“Ain’t we rural” – nests in the dugouts

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about the disconcerting contrast of burgeoning wildlife and warfare.

May 11, 1917
My dear WF

Very many thanks for the parcel. I see you have exceeded my request and bought things, but that’s just you. I hope my a/c will stand it….

We’ve been having the most glorious weather: it seems awful that we should be in so poor a position to enjoy it. However, good weather helps towards the conclusion of our mighty task, so don’t pray for rain.

You’ve no idea what an extraordinary feeling it is to hear on the heels of a hurricane bombardment around one’s home the lazy song of the cuckoo. A swallow is building on the joist supporting our dugout. By vote it has been allowed to remain, but I doubt if we shall stand the strain of it as it has chosen a position immediately above the centre of our mess table.

2 days ago someone brought in a lovely clutch of pheasant’s eggs – rather a pity, for besides being contrary to orders I expect they were “set”. And within 10 yards of me in a moat, a bullfrog croaks to the sun. Ain’t we rural!

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/36-37)

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Shells laming horses

Wounded soldiers visiting Bisham Abbey gave Florence Vansittart Neale information about the war.

16 April 1917

Went to Engineers’ camp to see dug outs & trenches…

Wounded came for afternoon. Nice set – usual games & singing. All enjoyed themselves. Edie & Mary came.

One of the wounded from church told me we could have taken Bapaume before Xmas but the French Government stopped us to save the town – now the Germans have destroyed it.

Hear [illegible] casualty to horses 10,000 in 3 days! Germans leave shells with sharp points that get into the hoofs & lame them.

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

“A special grief that a young life so full of promise should have been brought thus prematurely to a close”

A Reading teenager’s burial at the front is described.

Trinity Roll of Honour.

Two more of our “boys” are this month enrolled, one of whom, we are sorry to hear, has already made the supreme sacrifice.

John Bernard Eighteen.
Henry Thomas Eighteen (Killed).


Marsden Cooper.

It is the deepest regret that we have to record the death in action of another of our young men who have gone out from our Church. After a brief two months only at the front, Second Lieutenant Marsden Cooper has fallen in the fight for his country and the right. He was an Officer full of the highest promise, having done well in everything he attempted. Our deep sympathy goes out to Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper in their bereavement.

We print an extract from the Chaplain’s letter to his parents:

“Though he had not been here long he had impressed everyone with his constant cheerfulness and straightforwardness of his character. We laid him to rest in a little Cemetery just behind the firing line late on Saturday evening. There had been some difficulty in preparing the grave owing to a sudden and somewhat violent bombardment, but about 7.45 the news was brought to our dug-out that all was ready and we felt out way out along the communication trench and then over it to the Cemetery.

It was so dark that we could not see that we had arrived at the place until one of the pioneers spoke to us. There were seven or eight of us all told, and as we stood around the open grave we repeated the words, ‘Be thou faithful unto death, and we will give thee the crown of life,’ and ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ and together we thank God that your boy had not counted his life dear unto himself, but had laid it down for King and Country. I may not, of course say where the grave is, but I have forwarded full particulars with map reference to the Authorities. “A small wooden cross with durable inscription has been made by the Battalion Pioneers, and was placed in position on the following day.”

The following is the appreciative testimony of the Headmaster of Reading School:

“The deceased officer was only 19 years of age, and went to the front in the Worcestershire’s about the middle of December, shortly after completing his course at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was educated at Reading School, where he gained a Council Scholarship in 1909. His School career was unusually distinguished. In 1914 he gained a School Certificate, followed the next year by a Higher Certificate. In response to his country’s call, he decided to take a commission, and in the entrance examination for the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, held in February, 1916, he came out second on the list, gaining a prize Cadetship.

