“Life keeps brightening all the way” with jokes and accordions

An army chaplain wrote to his friends in Reading with a description of his experiences. Ecumenicism took a step forward in the extreme situation of the war.

Letter from the Rev. R W Morley
YMCA
c/o The Town Major [sic]
1st Army Corps Railhead
1st January 1918
My dear Vicar,

I expect most of my friends know by now of the two huts that I have charge of out here, and the delightful Quiet Room with all its devotional helpfulness. Apropos of the last it might be of interest if I transcribed a phrase from my predecessor’s letter to me (he is a prominent Congregational Minister), “Nothing gave me pleasure than the introduction of the altar, reminding me as it did of Our Great High Priest and the priesthood of all believers”. There I have the joy of celebrating most Sundays at 8 am at the request of the Church of England Chaplains, and in their robes as I have none out here, nor have I vessels as mine were a little too small for the purpose. On Christmas Day I celebrated with a wine glass for chalice and glass cake dish for the bread, a saucer and another wine glass on a chair for the consecrated bread and wine, and with no robes. Once in every month I have an open Communion for “all who love the Lord in sincerity and truth”, to whatever church they belong. This follows our evening service instead of the usual prayer meeting, and I take it of course on very free lines, though including two or three lines out of our incomparable liturgy…

I take all the religious work here, i.e. two weekly services, one on Sunday evenings and one on Wednesday, and the nightly prayers in the hut. Also we have a Fellowship Meeting in the little room every evening, and I am taking the Saturday night every week myself with a discussion attached. I asked them what subject they would like, as I thought a course would be best. Imagine my delight and surprise when they all agreed on “The Fundamentals of the Christian Faith”. We had 35 last week, and they almost all stayed for discussion.

At the present time, should you come in and catch me unawares with a spare moment, you would probably find me endeavouring to pick out a hymn on an Italian accordion which I have just purchased, thinking it might help the singing at the meetings, as we have only one piano and that is in the service and concert hut. If I show signs of excelling (!) on the instrument I may startle your open-air service some Sunday evening with it should I be lucky enough to get a Sunday’s leave and bring it home in safety. However, I do not think there is much cause for alarm at my present rate of progression…

I only wish I could introduce you to some of the men I have met out here. And not least those I have had the joy of working with in this hut. Mr Hichens, a Church of England priest, who was and is unselfishness and charm itself, now, alas, transferred; Mr Cooper, full of cheerfulness, absolutely typical of that which he was when war broke out – a Cambridge undergraduate; and the orderlies too; the Sergeant, with his “Good mornin’” and his devotion to a certain gramophone record; Parry from Lancashire, where they know everything, with his talk about Fritz’s indiarubber gun and his many tales oft told; and Harman who revels in a practical joke especially if played on Mr Cooper. The French boys I hardly dare attempt. “Nosegay” (his name is really Julien; smokers will appreciate) and Georges and Marcel, with their smiling faces and their quaint patois, half English and half French. There they are, a real merry party. So life keeps brightening all the way..

Your sincere friend
R W Morley

Reading St. John parish magazine, Feburary 1918 (D/P172/28A/24)

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“I expected to be home about Xmas, but instead I found myself in Italy”

Members of Broad Street Brotherhood were reminded of home at Christmas.

MESSAGES FROM BROTHERHOOD MEN

Below we give extracts from a few of the letters recently received from members of the Brotherhood who are serving with HM Forces. The writers of these – and many other – letters were most grateful for the Christmas parcels, but in making our extracts we have not thought it necessary to include their expressions of appreciation in every case.

Today I had a very pleasant surprise in receiving the parcel of very useful things you all had so kindly sent me. I thank you very much for your kind thoughts and wishes expressed in your helpful letter, and for all you have sent. What a splendid and helpful “Xmas Message” that is on the leaflet you enclose. I shall pass it on.
Stanley Gooch (OS)

Thank you so much for the parcel I received quite safely. It is good of you all to make our Xmas so bright by the splendid things that you sent along. I received the parcel on Xmas afternoon. I expected to be home about Xmas, but instead I found myself in Italy. But never mind. Let us hope that this terrible war will soon finish…

How I look forward to the time when I can sit in my old place in the choir and let rip our good old Brotherhood hymns…

I thought of Broad St and the Choir on Xmas Day when our Quartette Party sang “The Soldier’s Farewell”.

