“One of the monks described to us how unbearable life was under the Turks, and how glad he was to see the British enter Jerusalem”

A Reading soldier describes his experiences in Palestine.

MORE ABOUT PALESTINE

By the kindness of Mr Ernest Francis we are able to give further interesting extracts from letters recently received from our friend Private E. Layton Francis of the London Scottish Regiment.
Writing from somewhere in Palestine our friend says:

“I have much of interest to describe to you again, as during my travels I have visited Bethlehem and been on guard in the Church of the Holy Nativity. Bethlehem is situated on a hillside about six miles from Jerusalem. The streets are very narrow and covered with cobbles, and in many places beams run across the street overhead to stop the houses falling in.

The entrance to the Church is just a small hole in what appears to be a castle wall. Inside there is a huge hall like the body of a church; the roof is supported with forty four pillars, and numerous highly coloured lamps hang from it. The whole building, which covers an immense area, and is evidently very old, comprises three churches – Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek. The Roman Catholic church is about the same size as St John’s [presumably Reading St John, now the Polish Catholic Church, in Watlington Street]. It is a beautiful church and has a very fine organ. The actual spot in which it is said that Jesus Christ was born is, as is usual out here in the East, a cave below the level of the church. It is cut out of the natural rock, and a cavity is shown where the wooden manger used to lay. The manger itself was supposed to have been sent to Rome. Of course there is a lot of valuable tapestry round this spot and several very beautiful pictures. There are numerous lamps hanging from the roof filled with olive oil and with floating wicks, some of the lamps always being alight. One of our posts was by the side of the manger, and here I used to sit for two hours at a time. There is so much here of interest to describe, and it is all so wonderful that a letter is not sufficient. I long for the time when I can tell all about it myself.

Since we commenced this stunt last October, I have been right through the Judean Hills and down on the plains below. The Judean Hills end abruptly and there is no gradual sloping away, but like cliffs, with a fertile plain stretching away to the Mountains of Moab, and the Jordan rushing madly on its career into the Dead Sea. The banks of the Jordan are very steep, and the stream is tremendously strong. The Dead Sea stretches away looking as calm and smooth as a pond.

Seen from a distance Jericho looks a pretty little lace with white houses and red roofs, with the white minarets showing through the green trees. Having seen this part of the country one can understand such terms as “The Promised Land” and a “Land flowing with milk and honey”. Halfway down one of the hillsides overlooking the plain, there is a beautiful monastery built into the rock. This is the Monastery of the Temptation, and the hill is the traditional spot where Christ was tempted of [sic] the devil. Some excavations at Jericho have laid bare the foundation of the old walls and the ruins of some of the houses.

Another place of interest I have seen in the Pool of Bethesda. This is considered one of the most authentic spots in the Holy City. The Pool is some way down, and is reached by a flight of stone steps. Above the Pool there are the remains of an old Crusaders’ Church, with the porchway, altar and crypt still standing, although in ruins. One of the actual pillars of the five porches, which at the time of our Lord gave entrance to the Pool, is still to be seen. The story of the miracle is written up in 75 different languages including Welsh, and Irish and Scottish Gaelic. Near by is a very beautiful Roman Catholic church, the Church of St Anne. The church belongs to some order of White Monks. One of the monks, who spoke very good English, described to us how unbearable life was under the Turks, and how glad he was to see the British enter Jerusalem.”

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, May 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

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A game with Johnny Turk

A Sunningdale man was fighting in Turkish-ruled Palestine.

Bevis Jerome’s letter from Palestine we are reluctantly obliged to condense for we have not space for the whole of it. He writes on April 23.

‘We have made some big moves since I wrote last to you, and have been through some heavy fighting, but I am glad to say I have come through it safely so far. We started off for the first push from Beulah and the first place we went through was Beersheba. I expected to find a town, but it had only a few nice buildings and mostly mud huts. We then went up into the Judean hills and came up with the Turks again. They were holding some very strong positions and just behind them were some wells that we wanted to get.

