An exhausting day at Bisham Abbey

One of the staff of Bisham Abbey left as a war bride.

24 March 1919

Soldiers came in afternoon from 2.40 till 7 o’clock!! Rather exhausting. Only 12 came. All Canadians but two. H & I took them over house, & they played whist & billiards after. One man out so had to be talked to!

Johnson left us after nearly 17 years!!

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

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Land for a memorial

The Vansittart Neales were planning to provide the site for the Bisham war memorial.

21 October 1918

Met Maisie about the bit of land for memorial….

Soldiers came in afternoon. 16. Usual entertainment – tea – billiards & cards, after seeing house. Felt much exhausted!

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

A lovely evening for 18 wounded soldiers

A party of wounded soldiers visited Bisham Abbey by river.

13 May 1918

Had 18 wounded. They came by steamer rather late. Played outdoor games, billiards & river. Lovely evening.

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

A most queer looking article: first sight of a tank

Percy Spencer was struggling with morale in France, while a tank visited Swindon.

Percy Spencer
29 April 1918

Letter to COs re deficiencies. Battalion moved by lorry to [Warlos?]. Rotten trip. Feeling wretched myself. Had to bolt for it during a check, close to French troops playing games & using [untrailleuse?]. Splendid troops. Long hopped till I caught column. A bad move – billets not fixed up.

William Hallam
29th April 1918

This morning bitterly cold – enough for snow – the wind still N or N.E. I cam home at ½ past 5 to-night and rushed over my tea and washed and dressed and with wife went over Hay Lane into Victoria Rd to see the Tank Julian come down from the Square to the Public Offices. A most queer looking article. I never saw such a crowd in Swindon before. Could hardly move out of the crowd all round the Town Hall when once we got in. The kids and hooligans swarmed up those lime trees round the space at the back and broke them about something scandalous.

Florence Vansittart Neale
29 April 1918
Modeste left. George Harding came to say goodbye. Going depot at Dover. Soldiers came [and] cleared later. Some out on boat, bowls, billiards.

Diaries of Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); William Hallam (D/EX1415/25); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Once again are the rooms at Trinity thrown open to the boys in “Khaki”

Reading was once again a centre for soldiers in training. They found a warm wecome in local churches.

The Soldiers Club

Once again are the rooms at Trinity thrown open to the boys in “Khaki,” and so familiar is the scene that it is hard to realise that an interval of eighteen months lies between the two occasions.
This time, even more strongly than before, was the doubt of actual need expressed a doubt which has long ago dispelled, not only by the attendance, but by the very words of the men. It was arranged that the rooms should be open at six o’clock, but long before that time many men arrived eager to enjoy the comforts of the washing accommodation. Here they can have an unlimited supply of hot water a luxury more appreciated than anything else and they can shave, clean their shoes, and polish their buttons. The writing room is well patronised, crowded on Sundays, and the post-box provided, which is cleared at intervals corresponding to the town collections, has proved a great convenience.

The scene in the schoolroom itself is of a homely character, which evidently attracts the men we desire to help. In fact, we are told that among Trinity is designated as “Home,” and the following conversation is common: “Where are you going to-night? “Oh to the little home. I’ll see you there.” Could one wish for any higher appreciation.

The billiard table is the great attraction, and never without players, whilst draughts, bagatelle, chess, and cards are freely indulged in. Our Pastor frequently gives up his valuable time to play chess with our guests, and his visits are always appreciated by the men. Many of the men are musical, and an evening rarely passes without music of some sort, often an excellent repertoire. Other quieter spirits find enjoyment in a perusal of the magazines and papers provided, or in a chat round the fire.

On two occasions a whist-drive has given great pleasure, and once a very successful concert was arranged by a party of our soldier friends.

The refreshment canteen is a very attractive feature; the men much enjoyed the good things provided, and hailing with special delight anything “home-made.”