J E Graham (OS)

I beg to acknowledge the parcel that was so kindly forwarded to me from the Church and Brotherhood. Please convey my heartfelt thanks to all those who helped to add another kind expression of brotherly feeling to the absent ones. They can never know the pleasure it gives….

Although so far away it seems to bring us all right home to Broad St and the happy times we’ve had together…

I am sorry to say we have no Brotherhood here, but one of the Church Army Huts, which I can assure you is very acceptable to the boys at the Hospital. We have service morning and evening, and since I’ve been here I have not missed one. We have a Male Voice Choir of which I am a member, and I believe we could now put Broad Street M[ale] V[oice] Choir in a back seat. But please don’t tell the conductor this, as he might take it serious.

Herbert Tott (OS)

Will you kindly thank the members of the Church and Brotherhood who so kindly gave to the parcel you sent. I received it in the trenches…

I must thank God I have been spared to see another Xmas where there have been so many that have fallen. I have been very glad Mr Woolley ever induced me to join the Brotherhood…

We are having very cold weather, and the ground is thick with snow which makes it bad for getting about.

C Mills (OS)

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

“It was all very suggestive of Bethlehem, except for the noise of the guns outside”

Another army chaplain reports his experiences leading services and planning social activities very close to the front line.

5 December 1917

The following extracts are from 2 letters which Mother received lately from the Sub-Warden with the troops in France.

“This morning, I had an hour’s walk through mud & trenches, delayed by the unwelcome attention of a German aeroplane for a while, but otherwise uneventful, & at last arrived at a certain dug out. There was a steep staircase down about 20 ft, then a square flat, and then 5 or 6 more steps to the right. On the square flat I arranged a little altar. Men all up & down the stairs crouching to one side so as to leave me room to pass to communicate them, and a few outside in the trench kneeling in the mud. At the bottom, a few Non-Conformist officers were very reverent & interested… I reminded them that our Lord chose a “dug out” when He first came to earth… It was all very suggestive of Bethlehem, except for the noise of the guns outside.”

“We have discovered a large cellar beneath ruins close to the lines. There is plenty of room for a canteen, reading rooms & a chapel. The chapel is to be dedicated to St John Baptist. I wonder if the Community would furnish the altar for us; the Pioneers would make the altar… I said Mass there this morning & 60 men came & were very reverent and appreciative.”

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

“Days & nights in water and mud is very trying”

An army chaplain reported on his experiences with men just back from the front lines for a short break.

19 October 1917

Mother received a letter from the Sub-Warden on the 17th inst. from which the following are extracts:

“We have just emerged from a very uncomfortable and strenuous time, & are resting in a little French village. The men are splendid, but it was heart-breaking to see them all getting out of the train which brought them straight from the front…

With considerable difficulty we managed to have thin blankets for them all to get into and fall asleep. Already food and rest have changed them wonderfully, & their poor feet are better. Days & nights in water and mud is very trying.

I shall never forget a Mass in a crowded dugout the day before they went in. Halfway through the service, 2 officers managed to slip into the doorway; there was no other spot. I remember them so well crouching in a very uncomfortable position, and shutting out all of what little light could get in. Only the 2 candles on the altar. They made their Communion. It was their Viaticum. GOD rest their souls!”

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

The War has brought home to us our dependence on our daily food in a way unknown to most of us before

The vicar of Maidenhead All Saints reminded his flock about the work of merchant seamen bringing food to the country, and of church workers comforting the troops close behind the lines.

The Vicar’s Letter

Dear Friends and Parishioners,-…

St Peter’s Harvest Festival is to be held at the end of this month (September 30th)… And this Harvest we have, indeed, much for which to be thankful. The War has brought home to us our dependence on our daily food in a way unknown to most of us before. We have to thank God for the labours of our farm workers and allotment holders, who, in the face of an inclement Spring, have greatly increased our food supply; for the valour of our Navy, that has convoyed our store ships past many perils; for the steadfastness and courage of our Merchant Sailors, who, risking often sudden death or lingering suffering, have yet dared to go on faithfully bringing grain and meat and other things for the maintenance of our people.

