“His soldiering days are probably over”

With six of their seven sons having joined the army, the Spencers of Cookham had a lot to worry about.

Will Spencer
30 September 1918

By the afternoon post a letter of Sept. 11 from father. They have had news from Stanley. They are not allowed to know Gilbert’s present whereabouts. Sydney has gone back to the front. Harold leading an orchestra (in Plymouth, Father believes). Horace is better, but Father thinks his soldiering days are probably over.

Florence Vansittart Neale
30 September 1918

We reached Cambrai. 2nd Army with Belgians got Dixmade.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

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Personal help given to the Belgian refugees & soldiers during the war

Two of the Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist were recognised for their caring work with wounded soldiers and Belgian refugees.

28 June 1918

Notice was sent out that Sister Edith Katharine had had the “medaille de la reine Elisabeth” bestowed upon her by the King of the Belgians, in recognition of personal help given to the Belgian refugees & soldiers during the war. Also that among the King’s Birthday Honours, Sister Mary Victoria has the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal bestowed upon her.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Peppered all along our line

Sydney Spencer was under fire and trying to catch some sleep, while brother Percy was behind the lines and Will’s wife was trying to get permission to visit her sister in Germany.

Sydney Spencer
Saturday 4 May 1918

I started tour of duty at 10 pm [last] Saturday night. Finished at 4.30 this morning. Took on again at 5.30-7.30 so as to get a long morning’s sleep.

Was on Tour duty till 4.30 this morning. At 2.45 enemy sent over a few shells into village behind us. Rain set in at 2.15 am & continued to drizzle until 4 am. Had a half hour ‘kip’ till 4.30, then ‘stand to’ till 5.30 & I took tour duty till 7.30. Examined rifles & feet. Saw gun sections issued & [tried?], then sleep till 8 am. After breakfast more sleep till 10.

Brigadier came along at 10.30 just when I was rubbing my feet & getting my boots cleaned. He had a good deal to say, looked severe, but it struck me he had very kindly eyes. Got some more sleep in after lunch.

On duty 3.30-5.30. Many enemy aeroplanes came over. A glorious day with a little rain early in the day. At stand to the Neuglanders did a strafe & bombing raid, & we were peppered all along our line, particularly my platoon front. No casualties however. No 7 had one slight one.

Took a wiring party along New Broad & put up a tangle barrier on road & obstacle on right.

Percy Spencer
4 May 1918

Another hard day. Got some useful work done. Office in a chaotic state still. Col. Parrish’s band played at mess. Col. P constant anxiety about “Paddy” the Irish Terrier.

Will Spencer
4 May 1918

I was playing in the library after breakfast when the taller of the two Canadian ladies [staying at the same hotel] (their name, by the way, is Thompson) came in. … She left at 10.30 to meet a tall young Belgian soldier on the hotel terrace. She distributes Bible reading cards among the soldiers.

[It seems that the hotel was used partly for the accommodation of interned soldiers from foreign nations.]

By the morning post letters for Johanna from her Engeloch (enclosing form of application for her to travel into Germany for her to fill up), & from Agnes…

Before dinner J. wrote to Agnes asking for medical testimony that her mother was ill, & after dinner she filled up the above mentioned form of application.

[She eventually got permission to go in August.]

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX802/28)

“He claims that as his friend is a prisoner of war that the letter should go free of postage”

[Gules or Geeles Chasseur, a Belgian in his 40s who was a Commissioner of Police back home, was among the foreign men interned in Reading.]

18 April 1918
G. Chasseur

22.1.16 S of S Order, Defence of the Realm Regn: Internment.

The above named interned Alien recently received permission to reply to a letter received from a Prisoner of War interned by the Germans. The letter was received through the Red Cross. Under ordinary circumstances Chasseur would write through Cook & Sons and enclose a PO for 1/-.

He claims that as his friend is a prisoner of war that the letter should go free of postage and that the 1/- should not be paid.

Instruction requested.

C M Morgan
Gov.

