The good work has been beyond all praise

It was no longer necessary to entertain soldiers.

MINISTER’S JOTTINGS

For a very long time our schoolrooms have been devoted to the almost exclusive use of the men and women in khaki in our midst. The need for this no longer exists, and so it has been decided to “close down”. The good work done in this way has been beyond all praise, and I should like to thank most heartily all those ladies and gentlemen who have carried it through so successfully.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, March 1919 (D/N11/12/1/14)

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There is still a very stiff bit of road to be travelled before the desired end can be reached

Some now wanted to move forward instead of looking back at the war.

MINISTER’S JOTTINGS

Without the slightest misgiving I can most cordially wish every reader of these notes a very glad and happy New Year. It is a great joy to be able to do this once more. During the past four years of strife and bloodshed it has not been possible; but we are now at the dawning of a brighter and better day. We thank God for the answer to our many prayers, and we take courage. There is still a very stiff bit of road to be travelled before the desired end can be reached. But the future is bright with promise, and we shall earnestly pray that the terms of the peace, which we eagerly anticipate, may be such as shall make all war impossible in future.

Meantime, we must get to work to set our house in order. During the time of war we have been compelled to suspend several of our ordinary activities. The time has now come when we must begin to think about renewing them. Though our energies have been diverted from the usual channels they have not been wasted. Far from it. Excellent work has been done in providing hospitality for the men and women in khaki in our midst, and we cannot be too grateful to the splendid band of helpers who have carried the work through so successfully. But with the coming of peace the necessity for this service will be gone. Reconstruction is the word which is on all lips in these days. Let us seriously tackle our own problems of reconstruction, and thus help to ensure the happy future for which we pray.

BROTHERHOOD

Again we are at the beginning of a new year, and at this time there is a tendency to look backward, when we cannot help remembering the terrible tragedy of the last four years. But turning and looking forward, we see a brighter time coming for the whole world.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, January 1919 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“Rarely, if ever, before, have we been called upon to mourn the loss of so many of our friends, in such a short time as during the past month”

Broad Street Church had endured many sad losses through the war, and the toll was not yet over.

CONDOLENCES

It is our sad duty to report from time to time the death of members of the church and congregation. But rarely, if ever, before, have we been called upon to mourn the loss of so many of our friends, in such a short time as during the past month….

Private Ernest Layton Francis, son of our esteemed Deacon, Mr Ernest Francis, and Mrs Francis, was well known and greatly beloved at Broad Street. Up to the time of his enlistment in the London Scottish Regiment he was a most faithful teacher in the Sunday School, and he exerted a powerful influence for good over his boys. Both teachers and scholars alike bear testimony to his patient and enduring work, and they all deplore his loss.

Mr Witcombe, Chief Warder at Reading Gaol, had been a loyal member of the church since 1911. During the whole of the war period he has given unstinted and devoted service in the work for men and women in khaki attending our rooms, and his cheery presence was always an inspiration. His early and unexpected death from pneumonia has fallen as a sad blow upon his wife and family.

Mr Harry Haydon was, in early days, a loyal worker in connection with the C[hristian] E[ndeavour] Society and Sunday School… a few months ago he had to join the army, but, as he was never strong, the period of training proved too great a strain on his constitution, and the influenza scourge found in him a victim. He leaves a wife and two young children to mourn his loss…

[Miss Rosa Millard and Miss Christina Codiferre are also named as among those dying of influenza.]

The influenza epidemic, which has been raging throughout the country lately, seems to have been worse in Reading than in most places. For several weeks the Sunday School had to be closed. So, too, had the Soldiers’ Rooms. Very many of or Broad Street homes have been visited, and some, unfortunately, with fatal results. It is a relief to know that the evil is now abating, and we trust that those friends who are still suffering may speedily be restored to health.

PTE E. LAYTON FRANCIS

The deepest sympathy has gone out from our whole community to Mr and Mrs Ernest Francis and their family, in the sad loss they have sustained through the death of their second son, Private E. Layton Francis. Layton Francis was a fine type of strong, intelligent, upright manhood, and his passing is deeply regretted by all who knew him.

When the war broke out he was anxious to volunteer at once for active service, but he was prevailed upon to complete his course of training as a Chartered Accountant before doing so. After successfully passing his final examination, he voluntarily joined up in the London Scottish Regiment, and saw much active service in France, Macedonia and Palestine. Readers of the magazine will remember the interesting descriptions he sent of various places in the Holy Land.

