Almost ludicrous if not so horrible

Opposition to the war had led to revolution in Russia, and the fear of getting drawn in caused riots in neutral Switzerland.

Florence Vansittart Neale
19 November 1917

Russia almost ludicrous if not so horrible. A subaltern made Commander in Chief.

Will Spencer
19 November 1917

News that a policeman & two other men had been killed in “anti-military” riots in Zurich on Saturday night…. After dinner I read the account of the Zurich riots on Friday & Saturday. (They began on Thursday.)

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)

Advertisements

One more name must be added to the roll of immortal honour on which is recorded the names of men who loved peace, but who loved righteousness and truth better

A reluctant but determined soldier, son of a Congregational minister, paid the ultimate price.

After many months of anxious waiting, definite news has come of the death in action, on November 13th, 1916, at Beaumont Hamel, of Mr. Philip G Steer, and so one more name must be added to the roll of immortal honour on which is recorded the names of men who loved peace, but who loved righteousness and truth better. Phil Steer was a son of a manse, and all who knew him looked forward to a great future for him. Combined with a charming manner, he had great qualities of mind. After leaving school he took his B.A. degree, and before he was 21 he was already in the responsible position of assistant master in a public school. The writer well remembers his 21st birthday, for it occurred during our second Trinity Young Peoples Camp in the Isle of Wight, and it was during that delightful fortnight’s companionship that some of us learned the qualities of our friend.

He joined up immediately war broke out, and went through hard fighting in France. When he was promoted on the field for gallantry. He was badly wounded, but recovered quickly and was soon back in France again. Now he has gone, and to those of us who still hoped against hope that he might be a prisoner, the news of his death has come as a great sorrow, and our special sympathy and affection go out to his family in the terrible loss which has come to them. So the great War takes its heavy toll of our best, and we owe it to them who have willingly laid down their lives for a great cause that we carry on their fight till our enemies confess that might is not right, and a true and lasting peace can be achieved.

Trinity Congregational Church magazine, September 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

“One never heard a voice of protest against the excesses of this war”

After he had an operation in early June, British expat Will Spencer went to Meiringen in the Bernese Oberland. A Swiss acquaintance expressed strong views against war in general.

29 June 1917
After dinner Herr Nachenius remained chatting with me on the terrace for a little while. He is against retaliatory measures, & that not only because he believes that to refrain from them has the best effect in the long run, but on higher grounds. By this it was clear to me that he meant that men should strive to act in accordance with what they believe to be their highest instincts, without regarding the consequences. He regretted that one never heard a voice of protest against the excesses of this war, a voice such as Gladstone’s in the past. (This to me alone as I was walking with him towards the chalet.)

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/27)

A ‘League of Peace’

The members of the Dodeka book club in Reading had a particularly spirited debate on the idea of a post-war league of nations.

The 278th meting of the club was held at Baynes’ on Nov 3, 1916.

The host opened a spirited discussion on a ‘League of Peace’, the meeting becoming so interested that it did not break up until past its proper hour.

Dodeka Book Club minutes (D/EX2160/1/3)

The daily harvest of the best and most promising

John Maxwell Image wrote to his friend W F Smith with his latest thoughts on the tragedy of the war and his Trinity colleague, Bertrand Russell, the famous philosopher who was preaching pacifism.

29 Barton Road
[Cambridge]
Wednesday 30 Aug. ‘16

My very dear old man

Monday I was at War Work!…

[Today] the Signora is away in Cats working swabs for the wounded…

Our whole young manhood is forced to the Front, and it is the best and the most promising of their lives that the by no means “blind” Fury slits. It sickens me to read her choices, and to know that the daily harvest goes on and on and on.

Bertrand Russell has taken his name off the Trinity boards, and sold by auction the furniture of his rooms – but he is refused permission to cross to USA and preach mischief there – as I hear did Norman Angell at an earlier period….

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

“I often wonder why I joined up”

Many young men who before the war had belonged to the Broad Street Brotherhood Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Society, a semi-religious social group connected with the Congregational Church in the centre of Reading, kept in contact with their old friends.

