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)

A million sheets of notepaper

Reading St Giles Church of England Men’s Society had contributed to the well-being of soldiers at the front through the CEMS Huts.

The following letters have been received giving information concerning the Reading and Windsor C.E.M.S. Huts…

January 31st 1917

This is a large and important centre always well organized. The religious and social side of the work is everything that can be desired. We also have a tea room built in addition to the hut. This gives us more room. It is a most valuable hut being in the centre of many things: hundreds of letters are written daily, Services are not forgotten, and it is now being used by the Canadian Chaplain, the Canadian troops being quartered in that district.

Funds are now urgently required to enable the headquarters to supply the huts with the proper necessaries which is very large. The provision of stationary is a considerable matter and already the society has sent out about a million sheets of notepaper and 500,000 envelopes for the use in the forty huts in France, Flanders, Egypt, Malta, Salonika and England.

I am sure the members of S. Giles’ who contributed to the hut mentioned above will be glad to hear of its usefulness.

H.J. HINDERLEY Hon.Sec.

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

The spiritual welfare of those who are so ready to give their lives in the great cause

Reading churchgoers were asked to contribute towards the cost of building a chapel at the closest army camp.

The Vicar’s Notes
Best greetings and blessings to all the parish for the New Year. There seem to be real signs at last of the prospect of peace. God grant that, when it comes, it may be real and lasting.

The Following Appeal comes from the Bishop of Buckingham.

Halton Camp.

With the approach of winter the problem of holding the church parade Services for this large camp has become acute. The accommodation provided by the Churches in the immediate neighbourhood, and by the Y.M.C.A. huts (which are readily lent for the purpose, and which are doing such excellent work), is quite insufficient for the purpose. With the present accommodation it would require many more parades than are possible every Sunday to take in all the troops attending Church.

It is proposed therefore to erect a large wooden building capable of holding 1,000 to 1,500 men, such has been found suitable in other large camps. The primary objective would be to make provision for the Church services during the winter, but the building would also be available for other purposes. It is estimated that the cost of such a building would be £1,000. Voluntary help would be given by qualified architects among the troops and Royal Engineers.

This is the only large camp in the Diocese of Oxford, and we feel that the Church people of the Diocese will be desirous of showing their interest in the spiritual welfare of those who are so ready to give their lives in the great cause by making by making a prompt and adequate answer to this appeal. It is most desirable that the matter should be put in hand at once, before the severe weather sets in.

The scheme has the hearty approval of the General Officer Commanding and the Bishop of Oxford and the Bishop of Buckingham.

Subscriptions will be thankfully received by the Senior Chaplain, the Rev. P.W.N. Shirley, Halton Camp, Bucks, or by the Bishop of Buckingham, Beaconsfield.

Sympathy

During the past month there has been an exceptional amount of sickness and a large number of deaths. Our deepest sympathy is given to all those who have suffered the loss of those near and dear to them. May the divine comforter bring them every consolation and support in their time of sorrow.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, January 1917 (D/P96/28A/15)

“Nothing out here seems so nice as that which comes from home”

Wargrave men were deeply grateful for little remembrances from the people at home and Christmas saw another set of donations.

Gifts to the Men at the Front:

A quantity of tobacco and cigarettes for the men at the Front was brought to the Church on Christmas Day and will be carefully distributed among those who were left out at the time of the Harvest Festival.

The letters from the front show how much these little presents are appreciated. We have heard from S. Briscoe, K. F. Buckett, F. Cunnington, A. Haycock, C. M. Hodge, J. Hodge, A. J. Hollis, J. Milford, S. Piggott, J. Pithers, J. Wigmore, and others. A few extracts are printed below:

“I am writing to thank you and also the inhabitants of Wargrave for the cigarettes they kindly sent out here for me, as nothing out here seems so nice as that which comes from home.”

“I now take pleasure in writing to thank you very much indeed for the cigarettes and kind wishes, which I received quite safely. I am sure I am very grateful to all those kind friends which have helped you to do this and although I cannot thank them personally I wish you to do so.”

“Believe me it does one good to know that we out here are not altogether forgotten. I send to you and all friends in Wargrave, many thanks and best wishes for a merry Christmas and a much happier New Year.”

“I cannot express how pleased we are out here to get the news and good wishes from all at home, letters etc. being the great connecting link with the dear homeland and we all thank you most heartily for them.”

“We are out of the trenches now staying in a small village, our Division was inspected by the Duke of Conaught. I expect it was a grand sight for those who were watching us. I do not know of anyone from Wargrave in this Battalion but I have met one from Hurst. I think we are lucky to be out of the trenches now as we have had a lot of rain this last week which would make them in an awful state. Our Chaplain has recently been awarded the Military Medal. We have a service every Sunday morning.”

