Remarkably happy & conversational

Percy’s transfer to a commission was now well on rack. Better still, it looked as if he might get to do his training at Trinity College, Cambridge, where brother in law John Maxwell Image was a don.

June 23, 1917
My dear WF

My orders have just come in.

I am due to leave here (and, I expect, to arrive in England) on the 29th inst.

I am then entitled to 14 days leave, and after that, I may get longer leave still (some get months) or I may go straight to a Cadet Corps.

If dear John’s note to Col Ready is successful, I expect I shall go straight to Trinity after my leave.

By the way, I am No S/4/087268 Sgt PJS, 47th Div Train, in case you want this information.

I hope I’ll get thro’ my course all right, but I shall be starting from scratch, so shall have to work jolly hard.

Yesterday I went to a very jolly dinner – we were 16 & we all got remarkably happy & conversational.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/41)

Beginning military service as a chaplain

The Community of St John Baptist said goodbye to their warden, who was starting his service as an army chaplain.

21 June 1917

The Sub-Warden went away to begin his military service as Chaplain at Strensall Camp near York. The 7 am celebration [of Holy Communion] was at the High Altar followed by the Travellers’ Service.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

“The Germans may try to send poison to German Prisoners of war in order to contaminate water supplies”

Broadmoor, acting as a war hospital for metally ill PoWs, received the following warning. Was this ridiculous hysteria, or was there a genuine threat?

War Office
London SW1

20th June 1917

Sir,

I am commanded by the Army Council to inform you that information has been received from General Headquarters, British Armies in France, that the Germans may try to send poison to German Prisoners of war in order that the latter may contaminate water supplies etc.

I am to request that, in the event of any suspicious enclosures being found in parcels of Prisoners of War, the Commandant of the Prisoners of War Camp shall pass them to the Medical Officer for examination and analysis.

I am,
Sir,
Your obedient servant,
B B Cubitt

[to]
General Officers
Commanding-in-Chief at Home.
Copies to Commandants, Prisoners of War Camp.
Commandant, Crowthorne War Hospital, Wellington College.

Broadmoor correspondence file (D/H14/A6/2/51)

‘I shall probably have to do the common or garden “over the bags” stunt one merry morning’

Percy Spencer’s hopes of a commission seemed to have been dashed, but now at last he was going to get the opportunity – although he would have to undergo extra training, and would probably not get the administrative job he was most suited for.

June 11, 1917
My dear WF

You’ll think I’m a dreadful correspondent, but you’ll have guessed the reason of my silence – I’ve been terribly busy.

My commission papers went up with an application for a direct commission to be granted to me from the OC of the Battalion I was and am wanted for. (By the way this CO is now a Brigadier.)

Well, there is a rule that no direct commissions are to be granted. So altho’ my application was recommended by the Divisional Corps & Army Commanders & a special application was made to the war Office, the WO has refused to allow me to hold commissioned rank, unless I first come home for a cadet course. The reason given being that it has been found undesirable to grant direct commissions whatever the circumstances to men who have been mainly engaged upon clerical work. Isn’t it funny – and isn’t it a nasty sort of reflection upon “clerks”?

Just then was not an opportune moment for going into such matters. So it was put on one side until today.

Tonight my papers have gone up again for a cadet course in England; and if I dodge the shells & the submarines I ought to be in England within 3 weeks for a cadet course somewhere.

The crab of the business is that it will only be by the veriest luck that I shall get an administrative appointment at the end of it, and shall probably have to do the common or garden “over the bags” stunt one merry morning.

Anyhow, I feel I ought to hold commissioned rank, whether as a fighting or an administrative officer – and this stigma upon clerks must be removed, what!

If and when I come home I shall have some long stories to tell, some of which I’m sure John will wholly approve….

Yours ever
Percy

The asparagus was great. Never was it eaten with such relish or in such extraordinary circumstances.

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/38-40)

Do the German hear our starlight singing in their distant trenches?