GREETINGS AND APPRECIATIONS

We give below a few extracts from the letters received during the last week or two, from members of the Brotherhood. The many Broad Street friends, who, by their generosity, made possible the sending of the Christmas parcels will find these notes interesting. The letters are so good, and so full of appreciation an thanks, that it has been difficult to make the selections. The “O.S.” means “On Seervice”.
W A Woolley

Thank you for the splendid letters of comfort. It does me good to know I have such faithful friends in the P.S.A. I shall be glad, when we have defeated our enemy, and settled down again, to take up the same old seat at Broad Street as before the war.
H. J. R. – “O.S.”

Thanks for letters and parcels from the Broad Street friends. It is very kind of you all to think of us soldier boys. Please convey to the Brothers my best wishes. Though some distance away, I always remember the meetings at the Brotherhood on Sunday afternoon, and I think of the good times spent at Broad Street. Kindest regards.
E. G. – “O. S.”

It’s nice to think one is not forgotten, although as a member I never took a prominent part. It was very good of the Presidents, and you, to write to me. But there! – what does the Brotherhood stand for, if not for mutual and spiritual help to its members, even though we are sometimes apart. This is my first Christmas away from home, and receiving that parcel and letters has done me more good than many a sermon.
A. C. E. – “O.S.”

I want to wish you all at the Brotherhood a happy Christmas; and I hope the New Year will be brighter than the past. I am thinking of the happy times spent with the choir. I trust you at home will spare a thought for those who are on active service, and those doing garrison duty in foreign lands.
H. J. M – “O.S.”

I shall be unable to answer my name at the “Roll Call”, as duty still calls. I hope you will have a jolly good time. I often think of the helpful times I have spent at the P.S.A., and am looking forward to the time to be back with you again. Best wishes for continued success.
E.G.B. – “O.S.”

Many thanks for letters and parcel received safely. Everything in the parcel was a soldier’s want. Am so glad you thought of me. It makes the Brotherhood more real than ever I thought it. I shall never forget the happy expressions in the letters.
W. P. – “O.S.”

I hardly need say how very pleased I was to get your welcome letters and parcel. I shall carry the letters about with me, to help keep me cheerful and bright. No! I cannot be with you on January 2nd, but shall be thinking of you all. I have been “out here” fifteen months, and have seen some heart-rending sights, and have been among some stupefying scenes and horrors. But thank God I am quite as well as when I left you all. With my kindest regards to you all.
H. E. – “O. S.”

Deeply regret being unable to be at the “Roll Call”. Thanks for letters and parcel. It is nice to think that while away, one is not forgotten. Give my best wishes to the brothers, also to the Chairman and Mr Rawlinson.
E.S. – “O. S.”

Best thanks for the Brotherhood letters, and also that part of the parcel which was the result of the members’ generosity. Sorry I shall not be present AT “Roll Call”. May all your efforts result in a great fillip to the Brotherhood movement. The Brotherhood ideals carried out consistently and thoroughly will go a tremendous long way towards minimising the awful effects of this war. With best wishes to all.
C. A. G. – “O. S.”

I am in France so cannot be with you to shout “Here”. Shall be thinking of you all on January 2nd. I have been a soldier just twelve months. I often wonder why I joined up, fighting being quite contradictory to my belief; but I came to the conclusion that to come out here, and share the burden of my fellows, is sufficient argument in my favour for doing so. Many thanks for kind wishes contained in letters. Hope you will all have a happy time.
E. C. P. – “O. S.”

Just a line to thank you for the letters and parcel. The garments were very useful indeed, and I put them on at once. The text on the card enclosed in parcel was “When the outlook is bad, look up”. It seemed to cheer me up, because at the time there was a lot of shelling going on. I hope you will have a good time at the “Roll Call”, and a happy New Year. Greetings to you all.
W. L. – “O. S.”