Well it took us four days to drive them from the hills and I can tell you we were jolly glad when they were on the run again for we had had just about enough of it. Then we had a short rest while the mounted troops chased till they were held up and of course we had to go in again.

We have had some very long marches and it was wonderful how they managed to get our rations up and the guns along for it is a very bad country. After a time we came to Solomon’s wells outside Bethlehem. The Turks were holding some strong positions but soon had to give way. The weather at this time was very bad as the wet season had started and we had only thin drill suits.

We had a very rough Christmas as we were in the lines and it rained hard all day and it was February before our mails arrived, still better late than never. Our boys had a game with Johnny Turk a few days before Christmas. It was an early morning stunt and I do not know who were more surprised, our lads or the Turks, for they were at each other before they knew it, and some of the Turks were still under their blankets, you may guess it did not take long to hustle them out. We got over 100 prisoners and 3 machine guns. Not a bad Christmas bow.

I have been to Jericho and do not think many of us want to go there again. The weather is a treat now and we are in the line at a pretty part of the country. I am enclosing a photo of the Hill of Temptation just outside Jericho which I bought at the Monastery that you can see about half way up. It is a wonderful place and built right into the mountain. It is the hill where Our Lord was tempted by Satan.

Again thanking you for the nice parcel,

I remain yours respectfully,

Pte. B. Jerome.’

Sunningdale Parish magazine, July 1918 (D/P150B/28A/10)

“Oh! the pain inside”

The ongoing struggle continued to concern Florence Vansittart Neale.

31 March 1918

Still holding but daily expecting more awful thrusts.

Easter Day….
11th day of battle! Oh! the pain inside. Pray that Amiens won’t be reached.

Victory in Mesopotamia. 5000 Turks & heaps of material retaken.


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

“Some “Johnny Turk” thought it was time I had one”

A Reading man who had been wounded was back in the fray, fighting in the Middle East.

Feb 21st

You will be pleased to hear that I have quite recovered from my wound and that I am now back up the line once again amongst the boys, feeling absolutely in the best of health. We were in some very hot fighting about nine miles north of Jerusalem, on the 21st November, when some “Johnny Turk” thought it was time I had one. I was wounded in the left thigh and right hip, and was very fortunate to have no bones broken. I spent Xmas in hospital at Alexandria having a top-hole time, and went to a Convalescent Home just outside Alexandria the first day of this year….

We are some miles behind our new line doing some very hard training, but you can guess we do not mind that after the hard and rough times we had in the great advance…

W. Palmer (OS)

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, June 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“His keenness put him on a plane by himself, and it would be well for the Army if we had more like him”

Several Ascot families received bad news.

Miss Dorothy Innes Lillington is at the Church Army Club at Calais, and will be glad to see any Ascot men who may find themselves at that Base.

News was received on November 15th that Stewart Jarvis died in hospital of wounds on November 9th, and that George Taylor was wounded, both in Palestine. Deep sympathy will be felt for the parents whose son’s body lies in that Holy Land which he has helped to wrest from the Turks, and let us hope for good news of Taylor’s condition. Probably both received their wounds in that gallant charge near Gaza which was reported in the Press.

There are still a number of men’s names in the Church porch without any Christian names, – please try to supply these.

Mrs. Wye has received the following from the Captain of the R.H.A. Battery to which Victor belonged. He died on October 11th of wounds received on 9th.

“Sergt. Wye had not been with us long, but quite long enough to prove his sterling qualities as a No.1 in action. I have seldom dealt with a more enthusiastic N.C.O., and feel that we have lost a Sergeant of great potential value to the service. He was a thoroughly nice fellow, and all who knew him feel his loss. His keenness put him on a plane by himself, and it would be well for the Army if we had more like him.”

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, December 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/12)

Restore oppressed nations to their rightful heritage

A new sympathy and interest were felt in our more obscure allies. It seemed appropriate at the time to look back at our Serbian allies’ historic fight for freedom from Turkey, now our mutual enemy.

