A good comrade who always played the game

Among the Reading men reported killed were two decorated heroes.

All Saints’ District
The War
R.I.P.

Last month we offered our congratulations to Pte, F.R. Johnson of the Machine Gun Corps, and a member of the Choir, on being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallant conduct on July 31st. It is with great sorrow that we have to chronicle the fact that a few days later he was killed in action. He rendered excellent service in the Choir and leaves behind him a good record as a soldier. That he was appreciated and highly esteemed by his comrades is shown in the following extract from one of the several letters written by them which we have been privileged to read: –

“I know quite well from every man in the company would agree with me when I say that we always found him a good comrade and a loyal friend; to put it shortly, he was ‘a white man,’ and always ‘played the game.’”

Such words are a great testimonial to personal character. He was an only child, and our deepest sympathy will go to his sorrowing parents.

We also have to record the death of Pte Arthur James Purchell, of the Royal Berks Regt., whom also was congratulated some time ago on being awarded the Military Medal. He was severely wounded in action and died shortly afterwards.

News has also just arrived of the death of Gunner Frederick Edward Stowell, of the Salonika Force, and of Pt. William Warren Goddard, of the Machine Gun Corps, who died in France of meningitis. To the relatives and friends who are mourning their loss we shall give our sincerest sympathy.

All Saints section of Reading St Mary parish magazine, November 1917 (D/P98/28A/15)

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Dead meat

The Caversham clergyman who had signed up as an army chaplain was sent to a hospital. He sent back this very graphic account of one patient’s appalling wounds – a trigger warning may be in order before you scroll down.

S. Andrew’s
Things seen in a hospital

I am glad they have made a Hospital Chaplain if only because it brings one into contact with such an amount of heroism, patience, and persevering industry. It is greater than anything I had ever dared to believe existed in this England of ours.

I was asked this morning to help with a dressing; a man had been badly smashed; there were other wounds as well; one in particular in the hip that was bad, but it was the arm that chiefly mattered. I say an arm but it looked to me almost like a piece of dead meat; for a moment I thought the hand had been amputated, but then I saw there were fingers, or what had once been fingers. I was asked to support the wrist and the elbow, and more skilful hands than mine directed me where I was to hold; there was nothing which gave any indication to me as to the position of the wrist and elbow. And then they began to examine, and I will try to remember wounds; there was one I know in the palm of the hand, but that could not be dressed then, time and the patient’s strength did not permit; there was one somewhere above the wrist; there was a gaping one where the elbow joint had been excised; there was another a little above that, and there was one on the back of the shoulder that was very difficult to reach.

He had only just come in to our Hospital though he had been four months wounded, and one tried to picture what that arm had been like at the beginning of the treatment which had gone on for those four months in that French Hospital. The wounds had not been dressed during the thirty-six hour s that he had been traveling, and they were dirty and very painful. The sister had not yet learnt how to handle him deftly nor the exact position of all the wounds, and in moving the arm and getting off the dressings she could not help causing him exquisite torture which he shewed by screwing up his face, but he never uttered a cry.

Meanwhile, partly to distract his attention from what was being done to him I asked him to tell me his story and he told me of all the long months during which the doctor in France had worked on his arm. The elbow had been excised as far back as May 1st; then there had come a time when the doctor had given up hope and decided to take the arm off, but it so chanced that the day on which it was to come off was the day that the King and Queen had chosen to visit the Hospital and there were no operations; then the next day there was a slight improvement and the doctor determined to try a little longer and the arm was saved. And now the order had gone out to empty all French hospitals to make room for fresh wounded and the doctor had sent his patient home to Blighty, just pinning on his army papers a brief note, “let us know how he goes on.” That was his reward for all the self-sacrificing work, just to know that it had not all been in vain.

