War between Germany and the USA is in the balance

Will Spencer was still trying to find out news of young family friend Max Ohler, a German soldier reported missing. He was pleased to hear from younger brother Sydney, dong well in army training, but was now well settled in Swiss society. Back in England, Florence Vansittart Neale was keenly interested in the prospects of the US joining the war. Johann von Bernstorff was the German ambassador to America and had been involved in sabotage and intelligence work there, and had just been thrown out.

Will Spencer in Switzerland
12 February 1917

A letter from Sydney. Hopes that we may obtain news of Max Ohler from the War Office Prisoners of War Department, which can find out more than any single enquirer can. He enjoys reading my accounts of Switzerland. Has just passed the exam for “Marksman” with 135 points out of 160 (or something of that sort), none of the 28 men he took up with him scoring more than 113. (130 was required to pass.)…

At 5 I called again on Herrn Fursprecher Hodler (by appointement). My obtaining leave to declare a smaller amount of Kriegsteuer [war tax], after signing for 500 fr., dependent of goodwill of the official concerned, but I might make the attempt. An income of 4,800 fr. represents normally a capital of 120,000 francs, for which the tax would be (class 110,000-120,000) 275 francs. I handed in my short sketch of my career, & signed a declaration which he drew up, that military duty “[illegible word] meinem Falle nicht in Betracht” [is out of the question in my case].

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey
12 February 1917

Took dogs a walk again in afternoon – discussed War Savings & digging with Martin & Willie.

Bernstorff given safe conduct. So Gerard left Germany – war with US in the balance. Ag went to Boulogne.

We continually advancing on Somme & Avere. Constant raids.

Diaries of Will Spencer, 1917 (D/EX801/27); and Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

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The wind is raging

Florence Vansittart Neale looked forward to daughter Phyllis’s homecoming, but storms made her worry about her journey home.

8 January 1917
Phyllis to leave hospital today. The wind is raging & where is she, probably still at Boulogne.

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

“In the pink of condition”

There was news of some of the men from Maidenhead Congregational Church who had joined up.

CONCERNING THE MILITARY.

Cyril Hews is enjoying a month’s holiday at home, on rejoining after earning his discharge. Harold Islip was home for the usual few days leave during the second week in May, and seemed to be in the pink of condition. Percy Lewis is at a Base Hospital on the coast some twelve miles south of Boulogne. Charles Catliffe, Alfred Lane, and C. S. Vardy have joined the Royal Engineers (4/1) who are in training in Maidenhead. Stephen Harris has enlisted in the Berks Regt., Alfred Isaac has been granted exemption until August 1st.

F.C. Taylor has been passed over by the Military authorities to the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, for “work of National Importance.” He has been appointed to the charge of a new Undenominational Settlement at Melton Mowbray, for boys and girls who have passed through the Police Court, or have been in trouble in some other way. Mr. Taylor will be taking up his work in a week or two. It will be a great loss to us to be deprived of our Sunday School Secretary, but we shall all be glad that his difficulties have straightened out so satisfactorily.

THE CLUB ROOM.

Notwithstanding the light evenings, our soldiers’ club-room is almost as well used as during the winter months. Many of the men write all their letters there, and rely upon the Refreshment Department for their suppers.


Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, June 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

A young man whose like we shall not see again

An Ascot man’s family were just too late to say goodbye to their fatally wounded loved one.

THE WAR.

With deep sorrow we have to announce the death, in a Hospital near Boulogne, of Corporal Arthur Thomas Neville Jones, Berks Regiment. He was dangerously wounded no Tuesday, May 16th. He passed away on the following Friday. His mother and elder sister were able to reach the Hospital in time for the funeral, but too late to see him before he fell asleep in Christ.

“Arthur” was very dear to a great many of us. Of a singularly holy life, one of the most zealous members of our Church Men’s Society, a regular attendant at its gatherings for “Bible Study,” an Altar Server, and foremost in everything that told for good in the Parish, he was a young man whom, humanly speaking, we could least afford to part with, and whose like we shall not see again.

