Splendid work with the troops in Maidenhead

Maidenhead Congregational Church, like Broad Street in Reading, provided social facilities for locally stationed soldiers. They encouraged adherence to temperance among the young men.

After a stay of about five months, our soldier guests left Maidenhead on April 19th, and the “Club Room” has been closed. It has been a great pleasure to entertain the men and to provide reading and writing accommodation, and many friendships have been set up, and we trust some Christian influences set in motion, which by God’s grace will not be without fruit. There have been so many willing helpers and contributors that to attempt to indicate them all would be a hopeless task, but we cannot omit to mention the ladies of the “Mending Department” who have been in attendance every evening throughout. An examination of the premises reveals the fact that there has been a certain amount of wear and tear (especially “tear!”) resulting from the military occupation, and we may anticipate that the Town “Soldiers’ Recreation Committee” will make a contribution towards repairs. So ends what has been a most interesting chapter in our history.

The United Temperance Council has done really splendid work at its Saturday night entertainments for the soldiers. It is estimated that upwards of 500 pledges have been taken, and after every allowance has been made for those who were already abstainers, and for some who may have signed more than once, it is evident that a very large number of young men have been influenced for good.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, May 1915 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Continuous demand for books for soldiers

The parishioners of Wokingham St Sebastian are asked for contributions for use by the troops:

War Appeals.

In case anyone is hesitating as to where they can send donations or articles we may mention two appeals which have lately reached us:

1. Hon Ambulance Association ask for ‘clothing, etc., required in hospitals and convalescent homes’.

2. S.P.C.K ask for donations to provide books for our soldiers and sailors. They have already supplied books to the value of £700, and the demand, both at home and at the front, is continuous.

Wokingham St Sebastian parish magazine, March 1915 (D/P154C/28A/1)

Churches crowded

The Sulhamstead parish magazine had some thoughts on the religious response to the war, at home and abroad, as well as reporting news of local soldiers who have been honoured or have fallen:


It is publicly announced that the churches in France are crowded with praying worshippers.

It is with much pleasure and congratulations that are read in the list of men mentioned in dispatches, the name of Lieut. H A Grimshaw, of “The Abbotts”…. Lieut. H A Grimshaw has received his 1st Lieutenancy since his arrival at the Front. The engagement from which this honour has arisen, was the famous attack of the Prussian Guards in November last, when the finest regiment in Germany was hurled against the British Forces.

A handsome Brass has been placed in the chancel of St Michael’s Church by Colonel Thoyts in memory of his son, bearing the following inscription: –

“In loving tribute to the memory of Francis Gordon Thoyts, Major, Somerset Light Infantry (second son of Colonel N B Thoyts, sometime lord of the manor of Sulhamstead), who gave his life for his King and Country at Beauvois in the great war, on August 26th, 1914.”

The Brass was sanctioned by the Archdeacon, instead of incurring the expenses of a faculty.

Lower End Tuesdays at 7 pm
St Michael’s Church Thursdays at 7 pm.

At these services the special form of Litany of Intercession for our cause and our sailors and soldiers will be used. All who have any relations engaged in His Majesty King George’s Service are earnestly invited to attend and join in constant Intercession for them.

Sulhamstead parish magazine, March 1915 (D/EX725/3)

‘Treating’ soldiers with free booze renders them unfit for their great task

The problem of drunken servicemen at home prompted many expressions of concern. One reason for this was the habit of ‘treating’ men to free drinks while home on leave. The following appeal shows the official response, fully backed by the church:

The Bishop of Oxford has requested all Rectors and Vicars to bring home to their parishioners by meetings or otherwise, the following appeal of the leaders of the Navy and Army:

My dear Sir
The late Field-Marshal Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener, Sir John French and Sir John Jellicoe, the Admiral in Command of HM Fleet, have implored the Nation to abstain from treating our sailors and soldiers when preparing for the Front, and those going to and returning from it. May we appeal to you in the Name of Christ and His Church to do all you can to bring home to your parishioners, by meetings or otherwise, the appeal of our leaders? The custom of treating renders our men unfit for their great task and puts a temptation in their way which will hinder the success of their efforts on the Empire’s behalf.

