“Such was his enthusiasm that he was led to write war verses with a view to stimulating the slacker”

Here we learn of the war experiences of some of the Old Boys of St Bartholomew’s Grammar School, Newbury, who had lost their lives.

In Memoriam.

In reporting the deaths of the following Old Newburians, we take this opportunity of expressing our most sincere sympathy with the bereaved friends and relations.

N. G. Burgess.

Croix De Guerre

Lieutenant Nathaniel Gordon Burgess, Croix De Guerre, R.N.R., entered the N.G.S. in April, 1901, and left at Christmas, 1906, from the South House. He obtained his place in both the second Cricket and Football elevens in 1903 and got into both firsts in his last year. On leaving school he entered the Civil Service, but subsequently turned to the Mercantile Marine. His connection with the Senior Service dates from April, 1915, when his offer of service was accepted and he was granted the commission of Sub.-Lieutenant. The following September he was promoted to Acting Lieutenant and posted to H.M.S Conquest. While serving under the then Commodore Tyrrwhit he had the good fortune to capture two German trawlers laden with munitions; and the telegrams of congratulations, both from his Commanding Officer and the Admiralty, together with the battered flag of one of the trawlers, were among his most cherished possessions. The posthumous award of the Croix de Guerre was conferred on him by the French Government for his gallantry in the naval action off Lowestoft, in July 1916, when a German shell entered one of the magazines of his ship. Fortunately the shell did not immediately explode, and, by flooding the magazine compartment, the gallant officer prevented what might have been serious damage, his action being regarded very highly by the authorities.. thus it was a very promising life which was cut short when at the age of twenty-six, Burgess was lost at sea in March of this year.

J. V. Hallen.

Corporal John Vernie Hallen, School House 1905-1908, was born in 1894 and received his preliminary education at College House, Hungerford, thence going to The Ferns, Thatcham, from which school he finally came to the N.G.S., getting into both the Cricket and Football Seconds in 1907. After leaving here he became an expert motor engineer, from which occupation he joined up early in the war, determined at all costs to uphold the honour of his country. Such was his enthusiasm that he was led to write war verses with a view to stimulating the slacker, which we understand to have been always well received, and in the meanwhile he found time to use his great physical strength in winning the heavy weight boxing championship of his regiment, the 1st Surrey Rifles. Such was the man who was killed in action in France some three months ago.

F. C. Mortimer.

Private Frederick C. Mortimer, South House 1910-1915, who was reportedly killed in action “in the Field,” on Friday the 26th of April, was exactly nineteen years and four months old on the day of his death. He took a keen enjoyment in outdoor sport and got into the Second Cricket Eleven in 1914, while his dash was quite a feature of the First Fifteen in his last year here. Always cheerful and amusing, he was generally liked in his form and took his school life with a lightheartedness that made it well worth living. His last letter to his parents was dated on the day of his death, from France, whither he was drafted on the first of last February, after a year’s training at Dovercourt and Colchester. We cannot but feel that he died as he had lived, quickly and cheerfully.

R. Cowell-Townshend.

Second Lieutenant Roy Cowell-Townshend, R.A.F., Country House 1913-1916, was a promising Cricketer, having played for the first eleven both in 1915 and in his last term. On leaving school he wished to become an electrical engineer and entere4d into apprenticeship with Messrs. Thornycroft, on June 1st, 1916. Having reached the age of eighteen, he was called to the colours on February 17th, 1917, and went into training on Salisbury Plain, quickly gaining a stripe and the Cross Guns of the marksman. Soon afterwards he was drafted to the R.F.C. as a Cadet and went to Hursley Park for his course. From here he went first to Hastings and then to Oxford when, having passed all his exams, he was granted his commission on December 7th, 1917. He then went to Scampton, Lincoln, where he qualified as a Pilot, and afterwards to Shrewsbury, where he was practicing with a Bombing Machine he was to take on to France. Every report speaks of him as having been a most reliable pilot, and he had never had an accident while in this position, nor even a bad landing, and at the time of his death he was acting as passenger. The fatal accident occurred on May 29th, 1918, the machine, which the instructor was piloting, having a rough landing, and Townshend being pitched forward and killed instantaneously. His body was brought to his home at Hungerford, where he was buried with military honours on June 3rd.

The Newburian (magazine of St Bartholomew’s School, Newbury), July 1918 (N/D161/1/8)

“You put such a lot of energy and enthusiasm into your work as brigade gas officer that I always knew things were going well”

Sydney Spencer must have cherished this letter from a former commanding officer, as he kept it safe.


My dear Spencer

I was sorry to hear that you had left the brigade, but glad for your sake; but it makes no difference to me as I too have left the brigade, and am now commanding the 214th brigade at Colchester.

Many thanks to you for all your help; you put such a lot of energy and enthusiasm into your work as brigade gas officer that I always knew things were going well, and I had the greatest confidence in that part of the Brigade Training.

Write to me when you get to France and if you want me to write to your CO or brigadier let me know the name and I will write to him about you.

Best of luck to you

Yours sincerely

A G Pritchard

Brigadier General
214th Brigade

Letter to Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/78)

It is a constant source of anxiety to know if our funds will hold out til the end of the War

The people of Wargrave contributed to help for Berkshire PoWs, including sending them bread to supplement what the Germans provided.

