“2 Divisions ran away & so caused Cambrai defeat”

Florence Vansittart Neale was puzzled as how to manage Bisham Abbey with less food available, while the news – and rumours – continued to fascinate her.

1 January 1918
Worried morning over rations. Very difficult but must do it. Edith arranging next Sunday’s “chain of prayer”.

January 1918 [inserted at front, no date]

Hear Haig in London, very sick about things. He had refused to send Divisions to Italy, but had to. Wanted to resign. He said a great deal too much fuss made about Sir J Byng’s push & also a great deal about the subsequent retreat!

Hear we send up stuff against [balloons?] which make the men so deadly seasick they have to come down. On return Irish leave this Xmas, 1000s stuck at Holyhead 5 days. Too many submarines there. At last escorted over by American destroyer & gun boats.

Hear 2 Divisions ran away & so caused Cambrai defeat. Hear General [illegible] sent back after it., then returned by Army Council & again sent back after St Quentin retreat! Hunter-Weston “honouring heroic deed” (drunken Tommie). Foch becoming Generalissimo (March 1918).

Meat & butter rations begin.

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

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A Christmas parcel “gone west”

Reading men who belonged to the men’s group at Broad Street Church wrote home with their news from the front:

MESSAGES FROM BROTHERHOOD MEN

The following messages from members of the Brotherhood have also been in type for several months:

I received your New Year’s Greeting letter today. I can assure you I should have been only too delighted to have been in my place and answered my name on the first Sunday of the year. I hope that will be the last one you will have to mark me absent, though I suppose you did not give me any “CB” this time. If it is not too late I send you a greeting. I am glad to know you are still carrying on, and hope you still have the same old good and pleasant hour as in the past, although I guess you are a bit depleted in numbers. But those that are left are the old stalwarts that made the good old Broad st PSA. So I guess it will be still be there when we come back; then us younger ones will have to do the donkey work for a bit…

I had a letter from the wife telling me you had sent me a Xmas parcel again this year. But I have seen nothing of it up till now. As you can guess it has been a bit of a disappointment to me, as I had been on the look-out for it, day by day. I begin to think it has gone west by now…

Best wishes to the Brotherhood, hoping the day is not far distant when I shall be able to roll up again of a Sunday with my card, and spend the hour with you.

A. E. Dance (OS)

I greatly appreciate the Christian regard and kind thoughts that such a welcome and very useful parcel conveys, and I trust that in the near future I may be among those who may be spared to return (from Italy) in safety, and once again be in our old places to enjoy those pleasant and helpful meetings…

I was very pleased to hear of the good work that is being done at Broad St for the wounded, and those men who are in khaki. I can just imagine how the kindness and thought are appreciated by those who visit the rooms.

C. C. Lovejoy (OS)

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, September 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“The great cause for which we are fighting – the cause of liberty, justice, peace and the fellowship of nations”

The Bishop of Oxford had special instructions for the Day of National Prayer.

THE BISHOP’S MESSAGE

The following extracts are from the Bishop’s message in the December Diocesan magazine:

Your prayers are specially asked:

That the nation as a whole may respond to the King’s summons to prayer on Jan. 6th.
For this nation and for our Allies, especially for Italy, Russia, Serbia and Roumania, and for Ireland.
For victory and peace.
For the munition worked, especially in our diocese.
For the wounded soldiers.
For those whom we have sent to minister to our troops in soul and body….

THE DAY OF NATIONAL PRAYER (JAN. 6)

I could have wished that the last Sunday of the year could have been appointed and not the Festival of the Epiphany. But Jan. 6 is appointed, and we must respond zealously to the King’s summons. Of course the proper Service of Epiphany must be retained, but

(i) At the Holy Communion, the collect, O God, the Ruler of all kings and people, should be said before the Blessing, and at the offertory the people should be bidden to pray according to the needs of the time for the nation and its allies with some fulness [sic].

(ii) In the Litany I sanction (for this special occasion) the substitution for the words ‘the Lords of the Council and all the nobility’, the words ‘the prime minister, the other ministers of the Crown, and all who hold command in the King’s forces’, and after the versicle ‘that it may please thee to bless and keep all thy people’, the additional versicles, ‘that it may please thee to enlighten the understanding and to fortify the courage of our whole nation and Empire’, and ‘that it may please thee to grant thy blessing to all our allies and to defend and restore their lands’. (This change and these added versicles might be printed on slips for the congregation or notified before the beginning of the Litany.)

