The pleasant mudscape

Perhaps a brother’s experiences informed this schoolgirl’s creative writing.

Dialogue Between Two German Owls, or An Elegy written in Flanders

The shrapnel shrieks the knell of parting day;
In Flanders, mud above his gouty knee,
A sapper backwards ploughs his watery way,
To mend the telephone, and have some tea.

Now sinks the pleasant mudscape from the sight,
For, from the air, a sleety drizzle drenches,
Save where a lorrie [sic], with its floundering might,
Takes touzzly [sic] Tommies back towards the trenches.

Save that, on yonder splintered stump,
A German owl doth of her lord enquire,
“What bird is that, who buzzing round our dump,
Usurps our birth-right in this black quagmire?”

“Oft did our faint hearts to those bomb-shells yield,
In burrows hiding, while the crockery broke,
For England drives her aeroplanes afield,
Often to perish, ‘neath our strafing stroke.

Let them not mock what German soil,
And lager beer, and morning hates upbore,
Soon we shall hear, with a disdainful smile
Some long and glorious lies about that corps.

The boast of daring and the pomp of power
All that the British War Office e’er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour,
A reckless start-off to a German grave.”

Thus spake the German, heedless of the waste
For female ears this eloquence to raise,
And, as with long-drawn screams the shrapnel raced
Around her, she could see no cause for praise.

“Can leaking urn, or animated bust
Back to its mansion drive that floating flock?
Make those propellers churn the silent dust,
Or flatten out upon a cold dull rock?”

The applause of listening generals to command,
And angry threats of martial courts to raise,
To scatter pamphlets o’er a smiling land,
Or works like these their hapless nation pays.”

Haply some hairy headed swine may say,
“Oft have we heard him at the peep of dawn
Blowing with hasty bombs our food away
To beat the Hun upon the upland lawn.”

Then sank her head upon the lap of earth,
An owl, to fortune and to fame unknown;
A sniper frowned not on her humble birth,
And, very hungry, marked her for his own.

H. MOSS, Va.

Clewer: St Stephen’s High School Magazine, 1919 (D/EX1675/6/2/2)

War was always unspeakably dreadful

A pupil at St Barthomolomew’s School imagined a future where war was unknown. It may be a creative writing exercise, but it shows the effect the war had on young people’s views of the world.

WAR.

Scene ——————– A room in a house
Time ——————— 2000 A.D.
Dramatis Personae — One sister, one small brother.

Small brother. Sissy, what does war mean? I read it in a book, something about the termination of war or something.

Sister. War, dear child, is the settlement of national quarrels by fighting.

When two or more nations had a quarrel, they used to fight each other till so many people on one side got killed or driven back, that they had to give in.

Sometimes nations just made war for greed because they thought they were stronger than their opponents, indeed this was nearly always the case.

Small brother. Please, what’s reponents?

Sister. Opponents, I said, it means enemies.

Small brother. O yes, I understand enemies; please sissy, why didn’t you say enemies if you meant enemies?

Sister. When you’re a little older, you’ll understand perhaps, but don’t fidget or I shall have to send you upstairs.

Small brother. Go on about war, sissy.

Sister. In the beginning war wasn’t quite so bad, although morally, of course, it was always unspeakably dreadful.

People used to fight hand to hand, and kill each other from quite near, with spears, long steel spikes and other weapons, then later, they shot with bows and arrows, you’ve heard of bows and arrows.

Well, everybody regarded it as a sort of game, with definite rules, particularly we English, who were always slow and stupid.

Small brother. Sissy!!

Sister.
Now don’t interrupt.

Well, people liked fighting very much really, or at any rate some did, they used to put on expensive armour and ride about on beautiful horses, and when there wasn’t a war, they went about saving fair maidens out of enchanted castles, and it was all very nice.

Everything went well, because all the countries used the same weapons, and fought in the same way, but gradually men began to invent more deadly weapons, and some of the countries invented the before their enemies knew anything about it, so of course they said it wasn’t fair and were very cross, and lots of them got killed.

Guns were invented, and other dreadful things, and people fought from a long way off. Nearly everybody fought, and they still had rules like in a game.

