“Folks don’t cry out about the millions that’s being spent every day in killing our boys and smashing up all the beautiful churches and buildings in France”

It may be fiction – and intended as political propaganda – but this story, written by Phoebe Blackall (later Cusden) does shed some light on some working class attitudes to the war’s impact on local schools.

Mrs Higgs Speaks Her Mind
IV – On Schooling

“Drat them children! What’s the use o’ me slaving myself to a skelington to keep the place decent when the young baggages keeps rampagin’ over my clean floor and makin’ enough noise to wake the dead?”

Mrs Higgs stood with her hands on her hips, ruefully surveying several muddy footprints …

“But there! What’s the goodo’ blaming the kids? They must let off steam somehow, else they’ll bust. It’s all along o’ this ‘alf-time schoolin’… ‘alf time school – ‘’alf their chance of learning gone – that leaves ‘em wi’ about a quarter of what the rich folks’ children gets …

I know they wants hospitals for the wounded soldiers – bless ‘em – but there’s plenty of other places they could turn into hospitals without taking our schools. I haven’t heard that the big country mansions, what’s only used for weekends, have been given up to the wounded, nor the big hotels and public buildings where they does nothing but waste public money by paying big salaries to people who don’t know nothing about the job they’re supposed to be doin’…

Ame old tale – when they wants cannon-fodder or money or munitions or buildings, they always looks round to see what else they can take away from the working folks, first they takes our men-folk, then they asks us for our savings – lumme! I should like to see some! – and when they wants hospitals they takes the Council Schools…

We never ought to have let ‘em have our schools, and if this war’s going to last much longer, they ought to let us have ‘em back.

Cost a lot? Course it would; but folks don’t cry out about the millions that’s being spent every day in killing our boys and smashing up all the beautiful churches and buildings in France.


The Reading Worker: The Official Journal of Organised Labour in Reading and District, no. 13, January 1918 (D/EX1485/10/1/1)


He “saved an officer’s life by carrying him on his back out of danger, under fire”

There was news of many Burghfield men, some of whom had performed acts of heroism at the front.

Honours and Promotions

We congratulate 2nd Lt Wheeler and his parents Mr and Mrs E C Wheeler on his promotion, he having been given a commission in the King’s Liverpool Regiment. His brother, T Wheeler, is now training as a Pilot in No 5 Cadet Wing, RFC. Cadet (ex Corporal) Alfred Searies is training in Scotland, having been recommended for a commission. He has been twice wounded, and has saved an officer’s life by carrying him on his back out of danger, under fire. The following are now Sergeants: E Cooke (5th R W Surrey), R J Turfrey (ASC< MT), E Wise (2/4th Royal Berks).


E N Pike (killed in action), P C Layley (scalded), J Cummings, A Newman, and A Ware (wounded). W Butler, whose parents long lived in the parish, but have lately gone to Sulhamstead, is also wounded.


Jos. West, ex 2nd Rifle Brigade (wounds); Herbert C Layley, ex 5th Royal Berks (wounds); Fred W Johnson, ex 2nd Royal Berks (heart); Isaac Slade, ex 4th Royal Berks and RE (heart); J D Whitburn, ex Royal Berks (rheumatism), just moved to Five Oaken. Arthur L Collins, in last magazine, should have been described as ex 5th Royal Berks.

Other War Items

Lieutenant Francis E Foster, RNVR, of Highwoods, who since the outbreak of war has been looking for trouble in the North Sea, has been rewarded by transfer to a quieter job further south, for the present. Lieutenant Geoffrey H B Chance, MG Corps (of the Shrubberies) is in hospital in Egypt, suffering from malaria.

Roll of Honour
Mr Willink thanks all who have given him information. He is always glad to receive more. It is difficult if not impossible, especially since the Military Service Act, to keep the Roll up to date.

Obituary Notices

The following death is recorded with regret.

