Remarkably happy & conversational

Percy’s transfer to a commission was now well on rack. Better still, it looked as if he might get to do his training at Trinity College, Cambridge, where brother in law John Maxwell Image was a don.

June 23, 1917
My dear WF

My orders have just come in.

I am due to leave here (and, I expect, to arrive in England) on the 29th inst.

I am then entitled to 14 days leave, and after that, I may get longer leave still (some get months) or I may go straight to a Cadet Corps.

If dear John’s note to Col Ready is successful, I expect I shall go straight to Trinity after my leave.

By the way, I am No S/4/087268 Sgt PJS, 47th Div Train, in case you want this information.

I hope I’ll get thro’ my course all right, but I shall be starting from scratch, so shall have to work jolly hard.

Yesterday I went to a very jolly dinner – we were 16 & we all got remarkably happy & conversational.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/41)

‘I shall probably have to do the common or garden “over the bags” stunt one merry morning’

Percy Spencer’s hopes of a commission seemed to have been dashed, but now at last he was going to get the opportunity – although he would have to undergo extra training, and would probably not get the administrative job he was most suited for.

June 11, 1917
My dear WF

You’ll think I’m a dreadful correspondent, but you’ll have guessed the reason of my silence – I’ve been terribly busy.

My commission papers went up with an application for a direct commission to be granted to me from the OC of the Battalion I was and am wanted for. (By the way this CO is now a Brigadier.)

Well, there is a rule that no direct commissions are to be granted. So altho’ my application was recommended by the Divisional Corps & Army Commanders & a special application was made to the war Office, the WO has refused to allow me to hold commissioned rank, unless I first come home for a cadet course. The reason given being that it has been found undesirable to grant direct commissions whatever the circumstances to men who have been mainly engaged upon clerical work. Isn’t it funny – and isn’t it a nasty sort of reflection upon “clerks”?

Just then was not an opportune moment for going into such matters. So it was put on one side until today.

Tonight my papers have gone up again for a cadet course in England; and if I dodge the shells & the submarines I ought to be in England within 3 weeks for a cadet course somewhere.

The crab of the business is that it will only be by the veriest luck that I shall get an administrative appointment at the end of it, and shall probably have to do the common or garden “over the bags” stunt one merry morning.

Anyhow, I feel I ought to hold commissioned rank, whether as a fighting or an administrative officer – and this stigma upon clerks must be removed, what!

If and when I come home I shall have some long stories to tell, some of which I’m sure John will wholly approve….

Yours ever
Percy

The asparagus was great. Never was it eaten with such relish or in such extraordinary circumstances.

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/38-40)

Do the German hear our starlight singing in their distant trenches?

There was much news of soldiers from Maidenhead Congregational Church.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are glad to be able to report that Reginald Hill is so far improving, that he has been able to sit up a little each day. Thomas S. Russell has been called up, and is in training with the Motor Transport Section of the A.S.C. G.C. Frampton after about two hours drill was considered advanced enough for foreign service, and left England for France on May 18th. He is gone into Military Canteen work.

An interesting letter has come to hand from Sidney Eastman, which may justly be described as lengthy, for it is written upon a piece of paper some seven or eight feet long, and covers both sides. It is mostly occupied with a description of his travels and of the sights he has seen, and we are glad to gather that he is in good health and spirits.

G.C. Frampton has been unpatriotic enough to take German measles, and is in Hospital at Etaples. We hope to learn very shortly that he is quite well again.

Alfred Vardy, after a severe bout of pneumonia, caught on his way to the Front in France, is now at a Convalescent Camp in Thetford, gaining strength before returning to duty.

Wilfrid Collins is in hospital at Reading, suffering from heart weakness following upon a severe attack of “Trench fever.”

Reginald Hill has been out of bed for an hour, and is going on satisfactorily, though slowly.

Cyril Hews had a somewhat narrow escape recently. He was out with his motor-bicycle upon a French road during a thunderstorm, when the lightning struck a tree by the road-side, and a large branch fell upon the handlebars of the machine, providentially leaving the rider untouched.

Alfred Lane, after more than a year’s training in the Home Counties’ Engineers at Maidenhead, has been sent over with a draft to France.

Harry Baldwin, having attained the age of 18, and being called up, has elected to enter the Navy, and will probably enter a Training School.