There was much news of soldiers from Maidenhead Congregational Church.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are glad to be able to report that Reginald Hill is so far improving, that he has been able to sit up a little each day. Thomas S. Russell has been called up, and is in training with the Motor Transport Section of the A.S.C. G.C. Frampton after about two hours drill was considered advanced enough for foreign service, and left England for France on May 18th. He is gone into Military Canteen work.

An interesting letter has come to hand from Sidney Eastman, which may justly be described as lengthy, for it is written upon a piece of paper some seven or eight feet long, and covers both sides. It is mostly occupied with a description of his travels and of the sights he has seen, and we are glad to gather that he is in good health and spirits.

G.C. Frampton has been unpatriotic enough to take German measles, and is in Hospital at Etaples. We hope to learn very shortly that he is quite well again.

Alfred Vardy, after a severe bout of pneumonia, caught on his way to the Front in France, is now at a Convalescent Camp in Thetford, gaining strength before returning to duty.

Wilfrid Collins is in hospital at Reading, suffering from heart weakness following upon a severe attack of “Trench fever.”

Reginald Hill has been out of bed for an hour, and is going on satisfactorily, though slowly.

Cyril Hews had a somewhat narrow escape recently. He was out with his motor-bicycle upon a French road during a thunderstorm, when the lightning struck a tree by the road-side, and a large branch fell upon the handlebars of the machine, providentially leaving the rider untouched.

Alfred Lane, after more than a year’s training in the Home Counties’ Engineers at Maidenhead, has been sent over with a draft to France.

Harry Baldwin, having attained the age of 18, and being called up, has elected to enter the Navy, and will probably enter a Training School.

One of our young men, who took an active part in the Messines victory, writes:

“Rather a good sight yesterday. I attended with my men a very large open-air drum-head Church Parade Service, as a sort of Thanksgiving Service for our recent great victory. A large number of Welshmen were present, and it really was great to hear these fellows sing “Aberystwith” and “St. Mary,” accompanied by a band.”

The papers, by the way, have been recently telling us that in all the Welsh regiments there are “glee parties,” who sing under the stars, until the Germans must hear and perhaps wonder, in their more or less distant trenches.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, June 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Anterhinums instead of vegetables

The head gardener at Bisham Abbey made the mistake of thinking the flower garden should be defended against vegetables. Meanwhile General John Pershing (1860-1948) made a visit.

9 June 1917

Martin had planted anterhinums instead of vegetables! Has to take them up….

American General & staff arrived – General Pershing.

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

“Doing our best to be worthy of being the cadets of one of the most famous regiments in His Majesty’s Army”

The Church Lads’ Brigade offered training for teenage boys which in many cases led to heroic actions as adults at the Front.

CHURCH LADS’ BRIGADE CADETS

We had a very good Field Day at Streatley on Whit-Monday. The Battalion turned up in good strength, and some useful skirmishing practice was got through on the Downs, an ideal spot for such work.
On Saturday, June 9th, the Annual Battalion Marching Competition was held. By kind permission of the Headmaster of Reading School, the various Companies assembled in the School Quad, and under the management of Sergeant-Major Green, were quickly got into due order for inspection. Colonel Melville, RAMC, very kindly came over from Aldershot to judge the competition, and expressed himself as quite astonished at the efficiency of the lads and highly delighted with the whole arrangements and the esprit de corps displayed by the teams. We congratulate our friends the Caversham Company on winning the Shield, our Earley lads were a very close third.

The arrangements for Whit-Monday and the Marching Competition were very ably carried out by the Acting Adjutant, Capt. H A Smith-Masters, who has just received his commission as a Chaplain in the Army. We congratulate him, and shall miss his help very much. He is the fourth Adjutant we have had since the war began, and all four are now serving in the Forces.

Our Captain, Corporal C J O’Leary, MTASC, received some rather severe scalds while rescuing a comrade from a motor which went wrong, and has been in hospital in France, but we are glad to say he is now much better again.

The following Army Order has filled us with pleasure and determination to try and do our best to be worthy of being the cadets of one of the most famous regiments in His Majesty’s Army:

“ARMY ORDER 128, 1917.

The Army Orders for April contain one of the most epoch-making which has ever been issued in respect of the CLB. It runs thus:

‘The recognised Cadet Battalions of the Church Lads’ Brigade are affiliated to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.’