The Vicar’s Notes

What is “KOSSOVO” day? It is the day on which, after fierce fighting, the Serbians came under the domination of the Turk (June 28th, 1389), and it is observed solemnly each year by the Serbian people. I hope to have a special memorial service at S. Mary’s on June 28th, at 12.15, very much on the lines of the service held at S. Pauls Cathedral last year. We ought to do all we can to shew our interest in those oppressed nations (at present under the heel of the German) which we are pledged to restore to their rightful heritage.

Intercessions
For the wounded, especially Fred Nunn.
For the missing, especially Charles Mercott, one of our servers.
For the fallen, especially William Stevens (killed in action in France on April 22nd); Tom Gray (died at the front from spotted fever); Edgar Bland and Ernest Lawrence (killed in action); Frederick Welford (Drowned in action)
R.I.P.

For God’s blessing on the efforts being made to save our country’s food.

Thanksgivings
For the progress of the Allied Arms.
For the gift of reasonable weather to help the Crops.

All Saints District
The War

We again have to mourn losses owing to the war and our sympathies will go out in abundant measure to those who are sorrowing. In Frederick Sales we have lost a former choir boy and we shall feel with his father who still has four sons in the Army, three of whom are in the fighting line.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, June 1917 (D/P98/28A/15)

A follow up appeared in a later issue:

“Kossovo” Day, June 28th, was largely spoilt by the bad weather, But we were glad to see the Serbian lads once more at S.Mary’s, and we had the support of our Mayor, and of the Principal and Registrar of the University College. The Russian “Kontakion” for the departed was well sung by the Choir; and the service ended with the Serbian Royal Anthem and our own National Anthem. Our earnest prayer is that by next “Kossovo” Day our Serbian friends may be restored to their rightful heritage once more.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P98/28A/15)

Where are they?

Holidaying on the Isle of Wight, Florence Vansittart Neale’s attention turned to the plight of prisoners of war, and the fear of submariners landing secretly.

31 March 1917

Ventnor. A wife of a Turkish prisoner taken at Kut is here. They are so far treated well, but the poor Tommies, they are afraid of them – to fear out of the 6000 taken whether any will return. It is supposed that the Turks do not ill treat them themselves but give them over to the Arabs & Kurds.

I hear that a captain of a German submarine was taken & a bill for dinner was found in his pocket a few days old from an hotel at Bournemouth.

A submarine was found caught in the boom outside Cowes, but no crew. Where are they?

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

“Many of the Christians in Syria are now being systematically starved by the Turks and Germans”

The Middle East and Levant (including modern Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon) was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time of the war. Frances Newton (1871-1955) was a missionary who was also a pro-Arab human rights activist in Palestine after the war.

An illustrated Lantern Lecture, entitled “An English woman’s journey in Arabia”, was given to the Missionary Guild in the Parish Room on October 12th, by Miss F E Newton. A number of the slides were unique, as this is the only journey hitherto taken by European Women as far as this point. The railway has been made by the Turks at the direction of the Germans, and slides were shown of two churches built by them in Jerusalem. Many of the Christians in Syria are now being systematically starved by the Turks and Germans, and all the Mission’s buildings in Jerusalem are in the hands of the enemy. The Bishop will have a hard task when the war is over.

Newbury parish magazine, November 1916 (D/P89/28A/13)

“A rotten job”

More news about the impact of the war in British India and also independent Iran comes from the missionary sponsored by St John’s Church, Reading.

EXTRACTS FROM A LETTER TO THE VICAR FROM THE REV. A.I. KAY, dated June 1st, 1916.

Miss Biggs left Amritsar on April 2nd and according to the newspapers the British party reached Ispahan [now Isfahan, Iran] on May 16th and received a great ovation and welcome from the Russians and the populace. It was a very plucky thing for Miss Biggs and Miss Stuart to return so soon to Ispahan, and it was with considerable anxiety that their friends watched their return. However, their safe arrival has justified their confidence and although no other Persian Missionaries are returning to Persia from the Punjab at present, yet events in Persia seem to be going against the Germans and Turks and before long we hope the whole country will once again be open to Missionary work…

I must not close without referring to what is after all my main work now. At the beginning of April I became Acting Chaplain once again for Amritsar. I enjoy this work very much though the hot weather is not a time when a padre’s heart may be rejoiced by large congregations. Instead of getting the soldiers to Church for the Parade Service we arrange Services in the Barracks and the Fort, and early on Sunday mornings there is a good turn-out of men in shirt sleeves, who take a hearty share in the short Services.

