Orders to attend a medical inspection

More school teachers might be called up if physically up to standard.

14th May 1918.

The head teacher is absent today having received orders from the Military Authorities to attend a medical Inspection at Reading.

May 14th 1918

Mr Wheatley had to appear before the Army Medical Board on Tuesday and hence the wood work course was closed for the day.

Log books of Aldermaston School (88/SCH/3/3, p. 88); St Stephen’s Boys’ School, Windsor (88/SCH/23/7, p. 163)

Reading boys killed in action

Former members of two boys’ clubs in east Reading had been reported killed in action.


It was with the greatest sorrow that we heard that Horace Gibbard had been killed in action. Horace was one of the first members enrolled when our Company was formed, and to the last one of its keenest members. After he enlisted in the Army, he was stationed in Reading until shortly before he went to the Front, and during that time he gave us most valuable assistance by drilling the Company and conducting the band practice. We had hoped to have him with us again after the war, but now we can only thank God for his short but manly life, and his splendid example to his fellow NCOs and lads in the Company. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his parents and brothers, one of whom is engaged in dangerous work in the Navy.


Once more we have to chronicle the death of one of our members: Ralph Shepherd was killed in action. The tragedy of his mother’s death following on the receipt of the news made it even sadder. Ralph was once our champion against the CLB representative in a boxing contest – a successful champion too. He had been wounded earlier on.
W. Wheatley we hear has been wounded; while Lieutenant Eric Sutton had been down a good many times helping in the work and officering of the Club.

The Club is closed for the moment, but hopes to re-open very shortly.

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

Why this unnecessary evil?

Sydney Spencer agonises over the evils of the war:

Thursday October 29th, Saturday October 31st & Sunday

Oxford still exists, & the sound of martial feet is heard in the land, & bugles startle the sacred learned precincts of our college with their brazen cry, & all points to & tells of war. As I write & think of those days when Loughton and I basked in broiling sunshine on the lawn of the Rose & Lily tea gardens, or paddled our canoe among beds of rushes & golden eyed lilies, & followed the sleepy current of that wending stream which runs by the hotel at Wheatley, & saw the world of nature, & pronounced it “very good”, that in four short months the world would be plunged in war!

Yes, as I write our fair world is clouded & darkened, & shaken to its foundations by one of the greatest & most terrible wars that this world has seen. Germany: France: Servia [sic]: Belgium: Portugal: India: Turkey: Poland: Russia: South Africa! All these countries are at war with one or another! England has Germany as her enemy. England, Belgium, Russia, Japan & France are allied against Germany. Servia has as it were, although the originator of the war, died out of the question. In South Africa there is a German party stirring up hatred against England & causing war & bloodshed. Turkey has lifted her hand against Russia & the relations between England & that nation are at breaking point. Today I see that America is protesting against our detention of a ship the “Kroonland”. India in her loyalty to England is drawn into the net, & so the war circle ever widens & widens till indeed it will be a world war.

And that word war. What does it all mean? Why this brutal waste of humanity, why this “unnecessary evil”? For unnecessary it undoubtedly is. And the answer is surely that the nations are not yet Christianised, that is to say not yet civilised. Are those who say that war is a necessary evil right or wrong? In one respect they are right, in one respect wrong. Or perhaps it were better to say, that if they present their arguments in one light they are right, & if in another light wrong. Suppose they say that in the present state of affairs, since the world is neither Christian nor civilised, since nations are wholly ignorant of even the rudiments of Christ’s teaching, since nations would be greeted, if they were suddenly transported to the other world with Depart ye strong to Me, & my Father, depart ye workers of iniquity who lived on earth with a lie ever on your lips: suppose & say that these people acknowledged all this, & further acknowledged that as militarism is the only universally understood language – what a lamentable truth! – and that consequently when we rise up & punish a wicked nation, we must shew we must talk to them in their own language, we must in a word use militarism as an argument & our language, then undoubtedly was is a most necessary evil, & their statement is true. Consequently it is only untrue when nations have learned to respect other arguments, of “meekness”, of “non-resistance”, of “CHRIST”.

I heard an address a little time back, in which the speaker suggested that if I am to gain a man’s respect, & get him to a higher level, I must first shew him that I can beat him on his own level. I take him to mean that I must teach him to respect the fact that I know his own language & philosophy of life, & can beat him on it, & then lift him – having gained his respect and ear, onto a higher level…Well this is a very specious argument, without doubt, as it would logically mean that I must get blind drunk with another man before I can teach him that temperance is a higher level.

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

“I will not join the white feather ranks”

Sydney Spencer’s anguish over what service he should enter continues in this diary entry. Gil and Stan were his younger brothers Gilbert and Stanley, art students:

Sept 4th Friday
Now, Mr Diary, how do you think I should feel if after having spent little-to-be-spared money & time on finding what I should do, & being unsuccessful too, one of these dear ladies should offer me a white feather emblem of cowardice! For a little while yesterday I felt that perhaps I did deserve one, but when all wiser & older men than myself not only said that I had done all I could but that I should only be fit for an example & could instil some of my enthusiasm into freshmen next term by joining the OTC, & that I should never be of any use as a military man, then I felt at rest. Even now I must own I am rather restless & worried. I hate to feel so utterly useless, & even working as I have done in all sorts of odd ways to do my best to help, I chafe at my position, & boil inwardly at the thought that perhaps the imputation of “cowardice” & unloyalty may be thrown at me. The whole thing is a strain upon one, & I begin to long to put a finish to the whole matter by joining, useless or not. Despite the fact that my whole future may be utterly wrecked by this terrible war, & that I shall have to look to the German Emperor & his war party (not the rest of the nation) as the cause of my future failure, if failure it be; I am thankful that I can say with clear conscience that loyal as I am to my beloved England, & eager as I am to do my last & best for her glory, still by God’s grace I am free from that dagger, sharper and more deadly than the dagger of war itself – the dagger of bitterness – how I do deplore that bitter spirit which prompts whole crowds of people to say “Germany has played a dirty game. Pay her back as she has treated us!” May the fair scutcheon of England’s fame never be smudged & dulled by our despicable actions, & may the spirit of right prevail over & rule down the hot heads of people so bitter as to make them blind to every thing clean & fair!

I have just met a man who was at Keswick. He will not think of joining the regulars, he says. He will only join if he can get a commission! Am I to be blamed if I think he might deserve a white feather? He says he has just got a schoolmaster’s job & does not feel justified in throwing it up. He thinks it too infra dig to be a regular even in a good army!

[Later that day]
Wheatley Rose & Tea Gardens
I have said goodbye to Oxford!… If I do return to Oxford, it will be a saddened Oxford. Many of her sons have gone off to fight for England. I think that some 1100 have either got commissions or joined the ranks. If such a big number as that goes from Oxford, how can the papers say that the universities are not waking up to their duty! That fellow whom I met who feels that he does not care to take anything less than a commission, rather disgusts me. If he is a specimen of what many men are like, well, men are cowards. England wants men, & she shall have me if I can get efficient enough. I will not join the white feather ranks. Cowardice shall never be written in conjunction with my name! Now I have had tea I shall get on home. I hope & almost pray that Gil & Stan have enlisted. England needs us. Let that suffice!

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)