A very narrow escape

There was news of the fate of several men from Burghfield.

THE WAR

Honours and Promotions

Temporary Captain G H B Chance, MGC, to be Assistant Instructor, graded for pay at Hythe rate.

Casualties

Captain R P Bullivant, MC (1st County of London Yeomanry), killed in action, in Palestine; 2nd Lt A Searies (Suffolk Regiment), severely wounded; Albert Bond (13th Royal Fusiliers), wounded last April; L Clarke (2/4th Royal Berks), wounded; Eric G Lamperd (London Regiment), prisoner; F J Maunder (Devon Regiment), wounded; Lance Corporal Percy Watts (Royal Berks Regiment), wounded; Lance Corporal Alfred West (Inniskilling Fusiliers), prisoner.

No details have yet been received about the lamented death of Captain Ritchie Bullivant, of which the whole parish will have heard with regret. It is hoped to give some fuller notice in a future magazine. Meanwhile his brother may be assured of general sympathy.

It is to be deplored that gallant Alfred Searies should have been seriously wounded, gunshot wounds in face and hand. He has, however, been able to be removed to hospital at Wimereux, so his mother may hope for the best. He had been doing duty for some time as acting captain; and we hear that he had also been recommended for the Military Cross, so he had been distinguishing himself before receiving his third wound.

2nd Lt G D Lake, ASC, MT, has lately had a very narrow escape from a shell bursting close to him and killing and injuring several men. We hope to see him safe and sound home for his approaching marriage, which is to take place (if he gets his expected “leave”) about mid-November.

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

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Whizz! Bang! Life is too dangerous under fire to be pleasant

An army chaplain with links to Stratfield Mortimer wrote to the vicar with more news of his work in France. He was now right at the Front in constant danger.

25th Brigade,
8th Division, B.E.F.
22nd February, 1916.

Dear Vicar,

With much regret I have had to leave my work at Wimereux to come ‘up the line’ right to the battle front to minister to two battalions of regulars of the 1st Army – one from our own county. And also to look after the patients at an advanced Field Ambulance. I am now continuously in the danger zone, and my work takes me into the trenches, and to the reserve billets just behind the lines. I spent a week with the General at Brigade Headquarters, but now have a billet of my own nearer the hospital, but still under shell fire, indeed my room is rather unpleasantly situated, being just between the railway station, a large ordnance workshop, and a battery of 6-in. guns, all of which are being constantly shelled. Last Sunday afternoon I was lying down for half-an-hour after a strenuous morning – a Celebration and four Parade Services, all at different places – when twelve shells roared over my billet, I could tell by the noise and vibration that they were fairly low down, so thought I had better get a move on. I had just stepped into the street when whizz! bang!! and a 4.9 shell burst almost under my nose, making a huge hole in the roadway, and bowling over two Frenchmen who were passing – fortunately for me the whole force of the explosion was away from me, so I escaped without a scratch, but it was a near thing! A little further along another shell dropped, while overhead 16 aeroplanes were straffing [sic] one another, and as some of us were gazing upwards watching the fighting a Bosche let loose two bombs which exploded with a terrific noise near by, but didn’t hurt anyone. They were shelled out of the hospital, which has been evacuated, and the patients taken to a farm further back. A man was being operated on when a shell burst over the roof of the building, and patient, doctor and sisters were smothered with glass and debris, but none were badly hurt.

This sort of thing goes on more or less every day, and the noise of the guns is hardly ever out of one’s ears. I am continually in the saddle and often get into warm places, one never knows where the shells are going to drop next, so it is little use trying to dodge them. Nearer the lines one has to go on foot, and it is well to go along with an eye open for grassy hollows into which to tumble if a shell comes too close or the bullets begin to fly around. The other day a Colonel, with his 2nd in Command, found themselves in the way of a shell and promptly rolled into a ditch by the roadside, unfortunately, it was full of water, and very cold, and they rather regretted they hadn’t taken their chances of being blown into a warmer clime.

Life is very rough and comfortless up here, but there are opportunities for us which make it all worth while, and certainly the Padres always find a warm welcome from both officers and men. I hold services wherever and whenever I can – in barns and dug-outs and tumbledown houses, often with the guns booming and shells falling all around. Funerals are the worst part of our duties – apart from the sadness of them, there is always a most unpleasant amount of risk as the cemeteries are close to the lines and often very exposed – we wait for nightfall when possible, but often they have to be taken in broad daylight and in full view of the Huns’ observers. Life is very exciting and interesting, but too dangerous and nerve-racking to be pleasant. I often wish myself back in the comparative security and quiet of Wimereux.

