“He died gloriously doing glorious deeds during the course of our brilliant advance “

Tribute was paid to former students at Reading School who had fallen in recent months.

Killed in Action.

Central Ontario Regt. Pte. F.C.(Eric) Lawes, eldest son of Mr. F.J. laws., of 116, Hamilton Road, Reading, aged 22 years. On August 8th.

Captain Brain, Killed In Action.

The sympathy of the whole town will go out to Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Brain in the loss of their second son, Captain Frances Sydney Brain, Royal Berks Regiment, who was killed in action on the 3rd October. Born IN 1893, he was educated at Reading School and Leighton Park School, and in 1912 he obtained a scholarship at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. At the outbreak of the war he joined the Cambridge University O.T.C., and on February 26th, 1915, was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant, being promoted Lieutenant on July 29th, 1918. He proceeded to France in June, 1916, and was recently promoted Captain. The news of his death was received by his parents on Wednesday, and was contained in a letter from the chaplain of his regiment, who wrote as follows to Mr. and Mrs. Brain:-

“I am so grieved to have to tell you of the loss of your gallant son in action on the 3rd inst. He was hit on the head by a shell during the course of our brilliant advance and died instantly. I hope it will be of some little consolation to know that he died gloriously doing glorious deeds. He is a great loss to the regiment, as he was one of our most promising officers. In him I, too, had a friend, and more than a friend, for we were both of the same Varsity, and had mutual friends. I was able to get his body and bring it back to a little cemetery which we started here, where he lies with others of his regiment. We had the service of the Church of England, the last post and a funeral party. My prayers go up that the Almighty will give you strength to bear your sorrow.”

Lieut. H.M. Cook Killed.

Lieut. Howard Mortimer Cook, who was killed on August 8-9, would have been 29 September 1st had he lived. He was the elder son of Mr. John R. Cook, late of Lloyds Bank, Reading, and Mrs. Cook, and grandson of the late Town Clerk of Reading (Mr. Henry Day). He was educated at Reading School and St Edmunds Hall, Oxford, where he rowed in the eight. Although his original intention was to take Orders, at the outbreak of war he was on the point of leaving for Holland to take up teaching in schools, and his passport bore the date of August 4, 1914. He applied for a commission at once, having in the meantime joined a Public Schools Battalion as a private, and in November, 1914, he was gazetted to the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment. He went to the front in February 1916, being attached to the 5th Battalion, and shortly afterwards was wounded in the head by shrapnel but after a few months at home he returned to the front. He and two other officers were especially mentioned in certain orders of the day as having accomplished some very good work at Cambrai, in which the 5th Berks played so prominent a part. In May last he was transferred to the machine-gun corps. He was killed by the explosion of a mine when taking his section into action during the night. His commanding officer wrote that although he had only been in his battalion a short time he was very popular and his death meant a sad loss to the regiment.


Previously reported missing, now known to have been killed in action on the 31st July, Captain John Waldron Mathews, F.A.F., of San Julian, Patagonia, elder son of E.J. Mathews and Mrs. Mathews, Brockley Combe, Weybridge, aged 28.

Death of Lieut. F.L. Hedgcock.

We greatly regret to record the death of Second Lieut. Frederick Leslie Hedgcock, M.G.C., who was killed in action on Sunday Sept, 29th, at the age of 20, after having served with his Regiment in France over seven months. He was educated at Reading School and Brighton College, and was the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Hedgcock, of St. Margaret’s, Shinfield Road, Reading. Mr Hedgcock has two other sons serving in the Army, the eldest, Captain S.E. Hedgcock, now on the staff in Mesopotamia, and Lieut. S.D. Hedgcock, recently gazetted to the R.E. Both have been on active service, the eldest at Suvla Bay and the second son twice in France.

A brother officer writes: –

“we were fighting in a very important sector, and had done very well. Your son was shot through the heart, and was therefore instantly killed.”

His Major writes that he was killed while leading his men into action.

“On behalf of the officers and man of the company, I would tender you our heartfelt sympathy in your sad bereavement. We have lost an excellent officer and you have lost an excellent son.”

Pte. L.C. Shore

Pte. Leonard C. Shore, Lincolns, who died on August 19th of wounds received in action in France, was the son of Lance-Corpl. Shore and Mrs Shore, of 51, Francis Street, Reading, and was 19 years of age. He was educated at the Central School, and at Reading School, having won an entrance scholarship to the latter. Prior to joining up in April, 1917, he was in the office of the surveyor of taxes at Richmond (Surrey). His father, an old soldier, is serving with the Rifle Brigade in Egypt, where he has been for the past three years.

