“Providing a man is practical & unselfish, the life is not bad”

Will Spencer heard from soldier brother Horace, who offered a pleasant view of army life, and from the wife of another soldier brother, Natalie.

19 March 1918

When I got back, Johanna asked me if it was my birthday. Letters from Natalie & from Horace, & a parcel [and letter from a Swiss friend]…

Reading the [three] letters to Johanna, with running comments, after dinner, was quite a long proceeding, as Natalie’s letter was one of 8 large pages!.

Horace writes to me,

“Perhaps you are sometimes pained at the conjectured hardships that we have to undergo, so I will try to relieve your mind on that point. Providing a man is practical & unselfish, the life is not bad, there are kind words and deeds exchanged at all times, & so the atmosphere is pleasant. He has heard concerts & lectures, visited 6 cathedral towns in France, has learned to play chess, & read – amongst other books – Holmes’ Life of Mozart….

Natalie writes that Harold “had a rotten [underlined] time one way & another, tho’ now his lines seem to have fallen into pleasanter places”.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)


Our sorely-tried ally Serbia, unlike the new Republic of Russia, has remained faithful at great cost

Our ally Serbia was suffering in the fighting.

The Vicar’s Letter

Dear Friends and Parishioners,-

This month I commend to your support all our Lenten Services, asking you specially to try to pay honour to our sorely-tried ally Serbia, a kingdom which, unlike the new Republic of Russia, has remained faithful at great cost to her old friend; by coming to hear the Rev. Father Nicolai Velimirovic at Evensong on March 17th, and giving generously to his appeal for the Serbian local Relief Fund…

Lastly, let us all pray for grace to persevere; the gift of perseverance is what we most need as a Church and a People in the present time.

I remain, Your faithful friend and Vicar

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, March 1918 (D/P181/28A/27)

100 miles an hour

Sir Henry Vansittart Neale was encouraging his tenants to keep pigs, part of the movement to encourage homegrown food.

Florence Vansittart Neale
17 March 1918

H arranging for “Pig meeting” in village.

Russians done for. Hopeless. Will Japan try & bolster them up?

William Hallam
17th March 1918

A very sharp frost. An air ship went over this morning but I did not see it. Some say it was travelling 100 miles an hour.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and William Hallam of Swindon (D/EX1415/25)

A critical time

Reading churchgoers offered their prayers for the war.


For the entry of the British troops into Jericho.


For the spirit of self-sacrifice and perseverance in the nation.

For God’s blessing on Ireland at this critical time, especially on the Feast of S. Patrick (March 17th).

For the Russian people at this critical time in their history.

For all our fighting men and all suffering from the war, especially those in danger from air raids in London and on the East Coast.

For Horace Beesley, one of our altar-lads, just gone out to France as a volunteer carpenter.

For all the wounded, sick and prisoners on both sides.

For the fallen, especially Frederick Mott, Wine Place; John Hannon, Milman Road; William Mason, Stanley Street.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, March 1918 (D/P98/28A/16)

Old clothes for distressed people in Europe

Members of the Broad Street Brotherhood wanted to help families in areas in France and Belgium occupied, and devastated, by the enemy.


The final result of the Mass Meeting held in the Palace Theatre enabled the society to remit a cheque for £49 8s 0d to the National Federation [of Brotherhoods], on behalf of the distressed people in the countries on the continent. This was a good bit of work, but Brother William Ward wished further efforts to be made in the direction of collecting old clothes.

A small sub-committee met to consider this matter, and they decided it would be a good thing to do. But to ensure success it would be absolutely necessary to have a body of at least 40 or 50 willing helpers, who would systematically visit the various houses in the town, leave literature, and call and ascertain if gifts of old clothes can be spared.

To bring this particular object before the whole body of our members, an open meeting for men and women is to be held on Sunday March 3rd, at which a special speaker will address the meeting. After that it is intended to ask for subscriptions for initial expenses, and also for the names of helpers.

If both subscriptions and helpers are forthcoming, then the committee intend to go forward with this very necessary bit of work; but they feel that they cannot possibly do this unless they are well backed up by the whole body of the Brotherhood.

