“Amidst this hell on earth God is with us”

A Wargrave soldier reminded friends at home of the dangers he and his comrades were facing.

Harvest Festival Gifts

Many letters have come to us from the men at the Front to say how much the tobacco and cigarettes have been appreciated and to convey thanks to the congregation for the gifts, one writes:-

“It is cheering to know that we are remembered by friends in the homeland, but what we value most, Sir, is your prayers. Pray without ceasing for us, Sir. God is very real to us out here, for He has delivered us several times from certain death, which is in answer to the prayers offered up to our Heavenly Father on our behalf in the dear old Church at Wargrave. One often thinks of home.

It was last Sunday while up the line at work between ten and eleven o’clock while the guns were booming and the shells bursting around that I was lost in thought. I thought I heard the bells pealing from out the old tower and the congregation singing the Psalms and the good old hymns, so dear to us Tommies. While thus lost in thought God spoke to me through His word, “Lo I am with you always”. What a blessing, Sir, to be able to realize that amidst this hell on earth God is with us, another answer to your prayers.”

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

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Khaki Socials have proved a great boon to very many

Soldiers and airmen were entertained weekly on Sunday evenings at Broad Street Church in Reading.

Now that the darker evenings are upon us, arrangements have been made to resume the “Khaki Socials”, which have been held every Sunday evening in the winter months since shortly after the war began. These Socials have proved a great boon to very many. Sunday, October 14th, is the day fixed for re-opening, and we shall hope to see then many of our old friends, and many new ones also.

The running of these Socials – seeing that light refreshments are provided free of cost – involves us in expense. But of this we shall have more to say in our next month’s issue.

The many friends of Lieut. Oswald Francis (son of our friends, Mr and Mrs Ernest Francis) will be glad to hear that he has been awarded the Military Cross “for exceptional valour and devotion to duty through the battles east of Ypres” in August. We heartily congratulate both Lieut. Francis and his parents on the honour which he has won, and we earnestly hope he may live for many years to enjoy it.

The aforementioned article appeared in the October church magazine. There was a follow up report in December:

KHAKI SOCIALS

The Khaki Socials which have proved such an interesting part of our winter programme since the war began, were resumed after the evening service on Sunday, October 14th. There was a very good attendance for the opening meeting, and the number has increased with each succeeding Sunday. There is no doubt about the popularity of these Socials, nor can there be any doubt of their usefulness. Quite apart from the number attending – which in itself is no mean testimony – we have the frequent expressions of gratitude from those who deeply appreciate what is being done. There is nothing stiff or formal about these gatherings, but a delightful homelike feeling which greatly appeals to our friends in khaki.

Music – vocal and instrumental – and recitations form the chief items in the weekly programme, and these are interspersed with hymns in which all present heartily join.

Members of the Royal Flying Corps have to leave us at 10 o’clock, but most of our other khaki friends remain for the family worship with which we close the proceedings at 9.30 pm.

We are sorry that owing to our limited accommodation we cannot invite more of our Broad Street friends to join us for these gatherings, but we can assure them that, in their name, a very helpful bit of work is being done by the ladies and gentlemen who gladly give their services week by week.

Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, October and December 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Do the German hear our starlight singing in their distant trenches?

There was much news of soldiers from Maidenhead Congregational Church.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are glad to be able to report that Reginald Hill is so far improving, that he has been able to sit up a little each day. Thomas S. Russell has been called up, and is in training with the Motor Transport Section of the A.S.C. G.C. Frampton after about two hours drill was considered advanced enough for foreign service, and left England for France on May 18th. He is gone into Military Canteen work.

An interesting letter has come to hand from Sidney Eastman, which may justly be described as lengthy, for it is written upon a piece of paper some seven or eight feet long, and covers both sides. It is mostly occupied with a description of his travels and of the sights he has seen, and we are glad to gather that he is in good health and spirits.

G.C. Frampton has been unpatriotic enough to take German measles, and is in Hospital at Etaples. We hope to learn very shortly that he is quite well again.

