“The war is likely to be the most striking event of the 20th century”

Newbury Museum planned to remember the war and its impact.

Museum and Free Library Committee
Monday, January 19th, 1919


The Hon. Curator laid before the Committee the following report for the past quarter:

Borough of Newbury Museum

Typical Collection.

The war is likely to be the most striking event of the 20th century, and we shall probably not be wrong in devoting the 1 foot 6 inches of wall space allotted to the century almost, if not entirely, to war exhibits. In the table-case there should be nine small but choice objects illustrating the following regions: Britain; North Europe; the campaign in the Murmansk Region; Central Europe; Germany or Austria; Italy; The Balkan Peninsula; Gallipoli; Serbia or Salonika; Egypt; Western Asia; Palestine or Mesopotamia; India; Japan. These objects must be small, as the space at our disposal is very limited, but should be choice. An instructional sectional Mill’s No 5 hand-grenade, an iron cross, and a Turkish cannon-ball, and such-like objects, would be most suitable. Besides these we might exhibit a German shrapnel-helmet, a British gas mask, and a French 75 mm shell-case.

Local Collections

These might be placed in a special case to illustrate the effect of the war on Newbury, and the share in it taken by the Borough and neighbourhood. It would be interesting to collect a complete series of posters, circulars and notices issued by the Police, the County Council, the Borough Council, and the Rural District Council, and by officials and committees acting under their authority; also a complete set of the issue of the “Newbury Weekly News” from the declaration of war to the conclusion of the peace celebrations. These cannot be displayed upon the walls of the Museum owing to lack of space, and the Museum possesses no accommodation for storing them in such a way as to be accessible to students. Perhaps this part of the record could be undertaken by the Free Library.

The special Museum case might, however, contain: Badges of officers and men of the Berkshire regiments; badges and insignia of Newbury Special Constables; badges and arms of the Newbury Volunteers; shell-cases made by Newbury munition firms. These seem to be all that we shall find room for, and ought to be sufficient to show posterity how the war affected Newbury and its neighbourhood.

War Collection – the following special report by the Hon. Curator on a war collection was held before the Committee.:-

Report on War Collections

Now that hostilities have ceased, it is time that the Committee decided what steps should be taken by the Museum to put on record the chief features of the war. In considering this question it will be well to give the matter careful thought, and to make sure that it is approached with due regard to proportion. On the one hand we must avoid concluding that, as the war is an affair of yesterday, it should not be represented in our Historical Collections, still more is it well to remember that, though at the present moment it seems to overshadow in importance all other events, yet it must not occupy an undue amount of space in our cases, but must take its place with other events of a perhaps less dramatic nature. There are two ways in which the war may be considered part of the Museum: one as part of the general history of the Old World, as exhibited on our typical collection; and the other as part of the history of Newbury, as exemplified by our Local Collections.

The Hon. Curator’s report was adopted and efforts were to be made to secure suitable exhibits.


Newbury Borough Council minutes (N/AC1/2/9)

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Pot shots over the parapet

Soldiers coped with the onslaught in different ways.

Sydney Spencer
Sunday 26 May 1918
(written retrospectively on 28 May)

I came on trench duty at 12.30 am till stand down (normally at 4.30, but as the mist was very strong & heavy we stood to till 7). I then went on strike & had breakfast after 5 ½ hours trench duty!

At 7.30 I found Rolfe & Peyton taking pot shots over the parapet with Mills bombs & rifle grenades. Just for the sake of old times I threw one through the crater. It fell in our wire. At 10 the Bosche started a strafe on the whole of our front. This lasted until 12.30. I & my platoon grovelled on the trench bottom & made accusative remarks about his bad shooting, & Corporal Bindey [?] & I studied an ants’ nest to while away the time!

After lunch I was on duty again from 2 till 4 pm. After tea for about 10 minutes I suffered complete demoralisation, goodness only knows why! I slept for 1 hour & then as no evening hate took place at 6 pm I went to company headquarters & rested till dinner time.