Funeral of Capt. S.J. Hawkes.

At St Bartholomew’s church, Reading, on Monday afternoon, a very large congregation assembled to pay their last tributes to Capt. Septimus J. Hawkes, Royal Berks Regt.

At St. Bartholomew’s Church, Reading, on Monday afternoon, a very large congregation assembled to pay their last tributes to Captain. Septimus J. Hawkes, Royal Berks Regt, who died suddenly in his barrack quarters at Dublin on the previous Wednesday. The Rev. T.J. Norris was the efficient clergyman, being assisted by the Revs. A.T. Gray, B. Mead and H. Elton Lury, C.F., the latter reading the lesson. The deceased officer was before the war, greatly in the boys of St. Bartholomew’s Church, and held this position of Scoutmaster of the St. Bartholomew’s Troup. Educated at Reading School, where he was a member of the Officers Training Corps and of the Rugby xv. He joined the University and Public Schools Brigade. Soon after the commencement of hostilities, and subsequently transferred to the Military College, Sandhurst, where he obtained his commission in the Royal Berks Regt. He soon went to France, and after serving there for some time was wounded and returned to England, and later, with the rank of Captain, went to Ireland. As recently as last month Capt. Hawkes was on leave in Reading on the occasion of the wedding of one of his brothers, at which ceremony he performed the duties of best man. A short time ago Capt. Hawkes successfully passed the difficult examination for the Royal Air Force to which he had transferred just prior to his death.

Reading School Magazine, December 1918 (SCH3/14/34)


A right little, tight little house with sandbag entrance steps and a strong sense of security

Percy Spencer told his sister Florence al about the cosy way he and a comrade had improved his current trench.


Dear WF

Well, how are domestic affairs going?

We’re getting on quite well. Little by little we’re improving our “home”. Having been well strafed the other day, the map expert and I set to work to build a wall of sandbags at our end of the dugout. It’s now a right little, tight little house with sandbag entrance steps and a strong sense of security. Also we’ve got wooden gratings laid in the trenches, so we’re not so much in the mud as we were, and our home is greatly improved. You’d be surprised how each day “we” (that’s my brainy map expert assistant) make little improvements in ways and means. Now we each have a board bed off the ground, & a canvas bucket wash has taken the place of a teacup wash – by the way what would they say at home if I arose, cleaned my teeth, shaved, washed and breakfasted all from the same tin mug you sent me? But as I say, we’re gradually changing all that for the better. We took over a dirty untidy dugout open to the wind and the weather: we shall hand over a tidy, weather proof and shell proof residence, and I’m glad we shan’t hand it over to the people who left us such a miserable legacy. The best souvenir we found when digging to level the earth was a German officer’s revolver loaded in two chambers, one bullet having been bored at the top to make it a dum-dum. I wish I could have kept it and sent it you.

I’ve just been arranging a mouse trap on the tip cat system. We’ve made a beauty and the map expert with a bloodthirsty glint in his eye is toasting some cheese in the candle.

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/93)

Promise of such a splendid leader

A young man with a bright future was the latest to fall at the Front.

Walford Vernon Knowles

By the death of Walford Knowles on the last day of the old year, yet another name is added to the Roll of boys from Trinity who have laid down their lives in defence of home and country and of human liberty, whose names will live while Trinity stands.

In a letter dated the 6th of January, 1918, Capt. H. A. Curtis writes:

“It is with deep regret that I have to write and inform you of the death of your son. It happened at about 6.15 on the morning of December 31st. We were ‘standing to’ at the time, and the enemy put down a heavy barrage on to the position we were holding. As is usual, all Officers were on duty at the time, and it appears that a heavy shell fell within a yard or so of your son, killing him instantaneously. I am more than sorry to have lost him, as during the short time he was with us he had become very popular amongst his brother Officers, N.C.O’s. and the men, and we all miss him dearly. It seems all the more sad owing to the fact that this was his first tour of trench duty, and he gave promise of such a splendid leader.”

The elder son of our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Knowles, he was born in January, 1898 and educated at Reading School, into which he took an open Scholarship in 1909, one of the first Scholarships offered by the Reading Town Council. In 1916 he passed the Higher Certificate Examination with distinction in French and German. During his last year at school he won the Laud Scholarship (the blue ribbon of Reading School). Also an exhibition at Worcester College, Oxford, and was further awarded the Ewelme Exhibition at New College, Oxford.