One of our young men, who took an active part in the Messines victory, writes:

“Rather a good sight yesterday. I attended with my men a very large open-air drum-head Church Parade Service, as a sort of Thanksgiving Service for our recent great victory. A large number of Welshmen were present, and it really was great to hear these fellows sing “Aberystwith” and “St. Mary,” accompanied by a band.”

The papers, by the way, have been recently telling us that in all the Welsh regiments there are “glee parties,” who sing under the stars, until the Germans must hear and perhaps wonder, in their more or less distant trenches.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, June 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

“May blossoms and war seem as though they ought to be impossible in the same world”

The minister of Maidenhead Congregational Church tried to encourage members to look on the bright side of life despite all the horrors and losses of the war.

May blossoms and war seem as though they ought to be impossible in the same world. The dreadful mud in the midst of which our soldiers have been living is more congruous with the spirit of warfare than sweet grass and hawthorn buds. Many letters from the front have spoken of the start of surprise with which a lark’s song is heard over the trenches. We have all, when some sorrow is heavy upon us, felt a sort of astonishment that the sun should go on shining, and the birds twittering, and passers by smiling, as though nothing had happened. But the worst of sorrows cannot cover the whole sky. We want taking out of ourselves at times. Evils won’t bear brooding over, we only make them worse. We shall be able to bear “the strain of toil, the fret of care” better, if we make rich use of the ministry of the blossoms.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are glad to hear that Reginald Hill is progressing, though slowly. He has had several operations, and probably must undergo two or three more. The doctors think he may have to be in bed for at least three months yet, but they hope he will make quite a good recovery.

We regret deeply to have to record that John Boyd, formerly the Caretaker of the Chapel, was killed in action on March 29th. He enlisted in the 2nd Berks. In June 1916, and was sent to France on Sept. 22nd. He was a most genial and kind-hearted man, and had a wide circle of friends among whom he was very popular. We offer our Christian sympathy to Mrs. Boyd and her family.

It is distressing too to hear that Stephen Harris is returned as “missing.” The Captain of his Company has written to Mr. and Mrs. Harris that he has made all possible inquiries and can gain no information. The best that can be hoped for is that he may be a prisoner in German hands. Robert Harris was killed in July last. May God grant His patience and consolation to the distressed parents.

Wallace Mattingly has been admitted to Sandhurst Military College for eight months’ training. G. Frampton is expecting to be called up immediately. We are glad to see Cyril Hews at home again on leave, looking in the pink of health. P.S. Eastman writes in good spirits from “somewhere in the East.”

He says, “I have not yet left for the special work for which I was sent out, but may do so any day now. In the meantime I have had quite a variety of work, until at present I find myself in the C.O.’s office. Yesterday I had a line from Frank Pigg, who is with the R.F.C in Salonica; may be one of these days I shall be able to pay him a visit.”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, May 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

Cambridge is crammed with cadets

The Image cats’ joy at the effect of food restrictions on their own diet, mentioned by John Maxwell Image on 13 February, inspired his wife Florence to write a comic article. It became her first publication when it appeared in Punch. Dr Image also noted sadly that all the new undergraduates were international students, all the British school leavers having joined up.

6 May 1917
My dearest old man

Cambridge is crammed with cadets. There are also youths in caps and gowns. I saw some in the Great Court when I dined last in Hall – alas not one English face above the white collars.

Your kind congratters on “Rations” pleased the Signora greatly. This morning she had a letter from her brother at the Front containing the compliments of the Mess to whom he had, dutifully, read it – and about three day ago another brother, in another part of France, vowed that the Punch so stuck out his pocket that he went about gingerly, fearing a reprimand for the misfit of his tunic. How fond the brothers are of her!

Tuissimus
JMI

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

Lonely and sad

Putting the clocks forward or back by an hour is one of the ongoing legacies of the First World War. First introduced in 1916, 1917 saw the experiment repeated.

Soldiers’ Club

The lighter evenings, with their out-door attractions, and the Daylight Saving Bill, caused the committee to decide on closing the rooms to the soldiers, and this was done on Wednesday, April 4th. The evening was marked by a most enjoyable concert, after which our Pastor made a short speech assuring the men of the welcome they would still find at Trinity. Second A.M. Rose then voiced the thanks of the men. Until they knew Trinity they had been lonely and sad, but the hand-shake and kindly welcome had done much to dissipate the loneliness. Second A.M. Morgan then spoke of the men’s great appreciation of all our Pastor had done for them, causing amusement by his remark that Mr Harrison was unlike many ministers of his acquaintance, who were invisible all the week and incomprehensible on Sunday!

