A Watchnight service with a difference

Watchnight services are traditionally held on New Year’s Eve.  Originally a Methodist tradition, they were adopted by other denominations, including St John’s Anglican church in Reading, and its daughter-church St Stephen’s.  As 1914 drew to a close, the Watchnight service took on a special significance:

The Watch-Night Service at S. John’s will be of a unique character this year. A Service entitled ‘The National Crisis,’ illustrated with the most beautiful lantern slides, specially arranged by Messrs. Newton, will be used. At S. Stephen’s also the special circumstances of the time will be remembered and a suitable Service arranged.

Reading St John parish magazine, December 1914 (D/P172/28A/23)

“Miserable, fearing his arm must come off”

The small hospital for Belgian soldiers at Bisham Abbey was attracting visitors – friends of Florence Vansittart Neale anxious to see how it was doing. Florence’s nephew Paul Eddis was involved in a daring raid on the German naval base at Curhaven.

31 December 1914
Mary Hime & Eardley Wilmots to see hospital. Poor Gustave Kupne miserable, fearing his arm must come off…

Heard through Mary Hime Paul was in the Curhaven raid with his submarine. Also John Stainton wounded in lung, ball in stomach.
Parents gone to Boulogne.

General Plumer in command of [7th?] Army Corps [illegible] Indian regulars & Terriers. Charlie Jackson his ADC.

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

The Belgians of Maidenhead say thank you

Most of our sources tell the story of the Belgian refugees who found safety in Berkshire from the point of view of their hosts. Here we have a rare example from the hands of one of the Belgians, which was printed in the Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine. It is of course in the author’s native French, but the editor of the magazine provided a translation so that church members, who were financially supporting this Belgian family, could read their words of thanks:


Just too late for insertion in our last number, came a letter to Mrs. Lewis from 14, Fairford Road, which no doubt all our readers would like to read.

Cherès Dames, chers Messieurs, chers Enfants,

C’est à l’occasion du renouvellement de l’an que je considere de mon devoir de vous souhaiter tout ce qui peut vous être agreable, tour le bonheur possible et une santé inebranlable pour vous et tous les membres de famaille qui vous sont chers.

Je ne saurais vous remercier assez cheres Dames et chers Messiurs pour tous les bienfaits dont nous avons été comblés depuis notre arrives parmi vous et nous formons l’espoir que vous voudrez continuer à soulager notre sort tant malheureux.

N’ayant pas l’honneur de connaître tous les membres qui participent à cette œuvre de bienfaisance, j’espere que vous voudrez être mon interprete en vous communiquant entre vous tous nos bons sentiments provenant du fond de notre cœur.

Entretemps veuillez tous recevoir nos salutations les plus respecteuses.

Pr le famaille Van Hoof Roofthrop,
Van der Planken, Van Hoof,

Which is to say:

Dear Ladies, Gentlemen, and Children,
At the opening of the New Year, I think it my duty to wish you everything that is pleasant, all possible happiness, and perfect health for you and all the members of your family and all who are dear to you.

I could never thank you enough, dear ladies and gentlemen, for all the kindness you have shown us since our coming amongst you, and we hope you will continue to help us in our sore plight.

Not having the honour of knowing all the members who participate in this kind act of benevolence, I hope you will be my interpreter to communicate to them all the kind feelings which come from the bottom of our hearts.

Meanwhile kindly all of you receive our most respectful greetings.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, February 1915 (D/N33/12/1/5)

We ought not to make merry during this terrible war

People in Warfield were slightly apologetic about this year’s Christmas party.

None of us feel that we ought to have much merry-making this Christmas while this terrible war is in progress, but we are having our usual Christmas “Social” to remind us that it is Christmastide. We have tried to send Christmas fare to out soldiers and we feel that they will not grudge us our little festivity, though we shall sadly miss some of their faces. The time fixed is Wednesday, December 30th, from 7-11.

Warfield section of Winkfield District Monthly Magazine, January 1915 (D/P151/28A/7/1)

Seven men leave Bisham

Enough of the Belgian soldiers at Bisham Abbey were now well enough to leave hospital, that it was decided to shut down one of the wards.

30 December 1914
Very fussing morning. Doctor came at 10 & said 7 men were to leave. Rushed about getting their clothes, giving lunch. Left 12.50, Maisie with them & Salvation [Army] lass!…

Felt very sad without all the men. Shut up North Ward. Julian to Green & Francois to Middle.

