The wounded soldiers are no longer able to get the cup of tea in the afternoon which they so much enjoyed

The Broad Street Chapel premises had been hosting soldiers since the start of the war. But shortages of food – and, worse, tea – were putting a dampener on things.

Our work amongst the soldiers has been somewhat interrupted by a new Army Regulation which precludes the provision of refreshments to soldiers, except between the hours of 6.30 and 9.0 pm. This means that the wounded soldiers are no longer able to get the cup of tea in the afternoon which they so much enjoyed. Nor can they be supplied with food of any kind. Coffee and cocoa may still be served; but these are not regarded as a satisfactory substitute for the “cup which cheers, etc”. Consequently we have very few men in the rooms which formerly were crowded.

We have to admit that the regulation is reasonable in view of the food shortage, and we can only hope that our wounded friends will soon get accustomed to the near [mistake for new?] conditions, and that we shall have them back again.

Men and women in khaki still crowd the rooms each evening, though they are now strictly rationed.

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


“We think of them very often”

Tilehurst men were sharing their experiences with those at home.

It has been delightful to receive letters from some of the men in khaki, or in navy blue, since writing the last set of notes, especially because those fellows show such unmistakeable signs of their appreciation of church life here in the earlier days. The stories of their experiences – religious and much otherwise! – are full of interest, and any of our friends who might have relatives formerly within our circle might let them know how a few lines would be appreciated. We think of them very often, and wish them the best.

Tilehurst Congregational Church section of Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, February 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“My Colt revolver is much too heavy for me”

Webley revolvers were the standard small firearm issued to officers, but there were not enough to go around, as Percy Spencer, suffering toothache, told his sister Florence.

21st (Res) Battalion Lon[don] Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Jan 15, 1918

My dear WF

We are still having vile weather. Today it has been snowing incessantly.

Yesterday I saw the dentist who said he would not pass me GR and gave me a chit to the effect that I was urgently in need of dental treatment. So today I have applied for ten days leave. I don’t suppose for a moment I shall get it, though short periods of leave are given very freely.

I should very much like some khaki wool for mending. One pair of socks has been mended with a whitish wool which looks unsightly.

I’m now on a revolver course, but don’t expect to do any good as my Colt revolver is much too heavy for me and I am endeavouring to change it for a Webley.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/5-6)

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:


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)

“Very proud of this honour”

Members of the Broad Street Brotherhood, the men’s group at the Congregational Church, enjoyed some vicarious pride in the progress of Victor Smith, their leaders son, while another elderly official decided to devote his full attention to managing the hospitality the church offered to soldiers in Reading.


Our first duty this month is to most cordially congratulate Captain L. Victor Smith, MC, on his well deserved promotion. We of the Brotherhood feel very proud of this honour which has been bestowed upon our President’s son.

Following on the visit of Miss Darker, the secretary of the War Savings Committee of Reading, the matter was again brought before our Brothers at a recent Sunday meeting, and an appeal for those who wished to form a War Saving Association on connection with the Brotherhood was made; but the response was not sufficient to warrant us starting one. Should any brothers wish to purchase War Savings Certificates, they can do so through the Savings Bank.

At the last General Committee, Brother W A Woolley tendered his resignation as secretary, explaining that he was obliged to give up this office on account of not enjoying such good health as he would wish, and to enable him to devote more time to the great work he has undertaken in connection with the Soldiers’ Welfare Committee.

The Soldiers’ Welfare Committee is catering for our wounded soldiers, and men and women in khaki, every afternoon and evening in the [Sunday] Schoolroom, and many of our brothers are helping in this good work; but still further help would be appreciated as the number of soldiers using the room is considerably increasing each day.

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

“Off to the realm of star-shells and whizz-bangs”

A former curate at St John’s Church left the parish to help with the YMCA’s support work behind the lines in France.


My dear friends

The vicar has given me this further opportunity of attempting to thank you all for the almost overwhelming generosity, in kind and in affection, which I have experienced while in St John’s parish and especially for the kind words and most liberal gifts of November 5th…

And now we are off to the realm of star-shells and whizz-bangs, where we shall revel in a pair of most formidable rubber boots and where one’s gaze will rest on little but the inevitable khaki; and one’s heart leaps at the thought. It is simply great to be going amongst it.

I have today obtained my new address which as far as I know for some time now will be, Rev. R W Morley, YMCA, APOS 51, BEF, France. I sincerely hope I may get an occasional letter at least, and also it would, I am sure, even before I see my new sphere of work, be a real help and delight if any friends having illustrated papers or magazines which lie idle after they have seen them would post them on to me for use in cheering and diverting the Tommies who use the hut…

Ever your sincere friend

R W Morley

Reading St. John parish magazine, December 1917 (D/P172/28A/24)

“We earnestly pray that our friend may be kept from all harm in the difficult and dangerous work in which he is engaged”

A former member of Broad Street Congregational Church had been reported killed, but there was better news from local hero Victor Smith.

