Great battle of aeroplanes

News came of naval and air battles (the latter part of the Battle of Arras, also known as ‘Bloody April‘), while at home Bisham was ready to plant potatoes in every garden.

9 April 1917

Two German destroyers [illegible]. Great battle of aeroplanes – 50 each side. We lost 28, they 46!!

Hear seed potatoes will go round village.

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

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“The Huns ran from the tanks like hares”

John Maxwell Image wrote to a friend with his latest thoughts, and passing on brother-in-law Percy Spencer’s impressions.

29 Barton Road
Tuesday 10 Oct ‘16

My Very Dear Old Man

I quite understand, and share with you, the absorbing interest of the daily War News. Nothing else matters, now-a-days. What do you make of this morning’s news of the U boat blockade of the United States coast? If America really shuts them out from supplies in her ports, it must be over in a month or so – and if it succeeds, the exasperation of the Yanks’ commerce must kick Wilson into activity. Anyhow it is a risky move for Germany on the brink of a Presidential election. Therefore I should judge it a sop to soothe German home politics – now that things are growing so disastrous on the Somme.

I went last Friday to see the German “Albatross” (captured by us on 15 October last year) which the WO has presented to the University. It is said to be a fine specimen, tho’ the class has been cut out since. I was very little impressed. For one thing it was so much smaller than I expected – a snout nosed, biplane, 2 seater.

We have had 2 Zepp raids since my last letter. I slept peacefully through both. In the latter of the two the Zepp dropped a starshell on Grantchester: and then passed over Barton Road, probably over our own garden, for Prof. Stanley Gardiner (opposite us) heard its drone, and turning over in bed said to his wife, “the raid is over – there are the trains running again”. We were at tea in his lovely house and garden yesterday when he told me this…

Brandon, one of the two airmen who got DSO for bringing down the flaming Zepp was at Trinity Hall.

A Tank passed through Camb[ridge] on Friday. The Signora got an amusing letter from one of her brothers at the Front, last Saturday, in which he says of the Tanks, “they are very funny, but the boundless faith in them of the folks at home is even funnier. On the day when they were first used, the Huns ran from them like hares – this, although they were aware of their advent” (clearly, nothing can be kept from the Hun spy). Two are known to have got in once to the place near Thetford where the Tanks were secretly built. To go on with Percy Spencer: “One of these contraptions was observed going through the main street of a captured village with our boys riding all over her and hanging on the back.” His chief praise, however, is for our Aeroplanes. “In the air, the Hun is a nonentity – and he owns it every day” – and I remember how, when he first went out, he used to laugh and vow that he had seen hundreds shot at, but never one brought down!

These submarine brutes, who torpedo ships without warning! Did you notice that the first question asked by the Submarine at Newport was for the Bremen? Why, his Government, weeks ago, published to the world the safe arrival of the Bremen in America. Does he presume to disbelieve his own Government? The Americans honestly know nothing of her, but we in England for some time past have heard it whispered that she is safe at Falmouth. The Falmouth watch for U boats is very strict, and has been (so they boast) inordinately successful. A lady who came back a few weeks ago from a holiday, recounted to me how she was one afternoon walking by the shore when a destroyer tore past her in furious haste, all the funnels vomiting columns of black smoke. No sooner as she past Pendennis Point than the firing began. It died away – and presently, soberly and slowly, the destroyer came back, another destroyer keeping pace, and between them – the German submarine. What wouldn’t I have given for that sight.

I am told – by Ball, so it is likely to be correct – that Trinity expects this term 47 men of all years, including BAs!

The Fellowship dinner was for tonight. It is postponed till Thursday – after the funerals of Keith Lucas (killed from an aeroplane) nd poor Alfred Humphry. He is buried today at Thaxted…

Our most affectionate wishes to you both.
Bild

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

Don’t imagine tanks mean the end of the war

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence to describe his current quarters (a cowhouse in a devastated village), and the impact of our newest weapon: tanks.

3.10.16
My dear WF

It sounds paradoxical, but the nearer to the enemy we get, the more peace we get. In other words, action replaces preparation.

