Awful battle round Hill 60

The news took a turn for the worse.

22 April 1917

Awful battle still going on round Hill 60. Naval raid on Dover. We sunk 2 destroyers & injured a 3rd. Took prisoners.

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

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Netted submarines

Henry Vansittart Neale’s late sister Henrietta, to whom he had been very close as a child, had married into the Dickinson family.

21 March 1917

I hear that Dover Harbour is full of netted submarines (Muriel Dickinson).

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

21 March 1917

Wrote a letter to Percy, wishing him many happy returns from us both, & thanking him from us both for handing in an enquiry to the British Graves Commission with regard to our missing relative. Asked him to mention to Florrie some books or songs or some other little thing he would like to have, which she could then send him on my behalf. To assist him in choosing (if he decided for books), gave him alist of about 25 volumes in the Everyman’s Library Series, a catalogue of which I have here. Johanna brought a copy of the photograph Frau von Tobiesen took of us at hergiswil, which I enclosed.

Diary of Will Spencer (D/EX801/27)

Conduct, knowledge, manliness, and sports

A prize given by locally billeted soldiers shows what qualities they valued.

The Piggott Schools: The School Challenge Cup

The Cup was presented by the Officers and Men of the 83rd and 84th Companies of the Royal Engineers, Feb. 13th, 1915. It is held yearly, for one year only, by the best boy in the school in regard to conduct, knowledge, manliness, and sports. Half marks are given by the Headmaster and half marks by the votes of the boys themselves. It has been awarded this year to Thomas Dover.

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

Nervous about Romania

Florence Vansittart Neale was anxious about the war news. Romania had only recently joined the Allies.

22 October 1916

Still nervous about Roumania [sic]. All news good, I think….

2 remounts came (Bicknells), very nice girls from near Dover.

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

Shot in cold blood, and now “beyond the reach of human injustice and incompetence”

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image was excited by the new tanks rolling into action; philosophical about air raids – and horrified by first-hand stories of the executions of young men for cowardice or desertion.

29 Barton Road
[Cambridge]

23 Sept. ‘16

Mon Ami!

I share your views about the ghastly War. With its slaughters and its expenditure, where shall we be left after it is over. Any peace that leaves Germany still united – united for evil – is a fool madness that deserves the new War it will render a certainty.

I am in a fever to see the photograph of a Tank in action. I can’t imagine its appearance. I don’t believe them lengthy like caterpillars – but more like mammoths, Behemoths – “painted in venomous reptilian colours” for invisibility – and “waddling on” over trenches.

Today’s paper speaks of a seaplane over Dover yesterday. This is the very general prelude to a Zepp raid: and we expect one accordingly tonight, if their courage hasn’t oozed out. There is a Flying Camp near here – at Thetford, I believe. Daily, Planes soar over us – a sight I view every time with fresh pleasure. Twice we have had an Airship – huge, but not like the pictures of the German Zepps. I may as well tell you of our own experience on Saturday 3 weeks ago. Peaceful and unsuspecting, we were sitting in the drawing room at 10.30 when suddenly the electric lights went down and left the house in darkness. This is the official warning of Zepps. So we went out into Barton Rd. Not a glimmer, nor a sound. Quite unimpressive.

We turned in to bed – all standing (in Navy language) – and I into the deepest slumber, from which I was eventually shaken to hear an agitated voice, “they’re here”. I bundled out, lit a match and read on my watch 2.50. There was no mistaking – a thunderous drone, such as I had never heard before – and, seemingly, exactly overhead. We hurried down into the road. The roar grew fainter, and then began – deep and dignified – the guns. I guessed them to be on the Gogmagogs – then sharp explosions, which we took for bombs, thrown haphazard by the Zepp which was undoubtedly fleeing for the coast.

Robinson’s Zepp had come to earth at 2.30. Possibly ours was the wounded bird, which dropped a gondola or something in Norfolk when making its escape?

At 4.5 our electric lights went up again, and we to bed. Decorous night-rails, this time.

The Signora has a wee aluminium fragment from the Zepp that was brought down at Salonica. It was picked up by a young soldier who had been in her Sunday School Class. We had a sudden visit from her youngest brother, Gilbert, home on 6 days leave from Salonica. You have heard me speak of him as the rising artist who at 20 years of age sold a picture for £100, and is now a Tommy at 1/- a day. I fell in love with him on the spot. So simple, so lovable, – above all, such a child – going about the world unprotected!

By the way Gilbert saw the Zepp come down in flames at Salonica.
He had many yarns. The one that most made me shudder was of the announcement at a morning parade, “Sergeant So-and-so of the Connaught Rangers was shot this morning by sentence of a Court Martial for refusing to obey an order”. Just that! I have heard of these shootings in cold blood, several times, at the Front in France. Always they made me feel sick. A boy (on one occasion) of 17 ½, who had fought magnificently at Hill 60: and then lost his nerve, when his 2 brothers were killed in the trench at his side. Pym (our TCC [Trinity College, Cambridge] chaplain) sat with him all night and gave him the Sacrament. He

“could only feel what a real comfort it was to know that the boy was now beyond the reach of human injustice and incompetence”.

