Awful persecution of the Armenians

The vicar of Cookham Dean urged his parishioners to remember the Armenians. The genocidal attacks on the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 are sometimes called the Armenian Holocaust.

I think we cannot give our Lent self-denial offerings to a better object than to the fund for assisting the Armenian Refugees who have been (and I fear are being) subjected to such awful persecution by the Turks connived at, one must fear, by the Germans. I hope to circulate a little paper which will give some particulars of the objects of this fund, and I do trust that we may have an offering at the end of Lent worthy of being sent up by Cookham Dean. When we think how very little inconvenience we have had to put up with in connection with the war, and save in very few instances no suffering of any kind, may we not try to do something for our fellow Christians in Armenia in the time of their awful distress as a thankoffering to God for undeserved mercies to us here.

Cookham Dean parish magazine, March 1916 (D/P43B/28A/11)


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)

Putrid bodies and foul vapours: “I have really seen the horrors of war”

Sydney Langford Jones (nickname Jonah) was a young artist and conscientious objector with deep seated religious objections to war. He was to spend time in prison as a result of this. However, his close friend Reginald Pearson, another artist, did join up. His frank letter to Sydney gives some of the most graphic details of the horrors of war we have seen, things which may well have been omitted from letters to sisters and churches.

Postmarked 14 June 1915

B Company 1st Bat. Lincolnshire Regiment
British Exp. Force

My dear friend Jonah

How I wish I could have seen more of you and I even wanted to turn back that Saturday night and catch you up to say goodbye again.
Since then I have really seen the horrors of war such as I never dreamed possible, marching at midnight with a lovely moon through the famous old town you have heard so much of, flaming all over the place and not a single house untouched. Stones, bricks, paving stones in what was once the roads, putrid bodies under the heaps of broken bricks once houses, and furniture blown out of the windows.

The old Cathedral and Hall as big as the Doges’ Palace and once very fine I should think now but a skeleton of ragged bones rapidly growing less and less, and the cemetery, no longer sacred, is blown to atoms with holes in it 40 yards round without the slightest exaggeration, for I measured one, and hemispherical shape, and the whole town a collection of foul vapours, still being shelled, shelled, shelled.

From there we were marched to a wood full of dugouts where we remained all next day being shelled, losing many men.

About 4 o’clock the whole lot fixed bayonets and travelled through the wood arriving at a communication trench by dark, full of mud up to the men’s thighs, hundreds of shots fired over it to catch as many as possible who happened to get out.

Along this [wading?] trench about 6’ deep and so narrow the men struggled passing those who were coming out, and eventually I found myself in the most extraordinary position ever created, but which I must not mention though I could draw you a perfect map from memory.

Trenches scarcely 3’ deep, parapets and bullet proof, strobing over dead men, bullets, bullets everywhere and the next 3 days cannot be spoken of. Trenches blown in beyond all recognition, and the first thing I saw when down broke was a dragoon with a little cat on his lap, which he had been stroking, lying both dead right across the trench, horrible, horrible, horrible.

I lost 18 wounded, 3 killed and 1 officer seriously wounded and here was I for the 1st time in charge of nearly a Company in the worst position ever held. Strategically bad, too few men, and for every German shell which came intermittently, every 20 I ought to say, we acquired a little pill in return.

9 miles march 3 days – the trenches 9 miles out with no sleep, little food and small shot, would offend the nostrils of death himself, leave men a bit fatigued, and so my first experience of war is passed and as a matter of fact I did well.

So much for my troubles for at present I sit in an orchard where we are bivouacked, resting.

The God of all the men we love is with me, I know, and this wonderful help and guidance are seared on my brain.

I am too tired to write much and so I must say goodbye.
God bless you always
Your dear friend

Letter from Reginald Oswald Pearson to Sydney Langford Jones (D/EX1795/1/5/2)

The sickening cruelty of gas

Florence Vansittart Neale was horrified by the Germans’ use of poison gas (chlorine) at the Battle of Ypres. On 5 May 1915, 90 British soldiers died as a direct result of gas at Hill 60, and many others suffered its effects.

5 May 1915

Henry to Maidenhead meeting. Took the Belgians. Alice & I sat out by river – read the papers. Most sickening the cruelty [of] gases – to solitary prisoners! Germans gaining a little from the poison!!

