Awful battle round Hill 60

The news took a turn for the worse.

22 April 1917

Awful battle still going on round Hill 60. Naval raid on Dover. We sunk 2 destroyers & injured a 3rd. Took prisoners.

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

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Shot in cold blood, and now “beyond the reach of human injustice and incompetence”

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image was excited by the new tanks rolling into action; philosophical about air raids – and horrified by first-hand stories of the executions of young men for cowardice or desertion.

29 Barton Road
[Cambridge]

23 Sept. ‘16

Mon Ami!

I share your views about the ghastly War. With its slaughters and its expenditure, where shall we be left after it is over. Any peace that leaves Germany still united – united for evil – is a fool madness that deserves the new War it will render a certainty.

I am in a fever to see the photograph of a Tank in action. I can’t imagine its appearance. I don’t believe them lengthy like caterpillars – but more like mammoths, Behemoths – “painted in venomous reptilian colours” for invisibility – and “waddling on” over trenches.

Today’s paper speaks of a seaplane over Dover yesterday. This is the very general prelude to a Zepp raid: and we expect one accordingly tonight, if their courage hasn’t oozed out. There is a Flying Camp near here – at Thetford, I believe. Daily, Planes soar over us – a sight I view every time with fresh pleasure. Twice we have had an Airship – huge, but not like the pictures of the German Zepps. I may as well tell you of our own experience on Saturday 3 weeks ago. Peaceful and unsuspecting, we were sitting in the drawing room at 10.30 when suddenly the electric lights went down and left the house in darkness. This is the official warning of Zepps. So we went out into Barton Rd. Not a glimmer, nor a sound. Quite unimpressive.

We turned in to bed – all standing (in Navy language) – and I into the deepest slumber, from which I was eventually shaken to hear an agitated voice, “they’re here”. I bundled out, lit a match and read on my watch 2.50. There was no mistaking – a thunderous drone, such as I had never heard before – and, seemingly, exactly overhead. We hurried down into the road. The roar grew fainter, and then began – deep and dignified – the guns. I guessed them to be on the Gogmagogs – then sharp explosions, which we took for bombs, thrown haphazard by the Zepp which was undoubtedly fleeing for the coast.

Robinson’s Zepp had come to earth at 2.30. Possibly ours was the wounded bird, which dropped a gondola or something in Norfolk when making its escape?

At 4.5 our electric lights went up again, and we to bed. Decorous night-rails, this time.

The Signora has a wee aluminium fragment from the Zepp that was brought down at Salonica. It was picked up by a young soldier who had been in her Sunday School Class. We had a sudden visit from her youngest brother, Gilbert, home on 6 days leave from Salonica. You have heard me speak of him as the rising artist who at 20 years of age sold a picture for £100, and is now a Tommy at 1/- a day. I fell in love with him on the spot. So simple, so lovable, – above all, such a child – going about the world unprotected!

By the way Gilbert saw the Zepp come down in flames at Salonica.
He had many yarns. The one that most made me shudder was of the announcement at a morning parade, “Sergeant So-and-so of the Connaught Rangers was shot this morning by sentence of a Court Martial for refusing to obey an order”. Just that! I have heard of these shootings in cold blood, several times, at the Front in France. Always they made me feel sick. A boy (on one occasion) of 17 ½, who had fought magnificently at Hill 60: and then lost his nerve, when his 2 brothers were killed in the trench at his side. Pym (our TCC [Trinity College, Cambridge] chaplain) sat with him all night and gave him the Sacrament. He

“could only feel what a real comfort it was to know that the boy was now beyond the reach of human injustice and incompetence”.

Letter from John Maxwell Image to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

Festivity is out of place while our brave men are fighting

Two wounded soldiers from the village of Hare Hatch were on the road to recovery.

Hare Hatch Notes

From what we saw of Church Lads’ Brigade from St Peter’s, Knowl Hill, on Sunday, July 4th, when they attended the Mission Church for their Church Parade, we can safely say that their aim is efficiency. Considering they are but a newly formed Company, they made a very smart appearance and great credit is due to Capt. Butterworth; their steadiness on parade won the praises of those who welcomed them. Special mention must be made of their reverence and marked interest during the Service. The whole service was a reminder of our Baptismal promises. We trust that they will come again in the near future…

It is with pleasure that we record the home-coming of Pte. Harry Bennett, who was badly wounded at Hill 60. After spending some time in Chatham Hospital he was went to West Malling. We hope that he will soon be well enough to return to The Front again.

We are glad to hear that Corporal Arthur Talbot, now in Epsom Hospital, is out of danger, we wish him a speedy recovery.

The Sunday School Tea will take place on Wednesday, August 4th, by kind invitation of Mrs. M. C. Young. The Children will assemble in the School-room, at 3 p.m. We shall follow the same arrangements as last year. After Tea a combined Service of Parents and Scholars will be held in the Mission Church at 6 p.m. The Collection will be for the sick and wounded soldiers.

Owing to the war and in keeping with the National spirit there will be no Mothers’ Tea. Festivity is out of place whilst so many of our brave men are away fighting our battles. With this, we believe, all our Members will heartily agree.

Wargrave parish magazine, August 1915 (D/P145/28A/31)

A soul-stirring example in Cookham Dean

Cookham Dean was proud of the many young men who had answered the call of their country, including those who had been killed. Unusually, they also honoured the men who had volunteered, but been rejected on medical grounds.

The Roll of Honour.

It is with very mingled feelings that this paragraph is written. Cookham Dean may well be proud of its Roll of Honour, which is published again this month. Many names have been added to it, since it was issued last in April, of lads who have responded to their Country’s Call and whose names are now added to those who earlier set them such a soul-stirring example.