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

A Christmas party for soldiers’ families in Wokingham

St Sebastian’s Church in Wokingham held a Christmas party for the families of local soldiers, who must have been particularly lonely at this time of year:

‘On Service.’ The following is a complete and amended list of those from this Parish. Any additions should be notified as soon as possible.
Akers, Frank, Royal Berks
Annetts, Samuel, HMS Minerva
Annetts, Arthur, 8th Royal Berks
Bingham, Wilfred, Royal Engineers
Bunce, Joseph, 4th Hants
Butler, John, Grenadier Guards
Butler, Thomas, Grenadier Guards
Carter, Col. Duncan, Remount Depot
Casserly, Corpl John, RFA [Royal Field Artillery]
Chaplin, Sidney, 4th Royal Berks
Chamberlain, Charles, 8th Royal Berks
Clacey, Sergt Frank, 7th Queen’s Royal West Surrey
Collar, Robert, 6th Inniskillings
Darbourn, George, 4th Royal Berks
Englefield, William, 4th Royal Berks
Frost, Capt. Frank, S & T Indian Corps
Fisher, Alfred, 4th Royal Berks
Hurdle, James, 2nd West Yorks
Hurdle, Herbert, RFC [Royal Flying Corps]
Hurdwell, Alfred, 4th Royal Berks
Jewell, James, Royal Berks
King, Egbert, ASC [Army Service Corps]
King, Sergt Edwin, Royal Irish Fusiliers
King, William, RFA
Littlewood, Herbert, 7th Queen’s Royal West Surrey
Milam, Ernest, 2nd Royal Berks
Munday, William, 8th Gloucesters
Newman, William, HMS Assistance
Parker, Alfred Charles, 3rd Royal Berks
Perry, Alfred, 21st Lancers
Perry, James, 2nd Hants
Perry, Charles, 2nd Lincolns
Phillipps, Francis, HMS Lancaster
Povey, Frederick, 2nd West Yorks
Povey, William
Povey, Ernest, Royal Berks Yeomanry
Prater, Daniel, Royal Engineers
Prior, Gerald, 4th Hants
Rance, Albert Victor, 4th Hants
Readings, Charles, HMS Talbot
Robertson, John, 5th Royal Berks
Rose, Charles, RFA
Stafford, Lieut. John Howard, Royal Engineers
Townsend, Charles, 7th Queen’s Royal West Surrey
Townsend, Lance-Corpl Albert, 5th Queen’s Royal West Surrey
Tucker, Sergt Harry, 5th Royal Berks
Tyrrell, Edwin, 4th Royal Berks
Waygood, John, Royal Berks

A Prayer Book, in a special binding, was sent to all these at Christmas, as a little remembrance from ‘their fellow Parishioners,’ and judging by the letters received, the gift has been much appreciated.

On Wednesday, December 30th, the wives and children of those ‘on service’ were invited to the Parish Room. The arrangements for their entertainment were undertaken and admirably carried out by Miss Radcliffe, to whom, and to those who assisted, hearty thanks were given.”

Wokingham St Sebastian parish nagazine, January 1915 (D/P154C/28A/1)

Bisham Abbey is fully mobilised

Bisham Abbey gets an official visit.

29 December 1914
Admiral Fleet to see. Came to pronounce us mobilized & give us brassades. Also 4 men.

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

Helping to support Belgians in Burghfield

The Burghfield parishioners’ support of a Belgian family is mentioned in the church magazine for December. Money was starting to run out, as the war went on.

A general meeting will be held in January to explain matters, and to decide how the necessary expenses shall be met after the first week in March, by which time Mrs Pilkington’s collection of £10 will be exhausted. This fund is being applied at the rate of 10s per week, and as the weekly expenses are 50s (for the two parties) besides occasional coals, an additional interim sum of over £30 has to be raised in order to cover the 14 weeks ending 6th March. Towards this, £16 is already promised, and Mr Willink, as Hon. Treasurer, will be glad to receive further contributions. The extra money, above the 10s per week, expended down to 28th November, has been provided anonymously. Gifts in kind will be gladly received at either house, and generous allowances of bread, vegetables, fruit, wood, etc, already received, are gratefully acknowledged.

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

Hearty goodwill

The parishioners of Winkfield remembered their own men serving in the Armed Forces, as well as helping out Belgian refugees and those remaining in their blighted country.



I am glad that the response to my plea, made in last month’s Magazine, for distressed families in Belgium has been well responded to.

As I write, the house to house collection made by members of the C. E. M. S is not yet completed, so I cannot now announce the total amount received, but such returns as have come in are very encouraging and lead me to hope that we shall be able to send up a substantial sum as some small acknowledgement of the great debt we owe to our Allies in their Country’s dire need.

