A fairly good strafe

Both Percy and Sydney Spencer were now close behind the front line.

Sydney Spencer
Friday 3 May 1918

A fine morning! Stand to 4.30. Weather clear till 5.30. Then [illegible] for about ½ an hour, afterwards a perfect day. Trench dried up beautifully, ground became hard & easy to walk on. Arranged a good many details such as ammunition, lamps, fire positions, etc, during morning. Much aeroplane activity & a fairly good strafe at 10 am on the village behind enemy registering with artillery on all points on our line. Slept from 10.30 am till 1 pm & from 2-3.30 pm. Then duty till 5.30.

After tea had a talk with my men on general information. Got a plan made out for Lewis Gunners. Came back to HQ. Got a message to say that Company HQ was coming up with the spare platoon of B Company. They arrived at about 8 pm. Dillon and Rolfe arrived at about 10 pm.

Percy Spencer
3 May 1918

Hard day – returns & re-organising. Weather fine. Fritz bombed near by. Ridley turned up & talked over old times.

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

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Aeroplanes advertising Tank Week

Airborne propaganda was not quite as successful as planned, thanks to the British weather.

William Hallam
28th April 1918

Another cold day and it rained hard as I went to Church at XI.

Aeroplanes came over this afternoon dropping leaflets advertising Tank Week this coming week. Unfortunately just as the aeroplanes came over the town from the W. a heavy storm of wind and rain came on and as the 5 planes showered down the leaflets the largest quantity went away like a flock of birds towards Wootton Bassett, which I should imagine some of them reached.

It cleared afterwards and wife, Marj. & I went out for a walk along Victoria road and the Bath Rd. Met Lieut Girling down by the Public Offices where they were getting ready for the Tank and he came home to tea and supper with us.

Florence Vansittart Neale
28 April 1918

News about the same. Still holding – we not gone further back.

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

“10 seconds later his plane was crippled on the ground, enveloped in gigantic flames”

Sydney Spencer revealed life behind the lines in France in his diary, and wrote to his sister with more details.

Diary
Sunday 21 April 1918

Men bathed today from 9-4. So ‘Beer’ company officers had a rest in bed. Got up at 8.30, had a cold bath. After breakfast wrote to Mother & Father & Florence. It is now 11.15 am. A sunny morn & I am in a bit of pretty woodland. We parade at 11.30 am so I must go.

We had our parade on some fields near to billets. Only a short inspection & a talk and organization of platoon. I take over No 6 Platoon. After lunch took out company for football. After tea went to church in ‘flying fox’ lecture hall. A good service with a band and some solos from Elijah. A lovely day with plenty of sunshine.

After dinner I tried on my field boots which came today. They fit well. To bed at 10. Read Tennyson.

Letter

7th Norfolk Regiment
BEF
France

Sunday
21.4.18

My Dearest Florence & Mr I

Just a short line to let you know that I am very well & quite happy. Nothing exciting has yet taken place. The great pleasure at present is coming across lots of men who used to be in our regiment, who shew in their slow Norfolk way a keen relish at meeting a man of the old (help! I nearly got within reach of the censor I believe!) regiment. Also I have come across two men who were up at Oxford with me, one yesterday & one last week. …

Yesterday night a man was ‘stunting’ in his plane just above us. One moment he was like a calm serene bird floating down the wind. 10 seconds later his plane was crippled on the ground, enveloped in gigantic flames. I only hope he escaped a horrible death!

All love to you both
Your affectionate Brer Sydney

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and letter to his sister and brother in law (D/EZ177/8/3/20)

Tonight a plane came down in flames

Sydney Spencer got some help from a couple of old friends.

Saturday 20 April 1918

I rose at 6 am. Breakfast at 6.45. Went off to D-ns in the mess cart 18 miles from here to get mess stuff & personal stuff for the officers of the Battalion. While in D-ns met Private King who left Killinghall in August 1915 for France! He helped me a lot in getting mess stuff. Spent about 300 francs. Fearful business getting stuff. Also met Pryse, a Welshman who was at Oxford with me! Got back at 6. Mess cart & French roads succeeded in giving me a fearful headache.

Last night German plane bombed H-s-t about ½ a mile from here. Tonight a plane came down in flames at about 6.30.

10 new officers arrived on scene today.

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

“Something attempted, and something done”: a bombing raid on a German Aerodrome

Here we get a rare first person account of an air raid over the German army.

The Vicar has received from one of our Cranbourne Airmen the following account of a bombing raid on a German Aerodrome. The fear of the Censor prevents us mentioning the name of the writer, but it will not be difficult to guess who is the writer. It only seems a few weeks ago since he was a boy in our Schools and singing in our Choir. We are sure Mr. Aldworth will be proud that one of his pupils can write so well and graphically. The following is the account:

“A slight mist hung over the Aerodrome as the bombing machines were wheeled from the hangers. One by one their engines were started up for nothing is left to chance on these strafing expeditions. Meanwhile myself and fellow airmen had been summoned to a little office to learn the whereabouts of our objective. After a few minutes consultation and map reading we made our way to the machines, which looked spick and span, ready for the coming strafe. In a short space of time all was ready and one by one the machines left the ground. Steadily the indicator of the alti-meter was registering, and I knew my machine was climbing well, and it grew colder and colder, although we were wrapped up well. Looking ahead I found the formation of which I was at the rear, in perfect order.

