“Right in front of the battalion, leading his men in true British style”

This supplement to the roll of honour’s bald list of names gives us more detail about the parish’s fallen heroes.

Supplement to the Wargrave Parish Magazine

ROLL OF HONOUR.
R.I.P.

Almighty and everlasting God, unto whom no prayer is ever made without hope of thy compassion: We remember before thee our brethren who have laid down their lives in the cause wherein their King and country sent them. Grant that they, who have readily obeyed the call of those to whom thou hast given authority on earth, may be accounted worthy among thy faithful servants in the kingdom of heaven; and give both to them and to us forgiveness of all our sins, and an ever increasing understanding of thy will; for his sake who loved us and gave himself to us, thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Baker, Edward
Private, 7th Wiltshire Regiment, killed in action on the Salonica Front, April 24th, 1917, aged 21. He was the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Baker. He was born at Wargrave and educated at the Piggott School. When the war commenced he was working as a grocer’s assistant in Wargrave. He volunteered in 1915 and was sent out in 1916. He was killed by a shell in a night charge.

Barker, Percy William

Private, 7th Batt. Royal Berkshire Regiment/ Killed at Salonica, July 4th 1917, aged 19. He was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. William Barker at Yeldall Lodge. His father was for twenty years a gardener at Yeldall. He was born at Crazies Hill and educated at the village school. On leaving school he began work as a gardener. He was one of the most helpful lads on the Boys’ Committee of the Boys’ Club. He volunteered May 11th, 1916. On July 4th, 1917, he was hit by a piece of shell from enemy aircraft while bathing and died within an hour. The Chaplain wrote to his parents “Your loss is shared by the whole battalion”.

Bennett, William
Sergeant, 8th Royal Berkshire Regiment, killed in France, Dec 3rd, 1916 aged 25. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bennett, of Wargrave, and when the war broke out he was working on a farm. He volunteered at once. He was killed instantly by a shell. One of his officers wrote: “Sergt. Bennett was the best N.C.O. we had in the company. Fearless, hardworking, willing, he was a constant inspiration to his platoon. His splendid record must inevitably have led to his decoration. We have lost an invaluable N.C.O. and a fine man. He was buried with all possible reverence about half a mile from Eaucourt L’Abbaye”.

Boyton, Bertram
Lieut., 6th London Brigade Royal Field Artillery, died of wounds in Palestine, Nov. 9th, 1917, aged 36. He was educated at King’s College, London, and was a Surveyor and Architect by profession. He was a Fellow of the Surveyors Institute and had won Gold and Silver Medals of the Society of Auctioneers by examination. He was married to Elsie, second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Morris, at the Parish Church, Wargrave, Sept. 7th 1905, He was a member of the London Rowing Club and the Henley Sailing Club, and keenly interested in all athletics. He enlisted in the Honourable Artillery Company in April 1915. He was given a commission in the 6th London R.F.A., in July 1915 and was promoted Lieutenant soon after. He went to France with his battery in June 1916, and to Salonica in the following November. He was sent to Egypt and Palestine in June 1917, and was wounded while taking his battery into action in an advance on November 6th. He died at El Arish on November 9th, 1917.

Buckett, Ernest Frederick

Private in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, killed in action Sept. 20th, 1917, in France, aged 23. The dearly loved husband of Dorothy May Buckett, married May 31st, 1917. He was educated at the Henley National School, and before the War was a slaughterman with Messrs. O’Hara & Lee, butchers, Henley and Wargrave. In 1910 he joined the Berkshire Yeomanry (Territorial Force), and was called up on August 4th, 1914, at the commencement of the war. He immediately volunteered for foreign service. He went to France in the spring of 1915. When he had completed his five years service, since the date of his enlistment, he volunteered for another year, but received his discharge as a time-expired man in January 1916. In July, 1916, he was called up under the new regulations and sent immediately to France where he remained, except for leave on the occasion of his marriage, until he fell in action, September 20th, 1917. (more…)

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The Austrian offensive seems to have vanished into mid air

Officers were well treated on their visits home, on leave or wounded.