It was not only in his studies that he did well, but in every side of School life he made his mark, becoming a member of the Rugby Football and cricket teams, a sergeant in the Officers’ Training Corps, and finally Captain of the School. Of those who have in recent years held this coveted position he is the third to make the supreme sacrifice during the war, the other two being Marsden Cooper (another Trinity boy) and D.J. Davies.

“As head of the school,” says Mr. Keeton, the Headmaster, “he was extremely conscientious and energetic, and in all departments showed the same qualities and zest and keenness and the desire to do his very best. He won the esteem and affection of all, both masters and boys.”

On reaching military age he carried the same characteristics into the sterner school of war, passing with credit through his cadetship at Gales and afterwards Portsmouth. He went out to France early in October as a Second Lieutenant in the County Regiment and in his all-too-brief period of service had already won the affection and esteem of his comrades and superior officers.

Walford Knowles was in the fullest sense of the words a child of Trinity. There he was baptized, and there he attended during the whole of his life. For several years a loyal member of the Institute, he joined this Church and was received into its fellowship on his confession of faith on September 13th, 1914. During the early winters of the war, and especially during last autumn, before leaving for France, he showed a very keen interest in the Trinity Soldiers’ Club, where his presence and companionship was always appreciated by the men.

The sad news of his death reached us a few minutes before the January Church Meeting, and a resolution of deepest sympathy with his parents and family was passed with the heartfelt consent of all present. In moving that this message be sent, the pastor spoke of the very fine qualities both in mind and heart which had endeared Walford to so a wide circle of friends, and caused them to entertain high expectations for him of a successful career at the University and after that of a life of fruitful service. He referred to his own close and intimate friendship with him, and the great opinion he had formed both of his character and abilities. Undoubtedly there were in him the making of a genuine scholar, a sincere and able thinker, a trusty friend, and a particularly fine type of Christian citizen.

We are sure that the sympathy of Trinity folk as a whole goes out to Mr. and Mrs. Knowles, and their family in this sorrow, and the prayer of us all is that they may be greatly comforted.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, February 1918 (D/EX1237/1)

Reading has lost one of the most distinguished of its young men

Old Redigensians – Old Boys of Reading School – were among the many on active service.



D.W. Carter

The funeral took on Monday at Caversham Cemetery, of Mr. Donovan Carter, only son of Mr and Mrs. A.W. Carter, Of “Maubeuge,” Church Road, Caversham, who was drowned while, bathing last week at Peterborough, where he was stationed with the R.N.A.S.

Carter was educated at Reading School, and spent three years in the O.T.C., passing the School Leaving Certificate in 1913. He passed the London Matriculation in 1914, and was studying for B.Sc., with a view to taking research work in a Belgian chemical works in which his father is interested. He was passed for a commission in the A.S.C. in Jan., 1915 but, eager to serve his country at the earliest possible moment, he would not wait for the commission and enlisted in the R.N.A.S. as a driver in June of that year. Most of his time he spent at an R.N.A.S. station at Felixstowe, afterwards training at the Crystal Palace as an engineer. All the naval ratings and officers turned out to do him honour when he was brought home from Peterborough.

2nd-Lieut. D.J. Davies.

-By the death of second-lieutenant D.J. Davies, the only of Mr. and Mrs, of the Market Place, Reading, Reading has lost one of the most distinguished of its young men and Reading School one of the most brilliant of its old boys.

Davies’ record at Reading School was a remarkable one. When he left in the summer of 1915 he was the Captain of the School, the highest honour which a school can confer on any boy, and the holder of a Drapers’ Scholarship and an Open Classical Scholarship at Trinity College, Oxford. He Joined the O.T.C. on the outbreak of the war in 1914, and in the Spring Term of 1915 he was in Rugby XV.; and won his 1st XV. Colours. He was a prominent member of the Literary and Debating Societies. On the occasion of the school holding a debate in French, Davies opened the debate.

He never failed in a public examination and passed the Higher Certificate Examination of the Oxford and Cambridge Board in 1913 with one distinction, in 1914 with four distinctions and in 1915 with five distinctions, coming out at the head of over 1,700 candidates. He competed regularly in the school sports and won several prizes in the under 15 events. Latterly, however, intellectual pursuits were more to his inclination, though he always took a very keen interest in all the school activities. He combined great ability with a real capacity for thoroughness and hard work, and had he lived would have gone far. He died, his tank being struck by a shell, on July 31st, the day before his 20th birthday. His loss is greatly to be regretted.

