Vive l’Entente Cordiale!

A wealthy Frenchman living in Burghfield enmtertained wounded British soldiers on river trips. Georges Fiessinger – possibly the obscure artist of that name – married Gertrude Davidson in London in 1912. The couple later moved to Sussex.

More Water Trips for Wounded

A propos of the kind owners of the “Cecilia”, and their good work (see November magazine), it is pleasant to record the kindness shown last summer by our new neighbours at the Manor House, Mr and Mrs Fiessinger, to convalescent soldiers at Oxford. Having fitted out a good sized motor boat with cabins, etc, they took her up the Thames and made Oxford their headquarters, living on board her there for several months, during which time they took wounded soldiers from the War Hospitals daily for trips up and down the river. Mr Fiessinger is of a French family, and was rejected in France for military service, owing to a weak heart. This, however, as our readers will agree, has not affected its warmth, or his will to be of use, somehow, to his Allies, his wife’s native country. Vive l’Entente Cordiale!

Burghfield parish magazine, December 1918 (D/EX725/4)

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German submarines fine ships but so badly kept, and crews like dirty pirates

29 November 1918

German submarines fine ships but so badly kept. Crews like dirty pirates.

Heard from Bubs. No flu at present….

Hear Belgian women most kind to all Allied prisoners. Taken risks to help them.

Heard Francis de Greef killed Oct. 14th. Modeste & Emil & Jean de Block back with their people.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

“We were cadets so they sent us at once to the Belgian front”

A refugee teenager ended up involved in the final push of the war, and helped to liberate his homeland.

The Head Master has recently received the following letter from Devos. We all remember how good a sportsman Devos was, and how thoroughly he entered into the spirit of English School life. It is good the think that he carries home with him some pleasant memories of his exile. We hope he will come and see us again.

Dear Mr Keeton,

It is already a long time I have not written you, but don’t think I have forgotten about Reading School. No, for my greatest pleasure is when I am at home to look at the old Reading School Magazine again. It reminds me of my former English teacher, whom I will never forget, the boys and the School where I had such a happy time.

Since I wrote you last time a lot of things have happened and the big war is over. Let me tell just what became of me. In the beginning of 1918, about the month of April, they sent me to the Belgian Sub-Lieutenant School near Treport (along the coast). I stopped there for six months, when the offensive broke out. We were cadets so they sent us at once to the Belgian front. I came too late for the first push, but the second was mine. On the 6th of October I was in front of Roulers. On the 14th at 5.35 our artillery began and we pushed forward. My battery was with the English people. After about three hours everything became quiet. Our troops were advancing and I went to a British ambulance nearby, to help carry the wounded.

The next day I had to move again, this time to Iseghem, where the French came to take our positions. Later on we came down to Thourout for two day’s rest. Hearing that our troops had entered Ostend I asked for one night and a day’s leave and went walking to Ostend where I arrived at night. You could never imagine what a sensation you have to enter your birthplace again after having left it for five years, not knowing anything about it and fearing not to find anything but ruins. Luckily for me I found everything back, except for the small pieces of furniture and copper they took away. I stopped in Ostend till the next day, when I met my brother, then came back to the battery. They had just received orders to move.

We had to go to Bruges to a small village called Ursel to the north of Ghent. We did not stop long, for we were trying not to the Germans time to breathe. On the 31st of October we made an attack but we could not pass the canal de derivation. We tried again the same morning, but again we could not get through. That day we had rather heavy losses. Two days later, on the 2nd of November, we heard the Germans had left their positions in front of us and were retreating. At once the cavalry began to chase them as far as Ghent. Our artillery pressure had become useless there and we moved to the south of Ghent. Everything was ready to make our big push on the 13th of November early in the morning. We had seen our infantry going up to the line in order to start at daybreak. Our guns and munitions were ready – (at that time I had to look out for the munitions of my battery) – even the men were already at the guns, when the order came that we had to return to our quarters, for the Armistice was signed. Luckily for Fritz ! For his worst time was coming, especially now because we had French and English reinforcements behind us.

