“He went out to hold service on the battlefield, and found all the wounded killed”

The striking figure of an army chaplain who had studied with the rector of Sulhamstead prior to taking Holy Orders is remembered.

There must still be many in the parish who remember Mr Eli Cobham, a pupil at the Rectory. They will recall his great height, 6 feet 2 inches, and his capabilities in the cricket and football field. It was with great sorrow that we heard of his death last year, in German East Africa. Many incidents of a short but adventurous life were given in the “Greater Britain Messenger”, from which we take some of the following facts.

After much hesitation concerning his own unworthiness, he was ordained to a curacy at All saints, Fishponds. In this post he accepted no stipend. Canon Welchman says that there were few who knew his liberality [generosity]. The lectern was his anonymous gift, and the inscription he chose was “His dominion shall be from sea to sea”. He was afterwards vicar of All Saints, Fishponds.

From here he went to America, and worked his way back as a trimmer in the stoke-hold of a steamer, so as to get experience of what the men had to do and endure. Strong as he was, he found the labour almost beyond his powers.

In 1913 he resigned his living to work in East Africa, where he had 16 centres for service, in some of which he could only hold a service once or twice a year. He enlisted directly the war broke out, and used what time he had from soldiering to act as a Chaplain. He relates how he went out to hold service on the battlefield, and found all the wounded killed. Details of his death are not known, but the bare announcement states that on September 19th, 1917, the Rev. Elijah Cobham died from “wounds received while carrying in the wounded, somewhere in German East Africa”. He was a man of deep spirituality, and when discussing even trifling details, his invariable remark was “Let’s pray about it first”.

Sulhamstead parish magazine, April 1918 (D/EX725/4)

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“Personally, my hopes lie in the Constituent Assembly choosing a Constitutional Monarchy” in Russia

Customary insistence that churchgoers should wear their Sunday best had gone by the wayside.

Dear Friends and Parishioners,-

This short line comes to greet you in the midst of what I hope will be pleasant summer weather. The very beauty of Nature around us must make us in our green Island think of the goodness of God’s bounty to us all ; and it must in our thankfulness suggest to us how great our sympathy should be with all those of our kith and kin, who in weariness too often, in hardship too frequent, are on our behalf in the shell-scarred, dusty, noisome trenches of many foreign lands.

I would not exhort, as Vicar, for just now we are all very ready to stir each other up to action, but I would rather beg of you as a fellow worshipper, that we should try not to grow weary or fainthearted in our prayers for those we love, whether at home or in Church. St Luke’s Church is open always from 8 am to 6 pm, later on Fridays and Sundays; St Peter’s is open, too. Those who cannot find a quiet corner at home, can find one there. Working clothes do not matter; God wants our hearts, not fine clothes.

There is, too, the War Shrine to provide a centre for our prayers. And many could come to the weekly Friday Intercession Service. We have to remember that life is not the only boon we can ask for those we love but that honour, purity, and straightforwardness are even greater things. I think we are all doing this pretty well; but I suppose we could none of us honestly say we could not do a great deal better…

Now may I say one ward as regards Treats, etc. The War certainly imposes on us the need for great economy. All expenses should, so far as possible, be cut down. But the War has already lasted nearly three years, and owing to the Republican disorder in Russia, the hope of an early Peace has faded away; though the entry of the United States into the War has made more certain than ever before a full and final victory. We must all hope for a speedy settlement in the land of our great Russian Ally; personally, my hopes lie in the Constituent Assembly choosing a Constitutional Monarchy.

So, many children are fast growing up without much memory of the peaceful days before the War. For them there should be, I think, very simple and economic Treats. I hope those who agree with me will support our Sunday School Fund during this month. I feel that the Mothers are another class who should have some little outing, as cheap as possible, of course, still a little change from the daily work and anxiety…

I remain, Your faithful friend and Vicar

C.E.M. FRY

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P181/28A/26)

The walls between races are being done away

The Bishop of Oxford saw the war breaking down barriers of racism, and wanted to spur churchgoers into thinking about mission work after the war.

THE BISHOP’S MESSAGE

The following extracts are from the Bishop’s message in the July Diocesan Magazine:

Your prayers are asked
For the country and our allies, especially for Russia, and for the cause in which we are fighting…

THE AUTUMN EFFORT

There is to be an “effort” in the autumn to stimulate prayer and interest and self-sacrifice for the overseas work of the church. It is certain that the great war will put in a new light both the obligation and the opportunity of world-wide evangelization. In particular, America and England will be confronted with professions about human brotherhood and consequent obligations to races whose skins are not of our colour which we cannot possibly disown. But the more deeply we think about the Brotherhood of Nations, the more we are driven back upon Christianity. There is no other religion which can aver make a reasonable claim to be a catholic religion. There only can it be even claimed that the middle walls of partition between race and race are done away.

