The final downfall of German militarism: the most epoch-making moment of the year nineteen hundred and nineteen

A woman who grew up in Windsor was present at the celebrations after the signing of the treaty which brought a formal end to the war.

The Peace of Versailles

Probably the most epoch-making moment of the year nineteen hundred and nineteen was that marked by Hermann Muller signing the Treaty of Peace in the name of the German Republic. We did not see that signature affixed. We reached the palace of Versailles as the first gun fired its signal to the waiting crowds. In fact, we were late, for motor cars had been sorely taxed, and we had come with a relay. But the rush in this car from the Arc-de-Triomphe in Paris to Versailles was full of vivid impressions.

Our route lay through the woods of Boulogne-sur-Seine and St Cloud, then in the full flush of their summer glory and lit by a warm sun. The road all the way was kept by French soldiers posted every hundred yards, and at every bend, and as our car dashed furiously along the clear road, people looked at us so curiously, that we felt we must be taken for late arrivals, who hoped at least to defer and perhaps to annul the Treaty.

At last we swung into the long straight avenue leading up to the Palace gates. On either side, dense lines of cavalry – chestnut mounts, azure blue uniforms and helmets overtopped with gleaming lances and red and white pennons, al in perfect alignment. As our late car approached, the whole formation, till then “at ease”, sprang to attention, and we felt we were very fraudulent, and quite undeserving of such salutes. We got out quickly, and as we reached the terrace beyond the Palace, the first gun told us that peace had been signed. The followed a great scene in a great setting: the long park front of the Bourbon’s home, the wide formal gardens of the terrace, the great fountains which play so seldom, and all of these were bathed in sunshine. The Republican Guard were much in evidence, the infantry in dark blue, with befeathered kepis, while the sun was reflected from the dazzling rows of the cuirassiers.

Whilst the German delegates were departing there was silence, but when the “Big Four” appeared, the assembled company on the terrace could restrain itself no longer, and their reception was immense, while the leading representatives of France and England, on making their way to the far edge of the terrace, were well-night carried off their feet by the crowd. The view which these leaders of the Congress had when they eventually reached their goal was unique – in the foreground, the steep slope of the formal gardens, then the high boundary rail, behind it and with the superb avenue and lake for background, the Parisian in his thousands, and with his wife and family all densely packed and cheering.

This was the picture which we left by a side entrance, to seek contrast in the solitude of the great park of Versailles, and there, buried in silent glades, or roaming amidst the artificial rusticity of the “hamlet” it was easy to see again as in a Watteau picture, the senseless but harmless frolics of the Court of Louis XV. Here we were free to muse upon the epochs of history which have had their opening and closing scenes in these surroundings. The revolutionary oath taken in the Tennis Court beyond the palace spelt doom to the regime of artificial shepherds and shepherdesses and all that they implied; from this a span of eighty-two years saw, in the Palais de Glace, the triumph of German militarism, and this day June 28th, 1919, after a further lapse of forty-eight years, had seen its downfall.

An Old Girl.


Clewer: St Stephen’s High School Magazine, 1920 (D/EX1675/6/2/2)

Wireless messages concerning the armistice coming from an agitated operator at the Eiffel Tower, before many in authority knew what was being said

St Augustine’s was the only children’s home for boys run by the Community of St John Baptist. Many of its inmates went on to serve in the Armed Forces, and they shared their experiences with the Sisters.

June, 1919
Dear Friends of St Augustine’s Home

The health of the boys has been excellent this winter, for which we are most thankful. We had a bad epidemic of influenza a year ago, and when the disease made its re-appearance in Windsor in the beginning of winter, we trembled, but schools were closed, and we resorted to gargling and house-spraying, and had not more than half a dozen cases at most.

Our always kind doctor and dentist have returned home from war work, and again look after our boys…

We ended our financial year with bills amounting to more than £200 unpaid. We are printing not merely our last balance sheet, but a pre-war one, by way of an interesting and instructive comparison. One thing that may strike you is that not merely are our expenses heavier, but our subscriptions are considerably less. There have been so many claims on everyone, but we hope that as these lessen, the claims of a Home like ours, which has sent many sons to the front and is helping to train others to take the place of those who have fallen, may appeal not merely to former subscribers but to those who will become new friends…

Our household linen cupboard, and our clothes cupboard, were almost empty this spring… Then … came a large package of garments, cutlery and other things from a war hospital… during the last two weeks of March.

