Welcome Home to Returned Heroes

The men of Maidenhead were welcomed back home.

Welcome to Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen by CEMS

On Saturday, June 14th, 5.30 to 9.30 pm, at St Luke’s, Vicarage Lawn. The Band of the Comrades of the Great War will play. if any returned Parishioner does not get an invitation, will he please communicate with Mr E Hazeldine, Hon. Sec., 5, College Rise.

CEMS Welcome Home to Returned Heroes

It was a happy inspiration of the St Luke’s Branch of the CEMS – which, of course, includes St Peter’s – to give a Welcome Home to the men of St Luke’s Parish, who as Sailors, Soldiers or Airmen have fought for their country in the Great War, together with their wives and sweethearts.

By the kindness of the Vicar, whose absence from home on such a memorable occasion was much regretted – not the least by the Vicar himself – the gathering took place on the Vicarage Lawn on Saturday, June 14th, and, favoured with brilliant weather, proved a great success.

When we say that 800 men and wives accepted the Society’s invitation to tea, it will be realised what a vast amount of work was entailed. But with the organisation in the capable hands of Mr Hazeldine (Hon. Sec.), and Mr Habbin (Chairman of the CEMS), and the willing help of many ladies of St Luke’s and St Peter’s congregations as waitresses, the large party was admirably served.
After tea, there were Concerts, a good programme of music by the Band of the Comrades of the Great War, and performances on the piano and violin by two wounded artistes, all of which was much appreciated. Between the various items were opportunities for conversation with, and congratulations to, the returned warriors – by no means the least enjoyable part of the proceedings – together with a further supply of refreshments. The heartiest thanks of the CEMS are offered to all the kind friends who gave them such valuable assistance in carrying through the “Welcome”, as also to those who generously contributed towards the cost.

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

A great success from the Patriotic as well as the Social point of view

A concert encouraged Clewer people to invest their savings in government funds aimed at helping with the war effort.

St Agnes’, Clewer

There is no doubt that we all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly at our War Savings Concert on October 30, and it was a great success from the Patriotic as well as the Social point of view. What with the varied selection of popular songs, the wonderful execution of a pianist, and the telling speech in which Mr. Weston advocated the advantages gained for our Country and for ourselves by joining the War Savings Association, it was an out and out star-performance.

No less than six new members were enrolled then and there, and others have joined up since. Payments (6d. and upwards) are made at the Mission Room any Monday between 4 and 5 o’clock. when the Hon. Secretary will gladly give information to all who will take this splendid opportunity of helping those at the Front, and at the same time, getting a good return for our money which we can always have out at any time if we should want it.

Clewer parish magazine, December 1917 (D/P39/28A/9)

Wounded soldiers get a space for reading, writing and social intercourse

Broad Street Congregational Church’s latest effort was to offer organised entertainment to wounded soldiers who had been aimlessly wandering the streets.


On Monday October 15th, a new movement was inaugurated in our Schoolroom. For some time previously various members of the congregation has been impressed with the idea that something should be done for the Wounded Soldiers who gather each afternoon in Broad Street, and who appeared to need a place where they could rest (particularly in wet weather), play games, and be able to obtain light refreshments. It was felt that there was need of something of the same sort being done for other men and women in khaki in the town in the evening. These matters were considered by the Church members, and ultimately it was decided that an attempt should be made to meet the needs referred to, and a Committee immediately got to work, with the result that the Schoolroom and two adjoining rooms were ready for occupation by the soldiers on the 15th.

Subsequent events have proved that the needs were even greater than we thought. From the very first the undertaking has been a success. The various Military Hospitals and billeting places had been informed, by printed handbill, of our arrangements, and this was all that was necessary. Almost as soon as the doors were opened, our wounded friends began to arrive, and every afternoon since they have been coming to Broad Street in large numbers. Each evening, too, there is a good attendance of men and women in khaki. Our visitors are allowed to amuse themselves in the way they deem best. Some make good use of the writing room, in which writing-paper and envelopes are provided without cost; whilst others join in one or other of the various games. Magazines and papers are supplied for those who care to read them; and the piano is in almost constant use by those who enliven the whole proceedings. The original intention was to try the experiment for a month, but the success was such that it has now been decided to continue indefinitely. It has also been decided to meet a further need by opening the rooms for reading, writing and social intercourse each Sunday afternoon from 4 to 6.15 pm.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, December 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Switzerland is still neutral

British/German expat couple Will and Johanna Spencer found their Swiss hosts were keen to remain neutral.

