Hard fighting in France

Florence Vansittart Neale was cheered by the latest from the Front.

18 May 1917

Bullecourt finally taken by us after hard fighting – attacks [illegible] since May 5.

French say we have sunk 23 submarines between May 1-5.

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

“An old French lady follows all soldiers’ coffins buried from this hospital, to represent the absent mothers”

A much loved Caversham teacher died after an attack of appendicitis at the front.

Sorrow.

It is with a keen sense of loss that we at Trinity heard of the death of yet another of our noble band of soldier heroes, Percy White who passed away 0n May 10th after an operation for appendicitis. The operation itself was most successful, and he rallied splendidly from it, seeming to be doing well, but later complications set in, and though he made a good fight, his strength was gone.

Percy enlisted in The Army Service Corps in October 1915, fully realising that by reason of long-standing delicacy, he thereby ran more risks than many men, but his action was prompted by a keen sense of duty and a desire above all things to do right. He was an able musician, and for a long time had been a much valued member of the choir. There his help has been greatly missed.
His happy nature, his unfailing good temper, and love of peace, won for him a high place in the regard of all that knew him. All who came in to contact with him felt his worth, and the memory of his quiet, good life will add fragrance to the many undying influences which cast a halo round these walls. As our Pastor said in a sympathetic reference on Sunday afternoon, “He was a musician to his very core, and he made music his life.”

He was a staunch friend, a good brother and a devoted son, and to those of his nearest and dearest called to bear this heavy blow we offer our deepest sympathy. Our hearts go out to them in tenderness, praying that the Father Himself will draw very near all strength and consolation.

One of his comrades in France (where he had been 15 months) writes: “I hardly know how to begin this letter. As I told you in my letter of the 9th, poor Percy was much improved that day, but he had a relapse about one in the morning of the 10th, and passed away about 9 a.m. I truly believe everything possible was done for him, he himself said so to me the last time I saw him. It was a great blow to us all, and we know by what he was to us who have only known him such a comparatively short time, what his loss must be to you. We are only plain men, and as such we offer our deepest sympathy. You knew your boy, we knew him. He lived a clean, honest, upright life, and will, I know, reap the rewards such a life merits. We laid him to rest this afternoon in the British cemetery in a soldier’s grave with full military honours, and it was all we could do for him. The whole section and all ranks attended, and he was followed by an old French lady who follows all soldiers’ coffins buried from this hospital. I believe she represents the absent mothers. She has done it all through this long winter in all weathers; it is a great task she has set herself, but surely a kind one. I can say no more except to repeat that we all mourn the loss of the best of comrades.”

The headmaster of the Caversham Council School, where his great ability as a teacher was much appreciated, gives his testimony: “We trust that the memory of Percy’s cheery disposition, high sense of duty, and good life, will bring some solace to you. I think I may truly say that Percy won the esteem of all those with whom he came in contact, and I know that, in the case of those who became more intimately acquainted with him, that esteem ripened quickly into real affection.”

A fellow-teacher also testifies: “To-day has been indeed a sad one at school, where we felt we all knew and loved him. His nobleness and character had endeared him to all. Working and talking with him as I did, I can say that his daily life was one that helped others to be strong, and I am sure those who were privileged to know him must feel as I do, that they have lost a friend. The children at school loved him.”

Several of our “Kitchener’s Men” have this month laid down their lives for King and county, among them Lance-Corporal W. Dewe, whom many of our friends will remember. He attended our rooms every night, and never forgot Trinity, being a faithful correspondent up to the last.

Trinity Congregational Church Magazine, June 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

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.
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A great offensive

The Allies were doing well on the western front.

19 April 1917
Great offensive of the French – taken 19,000 prisoners. We took 14,000 & 228 guns.

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

“Just now on the threshold of a good roll up of the Huns I’m afraid there’ll be no time for reading in the army”

Percy Spencer and his colleagues had the opportunity to socialise with French girls behind the lines – and some romances developed, as Percy told his sister.

April 17 1917
My dear WF

Circumstances have prevented me from writing sooner, but please don’t ever imagine just because I sometimes cease my very occasional letters for a while that therefore I’m fighting in every battle on the Western front. I have always made a point of sending at least a field card whenever I am in any danger or you may have reason that I may be.

I’m enclosing a few souvenirs just to show that all our times are not anxious ones. The photos were taken in the rain in a quiet little village on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. You’ll note that all married and attached have vanished from the “mascot” group. We have had a very good, if strenuous time. The fellow who is understudying me against my departure (if that ever happens) and our mess mascot were mutually smitten, and altho’ I have done my utmost to persuade him from making the lady an alien, he is in daily correspondence with her, getting frightfully absent minded, and goes around humming her favourite tune until we put up a solid barrage of the same tune in the lady’s Anglo-French style.

