Up to your eyes in mud and water – or a howling wilderness of desert sand

Reading men at the front write home with more news of their experiences, and hopes for the longed-for period after the war.

We still manage to keep smiling, with the hope that this war will soon come to an end. We are now (March 16th) at work loading and unloading material, and taking it up the line on the light railways. We have exciting times some days. I hope to have a leave before long, if all goes well. It is just on 12 months since I crossed the Herring Pond…

The weather out here has been like summer these last few days, but of course it is very cold in the early morning. It’s rotten out here when it is wet. The least drop of rain, and you are up to your eyes in mud and water…

G. Thatcher (OS)

I wonder if you have the same crush into your Soldiers’ Club as there is in all such places out here in the camp where I am working. At the YMCA here it is the usual thing to have half an hour queue wait to get a cup of cocoa in the evenings. All religious services on Sundays are full to overflowing three quarters of an hour before starting time, and it is advisable to get there an hour before time to get a seat. Needless to say concerts and lectures are as bad. I hope the Brotherhood is still flourishing. The attendance is, I magine, largely of greybeards – the old faithfuls. The choir is, I suppose, practically defunct for the present – awaiting a glorious resurrection when the boys come home…

With best wishes to all at Broad St.
Chas A. Grigg (OS)

I should just love to visit a place such as you have (the Soldiers’ Room) but my place at present is a howling wilderness of desert sand. We have done great work, the boys of the Berkshire Battery, for which we have been praised – also the Yeomanry, too…

This week we have had a very bad time for rain and wind. I have changed three times today (Feb 19th) owing to getting wet through. The towel you send me came into use directly I opened the parcel; and the other contents I can honestly say came in extremely useful. I am writing you the first letter out of the writing pad you also were good enough to send me…

Please give my fondest regards to the Brothers…

God bless and keep you all.

A. W. Slatter (OS)

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, September 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)


Probably we are nearing the final stages of this trouble

There was sad news for some Reading families, while others could be proud of their loved ones’ medals.

It was with extreme regret that we recorded in our November issue the news of the death of Private F. R. Johnson of the Machine Gun Corps, who was killed in action shortly after he had been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Previously to his joining the Army he had been a member of our Choir and was deeply interested in all that concerned its well-being. We now have to announce a very kind and thoughtful act on the part of his parents. He left behind him a certain sum of money which they decided to hand over for the benefit of the Choir and it is proposed to invest this sum in War Loan and to the use the interest in case of sickness among the men or boys of the choir. There may be times when tickets for the Convalescent Homes and railway fares to the Homes may be very acceptable, and we are much indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Johnson for their generosity. It is proposed to call the Fund the “Johnson Benevolent Fund” and we hope it may prove the nucleus of a Fund to which other members of the congregation may like to add from time to time”.

Our heartiest congratulations to Lady Carrington, whose second son Lieut. C. W. Carrington of the Grenadier Guards has recently been awarded with the Distinguished Service Order. It will be remembered that her eldest son also gained the D.S.O. and the youngest son the Military Cross.

Our deepest sympathy has been given to Mrs. Montagu Brown, on the death of her husband. He went up into the trenches on a certain date, and news came forty eight hours later that he had died of wounds. May the God of all comfort console those who are mourning his loss!

Our hearty congratulations to Lieut. Fred White on gaining the Military Cross, and to Corporal Will Taylor on gaining the D.C.M., and being now out of hospital.

This will be one of the most solemn Lents we have ever known. We all feel more and more that great changes are taking place in the world and that probably we are nearing the final stages of this trouble, the ultimate result of which it seems impossible to tell but one thing we are certain that we must not slacken our prayers – but rather increase them and deepen the spirit in which they are offered.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, February 1918 (D/P116B/28A/2)

Naturally during the war it is impossible to arrange the annual Choir excursion

A church choir was not too disappointed to miss out on an annual outing yet again.


Naturally during the war it is impossible to arrange the annual Choir excursion, but instead, each member was given a Christmas box, a gift much appreciated by both men and boys.

