Lessons of the Great War

The vicar of Reading St John suggested parishioners might like to help provide a new communion set for an army chaplain:

Letter from the vicar

My dear friends,

My own letter to you this month will be a brief one, as I want to give pride of place to Mr Morley’s very interesting letter from the front. Perhaps some of his friends in the parish would like to supply his obvious need of a set of Communion vessels of convenient size. I shall be very glad to receive subscriptions for this purpose….

The addresses on Wednesday evenings [during Lent] are to be given by the Rev. E J Norris… These services will consist of war intercessions and the address, and will last about 40 minutes…

At St Stephen’s Church on Thursday evenings there will be a series of lantern services, if gas is obtainable for the lantern, under the general heading, “Lessons of the Great War”. The pictures illustrating the addresses are really beautiful, and I think the services will be found both helpful and comforting….

Also let us not cease day and night to make supplication to God for the restoration of Peace.

Your sincere friend and vicar

W. Britton

Reading St. John parish magazine, February 1918 (D/P172/28A/24)

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“Life keeps brightening all the way” with jokes and accordions

An army chaplain wrote to his friends in Reading with a description of his experiences. Ecumenicism took a step forward in the extreme situation of the war.

Letter from the Rev. R W Morley
YMCA
c/o The Town Major [sic]
1st Army Corps Railhead
1st January 1918
My dear Vicar,

I expect most of my friends know by now of the two huts that I have charge of out here, and the delightful Quiet Room with all its devotional helpfulness. Apropos of the last it might be of interest if I transcribed a phrase from my predecessor’s letter to me (he is a prominent Congregational Minister), “Nothing gave me pleasure than the introduction of the altar, reminding me as it did of Our Great High Priest and the priesthood of all believers”. There I have the joy of celebrating most Sundays at 8 am at the request of the Church of England Chaplains, and in their robes as I have none out here, nor have I vessels as mine were a little too small for the purpose. On Christmas Day I celebrated with a wine glass for chalice and glass cake dish for the bread, a saucer and another wine glass on a chair for the consecrated bread and wine, and with no robes. Once in every month I have an open Communion for “all who love the Lord in sincerity and truth”, to whatever church they belong. This follows our evening service instead of the usual prayer meeting, and I take it of course on very free lines, though including two or three lines out of our incomparable liturgy…

I take all the religious work here, i.e. two weekly services, one on Sunday evenings and one on Wednesday, and the nightly prayers in the hut. Also we have a Fellowship Meeting in the little room every evening, and I am taking the Saturday night every week myself with a discussion attached. I asked them what subject they would like, as I thought a course would be best. Imagine my delight and surprise when they all agreed on “The Fundamentals of the Christian Faith”. We had 35 last week, and they almost all stayed for discussion.

At the present time, should you come in and catch me unawares with a spare moment, you would probably find me endeavouring to pick out a hymn on an Italian accordion which I have just purchased, thinking it might help the singing at the meetings, as we have only one piano and that is in the service and concert hut. If I show signs of excelling (!) on the instrument I may startle your open-air service some Sunday evening with it should I be lucky enough to get a Sunday’s leave and bring it home in safety. However, I do not think there is much cause for alarm at my present rate of progression…

I only wish I could introduce you to some of the men I have met out here. And not least those I have had the joy of working with in this hut. Mr Hichens, a Church of England priest, who was and is unselfishness and charm itself, now, alas, transferred; Mr Cooper, full of cheerfulness, absolutely typical of that which he was when war broke out – a Cambridge undergraduate; and the orderlies too; the Sergeant, with his “Good mornin’” and his devotion to a certain gramophone record; Parry from Lancashire, where they know everything, with his talk about Fritz’s indiarubber gun and his many tales oft told; and Harman who revels in a practical joke especially if played on Mr Cooper. The French boys I hardly dare attempt. “Nosegay” (his name is really Julien; smokers will appreciate) and Georges and Marcel, with their smiling faces and their quaint patois, half English and half French. There they are, a real merry party. So life keeps brightening all the way..

