“I wish I had a hundred like him”

It was good luck that Percy Spencer’s officer training was taking place in Cambridge, at the very college where his brother in law was a don.

29 Barton Road
30 Sept. ‘17

My very dear Old Man

Your school friend, Whitworth, came with two daughters to call upon me the other day. They seemed to take to the Signora – but oh for me! quite casually for he made sure I knew, during tea he mentioned that dear Willy Dobbs [later note by Florence – ‘Brother of Sir Henry Dobbs – son of my husband’s beloved friend’] was dead – killed in action on July 31st. He had in his pocket a letter from the mother, quoting kind phrases – “The best officer in the Regiment” was how they spoke of him. Poor dear Willy! I was mentioning how he had given me the tea-tray on my wedding: and had caused it to be made specially to his pattern – and then Whitworth told me!!!

Florence has a brother of hers [Percy] in No. 5 cadet battalion – quartered in Trinity. You can guess what it is to her – and I love him. The Colonel said to me, “I wish I had a hundred like him” – so modest, so clearheaded – how his men will rely on him! The Company had boatraces last week (they have use of TBC boat house and slips) and Percy Spencer stroked his platoon’s Eight, and won the final.

JMI

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

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The War has brought home to us our dependence on our daily food in a way unknown to most of us before

The vicar of Maidenhead All Saints reminded his flock about the work of merchant seamen bringing food to the country, and of church workers comforting the troops close behind the lines.

The Vicar’s Letter

Dear Friends and Parishioners,-…

St Peter’s Harvest Festival is to be held at the end of this month (September 30th)… And this Harvest we have, indeed, much for which to be thankful. The War has brought home to us our dependence on our daily food in a way unknown to most of us before. We have to thank God for the labours of our farm workers and allotment holders, who, in the face of an inclement Spring, have greatly increased our food supply; for the valour of our Navy, that has convoyed our store ships past many perils; for the steadfastness and courage of our Merchant Sailors, who, risking often sudden death or lingering suffering, have yet dared to go on faithfully bringing grain and meat and other things for the maintenance of our people.

Lastly; sometimes people ask me for the name of some Charity to which they may give a donation, outside the Parish. Just now few deserve more support than the Church Army Recreation Hut Fund. There are over 800 in full work. All are under the auspices of the Church, and special provision is made for those who wish for a quiet place for prayer or study. They are, also, available and used for Church Services. I feel thy deserve great support, for, excellent as the work of the Y.M.C.A. usually is, these Church Army Huts make a still greater claim on our generosity as Church people; that our men should not feel that the Church has in any way neglected them. Any donations should be sent to the Secretary, Church Army Headquarters, 55, Bryanston Street, Marble Arch, London, W.1.

I remain, Your faithful friend and Vicar
C.E.M. FRY

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, September 1917 (D/P181/28A/26)

“As far as it is possible to anticipate in these uncertain times”

It was hard to make plans during war time.

Harvest Festival

It seems rather early to announce any notions of the Harvest, but everyone will be glad to hear that the Bishop of Buckingham has kindly promised to come and preach for this Festival on Sunday, September 30th, “as far as it is possible to anticipate in these uncertain times”.

Wargrave parish magazine, June 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

Escape in a barrel

Florence Vansittart Neale’s nephew Lieutenant Paul Eddis was a submarine officer who had been interned in neutral Denmark for some time. He made a daring escape hidden in a barrel.

Florence Vansittart Neale
30 September 1917

Exciting letter of Paul’s escape. He home Friday. Got in barrel….

Too full moon! Fear raids. General Maude’s victory in Mesopotamia very good.

30th week of air raids. Met by barrage of fire. 3 balloons brought down.

Heard of Paul’s arrival & escape in barrel to waiting yacht 15 hours! Evading destroyers [illegible] to Helsingborn.

William Hallam
30th September 1917

Up at 10 past 5 and working from 6 till 1. Beautiful weather still and the nights as light as can be with a full harvest moon – just right for those air raiders. After dinner – roast lamb fowl too dear; 1/9 a lb, I went to bed … A gloriously bright moonlight night.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

Air raids all week

The country was under attack from the air.

29 September 1917
Raids on all the week.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“We are enemy aliens”

Cookham-born expat Will Spencer’s German wife Johanna, living with him in Switzerland, missed her family very much. In the autumn of 1917, she hoped it might be possible to meet up with her sister Agnes.