I mustn’t close without a word about the Cinematograph. I spent a couple of days of my week’s leave in buzzing around the cinema firms, got the whole apparatus together and brought it out with me on the leave boat, by special permission of the War Office. It should be in full swing by now, but I haven’t yet had word to that effect from my successor at the Hut at Wimereux. I applied for permission to remain till I had it all fixed up and working, but was told that senior men were badly needed at the front, so felt I couldn’t press my claim.

With best wishes to all friends at Mortimer.
Yours very sincerely,
W.S. Bowdon, C.F.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, April 1916 (D/P120/28A/14)

“We are all very cheery about the war”

The army chaplain with friends in Mortimer had more information about his life behind the lines in France, preparations for Christmas, and dramatic and musical entertainments for the troops.

Mr. Bowdon writes happily about his cinematograph; “quite a lot of stuff has been given, and the Globe Film Co. have promised to supply me with a weekly programme free of charge except cost of carriage.”

He also sends the following for publication:

14, Stationary,
Wimereux,
Boulogne.

20th December.

Dear Vicar,

I feel I must devote half-an-hour or so to writing a few lines for the magazine, though I am busier than ever in the midst of preparations for Xmas. We are arranging a concert party to go round to all the wards in the hospital, and in the largest there will be a Xmas tree for patients there, and all convalescents who can crawl so far. On Xmas Eve a party of sisters and officers are going round singing carols with lanterns, &c. Then on the Monday we have a big Xmas dinner for our orderlies and N.C.O.’s and a concert and tea at the Recreation Hut in the evening. I regret to say the cinema is not yet ready – the goods are delayed at the Millwall Docks. It is a terrible job getting things out from England and getting work done here, but we hope to overcome all difficulties in time.

I am also arranging a pantomime, a play, and a grand concert by the officers of the A.S.C., to include if possible Kennedy Rumford and the chief tenor from the Italian Opera, so we look forward to a very gay and enjoyable Xmas season. We have built a magnificent stage at the Hut with spacious ‘green rooms,’ draw curtains, electric head and foot-lights. The hut has become very popular, and our lady helpers are kept hard at work from early morn till dewy eve. They all work like bricks, and have been serving on an average 200 hot lunches and suppers a day, in addition to all the usual canteen fare.

The hospital, I am glad to say, is rather empty, so I am not quite so rushed as I have been – at any rate I have more time for seeing to the Xmas festivities. There will be a great number of Xmas communions, in almost all the wards, all over the compound and in the camp services will have to be held. I think they will have to extend over Xmas Day, Sunday and Monday. Much time will be occupied in preparing the patients. We also have three celebrations at our little church, and a special service for the orderlies of our isolation compound who are not allowed to go outside.

We are to have the great pleasure of welcoming Dr. Gore amongst us on Sunday week. He is going to preach, at my request, at our church in the evening, and will dine with me at the Mess afterwards. He is visiting the Boulogne Base for a fortnight. We are having splendid congregations at church, especially at Evensong; when the Bishop comes I doubt if we shall fit them all in.

We are all very cheery about the war, and expecting great things in the Spring. I could a tale unfold but mustn’t. One hears interesting things at our Mess from the innumerable visitors of note who come to dine with the general and other of the Olympians.

With every best wish for Xmas and kindest remembrances to all friends at Mortimer.

Yours very sincerely,
W.S. Bowdon.
C.F.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, February 1916 (D/P120/28A/14)

The people of Wimereux promise to tend British soldiers’ graves

The people of Stratfield Mortimer were helping to grow fruit and vegetables for the Navy. They were also in touch with an army chaplain, who gave them some information censored from the national press relating to French care of British war graves. These graves, at Wimereux in north-eastern France, three miles north of Boulogne, are now cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Our Splendid Sailors
A local depot is being opened at Mortimer for supplying fresh fruit and vegetables to the Fleet. Gifts, however small, will be gratefully received by Miss Ludlam, at the Red House, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in each week. It is hoped to dispatch a consignment every Thursday, so those who are kind enough to send green vegetables are asked to do so on Wednesdays. The name and address of the donor should be sent – by this means the actual recipient in the Fleet may know to whom to write direct letters of acknowledgment. The scheme has the direct approval of the Admiralty.

