Rubbing up his French before going to the Front

Ready for his move to the Front, Percy Spencer was advised to brush up his rusty French, so he dashed off a note to his sister Florence:

c/o Mrs Spurgeon
Rose Cottage
Bocking Place


Dear Florrie

The above is now my address.

Can you send me a cheap French sentence book, and have you a grammar you can loan me?
My governor advises me that I should rub up my French.

Yours ever
in great haste

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/3/19)

Awful battle raging

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey had more bad news from her friends.

31 October 1914

Henry & I to Reading. He to meeting, I took “Comforts for the Fleet”…

Edie Wethered came 6 o’clock. Ronald Menzies missing. Hope a prisoner. Charlie Jackson wounded. Awful battle raging – Germans trying to break through but always stopped so far.

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

Men from Cookham Dean answer the call

The vicar of Cookham Dean was keen that everyone in the parish should know who was serving in the armed forces, so that they could keep them individually in their prayers.  In the early days of the war new recruits were continually being added to the ranks of those giving service at home or abroad.  In the October 1914 parish magazine, he wrote:

I hope next month to print in the Magazine the list of all those who have been called up from this parish to the Front, or to the Home Defence, including those who have recently joined the Army as recruits. I want the list to be as complete as possible, and I find that every few days a new name has to be added, or perhaps a correction has to be made with reference to the regiment or branch of the service in which a man may be serving. The corrected list is read in church about four times a week and anyone noticing any omission will oblige me much if they would call my attention to it.

The prayer for use in time of war has been printed on a card, and may be obtained for personal use, or for friends, on application to the vicar.

Cookham Dean parish magazine, October 1914 (D/P43B/28A/11)

Turkey declares war on Russia

The war news was bad, with the German cruiser Emden triumphant and a hospital ship wrecked by storms.

30 October 1914

“Emden” again sank Russian and French cruisers. Turkey declared war on Russia. Allies near Ostend. Red X ship destroyed on rocks by Whitby – heavy gale in North Sea. Real Russian advance.

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

We are all going to be poor

The vicar of Warfield’s concerns during the early months of the war included caring for Belgian refugees, while parishioners were keen to train men at home in shooting.



In a time of great anxiety like the present we still lift up our hearts in thankfulness to Almighty God, that He has put it into the hearts of so many young men to offer themselves for service of King and Country. Warfield has forty-five on the list and there are many others closely related to Warfield parishioners also at the post of duty. Both our Choir and Belfry have empty places as well as the nave formerly occupied by those who answered the call. May I ask you all once again to remember them at noon every day. God is above the water-flood, but God works through mankind. Our Soldier and Sailors are performing His calling, so they have a rightful claim upon the prayers of Christian people. The present crisis throws a partial gloom over the Harvest Festival and the Dedication Festival this year. We must learn the Apostolic maxim, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”; there are many rifts in the cloudy days of war, many reasons for a real thankfulness.

Ever yours affectionately in Christ,



At a meeting held on September 21st, the Brownlow Club Committee decided to call a meeting on the 30th to consider in a friendly way whether in the light of the present warfare it would be advisable to form a Rifle Club in our village and build a range. The outcome of the meeting will be given in our next issue.


What are we doing about these poor people? Has anyone in Warfield a house they would lend or give for a small rent, in order that we may have a few Belgian people to look after as a thank-offering for our land being free from the sword. The Vicar would be glad to hear of such a house as soon as possible. We are all going to be poor, but let us try and make those who have nothing the gainers of a little. It would be a real enrichment to try to make some as happy as we can.

Warfield parish magazine (D/P151/28A/6)

More life in Wantage than since the Civil War

William Hallam, originally from Lockinge but now residing in Swindon, kept in close contact with family and friends back home. His diary reports:

29 October 1914

Had a letter from Wantage to-day. Troops are now billeted all around Wantage. Never so much life in that district since the Parliamentarian War.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/22)

Why this unnecessary evil?

Sydney Spencer agonises over the evils of the war:

Thursday October 29th, Saturday October 31st & Sunday

Oxford still exists, & the sound of martial feet is heard in the land, & bugles startle the sacred learned precincts of our college with their brazen cry, & all points to & tells of war. As I write & think of those days when Loughton and I basked in broiling sunshine on the lawn of the Rose & Lily tea gardens, or paddled our canoe among beds of rushes & golden eyed lilies, & followed the sleepy current of that wending stream which runs by the hotel at Wheatley, & saw the world of nature, & pronounced it “very good”, that in four short months the world would be plunged in war!

