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)

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He had gone “over the top” more than 17 times

There was news of men from Maidenhead Congregationalists.

OUR SOLDIERS.

Alfred Isaac is at the Crystal Palace, in training for the Navy. George Ayres is at Anglesey, in daily expectation of orders for overseas. Wallace Mattingley is in Ireland. A. J. Lane is having his first experience of life in the front lines. Alfred Vardy is map-making a few miles from the coast in France. Reginald Hill is still in hospital at Cliveden. Ernest Bristow is daily looking for his discharge. Mr. and Mrs. Sale recently spent a day in Maidenhead, visiting their old friends. Mr. Sale is passed in the highest class for general service, and was “joining up” immediately.”

DEATH OF BENJAMIN GIBBONS.

The distressing news has just come to hand that Benjamin Gibbons was killed in action on June 24th. It is scarcely more than three weeks since he went back to France, after some time in Ireland. When he was last home on furlough he was far from well, but he was quite ready to return. In answer to a question he said that he had gone “over the top” more than 17 times. May God’s tenderest consolation be with the bereaved parents.

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

Showing off for the pretty girls

The Images were on holiday, where they observed pilots in practice – and taking girls for joy rides.

At Mr Linnell’s Bungalow
Heacham
Norfolk

9 July 1918

MVDB

[Florence] is off on her cycle to Hunstanton about registering for the new ration books…

We could not, for some time, realise the points of the compass here. Norfolk is in East Anglia, therefore the sea stretching before our windows was obviously to the East – that was self-evident – and when at sunset we were confronted by a crimson orb looking straight in at our French windows, we felt I don’t know how! Was it credible that the East and the Battle Ground lay at our backs?

We are in the vicinity of 2 large aerodromes and aerial messengers pass the lazy clouds all day long. On certain days they explode bombs in the sea at a target. These are advertised by a red flag. Once we watched with interest a pompous looking officer in khaki stalk out over about a mile of sand to the Wash. Just as he got there, one, two, 3 columns of water shot up in the air, apparently quite close to him, and of course with a thundering report. It was quite like the pictures of an attack at the Front. Promptly the gallant Warrior turned round and executed a movement to the rear, with slow dignity.

But on ordinary days the planes are simply flying for practice – and altho’ this is extremely dangerous and positively forbidden, a plane will fly down the whole line of bungalows, so close that you can see the men inside saluting the pretty girls they pass and skimming the roofs in the pride of showing off.

Yesterday, for instance, one of these mountebanks was exhibiting over the beach, looping the loop, and skimming the roofs, till all of a sudden he swooped down on to the shingle, in front of a bungalow where stood a tall fellow (in citi, how did he escape khaki?) with his 3 wives [sic], all showy, stylish girls. Out jumped a couple of well-bronzed, good-looking young officers, and the man and his wives accosted them. I heard the wives ask for a fly, and the officer’s reply was that it was “most strictly” forbidden.

Poor souls, an hour later (they had been having tea in the bungalow) they came down the beach, one flying man and one wife mounted the plane and up she started – (the ruts of her wheels on the beach remained till high tide) – and soared for 5 minutes: then, the wife descended, and another wife took her place for another 5 minute sail – and then, at 5.35, No. C6860 was off to Thetford, and I expect a wigging for her officers if they were found out.

Ever fraternally
Bild

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

This dreamy life

The Russian Imperial family was still alive – but would be murdered in less than a fortnight.

Friday 5 July 1918

Florence Vansittart Neale
5 July 1918

Horrible rumour Tzar, Tzaritza & Tatiana been murdered.

We all nibbling on satisfactoring [sic]. Germans not making push. Our air work very good & upsetting to them.

Sydney Spencer
5 July 1918

Got up at 7.15. Breakfast as 8.15. At 8.30 inspected men’s rifles, hair, SBRs & feet. Dismissed them till 11.30 to clean up. I rested meanwhile in my room, & sewed up my torn breeches etc. At 11.30 I inspected men in full marching order & have them some arms drill. At 12 I went to my room & slept for an hour.

Dear old Maddison arrived at 1 pm & I spent the afternoon lying in a field of cut clover with him. He told me some of his life history. After tea this dreamy life was dispelled by the news that I report back to the Battalion tomorrow at Hedanville.

Domqueur is a delightful spot. Spent the rest of evening playing patience & resting. To bed at 11 & read a stupid ill written novel.

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

“The men always say we move on a Sunday”

Sydney was on the move again.

