“The shell-holes where so many of our boys are fighting must be drying up – an unspeakable boon to them”

A Reading man providing rest facilities for soldiers behind the lines reports on his first few days.


News from France

We are sorry not to be able so far to give much information as to Mr. Harrison’s doings.

The Army regulations and censorship of correspondence is now so very strict that such news as is let through is of the scantiest. We shall, however, all be glad to read the following :-

“I arrived safely at my destination on August 15th after a good journey. The Hut is certainly A1, and everything promises well. I am in charge with one helper, a young Church of England clergyman, and we have three orderlies under us.

Herbert Longhurst has just been in to tea. I was delighted to see him, and hope soon to come across some more of “our boys,” as I am told that several enquiries have been made for me during the last few days.

We are having perfectly lovely weather here now. The roads are hot and dusty, and the shell-holes where so many of our boys are fighting must be drying up – an unspeakable boon to them. Our great difficulties are the shortage of supplies and the insufficiencies of change, but we get along, and have crowds of men in.

Yesterday I was invited to tea with the Captain and Officers in their mess hut, and had a very good time with them. I am in excellent health.”

Trinity Congregational Church magazine, September 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

“The Great War in which our whole nation and indeed nearly all the world is engaged”

The anniversary of the war’s start was cause for the parish of Reading St Mary to take stock.

Intercessions

For those just gone to the front for the first time, especially Frank Taylor, our late Sacristan, and Edward Henry Bartholomew, one of our Choirmen, both of whom have gone to France; also Claude Towers, who has just started for Mesopotamia.

For the fallen, especially Richard Page (died of wounds received on June 7th), and Arthur Clements Hiberden.

All Saints’ District
The War

On Saturday, August the 4th (the third anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War) there will be a celebration of the Holy Communion at 8 O’clock, and on Sunday the 5th, there will be celebrations at 7, 8 and 10. Throughout the day the special services will be used, and copies will be provided for the use of the congregation. The collections will be for the Assistant Clergy Fund.

R.I.P.

Our deepest sympathy will be given to Mr. R. F.S. Biddulph and his family on the loss of his elder son Richard Herbert Hoel Biddulph who died of wounds in France on July 5th. He was a member of the Canadian Forces and volunteered for service immediately on the outbreak of war.

St Saviour’s District
August 4th

It will not be possible to pass this third anniversary of the Great War in which our whole nation and indeed nearly all the world is engaged, without some special looking to God, and renewal of national purpose. Probably Sunday August 5th, will be more specially kept as a day of United Prayer and renewal of purpose before God, and of thanksgiving too for renewal of purpose to united effort and sacrifice, which he has made, and is still making to us. Let us at S. Saviours come together before God in Church and there in worship, communion and prayer remember our nation, our church, our dear ones etc. and offer ourselves again to him to do and to suffer all that He wills.

R.I.P.

John Warren Wells, of the Canadian contingent, has been killed in France. As a small boy he lived in Garnet Street, and our sympathy is with his family and relatives, especially with Mr. George Wells, our sidesman. Among those recently wounded in France is, we are sorry to hear, George Jacobs, of 1 S. Saviour’s Terrace, we hope that his family will soon get news of his good progress.

St Mark’s District

We are glad to have good news of the S.Mark’s lads from France and elsewhere, though we are sorry to hear that Trooper H.T. Chamberlain has been in hospital at Alexandria for some weeks suffering from severe breakdown and shell-shock. We trust he will soon be quite restored to health again.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, August1917 (D/P98/28A/15)

Gallantry in the field

Men from the Bracknell area had mixed fortunes.

Ascot

We are sorry to hear of the loss of Wm. J. Hawthorn in the “Vanguard.”

Bracknell

It has been reported that 2nd Lieut. R. F. Needham is missing. He was in the fight on the dunes on the coast when the Northamptonshire and K.R. Regiments suffered so heavily. The deep sympathy of many friends is felt with Colonel and Mrs. Needham.

Winkfield

OUR MEN WHO ARE SERVING.