Your sincere friend
R W Morley

Reading St. John parish magazine, Feburary 1918 (D/P172/28A/24)

“It was all very suggestive of Bethlehem, except for the noise of the guns outside”

Another army chaplain reports his experiences leading services and planning social activities very close to the front line.

5 December 1917

The following extracts are from 2 letters which Mother received lately from the Sub-Warden with the troops in France.

“This morning, I had an hour’s walk through mud & trenches, delayed by the unwelcome attention of a German aeroplane for a while, but otherwise uneventful, & at last arrived at a certain dug out. There was a steep staircase down about 20 ft, then a square flat, and then 5 or 6 more steps to the right. On the square flat I arranged a little altar. Men all up & down the stairs crouching to one side so as to leave me room to pass to communicate them, and a few outside in the trench kneeling in the mud. At the bottom, a few Non-Conformist officers were very reverent & interested… I reminded them that our Lord chose a “dug out” when He first came to earth… It was all very suggestive of Bethlehem, except for the noise of the guns outside.”

“We have discovered a large cellar beneath ruins close to the lines. There is plenty of room for a canteen, reading rooms & a chapel. The chapel is to be dedicated to St John Baptist. I wonder if the Community would furnish the altar for us; the Pioneers would make the altar… I said Mass there this morning & 60 men came & were very reverent and appreciative.”

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Our fourth war-time Christmas: a joy none can take from us

Food shortages, and the use of adulterated products, had one unexpected casualty – the quality of communion bread. The vicar of Cookham Dean reflected on the fourth Christmas of the war.

The Vicar’s Letter

Since the war began I have found increasing difficulty to obtain bread suitable for use at the Holy Communion. For years I have had a special loaf sent every week from Edinburgh, but it is impossible to depend now upon its quality, and some of the ingredients with which bread is at present made are quite unsuitable for the holy purpose for which it is used. For a long time past I have used, both for sick people and on Saints’ Days, wafer bread, made as the Prayer Book directs, ‘of the best and purest wheaten flour’: Its use secures reverence, and its quality never varies, so that from Advent Sunday onward I intend to use it on Sundays also: I am obtaining it for the present from the same place that supplies the Bishop with that used by him in the Palace Chapel at Cuddesdon.


The Vicar’s Letter

This will be our fourth war-time Christmas. As each year goes on one realises how less like Christmases of former days each succeeding one becomes; and yet, beneath all the changes and turmoil of war, there must ever be the gladdening in our hearts at the thought of the Redemption of the World by our Lord Jesus Christ. We must be ready to offer our worship at the Manger Throne, and find the same comfort and the same grace as ever before at the Altar Throne if our hearts have been duly prepared in Advent by penitence and faith to seek Him, and receive Him there.

Some of the dear lads from the village will spend their Christmas very near to Bethlehem: What an un-looked-for experience for them! May they, and we, and all our dear ones, far and near, bound together in love for Him who was born at Bethlehem – ‘born for us’- find in His Presence a joy none can take from us, and thus realise in a very true way a happy Christmas.

Cookham Dean parish magazine, December 1917 (D/P43B/28A/11)

“Days & nights in water and mud is very trying”

An army chaplain reported on his experiences with men just back from the front lines for a short break.

19 October 1917

Mother received a letter from the Sub-Warden on the 17th inst. from which the following are extracts:

“We have just emerged from a very uncomfortable and strenuous time, & are resting in a little French village. The men are splendid, but it was heart-breaking to see them all getting out of the train which brought them straight from the front…

With considerable difficulty we managed to have thin blankets for them all to get into and fall asleep. Already food and rest have changed them wonderfully, & their poor feet are better. Days & nights in water and mud is very trying.

I shall never forget a Mass in a crowded dugout the day before they went in. Halfway through the service, 2 officers managed to slip into the doorway; there was no other spot. I remember them so well crouching in a very uncomfortable position, and shutting out all of what little light could get in. Only the 2 candles on the altar. They made their Communion. It was their Viaticum. GOD rest their souls!”

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

“The attempt of our enemies to starve us has practically failed”

In Earley people were grateful for good weather, which looked set to relieve the pressure on the food supply.

The Vicar’s Letter

My dear friends

Autumn is drawing on apace, and we have again reached the time for our Harvest Thanksgiving, which is fixed for Sunday, October 7th.

