“It is a long time since bread from England has arrived without being mouldy”

Albert Cusden, one of four Reading brothers interned in Germany, and a talented amateur artist, wrote to his parents. They were dependent on food supplies sent from home, as their captors had little to go around due to blockades of trade. Some of Albert’s Ruhleben drawings are in the BRO archives.

Aug. 14th 1916
My dear parents

Since my letter to Lucy, very many thanks for parcels from S to X. Everything arrived in good condition with exception of bread. As I mentioned before, it is a long time since bread from England has arrived without being mouldy. Everyone makes same complaint, so it must be weather. The Swiss bread has been coming regularly to Arch & Dick in good condition and is sufficient for us. I presume that before receiving this you will have stopped sending any more from England as advised. Could someone drop a card to Mrs Miller and inform the Sawyers not to send any more bread either. Arch wrote to Mrs Miller a week or two back asking her not to send any more with cheese as she had been doing, but now it is better than none at all. The Sawyers’ toasted loaf had been coming all right, but last twice has been bad, so would be better not to risk any more. As an example, on Saturday four parcels came for us, being from home, Mrs Miller, Mrs West & Aunt Eliza. Each contained bread, I think seven loaves in all, which had to be thrown away being mouldy right through. So it would be a pity to risk any more, and as said before the Swiss is enough. Could you perhaps also drop card to Mrs West thanking her for parcel, as I cannot write her this week, and it would stop her from sending any more a little earlier. The biscuits she sent with bread were all right. The home made jam was extremely nice. Congratulations to Edie from us all. Hope she and the baby are both getting on perfectly. I must say you kept it very secret, no-one having a word of the coming event….

Dick received parcel from Poole through Mrs Ward of Donnington Gardens and acknowledged it to Mrs Ward as he had not Poole address and suggested she might send letter on. Since your letter came to me, he has written Mrs Ward, so I suppose it is now all right.

Probably this week will send off some sketches, mostly head studies. Should like you to put them by for me until I return, whenever that will be. I have been doing a deal of portrait sketching of late, and in most cases the fellows have sent the sketches home. I get the practice, the sitter the sketch, and I have no trouble in finding sitters. In one or two cases have later on commissions. We are keeping well, and you are all the same?

With love to all,

Your affectionate son,

Albert

Letter from Albert Cusden in Ruhleben to Mrs J Cusden, 57 Castle Street, Reading (D/EX1485/4/4/2)

An awful experience

Although Berkshire was spared the fear of air raids, many local people had friends and relatives ho were directly affected. A former District Nurse in Longworth, who had left the area on her marriage, shared her frightening experiences with her old friends.

We think the following extract from a letter from Mrs Poole, dated May 13, (better known to us as Nurse Dora Sheldon), will interest our readers. It is written from her home at Maldon.

“It was marvellous how we escaped the Zeppelin raid here as we did. The bombs were dropped so near us, and our drawing-room window was blown out and the bottom of a bath shared the same fate. It was an awful experience. And the nights are very nasty. The place has to be in absolute darkness; such a business to exclude every scrap of light.”

We congratulate Bombardier Richard Painton on his promotion to the rank of Sergeant.

Longworth parish magazine, July 1915 (D/P83/28A/10/7)

‘Hungering for something beyond the vapidity of his military associates’

Sydney Spencer contributes a pen portrait of a fellow officer who shared his artistic temperament:

28 March 1915

I want to commandeer today’s page with a description of a Lieutenant Poole who had tea with us. He is a Cambridge man & had only just been made a fellow of St John’s Oxford when he joined. He is a delightful man but his open disgust at all things military is extraordinary. He is much loved by his platoon though, which shews that he knows how to control his disgust. He is a brilliant scholar, a true gentleman and a Christian – attributes which seem lamentably absent in the majority of vapid insipid looking subalterns! It was almost pathetic after tea when Mr Way asked me to play some music. I played a slow movement from a Beethoven sonata & then Mr Way asked what constituted a sonata & I gave him a sketch from different sonatas, & played a few bars of the Waldstein. When Lt Poole heard this he begged me to play it right through. I protested that it was awfully difficult, & could scarcely play more than a few bars. He still insisted & so I stumbled through it & he listened to it with delight! The psychological reason for his delight was I feel sure that he was starving for something intellectual & refining, hungering for something beyond the vapidity of his military associates & so he revelled in listening to my poor struggles just as a starving man – even if an epicure – would revel in a dry muddy crust of bread. I asked him if it were not possible to mentally hibernate, saying that that was what I hoped to do, as the only means of making existence & a commission at all tolerable!