Warfield section of Winkfield and Warfield Magazine, February 1918 (D/P 151/28A/10)

“I had thought poor old England was so hard up, that no one would be able to send to me”

Some of the Christmas parcels sent out by Broad Street Church in Reading arrived rather later – but were welcome nonetheless. One hopes they included nothing perishable. China had joined the British side on the war in August 1917.

Many, many thanks for the very nice parcel which I received safely last week (Jan. 27th). It was indeed a pleasant surprise. I had thought poor old England was so hard up, that no one would be able to send to me. Everything you sent was just it. As you say China is a long way from home. I have been here over two years, and I haven’t had a single weekend leave yet. If I were nearer England I might stand a chance of dropping in to the PSA one Sunday…

Please convey my thanks to the Brotherhood and say I long for the day when I can be back amongst them. Am afraid I shall be too old to blow the cornet when I get back, but perhaps I might pass for the choir.

J Burgess (OS) [on active service]

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, April 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“May humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British fleet”

Wokingham choir singers raised money for the children of men blinded in the fighting, while a prayer from the Napoleonic Wars had a new resonance.

Blind Soldiers Fund.

The Choir has spent several evenings in Carol Singing, and as a result has obtained, so far, £8 for the Blind Soldiers Fund. The rendering of the Carols was most creditable to the members. The Christmas dinner table envelopes received up to now, have produced just over £5. This sum is for the children of Blind Soldiers.

Lord Nelson’s Prayer.

May the Great God whom I worship grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general a great and glorious victory, and may no misconduct in any one tarnish it and may humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British fleet. For myself individually I commit my life to Him that made me, and may His blessing alight on my endeavours for saving my country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause it is entrusted to me to defend.

Amen, Amen, Amen.

Wokingham St Sebastian parish magazine, January 1918 (D/P154C/28A/1)

“The only jarring feature was the never-ending noise of the guns”

Reading men at the front report on their Christmas experiences. Harrison’s Pomade was a treatment for lice, an unpleasant reality for men in the trenches. It was produced by a Reading chemist.


The following extracts from letters from our men on service have been “in type” for several months, but they have had to be “held over” for lack of space. We now have pleasure in publishing them:

The fact there are friends at home who have not forgotten us out here is a very great consolation, and one’s odd moments are often filled with thoughts of those at home. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the time seems to go so quickly. We had a very good time on Xmas day considering the wildness and loneliness (except for troops) of the spot we are in…

The only jarring feature was the never-ending noise of the guns, but somehow even among that there seemed to be a feeling of peace. Certainly there was, and is, a great desire for it. Please convey to all friends my heartiest thanks, not only for the very useful gifts but for the spirit which prompted them.

L. H. N. (OS)

Thank you so very much for the parcel and message. I was so glad to be remembered by Broad St. The church and friends it embraces will always be one of my happiest memories; and memories mean so much when we are far away. It will be my first duty – and a very pleasant one – to look you all up when I come back. Until then letters will have to suffice, I’m afraid, for all we think and feel.
L. J. P. (OS)

I wish to thank you and Broad St Chapel for the parcel which only reached me yesterday. Fortunately the things were all securely packed and none the worse for the trying journey they must have had. Thank you very much…

Although one is of necessity away from home, one’s thoughts naturally are at home, especially at this time of year, and a parcel from the church where one really learnt the elementary lessons of life is always a pleasure to receive.

L. H. F. (OS)

It gave me very great pleasure when I received the parcel yesterday from my friends at Broad St Church, also your welcome letter and circular enclosed, so full of encouraging and cheering wishes. I assure you the contents of the parcel were very welcome both for physical and spiritual needs, and I hardly know how or what to say in thanks…

Often I sit and think of the times I have spent with the choir at Broad St and long to be back again. I shall be with them in spirit when “Merrie England” is being performed and they won’t miss me half as much as I shall miss the pleasure of being there.

W. H. D. (OS)

It was a big pleasant surprise to receive yesterday the splendid parcel from dear old Broad St. Please accept my sincerest thanks. Candles especially are very welcome, and Harrison’s Pomade is a gift which only those actually here can appreciate fully. I believe this is the third Xmas on which I have received this concrete evidence of your continued interest. I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say I sincerely trust that there won’t be a fourth – under such circumstances as these at all events….