(iii) The sermons should bring out the idea of the Epiphany as the manifestation of God among all nations, show how deeply we stand in need of such a manifestation today, and impress upon the people that the great cause for which we are fighting – the cause of liberty, justice, peace and the fellowship of nations – would truly, if it were realised, be a manifestation of God and a preparation for the kingdom of Christ, for which our most earnest and constant prayers are needed. The King’s proclamation should also be read. (It was in the newspapers on Nov. 8th.)

(iv) I would suggest that if there is a celebration of Holy Communion at 11, it be preceded by the Litany with the special versicles; and if the service at 11 is commonly morning prayer, that on this occasion (morning prayer having been already said in full at an earlier hour) there should be a special service which might run thus:

Hymn – Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.
Sermon to guide the thoughts and prayers of the day.
The Litany as above.
(Before the prayer of St Chrysostom) Psalms 46 and 72
A lesson, Isaiah xi to verse 11.

The parish roll of men serving their country should be read, and additional intercessions (such as are not included in the Litany) offered with spaces for silent prayer. One or two other hymns might be interspersed, and the concluding prayers of the Litany said.

(v) Evensong might be said up to the third collect (Psalms 46 and 72), followed by a sermon and special intercessions. Of suggestions for intercessions we have a sufficient store.

If a special form of prayer is issued with the authority of the Archbishops for the whole country, it is sanctioned for use in the diocese, and will modify the above directions.

C. OXON

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

“I expected to be home about Xmas, but instead I found myself in Italy”

Members of Broad Street Brotherhood were reminded of home at Christmas.

MESSAGES FROM BROTHERHOOD MEN

Below we give extracts from a few of the letters recently received from members of the Brotherhood who are serving with HM Forces. The writers of these – and many other – letters were most grateful for the Christmas parcels, but in making our extracts we have not thought it necessary to include their expressions of appreciation in every case.

Today I had a very pleasant surprise in receiving the parcel of very useful things you all had so kindly sent me. I thank you very much for your kind thoughts and wishes expressed in your helpful letter, and for all you have sent. What a splendid and helpful “Xmas Message” that is on the leaflet you enclose. I shall pass it on.
Stanley Gooch (OS)

Thank you so much for the parcel I received quite safely. It is good of you all to make our Xmas so bright by the splendid things that you sent along. I received the parcel on Xmas afternoon. I expected to be home about Xmas, but instead I found myself in Italy. But never mind. Let us hope that this terrible war will soon finish…

How I look forward to the time when I can sit in my old place in the choir and let rip our good old Brotherhood hymns…

I thought of Broad St and the Choir on Xmas Day when our Quartette Party sang “The Soldier’s Farewell”.

J E Graham (OS)

I beg to acknowledge the parcel that was so kindly forwarded to me from the Church and Brotherhood. Please convey my heartfelt thanks to all those who helped to add another kind expression of brotherly feeling to the absent ones. They can never know the pleasure it gives….

Although so far away it seems to bring us all right home to Broad St and the happy times we’ve had together…

I am sorry to say we have no Brotherhood here, but one of the Church Army Huts, which I can assure you is very acceptable to the boys at the Hospital. We have service morning and evening, and since I’ve been here I have not missed one. We have a Male Voice Choir of which I am a member, and I believe we could now put Broad Street M[ale] V[oice] Choir in a back seat. But please don’t tell the conductor this, as he might take it serious.

Herbert Tott (OS)

Will you kindly thank the members of the Church and Brotherhood who so kindly gave to the parcel you sent. I received it in the trenches…

I must thank God I have been spared to see another Xmas where there have been so many that have fallen. I have been very glad Mr Woolley ever induced me to join the Brotherhood…

We are having very cold weather, and the ground is thick with snow which makes it bad for getting about.

C Mills (OS)

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, April 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

War bread makes us itch

The poor quality bread issued in wartime sounds as though it may have caused allergic reactions in some people.

29th November 1917

F.B. went back to-night enroute to Italy he expects.

I went to bed at ½ past 9.

This war bread or something has given all of us a most irritating sensation like the itch.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

Soldiers dig allotments

The drive to maximise food production continued, while there was a change in leadership of the British Expeditionary Force in Italy.

24 November 1917

Soldiers came to dig allotments….

Herbert Plumer in command in Italy.

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

Germans “too downtrodden to rise”

Florence Vansittart Neale was glued to every wild rumour about the war, while Will Spencer’s love for his German wife had only grown stronger through their difficult years of exile in Switzerland.

Florence Vansittart Neale
November 1917
[inserted before 23 November]

Hear P. Innes says state of Germany awful. People too weak to rise, able bodied men only able to work half time, too downtrodden to rise.
Hear the Pope instigated the Italians to give up. He encouraged Austrian spies everywhere!

23 November 1917

Hear Boy cannot get Paris leave. Hope for January…. Hear most domestic servants to be requisitioned for work – only allowed 1 servant each person! Counting the gardeners!!!

