Shrapnel pulled out without anaesthetic

A former PoW visited Bisham Abbey to report on his experiences.

1 March 1919

Alfred Plumridge came after being prisoner 13 months at Magdeburg. Showed shrapnel in his body. Pulled out without anaesthetic.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

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Awfully ill

Complications from influenza meant an operation for Phyllis Vansittart Neale.

20 December 1918

Night nurse came 6 a.m. – said she was no better but had slept a little. Did not go in till 10.30. Looked awfully ill. Newton there. Henry & Johnson motored up from Bisham – arrived about 11. Dr said must pierce lung because of pus. Found there was, so arranged for operation soon as possible. Done 6 o’clock. They said successful. Mr Edmunds the surgeon [will?] look after her “as his own daughter”.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

“We shudder to think how thin seemed the partition between us and destruction!”

Maidenhead Congregational Church rejoiced.

PEACE!

The war is over! How difficult it was to believe at first! We could only slowly get our eyes accustomed to the sudden light. It seemed like passing out of a dark prison into the light of freedom again. Timidity was changed into a feeling of triumph. We can scarcely recognise the altered world, the change has been so sudden and startling. Everything seems new. The glow of victory and expectation is everywhere. As the enemy’s records slowly come to light, it is ever more plain how deliberate and wanton was Germany’s onslaught upon a world at peace, how deep her plots to get the nations under her heel, how tremendous her preparations, yes, and how nearly she succeeded! And now her huge strength has been destroyed. We open our daily newspapers now without a tremor. Nothing in the Peace celebrations seems more wonderful than the restraint and dignified calm of the people as a whole. There was no “mafficking” in the streets, there was no bombast anywhere. Perhaps it was because we had all suffered too deeply. Exultation of course there was, and it was abundantly justified. Dr. McLaren in one of his books asks the question, “Does Christianity forbid us to rejoice when some mighty system of wrong and oppression with its tools and accomplices, is cleared off from the face of the earth?” And the great preacher answers his own question with a text of scripture: “When the wicked perish there is shouting.”

It will be good for us to strive to make our gratitude to God more conscious and eager. We have been in tremendous peril! The Prime Minister said some year or two ago, “We shall win, but we shall only just win.” And it has been “only just.” We may well shudder to think how thin seemed the partition between us and destruction! Can we hope that a new sense of God will fall upon the nation? We need divine guidance and help as certainly in the reconstruction problems as in the peril of the war. Britain’s future depends upon the settlements of the coming year. The nation and the Churches too are at the cross roads! None of us, none of our sires or grandsires, have known a time when the call for earnest thinking and devoted service was to be compared with what it is to-day. Everyone of us must give answer unswervingly if we are not to let the hour pass and the opportunity slip away.

And now, among other things, we want our boys back again. We have felt their absence keenly, not only in our homes, but in the Church. There are nine of our own who will not return, and we will not forget them. But the others, may they come back firmer in fibre, more ready to serve Christ in His Church and in His Kingdom, more determined by His help to “build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.” And may the lessons of our great trial and triumph make us all wise and strong while life lasts.”

CHRISTMAS.

We ought to be able to fill our Christmas this year with real and unaffected joy. The great shadow is taken off merry making. Not that all the problems of the world have been solved, but they are nearer solution, and there is a grand hope in our hearts. And the coming of the world’s great King may remind us that the first of all conditions of real peace and content is a child-like heart, a spirit of gentleness and meekness, and of trust in the guidance of the good Father above. Rivalries and frettings eat out our peace, as a moth a garment, as acid soft metal. When man is right with God, all the earth will be right with men. If we are to gain true peace and happiness in the future, either for ourselves or for the nations, it must be by utter submission to Him who was born a child at Bethlehem.

OUR SOLDIERS.

F. W. Harmer is in hospital in London, suffering from some internal trouble, and may have to undergo an operation. Ernest Bristow is much better, and will soon be ready for his artificial leg. He is back at the Maidenhead Red Cross Hospital. Hugh Lewis has been down with a severe and serious attack of “flu,” and is in hospital at Boulogne.”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, December 1918 (D/N33/12/1/5)

There is no British heart that will not swell with gratitude

Maidenhead Congregational Church anticipated the end of the war.

THE WAR.