It has been decided to send to all our brothers on service – whether at home or abroad – a copy of the Broad Street Magazine in the future, instead of the Brotherhood Journal, as a wish has been expressed for a paper with more local news in it. Brother A. T. Doe has again undertaken to do the work of addressing and dispatching these, month by month.

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

Re-kindling our interest in Serbia

There were Serbian child refugees in Reading.

Miss Parkinson’s lecture on Serbia should go far towards re-kindling our interest in Serbia, and especially in the Serbian boys living amongst us here in Reading. There will be special collections for the local work of the Serbian Relief Fund at S. Mary’s on Sunday, March 10th.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, March 1918 (D/P116B/28A/2)

“Camp life makes them familiar”

Thousands of civilians from interned countries were housed at a camp at Holzminden in Germany throughout the war. Ernest Delfosse, a 32 year old motor mechanic from Belgium, 5 foot 6 ½ inches, with brown hair, was among the inmates there, until he escaped to England with the help of his sweetheart. Sadly, this did not mean freedom, as he was arrested on arrival as a suspected spy. He was transferred to Reading from Brixton Prison on 5 February 1917. He was classified as a Friendly Alien but stayed at Reading and was eventually deported in 1919.

HM Place of Internment

6th March 1918


With reference to your letter … dated 5th March 18 on the subject of correspondence between the interned alien E. Delfosse and Mrs E Owen, 54 New Compton St, London EC.

The first letter received from Mrs Owen by Delfosse was dated 22.12.17. This was sent to the Commissioners and I drew special attention to it, giving such information as I was able. It was passed.

Prisoner replied on Jany 5th 1918 – submitted & passed. A second letter was received on 12th January 1918 – submitted and passed. Both these letters are attached to this [though not to the letter book copy]. Please send them back as prisoner does not know they have been forwarded to the Home Office.

Prisoner’s reply to the last letter is the subject of the Home Office letter.

The history of the prisoner’s acquaintance with this woman appears to be:

He was interned at Holzminden, a camp of about 24,000. Men and women were allowed to mix for the purpose of visiting restaurants and cinemas in the grounds. He struck up friendship with this woman – also interned – [he] believes for trafficking in letters – but not sure. The majority of the women were interned for that reason. She stated she was a Russian. (I cross-examined Delfosse, who admitted that she might be a German Pole). He cannot (or will not) remember her name – always called her by her Christian name of Emmy. Camp life makes them familiar. She could speak no English and but little French – he could not speak Russian. Conversation carried on in German, in which both were fluent. Does not know if she was then married – thinks not – her maiden name could be obtained from his note book, black, 9” x 4” (about), taken from him by police at Gravesend 20th Oct 1916 (plain clothes man).

On 7th Oct: 1916 Delfosse escaped from Holzminden, “Emmy” keeping the sentry in conversation while Delfosse got away.

Heard nothing more of her until the letter dated 22.12.17. Does not know how she escaped.

Learns she is married to a Canadian officer. Does not know him. She wants to come & see him. Would like to see her.

I think that is all the information I have obtained.

I am Sir
Your obedient servant

C M Morgan

The Under Secretary of State
Home Office

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

“A renewal of the war when the Teuton wolf has once licked his sores dry”

John Maxwell Image foresaw something like the third Reich.

29 Barton Road
4 March ‘18


When I study the words and actions of England’s public men, “Can I discern between good and evil?” I begin to truly doubt: Will these suffer the Allies to defeat and CONQUER Germany? We boast of keeping them off Paris. But Germany today is a Continent within the Continent. She and her vassal states stretch in unbroken line from the North Sea to Mesopotamia and over a third of Russia.

If America “stick it”, this “Continent” may be broken up. Yet even America professes unwillingness to interfere with a nation’s right to choose its government – which means a renewal of the war when the Teuton wolf has once licked his sores dry.

Our love to you both

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

The horrible British workman

The news continued to be mixed. The upper class Florence Vansitttart Neale was outraged by men at home going on strike.

3 March 1918

Activity on front – most attempts repulsed.

Much better Russian news – they taking offensive.

Strike going on. Horrible British workman.