At Sandhurst his success was no less pronounced than at School, and he gained the position of sergeant in his cadet unit the highest position a cadet can obtain before he left the College. Not only had he considerable intellectual gifts, as his record shows, but he was a fine athlete as well. He was an excellent all-round cricketer, and his natural powers as a bowler would have enabled him to make his mark in really good company. As a Rugby football player he showed great promise, and before he left school he had the distinction of being captain of football, captain of cricket, and captain of the School. Yet he was never elated by success, and perhaps it was more than anything his modesty which made him so popular with the boys and masters alike. Those who have watched his career for the last two years, and marked the way in which his development always seemed to keep pace with his new responsibilities, feel a special grief that a young life so full of promise should have been brought thus prematurely to a close.”

Trinity Congregational Church, Reading: magazine, February 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

The bravest man in the trenches

Many of the former pupils of Reading School were serving with distinction.

O.R. NEWS.

Military Cross

Temp. 2nd Lieut. F.A.L. Edwards, Royal Berks Regiment.- For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy twice attacked under cover of liquid fire, 2nd Lieut. Edwards showed great pluck under most trying circumstances and held off the enemy. He was badly wounded in the head while constructing a barricade within twenty-five yards of the enemy.

2nd Lieut. (Temp. Lieut.) W/C. Costin, Gloucester Regiment. – For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy penetrated our front line he pushed forward to a point where he was much exposed, and directed an accurate fire on the trench with his trench guns. It was largely due to his skill and courage that we recaptured the trench. An Old Boy of Reading School, he won a scholarship at St. John’s College. Oxford.

2nd Lieut. D.F.Cowan.

Killed in Action.

Lieut. Hubert Charles Loder Minchin, Indian Infantry, was the eldest of three sons of the late Lieut-Col. Hugh Minchin, Indian Army, who followed their father into that branch of the service, and of whom the youngest was wounded in France in May, 1915. Lieutenant Minchin, who was 23 years old, was educated at Bath College, Reading School, and Sandhurst. After a probationary year with the Royal Sussex Regiment, he was posted to the 125th (Napier’s) Rifles, then at Mhow, with whom he served in the trenches.

After the engagement at Givenchy on December 20th, 1914, he was reported missing. Sometime later an Indian Officer, on returning to duty from hospital, reported that he had seen Lieut. Minchin struck in the neck, and killed instantly, when in the act of personally discharging a machine-gun against the enemy. The Indian officer has now notified that he must be believed to have fallen on that day.
2nd lieut.

F.A.L. Edwards, Royal Berkshire Regiment, awarded the military cross, died of wounds on August 10th. He was 23 years of age, and the youngest son of the late Capt. H.H. Edwards, Royal Navy, and Mrs. Edwards, of Broadlands, Cholsey. He was educated at Reading School and the City and Guilds College, Kensington. He had been on active service 10 months. His Adjutant wrote:

“He was the bravest man in the trenches. All the men say he was simply wonderful on the morning of August 8th. We lost a very gallant soldier and a very lovable man.”

(more…)

Swimming, sliding, gliding and staggering along the trenches

Percy Spencer wrote to his new brother in law with a vivid description of life in the muddy trenches.

26.10.15
Dear Mr Image

Almost it seems another world that last I saw you in. we move so often and crowd so many events into our time that the clock seems to have more hours in it nowadays than in ordinary peaceful times.

Here I am in a long lean dugout made by the Huns. [Censored.]

Being in a Hun’s trench naturally the parados [sic] is our screen from the enemy. And that makes life fairly exciting, for the parados is very low in places with here and there a gap. Bullets are plentiful and shells quite frequent, but at present we are all here still and keeping fit. You can’t be anything else while life overhead is so exciting, and life underfoot is equally so, for swimming, sliding, gliding and staggering along the trenches the slightest error will land you at the bottom of a shoot 15 or 20 feet deep – German funk holes scarcely wide enough to admit a man, diving steeply into the bowels of the earth: a tribute to the power of our artillery.

Another thing that strikes one is this evidence of the Huns to stay for the duration of the War. The officers’ dug-outs are walled, floored and ceiled with wood – spacious beds are built between walls at either end. The walls are papered with a cheerful pattern; the ceiling is also papered. Between beds 2 small tables, a couple of chairs, a comfortable arm chair and a full length mirror. On the floor oil cloth – on the walls a few pictures. A stove with flue carried up and through the wall heats the room. The trench leading down to this palace is floored with wood gratings: at the entrance door there is a good scraper – overhead a porch formed with a circular sheet of corrugated iron – “Home from home”.