Since the last issue of our Magazine things have moved on with astonishing rapidity, and at the moment of writing it looks as though the end were fast approaching, and that it will prove a complete victory for the Allies. There is no British heart that will not swell with gratitude. Looking back across the past four years it has been a perilous and tragic time. And now there will be the almost equally important future of reconstruction to face. Did any body of men, since the world began, ever have entrusted to them a graver and grander task than that which is now, in the providence of God, being allotted to the Peace Conference?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed a letter to the “Times,” in which he says,

“Upon all whom my words may reach I would urge the duty of being instant in prayer. Remember before God the statesmen on either side the sea, upon whom rests a burden of responsibility greater perhaps than ever before. The issues may speedily become critical beyond all words. On their firm handling of these issues may depend under God the future of the world. Pray, then, that they may be endued with a large vision of what is just and right, and may act worthily to the trust, we hold for the generations yet unborn.”

There is surely no fitter subject upon which Christians of every name should concentrate just now in prayer.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We regret to say that the wife of T. W. Mulford has applied for leave to return from Egypt to make arrangements about his children, and is probably on the way home at the present time. Ernest Bristow has had another slight operation to his leg, and is again at Cliveden Hospital. Hugh Lewis is at home on leave, in excellent health. Herbert Brand has been wounded, and is in hospital in England.

THE CHURCHES AND COAL ECONOMY.

The Fuel Controller does not seem to have taken counsel with wisdom in asking Churches to abandon evening services to save coal and light. He did not pause to reflect that if a building is heated for morning and afternoon services, it does not require any further fuel for the evening, and that considerably less light is consumed in Church than would be used by the people if they all remained in their own homes. In the interests of national economy, perhaps it would be well to issue an order that everyone should attend public worship every Sunday evening during the winter!


Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, November 1918 (D/N33/12/1/5)

“One leg off, two large wounds in the other, a wound in his back and two fractured fingers – otherwise he’s first rate”

Percy Spencer was still suffering with his wound – but he saw many others far worse off.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
SE1

Sep 6 1918

My dear WF

A month today – and it seems like a year. But I’m not writing you an anniversary letter. Fact is Aunt Margaret is so faithful I fear she will have told you I’m to have my hand played about with today – so this is to let you know that the game is over and I’m all right. Exactly what they did was to cut the plaster splint away and release the wrist to see whether it was in a good position. I think this plaster cutting “stunt” must have been on the Inquisition list of tortures.

A poor fellow came in last night with one leg off, two large wounds in the other, a wound in his back and two fractured fingers – otherwise he’s first rate.

There’s one thing about my old wrist – it’s a first rate barometer – so I don’t ever expect to get wet at a picnic.

Did I tell you my kit came yesterday. It has travelled very badly but with the Curtis’ good offices I hope to get it in order. I’m afraid I’ve lost your photograph – a diligent search didn’t discover it yesterday, but I hope to find it today.

By the way I’m flooded with tobacco & chocolate. The pound packet of chocolate you sent me & which I hold in reserve has come back, also the last tin of tobacco sent out, so now I have 1 ¼ lbs.

It’s such a lovely afternoon, I think I’ll get up and go on the balcony.

With my dear love to you both

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/90)

“I feel no end of a fellow”

Percy continued to make progress.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
SE1
Sep 5, 1918

My dear WF

This morning I strolled upon the balcony and admired the view, and as I got out of bed, clothed and lung myself without assistance. I feel no end of a fellow.

My kit has just arrived, so tonight I shall have all the excitement of going through it and seeing of how much I have been robbed.
Mrs Curtis came to see me yesterday, and dear Mrs Hunt the day before, with gifts of grapes and heather. Marjorie, who is going to Horace in Scotland, is coming to see me on Saturday, after which I must somehow deny myself the pleasure of that family’s society. Really my nerves are not strong enough to stand it.

Will you send me Will’s address when you have time. I want to write to him.

Sister went away on leave today for a month. On Monday she became engaged to one of the doctors here. She half told me as much yesterday, and having observed a slightly more professional attitude to us all these last few days I’m not surprised – only heartbroken. At present it’s a great secret, so don’t do any congratulating when you meet again – Nurse Kirby simply told me so that I might release part of my affections for investment elsewhere.

Did I tell you I have got past the continual thermometer stage – now I only have to hold one on my mouth at breakfast time and watch my porridge grow cold. However as I’m to be operated upon next week I am again a pulse, and once more enjoy the privilege of having my hand held each morning.

A most unsatisfactory letter. Never mind.