Lastly; sometimes people ask me for the name of some Charity to which they may give a donation, outside the Parish. Just now few deserve more support than the Church Army Recreation Hut Fund. There are over 800 in full work. All are under the auspices of the Church, and special provision is made for those who wish for a quiet place for prayer or study. They are, also, available and used for Church Services. I feel thy deserve great support, for, excellent as the work of the Y.M.C.A. usually is, these Church Army Huts make a still greater claim on our generosity as Church people; that our men should not feel that the Church has in any way neglected them. Any donations should be sent to the Secretary, Church Army Headquarters, 55, Bryanston Street, Marble Arch, London, W.1.

I remain, Your faithful friend and Vicar
C.E.M. FRY

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, September 1917 (D/P181/28A/26)

“He went out to hold service on the battlefield, and found all the wounded killed”

The striking figure of an army chaplain who had studied with the rector of Sulhamstead prior to taking Holy Orders is remembered.

There must still be many in the parish who remember Mr Eli Cobham, a pupil at the Rectory. They will recall his great height, 6 feet 2 inches, and his capabilities in the cricket and football field. It was with great sorrow that we heard of his death last year, in German East Africa. Many incidents of a short but adventurous life were given in the “Greater Britain Messenger”, from which we take some of the following facts.

After much hesitation concerning his own unworthiness, he was ordained to a curacy at All saints, Fishponds. In this post he accepted no stipend. Canon Welchman says that there were few who knew his liberality [generosity]. The lectern was his anonymous gift, and the inscription he chose was “His dominion shall be from sea to sea”. He was afterwards vicar of All Saints, Fishponds.

From here he went to America, and worked his way back as a trimmer in the stoke-hold of a steamer, so as to get experience of what the men had to do and endure. Strong as he was, he found the labour almost beyond his powers.

In 1913 he resigned his living to work in East Africa, where he had 16 centres for service, in some of which he could only hold a service once or twice a year. He enlisted directly the war broke out, and used what time he had from soldiering to act as a Chaplain. He relates how he went out to hold service on the battlefield, and found all the wounded killed. Details of his death are not known, but the bare announcement states that on September 19th, 1917, the Rev. Elijah Cobham died from “wounds received while carrying in the wounded, somewhere in German East Africa”. He was a man of deep spirituality, and when discussing even trifling details, his invariable remark was “Let’s pray about it first”.

Sulhamstead parish magazine, April 1918 (D/EX725/4)

“Many of us feel there is a reasonable hope of a termination of hostilities before Christmas”

An army chaplain with links to Mortimer shares details of his life in Normandy.

Mr Bowden writes:-

Dear Vicar,

It is a long time since I sent a contribution to the Magazine, not that I have forgotten Mortimer but I have so little of interest to relate. My work is now in the docks area – I have charge of No. 2 General Hospital, on the quay alongside which the hospital ships lie and take in the wounded direct from the trains to convey them to Southampton. Any cases which prove too bad for the boat journey we take in to our hospital which is directly over the railway station, and occasionally we get a train load for treatment at No. 2. We have three very fine, airy wards; and a broad balcony facing the sea runs the whole length of the hospital; in the summer we place many beds out there – the men love to be in the open air and watch the shipping and the aircraft. The hospital commands a fine view of the town on one side and the mouth of the Seine with Trouville and Honfleur on the other.

In addition to hospital work I have some 1,500 Army Ordnance and 650 Army Service Corps men to work amongst. These are busy on the docks all day long but can be seen in the Recreation Huts and in their billets in the evening and at meal times.

There are plenty of amusements provided for them – some sort of entertainment almost every night. We also have recently acquired a recreation ground for their use and a cricket ground as well as a tennis court for officers and N.C.O.’s.