His Commanding Officer, writing to his father, says:-

The death of your son is a great loss to us all; he was very popular and was an exceedingly gallant officer. Up to the time of his death his tank did exceedingly good work.

Death of Mr. Sydney Lowsley.

Mr. Sydney Lowsley, Deputy Borough Engineer of Harrogate, son of the late Dr. Lowsley, of Reading, died in a London naval hospital last week. Mr, Lowsley, who joined the R.N.A.S. Last July as draughtsman, contracted double pneumonia while training and succumbed after three weeks’ illness. He served his articles with the Borough Engineer at Wolverhampton, and from there went to Westminster, Lewisham, and finally to Harrogate. He leaves a widow and two children.

Gallant Deeds.

Military Cross.

Lieut. Oswald Francis, Royal Berks Regt., has been awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the recent fighting in Belgium, and also had the honour of being personally congratulated by Sir Douglas Haig. He left Sandhurst in September, 1915, and has served for the last 15 months in France and Belgium, for the greater part of the time on the Somme Front.


Bardsley, Capt. R.C., Manchester Regt., elder son of Mrs. Bardsley, of 72, Addington Road, Reading. Severely in the right arm and hand, on Oct.8th. Capt. Bardsley was educated at Reading School, where he distinguished himself in all athletic pursuits.

Reading School Magazine, December 1917 (SCH3/14/34)

Adding a name to the list of those of our lads who went out to fight never to return again

Two brothers from Reading had different fates.

Park Church and Institute
Church News

Wilfred Smith

To our great sorrow we have this month to add his name to the list of those of our lads who went out to fight never to return again. Wilfred was killed in action on August 22nd. Unhappily there was a short period of painful suspense before the official news arrived. A letter from a comrade who had been injured by the same shell told how his inquiries as to Wilfred’s fate met with no satisfactory replies, and conveyed the clear impression that its writer suspected that the worst had happened. Following the arrival of that letter came days of silent suffering and fruitless inquiry. Eventually the usual form of announcement from the War Office settled all doubts, and destroyed all hopes. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his father and mother and brothers and sisters. Wilfred belonged to a family that has always been closely identified with Park, and he was one whose pleasing disposition easily won affection. Before joining the Army he was registrar at the Sunday School, and after joining continued to act in that capacity so long as he was about. Some of us will always carry in our minds a picture of him in his Khaki seated at the little table just inside our Hall doors quietly staring at the children’s cards as they arrived on the Sunday afternoon. And we had hoped that this Autumn might see him back there again, and not in his Khaki! But God has opened another door to him, and he has gone where that graciousness of disposition which made him willing to serve while here will be considered of the highest worth. May the Love which has taken him back to itself come very near to those who mourn his loss.

Leslie Smith (Wilfred’s brother) is soon to get his discharge from the army. The wound in his ankle seems to have led to a permanent disability which will rather affect his walking powers. We greatly regret this, but at the same time cannot but be glad that he will soon be back again in safety under the home roof, where no doubt his presence will help to bring comfort and courage.
Mr. Goddard, our Sunday School Secretary, is to our surprise among the wounded. We thought he would never get near the firing line, but he had only been in France quite a short time before he was back again in hospital. He is now in a convalescent camp at Eastbourne, and we are looking forward to a visit from him before long.

It was happy chance which brought the brothers Newey (one from Greece, one from France, and one from a home camp) home on leave together.

Park section of Trinity Congregational Magazine, November 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

“He died, as he had always lived with us, a brave and perfect gentleman”

Tribute is paid to two Caversham men.

S. Peter’s


Second–Lieutenant Thomas Clark Powell, R.G.A.

Born in 1897, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Cotton Powell, of Fairlawn, Caversham, he was educated at Ashdown House, Forest Row, and at Shrewsbury. At the latter school he had a distinguished career: he became head of his house and a cadet Officer in the Officers’ Training Corps, and at the end of 1915 he was elected to an open Mathematical Scholarship at New College, Oxford.

On leaving in 1916 he obtained a commission in the R.G.A., and went to the front in France in September of the same year. He was slightly wounded early this year, and on the night of July 14th was struck by a shell and mortally wounded, dying shortly after reaching the Casualty Clearing Station; and so closing a career of great promise.

An Officer of his Battery writes:

“He had been tending our wounded, and was mending the telephone lines, when he was hit. He died, as he had always lived with us, a brave and perfect gentleman.”

