Lively services for soldiers

Religious services for soldiers were simpler and livelier than those they attended at home.

The soldiers in France who attend the voluntary services arranged by the Y.M.C.A. rightly expect that the service shall be a ‘live’ one. The man who would win and hold a congregation must be a man of conviction, of sincerity and of force of character. When he speaks he must have a case and must know how the present it to those who are listening to him. Mr Evans was probably the most attractive preacher in the Calais area in my time and I have no hesitation saying that he had a very sure place in the respect and affection of the men stationed in the district.

Abingdon Church Congregational Monthly Leaflet, October 1918 (D/N1/12/1/1)

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“Sometimes it’s a piece of shell – next day it will be a piece of bone”

Percy was clearly feeling a little better, and was able to observe life in his ward with his customary wry humour.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
SE1

Sep 1, 1918

My dear WF

Since Thursday morning I’ve lived – my arm went to sleep and has remained so. This morning the muck from it was much diminished and I am actually beginning to sleep without drugs and to walk a few paces. Two nights ago I indulged in the luxury of a bath and was strong enough to balance on one leg when necessary. In a few days time I am to be operated upon again to get at odds and ends of bone not wanted again. Of course I’m no end pleased at the prospect.

The fellow opposite is a perfect [illegible – source?] of wealth. They get something fresh out of him every day. He affords the sisters all the excitement of a bran pie insamuch as all the things are different – sometimes it’s a piece of shell – next day it will be a piece of bone, followed by a chunk of glass or a cork. I’ve got a small wager that inside a week they’ll find a bottle of whiskey in him somewhere.

I’ve asked No 9 (of Oriel College Oxford) what a “stunt” is and he confirms my opinion that today it has reached the stage when it means anything one likes to make it. Still I look back to the day when it was only applied to an out of the ordinary military minor enterprise. Nowadays, tricks in the air are stunts – so are raids – so is a disagreeable field practice or a route march – or the attendance at a court martial – and to go to big things, I remember that huge affair the battle of Messines being described as a “splendid stunt”. So carry on – make it mean what you like & look confident about it, you’ll worry through all right. I’m quite sure that will not satisfy John’s accurate mind.

No. 17 IBD “L” depot Calais means the “L” depot of the 17th Infantry Base Depot situated at Calais. It also means that Sydney having got beyond the point on the lines of communication from which officers are sent to rejoin their Battalion, has been sent back to the base depot, from there to be sent back to his Battalion when required or elsewhere possibly. Alternatively, assuming he is not yet fit, it means either that he is being sent to his base depot to convalesce, or being considered worn out he is there is do a few months tour of duty. Now I feel sure you must know exactly what it means.

This morning was very lovely. After I had been bathed, I lay and watched the Mother of Parliaments shyly move away from the night, down to the water’s edge and then silently and soberly await the first kiss and warm embrace of her other love. (It’s quite all right, I had some medicine yesterday.)

Just there I had to suspend operations for lunch – cold beef salad & potatoes: plum pie & custard. Unfortunately I had to refuse second helpings. However, as I lay here in the sunshine I feel that comfortable replete feeling stealing over me and presently I shall stretch forth my hand for John’s cigar and dissolve in smoke.

With my dear love to you both

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/85-88)

“A seething mass of Chinese & Prisoners of War”

Much of the behind the scenes work was undertaken by Chinese labourers.

Monday 1 July 1918

I did not have to get up very early as my duty for today consisted of taking 50 other ranks to Vendroux at 11 am. We had a long march of 6 kilos to get there, a hot & dusty road. Arrived at Vendroux, found it a seething mass of Chinese & P of War.

A desolate waste of burnt out hay ricks! About £300,000 damage by a spark! Party worked at filling trucks from 1.30 till 4. Tea & started march back.

A man named Nicker taken ill with PVO. It took 3 hours to see him into hospital. He kept almost ..[illegible due to bleed through from other side]…

Leave Calais tomorrow.

