“The shell-holes where so many of our boys are fighting must be drying up – an unspeakable boon to them”

A Reading man providing rest facilities for soldiers behind the lines reports on his first few days.


News from France

We are sorry not to be able so far to give much information as to Mr. Harrison’s doings.

The Army regulations and censorship of correspondence is now so very strict that such news as is let through is of the scantiest. We shall, however, all be glad to read the following :-

“I arrived safely at my destination on August 15th after a good journey. The Hut is certainly A1, and everything promises well. I am in charge with one helper, a young Church of England clergyman, and we have three orderlies under us.

Herbert Longhurst has just been in to tea. I was delighted to see him, and hope soon to come across some more of “our boys,” as I am told that several enquiries have been made for me during the last few days.

We are having perfectly lovely weather here now. The roads are hot and dusty, and the shell-holes where so many of our boys are fighting must be drying up – an unspeakable boon to them. Our great difficulties are the shortage of supplies and the insufficiencies of change, but we get along, and have crowds of men in.

Yesterday I was invited to tea with the Captain and Officers in their mess hut, and had a very good time with them. I am in excellent health.”

Trinity Congregational Church magazine, September 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

A soliderly and workmanlike experience of camp life

Many men from west and north Berkshire had volunteered to serve in a Home Defence unit.

The Newbury Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Berkshire Volunteer Regiment went into Camp at Churn from Friday, July 13th, to Sunday the 15th, and had a very good time. This Battalion comprises men from Wallingford, Newbury, Abingdon and Wantage, and formerly went under the title of “The Home Defence Corps”. In order that we may not convey valuable information to the enemy, it would be as well not to mention the particular duties upon which the men of Newbury were on this occasion engaged. Suffice it to say that they set about them in a soldierly and workmanlike manner, and gained the approval of the Major, and Adjutant, and Captain, and other Officers.

The experience of camp life was new to a large number of those present, but there were also some seasoned veterans, who could speak of a similar experience of 20 or 30 years ago. The air of Churn is most invigorating, so much so indeed that some of the company appeared to spend a large portion of the first night in animated conversation, but were quieter the second night, though even then there were those who found sleep difficult, owing partly to the unaccustomed hardness of their bed. A religious Service was held on Sunday morning, at 9.30, by the Chaplain. The catering was done by Mr Tombs, and earned well merited praise. There are many more men in Newbury who ought to join the Battalion.

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P89/28A/13)

A chaplain begins his spiritual work in an army camp

The Community of St John Baptist heard how their former Warden was getting on as an army chaplain.

13 July 1917

Notice was sent that Mother had received news from the Sub-Warden of the beginnings of his spiritual work amongst the soldiers in Strensall Camp.

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

A church in a hut, and quite a parish!

An army chaplain from Newbury writes on his work:

The Rev. H C Roberts writes to the Rector from the Front as follows:

“I was very pleased to get your letter and to hear some of the Newbury news. It was forwarded on to me, as I have moved on from my last station, and am now at Garrison Mess, APOS 19. It doesn’t convey much, does it? This is a very much bigger place than where I was last, and I am in charge of this part. We have a very nice church in a hut all fitted out with an altar, reading desk, etc. I believe it is about the only one of its kind out here – it holds about 170 men, and at the voluntary evening service it gets quite full. We have two early services on Sundays, 6.15 and 7.15, and an evening communion on the last Sunday of the month. More men we find are able to make their communions in the evening owing to work, so it gives them the opportunity. Here too we have a CEMS Meeting one night in the week, and last time we had about 15 present. Of course work varies very much according to district, etc. In that way this is very much better than my last place. In addition we have various parade services on Sunday too. So you see it is quite a parish!! and, as you may imagine, a pretty big one too…

We are having some very hot weeks again (this was written in July, ED) now, but for one or two nights it turned quite cold. I am sorry I can’t tell you much of the place or work, but of course we are allowed to say very little in our letters, and all mention of places, kind of work, visits, etc, is prohibited, and I can imagine quite rightly.”

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, September 1917 (D/P89/28A/13)

The Open Air mission to the troops of all nations

The Open Air Mission was an evangelical initiative reaching out to men in training, the wounded, and enemy PoWs.

