Experiences In France

War time experiences would continue to inform lives in peace time.

Circuit Quarterly Meeting held at Tilehurst, September 10th 1919

Rev. W. A. Parrott related some of his experiences in France, & told of how he had – at the urgent request of many men – baptized & administered the sacrament.

Minutes of Reading Wesleyan Methodist Circuit Quarterly Meeting (D/MC1/1A/1)

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Peace seems to bring with it as many activities as war

Wounded soldiers made a generous gift to a Maidenhead church.

The Vicar’s Letter

Dear Friends and Parishioners,

This July we have had a busy month of Parish work and Festivities. Indeed, I never remember to have passed a summer month so lacking in leisure. Peace seems to bring with it as many activities as war. Still, with its arrival, it is a great joy to welcome old friends on their safe return. Among others, the return from the wilds of the Danube, even if fleeting, of Mr Sellors, our old colleague, has been a great pleasure to us all.

In connection with the War, St Luke’s Church has received an almost unique gift. Together with, I believe, St Paul’s Cathedral alone, the wounded soldiers at the VAD Hospital have worked us a strikingly beautiful red silk Altar Frontal and Antependium for the fald-stool [sic?]. It was done for us as a surprise, and was finished just before the Hospital, the mounting being completed by July 26th. The idea was formulated, I believe, by the Commandant, but all details and material were got for the men by Mrs Salmonson; and, I know, that the active sympathy of many other workers contributed to its final success. The names of the men who worked on it are written on the back of the Frontlet or Super-Frontal. By lifting the fringe we shall see thus an enduring record of the names of the skilled and kindly men who did the work. It is to be used and dedicated on Sunday, August 3rd, the Eve of the Anniversary of the War. The Special Prayer of Dedication will be said at the 11 am Service, when some front seats will be kept for VAD workers…

I remain, Your faithful friend and Vicar, C E M Fry.

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, August 1919 (D/P181/28A/28)

Military distinctions awarded to Caversham men

Caversham men were honoured for serving.

Military Distinctions Awarded to Caversham Men

Second –lieut. D.T. Cowan, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Military Cross; Capt. C. Gentry-Birch, Royal Berks Regiment, Military Cross; Rev. C.W.O. Jenkyn, Royal Army Chaplains Dept, Military Cross; Capt. A. Hill, Surrey Yeomanry, Military Cross; Capt. (Rev) W.M. Austin, 1st Wiltshire Regiment, Military Cross; Capt. G.O. Taylor, R.E., Military Cross; Capt. E.F. Churchill, R.E. Military Cross; Lieut. Rollo, Scots Greys, Military Cross; Lieut. H.C. Powell, R.G.A., Military Cross; Sergt-Major D.E. Deane, R.A.M.C., Military Cross; Lieut F.C. Ransley, R.A.F. Distinguished Flying Cross and French Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star; Lieut. B.J.E. Belcher, R.AF. Distinguished Flying Cross; Sergt. A. Price, R.G.A. Distinguished Conduct Medal; Pte. W. Shackleton, 3rd Royal Berks, Distinguished Conduct Medal; Pte J. Girdler, Distinguished Conduct Medal; *Pte. J. Cox, 1ST Grenadier Guards, Distinguished Conduct Medal; *Pte. H. Godwin, 1ST Berks Yeomanry, Military Medal; * Pte. F. de Grunchy, 4TH Royal Berks, Military Medal; * Pte. H. Simmonds, R.A.M.C., Military Medal; Pte. F. Neale, 1st Royal Berks, Military Medal; Pte W. H. Heath, R.A.M.C. Military Medal; Sig-Cpl. F.J. Pointer, R.G.A., Military Medal and Bar; Pte. H.D. Helmore, 1st Royal Warwicks, Military Medal and Italian Bronze Medal for Valour; Gunner T.W. Shuff, R.H.A., Belgian Croix de Guerre; Mec-Staff-Sergt. J.W. Beasley, Meritorious Medal.
*Formerly members of Caversham C.L.B.

