“I witnessed all the terrific bombardment from land and sea against the Gaza defences, and shall never forget the awful spectacle”

A Maidenhead man bears witness to the fighting in Palestine.

OUR SOLDIERS.

Reginald Hill has left Sheffield Hospital, and hoped to have left hospitals for ever, but very shortly after getting home he had a slight relapse, and at the time of writing is a patient at Cliveden. We hope his stay there will be very brief.

Harold Islip is in hospital at Trouville, suffering from trench fever. He expects shortly to be in training for a Commission.

Ernest Bristow will probably be at Cliveden by the time this has reached our readers’ hands.

George Ayres has been transferred to a Field Company of the Engineers, and is at Anglesey.

Reginald Hamblin is in a Flying Corps, and is training at Totteridge.

Herbert Hodgson is in a camp near Salisbury Plain.

Benjamin Gibbons is in Ireland.

Leonard Beel sends a letter (which has evidently had a soaking in sea water) with vivid account of what he has seen in Palestine. He says:

“I witnessed all the terrific bombardment from land and sea against the Gaza defences, and shall never forget the awful spectacle. Afterwards I had a good look around Gaza, and saw the results of the bombardment, but unfortunately missed the several interesting spots associated with Samson’s career through want of a guide.”

He speaks, too, of visiting Ashdod, Lydda, the Vale of Ajalon, and Jaffa, where Simon the tanner entertained Peter, and where Dorcas was raised.

“The native villages,” he says, “are picturesque from a distance only. Inside they are usually worse than any English slum, full of filth and squalor. It is months ago since I last saw an Arab with a clean face.”

His one regret is that he has missed seeing Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

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

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“It is easier to imagine Biblical scenes than before we came out to Palestine”

A Reading soldier fighting in Palestine reported to his home church on the Holy Land as it was now.

Feb 22nd

On Xmas Eve, as I lay in my bivouac not very far from Bethlehem, I thought of the first Christmas and what happened then. I should dearly have loved to spend the Xmas-day in the Holy Place, but that was not to be. I hope I shall have the opportunity of visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem and a few other places before I leave Palestine…

I went to a C. of E. service a few Sundays ago in a Greek Church in one of the many mud villages that lie amongst these hills. It was a building of just four bare walls, with a stone floor and no seats. Every man had to sit down on the hard cold stone, and, needless to say, soon felt stiff and cold. There were no lights except two electric ones that our own Res put up. These villages have no semblance of streets at all. One cannot walk two yards without having to step up or down big stones. There is no sign of any furniture in any of the huts – just a little straw packed away in a dark corner, presumably for a bed. The effluvium from these huts is often far from pleasant.

We enjoy at least one good thing out here, and that is the Jaffa oranges at ½ d each. Several times I have bought fifty at a time and polished them all off in about five days….

Flocks of sheep and goats can often be seen on the hills with a shepherd in charge, as of old. It is easier to imagine Biblical scenes than before we came out. The dress of natives is much the same as the Bible pictures represent.

G P Brant (OS)

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

Where are they?

Holidaying on the Isle of Wight, Florence Vansittart Neale’s attention turned to the plight of prisoners of war, and the fear of submariners landing secretly.

31 March 1917

Ventnor. A wife of a Turkish prisoner taken at Kut is here. They are so far treated well, but the poor Tommies, they are afraid of them – to fear out of the 6000 taken whether any will return. It is supposed that the Turks do not ill treat them themselves but give them over to the Arabs & Kurds.

I hear that a captain of a German submarine was taken & a bill for dinner was found in his pocket a few days old from an hotel at Bournemouth.

A submarine was found caught in the boom outside Cowes, but no crew. Where are they?

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

“What scenes our Ascot fellows are witnessing! And what adventures they will have to tell us of when they happily return!”

There was exciting news from some of the Ascot men serving at sea and in Egypt.

THE WAR.