Wargrave parish magazine, January 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

The wounded keep pouring down from the front

The latest news from the Revd W S Bowdon, an army chaplain, saw him based at a hospital well back from the front line.

Rev. W. S. Bowdon, C.F. – The most recent news from Mr. Bowdon includes the following:-

No. 1 General Hospital,
Etretat – Havre Base.

I have left the front and come to work at this base where nothing very exciting ever happens. At a base there is regular work every day, and at a time like the present when the wounded keep pouring down from the front the work is endless. Also to my mind the opportunities are greater and results more satisfactory.

Since my arrival here we have had about a trainload of wounded per week, i.e., some 400 men, half of whom are generally stretcher cases. Such a supply keeps everyone as hard at it as it is possible to be. While the ‘great push’ continues so, I suppose, will this state of things, but when winter begins we hope to be rather freer and to get more time to ourselves.

We have some 1000 beds here. Once, I believe, they had over 1200 cases in the hospital, but we have not had more than 600 cases at once since I arrived. There are four building for men and one for officers. We occupy nearly all the hotels and a good many private houses besides; but it is a small place and very compact, so not difficult to work.

Besides the hospital here I also have 600 men working at the docks at Fécamp to look after. So have to run over there periodically for services and Bible classes, and as it is ten miles away it is difficult to fit things in. Havre is 20 miles in the other direction.

With all best wishes to friends at Mortimer.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, December 1916 (D/P120/28A/14)

Vegetables and cigarettes

The village of Crazies Hill dedicated its harvest festival to supporting the troops, with gifts of varying levels of healthiness.

Crazies Hill Notes

The Harvest Festival was held on October 15th. Throughout the day the Services were bright and hearty. The congregations were large; indeed everything was in keeping with the joyous occasion. The Children’s Service also, in the afternoon, was well attended. The Children’s offerings were made during the singing of a hymn when the children marched in procession and placed the various articles in a basket. The basket was large, yet was well supplied with packets of cigarettes, sweets, and other things. These were carried to the Parkwood Hospital after the Service as the Children’s gifts for the wounded soldiers.

At the Evening Service the anthem ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’ was rendered very nicely by the Choir. The Special Preacher was the Rev. H. I. Wilson, Rector of Hitcham, to whom we are much indebted for coming.

The decorations were carried out with much care and skill – the building looking a veritable flower garden. It would be difficult to realize the amount of labour and time spent in arranging the flowers, plants, corn and vegetables. The result was certainly beautiful. We are very grateful to the following who so generously gave their labour and time: Mrs. Light, Mrs. Habbitts, Mrs. Wakefield, Mrs. Woodward, Miss Rose, Miss Stanton, Miss Beck, and Miss Doe, and the following who so kindly sent gifts: – Mrs. Whiting, flowers and vegetable marrow; Miss Beck, flowers; Mrs. William Willis, plants; Mrs. Hull, flowers; Mrs. Weller, flowers; Mrs. Goodwin, flowers; Mr. Kimble, flowers and vegetables. Mr. Griffin, flowers; Mr. Bacon, bread; Mr. Stanton, flowers. Miss Fleming, corn and wheat; Miss Rose, flowers; The Hon. Mrs. Crawford, corn; Capt. Willis, flowers.

We are also indebted to Parkwood for so kindly sending a collection of choice plants.

The collections throughout the day, which were in aid of the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, amounted to £1 10s. 7 ½ d.

The vegetables and flowers were sent to Wargrave Military Hospital, Mr. Whiting most kindly conveying them thither.

Throughout the day offerings of cigarettes, etc., were most generously made for our men serving at the present time.

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

“Bits for the war”

Ascot people were active supporting some of our Allies undergoing the hardships of war.

ASCOT “LEAGUE OF PRAYER” (during the war.)

We very earnestly invite our people generally to join this League, and thus help bring down special blessing from GOD upon the Parish. Hitherto, except on Sundays, very few have been accustomed to enter GOD’S House at all. Some never enter it even on Sundays. HIS Sanctuary has been “put in coventry” during the week. Shall we, as one fruit of the National Mission,” change all this?

The Rule of the League is extremely simple, and is as follows.-
“I promise to go into the Church at least once a week between the hours of 7.30 a.m. and 7.30 p.m., and to spend at least 10 minutes in prayer or silent meditation before GOD.”

SERBIAN FLAG DAY.

