The Church Lads’ Brigade has lost many of its smartest lads, who are now serving in the Forces

The Reading St John branch of the Church Lads’ Brigade was preparing teenage boys for army service.

CLB

The Company is changing its headquarters from the Institute to the Princes Street Mission Room. It has been passing through some stormy times lately, but we feel that it has now weathered the worst, and we look forward to a winter of real progress. There are vacancies for some good recruits, who will be welcomed any Monday from October 8th onwards.

The Company has had a great many changes in the personnel of its officers during the last year, and has lost many of its smartest lads, who are now serving in the Forces. In spite of these difficulties, the drill was very fair, and the uniform clean and correctly worn, and the lads steady on parade… Acting Captain Hawkes is evidently very keen.

Reading St. John parish magazine, October 1917 (D/P172/28A/24)

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The “Scroungers’ Retreat”

Percy Spencer wrote to sister Florence to tell her about his experiences in officer training. His fellow trainees were mainly NCOs with experience of the worst of the war, and were not easily corraled by their superiors.

Attd C Company
58th TRB
Sergeants Mess
No 9 Camp
Kinmel Park
Rhyl

July 26, 1917
My dear WF

I’m very fit indeed, working very hard and always hungry. We are exceptionally well fed, I think, and conditions are good.

It’s very difficult to write as several of the boys are telling their experiences, and every now and then they touch ground I know and I have to join in. One man has just been minutely describing the bundling and labelling of corpses for the fat factory as seen by him, and another the manacling of maritime gunners to their guns, also as seen by him. Both descriptions are so minute and definite as to be convincing. I’ve only to meet someone who has actually seen a corpse factory and I shall be a confirmed Kadaverite.

The battle of wits – the staff v. us continues with varying success. The routine is changed daily to put us off our stroke and get ahead of us, but the same crowd who lay themselves out to “dodge the column” successfully carry on just as usual, appearing on parade, answering the roll call and vanishing into the blue before any work is done with consistent ability. This rather large section of our number have a discipline of their own. Backsliders are dealt with by courtmartial. Absence from the “Scroungers Retreat” (a quiet marquee in the neighbourhood) seems to be the most seriously looked upon offence, and is dealt with very harshly, the punishment being I believe to attend next parade and answer for all the others from their hut who are not there.

Of course, being out of training, I find the work very hard indeed, quite apart from my ignorance of it which is another difficulty with me, but I can feel myself growing straighter and stronger every day and look forward to being a Samson soon.

By the way I’ve had 2 days trench digging. It’s extraordinary how difficult such a menial job as digging earth and throwing it out of the trench is. An experienced man will throw his shovel of earth intact 10-20 feet away in any direction. The novice finds it difficult to throw and direct and very hard to keep together.

I can see I shall very soon be nailed down to drill and books – that is, as soon as I get to a cadet unit. Until then I’m not taking this business too seriously, and simply concentrate upon breaking myself in physically. You’d scacrcely credit how absurdly soft my hands and feet were. They are hardening up rapidly, but I’m still a pretty blistered object.

Well my dear girl, I feel this is a very uninteresting letter, but conditions are very trying for letter writing so you’ll have to please excuse it.

With my dear love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/53-57)

“There’s some fun in this life though the monotony and drudgery”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with his impressions of the camp where he was undergoing officer training.

21st (Res) Bn, London Regt
G Lines
Chisledon Camp
Nr Swindon

Jan 13, 1917

My dear WF

Tomorrow I intend to see the MO here and try for leave to get dental treatment in London. If I fail, I shall in any case get 4-6 days before I go out and shall, of course, come to see you.

It is still bitterly cold here, but today has been very fine and I have enjoyed myself though on duty.

As company orderly officer I had to inspect huts this morning. In two huts men were standing about instead of being on parade. Most of them informed me they were an ablution fatigue, and until they moved off to the washing sheds I had to appear wise, though at a loss to know what they meant. One poor little fellow who looked ill and who I assumed to be sick, when asked what was the matter with him, replied, “Religion, Sir”. He eventually explained he was a Jew.

So there’s some fun in this life though the monotony and drudgery of feet & kit inspections and so on are trying at times.

I have bought my boys a few books and some boxing gloves. If you at any time have any cheap books you have done with, I shall be very glad to have them….

Of course there are a lot of officers here I know very well.
Unfortunately there are several here who wish they hadn’t reason to know me, and therefore I am not as happy or comfortable as I should be as a stranger to the Division. However, I can’t help that.

Now I’m off to church so I’ll say goodbye.

