“Such was his enthusiasm that he was led to write war verses with a view to stimulating the slacker”

Here we learn of the war experiences of some of the Old Boys of St Bartholomew’s Grammar School, Newbury, who had lost their lives.

In Memoriam.

In reporting the deaths of the following Old Newburians, we take this opportunity of expressing our most sincere sympathy with the bereaved friends and relations.

N. G. Burgess.

Croix De Guerre

Lieutenant Nathaniel Gordon Burgess, Croix De Guerre, R.N.R., entered the N.G.S. in April, 1901, and left at Christmas, 1906, from the South House. He obtained his place in both the second Cricket and Football elevens in 1903 and got into both firsts in his last year. On leaving school he entered the Civil Service, but subsequently turned to the Mercantile Marine. His connection with the Senior Service dates from April, 1915, when his offer of service was accepted and he was granted the commission of Sub.-Lieutenant. The following September he was promoted to Acting Lieutenant and posted to H.M.S Conquest. While serving under the then Commodore Tyrrwhit he had the good fortune to capture two German trawlers laden with munitions; and the telegrams of congratulations, both from his Commanding Officer and the Admiralty, together with the battered flag of one of the trawlers, were among his most cherished possessions. The posthumous award of the Croix de Guerre was conferred on him by the French Government for his gallantry in the naval action off Lowestoft, in July 1916, when a German shell entered one of the magazines of his ship. Fortunately the shell did not immediately explode, and, by flooding the magazine compartment, the gallant officer prevented what might have been serious damage, his action being regarded very highly by the authorities.. thus it was a very promising life which was cut short when at the age of twenty-six, Burgess was lost at sea in March of this year.

J. V. Hallen.

Corporal John Vernie Hallen, School House 1905-1908, was born in 1894 and received his preliminary education at College House, Hungerford, thence going to The Ferns, Thatcham, from which school he finally came to the N.G.S., getting into both the Cricket and Football Seconds in 1907. After leaving here he became an expert motor engineer, from which occupation he joined up early in the war, determined at all costs to uphold the honour of his country. Such was his enthusiasm that he was led to write war verses with a view to stimulating the slacker, which we understand to have been always well received, and in the meanwhile he found time to use his great physical strength in winning the heavy weight boxing championship of his regiment, the 1st Surrey Rifles. Such was the man who was killed in action in France some three months ago.

F. C. Mortimer.

Private Frederick C. Mortimer, South House 1910-1915, who was reportedly killed in action “in the Field,” on Friday the 26th of April, was exactly nineteen years and four months old on the day of his death. He took a keen enjoyment in outdoor sport and got into the Second Cricket Eleven in 1914, while his dash was quite a feature of the First Fifteen in his last year here. Always cheerful and amusing, he was generally liked in his form and took his school life with a lightheartedness that made it well worth living. His last letter to his parents was dated on the day of his death, from France, whither he was drafted on the first of last February, after a year’s training at Dovercourt and Colchester. We cannot but feel that he died as he had lived, quickly and cheerfully.

R. Cowell-Townshend.

Second Lieutenant Roy Cowell-Townshend, R.A.F., Country House 1913-1916, was a promising Cricketer, having played for the first eleven both in 1915 and in his last term. On leaving school he wished to become an electrical engineer and entere4d into apprenticeship with Messrs. Thornycroft, on June 1st, 1916. Having reached the age of eighteen, he was called to the colours on February 17th, 1917, and went into training on Salisbury Plain, quickly gaining a stripe and the Cross Guns of the marksman. Soon afterwards he was drafted to the R.F.C. as a Cadet and went to Hursley Park for his course. From here he went first to Hastings and then to Oxford when, having passed all his exams, he was granted his commission on December 7th, 1917. He then went to Scampton, Lincoln, where he qualified as a Pilot, and afterwards to Shrewsbury, where he was practicing with a Bombing Machine he was to take on to France. Every report speaks of him as having been a most reliable pilot, and he had never had an accident while in this position, nor even a bad landing, and at the time of his death he was acting as passenger. The fatal accident occurred on May 29th, 1918, the machine, which the instructor was piloting, having a rough landing, and Townshend being pitched forward and killed instantaneously. His body was brought to his home at Hungerford, where he was buried with military honours on June 3rd.

