Awful explosion in ships

The explosion of a French ship carrying munitions in Canada has been called the worst manmade explosion before the invention of nuclear weapons.

8 December 1917

Awful explosion in ships at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Town almost destroyed! Roumania [sic] having truce….

Wrote to prisoners. Mrs Pack & Mr Rich [visited]. His son died of wounds. My Bubs to start for Paris 4 pm via Southampton & Havre.

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

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A small block of wood from the Somme

The Battle of the Somme approached its end with the Battle of the Ancre. An acquaintance of the Vansittart Neales had a dramatic story.

15 November 1916

Most successful push. Ancre battle – nearly 6000 prisoners taken.

Ernest Rich brought from France small block of wood, the only thing left of a gun, 20 horses, 4 officers, several men – big shell came in middle – everything gone!

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

Legitimately proud of their handsome contribution

The members of Broad Street Congregational Church in Reading continued to support the war effort.

The Khaki Socials are still being held at the close of evening worship each Sunday, in the Schoolroom. They are very greatly appreciated by the RAMC men at work in the various War Hospitals, and other soldiers in the district, as is evidenced by the attendance. An appeal was made a month ago for the help of ladies and gentlemen who might be willing to provide the refreshments for one evening; but the responses has not been so prompt as we had hoped. Mr Tibble has kindly promised to arrange for the necessary provisions, and he will gladly hear from any friends who would be willing to provide for an evening’s hospitality (the expense involved is about 10/-) or to share in the cost. Recent hosts and hostesses have been:

December 26th, Mr and Mrs J Ford
January 2nd, Mr and Mrs Tibble
January 9th, Mr and Mrs W J Brain.

To these friends, we tender our sincere thanks.

NEWS ITEMS

As will be seen from another column, the amount raised for the Reading War Hospitals, by our Church Choir Concert, was the highly creditable sum of £52 16s. by a similar effort, on behalf of the Belgian Refugees’ Relief Fund, the sum of £67 13s was obtained last year. This makes a total of £120 9s for the two concerts. It is a record of which Mr F W Harvey, the Choirmaster, and the members of the choir, may legitimately be proud.

Our thanks are due, and cordially tendered, to Mr W J Rich, who acted as Treasurer, for the success of his efforts on behalf of the National Committee for Relief in Belgium. The retiring collections in November relaised £34 16s 8d for this fund. The Lord Lieutenant of the County has written to Mr Rich, gratefully acknowledging this “handsome contribution”.


The sum collected by Mr D Dalgleish for the Fund to send Christmas parcels to our Broad Street soldiers and sailors was £18 10s 0 ½d.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, February 1916 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Another spy unmasked

Karl-Gustav Ernst was at the centre of the German spy ring in London at the start of the war. He was a London hairdresser, born in Britain but of German ancestry. Unluckily for him, MI5 had been aware of his covert role passing information, and he and his confederates were rounded up and arrested early in the war.

16 November 1914
Girls to Cookham to see wounded…. Sir George & Mme de la Bistrale came to luncheon. Then Mrs Puxley & Florrie Stainton came, & the Riches for tea. Went over hospital. May Innes to dine. Percival [Innes] told he to go guard Lord Roberts at Wellington Chapel 4 a.m. tomorrow!

Heavy fighting round Ypres. Germans can’t break through. One spy Ernst (hairdresser) to have 7 years!

An on dit of Kitchener when the P. of Wales went to him to beg him to let him go with his regiment. K said “Well, sir, if you were wounded that does not matter, & if you were killed that would not matter, but it would put us in such a hole if you were taken prisoner!” So he refused. Now he has gone out on Sir J. French’s staff.

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