Alfred Vardy, after a severe bout of pneumonia, caught on his way to the Front in France, is now at a Convalescent Camp in Thetford, gaining strength before returning to duty.

Wilfrid Collins is in hospital at Reading, suffering from heart weakness following upon a severe attack of “Trench fever.”

Reginald Hill has been out of bed for an hour, and is going on satisfactorily, though slowly.

Cyril Hews had a somewhat narrow escape recently. He was out with his motor-bicycle upon a French road during a thunderstorm, when the lightning struck a tree by the road-side, and a large branch fell upon the handlebars of the machine, providentially leaving the rider untouched.

Alfred Lane, after more than a year’s training in the Home Counties’ Engineers at Maidenhead, has been sent over with a draft to France.

Harry Baldwin, having attained the age of 18, and being called up, has elected to enter the Navy, and will probably enter a Training School.

One of our young men, who took an active part in the Messines victory, writes:

“Rather a good sight yesterday. I attended with my men a very large open-air drum-head Church Parade Service, as a sort of Thanksgiving Service for our recent great victory. A large number of Welshmen were present, and it really was great to hear these fellows sing “Aberystwith” and “St. Mary,” accompanied by a band.”

The papers, by the way, have been recently telling us that in all the Welsh regiments there are “glee parties,” who sing under the stars, until the Germans must hear and perhaps wonder, in their more or less distant trenches.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, June 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Bread and butter, yes! real butter at khaki socials

Reading Congregational Church reports on another winter’s worth of entertaining soldiers.

KHAKI SOCIALS

Now that the Khaki Socials have ended for the season, a short report may be of interest to those who read the magazine.

The winter season started on Sunday October 8th 1916, and continued every Sunday until May 6th 1917, a total (including Good Friday) of 32 Socials. At first they were not attended as well as could be expected, but after a while they became more widely known, and many nights the room has been quite crowded. The average attendance for the season was about sixty soldiers, besides others who came in as “friends”.

One of the chief features of the socials has been the refreshments, which were always appreciated by the Khaki boys, especially the thin pieces of bread and butter, yes! real butter.

The singing of the Fellowship Hymns was much enjoyed, special favourites being “All Hail the Power”, “Fight the Good Fight” and “Lead, kindly Light”, which were often selected by the men themselves, and couldn’t they sing, too!

The “tone” of the concerts was well maintained throughout the season, thanks to the various kind friends who have rendered help in this way.

The financial side of the Socials has been rather heavy, on account of the extra cost of foodstuffs. Consequently there is a deficit of several pounds.

The average cost per social was about 12/-, and it is estimated that nearly 2.000 Tommies attended and received refreshments during the season, so the committee cannot be accused of “over-feeding” at any rate.

There is now a splendid opportunity for two or three generous friends to send along their donations to wipe off the deficiency.

It would take too much space to say what I should like to say about all the friends who have helped so splendidly; but there are two or three who certainly should be mentioned. First is our Minister, Mr Rawlinson, who has presided on most nights, and has done more than anyone to cheer and brighten the meetings. It is not everyone who, after a strenuous day’s work, would undertake this extra work, but Mr Rawlinson has done it and done it cheerfully. Then Mr and Mrs J Ford and Mrs Witcombe, the “Food Controllers”, must be mentioned for their splendid services. Always behind the scenes, yet always on the spot and ready. They never once failed to supply even the “sugar”. Then our best thanks are due to one who, although not on the committee, has done good work as welcomer and door keeper. I refer to Mr J Owen. Some of the men got quite used to his welcome “how a-r-r-e you?”, especially the “Welsh Boys”.

What we should have done without Mrs Dracup and Miss Green in the musical department of the work, it is difficult to think. They have been a real help, and each deserves the silver medal for “services rendered”.

Besides those mentioned, the Khaki Socials Committee consisted of the following, all of whom have done their share of the work:
Mr Nott, Mrs Hendey, Mrs Woolley, Mr and Mrs Tibble, Mr A S Hampton and Mr Swallow, Mr Hendey as treasurer, and Mr W A Woolley as secretary.

