The risk of prosecution for distributing pacifist leaflets

The Reading branch of the Women’s Peace Crusade had been formed in August 1917 by representatives of groups including the Quakers, and suffrage and left wing organisations. The chair was Phoebe Blackall. The group distributed pacifist leaflets, delivered by hand to homes in Reading and handed to worshippers outside churches. Lord Lansdowne’s letter was a proposal for peace, which was not well rrceived by the British public.

Dec 5th 1917

A discussion took place re leaflets, it being finally decided to suspend distribution of same, for the time being, owing to the risk of Prosecution.

Mrs Tyser raised the question of Lord Lansdowne’s letter, suggesting the sending of a resolution approving of his action.

Proposed by Mrs Coppuck, seconded by Mrs Stansfield and Carried.

Minutes of the Women’s Peace Crusade: Reading branch (D/EX1485/24/1)

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Exempt from military service

William Bilson Blackall of Cane End, Reading, was a farrier who during the war was supplying horseshoes to the army for cavalry horses. He was over military age, but his son and assistant was not, and had been wrongly called up. This letter was sent to him:

Horse Shoe Depot
1 Ashby Road
Brockley
London, SE
13/Jun 1916

Please note that men who hold War Service Badges are exempt from military service, & no Tribunal has power to deal with them. You should therefore withdraw your appeal from the Tribunal & inform the Recruiting Officer that the man E W Blackall is badged. He will not then receive a notice to join the colours. Should he however receive a notice it should be sent on to us. In cases where employers make shoes they should be included on Register. will you please complete form & return same to us as soon as possible.

Endorsed in pencil by William:

Gentlemen – noted.

I enclose the notice to join the colours which E W Blackall has received.

Particulars regarding myself have now been entered on the Register.

Yours faithfully
W B Blackall

Letter to William Blackall (D/EX1485/1/25)

Captain with a capital C

Annie Ellen Phoebe Blackall (better known in later years under her married name Phoebe Cusden) was a young Post Office employee in Reading during the war. Later a leading local pacifist, at this stage in her life she was working with a Guide troop in support of the war effort. She wrote to her brother, who had joined up:

52 Beresford Road
Reading
30 Nov. 1915

My dear Hodge [nickname]

Here’s as merry a Christmas as circumstances permit. Guess it’s about the most novel one you’ve ever spent, eh?

My Guides are doing well – getting quite expert signallers besides learning first aid and other useful things. We hope to go to camp next year. I shall expect you to salute me when you come home, ‘cos I’m a Captain (with a capital C).

We have an OTC and a real live Sergeant Major drills us in the approved army style…

Best love and good luck old man
Your loving sister
Nell Blackall

(2 Cockney soldiers lent to a farmer to help with dairy work: one armed with milking stool and pail, other armed with gun, approaching cow). Man with gun: “It do seem a shime to kill the pore thing for the sike of a drop o’ milk.”

Letter from Annie Ellen Phoebe Blackall to her brother (D/EX1485/2/8)

This war is getting worse every day: a child’s view

Young Harold Blackall, whose father had joined the army, wrote to his aunt Phoebe in Reading with his hopes and fears.

24.10.15
Burford
Dear Aunty

You seem to be getting on well with your Guides and I think we ought to do something at home as well as the soldiers out there. I don’t think there is anything better than a Bible that I should like for Christmas but I think we ought to go without some presents this year and send the soldiers some instead. I have not heard from father since he went away, I hope he is all right, he will be quite safe I know….

I think this war is getting worse every day, but I think we shall win in the end…

Your loveing [sic] nephew
Harold

Letter from Harold Blackall to his aunt Phoebe (D/EX1485/2/7)

No leave for a new recruit until he has passed drill

An anxious mother from Cane End near Reading had written to her son’s commanding officer regarding his chances of leave.

From Officer Commanding, 17th Reserve Battery RFA
To Mrs H A Blackall, Cane End, Reading

Exeter, 2nd September 1915

Madam,

With reference to your letter regarding your son No. 102277 Gunner H Blackall of the Battery under my command; it is not customary to grant leave to recruits of a few weeks service until they have passed their drills. As soon as your son has passed his drills, which will probably be in two or three weeks time, he will be given a leave and a free Railway Warrant, enabling him to have four clear days at home.

I will see that, so far as it is in my power, he is not sent to the Front until he has had his leave.

Yours faithfully
C J Mull
Captain RFA
Commanding 17th Reserve Battery RFA

Letter to Mrs H A Blackall (D/EX1485/1/23)

Some hustle training recruits

New recruit and trainee gunner Harold Blackall wrote to his sister Annie Ellen Phoebe Blackall, describing his experiences as part of the great war machine.

17.8.15
17 Battery
13 Hut
Topsham Barracks
Exeter
Dear Nell

I have been inoculated this morning & have 48 hours sick leave… Recruits’ drill starts 9 am, drill through 11 am. They are rushing them through here with some hustle. Sunday Church Parade at 8 am, parade at 6.15 pm again at 8 am for church at 11 am for ordinary drill 6.15 to 5 & sometimes 7 pm, every day, Sunday & week day. They reckon a man is fit for active service in 2 months or less if he has brains. No leave. The War Office grant leave from Thursday night till Wed morning & free railway warrant once after he’s passed out as a gunner to enable him to go home once before going to the Front, so if you would be so kind as to take this on for me (of course you will have a free hand), I should be very much obliged when you write to me again, put the number 102277 under my name as I have only just got your letter because they said there was no number, only officers are allowed to have their letters sent with no number – we are only parts of the gun. The postmark obliterated the number you sent because it was over my name.

They send about 50 from here every week so you see there is as I said some hustle.

Some say the RFA are catching it hot out there, others say it is for an enormous bust up for Kaiser Bill, anyhow the fact remains all the RFA Depots in the country are bunging ‘em out there….

Your loving bro, H Blackall

Letter from Harold Blackall to his sister (D/EX1485/2/9/4)