Well, we’ve run up against a pretty rotten kind of existence as the result of our “push”, but no doubt if this war goes on through the winter which God forbid, when our line is straightened and settled down we shall get better quarters. At present we are “fighting” our men from pretty close up.

This morning I went round the reserve lines with the Brigadier and at one point got well “strafed”.

The reason apparently was a man standing in full view of the Huns on his parapet. He was looking for a bottle of rum another had taken from him and thrown over the parapet. Queer how men will risk their own and others’ lives.

Well, we’ve a strange collection of men and I find them a humorous one too. We all get as much fun out of this life as we can and the dry hunour of our Signal Section is a constant source of amusement to me. One “Taffy” speaks a weird language he describes as pure English. He’s been advised to have a phonetic vocabulary printed down one side of his tunic with the English equivalent opposite, so that we should only have to run our fingers down until we came to the sound he was making. He’s not at all pleased.

It’s 11.30 pip emma as the Signallers say, so good night my dear friend.

With love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/10/11)

“The Huns threw a lot of shells about” – and gassed one of their own men

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with his latest news. This letter, which is, unusually for Percy, typed, is badly torn and parts are missing. He had been gassed, and met an old friend.

30/9/16

Life is such a harassing affair nowadays that I [never see]m to have both the time and the humour to write you … lines, but if I don’t soon send you a letter I [shall for]get altogether how to write one, so here we are, and … excuse the type.

This pushing business is business, but it’s very […] I can assure you. However, the Huns are absolutely […] and very much on the wobble, and I still hope for [the s]udden collapse I feel sure will be the end of this …

Since writing to you last I have added the experience of being lachrymatory [tear] gassed. It was jolly. [Every]one scrambling for helmets and goggles and crying […], the gas seeming to have caused an inflammation which [was] very much aggravated when one closed one’s eyes. At […] the enemy, and I had the pleasure of getting out […]ration orders wearing a gas helmet and goggles. We [wer]e a remarkable assembly – you couldn’t tell t’other from [whi]ch, and when I had finished at my typewriter I was surprised to find that the man at my elbow crowded on the dug-out steps was a German officer prisoner we had captured. It was rather a joke for this fellow to be brought in and suddenly hoist by his own petard, so to speak.

Since then we have had a “rest” – quite an eventful one, for on one occasion I spent a few thrilling minutes watching parachute descents from kite balloons and on another, after tea, lying out in the sunshine, suddenly I espied a splendid fox wending its way amongst some […] trenches and taking cover in the wire entanglement […] rank grass. We chivvied it out and had a small fox [hole?] all on our own.

The night we came out and went into rest we had […] welcome – the Huns threw a lot of shells about and […] knocked down the house opposite us. That’s the second time they’ve done that – it’s most inconsiderate.

By the way I’ve been looking out for Jack Jackson for a long time. He was wounded at LOOS and I imagine he […] long come out again. Anyway a short time ago toward the end of a pretty big do, I was going up in a Staff car [and] just as I was stepping in, who should go by but Jack. [We] only had time for a handshake, and then on he went up […] the line and I to the comparative safety of a dug-out. I hope he came through all right as the main part of that […] bump so far as his Brigade was concerned was then over.

If you could send me some gloves I should be glad.

I am now transferred to the A.S.C. but have no number at present. My pay is 3/6d per day as from Mar. 9th. You might make a note of this. I was sorry to transfer, but had to….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/30)

Guns as thick as blackberries in September

Army chaplain T Guy Rogers reported his latest experiences to his old friends in Reading.

LETTER FROM T. GUY ROGERS.

