“They drinked and drinked till they had drinked it all up”

Now the war was over, William Hallam was hoping to retire back to his birthplace in the Vale of White Horse. On a reconnaissance trip he saw German PoWs hard at work.

22nd April 1919

Up at 7 this morning and went to Uffington by the 20 past 9 train. I walked up to Fernham. Looked over the churchyard and the church (modern) was locked. Just under churchyard a piece of ground occupied by the ruins of 2 old wattle & daub cottages which would do to build a new house on, I thought, if it could be bought cheap. Here an old man who was chopping the hedge tidy told me it was a sharp frost this morning, and if we had many more like it, it would do a lot of harm to the fruit.

I went on to Longcot and when I got there went into Pub to have a drink but the hostess said they hadn’t a drop of anything, she said you know Sir we had a wedding yesterday and they kept it up, yes, and they drinked and drinked till they had drinked it all up.”

I enquired of her where the houses were which were for sale and then went and looked at them. One was too big and another too small (one room down 2 up), another property was a block of 3 cottages – but I don’t want neighbours when I get into the country. I’ve had enough of their borrowing and gossiping ways here in Swindon. This property had high sounding names for instance the little cottage was Priory Glen, the 3 cottages Priory Place and the largest house the Priory, but all this is misnamed for I don’t believe a religious house or property ever existed there. However none of it will suit me.

I then went and looked round the Churchyard. I quizzed some of the stones – must go and copy them down. At the SW corner of the C.yard is a little house or room where they hold the Church… over the door is date 1821 & initial. Then I walked on to Shrivenham.

In a garden at Longcot I was 2 German prisoners at work planting potatoes- working very leisurely and smoking cigarettes. As I had plenty of time before getting to the station I went into Church & churchyard. Sat down in a pew and rested……..”

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

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“Sometimes it’s a piece of shell – next day it will be a piece of bone”

Percy was clearly feeling a little better, and was able to observe life in his ward with his customary wry humour.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
SE1

Sep 1, 1918

My dear WF

Since Thursday morning I’ve lived – my arm went to sleep and has remained so. This morning the muck from it was much diminished and I am actually beginning to sleep without drugs and to walk a few paces. Two nights ago I indulged in the luxury of a bath and was strong enough to balance on one leg when necessary. In a few days time I am to be operated upon again to get at odds and ends of bone not wanted again. Of course I’m no end pleased at the prospect.

The fellow opposite is a perfect [illegible – source?] of wealth. They get something fresh out of him every day. He affords the sisters all the excitement of a bran pie insamuch as all the things are different – sometimes it’s a piece of shell – next day it will be a piece of bone, followed by a chunk of glass or a cork. I’ve got a small wager that inside a week they’ll find a bottle of whiskey in him somewhere.

I’ve asked No 9 (of Oriel College Oxford) what a “stunt” is and he confirms my opinion that today it has reached the stage when it means anything one likes to make it. Still I look back to the day when it was only applied to an out of the ordinary military minor enterprise. Nowadays, tricks in the air are stunts – so are raids – so is a disagreeable field practice or a route march – or the attendance at a court martial – and to go to big things, I remember that huge affair the battle of Messines being described as a “splendid stunt”. So carry on – make it mean what you like & look confident about it, you’ll worry through all right. I’m quite sure that will not satisfy John’s accurate mind.

No. 17 IBD “L” depot Calais means the “L” depot of the 17th Infantry Base Depot situated at Calais. It also means that Sydney having got beyond the point on the lines of communication from which officers are sent to rejoin their Battalion, has been sent back to the base depot, from there to be sent back to his Battalion when required or elsewhere possibly. Alternatively, assuming he is not yet fit, it means either that he is being sent to his base depot to convalesce, or being considered worn out he is there is do a few months tour of duty. Now I feel sure you must know exactly what it means.

This morning was very lovely. After I had been bathed, I lay and watched the Mother of Parliaments shyly move away from the night, down to the water’s edge and then silently and soberly await the first kiss and warm embrace of her other love. (It’s quite all right, I had some medicine yesterday.)

