Sore losses

There was painful news for some Maidenhead families.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We deeply regret to record the death of Duncan Wilson, who fell a victim to a bomb dropped from an enemy aeroplane at the Front on July 11th. He was employed at Horlick’s Malted Milk Factory in Slough before joining the ranks and spending his Sundays in Maidenhead was a regular worshipper at our Church. He was a young man of character and promise, and his death is a sore loss to his friends and family.

It is painful too, to hear that Arthur Hedges has been missing since the beginning of July, and that his friends have practically given up hope.

Robert Anderson, who a few months ago received his discharge at the expiration of his term, has been compelled by recent legislation to join up again. John Bolton is in France.

Alas! Since writing the above lines, information has been received of the death of another of our lads. Robert Harris, one of the most devoted members of our Institute, who confessed his faith in Christ by joining the Church about two years ago, was killed by a bomb on July 24th. He was the eldest son of Mr. William Harris, Builder, Holman Leaze, and before enlisting was engaged in the Argus Press Printing Works. He was a young man of most amiable disposition, and was very popular among his fellow members in the Institute. He would have reached his 20th birthday on August 7th.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, August 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

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Plane spotting

Sightseeing in Kent involved many sights of aeroplanes, as there was a Royal Flying Corps airfield at Lympne, from whence planes flew across to France.

20 July 1916

Motored to Dymchurch & round to Lympne. Very pretty drive. Saw many aeroplanes…

Still good news – rewon our ground.

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

Heavy losses feared

William Hallam had a house guest, while Florence Vansittart Neale was now worried about the cost of the Battle of the Somme.

William Hallam, 9th July 1916
This gap in my diary was through Heysham, a friend of my sister & her husband, coming and staying with us. He is a most intelligent fellow on India generally having been brought up there and taking a great interest in the people, customs, flora & fauna of the country. Indeed I never enjoyed a man’s conversation so much. It was 11 o’clock every night before we got to bed and he monopolised all my evenings which is the only leisure I have. He was a devil of an expense tho’, everything is so dear and we had to do him well as he is in a prominent position out there. He left us last Wednesday to take on War Work on aeroplanes.

Florence Vansittart Neale, 9 July 1916
Push going on. Fear heavy losses.

Diaries of William Hallam (D/EX1415/24); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Great push begun

There was a mixture of tragedy close to home and better news of the war as a whole.

26 June 1916

Charley Paine & young Sweet killed! He flying. Charlie bombing.
Hear Lille is taken by us! Rumour not confirmed. Hear no letters to come from the Front – great push begun.

Hear Admiral Beattie said 6 big battleships, 7 cruisers, 20 destroyers gone down of enemy in Jutland battle. Hear mist helped us. Our big battleships able to come in range & did terrible damage in 10 minutes.

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

“It is appalling these awful losses, goodness knows where we find all the officers”

Two of Ralph Glyn’s fellow officers wrote to him with their opinions on the war.

June 20th [1916]
Dear Glyn

Very many thanks for your letter. I was very pleased to hear from you. Georgevitch has evidently done something to get himself into very hot water, I believe the question of decorations has something to do with it, anyhow he is absolutely shelved. You will have heard that a Colonel Nikolauivitch has been appointed Military Attache in London; it is just as well no one proposed Georgevitch for there, as he would have been refused. When they were discussing the question of who to send, they privately asked me & I suggested G, but was at once told that his name would not be entertained for a moment. I fear that there is nothing more that can be done for him. He got into trouble once before I understand over his treatment of his soldiers, & was for this reason only not with a battery in the Field Army.

It is appalling these awful losses, goodness knows where we find all the officers. Still one hopes on the whole the thing is going well though slowly.

I am glad to say I am better, though I have had a bit of [fun?] lately, everyone is having it too. [Hemlis?] & his division have left as you will have heard, most of them I believe going to help at Malta & elsewhere. The country is [illegible] fun from Typhus now, & there is a general air of cleanliness & sanitation about. All his troops practically are inoculated against Cholera.

My wife has been in the North all this time working up relief funds for Serbia, & has collected quite a lot of money; so anyhow you would not have had a chance of meeting her, thanks very much all the same. Things are very quiet here, but I am busy enough with wires & things the WO want. We were visited by 3 Austro-German aeroplanes the other day who dropped some bombs & made a lot of noise, but did not do much damage. We bagged one on its way back.
Wishing you the best of luck.

Yrs sincerely
Arthur Harrison

(more…)

A terrible price – are we worth it?