CAVERSHAM ROLL OF HONOUR
Third List
POWELL, Capt. E.I. Royal Sussex Peppard Road March 22, 1918
Bryant, Trumpet. F.N. R.E. 59, Queens’s Road July 16, 1917
Bryant, Cpl. S.C. R.E. 59, Queen’s Road
Bell, Cpl. A.J. R.E. 188, Westfield Road
Blackall, Pte. A.E.J. 2/4 R. Berks 8, Cromwell Road Dec. 7 1917
Briant, Pte. A.E.J. 6TH Royal Berks Emmer Green Aug. 15 1917
Bue, Pte. W. 27th Enniskillens Emmer Green Oct. 20 1917
Bennett, Pte. T.A. Gloucester Regt 92 Queens Road Dec. 5 1915
Bristow, Pte. H. R.E. 114, Queens Road Dec 21 1916
Carter, Pte. C. London Regt 69, Briant’s Av Nov 22 1917
Chamberlain, Pte. F. R.H.A., Berks Emmer Green Aug 28 1918
Cox, Seaman D.E. R.N. 18, Coldicutt Street Oct 1918
Doe, Bomb, S.W. R.H.A. 68, Prospect Street Nov 26 1917
Davis, Pte. J. Royal Berks 9, Donkin Hill May 31 1918
Eacott, Pte. H.W. 14TH Royal Warwicks 121, Gosbrook Rd Oct 26 1917
Fuller, Pte. F.G. Rifle Brigade 18, King’s Road May 9 1915
Goodwin, Pte. F.C. 6TH London 168, Hemdean Rd April 14 1917
Gibbins, L-Cpl. A.G. 28TH London 33, South View Av July 16 1918
Hatto, L-Cpl. H.H. 1/4TH R. Berks 111, Kidmore Rd Aug 16 1917
Havell, Pte. H.A. 2ND Ox and Bucks Emmer Green Nov 3 1917
Harrison, Seaman G. H.M.S. Victory 54, Briants Av Sept 4 1918
Higg, Pte. W. Rifle Brigade 105, Queens Road 1916
Jones, Pte, T.J. Northumb. Fus 100, Kings Road Dec 17 1916
Knight, Pte. R.R. Royal Berks 145, Queens Road Aug 26 1918
Morgan, Pte. S. Liverpool Regt 57, westfield Road June 20 1917
Martin, L-Cpl. B.E. R.M.L.I. 163, Gosbrook Road Aug 25 1918
Mott, Pte. S. R.G.A. 79, kidmore Road Sept 21 1918
Miles, Pte. G. R.F.A. 96, Kings Road July 31 1918
Nicholls, Lieut. H.G. 2nd Royal Berks 5, Queens Road May 28 1918
Nicholls, Pte. J. M.T. 3, River View Cots 1918
Povey, Cpl. J. R.H.A. 4, Queens Street April 16 1915
Palmer, Pte. H.T. 1ST Warwicks 34, George Street April 18 1918
Purvey, Pte. W. Oxon & Bucks 16, King’s Road Feb 25 1918
Purvey, Pte. E. R.A.S.C. 16, King’s Road April 12 1918
Rampton, Pte W. Labour Corps 35, Gosbrook St April 9 1918
Robinson, Pte. H. 7TH Queens 34, Priory Avenue Sept 22 1918
Swift, Pte. H.G. 3RD Rifle Brigade 31, Oxford Street May 19 1918
Semple, Pte. H. 2/4TH Royal Berks Emmer Green July 16 1916
Semple, Cadet. F.J.M. R.A.F. 23, Priest Hill Oct 30 1918

Caversham parish magazine, March 1919 (D/P162/28A/7)

Pray for co-operation and the spirit of unity among all classes

There were still problems to face.

YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED –

For the Peace Conference and all its members.

For all our men serving at home and abroad.

For the Chaplains to the Forces.

For a peaceful solution to all Industrial Problems.

For co-operation and the spirit of unity among all classes.

Newbury St Nicolas parish magazine, February 1919 (D/P89/28A/14)

Treatment for gas poisoning contracted in the trenches

One of the many institutions run by the Community of St John Baptist was a Convalescent Home in Folkestone, Kent – the ideal place for one of the clergymen who assisted the Sisters to go to rcover from his war experiences.

