How can we be calm in days like these?

A sermon preached by the Revd W. Britton as he began his ministry at St John’s, Reading, on Sunday evening, January 9th, 1916, impressed parishioners enough to reprint in the parish magazine.

I come tonight to give you a message at a time like this when this people of England undoubtedly is faced by a great danger and by a great difficulty. He that denies we are compassed about by danger and difficulty and that our future is going to be no easy future dwells in a fool’s paradise. We live in dangerous days and difficult. This empire which has been built up by our fathers is being tried and tested in these days of their sons.

What does this empire most need? I say without any hesitation that the greatest need of this empire today is that her sons and daughters should be tranquil people, calm people, not flurried, not flustered, not uneasy; calm because strong, strong because they have faith, strong and able to strengthen their brethren. Those are the men we want, at home as well as abroad. Men who are not intimidated by danger, men who are not cast into abysses of despair because plans miscarry, and armies have to be withdrawn; men who meet disaster with unruffled composure and repair mistakes – mistake after mistake if need be; men who move forward in loyal and unflinching obedience to their leaders, and in a trust which never falters in the justice of their cause and the certainty of its ultimate triumph. We have such men in our ships upon the seas.

I have had this text, “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength”, often on my mind these last few weeks. It rarely comes without this thought – that in that great Navy, which does its work so quietly, with so little fuss and with such great efficiency, we have almost its best example. These men are efficient, and they are confident; they have a certain faith in the speed of their ships, in the great range of their guns; they have a certain strength and faith in their own efficiency for every call which shall come. They are strong, they are confident; they know something, that is why they are strong.

We have such men on the seas, in the trenches, in the air. But look at home. Have we got such men in our editorial chairs; have we got such men representing every constituency in Parliament? Are there such men in the streets; are the men as they chatter in the clubs such men as these? it is not confidence, it is not strength that bubbles out in indiscreet questions in Parliament; that gushes out in fatuous and foolish advice in the columns of our newspapers, or in peevish complaints in the mouth of the citizen….

You may say legitimately, “I am an uneasy sort of being, and I cannot help it. I have enough to make me uneasy. My boys are out in the Dardanelles; my business is in the worst of conditions; my home is even threatened; how can I be quiet with all this coming upon me?” Sir! There can be no quietness where there is no confidence; there can be no strength where there is no faith. But the finest tempered strength is bred of a certain conviction, a faith that our God lives and that he goes marching on. That is what we need if we are to be calm and strong. If you had such a conviction your friend who met you in the street might say, “Calm in days like these?” And you might answer, “I am calm, quiet, tranquil, because I know something.” “O! you have got hold of some military secret, some great naval secret, some political secret.” “O no, it is not a secret I have got hold of… it is the eternal truth that God lives”… Though our foes roll up in ever increasing numbers, though Turkey be added to Germany and Austria, though Bulgaria adds itself to them…

Reading St. John parish magazine, February 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

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“Our soldiers, sailors and flying men need our prayers

New Year’s Eve was set to be the first of three special days of national prayer for the war. Several Berkshire parishes give us their slant on it. The vicar of All Saints, Dedworth also had a story from the Front about attitudes to the enemy.

All Saints’, Dedworth

The year 1916 still sees us engaged in a war even more terrible than the beginning of 1915. The Nation is bidden by its spiritual leaders, the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church to keep Friday, December 31st, as a day of special prayer and intercession. Saturday, January 1st, is to be a day of preparation for Communion, which all are asked to make on Sunday, January 2nd. The duty of the Church is to carry on the fight against the World, Flesh and Devil, and it is the duty of the Church’s officers to lead in that fight. The response at times to that call seems small, it may be larger than it looks, but at any rate it makes the work as hard, if not harder, to carry on than other warfare. How grand has been the response to carry arms for King and Country, but the real victory for which we are fighting will not be won unless at the end we are a Nation nearer to God; having shown to the world that Christianity is the greatest power in war and peace.

Mr. Begbie narrates the following from behind the English lines in France:-

“The other day a doctor fell in with a British soldier whose blood was maddened by what he had seen of the German treatment of our wounded men. ‘Do you know what I mean to do,’ he demanded, ‘when I come across one of their wounded? I mean to put my boot in his ugly face.’ The doctor replied, ‘No you won’t; it’s not your nature. I’ll tell you what you will do – you’ll give him a drink out of your water-bottle.’ To which the soldier after a pause, in which he searched the doctor’s face, made grumbling and regretful answer, ‘Well, may be I shall.’”

