A real work of loving service for our brave soldiers and sailors

Newbury women were hard at work sewing for various deserving war causes, while even the mayor (a local solicitor) had joined up.

The members of the Red Cross Work Party continue their labours with undiminished energy. They have up till now held 40 meetings, and have sent work to the British Red Cross Society, the French Red Cross, the Belgian, Italian and Serbian ditto, the Russian Prisoners of War Fund, the Navy League, HMS Conquest (Lieut. Gordon Burgess’s ship), the mine-sweeper Newbury, the War Depot at Wickham House, the Newbury Hospital, Park House Hospital, the Ripon War Hospital, and Hospitals in France and Malta. The Work Party may well be proud of such a record, but we know that it is with all the members a real work of loving service for our brave soldiers and sailors…

We were pleased the other day to see the late Mayor of Newbury, Councillor Bazett, back in the town, looking particularly well. We wish him all success in the Army, and hope that he will come back safe and sound.

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P89/28A/13)

From prison to Parliament

Future Irish President Eamon de Valera made his first appearance on a world stage in July 1917 when he won a parliamentary by-election for the constituency of East Clare, aged 35. He was a veteran leader of the Easter Rising the previous year, explaining Florence Vansittart Neale’s disapproval.

11 July 1917

Set back by Ijder. Fear our troops surrounded.

Sinn-Fein man got in for Clare – rebel – released from prison….

Heard Bubs had put in for leave.

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

The Open Air mission to the troops of all nations

The Open Air Mission was an evangelical initiative reaching out to men in training, the wounded, and enemy PoWs.

OPEN-AIR MISSION
There will be a meeting on behalf of this Mission on St John’s Lawn on Tuesday, July 3rd, at 3 pm, when the Rev. P. Rose and Walter Goff, esq, will describe the work of the Open-Air Mission amongst British and French troops in the war, and among German Prisoners… If wet, the meeting will be held in Princes Street Mission Room.

Reading St. John parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P172/28A/24)

“The Germans may try to send poison to German Prisoners of war in order to contaminate water supplies”

Broadmoor, acting as a war hospital for metally ill PoWs, received the following warning. Was this ridiculous hysteria, or was there a genuine threat?

War Office
London SW1

20th June 1917

Sir,

I am commanded by the Army Council to inform you that information has been received from General Headquarters, British Armies in France, that the Germans may try to send poison to German Prisoners of war in order that the latter may contaminate water supplies etc.

I am to request that, in the event of any suspicious enclosures being found in parcels of Prisoners of War, the Commandant of the Prisoners of War Camp shall pass them to the Medical Officer for examination and analysis.

I am,
Sir,
Your obedient servant,
B B Cubitt

[to]
General Officers
Commanding-in-Chief at Home.
Copies to Commandants, Prisoners of War Camp.
Commandant, Crowthorne War Hospital, Wellington College.

Broadmoor correspondence file (D/H14/A6/2/51)

Most forms of disablement can be usefully dealt with

Provisions for men left disabled as a result of wounds were becoming personal for Ascot people.

The name of William Tidy (son of Mr. Tidy of the Royal Nurseries) has, we regret to say, to be added to our Prisoners of War.

We also feel deep sympathy for the anxiety of the families of William Nobbs and Walter Barton, both of whom are reported missing.

Sergeant Major Arthur Butcher and Corporal William Jones have been called to the Front.

Pte. Thomas Statham is wounded, but we are thankful to say he is progressing favourably.

Pte. Ernest Taylor has been ill in Mesopotamia.

Corporal Claud Parsons (Machine Gun Corps) has received the Military Medal for gallant conduct.

Lieutenant Ernest Monk (R. West Surrey) has been promoted Captain. He gained his commission owing to conspicuous gallantry. He married the daughter of Mr. Jones, London Road. Both he and Corporal Parsons are wounded.

Pte. Walter Talbot is home, and has been discharged “disabled.”

