“He went out to hold service on the battlefield, and found all the wounded killed”

The striking figure of an army chaplain who had studied with the rector of Sulhamstead prior to taking Holy Orders is remembered.

There must still be many in the parish who remember Mr Eli Cobham, a pupil at the Rectory. They will recall his great height, 6 feet 2 inches, and his capabilities in the cricket and football field. It was with great sorrow that we heard of his death last year, in German East Africa. Many incidents of a short but adventurous life were given in the “Greater Britain Messenger”, from which we take some of the following facts.

After much hesitation concerning his own unworthiness, he was ordained to a curacy at All saints, Fishponds. In this post he accepted no stipend. Canon Welchman says that there were few who knew his liberality [generosity]. The lectern was his anonymous gift, and the inscription he chose was “His dominion shall be from sea to sea”. He was afterwards vicar of All Saints, Fishponds.

From here he went to America, and worked his way back as a trimmer in the stoke-hold of a steamer, so as to get experience of what the men had to do and endure. Strong as he was, he found the labour almost beyond his powers.

In 1913 he resigned his living to work in East Africa, where he had 16 centres for service, in some of which he could only hold a service once or twice a year. He enlisted directly the war broke out, and used what time he had from soldiering to act as a Chaplain. He relates how he went out to hold service on the battlefield, and found all the wounded killed. Details of his death are not known, but the bare announcement states that on September 19th, 1917, the Rev. Elijah Cobham died from “wounds received while carrying in the wounded, somewhere in German East Africa”. He was a man of deep spirituality, and when discussing even trifling details, his invariable remark was “Let’s pray about it first”.

Sulhamstead parish magazine, April 1918 (D/EX725/4)

Advertisements

A very gallant officer and gentleman, recklessly brave and a fine example of cool courage

The Old Boys of Reading School were distinguishing themselves at the Front.

O.R. NEWS.

Killed in Action.

2nd Lieut. Norman A. Howell, King’s Shropshire Light infantry. On December 23rd.

He is the second son of Mr. W. Roland Howell, architect, of this town. Born at Reading in April 1897, he was educated at Reading School and St. Laurence College, Ramsgate, and had been about a year in his father’s office before joining the Army in November, 1915. His cadet training at school and college enabled him to get his commission. He was posted to the King’s Shropshire’s, was ordered to the front at the end of June last, and has been in the thick of the Somme fighting for six months. Lieut. Norman Howell came home on his first leave on December 6th and returned on the 16th. Within a week he had made the great sacrifice.

His Commanding Officer wrote to Mr. Howell on December 24th:

“I deeply regret to report the death of your son, who was serving in my Battalion. Whilst going up to the front line trenches in charge of a party last night an enemy sniper shot him through the head, killing him instantly. This morning his body was buried by the Chaplain near where he fell, with military honours, officers and men attending.

“I had trench mortars and rifle grenades on the sniper’s post, patrols had reported 8 to 10 Huns there, none there now! On behalf of his comrades, officers, N.C.O.’s and men, I wish to convey to you our profound sympathy . He was loved and respected by all of us, and we mourn the loss of a very gallant officer and gentleman. To all of us he was known as recklessly brave and a fine example of cool courage, devoted to his duties, which he discharged most cheerfully under the most trying conditions.”

“I placed him in charge of the Lewis Gun detachment, on which he had set his heart and soul. He belonged to my own Headquarters’ mess, and I took particular interest in him. A cross has been put up on the grave near Les Boeufs.”

It will be remembered that in October, 1915, Mr. Howell’s elder son, 2nd Lieut. Roland Basil Howell, was reported “wounded and missing.” Nothing has since been heard of him, and any hopes of his being alive hangs on the very slenderest thread. On the 16th of last month the War Office wrote saying that they were now forced to believe he was killed.

Lieut. Basil Howell was born in October, 1895, and received his commission in the 4th North Staffordshire’s three months after the war started. He was attached to the Northumberland Fusiliers (the Fighting Fifth), and went to the front in May, 1915.

Reports received from the front show that on the night of October 1st-2nd, 1915, the battalion to which Lieut. Howell was attached were in severe action. After all the officers of the company had been killed he gallantly led a bombing party to attack a German trench, but was never seen again.

Every possible enquiry was made through the War Office, the American Embassy, the Red Cross, and the wounded men who returned to England. Many references were made by the latter to the respect and love they had for the brave young officer. Like his brother he was educated at Reading School and St Laurence College, and had started his training to follow in his father’s profession. For many years he was an enthusiastic scout, and took a big share in starting the South Reading Troop.

Lieut. Cedric Charles Okey Taylor, East Kent Regiment, attached to Trench Mortar Battery, only son of Mrs. Taylor, 39, Weltje Road, Ravenscroft Park, W., and of the late Mr. Charles Warmsley Taylor, of Reading. Further details are now to hand of Lieut. Taylor’s death.

He died for King and country on December 3rd, 1916, in his 22nd year. Young in years but old in endurance, he was in constant action for 15 months at Ypres in 1915 and on the Somme in 1916. He is laid to rest in the cemetery, at Faubourg d’Amiens, Arras.