The Ascot Sailors and Soldiers Committee report that they sent Easter cards to all the men abroad, and presents to all those who appeared likely to require them, the number sent being 27. They regret to say that no news has been received of the three Ascot men who have been reported missing for some time, though every effort has been made to trace them. They also report with much regret that three wounded men have been discharged from the Army. Four more men have gone out abroad this month, making the total on the list 101.

Signalman Tindal of H.M.S. “Undaunted” has been home on short leave and has given a graphic account of the action in the North Sea off the Danish Coast, in which his ship took a prominent part. For fear of the Censor we must not print all of what he told us, but we may say that the action took place in a high gale and that the rescue of all the “Medusa’s” crew was an exciting episode and carried out with great skill. The German destroyer rammed by the “Cleopatra” went down with all hands, and she sank so quickly that nothing could possibly be done to save them.

A very interesting letter from Trooper Skelton of the Berkshire Yeomanry has been received from Egypt by his parents. He took part in the recent round up of the “Senussi” tribe on the frontiers of Tripoli and also witnessed the release of the British prisoners in the hands of the Arabs. What scenes our Ascot fellows are witnessing! And what adventures they will have to tell us of when they happily return!

The Committee hope that they may be able to hold a Concert in May for the benefit of the Fund, as it requires some replenishing.

Ascot section of Winkfield District magazine, May 1916 (D/P151/28A/5)

“Friendly as we advance but enemies in a retreat”

Lady Mary Glyn had more news for her son Ralph, including his late cousin’s Ivar’s thoughts on the Middle East where he had been fighting before his death.

Feb 14th [1916]

I had seen Maysie & John at his mother’s on Sunday. He is happy about the Adjutancy & has taken it up today. Maysie joins him at the White Hart this evening. They have a house but cannot get into it for a fortnight. Later on they hope to persuade old Arthur Leveson Gower to let them have a house close to the Barracks Mary Crichton advised them to purse. He won’t let, & is at present obdurate….

Then I went to Aunt Syb. My first visit [since her son Ivar’s death]. She was so pleased with your letters, and with all you had said to her. I had no idea my letter gave you the first news? She still gets letters, the last on New Year’s Day, and all full of the interest & newness & picturesqueness, & pleasure in surroundings. He spoke of being surrounded by Arabs “always friendly as we advance but enemies in any retreat”. He did not speak of any contretemps then. Aunt Syb was very natural, and spoke of him freely, of her life as closed, and “no man left belonging to her”. One knows it to be the blow from which, for her, there is no recovery or relief, & yet she says “if she had had ten sons she would have wished them all to go, and that she is glad it was in a fight, & “not a sniper” or other “lesser path to glory”. That it would have been his wish if it was to be. All this & much else that for me does not relieve the tragedy & the pathos of a life that seemed to need such other crowning – but some day I hope his letters will be published, and the story told of all he did when the great call came, & with it a vocation to which he gave so great an answer.

She minds now the ten days she might have had with him at Marseilles while he waited, & somehow she knows he got no letters all that time & no word from home. She is very sore & very bitter about Eric, but I have learned my lesson with Ivar. Ever again to judge? For it is not death always that is to reveal what Love may do to draw out & strengthen & console where sense of failure, & being on the wrong track makes that comfort difficult to minister. If only one can always love, and always believe, then one would never even know the things that oppose. I longed to tell Syb this when she called Eric “coward”. I never thought Ivar that, or yet “spy”! but as with Eric I suspected wrong friends & associates to be an adverse influence, & now perhaps with Eric a right word from someone, & not a wrong one, might avail. He has no mother to help him. Eric had come in for 10 minutes & left saying “he could not bear it” – poor Eric. No mother to gird him & help him to worthier service.

I will try to send you Frances’s Oban Times which is more in character with herself than with Ivar – but Syb likes it, and so does all the family except myself, knowing the false allusion. But what matters it. Ivar’s kiss & look of recovered by friendship outside the old church at Inveraray has been a comfort & “the talk” which went on behind my back can be overcome too.

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

“Knowing no fear and heeding no danger”

A much-loved young man from Earley lost his life in Egypt in December 1915.

