Local History Society

 The 'Mercury' and the Home Front in WW1


'Reading Standard'
contained a pictorial feature of the Canadian Convalescent Hospital on 25th December 1915, showing the mansion, plus two group photographs.



In the summer, local volunteers would take groups of wounded soldiers on the River Thames to river-side properties for a day out and picnic. The Canadians were both guests and entertainers on these trips.

The ‘Merry Mascots’ from Bearwood were often mentioned as players and entertainers – for an example, see the 'Mercury' from  September  21st1918.

Was this a development of the regular Y.M.C.A. entertainments that were put on at Bearwood?




The patients from Bearwood were frequently in Court for being served alcohol in Public Houses. Click here for a case involving the 'Swan' - or it could have been the 'Bull' or the 'Bramshill Hunt' for all that the soldiers could remember afterwards!

Bearwood and the Canadian Convalescent Hospital

A military inspection at Bearwood during the Great WarBy 26th September 1914, it was reported that the Berkshire Territorial Association had taken over 'Bear Wood' (the name was always split into two words at around this time).

The article mentioned that the Mansion was assessed for its suitability as a Hospital, which it later became.

The photo on the left shows a military inspection on the drive in front of the main gates of the Mansion.

 YMCA Concert at Bearwood

After the Canadian Convalescent Hospital opened, the Y.M.C.A. started to put on concerts at Bearwood, which were often reported in great detail, down to the lists of songs and sketches performed. On the right is an example from December 18th 1915.


The newspaper was published on Christmas Day in 1915, and reported another entertainment as follows:


Reading Junior YMCA Gymnastic Display.

On Monday evening a squad of 21 members of the Junior Y.M.C.A. gave an excellent gymnastic display to the Canadian wounded at Bear Wood. The gymnasts were accompanied at Bear Wood by Mr Harry Burton (hon. secretary) and were under the instruction of Mr Seward.

The display was held in the art gallery, and all the items were watched with interest and vociferously applauded. The chair tricks were extremely good, as were the tableaux.

The Canadians cheered the younger members of the squad as they went through the different evolutions.

The display over, the juniors did ample justice to the tea which was provided for them.

The 1st January 1916 issue reported ‘Christmas-tide with the Canadians'. The Y.M.C.A. again entertained them. There were also reports on subsequent weeks. There was a football match on 15th January between the Bear Wood Veterans and the Canadians, the latter winning 5-2, and there was an evening celebration at the Walter Arms.

The YMCA Hut at Bearwood


Here is a photo of the YMCA Hut at Bearwood, which gives a good impression of what life was like at the time. Click on the photo to see more detail.







The 19th August 1916 edition announced that there was to be a baseball match at Elm Park between two teams of Canadian Convalescents, one from  ‘Bear Wood’ and the other from Orpington. A previous match had been won by Bearwood. The article briefly described the layout of a baseball pitch and the rules of the game, which would have been a novelty to most English people. The following week’s edition reported the Bearwood team’s success, beating their opponents by 11 – 3. The Mayor of Reading had delivered a message of welcome to 350 Canadians in the crowd, who were later entertained to tea.

On September 23rd, it was reported that Henry Sherwood, a farmer from Tilehurst, was summoned to Reading Borough Bench for being drunk while in charge of a horse and cart. He was approaching the 'Three Tuns' in Earley on 7th September in the Reading direction, and slowed down. The horse and cart then swung across the road and collided with the taxi containing five Canadians including Private Frederick Conway. He was thrown out and knocked unconscious. He gave evidence against the farmer. (The case also mentioned Mr. Alfred Eighteen’s men at the Loddon Bridge Hotel. The Eighteen family sold fish both in Reading and in the wider area).

In October 1916, a record tea party was held in Windsor Great Park for 6,000 wounded from all parts of the Empire. Several bus loads didn’t arrive until after 4:30, by which time many others were making for home. We don't know whether Bearwood's patients made it in time.

Bearwood Mansion from an old postcard, courtesy of Tony Harden


Bearwood Mansion was still the home of Mrs. Walter until her death, reported on February 17th 1917 in the 'Reading Mercury'.

This article revealed the sheer number of Canadian staff and patients sharing the place with her - click here for details.


