“Providing a man is practical & unselfish, the life is not bad”

Will Spencer heard from soldier brother Horace, who offered a pleasant view of army life, and from the wife of another soldier brother, Natalie.

19 March 1918

When I got back, Johanna asked me if it was my birthday. Letters from Natalie & from Horace, & a parcel [and letter from a Swiss friend]…

Reading the [three] letters to Johanna, with running comments, after dinner, was quite a long proceeding, as Natalie’s letter was one of 8 large pages!.

Horace writes to me,

“Perhaps you are sometimes pained at the conjectured hardships that we have to undergo, so I will try to relieve your mind on that point. Providing a man is practical & unselfish, the life is not bad, there are kind words and deeds exchanged at all times, & so the atmosphere is pleasant. He has heard concerts & lectures, visited 6 cathedral towns in France, has learned to play chess, & read – amongst other books – Holmes’ Life of Mozart….

Natalie writes that Harold “had a rotten [underlined] time one way & another, tho’ now his lines seem to have fallen into pleasanter places”.

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


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)

Grow more potatoes

The need to grow more food inspired lessons for West Berkshire children.

22 February 1918

The children have this week written an essay on the potato and need of extra cultivation this season on account of the shortage of food – Prizes (in the form of seed potatoes) are to be given by Mr Roscoe of Streatley to the children who have written the best essay.

February 22nd 1918

Schools closed this afternoon on account of Children’s Concerts to be given in Large Town Hall for Wounded soldiers.

Wounded soldiers in a farce

Struan House in Maitland Road, Reading, was one of the big houses used as hospitals for soldiers. Some of the walking wounded were improving well enough to take part in local life.

Short notes

We welcome Nurse Sturges back from France for a while.

We also regret to learn that Pte. W Waters has been wounded and has been sent to Base hospital. We sincerely hope the wound is a slight one. Up to the time of printing, Mrs Waters had only received a field card dictated by her husband, and characteristicly (sic) making the best of it.


The last month saw a good many of these. First in order came the annual gathering of the Mothers’ Meeting in the Parish Hall, a packed room of over 200 persons with a most excellent programme. The tea of course was dispensed with. The chief feature of the evening’s amusement was a farce entitled “Mary’s sister John” performed by wounded soldiers from Struan House Auxiliary Hospital, Lce.Corp A Snow, Pte. Kirkham, Pte. J Whyte, Pte. E P Proctor and Pte. Newman. The part of the widow was played by Pte Whyte, Lucy by Pte Proctor, Mary by Pte Newman, Septimus Liverpad by Pte. Kirkham, Jack by LceCorp Snow. The farce was extraordinarily amusing from start to finish.

Earley St Bartholomew parish magazine, February 1918 (D/P192/28A/15)

The happy faces of the Tommies

Reading churchgoers’ support made all the difference for men at the front.

Church News
An Echo from “Our Hut”

The following letter of unsolicited appreciation from one frequenter of the Trinity Y.M.C.A. Hut will be read with interested by all. It was sent to our Church Secretary, Mr. Brain. December 9th, 1917.

“Dear Sir

“I Feel I should like to express and I know my comrades here will share the same sentiments with me, my appreciation of your kindness in providing the Y.M.C.A. hut for us. Your congregation cannot realise to the full extent the great boon and blessing it proves to our men out here. It is a great convenience to be able to go in the hut of an evening and have a chat and a cup of cocoa. It breaks the monotony of the life out here.

Concerts are frequently held in the hut, which on such occasions is always packed. Last night’s concert was packed to overflowing, and the cigarettes, cocoa and biscuits which were provided through the generosity of the members of your congregation were greatly appreciated, they came as a surprise, and if the donors could have seen the happy faces of the Tommies, they would be more than compensated for their kindness.

“Mr Harrison who has proved a most popular leader and who has always been kindness itself will be telling you in more forceful language than mine, the benefits of the hut, so wishing all your members a most happy Christmas and prosperous New Year,

“Believe me, yours gratefully,

“Jas. W. Waters,

“No. 165,208, 88th Brigade,

Trinity Congregational Magazine, February 1918 (D/EX1237/1)

Women tip the Tommies to shop for them as they can get ham & cheese where the women can’t

Still training in Wiltshire, Percy Spencer wanted a special lamp to take back to the Front. He had also had a surprise reunion with younger brother Sydney – and was unimpressed with their other brother Harold’s attempts to sponge on good-natured Sydney.