A touching coincidence was a letter received from him by the Rector, which arrived the day after his body was laid to rest in France, at a beautifully-cared-for cemetery attached to the Hospital.

“I am sorry to say,” he writes, “that I do not get the chance of serving now, because the Chaplain that I served to went back ill… We had our Easter Eucharist in a cellar 30 feet under ground. All through it was very very crowded, but it was a very happy service. I had a rather close shave with a shell a few weeks back, but I am very thankful to say it only just splintered my hand: but I had to be invalided for it.”

How little he thought, as he wrote the words, that his summons to enter into his eternal Home was only a few hours distant. We commend his soul, in deep thankfulness and absolute faith, to the Master whom he served so faithfully and loved with his whole being.

R.I.P.

Our heartfelt sympathy goes to his mother and her other son (serving at the Front), and his two sisters.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, June 1916 (D/P151/28A/6)

Reading nurses stick together in France

Elizabeth “Bubbles” Vansittart Neale let her mother know how she was getting on in France.

5 April 1916
Nice letter from Bubs. She got to Camiers, 4 miles from Gladys. In huts with [illegible] Smith. Spent night Boulogne. Met Ag. Lovely crossing. Beginning work next day – all Reading 5 together. Ag also wrote.

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

No April fooling in the shadow of air raids

Air raids were a worrying experience for people at home – even if they were not directly affected.

Florence Vansittart Neale
1 April 1916

Papers & letters very late owing to Zepps – big raid over east coast. 5 Zepp: altogether. One brought down in Thames – crew captured….

Wire saying Bubs safe at Boulogne. Also letter from her from Folkestone.

Community of St John Baptist
1 April 1916

Air raid during past night in some parts of the country. Stricter orders as to lights.

William Hallam
1st April 1916

I had just gone up to bed at 10 last night when the hooter blew a Zepp warning but still, I was not at all anxious but got into bed and went to sleep although the rest were nervous. No April fooling here now to-day.

To night I put 4£ in P. B. bank and 15/6 in War Saving Certif.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5);
Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/24)

Too busy with amputation for frostbite to make bandages

The hardworking bandage makers of Wargrave were pleased to find their work was appreciated by its recipients.

Surgical Dressing Emergency Society: Wargrave

Some of the letters received:

No. 4 Clearing Station Dardanelles Army
Dear Madam,

I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter and bales (9 bales) of Hospital Clothing and dressings with many thanks. Everything sent will be most useful out here.
A.W., Capt. R.A.M.C.

St ——– Hospital, Malta.
Dear Madam,

Would you kindly convey to your Committee and Branches how very much we appreciate the gift of 2 bales of dressings which arrived safely on Xmas Eve. They arrived at a time when we were so busy with amputation cases after frost bite, and have little or no time to cut or make dressings. Our very best thanks.
Believe me, yours gratefully, E.M. Matron.

Serbian Relief Fund
Dear Madam,

The parcels were called for (2 bales) and we beg to offer our very best thanks for the kind and generous gifts, which are most acceptable.
Yours truly, p.p. Mrs. Carrington White.

Croix Rouge Française
The London Committee of the Croix Rouge Française beg to acknowledge with sincere thanks having received from you 2 bales – they have been sent to Ambulance 116, Bataillon De Chasseurs à Pied Secteur Postal 179.

Chasseurs à Pied correspond with our Highlanders, men from the Highlands who fight in the mountains.

Another Hospital writes to say that a bale of comforts has not reached them. This is only the fourth bale that has not reached its destination. 18 bales have already been sent out this month. The 4th, 10th, 13th (Boulogne) and 24th British Ex. Force France General Hospitals, and the 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station each got two bales, one of dressings and one of comforts, consisting mostly of pyjamas, flannel shirts and warm comforts.

The 5th, 10th and 14th Stationary Hospitals, British Ex. Force, France, and the 1st Canadian Stationary Hospital had 1 bale each containing comforts and dressings. 2 bales went to the Serbian Relief Fund, 2 bales to the French Red Cross.

