Chosen to go to America to train men there in “sniping”

A local man was picked to train American recruits.

Warfield

Pte. A. Beal and J. Harwood have recently joined His Majesty’s Forces.

We were glad to welcome home on leave this month Privates L. Cox, F. Fancourt, N. Nickless, T. Nickless, G. Nichols, H. Ottaway, A. Shefford, also A. Cartland, who has just obtained a commission in the R.F.C., and who we heartily congratulate.

We congratulate Corporal Edwin Gray on his promotion to Sergeant and on the fact he has been chosen to go to America to train men there in “sniping.” Sergt. Gray began his career as a marksman at the Winkfield Miniature Rifle Range.

Winkfield section of Winkfield District Magazine, December 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/12)

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Sleeping accommodation for the soldiers in the winter months

Groups associated with an Earley church were homeless after their premises were taken over for soldiers to sleep at.

The Military Authorities have taken over the use of the Mission Room, Cumberland Road. This means that the Sunday School, Mothers’ Meeting, Clothing Club and Scouts have to find a home elsewhere. Their purpose is to provide sleeping accommodation for the soldiers in the winter months who have been bivouacking in the College grounds on Whitley Hill, and so far we are glad that they should be undercover. But for ourselves it is not very convenient. Application has been made to the Education Authority for the loan of a hall or classroom in the New Town school and if this is granted our trouble will be ended.

Earley St Nicolas parish magazine December 1917 (D/P192/28A/14)

Even in this time of war we have been able to help the work of our Missionary Societies

Mission work was not forgotten despite the calls of the war.

A Sale of Work for Missions was held at the Victoria Hall on December 12th, and the sum of £71 10s. 0d was realised. It is impossible in the brief space as our disposal to mention the names of the many willing helpers who contributed to this successful result. We are very thankful that even in this time of war we should have been able to help the work of our Missionary Societies, which are pledged to support those who are working in the Mission Field, and, though for the time new places are in abeyance, the old work must be kept going. Those who in the midst of all their other work for their Country in connection with the war made time to help at the sale, will feel glad to think that their efforts were so successful.

Bracknell section of Winkfield and Warfield Magazine, January 1918 (D/P 151/281/10)

“The populace gave us a tremendous welcome”

A Reading soldier was involved in the conquest of Jerusalem, and reported on the triumphant entry into the city.

THE TAKING OF JERUSALEM

We are pleased to be able to give below an extract from a letter received by our friends Mr and Mrs Ernest Francis from their son, Private E. Layton Francis of the London Scottish Regiment. Private Layton Francis has many friends at Broad Street and they will rejoice to know that in spite of many trying experiences, he is safe and well.

Egyptian Expeditionary Force
12-12-17

Since writing my last letter home I have been through another attack and a unique experience, and have much to be thankful for that I have been kept safely through so much. After we left our last position, we marched all night – over a twelve hours’ march – and attacked in the early morning. Doubtless you will have seen from the papers that Jerusalem has fallen, and that to our Division has been given the credit of taking it.

Our triumphal entry into the city was an experience worth living for, and the populace gave us a tremendous welcome. The city is full of well dressed and apparently well educated people, many of whom can speak English perfectly, and were very anxious to speak with us. An Armenian – quite a nice looking old chap of English appearance – joyfully told us that “Now there will be a happy Christmas for all good Christians.”

I hope this letter will reach you as it is, as I do not think myself it contains anything of “Military Importance”. Anyhow I shall have a tremendous lot to tell you once I get home again. It is almost impossible to realise that we have been fighting and marching where Jesus Christ was born and crucified, and that we must have actually been over the same hills were He has passed…

It is bitterly cold where we are just now at night time and heavy frosts are quite frequent, although I expect it is still hot in the canal zone.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, February 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

The beginning of the end for one regiment

Sydney Spencer resumed his diary after a long break, busy training in the north of England. New recruits would change the regiment he was attached to.

1917
December 11th

Large draft detailed in orders. The beginning of the end of the 2/5th Norfolk Regiment.

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12)

Awful explosion in ships

The explosion of a French ship carrying munitions in Canada has been called the worst manmade explosion before the invention of nuclear weapons.

8 December 1917

Awful explosion in ships at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Town almost destroyed! Roumania [sic] having truce….

Wrote to prisoners. Mrs Pack & Mr Rich [visited]. His son died of wounds. My Bubs to start for Paris 4 pm via Southampton & Havre.