Reading St John

Mr Rogers has now been moved up to the Front. He is where he wished to be when he offered for service as a Chaplain, and where he will have the opportunity of speaking to men at the most solemn moment of their lives of the things that matter eternally. We shall continue to be much in prayer for him, that he may be kept from all harm, and that his messages may be with great power.

Now may I commend to your very careful notice the arrangements which have been made to enable you to observe the last day of December and the first two days of January as our King and our Archbishops and Bishops desire that they should be observed. We stand on the threshold of a year that promises to be fateful beyond any in our previous history, a year that will probably test severely our fortitude, our courage and our faith.

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Helping policemen’s families

Berkshire County Council’s Standing Joint Committee, which oversaw the police, met on 4 December 1915 to consider possible extra allowances for the wives and other dependant relatives of policemen who had joined the armed forces.

4 December 1915
Enlistment of Police under Police (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1915
In accordance with your instructions permission has been given to the following constables who have enlisted, viz:
PC 203 Harris
PC 213 Wheatcroft
PC 204 Harris
PC 141 Potter
PC 78 Thompson
PC 186 Newman
PC 210 Wicks
PC 215 Jeffcock
PC 41 Vile
PC 158 Giles
PC 55 Sellwood
PC 71 Wheatcroft
PC 123 Chipp
PC 65 Pottinger
PC 209 Read
PC 147 Rowland
PC 111 Offer
PC 32 Bates
PC 83 Bennett
PC 190 Irving

PC 32 Henry Bates has been contributing £2 per month towards the support of his widowed mother. The Sub-committee recommend that an allowance of 5/- per week be made to [her].

PCs 78 Thompson and 215 Jeffcock have been granted permission to marry, but this will not involve any allowance to their wives, as they will be entitled to the separation allowance from Army funds.
In regard to the allowance made to the mother of PC 36 George Eales, which was adjourned at the meeting in October for further enquiries, PC Eales having now stated that he had not regularly contributed to the support of his mother before his enlistment, the Committee have no power to continue the allowance to Mrs Eales, and it is accordingly recommended that it be discontinued.

The following are the allowances now granted…
Constable Recipient Rate per week
PC 58 Brown Mrs D. Brown (wife). 8/9
PC 105 Siney Mrs H. Siney (wife) 12/7
PC 214 Easton Mrs J. Easton (mother) 7/-
PC 216 Sparkes Mrs E. Sparkes (wife) 10/1
PC 163 Hubbard Mrs M. Hubbard (wife) 12/7

Standing Joint Committee minutes (C/CL/C2/1/5)

“Why is the atmosphere of life more cheerful nearer to all the horrors and ugliness of modern war than it is behind?”

Ralph Glyn had political ambitions, and the College constituency in Glasgow was being nursed for him. He had narrowly lost the 1910 election to a Liberal (he was a Conservative/Unionist). While serving in the army he delivered a lengthy statement to those he viewed as future constituents. Unfortunately for him and all his work, the constituency was abolished before the 1918 election. The paper itself, however, is an interesting insight into the views of an intelligent officer into attitudes at home and at the front.

GHQ
MEF
November 1915

I have been asked by one or two friends in the College Division to write a letter that may be a link between so many old friends of those former days, when Peace was not understood, and myself. To do this as I would wish by personal letter my work here will not allow. I must ask everyone who reads these lines to believe how sincere are my wishes for as happy a New Year as these days permits to be theirs.

I write these lines because I have always been open with my friends in Glasgow, and I believe you will all understand how it is impossible to write “news”.

There are many who have been all the time in France, or in Gallipoli, whilst some have been in both theatres of operations; but there are few officers now who have not spent some time at home, either wounded, or on leave or duty, and so it is possible to take a comprehensive survey of men, matters and means.

The newspapers are the only medium between the Public and events that happen behind the veil of the censor. Letters from friends and relations pass from the Front to those at home producing for a period a clear gleam of light – sometimes too vivid – of what is fact and reality at one small point of that vague term “The Front”. The days are shortening, the winter with all its horrors is close upon us and we are all well aware that if only something could be lifted the Future would be brighter and more easy to face. To arrive at any satisfactory conclusion we must try and see things as they are – undisguised but very possibly naked and ashamed. No time should be lost in establishing both at “the front” and at “the back” a “New Feeling” based upon the firm belief that at last true bearings have been taken, the clouds have lifted and the sun seen long enough to enable the exact position of the ship to be located, and that each and all having but the one port open to them are determined, in spite of all stress of weather, to reach their destination without undue delay.

