“The trials and hardships our soldiers have to undergo in the great struggle”

Wargrave children may have celebrated Empire Day a week late, but they got the most graphic description of a world at war from a veteran.

Empire Day

Owing to the Whitsun Holidays the school children were unable to keep the celebration of Empire Day on May 24th, so it was postponed until Friday, the 31st, when they met at the Schools and proceeded to church where a short service was held. The Vicar gave an address from the words “Honour all men, fear God, honour the King” inculcating the lessons of patriotism and brotherly kindness from the story of Moses.

Reforming in procession after the service, the children marched back to the School Playground and assembled round the flag. Here a goodly company of parishioners had gathered and after singing the National Anthem and saluting the flag an address was given by Mr. H.P. Adams, a member of the Executive of Comrades of the Great War Society and himself a holder of the Mons Medal. He gave a vivid description of the trials and hardships our soldiers have to undergo in the great struggle and related his experiences in the battle of Mons. He paid a splendid tribute to Lord Roberts, and advised one and all to do all in their power to be thorough patriots and to show a love for the old Flag. The children sang two patriotic songs and at the close of the proceedings gave three cheers for Lady Cain who kindly provided each child with a cake and a new penny.

Wargrave parish magazine, July 1918 (D/P145/28A/31)

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A beautiful brass in Ascot

Earl Roberts’ title was one of the rare instances which could be inherited by a daughter.

THE LORD ROBERTS’ MEMORIAL TABLET.

There was a short Service of Dedication on Monday morning, April 10th. The Tablet is very simple, but of beautiful workmanship and lettering. The Inscription is as follows:-

“TO THE GLORY OF GOD. Will you bear in your grateful and affectionate remembrance Frederick Sleigh Field Marshal Earl Roberts, V.C., K.G., who died in France in the Service of his Country, November 14th, 1914. He worshipped at this Church for many years, and made his last communion on earth at this Altar.”

Countess Roberts writes-

“We all are greatly touched by the affection shown by all my Father’s friends in Ascot by placing that very beautiful brass in the Church we have all attended, since we came to live here, to his memory. I wonder if you would be so very kind as to convey to all those friends our very real and deep appreciation of this expression of their affection of which the tablet is a token.”

Ascot section of Winkfield District magazine, May 1916 (D/P151/28A/5)

A nation’s homage

Ascot celebrated it own national hero, Lord Roberts, whose funeral we noted on 19 November. The parish also had less well known heroes in this war.

F. M. EARL ROBERTS.
The whole Empire mourns his loss. There have been famous sailors and soldiers besides Lord Roberts. A Nelson and a Wellington rest by his side in S. Paul’s Cathedral. We admire them, we pay them a nation’s homage. Their greatness and his are alike in this. But for him there is something more – universal love. His character rested upon JESUS Christ. When he knelt in deep reverence at our Parish Altar to receive the Bread of Life – when he sent forth our soldiers into the great battle of right against might with the little Testaments in their pockets, each volume with its touching message inscribed on the first page:

“I ask you to put your trust in GOD, He will watch over you and strengthen you. You will find this little Book guidance when you are in health, comfort when you are in sickness, and strength when you are in adversity.”

When such was the character of the man, do we wonder that this pathetic and usually careless world, was at his feet, that attraction of the Christ in him became irrisistable. Rather, would it not be passing strange had it been otherwise? Our brother, being dead, yet speaketh. He bids us make much of our Christianity. For on the very first step across the threshold lies a whole world of inequity, into which he who lets go his Christianity plunges at once.

He would have been laid to rest near to his own home, near to this Church that he loved. But this was not to be: and it is better as it is. His family generously gave him up in death to the Empire that he served with his life. “Let me die the death of the righteous: let my last end be like His.” The Funeral Service was sung in All Saints Church at the same hour that the ceremony took place in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Our deepest sympathy is offered to his family. R. I. P.

For fuller details of the funeral we refer our readers to the newspapers.

