Armageddon

The vicar of Wargrave set out his view son the war and the future.

Armageddon:

When this Magazine is printed and issued we may know a great deal more about the fortunes of the great battles on the Western Front, but at present the whole weight of the German offensive has been hurled against the British line. Vast numbers of men have been concentrated so as to give the enemy a great preponderance on particular sections. Our men have everywhere fought with the utmost gallantry for long hours, they have borne up against almost impossible odds, they have exacted a heavy toll for any tract of ground that they have yielded. But, at the moment, the enemy has broken through the defensive line which was held when the battle began on March 21st and the breach which was made south of St Quentin, has enforced a retirement of the whole line. At one point the withdrawal has been for a distance of fifteen miles. Our armies now hold the line running due south from the Scarpe, reaching the Somme near Peronne. We have given up about two-thirds of the country evacuated by the enemy over a year ago. The spirit of our men is magnificent, their confidence unshaken, their line is not pierced. That is the position so far as we know it this morning, March 25th 1918.

There is nothing in life so uncertain as the fortunes of War. We pray to God for victory and we pray that in His mercy He will give us a speedy and decisive victory. We are praying for such an issue to the War as shall advance His kingdom. But victory may be long delayed; we may yet have to sustain more serious trials than any that have at present befallen us. Let us then be strong and of a good courage. The fortune of war is uncertain, but there is no uncertainty about the ultimate issue. God overrules all things in heaven and earth. He is working His purpose out. He calls men to co-operate with Him, allows us men to be fellow workers with Him, He, who gave men freewill, allows men also to obstruct His purpose by their gainsaying wickedness. But no creature can frustrate His purpose. The time may be long, as we reckon history, but the issue is certain. His Kingdom will come and the earth shall be full of knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

We are fighting against forces which are ranged with the world, the flesh, and the devil to win dominion by blood and iron. Such an empire is clean contrary to the Kingdom of God. It abuses power for such oppression as is seen in Belgium, Servia, and Armenia to-day. It may have its day as other empires of the world have done. It was long before Pharoah let the people go, but the night came when the Lord brought them out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm.

So whatever may befall us in the uncertain ebb and flow of battle fortunes, we have set our feet upon a rock. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom”.

Wargrave parish magazine, April 1918 (D/P145/28A/31)

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“Were it not for the sake of those he has left behind, he would have wished for nothing better than to offer his life to others”

There was news of several men from Earley.

With the pleasure of meeting again some of our soldiers – in particular Sergt-Major Rider and Sergt. Woodin, both of whom are recovering from wounds, Albert Earley, R E Edwin Goddard (ASC) and Aubrey Grinsted – comes the news of the death of acting Sergt- Major William Love killed in action. It seems but a short time since his brother Leonard gave his life fighting in the East. William Love, one of our old guild boys, was with us some months ago when last on leave. He was a magnificent type of an English soldier, of great strength and height, and a gentleness and goodness of heart that attracted every one who knew him. He died instantaneously leading his men. His father and sister here know how much we mourn with them his loss.

We regret very much to have to record another loss. Frank Gosling, of the West Surreys, is report missing, but believed to be killed by shell-fire. Our memories of him take us back to early days, to acting and all the social amusements of St Pancras Guild during Mr Haines lifetime; and latterly, whenever there was any Christmas entertainment, and help wanted, it was to Frank Gosling that we turned. Always looking on the bright side of life, his extraordinary gift of cheerfulness and kindness made him greatly beloved of all who knew him. And were it not for the sake of those he has left behind, he would have wished for nothing better than to offer his life to others.

Besides those of our soldiers mentioned, we have had the pleasure of seeing Mr Lewis Hawkes, who after a year’s service on the Somme has been offered a commission; also our choirman Mr F C Goodson, and his son Mr George Goodson.

Earley St Nicolas parish magazine December 1917 (D/P192/28A/14)

A chum he last saw on the banks of the Somme

A friend of the Hallams had an unexpected reunion while home on leave, while a maid at Bisham Abbey had suffered a family bereavement.

William Hallam
25th November 1917

Up at ¼ to 7. Emptied the bath, lit fire and went to H.C. at St. Paul’s at 8. A bitter cold wind. I also went down to the XI [11 o’clock] Service with Muriel & Frank Britten. Coming out of church he met an army chum of his – a St. Paulite – Richards whom he last saw on the banks of the Somme.