As regards to the proposed arrangements to provide for another Belgian family in our parish, I have been twice disappointed in the matter of a house, but we now have a definite offer from Miss Donaldson of her house “Asphodel,” rent free for six months, if we will furnish it for the reception of a small family, and I should be grateful for any offers of monetary help to this end, and also for the loan of any furniture that can be temporarily spared.

I am delighted to be able to report that Miss Montgomerie’s efforts to raise a fund to give a Christmas present to all the Soldiers and Sailors who hail from our Parish, have been crowned with much success; a brief report and list of subscribers is appended. It is pleasant too to record that our Choirmen have just sent a present of 500 cigarettes to each of our own Sailors and Soldiers at the Fronts.

Notices of the Christmas Services will be sent out later, but let me now heartily wish you all a happy Christmas. This Christmas will be unique in our experience for it will find so many homes with the usual family gathering marred by the absence of their loved ones in danger at the Front or away from home in training; and in too many cases the joyous Festival will be clouded by the sorrow of bereavement, and the knowledge that some dear one is enduring pain and suffering among the wounded. Let all those thus in anxiety and sorrow be very much in our thoughts and prayers this Christmas-tide.

Your faithful Friend and Vicar,


We are glad to be able to state that Fred Rixon had now returned home and is now convalescent. Albert Carter and Charles Streamer are also progressing well in hospital.

* * *

SOLDIERS’ AND SAILORS’ CHRISTMAS FUND. It is pleasing to hear that the Christmas Present Fund for men in service who have left this parish has amounted to approximately £9, a sum which will admit of a useful present being sent to each man. Every parcel sent off will contain a paper, stating that it has been subscribed for by the people of Winkfield as a token of their hearty goodwill.

We wish to thank all the subscribers to this fund for their generous contributions, which have enabled the scheme to reach a successful issue; and it is believed that we are all glad to the brave men who are helping in the Great Cause, and with whom we are proud to claim comradeship in this Parish.

Winkfield portion of Winkfield District magazine, December 1914 (D/P151/28A/6/12)

Oxford whistles with militarism

As the year came to a close, Sydney Spencer of Cookham took time to reflect on his experiences of wartime Oxford

Sunday December 27th
Now I will go back to talk of Oxford during last term. By the end of term the place seemed almost utterly transformed. Almost every man was in karkai [sic]. Lieutenants almost cloyed one’s appetite for seeing “big guns” in the army! Even captains did not make one stare immediately. Some thousands of men were drafted into Oxford about mid term until the place fairly whistled with militarism. The tramp of infantry & cavalry was incessant & bugle calls good, bad & indifferent according to the age & proficiency of the perpetrators assailed one’s ears at early dawn, at breakfast, at midday, at twilight, at dead of night, in fact at times there seemed a regular outbreak of the disease, & the din & clangour was deafening.

We too in Oxford had a Belgian day & the place was turned into a regular continental “carnivalized” (copyright!) city of red, yellow & black. Not a man, woman, child, dog, cat, bicycle, wheelbarrow, motor-car, cycle, lorrie [sic], door knocker or crossing sweeper escaped the attacks – sometimes disagreeably coarse & vulgar – of the women who sold Belgian badges of all sizes from things little more than the size of a hatpin’s head, to the huge bows which covered the motor bonnet! When I went down the Corn at about 8.30 or nine to go to the Union, undergrads had become quite maudlin in their attempts to outdo others in their buying of the Belgian bows. They had them on their shoes, on their caps, pinned on to the ends of their gown tabs, or flaps, or whatever those ugly appendages choose to call themselves & lined their coats & waistcoats with them, & then they came marching along the road in strings, singing & shouting and behaving in fact exactly like silly undergraduates can behave! Altogether they collected in Oxford that weekend about £1,890, so far as I remember.