At Es Salt, on May 1st, 1918, he was seriously wounded in the right arm. After undergoing treatment in several Military Hospitals abroad, he ultimately reached England and was taken to the Military Hospital at Napsbury, near St Albans. Here, unfortunately, he was seized with influenza, and, pneumonia supervening, his weakened constitution was unequal to the strain.

We give below a couple of extracts from the many letters received by his parents. They testify to the very high regard in which he was universally held:

From a school friend:

“To me Layton was the best chum I ever had, or can hope to have. In fact he was more than a friend, he held the place of a brother. He was a real gentleman, and the life that God has taken will always be a great example and ideal for me to live up to.”

From a friend and former worshipper at Broad Street:

“Although I was considerably older than Layton you know what friends he and I were whilst I was at Reading. It was a friendship of which I was proud. He was the finest boy I have known. He was such a splendid combination of strong character, high principle and lofty ideals. He was absolutely straight – too great a character either to tell a lie or to harbour a mean thought. He was a fine example of young muscular Christianity.”

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

“Suppose it had been the other thing, not victory but defeat”

The vicar of Reading St Giles was grateful the war had ended in victory at last.

Notes from the Vicar

S. Martin’s Day, November the 11th, will always be remembered as the day on which the armistice was signed and hostilities ceased. It was a wonderful deliverance for which everyone was devoutly thankful. It was most encouraging to see the way groups of people were to be found in church all that day thanking God for his great mercies; and many made their Communion and were present at the Eucharist next morning. On Tuesday evening there was a special service of thanksgiving, which was well attended. The service began with hymn 166, followed by Psalm 100, Isaiah lx1. Was read by the Rev. H.C. Frith; then psalm 46 was sung, and a second lesson (Rev.xx1. 1-9) was read by the Rev. F. Young. The Creed was recited and a special Thanksgiving prayers were offered by the Vicar. The other Hymns were 379, 165 and 298. After the procession a solemn Te Deum was sung. The Vicar gave a short address, taking as his text Psalms 29; verse 10 “The Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.” Only a few words. Thank God. Peace at last! That is the one thought that fills every heart to-day. Thank God. We are met here tonight, at short notice, to say, consciously and deliberately, the same words. Thank God, Peace! Our first thought then must be – it could not be anything else-the thought of God “The snare is broken and we are delivered.” How has this come about? As was said wisely in the Times on Saturday: “No doubt we are right in ascribing our victory to the skill and valour of the men of all ranks, who, as the allied nations, for more than four years, have fought for us by land and sea and air. By their amazing valour and indomitable spirit at last are enemies have been defeated. But they could not have fought thus in their own strength. He is of an uncomprehending mind who does not lift up his heart to the lord of hosts by whose power our valiant men and our allies have attained the victory.”

So said the Times, and that is full of significance. To God alone we ascribe this happy victory. Peace after four years and a quarter of war, and such war as the world has never known. To realize the blessing of our peace we have only to recall those four and a quarter years. Shall we, who are here in this ancient parish church, ever forget them – their darkness, and their sadness, their bereavement and their desolation. It is only when we remember what these years have meant to all classes, the mansion and the cottage alike, that the word peace becomes not merely a passing emotion. And first, then, we turn to God and thank him, as we did in our Eucharist this morning as we are doing now. In God’s name and in His help, then, we shall try to celebrate this gift of peace as something which comes from God.

I could not but help feeling yesterday morning as I heard the syrens and whistles go at eleven o’clock, and I am sure you must have felt the same: suppose it had been the other thing, not victory but defeat. For we have been in great danger of disaster not once or twice. Perhaps how near defeat has been to us few here realise. Dangers across the seas, difficulties at home, we never acquiesced in the thought of defeat, but we knew, those of us who were wise, it was possible. Well, as we think of that, ought it not all the more make us thank God for this great deliverance. Thank God that he has heard our prayers at each Eucharist and at out Intersession Services. It has been said that “it is often harder to acknowledge God in success than in defeat.” Popular language shows how men are more ready to confess his presence in disaster than in success. For one man who is ready to ascribe victory to God, a hundred will declare that pain and sorrow and defeat are the work of his vengeance. And therefore, it is all the more necessary that we should at once thank Almighty God who has brought us safely through these years and now gives us the blessing of peace.