My thoughts are often in Reading, and Broad St always fills a warm corner of my heart.

W. F. H. (OS)

I am writing to thank you for your kind Xmas wishes, and most useful parcel…

I spent a happy Xmas, and even enjoyed the luxury of turkey and pudding – quite a contrast to the previous year, when I spent the festive season between the trenches and sundry “Bairnsfather” barns with “bully” stew as a constant dinner companion. I received your parcel that year during a period in which we were occupying an old brewery cellar. Te building on top had long been demolished by shell fire, but the tall chimney persisted in standing, in spite of decapitation. Naturally with Herr Bosche busily amusing himself with his battered target we were glad to get downstairs. Nor do I remember that any teetotaller had any complaint to make on that occasion upon breweries in general, or brewery cellars in particular.

N. H. (OS)

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, September 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“I expected to be home about Xmas, but instead I found myself in Italy”

Members of Broad Street Brotherhood were reminded of home at Christmas.


Below we give extracts from a few of the letters recently received from members of the Brotherhood who are serving with HM Forces. The writers of these – and many other – letters were most grateful for the Christmas parcels, but in making our extracts we have not thought it necessary to include their expressions of appreciation in every case.

Today I had a very pleasant surprise in receiving the parcel of very useful things you all had so kindly sent me. I thank you very much for your kind thoughts and wishes expressed in your helpful letter, and for all you have sent. What a splendid and helpful “Xmas Message” that is on the leaflet you enclose. I shall pass it on.
Stanley Gooch (OS)

Thank you so much for the parcel I received quite safely. It is good of you all to make our Xmas so bright by the splendid things that you sent along. I received the parcel on Xmas afternoon. I expected to be home about Xmas, but instead I found myself in Italy. But never mind. Let us hope that this terrible war will soon finish…

How I look forward to the time when I can sit in my old place in the choir and let rip our good old Brotherhood hymns…

I thought of Broad St and the Choir on Xmas Day when our Quartette Party sang “The Soldier’s Farewell”.

J E Graham (OS)

I beg to acknowledge the parcel that was so kindly forwarded to me from the Church and Brotherhood. Please convey my heartfelt thanks to all those who helped to add another kind expression of brotherly feeling to the absent ones. They can never know the pleasure it gives….

Although so far away it seems to bring us all right home to Broad St and the happy times we’ve had together…

I am sorry to say we have no Brotherhood here, but one of the Church Army Huts, which I can assure you is very acceptable to the boys at the Hospital. We have service morning and evening, and since I’ve been here I have not missed one. We have a Male Voice Choir of which I am a member, and I believe we could now put Broad Street M[ale] V[oice] Choir in a back seat. But please don’t tell the conductor this, as he might take it serious.

Herbert Tott (OS)

Will you kindly thank the members of the Church and Brotherhood who so kindly gave to the parcel you sent. I received it in the trenches…

I must thank God I have been spared to see another Xmas where there have been so many that have fallen. I have been very glad Mr Woolley ever induced me to join the Brotherhood…

We are having very cold weather, and the ground is thick with snow which makes it bad for getting about.

C Mills (OS)

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, April 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Carols for blind soldiers – a cause we all must have at heart

Blind Soldiers.

Sir Arthur Pearson, who has done so much for the Blind, has invited Choirs to go round singing Carols at Christmas-tide and to give any proceeds to the cause which he and all of us must have at heart. Our own Choir is proposing to take a part in this scheme and will, we feel sure, get a liberal welcome. Further details will be issued shortly.

Wokingham St Sebastian parish magazine, December 1917 (D/P154C/28A/1)

We shall be very glad when Peace comes and things return to their normal conditions

The curate at Maidenhead St Luke was going to become an army chaplain, while the organist was too busy working in a munitions factory to rehearse the choir.

The Vicar’s Letter

Dear Friends and Parishioners,-

This November again brings us the Confirmation. I hope all are remembering in their prayers those who are preparing for Confirmation. It should be one of the great turning points in a boy’s or girl’s, or man’s or woman’s, life. Just now, with all the concomitant disturbance and upheaval of the War, it is difficult for any, old or young, to find much time for quiet, and the making of great resolves. All the more honour is due, and the more help should be given, to those who have the courage to try and serve God in this way. I hope that all god-parents, parents and friends of the Candidates, who can possibly be present, will attend the Confirmation on Sunday, November 25th, at 3.30 pm.