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

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“Wounded in the back. Hope it is not serious. Poor boy”

Elisabeth, a German relative of Johanna’s had been visiting Will and Johanna Spencer in Switzerland. She was planning to sneak some gifts through customs inspection. This ruse proved successful and the gifts passed muster when Elisabeth returned to Germany on the 29th.

Will Spencer
21 June 1918

During the afternoon Johanna was wearing the shawl which she is asking Elisabeth to take with her for Mutter [Mother]. She wears it, in order that it may have a better chance of passing the Customs House as a worn article of apparel. Johanna also dried some lemon peel today, for Elisabeth to take with her.

Joan Daniels
June 21st Friday

Mummie had a PC from Gerlad saying that they had received a telegram from the War Office to say that Leslie [McKenzie] was wounded in the back. Hope it is not serious. Poor boy.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26); and Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

The honourable list of those who have laid down their lives for their country and the right

A Burghfield woman volunteered to help behind the lines in wartorn Serbia.

THE WAR

Honours and Promotions

Mr J Rapley has been appointed “Warrant Mechanician” (HMS Superb)

Casualties

Captain G O W Willink, MC, 2/4th Berks, killed in action, 28th March

Private J W Cox, 1st Royal Berks, died under operation for wounds (April)

William Duffin, Royal Berks, died in hospital (pneumonia)

Albert Hathaway, Royal Berks, killed in action

Corporal Arthur J Pearse, 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, wounded (April)

The parish will have learnt with sorrow that Captain George Willink was on 5th April reported “missing, believed killed, 23-3-18”. No further official notification has been published at the time of writing; but a telegram has been received from records, and private inquiries confirm it, removing all hope. His name must therefore be added to the honourable list of those who have laid down their lives for their country and the right. A fuller statement will be made in the June Magazine. Meanwhile his father and the family are well assured that they have the sympathy of all their neighbours in this fresh trouble.

Mrs Howard, so well known in the parish for her good work at Holiday House and with the Boy Scouts, has gone out as a motor driver with the Scottish Women’s Unit in Serbia. We wish her a safe return.

Burghfield parish magazine, May 1918 (D/EX725/4)

“We are enemy aliens”

Cookham-born expat Will Spencer’s German wife Johanna, living with him in Switzerland, missed her family very much. In the autumn of 1917, she hoped it might be possible to meet up with her sister Agnes.

29 September 1917

Johanna having received a letter from [her sister Agnes] yesterday, in which she said that she had heard from the Ohlers, who had heard it from Herrn Rob. Loeliger, in Frankfurt, that persons were allowed to cross from Rheinfelden to Badisch Rheinfelden on showing an Ausweis, asked whether Johanna could not meet her at the other side of the bridge. I despatched a telegram to Agnes for Johanna after breakfast – “Es is nur unmoglich Inez (i.e. Agnes) aufzusuchen”. (We are not Swiss that have business that calls them to the German side of the river, but “enemy aliens”.).

At 4 we had tea … [with friends] to meet Frau de S., a Polish lady, a daughter of a Prince L., who has visited Rheinfelden regularly for 18 years. She lost her only daughter in 1911, her only son in the war.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/27)

So the war takes toll of England’s best

Tribute is paid to a fallen soldier from Reading, a young man with much to offer his community.

In Memoriam
Wilfred Wallace Drake.

The sad news that our loved friend and brother, Lieut. Wilfred Drake, had died on August 16th, from severe wounds received in action that day, has cast quite a gloom over Trinity. It came to all who knew him as a shock of personal and poignant grief. He was so essentially a vital part of the work here that, in his passing, we have sustained a grievous loss. He was perhaps the one to whom some of us were looking to come back into the Church life and, in his inimitable way, to infuse fresh life and vigour into its various activities. It is a great blow to feel that this cannot be.
In thinking over his life, three characteristics stand out in impressive prominence.

