“Orders have a way of descending from the blue and we may get ours at any moment”

Percy Spencer anticipated his return to the Front would come at any minute. The battle of Bourlon Wood had occurred at the end of 1917. Captain Walter Stone won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his heroics.

21st (Res) Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Feb 24. 1918

My dear WF

It seems ages since I wrote to or heard from you. So I’ve filled my pipe (my nicest & foulest one) with the fragrant Mr Fryers and sat myself down to write you a line.

My principal news is that I’m still here with no news of going. It occurs to me that the cadet course having been lengthened there should be a gap in home recruits which we may stay at home to fill for a few weeks. On the other hand orders have a way of descending from the blue and we may get ours at any moment, and incidentally a few days leave.

Did you read of the 47th at Bourlon Wood and the gallant fight put up by Capt. Stone & Lieut. Burgeery? The man next door to me was Capt. Stone’s CSM. I think he almost wishes he was with him, altho’ he would now be dead.

Well, I suppose we shall soon have another chance of doing real things, and none of us will be really sorry. Life here is frightfully destructive and only endurable by fighting for reforms. So far as I can see the main return a grateful country has obtained from me to date is the issue of overalls for mess orderlies.

We’re having pretty mixed weather. Thursday was glorious and I thoroughly enjoyed our route march – once away from the camp, the country is delicious.

I’ve had a letter from the red haired Australian (No. 6) and the cox; what’s happened to the rest, I don’t know.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/14-16)


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

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

Invalided home from France

One of the Australian soldiers befriended by the Hallams would not be fighting any more.

18th January 1918
One of our Tasmanian friends came, P.Crane. He is invalided home from France.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

Doing our bit to help the Boys

People in Wargrave were contributing to the production of medical supplies for the wounded, as well as food for the local hospital.

Woodclyffe Auxiliary Hospital

Eggs are greatly needed for the wounded soldiers. Will everyone please give one a week to the Hospital during the winter months?

Vegetables of all kinds are also always wanted and will be welcome in large or small quantities.

[To the] Surgical Dressing Society
Wargrave, Berks

A. A. Cable Section B. E. F.

Dear Madam,

I am writing to thank your Society for the kind gift of a parcel of socks, which reached us at a peculiarly timely moment. We were all bemoaning the fact that we wanted socks, and then along came the parcel like magic – thanking you for myself and the men in my section.

I beg to remain,
yours very gratefully


Miss G……. Wishes to convey her thanks for the most useful parcel of pneumonia jackets.

Dear Madam,

I have very much pleasure in acknowledging your welcome gift of pants, dressing gowns, handkerchiefs and pyjamas – I beg to assure you they will be most useful. The warm dressing gowns I am especially pleased with, but all articles will be invaluable.

Yours ever truly,
I. H.

The Director General of Voluntary Organizations asks all to remember the needs of the men in the trenches and Hospitals.

Regular Requisitions sent out – 4 each month – since we last published the list.

120 Hankerchiefs
120 Limb Pillows
200 Pillow Cases
60 Towels
185 Slippers (Pairs)
1500 Abdominal Bandages
500 Hospital Bags
1250 Capuline Bandages
3500 Roll Bandages
600 Triangular Bandages
60 Dressing Gowns (Warm)
125 Bed Jackets
60 Pairs Pyjamas
1000 Slings
13000 Gauze Dressings
3500 Medical Swabs
3500 Operation Swabs
250 Knee Bandages
500 Shoulder Bandages
500 T Bandages
100 Pairs of thick long Operation Stockings

Extra requisitions
66 Pyjamas (Flannel)
576 Roll Bandages
200 Operation Swabs
167 Pairs of knitted Socks
150 Pneumonia Jackets
800 Abdominal Bandages
65 Slippers Pairs
20 Helpless Jackets
25 Limb Pillows
50 Capuline Bandages
50 T Bandages
150 Gauze Dressings
425 Slings
50 Fracture Pillows
119 Flannel Shirts
24 Pairs of long operation Stockings
98 Pairs Knitted Mittens
99 Helmets
42 Knitted Mufflers
2 Cardigans

Dressings have also been sent to the Cancer Free Hospital Fulham Road.

