“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)

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Determined not to give in until an end has been made of the menace of tyranny and despotism

The vicar of Earley continued to be exercised by the unpatriotic refusing to restrain their consumption of limited food and drink supplies.

The Vicar’s Letter

We can hardly realise that we have almost reached the end of another year; it seems but a few weeks to our last Advent, our last Christmas, yet how much has happened since. How the war drags on from week to week, month to month, and how, in spite of it all, it finds us as determined as ever not to give in until an end has been made of the menace of tyranny and despotism. There is no fear as to the final result, but we shall have need of all our self-control and self-denial during the next few months. And yet how many are absolutely refusing to exercise that self-control in matters of food and drink.

A short while ago a foreman of some railway works in the west of England told us that he had spoken to his men about the probability of the cost of beer being raised to a shilling a pint, and asked them what they meant to do. “We shall have it”, was the reply. Here lies the real danger for our country, far more than in the direct attacks of our enemies…

If we think as we ought of what the season means for us, we can at any rate spend a Happy Christmas, even if a Merry Christmas is out of the question.

Your friend and Vicar
W W Fowler.

LIST OF MEN SERVING IN HIS MAJESTY’S FORCES

The following additional names have [sic] been added to our prayer list: Harold Davies.

In addition to those already mentioned we especially commend the following to your prayers:

SICK OR WOUNDED: Harold Giles, Rupert Wigmore, Harry Hewett, Eric Fowler, Ernest Thompson, George Fulford, Harry Ayres.

KILLED: Arthur Buskin, Frank Buskin, Charles Smith.

Earley St Peter parish magazine, December 1917 (D/P191/28A/24)

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)

Germans massing in Flanders

There was ominous news from the Front.

7 December 1917

Germans massing in Flanders. Rumours of Roumania [sic] joining Armistice.

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

15 more German divisions coming from Russian front!

With revolutionary Russia out of the war, many German troops were freed up to face the Allies.

6 December 1917

Heard of our giving up Bourlon Wood. Very bad, but 15 more German divisions coming from Russian front!!

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)

Farms willing to have women workers

Florence Vansittart Neale and Miss Dane continued to work on the initiative to get more women in farmwork.

5 December 1917

Miss Dane & I dropped Henry at Maidenhead, then on to Holyport. Miss Coatt saw nice old farmer – no good. Then visited our farms about women on the land – all willing to have them. Home for lunch. Sent Miss D. to Hurley farmers after lunch.

America declares war on Austria.

Russian terms for Armistice!!

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

“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)

The internees are settling down for the time

Max John Stephan, alias Stephen Friedlander, aged 46, was a mining engineer from Germany. There was some question as to whether he was an internee or should be classified as a PoW, while the other internees seemed to be settling down.

3rd December 1917
Max John Stephan, otherwise Stephen Friedlander
H.10.17 S of S Order, Defence of the Realm Regulation 14B
Internment

Sir,
I have the honour to report that the above named Alien was received into my custody on the 1st inst from Alexandra Palace Internment Camp.
I have the honour to be,
Sir
Your obedient servant
[C M Morgan]
Governor

[To] The Undersecretary of State, Home Office

Noted: Prisoner received on the 1st inst. He is termed in the War Office communications “Prisoner of War”. Is his treatment regarding letters and visits to be the same as the other men? Or are they increased, with free postage?
Governor

3.12.17
He is a 14B prisoner (not a prisoner of war) & should be treated like the rest.
5.12.17

3 December 1917
Reading PI
Please report whether you are still of the opinion that David Stad should be removed from your custody especially as Lehr and all the alien enemies have left.
Secretary

I do not think this is now necessary. All the men are in one class and appear to be settling down for the time. Stadt has said nothing further to me on the subject of removal.
C M Morgan, Gov
5.12.17

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“My thoughts are with my country”

The exit of Russia from the war led expat Will Spencer to worry for the future of Britain.

1 December 1917

Have serious thoughts with regard to what the present defection of Russia may mean for the Entente, & particularly for my country. According to the papers, peace negotiations between Russia & Germany are to begin tomorrow.

Felt that my letter to Father, finished last night, talking chiefly about my new pupil, Pastor Burri, & about the beauty of, & my affection for Wimmis, was a strange one to have written under the circumstances. Was glad that I had just room to add the following postscript:

“I refrain from speaking about the war in my letters. I can only say that my thoughts are with my country & with you all.”

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

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)

The man who made the escape key

The governor of Reading Prison wrote to the Prison Commissioners about one of the foreign internees he considered to be a bad influence. Paul, alias Henry Mayer, was duly transferred to Brixton Prison in December 1917, for transfer to the Isle of Man. He was a German engineer, aged 26 when interned in 1916.

29 Nov 1917

P Meyer [sic]
S of S Order 12.7.06, Aliens Act Deportation

The above prisoner has been one of the leading agitators here as regards the proposed hunger strike.

He was also in touch with the men who escaped – and though I cannot prove it I am convinced in my mind from all the information I have obtained that he was the man who made the key with which the men opened the gates to the exercise court. His conduct is bad and today he has just completed 3 days No. 1 diet and 14 days No. 2 for refusing to obey orders and using filthy and grossly insubordinate language to a warden.