Incidentally, ministering to sore throats and heavy colds, bandaging fingers, and repairing clothes, promotes the home feeling so much appreciated, and makes the men realise they are among friends who desire to meet every want as far as lies in their power.

On Sunday the schoolroom (in order not to disorganize the Sunday school work) is closed to the men until four o’clock. At that hour they eagerly troop in, arrange themselves in little groups, and chat or read until 4.20, when tea is served at a charge of 4d, followed by cigarettes. It is good to see their evident enjoyment of the fare provided, and to hear their expressions of thanks. Many respond to the invitation to join in the evening service, after which there is usually a short concert and a free supper of coffee, cakes, pastries, etc.

Our grateful thanks are tendered to all who so kindly send cakes, papers, etc., or who contribute to the musical programme, and we would welcome additions to their number. This article closes with a letter sent by one of our guests after leaving for another camp, which is a striking testimony to the place Trinity has in their memories.

Halton Camp West.

Dear Mr. Maggs,

I do hope you will not think me unkind for not writing before, but I have been shifting about all over this Camp. We are still waiting to be posted away; some of the boys have gone, some to York and New Forest and various other stations. We are about four miles from Tring; the Rothschilds have a fine place there, and today we have been over the private museum of animals, fishes, etc., of every description. But our one great loss is our kind friends at Reading, of whom we are never tired of talking. The kindness you all showed to me and the happy evenings I spent at Trinity will always be to me one of my most treasured memories, and I am quite sure that the example and the spirit which prompts it can only come from the true love of Christ.
Please remember me to all my kind friends, and may God bless you all in your noble work, and again thanking you for all you did for me,

I remain,

Your affectionate friend,

F. White.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, March 1917 (D/EX1237/1/12)

“No other companion than the spit of rifle bullets”

Officer Sydney Spencer was training in musketry at home, and struggling with giving up smoking – a habit enjoyed by most of his fellow-officers. He wrote to his sister Florence to describe a typical day for him – and his cosy quarters.

Hillsboro Barracks
Sheffield

Jan 23rd 1917

My Dearest Sister

First of all let me say that my cold has entirely vanished & am feeling very well & fit & happy. Also you will be glad to know that I have really absolutely conquered my desire to smoke & have given it up. You know the Dr told me to give it up. Well I found it far easier said than done. I tried cutting myself down & when out in the slush & cold absolutely yearned & yearned for it until I was utterly miserably knuckled under & smoked! Well I got so peevish with myself for not apparently having the will power to give up smoking that I suddenly got up on my [illegible] legs & took & swore a big swear, that I would not smoke another cigarette & that is three days ago. It is such a tragedy that I can’t be writing about it. Now Madame do not laugh at me. It is a tragedy & so you would say too, of you knew what a consolation smoking had become to me. After dinner at night & everyone expands into the smoking attitude both physically & mentally, I simply groan inwardly & look with dumb longing at the fragrant cloud of tobacco coming from my neighbour’s mouth & wish & wish & wish until we rise from dinner when I escape & get something to read, or write to sweet sisters to attract my attention away. There now, what do you think of that for a model confession, and does my sweet content condone with or scold her brer Sydney?

One has a very full day out on snowcapped Derbyshire hills, lately with no other companion than the spit of rifle bullets (we are firing a G. Musketry course & I have 28 men at my firing points) & numbers of grouse. Programme for day: Rise 6.30, Breakfast 7. [Tram] 4 miles, march 4 miles. Firing course & freezing till 2.45. 4 mile march & tram 4 miles home. Evening, making up scores & filling in numerous Army Forms this & Army Forms that. Dinner 7.30. After dinner & delicious warm bath in camp bath, by my fire & snuggle in my armchair in my pyjamas when I write one letter (I am becoming a model letter writer once more), read a little – Black Tulip of Dumas at present, just read ‘Dead Souls’ by Gogol, & Pendennis – Thackeray – & then bed.

