Wounded soldiers get a space for reading, writing and social intercourse

Broad Street Congregational Church’s latest effort was to offer organised entertainment to wounded soldiers who had been aimlessly wandering the streets.

HOSPITALITY TO SOLDIERS

On Monday October 15th, a new movement was inaugurated in our Schoolroom. For some time previously various members of the congregation has been impressed with the idea that something should be done for the Wounded Soldiers who gather each afternoon in Broad Street, and who appeared to need a place where they could rest (particularly in wet weather), play games, and be able to obtain light refreshments. It was felt that there was need of something of the same sort being done for other men and women in khaki in the town in the evening. These matters were considered by the Church members, and ultimately it was decided that an attempt should be made to meet the needs referred to, and a Committee immediately got to work, with the result that the Schoolroom and two adjoining rooms were ready for occupation by the soldiers on the 15th.

Subsequent events have proved that the needs were even greater than we thought. From the very first the undertaking has been a success. The various Military Hospitals and billeting places had been informed, by printed handbill, of our arrangements, and this was all that was necessary. Almost as soon as the doors were opened, our wounded friends began to arrive, and every afternoon since they have been coming to Broad Street in large numbers. Each evening, too, there is a good attendance of men and women in khaki. Our visitors are allowed to amuse themselves in the way they deem best. Some make good use of the writing room, in which writing-paper and envelopes are provided without cost; whilst others join in one or other of the various games. Magazines and papers are supplied for those who care to read them; and the piano is in almost constant use by those who enliven the whole proceedings. The original intention was to try the experiment for a month, but the success was such that it has now been decided to continue indefinitely. It has also been decided to meet a further need by opening the rooms for reading, writing and social intercourse each Sunday afternoon from 4 to 6.15 pm.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, December 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

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Racy remarks from a soldier on leave

Members of the men’s group at Broad Street Church in Reading were urged to set up a war savings scheme.

BROTHERHOOD NOTES

During the month [of September], in common with other Brotherhoods in the district, we took up a collection on behalf of the Shilling Fund which is being raised by the “Reading Standard” for the Royal Berkshire Hospital, and our members contributed the magnificent sum of 104 shillings. This is one of the best individual collections made by our society for some time.

It is an object which has the sympathy of all our members.

It was with great pleasure that we welcomed back our assistant secretary Brother A H Cooper on his leave. He certainly looks well, and his racy remarks were much appreciated.

At the invitation of our committee, Miss Darker, secretary of the Reading Local Central Committee of the National War Savings Committee, addressed members on Sunday afternoon, September 16th, and very ably and tactfully explained the war savings scheme.

Her remarks were attentively listened to, and the frequent applause leaves little doubt that the committee will consider it advisable to form a Broad Street PSA Brotherhood War Savings Association.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, October 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“We could hardly realise that our popular Big Drummer would never return to help us again”

Teenage boys from Earley had the fun of a camp dispelled by sad news of old friends who had gone to the Front.

CHURCH LADS’ BRIGADE AND SCOUTS

We had a most enjoyable time on the School journey in spite of the weather. A very full account is being published in the “Reading Observer”, and we are hoping that Mr Albert Smith will be able to spare the time to come and give us a Lantern Lecture describing our travels, so we shall not enter into details now. Several of the Cadets and two more Scouts joined us at Hungerford when we spent a most delightful four days, everyone showing us the greatest kindness.

The news of the death of our late Staff-Sergeant George Maskell came as a great shock to us on our return, and we could hardly realise that our popular Big Drummer would never return to help us again. We had a Memorial Service after Matins on Sunday, August 12th, some of our friends from St Giles’ and St John’s Companies joining us for the Parade Service and staying to the Memorial Service. We offer our deep sympathy to the relations and friends of one whom we all loved – RIP.

On going to press we have just heard of the death of another of our CLB Staff Sergeants, John Parker. Jack was one of our very keenest and best CLB workers and we shall miss him terribly. We offer our deepest sympathy to his mother and other relations and friends. RIP.


Earley St Peter parish magazine, September 1917 (D/P191/28A/24)

“Scalps” secured by our airships

Even an idyllic seaside holiday for the Images was interrupted by the war.