27 January 1919
The Sub-Warden went to St Andrew’s Home in order to have treatment for gas poisoning contracted in the trenches.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Our prisoners of war are slowly returning

PoWs were starting to come home.

Notes from the Vicar

I wish you all every happiness and blessing for 1919. May we be found worthy of the peace that it will bring, and worthy of the great sacrifices made for us by our brave men.

Our prisoners of war are slowly returning. Before very long now we may hope to welcome back the Rev. H.A. Smith-Masters, C.F., and the others from the parish.


Intercessions List

Sick and wounded: Lieut. Thomas Rudd; Private William Lay.

Departed: Private Robert Aldridge, R.A.M.C. ; Lieut. Henry Eyres, R.A.F.; Maria Goodship; Elizabeth Gillmor.

Reading St Giles parish magazines, January 1919 (D/P96/28A/36)

“Right in front of the battalion, leading his men in true British style”

This supplement to the roll of honour’s bald list of names gives us more detail about the parish’s fallen heroes.

Supplement to the Wargrave Parish Magazine

ROLL OF HONOUR.
R.I.P.

Almighty and everlasting God, unto whom no prayer is ever made without hope of thy compassion: We remember before thee our brethren who have laid down their lives in the cause wherein their King and country sent them. Grant that they, who have readily obeyed the call of those to whom thou hast given authority on earth, may be accounted worthy among thy faithful servants in the kingdom of heaven; and give both to them and to us forgiveness of all our sins, and an ever increasing understanding of thy will; for his sake who loved us and gave himself to us, thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Baker, Edward
Private, 7th Wiltshire Regiment, killed in action on the Salonica Front, April 24th, 1917, aged 21. He was the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Baker. He was born at Wargrave and educated at the Piggott School. When the war commenced he was working as a grocer’s assistant in Wargrave. He volunteered in 1915 and was sent out in 1916. He was killed by a shell in a night charge.

Barker, Percy William

Private, 7th Batt. Royal Berkshire Regiment/ Killed at Salonica, July 4th 1917, aged 19. He was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. William Barker at Yeldall Lodge. His father was for twenty years a gardener at Yeldall. He was born at Crazies Hill and educated at the village school. On leaving school he began work as a gardener. He was one of the most helpful lads on the Boys’ Committee of the Boys’ Club. He volunteered May 11th, 1916. On July 4th, 1917, he was hit by a piece of shell from enemy aircraft while bathing and died within an hour. The Chaplain wrote to his parents “Your loss is shared by the whole battalion”.

Bennett, William
Sergeant, 8th Royal Berkshire Regiment, killed in France, Dec 3rd, 1916 aged 25. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bennett, of Wargrave, and when the war broke out he was working on a farm. He volunteered at once. He was killed instantly by a shell. One of his officers wrote: “Sergt. Bennett was the best N.C.O. we had in the company. Fearless, hardworking, willing, he was a constant inspiration to his platoon. His splendid record must inevitably have led to his decoration. We have lost an invaluable N.C.O. and a fine man. He was buried with all possible reverence about half a mile from Eaucourt L’Abbaye”.

Boyton, Bertram
Lieut., 6th London Brigade Royal Field Artillery, died of wounds in Palestine, Nov. 9th, 1917, aged 36. He was educated at King’s College, London, and was a Surveyor and Architect by profession. He was a Fellow of the Surveyors Institute and had won Gold and Silver Medals of the Society of Auctioneers by examination. He was married to Elsie, second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Morris, at the Parish Church, Wargrave, Sept. 7th 1905, He was a member of the London Rowing Club and the Henley Sailing Club, and keenly interested in all athletics. He enlisted in the Honourable Artillery Company in April 1915. He was given a commission in the 6th London R.F.A., in July 1915 and was promoted Lieutenant soon after. He went to France with his battery in June 1916, and to Salonica in the following November. He was sent to Egypt and Palestine in June 1917, and was wounded while taking his battery into action in an advance on November 6th. He died at El Arish on November 9th, 1917.

