Wounded in his last stunt

The Hallams’ young friend had been injured.

13th August 1918

M. had a letter from Lieut Girling. He is now in hospital at Oxford wounded in his last stunt.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

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Shaken in body but in spirit still quite perky

Not only had Percy Spencer been wounded, but younger brother Sydney had suffered shell shock.

Aug 12th [1918]

My Dearest Florence

Just this line. I am safe but in hospital, unwounded. Was blown up with my men when sheltering in a shellhole. Am suffering from slight debility. Am shaken in body but in spirit am still quite perky.

Your affec Brer
Sydney

Note from Sydney Spencer written in pencil on scrap of paper (D/EZ177/8/3/68)

Sincere good wishes

Some Tilehurst soldiers came home on leave.

WELCOME HOME

It was good to see three of our “boys” home on leave on August 11th and present at our services. We were disappointed that Harold Bunce’s leave was postponed from Communion Sunday weekend. They, and all the others, have our sincere good wishes.

Tilehurst Congregational Church section of Reading Congregational Church magazine, September 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Government funds for convalescent soldiers

Maidenhead Cottage Hospital wanted to recoup some of the costs of nursing the wounded.

9th August 1918

Government funds for convalescent soldiers.

It was resolved that the higher rate allowed by Government for convalescent soldiers received into hospital be applied for.

Maidenhead Cottage Hospital governors’ minutes (D/H1/1/2, p. 363)

Oh the brutes!

Reading teenager Joan Daniels was indignant about German targetting of the wounded.

August 6th Tuesday

Ambulance transport sunk & 123 lives lost by the Germans. This is what riles us more than anything. Oh the brutes!

Diary of Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

“If only Fritz would drop a bomb on it, it would save further argument”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence to let her know how he was getting on. The following day he was to be wounded.

Aug 6, 1918
My dear WF

Almost I’ve forgotten how to write a letter. Lately I have been so busy picking up the threads and so on that I haven’t had time to write a line since July 14, I think it was – not even to write and wish you many happy returns of the 4th. However I’ll put the clock back a couple of days and do it now.

My diary has gone during the last few weeks and I’m racking my brain for news.

To go back, I finished my course on the 17th. My section, 4/7 of which was my Division, won the School cup. The runners up were also 4/7 my Division. So we set our caps at the Canadians, Australians & our friends from USA and swanked. Also individually my section scored highest marks in the examination. My own report read –
Qualifications Very good
Power of command Ditto
Keen

So there was much rejoicing and our [HLI?] instructor got very tipsy at our expense and insisted on singing all the Scotch songs ever written, and some which I believe had before scarcely escaped the boundaries of his “wee bit hoos ben” or some such foreign place.

After that I returned “here” – that’s interesting. From here I went up the line once or twice, and then went “there” and billeted the Battalion. With the aid of 200 men, made the area reasonably clean, and HQ habitable. There was even a piano and one evening we had our string trio over to play to us at mess, and afterwards the doctor (from USA) with a fine voice, sang to us and made us all homesick. And the adjutant begged for Raff’s [Cantina?] and got it, and wondered how I knew when I turned to him during the piece and said, “Your wife plays this”.

And then I came here again & the adjutant being inoculated & sick, I had to ride up the line and take over. And now I am here again (and it’s pouring with rain) in an abandoned cottage with an earth floor and leaky roof and really very comfortable. To a newcomer it would be startling to go round a battalion’s “billets” and hear our boys tell the visiting officer that they were quite comfortable in a tumbledown outhouse or barn. Someday again I expect we shall get luxurious again.

Had one very bad night here during an event I expect you are now reading about. Fritz bombed all night and generally played the devil. A few days before a billet of ours was gutted by fire due to another unit’s fault. Luckily overnight I had organised our people for such an event, and in 25 minutes we had it out and a large farm saved. The other unit having at last accepted liability, rebuilt the place. I remarked that if only Fritz would drop a bomb on it, it would save further argument. He did, but not till it had been rebuilt & occupied and the farmer was gloating over new buildings for old.

The CO has just turned up so I’ll close while I have the opportunity.
With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/58-60)

“God bless our wives and kids” – not the King

Should patriotism, and loyalty to the Crown, be mixed with religion? John Maxwell Image was sceptical – while his wife’s foray into pig keeping was a mixed success.