Well, this moment, with our men away at the war – just the men we want to get to listen – is the last moment for a Missionary Crusade. Nut we who stay at home must be preparing our message. And I want every parish priest, every parochial study and prayer circle, every ruri-decanal committee for overseas work, to see to it that, by whatever method, some real effort is made this autumn to make our people realise (1) the vast obligation – as the situation arising out of the war will present it afresh – which lies on us to evangelize the world; (2) the immense needs of a missionary field denuded of even its normal equipment, short as that always was; (3) the call of Christ upon young men and women for a sacrifice in the cause of the Kingdom of Christ corresponding to the sacrifice evoked by the war.

C. OXON.

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

May the memorial may be worthy of those commemorated

Future US President Herbert Hoover led efforts to help starving civilians in wartorn Belgium, allowing the people of Mortimer to concentrate on their war memorial.

War Working Party

It is hoped to start work again at S. John’s Hall on Thursday, September 6th. In the meantime all kinds of woollies are wanted to be ready for August delivery. Pyjamas are wanted, also sun shields and mosquito nets. If workers will kindly send a post card to Mrs. Alfred Palmer, to say what they will undertake to do, materials shall be sent to Mrs. Thorp, The Street, where they can be called for.

Belgian Relief Fund

Now that the United States have made themselves responsible for the relief of the people in Belgium our local fund is closed. In the nineteen months that we have been collecting we have raised £90 3s. 3d. It was decided at our last parish meeting that the monthly collection should continue and that the proceeds in future should be devoted to our parish War Memorial. It is hoped that those who have given so liberally in the past will continue their generosity in order that the Memorial may be worthy of those commemorated.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P120/28A/14)

Food ships from America

John Maxwell Image was hopeful that food restrictions might soon be a thing of the past now that the USA was a fully fledged ally.

29 Barton Road
3 June ‘17

Mon frere

Here’s a good news [sic] though (so it be true) which I heard yesterday from young Mike Foster’s American wife – the town holds no other such causeuse – she is a good deal too in the know, and she is quite recently back from the States – well, she told me that things are moving so briskly that by July 1st the American foodships will be coming over to Europe two or three every day…

With all love
Bild

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

The harder the work, the greater the service: women are called to the land

There was a call out to women to work on the land during the war.

WOMEN!

Enrol for service on the land. Help to win the Victorious Peace.

Strong healthy Women are wanted for the land. Thousands of acres are ready for cultivation. Thousands of farms want: Field workers, Milkers, Plough Women, Carters, Cow Women, Market Gardeners. If you are healthy and willing, you can be taught, you can wear the uniform, you can earn the wages. We must have milk for the babies, bread for the children, food for the sailors and Soldiers.

These are the terms: Maintenance during instruction, one free outfit (high boots, breeches, two overalls, and hat), wages 18s. per week at least (or the wage rate of the district, whichever is the higher).

The land is calling for you. Your Country needs you. The harder the work, the greater the service. Sign at once. There is a form waiting for you at every Post Office. Don’t Delay – Read this and hand it to the woman who lives next door.

The Vicar’s Notes

Intercessions
For Sidney Reeves, one of our old bible Class Lads, wounded seriously in France.
For Walter George, fallen for his country after just a fortnight at the front.

Thanksgivings
For the entry of the United States of America on the side of right.
For the granting of the Military Medal to Stuart Collison, one of our servers.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, May1917 (D/P98/28A/15)

Trapped in London

A Swiss acquaintance of Will Spencer had a business journey abroad interrupted by the British fear of anyone with German connections.

16 May 1917
After supper Frau Block chatted with us in the veranda. Her husband only got as far as London on his way to America. By the time he had got the papers which he required for travelling to America, the Dutch boat by which he intended to cross had sailed. Then came the “verschaufter U-Boot Krieg”, & now, as the son of a German mother, he has not yet obtained leave to return here.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/27)

American president makes a speech

The United States of America declared war on Germany on 6 April.

8 April 1917
Observer full of “President Wilson”’s speech.

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

Good news!!

Florence Vansittart Neale was pleased about the war news.

7 April 1917
Good news from the Western Front & America really declared war!!

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

War between Germany and the USA is in the balance

Will Spencer was still trying to find out news of young family friend Max Ohler, a German soldier reported missing. He was pleased to hear from younger brother Sydney, dong well in army training, but was now well settled in Swiss society. Back in England, Florence Vansittart Neale was keenly interested in the prospects of the US joining the war. Johann von Bernstorff was the German ambassador to America and had been involved in sabotage and intelligence work there, and had just been thrown out.