Buckett, Ernest Frederick

Private in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, killed in action Sept. 20th, 1917, in France, aged 23. The dearly loved husband of Dorothy May Buckett, married May 31st, 1917. He was educated at the Henley National School, and before the War was a slaughterman with Messrs. O’Hara & Lee, butchers, Henley and Wargrave. In 1910 he joined the Berkshire Yeomanry (Territorial Force), and was called up on August 4th, 1914, at the commencement of the war. He immediately volunteered for foreign service. He went to France in the spring of 1915. When he had completed his five years service, since the date of his enlistment, he volunteered for another year, but received his discharge as a time-expired man in January 1916. In July, 1916, he was called up under the new regulations and sent immediately to France where he remained, except for leave on the occasion of his marriage, until he fell in action, September 20th, 1917. (more…)

Reading School’s contribution to the war

A complete listing of Reading School’s alumni who had served in the war.

OLD BOYS SERVING IN HIS MAJESTY’S FORCES.

This list has been compiled from information received up to December 14th, 1918; corrections and additions will be welcomed and should be addressed to: – R. Newport, Esq., Reading School, Reading.

Allnatt, Rifleman N.R. — London Rifle Brigade.
(killed in Action).
Ambrose, 2nd Lieut. L.C. — S.L.I.
Anderson, Pte. L.G. — Can. Exp. Force
Appelbee, 2nd Lieut. T. — 13TH West Yorks.
(Killed in Action).
Atkinson, Lieut. E.G. — Indian Army
Atkinson, Capt. G.P. — 6TH Royal North Lancs.
Atkinson, 2nd Lieut. J.C. — R.A.F.
Aust, 2nd Lieut. H.E. — Yorkshire Regt.
(Twice Wounded).
(Killed in Action).
Aveline, Lieut. A.P. — Royal Berks Regt,
(Wounded).
(Military Cross).
Baker, 2nd Lieut. A.C.S. — R.G.A.
Baker, Rifleman A.E. — London Irish Rifles.
(Wounded).
Baker, Rifleman R.S. — London Irish Rifles.
(Wounded).
Baker, Lieut. T.H. — 8TH Royal Berks Regt.
(Wounded)
Balding, Capt. C.D. — Indian Army.
Banks, Pte. W.R. — Public School Corps.
(Killed in Action).
Bardsley, Capt. R.C — Manchester Regt.
(Wounded).
Barnard, F.P. —
Barroby, Trooper. F. — Strathcona Horse.
Barry, Capt. L.E. — R.A.F.
Baseden, Lieut. E. — Royal Berks Regt.
(Killed in Action).
Baseden, 2nd Lieut. M.W. — R.A.F.
Batchelor, Lieut. A.S. — Duke of Cornwall’s L.I.
Bateman, Capt. W.V. — Royal Munster Fusiliers.
Bayley, 2nd Lieut. F. — Chinese Labour Battalion.
Beckingsale, Pte. R.S. — Canadian Contingent.
Beckingsale, Capt. R.T. — Tank Corps (Military Cross).
(Wounded).

Belsten, E.K. — R.A.F.
Biddulph, 2nd Lieut. R.H.H. — Royal Berks Regt.
(Died of Wounds).
Bidmead, Pte. — Wilts regt.
Black, Pte. F. — Public School Corps.
(Killed in Action).
Blazey, A.E.H. — R.A.F.
Blazey, 2nd Lieut. J.W. — Royal Berks Regt
(killed in Action).
Bleck, Lieut. W.E. — R.F.A.
Bliss, 2nd Lieut. A.J. — Leinster Regt.
(Killed in Action).
Bliss, Pte. W. — 2ND Batt.Hon.Art.Coy. (more…)

A short life on earth, given for the cause of freedom and liberty

More news of Reading men.

The Rev. G.N. Naylor has been appointed chaplain to the R.A.F. in Reading.

We shall miss the R.A.F. officers, cadets and men at the Sunday morning parade service, but I that many of them will still come to our high celebration and to evensong.

The special appeals fund will be closed on the 10th of December.

