“The trials and hardships our soldiers have to undergo in the great struggle”

Wargrave children may have celebrated Empire Day a week late, but they got the most graphic description of a world at war from a veteran.

Empire Day

Owing to the Whitsun Holidays the school children were unable to keep the celebration of Empire Day on May 24th, so it was postponed until Friday, the 31st, when they met at the Schools and proceeded to church where a short service was held. The Vicar gave an address from the words “Honour all men, fear God, honour the King” inculcating the lessons of patriotism and brotherly kindness from the story of Moses.

Reforming in procession after the service, the children marched back to the School Playground and assembled round the flag. Here a goodly company of parishioners had gathered and after singing the National Anthem and saluting the flag an address was given by Mr. H.P. Adams, a member of the Executive of Comrades of the Great War Society and himself a holder of the Mons Medal. He gave a vivid description of the trials and hardships our soldiers have to undergo in the great struggle and related his experiences in the battle of Mons. He paid a splendid tribute to Lord Roberts, and advised one and all to do all in their power to be thorough patriots and to show a love for the old Flag. The children sang two patriotic songs and at the close of the proceedings gave three cheers for Lady Cain who kindly provided each child with a cake and a new penny.

Wargrave parish magazine, July 1918 (D/P145/28A/31)

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The internees may let their friends know where they are as soon as possible

The Irish internees were now to be allowed to communicate with their friends and relations, if under strict censorship.

H M Prison
Reading
May 31 1918

From the MO to the Governor

Concerning the petition of Max John Stephan.

I recommend that he be allowed to go to the dentist’s house under escort.

W Freeman

31.5.1918
[to] The Governor, Reading Prison

It has been decided that the privilege of writing & receiving letters, which has hitherto been suspended, shall now be granted to the interned Irish prisoners.

The examination of the letters will be undertaken on behalf of the Commissioners by the Postal Censorship. Accordingly all letters written by and all letters received for these prisoners, including P’Cards, telegrams, books, & newspapers, and any messages contained in parcels, will be sent by you – the envelopes remaining unopened – to the Chief Postal Censor, Strand House, Portugal Street, London, WC2. With each packet of letters, you will send a covering note as follows: This parcel contains letters received on – date -, for the Irish prisoners interned in Reading P. of I. signed – Governor; or This packet contains letters posted on – date by the Irish prisoners interned in Reading P. of I., signed – Governor.

If passed by the censor, they will be posted to the addresses, or returned to you to deliver to the internees, as the case may be.
The internees should tell their friends to address all letters, postcards, telegrams, and newspapers as follows:

Name
Prison – in brackets
c/o the Chief Police Censor, Strand House, Portugal St, WC2.

This will save delay, as ant letters &c sent to the Prison direct will have to be referred to the Censor in the first place.
Parcels should be addressed direct to the Prison: they must be carefully examined, and any written or printed matter contained in them must not be given to the prisoner until passed by the Censor.

In order that the internees may let their friends know where they are as soon as possible, they should be advised to limit their first communication to a postcard or telegram, stating where they are held, and explaining how letters, parcels &c should be addressed.

For the present, no visits can be allowed.

Signed A H Wall
Sec:

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“I was the veriest coward inside”

Sydney Spencer’s experience with battlefield dentistry offers a reflection on courage.

May 31st [1918]

My Darling Florence & Mr I

No other news except that I had a huge tooth drawn two nights ago! A sort of duel between myself & the American doctor as to whether I should scream or not. I didn’t murmur so I won. But I was the veriest coward inside. I simply yelled myself hoarse mentally, which gave me much comfort & relief. Sitting on a box in an orchard with a solemn American doctor with large round glasses making desperate dashes as a refractory tooth with horrid instrument, & no freezing mixture & no gas, these things are anathema!…

From your always affectionate Brer
Snippets

Letter from Sydney Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/8/3/40)

“My platoon beat No 5 platoon at football”

Sydney was enjoying time away from the front line.

Sydney Spencer
Friday 31 May 1918

Today I went on parade again. Paraded at 7 o’clock. Inspected platoon & then we went for a route march under Capt. Rolfe. A glorious morning again & I very much enjoyed the march. The country round here is glorious. We are already at high summer, dogroses are all out & trees in the first beauty of summer foliage, before the dust dims their shrill green.

After lunch to the range. My platoon shot well. I got an 8 inch group and a possible at the application.

By the way my platoon beat No 5 platoon at football 5-4. We are very anxious to take on Mo 7 platoon which beat No 8, 2 nights ago. Got to bed fairly early & read for a time.

Bombardment fairly heavy which disturbed me somewhat in so far as I had a night full of dreams!

