Difficulties for the Vansittart Neales

The Vansittart Neale girls were struggling with their nursing work, while Sydney Spencer had spent Christmas at home on sick leave. He returned to Yorkshire to find his battalion had moved again.

26 December 1916
Florence Vansittart Neale

Heard from Bubs at last. Very bitter. She in new hut. Medical ward. Her clock stolen. P’s hands full of chilblains.

Sydney Spencer
December 26, 1916

I arrive at new quarters, F block Hillsboro barracks.

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

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More useful at school than in the army

The headmaster of the church primary school in Warfield looked likely to escape military service, as he was not fit enough to go to the front.

10th May 1916

I was attested for military duty at Bracknell on December 10 and reported myself at Reading Barracks on May 6. The military doctor placed me in category 11 Field Service at Home. A letter from the Berkshire Education Committee received this morning says that the recruiting officer will not call me up without reference to the Board of Education Whitehall. It is the opinion of the military authorities that I am more useful at school than I would be if taken for Field Service at Home.

Warfield CE School log book (C/EL26/3, p. 342)

“Our generation has learnt to think of settling down to end one’s days together in safety seems all one asks of life”

Ralph Glyn’s sister Maysie was amused by their aristocratic mother’s depression at the thought of living on a reduced income now her husband was retiring, and had had a royal encounter in Windsor.

April 24/16
Elgin Lodge
Windsor

My dear darling R.

I wonder what for an Easter you spent [sic]. Very many happy returns of it anyhow. I got yours of 14th today. I hope you have seen Frank by now. How splendid of him to spend his leave in that way. Your weather sounds vile, still you are warm & here one never is. I hear from Pum [Lady Mary] today that Meg is in bed with Flu & temp 102. I am so worried, & hope she will not be bad. I must wait till John comes in, but feel I must offer to go to them, but how John is to move house alone I do not know! We move Thurs. My only feeling is that it may distract the parents somewhat during this trying week….

[Mother] takes the gloomiest view of household economies etc, & is determined it will all be “hugga mugga”, “She was not brought up like that & you see darling I have no idea how to live like that” etc etc. I tried humbly to suggest that one could be happy from experience & was heavily sat on, “it’s different for you young people”. Of course it is, & I wasn’t brought up in a ducal regime, still one can have some idea – also possible if Pum had ever had Dad fighting in a war she’d find more that nothing mattered. I think our generation has learnt that, & to think of settling down to end one’s days together in safety seems all one asks of life perhaps! You can well imagine tho’ nothing is said, how this attitude of martyrdom reacts on Dad. In fact he spoke to John about it. One does long to help, but one feels helpless against a barrier of sheer depression in dear Pum…

There seems little news to tell you. The King came Thurs, & has been riding in the Park. We ran into all the children, 3 princes & Princess M pushing bikes in the streets of Windsor on Friday. It was most surprising. They have got two 75s here as anti-aircraft, one on Eton playing fields & one Datchet way. They say if they ever fire the only certainty must be the destruction of the Castle & barracks!!

You know all leave was suddenly stopped on the 18th & everyone over here recalled. We all thought “the Push” but Billy writes the yarn in France is, it was simply that the Staff and RTs wished to have leave themselves – but then one can hardly believe, it’s too monstrous to be true. However John Ponsonby has written about coming on leave the end of the month so there can’t be so much doing yet. The news from Mesopotamia is black enough, one more muddle to our credit & more glory through disaster to the British Army.

I wonder what you think of the recent political events. Pum nearly or rather quite made herself ill over it!…

Billy has I fancy been pretty bad. The bed 10 days at some base hospital, bad bronchitis & cough….

Bless you darling
Your ever loving
Maysie

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No leave – even to see a dying mother

Sydney Spencer, currently based in Sheffield, wrote to his sister Florence describing the barracks at Hillsborough – and also relating a personal tragedy for his batman (a servant allocated to Sydney as a young officer).

Hillsboro Barracks
Sheffield
Sunday Jan 7th 1916

My dearest Florence

Do you know that at Christmas lots of regiments were not allowed a day unless for sick leave. My batman – such a nice fellow, had 4 telegrams last week. One saying Mother ill, come soon. 2nd Mother sinking, come immediately. 3rd Mother Dead, & 4thly a letter pleading for him to be allowed to go to funeral, & the Colonel couldn’t grant him permission. It upset me terribly as the boy almost wept in appeal to me to try & get him leave! Now there is nothing wrong in the stopping of all leave. Doubtless it was more necessary than we, who are not behind the scenes, could dream of, but it shews what hard luck some of our poor men have to put up with.

I should love to tell you what barracks are like. Officers’ quarters are all alike. One large room apiece with an alcove for bedroom. Furniture – leather chair, two tables, chest of drawers, & bed. Supply of coal free. Room looks pretty bare so far, but have blossomed into some cheap curtains to hide the room’s nakedness. Use my two travelling rugs for table cloths, I am gradually getting room to look more or less furnished. Some officers have been very extravagant & have spent pounds on furnishing their rooms. So far I have not gone further than 14/s, which is quite enough. It is all rather like being in rooms at Oxford again! Plenty of work & good work goes on in the B[attalio]n now. The Colonel a ceaseless cause for admiration.

All love to you a& Mr I, Benny & co

Sydney

He was too modest to tell Florence of his good training report, but confided it to his diary:

Jan 7th
Battalion order 35. Ongar.
2/Lt Spencer obtained a report marked excellent from Ongar. The commanding officer wishes to congratulate this office upon this exceedingly satisfactory report.