And while the man was telling the story the dressing was going on and occasional spasms of pain shot across his face. The Sister was not too occupied to forget that he might be feeling faint and sent for some soda water. There was even time for merriment when she found ointment of some kind on his shoulder and laughingly remarked she was sure it was some doctor put that on. All doctors are supposed to love ointment, and most nurses hate it, chiefly, one suspect, because they have to get it off again.

It was all just an incident part of the daily routine of a base Hospital, but I wanted to hug everyone connected with it, doctors, nurses, patients and all. A pawkey Scottish private who was helping remarked that it was nothing, that when a corporal in his company had won the V.C. he had forty wounds, but only twenty-nine of them had been serious. I asked what had become of him, and he said, “Ah, he’s living yet; he lost an arm, and an eye, and some fingers of the other hand and I misremember whether he lost a leg or no, but he’s worth fifty dead ‘uns.”

Some of the men in another hospital were talking about the various military decorations; they talked of the men who had won the Military Medal and the Military Cross, but when it came to the Victoria Cross they said that a man was generally dead by the time he had won the Victoria Cross in the war.
THOS. BRANCKER.

Caversham parish magazine, November 1917 (D/P162/28A/7)

“We earnestly pray that our friend may be kept from all harm in the difficult and dangerous work in which he is engaged”

A former member of Broad Street Congregational Church had been reported killed, but there was better news from local hero Victor Smith.

We extend our sympathy, too, to the relatives of the late Sergeant A Middlemost, of the South African Contingent. Before emigrating to South Africa, Sergeant Middlemost was an active member of the Young Men’s Institute. In the early days of the war he joined up with the South African forces, and he has now paid the supreme sacrifice for his country. Those who knew him will ever cherish his memory with affection.

The many friends of Captain L. Victor Smith, MC, have been greatly pleased to hear of his recent promotion, and they would unite in heartiest congratulations to him and his parents – our esteemed friends Mr and Mrs Chas Steward Smith – and in good wishes for the future. Captain Smith is the first of our Broad Street representatives to win his captaincy in the present war, and he has done it in a remarkably short time. It is not long since we were rejoicing in the MC which he had won for conspicuous bravery, and now comes this further cause for gratification. We earnestly pray that our friend may be kept from all harm in the difficult and dangerous work in which he is engaged.

The way in which our schoolrooms are crowded each afternoon by wounded soldiers, and each evening by other men and women in khaki, gives ample proof of the need for such work as is now being efficiently done by the church. I [the minister] should like to thank the many ladies and gentlemen who have so readily come to our assistance in this matter. They need no assurance from me that it is abundantly worth while.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, November 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“The War is a terrible thing, but it has brought out many splendid qualities in those serving their King and Country”

The parish of Newbury was proud of its young men.

THE WAR

We are very sorry to hear that two of our young men are reported missing – Ernest Edward Cooper, of 17, Waterloo Place, and Albert James Geater, of 2, Wellington Terrace. We trust that their friends may yet hear better news about them. Also Walter John Pocock, of Waterloo Place, is said to be suffering badly from shell shock in hospital in France.

Sergeant E Sivier, formerly of Newbury, has been awarded the Military Medal for bravery on the field, and Harry, son of Mr and Mrs Bright, of West Mills, has received a like honour. These things make us very proud of our young men, and should lead us to be all the more earnest in our prayers for them. The War is a terrible thing, but it has brought out many splendid qualities in those serving their King and Country, and our Nation will be all the richer for these things in the years to come.

The Rector has been hoping to obtain another colleague in the person of Mr C T Lord, son of the Vicar of Chaddleworth, who was to have been ordained by the Bishop of Oxford this September: but those hopes have now been disappointed, as Mr Lord has been claimed by the Military, and so will not be ordained at present.

Newbury St Nicolas parish magazine, October 1917 (D/P89/28A/13)

The introduction of compulsory service has rather changed the situation

The parish of Burghfield was keeping track of local men serving in the war.

THE WAR

The Roll of Honour

A list kept by the Rector, of those Burghfield men who since the beginning of the war have laid down their lives for their country and the just cause of the Allies, hangs near the reading-desk in the Church.