Our readers, (so many of whom contributed, by their help and generosity towards the great success of the Serbian Flag Day on July 1st) will be delighted to hear that £150 was realized, after paying expenses. Of this the sum of £100 has been given to the Serbian Relief Fund and £50 to the continued upkeep of the “Ascot” Bed in the Hospital belonging to the Serbian Unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospital.

A remarkable feature of this day (due to the liberality and energy of the organisers) is the fact that expenses amounted to only a few shillings over £2. Kosobo [sic] Day, June 28th (the Serbian National Day), was kept in our Parish by special instructions in Serbia in our schools. On Sunday, July 2nd (Serbian Sunday), our gallant and suffering Allies were specially remembered at God’s Altar, and at all the other services, with addresses at Matins and at the Catechism Service. The Serbian National Anthem was sung at the conclusion of Matins and Evensong.

A COLLECTING BOX in aid of the Ascot Military Hospital is kept at the “Foresters’ Arms” Hotel by the kindness of Mr. Pendell. This was opened for the first time a short time ago, and its contents – £1 1s. 3½d. – forwarded to the institution named.

THE BOYS’ AND GIRLS’ SALE, in aid of the starving Belgian children (in Belgium itself) came off at the Ascot Schools on Saturday afternoon, July 22nd, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

It was an enormous success, and is of exceptional value as bearing witness to the unselfish and very hard work of the boys and girls of our Schools, led by their teachers, and representing the most ambitious among many “bits for the war” that represent our “children’s war offerings” since the war itself began.

We will give a list of some of these “bits” in the September Magazine, as also a full account of the sale. For the present, it must suffice to state that the approximate profits of the sale amount to over £40, represented as follows:

Boys’ department … £13 0 0
Girls’ “ … 16 10 0
Infants’ “ … 11 7 0

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, August 1916 (D/P151/28A/8/8)

Guns as thick as blackberries in September

Army chaplain T Guy Rogers reported his latest experiences to his old friends in Reading.

LETTER FROM T. GUY ROGERS.

August 15th, 1916.
My Dear Friends,

I wish I could give you some idea of all the wonderful sights one see on the march. It is true one only sees under difficulties. Great clouds of dust half blind and choke us as we go. The blazing sun makes even the hardiest warrior droop his head a little as we traverse the rolling hills. Sometimes we become too preoccupied with mopping our faces to do any justice to the landscape. But when the ten minutes’ halt comes- ten minutes to the hour – when ranks are broken, and we lie down on the bank, or in the ditch, or on the heap of stones by the road, we find ourselves in more observant mood. Perhaps we have halted near some bivouacs and see hundreds of naked forms bathing in some tiny stream which would have been utterly despised in days of peace. The British soldier is not proud like Naaman! If he cannot find Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, he is content with any trickling or shallow Jordan which come his way.

Perhaps we have halted near some batteries and admire the cleverness with which they have been screened from aeroplane observation. The whole country is stiff with guns. Though there may be good reason to smile at some statements made by politicians, believe all that you hear about the guns. They are as thick as ‘leaves in Vallombrosa’ or blackberries in September. Whole batteries of – spring up like mushrooms in a night; our old eighteen pounders are, like silver in the days of the great King Solomon, ‘nothing accounted of’ for their number.

I wish too, I could repeat for you some of the stories I have heard of the tremendous fighting of the last six weeks. All honour to the armies we call by the name of the great Kitchener. To-day I hear of a boy under age for military service, who, with a handful of men, has held a position for three days against German attacks, when the rest of their Company was killed. The deeds of heroism are without number. Alas we say for those who have fallen. Such sad news comes to me from home of our brave fellows from S. John’s who have laid down their lives in the great advance. But our last word must not be ‘Alas.’ I like that custom of the French Government which consists in congratulating as well as commiserating with the relatives of the fallen. And even though from constant reiteration those fine phrases ‘The Last Debt,’ ‘The Supreme Sacrifice’ may have lost something of their pristine glory, the simple testimony still remains, ‘Greater love hath no man than this- that a man lay down his life for his friend.’

My own life is full of the kaleidoscopic changes of an army in motion. This evening I am in a chateau with ample grounds. I lunched (is the word permissible?) to the roar of a 9-inch gun. Last night I slept in a cellar, full of empty wine bottles, and most inconveniently damp; another night a little farther back in a dug-out in the front line, after burying some poor bodies lying out upon a recent battlefield.

Nearly all my services of late have been in the open air. I can recall so many which could not but touch the least sentimental, and which leave behind unforgettable memories – memories of men kneeling on the slopes of a hillside in the early morning to receive the sacrament, memories of services held between long aisles of waving pines, and on the tops of downs swept by the evening breeze.
Amidst all the sadness – and there is much – when friends (and one has so many now) are struck down by shot or shell, there is an uplifting sense of God’s presence, and we can feel it even in the valley of the shadow. And even if called upon to face sterner ordeals in the immediate future, ‘out of the depths’ shall we still praise our God.