Yes, as I write our fair world is clouded & darkened, & shaken to its foundations by one of the greatest & most terrible wars that this world has seen. Germany: France: Servia [sic]: Belgium: Portugal: India: Turkey: Poland: Russia: South Africa! All these countries are at war with one or another! England has Germany as her enemy. England, Belgium, Russia, Japan & France are allied against Germany. Servia has as it were, although the originator of the war, died out of the question. In South Africa there is a German party stirring up hatred against England & causing war & bloodshed. Turkey has lifted her hand against Russia & the relations between England & that nation are at breaking point. Today I see that America is protesting against our detention of a ship the “Kroonland”. India in her loyalty to England is drawn into the net, & so the war circle ever widens & widens till indeed it will be a world war.

And that word war. What does it all mean? Why this brutal waste of humanity, why this “unnecessary evil”? For unnecessary it undoubtedly is. And the answer is surely that the nations are not yet Christianised, that is to say not yet civilised. Are those who say that war is a necessary evil right or wrong? In one respect they are right, in one respect wrong. Or perhaps it were better to say, that if they present their arguments in one light they are right, & if in another light wrong. Suppose they say that in the present state of affairs, since the world is neither Christian nor civilised, since nations are wholly ignorant of even the rudiments of Christ’s teaching, since nations would be greeted, if they were suddenly transported to the other world with Depart ye strong to Me, & my Father, depart ye workers of iniquity who lived on earth with a lie ever on your lips: suppose & say that these people acknowledged all this, & further acknowledged that as militarism is the only universally understood language – what a lamentable truth! – and that consequently when we rise up & punish a wicked nation, we must shew we must talk to them in their own language, we must in a word use militarism as an argument & our language, then undoubtedly was is a most necessary evil, & their statement is true. Consequently it is only untrue when nations have learned to respect other arguments, of “meekness”, of “non-resistance”, of “CHRIST”.

I heard an address a little time back, in which the speaker suggested that if I am to gain a man’s respect, & get him to a higher level, I must first shew him that I can beat him on his own level. I take him to mean that I must teach him to respect the fact that I know his own language & philosophy of life, & can beat him on it, & then lift him – having gained his respect and ear, onto a higher level…Well this is a very specious argument, without doubt, as it would logically mean that I must get blind drunk with another man before I can teach him that temperance is a higher level.

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

‘Knowing nothing about a rifle, they can’t put me in the firing line’

The camping stove Florence Spencer sent to her brother Percy had one flaw – he couldn’t make it work! The time of his going to the Front seemed to be approaching…

Belmont Hill
St Albans
Oct 28.14

Dear Flo

How do you work your stove – should there be a wick or a piece of gauze over the oil well? Or should the oil well be filled with a wad soaked with methylated?

I’m off to Essex on Friday for a short time. Then back to St Albans, and then I am informed, to France.

That last will be a jolly game for a raw recruit who hasn’t handled a rifle yet – it will at least reassure you that I shan’t run any risk, as, knowing nothing about a rifle, they can’t put me in the firing line.

Excuse this brief note.

Yours ever Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/3/18)

A letter from the Queen’s lady in waiting

Abingdon schoolgirls had been busy making clothes for British soldiers and sailors. They were rewarded with a letter from the Royal Household.

25th to 28th [October 1914]
33 Garments made by the girls for the Soldiers and Sailors were sent to the Queen at Devonshire House. Received a letter in acknowledgment of them from the Lady in Waiting.

Abingdon Girls CE School log book (C/EL2/2)

The French are not to be relied upon

One young wounded soldier told his nurse, Florence Vansittart Neale’s daughter Phyllis, that he had a poor opinion of the reliability of our French allies. The troops from India, on the other hand. were making a strong impression on the enemy.

28 October 1914
Car .. had gone to fetch Phyllis & Gladys from Windsor. Phyllis very well & bright. Young Needham there – wounded been at front all the time. Says the French not to be relied upon. Sometimes fight well, then turn tail.

Germans still trying to get through our lines – to Calais! Strongly reinforced. Our Indians much alarm them – great slaughter.

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

Making the soldiers happy

Broad Street Congregational Church in the centre of Reading offered entertainment to soldiers stationed in the town.  Those members of the church’s Brotherhood organisation for men who were not themselves in service took a major role in this work:

The people of Longworth and Charney support the war effort

Many young men from Longworth and Charney Bassett had answered the call and joined the armed forces. The Longworth parish magazine reports on these men, and what people at home could do to support them:

A poster calling upon us to remember in prayer our soldiers and sailors at the front, also the wounded, the prisoners and the bereaved, has been placed in the Church porch and elsewhere in the village. We hope it may be possible to ring the church bell at noon each day in order to remind us of this call. We shall be joining our prayers with thousands of others offered at the same time in every part of the country.