I have the greatest admiration for the present garrison troops in India. They are on a rotten job; they would all like to be at the Front; instead they have to put up with a monotonous life which is at times made well nigh intolerable by the heat. In Amritsar a detachment of the 23rd Batt[alion] of the Rifle Brigade is stationed at present. They are all old men, most of them with sons at the Front; some of them over 50 and a few over 60 years of age. When the men come back from war, I hope the garrison troops of India will march side by side with the men from the Front, for many of them have suffered and some have died.

Reading St John parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

Our growing debt to Foreigners

The vicar of Reading St Mary urged parishioners to save money and support the war effort.

The Vicar’s Notes
The War
Thanksgivings.

For the hope of the speedy liberation of the oppressed Armenian people from the tyranny of the Turk.

Intercessions.
For the hastening of the day of victory, and of peace.
For God’s Blessing upon our preparation for the National Mission of Repentance and Hope.
For the spirit of thrift amongst our people.

Three Reasons Why We Should Save now!

It is now the duty of every citizen to save as much as he possibly can, because of,

1. The huge cost of War.
The expenditure which has to be met from the public Exchequer which has to be met from the public Exchequer of the nations is estimated at nearly £5,000,000 a day, or £1,825,000,000 a year.
Except to the extent that we can borrow, or sell securities, abroad (which we cannot rely on doing beyond some 400 millions a year) we must find this sum in this country by saving it and handing it over to the government either in tax payments or in subscriptions to loans.

£1,400,000,000 at least must therefore be found this way. Before the War, we paid less than £200,000,000 a year in taxes, and we were estimated to be saving and investing about £400,000,000 a year. So that we have to make a great effort, everyone of us, if the remaining £800,000,000 is to be found.

2. The scarcity of labour.
It is not only a question of finding money. If that were all, the government could print notes and it would be done. It is goods and services that are needed for the War, directly or indirectly, and these can only be provided if we go without them. The nation’s power to produce them is limited, and every article and every service that we buy for our own use makes goods and services dearer and more difficult to get for the Government. When every worker is wanted to make things for the War or for export, so as to pay for things brought abroad. We have no right to ask people to work for us, except for supplying our barest needs for life and health.

3. Our growing debt to Foreigners.
Owing to our workshops being occupied on war tasks, we are buying much more, and selling much less, abroad than before and so we are piling up a debt to other peoples which is a danger to our financial position. By saving and going without things we help to correct this.

If we go without imported things we decrease this debt directly. If we go without things of British make we decrease it likewise, because we set free our labour that worked for us, to work for export, or to work for the war and so save imports. Everything that we can go without helps.

All Saint’s District.

Roll of Honour

The following additional names have been sent in for remembrance at the Altar.

John Childs, George Stanley Childs.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, May 1916 (D/P98/28A/13)

“Oh! dear – Has God forsaken us?”

It was definitely bad news as the Easter Rising still raged close to home, and the British were forced to surrender the town of Kut in Mesopotamia (Iraq) to the Turks.

30 April 1916

Heard fall of Kut! General Townshend [Q. over?] British born Indians – Oh! dear – Has God forsaken us?

In Dublin, fighting going on still.

Kut! We destroyed all guns & ammunition.

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

“Wireless telegraphy has been tremendously developed for intelligence” and is invaluable

Ralph Glyn’s Intelligence colleague Charles French wrote to him in Cairo.

Private
WO

25.IV.16

My dear Glyn

I was very glad to get letters from both you & Perkins by last mail. The organisation of the I branch in Egypt is now becoming quite clear to me, thanks to you two, & the knowledge will be an immense help to all of us.

