Camouflage with a vengeance

The Images experienced a power cut as a result of an air raid, and heard some interesting Navy news.

29 Barton Road
22 Oct. ‘17
My Most Dear Old Man

On Friday evening we were at dinner – the clock, I remember, was in the middle of striking 8 – when, in a flash, down went the electric light, and up bounced Florence to find whether it was so all through the house. It was! and we had in a candle, to the accompaniment of bombs and anti-aircraft guns, seemingly 2 miles away to the north. I wonder, were they trying for the aerodrome at Hardwick? for they are reported to have attempted that at T in Norfolk. Well, we went unconcernedly to bed, and were awakened by a glare at 2.10 – sign that the raiders were clear of England. But oh how humiliating! They can drop bombs at will, and unharmed, in England. Once cross to France, and they are chivvied and hustled, go wherever they attempt. The French can bring them down. Never has there been such a field day before, for Zepps.

Some friends, fresh from Liverpool, told me the other day of the steady silent inundation of Americans now overflowing the place. Especially of the hundreds upon hundreds of Yankee aeroplanes, beautifully packed, daily landed on the quays.

In one dry dock these people came across a large Yankee man-of-war, painted blue with pink spots (or was it, pink with blue spots. Those were the colours anyhow.) Camouflage with a vengeance: but it has the effect of destroying outlines and muddling them up at a distance. This they observed especially in the case of HMS Ramillies lying out in the stream – a battleship, painted the most bizarre horror, chiefly black and white stripes.

All this is very fine – but as today’s Daily Mail asks, in Italics, ‘Who commands the North Sea?’ The British navy may be the ‘incomparable’ weapon we hear it called, but it is bluffed by the Huns and its convoys and their escort snapped up by a small force of 2 raiders, almost in hearing of the Grand Fleet. The Kaiser’s vaunt of Germany’s future being on the water looks justified – Nelson went to the Gulf of Riga – but we can’t.

Our united love to you both.
Ever yours,
Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

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A pill for the Kaiser

The pro-German King Constantine of Greece was forced to abdicate by the Allies and his own government, in favour of his younger son Prince Alexander (1893-1920), passing over the elder boy, Prince George. The king and his wife Sophia, sister of the Kaiser, went into exile. Florence Vansittart Neale rejoiced.

14 June 1917
Tino gone! & family & suite leaving P. Alex to take his place. Pill for the Kaiser.

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

We are not fighting the German nation

John Maxwell Image reminds us all that the war was not really against the German people, but against their leaders, the militarised Prussian aristocracy (the ‘Junkers’) and royal family.

29 Barton Road
3 April ‘17

I should like to announce that we are fighting Hohenzollerns and the Junker Oligarchy – not the German nation.

Your affect.
Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

Mutiny in Russia, revolution in the East End

The worst mutiny of the Russian Revolution took place at Kronstadt in March, when two admirals were among the officers murdered. Admiral Viren was the unfortunate commander to be cut into pieces.

1917

Hear that Russian sailors killed all naval officers. Cut up an Admiral & sent pieces to each ship!!

In air raid in London hear police say children might press on the yellow from poison in shells.

They say air raids purposely go East End so as to make the people revolutionary.

Hear Stepney very revolutionary. Hate the King, say the war caused by personal quarrel between our King & Kaiser.

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

The greatest of inventions that this war has produced

Percy Spencer was instructed by sister Florence to write to her husband John Maxwell Image about a new kind of weapon – the Stokes mortar, invented by Wilfred Stokes in 1915.

Mar. 13. 1917
My dear John

I’m under orders from WF to write and tell you “all about the Stokes gun”, with a sort of threat that if I don’t I shall forfeit your affection. Do please give her some lessons on the ‘power of command’.

And now to show she needs none, I’ll tell you, not everything, but a few things about our famous little strafer.

I suppose the character of this war was bound to lead to the development of the mortar. For one thing, in a vast number of cases the distance between the opposing trenches is so short that to hit the enemy trench without damaging one’s own demands closer shooting than modern artillery has yet completely achieved. Hence, as I say, the development of the mortar which from its size and easy portability to forward positions was bound to become an important weapon for short range work. But no one who saw the primitive weapons of this kind which we possessed in 1915 had much hope that the “wonderful Stokes gun”, the existence of which was at first a carefully guarded secret from the Huns, would prove the success and surprise to the enemy that was expected by the experts.

Its advance upon old types was at once recognised, but I do not think its unique effectiveness would have been thoroughly appreciated, but for the perseverance and pluck of our men who work the guns.

Of course owing to their weight and difficulties of ammunition supply, all guns, mortars and mechanical contrivances for trench warfare diminish rapidly in value as an attach advances, but for preparing the way for an assault I believe the Stokes gun is one of our most valuable weapons, and perhaps our most valuable trench weapon. I should not be surprised if it were ultimately classed as the greatest of inventions that this war has produced, excepting, of course, the Kaiser’s utterances.