The same committee has been re-elected to arrange Garden Parties, River Trips, etc, for the wounded soldiers during the summer months. Friends wishing to help in this good work should communicate with the secretary, who will be pleased to book up dates and make arrangements.

W A Woolley

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

“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)

Vegetables and cigarettes

The village of Crazies Hill dedicated its harvest festival to supporting the troops, with gifts of varying levels of healthiness.

Crazies Hill Notes

The Harvest Festival was held on October 15th. Throughout the day the Services were bright and hearty. The congregations were large; indeed everything was in keeping with the joyous occasion. The Children’s Service also, in the afternoon, was well attended. The Children’s offerings were made during the singing of a hymn when the children marched in procession and placed the various articles in a basket. The basket was large, yet was well supplied with packets of cigarettes, sweets, and other things. These were carried to the Parkwood Hospital after the Service as the Children’s gifts for the wounded soldiers.

At the Evening Service the anthem ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’ was rendered very nicely by the Choir. The Special Preacher was the Rev. H. I. Wilson, Rector of Hitcham, to whom we are much indebted for coming.

The decorations were carried out with much care and skill – the building looking a veritable flower garden. It would be difficult to realize the amount of labour and time spent in arranging the flowers, plants, corn and vegetables. The result was certainly beautiful. We are very grateful to the following who so generously gave their labour and time: Mrs. Light, Mrs. Habbitts, Mrs. Wakefield, Mrs. Woodward, Miss Rose, Miss Stanton, Miss Beck, and Miss Doe, and the following who so kindly sent gifts: – Mrs. Whiting, flowers and vegetable marrow; Miss Beck, flowers; Mrs. William Willis, plants; Mrs. Hull, flowers; Mrs. Weller, flowers; Mrs. Goodwin, flowers; Mr. Kimble, flowers and vegetables. Mr. Griffin, flowers; Mr. Bacon, bread; Mr. Stanton, flowers. Miss Fleming, corn and wheat; Miss Rose, flowers; The Hon. Mrs. Crawford, corn; Capt. Willis, flowers.

We are also indebted to Parkwood for so kindly sending a collection of choice plants.

The collections throughout the day, which were in aid of the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, amounted to £1 10s. 7 ½ d.

The vegetables and flowers were sent to Wargrave Military Hospital, Mr. Whiting most kindly conveying them thither.

Throughout the day offerings of cigarettes, etc., were most generously made for our men serving at the present time.

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

“He loved life with all his heart”

A Windsor hero made the ultimate sacrifice, and the church magazine responded with a heartfelt portrait of the young man behind the record.

Charles James Henry Goodford.

Only a few weeks ago he was here in Windsor. He had come to receive the Military Cross which he had won by an act of splendid heroism. And many of us saw him and rejoiced with him at the honour which had come to himself and to those who loved him. Only a few weeks ago he was kneeling at the altar of All Saints Church on the very morning of his return to France.

And now with a shock we realise that we shall never see him on earth again. He has made the supreme sacrifice; he has heard the call and has responded to it even unto death.

Those who have always known him are not surprised. And all of us who knew him at all remember how at the outbreak of the war he was eager, and anxious, to share in the mighty struggle that lay before this land and empire. Then followed the brief course at Sandhurst, and before we realised that such a thing was possible we heard that he had gone to the Front.

That was eighteen months back- a brief space indeed, but marked with high distinction.

The Military Cross was the symbol of something more than one heroic act. From the first he showed, and he always showed, the ability and the temper of a true soldier. The letters which have come from those who were with him in France are a striking testimony to this. These are the words of a brother officer:

“No one in the regiment is mourned more than he by both officers and men. It is not an empty saying, everybody loved him.”

If this were all it would be more than worth saying. But it is not the whole of the story. Something must be said – and how much might be said – from the point of view of that which matters most of all- character.

He was so thoroughly human. This was seen in his love of his home, his garden, his pursuits and his school. And some of us will never forget the attractive boyishness of the pride with which he opened the case in which it lay and showed us the Military Cross. He loved life with all his heart and longed that, if it were God’s will, he might be spared to come through.

