Local History Society

 The 'Mercury' & the Home Front in WW1

Life before August 1914

War starts

Life and Death in Arborfield during the War

Arborfield Church and Rev. Joshua Anderson

Bearwood and the Canadian Convalescent Hospital

The Remount Depot, Arborfield Cross (actually, mostly in Barkham)

Life and Death in Barkham during the War

Barkham Church and Rev. Peter Ditchfield


Caring for the Refugees

Caring for the Wounded

From Volunteers to Conscripts

The Revolution in Agriculture

Zeppelin Scares

Food shortages and rationing

Prohibition or Moderation?

Health Matters

The Weather

Berkshire County Council


Armistice Day and after

Adjusting to Peacetime, 1919 to 1922



The Reading Mercury and Arborfield, 1914 – 1918

How was life in Arborfield portrayed in the local newspaper in WW1?

This set of topics is composed mainly of quotations from articles covering Arborfield and Newland, the Remount Depot, Barkham and Bearwood (by the way, the mansion is almost entirely within the old civil parish of Newland).

Inevitably, many articles cover the wider area, especially Reading and Wokingham, and are included where it is thought that they would have been noted by Arborfield residents. Several residents, including John Simonds of Newlands, worked in Reading (he was the Borough Treasurer as well as a local director of Barclays Bank); we know of at least one apprentice who worked in Reading, until he went to the Front and lost his life there.

The text in the articles is more or less as published, but the paragraph layout has been altered to make it more readable. Many articles appeared as a single large paragraph.

Images are taken from the Classified and other Ads. Either follow the links on the left, or in the following summary, to navigate through this feature.

Arborfield and the Great War

Arborfield in early 1914 was much as it had been in Edwardian timesThe Point-to-Point races in March 1914. Half the 200-odd population lived or worked for the big houses. The Remount Depot offered both local employment and some entertainment; every spring, hundreds of people flocked to Point-to-Point Races where local farmers and gentry competed alongside Army officers from Aldershot.

John Simonds of 'Newlands' commuted into Reading where he both managed Barclays Bank and acted as Borough Treasurer. Mrs. Hargreaves of Arborfield Hall took great interest in village life, throwing summer parties in the grounds beside the River Loddon.

Captain and Mrs. Rickman lived at the Grange, Mrs. Bruce at the Court, and Mrs. Walter at Bearwood Mansion. While Arborfield Hall had hydro-electric power and Bearwood its own gas-works, most villagers relied on candles, and drew water from the well.

The Rectors of Arborfield and Barkham, Joshua Anderson and Peter Ditchfield, were familiar faces in Arborfield, both visiting the Village School regularly. Many of the school teachers had served for decades; Mrs. Allright had taught there since the 1880’s, while young Miss Edwards had been a pupil there, and moved on to teaching before she was able to attend college. The school Summer Party in July 1914 took place as usual in the grounds of Arborfield Hall.

Other villages in Berkshire weren’t quite so lucky; summer events that normally took place in August were abruptly cancelled as war was declared. Men immediately volunteered for the Front, while the civilians at the Remount Depot became soldiers overnight, and there was a recruiting drive for farriers and grooms in the local papers.

The local paper was the ‘Reading Mercury’, which carried reports from all of the villages in and around Berkshire, including Arborfield and Barkham. It was old-fashioned, with classified adverts on its front pages, and in 1914 it never printed any photographs. Its rival the ‘Reading Standard’ was always full of photos, and in Spring 1914, it had profusely illustrated features on the new life to be found in Canada.

Later, the 'Standard' would encourage volunteers to serve by publishing photos of the young men from ‘patriotic families’, such as the Clacey boys from Finchampstead. Both newspapers reported on national and international affairs, and increasingly on ‘our Boys at the Front’. As the War went on, they issued lists of the wounded and killed, and reported on the wounded Canadian and other soldiers being treated in Berkshire.
The local towns played host to hundreds of refugees from Belgium and France, most of whom stayed for the duration of the conflict.

