We are nothing better than worms – but mustn’t grumble!

Sunday 4 April 1915 was Easter Day. The parishioners of Reading St John (now the Polish Catholic Church) had sent Easter greetings to their young men at the Front. It resulted in a number of letters from the recipients describing their experiences.

Letters from the Front: replies to our Easter letters and cards.

Cards similar to those recently seen on the Church notice boards were sent with covering letters for Easter to some fifty men at the front at the request of their relatives. The following are extracts from some of the replies received by the Vicar:-

A Terrible War.
Here is a much-needed reminder of the seriousness of our task:
‘Two of my men I laid to rest yesterday, just put their heads too far over the parapet; of course killed instantly. It is a terrible business and we are nothing better than worms, dug in and stop there, but hope that happier times are in store and very soon. We all hope and pray for it every day. I don’t think the people at home quite realise what a gigantic task we have; but we mustn’t grumble, but do it.’- GILES AYRES.

Valued Cards.
‘I wish to thank you very much for the good thoughts and wishes of yourself and everyone who remembered us on Easter Day. Thank you very much for the card. I am sending it home to-day so that I shall not lose it.’- A. L. BLAKE.

‘The card you sent me I have hung on to the wall and it shall go where I go. I shall always remember Good Friday, the day I received it.’- D. CAMPBELL.

Neuve Chapelle.
Speaking of the welcome letter just received, the writer adds: ‘Just lately we have been engaged in a big battle at Neuve Chapelle, and it was something awful and also a terrible loss on the German side.’- L.H. CROOK.

A Message to Our Cricketers
‘Coates went to Egypt about a week before I left for France, but when I write will send him your message. Kindly remember me to all the cricketers, to whom I wish the best of luck this summer. Would dearly love to be amongst them on Cintra, but am afraid there is little hope this year.’- H.G. DADLEY.

Congratulations to the Mayor.
‘I am writing these few lines to thank you for the lovely card you so kindly sent me at Easter. We were in the trenches at the time and it was raining the whole of Easter. I am glad to see by the papers Mr. Leonard Sutton has been made Mayor of Reading. I have been in his service in the stables.’- A. DRAKE.

Sticking it out!
‘We are having some very bad weather just lately, plenty of snow and very rough weather, but still the sons of England can stick it for the Old Country.’- A.J.R. Egan.

The Ruin of War.
A valued friend and former Parish worker writes:-
‘The fine old Cathedral is a mass of ruins, as is also a large building known as the Cloth Hall. As one walked round the streets one’s heart was very sad for the people who have had their very homes ruined. Just as we had settled down to sleep we heard a terrific report and we soon found that the Germans were again shelling the town. One shell burst within fifty yards of the building we are billeted in and we all voted it quite near enough to be comfortable. Several civilians were killed and wounded during the night and also one or two military. As I write now two shells have exploded near here. The sights one sees are awful, Vicar, and you may know, under such conditions, it is a great joy and comfort to know that our Master is ever near us. Our work here will consist of sending up stretcher parties to the firing line every night, and I believe we are to run a hospital here, but I will give you more news next time I write.’- L.V. Fowler.

Note: the above message probably came from Ypres.

Links with Home.
‘I wish to thank you and all my dear friends at S. John’s and S. Stephen’s for their loving kindness and remembrance. I cannot fully express how touched I am. You know at home of the trying times and hardships we have to endure, but with the thoughts that we are doing our bit for our country and our trust in God, and to know of our dear friends at home thinking and praying for us gives us good spirit and courage, and it is only that spirit which will finish this terrible war.’- W. M. FOWLER’

A Bishop as Chaplain.
‘It is very nice to know that the folks at home think of us boys out here. It will interest you to know that we had two celebrations of Holy Communion here on Good Friday, and one on Easter Sunday, also a general service on each day, taken by the Bishop of Khartoum, who is attached to our unit as Chaplain.’- L. Gower.