Sunday 16 June 1918

And so, my dear diary, once more we make a move on a Sunday! The men always say we move on a Sunday, although I have not specially noticed it.

Got up at 6.45. Went to Holy Communion at ‘Gaspers’ entertainment barn at 7.30. Took church parade for Dillon. An old French peasant kicked up a row. My knowledge of French led me into the task of getting rid of him!

At 12 noon we knew nothing about moving. At 1.45 Dillon & I were playing double patience. At 2 pm we marched off for a camp between F-c-v-e & H-d-v-e. Arrived there at 4.30 pm. Men under ‘Arab’ bivouacs in a corn field at edge of trench system, ourselves, 4 of us in a tent near road. A rest & bed by 10 pm. EA [enemy aeroplanes] heard overhead but no shelling except of V-ns.

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

A bolt from the blue

Aeroplanes overhead were becoming common both in France and on the home front.

Sydney Spencer
Tuesday 4 June 1918

I am seated in a waggon for 40 hommes or 8 chevaux at Candas! How do I come to be here? Well, hear my story with patience, my dear diary!

I rose at 6.30 as usual, on parade etc at 7 as usual, company training as usual till 10 am, & then a bolt from the blue! In other words a note from Mark Tapley to the effect that I would report Marronville for a gas course on the 7th, taking at least 36 hours to get there!

I promptly made up mess accounts. Came to P[u?]chvillers by mess cart with Fox, my batman. Caught a train at 4.30 & have now been waiting nearly 2 hours for this train to start!

The train started and we moved on in fits & starts. How many miles we moved I do not know, as I slept by fits and starts. Just before midnight, however, I woke to the tune of Fritz aeroplanes. He dropped sundry bombs starting a fire not far off to N. West.

William Hallam
4th June 1918

Last night I heard an aeroplane going over. I got up and looked out of the window and saw it drop a star light.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and William Hallam of Swindon (D/EX1415/25)

The German prince who refused to demobilise the British Navy

Prince Louis of Battenberg, the father of Earl Mountbatten and grandfather of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, lived at Lynden Manor in Holyport, Bray. Despite coming from a princely German family, he had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy. His son is the inspiration behind the name for the new Prince Louis.

29 Barton Road
2 June ‘18

My very dear old man,

Before I forget, I must tell you of a thing that has happened in the last few days.

At Duxford (do you know it?) a village a few miles off, I have seen it – there is a large aerodrome. Its machines are eternally flying over our garden, more than a dozen a day. It is a training school for USA aeronauts.

Yesterday the Hon. LL.D. was conferred on President Wilson by proxy
(didn’t he write a most flattering letter of acceptance? Surely I read such a one), and also upon L. of B. [Prince Louis of Battenberg] – now called Louis Mountbatten, Marquis of Milford Haven: – who was immediately afterwards to deliver the Rede Lecture. Subject, the British Navy 1814 to 1914. You may guess that drew me… Such a tall majestic man – but so simple and kindly looking. It wasn’t an able lecture (me judice) – but, all through, I was reflecting the fact that this was the clear head which refused to demobilise the British Navy after the manoeuvres, as the Admiralty purposed, and the Hun had counted on: so that the outbreak of war found every ship fully manned and prepared.

Ever yours,
Bild

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

“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)

“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)

“One slithered up & down the trenches & could keep nothing dry”

Sydney had his first experience of a patrol.

Sydney Spencer
Friday 24 May 1918
[written retrospectively on 28 May]

A very wet day after all the lovely weather. The trenches soon became muddy & one slithered up & down them & could keep nothing dry. But there are worse troubles than rain, & we have been very fortunate in the weather. Usual strafe in the morning & evening did not take place. No aeroplane work by either enemy or ourselves. During my patrol as seen below I mention dandelions. Effect of wiring made by squeak of leaves! Man seen = the head of a dandelion bud seen out of focus.

Started on on my patrol at 2 am, accompanied by Sergeant Ewing, my man Fox & two men from No 8 Platoon. I had mingled feelings at this my first experience of patrolling at first, a suppressed excitement, then a few minutes of unvoiced chuckling as I did my best ‘crawl’ as in the old days of studying nature. A listening patrol. Heard nothing, dandelion & a bush produced (!) sounds of wiring (!!), a man moving, bush & wind produced effect of men moving.

Percy Spencer
24 May 1918

Moved to camp of 8th E Surreys. Nasty quarters, surrounded with guns, & of course it rained. However we got under cover at last.