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/14)

A graphic account of the front delights Datchet children

Children at a Datchet school got a first-hand account of life at the front in January 1915. One suspects it was not quite as ‘graphic’ as the head teacher thought, in this note on the school log book:

29 Jan 1915
Sergeant Poole, an old scholar, came in this afternoon, & gave the upper school a most lucid & graphic account of his days at the front. The children were delighted & heartily cheered him at the close.

Abingdon schoolgirls also paid attention to the war, and collected funds for Belgian soldiers.

25th to 29th [January 1915]
Visited by the Vicar and Mrs Kennedy. The Vicar asked the Upper girls several questions relating to the War.

The girls have sent £1 to the Fund for the Belgian soldiers (sic).

Datchet CE Mixed School (SCH30/8/3, p. 383); Abingdon Girls CE School log book (C/EL2/2)

A fine response from Ascot

The Ascot parish magazine shows how that village was adapting to war conditions. Some of the entries are typical of other parishes; more unusual is the use of Ascot Racecourse for a hospital, and the encouragement of the working classes to take responsibility for care of refugees.

THE WAR.
No less than 95 names of parishioners, or men connected with the parish, are mentioned in All Saints Church at the Special Service of Intercession on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. All these have, in some capacity or other, joined the Navy, or Army. It is a fine response, on the part of Ascot, to the call of the Country upon her sons to take up arms in her defence, and in the great struggle for justice and righteousness. May GOD watch over all our lads, and keep them from harm, both moral and bodily.

THOSE AT THE FRONT.- The names of those at the front are mentioned at the Holy Eucharist on Sundays and Thursdays ay 8 a.m. : also at Matins and Evensong on Sundays. We ask the help of our people to ensure an accurate list, for it would grieve us to leave nay names out. A box, with pencil and paper, is placed on the table at the west end of the Church for the reception of the full names (of those at the Front).These names shall be inserted in the Parish Magazine month by month. We append the first list, which we trust is complete as far as it goes –

NAVY. – Eric Welman, Herbert Edward Cook, Archibald James Ewart, John Nobbs, William Luke Havell, Frederick George Barton, Oliver Frank Tindall, William Percy Siggins, Joseph Wilfred Ferns, Thomas William Hawthorn, Herbert William Wilderspin, George Parker, Albert Arthur Barton.

ARMY.- Eric Harold Tottie, Herbert Lane Poole, Reginald Poole, Vernon Charles, Tapscott Cole, Maurice Wingfield.

RED CROSS HOSPITAL, &c.

We extract the following from the Windsor Express –

Mention has already been made in these columns of the valuable uses to which the racecourse buildings and enclosures at Ascot are now being put. The five-shilling stand, as previously announced, has been arranged in wards for the accommodation of wounded soldiers, and to make things as comfortable as possible, a heating apparatus costing between £400 and £500 is being installed.
But this is not all. Series after series of ambulance lectures have been given here by Dr. Gordon Paterson to prepare men and women for the duty of attending to the sick and wounded, while the grounds adjoining have been occupied considerably by special constables and others at drill – this being another kind of preparation of which the importance cannot be overlooked.

The latest development is that every suitable building is to become a dwelling for wives and children of soldiers at the front. It means that these families will leave barracks, thus making room for recruits, and will come to comfortable quarters at Ascot, where everything will be provided – furniture, firing, light, etc. – but food, and the latter they will provide for themselves from their separate allowances. The number of those who will swell Ascot’s normal population is at present unknown, but it is expected that full advantage will be taken of the preparations now in progress.

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