It might be of interest if I give my Sunday programme – I start early with a Celebration of Holy Communion at 6 a.m. for the A.O.D. in a little chapel near their quarters – another celebration at 7 a.m. for the hospital staff in a hut on the quay. This is always followed by a series of private Communions to sick men and officers in the various wards and huts; [sic] then back to breakfast. I used to have a Parade Service at 10-30 for the R.A.M.C. but have dropped it as it was an inconvenient time for the men. At 11-30 we have a Parade Service for the A.O.D. in one of the warehouses on the docks – the men climb up on the boxes all round a space left for the purpose – we have a good choir, an hearty service, and then the men go straight off to their dinner at noon, or soon after.

Then I have nothing till 5-15 when I hold Ward Services in hospital – these are very much appreciated by the patients and are of an informal nature as all denominations join in. The men love singing hymns and the Sisters come and help form a choir. At 7 p.m. we are now having open-air services in the A.S.C. camp on the river front between the docks and hospital. Here the men are mostly getting on in years – I believe the average age is about 42 – All younger men have long since been sent “up the line.” Of course a large portion of both A.S.C. and A.O.D. men have done their bit at the front in various units and have been sent back to work at the Base owing to wounds or some physical disability rendering them unfit for the fighting line.

Sometimes my day ends here or I have a service at the Y.M.C.A. or in one of the other huts, in turn with other Padres.

We have many destroyers constantly alongside the quays, the escorts for hospital ships, transports, &c. I go aboard when I can but generally most of the sailors are sleeping as they are working all night and its [sic] not often possible to hold a Service for them, but one gets some interesting talks with men and officers.

Just now we have a Mortimer man in hospital – Sergt. Shackleford – he is doing very well. He is only the second man I have met from the parish since I joined the B.E.F. – the other being Frank Parsons.

We are all very cheerful about the position of things just now and many of us feel there is a reasonable hope of a termination of hostilities before Xmas.

With best wishes to all friends.

Yours very sincerely,

W. S. Bowden, C.F.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P120/28A/14)

“The most wonderful thing in the whole story of the war is the marvellous heroism of our men”

Worshippers in Maidenhead were stirred by thoughts of the heroism of the men at the front.

EXTRACTS FROM A WAR ANNIVERSARY SERMON, AUGUST 5TH, 1917.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing in the whole story of the war is the marvellous heroism of our men. We were inclined to think that courage and the power of facing death for high ends belonged only to the past, that our age was too soft to risk life or maiming for an ideal. But it has turned out that the heroism and self-sacrifice of our men has been more wonderful than anything in the world’s history. The stories of Greek, Roman, Spartan bravery, have nothing to match it. Indeed, the conditions were wholly different. It is one thing to face death for a few hours in a brief battle or even series of battles, it is quite another to live for weeks and months while death in its most tremendous form is being rained incessantly upon you, and not a moment’s lull can be secured. So civilization, far from weakening man’s moral and physical fibre, has strengthened it, has given him a more masterly self-control, has made him capable of acts of courage and sacrifice which were not thought possible.

Before this war, we had stock illustrations of sublime heroism, the 300 at Thermopylae, brave Horatius at the bridge, and so on; and we had stock examples of generous self-sacrifice for comrades, Sir Philip Sidney at Zutphen, for instance. But we shall never dare to refer to these stories again, they are all obsolete, outfaced and outmatched a hundred times in the story of what our wonderful men have done. Our brothers are finer, nobler fellows than we had ever dreamed of! How many there have been like Julian Grenfell (Lord Desborough’s eldest son), of whom a short biography says that he went to the war as to a banquet for honour’s sake, that his following of Christ did not affect his ardour for the battle, that his intense moral courage distinguished him even more than his physical bravery from the run of common men, and his physical bravery was remarkable enough, whether he was hunting, boxing, or whatever he was at.

That is the spirit in which our Christian warfare must be waged. We shall do nothing if we go on in a haphazard sort of way. Said a scholar and saint not long ago, “Thoughtful men have no use for the Churches until they take their distinctive business in the world more seriously.” If we believe in God and salvation and another life, it is stupid to go out and live as though they were only fables. We must take God seriously, as men and women who believe that the rule of God is a grand reality. We must take worship seriously, knowing it to be the food of the soul; not playing with it as though it were a child’s pastime to be taken up or laid aside according to the mood of the moment. We must take Christian life seriously, remembering that if we are Christ’s, the first claim upon us (not the second or the twentieth) is to be seeking the widening of His Kingdom.