With my dear love to you both
Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/89)

“Sometimes it’s a piece of shell – next day it will be a piece of bone”

Percy was clearly feeling a little better, and was able to observe life in his ward with his customary wry humour.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
SE1

Sep 1, 1918

My dear WF

Since Thursday morning I’ve lived – my arm went to sleep and has remained so. This morning the muck from it was much diminished and I am actually beginning to sleep without drugs and to walk a few paces. Two nights ago I indulged in the luxury of a bath and was strong enough to balance on one leg when necessary. In a few days time I am to be operated upon again to get at odds and ends of bone not wanted again. Of course I’m no end pleased at the prospect.

The fellow opposite is a perfect [illegible – source?] of wealth. They get something fresh out of him every day. He affords the sisters all the excitement of a bran pie insamuch as all the things are different – sometimes it’s a piece of shell – next day it will be a piece of bone, followed by a chunk of glass or a cork. I’ve got a small wager that inside a week they’ll find a bottle of whiskey in him somewhere.

I’ve asked No 9 (of Oriel College Oxford) what a “stunt” is and he confirms my opinion that today it has reached the stage when it means anything one likes to make it. Still I look back to the day when it was only applied to an out of the ordinary military minor enterprise. Nowadays, tricks in the air are stunts – so are raids – so is a disagreeable field practice or a route march – or the attendance at a court martial – and to go to big things, I remember that huge affair the battle of Messines being described as a “splendid stunt”. So carry on – make it mean what you like & look confident about it, you’ll worry through all right. I’m quite sure that will not satisfy John’s accurate mind.

No. 17 IBD “L” depot Calais means the “L” depot of the 17th Infantry Base Depot situated at Calais. It also means that Sydney having got beyond the point on the lines of communication from which officers are sent to rejoin their Battalion, has been sent back to the base depot, from there to be sent back to his Battalion when required or elsewhere possibly. Alternatively, assuming he is not yet fit, it means either that he is being sent to his base depot to convalesce, or being considered worn out he is there is do a few months tour of duty. Now I feel sure you must know exactly what it means.

This morning was very lovely. After I had been bathed, I lay and watched the Mother of Parliaments shyly move away from the night, down to the water’s edge and then silently and soberly await the first kiss and warm embrace of her other love. (It’s quite all right, I had some medicine yesterday.)

Just there I had to suspend operations for lunch – cold beef salad & potatoes: plum pie & custard. Unfortunately I had to refuse second helpings. However, as I lay here in the sunshine I feel that comfortable replete feeling stealing over me and presently I shall stretch forth my hand for John’s cigar and dissolve in smoke.

With my dear love to you both

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/85-88)

“I take gas like a lamb”

Percy Spencer was expecting an operation on his injured wrist.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
Aug 21, 1918

My dear WF

6 am and I’ve been washed & tidied up. Aren’t the hours they keep frightful?

I don’t expect to be conscious before the country post goes out today, but in case you don’t get a line from me in the morning, don’t worry dear – I take gas like a lamb and there’s nothing dangerous about the operation. Lastly I feel very fit & well this morning.
As it’s so early of course I haven’t any news except that (unless I dreamt it) there was a heavy bombardment in the early hours of this morning, which spelt attempted air raid I expect.

Just had my last meal (breakfast) till tonight. Sister says I’m a most uninteresting patient – temperature & pulse both normal.
I’m not at all sure my wrist is as bad as they think. I frequently feel or think I feel in my little finger and believe I can waggle it slightly – but of course this may be imagination. Anyway I shall know, I hope, tomorrow.

With my dear love to you both
Yrs ever

Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/80-81)

Garments are so very urgently needed for the wounded

Burghfield people continued to make clothes and hospital supplies for wounded soldiers.

Holiday House

The Committee regret that they are unable at present to arrange for any Evening Entertainments &c, due to the Lighting restrictions.

The Holiday House work party wish to thank all those who so kindly subscribed to the thousand penny fund, which was raised in answer to the appeal for funds from the Reading Depot. The amount subscribed more than reached our expectations, and we were able to send the sum of £7 10s 0d in all to the depot, £3 (i.e. 720 pennies) profits on a Whist Drive and Dance at Holiday House, and £4 10s 0d (i.e. 1,080 pennies) collected.

The Work Party would be glad to welcome more workers, as garments are so very urgently needed for the wounded, and also any help in providing wool for “operation” stockings.

Burghfield parish magazine, July 1918 (D/EX725/4)

Reflected glory

A Reading man was honoured for his heroic acts.