Eric Guy Sutton, a member of the wealthy family which owned Sutton’s Seeds, Reading’s iconic horticultural business, had joined up soon after the start of the war. He was awarded the Military Cross a year later for saving a fellow soldier’s life, but was killed in action in April 1916. His home church, St John’s, was devastated by the news.

It was with great sorrow and deep sympathy for the bereaved family that we heard of the death of Lieut. E. G. Sutton. This most promising young officer, who had already been awarded the Military Cross for an act of great courage and self-sacrifice, was killed on Saturday, April 8th, in the gallant performance of his duty. We shall hope to publish some details of his career in the next issue of the magazine.

“Ye are not your own. You are bought with a price” (1 Cor VI.20)
Most of us were moved, I think, a few weeks ago by a story of almost unexampled heroism given in a list of recently conferred V.C.’s. A young officer attempted to throw a bomb into the enemy’s trench. The missile, however, struck his own parapet and fell in to his own trench. The officer cried a warning to his comrades and himself sprang back into safety, but then noting that his warning had been unheeded, turned back, flung himself upon the bomb and was destroyed by its explosion. And I wonder what were the feelings of his comrades and whether the thought of our text came into their minds, and they said to themselves: “We are not our own, we have been bought with a price.” And I wonder how many of us at home had the same thought in our minds as we read the account, or whether we have ever sufficiently thought at all that not to one such glorious act of heroism, but to countless splendid and ungrudging acts of devotion, do we owe today the security of our shores, the air we breathe untainted by foul poison emanations, the food we eat unstinted in quantity, our women their honour, our children their deliverance from brutality, our old people the quiet, even tenor of their placid lives, and all of us our immunity from the horrors that have desolated Belgium and Poland and Serbia.

We are bought with a price! Who will deny it? Vicarious suffering! Vicarious death!, say some. “We can’t understand it, we can’t accept it!” To such, I say: Alas for the poverty of your intellect and the hardness of your heart, when the very thing is happening today before your very eyes and crying to your souls. When not one minute passes, but even now in France, in Russia, on the seas, wherever the ceaseless battle rages, a man dies that other men may live. We are bought with a price, and day by day in that pitiful concentration of tragedy we know as the casualty list, the bill is presented, and every now and then, at longer intervals, the account is rendered up to date. And how stands it today? Some half a million of Englishmen slain, mutilated, sick, languishing in pestilent Wittenberg prison camps – for us. Mown down by machine guns, crashing from the air in the shattered aeroplane, settling to the ocean-bed in the sunken submarine, buried beneath the soil, buried beneath the waves, unburied in the hideous no-man’s-land between the trenches, tossing in our hospitals, limping about our streets, cry of the wounded and sob of the broken of heart, laughing boys who do not know what awaits them, grave-faced men who do, going forth in courage to do their part – behold the price that is paid; the price that is paid for us; in virtue of which we sit tranquilly in this church this morning, and shall walk tranquilly home to our tranquil and ample dinners.

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More business methods needed in the armed forces

The First World war was the first war to use airpower. Members of the Dodeka Book Club in Reading discussed a speech by Lord Montagu (1866-1929) which advocated the combining of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps, run by Navy and Army respectively.

5 May 1916


Hore started a discussion by reading a speech on Aviation recently delivered by Lord Montagu & Beaulieu. As an outcome of much talk it was felt that more business methods were needed in the administration of our Services.

Dodeka Book Club minutes (D/EX2160/1/3)

Nothing but wire between us and the enemy

Percy Spencer described the part of France he was based in to his sister Florence – and the musical backdrop of nightingales and mouth organs (harmonicas), not far from the hellish mud of the trenches.

Apl 25, 1916
My darling sister

[Censored, probably by Florence]

It’s the most lovely day that ever was. I’ve strolled out of our chateau straight up into a scrubby copse at the top of a very steep hill and here I am lying on quaker oats, eggs and bacon, writing to you and listening to a nightingale. He’s not quite in full song but for wartime he’s very good indeed and I’m grateful.

Already the sun was getting too hot so I have shifted into the breeze and an even wider view. This is a lovely corner of France. Everything is beautiful and only man is vile – that’s because the women left the corn during a very “unhealthy” period. But that’s not quite true for the lady owner has motored up from the south for a couple of days to settle a few business matters and she’s rather nice. Garwood says she’s “a decent bit of stuff” so taking the acme of perfection in womanhood as being “a posh bit” (Major Trevor’s wife reached that standard), you’ll be able to arrive at this lady’s position.