The full Roll, including those who have offered and been accepted for immediate or deferred service, is kept up to date by Mr. Willink so far as possible, and hangs in the Church Porch. The introduction of compulsory service has rather changed the situation: but he will be glad to receive names of men not already on the Roll but actually serving, together with the exact title of their ship or unit, also notice of any honours or promotions, wounds or deaths.

The list of wounded is growing long. Happily most cases are light. But it should be known by everybody that any disabled man is entitled to free training, if necessary or possible in some trade, and to be helped in finding employment. Information can be obtained at any Post Office. In cases of delay or difficulty in this matter, or in regard to Pensions or Allowances, applications should be made to the Berkshire War Pensions Committee through Mr. or Mrs Willink, who are on the Reading Rural Sub Committee.

Honours

Colonel Sir Wyndham Murray, of Culverlands, formerly C.B whose distinguished services in past times are well known, has been made K.C.B. He has acted as King’s Messenger during the War, and has repeatedly visited the front. He and Lady Murray have also received certain Japanese decorations.

Captain G. O. W. Willink was mentioned in Despatches in May, and has just been awarded the Military Cross for distinguished conduct in August. He has commanded “A” Coy in the 2/4 R. Berks Regt. Since he went out in July 1916, and has seen service in many parts of the line in France and Flanders.

Burghfield parish magazine, October 1917 (D/EX725/4)

“The most wonderful thing in the whole story of the war is the marvellous heroism of our men”

Worshippers in Maidenhead were stirred by thoughts of the heroism of the men at the front.

EXTRACTS FROM A WAR ANNIVERSARY SERMON, AUGUST 5TH, 1917.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing in the whole story of the war is the marvellous heroism of our men. We were inclined to think that courage and the power of facing death for high ends belonged only to the past, that our age was too soft to risk life or maiming for an ideal. But it has turned out that the heroism and self-sacrifice of our men has been more wonderful than anything in the world’s history. The stories of Greek, Roman, Spartan bravery, have nothing to match it. Indeed, the conditions were wholly different. It is one thing to face death for a few hours in a brief battle or even series of battles, it is quite another to live for weeks and months while death in its most tremendous form is being rained incessantly upon you, and not a moment’s lull can be secured. So civilization, far from weakening man’s moral and physical fibre, has strengthened it, has given him a more masterly self-control, has made him capable of acts of courage and sacrifice which were not thought possible.

Before this war, we had stock illustrations of sublime heroism, the 300 at Thermopylae, brave Horatius at the bridge, and so on; and we had stock examples of generous self-sacrifice for comrades, Sir Philip Sidney at Zutphen, for instance. But we shall never dare to refer to these stories again, they are all obsolete, outfaced and outmatched a hundred times in the story of what our wonderful men have done. Our brothers are finer, nobler fellows than we had ever dreamed of! How many there have been like Julian Grenfell (Lord Desborough’s eldest son), of whom a short biography says that he went to the war as to a banquet for honour’s sake, that his following of Christ did not affect his ardour for the battle, that his intense moral courage distinguished him even more than his physical bravery from the run of common men, and his physical bravery was remarkable enough, whether he was hunting, boxing, or whatever he was at.

That is the spirit in which our Christian warfare must be waged. We shall do nothing if we go on in a haphazard sort of way. Said a scholar and saint not long ago, “Thoughtful men have no use for the Churches until they take their distinctive business in the world more seriously.” If we believe in God and salvation and another life, it is stupid to go out and live as though they were only fables. We must take God seriously, as men and women who believe that the rule of God is a grand reality. We must take worship seriously, knowing it to be the food of the soul; not playing with it as though it were a child’s pastime to be taken up or laid aside according to the mood of the moment. We must take Christian life seriously, remembering that if we are Christ’s, the first claim upon us (not the second or the twentieth) is to be seeking the widening of His Kingdom.