[Reply:]
The practice of sending letters through the agency of Cook & Son at a fee of 1/.- must be adhered to.
JW
19-4-18

Noted
C M Morgan
Gov
20/4/18

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Family matters

The wealthy Raymond Le Bailly de Tellighem or Tillighem, a Belgian in his 30s, was interned at Reading in 1916. He was finally deported in January 1919. He seems to have been a rather dubious character. Curiously, his wife’s address was to become famous to a later generation as the London home of Jimi Hendrix and is now a museum.

19th March 1918
R de Tillingham [sic]
28.1.16. S of S Order, Defence of the Realm Regulation Internment

The above named Alien was visited yesterday, the 18th inst, by his wife, Mrs Vera Tellingham, & child, of 23 Brook St, Mayfair, London, W.

The conversation was entirely on family matters.

[Signed]
Governor
[to] The Prison Commissioners

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Letters home from internees ‘should bear no indication that it comes from this country’

There were severe restrictions on allowing internees to communicate with their home country, at least if it was somewhere like Belgium, which was partly occupied by the enemy. Travel agency Thomas Cook helped with getting letters to a neutral country, which would then send them on. A Belgian internee in Reading decided to give up writing home.

Thos Cook & Son
Ludgate Circus
London EC4

13th March

[To] The Assistant Secretary
Prison Commission
Home Office
London SW1

Dear Sir

We are in receipt of your favour of 11th inst enclosing a post-card for transmission to Belgium which we return herewith. This must either be written on a Dutch or Swiss Post-card, or sent in the form of a letter, and it should bear no indication that it comes from this country. We have no arrangements for dealing with replies from Belgium, and if the sender desires a reply it will be necessary for him to insert on the card or in the letter an address in a neutral country, to which a reply can be sent. We have no Dutch cards at the present time, but we enclose a Swiss card which can be made use of if desired.

Yours truly
Thos: Cook & Son

The Governor, Reading
Please explain to the Prisoner.
J F Wall, Sec
14/3/18

Explained to prisoner.
He states he will not write any more.
C M Morgan
18-3-18

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Old clothes for distressed people in Europe

Members of the Broad Street Brotherhood wanted to help families in areas in France and Belgium occupied, and devastated, by the enemy.

BROTHERHOOD NOTES

The final result of the Mass Meeting held in the Palace Theatre enabled the society to remit a cheque for £49 8s 0d to the National Federation [of Brotherhoods], on behalf of the distressed people in the countries on the continent. This was a good bit of work, but Brother William Ward wished further efforts to be made in the direction of collecting old clothes.

A small sub-committee met to consider this matter, and they decided it would be a good thing to do. But to ensure success it would be absolutely necessary to have a body of at least 40 or 50 willing helpers, who would systematically visit the various houses in the town, leave literature, and call and ascertain if gifts of old clothes can be spared.

To bring this particular object before the whole body of our members, an open meeting for men and women is to be held on Sunday March 3rd, at which a special speaker will address the meeting. After that it is intended to ask for subscriptions for initial expenses, and also for the names of helpers.

If both subscriptions and helpers are forthcoming, then the committee intend to go forward with this very necessary bit of work; but they feel that they cannot possibly do this unless they are well backed up by the whole body of the Brotherhood.

It has been decided to send to all our brothers on service – whether at home or abroad – a copy of the Broad Street Magazine in the future, instead of the Brotherhood Journal, as a wish has been expressed for a paper with more local news in it. Brother A. T. Doe has again undertaken to do the work of addressing and dispatching these, month by month.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, March 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

He went up the trenches and 48 hours later had died of wounds

Reading churchgoers were encouraged to pray for our oppressed allies.

S. Mary’s (Lent 1918)
SUGGESTED INTERCESSIONS

In connection with the war

Sundays The gaining of a permanent peace.
Mondays Our own sailors, soldiers and Airmen.
Tuesdays All war workers, men and women at home and abroad.
Wednesdays The sick, wounded and prisoners, and anxious and bereaved on both sides.
Thursdays Our allies, and more particularly the oppressed nationalities of Belgium, Serbia, Roumania, Montenegro, Poland, Armenia and the populations of occupied territories of France and Italy.
Fridays Our enemies.
Saturdays The fallen.