The evening closed by singing! Auld Lang Syne, after which our guests sadly and reluctantly dispersed.

The committee gladly recorded that all expenses, including the gas and coal, have been met, and a complete balance sheet is printed elsewhere.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, May 1917 (D/EX1237/1/12)

“No better discipline or anything of that sort, I hope”

Percy Spencer wrote to Florence asking for some
Lysol petroleum jelly, an antiseptic. He had recently attended a dinner with old comrades, which had both tragic and comic elements.

May 3, 1917
My dear WF

This is just a few scrambled lines, mostly to ask for things.

I should very much like a tube of Lysall [Lysol] petroleum jelly, or a small bottle of Lysall and some phospherine tablets.

Also some ink to fit my box.

If I have any merino underwear or any shirts, I should like them please!

I’m sorry I can’t think of anything more to ask just now!

Well, I saw the Big Brass Hat yesterday and he said “H’m yes” 3 times, so I expect I’m in for something pretty bad – probably a month’s training in the trenches – or “something worth boiling out in it”.

We had a first rate dinner the night before last – the surviving officers & sergeants of my old Battalion, numbered just 18, 15 of whom were present. It was a right good evening, tho’ it had its tragic side.

By the way I am the only original member of the staff left: also I am the only remaining Staff Clerk in the Division who came out with us. The only original Quartermaster in the Division (of my old Battalion) was at the dinner. In fact so many of us were the only remaining something or other, we felt quite lonely.

Well, dear girl, I’m sending you the souvenir of that event. “Pat” enlisted as a private tho’ in private life he is Paterson of the Home Office – head of the Prisons of England – a fine man with a grand head. Dear old RSM Fisler’s speech was too funny. Private Pat, Corporal Pat, Sergeant Pat & 2nd Lt Pat of No. 4 Platoon was the well beloved of this Battalion of rough lads, and the fine old RSM ran himself high & dry on the rock of affection for the battalion idol: “that’s about all I’ve got to say, I think, sir”, he concluded lamely after a long pause.

The Sergeant Cook was pressed to sing – everyone knew he wanted to sing, and what he wanted to sing, and what he would sing – still he announced as he reluctantly rose to his feet, it would be a sad song. Nobody said, “We know; it’s going to be “Speak not ‘er nime”, tho’ everyone knew that “Speak not ‘er nime” it would be notwithstanding the cheering effect of a [bumper?] of port & Kummel shandy the worthy fellow had mixed for himself under the impression the harmless looking liquor was a sort of Perrier.

And so the evening passed. We talked of the St Albans days & the early days out here, of this good fellow and that, of a stout hearted Sergeant who wouldn’t be put off his game by enemy shelling before the battle of Loos – “What’s that?” exclaimed a jumpy platoon sergeant as a crump landed near. “Spades trumps” replied the other, and as the next one landed even nearer, “Clubs laid, your turn to play.”

But always we got back to Pat – to the early days out here, when as a Lance Corporal he “borrowed” the transport officer’s mount and a local landau & drove his “boys” out, only to run into the Divisional General. Of the Divisional General’s wrath & enquiry as to disciplinary action taken, & the CO’s reply – “This NCO has been promoted to Corporal”.

And I reminded him of the day when talking to the RSM he passed by en route for the guard room, there to comfort one of his platoon with all the food & illegal things he could buy.

Oh, the discipline of No 4 was awful, but they’d follow Pat anywhere.
Pat had to go away for a long time – upon returning he asked how things were with No. 4. “Oh, they’ve gone downhill fast, sir, since you left”. “No better discipline or anything of that sort, I hope”, Pat enquired anxiously. “Oh no” replied his informant in a horrified tone.

And now this same Pat is our Divisional Lecturer on “Discipline”.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/33-35)

Cheer him in his pain and solitude

Members of Maidenhead Congregational Church were serving in various fields. One man was having a nice break in Malta on his way to the east, while another was suffering with a severe wound.

OUR SOLDIERS.