Mr E N Pike, of Burghfield Hatch, son of Mrs Pike of Brook House, lost his life as above stated, for his country on 11th November, less than a week after returning to the front from a month’s leave which had been granted him to enable him to get in his fruit crop. An officer in his Battery writes: “In the short time that Gunner Pike has been in the Battery we have learned to appreciate him not only for his work but for the man he was”. He leaves a young widow and a little boy. He had good hopes of obtaining a commission in time.

Burghfield parish magazine, December 1917 (D/EX725/4)

Cossacks fighting Bolshevists in civil war

The Revolution was not universally popular in the territories of the Russian Empire, and the reaction was underway.

21 December 1917

Civil war in Russia. Cossacks in Ukraine fighting Bolshevists.

Canada gone in for conscription.

Australia against it in elections.

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

The introduction of compulsory service has rather changed the situation

The parish of Burghfield was keeping track of local men serving in the war.


The Roll of Honour

A list kept by the Rector, of those Burghfield men who since the beginning of the war have laid down their lives for their country and the just cause of the Allies, hangs near the reading-desk in the Church.

The full Roll, including those who have offered and been accepted for immediate or deferred service, is kept up to date by Mr. Willink so far as possible, and hangs in the Church Porch. The introduction of compulsory service has rather changed the situation: but he will be glad to receive names of men not already on the Roll but actually serving, together with the exact title of their ship or unit, also notice of any honours or promotions, wounds or deaths.

The list of wounded is growing long. Happily most cases are light. But it should be known by everybody that any disabled man is entitled to free training, if necessary or possible in some trade, and to be helped in finding employment. Information can be obtained at any Post Office. In cases of delay or difficulty in this matter, or in regard to Pensions or Allowances, applications should be made to the Berkshire War Pensions Committee through Mr. or Mrs Willink, who are on the Reading Rural Sub Committee.


Colonel Sir Wyndham Murray, of Culverlands, formerly C.B whose distinguished services in past times are well known, has been made K.C.B. He has acted as King’s Messenger during the War, and has repeatedly visited the front. He and Lady Murray have also received certain Japanese decorations.

Captain G. O. W. Willink was mentioned in Despatches in May, and has just been awarded the Military Cross for distinguished conduct in August. He has commanded “A” Coy in the 2/4 R. Berks Regt. Since he went out in July 1916, and has seen service in many parts of the line in France and Flanders.

Burghfield parish magazine, October 1917 (D/EX725/4)

An organist is called up

A Wokingham church had to face the prospect of singing hymns unaccompanied when their organist was conscripted.

We want an Organist. Mr. Collins, who most kindly came to fill the gap when Mr. Baker was called up, and who has performed his duties most efficiently, is unfortunately unable to remain permanently.

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

“May blossoms and war seem as though they ought to be impossible in the same world”

The minister of Maidenhead Congregational Church tried to encourage members to look on the bright side of life despite all the horrors and losses of the war.

May blossoms and war seem as though they ought to be impossible in the same world. The dreadful mud in the midst of which our soldiers have been living is more congruous with the spirit of warfare than sweet grass and hawthorn buds. Many letters from the front have spoken of the start of surprise with which a lark’s song is heard over the trenches. We have all, when some sorrow is heavy upon us, felt a sort of astonishment that the sun should go on shining, and the birds twittering, and passers by smiling, as though nothing had happened. But the worst of sorrows cannot cover the whole sky. We want taking out of ourselves at times. Evils won’t bear brooding over, we only make them worse. We shall be able to bear “the strain of toil, the fret of care” better, if we make rich use of the ministry of the blossoms.


We are glad to hear that Reginald Hill is progressing, though slowly. He has had several operations, and probably must undergo two or three more. The doctors think he may have to be in bed for at least three months yet, but they hope he will make quite a good recovery.

We regret deeply to have to record that John Boyd, formerly the Caretaker of the Chapel, was killed in action on March 29th. He enlisted in the 2nd Berks. In June 1916, and was sent to France on Sept. 22nd. He was a most genial and kind-hearted man, and had a wide circle of friends among whom he was very popular. We offer our Christian sympathy to Mrs. Boyd and her family.