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

Shot at dawn for “cowardice” caused by shell shock

John Maxwell Image wrote to his friend W F Smith, who was staying at Hindhead in south west Surrey, not far from the big army camp at Aldershot. Normally very gung-ho in support of the war, Image’s compassion had been aroused by stories of court martials and teenagers shot at dawn. The Revd Thomas Pym (1885-1945), in peacetime the chaplain at Image’s college, was serving as an army chaplain.

29 Barton Rd
6 Dec. ‘17
My very dear old man

The military cars to and fro Aldershot must surely be more or less an interesting sight.

The poor Tommy comes under this [?not clear] penalty quite frequently. Not often from cowardice, poor boy. Most often (I believe) it is from slinking off to some girl in the rear which is called “desertion”, tho’ he would have returned right enough.

Just before I was married there was shown to me a letter from a young Trin. Officer at the Front, describing a visit from one of our Trin. Chaplains, begging this young friend of his to “pray for him”, for he had to pass the night with a boy of 18 who was to be shot at dawn. Pym spoke then of a night with another poor child (of 17!) who had been shot the previous week, for what the CM was pleased to style Cowardice – though he had twice behaved with exceptional bravery, and it was only after seeing his two brothers killed at his side that on this occasion his nerve broke down. In an officer it would have been called “shell-shock”, and the interesting sufferer sent home to a cushy job in England. I know of 2 thus treated. Pym’s words brought the tears to my eyes. I see that he has told the story (slightly altered) in a book that has recently come out by him, Characteristics of the Army in Flanders.

Sir Arthur Yapp at the Guildhall last Friday. The Signora went (non ego) and returned enthusiastic – she and her Cook – over the great man’s dignity and sweetness. That evening he lectured the students (and I believe also them of Girton) in Newnham College – and left by the 9.9 for London.

One remark of his: “The vessels sunk by the U-boats during the week ending Nov. 24 (I forget how many that was) might have carried enough bread to feed Cambridge for nearly 7 years, or enough meat for 8 ½ years, or enough sugar for 64 years.”

He said that Food Tickets have changed Germany to a nation of forgers. He dreaded the like fate for England.

Yours ever
Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

“It was all very suggestive of Bethlehem, except for the noise of the guns outside”

Another army chaplain reports his experiences leading services and planning social activities very close to the front line.

5 December 1917

The following extracts are from 2 letters which Mother received lately from the Sub-Warden with the troops in France.

“This morning, I had an hour’s walk through mud & trenches, delayed by the unwelcome attention of a German aeroplane for a while, but otherwise uneventful, & at last arrived at a certain dug out. There was a steep staircase down about 20 ft, then a square flat, and then 5 or 6 more steps to the right. On the square flat I arranged a little altar. Men all up & down the stairs crouching to one side so as to leave me room to pass to communicate them, and a few outside in the trench kneeling in the mud. At the bottom, a few Non-Conformist officers were very reverent & interested… I reminded them that our Lord chose a “dug out” when He first came to earth… It was all very suggestive of Bethlehem, except for the noise of the guns outside.”

“We have discovered a large cellar beneath ruins close to the lines. There is plenty of room for a canteen, reading rooms & a chapel. The chapel is to be dedicated to St John Baptist. I wonder if the Community would furnish the altar for us; the Pioneers would make the altar… I said Mass there this morning & 60 men came & were very reverent and appreciative.”

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

We refused peace terms thinking the Germans were “on the run”.

Inserted at the front of Florence Vansittart Neale’s diary are her notes made sometime in December 1917 on war news. The impact of America joining the war was beginning to be felt.

December 1917

Hear 4 generals sent home without return tickets!

Hear Germans offered good peace terms 3 months ago. We refused thinking they were “on the run”.

Our troops hissed going through Rome. Cadorna hated by Army – he the Vatican’s party.

Coldstreams scared 91,000 prisoners being taken.

One HQ taken – generals and colonels still adding.

Hear American troops to be trained in Ireland to shame the Irish.

500,000 Americans already in France.

Hear through W Grimmett last push we took any amount of stores & clothing, made light railway & sent it to base before 2 days.

Hear another push is to begin soon.

Americans getting to France about 5000 a week.

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

A troublesome foot

A wounded Reading man was released from the army, although he would face a long struggle ahead.