With my dear love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/8-9)

The difference between fair terms & absolute surrender

The son of the vicar of Radley, Captain Austin Longland was serving in Salonika with the Wiltshire Regiment, where he struggled with the heat, but hoped the Germans were about to give in.

Thursday July 6th [1916]

Temperature in here continues at 95-105 degrees I’m told by the doctor. Also I’ve just had my 2nd dose of typhoid & perityphoid inoculations & have a day off duty in consequence. Twice clouds have gathered, & once we had a violent storm of thunder & lightning but never a drop of rain. Needless to say all beauty’s gone. The sun glares down, trying the eyes, and our view of the town is blurred by a continuous cloud of fine grey dust. I have told you that from the sea up to the hills the ground rises steadily till the last steep ascent, & we’re therefore, tho’ considerably below the level of the actual hills, some height above the town which is about 5 miles away. We are to the left of the road this time, but we can see the sites of our 2 early camps and get a rather different view of the town & the citadel. You remember the shock I had on returning our bivouacs last Sunday fortnight & finding them gone and all my kit packed. My first idea then was that we were going forward – first stop Nish or Sofia, but when it was known that we were to march back over the hills no one knew what to expect.

The men were more cheerful than I’ve seen them in this country – all firmly persuaded that they were going back to France – an opinion which I hadn’t the heart to discourage, but did not hold myself.
Since then nothing has happened. From about 6 to 6.45 each day in the morning the battalion does its old physical drill, & parade which the officers, except Waylen who takes it, do not attend, going out instead to study tactics with the NCOs, each company by itself. This lasts 6 till 9. Three days a week we go a route march from 5-8 a.m. In the evening we parade from 5.45 till 6.15. doing physical exercises gain, officers & all – & that is the day. The NCOs class was ordered by the Brigade & is most useful – tho’ of course it’s what we ought to have done at Marlboro’. So from 9 till 5.45 every day & from 6.30 onwards we have nothing to do except sit in our hut.

Wood as usual is scarce, so there’s not chance to make a chair. At present I am seated on 2 sand-bags, which raises one off the ground a bit. We have a hut for a common room, but tho’ it has forms and a table, it’s very hot & full of flies. Here the flies grew so unbearable that I ordered yards of muslin from the town & with its aid we ae at last at peace. We feed in a hut off a sand bag table & seated on sand bag seats. I’ve just been busy trying to make that fly-proof – harder but even more necessary. If you sit still for a moment you can always count over 50 on the plate in front of you.
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The only thing the soldier never seems to do is to ‘rest’

Army chaplain T Guy Rogers describes how he encouraged the soldiers to attend his services in their spare time.

My Dear Friends,
June 15th 1916.

Would it surprise you to hear that your Chaplain has become a Hun! Only temporarily and to oblige, morally or immutably. Do not be shocked nor repudiate him as your representative! It was only at manoeuvres to swell the skeleton army opposed to the British. A well delivered smoke bomb soon put him out of action. He has since returned to his allegiance with a profound respect for the élan of the British Infantry.

This is a glimpse of how we spend our time when we are ‘at rest’- a phrase which makes the soldier smile. Marches, attacks, drill, occupy our attention. Bath parade and ‘foot parade’ and kit parade and gas helmet parade are arranged as pleasant little interludes. The only thing the soldier never seems to do is to ‘rest’ in the loose sense in which it is so often employed of slacking or doing nothing. When the Commanding Officer is done with him, and the Medical Officers’ fever for inoculation is spent, and the Sergeant-Major has ceased from troubling, he organizes himself for cricket and football and rounders.

Finally, he has the Chaplain to reckon with! It is he who comes along smiling and debonair with a haversack slung across his shoulders (concealing beneath his gay exterior a nervousness which is often acute); ‘What about a service, men,’ he says, ‘on the grass under the trees before the cricket and football begin – just twenty minutes. I’ve got hymn sheets with our favourite hymns – what do you say?’ And they come of their own free will – at first slowly, gradually overcoming their inertia, but gathering force and numbers as they get under way and at last singing with heartiness and animation which shows the interruption is not resented.

In the midst of all this happy open air life there suddenly comes an order that we are wanted somewhere. We are all whirled away in motor buses a distance of twenty miles and we are in the midst of stern realities again.

Remember all our brave men recalled thus suddenly to the line.

Your sincere friend,
T. GUY ROGERS.

Reading St John parish magazine, July 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

The Church Lads join the Cadets

The new Wargrave branch of the quasi-military Church Lads’ Brigade were settling into their existence.

On May 2nd and Whitsunday the Church Lads Brigade attended Morning Service at our Church. We are glad to publish the following report.