There is no one here who does not feel more than ever with those whose rejoicing at the great victory and at Peace is alas touched with feelings of sorrow and sadness, as they think of those loved ones lying in nameless graves or buried beneath the little white cross. “If only he could have lived to see this day”; well perhaps, truly he sees this day “elsewhere.” We do not forget the gallant dead, who poured out their life’s blood on the field or in the hospitals or on the seas. It was not we who won this war: it was the soldiers and sailors: all gratitude to them, the Dead and the Living who have won our Peace.

I end as I began. Our first thought is one of gratitude to God. Ere this service closes we shall solemnly sing the Te Deum. But, it is not the voice of mere human exaltation which benefits the occasion of this service. It is rather as the Te Deum itself will suggest the acknowledgement of the divine power, in comparison with which all men of all nations are but things of the day. “He increaseth the nations and destroyeth them. He enlargeth nations and chasteneth them again” So we, to-night are here to hope the hope that is born of reliance upon him, the God of our fathers. Who has blessed us in the past and who will not fail nor forget us if we are true to him. “Hope in God for I shall yet thank him. Who is the help of my countenance and my God”.

On the following Sunday (12th), a great many communions were made, and there was an especially large congregation at the high celebration. In the afternoon, a special service of praise and thanksgiving was held for the cadets of the 4th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment and their friends, the church being nearly full. At festal evensong the church was crowded, over 1,500 being present, and many could not get admission. The flags of the allies were carried in the procession by officers and men in khaki, and the service a never to be forgotten one ended with the Te Deum.

We have, indeed, very much to thank God for.

Reading St Giles parish magazine, December 1918 (D/P96/28A/35)

A year of real pleasure, and a great boon to the men

The hospitality offered at Broad Street Church to the wounded and soliders in training continued.

SOLDIERS’ WELFARE

A meeting of the Soldiers’ Welfare Committee was held in the Institute Room on Monday, October 21st, when a large number of the workers attended. The President (Rev. W. M. Rawlinson) occupied the chair, and in a short speech expressed his feeling of profound indebtedness to all the helpers for their loyal and devoted service throughout the year just ended. He made special reference to the untiring and self-denying labours of the Hon. Secretary (Mr W A Woolley), and his remarks in this connection were cordially endorsed by all present.

The secretary read his report of work done, and the Hon. Treasurer (Mr W J Brain) submitted a financial statement which showed that after paying the ordinary expenses, there was a balance in hand to meet certain other outstanding liabilities. The report and financial statement were both adopted, and attention was then given to a number of suggestions for the better working of our Khaki Club.

We give below a few extracts from the secretary’s report:

“We opened the rooms on October 15th, 1917, and they have been open every day since, except on three occasions: Good Friday, Easter Monday and the day of the Garden Sale. Very few of us thought, when we opened, that we should keep open so long; but the need has been great, and as far as I can see, it will be a long time yet before we can think of closing it down. The large numbers of men and women using the rooms prove, without doubt, that they appreciate being able to come in every day.

Our first week’s takings amounted to £13.13s, and gradually the figures increased until we reached the very satisfactory sum of £41.12.2d. That was one week in January last. Then in February the new regulations were put into force by the Military, and our takings went down immediately to £18, and for one week in May we only took £8.11s.10d.

This went on until August. Since then we have been allowing the men to buy a little more food, and we are now taking £23 to £25 per week.

The wounded especially attend in large numbers during the afternoons, and steps must be now be taken to increase the number of helpers during that time. There is always plenty of work for 4 or 5 helpers every afternoon.

It will interest you to know that we have bought and distributed free, no less than 17,000 envelopes and 14,000 sheets of paper. This has cost us £14.10s. We have also sold over the counter postage stamps to the value of £51.2s.7 ½ d, which, of course, is without profit, but a great convenience to the men and women, especially after the Post Office is closed. The matches have been a great boon to the men, and we have sold over 14,200 boxes during the year.

In February last we received the splendid donation from our Church Choir of £25.9s.1d, which enabled us to pay a cheque to the church funds for coal, gas, etc, of £25.10s…

Every Sunday evening during last winter Khaki Socials were held, arranged by Mrs Dracup and Miss Green, and they were very well attended. We shall have to decide tonight whether we shall have the Khaki Socials again, or carry on as we are now doing…

I should like to express my personal thanks to all the Superintendents and helpers, who have put such whole-heartedness into the work, and by so doing obtained such a splendid result.