The Rev. W. S. Bowdon C.F
Mr. Bowdon now writes:-

We had an interesting ceremony here on All Saints’ Day when the kiddies put flowers on the graves of our men – some 700 are buried here. The Mayor promised in the name of the people of Wimereux that they would always tend their graves as if they were their own men. It was all very nice, and I wrote a long account for the Daily Mail, but the Censor wouldn’t pass it – couldn’t create a precedent! I was amazed and surprised, seeing that my C.O. took the matter up and sent in the article for me. It seemed to us both just the kind of thing to interest people at home and augment the kindly feeling between the two peoples.

Am busy as ever – 16 Services last Sunday, 4 Sermons, and quite a lot of Private Communions during the week. It is very difficult to find time for letter-writing. As for books, I haven’t opened one since my arrival – but I didn’t expect to. Have only been outside Wimereux once, for 1½ hours, since I was attached to the Hospital, except for business journeys (1/4 hour’s tram ride) to Boulogne. I must try and get a half-day off sometimes, but just now the Recreation Hut and business connected with it occupies all my time that I am away from patients.

Awfully sad about the hospital ship sunk yesterday – quite a number of our patients and doctors were on board from Wimereux. We are anxiously awaiting further particulars.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, December 1914 (D/P120/28A/14)

“It makes all the difference when men have been constantly facing death and seeing their comrades fall at their side”

The experiences of an army chaplain were published in the Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine.

The Rev. W. W. Bowdon, C.F.

Cheery letters have been received from Mr. Bowdon, and the following will be of interest to many:-

No. 14 Stationary Hospital,
Wimereux,
Boulogne.

I crossed the water on Thursday, 30th September. There were a great crowd of officers and many hundreds of men crossing. It was rather weird on board with all lights out, not even the light of a cigarette allowed, and we were accompanied by destroyers. On arriving at Boulogne we were detailed off to various trains, and I soon found myself wedged in with half-a-dozen officers and piles of baggage in an unlighted 1st class carriage, bound for General Headquarters (it is not permitted to say where). I arrived in the small hours of the morning and, being too early to do anything else, turned in again and slept in a carriage on a siding, first making sure it wouldn’t be moving before I did. Then about 8 a.m. a rough toilet and le petit déjeuner at the station buffet. I then drove up to see my new chief, Bishop Gwyn, of Khartoum, Acting Chaplain-General, passing General French’s headquarters on the way.

I found myself appointed to this great hospital for infectious diseases at the base, so back I came. Wimereux is four miles from Boulogne, a pretty place, and in peace time a fashionable sea-side resort, now given over for hospital work. My hospital is situated right on the sea-shore, there is also a large compound of wooden huts near by and a canvas camp for convalescents in the fields at the back. I mess with the officers, all of whom are very nice. We have the General with us, a Colonel (our C.O.), two Majors, and the rest Captains and Lieutenants, to the number of about 25. I am put down as the Rev. Captain Bowdon, C.F., but they all call me ‘Padre,’ and we are very friendly and informal out here. Our mess rooms are delightful, in a separate house on the sea front and with charming views.

The work is, as I expected, pretty strenuous. I visit my patients for about five hours a day, take services when and where I can, run a recreation hut and canteen for the R.A.M.C. men, of whom we have some 1500 here, censor all the company’s letters, and do other odd jobs always cropping up.

One of my difficulties is that different classes of patients must not be mixed, and there are a choice variety of diseases – enteric and scarlet fever, with para-typhoid, meningitis, diphtheria, measles, mumps, whooping-cough, and some others. So at present instead of dodging the bullets I am dodging disease germs. I am wondering which are the more dangerous. I expect to be here some months and then to go ‘up the line’ (as we speak of going into the firing zone), but are always liable to be called up at a moment’s notice. One man was rushed off yesterday after being here but three days.

Of war alarms we have none. Our own air-craft are often about, but none of the enemy’s.

I find the men most responsive and so grateful for one’s ministrations that it is a pleasure to work amongst them. Nearly all my patients have been ‘up the line,’ and it makes all the difference when men have been constantly facing death and seeing their comrades fall at their side. I am inclined to think their experiences are making a very deep and permanently beneficial impression on the character of most of them.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, November 1915 (D/P120/28A/14)