A number of kind friends at Eton and other places made a special Lent effort and sent us a nice contribution of stockings… If other friends would follow this example (perhaps some of those who have knitted so assiduously for soldiers) and ask their friends to do the same, the stocking basket would wear a more cheerful aspect…

August will soon be here, and we hope to see some of our old boys down for the holidays, though Peace celebrations may very naturally take them elsewhere. They have come and gone from time to time as leave allowed, and many thrilling things some of them have to tell – though told always in the simplest, most matter-of-fact way. Some have been in ships torpedoed, one received and transmitted wireless messages concerning the armistice coming from an agitated operator at the Eiffel Tower, before many in authority knew what was being said. And some of our boys will of course never return, but have won the “great promotion” of which the Home is so proud.

Yours very gratefully
The Sister-in-Charge

Letter to Friends of St Augustine’s Home, Clewer (D/EX1675/23/4/6)

“War is dreadful, but Peace is terrible”

An army doctor was a leader in the temperance movement.

An Open-Air Meeting in connection with the St Luke’s Branch of the CETS was held in the Vicarage Garden, on Tuesday evening, June 10th, under the Presidency of the Rev. T H Thurland, the Vicar being away on holiday. The Chief Speaker was Dr Harford, General Secretary of the CETS, who first distributed the certificates, etc, won by the Band of Hope members, the handsome Challenge Banner for the Maidenhead Band of Hope competition having been won by North Town.

Dr Harford, in his address, spoke chiefly to interest the large number of juveniles present. He told them of his service for nearly four years as an eye specialist in France, and related many incidents and told of the scenes of destruction and military activities. He next quoted the remark of M. Clemenceau, French Prime Minister, that “War is dreadful, but Peace is terrible”. This meant that when at war we had got but one thing to do – to see we got it through; but in Peace everybody began to fight everybody else we had first to make a good Peace, not only in Paris, but also at home. He urged the young people to do all they could to fight against the evils caused by drink, one of the greatest curses of our land. The Doctor related an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury relative to the coming big campaign of the CETS, the “Merrie England” Movement, in which the Society would send cinemas and lecturers around the country to give an impetus to better housing and or enlightened action as to food, health and thrift. The Society was anxious that everybody should have happy homes – not only good, decent houses, but real happy homes. As to cooking, the Doctor had a severe shock when, on asking a little boy if he liked nice puddings, and taking for granted the inevitable “Yes”, the little boy frankly replied “No, sir!” The Doctor’s point was that if the wives would only give their husbands plenty of sweet puddings, the men would not care for so much beer, in which they found the sugary element. In the new homes of Merrie England the children must be taught to play games.

Dr Harford later told some experiences as a missionary for many years in West Africa, where he was nearly eaten by cannibals. An effort was being made to suppress the use of gin out there, this spirit being the buying and selling “coinage” of the country. – (Laughter). As part of the “Merrie England” Movement, every parish was being asked to arrange a little pageant play already published as part of the local Peace celebrations; and he hoped the Maidenhead CETS would carry this out.

Reprinted from The Maidenhead Advertiser.

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, July 1919 (D/P181/28A/28)

War was always unspeakably dreadful

A pupil at St Barthomolomew’s School imagined a future where war was unknown. It may be a creative writing exercise, but it shows the effect the war had on young people’s views of the world.

WAR.

Scene ——————– A room in a house
Time ——————— 2000 A.D.
Dramatis Personae — One sister, one small brother.

Small brother. Sissy, what does war mean? I read it in a book, something about the termination of war or something.

Sister. War, dear child, is the settlement of national quarrels by fighting.

When two or more nations had a quarrel, they used to fight each other till so many people on one side got killed or driven back, that they had to give in.

Sometimes nations just made war for greed because they thought they were stronger than their opponents, indeed this was nearly always the case.

Small brother. Please, what’s reponents?

Sister. Opponents, I said, it means enemies.