Sidney Eastman sent us a message announcing his arrival at Malta. He says,

“A line of greeting from an isle of sunshine and blossoms! The brilliant blue of sea and sky, white sails and grey giants, sandstone rocks and golden architecture, vividly focussed by the eyes of an enthusiast, convey to the chambers of memory a mental masterpiece in the producing of which nature and man work hand in hand – nature gives light while man gives shade. I am very fit now, and much enjoying a day or two of respite here.”

Evidently the “sunshine and blossoms” have got into our deacon’s soul.

Reginald Hill has been rather badly wounded and is at the Wharncliff War Hospital at Sheffield. We may be quite sure that letters from any of his old friends of the West Street Church would cheer him in his pain and solitude, and would be joyfully welcomed. Letters should be addressed, “17 Ward, 6 Block.” We are glad to know that his doctors anticipate that he will probably make quite a good recovery.

Ernest Bristow is in Hospital in France, suffering from influenza.

Alfred Vardy was married on March 8th to Miss Coxhead, and is now on active service in France.

We were glad to see Ernest Mead on Sunday last looking quite fit and well.

W.H. Clark has arrived at Salonika.

A. Lane has been transferred with his section to Marlow.

Charles Catliffe is with a Signal section at a Camp near Bedford.

MILITARY MOVEMENTS.

Most of the Engineers who have been for some months in training at Maidenhead have been removed elsewhere, and at least an equal number have been brought to our town to take their place. The new-comers seem to appreciate the comforts of the Clubroom more than their predecessors, and use it in much larger numbers. But the Free Church parade service has suffered. So far, only a few attend, instead of the eighty or more of recent months. Perhaps the organization has been at fault, and we will yet hope for better things.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, April 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

A very gallant officer and gentleman, recklessly brave and a fine example of cool courage

The Old Boys of Reading School were distinguishing themselves at the Front.

O.R. NEWS.

Killed in Action.

2nd Lieut. Norman A. Howell, King’s Shropshire Light infantry. On December 23rd.

He is the second son of Mr. W. Roland Howell, architect, of this town. Born at Reading in April 1897, he was educated at Reading School and St. Laurence College, Ramsgate, and had been about a year in his father’s office before joining the Army in November, 1915. His cadet training at school and college enabled him to get his commission. He was posted to the King’s Shropshire’s, was ordered to the front at the end of June last, and has been in the thick of the Somme fighting for six months. Lieut. Norman Howell came home on his first leave on December 6th and returned on the 16th. Within a week he had made the great sacrifice.

His Commanding Officer wrote to Mr. Howell on December 24th:

“I deeply regret to report the death of your son, who was serving in my Battalion. Whilst going up to the front line trenches in charge of a party last night an enemy sniper shot him through the head, killing him instantly. This morning his body was buried by the Chaplain near where he fell, with military honours, officers and men attending.

“I had trench mortars and rifle grenades on the sniper’s post, patrols had reported 8 to 10 Huns there, none there now! On behalf of his comrades, officers, N.C.O.’s and men, I wish to convey to you our profound sympathy . He was loved and respected by all of us, and we mourn the loss of a very gallant officer and gentleman. To all of us he was known as recklessly brave and a fine example of cool courage, devoted to his duties, which he discharged most cheerfully under the most trying conditions.”

“I placed him in charge of the Lewis Gun detachment, on which he had set his heart and soul. He belonged to my own Headquarters’ mess, and I took particular interest in him. A cross has been put up on the grave near Les Boeufs.”

It will be remembered that in October, 1915, Mr. Howell’s elder son, 2nd Lieut. Roland Basil Howell, was reported “wounded and missing.” Nothing has since been heard of him, and any hopes of his being alive hangs on the very slenderest thread. On the 16th of last month the War Office wrote saying that they were now forced to believe he was killed.

Lieut. Basil Howell was born in October, 1895, and received his commission in the 4th North Staffordshire’s three months after the war started. He was attached to the Northumberland Fusiliers (the Fighting Fifth), and went to the front in May, 1915.

Reports received from the front show that on the night of October 1st-2nd, 1915, the battalion to which Lieut. Howell was attached were in severe action. After all the officers of the company had been killed he gallantly led a bombing party to attack a German trench, but was never seen again.