This year we ought to be especially thankful. At one time our outlook as regards food appeared to be far from satisfactory, but God has blessed us during the past month with such weather that in most districts the greater part of the harvest has been gathered in without much damage, and the attempt of our enemies to starve us by unrestricted submarine warfare, though still serious, has practically failed. Surely we ought to join together in our thanksgivings, and especially at Holy Communion, with a deepened sense of what we owe to God for our nation and for ourselves.

And while we are thanking God for our material harvest, let us all think of those fields which are ripe for the spiritual harvest in India, Canada, South Africa, and throughout the world… Do we realise as we ought the enormous responsibility that will rest upon our country after the war for the spiritual harvest of the world?

Your friend and Vicar
W W Fowler.

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

“Many of us feel there is a reasonable hope of a termination of hostilities before Christmas”

An army chaplain with links to Mortimer shares details of his life in Normandy.

Mr Bowden writes:-

Dear Vicar,

It is a long time since I sent a contribution to the Magazine, not that I have forgotten Mortimer but I have so little of interest to relate. My work is now in the docks area – I have charge of No. 2 General Hospital, on the quay alongside which the hospital ships lie and take in the wounded direct from the trains to convey them to Southampton. Any cases which prove too bad for the boat journey we take in to our hospital which is directly over the railway station, and occasionally we get a train load for treatment at No. 2. We have three very fine, airy wards; and a broad balcony facing the sea runs the whole length of the hospital; in the summer we place many beds out there – the men love to be in the open air and watch the shipping and the aircraft. The hospital commands a fine view of the town on one side and the mouth of the Seine with Trouville and Honfleur on the other.

In addition to hospital work I have some 1,500 Army Ordnance and 650 Army Service Corps men to work amongst. These are busy on the docks all day long but can be seen in the Recreation Huts and in their billets in the evening and at meal times.

There are plenty of amusements provided for them – some sort of entertainment almost every night. We also have recently acquired a recreation ground for their use and a cricket ground as well as a tennis court for officers and N.C.O.’s.

It might be of interest if I give my Sunday programme – I start early with a Celebration of Holy Communion at 6 a.m. for the A.O.D. in a little chapel near their quarters – another celebration at 7 a.m. for the hospital staff in a hut on the quay. This is always followed by a series of private Communions to sick men and officers in the various wards and huts; [sic] then back to breakfast. I used to have a Parade Service at 10-30 for the R.A.M.C. but have dropped it as it was an inconvenient time for the men. At 11-30 we have a Parade Service for the A.O.D. in one of the warehouses on the docks – the men climb up on the boxes all round a space left for the purpose – we have a good choir, an hearty service, and then the men go straight off to their dinner at noon, or soon after.

Then I have nothing till 5-15 when I hold Ward Services in hospital – these are very much appreciated by the patients and are of an informal nature as all denominations join in. The men love singing hymns and the Sisters come and help form a choir. At 7 p.m. we are now having open-air services in the A.S.C. camp on the river front between the docks and hospital. Here the men are mostly getting on in years – I believe the average age is about 42 – All younger men have long since been sent “up the line.” Of course a large portion of both A.S.C. and A.O.D. men have done their bit at the front in various units and have been sent back to work at the Base owing to wounds or some physical disability rendering them unfit for the fighting line.

Sometimes my day ends here or I have a service at the Y.M.C.A. or in one of the other huts, in turn with other Padres.

We have many destroyers constantly alongside the quays, the escorts for hospital ships, transports, &c. I go aboard when I can but generally most of the sailors are sleeping as they are working all night and its [sic] not often possible to hold a Service for them, but one gets some interesting talks with men and officers.

Just now we have a Mortimer man in hospital – Sergt. Shackleford – he is doing very well. He is only the second man I have met from the parish since I joined the B.E.F. – the other being Frank Parsons.

We are all very cheerful about the position of things just now and many of us feel there is a reasonable hope of a termination of hostilities before Xmas.

With best wishes to all friends.

Yours very sincerely,

W. S. Bowden, C.F.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P120/28A/14)

This awful anniversary – the end is not yet in sight

The third anniversary of the start of the war was a time for reflection.