Percy Spencer
31 May 1918

A lovely day. Fritz shelled near 17th a little, relieved 24th in front line, and bombed us at night.

Joan Daniels
May 31st Friday

Mummie had a letter yesterday from Auntie Lavinia. Her brother was killed at the front. Also a letter about Eina Furness. He is getting on better than was hoped for so that is great. He was on the third floor of the hospital, & was the only one on that floor who was left alive, falling from there to the basement. Besides having a piece of shell in his head he was injured in the back & arm. Mr Douglass is back from France.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

“We pray that their relatives may before long hear news of them”

Sad news kept coming.

We offer our deep sympathy to the family of Archie Taylor, the news of whose death from wounds received early in the Somme offensive has been notified to his parents.

The following are reported wounded, and we are glad to hear that they are progressing favourably: — R Oldham, T. Barker, H. Henley, E. Law, A. May, J. Williams, W. Ewart.

We very much regret to hear that both Reginald Turner and William Watson are reported missing and we pray that their relatives may before long hear news of them.

Letters of thanks for Christmas parcels are still being received from men in the East: — P. Matthews, S. C. Woods, A. Birch, F.C. Havell.

Ascot section of Winkfield and Warfield Magazine, May 1918 (D/P 151/28A/10/5)

The two predominant results to be obtained: Discipline & Esprit de corps

Sydney’s delicate health was beginning to catch up with him.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 30 May 1918

Last night good old Dillon told me I was to see the doctor today & get a rest. So I sent a note round to the Adjutant to say I was seeing the doctor. I saw him at eleven o’clock & he apologised for having hurt me!

I did light duty during the morning & after lunch had a very long sleep, also inspected the guard before it paraded for guard mounting. Censored the letters. Got a tent in my platoon camouflaged, & did several other ‘no matter whats’ of no import practically, but of regimental vital importance. I think I see the end for which all these small things are done. One has always to keep one’s eyes on the two predominant results to be obtained: Discipline & Esprit de corps.

Rowell the TO comes to dinner tonight. He came & we had a fairly good mess night.

Percy Spencer
30 May 1918

2 a.m. moved at 21st camp after x-country trip thro’ bush and a mix-up with 9.2’s.

A lovely day. Mess cut into bank – earth seats.

Moved again to camp behind Franvillers in Bezieux rear defence line. Fritz shelled Franvillers and near us and bombed during evening. I dug trench round hut.

Florence Vansittart Neale
30 May 1918

Have lost Soissons.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Not much to grumble at

The Governor of Reading Prison was defensive about complaints about the food put forward by one of the Irish internees.

Place of Internment
Reading
29 May 1918

W L Cole

1. The Commissioners’ instructions are – no letters in or out – no visits.

2. When formerly here, the Home Office allowed parcels of food &c. Now food is controlled & parcels mean letters to acknowledge.

3. By Commissioners’ orders these men were on Local Prison diet. This does not carry tea or coffee. Further as tea is rationed in Reading, 1 ½ oz per head per week, they could not buy it without coupons, and they cannot write [for it]. Now the diet has been altered – as for the remainder of the interned aliens – they can have tea for breakfast or coffee.

4. They receive 3 ½ oz a head a week, the same as other interned men – Reading maximum ration is 4 oz per week. They receive 14 oz of bread daily, the same as other men. Cereals are limited to 117 oz a head a week.

5. They receive potatoes daily and on most days of the week a second vegetable – leeks – or something else as well – where procurable.

I will give their food today – not much to grumble at. They can supplement that by purchasing non controlled articles.

Breakfast – 6 oz bread, 1 pint porridge, ¼ oz margarine, 1 pint coffee.

Dinner – 2 oz bread, 1 ½ oz salt pork, 4 oz haricot beans, 16 oz potatoes, 4 oz stewed rhubarb (fresh), 4 oz leeks (from garden).

Supper – 5 oz bread, 1 pint cocoa, ¼ oz margarine, 6 oz potatoes, 1 ½ oz salt pork (alternatively with cheese).

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“Looking more or less like an Englishman, instead of a walking mole heap in damp weather & a dust bin in dry weather”

Sydney and Percy Spencer both took the opportunity to write to their sister.

May 28th [1918]
My Darling Florence & Mr I.