Why is the atmosphere of life more cheerful nearer to all the horrors and ugliness of modern war than it is behind? There is nothing in any trench in France or Gallipoli to equal the gloom of many a house at home. The individual man is happy when he knows he is doing “his bit” and has that feeling down his back of something worthy of accomplishment being well done. But this same feeling should animate those miners, munition-workers, ship-builders and all that other host at home, whose work is as vital to the war’s success as any gallant action in the trenches. Why is there this feeling of unrest and mistrust in so many quarters? “Out here”, be it in France or Gallipoli, this war acts in one way all the time and without variation. The Regular Army has almost ceased to exist as it was before the war. Officers and men have fallen and others have taken their place. The tradition of a great regiment holds all the new comers in its sway and the magic mantle of “esprit de corps” stirs through the new blood of the recruit, officer and man, tempering and making him part of the original stock. The Reserve ceased to exist when war began; because by our system the fighting force of the country, Regular and Reserve, were and are one and indivisible. Any gunner will tell you that had it not been for the “dug out” the new armies could not have been born. The “dug out” has much to bear from the gibes of younger men who too often assume that all “dug outs” must be musty and old, stupid and out of date, but he can console himself with the knowledge that without him the Regular serving soldiers could not have kept the machine running.
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“German liners? There ain’t one on the seas”

Ralph Glyn’s sister Meg Meade was thrilled when her sailor husband came home on leave.

23 Wilton Place
SW
Oct. 22nd

My own darling Ralph

Imagine my feelings when last Saturday afternoon I got a wire from Jim saying “Meet me Kings X 6.15 tonight”! I ran from top to bottom of the house with one scream of joy. A little later I tried with my latchley to let myself into No 22 Wilton Place, & did other little inconsequent things like that till I met him at the station! And only 2 days before I had had a letter from him saying he couldn’t possibly get any leave! He managed very very cleverly. Such a thing I hear has never been done in the Navy before. But his Commodore, Le Mesurier came on board Royalist & said “My ship Calliope wants refitting so I propose to hoist my pennant in Royalist pro tem”. “Certainly”, says Jim, “but as there’s not room here for both of us, hadn’t I better take Calliope to Newcastle for you, as you don’t want to leave the squadron”. “Well & nobly thought out” says the Commodore, & so he has come, looking better than I’ve ever seen him look before, & he has been away for 7 months, all but one week! And you see Royalist must get leave for a refit some time soon, so he ought to get another go of leave soon!

Last Sunday we took Anne [their little daughter] & Harold Russell & 2 Colvins to the Zoo, which was great fun, & we met Mat Ridley there. He is looking much better & has been passed for home service at last. We fixed up about coming to Blaydon while Calliope is finishing, & Jim reckons we shall go north about 28th, but meantime every minute of each day is heavenly as you can imagine….

Wasn’t it a funny coincidence that John arrived at Sybbie [Samuelson]’s hospital at 4 a.m. the day after Jim arrived. The wounds in John’s back which had practically healed had to be opened again for fear of any poison, but he has got his poor head all bound up in a way that looks really interesting on account of an awful abscess he has got in his mouth.. They thought it came from the poison of his wounds, but now they think the abcess would have come on anyhow. There’s a large bit of dead bone inside it, but Maysie, who dined here last night, is beside herself with joy, as John has got to have 2 months leave to get well in! So as soon as he has finished his hospital treatment, which will take some time, they will go to Voelas.

The parents are coming up here on Saturday to lunch & meet John & Maysie here…

Sir Edward Carson’s resignation has not caused the stir I expected it would do. But it remains to be seen what happens next. The House of Commons seem principally concerned that Asquith is ill. I hear that you have been stopped at Greece…

Maysie & others rail at the Staff. Jim stops the flood of her disgust by a torrent of admiration which he feels for the Staff & soldiers fighting alike! What he says is so true, that if 2 years ago we had been told that our Staff would be called upon to handle our present army, & if we had been told that our army would perform the prodigies that it has done, it would have been hard for anyone to believe it, & as he says, “even the great Germans have made mistakes enough, or indeed they’d be in Paris & Petersburg now & have broken 10 times through our armies.” We laughed at last to find that Jim & I were defending the British Army in our discussion while Maysie was so pessimistic.