August 15th, 1916.
My Dear Friends,

I wish I could give you some idea of all the wonderful sights one see on the march. It is true one only sees under difficulties. Great clouds of dust half blind and choke us as we go. The blazing sun makes even the hardiest warrior droop his head a little as we traverse the rolling hills. Sometimes we become too preoccupied with mopping our faces to do any justice to the landscape. But when the ten minutes’ halt comes- ten minutes to the hour – when ranks are broken, and we lie down on the bank, or in the ditch, or on the heap of stones by the road, we find ourselves in more observant mood. Perhaps we have halted near some bivouacs and see hundreds of naked forms bathing in some tiny stream which would have been utterly despised in days of peace. The British soldier is not proud like Naaman! If he cannot find Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, he is content with any trickling or shallow Jordan which come his way.

Perhaps we have halted near some batteries and admire the cleverness with which they have been screened from aeroplane observation. The whole country is stiff with guns. Though there may be good reason to smile at some statements made by politicians, believe all that you hear about the guns. They are as thick as ‘leaves in Vallombrosa’ or blackberries in September. Whole batteries of – spring up like mushrooms in a night; our old eighteen pounders are, like silver in the days of the great King Solomon, ‘nothing accounted of’ for their number.

I wish too, I could repeat for you some of the stories I have heard of the tremendous fighting of the last six weeks. All honour to the armies we call by the name of the great Kitchener. To-day I hear of a boy under age for military service, who, with a handful of men, has held a position for three days against German attacks, when the rest of their Company was killed. The deeds of heroism are without number. Alas we say for those who have fallen. Such sad news comes to me from home of our brave fellows from S. John’s who have laid down their lives in the great advance. But our last word must not be ‘Alas.’ I like that custom of the French Government which consists in congratulating as well as commiserating with the relatives of the fallen. And even though from constant reiteration those fine phrases ‘The Last Debt,’ ‘The Supreme Sacrifice’ may have lost something of their pristine glory, the simple testimony still remains, ‘Greater love hath no man than this- that a man lay down his life for his friend.’

My own life is full of the kaleidoscopic changes of an army in motion. This evening I am in a chateau with ample grounds. I lunched (is the word permissible?) to the roar of a 9-inch gun. Last night I slept in a cellar, full of empty wine bottles, and most inconveniently damp; another night a little farther back in a dug-out in the front line, after burying some poor bodies lying out upon a recent battlefield.

Nearly all my services of late have been in the open air. I can recall so many which could not but touch the least sentimental, and which leave behind unforgettable memories – memories of men kneeling on the slopes of a hillside in the early morning to receive the sacrament, memories of services held between long aisles of waving pines, and on the tops of downs swept by the evening breeze.
Amidst all the sadness – and there is much – when friends (and one has so many now) are struck down by shot or shell, there is an uplifting sense of God’s presence, and we can feel it even in the valley of the shadow. And even if called upon to face sterner ordeals in the immediate future, ‘out of the depths’ shall we still praise our God.

Your sincere friend,

T. GUY ROGERS.

Reading St. John parish magazine, September 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

The first “to go over”

An army chaplain with links to Stratfield Mortimer was a witness to the horrific carnage of the Battle of the Somme.

Mr. Bowdon’s latest news is as follows: –

2nd Royal Berks, B.E.F.,
17th July 1916.

Dear Vicar,

Much has happened since last I wrote, and my battalions have been through a terrible time. They were with the first “to go over” on July 1st, at the Battle of the Somme, and got badly cut up. We lost more than half the men and nearly all the officers – in my battalions alone some 800 men and N.C.O.s are killed, missing, or wounded, and 38 officers! We got the full force of their concentrated machine gun fire. However, it wasn’t in vain, for we prepared a way for others, and we now hold all the ground which they contested so stubbornly. We had the Wurttenburghers in front of us, and there is no question they are fine soldiers and know their business.

