When the evening shadows fall: a valuable service for soldiers in Maidenhead

Maidenhead Congregational Church continued to provide a homely environment for off-duty soldiers billeted locally.

The room continues to be thronged every evening, and is undoubtedly doing a most valuable service for the men. There is always a large number engaged in letter-writing, for which paper and envelopes, ink and pens are provided free. The five bagatelle tables are never idle, the piano has little time for rest when the evening shadows fall; the news-papers and magazines are well thumbed. The ladies at the refreshment buffet take about £5 weekly, mostly in half-pence, for coffee, tea, cocoa, Oxo, buns, cakes and cigarettes. The B.W.T.A. ladies in the mending room “take in washing,” and see that it is returned darned and patched up. Two Concerts and a Conjuring Entertainment have been thrown in as extras, and other delights of a similar character are in process of being arranged.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, March 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

The calamity of war teaches us a lesson

Maidenhead Congregational Church was girding itself for another year of war.


There seems every probability that Maidenhead will be again called upon to receive a number of soldiers in training, and that in consequence our Schoolroom may be again required for their entertainment in the evenings. If it be so, we will cheerfully face the disturbance to our own arrangements, and no doubt the willing workers of last winter will feel it a privilege to serve again.

A Word for the New Year

With what spirits are we going forward into this strange New Year? …

We move into the New Year with the calamity of war upon us, and we may calmly wait the issue, if we believe in God, and if we are sure that for us, yea and for all the nations too, even our enemies, the end of it will bring us nearer to the goal of all true civilization. God has always brought blessings out of calamities. He who knows nothing of surgery might denounce the cruelty of the surgeon’s knife, but wisdom is sure that the hand that holds it is mercy. National putrefaction is a worse thing than national sorrow, and when God’s judgments are written in flaming letters across the lands, many who could not have heard the lesson in any other way, begin to understand that there is a God in the earth.

The virtues of courage and endurance are everyone’s admiration just now, so magnificently are they exemplified by our khaki-clad heroes. Is there not room and occasion for them in the lives of us all?…
T F Lewis.

There seems every probability that Maidenhead will be again called upon to receive a number of soldiers in training, and that in consequence our Schoolroom may be again required for their entertainment in the evenings. If it be so, we will cheerfully face the disturbance to our own arrangements, and no doubt the willing workers of last winter will feel it a privilege to serve again.”

There are a few changes to make since our last record. Charles Hurrell has been discharged from the Navy, in consequence of a breakdown in health. Cyril Hews has left Newhaven, where he has been since August of last year, and expects to proceed to the front immediately. Thomas Mulford has left for Egypt. Horace Gibbons is still in hospital, but is going on well. Percy Lewis has been gazetted Captain, Hugh Lewis has received a Second Lieutenancy in the Royal Engineers, and is stationed at Northampton. No news has been received of Harold Fisher, reported missing on September 28th, but it has been ascertained that some of his Company were taken prisoners on that day, and we may hope that he is among them. Benjamin Gibbons and David Dalgliesh have gone with their regiments to the scene of action in France. John Bolton has been promoted Company Quarter-Master Sergeant. Robert Harris is on the point of crossing to France, perhaps has already crossed. Bert Plum has gone down the Mediterranean, destination unknown. May our Heavenly Father, to whose gracious care we lovingly commend all our lads, preserve and bless them, and enable them to be faithful to their duty and their God.


Many acknowledgements have been received of the Church’s letter: we quote extracts from two.

“I write to thank the Church for the very kind and thoughtful letter which I received last week. It brings to my mind the happy days I spent in the Sunday School, which I look back upon as days of sunshine. It gives me great satisfaction to know that yourself and the Church have not forgotten one who has been away from your midst for a few years.”

“Let me thank you, as our Church’s representative, for the very nice letter of greeting and good will which I received on the 18th November. It has been a great comfort to me on several occasions to remember that I am a member of the Church, and I was very much gratified to receive the kind message, and the assurance that God is on our side, and is always with us.”

Maidenhead Congregational magazine, December 1915 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Music and feasting for the soldiers in Maidenhead

Soldiers billeted in Maidenhead were making good use of the Congregational Church Sunday School premises in their spare time, and there was a party on Christmas Day.

Our Schoolrooms are again at the disposal of the soldiers for recreation and letter writing. The kind friend who provided a piano last winter has renewed his generosity for the present need. We have borrowed a bagatelle table, and would be most grateful for the loan of another, or indeed of several others. The ladies of the B.W.T.A. have again undertaken to be in attendance every evening to mend clothing and to put on buttons, and the refreshment bar is once more in active operation. The rooms were highly decorated for the Christmas holidays, and on Christmas evening Lieut. Davies, of the 2/3 East Anglians R.E., gave his men a party therein with music and feasting.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, January 1915 (D/N33/12/1/5)

A sumptuous tea

Wounded soldiers invited to tea at Trinity Church in Queen’s Road contributed to their own entertainment.

Wounded Soldiers Tea

On December 15th we had the pleasure of entertaining about 45 patients from Redlands War Hospital. By the kindness of the Tramways Manager, a special car was provided, which brought our guests to Trinity soon after two o’clock.