We are, yours very faithfully
C Oxon, President
T H Archer Houblon, Chairman
H Ferris Pike, Diocesan Secretary

Sulhamstead parish magazine, February 1915 (D/EX725/3)

‘Low and unmanly’ attacks by Zeppelins

Sydney Spencer shares his views on aerial warfare, which had just begun to affect England.

20 January 1915

Yesterday night while dark hid them, Zeppelins came to England’s shores and dropped bombs on Yarmouth & Sheringham. It is believed that three people were killed, and a good deal of damage was done to property in the way of broken windows & smashed roofs. What mean warfare this does seem to be. So low & unmanly it seems to attack places which are unprotected, such as Yarmouth. Of course England has gone in for aircraft raids but has only done damage to Zeppelin sheds so far as the papers go.

I had a long conversation [at Pusey House] with a man who was solemnly writing a diary of his adventures at the war. I carefully refrained from mentioning wounds as I expected he might have been asked the same thing a hundred times over. There were three Germans there too, who were very merry and bright & were very happy having a lady talk German with them.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/14)

Thinking of our soldiers in the trenches on Christmas Day

Churchgoers at Charney Bassett and Wargrave were thinking of their men serving in the trenches on Christmas Day:

Charney Bassett
The Services on Christmas Day will be a Holy Communion at 8:300am; Morning Prayer and Holy Communion at 11, and Evensong, with Sermon and Carols at 6pm. May Christmas be a happy one to all. It cannot be a very merry one this year, when we shall be thinking of our soldiers spending Christmas Day, it may be, in the trenches.

We were pretty pleased with our services on Christmas Day in the prettily decorated Churches. The dear old Christmas hymns were nicely sung. There were 43 Communicants, rather fewer than we have sometimes had. Some are away as soldiers, others are ill. The weather was certainly very trying especially for the 7 o’clock Eucharist. The Vicar thinks that it will be best to have the earliest service at St. Peter’s, if he has to officiate next Christmas.

The Convent and House of Mercy at Clewer also saw less Christmas joy than usual:

25 December 1914
Christmas Day. Services as usual, but less of festivity in other ways on account of the war.

Longworth parish magzine, December 1914 (D/EX725/3); Wargrave parish magazine, February 1915 (D/P145/28A/31); Annals of the Community of St John Baptist (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Billetted in a lousy rat-infested hole

William Hallam was shocked to hear from family members how Lockinge and Wantage were billetting soldiers. It might perhaps have been fair preparation for the trenches, but it shows that not everyone was responding to the war with a generous spirit.

A bitterly cold east wind enough to shave any one as the saying is. I got up at ¼ past 8 and by time we had got breakfast and I had done my work it was too late for church. So we lit a fire, and George and I sat talking, in the front room till 1 then we went up to Old Town station and met my bro & wife and we did not have dinner till nearly 2. None of us went out, it was so cold. So we made up a good fire in the sitting room and sat there talking – hearing all the gossip of Lockinge & Wantage and all about the soldiers who had been billeted in Lockinge mostly the H.A.Co. [Honorable Artillery Company] from London, and the Dorset Yeomanry. These soldiers were put in the old tithe barn at Betterton, up at the Bothy, in Kitford Hotel, the golf pavilion, as well as the people’s cottages. The headquarters were in the Rectory. Old Eady as usual acted like a pig, and instead of letting the soldiers be quartered in the clean and warm farm buildings at his house – the Manor Farm, he made the officers take them up to that lousey [sic], rat infested hole at Chalkhill by the Hine Kiln, and down at Goddard barn and in that old Malthouse at East Lockinge.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/22)

The cold makes one think of the soldiers

William Hallam spared a thought for soldiers as the winter advances:

18th November 1914
Colder than ever to-day. It makes one think of our poor soldiers out in the trenches at the front.