He is treated in the “Friendly Alien Wing” – now abolished, but claims to be a German and his record shows him born in Berlin – in my opinion he is certainly a German. As his influence is for the bad, I should be glad if he could be removed either to a prison or if he is a German to a Camp.

C M Morgan, Governor

He is an old criminal convicted in this country.

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Germans “too downtrodden to rise”

Florence Vansittart Neale was glued to every wild rumour about the war, while Will Spencer’s love for his German wife had only grown stronger through their difficult years of exile in Switzerland.

Florence Vansittart Neale
November 1917
[inserted before 23 November]

Hear P. Innes says state of Germany awful. People too weak to rise, able bodied men only able to work half time, too downtrodden to rise.
Hear the Pope instigated the Italians to give up. He encouraged Austrian spies everywhere!

23 November 1917

Hear Boy cannot get Paris leave. Hope for January…. Hear most domestic servants to be requisitioned for work – only allowed 1 servant each person! Counting the gardeners!!!

Hear General Plumer & staff have been in Italy 3 weeks to see how many necessary to keep Italy. Our troops must go over Mt Cenes pass.

Hear through Marga that a Florentine Regiment who deserted was sent back to Florence with “traitors to their country” on their brassades.

Hear many battalions would willingly shoot 1 in 10 of strikers [illegible].

Will Spencer
23 November 1917

During the afternoon I called & had an interview with Herrn Fursprech Engeloch. Father need take no further steps to obtain attestation of my residence in Cookham before Jan. 19/15, as it may not be needed. As soon as the matter comes before the Gemeinde (I told him we had chosen Oberburg [as their official home town in Switzerland]. Herr E. will let Oberst Reichel know, in order that he can then write on our behalf, stating that we are friends of his, as he has kindly offered to do. Probably the best means of letting the German authorities know that I had become a Swiss subject would be to apply to have Johanna’s money sent here, mentioning thereby that I am a Swiss subject, & if that is questioned, to then place the matter in the hands of the Swiss Political Department. My naturalization cannot finally be ratified until the Grosser Rat has met again. It only meets twice a year, & will meet next, Herr E. said, in Feb. or March, or at the latest in April….

I was sorry to have to tell Johanna how long we might have to wait for the ratification of our naturalization. After we had had coffee in Johanna’s room, something moved me to tell her that I had learned to know her better & that she had become more to me than ever during these last years – in some ways years of trial – in Switzerland. Johanna had afterwards to go into the town, but she would not let me go with her, as I was not quite up to the mark, & she thought it better for me to rest. When she returned, she thanked me again for what I had said. I said that I was sorry that they were only words that I had spoken, that I felt such things were better expressed in deeds, but she comforted me with the assurance that what I had said had not been merely words.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)

“Everyone misses his smiling face”

There was good news and not-so-good news of Maidenhead men.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are very sorry to learn that Ernest Bristow has been wounded, but there seems every hope that his injuries are not serious. One of his chums writes,

“He went up to one of our advanced dressing stations to take over stores, and it was while standing at the mouth of a dug-out that he was wounded. A Bosche fleet of aeroplanes came over, and a bomb dropped quite near, wounding some ten men and killing two others. He caught it in the left arm and in both legs, but his wounds are flesh wounds, and not dangerous. He suffered from a severe shaking up, but bore it extremely well. The sergeant who dressed his wounds thinks he will soon be all right again. Everyone misses his smiling face and bright personality, and none more than his sorrowing pal. We all feel that his loss to the Unit is irreparable… He was by far the best clerk, and one of the most popular in the Unit.”

We earnestly trust that the hopeful tone of this letter may be justified by events, and that Corporal Bristow will suffer no permanent injury.

Harold Islip, who returned to his post after leave about a month ago, has been in hospital suffering from dysentery. Cyril Hews, George Belcher, and Donald Wilson have been home again for ten days, all in good health and spirits. Herbert Brand, who has been Company Q.M.S. in the 8th Berks., has been for two or three months past in a Cadet Corps, and expects shortly to receive a Commission.

Wilfred Collins is now quite convalescent and was in Maidenhead a few days ago.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, November 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

“We are soldiers”: German prisoners refuse to work beside the Conscientious Objectors

German society was even more strongly opposed to pacifists than their English counterparts.

29 Barton Road
13 Nov. ‘17
Desideratissimo

Today she [Florence] has had [visitors including] … one Oldham, a B.A. engaged in war work for aeroplanes.

A General from the Front was lunching in our Combination-room the other day, and said to us that in his section the German prisoners refuse to work beside the Conscientious O.’s “We are soldiers”, they say.

Ten days or so ago, at one of the dinners which the College gives to Cadets on receiving their Commissions, we had a couple of officers of Zouaves as guests. Mumbo (whose health is much improved) proposed their toast in French. Capt. Marcel (he looked a handsome Englishman) responded in his own tongue, and ended with a shout which sent the Cadets wild, “England for ever”!!

What think you of Ll. George’s speech in today’s paper? It is depressing but not depressed. I personally have no fear of any harm except what the English baser natures can induce our Government to do. Surely Russia teaches what must be the result to a nation of slaves who are suddenly emancipated from control. So will it be in Germany until they have settled down. Meanwhile it’s the present English people worth dying for?

Our love to you both.

Always affect. yours Bild.

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