Things got worse and worse till the last war, that was about 1914, and then thousands of people got killed, and it was all like a very bad nightmare, men, women and children got killed and aeroplanes dropped bombs about in the town and no one was safe anywhere. After everybody had spent most of their money on the war and lost most of their sons, and had some of their houses knocked down, they got very tired of it, but it had to be finished, because a very wicked country called Germany was threatening the peace of the whole world, not that the whole world really wanted peace, mind you, because they didn’t, but they liked to think they did, and anyhow, they hated the Germans very much, and not without cause.

However, the people who were running the war for England began to see that it wasn’t a game any longer, because they didn’t get enough to each and their sons being killed; so when Germany invented clever things to kill people quicker, which weren’t allowed by the rules, they invented cleverer ones back and said nothing about it, and in the papers the people read all about the wicked things Germany was doing and thought Germany dishonourable for disobeying the rules, and some people say that the English people who were working the war for the English broke the rules first, but this isn’t certain, and anyway, the Germans were a greedy and unscrupulous people, much worse than us, though we were far from perfect, and they were beaten.

And people began to sit down and think a bit, which wasn’t often done in those days, and they came to the conclusion that war wasn’t a game any longer, and that they had better prevent its happening again, so they got together a kind of jury and they called it the League of Nations.

They talked for over a year; some said there must be no more fighting of any kind, and others said that the nature of man couldn’t exist without fighting, so they talked and talked until at last they came to a decision.

They decided to go back to the bow and arrow method, because it looked so nice and wasn’t as dangerous as the other methods, only bows, arrows and armour, were to be used, and directly anybody was wounded he would count as dead, and directly a quarter of the fighters on one side were dead, the other side would have won, and in case of any contravention of the rules, the whole world would punish the offender very severely, and since no country could ever be stronger than all the rest put together, the idea seemed practical and sound.

Well the next fight after the real war was between France and America, it was brought about by a difference of opinion as to whether Paris or New York should lead the fashions in ladies’ hats. It was, of course, a difficult problem, and the League of Nations discussed it for three months, at the end of this time there was a terrible hat strike, and women had to go about bare headed and many of them caught colds and died.

At last the League decided that France and America must figure it out.

The battle was arranged in Hyde Park, London, 100 men from Paris and 100 men from New York were chosen, the battlefield was railed around and people had to pay £20 to watch. The proceeds went to the society for stray cats.

Just before the battle began an Englishman invented an impregnable armour, so he sold the secret for a million pounds to the Paris men, and then got another million from the New York men for telling them, too.

So the first day’s fighting killed no one, and broke a lot of arrows, also it rained hard and the people who had paid £20 to come and watch were very sick about it.

On the second day someone invented an arrow which could pierce the armour, and both sides got hold of the secret, but everyone got to know of it before the battle, so they all wore double armour and again no one got killed, and still it rained, and the fighters sank up to their ankles in mud, because their armour was so heavy, and at the end of the day their friends had to pull them out with ropes.

Now this sort of thing went on for six days; each day better arrows were invented and thicker armour was worn to shield off the arrows, and as a result no one was killed and hundreds of arrows were broken, and still it rained very hard, and all the people who watched got wet and angry, and many died of chills.

And each day, the fighters sank deeper in the mud, because the ground got softer and their armour got heavier.

At last, on the seventh day, which was a Sunday, the situation seemed impossible, because the armed men knew that they couldn’t even get within range of each other; directly they stepped into Hyde Park they would get stuck, and since the rule was that each side should start at opposite ends of the park, it seemed hopeless.

However, a clever Englishman came to the rescue; he constructed two great rafts, and on these the fighters were to row out to the selected spot.

On a given signal they were to step off their rafts and fight as usual.

It cleared up a bit that day and the sun came out, so that heaps of people came to watch in boats and the stray cat’s shares went up seventy-two points.

The Lord Mayor came specially to give the signal for fighting to start.

Directly he blew the whistle the fighters stepped off the rafts, it was calculated by an American that each man weighed seven hundred pounds, anyhow they were never seen again, they sank right down through the each till they reached the centre of gravity and there they presumably remained.

So the question was never settled and everybody bought their hats in London.

Since then there have been no wars.

K.P.L.