It has been a year of real pleasure to me to work with such a willing, capable and pleasant staff, everybody (not forgetting Mr Brain, Mr Rawlinson and the Caretakers) doing their very best for the common good of all.

The figures for the year include the following:

Sales £1,054.13s.0d
Donations £42.9s.1d
Total receipts £1.097.2s.1d

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

“Tommy from the line” thinks he should be able to buy “fags” at any hour of the day or night

Men on their way home for a spell of leave stopped off at a special camp. This is a first hand description from one of the helpers.

“LEAVES FROM A LEAVE CAMP.”

Mr Frampton, who is at Boulogne, sends us the following:-

“From the windows of the canteen where the writer is “doing his bit,” may be seen any evening a body of men with tin hats and rifles swinging along the road to the entrance of the “leave” camp. They are of many types, and it is most interesting to watch them file into the camp. One can see at a glance there are men from every walk of life, for the “khaki” does not cover a man so well that his former occupation cannot be shrewdly guessed.

As soon as they arrive in sight the canteen is at once closed. It has perhaps been open all the afternoon for the benefit of the staff attached to the camp, but it is necessary to close it now, for otherwise “Tommy” would make tracks for the counter in order to purchase “fags,” soap, towels, socks, and the numerous articles he is out of after a spell “up the line.” Of course, “Tommy” wishes to go to “Blighty” looking smart and clean, but he may not purchase just now. He is dealt with as follows:- Each man as he passes the gate is served with a ticket entitling him to an evening meal and breakfast in the morning. After all have enjoyed the evening meal, the canteen opens for an hour or two, and Tommy may make his purchases. Cigarettes and tobacco are an easy first, and the other articles sold are far too numerous to specify. Well, from say 7 to 9 o’clock he can buy what he needs, or play games in the canteen. Each canteen boasts a piano also. So much for his first few hours in the last camp before that journey to “Blighty” in the morning.

Lights out at 10 p.m., and “Tommy” is safely tucked up, sometimes twelve in a tent, till morning. It is a bit close, but it keeps them warm. Well, now, the morning arrives at last for “Tommy” who is “going home,” but it arrives too soon for the canteen hands, who were in all probability up at 4.30 the morning previous. However the canteen hands are often aroused at about 4 a.m. by some wakeful “Tommy,” who enquires in no uncertain voice, “When are you going to open?” The response is, “When you’ve all had breakfast.” Sometimes the conversation is not so short and sweet, but long and, truth to tell, “very lurid,” for “Tommy from the line” thinks he should be able to buy “fags” at any hour of the day or night, for, does he not work and fight day and night? And on the other hand the canteen hands consider that from 4.30 a.m. till 9 p.m. is a fair day’s work (with short breaks), and do not care to be roused at 3.30 a.m. by a strident voice shouting “What time do you open?”

Well, the canteen does eventually open, and you can imagine, say 1,000 men, making a sudden rush to the counter. They’ve had breakfast, and been supplied with their railway pass and ration cards for use in “Blighty,” and now they are about to spend on luxuries not so easily procured “higher up.” They are easily and quickly served with chocolate for the kiddies, postcards for mother, fancy handkerchiefs for “My dear sweetheart,” etc., etc. The articles mentioned are only samples, for “Tommy” is pleased to buy the best he can get, as a rule, for he has also got some arrears of pay in his pocket.

About two or three hours after breakfast he receives the order “Fall in.” It does not take long to “Fall in,” and the march is begun to the quay side. The first man, for instance, steps on board at say 10.30 a.m., and one hour later he realises that all are on board and he is actually leaving France behind for a short space of time. Two hours to ——- and two more in the train brings him to a London terminus, and if he is as lucky as the writer he will be “indoors” in five or six hours after leaving France. Again, if he is lucky he will have a splendid time in “Blighty” and return in better trim for “doing his bit.”

Of that return, more another time, for it has many a sad side to it, but as the writer is not now at camp where “Tommy” passes through on his return, perhaps he may never give you the impressions he gains by witnessing the return of so many fine men, whose hearts are doubtless very full of their own thoughts.

In conclusion, it may interest those at home to know that both “Tommy” and his officers are catered for by the “Expeditionary Force Canteen,” and the “Canteens” are an institution likely to remain very much in the foreground in the army when the great day of “Peace” shall arrive once more. May that day be not far distant!”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, October 1918 (D/N33/12/1/5)

“We are particularly wishful to carry on the good work being done for our soldiers and sailors”

Fuel shortages were hitting home.

