The war will be followed by a revolution

A soldier home on leave envisaged potential revolution after the war.

THE ENGLISH REVOLUTION

No very penetrating observation of the signs of the times is necessary to discover that in all probability the war will be followed in England by disturbances which may amount to a revolution. If many people are unaware of the urgency of this peril it is because the greater part of labour is still inarticulate and because, in response to the demand for an appearance of unity at all costs, labour is at present willing to wait till the war should be ended before it makes its demands known.

Many factors will combine to precipitate the crisis. The days before the war were full of a growing industrial unrest on the one hand, and the example of threatened civil war on the other. The Irish rebellion, the growth of Sinn Fein, and, above all, the Russian Revolution, have had influences greater almost than can be imagined. Sources of irritation and distrust are to be found in the conduct of the war itself. Finally, the end of the war will leave society in a state of flux in which all who were discontented with the old state of things will see a condition propitious for change. And they will have learned the use of bayonets ….

It will always be surprising to some people that any radical change should be thought desirable in “free England”; still more so that a revolution should be deemed necessary to bring it about. But they forget that political freedom, even when it exists, does not imply an economic equivalent. They hardly realise that millions of the men and women of “free England” are condemned by our economic system to spend their lives in joyless drudgery for a wage which hardly permits mere physical efficieny. Such conditions are strangulation to the spiritual in man; and the very danger lies in this. It is not ideals that make revolutions; it is empty stomachs and empty souls, and hunger may desperately clutch the wrong things and content itself with the purely material.

What remedy, then, can we offer? The placid politicians who propose mere goodwill can have no idea of the acuteness of the situation.

Russell Brain

Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, September 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

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The bravest man in the trenches

Many of the former pupils of Reading School were serving with distinction.

O.R. NEWS.

Military Cross

Temp. 2nd Lieut. F.A.L. Edwards, Royal Berks Regiment.- For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy twice attacked under cover of liquid fire, 2nd Lieut. Edwards showed great pluck under most trying circumstances and held off the enemy. He was badly wounded in the head while constructing a barricade within twenty-five yards of the enemy.

2nd Lieut. (Temp. Lieut.) W/C. Costin, Gloucester Regiment. – For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy penetrated our front line he pushed forward to a point where he was much exposed, and directed an accurate fire on the trench with his trench guns. It was largely due to his skill and courage that we recaptured the trench. An Old Boy of Reading School, he won a scholarship at St. John’s College. Oxford.

2nd Lieut. D.F.Cowan.

Killed in Action.

Lieut. Hubert Charles Loder Minchin, Indian Infantry, was the eldest of three sons of the late Lieut-Col. Hugh Minchin, Indian Army, who followed their father into that branch of the service, and of whom the youngest was wounded in France in May, 1915. Lieutenant Minchin, who was 23 years old, was educated at Bath College, Reading School, and Sandhurst. After a probationary year with the Royal Sussex Regiment, he was posted to the 125th (Napier’s) Rifles, then at Mhow, with whom he served in the trenches.

After the engagement at Givenchy on December 20th, 1914, he was reported missing. Sometime later an Indian Officer, on returning to duty from hospital, reported that he had seen Lieut. Minchin struck in the neck, and killed instantly, when in the act of personally discharging a machine-gun against the enemy. The Indian officer has now notified that he must be believed to have fallen on that day.
2nd lieut.

F.A.L. Edwards, Royal Berkshire Regiment, awarded the military cross, died of wounds on August 10th. He was 23 years of age, and the youngest son of the late Capt. H.H. Edwards, Royal Navy, and Mrs. Edwards, of Broadlands, Cholsey. He was educated at Reading School and the City and Guilds College, Kensington. He had been on active service 10 months. His Adjutant wrote:

“He was the bravest man in the trenches. All the men say he was simply wonderful on the morning of August 8th. We lost a very gallant soldier and a very lovable man.”

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“You will be proud of our boys when I tell of the splendid way they went over the top”

The first bloody day of the Battle of the Somme”>Battle of the Somme was described to Earley churchgoers by one of their lads who was wounded that day.

The Great Attack of July 1st

One of our old CLB and Sunday School boys now wounded writes:

My wound is most serious and I progress favourably. I still have bullet in my leg though, but am going to have it taken out soon. You will be proud of our boys when I tell of the splendid way they went over the top. We had a busy and sleepless night on the Friday. We all knew what the morrow meant, and were waiting in eager anticipation of coming to grips: it is a feeling which comes over you suddenly and makes you see red. Well, we saw red.

At 7.30 our colonel blew the whistle, and the line advanced. It was splendid; looking right and left, one could see a single even line “charging” at the walk. We were the first line over. Their artillery had been smashed by ours before, but oh! the machine gun fire we came under was hell itself, and we suffered.