It is distressing too to hear that Stephen Harris is returned as “missing.” The Captain of his Company has written to Mr. and Mrs. Harris that he has made all possible inquiries and can gain no information. The best that can be hoped for is that he may be a prisoner in German hands. Robert Harris was killed in July last. May God grant His patience and consolation to the distressed parents.

Wallace Mattingly has been admitted to Sandhurst Military College for eight months’ training. G. Frampton is expecting to be called up immediately. We are glad to see Cyril Hews at home again on leave, looking in the pink of health. P.S. Eastman writes in good spirits from “somewhere in the East.”

He says, “I have not yet left for the special work for which I was sent out, but may do so any day now. In the meantime I have had quite a variety of work, until at present I find myself in the C.O.’s office. Yesterday I had a line from Frank Pigg, who is with the R.F.C in Salonica; may be one of these days I shall be able to pay him a visit.”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, May 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

We shall all share in the blessings of Victory as we should all share in the Miseries of Defeat

A rousing call to arms, or rather to joining in the National Service Scheme to help out on the home front.

Twelve good Reasons

1. BECAUSE the Greatest War the World has ever seen is nearing its climax, when we and our Allies must either conquer or be conquered.

2. BECAUSE Victory will mean the preservation of our homes, our lives, our liberties and all we hold dear, while Defeat will mean the loss of all these things and triumph of a Despotic Military System which seeks to destroy the British Empire and impose itself on the whole world.

3. BECAUSE having passed laws to compel men of certain ages to fight it is the bounded duty not of one man or one set of men, but every man to see that the Army and Navy are provide with everything they need to secure Victory, and to help to that end as far as possible.

4. BECAUSE our food supplies from abroad being threatened or reduced, and many agriculturists at home having been called up, men are urgently required to maintain and if possible to increase, our home supplies.

5. BECAUSE we cannot do these things unless all the manpower of the country is available and is properly organized, for which purpose the National Service Department has been formed.

6. BECAUSE our enemies the Germans are already organizing every man, woman and child for a similar purpose, but by the much less desirable method of Industrial Compulsion, which we are especially anxious to avoid.

7. BECAUSE if everyone helps who can , the war will be shortened, thereby saving at least six million pounds per day in money, and what is of infinite greater importance the lives, limbs and health of human beings, including in many cases our own relatives and friends.

8. BECAUSE every right-minded and patriotic man desires to help, but many do not know how or where to begin. Like an untrained and undisciplined Army, we are helpless without organization.

9. BECAUSE the National Service Department provides this organization, and when it has the names and qualifications of every one between the ages of 18 and 61, it will be able to supply man power where it is most needed, and to prevent the waste of it by putting “round men into round holes and square men into square holes” the right man in the right place.

10. BECAUSE certain occupations are essential while others are non-essential, and at any cost to ourselves or our comfort, the former should not want for a moment for labour which can be supplied by those engaged in the latter, or by those who are not engaged in either.

11. BECAUSE we shall all share in the blessings of Victory as we should all share in the Miseries of Defeat and it is therefore “up to” everyone of us to offer our services, whether they are accepted or not. To take part in civil occupations of National Importance involves little sacrifice when compared with that which we call upon our Soldiers and Sailors to make.

12. BECAUSE every man who enrols will be able, with a clear conscience, to reflect that in the hour of the Nation’s peril, he offered “to do his bit” by placing himself at the service of his country.

Note. If you agree that the above reasons are good reasons why all should enrol, go to the nearest Post Office, National Service Office or Employment Exchange and get a free form of application , fill it up (whether you are engaged already in work of National Importance or not) and post it (unstamped) to the Director General of National Service.

Reading St Mark section of Reading St Mary parish magazine, April 1917 (D/P98/28A/15)

All Germans of military age to be called up

Swiss newspapers had access to the latest news from Germany. Will Spencer heard of the death of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, inventor of the Zeppelin airship which had become so feared in Britain.