Just there I had to suspend operations for lunch – cold beef salad & potatoes: plum pie & custard. Unfortunately I had to refuse second helpings. However, as I lay here in the sunshine I feel that comfortable replete feeling stealing over me and presently I shall stretch forth my hand for John’s cigar and dissolve in smoke.

With my dear love to you both

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/85-88)

Veritable hell: “We knew that some one had blundered, but obedience is the first rule of the army”

Here is a dramatic account of life in the Army Service Corps taking water to the thirsty troops one terrible day in Mesopotamia.

(We publish the following account of an exciting adventure in Mesopotamia in justice to the gallant men of the A.S.C., in case there should still be any who are liable to despise the man not in the front line. ED)

“A Stunt.”
(By a FORD Driver in Mesopotamia)

We had just completed an eleven days’ continuous run, and were expecting a day or two’s well earned rest, but such was not to be.

We reached —— at midnight and “parked up” our cars outside the old Turkish Cavalry Barracks. I “clicked” for guard, and at 3.30 a.m. took a telegram from a despatch rider, containing instructions to move off and load up immediately, So at the first streak of dawn, amid much “wailing and gnashing of teeth”, we “wound up,” and after picking up supplies we started off on a joy ride across the desert to an unknown destination, for a journey of indefinite duration.

We arrived at ——, and to our great joy were informed that we were to rest for the remainder of the day. What hopes!

For the next two days we had barely time to eat the necessary “bully,” so busy were we rushing supplies of all descriptions to an advanced position.

At the end of the second day, thinking we had earned a little sleep, we had just got into our blankets when the whistle announced “fall in.”

This time (about 8.30 p.m.) it was to pick up troops, under sealed orders. For the first fifteen minutes all was well, then we pulled up, and the fun commenced. All lamps out, no smoking, talking or blowing of hooters, the greatest precautions to be taken.

Of course, you should know that we were on the desert, following a track which we had never travelled before, everything pitch black, laden with troops, with the knowledge that with us rested the success of the action planned for the following day break.

When returning the following morning, we could hardly believe our eyes, when we saw the route we had taken in the dark, deep, yawning precipices and huge boulders of rock, and the places of danger which we passed but “where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise.” Anyhow, after about an hour’s ride or so, during which time we had relieved the tension on our nerves by smashing a few radiators, losing the column and sundry other mere “inconveniences,” it was decided to pull up for one-and-a-half hours till the moon should show just a glimmer, for progress under the circumstances was absolutely impossible.

This hour-and-a-half was even more nerve racking than driving, as we hardly dared to whisper, for here we were, stranded in “No Man’s Land,” where, apart from the actual enemy, viz.:- Johnny Turk, the great nuisances were the hostile and cunning Arabs, who do not at all object to using us as targets for practical jokes of a serious nature.

At last we started off again, and after many and indescribable difficulties, we parked up under the shelter of a big hill to drop our men and to wait for dawn and further instructions.

The day broke and with the dawn our brave men went over the top of the hill, but Johnny was not asleep this time, for he soon started throwing a few shells over, and we, being somewhat interested, stood on top of our cars to watch the proceedings, until one of the enemy’s aeroplanes “spotted” our “place of rest” and gave information to his artillery, who got our range to a nicety, and we (reckless, daring spectators) began to discover, a few at a time, that the underneath parts of our cars needed attention, but I freely admit, that to stand and allow someone to throw 6in. shells into our midst, while powerless to reply or defend ourselves, did not greatly appeal to me at least.

However, our time of idleness was brief, for word came through, even in the early dewy hours of the morning, that the only water available for our advancing troops was from the salt lakes.

Then we got busy, packets, tanks, buckets, petrol tins, canvas water carriers, everything capable of holding water is flung aboard and we dash off by two’s and three’s from our “park” to gain a river some few miles across the desert.

But Johnny had anticipated our movement and had the river banks nicely covered with snipers and machine guns, so instead of running “en bloc” and filling up altogether, we had to dash up one or two at a time and fill up our receptacles.

When all the difficulties were overcome, and we were ready to commence our return journey, it was approximately 10 a.m., with a temperature of 110° in the shade, when we regained sight of our troops it was practically midday, with a temperature of 128° in the shade.

