A day of wild rumours

The area was swept with particularly wild rumours about a possible invasion.

27 March 1917

Day of wild rumours. Our navy defeated! Big battle North Sea for 3 days! Germans landed Scotland. All troops mobilized. Nothing in papers.

Went on all today. That there was a great N. Sea battle – 11 ships lost! Then 9!! The Germans had landed in Scotland – then on east coast. All troops from neighbourhood sent away. The Engineers at Maidenhead left Sunday, Marlow this morning. (This latter is true). Also Sydney Elliott at Bramshott, then suddenly mobilized to go somewhere. Heatley said it was a rising in Ireland. Nothing in the papers – morning or night, except Londoner’s Diary laughing at the reports. Last version Germans had taken Scotland!!!

No petrol substitutes to be given out. No more petrol allowance after end April!

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

“In the event of an invasion”

We last heard from Apsley Cherry-Garrard in 1914. Now in 1916 he was back home at Lamer again, unwell, his health having broken down under the stress of the war. He wrote to his lawyer on 28 April on financial matter, including a reference to a friend’s role in home defences.

Lamer Park Wheathampstead

Dear Farrer

R Smith has just finished drilling at Arundel & has been told off to 3rd line trenches in the event of invasion.

Yours very sincerely
Apsley Cherry-Garrard

April 28 [1916]

Letters from Apsley Cherry-Garrard (D/EHR/Z9/47)

Because we pray, a bullet may miss

As the war continued, the members of Broad Street Congregational Church in Reading renewed their prayers for their friends who had joined up. Interestingly, one detects here a little scepticism in the veracity of the legend of the Angel of Mons.


“In Jesus’ keeping
We are safe and they”

The editor has again very kindly invited me to send him a few lines for our magazine, and whilst wondering what they should be, the above quotation from one of our well known hymns came to my mind.
The thought should be, I think, very helpful to us in these most trying days providing we do, as we might, really and truly believe it.

I take it that practically everyone connected with us is thinking of our soldiers and sailors throughout each day, and of the dangers they have been facing so long, and are facing still, and also of the lesser dangers we at home are liable to meet with from overhead, from possible invasions and in other unexpected ways.

And as we “look up” at the beginning of every new day and commend the keeping of these brave fellows – an ever-increasing number – and especially those whom we know so well, to Almighty God, and when again the darkness falls, we repeat with added earnestness the prayer to our ever watchful Father Who never slumbers nor sleeps, I do think we feel the grace and beauty of those eight words. Are we not frequently being told by men who should know that the power of prayer is indeed wonderful? And some of us would very humbly say we have not the shadow of a doubt about it. Some day we may know that because you and I prayed, a bullet missed its object by a brief inch or two and a precious life was spared.

I cannot but make just a reference to the vision of angels seen at Mons and which undoubtedly many of our men there sincerely believed aided them and discomfited their foes, but I do place entire reliance in a very much older record, “the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him and delivereth them.”



Digging defences for London

In Essex, Sydney Spencer’s regiment had been set to digging out trenches for the defence of London in the event of an invasion.

Sept 7th
Left Thetford on to Brentwood for digging North London Defences. Mess address Brent House. Parcels each day at Wilson’s Monument. March 4 miles to Mount Nessing daily.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)

A German invasion is not an impossibility

The Newbury parish magazine urged parishioners with military experience to consider joining a new local defence force to act as a last line of defence in the event of invasion.

Christmas is coming, and although it seems certain that the war will not be over, and that there must still be much sadness and anxiety on all hands, which will naturally interfere with the usual festivities.

Mrs Lionel Majendie having made a private appeal for warm garments for the men of the 4th Battalion of the 60th Rifles, met with a most generous response, and was enabled to send off the following:-

1 Sweater
8 Shirts
30 Pairs of Mittens
35 Helmets
56 Belts
75 Mufflers
109 Pairs of Socks
Total 314

Major and Mrs Bernard Majendie send their best thanks to all those who have so kindly sent warm garments for the men of the 4th Battalion Kings Royal Rifles, for which they are most Grateful (November 1914).

The number of the National Reserves at the Race-Course is growing less, as also is the number of prisoners; the reason being that the authorities have decided that the camp is too cold and damp to have men quartered there during the winter, and the prisoners are now being removed elsewhere with their guards.

The C.E.M.S. have shewn their interest in the welfare of the troops by giving a concert to the Yeomanry, and another to the National Reserves. The former looked as if it would be a failure, for at first there were considerably more performers present than audience, but more were fetched in, and in the end the entertainment was quite a success – moreover it was continued on the following night with the help of the men themselves. The other concert was held in the Y.M.C.A. tent at the Race Course, and the performers boldly ran the gauntlet of the armed sentries and of a powerful draught which raged in the tent. The concert ended with prayer and the singing of hymn 27, in which all present joined heartily.

