“What would have happened to us if things had gone the other way we shudder to contemplate”

Feelings in Earley were still hostile to Germany.

The Vicar’s Letter

My Dear friends,

We have again very much to be thankful for with regard to the War. We have been passing through a critical stage, much more critical than most people have thought. The attempts of our enemies to bring about an armistice, and to gain time to recover and bring about a peace favourable to themselves, have been attended by very real danger for the future of all free nations, and we may be thankful that they have not succeeded. We all desire peace from the bottom of our hearts, but it must be a just and righteous peace, which will once and for all safeguard the world in the future against the horrors and misery of the past four years. A vindictive spirit is not a characteristic of our nation, but none of us can have read during the past month of the “agony of Lille,” the cold blooded cruelty of the sinking of the “Leinster,” and the outrageous treatment of our prisoners, without feeling that there must be a sharp punishment as well as reparation. Moreover, we cannot, as President Wilson says, make any terms with the present rulers of Germany, and therefore we must still fight on for the present; and surely we ought to thank God that we are more than likely, within a reasonable time, to be in a position to impose our own terms. What would have happened to us if things had gone the other way we shudder to contemplate.

It is possible that the Magazine may have to be suspended for a time owing to the scarcity of paper and the great increase of cost. We shall be in a position to make a further announcement next month.
Your friend and Vicar,
W.W. FOWLER.

THE WAR

Events are moving so rapidly in the War that it is possible for us seriously to indulge in hopes of peace, even though we find ourselves quite unable to put the slightest trust in German professions. It is difficult to understand the state of mind of those who, while asking for peace, continue those very practices which have above everything produced the strong determination in the allies to render them impossible in the future. It does appear certain that the best hope for the World does not lie in a peace by negotiation, but in a peace dictated by strong conquerors who are in a position to ensure justice. The ideal of human justice is to secure society from the depredations of the criminal, and if possible restore the criminal so that he may become a worthy member of society; for this purpose punishment may be necessary and salutary but among civilized people the just judge is not expected to vindicate. It is to be regretted that in some of our leading papers letters are allowed to appear which are more characteristic of the Hun attitude in the days of their ascendancy than of the strong calm nation which is pledged to a righteous and lasting peace. The Germans have shown themselves to be brutal; we are happy to think that our own men could not bring themselves even in retaliation to be brutal, and that we shall to the end retain a clean record.

The following have been added tom the list of those serving in His Majesty’s Forces – Frank White, George Jerram, Albert Harry Burgess.

Our prayers are also asked for the following: –

Richard Goodall, Harry Russell, Killed.

Frank Lloyd, Neil Henderson, missing.

Earley St Peter parish magazine, November 1918 (D/P191/28A/25)

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How the high wages are spent

Good news was tempered with sadness as men continued to die.

Florence Vansittart Neale
19 October 1918

Dear old Christopher died of pneumonia or flu. None of his family there. Up at the Orkneys. On hospital ship “Agadir”….

Had letters from girls. Wonderful entrance into Lille – all inhabitants kissing. Bring sugar & sweets for our soldiers.

William Hallam
19th October 1918

This afternoon I went through the town.… I could not help noticing this afternoon all the people especially women are dressed up to the nines and even then looking into the drapers windows for more clothes. This is how the high wages are spent.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9); and William Hallam of Swindon (D/EX1415/25)

Lille evacuated by the Germans

The Germans were on the run.

17 October 1918
Lille evacuated by Germans. Admiral R. Keyes landed there.

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

“I could not say there was accommodation enough for a pig (much less a man) anywhere except in the cellars of ruined houses”

Civilians in wartorn northern France and Belgium suffered terribly due to the war.

Movement in Reading in aid of the Relief of Sufferers by the War in France and Belgium.

Friends at Trinity will no doubt be interested to know that a movement in the above direction has been initiated by the Reading Broad Street Brotherhood. The objective is to supplement the efforts now being made in other towns and in the colonies, and in continuation of efforts already made which have abundantly testified to the Christian sympathy which exists towards those who have suffered so acutely through no fault of their own. A relief fund of £20,000 is contemplated, a very large part of which has already been subscribed by Canadians, by London and other cities, towards which also many small towns have contributed nobly and generously.

It is supposed that the good lead of Basingstoke with its generous promise of £100 in cash, besides clothing, &C., Reading will not wish to be excluded from taking part.

It is proposed to collect both in cash and kind, as in some of the large townships in France (Lille in particular, which is the Manchester of France), the civil population – men, women and children – are in rags, not having had any opportunity of purchasing clothing and boots for 2.5 years (since the German occupation).

Clothing (cast-off and new) will therefore prove most acceptable, also boots.

Those who have seen tell us that the homes of the people in the country towns and villages are ruined-walls broken and roofs fallen. A witness on the spot says:

“In a large town it was my orders to report how many houses were fit for billeting British soldiers, and after visiting with a comrade every house in the place (about the size of Reading) there was not a single house with an unbroken roof, and I could not say there was accommodation enough for a pig (much less a man) anywhere except in the cellars of ruined houses such as I and my comrades occupied.”

Wood houses are already being prepared in sections in this country to be despatched to Northern France and Belgium directly the way opens-facilities having been promised for this purpose as soon as possible by our own Government. A wood house thus prepared can be erected by a few men within a day of arrival, and it cost would be about £40. Seed for gardens, food, flour, blankets, &c will also be despatched.

Interested readers can secure further information by sending two penny stamps to the national Brotherhood Offices, 37, Norfolk Street, London, W.C., when they will be supplied with a pamphlet entitled “The Story of Lille, and its associations with the Brotherhood Movement,” and which describes the Brotherhood Crusade of 1909 A.D. and the practical relief already given.