Then came a veritable hell, the water had to be got to the troops and orders came through that the M.T.’s were to “carry on.”

We knew that some one had blundered, but obedience is the first rule of the army.

The M.T.’s had never been under fire in Mesopotamia before and never since, except in cases of single cars on special detail, but here we were, about eighty cars in column, ordered to practically reach the front line trenches, shells bursting right and left. Did someone mention “Brooklands?”

Never before had Ford cars travelled at such a speed, sixty pounders make excellent accelerators. There were many miraculous escapes, cars riddled with machine gun bullets and shrapnel, some cars put out of action, here and there was a man putting on a spare wheel under fire, but marvellous to relate, not one of our men was touched. I shall not forget a shell dropping and rolling under a car about two yards away.

Thank God, ‘twas a “dud.”

Eventually the trenches were reached, the sight was almost beyond description, dead and dying, troops mad with thirst, they had been drinking salt water, and more men had been “laid low” by sun and thirst than anything else.

Disregarding discipline, our cars were raided, the water speedily drunk, and all craving for more. Then we drove, hither and thither, picking up wounded and dying, and made our way to the field hospital. By this time it was “every man for himself,” and we practically worked individually, using our own discretion. During this time, two of our men gained Military Medals, and one of our officers was “mentioned” and has since received promotion.

Night was now drawing near, but it made no difference to us. Half was ordered to move the Casualty Clearing Station and then drive thirty miles (this time in safety) across the desert for more ammunition.

On the return journey, I, personally, and several of my “pals,” I know, fell asleep over the wheel, to be suddenly and rudely awoke by a “gentle” drop into a hole or a bump against a sand bank.
When we got back we found that our troops had retired about seven or eight miles, and while we were fetching the stores and wounded back, the Arabs had great sport “sniping” at us, and some of us nearly got into trouble for stopping to reply to their “overtures of good will.”

But we successfully completed the retirement, and Johnny did not follow up, so the “stunt” s finished, and we returned to —- for a rest, — what hopes, we were dead beat, no sleep for over fifty-six hours, but within twenty-four hours we were again on our ordinary work of carrying supplies from one dump to another, to be forgotten until the next stunt, but don’t forget, — when the M.T.’s are wanted again, they will be there.

The Newburian (magazine of St Bartholomew’s School, Newbury), July 1918 (N/D161/1/8)

Lessons on Patriotism for Empire Day

Children across the county celebrated Empire Day with patriotic displays and collections.

Abingdon Girls CE School
1918, 22nd-24th May

On Empire Day the children marched past and saluted the Flag. Recitations and Patriotic Songs were sung and 16/2 was sent to the Overseas Fund.

Reading ChristChurch CE Infants School
24th May 1918

Being Empire Day the National Anthem was sung this morning, and the flag saluted by all the children, many of whom wore the colours. Each half year since the commencement of the War, the children have contributed liberally to the “Over Seas” Club Tobacco Fund, by means of which nearly £7000 has been spent in sending parcels of “smokes” to the soldiers and sailors at the Front.

St Peter’s CE School, Earley
24th May 1918

The morning was kept as our “Empire Day” celebration. The ordinary timetable was not adhered to, lessons on Patriotism taking the place of the ordinary lessons and at 11 a.m. the Flag was raised by the Mayor of Reading (F A Sarjeant Esq) who is one of the School Managers. Speeches were made by the Mayor, the Vicar, Colonel Weldon & R Lea esq, and patriotic songs were sung by the assembled school.

In the afternoon, following the usual custom, May Day celebrations took place… Between 400 and 500 friends of the school & the children were present. A collection was made on behalf of some of the War Funds, and together with donations sent later, amounted to £2.17.6.

Reading: All Saints Infant School (89/SCH/19/2)
24th May 1918

The parents assembled in the school at 11.30am to hear the children sing the special songs they had learned for Empire Day. The Rev. Wardley King gave a short address. The children had a collection for St Dunstan’s Hostel for the blind soldiers and sailors. A half day holiday was given in the afternoon.