29 September 1917

Johanna having received a letter from [her sister Agnes] yesterday, in which she said that she had heard from the Ohlers, who had heard it from Herrn Rob. Loeliger, in Frankfurt, that persons were allowed to cross from Rheinfelden to Badisch Rheinfelden on showing an Ausweis, asked whether Johanna could not meet her at the other side of the bridge. I despatched a telegram to Agnes for Johanna after breakfast – “Es is nur unmoglich Inez (i.e. Agnes) aufzusuchen”. (We are not Swiss that have business that calls them to the German side of the river, but “enemy aliens”.).

At 4 we had tea … [with friends] to meet Frau de S., a Polish lady, a daughter of a Prince L., who has visited Rheinfelden regularly for 18 years. She lost her only daughter in 1911, her only son in the war.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/27)

Air raid drill for the infants

Children at a Reading school practiced what to do in the event of an air raid.

28th September 1917
Raid Drill was taken on Thursday.

Reading: Battle Infants School log book (SCH20/8/2, p. 303)

Bright moon, bad air raids

The Vansittart Neale girls were both home for the first time since they started nursing the troops.

28 September 1917
Waited [at Maidenhead station] for both girls who had been to London for day’s shopping. All motored home. First time we all 4 together. Bad air raid nearly every night this week – bright moon.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Dandelions and devastation

Members of the Broad Street Brotherhood, the men’s group at Broad Street Congregational Church in Reading were supporting the war effort in whatever ways they could; and also helping civilians in the devastated occupied regions. Regional rivalry came into play, with the men not wanting to show up poorly in comparison with Basingstoke.

BROTHERHOOD NOTES

Some of our members have intimated a desire to start a War Savings Association in connection with our Brotherhood, similar to what is being done at other Brotherhoods and churches up and down the country.

The matter has been carefully considered by a small sub-committee, and it is felt that it is hardly necessary to open a fresh savings department, but any member can purchase these War Savings Certificates through our already existing Savings Bank.

We most strongly recommend these war savings certificates to the earnest attention of every member as not only are they financially sound, but each one purchased is directly helping our country to victory.

Brother Hendey will be pleased to give particulars and carry through any transaction.

We take this opportunity of thanking many of our brothers who have during the past months loyally and painstakingly worked to keep the allotments in order for the brothers who are at the Front.

This has been a fine example of practical brotherhood work.

It is our sad duty to have to record the death of our Brother Frank Ward, who made the supreme sacrifice for us in France just recently.

He is the fourth member of our Brotherhood who has given his life for his country.

BROTHERHOOD CONTINENTAL RELIEF

Our constituency will no doubt be interested in the movement in Reading in aid of sufferers by the war in France and Belgium, which has been initiated by the Broad Street Brotherhood.

Their object is to supplement the efforts now being made in other towns, and in the colonies (and in continuation of efforts previously made) to express the Christian sympathy which exists towards those victims who, although innocent, have suffered acutely through the war. The National Brotherhood Council are aiming at a contemplated relief fund of £20, 000, a very large part of which has already been subscribed. The Brotherhoods of Canada have sent large sums, as well as London and the great centres of industrial life in England. It is believed that Reading will not want to take second position to Basingstoke, where the generous promise of £100 in cash, besides clothing, books, etc, has been made. It is proposed to collect both in cash and kind.

In several of the large townships of Northern France and Belgium the civil population is in rags. For instance Lille (the Manchester of France), having been in the occupation of Germany for 2 ½ years, has had no chance whatever of providing her people with clothing, even if they had the means to purchase. Clothing, boots (cast off or new), seeds, blankets, or anything of portable, useful and lasting character will be acceptable, and later on fruit trees.

A witness on the spot (Near the Somme) says “the fruit trees, large and small, are ruined; but little remains of pleasing appearance except dandelions, and they cover desolation almost everywhere.” A large town (about the size of Reading) had not a roof left whole upon any one building. In a report given to headquarters he said there was no accommodation for men whatsoever (not even for a pig) except in the cellars of ruined houses, such as he then lived (slept) in personally.

The country people, who crowded into the towns, had to hurriedly vacate their homes which were in the path of the then advancing enemy, and could only carry what they stood upright in. They have had no chance, many of them, since to return; and if they had done so they would have found (as some did) that not a tree in the garden, not a vestige of furniture or other property, and a ruin of the actual building. The writer of the foregoing testimony says that for 9 weeks he never saw a civilian (man, woman or child) although frequently on the move, and for long distances.

Wood houses are being prepared in sections in this country for the purpose of being despatched to Northern France and Belgium directly the way opens, and facilities for this purpose have been promised by the governments of Great Britain and France as soon as possible. A wood house thus prepared can be erected by a few men, within a day, upon arrival at its destination, and its total cost would be about £40. Who will buy one for “La belle France”?