End of 12th week.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)

A very quick journey through, only 18 hours altogether

Sydney reached Calais to find his gas mask needed to be refitted.

Friday 28 June 1918

I woke at 4.15 am to find that we were at Etaples already. I did not worry about anything. I just grunted & went off to sleep again & slept on & off fitfully until 10 am when to my surprise I wound I was at Calais! No changes & a very quick journey through! Only 18 hours altogether.

A shave, shampoo, wash at Club. Got 125 francs from Base Cashier. Lunch at Club, bought some socks at ordnance. Got up here to ‘L’ depot (IB) at 3.30. After tea talked to a few old 2/5th Norfolk men.

Went to see Adjutant who said that my SBR must be refitted!! I only had it done 48 hours ago! My kit not yet arrived; it is now 6.30 pm! It arrived at 8.15 pm & I went to bed. Very tired. Essex officers in tent only just out kicked up a big noise.


Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)

A sweet oblivion

Another long journey for Sydney, still not all that well.

Thursday 27 June 1918

A lovely morning. Got up at 6.30 after breakfast. Saw the MO then got packed up & rested a time. 10 am to Adjutant. I go by a train which leaves I suppose somewhere about 4 pm.

Got into train for Calais at 4 pm. Had to march down here. It was very tiring. Saw Jourdain who left 208th Brigade for Egypt in February. He was only in Egypt a week or two at base!

Train started at 4.45. I am pt in charge of front half of train. Just my luck.

Journey was a good one. I didn’t worry about the men. Was too tired & they behaved decently. Besides we did not wait at stations long enough. We passed through Acherecourt & Darnetal en route for Etaples. I slept by about 10 pm & the rest of the hours of darkness were a sweet oblivion.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)

“His keenness put him on a plane by himself, and it would be well for the Army if we had more like him”

Several Ascot families received bad news.

Miss Dorothy Innes Lillington is at the Church Army Club at Calais, and will be glad to see any Ascot men who may find themselves at that Base.

News was received on November 15th that Stewart Jarvis died in hospital of wounds on November 9th, and that George Taylor was wounded, both in Palestine. Deep sympathy will be felt for the parents whose son’s body lies in that Holy Land which he has helped to wrest from the Turks, and let us hope for good news of Taylor’s condition. Probably both received their wounds in that gallant charge near Gaza which was reported in the Press.

There are still a number of men’s names in the Church porch without any Christian names, – please try to supply these.

Mrs. Wye has received the following from the Captain of the R.H.A. Battery to which Victor belonged. He died on October 11th of wounds received on 9th.

“Sergt. Wye had not been with us long, but quite long enough to prove his sterling qualities as a No.1 in action. I have seldom dealt with a more enthusiastic N.C.O., and feel that we have lost a Sergeant of great potential value to the service. He was a thoroughly nice fellow, and all who knew him feel his loss. His keenness put him on a plane by himself, and it would be well for the Army if we had more like him.”

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, December 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/12)

“I am increasingly glad to be out here”

The minister of Trinity Congregational Church was volunteering with the YMCA in France, helping provide home comforts for thr troops, and reported to his flock at home. The Taube to which he refers was a kind of aeroplane.

News from France

Through the kindness of Mrs Harrison, we are able to print some extracts from letters telling of our Pastor’s doings. We shall all rejoice to know he is well and enjoying his novel experiences.

YMCA Hut
Near Calais
Jan. 1st-18th, 1916

Here we are, safe and sound, and already hard at work.
There are five of us helpers in this hut, – all good, good sorts!
We spend hours and hours each day serving out tea, coffee, cocoa, cigarettes, matches, chocolate, Nugget polish, boot laces, etc., to the soldiers.

By great fortune I have come across Hamilton Moss, who seems in excellent health and spirits. We were just going to have a smoke together, when I was called away to my duties, – we hope for better luck next time.