S. John’s

We regret to have to record the death of Harry Borton, sidesman at S. John’s. He is the first of the officials connected with the church in our district to give his life in war service at the front. He was not very well known to many at as. John’s. For he was of a very quiet and retiring nature and fond of his home. But he was regularly in church on a Sunday morning with his wife and used to sit well to back on the pulpit side. Mrs. Borton may be sure she has the sympathy of the congregation in her sorrow.

Caversham parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P162/28A/7)

Another of our hero lads has fallen in the terrible conflict

Reading’s Congregationalists continued to serve.


We are deeply sorry to hear that another of our hero lads – Stanley Challen – has fallen in the terrible conflict. Whilst in action at Arras, on the May 3rd, he was struck by a shell and was instantaneously killed. To his loved ones the sad news came as a terrible blow, for he was of a lovable, thoughtful disposition, a devoted son and kind brother. We desire to express our truest sympathy with them, praying that our Heavenly Father may richly comfort and sustain them in these sad days.

Khaki Chat.

Jack Newey is back in the line again. Jesse Prouten is in England, and will probably appear from time to time among us. Mr Dormer has obtained a commission as equipment officer in the R.F.C., and is at present undergoing a course of instruction in this town. Mr Goddard is now “somewhere in France,” and so also to our surprise is Leslie Newey. The former has already written home expressing warm appreciation of the work of the Y.M.C.A. out there.

Trinity Congregational Church magazine, July 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

Recently wounded

A Reading man was wounded.


We regret to say that one of our boys has been recently wounded – Lance-Corpl. Harry Wheeler, the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Wheeler. He was returning from sentry duty when he was hit in the face through a shell bursting near him. We sincerely sympathize with him, and we hope his wound is not very serious. Harry is an old Sunday School boy, and a regular attendant at our little Church.

Trinity Congregational Church magazine, June 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

Killed by a shell on his way back to the trenches

A Cranbourne was killed in unfortunate circumstances.

We have to record, with much regret, the death of Private Ernest Lunn. He had been in the Hospital and was killed by a shell on his way back to the trenches. A memorial service was held on Sunday afternoon, May 13th. He leaves a widow and two young children with whom much sympathy has been expressed.

Cranbourne section of Winkfield District Magazine, June 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/6)

“Ain’t we rural” – nests in the dugouts

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about the disconcerting contrast of burgeoning wildlife and warfare.

May 11, 1917
My dear WF

Very many thanks for the parcel. I see you have exceeded my request and bought things, but that’s just you. I hope my a/c will stand it….

We’ve been having the most glorious weather: it seems awful that we should be in so poor a position to enjoy it. However, good weather helps towards the conclusion of our mighty task, so don’t pray for rain.

You’ve no idea what an extraordinary feeling it is to hear on the heels of a hurricane bombardment around one’s home the lazy song of the cuckoo. A swallow is building on the joist supporting our dugout. By vote it has been allowed to remain, but I doubt if we shall stand the strain of it as it has chosen a position immediately above the centre of our mess table.

2 days ago someone brought in a lovely clutch of pheasant’s eggs – rather a pity, for besides being contrary to orders I expect they were “set”. And within 10 yards of me in a moat, a bullfrog croaks to the sun. Ain’t we rural!

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/36-37)

“No better discipline or anything of that sort, I hope”

Percy Spencer wrote to Florence asking for some
Lysol petroleum jelly, an antiseptic. He had recently attended a dinner with old comrades, which had both tragic and comic elements.

May 3, 1917
My dear WF

This is just a few scrambled lines, mostly to ask for things.

I should very much like a tube of Lysall [Lysol] petroleum jelly, or a small bottle of Lysall and some phospherine tablets.

Also some ink to fit my box.

If I have any merino underwear or any shirts, I should like them please!

I’m sorry I can’t think of anything more to ask just now!

Well, I saw the Big Brass Hat yesterday and he said “H’m yes” 3 times, so I expect I’m in for something pretty bad – probably a month’s training in the trenches – or “something worth boiling out in it”.

We had a first rate dinner the night before last – the surviving officers & sergeants of my old Battalion, numbered just 18, 15 of whom were present. It was a right good evening, tho’ it had its tragic side.

By the way I am the only original member of the staff left: also I am the only remaining Staff Clerk in the Division who came out with us. The only original Quartermaster in the Division (of my old Battalion) was at the dinner. In fact so many of us were the only remaining something or other, we felt quite lonely.