29 Barton Road
4 Aug. ‘18
Tres Cher

Before I forget, let me tell you a tale of Warren, the gardener we share with the Foster Coopers. He is minister of a Grantchester Chapel, and father of a Lieutenant in the Army, and is himself worthy of such exalted claims – but he turns out to be incapable of bloodshed. All the wives in Barton Rd (my own excepted) are allowed to keep rabbits and fowls… Under Warren’s hands the pigs would die of old age – but that we have arranged with Warrington, our butcher, for the execution, I believe, in October….

I doubt if die Madame [Mrs Smith] would entirely have approved of the blending of all denominations in the afternoon service today at St Mark’s (recently appointed our parish church). Florence was present and tells me that the lesson from Revelation was read by a Sergeant (and beautifully read, with all aspirates correct) who, as he turned away from the reading desk, subjoined “And may God add his blessing to the reading of his ‘Oly Word”. He was followed by a Trinity Cadet from the Front – a gentleman, and who probably had been some sort of missionary…

Are you affected by the singing of the National Anthem, now so usual in Church? But it upsets me. We were told that at the Front, when it is sung, the men never mention King George, but the words they sing are “God bless our wives and kids”. Is that true, I wonder?

I am, most fraternally, yours
Bild

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

“I feel that I have lost a friend in addition to a very gallant officer”

There was sad news for a number of Wargrave families.

The following names must be added to the Roll of Honour:-

Ogbourne, Harry.
Trooper 1st Life Guards, died of wounds due to enemy air raid, May 20th, 1818, aged 24. He was the youngest son of Mrs. Ogbourne, widow of John Ogbourne of Wargrave. He was educated at the Piggott School, Wargrave and the Knowl Hill School. Before the war, he was engaged as Assistant to the Lock-keeper at Shiplake Lock. He volunteered in October, 1914. He was sent to France in May 1915, and with two short periods of leave, he remained there until his death. His Squadron Leader gave him a most excellent report.

Sinclair, Gerald John.
Captain, 1st Battalion The Black Watch, only son of John Sinclair, was educated at Rugby, and joined the Inns of Court O.T.C.in September, 1914, from there going to Sandhurst in January, 1915. He joined the reserve Battalion in Scotland, in July, 1915, and went out to France in April, 1916, where he was wounded in Peronne, in July. He returned to France the following January. He was 21 on March 21st, 1918, was killed in action on April 18th, and was buried in the Military Cemetery at Givenchy. His Colonel wrote “I feel that I have lost a friend in addition to a very gallant officer.”

Woodruff, Charles Herbert.

Lance-Corporal 2nd Royal Berks, killed in action between April 22nd and 27th, 1918, aged 24. He was the youngest son of Mrs. Woodruff, widow of George Woodruff, who was cowman at Scarlets for twenty-two years. He was a Piggott Scholar and on leaving school he went to work under a gardener. Before the War he was an under-gardener at the Lodge, Hare Hatch. He volunteered on August 30th, 1914. He was stationed in Ireland for three years with the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, but in 1917 he was transferred by his own desire to the Royal Berks in order that he might share in the fighting. He was sent to France, June 1st, 1917.

Missing.

The following are the names of those who are now missing:-

Burton Haycock, John Frame, Frank Heakes, James Hes, Arthur Haycock.

Prisoners.

The following are prisoners:-

Robert Burrough, Fred Hall, Albert Hodge, Henry Wise, Charles Crampton, Jack Gieves, James Pithers, George Woodruff.

O Lord, look down from heaven, behold, visit, and with the eyes of thy mercy, give them comfort and sure confidence in Thee, defend them from the danger of the enemy, and keep them in perpetual peace and safety; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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

Headed for the front line

Ominously, this is the very last entry in Sydney’s diary.

Friday 2 August 1918
Move at 10.50.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)

Reconnaissance

It was obviously a busy day for Sydney Spencer.

Thursday 1 August 1918
Reconnaissance.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)

“I keeps my pecker up”

Sydney Spencer greatly admired his commanding officer, Captain Dillon.

July 31st [1918]
My Dearest Florence

My clothes are literally falling to pieces & my batman is going on strike if I don’t soon do something about it. So here goes. Will you be sweet & send me my trousers & best tunic keeping the brass buttons on it as these brown buttons are an “anathema” in the regiment. Also the tunic will need Norfolk badges put on it if I remember. Don’t send the old trousers but the new ones (they are of the same material as the tunic is barathia)!!!