We are proud to be able to record this month the decoration of three more Winkfield men for gallantry in the field. Lieut. Cecil Hayes-Sadler, R.E, who has been serving lately with the French forces has been given the Croix de Guerre. Lieut. Wilfred Lloyd, R.E., has won the Military Cross, after having been recommended for it once before, and Corporal R. Nickless, 6th Royal Warwicks, has been awarded the Military Medal.

We regret to learn that Pte. Joseph Baker is ill in hospital with gas poisoning. He was able to write home himself, so we hope he will soon be completely recovered.

Signaller Fred Holmes has been invalided out of the Army. He was a member of our choir and one of the first Winkfield men to volunteer in August 1914, and he has seen a great deal of service at the front. We sincerely hope that he will soon obtain suitable work and in time completely recover his health.

Sergt. Leonard Tipper (Middlesex Regt), has lately gone out to France and we trust will be remembered in our prayers.

Winkfield District Magazine, August 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/8)

“The French are very selfish”

John Heading, a young man working with a labour company in France, wrote to his Berkshire farmer uncle with his impressions of his work – and the French.

Pte J C Heading
84,790
142nd Labour Co.,
BEF
France

My dear Uncle

I received your very kind letter, and we are glad of some warm weather. We have had quite a lot of thunder shower[s] ever since St Swythyn’s day, but it’s been very growing [sic]. The pears are very plentiful.

The French people charge very dear for everything. I take care they have very little of my money. There’s a reason in all things and they are very selfish. I’m very glad that this Heavenly Father has so mercifully spared my life up to the present time. I can assure you I have had some very narrow escapes. It’s only him that has kept me safe.

We have just heard some good news – this is Wednesday Aug 1st 1917. I am asking my wife to forward this letter on to you. We only get a green envelope once a fortnight and I send something home in that envelope for my wife. All other letters have to be left open to be censored. I may not post this letter until Friday has [sic] we expect to be paid then. I hope that you are all quite well and that the Country looks well. We, all of us, will be glad when the War is over, I can assure you.

We have a bath every week and we have to do our own washing. We are at a rail Head and have to unload trucks of Coal, Hay, Oats, Biscuits and all such things for the Troops. It’s a very heavy thunder storm, Aug Wed 8th, 1917.

I now conclude with best love to all. I remain

Your affect. Nephew
Pte J C Heading
84,790

Letter from Private John Heading to his uncle Albert Castle of Charlton, 1 and 8 August 1917 (D/EX2547/2/3/10)

“I know that the Mothers will take these restrictions in the right spirit”

One Reading parish offered war savings certificates in lieu of food at the Sunday School treat.

The Vicar’s Notes

This year, in accordance with directions of the food controller, there will be no tea in connection with our Sunday School treat; but to make up for this, it is proposed to give every child a 6d. War Stamp. So I hope all parishioners will give a warm welcome to our collectors when they come round for contributions. Wednesdays the 25th (St James’ Day) has been suggested as the probable date for the treat; and the schools in each district of the parish will arrange separately for sports to be held on any grounds that may be conveniently close by. There will be no joint gathering or procession of the children. I am sorry too that the Mother’s Meeting’s teas will have to be suspended this year throughout the Parish; but I know that the Mothers will take these restrictions in the right spirit.

Intercessions

Our wounded especially Roy Russell (now in hospital at Lincoln). Arthur Russell (just wounded in France).
For prisoners, especially Charles Mercott (one of our servers, now a prisoner of war in Germany).
For the fallen, especially John Middleton-Cross (killed instantly in action in Belgium on June 7th)
R.I.P.

Thanksgiving
For the recovery of Ian Dunbar Dickson (wounded near Salonika).

Reading St Mary parish magazine, July1917 (D/P98/28A/15)

Gallant service since 1914

A veteran of the first days of the war and the Retreat from Mons was rewarded for his service.

The Military Cross

We tender our most sincere congratulations to Captain John Boyd, of the Coldstream Guards, on winning the Military Cross.