In memoriam

Thursday the 16 December, bought us heavy tidings in the death of Ronald Eric Brown, Trooper, Berks Yeomanry, youngest son of our churchwarden, Mr Richard Brown of Capenor, Crescent Road. Ronald Brown was a delightful example of English youth vivacious, active, cheerful, fearless, and an excellent horseman. He left England for Cairo last April, and suffered greatly from the effects of the climate and conditions of life in Egypt, being repeatedly sent down to hospital in Alexandria with blood poisoning. To be left behind when his companions went up to the Dardanelles was heart breaking to him, and it is not difficult to believe that he longed with an intense desire for the opportunity which, when it came, cost him his life.

It appears from his long delayed letters that – his health restored by Dec 1st – he was one of those selected to put down disturbances caused by Arab tribes on the west front of Egypt. From the wilds of the desert he sent his last letter home, describing the pitiless sandstorms, the cold and the wet, the great distances from village to village; but anxious to do his bit (so he said) when the moment came. And on the 11th it came; and those who knew him best at home can picture him in the front line, knowing no fear and heeding no danger, ready to do his bit and return if it might be so, and if not – well, to shew those by his side that he was. So he died – one more of the brave lads baptized, confirmed and communicants in the old home church, fighting for her and the old country, cheerful and fearless in life in death. But the heart of our parish goes out to his father and mother.

Earley parish magazine, January 1916 (D/P192/28A/14)

“Arab treachery” in Mesoptamia

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey continued to be worried about the war news from the east. Mesopotamia, now in Iraq, was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire which had joined the war on the side of the Germans.

5 December 1915
Greece still uncertain, also Roumania [sic]. Meanwhile we landing troops at Salonika.

Bad setback in Mesopotamia. General Townshend had to retreat 80 miles from Bagdad [sic]. Treachery of Arabs. Chris wounded in it.

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

“He never talks and never grumbles”: the spirit of the Front

Lady Mary Glyn wrote to her son Ralph. Her sister in law Sybil (Lady George Campbell) was anxious about her son Ivar, a 25 year old Lieutenant in the Argyll & Seaforth Highlanders who were currently fighting in Mesopotamia.

Peter[borough] Dec 5th [1915]
My own darling

This is Sunday Dec 5th, and I am wondering when there is a chance of another letter. I send you the envelope of the last (Nov 28th), opened by Censor, & delayed so that I did not get it till Wednesday 2nd… No wonder you were angry at being held up… I am wondering if letters to you are to be censored? I wondered what was coming next: “Taisez vouz, Metiez vouse, les oreilles des ennemis vous ecoutent.” Well – it was just in those words I warned one or two who did not forgive me at the beginning of the war, and I am sure we women ought to be very uncommunicative. One of my soldier women [wives?] said to me about her wounded man, “He never talks, & he never grumbles”. So the spirit of all of you at the front who comes back, and will more and more, as we learn the lesson of these days of a great tribulation – surely the Great Tribulation which must bring in a Better Thing? Today the Tigris withdrawal reaches us, owing to defection of Arabs, and old Collingwood is busy about the immediate punishment which must be inflicted; & I think of Syb & all her anxiety.

John still at Voelas, but coming up for a Board on the 20th, & Maysie hopes they will have Christmas at Voelas – but thinks he will be passed fit. Meg was dreadfully cut up letting Jim go – and Dad got there just 10 minutes after he had gone….

I had a long day in Northampton yesterday. A great Military Hospital is to be started at Northampton or near, & Lady Knightley has got together a huge committee to collect all the necessary things, & asks me to be on it.

Letter from Lady Mary Glyn to her son Ralph (D/EGL/C2/2)

Senior French army delegation “jabbering French like monkeys and wasting our time”

Ralph Glyn’s mentor General Charles Callwell was not very impressed with our French allies.

War Office
Whitehall
SW

20/10/15

My dear Ralph

I thank you very much for your letter and for your useful notes. I will see what I can do with regard to improving the communication between you and this part of the world. I have already spoken frequently about this to Brade. I shall also suggest that there should be some system of liason between you and Salonika and Athens, organising a main base at Alexandria for both the Medforce and the Salonika force under Ellison may perhaps improve matters.