9 March 1917

News in the paper of Graf Zeppelin’s death (aged 79). Also a statement that all Germans of military age were about to be called in.

Diary of Will Spencer (D/EX801/27)

“A great want of confidence in Politicians, the War Office and the judgments of Tribunals”

Members of Reading’s Dodeka Club discussed the thorny question of conscription. The evening’s host was considering whether it was time for him to join up voluntarily.

The 282nd meeting of the club was held at Goodenough’s on March 2nd, 1917.

… Gibbons introduced a friend, Lt de Villiers…

…After refreshments the host suggested as a commencement for discussion the question of “National Service”, and pointed out that he personally was requiring advice as to the advisability of volunteering. The experience gained after the Military Service Act and the Derby Scheme gave one a great want of confidence in Politicians, the War Office and the judgments of Tribunals. The host feeling great doubt in his mind as to whether justice would be done to the great body of business men in the country.

Penfold started the ball rolling in the discussion, by asking if members were liable to prosecution under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, should any decision be arrived at, a military representative being present. Some discussion then took place regarding the action of Tribunals, the necessity or otherwise of National Service, compulsion and reduction of the number of shopkeepers. A very pleasant evening was concluded with some submarine stories of a rather fishy nature and a pun relating to Bagged Dads by Gibbons.

Dodeka Book Club minutes (D/EX2160/1/3)

“Spain may come in”

Florence Vansittart Neale had to deal with the practical implications of rationed food essentials, while hoping that neutral Spain might join the Allies thanks to the Germans’ aggressive targetting of all shipping.

7 February 1917

Mrs S. [the cook?] & I daily talks on food economy. 2 ½ lb meat – 4 lbs bread – ¾ lb sugar for each person.

Manpower 18-60. How many ought to go!!…

Germans refuse to stop torpedoing every ship – neutral or enemy. Spain may come in.

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

Major Dinkum

Florence Vansittart Neale heard some gossip and tall tales from army officers. “Dinkum” is actually an Australian word, and the story, ascribed to an Australian officer, is recorded as being in circulation elsewhere.

25 December 1916

Had 5 Remount Depot to dine with us.

Major Remount Depot told me – hear [Colonel?] RFA told him how a spy had been caught. Posed as a Major who came to their Division & gave orders to bombard [later?] a salient! Said he had been sent from the HQ, also seen and arranged for other divisions etc etc. A Canadian present said. “Is this dinkum”, a slang word meaning is this true. He answered Yes, I am Major Dinkum. Whereupon the C[anadian?] rushed on him & held him down & they found he was a spy & was taken out & shot.

One day the artillery was told to bombard heavily but unluckily the ammunition was forgotten!!

Hear the new Government dare not conscript Ireland.

I hear Sir D. Haig sent for 1000 miles of railway lines, 400 engine drivers & heaps of locomotives, & that has caused the reduction of trains & increase in the price of tickets to begin Jan 1 1917.

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

The work that prayer has to do in winning this terrible and horrible War

The rector of Sulhamstead encouraged parishioners to pray for the armed forces. The Revd F M Green was to take services in the village while he was on holiday in part of August and September.


Our two churches are open daily, all day long, for persons to drop in and humbly put up a prayer to God for victory, peace and the preservation of those who are fighting for us. Some in the parish have promised to go there, if possible, once a week. Will you, who pass the daily stop for a few minutes and quietly ask God help? You would probably never enter a town church in France, and only a few remote village churches, without finding one person at least kneeling in prayer.

Remember 11 o’clock noon [sic], each day, wherever you are, for silent prayer.

It is with the deepest regret that we heard of the death of Major George Tyser, youngest son of Mr and Mrs W S Tyser of Oakfield. He was seen in the act of encouraging his men across to the enemy trenches in one of the brilliant assaults that the British and French have been making. Then he fell and his death was instantaneous. Our full and deepest sympathy goes out to Mr and Mrs Tyser and to his widow.

