Casting their shadows before them

Members of Maidenhead Congregational Church were serving in various regiments.


Frank Pigg has joined the Flying Corps, and is stationed at Farnborough, and John Boyd has been placed in 3/4 Royal Berks, and is for the present at Reading. Other enlistments too from our numbers are casting their shadows before them! Leonard Beal has been in hospital at Alexandria, suffering from fever, but is reported better, and returned to duty. As we go to press we hear that Donald Lindsay is reported wounded. No details are given, and we may trust that the wounds are not severe.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, July 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Lovely weather for a fight

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister to Florence. He was currently stationed in a quiet area, away from the fighting, and enjoying the sunny weather.


Dear W.F.

Ain’t it ‘ot!

Lovely weather for a fight, what?

Harry Pinder has been next door to me for some days – by the merest fluke he went to one of the other two Brigades of our Division – his two friends in distress came to us. I don’t know how he likes his “instruction”, but he ought to be fairly happy as he’s in what is now a pretty quiet part of the line. It’s a tricky bit of country, however, and just over 2 months ago was the scene of a terrible bombardment, & may be again.

It’s a most perfect day and we’re very comfortably billeted in cool rooms of one of a range of schoolrooms. The schoolmaster’s daughter is perfectly charming – about 10 years old, I should guess, & every bit as pretty. This morning I helped a big farmer’s boy chase her round the playground to mount her on his grand cheval, which she was afraid of because it was trop gros [too big]. Of course we didn’t catch her – it was much too jolly a game to bring to a climax.

It’s very difficult to write these days, an awful lot of “business”, precious little time and a rigid censorship.

So these few lines and those I hope to send will be just to let you known we’re all serene and very well, including the gallant Corporal, who is becoming quite a horseman, at least he thinks he is after being made to ride the General’s charger by the General, as far as the stables.


Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/21)

Good news on all fronts

Florence Vansittart Neale thought the Battle of the Somme was going well.

29 July 1916
Still good news on all fronts.

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

Impossible to carry on council business due to “minute quantities of petrol allowed”

Berkshire County Council received a petition from the British Empire Union, a racist and anti-semitic pressure group formerly known more honestly as the Anti-German Union.


A circular from the British Empire Union, asking that meetings should be organised with a view to the internment of all enemy aliens, was read, and ordered to be laid on the table [i.e. ignored].


Mr Preston called attention to the impossibility of carrying on certain important parts of the County business in consequence of the minute quantities of petrol allowed to the respective officers; and the Clerk was directed to communicate with the authorities responsible and to apply for an increase.

Berkshire County Council minutes, 29 July 1916 (C/CL/C1/1/19)

Leaving to take up munitions work

Two female teachers come into the spotlight today. One woman was leaving teaching to work in a munitions factory, the other had lost her soldier brother.

July 28th 1916.
Miss Robinson finished duties here today, she is

1916, July 28
Miss Lock has been absent all this week – owing to brother’s death (War)

Mrs Bland’s School log book (86/SCH/1/1, p. 209); Katesgrove Girls’ School log book (SCH/6/8/2, p. 420)

Tremendous fighting

Florence Vansittart Neale was excited by the latest news from the Somme.

27 July 1916
All Pozieres taken by us. Tremendous fighting.

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

No prizes this year – feed starving Belgian children instead

As the school year drew to a close, an Abingdon school reflected on the impact of the war.

1916, 24th-28th July

No prizes were given this year. In order to practice the public duty of economy, the County Council gave none, but in order to preserve the efficiency of the school, a number of War Time Certificates were awarded to girls for completing with credit a year’s work in their respective classes. These were presented on Thursday morning by the Mayoress (Mrs H Clarke) who was accompanied by the Vicar and Mrs Kennedy, Mrs Reynolds, Miss Morland and Miss Clarke. Mr Tatham, Mr Gadd and the Revs Barker and Thomas were also present. Maggie Money, Standard 7, received the Bishop’s Prayer Book, and 8 other girls Certificates from the Diocesan Inspector, 20 others were commended. The Medals, Bars and Clasps had not arrived.