Polcurrian Hotel
Mullion
S. Cornwall

Monday, Aug. 6, 1917

My very dear old man

O but this is a heavenly morning! Brilliant sky, such as I never saw in England before, in August – and the bay underneath my window of such glorious dazzling blue as I think would equal – or put to shame – South Seas or Tropics – and underneath it all, the sneaking deadly submarine. One came in here ten days ago, but had to quit re infecta, without any murders.

But a couple of young ladies from this hotel actually saw, last week, at the Lizard, 6 miles away, a U-boat torpedo strike a steamer and heard the explosion. And a man, who had cycled over, described to me the passionate race of 3 English destroyers to the rescue and our own Mullion airship hovering overhead. They did not get that submarine, though: or at least will not own to it. Discipline makes them very reticent. Still, in less guarded moments, hints are dropped as to several “scalps” secured by one or other of the airships….

Letters tell us … of two raids there – raids never mentioned yet in any newspaper!

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

“The villages have been ruthlessly pillaged, burnt, and razed to the ground”

A Reading man writes of his latest experiences at the front – and the death of a friend.

Our “Boys”

This terrible war has taken from us yet another of our brave soldier lads. Horace Pinker, who quite recently lost his brother and mother, was killed in France on the 5th of April. May the God of all comfort be very near to his father, sisters and brother – to console them in their keen sorrow!

The following extract from a letter sent by Eric Chapman to his mother is especially interesting, as it refers to the circumstances and death of his friend:-

“To return to my personal doings, it is unnecessary of course for me to allude to the German retirement on the western front, seeing that the papers are full of it. As you must have guessed, this has made a great difference to our lives, as we have had to be constantly hot on their heels. At times we come to close quarters with them, but on the whole they do not show much fight, and easily surrender or retire. The country over which we are advancing has been most thoroughly and diabolically destroyed. The villages have been ruthlessly pillaged, burnt, and razed to the ground. Not a thing of any value has been left behind by these barbarians. Even the young fruit trees have been deliberately maimed and rendered incapable of bearing fruit. Naturally this has made it most hard for us following in their tracks, as they intended it should, but we are able to overcome all difficulties and continue our victorious advance. There is not the slightest doubt we are winning by force of arms and smashing the Huns back to their own country. May the end come suddenly and speedily!

“Our battalion has just returned from a special attack, in which it distinguished itself, and about which the Colonel has given permission to write, so I am quite in order in relating a few facts without giving valuable information away. Our objective was a large village, fortified and held by the Huns. We commenced the attack in the early hours of the morning, and had to advance a distance of over 2,000 yards, before we came to grips with the enemy. It was snowing slightly at the time and a thin layer covered the ground as the men moved forward in waves to the attack. After we got fairly going I felt strangely exhilarated, and, much to my surprize quite unconcerned by the possibility of danger. The Huns yelled when they saw us coming, but our fellows yelled still louder, and never wavered a moment under the enemy’s fire. Barbed wire impeded our movements to a small extent, but in short time we had reached the village and were careering like mad through the streets. The Huns did not stand a ghost of a chance then, as our men paid back old scores, and in a few seconds they were doing their best to retreat. Many got back to tell the tale to Hindenburg, but I am thankful to say many not. It was not long before the whole village was in our hands, and after we had consolidated our gain we had some sport looking for souvenirs. The most interesting thing to us was the Germans’ rations which they left behind. Some of the men ate them, but although I am not dainty on this job, I did not have! The meat looked tempting enough, but had the undoubted characteristics of worn-out cab horse!

“I am glad to say our casualties on this occasion were comparatively few, although I regret to have to relate the death in action of Horace Pinker. He was killed by a bullet, and died before the stretcher–bearers could get him to the dressing station. It is very sad for his people, but they can have the satisfaction of knowing that he died bravely and nobly, and was accorded a decent burial.”