Congratulations
Our heartiest congratulations to Lady Carrington, whose second son Lieut. C. W. Carrington of the Grenadier Guards has recently been awarded the Distinguished Service Order. It will be remembered that her eldest son also gained the D.S.O. and the youngest son the Military Cross.

R.I.P.
Our deepest sympathy has been given to Mrs Montague Brown, on the death of her husband. He went up the trenches on a certain date, and news came forty eight hours later that he had died of wounds. May the God of all comfort console those who are mourning his loss!

S. Saviours District
Our hearty congratulations to Lieut. Fred White on gaining the Military Cross and to Corporal Will Taylor on gaining the D.C.M., and being now out of Hospital.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, February 1918 (D/P98/28A/13)

Belgians to luncheon

Henry Vansittart Neale invited some Belgian refugees to lunch.

27 February 1918

H to District Council, brought back Belgians to luncheon – 3.

H back for meeting at 3 o’clock & took them back, Noble & I to Marlow about his sugar ration paper.

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

Invisible ink

Francois Schacken was an engineer from our ally Belgium who was interned at Reading Prison. It was feared he might be secretly communicating with the enemy.

1.1.1918
F. Schacken
16.3.16 S of S Order, Defence of the Realm Regulation, Internment

The above prisoner’s cell was searched yesterday and the attached paper [not enclosed] was found.

It will be seen, if carefully looked at, that the paper has been written on – apparently with invisible ink – or it may be the pencil or pen mark showing when this has been used as a pad.

Perhaps Scotland Yard may be able to ascertain if the marks are invisible ink marks. The papers appear to have been wetted & dried.

The letter also found was sealed in the envelope in which it is forwarded. I cannot read it. Some of it consists of letters which have been passed.

C M Morgan


Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“While interned here he expressed the strongest pro-German sentiments”

Louis Claas, aged 21 when interned in 1916, was a motor mechanic born in Birmingham of foreign extraction. He said he was a Wesleyan Methodist. He escaped from Reading on 3 November 1917 – but now he was back.

24 Dec 1917

Louis Claas
26.8.16 S of S Order, Defence of the Realm Regulation, Internment

The above named man who escaped from here last November and who while interned here expressed the strongest pro-German sentiments, called at the Prison yesterday wearing the uniform of a Private in the British Army and stated that he had been enlisted into the 30th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, stationed at Reading. He came nominally to enquire about some property – but probably in hopes of seeing other men.

He was not admitted to the Prison.

C M Morgan
[To] The Commissioner

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“Our Belgian friends can now stand upon their own feet”

Belgian refugees in Maidenhead were doing well and optimistic that the end was in sight.

THE BELGIAN REFUGEES.

The Committee’s fund is now nearly exhausted, and our Belgian friends, whom we have helped for more than three years, can now stand upon their own feet, although in case of some unforeseen emergency we would all be willing to lend them a hand again.

The Secretary, Mrs. Hews, has received this letter:-

“14, Fairford Road, Dec. 24th, 1917.

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

Once more I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May this be the last year of this terrible war, and we sincerely hope that next Christmas will find you bright, merry, and happy as in years gone by. As for ourselves, we hope to be back in Belgium before then.

I remain, yours faithfully, J. Van Hoof.”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, January 1918 (D/N33/12/1/5)

War trophies for the interned

Philip Preuss was a Belgian stockbroker, aged 41, when he was interned at Reading.

P Preuss

The above named prisoner states:

The letter is correct. Lieut. Le Cocq who is in the Belgian Army lent him some war trophies and also Lieut. Le Cocq’s father lent him some.

He gave receipts for these trophies to the Le Cocqs, father and son.

Mr Le Cocq wrote to him some time ago asking about the trophies and Preuss wrote a petition to the Home Office asking to be allowed to return the trophies to their owners.