When we got to the German line the enemy dead were piled in heaps; the sight was awful, but our boys stuck it and were just as though on the parade ground. It was a spirit never to be forgotten. We had captured three of their lines before I was hit. It was bloody work indeed, they do not like our bayonet at all, and I managed to get back to our lines after two hours struggle for the German machine gunners are cowards; if they saw a wounded man crawling back to safety, or in a shell hole, they would train their guns on him and give him an unpleasant time. This was one of my experiences; I got through though.

A Newbury man was among the many reported missing:

We deeply regret to hear that 2nd Lieut. Basil Henry Belcher has been reported missing in France after an attack on July 1st.

Meanwhile Florence Vansittart Neale was optimistic back home in Bisham.

1 July 1916
The great push began – we took La Boiselle. Going on well.

Earley parish magazine, September 1916 (D/P192/28A/14); Newbury parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P89/28A/13); Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

No half time: kill or be killed

Sydney Spencer summarised the lessons he had gained from his army training. This was the last entry in Sydney’s diary, although we will still be hearing from him in his letters after he went overseas.

28 February 1916
Captain Shaft

Physical Training

Fitness by training. Bayonet not obsolete as many people think.

Physical training has been worked out for 100 years.

During retreat from Mons, new recruits going by in a train saw an old wounded soldier, & called out “Are we down hearted” & they answered “No”, but he called out “Then you will – well soon be”.

Physical Training massages the inside orders.

Physical Training trains the brains.

Men whose insides are all twisted up get straightened out. Such exercise requires mental as well as physical force.

Bayonet

We have a great advantage over the Germans. We fight more extended than any other nation. In other words he is so to speak alone & must “carry on”. Not so with Germans. The German lacks the resource & initiative. The German is gone when it comes to close quarters.

Our fighting spirit must be controlled & skilled.

Direction of Bayonet.

In bayonet fighting “No half time”. One goes out to kill or be killed.

No “orders” should be given in bayonet fighting practice after actions are once learned. All to be done by signs & prodding at your man.

Company Training

All men, if possible, should be put on in company training & men should be trained in his own company.

Keep a Company Diary, & a Record of each day’s work, & sketches, plans, messages & remarks of his own or visiting officers’ work.

Keep a note of capabilities of your men, NCOs & officers.

Diary kept as a confidential document or as a company book. These diaries should be kept till the next “Company Training”.

Training of NCOs.

6 days to NCO & chosen Privates.

1. Map Reading.
2. Outposts, Flank, Advanced, Rear Gun.
3. Duties of Patrols.
4. Writing reports.

Fire direction.
Indication of targets.
Instruction by lectures & practical work. Frequent questionings.
Reforming after an assault. A lot of practice & arrangement required.

Lectures should be given every day if possible on the next day’s work.

Lectures include Regimental Records, Cleanliness & Morality. 1st Aid, Observers.

Every company commander, & every platoon commander, should have an observer.

How to load pack animals.
How to make knots.
Cooking.

Men should be reminded of faults such as slowness. Taking cover clumsily.

The new importance of night marching. Aircraft. “Disappearing Drill”. Company commander makes programme. Hang it in Orderly Room.
Tactical scheme to be carried out. CC should go out beforehand & see ground over which work is to be done.

He should be commander & umpire always, not umpire sometimes and commander at another time. After each operation hold a pow-wow.

Platoon & section commanders should see that men do work in right way or they won’t do it in actual warfare.

“Habit” to be aimed at in loading etc.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/14)

“An engaging personality, but not a convincing one”

Sybil Campbell was not impressed by Sir Ian Hamilton, the commander in charge of the Dardanelles expedition.

32 Addison Road
Kensington, W
Nov. 10/15

I met Sir Ian Hamilton at a small dinner the night you were here. I asked him [whether?] 12 ships had been lost, had the Dardenelles [sic] been forced. “More likely 5” was the answer. But – if not supported on land? He believes with material we shall get thro’; but he said a retreat meant the Turk’s bayonet in the back of the rear guard, & the sea for drowning. He was very human & indiscreet. I asked about Ralph. He said “very brilliant, & snubbed by GHQ as all men of ideas are”. Told me he was now in the Flying Corps, or rather on its Staff.

Asked, how did I know him, “only aunt”, I replied. He was much surprised. He looks wasted to a shadow & told me of the enteritis diarrhoea the germ produces, the same can enter the bile ducts & give jaundice which I suppose made R. look so yellow. I think you will find K. is there, & not soon to return. It may be it is he or Birdwood who will get “the Gloire”. Ian Hamilton is an engaging personality, I have long known him, but not a convincing one…

Yrs gratefully
[Sybil]

Letter from Sybil Campbell to Lady Mary Glyn (D/EGL/C31)

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
RO

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

“What with shells over your tent & submarines at sea there’s scarcely a safe place to sit in!”