St Peter’s Church Lad’s Company
No. 3184

The Lads are making steady progress in their drill and other work. The Sunday Class and Church Parades have been well attended. They have now received their full equipment and look quite smart.
On Monday evening, April 5th, the Company were invited to join the Cadets, in camp at Bartletts, by Capt. Marrow (Commanding Officer).

On reaching the ground the Company were inspected by Capt. Marrow, who complimented them on their smart appearance, and in course of a short address appealed to them to aim at becoming efficient by prompt attention to all the duties they were called upon to perform.

After being dismissed the Lads joined the Cadets and a pleasant evening was spent in games, songs, etc. At the close Capt. Marrow thanked all present for their share in welcoming the Cadets at Littlewick. He said they had been shewn every kindness by everyone and they had done their utmost to make their stay pleasant. Especially he wished to thank Mr. Bates for their ideal camping ground.

We have to thank several Littlewick friends for the sum of £3 6s. 0d. towards our funds; and there are other promised gifts yet to be received.

It is hoped to give a full list of Subscribers and a statement of accounts, as soon as the Pass Book is received form Headquarters.
We have to record that Corporal A. Arnold has joined Kitchener’s Army.

Signed
T. Butterworth, Capt.
F. C. Barham, Incumbent.

The Vicar has been asked and has consented to act as Parish Representative of the “Inns of Court Officers Training Corps.” He has papers on the subject to show to any who would like to see them. There is an urgent need for well-trained Officers.

Wargrave parish magazine, June 1915 (D/P145/28A/31)

Bibles and rifles for boys in Wargrave

Teenage boys in Knowl Hill and Wargrave were inspired by the war to join the Church Lads’ Brigade, a youth organisation which drew inspiration from both military and religious ethoses. They attended Bibles study classes, but also practised drill – with real guns. The Wargrave parish magazine reports:

St Peter’s Church Lads’ Brigade

Now that the Company of the Church Lads’ Brigade formed in connection with our Church has been duly enrolled and recognized as Company 3184, 4th Battalion, Oxford Regiment, something definite can be said about the work.

The Company, now some 30 strong, has been some time in getting together, as recruiting was slow at the beginning and, generally, the Headquarters only allow 24 as the minimum for a new Company except in small Parishes.

Some recruits have been accepted from other parishes where there is no Company and now matters seem in a very healthy condition.

The object is to give the boys from 13 to 19, a military training and encourage attendance at Church and Bible Class. A Bible Class is now held on Sunday mornings except when there is a Church Parade.

The boys have to be provided with equipment which is the property of the boy only so long as he is a member of the Company.

Each signs an agreement to give up the same when requested to do so. After six months they must be provided with carbines which cost only the nominal sum of 2/- each. (The carbines are only used for drill and parade purposes and are kept at Headquarters). These two are necessary for the carrying on of the Company.

Other requirements which can only be obtained as fund allow, are Bugles, Side-drums, two ordinary Rifles and a range for teaching the boys to fire correctly.

Anyone who feels disposed to give either Bugles, Drums, etc. will be helping on a worthy cause.

The Captain will be only too pleased to see any kind of donor and give any further particulars with regard to work.

To the many who have made it possible to provide equipment the Company offer their sincerest thanks, especially when so many have urgent calls upon them in other ways.

It is expected that the equipment which is on order will be here for Easter.

So far £9. 0s. 6d. has been received in subscriptions. The boys (who pay 1/6 Entrance Fee and 1d. per week) have contributed £2. 7s. 6d.

The equipment has cost £7. 10s. 8d.

All accounts, Stock Books, etc., are inspected by an officer appointed by Headquarters and are open for inspection to Financial Committee consisting of six members of Company and six others.

In closing this report the officers hope that every one will do a little towards making the Company a success.

Signed
T. Butterworth, Capt.
F. C. Barham, Incumbent Chaplain.’

Knowl Hill
The Vestry Meeting on April 6th was attended by 12 of the Parishioners… The Vicar … referred to the terrible war and the noble way in which very many of the young men in the Parish had responded to the call of duty. The Church Lads Brigade who attended Church for the first time on Easter Day, promise well for the future.

Wargrave parish magazine, April and May 1915 (D/P145/28A/31)

A Boer War chaplain addresses soldiers

Men of the Auxiliary Service Corps stationed in Newbury in spring 1915 regarded St Nicolas’s Church as their home church.

For the last few Sundays we have had a Church Parade Service, for the men of the A.S.C. quartered in Newbury, on Sunday mornings at 9:30. On Sunday, March 14th, the address was given by the Rev. J.L. Greenfield, formerly Chaplain to the Forces, who wore his South African War Medal on his scarf.

Newbury parish magazine, April 1915 (D/P89/28A/13)