I’m told its rapidity of fire has the most terrorising effect and in one heavy battle last year, when the preliminary preparation had not been thoroughly completed, it was our Stokes strafe (creating I believe, a record for volume of fire) which not only ripened the harvest for our fellows, but actually gathered it in, for the Huns never waited for them, but ran in with their hands up.

Curiously enough, arising out of a discussion in the mess yesterday upon the reward of the great inventor, some said that the joy of personal achievement was his real reward, others that it was determined purely by the extent of his cash profit, and another that his reward was essentially the consciousness of having benefitted humanity, the latter opinion being cited as Mr Stokes’ recompense; and upon its being suggested that the last was rather a matter of point of view, like a true Christian and Britisher, he challenged the suggestion and stood to his statement.

So, altho’ I’m afraid Mr Censor will not pass any remarks as to the principle of the gun, its rate of fire, ranges and kinds, anyway you’ll be satisfied that it’s a bonnie weapon [censored].

A little while ago WF asked me if a report of “our raid” was true. It was indeed a champion affair, never do I remember such a tornado of fire, but as you will have realised, beyond the broad facts that there was a raid, and I believe the most successful one ever made by the British, the newspaper report is sheer nonsense. The gorgeous gentleman who resides in comfort somewhere behind and seems to have the newspaper glory of this Division peculiarly under his care, succeeds only in getting well outside the truth, and making us appear ridiculous in the eyes of those who do know what is and what is not possible.

Recently I have missed 2 opportunities for souvenirs. One, the top of a brass candlestick discharged from a shrapnel shell at us last night – whether Fritz has grown humorous or artistic, I don’t know, but it strikes me as a rather charming idea of conveying “evening hate”. The other was very curious. In clearing the manure refuse etc from a farmyard midden a stone’s throw from here a Uhlan, intact, with lance complete, was discovered standing upright in the mire. Unfortunately he had been completely souvenired before I heard about him, otherwise you should have had a morsel. It would be interesting to know how he met his death.

Well, I think that’s all the news I have to tell you just now. Life is fairly lively, and we still have to do a good deal of shell dodging.

However it’s all towards the end of the war.

With love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/10/11)

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)

The Kaiser retaliates in bombastic style

Florence Vansittart Neale reports the latest news.

13 January 1917
Wrote letters. Kaiser very angry with Allies’ answer to President Wilson. Retaliates in bombastic style.

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

Woke up and cussed the Kaiser

The war was hitting home, with our diarists. William Hallam in Swindon faced regular air raids, while Florence Vansittart Neale’s friends had been bereaved. Seymour Court in Marlow belonged to wealthy local brewer Thomas Wethered (1832-1921), whose daughter Edith was married to John Danvers Power (1858-1927), a barrister. It was their son, Lieutenant John Wethered Power (1894-1916), who had been killed in France.

William Hallam
26th September 1916

Last night at 12.30 the hooter blew a Zepp warning. I woke up, cussed the Kaiser and went to sleep again after a time.

Florence Vansittart Neale
26 September 1916

To Seymour Court. The Powers had just lost their son.

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

A record of which Burghfield might be proud

The war’s anniversary was commemorated on the 5th of August in Burghfield. It was an opportunity to take stock of the impact of the war locally.

THE SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF THE DECLARATION OF WAR

On Saturday, 5th August, at the Handicraft Room, Mrs Bland’s School, a well-attended meeting was held to commemorate this anniversary. Sir Wyndham Murray, as chairman, opened the proceedings with a few patriotic remarks which were heartily received; and was succeeded by Brigadier General F. Bridgeman of Beech Hill, late Scots Guards, and formerly member for Bradford, who, in an excellent speech, drew a striking contrast between the great Duke of Wellington and our foe the Kaiser. The well-known inscription on the Duke’s monument at Strathfieldsaye [sic] records that “he was honoured abroad for in all the might of conquest he was always just, considerate, and humane” and “he was beloved at home because he had great power, and ever used it well”. Such a record could never truly be written of the Kaiser. In concluding he quoted the message given to Joshua when he became commander-in-chief of the army of Israel, “Have not I commanded thee, be strong and very courageous, be not afraid neither be thou dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee wheresoever thou goest”. He moved the following resolution, “That this meeting of the parishioners of Burghfield expresses its inflexible determination to continue the struggle to a victorious end”.

Colonel A. Welby, late Scots Greys, Secretary of the Patriotic Fund, and formerly member for Taunton (who said that he remembered camping on Burghfield Common in 1872 at autumn manoeuvres), seconded. He gave a stirring account of the performances of our Army and Navy, and spoke hopefully of the war.

