Local History Society

 The 'Mercury' and the Home Front in WW1



The Opening of the C.E.T.S. Hut at the Remount Depot

From the Reading Mercury, 25th December 1915:



The handsome recreation room opened by Mrs. Stuart Rickman on Tuesday evening with fitting ceremony supplies a want long felt by the 300-odd men employed at the important Army Remount Depôt at Arborfield Cross.

It is a commodious building of handsome proportions and good acoustic properties, able to comfortably accommodate 250 in the auditorium, and having at either end a reading and writing room and a canteen for the supply of light refreshments, and is tastefully decorated with bunting, and embellished with large portraits of their Majesties the King and Queen, Queen Alexandra, the late Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener, Sir John Francis, Admiral Jellicoe, etc.; lighted by electricity, and altogether bright, cheerful and cosy.

The total cost will be about £400, made up of a handsome gift from the Oxford Diocesan Temperance Society, under whose aegis it will be run, and local donations, the largest of the latter having been given by Mrs. Stuart Rickman, the Dowager Countess Roberts, Major Vere Foster, Mrs. Bruce, Mrs. Hargreaves (Arborfield Hall), Mr. John Simonds, Mr. J. D. Mayne, Mr. Alfred Palmer, and Mr. George Philbrick, while several people are presenting “games”, etc., and one has lent a cottage piano; but needless to say further support will be welcomed.

The room – which is similar to that put up by the Diocesan C.E.T.S. at Didcot, but larger – has been built by Messrs. Spear and King, of Crowthorne, from the designs of Mr. Owen Goddard, churchwarden, architect, of Finchampstead, who very kindly gave his services. Great gratitude is due to Major Vere Foster, the popular commandant of the depôt, for his enthusiastic support of the movement.

Although the evening was dark and dirty in the extreme, a large number of ladies and gentlemen attended the opening ceremony on Tuesday, including the Archdeacon of Berkshire (the Ven. W. M. G. Ducat), who presided, Mrs. Stuart Rickman (who had travelled specially from town to be present), the Revs. J. A. Anderson, P. H. Ditchfield, C. E. Shackleton, and H. Ll. Rice, Mr. John Simonds and Miss Simonds, Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Tilling, Mrs. Thurston, Mr. H. Ferris Pike, of Oxford (Organising Diocesan Secretary C.E.T.S.), Mr. Francis H. Wright (Registrar of University College, Reading), and the following officers in charge of the depôt:- Major Vere Foster, Captain Gale, Lieut. Tilling, L.H. Thurston, and Mr. Whitecross, V.S.

The National Anthem having been lustily sung, and prayer led by the Rector of Arborfield, The rector read letters of apology from the Archdeacon of Oxford (chairman of the Diocesan Branch C.E.T.S.), Sir John Watson, the Rev. R. P. Newhouse, R.D., the Rev. E. Coxfield (Rector of Finchampstead), Mrs. Bruce, Mrs. Hargreaves, Mr. Wilson, and Mr. Stuart Montgomery.

The venerable chairman, in opening the proceedings, reminded those present that it originated in a strong desire that there should be for the men at Arborfield what was appreciated so much elsewhere, both at home and at the front – a good recreation hut.

  • The first, and most encouraging, fact was that the site was given by the military authorities. (Applause.)

  • Then the C.E.T.S. offered a considerable sum of money, both from the London centre and from the Oxford Diocesan branch, and subscriptions from friends and neighbours amounted to a further £100. (Applause.)

  • The building and its equipment was to cost about £400. He ought to mention that the architect kindly gave his services. (Applause.)

  • From experience both at home and at the front, there could be no doubt that those “huts” were of immense advantage to the men. Sir John French, when he was speaking of what had been done under his command, said those huts had been of invaluable service to the men. Sir John was, perhaps, at the moment referring more particularly to the Y.M.C.A. huts; but it was a mistake to suppose that the Y.M.C.A. was the only society which had put up huts, for like work had been done by the Church Army and the C.E.T.S., the diocesan branch of the latter having recently completed one similar to that at Didcot, and also at other places.