Maidenhead St Luke

Dear Friends and Parishioners,-

May I draw your attention to two Parochial things: firstly, the Anniversary of the War, which we hope to observe with special forms of Service on Sunday, August 5th. I hope many will make a real effort to come, and, if possible, to attend the Holy Communion Service to pray for the speedy coming of a Righteous Peace, and for strength to do our duty, however hard it might seem…

I remain, Your faithful friend and Vicar

C.E.M. FRY

Cookham Dean
Special Services during August

Sunday, August 5th – Services as appointed in connection with the Anniversary of the Declaration of War. Service books will be provided.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, September 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5); Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P181/28A/26); Cookham Dean parish magazine, Augst 1917 (D/P43B/28A/11)

“Doing our best to be worthy of being the cadets of one of the most famous regiments in His Majesty’s Army”

The Church Lads’ Brigade offered training for teenage boys which in many cases led to heroic actions as adults at the Front.

CHURCH LADS’ BRIGADE CADETS

We had a very good Field Day at Streatley on Whit-Monday. The Battalion turned up in good strength, and some useful skirmishing practice was got through on the Downs, an ideal spot for such work.
On Saturday, June 9th, the Annual Battalion Marching Competition was held. By kind permission of the Headmaster of Reading School, the various Companies assembled in the School Quad, and under the management of Sergeant-Major Green, were quickly got into due order for inspection. Colonel Melville, RAMC, very kindly came over from Aldershot to judge the competition, and expressed himself as quite astonished at the efficiency of the lads and highly delighted with the whole arrangements and the esprit de corps displayed by the teams. We congratulate our friends the Caversham Company on winning the Shield, our Earley lads were a very close third.

The arrangements for Whit-Monday and the Marching Competition were very ably carried out by the Acting Adjutant, Capt. H A Smith-Masters, who has just received his commission as a Chaplain in the Army. We congratulate him, and shall miss his help very much. He is the fourth Adjutant we have had since the war began, and all four are now serving in the Forces.

Our Captain, Corporal C J O’Leary, MTASC, received some rather severe scalds while rescuing a comrade from a motor which went wrong, and has been in hospital in France, but we are glad to say he is now much better again.

The following Army Order has filled us with pleasure and determination to try and do our best to be worthy of being the cadets of one of the most famous regiments in His Majesty’s Army:

“ARMY ORDER 128, 1917.

The Army Orders for April contain one of the most epoch-making which has ever been issued in respect of the CLB. It runs thus:

‘The recognised Cadet Battalions of the Church Lads’ Brigade are affiliated to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.’

We hope that every member of the CLB will appreciate the honour of belonging to the famous 60th, and that this will be one more incentive to obtain even a higher standard than the CLB has ever attained before.

The great fact is accomplished, and we hope by it the future of the CLB is assured, and that an adequate safeguard of all its religious training and ideal is achieved.”

Having passed the required examinations, the following lads have been promoted as stated: Corporals F Ansell and C Downham to be Sergeants; Private M Smith to be Lance-Corporal.

The body of one of our old members, Frank Snellgrove, who has been missing for months, has been discovered by a Chaplain in France, and reverently buried with full Christian rites. We offer our deepest sympathy to his people, who have thus lost their only son.

H. Wardley King [the curate]

Earley St Peter parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P191/28A/24)

Most forms of disablement can be usefully dealt with

Provisions for men left disabled as a result of wounds were becoming personal for Ascot people.

The name of William Tidy (son of Mr. Tidy of the Royal Nurseries) has, we regret to say, to be added to our Prisoners of War.

We also feel deep sympathy for the anxiety of the families of William Nobbs and Walter Barton, both of whom are reported missing.

Sergeant Major Arthur Butcher and Corporal William Jones have been called to the Front.

Pte. Thomas Statham is wounded, but we are thankful to say he is progressing favourably.