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

Death of an oculist

Queen Victoria Institute for District Nursing, Reading, provided nursing care for local people in their own homes.  The demand for trained nurses for war work naturally had an impact on its work:

12 November 1914
Temporary Help
The Lady Superintendent had obtained the services of Miss Gill and Miss Sweetapple, the two ladies who had been at the Institute before as temporary helpers, and who it was hoped would be able to stay until the return of Miss Jones and Miss Linton from their territorial duties.

One place which was likely to attract nurses was the small hospital for wounded soldiers, which Florence and Henry Vansittart Neale planned to open at their home Bisham Abbey.

12 November 1914
Henry & I to London… to Red X place about our hospital. Saw nice man & filled up papers for W.O. [War Office].

No special news. The “Niger” sunk off Dover.

Heard shocking story of death of a Windsor oculist who went to the front as an ordinary doctor. While on the field tending some wounded soldiers some Germans came & bayoneted him & the wounded.

I hear from our Terriers at Chelmsford they are all 12 miles nearer the coast & digging miles of trenches.

Queen Victoria Institute for District Nursing minutes (D/QX23/1/2, p. 143); diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

A hearty welcome for fleeing Belgians

Burghfield was among the Berkshire villages to welcome Belgian families seeking refuge from the horrors of war, by making not only houses available, but also helping out with food and fuel for their guests.

It is not too much to say that the little country of Belgium has during the last months won the admiration and gained the sympathy of the whole civilised world. She has won our admiration because of the heroic stand which she made against the vast and aggressive military power of Germany and because she refused to become a party to breaking those solemn treaties by which the nations of Europe were bound. Belgium might have saved herself much disaster and suffering if she had at once yielded to the request of the German Emperor to allow his armies to begin their march of conquest across her territory, but she was too noble to break the treaty by which she was bound in order to “save her own skin”, and chose rather to fight and suffer in the cause of righteousness and justice. How greatly she has suffered we all know, for the German motto in warfare is that the conquered should be left “nothing but their eyes to weep with”. We all know that thousands of peaceful Belgians have lost nearly everything they possessed and have been driven from their homes in the towns and villages and have sought the hospitality of the friendly English shores. They have received a hearty and ready welcome, because Belgium has not only won our admiration by her heroism but has gained our sympathy because of her inevitable suffering.

Many of the refugees have found a temporary home in our own neighbourhood – in Reading, and at Mortimer, Aldermaston, and Sulhamstead – and now we can add Burghfield, for a party of four refugees have arrived at “Barnhay”, on the Common, who are brave and cheerful notwithstanding their misfortunes. The Trustees of the “Old Schools” have also granted the use of that building for a similar purpose, and on October 24th Monsieur and Madame Laurent and their two daughters arrived there. They came from Louvain, the beautiful Belgian town where the Germans wrought such fearful havoc. Monsieur Laurent was in business there and his was one of the houses which was burnt to the ground. On hearing of the proposed arrangement, many of our parishioners most kindly and promptly sent a variety of articles required for domestic uses, while Mr and Mrs E F Pilkington sent a ton of coal in order to endure a warm welcome for our guests. We understand that Mr and Mrs Willink are looking after the welfare of both parties for the present, and we are asked to say that any gifts in kind, e.g. fruits and vegetables, groceries, jam, etc, etc, will be most gladly received either at Barnhay or at the Old Schools.

In Bisham, meanwhile, Florence Vansittart Neale met a Belgian refugee family.

24 October 1914
E & I to tea [with] Himes to see their Belgians. Large party of 7. Baby born Antwerp Oct 1st, had to leave when a week old.

The Belgians at Marlow told me the Germans dug a hole, made a woman put her two children in & bayoneted them! Saw baby 3 weeks come from Antwerp. Mother had to move a week after the birth (little Albert).

Burghfield parish magazine, November 1914 (D/EX725/3); Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

German prisoners “too well treated”

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey sent letters and chocolate to the young men she knew who had joined up. One of her friends had a strong opinion about prisoners of war.

5 Oct 1914
Wrote letters to boys [and] sent chocolate… G[irl] G[uide]s all knitting jacks or helmets…

Huge Russian battle beginning – our Allies’ battle of the 7 rivers lasting 3 weeks & more. Letter from Ag – she night nurse. Patients not bad. Say German prisoners too well treated – atrocities true. Margaret Butler’s son killed in Africa.

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

German atrocities confirmed

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey and her fanily continued to be active in local war work.

16 September 1914

I to Maidenhead about Queen’s Women’s Employment Society…
Bubs came back from Windsor Hospital. Seems very well.

German atrocities in Belgium confirmed. Too awful. Not much further news. Crown Prince in a difficulty.

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