We would like to say that extensive arrangements for the training of disabled men have been set up all over the Country, and most forms of disablement can be usefully dealt with. Any disabled Sailor or Soldier in the Parish requiring training should apply to Mr. Tottie, who will be very glad to give information and assistance.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, June 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/6)

German officers in Maidenhead

The Vansittart Neales were involved in efforts to keep farming going in war conditions.

31 May 1917

Henry & I had to go to Maidenhead for meetings – he agricultural, I women on land….

Saw several German officers – prisoners.

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

“So long since they have had any news”

Reading-born Albert Cusden, interned in German camp Ruhleben, wrote to his young sister. He and his brothers were anxious because the post seemed to be disrupted.

May 31st 1917

Dear Ruby

Your & Mother’s letters of April 15th & 20th recently received. This morning I sent off 5 drawings which I should be glad if you would kindly put by with the rest… I do not think we shall be able to send anything else like this away after this month. Three of the sketches were head studies, one of the others showed an evening in a loft, and the other a charcoal drawing of our hot water boiler upon a winter’s evening. This month has been a very warm one, quite as warm as April was cold.

Three o’clock. Post has just arrived. Letter from Lucy to myself & from Iris to Arch, dated April 29th. It is a considerable time since any letters have been acknowledged. I do like to know whether they arrive. On the average, quite one out of my two monthly letters are sent home, apart from cards. Maybe it is owing to delay in post, most fellows are receiving letters from their relatives complaining it is so long since they have had any news…

Your affectionate brother

Albert

Letter from Albert Cusden in Ruhleben to Miss R Cusden, 57 Castle Street, Reading (D/EX1485/4/4/6)

“May blossoms and war seem as though they ought to be impossible in the same world”

The minister of Maidenhead Congregational Church tried to encourage members to look on the bright side of life despite all the horrors and losses of the war.

May blossoms and war seem as though they ought to be impossible in the same world. The dreadful mud in the midst of which our soldiers have been living is more congruous with the spirit of warfare than sweet grass and hawthorn buds. Many letters from the front have spoken of the start of surprise with which a lark’s song is heard over the trenches. We have all, when some sorrow is heavy upon us, felt a sort of astonishment that the sun should go on shining, and the birds twittering, and passers by smiling, as though nothing had happened. But the worst of sorrows cannot cover the whole sky. We want taking out of ourselves at times. Evils won’t bear brooding over, we only make them worse. We shall be able to bear “the strain of toil, the fret of care” better, if we make rich use of the ministry of the blossoms.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are glad to hear that Reginald Hill is progressing, though slowly. He has had several operations, and probably must undergo two or three more. The doctors think he may have to be in bed for at least three months yet, but they hope he will make quite a good recovery.

We regret deeply to have to record that John Boyd, formerly the Caretaker of the Chapel, was killed in action on March 29th. He enlisted in the 2nd Berks. In June 1916, and was sent to France on Sept. 22nd. He was a most genial and kind-hearted man, and had a wide circle of friends among whom he was very popular. We offer our Christian sympathy to Mrs. Boyd and her family.

It is distressing too to hear that Stephen Harris is returned as “missing.” The Captain of his Company has written to Mr. and Mrs. Harris that he has made all possible inquiries and can gain no information. The best that can be hoped for is that he may be a prisoner in German hands. Robert Harris was killed in July last. May God grant His patience and consolation to the distressed parents.

Wallace Mattingly has been admitted to Sandhurst Military College for eight months’ training. G. Frampton is expecting to be called up immediately. We are glad to see Cyril Hews at home again on leave, looking in the pink of health. P.S. Eastman writes in good spirits from “somewhere in the East.”

He says, “I have not yet left for the special work for which I was sent out, but may do so any day now. In the meantime I have had quite a variety of work, until at present I find myself in the C.O.’s office. Yesterday I had a line from Frank Pigg, who is with the R.F.C in Salonica; may be one of these days I shall be able to pay him a visit.”