OPEN-AIR MISSION
There will be a meeting on behalf of this Mission on St John’s Lawn on Tuesday, July 3rd, at 3 pm, when the Rev. P. Rose and Walter Goff, esq, will describe the work of the Open-Air Mission amongst British and French troops in the war, and among German Prisoners… If wet, the meeting will be held in Princes Street Mission Room.

Reading St. John parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P172/28A/24)

Beginning military service as a chaplain

The Community of St John Baptist said goodbye to their warden, who was starting his service as an army chaplain.

21 June 1917

The Sub-Warden went away to begin his military service as Chaplain at Strensall Camp near York. The 7 am celebration [of Holy Communion] was at the High Altar followed by the Travellers’ Service.

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

Meat now easier to obtain


The food situation was becoming a little easier.


9 June 1917

The Sub-Warden received orders on the 5th June to report himself to Strensall Camp, York, on the 21st inst.

Instructions have been received with regard to mails to India, which are now to go fortnightly instead of weekly. The first mail under the new system will leave here June 13.

Notice was given that, owing to meat being now easier to obtain, the 2nd meatless day in the week would be given up.

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

“Doing our best to be worthy of being the cadets of one of the most famous regiments in His Majesty’s Army”

The Church Lads’ Brigade offered training for teenage boys which in many cases led to heroic actions as adults at the Front.

CHURCH LADS’ BRIGADE CADETS

We had a very good Field Day at Streatley on Whit-Monday. The Battalion turned up in good strength, and some useful skirmishing practice was got through on the Downs, an ideal spot for such work.
On Saturday, June 9th, the Annual Battalion Marching Competition was held. By kind permission of the Headmaster of Reading School, the various Companies assembled in the School Quad, and under the management of Sergeant-Major Green, were quickly got into due order for inspection. Colonel Melville, RAMC, very kindly came over from Aldershot to judge the competition, and expressed himself as quite astonished at the efficiency of the lads and highly delighted with the whole arrangements and the esprit de corps displayed by the teams. We congratulate our friends the Caversham Company on winning the Shield, our Earley lads were a very close third.

The arrangements for Whit-Monday and the Marching Competition were very ably carried out by the Acting Adjutant, Capt. H A Smith-Masters, who has just received his commission as a Chaplain in the Army. We congratulate him, and shall miss his help very much. He is the fourth Adjutant we have had since the war began, and all four are now serving in the Forces.

Our Captain, Corporal C J O’Leary, MTASC, received some rather severe scalds while rescuing a comrade from a motor which went wrong, and has been in hospital in France, but we are glad to say he is now much better again.

The following Army Order has filled us with pleasure and determination to try and do our best to be worthy of being the cadets of one of the most famous regiments in His Majesty’s Army:

“ARMY ORDER 128, 1917.

The Army Orders for April contain one of the most epoch-making which has ever been issued in respect of the CLB. It runs thus:

‘The recognised Cadet Battalions of the Church Lads’ Brigade are affiliated to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.’

We hope that every member of the CLB will appreciate the honour of belonging to the famous 60th, and that this will be one more incentive to obtain even a higher standard than the CLB has ever attained before.

The great fact is accomplished, and we hope by it the future of the CLB is assured, and that an adequate safeguard of all its religious training and ideal is achieved.”

Having passed the required examinations, the following lads have been promoted as stated: Corporals F Ansell and C Downham to be Sergeants; Private M Smith to be Lance-Corporal.

The body of one of our old members, Frank Snellgrove, who has been missing for months, has been discovered by a Chaplain in France, and reverently buried with full Christian rites. We offer our deepest sympathy to his people, who have thus lost their only son.

H. Wardley King [the curate]

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

Maintain unity of spirit and the will of sacrifice in the allied nations

The Bishop asked Berkshire churchgoers to pray for the war to end successfully.

THE BISHOP’S MESSAGE

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

Your prayers are specially asked

For the maintenance in the allied nations of unity of spirit and the will of sacrifice.

For the prosecution and ending of the war in the Name of God, and of Liberty.

For the chaplains, doctors, nurses, the RAMC and the ASC…

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

An extraordinary state of affairs

The vicar of Dedworth was a little miffed to be turned down for service as an army chaplain.