But behind all this was his strong and simple trust in God which bore the fruit of singleness of heart, loyalty of honour and truth, and purity of soul. He had realised the power of prayer in his spiritual life, and the knowledge that we were praying for him, and for others, at home was the joy and inspiration of days of danger and difficulty. He loved to think of us in Church on Sundays and to repeat the hymns which he thought that we perhaps were singing. He was specially helped just before he went into action for the last time by the closing verse of “Christ in Flanders.”-

“Though we forget You, You will not forget us,
But stay with us until this dream is past;
And so we ask for courage, strength and pardon,
Especially, I think, we ask for pardon,
And that You’ll stand beside us at the last.”

And when the strange experience came to him, as it must to us all, it was put to pass into the nearer presence of One Whom he had long since tried to serve and learned to love.

We cannot think of him as dead. We know that he lives and we doubt not that in the great unseen there will be grander, nobler work for him to do.

Our hearts go out to those who loved him most.

We cannot ever tell them how we care, how we sympathise. But we shall never cease to pray that the passing years may bring to them, more and more, the certainty of the abiding presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, a growing realisation of the communion of saints, and the vision of the many mansions wherein, in God’s time, His people shall know that they have not waited nor longed in vain.

Grant unto him, O Lord, eternal rest
And let eternal light shine upon him.

E.M.B.

New Windsor St John the Baptist parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P149/28A/21/5)

A tribute of respect to Kitchener

Bracknell people shared in the national mourning for Lord Kitchener, and in an age before televised services, did their best to replicate his official memorial service. Meanwhile patriotic efforts had replaced charity for the East End.

A Memorial Service for Lord Kitchener was held at noon on June 13th in Bracknell Church. The service was, as far as possible, the same as that held at the same hour in S. Paul’s Cathedral, the same hymns and psalms, and the Dead March played solemnly in the middle of the service. There was quite a large congregation, and all felt glad to be able to join together in paying a tribute of respect to the memory of the great man who had done such good service so devotedly to his country.

Owing to people being so busy over war work, it was felt that it was almost impossible to arrange a Lent Working party for the Isle of Dogs this year; but Mrs. Sheppee most kindly collected 43 garments and sent them to Mr. Mirrilees last month. We have received a very grateful letter of thanks from him.

Bracknell section of Warfield District Magazine, July 2016 (D/P151/28A/8/7)

‘Abide with me’ sung by a large number of men in a cave, with the shells rattling overhead.

The Maidenhead parish magazine had a number of reports relating to the religious effects of the war.

Prebendary Carlile at the Front.

Prebendary Carlile, who has recently returned from a visit to France, where his special mission was to inspect the work of the Church Army near the Front, paid a high tribute to the devoted women who are working with the Royal Army Medical Corps and British Red Cross, and also to the clerical chauffeurs who are driving some of the Church Army ambulance cars. The tenderness and care of the wounded which they display came, he said, as a revelation to him. The same spirit of self-sacrifice for others was seen in the Church Army rest-huts and clubs. Before his return Dr. Carlile had the perhaps unique experience of standing between the Bishop of Birmingham and a Russian bishop and grasping a hand of each. This he hopes may be a symbol of the new knowledge and sympathy which has been aroused between the two countries and Churches.

The Sacrament in a “Dug-out.”

The parish magazine of St. Andrew’s, Plymouth, contains an interesting letter from the Rev. R. H. Fulford, who is acting as Chaplain to the Forces in the Dardanelles :-

“Services in the trenches,” he says, “are difficult to arrange, as we are under constant fire. Yet I have administered the Sacrament in my dug-out to as many as the place would comfortably hold, and have often spoken to men individually and in small groups in the firing-line itself, and, of course, at the fixed ambulance station. Here there is a large natural cave, and on Sunday evening it was good to hear ‘Abide with me’ sung by a large number of men, with the shells rattling overhead. We had a wonderful service in the dark just before landing on the Peninsula, and it gave us the greater courage to meet the heavy shell-fire which greeted us. Any day you may see men openly reading their New Testaments in the trenches and elsewhere, and many and earnest prayers are said from the heart. Last week I was burying a fellow, when the corporal told me that the fatigue party, of which the dead man had been one, after a heavy shelling had got under cover and gone down on their knees and thanked God for their escape. We live here upon the threshold of two worlds much more consciously than in ordinary life, and England will be the better for the return of her Army in its present spirit. Of course, there are dull and foolish ones even in the tightest corners; but, at any rate, the question of life and death has to be faced, and in most cases the religious answer carries conviction and comfort.”