Well, dear girl, I’m sending you the souvenir of that event. “Pat” enlisted as a private tho’ in private life he is Paterson of the Home Office – head of the Prisons of England – a fine man with a grand head. Dear old RSM Fisler’s speech was too funny. Private Pat, Corporal Pat, Sergeant Pat & 2nd Lt Pat of No. 4 Platoon was the well beloved of this Battalion of rough lads, and the fine old RSM ran himself high & dry on the rock of affection for the battalion idol: “that’s about all I’ve got to say, I think, sir”, he concluded lamely after a long pause.

The Sergeant Cook was pressed to sing – everyone knew he wanted to sing, and what he wanted to sing, and what he would sing – still he announced as he reluctantly rose to his feet, it would be a sad song. Nobody said, “We know; it’s going to be “Speak not ‘er nime”, tho’ everyone knew that “Speak not ‘er nime” it would be notwithstanding the cheering effect of a [bumper?] of port & Kummel shandy the worthy fellow had mixed for himself under the impression the harmless looking liquor was a sort of Perrier.

And so the evening passed. We talked of the St Albans days & the early days out here, of this good fellow and that, of a stout hearted Sergeant who wouldn’t be put off his game by enemy shelling before the battle of Loos – “What’s that?” exclaimed a jumpy platoon sergeant as a crump landed near. “Spades trumps” replied the other, and as the next one landed even nearer, “Clubs laid, your turn to play.”

But always we got back to Pat – to the early days out here, when as a Lance Corporal he “borrowed” the transport officer’s mount and a local landau & drove his “boys” out, only to run into the Divisional General. Of the Divisional General’s wrath & enquiry as to disciplinary action taken, & the CO’s reply – “This NCO has been promoted to Corporal”.

And I reminded him of the day when talking to the RSM he passed by en route for the guard room, there to comfort one of his platoon with all the food & illegal things he could buy.

Oh, the discipline of No 4 was awful, but they’d follow Pat anywhere.
Pat had to go away for a long time – upon returning he asked how things were with No. 4. “Oh, they’ve gone downhill fast, sir, since you left”. “No better discipline or anything of that sort, I hope”, Pat enquired anxiously. “Oh no” replied his informant in a horrified tone.

And now this same Pat is our Divisional Lecturer on “Discipline”.

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/33-35)

A very gallant officer and gentleman, recklessly brave and a fine example of cool courage

The Old Boys of Reading School were distinguishing themselves at the Front.


Killed in Action.

2nd Lieut. Norman A. Howell, King’s Shropshire Light infantry. On December 23rd.

He is the second son of Mr. W. Roland Howell, architect, of this town. Born at Reading in April 1897, he was educated at Reading School and St. Laurence College, Ramsgate, and had been about a year in his father’s office before joining the Army in November, 1915. His cadet training at school and college enabled him to get his commission. He was posted to the King’s Shropshire’s, was ordered to the front at the end of June last, and has been in the thick of the Somme fighting for six months. Lieut. Norman Howell came home on his first leave on December 6th and returned on the 16th. Within a week he had made the great sacrifice.

His Commanding Officer wrote to Mr. Howell on December 24th:

“I deeply regret to report the death of your son, who was serving in my Battalion. Whilst going up to the front line trenches in charge of a party last night an enemy sniper shot him through the head, killing him instantly. This morning his body was buried by the Chaplain near where he fell, with military honours, officers and men attending.

“I had trench mortars and rifle grenades on the sniper’s post, patrols had reported 8 to 10 Huns there, none there now! On behalf of his comrades, officers, N.C.O.’s and men, I wish to convey to you our profound sympathy . He was loved and respected by all of us, and we mourn the loss of a very gallant officer and gentleman. To all of us he was known as recklessly brave and a fine example of cool courage, devoted to his duties, which he discharged most cheerfully under the most trying conditions.”

“I placed him in charge of the Lewis Gun detachment, on which he had set his heart and soul. He belonged to my own Headquarters’ mess, and I took particular interest in him. A cross has been put up on the grave near Les Boeufs.”

It will be remembered that in October, 1915, Mr. Howell’s elder son, 2nd Lieut. Roland Basil Howell, was reported “wounded and missing.” Nothing has since been heard of him, and any hopes of his being alive hangs on the very slenderest thread. On the 16th of last month the War Office wrote saying that they were now forced to believe he was killed.

Lieut. Basil Howell was born in October, 1895, and received his commission in the 4th North Staffordshire’s three months after the war started. He was attached to the Northumberland Fusiliers (the Fighting Fifth), and went to the front in May, 1915.