Some things done by the children in War Time:

Xmas puddings to Soldiers to value £1
Overseas Fund Xmas 9/
Wool for socks made £1
Blind Soldiers and Sailors Fund 16/6
Empire Day Overseas Fund 12/6
Cottage Hospital 74lbs weight
Oxford Cot Fund 10/0

They voted that the Prize Money usually given by the Managers, together with 10/6 which they brought themselves should be given to the Fund for starving Belgian children. This amounted to £2.10.6.

Abingdon Girls’ CE School log book (C/EL 2/2, p. 120)

A cheery letter from hospital

The vicar of Reading St Giles reported on parishioners serving in the armed forces – plus the death of his predecessor’s son.

Notes from the Vicar

Intercessions list:

E.W. Wheeler, R.F.C.; G.J. Coggs, 3/7, Worcester Regt.; A.Coggs, 14th Batt. Worcester Pioneers; William E. Haynes, R.E.; Harold Merrick, 1st Garrison Batt. Worcester Regt.; William George Rowe, R.E. Eldridge, R. Berkshire Regt.(attached D.C.L.I.); Frederick Harry Goddard, Queens Own Dorset Yeomanry; Norman A. Norris, London Rifle Brigade.

To the list of the departed: Steward B. Nelson Bolton (H.M.S. Indefatigable); Capt. Aubrey N. Carew Hunt (Oxford and Bucks Lt. Infantry) Lieut. Henry Laing (R.N.); J.W. Beechey (H.M.S. Hampshire); A. North (London Rifle Brigade).

To the list of the wounded: Leonard Smith (Canadian Contingent).

As a parish and a congregation we offer our sincere sympathy to our late Vicar and his family in the death of his son killed at the front. I know how very much we have remembered them all in our prayers. We also extend our sympathy to the Rev. H.E. and Mrs Lury on the death of their daughter.

I have also had a cheery letter from Sergt.-Major A.F. Manning who is in Hospital in Leicester and is progressing favourably.

Reading St Giles parish magazine, July 1916 (D/P191/28A/24)

Australians wounded at the Somme

Still on holiday in Kent, the Vansittart Neales visited a war hospital run by the Red Cross in Sandgate, near Folkestone.

26 July 1916
Henry & I went to the Bevan Hospital – saw Australians just back from the Somme.

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

Can we ask effectively for a reform of national laws?

The Bishop of Oxford thought the church should take a hard look at its own failings before attacking the country.


The following extracts are from the Bishop’s message in the July Diocesan magazine:

Your prayers are specially asked
For the maintenance of the spirit and unity of the nation in the great war…


I want to say something about the idea that the Mission is to prepare the Church to deliver a message to the nation in the autumn. I do not like this way of putting the matter. I am afraid the nation may turn round upon us and say, ‘Put your own house in order before you speak to us’. We are bidden, for instance, to address the nation about the necessity of paying better wages. But what a shocking spectacle is presented by the salaries paid to our own officers, the clergy. Do we pay all of these a ‘living wage’? How many parishes require ‘private means’, and those often rich parishes? Is there not a monstrous inequality of income?… Is it not just this sort of lottery which we are being instructed to condemn in commercial life – a few large portions and a great many inadequate pittances.

Can we speak to the nation, till we are zealous to reform ourselves? In the face of St James’ plain words, can we talk about “equal treatment” when the pew system still prevails? Can we ask effectively for a reform of national laws, when we in the church in the face of Christ’s plain intention have suffered ourselves to be deprived of almost all power of spiritual legislation and spiritual discipline?