For the last two days I have been in charge of a motor transport tent, but am back again now.

This morning I have scrubbed our three cubicles, – a thing never done before at one co,- and gained great glory thereby.

It is now my afternoon out.

There are two great boilers in this hut, from which tea, coffee and cocoa are made, and all water for household purposes drawn. It is my present duty to light the kitchen fires, and keep these pots full and boiling. Scrubbing out cubicles is by no means the heaviest job nowadays. Cleaning up the back yard and the stables, and unloading big cases of provisions from the vans, is a usual morning’s work, while washing up stacks of dirty mugs is becoming second nature.

We have just had our first sight of a Taube. It came almost over our heads, and we watched the shrapnel bursting round it. It got away without doing any damage, but I am told that they brought it down further on.

It is pitch dark here at night, and getting about is a weird business. Flash-lights are indispensable. The weather is not as bad as it might be, and we have some jolly walks along the sands.
Now I am off to get hold of a stove for the rest room. I am able to get some good talks with the men in there, but the room is too bleak for words, so I must make things more comfortable if possible.

This morning, along with other sundry duties already mentioned, I had to peel the potatoes for dinner, and boil them! They were quite well done.

Our chief told us yesterday that we should most likely be sent to the Front this week. We don’t know where, as there are some thirty places under this Calais centre alone. We shall be right in things then, and have less freedom and more work. Some huts are just dug-outs within three quarters of a mile of the trenches.

I am thoroughly enjoying the work, and keeping in the best of health. I am increasingly glad to be out here.

Trinity Congregational church magazine, January 1916 (D/EX1237/1/11)

A minister ‘called to do his own “little bit” for our young men at the war’

The minister of Trinity Congregational Church in Reading felt called to follow the young men from his flock who had joined up, by taking service as a nonconformist army chaplain.

This year has also seen the departure of a number of Trinity Boys from the training camps of the old country to their posts of danger and fierce conflict at the Front. No doubt their numbers will be largely increased in the coming months. We are all one in our constant prayers for their safety, and for their friends that they may have divinely-given courage and patience to “keep the home fires burning” against the longed-for day of their return. Our Forward movement, which has already meant so much to many of us, will mean yet more as the new days bring new tests and fresh opportunities for showing that we recognise in the call that came to us our master’s voice, summoning each and all to greater sacrifices and deeper devotion to the sacred cause committed to our charge. Surely there was never a time when the things that Trinity stands for were more urgently needed, or when it was better worth while to give up precious time and put forth one’s best strength, for the great work’s sake.

The Pastor of Trinity little thought, when he delivered his message on that Sunday morning in October, how soon the call, – or rather how soon the opportunity would come for him to do his own “little bit” for our young men at the war. But the call was clear, and the response of the Church to his request for freedom to answer it was so hearty and unanimous, that it would have been removed from his mind any shadow of doubt (had such existed) as to his duty. At the time of writing he expects to cross the channel on or about Wednesday, December 29th. At Calais he hopes to meet at least one of our Boys. From thence he expects to be sent after a few weeks to a destination “somewhere in France.”

He goes with a glad heart, rejoicing in the chance that has come to him, and in the wealth of goodwill and prayerful thoughts that he knows go with him, and in the knowledge that the work at home is in the hands to which of all others he could most willingly and confidently leave it. He relies on his friends at Trinity to support Mr. Brooks with the same unfailing sympathy and loyal co-operation that have made his own ministry during the last three years so full of joy and blessing for himself. He goes in the confident expectation that when he returns at the end of March or beginning of April he will find that the work has indeed gone forward in his absence.