Khaki Chat

Leslie Smith (ex-sergeant) has now received his discharge from the Army, and since arriving home has entered No.1 War Hospital, where the troublesome foot has undergone one more operation. With what success it is impossible yet to say, but Leslie is cheerful and well in himself.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, November 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

“The only way interest has been maintained, has been by wagers”

Percy Spencer told sister Florence he was enjoying his officer training – although he seems to have more out of the camaraderie and sports than the boring lectures on naval and military history. The German warship Emden was sunk by the British in autumn 1914.

Thursday Nov 22, 1917
My dear WF

These few lines to let you know how cheery we all feel in spite of a plague of lectures and the shadow of our final.

Yesterday we rowed a great race. Unprejudiced opinion is that we won: the verdict was a dead heat, and we have to row again. We did enjoy it.

Today we attended our 3rd Naval History lecture. Mr Dykes was there. It’s a terribly slow affair. At the conclusion of tonight’s lecture we had only got to the destruction of the Emden – or rather, to be exact, it was at 6.39 pm. I know, as the only way interest has been maintained, has been by wagers as to the lecture and at what time in that lecture she would be put out of action. Betting was about 6-4 in favour of 6 pm tonight. I think the lecturer must have had a lot of money on the other way.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/6/72)

Soldiers get very rough and ready, but are grateful to the churches for hospitality

One of the soldiers who had attended the social evenings run by Broad Street Church wrote to say how much he appreciated it. The “pioneers” in the British Army were engaged in construction and engineering, and also leading assaults on major fortifications.

APPRECIATION OF HOSPITALITY

The friends who are helping in connection with our work amongst the soldiers are constantly hearing expressions of appreciation and thanks. But the following letter is perhaps the best evidence of the feeling which has been called forth. It was sent to Mr Rawlinson by Corporal Hill of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and it speaks for itself:

Litherland
Near Liverpool

November 20th, 1917

Dear Sir,

I am writing to thank you for all you did for me during my stay in Reading.

I was attached to the Pioneer School, and took advantage of your hospitality, and appreciate it very much; and I must say I appreciate it more now that I have left Reading. I was too “nervous” or I should have thanked you personally on behalf of the fellows of the School, for the good time you gave us. So please convey my gratitude to those who entertained us on Sunday evenings, and also yourself for allowing us there. I know soldiers get very rough and ready, but I have heard some of them speak in glowing terms of the efforts made by the Congregationalists all over the country to help cheer up all those who were away from home, and wanted somewhere where they could spend a quiet and contemplative evening.

I have a very good impression of Reading, and am looking forward to the time when I shall be able to visit it again.

I shall be very pleased to receive a letter from you.

Again thanking you for what you have done for me amomgst many.

Yours sincerely
A J Hill.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, December 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“Many of our Missionaries are engaged in work amongst the troops”

Many British missionaries were now working with the troops when the latter were off-duty.

THE LMS ANNIVERSARY

This year the annual meetings of the Reading Auxiliary of the London Missionary Society are to be held on Sunday, November 18th and following days.

In the afternoon of [the Sunday] there will be the usual gathering of children and young people at Trinity Church, where addresses will be delivered by the Missionary Deputation…. The annual Public Meeting will be held at Broad Street … [where] we are to have addresses from the Deputation.

Owing to the difficulties of travel in these days, and the fact that so many of our Missionaries are engaged in work amongst the troops on the Continent and elsewhere, the authorities at the Mission House have very few Missionaries at their disposal for deputation work…

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, November 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

A simple, innocent looking British soldier

Will Spencer was now seeking Swiss citizenship, but still took an interest when he ran into a British soldier interned there. He and wife Johanna were very short of cash, even though Johanna’s sister was sending them what she could from Germany.

18 November 1917

To the English Church. Sat in the second row, in order to be out of danger of draughts from the door, as I have not yet quite got rid of my cold. Only two persons in the choir – one on each side – a lady on the left & on the rights a simple, innocent looking British soldier who seemed to have a tenor voice – he was at any rate singing the melody….

After Johanna had entertained me to tea in her room (she had already had tea at the Judge’s) she told me that the matter that she had been speaking to the Judge about was the question of our borrowing money until I am a Swiss citizen, in order that Agnes may run no further risk in sending to us. The Judge kindly offered us the help of his name, but Johanna will write to Direktor Loeliger first. She did so this evening.


Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)

To Ireland at an hour’s notice

The continuing unrest in Ireland affected some of the Vansittart Neales’ friends.

17 November 1917

Fred turned up for weekend. Fear of Ireland stopped his former leave. Hear Ken went off to Limerick at an hour’s notice.

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