As the months extended into years, Reading became the focus for treating the wounded – the old Workhouse was transformed into Battle Hospital. The Reading V.A.D. groupAn advert for the Splint and Bandage Day could transfer a whole train-load of walking-wounded and stretcher-cases to the hospitals within an hour.

The town held ‘Splint and Bandage’ days, and the surrounding villages collected Sphagnum Moss to make absorbent dressings.

There were collections to fund the ‘Berkshire Room’ at the new ‘Star and Garter Home’ in Richmond, acquired by the Auctioneers’ and Estate Agents’ Institute for the nation.

By 1915, London and some provincial cities were being bombed by Zeppelin airships, and insurance Insurance against damage from Zeppelin Raidscompanies spotted a gap in the market. Large adverts appeared in the ‘Mercury’, pointing out that normal house insurance didn’t cover enemy attack.
On the night of 6th March, Reading was on full alert, but the Zeppelins headed elsewhere and the town was spared.

Both the towns and the countryside had to be partially blacked-out, just in case of attack. However, this caused more casualties than enemy bombing. Ralph Pomeroy Simonds, who grew up in Farley Hill and farmed in Surrey, was killed in the dark when he skidded on his motorcycle trying to avoid a pedestrian. His funeral took place at Arborfield Church.

Bearwood Mansion was taken up by the Army in late 1914 and assessed for its suitability as a hospital. It played host to thousands of wounded soldiers in its role as Military Inspection at Bearwood; the mansion is behind the photographer  the Canadian Convalescent Hospital. At one point 900 wounded soldiers were there, some almost fit enough to return to the Front. Certainly, several were fit enough to form a formidable football team, aided by the Vicar of Bearwood (and also the hospital Chaplain) Major Bayley, who scored over 100 goals for them in the 1917-18 season. The team also had a Nottingham Forest footballer from the hospital staff. In addition, they played baseball at Elm Park, home of Reading Football Club.

The Canadian soldiers, both staff and patients, frequented the village pubs in Arborfield. In 1916 Mrs. Clark, landlady of the ‘Swan’, was summoned to appear in court for serving Canadian wounded soldiers with alcohol, which was strictly against the law. P.C. Prior had arrested three Canadians, one so drunk that he was temporarily legless and had to be taken back by ambulance. The case was thrown out because the patients had unstitched the armlets that identified them as wounded, and so the pub staff weren’t to know.

Meanwhile, Trooper Alfred Duffield, on the staff of Bearwood Hospital, had been courting May Bushell, daughter of the Landlord of the ‘Bull’. They married at Arborfield Church in June 1917.

The same month, Dolly Powell, from the Lodge at Arborfield Hall, married Ernest Finch at Arborfield. Mrs. Hargreaves gave presents to both couples, and even hosted the reception at the Reading Room in Church Lane for Dolly and her husband. May Bushell’s wedding reception couldn’t fit into the ‘Bull’, so they used a marquee on the Garrett Brothers’ meadow opposite.

The Church had long been concerned about the effect of alcohol on soldiers. The The interior of the YMCA Hut at BearwoodY.M.C.A. provided a recreation hut at Bearwood and laid on entertainment, as an alternative to the attractioAn appeal for donations for the C.E.T.S. Hut at the Remount Depot ns of local public houses, while the Church of England Temperance Society erected a similar hut at the Remount Depot, opened by Mrs. Stuart Rickman, who had come down from her London house for the occasion.

By late 1917, there was talk of possible Prohibition, with packed meetings in Reading Town Hall to hear speakers from Canada, which was to be ‘dry’ for the duration of the war, and the USA, where 27 States had already imposed Prohibition, destined to last well into the 1920’s. England escaped with stricter licensing laws, weaker beer and earlier closing times.