After dinner I got ready to hand over after 9 days in line! Then came orders to stand to as a raid was expected. Discovered a ground search light on our front at 2.35. It played all along our front.

Percy Spencer
26 May 1918

Communion service in grass avenue outside chateau. Went over a tank.

Moved up close to Lavieville. Not bad quarters but well bombed all around & no protection. Hartley joined us.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15) and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

How to throw bombs

Sydney Spencer was sent for training throwing grenades.

Aug 15 [1916]

Battalion 1296. Lieut Spencer will proceed to Ripon tomorrow to arrange for throwing of bombs by men of this Battalion at present at Ripon.

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12)

Excellent work with the hand grenade

Clewer parishioners were proud of accolades awarded to Dedworth man William Bloomfield.

All Saints’, Dedworth

It is with great pleasure we insert the following letter:-
To 2617 Private W. Bloomfield,
1st Bucks Bn.

Your Commanding Officer, and Brigade Commander, have informed me that you have distinguished yourself by your conduct in the field on the night April 1-2, 1916.

I have read with much pleasure,
(Signed) R. FAREHAM, Major-General,
Commanding 48th S.M. Division.

William Bloomfield has done splendid work for his country. His conduct under fire is wonderfully calm, and he has been awarded the above for his excellent work with the hand grenade.

Clewer St Andrew parish magazine, May 1916 (D/P39/28A/9)

A trainee grenadier

Sydney Spencer, training to be an officer, was sent off to train with grenades.

March 17th 1916

I am detailed to attend Grenadier course at Godstone, Surrey, on March 21st (Tuesday).

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12)

Eager to go into the trenches

A couple of Reading soldiers write from the Front:

NEWS FROM THE FRONT.
Service in a Cornfield.
‘We had a Church Service in a cornfield this morning and a Communion Service afterwards. It was quite a novelty; the grain was standing in the sheaves and the surrounding scenery was lovely. We are in a valley with clumps of trees and cornfields all around us, and in the distance one can see the spires and chimneys of a town, and on the other hand a little way behind can be seen the ruins of a smaller town where an occasional shell can be heard to burst. We had a good bath yesterday, the first we have had for about six weeks or a little more. Since I last wrote to you I have joined the Signalling Section, and I was about to you a few days ago on my station in the trenches, but just as I was about to start ‘Fritz’ got ahead of me with a few souvenirs in the shape of shells, trench-mortar bombs, rifle grenades, and such-like niceties, so I had to clear for action, as a demonstration by ‘Fritz’ is likely to make our wires pretty busy with messages. ‘Fritz’ got a direct hit on our trench in one place and we were lucky not to have our wire broken, which would have meant going out to mend it, shells or no shells. I saw Lieutenant Poulton Palmer’s grave the other day.
A. Goodson.

Ronald Palmer Club
“Just a line to let you know that another old club boy has managed to get to France. We left Southampton at 7 p.m. on Saturday, august 7th, and arrived in France at 1 o’clock in the morning, but we did not disembark until 8 oc’clock. We went to a rest camp about two or three miles away for the next night. Next day we started to move nearer the firing line. we started at 6 p.m. in cattle trucks and travelled all night until midday the next day, and we were cramped, tired and dirty. We then had a march over rough cobbles to a town, where we are now billeted in barns waiting to be moved into the line, but I am afraid it will be some time before we get there, though our fellows are all eager to go into the trenches. We see a number of aeroplanes hovering round here all day long. I saw one of the old club boys the other day, J. Sawyer of the RHA; he went to our first camp with Mr Heaton, and enlisted just after. I hope the Club and all concerned are getting on well.
Lance-Corporal Bushell.

August 4th
From the four corners of the earth,
Where’er the British flag shall float,
Our vow of victory we take,
Resolved to drown the craven note.

For there are those within our midst
To whom NO peace is premature;
But our’s to war to end such war!
And ne’er again this curse endure.