Just a card from France to wish you a Happy New Year. I wish it would bring Peace on Earth. I wish the Brotherhood could finish this awful war. Hope to be with you when I get my leave. Best wishes to all,
B. M. – “O. S.”

BROTHERHOOD NOTES

The first Sunday in the New Year [2 January] was a red letter day in the history of our Society; for on that day we held our first “Roll Call”… No less than 227 brothers personally answered to their names, whilst 44 (23 of whom were on active service) sent written greetings.

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

“Truth, honour, humanity are dead”

The Union of Democratic Control was a movement opposed to many aspects of the war. It was obviously very controversial, as John Maxwell Image reports from Cambridge. Opponents included the classicist Henry Jackson, Vice-Master of Trinity College, a very distinguished academic who was among those who brought about the admission of women students at Cambridge.

29 Barton Road
23 January ‘16
My dearest S[mith]

Are you troubled in Malvern by the UDC? Union of Democratic Control? Well, last term they publicly advertised a Meeting to be held in the rooms of one of the Fellows. The Council read the Advertisements and prohibited the Meeting. Thereupon 14 of these demanded a College Meeting on the subject. It was held yesterday. 42 Fellows present. Virtually, it was of course to elicit a vote of want of confidence in the Council: that, and nothing less. But with Asquithian cunning, their motion in virgin innocence professed merely that a Fellow should have the right to entertain in his own rooms meetings upon any subject, not illegal or immoral. Illegality is best handled by the police, rather than the Council; and no crimes are so atrocious as those committed in the veil of morality. Quantum religio, et cetera.

The Meeting was opened in a speech of nearly one hour’s duration: under cover of defence of liberty of speech, for he professed dissociation from the UDC. The speech was platitudinously irrelevant and when, towards the close of his hour, he unexpectedly aid, “To come to the point”, listeners tittered. Oratory on all sides frothed and fumed. Idle amendments were proposed – and carried! At last one sound head – who had travelled up from London got up and proposed. “I move that the Question be not put.” He was instantly seconded – and his motion carried by a thumping majority! Delighted, we broke up after 2 ¾ hours of tub thumping.

The odd thing is that at a meeting – a Caucus – to oppose the UDC’s proposal, on the previous Saturday, when the universal feeling appeared that the case demanded a vote on a straight issue and no timid amendments, this very thing was moved, “that the Question be not put” – and only 3 men (of whom Bild was one) voted for it. One week later it was carried by 2 to 1.

The most painful thing to me was when dear old Jackson (who is so deaf that he can have heard nothing of the oratory) suddenly arose and delivered his soul. I had never heard accents so loud, or language so downright. He dared to say exactly what honest men universally are feeling, about German warfare. “Truth, honour, humanity are dead. The War is not ending, it is going on. I hope it will go on until after I am dead.” U.s.w. Oh how I wish I had the memory to recall the actual words. Quid si ipsam tumantem audiisses!

I thought poorly of Grey and his Barsalong talk. I heard the whole story, soon after it had happened, from the Captain of a British destroyer.

All affectionate wished for the New Year from us both to you and die Madame.

Bild

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

Putrid bodies and foul vapours: “I have really seen the horrors of war”

Sydney Langford Jones (nickname Jonah) was a young artist and conscientious objector with deep seated religious objections to war. He was to spend time in prison as a result of this. However, his close friend Reginald Pearson, another artist, did join up. His frank letter to Sydney gives some of the most graphic details of the horrors of war we have seen, things which may well have been omitted from letters to sisters and churches.

Postmarked 14 June 1915

B Company 1st Bat. Lincolnshire Regiment
British Exp. Force

My dear friend Jonah

How I wish I could have seen more of you and I even wanted to turn back that Saturday night and catch you up to say goodbye again.
Since then I have really seen the horrors of war such as I never dreamed possible, marching at midnight with a lovely moon through the famous old town you have heard so much of, flaming all over the place and not a single house untouched. Stones, bricks, paving stones in what was once the roads, putrid bodies under the heaps of broken bricks once houses, and furniture blown out of the windows.