Small brother. O yes, I understand enemies; please sissy, why didn’t you say enemies if you meant enemies?

Sister. When you’re a little older, you’ll understand perhaps, but don’t fidget or I shall have to send you upstairs.

Small brother. Go on about war, sissy.

Sister. In the beginning war wasn’t quite so bad, although morally, of course, it was always unspeakably dreadful.

People used to fight hand to hand, and kill each other from quite near, with spears, long steel spikes and other weapons, then later, they shot with bows and arrows, you’ve heard of bows and arrows.

Well, everybody regarded it as a sort of game, with definite rules, particularly we English, who were always slow and stupid.

Small brother. Sissy!!

Sister.
Now don’t interrupt.

Well, people liked fighting very much really, or at any rate some did, they used to put on expensive armour and ride about on beautiful horses, and when there wasn’t a war, they went about saving fair maidens out of enchanted castles, and it was all very nice.

Everything went well, because all the countries used the same weapons, and fought in the same way, but gradually men began to invent more deadly weapons, and some of the countries invented the before their enemies knew anything about it, so of course they said it wasn’t fair and were very cross, and lots of them got killed.

Guns were invented, and other dreadful things, and people fought from a long way off. Nearly everybody fought, and they still had rules like in a game.

Things got worse and worse till the last war, that was about 1914, and then thousands of people got killed, and it was all like a very bad nightmare, men, women and children got killed and aeroplanes dropped bombs about in the town and no one was safe anywhere. After everybody had spent most of their money on the war and lost most of their sons, and had some of their houses knocked down, they got very tired of it, but it had to be finished, because a very wicked country called Germany was threatening the peace of the whole world, not that the whole world really wanted peace, mind you, because they didn’t, but they liked to think they did, and anyhow, they hated the Germans very much, and not without cause.

However, the people who were running the war for England began to see that it wasn’t a game any longer, because they didn’t get enough to each and their sons being killed; so when Germany invented clever things to kill people quicker, which weren’t allowed by the rules, they invented cleverer ones back and said nothing about it, and in the papers the people read all about the wicked things Germany was doing and thought Germany dishonourable for disobeying the rules, and some people say that the English people who were working the war for the English broke the rules first, but this isn’t certain, and anyway, the Germans were a greedy and unscrupulous people, much worse than us, though we were far from perfect, and they were beaten.

And people began to sit down and think a bit, which wasn’t often done in those days, and they came to the conclusion that war wasn’t a game any longer, and that they had better prevent its happening again, so they got together a kind of jury and they called it the League of Nations.

They talked for over a year; some said there must be no more fighting of any kind, and others said that the nature of man couldn’t exist without fighting, so they talked and talked until at last they came to a decision.

They decided to go back to the bow and arrow method, because it looked so nice and wasn’t as dangerous as the other methods, only bows, arrows and armour, were to be used, and directly anybody was wounded he would count as dead, and directly a quarter of the fighters on one side were dead, the other side would have won, and in case of any contravention of the rules, the whole world would punish the offender very severely, and since no country could ever be stronger than all the rest put together, the idea seemed practical and sound.

Well the next fight after the real war was between France and America, it was brought about by a difference of opinion as to whether Paris or New York should lead the fashions in ladies’ hats. It was, of course, a difficult problem, and the League of Nations discussed it for three months, at the end of this time there was a terrible hat strike, and women had to go about bare headed and many of them caught colds and died.

At last the League decided that France and America must figure it out.

The battle was arranged in Hyde Park, London, 100 men from Paris and 100 men from New York were chosen, the battlefield was railed around and people had to pay £20 to watch. The proceeds went to the society for stray cats.

Just before the battle began an Englishman invented an impregnable armour, so he sold the secret for a million pounds to the Paris men, and then got another million from the New York men for telling them, too.

So the first day’s fighting killed no one, and broke a lot of arrows, also it rained hard and the people who had paid £20 to come and watch were very sick about it.

On the second day someone invented an arrow which could pierce the armour, and both sides got hold of the secret, but everyone got to know of it before the battle, so they all wore double armour and again no one got killed, and still it rained, and the fighters sank up to their ankles in mud, because their armour was so heavy, and at the end of the day their friends had to pull them out with ropes.