That will certainly happen is only each member and friend of our cause will bear in mind these parting words of exhortation:-

Be in your place at the main services of the Church with, if possible, more than your usual regularity. Put all the old zeal, and a bit extra, into that particular bit of work that belongs to you. If ever, when service time comes, you feel, slack and that amr-chair starts pulling, consider what would happen if other folks all yielded to the same impulse. When the little voice whispers, “You will not be missed,” ask yourself, “Is that really true, honour bright?” But if so, whose fault is that? Before ever you start to Church, go first to your own room, and pray that God will bless the coming service to yourself and to others. If you can bring someone else with you, do. You never know what good you may be doing in that way. If ever you, or any other member known to you, should be ill or in trouble, let Mr. Brooks know at once. Don’t take for granted that someone else will tell him. Tell him yourself, and so make sure. Do your part in making any strangers within our gates welcome to Trinity. Never let a day pass without at least one prayer for God’s mercy to rest on Trinity, on those who worship there, and on your absent Pastor. Be sure that he needs your prayers, and that if he knows you as belonging to Trinity, he will never be too busy, even in France, to pray for you.

Trinity Congregational Church magazine, January 1916 (D/EX1237/1/11)

“His passing-on brings the realities of war close to home”

The people of Ascot supported the war in multiple ways.

THE WAR.

We deeply regret to have to record the death of Pte. Harry Freeman, killed in France. His family is so well known and respected in Ascot, and he himself, as one of our old School boys, and in the Choir, so familiar a figure among us in the past years, that his passing-on brings the realities of war close to home. His parents and sisters have our deepest sympathy.

Pte. Jack Jones, having recovered from his wound, has been at home for a week, and is now stationed at Portsmouth for a short time. He is one of the 9 survivors out of 25 engaged in digging a trench in the open.

Another of our wounded, Archibald Grimmett, is doing fairly well, we are thankful to say, but has not yet recovered the use of his side. He is now at Southbourne.

Percy Huxford and Richard Taylor are prisoners of war in Germany.

Our other wounded are doing well.

TWO SPECIAL INTERCESSIONS SERVICES will be held during Advent, on Tuesday, December 7th, at 7.30 p.m., in the Parish Room, when the names of all those at the Front whose homes are in the Brookside District of the Parish will be specially remembered before GOD; and on Monday, December 13th, at 7.30 p.m. in the Church, for those whose homes are in the London Road and High Street Districts. It is earnestly hoped that the near relatives of our Ascot lads, in each case, will be present at one or other of these prayer meetings, so that, all together, we may unite in prayer to our Father in Heaven for those whom it is our bounden duty to pray.

A “PRISONERS OF WAR” box is placed inside the Church, for which offerings are invited. We hope to send out to our prisoners Christmas parcels: and we look forward, if the offering allow, to send them further parcels from time to time.

WAR HOSPITAL STORES DEPOT.

It may interest those of our readers who are working at the Ascot War Hospital Stores Depôt to know that over 46,000 articles have been sent to the Hospitals abroad since the depôt opened on June 22nd last. The work is continuing at full swing, though more helpers will be gladly welcomed by Lady Susan Dawnay at the depôt room above the Military Hospital at any time on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Thursdays from 10 a.m. till dark. 28 crates and 3 bales have already been sent to the following Hospitals:

21st British General Hospital, Alexandria, 2 crates
French Military Hospital, Ducey, France, 2 crates
Belgian Military Hospital, Calais, 2 crates
British General Hospital, Havre, 2 crates
British General Hospital, Lemnos, 5 crates
“Entente Cordiale” Hospital, Mentone [Menton, France], 3 crates
Belgian Field Hospital, Dunkirk, 2 crates
“Border” (British) Hospital for French Soldiers, France, 2 crates
French Hospital, Château du Franc Port, Compiègne, 1 crate
Ascot Military Hospital, 1 crate
Italian Field Hospital on Austrian Frontier, 1 crate and 1 bale
No. 12 British General Hospital, Rouen, 2 bales
Belgian Hospital (c/o Belgian Soldiers Fund) 2 crates

“Two crates” contain approximately the following articles :
1000 bandages, 24 many-tailed bandages, 24 T-bandages, 24 slings, 24 knee many-tailed bandages, 24 head or stump bandages, 12 chin bandages, 50 pairs of splints, 1000 puff swabs, 1 gross Turkish towelling swabs, 1 gross eye swabs, 1 gross solid gauze swabs, 1 gross gauze and wool swabs, 1000 flat swabs, 1000 plugs, 12 pillows, 6 pairs of crutches, 24 pairs of socks, 24 pyjamas or night shirts, 12 bed jackets, 24 shirts. Consignments of blanket shave also been sent.