Reading St Giles
August

Saturday, August the 4th, will be the 3rd Anniversary of the declaration of the War, and the beginning of a 4TH Year. There will be celebrations of the Eucharist at 6.45, 7.30& 8 a.m. I hope that a great many will endeavour to be present to pray and intercede.
I propose on the following day, Sunday the 5th, to have a solemn requiem at 11a.m. for the fallen in the War. If any relatives or friends wish for the mention of names will they please send them into me by August 4th. At evensong, on Sunday the 5th, the special form of intercession put forth by the Archbishop will be used.

September

I was very thankful to see in August 4th, the 3rd Anniversary of the war, so many present at the Eucharist to intercede for our sailors and soldiers, and to pray for Victory and a righteous peace. The number of communions made was nearly four times as large as last year.

Broad Street Congregational Church

AUGUST THE FOURTH

Saturday, August 4th, will bring the third anniversary of the declaration of war, and in this connection a service arranged by the Reading Free Church Council will be held in our church beginning at 3 p.m. The service will be largely intercessory, and it will be conducted by ministers representing the various Free Churches in the town, those having promised to take part being the Rev. J A Alderson (President of the Council), Rev. T W Beck (Wesleyan), Rev. J Carter (Primitive Methodist), Rev. W C King (Baptist), Rev. J Mitchell (Presbyterian), and Rev. E J Perry, BD (Congregational).

Both last year and the year before similar services were held, and they were attended by large congregations. We hope it may be the same again this year.

Wargrave
August 4th and 5th, 1917:

These are days to be much observed with prayer being the third Anniversary of the declaration of War.

Saturday, August 4th, Holy Communion at the Parish Church 8.a.m. Mattins 10.a.m. Evensong 7.p.m. Special forms of prayer.

Sunday, August 5th, Services as usual: Special forms of prayer.

Cranbourne

In connection with the third Anniversary of the Declaration of War the special Forms of Prayer issued by the Archbishops were said in Church, and also at a united Service held in the Sunday School after Evensong. To this service our Wesleyan friends came in large numbers, and the address was given by the Rev. J.S. Hollingworth.

Earley St Peter

The Vicar’s Letter

My dear friends,

On August 4th we shall have reached the third anniversary of the commencement of the war, and we hope that all will observe it on Sunday, August 5th, and make the day a time for earnest prayer that peace may be restored. Three years ago there were comparatively few thought that it would have lasted so long. We feel as sure as ever that our cause will finally triumph, but the end is not yet in sight, and we have still to go on working and enduring, with a full trust that all will come right in God’s good time. It is true that as the writer of the Book of Proverbs says, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick”; but we forget the second half of the verse, “but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life” – that desire with us is a just and secure peace, under which we pray that the world will be restored and revivified; but we must each do our part.

From a secular point of view there are not many who are not working for their country and doing their best, but can we say that the nation as a whole is doing its best from a spiritual point of view, as a profesedly Christian nation? Are there not many among ourselves who, though deeply sincere at first, have gradually fallen back into the ruts of carelessness and indifference, and ought not what our Bishop calls this “awful anniversary” to give us cause to think very seriously on our position nationally and individually?

Your friend and vicar,
W W Fowler.

THE BISHOP’S MESSAGE

The following extracts are from the Bishop’s message in the August Diocesan Magazine:

Your prayers are specially asked

For our country and our allies, and for the whole world at the beginning of the fourth year of the war.
For victory and peace.
For a settlement in Ireland…

THE OBSERVANCE OF AUGUST 4-5

Before the Magazine reaches you, you will have in your hands the prayers and suggestions for prayer put out by the archbishops, with the consent of the diocesan bishops, for this awful anniversary. I have not anything to add to what is there suggested, there is abundant need that we should call to prayer all who believe in its power – that is all who believe in our Lord. And there is abundant need also that we should do all that lies in our power to maintain the spirit of our nation at its best level, at the level at which it can pray to God as we Christians have been taught to believe in Him.