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

Christmas in exile

Broad Street Congregational Church reports on the Christmas experiences of Belgian refugees in Reading:


In spite of the wail of those depressed misinterpreters of the Christmas spirit who make the war an excuse for mere miserly retrenchment instead of finding in it a stimulus to an especial expansion of Christian good will, the Belgians in Reading have had the best Christmas Reading had to offer. For this they are largely indebted to the Broad Street choir; and this article is written so that those whose energy and generosity rendered it possible may learn something of the fruit of their labours. The money raised by the concert given by the Broad Street Choir formed the bulk of the Belgian Christmas Fund. Out of this a substantial contribution was made towards the Christmas fare of every refugee, and a small monetary gift was sent with a letter of good wishes to every adult.
The outstanding feature of the festivities, however, was the children’s party, attended by children and adults alike, and held at the Palmer Hall on Boxing Day. It is difficult to describe the joyous and animated scene or the pathos and poignancy underlying it. When one realised that these people were exiles, outlawed for the crime of another, in a land whose citizens spake a tongue they knew not; that their homes and most cherished possessions were but heaps of charred beams and ruined masonry; that their dear ones, many of them had not been seen since the terrible flight in darkness and confusion; one was unable to find words to express the heroic fortitude of even those whom one would have least expected heroism.

The party was, designedly, as nearly as possible a typical English Christmas party. The children, first, who numbered over a hundred, sat down beneath the magnificent Christmas tree to enjoy a Christmas tea of which the principal feature was an immense iced cake. The turn of the adults came next, and they consumed light refreshments and chattered amazingly in French and Flemish. Then, for an hour, the marvels of magic were dispensed by a conjuror, described by the audience as a “prestidigitateur”. The climax of the evening, however, came with the arrival of Santa Claus, an old friend of the Belgians, with a gift for every child. Nor were they random presents, but Father Christmas, hoisted onto a chair, called the name of each child and found in his store a parcel bearing each child’s name. and so home, to the home in exile, hugging dogs that walk, and soldiers and mechanical cranes, and with many a thought of gratitude to “les Anglais gentils”, whose generosity had provided these brief hours of brightness in lives so dark and sad.

Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, January 1915 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Awful journey to see frostbitten husband

The Christmas celebrations at Bisham Abbey were over quickly. Florence Vansittart Neale was struck by a woman’s desperate journey to reach her wounded husband. (Despite his French name, Etienne Boileau was British born.)

26 December 1914

Farrers came, took down Xmas tree….

Etienne Boileau wounded. Frostbitten feet. His wife awful journey to Boulogne in search of him. In London after all.

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

The best butter: Christmas in Cookham

Sydney Spencer reports on a wartime Christmas at home in Cookham. A quiet day was enlivened by the unexpected arrival of soldier brother Percy, who had got leave at the last minute:

Christmas Boxing Day 1914
We had to spend a quiet day yesterday, for which I must own I was very glad. With war going on as it is now, & all the horrors which it entails, one does not feel very festive at such a time! So we had no holly or mistletoe, & no “high jinks” in the evening, but we had a quiet day instead, which we were able to thoroughly enjoy so far as it was possible when Percy was unable to be with us, & Horace was away in Africa, & Harold & Natalie were unable to get to us as they had an engagement to play to the wounded soldiers who are round about here…. Just as I wrote these last two or three words the front door opened and Percy walked in so exit myself for the time being, Mr Diary.

Percy has just gone over to the Worcesters, so I can just write a few more lines. He is now a sergeant & has been told that he stands a very good chance of getting a commission if he applies for one. He has just told us that his old landladies had made him a lovely Christmas cake & that the baker had burnt it to a cinder & sent them another in its place. They said “yes, & I expect he made it of egg powder & ours was made with fresh eggs, & he used margarine & we used the best butter & almonds & sultanas,” & here they both melted into tears! Also Mrs Everest, the elder of the two, had a slight accident. She was knocked against the railings by some drunken soldiers, & having been taken into a shop to recover, was given some neat brandy! When Percy arrived home he found the old lady considerably dazed, apparently not from the bruise or the shock as much as from the neat brandy!

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

Christmas with the wounded at Bisham Abbey

Christmas at Bisham Abbey.

25 December 1914
Xmas Day… Gave no presents… Wished men all good wishes. Several to Mass. Had grand entertainment 4 o’clock. Xmas tree – all men came in hall, some lying on sofas. Received their presents, then tea. Songs, recitations & acting after. All quite good. Rather long. Stopped at ¼ to 8, & they put to bed. We had our dinner after.

Raid on Curhaven. Our aviators with cruisers & submarines (Paul’s among the number). Sent bombs. Learnt what they wanted. Young Hewlett missing. Jack Martin very ill.

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

Christmas with the Territorials

Ascot worshippers were joined on Christmas Day by Territorial soldiers.

CHRISTMAS was a very real one to us all. It had a special feature in the large number of Territorials who joined with us in the Church of All Saints, as, all together, we celebrated the Festival of our Lord’s Navitity.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Monthly Magazine, January 1915 (D/P151/28A/7/1)