“Days & nights in water and mud is very trying”

An army chaplain reported on his experiences with men just back from the front lines for a short break.

19 October 1917

Mother received a letter from the Sub-Warden on the 17th inst. from which the following are extracts:

“We have just emerged from a very uncomfortable and strenuous time, & are resting in a little French village. The men are splendid, but it was heart-breaking to see them all getting out of the train which brought them straight from the front…

With considerable difficulty we managed to have thin blankets for them all to get into and fall asleep. Already food and rest have changed them wonderfully, & their poor feet are better. Days & nights in water and mud is very trying.

I shall never forget a Mass in a crowded dugout the day before they went in. Halfway through the service, 2 officers managed to slip into the doorway; there was no other spot. I remember them so well crouching in a very uncomfortable position, and shutting out all of what little light could get in. Only the 2 candles on the altar. They made their Communion. It was their Viaticum. GOD rest their souls!”

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

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The Russians are giving in

Florence Vansittart Neale was depressed by the war news, both at home and abroad – and concerned about new food restrictions on sugar.

3 September 1917

Raids at Chatham & Sheerness – 107 sailors killed…

Mr Austman still here. All down about Riga gone. Russians giving in.

Wrote for sugar for jam!

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

Meanwhile the Sub-Warden of Clewer House of Mercy was heading to France as an army chaplain.

3 September 1917

The Sub-Warden returned from Strensall Camp on short leave before reporting himself at the War Office previously to going to France.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Special services

The day after the anniversary was commemorated.

5 August 1917

Anniversary of the beginning of the war. Special prayers at the first selebration of the Holy Eucharist and at Mattins. “GOD Save the King” sung at Evensong.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

5 August 1917

Special services for 4th [sic] anniversary of war.

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

A chaplain begins his spiritual work in an army camp

The Community of St John Baptist heard how their former Warden was getting on as an army chaplain.

13 July 1917

Notice was sent that Mother had received news from the Sub-Warden of the beginnings of his spiritual work amongst the soldiers in Strensall Camp.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Beginning military service as a chaplain

The Community of St John Baptist said goodbye to their warden, who was starting his service as an army chaplain.

21 June 1917

The Sub-Warden went away to begin his military service as Chaplain at Strensall Camp near York. The 7 am celebration [of Holy Communion] was at the High Altar followed by the Travellers’ Service.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Meat now easier to obtain


The food situation was becoming a little easier.


9 June 1917

The Sub-Warden received orders on the 5th June to report himself to Strensall Camp, York, on the 21st inst.

Instructions have been received with regard to mails to India, which are now to go fortnightly instead of weekly. The first mail under the new system will leave here June 13.

Notice was given that, owing to meat being now easier to obtain, the 2nd meatless day in the week would be given up.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Mercifully preserved from an air raid

The Clewer-based Commnity of St John Baptist had a big convalescent home in Folkestone on the Kent coast, and also did mission work in the town. They faced the danger of an air raid in May 1917.

25 May 1917

A bad air raid took place at Folkestone in the evening. About 60 killed and many more injured. Our 3 houses, and all our Sisters, patients & workers mercifully preserved from any injury, for which special thanksgiving was made afterwards at the altar.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

No unnecessary travelling

Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist had their holidays constricted by the financial effects of the war, and the order’s chaplain offered himself to work with the troops.

11 May 1917

Notice sent to all the [daughter] Houses that in consequence of directions issued by Government that there should be no unnecessary travelling, and also because of the increased expense of journeys, the rests must not be broken up, but each Sister must take hers all at the same time, and so far as possible in one place.

The Chaplain has been accepted as Military Chaplain, and may be called up for service abroad or in England any time after the 15th inst.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Not strong enough for military service

The Sub-Warden of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer, decided to take a curate’s job to allow a younger, stronger clergyman to serve as an army chaplain.

13 April 1917

The Revd G H Warlow, who had offered himself for National Service, has arranged to go back as curate to his old parish (Bury Lane) to take the place of the curate who is now an Army Chaplain, Mr Warlow himself not being strong enough for military service.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

“The difficulty of the supply of meat”

The Community of St John Baptist decided to cut down on meat consumption during the war.

5 April 1917

Maundy Thursday.

Notice was sent to all the Houses that a second meatless day (ordinarily Tuesday) would be kept each week owing to the difficulty of the supply of meat in consequence of the war. Rogation & Ember Days & Vigils would be kept as usual, and in the weeks when these occurred they would take the place of the second meatless day.

Permission was given for afternoon cups of tea on Easter day, Low Sunday, Ascension Day, Whitsunday, Corpus Christi and St John Baptist Day.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

A shortage of starch

The Sisterhood of St John Baptist had to amend its habit due to shortages.

26 March 1917

Notice from Mother that owing to the difficulty in obtaining starch, we should discontinue wearing cuffs for the present as a war measure.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

An end to afternoon tea

The war effort and the German’s attacks on civilian shipping combined to restrict many goods. Among those economising as a result were the Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist.

12 January 1917

Special notice sent to all the Houses about economy to be practised during the war in obedience to the appeal of the Government to the nation. Mother directed (1) that all afternoon teas were to be stopped, (2) care was to be taken that every railway journey should be strictly necessary, (3) every effort was to be made as to clothes, to make them last as long as possible. This was important on account of the difficulty in getting materials.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

A P & O ship strikes a mine and passengers take to the lifeboats

Two Anglican Sisters from Clewer had to take to the lifeboats on a dangerous voyage home from India. The incident was hushed up, and the ship repaired.

17 December 1916

Sister Katharine Hope & Sister Georgina arrived about 1 pm having come overland from Marseilles. Their ship, the Caledonia P&O, had struck a mine when about 1 ½ hours journey from Marseilles. Though she did not sink & eventually reached Marseilles, all the passengers had to take to the boats. Our Sisters were taken off the life boat by one of HM destroyers and brought to Marseilles. The only lives lost were those of 2 of the crew.

The P&O particularly requested that this accident should not be publicly spoken of, for fear of the news reaching German ears.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

No bells at night

The Community of St John Baptist continued to fear air raids.

25 September 1916

On account of further air raids we had instructions to ring no outside bells, either Chapel or House, from 6 pm to 8 am.

Another air raid reported with considerable loss of life.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

A bad air raid

The Clewer Sisters were distressed by the latest air raid in London.

24 September 1916
Bad air raid. Many were killed in London, but two enemy air ships were destroyed.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)