The names of men who are serving from this village are given, so far as we have been able to get them, below. They will also be found in the Church porch. Perhaps we could copy the list into our books of prayer, and so remember the men individually.

Soldiers- Henry Timms, John Loder, Ernest J. Godfrey, Lewis Brooks, Oscar Wilcox, Charles Truman, Charles Hammond, John K. L. Fitzwilliams.

Sailors- George Painton (North Sea), John Richings (China).

Recruits- Fred Heath, Ernest Ridge, George Pimm (Shorncliff), John Porter, Percy Butler, Alfred Leach, Harry Clarke, Hedley Luckett, Albert Hobbes, Francis John Rivers (Oxford), Richard Adams, Albert Pimm (Weymouth).

From Charney- George Shorter, George Wheeler, Ernest Franklyn.

In addition to the above, six have volunteered and been rejected as “medically unfit.” All honour to them notwithstanding, for they have done their best, and no man can do more. Will our readers be so kind as to help us to make this list complete.

A service of Intercession on behalf of our soldiers and sailors engaged in the war is held each Wednesday at 7pm. The church bell is tolled a few times each day at noon as a call to private prayer on the same behalf. We should remember in our prayers the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa, whose work is carried on chiefly in German territory. The sum of 7s. 8d. was collected in Church on Sunday, August 16, towards the Prince of Wales’ National Defence Fund.

Lady Hyde has kindly taken some “Quiet Afternoons” with the Charney mothers, and supplied them with material for making clothing for the soldiers and sailors.

Longworth parish magazine, October 1914 (D/P83/28A/9)

Amply provided for

The Executive Committee of the National Relief Fund Berkshire Committee met on 27 October 1914 at
Shire Hall, Reading. Once again they dealt with cases of families of servicemen who were in financial difficulties.

At present there is no distress in Abingdon directly caused by the war…

The following applications for relief were considered:
Fanny White, Shinfield. Resolved that 4/6 per week for three weeks, beginning October 17th, be granted.
P C Dennys, Wargrave. Letters concerning this applicant from the Rev. B Batty and Mr Henry Bond were read, and the secretary was instructed to write to Mr Dennys and advise him to apply for an interpretership to the War Office and to the Belgian Refugee Committee.
Oakley, Bracknell. The Committee resolved that the case be dropped for the present.
Ethel Bourgeois, Bray. The secretary reported that the applicant was receiving a weekly payment from the French Consulate and that her late employer had written saying that for the present she was amply provided for.
A Ross, Clewer. Resolved that the applicant’s arrears of rent to the amount of 35/- be paid to the landlord through the local Windsor Committee.

The Government Committee’s circular letter DMTI re Medical Relief was considered. Mr Melvill Davidson and Mr Tottie reported that the Soldiers and Sailors’ Families Association in Berkshire was prepared to deal with the administration of the medical relief….

National relief Fund berks ctee C/CL/C6/4/1

A nice Highland Colonel shows the Vansittart Neales around Aldershot

The Vansittart Neale ladies of Bisham Abbey had an outing to see an army camp, at Aldershot.

27 October 1914
I, Edith & Bubs went to Aldershot. Found 33 camp at Rushmoor after some difficulty. Very nice Colonel Scott & Captain Macgregor, Gordon Highlanders, showed us all. Pipe Major exhibited the pipes & drums.

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

Thank you for the underwear

The hard work of Clewer women making clothing for the troops was rewarded with the gratitude of the recipients of these and other gifts. The following letter was published in the parish magazine:

On His Majesty’s Service,
Army Post.
Passed by Censor.
In the Field, Oct. 27th, 14.

The officer commanding the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards begs to acknowledge with much gratitude on the part of the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men, the kind gift of underclothing, etc., just received. The kindly thoughts of those at home helps to cheer and help us more than it is possible to express on paper.
Signed: A. SOLLY FLOOD, Major,
Commanding 4th R.I.D. Guards.

We have sent out at present the following list of articles, and have still some day and night shirts ready waiting for others to be finished:-
349 night shirts, 501 pairs socks, 374 flannel day shirts, more than 1,000 bandages and 100 safety pins, 3 small pillows, 1 sweater, 1 pyjama suit, cigarettes, parcel of old linen, 200 flannel belts, 100 pairs muffatees, blankets, plum puddings for Christmas, etc., etc., etc.

Clewer parish magazine, December 1914 (D/P39/28A/9)