Florence Vansittart Neale
25 November 1917

Colonel Wells to lunch about soldiers for allotments….

Annie off home, her brother killed.

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

Dandelions and devastation

Members of the Broad Street Brotherhood, the men’s group at Broad Street Congregational Church in Reading were supporting the war effort in whatever ways they could; and also helping civilians in the devastated occupied regions. Regional rivalry came into play, with the men not wanting to show up poorly in comparison with Basingstoke.

BROTHERHOOD NOTES

Some of our members have intimated a desire to start a War Savings Association in connection with our Brotherhood, similar to what is being done at other Brotherhoods and churches up and down the country.

The matter has been carefully considered by a small sub-committee, and it is felt that it is hardly necessary to open a fresh savings department, but any member can purchase these War Savings Certificates through our already existing Savings Bank.

We most strongly recommend these war savings certificates to the earnest attention of every member as not only are they financially sound, but each one purchased is directly helping our country to victory.

Brother Hendey will be pleased to give particulars and carry through any transaction.

We take this opportunity of thanking many of our brothers who have during the past months loyally and painstakingly worked to keep the allotments in order for the brothers who are at the Front.

This has been a fine example of practical brotherhood work.

It is our sad duty to have to record the death of our Brother Frank Ward, who made the supreme sacrifice for us in France just recently.

He is the fourth member of our Brotherhood who has given his life for his country.

BROTHERHOOD CONTINENTAL RELIEF

Our constituency will no doubt be interested in the movement in Reading in aid of sufferers by the war in France and Belgium, which has been initiated by the Broad Street Brotherhood.

Their object is to supplement the efforts now being made in other towns, and in the colonies (and in continuation of efforts previously made) to express the Christian sympathy which exists towards those victims who, although innocent, have suffered acutely through the war. The National Brotherhood Council are aiming at a contemplated relief fund of £20, 000, a very large part of which has already been subscribed. The Brotherhoods of Canada have sent large sums, as well as London and the great centres of industrial life in England. It is believed that Reading will not want to take second position to Basingstoke, where the generous promise of £100 in cash, besides clothing, books, etc, has been made. It is proposed to collect both in cash and kind.

In several of the large townships of Northern France and Belgium the civil population is in rags. For instance Lille (the Manchester of France), having been in the occupation of Germany for 2 ½ years, has had no chance whatever of providing her people with clothing, even if they had the means to purchase. Clothing, boots (cast off or new), seeds, blankets, or anything of portable, useful and lasting character will be acceptable, and later on fruit trees.

A witness on the spot (Near the Somme) says “the fruit trees, large and small, are ruined; but little remains of pleasing appearance except dandelions, and they cover desolation almost everywhere.” A large town (about the size of Reading) had not a roof left whole upon any one building. In a report given to headquarters he said there was no accommodation for men whatsoever (not even for a pig) except in the cellars of ruined houses, such as he then lived (slept) in personally.

The country people, who crowded into the towns, had to hurriedly vacate their homes which were in the path of the then advancing enemy, and could only carry what they stood upright in. They have had no chance, many of them, since to return; and if they had done so they would have found (as some did) that not a tree in the garden, not a vestige of furniture or other property, and a ruin of the actual building. The writer of the foregoing testimony says that for 9 weeks he never saw a civilian (man, woman or child) although frequently on the move, and for long distances.

Wood houses are being prepared in sections in this country for the purpose of being despatched to Northern France and Belgium directly the way opens, and facilities for this purpose have been promised by the governments of Great Britain and France as soon as possible. A wood house thus prepared can be erected by a few men, within a day, upon arrival at its destination, and its total cost would be about £40. Who will buy one for “La belle France”?

Interested readers can secure further information by sending two penny stamps to The National Brotherhood Offices, 37 Norfolk Street, London WC2, when they should ask for a pamphlet entitled “The story of Lille and its associations with the Brotherhood Movement”. This pamphlet describes the Brotherhood Crusade of 1909 AD and the practical relief already given. Locally, every church, adult school and Christian Society in Reading will be asked later on to join hands with the relief committee connected with Broad Street Men’s Brotherhood, whose secretary, Mr WA Woolley, 85 Oxford Road, Reading, is associated with Bros Mitchell, Hendey and Harper in this great work.

Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, September 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

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)

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)