I have sent so much kit home that things are getting almost to an indecent stage! And I simply refuse to continue this existence in breeches any longer! Also my pyjamas (the one pair I have have parted company in the middle, almost. In a day or two I am expecting to put them on one leg at a time! I have to do that always, but you know what I mean! It won’t be funny much longer however. Also (patience darling, I hang on as long as possible & then ask for lots of things at once so as not to be continually worrying you), I need about 1 dozen dark collars size 14 ½, 6 handkerchiefs, 2 pairs of thin short pants & another thin shirt. Also (!!) my batman orders me to get at once some Proberts mahogany brown polish for my belt & boots. He nearly ticked me off yesterday because I hadn’t written before!

Now to be pleasant & chatty. Since I wrote you I have moved about 30 miles. The best of it is that the flies here are about 75 % less than down where we were. Moving in this broiling weather is very fatiguing. But I keeps my pecker up & there is always something funny or incongruous to be amused or puzzled over. I wish I had time to write you sketches of French life as seen in these funny little villages. Some would amuse, some would make you sad, others not bearing the repeating, being of a nature that although highly amusing, are so essentially ‘not done’ in England, that they would leave you breathless.

When I tell you that there are practically no sanitary arrangements, & that all French cottages possess manure heaps (of which even Job himself could not complain) in their front gardens, you can imagine that [there are] times when life is not only embarrassing but precipitate.

I told you about my platoon being the winner of competitions in my last letter. My skipper – Capt. Dillon to boot – was very pleased as it brought credit on his company. By the way, he has a great love for Gold Flake cigarettes. Would you like just to please me to send him a tin, only putting your name on it, as sending them. He would be delighted & I could tell him they came from you afterwards.

He is such a splendid chap & I would like him to feel that I appreciated him & a tin of 100 gold flakes would please him immensely.

His address is the same as mine. Captain G Dillon MC, 7th Norfolks, BEF.


All love to you both from your always affectionate Brer
Sydney

Diary
Wednesday 31 July 1918

Got up at 6.30 & went down to the stream at the bottom of the garden, & had a splash in the cool cold water. On parade at 8 am & did an hour’s march [in] full marching order. Then half an hour’s PT & ½ hour’s gas drill. Cut my foot slightly when bathing this morning. Having a rest surreptitiously on Dillon’s bed. Feel very tired after yesterday.

Letter and diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/3/59-66; D/EZ177/8/15)

Veritable hell: “We knew that some one had blundered, but obedience is the first rule of the army”

Here is a dramatic account of life in the Army Service Corps taking water to the thirsty troops one terrible day in Mesopotamia.

(We publish the following account of an exciting adventure in Mesopotamia in justice to the gallant men of the A.S.C., in case there should still be any who are liable to despise the man not in the front line. ED)

“A Stunt.”
(By a FORD Driver in Mesopotamia)

We had just completed an eleven days’ continuous run, and were expecting a day or two’s well earned rest, but such was not to be.

We reached —— at midnight and “parked up” our cars outside the old Turkish Cavalry Barracks. I “clicked” for guard, and at 3.30 a.m. took a telegram from a despatch rider, containing instructions to move off and load up immediately, So at the first streak of dawn, amid much “wailing and gnashing of teeth”, we “wound up,” and after picking up supplies we started off on a joy ride across the desert to an unknown destination, for a journey of indefinite duration.

We arrived at ——, and to our great joy were informed that we were to rest for the remainder of the day. What hopes!

For the next two days we had barely time to eat the necessary “bully,” so busy were we rushing supplies of all descriptions to an advanced position.

At the end of the second day, thinking we had earned a little sleep, we had just got into our blankets when the whistle announced “fall in.”

This time (about 8.30 p.m.) it was to pick up troops, under sealed orders. For the first fifteen minutes all was well, then we pulled up, and the fun commenced. All lamps out, no smoking, talking or blowing of hooters, the greatest precautions to be taken.

Of course, you should know that we were on the desert, following a track which we had never travelled before, everything pitch black, laden with troops, with the knowledge that with us rested the success of the action planned for the following day break.

When returning the following morning, we could hardly believe our eyes, when we saw the route we had taken in the dark, deep, yawning precipices and huge boulders of rock, and the places of danger which we passed but “where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise.” Anyhow, after about an hour’s ride or so, during which time we had relieved the tension on our nerves by smashing a few radiators, losing the column and sundry other mere “inconveniences,” it was decided to pull up for one-and-a-half hours till the moon should show just a glimmer, for progress under the circumstances was absolutely impossible.