2nd Lieut. W. Marsden Cooper, Worcestershires, only son of Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper, 107, London Street, Reading, aged 19.

Cooper was only 19 years of age and went out 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 College. Not only did he have 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 else his modesty which made him so popular with the boys and the 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.
(more…)

“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)

“If keeping your heart up & your head low will carry us through…”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence from behind the lines with a few cheerful words.

Feb 4, 1917
My dear WF

If the ink lasts in my pen I hope to write you a few lines – if it doesn’t, you’ll have to wait for the ink in the filler is frozen solid.

It’s a perfectly grand day and we’re all enjoying it with the full pleasure that comes to those who feel they have well earned it. Garwood & Tyrrell are both outside the hut playing footer while “Miss Jones” (the latest addition to my staff) and I “hold the fort”. The weather is and has been bitter cold, but grand for those out of the line. There have been times though, since I came back when we’ve all thoroughly hated the beauty of the day; when our only remark has been that of the parrot of the monkey, and the night has seemed full of charm.

Well, “here we are”, “here we are” all right, and here we all mean to keep, if keeping your heart up & your head low will carry us through. Germany seems to be following the normal course of its hydrophobia: it ought pretty soon to reach the climax of its disease.

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/12-14)

Mourning the death of a footballer

A keen amateur footballer was among the Reading men recently reported killed.

Notes from the Vicar
Intercessions list

Albert Henry Eaton, R.G.A. Malta; Private C.A. Pritchard, 2/4 Royal Berks; Private Edwin Gerald Ritchie, 2/21 1st London Regiment.

Sick and Wounded: Private James A. Dutton, Royal Scots. Privates Harry, George, and Walter Barnes, (on active service). Stoker Albert Edward Ayres, R.N.; Gunner Harold Whitebread, R.G.A. Lieut. Robert Carew Hunt; George G. Lanitz.

Departed: Martin Sinclair David; Lieut. Cedric C. Okey Taylor; Lieut. W.F.F. Venner; Robert D. Bruce; Private G Cooper; Capt. W.F. Johnson, R.N.; Private Walter Michael Carew Hunt (Canadian Infantry). Henry Bilson Blandy R.I.P.

Prisoner: William Henry Cook.

Our sympathy and prayers go out to those who are mourning the death of these loved ones. Lieut. Venner was the 1st Captain of our S. Giles’ football club and took an active part in its formation.

Reading St Giles parish magazine, January 1917 (D/P96/28A/34)

The only thing the soldier never seems to do is to ‘rest’

Army chaplain T Guy Rogers describes how he encouraged the soldiers to attend his services in their spare time.

My Dear Friends,
June 15th 1916.

Would it surprise you to hear that your Chaplain has become a Hun! Only temporarily and to oblige, morally or immutably. Do not be shocked nor repudiate him as your representative! It was only at manoeuvres to swell the skeleton army opposed to the British. A well delivered smoke bomb soon put him out of action. He has since returned to his allegiance with a profound respect for the élan of the British Infantry.

This is a glimpse of how we spend our time when we are ‘at rest’- a phrase which makes the soldier smile. Marches, attacks, drill, occupy our attention. Bath parade and ‘foot parade’ and kit parade and gas helmet parade are arranged as pleasant little interludes. The only thing the soldier never seems to do is to ‘rest’ in the loose sense in which it is so often employed of slacking or doing nothing. When the Commanding Officer is done with him, and the Medical Officers’ fever for inoculation is spent, and the Sergeant-Major has ceased from troubling, he organizes himself for cricket and football and rounders.

Finally, he has the Chaplain to reckon with! It is he who comes along smiling and debonair with a haversack slung across his shoulders (concealing beneath his gay exterior a nervousness which is often acute); ‘What about a service, men,’ he says, ‘on the grass under the trees before the cricket and football begin – just twenty minutes. I’ve got hymn sheets with our favourite hymns – what do you say?’ And they come of their own free will – at first slowly, gradually overcoming their inertia, but gathering force and numbers as they get under way and at last singing with heartiness and animation which shows the interruption is not resented.

In the midst of all this happy open air life there suddenly comes an order that we are wanted somewhere. We are all whirled away in motor buses a distance of twenty miles and we are in the midst of stern realities again.

Remember all our brave men recalled thus suddenly to the line.

Your sincere friend,
T. GUY ROGERS.

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

Good wholesome fun: a soldier reports on life in training

The wonderfully named Dedlock Holmes from Stratfield Mortimer reported on his experiences as a recruit in the Royal Berkshire Regiment in a letter which was printed in the parish magazine:

4th Royal Berks Regt., T.,
Hitcham House Farm,
Burnham.

At the above-named spot, the country seat of Lt.-Col. Hanbury, the newly-formed Battalion are stationed.

The Camp is situated on a hill, overlooking the beautiful Thames valley on the south, and on a clear day Windsor Castle can be easily seen on the south-east. This hill is actually the first rise of the Chiltern Hills.