Alas! after the Confirmation, we are to lose Mr. Sellors, who has been posted as an Army Chaplain from November 26th, though his actual departure may be a little later. We cannot grudge him his War Service; but I am sure that on behalf of the whole parish I ought to say how much he has endeared himself to us all since he first came among us in June, 1916… We pray God he may return safe, to work among us again, if the War do not last too long, or, if it do, to visit us before he shall take up work in the Foreign Mission Field.

There has been some re-arrangement in the matter of the Musical Services at St. Luke’s, temporarily owing to the War.

The ever-growing claims of Munitions now prevents Mr. Garrett Cox from taking the Friday night practices of the Choir. He can still play on Sundays, except on some evenings.

Mr. King-Gill has kindly undertaken to act as Choir-Master and Precentor for the time being, and I am sure in his hands the Choir will maintain its reputation for good and reverent singing. Mr. Sinkins is most generously helping us on those Sunday nights when Mr. Garrett Cox is away, and at other times, too. And we are still fortunate in getting help from Mr. Snow and Mr. Goolden, and occasionally from Mr. Chavasse and Mr. Sellors.

I feel that a word of public thanks is also due to Mr Chas King for the great help he gave us in Choir training while Mr Garrett Cox had to be making shells; we all much appreciate the work he did for us. We shall, of course, be very glad when Peace comes and things return to their normal conditions, but thanks to our many good friends we have done wonderfully well at St Luke’s in a very trying time…

I remain, Your faithful friend and Vicar


Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, November 1917 (D/P181/28A/26)

The great sacrifice

Crazies Hill Notes

So far as we have observed the following from our list of those serving King and Country have been home on leave recently and it gave us great pleasure to welcome them:

Henry Doe, Hubert and Walter Denton, Tom Silver, Joseph Kimble, Jesse Waldron, Sam, Jim, David and Tom Weller.

Charles Ellison Woodward is a first-class wireless operator on a patrol yacht and not on a mine-sweeper as stated in our last issue.

Much sympathy is felt for Willie Denton who had a leg amputated owing to wounds and is now in Netley Hospital. He was a faithful member of our choir, and when home on leave some time ago he took his place in the choir as usual and we were all so glad to see him back. To his father and relatives as well as to himself we offer our sincere sympathy.

Hare Hatch

The deepest sympathy of a large circle of friends is felt for Mr. and Mrs. Sharp, whose son Valentin was killed at Salonica, on September 28th.

The Commanding Officer states: “We looked upon him not so much as a comrade but as a brother, he was greatly loved by the whole company.”

Valentine served at Gallipoli until he was wounded when, after a short period of convalescence at home, he was sent to Salonica where he has made the great sacrifice. This second bereavement has called forth the deepest sympathy for the family. We trust they will be supported and comforted by our prayers in the hour of trial.

Wargrave parish magazine, November 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

A good comrade who always played the game

Among the Reading men reported killed were two decorated heroes.

All Saints’ District
The War

Last month we offered our congratulations to Pte, F.R. Johnson of the Machine Gun Corps, and a member of the Choir, on being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallant conduct on July 31st. It is with great sorrow that we have to chronicle the fact that a few days later he was killed in action. He rendered excellent service in the Choir and leaves behind him a good record as a soldier. That he was appreciated and highly esteemed by his comrades is shown in the following extract from one of the several letters written by them which we have been privileged to read: –

“I know quite well from every man in the company would agree with me when I say that we always found him a good comrade and a loyal friend; to put it shortly, he was ‘a white man,’ and always ‘played the game.’”

Such words are a great testimonial to personal character. He was an only child, and our deepest sympathy will go to his sorrowing parents.

We also have to record the death of Pte Arthur James Purchell, of the Royal Berks Regt., whom also was congratulated some time ago on being awarded the Military Medal. He was severely wounded in action and died shortly afterwards.