Florence Vansittart Neale, meanwhile, saw a friend off to nurse at the Front, and was shocked by new tax increases to finance the war. Supertax was a relatively recent innovation brought in by Lloyd George’s controversial Finance Act of 1909 as a supplement to income tax on annual incomes over £5000 (roughly equivalent to half a million today).

Ag off to France on Saturday…

No particular news. Super tax & income tax doubled!

Bubs was told 60,000 troops were sent to the east coast yesterday.

Diaries of William Hallam (D/EX1415/22) and Florence Vasnsittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Patriotic songs in Longworth

The parishioners of Longworth decided patriotic singing should take the place of their usual programme of winter concerts, as their thoughts were with the village’s young men who had volunteered for active service:

We have not felt it right or seemly to arrange for ordinary entertainments and dances while this terrible war is on us. But Lady Hyde is most kindly in arranging for a Lantern Lecture in the Rectory Barn and for some practices of patriotic songs; and Ambulance classes are being given by Dr. Woodward’s kindness in the Manor Barn for men, and by Mr. Moon for young women in the Rectory Barn. We have also applied for Nursing Lectures for women later on.

Please add the names following to the lists in your Prayer Books of the men who are serving their country in the Army or Navy. This is still far from complete. Soldiers: Charles Painton, Richard Painton, Percy Painton, William Hutt, Reginald Harris, Thomas Sollis, William Furley, James Hale, John Hale, J. Leach. Recruits: William Pimm, S. Pike, James Floyd, Richard Adams, Albert Hughes, Raymond Hobbs, A. Henley. John Loder was wounded but is reported as doing well.

Longworth parish magazine, November 1914 (D/P83/28A/9)

The people of Longworth and Charney support the war effort

Many young men from Longworth and Charney Bassett had answered the call and joined the armed forces. The Longworth parish magazine reports on these men, and what people at home could do to support them:

A poster calling upon us to remember in prayer our soldiers and sailors at the front, also the wounded, the prisoners and the bereaved, has been placed in the Church porch and elsewhere in the village. We hope it may be possible to ring the church bell at noon each day in order to remind us of this call. We shall be joining our prayers with thousands of others offered at the same time in every part of the country.

The names of men who are serving from this village are given, so far as we have been able to get them, below. They will also be found in the Church porch. Perhaps we could copy the list into our books of prayer, and so remember the men individually.

Soldiers- Henry Timms, John Loder, Ernest J. Godfrey, Lewis Brooks, Oscar Wilcox, Charles Truman, Charles Hammond, John K. L. Fitzwilliams.

Sailors- George Painton (North Sea), John Richings (China).

Recruits- Fred Heath, Ernest Ridge, George Pimm (Shorncliff), John Porter, Percy Butler, Alfred Leach, Harry Clarke, Hedley Luckett, Albert Hobbes, Francis John Rivers (Oxford), Richard Adams, Albert Pimm (Weymouth).

From Charney- George Shorter, George Wheeler, Ernest Franklyn.

In addition to the above, six have volunteered and been rejected as “medically unfit.” All honour to them notwithstanding, for they have done their best, and no man can do more. Will our readers be so kind as to help us to make this list complete.

A service of Intercession on behalf of our soldiers and sailors engaged in the war is held each Wednesday at 7pm. The church bell is tolled a few times each day at noon as a call to private prayer on the same behalf. We should remember in our prayers the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa, whose work is carried on chiefly in German territory. The sum of 7s. 8d. was collected in Church on Sunday, August 16, towards the Prince of Wales’ National Defence Fund.

Lady Hyde has kindly taken some “Quiet Afternoons” with the Charney mothers, and supplied them with material for making clothing for the soldiers and sailors.

