“We are to use Stokes Guns & bombs from ‘cup’ attachments & ‘umpteen’ rounds of SAA”

Sydney faced another extended journey before being thrown back into the fray.

Wednesday 12 June 1918

Got up at 6 am. Got across to Candas exchange station. A kindly goods RE in the cook house shaved me with a safety razor, with much & very earnest care! Caught a supply train, which got us quite quickly to Puchvillers by 9 am. Here Graham caught a lorry for Toutencourt, so one more ship vanished in the night.

Barker & I got our breakfast at 10.30. Caught a lorry to end of Puchvillers. Lorry jumped from there to Reinecheval, & finally to Argueres where he came & had lunch with us.

Dear old Peyton I find has gone to A Company as 2nd in command. I am very sorry although he well deserves the rise. After lunch saw Barker off, called on Peyton.

After tea went out to range & practiced an attack for a scheme tomorrow morning before our new corps commanders, the ‘23rd corps’. We are to use Stokes Guns & bombs from ‘cup’ attachments & ‘umpteen’ rounds of SAA. After dinner the CO came in & talked about scheme, then to bed.

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

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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)

“He sang a cheery song to me which for a wonder was not disturbed by the boom & shriek of shells”

Sydney Spencer could still delight in birdsong.

Saturday 27 April 1918

Got up at 7.30. Last night our goods came up, also drinks. Thank goodness the drinks came as everyone was getting very weary of waiting & I was wondering how long my popularity as MP would last! We had our usual parade at 9.45. Inspection of rifles… I got a lot more camouflage done. Wrote to Florence.

After lunch read a little. Went down to company, inspected ammunition, gave the men some cigarettes. Came back to orchard behind my platoon & read Tennyson, “The Lady of Shalott” & a few others. Saw a blue butterfly & other butterflies. I saw also a lovely cock chaffinch. He sang a cheery song to me which for a wonder was not disturbed by the boom & shriek of shells.

After tea wrote to Florence. Then came post with rations, bringing me despatch case & lots of useful articles & a long letter from Florence. She pulled my leg by addressing me as Sir – yours to hand etc, & signed it Yours faithfully, Image & Co.

Went on working party Suffs with Peyton from 8-11 pm.

After tea officers of A Company called on us. Then went for a walk towards windmill on our left. At 8 I took a working party to Suffs. In orchard over way about 8 ten shells burst all round us, one slight casualty only. During work on CT Trench was [enfiladed?] by shell fire & luckily all shells landed on parapet.

Heard a nightingale singing in the orchard this morning.

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

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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Looking on the white cliffs of Old England

Sydney Spencer crossed over to France.

Monday 8 April 1918

Got to Folkestone at 10 am. Had a hot bath & lunch, & hair cut, am now on board the Victorian, & am up at fore part of vessel watching the loading of SAA ammunition & looking on the white cliffs of Old England, with just here & there a vivid green patch of grass. The whole atmosphere of the thing brings a quiet to my mind after these last few days which is exactly what I needed. 2.30 pm.

Boat started 4.30 pm. Landed. En avant pour la belle France enfin.
Instructions from AMLO office as follows. I go to 7th Norfolks, 12th Division. I dined and slept at the Officers’ Club, a very nice place. I went to RTO office at 8.30 pm & find that I go by train tomorrow at nine, but where I don’t know. At 8.15 pm I saw a nice Padre I met off to Italy via Paris. I have bought a copy of ‘Resurrection’ by Tolstoi [sic]. Tonight I wrote to Florence & Mother & wrote on my envelopes for the first time in my life “on active service”.

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

A boastful Bosch killer

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about his current situation.

21st Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Jan 20, 1918

My dear WF

Did I tell you I’m now in quarters – that is a narrow room with curtained window, carpeted floor and a stove. Well, I am, anyway, and feeling more dignified and comfortable, you’ll be glad to hear.
A large draft of our fellows have gone on embarkation leave today, and I just missed it by a few hours’ seniority so I expect to be here a little longer anyway. But I may not get quite such a nice long leave as they are having.

Yesterday I met two Australians (officers) who knew my No. 6 [in his rowing crew] very well and spoke very highly of him as a Bosch killer. He was a very boastful fellow, but sound enough and never bragged about his battle exploits, but apparently he has many scalps to his credit. So I think John ought to forgive his inclusion in my eight altho’ he was an Australian.

Did I tell you I fired a revolver course during the awful weather last week? Anyway I [censored] passed out a first class shot.

My application for leave has been turned down for the moment on grounds which have not applied to others. However, I’m old enough to be philosophical and shan’t worry if I can’t get my way.