Locally, every Church, adult School, and Christian Society in Reading will later on be invited to join hands with the Relief Committee connected with Broad Street Men’s Brotherhood, the secretary being Mr. A. Woolley, 85, Oxford Street, Reading.

Further information may also be obtained from J. Harper, “Chelmarsh,” 42, Crown Street, Reading.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, October 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

Dandelions and devastation

Members of the Broad Street Brotherhood, the men’s group at Broad Street Congregational Church in Reading were supporting the war effort in whatever ways they could; and also helping civilians in the devastated occupied regions. Regional rivalry came into play, with the men not wanting to show up poorly in comparison with Basingstoke.

BROTHERHOOD NOTES

Some of our members have intimated a desire to start a War Savings Association in connection with our Brotherhood, similar to what is being done at other Brotherhoods and churches up and down the country.

The matter has been carefully considered by a small sub-committee, and it is felt that it is hardly necessary to open a fresh savings department, but any member can purchase these War Savings Certificates through our already existing Savings Bank.

We most strongly recommend these war savings certificates to the earnest attention of every member as not only are they financially sound, but each one purchased is directly helping our country to victory.

Brother Hendey will be pleased to give particulars and carry through any transaction.

We take this opportunity of thanking many of our brothers who have during the past months loyally and painstakingly worked to keep the allotments in order for the brothers who are at the Front.

This has been a fine example of practical brotherhood work.

It is our sad duty to have to record the death of our Brother Frank Ward, who made the supreme sacrifice for us in France just recently.

He is the fourth member of our Brotherhood who has given his life for his country.

BROTHERHOOD CONTINENTAL RELIEF

Our constituency will no doubt be interested in the movement in Reading in aid of sufferers by the war in France and Belgium, which has been initiated by the Broad Street Brotherhood.

Their object is to supplement the efforts now being made in other towns, and in the colonies (and in continuation of efforts previously made) to express the Christian sympathy which exists towards those victims who, although innocent, have suffered acutely through the war. The National Brotherhood Council are aiming at a contemplated relief fund of £20, 000, a very large part of which has already been subscribed. The Brotherhoods of Canada have sent large sums, as well as London and the great centres of industrial life in England. It is believed that Reading will not want to take second position to Basingstoke, where the generous promise of £100 in cash, besides clothing, books, etc, has been made. It is proposed to collect both in cash and kind.

In several of the large townships of Northern France and Belgium the civil population is in rags. For instance Lille (the Manchester of France), having been in the occupation of Germany for 2 ½ years, has had no chance whatever of providing her people with clothing, even if they had the means to purchase. Clothing, boots (cast off or new), seeds, blankets, or anything of portable, useful and lasting character will be acceptable, and later on fruit trees.

A witness on the spot (Near the Somme) says “the fruit trees, large and small, are ruined; but little remains of pleasing appearance except dandelions, and they cover desolation almost everywhere.” A large town (about the size of Reading) had not a roof left whole upon any one building. In a report given to headquarters he said there was no accommodation for men whatsoever (not even for a pig) except in the cellars of ruined houses, such as he then lived (slept) in personally.

The country people, who crowded into the towns, had to hurriedly vacate their homes which were in the path of the then advancing enemy, and could only carry what they stood upright in. They have had no chance, many of them, since to return; and if they had done so they would have found (as some did) that not a tree in the garden, not a vestige of furniture or other property, and a ruin of the actual building. The writer of the foregoing testimony says that for 9 weeks he never saw a civilian (man, woman or child) although frequently on the move, and for long distances.

Wood houses are being prepared in sections in this country for the purpose of being despatched to Northern France and Belgium directly the way opens, and facilities for this purpose have been promised by the governments of Great Britain and France as soon as possible. A wood house thus prepared can be erected by a few men, within a day, upon arrival at its destination, and its total cost would be about £40. Who will buy one for “La belle France”?

Interested readers can secure further information by sending two penny stamps to The National Brotherhood Offices, 37 Norfolk Street, London WC2, when they should ask for a pamphlet entitled “The story of Lille and its associations with the Brotherhood Movement”. This pamphlet describes the Brotherhood Crusade of 1909 AD and the practical relief already given. Locally, every church, adult school and Christian Society in Reading will be asked later on to join hands with the relief committee connected with Broad Street Men’s Brotherhood, whose secretary, Mr WA Woolley, 85 Oxford Road, Reading, is associated with Bros Mitchell, Hendey and Harper in this great work.

Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, September 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Great push begun

There was a mixture of tragedy close to home and better news of the war as a whole.

26 June 1916

Charley Paine & young Sweet killed! He flying. Charlie bombing.
Hear Lille is taken by us! Rumour not confirmed. Hear no letters to come from the Front – great push begun.

Hear Admiral Beattie said 6 big battleships, 7 cruisers, 20 destroyers gone down of enemy in Jutland battle. Hear mist helped us. Our big battleships able to come in range & did terrible damage in 10 minutes.

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

Firing on our own people

Florence Vansittart Neale had some unexpected – and not entirely welcome – Belgian guests at Bisham Abbey. She was also dismayed by (accurate) rumours of a friendly fire incident at the Front.

26 March 1915
Jean Baptiste turned up from London hospital. Not expected & at 6.30 heard his father & mother had come!! Really not mother but fiancée. Had to put them up.

Hear victory not so complete at Neuve Chapelle as we thought. Meant to have taken Lille. Hear some generals sent back. Not much good – also horrible idea our artillery fired on our own people – mist & telephone wrong!!

Mr Arlea said he had given our telephone in case Special Constables called out!

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