Florence Vansittart Neale
22 June 1918

I & two officers motored to Oxford. Saw Dorchester, had lunch en route. Saw Magdalen, New College & Christ Church. Two MO Canadians here for Sunday, Captains Johnston & Reay. They out all evening. We brought Phyllis home. She left Oxford.

Joan Daniels
June 22nd Saturday

Bruce McPherson has come for the weekend… Bruce has had a very nasty wound in the back of his head which he got last October.

The Austrian offensive seems to have vanished into mid air.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and Joan Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

The evidence of blood and tears

The rector of Theale preached on the war at a prestigious annual service at an Oxford College.

Friday, June 25th 1915

War As A World Judgment: St. John the Baptist Service at Magdalen.

Arrangements were yesterday made at Magdalen College for the service which is customarily held on St. John the Baptist’s Day in the quadrangle overlooked by the stone-canopied pulpit, a relic of the ancient Hospital of St. John the Baptist, but at the last moment owing to the rain it was necessary for the service to take place in the chapel. The preacher was the Rev. S. C. F. Angel-Smith (Hertford College), rector of Theale, Reading, and amongst those present were the Principal of Brasenose (Pro-Vice-Chancellor), the President of Magdalen (Sir Herbert Warren), the Senior and Junior Proctors, and a number of senior and junior members of the University.

The Rev. Angel-Smith took as his text St. Matthew III. 1-2 “In those days came John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He urged them in this “dies irae,” when the world was plunged into the whirlpool of war, when

“Human sorrow fills the air,
Death is reigning everywhere.”

To try and read the secret of the world-tragedy, that they might catch, if it might be, a ray of hope for the world’s redemption. Let them pass from the Baptist’s message of “the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” to another kingdom the very contradiction of it. He reminded them of the temptation and the offer to Christ of the kingdoms of the world, and added the devil, discomfited by the Christ, had gained many a victory through the subsequent ages. In these last days could they fail to credit him with perhaps his most conspicuous success in the world’s history?
(more…)

Sydney Spencer continues to think about his future

Sydney Spencer was still considering his future plans as he headed off to help at a YMCA camp serving the armed forces:

Thursday 10th September
I am in a GWR train on my way to Paddington to meet Oliphant with whom I am gong to Harwich for a fortnight to work for the YMCA. I do not yet know whether we go to soldiers or sailors. I go to Russell Square to meet him & we get to Harwich at 2.30. I shall pop into the Coxes just for a few minutes on the way. Percy was accepted for the Regulars and has been put into the Gloucester Regiment & sent to Bristol. A letter came this morning from Holliday & Greenwood, offering to make Percy an orderly-clerk for Mr Holliday. I do not think perhaps that he will accept such a position. Last night I wrote a letter to the Oxford Grant people & placed my position before them, as follows.

Dear Mr Reade

This letter must be a rather long one, as necessity compels me to make a very clear statement of my present position. My last letter to you was to say that my allowance was made up to £108. Almost immediately after my sending you that letter, this terrible war broke out & my position is now, so far as I can at present tell, this:

Until the war is over and affairs can be looked into, my allowance is practically nothing, and my return to Oxford even as an unattached student is – as matters now stand – highly improbable. With regard to the war and my actions concerning it, I feel that I may, in justice to myself, say that I have tried all means in my power to get some work to do, & finally having offered myself as a private in the Old Public School and University Corps, I was refused on account of my chest measurement. Mr Cookson of Magdalen, whom I saw last week, advised me to join the OTC next term. This in the event of my returning to Oxford I should of course do.