As for my Benjamin (“Miss Mary Jones”, the junior clerk) the case is indeed desperate. All thoughts of his first love Lily of Clapham Common seem to be banished at the mention of “Jacqueline”, the blue-eyed maid at the second estaminet on the right. Her winsomeness was a great trial to me, as “Mary” was dangerously enchanted by her charms. On the day he was inoculated and should have kept very quiet, he was missing – sitting at the shrine of his goddess, drinking benedictions and secret smiles: as I find him out to his billet he assured me with tears in his eyes, “I’ve only had 2, sergeant”. Of course he ought to be dead, but he isn’t – and Jacqueline regards me as an ogre. However I think she judged me a little bit better before we left, for on the day we went away Mary had a scrawly pencilled note as follows –

My dear Dolly
I must see you at once. Tell your sergeant that if you no come quick I finish with you for ever.
With love & kisses
XXXXXX
from your
Jacqueline

He went.

And every now and then I see him take out an old passport and look at the left hand corner, and smile at her miniature there.

Dear old Will has sent me a long letter enclosing a photo of Johanna & himself and offering a selection from a number of books as a birthday present. I’ll let you know later what I’d like, but just now on the threshold of a good roll up of the Huns I’m afraid there’ll be no time for reading in the army.

I believe my affairs are going thro’ all right, but it may be some time yet or not at all before my promotion comes through – I hope it will be very soon or not at all. Further promotion would be very remote, if the job hung fire for long.

With my dear love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/26-28)

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)

Russian diplomats delighted at revolution

Florence Vansittart Neale reflects in more detail on her experience seeing the tragic sight of the sunken Gloucester Castle hospital ship.

5 April 1917
I saw the Gloster Castle partly submerged, it had been towed into the Solent. Hospital ship torpedoed, burnt engines, darkness, people in boats 2 hours before picked up by destroyer.

Heard our hospital ships painted black & no lights.

Phyllis tells me one ran into French mines, hit & then destroyer sank. No wounded on board but nurses& orderlies.

Mrs James says when 20,000 prisoners were taken there, we may [have] her flag & feel the end is nearly coming! She says Russian attache’s & legation delighted at revolution.

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

“French very tiresome”

Florence Vansittart Neale heard a lot of gossip in her social circle, including criticisms of our allies’ expectations.

2 April 1917

Hear French very tiresome, expect us to use all our ships for them.

Hear we have to send coal to Italy, use private shipping – much against their will!

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

French soldiers and Swiss peasants

One Sunday morning, British expat Will Spencer ran into some recuperating wounded French soldiers enjoying their time in neutral Switzerland.

18 March 1917

Shortly after 10.30 set out to go to church, but thinking of the possibility of the same crazy man being in the congregation who spoke to me after the service a fortnight ago [not mentioned in the diary!], I decided to go for a walk instead. Across the little footbridge – French soldiers perilously oaring boats gondolier fashion down the Aare – on one, a number of Swiss peasants as passengers.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/27)

It would be a comfort to find his grave

The Spencer family was trying to help Will’s German friends discover the fate of their missing son.

5 March 1917

A letter for me from Florrie. Percy gets my letters, but thinks I do not get his. (If he has written any letter to me since last April, I haven’t received it.) He has therefore written to Florrie to say that he has handed in an enquiry in respect of Max Ohler to the British Graves Commission, & begged that it may be passed on to the French authorities. If we hear nothing, it may add to the hope that he is alive, but if we do hear, Percy said it will even be “some comfort to know that at best the boy has been buried, & his grave registered.”

Diary of Will Spencer (D/EX801/27)

“All very uncheery – what!”

Percy’s last letter to Florence on 4 February was interrupted by events. He picked up his pen a week later to address their brother Will’s concerns about a young German friend who had been reported missing.

[11 February 1917]

That was 7 days ago. Seven days of perfect weather and comparative comfort. And now I have an hour or so in which I think I can manage to finish.

Garwood has now gone on leave, and if the present idea obtains another couple of months and leave is still open then, I ought to be home again.

Did I tell you that the younger of Mr Lewis’s sons is one of our RE [Royal Engineers] officers. He superintended the building of our mess. We now have 3 snug (for war time) messes in this part of the world, so long as the Bosch don’t shell.

Will wrote me about Max Ohler who is “missing”. Will doesn’t seem to get my very occasional letters. I wish when next you write, you would tell him that I have received all of his, and that I am not now, and may not be again, in a position to make any direct enquiry about MO. I have however been able to put enquiries thro’ the British Graves Commission and made a request for them to be passed on to the French authorities. If he hears nothing, it may add something to Johanna’s hope that Max has not been buried by us or the French, or if unfortunately he does hear, at any rate, even that will be some comfort too, to know at least the boy has been buried & his grave registered.

All very uncheery – what!

I’m sending you a souvenir menu card of a little Xmas dinner we had. The pennant is our sign by day & the lamp by night – the flags are those of the Signal Section. I hope you’ll like my hurried design.

Also I’ve been to see our follies. They’re awfully good & include some professionals – the “girls” are quite edible.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

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

Not many at sale for wounded Frenchmen

Sydney Spencer was ill – just in time for Christmas at home.

Sydney Spencer
December 14, 1916

I go home on 12 days sick leave.

Not every effort to raise money to support the war was well attended.