Maidenhead St Luke

Dear Friends and Parishioners,-

May I draw your attention to two Parochial things: firstly, the Anniversary of the War, which we hope to observe with special forms of Service on Sunday, August 5th. I hope many will make a real effort to come, and, if possible, to attend the Holy Communion Service to pray for the speedy coming of a Righteous Peace, and for strength to do our duty, however hard it might seem…

I remain, Your faithful friend and Vicar

C.E.M. FRY

Cookham Dean
Special Services during August

Sunday, August 5th – Services as appointed in connection with the Anniversary of the Declaration of War. Service books will be provided.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, September 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5); Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P181/28A/26); Cookham Dean parish magazine, Augst 1917 (D/P43B/28A/11)

“Our earnest approach to and intercession with God is the most powerful weapon we can use for the destruction of German oppression”

Churches in the Bracknell area joined in the commemoration of the war’s third aniversary.

Bracknell

THE WAR.

Special Services have been arranged for Sunday, August 5th, the anniversary of the commencement of the war. As we enter on the fourth year of this terrible conflict we shall greatly desire to come together to entreat God to give us His blessing, to crown our efforts with victory, and to give His mighty protection to our Sailors and Soldiers. Let us not be weary of praying. There will be special prayers at the Holy Communion and at Morning and Evening Prayer.


Winkfield

SPECIAL NOTICE.

On Sunday, August 5th, there will be special Services of Prayer and Intercession to mark the third anniversary of the War. There will be celebrations of Holy Communion at 8 at S. Mary the Less, and midday at the Parish Church. The preacher morning and evening will be Rev. Walter Weston, and the offertories will be given to the Missions to Seamen.

Warfield

MY DEAR FRIENDS AND PARISHIONERS.-

There is one thought that will fill our minds at the beginning of this month, the third anniversary of the war. The Archbishops have set forth a special set of Services for use on the 4th and 5th; and having the further approval of our own Bishop, they will be used in this parish on those days. On Saturday there will be a special celebration of Holy Communion at 7 o’clock and at 8 o’clock; matins at 10 and Evensong at 3p.m. There will further be an open air Service at 8 p.m. at the Cross Roads near the Brownlow Hall, with procession along the Street and back to the Hall. On Sunday the services will be at the usual hours with special lessons. I sincerely hope that every parishioner will make a point of seeking God’s help at this time in a real spirit of unity and brotherhood, remembering that our earnest approach to and intercession with God is the most powerful weapon we can use for the destruction of German oppression and support of our brothers fighting in foreign lands. When you have read this letter, at once make up your minds what you will do in this respect and resolve to carry it out. Should Saturday evening be wet, the service will be held at the same hour in the Parish Church. Let us all do our best for a Service of one heart and one mind.

Yours affectionately in Christ,

WALTER THACKERAY

Winkfield District Magazine, August 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/8)

Special intercession for the war

An open air service organised by a Reading church commemorated the start of the war.

OPEN-AIR SERVICE ON THE LAWN

The open-air services held on the lawn under the auspices of the Men’s Service seem to have been greatly appreciated, and we have been encouraged to arrange a similar service this month. It will be held on the last Sunday in the month, July 29th, at 3.30 pm.

As this is the Sunday before the 3rd anniversary of the declaration of war, we shall have special intercession in connection with the war. The address will be given by the vicar; his subject will be announced later. The service will be open to all, both women and men.

Reading St. John parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P172/28A/24)

A soliderly and workmanlike experience of camp life

Many men from west and north Berkshire had volunteered to serve in a Home Defence unit.

The Newbury Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Berkshire Volunteer Regiment went into Camp at Churn from Friday, July 13th, to Sunday the 15th, and had a very good time. This Battalion comprises men from Wallingford, Newbury, Abingdon and Wantage, and formerly went under the title of “The Home Defence Corps”. In order that we may not convey valuable information to the enemy, it would be as well not to mention the particular duties upon which the men of Newbury were on this occasion engaged. Suffice it to say that they set about them in a soldierly and workmanlike manner, and gained the approval of the Major, and Adjutant, and Captain, and other Officers.