The resolution having been put, and carried unanimously, Mr Willink, in proposing a vote of thanks to the chairman and speakers, which was played by the parish in relation to the war, and particularly to the 240 names upon the Roll of Honour. These names were nearly all names of persons residing in Burghfield at the time of enrolment (not counting those rejected as medically unfit); some however were names of men who, though they had left the parish, had been born and bred in it, and were fairly entitled to be included. It was a record of which Burghfield might be proud. (Mr Willink hopes that parishioners will study from time to time the Roll of Honour, now hanging in the church porch, and will tell him of any omissions, or misdescriptions, or alterations, which ought to be attended to.) Mr Lousley, seconding, paid a warm tribute to the services of women in Burghfield, both on the land and in war work of various kinds. Nor were the Scouts forgotten, nor the 600 hospital appliances made on that very room, nor the eggs and vegetables sent to the hospitals in abundance.

The proceedings ended with the singing of the National Anthem. The resolution has been duly sent to the Committee for Patriotic Organisations, to be added to the numerous identical resolutions passed more or less simultaneously at similar meetings throughout the country.


Burghfield parish magazine, October 1916 (D/EX725/3)

The war will bring about theocracy

Lady Mary Glyn wrote a long letter to Ralph. She had strong, if eccentric, views about politics, and was almost as shocked by Australian soldiers’ democratic nature as she was by the Easter Rising.

April 26 1916
Peter[borough]

My darling own blessed Scraps

Easter Day makes me long for you, but all days make me long for you….

I distinguished myself at Windsor by getting bad with indigestion, but it was good to be with John & Maysie, & see them so happy in another Windsor spell of work, and yet being together. He heard when we were there that another operation will not be necessary, but as his Medical Board gave him 3 months they have taken a very good house, “Essex Lodge”, the present house being required by the owner, and this is a much better one with a garden & tennis ground. John is of course very busy, and up early, & at work till late. He looks well, and is in good spirits, evidently liking his work. We saw Cecily Hardy & her Giant, and Tony & Sylvia, & a new Coldstream acquisition – a very Highland McGregor who till lately was engineering in India – quite a new type in the Brigade!

The Political Crisis made those days full of excitement, but none of these soldier people seemed to care, or to look at the papers, and were sure the King would come whatever happened. And he did, but the Crisis was supposed to be over, and the Cabinet once more firmly (?) in the saddle of Compromise. Now the Secret Session, and the result whatever it may be of that settlement is to be made known to so many talkers & plotters and schemers that it will be impossible for all the cats to be in the bag long. Meantime there is a shaken confidence, a longing for a leader other than we have, for this strange growth of freedom to know its limitation, and to recognise its own dependence on laws not made by man, but inflexible because “just and true”, and belonging to the Kingdom that will endure throughout all ages. When we really will, that will come, and its obedience, and we shall learn what freedom is. It does not lie with Democracy, or in Kaiser rule, or in a Republic, but it does in a Theocracy – and my belief is that it is to be restored through this War and “tumult of the nations”….

France is surely ahead of us in the spirit of a new vision, & Russia is invincible because of that vision long accepted – and we wait for it, and you all are bringing it nearer.

(more…)

The Germans’ well laid plans

Ralph Glyn’s parents both wrote to him in Egypt after a visit to the Wake family at Courteenhall, whose father had just died. Joan (1884-1974), one of the sisters of Sir Hereward (1876-1963) mentioned here, was to become a pioneering archivist. One of the Wakes claimed to have evidence that the German invasion of Belgium had been long planned in advance. The Enver referred to is Ismail Enver Pasha (1881-1922), the Turkish Minister of War who had led that country into alliance with Germany and was responsible for the Armenian Holocaust of 1915.

March 21st 1916

Yesterday we went to Courteenhall and had a cosy hour & more with the dear people. It is good to know that Hereward wishes his mother & sisters to remain on. He has bought a house in London, & is now going back to the front as Lt Colonel, on OGS 1st Grade & will be with General Mackenzie’s Division. He goes about end of April, & he is now at Aldershot taking up his new work. Ida is to be his agent for Northants property, assisted by a good bailiff, & he has secured a good man for the Essex property who can always advise Ida when necessary. Phyllis is back at work nursing at Abbeville. Joan is at home helping all round. Lady Wake pays rent, & keeps up the house…

There is a most interesting & amusing nephew of Lady Wake’s in this Hotel, a Major Wake who has seen all sorts of service in E Africa, Egypt and Ulster!! And in between a recruiting job at home & Ulster he fought [for?] Turk against Italy! While so employed he shared a tent with 3 German officers who told him their well laid plans exactly! Even to the breaking through Belgium to destroy France, knowing her Vosges defences were too strong for other swift accomplishment of victory – but France destroyed, they would take us and Holland on – no wish to destroy either as all Teutonic peoples should come into the Zollverein which would then rule the world. Our practicality was required to wed with their “idealism”, & when this union was complete “we” would together be invincible. They said they liked us, but as long as we were separate they could not do anything, & must always come up against us. They expected all their colonies to be taken, but then at the crisis our Fleet was to be destroyed, & then they would regain their colonies & seize all ours. All this was described with perfect freedom to the English soldiers, and the answer to his enquiry “What do you wish to do with us”. They said this was all open unconcealed knowledge, and that we had such a wretched Government we would never fight, & though our Govt knew they would not prepare, so the thing was “fait accompli”. (more…)

Throwing darts at the Kaiser

A number of entertaining evenings were held for wounded soldiers in Earley. One suspects that throwing darts at the Kaiser’s anatomy was a particular favourite.