It’s 9 am and I’ve just had brekker after a fairly good night – turned in at 10 pm, called at 1 am, up till 4 am, put Garwood in then, and turned in till 7.30 am. Turning in consists of rolling myself up in my blankets on the bench where I am sitting, and falling straight off to sleep in spite of constant traffic and telephoning within a few feet of me. I’m writing from a spacious cellar in which there is a telephone exchange, officers’ mess and sleeping accommodation, our office, officers’ kitchen and men’s sleeping accommodation. In peace times it was an underground cowhouse. The whole system of accommodation here is most interesting and I should love to show you over it – after the war. The village where it is is a complete ruin – scarcely a vestige of the place remains and none at all of the church – a couple of crosses of before the war-date stand in the little churchyard, and standing there before brekker this morning I saw the bodies of a couple of Huns who had been buried there and been concealed by a shell.

[Censored section]

Outside at this moment is a very pale Hun – you could only tell he was a Hun by his tin hat (a very useful and artistic design), for he’s been in a shell hole for 3 days and is thickly muddied khaki from head to foot. He like all the others we get is very thankful to be cotched [sic].

The “tanks” are of course very funny, but the boundless faith of the folk at home in them is even funnier. Our native concert in our ideas is apt to run away with us. With enough of them they may go a long way to winning the war for us. But don’t imagine “tanks” mean the end of the war. (more…)

Shot in cold blood, and now “beyond the reach of human injustice and incompetence”

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image was excited by the new tanks rolling into action; philosophical about air raids – and horrified by first-hand stories of the executions of young men for cowardice or desertion.

29 Barton Road
[Cambridge]

23 Sept. ‘16

Mon Ami!

I share your views about the ghastly War. With its slaughters and its expenditure, where shall we be left after it is over. Any peace that leaves Germany still united – united for evil – is a fool madness that deserves the new War it will render a certainty.

I am in a fever to see the photograph of a Tank in action. I can’t imagine its appearance. I don’t believe them lengthy like caterpillars – but more like mammoths, Behemoths – “painted in venomous reptilian colours” for invisibility – and “waddling on” over trenches.

Today’s paper speaks of a seaplane over Dover yesterday. This is the very general prelude to a Zepp raid: and we expect one accordingly tonight, if their courage hasn’t oozed out. There is a Flying Camp near here – at Thetford, I believe. Daily, Planes soar over us – a sight I view every time with fresh pleasure. Twice we have had an Airship – huge, but not like the pictures of the German Zepps. I may as well tell you of our own experience on Saturday 3 weeks ago. Peaceful and unsuspecting, we were sitting in the drawing room at 10.30 when suddenly the electric lights went down and left the house in darkness. This is the official warning of Zepps. So we went out into Barton Rd. Not a glimmer, nor a sound. Quite unimpressive.

We turned in to bed – all standing (in Navy language) – and I into the deepest slumber, from which I was eventually shaken to hear an agitated voice, “they’re here”. I bundled out, lit a match and read on my watch 2.50. There was no mistaking – a thunderous drone, such as I had never heard before – and, seemingly, exactly overhead. We hurried down into the road. The roar grew fainter, and then began – deep and dignified – the guns. I guessed them to be on the Gogmagogs – then sharp explosions, which we took for bombs, thrown haphazard by the Zepp which was undoubtedly fleeing for the coast.

Robinson’s Zepp had come to earth at 2.30. Possibly ours was the wounded bird, which dropped a gondola or something in Norfolk when making its escape?

At 4.5 our electric lights went up again, and we to bed. Decorous night-rails, this time.

The Signora has a wee aluminium fragment from the Zepp that was brought down at Salonica. It was picked up by a young soldier who had been in her Sunday School Class. We had a sudden visit from her youngest brother, Gilbert, home on 6 days leave from Salonica. You have heard me speak of him as the rising artist who at 20 years of age sold a picture for £100, and is now a Tommy at 1/- a day. I fell in love with him on the spot. So simple, so lovable, – above all, such a child – going about the world unprotected!

