“News came that we were to train in billets as the French were very windy about air raids”

Sydney Spencer, who oped to train for the Anglican priesthood, disapproved of vulgar songs.

Thursday 18 July 1918

Got up fairly early. News came that we were to train in billets as the French were very windy about air raids. This we did & gave my platoon a talk about maps & did musketry & gas drill in the billet. The men were very pleased with the talk about maps.

After lunch little or nothing doing. I helped Plant with his Battalion dinner for tonight. It was not very successful, I thought. I hate big messes. There were 33 of us there. I rather deplored the songs which were sung after dinner.

I walked home with Kemp & Sergeant told us great news of a big French victory. Some 20,000 prisoners & 300 guns in all, south of us.

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

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“The weather & the flies are very trying”

The heat was almost as troublesome as the enemy.

Wednesday 17 July 1918

Got up at 7.30 am. Flies were a nuisance. Air raid on village during night, about a dozen bombs dropped. 1 soldier killed, 5 wounded. A good parade this morning from 9-12.30. Inspection, Platoon & Section drill, PT, & BF. Break ½ hour. Rifle grenadiers from 11.30-12.30. Company arms drill. Marched home. Censored letters after lunch. Another broiling hot day.

The weather & the flies are very trying. After tea I began to fret. I wonder whether the photographer would turn up to take the officers of the Battalion. We were all at the orderly room at 7.30, but as a storm intervened he did not come. So I was unmercifully ragged by the CO who thought that it was my bad French which had made the muddle!

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

“Died through lead poisoning contracted while on Government work in France”

The Berkshire Committee of the National Relief Fund tried to help people thrown into economic disarray as a direct result of the war.

24 June 1918
Shire Hall

The Secretary reported that he had been successful in obtaining work for Mrs Swain with Messrs Gill & Sons, Tailors, Reading. Mrs Swain had, however, since stated that she wished to go to Holland where it was understood her husband had been transferred. The Secretary stated that he had informed Mrs Swain that he did not think it would be possible for her to obtain a permit to do this, and nothing further had been heard in the matter.

The case of Mrs Coleman, Station Road, Twyford, whose husband was killed in an Air-raid on London was considered, and a letter was read stating that the Lords Commissioners had sanctioned an award of £250 to Mrs Coleman. The Committee were asked to inform the Government Committee of their proposals for the disbursement of the amount in the best interests of the dependents, and in order to do this it was agreed that the Chairman and Mr F Bate should interview Mrs Coleman on the following Monday, 1st July.

The Chairman stated that he had authorised as a case of urgent necessity, two grants of £5 to be expended by the Rev. H Tower of Windsor, on behalf of Mrs Kate Clarke, St Leonards Road, Windsor, whose husband had died through lead poisoning contracted while on Government work in France.

The action of the Chairman was confirmed and a further grant of £5 authorised to be paid if necessary.

An application for assistance received from Miss Lipscombe, Maidenhead, was considered and refused, as it was not considered one of distress directly due to the present war.

The Secretary reported the result of his enquiries of Mr Davies, Maidenhead, in the case of Mrs Willis, to the effect that it would appear that Mrs Willis would not be able to take up employment. It was suggested that the case be referred to the Central Office asking whether a final grant might be given to the woman, and the Secretary was instructed accordingly.

The Treasurer reported that the loan of £3 made in April 1917 to Mrs Lake, Yew Tree Farm, Swallowfield, the period for repayment of which had been extended, was now five months overdue, and asked for instructions as to any necessary action in the matter.

After consideration it was agreed that the promissory note be returned to Mrs Lake and the loan treated as a gift.

National Relief Fund: Berkshire Committee minutes (C/CL/C6/4/1)

“Down here because the raids upset her so”

The Daniels family welcomed an additional guest fleeing from air raids in the East End – a young relative of their maid.

Florence Vansittart Neale
5 June 1918

Amusing lunch. Officers described German prisoners! They both left (Granville & Knapman).

Joan Daniels
June 5th Wednesday

Florence’s little sister came with her mending. Mummie has had her down here because the raids upset her so. They live in Plaistow & had bombs very near them last time. She is a most amusing kiddie…

Uncle Jack went to be medically examined & is passed Grade 3. That means if anyone goes it has to be Daddie, but it strengthens the latter’s position with regard to exemption.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and Joan Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

“Was it a bomb?” “No, a mouse got in”

Joan Daniels’ father inspected the damage from the air raid on his factory.

May 23rd Thursday

Daddie did not come home to lunch as he had to settle up some things about the bomb. They now find that there were two dropped a few yards apart. Daddie told us rather an amazing thing. An old lady was peering in between two sheets that have been fixed across one of the windows now that the glass is gone. The fat old policeman who was on guard came up & said “Ere mother, you clear off”. She turned to him & said “Was it a bomb?” “No” he whispered, “a mouse got in”.

Diaries of Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

“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)

“No one was killed & no one was hurt”

Joan Daniels’ father’s clothing factory in Kentish Town was hit by a bomb.

Joan Daniels
May 20th Monday (Whit Monday)

Wakened at 6 o’clock in the morning by a policeman for Daddie. There was a bad air raid on London last night after eleven o’clock and they dropped a bomb at Daddie’s place. So of course he went off immediately & sent a telephone message through to say that no one was killed & no one was hurt. Which we were more than thankful to receive. The bomb dropped on a wall at the back between Ash’s false teeth factory & Daddie’s, breaking practically every window in the latter & blowing a lot of the false teeth into LDG’s! Daddie came back by the 12.15 & we spent a lovely afternoon on the river. What a difference. Such a peaceful scene & how much we have to be thankful for that no one was hurt. We heard in the evening that four Gothas were brought down, which is splendid.