Captain Boyd was Lieutenant and Quartermaster in the Coldstream Guards when the War broke out in August 1914. He was immediately sent to France, and from the days of Mons to the present time he has been with his regiment at the Front. His many friends learn with the greatest of pleasure of this latest recognition of his gallant service.

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

“Shell shock rendered him unconscious for five days, and left him deaf and dumb for a time”

There was sad news for some Winkfield families, although other men had distinguished themselves.

OUR MEN WHO ARE SERVING.

We tender our heartfelt sympathy to Mr. and Mrs. Thurmer, who have to mourn the loss of their son Fred (of the Royal Berks Regt.) killed in action. This is the third son they have lost in this War and all will earnestly hope that another son now at the Front will be spared to return home safely to them.

Much sympathy is also felt for Mr. and Mrs. Holloway, who soon after hearing of the death in action of the second son they have lost in the war, were informed that a third son, Charles, is missing and probably a prisoner of war.

Pte. F. Onion has been ill with trench fever but is now well on the way to recovery, and we are also glad that Pte. Albert Carter has quite recovered, and that Pte. John Carter is going on well. Pte. George Higgs has been ill in France, but is now convalescent.

Trooper Alfred Brant lately sailed to join the Mediterranean Force and his parents have just heard of his safe arrival in Egypt. Pte. Fred Johnson and Pte. Fred Blay have gone to France. We regret that inadvertently we omitted to mention that Lance-Corporal Frank Brant is now serving in France, and has been at the Front for some time.

We are delighted to hear that Lieut. Cecil Ferard has won the Military Cross at Salonika, and tender warm congratulations. We also heartily congratulate Pte. James Winnen who has been recommended for the Military Medal “for gallant conduct in the field on March 21st” (which happens to be his birthday). He hear the good news whilst in Hospital, suffering from shell shock which rendered him unconscious for five days, and left him deaf and dumb for a time; but he has, we are glad to hear now completely recovered and re-joined his regiment.

Winkfield section of Winkfield District Magazine, July 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/7)

Another of our hero lads has fallen in the terrible conflict

Reading’s Congregationalists continued to serve.

Sorrow.

We are deeply sorry to hear that another of our hero lads – Stanley Challen – has fallen in the terrible conflict. Whilst in action at Arras, on the May 3rd, he was struck by a shell and was instantaneously killed. To his loved ones the sad news came as a terrible blow, for he was of a lovable, thoughtful disposition, a devoted son and kind brother. We desire to express our truest sympathy with them, praying that our Heavenly Father may richly comfort and sustain them in these sad days.

Khaki Chat.

Jack Newey is back in the line again. Jesse Prouten is in England, and will probably appear from time to time among us. Mr Dormer has obtained a commission as equipment officer in the R.F.C., and is at present undergoing a course of instruction in this town. Mr Goddard is now “somewhere in France,” and so also to our surprise is Leslie Newey. The former has already written home expressing warm appreciation of the work of the Y.M.C.A. out there.

Trinity Congregational Church magazine, July 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

Regular orders for definite hospitals

The Wargrave Surgical Dressings Emergency Society was now run on more organised lines.

Wargrave Surgical Dressings Emergency Society

Since April 25th, 1915 to January 9th, 1917, the Surgical Dressings Emergency Society has sent out from Wargrave Station – to Casualty Clearing Stations, Hospitals in France, in Gallipolli, Mesopotamia and Salonica,

344,866 Dressings
8,447 Comforts such as Shirts, Pyjamas, Shoes, Bed Jackets, Mufflers etc.

The Society is now working under the Director General of Voluntary Organizations (War Office) and he has somewhat changed the system of working.

We have now regular monthly orders for definite hospitals; a certain number of Dressings and Comforts to provide –

Dressing Gowns, Slippers, Bed Jackets, Handkerchiefs, Towels, and Socks are needed next month – besides the Dressings.

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

The head teacher sees her son off to France

A working mother (an unusual situation at this date) said goodbye to her son.

29th June 1917
A half holiday was given yesterday to allow the Head Teacher to see her son off to France.