MINISTER’S JOTTINGS

We are likely to have considerable difficulty this winter with regard to our heating and lighting. We are not yet informed as to what our ration of coal, gas and electricity will be, but we are most anxious to prevent, by the strictest economy, any curtailment of our work, and we are particularly wishful to carry on the good work being done for our soldiers and sailors if it can possibly be managed. When we know what our allowance for heating and lighting is to be, we shall have to go more thoroughly into the matter. In the meantime will those responsible for the various meetings please see that no more gas or electricity is used than is absolutely necessary.

We are hoping to resume the Khaki Socials after worship on Sunday evenings at an early date. It is not easy to ensure a sufficient number of artistes to carry on this much appreciated work, but we trust it may be successfully accomplished once more this winter. We are indebted to Mrs Dracup and Miss Green for the splendid service they have rendered in this connection in past years.

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

“Tommy from the line” thinks he should be able to buy “fags” at any hour of the day or night

A colourful glimpse of soldiers on their way home for a leave.

“LEAVES FROM A LEAVE CAMP.”

Mr Frampton, who is at Boulogne, sends us the following:-

“From the windows of the canteen where the writer is “doing his bit,” may be seen any evening a body of men with tin hats and rifles swinging along the road to the entrance of the “leave” camp. They are of many types, and it is most interesting to watch them file into the camp. One can see at a glance there are men from every walk of life, for the “khaki” does not cover a man so well that his former occupation cannot be shrewdly guessed.

As soon as they arrive in sight the canteen is at once closed. It has perhaps been open all the afternoon for the benefit of the staff attached to the camp, but it is necessary to close it now, for otherwise “Tommy” would make tracks for the counter in order to purchase “fags,” soap, towels, socks, and the numerous articles he is out of after a spell “up the line.” Of course, “Tommy” wishes to go to “Blighty” looking smart and clean, but he may not purchase just now. He is dealt with as follows:-

Each man as he passes the gate is served with a ticket entitling him to an evening meal and breakfast in the morning. After all have enjoyed the evening meal, the canteen opens for an hour or two, and Tommy may make his purchases. Cigarettes and tobacco are an easy first, and the other articles sold are far too numerous to specify. Well, from say 7 to 9 o’clock he can buy what he needs, or play games in the canteen. Each canteen boasts a piano also. So much for his first few hours in the last camp before that journey to “Blighty” in the morning.

Lights out at 10 p.m., and “Tommy” is safely tucked up, sometimes twelve in a tent, till morning. It is a bit close, but it keeps them warm. Well, now, the morning arrives at last for “Tommy” who is “going home,” but it arrives too soon for the canteen hands, who were in all probability up at 4.30 the morning previous. However the canteen hands are often aroused at about 4 a.m. by some wakeful “Tommy,” who enquires in no uncertain voice, “When are you going to open?” The response is, “When you’ve all had breakfast.” Sometimes the conversation is not so short and sweet, but long and, truth to tell, “very lurid,” for “Tommy from the line” thinks he should be able to buy “fags” at any hour of the day or night, for, does he not work and fight day and night? And on the other hand the canteen hands consider that from 4.30 a.m. till 9 p.m. is a fair day’s work (with short breaks), and do not care to be roused at 3.30 a.m. by a strident voice shouting “What time do you open?”

Well, the canteen does eventually open, and you can imagine, say 1,000 men, making a sudden rush to the counter. They’ve had breakfast, and been supplied with their railway pass and ration cards for use in “Blighty,” and now they are about to spend on luxuries not so easily procured “higher up.” They are easily and quickly served with chocolate for the kiddies, postcards for mother, fancy handkerchiefs for “My dear sweetheart,” etc., etc. The articles mentioned are only samples, for “Tommy” is pleased to buy the best he can get, as a rule, for he has also got some arrears of pay in his pocket.

About two or three hours after breakfast he receives the order “Fall in.” It does not take long to “Fall in,” and the march is begun to the quay side. The first man, for instance, steps on board at say 10.30 a.m., and one hour later he realises that all are on board and he is actually leaving France behind for a short space of time. Two hours to ——- and two more in the train brings him to a London terminus, and if he is as lucky as the writer he will be “indoors” in five or six hours after leaving France. Again, if he is lucky he will have a splendid time in “Blighty” and return in better trim for “doing his bit.”