Now it is really a time of rest & once more I can sit at a table again looking more or less like an Englishman & feeling very much like one too, instead of looking like a walking mole heap in damp weather & a dust bin in dry weather. Your parcel of toffy & chocolate was very much enjoyed

May 29th
I am simply bursting to tell you of a frightful row between my platoon & the villagers who possessed the little orchard in which they live. Suffice it to say that, broken bottles, language, shovels, dogs, tent mallets, myself, 4 sergeants & the town mayor (an aged full colonel) were chief actors in the scene, to say nothing of a goat which eats my men’s soap and children who steal their rifle oil to put on boots & other little etceteras! Happily we decamped before anything more than threatened warfare had taken place.

The cause of the quarrel? I was ordered to make my tent bombproof which meant digging up the floor of the tent & heaping up round it. This raised the ire of Monsieur et Madame et les petits!…

Your always affectionate

Brer
Sydney

May 29, 1918
My dear WF

Wants as usual.

6 pots of Properts MAHOGANY polish & invoice, please.

1 bottle of fountain pen ink. Boots have some Watermans boxes if you cannot get Swan. Everyone borrows mine & then complain that it’s bad ink!

The polish is for the CO so I hope Thrussells will come up to scratch. He can’t get it from his wife. Thrussells can pack it no doubt. Rather elliptic, but you’ll understand.

Well dear, it’s a lovely day – the planes have been doing stunts over the line and all’s merry & bright. Our quarters are good shelter but no cover against fire so I wasn’t particularly happy last night when the Hun commenced shelling. We have also had a fairly consistent bombing stunt nightly – very pretty to watch but too near to be pleasant.

The other day – Sunday in fact – I went all over one of our tanks. Life inside one must be pretty cramped and unhappy [censored].

My quarters on Sunday were in the guest chamber of a ruined chateau. A shell had had an extraordinary career through the next room but except for windows my room was all right. We went there as our previous quarters were stiff with guns of all sizes firing into our back doors. When some 9 1/2s began to arrive we moved. The concussion of those beggars is terrific.

Yours ever
Percy

Letters from Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/3/38-39); and Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/40)

Strain every nerve to keep the work going at this crisis of the war

Women in Furze Platt were busy making clothes for the troops.

Furze Platt War Working Party Report for 1917

CR. £ s. d.
Subscriptions 17 7 0
Donations 3 2 10
Collected 31 12 0
Balance, 1916 6 16 0
Debt … 2 10 3 ½
£ 61 8 1 ½

DR. £ s. d.
Cleaning and Firing 0 18 10
Cheque Book …… …0 2 0
Materials… … 55 7 3 ½
Lady Jellicoe’s Fund for Sailors
… … … 5 0 0
£ 61 8 1 ½

Garments Completed
300 Swabs.
219 Bed Socks (pairs).
112 Anti-Vermin Vests.
200 Bags.
161 Sun Shields.
135 Pairs Mittens.
64 Bed Jackets.
18 Nightingales.
9 Pairs Socks.
45 Bandages.
21 Slippers.
7 Helmets.
7 Pyjamas.
26 Shirts.
68 Mufflers.
84 Mosquito nets.

Total … 1476

On the whole the report is satisfactory; the debt was covered by material in stock towards this year’s work, but the funds show a drop of nearly £6 on the amount raised in 1916… We have been able to keep up to our standard of work done, in spite of the greater strain of work which falls on everybody’s shoulders these days.

I have just received a copy of the urgent appeal sent to this district from the head organisation in London, calling upon all voluntary workers to strain every nerve to keep the work going at this crisis of the war. I am sure Furze Platt will respond to the call so far as the workers are concerned; and I trust those living in the neighbourhood will do their best to keep the fund going, and that some who have not subscribed before will either become monthly subscribers or will send a donation. It is absolutely necessary, owing to the price of the material, that we should raise more money this year, if we are to contribute the same amount of work.

I regret that I have been unable to publish this report sooner, owing to having so much work on my hands just now.

Yours faithfully, GLADYS M. SKRINE, Hon.Sec., F.P.W.W.P.

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, May 1918 (D/P181/28A/27)

“We had a sort of bet as to whether I should scream or not. I didn’t so I won!”

Sydney’s soldiers were not keeping up to the standard he wanted. To make matters worse, he had toothache.

Sydney Spencer
Wednesday 29 May 1918

Got up at 7.45 am. After breakfast on parade at 9 am. Inspected platoon. It was dirty.

At 9.30 to platoon & tried to get them ready for company inspection. The Gods were against me. Sergeant Leigh was Battalion Orderly Sergeant, & Corporal Wise was company orderly sergeant. Net result, inspection, despite my immortal efforts to get the men clean, a ‘fiasco’. Let down by one man with a dirty bayonet.

After lunch sat & waited for orders to come through about fires. There arrived at 3.30 & we all proceeded to write them out. I live in tents, mark you, & I have to hang up orders reference woodwork (being stoves) being inspected if orders about asbestos floorings etc [sic]!

