“I had thought poor old England was so hard up, that no one would be able to send to me”

Some of the Christmas parcels sent out by Broad Street Church in Reading arrived rather later – but were welcome nonetheless. One hopes they included nothing perishable. China had joined the British side on the war in August 1917.

Many, many thanks for the very nice parcel which I received safely last week (Jan. 27th). It was indeed a pleasant surprise. I had thought poor old England was so hard up, that no one would be able to send to me. Everything you sent was just it. As you say China is a long way from home. I have been here over two years, and I haven’t had a single weekend leave yet. If I were nearer England I might stand a chance of dropping in to the PSA one Sunday…

Please convey my thanks to the Brotherhood and say I long for the day when I can be back amongst them. Am afraid I shall be too old to blow the cornet when I get back, but perhaps I might pass for the choir.

J Burgess (OS) [on active service]

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, April 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Racy remarks from a soldier on leave

Members of the men’s group at Broad Street Church in Reading were urged to set up a war savings scheme.


During the month [of September], in common with other Brotherhoods in the district, we took up a collection on behalf of the Shilling Fund which is being raised by the “Reading Standard” for the Royal Berkshire Hospital, and our members contributed the magnificent sum of 104 shillings. This is one of the best individual collections made by our society for some time.

It is an object which has the sympathy of all our members.

It was with great pleasure that we welcomed back our assistant secretary Brother A H Cooper on his leave. He certainly looks well, and his racy remarks were much appreciated.

At the invitation of our committee, Miss Darker, secretary of the Reading Local Central Committee of the National War Savings Committee, addressed members on Sunday afternoon, September 16th, and very ably and tactfully explained the war savings scheme.

Her remarks were attentively listened to, and the frequent applause leaves little doubt that the committee will consider it advisable to form a Broad Street PSA Brotherhood War Savings Association.

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

“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.


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.”


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)

Christmas parcels

There was an interdenominational effort in Bracknell to co-ordinate sending Christmas gifts to the men at the front.

Christmas parcels have been sent to all the men who are on active service both in the Navy and the Army. The Chavey Down men received their parcels through the working party on the Down. The members of the Congregational Church and P.S.A. sent to those connected with their organizations, and the remainder, about 70 in number, were provided for by subscriptions contributed by many in Bracknell.

Grateful letters of acknowledgement have come from a large number of the men, who desire the Vicar to thank all the Bracknell friends who contributed; the contents of the parcels seem to have been much appreciated.

The parcels were packed by Mrs. Barnett at the Vicarage, with the kind assistance of Mr. Payne and Miss Hunton. The contents of the parcels were such things as biscuits in tins, cake, Oxo, potted meat, milk and cocoa, chocolate, apples, soap, candles and cigarettes.

Bracknell section of Winkfield District Monthly Magazine, January 1916 (D/P151/28A/8/1)

Our first brother killed in this cruel war

The Broad Street Brotherhood, the men’s group at the big Congregational Church in central Reading (now Waterstone’s bookshop) was still sending its members off to the armed forces. They were sobered by their first death in action.


As we all know, our brother L Victor Smith left England some weeks ago to carry out duties in France. We miss him very much. He has done a tremendous amount of “spade work” in connection with our Society … the beautiful Rolls of Honour, which are hanging up in the vestibule, were amongst his latest pieces of work.

We have now got a very large number of our brothers either serving in France, or in the old country, and we are very glad and grateful to learn that the members of the church and Mrs Rawlinson are sending each of our brothers a parcel of good things at Christmas. In addition, we as a society are sending a cheery personal letter signed by our Presidents, so that our brothers will not be forgotten.

Our Mass Meeting and collection on behalf of the PSA fund for the relief of distress in Belgium, will be held in the early part of the New Year. Mr Rawlinson is arranging for one of the leading orators of the movement to address the meeting, and Mr Mann, secretary of the National Federation, will explain the objects of the fund.
Our choir has been through troubled waters. During the last few months they have had no less than three conductors, two leaving to join the army…

It is with deepest regret that we have to report the death of Brother V M May, of the 8th Royal Berks Regiment, who died in action last month. He is our first brother who has been killed in this cruel war.

The following names should be added to the church list given in the magazine last month:-
Cane, 2776 Pte, Norman, 1st Platoon A Co, 1/4th Royal Berks Regiment, BEF
Fletcher, Driver E A, Motor Transport Service, G and H Block, Grove Park, London
Jones, Off. Std. Wm Fletcher, No 12 Hut, East Camp, Royal Naval Barracks, Chatham

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

Food and clothing for blighted Belgium

Not only did Maidenhead Congregational Church support its own group of Belgian refugees, the church’s Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Society was involved in fundraising for the Belgians elsewhere.

