“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)

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Sending dressings right out to the firing line

People in the villages of Wokingham Rural District gave their money generously, while those in Wargrave were proud to know that their handmade surgical dressings were being put to use at the front where they were most urgently needed.

Our Day

Very hearty congratulations and our best thanks are due to Mrs. Oliver Young and all her collectors, for the splendid contribution sent this year from the district to the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. The Cheque sent to the County Secretary from the Wokingham North District was for £168. 10s. 1d. and was made up as follows:-

£. s. d.
Wargrave per Mrs. Victor Rhodes: 19 3 2
Wargrave per Mrs Vickerman 36 0 0
Hare Hatch per Mrs. A. W. Young 20 7 2
Twyford per Mrs. F. C. Young 23 4 0
Remenham and Crazies Hill per Mrs. Noble 21 1 7
Mr. Noble per Mrs. Noble 20 0 0
Sonning per Miss Williams 13 0 0
Woodley per Miss Pantin 3 6 2
Hurst per Mrs. Roupell 12 8 0

£168 10 1

Wargrave Surgical Dressing Emergency Society

Since March 23rd, 1915 over 300 Bales of dressings and comforts have been sent to Casualty Clearing Stations in France, Malta, Egypt, Alexandria and Port Said. The Society is now approved by the War Office, and properly licensed under the New War Charity Act. In future it is intended to print the hospitals where dressings are sent every month, in the Parish Magazine, as it cannot fail to be a source of satisfaction to know that while the Hospital is doing all it can for the men who have come back, the Surgical Dressing Society is sending every month about 20 Bales right out to the Firing Line, for the use of the men who come out of the trenches on the field of Battle.

List of Hospitals for October and November:

B. Ex. F. France:
No. 5, Casualty Clearing Station
No. 27, Field Ambulance – 9th Scottish Section
No. 3, Canadian Casualty Clearing Station

Egypt:
No. 19 General Hospital, Alexandria
No. 31, General Hospital, Port Said

These Hospitals have 4 Bales of Dressings etc. each:
No. 21 Casualty Clearing Station
No. 5 Casualty Clearing Station
No. 2/2d London Casualty Clearing Station
No. 1/1 Midland D. Casualty Clearing Station
British Exped. Force, France.

4 Bales each.

By order of the Director General. Vol. Organizations
Scotland Yard.

Wargrave parish magazine, December 1916 (D/P145/28A/31)

Perilous voyages

Sisters of Clewer’s Community of St John Baptist returning from working in India endured a scary voyage home, fearing attack from German mines:

April 6th, 1916

I have been asked to let you know… that the Annual Service of St John Baptist Calcutta Mission Association shall beheld (D.V.) at St Barnabas’ Church, Pimlico, on Tuesday in Whitsun Week, June 13th… After the service a gathering of associates and friends will take place at St Barnabas Church Room, Ranelagh Grove… and the Sisters who have recently returned from India will be there…

It has been a very great pleasure to welcome home 4 Sisters within the last two months, Sister Frances Anne, Sister Mabel Theresa, Sister Beatrice Mary, and Sister Mary Evelyn, after really perilous voyages. From Port Said to Marseilles all the passengers were requested to take their lifebelts with them wherever they went – boats were lowered, and rafts prepared in readiness for whatever might happen, and for a long distance their steamers took a very zigzag course, which proved to be most trying experience, and, of course, lengthened the voyage. When the Channel was reached the steamer which brought the last home-coming Sister just crept along, preceded by mine-sweepers, and followed by a number of smaller boats anxious to share in the safety this afforded.

Evelyn, Superior CSJB

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

“Awful bad luck”

Two of Ralph Glyn’s friends wrote to him.

HMS Caroline
C/o GPO
London

27th Feb 1916

My dear Ralph

Being a d-d nuisance Sir told Drummond to send you out some papers to sign, sorry to worry you with them, but it’s in a good cause, as they are all about the transference of Foreign Bonds (mostly Americans) to War Loan, and every little helps. We are all very cheery just at present, as we’ve just had 5 days leave, the first we’ve had for 8 months, and it’s made a lot of difference and bucked us up no-end. Evelyn is most flourishing, & so are the children, though the latter I’ve not seen for some time, as went to London for my leave. I hear you are very busy, didn’t see any of your relations, but Lady George [Sybil] & Joan, & they told us about you. It was sad for her Ivar having been killed, awful bad luck. This is written under difficulties, as we are rowing about, & have had to wedge myself in, but I’ve so little time just at present for writing; after leave & a refit there is always a lot to do.

