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 The 'Mercury' and the Home Front in WW1

Peter Ditchfield Obituary

Peter Ditchfield and Local History


Barkham Church and the Rev. Peter Ditchfield

Barkham’s Rector, Peter Ditchfield, featured on July 24th 1917, when he contributed a lengthy history article on ‘John of Reading’. The second part appeared the following week, along with details of the forthcoming ‘Barkham Dedication Festival’. He had written a special hymn to be sung at the Festival, which was attended by soldiers from the Remount Depot.

On 19th August 1916, Rev. Ditchfield wrote to the Editor to defend Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein, who was serving in the German Army in Berlin, but wasn’t fighting at the front. His brother had served in the British Army and lost his life in the Boer War, and bearing in mind that one parent was English and one was German, it seemed reasonable at the time for Prince Albert to join the German Army.

'BARKHAM – DEDICATION FESTIVAL – This was observed on July 29th 1917, the Sunday following St. James’ Day, when the services were very bright, in spite of the war. The choir, composed mainly of soldiers from the Remount Depôt, is very strong. [..] Unfortunately, a very heavy storm of rain interfered with the presence of a large congregation in the evening.'

ORGAN RECITAL – At the close of the evening service (August 4th), an organ recital was given by Private Edwin Rose, of the Army Service Corps, Remount Depôt, assisted by Captain Goater and Private Ellis Williams.

[Private Rose acted as Barkham's Church Organist while posted to the Remount Depot, and gave several other recitals, appearing regularly in the paper until after War was over. For example, one reported on May 4th 1918 raised funds on behalf of the National Society. Another, from June 15th 1918, was in aid of Lord Robert’s Memorial Homes for Disabled Soldiers. On December 14th 1918, the newspaper reported on what it speculated was to be the last Organ Recital]

At the end of 1917, Barkham Church held a 'Special Day of Prayer', as reported here:

Sunday was observed as a special day of prayer, intercession and thanksgiving. There was a large congregation in the morning, composed mainly of soldiers from the Army Remount Depôt, nearly a hundred being present. The rector officiated, and the lessons were ready by Col. Badcock, the commanding officer. The Royal Proclamation was read, preceded by an address on the subject of the day’s observance, the re-consecration of the nation to the sacred purpose to which it had set its hand, the seeking of the Divine blessing on the yet unfinished task, the war – aims of the Allies and thanksgiving for mercies already received. [Among the hymns listed in the article was ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.]

On March 2nd 1918 there were two articles on Barkham Church:

Lenten Services – the special preachers on Sunday mornings during Lent include the Rev. J. A. Anderson (Rector of Arborfield). […]

ORGAN RECITAL – An organ recital was given after evensong on Sunday by Private Edwin C. Rose. He played with much skill, taste, and expression, Bach’s “Partita” and the following works by Schubert: “Chansonette”, “Serenade” and “Ave Maria”. Capt. Goater sang Liddles’ setting of “Abide with me”, and Corporal Ellis Williams rendered Mendelssohn’s “It is enough” from “Elijah”. A collection was made on behalf of the
St. Dunstan Hostel for Blinded Sailors and Soldiers.

From 5th April 1919:


A service of thanksgiving was held at Barkham Church on Sunday evening, March 23rd, for the return of many of the Barkham men who had been fighting in the Great War in various parts of the world.

The Rector stated that many had fought in France, and others had served in Italy, Salonika, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Syria, and one, Arthur Cook, had fought in the naval attack on Zeebrugge and had escaped unwounded. It was a wonderful record for a small village. A Guild of Fellowship of the Great War was founded to keep in memory those who had fallen, to renew the spirit of comradeship between officers and men, and to keep the country worthy of the great sacrifices that have been made for her. Cards of membership were presented to several at the end of the service.

[It was later reported that an 'Entertainment to Returned Soldiers' was held at the Barkham Working Men's Club in the form of a Whist Drive.]

During the 1920's, Peter Ditchfield wrote the 'Notes and 'Queries' local history page in the 'Reading Mercury'.

Because of his links with Arborfield, Newland and Barkham C. E. School, Peter Ditchfield had a lot of contact with Arborfield folk, and is regularly mentioned in reports of the time. He died in 1930, as reported here, and is buried in the churchyard at Barkham.

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