I have asked Thrussell to send my boots here, thanks dear. Thanks too for … the wool and for the ammunition boots.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

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

“Life here promises to be frightfully monotonous after I get to regular regimental duties”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence as he approached the end of his training as an officer.

21st (Res) Battalion Lon[don] Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Near Swindon

Jan 4, 1918

My dear WF

What a glorious day it’s been. Today I’ve been on the hill tops watching boys doing an attack practice with live ammunition – quite exciting. A delicious day. What must it have been from your friendly bay windows.

Life here promises to be frightfully monotonous after I get to regular regimental duties. At the moment about 50 of us kill time at what is termed a Brigade Class. This carries on for about 3 weeks; then there is a 4 day revolver course, and then we footle around until our orders come through for France or Egypt. We then get about 5 days leave, after which we may flit at any time.

There is a medical examination before we go, and I propose if my teeth do not improve to have them put right before I go out. Conditions here not being very good, I find my teeth giving me a certain amount of trouble, so I think it advisable to get them seen to before I’m called upon to stand the harder conditions of France or Egypt.

[Censored by Florence]

Very shortly I am leading a patrol of young officers around some infant mountains, returning about 1 a.m. if I don’t get lost in the Wiltshire hills, so I’m now off to study the map.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/1-2)

The greatest of inventions that this war has produced

Percy Spencer was instructed by sister Florence to write to her husband John Maxwell Image about a new kind of weapon – the Stokes mortar, invented by Wilfred Stokes in 1915.

Mar. 13. 1917
My dear John

I’m under orders from WF to write and tell you “all about the Stokes gun”, with a sort of threat that if I don’t I shall forfeit your affection. Do please give her some lessons on the ‘power of command’.

And now to show she needs none, I’ll tell you, not everything, but a few things about our famous little strafer.

I suppose the character of this war was bound to lead to the development of the mortar. For one thing, in a vast number of cases the distance between the opposing trenches is so short that to hit the enemy trench without damaging one’s own demands closer shooting than modern artillery has yet completely achieved. Hence, as I say, the development of the mortar which from its size and easy portability to forward positions was bound to become an important weapon for short range work. But no one who saw the primitive weapons of this kind which we possessed in 1915 had much hope that the “wonderful Stokes gun”, the existence of which was at first a carefully guarded secret from the Huns, would prove the success and surprise to the enemy that was expected by the experts.

Its advance upon old types was at once recognised, but I do not think its unique effectiveness would have been thoroughly appreciated, but for the perseverance and pluck of our men who work the guns.

Of course owing to their weight and difficulties of ammunition supply, all guns, mortars and mechanical contrivances for trench warfare diminish rapidly in value as an attach advances, but for preparing the way for an assault I believe the Stokes gun is one of our most valuable weapons, and perhaps our most valuable trench weapon. I should not be surprised if it were ultimately classed as the greatest of inventions that this war has produced, excepting, of course, the Kaiser’s utterances.

I’m told its rapidity of fire has the most terrorising effect and in one heavy battle last year, when the preliminary preparation had not been thoroughly completed, it was our Stokes strafe (creating I believe, a record for volume of fire) which not only ripened the harvest for our fellows, but actually gathered it in, for the Huns never waited for them, but ran in with their hands up.

Curiously enough, arising out of a discussion in the mess yesterday upon the reward of the great inventor, some said that the joy of personal achievement was his real reward, others that it was determined purely by the extent of his cash profit, and another that his reward was essentially the consciousness of having benefitted humanity, the latter opinion being cited as Mr Stokes’ recompense; and upon its being suggested that the last was rather a matter of point of view, like a true Christian and Britisher, he challenged the suggestion and stood to his statement.

So, altho’ I’m afraid Mr Censor will not pass any remarks as to the principle of the gun, its rate of fire, ranges and kinds, anyway you’ll be satisfied that it’s a bonnie weapon [censored].

A little while ago WF asked me if a report of “our raid” was true. It was indeed a champion affair, never do I remember such a tornado of fire, but as you will have realised, beyond the broad facts that there was a raid, and I believe the most successful one ever made by the British, the newspaper report is sheer nonsense. The gorgeous gentleman who resides in comfort somewhere behind and seems to have the newspaper glory of this Division peculiarly under his care, succeeds only in getting well outside the truth, and making us appear ridiculous in the eyes of those who do know what is and what is not possible.

Recently I have missed 2 opportunities for souvenirs. One, the top of a brass candlestick discharged from a shrapnel shell at us last night – whether Fritz has grown humorous or artistic, I don’t know, but it strikes me as a rather charming idea of conveying “evening hate”. The other was very curious. In clearing the manure refuse etc from a farmyard midden a stone’s throw from here a Uhlan, intact, with lance complete, was discovered standing upright in the mire. Unfortunately he had been completely souvenired before I heard about him, otherwise you should have had a morsel. It would be interesting to know how he met his death.

