“Our Government’s policy renders it absolutely necessary to come in every morning to the food shops, your cycle bearing a basket, which you bring home crammed!”

Several years’ worth of university intakes were crammed into one as demobilised young men flocked to Oxford and Cambridge.

29 Barton Road
19 Oct. 19

My very dear old man

Cambridge overflows just like Oxford. Miss Allen speaks of 5000 u.g.s at the latter, I have heard of 7000 here, and it’s possible that 7000 applied – but this is a small town, and though artisans’ cottages are turned into lodging houses, and at incredible distance from St Mary’s, we certainly cannot overtop the Oxford entry.

You should see the streets at midday, when lectures are over and even the sidewalks become mob. Every u.g. seems to own a motorcycle, and not know how to ride it with safety…

You will understand that our Government’s policy renders it absolutely necessary to come in every morning to the food shops, your cycle bearing a basket, which you bring home crammed!

Ever affectionately yours
Bild

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

A nasty accident

A soldier on leave caused a nasty accident for a Remenham woman.

It was with regret we heard that Miss Ames, our indefatigable helper in the Parish, met last month with a nasty accident at Weymouth, where she was staying for a holiday. A Colonial soldier ran into her with his bicycle, and she was thrown violently to the ground and much bruised, and mercifully escaped the loss of sight in one eye. We learn with relief and joy that Miss Ames is now progressing quite favourably towards recovery.

Remenham parish magazine, September 1919 (D/P99/28A/5)

Through insisting on his teetotal ideas at the Peace Celebration Dinner, the vicar upset all the village and none of the demobilised men went”

The peace celebrations just over the Wiltshire border in Bishopstone were a damp squib with no booze.

26th July 1919

Wife, Marj. & I went to Shrivenham by train at 10 past 2 and walked to Bishopstone – Field Club outing. We 3 were the only ones who walked. The rest – only 6 of them, went on their bikes. We were there first. I found the Vicar making a scooter for his kid. The woman where we had tea gives him a poor character. When Harry Jones – who used to live here asked her how he was, she said “As silly as ever.” And through insisting on his teetotal ideas at the Peace Celebration Dinner other week upset all the village and none of the demobilised men went. Now they have 30£ in hand to spend.

Diary of William Hallam of Swindon (D/EX1415/26)

“It is incredible the difficulty of getting food here” – are piglets the answer?

One way around savage food restrictions was to buy your own piglet, and fatten it up on table scraps. Florence Image (nee Spencer) was inspired.

29 Barton Road
15 April ‘18
Beloved Signor

The Signora’s ambitious soul now requires Pigs! She learns that ownership of the unclean animal will entitle you to his entire carcase – (at all events, my lord R[hondda] is said to have granted so much to your first pig. She is full of hope and daring, has already purchased 2 little beasts, one white and one black. I, who am of soberer anticipation, went one day to see them – 10 weeks old. How horrible to feed and pamper creatures, not for their good but for their early death! Callous man!

She is just now in from a cycle flurry, thro’ howling wind and drenching rain, to Comberton, 5 miles off – in search of wood for the finish off of her stye for these two little beasts. It appears that the Meddlesome Food Tyrant demands permission and tickets for any member of the Middle or Upper Classes who wants to buy such a commodity as wood – unless it be old tarred wood. She rode first to Barton, where she had no success, but was directed to Comberton 2 miles further away. Her purchase is promised for delivery tomorrow. We won’t boast till it has actually arrived. But it really was a spirited expedition on a day like this.

It is incredible the difficulty of getting food here. We are fresh from a week of it in this house. Two of Florrie’s brothers, hurriedly recalled to the front, have successively been staying here to say goodbye – sickly that! (The most affectionate letter came here from the Colonel of one: he wrote like a father to his son. And another letter to the other brother from his Brigadier, equally flattering. Alas, since that was written, the whole brigade staff has been wiped out, except the Brig.-General himself, who is recommended for the VC.).

Then there was a cousin and godchild of my own – and my sister is staying with us. Finally a friend and his wife from next door – a Fellow of Caius, going out as Botany Professor to Capetown – when their house, No. 31, was gutted of all furniture, spent 4 days with us…

Well, we have 4 one-and-threepenny cards, per week, for meat. You may guess how thorny our task to feed these numbers. Fish we could get, tho’ not good, but, for meat, we had to bow our pride and accept help from our guests…

With our love to you both.

Affec.
Bild

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

Mass in a barn, no room at the inn

The Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist at Clewer had a quiet wartime Christmas, while their Sub-Warden, a clergyman who helped to see to their spiritual needs, was serving as an army chaplain.

