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

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

Supplement to the Wargrave Parish Magazine

ROLL OF HONOUR.
R.I.P.

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

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

Barker, Percy William

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

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

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

Buckett, Ernest Frederick

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

“The war is ending, it seems, but the misery of it cannot end with it”

More details of Sydney Spencer’s shell shock not long before his final days.

Oldbury House
Tewkesbury
9 Nov 1918

Dear Mrs Image

I was dreadfully sorry to hear of Sydney’s death, & it must have been a bitter shock to you, especially when you knew that there had been no real necessity for him to go back to duty when he did. You will be impatient to hear what Capt Dillon told me – though I fear it is as unsatisfactory as all such information must be.

The MC was given, not for any single piece of bravery, but for continued good work during the battallion’s [sic] attack at Morlanecourt (near Albert) on Aug 8-10 & during the previous period when the company had a difficult time owing to the German attack on the division immediately on its right. Sydney put in a tremendous amount of work – too much, Capt. Dillon says: he was too careless about himself, got quite insufficient sleep & really prepared the way for his break-down & shell-shock. While in this over-taxed state the company got shelled rather badly, & a shell fell pretty close with the result that Sydney succumbed to the trembling kind of shock & had to go to hospital on Aug 10th. He was not actually wounded, except for a tiny scratch on the upper arm, which they put some iodine & a dressing on. When he got to hospital he pretended, for fun, that he had a very bad wound & the nurse took extra care in unbinding it, but enjoyed the joke when the wound was revealed. He told Capt. Dillon on his return that he was only really ill for three days, but Capt. Dillon thought that he had come back too soon & in any case sooner than he need have done.

He was first of all in hospital at Rouen & then spent time at Trouville. On his return he seemed very well & cheerful: Dillon saw him again on Sept 10th. The battalion was then very busy preparing for the attack which was to be made on Sept 18th. On the 17th he & Dillon had a cheerful chat about prospects: & Sydney said they both would get nice Blighty wounds & go back together & be out of it comfortably; he seemed quite confident that he was coming out of the affair with his life. On the 18th Dillon was wounded, & Sydney took his place automatically. The company had a very bad time & almost everybody was knocked out. This accounts for the fact that there is so great difficulty in getting any particulars. The attack took place east of Epehy, & Dillon thinks that in all probability it was there that Sydney was killed. The line was being advanced at the time, & in those circumstances, it is some slight consolation to know, his body would probably be buried decently & the exact spot recorded. If you wished to make any enquiries on that point the Graves Registration people would be the ones to apply to. I am afraid I don’t know their address. Capt. Dillon suggests as possible sources of information Sydney’s batman, the chaplain or the company sergeant-major; but I think you have already tried those people. The other lieutenant who was with Sydney was also killed at the same time.

Capt. Dillon can’t say much about the time Sydney was in hospital, & he does not understand how it is that you have heard nothing about it: for he knew that Sydney was in the habit of writing very full letters about everything. The lack of news from the 5th to 10th was probably due to the amount of fighting that was taking place. Capt. Dillon suggests that you might get some particulars of what was happening from the “Times” of 8th-10th – which however he says is full of mistakes (it was their battalion who took Morlanecourt, & the Americans had no share in it). But I feel that what you want is more personal details, & though I managed to extract some from Capt. Dillon (which I have told you) there are doubtless others which might be pumped out by yourself but hardly could be by anyone else. Capt. Dillon is apparently a very good sort, but rather lacks the faculty of unbosoming himself to strangers. If you do ever meet him you may be able to do better than I have; as to actual historical details I think he gave me all he could. One point he mentioned which may interest you was that Sydney won his MC within a mile or so of the sport where Percy [his brother] was wounded; Percy’s division being the next but one in the line. You may already know this.

I do hope that Percy’s wrist is making good progress: I had no idea that it was so bad as you say, or that his nerves were so badly upset. The war is ending, it seems, but the misery of it cannot end with it.


Yours sincerely
R. Harold Compton

Letter from R Harold Compton to Mrs Florence Image regarding the death in action of her brother Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EZ177/8/24)

The first “to go over”

An army chaplain with links to Stratfield Mortimer was a witness to the horrific carnage of the Battle of the Somme.

Mr. Bowdon’s latest news is as follows: –

2nd Royal Berks, B.E.F.,
17th July 1916.

Dear Vicar,

Much has happened since last I wrote, and my battalions have been through a terrible time. They were with the first “to go over” on July 1st, at the Battle of the Somme, and got badly cut up. We lost more than half the men and nearly all the officers – in my battalions alone some 800 men and N.C.O.s are killed, missing, or wounded, and 38 officers! We got the full force of their concentrated machine gun fire. However, it wasn’t in vain, for we prepared a way for others, and we now hold all the ground which they contested so stubbornly. We had the Wurttenburghers in front of us, and there is no question they are fine soldiers and know their business.

It was all very sharp and short, and in 36 hours we were right out of it and miles away in the rear to re-form and rest. From my perch on a hillside about three miles from the firing line I watched the whole of the bombardment during the week preceding the battle. I could even see our lines as I lay in bed – but the morning of the attack was so misty no glasses could penetrate the clouds, and we could only listen to the din and wonder how things were going. It wasn’t long however before our poor wounded chaps began to stream along the road, some in ambulances, some in lorries and carts, and many on foot; so by 9 a.m. I was busy (the attack was at 7.30), and as the day advanced there were more that [sic] we could cope with, our wards and tents were full, and men were lying everywhere, in the streets and fields and ditches. But they were all splendid and so grateful for the smallest thing we did for them. We did eventually get them all dressed and fed and more or less comfortable, but not till noon next day could anyone slack off. I reckon some 1,500 men passed through our hands at that one Field Ambulance!

That same evening we were on the move again, and I re-joined the remnant of my two battalions to entrain for the rear.

Yesterday I arranged and conducted a Brigade Memorial Service at the Theatre here. The names of all officers and men killed at the Battle of the Somme were read out and prayers offered for them. The whole service was in keeping, but quite bright and joyous. We had the Divisional Band, and the Assistant Chaplain General 1st Army preached. Besides our own General, the Army Commander and his Staff were present, and Prince Arthur of Connaught.

I have had a fair share of the dangers and risks of war these past weeks. Four times during the bombardment about Albert I had to tumble into my dugout to escape the bursting shells – three times about 2 a.m. in the darkness, cold and wet. One day I spent with the guns in the thick of the firing, and even back with the Field Ambulance they didn’t let us alone. It has been a great relief to be away from the noise and out of range of their guns for a spell.

With kindest remembrances to all friends at Mortimer.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P120/28A/14)