The villagers did their bit to grow more fruit and vegetables, but unlike some of its neighbours, no areas were provided for Allotments. Also unlike Swallowfield, Barkham and the Remount Depot, the village didn’t run a ‘Rat and Sparrow Club’, which paid a bounty for each one killed; rats and sparrows were seen to compete for grain.

Food became very scarce in Reading partly due to the large number of wounded and refugees, and by January 1918 there was so little meat that the butchers had to close on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Food rationing was introduced amid scenes of near-riots in West Street, which only calmed down when the Mayor commandeered a tram from which to address the crowds.

From at least 1916, the Remount Depot held summer Sports Days where all the villagers were welcome to attend and compete. Some of the soldiers had an advantage; the prize for kicking the football for the furthest distance was won by Sergeant Steer, in peacetime a Chelsea international player. By 1917 the Sports Days included fruit and vegetable competitions to encourage gardening, and in 1918 there were Rabbit and Goat Shows, again to encourage villagers, this time to keep livestock. Bearwood also held Sports Days, including swimming races in the lake.
AN advert for tractors to ease the labour shortage on farms
Agriculture had to change because of the shortage of labour. Women started working on the farms, and local firms started selling tractors, allowing farmers to save on scarce labour.

The Army offered soldiers from the Reading barracks as temporary agricultural workers.

It was all change in the big houses, too:

Mrs. Walter died at Bearwood;
Mrs. Hargreaves died at Arborfield Hall.
Mrs. Bruce
sold Arborfield Court, while
Mrs. Stuart Rickman sold Arborfield Grange.

Arborfield Hall was put up for auction in 1919, as was Carter’s Hill Farm. Some of the Farm was sold on to Berkshire County Council to form smallholdings for returning soldiers. There were two at Betty Grove Lane.

A notice about ‘eggs for wounded soldiers and sailors’ appeared weekly for most of the war and into 1919. The scheme was based at Hartley Court, home of Mrs. Max de Bathe, in Three Mile Cross, and it hosted several fund-raising events. Other country houses also assisted the war effort, producing 'Anti-Vermin Garments' for the troops at the front.

A 'pubic health' advertisement...This advert in January 1918 would have caused shock-waves. It announced that people could attend free clinics for Venereal Diseases at the Royal Berks Hospital. The advert was followed in Spring 1919 by several similar notices as the soldiers were de-mobbed.

Reading was hit by ‘Spanish Flu’ in late October 1918, and again in February 1919. On March 1st 1919, the ‘Mercury’ reported 23 deaths in the previous week from influenza and pneumonia.

The swastika, still widely used as an emblem of peace in India
A series of 13 adverts for National War Savings in late Summer 1918 would have caused no controversy at all. Its symbol was a swastika – but this didn’t acquire a sinister meaning until the Nazis hi-jacked it 15 years later.

Armistice Day on November 1918 was the cause for thanksgiving and celebration. Church bells and factory hooters made a tremendous noise. The following Friday there was a torchlight procession from the Remount Depot to Arborfield Cross, where there were fireworks, a bonfire and a mock trial of ex-Kaiser Bill and the ex-Crown Prince. Adjustment to peacetime conditions took far longer.

Early in 1920 Mrs. Rickman came out from London for the unveiling of the new War Memorial at the Cross, helped by John Simonds & Rev. Anderson.

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The 'Reading Mercury' and the 'Berkshire Chronicle' were very conservative in their formats. The 'Mercury' consisted of 12 pages, which shrank to 8 during the early war years because of paper shortages. There were line drawings, but no photographs until very late in the war.

There was another more populist newspaper, the 'Reading Standard', which in contrast was filled with photographs both before and during the War, and especially featured cameo pictures of soldiers volunteering, mentioned in dispatches, wounded or killed.

The 'Reading Standard' produced a hard-back commemorative series after the War, which can be seen at the Reading Local Studies Library, and is now available in CD form from the Berkshire Family History Society.





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