BELGIAN SOLDIERS FUND. £6 9s 0d. has been sent to the above Fund from Ascot Parish.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, December 1915 (D/P151/28A/7/12)

“The funny little Frenchmen are depressed and are dissatisfied with us”

Ralph Glyn was on his way back from the Dardanelles when he got a letter from his boss at the War Office, delivered at the British Embassy in Athens. It included some inside information regarding high level politics.

War Office
3rd July 1915

My dear Ralph

I do not know when you may be expected at Athens on your way back, but posts take such an unconscionable time to get to the Near East that one has to get off long before the flag falls. You may not be for Athens at all if you commandeer a Dreadnought.

If there is anything you want to wire about from Athens or Rome, Cunninghame and Lamb have the T cipher, but I do not suppose that you will be needing electric communication with us. We shall be glad to get your reports in advance of yourself, if there is a bag coming right through while you are falling out to Bologna. Lord K has already asked whether you are on your way back and pretended to be quite surprised when I said you could not possibly be at Imbros yet.

Great “pow wows” here. Johnny F[isher?] and Robertson and H Wilson all over, and there was a full cabinet meeting yesterday – 22 of them, or is it 25? – to discuss military operations of the future with these distinguished warriors. Truly we are no military nation. But better relations have been established and Johnny F is I hear now quite amenable and good. Next week there is to be a further palaver, Squiff and AJB and goodness knows who besides journeying over to Calais to meet Joffre and Millerand and perhaps Poincarre [sic] – I can see Joffre disburdening himself of his inner consciousness in such a galley.

I was lunching with Fisher yesterday and he told me, what is good, that the King is going to make a trip across and to see a lot of the French army; that will be very useful because the funny little Frenchmen are depressed and are dissatisfied with us, not altogether without some justification. The Russian debacle has I think come on them with much more of a surprise than on us; your friend La Guiche always insisted that the Russians were much better off for munitions than they made out; they probably tell him very little, but the result is gloom at Chantilly and in Paris. By the way should you be a few hours in Paris you might look up Le Roy Lewis our new Military Attache who is extremely useful and gets on remarkably well with the Frenchmen.

I have written to Delme Radcliffe about your going to Bologna and told him you would wire on in advance. I think that a visit from you straight from the Dardanelles should be welcome to Cadorna and Co. No doubt Montanari whom we met in Paris will be on hand at GHQ. You will see Lamb and I daresay will hear grumbles as to Delme Radcliffe, who is not fortified by a very attractive personality and has put Lamb’s nose out of joint much as Hanbury Williams has put Knox’s; DM is furnished with the toughest of integiments [sic] and thanks to this gets along.

AP has been in here this morning. He strives hard but unsuccessfully to conceal that he finds me a very indifferent substitute for yourself in regard to telling him how the land lies. But I comforted him with the intelligence that you would soon be back – always assuming that you obeyed your instructions.

Sincerely yours

Chas E Callwell

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

The National Day of Intercession

The first Sunday of the new year was declared as a National Day of Intercession for solemn collective prayer for the country at this trying tie of war. The vicar of Sulhamstead was among the many clergy of Berkshire who commended the Day of Intercession to parishioners. He wrote in the December 1914 issue of the parish magazine:

My Parishioners and Friends

May I commend to you in this time of terrible stress when the war in the Western area hangs on without any decisive result and the fight to reach Calais has lasted for over a month with the respective positions of the two armies almost unchanged for very many weeks, the following lines from a letter in “The Guardian” of November 5th summoning a meeting for Confession, Intercession and Conference. The Bishop of London, Bishop Taylor Smith and many others had promised to take part.