Coleshill CE School log book (D/P40/28/5, p. 20)

Restore oppressed nations to their rightful heritage

A new sympathy and interest were felt in our more obscure allies. It seemed appropriate at the time to look back at our Serbian allies’ historic fight for freedom from Turkey, now our mutual enemy.

The Vicar’s Notes

What is “KOSSOVO” day? It is the day on which, after fierce fighting, the Serbians came under the domination of the Turk (June 28th, 1389), and it is observed solemnly each year by the Serbian people. I hope to have a special memorial service at S. Mary’s on June 28th, at 12.15, very much on the lines of the service held at S. Pauls Cathedral last year. We ought to do all we can to shew our interest in those oppressed nations (at present under the heel of the German) which we are pledged to restore to their rightful heritage.

Intercessions
For the wounded, especially Fred Nunn.
For the missing, especially Charles Mercott, one of our servers.
For the fallen, especially William Stevens (killed in action in France on April 22nd); Tom Gray (died at the front from spotted fever); Edgar Bland and Ernest Lawrence (killed in action); Frederick Welford (Drowned in action)
R.I.P.

For God’s blessing on the efforts being made to save our country’s food.

Thanksgivings
For the progress of the Allied Arms.
For the gift of reasonable weather to help the Crops.

All Saints District
The War

We again have to mourn losses owing to the war and our sympathies will go out in abundant measure to those who are sorrowing. In Frederick Sales we have lost a former choir boy and we shall feel with his father who still has four sons in the Army, three of whom are in the fighting line.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, June 1917 (D/P98/28A/15)

A follow up appeared in a later issue:

“Kossovo” Day, June 28th, was largely spoilt by the bad weather, But we were glad to see the Serbian lads once more at S.Mary’s, and we had the support of our Mayor, and of the Principal and Registrar of the University College. The Russian “Kontakion” for the departed was well sung by the Choir; and the service ended with the Serbian Royal Anthem and our own National Anthem. Our earnest prayer is that by next “Kossovo” Day our Serbian friends may be restored to their rightful heritage once more.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P98/28A/15)

Do the German hear our starlight singing in their distant trenches?

There was much news of soldiers from Maidenhead Congregational Church.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are glad to be able to report that Reginald Hill is so far improving, that he has been able to sit up a little each day. Thomas S. Russell has been called up, and is in training with the Motor Transport Section of the A.S.C. G.C. Frampton after about two hours drill was considered advanced enough for foreign service, and left England for France on May 18th. He is gone into Military Canteen work.

An interesting letter has come to hand from Sidney Eastman, which may justly be described as lengthy, for it is written upon a piece of paper some seven or eight feet long, and covers both sides. It is mostly occupied with a description of his travels and of the sights he has seen, and we are glad to gather that he is in good health and spirits.

G.C. Frampton has been unpatriotic enough to take German measles, and is in Hospital at Etaples. We hope to learn very shortly that he is quite well again.

Alfred Vardy, after a severe bout of pneumonia, caught on his way to the Front in France, is now at a Convalescent Camp in Thetford, gaining strength before returning to duty.

Wilfrid Collins is in hospital at Reading, suffering from heart weakness following upon a severe attack of “Trench fever.”

Reginald Hill has been out of bed for an hour, and is going on satisfactorily, though slowly.

Cyril Hews had a somewhat narrow escape recently. He was out with his motor-bicycle upon a French road during a thunderstorm, when the lightning struck a tree by the road-side, and a large branch fell upon the handlebars of the machine, providentially leaving the rider untouched.

Alfred Lane, after more than a year’s training in the Home Counties’ Engineers at Maidenhead, has been sent over with a draft to France.

Harry Baldwin, having attained the age of 18, and being called up, has elected to enter the Navy, and will probably enter a Training School.

One of our young men, who took an active part in the Messines victory, writes:

“Rather a good sight yesterday. I attended with my men a very large open-air drum-head Church Parade Service, as a sort of Thanksgiving Service for our recent great victory. A large number of Welshmen were present, and it really was great to hear these fellows sing “Aberystwith” and “St. Mary,” accompanied by a band.”