Coleshill CE School
24th May 1918

To-day being ‘Empire Day’ the children saluted ‘the flag’ in the girls’ playground and sang the National Anthem. The Empire Pennies brought by the children amounted to £1.0.3½. This sum was sent to The Overseas Fund for Comforts for our Soldiers & Sailors.

Reading Christ Church

On Empire Day May 24 the girls of our Day School presented Sutherlands VAD with a bath chair. The presentation was made by Rose Gillings on behalf of the girls, who asked the Commandant, Mrs Childs, to accept it. The chair was purchased by money raised entirely by the children themselves. Mrs Childs expressed her thanks for the gift. Three soldiers from the Hospital were present and at the end of the proceedings one of them was wheeled in the chair down the schoolroom, greatly cheered by the girls.

Log books of Abingdon Girls CE School (C/EL 2/2); Reading ChristChurch CE Infants School (89/SCH/7/6); St Peter’s CE School, Earley (SCH36/8/3); Reading: All Saints Infant School (89/SCH/19/2); Coleshill CE School log book (D/P40/28/5); and Christ Church parish magazine, July 1918 (D/P170/28A/24)

The Irish prisoners are to be treated exactly the same as the men already interned

There were instructions for the restrictions to be imposed on the new influx of Irish internees.

24 May 1918

A copy of telegrams received this afternoon from the Commissioners is attached.

My instructions from the Commissioners are that the Irish prisoners when they arrive are to be treated exactly the same as the men already interned here, with the exception that they are not allowed letters or visits.

Consequently they will – unless I receive further instructions – have following treatment:

Cells open 7.10 am to 7.45 pm – unlimited exercise between those hours except at meal times. Smoking – English newspapers (I propose to restrict all Irish ones as I did before – though I still have the list of those formerly approved) – Canteen – purchases from other shops of articles not prohibited by Food Controller – Furnish their cells with comforts &c – Cards – games.

C M Morgan
Gov

Transcription of telegrams received from the Commissioners 24.5.18

No. 1
Handed in at Parliament St
Allow Irish prisoners to smoke.
Commissioners

No. 2
Allow Irish prisoners to purchase unrationed articles of food.
Commissioners

24.5.18
[to] The Governor
Reading P of I

With reference to the recent instructions sent to you to receive certain “Irish” prisoners into your custody, please note that the dietary to be used for such persons will be the Local Prison one, but the prisoners may be permitted to purchase for their use unrationed articles.

A J Ward
Sec:

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“All through the bombardment, nightingales sang”

Percy Spencer endured a German attack.

19 May 1918

2 a.m. general alarm. Stood to & prepared to move. 3.40 a.m. stood down. Had tea & smoke. Strolled round wood on hill top with Padre and watched sun rise. Turned in 4.45 a.m. Slept till 7.30 a.m. All thro’ bombardment, nightingales sang. Bosch again expected to attack tomorrow.

Diary of Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

“Even here aeroplanes are more ubiquitous than motor cars and went droning thro the blue at a great height like beetles”

On an antiquarian trip to his home region in the Vale of White Horse, William Hallam took the time to pay his respects at a war shrine.

18th May 1918

Got up at 7. Went to Challow sta. at 20 past 9. Walked thro’ Goosey across the fields – then onto Charney. Here I looked in the church as a young woman was cleaning it and getting ready for a wedding she told me. Notice that queer carving in chapel. Then I copied down all the Inscriptions I could decipher. The I went to a cottage and enquired the way to Cherbury Camp but the old man said I meant Chawberry. He told me the nearest way but I mistook it and went a devil of a way round. However I enquired again and got there alright about 1 o’clock. I was surprised to find such a perfect camp still existing in the midst of agricultural land. I sat on the bank and ate my lunch of bread and butter and a hard boiled egg and revelled in the sun. The cuckoo had been on all day long. The first day I’ve heard him this spring. There was not a cloud in the sky and even here aeroplanes are more ubiquitous than motor cars and went droning thro the blue at a great height like beetles. I sat here and thought for an hour. I looked over the ploughed field in the encampment and found one flint chip.

