those of our Bishop which have been read to you in church:

“What is asked of us is that we should give no needless trouble: that we should be frugal and waste no bit of good food: that we should not help to raise prices by laying in stores: that we should be ready with great generosity to look after those upon whom the war may bring suffering or want: that we should be anxious to help in any way in which the authorities make a claim upon us willingly and gladly.”

Let me add a few words on some other points:

1. Prayer. The church will be open for private prayer daily from 8-6. Entrance is by the south chancel door through the vestry gate. Forms of suggested prayer will be found on the press near the door, which will, I trust, be helpful. I greatly hope that those who have leisure will make it a rule just now to come for ten minutes at any convenient time and pray for themselves and for others. The Public Intercessions will be used after the third collect at eveningsong in the 1st and 3rd Sundays and at mattins on the 2nd Sunday.

2. Relief. I shall be glad to know of any needing help but care must be taken to avoid over-lapping and ordinary cases should be reported to the Central Relief Committee at the Town Hall.

Christ Church parish magazine, September 1914 (D/P170/28A/23)

An oasis of peace and goodwill in Reading

One of the most influential contributions of Broad Street Congregational Church to the wider life of Reading before the war was the Broad Street Brotherhood, a semi-religious social club for local working men which was part of the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon movement. Its members included many of those targetted by recruiters for the army, and it was greatly affected by the war, as this entry in the church magazine makes clear.

There is one matter which I do not intend to dwell upon this month and that is the war. Every newspaper, every magazine is full of it, and it will be impossible to add anything to what has already been written, but there is one item I must put on record, and that is, that we as a Brotherhood are very proud of our members who have volunteered and are now serving our King and Country, and we say to them from the bottom of our hearts, “God be with you till we meet again”.

Many of our Brothers and the writer have been looking forward each Sunday afternoon during the past month for one hour on one day of the week free from hearing of this awful war in which we are now engaged, but alas, it has been war news, war songs, and war addresses, and it seems impossible to get a moment’s quietude. How we should appreciate a Sunday afternoon with two minutes of silent prayer for peace, and then one hour’s restful service together.

Last Sunday, our postponed prize distribution took place, and a very fine lot of books was taken away by our brothers, numerically not so many as on previous occasions, not because the books were not earned, but because many of our brothers have given the whole of their book money either to the National Brotherhood Campaign, or to the Prince of Wales’ War Fund, a most generous and well merited act on their part.

Our Brotherhood choir again tendered valuable services in making the concert at the Palace Theatre [in Reading] on behalf of the Prince of Wales’ Fund, such a stupendous success. …

The autumn session is now started and we are hoping to make our PSA an oasis of peace and good will during the tumultuous times we are now living in.

Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, September 1914 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Artillery duel between us and the Germans

Florence Vansittart Neale has the latest war news:

24 September 1914

Weary battle still going on. Artillery duel – a sort of siege. Allies still firm. Germans slightly retiring.

Jacky Martin better.

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

Heavy breathing and foul language – but a great success

Sydney Spencer faces his last day at the YMCA camp, and looks back over his experiences.

Thursday Sept 24th
[Opposite a page setting out the Morse code]
The following is the Morse Code written in this book for me by one of the privates here. He lent over our impromptu letter box & wrote it earnestly with much heavy breathings. I want to learn this code if at all possible…

Tomorrow I leave the camp. Am I sorry? Yes, I must own that I have quite a number of regrets in leaving Harwich. The last two or three days have been such a pleasure & I have so warmed to the work that I shall distinctly leave behind many pleasant memories, & but very few unhappy ones. With the exception of one man’s foul language to myself, for which I just straightly attacked him, I have had not one unpleasant passage of arms with the men. Our concert last evening was really a huge success. The place after a most strenuous two hours preparing looked – use a university modernism – “top hole”. I had a very busy time of it preparing, & when it was done – the platform made, the counter covered up, and candles placed in saucers on a form for footlights, then I really felt that we were well rewarded for our labours. The items on the programme were all or nearly all quite successful, & Private Macgregor who sang Father O’Flinn and Long Live The King, & other songs, really was the best item of the evening for his healthy figure & his splendid voice, & his splendid taste in singing made him for me the best of the bunch. He took a real joy in his singing & made the whole air tingle with the splendid swing of his singing. Today has been a rather hard day for me, as Hayes has been out most of the day to get a rest from yesterday’s concert. Tonight he has gone out with the “light” signallers, with Lieutenant Chadington who was last night at our concert, & also sang. He sang very well indeed – rag times – and delighted the men. Daldry was very cut up because we had the counter closed up. I should think that the concert would have been lowered 80 or 90 per cent at least.

Sydney Spencer’s diary, 1914 (D/EX801/12)