The Newburian (magazine of St Bartholomew’s School, Newbury), April 1919 (N/D161/1/9)

Peace in a fortnight

The peace negotiations were ongoing. J H Thomas was the MP for Derby.

18 March 1919

Lloyd George begged to stay in Paris for Peace Conference, & have peace in fortnight. Labour member Mr Thomas flew over to consult him!

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

Interesting curios from the battlefields

Exciting incidents could distract children from their school work.

Sparsholt
1919
Jan 16th

This afternoon Major Pocock [an old boy] gave the children a short address, & exhibited various interesting curios from the battlefields in France.

Boxford
Jan 16th 1919

An aeroplane came down in the village this dinner time, many boys are absent this afternoon owing to the same.

Emmer Green
16th January 1919

Mrs Bartlett was absent from duty this morning on business connected with her husband’s return from ‘Active Service’.

Log books of Sparsholt CE School D/P115/28/47); Boxford CE School log book (C/EL115/2);Emmer Green CE School log book (R/ES8/3

“Right in front of the battalion, leading his men in true British style”

This supplement to the roll of honour’s bald list of names gives us more detail about the parish’s fallen heroes.

Supplement to the Wargrave Parish Magazine

ROLL OF HONOUR.
R.I.P.

Almighty and everlasting God, unto whom no prayer is ever made without hope of thy compassion: We remember before thee our brethren who have laid down their lives in the cause wherein their King and country sent them. Grant that they, who have readily obeyed the call of those to whom thou hast given authority on earth, may be accounted worthy among thy faithful servants in the kingdom of heaven; and give both to them and to us forgiveness of all our sins, and an ever increasing understanding of thy will; for his sake who loved us and gave himself to us, thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Baker, Edward
Private, 7th Wiltshire Regiment, killed in action on the Salonica Front, April 24th, 1917, aged 21. He was the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Baker. He was born at Wargrave and educated at the Piggott School. When the war commenced he was working as a grocer’s assistant in Wargrave. He volunteered in 1915 and was sent out in 1916. He was killed by a shell in a night charge.

Barker, Percy William

Private, 7th Batt. Royal Berkshire Regiment/ Killed at Salonica, July 4th 1917, aged 19. He was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. William Barker at Yeldall Lodge. His father was for twenty years a gardener at Yeldall. He was born at Crazies Hill and educated at the village school. On leaving school he began work as a gardener. He was one of the most helpful lads on the Boys’ Committee of the Boys’ Club. He volunteered May 11th, 1916. On July 4th, 1917, he was hit by a piece of shell from enemy aircraft while bathing and died within an hour. The Chaplain wrote to his parents “Your loss is shared by the whole battalion”.

Bennett, William
Sergeant, 8th Royal Berkshire Regiment, killed in France, Dec 3rd, 1916 aged 25. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bennett, of Wargrave, and when the war broke out he was working on a farm. He volunteered at once. He was killed instantly by a shell. One of his officers wrote: “Sergt. Bennett was the best N.C.O. we had in the company. Fearless, hardworking, willing, he was a constant inspiration to his platoon. His splendid record must inevitably have led to his decoration. We have lost an invaluable N.C.O. and a fine man. He was buried with all possible reverence about half a mile from Eaucourt L’Abbaye”.

Boyton, Bertram
Lieut., 6th London Brigade Royal Field Artillery, died of wounds in Palestine, Nov. 9th, 1917, aged 36. He was educated at King’s College, London, and was a Surveyor and Architect by profession. He was a Fellow of the Surveyors Institute and had won Gold and Silver Medals of the Society of Auctioneers by examination. He was married to Elsie, second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Morris, at the Parish Church, Wargrave, Sept. 7th 1905, He was a member of the London Rowing Club and the Henley Sailing Club, and keenly interested in all athletics. He enlisted in the Honourable Artillery Company in April 1915. He was given a commission in the 6th London R.F.A., in July 1915 and was promoted Lieutenant soon after. He went to France with his battery in June 1916, and to Salonica in the following November. He was sent to Egypt and Palestine in June 1917, and was wounded while taking his battery into action in an advance on November 6th. He died at El Arish on November 9th, 1917.

