May Day celebrations in Earley

Earley schoolchildren did not forgo their idyllic spring festivities on May Day, but they supplemented the maypole, country dances and crowning a May Queen with a collection for Reading War Hospital.

30th April 1915

As May 1st comes on a Saturday this year, the May Day celebration took place today. The usual lessons were discontinued at 3 pm, & the children adjourned to the playground, where, in the presence of 300 parents & friends, May Marshall (previously chosen by lot) was crowned May Queen by Miss King. The following programme was the gone through:

Song “Welcome, welcome lovely May”
Country dance “Gathering Peascods”
Country dance “Hey Boys”
Song “Come Lassies & Lads”
Plating of maypole
Morris dance “Laudnum Bunches”
Country dance “Hyde Park”
Infants’ Game “Looby Loo”
Country dance “None such”
Song “Come ye young men”
Morris dance “Rigs o’ Marlow”
Country dance “Lord of Caernarvon’s Jig”
Country dance “Newcastle”
Infants’ dance “Corkscrew”
Song “Now is the month of Maying”
Country dance “If all the world were Paper”
Country dance “Old Mole”
Infants’ dance “Sir Roger de Coverley”
Country dance “Sellenger’s Round”
God save the King

A collection among the spectators at the end of the performance amounted to [blank], which was given to the funds of the Reading War Hospital.

Earley CE School logbook (SCH36/8/3)

Spirits and beer to be heavily taxed

Florence Vansittart Neale enjoyed a visit from her daughter Elizabeth (Bubbles), nursing at Southampton. She also visited her elderly German-born friends at Stoney Ware.

30 April 1915
Bubs turned up. Miss Forrest brought her. Her brother they fear dead.

Went Stoney Ware by boat & back. Young Mr Taylor very upset.

Heard Germans fled bombarding Dunkirk – killed good many. Bubs said

36 Canadians came in last night.

Spirits, wine & beer to be heavily taxed.

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

A soldiers’ concert in Earley

Men in Earley put on a concert to entertain local soldiers.

Soldiers Concert

Great credit is due to those men of the parish who, under the leadership of Mr George Love, so ably organised the Soldiers’ Concert on April 29th at the parish hall. An invitation had been sent to the 8th Battalion of the Royal Berks Regiment, and about 68 men attended.

Earley parish magazine, June 1915 (D/P192/28A/13)

Future plans for wounded soldiers

Bisham Abbey was being used as a war hospital. Chatelaine Florence Vansittart Neale was also interested in local Belgian refugees.

29 April 1915

Dr Downs came. Discussed men’s future plans. Mary & I to Modeste….

French cruiser sunk. All officers drowned.

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

Harrowing scenes with maddened mothers desperate to reach wounded sons abroad

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image wrote to the wife of his friend W F Smith, who was living abroad, with a report on the rush to get passports in order to attend a dying son’s hospital bed.

TCC [Trinity College, Cambridge]
Thursday 29 April 1915

My dear Mrs Smith

Here in England Passport Photographs are being turned out by the thousand – owing to the accursed War. A lady friend of mine whose son – his battalion (Rifle Brigade) will not go out till next month – has already had hers done, to enable her to start at the first moment’s notice for the French Hospital where she foresees the boy will be lying, directly after he has entered the deadly Trenches.

The Photographer at Harrods, who is being worked to death, describes to her the heart-rending interviews he has to undergo with maddened mothers imploring him to produce in a couple of hours the likeness without which the passport is unable to bring her to receive, perhaps, the dying words of the wounded son. The scenes are harrowing, he says.

The world was at peace – Germany itself (despite the wolf lurking secret under every German fleece) would have kept peace, but for these malign Prussian robber-savages.

Who, so prate our Prigs, must not be “humiliated”, or even penalized for their crime.

Leave Prussia unbroken, and let our children, half a century hence, be destroyed by a fresh and bloodier hurricane of these same villains, when maybe there are no France and Russia at their side.

How strange to you would seem Cambridge as an armed camp. We, by this time, are inured to it. Full term is on – yet the streets swarm with khaki only – massed Regiments in the Great Court two or three times a day – the streets blocked with Paddocks echoing to drill – and the River at the backs alive with canoes and punts of an afternoon.

Yesterday, for the first time since January 26, we were allowed electric light, instead of candles, to eat our dinner by: and this with only one half the regular number of burners.

No light in the Great Court (you’ve no conception of the grace and majesty of the buildings seen under the full moon).