The Home Office refused to allow this until either the war was over or Preuss was released, and Preuss wrote to Lieut. Le Cocq who was in France giving him the Home Office reply. Preuss is unable to give Mr Billings an order to return the articles to their owners, as all the trophies are together, and consist of many things besides those of the two Le Cocqs – and Mr Billings does not know the articles belonging to the different individuals.

He is anxious to return the articles to their owners but has not any facilities for doing so.

C M Morgan
Gov

22/12/17

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“I could not say there was accommodation enough for a pig (much less a man) anywhere except in the cellars of ruined houses”

Civilians in wartorn northern France and Belgium suffered terribly due to the war.

Movement in Reading in aid of the Relief of Sufferers by the War in France and Belgium.

Friends at Trinity will no doubt be interested to know that a movement in the above direction has been initiated by the Reading Broad Street Brotherhood. The objective is to supplement the efforts now being made in other towns and in the colonies, and in continuation of efforts already made which have abundantly testified to the Christian sympathy which exists towards those who have suffered so acutely through no fault of their own. A relief fund of £20,000 is contemplated, a very large part of which has already been subscribed by Canadians, by London and other cities, towards which also many small towns have contributed nobly and generously.

It is supposed that the good lead of Basingstoke with its generous promise of £100 in cash, besides clothing, &C., Reading will not wish to be excluded from taking part.

It is proposed to collect both in cash and kind, as in some of the large townships in France (Lille in particular, which is the Manchester of France), the civil population – men, women and children – are in rags, not having had any opportunity of purchasing clothing and boots for 2.5 years (since the German occupation).

Clothing (cast-off and new) will therefore prove most acceptable, also boots.

Those who have seen tell us that the homes of the people in the country towns and villages are ruined-walls broken and roofs fallen. A witness on the spot says:

“In a large town it was my orders to report how many houses were fit for billeting British soldiers, and after visiting with a comrade every house in the place (about the size of Reading) there was not a single house with an unbroken roof, and I could not say there was accommodation enough for a pig (much less a man) anywhere except in the cellars of ruined houses such as I and my comrades occupied.”

Wood houses are already being prepared in sections in this country to be despatched to Northern France and Belgium directly the way opens-facilities having been promised for this purpose as soon as possible by our own Government. A wood house thus prepared can be erected by a few men within a day of arrival, and it cost would be about £40. Seed for gardens, food, flour, blankets, &c will also be despatched.

Interested readers can secure further information by sending two penny stamps to the national Brotherhood Offices, 37, Norfolk Street, London, W.C., when they will be supplied with a pamphlet entitled “The Story of Lille, and its associations with the Brotherhood Movement,” and which describes the Brotherhood Crusade of 1909 A.D. and the practical relief already given.

Locally, every Church, adult School, and Christian Society in Reading will later on be invited to join hands with the Relief Committee connected with Broad Street Men’s Brotherhood, the secretary being Mr. A. Woolley, 85, Oxford Street, Reading.

Further information may also be obtained from J. Harper, “Chelmarsh,” 42, Crown Street, Reading.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, October 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

May the memorial may be worthy of those commemorated

Future US President Herbert Hoover led efforts to help starving civilians in wartorn Belgium, allowing the people of Mortimer to concentrate on their war memorial.

War Working Party

It is hoped to start work again at S. John’s Hall on Thursday, September 6th. In the meantime all kinds of woollies are wanted to be ready for August delivery. Pyjamas are wanted, also sun shields and mosquito nets. If workers will kindly send a post card to Mrs. Alfred Palmer, to say what they will undertake to do, materials shall be sent to Mrs. Thorp, The Street, where they can be called for.

Belgian Relief Fund

Now that the United States have made themselves responsible for the relief of the people in Belgium our local fund is closed. In the nineteen months that we have been collecting we have raised £90 3s. 3d. It was decided at our last parish meeting that the monthly collection should continue and that the proceeds in future should be devoted to our parish War Memorial. It is hoped that those who have given so liberally in the past will continue their generosity in order that the Memorial may be worthy of those commemorated.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P120/28A/14)