Your sincere friend,

T. GUY ROGERS.

Reading St. John parish magazine, September 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

The war’s anniversary should be seriously observed

The second anniversary of the war was cue for sober reflection.

Reading St John

ANNIVERSARY OF THE DECLARATION OF WAR

As nearly all the clergy of the diocese will be in Retreat on August 4th, it will not be possible to observe this anniversary by special services in church or elsewhere. We shall mark the anniversary in our two churches by giving a special character to the services of the following Sunday, August 6th. Intercessions will be held at all the services, and we hope that the day will be seriously observed by all our people.


Bracknell

On August 4th, the day of the Anniversary of the declaration of War, a special Service of Intercession was held in the Church at 8p.m. There was a fairly large congregation, though on such an occasion it would have been fitting if the Church had been full. The special prayers were repeated on the following Sunday, both at Morning and Evening prayer.

Reading St. John parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P172/28A/24); Bracknell section of Winkfield District Magazine, September 1916 (D/P151/28A/8/9)

“Our Heavenly Father is enriching this parish with heroes of self-sacrifice”

There was news of several Ascot men, including a report by one man of life as a prisoner of war in Germany.

THE WAR

We have to announce that Charles Edwards has laid down his life in the service of his country. Ascot has real reason to be proud of him. Upright, courageous, a communicant of the Church, a member of a family universally respected, he leaves behind him not alone our heartfelt sense of sorrow for the withdrawal of a true and noble young life, but an ideal to be reverently set before us of what a GOD fearing young Englishman can attain to. Our Heavenly Father is enriching this parish with heroes of self-sacrifice, even unto death. May we humbly value to the utmost so priceless a dowry. The whole district should be raised to a higher level of life by the example and the prayers of young men of the type of Arthur Jones and Charles Edwards. R.I.P.

OUR WOUNDED.

Victor Edwards (brother of the above), Reginald Smith and Arthur Taylor are reported wounded. All three are doing well.

THE ASCOT SAILORS’ AND SOLDIERS’ COMMITTEE state that since the commencement of the war 136 in all appear to have gone abroad from Ascot in the service of their country, and of that 110 are now serving abroad. 15 are in the Navy, 72 reported in France, 16 on the Mediterranean, 1 in Mesopotamia, 4 in India and 2 prisoners. Parcels were sent in June to those who appeared to require them: and similar parcels are now being sent, and in addition special parcels are now being sent to those in the Navy. The thoughts of all of us will go out to those in France at this strenuous time.

AT MOST of our Garrisons in England there are no Army Churches, and efforts are now being made, with the approval of the Deputy Chaplain-General, to raise a Fund for building a Church at Bordon Camp, near Aldershot, in memory of the Great War, and as a memorial to those who have fallen. Donations to this Fund will be gratefully received and acknowledged by W. H. Tottie, Esq., Sherlocks, Ascot.

ASCOT PRISONERS OF WAR.

We have good news from our Prisoners, who write to say they receive their parcels regularly and in good order. The following quotation from Private Richard Taylor (imprisoned at Friedrichsfeld-bei-Wesel) may interest our readers. (The letter was accompanied by the photograph of a beautifully kept burial ground and its large stone central cross. Each carefully tended grave was thickly planted with flowers and had its headstone with an inlet cross and inscription.)-

“I am sending you a photo of the monument which lies in the graveyard of our dead comrades, English, French, Russian and Belgian, who have died since they have been made prisoners. The money was raised by having concerts and charging from ten to forty pfennigs (otherwise from a penny to four-pence.)”

The letter continues: “One night we were playing a nice game at whist, and a parson came in and had a chat with us, and asked us if we should like to go to Church. Of course we all agreed, and on the same night we marched down to the village to Church and spent a very nice hour. And the parson is an Englishman, but he is allowed a passport to travel about Germany. He had some books with the short service, and some well-known hymns in them.”

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, August 1916 (D/P151/28A/8/8)

Comfort, hope and peace for the living and the departed

A Cookham Dean man fell in action. The church comforted his grieving family.

We grieve to record the death of 2nd. Lieut Frank Saxon Snell, killed in action on July 11th:- the only son of Churchwarden and Mrs. Snell aged 29. Words cannot express what so many of us have felt for those near and dear to him in their hour of sorrow. A Requiem Celebration of Holy Communion was held in Church on Saturday, July, 22nd, at 10.45 a.m.: a Service we believe, of comfort and hope and peace, both for the living and the departed.