A PRAYER FOR GIRLS WORKING IN MUNITIONS AND ON THE LAND

O most merciful Father, we beseech Thee to bless and protect the Girls, who have gone to work in the Munition Factories and on the land. Preserve them from all evil. Keep them in good health. Comfort them with Thy presence when they are lonely, and homesick, and tired. Grant that their influence may be for good, and that by their lives they may lead others nearer to Thee. Very specially we ask for a blessing on the work of the Church among them. Grant that we at home may realise how much there is to do, and that we may not fail in sacrifice, and work, and prayer. For Jesus Christ’s sake.
Amen.

C. OXON.

Reading St Giles parish magazines, August and September 1917 (D/P96/28A/32); Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, August 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14); Wargrave parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P145/28A/31); Cranbourne section of Winkfield District Magazine, September 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/9)Earley St Peter parish magazines, 1917 (D/P191/28A/24)

A church in a hut, and quite a parish!

An army chaplain from Newbury writes on his work:

The Rev. H C Roberts writes to the Rector from the Front as follows:

“I was very pleased to get your letter and to hear some of the Newbury news. It was forwarded on to me, as I have moved on from my last station, and am now at Garrison Mess, APOS 19. It doesn’t convey much, does it? This is a very much bigger place than where I was last, and I am in charge of this part. We have a very nice church in a hut all fitted out with an altar, reading desk, etc. I believe it is about the only one of its kind out here – it holds about 170 men, and at the voluntary evening service it gets quite full. We have two early services on Sundays, 6.15 and 7.15, and an evening communion on the last Sunday of the month. More men we find are able to make their communions in the evening owing to work, so it gives them the opportunity. Here too we have a CEMS Meeting one night in the week, and last time we had about 15 present. Of course work varies very much according to district, etc. In that way this is very much better than my last place. In addition we have various parade services on Sunday too. So you see it is quite a parish!! and, as you may imagine, a pretty big one too…

We are having some very hot weeks again (this was written in July, ED) now, but for one or two nights it turned quite cold. I am sorry I can’t tell you much of the place or work, but of course we are allowed to say very little in our letters, and all mention of places, kind of work, visits, etc, is prohibited, and I can imagine quite rightly.”

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, September 1917 (D/P89/28A/13)

Beginning military service as a chaplain

The Community of St John Baptist said goodbye to their warden, who was starting his service as an army chaplain.

21 June 1917

The Sub-Warden went away to begin his military service as Chaplain at Strensall Camp near York. The 7 am celebration [of Holy Communion] was at the High Altar followed by the Travellers’ Service.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

The finest, cosiest, and prettiest place in the whole Second Army Area

A Reading church sponsored a place of recreation for soldiers at the front.

“Words Fail Us.”

Such are the words used on a Christmas card by the Y.M.C.A. to convey their deep gratitude to all who have helped in the erection of Huts in France and elsewhere. The words may be even more fittingly used to emphasise the desperate need for these buildings, and we rejoice in having been privileged to take part in this good work. It will be remembered that soon after our pastor’s return from France in March of last year, he announced his wish to erect a Y.M.C.A. hut, and was met by so gratifying a response from his many friends in Trinity and elsewhere that, by the end of August it was being used by our fighting men on the Western “Front.” This month, by the help of the above-mentioned Christmas card, we are able to show our readers a picture of our own hut.

It is situated La Clytte, about 4.5 miles south-west of Ypres and within three miles of the front firing-line very, very near danger. It is by the side of a road, along which is passing a continual stream of men to and from the trenches. Near by is a rest camp, into which the men are drafted after having served a certain time actually in the line. Hence our Hut, capable of accommodating from two hundred to three hundred men, meets the very real need of a large number of men actually in “the thick of it.”

The picture represents its actual appearance from outside, which resembles many other Y.M. Huts, but the interior is most beautifully and artistically decorated with about 250 coloured pictures, with the result that Mr. Holmes (Sec. Y.M.C.A. 2nd Army) pronounces it to be the finest, cosiest, and prettiest place in the whole Second Army Area. For this proud distinction we must thank its present leader, Mr Cecil Dunford, who is an artist, and so in touch with colour-printing firms. To him, too, we are indebted to him for our picture. His helpers are the Rev. Eric Farrar, son of Dean Farrar a most interesting fact and the Rev. Herbert Brown, Chaplain to the Embassy at Madrid.