The P.S.A. Society has taken the distress in Belgium upon its heart, and is trying to do something practical to meet the need. For some time past it has gathered weekly contributions form its members, after the pattern of the Church’s Belgian Home Fund, and has also collected clothing and food. The National Brotherhood Council has established a Headquarters and Depôt at 37, Norfolk Street, London, which is in touch with the various authorities concerned en route – Customs, Embassies, Railways – and is in a position to obtain special concessions and privileges for carriage and shipment of consignments. Thither the Local P.S.A. will send all goods entrusted to it. Mr. Lewis’ appeal in the Advertiser produced good fruit, and we hope the total result of our local effort will be worthy of us and the cause.

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

Belgians and soldiers provided with Christmas cheer in Maidenhead

Maidenhead Congregational Church reported on the Christmastime experiences of the Belgian refugees it sponsored, and also on their contributions to local soldiers’ Christmas, in the church magazine:

The beginning of our New Year is deeply stained with war! May there be peace long before it ends! But meanwhile, if we are assured that a righteous God rules, and that our cause is righteous, we can go forward with confidence, and rest upon His Almighty arm.”

Some of our friends did their best to give the Belgians a really happy Christmas in spite of the fact that they are strangers in a strange land. Mrs. Mash provided the children with a Christmas tree, laden with a generous supply of ‘fruit’, and many others sent in dolls and goodies until the little ones must have been bewildered. If they were not ill before Christmas was over, the firm restraint of their parents should excite our admiration. Several friends too contributed towards sending a Christmas hamper to the adults of the household, and we may hope that the season’s joy sparkled and glowed upon that hearth. No doubt the days must sometimes drag heavily. A Commission has been sitting to consider the question of occupation for refugees in our land; but they seem to have discovered no satisfactory method of meeting the difficulty. We can only hope that their own land will speedily be open to them once more.

Many of the soldiers obtained leave to go home for Christmas, but there were enough left to make it necessary to provide for their Christmas jollity. Our rooms were gaily decorated with flags and pictures and ever-greens, and an abundant supply of oranges, apples, nuts, muscatels, &c. was obtained from the Town Committee. Ten or twelve of the soldiers formed themselves into a Committee to be responsible for all the arrangements, and they engineered a “sing-song” on Christmas night, which seems to have pleased all the occupants of a crowded room. Quiet occupations, such as reading, writing, playing dominoes, or bagatelle, were relegated for the time to the infant room.

The bagatelle tables, of which we have two, are very popular, and are incessantly in use. Writing, too, is a great occupation. One evening recently more than a hundred men were counted, all writing letters at one time. It is quite a business to keep them supplied with writing materials. The ladies in the mending room are kept busily employed for two hours or more each evening. And the Refreshment department is admirably worked by representatives of the P.S.A. Society.

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

An oasis of peace and goodwill in Reading

One of the most influential contributions of Broad Street Congregational Church to the wider life of Reading before the war was the Broad Street Brotherhood, a semi-religious social club for local working men which was part of the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon movement. Its members included many of those targetted by recruiters for the army, and it was greatly affected by the war, as this entry in the church magazine makes clear.

There is one matter which I do not intend to dwell upon this month and that is the war. Every newspaper, every magazine is full of it, and it will be impossible to add anything to what has already been written, but there is one item I must put on record, and that is, that we as a Brotherhood are very proud of our members who have volunteered and are now serving our King and Country, and we say to them from the bottom of our hearts, “God be with you till we meet again”.

Many of our Brothers and the writer have been looking forward each Sunday afternoon during the past month for one hour on one day of the week free from hearing of this awful war in which we are now engaged, but alas, it has been war news, war songs, and war addresses, and it seems impossible to get a moment’s quietude. How we should appreciate a Sunday afternoon with two minutes of silent prayer for peace, and then one hour’s restful service together.

Last Sunday, our postponed prize distribution took place, and a very fine lot of books was taken away by our brothers, numerically not so many as on previous occasions, not because the books were not earned, but because many of our brothers have given the whole of their book money either to the National Brotherhood Campaign, or to the Prince of Wales’ War Fund, a most generous and well merited act on their part.

Our Brotherhood choir again tendered valuable services in making the concert at the Palace Theatre [in Reading] on behalf of the Prince of Wales’ Fund, such a stupendous success. …

The autumn session is now started and we are hoping to make our PSA an oasis of peace and good will during the tumultuous times we are now living in.

Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, September 1914 (D/N11/12/1/14)