EARLEY WOUNDED SOLDIERS ENTERTAINMENT FUND

I regret the delay in publishing this report, which has been unavoidable. Since my last, and up to the time of writing, five more Entertainments have been given: on each occasion about 50 guests have been invited, including 25 on one occasion from the Canadian Contingent at Bearwood. With the exception of the special event on the 29th December, the proceedings have been similar to those already described.

Contributors to the funds have given further help and attended willingly to assist, and there has been no lack of musical and other talent in providing amusement for our guests, amongst them being several members of the ASC stationed at Earley, Miss Marjorie Francis, Miss Elsie Francis, Mrs Dracup, Mrs Hart and Mrs Dowsett, Miss Elsie Smith (who has been of great help at the piano), Mr Tunbridge, Mr H Walker, Mr Tom Morley, Mr Edwin Love with his party, the Misses Francis and Hayward, and Mr Maurice Love, in “Mixed Pickles” and “Bridget’s Blunders”, have greatly assisted in completing the success of each event.

The introduction of a further original game by Mr Love in substitution for pinning the tail on the donkey has been a nearly lifesize picture on a board of the Kaiser, numbered in the vital parts for darts to be thrown at, and which has excited keen competition.

The loan of motor cars by Mrs Joel, Mr Barnard, Mr Ricard Lea, Mr Helps, Mr Heelas, Mr A C Jordan, Mr Bonnett, Mrs Dunlop, Mrs Evans and Lieut. Usmar (who with his wife we are sorry to lose from the district as they took such a great interest in our work) has been a real boon, as without this help our expenses in hire of conveyances would have been very considerable.

A further list of donors and of gifts in kind will appear in due course. The present position of the fund is

Cash received to date £41.9.5

And paid out (exclusive of the last Entertainment and Account for Hire of Cars) £27.6.10.

The committee will gladly welcome any further help in cash, loan of motors or gifts in kind so as to continue these Entertainments.

Chas J. Howlett
Hon. Treasurer
28/2/16

Earley St Peter parish magazine, March 1916 (D/P191/28A/23/1)

Some hustle training recruits

New recruit and trainee gunner Harold Blackall wrote to his sister Annie Ellen Phoebe Blackall, describing his experiences as part of the great war machine.

17.8.15
17 Battery
13 Hut
Topsham Barracks
Exeter
Dear Nell

I have been inoculated this morning & have 48 hours sick leave… Recruits’ drill starts 9 am, drill through 11 am. They are rushing them through here with some hustle. Sunday Church Parade at 8 am, parade at 6.15 pm again at 8 am for church at 11 am for ordinary drill 6.15 to 5 & sometimes 7 pm, every day, Sunday & week day. They reckon a man is fit for active service in 2 months or less if he has brains. No leave. The War Office grant leave from Thursday night till Wed morning & free railway warrant once after he’s passed out as a gunner to enable him to go home once before going to the Front, so if you would be so kind as to take this on for me (of course you will have a free hand), I should be very much obliged when you write to me again, put the number 102277 under my name as I have only just got your letter because they said there was no number, only officers are allowed to have their letters sent with no number – we are only parts of the gun. The postmark obliterated the number you sent because it was over my name.

They send about 50 from here every week so you see there is as I said some hustle.

Some say the RFA are catching it hot out there, others say it is for an enormous bust up for Kaiser Bill, anyhow the fact remains all the RFA Depots in the country are bunging ‘em out there….

Your loving bro, H Blackall

Letter from Harold Blackall to his sister (D/EX1485/2/9/4)

Miners get all they want

You can read between the lines and see how displeased Florence Vansittart Neale was that the miners’ strike had been a success.

21 July 1915
Strike ended. Miners get all they want. Work beginning again.

Russians retreating. Fear Warsaw will be taken. Kaiser & Kaiserin to enter in triumph!!

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

Over by October?

Florence Vansittart Neale was impressed with the takeup of the new War Loan, but not hopeful that the war would end soon.

10 July 1915

War seems endless. Kaiser says! it will end by October!! War loan very satisfactory, 500,000,000, not counting 15,000,000 small deposits.

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