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A Bible for a church’s ‘old boys’ at the Front

St John’s Church in Reading was anxious to provide spiritual sustenance for the young men it had sent off to war:

The War

We publish a further list of boys or ‘old boys’ connected with our congregations who are now in training or actually engaged in active service on behalf of the Empire. We are always glad to hear news of our boys and they are constantly remembered by us in prayer. George Townsend, Cyril Keatly, Alfred Richard Allum, Horace Arthur Church, Albert Stevens, William Ernest Charles Egan, Arthur John Robert Egan, Albert Fanstone, Ralph Shepherd, Sidney J Luker, Viney Flint, Percy Froude, William Grantham, Arthur Walters, J J Cooper, A Beckett, Walter Crane, Basil Sutton, Edmund Terry, John Edwin Hopcraft, Durward Sydney Hopcraft, James Lyons, William Lyons, – Allaway, A Blake, T J Blake, O L Stagg, W Phipps, A Phipps, Lionel Dymore-Brown, Hugh Dymore-Brown, Arthur Robotham, Arthur Richard Penson, E W Hunt, Victor Fowler, J H Cane.

The Clergy will be very glad to write to any of our lads and to enclose an attractive little copy of S. John’s gospel, which contains also hymns with their tunes and pictures, and Lord Roberts’ letter to the troops, if they are asked to do so. Will parents and friends please communicate with whichever of the clergy knew the young man, giving the full address on paper. In cases where the young man is unknown to the present staff the Vicar will be glad to write.”

Reading St John parish magazine, November 1914 (D/P172/28A/23, p. 4)

Berkshire children and Field Marshal Roberts’ funeral

Ascot said goodbye to one of its most famous residents, Field Marshal Lord Roberts. Frederick Roberts (1832-1914) was a veteran of earlier wars, in Afghanistan and the Boer War in South Africa, and even the Indian Mutiny of 1857, when an act of gallantry won him the Victoria Cross. His title, awarded in 1901, is one of the very few British Earldoms to be heritable in the female line (another being that of Mountbatten), a special gift to Roberts, who had only daughters living. His only son had been killed in the Boer War, in which he won the Victoria Cross. As he approached retirement in 1903, he moved to Englemere House in Ascot. Over 80 when the First World War broke out, he had anticipated that a great European war would result from German aggression, and had urged conscription for years. Much of his military career had been in the Empire, and he died of pneumonia while inspecting Indian contingents in France. He got the rare honour of a state funeral, and is buried at St Paul’s Cathedral.

The bellringers on All Souls Day rang a muffled peal in commemoration of those who have fallen in the War. It was a Quarter Peal of Grandsire Doubles, 1260 changes, rung by F. Blunden, Treble; E. Simmonds (2); J. Simmonds (3); W. Eatwell (4); J. Brant (Conductor); S. W. Hughes (Tenor); and on Thursday evening, Nov 19th, the day of Lord Roberts’ funeral, another quarter peal in the same method with F. Blay ringing the treble and A. Head, tenor.

The funeral of Lord Roberts also affected the children from two south-east Berkshire schools.  At Ascot Heath Girls’ School, it was reported on 19 November 1914 that:

A holiday was given on Thursday morning on account of the funeral of Field Marshal Lord Roberts.

The following day, St Michael’s CE School noted the involvement of some of their pupils:

Several boys – Scouts – formed the Guard of Honour at Englemere on the occasion of the funeral of the Field Marshal.

Florence Vansittart Neale also mentioned the funeral, along with her concern for young friends in the armed forces.

19 November 1914
I to call on Maud Mackenzie. She in bed. Long talk. Kenneth may go in 3 weeks. Alick better but boot still in his wound….

Had nice letter from Charlie. Going into trenches.

Lord Roberts military funeral at St Paul’s.