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

Quite a jolly time when we are together again

Reading-born Archibald (“Arch”) Cusden wrote optimistically from Ruhleben internment camp in Germany to his little sister.

May 11th 1917

Dear Iris

Will you please thank father & Mother and all (including yourself, of course) who have sent letters recently. We are always glad to get news of you at home. Before long we hope there will be no need for sending letters, since we shall all be together again. That will be quite a jolly time, do you not think so?…

Bye-bye,

Your old brother Arch

Letter from Arch Cusden to Miss Iris Cusden, Castlestrasse No 57, Reading (D/EX1485/4/4)

A very gallant officer and gentleman, recklessly brave and a fine example of cool courage

The Old Boys of Reading School were distinguishing themselves at the Front.

O.R. NEWS.

Killed in Action.

2nd Lieut. Norman A. Howell, King’s Shropshire Light infantry. On December 23rd.

He is the second son of Mr. W. Roland Howell, architect, of this town. Born at Reading in April 1897, he was educated at Reading School and St. Laurence College, Ramsgate, and had been about a year in his father’s office before joining the Army in November, 1915. His cadet training at school and college enabled him to get his commission. He was posted to the King’s Shropshire’s, was ordered to the front at the end of June last, and has been in the thick of the Somme fighting for six months. Lieut. Norman Howell came home on his first leave on December 6th and returned on the 16th. Within a week he had made the great sacrifice.

His Commanding Officer wrote to Mr. Howell on December 24th:

“I deeply regret to report the death of your son, who was serving in my Battalion. Whilst going up to the front line trenches in charge of a party last night an enemy sniper shot him through the head, killing him instantly. This morning his body was buried by the Chaplain near where he fell, with military honours, officers and men attending.

“I had trench mortars and rifle grenades on the sniper’s post, patrols had reported 8 to 10 Huns there, none there now! On behalf of his comrades, officers, N.C.O.’s and men, I wish to convey to you our profound sympathy . He was loved and respected by all of us, and we mourn the loss of a very gallant officer and gentleman. To all of us he was known as recklessly brave and a fine example of cool courage, devoted to his duties, which he discharged most cheerfully under the most trying conditions.”

“I placed him in charge of the Lewis Gun detachment, on which he had set his heart and soul. He belonged to my own Headquarters’ mess, and I took particular interest in him. A cross has been put up on the grave near Les Boeufs.”

It will be remembered that in October, 1915, Mr. Howell’s elder son, 2nd Lieut. Roland Basil Howell, was reported “wounded and missing.” Nothing has since been heard of him, and any hopes of his being alive hangs on the very slenderest thread. On the 16th of last month the War Office wrote saying that they were now forced to believe he was killed.

Lieut. Basil Howell was born in October, 1895, and received his commission in the 4th North Staffordshire’s three months after the war started. He was attached to the Northumberland Fusiliers (the Fighting Fifth), and went to the front in May, 1915.

Reports received from the front show that on the night of October 1st-2nd, 1915, the battalion to which Lieut. Howell was attached were in severe action. After all the officers of the company had been killed he gallantly led a bombing party to attack a German trench, but was never seen again.

Every possible enquiry was made through the War Office, the American Embassy, the Red Cross, and the wounded men who returned to England. Many references were made by the latter to the respect and love they had for the brave young officer. Like his brother he was educated at Reading School and St Laurence College, and had started his training to follow in his father’s profession. For many years he was an enthusiastic scout, and took a big share in starting the South Reading Troop.

Lieut. Cedric Charles Okey Taylor, East Kent Regiment, attached to Trench Mortar Battery, only son of Mrs. Taylor, 39, Weltje Road, Ravenscroft Park, W., and of the late Mr. Charles Warmsley Taylor, of Reading. Further details are now to hand of Lieut. Taylor’s death.

He died for King and country on December 3rd, 1916, in his 22nd year. Young in years but old in endurance, he was in constant action for 15 months at Ypres in 1915 and on the Somme in 1916. He is laid to rest in the cemetery, at Faubourg d’Amiens, Arras.