We extend our sympathy, too, to the relatives of the late Sergeant A Middlemost, of the South African Contingent. Before emigrating to South Africa, Sergeant Middlemost was an active member of the Young Men’s Institute. In the early days of the war he joined up with the South African forces, and he has now paid the supreme sacrifice for his country. Those who knew him will ever cherish his memory with affection.

The many friends of Captain L. Victor Smith, MC, have been greatly pleased to hear of his recent promotion, and they would unite in heartiest congratulations to him and his parents – our esteemed friends Mr and Mrs Chas Steward Smith – and in good wishes for the future. Captain Smith is the first of our Broad Street representatives to win his captaincy in the present war, and he has done it in a remarkably short time. It is not long since we were rejoicing in the MC which he had won for conspicuous bravery, and now comes this further cause for gratification. We earnestly pray that our friend may be kept from all harm in the difficult and dangerous work in which he is engaged.

The way in which our schoolrooms are crowded each afternoon by wounded soldiers, and each evening by other men and women in khaki, gives ample proof of the need for such work as is now being efficiently done by the church. I [the minister] should like to thank the many ladies and gentlemen who have so readily come to our assistance in this matter. They need no assurance from me that it is abundantly worth while.

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

Adding a name to the list of those of our lads who went out to fight never to return again

Two brothers from Reading had different fates.

Park Church and Institute
Church News

Wilfred Smith

To our great sorrow we have this month to add his name to the list of those of our lads who went out to fight never to return again. Wilfred was killed in action on August 22nd. Unhappily there was a short period of painful suspense before the official news arrived. A letter from a comrade who had been injured by the same shell told how his inquiries as to Wilfred’s fate met with no satisfactory replies, and conveyed the clear impression that its writer suspected that the worst had happened. Following the arrival of that letter came days of silent suffering and fruitless inquiry. Eventually the usual form of announcement from the War Office settled all doubts, and destroyed all hopes. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his father and mother and brothers and sisters. Wilfred belonged to a family that has always been closely identified with Park, and he was one whose pleasing disposition easily won affection. Before joining the Army he was registrar at the Sunday School, and after joining continued to act in that capacity so long as he was about. Some of us will always carry in our minds a picture of him in his Khaki seated at the little table just inside our Hall doors quietly staring at the children’s cards as they arrived on the Sunday afternoon. And we had hoped that this Autumn might see him back there again, and not in his Khaki! But God has opened another door to him, and he has gone where that graciousness of disposition which made him willing to serve while here will be considered of the highest worth. May the Love which has taken him back to itself come very near to those who mourn his loss.

Leslie Smith (Wilfred’s brother) is soon to get his discharge from the army. The wound in his ankle seems to have led to a permanent disability which will rather affect his walking powers. We greatly regret this, but at the same time cannot but be glad that he will soon be back again in safety under the home roof, where no doubt his presence will help to bring comfort and courage.
Mr. Goddard, our Sunday School Secretary, is to our surprise among the wounded. We thought he would never get near the firing line, but he had only been in France quite a short time before he was back again in hospital. He is now in a convalescent camp at Eastbourne, and we are looking forward to a visit from him before long.

It was happy chance which brought the brothers Newey (one from Greece, one from France, and one from a home camp) home on leave together.

Park section of Trinity Congregational Magazine, November 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

Peace at any price?

The church of St John in Reading was willing to challenge its worshippers – and managed to cause a local controversy.


Our subject for last month, as announced on the posters, was ‘Peace at any Price,’ and it seems to have caused a certain amount of displeasure, especially to the soldiers in our neighbourhood. We would like therefore to explain that owing to a mistake a mark of interrogation was left out from the end of the title, which should have read, ‘Peace at any Price?’ The soldiers if they had turned up would not have heard a pacifist sermon, but alas they did not take the trouble to come, but contented themselves with illtreating one or two of our posters.

All the same we had a fine turn-up in spite of the absence of khaki, and the general feeling seemed to be in favour of the Vicar as he declared for ‘Peace at any Price,’ saying that no price is too great to pay, not for a mere armistice, but for real genuine and permanent peace, and the price that the nation has to pay just now is to go on fighting. And the spiritual application was listened to as intently as the remarks on the war.

Reading St. John parish magazine, October 1917 (D/P172/28A/24)

Not yet out of the wood

There was news of soldiers associated with Maidenhead Congregational Church.


We have not as much information this month as we would like, and shall be glad if friends will send us news of the boys month by month.

Harold Islip has been home on leave. After his gassing, he was in hospital for a week, and in a convalescent camp for a fortnight. It is about 17 months since his last leave. On return he went straight back to duty.