The papers, by the way, have been recently telling us that in all the Welsh regiments there are “glee parties,” who sing under the stars, until the Germans must hear and perhaps wonder, in their more or less distant trenches.

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

Returning to France today

Slough and Chalvey British Infants’ School
June 4th 1917
Mrs Stewart is absent today as her husband is returning to France after leave.

Wokingham Wescott Road School
June 4th 1917

A memorial service for Mr Vickers was held at All Saints Church this afternoon at 4pm. It was specially arranged for the scholars, and 230 attended.

Slough and Chalvey British Infants’ School log book (C/EL123, p. 342); Wokingham Wescott Road School log book (C/EL87, p. 175)

“The villages have been ruthlessly pillaged, burnt, and razed to the ground”

A Reading man writes of his latest experiences at the front – and the death of a friend.

Our “Boys”

This terrible war has taken from us yet another of our brave soldier lads. Horace Pinker, who quite recently lost his brother and mother, was killed in France on the 5th of April. May the God of all comfort be very near to his father, sisters and brother – to console them in their keen sorrow!

The following extract from a letter sent by Eric Chapman to his mother is especially interesting, as it refers to the circumstances and death of his friend:-

“To return to my personal doings, it is unnecessary of course for me to allude to the German retirement on the western front, seeing that the papers are full of it. As you must have guessed, this has made a great difference to our lives, as we have had to be constantly hot on their heels. At times we come to close quarters with them, but on the whole they do not show much fight, and easily surrender or retire. The country over which we are advancing has been most thoroughly and diabolically destroyed. The villages have been ruthlessly pillaged, burnt, and razed to the ground. Not a thing of any value has been left behind by these barbarians. Even the young fruit trees have been deliberately maimed and rendered incapable of bearing fruit. Naturally this has made it most hard for us following in their tracks, as they intended it should, but we are able to overcome all difficulties and continue our victorious advance. There is not the slightest doubt we are winning by force of arms and smashing the Huns back to their own country. May the end come suddenly and speedily!

“Our battalion has just returned from a special attack, in which it distinguished itself, and about which the Colonel has given permission to write, so I am quite in order in relating a few facts without giving valuable information away. Our objective was a large village, fortified and held by the Huns. We commenced the attack in the early hours of the morning, and had to advance a distance of over 2,000 yards, before we came to grips with the enemy. It was snowing slightly at the time and a thin layer covered the ground as the men moved forward in waves to the attack. After we got fairly going I felt strangely exhilarated, and, much to my surprize quite unconcerned by the possibility of danger. The Huns yelled when they saw us coming, but our fellows yelled still louder, and never wavered a moment under the enemy’s fire. Barbed wire impeded our movements to a small extent, but in short time we had reached the village and were careering like mad through the streets. The Huns did not stand a ghost of a chance then, as our men paid back old scores, and in a few seconds they were doing their best to retreat. Many got back to tell the tale to Hindenburg, but I am thankful to say many not. It was not long before the whole village was in our hands, and after we had consolidated our gain we had some sport looking for souvenirs. The most interesting thing to us was the Germans’ rations which they left behind. Some of the men ate them, but although I am not dainty on this job, I did not have! The meat looked tempting enough, but had the undoubted characteristics of worn-out cab horse!

“I am glad to say our casualties on this occasion were comparatively few, although I regret to have to relate the death in action of Horace Pinker. He was killed by a bullet, and died before the stretcher–bearers could get him to the dressing station. It is very sad for his people, but they can have the satisfaction of knowing that he died bravely and nobly, and was accorded a decent burial.”

It has long been felt that we have not done all that we might for those of our numbers who are taking part in this bitter struggle. At Christmas our young people collected enough to send parcels to all on the Institute Roll of Honour. Now it is wished to do the same for the others, and the kind help and generous support of all our friends if asked. We feel confident that this appeal will not be made in vain! Contributions may be sent to Miss Gough, Mrs. Hamilton Moss, Mrs. Streeter, or Miss Austin.

Trinity Congregational magazine, May 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

“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.

OUR SOLDIERS.

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)