It has long been felt that we have not done all that we might for those of our numbers who are taking part in this bitter struggle. At Christmas our young people collected enough to send parcels to all on the Institute Roll of Honour. Now it is wished to do the same for the others, and the kind help and generous support of all our friends if asked. We feel confident that this appeal will not be made in vain! Contributions may be sent to Miss Gough, Mrs. Hamilton Moss, Mrs. Streeter, or Miss Austin.

Trinity Congregational magazine, May 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

A very gallant officer and gentleman, recklessly brave and a fine example of cool courage

The Old Boys of Reading School were distinguishing themselves at the Front.

O.R. NEWS.

Killed in Action.

2nd Lieut. Norman A. Howell, King’s Shropshire Light infantry. On December 23rd.

He is the second son of Mr. W. Roland Howell, architect, of this town. Born at Reading in April 1897, he was educated at Reading School and St. Laurence College, Ramsgate, and had been about a year in his father’s office before joining the Army in November, 1915. His cadet training at school and college enabled him to get his commission. He was posted to the King’s Shropshire’s, was ordered to the front at the end of June last, and has been in the thick of the Somme fighting for six months. Lieut. Norman Howell came home on his first leave on December 6th and returned on the 16th. Within a week he had made the great sacrifice.

His Commanding Officer wrote to Mr. Howell on December 24th:

“I deeply regret to report the death of your son, who was serving in my Battalion. Whilst going up to the front line trenches in charge of a party last night an enemy sniper shot him through the head, killing him instantly. This morning his body was buried by the Chaplain near where he fell, with military honours, officers and men attending.

“I had trench mortars and rifle grenades on the sniper’s post, patrols had reported 8 to 10 Huns there, none there now! On behalf of his comrades, officers, N.C.O.’s and men, I wish to convey to you our profound sympathy . He was loved and respected by all of us, and we mourn the loss of a very gallant officer and gentleman. To all of us he was known as recklessly brave and a fine example of cool courage, devoted to his duties, which he discharged most cheerfully under the most trying conditions.”

“I placed him in charge of the Lewis Gun detachment, on which he had set his heart and soul. He belonged to my own Headquarters’ mess, and I took particular interest in him. A cross has been put up on the grave near Les Boeufs.”

It will be remembered that in October, 1915, Mr. Howell’s elder son, 2nd Lieut. Roland Basil Howell, was reported “wounded and missing.” Nothing has since been heard of him, and any hopes of his being alive hangs on the very slenderest thread. On the 16th of last month the War Office wrote saying that they were now forced to believe he was killed.

Lieut. Basil Howell was born in October, 1895, and received his commission in the 4th North Staffordshire’s three months after the war started. He was attached to the Northumberland Fusiliers (the Fighting Fifth), and went to the front in May, 1915.

Reports received from the front show that on the night of October 1st-2nd, 1915, the battalion to which Lieut. Howell was attached were in severe action. After all the officers of the company had been killed he gallantly led a bombing party to attack a German trench, but was never seen again.

Every possible enquiry was made through the War Office, the American Embassy, the Red Cross, and the wounded men who returned to England. Many references were made by the latter to the respect and love they had for the brave young officer. Like his brother he was educated at Reading School and St Laurence College, and had started his training to follow in his father’s profession. For many years he was an enthusiastic scout, and took a big share in starting the South Reading Troop.

Lieut. Cedric Charles Okey Taylor, East Kent Regiment, attached to Trench Mortar Battery, only son of Mrs. Taylor, 39, Weltje Road, Ravenscroft Park, W., and of the late Mr. Charles Warmsley Taylor, of Reading. Further details are now to hand of Lieut. Taylor’s death.

He died for King and country on December 3rd, 1916, in his 22nd year. Young in years but old in endurance, he was in constant action for 15 months at Ypres in 1915 and on the Somme in 1916. He is laid to rest in the cemetery, at Faubourg d’Amiens, Arras.

2nd Lieut. W. Marsden Cooper, Worcestershires, only son of Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper, 107, London Street, Reading, aged 19.

Cooper was only 19 years of age and went out to the front in the Worcestershire’s about the middle of December, shortly after completing his course at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was educated at Reading School, where he gained a Council scholarship in 1909. His School career was unusually distinguished. In 1914 he gained a School Certificate followed the next year by a higher certificate.