Intercessions List

Departed: Private Leonard Cadman, D.C.L.I.; Gunner Ivor Hicks, A.F.A.; Sergeant George Murley, Berks Yeomanry; Major Max Henman; Lieutenant Sydney Cecil Lansdown Guilding R.F.A.; Gunner George Poulton Smith, R.G.A.; Bombardier Gerald Frederick Jordan, Berks R.H.A.; Gunner A.J. Hayden; Private A.V. Palmer.

Sick and Wounded: Corporal Coggs; Private E. Targett.

Our sympathy and prayers have, I am sure been given to the relatives and friends of the above, all of whom have nobly done their duty, and given their lives to the Empire, and for the cause of freedom and liberty. Lieutenant S.C.F. Guilding was one of our servers. His was a short life on earth, but he has been called to higher service elsewhere, and we shall not forget the work he did for us here. R.I.P.

Reading St Giles parish magazines, December 1918 (D/P96/28A/35)

“The war is ending, it seems, but the misery of it cannot end with it”

More details of Sydney Spencer’s shell shock not long before his final days.

Oldbury House
Tewkesbury
9 Nov 1918

Dear Mrs Image

I was dreadfully sorry to hear of Sydney’s death, & it must have been a bitter shock to you, especially when you knew that there had been no real necessity for him to go back to duty when he did. You will be impatient to hear what Capt Dillon told me – though I fear it is as unsatisfactory as all such information must be.

The MC was given, not for any single piece of bravery, but for continued good work during the battallion’s [sic] attack at Morlanecourt (near Albert) on Aug 8-10 & during the previous period when the company had a difficult time owing to the German attack on the division immediately on its right. Sydney put in a tremendous amount of work – too much, Capt. Dillon says: he was too careless about himself, got quite insufficient sleep & really prepared the way for his break-down & shell-shock. While in this over-taxed state the company got shelled rather badly, & a shell fell pretty close with the result that Sydney succumbed to the trembling kind of shock & had to go to hospital on Aug 10th. He was not actually wounded, except for a tiny scratch on the upper arm, which they put some iodine & a dressing on. When he got to hospital he pretended, for fun, that he had a very bad wound & the nurse took extra care in unbinding it, but enjoyed the joke when the wound was revealed. He told Capt. Dillon on his return that he was only really ill for three days, but Capt. Dillon thought that he had come back too soon & in any case sooner than he need have done.

He was first of all in hospital at Rouen & then spent time at Trouville. On his return he seemed very well & cheerful: Dillon saw him again on Sept 10th. The battalion was then very busy preparing for the attack which was to be made on Sept 18th. On the 17th he & Dillon had a cheerful chat about prospects: & Sydney said they both would get nice Blighty wounds & go back together & be out of it comfortably; he seemed quite confident that he was coming out of the affair with his life. On the 18th Dillon was wounded, & Sydney took his place automatically. The company had a very bad time & almost everybody was knocked out. This accounts for the fact that there is so great difficulty in getting any particulars. The attack took place east of Epehy, & Dillon thinks that in all probability it was there that Sydney was killed. The line was being advanced at the time, & in those circumstances, it is some slight consolation to know, his body would probably be buried decently & the exact spot recorded. If you wished to make any enquiries on that point the Graves Registration people would be the ones to apply to. I am afraid I don’t know their address. Capt. Dillon suggests as possible sources of information Sydney’s batman, the chaplain or the company sergeant-major; but I think you have already tried those people. The other lieutenant who was with Sydney was also killed at the same time.

Capt. Dillon can’t say much about the time Sydney was in hospital, & he does not understand how it is that you have heard nothing about it: for he knew that Sydney was in the habit of writing very full letters about everything. The lack of news from the 5th to 10th was probably due to the amount of fighting that was taking place. Capt. Dillon suggests that you might get some particulars of what was happening from the “Times” of 8th-10th – which however he says is full of mistakes (it was their battalion who took Morlanecourt, & the Americans had no share in it). But I feel that what you want is more personal details, & though I managed to extract some from Capt. Dillon (which I have told you) there are doubtless others which might be pumped out by yourself but hardly could be by anyone else. Capt. Dillon is apparently a very good sort, but rather lacks the faculty of unbosoming himself to strangers. If you do ever meet him you may be able to do better than I have; as to actual historical details I think he gave me all he could. One point he mentioned which may interest you was that Sydney won his MC within a mile or so of the sport where Percy [his brother] was wounded; Percy’s division being the next but one in the line. You may already know this.