2nd Lieut. W. Marsden Cooper, Worcestershires, only son of Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper, 107, London Street, Reading, aged 19.

Cooper was only 19 years of age and went out to the front in the Worcestershire’s about the middle of December, shortly after completing his course at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was educated at Reading School, where he gained a Council scholarship in 1909. His School career was unusually distinguished. In 1914 he gained a School Certificate followed the next year by a higher certificate.

In response to his country’s call, he decided to take a commission, and in the entrance examination for the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, held in February, 1916, he came out second on the list, gaining a Prize Cadetship. At Sandhurst his success was no less pronounced than at school, and he gained the position of Sergeant in his cadet unit, the highest position a cadet can obtain, before he left College. Not only did he have considerable intellectual gifts, as his record shows but he was a fine athlete as well. He was an excellent all round cricketer and his natural powers as a bowler would have enabled him to make his mark in really good company. As a Rugby Football player he showed great promise, and before he left school he had the distinction of being captain of football, captain of cricket and captain of the school. Yet he was never elated by success, and perhaps it was more than anything else his modesty which made him so popular with the boys and the masters alike. Those who have watched his career, for the last two years, and marked the way in which his development always seemed to keep pace with his new responsibilities feel a special grief that a young life so full of promise should have been brought thus prematurely to a close.
(more…)

Gravel seized for a PoW camp

The County Council continued to monitor the damage caused to local roads by military traffic.

ASCOT AND WINDSOR ROAD

The section of the main road from Ascot and Windsor has been badly cut up by heavy military and other motor traffic…

READING AND SWALLOWFIELD ROAD

On the break up of the frost in February the main road between Reading and Swallowfield, which had suffered severely by heavy timber and motor omnibus traffic, became dangerous to traffic. The Committee as a matter of urgency authorised immediate temporary repairs to the worst sections of the road and forwarded an estimate of the cost to the Finance Committee…

ABINGDON AND SOUTH HINKSEY ROAD

This road, which carries a continuous service of motor omnibuses as well as a considerable amount of heavy military traffic, is now in a deplorable condition and there is little likelihood that the amount appearing in the annual estimate will be sufficient to keep the road in a safe condition for traffic.

MILITARY REQUISITIONS

Requisitions have been received from the Military Authorities for the supply of 170 tons of gravel for use on paths at the Prisoners of War Camp, Holyport; and for repairs to military roads at Ascot.

Report of BCC Highways and Bridges Committee, 21 April 1917 (C/CL/C1/1/20)

A great offensive

The Allies were doing well on the western front.

19 April 1917
Great offensive of the French – taken 19,000 prisoners. We took 14,000 & 228 guns.

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

Over 11,000 prisoners

The news continued to be good.

11 April 1917
We have taken over 11,000 prisoners & over 100 guns.

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

An internee complains

Johann Otto Florestan Egestorff was a middle aged chemist, originally from Hannover. He was interned in Reading Prison, and not happy about it.

]7th April 1917
J O F Egestorff, an interned Alien, applied to see the Committee, to complain about his treatment, but decided to petition the Secretary of State.

Reading Prison Visiting Committee minutes (P/RP1/6/1)

Russian diplomats delighted at revolution

Florence Vansittart Neale reflects in more detail on her experience seeing the tragic sight of the sunken Gloucester Castle hospital ship.

5 April 1917
I saw the Gloster Castle partly submerged, it had been towed into the Solent. Hospital ship torpedoed, burnt engines, darkness, people in boats 2 hours before picked up by destroyer.

Heard our hospital ships painted black & no lights.

Phyllis tells me one ran into French mines, hit & then destroyer sank. No wounded on board but nurses& orderlies.

Mrs James says when 20,000 prisoners were taken there, we may [have] her flag & feel the end is nearly coming! She says Russian attache’s & legation delighted at revolution.

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