St Mary’s Clock restarted its chimes on Easter Sunday, but by daylight only. Silent all the night. A week ago the Trinity Clock resumed striking the Hour, with both voices, but not the Quarters: and by day only.

At 1 pm for the last week a huge hooter has emitted its gigantic wailing, heard all over the Town: this is merely to teach the populace. When that hooter shall rouse us from slumber, it will imply a Zeppelin over Cambridge…

The German war book owns that there is no check save the fear of Reprisals – which they have no dread of from England, the flabby. Possibly France and Russia may be less squeamish.

The 2nd battalion of the Monmouths (how different from the first battalion!) evacuated Whewell’s Courts on the 21st – leaving such filth behind them – broken windows, smashed doors and electric fittings, scribbled walls, etc, that the Junior Bursar demanded over £100 damages before he would consent to admit another Regiment. That Regiment was only a couple of hours off, and the billeting officer was at his wits’ end to put them anywhere else – so the terms were granted.

The Regiment in question is the 4th Royal Surrey – a very different set of men. The finest and best drilled Territorials I ever saw. Their Colonel, Campion (Unionist MP for Lewes, New College, Oxon) – sat next me in Hall, and is as nice a fellow as his Regiment are “smart and snappy”….

I respect the autocratic eraser too much to give you any of the hundred thrilling rumours (or canards) hovering around us. Will he suffer me to say that we lie under a rotten ministry?

Love to both

Bild [nickname]

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don (D/EX801/1)

A Canadian commander falls

After a stay in Southampton, where they had the chance to see their daughter Elizabeth (or Bubbles), who was nursing the troops, Henry and Florence Vansittart Neale returned home to Bisham Abbey where they were also housing a small hospital. The General Birchall referred to is probably an error by Florence for Lieut-Colonel Arthur Percival Birchall, killed at Ypres at this time.

28 April 1915
We left Southampton…. Called at War Hospital to see Bubs. Her afternoon off…

H & I quiet tete a tete evening with doggies. Men going on well.

Gen P. Birchall’s death among casualties, he commanding Canadian contingent.

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

Do people in England realise we are at war?

The parish of Cookham Dean continued to support the troops in prayer – but not as much as the vicar thought they should:

It has struck me that many of you would like to have the Roll of Honour printed separately from the magazine, while issued with it, and in a form that can be hung up on a wall, or that can be more conveniently sent by post than when bound up in a stiff cover. I shall not issue it agaion until July, and in the meantime it will be kind if anyone will send me any necessary corrections, alterations or additions. If it can be done, I should like in some way to indicate in July those who are serving at the Front; I would have done so this month, but am not quite certain whether I have the exact number, and I should not like to make a mistake in a matter of that kind, so I will hold it over for the present.

The Intercession Services on Wednesdays at 11 am and on Friday at 8 pm will be continued after Easter. Is it too much to hope that as the weather becomes warmer the congregations at both these services will become larger? Again and again in the daily newspapers we see the question asked and discussed – “Do people in England realise that we are at war?” Do they realise it as in France where, we are told, the churches are filled daily by earnest, praying congregations? I will leave you to supply the answer to the question so far as Cookham Dean is concerned. I know what I feel about it – and it makes me very sad.

Your faithful friend and vicar
Herbert F Hunt

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

Cadets camp in Knowl Hill

Some east Berkshire Cadets enjoyed a camp in Knowl Hill. The conditions were almost certainly more pleasant than those the cadets might expect when they were old enough to go to the front.

Knowl Hill

We are much pleased to be able to record that Mr. T. A. Whitbread was very successful in an examination for N.C.O’s held recently at Reading, passing with “distinguished honours.” He has been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. About 40 other competitors were examined.

From April 22nd to 26th the 2nd and 3rd Companies of the 4th Battalion of the Windsor Royal Berkshire Regiment Cadets were in camp in a field kindly lent by Mr. Bates. The Commanding Officer was Capt. Marrow, with Lieut. Soaper and Leuit. W. E. Barrett under him. The Companies were about 50 strong. They were joined by some of the Maidenhead Cadets on Saturday and Sunday.

On Sunday the whole, some 60 strong, attended Knowl Hill Church for the morning Service, and were joined by Capt. Brookes, Maidenhead. The Companies were inspected by Capt.-Adjutant Armstrong.

Wargrave parish magazine, June 1915 (D/P145/28A/31)

Allies holding their own

Florence Vansittart Neale was visiting her daughter Phyllis, nursing the troops in Southampton.