Hence for the time being I cannot but turn my thoughts to my private affairs. These being as I have above stated, I feel that I must write to you to ask your advice as to my best course, since my whole future may be irrevocably checked & broken by this present state of affairs unless I try to improve my position. I of course am aware that at this juncture I am by no means the only man who is placed in the position I now find myself, hence I find it particularly difficult to make my plea, & foresee that this letter cannot but be one among many such. As you said, however, when I last saw you, that provided I was successful in Responsions my case might be reconsidered, perhaps in this present crisis there may still be a chance that I may look to my diocese for help.

If it were not asking too much of you, I should be so glad if you would write me your very frank advice as to my best course. I feel sure that you will see that it would be tantamount, metaphorically speaking, to suicide, if I did not do my best – being useless for the army – to continue my studies at Oxford, especially as the smallness of my exam I have just passed would make it of little value, were I forced to give up my studying for Holy orders – which I hope may never have to be – and take to other work.

There is but one other alternative – which I will place before you, & concerning which I should be grateful to you for advice – and you will understand how singularly disagreeable such an alternative must be – I could place my position before several wealthy friends interested in my future at Oxford & in the Church, & beg!

Yours truly

(Diary of Sydney Spencer, 10 September 1914 (D/EX801/12))

Dreading having to obey for three years

Sydney Spencer was still agonising over his future, as he found out a friend had joined up. He confided in his diary:

Sunday 6th September
Editarton, Lynwood Road, Epsom

Yesterday morning two things happened. One, a letter from Mr Ruscoe, & the other a letter I wrote to London. Hence I am here in Epsom just for the night. The following is my letter to the Secretary of the Ex-Public School & University Corps:

Fernlea, Cookham, Sept 5th

Dear Sir

I have spent three days in Oxford trying to get some work to do with the following result: Mr Cookson of Magdalen College advised me to get some drill practice and then join the OTC.

As I am not satisfied that I have done all in my power I apply to you to ask you whether I might have a chance of getting into the ex-public school and university corps in formation. I would willingly cycle up to London any day if you thought that the following statistics concerning myself would not make such a journey fruitless.

I am still a University man but it is doubtful as to whether I can continue my studies at Oxford. My age is 25 years 22 months. My height is 5 ft 4 ½ ins. Weight 8 stone 1 lb. Chest measurement 32 ½ ins. Constitutionally strong but physically rather weak. A good walker & good lungs! No military experience. I should be obliged for any advice or information you could send me.

Yours truly

That letter may mean my going up to London on Monday. Mr Ruscoe’s letter was to ask me to come and stay for a bit. As yesterday seemed the only chance, I cycled down here, getting a puncture en route. I got here at about 1.45. I found that Willie Birch has joined the East Surrey & is off on Monday! Poor, poor Mrs Birch, it does seem terribly sad for her. It is a hard thing that a mother should lose her only son! I hope too, & pray, that Willie will bear the brunt of what he has undertaken. It will be a fearful strain on him, I feel sure, & when temptation comes, may he be guarded & kept from all wrong. I am very glad that he is joining with four or five others whom he knows. So he will not be altogether alone. I am going to eight o’clock celebration in a few minutes, & shall sit with him. There is one thing about this corps I am trying to join, I fear that one has to bury oneself in it, also supply one’s own kit. But that remains to be yet proved. This failing, I can make no other efforts for I feel sure that I have then done all that is expected of me.

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham, meanwhile, was hearing of various family friends who had joined up including one with similar qualms to those of Sydney Sepncer.

6 September 1914
Church [at] 11. Willy read out names of those gone to volunteer…

Sep joined Public School Corps – rather dreads having to obey for 3 years!…

Papers signed by Allies. None will make peace without the others. Signed Kitchener – Cambon – Beckendorf.

(Diary of Sydney Spencer, 6 September 1914); Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“God forgive me if I have not played the man”

Sydney Spencer of Cookham visited Oxford, where he was an undergraduate, to investigate his options for service. His diary tells the tale of his anguished debate with hinmself.