The experience of camp life was new to a large number of those present, but there were also some seasoned veterans, who could speak of a similar experience of 20 or 30 years ago. The air of Churn is most invigorating, so much so indeed that some of the company appeared to spend a large portion of the first night in animated conversation, but were quieter the second night, though even then there were those who found sleep difficult, owing partly to the unaccustomed hardness of their bed. A religious Service was held on Sunday morning, at 9.30, by the Chaplain. The catering was done by Mr Tombs, and earned well merited praise. There are many more men in Newbury who ought to join the Battalion.

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P89/28A/13)

A church in a hut, and quite a parish!

An army chaplain from Newbury writes on his work:

The Rev. H C Roberts writes to the Rector from the Front as follows:

“I was very pleased to get your letter and to hear some of the Newbury news. It was forwarded on to me, as I have moved on from my last station, and am now at Garrison Mess, APOS 19. It doesn’t convey much, does it? This is a very much bigger place than where I was last, and I am in charge of this part. We have a very nice church in a hut all fitted out with an altar, reading desk, etc. I believe it is about the only one of its kind out here – it holds about 170 men, and at the voluntary evening service it gets quite full. We have two early services on Sundays, 6.15 and 7.15, and an evening communion on the last Sunday of the month. More men we find are able to make their communions in the evening owing to work, so it gives them the opportunity. Here too we have a CEMS Meeting one night in the week, and last time we had about 15 present. Of course work varies very much according to district, etc. In that way this is very much better than my last place. In addition we have various parade services on Sunday too. So you see it is quite a parish!! and, as you may imagine, a pretty big one too…

We are having some very hot weeks again (this was written in July, ED) now, but for one or two nights it turned quite cold. I am sorry I can’t tell you much of the place or work, but of course we are allowed to say very little in our letters, and all mention of places, kind of work, visits, etc, is prohibited, and I can imagine quite rightly.”

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, September 1917 (D/P89/28A/13)

A real “Godsend” to the boys

Churchgoers in Reading and Windsor paid for a recreation “Hut” behind the front lines.

Notes from the Vicar

Intercessions list

Ptes. W.G. Pearce, 2nd Worcestershire Regt,; H.A.T. Wicks, 33rd Training Reserve Batt,; H.W. March, 47th Canadians.

Missing: Lce,-Cpl. Harold Walker.

Sick and Wounded: Pte Green; Pte. Bailey.

Departed: Lce,-Cpl. J. Cole; Gunner W. Shaw. R.I.P.

C.E.M.S.

The following report has been received about the Reading and Windsor Federation Hut.

“Everything has been done to make this Hut one of the most attractive and comfortable in this area. Crowds of men pass through daily, and much use is made of the stationary Literature, and Games provided for their comfort. Concerts are held, Lantern Services and Voluntary services of all kinds. It’s a real “Godsend” to the boys.”

Subscriptions are still needed to supply the above Hut. And will be gratefully received by the Hon. Sec. Mr. Lane, 5/-

H.J. HINDERLEY, Hon. Sec.

Reading St Giles parish magazine, May 1917 (D/P96/28A/34)

Binding up the wounded in No-man’s-land

A Reading soldier reports on the act of heroism which won his former vicar a medal.

EXTRACTS FROM LETTER TO THE VICAR THANKING FOR THE PARISH MAGAZINE, FROM MEN ON SERVICE.

By the way I saw the Rev. T. Guy Rogers winning his honour, in fact I saw him in the trenches and No-mans-land binding up the wounded, with our Chaplain, who also won a Military Cross. The Rev. T. Guy Rogers preached the Sermon at the Church Service held on the evening before we went into action at the time when our Brigade captured the village of Lesboeufs on the 25th. I was talking to him and our Chaplain in the third German line and they asked me where most of the wounded lay in support with a gun team and they went forward. Soon afterwards we had orders to move forward and hold ground won and I saw them busy binding the wounded. It was one of the days I shall never forget.

W. HOLLOWAY.

I was at the Dardanelles through the main operation and our ship did some very good work in landing troops &c. I had the misfortune to see the Italian ship ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ blown up. It was a terrible sight and it made us quite nervy for a week or so . But I am proud to say that our ships did all that was possible in the work of rescue.