All Saints’, Dedworth

Since the publication of last month’s Magazine, I have heard that the Chaplain General cannot offer me a Chaplaincy. I understand that this is the fate of the majority of Priests who are recommended to the Chaplain General by their various Bishops. It seems to be an extraordinary state of affairs, however, I am sure the regular worshippers at All Saints’ will be much relieved, not because they would miss me personally, but because they would be sorry to be deprived of the usual number of Services.

Clewer parish magazine, May 1917 (D/P39/28A/9)

“May blossoms and war seem as though they ought to be impossible in the same world”

The minister of Maidenhead Congregational Church tried to encourage members to look on the bright side of life despite all the horrors and losses of the war.

May blossoms and war seem as though they ought to be impossible in the same world. The dreadful mud in the midst of which our soldiers have been living is more congruous with the spirit of warfare than sweet grass and hawthorn buds. Many letters from the front have spoken of the start of surprise with which a lark’s song is heard over the trenches. We have all, when some sorrow is heavy upon us, felt a sort of astonishment that the sun should go on shining, and the birds twittering, and passers by smiling, as though nothing had happened. But the worst of sorrows cannot cover the whole sky. We want taking out of ourselves at times. Evils won’t bear brooding over, we only make them worse. We shall be able to bear “the strain of toil, the fret of care” better, if we make rich use of the ministry of the blossoms.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are glad to hear that Reginald Hill is progressing, though slowly. He has had several operations, and probably must undergo two or three more. The doctors think he may have to be in bed for at least three months yet, but they hope he will make quite a good recovery.

We regret deeply to have to record that John Boyd, formerly the Caretaker of the Chapel, was killed in action on March 29th. He enlisted in the 2nd Berks. In June 1916, and was sent to France on Sept. 22nd. He was a most genial and kind-hearted man, and had a wide circle of friends among whom he was very popular. We offer our Christian sympathy to Mrs. Boyd and her family.

It is distressing too to hear that Stephen Harris is returned as “missing.” The Captain of his Company has written to Mr. and Mrs. Harris that he has made all possible inquiries and can gain no information. The best that can be hoped for is that he may be a prisoner in German hands. Robert Harris was killed in July last. May God grant His patience and consolation to the distressed parents.

Wallace Mattingly has been admitted to Sandhurst Military College for eight months’ training. G. Frampton is expecting to be called up immediately. We are glad to see Cyril Hews at home again on leave, looking in the pink of health. P.S. Eastman writes in good spirits from “somewhere in the East.”

He says, “I have not yet left for the special work for which I was sent out, but may do so any day now. In the meantime I have had quite a variety of work, until at present I find myself in the C.O.’s office. Yesterday I had a line from Frank Pigg, who is with the R.F.C in Salonica; may be one of these days I shall be able to pay him a visit.”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, May 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

“He feels it to be his duty to volunteer”

Two church workers from Newbury were headed to the front.

The Rev. H C Roberts has been accepted as a temporary Army Chaplain, and by this time will be in France. He will be much missed in the church for his thoughtful and direct sermons, and in the Day and Sunday Schools for his real power of teaching and interesting the children. We wish he could have been here longer with us, but he feels it to be his duty to volunteer, and we congratulate him on being so promptly accepted by the Authorities. We wish him every blessing and success in his new work, and a safe return home.

Mr G F Pyke has been called up, and is a severe loss to the CLB, which he Captained so well, and to the Boys’ School.

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, May 1917 (D/P89/28A/13)

Wise dealing with the Liquor question

The Bishop asked Berkshire churchgoers to pray for Russia, our ally in the throes of revolution, and for the question of alcohol restrictions at home.

THE BISHOP’S MESSAGE

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

Your prayers are specially asked

For the Russian people and Government and Church

For the Chaplains to the troops, especially those who have gone from this diocese.

For parishes whence clergy have gone on National service, that their spiritual interests may not suffer.

For wise dealing by the Government with the Liquor question…


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

No unnecessary travelling

Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist had their holidays constricted by the financial effects of the war, and the order’s chaplain offered himself to work with the troops.

11 May 1917

Notice sent to all the [daughter] Houses that in consequence of directions issued by Government that there should be no unnecessary travelling, and also because of the increased expense of journeys, the rests must not be broken up, but each Sister must take hers all at the same time, and so far as possible in one place.

The Chaplain has been accepted as Military Chaplain, and may be called up for service abroad or in England any time after the 15th inst.

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

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.

O.R. NEWS.

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.
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