Now this sort of thing went on for six days; each day better arrows were invented and thicker armour was worn to shield off the arrows, and as a result no one was killed and hundreds of arrows were broken, and still it rained very hard, and all the people who watched got wet and angry, and many died of chills.

And each day, the fighters sank deeper in the mud, because the ground got softer and their armour got heavier.

At last, on the seventh day, which was a Sunday, the situation seemed impossible, because the armed men knew that they couldn’t even get within range of each other; directly they stepped into Hyde Park they would get stuck, and since the rule was that each side should start at opposite ends of the park, it seemed hopeless.

However, a clever Englishman came to the rescue; he constructed two great rafts, and on these the fighters were to row out to the selected spot.

On a given signal they were to step off their rafts and fight as usual.

It cleared up a bit that day and the sun came out, so that heaps of people came to watch in boats and the stray cat’s shares went up seventy-two points.

The Lord Mayor came specially to give the signal for fighting to start.

Directly he blew the whistle the fighters stepped off the rafts, it was calculated by an American that each man weighed seven hundred pounds, anyhow they were never seen again, they sank right down through the each till they reached the centre of gravity and there they presumably remained.

So the question was never settled and everybody bought their hats in London.

Since then there have been no wars.

K.P.L.

The Newburian (magazine of St Bartholomew’s School, Newbury), April 1919 (N/D161/1/9)

“Those who have fought for the victory we have obtained have reason to expect better civil life”

A Reading book club discussed social changes to be expected.

7 March 1919

The 298th meeting of the club was held at Soundy’s on Friday 7th March 1919…

The host had followed the old practice of the club (unfortunately too frequently not observed of late) & had prepared a paper. His subject was “Some Labour Problems”, & he commenced by referring to the two International Conferences now taking place in Paris, viz the Peace Conference & the International Labour Conference. The former has spent considerable time in discussing the formation of a League of Nations with a view to securing the Peace of the world so far as warfare is concerned, but Soundy pointed out that there is another Peace that is possibly even more to be desired & one that will have more important influence on the future of the nations, viz Peace in the Labour world, & this is being discussed at the International Labour Conference.

After referring to the cost of the war & to the question of the nations recovering from its effect, both financial & industrial, he stated that this can be done solely by securing peace and cooperation between the parties representing capital & labour. Relations between employers & employed must be improved. Germany has found out that might is not right & the same principle must be brought to the front in the labour market.

To re-establish our own financial position exports must be increased, & to achieve this, the rate of production must be increased. So long as this is done & is kept up the rate of increase in wages does not matter. He referred to the conditions of labour to apply in the future, which are being discussed at the Conference, & also to the evidence given by the Coal Commission in this country. Where the highest wages have been paid the cost of production has been lowest & vice versa. No man will do his best, when he feels he is underpaid, but workpeople must realise that to get better conditions they must become better workmen, & Trade Unions must make their members realise this.

Those who have fought for the victory we have obtained have reason to expect better civil life & to achieve this there must be a better understanding between employers & workpeople, & an effective peace between capital & labour.

An interesting discussion followed & it was unanimously felt that the thanks of the Club were due to the host for his most interesting paper & for having once again kept up the old traditions of the Club.

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

Now that the war is over we have been able to have our usual Christmas treats

Reading children enjoyed a peacetime Christmas season.

The Vicar’s Notes

Now that the war is over we have been able to have our usual Christmas treats, and to enter into them with more zest than ever. The infants and the boys and girls of our Sunday school, the choir lads, the mothers, and the Sunday school teachers and altar servers have been hospitably entertained through the generosity of many of our kind people.

Intercessions

For God’s blessing on the Peace Conference now being held in Paris.


Reading St Mary parish magazine, February 1919 (D/P98/28A/16)

Our hearts are all lighter because the War is, we hope, finally closed by this Armistice

Great challenges faced the country after the war.

Dear Friends and Parishioners

The past month has been one of much Parish festivity. Our hearts are all lighter because the War is, we hope, finally closed by this Armistice. Still there are great difficulties to face, and we must pray for courage and wisdom to tackle them in the right spirit and with the right methods. Our interest and our prayers should be enlisted for the Statesmen assembled in Conference in Paris that they may be granted wisdom to re-order and re-establish the Countries of Europe on just and wise lines.