The Battalion at present numbers about 280 men, and a friendly spirit prevails throughout the whole, and also a spirit of good wholesome fun, as will be gathered from the names they give to their quarters (which consist of cowsheds, pig-styes, etc.). We have “Kitchener’s Villa,” “The Said Villa,” “Iseville,” “Hitchy Koo Villa,” “Ragtime Cott,” and many others.

These various so called villas meet every week in great football contests – and, so far, our “Villa” remains undefeated.
It must not be supposed, however, that we have nothing to think of but football; we never forget why we are here, and so take kindly to the somewhat hard training we get.

Every morning at 6.0 we are aroused by the bugle call, have a cold tub or wash and make ourselves fresh for an hour’s hard drill of Swedish physical exercises, which tend to loosen and strengthen every single muscle in the body, and those of us who have had two or three weeks of it can already find the benefit of it. After this follows breakfast, which, as you can imagine, is heartily enjoyed. The food we get is certainly plain, but good and wholesome. After breakfast comes the serious work of the day, varying of course from day to day.
Some days we are taken out for a route march by Lt.-Col. Hanbury, who is in command of this Battalion, and who, after a good march round the country, halts us at the beautiful Burnham Beeches while he tells us some yarns about the Chiltern Hundred, who used to look after the safety of travellers through this part in the early days.

Other mornings are spent in rifle drill, etc.: dinner is at 1.0 usually, and the afternoons spent in more drills and lectures on military subjects. Sometimes we have the evenings to ourselves while on others we are turned out for night work, outposts, etc.

The Working Men’s Club have kindly thrown open the Reading Room to us, and this is where I am now writing.

Before I close I should like to say one thing: should this catch the eye of any young fellow who is undecided about joining the Colours on account of the rumours about bad treatment, all I can say is, come and join us to-morrow, for there is a real reason why you should do so, and the change of living will do you a world of good.

With kind regards to all old friends.

Yours sincerely,
Dedlock Holmes.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, December 1914 (D/P120/28A/14)

A right minded boy does his duty and dies gloriously

Bracknell had lost its first man to the war – a young career soldier remembered locally for his football skills, with many others joining up.

The following is a list of those who belong to the Parish of Bracknell, and who are in the habit of attending Bracknell Church, who are now serving in H.M. Forces.

NAVY.
R.-Admiral Dudley de Chair, Cecil Bowler, E. Cordery, G. Freeman, G. Jenkins, A. Mott, C. Pleass, H. Roe, R. Watson, E. Wild.

MARINES
E. J. Brailey, R. H. Hester, E. S. Simmonds, C. H. Johnson, W. G. Johnson, J. H. Johnson, F. Gray, Charles Gambriel, G. Jenkins, S. Plummer, A. Prouten.

Many of these are in the North Sea.

ARMY
On Active Service.
Lieut. W. Foster, Lieut. W. Mackenzie, Captain W. K. George, H. Baker, Henry Barlow, Reginald Bowler, George Bowles, John Brant, G. H. Butcher, F. Butler, Alfred Case, Daniel Chaplin, L. Claridge, G. Clarke, N. Clarke, H. Currey, H. Downham, F. Dolby, M. Fox, W. Grimes, F. Harvey, H. Hollingsworth, A. Isaacs, B. Linnegar, A. Mason, H. Matthews, G. Morton, A. Newton, H. Norman, F. Offield, F. Rathband, R. Sadler, B. Sone, A. Winfield, C. Young, A. Penwell (India), S. Norman (Malta), W. Notley, A. E. Reed.

In England
Col. Sir W. Foster, Bart., Lieut. J. C. L. Barnett, Lieut. B. Foster, H. Alder, James Bowyer, John Bowyer, G. Brant, H. Bristow, C. Burt, C. Cave, C. Church, W. Clark, F. L. Dean, C. Dyer, W. Dyer, C. W. Ellis, F. Fitzhugh, J. K. George, E. Godfrey, F. Goddard, H. Gray, J. Gray, Ernest Gambriel, H. Gregory, S. Grimes, A. Holloway, H. Hoptroff, C. Hoptroff, G. Hoptroff, T. H. James, A. Jenkins, G. Kent, S. Kidley, R. Larcombe, J. Lawrence, L. Linnegar, E. Mason, G. Mason, H. Marshall, W. Norris, E. Noyes, H. Perrin, A. Pither, J. Pither, W. Pither, A. J. Prouten, S. Rixon, A. Readings, W. Sargeant, R. Sargeant, D. Sargeant, A. E. Searle, S. Sone, W. Spencer, H. Thompson, P. Treble, W. Turner, B. Turner, H. Webb, F. Webb, A. Winter, G. Winter, H. Winter, J. Wooff, R. Wright, A. Youens, E. Willman.

Two young men belonging to Bracknell have come over with the Canadian Contingent and will shortly be at the Front, – William Searle, and C. Berry.

Drummer Eric W. Roe of the Grenadier Guards is the first of our Bracknell men whose name is placed on the “Roll of Honour.” (more…)