War between Germany and the USA is in the balance

Will Spencer was still trying to find out news of young family friend Max Ohler, a German soldier reported missing. He was pleased to hear from younger brother Sydney, dong well in army training, but was now well settled in Swiss society. Back in England, Florence Vansittart Neale was keenly interested in the prospects of the US joining the war. Johann von Bernstorff was the German ambassador to America and had been involved in sabotage and intelligence work there, and had just been thrown out.

Will Spencer in Switzerland
12 February 1917

A letter from Sydney. Hopes that we may obtain news of Max Ohler from the War Office Prisoners of War Department, which can find out more than any single enquirer can. He enjoys reading my accounts of Switzerland. Has just passed the exam for “Marksman” with 135 points out of 160 (or something of that sort), none of the 28 men he took up with him scoring more than 113. (130 was required to pass.)…

At 5 I called again on Herrn Fursprecher Hodler (by appointement). My obtaining leave to declare a smaller amount of Kriegsteuer [war tax], after signing for 500 fr., dependent of goodwill of the official concerned, but I might make the attempt. An income of 4,800 fr. represents normally a capital of 120,000 francs, for which the tax would be (class 110,000-120,000) 275 francs. I handed in my short sketch of my career, & signed a declaration which he drew up, that military duty “[illegible word] meinem Falle nicht in Betracht” [is out of the question in my case].

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey
12 February 1917

Took dogs a walk again in afternoon – discussed War Savings & digging with Martin & Willie.

Bernstorff given safe conduct. So Gerard left Germany – war with US in the balance. Ag went to Boulogne.

We continually advancing on Somme & Avere. Constant raids.

Diaries of Will Spencer, 1917 (D/EX801/27); and Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

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Six months on the Somme underage

Florence Vansittart Neale and William Hallam came from different backgrounds, but both their daughters were affected by the war. Phyllis Vansittart Neale, now 25, was nursing, while the teenage Muriel Hallam’s boyfriend had been called up, having already seen service underage.

Florence Vansittart Neale
9 January 1917

Got telegram from Phyllis, arrived Monday night in London – crossing 5.45. Henry went to [illegible] & on to London, & came down same train. I met them at Maidenhead on my way from Polly….
Phyllis seemed very well, except chilblains on her hand.

William Hallam
9th January 1917

Poor Muriel’s sweet-heart Frank Brittain has been called up again for the Army. He had 6 months on the Somme and was then claimed by his father as under 18. Now he is 18 this last week & has to join up again.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

“Before the sun sets, the man whom you wish to help may have passed away from earth and from the reach of your help”

The Church of England Men’s Society helped support soldiers by their work (alongside similar organisations) providing places of rest and recreation behind the lines.

C.E.M.S.
S. Giles Branch

A Meeting of the branch will be held in the parish room, on Tuesday, December 12th at 8.30 p.m., to consider the report of the Annual Conference. Any member wishing to read the report before that meeting, I would be pleased to send a copy.

The Archbishop of York appeals for subscriptions for more huts for our troops. Lieut. Stanley, the agent in charge of the C.E.M.S. on the western front, speaking at the Manchester Conference, said,

“You as a society have provided a most noble work in providing huts at the front, a long chain of huts from Ypres in the north to the banks of the Somme in the south. You were asked to provide a sum of £12,000. Up to date, September 27th, you have provided £16,180. I am going to ask you to double those figures. We have been asked to supply 80 huts at once. The huts are essential. Do not delay. Before the sun sets, the man whom you wish to help may have passed away from earth and from the reach of your help.”

The President of the Reading federation, the Rev.F.J.C. Gillmor, will be pleased to receive subscriptions for the above, or may be sent to the hon. Secretary of the branch,

H.J. HILDERLEY, 65 Pell Street.

Reading St Giles parish magazine, December 1916 (D/P96/28A/33)

Japanese attaches to visit the Somme

Japan had been allied with Great Britain since 1902, and during World War I they fought the Germans in the latter’s imperial possessions in the Far East. Captain, later Admiral, John Donald Kelly (1871-1936)

27 September 1916

We motored to [the] James – found her & Nina in. He goes to the Somme with Japanese attache’s…

Splendid victories Anglo-French….