Every possible enquiry was made through the War Office, the American Embassy, the Red Cross, and the wounded men who returned to England. Many references were made by the latter to the respect and love they had for the brave young officer. Like his brother he was educated at Reading School and St Laurence College, and had started his training to follow in his father’s profession. For many years he was an enthusiastic scout, and took a big share in starting the South Reading Troop.

Lieut. Cedric Charles Okey Taylor, East Kent Regiment, attached to Trench Mortar Battery, only son of Mrs. Taylor, 39, Weltje Road, Ravenscroft Park, W., and of the late Mr. Charles Warmsley Taylor, of Reading. Further details are now to hand of Lieut. Taylor’s death.

He died for King and country on December 3rd, 1916, in his 22nd year. Young in years but old in endurance, he was in constant action for 15 months at Ypres in 1915 and on the Somme in 1916. He is laid to rest in the cemetery, at Faubourg d’Amiens, Arras.

2nd Lieut. W. Marsden Cooper, Worcestershires, only son of Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper, 107, London Street, Reading, aged 19.

Cooper was only 19 years of age and went out to the front in the Worcestershire’s about the middle of December, shortly after completing his course at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was educated at Reading School, where he gained a Council scholarship in 1909. His School career was unusually distinguished. In 1914 he gained a School Certificate followed the next year by a higher certificate.

In response to his country’s call, he decided to take a commission, and in the entrance examination for the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, held in February, 1916, he came out second on the list, gaining a Prize Cadetship. At Sandhurst his success was no less pronounced than at school, and he gained the position of Sergeant in his cadet unit, the highest position a cadet can obtain, before he left College. Not only did he have considerable intellectual gifts, as his record shows but he was a fine athlete as well. He was an excellent all round cricketer and his natural powers as a bowler would have enabled him to make his mark in really good company. As a Rugby Football player he showed great promise, and before he left school he had the distinction of being captain of football, captain of cricket and captain of the school. Yet he was never elated by success, and perhaps it was more than anything else his modesty which made him so popular with the boys and the masters alike. Those who have watched his career, for the last two years, and marked the way in which his development always seemed to keep pace with his new responsibilities feel a special grief that a young life so full of promise should have been brought thus prematurely to a close.
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“The Cook Islanders march magnificently, and make an impressive spectacle”

Men from across the British Emoire, including those of non-European descent, answered Britain’s call during the First World War. Several hundred men in all came from the Cook Islands.

THE L.M.S. AND THE EMPIRE

Not only have many sons of the L.M.S. missionaries answered the call of the Empire, but also many “sons of the L.M.S.” from far off Rarotonga and its sister isles of the Cook group in the South Pacific two contingents of the young cook islanders, trained in New Zealand and associated with the famous Anzacs, have found their way to the battle fronts of Europe. In 1915 a first contingent of 50 or more young men left Rarotonga for training. Of these some have already fallen in action “somewhere in France.” The second contingent of 120 odd left Rarotonga in July of 1916, and after training in New Zealand were sent on to Europe recently. Special services were held for these men before they left their island home, and several of them became seekers of “the Pearl of Great Price.” These sons of the Mission have gone forth not only as soldiers of the Empire, but as soldiers of the Empire of Christ.

The Rev. G.H. Eastman, of Rarotonga, communicated with the Congregational ministers of Auckland, New Zealand, and with other friends there, who gave the young Cook Islanders a warm welcome, and made arrangements for their spiritual welfare while in camp. The friends of the Devonport Congregational Church in particular went out of their way to help these “missionary children”, and the following extracts are from a letter received by Mr. Eastman from one of the deacons of the church.

“…The Narrow Neck Camp where the men are training is only a few minutes’ walk from my home, and we see a lot of them under all sorts of conditions; everyone is loud in their praise the men are all that could be desired in behaviour, in smart appearance, and show intense interest in their work. We have had the great pleasure of seeing some 90 men Sunday by Sunday at our church for the morning service.

“The men march magnificently, and make an impressive spectacle. We have a service suitable to the Cook Islanders in the morning, being only too happy to waive our regular procedure to any extent needed. The reading of the lessons is first in English and then in the native tongue. We usually have two hymns sung by our friends, and they are the soul of the music. The sermon is translated in the usual way, and in this particularly we are indebted to Sergeant Beni, he is a most intelligent chap and does wonders. We shall miss these men when they go, they are quite one with us, and we feel we quite love them.

