The finest, cosiest, and prettiest place in the whole Second Army Area

A Reading church sponsored a place of recreation for soldiers at the front.

“Words Fail Us.”

Such are the words used on a Christmas card by the Y.M.C.A. to convey their deep gratitude to all who have helped in the erection of Huts in France and elsewhere. The words may be even more fittingly used to emphasise the desperate need for these buildings, and we rejoice in having been privileged to take part in this good work. It will be remembered that soon after our pastor’s return from France in March of last year, he announced his wish to erect a Y.M.C.A. hut, and was met by so gratifying a response from his many friends in Trinity and elsewhere that, by the end of August it was being used by our fighting men on the Western “Front.” This month, by the help of the above-mentioned Christmas card, we are able to show our readers a picture of our own hut.

It is situated La Clytte, about 4.5 miles south-west of Ypres and within three miles of the front firing-line very, very near danger. It is by the side of a road, along which is passing a continual stream of men to and from the trenches. Near by is a rest camp, into which the men are drafted after having served a certain time actually in the line. Hence our Hut, capable of accommodating from two hundred to three hundred men, meets the very real need of a large number of men actually in “the thick of it.”

The picture represents its actual appearance from outside, which resembles many other Y.M. Huts, but the interior is most beautifully and artistically decorated with about 250 coloured pictures, with the result that Mr. Holmes (Sec. Y.M.C.A. 2nd Army) pronounces it to be the finest, cosiest, and prettiest place in the whole Second Army Area. For this proud distinction we must thank its present leader, Mr Cecil Dunford, who is an artist, and so in touch with colour-printing firms. To him, too, we are indebted to him for our picture. His helpers are the Rev. Eric Farrar, son of Dean Farrar a most interesting fact and the Rev. Herbert Brown, Chaplain to the Embassy at Madrid.

At Christmas-time, our thoughts flew naturally to the men in our Hut, and Mr Harrison, anticipating our wishes, telegraphed that a sum of £20 was to be spent on festivities. It will interest all to hear what was done.

On Christmas Eve a Carol service took place, assisted by a regimental band, followed by a distribution of free gifts and cake. On Christmas Day the Hut was crowded for service at 10 a.m., and 45 men present at Holy Communion. From 12-1 a free distribution of cakes and tea was enjoyed. An afternoon concert was held, after which the men were again supplied with tea and cakes. At 6.30 p.m. a very informal concert was held, interspersed with games and amusing competitions ducking for apples bobbing in a pail of water, drawing in to the mouth a piece of toffee tied to a long string held between the teeth, pinning blindfold a moustache to the Kaiser’s portrait, etc. Free drinks and tobacco were again distributed, and after three hearty cheers for the people of Reading, the National Anthem brought a memorable day to a close.

To the men this day was a bright spot in their cheerless, dangerous life, and their enjoyment is depicted by Mr Dunford in some clever sketches one of a man straight from the line, in a tin helmet and with pack on his back, beaming happily at a steaming mug of cocoa, and murmuring “Good ‘ealth to the Y.M.”; another man, whose swelled cheek testifies to the huge mouthful of sandwich (evidently “tres bon!” in quality and quantity), wittily designated “an attach in force on the salient.” To the helpers the Christmas festivities evidently proved exhausting as shown by two laughable sketches of utter collapse, one worker clinging feebly to a post, the other being dragged along the floor to a place of rest. Yet we venture to think that even they, with us, rejoice to do something to brighten the lot of our brave boys in khaki.


Trinity Congregational Church, Reading: magazine, February 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

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“These Colours speak to us of a mighty struggle which involves sacrifice even unto death”

Windsor said a formal goodbye to the Canadians who had been stationed nearby as they headed to Kent, and then to the front.

Church and Empire

Wednesday, August 16th, was a red-letter day in the history of our Parish Church. A request had come from the Colonel of the 99th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, recruited in Windsor, Ontario, that their Colours might be deposited in our church for safe keeping during the war. It is needless to say that the request was most willingly and gladly granted, and August 16th was arranged as the day on which the ceremony should take place. Forthwith the citizens and church people of the Mother city prepared to welcome their brothers from the Overseas Daughter.

Our leading citizen [the mayor], ever ready to uphold the honour of the Royal Borough, at once declared his wish to extend his hospitality and official welcome to our guests. It was decided that as a parish we should entertain them at tea, and our churchwardens met with a ready answer to their appeal for funds and lady helpers. Permission was asked and gladly granted for them to see St George’s and the Albert Memorial Chapels, the Castle, Terraces and the Royal Stables.

The party, which included Lt Col Welch, commanding the 99th Battalion, Col Reid, Agent General for Canada, Lt-Col Casgrain, commanding the King’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Bushey Park, Mr W Blaynay, representing the Canadian Press, several officers of the Battalion, the Colour Guard, and the Band, arrived at the SWR station at 11.30, and were met by the vicar, who had come up from his holiday for the occasion, and several representatives of the church. From the station they marched, the band playing, and the Colours unfurled, to the Guildhall, which by kind permission of the Mayor was used as “Headquarters” for the day. Sightseeing followed till 1 o’clock, when the Mayor formally received his guests and entertained them in sumptuous fashion at lunch.