One name is removed from the list of the living and finds a place among the honoured dead who have given their lives for their country- Major Richard Saker, Connaught Rangers, recently attached to the 5th Batt. Australian Infantry. He took a gallant part in the action on the occasion of the landing of the Expeditionary Force at the Dardanelles, was wounded, but, after receiving surgical aid, immediately returned to the firing line and was shot down at once by an enemy sniper. Major Saker had served in the South African War and held the Queen’s Medal, with four clasps. He was in the 38th year of his age, and leaves a widow and a dear little boy to mourn his loss, to whom we offer our respectful sympathy. A Memorial Service for Captain Saker was held in Church on the Sunday after the sad news had been received, June 27th.

Since the April list was issued Major Henderson has been mentioned in despatches and promoted Lieut.-Colonel. 2nd Lieuts. Brian Lawrence (‘Dial Close’) and Russell Simmons have been promoted Lieutenants. Sergeant William Markham distinguished himself at Hill 60, near Yprès, in a gallant action and the D.C.M. (Distinguished Conduct Medal) has been conferred upon him; he merits our very heartiest congratulations this distinction. Pte. Ernest Blinko, with others in his Company, 9th County of London (Queen Victoria’s Rifles) has been offered a commission, but, after consideration, preferred to remain as he was; nevertheless, the offer itself is a compliment which onwe are certain was well deserved. Pte. Charles Piercey has been promoted Sergt., and Pte. Ernest Horne is now Corpl.

On the Supplementary List, alas, we have lost two. 2nd Lieut. Bian Lawrence (‘Mountfield,’ Maidenhead), only son of our kind friends, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Lawrence, was killed in action on June 1st; he was only 17 years of age, but had already proved his worth a gallant, reliable officer, and was a young soldier of the greatest promise; he had endeared himself alike to his brother officers and the men under his command. The dear boy has given his life for his country, and we are proud to think that his boyhood’s days were spent in this parish; had it been possible, we would have considered it a great honour if his body could have been laid in our Churchyard. To his parents and grandfather we offer our deepest and most respectful sympathy, well knowing that life in this world can never be the same for them again. Sergent Ernest Lemmon died of wounds on May 9th; he was not known here, but for months past our prayers have been offered for him and others that God would save and defend them, and we believe that those prayers have been answered as God knows best.

It is only right that the names of those who would otherwise have been on the Roll of Honour but for the misfortune that, after examination by Military Doctors, they have been pronounced medically unfit to join His Majesty’s Forces, should be recorded in the Magazine: – Albert Harris (nr. Dean Farm), Sidney George Hunt (Spike Hatch), Harry Jordan (Dean Farm), Alfred Luker (Orchard Cottages), James Price (Primrose Cottage), Harry West (School Cottages), have all offered themselves, all honour to them, but for the above reason could not be accepted. It may be that there are one or two more whose names have not reached me. It is most satisfactory to feel that there are very few young men in this place who are content to abide at home when a Call, such as never before, has sounded in the ears of the Nation, has been made to them. Why in their case has the Call been made to them in vain?

Cookham Dean parish magazine, July 1915 (D/P43B/28A/11)

Almost every available man has gone to this cruel war

Almost every man from Stratfield Mortimer and Mortimer West End who could realistically serve had answered the country’s call by June 1915, the parish magazine attested. Some had paid the ultimate price.

Men with the Colours

To the lists already published there should now be added: James Flitter and Harry White, K.R.R., Ernest Merrick, M.T., A.S.C., and Herbert West, Gunner R.F.A. The last named should have been on the original list; he is now, we regret to say, in hospital at Warrington, having been seriously wounded at Hill 60 in arms and legs during the first fierce fight for that position.

We cannot refrain from reprinting the following words of Mr. Raymond Asquith, the Prime Minister’s eldest son, on the subject of his training with the 16th City of London Regiment:

“We are trying very hard to fit ourselves in the shortest possible time to kill the largest number of Germans. After recent demonstrations of their ferocious and bestial cruelty, it must be most difficult for any man of suitable age and health to apply himself to any other purpose.”

West End

This cruel war is bringing home to us day by day the awful miseries and troubles which overtake the innocent as a result of the sins of men and nations. One of the very saddest ways in which our parish has come to learn it is in the death of Captain Field, and all our hearts go out in sympathy to his family, and especially to the mother, who through long months of wearing anxiety has given us an example of the pluck and courage which the mothers of England are showing everywhere to-day. It is a bitter end after being taken prisoner while tending the wounded. May his soul rest in peace and may we be given grace to follow his example in doing our duty to our neighbour and our country.

There are several names to be added to our Roll of Honour of those serving their King and Country and our parish may now be considered to have given up almost every available man.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, June 1915 (D/P120/28A/14)

The sickening cruelty of gas

Florence Vansittart Neale was horrified by the Germans’ use of poison gas (chlorine) at the Battle of Ypres. On 5 May 1915, 90 British soldiers died as a direct result of gas at Hill 60, and many others suffered its effects.

5 May 1915

Henry to Maidenhead meeting. Took the Belgians. Alice & I sat out by river – read the papers. Most sickening the cruelty [of] gases – to solitary prisoners! Germans gaining a little from the poison!!

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

Entente not so cordial now

Having already said goodbye to one daughter nursing the wounded, Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey now had to face the loss of her younger daughter, Elizabeth (“Bubbles”).

20 April 1915

Bubs had her summons to go to Hospital on Thursday! Awful blow!…

English take Hill 60. Two picket boats went & blew up submarine E15 to prevent Turks making use of her.

Mr Brett says French do not like us. Entente will not be so cordial – cannot forgive our taking out the Beagles! They own we saved them & equip them!

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