Jim & I went to Hallgrove on Monday for 2 nights, & had great fun playing golf both mornings & we had some tennis too.
Jim has just got so indignant over some Professor’s remarks in the Times about “sinking German liners” when “There ain’t one on the seas”! that I must take him out….

Meg

Letter from Meg M<eade to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/2)

Nobody trusts the British

Naval officer Herbert “Jim” Meade was married to Ralph Glyn’s sister Meg. He wrote to Ralph with a seaman’s comments on the rival service – not to mention the country’s diplomatic efforts.

HMS Royalist
9/10/15

My dear Ralph

Thank you so much for those maps, they are just what I wanted. I can’t find out how the British part lies from N. to S. but I suppose we aren’t expected to hear that. From a mere outsider’s point of view, I think the last effort of the British Army & its results very good. Of course we haven’t got as much as we wanted, but nobody ever gets that.

What worries me is, to the outsider again, the entire lack of any principle in this war, we shift about all over the place (I’m talking about the talking part of the business) with the result that nobody trusts us. France, Italy, Russia & of course the Balkans all have a fear that our policy may change at any moment, the Germans work this for all they are worth with tremendous advantage to themselves & this Balkan fiasco is a very good instance, unless the FO is much deeper than we have given them credit for. I can’t help thinking that Greece must come in if Bulgaria invades her, but Germany may be able to walk through Servia [sic] without Bulgaria’s assistance & then of course Greece wouldn’t come in. It all depends upon numbers & if we make the Western front the decisive front & not allow anything else to frustrate that we ought to have finished the war off inside three years from the time it started. I think we are well up to time myself. It is a good sign Germany coming to terms with America, they want ammunition & they get a good deal.

Life in this hole is monotonous to the extreme, we do all sorts of stunts & whenever we see smoke on the horizon we wonder if the Naval Armageddon is to take place. It is doubtful if the Germans come out till their submarines are ready, which will not be this winter. What are they doing with their fleet, the re-arming business I don’t believe is possible, but they are up to something. I’ve always been frightened of the Dardanelles touch, whether we could have forced the straits is a matter of opinion, but like most British enterprises, when governed from home we did not go through with it. I believe we would have got at least 4 battleships through if we had gone for it, whether [illegible] would have capitulated on the appearance of these ships is another matter…
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The Germans are a “rotten lot” and there is only one place for them

The Dodeka Club in Reading turned their minds to a post war world, and the thorny question of whether we should make friends with our enemy. The Dodekans had a very low opinion of Germany, as will be seen from the debate.

The 268th meeting was held at Gibbons’ on Friday October 1st, 1915…

After refreshments the evening passed quickly in discussing the subject introduced by the Host: “Ought we to trade with Germany after the war?”

In opening, Gibbons said that Germany, by the inhuman methods adopted by them in the conduct of the war, and the atrocities which have been proved up to the hilt against them, not only in Belgium but in other spheres of the war zone, had placed them outside the pale of civilised nations. Their military methods were rotten and their commercial methods, like the Military, were rotten also. As business men there were few to touch them for working long hours, and low pay, but they had no idea of the word “gentleman”, and a “debt of honour” was not understood in Germany. Their signature was worth nothing, as they sign agreements only to tear them up when it suited their purpose. In the words of the host, they were “a rotten lot” and he felt strongly against trading with Germany in the futures as in the past. In Soundy’s opinion it was not only for the sake of Belgium we entered into the war – Germany was building a big navy in competition to our own and catching our trade throughout the world, which facts spoke for themselves.

Lewis stated that if a German hates – as he hates us – he hates for ever, and we should be wrong to trade with Germany to assist them once again to build up their army and navy for aggressive purposes.
Goodenough could imagine the difference in the control of the seas if in German hands, to that practised by us where every flag had its “right of way”.

From the general discussion one could safely draw the conclusion that in the opinion of the members present there was only one place for the Germans.

Dodeka Club minutes (D/EX2160/1/3)

Splendid work for wounded soldiers

The women and girls of Reading St John continued to be active in supporting soldiers and sailors.