I came back into Charney the way I should have come – much nearer- and went into the Pub and had a pint and a ½ of ale. This landlady Shepherd knew me by seeing me regularly at St. Paul’s as they lived at Swindon until 3 years ago when they took this Pub. Her husband a smith now working she told me at Cheltenham in aeroplane works and rides on a bike to & from every week end- 45 miles. I asked about this old house near the Church. She told me a lady had bought it 2 or 3 years ago and spent a lot of money on it – then before she had finished it got tired of it and sold it to a Col. Colmes for 1800£ and now he is spending as much as he gave for it in restoring it. Fortunately in antiquarian lines the chapel & all being put back as it should be. When I started back I sat on the Oak bridge and saw the wedding – not a khaki one – party came out – quite a village wedding – all walking.

It was a scalding hot day and as I sat on a heap of stones resting and having a smoke 2 Swindon men passed by and had a chat on their way to Longworth. Further along the road I turned off and went to Denchworth & looked over the Church & churchyard and here I saw the first war shrine. A frame with a crucifix and list of the names of all the young men gone from the village with a prayer for the passer by to offer up for them so took off my hat and said it. Before it on a ledge were 2 brass vases of fresh flowers. I got back to Challow St. at 6 o’clock and got up home here at ½ past 7. The Country is at its best now especially the Vale.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

Moving from billet to barn, from barn to billet

Sydney Spencer hosted a big dinner.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 16 May 1918

I was orderly officer today so that today’s diary means: Reporting B HQ at 8.45, inspecting billets from 9.30-11.30, censoring letters from 11.30 till 12.30, inspecting dinners. After lunch a lie down, a short read, mounting guard at 3.30. Dismounting old guard. 4 pm tea.

After tea preparation for dinner guest night. Dinner a huge success. Consisted of soup, choufleur au gratin [cauliflower cheese], salmon mayonaize (don’t know how to spell it!), pork with baked potatoes & cauliflower, and sweet of plum pudding & custard – savouries of hard boiled egg etc on toast, coffee, biscuits, chocolate & cheese, port, sherry, whiskey & lime juice, & smokes. Do not think, my dear old diary, that I am a gourmand! I hate remembering what I have eaten. But I just put it down as a curiosity in this year of the war 1918!

Took staff parade, visited guard. Mess crowded with officers & all company & when I got to bed they had a jolly time.

Percy Spencer
16 May 1918

Cash. I went to Beaucourt to draw cash. Met Anderson who asked to be remembered to WF [Percy’s sister Florence Image]. Spent day in moving from billet to barn, from barn to billet.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

Potatoes and Passover

David Stad was a Dutch salesman aged 27 when he arrived at Reading in January 1916. He was the only Jewish internee.

2 April 1918
R. Koch
2.10.15 S. of S. Order, Defence of the Realm Regn: Internment
The above named Alien was visited yesterday the 1st by Miss D. Thain (friend), of 56 Gladstone Avenue, Wood Green, N.
The conversation was friendly and of personal affairs. The Alien stated he was in good health.
C M Morgan
Governor
[to] The Commissioners

2nd April 1918
D. Stad
17.7.15 S of S Order, Defence of the Realm Regn: Internment
The above named Alien was visited yesterday by Miss Wolfe of 136 Oxford Road, Reading, daughter of the Jewish Rabbi for Reading.
The conversation was about the way he should carry out the rites of the Passover.
C M Morgan
Governor
[to] The Commissioners

2 April 1918
Garden
Have the Commissioners any objection to the garden officer, Warder Coates, having a suit of drill and pair of old boots temporarily, and working in the prison garden? I have one prisoner on medical grounds and another prisoner part time at work – but Mr Coates has volunteered to work himself with them in order to get in the potatoes. This would be better than a larger party who only talk and smoke – besides saving the pay of the other prisoners.
C M Morgan
Gov.
[to] The Commissioners
PS We have suitable stuff in store.

[They received an immediate reply permitting it as a special case.]

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Desperate smoker “will pay for it all tenfold after the war”

A nicotine addict interned in Reading Prison was desperate for his English friends to send him supplies.

March 5th 1918
G Stichl
S of S Order 20.8.16 Internment

Letter to Miss [Hemmerle] – he wants her to get Mrs P Danes to send him another parcel as soon as possible – double or four times the quantity, as he has nothing more. Will pay for it all tenfold after the war – it is fearful when he has nothing to smoke.