John Hedges paid his old school and church a visit on a Sunday in August. It is some six or seven years since he left us to seek his fortune in Australia. He returned in a khaki suit. After some hard experiences he is at present doing clerical work in London.

Reginald Hill still continues to improve though he must yet pass through another operation before he is out of the wood. But we hope to see him home about Christmas.

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

Wounded soldiers get a space for reading, writing and social intercourse

Broad Street Congregational Church’s latest effort was to offer organised entertainment to wounded soldiers who had been aimlessly wandering the streets.


On Monday October 15th, a new movement was inaugurated in our Schoolroom. For some time previously various members of the congregation has been impressed with the idea that something should be done for the Wounded Soldiers who gather each afternoon in Broad Street, and who appeared to need a place where they could rest (particularly in wet weather), play games, and be able to obtain light refreshments. It was felt that there was need of something of the same sort being done for other men and women in khaki in the town in the evening. These matters were considered by the Church members, and ultimately it was decided that an attempt should be made to meet the needs referred to, and a Committee immediately got to work, with the result that the Schoolroom and two adjoining rooms were ready for occupation by the soldiers on the 15th.

Subsequent events have proved that the needs were even greater than we thought. From the very first the undertaking has been a success. The various Military Hospitals and billeting places had been informed, by printed handbill, of our arrangements, and this was all that was necessary. Almost as soon as the doors were opened, our wounded friends began to arrive, and every afternoon since they have been coming to Broad Street in large numbers. Each evening, too, there is a good attendance of men and women in khaki. Our visitors are allowed to amuse themselves in the way they deem best. Some make good use of the writing room, in which writing-paper and envelopes are provided without cost; whilst others join in one or other of the various games. Magazines and papers are supplied for those who care to read them; and the piano is in almost constant use by those who enliven the whole proceedings. The original intention was to try the experiment for a month, but the success was such that it has now been decided to continue indefinitely. It has also been decided to meet a further need by opening the rooms for reading, writing and social intercourse each Sunday afternoon from 4 to 6.15 pm.

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

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:


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)

Holidaying dressed in khaki, with a string of medal ribbons

Holidaying in Cornwall with his Cookham born wife Florence, John Maxwell Image noted a senior officer on leave.

Polpurrian Hotel
S Cornwall
12 Aug. ‘17
My most dear old man

The Hotel is becoming abominably full. This morning we beheld, in khaki, and a string of medal ribbons, a Brigadier General…

Very affect.

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

Bread and butter, yes! real butter at khaki socials

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


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)

Conscientious objectors honoured

It is unusual to see a conscientious objector listed on a church’s roll of honour.

Spencer’s Wood Roll of Honour.

Tom Allen, Canadian.
Cpl. W. Appleby, R.B.
*Edward Beales, R.B.
Alfred Beken, R.F.A.
*Arthur Bradfield,R.B.
*Archie Butler, Territorials.
Fred Card, R.E.
Charlie Clacey, R.N.
Tom Clements, R.F.C.
Will Clements, A.S.C.
Ted Clements, R.F.A.
Frank Cocks, R.B.
Charlie Cocks, R.B.
Harry Coffill, R.N.
Charlie Day, R.B.
Dick Day, Devon Regt.
Jacob Didcock, R.N.
Cpl. Fred Didcock.
Sgt. W.Doherty, Man. Regt.
*Jim Double, R.E.
Percy Double, R.B.
Chappie Double, R.B.
Sgt. Kenneth Eggleton, A.M.C.
E. Eggleton.
E. Foster, R.E.
Sgt. Hawkins, R.B.
Reginald Jewell. R.B. (wounded).
Reginald Lee, R.A.M.C.
Edgar Lee, R.E.
Wilfred Lowe, R.F.C.
Leonard Luckwell, Coldstream Guards.
Walter Luckwell, R.F.A.
A. Marcham, R.B.
A.H. Marcham, R.B.
Jolly Middleton.
Arthur Middleton.
Sydney Middleton, R.F.C.
Harry Moss, A.S.C.
Arthur Moss, A.S.C.
Albert Povey, R.B.
William Povey, R.B. (prisoner of war).
– Sloper (C. objector).
Fred Swain, A.S.C.
Bert Swain, A.S.C.
Leonard Swain, Coldstream Guards.
S. Tiller.
*Alfred Watkins, Canadian.
George Webb, Berks Yeomanry.
Edwin Webb, Berks Yeomanry.
Charles Webb, Berks Yeomanry.
Sgt. Wallace Webb, C.C.
Stanley Webb, R.F.A.
Lieut. William Wheeler, C.Dr.
Owen Wheeler, R.E.
Lce-Cpl. H. Wheeler, R.B.
*Laurie White, R.N.
Frank Wilson, R.F.A.
William Wilson, R.B.
Fred Wiseman, East Kent.

*Has made the supreme sacrifice for King and Country.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, March 1917 (D/EX1237/1/12)