The work of the Society is greatly increased since the dressings have been “Requisitioned”. But thanks to more help at home and the very excellent work of our Branches, we are going very well, and hope to be able to send an increased number of dressings and comforts to the Front.

Wargrave parish church magazine (D/P145/28A/31)

An awful, awful tragedy

Lady Mary Glyn wrote to Ralph again to let him know how her Red Cross and other war work was going.

Jan 18th [1916]…

We heard of the great doings at the G[reat] E[astern] Rest Room. Over 100 men there last night – 40 sailors, 60 men & then more, and an efficient staff of helpers. All night. Then in afternoon I … called on Recruiting Officer’s wife…

From 6 to 9 (with break for dinner) the Knights Chamber Private Registered Red X Work Party. 32 workers all in caps & white aprons and sleeves, and it is really a joy to see that Room full – all happy, and the long tables covered with clean oil baize, and your old nursery cupboard moved there to hold the material. I hear there is a tremendous “muddle” at Northampton, & as these inanities here appealed to Lord Spencer they have dragged him into their mesh of muddle, and I have written no word & keep silence, but events move, and things must take their course. Sir George Pragnell looks like a bulldog that will not easily let go, and the evidence he took from me was quite sufficient to show misapplication of money, and a vast trickery of the public they feared my action would bring to light. They would have done better to leave me alone!…

I read the papers and wish I knew what to think! Montenegro and its heights to add to the pecuniary burdens of ruined nations, but in the meantime how far adding to their resources?…

My whole love always
Own Mur

Ralph’s sister Meg also wrote to him, with thoughts on politics, and more on the Campbell family’s loss with the death of their cousin Ivar. (more…)

Time I offered the country my estimable services

Percy Spencer had enjoyed a short leave in England and was now in France, and was now keen to get a commission. He wrote to his sister Florence:

Jan 16 1916
Dear W. F.

Anyway you know by the field postcards that “I’m ‘ere”.

Very busy too as usual.

Of course I’m glad I was “mentioned” (though there are thousands who ought to have been before me) as it’s a kind of certificate that I’m doing my share of the work; and at home they’ll place quite a false value upon it and rejoice, which will do them good and won’t harm anyone.

Yes, by a stroke of luck I got my mackintosh again. Mr Curtis retrieved it for me at the last moment.

It was a wretched journey back. They seem to make us as uncomfortable as possible these trips.

About my application for a commission. I’ve written to my CO asking him for a nomination in the 2nd or 3rd or the Queen’s, but have not yet heard from him.

Sydney, alas, hasn’t written to me yet, so I don’t suppose he has been able to do anything towards getting me a commission in his regiment.

So I’m sending an ordinary application form along which I hope you’ll kindly get signed for me by Lord Boston & JMI [John Maxwell Image]. (The original form is rather out of date, and I don’t think it advisable to send it in.)

Of course if I get a commission I may only to hack work in a Battalion, and have to take my chance in a scrimmage, but really, however the matter goes, I think it’s time I offered the country my estimable services in the commissioned ranks – if it’ll have them – judging by the quality of some of our latest “finds”….

The supplies were ample – amazingly ample at first sight, but nevertheless only sufficient for the journey, as it turned out, for they kept us a day at Boulogne in one of the Godforsaken “rest” camps.

Just before leaving old England I had the bloater paste sandwiches. They were excellent, and it was a great sorrow to me I had them such a little while. However “fish to fish” – ‘twas a fitting funeral.

Can you send me a diary tablet please? Also some more ink!

If Gil is not able to get things, let me know, and send him a parcel occasionally at my expense.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/1-3)

“We are all very cheery about the war”

The army chaplain with friends in Mortimer had more information about his life behind the lines in France, preparations for Christmas, and dramatic and musical entertainments for the troops.

