Three brave young lives lost

Three young Burghfield men killed in action were honoured at a service in their home church on 14 February 1915.

In the Parish Church on Sunday, February 14th, at both morning and evening service the Rector made a touching reference to the loss of three brave young lives from the parish which have been given in the service of King and Country. At the conclusion of Evensong the “Dead March in Saul” was played as a tribute to the memory of George Armstrong of HMS Bulwark, Stephen Bright and Joseph Chamberlain, both of the KRR. May they rest in peace. Much sympathy is felt by all with the sorrowing parents and relatives.

Burghfield parish magazine, March 1915 (D/EX725/3)

‘A lot he could tell, only he wasn’t allowed to’

A serving sailor visited his old primary school in Reading while on leave. He took naval secrecy seriously, as this report in the parish magazine reveals:

It is delightful to see the way in which old scholars now serving in the Army and Navy find their way back to their Headmasters of their old day schools when they are on leave. Herbert Pendlebury of H.M.S. ‘Irresistible’ paid a welcome visit to S. Stephen’s School the other day to greet Mr. Hopcraft. He told us ‘there was a lot he could tell us only he wasn’t allowed to.’ It appears he was stationed at Sheerness at the time the ‘Bulwark’ blew up.

Another local man, who had joined the army before the war started, also made contact:

One of Mr Heaton’s lads, William Sawyer – (Mr. Heaton was the first Manager of the University College Lads’ Club in the parish) – writes thus to the Vicar from the front. The Vicar spent a night with the Club in camp years ago:-

‘I was attending a Field Service on Sunday last when I thought perhaps you would be pleased to hear from a Reading lad, as before I enlisted I lived in your parish. I have been in the service for nearly three years…

My mother informs me that us soldiers are always included in your prayers, which I think is very kind and thoughtful of you. This war is a very terrible thing, Sir, but I am sure, Sir, that the right will prevail in the end.’

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

Awful news of HMS Bulwark

Florence Vansittart Neale and her Admiralty official husband Henry were distressed by the tragedy of HMS Bulwark, a British ship. It was not sunk by enemy action, but by the spontaneous combustion of armaments store too close to the ship’s boiler. Over 700 sailors were killed, with only a dozen survivors.

26 November 1914
Sent off scarves. H & I to Blue X concert Maidenhead. Not bad. Phyllis nursing exam. H & I to church & quiet evening – spoilt by bad news of “Bulwark”. Magazine exploded, 700 or 800! Gone down near Sheerness. Awful. Other news good. Russians real victory – almost German rout. We still holding our line.

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