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“Orders have a way of descending from the blue and we may get ours at any moment”

Percy Spencer anticipated his return to the Front would come at any minute. The battle of Bourlon Wood had occurred at the end of 1917. Captain Walter Stone won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his heroics.

21st (Res) Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Feb 24. 1918

My dear WF

It seems ages since I wrote to or heard from you. So I’ve filled my pipe (my nicest & foulest one) with the fragrant Mr Fryers and sat myself down to write you a line.

My principal news is that I’m still here with no news of going. It occurs to me that the cadet course having been lengthened there should be a gap in home recruits which we may stay at home to fill for a few weeks. On the other hand orders have a way of descending from the blue and we may get ours at any moment, and incidentally a few days leave.

Did you read of the 47th at Bourlon Wood and the gallant fight put up by Capt. Stone & Lieut. Burgeery? The man next door to me was Capt. Stone’s CSM. I think he almost wishes he was with him, altho’ he would now be dead.

Well, I suppose we shall soon have another chance of doing real things, and none of us will be really sorry. Life here is frightfully destructive and only endurable by fighting for reforms. So far as I can see the main return a grateful country has obtained from me to date is the issue of overalls for mess orderlies.

We’re having pretty mixed weather. Thursday was glorious and I thoroughly enjoyed our route march – once away from the camp, the country is delicious.

I’ve had a letter from the red haired Australian (No. 6) and the cox; what’s happened to the rest, I don’t know.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/14-16)

“It’s entirely up to you whether you have an easy or hard time”

Percy Spencer had a few more trenchant comments on his experiences as a trainee officer.

21st (Res) Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Jan 27th, 1918

My dear WF

I’m still here and finding life pretty strenuous, it’s entirely up to you whether you have an easy or hard time, but the man who can sit down and let things rip isn’t much account.

Today I held the finals of my platoon boxing competition. They were gory affairs but fought out in good spirit and with plenty of spirit. For the moment I’m frightfully popular. Tomorrow at inspection time they won’t like me a little bit.

Tonight I’ve again been to the little church of Lyddington. It is so restful to get away to real village life and the walk back again in the moonlight through scattered groups of white rubble, thatched cottages and farmsteads a happy recollection.

Yesterday the subalterns were instructed by the senior subaltern in mess etiquette. The meeting was too funny, as, without prejudice, the boot is on the other leg, and a good many of us weren’t afraid to say so. Altogether I think the meeting did good inasmuch as it cleared the air.

And now I’m smoking my pipe and writing a few letters – and don’t I wish it was in the cosy drawing room at 29 [Florence’s house]. Der Tag!

With all my love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/9-10)

“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)

Heroes in blue and grey and a rained-off garden party

Reading Congregational Church choir entertained wounded soldiers at a garden party in July 1917. They announced the occasion in the church magazine:

The Garden Party to wounded soldiers which the choir have arranged to give instead of their usual River Trip, will be held on Wednesday, July 4th. Mr and Mrs Tyrrell have very generously placed their beautiful garden at the disposal of the choir for this function, and to them our best thanks are due for their kindness. We earnestly hope that the day may be fine, and that the “party” may be a big success in every way.

But unfortunately, the weather turned out to be a disaster. The August issue of the magazine reported on the event’s success, regardless.

CHOIR HOSPITALITY

Wednesday, July 4th was a day that will long be remembered by many of us. It was the day that had been fixed by the choir for their “Khaki” Garden Party. In other words, it was the day upon which the choir, having foregone their usual river trip for the purpose, had decided to entertain wounded soldiers from the various “War Hospitals”, in the grounds of “Rosia”, Upper Redlands Road, which had so generously been placed at their disposal by Mr and Mrs Tyrrell.
Thus it had all been arranged. But alas for “the best laid plans of mice and men!” We had counted without the weather. When the day arrived it was very soon evident that the steady downpour of rain would upset all calculations, and that garden parties would be out of the question. It was terribly disappointing, but there was no help for it. And so our energetic choir master and Miss Green were early abroad, with a view to an in-door gathering at Broad Street. It was no easy task they had to perform, but it was successfully accomplished, and by the time the visitors arrived everything was in readiness for their reception.