Percy Spencer
20 May 1918

BF officer for rest at Le Touquet.

Bosch again disappointed us. A glorious day. Boys dug in cable. Follies performed in evening. CO Major P. dined with 17th. Huns really promised for tomorrow. Davis & I had a long talk in the evening.

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

Magnificent raid on Zeebrugge

Edward Hilton Young, later Lord Kennet (1879-1960), grew up at Cookham. He was badly injured taking part in the major Zeebrugge Raid.

24 April 1918

Saw Mrs Howard & Will in his coffin. Looked very beautiful. Military funeral on Friday.

Magnificent naval raid on Zeebrugge – shook up the [illegible]. Hilton Young lost an arm.

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

Adventures in armoured cars and tanks

Old Boys of Reading School continued to serve their country, and share their experiences.

O.R.NEWS.

Mr. A.J. Wright has kindly sent the headmaster extracts from a letter of R.F. Wright’s, who was then in the 2nd squadron Russian Armoured Cars. The letter gives a vivid description of the threat on the Galician front and for the adventures of the Armoured Cars. The most striking sight was the explosion of the huge ammunition dumps at Crosowa, – apparently caused by a chance shot,- which Wright witnessed from a distance of 5 or 6 miles. It was most fortunate that the British cars got away with such small loss.

We must congratulate Capt. Rev. A.G. Wilken, Brigade Chaplain, Canadian Force on his return from Germany. He has been a prisoner of war for a year and eight months, during which time he has made the acquaintance of no less than six prison camps, Gutersloh, Minden, Crefeld, Schwarmstedt, Holzminden and Frieburg. We understand that some of these were comfortable enough, others very much the reverse. We hope that someday perhaps Capt. Wilken will tell us of some of his experiences.

Captain Haigh, M.C.

We are now in a position to publish news of the great honour which has been conferred upon Capt. Richard Haigh, M.C., Tank Corps, son of Mr. W. Haigh, of “Llanarth,” Hamilton Road, Reading. Capt. Haigh has been selected from all the officers of “His Majesty’s’ Land Ships” to take charge of the tank which has been touring Canada and the United states to help boom the U.S. Liberty Loan. He and his crew all of whom, by the way, have been wounded, have been touring the chief cities of the Republic for the past three months polarizing the great loan which our Allies have been raising. Such work is, of course, of the highest responsibility, and the fact that the gallant officer has been entrusted with this duty speaks well for his ability and for the confidence which the authorities place in him.

Educated at Reading School, where he distinguished himself in every form of athletics, particularly long distance running and football, Capt. Haigh obtained a commission in the Royal Berks Regt. just after the outbreak of war. He was wounded at Loos in 1915 and again on the Somme in 1916. In January of last year he was awarded the Military Cross, and for the last twelve months he has been attached to the Tank Corps.

Lieut. Fielding Clarke. – On Wednesday in the last week Captain Fielding Clarke of Ampthill, Craven Road, Reading, received a telegram intimating that his second son, Sec. Lieut. A. Fielding Clarke, R.F.C., was missing. The previous Saturday he had been with his squadron carrying out a bombing raid on and around Metz, and his machine was the only one which did not return. Lieut. Clarke, whose age is 18 and a half, was educated at Reading School and Bradfield College, and joined the R.F.C. at the age of 17 years and four months. He had been in France about three months and had just returned from his first Furlough. It is supposed that the cause of his failing to return must have been engine trouble, for on the occasion of the raid there was particularly little German anti-aircraft fire.

(Later). Lieut. A. Fielding Clarke is now known to be a prisoner of war interned at Karlsruhe.
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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)

“I said damn the Germans and went to sleep again”

William Hallam had been through one too many air raid alarms.

William Hallam
13th April 1918

The hooter blew a Zepp alarm in the night at 10 to 12. It woke me up. I said damn the Germans and went to sleep again. I was told this morning the all clear went at 2 but I didn’t hear it. I hear they didn’t get nearer than Banbury. A dull cold day. After dinner I dug up garden and planted late potatoes.

Florence Vansittart Neale
13 April 1918

100 Div: up against us. Our men splendid but enemy very strong. Must hold them – God helping us!

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

Insured against aircraft

Hurst almshouses were insured against the risk of being bombed.

11th April 1918

Aircraft policies.

The clerk having asked for instructions with regard to the renewal or otherwise of the Insurance under the aircraft policies.

It was unanimously resolved: that the above Insurances be renewed for the current year.

Hurst Parochial Charities trustees’ minutes (D/QX30/1/4)

Here chiefly on account of the Air Raids

Families fleeing London for the safety of Reading were affecting school performance.

25th March 1918

The Vicar visited the school this afternoon. The end of the school year. The work of the various classes is good, though many children have been admitted (especially in Class I) who were very backward for their age. But as their parents had come here chiefly on account of the Air Raids – room was made in this school for them.


Reading: All Saints Infant School log book (89/SCH/19/2, p. 239)

No seating room

The influx of families fleeing air raids in London had reached the point at which BerKshire schools couldn’t cope any more:

18th March 1918
Four children from London sought admission this morning. As we cannot find seating room for the children in attendance, Mistress decided that these children must wait until after Easter, as there will then be a little more room when Standard I has been transferred to Gordon Rd. School.

Log book of King Street School, Maidenhead (C/EL77/1, p. 417)