Various games – cards, bagatelle, dominoes, draughts, were indulged in with evident enjoyment until 4.15, when we all sat down to a sumptuous tea. Soon, a very festive appearance was presented, as crackers were pulled, and soldiers and lady-helpers alike donned the fanciful headgear.

After tea, songs were contributed by various friends, and two most interesting turns were provided by Private Fielding, A.S.C, who, accompanied on the piano by Private Barraclough, A.S.C., played first with bones, and then upon the rather unusual instruments – four wine glasses.

Flowers, magazines, and fruit were given to the men as they left, to give to those in hospital who were unable to be present.

Trinity Congregational Church, Reading: church magazine, February 1916 (D/EX1237/1/11)

Belgians and soldiers provided with Christmas cheer in Maidenhead

Maidenhead Congregational Church reported on the Christmastime experiences of the Belgian refugees it sponsored, and also on their contributions to local soldiers’ Christmas, in the church magazine:

The beginning of our New Year is deeply stained with war! May there be peace long before it ends! But meanwhile, if we are assured that a righteous God rules, and that our cause is righteous, we can go forward with confidence, and rest upon His Almighty arm.”

Some of our friends did their best to give the Belgians a really happy Christmas in spite of the fact that they are strangers in a strange land. Mrs. Mash provided the children with a Christmas tree, laden with a generous supply of ‘fruit’, and many others sent in dolls and goodies until the little ones must have been bewildered. If they were not ill before Christmas was over, the firm restraint of their parents should excite our admiration. Several friends too contributed towards sending a Christmas hamper to the adults of the household, and we may hope that the season’s joy sparkled and glowed upon that hearth. No doubt the days must sometimes drag heavily. A Commission has been sitting to consider the question of occupation for refugees in our land; but they seem to have discovered no satisfactory method of meeting the difficulty. We can only hope that their own land will speedily be open to them once more.

Many of the soldiers obtained leave to go home for Christmas, but there were enough left to make it necessary to provide for their Christmas jollity. Our rooms were gaily decorated with flags and pictures and ever-greens, and an abundant supply of oranges, apples, nuts, muscatels, &c. was obtained from the Town Committee. Ten or twelve of the soldiers formed themselves into a Committee to be responsible for all the arrangements, and they engineered a “sing-song” on Christmas night, which seems to have pleased all the occupants of a crowded room. Quiet occupations, such as reading, writing, playing dominoes, or bagatelle, were relegated for the time to the infant room.

The bagatelle tables, of which we have two, are very popular, and are incessantly in use. Writing, too, is a great occupation. One evening recently more than a hundred men were counted, all writing letters at one time. It is quite a business to keep them supplied with writing materials. The ladies in the mending room are kept busily employed for two hours or more each evening. And the Refreshment department is admirably worked by representatives of the P.S.A. Society.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, January 1915 (D/N33/12/1/5)

An official shambles is redressed by church efforts to provide basic comforts for the troops

Broad Street Congregational Church tells us about its work providing hospitality for soldiers passing through Reading – and incidentally reveals the shambles of the official organisation:

Amongst the many changes caused by the war is a big increase in the number of soldiers at the Barracks and other places in the district. We have all sorts in our midst – Regulars, reservists, Lord Kitchener’s Army and Territorials – and they come from all parts of the country. For the most part they spend a few days only in the neighbourhood and then pass on to other centres.

In the early days of the recruiting for Lord Kitchener’s Army there was such a tremendous inrush of men that the authorities were quite unable to provide for their comfort, and we hear strange tales of the lack of food, sleeping out in the open without even a blanket for covering and other discomforts. Under the circumstances it seemed imperative that something should be done to relieve the situation, and so our schools were thrown open for the use of our soldier friends from 5.30 to 10 p.m. each evening. Arrangements were made for a “wash and brush up”, for shaving, writing, reading, games (including billiards, bagatelle, etc), a smoke and sing-song – all free of expense – and for the provision of refreshments at a moderate charge.

That the provision made had met a felt need was quickly demonstrated by the numbers who came to partake of our hospitality. The rooms were crowded almost from the first, and they continue so.
Happily the condition of things at the Barracks has greatly improved. But there is still need for the work we are trying to do. The men are at a loose end in the evening. They have nowhere to go and nothing to do. We are trying, therefore, to give them an opportunity for social intercourse, and to provide a counter attraction to the public house and other undesirable places, and the fact that we have so largely succeeded has greatly cheered those who are responsible for the arrangements.

Expense must necessarily be incurred in connection with work such as this. There is the extra heating, lighting and cleaning to be considered apart altogether from the other expenses involved. A number of our friends have already given contributions of money. Others have generously sent supplies of groceries and provisions for the refreshment room. Others again have sent us magazines. Whilst one or two others have put billiard and bagatelle tables and other games at our disposal. We are very grateful for the help given in this way, and should be glad to have further help from other friends who may be interested. Mr Layton Francis has kindly undertaken to collect subscriptions, and he will be pleased to hear from any of our friends who can help in any way.

Note: The schools referred to are the Sunday School buildings belonging to the church rather than day schools.
Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, October 1914 D/N11/12/1/14