26 April 1915

Phyllis took men [on a] drive & turned up to tea…

Our line not broken – Allies holding their own. Fighting still going on!!

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

How can a world so full of beauty be so crucified by evil men?

The Glyn parents were sad to have to say goodbye to son Ralph after a short time together on holiday in Scotland. His mother Lady Mary wrote:

Inveraray Castle, Argyll
Monday April 26, 1915

My own darling Scrappits

It is 10.35 pm and you are just about going south – and with crowds of friends about you, and a great opportunity taken, and I wish I had heard you speak tonight. I longed to come and listen at some door.
It was very difficult to stay on without you, and to let you go, and so long as you were here I could only be very quiet and thankful in the joy of having you all these days. And to leave the comfort of your dear companioning. I know that you will be kept and guarded, and that you have your work to do in these great days, and that you have power as you have opportunity, and I would, like Dante, have “your heart made strong for your soul’s behoof”, but I lag far behind, and long for you, and for myself to “be kept in fortitude and peace”. It was old Robertson of Whittingbourne who prayed that prayer for Joan & Eddy, and we all need it.

I believe in your destiny, and always have, and I ask for you to be hourly enabled to fulfil it….

The papers came after tea. Very few letters and I trust and trust that good news will come tomorrow of this great battle. It is weird up here to think that a world so full of God’s own beauty and love can be so crucified by evil men and for lust of conquest of things material and soulless – and soul and spirit is to get the victory over it, in the power of the Endless Spirit -0 the Breath of God in us…

The Bishop was less emotional as he remembered that last sight of his son:

Inveraray, Argyll
April 26
Darling Ralph

It was nice having you here for Sunday. We waved our handkerchiefs to you as you went round the point – in sunshine – & thought of you, & the dear yellow dog going over the hill to Glasgow in your fine motor!…

Letters from E C Glyn, Bishop of Peterborough, and his wife, to their son Ralph (D/EGL/C2/2)

Crushed in the trenches

Sulhamstead was one of the parishes which were seeing increasing numbers of their young men killed or wounded. The parish magazine tells us about two individuals associated with the parish:

We regret to hear that Henry Tuttle has been brought to England wounded. He was seriously crushed by the falling in of the trenches as the result of gunshot. He is being tended at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital London.

We regret to record … [the death] of Lieut. Commander Robert E Thoyts, R. N, son of the Rev. and Mrs Frank Thoyts.
He had been put in command of a ship at the beginning of the war, but owing probably to the severe weather in the North Sea returned home seriously ill. No hope was given of his recovery, but he lingered until March 7th…
On the 7th inst at Woodspeen Grange, Newbury, from heart failure after pneumonia, Lieutenant-Commander Robert Elmhirst Thoyts, RN, son of Frank and Rosa Thoyts, and dearly-loved husband of Kathleen Thoyts, aged thirty-four.

Mar. 11th at St Mary’s Church. Robert Elmhurst Thoyts, Lieutenant Commander, RN.

Sulhamstead parish magazine, April 1914 (D/EX725/3)

Praiseworthy interest from a Red Cross class

18 villagers from Knowl Hill signed up to study first aid and basic nursing.

Knowl Hill Red Cross Class
This class consisting of some 18 Members is having a most successful run, and is now nearing the end of the first session, but it is hoped further courses will be taken.

The earlier classes were taken by Mr Butterworth until the Doctor of the class Dr. J. McCrea was able to come, and he gives his last lecture and demonstration on Wednesday, 24th, the examination being the 25th.

The interest among the members of the class is praiseworthy.

The individual practices were carried out on a separate time with the assistance of Miss Lovett, Mrs Firbank, (Secretary) Mr. Butterworth and members of Red Cross from Burchetts Green.

Wargrave parish magazine, April 1915 (D/P145/28A/31)

Germans using aspyxiating gas

Florence Vansittart Neale, visiting her daughter Phyllis in Southampton:

24 April 1915

Phyllis came about 10. Sent men out in motor to Winchester. We shopped & poked about. We bought sweets & cigarettes. Phyllis took men out in motor in afternoon…

French retreating a bit beyond reach [of] Germans asphyxiating gases. We also. Canadians valiantly recovering guns short bit.

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

No school Medical Officer should be pressurised to join the army

The local Education Authority was affected by the war in multiple ways, including the use of schools by the army, the decision of teachers to join up, and the thorny question of whether some of the boys should be allowed to take time of school to help on farms.