This hour-and-a-half was even more nerve racking than driving, as we hardly dared to whisper, for here we were, stranded in “No Man’s Land,” where, apart from the actual enemy, viz.:- Johnny Turk, the great nuisances were the hostile and cunning Arabs, who do not at all object to using us as targets for practical jokes of a serious nature.

At last we started off again, and after many and indescribable difficulties, we parked up under the shelter of a big hill to drop our men and to wait for dawn and further instructions.

The day broke and with the dawn our brave men went over the top of the hill, but Johnny was not asleep this time, for he soon started throwing a few shells over, and we, being somewhat interested, stood on top of our cars to watch the proceedings, until one of the enemy’s aeroplanes “spotted” our “place of rest” and gave information to his artillery, who got our range to a nicety, and we (reckless, daring spectators) began to discover, a few at a time, that the underneath parts of our cars needed attention, but I freely admit, that to stand and allow someone to throw 6in. shells into our midst, while powerless to reply or defend ourselves, did not greatly appeal to me at least.

However, our time of idleness was brief, for word came through, even in the early dewy hours of the morning, that the only water available for our advancing troops was from the salt lakes.

Then we got busy, packets, tanks, buckets, petrol tins, canvas water carriers, everything capable of holding water is flung aboard and we dash off by two’s and three’s from our “park” to gain a river some few miles across the desert.

But Johnny had anticipated our movement and had the river banks nicely covered with snipers and machine guns, so instead of running “en bloc” and filling up altogether, we had to dash up one or two at a time and fill up our receptacles.

When all the difficulties were overcome, and we were ready to commence our return journey, it was approximately 10 a.m., with a temperature of 110° in the shade, when we regained sight of our troops it was practically midday, with a temperature of 128° in the shade.

Then came a veritable hell, the water had to be got to the troops and orders came through that the M.T.’s were to “carry on.”

We knew that some one had blundered, but obedience is the first rule of the army.

The M.T.’s had never been under fire in Mesopotamia before and never since, except in cases of single cars on special detail, but here we were, about eighty cars in column, ordered to practically reach the front line trenches, shells bursting right and left. Did someone mention “Brooklands?”

Never before had Ford cars travelled at such a speed, sixty pounders make excellent accelerators. There were many miraculous escapes, cars riddled with machine gun bullets and shrapnel, some cars put out of action, here and there was a man putting on a spare wheel under fire, but marvellous to relate, not one of our men was touched. I shall not forget a shell dropping and rolling under a car about two yards away.

Thank God, ‘twas a “dud.”

Eventually the trenches were reached, the sight was almost beyond description, dead and dying, troops mad with thirst, they had been drinking salt water, and more men had been “laid low” by sun and thirst than anything else.

Disregarding discipline, our cars were raided, the water speedily drunk, and all craving for more. Then we drove, hither and thither, picking up wounded and dying, and made our way to the field hospital. By this time it was “every man for himself,” and we practically worked individually, using our own discretion. During this time, two of our men gained Military Medals, and one of our officers was “mentioned” and has since received promotion.

Night was now drawing near, but it made no difference to us. Half was ordered to move the Casualty Clearing Station and then drive thirty miles (this time in safety) across the desert for more ammunition.

On the return journey, I, personally, and several of my “pals,” I know, fell asleep over the wheel, to be suddenly and rudely awoke by a “gentle” drop into a hole or a bump against a sand bank.
When we got back we found that our troops had retired about seven or eight miles, and while we were fetching the stores and wounded back, the Arabs had great sport “sniping” at us, and some of us nearly got into trouble for stopping to reply to their “overtures of good will.”

But we successfully completed the retirement, and Johnny did not follow up, so the “stunt” s finished, and we returned to —- for a rest, — what hopes, we were dead beat, no sleep for over fifty-six hours, but within twenty-four hours we were again on our ordinary work of carrying supplies from one dump to another, to be forgotten until the next stunt, but don’t forget, — when the M.T.’s are wanted again, they will be there.

The Newburian (magazine of St Bartholomew’s School, Newbury), July 1918 (N/D161/1/8)

A good billet

Sydney was on the move.

Tuesday 30 July 1918

Was awakened at 6.30 by Home, Dawkins’ batman, with the news that we were moving! So had to get a move on. Paid billets, got packed & ready to march off by nine. Got mess kit packed up & sent off too. At 9.30 inspected billets. At 8.45 am ready to march off. Moved off about 10. Marched to a place called P-z!