Pte. Ernest Taylor has been ill in Mesopotamia.

Corporal Claud Parsons (Machine Gun Corps) has received the Military Medal for gallant conduct.

Lieutenant Ernest Monk (R. West Surrey) has been promoted Captain. He gained his commission owing to conspicuous gallantry. He married the daughter of Mr. Jones, London Road. Both he and Corporal Parsons are wounded.

Pte. Walter Talbot is home, and has been discharged “disabled.”

We would like to say that extensive arrangements for the training of disabled men have been set up all over the Country, and most forms of disablement can be usefully dealt with. Any disabled Sailor or Soldier in the Parish requiring training should apply to Mr. Tottie, who will be very glad to give information and assistance.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, June 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/6)

Gallant conduct in action

The heroism of two young men was noted by their former school.

February 7th 1917
Percy Selwood and Harold Hayes, old scholars of this school, have been awarded the Military Medal for gallant conduct in action in France.

Maidenhead Gordon Road Boys School log book (C/EL/107/1, p. 99)

“A fine example of courage and coolness”

The vicar of Wargrave was optimistic that the war would end soon, as the parish celebrated the heroism of some of its men, and mourned the loss of others.

1917:

Another year opens under the cloud of War, but the very length of the shadows behind us should give new vigour to our hopes for the future. The War cannot last forever. The original plan of the enemy has certainly failed. The strength of the Allies grows greater. There is every promise that the Government will express the mind of the nation and that the people will gladly respond to the demands which may be made upon them. The conviction that our cause is righteous has possessed the soul of the nation and given character to our manner of fighting. The appeal to God for Victory is based upon submission to His Will; sobered by the realization that Victory must be used to the praise of His Holy Name; and inspired by the certainty that He, who ordereth all things in heaven and earth, is working His purpose out, and will over-rule the conflict of the nations to the advancement of His Kingdom and the greater happiness of mankind.

So with renewed hope let us take heart to utter the familiar words, and wish one and all a Happy New Year.

The Military Cross

Lieut. F. Kenneth Headington, 1st London Brigade, R.F.A. has been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in the field. We offer him out heartiest congratulations. It is indeed a happy thing when from the midst of the sorrows of war there comes occasion for the sympathy of joy. Their many friends will rejoice with Mr. and Mrs. Headington, and with all the family, in this good news of well deserved recognition.

We would like to mention the following commendation which Sergt. James Iles has received:-

“This N.C.O. has shown a high standard of efficiency throughout the campaign. He has been under direct observation of his squadron leader during two engagements. At Nevy, on September 1st, 1914, where he was wounded in the wrist, he continued to endeavour to use his rifle after being wounded, and when compelled to desist owing to hand becoming numb, he helped to bandage several more severely wounded men. At Potize, near Ypres, May 12th, 1915, he had all the men of his troop except himself and one other become casualties owing to shell fire. He still remained in his portion of the trench and showed a fine example of courage and coolness to the remainder of the squadron.”

We would like to mention that the Military Medal has been granted to the Sergeant.

Hare Hatch Notes

We deeply sympathise with Mrs. Pugh in her second sad bereavement. Her son Charles has given his life for his country, he was seriously wounded whilst mine sweeping and had a relapse after being admitted into the hospital at Shotley, near Harwich, which proved fatal. His body was brought home and laid to rest in our Churchyard. The service which commenced with the hymn “Eternal Father strong to save” was most impressive. As the Naval Authorities were unable to send representatives, the soldiers at the Wargrave V.A.D. Hospital attended and some acted as bearers; “Honour to whom honour is due.” This loss coming so soon upon the death of Mrs. Pugh’s beloved husband, who was greatly respected and highly esteemed, must be hard to bear. We trust that our expressions of sympathy and our prayers may afford the family great comfort.