Hear General Plumer & staff have been in Italy 3 weeks to see how many necessary to keep Italy. Our troops must go over Mt Cenes pass.

Hear through Marga that a Florentine Regiment who deserted was sent back to Florence with “traitors to their country” on their brassades.

Hear many battalions would willingly shoot 1 in 10 of strikers [illegible].

Will Spencer
23 November 1917

During the afternoon I called & had an interview with Herrn Fursprech Engeloch. Father need take no further steps to obtain attestation of my residence in Cookham before Jan. 19/15, as it may not be needed. As soon as the matter comes before the Gemeinde (I told him we had chosen Oberburg [as their official home town in Switzerland]. Herr E. will let Oberst Reichel know, in order that he can then write on our behalf, stating that we are friends of his, as he has kindly offered to do. Probably the best means of letting the German authorities know that I had become a Swiss subject would be to apply to have Johanna’s money sent here, mentioning thereby that I am a Swiss subject, & if that is questioned, to then place the matter in the hands of the Swiss Political Department. My naturalization cannot finally be ratified until the Grosser Rat has met again. It only meets twice a year, & will meet next, Herr E. said, in Feb. or March, or at the latest in April….

I was sorry to have to tell Johanna how long we might have to wait for the ratification of our naturalization. After we had had coffee in Johanna’s room, something moved me to tell her that I had learned to know her better & that she had become more to me than ever during these last years – in some ways years of trial – in Switzerland. Johanna had afterwards to go into the town, but she would not let me go with her, as I was not quite up to the mark, & she thought it better for me to rest. When she returned, she thanked me again for what I had said. I said that I was sorry that they were only words that I had spoken, that I felt such things were better expressed in deeds, but she comforted me with the assurance that what I had said had not been merely words.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)

Horrid Revolution in Russia – but may be better than the last one

If the February Revolution had shocked Europe, that of November (October in the Russian calendar) was to be even more earthshaking, as the Bolsheviks seized power.

10 November 1917

Horrid Revolution in Russia. Kerensky fled. Lenin at head. Can’t be worse – may be better!

Guildhall Banquet last night. Good speeches. Lloyd George not back from Italy. Combined Army Council – England, France & Italy [illegible] under Lord Wilson.

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

Italy going backwards

Florence Vansittart Neale was disheartened by the latest war news.

9 November 1917

Italy still going back. Hope Allied troops there.

Depressing.

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

Awful Italian debacle

The Italians’ defeat was getting even more disastrous.

30 October 1917
Awful Italian debacle.

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

Russia’s faithlessness leads to terrible news

Our Italian allies were under severe attack at the Slovenian town of Kobarid. Florence Vansittart Neale blamed the Russian Revolution, which had taken a turn for the worse, and allowed the Germans and Austrians to devote their efforts to other fronts. Meanwhile, Will Spencer had decided that after nearly three years in Switzerland he should seek citizenship.

Florence Vansittart Neale
26 Oct 1917

Terrible news about Italy. All owing to Russia’s faithlessness! We started again & made good progress.

Will Spencer
26 October 1917

Letter from Fursprech Engeloch: my application for naturalization will be granted within the next few days. To his buro after coffee, but closed.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX810/26)

“French very tiresome”

Florence Vansittart Neale heard a lot of gossip in her social circle, including criticisms of our allies’ expectations.

2 April 1917

Hear French very tiresome, expect us to use all our ships for them.

Hear we have to send coal to Italy, use private shipping – much against their will!

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

An offer to go to Italy

Phyllis Vansittart Neale was invited to nurse in Italy.

2 March 1917

Phyllis & May [illegible] to tea at Cliveden. Nurses forgot they had invited them! Phyllis offer from Devonshire House to go to Italy – field ambulance hospital at once, but refused it.

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

Italy may be troublesome

Cabinet Minister Alfred, Lord Milner (1854-1924) accompanied PM David Lloyd George to a international conference with the Allied leaders in Rome.

6 January 1917

Lloyd George & Lord Milner gone to Rome – settling, I hope, about Greece. Italy suggests being troublesome, I think.

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

Italy declares war on Germany

Our diarists Florence Vansittart Neale and William Hallam were busy in different ways. Italy had been at war with Austria for a year, but now formally added Germany to her enemies.

Florence Vansittart Neale
28 Aug 1916

Most lovely. Submarines about….

Went to Folkestone… Invited soldiers for Wed.

Italy declared war on Germany.

William Hallam
28th August 1916

Fine day. Gun work came in to-day so working overtime till ½ past 7.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8);
and William Hallam (D/EX1415/24)