By the way Gilbert saw the Zepp come down in flames at Salonica.
He had many yarns. The one that most made me shudder was of the announcement at a morning parade, “Sergeant So-and-so of the Connaught Rangers was shot this morning by sentence of a Court Martial for refusing to obey an order”. Just that! I have heard of these shootings in cold blood, several times, at the Front in France. Always they made me feel sick. A boy (on one occasion) of 17 ½, who had fought magnificently at Hill 60: and then lost his nerve, when his 2 brothers were killed in the trench at his side. Pym (our TCC [Trinity College, Cambridge] chaplain) sat with him all night and gave him the Sacrament. He

“could only feel what a real comfort it was to know that the boy was now beyond the reach of human injustice and incompetence”.

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

Guns as thick as blackberries in September

Army chaplain T Guy Rogers reported his latest experiences to his old friends in Reading.

LETTER FROM T. GUY ROGERS.

August 15th, 1916.
My Dear Friends,

I wish I could give you some idea of all the wonderful sights one see on the march. It is true one only sees under difficulties. Great clouds of dust half blind and choke us as we go. The blazing sun makes even the hardiest warrior droop his head a little as we traverse the rolling hills. Sometimes we become too preoccupied with mopping our faces to do any justice to the landscape. But when the ten minutes’ halt comes- ten minutes to the hour – when ranks are broken, and we lie down on the bank, or in the ditch, or on the heap of stones by the road, we find ourselves in more observant mood. Perhaps we have halted near some bivouacs and see hundreds of naked forms bathing in some tiny stream which would have been utterly despised in days of peace. The British soldier is not proud like Naaman! If he cannot find Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, he is content with any trickling or shallow Jordan which come his way.

Perhaps we have halted near some batteries and admire the cleverness with which they have been screened from aeroplane observation. The whole country is stiff with guns. Though there may be good reason to smile at some statements made by politicians, believe all that you hear about the guns. They are as thick as ‘leaves in Vallombrosa’ or blackberries in September. Whole batteries of – spring up like mushrooms in a night; our old eighteen pounders are, like silver in the days of the great King Solomon, ‘nothing accounted of’ for their number.

I wish too, I could repeat for you some of the stories I have heard of the tremendous fighting of the last six weeks. All honour to the armies we call by the name of the great Kitchener. To-day I hear of a boy under age for military service, who, with a handful of men, has held a position for three days against German attacks, when the rest of their Company was killed. The deeds of heroism are without number. Alas we say for those who have fallen. Such sad news comes to me from home of our brave fellows from S. John’s who have laid down their lives in the great advance. But our last word must not be ‘Alas.’ I like that custom of the French Government which consists in congratulating as well as commiserating with the relatives of the fallen. And even though from constant reiteration those fine phrases ‘The Last Debt,’ ‘The Supreme Sacrifice’ may have lost something of their pristine glory, the simple testimony still remains, ‘Greater love hath no man than this- that a man lay down his life for his friend.’

My own life is full of the kaleidoscopic changes of an army in motion. This evening I am in a chateau with ample grounds. I lunched (is the word permissible?) to the roar of a 9-inch gun. Last night I slept in a cellar, full of empty wine bottles, and most inconveniently damp; another night a little farther back in a dug-out in the front line, after burying some poor bodies lying out upon a recent battlefield.

Nearly all my services of late have been in the open air. I can recall so many which could not but touch the least sentimental, and which leave behind unforgettable memories – memories of men kneeling on the slopes of a hillside in the early morning to receive the sacrament, memories of services held between long aisles of waving pines, and on the tops of downs swept by the evening breeze.
Amidst all the sadness – and there is much – when friends (and one has so many now) are struck down by shot or shell, there is an uplifting sense of God’s presence, and we can feel it even in the valley of the shadow. And even if called upon to face sterner ordeals in the immediate future, ‘out of the depths’ shall we still praise our God.

Your sincere friend,

T. GUY ROGERS.

Reading St. John parish magazine, September 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

Sore losses

There was painful news for some Maidenhead families.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We deeply regret to record the death of Duncan Wilson, who fell a victim to a bomb dropped from an enemy aeroplane at the Front on July 11th. He was employed at Horlick’s Malted Milk Factory in Slough before joining the ranks and spending his Sundays in Maidenhead was a regular worshipper at our Church. He was a young man of character and promise, and his death is a sore loss to his friends and family.