Buckett, Ernest Frederick

Private in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, killed in action Sept. 20th, 1917, in France, aged 23. The dearly loved husband of Dorothy May Buckett, married May 31st, 1917. He was educated at the Henley National School, and before the War was a slaughterman with Messrs. O’Hara & Lee, butchers, Henley and Wargrave. In 1910 he joined the Berkshire Yeomanry (Territorial Force), and was called up on August 4th, 1914, at the commencement of the war. He immediately volunteered for foreign service. He went to France in the spring of 1915. When he had completed his five years service, since the date of his enlistment, he volunteered for another year, but received his discharge as a time-expired man in January 1916. In July, 1916, he was called up under the new regulations and sent immediately to France where he remained, except for leave on the occasion of his marriage, until he fell in action, September 20th, 1917. (more…)

Bonn shelled by aeroplanes

Will Spencer’s German in-laws lived in a town affected by British air raids.

2 November 1918

After dinner a telegram from Agnes: “Mama ist gut, wir auch. Gruss.” [Mama is well, so are we. Greetings.] Johanna regarded the telegram as an answer to that which she had sent on the 31st, to say that we were in Thun, but I was rather surprised, as Johanna’s telegram had not been to enquire after her mother, that Agnes had thus telegraphed. A little later, the Bonner Zeitung for Nov. 1st (yesterday’s paper!) arrived for Johanna (the first up to date copy she had received since ordering it here). It contained the news that Bonn had been shelled by aeroplanes on the afternoon of the 31st, & many people in the town killed or wounded. We now understood why Agnes had telegraphed, & also now saw that her telegram had been handed in in Bonn at 6 o’clock on the evening of the 31st.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

“A good few expected peace when the first notes were exchanged & are accordingly depressed”

Ralph Glyn’s sister and mother wrote to him. Meg’s circle of acquaintances in London included many army officers, and she reported some disappointment that talks of peace had not yet come to anything. Lady Mary was engaging in a private battle with the vicar of Bamber, where she and the Bishop were living, who thought the National Anthem inappropriately jingoistic for church.

Hardwicke House
Ham Common
Richmond
Surrey

27.10.18

My darling Ralph

Thank you so much for you letter & I am so sorry to hear you have got this beastly flu, it is sickening for you but by the time this letter reaches you I hope you will be quite fit again. No – flying doesn’t sound the best cure certainly, but I suppose you had to do it.

I was much interested to see the photographs you enclosed. They are copies of negatives taken by Addie of Royalist up with the Grand Fleet. If you have got the negatives it would be good of you to send them here to me, tho I cannot imagine how they got among your negatives, as I keep those ship photographs most carefully. But do send me all 3 negatives if you have them.

Jim & I stayed last night at Belgrave Square & dined with the Connaughts, a small dinner which was great fun. The Arthur Connaughts were there, she is a stick; Mr Spring Rice who was in Washington with Eustace & Ivar, & Mrs Ward who was Muriel Wilson. An A1 dinner too! The old Duke was in great form & full of funny stories of soldiers’ remarks in Palestine:

One soldier asked another, “Which is the way to the Mount of Olives?” & the other replied, “If that’s a public house I’ve never heard of it.” An Arab writing to the Governor concluded his letter with, “I write in the name of J. Christ, esq, who is well known to you & who your Excellency so much resembles”. An Australian wantonly killed a Jew & was remonstrated with, “Why did you do it?” “Well”, he said, “they are the people who killed Christ”. “Yes, but a long time ago”. “Well”, said the Australian, “I only heard of it yesterday”….

John went off to GHQ on Wednesday, & on Friday Maysie & I went over 2 houses she had the offer of in London. The larger one (both being tiny) was in Regents Park, & had lovely Chinese furniture, & nicely done up, the second in Hill Street, Knightsbridge, & very nicely done, but tiny. I strongly advised her to plump on the 2nd & she’s got it for 6 months, & I think it will do for her very wel indeed. Billy is home on leave & I saw him yesterday too. He looks v. fit, a Majr, & 2nd in command of his battalion!

A good few expected peace when the first notes were exchanged & are accordingly depressed, but everyone feels thankful & the end must be in sight. But there’s some sickness with the Americans not getting on, it would have been splendid to cut the Huns off in that retreat, but you always said they have no staff to handle the men, and it does seem 10,000 pities that thro sheer silly pride they won’t brigade their men with ours & the French, doesn’t it….