Florence Vansittart Neale
14 December 1916

Bubs & I went to Bear Place for Dottie’s sale for French wounded. Glee singers from Windsor & Eton. Not many people there.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Parcels for prisoners

New restrictions made it harder to support PoWs in Germany.

ASCOT PARISH Prisoners of War Fund

On account of the new regulations in regard to the despatch of parcels to British Prisoners of War, it has become necessary to close this Fund. Happily, up to the present only two Ascot men have been taken prisoners, both of whom belong to the Berkshire Regiment. This Regiment has entirely adopted them, though arrangements have been also made whereby the parents in each case are still able to send parcels to their sons in their own name, through the Regimental Fund. With the consent of the subscribers to our fund, the balance in hand, £3 2s. 4d., has been sent to the Berkshire Regiment Prisoners of War Relief Fund, in acknowledgement of their generous treatment of our two Ascot lads. Our thanks are due to the kind donors and subscribers to this Fund during the past year.

THE CHRISTMAS SALE, in aid of the two “Ascot Beds” (French and Serbian Womens’ Hospitals) will be held at the South Ascot Parish Hall on Wednesday, December 6th. The Sale will be opened at 2.30p.m. by Countess Roberts.

Christmas Tree. Bran Pies. Admission, 2.30-5.30p.m., 6d. After 5.30, admission free. Tea, 6d.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, December 1916 (D/P151/28A/12)

Japanese attaches to visit the Somme

Japan had been allied with Great Britain since 1902, and during World War I they fought the Germans in the latter’s imperial possessions in the Far East. Captain, later Admiral, John Donald Kelly (1871-1936)

27 September 1916

We motored to [the] James – found her & Nina in. He goes to the Somme with Japanese attache’s…

Splendid victories Anglo-French….

Captain K[elly] gone to Scapa in new boat “Weymouth”.

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

Learning French in internment

The four Cusden brothers from Reading who had been teaching in Germany before the war were among those British and other foreigners who were interned in the Ruhleben camp near Berlin. There was an active education and activity programme run by the internees, and which they took very seriously. Victor Cusden taught French, and the other men may have attended classes. The camp ‘school’ issued a detailed prospectus for the autumn term, 1916.

Ruhleben Camp School
Prospectus of work for autumn term 1916

In issuing this special prospectus the Committee of the Ruhleben Camp School wishes to draw the attention of students to the following points:

1. The School Premises are now simply but adequately equipped.
2. The Laboratory arrangements enable satisfactory practical work to be done.
3. A good Library dealing with a wide variety of Subjects is already in Camp and further volumes can be procured easily from England.
4. Public Examinations are being arranged for: those of the Royal Society of Arts have already been held.
5. The Board of Education has arranged a Scheme for Recording Study which may be used 1. as a testimonial 2. in connection with certain Examinations.
6. In most subjects the tuition provided by the School ranges from that required by absolute beginners to that required by Advanced University Students.

The Autumn Term begins on September 11th: the enrolment of all students, old and new, in all Departments, takes place in the Loft of Barrack 6 on Monday and Tuesday the 4th and 5th of September, 9 to 11 am and 2 to 4 pm.

DEPARTMENT FOR FRENCH
Last term: 2 lecture classes, 43 classes, 39 teachers, 284 individual pupils
Special Classes for absolute beginners (grammar and pronunciation). Special class for coloured men.
Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced Grammar Classes, based on Otto-Onion’s, Hugo’s, Berlitz’ I and II, Siepmann’s 1, 2 et 3, Gouin’s I and II, Larive and Fleury 2me et 3me Annee, Dent’s and Wright’s Methods and Grammars.
Conversation, Pronunciation and Reading Classes for Intermediate and Advanced Students are based on the following text books: le Petit Parisien (Kron), Gouin 2nd Book, Tartarin de Tarascon, Tartarin sur les Alpes ( A Daudet), Tour du Monde (J Verne), Emeraude hdes Incas (Charles Normand), Luois XI (Casimir Delavigne).
Style, Composition, Synonyms: for advanced students.
Special Class for “Orthographe”, by P Elies.
Preparation Classes for London University Matriculation and London Chamber of Commerce Examinations.
Lectures on Idioms, Gallicismes and general subjects; literary and otherwise.
Reading and explanation of Labiche’s plays, and other modern plays, to familiarise students with colloquial French, by P Elies and H A Bell.
Course of lectures on Victor Hugo (his life and works) by M Bordelain.
Series of lectures (in French and English) on “le Pays de France” dealing with different aspects of French life (Literature, Art, Music, Commerce, History, Geography, etc).
Commercial French classes: correspondence, expressions, etc, based on Gouin’s and Pitman’s methods.

In order to classify students adequately and place them in an appropriate class, a general entrance examination for all those intending to join or to continue classes in the French Department will be held on September 1st and 2nd at 9.30 am in the YMCA Hall.
This examination is compulsory for all students whether already in the school or not, only absolute beginners are exempted. A general “end of term” examination will also take place in December to test the progress made by students during the term.

Teachers… [include] V Cusden

[D/EX1485/4/10/1]