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)


“2 Divisions ran away & so caused Cambrai defeat”

Florence Vansittart Neale was puzzled as how to manage Bisham Abbey with less food available, while the news – and rumours – continued to fascinate her.

1 January 1918
Worried morning over rations. Very difficult but must do it. Edith arranging next Sunday’s “chain of prayer”.

January 1918 [inserted at front, no date]

Hear Haig in London, very sick about things. He had refused to send Divisions to Italy, but had to. Wanted to resign. He said a great deal too much fuss made about Sir J Byng’s push & also a great deal about the subsequent retreat!

Hear we send up stuff against [balloons?] which make the men so deadly seasick they have to come down. On return Irish leave this Xmas, 1000s stuck at Holyhead 5 days. Too many submarines there. At last escorted over by American destroyer & gun boats.

Hear 2 Divisions ran away & so caused Cambrai defeat. Hear General [illegible] sent back after it., then returned by Army Council & again sent back after St Quentin retreat! Hunter-Weston “honouring heroic deed” (drunken Tommie). Foch becoming Generalissimo (March 1918).

Meat & butter rations begin.

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

“Freedom, Freedom at last!”

The Reading soldier we heard from a few days home after the entry into Jerusalem wrote home again with his impressions of the city at the end of the Ottoman era.


By the kindness of our friends Mr and Mrs Ernest Francis we are enabled to give another extract from a letter recently received from their son Private E. Layton Francis, of the London Scottish Regiment. We feel sure it will prove interesting to many at Broad Street, where Private Layton Francis is so highly regarded.

Egyptian Expeditionary Force

It is most awfully interesting here, and the experience is worth much. There are all manner of conditions of men here – Natives who adhere to the customs and dress of our Lord’s time, Mahomedans [sic] of every description, and highly educated native Jews. One Jew told me he had lived in London and Cardiff for some years, and showed me his business cards. He was immensely relieved at our advance, and said we “kicked Johnny out like a football”. Another American Jew was overjoyed at seeing us, and he kept repeating “Freedom, Freedom at last!”

The building we are billeted in appears to have been built for a school. We are on the first floor. There are several small rooms opening on one side, and on the other side there is one tremendous window made up of small panes about one foot square. The weather is still very cold, but we have overcoats now, and so are better able to cope with it. This afternoon (18th December) I had the great privilege of going over the old “Holy City” of Jerusalem. I should explain that there is the New City of Jerusalem and the old Holy City.

The Holy City is surrounded by walls entirely, and entrance is through the various gates. We entered by the Jaffa gate, and passed through St Stephen’s Gate and saw several of the others. The first place of interest is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here is a slab of marble which is claimed to cover the spot where the body of Jesus laid before He was buried. Then there is the Hill Calvary, just outside the City walls. This is not a green hill, now at any rate, but is very stony, and it is quite a small hill too. The Garden of Gethsemane is full of cypress and olive trees, and is at the foot of the Mount of Olives, quite near to the city wall. The site of the Old Temple is located, but the Moslems have built a magnificent mosque almost on the spot. The mosque is the Mosque of St Omar [sic], and it is a most wonderful building, the base being of inlaid marble, and the rest beautiful mosaic work. The Jews will not walk on the site of the Temple as they believe the Ark of the Covenant to be buried there. But nearby is the “Jews’ wailing place”, a huge wall made up of the original stones of the Temple, and here every Sabbath the Jews pray for the restoration of the Temple, and of their land. Then there is the Golden Gate. This gate is entirely walled in, and the Jews believe it will not be opened until the Messiah comes.

The streets of Jerusalem are very narrow, the houses from the opposite sides almost touching one another. Many streets are like arcades, or to describe them better, like tunnels through solid stone. The shops are just holes in the side of the tunnel.

I must close now although there is much more to say – later on.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, Marc h1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

A charming Yankee

A wounded American visited Bisham Abbey and was a hit with Sir Henry.

17 December 1917

Anxious wait for taxi that arrived too late. We missed train. Lost muff & soldiers’ parcel!…

Wounded came in afternoon. Very nice men. Charming Yankee. He & Henry discussed old books.

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

Chosen to go to America to train men there in “sniping”

A local man was picked to train American recruits.


Pte. A. Beal and J. Harwood have recently joined His Majesty’s Forces.

We were glad to welcome home on leave this month Privates L. Cox, F. Fancourt, N. Nickless, T. Nickless, G. Nichols, H. Ottaway, A. Shefford, also A. Cartland, who has just obtained a commission in the R.F.C., and who we heartily congratulate.

We congratulate Corporal Edwin Gray on his promotion to Sergeant and on the fact he has been chosen to go to America to train men there in “sniping.” Sergt. Gray began his career as a marksman at the Winkfield Miniature Rifle Range.

Winkfield section of Winkfield District Magazine, December 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/12)

We refused peace terms thinking the Germans were “on the run”.

Inserted at the front of Florence Vansittart Neale’s diary are her notes made sometime in December 1917 on war news. The impact of America joining the war was beginning to be felt.

December 1917

Hear 4 generals sent home without return tickets!

Hear Germans offered good peace terms 3 months ago. We refused thinking they were “on the run”.

Our troops hissed going through Rome. Cadorna hated by Army – he the Vatican’s party.

Coldstreams scared 91,000 prisoners being taken.

One HQ taken – generals and colonels still adding.

Hear American troops to be trained in Ireland to shame the Irish.

500,000 Americans already in France.

Hear through W Grimmett last push we took any amount of stores & clothing, made light railway & sent it to base before 2 days.

Hear another push is to begin soon.

Americans getting to France about 5000 a week.