Mr. Bowdon writes happily about his cinematograph; “quite a lot of stuff has been given, and the Globe Film Co. have promised to supply me with a weekly programme free of charge except cost of carriage.”

He also sends the following for publication:

14, Stationary,
Wimereux,
Boulogne.

20th December.

Dear Vicar,

I feel I must devote half-an-hour or so to writing a few lines for the magazine, though I am busier than ever in the midst of preparations for Xmas. We are arranging a concert party to go round to all the wards in the hospital, and in the largest there will be a Xmas tree for patients there, and all convalescents who can crawl so far. On Xmas Eve a party of sisters and officers are going round singing carols with lanterns, &c. Then on the Monday we have a big Xmas dinner for our orderlies and N.C.O.’s and a concert and tea at the Recreation Hut in the evening. I regret to say the cinema is not yet ready – the goods are delayed at the Millwall Docks. It is a terrible job getting things out from England and getting work done here, but we hope to overcome all difficulties in time.

I am also arranging a pantomime, a play, and a grand concert by the officers of the A.S.C., to include if possible Kennedy Rumford and the chief tenor from the Italian Opera, so we look forward to a very gay and enjoyable Xmas season. We have built a magnificent stage at the Hut with spacious ‘green rooms,’ draw curtains, electric head and foot-lights. The hut has become very popular, and our lady helpers are kept hard at work from early morn till dewy eve. They all work like bricks, and have been serving on an average 200 hot lunches and suppers a day, in addition to all the usual canteen fare.

The hospital, I am glad to say, is rather empty, so I am not quite so rushed as I have been – at any rate I have more time for seeing to the Xmas festivities. There will be a great number of Xmas communions, in almost all the wards, all over the compound and in the camp services will have to be held. I think they will have to extend over Xmas Day, Sunday and Monday. Much time will be occupied in preparing the patients. We also have three celebrations at our little church, and a special service for the orderlies of our isolation compound who are not allowed to go outside.

We are to have the great pleasure of welcoming Dr. Gore amongst us on Sunday week. He is going to preach, at my request, at our church in the evening, and will dine with me at the Mess afterwards. He is visiting the Boulogne Base for a fortnight. We are having splendid congregations at church, especially at Evensong; when the Bishop comes I doubt if we shall fit them all in.

We are all very cheery about the war, and expecting great things in the Spring. I could a tale unfold but mustn’t. One hears interesting things at our Mess from the innumerable visitors of note who come to dine with the general and other of the Olympians.

With every best wish for Xmas and kindest remembrances to all friends at Mortimer.

Yours very sincerely,
W.S. Bowdon.
C.F.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, February 1916 (D/P120/28A/14)

The people of Wimereux promise to tend British soldiers’ graves

The people of Stratfield Mortimer were helping to grow fruit and vegetables for the Navy. They were also in touch with an army chaplain, who gave them some information censored from the national press relating to French care of British war graves. These graves, at Wimereux in north-eastern France, three miles north of Boulogne, are now cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Our Splendid Sailors
A local depot is being opened at Mortimer for supplying fresh fruit and vegetables to the Fleet. Gifts, however small, will be gratefully received by Miss Ludlam, at the Red House, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in each week. It is hoped to dispatch a consignment every Thursday, so those who are kind enough to send green vegetables are asked to do so on Wednesdays. The name and address of the donor should be sent – by this means the actual recipient in the Fleet may know to whom to write direct letters of acknowledgment. The scheme has the direct approval of the Admiralty.

The Rev. W. S. Bowdon C.F
Mr. Bowdon now writes:-

We had an interesting ceremony here on All Saints’ Day when the kiddies put flowers on the graves of our men – some 700 are buried here. The Mayor promised in the name of the people of Wimereux that they would always tend their graves as if they were their own men. It was all very nice, and I wrote a long account for the Daily Mail, but the Censor wouldn’t pass it – couldn’t create a precedent! I was amazed and surprised, seeing that my C.O. took the matter up and sent in the article for me. It seemed to us both just the kind of thing to interest people at home and augment the kindly feeling between the two peoples.

