“Rather too much” for a hero

A chance encounter at church with a soldier friend on leave gave Florence Vansittart Neale more news of life at the Front. The man awarded the VC was probably Sergeant Oliver Brooks from Midsomer Norton, Somerset. By coincidence, though, there is a Berkshire connection, because he moved to Windsor after the war, where he worked at the White Hart Hotel, and is buried there. (See the link for more about him.)

31 October 1915

Church early… Church again… Harry Paine there, back for 4 days. Not moving much in his part, only keeping the line while the French move on. Michael came – amusing experiences of fellow officers!…
King decorated VC man in ambulance train. Rather too much for him.

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

A voluntary gathering

The Church Lads and volunteers for local service were still around in Knowl Hill.

Knowl Hill: Record of the Past
Oct. 31.
We were glad to see some of the Home Defence Soldiers and Church Lads’ Brigade at the Morning Service. It was a voluntary gathering. The weather was deplorably discouraging. We hope we shall have a larger muster another Sunday.

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

A memorial service for the fallen in the war

The church of St Giles in Reading held a memorial service for men from the Royal Berkshire Regiment.

There will be a memorial service for the fallen in the war (especially of those who belonged to the 8th Batt. R. Berkshire Regt) at Evensong, on Sunday, October 31st. They will be especially remembered on All Souls’ Day at the celebrations at 6.45, 7.30 and 8 a.m.

Reading St Giles parish magazine, November 1915 (D/P96/28A/32)

“He gave his life nobly, for what he conceived to be a righteous cause”

A family from Broad Street Congregational Church in Reading had to face the loss of their only son in action.

Just about the time that we were going to press a month ago, Pte Geo. H Keene, 1st Batt. Herts Regiment, was laying down his life for his country. Our friend was killed instantaneously, as he was being relieved from duty in the trenches, “somewhere in France”, on Tuesday October 26th, but the news did not reach Reading until the following Sunday [30 Oct]. George Keene was a very promising young fellow, 24 years of age, and with, as it seemed, a bright and prosperous future before him. For some time he had held a responsible position with a firm of solicitors in Ware, Hertfordshire, and he had earned the confidence and esteem of his employers, as indeed he had done of all others with whom he had been brought into contact. As secretary of our Young Men’s Bible Class, he was well known, and highly respected, at Broad Street.

We all deeply sympathise with his relatives in their sad loss. Especially would we express our grief for his parents – Mr and Mrs Keene, 6 Manchester Street, very old members of our church – in the loss of their only son, and with his sisters, in being thus deprived of the comradeship of a devoted brother. They all have one great source of comfort, in the thought that their loved one gave his life nobly, for what he conceived to be a righteous cause.

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

A horse falls on the King

Henry Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey took his car down to Reading to give wounded soldiers an outing.

30 October 1915

Maisie returned overnight from Spezia. Husband returned to Adriatic…

H[enry] to Reading. [Took] Wounded out. Great fright about him. Motor broke down – not home till 8 o’clock….

King bad accident in France. Horse reared and fell on the King. Hear he was unconscious – much bruised & shock – no bones broken.

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

Everyone is loud in criticising the Government

Meg Meade and her husband were blissfully happy while he was home on leave. She wrote to her brother to tell him about the national mood – one of anti-Government – and chaos with shipbuilders having to be unrecruited from the armed forces.

30th Oct
23 Wilton Place

My darling Ralph

Since last writing to you I haven’t written any letters. You know what it is with at home. We are out all day & if we are at home alone together, Jim reads to me. There’s a picture of domestic bliss!…

Will you thank Willie so very much for his letter. I am sending 100 cigarettes & some tobacco under cover to you. The cigarettes are his, & could you have the tobacco? As Maysie who I asked to settle up with Major Wigram about sending these things in the bag says that they make a great favour of sending anything in the bag, which is annoying, & Maysie fiercely refuses to allow me to send more this time. I am sending the rest of Willie’s order by post immediately….

Jim goes tomorrow (Sunday) night or Monday.

I did give Sir Ed. Carson your letter. Everyone is loud in criticizing the Government, but that don’t seem to move them. We lunched with Edith yesterday & met Lord Derby there. He said he had just received a letter signed by 6 men saying they would rejoin their regiments & enlist the moment that F E Smith was sent back to rejoin his regiment instead of sitting at home on a salary of £20,000, or whatever he gets! Lord Derby had some very amusing stories of Mrs Asquith. Sir John French went to see her, & she threw her arms around his neck & said, “Oh John, John, how splendid you are, but what a lot of worry you give Henry!” She also wrote to Lord Derby & asked him to spare “Henry”’s chauffeur, valet & footmen, as he being Prime Minister, his comfort was essential, so she asked Lord Derby to see they were not recruited. Lord Derby said that he expected we’d have conscription in 6 weeks time, but that’s too good to be true. He said that when he came to work his job, he found the most awful chaos, all the men who had been “starred” on the pink papers ought not to have been, & the ones unstarred ought to have been starred. By some oversight none of the shipbuilders in Cammell Laird’s yards were starred, so they could have been enlisting as hard as they could, & in consequence a certain new light cruiser called the Constance which Jim thought he’d a chance of getting has been tremendously delayed, & they are having to bring the men back to the yards again. Another employer wrote to say “all his men were starred, but they ought to be unstarred”. The WO left the “starring” business to the local recruiting people, who seem to have starred anyone who gave them half a crown.