News has also just arrived of the death of Gunner Frederick Edward Stowell, of the Salonika Force, and of Pt. William Warren Goddard, of the Machine Gun Corps, who died in France of meningitis. To the relatives and friends who are mourning their loss we shall give our sincerest sympathy.

All Saints section of Reading St Mary parish magazine, November 1917 (D/P98/28A/15)

A simple, innocent looking British soldier

Will Spencer was now seeking Swiss citizenship, but still took an interest when he ran into a British soldier interned there. He and wife Johanna were very short of cash, even though Johanna’s sister was sending them what she could from Germany.

18 November 1917

To the English Church. Sat in the second row, in order to be out of danger of draughts from the door, as I have not yet quite got rid of my cold. Only two persons in the choir – one on each side – a lady on the left & on the rights a simple, innocent looking British soldier who seemed to have a tenor voice – he was at any rate singing the melody….

After Johanna had entertained me to tea in her room (she had already had tea at the Judge’s) she told me that the matter that she had been speaking to the Judge about was the question of our borrowing money until I am a Swiss citizen, in order that Agnes may run no further risk in sending to us. The Judge kindly offered us the help of his name, but Johanna will write to Direktor Loeliger first. She did so this evening.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)

A pretty wedding at Bisham

Nurse Elizabeth Vansittart Neale, co-heiress of Bisham Abbey, had enjoyed a wartime romance with 27 year old officer Leo Paget, and today was their wedding day – at Bisham Church. Mother Florence’s diary entry was brief:

20 October 1917

Bubs’ wedding day.

However, she went into more detail in another book she kept.

20th October 1917
Elizabeth married Capt Leo Paget – Rifle Brigade. Wedding took place in Bisham Church – very pretty – good music with Dr. Bath at organ & Marlow choir boys to reinforce ours.

Over 60 guests at luncheon, almost all relations.

Bridal pair repaired [?] to Reading to Malets Cottage at Norcot–Lynton [?].

Young Paget came over on leave from the front in France – he arrived the day before the wedding- he had 2 weeks leave (4 days extra for marriage).

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); Bisham estate memorandum book (D/EX73/1/8/2, p. 222)

“Confident that they would all be back from the Front to sing an anthem at Christmas”

There were mixed views as to how much longer the war would last.

We convey our congratulations to our bell-ringers who in spite of the absence of so many of our ringers at the Front, still manage to make a brave show with the bells. It is only about two Sundays that two bells have been chimed, but as a rule we get from four to six. The Choir has also got somewhat thin from the same cause, but we have dropped nothing except anthems on Festivals for the last year. However, the Vicar had a letter from one of the Choirmen at the Front who appeared confident that they would all be back to sing an anthem at Christmas! We all hope his idea is correct.

Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild needs as much support as ever, as the war is not yet over. There are a certain number of them who do not get “weary in well-doing.” It is wonderful how one may encourage another, and also how an irregular member may deter another.

Many have asked “What about the Coal?” Well, that was the matter over which Warfield Charities Committee sat on August 8th, and the Coal Merchants could give us no quotations. So til the middle of September we must “wait and see.” Most probably the saw-mills will be busy this winter.

Warfield section of Winkfield District Magazine, September 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/9)

So the war takes toll of England’s best

Tribute is paid to a fallen soldier from Reading, a young man with much to offer his community.

In Memoriam
Wilfred Wallace Drake.

The sad news that our loved friend and brother, Lieut. Wilfred Drake, had died on August 16th, from severe wounds received in action that day, has cast quite a gloom over Trinity. It came to all who knew him as a shock of personal and poignant grief. He was so essentially a vital part of the work here that, in his passing, we have sustained a grievous loss. He was perhaps the one to whom some of us were looking to come back into the Church life and, in his inimitable way, to infuse fresh life and vigour into its various activities. It is a great blow to feel that this cannot be.
In thinking over his life, three characteristics stand out in impressive prominence.

1. His Splendid Keenness.

With what tremendous energy and enthusiasm he threw himself into any job he undertook, great or small. Shall we ever forget the eagerness with which he championed the scheme for the entertaining of Kitchener’s Army in 1914-15, and with what joyful willingness he gave up many an evening to this work? Of him it may be truly said – “No duty could over task him, No need his will outrun; Or ever our lips could ask him, His hands the work had done.”