I do hope that Percy’s wrist is making good progress: I had no idea that it was so bad as you say, or that his nerves were so badly upset. The war is ending, it seems, but the misery of it cannot end with it.


Yours sincerely
R. Harold Compton

Letter from R Harold Compton to Mrs Florence Image regarding the death in action of her brother Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EZ177/8/24)

“It was 60 to 100 at Lloyd’s yesterday there would be peace before Xmas”

Everyone could see the war coming to an end – even the German PoWs.

St Marys, Oct 31 [1918] Hallows Eve

My own darling own

Yesterday… a man called Savage with his wife quite intend on taking this place and if possible buying it. Evidently a very rich man in war profits having to do with all insurance societies, Lloyd’s included, & he told me it was 60 to 100 at Lloyd’s yesterday there would be peace before Xmas….

Meantime the papers are an hourly unrolling of great scrolls of prophecy fulfilled, and to be having a part in it must be a wonderful feeling, and how I long to talk to you, and how I long for the evening papers with news, if any, from Paris. I dread Bolshevik risings, and spread of that disease with Prussianism a fallen God? It is a tremendous thing to think what is in the hands of those few brains at Paris, and I cling to the knowledge that two at least there are with belief in the Eternal Righteousness revealed as Divine Love to those who follow Christ and company with him in sacrifice for the sake of that Righteousness? It must be hard to go on fighting with the world all crumbling that has opposed that righteousness, and it seems as if it – the victory – was already decided.

The news from Italy is glorious, and then Hungary & Austria & Turkey, and with the little bits of news coming in from the Danube – these waterways and tributaries in silence or in spate determining the way of victory. Well – here I watch our little road and the village passers by, and the trees getting bare, but still some golden glow slimes in at the window, and the only thing in touch with the war are the German prisoners no longer bursting with spirits & laughter and talk, but they look grim….

There is a great deal of mild flu about, and some measles, but I have heard of no bad cases so far. I have no sign of flu, only a very little cold of which I take quite abnormal care, & eat formamint lozenges without end….

Archdeacon Moore has resigned – and I am sorry – one of the few gentlemen left in that changing diocese where everything is going on socialistic lines, and I am so unhappy about poor dear Norman Lang, & cannot imagine what his future is to be when the 6 months at the front are over – & will he be needed there 6 months.

Do take care of yourself – send for formamint lozenges & have eucalyptus & a good tonic?

I suppose John will be all right. Maysie is moving to 6 Hill Street, Knightsbridge…

All my love, darling
Own Mur

Lady Mary Glyn to her son Ralph (D/EGL/C2/5)

The interest and attraction of the work

A Wargrave curate who had volunteered as an army chaplain was enjoying his new life.

Crazies Hill Notes

The Rev. W.G. Smylie is now working in a Church Army Hut for the benefit of the soldiers in the Inkerman Barracks, Woking, Surrey. He writes very happily about the interest and attraction of the work. He may soon go to France.

Mr Smylie is much missed by his friends at Crazies Hill and the best wishes of all will follow him in his new work.

Wargrave parish magazine, October 1918 (D/P145/28A/31)

Pray for Reading men

News of Reading men.

Notes from the Vicar

Intercessions list

Private George Palmer, Warwickshire Regiment; The Rev. Carey Cooper, C.F.; The Rev. Richard Alban Norris, C.F.

Prisoner
: Private A Bartlett.

Sick and Wounded: Private T. Tomkinson; A.M. Robert Bunting, R.A.F.

Departed: Privates Waters; William Neate; Mark Ewens; Pooley; George H. Hunt; Leslie H. Packer; Gunner G.W. Wall, R.F.A.; Harold Little.

Reading St Giles parish magazine, October 1918 (D/P96/28A/35)

Lively services for soldiers

Religious services for soldiers were simpler and livelier than those they attended at home.