Ascot portion of Winkfield District magazine, December 1914 (D/P151/28A/6/12); Ascot Heath Girls School Log Book (C/EL109/2, p. 230); Sunninghill: St Michael’s CE Mixed (88/SCH/32/3, p. 173); diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Another spy unmasked

Karl-Gustav Ernst was at the centre of the German spy ring in London at the start of the war. He was a London hairdresser, born in Britain but of German ancestry. Unluckily for him, MI5 had been aware of his covert role passing information, and he and his confederates were rounded up and arrested early in the war.

16 November 1914
Girls to Cookham to see wounded…. Sir George & Mme de la Bistrale came to luncheon. Then Mrs Puxley & Florrie Stainton came, & the Riches for tea. Went over hospital. May Innes to dine. Percival [Innes] told he to go guard Lord Roberts at Wellington Chapel 4 a.m. tomorrow!

Heavy fighting round Ypres. Germans can’t break through. One spy Ernst (hairdresser) to have 7 years!

An on dit of Kitchener when the P. of Wales went to him to beg him to let him go with his regiment. K said “Well, sir, if you were wounded that does not matter, & if you were killed that would not matter, but it would put us in such a hole if you were taken prisoner!” So he refused. Now he has gone out on Sir J. French’s staff.

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

Leather in the wound

Several of Florence Vansittart Neale’s family friends had been badly wounded.

She was, incidentally, wrong to believe that today was the Belgian King’s birthday; King Albert was born on 8 April 1875. Florence was confused by the fact that the day was a public holiday known as the King’s Feast Day, it being the feast day of the Catholic Saint Albert.

15 November 1914
Church. Funeral hymns & Dead March for Lord Roberts. Expected some Belgians but none came…

Church in evening. National Anthem. Birthday King of the Belgians.

Alick Mackenzie home wounded in foot. Toes off, some leather still in.

Charlie Jackson wounded in forearm. Colonel [Sercold?] at Guys wounded in thigh. Laid up 2 months.

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

An old soldier dies within sound of the guns

Frederick Roberts (1832-1914) was awarded a Victoria Cross for gallantry in the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and served with distinction in the Afghan Wars two decades later and in the Boer War at the turn of the century. He was created Baron Roberts of Kandahar in 1892 and Earl Roberts in 1901. As his only son (another VC) had been killed in the Boer War, his earldom was very unusually allowed to be inherited by his daughter. His home was at Englemere Lodge, Ascot, and he moved in the same circles as the Vansittart Neales of Bisham Abbey.

14 November 1914
Dear old Lord Roberts died in France 8 p.m. He had gone over to review his Indian troops. Caught chill Friday evening, died pneumonia in his sleep, “in sound of the guns”. 83. R.I.P.

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

Ridiculously soft conditions – but rumours are rife

Percy continued to worry about the permanence of his transfer. He wrote to his sister to tell her about his situation, and thank her for what was to be the first of many articles of warm clothing.

Kildare
Hart Road
St Albans
Oct. 6.14

Dear Florrie

How rapidly my future changes. I forget whether I have told you that my transfer will not be confirmed, and I may therefore have to return to Kitchener’s Own. But Capt. Holliday is most anxious to retain me, and if I cannot get a discharge either free or by payment (and I do not think I shall) the Brigadier General is going to apply for me to be attached to Headquarters Staff here.

There are all kinds of rumours rife as to our destination and the date of our departure, but altho’ I have been given “definite information” on the point, I really believe no one here knows anything reliable on the point.

Whenever, and wherever, I go, you may rely upon it, I shall try and give you good notice.

It is good of you to knit me a muffler, and very kind of Mrs Fuller too to make me one. Just at present these welcome comforts when I really go on active service, or if I have to return to camp, make me smile. The conditions here, so far as I am concerned, are ridiculously soft. But, as I say, I should be glad enough to have them when later on the conditions will be more soldierly.

Lord Roberts is coming this afternoon to have a look at the troops at work. He is coming to my office so I shall have a good view of the old fellow.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer of Cookham to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/3/10-11)