Well, I think that’s all the news I have to tell you just now. Life is fairly lively, and we still have to do a good deal of shell dodging.

However it’s all towards the end of the war.

With love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/10/11)

The Russians are shocking optimists and may run out of ammunition

Ralph Glyn’s old mentor was feeling a bit out of it now that he was no longer involved in the war.

Montpellier Hotel
Llandrindod Wells
21.6.16

My dear Ralph

I got your letter today. I wrote to you to Egypt about three weeks ago but expect the letter missed you.

Very glad to hear that you have found your way home. You will surely be able to light on some job other than intelligence in Egypt, which has lost its interest and importance so much. You will I suppose go and look up Whigham at the WO who is the dispenser of General Staff jobs in common with Bird.

I came down here last week and after finishing three weeks shall probably go on to Ireland before returning to Town. They are hardly likely to employ me again as they could not expect me to take anything that was not fairly good and there are plenty of people to fill such jobs, without their retrieving dug-outs for the purpose. I am sorry in some ways that I did not accept Haig’s offer last winter to go as his Mili. Secretary in place of Lowther; but at that time I was fed up with office work and I wanted to go to Russia; it could have kept me in harness till the end of the war.

I hope that you are none the worse for the wear [sic], Egypt can be uncommonly hot after April. Things are going well for the Allies but one feels a little afraid that the Ruskis may run short of ammunition if they are too busy; they are shocking optimists.

Ever yours
Chas E Callwell

Letter from General Callwell to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C24)

“Oh! dear – Has God forsaken us?”

It was definitely bad news as the Easter Rising still raged close to home, and the British were forced to surrender the town of Kut in Mesopotamia (Iraq) to the Turks.

30 April 1916

Heard fall of Kut! General Townshend [Q. over?] British born Indians – Oh! dear – Has God forsaken us?

In Dublin, fighting going on still.

Kut! We destroyed all guns & ammunition.

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

Sir Roger Casement captured

Florence Vansittart Neale was shocked by the arrest of Sir Roger Casement transporting guns to the rebels of the Easter Rising in Ireland.

24 April 1916

Henry had Mr Gardner about attested men [those not liable for conscription] in Bisham….

Sir Roger Casement! arriving on Irish coast, German ship with ammunition! He taken. Germans scuttled ship.

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

‘My eye, they do seem bitter about Gallipoli’

Lady Mary Glyn and her daughter Meg Meade both wrote to Meg’s brother Ralph. Lady Mary was staying with her other daughter Maysie Wynne-Finch in Windsor, while Meg was in Portsmouth caring for a sick friend’s children, and mixing with senior naval figures.

Elgin Lodge
Windsor
April 19 1916

The Cabinet Crisis is a real one & may bring about great events, but Asquith … seems to be able to keep together the Coalition at all hazards.

Trebizond is the good news of today’s paper. Well, the French are teaching is what it is to “hold”, and it is my belief we are to hold for the Kingdom that will surely come and we are all to think of the Christ as St John saw him… and He will make no mistake and order no sacrifice that is unavailing – the only leaders now are those who are “joyful as those that march to music, sober as those that must company with Christ” and we see them at all the fronts, but not yet among those who have made of statecraft a craft for self and for selfish ends. It is lamentable how few there are who are trusted & who can “hold” now for the Kingdom of that Lord & His Christ you soldiers know and obey. And yet I cannot believe that a country is ready to win the war so long as there is no real love and faith in God or man as a nation through its representatives. And our power will crumble if we give way to a carping spirit of criticism, and sometimes in perfect despair I find myself trying to believe in AJB and Walter Long, Bonar Law & those in whom the “Party” have consented before the Coalition. But as you know I have never had much belief in AJB’s power to impart a conviction which is founded on the rubble of the failure to find an absolute conviction….

Your own Mur
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Nobody trusts the British

Naval officer Herbert “Jim” Meade was married to Ralph Glyn’s sister Meg. He wrote to Ralph with a seaman’s comments on the rival service – not to mention the country’s diplomatic efforts.

HMS Royalist
9/10/15

My dear Ralph

Thank you so much for those maps, they are just what I wanted. I can’t find out how the British part lies from N. to S. but I suppose we aren’t expected to hear that. From a mere outsider’s point of view, I think the last effort of the British Army & its results very good. Of course we haven’t got as much as we wanted, but nobody ever gets that.