Am busy as ever – 16 Services last Sunday, 4 Sermons, and quite a lot of Private Communions during the week. It is very difficult to find time for letter-writing. As for books, I haven’t opened one since my arrival – but I didn’t expect to. Have only been outside Wimereux once, for 1½ hours, since I was attached to the Hospital, except for business journeys (1/4 hour’s tram ride) to Boulogne. I must try and get a half-day off sometimes, but just now the Recreation Hut and business connected with it occupies all my time that I am away from patients.

Awfully sad about the hospital ship sunk yesterday – quite a number of our patients and doctors were on board from Wimereux. We are anxiously awaiting further particulars.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, December 1914 (D/P120/28A/14)

“It makes all the difference when men have been constantly facing death and seeing their comrades fall at their side”

The experiences of an army chaplain were published in the Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine.

The Rev. W. W. Bowdon, C.F.

Cheery letters have been received from Mr. Bowdon, and the following will be of interest to many:-

No. 14 Stationary Hospital,
Wimereux,
Boulogne.

I crossed the water on Thursday, 30th September. There were a great crowd of officers and many hundreds of men crossing. It was rather weird on board with all lights out, not even the light of a cigarette allowed, and we were accompanied by destroyers. On arriving at Boulogne we were detailed off to various trains, and I soon found myself wedged in with half-a-dozen officers and piles of baggage in an unlighted 1st class carriage, bound for General Headquarters (it is not permitted to say where). I arrived in the small hours of the morning and, being too early to do anything else, turned in again and slept in a carriage on a siding, first making sure it wouldn’t be moving before I did. Then about 8 a.m. a rough toilet and le petit déjeuner at the station buffet. I then drove up to see my new chief, Bishop Gwyn, of Khartoum, Acting Chaplain-General, passing General French’s headquarters on the way.

I found myself appointed to this great hospital for infectious diseases at the base, so back I came. Wimereux is four miles from Boulogne, a pretty place, and in peace time a fashionable sea-side resort, now given over for hospital work. My hospital is situated right on the sea-shore, there is also a large compound of wooden huts near by and a canvas camp for convalescents in the fields at the back. I mess with the officers, all of whom are very nice. We have the General with us, a Colonel (our C.O.), two Majors, and the rest Captains and Lieutenants, to the number of about 25. I am put down as the Rev. Captain Bowdon, C.F., but they all call me ‘Padre,’ and we are very friendly and informal out here. Our mess rooms are delightful, in a separate house on the sea front and with charming views.

The work is, as I expected, pretty strenuous. I visit my patients for about five hours a day, take services when and where I can, run a recreation hut and canteen for the R.A.M.C. men, of whom we have some 1500 here, censor all the company’s letters, and do other odd jobs always cropping up.

One of my difficulties is that different classes of patients must not be mixed, and there are a choice variety of diseases – enteric and scarlet fever, with para-typhoid, meningitis, diphtheria, measles, mumps, whooping-cough, and some others. So at present instead of dodging the bullets I am dodging disease germs. I am wondering which are the more dangerous. I expect to be here some months and then to go ‘up the line’ (as we speak of going into the firing zone), but are always liable to be called up at a moment’s notice. One man was rushed off yesterday after being here but three days.

Of war alarms we have none. Our own air-craft are often about, but none of the enemy’s.

I find the men most responsive and so grateful for one’s ministrations that it is a pleasure to work amongst them. Nearly all my patients have been ‘up the line,’ and it makes all the difference when men have been constantly facing death and seeing their comrades fall at their side. I am inclined to think their experiences are making a very deep and permanently beneficial impression on the character of most of them.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, November 1915 (D/P120/28A/14)

Simple, honest and personal work among the troops

Reading St John’s parishioners were very sorry to lose their vicar, Guy Rogers, to an army chaplaincy. They made sure he (and his housekeeper) got a good sendoff.