Judging by your telegrams you seem to be having quite a busy time on the eastern frontier & apparently you are killing a number of Turks which is satisfactory. I am afraid this enemy activity may rather upset your plans of getting to France or home; but personally I find that one gets aaccustomed to sticking in the one place – Perhaps it is unenterprising – But on the other hand the scope of my activities have grown unceasingly ever since I came to the WO. You wouldn’t know many of my section now but I think you’d find it improved. It has been a great advantage breaking up the MO Directorate into MO [Military Operations] & MI [Military Intelligence].

I suppose you’ve met Lefroy – a most scientific bird who may be very useful. You might tell Holdick that here in England W/T [wireless telegraphy] has been tremendously developed for intelligence in every direction – We have a special section under Simpson, who is under me which is doing nothing but W/T and it is perfectly invaluable.

Much of the credit is due to you.

Yours ever
C French

Letter from Charles French to Ralph (D/EGL/C32/31)

‘My eye, they do seem bitter about Gallipoli’

Lady Mary Glyn and her daughter Meg Meade both wrote to Meg’s brother Ralph. Lady Mary was staying with her other daughter Maysie Wynne-Finch in Windsor, while Meg was in Portsmouth caring for a sick friend’s children, and mixing with senior naval figures.

Elgin Lodge
Windsor
April 19 1916

The Cabinet Crisis is a real one & may bring about great events, but Asquith … seems to be able to keep together the Coalition at all hazards.

Trebizond is the good news of today’s paper. Well, the French are teaching is what it is to “hold”, and it is my belief we are to hold for the Kingdom that will surely come and we are all to think of the Christ as St John saw him… and He will make no mistake and order no sacrifice that is unavailing – the only leaders now are those who are “joyful as those that march to music, sober as those that must company with Christ” and we see them at all the fronts, but not yet among those who have made of statecraft a craft for self and for selfish ends. It is lamentable how few there are who are trusted & who can “hold” now for the Kingdom of that Lord & His Christ you soldiers know and obey. And yet I cannot believe that a country is ready to win the war so long as there is no real love and faith in God or man as a nation through its representatives. And our power will crumble if we give way to a carping spirit of criticism, and sometimes in perfect despair I find myself trying to believe in AJB and Walter Long, Bonar Law & those in whom the “Party” have consented before the Coalition. But as you know I have never had much belief in AJB’s power to impart a conviction which is founded on the rubble of the failure to find an absolute conviction….

Your own Mur
(more…)

Lost in the desert

Lady Mary Glyn was anxious but optimistic as she wrote to her son in Egypt:

March 28th

I long for news of the naval fight…

I know how oppressive it must be for you there in the desert where the individual seems so lost, and the day merged in aeons of a dead world & civilization, but Gordon’s triumph in the Sudan now supplying all the needs of a new time, and all you have done to keep out the Turk will act as inspiration…

I do not love the thought of French Front. Though if you are sent there I know you will be in the House of Defence set very high – as you are now…

My own darling blessing
Own Mur

Letter from Lady Mary Glyn to her son Ralph (D/EGL/C2/3)

Awful persecution of the Armenians

The vicar of Cookham Dean urged his parishioners to remember the Armenians. The genocidal attacks on the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 are sometimes called the Armenian Holocaust.

I think we cannot give our Lent self-denial offerings to a better object than to the fund for assisting the Armenian Refugees who have been (and I fear are being) subjected to such awful persecution by the Turks connived at, one must fear, by the Germans. I hope to circulate a little paper which will give some particulars of the objects of this fund, and I do trust that we may have an offering at the end of Lent worthy of being sent up by Cookham Dean. When we think how very little inconvenience we have had to put up with in connection with the war, and save in very few instances no suffering of any kind, may we not try to do something for our fellow Christians in Armenia in the time of their awful distress as a thankoffering to God for undeserved mercies to us here.

Cookham Dean parish magazine, March 1916 (D/P43B/28A/11)