25 December 1917

Christmas Day. Midnight Mass (plain) in the old chapel on account of necessity for screening lights at night.

The Sub-Warden

“Christmas Day. This morning my first Mass was said in a barn. The altar set up against a door, surrounded by straw, piled arms, etc. Again “there was no room for Him in the Inn”. The service over, I rode to a neighbouring village, my servant following on a bicycle with the bag of Sacred Vessels. There I had a whole Battalion in a hall & a band to play the hymns.”

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer, 25 December 1917 and 3 January 1918 (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Sleeping in a manger – better than living in a chicken run

In a series of postcards, all postmarked 8 September 1916, Percy Spencer gave his sister Florence the latest news of billets behind the lines.

My dear WF

I’ve been fighting hard without a moment to enjoy the beauties of nature and the arts.

Amongst other things in this charming city, we had a real civilised dinner, cycling back to our present billets in the twilight feeling very light in the belt and light in the head (discovered a really good wine).

Just now I’m living in a stable, and sleep in the manger – in fact, stables for offices are quite the rage about here. Anyway I’ve viewed life from a variety of points of view. But I’ve not yet had an opportunity of a chicken-run view of life, as my friends the Signal Section had at our last quarters.

We’ve had a really lovely time lately (rather strenuous at times) but thoroughly enjoyable, and a welcome relief from the old monotony of trench warfare.

I hope you’ll be able to piece these cards together. It’s a very disjointed note, I’m afraid, but the amount of interruption I get is disheartening. To start writing seems to be the signal for interruptions….

Yours ever
Percy

Postcards from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/24-27)

A very hostile reception

Percy continues yesterday’s letter.

Tomorrow’s come and with it your letter (and another Garwood has discovered in his pockets dated May 22).

Well, I know now you did get my telegram, and feel all the more keenly our mutual disappointment; WF, my darling sister, I could cry when I read your loving preparation for my visit. But luckily I’ve been too busy today to do that for we’ve moved bag and baggage to another and largerer [sic] place, and for the first time in our experience have met with a very hostile reception. However, we’re friends again with a very handsome hot tempered maid, in fact – don’t tell mother, but she’s winked at me. Not knowing the correct repartee, I referred to higher authority (the Staff Captain), who solemnly winked back, and now we’re awfully friendly. We’ve been invited to take coffee, allowed to store our bicycles under the eaves of a stinking sty and graciously directed to the “usual offices” by every member of the family, though nothing could be further from an Englishman’s thoughts than to explore the mysteries of French sanitation.

However, here we are: for how long I don’t know, but I don’t suppose we shall be doing much for a while. Did you see today’s tosh in the Chronicle? Thank goodness our fellows only laugh and “carry on” as usual in spite of such hysterical stuff. Our Division don’t want that kind of nonsense: our reputation on facts is good enough without frothy journalism.

[Censored section]

This is terrible news about K of K. Thank goodness his great work is well under weigh [sic].

Unfortunately such an event, the first report of the naval battle, and the local attacks on our front all tend to buck up the Hun & will tend to prolonging the war, the latter I imagine are solely to keep up the morale of the troops, as they have no real significance.
And too, K of K was a name to compare with – there were never two opinions about who should be at the War Office.

His greatness is hard luck on his successor, even if he should happen to be a Welshman. I hope a soldier of worth & experience will get the post, though, and an Engineer for preference – lawyers are becoming a curse.

And so am I, you’ll be saying, if I keep on scribbling.

But before I close I must tell you about Nini. Nini is a duck of a child at our mess, very interested in all branches of mischief. Thin, lithe & lovely, she dances round our mess, evading our fellows’ longing arms, and clamouring for “music”. We’ve all wound our gramophone till we’re sick of every time it plays. It’s rough luck on us and on the gramophone, but the imp’s worth it…

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/5/18-19)

“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

(more…)

A ghastly pantomime

John Maxwell Image wrote to his friend W F Smith with news of a visit from a distinguished former pupil; reactions to a threatened air raid; and a book he had read by ‘Ian Hay’ (the pseudonym of a serving officer).

29 Barton Road, [Cambridge]
3 April ‘16
My most dear old man

That was a tumultuous week just passed. Tuesday’s blizzard came on in an undreamed of fury. We were delightedly entertaining an old pupil – now CE and General Commanding a Brigade of Cavalry, who passing thro’ C[ambridge] on the day previous, had learnt my marriage, and came off at once with his congratulations and the remembrances he was charged with by his brother – another pupil and now Colonel of an Infantry Battalion and DSO. It was a happy meeting. Florence apologised for having to put his teacup in a writing table in our tiny drawing room, because we had not yet set up one of those cunning nests of teatables. Next day arrived a beauty from him, begging we would accept it as a belated wedding present. A day later, and he was ordered away again: but the flying call was such a delicious whiff out of the early past.