Letter from John Maxwell Image to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

News brings great joy

Friends in Maidenhead were happy to hear news of a missing soldier.

Mr. Frank Bingham, now of Orpington, is serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery, and is at present in Dover.

It is with great joy that we hear 2nd Lieut. A. Hedges, who was reported missing, is alive, although a prisoner in Germany.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, September 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

To Reading to see a nurse

The Vansittart Neales headed to Reading to see daughter Elizabeth (Bubbles) who was nursing there.

11 August 1915

We to Reading to see Bubs & her ward…

Zeppelin raid somewhere, believe Dover. Some people killed – one Zep: destroyed.

Lynx destroyer struck a mine; only 3 officers & 23 men saved.

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

Submariners taken prisoner off Dover

As the wife of an Admiralty official, Florence Vansittart Neale was in a privileged position when it came to war news. She confided in her diary:

5 March 1915

Destroyer sunk submarine – crew taken prisoners (off Dover).

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

Catching submarines with cables

As the wife of an Admiralty official, Florence Vansittart Neale was especially interested in naval news and rumours.

3 March 1915

Hear we have caught 4 submarines – put cable down & drag them. Keeping it dark so more may come out!

Heard 2 submarines German waiting by Dover to blow up “Queen Eliz:”, she at Dardanelles.

Bad fire at Portsmouth Dockyard – close to building yard of new ship. Hear 2 men were shot.

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

Death of an oculist

Queen Victoria Institute for District Nursing, Reading, provided nursing care for local people in their own homes.  The demand for trained nurses for war work naturally had an impact on its work:

12 November 1914
Temporary Help
The Lady Superintendent had obtained the services of Miss Gill and Miss Sweetapple, the two ladies who had been at the Institute before as temporary helpers, and who it was hoped would be able to stay until the return of Miss Jones and Miss Linton from their territorial duties.

One place which was likely to attract nurses was the small hospital for wounded soldiers, which Florence and Henry Vansittart Neale planned to open at their home Bisham Abbey.

12 November 1914
Henry & I to London… to Red X place about our hospital. Saw nice man & filled up papers for W.O. [War Office].

No special news. The “Niger” sunk off Dover.

Heard shocking story of death of a Windsor oculist who went to the front as an ordinary doctor. While on the field tending some wounded soldiers some Germans came & bayoneted him & the wounded.

I hear from our Terriers at Chelmsford they are all 12 miles nearer the coast & digging miles of trenches.

Queen Victoria Institute for District Nursing minutes (D/QX23/1/2, p. 143); diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Going the wrong way: a missionary leaves the war behind

A Reading-sponsored missionary reports on the effects of the war on his journey back to what is now Pakistan, in a letter to members of the congregation at St John’s Church in Watlington Street. It was printed in the parish magazine, and gave Reading people a glimpse of the war from the colonies:

Church Missionary Society,
Lahore.
October 21st. 1914.
My dear Vicar,

Here I am at the Headquarters of the Punjab Mission, tho’ by no means at the end of my travels. At the last moment it was found impossible to run the Language School at Lucknow this year, which is rather a blow. However, Canon Wigram is trying to arrange that the three Punjab recruits shall work together for some months at language study. Probably we shall go to Multan in a fortnight’s time, and until then I am going up to the Batala by way of Amritsar.
I have so much to write about that it will be very difficult to be concise, but I will make an effort.

We had an excellent voyage and never once was it rough, though for two half days I was hors de combat owing to the ship pitching in a horrid swell. We saw signs of war the whole way. On the first night we very nearly ran down a British destroyer near Dover. At Gibraltar we saw the ‘Highflyer’ and the ‘Carmania,’ both covered with renown after their fights in the Atlantic. Off Malta we passed quite close to four troopships from India under the escort of three French cruisers: and at Port Said we saw no less than thirty-five troopships on their way to the Front. We passed them amid tremendous cheering, tho’ everywhere we were greeted with shouts of ‘You’re going the wrong way.’ At every port we touched at we saw captured German and Austrian merchant ships. On reaching Aden we heard that the German cruiser ‘Konigsberg’ had got through the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb into the Red Sea and was coaling at Jeddah; if this is true we must have passed within a very few miles of her and we may be thankful that our voyage wasn’t terminated on the Arabian coast.

From Aden to Bombay we ran with very few lights on at night and these few were darkened by brown cardboard funnels, so we were more or less invisible after dark. The second night out from Aden all lights were suddenly switched out and the ship’s course was completely altered. We thought that the ‘Emden’ was on our track, and some of the ladies went so far as putting on lifebelts. The Captain had spotted a glare in the distance, which turned out to be only an Arab dhow fishing in an unusual part.

We were a party of seven C.M.S. Missionaries on board, and I fear usually the noisiest table at meal-time; however, I hope noise is a sign that we were enjoying ourselves.

I was quite sorry in many ways when the voyage came to an end and we dropped anchor in Bombay harbour at sunrise on October 16th. There were at least a dozen crowded troopships to greet us as we steamed up the bay; and the Tommies didn’t seem to mind standing in the full glare of the sun to watch us pass. …..

Yours affectionately,
Arnold I. Kay.

A second letter provides more details. (more…)