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

“It was like a benediction falling on the earth, & the air wounded & bleeding from the incessant noise & was rested & sighed contentedly for that brief space, when respite was allowed”

Sydney Spencer had been unable to take his diary with him to the front line, so he wrote up his experiences on 28 May 1918. He was able to delight in the glories of nature even there, despite the horrors of war.

I propose filling in these pages, my dear Mr Diary, by giving you a broad idea of what happened in the line during these days from Whit Sunday [19 May] until Thursday 23, as I am not certain as to details from day to day.

The normal day’s work consisted of short ‘patches’ of sleep at any odd time, sometimes only twice during the 9 days tour 6 hours sleep in the 24 hours, on an average between 2 & 3 hours. Meals were at 4.30 after stand down. Lunch at 12.30 or 1. Tea at 4 pm & dinner (so its name went & for trench life well deserved it too) at 7. For 4 days from 7.45-8.45 we had to wear small box respirators for practice.

Nights were spent on trench duty, wiring, digging, & for me on one evening a calling party. Also patrols. I only took one, a listening post, although I was detailed for 4 of them. The first three were cancelled as the entire regiment did them instead. After three days in my part of the line I was shunted into immediate support just behind 8 & 5 Platoons, about 25 yards behind the front line. This meant that I became a sort of ‘fatigue dance of death’ in the evenings. I had, while in actual front line, a Lewis gun post, and a rifleman’s post. This new position of mine was not the most comfortable as master Fritz was very fond of playing attention to that quarter twice a day, but we got used to that. On our last day we had the biggest strafe, which included an aeroplane at a very low height.

The weather while we were up the line was glorious from the day we went up until we came out, without a cloud with the exception of one day which rained soft, rained on us & made the soil beastly.

Now something about the nature I was able to study during my tour of ‘Narrow streets’. We had times, occasionally we had moments when peace seemed to reign supreme. One day I was able to stand in the W- C- trenches for fully five minutes without hearing guns either near or distant, nor the clack of L. Guns or Machine guns, nor the hum of aeroplanes. It was wonderful that smooth quiet moment or two when the month of summer was allowed to hold full sway. It was like a benediction falling on the earth, & the air wounded & bleeding from the incessant noise & was rested & sighed contentedly for that brief space, when respite was allowed.

Now to talk of the life I saw in ‘Narrow Street’. First of all the butterflies. They were beautiful. Dear old Peyton used to laugh at me and say “Spencer has a lot of little boxes in his bivy filled with butterflies”, but that wasn’t true. I wrote to Florence one morning & just when I was in the middle of a list of butterflies which I had seen, master Boche started and gave us 3 /12 hours of the worst I have tasted, but I finished my letter all the same for that. Here is a list of butterflies.

1. Small white.
2. Green veined white.
3. Tortoiseshell.
4. Red admiral.
5. Peacock.
6. Small fritillary.
7. Large fritillary.
8. Small Heath.
9. Meadow brown.
10. Small blue.
11. Swallow Tail.
& I think but am not certain
12. The Painted Lady.

I did not see the large white nor orange tip, nor brimstone, which is passing strange, don’t you think, master diary? Of other insects, the handsomest was a glorious heavily built yellow gold & black bodied dragon fly. One morning, in the cool of the hour after stand down, I found one asleep & he went about contentedly on my [illegible] sleeve until the warm sun kissed him into life again. This seemed to highly amuse the men, especially when I shewed them his huge maw, which he opened when I blew on him gently: they also thought me very intrepid, as they thought all dragon flies stung! Frogs there were in abundance, & myriads of dusty coloured running spiders. Also many beautiful beetles. I saw one black & red fly busily hauling off the dead body of a spider! Had he killed it, I wondered? A turning of the tables. Also I found a beautiful emerald green ladybird, who when turned on its back opened its wing casts, prised itself onto its head, turned a somersault & landed on its feet in a tick! That is about all I have to relate.

For the rest, the usual round of wiring parties, water carrying, etc.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15)

“I’m getting sick of living on tiptoe”

German aeroplanes were bombing both in air raids and at the front.

Joan Daniels
May 21st Tuesday

We heard today that there were seven Gothas at least brought down in Sunday night’s raid which is splendid, let us hope that it will put them off coming a bit.

Percy Spencer
21 May 1918

Frightful row at 3.40 am by us, but Huns again failed to come up to scratch. I’m getting sick of living on tiptoe. A glorious day closing with a heavy storm. Bosch planes active bombing La Boie Hautvilliers.

