“If it did not get quite so hot here in the summer Mespotamia would be an ideal place for an Englishman.”

Several Sunningdale men had been taken prisoner, while another man from the village was serving in modern Iraq.

We are thankful to say that none of our men have been killed in recent fighting but the list of prisoners is lengthened for Edward Evans and Walter Day, of Ridge Cottages, Charters Road and Mr. E. Rump have been captured, and also Lt. R. Cowell who was wounded has fallen into the hands of the enemy. Stanley Hind is reported to be in hospital with a severe gunshot wound. We shall be glad if relatives will kindly let us know in all cases of their men being wounded in order that the prayers of the congregation may be offered for them by name.

We give below some letters from abroad, from Roy Lewis in East Africa and Bevis Jerome in Palestine.

Corpl. C. Burrows writes from Mesopotamia his thanks for a parcel from the Sunningdale Red Cross Society.

He says –

‘It will be a trifle strange when I get back to not have anyone to speak to who understands Arabic or the ways of Arabs as I have had 2 ½ years amongst them now and am quite at home with most of them. If it did not get quite so hot here in the summer it would be an ideal place for an Englishman.

I suppose if we continue to hold it they will eventually get it like most places in India.

There is a great prospect of a large flood this year, and I expect it will be like 1916, one mass of water as far as one can see, not deep but very uncomfortable when one has to march through it, knee or waist deep. It is a splendid sight to see the setting sun over the Desert, any artist would love to have a picture of it. It is a pity one cannot get the colours with a hand camera. I sent to Basrah the other day, but same old tale ‘we are expecting it by the next boat’.

Once again thanking you, I remain, etc.

Sunningdale parish magazine, July 1918 (D/P150B/28A/10)

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“The weather & the flies are very trying”

The heat was almost as troublesome as the enemy.

Wednesday 17 July 1918

Got up at 7.30 am. Flies were a nuisance. Air raid on village during night, about a dozen bombs dropped. 1 soldier killed, 5 wounded. A good parade this morning from 9-12.30. Inspection, Platoon & Section drill, PT, & BF. Break ½ hour. Rifle grenadiers from 11.30-12.30. Company arms drill. Marched home. Censored letters after lunch. Another broiling hot day.

The weather & the flies are very trying. After tea I began to fret. I wonder whether the photographer would turn up to take the officers of the Battalion. We were all at the orderly room at 7.30, but as a storm intervened he did not come. So I was unmercifully ragged by the CO who thought that it was my bad French which had made the muddle!

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)

A good example of a good defensive position

Sydney Spencer and his men practiced tactics before meeting the locals.

Tuesday 16 July 1918

All the servants were very late this morning & we were not called until 7.55. It meant a rush! At nine on parade. Did a good morning’s work consisting of platoon drill, a very thorough inspection, I took the rifle bombers in cup discharge work, then we did a scheme from 11-1. Hervey took out his platoon to a hill with trenches. Kemp attacked. I was in reserve. A good example of how [sic] a good defensive position.

After lunch censored letters. Then went down to Kemp’s billet & played on an atrocious piano. A mademoiselle charmante [charming young lady] spoke pretty broken English, & prettier French. Madame gave me some flowers. Spent a pleasant evening – a really decent one. Acted as interpreter for a photographer who took our drums. The village crier, a pale looking youth with plaintive voice demanded after beating his drum that we should declare the boites de foin [haystacks] gathered in during the [illegible] in the morning.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)

A lecture on aerial photography

The new technology of flight was used in the war not just for battles and bombing – it was an intelligence tool.

1918
Jan 25th

Battalion order 136. A lecture on aerial photography to be given by Captain H Lejeune, MC, RFC Feb 4th. Extremely interesting.

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12)

“Just now on the threshold of a good roll up of the Huns I’m afraid there’ll be no time for reading in the army”

Percy Spencer and his colleagues had the opportunity to socialise with French girls behind the lines – and some romances developed, as Percy told his sister.

April 17 1917
My dear WF

Circumstances have prevented me from writing sooner, but please don’t ever imagine just because I sometimes cease my very occasional letters for a while that therefore I’m fighting in every battle on the Western front. I have always made a point of sending at least a field card whenever I am in any danger or you may have reason that I may be.

I’m enclosing a few souvenirs just to show that all our times are not anxious ones. The photos were taken in the rain in a quiet little village on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. You’ll note that all married and attached have vanished from the “mascot” group. We have had a very good, if strenuous time. The fellow who is understudying me against my departure (if that ever happens) and our mess mascot were mutually smitten, and altho’ I have done my utmost to persuade him from making the lady an alien, he is in daily correspondence with her, getting frightfully absent minded, and goes around humming her favourite tune until we put up a solid barrage of the same tune in the lady’s Anglo-French style.

As for my Benjamin (“Miss Mary Jones”, the junior clerk) the case is indeed desperate. All thoughts of his first love Lily of Clapham Common seem to be banished at the mention of “Jacqueline”, the blue-eyed maid at the second estaminet on the right. Her winsomeness was a great trial to me, as “Mary” was dangerously enchanted by her charms. On the day he was inoculated and should have kept very quiet, he was missing – sitting at the shrine of his goddess, drinking benedictions and secret smiles: as I find him out to his billet he assured me with tears in his eyes, “I’ve only had 2, sergeant”. Of course he ought to be dead, but he isn’t – and Jacqueline regards me as an ogre. However I think she judged me a little bit better before we left, for on the day we went away Mary had a scrawly pencilled note as follows –

My dear Dolly
I must see you at once. Tell your sergeant that if you no come quick I finish with you for ever.
With love & kisses
XXXXXX
from your
Jacqueline

He went.

And every now and then I see him take out an old passport and look at the left hand corner, and smile at her miniature there.

Dear old Will has sent me a long letter enclosing a photo of Johanna & himself and offering a selection from a number of books as a birthday present. I’ll let you know later what I’d like, but just now on the threshold of a good roll up of the Huns I’m afraid there’ll be no time for reading in the army.

I believe my affairs are going thro’ all right, but it may be some time yet or not at all before my promotion comes through – I hope it will be very soon or not at all. Further promotion would be very remote, if the job hung fire for long.

With my dear love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/26-28)

Our soldiers – and our conscientious objector

There was news of the varying destinations of various men associated with Maidenhead Congregational Church. One was even a conscientious objector.

OUR SOLDIERS.

David Dalgliesh, at the conclusion of his training, has received a Commission in the Royal Flying Corps, and is at present at Hendon. Frank Pigg has departed for Salonika and John Boyd for France. Our Deacon, P.S. Eastman, has been compelled to leave the doors of his business closed and is in training for the Royal Naval Air Service at the Crystal Palace. He will probably be engaged in photographic work. Percy Lewis has been placed in charge of the Mobile X-ray Unit of the 1st Army. Reginald Hill has gone over with his regiment to France. Archibald Fraser has enlisted in the Army Service Corps, and is at present stationed at Lee. F. Kempster, who is a “conscientious objector,” has gone to take up farm work in the south of England. Herbert G. Wood is in British East Africa.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, October 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

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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Pinups of the First World War

Maidenhead Congregational Church found an enterprising way to raise funds for the benefit of the Belgian refugees they were supporting: by selling photographs of the beneficiaries. Perhaps a modern equivalent would be to issue a calendar.

OUR BELGIAN REFUGEES.
Mr. Eastman has taken a very excellent portrait-group of the ten refugees whom we have under our care at Fairford Road. Copies may be had at a shilling each, at the studios, Queen Street. They will serve as memorials of a most interesting chapter in our Church history.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, August 1915 (D/N33/12/1/5)