The old Cathedral and Hall as big as the Doges’ Palace and once very fine I should think now but a skeleton of ragged bones rapidly growing less and less, and the cemetery, no longer sacred, is blown to atoms with holes in it 40 yards round without the slightest exaggeration, for I measured one, and hemispherical shape, and the whole town a collection of foul vapours, still being shelled, shelled, shelled.

From there we were marched to a wood full of dugouts where we remained all next day being shelled, losing many men.

About 4 o’clock the whole lot fixed bayonets and travelled through the wood arriving at a communication trench by dark, full of mud up to the men’s thighs, hundreds of shots fired over it to catch as many as possible who happened to get out.

Along this [wading?] trench about 6’ deep and so narrow the men struggled passing those who were coming out, and eventually I found myself in the most extraordinary position ever created, but which I must not mention though I could draw you a perfect map from memory.

Trenches scarcely 3’ deep, parapets and bullet proof, strobing over dead men, bullets, bullets everywhere and the next 3 days cannot be spoken of. Trenches blown in beyond all recognition, and the first thing I saw when down broke was a dragoon with a little cat on his lap, which he had been stroking, lying both dead right across the trench, horrible, horrible, horrible.

I lost 18 wounded, 3 killed and 1 officer seriously wounded and here was I for the 1st time in charge of nearly a Company in the worst position ever held. Strategically bad, too few men, and for every German shell which came intermittently, every 20 I ought to say, we acquired a little pill in return.

9 miles march 3 days – the trenches 9 miles out with no sleep, little food and small shot, would offend the nostrils of death himself, leave men a bit fatigued, and so my first experience of war is passed and as a matter of fact I did well.

So much for my troubles for at present I sit in an orchard where we are bivouacked, resting.

The God of all the men we love is with me, I know, and this wonderful help and guidance are seared on my brain.

I am too tired to write much and so I must say goodbye.
God bless you always
Your dear friend
RO

Letter from Reginald Oswald Pearson to Sydney Langford Jones (D/EX1795/1/5/2)

“Moderate” peace terms would allow an unweakened Germany “to begin afresh the utter destruction of England”

John Maxwell Image continued his letter from yesterday with more details of the war’s impact in Cambridge. he was unimpressed by pacifists’ suggestions of a generous peace treaty.

Thursday [18 March 1915], 11.30 am

Yesterday I sauntered as far as 2nd stone on the Barton Road – troops of cavalry or infantry on every road now! …

We are in the military gripe altogether. Officers are billeted in your College and in others. Whewells Courts hold privates by the hundreds: who believe the building to be a Board School! Their officers are in Caius new Court lining Rose Crescent – and the General in Caius proper (I haven’t set eyes on him).

King’s entertains the female Nurses. I see them … “swanking” down King’s Avenue and opening the garden Gate to pass to their labours in “the 1st Eastern Hospital”.

At the last Union debate — moved that “this House would welcome an offer by the Allies of moderate Terms of Peace”. He was good enough to explain these. “Moderate Terms exclude the hanging, shooting, or deportation of the German Emperor, the dismemberment of Germany and the interference from outside with the internal German Constitution. The handing over of the German fleet and the payment of an indemnity to the allies except Belgium, and the retention of the German colonies conquered by England would be excluded.” He wishes her to be left, practically unweakened, and with yet more unvenomed hatred, to begin afresh the utter destruction of England, having chosen a time when she is bereft of allies.

Is he merely a “superior person”?

And “the House adjourned without a division”!!

The Fellows of Trinity, who are of military age, nearly all are wearing khaki – Capstick, Cornford, Lucas, Stuart, Tatham, Littlewood, Holland, Robertson, Taylor, Hill, Woolf, Nicholas, Butler, Bragg, etc, etc.

I see the armed sentry at Whewell’s gate standing statuesque, growing gradually whitened with falling snow….

“Numbers only can annihilate”. That Nelsonian maxim is steadily carried out by Fisher, and, as the Dresden, the Falkland Isles, the Bluecher and her gang evince, it means an almost bloodless success to the crushers. What on earth did they risk the flimsy Amethyst in the narrows for?