I never saw such blinding snow before, and oh the prostrate treeboles next day – like spillikins on the grass. I counted 50 khakis labouring on their trunks in our paddocks, and at least as many in St John’s…

On Friday evening I was finishing a letter when suddenly the electric light went down, then rose, then sank – three times altogether, and left us with the faintest glimmer, just shewing enough that someone else was in the room. The official C. warning of Zepps. We packed the servants in snug armchairs by the kitchen fire: and ourselves went out into Barton Rd, where were sundry residents, chattering under the stars, – and a Trinity friend of mine in khaki, stopping all cyclists and compelling them to put out their lights. The sharp military “Halt” in the dark made at least one fellow tumble off his bike in terror! People said they heard bombs. I heard nothing, not even the drone of a Zeppelin – though one or more did pass over C – but innocuous. The Berlin news claims, I see, C among its victims.

Yesterday, at 11 pm, I was pulling off my trousers for bed, when down once more went the ghastly pantomime of the lowered lights and I had to rouse those integuments and go forth to see what was to be seen. On both nights the lights were kept down till 4 am. This morning the sudden raised flash woke me up from the sweetest slumber.

I hear from our carpenter that much damage has been done at Woolwich, where he has a couple of sons. Not a hint of this is suffered to appear in the Press….

“In Germany the devil’s forge at Essen was roaring night and day: in Great Britain Trades Union bosses were carefully adjusting the respective claims of patriotism and personal dignity before taking their coats off.

Out here we are reasonable men, and we realise that it requires some time to devise a system for supplying munitions which shall hurt the feelings of no pacifist, which shall interfere with no man’s holiday or glass of beer, which shall insult no honest toiler by compelling him to work side by side with those who are not of his industrial tabernacle, and which shall imperil no statesman’s seat in parliament.”

Read “The First Hundred Thousand” by Ian Hay (of Joh.[St John’s College]. I Hay (I forget his patronymic) is at the Front and describes the training and subsequent war experiences of a Kitchener’s Battalion so graphically that I have never seen it better done.

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

“Endless young men of foreign extraction”

Weapons manufacturer C W Laird wrote to Ralph Glyn with some impressions of life on the home front.

58, Pall Mall
London, SW
3/4/16

My dear Glyn

One of the things the War has certainly scotched is the polite sort of letter writing. Have intended to write you a dozen times since my last letter and then have not done so, not having a notion where you are or when you are likely to get a letter. I repeat what has been the burden of previous letters that I hope when you get back to town you will look me up.

We have had a bad spring for the farmers until quite recently. The constant wet made ground unworkable until very late and short handed as farmers have been in many districts even the splendid spots of quiet drying warm weather we have had recently haven’t enabled them to make up for lost time.

In London one is struck not so much by the numbers of military age unattested or not in khaki, as by the endless young men of foreign extraction, French, Belgian, Italians, etc, in the streets. Another salient feature is that the average female doesn’t look her best driving a delivery van or working a cycle under present dress conditions.

Have just been watching an airship carrying out elaborate training moevements in range of my windows.

Poor Ritchie has lost two of his sons. Archie is at the front having done fine work.

I am still shoving along at my Guns more than ever. [Command?] is what is wanted, but failing to arouse any enthusiasm in our enthusiastic circles.

Rumours of bombardments and fleet engagements more [frequent?] than ever. Told today that it was now certain there had been a big fleet engagement with serious losses on both sides because it had some things on the Tape at a Club, but then been suppressed. I asked what Club and was told the Conservative. As I dined and slept there without seeing any such thing in the tape this shows the circumstantial terminological inexactitudes that find currency.


C W Laird

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/23)

A fine body of young women

The Revd E C Glyn, Bishop and Peterborough, and his wife Lady Mary both wrote to their soldier son Ralph. The Bishop was anxious that his letters were not reaching Ralph:

The Palace
Peterborough
15 March [1916]

My darling Ralph

Thanks for your letters – & your news – but we long to hear what & where your next move will be.

I have written by each “bag” every week, & I can’t understand if & why you have not had a letter from me each time! Unless it is that Captain Kellet does send every letter as well as General Callwell used to do! I wonder what is to be done with General Callwell & if he will want to get you for his work somewhere?…

Lady Mary was busy with her own war work, not to mention a feud with a rival Red Cross branch.