It is painful too, to hear that Arthur Hedges has been missing since the beginning of July, and that his friends have practically given up hope.

Robert Anderson, who a few months ago received his discharge at the expiration of his term, has been compelled by recent legislation to join up again. John Bolton is in France.

Alas! Since writing the above lines, information has been received of the death of another of our lads. Robert Harris, one of the most devoted members of our Institute, who confessed his faith in Christ by joining the Church about two years ago, was killed by a bomb on July 24th. He was the eldest son of Mr. William Harris, Builder, Holman Leaze, and before enlisting was engaged in the Argus Press Printing Works. He was a young man of most amiable disposition, and was very popular among his fellow members in the Institute. He would have reached his 20th birthday on August 7th.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, August 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Plane spotting

Sightseeing in Kent involved many sights of aeroplanes, as there was a Royal Flying Corps airfield at Lympne, from whence planes flew across to France.

20 July 1916

Motored to Dymchurch & round to Lympne. Very pretty drive. Saw many aeroplanes…

Still good news – rewon our ground.

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

Heavy losses feared

William Hallam had a house guest, while Florence Vansittart Neale was now worried about the cost of the Battle of the Somme.

William Hallam, 9th July 1916
This gap in my diary was through Heysham, a friend of my sister & her husband, coming and staying with us. He is a most intelligent fellow on India generally having been brought up there and taking a great interest in the people, customs, flora & fauna of the country. Indeed I never enjoyed a man’s conversation so much. It was 11 o’clock every night before we got to bed and he monopolised all my evenings which is the only leisure I have. He was a devil of an expense tho’, everything is so dear and we had to do him well as he is in a prominent position out there. He left us last Wednesday to take on War Work on aeroplanes.

Florence Vansittart Neale, 9 July 1916
Push going on. Fear heavy losses.

Diaries of William Hallam (D/EX1415/24); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Great push begun

There was a mixture of tragedy close to home and better news of the war as a whole.

26 June 1916

Charley Paine & young Sweet killed! He flying. Charlie bombing.
Hear Lille is taken by us! Rumour not confirmed. Hear no letters to come from the Front – great push begun.

Hear Admiral Beattie said 6 big battleships, 7 cruisers, 20 destroyers gone down of enemy in Jutland battle. Hear mist helped us. Our big battleships able to come in range & did terrible damage in 10 minutes.

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

“It is appalling these awful losses, goodness knows where we find all the officers”

Two of Ralph Glyn’s fellow officers wrote to him with their opinions on the war.

June 20th [1916]
Dear Glyn

Very many thanks for your letter. I was very pleased to hear from you. Georgevitch has evidently done something to get himself into very hot water, I believe the question of decorations has something to do with it, anyhow he is absolutely shelved. You will have heard that a Colonel Nikolauivitch has been appointed Military Attache in London; it is just as well no one proposed Georgevitch for there, as he would have been refused. When they were discussing the question of who to send, they privately asked me & I suggested G, but was at once told that his name would not be entertained for a moment. I fear that there is nothing more that can be done for him. He got into trouble once before I understand over his treatment of his soldiers, & was for this reason only not with a battery in the Field Army.

It is appalling these awful losses, goodness knows where we find all the officers. Still one hopes on the whole the thing is going well though slowly.

I am glad to say I am better, though I have had a bit of [fun?] lately, everyone is having it too. [Hemlis?] & his division have left as you will have heard, most of them I believe going to help at Malta & elsewhere. The country is [illegible] fun from Typhus now, & there is a general air of cleanliness & sanitation about. All his troops practically are inoculated against Cholera.

My wife has been in the North all this time working up relief funds for Serbia, & has collected quite a lot of money; so anyhow you would not have had a chance of meeting her, thanks very much all the same. Things are very quiet here, but I am busy enough with wires & things the WO want. We were visited by 3 Austro-German aeroplanes the other day who dropped some bombs & made a lot of noise, but did not do much damage. We bagged one on its way back.
Wishing you the best of luck.

Yrs sincerely
Arthur Harrison

(more…)

A terrible price – are we worth it?