“Words fail me when I think of the work that has been done at the Cook Islands that such a magnificent example of missionary ‘children’ should come to our shores, their behaviour and attention during service is truly wonderful. I wish the L.M.S. Authorities in London could step in to our church one Sunday morning and see them.”

Trinity Congregational Magazine, April 1917 (D/EX1237/1/12)

Constant watchfulness keeping camps healthy

The maintenance of the River Thames was surprisingly important during the war – it provided healthy drainage of army camps, and entertainment for wounded soldiers.

THE WAR

At the outbreak of war there were 435 men in the Conservators’ employ, of whom 317 were eligible for service as regards age. Only 16 men have been temporarily exempted, and no appeal has been made on behalf of any unmarried man. Of the employees on active service 10 have unfortunately lost their lives.

Much difficulty has been experienced in engaging suitable substitutes, but with the employment of men either over military age or medically rejected, and with a close co-ordination between the various Departments, it has been found possible to carry on the work for which the Board is responsible.

RIVER PURIFICATION

The large number of military camps and other establishments recently set up in the watershed have necessitated a constant watchfulness on the part of the outdoor staff for the purpose of ensuring that the drainage disposal systems are effective, and in cases where such systems have not yet had the effect of preventing pollution, representations have been made to the responsible Officers, with the result that measures have been, or are being, carried out to meet the Conservators’ requirements. In view of the constantly changing population of the camps, continuous inspections are necessary to obviate pollution by misuse of the surface water systems.

GENERAL

During the year the river has been extensively used by wounded soldiers, and the practice has again been followed of placing the Conservators’ launches, as opportunity offered, at the disposal of Hospital Authorities, who have written expressing appreciation of the Conservators’ action.

Report to BCC of their representative to the Thames Conservancy Board, 3 April 1917, in Berkshire County Council minutes, 1917 (C/CL/C1/1/20)

Khaki chit-chat

There was plenty of news of men belonging to a Congregational church in east Reading.

Khaki Chit-Chat.

Friends will be pleased to hear that Segt. Leslie Smith, who lies in hospital at Stourbridge, is now making very good progress. I believe I am right when I say that he received his wounds as far back as three months ago. The injury to his ankle has been proving rather seriously troublesome, and that, combined with the low state to which his general health sank, gave grave cause for anxiety about a month ago. Since then, however, bad news has turned to good, and good, which we hope will yet grow better.

Sergt. Gilbert Smith, his brother, arrived home last month on leave, to the joy of his family circle and his friends. We congratulate him upon looking so well, and trust that good fortune will continue with him.

We are sorry to hear through Mrs. Jordan that our caretaker has been in hospital recently with frost-bite. This is not altogether surprizing when one remembers that the weather in France where our men are is not one whit less severe than it is at home here. We are glad he is out of hospital again, and hope he will get the boots he needs. If he doesn’t, then we hope that next time he will be invalided home for a spell.

Sergt. Taylor, son of Mr. A Taylor, of Bishops Road, is at present in a hospital in Scotland, going through the slow process of recovering from shrapnel wounds. We sympathize with his home people and especially his wife, in their feeling that to be so far north means that he is just as much out of reach as he would have been had he been kept in France.

Mr. Taylor, of Talfourd Avenue, has been home on leave recently from Salonika. It was extremely unfortunate that he happened to be so unwell for a great part of his visit here. Better luck next time, or rather let us hope that when next he returns it will be for good.

Leslie Newey is “joining up” the 1st of March. We admire his eagerness to follow his brother’s steps, but hope for several reasons that he will be disappointed in his desire to get to France.

Mr. Goddard wrote from Bedford the other day a cheering and encouraging letter to the Sunday School, in he stated that he is taking a class in the Sunday School there. A man who can do that when he joins the army and leaves home is “keeping fit” in more senses than one.

Sergt. Jones, son-in-law of Mr. Lindsey, is in one of our local hospitals undergoing treatment for his right arm, we regret to say that the degree of future usefulness of this unfortunate limb is a matter of uncertainty. There is ground for hope, however, and we trust that the best possible will be eventually be realized.