“The continuance of this awful war, with its appalling loss of life, and without any decisive victory, suggest that something is hindering that manifest intervention of God on our behalf for which we long. There is indeed already much to be thankful for, but our side, which is the side of truth and right, has not yet prevailed. The hindrance may be in the Church, or in the nation, or in both. It may be that God still sees stiffneckedness in us, and His very delay in answering our prayers is a call to a more thorough repentance of our reliance upon Him”.

Since these words were written in “The Guardian”, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have summoned the Church to observe the first Sunday in the new year, January 3rd, as a day of Humble Prayer and Intercession to Almighty God on behalf of the cause entrusted to our King, our Empire, and our Allies, and on behalf of our men who are fighting for it on sea or land…
May I ask you to keep this day free for this solemn observance.

Yours sincerely
Alfred J P Shepherd

Ascot parishioners got a similar request:

DAY OF PRAYER AND INTERCESSION.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York desire to make public the following notice: The first Sunday in the New Year (January 3rd, 1915) will be observed as a Day of Humble Prayer and Intercession to Almighty God on behalf of the cause entrusted to our King, our Empire, and our Allies, and on behalf of the men who are fighting for it on sea or land. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been in communication with his majesty the King as to the observation of this day throughout the nation, and he has received the following letter:-

Buckingham Place, October 26th 1914.

My dear Archbishop –

The King has lately received numerous communications from different quarters urging upon his Majesty the necessity for a Day of National Humiliation and Prayer.

Personally the King is disinclined to advocate the use of any term which might plausibly be misinterpreted either at home or abroad.

At the same time his Majesty recognises the National Call for United Prayer, Intercession, Thanksgiving, and for remembrance of those who have fallen in their country’s cause.

It seems to the King that the beginning of the year would be a fitting season to be thus solemnised; and his Majesty thinks that Sunday, January 3rd, might well be the chosen day.- Yours very truly,

STAMFORDHAM.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York will when the time draws near address the members of the Church of England as to the manner of the observing of this call to prayer.
(more…)

No care taken of German wounded

Florence Vansittart Neale heard a lot of gossip, news and rumours in her social circle. Today she heard from a friend going to nurse the troops in France, and from the mother of a soldier at the front, as well as getting an insight into life in wartime Germany from some American visitors. The USA was still neutral in the war, and its citizens could come and go across enemy lines.

10 November 1914
I to Charles to see Ag. She not settled yet when to go to France – no nurses’ accommodation in Calais.

Awful account of German wounded from people just arrived from Dusseldorf. No care taken of them.

Emden caught & burnt. All Konigsberg shut in Sth Africa.

Charlie in trenches 4 days & nights.

Recruiting much better after Lord Mayor’s Show.

Heard K[itchener] told wounded soldiers at Boulogne they should go home to get well, & would not be needed again as the war would be over by Xmas??

Dottie getting a passport to go to see Charlie if wounded.

Sir George told me that Americans just returned from Dusseldorf say our airmen had done great damage to Zeppelin shed & destroyed lots & killed 14 men! They also said terrible lot of wounded & no provision for them. Left packed in trains.
Germans not told truth of things at all.

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

The French are not to be relied upon

One young wounded soldier told his nurse, Florence Vansittart Neale’s daughter Phyllis, that he had a poor opinion of the reliability of our French allies. The troops from India, on the other hand. were making a strong impression on the enemy.

28 October 1914
Car .. had gone to fetch Phyllis & Gladys from Windsor. Phyllis very well & bright. Young Needham there – wounded been at front all the time. Says the French not to be relied upon. Sometimes fight well, then turn tail.

Germans still trying to get through our lines – to Calais! Strongly reinforced. Our Indians much alarm them – great slaughter.

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