PRESENTATION TO THE VICAR AND MISS HOMAN
St John’s Hall was crowded by parishioners on Saturday evening, the 9th October, when a Presentation was made to the Vicar on his resignation of the Parish, and to Miss Homan.

595 subscriptions were received and the gifts were as follows:

An Illuminated Address:
To the Reverend Travers Guy Rogers, BD, Vicar of St John the Evangelist (with St Stephen’s), Reading.
You have been led under Divine Guidance to resign this benefice so that you might respond to the call to take up the special work of an Army Chaplain to the troops at the front.
We recognise in this a call from God to ourselves to make a sacrifice which costs us much…
Signed on behalf of the Subscribers
H. Reginald Sutton
Frank Winter
Churchwardens

An Album containing the names of the Subscribers
Chaplain’s Uniform
A Pair of Field Glasses
A Purse containing a Cheque for £111
A Cheque for Miss Homan to purchase a Fur Coat or such other article as she may desire.

The Mayor presided and was supported on the platform by the Churchwardens and most of the Sidesmen and Members of the Church Board; and after he had spoken other speeches were made by Mr H. R. Sutton, Mr C. Pearce, Mr Fanstone and Mr F. Winter.

The Rev. T. Guy Rogers, who was wearing the uniform which had been presented to him, thanked them all most heartily for the very kind gifts they had presented to him and Miss Holman. The money would be a real help to him, because the income of a chaplain made no allowance for extras – indeed it was considerably less than the income he had enjoyed at home; and therefore the generosity they had shown in the matter relieved him of all financial anxiety for the time being. He was very glad too that they had presented him with his uniform, and that the Maltese cross was on it; for he loved to think that he was going, under the symbol of the Cross, to be an ambassador of Christ on their behalf. On the following Tuesday evening, all being well, he sailed from Folkestone to Boulogne, thence to make the best of his way to the headquarters of the British Army and report himself as one unit, and there he would receive his job. What his job would be, he had not the least idea; but it was his earnest hope to be allowed to do some simple, honest and personal work amongst the troops, trying to make them feel at any rate that in their chaplain they had a friend. He wanted to be a help to men who were going through so much for us, and to do something definite in the way of work for Christ.

Reading St John parish magazine, November 1915 (D/P172/28A/24)

Welsh strike on again – thousands out!

Florence Vansittart Neale reports the latest news. Mass industrial action was a relatively new phenomenon, and the upper classes saw it as unpatriotic in wartime. Dennis Theodore Smith was the teenage officer son of friends from Maidenhead.

30 August 1915

Welsh strike on again! 1000s out! (coal)

Still persistent rumours. Observer rather pessimistic – must have big armies. Germans at Boulogne.

Dennis Theodore Smith killed.

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

“We want a definite success in the Dardanelles”

Ralph Glyn was back in London for the moment – but about to set off again to organise the transportation of some desperately need ammunition to the Dardanelles.

War Office
Whitehall, SW

2/8/15

My dear Ralph

We are not quite sure whether you got those three secret Admiralty charts or not, although they were left on your table at 6 pm yesterday & I saw you with a bundle about 7.30. But – anyway I am having a set sent to Sykes to make sure. I shall be glad to hear how your transport arrangements have panned out; in a letter from Le Roy Lewis received today it is stated that the trains from Boulogne with this ammunition will take 54 hours and I do not know whether that will ensure its being at Marseilles by the morning of the 5th.

Lord K is not inclined to move about the Italians if they will not declare war. Grey is going to press them to take the plunge but I doubt if he succeeds. [I will?] write to Delme to do what he can to keep the Dardanelles before Cadorna & the King but what we want is a definite success in the peninsula which your ammunition and your howitzers may contribute to bring about.

Yours ever

Chas E Callwell

By the way, if you want letters sent by the bag, you had better have them sent to me, same as Altham, only in good time. People forget that there is no delivery on Sunday and that if there was, I do not arrive here till half an hour after the bag has departed from Victoria.

Letter from General Charles E Callwell to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C24)