Only a few from Wokingham have not yet offered themselves

Increasing numbers of young men from Wokingham had joined the troops. Sadly, the parish of St Sebastian had seen its first loss. The parish magazine used this as a pointed reminder to those who had, they felt, shirked their duty:

On Service. Additional Names
Barnard, Kenneth, HMS [no ship name printed]
Brant, Charles
Chapman, Fred
Garrett, William, Grenadier Guards
Longley, Frank, Berks Yeomanry
Law, Arthur
Maynard, William, 1st Hants
Maynard, Percy, 2nd Hants
Norton, Isaac
Robins, Benjamin
Rocket, Benjamin

We are sure that many will wish to join in an expression of sympathy to Mr. and Mrs. Barnard at the loss of their son, Dudley Barnard, (2nd Lieut. R.F.A.), who is the first from this parish to give up his life in his country’s service. In addition we may mention that Daniel Prater and William Maynard are prisoners of war, and that James Jewell was wounded but has returned to duty.

The friends and relations of those serving are specially asked to inform the Vicar of any alterations in or additions to the list.

We are glad to say that the number of those who could go, but who have not seen their way to offer themselves for service, is getting smaller and smaller, and we hope soon to be able to say that all those from the parish who were able to do so have offered their services.

Wokingham St Sebastian parish magazine, March 1915 (D/P154C/28A/1)

Everyone should learn to shoot

As the war drew on, and it was clear that it was going to last a long time, some men who had not yet joined up started to prepare themselves for service – or for the possibilities of invasion by Germany.

It is gratifying to hear that this Club has been very well supported during the winter months, but it becomes increasingly more important that everyone should learn to shoot. The report for last year states:

“The Club has been doing splendid work in teaching men to shoot, and a number of men who have been taught on the Club Range are now serving in his Majesty’s Forces. It is hoped that every able-bodied man in the district will join the Club and learn to shoot. Rifles are provided free and capable instructors are in attendance.”

Sulhamstead parish magazine, March 1915 (D/EX725/3)

A sister says goodbye

Two Berkshire schools had the war on their minds.

In Abingdon, an infant teacher had to say goodbye to a much loved brother heading for the front:

29th March 1915
Miss Evans came in the afternoon and explained that she had been called to Chelmsford to say goodbye to a brother who is going to the front and was unable to return on Sunday night – as she had hoped to do – on account of there being no trains to connect.

Meanwhile, in Warfield, the children were responding with deep feelings to the daily prayers, many of them doubtless with fathers and brothers in the forces:

29th March 1915
The opening prayers and hymn gave the key note of reverence which goes through the whole school. The war prayer was said with real feeling.

Conduit Road Infants School Log Book (C/EL4/2, p. 133); and Warfield CE School (C/EL26/3, p. 309)

Bombarding the Bosphorus at both ends

Florence Vansittart Neale was positive about the war in Turkey. General Alexander von Kluck was one of the leaders of the German army.

29 March 1915

Bombarding the Bosphorus at both ends. Russian fleet there too. Von Kluck wounded.

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

Church parade, from a distance

Percy Spencer wrote from France to his sister Florence with details of his life over there. There are references to his artist brothers Stanley and Gilbert, and the latter’s susceptibility to a recruiting band. Percy felt that the artistic pair were unsuited to battle.

Mar. 29. 1915
Dear Florrie

Thank you for your letters.

Don’t send any more socks or linen out of any kind until I ask for some, as so far I have arranged laundry all right.

Today the Bishop of London held Church parade here for some of our men. I contented myself with a near view of his Lordship through field glasses and a more distant view of the band. It played very fairly through the opening hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross”. Somehow I always enjoy church music more as a listener. I’d much rather sit in the churchyard at home and listen to the service than take part in it.

I got your lovely parcel – its neatness was a marvel. You must have been hours packing it.

The guns have been very busy early today, but this afternoon there was nothing to hear but the hum of aeroplanes, of which quite a few have been over.

Your letters are not censored at all so far as I know – at least I’ve never heard of anything censored, so say on.

I think I told you we are quartered in a lovely house but the blinds have to be down to protect the tapestries! And that’s a shame in springtime. Anyway I doubt the supposed value of some of the tapestries. They appear to me to belong to a late and poor period, nothing like the beautiful specimens they have at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I should like to have Stan’s opinion on them. That reminds me, where is Ravenal’s place – it would be funny if I were in his chateau.

Gil tells me Jupp has taken a commission in the artillery, and writes of the effect of the recruiting bands upon him when he was at the National Gallery the other day. Don’t let him do anything foolish.