Reports received from the front show that on the night of October 1st-2nd, 1915, the battalion to which Lieut. Howell was attached were in severe action. After all the officers of the company had been killed he gallantly led a bombing party to attack a German trench, but was never seen again.

Every possible enquiry was made through the War Office, the American Embassy, the Red Cross, and the wounded men who returned to England. Many references were made by the latter to the respect and love they had for the brave young officer. Like his brother he was educated at Reading School and St Laurence College, and had started his training to follow in his father’s profession. For many years he was an enthusiastic scout, and took a big share in starting the South Reading Troop.

Lieut. Cedric Charles Okey Taylor, East Kent Regiment, attached to Trench Mortar Battery, only son of Mrs. Taylor, 39, Weltje Road, Ravenscroft Park, W., and of the late Mr. Charles Warmsley Taylor, of Reading. Further details are now to hand of Lieut. Taylor’s death.

He died for King and country on December 3rd, 1916, in his 22nd year. Young in years but old in endurance, he was in constant action for 15 months at Ypres in 1915 and on the Somme in 1916. He is laid to rest in the cemetery, at Faubourg d’Amiens, Arras.

2nd Lieut. W. Marsden Cooper, Worcestershires, only son of Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper, 107, London Street, Reading, aged 19.

Cooper was only 19 years of age and went out to the front in the Worcestershire’s about the middle of December, shortly after completing his course at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was educated at Reading School, where he gained a Council scholarship in 1909. His School career was unusually distinguished. In 1914 he gained a School Certificate followed the next year by a higher certificate.

In response to his country’s call, he decided to take a commission, and in the entrance examination for the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, held in February, 1916, he came out second on the list, gaining a Prize Cadetship. At Sandhurst his success was no less pronounced than at school, and he gained the position of Sergeant in his cadet unit, the highest position a cadet can obtain, before he left College. Not only did he have considerable intellectual gifts, as his record shows but he was a fine athlete as well. He was an excellent all round cricketer and his natural powers as a bowler would have enabled him to make his mark in really good company. As a Rugby Football player he showed great promise, and before he left school he had the distinction of being captain of football, captain of cricket and captain of the school. Yet he was never elated by success, and perhaps it was more than anything else his modesty which made him so popular with the boys and the masters alike. Those who have watched his career, for the last two years, and marked the way in which his development always seemed to keep pace with his new responsibilities feel a special grief that a young life so full of promise should have been brought thus prematurely to a close.

Amateur dramatics behind the lines – “each pause is filled with the roar of guns & explosion of shells”

Percy wrote cheeefully to Florence, telling her about the amateur (and cross-dressing) dramatics by his soldiers.

April 24, 1917

I wonder if the sun is shining on you as well. It’s a perfectly glorious day here, full of sea, wind, aeroplanes and shells. There’s precious little sleep after daybreak this sort of weather.

Yesterday I went for quite a good walk across the fields along narrow waterways, and in the evening I went to the Follies and saw an absolutely topping performance. I do wish I could have you both here one evening just to show you what alluring damsels some of my boys make. Of course one can’t get away from the incongruity of it all, for each pause is filled with the roar of guns & explosion of shells, and at the end of each scene, as the windows are thrown open, bursting shells in the distance are just about all the view.

Altogether we’ve had a very good time lately, and but for a couple of rounds which the Huns fired at another NCO and myself a fortnight or so ago, we’ve been particularly immune from that being-shot-at feeling.

I’m enclosing one or 2 more souvenirs. I think Tyrrell’s is a perfectly charming group (the family put their Sunday clothes on for the event). The other is really sad – the central figure committed suicide a few days ago – why, heaven knows.

Well, I’m being so interrupted, I’m going to close.

Oh, I forgot to say I have been applied for direct (without a cadet course) by the OC of the Battalion I’m to go to, and the Brigadier has endorsed all the nice things said about me in the letter sent with my papers by the CO. So I doubt whether I shall get much, if any, time in England.

With my dear love to you both
Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/29)

The greatest of inventions that this war has produced

Percy Spencer was instructed by sister Florence to write to her husband John Maxwell Image about a new kind of weapon – the Stokes mortar, invented by Wilfred Stokes in 1915.

Mar. 13. 1917
My dear John

I’m under orders from WF to write and tell you “all about the Stokes gun”, with a sort of threat that if I don’t I shall forfeit your affection. Do please give her some lessons on the ‘power of command’.

And now to show she needs none, I’ll tell you, not everything, but a few things about our famous little strafer.