In response to his country’s call, he decided to take a commission, and in the entrance examination for the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, held in February, 1916, he came out second on the list, gaining a Prize Cadetship. At Sandhurst his success was no less pronounced than at school, and he gained the position of Sergeant in his cadet unit, the highest position a cadet can obtain, before he left College. Not only did he have considerable intellectual gifts, as his record shows but he was a fine athlete as well. He was an excellent all round cricketer and his natural powers as a bowler would have enabled him to make his mark in really good company. As a Rugby Football player he showed great promise, and before he left school he had the distinction of being captain of football, captain of cricket and captain of the school. Yet he was never elated by success, and perhaps it was more than anything else his modesty which made him so popular with the boys and the masters alike. Those who have watched his career, for the last two years, and marked the way in which his development always seemed to keep pace with his new responsibilities feel a special grief that a young life so full of promise should have been brought thus prematurely to a close.
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American president makes a speech

The United States of America declared war on Germany on 6 April.

8 April 1917
Observer full of “President Wilson”’s speech.

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

Asylum staff “feel the sudden restriction”

Food restrictions continued to pose a thorny question for the Lunatic Asylum.

April 9th 1917.

Sir,

Food Restriction.

I would respectfully ask your guidance in regard to the following matter. As you are doubtless aware the new dictum of the Food Controller allows persons partaking of food in hotels and restaurants a total weekly meat supply of 4½lbs., and that there must be one meatless day. The former recommendation was 2½lbs. per week as an average family allowance. The reason given for the increased allowance for hotels is that the visitors would be mainly adults, and consequently require more than the average family.

In asylums the staff consists of virile adults, many of the females have not yet reached maturity, who have been allowed ample meat and bread supplies, and they naturally feel the sudden restriction even although fish is substituted on one or two days weekly. A leader in the Times of Saturday directs urgent attention to these apparently contradictory proposals of the Food Controller.

As the former recommendation was strongly supported by your Board in their recent circular letter upon which the committees of Visitors have acted, I would ask whether, in face of these recent instructions, it would be right to issue up to 4½lbs. each per week instead of the 2½lbs. formally recommended.

I am, Sir, Your obedient Servant.

Letter from Berkshire Lunatic Asylum (D/H10/A6/6/1/5)

The gravity of the situation and the imperative need for all to carry out the instructions of the Food Controller

Various kinds of savings were pursued in Winkfield – but there were concerns as to how poorer people would cope.

WINKFIELD WAR ASSOCIATION.

The Committee organised a Public Meeting in the Parish Room on Friday, March 30th , when there was a large attendance.

Mrs. Boyce gave an excellent address on the Food question, pointing out clearly the gravity of the situation and the imperative need for all to carry out the instructions of the Food Controller, especially as regards to bread; and the point was emphasized that although the labouring man who could not afford so much meat might legitimately take a larger allowance of bread, yet he is now bound to reduce his usual amount by at least one pound a week.

Mr. Creasy also spoke on the importance of War Savings, and proposed the following resolution which was seconded by Mr. Harrison and carried “that all present pledge themselves to co-operate in carrying out the regulations of Lord Devonport and the Authorities on the question of rations to households generally, and to support the War Savings Association to the best of their ability”.

The Committee learning that many Cottagers and Allotment holders found great difficulty in obtaining seed potatoes arranged to buy a ton of seed at once, and Mr. Asher kindly advanced the money to secure them. Most of these potatoes have now been applied for, but a few pecks are still available, and any wishing to buy them should apply to Mr. C. Osman, Winkfield Row.

Arrangements have been made for the saving of waste paper; sacks have been taken by Mr G. Brown, Maiden’s Green, Mr. Eales, Winkfield Street, Mr. C. Osman, Winkfield Row, Mr. Langley, Brock Hill, Mr. Osman, Gorse Place, and also at the Schools, and it is hoped that many will send contributions of waste paper (old letters, circulars, newspapers, but not brown paper) to help fill these sacks which will then be collected and forwarded.

Winkfeld section of Winkfield District Magazine, May 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/5)

A day of wild rumours

The area was swept with particularly wild rumours about a possible invasion.