Trinity Roll of Honour

Sidney A. Bushell, R.A.F.
Walter John Harvey, A.S.C.
A. Vernon Lovegrove, R.G.A.
Ernest Pocock, 2/6 Warwicks.
Howard H. Streeter, M.G.C.
William Vincent, W.R.B.
Jack Wakefield, Royal Warwicks.
William Alfred Williams, 313th Reserve Labour Battalion.

We are delighted to hear that Lieut. John A. Brain had safely reached Reading on Tuesday, May 21st, and was being cared for, within reach of his friends, at No.1 War Hospital. After a few days his progress became less satisfactory, and on Tuesday, May 28th, his condition was again giving cause for anxiety. A further operation was found to be necessary, and we are more than glad to be able to report, at the time of going to press, was that the operation had been carried out quite successfully, and that he is now doing well.

Our heartiest congratulations to Lce-Corpl. Herbert E. Longhurst, on being awarded the Military Medal, “for his gallantry on March 25th, 1918, when be assisted to save a badly wounded officer under heavy machine gun fire and a fast advancing enemy. Later he rendered great assistance in rallying troops and stragglers, and worked hard on a trench system.”

Our quotation is taken from the white card expressing the appreciation of his Divisional Commander, which has been forwarded to his friends by the Major Commanding his Company, together with “the congratulations of all his old comrades in the company,” on his well-merited honour. We understand that Lce.-Corpl. Longhurst is in hospital somewhere in France, making a good recovery from the effects of German gas.

We trust that he may soon be fully restored to health, and can tell him that we at Trinity are taking to ourselves a little reflected glory and we are all the better and happier for it.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, June 1918 (D/EX1237/1)

“He was looking worn and depressed at his last leave”

There was news of a number of Maidenhead men, many wounded or ill. One had suffered a nervous breakdown.

OUR SOLDIERS.

Reginald Hill was able to pay a surprise visit of four days to his home, in the midst of his long and weary hospital experiences. He was looking well, considering all that he has borne, but he has one or two more operations yet to undergo. He spoke of a hope that he might be home shortly after Easter.

Ernest Bristow is progressing favourably, but the latest report that reached us spoke of another operation. He seems to be in excellent spirits.

Ben Gibbons is in hospital at Southall, suffering from debility. He was looking worn and depressed at his last leave, from which he had only got back to duty about a fortnight when he broke down and was sent to England, or rather (as we ought to say) Blighty.

Sydney Eastman is in hospital at Chatham, sent home for bronchitis. We may hope to see him shortly. The Medical Board decided that he could not stand the climate at the place where he was stationed.

W. Cleal is in hospital. No particulars known.

David Dalgliesh has received an appointment as Instructor at the Flying School at Winchester.

Hugh Lewis has been at home for a fortnight’s leave in excellent health.

Charles Catliff, too, has been home for his first leave; most of his time he spent at Bucklebury with his mother, who has been seriously ill.

Cyril Laker has had the thrilling experience of being torpedoed in the Mediterranean.

Herbert Brand has received a Commission, and when we last saw him was hoping to be attached to the 4th Berks.

Since the above was in type, a letter has been received from P.A. Eastman. He says:

“The mails where I came from have been very erratic, and some have been lost, including unfortunately the Christmas parcels. Davy Jones is now richer than all the other members of the great family of that name put together, to their and some other people’s impoverishment! ……

The medical authorities have thought it best to send me back after the first year out in the East; doubtless they have a reason. But I am glad to say I am now fairly fit, and hope to improve rapidly under the less trying conditions of English life. Very kind greetings to all West Street friends.”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, March 1918 (D/N33/12/1/5)

We must still wait patiently for this terrible war to end

Maidenhead Congregational Church kept in close touch with the young men it had sent to the war.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are very sorry indeed to record that Ernest Bristow, whose wounding we reported in November, was more seriously injured than we knew, and that his leg has been amputated above the knee. His arm, too, was badly hurt, though there seems every hope of a recovery for that. He is now at the Ontario, Canadian Red Cross, Hospital, Orpington, Kent. Mr. and Mrs. Bristow spent their Christmas holiday in that neighbourhood.

Reginald Hillis still awaiting his final operation, and we shall all rejoice with him when he is successfully past the last of the wearisome series.

Robert Bolton is in Hospital at Newcastle-on-Tyne, suffering from skin trouble.

Ben Gibbons and David Dalgliesh have been home on leave.