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

Decided to send him back to America

Alfred Egbert Whisperry, formerly Wurzburg, was a journalist from the USA with German ancestry. He had been at Reading since 1915, when he was 24. He must have been relieved to be going home at last.

2 March 1918
Reading PI

Please inform Alfred Wurzburg & Whisperry that the Secretary of State has decided, after communication with the American Authorities, to revoke the Internment Order under which he is now detained, and to send him back to America.

Please therefore transfer this man to Brixton Prison in order that he may be handed over to the police when called for. The Governor there should note this instruction.

[Faded signature]
Noted at Reading Place of Internment. He will be transferred to Brixton Prison on Tuesday the 5th inst:

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

Hope the Japanese stop the Germans

Florence Vansittart Neale hoped the Japanese might take over from the Russians to hold back Germany on the eastern front.

1 March 1918

Hope Japs stop Germans at Vladivostok.

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

“If a sufficient number could spare one vegetable a week instead of one or two giving a large quantity the result would be very satisfactory”

A soldier stationed in Italy wanted to play football with his friends.

Crazies Hill Notes

Contributions of Vegetables for Wargrave Hospital will be gladly received on the Tuesday, during the Working Party. One vegetable will be very acceptable. If a sufficient number could spare one vegetable a week instead of one or two giving a large quantity the result would be very satisfactory.

Hare Hatch Notes

A Letter has been received from Sergt. W. Rixon, who is stationed in Italy, asking for a football. We are sure that the kindness of those friends who contributed to this need, will be greatly valued by him.

Wargrave parish magazine, February 1918 (D/P145/28A/31)

A Canadian home from France

Florence Vansittart Neale’s son in law was headed to a home posting, while the Hallams offered hospitality to Canadian on leave.

Florence Vansittart Neale
24 February 1918

Heard Boy [Leo Paget] is attached [to] 6th Reserve Battalion, go to Sheppey on Friday.

William Hallam
24th February 1918

J. Bier, a Canadian home from France, came to dinner and tea.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

“Orders have a way of descending from the blue and we may get ours at any moment”

Percy Spencer anticipated his return to the Front would come at any minute. The battle of Bourlon Wood had occurred at the end of 1917. Captain Walter Stone won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his heroics.

21st (Res) Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Feb 24. 1918

My dear WF

It seems ages since I wrote to or heard from you. So I’ve filled my pipe (my nicest & foulest one) with the fragrant Mr Fryers and sat myself down to write you a line.

My principal news is that I’m still here with no news of going. It occurs to me that the cadet course having been lengthened there should be a gap in home recruits which we may stay at home to fill for a few weeks. On the other hand orders have a way of descending from the blue and we may get ours at any moment, and incidentally a few days leave.

Did you read of the 47th at Bourlon Wood and the gallant fight put up by Capt. Stone & Lieut. Burgeery? The man next door to me was Capt. Stone’s CSM. I think he almost wishes he was with him, altho’ he would now be dead.

Well, I suppose we shall soon have another chance of doing real things, and none of us will be really sorry. Life here is frightfully destructive and only endurable by fighting for reforms. So far as I can see the main return a grateful country has obtained from me to date is the issue of overalls for mess orderlies.

We’re having pretty mixed weather. Thursday was glorious and I thoroughly enjoyed our route march – once away from the camp, the country is delicious.

I’ve had a letter from the red haired Australian (No. 6) and the cox; what’s happened to the rest, I don’t know.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/14-16)

The pinch will come after the war

The Spencer paterfamilias in Cookham was optimistic, while Florence Vansittart Neale despaired at the situation in Russia.

Will Spencer
23 February 1918

By this morning’s post we received a cheerful letter from Father… Sydney has taken his BA at Oxford. Has received splendid reports from his commanding officers. Was just getting into train at Paddington to come down to Cookham on a Saturday afternoon when he saw Percy on the next platform, whom he hadn’t seen for 2 years. He quickly fetched his luggage out, & stayed the night with Percy, who had just come up from Swindon for a few days, on business.

I was glad to learn from Father that they suffer no privation. The pinch will come after the war, he says, but what can be is being done to provide against that.

Florence Vansittart Neale
23 February 1918

Russians utter degradation, under the heel of Germany.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)