Entrained & travelled for about 3 hours north, & slightly west; unloaded & marched here to this pretty village, whose name would make a man turn round if one called it out behind his back! Found the men, then billet after much trouble. A good billet too. Our mess & sleeping quarters as at 44A. A beautiful garden at back & a stream in which I had a bath at bottom of garden. To bed at 10 pm. Feeling very tired after this very hot day!

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)

On a football field in France

Old Boys from St Bartholomew’s Grammar School in Newbury shared their news.

Several letters have come our way from O.N.’s, among them being one J. Allee, who wants to know if there are any other O.N.’s in Palestine, where he is serving as a Captain in the A.S.C., as he has seen no one but Brooks since he has been there, for nearly three years. He seems rather disappointed with Jerusalem, but says that the country around the Dead Sea and the Jordan was well worth seeing, the hills being ablaze with flowers.

H. Pappin, in another letter, tells how he met Newman on the football field in France, where they both had been picked for the same team, the latter recognising Pappin’s name in the list. There seems a favourite place of recognition, for it was in Egypt that Pappin met Hobbs and Beard under similar circumstances. He has been running his battery team, “The Lily Whites,” all the winter, a combination in which what is lacking in science is made up with enthusiasm.

Two most interesting letters have come to us from F. W. Taylor and W. H. Bradfield. The former, who is serving with the Nigeria Regiment at Zungeru, has met our plea for an article by saying that he is writing a Grammar of the Fulani Language, but promises to do his best; while Bradfield, who is with the R.F.A. in France, is in the thick of the present heavy fighting.

J. J. Hurrell, who left the N.G.S. for Bradfield College, in 1913, has just passed through Sandhurst and goes into the Indian Army in September.

A double good fortune is the lot of D. W. Rosling, who is serving at Salonica; for simultaneously with his majority comes the following announcement: May 28th, at Cambray House, Carmarthen, to Florence, wife of Major D. W. Rosling, The King’s Liverpool Regiment, the gift of a son. – Congratulations.

We also have to congratulate two O.N.’s on their marriages; Lieut. E. J. Widle, T.M.B., to Miss Daphne Collette, at St John’s Church, Oxford; and Henry Hoskings, 1st Life Guards, to Miss Phyllis Richens, at St Anne’s, Westminster.

Our casualties are again heavy, though the proportion of wounded is, as last term, small. A. B. V. Brown and I. C. Davidson are both in hospital in England, after having been gassed, while A.L. Sandbach has been discharged through his wounds, after an exciting career. Volunteering for service on the outbreak of hostilities in Africa, he served against German West Africa, under Botha, in Greyling’s Commando, where he was one of the sole two white men serving. German West having been quelled, he returned to his civil duties, but soon after answered the call for men for German East. This time he joined the 2nd South African Horse, with whom he saw some hard fighting, on one occasion having his horse shot from under him. He was promoted to Sergeant and served for about three months longer, after which time he was hit in the thigh by shrapnel at Germinston, with the result as stated that he has been invalided out, returning to his work at Johannesburg. By a curious coincidence, each of these in this branch of the list is an old Victor Ludorum, Sachbach having also tied with Evers for a second year, while the dates of Brown and Davidson respectively, are those immediately preceding the War.

I. K. Fraser, whom we reported as having been wounded, in our last number, has so far recovered as to be able to pay us a visit towards half term. He is looking remarkably fit in spite of all.
Congratulations to G. W. Hall on his Mention in Sir Douglas Haig’s last despatch, and also to J. Allee on his mention in General Allenby’s.

John Cannon has been transferred from the A.S.C. to the 1st Somerset Light Infantry, and is now in the trenches.

The Newburian (magazine of St Bartholomew’s School, Newbury), July 1918 (N/D161/1/8)

‘I got a revolver in my tummy for not “giving right password”’

Sydney Spencer’s platoon worked hard behind the lines.

Monday 29 July 1918

I liked today’s programme of work very much. We had from 8.30 to 10.30 out by the wood for platoon training. Took my men in close order drill, & did some communication drill with the NCOs, also PT. Got back to billets at 11. Found that all officers & NCOs from each platoon were to be on range at 2.20 for a demonstration. Tracer bullets were employed on targets. Also phosphorous bombs from discharge cups. Also the New T. Bombs. They seem very effective.

After tea a rest & some games of patience. Late dinner & then night operations. An outpost scheme. We were not informed that there was to be an enemy. This caused lots of “fun”. Major Gethen was captured. I got a revolver in my tummy for not “giving right password”.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)