My Friends

There is an awakening amongst us to the work that prayer has to do in winning this terrible and horrible War. It took many months before we found out the part than munitions, and more munitions, and always more munitions, had to do in winning the war. It took us until well into this year to find out that we shall want the last man before we win the war.

Now we are finding out that it will want prayer and daily prayer and incessant prayer to win the war.

There are three methods of prayer:

1. The quiet kneeling alone in the morning and evening when we can name our dear ones singly before God and our own great cause.

2. The prayer of the household. Family prayer. If there are only two – then those two together. If there are more, then father and mother and children. If it has begun to drop as a custom among us, then now is the time to begin. The father perhaps has “gone to the War”. Then the mother and children can kneel together, morning and evening, praying together for father. Perhaps the son, or all the sons, have gone. Them father, mother, girls, children, can meet and pray for the sons and brothers.

If there are any who would like little forms of private or family prayer, the Rector or in his absence the Rev. F Green, can supply them.

3. United national worship. It means by petitions, such as those monster petitions we have signed in past years, all put up together – every one in his Church or Chapel, filling them to overflowing. God tells us He is “waiting to be gracious”. Could we have swept the German Fleet off the sea in the great battle of Jutland, if the light had held in our favour? Have we, as a nation, asked God’s help? Why are we waiting?

Let us begin our preparation for the National Mission of Repentance and Hope with fervent prayer.

Your friend
Alfred J P Shepherd

Sulhamstead parish magazine, August 1916 (D/EX725/3)

A wish fulfilled

One of the men who had left Earley to join the Navy had been killed – the second in his family to be lost.

Our best wishes accompany Mr Sidesman W B Waters who, being called up, joined the 3/4 Royal Berkshires last month. His home activities in the CEMS and his church work as sidesman and principal cross bearer, will be missed. Our hope is the outdoor life may have a beneficial effect on his health which has not been robust these last few years.

In memoriam

The great battle in the North Sea took from this neighbourhood its toll of brave sailors. Among them Francis Harry Stevens, eldest son of Mr & Mrs F Stevens, whose second boy William David, gave his life in the attack at Loos on Sep. 25th last year. His brother Francis Harry who entered the Royal Navy as stoker was making rapid progress and shewing great proficiency in the engine room. Had he lived his promotion was secured. When he heard of his brother’s death he expressed the wish that he might too die for his country, and that wish has been fulfilled for him. His younger brother Arthur is with the Army in Egypt. We desire to express our respectful sorrow with his grief stricken parents and assure them that this parish will honour the memory of their sons.

Earley parish magazine, July 1916 (D/P192/28A/14)

Seven headmasters saved from conscription (for the present)

With the implementation of conscription, additional pressure was placed on the educational system with teachers, ancillary staff and older students potentially at risk.

Higher Education Sub-committee


The Sub-committee have approved the postponement until after the war of the scholarship of Ernest H Austin, who has been called up for Military Service.

School Management Sub-committee


The Board of Education, by arrangement with the Army Council, have agreed to postpone the embodiment of seven Head Masters for the present. In the case of three Head Masters and one Assistant, who are not certified for general service, the Committee also understand that they will not be called up without further reference to the Board of Education.

By-Laws and Attendance Committee


The following have been called up for Military Service:
Mr E J Hale from 22 May
Mr E Hunt from 10 June
Mr M O Scown from 15 June…

The Sub-committee have made temporary arrangements for Mrs Scown to act as Attendance Officer for part of the Windsor District, and the remainder of her husband’s district has been assigned to the Easthampstead District.

Two other Officers of military age (Mr Edwards and Mr Barton), both of whom had attested under the Group System, have not yet been called up.

Berkshire County Council: Education sub-committee reports, 15 July 1916 (C/CL/C1/1/19)

Called up

Henry Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey sat on one of the tribunals hearing cases of those not wanting to be called up. But as an employer he had a different attitude:

22 June 1916
Henry fussed over Brown & [Gundbury?], both called up.

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