At Christmas-time, our thoughts flew naturally to the men in our Hut, and Mr Harrison, anticipating our wishes, telegraphed that a sum of £20 was to be spent on festivities. It will interest all to hear what was done.

On Christmas Eve a Carol service took place, assisted by a regimental band, followed by a distribution of free gifts and cake. On Christmas Day the Hut was crowded for service at 10 a.m., and 45 men present at Holy Communion. From 12-1 a free distribution of cakes and tea was enjoyed. An afternoon concert was held, after which the men were again supplied with tea and cakes. At 6.30 p.m. a very informal concert was held, interspersed with games and amusing competitions ducking for apples bobbing in a pail of water, drawing in to the mouth a piece of toffee tied to a long string held between the teeth, pinning blindfold a moustache to the Kaiser’s portrait, etc. Free drinks and tobacco were again distributed, and after three hearty cheers for the people of Reading, the National Anthem brought a memorable day to a close.

To the men this day was a bright spot in their cheerless, dangerous life, and their enjoyment is depicted by Mr Dunford in some clever sketches one of a man straight from the line, in a tin helmet and with pack on his back, beaming happily at a steaming mug of cocoa, and murmuring “Good ‘ealth to the Y.M.”; another man, whose swelled cheek testifies to the huge mouthful of sandwich (evidently “tres bon!” in quality and quantity), wittily designated “an attach in force on the salient.” To the helpers the Christmas festivities evidently proved exhausting as shown by two laughable sketches of utter collapse, one worker clinging feebly to a post, the other being dragged along the floor to a place of rest. Yet we venture to think that even they, with us, rejoice to do something to brighten the lot of our brave boys in khaki.


Trinity Congregational Church, Reading: magazine, February 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

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)

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)

Comfort, hope and peace for the living and the departed

A Cookham Dean man fell in action. The church comforted his grieving family.

We grieve to record the death of 2nd. Lieut Frank Saxon Snell, killed in action on July 11th:- the only son of Churchwarden and Mrs. Snell aged 29. Words cannot express what so many of us have felt for those near and dear to him in their hour of sorrow. A Requiem Celebration of Holy Communion was held in Church on Saturday, July, 22nd, at 10.45 a.m.: a Service we believe, of comfort and hope and peace, both for the living and the departed.

Cookham Dean parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P43B/28A/11)

“God is on our side”

A number of Reading soldiers wrote home with their experiences of religious services at the front. The following were printed in the St John’s parish magazine:

EASTER CARDS

The letters that have come from the Front in response to our Easter cards shew how they were appreciated, and many men seem to have found encouragement in the thought that we were praying for them at our Easter Communion. A few entries from the letters will shew how much the cards were valued:

I need hardly say how welcome the card was, it seemed to bring me nearer to the good old Church which I have known so long… I do not think I enjoyed the service so much before as when I was last home on leave last February. It was the Rev. T. Guy Rogers who gave the sermon in the evening, and the words he spoke are in my mind to this very moment. I had heard hundreds of sermons before but not one of them had appealed to me so much as that one.
SJ

I am pleased indeed to tell you I was one of many in our regiment who attended Holy Communion in the pleasant little church although many shells had pierced its roof. Our Chaplain made a splendid Table from which we partook of the Holy Sacrament. I must say our Chaplain is a very hard worker indeed, he is very often with us in the trenches…

Your words are most encouraging, I am sure, but it is nothing but an Englishman’s duty, although there are so many hardships, but God is on our side, therefore all of us must look to Him as our leader, not only in the time of danger but always.
WJK

I feel I must write and thank you for the splendid Easter card which I received from St John’s parish a day or two before Easter Sunday. I think the subject of the card was most inspiring and helpful. I thought of St Stephen’s on Easter Sunday, and especially at the Communion Service which I was able to attend.
AFC

I feel as others do that we are greatly in debt to those at home who never seem to forget us.
ALB.

It seemed quite a treat to know that those who have been in the parish and are now fighting for their King and Country were being remembered at your Easter Communion.
RH.

Reading St John parish magazine, June 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)