After tea I took the bull by the horns, in other words I visited the American MO & he tugged out my bad tooth. He had two tries & got it out. We had a sort of bet as to whether I should scream or not. I didn’t so I won!

Percy Spencer
29 May 1918

A lovely day. Our planes very active over Bosch lines. We move today. Played bridge with Major P[arish] as partner until relieved. We won, altho’ I didn’t call but once.

Florence Vansittart Neale
29 May 1918

News not very reassuring – but line not broken.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Complaints about rationing

28th May 1918

Meeting of Sub-committee to consider a communication with reference to certain complaints which had been made by a registered customer with regard to the supply of certain food. The complaint, however, was not proceeded with, at the customer’s desire. A communication from the Ministry with regard to supplementary rations was also dealt with, and the Executive Officer was authorised, if necessary, to obtain additional help with the preparation and distribution of the New Ration Books.

Newbury Borough Council Food Control Sub-committee minutes (N/AC1/2/9)

“The brutal diabolical Hun: may God frustrate their wicked purpose”

Civilians followed the war news closely.

Joan Daniels
May 28th Tuesday

We all went down to Caversham to see a boat race between Reading Flying School & the Henley Equipment Officers. Reading won by straights, a great triumph.

The Germans slightly advance on the Ancre. May this be their last chance & may God frustrate their wicked purpose & give peace to our beautiful country once more.

Elsie went to Hendon yesterday & saw Mrs Douglass. Eina has been gassed & was back in the hospital that the brutal diabolical Hun bombed so mercilessly for three hours last week. He (Eina) got badly wounded in the head with a piece of shell during the raid. Mr Douglass has gone over to France.

Florence Vansittart Neale
28 May 1918

Line not broken. Hard fighting but we going back slowly.

Diaries of Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1); and
Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

The men have little beyond what they stand in

The Governor of Reading was anxious about how to deal with gifts sent to the Irish internees from home, when they were banned from receiving letters.

Place of Internment
Reading
28 May 1918

1. Will the Commissioners please inform me what I should do with letters that arrive for the Irish interned prisoners – several have come today. I should prefer not to open them, as they many contain money – which would have to be acknowledged, and also as the men would not have the letters, it might lead to questions as to the amount received. I cannot well put them with property as any money orders would lapse. Should they be marked not delivered and returned to Post Office?

2. Parcels – should they be opened & delivered or returned or what is being done?

3. All of the men have requested to write for money and clothing. My instructions at present are no letters or visits. 1 and 3 depend on each other as regards letters. So far I have issued any clothing that has come, as the men have little beyond what they stand in.

Since writing the above, parcels of Jam – sugar – cakes have arrived from Ireland. All are rationed articles, what is to be done with them please.

At present they can be locked up.
CMM

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Bring your own potatoes

Pupils learning to cook during the war had to use potatoes for pastry dough.

28 May 1918

Cookery: Course I. N. Moreton 5. S. Moreton 8. Wallingford C.E. 5

No. 12

Date: May 28th
Time: 1.45-4pm

Lesson: Shortcrust pastry. Tarts [alternative]

No. present: 8

Signature: R. D. Bronsdon.

Girls brought own potatoes for pastry.

Wallingford Cookery Centre Log Book, 1914-1920 (SCH22/8/5, pp. 169-170)

Guerilla warfare

Sydney Spencer kept busy regrouping after his spell in the trenches.

Sydney Spencer
Tuesday 28 May 1918

After a good night’s sleep in pyjamas in my beautiful old flea bag, I got up at 8 am. A glorious day with the earth & air all aglow with spring leading onto high summer. Paraded at 9 am for platoon inspection. The company & battalion then proceeded to rest for the whole of the day, i.e. men were medically inspected, kits were inspected, Lewis Guns were inspected, 24 magazines cleaned. Lunch.

Men of my platoon ordered to dig out floors of tents. Started. Guerilla warfare ensued, i.e. shovels, broken bottles, language, myself, 4 sergeants, dogs, a goat, Monsieur, Madame et les petits, mallets, & the town mayor (a decrepit full colonel) took part. It ended in my decamping with my platoon. I was dumped by the DOC (above) on the parade ground of an army school. Thence we backed to another place & finally got the platoon settled in.

Thus we rested for a whole day! Wrote a letter to Florence. After dinner went down to platoon to see them settled in. Made up mess accounts & so to bed at 11.30 pm.

Percy Spencer
28 May 1918

As yesterday. Bosch shelled top of bank under lea of which we live. Major P[arish] dined with 141.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15) and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)