The Christmas letters and parcels sent out in the name of the Church were evidently keenly appreciated by our boys, and many letters of gratitude have already been received. Here are a few extracts.

“Just a few lines to thank you for that glorious parcel which the Church so kindly sent me, and which I enjoyed immensely. At the time of receiving it we were in the line, and were having a warm time, and I could not have it then, but when the trouble was all over, I set to and enjoyed it all the more.”

“Thank you very much indeed! And we boys do not forget to be thankful, too, for all the lessons we have learned at our Church.”

“It was with a good deal of pleasure that I received your letter. I am sure we derive immense help from our prayers and thoughts of those at home.”

“Thank you for the Christmas greeting! It is very nice to feel that we are still in your thoughts, especially those who are farthest away.”

“Please thank the Church for the very welcome parcel. Last year I expressed a hope that this terrible war would be over before now, but we must still wait patiently. Meanwhile, it is a great comfort to know that the Church is thinking of us and praying for us.”

“Will you be good enough to tender my heartiest thanks to all those good people responsible for the sending of the package I received yesterday? It is exceedingly kind, and I am sure I will be appreciated by us all.”

“Will you please convey my best thanks to the Church for the most acceptable parcel and message received. My thoughts are often with you all.”

And one of the boys sends us a rhyme, with which we may conclude this short series of extracts:-

“Though I’m only one of millions
Doing bots for Freedom’s fame,
You, I know, will keep a corner,
In your heart to hold my name;
And amid this world-wide welter,
With its terrors, blood and shame,
All my thoughts this Christmas centre
Back to you, and mem’ries frame;
Memories that from our war’s darkness,
Peace and happiness proclaim.”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, January 1918 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Sympathy for the loss of a young man of great promise and amiability

Worshippers at Maidenhead Congregational Church sent Christmas gifts out to their young men at the front.

OUR SOLDIERS.

Those who knew George Whitmill will be able to sympathise the more keenly with his parents in their sorrow. He was a young man of great promise and amiability, and a keen student. He was a member of Mr. Heywood’s Bible Class in the Institute. He was killed at the front on October 30th. We offer our tenderest Christian sympathies to his friends.

Victor Anderson is in hospital at Sheffield suffering from “trench fever.” Reginald Hill is back at Shheffield, and is to undergo another, and we trust the last, of a weary series of operations. Donald Lindsay and Percy Lewis have been home on leave.

Christmas parcels have already been sent out to our lads in the Mediterranean Forces, and the others will be forwarded very shortly. Miss Hearman and Miss Nicholls have been good enough to undertake the considerable task of the purchase and packing of these parcels.

Letters also of greeting from the Church will be sent to all our men. The minister will be grateful for addresses corrected up to date. Boxes are to be placed at the doors on Sundays, December 2nd and 9th, to receive contributions towards the cost, which amounts to about £6.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, December 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

A troublesome foot

A wounded Reading man was released from the army, although he would face a long struggle ahead.

Khaki Chat

Leslie Smith (ex-sergeant) has now received his discharge from the Army, and since arriving home has entered No.1 War Hospital, where the troublesome foot has undergone one more operation. With what success it is impossible yet to say, but Leslie is cheerful and well in himself.

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

The wounded are mostly doing well

There was news for many Reading families.

The Vicar’s Notes
Intercessions

For God’s blessing on S. Mary’s Dedication Festival.
For all our fighting men (especially among the wounded), Charles Woodman (suffering from shell-shock), Alfred Stanbridge, and William Yellen.
For George Patrick Wickham Legg, who has just joined the Army.
For the fallen, especially Reginald Martin, one of the Bible class, killed by a sniper in France; Willie Healey (of Cherry Court), R.I.P.

Thanksgiving
For the granting of the Military Medal to Frederick Nunn (Hope Street)

S. Saviour’s District
Roll of Honour

The names of those from the district who have fallen in this War are now placed in the Church, on a framed roll kindly presented by Mrs Ward. Crucifix, brass candlesticks, vases for flowers, and all kind gifts, are placed with the roll of honour, on the prayer desk near the Chapel. John Warren Wells, one of the latest names, was killed on April 28th. He had been thrice wounded, and was granted the Military Cross posthumously.

Wounded

We regret to hear that George Jacobs has been obliged to have his left foot amputated. The operation fortunately seems to have been successful.

Among those recently wounded are Thomas Howarth, Albert William Shillingford, and Leonard Lee. We are glad to hear the wounded are mostly doing well.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, September 1917 (D/P98/28A/15)