Changing Scenes.
It is only possible to include the following extracts from a long and interesting letter from Mrs Dubbier’s nephew, who has so often worshipped with us at S. John’s:-
‘After having been a communicant at S. John’s Church on Easter Sunday for so many years you can well imagine how my thoughts wandered last Sunday far away from the fighting line to S. John’s Church and to my little son and my aunt attending the Services there. Our Company having been relieved from the trenches last Saturday night, I am very pleased to state we were able to attend a Church Service on Easter Sunday. As there do not seem to be any Protestant Churches up here our Services were held in a large flax factory. The Army Chaplain who took the Services was very good indeed, and we all enjoyed the Services very much, although we had had a big disappointment. On the Sunday previous (Palm Sunday) we had been told that the Bishop of London was going to take the Easter Services in a large town a mile or two away from the small town in which we are billeted, and that parties from the troops out of the trenches would attend the Services. However, when we got back to our billets last Saturday night we heard that the Bishop was not, although out at the front, in our vicinity and could not therefore take the Services…. Our trenches being so close it is a bit of a din when the cannonade is going on, what with the noise of the guns and the terrific explosion of the large shells, and it is a bit of a sight to see through the periscope the earth, bricks and woodwork, &c., flying about as the shells strike home in the buildings. When we are out of the trenches we are billeted in a small town about a mile to the rear of our lines…. Ever since our first stretch in these trenches our regiment has been billeted when out of the trenches either in unoccupied or tenanted cottages in the small town I have referred to. Together with three fellow Sergeants of our Company I have been billeted for some little time in a baker’s shop, by far and away the best of its kind up here, and the people are more than kind to us and very thoughtful for our welfare. Having a sitting room to live in and bedrooms we have hit it more than lucky and we appreciate these home comforts very much indeed as we have experienced being billeted in all manner of other places, barracks, old barns, factories, schools and old empty cottages, &c.’- C.A.GROOM.

Prayers that help.
‘I am very pleased to know that I have some dear friends at home who will pray for me this Easter Day. I thank you for sending the card, which I will keep and I hope to bring home with me again.’- G. HAWKES.

Maxims on a Church steeple.
‘I am billeted with the other officers of my Company with the Curé of this village. He is a dear old man; his church is next to the house, but there is not much of it left as we had to dislodge the Germans from this place last October as they had put Maxims on the steeple, and so I am afraid the damage could not be helped; moreover, we subscribe our little bit when we go round to see it towards its restoration.’- W.E.H.S.

University College Lads’ Club
‘I sincerely hope you and all the people at the Church are quite well as I am pleased to say I am in the very best of health. I was glad to hear that a very good number of the members of the Club have enlisted and I hope they are all doing well.’- W.SAWYER.

Twice wounded.
‘I was pleased to know that you will be thinking of the boys out here as I can tell you they are doing their bit, no matter whether they are Territorials, K.’s, or Regulars; and it has been a jolly hard time this winter. The reports you may have seen in the paper about the mud and water in the trenches are no lie. I myself am at the base for a while as I have been wounded twice. The last time I was blown up with a mine, but I was lucky, I only got wounded.’- J.TULL.

Tobacco and Food.
‘Just a line to let you know I received your most welcome letter and to thank you for thinking of me. I will prize the card and hope to be able to show it you when I return home again. I am in the best of health and spirits, but longing for this murderous war to end, but I must say we are getting good food and in plenty too. Smokes are the biggest drawback.’- N. TOWN.

Loyal to S. John’s.
‘I have received your letter and Easter card this afternoon and think it is very good of you to have remembered me this Easter. At Church parade last Sunday the Bishop of London addressed us and we very much enjoyed it. This Sunday our regular clergyman (I forget his name) is going to arrange an early Holy Communion for us, so you see I shall not have missed an Easter Sunday Communion since I was confirmed. I shall not be sorry when this awful war is over so as to get back to a peaceful time once more, when I hope to rejoin S. John’s choir again, and try to complete another six years in it. Have any more of the fellows from Mr. Sheppard’s Bible class joined the colours yet?’- C.A. WAUGH.

A Warrior Bishop.
‘We had the Bishop of London here the other day and he gave us a stirring speech which was warmly appreciated. He looked a warrior in his khaki. Kindly remember me to all your congregation. I read in the papers about Rev. Goetz getting another appointment. I wish him every success in his new office. I had a letter from Miss Beecroft. It seems so nice to think how people think of us and pray for us. I know your prayers will be answered if we trust and put our faith in God. You would hardly believe it, but while I am writing this letter the troops in our dig-out are now singing ‘For ever with the Lord.’ It shows us how the Spirit of God touches their hearts. There are a good lot of men with us. I often sing that good old hymn ‘Fight the good fight.’ I am quite happy here and I put my trust in God alone to bring me home safe to my wife. Wish my best wishes.’- P.W. YOUARD.

Preaching from Horseback.
‘I send my thanks to you and my friends in S. John’s and also S. Stephen’s for remembering me so kindly at Easter in their prayers. We had a sermon on the same day here as I received your card and letter – it was by the Bishop of London and it was a beautiful one. I think it was the only sermon I have heard of being held on horseback.’- F.WICKS.

Letter and postcards have also been received from J. Ilsley, E. Keeping, A. Lovejoy, A. Mulford, F. Newport, George Townsend and W. H. Wicks.

4th Berks. An Officer writes:
The 4th Berks have been very close to us; were, in fact, next door to us afew days ago. They are a jolly good lot. In fact, all the best troops are who are coming out now. It augurs well for the future.

Reading St John parish magazine, May 1915 (D/P172/28A/24)

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