The Convalescent Hospital played host to some returned Prisoners of War, as related on September 15th 1917:



A very hearty welcome was accorded to about forty of our Canadian soldiers when they arrived at Wokingham on Thursday evening en route for Bear Wood to recuperate, having been prisoners in Germany and exchanged.

All the people in the town appeared to have turned out to welcome them, although the notice was very short, and upon their arrival by the six o’clock train they were received with loud cheers. In the absence of the mayor, the Deputy-Mayor (Coun. W. T. Martin) and members of the council were present, together with the Fire Brigade, and the children from all schools in the town. The Boys’ Brigade drums and bugles, the Palmer School Cadet Corps drum and fife, and the lads from the Depôt, Royal Berks Regiment, enlivened the proceedings during the time of waiting.

The Deputy-Mayor, in a short speech, said how glad the townspeople were to see the men. He thanked them for their services, and hoped they would soon recover from the hardships they had undergone.

A procession was formed under the direction of Supt. Goddard and his staff, and proceeded round Wellington Road to the Market Place and home to Bear Wood through Broad Street, loud cheers greeting the men all along the route.

About 400 of the convalescent soldiers from Bear Wood were present, and the Cycle Corps with gaily decorated cycles. The cars conveying the returned warriors were decked with flags and ribbons, and at a great many houses along the route, the Union Jack was flying.

The 22nd September 1917 issue reported a novel football match at Elm Park in Reading – Bear Wood Hospital vs. Portsmouth Ladies. The Ladies won 8-5, but the soldiers played with one arm tied behind their backs. [The Reading Standard also carried an article on the match - and a photo of the 'Ladies']

The previous week the Canadians had won 11-0 against a team from an aircraft factory based in Reading.

The football season appears to have been a great success, as in this report from 4th May 1918:

Bear Wood Canadians F.C. brought their season to a close on Saturday with an easy victory over a team got together by the railwaymen of Reading, the match being held in aid of Reading Football Club. The Bear Wood team had a considerable advantage in physique, and they are naturally used to playing together (despite inevitable changes), while they were keen on goal-getting.

The Bear Wood Canadians have had a most successful season, having won nearly forty matches and been but rarely beaten, their most successful opponents having been R.E., Aldershot. They have scored about 170 goals against 56. They owe much to the enthusiasm of the Rev. Major Bayley, Vicar of Bear Wood, and chaplain to the hospital, who has shown great keenness and dash in the position of centre-forward. He has scored about a hundred goals, including ten against Royal Flying Corps and seven against Farnborough.

On Saturday, at inside left, the Canadians included Spouncer, the famous Nottingham Forest international forward, who figured against Reading in the cup-tie some seasons ago; he, on Saturday, scored a fine goal.

A different sort of match was reported the next week, May 11th:



Capt. N. MacDonald was married to Miss J. R. Gilchrist, nursing sister, Canadian Army Medical Corps, on Wednesday, May 1st.

The pipe band of the Canadian Forestry Corps was in attendance, also the personnel and patients of the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, the patients forming an arch of crutches after the ceremony.

The bridegroom served for a year and a half in the South African War, two years with the R.A.M.C. (Imperial) in France, joining the Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1917. The bride served two years with the Canadian Army Medical Service, and has also seen service in France.

Read about the Sports Day held on July 1st 1918 by clicking here.

Another Sports Day was held in Spring 1919:



(From May 17th 1919)

The Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bear Wood, which was relieved of its patients in March and has since been accommodating nursing sisters awaiting return to Canada, had the last of the sisters leave on Saturday.

Before proceeding with the dismantling of the unit, the Officer Commanding, wishing to show his appreciation of the services of the other ranks doing duty with the unit, and also the Q.M.A.A.C. personnel, who will soon be departing, had a day of field sports arranged under the able direction of Captain J. G. Haylett (Quartermaster), Miss M. Wroe (Administrator of Q.M.A.A.C. of this unit), Quarters Forewomen Miss MacAllum and Miss Rudkin, Q.M.S. Carey and Sergeant Kidd.

[There followed a list of race and prizewinners].

At 5 p.m., tea was served in the grounds; ices, pastries, and sweets were available in abundance.

At 7:30 a fancy dress dance was given to the members of the unit and their friends, prizes being awarded for the best ladies’ and gents’ costumes. [..] Generous sitting out accommodation, good music, and a good floor provided a very happy evening, which was enjoyed to the full by all present.


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