The agony and sorrow and sacrifice through which we have passed

The Rector of Remenham had strong views about our defeated enemy, and about domestic politics.

Rector’s letter

Since I wrote last month events connected with the War have moved with startling, dramatic rapidity. Bulgaria, Turkey, Austria, had collapsed, and then on November 11 Germany, the last of our enemies and the worst, whose conduct has been stained with iniquity and brutality and loathsome disregard of the obligations of honourable warfare, was overwhelmed. And now hostilities have ceased, and we breathe freely once again. We trust that, when the actual terms of Peace are settled, the wrongdoers will be adequately and justly punished; and that the foundations of righteousness may be firmly laid among the nations of Europe. On Sunday November 17, we held our Thanksgiving Services to acknowledge the good hand of God upon us, and, while our hearts were lifted up to him in profound gratitude, the agony and sorrow and sacrifice through which we have passed solemnised and, I believe, hallowed our worship.

The country on December 14 will be faced with the responsibility of a general election, and for the first time women will have the parliamentary vote. Let us pray that they may exercise it wisely, and I believe they will. The present Coalition Government, composed of Unionists and Liberals, will appeal to the nation for a fresh mandate to empower them if returned to office, to negotiate the terms of Peace, and, after Peace, to grapple with the grave problems of reconstruction that await solution. Old party divisions will for this election be put aside, and the Government will ask the country to support the united Coalition. The forces opposed to them, as far as I can judge, will be independent Labour and Socialism, and as their interests are confessedly sectional, they are not likely to safeguard the well-being of the nation, at this critical juncture.

Remenham parish magazine, December 1918 (D/P99/28A/4)

“Why is the atmosphere of life more cheerful nearer to all the horrors and ugliness of modern war than it is behind?”

Ralph Glyn had political ambitions, and the College constituency in Glasgow was being nursed for him. He had narrowly lost the 1910 election to a Liberal (he was a Conservative/Unionist). While serving in the army he delivered a lengthy statement to those he viewed as future constituents. Unfortunately for him and all his work, the constituency was abolished before the 1918 election. The paper itself, however, is an interesting insight into the views of an intelligent officer into attitudes at home and at the front.

November 1915

I have been asked by one or two friends in the College Division to write a letter that may be a link between so many old friends of those former days, when Peace was not understood, and myself. To do this as I would wish by personal letter my work here will not allow. I must ask everyone who reads these lines to believe how sincere are my wishes for as happy a New Year as these days permits to be theirs.

I write these lines because I have always been open with my friends in Glasgow, and I believe you will all understand how it is impossible to write “news”.

There are many who have been all the time in France, or in Gallipoli, whilst some have been in both theatres of operations; but there are few officers now who have not spent some time at home, either wounded, or on leave or duty, and so it is possible to take a comprehensive survey of men, matters and means.

The newspapers are the only medium between the Public and events that happen behind the veil of the censor. Letters from friends and relations pass from the Front to those at home producing for a period a clear gleam of light – sometimes too vivid – of what is fact and reality at one small point of that vague term “The Front”. The days are shortening, the winter with all its horrors is close upon us and we are all well aware that if only something could be lifted the Future would be brighter and more easy to face. To arrive at any satisfactory conclusion we must try and see things as they are – undisguised but very possibly naked and ashamed. No time should be lost in establishing both at “the front” and at “the back” a “New Feeling” based upon the firm belief that at last true bearings have been taken, the clouds have lifted and the sun seen long enough to enable the exact position of the ship to be located, and that each and all having but the one port open to them are determined, in spite of all stress of weather, to reach their destination without undue delay.

Why is the atmosphere of life more cheerful nearer to all the horrors and ugliness of modern war than it is behind? There is nothing in any trench in France or Gallipoli to equal the gloom of many a house at home. The individual man is happy when he knows he is doing “his bit” and has that feeling down his back of something worthy of accomplishment being well done. But this same feeling should animate those miners, munition-workers, ship-builders and all that other host at home, whose work is as vital to the war’s success as any gallant action in the trenches. Why is there this feeling of unrest and mistrust in so many quarters? “Out here”, be it in France or Gallipoli, this war acts in one way all the time and without variation. The Regular Army has almost ceased to exist as it was before the war. Officers and men have fallen and others have taken their place. The tradition of a great regiment holds all the new comers in its sway and the magic mantle of “esprit de corps” stirs through the new blood of the recruit, officer and man, tempering and making him part of the original stock. The Reserve ceased to exist when war began; because by our system the fighting force of the country, Regular and Reserve, were and are one and indivisible. Any gunner will tell you that had it not been for the “dug out” the new armies could not have been born. The “dug out” has much to bear from the gibes of younger men who too often assume that all “dug outs” must be musty and old, stupid and out of date, but he can console himself with the knowledge that without him the Regular serving soldiers could not have kept the machine running.

The essential parts of a soldier

The Burghfield parish magazine for June was supporting a Belgian refugee’s attempts to earn a living. Meanwhile, political opponents were working together to raise money to help the wounded.