27 March 1917

Day of wild rumours. Our navy defeated! Big battle North Sea for 3 days! Germans landed Scotland. All troops mobilized. Nothing in papers.

Went on all today. That there was a great N. Sea battle – 11 ships lost! Then 9!! The Germans had landed in Scotland – then on east coast. All troops from neighbourhood sent away. The Engineers at Maidenhead left Sunday, Marlow this morning. (This latter is true). Also Sydney Elliott at Bramshott, then suddenly mobilized to go somewhere. Heatley said it was a rising in Ireland. Nothing in the papers – morning or night, except Londoner’s Diary laughing at the reports. Last version Germans had taken Scotland!!!

No petrol substitutes to be given out. No more petrol allowance after end April!

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

“This year we shall be obliged to keep Lent, whether we like it or not”

Shortages were beginning to affect everyone.

LENT

It seems that this year we shall be obliged to keep Lent, whether we like it or not. Railway travel has been curtailed, food prices are still rising, food is getting scarce, and all the efforts of the nation are to be devoted to winning the war. As Church-people we are used to the season of Lent, but there is a question whether we have kept it as we ought, in fact it is certain that many Church-people have paid very little attention to the Church’s injunctions in this respect. But we cannot disobey the State with impunity, and we should be extremely selfish if we did not do our bit to practise economy, and so help to save the Nation’s food. There are many who might, with advantage, purchase War Savings Certificates, to help the country and to make provision for the future; and we would beg all our readers to do their very utmost to carry out the Food Controller’s instructions, in the spirit in which they were issued. The Germans are not yet decisively beaten – if this is to be done, everyone of us will have to help.

We should like to offer our sincere sympathy to Mr and Mrs Savage on the untimely death of a good son and promising young soldier. Edward George Savage was confirmed at the Parish Church in 1912. He passed away from the effects of pneumonia, following upon an attack of measles… The coffin was borne by soldiers, and there was a following party of the Royal Flying Corps.

We would also offer our sincere sympathy to Mrs Manley on the death of her husband on service, as announced in the “Newbury Weekly News” of February 15th.

The National Schools have had a bad time during the long continued frost: first of all on account of the heating apparatus misbehaving itself; and secondly, on account of the water being frozen. The Managers have endeavoured to remedy the former by adding to the boiler: it is possible that the coke does not nowadays give out so much heat, as certain properties have to be taken out for the manufacture of explosives.

The Parish Room has now been evacuated by the Military, and has returned to its usual state. The soldiers were very quiet and well behaved during their stay there. The occupation brought in a little money to the Parish Room Fund. We trust that outside people, who have been accustomed to use the room, will now appreciate the privilege more. The men who were billeted in the Parish Room desire, through the medium of the Parish Magazine, to sincerely thank all those who so kindly contributed to their comfort during their stay there.

Mrs L R Majendie would be grateful for gifts of material, such as cretonne, for the members of the Mothers’ Meetings to make “treasure bags” for wounded soldiers.

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, March 1917 (D/P89/28A/13)

The “Daily Mail” is demanding that Asquith & Churchill should be impeached

Expat Will Spencer had plenty to interest him in the Swiss newspapers – the first news of the Russian Revolution, plus the official enquiry into the fiasco of the Dardanelles expedition.

16 March 1917

Max Ohler’s birthday.

News in the paper of a revolution in St Petersburg. Also a rumour that the Czar is a prisoner, & has abdicated, & that his brother, the Grand-duke Michael Alexandrovitch, has been appointed regent….

Read an article in by the London correspondent of the “Bund” on the report of the Commission which was appointed to enquire into the conduct of the British Dardanelles Expedition. Lloyd George had said in Feb. 1915 that the Army was not there to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the Navy. The responsibility for the land operations(100,000 killed, wounded & missing, & 100,000 sick) being persevered with, rested with Asquith, Churchill & – though one is reluctant to say it under the circumstances – chiefly with the late Lord Kitchener.