16 February 1917
Found J[ohanna] waiting for me in the shop on leaving [probably a music shop where Will practiced his piano daily]. The young lady in the shop had expressed the opinion that the new government regulations in Switzerland were out of place in a neutral country. When Johanna spoke of Switzerland being so dependent on foreign countries for supplies, she replied “Die Schweiz is eben ein neutrals Land”.

Diary of Will Spencer, 1917 (D/EX801/27)

16 Feb 1917
War Savings Association started at Bisham. Edie secretary, Mr Gray treasurer.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

When the evening shadows fall: a valuable service for soldiers in Maidenhead

Maidenhead Congregational Church continued to provide a homely environment for off-duty soldiers billeted locally.

The room continues to be thronged every evening, and is undoubtedly doing a most valuable service for the men. There is always a large number engaged in letter-writing, for which paper and envelopes, ink and pens are provided free. The five bagatelle tables are never idle, the piano has little time for rest when the evening shadows fall; the news-papers and magazines are well thumbed. The ladies at the refreshment buffet take about £5 weekly, mostly in half-pence, for coffee, tea, cocoa, Oxo, buns, cakes and cigarettes. The B.W.T.A. ladies in the mending room “take in washing,” and see that it is returned darned and patched up. Two Concerts and a Conjuring Entertainment have been thrown in as extras, and other delights of a similar character are in process of being arranged.

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

Throwing darts at the Kaiser

A number of entertaining evenings were held for wounded soldiers in Earley. One suspects that throwing darts at the Kaiser’s anatomy was a particular favourite.


I regret the delay in publishing this report, which has been unavoidable. Since my last, and up to the time of writing, five more Entertainments have been given: on each occasion about 50 guests have been invited, including 25 on one occasion from the Canadian Contingent at Bearwood. With the exception of the special event on the 29th December, the proceedings have been similar to those already described.

Contributors to the funds have given further help and attended willingly to assist, and there has been no lack of musical and other talent in providing amusement for our guests, amongst them being several members of the ASC stationed at Earley, Miss Marjorie Francis, Miss Elsie Francis, Mrs Dracup, Mrs Hart and Mrs Dowsett, Miss Elsie Smith (who has been of great help at the piano), Mr Tunbridge, Mr H Walker, Mr Tom Morley, Mr Edwin Love with his party, the Misses Francis and Hayward, and Mr Maurice Love, in “Mixed Pickles” and “Bridget’s Blunders”, have greatly assisted in completing the success of each event.

The introduction of a further original game by Mr Love in substitution for pinning the tail on the donkey has been a nearly lifesize picture on a board of the Kaiser, numbered in the vital parts for darts to be thrown at, and which has excited keen competition.

The loan of motor cars by Mrs Joel, Mr Barnard, Mr Ricard Lea, Mr Helps, Mr Heelas, Mr A C Jordan, Mr Bonnett, Mrs Dunlop, Mrs Evans and Lieut. Usmar (who with his wife we are sorry to lose from the district as they took such a great interest in our work) has been a real boon, as without this help our expenses in hire of conveyances would have been very considerable.

A further list of donors and of gifts in kind will appear in due course. The present position of the fund is

Cash received to date £41.9.5

And paid out (exclusive of the last Entertainment and Account for Hire of Cars) £27.6.10.

The committee will gladly welcome any further help in cash, loan of motors or gifts in kind so as to continue these Entertainments.

Chas J. Howlett
Hon. Treasurer

Earley St Peter parish magazine, March 1916 (D/P191/28A/23/1)

Making up for other men’s lack of duty

Sydney Spencer wrote to his brother Percy to tackle Percy’s doubts about Sydney’s joining up. Sydney was still at Oxford at this point, and this letter explains exactly why he chose to join the army.

12 Southmoor Road
Monday June 7th [1915]

My dear Percy

So I hear from Flo [their sister Florence] that you don’t approve. And why. Because you want to shield me from horrors which other people have to endure. Well that doesn’t wash. As things stand now, if the horrors were 50 times greater it would make little difference. If you were over here in England just now to hear the way some men talk you would be glad enough that anyone should be willing. I played tennis last week. A lolling lazy looking Welshman enters into conversation with me.

“Why don’t you think you will pass Mods?”
“Because the OTC work has swallowed up an enormous amount of time.” “Well I suppose you must have liked military life to make you join the OTC”.
“Yes indeed,” I said, “a man who has spent most of his life reading poetry & playing the piano would naturally be deeply absorbed in such work!”
“Well I can’t understand what made you join the OTC if you didn’t like the work.”