Eric Guy Sutton, a member of the wealthy family which owned Sutton’s Seeds, Reading’s iconic horticultural business, had joined up soon after the start of the war. He was awarded the Military Cross a year later for saving a fellow soldier’s life, but was killed in action in April 1916. His home church, St John’s, was devastated by the news.

It was with great sorrow and deep sympathy for the bereaved family that we heard of the death of Lieut. E. G. Sutton. This most promising young officer, who had already been awarded the Military Cross for an act of great courage and self-sacrifice, was killed on Saturday, April 8th, in the gallant performance of his duty. We shall hope to publish some details of his career in the next issue of the magazine.

“Ye are not your own. You are bought with a price” (1 Cor VI.20)
Most of us were moved, I think, a few weeks ago by a story of almost unexampled heroism given in a list of recently conferred V.C.’s. A young officer attempted to throw a bomb into the enemy’s trench. The missile, however, struck his own parapet and fell in to his own trench. The officer cried a warning to his comrades and himself sprang back into safety, but then noting that his warning had been unheeded, turned back, flung himself upon the bomb and was destroyed by its explosion. And I wonder what were the feelings of his comrades and whether the thought of our text came into their minds, and they said to themselves: “We are not our own, we have been bought with a price.” And I wonder how many of us at home had the same thought in our minds as we read the account, or whether we have ever sufficiently thought at all that not to one such glorious act of heroism, but to countless splendid and ungrudging acts of devotion, do we owe today the security of our shores, the air we breathe untainted by foul poison emanations, the food we eat unstinted in quantity, our women their honour, our children their deliverance from brutality, our old people the quiet, even tenor of their placid lives, and all of us our immunity from the horrors that have desolated Belgium and Poland and Serbia.

We are bought with a price! Who will deny it? Vicarious suffering! Vicarious death!, say some. “We can’t understand it, we can’t accept it!” To such, I say: Alas for the poverty of your intellect and the hardness of your heart, when the very thing is happening today before your very eyes and crying to your souls. When not one minute passes, but even now in France, in Russia, on the seas, wherever the ceaseless battle rages, a man dies that other men may live. We are bought with a price, and day by day in that pitiful concentration of tragedy we know as the casualty list, the bill is presented, and every now and then, at longer intervals, the account is rendered up to date. And how stands it today? Some half a million of Englishmen slain, mutilated, sick, languishing in pestilent Wittenberg prison camps – for us. Mown down by machine guns, crashing from the air in the shattered aeroplane, settling to the ocean-bed in the sunken submarine, buried beneath the soil, buried beneath the waves, unburied in the hideous no-man’s-land between the trenches, tossing in our hospitals, limping about our streets, cry of the wounded and sob of the broken of heart, laughing boys who do not know what awaits them, grave-faced men who do, going forth in courage to do their part – behold the price that is paid; the price that is paid for us; in virtue of which we sit tranquilly in this church this morning, and shall walk tranquilly home to our tranquil and ample dinners.

(more…)

More business methods needed in the armed forces

The First World war was the first war to use airpower. Members of the Dodeka Book Club in Reading discussed a speech by Lord Montagu (1866-1929) which advocated the combining of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps, run by Navy and Army respectively.

5 May 1916


Hore started a discussion by reading a speech on Aviation recently delivered by Lord Montagu & Beaulieu. As an outcome of much talk it was felt that more business methods were needed in the administration of our Services.

Dodeka Book Club minutes (D/EX2160/1/3)

Nothing but wire between us and the enemy

Percy Spencer described the part of France he was based in to his sister Florence – and the musical backdrop of nightingales and mouth organs (harmonicas), not far from the hellish mud of the trenches.

Apl 25, 1916
My darling sister

[Censored, probably by Florence]

It’s the most lovely day that ever was. I’ve strolled out of our chateau straight up into a scrubby copse at the top of a very steep hill and here I am lying on quaker oats, eggs and bacon, writing to you and listening to a nightingale. He’s not quite in full song but for wartime he’s very good indeed and I’m grateful.