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/4/18-19)

‘Hungering for something beyond the vapidity of his military associates’

Sydney Spencer contributes a pen portrait of a fellow officer who shared his artistic temperament:

28 March 1915

I want to commandeer today’s page with a description of a Lieutenant Poole who had tea with us. He is a Cambridge man & had only just been made a fellow of St John’s Oxford when he joined. He is a delightful man but his open disgust at all things military is extraordinary. He is much loved by his platoon though, which shews that he knows how to control his disgust. He is a brilliant scholar, a true gentleman and a Christian – attributes which seem lamentably absent in the majority of vapid insipid looking subalterns! It was almost pathetic after tea when Mr Way asked me to play some music. I played a slow movement from a Beethoven sonata & then Mr Way asked what constituted a sonata & I gave him a sketch from different sonatas, & played a few bars of the Waldstein. When Lt Poole heard this he begged me to play it right through. I protested that it was awfully difficult, & could scarcely play more than a few bars. He still insisted & so I stumbled through it & he listened to it with delight! The psychological reason for his delight was I feel sure that he was starving for something intellectual & refining, hungering for something beyond the vapidity of his military associates & so he revelled in listening to my poor struggles just as a starving man – even if an epicure – would revel in a dry muddy crust of bread. I asked him if it were not possible to mentally hibernate, saying that that was what I hoped to do, as the only means of making existence & a commission at all tolerable!

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/14)

Bisham Abbey demobilised

Elizabeth (Bubbles) Vansittart Neale’s studies were taking her closer to achieving her desire to nurse wounded soldiers, as her mother noted in her diary. Although the hospital was demobilized, the Belgians remained at Bisham until early May.

28 March 1915
Dr Moore came to examine Bubs & give certificate for her nursing.
Hospital demobilized.

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

‘The rattle of machine gun or musketry fire has added a pizzicato accompaniment to the solemn roar of the heavy artillery’

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister with thanks for her gifts, and more impressions of life close behind the front line.

Mar. 28. 1915
Dear Florrie

Thank you for the cigarettes, the compass, the fresh linen, and for everything else you have sent me. I’m sure everything must have reached me as I have been fairly bombarded with gifts and letters. Thank Mrs Everest [his former landlady] for me for the cake and flowers – both arrived quite fresh. The cake lasted no time but the flowers are still at the last village we were at, where they are the admiration of the household.

We are now within constant sound of the guns, day and night, and every now and then throughout this lovely Sunday the rattle of machine gun or musketry fire has added a pizzicato accompaniment to the solemn roar of the heavy artillery.

I’m again quartered in a lovely house, but not so well off for food as as the last house where the folk were most hospitable and opened a bottle of champagne in our honour the last night we were with them. Yesterday we marched up here, and started business again. It’s a rum affair. No sooner do you get going at one place than you are off to another.

Some of our fellows were fortunate enough to see a fine aeroplane fight near here today, but I wasn’t among them, and don’t know how low the fight went – we won though, I expect.

We get daily papers up here one day old and the postal service is excellent, so don’t worry on those scores.

Well dear, I’ve really nothing to tell you except to say how much I appreciate all you have done for me and your regular supply of news…

Yours ever

Will you please forward the enclosed few lines to Will [their older brother, living in neutral Switzerland].

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/4/16-17)

A Belgian finds work at a brewery

At Bisham Abbey, Florence Vansittart Neale’s daughter’s path to nursing the wounded was making progress. Meanwhile one of their Belgian refugee friends had found work.

27 March 1915

Bubs received papers from hospital to be filled up….

Jean came back & said his father had got work at brewery.

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

“They need not salute me yet”

Sydney Spencer, on leave in Weston-super-Mare, couldn’t quite take his (cadet) officer status seriously.

27 March 1915

I am down in North West Somerset on the sea coast…. I have had a fearfully ridiculous experience here today…

I went for a walk along the Marine Parade. The Tommies down here have not seen a cadet’s uniform before, & the result for poor me was disastrous in the extreme. As soon as I got out of the station I was met by dozens of Tommies who saluted me every man jack of them. I got almost hysterical with my desire to laugh aloud & tell them they need not salute me yet! Lieutenants nearly collapsed when I saluted them and looked at me askance as if I were larking with them.

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/14)

Reading schools continue to be disrupted

The Battle schoolchildren’s education continued to be limited due to the shortage of accommodation, thanks to military needs:

26th March 1915
Notice has been received that after Easter, the children will attend school, for four weeks from 1.30 to 4.30 in the afternoon, instead of the morning session as now.

Slough children supporting the Cheap Food Campaign were doing well, with even the boys keen to help with the cooking.