One of Ralph Glyn’s fellow officers in the Dardanelles sent him a letter so frank in its criticism of policy that he asked Ralph to burn it after reading. Luckily he didn’t.

Marked ‘Burn’ at the top.

You ought to come out here from the [illegible] & have a talk – but on condition you went back.

Lancashire Landing, May 26 [1915]
My dear Glyn

We are having a heavyish shelling from Camp and the sea beyond – the Turks trying to hit the transports, but very little attention is now paid to it, so very little damage having luckily been done. All the same it is decidedly disconcerting! It’s such an absurd position to be in really – the whole of our force from the front trenches back here – a distance of about 1 hour’s walk! – under fire of the enemy’s guns. In France [it would be] an absolutely untenable position.
I was awfully glad to get your letter and I do not mean in mine to write you much detail as to our doings here… I want rather to bring one or two points to your notice that are of greater importance.
You know as much as I do about the inside of the game. You know that the Balkan situation is today not one whit more clarified than it was when you & I last met.

I lay the whole blame on the FO. I think much as there has been in the conduct of this campaign to criticise (not its execution – the troops have done wonders!) – its larger conduct – nothing is more worthy of criticism than the failure of diplomacy to co-operate and so to appreciate the situation as to bring about a state of affairs that would conduce to the facilitating of out Task – not the making it more difficult. Diplomacy has been willing to sacrifice a perfectly attainable success for the sake of “safeguarding interests (unknown) or avoiding complications (unknown) at some unknown time in the future” – the great truth that the primary object of all should be to defeat Germany – (& here Germany through Turkey) – has, it seems to me, been absolutely lost sight of. We were set a task that could only be achieved if diplomacy played its part well & helped us. I need not go into the Greek negotiations. They’re known to you. Their net result is nil. (more…)

Bloodstained souvenirs – and undefeated nightingales

Percy Spencer wrote occasionally to his sister’s friend John Maxwell Image, an elderly Cambridge don. In May 1915 he also sent him some rather gory war souvenirs.

May 19, 1915

Dear Mr Image

I have just sent you these souvenirs – a slim German cartridge, a stout French one and a piece of German shrapnel. I am afraid the bloodstain on the German cartridge has nearly worn off in my pocket, but hope there is still sufficient of it to satisfy your ferocity.

At our last resting place but one the owner of the house showed me his souvenirs and gaining confidence in my discretion as we went along, eventually removed a cabinet and withdrew from behind it a newspaper. Carefully unwrapping it he fairly purred with delight as a British bayonet bloody to the hilt was revealed. I’m sorry you weren’t there, but someday we must all go there together and you & the jolly good fellow who lives there can gloat over all his gory relics. Mademoiselle will join you, I’m sure – a most bloodthirsty damsel.

We captured a couple of Huns the other night and I was at the entertainment we had about 1 a.m. cross examining the fellows. One, a youngster, spoke English very well indeed, and was most interesting. He told us that the Germans didn’t “strafe” England half so much as the papers – in fact it was just a newspaper phrase! [see 10 May for the story being taken seriously].

We’ve had to put up with a good deal of shelling lately and yesterday a couple of 8 lyddites nearly found us. They burst outside the garden of this house but huge chunks of metal were hurled against the walls and over our fellows in the open who threw themselves flat down upon the earth.

Every now and then there’s a hellish bombardment and our house shakes and the papers lying about jerk [illegible] the table. But there’s never too great an inferno to stop the nightingales’ song or to wither the glory of our garden sweet with the scent of lilies of the valley and happy in the joy of sunlit daisies & forget-me-nots. Thank God for that.

On May 9th within 1000 yards of the battle and amidst the most awful din an old farmer strutted out solemnly smoking his pipe and commenced weeding the ground near our dugout where we were hiding from well directed shell fire! Man’s a wonderfully adaptable animal.

Thank you for the token. The play cut is a very nice tobacco, but I’m not to be weaned from my Fryer’s.

Yours ever
Percy J Spencer

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/10/10)

A good day with a bayonet

Our diarists William Hallam (over the border in Swindon) and Florence Vansittart Neale (in Bisham) were both impressed with the way British soldiers were fighting.

9th May 1915
Wife’s birthday, 47 years of age. We all went to St. Paul’s at XI. Then Cameron came in and spent 2 hours with us. A very decent fellow. He told me his ancestors built Melrose Abbey and generations of them are buried there. He is anxious to be out at the Front. One chap we spoke to yesterday said regarding the Germans, he didn’t care if he fell riddled with bullets to-morrow if he could only have a good day among them with the bayonet before.
Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/23)

9 May 1915
Wonderful account landing Gallipoli peninsula – really marvellously brave!
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)