Mended nightshirts and dressings to the district Nurse.

Hospitals Supplied.

25th, 30th, 2nd, 11th, 54th, 3rd, 34th, 12th, 21st.
General Hospital B.E.F.
1st Australian
3rd London
2nd New Zealand
King Edward VII Hospital
Stoke-on-Trent General Hospital
Military F.O. Havre
A.D.M.A. Ambulance

Trains Supply
Boulogne B.E.F.
4th Casualty Clearing Station B.E.F>
A.A. Cable Section – B.E.F.

The Surgical Dressings Emergency Society wish to express their great appreciation of the help given them by Mr. Henry Butcher who, at no small sacrifice of valuable time, has packed all Bales of Dressings and Comforts for the Front – doing his bit to help the Boys. It is with much regret we say Good-bye to him. We shall miss him very much, but wish him good luck in his new home.

Wargrave parish magazine, December 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

A gallant lad who enlisted “because he thought it was his duty”

The service of several Burghfield men had ended, either through death or illness.


Honours and Promotions

Major Richard Kirkwood, who as temporary Lieutenant Colonel has since the beginning of the war been in command at Exeter of the Depot of his old Regiment (the Devons), has been seriously ill. He is now being relieved, and is receiving the permanent honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and we hope to see him and his wife back at Boldrewood in November.


So far, only the following names have come to hand of Burghfield men discharged from the Navy or Army in consequence of wounds or sickness contracted on service, viz:

Joseph Bedford, ex 8th Royal Berks (wounds)
E H Bracey, ex MGC (wounds)
Arthur L Collins, ex 2nd Anzacs, AEF (sickness)
Ernest Goddard, ex 1st Royal Berks (wounds)
William Goddard, another son of Joel Goddard, born and bred in Burghfield, but not resident for some years, has also been discharged, ex RE, on account of wounds.

Obituary Notices

Percy G Day, a gallant lad who enlisted “because he thought it was his duty”, though he broke his apprenticeship by doing so, was son of George Day of Trash Green. He was in the 2/4th Royal Berks, but was found not strong enough to go to France with the Battalion in May 1916, and was latterly employed on munition work in Leeds, where he died on 6th October in hospital.

Burghfield parish magazine, November 1917 (D/EX725/4)

Broken up

The Hallams had sad news of an Australian soldier they had befriended.

William Hallam
31st October 1917

This morning at Breakfast time we heard from Gordon Inglis one of those Tasmanians who used to come in to see us. He tells us Don Blackwell, one of the others, was killed at ½ past 10 at night on the 17th in Polygon Wood. We were all very much cut up at this news. He was such a fine fellow. The girls especially broken up.

Florence Vansittart Neale
31 October 1917

Busy preparing for the whist drive. Had about 165 in two rooms….

Bad raid in London. Not much damage, only 3 got through! But most of people up 3 hours.

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

“There must be a certain satisfaction to know he died bravely for his King and Country”

There was sad news of several men from Sunninghill.

The Vicar’s Letter

Again I am sorry to have to record the death of two more Sunninghill men. Pte. H. F. Simmonds, who was missing for some weeks, must now be regarded as having been killed. His Commanding Officer writes to say that there can be but little doubt about it, as a shell fell between three men, one of whom was Pte. Simmonds. Our sincerest sympathy is given to Mr. and Mrs. Simmonds in their great bereavement. Pte. Simmonds was in the Civil Service Rifles.

Pte. Gilbert Norris, of the Australian Imperial Forces has also been killed. Though he has not been seen here for some time, he was a native of Sunninghill, and we ask his widow, relations, and friends to accept our condolences.