Meg

(more…)

Killed in an aeroplane accident

Not many workhouse boys can have risen to the heights of being an officer.

Oct 15th
Heard of the death of Frank Hopgood. He was a boarded out boy from Reading Union and had all his education at this school. Leaving at 13 yrs of age he went to work and at the commencement of the war joined up and went to France. He gained a Commission and as second-lieutenant was killed in an aeroplane accident at Faversham yesterday morning.

Log book of St Mary’s CE School, Speenhamland (C/EL119/3)

A wild mass of soldiers

Railway workers went on strike.

Florence Vansittart Neale
24 September 1918

A & E to dine. E receiving War Badge from Sir F. Loyd. Paddington a wild mass of soldiers. Wicked strike of railway men. Government firm.

William Hallam
24th September 1918

Aeroplanes were flying over all night long last night.

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

The noise of aeroplanes overhead

Pilots training disturbed the sleep of civilians at home.

20th September 1918

A great aeroplane went over this morning about 4 o’clock making such a noise it woke me up and I thought it was the 20 past 5 hooter. It then returned about 5.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

“When my enemy is dead then he is but a soul thrown into the boundless space of infinity, & he is no longer my enemy”

We have followed the story of Sydney Spencer from timid young man scared by the roughness of the army, but driven to join up; through his finally ariving at the front in 1918, to an experience with shell shock in August. Sadly, he would not survive the war. This is the last full letter written by Sydney to his beloved sister Florence; a couple of field postcards followed, before his death in action less than two months before the end of the war. Here he describes his current bivouac, and spares a thought for the enemy. His story epitomises the tragedy of the war, and his spirit shines through the years between us.

Sept 15th 1918
7th Norfolks
My Dearest Florence

My pillow is my haversack containing iron rations, my bedding, borrowed Burberrys eyc. (My kit – all of it – is still wandering about between here & Cox & Co’s London!) Now for the door which is the chef d’oeuvre! It is about 2 ½ feet square i.e. the opening of it! The door is a lid of a sugar box which just fits it! Hence when I go to bed, I lie down on the ground & pull myself into the bivouac by my hands. When I go out, I have to go feet first, & back out probably looking about as dignified in the action as does a dog over whose head some wretched boy has tied a paper bag! Dear old Dillon [his captain] chuckles with delight when he sees me getting in & out. My batman is about as big as I am [Sydney was rather small] & he & I are about the only two who can fit inside! Mind you I believe that he & Bodger (Dillon’s batman) made the entrance small on purpose, a covert pulling of my leg. Nevertheless it is so ‘cumfy’ [sic] & warm & dry I love the little spot. Its dimensions are 7 feet length, 4 feet breadth. Height 2 ½ to 3 feet high. Voila ma cherie. Vous avez une phantasie vraisemblable de ma maisonette qui doit vous donner a rire? [This rather bad piece of French translates as “there you are, my darling. You have a vision resembling my little house which will make you laugh”.] …

Two nights ago German aeroplanes (note I say German, I hate ‘Hun’, ‘boche’ etc, it is petty!) came over on bombing intent. A low moon sickly behind a cloud hung (it could not do much else by the way!) in the sky! Planes over. Lights out! The usual boredom. Then about 14 search lights crisscrossed in the sky. Hallo, they have got one in the ray. I had my strong field glasses & there sure enough in the focus of about a dozen searchlights I could see him. He glowed against the deep blue green of the sky, like those lovely flies of May which have transparent emerald green wings. The usual rat-a-tan of machine guns & the muffled boom of shells bursting round him followed. Then high above him appeared a speck of light like a star which winked & glowed & winked again. Machine gun fire stopped. This was one of our men after him. A moment of waiting, a dull spark of light like a shooting star (a tracer bullet) sped by the enemy plane, another one, a momentary pause then a sheet of flame curved gracefully to earth followed by a brilliant stream of coloured lights – some mystic comet from a Miltonian chaos & dark night it looked – & the soul of an enemy passed into the infinite. Over lonely wooden crosses in shell holes one sees in German characters a name & above it the one word ‘Ruhe’ [rest]. I felt that for him. Through all this I cannot help preserving the thought that when my enemy is dead then he is but a soul thrown into the boundless space of infinity, & he is no longer my enemy. Another enemy plane came, another fight took place & he sped to earth at a sickly pace, his signal rockets all colours bursting out behind him in reckless profusion. I suppose he crashed to earth too somewhere, but he did not set on fire.