Of that return, more another time, for it has many a sad side to it, but as the writer is not now at camp where “Tommy” passes through on his return, perhaps he may never give you the impressions he gains by witnessing the return of so many fine men, whose hearts are doubtless very full of their own thoughts.

In conclusion, it may interest those at home to know that both “Tommy” and his officers are catered for by the “Expeditionary Force Canteen,” and the “Canteens” are an institution likely to remain very much in the foreground in the army when the great day of “Peace” shall arrive once more. May that day be not far distant!”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, October 1918 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Showing off for the pretty girls

The Images were on holiday, where they observed pilots in practice – and taking girls for joy rides.

At Mr Linnell’s Bungalow
Heacham
Norfolk

9 July 1918

MVDB

[Florence] is off on her cycle to Hunstanton about registering for the new ration books…

We could not, for some time, realise the points of the compass here. Norfolk is in East Anglia, therefore the sea stretching before our windows was obviously to the East – that was self-evident – and when at sunset we were confronted by a crimson orb looking straight in at our French windows, we felt I don’t know how! Was it credible that the East and the Battle Ground lay at our backs?

We are in the vicinity of 2 large aerodromes and aerial messengers pass the lazy clouds all day long. On certain days they explode bombs in the sea at a target. These are advertised by a red flag. Once we watched with interest a pompous looking officer in khaki stalk out over about a mile of sand to the Wash. Just as he got there, one, two, 3 columns of water shot up in the air, apparently quite close to him, and of course with a thundering report. It was quite like the pictures of an attack at the Front. Promptly the gallant Warrior turned round and executed a movement to the rear, with slow dignity.

But on ordinary days the planes are simply flying for practice – and altho’ this is extremely dangerous and positively forbidden, a plane will fly down the whole line of bungalows, so close that you can see the men inside saluting the pretty girls they pass and skimming the roofs in the pride of showing off.

Yesterday, for instance, one of these mountebanks was exhibiting over the beach, looping the loop, and skimming the roofs, till all of a sudden he swooped down on to the shingle, in front of a bungalow where stood a tall fellow (in citi, how did he escape khaki?) with his 3 wives [sic], all showy, stylish girls. Out jumped a couple of well-bronzed, good-looking young officers, and the man and his wives accosted them. I heard the wives ask for a fly, and the officer’s reply was that it was “most strictly” forbidden.

Poor souls, an hour later (they had been having tea in the bungalow) they came down the beach, one flying man and one wife mounted the plane and up she started – (the ruts of her wheels on the beach remained till high tide) – and soared for 5 minutes: then, the wife descended, and another wife took her place for another 5 minute sail – and then, at 5.35, No. C6860 was off to Thetford, and I expect a wigging for her officers if they were found out.

Ever fraternally
Bild

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

“Far away from my battalion and the plague of khaki”

Percy had gone on ahead of his unit to arrange billets in the French countryside.

June 19 [1918]
My dear WF

I like this place. Far away from my battalion and the plague of khaki, here I am billeting – at least I was yesterday.

Today I’m just waiting for my people to turn up.

I like the chateau with its monster lime trees – one, the largest I have ever seen. And I like the big farmer who took me into a direct current from his styes and there held me in lengthy conversation – and the old ladies apparently born in strait waistcoats who hold one spellbound for hours in a flood of patois out of which one thing only is clear – they require an exorbitant price for what they are pleased to call an officers’ mess.

The postman, fat & aged, is refreshing too. His cheerful announcement of letters & postcards with all details and contents of the letter is good to the heart. His cheery good day to me as I passed and request for a cigarette & explanation that tobacco is very scarce went straight to my cigarette case.

And then there is M. le Maire, schoolmaster & umpteen other things, who left his overalled charges to show me billeting matters and give me lengthy explanations only pausing to hurl corrections across the courtyard to the schoolroom, where one of the boys was reading aloud.

And then there is Madame at the estaminet where I have my temporary headquarters, who provides me with an interminable reserve of eggs and coffee, and constant shocks. The climax was reached when I asked for milk, and taking a homely bedroom utensil [a chamberpot!], she drew therein a supply from her little goat and served me liberally therefrom.

And that’s my village.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/47-49)

Very few men in khaki at Easter service this year

Were all the soldiers already at the Front, or had religious enthusiasm declined as the war went on and on?

The number of Communicants on Easter Day [31 March] was slightly less than in the preceding year, but it was noticeable that there were very few men in khaki this year.

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, May 1918 (D/P89/28A/13)

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
Percy

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:

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)