“One of the most wicked things ever used in warfare”

Parishioners of St John’s parish in east Reading got an insight into life at the front when the young men from the parish who had joined up wrote to the vicar. They shared their experiences of the trenches, hospitals just behind the lines, and being gassed.

Letters From The Front.

My Dear Vicar,
I have just received the good old Parish Magazine, sent to me by my mother. Well, throughout the numerous hardships I have endured, I am pleased to say I am still quite well and happy. At the time of writing I am out of the trenches with my regiment resting, which I think we all honestly deserve; you cannot imagine the hardships and endless duties we have to perform.

While in the trenches you are working throughout the whole night and practically all day. At night the first duty commences at 8 o’clock, that is two hours’ sentry, which is very monotonous and tiring to the eyes, having to rivet them on a certain object the whole time while the booming of the enemy’s guns is deafening and bullets whistle over your head. After two hours you are relieved, feeling tired and sometimes wet through; you wish you could enter your dug-out and have minutes’ sleep. But no! you are at once detailed to join either a working party or a ration-carrying party, there you keep on hard at work till day break.

Sometimes we are given the job of repairing the barbed wire between ours and the Germans’ trenches; my job one wet night was to climb over the parapet of our trench and crawl up within a few yards of the enemy’s lines and to lie down for four hours listening for any signs of an advance by them; I could hear them singing and talking quite plain. I can assure you I was very pleased when I had finished. At about 4.30 a.m. we partake of breakfast consisting of a piece of salt bacon about four inches square, a small piece of bread, and a mess-tin of tea (?). This meal is looked forward to as much by us as the school treat is by the children.

After this you at once enter your dug-out and snatch a few minutes’ sleep; you generally settle down and are at once told to leave your dug-out and ‘stand to arms’ as Fritz is sending over a few more ‘Whistling Willies.’ You can imagine how very tiring and strenuous this sort of business is day after day, but still we keep a stout heart, trust in God and pray for the time when we can return home victorious, with the knowledge that we have performed our duty both to God and to the nation.

While I have been out here I am pleased to say I have had the opportunity of partaking of Holy Communion. Last Sunday my pals and I walked about four miles to attend a very rough and ready celebration held by our Chaplain in an old stable.

Well, I must now close, hoping you will please excuse this hurried letter and to receive a line from you whenever opportunity afford.

I remain, Rev. Sir,
Yours very respectfully,
ALBERT J. BECKETT
(more…)

A Bible for a church’s ‘old boys’ at the Front

St John’s Church in Reading was anxious to provide spiritual sustenance for the young men it had sent off to war:

The War

We publish a further list of boys or ‘old boys’ connected with our congregations who are now in training or actually engaged in active service on behalf of the Empire. We are always glad to hear news of our boys and they are constantly remembered by us in prayer. George Townsend, Cyril Keatly, Alfred Richard Allum, Horace Arthur Church, Albert Stevens, William Ernest Charles Egan, Arthur John Robert Egan, Albert Fanstone, Ralph Shepherd, Sidney J Luker, Viney Flint, Percy Froude, William Grantham, Arthur Walters, J J Cooper, A Beckett, Walter Crane, Basil Sutton, Edmund Terry, John Edwin Hopcraft, Durward Sydney Hopcraft, James Lyons, William Lyons, – Allaway, A Blake, T J Blake, O L Stagg, W Phipps, A Phipps, Lionel Dymore-Brown, Hugh Dymore-Brown, Arthur Robotham, Arthur Richard Penson, E W Hunt, Victor Fowler, J H Cane.

The Clergy will be very glad to write to any of our lads and to enclose an attractive little copy of S. John’s gospel, which contains also hymns with their tunes and pictures, and Lord Roberts’ letter to the troops, if they are asked to do so. Will parents and friends please communicate with whichever of the clergy knew the young man, giving the full address on paper. In cases where the young man is unknown to the present staff the Vicar will be glad to write.”

Reading St John parish magazine, November 1914 (D/P172/28A/23, p. 4)