1. His Splendid Keenness.

With what tremendous energy and enthusiasm he threw himself into any job he undertook, great or small. Shall we ever forget the eagerness with which he championed the scheme for the entertaining of Kitchener’s Army in 1914-15, and with what joyful willingness he gave up many an evening to this work? Of him it may be truly said – “No duty could over task him, No need his will outrun; Or ever our lips could ask him, His hands the work had done.”

2. His Gentility.

He was of a particular happy disposition, and his spirits were so infectious a nature that he made everyone else interested and enthusiastic. Whether it were the Children’s Choir, the Eisteddfod, an Institute picnic or tennis tournament, it went if “Drake” had anything to do with it. So great was his influence that even his telegram of good wishes for the success of the Eisteddfod of 1916 gave fresh Zest to the proceedings.

3. His Earnestness.

With all his spirits, his deep thoughtfulness impressed all who were privileged with his close friendship. He scarcely ever missed attendance at the Institute Bible School, and was of enormous help getting in other young men to join. They came at first at his word and because he was there; they stopped because they liked it, again helped by his unconscious influence. He was a simple but strong faith; he did not say much but lived out what he believed.

His activities were many and in all he excelled. From its commencement the institute owed much to his initiative and enterprise. For four years he was the superintendent of the Band of Hope, where his bright personality made him the life and soul of every meeting. The training of the children’s choir was a truly great piece of work, and not only revealed his wonderful aptitude for teaching children, but was the means by which large sums were raised for charitable objects. And how the children loved him! They will long revere the memory of their good natured and painstaking conductor, to whose careful tuition many of them owe their musical powers to-day. In the Choir he was invaluable. Possessing a baritone voice of rare quality and resonance, he was a decided acquisition, and his attendance could always be relied upon. Again, his glad willing spirit readily undertook any required service.

Lieutenant Drake received his commission over two years ago, and had been in France since June, 1916. He came home on leave only a month before his death. How little did we, who so gladly welcomed his presence at church, think it was for the last time! He was attached to a Trench Mortar Battery. Numerous are the tributes which have been received showing the deep affection and profound esteem entertained for him.

Through the kindness of Mrs. Drake we are able to print two of them.

His Commanding Officer writes:-

“I have just heard that your husband has died of wounds. I cannot say how sorry we all were. Although he had been away with the trench mortars, he of course belonged to the Regiment, and had been with us for some time. He was one of the bravest and most promising of officer’s, and his loss is greatly felt in the Regiment. Please accept my deepest sympathy and that of all ranks of the Battalion in your great loss.”

The second is from A/Sergt.-Major Holmes, and it is signed by many of the of lieut. Drake’s own Battery. It is as follows:-

“I write to you these few lines of sympathy on behalf the loss of your husband, Lieutenant Drake was, who was an officer in our Battery, and I must say that he was very much liked indeed by all N.C.O’s. and men. It is now we miss him, and many a time I have heard my men say, ‘Isn’t it a pity we lost Mr. Drake?’ And I am sure it is also, for I, as well as all the others, was always fond of such a brave and noble officer as he proved himself to be.

The following are names of the N.C.O.’s and men who came out of the last action; they all asked me to write, and all send their deepest sympathy to you, the wife of a noble Officer of the British Army.”

So the war takes toll of England’s best, and when it claimed Wilfred Drake, it took one whose life would have enriched our land wherever it had been lived. Yet he is not dead, for that spirit cannot die. For us its memory will never fade, but will live as an inspiration to all who knew and loved it, and “the friendships thus made in God will grow through a;; eternity” till we meet before the great white throne and all “the shadows flee away.”

But what of his loss to his loved ones? To his young wife, whose joyful wedding lingers still in all memories, our hearts go out in tender thought, and to her and to his parents, mourning the loss of their only son, we offer our heartfelt sympathy, praying that God of all consolation may comfort their hearts.

