Showing generals how to perform card tricks

Will Spencer was glad to hear how his soldier brothers and family friends from Cookham were getting on. One brother, Horace, was a professional conjurer in peacetime, a skill which entertained his superiors.

13 January 1918

Read a long letter which had come for me by the morning post from Mother, describing their quiet Christmas – none of the boys, & Natalie [wife of Harold Spencer] not able to come, through having an influenza cold. Percy had been with them on the 22nd, leaving on the 23rd. Notwithstanding that the plums Mother had obtained proved to be old ones, the puddings, of which she made two, had been pronounced to be a success. Percy had said they were the best of her making he had ever tasted. She wished I might have been there, & then also have had a piece. The second pudding was still intact, save for the piece cut out which Percy had….

Katie Poskett’s elder boy is in the army, & the younger called up. She finds it difficult to bear. That Percy had passed all his exams I had previously heard. Mother now writes that he is Second Lieutenant & down in Wiltshire. Horace, in France, has been showing generals how he performs his card tricks, & then talks of ‘his friend General — ’ to comrades who “can only boast of corporals’ friendships”.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

“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.

LETTERS FROM THE FRONT

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)

No plum pudding

It was a festive Christmas at Bisham Abbey, although the family missed daughter Phyllis and son in law Leo “Boy” Paget, respectively nursing and fighting.

25 December 1917

Had soup, turkey and bread sauce!! No plum pudding, but omnibus with dates. Drank health absent ones, Phyllis & Boy, in champagne.

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

Donations for wounded army horses

Berkshire schools were affected by the war in varying ways.

Abingdon Girls’ CE School
1917, 23rd-27th July

As last year the County Council gave War Time Certificates instead of Prizes.

During the year the girls have sent:

1. To the Jack Cornwall Fund for Memorial Ward – 13/
2. Xmas puddings for soldiers at the Front – one guinea
3. To the RSPCA Fund for sick and wounded army horses – 12/
4. The Overseas Fund on Empire Day – 7/

Broadmoor School
27th July 1917

Miss Haines was allowed to leave school at 2 o’clock on Monday to see a friend from the trenches.

Charlton Infant School
27th July 1917

The usual school treat is not taking place this year, in accordance with the wishes of the Food Controller.

Abingdon Girls’ CE School log book (C/EL 2/2); Crowthorne: Broadmoor School log book (C/EL100); Charlton Infant School log book (C/EL12)

“So ravenously hungry up in these hills that I could eat a hayrick”

Hungry young art student turned medical orderly Stanley Spencer was equally desperate for food, books and art while serving in Greece.

March 27th 1917.

Dear Florence,

I am no longer in the 68th or 66th F.A., so note my new address. Simply alter number of F.Amb. to 143rd. The remainder of the address is the same as it always has been. I was sorry to lose the C.O. of the 68th and I was getting on well in the 66th. If you think you can afford it could you send me out some eatables of some kind, say biscuits or those tinned cakes – cakes in air-tight tins.

Send me one of those little 6d Gowan’s and Gray’s books of Masterpieces of Art. Send me Raphael.

You must not think that I ask for eatables because I am not getting enough food. On the contrary, I am getting good rations, as we all are, but I get so ravenously hungry up in these hills that I could eat a hayrick. It is being out-of-doors so much.

And about books: it is impossible to get them here. A field Amb. is not like a hospital at Salonique where you can buy books, etc. Robert Louis Stevenson is a man whose writings I love.

I do not know if any parcels containing eatables have been sent to me; if so, none have ever arrived. But with the exception of the wonderful ‘Daily News’ Christmas pudding which I never got (and would like to know why), I do not think anything in that line has been sent to me ever since I left England on August 22nd last.

With much love

From your ever loving,

STAN.

Letter from Stanley Spencer to Florence Image (D/EX801/20)

A week’s wages for Christmas puddings for the troops

Soldiers took over the playground at a school in Sunninghill, while children in Sandhurst offered up their meagre earnings to buy Christmas puddings for the troops.