Suddenly a sharp crack under the tail of my machine told me that anti-aircraft gunners had spotted us and that we were over hostile country. A quick glance at my map to pick up my bearings and then one seems to possess the eyes of a hawk. All at once a signal was made by the squadron leader denoting that we were nearing the objective. The air by this time is thick with shrapnel bursts, and looking through the trap door perceived the hangars of the night raiders. A few seconds to take line of sight and then a quick pull at the bomb-wires. Suddenly a streak of light flashes by and looking round I espy a German machine coming full tilt with its pilot firing rapidly. Like a flash I swung my guns at the oncoming Hun, who finding it getting too warm thought discretion the better part of valour and made off. During this little scrap my pilot had got the nose of the machine well down for home where we arrived in a short space of time. I made my report of ‘something attempted, and something done’, had earned a night’s repose.”

We are glad to hear that Pte. H.W. Edmonds is progressing favourably.

Cranbourne section of Winkfield and Warfield Magazine, April 1918 (D/P 151/28A/10/4)

“My perfect innocence of what is what in war”

Sydney Spencer was interested to find an American doctor was treating British soldiers.

Saturday 13 April 1918

8.53 pm. Enemy seems to be attacking from NE as I write. Heavy art[illery] duel seems to be in progress, at any rate it seems heavy to me, in my perfect innocence of what is what in war.

Cozens Hardy is not at all well. I think he has a chill. He went to bed early. The American doc dosed him with salts. He looked so quaint with his rough burly form squatted on the ground solemnly making up his dose. He wore his wooly lining with [Sarn brown?] over the top & looked quite of the Northern latitude.

This morning I took charge of company for digging trenches round 17.40 over by the hangars. Another day [illegible]. Task lasted from 9-2.30. Slept till 3.15. Then inspected company for gas masks and equipment etc. Had dinner at 7.15. Am now in bed. A rough windy day. No aeroplane work today.

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

Fritz planes are busy overhead

Although his unit was still behind the front, Sydney Spencer could see evidence of the air war.

Friday 12 April 1918

Rose at 7 am. Breakfast and on road by 8.45. Arrived here in camp at 12 noon. Fritz planes are busy overhead, & one can see over to SE 5 German observation balloons. Our anti aircraft guns are pooping at Fritz as I write.

A glorious day and wonderful undulating country wooded in parts, & we are camped in an orchard, 2.45 pm. Just came across Rory [illegible], who was at Oxford with me! He looks well. He is brother to our Padre!

8 pm. I am going to bed soon as we stand to at 4.45 tomorrow morning. Cozens Hardy has made me Company Mess President. Have just been making up mess accounts. Have written to Col. Hallis. Have also got two blankets. Dinner tonight. Soup, fishcake, meat [illegible], custard & fruit.

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

An aeroplane came down

Children at an east Berkshire school were far too excited to be expected to do any school work.

March 13th 1918

The last two lessons this afternoon were omitted as an aeroplane came down in a field near the school. All the children with the exception of the Infants went to see it and stayed until it went up again.

Littlewick C.E. School log book (85/SCH/5/2, p. 195)

“He displayed the greatest bravery and utmost coolness”

There was bad news for several Newbury families.

THE WAR

The deepest sympathy has been felt with Mr and Mrs Liddle in the death of their son, Lieut. Morton Robert Bridges Liddle, RN, at sea. Formerly a boy in the Choir, we had seen him grow up and develop into a smart young Naval Officer, respected and liked by all. Engaged in most dangerous work on a British Destroyer, he has now given his life for his country in the performance of his duty and has left an honourable name behind him. We trust that there may be given to his parents all the Divine help which they need in this time of grievous sorrow. We should like also to express our deep sympathy with Mrs Thomas on the death of her son, and with Mrs Perring on the death of her husband.

2nd Lieut. Ernest Henry Church has had to have his right foot amputated, after being severely wounded while flying in France in an unequal fight against enemy aeroplanes, in which he displayed the greatest bravery and utmost coolness. We are glad to know that he is progressing favourably.

We have been pleased to see Lieut. Richard Wickens at home on leave, though we were sorry for the occasion of it, namely the death of his mother, Eliza Wickens… He was not in time to see her alive, but got back in time for the funeral.

Newbury St Nicolas parish magazine (D/P89/28A/13)

The Royal Family visits Reading

George V and Queen Mary visited Huntley & Palmers’ factory in Reading, causing great excitement – as did a plane crash further west.

Reading
12th February 1918

Owing to the visit of the King & Queen to Reading, the attendance today has been very small indeed – number present this morning 108, this afternoon 73.

Thatcham
February 12th 1918

Several boys stayed away from school this morning to see an aeroplane which had come down.