On Sunday morning, August 26th, the choir sang very impressively “What are these?” (Stainer), and Mr. Goodenough played “O rest in the Lord. ”At the Bible School in the afternoon.” Mr Streeter made feeling reference to our great loss, and a vote of condolence with Mrs. Drake and the bereaved parents was passed. Mr. E.C. Croft gave a beautiful rendering of R.L. Stevenson’s “Requiem.”

Trinity Congregational Magazine, October 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

“I never had a more wretched holiday in my life”

Percy Spencer had hoped to see sister Florence when he was home on leave, but his plans went awry when he overslept.

June 6, 1916
My dear WF

From what mother says, you didn’t hear from me until Tuesday after I should have arrived. Did you get my telegram on Saturday?

Mother has sent me a heartbreaking account of your tea making against my arrival, and a stomaching account of the delicacies I was to have had.

I never had a more wretched holiday in my life. Everything went wrong with it.

[Censored]

All the same I was very lonely, and glad to get back to my office chums on Friday. That’ll give you an idea of how I enjoyed myself!
Under the circumstances it was only fitting that Mrs C should declare her ignorance of my intended visit to Cambridge and allow me to sleep until half the day was gone.

I’ll continue tomorrow.

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/5/17)

No April fooling in the shadow of air raids

Air raids were a worrying experience for people at home – even if they were not directly affected.

Florence Vansittart Neale
1 April 1916

Papers & letters very late owing to Zepps – big raid over east coast. 5 Zepp: altogether. One brought down in Thames – crew captured….

Wire saying Bubs safe at Boulogne. Also letter from her from Folkestone.

Community of St John Baptist
1 April 1916

Air raid during past night in some parts of the country. Stricter orders as to lights.

William Hallam
1st April 1916

I had just gone up to bed at 10 last night when the hooter blew a Zepp warning but still, I was not at all anxious but got into bed and went to sleep although the rest were nervous. No April fooling here now to-day.

To night I put 4£ in P. B. bank and 15/6 in War Saving Certif.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5);
Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/24)

Germans jeer at drowning victims

Elizabeth “Bubbles” Vansittart Neale, set out for France, where she was going to nurse wounded soldiers. The Revd Edward Lyttelton, referred to here, was the headmaster of Eton, and was forced to resign after stating that peace terms should be generous towards the Germans.

30 March 1916

Bubs off too early for us to go up. 9.5 at Charing X. Most disappointing!… Bubs leaving for 7 months in France with 5 other pro’s… Had wire from Bubs, sleeping day, Folkestone that night…

Liner sank. Over 100 drowned. German submarine crew looked on & jeered!!

Dr Lyttelton’s sermon much criticized.

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

To France on Tuesday

Elizabeth “Bubbles” Vansittart Neale asked her parents for permission to go abroad as a nurse:

24 March 1916

Harding came breathless in the middle [of a golf game], said tel: from Miss Elizabeth. Could she go to France on Tuesday!! Agreed.

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

An American Spiritualist’s presence of mind saves the dispatches

Ralph Glyn’s sister Meg Meade wrote to him optimistically after a disappointing Christmas. She had seen one of the patriotic/propaganda films which were circulating, and also had a remarkable story to tell about the American woman who saved British secret papers when the ship she was travelling on was captured. Charlotte Herbine was a leading Spiritualist – a phenomenon of the period in Britain and the US. Although she was a neutral American, her sympathies were firmly pro-British, and she sponsored a war hospital in London named for her “spirit guide”, Dr Coulter, which was next door to the American Embassy. She was clearly a lady of great resolve and character. Perhaps her experience running seances had developed a gift in misdirection which helped on this occasion.

Dec 29th [1915]
23 Wilton Place

My own darling Ralph

I wonder if this can reach you to wish you a very happy New Year darling, & all the best things in the world for 1916. Today I feel that victory must be in sight now that the Government have really faced that we must have conscription, & it is splendid, isn’t it? Xmas wasn’t Xmas this year, but a dismal caricature. On the very day I was to have taken the babies to Peter[borough], Mother sent me a telephone message to say her kitchenmaid has just developed measles so of course we couldn’t go, & I did feel miserable…

John went to a Medical Board on Dec. 23rd who found that the holes in his back are no better now than when he left hospital in the end of October! So they gave him another month. But it doesn’t prevent him from shooting every day, & they are having a happy time together….