March 26th
The seven dinners have been prepared and have been quite successes. The invitations to dinner were equitably portioned between the boys and girls.

A Harbox cooker has been made and a stew put into it at 10 o’clock was found nicely cooked at 4.30pm.

The boys want to have a try at cookery and may be given a chance next term.

Battle Infants School log book (SCH20/8/2, p. 258); Stoke Road School, Slough: log book (89/SCH/28/1)

Firing on our own people

Florence Vansittart Neale had some unexpected – and not entirely welcome – Belgian guests at Bisham Abbey. She was also dismayed by (accurate) rumours of a friendly fire incident at the Front.

26 March 1915
Jean Baptiste turned up from London hospital. Not expected & at 6.30 heard his father & mother had come!! Really not mother but fiancée. Had to put them up.

Hear victory not so complete at Neuve Chapelle as we thought. Meant to have taken Lille. Hear some generals sent back. Not much good – also horrible idea our artillery fired on our own people – mist & telephone wrong!!

Mr Arlea said he had given our telephone in case Special Constables called out!

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

Shirts for Serbia instead of Christmas presents

The people of Cookham Dean took an interest in the civilians of Serbia, who were suffering badly from living in a warzone, as the April 1915 edition of the parish magazine reveals, with the children giving up their Christmas treat:

The League of Honour
The Lantern Lecture on The War, illustrated by slides kindly lent by the Central Committee in London, was well attended and most attentively listened to. As no special lecturer could be sent by the London committee, the vicar himself gave the lecture, being very kindly assisted at the lantern by Mr H Edwards. After paying for the carriage of the slides on their return journey, a sum of 18/- remained out of the admission money, and was given to the Relief of Serbia.

A parcel of twelve well made flannel shirts has been sent as a first instalment of our gift to the Serbian Relief Fund. The flannel was purchased with the money which would otherwise have been spent at Christmas on the Children’s Sunday School Treat presents, and skilful and willing hands made up the material. A second instalment will be forwarded shortly. The Vicar received the following acknowledgement of the gift on March 26th- ‘The Committee of the Serbian Relief Fund beg to express their thanks to the Rev. H. F. Hunt very warmly for the parcel received on March 25th containing gifts from his parish.

Cookham Dean parish magazine, April 1915 (D/P43B/28A/11)

Continuous demand for books for soldiers

The parishioners of Wokingham St Sebastian are asked for contributions for use by the troops:

War Appeals.

In case anyone is hesitating as to where they can send donations or articles we may mention two appeals which have lately reached us:

1. Hon Ambulance Association ask for ‘clothing, etc., required in hospitals and convalescent homes’.

2. S.P.C.K ask for donations to provide books for our soldiers and sailors. They have already supplied books to the value of £700, and the demand, both at home and at the front, is continuous.

Wokingham St Sebastian parish magazine, March 1915 (D/P154C/28A/1)

‘Our fellows are a barrier between blood and iron and our doctrine of peaceful progress’

In an administrative role behind the lines and enjoying French cuisine, Percy Spencer still found it hard to feel the reality of war:

March 24 1915
Dear Florrie

In case I don’t have time to write to all, thank everyone for me for letters sent. As a matter of fact I’m very pressed for time and if you don’t hear regularly from me you mustn’t think I have come to harm.

I am very well indeed, I am glad to say, getting into the work better under the altered conditions than at first.

I live in the office – the office being a large house occupied by people of the lower classes, but they are very hospitable, though certainly rather immoral – by our standards. However their morals don’t worry me: their liqueurs are excellent, so is their confiture, while their boiled rabbit (cooked with raisins etc) is a revelation. Previously I have had a contempt for rabbit, but now – I begin to think everything is good if it were not for our ignorance of culinary arts. Even the despised barbell – if served as described in the “Compleat Angler” must be delicious –

Well – that’s a warlike dissertation! But grub for nuns is an engrossing subject to the soldiers.

I mustn’t describe this, that and the other thing, but I’ll sketch my position. I’m writing by candle light in a room strewn with men shoving [illegible] enough, though two operators are busy behind me receiving and dispatching messages by “buzzer”. Every now and then I am stopped to deal with a message. Somewhere away in front of me the guns are solemnly booming and one thinks of our fellows tense and alert, guarding other men sleeping here and all through the country behind us – a barrier between blood and iron [“kulten”] and our doctrine of peaceful progress.

Behind me – a view of black poplars – moonlight sentinels guarding the gentle slope of the everlasting hills beyond.

At present the reality of the war is very difficult to realise, and when it comes upon us I can see some of our boys waking up with a bump…

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/4/12-15)