The deepest sympathy is also felt for Mr and Mrs Hunt, Tag Lane, whose son Arthur was killed in France on November 19th. As a member of the Sunday School and the Mission Choir he was most regular and attentive, he attained very high honours when a member of the Wargrave Scouts. He worked for several years with his father at The Lodge. We greatly regret his loss, the remembrance of him will not quickly pass away. He gave his life for a noble cause.

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

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…)

Absolute disregard of danger

The village of Hare Hatch was proud of one of its sons, who had been given a medal following a brave stand under fire which sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie.

Hare Hatch Notes

We heartily congratulate our young friend Walter Rixon, Kiln Green, who has won the Military Medal, although but a lad when he enlisted soon after the war broke out, nothing could keep him back, he was attached to the 1/4 Royal Berkshire Regiment. The report of his bravery is as follows:-

“He showed absolute disregard of danger, he stood right on top of the trench in full view of all kinds of fire, and at a time when the Germans were shelling pretty heavily and were also busily engaged in sniping. There he stood – firing rifle grenades, and it was through him we were able to clear a party of Germans who were holding us up on the left. There were at least ten of them and by dropping a rifle grenade in the centre of the party he ousted them.”

Since this report we are pleased to hear that he has been promoted to Sergeant, “Bravo, Walter”. We all wish him a safe return home.

Wargrave parish magazine, December 1916 (D/P145/28A/31)

Helping the wounded under fire

Former Reading vicar and army chaplain T Guy Rogers had been awarded a medal for his brave conduct helping the wounded on the field. The November issue of the Reading St John parish magazine announced the exciting news:

THE REV. T. GUY ROGERS, M.C.

We were delighted to have our representative at the front with us for two Sundays and a splendid Meeting in the Institute. Now we have all been cheered by the grand news that he has been awarded the Military Cross for gallant conduct in the field. We shall thank God for the way he has preserved and used our dear friend, and shall continue to pray for him and his work now he is back at the front again.

More details emerged the following month:

REV. T. GUY ROGERS.

The London Gazette for November 16th, under the heading ‘Military Cross,’ gave the following account of how Mr. Rogers won his decoration:-

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in action. He worked ceaselessly all night under fire, tending and carrying in the wounded. On another occasion he has done similar fine work under heavy fire.’

Mr. Rogers has since accepted the living of All Saints, West Ham, a large parish in the new Diocese of Chelmsford, and enters upon this charge in January. His many friends in Reading will wish him much success and blessing in this work.

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

The first great military award gained by a Winkfield man

A number of Winkfield men had been wounded or were unwell.

OUR MEN WHO ARE SERVING

We regret to learn that Pte. Jack Dean has been wounded with a bullet wound through the left leg. He is in hospital in England and writes cheerfully, so we hope he is doing well.

Pte. George Benstead has been moved from the hospital in France to England. He writes to the Vicar that he is so much better that he hopes shortly to be home and able once more, for a time, to take his place in the choir again.

Pte. Fred Holmes, Pte. W. Franklin, and Pte. C. Jenden have also been wounded; they have been in England some time and are now convalescent.

Pte. C.E. Burt has been seriously ill with rheumatic fever, but is better, and we trust now out of danger.

Pte. Fred Blay joined the Army Service Corps last month and Fred Knight joined H.M.S. Impregnable.

Corporal Reginald Nickless and Privates Leonard Cox and George Faithful, having recovered from wounds or sickness have returned to the front, also Private Norman Nickless has gone out, and we trust all will find a place in our prayers.

Most of us have heard with great pleasure and satisfaction that the Military Medal (and promotion to Lance-Corporal) was won by Edwin Gray for gallantry on July 1st at Deville Wood. This good news ought to have appeared in the August Magazine, but though now belated it is fitting that a record be made in the Parish Magazine of what is, we believe, the first great military award gained by a Winkfield man, and we heartily congratulate Lance-Corporal Edwin Gray and his relatives on this distinction.

Winkfield section of Winkfield District Magazine, October 1916 (D/P151/28A/8/10)

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)