Captain K[elly] gone to Scapa in new boat “Weymouth”.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Tremendous fighting

Florence Vansittart Neale was excited by the latest news from the Somme.

27 July 1916
All Pozieres taken by us. Tremendous fighting.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Australians wounded at the Somme

Still on holiday in Kent, the Vansittart Neales visited a war hospital run by the Red Cross in Sandgate, near Folkestone.

26 July 1916
Henry & I went to the Bevan Hospital – saw Australians just back from the Somme.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Brilliant gains

Florence Vansittart Neale was excited by the latest from the Somme.

15 July 1916

Brilliant gains. W. Kent rescued after 48 hours surrounded by Germans – they held on….

German 2nd line forced.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Pushing on

There was renewed optimism from Florence Vansittart Neale about the success of the Battle of the Somme.

13 July 1916

Our troops doing very well – pushing on.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Parcels for prisoners

The Battle of the Somme continued – as Florence Vansittart Neale sent some home comforts to PoWs.

11 July 1916

I packed up prisoners’ parcels.

Our push continued.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Heavy losses feared

William Hallam had a house guest, while Florence Vansittart Neale was now worried about the cost of the Battle of the Somme.

William Hallam, 9th July 1916
This gap in my diary was through Heysham, a friend of my sister & her husband, coming and staying with us. He is a most intelligent fellow on India generally having been brought up there and taking a great interest in the people, customs, flora & fauna of the country. Indeed I never enjoyed a man’s conversation so much. It was 11 o’clock every night before we got to bed and he monopolised all my evenings which is the only leisure I have. He was a devil of an expense tho’, everything is so dear and we had to do him well as he is in a prominent position out there. He left us last Wednesday to take on War Work on aeroplanes.

Florence Vansittart Neale, 9 July 1916
Push going on. Fear heavy losses.

Diaries of William Hallam (D/EX1415/24); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Still good news from France

Florence Vansittart Neale still thought the Battle of the Somme was going well.

6 July 1916
Still good news from France – we have more than 6000 prisoners.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Advance continuing

Florence Vansittart Neale was cheered by the news from the Somme.

3 July 1916

Went to Church Army about prisoners of war. Gave cheque for H & me….

Advance still going on. We had over 3000 prisoners. One battalion surrendered entirely! Germans attacking us strongly – we pushing on, & French too – combined attack.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“You will be proud of our boys when I tell of the splendid way they went over the top”

The first bloody day of the Battle of the Somme”>Battle of the Somme was described to Earley churchgoers by one of their lads who was wounded that day.

The Great Attack of July 1st

One of our old CLB and Sunday School boys now wounded writes:

My wound is most serious and I progress favourably. I still have bullet in my leg though, but am going to have it taken out soon. You will be proud of our boys when I tell of the splendid way they went over the top. We had a busy and sleepless night on the Friday. We all knew what the morrow meant, and were waiting in eager anticipation of coming to grips: it is a feeling which comes over you suddenly and makes you see red. Well, we saw red.

At 7.30 our colonel blew the whistle, and the line advanced. It was splendid; looking right and left, one could see a single even line “charging” at the walk. We were the first line over. Their artillery had been smashed by ours before, but oh! the machine gun fire we came under was hell itself, and we suffered.

When we got to the German line the enemy dead were piled in heaps; the sight was awful, but our boys stuck it and were just as though on the parade ground. It was a spirit never to be forgotten. We had captured three of their lines before I was hit. It was bloody work indeed, they do not like our bayonet at all, and I managed to get back to our lines after two hours struggle for the German machine gunners are cowards; if they saw a wounded man crawling back to safety, or in a shell hole, they would train their guns on him and give him an unpleasant time. This was one of my experiences; I got through though.

A Newbury man was among the many reported missing:

We deeply regret to hear that 2nd Lieut. Basil Henry Belcher has been reported missing in France after an attack on July 1st.

Meanwhile Florence Vansittart Neale was optimistic back home in Bisham.

1 July 1916
The great push began – we took La Boiselle. Going on well.

Earley parish magazine, September 1916 (D/P192/28A/14); Newbury parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P89/28A/13); Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)