And in the case of our social problems at home, we all need to pray (for practically all of us now have some voice and some responsibility) for the wisdom, industry, and patience needed to realise our present hopes and ideals. We all want to maintain the increased sobriety of the Nation, we all want better homes for the poorer members of our community, we all want to retain a decent wage for all sections of our workers, whether with brain or hand; we all, as Church people, are keen on improving our Educational system, and developing the religious and moral side of it on all Schools; we are all resolved to maintain the sanctity of Christian marriage, and to promote that purity of life which alone will provide an A 1 population (to use the Prime Minister’s phrase), for the working of the great Empire which we hold in trust for God and man.

All this is easy to discuss, but to bring about is a work of almost overwhelming difficulty. Nothing but the Grace of God is sufficient for its accomplishment. Let us remember our hopes and ideals in our prayers, and then do our best in a spirit of comradeship that thinks first of the Church and Nation as a whole, and only secondly of party or class.

The next few weeks are a general time in Church life; we can use them for the study of great questions affecting Church and Nation before the special period of Lenten discipline begins.

I remain, Your faithful friend and Vicar,

C E M Fry

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, February 1919 (D/P181/28A/28)

To Paris for Peace Conference

British politicians headed to France to sort out peace terms.

11 January 1919

Lloyd George & Bonar Law went to Paris today for Peace Conference.

H & I round by J & B Farrer to fetch a pheasant they were giving to Phyllis. She had a bad night. Much pain with tube. Surgeon put in a smaller one. Very good sleep after lunch but still tired.

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

A Peace which we have every reason to believe will shape the destiny of the world for many generations to come

Clewer Church looked forward with optimism.

Our first duty and privilege is to wish all our Readers a Happy New Year – and we do so with more confidence in the future than we have felt for some years past. This year will be known as ‘The Peace Year’, for in it is to be laid the foundation of a Peace which we have every reason to believe will, with the Blessing of God, shape the destiny of the world for many generations to come. How earnestly we ought to pray for the guidance of those who are now taking part in the Peace conference at Paris, that by their endeavours, ‘Peace and Happiness, Truth and Justice, Religion and Piety,’ may be established amongst the Nations of the World for all generations – The great Victory which Almighty God vouchsafed to us in 1918, has opened out to us such glorious prospects of better things to come, if only we prove ourselves worthy of them, that we realize that the present year is the most critical period in the history of mankind.

On the first Sunday in the New Year Special Prayer and Thanksgiving will be offered in all Churches that we may dedicate ourselves to afresh to Him who alone is “the Giver of Victory and the Author of Peace.”

Our alms on Sunday, Jan. 5th, will be for the Red Cross Society as in the years during the War.

Clewer parish magazine, January 1919 (D/P39/28A/9)

“It was 60 to 100 at Lloyd’s yesterday there would be peace before Xmas”

Everyone could see the war coming to an end – even the German PoWs.

St Marys, Oct 31 [1918] Hallows Eve

My own darling own

Yesterday… a man called Savage with his wife quite intend on taking this place and if possible buying it. Evidently a very rich man in war profits having to do with all insurance societies, Lloyd’s included, & he told me it was 60 to 100 at Lloyd’s yesterday there would be peace before Xmas….

Meantime the papers are an hourly unrolling of great scrolls of prophecy fulfilled, and to be having a part in it must be a wonderful feeling, and how I long to talk to you, and how I long for the evening papers with news, if any, from Paris. I dread Bolshevik risings, and spread of that disease with Prussianism a fallen God? It is a tremendous thing to think what is in the hands of those few brains at Paris, and I cling to the knowledge that two at least there are with belief in the Eternal Righteousness revealed as Divine Love to those who follow Christ and company with him in sacrifice for the sake of that Righteousness? It must be hard to go on fighting with the world all crumbling that has opposed that righteousness, and it seems as if it – the victory – was already decided.