We were glad to see Mr Planner and Mr. Clement Tregay looking so well during their recent visits home. Mr. Watkins has also been home recently on leave. The first and last of these are now “somewhere in France,” as is also Mr Thomas who, we hoped, was destined to stay in the old country.

Mr. T. Brown is at present enjoying the gentler climate of Lower Egypt.

Jess Prouten is still in Mesopotamia, and I believe would be glad to hear oftener from old Reading friends.

Old friends of Park will be pleased to hear of the visit of a certain man in khaki to the Institute the other day. He was an Australian on leave (Tom Vinicombe, an old scholar of the Sunday School), and he explained his appearance by saying that he thought he would like to have a look at the place where he had spent such happy times as a boy.

Recently our Week-night Services have been rather changing in their character. The subjects taken are matters of general interest and they are treated from the strictly Christian and spiritual point of view. Among those dealt with hitherto have been “The Local Controversy on Spiritualism,” “President Wilson’s Attitude and Ideals,” “The Work of British Women in France,” and “The Housing Problem in the Light of the War.”

Trinity Congregational Magazine, March 1917 (D/EX1237/1/12)

Beer and bottled water to be in short supply

Sydney Spencer underwent training in gas exposure, while Florence Vansittart Neale was shocked by the amount of items to be restricted.

Sydney Spencer of Cookham
Feb 22

I go through chlorine gas for first time (in a P.H. helmet).

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey
22 February 1917

Large contingent of nurses & MOs from Cliveden. Saw everything & had tea in hall. Came at 3, left 5.30….

Good speech by E. Carson on submarine menace – very serious, but hope it will get [illegible].

Importations of timber, apples, tomatoes, raw fruits, tea, restricted, meat, paper, wines, silks, only 10,000,000 barrels of beer – spirits also restricted, aerated water and table water.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

War between Germany and the USA is in the balance

Will Spencer was still trying to find out news of young family friend Max Ohler, a German soldier reported missing. He was pleased to hear from younger brother Sydney, dong well in army training, but was now well settled in Swiss society. Back in England, Florence Vansittart Neale was keenly interested in the prospects of the US joining the war. Johann von Bernstorff was the German ambassador to America and had been involved in sabotage and intelligence work there, and had just been thrown out.

Will Spencer in Switzerland
12 February 1917

A letter from Sydney. Hopes that we may obtain news of Max Ohler from the War Office Prisoners of War Department, which can find out more than any single enquirer can. He enjoys reading my accounts of Switzerland. Has just passed the exam for “Marksman” with 135 points out of 160 (or something of that sort), none of the 28 men he took up with him scoring more than 113. (130 was required to pass.)…

At 5 I called again on Herrn Fursprecher Hodler (by appointement). My obtaining leave to declare a smaller amount of Kriegsteuer [war tax], after signing for 500 fr., dependent of goodwill of the official concerned, but I might make the attempt. An income of 4,800 fr. represents normally a capital of 120,000 francs, for which the tax would be (class 110,000-120,000) 275 francs. I handed in my short sketch of my career, & signed a declaration which he drew up, that military duty “[illegible word] meinem Falle nicht in Betracht” [is out of the question in my case].

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey
12 February 1917

Took dogs a walk again in afternoon – discussed War Savings & digging with Martin & Willie.

Bernstorff given safe conduct. So Gerard left Germany – war with US in the balance. Ag went to Boulogne.

We continually advancing on Somme & Avere. Constant raids.

Diaries of Will Spencer, 1917 (D/EX801/27); and Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Food rations begin

Our diarists had a variety of interests. In Switzerland, Will Spencer saw the US was coming closer to war; in training, his brother Sydney was learning to shoot; and in Bisham, Florence Vansittart Neale was worried by food rationing and strikes.

Will Spencer in Switzerland
5 February 1917

News in the paper that diplomatic relations between Germany & the United States have been broken off by the latter.

Sydney Spencer in army training
Feb 5th

General Musketry course results (extract). Lt S Spencer, A company, Marksman 130. This was fired at Totley with 2 feet snow & hard ports!

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey
5 February 1917

Expected men from Cliveden – arrived late as motor broken down. Came in 2 ambulances.

Wild argument from miners!…

Food rations begin. 2 ½ lb meat – 4 lbs bread or flour – ¾ lb sugar per week.

Diaries of Will Spencer, 1917 (D/EX801/27); Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)