There’s a mouth organ playing in the valley beneath me, and being played remarkably well – “despise not the mouth organ”. As I think I have already told you, Ian Hay has my hearty endorsement to that remark. Many months ago I remember being largely amused at one of our boys’ letters home – “One thing I’ve been longing to ask you for, but I know how things are at home, and don’t like to bother you, but now Sis has got a job could you send me a mouth organ, a 1/- linnet is the best, but I expect they’re more expensive now owing to the war”. But after April 1915 when one mouth organ played a dozen or so of our weary fellows in from their 3 days cellar and shell experience, I made up my mind that the mouth organ was a noble instrument.

I told you, I think, I went round the line the other day. To complete my experience I went round the remaining portion by night with the General, that being the only time it can be approached with any degree of security.

It was an eerie experience and a fearfully wet one, the ground being as torn and riven with shell fire that it seems to slide away under your feet, and in the trenches, mud and water – water up to your thigh if you were unlucky, and mud that wrestled with you at each step for possession of your gum boots.

We went right out into the open (it’s a curious line about here) and with nothing between us and the Huns 100 yards away but a couple of frail curtains of wire – ours and theirs. Here the officers stood for a little while discussing points. I stood anxiously watching the enemy lights soaring into the sky towards us like evil eyes searching for victims to disclose to the German rifles, and behind me crouched an orderly also frightened to death at his exposed position murmured thro’ his chattering teeth, “C- this is all right”.

Well, we landed home safe and sound at 2.30 a.m. By 3.30 a.m. I’d scraped half of France off my clothes and turned in for an hour; turned in again then for another 2 hours when I got up for good, scraped the other half of France off my togs and “carried on”.
About my commission. There was a strong suggestion that being a sergeant I should probably only get six weeks training out here and then be chucked into some line regiment. That’s not good enough and unless I can see my way to getting a reasonable period of training that would enable me to take command of a platoon with confidence and also give me an opportunity of showing my administrative abilities, I’m not going to proceed any further.

Well. Time’s up.

On the right there’s a dear old chateau, dating back to William I’s time, with many grey limestone towers. To the left stretch the everlasting hills clothed with the wooded promise of summer. Overhead a couple of aeroplanes are humming and Hunning and right at my feet in the hollow stands “my chateau” and there I go – to work.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/8-14)

“Our generation has learnt to think of settling down to end one’s days together in safety seems all one asks of life”

Ralph Glyn’s sister Maysie was amused by their aristocratic mother’s depression at the thought of living on a reduced income now her husband was retiring, and had had a royal encounter in Windsor.

April 24/16
Elgin Lodge
Windsor

My dear darling R.

I wonder what for an Easter you spent [sic]. Very many happy returns of it anyhow. I got yours of 14th today. I hope you have seen Frank by now. How splendid of him to spend his leave in that way. Your weather sounds vile, still you are warm & here one never is. I hear from Pum [Lady Mary] today that Meg is in bed with Flu & temp 102. I am so worried, & hope she will not be bad. I must wait till John comes in, but feel I must offer to go to them, but how John is to move house alone I do not know! We move Thurs. My only feeling is that it may distract the parents somewhat during this trying week….

[Mother] takes the gloomiest view of household economies etc, & is determined it will all be “hugga mugga”, “She was not brought up like that & you see darling I have no idea how to live like that” etc etc. I tried humbly to suggest that one could be happy from experience & was heavily sat on, “it’s different for you young people”. Of course it is, & I wasn’t brought up in a ducal regime, still one can have some idea – also possible if Pum had ever had Dad fighting in a war she’d find more that nothing mattered. I think our generation has learnt that, & to think of settling down to end one’s days together in safety seems all one asks of life perhaps! You can well imagine tho’ nothing is said, how this attitude of martyrdom reacts on Dad. In fact he spoke to John about it. One does long to help, but one feels helpless against a barrier of sheer depression in dear Pum…

There seems little news to tell you. The King came Thurs, & has been riding in the Park. We ran into all the children, 3 princes & Princess M pushing bikes in the streets of Windsor on Friday. It was most surprising. They have got two 75s here as anti-aircraft, one on Eton playing fields & one Datchet way. They say if they ever fire the only certainty must be the destruction of the Castle & barracks!!

You know all leave was suddenly stopped on the 18th & everyone over here recalled. We all thought “the Push” but Billy writes the yarn in France is, it was simply that the Staff and RTs wished to have leave themselves – but then one can hardly believe, it’s too monstrous to be true. However John Ponsonby has written about coming on leave the end of the month so there can’t be so much doing yet. The news from Mesopotamia is black enough, one more muddle to our credit & more glory through disaster to the British Army.