We hope that every member of the CLB will appreciate the honour of belonging to the famous 60th, and that this will be one more incentive to obtain even a higher standard than the CLB has ever attained before.

The great fact is accomplished, and we hope by it the future of the CLB is assured, and that an adequate safeguard of all its religious training and ideal is achieved.”

Having passed the required examinations, the following lads have been promoted as stated: Corporals F Ansell and C Downham to be Sergeants; Private M Smith to be Lance-Corporal.

The body of one of our old members, Frank Snellgrove, who has been missing for months, has been discovered by a Chaplain in France, and reverently buried with full Christian rites. We offer our deepest sympathy to his people, who have thus lost their only son.

H. Wardley King [the curate]

Earley St Peter parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P191/28A/24)

An Australian gunner visits Bisham

An Australian officer visited Bisham Abbey.

1 June 1917
Found young Lt Rickards had arrived for weekend – Australian gunner.

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

“The villages have been ruthlessly pillaged, burnt, and razed to the ground”

A Reading man writes of his latest experiences at the front – and the death of a friend.

Our “Boys”

This terrible war has taken from us yet another of our brave soldier lads. Horace Pinker, who quite recently lost his brother and mother, was killed in France on the 5th of April. May the God of all comfort be very near to his father, sisters and brother – to console them in their keen sorrow!

The following extract from a letter sent by Eric Chapman to his mother is especially interesting, as it refers to the circumstances and death of his friend:-

“To return to my personal doings, it is unnecessary of course for me to allude to the German retirement on the western front, seeing that the papers are full of it. As you must have guessed, this has made a great difference to our lives, as we have had to be constantly hot on their heels. At times we come to close quarters with them, but on the whole they do not show much fight, and easily surrender or retire. The country over which we are advancing has been most thoroughly and diabolically destroyed. The villages have been ruthlessly pillaged, burnt, and razed to the ground. Not a thing of any value has been left behind by these barbarians. Even the young fruit trees have been deliberately maimed and rendered incapable of bearing fruit. Naturally this has made it most hard for us following in their tracks, as they intended it should, but we are able to overcome all difficulties and continue our victorious advance. There is not the slightest doubt we are winning by force of arms and smashing the Huns back to their own country. May the end come suddenly and speedily!

“Our battalion has just returned from a special attack, in which it distinguished itself, and about which the Colonel has given permission to write, so I am quite in order in relating a few facts without giving valuable information away. Our objective was a large village, fortified and held by the Huns. We commenced the attack in the early hours of the morning, and had to advance a distance of over 2,000 yards, before we came to grips with the enemy. It was snowing slightly at the time and a thin layer covered the ground as the men moved forward in waves to the attack. After we got fairly going I felt strangely exhilarated, and, much to my surprize quite unconcerned by the possibility of danger. The Huns yelled when they saw us coming, but our fellows yelled still louder, and never wavered a moment under the enemy’s fire. Barbed wire impeded our movements to a small extent, but in short time we had reached the village and were careering like mad through the streets. The Huns did not stand a ghost of a chance then, as our men paid back old scores, and in a few seconds they were doing their best to retreat. Many got back to tell the tale to Hindenburg, but I am thankful to say many not. It was not long before the whole village was in our hands, and after we had consolidated our gain we had some sport looking for souvenirs. The most interesting thing to us was the Germans’ rations which they left behind. Some of the men ate them, but although I am not dainty on this job, I did not have! The meat looked tempting enough, but had the undoubted characteristics of worn-out cab horse!

“I am glad to say our casualties on this occasion were comparatively few, although I regret to have to relate the death in action of Horace Pinker. He was killed by a bullet, and died before the stretcher–bearers could get him to the dressing station. It is very sad for his people, but they can have the satisfaction of knowing that he died bravely and nobly, and was accorded a decent burial.”

It has long been felt that we have not done all that we might for those of our numbers who are taking part in this bitter struggle. At Christmas our young people collected enough to send parcels to all on the Institute Roll of Honour. Now it is wished to do the same for the others, and the kind help and generous support of all our friends if asked. We feel confident that this appeal will not be made in vain! Contributions may be sent to Miss Gough, Mrs. Hamilton Moss, Mrs. Streeter, or Miss Austin.