For an account of the speeches we must refer our readers to the Windsor and Eton Express of August 18th, in which will be found a very full and interesting report of the whole day’s proceedings.

Next came the event of the day, the ceremony of depositing the Colours in the Parish Church.

It is not likely that any one of the very large congregation which filled the church will ever forget what must have been one of the most interesting and impressive services ever held in the church.
It is probably true to say that most of us realised in a new way the meaning of our Empire, and the part the Church plays and has played in the building and cementing of that Empire’s fabric; and to that new realisation we were helped both by the ceremony itself and the most eloquent and inspiring words spoken from the pulpit by the vicar. (more…)

The first “to go over”

An army chaplain with links to Stratfield Mortimer was a witness to the horrific carnage of the Battle of the Somme.

Mr. Bowdon’s latest news is as follows: –

2nd Royal Berks, B.E.F.,
17th July 1916.

Dear Vicar,

Much has happened since last I wrote, and my battalions have been through a terrible time. They were with the first “to go over” on July 1st, at the Battle of the Somme, and got badly cut up. We lost more than half the men and nearly all the officers – in my battalions alone some 800 men and N.C.O.s are killed, missing, or wounded, and 38 officers! We got the full force of their concentrated machine gun fire. However, it wasn’t in vain, for we prepared a way for others, and we now hold all the ground which they contested so stubbornly. We had the Wurttenburghers in front of us, and there is no question they are fine soldiers and know their business.

It was all very sharp and short, and in 36 hours we were right out of it and miles away in the rear to re-form and rest. From my perch on a hillside about three miles from the firing line I watched the whole of the bombardment during the week preceding the battle. I could even see our lines as I lay in bed – but the morning of the attack was so misty no glasses could penetrate the clouds, and we could only listen to the din and wonder how things were going. It wasn’t long however before our poor wounded chaps began to stream along the road, some in ambulances, some in lorries and carts, and many on foot; so by 9 a.m. I was busy (the attack was at 7.30), and as the day advanced there were more that [sic] we could cope with, our wards and tents were full, and men were lying everywhere, in the streets and fields and ditches. But they were all splendid and so grateful for the smallest thing we did for them. We did eventually get them all dressed and fed and more or less comfortable, but not till noon next day could anyone slack off. I reckon some 1,500 men passed through our hands at that one Field Ambulance!

That same evening we were on the move again, and I re-joined the remnant of my two battalions to entrain for the rear.

Yesterday I arranged and conducted a Brigade Memorial Service at the Theatre here. The names of all officers and men killed at the Battle of the Somme were read out and prayers offered for them. The whole service was in keeping, but quite bright and joyous. We had the Divisional Band, and the Assistant Chaplain General 1st Army preached. Besides our own General, the Army Commander and his Staff were present, and Prince Arthur of Connaught.

I have had a fair share of the dangers and risks of war these past weeks. Four times during the bombardment about Albert I had to tumble into my dugout to escape the bursting shells – three times about 2 a.m. in the darkness, cold and wet. One day I spent with the guns in the thick of the firing, and even back with the Field Ambulance they didn’t let us alone. It has been a great relief to be away from the noise and out of range of their guns for a spell.

With kindest remembrances to all friends at Mortimer.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P120/28A/14)

The Last Post for a manly Ascot lad

An Ascot teenager who had died of pneumonia, no doubt the result of the wet cold conditions in the trenches, was given a full military funeral.

THE WAR.

With real sorrow we have to record the death of Driver Charlie Thompson, aged 18, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, the Lodge, New Road. Educated at our Ascot Schools, a keen and faithful member of our Church Lads’ Brigade, a communicant, and a manly lad through and through, we had a very affectionate regard for him. He passed away in Monkwearmouth Hospital, Sunderland, from an attack of double pneumonia.

An Officer of the Battery in France to which he had been attached writes:-

“It is difficult to say how much we shall miss Driver Thompson. He showed such special adaptability in his work, and was always so willing and cheerful. He was popular especially in his own subsection; but he was known throughout the battery for his good and soldier-like behaviour.”

There was a Military Escort to Sunderland Railway Station. The coffin was drawn by 8 horses of A sub-section 127th (Bristol) H.B.R.G.A. The 3rd Battalion Sherwood Foresters lent their Band. The coffin was covered with the Union Jack; and 3 wreaths were placed on it from Officers and N.C. Officers and Gunners and Drivers of the Battery. As the train started the trumpeter sounded “the Last Post.” The body of our dear Ascot lad was reverently laid to its rest, in the Priory Road Churchyard, on Tuesday afternoon, December 14th. Our deep sympathy goes out to his parents, who have two other sons serving in H.M. Forces. R.I.P.

LANCE-CORPORAL ARTHUR JONES was with us again, hale and hearty, for a week last month. We need not add how warmly everyone welcomed him.

OUR PRISONERS OF WAR are being looked after: and Mr. Tottie and his zealous band of laymen who are working with him, are in touch with most of our Ascot lads who are serving their country, and with the Ascot homes from which they have set forth.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Monthly Magazine, January 1916 (D/P151/28A/8/1)