The soldiers in France who attend the voluntary services arranged by the Y.M.C.A. rightly expect that the service shall be a ‘live’ one. The man who would win and hold a congregation must be a man of conviction, of sincerity and of force of character. When he speaks he must have a case and must know how the present it to those who are listening to him. Mr Evans was probably the most attractive preacher in the Calais area in my time and I have no hesitation saying that he had a very sure place in the respect and affection of the men stationed in the district.

Abingdon Church Congregational Monthly Leaflet, October 1918 (D/N1/12/1/1)

“I am hopeful that the next few weeks will see us very near the end of the war”

A chaplain told his Maidenhead friends about his experiences with our Serbian allies.

Letter from Rev. J. Sellors

Dear Friends,-

To-day we have had some excellent news which will be old by the time you read this. We have just heard that Bulgaria has signed an unconditional peace, and I am hopeful that the next few weeks will see us very near the end of the war. At this stage I am allowed to say that part of my work was to visit a British battery on the part of the front where the Allies – Serbs and French – first broke through the Bulgar lines. It was in the sector between Monastir and the Vardar, comprising the Moglena range of mountains, which rise abruptly from a plain to a height of anything from 4,000 to 6,000 feet, bounded on the left by Mount Kaimachalan, over 8,000 feet high. When crossing the plain I could see the Bulgar lines near the crest of the mountains, and knew that from their observation posts in the direction of Vetrenick and Kozyak they could see my car approaching, and I rather sympathised with the rabbit (the wild one, not Mr. Chevasse’s variety) which knows there is a man with a gun in the neighbourhood, and wonders when he is going to fire, and if he is a good shot. However, I was fortunate enough to escape any shelling, although the roads and villages en route were on several occasions shelled shortly before or after I had passed by.

The enemy positions seemed absolutely impregnable, and we felt here the Allies had little chance of success if the Bulgars made a very determined resistance. We were immensely pleased and cheered to hear that after an intense bombardment of only seven minutes, an attack was made which broke right through the lines held by the very dazed surviving Bulgars, overcame all resistance offered in reserve trenches, and never stopped till the enemy cried for peace. The Serbs were simply magnificent. They bounded forward at the rate of some 40 kilometres (about 25 miles) a day. The enemy was given no chance to reorganize; a great part of his whole army was thrown into absolute chaos, and having lost practically the whole of its supplies, food, ammunition, guns etc., with a fortnight it acknowledged itself as beaten. Personally I do not think that without the Serbs the Allied victory would have been so speedy and complete. They are wonderful fighters, and charming, simple people. I see a good deal of them, as I am chaplain to the British units attached to the Serbian army and have my headquarters at a hospital for Serbs (37th General Serbian Hospital, Salonika Forces).

As I write, the units are scattered all over the country, but my parish used to extend about 50 miles of front and lines of communication, and I visited a battery, a number of transport companies, hospitals, etc., and had to use a motor car for the performance of my duties. (Don’t imagine me riding about in great comfort. The car was really a small Ford van, generally used for carrying shells and supplies, and we had to travel along very uneven roads, sometimes mere cart tracks, and owing to the consequent bumping, the intense heat of the sun, and that rising from the engine, together with the dust, riding was often the reverse of pleasant.)

I find that on the whole the “padre’s” work is very much appreciated, and one is constantly receiving proof that man instinctively wants God and reverences Christ, and it is a great privilege to take part in the work of proclaiming God to others and seeking to drawn men to Him. Men out here have been torn away from all the things which hitherto filled their loves, and I think this enforced detachment from normal pursuits has led many who previously luke-warm Christians to find that their religion alone in such times of stress can comfort, strengthen, inspire and sustain them. Thus I think the war will have the effect of deepening the religious life of many, even if it does not lead the indifferent man to faith in God through Christ.

I trust before many months have passed I shall be with you again in Maidenhead for a short time.

With prayers for you all, especially those in sorrow or anxiety,

Yours sincerely,

J. SELLORS, C.F.

Macedonia, Sept. 30th, 1918

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, November 1918 (D/P181/28A/27)