Good luck to you.

Yours ever
Rupert Drummond

Did you hear the Germans published that they had sunk us by Zeps: can’t imagine why we were selected.

18, Queen’s Gate Place
SW

Feb. 27, 1916

My dear Glyn

Very many thanks for your kind congratulations.

I see that you are on the GHQ of the Mediterranean Force, & perhaps we shall see you at Ismailia when we pass through. Our plans are to go to Cairo from Port Said, then by special train to Ismailia, & so by motor boat to rejoin our ship at Suez.

It will be a fleeting visit – but sometimes one is able to have a view of friends when they know one is coming. Do look out for us.

Sincerely yours
Chelmsford

Letters to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/12-13)

Seaplane carriers

Cecil L’estrange Malone (1890-1965) was a young naval and RNAS officer. In later years he became an MP representing successively the Liberal, Communist and Labour Parties.

28th Jany 1916
HMS Ben-My-Chree
c/o Navy House
Port Said

Dear Glyn

I am writing to ask you if you know of anyone available who would care to come and assist me in the Military Intelligence work connected with Seaplane Carriers.

Wemyss has appointed me in command of the four seaplanes-carrying ships so I hope we may now get something done.

6 to 12 volunteers for observers have been asked for officially, so if you know of anyone, he could come in under that heading.

Perhaps you could drop me a line to the above address if you think there is anything doing, as soon as possible, if not I must make other arrangements.

I am confident it would make for efficiency, and keep us in closer touch with your requirements.

I enclose a copy of Smyrna reconnaissance, perhaps you will be so good as to circulate it to anyone interested.

Yours truly,

Cecil L’estrange Malone

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/5)

Going the wrong way: a missionary leaves the war behind

A Reading-sponsored missionary reports on the effects of the war on his journey back to what is now Pakistan, in a letter to members of the congregation at St John’s Church in Watlington Street. It was printed in the parish magazine, and gave Reading people a glimpse of the war from the colonies:

Church Missionary Society,
Lahore.
October 21st. 1914.
My dear Vicar,

Here I am at the Headquarters of the Punjab Mission, tho’ by no means at the end of my travels. At the last moment it was found impossible to run the Language School at Lucknow this year, which is rather a blow. However, Canon Wigram is trying to arrange that the three Punjab recruits shall work together for some months at language study. Probably we shall go to Multan in a fortnight’s time, and until then I am going up to the Batala by way of Amritsar.
I have so much to write about that it will be very difficult to be concise, but I will make an effort.

We had an excellent voyage and never once was it rough, though for two half days I was hors de combat owing to the ship pitching in a horrid swell. We saw signs of war the whole way. On the first night we very nearly ran down a British destroyer near Dover. At Gibraltar we saw the ‘Highflyer’ and the ‘Carmania,’ both covered with renown after their fights in the Atlantic. Off Malta we passed quite close to four troopships from India under the escort of three French cruisers: and at Port Said we saw no less than thirty-five troopships on their way to the Front. We passed them amid tremendous cheering, tho’ everywhere we were greeted with shouts of ‘You’re going the wrong way.’ At every port we touched at we saw captured German and Austrian merchant ships. On reaching Aden we heard that the German cruiser ‘Konigsberg’ had got through the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb into the Red Sea and was coaling at Jeddah; if this is true we must have passed within a very few miles of her and we may be thankful that our voyage wasn’t terminated on the Arabian coast.

From Aden to Bombay we ran with very few lights on at night and these few were darkened by brown cardboard funnels, so we were more or less invisible after dark. The second night out from Aden all lights were suddenly switched out and the ship’s course was completely altered. We thought that the ‘Emden’ was on our track, and some of the ladies went so far as putting on lifebelts. The Captain had spotted a glare in the distance, which turned out to be only an Arab dhow fishing in an unusual part.

We were a party of seven C.M.S. Missionaries on board, and I fear usually the noisiest table at meal-time; however, I hope noise is a sign that we were enjoying ourselves.

I was quite sorry in many ways when the voyage came to an end and we dropped anchor in Bombay harbour at sunrise on October 16th. There were at least a dozen crowded troopships to greet us as we steamed up the bay; and the Tommies didn’t seem to mind standing in the full glare of the sun to watch us pass. …..

Yours affectionately,
Arnold I. Kay.

A second letter provides more details. (more…)