I just looked at him, & then he said in a confused tone “Oh I suppose you felt it a duty.”

I don’t say that there are numbers of such people about but I feel that it is well to make up in any small way possible for what is lacking in other men’s sense of duty by offering myself unconditionally.

If the thing turns out to be too much, well I should knuckle under, I suppose, & what’s left of me would get a discharge, & would settle down to civilian life again with this much added to it however, that I had done my share even if it was ever so small a share. As to my being saved from these horrors, I don’t see a single argument in favour of such an attitude. Put me in Madame Tussaud’s & preserve me in spirits right out, one might as well suggest, and I prefer neither of those alternatives. I feel that if God Almighty has other work for me to do, He will play the Germans all sorts of tricks, so that I may pull through. And if I don’t, well I shall fall in good company.

Letter from Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/4)

Singing with the swaggering soldiers

Sydney Spencer reflected in his diary on his YMCA work and getting to know the rough and ready soldiers. His musical talents came in handy.

Wednesday Sept 23rd
It is a glorious day – indeed so glorious that despite the fact that I am in this tent, & the men are all round reading and playing games, & I am still surrounded by all those things which tend to make life feel sordid – still the sunlight is so lovely, & there is such a warm light and buoyancy about everything that I feel as though I have just for a time got right into the country. I feel even a buoyancy about myself, & considering this is the end of my fortnight’s work here I feel that I am very fit. Although I have caught a cold here it has not given me very much trouble. Only in the mornings when I get up I have had a grumble in my throat.

Yesterday was quite a successful day for me in the way of getting on with the men. I did a lot of playing for them & they sang quite a lot too. The difficulty has been to get them to sing. These men, so rough & rude in speech, are as shy as children when it comes to asking them to do a thing such as sing a song. They rough it & swagger & say they can’t sing & don’t know the songs, or don’t like them, & now they are gradually warming to the work & beginning to sing songs which before they would not sing. Brown – a man whom we both liked very much – Hayes & I – has gone off to the front & he seemed most happy to be going. Our concert is tonight and I am most glad that it is so for I have not been looking forward to it, for either I have to play or I have not to, & if I was asked my desires I should prefer not to play at all! I know that my type of music does not at all suit, hence it will make the playing ever so much more difficult, & embarrassing. I have grown to be very fond of Hayes. He has a regular appetite for scheming with his “thoughts”. He weighs out his every speech, & the time he takes thinking out the exact form of his next question or answer to the captain is remarkable. Although I am glad that my time is coming to an end, still I feel that I would not have been without this experience, with all its particoloured effects upon me. We had our morning service here last Sunday with a certain amount of “éclat”, if it is not “rirement” [laughable] to use such a word in this conjunction.

We had the Venite & the Benedictus, & hymns. Captain Watson read the lesson & prayers, & hayes preached a five minute sermon. It was a very good thought that he put into it. He stood for beating a man on his own level, & then shewing him that he bore him no ill feeling, & was willing to raise him or go with him on to a higher level.

The air this afternoon is rather thick, as Captain Watson is annoyed – justly so too, I feel – at Daldry’s proposal to take the chair at the meeting tonight. Daldry wants to finish up the concert with the hymn “Fight the good fight”. I feel with Hayes and with Captain Watson too that a hymn then would be out of place. I think strongly that a hymn & prayers every night before we parted would be well, but it would create a false atmosphere if the hymn suddenly broke in on the rather trifling concert programme we have on the boards.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

The YMCA: just a splendid grocery association?

Sydney Spencer tells us more about his work with the YMCA in an army camp. The poem he liked so much is by Henry Newbolt, and is now regarded with more irony.

14th Sept. Monday morning at the Packerton YMCA camp

I am to sleep in the marquee tonight with Hayes. I am only sorry that Jumbo [his friend Kenneth Oliphant] and I are parted. Yesterday I very much enjoyed the day at Gravel Hill. At 6 o’clock I got some tea at Harwich, & then went into the writing & reading room downstairs where I found a Private Russell who had a talk with me which ended by my having an opportunity of giving him a Testament, with which he was not only delighted, but said that he had “mates” who would like some too.

[Section censored in later years by Sydney’s sister and heir Florence]

I went to the Co-operative Hall at 7.30 and played right on without a moment’s break till 9 o’clock. I should think I must have played about sixty hymns or more.