Prisoners of War of the Royal Berkshire Regiment

It is one of the first duties laid upon us to provide for the prisoners of War of our county regiment.

A Committee, of which Rear-Admiral Cherry is Hon. Treasurer and Mrs. Mount of Wasing Place, is Hon. Secretary, has undertaken this work. In February last it was realised by the Committee that to look after the prisoners of all the seven battalions now at the front would be more than they could undertake. It was therefore decided that this committee should only deal with the 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 8th battalions – the prisoners of the 1/4, 2/4 and 7th battalions were handed over to Mrs. Hedges, 19, Castle Street, Wallingford, and the prisoners of the 6th battalion to Mrs. Dowell, 155 Malden Road, Colchester.

An appeal was sent to the Parish of Wargrave for support and Mrs. Henry Bond undertook to collect subscriptions for the fund. Mrs. Bond’s appeal has met with a ready and generous support- the amount collected by her in the parish was £101. 2s., in sums of £5 and under.

In acknowledging the cheque Mrs. Mount writes:

Wasing Place,
August 21st.
Dear Mrs. Bond,

I really do not know how to express to you my thanks for the splendid collection you have made in Wargrave for the Royal Berks Regt. Prisoners. It is a constant source of anxiety to know if our funds will hold out til the end of the War. Our bread bill alone amounts to between £60 and £70 a month, besides which we have to find adopters for our 280 prisoners willing to pay each £21 per year for these prisoners.

Your splendid collection will go far towards removing any immediate anxiety.

Yours sincerely,
Hilda Mount.

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

‘The jar jar of this life’

Sydney Spencer was struggling in his work at the YMCA camp and sought consolation in an old friend – poetry:

Thursday Sept 17th
Today is a miserable day. It is pouring with rain and our tent is full of men. We have an orderly too now, & it makes the work “some lighter” as Hayes would say. We are both getting to know the men here quite well & have chats with them. I am feeling my way to get at some spiritual work. That is my whole object & I shall be very disappointed if I don’t get my chance. Last night we had an interesting talk together while Hayes was gone off on some errands. Some of the men here seem devoid of any sort of consciousness of shame at being “defaulters”. They don’t seem to understand the stigma & smudging of their honour they suffer when they have committed an “army crime”. One of them last night was a defaulter, & had been six years without a crime. But on Sunday night he ran away & was captured at Colchester & was brought back here. He told me that he wanted badly to see his wife so had gone off regardless of consequences. It seems such a pity after six years good behaviour to feel that he has spoilt his sheet. Hayes & I are having difficulties over the officers here. I do not know whether they quite know whether we are paid grocer’s assistants or what we are I am not sure, but they have done quite enough to make me feel that I could not possibly accept any invitation they might offer me. I cannot swallow my pride, & the message we received last night saying that Hayes was invited to breakfast but that “the other young fellow was not wanted” made me just mad. Of course that message was not deliberately sent to me, but that was what was said. I was very tired when this came along having been on all day at this work and I felt that I really could not do much more than be angry. These times when I have to eat humble pie are times which I find more than difficult, & when the words [Greek quotation] are read, I often feel that I shall never be able to inherit the earth. I suppose that it is that I am not used either to snubs or to insults, & when one comes along, for the moment I feel that my whole control is gone & that I must go straight to that man and make him take it back. Hayes did not say much about the matter although he sympathised with my position, but just before going to bed he said, “Be all things to all men”, & that put the thing in the right light for me. Hayes has a beautiful edition of the Oxford Book of English Verse here & it is such a relief to dive into it and read. It is like a dive into some level limpid stream after a long walk through paved suburban streets on a hot day. The jar jar [sic] of this life – for it is a strain despite its interest – wants relief and when I come across such lines as these from Browning’s ‘Paracelsus’ I feel such a relief as makes me grateful for these grand men who wrote such sweet words for our refreshment:

Heap cassia, sandalbuds and stripes
Of labdanum, and aloe balls
Smear’d with dull nard an Indian wipes
From out her hair such balsam falls
Down seaside mountain pedestals
From tree tops where tired winds are fain
Spent with the vast and howling main
To treasure half their island gain

And strew faint sweetness from some old
Egyptian’s fine worm-eaten shroud
Which breaks to dust when once unroll’d
Or shredded perfume like a cloud
From closet long to quiet vow’d
With moth’d and dropping arras hung
Mouldering her lute and books among
As when a queen, long dead, was young

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

News from France at last

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham had been very frustrated with the lack of news from the Front. At last there was some news. Meanwhile Florence continued making preparations for her home, Bisham Abbey, to be used as a war hospital. There is an interesting reference to a nurse from India (the now obsolete term ‘Eurasian’ was the Colonial word for people of mixed Indian and European ancestry).

19 August 1914
At last account of troops in France & Belgium. All carried out in secrecy. Boulogne, Havre, etc. Poor Dan as youngest officer [must] stay in England [to] train recruits from Colchester.

Lorna & lady came in morning; also Eurasian nurse. Made washing flannels [for the hospital].

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