This afternoon I was in my nothings & a very smart sergeant came up to me & said, “Are you Sydney Spencer”? Well I thought “Yes I am Sydney Spencer as it happens but anyway what the – is it to do with you”, & then “My word, it is Frank Godfrey!” My dear, I was so overwhelmed at meeting someone from Cookham, that I nearly fell on his neck in front of the whole company – all with their nothings on – & wept. I had not seen him since Aug 1914. Thus does anyone from home stir one!

Percy. How is he? I hoped he would be held in bed for months to prevent his coming out soon….

Leave. Think, Florence, I have been out here 6 months & possibly before Christmas I may get leave! And then a rug in front of a warm fire, your sweet selves to charm me to laziness and – oh well – let’s wait till it comes off. I might get impatient if I wrote more on that score. …

Cigarettes. By the way, you said in one of your letters that you had sent Dillon 500 cigarettes. I think from a business point of view you should know that the parcel contained 200. He did not tell me for a long time, but when he did, I thought you ought to know in case Coln Lunn [the merchant] made a mistake & only packed 200, charging you with 500.

The men were delighted with the share they got of them. Dillon, dear old chap, was almost pathetically grateful….

My kit & cheque book are wandering about somewhere in France or England & have been doing so for the last about 40 days, & at present I sit twiddling my thumbs & waiting! When I came out of hospital, lo! I had no hat, no belt, no change of linen, no nothing except for a pair of Tommy’s slacks & a tunic! I managed to go to Le Havre where I spent fabulous sums on making myself look like an officer, having managed to borrow a cheque, which I changed at Cox & Co’s…

By the way, darling, you may send that kit for which I asked although probably by the time I get it all my other kit will come tumbling back & then I shall be once more told I possess too much.

All love to you my sweet sister & to John, of whose approbation – told me through your letters – I am more proud than I can say

Your always affectionate Brer Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EZ177/8/3/79-82)

“Sometimes it’s a piece of shell – next day it will be a piece of bone”

Percy was clearly feeling a little better, and was able to observe life in his ward with his customary wry humour.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
SE1

Sep 1, 1918

My dear WF

Since Thursday morning I’ve lived – my arm went to sleep and has remained so. This morning the muck from it was much diminished and I am actually beginning to sleep without drugs and to walk a few paces. Two nights ago I indulged in the luxury of a bath and was strong enough to balance on one leg when necessary. In a few days time I am to be operated upon again to get at odds and ends of bone not wanted again. Of course I’m no end pleased at the prospect.

The fellow opposite is a perfect [illegible – source?] of wealth. They get something fresh out of him every day. He affords the sisters all the excitement of a bran pie insamuch as all the things are different – sometimes it’s a piece of shell – next day it will be a piece of bone, followed by a chunk of glass or a cork. I’ve got a small wager that inside a week they’ll find a bottle of whiskey in him somewhere.

I’ve asked No 9 (of Oriel College Oxford) what a “stunt” is and he confirms my opinion that today it has reached the stage when it means anything one likes to make it. Still I look back to the day when it was only applied to an out of the ordinary military minor enterprise. Nowadays, tricks in the air are stunts – so are raids – so is a disagreeable field practice or a route march – or the attendance at a court martial – and to go to big things, I remember that huge affair the battle of Messines being described as a “splendid stunt”. So carry on – make it mean what you like & look confident about it, you’ll worry through all right. I’m quite sure that will not satisfy John’s accurate mind.

No. 17 IBD “L” depot Calais means the “L” depot of the 17th Infantry Base Depot situated at Calais. It also means that Sydney having got beyond the point on the lines of communication from which officers are sent to rejoin their Battalion, has been sent back to the base depot, from there to be sent back to his Battalion when required or elsewhere possibly. Alternatively, assuming he is not yet fit, it means either that he is being sent to his base depot to convalesce, or being considered worn out he is there is do a few months tour of duty. Now I feel sure you must know exactly what it means.