I have just come back from a visit to France and I would much liked to have had you with me as on the last occasion. Archie Murray and I went to see General Joffre at Chantilly about this Macedonian affair and when we got through we found he was starting the same evening for this country to talk matters over with our Government. The nett result of it all is that we are let in for sending additional troops to Salonika and for undertaking what looks to me like a serious campaign. The French idea was to snap up the troops from the Dardanelles and to pop them down at Salonika, but I think I succeeded in choking them off this and they now realise that the force for these new operations must come from France. All this, as you will understand, gives us a lot of work here at present, especially as Joffre and his party have been here to-day; the party jabbering French like monkeys and wasting our time. However, they have all gone off this evening and been got rid of.

The question of the Arabs is extraordinarily important and we are taking it up here very thoroughly. It is a matter that Lord K fully understands and is much interested in, but the Arabs are opening their mouths rather wide and the question of Syria is to some extent involved, which brings us against the French. Were it not for them we could fix them up in no time.

No time for more.

Yours sincerely
Chas E Callwell

PS I hope you are very fit, and think you should go to Salonika now and help there unless you are required at Mudros. I will mention this to Bell in my next letter.

Letter from General Callwell to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C24)

Going the wrong way: a missionary leaves the war behind

A Reading-sponsored missionary reports on the effects of the war on his journey back to what is now Pakistan, in a letter to members of the congregation at St John’s Church in Watlington Street. It was printed in the parish magazine, and gave Reading people a glimpse of the war from the colonies:

Church Missionary Society,
Lahore.
October 21st. 1914.
My dear Vicar,

Here I am at the Headquarters of the Punjab Mission, tho’ by no means at the end of my travels. At the last moment it was found impossible to run the Language School at Lucknow this year, which is rather a blow. However, Canon Wigram is trying to arrange that the three Punjab recruits shall work together for some months at language study. Probably we shall go to Multan in a fortnight’s time, and until then I am going up to the Batala by way of Amritsar.
I have so much to write about that it will be very difficult to be concise, but I will make an effort.

We had an excellent voyage and never once was it rough, though for two half days I was hors de combat owing to the ship pitching in a horrid swell. We saw signs of war the whole way. On the first night we very nearly ran down a British destroyer near Dover. At Gibraltar we saw the ‘Highflyer’ and the ‘Carmania,’ both covered with renown after their fights in the Atlantic. Off Malta we passed quite close to four troopships from India under the escort of three French cruisers: and at Port Said we saw no less than thirty-five troopships on their way to the Front. We passed them amid tremendous cheering, tho’ everywhere we were greeted with shouts of ‘You’re going the wrong way.’ At every port we touched at we saw captured German and Austrian merchant ships. On reaching Aden we heard that the German cruiser ‘Konigsberg’ had got through the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb into the Red Sea and was coaling at Jeddah; if this is true we must have passed within a very few miles of her and we may be thankful that our voyage wasn’t terminated on the Arabian coast.

From Aden to Bombay we ran with very few lights on at night and these few were darkened by brown cardboard funnels, so we were more or less invisible after dark. The second night out from Aden all lights were suddenly switched out and the ship’s course was completely altered. We thought that the ‘Emden’ was on our track, and some of the ladies went so far as putting on lifebelts. The Captain had spotted a glare in the distance, which turned out to be only an Arab dhow fishing in an unusual part.

We were a party of seven C.M.S. Missionaries on board, and I fear usually the noisiest table at meal-time; however, I hope noise is a sign that we were enjoying ourselves.

I was quite sorry in many ways when the voyage came to an end and we dropped anchor in Bombay harbour at sunrise on October 16th. There were at least a dozen crowded troopships to greet us as we steamed up the bay; and the Tommies didn’t seem to mind standing in the full glare of the sun to watch us pass. …..

Yours affectionately,
Arnold I. Kay.

A second letter provides more details. (more…)