Will Spencer in Switzerland
12 February 1917

A letter from Sydney. Hopes that we may obtain news of Max Ohler from the War Office Prisoners of War Department, which can find out more than any single enquirer can. He enjoys reading my accounts of Switzerland. Has just passed the exam for “Marksman” with 135 points out of 160 (or something of that sort), none of the 28 men he took up with him scoring more than 113. (130 was required to pass.)…

At 5 I called again on Herrn Fursprecher Hodler (by appointement). My obtaining leave to declare a smaller amount of Kriegsteuer [war tax], after signing for 500 fr., dependent of goodwill of the official concerned, but I might make the attempt. An income of 4,800 fr. represents normally a capital of 120,000 francs, for which the tax would be (class 110,000-120,000) 275 francs. I handed in my short sketch of my career, & signed a declaration which he drew up, that military duty “[illegible word] meinem Falle nicht in Betracht” [is out of the question in my case].

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey
12 February 1917

Took dogs a walk again in afternoon – discussed War Savings & digging with Martin & Willie.

Bernstorff given safe conduct. So Gerard left Germany – war with US in the balance. Ag went to Boulogne.

We continually advancing on Somme & Avere. Constant raids.

Diaries of Will Spencer, 1917 (D/EX801/27); and Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

An agitating week

Florence Vansittart Neale was worried.

10 February 1917

Heard about war savings meeting.

Agitating week over food rations – also will America go to war. Vessels being sunk.

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

Will the neutral countries come in?

Florence Vansittart Neale continued to be excited about the prospect of new allies.

9 February 1917

Will America come in? & other neutral countries?

A destroyer sunk this week in Channel by mine.

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

Food rations begin

Our diarists had a variety of interests. In Switzerland, Will Spencer saw the US was coming closer to war; in training, his brother Sydney was learning to shoot; and in Bisham, Florence Vansittart Neale was worried by food rationing and strikes.

Will Spencer in Switzerland
5 February 1917

News in the paper that diplomatic relations between Germany & the United States have been broken off by the latter.

Sydney Spencer in army training
Feb 5th

General Musketry course results (extract). Lt S Spencer, A company, Marksman 130. This was fired at Totley with 2 feet snow & hard ports!

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey
5 February 1917

Expected men from Cliveden – arrived late as motor broken down. Came in 2 ambulances.

Wild argument from miners!…

Food rations begin. 2 ½ lb meat – 4 lbs bread or flour – ¾ lb sugar per week.

Diaries of Will Spencer, 1917 (D/EX801/27); Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

What will America do now?

The Dodeka Club of Reading discussed tentative peace proposals put forward by the Americans, which they thought naive.

The 281st meeting was held at Johnson’s on Feb 2nd 1917.

The host took for the subject of his paper “America and Peace”, the paper being suggested by President Wilson’s peace notes and speeches. The host devoted his paper chiefly to the first and sixth heads of the American President’s note.

1st. No victory to be claimed by either side.

6th. The Freedom of the Seas.

With regard to the first, he contended that victory was essential to the allies, & that Wilson was a visionary. That the greatest argument in favour of this view was the American Civil War between North and South. Only by victory could German Militarism be finally stopped.

Regarding the sixth, some difficulty was expressed as to the exact meaning of the Freedom of the Seas, if it meant a reduction of England’s fleet, this fleet was essential to the life of an island nation.

The host felt the value of his remarks were spoilt by Germany’s new methods of submarine warfare against neutrals, and the discussion was largely devoted to the question of America’s new position.

What will America do now?

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

“A cheap and illogical effusion” and “cheeky suggestion” from the American President

Captain Austin Longland was on his way home to Radley for a spell on leave. The SS Kashmir was a P&O cargo ship which had been requisitioned to carry troops.

Jan 25th ’17

P&OSNCo
SS Kashmir

Another note to show you that I am comfortably settled, with far better accommodation than the Atlantic Transport Line gave me on my outward journey – but a fat old doctor in my cabin who looks as if he would snore. The 6 are all together on the boat, so I shall have their company for meals, tho’ their higher rank prevents me from sharing a cabin with any of them.

So, given a calm journey, we ought to have quite a nice trip, especially as I have still escaped any duties, and should now I think get right back without having to shepherd any men.

Each day this week I have taken a walk in the afternoon, and am getting to know the place a little. Should be able to how you round if ever we spend a winter in the South of France! Had hoped to get ashore for one or two small things, but once on board they won’t let us off again. If ever I come on leave again, by the way, I shall be wiser in many ways!

Marseilles is a very large place, without much character, lying at the head of the bay, its harbour guarded partly by a chain of islands where are German prisoners. ..

They would never give us any idea when we were likely to go, or I could at least have wired my address and got a letter from you. As it is there is probably one on the ship, and I shall have to travel in its company for a week or more before I see it. There may even be one or two fresh ones awaiting my return among all the relics of last year.

What a cheap and illogical effusion Wilson has put forward as his answer to our and the German terms, – with a cheeky suggestion that only such arrangements between the European powers can obtain as commend themselves to the USA.

ACL

Letter from Austin Longland of Radley (D/EX2564/1/8)