  • The desire and representation of the Rector of Arborfield, who was closely connected with the C.E.T.S., at once commended the matter to that society; and with him was associated the Rector of Barkham (Mr. Ditchfield), who had taken great interest in the men at that depôt; and their church parades would be at Barkham as well as at Arborfield.

  • He must next mention Major Vere Foster. (Loud cheers.)

  • He headed the list of subscriptions for that hall, in which he had taken deep interest from the very beginning; and also Mr. Watson, the district officer of the Royal Engineers. (Hear, hear.)

  • In that room the men would have the advantage of brotherly fellowship as they met evening after evening, and of recreation and refreshments; and something would be done, for those who desired it, in the religious way also. They were told that the men at the front were beginning to feel what a real thing religion was in life as they had never felt if before; and they would not be ashamed of religion taking its own proper place in that building. (Hear, hear).

In asking Mrs. Rickman to declare the room open, he would say she had been a very generous contributor, and to evidence her interest in the work had come down specially from London to perform the function. (Loud cheers.)

Mrs. Stuart Rickman said she wished very much to thank all present for the reception they had given her, and to say how pleased she was to be there that night. They had a most beautiful hut, and she was sure it would prove a great boon and blessing to them all, as these huts had proved to be everywhere, helping the men bodily and, she hoped, spiritually also. (Hear, hear.) In many London gardens and squares these huts were being put up. She had great pleasure in declaring that hut open, and wished it every success. (Cheers.)

A choice bouquet of lilies, pink roses, and asparagus fern was then presented to Mrs. Stuart Rickman by the youngest recruit at the depot.

Major Vere Foster, whose rising was the signal for great cheering, said it was with very great pleasure that he proposed a vote of thanks to Mrs. Stuart Rickman for her gracious presence that night, and also in the others who had so kindly assisted, including their rector, who originated and pushed forward the scheme. Mr. Ferris Pike, Mr. Goddard, and also to the others who had helped in providing a building which would be a very great boon to that squadron.

Mr. F. H. Wright seconded the resolution. He was quite sure, he said, that Mrs. Stuart Rickman, when she looked back over the year that was just passing, would find that hut occupied a very pleasing place in her retrospect.

  • She represented in her person the attitude which the women of England had taken up throughout the whole period of the war, showing in every possible way, from the little schoolgirl who knitted mittens to the lady who contributed magnificently to huts, etc., that they were determined that all in their power should be done to aid the men who were fighting for King and country.

  • That would continue until the soldiers on the one hand had accomplished what all hoped, believed and prayed for would be a great victory. (Cheers.)

  • That but also typified, he felt, a new side to an old thought, the brightness of that room indicating what the temperance movement in England, in Russia and in France meant to the men and to the women.

The C.E.T.S., which he represented as a member of the Central Council, was trying to put up all over the country rooms like that, to typify that temperance stood for the brightness and joy of life. (Applause.)

The resolution was passed with hearty acclaim, and kindly acknowledged by Mrs. Stuart Rickman.

The chairman announced that any proceeds from the sales at the canteen would go towards providing the money still required to pay for the building, as well as to the upkeep of the canteen including the caretaker and the current expenses; and if anything remained over, part would go towards the soldiers’ recreation fund. The hut was open to all, whether they belonged to the Church of England or not, and he hoped to hear that the Arborfield hut would prove one of the most successful in the South of England. (Cheers.)

The Rev. J. A. Anderson called for cheers for Archdeacon Ducat, who although a very busy man, had found time to come among them that evening and to state the case so well and clearly. (Loud cheers.)

A smoking concert followed, and was greatly enjoyed. Those contributing were Mrs. Bryant, Mrs. And Miss Bushell, Miss Crowe, Miss Pitcher, Mr. Whitecross, Mr. Targett, Private Benyon, Corporal Gibbons, and Sergeant Minhinnick.


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