2. His Gentility.

He was of a particular happy disposition, and his spirits were so infectious a nature that he made everyone else interested and enthusiastic. Whether it were the Children’s Choir, the Eisteddfod, an Institute picnic or tennis tournament, it went if “Drake” had anything to do with it. So great was his influence that even his telegram of good wishes for the success of the Eisteddfod of 1916 gave fresh Zest to the proceedings.

3. His Earnestness.

With all his spirits, his deep thoughtfulness impressed all who were privileged with his close friendship. He scarcely ever missed attendance at the Institute Bible School, and was of enormous help getting in other young men to join. They came at first at his word and because he was there; they stopped because they liked it, again helped by his unconscious influence. He was a simple but strong faith; he did not say much but lived out what he believed.

His activities were many and in all he excelled. From its commencement the institute owed much to his initiative and enterprise. For four years he was the superintendent of the Band of Hope, where his bright personality made him the life and soul of every meeting. The training of the children’s choir was a truly great piece of work, and not only revealed his wonderful aptitude for teaching children, but was the means by which large sums were raised for charitable objects. And how the children loved him! They will long revere the memory of their good natured and painstaking conductor, to whose careful tuition many of them owe their musical powers to-day. In the Choir he was invaluable. Possessing a baritone voice of rare quality and resonance, he was a decided acquisition, and his attendance could always be relied upon. Again, his glad willing spirit readily undertook any required service.

Lieutenant Drake received his commission over two years ago, and had been in France since June, 1916. He came home on leave only a month before his death. How little did we, who so gladly welcomed his presence at church, think it was for the last time! He was attached to a Trench Mortar Battery. Numerous are the tributes which have been received showing the deep affection and profound esteem entertained for him.

Through the kindness of Mrs. Drake we are able to print two of them.

His Commanding Officer writes:-

“I have just heard that your husband has died of wounds. I cannot say how sorry we all were. Although he had been away with the trench mortars, he of course belonged to the Regiment, and had been with us for some time. He was one of the bravest and most promising of officer’s, and his loss is greatly felt in the Regiment. Please accept my deepest sympathy and that of all ranks of the Battalion in your great loss.”

The second is from A/Sergt.-Major Holmes, and it is signed by many of the of lieut. Drake’s own Battery. It is as follows:-

“I write to you these few lines of sympathy on behalf the loss of your husband, Lieutenant Drake was, who was an officer in our Battery, and I must say that he was very much liked indeed by all N.C.O’s. and men. It is now we miss him, and many a time I have heard my men say, ‘Isn’t it a pity we lost Mr. Drake?’ And I am sure it is also, for I, as well as all the others, was always fond of such a brave and noble officer as he proved himself to be.

The following are names of the N.C.O.’s and men who came out of the last action; they all asked me to write, and all send their deepest sympathy to you, the wife of a noble Officer of the British Army.”

So the war takes toll of England’s best, and when it claimed Wilfred Drake, it took one whose life would have enriched our land wherever it had been lived. Yet he is not dead, for that spirit cannot die. For us its memory will never fade, but will live as an inspiration to all who knew and loved it, and “the friendships thus made in God will grow through a;; eternity” till we meet before the great white throne and all “the shadows flee away.”

But what of his loss to his loved ones? To his young wife, whose joyful wedding lingers still in all memories, our hearts go out in tender thought, and to her and to his parents, mourning the loss of their only son, we offer our heartfelt sympathy, praying that God of all consolation may comfort their hearts.

On Sunday morning, August 26th, the choir sang very impressively “What are these?” (Stainer), and Mr. Goodenough played “O rest in the Lord. ”At the Bible School in the afternoon.” Mr Streeter made feeling reference to our great loss, and a vote of condolence with Mrs. Drake and the bereaved parents was passed. Mr. E.C. Croft gave a beautiful rendering of R.L. Stevenson’s “Requiem.”

Trinity Congregational Magazine, October 1917 (D/EX1237/1)