“A special grief that a young life so full of promise should have been brought thus prematurely to a close”

A Reading teenager’s burial at the front is described.

Trinity Roll of Honour.

Two more of our “boys” are this month enrolled, one of whom, we are sorry to hear, has already made the supreme sacrifice.

John Bernard Eighteen.
Henry Thomas Eighteen (Killed).


Marsden Cooper.

It is the deepest regret that we have to record the death in action of another of our young men who have gone out from our Church. After a brief two months only at the front, Second Lieutenant Marsden Cooper has fallen in the fight for his country and the right. He was an Officer full of the highest promise, having done well in everything he attempted. Our deep sympathy goes out to Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper in their bereavement.

We print an extract from the Chaplain’s letter to his parents:

“Though he had not been here long he had impressed everyone with his constant cheerfulness and straightforwardness of his character. We laid him to rest in a little Cemetery just behind the firing line late on Saturday evening. There had been some difficulty in preparing the grave owing to a sudden and somewhat violent bombardment, but about 7.45 the news was brought to our dug-out that all was ready and we felt out way out along the communication trench and then over it to the Cemetery.

It was so dark that we could not see that we had arrived at the place until one of the pioneers spoke to us. There were seven or eight of us all told, and as we stood around the open grave we repeated the words, ‘Be thou faithful unto death, and we will give thee the crown of life,’ and ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ and together we thank God that your boy had not counted his life dear unto himself, but had laid it down for King and Country. I may not, of course say where the grave is, but I have forwarded full particulars with map reference to the Authorities. “A small wooden cross with durable inscription has been made by the Battalion Pioneers, and was placed in position on the following day.”

The following is the appreciative testimony of the Headmaster of Reading School:

“The deceased officer was only 19 years of age, and went to the front in the Worcestershire’s about the middle of December, shortly after completing his course at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was educated at Reading School, where he gained a Council Scholarship in 1909. His School career was unusually distinguished. In 1914 he gained a School Certificate, followed the next year by a Higher Certificate. In response to his country’s call, he decided to take a commission, and in the entrance examination for the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, held in February, 1916, he came out second on the list, gaining a prize Cadetship.

At Sandhurst his success was no less pronounced than at School, and he gained the position of sergeant in his cadet unit the highest position a cadet can obtain before he left the College. Not only had he considerable intellectual gifts, as his record shows, but he was a fine athlete as well. He was an excellent all-round cricketer, and his natural powers as a bowler would have enabled him to make his mark in really good company. As a Rugby football player he showed great promise, and before he left school he had the distinction of being captain of football, captain of cricket, and captain of the School. Yet he was never elated by success, and perhaps it was more than anything his modesty which made him so popular with the boys and masters alike. Those who have watched his career for the last two years, and marked the way in which his development always seemed to keep pace with his new responsibilities, feel a special grief that a young life so full of promise should have been brought thus prematurely to a close.”

Trinity Congregational Church, Reading: magazine, February 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

Advertisements

“The man we could least spare”

Harry Fisher, a Reading soldier, wrote to the vicar of St John’s Church with the bad news of the loss of a prominent young parishioner, Ronald Poulton-Palmer (1889-1915), who was isher’s commanding officer. Ronald was a rugby international for England. He was the grandson of George Palmer, a former MP for Reading and director of Huntley & Palmers’ biscuit factory. He was also very active in church life, and we will be hearing again about his loss. Sergeant Fisher also talks more generally about life at the front.

Belgium, 5.5.15.

My Dear Vicar,

At last I find an opportunity to write to you.

I regret that my first note to you should bear such sad tidings. Last night at 12.20 a.m. Lieut. Poulton-Palmer was killed while doing duty in the trenches. At the time he was superintending the work of improving the trenches and was standing on the parapet. The bullet entered his right side and passed through his body killing him instantly. He was, for some reason, taking the turn of another officer. His death has cast a gloom over the whole battalion. He was, I think, the most popular officer we had, loved by officers and men alike. The man we could least spare. He lived a clean life and died a noble death. The greatest tribute I can pay him is to say that in every sense of the word HE WAS A MAN. His was the third fatal casualty we have had besides six or seven wounded.

I really have very little news to tell you. We are not allowed to say anything about the military situation. We are all as happy as possible under the circumstances. We spend our time doing duty in the trenches for four days at a time and then come back into billets for four days. Our billet at the present time is a very large piggery. The pigs, of course, are removed, most of them having been stolen by the Germans when they were here. Last week we were billeted in huts in a wood and were sorry to leave them. The wood had just got on its first spring garment and was profuse with violets, cowslips and the like.

One of the most touching sights here are the tiny cemeteries dotted about. They are a testimony to the loving care with which our British Tommy lays to rest his fallen comrades. Each grave has its wooden cross and is well turfed and kept up. Where there are a number of graves together the ground has been fenced in and in some instances a gateway with a rustic arch has been built. The other day I passed two big graves each equally well-kept and bearing the inscription ‘To the memory of — men of the 108th Saxon Regiment. Killed in action. R.IP.’

On Monday the Bishop of Pretoria paid us a visit and spoke some very encouraging words to us.

I have had three opportunities of taking Communion since being here and have taken advantage of each. On each occasion the table was a biscuit box. Twice the Service was held in a barn to the accompaniment of cackling hens and the lowing of cattle, &c. The other was held in the wood to Nature’s own accompaniment. But on each occasion it was the same beautiful Service, making one feel how thoroughly unworthy one is to partake of the blessings it offers.

It is good to know that we have your prayers; we greatly need them. The temptations are very great and the means of grace seem so few out here.

One thing is very noticeable here, and that is the number of churches that have been shattered. I paid a visit to one recently and was astonished to find that, although the church was very badly battered, the altar and all the figures in the various shrines were intact. The same thing is noticeable about the shrines built by the roadside. The houses may be badly battered, but the crucifixes remain intact.

Most of us have had narrow escapes from flying bullets. My nearest one was one day when standing in a ruined cottage close by the trenches. I was in the doorway when a bullet came right through the opposite wall and shattered pieces of brick all round me. The bullet probably went on through the doorway in which I was standing.

I hope all my old friends at S. Stephen’s and S. John’s are well. Please give my kindest regards to them all.

The hardest thing to bear is the thought of those dear ones at home waiting anxiously for news of us. If it were not for that one could be quite cheerful even in the face of the greatest danger.

I must conclude now with very best wishes from
Yours very sincerely,
H.W. FISHER.

P.S.- My address is
No.17 C., Q.M. Sergt. H.W. Fisher,
‘A’ Company,
1/4 Royal Berks Regiment,
British Expeditionary Force.

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