My question is, did Asquith know that the chances of success were too small to justify the prosecution of the campaign? Or did he think it best to be guided by the opinion of Kitchener, & was it the expressed opinion of the latter that the chances were good enough. In the latter case, I am sorry for Asquith. The expedition was an expensive failure, but if the attempt had not been made, probably plenty would have said afterwards that it ought to have been made. It is always much easier to judge after the event.

The “Daily Mail” is demanding that by way of a warning to others, Asquith & Churchill should be impeached. Apparently it was from Australia & New Zealand that the demand for an enquiry came, very large contingents from those colonies having taken part & suffered heavily in the campaign.

Diary of Will Spencer (D/EX801/27)

Once again are the rooms at Trinity thrown open to the boys in “Khaki”

Reading was once again a centre for soldiers in training. They found a warm wecome in local churches.

The Soldiers Club

Once again are the rooms at Trinity thrown open to the boys in “Khaki,” and so familiar is the scene that it is hard to realise that an interval of eighteen months lies between the two occasions.
This time, even more strongly than before, was the doubt of actual need expressed a doubt which has long ago dispelled, not only by the attendance, but by the very words of the men. It was arranged that the rooms should be open at six o’clock, but long before that time many men arrived eager to enjoy the comforts of the washing accommodation. Here they can have an unlimited supply of hot water a luxury more appreciated than anything else and they can shave, clean their shoes, and polish their buttons. The writing room is well patronised, crowded on Sundays, and the post-box provided, which is cleared at intervals corresponding to the town collections, has proved a great convenience.

The scene in the schoolroom itself is of a homely character, which evidently attracts the men we desire to help. In fact, we are told that among Trinity is designated as “Home,” and the following conversation is common: “Where are you going to-night? “Oh to the little home. I’ll see you there.” Could one wish for any higher appreciation.

The billiard table is the great attraction, and never without players, whilst draughts, bagatelle, chess, and cards are freely indulged in. Our Pastor frequently gives up his valuable time to play chess with our guests, and his visits are always appreciated by the men. Many of the men are musical, and an evening rarely passes without music of some sort, often an excellent repertoire. Other quieter spirits find enjoyment in a perusal of the magazines and papers provided, or in a chat round the fire.

On two occasions a whist-drive has given great pleasure, and once a very successful concert was arranged by a party of our soldier friends.

The refreshment canteen is a very attractive feature; the men much enjoyed the good things provided, and hailing with special delight anything “home-made.”

Incidentally, ministering to sore throats and heavy colds, bandaging fingers, and repairing clothes, promotes the home feeling so much appreciated, and makes the men realise they are among friends who desire to meet every want as far as lies in their power.

On Sunday the schoolroom (in order not to disorganize the Sunday school work) is closed to the men until four o’clock. At that hour they eagerly troop in, arrange themselves in little groups, and chat or read until 4.20, when tea is served at a charge of 4d, followed by cigarettes. It is good to see their evident enjoyment of the fare provided, and to hear their expressions of thanks. Many respond to the invitation to join in the evening service, after which there is usually a short concert and a free supper of coffee, cakes, pastries, etc.

Our grateful thanks are tendered to all who so kindly send cakes, papers, etc., or who contribute to the musical programme, and we would welcome additions to their number. This article closes with a letter sent by one of our guests after leaving for another camp, which is a striking testimony to the place Trinity has in their memories.

Halton Camp West.

Dear Mr. Maggs,

I do hope you will not think me unkind for not writing before, but I have been shifting about all over this Camp. We are still waiting to be posted away; some of the boys have gone, some to York and New Forest and various other stations. We are about four miles from Tring; the Rothschilds have a fine place there, and today we have been over the private museum of animals, fishes, etc., of every description. But our one great loss is our kind friends at Reading, of whom we are never tired of talking. The kindness you all showed to me and the happy evenings I spent at Trinity will always be to me one of my most treasured memories, and I am quite sure that the example and the spirit which prompts it can only come from the true love of Christ.
Please remember me to all my kind friends, and may God bless you all in your noble work, and again thanking you for all you did for me,

I remain,

Your affectionate friend,

F. White.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, March 1917 (D/EX1237/1/12)

The greatest of inventions that this war has produced

Percy Spencer was instructed by sister Florence to write to her husband John Maxwell Image about a new kind of weapon – the Stokes mortar, invented by Wilfred Stokes in 1915.