Shortly before 2.30 p.m. the “heroes in blue and grey”, brought by trams specially chartered for the purpose, began to troop in, and in a short time the schoolroom was crowded. It was a thoroughly good-natured company, intent upon making the most of their opportunities; and no time was lost in setting to work. Games and competitions were immediately started, and proceeded merrily, in a cloud of smoke from the cigarettes kindly provided by Mr Tyrrell.

At 4.15 a halt was called whilst preparations were made for tea. There was an adjournment to the church, where, for half an hour, Miss Green, assisted by members of the choir, “discoursed sweet music”. On returning to the Schoolroom the guests were delighted to find that ample provision had been made for their refreshment, and they did full justice to the good things provided.

After tea there was an impromptu concert in which the honours were divided between hosts and guests, selections from “Tom Jones” and other items by the choir being interspersed with “contributions” by the men themselves. It was a thoroughly happy time, and 7 o’clock came all too quickly.

Shortly before the close of the proceedings Mr Rawlinson voiced the general regret that the weather had interfered with the arrangements originally made, but hoped the visitors had all enjoyed themselves; and Mr Harvey expressed the indebtedness of the choir to Mr and Mrs Tyrrell, Mr and Mrs Brain, and other friends for the help they had given with the undertaking. Rousing cheers were given for Mr Harvey, the choir, and all concerned, for the hospitality provided, and after partaking of light refreshments in the shape of fruit, mineral waters, etc, the visitors made their way to the trams that were waiting for them, thoroughly pleased with the good time they had enjoyed.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, July and August 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“No other companion than the spit of rifle bullets”

Officer Sydney Spencer was training in musketry at home, and struggling with giving up smoking – a habit enjoyed by most of his fellow-officers. He wrote to his sister Florence to describe a typical day for him – and his cosy quarters.

Hillsboro Barracks
Sheffield

Jan 23rd 1917

My Dearest Sister

First of all let me say that my cold has entirely vanished & am feeling very well & fit & happy. Also you will be glad to know that I have really absolutely conquered my desire to smoke & have given it up. You know the Dr told me to give it up. Well I found it far easier said than done. I tried cutting myself down & when out in the slush & cold absolutely yearned & yearned for it until I was utterly miserably knuckled under & smoked! Well I got so peevish with myself for not apparently having the will power to give up smoking that I suddenly got up on my [illegible] legs & took & swore a big swear, that I would not smoke another cigarette & that is three days ago. It is such a tragedy that I can’t be writing about it. Now Madame do not laugh at me. It is a tragedy & so you would say too, of you knew what a consolation smoking had become to me. After dinner at night & everyone expands into the smoking attitude both physically & mentally, I simply groan inwardly & look with dumb longing at the fragrant cloud of tobacco coming from my neighbour’s mouth & wish & wish & wish until we rise from dinner when I escape & get something to read, or write to sweet sisters to attract my attention away. There now, what do you think of that for a model confession, and does my sweet content condone with or scold her brer Sydney?

One has a very full day out on snowcapped Derbyshire hills, lately with no other companion than the spit of rifle bullets (we are firing a G. Musketry course & I have 28 men at my firing points) & numbers of grouse. Programme for day: Rise 6.30, Breakfast 7. [Tram] 4 miles, march 4 miles. Firing course & freezing till 2.45. 4 mile march & tram 4 miles home. Evening, making up scores & filling in numerous Army Forms this & Army Forms that. Dinner 7.30. After dinner & delicious warm bath in camp bath, by my fire & snuggle in my armchair in my pyjamas when I write one letter (I am becoming a model letter writer once more), read a little – Black Tulip of Dumas at present, just read ‘Dead Souls’ by Gogol, & Pendennis – Thackeray – & then bed.

I have been much in luck lately. My bare room has become adorned with a large square carpet & a cushioned basketchair. Both from billiard room of mess which has been furnished with Billiard Table & so has no need of carpet & chair. Mother mine is sending me some of my photos of my friends to hang on my walls & that will make them a little less bare than they are at present.

[Letter ends here]

Letter from Sydney Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/8/2/8)