Or again – can we claim of the nation that it should embark on a crusade against the vices which ruin our national life when we ourselves as a church, the organ and instrument of Christ, have been so acquiescent? Have lust and drunkenness and avarice felt the church to be in every village and every town a relentless foe, waging Christ’s war with fearless courage against everything which He hated – ‘riding’ forth as a terrible warrior against the forces of injustice and wrong?…


Do not forget the Missionary Festival at Banbury, on July 18th. It would indeed be a disaster if the national mission did not quicken our fervour for overseas work. The war is putting a terrible strain on mission work abroad, and we must show ourselves equal to the strain.


The third year of the terrible war will begin on August 4th. No fresh prayers will be put out. But I hope we shall make it in every church a day of faithful prayer.


Earley St Peter parish magazine, July 1916 (D/P191/28A/23/7)

Slowly but surely

Florence Vansittart Neale was worried by the situation in Ireland, but more confident about the war abroad.

25 July 1916

Irish question disturbing.

All lines advancing – slowly but surely.

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

“To the last he was doing his duty, and he practically lost his life by his last unselfish and heroic act”

Two Mortimer West End families faced the loss of bereavement. One man died heroically saving a comrade in arms:

West End

It is with a keen feeling of sympathy for the parents that we record two more deaths in the war this month. On May 25th there died in France Corporal John Collis, 1st Batt. Royal Berks Regt. One of the officers of his battalion sends the following account:-

“Being in the Company to which I am attached, I knew Corporal Collis well, and I can assure you he will be greatly missed. He was a first-rate soldier and died bravely. He was wounded and had started to go back to be dressed when one of his comrades was shot, and Corporal Collis immediately went back and bound the other man up. It was while doing this that he was again hit, and this time seriously. We were able to get him away at once and he got back to the hospital, but died shortly afterwards…

He was a fine soldier, and he was beloved and respected here… To the last he was doing his duty, and he practically lost his life by his last unselfish and heroic act when, although badly wounded himself, he went back to bind up a fellow comrade.”

In the Naval Battle in the North Sea on May 31st, Frederick Penny, R.M.L.I. [Royal Marines Light Infantry], went down on the Black Prince.

We are expressing the feelings of everyone in the parish when we say we are proud of these two men and proud to think that their parents have so worthily upheld the example of the country’s other bereaved parents in counting it an honour to have been called upon to give their best for their Country. At the same time we give them our deep sympathy, and pray that John Collis and Frederick Penny may be granted “a place of refreshment, light, and peace” and receive a merciful judgment at the Last Day.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, July 1916 (D/P120/28A/14)

A Russian victory

The Battle of Erzincan was a major Russian victory over the Turks. Florence Vansittart Neale rejoiced at the news.

24 July 1916
Russian victory.

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

Making straight for disaster

The war had prompted many to think deeply about British society and its problems. One of the responses was the National Mission of 1916. The vicar of Wokingham St Sebastian issued a rousing call to arms

National Mission.

We know now the direction in which we had been going. There were those amongst us who were well aware that our modern civilisation was in no good way………… We had been making straight for disaster, either in the form of revolution, or the collapse which must sooner or later result from internal decay………

The Materialism, the greed for gain, the dependence upon mere force, the brushing aside of inconvenient moral restrictions, the lust and savagery which have loomed so large in these dreadful months – are they not the very evils that we had been harbouring and concealing under all sorts of polite designations and compromising conventions?

Is it not clear that we are now called to hate them and renounce them as never before’? That is the aim of the National Mission.

It is a call to all to take part in the ‘great offensive’ which is now being carried on. Our sailors and soldiers are waging war in the cause of truth, righteousness and freedom against these very things mentioned in the above quotation. We are called to fight against these same things in our midst. The call has come to our armies to make a special effort, let us realise that we too belong to an army, pledged to fight, and that the call has come to us also to advance.

Wokingham St Sebastian parish magazine, July 1916 (D/P154C/28A/1)

Still holding our own

The Battle of the Somme continued to rage.

23 July 1916
Still holding our own. Heavy fighting. “Pozieres” Longueval [Longueville?].

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