This morning was very lovely. After I had been bathed, I lay and watched the Mother of Parliaments shyly move away from the night, down to the water’s edge and then silently and soberly await the first kiss and warm embrace of her other love. (It’s quite all right, I had some medicine yesterday.)

Just there I had to suspend operations for lunch – cold beef salad & potatoes: plum pie & custard. Unfortunately I had to refuse second helpings. However, as I lay here in the sunshine I feel that comfortable replete feeling stealing over me and presently I shall stretch forth my hand for John’s cigar and dissolve in smoke.

With my dear love to you both

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/85-88)

“There are some days when my arm is scarcely endurable””

Percy Spencer was recovering from his wound.

Aug 29 [1918]

My dear WF

Very many thanks for the lavender bags. The Night Nurse specially appreciates your remembering her as you have not seen her. My adjutant’s wife came to see me 2 days ago and brought her little girl. I begged the enclosed photos from her.

The surgeon is quite satisfied with my wrist & I can see for myself it begins to look healthier. Changes in the weather are my worst enemy and there are some days – as for instance yesterday – when my arm is scarcely endurable, and letter writing is difficult, so you must forgive me if sometimes I do not write.

…I’ve always meant to ask you – did you see that a fellow was killed at Heacham the other week by a low flying plane – “accidental death” I expect was the verdict.

…The padre discussed my religious outlook before he left and promised to have a battle royal for the benefit of my soul upon his return, merrily running through a list of the souls he had vanquished in this very ward. However I don’t think we shall get very far, as I shall first require his Christian qualifications before I allow him to operate. If he passes the test I’m thinking [last page missing]

Part of letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/83-84)

And down came the bombs

Percy Spencer was making a good recovery.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]

Aug 27 [1918]

My dear WF

I’ve had some delightful letters from France. ‘Davey’ is the adjutant whose job I should have got had he not recovered and returned to the Battalion a week or so before me, and whose job I should eventually got [sic]. Dr [Camp/Lang?] is an interpreter, very literary fellow, who has done wonderful things in Spain. He was dining with me on the eventful night when hearing the old Bosch overhead I amused the fellows with a description of our real thoughts and the Hun plane’s thoughts on such an occasion – and down came the bombs.

Last night I got up for a couple of hours and didn’t feel too tired. Also last night I had a fairly good night without the aid of a sleeping draught. Mr Adams is satisfied with my hand – in fact all’s well again.

Can you send me Will’s address, and I should like the other boys’ addresses when you have time.

With my dear love to you both

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/82)

“I loved my men & they followed me wonderfully & I longed to remain with them, but I was for the time being the led & not the leader”

Sensitive Sydney Spencer had found the experience of hard fighting had led to shell shock.

August 19th 1918
73rd General Hospital
BEF France

My Darling Sister

Just this line or two to say that I am much much better. Thank goodness the effects I dreaded – sleepless nights & ugly dreams – have passed away quickly like a mist & although I don’t like to look back upon one or two incidents which I witnessed in the push of Aug 8th, 9th & 10th in which I took part, a merciful providence has given me a spirit with which to fight those weary thoughts which at first crowded my mind & spoiled my chances of getting well. As it is, I am quite normal & perky again & my happy old self except that I want to get back to the B[attalio]n & see how things are.

The history of my affair roughly is this. We were on a high plateau taken the day before. We were moved – I think unwisely – slightly forward (after having dug ourselves in & camouflaged ourselves too!) to dig in, in broad daylight. There was no place to dig in, so the co[mpan]y got into shell holes scattered here & there. A German aeroplane saw us, & then the shelling started. 7 of us were in one hole. Myself & a c[or]p[ora]l & 5 others. At last a shell landed right in the hole.

A man not a yard away from me was killed instantly being horribly smashed up. 5 were wounded. One wasn’t at all. I had a wee wee splinter cut my left arm. I held up for a time, then the effects of 8 days work with about 4 hours sleep, little food, & existing on a cup of whiskey every 5 or 6 hours told their tale, & I broke up, & was sent down.

Bitterly disappointed I was, I loved my men & they followed me wonderfully & I longed to remain with them, but I was for the time being the led & not the leader.

All love to you my darling Sister

Your always affect
Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/3/70)