Trinity Congregational magazine, May 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

“The soldiers are in dire need of comfort both physical and spiritual”

A Congregational minister from east Reading had spent the winter with the YMCA, working with British troops in France.

VISIT OF REV. LEONARD BROOKS

The minister of Park Congregational Church, Reading, paid us his first visit on the 23rd of May, when he gave to a splendid congregation part of the story of his experiences with the troops in France during the winter. Mr Brooks told the incidents with great feeling and force, and revealed to us in striking fashion the need there was for religion to be manifested as a very practical thing.

What we heard of his work among the relatives of the wounded and the dying was most interesting, and to many of us it was a section of YMCA enterprise of which no thought had ever been held. We imagine quite readily that the soldiers are in dire need of comfort both physical and spiritual, but that there should be poignant sorrow among the wives and mothers had very rarely occurred to us as calling for the special labours of the YM.

Mr Brooks did not dwell altogether on the grave side of the matter; there were tales of much merriment, of muddled recipes, failing lights, pilgrimages up and down long flights of steps, etc, which kept us from taking the more serious aspect of the war too seriously. We felt much indebted to Mr Brooks for coming over to open out to us a new side of things, as well as for going to France at all, and we hope that his labours over there are resulting in a greater acceptance of the higher things in which he ministered.

Tilehurst Congregational Church section of Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, July 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Seriously wounded for a second time

Two Ascot men suffered severe injuries.

SERGEANT Archibald Grimmett has, we deeply regret to say, been so seriously wounded (a second time) that it has been necessary to have his leg amputated. He is in Hospital at Rouen.

Pte. Edward Allum has been dangerously wounded.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, May 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/5)

Ashamed to be connected with strikers

Lockinge-born William Hallam, living and working in Swindon, felt strikers and trade unionists were behaving in an unpatriotic way.

20th May 1917

There was a Trade Union demonstration and procession round the Town. I left it severely alone. Thousands of our T.U. men are out on strike in different parts of the country and as I told some of our fellows I should be ashamed to be seen in anyway connected with them by young fellows in khaki who have come from all parts of our Colonies to fight for us; for hundreds come in every Sat & Sun from Draycott Camp. Australians, New Zealanders & Canadians.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

“How splendidly he is fulfilling his mission”

Eric Brereton (1889-1962) moved to Scotland after the war, and eventually became Dean of Glasgow.

The Rev. Eric Brereton, Military Chaplain to Salonica, arrived home unexpectedly, on a fortnight’s leave, on May 14th, to the great delights of his parents at Ascot, and of many friends in the Parish. It has done us good to see how well he looks, and to know how splendidly he is fulfilling his mission.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, June 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/6)

Pneumonia in France

There was good news for friends of an officer.

With great thankfulness we learn that Lieut. Hugh Kennedy, who lay for some while ill with pneumonia in hospital in France, is now decidedly improving.

Earley St Nicolas parish magazine (D/P192/28A/14)

“Ain’t we rural” – nests in the dugouts

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about the disconcerting contrast of burgeoning wildlife and warfare.

May 11, 1917
My dear WF

Very many thanks for the parcel. I see you have exceeded my request and bought things, but that’s just you. I hope my a/c will stand it….

We’ve been having the most glorious weather: it seems awful that we should be in so poor a position to enjoy it. However, good weather helps towards the conclusion of our mighty task, so don’t pray for rain.

You’ve no idea what an extraordinary feeling it is to hear on the heels of a hurricane bombardment around one’s home the lazy song of the cuckoo. A swallow is building on the joist supporting our dugout. By vote it has been allowed to remain, but I doubt if we shall stand the strain of it as it has chosen a position immediately above the centre of our mess table.

2 days ago someone brought in a lovely clutch of pheasant’s eggs – rather a pity, for besides being contrary to orders I expect they were “set”. And within 10 yards of me in a moat, a bullfrog croaks to the sun. Ain’t we rural!

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/36-37)