Church Training Colleges and the War.

The recently issued Report of the National Society contained some striking figures with regard to the part played in the War by the Training Colleges of the Church of England. From these figures it would appear that there are some three thousand past and present students and members of the staffs of eleven Training Colleges serving with the Colours, of whom some 250 hold commissions. Even more striking, however, is the number of students who were called out on the mobilisation of the Territorial Force. These numbered over 800, and would doubles have exceeded 1,000 but for the fact that in the case of two Colleges difficulties arose when the old Volunteers were disbanded and the new Territorial Force was created.

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, November 1915 (D/P181/28A/24)

Every man jack comes to services, even the sentries

The Maidenhead parish magazine had more fascinating details of army chaplains’ work close to the front line.

Soldiers and Religion.

The Rev. C. E. Doudney, Vicar of St. Luke’s, Bath, Chaplain to the Forces in France, writes solemn and cheering words about the eagerness of officers and men at the Front to hear the Gospel:

Services were great yesterday. All my brigades are ‘in,’ so no services could be held for them, but I was on all day long at guns and transport, ambulance and motor machine guns. Informal little services with congregations ranging from 50 to 200, generally sitting in a group singing hymns and talking to ‘em. And the chaps listening hungrily. In some units every man jack came, from officers to cooks, and they withdrew the sentries because they didn’t want to miss it.

We have established a padre’s mess, the three of us, and find it works A1. We’re almost out of range, and it’s a great relief to get back after a night’s work in the trenches, or under heavy fire getting there, to the quiet and peace of this place.

The work is great. Welcome everywhere. Services well attended and attention simply riveted. The attendance at Holy Communion very good. We celebrate anywhere, mostly in the open air at all hours of day or night. In one’s addresses one has to go to bed-rock at once. It’s no time for flowers of speech. The officers and men are thirsting for the fact of Christ as living in and among them…

The men are altogether different, the whole tone is changed, and one only prays that it may last on after the war. If it does, England will be a new place.

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, October 1915 (D/P181/28A/24)

Services under constant fire

An army chaplain’s experiences in the Dardanelles were published in a local parish magazine.

CRANBOURNE

INTERCESSION SERVICES.

May we again remind our Parishioners that there is an Intercession Service every Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. and also every Sunday evening at Evensong. All our men are prayed for by name at each of these services and also at one of the celebrations of the Holy Communion. We hope no one forgets to pray for our Sailors and Soldiers each evening when they hear the Church bell.

WINKFIELD

Three more of our young men, 2nd Lieut. Cecil Ferard, and Privates George Faithful and Ernest Faithful, have now gone to the Front, and their names are added to the list of “those in danger at the Front” read out in Church when we have our special Intercessions on the 2nd Sunday at Evening Service and the last Sunday in the month at Morning Prayer.

Second-Lieut. Wilfred Loyd was invalided home wounded after only seven days at the Front, but we are glad to say he is now convalescent and going on well.

Lance-Corporal A. Kimble was unfortunately obliged to undergo another operation. We rejoice to hear that it was successful, the piece of shrapnel has now been removed and we hope he will soon be allowed out of hospital.

Lance-Corporal R. Nickless has been removed from the base hospital and is now in England and going well. We learn with regret that possibly he may have to undergo another operation but sincerely hope this will not be found necessary.

In the ordinary course the Mother’s Meetings at the Vicarage would recommence this Autumn, but during this time of war, it is felt that perhaps it would be more helpful to turn them into Working Parties for the benefit of our men at the front.