Higher Education Sub-committee
Evening and Technical Schools

Letters have been received from the Eastern and Southern Commands asking whether the Committee were prepared to offer instruction in certain specified subjects for troops in these Commands. Similar instruction has been provided by the County Education Authorities of East and West Sussex.

The Sub-committee recommend that, as far as possible, assistance should be given to the Military Authorities, and the secretary has been instructed to report on the matter to the Committee at this meeting.

This Institution is still in the hands of the Military Authorities for use as a Hospital.

School Management Sub-committee
Up to 1st March, thirty-three Teachers from the Elementary Schools of the County had joined H M Forces…

In reply to a letter, the Board of Education have replied that they do not consider that teachers who are absent on Military service can be regarded as forming part of the staff of the school for the purposes of the Code. The Board expect Authorities to make every effort to comply with the requirements of the Code by providing a suitable and efficient staff for their schools and by maintaining them in a state of efficiency. Should it not be possible to obtain the services of a qualified teacher, the Board are however prepared to exercise the discretion reserved to them under the Code and to take into consideration the employment of unqualified teachers appointed on supply.

During the quarter the following schools have been used by the Military Authorities for billeting troops for short periods: Shinfield CE, Shinfield Three-Mile-Cross, and Finchampstead.
The Hungerford Technical Institute (Special Subjects Centre) has also been requisitioned as a Red Cross Hospital since 2nd Fenruary. The Sub-committee have arranged for the Manual Instruction to be taken at the Council School but the Cookery and Laundrywork Classes have necessarily been abandoned for the present.

By-Laws and Attendance Sub-committee

A circular letter has been received from the Board of Education stating that they have been informed by the War Office that there is at the present time an urgent need for more medical men to staff the additional hospital accommodation needed to meet the requirements of the large forces now being placed in the field. The Board of Education has been asked to facilitate the volunteering of officers of the School Medical Service for hospital work. so far as the Board are concerned, they feel that they can give but one answer to an application of this kind. They do not suggest that any pressure should be brought to bear on any particular officer to volunteer for service, but, should any officer desire to volunteer the Board would raise no objection to his doing so, even though his temporary absence may cause dislocation of the School Medical Service. They have no doubt that Local Education Authorities will regard the matter in the same light and will grant leave of absence on terms as will not involve any loss in his salary, status or tenure….

The Sub-committee recommend that leave of absence be granted to either or both of the Assistant School Medical inspectors if they wish to volunteer. They will consider, at their next meeting, the steps to be taken for carrying on the essential parts of the work if either of the Medical Officers volunteer…

School Attendance
The Sub-committee have considered the question of sanctioning absence from school of boys over 12 years of age to take up farm work in places where there is a shortage of labour due to the war.

They have passed the following resolution:

That no general rule for dealing with cases of employment of boys between 12 and 13 be adopted; but that where application is made, particulars be submitted by the Attendance Officer on a special form prepared by the Secretary; and that the Secretary be given power to grant permission (temporary) subject to the approval of two members of the Sub-committee….

The Board of Education have issued a circular letter in which attention is called to the statements made in the House of Commons by the President of the Board of Education indicating the conditions which, in the view of the Government, should be satisfied before the Local Authority excused children from attendance at school for the purposes of agricultural employment. The conditions are as follows:
1. The employment of children of school age should be regarded as an exceptional measure permitted to meet a special emergency, and should only be allowed where the Authority are satisfied that no other labour is available, and in no case should children be excused attendance at school if older children who are under no legal obligation to attend school are available.
2. In considering the available supply of labour, the Authority should satisfy themselves that all reasonable efforts have been made to secure adult labour, e.g. by application at the Labour Exchanges and especially by the offer of adequate remuneration.
3. Every case should be considered on its merits, and there should be no general relaxation of By-laws.
4. The employment should be of a light character and suitable to the capacity of the child.
5. Permission, if given at all, should be given for a definitely limited period only.
Up to the 31st march the number of boys between 12 and 13 who have been excused from attendance at school to take up agricultural employment was 41.

Reports of sub-committeees to Berkshire Education Committee, 24 April 1915 (C/CL1/1/18)

Phyllis Vansittart Neale nurses in Southampton

Florence and Henry Vansittart Neale visited their elder daughter Phyllis, working as a nurse in Highfield, Southampton, in premises belonging to Southampton University.

23 April 1915
Henry & I started in motor for Southampton 10.45… Reached Highfield about 4. Phyllis looking so well & bright. Saw her wards. Then on to Polygon House. Phyllis came after dinner. She seems quite happy.

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