Don’t imagine tanks mean the end of the war

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence to describe his current quarters (a cowhouse in a devastated village), and the impact of our newest weapon: tanks.

My dear WF

It sounds paradoxical, but the nearer to the enemy we get, the more peace we get. In other words, action replaces preparation.

It’s 9 am and I’ve just had brekker after a fairly good night – turned in at 10 pm, called at 1 am, up till 4 am, put Garwood in then, and turned in till 7.30 am. Turning in consists of rolling myself up in my blankets on the bench where I am sitting, and falling straight off to sleep in spite of constant traffic and telephoning within a few feet of me. I’m writing from a spacious cellar in which there is a telephone exchange, officers’ mess and sleeping accommodation, our office, officers’ kitchen and men’s sleeping accommodation. In peace times it was an underground cowhouse. The whole system of accommodation here is most interesting and I should love to show you over it – after the war. The village where it is is a complete ruin – scarcely a vestige of the place remains and none at all of the church – a couple of crosses of before the war-date stand in the little churchyard, and standing there before brekker this morning I saw the bodies of a couple of Huns who had been buried there and been concealed by a shell.

[Censored section]

Outside at this moment is a very pale Hun – you could only tell he was a Hun by his tin hat (a very useful and artistic design), for he’s been in a shell hole for 3 days and is thickly muddied khaki from head to foot. He like all the others we get is very thankful to be cotched [sic].

The “tanks” are of course very funny, but the boundless faith of the folk at home in them is even funnier. Our native concert in our ideas is apt to run away with us. With enough of them they may go a long way to winning the war for us. But don’t imagine “tanks” mean the end of the war.


We have the finest air service in the world. Our guns and men are marvellous. If you could see a battle from the immediate warward area, you would imagine from the way our fellows stand around amidst a blaze of guns that some harmless interesting show was going forward. And at night, the scene is like Hampstead Heath on a bank holiday, quite pretty with thousands of twinkling lights, bivouac and small cooking fires, but too exciting for my taste with the added uncertainty of shells. The initiative has passed into our hands.

The day the Tanks were first used was the day I saw Jack Jackson going into action; at the same time about a mile from the fight, in the most infernal racket and amidst the most gory scene of dead and wounded, I watched with interest as my car crept along in the traffic towards the forward Headquarters, a hawk beating a ridge parallel to the road.

A wounded New Zealand officer coming down from a front where the tanks were quite successful, said the Huns ran from them like hares – this altho’ they were aware of their advent. One of these contraptions too was obscured going thro’ the main street of a captured village with our boys riding all over her and hanging on the back.

That same day, the Hun kite balloons getting impertinent, the information went forth that our aeroplanes would that afternoon “endeavour” to send them down.

It was a scream, the balloons simply melting from sight as our planes bombed [illegible word where paper is torn]. Also that same day one of our balloons for no apparent reason collapsed suddenly overhead. The observer escaped in his parachute, swinging wide from side to side, and drifting towards the line. However, he got down all right.

Yes, it’s been a quite eventful time lately, too eventful if anything.

I daresay you’ve often heard arguments about whether you can or cannot see a shell coming. Well, I don’t want to know that, but it is quite easy to see a heavy shell going from the gun and climbing like a cricket ball up and up into the sky – it gives you an awful feeling of force, as does the disturbance in the air caused by the explosion of the firing charge. At such times one spends the day lighting and relighting acetylene lamps and candles, and holding one’s hair on….

Your loving brer

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/32-33)

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