A small sum was raised by an entertainment got up by Miss Montgomerie last winter, and she has kindly handed this over to Mrs. Maynard to provide some materials. It will probably be arranged to give any mothers who have sons at the front, some of this material to make useful things for them at the meetings, and Mrs. Maynard would be glad to receive the names of any who would like to attend on Thursday afternoons for this purpose; and she will then let them know when the meetings commence.

THE SACRAMENT IN A “DUG-OUT.”

The parish magazine of St. Andrew’s, Plymouth, contains an interesting letter from the Rev. H. Fulford, who is acting as a Chaplain to the Forces in the Dardanelles:-

“Services in the trenches” he says “are difficult to arrange, as we are under constant fire. Yet I have administered the Sacrament in my dug-out to as many as the place would comfortably hold, and have often spoken to men individually and in small groups in the firing-line itself, and, of course, at the fixed ambulance station. Here there is a large natural cave, and on Sunday evening it was good to hear ‘Abide with me’ sung by a large number of men, with the shells rattling overhead. We had a wonderful service in the dark just before landing on the Peninsula, and it gave us the greater courage to meet the heavy shell-fire which greeted us. Any day you may see men openly reading their New Testaments in the trenches and elsewhere, and many and earnest prayers are said from the heart. Last week I was burying a fellow, when the Corporal told me that the fatigue party, of which the dead man had been one, after a heavy shelling had got under cover and gone down on their knees and thanked God for their escape. We live here upon the threshold of two worlds much more consciously than in ordinary life, and England will be the better for the return of her Army in its present spirit. Of course there are dull and foolish ones even in the tightest corners; but, at any rate, the question of life and death has to be faced, and in most cases the religious answer carries conviction and comfort.”

Winkfield District Magazine, October 1915 (D/P151/28A/7/10)

We are nothing better than worms – but mustn’t grumble!

Sunday 4 April 1915 was Easter Day. The parishioners of Reading St John (now the Polish Catholic Church) had sent Easter greetings to their young men at the Front. It resulted in a number of letters from the recipients describing their experiences.

Letters from the Front: replies to our Easter letters and cards.

Cards similar to those recently seen on the Church notice boards were sent with covering letters for Easter to some fifty men at the front at the request of their relatives. The following are extracts from some of the replies received by the Vicar:-

A Terrible War.
Here is a much-needed reminder of the seriousness of our task:
‘Two of my men I laid to rest yesterday, just put their heads too far over the parapet; of course killed instantly. It is a terrible business and we are nothing better than worms, dug in and stop there, but hope that happier times are in store and very soon. We all hope and pray for it every day. I don’t think the people at home quite realise what a gigantic task we have; but we mustn’t grumble, but do it.’- GILES AYRES.

Valued Cards.
‘I wish to thank you very much for the good thoughts and wishes of yourself and everyone who remembered us on Easter Day. Thank you very much for the card. I am sending it home to-day so that I shall not lose it.’- A. L. BLAKE.

‘The card you sent me I have hung on to the wall and it shall go where I go. I shall always remember Good Friday, the day I received it.’- D. CAMPBELL.

Neuve Chapelle.
Speaking of the welcome letter just received, the writer adds: ‘Just lately we have been engaged in a big battle at Neuve Chapelle, and it was something awful and also a terrible loss on the German side.’- L.H. CROOK. (more…)

Singing with the swaggering soldiers

Sydney Spencer reflected in his diary on his YMCA work and getting to know the rough and ready soldiers. His musical talents came in handy.

Wednesday Sept 23rd
It is a glorious day – indeed so glorious that despite the fact that I am in this tent, & the men are all round reading and playing games, & I am still surrounded by all those things which tend to make life feel sordid – still the sunlight is so lovely, & there is such a warm light and buoyancy about everything that I feel as though I have just for a time got right into the country. I feel even a buoyancy about myself, & considering this is the end of my fortnight’s work here I feel that I am very fit. Although I have caught a cold here it has not given me very much trouble. Only in the mornings when I get up I have had a grumble in my throat.