Letter from Sydney Spencer of Cookham to his sister Florence Image (D/EZ177/8/2/6); Sydney’s diary (D/EX801/12)

“The Germans are murderers, not clean soldiers”

A selection of letters from Reading soldiers at the Front, in England, and in Egypt, which were printed in their home church’s magazine.

Letter From the Front. Come out and help.
When we are out of the trenches on a Sunday (like to-day) we have a short service which come as a luxury and which reminds me of old times when singing in the choir at S. Stephen’s. I had a scarf sent out to me by my sister which was made at the Girls’ Club, I understand, but it is very handy when we have nights out, which we often do, for it is very cold at nights. We have been out here practically eight weeks, and I suppose have seen as much of the trenches as any battalion out here during that short time. I never thought that when I went to see you when home on leave from Chelmsford that we should have been up in the firing line so quick as we were….

We are always thinking of all the friends and people we have left behind, and I know that you are thinking of us while we are away from everybody doing our bit. I hear that you call the names out on a Sunday and I know that there are quite a number, but I hope that before long that list will be twice as long, for the more men and young chaps we get out here the sooner it will end, and I am sure that we all want to see that as soon as possible.
G. KING.

Poisonous Gases.
Just at present we are having a very troublesome time with the Germans. They are trying their very hardest to break through and we have very hard work to keep them back because they are using those poisonous gases which is something terrible for our poor men, and you can’t do anything at all with them. I think myself that the Germans are murderers, not clean soldiers.
L.H. CROOK. (more…)

Germans in England claim to be Swiss

Florence Vansittart Neale and her Admiralty official husband Henry, owner of Bisham Abbey, were holidaying on the Isle of Wight, but kept in touch with war news.

28 February 1915

To Trinity – saw telegram of Dardanelles outer fort destroyed. “Queen Elizabeth” there. Heard from [illegible] officer there last Friday. Went to tea with Venables. Watched “Mine destroyers”, also ship at night – queer lights.

Heard new ship “Queen Eliz:” at Dardanelles. Three times put back – spies on board – narrow risk of explosion – changed suddenly whole of crew.

German here (Ventnor) Freemasons tavern always a German before the war, now says Swiss & put up sign “Hier spricht man Suisse”. V’s tell me a German tailor opposite called Fess – also man “Spenser” with motor boats & pilot boats for hire in secret service here. Rumoured also in German Secret Service. Had German uniform & refuses to let any of his sons fight for England. (Wrote Sir G. Greene March 21st.)

Heard from Mrs Sholto Douglas at that air raid in Essex, bombs fell only 200 yards from barracks (artillery) – full of terriers.

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

A fine response from Ascot

The Ascot parish magazine shows how that village was adapting to war conditions. Some of the entries are typical of other parishes; more unusual is the use of Ascot Racecourse for a hospital, and the encouragement of the working classes to take responsibility for care of refugees.

THE WAR.
No less than 95 names of parishioners, or men connected with the parish, are mentioned in All Saints Church at the Special Service of Intercession on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. All these have, in some capacity or other, joined the Navy, or Army. It is a fine response, on the part of Ascot, to the call of the Country upon her sons to take up arms in her defence, and in the great struggle for justice and righteousness. May GOD watch over all our lads, and keep them from harm, both moral and bodily.

THOSE AT THE FRONT.- The names of those at the front are mentioned at the Holy Eucharist on Sundays and Thursdays ay 8 a.m. : also at Matins and Evensong on Sundays. We ask the help of our people to ensure an accurate list, for it would grieve us to leave nay names out. A box, with pencil and paper, is placed on the table at the west end of the Church for the reception of the full names (of those at the Front).These names shall be inserted in the Parish Magazine month by month. We append the first list, which we trust is complete as far as it goes –

NAVY. – Eric Welman, Herbert Edward Cook, Archibald James Ewart, John Nobbs, William Luke Havell, Frederick George Barton, Oliver Frank Tindall, William Percy Siggins, Joseph Wilfred Ferns, Thomas William Hawthorn, Herbert William Wilderspin, George Parker, Albert Arthur Barton.

ARMY.- Eric Harold Tottie, Herbert Lane Poole, Reginald Poole, Vernon Charles, Tapscott Cole, Maurice Wingfield.

RED CROSS HOSPITAL, &c.

We extract the following from the Windsor Express –

Mention has already been made in these columns of the valuable uses to which the racecourse buildings and enclosures at Ascot are now being put. The five-shilling stand, as previously announced, has been arranged in wards for the accommodation of wounded soldiers, and to make things as comfortable as possible, a heating apparatus costing between £400 and £500 is being installed.
But this is not all. Series after series of ambulance lectures have been given here by Dr. Gordon Paterson to prepare men and women for the duty of attending to the sick and wounded, while the grounds adjoining have been occupied considerably by special constables and others at drill – this being another kind of preparation of which the importance cannot be overlooked.

The latest development is that every suitable building is to become a dwelling for wives and children of soldiers at the front. It means that these families will leave barracks, thus making room for recruits, and will come to comfortable quarters at Ascot, where everything will be provided – furniture, firing, light, etc. – but food, and the latter they will provide for themselves from their separate allowances. The number of those who will swell Ascot’s normal population is at present unknown, but it is expected that full advantage will be taken of the preparations now in progress.

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