It was all very sharp and short, and in 36 hours we were right out of it and miles away in the rear to re-form and rest. From my perch on a hillside about three miles from the firing line I watched the whole of the bombardment during the week preceding the battle. I could even see our lines as I lay in bed – but the morning of the attack was so misty no glasses could penetrate the clouds, and we could only listen to the din and wonder how things were going. It wasn’t long however before our poor wounded chaps began to stream along the road, some in ambulances, some in lorries and carts, and many on foot; so by 9 a.m. I was busy (the attack was at 7.30), and as the day advanced there were more that [sic] we could cope with, our wards and tents were full, and men were lying everywhere, in the streets and fields and ditches. But they were all splendid and so grateful for the smallest thing we did for them. We did eventually get them all dressed and fed and more or less comfortable, but not till noon next day could anyone slack off. I reckon some 1,500 men passed through our hands at that one Field Ambulance!

That same evening we were on the move again, and I re-joined the remnant of my two battalions to entrain for the rear.

Yesterday I arranged and conducted a Brigade Memorial Service at the Theatre here. The names of all officers and men killed at the Battle of the Somme were read out and prayers offered for them. The whole service was in keeping, but quite bright and joyous. We had the Divisional Band, and the Assistant Chaplain General 1st Army preached. Besides our own General, the Army Commander and his Staff were present, and Prince Arthur of Connaught.

I have had a fair share of the dangers and risks of war these past weeks. Four times during the bombardment about Albert I had to tumble into my dugout to escape the bursting shells – three times about 2 a.m. in the darkness, cold and wet. One day I spent with the guns in the thick of the firing, and even back with the Field Ambulance they didn’t let us alone. It has been a great relief to be away from the noise and out of range of their guns for a spell.

With kindest remembrances to all friends at Mortimer.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P120/28A/14)

The Russians are shocking optimists and may run out of ammunition

Ralph Glyn’s old mentor was feeling a bit out of it now that he was no longer involved in the war.

Montpellier Hotel
Llandrindod Wells
21.6.16

My dear Ralph

I got your letter today. I wrote to you to Egypt about three weeks ago but expect the letter missed you.

Very glad to hear that you have found your way home. You will surely be able to light on some job other than intelligence in Egypt, which has lost its interest and importance so much. You will I suppose go and look up Whigham at the WO who is the dispenser of General Staff jobs in common with Bird.

I came down here last week and after finishing three weeks shall probably go on to Ireland before returning to Town. They are hardly likely to employ me again as they could not expect me to take anything that was not fairly good and there are plenty of people to fill such jobs, without their retrieving dug-outs for the purpose. I am sorry in some ways that I did not accept Haig’s offer last winter to go as his Mili. Secretary in place of Lowther; but at that time I was fed up with office work and I wanted to go to Russia; it could have kept me in harness till the end of the war.

I hope that you are none the worse for the wear [sic], Egypt can be uncommonly hot after April. Things are going well for the Allies but one feels a little afraid that the Ruskis may run short of ammunition if they are too busy; they are shocking optimists.

Ever yours
Chas E Callwell

Letter from General Callwell to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C24)

“There are not nearly enough girls to go round”

A friend of Ralph Glyn’s who was posted at Salonika was enjoying the countryside.

Salonica
24 April 1916

My dear Glyn

Many thanks for yours of the 4th and for the book which you sent me. It’s about time they had a new one altogether of the German army. I was very glad to have your news, and I got more of it from Scott who returned today, but I have very little to give you in revanche. This is a very nice place and on the whole compares most favourably with Egypt, especially now that it must be getting hot with you. One gets the most delightful rides and the fine country & magnificent views make it a fresh pleasure every time one goes out. Last week I had a delightful trip with Sarrail in the Triad to visit Stavros, the extreme sight of our time. The country there is perfectly charming & we envied the people who live there in tents & dug outs in rocky & leafy glades, full of old Roman remains, for the Via Ignatia ran there, as it does through this town, and is still the main line of communication & the only road, bar the ones made by our troops, in that part of our line. It’s lucky you aren’t here, or you’d be at the Odeon or the White Tower every night. Still in case this should inflame your ardour I must state that there are not nearly enough girls to go round & what with British, French & Servian [sic] officers, all bent on Liaision work, to say nothing of the local nats of the great Greek Army, you’d have to take your turn in the ruck! However AHQ, like GHQ, has as much work as it can manage & little time for these enjoyments. I am not insinuating that I am overworked. Hope you are very fit and that “I” is going strong.