21st Res Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Feb 11, 1918

My dear WF

I’ve just returned from 48 hours leave, a frightful scramble, but the break is worth it.

Luckily I was able to catch Dot in town and we went together to “General Pat” at the Haymarket, after trying without success to get into the Albert Hall to hear Carrie Tubb, Ivor Foster & Harry Dearth. She is very much better I’m glad to say.

As I was seeing her off at Paddington, Sydney turned up, and I persuaded him to take his luggage out of the train and stay with me the night in my digs. We hadn’t met for over a year so I was very glad to see him again. He doesn’t seem to have altered a scrap.

We had a talk about Harold, and Sydney is sending me a letter about him. Apparently Harold looks on Sydney as an investment from which he is entitled to expect an income. It’s too preposterous.

I expect my embarkation leave pretty soon now – probably about the time Sydney will be with you. I suppose I may come too if I have a ration card, but please let me know dear, as I don’t wish to crowd you, or add to your food expenditure. In London though the women tip the Tommies to shop for them as they can get ham & cheese where the women can’t.

All last week I was upon battalion duties and lost touch with my boys, and it was very disheartening this morning to find that they had started off badly. However I’ll soon get them going again I hope.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever

Percy to Florence
Feb 11, 1918
My dear WF

The lamp is an ORILUX, made by J. H. STEWARD Ltd, 406, STRAND, LONDON. The price including spare bulb 25/- (probably more now).

It is a first rate long life lamp, well protected from weather, most suited for wearing on a belt, military fashion, but quite suitable for carrying by hand. I think, however, Stewards could show more suitable hand lamps.

Yours ever

Letters from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/11-13)

Men from the Canadian Camp join local fundraising efforts

Canadian soldiers helped entertain the locals and raise money for the Red Cross.

Holiday House

A concert and entertainment were given on Friday evening February 8th, with the object of helping the funds of the Red Cross Working Party, at Holiday House. Various popular items were contributed by men from the Canadian Camp, as well as the local talent…

On the suggestion of Corporal Moore of the Canadians, the room was cleared on the conclusion of the entertainment for an impromptu dance for a short time to finish up the evening. Altogether a successful evening, and £3 handed over for the Red Cross.

Burghfield parish magazine, March 1918 (D/EX725/4)

£30 for the Church Army Huts

Bracknell people supported providing relaxation facilities for the troops.

Mr. Capper’s entertainment, which was arranged to January 15th, afforded much amusement to the audience and resulted in a sum of £30 for the Church Army Huts.

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

“We hope none have been forgotten”

Christmas presents were sent out again this year, with even wounded soldeiers helping to wrap them.



A meeting was called early in October and a Committee appointed as follows: the Vicar and Mrs. Thackery, Mr. H. Lawrence, Mr. and Mrs. Crocker, Mrs. Crailsbam, Miss Leach, and Miss Hardcastle (Hon. Treasurer.)

The appeal for funds again met with a warm response as will be seen by the figures given below. Special thanks are due to Mr. Pearce and Mr. W. Lovejoy, who took much pains in collecting from a large part of the parish.

The contents of the parcels were chosen by Mrs. Thackery and Mrs. Crocker, and wee as follows, the total number of parcels being 101. For men at the Front, 77 – sock,s writing case, soap, trench powder, potted meat. For men in England, 24 — socks, handkerchief and writing case, potted meat or soap, chocolate. The parcels were packed at the Brownlow Hall by the ladies of the Committee assited by a few others, and each one contained a card with the words: “With all good Christmas wishes from your friends at Warfield.” A great many acknowlededgments have already been received by Mr. Lawrence, all expressing much satisfaction with the parcels and appreciation of the remembrance.

The balance, after paying all expenses of the parcels, was expended on presents for the widows of the six men who have laid down their lives during this year.

Account of the Fund.
Received. Balance from 1916 £1 9 7
Proceeds of Whist Drive 6 10 2
Subscriptions, 1917 13 0 6
£21 0 3
Spent. Contents of Parcels 15 12 1
Paper and String 0 9 1
Postage 4 4 0
Presents to 6 Widows 0 15 0
£21 0 3 ‘

The Warfield Schools War Savings Association have now £207 12s. 0d. to their credit. This is mainly due to the thrift of the majority of the 113 members who have paid their contributions each Tuesday without a break.


CHRISTMAS PRESENTS to the Men Serving.