GIRLS’ CLUB COMPETITIONS…

The result of the Competitions is all the more gratifying as S. John’s Girls have been doing work in other directions all the winter; at Christmas time they sent out 20 hampers to some of our poorest neighbours, and 70 toys either made or mended. They have also made and sent to members of our Army and Navy, 3 nightshirts, 7 waist-coats, 12 pairs of long sailors’ stockings, 36 helmets, 17 pairs of socks, 16 scarves, 57 pairs of mittens. Mrs. Stuart Rickman or Arborfield Grange kindly provided all the wool for articles sent to the Navy, and another friend the wool for those sent to the Army. As many of the girls are continuing this work during the summer, there will soon be a further list of articles to the credit of the club.

CARE AND COMFORTS COMMITTEE.

Our Working Party for providing comforts for the wounded soldiers is doing splendid work. We are now in direct touch with the Military Hospital, and can be assured that we are working on the articles most needed at the moment., as Miss Homan has been appointed a member of the Sub-Committee which deals with this branch of the work. The following is the list of further subscriptions towards our fund for the purchase of materials.

Amount already acknowledged, £6. 0s. 6d; Anonymous, £1; St John’s Day Schools, 10/-; Miss Bell, 10/-; Mrs Dimbleby, 5/-; Mr John Eighteen, £2 2s 0d; Miss Hewitt, 2/6; Miss Green, 10/-; Mrs and Miss Cray, 3/-; Mrs Dauncey, 10/-; Mrs Arnold, 10/-; Miss B. Venner, 2/6; Nurse Bath, 2/6; The Misses Turquand, 10/-; Mrs Meaden, 10/-; Mrs Harrison Jones, 10/-; Miss Harrison Jones, 10/-; Mrs Beare, 5/-; Anonymous, 10/-; Mr Herbert Kingham, £1 1s 0d. Total £16 4s 0d. The £3 acknowledged last month as from Messrs Sutton should have read the Misses Sutton.

The following is the list of articles sent to the Red Cross Depot from our Working Party up to date:

hot water bottle bags, 38; locker cloths, 78; brush bags, 78; many-tailed bandages, 26; oddment bags, 21; anaesthetic pads, 34; pairs slippers, 45; pairs socks, 10; coloured pillow covers, 29; feather pillows, 3; nightshirts, 3; operating coat, 1; face cloths, 25; old linen. Total, 391.

EASTER CARDS

Replies have … been received from the following at the front: S. Pottinger, Albert Stevens, H. W. Fisher, G. King.

Reading St John parish magazine, June 1915 (D/P172/28A/23)

Entente not so cordial now

Having already said goodbye to one daughter nursing the wounded, Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey now had to face the loss of her younger daughter, Elizabeth (“Bubbles”).

20 April 1915

Bubs had her summons to go to Hospital on Thursday! Awful blow!…

English take Hill 60. Two picket boats went & blew up submarine E15 to prevent Turks making use of her.

Mr Brett says French do not like us. Entente will not be so cordial – cannot forgive our taking out the Beagles! They own we saved them & equip them!

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

A post of suitable importance for the Chief Constable

The Standing Joint Committee of Berkshire County Council dealt with policing of the county. In April 1915 they heard that the Chief Constable (a retired army officer) planned to take up an army job. They were prepared to release him – as long as he got a senior role.

17 April 1915

Application by Chief Constable to accept Staff employment in the Army should his services be required

I beg to ask your permission to accept re-employment on the Staff of the Army should my services be required and Military Staff employment offered me. I cannot but feel that officers with experience should, in this crisis of war, offer their services to the country, provided that the Authorities under whom they are serving are willing to give them the requisite permission and leave from their present duties….

I therefore made the following application to the Military Secretary [to the Secretary of State for War] on the 22nd March last…

22nd March 1915

Sir,
I have the honour to offer my services for re-employment in the Army, provided the Secretary of State for Home Affairs and the Standing Joint Committee of my County approve and give me the requisite leave from my present duties as Chief Constable of Berkshire.

I am 56 years of age, active, and in good health.

In support of my application I beg to attach a copy of my testimonials when appointed Chief Constable of Berkshire some twelve years ago.

It will be seen from my record of service that I have served in the Navy, Army, and Police for over forty years, and have had staff experience as an Adjutant, Garrison Adjutant, and temporarily carried out the duties of DAQ General under Major General Young, Commanding Cork District.

During my service as Chief Constable of this County my administrative and executive duties have kept me qualified in staff duties, especially in a county like Berkshire, close to Aldershot, and in which military operations and manoeuvres often take place. For these reasons I would prefer staff to regimental work, having been away from a regiment for over sixteen years.