Already the sun was getting too hot so I have shifted into the breeze and an even wider view. This is a lovely corner of France. Everything is beautiful and only man is vile – that’s because the women left the corn during a very “unhealthy” period. But that’s not quite true for the lady owner has motored up from the south for a couple of days to settle a few business matters and she’s rather nice. Garwood says she’s “a decent bit of stuff” so taking the acme of perfection in womanhood as being “a posh bit” (Major Trevor’s wife reached that standard), you’ll be able to arrive at this lady’s position.

There’s a mouth organ playing in the valley beneath me, and being played remarkably well – “despise not the mouth organ”. As I think I have already told you, Ian Hay has my hearty endorsement to that remark. Many months ago I remember being largely amused at one of our boys’ letters home – “One thing I’ve been longing to ask you for, but I know how things are at home, and don’t like to bother you, but now Sis has got a job could you send me a mouth organ, a 1/- linnet is the best, but I expect they’re more expensive now owing to the war”. But after April 1915 when one mouth organ played a dozen or so of our weary fellows in from their 3 days cellar and shell experience, I made up my mind that the mouth organ was a noble instrument.

I told you, I think, I went round the line the other day. To complete my experience I went round the remaining portion by night with the General, that being the only time it can be approached with any degree of security.

It was an eerie experience and a fearfully wet one, the ground being as torn and riven with shell fire that it seems to slide away under your feet, and in the trenches, mud and water – water up to your thigh if you were unlucky, and mud that wrestled with you at each step for possession of your gum boots.

We went right out into the open (it’s a curious line about here) and with nothing between us and the Huns 100 yards away but a couple of frail curtains of wire – ours and theirs. Here the officers stood for a little while discussing points. I stood anxiously watching the enemy lights soaring into the sky towards us like evil eyes searching for victims to disclose to the German rifles, and behind me crouched an orderly also frightened to death at his exposed position murmured thro’ his chattering teeth, “C- this is all right”.

Well, we landed home safe and sound at 2.30 a.m. By 3.30 a.m. I’d scraped half of France off my clothes and turned in for an hour; turned in again then for another 2 hours when I got up for good, scraped the other half of France off my togs and “carried on”.
About my commission. There was a strong suggestion that being a sergeant I should probably only get six weeks training out here and then be chucked into some line regiment. That’s not good enough and unless I can see my way to getting a reasonable period of training that would enable me to take command of a platoon with confidence and also give me an opportunity of showing my administrative abilities, I’m not going to proceed any further.

Well. Time’s up.

On the right there’s a dear old chateau, dating back to William I’s time, with many grey limestone towers. To the left stretch the everlasting hills clothed with the wooded promise of summer. Overhead a couple of aeroplanes are humming and Hunning and right at my feet in the hollow stands “my chateau” and there I go – to work.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/8-14)

“Our generation has learnt to think of settling down to end one’s days together in safety seems all one asks of life”

Ralph Glyn’s sister Maysie was amused by their aristocratic mother’s depression at the thought of living on a reduced income now her husband was retiring, and had had a royal encounter in Windsor.

April 24/16
Elgin Lodge
Windsor

My dear darling R.

I wonder what for an Easter you spent [sic]. Very many happy returns of it anyhow. I got yours of 14th today. I hope you have seen Frank by now. How splendid of him to spend his leave in that way. Your weather sounds vile, still you are warm & here one never is. I hear from Pum [Lady Mary] today that Meg is in bed with Flu & temp 102. I am so worried, & hope she will not be bad. I must wait till John comes in, but feel I must offer to go to them, but how John is to move house alone I do not know! We move Thurs. My only feeling is that it may distract the parents somewhat during this trying week….

[Mother] takes the gloomiest view of household economies etc, & is determined it will all be “hugga mugga”, “She was not brought up like that & you see darling I have no idea how to live like that” etc etc. I tried humbly to suggest that one could be happy from experience & was heavily sat on, “it’s different for you young people”. Of course it is, & I wasn’t brought up in a ducal regime, still one can have some idea – also possible if Pum had ever had Dad fighting in a war she’d find more that nothing mattered. I think our generation has learnt that, & to think of settling down to end one’s days together in safety seems all one asks of life perhaps! You can well imagine tho’ nothing is said, how this attitude of martyrdom reacts on Dad. In fact he spoke to John about it. One does long to help, but one feels helpless against a barrier of sheer depression in dear Pum…

There seems little news to tell you. The King came Thurs, & has been riding in the Park. We ran into all the children, 3 princes & Princess M pushing bikes in the streets of Windsor on Friday. It was most surprising. They have got two 75s here as anti-aircraft, one on Eton playing fields & one Datchet way. They say if they ever fire the only certainty must be the destruction of the Castle & barracks!!