L.O. STAGG, A.B.

CARE AND COMFORTS

The following have been sent from the Working Party: 5 pillow slips, 6 shirts, 30 locker cloths, 35 limb bandages, 18 bags; total, with those already acknowledged, 1,940.

Donations have been received as follows:

Senior members of St John’s and St Stephen’s Choir, balance of Outing Fund £3.17.11

Miss K C Lovejoy £1

Anon 10s

Mrs Dimbleby 5s

Reading St. John parish magazine, February 1917 (D/P172/28A/24)

The finest, cosiest, and prettiest place in the whole Second Army Area

A Reading church sponsored a place of recreation for soldiers at the front.

“Words Fail Us.”

Such are the words used on a Christmas card by the Y.M.C.A. to convey their deep gratitude to all who have helped in the erection of Huts in France and elsewhere. The words may be even more fittingly used to emphasise the desperate need for these buildings, and we rejoice in having been privileged to take part in this good work. It will be remembered that soon after our pastor’s return from France in March of last year, he announced his wish to erect a Y.M.C.A. hut, and was met by so gratifying a response from his many friends in Trinity and elsewhere that, by the end of August it was being used by our fighting men on the Western “Front.” This month, by the help of the above-mentioned Christmas card, we are able to show our readers a picture of our own hut.

It is situated La Clytte, about 4.5 miles south-west of Ypres and within three miles of the front firing-line very, very near danger. It is by the side of a road, along which is passing a continual stream of men to and from the trenches. Near by is a rest camp, into which the men are drafted after having served a certain time actually in the line. Hence our Hut, capable of accommodating from two hundred to three hundred men, meets the very real need of a large number of men actually in “the thick of it.”

The picture represents its actual appearance from outside, which resembles many other Y.M. Huts, but the interior is most beautifully and artistically decorated with about 250 coloured pictures, with the result that Mr. Holmes (Sec. Y.M.C.A. 2nd Army) pronounces it to be the finest, cosiest, and prettiest place in the whole Second Army Area. For this proud distinction we must thank its present leader, Mr Cecil Dunford, who is an artist, and so in touch with colour-printing firms. To him, too, we are indebted to him for our picture. His helpers are the Rev. Eric Farrar, son of Dean Farrar a most interesting fact and the Rev. Herbert Brown, Chaplain to the Embassy at Madrid.

At Christmas-time, our thoughts flew naturally to the men in our Hut, and Mr Harrison, anticipating our wishes, telegraphed that a sum of £20 was to be spent on festivities. It will interest all to hear what was done.

On Christmas Eve a Carol service took place, assisted by a regimental band, followed by a distribution of free gifts and cake. On Christmas Day the Hut was crowded for service at 10 a.m., and 45 men present at Holy Communion. From 12-1 a free distribution of cakes and tea was enjoyed. An afternoon concert was held, after which the men were again supplied with tea and cakes. At 6.30 p.m. a very informal concert was held, interspersed with games and amusing competitions ducking for apples bobbing in a pail of water, drawing in to the mouth a piece of toffee tied to a long string held between the teeth, pinning blindfold a moustache to the Kaiser’s portrait, etc. Free drinks and tobacco were again distributed, and after three hearty cheers for the people of Reading, the National Anthem brought a memorable day to a close.

To the men this day was a bright spot in their cheerless, dangerous life, and their enjoyment is depicted by Mr Dunford in some clever sketches one of a man straight from the line, in a tin helmet and with pack on his back, beaming happily at a steaming mug of cocoa, and murmuring “Good ‘ealth to the Y.M.”; another man, whose swelled cheek testifies to the huge mouthful of sandwich (evidently “tres bon!” in quality and quantity), wittily designated “an attach in force on the salient.” To the helpers the Christmas festivities evidently proved exhausting as shown by two laughable sketches of utter collapse, one worker clinging feebly to a post, the other being dragged along the floor to a place of rest. Yet we venture to think that even they, with us, rejoice to do something to brighten the lot of our brave boys in khaki.


Trinity Congregational Church, Reading: magazine, February 1917 (D/EX1237/1)