I wonder if you have heard that Jim is to be a Captain D1! & have 20 of the newest & latest destroyers under him. Captain D of 12th Flotilla he will be, & he keeps the Royalist according to present arrangements. Isn’t it splendid. Royalist will have to be fitted out as a D’s ship, so I hope it won’t be 7 months before I see him again. He will take the new destroyers as they are turned out.

…Maysie & John are still at Bruton Street. He’s alright practically again except for his face. The abcess in the jaw. They are going to cut out the bit of dead bone on Monday, & he has been given 2 months to recover in, so that’s good….

We live in fogs now. No Zepps have penetrated to London lately although they visited Chatham I hear in the night before last….


Letter from Meg Meade to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/2)

A sad postscript

Those left behind in Cookham Dean had the opportunity to attend an illustrated lecture on the war, while mourning the loss of one of their own.

I am issuing the Roll of Honour once more; it is astonishing how many alterations and additions take place in it during three months. Let us thank God that, so far, no further serious casualties of any kind have occurred to any whose names are in the accompanying list.*

*P.S.- Since writing the above the sad news has reached us that Lieut. Russell Simmons was killed in action on Saturday, Sept. 25th, and that Sergt. Luker and Pte. E. Carter have been wounded.

Under the auspices of The League of Honour, a lecture, illustrated by lantern views, will be given by Miss Bridgeman on ‘The War,’ in the Drill Hall.

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

“The horse does a rear & the King falls off!”

Edward Ingram (1890-1941) was a friend of Ralph Glyn’s at the War Office.

Dear Glyn

Really everything is too depressing just now to write about. The King appears to have fallen off his steed in France & to be slightly injured, or [thus?] the Belgian Mil. Att. in London said to Strutt,

“The horse does a rear & the King falls off!”

Old Joffre is over here for a conference, so we are providing materials & data. No time for more & love to Deedes.

Yours ever
E M B Ingram

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C31/34)

Employ women to release men for other work

Women were wanted to work in non-nursing roles in military hospitals which had hitherto been the preserve of men.

We are asked to call attention to the following notice and to say that information respecting it can be obtained from Miss Barnett, Oaklea.


Attention is called by the Board of Trade to the arrangements recently made with regard to the supply of women for employment by the War Office in certain departments of military hospitals, to enable men to be released for other work. Under these arrangements women will be employed as cooks, storekeepers, dispensers, and on various clerical duties.

The Red Cross Society will select the women for this work from their own members, and also from women whose names have been submitted to them from the Board of Trade Labour Exchanges. All women on appointment will be required to become members of a Voluntary Aid Detachment of the British Red Cross Society, if they have not already done so, though it will not be necessary for them to hold the first aid or nursing certificates usually required in this connexion.

Particulars as to the terms of appointment and the necessary qualifications may be obtained from the any of the Board of Trade Labour Exchanges.

Bracknell section of Winkfield District Magazine, October 1915 (D/P151/28A/7/10)

An unexpected wedding

A Maidenhead man on leave from the Front took the opportunity to marry his sweetheart.

On October 28th, there was celebrated at our Church, the wedding of Sapper George Edgar Belcher, R.E., and Miss Grace Carter. Mr. Belcher had obtained 6 days leave from the front, and arrived in Maidenhead on the morning of the 26th, quite unexpected by any of his friends. Among the guests were present Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Belcher, Senr., and Mr. and Mrs. Walter Belcher, who are all living at Reading, and who all seemed in the best of health. May every blessing attend the happy pair!

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

Good things for wounded soldiers in Tilehurst

Tilehurst Congregational Church, like its sister church in Reading, was trying to support wounded soldiers.

On Wednesday afternoon, October 27th, the Committee of the BWTA had a party of wounded soldiers – between 30 and 40 – whom they entertained in the Schoolroom. Every one of the guests appeared to thoroughly enjoy the good things provided for the inner man, and also the various items in the way of songs and music, given by the young people. One thing is certain, the hostesses had a rare good time. So much so that they intend having another party shortly.

Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, December 1915 (D/11/12/1/14)

Lost on the field of battle

A farmer’s son from Warfield had fallen in battle.

We wish to convey our heartfelt sympathy to Mr. and Mrs. William Bowyer and family of Moss End Farm in the loss of their son Harold in the field of battle. A memorial Service will be held on Tuesday, October 26th, at 7.30.

Warfield section of Winkfield District Magazine, November 1915 (D/P151/28A/7/11)

Life may be richer for having taken part on the war

The minister of Maidenhead Congregational Church had good news regarding two young members reported seriously wounded.

The Minister is trying, as far as possible to keep in touch with our young men who are on active service, and it need hardly be said, he will always be glad to receive letters from them. Copies of this Magazine are now posted to each monthly, and the Editor will have great pleasure in inserting letters from our soldier friends written directly for this purpose, or extracts from letters sent to their friends which may be of general interest, and it is our prayer that life may be richer and more sacred to them in after days because of the stern and solemn events in which they have taken part…

It was stated in our last number that George Gemmel and Arthur Gemmel had been reported seriously wounded. We are very glad to hear that the report concerning George was an error, and that Arthur, whose sight it was feared was totally lost, has now recovered, at least partially, the sight of one eye.

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

Hearty congratulations to the Heelas family

There was news of several of Earley’s soldiers.

We offer our heartiest congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Edward Heelas on their son’s promotion. Mr Leslie Heelas was gazetted 1st Lieutenant in the 2nd 4th Berks in July 20th last.

List of Men Serving in His Majesty’s Forces.
The following additional names have been added to our prayer list:- Edward Marshall, Thomas Durman, Richard Cottrell, Stanley Morgan, Robert Dance, Henry Monger, Gilbert Adams, Denis Miller, Reginald Reeves, Charles Timbrill, John Hitchcock, William Brown, Richard Rivers, George Parker.

In addition to those already mentioned we especially commend the following to your prayers:- James Bowden (wounded), Ernest Weldon (wounded), Christopher Nash (wounded), David Luker (killed), Harry Bosley (killed in action), Thomas Brown (missing).

Earley St Peter parish magazine, October 1915 (D/P191/28A/22)

Home from home in a German dugout

Percy Spencer wrote to his new brother in law John Maxwell Image with his impressions of trench life – and the captured German trench he was now in.

Dear Mr Image

Almost it seems another world that last I saw you in. We move so often and crowd so many events into our time that the clock seems to have more hours in it nowadays than in ordinary peaceful times.

Here I am in a long lean dugout made by the Huns. [Censored.] Being in a Hun’s trench naturally the parados [sic] is our screen from the enemy. And that makes life fairly exciting for the parados is very low in places with here and there a gap. Bullets are plentiful and shells quite frequent, but at present we are all here still and keeping fit. You can’t be anything else while life overhead is so exciting, and life underfoot is equally so, for swimming, sliding, gliding and staggering along the trenches the slightest error will land you at the bottom of a shoot 15 or 20 feet deep – German funk holes scarcely wide enough to admit a man, diving steeply into the bowels of the earth: a tribute to the power of our artillery.

Another thing that strikes one is this evidence of the Huns to stay for the duration of the War. The officers’ dug-outs are walled, floored and ceiled with wood – spacious beds are built between walls at either end. The walls are papered with a cheerful pattern; the ceiling is also papered. Between beds 2 small tables, a couple of chairs, a comfortable arm chair and a full length mirror. On the floor oil cloth – on the walls a few pictures. A stove with flue carried up and through the wall heats the room. The trench leading down to this palace is floored with wood gratings: at the entrance door there is a good scraper – overhead a porch formed with a circular sheet of corrugated iron – “Home from home”.

Well, we’ve run up against a pretty rotten kind of existence as the result of our “push”, but no doubt if this war goes on through the winter which God forbid, when our line is straightened and settled down we shall get better quarters. At present we are “fighting” our men from pretty close up.

This morning I went round the reserve lines with the Brigadier and at one point got well “strafed”.

The reason apparently was a man standing in full view of the Huns on his parapet. He was looking for a bottle of rum another had taken from him and thrown over the parapet. Queer how men will risk their own and others’ lives.

Well, we’ve a strange collection of men and I find them a humorous one too. We all get as much fun out of this life as we can and the dry hunour of our Signal Section is a constant source of amusement to me. One “Taffy” speaks a weird language he describes as pure English. He’s been advised to have a phonetic vocabulary printed down one side of his tunic with the English equivalent opposite, so that we should only have to run our fingers down until we came to the sound he was making. He’s not at all pleased.

It’s 11.30 pip emma as the Signallers say, so good night my dear friend.

With love to you both
Yours ever


Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/10/11)