Parcels have been despatched to all out Bracknell and Chavey Down men serving abroad; we hope none have been forgotten. The money to pay for these presents had been collected by many kind workers, and a great number of people made some contribution. The parcels were packed and sent from the Vicarage, a number of people, including some of the wounded soldiers, helping to do them up.



A Christmas present has been sent from Cranbourne to each of our men serving in His Majesty’s forces. A Christmas card has also been posted with a note saying that a present has been sent in a separate parcel. To defray the cost, £7 was contributed from the takings at the recent concert, donations amounting to £5 10s. 0d. have been received, and a house to house collection realised £6 8s. 0 1/2d. We are grateful to Miss Dodge, Miss Jennings and Miss Smith for their kindness in making this collection.

Winkfield and Warfield Magazine, January 1918 (D/P 151/281/10)

“Now the beds are always kept full”

Many wounded soldiers were treated at Newbury District Hospital, with much help from local people.

The Thirty Third Annual Report of the Managing Committee of the Newbury District Hospital For the year ending December 31st, 1917.

The Past Year has been a very important one for the Hospital.

The figures, giving the number of Civilian Patients admitted, shew a decline compared to the previous year by 34, whilst there is an increase of 27 in the number of Soldiers admitted: this is due to the extra accommodation of 24 beds in the New Annexe constructed during the early spring.

There was a certain amount of delay before these beds were filled, and but for that fact, there would have been a very much larger increase in the number of Soldier Patients for the year.
The Benham Annexe was erected, at the very urgent request of the War Office, at a cost of £386. The Buildings, though similar to the previous one, cost rather more owing to the higher price of material and labour. It is situated on the West Side of the Main Buildings, and adjoins the Thurlow Ward.

Many very useful gifts have been received during the past year. The Local Branch of the British Red Cross Society have provided useful articles for the new ward, amounting to over £50, as well as defraying the cost of entertainments got up for the soldiers. Mr. Fairhurst and the late Mr. Vollar presented a large circulating electric fan for the Benham Ward. Mr. Porter, of Bartholomew Street, did the entire wiring gratuitously, and Miss Wasey gave the sun blinds, which were much needed.

Sir R. V. Sutton kindly lent all the beds, bedding and furniture for the same ward.

The Newbury War Hospital Supply Depot have again supplied a large quantity of bandages of various kinds, also swabs, shirts, and dressing gowns, all of which were much appreciated. Miss Wasey again came forward to organize Pound Day, which took place in June, and was most successful. Many Entertainments were got up by various ladies in the town and district, which were much enjoyed by the soldiers.

Special Donations towards the Benham Ward were received from Mrs. Caine, Sir. W. Walton, Mr. Fairhurst, and the Hon. Sec. Mr. Tufnail sent the proceeds of a week’s Cinema performance which amounted to £67 17s. 0d., and Mrs. C. Ward’s Garden Fete at Burghclere, realised £30 18s. 0d.

During August the War Office transferred the distribution of soldiers from Tidworth to Reading; this was done for the purpose of economising transport; the result has been quite satisfactory to the hospital, for now the beds are always kept full. Whilst the change was being carried out, we were able to close the Wards for a month for the purpose of painting and cleaning, which was thoroughly done.

The Berkshire Branch of the British Red Cross Society asked us to receive paralysed soldiers for special treatment in the hospital; this was willingly agreed to, and also the promise of two beds to be allotted for that purpose.

A very important service that the Hospital is doing just now, is the treatment of discharged soldiers sent to them by the Military War Pensions Committee, who have appointed Dr. Heywood as their Medical referee; these men come to the Hospital either as in-patients, or out-patients, for special treatment, and arrangements have been made that they come at fixed times on certain days for their treatment.

The Financial position of the Hospital is quite satisfactory; it has been well supported with liberal Subscriptions and Donations. The Hospital Saturday Fund amounted to £160; this is a record, and well to be proud of. The success of this fund is entirely due to the energetic Secretary, Mr. W. H. Paine, and his many willing workers. The League of Mercy kindly sent a grant of £15.
The Committee wish to thank, very heartily, all the Medical Staff, in Drs. Adams, Hemsted, Coplestone and Simmons, for all their useful work to the Hospital during a very strenuous year. The Committee’s thanks are due to Dr. Heywood, who returned from abroad in the autumn, and resumed his work at the Hospital; he has been appointed Medical Officer to the soldiers, thus releasing the other Medical Staff.