Log books of Christ Church CE Infants School, Reading (89/SCH/7/6, p. 190); and Francis Baily Primary School, Thatcham (90/SCH/15/1, p. 45)

Training is given free to disabled soldiers who are unable to take up their old employment

Big problems were faced by former soldiers who had been sent home because they were no longer medically fit to serve, often because they were now permanently disabled. The Burghfield parish magazine offered advice:

Discharged Soldiers and War Pensions

A man’s discharge dates, not from the day he leaves the colours, but from three weeks afterwards, ie. from three weeks after his return home. For those three weeks he should receive his pay, also a gratuity of £1 and an allowance of 17/6 in place of plain clothes, and also any arrears that are due to him. If a wife or dependant is receiving an allowance it should be continued, and the ring paper not withdrawn, for two weeks after the expiration of the three weeks. if the pension which is due after discharge is not paid, application should be made to the War Pensions Sub-committee, either through Mr and Mrs Willink, who are serving on it, or to the Secretary of that Sub-committee at the Shire Hall, Reading, any day except Monday or Wednesday.

If there should be a delay in the issue of the pension, this Sub-committee has power to give a returnable grant till the money is forthcoming. Training is given free to disabled soldiers who are unable to take up their old employment. The following are some of the trades being taught: Engineering, including Aeroplane work, Building and House Decorating, Printing, Furniture, Leather Goods and Boot and Shoe Making, Cane and Willow Industry, etc. A form is issued for each disabled soldier to sign and fill up, so that his case may be investigated should there be any distress or need.

MGW

Burghfield parish magazine, December 1917 (D/EX725/4)

Working at the RAF

A teenager’s first job was working at the Royal Aircraft Factory in Hampshire.

December 7th 1917

Joseph Scott has left – being 14 – and obtained work in R.A.F. at Fanbaro.

Ascot Heath Boys’ School log book (C/EL110/4, p. 90)

“It was all very suggestive of Bethlehem, except for the noise of the guns outside”

Another army chaplain reports his experiences leading services and planning social activities very close to the front line.

5 December 1917

The following extracts are from 2 letters which Mother received lately from the Sub-Warden with the troops in France.

“This morning, I had an hour’s walk through mud & trenches, delayed by the unwelcome attention of a German aeroplane for a while, but otherwise uneventful, & at last arrived at a certain dug out. There was a steep staircase down about 20 ft, then a square flat, and then 5 or 6 more steps to the right. On the square flat I arranged a little altar. Men all up & down the stairs crouching to one side so as to leave me room to pass to communicate them, and a few outside in the trench kneeling in the mud. At the bottom, a few Non-Conformist officers were very reverent & interested… I reminded them that our Lord chose a “dug out” when He first came to earth… It was all very suggestive of Bethlehem, except for the noise of the guns outside.”

“We have discovered a large cellar beneath ruins close to the lines. There is plenty of room for a canteen, reading rooms & a chapel. The chapel is to be dedicated to St John Baptist. I wonder if the Community would furnish the altar for us; the Pioneers would make the altar… I said Mass there this morning & 60 men came & were very reverent and appreciative.”

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

“She is going to work at the military aircraft factory”

The high wages on offer in munitions factories even to untrained young girls attracted one young monitress, or trainee teacher, to abandon school work.

Abingdon Conduit Rd Infants School
3rd December 1917

Ivy Middleton (monitress) left without notice as she is going to work at the military aircraft factory.

George Palmer Boys’ School, Reading
3rd December 1917

His Worship the Mayor, F.A.Sargent Esq., and Mr Baseden, H[ead] Master of Swansea Rd School, addressed a joint meeting of Girls & Boys re Work of War Savings’ Association, from 10am to 11.

Log books of Abingdon Conduit Rd Infants School (C/EL4/2, p. 175); and George Palmer Boys’ School, Reading (89/SCH/8/1, p. 147)

“Everyone misses his smiling face”

There was good news and not-so-good news of Maidenhead men.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are very sorry to learn that Ernest Bristow has been wounded, but there seems every hope that his injuries are not serious. One of his chums writes,

“He went up to one of our advanced dressing stations to take over stores, and it was while standing at the mouth of a dug-out that he was wounded. A Bosche fleet of aeroplanes came over, and a bomb dropped quite near, wounding some ten men and killing two others. He caught it in the left arm and in both legs, but his wounds are flesh wounds, and not dangerous. He suffered from a severe shaking up, but bore it extremely well. The sergeant who dressed his wounds thinks he will soon be all right again. Everyone misses his smiling face and bright personality, and none more than his sorrowing pal. We all feel that his loss to the Unit is irreparable… He was by far the best clerk, and one of the most popular in the Unit.”

We earnestly trust that the hopeful tone of this letter may be justified by events, and that Corporal Bristow will suffer no permanent injury.

Harold Islip, who returned to his post after leave about a month ago, has been in hospital suffering from dysentery. Cyril Hews, George Belcher, and Donald Wilson have been home again for ten days, all in good health and spirits. Herbert Brand, who has been Company Q.M.S. in the 8th Berks., has been for two or three months past in a Cadet Corps, and expects shortly to receive a Commission.

Wilfred Collins is now quite convalescent and was in Maidenhead a few days ago.

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