You know all leave was suddenly stopped on the 18th & everyone over here recalled. We all thought “the Push” but Billy writes the yarn in France is, it was simply that the Staff and RTs wished to have leave themselves – but then one can hardly believe, it’s too monstrous to be true. However John Ponsonby has written about coming on leave the end of the month so there can’t be so much doing yet. The news from Mesopotamia is black enough, one more muddle to our credit & more glory through disaster to the British Army.

I wonder what you think of the recent political events. Pum nearly or rather quite made herself ill over it!…

Billy has I fancy been pretty bad. The bed 10 days at some base hospital, bad bronchitis & cough….

Bless you darling
Your ever loving
Maysie

(more…)

A birthday stroll up the trenches

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with the latest from the front. So far he had avoided service at the front line, but was not far away. He was optimistic that the end was in sight.

Apl 7 1916
Dear WF

I must steal an hour and let the work go hang, for yesterday I sent you a card, “letter follows”, and if one doesn’t hop along hard on the heels of that promise, there’ll be trouble, I know.
This war business is getting a confounded nuisance; I’m really getting no proper opportunity to enjoy this lovely spring – and that’s a pity for it’s a lovely country we’re in – hills, woods and water, and so far a most peaceful time. But – well, guess where I am.

To celebrate my birthday (by the way, many thanks for your jolly letter and present, I’ve only just dipped into the first 100,000 but can already see it’s written by one of us) – well, dear old Will sent me a manuscript of his song, which I’m in for, and trembling I shall lose, and for which I haven’t yet been able to write and thank him.
[Censored]…

But all this time you’re dying to know how I celebrated my birthday. I took a stroll up the trenches. At least it began as a stroll, continued as a wade, and climaxed as a swim. Lovely place, Flanders! Anyway I’ve been along the firing line and into a sap towards the German line. To have kept out of that for over 12 months is something to brag about, and to achieve it after all that time, even something more to be proud of.

It was a perfectly peaceful sunshiny day and I thoroughly enjoyed my tour, as the geography of the country makes this part of the line peculiarly interesting.

How much longer shells and us will be strangers, I don’t know. It’s now about 3 months since I heard one close.

There have been a good many aeroplane duels and I saw a very pretty one the other day in which our fellow drove the Hun to earth. Our fighting plane was naturally slower than the German scout machine, but what we lacked in speed in the can, the airman made up for in skill. The way he manoeuvred into range and by cool planning overcame his sped handicap was quite pretty from our point of view.
The Daily Mail is pretty well informed about our movements, I notice, but its air knowledge is very slight, I believe. I took an opportunity of talking “Fokker” to some of the air service and was rejoiced to learn that it’s looked on simply as a paper campaign, the superiority of the enemy, type for type, being purely imaginary – in fact I was told the boot is entirely on the other plane, and I believe it.

Sorry you’ve been troubled with Zeps. I expect though with the next moon you’ll have seen the last of them. Our aeroplanes in the summer will, I imagine, be a sure defence.

I suppose and hope there’ll be a terrific bust up soon – a strong push, all together, ought to write “finis” to Germany.

Of course, if Germany will kindly continue to do the pushing, tant mieux.

And Verdun is a very hopeful sign of her impending crash, I think. To my mind it means the gambler’s throw or political pressure.
But that’s shop. However, even here in peaceful slumbering valleys it’s still war. Every night we sally forth to slaughter rats (game abounds).

There’s nothing else to say but “good afternoon”. Oh, yesterday I saw a jolly sight – a popular horse bolting with an unpopular officer – they made a splendid if undignified race of it, but a fatal error of judgment on the part of the officer, who assumed the horse would carry on straight through the chateau instead of swerving to the left towards its stable, lost him the race by a short length, only the officer leaving the course and carrying straight on towards the house….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/6-7)