Corporal Dalton, I am glad to say, is progressing satisfactorily after having been wounded in the leg.

Cheapside News

The fortunes of our soldiers serving at the various Fronts are the chief subjects of interest in Cheapside, as elsewhere, at present.

Mrs. Beale received a letter from the Major of the Battalion in which her son William was serving at the time of his death. He wrote:

“He was a splendid man, and highly thought of by all who came in contact with him. Allow me to express to you my heartfelt sympathy, but at the same time there must be a certain satisfaction to know he died bravely for his King and Country.”

Cecil Godwin has been wounded and is in hospital, but reports himself able to walk about, so it is hoped that it is not serious.

Sunninghill parish magazine, September 1917 (D/P126/28A/1)

Goodbye to an Australian

The task of hosting a colonial officer ended early for the Vansittart Neales.

17 August 1917

Our Australian officer left by 9.45.

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

Back to Australia

Bisham Abbey had two visitors. Phyllis Vansittart Neale was at home for a break from nursing, while a wounded Australian visited before being sent home.

10 August 1917

P. had long lie…

Captain Yates (DSO) came. Fractured skull. To go back to Australia.

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

An awful disappointment

Florence Vansittart Neale was disappointed that her nurse daughter could not make it home on leave as planned.

1 August 1917

Telephone from Australian officer wanting to come. Arranged to come that night – Lieut. Maxwell….

Heard Bubs leave stopped – awful disappointment!

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

“One can’t do too much to make these young colonials comfortable”

Florence Vansittart Neale despaired of the situation on the Russian Front, while William Hallam and his wife offered some home comforts to Australian soldiers.

Florence Vansittart Neale
29 July 1917

Russia hopelessly rotten. Retreating all along.

William Hallam
29th July 1917

Up at 10 past 5 and to work. How I am getting fed up with this week and work. Home at ¼ past 1 to dinner. Our Tasmanian came in to dinner and tea with his two chums Gordon Inglis and Percy Crane from Hobart. They are certainly 3 of the nicest fellows I’ve ever met and I feel one can’t do too much to make these young colonials comfortable and give them a home comfort when we can. Very wet, raining hard.

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

A pathetic last letter

Florence Vansittart Neale was saddened to receive a posthumous letter from a young pilot who had been shot down a few months earlier.

Florence Vansittart Neale
8 July 1917

Hear through Manchester we have brought down 11 machines. Got Reg Lownds’ last letter to me just before he was killed – very pathetic – found in blotter.

William Hallam
8th July 1917

Up at 20 past 5 and to work from 6-1. It rained hard all day long. When I got home at dinner time, as I had got wet through, I washed and changed as soon as I got in. After dinner I had a cigar and a sleep. We had a Tasmanian soldier in again to dinner and tea – Donald Blackwell – such a nice fellow.

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

Great excitement at news of air raid

Our diarists were concerned by news of a major air raid in London.

William Hallam
7th July 1917

We had a Tasmanian soldier in to tea to-night. After tea I had a bath and shaved, dressed and along to Bath Rd reading room till 9. Bought 3 15/6 W. Sav. Certif. This makes 80 I have. Great excitement again – news of a big air raid on London but not much official news so probably exaggerated.

Florence Vansittart Neale
7 July 1917

Another bad air raid in London. So far 27 killed, 141 hurt. Have not heard extent of damage. (Over 40 killed.)

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

Quite a nice Australian

The Hallams invited an Australian soldier home. 22 year old Gordon Ingles had joined the Anzac Cyclist Battalion a year earlier.

24th June 1917
We had a young Tasmanian soldier in to dinner and tea – Gordon Ingles – from Hobart – quite a nice fellow.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

Wounded play the usual games

More officers were welcomed to Bisham Abbey.

4 June 1917
Young Lillyman (another Australian) came in afternoon. The wounded spent afternoon here & played usual games & went on river.

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