September 3rd
Oxford

Now dies the saying ‘No news is good news’! I have had to keep away from you, Mr Diary, for a very long time, but because I have not been able to give you any news it does not mean that it is all good news. Red war still rides her bloody way, & the noise of her chariot wheels is dread & fearful. In her course she ruthlessly runs down thousands of poor men, ruining at the same time hearts & homes, puffing out the one little flame that lit the home, & snatching away the one pair of hands which earned the bread. Oh War, War, when will your end come? On all sides one hears “cursed Germans, wicked Kaiser! Oh that they were all butchered!” Who will find me a man to get up into the chariot of dread war & cast her down & trample her to the ground? That is what we want cursed in its cruelty, cursed in its cold modern methods, cursed root & branch is War, & yet here we are in modern Europe, in the civilized (?) twentieth century, making the whole of Europe shake, making a ghastly field of battle of miles of smiling country, devastating, destroying, wounding killing, yes & even Murdering! Louvain, the loveliest of cities, mellowed by its ancient buildings, beautiful for its memories of the past, [rivalling] Oxford for its traditions & its university; is no more. It has been ruthlessly levelled with the earth. It is almost unthinkable that all those homes – private citizen homes – beautiful for their memories of childhood & young married days, & days spent around the fires by hallowed old age, all, all gone! The spirits of hundreds of homes wander over desolate spots & find no habitation for themselves.

It is just striking three & I am seated on the Union Lawn to write. To write what? The chronicle of perhaps the greatest mental strain I have ever passed through. I came up here to Oxford to find out what work I could do. I did not for one minute think that service might be a point now. It came as a terrible shock & brought me up dead against “self”, when Hudgel of St John’s Street suggested that I should join as a private in the 2nd Bucks Light Infantry Territorials, which are offering to go out on active service. I passed through such a two hours from 9.30 till 11.30 this morning as I never hope to pass through again. It seemed that everything pointed to my going to the office in 20 Magdalen Street, & offering to be medically examined. Every nerve in my body & mind was at breaking tension, & I had determined to throw up all “thoughts” & join, when, passing by Keble College I saw the men I should have to join. It was terrible. My whole power of reasoning & my whole religious feeling cried out, “Play the man, & go in & take the consequences”. But my mind & self kept edging out that it would be unendurable to be always always in the company of those men. The hard living I can endure, the drilling I would have done my best to satisfy, in the dying even for my country & my God I could even support & endure, rather than the hourly & daily torture of being in the company of men whose minds although ennobled by willingness to serve their country, would be for ever grating on mine by their coarseness or even worse than that. God forgive me if I have not altogether played the man, but I have done my all at present.

Last night I was refused altogether by Colonel Ranking at the Hospital (the Examination School). This morning Dr Allen said he would see if there were [sic] any sort of work I could do on the Emergency Committee. Then came the proposal to join the body of men, & I went, confessedly to myself almost distracted by doubts & longings, by thoughts pulling & pushing me one way & another – to Dr Pope. He advised me to go to a Mr C Cookson of Magdalen College, so I went to his rooms. He told me that it was utterly foolish to think of doing such a thing as Hudgel suggested, that I was altogether unfitted for it, & that I should not only be useless but be in the way & do harm. He did not even suggest that I should do any such thing as join this new battalion for ex-public school men or university men, but that I should go home & rest quietly till term commenced & then join in the OTC at once. By this I found that according to him – I should be doing not only what was best for myself, but also the best thing all round. So my next step is to go home & get some drill from Maidenhead in preparation for joining the OTC next term. No one who has not passed through what I have passed through this morning can know what a relief it is to me to feel that I have done what I could possibly do, & that I know my duty plainly – having it set before me by men who are purposely chosen to give advice to such as myself. Dr Pope was very sweet & kind to me & I feel deeply grateful to him, as also to Mr Cookson, for the way in which they helped me through this terrible ordeal. If I want to get further information re the Public Schools & University Corps I can write to the Secretary of the Public School & University Force Committee, 46 Victoria Street, Westminster SW.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)