I suppose the character of this war was bound to lead to the development of the mortar. For one thing, in a vast number of cases the distance between the opposing trenches is so short that to hit the enemy trench without damaging one’s own demands closer shooting than modern artillery has yet completely achieved. Hence, as I say, the development of the mortar which from its size and easy portability to forward positions was bound to become an important weapon for short range work. But no one who saw the primitive weapons of this kind which we possessed in 1915 had much hope that the “wonderful Stokes gun”, the existence of which was at first a carefully guarded secret from the Huns, would prove the success and surprise to the enemy that was expected by the experts.

Its advance upon old types was at once recognised, but I do not think its unique effectiveness would have been thoroughly appreciated, but for the perseverance and pluck of our men who work the guns.

Of course owing to their weight and difficulties of ammunition supply, all guns, mortars and mechanical contrivances for trench warfare diminish rapidly in value as an attach advances, but for preparing the way for an assault I believe the Stokes gun is one of our most valuable weapons, and perhaps our most valuable trench weapon. I should not be surprised if it were ultimately classed as the greatest of inventions that this war has produced, excepting, of course, the Kaiser’s utterances.

I’m told its rapidity of fire has the most terrorising effect and in one heavy battle last year, when the preliminary preparation had not been thoroughly completed, it was our Stokes strafe (creating I believe, a record for volume of fire) which not only ripened the harvest for our fellows, but actually gathered it in, for the Huns never waited for them, but ran in with their hands up.

Curiously enough, arising out of a discussion in the mess yesterday upon the reward of the great inventor, some said that the joy of personal achievement was his real reward, others that it was determined purely by the extent of his cash profit, and another that his reward was essentially the consciousness of having benefitted humanity, the latter opinion being cited as Mr Stokes’ recompense; and upon its being suggested that the last was rather a matter of point of view, like a true Christian and Britisher, he challenged the suggestion and stood to his statement.

So, altho’ I’m afraid Mr Censor will not pass any remarks as to the principle of the gun, its rate of fire, ranges and kinds, anyway you’ll be satisfied that it’s a bonnie weapon [censored].

A little while ago WF asked me if a report of “our raid” was true. It was indeed a champion affair, never do I remember such a tornado of fire, but as you will have realised, beyond the broad facts that there was a raid, and I believe the most successful one ever made by the British, the newspaper report is sheer nonsense. The gorgeous gentleman who resides in comfort somewhere behind and seems to have the newspaper glory of this Division peculiarly under his care, succeeds only in getting well outside the truth, and making us appear ridiculous in the eyes of those who do know what is and what is not possible.

Recently I have missed 2 opportunities for souvenirs. One, the top of a brass candlestick discharged from a shrapnel shell at us last night – whether Fritz has grown humorous or artistic, I don’t know, but it strikes me as a rather charming idea of conveying “evening hate”. The other was very curious. In clearing the manure refuse etc from a farmyard midden a stone’s throw from here a Uhlan, intact, with lance complete, was discovered standing upright in the mire. Unfortunately he had been completely souvenired before I heard about him, otherwise you should have had a morsel. It would be interesting to know how he met his death.

Well, I think that’s all the news I have to tell you just now. Life is fairly lively, and we still have to do a good deal of shell dodging.

However it’s all towards the end of the war.

With love to you both

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/10/11)

A most unsoldierly appearance

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence to gently discourage her frequent food gifts, as he felt guilty accepting them when he knew food was in short supply in England.

Mar. 6, 1917
My dear WF

Yes, I got the socks & very good & welcome they are.

I’ve just read a very interesting document on “Delousing”.
Camphor and Naphthalene are or is recommended. Can you in some odd corner of your time help me in the greatest problem of this part of the world next to shell dodging!

I loved your last letter: as I think I have told you already, my greatest regret is that I can’t preserve your letters. I keep ‘em till my pockets present a most unsoldierly appearance & then they have to go west. Why “west” by the way?

Garwood wishes me to thank you for the “rum” you sent him. It makes a splendid drink.

The food question seems to be acute, and I feel that we are probably living better here than the masses are at home. Of course I love your parcels, but don’t you think, dear, that the time has come when they should be suspended, or made more occasional, and the cake cut out altogether. Please don’t be hurt, we thoroughly appreciate your dear gifts, but personally I almost have a guilty conscience in enjoying them.

I have been so busy I am sorry there is no time for more just now but to send you both my dearest love and to hope you’re both as fit as I am.

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/24)