I wonder what you think of the recent political events. Pum nearly or rather quite made herself ill over it!…

Billy has I fancy been pretty bad. The bed 10 days at some base hospital, bad bronchitis & cough….

Bless you darling
Your ever loving
Maysie

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A birthday stroll up the trenches

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with the latest from the front. So far he had avoided service at the front line, but was not far away. He was optimistic that the end was in sight.

Apl 7 1916
Dear WF

I must steal an hour and let the work go hang, for yesterday I sent you a card, “letter follows”, and if one doesn’t hop along hard on the heels of that promise, there’ll be trouble, I know.
This war business is getting a confounded nuisance; I’m really getting no proper opportunity to enjoy this lovely spring – and that’s a pity for it’s a lovely country we’re in – hills, woods and water, and so far a most peaceful time. But – well, guess where I am.

To celebrate my birthday (by the way, many thanks for your jolly letter and present, I’ve only just dipped into the first 100,000 but can already see it’s written by one of us) – well, dear old Will sent me a manuscript of his song, which I’m in for, and trembling I shall lose, and for which I haven’t yet been able to write and thank him.
[Censored]…

But all this time you’re dying to know how I celebrated my birthday. I took a stroll up the trenches. At least it began as a stroll, continued as a wade, and climaxed as a swim. Lovely place, Flanders! Anyway I’ve been along the firing line and into a sap towards the German line. To have kept out of that for over 12 months is something to brag about, and to achieve it after all that time, even something more to be proud of.

It was a perfectly peaceful sunshiny day and I thoroughly enjoyed my tour, as the geography of the country makes this part of the line peculiarly interesting.

How much longer shells and us will be strangers, I don’t know. It’s now about 3 months since I heard one close.

There have been a good many aeroplane duels and I saw a very pretty one the other day in which our fellow drove the Hun to earth. Our fighting plane was naturally slower than the German scout machine, but what we lacked in speed in the can, the airman made up for in skill. The way he manoeuvred into range and by cool planning overcame his sped handicap was quite pretty from our point of view.
The Daily Mail is pretty well informed about our movements, I notice, but its air knowledge is very slight, I believe. I took an opportunity of talking “Fokker” to some of the air service and was rejoiced to learn that it’s looked on simply as a paper campaign, the superiority of the enemy, type for type, being purely imaginary – in fact I was told the boot is entirely on the other plane, and I believe it.

Sorry you’ve been troubled with Zeps. I expect though with the next moon you’ll have seen the last of them. Our aeroplanes in the summer will, I imagine, be a sure defence.

I suppose and hope there’ll be a terrific bust up soon – a strong push, all together, ought to write “finis” to Germany.

Of course, if Germany will kindly continue to do the pushing, tant mieux.

And Verdun is a very hopeful sign of her impending crash, I think. To my mind it means the gambler’s throw or political pressure.
But that’s shop. However, even here in peaceful slumbering valleys it’s still war. Every night we sally forth to slaughter rats (game abounds).

There’s nothing else to say but “good afternoon”. Oh, yesterday I saw a jolly sight – a popular horse bolting with an unpopular officer – they made a splendid if undignified race of it, but a fatal error of judgment on the part of the officer, who assumed the horse would carry on straight through the chateau instead of swerving to the left towards its stable, lost him the race by a short length, only the officer leaving the course and carrying straight on towards the house….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/6-7)

The kingdom neither shot nor shell can destroy

More from the Revd T Guy Rogers on his life as an army chaplain:

April 3rd.

I have been resting this beautiful morning, sitting outside my dug-out… Tired, but only in a sound and healthy way. I got through eight services in the course of yesterday – then found I had funerals at night in two different places some way apart. I had long waits between and then got back at 11.30…. The services were exceedingly helpful – I might almost say romantic too. Deep down in the caverns of the earth we sang ‘O God our help in ages past.’ It was fine in one ruined building through which we could see the blue sky over-head, to hear the men singing that favourite hymn of praise to God, ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty.’

I had two Services in the open air, hidden as best we could beneath ramparts, but we found the anxiety of hostile aeroplanes rather distracting. On the whole those underground were the best… The Brigadier gave me the use of the Brigade Office for a Celebration of the Holy Communion at 8 a.m… I preached on ‘The House not made with hands’; the kingdom that cannot be shaken; the incorruptible possessions which neither shot not shell can destroy- you can picture the illustrations to hand.