I have been much in luck lately. My bare room has become adorned with a large square carpet & a cushioned basketchair. Both from billiard room of mess which has been furnished with Billiard Table & so has no need of carpet & chair. Mother mine is sending me some of my photos of my friends to hang on my walls & that will make them a little less bare than they are at present.

[Letter ends here]

Letter from Sydney Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/8/2/8)

Bring a pound of anything

Even the numbers of clergy had been reduced at home with many younger men leaving their parish work for a role as an army chaplain. Women mostly had to contribute to the war effort at home. Some joined Voluntary Aid Detachments as untrained nurses. Those in Wargrave undertook to open a small hospital for the wounded.

The Clerical Staff
It has not been found possible as yet to fill the vacancy on the Staff. A great number of the younger clergy have been allowed to go as Chaplains in the Army: Their brethren count them fortunate and wish them every blessing in the great work. It is only natural, therefore, to find that there are not as many as usual for home work. The Vicar has been in correspondence with a few clergymen, but in each case the curate has had relations dependent upon him, and the stipend offered has therefore been inadequate for his needs in these expensive times.

Harvest Gifts
Many messages have been received from those on the sea and across the sea thanking the people of Wargrave for their gifts of tobacco and cigarettes. And very nice letters have been written to the Vicar by Corporal Reginald Over and Privates George Gregory, Arthur Haycock, Edward Tarry, William Bradford, Christopher Brown, Charles Critcher, William Larkin, and James Pithers, saying how pleased they were to receive the gifts and asking him to convey their thanks to the friends at home.

V.A.D. Hospital
The Wargrave Voluntary Aid Detachment Berks/58 received orders to mobilize as soon as possible and to prepare a Hospital for the reception of wounded soldiers. After carefully considering ways and means, they approached the Trustees of Woodclyffe Hostel as to the possibility of using their premises.

The Trustees met on October 14th, and on the same day communicated with the tenant of the Hostel and with the Working Men’s Club. The Trustees stated that they received the request with much sympathy so long as the rights of the tenant could be satisfied.

The Working Men’s Club Committee then met, and expressed the desire to fall in with the wishes of the Trustees if the Hostel in the furtherance of so good a cause.

In due course an amount of compensation was arranged which was acceptable to the tenant and was paid by the V.A.D.

A General Meeting of the Working Men’s Club was also held and suitable arrangements were made for the loan of their billiard table and other furniture to the V.A.D.

During the last fortnight the Members of the Detachment have been busily employed in converting the Hostel into a Hospital for 20 beds, under the direction of the Commandant, Mrs. Victor Rhodes, and the Quartermaster, Mrs. Oliver Young.

It is now near completion and it is proposed to hold a Pound Day just before it is opened, when all who are interested and who would like to inspect the Hospital before the patients arrive, will be asked to bring a pound of anything which will help to stock the larder or store room. The date will be announced later.

Wargrave parish magazine, December 1915 (D/P145/28A/31)

Wargrave D/P145/28A/31

All want to help England now!

The Club in Wargrave, a church sponsored institution which aimed to provide a cosy but teetotal alternative to the pub for the working class men of the parish, was suffering for lack of use due to the numbers of its regulars who had left for active service. Those who had stayed behind in Wargrave were invited to take their place, but also to pray for the troops.

Clubroom Re-Opens

The Clubroom has been opened for winter. As the committee have had a new cloth put on the billiard table it will, no doubt, be in excellent condition for play. There us a good fire in the room and plenty of games and reading matter. But there are very few members using it as so many are serving their country as members of H.M. Army. We invite all men to join. The subscription is a small one. Mr H. Woodward will give any information about the Club to intending members.

Intercession Services:

All those who believe, as every Christian must believe, in the value of Prayer, are invited to attend the Services of Intercession for our Country held at the following hours: –
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, 7pm; Wednesday, 3pm; Daily, 8.30am. All want to help England now! There is a simple and invaluable way of helping, open to every man, woman, and child in the place. Will you come?

Wargrave parish magazine, October 1914 (D/P145/28A/31)

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:

OUR SOLDIER GUESTS
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