Yours ever
[Illegible …]well

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/30)

The Church Lads’ Brigade dons khaki

The April issue of the Reading St John parish magazine touched on various war related matters: insurance against air raids, news from army chaplain T Guy Rogers, and the Church Lads’ Brigade which got teenage boys training in preparation for joining up when they were old enough.

INSURANCE OF THE PARISH PROPERTIES AGAINST DAMAGE BY AIRCRAFT

The vicar and churchwardens have thought it right in the interest of the parish to insure the churches and other parochial buildings against the above risks.

The cost of insurance is £26 12s 6d, and it is an expense which the ordinary funds are unable to meet.

An appeal is therefore made to the members of the congregations for donations to meet this special expenditure. These may be sent either to the vicar or churchwardens, or placed in the church boxes.

THE REV. T. GUY ROGERS

Friends are asked to note that Mr Rogers’ address is now 2nd Guards Brigade, BEF. By the time this issue of the magazine is in print the men Mr Rogers is ministering to will be back in the trenches, and their Chaplain living once more in a dug-out, somewhere in the second or third line. We were rejoiced to hear that twenty-three of the men had been confirmed, and we must remember these brave fellows continually in our prayers, asking that they may be given grace to witness a good confession for Christ, and to stand firm against all temptations which may beset them. Nor shall we forget to pray that our friend himself may be preserved amid all the dangers of his work, and may have the great joy of seeing many more men coming forward to confess Christ in Confirmation.

CHURCH LADS’ BRIGADE

The CLB has just reached a great epoch in its history, in that its members have donned khaki. It may not be generally known that the local CLB Battalion, of which our Company forms part, is recognized by the War Office as a Cadet Battalion under the Territorial Association.

In the Battalion Drill Competition, St John’s Company came out second with 186 marks out of a possible 200.

Just at present our numbers are small as many have left us to join the Colours, and we shall be glad to welcome prospective recruits if they will turn up at the Institute at 8.15 p.m. on any Monday evening. There must be many boys in the parish of 13 years and upward who ought to join, and do their best to maintain the traditions of St John’s Company.

Reading St John parish magazine, April 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

The dugout canteen does a roaring trade

The Revd T Guy Rogers was now running a canteen for soldiers in a dugout as well as continuing his religious work.

April 10th

The canteen is successfully opened, and is doing a roaring trade. We started at 5 p.m. on Saturday (just after the men had been paid), and sold 200 frs. worth in a couple of hours… you should have seen the crowd trying to get into the very small quarters. I tried to give them a start by helping to sell behind the counter, but I soon get hopelessly muddled trying to calculate how much chocolate I should sell for 90 centimetres at 15 centimetres a bar! My arithmetic was never strong – I found a R.A.M.C sergeant, whose father had been a shopkeeper, and put him on it while I sat by aghast at the speed with which he calculated to the uttermost farthing. We have now got three men told off to the job, one of whom is quite good and understands shop-dressing. He has made the stacks of tinned fruits look so fetching, you cannot choose but buy.

The place itself is just a dug-out made of sand bags under the ramparts. We have pinched an old door and are getting a lock and key by the less interesting method of purchase! There is a great demand for candles. Soap, too, comes high in the list of articles which ‘Tommy’ feels the need of…

I never found it so easy to make my Sunday arrangements. This is because I have a comparatively small area to cover. On the other hand the Sundays are tiring for we have to take a great number of small Services. The work is quite fascinating though, and the deeper one gets – how shall I put it? into the perils of the firing line, the more the men seem to want what one has to give them…

I had a series of short Services in the morning from 9-12.30, celebrating three times – once in the bowels of the earth, once in a cellar. In the last place I had 18 Communicants crammed into a very small space. I had to disperse with kneeling, except at the actual partaking… Then in the afternoon three more services, 3, 4, and 6 p.m. Then some funerals. I do not finish till about 9.30.

Reading St. John parish magazine, May 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

The kingdom neither shot nor shell can destroy

More from the Revd T Guy Rogers on his life as an army chaplain:

April 3rd.