From Ghent I went to Brussels and stopped there for about two months. Then we had the re-opening of our universities. I went in for Mechanical Engineering at the Brussels University, and have just finished my first year. I have still three others to do.

Please remember me to Mr. Newport, Mr . Thorpe, &c. Give them my kind regards, and tell them I have I have not forgotten all about the School. I suppose games have begun.

I hope that the list of casualties of Old Reading School Boys is not too heavy.

Yours Sincerely,
G. DEVOS.

October 18th, 1919.

Reading School Magazine, December 1919 (SCH3/14/34)

Personal help given to the Belgian refugees & soldiers during the war

Two of the Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist were recognised for their caring work with wounded soldiers and Belgian refugees.

28 June 1918

Notice was sent out that Sister Edith Katharine had had the “medaille de la reine Elisabeth” bestowed upon her by the King of the Belgians, in recognition of personal help given to the Belgian refugees & soldiers during the war. Also that among the King’s Birthday Honours, Sister Mary Victoria has the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal bestowed upon her.

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

Starving and orphan children walked, some from Jerusalem and others 200 miles, to obtain food and shelter from the British

A missionary organisation was helping care for child refugees in British-occupied Palestine.

WORK OF THE CHURCH IN THE WAR ZONE

A Lawn Meeting was held at the Rectory on June 6th, when a most interesting account was given of the work of the Church in the Mohammedan Land of Palestine.

Miss Roberts told of how the Church Missionary Society were asked to re-open their Hospitals at Gaza, of the starving and orphan children who had walked, some from Jerusalem and others 200 miles, to obtain food and shelter. She exhibited samples of the lace work done by these children and others, and was ready to receive orders.

She showed how the Military Authorities were relying for such help upon the Church Missionary Society, and the danger of having numbers of orphans to maintain without the provision of funds. A voluntary collection was made, producing £2 6s 6d. This included a cheque from a lady who could not attend.

Sulhamstead parish magaizine, August 1918 (D/EX725/4)

“A bicycle made for two”

More from the Spencer brothers.

Will Spencer
15 May 1918

Some French soldiers were resting on the benches on the paved platform between the two buildings of the Blumlisalp Hotel. For the first time I had the feeling that the [interned] soldiers at this hotel were in some respects better off than those at the Waldpark. The hotel has more the unpretentious character of an Inn – is more rustic & more cheerful, with its water trough by the road & its tree-planted space between the two buildings. One of the soldiers was whistling the tune of “A bicycle made for two”, & I was surprised & amused to find that J. knew the words to almost the whole of the tune – which was more than I did.

Sydney Spencer
Wednesday 15 May 1918

3.30 pm. I am seated now, guess where, my dear diary? At Major Bracey’s working table at his billet! Only 3 kilos from where I at present live. I have just ridden over on Capt. Rolfe’s gee. Major Bracey is out however & won’t be back till 5, so I shall stick here to see him & having the football match I half promised to play in. I hope there won’t be a dust up about it though. It will be splendid to see old Bracey again, it is 14 months since I last saw him. Had a day off today. Dear old Rolfe, he did the straight by me after my two rather thorny days on Monday & Tuesday. Have just written to Father & Mother.

At 5.30 pm.
Major Bracey did not turn up. I waited till nearly 6 pm. Rode back. Watched football match between officers & men – a drawn game. After dinner walked over, saw dear old Bracey who cheered me up immensely. He walked back part of the way with me. To bed at 10.30 & read more of my book.

Percy Spencer
15 May 1918

A glorious sunshiny day. A good deal of trouble over billets. Trying to hang on in Warlos for a night at least. Division to be relieved tonight. Up half the night sorting details. Eventually turned in at 3 am after champagne supper & slept on floor in a company mess. Fritz bombed outskirts of village.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX802/28)

A war experience of singular and thrilling interest

A Reading woman bore witness to the war in Serbia.