The daughters of Monsieur Laurent – our Belgian guests, who are still living at the Old school, Burghfield, are very anxious to give some lessons in French, chiefly conversational. They would be very glad to hear of any pupils: the terms would be very moderate. Applications to be made to Mademoiselle Laurent, at “The Old School”.

Arranged by the St John’s Ambulance and British Red Cross.

The collection amounted to &8. 15s.0d in Burghfield, and a letter was received from Mr Forster, expressing gratitude from the Central Committee to all who helped in so successful a result, adding that:

“While he was responsible for the organisation of the South Berks district, Mr Wright, the Liberal Agent, dealt with the Borough of Newbury, which fact ought to be mentioned to prevent any misapprehension, as there was no idea of making it a party matter in any sense.”

Mrs Willink takes this opportunity of thanking most heartily all those who helped so kindly and willingly in making the collection.


The following lines are by Philip Massinger, a dramatist of the 17th century. We shall agree that the qualities which merit “the noble name of Soldier” are the same in the 20th century as they were in the days of our forefathers – qualities which are conspicuous today in the conduct of thousands of our heroic officers and men at the Front.

If e’er my son
Follow the war, tell him it is a school,
Where all the principles tending to honour
Are taught, if truly follow’d: but for such
As repair thither, as a place in which
They do presume they may with licence practise
Their lusts and riots, they shall never merit
The noble name of soldiers. To dare boldly
In a fair cause, and, for their country’s safety,
To run upon the cannon’s mouth undaunted;
To obey their leaders, and shun mutinies;
To bear with patience the winter’s cold,
And summer’s scorching heat, and not to faint,
When plenty of provision fails, with hunger;
Are the essential parts make up a soldier,
Not swearing, dice, or drinking.

Philip Massinger

Burghfield parish magazine, June 1915 (D/EX725/3)

St Mark’s in Venice targetted by bombs

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image wrote to a friend abroad with thoughts on national politics. The new Lord Chancellor he disliked was Stanley Buckmaster. His Conservative rival Lord Finlay was eventually to succeed him in the post. Image also admired Lord Stanhope, another Conservative peer.

TCC [Trinity College, Cambridge]
Thursday 10 June ‘15

My Very Dear Old Man

Yours of June 4 reached me at breakfast this morning – not a very sumptuous breakfast – a plate of Quaker Oats (loathsome, because sugar verboten) and a cup of tea…

All your letters come “Opened by Censor”. One don’t know what to write. I hope he’ll pass this remark: that of all the recent Cabinet Shuffles the nastiest is perhaps the Lord Chancellorship to that short-tempered overbearing late tenant of the Censor’s chair. Even “good” Radicals (are there any such?) had expected Finlay: but it is the swagger post for screw, and the stainless patriots refused to let it go out of the party…

A message dropped from an aeroplane promises an air-raid of Zeppelins on C[ambridge] tonight. So universally is it credited that there will be disappointment if it does not come off! In all corners of Trinity College and other Colleges and the Union stand zinc pails filled with sand: and hydrants are ready for the protection of public buildings. You saw of course that in the attack on Venice last Tuesday a bomb was deliberately aimed at St Mark’s. They say the horses have been removed.

Earl Stanhope in the Lords yesterday was the finest and straightest speech yet on the Shell question, and on the Gas. He came from the Front on Saturday and goes back today.

God bless you both.

Yours affect.

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/1)

The sticking point: more thoughts from Sydney Spencer

Sydney Spencer’s plans were still undecided.

Friday 14th of August
Yesterday morning I had a letter from Dr Pope in reply to the one which I sent him on Tuesday. I will copy it here as it explains itself.

Aug 12th
Dear Mr Spencer
I think you are asking quite rightly. I have placed your application in the hands of Capt. Ballein, Headquarters OU OTC [Oxford University Officer Training Corps], Alfred Street, Oxford, & he has taken charge of it. I took the letter to him myself so that I know it is with the right person.
God bless & keep you
R H Pope

Last night I had a letter from Captain Ballein mentioned in the above as follows.

Oxford Univerisity Officers Training Corps
9 Alfred Street
Dear Sir
Dr Pope has handed me your letter. I am afraid that we cannot help you to find work, as we are engaged solely in appointing officers for commission, & you have unfortunately had no military experience. Perhaps you might be of use in a military hospital. There is a large hospital being formed here in Oxford in the Examination School.
Yours truly
F Ballein
For the Adjutant

So now I can do nothing but wait. I can write to the Examination Schools & let them have my name as being willing to do any work that is wanted, so I shall do that & then just await events. Willie Thompson (of Clouskeagh Castle Co Dublin) wrote me that he will not be able to get to Persia now that this war is on. England has come to the sticking point in a most wonderful way & all are getting that quiet noble fortitude that is necessary under these circumstances. Conservative & Liberal join in united praise of our government & its actions & its preparations, & we may all be thankful that England goes into this terrible war with clean hands.

I am writing this over at Sweethayes [at Littlewick Green] & mother is here to tea. Ella has promised to give me some lessons on “first aid”, so when I come over here I shall be able to get just a little knowledge of the subject.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)