Interested readers can secure further information by sending two penny stamps to The National Brotherhood Offices, 37 Norfolk Street, London WC2, when they should ask for a pamphlet entitled “The story of Lille and its associations with the Brotherhood Movement”. This pamphlet describes the Brotherhood Crusade of 1909 AD and the practical relief already given. Locally, every church, adult school and Christian Society in Reading will be asked later on to join hands with the relief committee connected with Broad Street Men’s Brotherhood, whose secretary, Mr WA Woolley, 85 Oxford Road, Reading, is associated with Bros Mitchell, Hendey and Harper in this great work.

Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, September 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Horse chestnuts for munitions

Horse chestnuts (or conkers) contain a chemical called acetone which can be used in the manufacture of explosives. The Government asked Britain’s children to help collect them for the war effort.

26th September 1917
The girls of this school are collecting horse chestnuts for the Ministry of Munitions.

Ascot Heath Girls School log book (C/EL109/2, p. 278)

“Confident that they would all be back from the Front to sing an anthem at Christmas”

There were mixed views as to how much longer the war would last.

We convey our congratulations to our bell-ringers who in spite of the absence of so many of our ringers at the Front, still manage to make a brave show with the bells. It is only about two Sundays that two bells have been chimed, but as a rule we get from four to six. The Choir has also got somewhat thin from the same cause, but we have dropped nothing except anthems on Festivals for the last year. However, the Vicar had a letter from one of the Choirmen at the Front who appeared confident that they would all be back to sing an anthem at Christmas! We all hope his idea is correct.

Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild needs as much support as ever, as the war is not yet over. There are a certain number of them who do not get “weary in well-doing.” It is wonderful how one may encourage another, and also how an irregular member may deter another.

Many have asked “What about the Coal?” Well, that was the matter over which Warfield Charities Committee sat on August 8th, and the Coal Merchants could give us no quotations. So til the middle of September we must “wait and see.” Most probably the saw-mills will be busy this winter.

Warfield section of Winkfield District Magazine, September 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/9)

Getting on well in Flanders

Good news from the front was leavened by attacks at home.

25 September 1917
We getting on well in Flanders. Air raid on London & coast.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Commence the 1918 food campaign

Maidenhead gardeners and allotment holders were urged again to make the most of their vegetable gardens.

Great Success of Webster’s Noted Seeds at Cox Green Show.

Many Valuable Prizes won by our Customers.

COMMENCE THE 1918 FOOD CAMPAIGN
By Sowing at once the Fine Stocks of

WEBSTER’S PEDIGREE ONION.
WEBSTER’S SUPERB CABBAGE.
WEBSTER’S CHOICE TURNIPS.

Perfect your present Crops by Dressing with Good CHEMICAL FERTILISERS.

WE STOCK ALL THE STANDARD KINDS.

J. P. WEBSTER, FRHS, SEEDSMAN AND HORTICULTURAL SUNDRIESMAN,
124 High Street, & Station Front, Maidenhead
ALSO AT COOKHAM AND BOURNE END.

The Richer Your Land the Heavier Your Crop by the Use of Fertilisers.

Advertisement in Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, September 1917 (D/P181/28A/26)

Push continues

The news continued to be positive.

24 September 1917

Our push continuing.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“Now what’s up? Well, I have been up! Yes, up in an aeroplane!”

Sydney Spencer was enthralled with the experience of flight.

At The Race Course
Doncaster
Sunday Sept 24 [1917]

My Dearest Sister Mine

Now what’s up? Well, I have been up! Yes, up in an aeroplane! I am part of an advance party for our B[riga]de & am billeted with the 41st RS Flying Corps for about 3 weeks & well I got round a delightful flying pilot of the name of Hirst to take me for a joy ride! This morning I walked into the aerodrome & looked charming & when Hirst came along & said that he thought the air was not fit for flying but he would just go up & test it, I smiled & said let me go too, & lo & behold, yes in a quarter of an hour I had been for a flight over fields & woods & seem people down below (only 500 feet though) & cows & trees & roads looking like a nursery Noah’s ark affair.

I have never had such a sense of exhilaration in my life. In the last few seconds when we seemed to make a clean dive for the earth & one looked over the nose of the car & saw the great earth loom up & such to met you, as it were, I could have clapped my hands with delight like a foolish child.

One confession however. I was not strapped in, preferred not to be. The Pilot said, “when we come down you will want to grab at something I expect, so grab at the struts on either side”. Well, I thought to myself, Pah, who wants to grab at struts? But at the first dive, what do you think I did? Well, I made a momentary grab at the struts, but only momentary. I felt wild with myself for shewing ever such a small show of feeling.

My dear lady, what do you think of that now for an experience?

All love to you both from
Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer to his sister Florence Image (D/EZ177/8/2/22)