Longworth parish magazine, October 1914 (D/P83/28A/9)

‘Unhappily he is American!’ – more on the YMCA at Harwich

Sydney Spencer took the opportunity of his 26th birthday to reflect further on his work with the YMCA with soldiers at Harwich, and record his impressions of some of his co-workers – and one ordinary soldier – for posterity. His brother Will, also mentioned here, was a refugee from Germany, where he had been teaching the piano at Cologne Conservatory.

Sunday October 4th
My birthday!…
Dear old Will has just come in to wish me many happy returns & would make me accept a gift of 5s, which I would much rather he had not given me at such a time!…

There is so much about my experiences at Harwich which I want to write on, but as I have written some pages & must just read them over & see what has been left out. I have just read through the 20 pages of my diary at Harwich & find that there are a fair number of little anecdotes which I wanted to chronicle, also I find that I have not written my impressions of Hayes yet, and I promised him he should not be let off but would go down to posterity – or oblivion – according as my diary should [illegible] in the future! I will begin with him first. He is a man 6 ft 2 ins in height; a finely built man, ruddy brown with grey blue eyes & a small moustache. He strikes one as being a splendid specimen of a full grown & well proportioned Englishman. Unhappily he is American! His people left England somewhere about 1727. His parents are missionaries in China. He studied first at a college in America & afterwards as a Rhodes scholar at Merton College, Oxford. He has just finished his course at Oxford taking “greats”. He is a Leander Club man, & just missed getting his “blue” for the sake of getting “Greats”. In fact in Oxford the name “John Hayes” of Merton was a name of one of the “Bloods” of Oxford. He was a remarkably refined and sensitive man. He was alive to every wind of thought, & his sarcasm was of that refined & polished order which made me almost long to offend him so as to be subjected to some of his sarcasm. I used to just hug myself with delight when I saw him put on a lazy sleepy expression for I knew then that the game was up and someone was in for it. The fun he had in his “study” of the officers was delicious & I can see him now marching up and down our marquee with his fingers on his chin or viciously biting his little fingernail, thinking out in the dim light of our post-9.30 candle, just precisely the right message & its exact wording to boot which he should send over to the mess the next morning in return for a rather enigmatic one received by us during the evening…

After I had played at the service in the Co-operative Hall on the first Sunday night I was there, on coming into the body of the hall I was accosted by one of Kitchener’s men who wanted me to have a cup of tea with him at his expense, as a mark of his appreciation of my work. This of course I willingly did & we drank mutual goodwill to each other in cups of tea. I was delighted with this expression of his goodwill. On the night of our concert, that is the Wednesday night, after the preparations for the concert had been made, I found at 6.45 that the tent was already filling with men, while I was in a desperately begrimed condition & needed to find a place to wash & clean myself up. This operation had to take place on the concert platform & I had the curious experience of making my ablutions before an audience of some thirty or forty men! In the middle of these ablutions Captain Watson walked in & chuckled with delight over my idea for footlights, which by the way if I have not before mentioned it were 8 or ten candles placed in saucers on a form.

Dr Marks whom I mentioned in connection with Gravel Hill was a dear old man. A child psychologist – I think a professor of Sheffield University, he had a very beautiful character, & spent himself in his eagerness to do all he could in this YMCA work.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

Soldiers drunk at home and falling back abroad

William Hallam of Swindon observes some bad behaviour among the soldiers billetted locally, while Florence Vansittart Neale was following the war news closely while making Bisham Abbey ready for wounded soldiers:

3 September 1914

William Hallam
Marj. went to Wantage to-day. I met her at station to-night at ½ past 9. While I was waiting for the train at the bottom of the steps, 4 soldiers went up on the platform to go on duty as drunk as anything.

Florence Vansittart Neale
Chintz room ready – 5 beds….

Lord A. puts faith in Russians! So do I.

Germans getting nearer Paris – taken Amiens – Allies’ line falling back but not broken. We capture 10 guns. Fine cavalry charge. Wounded arriving. No news in papers of Russians but believe it is true.

Diaris of William Hallam (D/EX1415/22) and Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)