Reading St. John parish magazine, May 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

The sterner side of warfare and the moral support of blankets

More from T Guy Rogers, the army chaplain who was a former vicar of Reading St John.

April 1st, 1916

The sterner side of warfare is very much to the fore. I am kept very busy getting about among the troops, with a good deal of night work up till 12 o’clock…

I am getting some interesting ‘souvenirs’ – one a steel arrow, dropped with many others, from a German aeroplane, on the town last night; another a piece of shrapnel stuck in the sand bags of our dug-out rocked with the concussion of the shells all round us…

It is wonderful what moral support is to be got from blankets, and lying warm and comfortable where shelling is going on.

My Sunday Services – I wonder how they will work out – I am just going out to arrange: little companies in cellars and dug-outs I expect – one cannot march men about.

Reading St John parish magazine, May 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

I hope war may end this summer – and a national spirit of compromise will defeat party politics

A political contact of Ralph Glyn’s in Scotland, whose factory was involved in aeroplane manufacture, had news of the home situation.

2 April 1916
My dear Glyn

Thanks for yours of 19th ult. You of course understand that the financial deficit is mainly due to you not having paid in full your customary subscription. If you have decided not to do so I think it would be well to tell Nicol this definitely so that the Committee may know they must consider cutting down expenses, by getting a cheaper organiser or otherwise.

I agree that people generally are very sick of party politics but while I sincerely hope that after the war a much larger number will view matters in a broader & more national spirit, I much fear all the same that the party conflict will be keener than ever – it will be the parties that will differ & I hope to a large extent we may get rid of the “wait & see” lawyer class who have gone so near ruining the country.

There is some but not much improvement on our workmen – it is the women who are acting so nobly – but they have been so pandered to by politicians in the past that one can hardly wonder. I have a strong belief too that much of the trouble has been because of German money. I happened to be at Parkhead when the recent trouble broke out & I strongly urged that if the known leaders of trouble could not be shot they should at least be removed, & this latter I am glad to say was done & the trouble appears to be fizzling out. Our advisory committee has been kept very busy & I am told its work has been considered by the tribunal to be the best in the City.

You will be interested to know that I am one of the promoters of a Scottish Hospital for Limbless Soldiers & Sailors. We are getting a gift of Erskine House for the purpose – & the necessary land at agricultural value. Your Aunt HRH Princess Louise has agreed to be our patron & we have already collected about £25,000. By the way I had the pleasure of showing HRH over our works, in which she was tremendously interested, as wee were in her. She is a most engaging personality.

Did I tell you I had a flight in one of the aeroplanes we built? It was very enjoyable. We are building Zeps, so I hope to go up in one of them. I trust you are keeping in good health & that we may see you safely home soon. I still hope war may end this summer.

Yours very truly
J Smith Park

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/22)

The air is full of rumours

Lady Mary Glyn informed her son Ralph of the latest news at home.

March 8th [1916]

I did calls yesterday. Volck is the name of the new manager at Sage’s. Wife very Brightonian. Decollee at 5 pm and they have taken the Canes’ house in Precincts. They tell me of an RNS Lieutenant called Meynell with his wife at the Peterborough Hotel and a flying man called Gordon England has taken the Archdeacon’s house where the Cooks were. I winder if you know him. I understand there is a great concentration of flying men and inventors & machines to tempt the Zepps here now, and a wireless station at Dogsthorpe & guard of 40 men. Peterborough is becoming quite as central as it can ever hope to be….

The air is full of rumours of sea action, of liveliness in the North Sea. And Churchill has just made one more limelight dramatic speech demanding Fisher’s recall. Hedworth has made his debut as a speaker and hopes Churchill will go back to duty in the trenches.

Lady Exeter says Lord Exeter has been in hospital nearly all his time at Alexandria – influenza, and very seedy in hospital there….

Own Mur

Letter from Lady Mary to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/3)

Gruesome news

Lady Mary Glyn reported the latest war news to her son Ralph in Egypt. SS Maloja was a civilian liner carrying women and children as well as some army personnel when she was sunk by the Germans. Many of the sailors were Indians.

Feb 28th [1916]

Today brings the news of the mining of the Channel and the horror of the great P&O Maloja & the rescuing ship. So gruesome, within two miles of safety – if land is safe on any coast! till we find that welcome for the Hun aircraft which today a letter speaks of as preparing for them. The Verdun news from France is different from Verdun news from Berlin, and certainly they are colossal in their untruth and unscrupulousness of “method” however diabolical.

Letter from Lady Mary Glyn to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/3)