I have been resting this beautiful morning, sitting outside my dug-out… Tired, but only in a sound and healthy way. I got through eight services in the course of yesterday – then found I had funerals at night in two different places some way apart. I had long waits between and then got back at 11.30…. The services were exceedingly helpful – I might almost say romantic too. Deep down in the caverns of the earth we sang ‘O God our help in ages past.’ It was fine in one ruined building through which we could see the blue sky over-head, to hear the men singing that favourite hymn of praise to God, ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty.’

I had two Services in the open air, hidden as best we could beneath ramparts, but we found the anxiety of hostile aeroplanes rather distracting. On the whole those underground were the best… The Brigadier gave me the use of the Brigade Office for a Celebration of the Holy Communion at 8 a.m… I preached on ‘The House not made with hands’; the kingdom that cannot be shaken; the incorruptible possessions which neither shot not shell can destroy- you can picture the illustrations to hand.

Reading St. John parish magazine, May 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

The sterner side of warfare and the moral support of blankets

More from T Guy Rogers, the army chaplain who was a former vicar of Reading St John.

April 1st, 1916

The sterner side of warfare is very much to the fore. I am kept very busy getting about among the troops, with a good deal of night work up till 12 o’clock…

I am getting some interesting ‘souvenirs’ – one a steel arrow, dropped with many others, from a German aeroplane, on the town last night; another a piece of shrapnel stuck in the sand bags of our dug-out rocked with the concussion of the shells all round us…

It is wonderful what moral support is to be got from blankets, and lying warm and comfortable where shelling is going on.

My Sunday Services – I wonder how they will work out – I am just going out to arrange: little companies in cellars and dug-outs I expect – one cannot march men about.

Reading St John parish magazine, May 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

“Greater love hath no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friend”

The parish of Earley was saddened by the death of two of its men, both heroes in different ways: one a regular soldier, the other a teenage recruit who died trying to save a friend’s life.

In memoriam

We record with very great sorrow the death of two of our old Guild boys. The first, Leonard Love, son of Mr Love, 49 St Bartholomew’s Road, was a soldier of many years standing. He served in the Royal Field Artillery and so distinguished himself at Gallipoli that he was offered a commission and had accepted it. He died within two days (apparently) of the evacuation of the peninsula. He had been in close contact with his brother William Love who was among those who fought the rearguard action of the time. His brother Frederick Love is serving in France. From such particulars as have come to hand Leonard Love was in excellent health. On the day of his death he returned to his dug-out after breakfast, and shortly after a shell struck the roof of the dug-out, and his death was instantaneous. He had borne the many hardships of the Gallipoli campaign with never a word of complaint in his letters home. Always cheerful he is reported to have been the life and soul of those about him, and his comradeship will be greatly missed by his many friends. He has left behind him a fine example of Christian courage and manliness.

The other is of a wholly different type. James Benjamin Butler, son of Mr B H Butler, former churchwarden here, was little more than a boy in years when, with his younger brother Charles, he offered himself for service 8 months ago and joined the 605th Co. of Motor Transport. The two brothers had been members of our Scouts Patrol whose rules oblige the members of it to look for opportunities of doing kindnesses, and to embrace them when they occur. His training ended, he left England at the beginning of the year, having made his last communion in this church on Christmas Day. He sailed in the “Palermo City” and in the Mediterranean the transport appears to have struck a mine and floundered. James Butler was a powerful swimmer, but his friend Harold Newbold, who had been a long time billeted with him at his home in Reading, could swim but little. Butler was last seen side by side with his friend in the sinking vessel inflating an air pillow in the hope that it might be of service in the water. He himself could (without unforeseen mishap) have remained in the water a long time and been picked up, but there is little doubt that he determined to remain by his friend, and sacrificed his life in attempting to save him. “Greater love hath no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friend” and better to die young and to offer one’s life for king, country and friend, than to live at ease for many years and accomplish little. Two more honoured names are added to our roll: the mature soldier and the brave lad of nineteen summers. May they rest in peace.

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