Sunninghill: St Michael’s CE Mixed School
10th November 1916
On Thursday the playgrounds were occupied by the North Lancashire Regt.

Lower Sandhurst School
November 10th 1916

Sent the sum of six pounds 15/2 to the “Daily Telegraph” Fund for providing Christmas Puddings for the troops. This sum has been collected from the children in about a fortnight. Several of the contributions have been the result of special efforts made by the children e.g. those who have ‘places of work’ devoted a week’s wages to the fund &c.

Sunninghill: St Michael’s CE Mixed School log book (88/SCH/32/3); Lower Sandhurst School log book (C/EL66/1)

“By far the best entertainment our wounded heroes get in the district”

The parish of Earley St Peter made something of a speciality of entertaining wounded soldiers.

EARLEY “WOUNDED SOLDIERS” ENTERTAINMENT FUND

In continuation of my account dated 25th November last, I am glad to report that there seems to be no lack of interest shewn by our friends and helpers in this deserving cause, nor in appreciation of our efforts by those whom we have been privileged to entertain.

Fifty-five guests were entertained on the 1st inst. and 55 on the 15th, and it needs but little time to be spent amongst them to find out how pleased they are with the form of entertainment provided. Presents of fruit, flowers, smokes, sweets, cakes, &c, continue to be given, whilst additional games have been introduced; three especially good ones, “Fishing” and “Bombardo”, kindly introduced by Miss Joel, and Parlour Bagatelle by Mrs Helps, having proved a great attraction. The hat-trimming, hairdressing, bowling and other competitions continue in great favour, and the evergreen sketch, “Mixed Pickles”, by the Misses Hayward and E. Francis and Messrs Edwin and Maurice Love creates much amusement, in fact we now have the credit of providing by far the best entertainment our wounded heroes get in the district.

I regret the Editor cannot allow this report to stand over for the special event we hope to provide on Wednesday, the 29th instant. On that date we are arranging to give dinner to 60 at 12.45, followed by the usual amusements: and promises of joints, puddings, mince pies and other good things have already been provided, so that an excellent repast is certain, and the only difficulty we are likely to have to face will be the provision of motors. In regard to this branch of helpers we have had the assistance of Mr Friedlander, Mrs Joel (bus and car), Mr Ed. Heelas, Lieut. Usmar, Mr D. Helps, Mr Richard Lea, Mr O. Dixon, [and] Mr A. C. Jordan, and to them our grateful thanks are due.

It is impossible to write to all who may wish to contribute to this Fund, but our hon secretary, Mr Love, or myself, will be glad to receive any additional gifts at any time. Since my last report the following further gifts have been received. Our Lady Subscribers have been good enough to attend and give valuable help.

Chas. J Howlett, Hon. Treasurer
16 December, 1915

DONATIONS

Miss George (further donation) 2s.6d
Mrs Lily 5s
Mrs Jordan (further donation) 5s
Mr E. D. Heelas £1
Heelas, Sons & Co., Ltd 5s
Anon (further donation) 2s.6d
Miss Montizambert (further donation) 10s
Mr and Miss Jordan (donation, prizes) 1s.6d
Miss Maurice 10s

GIFTS IN KIND
Miss Eileen Joel, Cakes and Cigarettes
Mrs A. C. Jordan, Cakes
Mrs Friedlander, Fruit
Mrs Marshall, Cigarettes
Mrs Wooldridge, Flowers and Fruit
Miss Jordan, Prizes
Mrs Bright, Cakes
Mrs Masser, Cigarettes
Mr A. C. Jordan, Chocolates and Cigars
Lieut. Usmar, Cigarettes
Mrs Murton, Cigarettes
Miss L. Goodwin, Cakes
The Misses Beauchamp, Cakes
Miss Lea, Cakes

Earley St Peter parish magazine, January 1916 (D/P191/28A/23/1)