The great bit of news in the Meade family circle is that Cecil is going Commander in Chief at Portsmouth next March! He came to London 23rd to 28th Dec. to fix it up, & he returned to “Madeira” till the end of Feb. when he comes south again for a month’s leave before taking on Portsmouth on March 5th. Of course he is quite inconsolable that he is not afloat but still I am so glad he’s got the billet if it’s only for the sake of Addie & the boys. But of course he’ll find it difficult to collect the cheery sort of Staff that he’ll want, because all the best men are afloat, & naturally wish to remain so…

Aubrey Smith took me this afternoon to a Cinematograph show at the Empire, all about soldiers training to start with, & then there was an interval during which Arthur Balfour came on the stage & began his speech by saying “Though I am unaccustomed to this stage of operations”, loud laughter & applause, & he went on to explain what the being of the Grand Fleet meant to everyone, & put it very well, & then followed a wonderful show of portions of the Grand Fleet at sea, & the sea was rough in some! Queen Elizabeth came in for a lion’s share, the photographer must have lived on board, & then we saw a lot of the Iron Duke too, & light cruisers, destroyers, mine sweepers etc etc.

I was very amused at your indignation about Mr Jack Wilson having been collared on the Greek boat by the Huns. All sorts of rumours flew about London about that adventure. First we heard that the bag of important despatches had only “been saved by the resource & presence of mind of an American lady”. Lucky that skirts are wide nowadays! And it turns out that the American lady is no other than the great Mrs Herbine! Does that convey anything to you? Perhaps as you don’t live in such proper spirituelle circles as I do! her fame may not have reached you. Mrs Herbine is the medium of Dr Coulter, who is the spirit of 10 combined famous Americans! (Some spirit!) A large “circle” attend her weekly sceances [sic] when Dr Coulter will only communicate if the circle sit round a table with the white tablecloth & fruit on the table, also flowers! Lord Sandwich is a prominent figure in the circle.

Apparently the King of Greece is also a member of the circle, & Mrs Herbine had just been to Athens to tell Tino from Dr Coulter that he must do whatever the Allies wanted him to do! & she was returning to England on the same Greek boat that carried Mr Wilson & the dispatch bags. Mrs Herbine was on deck when the submarine was sighted. She hurried down to Mr Wilson & said, If you give me the bag of important dispatches, I will see that they reach the War Office in London alright. She also told him to write out some false cipher telegrams, put them in his other bag, & throw it overboard so that it should float, & when the Huns collared it they should think that it was the one & only important bag he carried! This was all done & the Germans duly duped & they never searched the boat or Mrs Herbine for another bag! Mrs Herbine then discovered someone on board who had passports which would bring him to London a week earlier than she could arrive, so she gave him the bag which was safely delivered. The WO say they can’t publicly thank Mrs Herbine, as being an American subject, she really infringed the laws of American neutrality. It’s a comic story, but what foundation of truth it has I’m not prepared to say, though it [is] generally believed to be true.

…Your ever loving
Meg

Letter from Meg Meade to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/2)

‘Exciting’ news: the Germans are proud of attacking undefended women and children

The war came to British soil when there was an air raid on the east coast. William Hallam and Florence Vansittart Neale were appalled.

16 December 1914

William Hallam
It was a most exciting day today about the German naval raid on the East coast. I went along to Bath Rd Reading Room late tonight to see the latest telegrams.

Florence Vansittart Neale
German raid on Scarborough! Whitby & Hartlepool, killing many women & children – undefended towns & [homes?]!!! Proud of their feat!!

The Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist at Clewer also noted the news:

Kept as day of prayer instead of Friday 18th. The Germans made a raid on east coast, bombarding Scarborough, Whitby, & Hartlepool about 8 a.m. until a little before 9 a.m., & doing much damage.

Diaries of William Hallam (D/EX1415/22) and Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8); Annals of the Community of St John Baptist (D/EX1675/1/14/5)