The Work for Serbian Boys.

A lecture will be given in S. John’s Institute on Monday, May 6, at 8 p.m. on behalf of this work by Miss A. F. Parkinson, who has been acting as Superintendent of the hostel for Serbian Boys in the Bulmershe Rd.

Miss Parkinson has had a war experience of singular and thrilling interest. She was the only English person in Nish when the invading army of Germans and Bulgarians entered and after being kept prisoner for some months, was finally released, given her passport and sent home to this country via Austria and Germany. She stayed a short time in Vienna and a fortnight in Berlin and had unique opportunities of seeing both these capitals of enemy countries under war conditions. She is also very well acquainted with the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula and also knows the full story of the terrible Serbian retreat in which the boys now in our town took part.

No charge will be made for admission to Miss Parkinson’s lecture, but there will be a collection in aid of the work in which she is interested.

Reading St. John parish magazine, May 1918 (D/P172/28A/24)

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
Reading

6th March 1918

Sir

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
Governor

[To]
The Under Secretary of State
Home Office
Whitehall


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

Willing to pay a substitute

A Maidenhead teacher was so desperate to spend her husband’s short leave with him, she paid the salary of her substitute.

Maidenhead
25th February 1918

Mrs Wells wanted leave of absence for three days owing to her husband’s leave before returning to France. She was willing to pay a substitute & Mistress obtained services of Mrs Eustace of St Luke’s Rd. Notice of this leave was sent to the office.

Lower Sandhurst
February 25th 1918

Admitted 3 children from London.

Log books of King Street School, Maidenhead (C/EL77/1, p. 413); and Lower Sandhurst School log book (C/EL66/1, p. 424)

Taking refuge from the air-raids

Another family fled to the safety of Berkshire.

February 11th 1918
Admitted another boy from London whose mother is taking refuge from the air-raids.

Lower Sandhurst School log book (C/EL66/1, p. 424)

The Serbian boys living amongst us here in Reading

Some of the refugees living in Reading came from Serbia, first battleground of the war.

The Vicar’s Notes

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.

Probably all our readers have heard of “Monitor” week, which is to be held in Reading from March 4th to 9th. We are all going to do our best by means of our savings to get together £250,000, which is roughly, the price of a “Monitor” ship. Sir Robert Kindersley, chairman of the National War Savings Committee, gave us a splendid lead at the Town Hall on February 22nd.

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

Belgians to luncheon

Henry Vansittart Neale invited some Belgian refugees to lunch.

27 February 1918

H to District Council, brought back Belgians to luncheon – 3.

H back for meeting at 3 o’clock & took them back, Noble & I to Marlow about his sugar ration paper.

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

“Our Belgian friends can now stand upon their own feet”

Belgian refugees in Maidenhead were doing well and optimistic that the end was in sight.

THE BELGIAN REFUGEES.

The Committee’s fund is now nearly exhausted, and our Belgian friends, whom we have helped for more than three years, can now stand upon their own feet, although in case of some unforeseen emergency we would all be willing to lend them a hand again.

The Secretary, Mrs. Hews, has received this letter:-

“14, Fairford Road, Dec. 24th, 1917.

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

Once more I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May this be the last year of this terrible war, and we sincerely hope that next Christmas will find you bright, merry, and happy as in years gone by. As for ourselves, we hope to be back in Belgium before then.

I remain, yours faithfully, J. Van Hoof.”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, January 1918 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Evacuee families go home

The fear of air raids was beginning to subside.

16th November 1917

Several families are now leaving the town who came to Reading a short time ago to get away from the air-raid area; many children’s names are, in consequence, being removed from the registers, after being on them, for a few weeks.

Reading: Battle Infants School log book (SCH20/8/2, p. 306)