The thanks of the committee are offered to Mrs. Sharwood-Smith (Commandant), Miss. Cecile Boldero (Assistant-Commandant), Mrs. Adrian Hawker (Quartermaster), and the Ladies of Newbury Volunteer Aid Detachment for the great work that they are doing; to Miss Cecile Boldero, who has been a most consistent worker during the year, and has been a great help to the Staff; to Miss. Salway, who has given her services by providing special treatments to the soldiers; to Mr. Graham Robertson, for his useful help in the clerical work connected with the soldiers; and to Mr. Alleyne for kindly looking after the recreation room.

The best thanks are due to the Matron and her assistant Nurses during a very strenuous year, the increased number of soldiers naturally added very much to their work, and high praise is due to the efficient way in which they have performed their various duties. The difficulties in catering during the latter part of the year increased the work of the Matron considerably, who deserves praise and thanks of the Committee for her excellent management.

Newbury District Hospital Annual Report, 1917 (D/H4/4/1)

“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)

“There are now only 15 regular workers for the Red X work”

A small but industrious group of women in Burghfield were still knitting and sewing clothing and bandages for wounded soldiers.

The Holiday House Working Party

There are now only 15 regular workers for the Red X work (all have the WW badge), but we manage to send in a good share of work. The list of articles completed for the year ending November 30th, 1917, is:

Pyjamas 166, Pants 105, Bed Jackets 88, Cingelts [sic] 33, A V Vests 21, Triangular Bandages 36, Slings 13, Treasure Bags, 35, Swabs 15, Cloths 9, Pillow Linings 4, Jug Covers etc 6, Operation Stockings 45 pairs, Mitten 46 pairs, Socks 17 pairs, Mufflers 8, Squares 6.

Mrs Harry Smith has cut out all our work. The material for the garments has been provided by the Depot in Reading, also a little wool; but cotton, tape, buttons, needles, and the greater part of the wool have been bought from the proceeds of a Social, 5-; a Rummage Sale, £2 8s 0d; a Concert, £2 17s 6d, held at Holiday House; and a few small donations given by friends.

Mr Foley (carrier) kindly takes our work to the Depot and brings the material out.

We should be glad of any help in providing wool for comforts, as at present our stock is exhausted.

Millicent M Higgs

Burghfield parish magazine, February 1918 (D/EX725/4)

A most excellent entertainment

Ascot people supported Christmas presents for soldiers.

The two concerts given in the Parish Room on November 27th and 28th in aid of the Fund for Christmas Parcels for Ascot Men serving over seas were a great success, the total receipts amounting to about £34. A number of letters have already been received from the recipients expressing their grateful thanks to Mr. Tottie and thhe Men’s Committee who worked so hard in the cause as well as to the Ladies and the R.F.C.M. Ascots who gave a most excellent entertainment.

Ascot section of Winkfield and Warfield Magazine, January 1918 (D/P 151/281/10)

In these anxious days we need a mental tonic

Morale as well as money was raised by fundraising entertainments.


Two most successful and thoroughly enjoyable concerts, organised by Mrs. Cross, were given in the Sunday School on November 22nd and 23rd. We offer our warmest thanks to Mrs. Cross and to the ladies and gentlemen from Fern Hill who so kindly entertained us. In these anxious days we need a mental tonic, and to have our thoughts diverted sometimes from the food problem and other war difficulties. It must be gratifying to our entertainers to have caused so much pleasure; no wonder enthusiastic cheers were given for them at the close of each performance. Again, we say, many many thanks. The proceeds, amounting to about £17 (after deducting expenses) will be given as to £10 to the Cranbourne branch of the Voluntary War Workers Association, and the balance will be given to the Fund for providing the Christmas presents [for soldiers and sailors].

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

A great success from the Patriotic as well as the Social point of view

A concert encouraged Clewer people to invest their savings in government funds aimed at helping with the war effort.

St Agnes’, Clewer

There is no doubt that we all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly at our War Savings Concert on October 30, and it was a great success from the Patriotic as well as the Social point of view. What with the varied selection of popular songs, the wonderful execution of a pianist, and the telling speech in which Mr. Weston advocated the advantages gained for our Country and for ourselves by joining the War Savings Association, it was an out and out star-performance.

No less than six new members were enrolled then and there, and others have joined up since. Payments (6d. and upwards) are made at the Mission Room any Monday between 4 and 5 o’clock. when the Hon. Secretary will gladly give information to all who will take this splendid opportunity of helping those at the Front, and at the same time, getting a good return for our money which we can always have out at any time if we should want it.

Clewer parish magazine, December 1917 (D/P39/28A/9)