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

Camouflage with a vengeance

The Images experienced a power cut as a result of an air raid, and heard some interesting Navy news.

29 Barton Road
22 Oct. ‘17
My Most Dear Old Man

On Friday evening we were at dinner – the clock, I remember, was in the middle of striking 8 – when, in a flash, down went the electric light, and up bounced Florence to find whether it was so all through the house. It was! and we had in a candle, to the accompaniment of bombs and anti-aircraft guns, seemingly 2 miles away to the north. I wonder, were they trying for the aerodrome at Hardwick? for they are reported to have attempted that at T in Norfolk. Well, we went unconcernedly to bed, and were awakened by a glare at 2.10 – sign that the raiders were clear of England. But oh how humiliating! They can drop bombs at will, and unharmed, in England. Once cross to France, and they are chivvied and hustled, go wherever they attempt. The French can bring them down. Never has there been such a field day before, for Zepps.

Some friends, fresh from Liverpool, told me the other day of the steady silent inundation of Americans now overflowing the place. Especially of the hundreds upon hundreds of Yankee aeroplanes, beautifully packed, daily landed on the quays.

In one dry dock these people came across a large Yankee man-of-war, painted blue with pink spots (or was it, pink with blue spots. Those were the colours anyhow.) Camouflage with a vengeance: but it has the effect of destroying outlines and muddling them up at a distance. This they observed especially in the case of HMS Ramillies lying out in the stream – a battleship, painted the most bizarre horror, chiefly black and white stripes.

All this is very fine – but as today’s Daily Mail asks, in Italics, ‘Who commands the North Sea?’ The British navy may be the ‘incomparable’ weapon we hear it called, but it is bluffed by the Huns and its convoys and their escort snapped up by a small force of 2 raiders, almost in hearing of the Grand Fleet. The Kaiser’s vaunt of Germany’s future being on the water looks justified – Nelson went to the Gulf of Riga – but we can’t.

Our united love to you both.
Ever yours,

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

Is anyone willing to be kind to the Canadians with no friends in England?

Soldiers from Canada often had nowhere to go when on leave.

“Woodclyffe” Auxiliary Hospital, Wargrave

Miss Sinclair has been made “Visitor” (someone specially to look after and care for the wounded Canadians) by the Canadian Red Cross Society with the consent of the Commandant. She will be glad to hear of Americans or Canadians, who would like to take any interest in the men. Many of them have no friends in England and come back to Wargrave for their leave, because the Hospital is the only Home they know. Anyone willing to be kind to the men, please write to Miss Sinclair, Wargrave Aux. Hospital.

Wargrave parish magazine, October 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

American officers visit Bisham

Some Americans awaiting their journey to the front had a day out at Bisham Abbey, like so many the British and Imperial officers.

19 August 1917

American officers came over with Mr West in afternoon. Took them all round house & had tea. They saw garden & church.

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

Anterhinums instead of vegetables

The head gardener at Bisham Abbey made the mistake of thinking the flower garden should be defended against vegetables. Meanwhile General John Pershing (1860-1948) made a visit.

9 June 1917

Martin had planted anterhinums instead of vegetables! Has to take them up….

American General & staff arrived – General Pershing.

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

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

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

When will it end!!

Florence Vansittart Neale continued to pay close attention to news and rumours about the war.

May 1917

Hear that King George prevents us deposing Tino [King Constantine of Greece]!

Hear over 3000 Essex Yeomanry went in the battle of Gaza, to only 600 cannons!

Hear 26 ships of foodstuffs came with American destroyers.

1 May 1917

When will it end!!

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

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.


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.

Cats bless food restrictions

John Maxwell Image wrote to his old friend W F Smith with news of how food rationing was affecting his household, including the pets cats, formerly fed on scraps and leftovers, but now treated to tasty offal not fit for human consumption. Lord Devonport was the Government Food Controller. More sadly, Rudolph Cecil Hutchinson, a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, had been exceptionally severely wounded at the Battle of Loos back in 1915. After over a year’s suffering, he finally died in Cambridge in February 1917. He seems to have been generally known as Cecil. A memoir of him was published privately in 1918 and can be downloaded free.

29 Barton Road
13 Feb. ‘17

Praeclarissime EMY

The Signora … is away at a Newnham College concert, with a fair Marylander, youthful spouse of a Trinity MA, who on his part has been spirited off to scientific War Work at L’pool…

Well, as for Devonport, she accepted him enthusiastically. The hosue is put on rations of bread, meat and sugar – and so cannily that I can’t discover any difference. Helen and Ann, two excellent sisters, are devoted to their mistress’s will. Joe and Binnie bless Devonport all day, for, obviously, the house-meat cannot any longer be cast to the cats: so special supplied – I trust not 5 lb weekly – of lights and such like dainties come in for their use and behoof. Their little barrels bulge – and the 2 tails are rolling pins for size.

We have for many months baked our own bread – the best standard bread I ever ate! 12 lbs of flour produces a long loaf each day, which is bisected each morning, one half for the parlour and one for the kitchen. Helen, who is the surgeon, rigorously adheres to the Devonport law, and always I see some over on our table at night. The only difficulty is there being so very, very little flour for puddings. I don’t mind, and the petticoats don’t grouse….

We had a military funeral in Trinity this morning. A BA Lieut. There must have been over 100 troops – the coffin on a gun carriage, draped with the Union Jack. The first part of the service in Chapel at 11.45. And then the procession – band playing (very poorly) the Dead March went down Trin. St and Trin. Lane, through the Paddocks. Rudolph Cecil Hopkinson, Lieut. RE – died of wounds on Feb. 9th.

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

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)