I said I had not a break, but now I remember that Hindle spoke to the men for about ten minutes, & they very much appreciated his really good address which he gave. I was surprised at the way in which the men had turned up to the service. There were about 300 of them and they sang with the greatest gusto imaginable. They sang hymn after hymn & their choice of hymns was really good. They had for one, “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land”. This hymn went best of all, I think on the whole. Hindle works himself to death & does, I think, splendid work, although I think that it is a great pity that he frivols so on his table conversation. Conversation has been of a better kind lately & I am very glad of it. I am waiting just outside the YMCA canteen in the lobby place of the guard house, & one of the prisoners inside is playing a flute & is playing Home Sweet Home in a slim melancholy way which makes it comic. I begin to doubt of its being a flute, I should imagine it is a mouth organ by the sounds of the chords put in which I had not before heard. Hayes roasted Daldy splendidly last night saying that he thought we were a splendid grocery association & that we ought to chuck the YMCA. I am glad he did for he – Daldy – seems to think of nothing except the money part of the affair, & it absolutely disgusts me. I am very glad that Hayes is shewing his colours to such an extent, I shall get on much better for it. (more…)

‘Transported into a Zulu village’: Sydney Spencer describes an army camp

Sydney and his friend “Jumbo” Oliphant were disappointed by the lack of a religious atmosphere at their YMCA camp, but he felt he was doing good work. He paints a colourful picture of the army camp he was serving in his diary:

Saturday September 12th

Saturday night after the Packerton work I went to the Co-operative Hall & banged the piano for two mortal hours for the men collected there. There were about 300 of them & the noise when they were all shouting was deafening in the extreme. I do not feel – neither does Jumbo – that the atmosphere which is allowed & tolerated is by any means what we expected or desired. When an institution sets out to be definitely Christian, & then seems to drop the matter of religion entirely into the background, – well – then one cannot but be disappointed & disgusted too. We don’t, when we get home at night, even have prayers or grace at meals or any other than vapid & even superficial conversation. Perhaps Jumbo & I are too anxious to see the deeper side of men’s religious convictions come uppermost. At any rate the work is jolly good work & it is a great pleasure to do this for the men, for the pleasant manners & simple jokes do one good.

Yesterday I went across to the trenches to see about our new marquee just being put up for us. The whole place, trenches & camp & all is surrounded by barbed wire fences. An ordinary fence of wood – posts about four feet apart & barbed twice are set-up & from each post wires are stretched, on either side to a distance of about 5 feet & then barbed wires are set along these at intervals, so that to the one trying to get through the obstruction there are some twelve or more stretches of barbed wire to obstruct him. Trenches are dug some feet deep. They appeared to be a good five* feet deep or more & about three feet wide. But why they should be so deep I do not see, since the soldiers have to be on a level so that though their bodies are hidden, yet their arms should be on a level with the surface of the ground so that they can level & use their muskets. Of course these trenches are protected in front by stacks of [sic] karkai coloured sandbags through which there must be holes so that they can fire through them. The insides of the trenches are lined with fine chicken gauge wire doubtless to keep the earth from falling and crumbling from the sides. There seem to be networks of these trenches all over the place. I was thunderstruck when I got into the camp itself. I expected to see a huge vista of white tents like flocks of geese on the landscape & suddenly I seemed transported into a Zulu village. The whole ground was covered with straw & hay & rushes. Huts were built all over the place. Simply posts driven into the ground, with cross pieces on the top. Sacking formed the basement of the covering in some places, & then straw, hay & even unthreshed barley & rushes are employed & are tied in bunches all around these erections, forming huts which are altogether the native Zulu huts. Some are quite open in front; & the ground is strewn with straw & hay, others are three parts enclosed, & even have a sacking doorway which completely encloses them. Those long sashes of reeds, which grow up the strand at home in Cookham are employed quite a lot as there are quantities of them in the freshwater ponds & ditches round here. Out of one of these huts – a large completely enclosed one – stumbled a boy of about 19, he had thick black hair & a turn-up nose, & small eyes. He was late for his drill, & he stumbled along, rubbing his eyes & screwing up his eyes in the daylight & looking distinctly not happy. That same young man visits our canteen pretty frequently & the cakes & pork pies he consumes are uncountable.
* correct depth is 6ft 11 ins. (note added 13/10/14)

(Diary of Sydney Spencer, 12 September 1914, D/EX801/12)