The number of men appealed for by the government and Lord Kitchener has not yet been by any means completed, and it is a question whether other means should not now be employed to obtain them. The Rector has received an invitation from the War Office to see if he can find any non-commissioned officers among the congregation, for such are needed for drilling the new recruits, – so that if this catches the eye of any such, perhaps he will remember his duty to King and Country, and offer his services. Mr. Ranshaw, with his usual energy, is taking an active part in raising the new Newbury Defence Force, which is intended for those who are not eligible for the Army. Let us remember that a German invasion of England is not an impossibility, and that the more men that get ready now, the less will be the danger should it come.

Newbury parish magazine, December 1914 (D/P89/28A/13)

‘Exciting’ news: the Germans are proud of attacking undefended women and children

The war came to British soil when there was an air raid on the east coast. William Hallam and Florence Vansittart Neale were appalled.

16 December 1914

William Hallam
It was a most exciting day today about the German naval raid on the East coast. I went along to Bath Rd Reading Room late tonight to see the latest telegrams.

Florence Vansittart Neale
German raid on Scarborough! Whitby & Hartlepool, killing many women & children – undefended towns & [homes?]!!! Proud of their feat!!

The Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist at Clewer also noted the news:

Kept as day of prayer instead of Friday 18th. The Germans made a raid on east coast, bombarding Scarborough, Whitby, & Hartlepool about 8 a.m. until a little before 9 a.m., & doing much damage.

Diaries of William Hallam (D/EX1415/22) and Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8); Annals of the Community of St John Baptist (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Is England to be affronted with the shrill cry of shells?

Oxford student Sydney Spencer of Cookham feared invasion was imminent.

Wednesday Nov 4th
Gun firing was heard off Yarmouth this morning! Apparently a naval engagement has taken place somewhere off that coast. So the battle noises creep closer to our shores! Is England going to be affronted with the shrill cry of the “shells” as they burst on our shores I wonder. England who has not had the hand of the conqueror or of the would be conqueror overshadow her since the disgraceful days of Charles II when a hostile fleet even entered the mouth of the Thames & London trembled!

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

Digging trenches in Essex – because the train service is so bad

Florence Spencer wanted to visit her brother before he went off to the Front, but Percy gently discouraged her.

Rose Cottage
Bocking Place

Nov 3. 1914

Dear Florrie

Here, there is nothing worth seeing except me, and, I am afraid you would find the place dreadfully slow. All the good accommodation too is taken by military. Moreover the train service is the limit. I think that is why we are here trench-digging – some obstacles are necessary to impede the German progress long enough to enable the Great Eastern to convey troops here. We’ve a wonderful War Office – it thinks of everything…

Yours ever


Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/3/21)

Our goal is Berlin

The Reading Christ Church parish magazine considers the war with some (misplaced?) optimism:

As time goes on we are better able to understand what the War really means. Let us take the brighter side first. Thanks to our sailors it is practically certain that there will be no serious rise in food prices. And again if we take the labour market as a whole there will not be anything like the amount of unemployment that was feared. Some trades will suffer badly, others will have plenty of orders; vacancies caused by recruiting or by men who have been called out will help to relieve the situation. And above all the war will be fought out away from our shores. Invasion, if it was ever contemplated, is now – short of some unforeseen disaster – impossible.

On the darker side we must place the duration of the war. Whatever we may think of the methods of the Germans their fighting qualities are undoubted. And if they fight well in France, how will they fight in their own land? For we have to see the matter through and our goal is not the Rhine but Berlin. And the loss of life is and must continue to be terrible. It is only our hope that out of this carnage there will emerge a better, kinder and more enlightened Europe that enables us to endure the thought of it.

Reading Christ Church parish magazine, October 1914 (D/P170/28A/23)

A privilege to do one’s duty

The parishioners of Warfield felt the church was in danger, presumably from foreign invasion, and rallied round to help, as the church magazine bears witness:

“England expects that every man will do his duty” has been exemplified by the noble way in which the men of Warfield have come forth to guard their old Parish Church during this period of anxiety. One feels sure that they need no thanks, being always a privilege to do one’s duty. It is also right that the Parish Magazine should chronicle their names which are taken as they stand on the list before the Editor.

Messrs. J. Street, R. Searle, Fairminer, Goddard, Haines, E.Street, Pearce, Chaney, Peat, Higgs, Lovejoy, B. Bowyer, Brockbank, Johnson, G. Woodwards, C. Dyer, Bowyer, S. Moss, W. Dyer, E. Gale, H. Crocker, W. Bowyer, Crewe, Rickson, Parks, Dixon, R.Crow, J.Crow, G.Lewis, Joe Lewis, Dyer, Vicar, E.Gregory, B. Gregory, Inglefield, Lovejoy, S. White, Gill, Lewis, S. Bowyer, T. Bowyer and Son, Staniford, S. Stacey, Gale, Inskeep, A. Bowyer, Clee, Banham, Jakeman, Thatcher, Campbell, W. Excel, L. Bowyer, Carding, E. Bowyer, Ward and Woodwards.

Ascot, Bracknell, Cranbourne and Winkfield District church magazine, August 1914 (D/P151/28A/6/8)