Mar. 13. 1917
My dear John

I’m under orders from WF to write and tell you “all about the Stokes gun”, with a sort of threat that if I don’t I shall forfeit your affection. Do please give her some lessons on the ‘power of command’.

And now to show she needs none, I’ll tell you, not everything, but a few things about our famous little strafer.

I suppose the character of this war was bound to lead to the development of the mortar. For one thing, in a vast number of cases the distance between the opposing trenches is so short that to hit the enemy trench without damaging one’s own demands closer shooting than modern artillery has yet completely achieved. Hence, as I say, the development of the mortar which from its size and easy portability to forward positions was bound to become an important weapon for short range work. But no one who saw the primitive weapons of this kind which we possessed in 1915 had much hope that the “wonderful Stokes gun”, the existence of which was at first a carefully guarded secret from the Huns, would prove the success and surprise to the enemy that was expected by the experts.

Its advance upon old types was at once recognised, but I do not think its unique effectiveness would have been thoroughly appreciated, but for the perseverance and pluck of our men who work the guns.

Of course owing to their weight and difficulties of ammunition supply, all guns, mortars and mechanical contrivances for trench warfare diminish rapidly in value as an attach advances, but for preparing the way for an assault I believe the Stokes gun is one of our most valuable weapons, and perhaps our most valuable trench weapon. I should not be surprised if it were ultimately classed as the greatest of inventions that this war has produced, excepting, of course, the Kaiser’s utterances.

I’m told its rapidity of fire has the most terrorising effect and in one heavy battle last year, when the preliminary preparation had not been thoroughly completed, it was our Stokes strafe (creating I believe, a record for volume of fire) which not only ripened the harvest for our fellows, but actually gathered it in, for the Huns never waited for them, but ran in with their hands up.

Curiously enough, arising out of a discussion in the mess yesterday upon the reward of the great inventor, some said that the joy of personal achievement was his real reward, others that it was determined purely by the extent of his cash profit, and another that his reward was essentially the consciousness of having benefitted humanity, the latter opinion being cited as Mr Stokes’ recompense; and upon its being suggested that the last was rather a matter of point of view, like a true Christian and Britisher, he challenged the suggestion and stood to his statement.

So, altho’ I’m afraid Mr Censor will not pass any remarks as to the principle of the gun, its rate of fire, ranges and kinds, anyway you’ll be satisfied that it’s a bonnie weapon [censored].

A little while ago WF asked me if a report of “our raid” was true. It was indeed a champion affair, never do I remember such a tornado of fire, but as you will have realised, beyond the broad facts that there was a raid, and I believe the most successful one ever made by the British, the newspaper report is sheer nonsense. The gorgeous gentleman who resides in comfort somewhere behind and seems to have the newspaper glory of this Division peculiarly under his care, succeeds only in getting well outside the truth, and making us appear ridiculous in the eyes of those who do know what is and what is not possible.

Recently I have missed 2 opportunities for souvenirs. One, the top of a brass candlestick discharged from a shrapnel shell at us last night – whether Fritz has grown humorous or artistic, I don’t know, but it strikes me as a rather charming idea of conveying “evening hate”. The other was very curious. In clearing the manure refuse etc from a farmyard midden a stone’s throw from here a Uhlan, intact, with lance complete, was discovered standing upright in the mire. Unfortunately he had been completely souvenired before I heard about him, otherwise you should have had a morsel. It would be interesting to know how he met his death.

Well, I think that’s all the news I have to tell you just now. Life is fairly lively, and we still have to do a good deal of shell dodging.

However it’s all towards the end of the war.

With love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/10/11)

All Germans of military age to be called up

Swiss newspapers had access to the latest news from Germany. Will Spencer heard of the death of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, inventor of the Zeppelin airship which had become so feared in Britain.

9 March 1917

News in the paper of Graf Zeppelin’s death (aged 79). Also a statement that all Germans of military age were about to be called in.

Diary of Will Spencer (D/EX801/27)