The news from Italy is glorious, and then Hungary & Austria & Turkey, and with the little bits of news coming in from the Danube – these waterways and tributaries in silence or in spate determining the way of victory. Well – here I watch our little road and the village passers by, and the trees getting bare, but still some golden glow slimes in at the window, and the only thing in touch with the war are the German prisoners no longer bursting with spirits & laughter and talk, but they look grim….

There is a great deal of mild flu about, and some measles, but I have heard of no bad cases so far. I have no sign of flu, only a very little cold of which I take quite abnormal care, & eat formamint lozenges without end….

Archdeacon Moore has resigned – and I am sorry – one of the few gentlemen left in that changing diocese where everything is going on socialistic lines, and I am so unhappy about poor dear Norman Lang, & cannot imagine what his future is to be when the 6 months at the front are over – & will he be needed there 6 months.

Do take care of yourself – send for formamint lozenges & have eucalyptus & a good tonic?

I suppose John will be all right. Maysie is moving to 6 Hill Street, Knightsbridge…

All my love, darling
Own Mur

Lady Mary Glyn to her son Ralph (D/EGL/C2/5)

White flags

The war definitely seemed to be approaching the end.

Will Spencer
28 October 1918

Seeing Herr Dr Mai in the Rondel, I asked him whether he had already been for his morning walk, & he replied that he had not, & would be glad to come with me. He told me that he had just fetched his paper, & seen that Ludendorff had resigned. I told him that I had just read in yesterday’s paper the report of a speech of Lloyd Geroge’s, in which he spoke of what England had still to learn from Germany – that the German people was a better educated people than the English, etc.

Florence Vansittart Neale
28 October 1918

Allenby in Aleppo! We still going on.

Balfour & Lloyd George went to Paris. Seems like preliminaries.

Submarines going back to base with white flags & saluting our merchant men!…

Made a helmet. Talk of Kaiser abdicating. Ludendorf resigned.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

“Don’t worry, she can’t speak English & I could never make love in French”

Percy Spencer was excited by his sister Florence’s getting a comic article published in Punch, and almost fell in love with a French girl.

July 14, 1918

My dear WF

Another week gone & here I am still at school & beginning to know something about musketry.

I’m very glad to hear Sydney is better again and delighted about the Punch article. Mind you send me a copy of the number.

This week I’ve been feeling very dicky myself. I think I had a touch of this strange fever, but a very slight one. Another officer here, I am sorry to say, has died with it.

Today I have been to a much bombed town near here for a holiday. There is quite a good officers’ club and one can generally meet old friends there and get a good dinner. It’s nice to sit in a pretty garden and receive tea from the fair hands of a wholesome English girl.

Today as you know is France’s National day. I went to the cathedral – which by the way has been rather badly bumped at the eastern end – and listened to a service. The singing was delightful, but it is difficult for me, much as I love the Roman Church’s seriousness, to refrain from smiling at their quaint beadles armed with swords and wearing mighty cocked hats, and at the endless collections.

Another good thing out here is the good nature of all motorists. One sets out to walk anywhere, hails the first car or bus or lorry, which always stops & takes you as far as it can. The other night a staff officer we coolly hailed drove us in here and offered to take us as afar as Paris if we liked. This however only applies as between Englishmen or as between French etc. but today I had quite a romantic experience.

Following the usual custom I stepped out to hail a car, but observing it was driven by a Frenchman, stepped back. However, it stopped & then to my pleasurable surprise I saw it was driven by a French GIRL. I’ve given her capitals as she was a capital girl. She wasn’t going very far my way but would give me a lift on my way. Well, the fair chauffeuse who was on her way to fetch the Prefect of the town we had just left melted, & when she got to her turning & I made to alight, she said she would drive me here and she did. After that we got very friendly and talked about London & the Thames, and she said that after the war she should come to London, and I said then I hoped we should meet again, whereupon she volunteered her address and I mine and neither of us could remember the other nor muster a pencil between us, so we pulled up at a cottage & borrowed one & some paper from an old lady who smiled approval at the beginning of a romance. And all the while the Prefect cooled his heels at some village down south!
I must be a lady killer after all!

Don’t worry, she can’t speak English & I could never make love in French, and Bordeaux (her home) is a long way.