There is a white cat overhead which has taken a huge fancy to me. It is mutual. Tell the Missis that she presented the staircase with two absolute little snowy angels two days ago. I was taken to admire them just 3 hours after their first appearance. Anything so tiny I should not have deemed possible. A rat’s litter must be bigger. Mary Ann was very affectionate – insisted on licking my hands and purring loudly as I hauled up the prodigies for inspection. She herself (they tell me) was scarcely bigger than her offspring last September. The owner, a young 2nd Lieut. Of Engineers, brought the basket down to my rooms for goodbye that evening: and yesterday at 8 am they all left for Devonshire.

Did you see that Keith Caldwell is wounded? I wrote to poor Mrs Hutchinson, but have received no reply. I hope this doesn’t imply a serious hurt.

Love to both.

Affettuosamenta

Bild [nickname]

Always keep me posted as to any Censorial interference.

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/1)

A child’s house of cards in ruins

Maidenhead Congregational Church ponders the war, which seems to have come as something of a shock to them, and remembers its own young men who have joined up:

THE WAR.

To most of us the war came as an immense surprise. We thought war between the great nations, the civilized, not to say the Christian, nations, was at an end for ever. We heard with irritation and impatience the many prophecies that war was bound to come, thinking them nothing but stupid cries of “wolf”. We believed that Christian teaching and the influence of the Churches in England and Germany had built up an edifice of trust and good feeling, which made the talk of possible war nothing but a monstrous absurdity. But alas! That edifice at a touch tumbled into ruins like a child’s house of cards, and we were plunged into the most tremendous war in all history!

At the directors meeting of the London Missionary Society on Tuesday last a latter was read from the directors of a Missionary Society in Germany, comprising no doubt as sincere and godly a band of men as any in that country, which spoke of Germany’s passionate desire that peace should not have been broken, and of the wicked conspiracies of Germany’s enemies, which had forced war upon her! To us the case seems not a little different. Surely we are under no delusion in saying that there was nothing our statesmen would not have done to maintain peace, short of treachery to honour and pledged word! But there was a point beyond which it was not possible to go. “The whole value and beauty of life is that it holds treasures for which men will even dare to die!”

Let us never cease to pray that God will defend the right, and bring victory to our arms. And may it not be, that even by means of the thunder of monstrous guns, and the clash of ten millions of armed men, shall come a truer knowledge of the unspeakable blessings of peace, a new upspringing of the spirit of true brotherhood, a more earnest turning of the hearts of men to Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of all mankind, and the Prince of Peace.

 
(more…)

Scouts and rotters

The vicar of Cranbourne asked why the country was at war, while saluting the young men who had volunteered to serve.

THE WAR
Why are we at war? The answer may be given in the words of Scripture “for righteousness sake.” The Empire is at war
(1) For the sanctity of treaties.
(2) For the support of friends wrongfully assailed.
(3) For the defence of the weak.
(4) For the cause of peace.

Our task is to break the curse which for more than a generation has been blighting civilisation, – the curse of military oppression which has arrested progress, poisoned morality, sucked the life out of religion, and made a mock of every human ideal. This is well put in a short poem by Mr. James Rhoades.

Not for passion or for power,
Clean of hands, and calm of soul,
England at this awful hour
Bids her battle-thunders roll.
That crown’d arrogance may quail
And brute-force be backward hurled –
Lest the hypocrite prevail,
Lest a lie should win the world;
Lest she see the trustful weak
Trampled on by perjured strong –
That her arm may help to wreak
Justice on red-handed wrong,
Till the hierophants of fear
Cease, beneath the darkened sun,
To boom out in Europe’s ear
To grim gospel of the gun.
So, to meet you myriad host
As we muster land by land,
Witness Heaven- no braggart boast-
That for righteousness we stand!
In the dread impending hour
Heedful of that warning word,
“‘Not by my might, and not by power- By My Spirit’ saith the Lord.”

(more…)