Americans fighting now

Was the tide on the turn at last?

Florence Vansittart Neale
3 June 1918

Rather better news – done some counter-attacks. Americans fighting now.

William Hallam
3rd June 1918

Still on overtime…

To-night I wrote to my nephew in Mesopotamia who is in hospital wounded in the arm.

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

Advertisements

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)

“I was the veriest coward inside”

Sydney Spencer’s experience with battlefield dentistry offers a reflection on courage.

May 31st [1918]

My Darling Florence & Mr I

No other news except that I had a huge tooth drawn two nights ago! A sort of duel between myself & the American doctor as to whether I should scream or not. I didn’t murmur so I won. But I was the veriest coward inside. I simply yelled myself hoarse mentally, which gave me much comfort & relief. Sitting on a box in an orchard with a solemn American doctor with large round glasses making desperate dashes as a refractory tooth with horrid instrument, & no freezing mixture & no gas, these things are anathema!…

From your always affectionate Brer
Snippets

Letter from Sydney Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/8/3/40)

“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)

“The main thing that prevents men escaping from here is their foreign accent which would lead to their re-arrest”

Hugh O’Rourke was a 23 year old ship’s steward born in Co. Tyrone and now an American citizen. Interned as a Nationalist following the Easter Rising, he would be transferred to Reading on 9 May 1918 from Islington Prison, and stay until he went to Brixton in 1919. It was feared that he would be a troublemaker.

April 23rd 1918
[To] Place of Internment, Reading

Hugh O’Rourke, an American, was of the Sinn Feiners and was at Cornwallis Road, is [recorded?] to be acting rather out of hand, and will probably attempt to break out if he remains here. So will you please say if you see any [illegible] [objection to be removed?].

[Ilegible signature]

I know nothing of this man.

The Commissioners, who have more information, can judge better as to what effect he would have, remembering that the men here are in constant association and out in the exercise grounds up to 7.30 pm with only one officer on duty, after 5.10 pm, in the grounds. The opportunities for causing trouble or escaping are infinitely greater here than in an ordinary prison, and I am unable to barrack [illegible… ] as is done in other Camps – consequently the safe… can be very general.

I am quite ready to do whatever the Commissioners [say].

C M Morgan
Governor

The main thing that prevents men escaping from here is their foreign accent which would lead to their re-arrest, and the poor results that have attended the many escapes from various Camps, and which they read about in the various papers, they freely admit.

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Americans saved from mines

Florence Vansittart Neale had a dramatic sea crossing returning to the mainland from her Isle of Wight holiday.

22 April 1918
Lovely crossing. Two mine sweepers saved large American convoy by clearing 5 mines!

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

“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)

The Americans join up with the British and French

A small number of American troops were embedded with their British and French allies.

5 April 1918

American Army given to join in English & French battalions.

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

Americans filling French battalions

The Americans were beginning to make an impact.

1 April 1918
Still holding on. Killed many Germans. Americans filling up [west?] French battalions.

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

Decided to send him back to America

Alfred Egbert Whisperry, formerly Wurzburg, was a journalist from the USA with German ancestry. He had been at Reading since 1915, when he was 24. He must have been relieved to be going home at last.

2 March 1918
Reading PI

Please inform Alfred Wurzburg & Whisperry that the Secretary of State has decided, after communication with the American Authorities, to revoke the Internment Order under which he is now detained, and to send him back to America.

Please therefore transfer this man to Brixton Prison in order that he may be handed over to the police when called for. The Governor there should note this instruction.

[Faded signature]
Secretary
Noted at Reading Place of Internment. He will be transferred to Brixton Prison on Tuesday the 5th inst:

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“2 Divisions ran away & so caused Cambrai defeat”

Florence Vansittart Neale was puzzled as how to manage Bisham Abbey with less food available, while the news – and rumours – continued to fascinate her.

1 January 1918
Worried morning over rations. Very difficult but must do it. Edith arranging next Sunday’s “chain of prayer”.

January 1918 [inserted at front, no date]

Hear Haig in London, very sick about things. He had refused to send Divisions to Italy, but had to. Wanted to resign. He said a great deal too much fuss made about Sir J Byng’s push & also a great deal about the subsequent retreat!

Hear we send up stuff against [balloons?] which make the men so deadly seasick they have to come down. On return Irish leave this Xmas, 1000s stuck at Holyhead 5 days. Too many submarines there. At last escorted over by American destroyer & gun boats.

Hear 2 Divisions ran away & so caused Cambrai defeat. Hear General [illegible] sent back after it., then returned by Army Council & again sent back after St Quentin retreat! Hunter-Weston “honouring heroic deed” (drunken Tommie). Foch becoming Generalissimo (March 1918).