Well, goodbye & God bless you both.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/53-55)

“May it please God that the Germans may advance no further”

As the need for men at the front continued to increase, older men were now being called on.

Joan Daniels
June 1st 1918

The news is not too good today, the Germans are advancing and are now 47 miles from Paris again. However, may it please God that they may advance no further….

Daddie went to be medically examined & is in Grade 1. Of course it is nice to know that he is healthy but I would rather he had been in Grade 3. Oh may it please God to leave him with us.

Sydney Spencer
Saturday 1 June 1918

Today I took over a large platoon – for me. Under the new arrangements there are 3 platoons per company, Nos 5, 6 & 7. No 5 is under Dawkins & Hervey. No 6 under myself. No 7 under Peyton & Kemp. I have now 2 LG sections, 2 Rifle sections & an employed section only shewing on paper. Sergeant Timby & Sergeant Seeley are the two additions to my platoon as NCOs.

Parades for today. Company training in morning & march in evening, or rather afternoon from 2 till 3.20. CO’s inspection at 3.30. After inspection paid out company with Dillon. Had a guest night. Knights & Cook came in. After dinner A company came in in force & my duties as Mess President became fast & furious to say the least of it.

Percy Spencer
1 June 1918

Another fine day. Battalion relieved 24th in line. I went to depot near [Coutary] with Gray. Bailey got kicked & went to hospital.

Diaries of Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1); Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

In open boats for about 2 hours in a rough sea

Three Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist had a terrifying experience as they travelled home from India.

20 April 1918

Sister Alexandrina, Sister Marion Edith and Sister Edith Helen, who had left Calcutta March 9th, arrived safely after an adventurous voyage. They had only been allowed to travel with special permission from the Government of India on account of Sister Alexandrina’s state of health, which made it necessary for her to leave India.

Their ship was torpedoed by an enemy sub-marine in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Africa. Then passengers were transferred to the ship’s boats and all were saved. They were in open boats for about 2 hours in a rough sea. The Sisters & their companions were picked up by a British sloop-of-war and landed at Bizerta, where they remained for 4 days. Then they were taken on board a French mail boat carrying troops and were safely landed at Marseilles after a very uncomfortable voyage owing to the crowded condition of the steamer.

From Marseilles they travelled by train to Paris & Havre, & from thence crossed to Southampton.

Owing to rationing orders limiting the quantity to each House of certain articles of food, & the scarcity of others, the Sisters from the other Houses cannot for the present come to the House of Mercy for tea on Sundays, as has been the custom, nor have their meals there when having day’s retreats.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

“The bomb passed through the bows, exploding on the other side”

Three of the Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist, whose base was at Clewer, were shipwrecked on their way home from India thanks to enemy action.

April, 1918
My dear Associates

You will all be interested to hear that we have just welcomed home from Calcutta Sister Alexandrina, Sister Marion Edith and Sister Edith Helen after a really perilous voyage. The only route available was via Colombo, which they reached by train from Calcutta. The first part of the voyage through the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea was very enjoyable, smooth and lovely weather.

Good Friday was spent in the harbour of Suez, and Port Said was reached on Sunday morning. Along the banks of the Suez Canal they saw many races of the recent fighting in Egypt – deserted trenches and dug-outs, and in one place a camp of a considerable size, but their own course was perfectly uneventful.

After waiting four days at Port Said, their steamer joined a large convoy of vessels bound for England, protected by several destroyers and sloops. All went well during the first six days, and then, at 7 a.m. on a date I am not allowed to mention, the ship was struck by a torpedo. Mercifully no one was seriously injured, the bomb having passed through the bows, exploding on the other side.

Fearing another attack, the Captain immediately transferred all the passengers to the boats, and after rowing about on a rough sea for two hours, a sloop picked them up, and conveyed them to Bizerta, a French town on the coast of North Africa, the actual site of ancient Carthage, about four hours by rail from Tunis. At once everything was done on a most generous scale for their comfort and protection, and four days later a mail boat from Tunis conveyed all the passengers to Marseilles, and from there the homeward journey was continued via Paris, Havre and Southampton….

Letters to Associates of the Community of St John Baptist (D/EX1675/1/24/6)