Cookham Dean parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P43B/28A/11)

The first “to go over”

An army chaplain with links to Stratfield Mortimer was a witness to the horrific carnage of the Battle of the Somme.

Mr. Bowdon’s latest news is as follows: –

2nd Royal Berks, B.E.F.,
17th July 1916.

Dear Vicar,

Much has happened since last I wrote, and my battalions have been through a terrible time. They were with the first “to go over” on July 1st, at the Battle of the Somme, and got badly cut up. We lost more than half the men and nearly all the officers – in my battalions alone some 800 men and N.C.O.s are killed, missing, or wounded, and 38 officers! We got the full force of their concentrated machine gun fire. However, it wasn’t in vain, for we prepared a way for others, and we now hold all the ground which they contested so stubbornly. We had the Wurttenburghers in front of us, and there is no question they are fine soldiers and know their business.

It was all very sharp and short, and in 36 hours we were right out of it and miles away in the rear to re-form and rest. From my perch on a hillside about three miles from the firing line I watched the whole of the bombardment during the week preceding the battle. I could even see our lines as I lay in bed – but the morning of the attack was so misty no glasses could penetrate the clouds, and we could only listen to the din and wonder how things were going. It wasn’t long however before our poor wounded chaps began to stream along the road, some in ambulances, some in lorries and carts, and many on foot; so by 9 a.m. I was busy (the attack was at 7.30), and as the day advanced there were more that [sic] we could cope with, our wards and tents were full, and men were lying everywhere, in the streets and fields and ditches. But they were all splendid and so grateful for the smallest thing we did for them. We did eventually get them all dressed and fed and more or less comfortable, but not till noon next day could anyone slack off. I reckon some 1,500 men passed through our hands at that one Field Ambulance!

That same evening we were on the move again, and I re-joined the remnant of my two battalions to entrain for the rear.

Yesterday I arranged and conducted a Brigade Memorial Service at the Theatre here. The names of all officers and men killed at the Battle of the Somme were read out and prayers offered for them. The whole service was in keeping, but quite bright and joyous. We had the Divisional Band, and the Assistant Chaplain General 1st Army preached. Besides our own General, the Army Commander and his Staff were present, and Prince Arthur of Connaught.

I have had a fair share of the dangers and risks of war these past weeks. Four times during the bombardment about Albert I had to tumble into my dugout to escape the bursting shells – three times about 2 a.m. in the darkness, cold and wet. One day I spent with the guns in the thick of the firing, and even back with the Field Ambulance they didn’t let us alone. It has been a great relief to be away from the noise and out of range of their guns for a spell.

With kindest remembrances to all friends at Mortimer.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P120/28A/14)

The only thing the soldier never seems to do is to ‘rest’

Army chaplain T Guy Rogers describes how he encouraged the soldiers to attend his services in their spare time.

My Dear Friends,
June 15th 1916.

Would it surprise you to hear that your Chaplain has become a Hun! Only temporarily and to oblige, morally or immutably. Do not be shocked nor repudiate him as your representative! It was only at manoeuvres to swell the skeleton army opposed to the British. A well delivered smoke bomb soon put him out of action. He has since returned to his allegiance with a profound respect for the élan of the British Infantry.

This is a glimpse of how we spend our time when we are ‘at rest’- a phrase which makes the soldier smile. Marches, attacks, drill, occupy our attention. Bath parade and ‘foot parade’ and kit parade and gas helmet parade are arranged as pleasant little interludes. The only thing the soldier never seems to do is to ‘rest’ in the loose sense in which it is so often employed of slacking or doing nothing. When the Commanding Officer is done with him, and the Medical Officers’ fever for inoculation is spent, and the Sergeant-Major has ceased from troubling, he organizes himself for cricket and football and rounders.

Finally, he has the Chaplain to reckon with! It is he who comes along smiling and debonair with a haversack slung across his shoulders (concealing beneath his gay exterior a nervousness which is often acute); ‘What about a service, men,’ he says, ‘on the grass under the trees before the cricket and football begin – just twenty minutes. I’ve got hymn sheets with our favourite hymns – what do you say?’ And they come of their own free will – at first slowly, gradually overcoming their inertia, but gathering force and numbers as they get under way and at last singing with heartiness and animation which shows the interruption is not resented.

In the midst of all this happy open air life there suddenly comes an order that we are wanted somewhere. We are all whirled away in motor buses a distance of twenty miles and we are in the midst of stern realities again.

Remember all our brave men recalled thus suddenly to the line.

Your sincere friend,
T. GUY ROGERS.

Reading St John parish magazine, July 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)