Not for our gain – a year ago –
‘Twas not for greed we drew the sword,
But to defend our plighted word
Our blood and wealth have been outpoured.

The Empire’s vow’s the Empire’s bond,
All round the world today she’s bound –
This pledge to keep her sword unsheath’d
Until her cause with victory’s crowned.
A.W.E.

Reading St John parish magazine, September 1915 (D/P172/28A/24)

Unfit for peace

Maysie Wynne-Finch wrote to her brother Ralph Glyn to tell him of her joy at having her soldier husband home from the Front – and the excitement of experiencing air raids.

Sep.10/15
Cliffe Close
Highcliffe
Hants

My darling R.

…I am very sorry it’s so long since I wrote, I missed one mail & then last week I was hopeless as John got his week’s leave. Oh it was heavenly, only I didn’t know time could go so quick. I got a wire the 31st and he cane on Wed – no time for me to meet him in London. To my sorrow he caught a 5 a.m. train from Euston, having arrived 2.30 a.m. so he didn’t waste much time. The Parents fled as if we were plague struck. However they came here so are more than happy. Meg [her sister] has been splendid & fitted them in. John went back Wed evening & Meg & I came here that night. Addy is an angel & I am with her. Somehow I couldn’t face going straight back home. I am going on the 18th I think.

We are having great Zep days. On Tuesday we were just turning in when there was a noise & John said it was a gun – then we heard another & fetched Reg. We saw nothing & heard only a few more distant shots. It turned out they’d been over Kennnington. They destroyed some houses in the Old Kent Road. Fire engines were dashing about all night. Then Wed night seems to have been more exciting. There were 3 Zeps & everyone saw them for about 10 minutes, as our searchlights got them. Lord Colville writes to Addy & says for 10 minutes the sound of bursting bombs & guns was terrific – & they did a lot of damage – 15 people were killed by one bomb hitting a motor bus in the City. They caused several fires & one very large one close to the Bank. I suppose we shall have a spell of the devils for a bit. I wish we could catch them. So long as they don’t get our munition works it won’t matter much.

Dear old Sir Edward Goschen was here yesterday. We hadn’t met since Berlin. He has taken a house here. He brought word of these Russian successes in Galicia, he also said he heard on good authority that the Russians would be able to make an offensive on less than a month, & that their immediate reserve was a [division?] now ready. In fact he was so cheering I can’t believe him! Everyone seems to think we are going to make a big move in the west now at once. I suppose we ought & shall. John expected it. Meantime the new Guards Div. are still right back – not formed even, apparently they have no guns yet even. But that is probably not true & they are sure to be in any push, if there is one.

You seem to be fairly “in it” now. Your story of Coxson is priceless. How he must hate it. I wish your news was better – it must be so sickening for you all – especially seeing the awful price we paid & without the result. Now one wonders so what next. There seems precious little light anywhere just now. Every day I am getting more convinced there is going to be no big Fleet action, aren’t you? I’m afraid the Russians didn’t destroy the Nolke, but anyhow the Huns are properly taken on evidently.

I expect you’ll be sad about the Grand Duke. He wouldn’t change his C of Staff so was told he must or go with his own man, so he went. That’s the yarn I heard from Edmund Charteris, & he generally knows the right of things…

There has been great excitement at Cefre over these submarine [illegible] glass balls which are being washed ashore. At least that’s what they are said to be. They caught a submarine string on the sand of some Tripper beach in Anglesey the other day! 57 is said to be the number of Fritz’s we’ve now disposed of. Not too bad.

That Trades Union decision about National Service was pretty rotten, it shows how utterly unfit we still are for peace & how little better a year of war has made us. Dreadful. These boys here are splendid…

John has brought home a beautiful specimen of a rifle [bomb crossed through] grenade thing. They must be the devil.

Bless you darling. Take care of yourself…

Your ever loving
Maysie

Letter from Maysie Wynne-Finch to her brother Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/2)