Personally I am willing to serve either at home or abroad, as the Secretary of State for War may think desirable; but of course the sanction of the Home Office and my County Authorities must first be obtained.

I understand that a large Camp is to be formed in Windsor Park shortly, and I would ask that my services might be accepted for staff work for that Camp. I have mentioned this staff work, for Windsor Park and the neighbourhood are in Berkshire. My Police watch the Park and neighbourhood, and, possibly, my County and the Home Office Authorities might be willing to allow me to take up Military duty where I should be in a position to advise and help my Deputy Chief Constable, who would necessarily take over the Police duties during my absence.

May I ask that, should my services be thought acceptable, application may be made to the Chairman, Standing Joint Committee for the County of Berks, The Forbury, Reading; and to the Secretary of State, Home Office, London.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
A F Poulton, Major,
Chief Constable of Berkshire
[To]
Major-General Sir F. S. Robb, KCVO, CB
Military Secretary to the Secretary of State for War

The following reply was sent me:-

War Office
23rd March 1915

In reply to the enclosed:-

It is impossible to place your name on the list of retired officers available for service, until you have obtained the requisite leave from your Authorities.

A Leetham, Lieut-Col, for Military Secrtary

I now, therefore, make the necessary application to you in accordance with those instructions…

After considerable discussion, it was Resolved on the motion of Sir Cameron Gull, Bart, seconded by Mr Russell: That the request of the Chief Constable for permission to offer his services to the War Office for staff duties during the war be granted… Direction was given that it should be stated in any letter written to the War Office that the Chief Constable’s services were very valuable to the County and that the Committee could only see their way to release him on condition that a post of sufficient importance were offered him.

BCC Standing Joint Committee minutes (C/CL/C2/1/5)

We are nothing better than worms – but mustn’t grumble!

Sunday 4 April 1915 was Easter Day. The parishioners of Reading St John (now the Polish Catholic Church) had sent Easter greetings to their young men at the Front. It resulted in a number of letters from the recipients describing their experiences.

Letters from the Front: replies to our Easter letters and cards.

Cards similar to those recently seen on the Church notice boards were sent with covering letters for Easter to some fifty men at the front at the request of their relatives. The following are extracts from some of the replies received by the Vicar:-

A Terrible War.
Here is a much-needed reminder of the seriousness of our task:
‘Two of my men I laid to rest yesterday, just put their heads too far over the parapet; of course killed instantly. It is a terrible business and we are nothing better than worms, dug in and stop there, but hope that happier times are in store and very soon. We all hope and pray for it every day. I don’t think the people at home quite realise what a gigantic task we have; but we mustn’t grumble, but do it.’- GILES AYRES.

Valued Cards.
‘I wish to thank you very much for the good thoughts and wishes of yourself and everyone who remembered us on Easter Day. Thank you very much for the card. I am sending it home to-day so that I shall not lose it.’- A. L. BLAKE.

‘The card you sent me I have hung on to the wall and it shall go where I go. I shall always remember Good Friday, the day I received it.’- D. CAMPBELL.

Neuve Chapelle.
Speaking of the welcome letter just received, the writer adds: ‘Just lately we have been engaged in a big battle at Neuve Chapelle, and it was something awful and also a terrible loss on the German side.’- L.H. CROOK. (more…)

‘Our fellows are a barrier between blood and iron and our doctrine of peaceful progress’

In an administrative role behind the lines and enjoying French cuisine, Percy Spencer still found it hard to feel the reality of war:

March 24 1915
Dear Florrie

In case I don’t have time to write to all, thank everyone for me for letters sent. As a matter of fact I’m very pressed for time and if you don’t hear regularly from me you mustn’t think I have come to harm.

I am very well indeed, I am glad to say, getting into the work better under the altered conditions than at first.

I live in the office – the office being a large house occupied by people of the lower classes, but they are very hospitable, though certainly rather immoral – by our standards. However their morals don’t worry me: their liqueurs are excellent, so is their confiture, while their boiled rabbit (cooked with raisins etc) is a revelation. Previously I have had a contempt for rabbit, but now – I begin to think everything is good if it were not for our ignorance of culinary arts. Even the despised barbell – if served as described in the “Compleat Angler” must be delicious –

Well – that’s a warlike dissertation! But grub for nuns is an engrossing subject to the soldiers.