Diaries of Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1); and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

“Even here aeroplanes are more ubiquitous than motor cars and went droning thro the blue at a great height like beetles”

On an antiquarian trip to his home region in the Vale of White Horse, William Hallam took the time to pay his respects at a war shrine.

18th May 1918

Got up at 7. Went to Challow sta. at 20 past 9. Walked thro’ Goosey across the fields – then onto Charney. Here I looked in the church as a young woman was cleaning it and getting ready for a wedding she told me. Notice that queer carving in chapel. Then I copied down all the Inscriptions I could decipher. The I went to a cottage and enquired the way to Cherbury Camp but the old man said I meant Chawberry. He told me the nearest way but I mistook it and went a devil of a way round. However I enquired again and got there alright about 1 o’clock. I was surprised to find such a perfect camp still existing in the midst of agricultural land. I sat on the bank and ate my lunch of bread and butter and a hard boiled egg and revelled in the sun. The cuckoo had been on all day long. The first day I’ve heard him this spring. There was not a cloud in the sky and even here aeroplanes are more ubiquitous than motor cars and went droning thro the blue at a great height like beetles. I sat here and thought for an hour. I looked over the ploughed field in the encampment and found one flint chip.

I came back into Charney the way I should have come – much nearer- and went into the Pub and had a pint and a ½ of ale. This landlady Shepherd knew me by seeing me regularly at St. Paul’s as they lived at Swindon until 3 years ago when they took this Pub. Her husband a smith now working she told me at Cheltenham in aeroplane works and rides on a bike to & from every week end- 45 miles. I asked about this old house near the Church. She told me a lady had bought it 2 or 3 years ago and spent a lot of money on it – then before she had finished it got tired of it and sold it to a Col. Colmes for 1800£ and now he is spending as much as he gave for it in restoring it. Fortunately in antiquarian lines the chapel & all being put back as it should be. When I started back I sat on the Oak bridge and saw the wedding – not a khaki one – party came out – quite a village wedding – all walking.

It was a scalding hot day and as I sat on a heap of stones resting and having a smoke 2 Swindon men passed by and had a chat on their way to Longworth. Further along the road I turned off and went to Denchworth & looked over the Church & churchyard and here I saw the first war shrine. A frame with a crucifix and list of the names of all the young men gone from the village with a prayer for the passer by to offer up for them so took off my hat and said it. Before it on a ledge were 2 brass vases of fresh flowers. I got back to Challow St. at 6 o’clock and got up home here at ½ past 7. The Country is at its best now especially the Vale.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

An air-ship passing over

Our new diarist Joan Daniels, aged 15, lived at 2 Southern Hill, Reading, where the family had moved from London to get away from the bombs. She was a pupil at the private Wilton House School.

Joan Daniels
1918
May 14th Tuesday

Had a postcard from [family friend] Mrs McKenzie saying that Cyril had been awarded the DSO. We were all ever so delighted as he has done so well altogether, going out as a 2nd Lieutenant & is now a Captain. All accounts of his deeds which earned him his medal on Thursday when she comes for the day.

William Hallam
14th May 1918

I heard a great noise of aeroplanes going over in the night but this morning I hear it was an air-ship passing over – following the Rly. so I wish I had got up and looked out of window as I had a good mind to but felt too lazy.

Diaries of Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1); and William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

“I am just a little weary of trying my hardest & not apparently succeeding”

Poor Sydney Spencer felt discouraged.

Sydney Spencer
Tuesday 14 May 1918

Got up at 7 am. Took charge of company out beyond wood & railway for digging trench. Started work at 9 am. Went on till 3.30. CO not pleased! I am just a little weary of trying my hardest & not apparently succeeding. But still I shall win through alright you see, my dear diary.

When I got back from working party at 4 pm, to find that Major Bracey had been over here to see me. He is at V-rs and I wanted this chance of going over to see him after lunch & tea which were welded into one meal. I mucked about, acted OC to company for a time, while Rolfe & Peyton were out temporarily riding, then dinner & bed, with very strict instructions from Rolfe that there were no orders for me & that I was to go to bed & rest long in the morning. I took a book to bed with me to read. It is called The Courtship of Mollie somebody or other, and is by A E W Mason. The ordinary sort of stuff, but good reading for me at the moment.

Percy Spencer
14 May 1918

A very fine day. Bosch shelled a bit. Enemy plane got over a balloon here and caused both observers to parachute down. Plane flew low and was well shot at but got away. Sent a bottle of whiskey to the boys of the 14th & bought 3 bottles of Hock and Chandon for Davis’s party coming out tomorrow.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)