Meat & butter rations begin.

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

“Freedom, Freedom at last!”

The Reading soldier we heard from a few days home after the entry into Jerusalem wrote home again with his impressions of the city at the end of the Ottoman era.

MORE ABOUT JERUSALEM

By the kindness of our friends Mr and Mrs Ernest Francis we are enabled to give another extract from a letter recently received from their son Private E. Layton Francis, of the London Scottish Regiment. We feel sure it will prove interesting to many at Broad Street, where Private Layton Francis is so highly regarded.

Egyptian Expeditionary Force
17/12/17

It is most awfully interesting here, and the experience is worth much. There are all manner of conditions of men here – Natives who adhere to the customs and dress of our Lord’s time, Mahomedans [sic] of every description, and highly educated native Jews. One Jew told me he had lived in London and Cardiff for some years, and showed me his business cards. He was immensely relieved at our advance, and said we “kicked Johnny out like a football”. Another American Jew was overjoyed at seeing us, and he kept repeating “Freedom, Freedom at last!”

The building we are billeted in appears to have been built for a school. We are on the first floor. There are several small rooms opening on one side, and on the other side there is one tremendous window made up of small panes about one foot square. The weather is still very cold, but we have overcoats now, and so are better able to cope with it. This afternoon (18th December) I had the great privilege of going over the old “Holy City” of Jerusalem. I should explain that there is the New City of Jerusalem and the old Holy City.

The Holy City is surrounded by walls entirely, and entrance is through the various gates. We entered by the Jaffa gate, and passed through St Stephen’s Gate and saw several of the others. The first place of interest is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here is a slab of marble which is claimed to cover the spot where the body of Jesus laid before He was buried. Then there is the Hill Calvary, just outside the City walls. This is not a green hill, now at any rate, but is very stony, and it is quite a small hill too. The Garden of Gethsemane is full of cypress and olive trees, and is at the foot of the Mount of Olives, quite near to the city wall. The site of the Old Temple is located, but the Moslems have built a magnificent mosque almost on the spot. The mosque is the Mosque of St Omar [sic], and it is a most wonderful building, the base being of inlaid marble, and the rest beautiful mosaic work. The Jews will not walk on the site of the Temple as they believe the Ark of the Covenant to be buried there. But nearby is the “Jews’ wailing place”, a huge wall made up of the original stones of the Temple, and here every Sabbath the Jews pray for the restoration of the Temple, and of their land. Then there is the Golden Gate. This gate is entirely walled in, and the Jews believe it will not be opened until the Messiah comes.

The streets of Jerusalem are very narrow, the houses from the opposite sides almost touching one another. Many streets are like arcades, or to describe them better, like tunnels through solid stone. The shops are just holes in the side of the tunnel.

I must close now although there is much more to say – later on.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, Marc h1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

A charming Yankee

A wounded American visited Bisham Abbey and was a hit with Sir Henry.

17 December 1917

Anxious wait for taxi that arrived too late. We missed train. Lost muff & soldiers’ parcel!…

Wounded came in afternoon. Very nice men. Charming Yankee. He & Henry discussed old books.

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

Chosen to go to America to train men there in “sniping”

A local man was picked to train American recruits.

Warfield

Pte. A. Beal and J. Harwood have recently joined His Majesty’s Forces.

We were glad to welcome home on leave this month Privates L. Cox, F. Fancourt, N. Nickless, T. Nickless, G. Nichols, H. Ottaway, A. Shefford, also A. Cartland, who has just obtained a commission in the R.F.C., and who we heartily congratulate.

We congratulate Corporal Edwin Gray on his promotion to Sergeant and on the fact he has been chosen to go to America to train men there in “sniping.” Sergt. Gray began his career as a marksman at the Winkfield Miniature Rifle Range.

Winkfield section of Winkfield District Magazine, December 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/12)

We refused peace terms thinking the Germans were “on the run”.

Inserted at the front of Florence Vansittart Neale’s diary are her notes made sometime in December 1917 on war news. The impact of America joining the war was beginning to be felt.

December 1917

Hear 4 generals sent home without return tickets!

Hear Germans offered good peace terms 3 months ago. We refused thinking they were “on the run”.

Our troops hissed going through Rome. Cadorna hated by Army – he the Vatican’s party.

Coldstreams scared 91,000 prisoners being taken.

One HQ taken – generals and colonels still adding.

Hear American troops to be trained in Ireland to shame the Irish.

500,000 Americans already in France.

Hear through W Grimmett last push we took any amount of stores & clothing, made light railway & sent it to base before 2 days.

Hear another push is to begin soon.

Americans getting to France about 5000 a week.

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