What worries me is, to the outsider again, the entire lack of any principle in this war, we shift about all over the place (I’m talking about the talking part of the business) with the result that nobody trusts us. France, Italy, Russia & of course the Balkans all have a fear that our policy may change at any moment, the Germans work this for all they are worth with tremendous advantage to themselves & this Balkan fiasco is a very good instance, unless the FO is much deeper than we have given them credit for. I can’t help thinking that Greece must come in if Bulgaria invades her, but Germany may be able to walk through Servia [sic] without Bulgaria’s assistance & then of course Greece wouldn’t come in. It all depends upon numbers & if we make the Western front the decisive front & not allow anything else to frustrate that we ought to have finished the war off inside three years from the time it started. I think we are well up to time myself. It is a good sign Germany coming to terms with America, they want ammunition & they get a good deal.

Life in this hole is monotonous to the extreme, we do all sorts of stunts & whenever we see smoke on the horizon we wonder if the Naval Armageddon is to take place. It is doubtful if the Germans come out till their submarines are ready, which will not be this winter. What are they doing with their fleet, the re-arming business I don’t believe is possible, but they are up to something. I’ve always been frightened of the Dardanelles touch, whether we could have forced the straits is a matter of opinion, but like most British enterprises, when governed from home we did not go through with it. I believe we would have got at least 4 battleships through if we had gone for it, whether [illegible] would have capitulated on the appearance of these ships is another matter…
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The patient suffering and splendid patriotism of the French

An officer from Ascot lauded the example of French civilians.

THE WAR.

We shall have several items of interesting news from some of our brave Ascot “Lads” to insert in the November Magazine. The following extract from a letter of Lieutenant Frank Tottie will interest our readers. As he is on the Headquarters Staff, he sees a good deal of what is going on.-

We really do want every man we can get. People here are beginning to get so very nervous about the delay in granting compulsory service. It seems so unfair to be continually hearing of men with wives and large families out here fighting and risking their lives for those at home who even try to prevent them getting the necessary ammunition to render their jobs a little less dangerous.

I have just had to be up all night in a town and it was most interesting watching the country people coming in at 4.30 a.m. to market… All these people have the look of patient suffering painted on their faces. Every one of them has suffered by the war, either a son killed or they have been driven from their homes and their worldly goods destroyed. If only people in England could come here and see the things I see and realize what war actually means, even to civilians, and take example from the splendid patriotism of the French people and how they suffer for their beloved Patrie, there would be no hesitation as to compulsory service.

September 18th, 1915.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, October 1915 (D/P151/28A/7/10)

“There ought never to be a war, with these modern inventions for destroying life”

Two of Ralph Glyn’s friends wrote to him with their thoughts on the war. Hereward Wake was the owner of Courteenhall near Northampton; it has not been possible to identify Evan. Brocket Hall belonged to the Cain family (later Lords Brocket) but was let to Lord Mount Stephen.

Brocket Hall
Hatfield
Sept 2nd 1915
Dearest Ralph

I see this morning there was another fight on 27th, which means more [illegible], alas! What a nightmare this war. There ought never to be a war, with these modern inventions for destroying life. It makes me sick – we will never get reconciled to it…

I am so thankful to hear you are all right. The Dardanelles must be a truly awful business, & what bad luck those two coups didn’t come off.

Still it is something that the Turk fights like a gentleman, for certainly the Bosche doesn’t. What a loathsome lot they are…

Yours ever
Evan

Courteenhall
Northampton
2 Sept. 15

My dear Ralph

I am glad to get your letter of 10th Aug today. More power to you – good luck. The British people have got quite used to long casualty lists and no success anywhere and they are making so much money out of the war that few care how long it lasts. There is not a suspicion that we might get beaten in the end, which may be correct, no doubt, but it seems to me that we shall never go into the business heart & soul till we are frightened.

You were very right about the war lasting a long time, but I still think the decisive point is in France & Belgium. The enclosed cutting [no longer with it] expresses my views pretty well as regards the Dardanelles, which is now generally admitted to have been a bad mistake. But I suppose we have to see it through now as you say. Fortunately for us, the Germans went for the Russians this summer. I hope the weather will before long check their advance in that direction. Now of course we have got the hell of a lot of troops in France & every month we have more. A little ammunition is trickling out too, so the Bosche will get a warm time if & when he marches our way to take the offensive. German confidence & initiative seems inexhaustible but I bet they’d be ready to bargain with what they’ve got for peace by Christmas.

Well, take care of yourself. The Turk will soon run out of ammunition. Any Italians your way?

Yrs
Hereward

I am just going up for my Board & expect to be passed fit. Thank heaven I hope soon to be out again & doing my bit.

Algy Harris is very fit & cheerful & very active on his 1 leg. He goes to stay with Maysie this week.

Letters to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C31/17-18)