I mustn’t describe this, that and the other thing, but I’ll sketch my position. I’m writing by candle light in a room strewn with men shoving [illegible] enough, though two operators are busy behind me receiving and dispatching messages by “buzzer”. Every now and then I am stopped to deal with a message. Somewhere away in front of me the guns are solemnly booming and one thinks of our fellows tense and alert, guarding other men sleeping here and all through the country behind us – a barrier between blood and iron [“kulten”] and our doctrine of peaceful progress.

Behind me – a view of black poplars – moonlight sentinels guarding the gentle slope of the everlasting hills beyond.

At present the reality of the war is very difficult to realise, and when it comes upon us I can see some of our boys waking up with a bump…

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/4/12-15)

A special case: Percy gets his transfer

At long last, Percy Spencer’s long-awaited transfer from Kitchener’s Army, in which he had too hastily enlisted at the start of the war, to the Territorial Unit he had been ‘temporarily’ attached almost ever since, made it through the red tape – just in time for him to go to the Front with them. (Technically he wasn’t transferred – he was discharged with the understanding that he would automatically re-enlist.)

9/London Regiment/97
Sir,

I am directed to inform you that if Private Spencer of the Gloucestershire Regiment were allowed to remain with the 2nd Battalion, the London Regiment, difficulties might arise in connection with the issue of his pay, especially if the Brigade of which the Battalion forms part whould be sent overseas.

In these circumstances I am to state that sanction is hereby given for the discharge as a special case of Private Spencer from the Regular Army in order that he may be enlisted into one of the Battalions of the 6th London Infantry Brigade.

I am
Sir
Your obedient servant
Gerald Adshead, Captain, for Director of Recruiting

The General Officer Commanding,
London District,
Horse Guards, SW
8/3/15

Letter permitting the discharge of Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/12/31)

Churches crowded

The Sulhamstead parish magazine had some thoughts on the religious response to the war, at home and abroad, as well as reporting news of local soldiers who have been honoured or have fallen:

THE WAR

It is publicly announced that the churches in France are crowded with praying worshippers.

It is with much pleasure and congratulations that are read in the list of men mentioned in dispatches, the name of Lieut. H A Grimshaw, of “The Abbotts”…. Lieut. H A Grimshaw has received his 1st Lieutenancy since his arrival at the Front. The engagement from which this honour has arisen, was the famous attack of the Prussian Guards in November last, when the finest regiment in Germany was hurled against the British Forces.

A handsome Brass has been placed in the chancel of St Michael’s Church by Colonel Thoyts in memory of his son, bearing the following inscription: –

“In loving tribute to the memory of Francis Gordon Thoyts, Major, Somerset Light Infantry (second son of Colonel N B Thoyts, sometime lord of the manor of Sulhamstead), who gave his life for his King and Country at Beauvois in the great war, on August 26th, 1914.”

The Brass was sanctioned by the Archdeacon, instead of incurring the expenses of a faculty.

LENT SPECIAL SERVICES
Lower End Tuesdays at 7 pm
St Michael’s Church Thursdays at 7 pm.

At these services the special form of Litany of Intercession for our cause and our sailors and soldiers will be used. All who have any relations engaged in His Majesty King George’s Service are earnestly invited to attend and join in constant Intercession for them.

Sulhamstead parish magazine, March 1915 (D/EX725/3)

Schools taken over as war hospitals

Several Reading schools found themselves evicted due to the need of premises for nursing wounded troops. Battle Infants’ School in Reading was one of those taken over for use as a military hospital:

5th February 1915 

Notice has been received that the school building is required for use as a military hospital; the children were therefore dismissed this (Friday) morning for the day, at 11.30, and the staff spent the afternoon preparing for the removal of the furniture and apparatus to Elm Park Hall where the children are to be accommodated.

Elm Park Hall was a local Methodist church, but other schools ended up sharing with other schools on a timeshare basis, with one set of children getting lessons in the mornings, the others in the afternoons. Reading Central School had to move in with George Palmer Boys’ School:

5th February 1915
To-day Mr Andrews called to arrange for the holding of the Central School on these premises from Tuesday Feb 9th onwards, the Central Buildings for the time being being used as a Hospital by the authorities at the War Office.

Katesgrove School for Girls in Reading was also affected.

5 February 1915

Closed the school at 11.30am for purposes of stocktaking and to prepare for removal to George Palmer School.

Battle Infants School log book (SCH20/8/2, p. 254); George Palmer Boys’ School log book (89/SCH/8/1, p. 125); Katesgrove Girls School log book (SCH/6/8/2, p. 412)