Yesterday was quite a successful day for me in the way of getting on with the men. I did a lot of playing for them & they sang quite a lot too. The difficulty has been to get them to sing. These men, so rough & rude in speech, are as shy as children when it comes to asking them to do a thing such as sing a song. They rough it & swagger & say they can’t sing & don’t know the songs, or don’t like them, & now they are gradually warming to the work & beginning to sing songs which before they would not sing. Brown – a man whom we both liked very much – Hayes & I – has gone off to the front & he seemed most happy to be going. Our concert is tonight and I am most glad that it is so for I have not been looking forward to it, for either I have to play or I have not to, & if I was asked my desires I should prefer not to play at all! I know that my type of music does not at all suit, hence it will make the playing ever so much more difficult, & embarrassing. I have grown to be very fond of Hayes. He has a regular appetite for scheming with his “thoughts”. He weighs out his every speech, & the time he takes thinking out the exact form of his next question or answer to the captain is remarkable. Although I am glad that my time is coming to an end, still I feel that I would not have been without this experience, with all its particoloured effects upon me. We had our morning service here last Sunday with a certain amount of “éclat”, if it is not “rirement” [laughable] to use such a word in this conjunction.

We had the Venite & the Benedictus, & hymns. Captain Watson read the lesson & prayers, & hayes preached a five minute sermon. It was a very good thought that he put into it. He stood for beating a man on his own level, & then shewing him that he bore him no ill feeling, & was willing to raise him or go with him on to a higher level.

The air this afternoon is rather thick, as Captain Watson is annoyed – justly so too, I feel – at Daldry’s proposal to take the chair at the meeting tonight. Daldry wants to finish up the concert with the hymn “Fight the good fight”. I feel with Hayes and with Captain Watson too that a hymn then would be out of place. I think strongly that a hymn & prayers every night before we parted would be well, but it would create a false atmosphere if the hymn suddenly broke in on the rather trifling concert programme we have on the boards.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

The YMCA: just a splendid grocery association?

Sydney Spencer tells us more about his work with the YMCA in an army camp. The poem he liked so much is by Henry Newbolt, and is now regarded with more irony.

14th Sept. Monday morning at the Packerton YMCA camp

I am to sleep in the marquee tonight with Hayes. I am only sorry that Jumbo [his friend Kenneth Oliphant] and I are parted. Yesterday I very much enjoyed the day at Gravel Hill. At 6 o’clock I got some tea at Harwich, & then went into the writing & reading room downstairs where I found a Private Russell who had a talk with me which ended by my having an opportunity of giving him a Testament, with which he was not only delighted, but said that he had “mates” who would like some too.

[Section censored in later years by Sydney’s sister and heir Florence]

I went to the Co-operative Hall at 7.30 and played right on without a moment’s break till 9 o’clock. I should think I must have played about sixty hymns or more.

I said I had not a break, but now I remember that Hindle spoke to the men for about ten minutes, & they very much appreciated his really good address which he gave. I was surprised at the way in which the men had turned up to the service. There were about 300 of them and they sang with the greatest gusto imaginable. They sang hymn after hymn & their choice of hymns was really good. They had for one, “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land”. This hymn went best of all, I think on the whole. Hindle works himself to death & does, I think, splendid work, although I think that it is a great pity that he frivols so on his table conversation. Conversation has been of a better kind lately & I am very glad of it. I am waiting just outside the YMCA canteen in the lobby place of the guard house, & one of the prisoners inside is playing a flute & is playing Home Sweet Home in a slim melancholy way which makes it comic. I begin to doubt of its being a flute, I should imagine it is a mouth organ by the sounds of the chords put in which I had not before heard. Hayes roasted Daldy splendidly last night saying that he thought we were a splendid grocery association & that we ought to chuck the YMCA. I am glad he did for he – Daldy – seems to think of nothing except the money part of the affair, & it absolutely disgusts me. I am very glad that Hayes is shewing his colours to such an extent, I shall get on much better for it. (more…)