March 15, 1916
The Palace
Peterborough

My own darling and blessing

This has been a bad week for me and there has been nothing but futile fuss, perhaps – but fuss! And I have had no leisure. Meg went to London on Thursday, and was away one night in London, and all Friday I was at the Rest Room seeing to Canteen worries…

I went to see Colonel Collingwood who has seen your reappointment as GSO General Staff vice [under] Captain Loyd, & he was much excited and wanted to know what it meant. I could only say I supposed some redistribution of work at the end of your previous work of all this winter. But it set me thinking and this week with the news of Verdun always in one’s head, with the rumours always in every paper of German naval activity, and of the mines everywhere, one knows that one needs to have a stout heart for a stae brae….
The Rest Room is crowded out some days with the troops moving about, and we had over 1100 last month. We have a splendid hand of workers night and day.

Any my Red Cross Room is such a joy – it was quite full last night and I have enough money to go on, but must soon get more; the material is very expensive, & the County Association (now definitely under Sir Edward Ward) gives no grants to these private Rooms. The Town depot now “under the War Office” and having a pompous Board announcing its connection with the British Red Cross & the “Northampton Red Cross (??)” has collected 680 pounds, and intends to get 1000£ in order to sit upon all BRC work. Not sent to the War Office – to be distributed by them, & not by our Headquarters, 83 Pall Mall. It is from here quite incomprehensible when one knows how these people have behaved, & the lies they have told to cover up the defects of their organization, but I suppose Sir Edward had to level up all sorts of abuses & get the whole into his hand before any order could be restored. And the BRC did not organize its work in time. Now the Central Work Rooms have had to move from Burlington House to 48 Gros: Square & they have taken that big corner house for six months.

Sir George Pragnell’s death has been a blow, as I felt safe behind him from further attack – but the Stores Manager at 83 is so delighted with the work we have now sent up that our position will be assured. Another enemy – not me – quashed!

It is a complication that the Lady Doctor who is our splendid and most efficient Superintendent is expecting to add to the population! (more…)

“There is no glory in this war except the glory of sacrifice and friendship”

An anonymous army chaplain shared his experiences seeing off troops headed for the front line with the parishioners of Windsor.

A Draft: A Sketch. By a Chaplain to the Forces at the Front.

Mud and rain and darkness! I looked out of my hut. The station was four miles off. My bicycle was heavy. I was not sure that my lamp was in order. I had already got thoroughly wet. Should I give the train a “miss”?

There were five or six hundred men going from “my” camps. Part of my task is to see men off to the Front. Some chaplains do it, and some do not. One gives out Woodbines and Prayer-card from England, one says something. I am usually reduced to saying “Good luck,” even though I do not believe in luck. (more…)

A very hot time

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister with vivid descriptions of the French countryside behind the lines.

Feb. 14 1916
My darling sister
(Don’t tell John!)

Another jolly parcel has arrived, and I feel I must once again say how much I appreciate all the thought and labour these milestones of sisterly affection mean.

You’ll be glad to hear that you needn’t worry about me for some time now. Today I’ve chosen to cycle, or rather to tramp against a gale, rather than to travel by train. There’s a bit of country hereabouts that is really pretty, and I never miss a chance of going thro’ it.
The rain cleared and the sun shone out just as I was passing a pit, very like Cookham Dean Chalk-pit, only not so steep, and red iron ore earth instead of the white chalk. And half way up, resting easily from his quarrying stood a splendid boy in a sky blue shirt and russet cord breeches. These peasants and miners know how to dress.
At another place I was passing a flying ground. A biplane staggering in the gale, coming in from a flight, made two long swoops and steadying beautifully landed gently on the earth. The orderly, however, failed to catch the left wing, and the wind catching the machine sideways, instead turned it completely over. Luckily the airman was not hurt.

…One of our boys got hit when last I was in the trenches – we had a very hot time, and the Huns put in some awfully good shooting – I’m hoping he goes to Cambridge [for nursing] for he’s a “duck of a boy” with the bonniest legs – but of course you’re a girl – sorry. Well, if he comes to Cambridge I’ll send you his name & regiment.

Oh, when in the old German trenches, I cut these samples of German sandbags. You’ll see their tastes are many – and I have seen them a kind of cheap wallpaper pattern….

Yours, Percy

No batteries next time. Then one each parcel, please. Parcels better packed than any. Less packing would do, if it would lessen cost.

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/5/4)

Please keep a lamp on

Queen Victoria Institute for District Nursing, Reading, was grappling with higher salaries in order to retain nursing staff, while they also had to cope with the dark.

6 January 1916

Special rates of salary are now paid to all the Nurses engaged on the staff, and your Committee will, no doubt, bear in mind whenever the war comes to an end the question of the salaries will have to be reconsidered all round.

We also recommend that the Lady Superintendent be authorised to spend a sum not exceeding £10 in keeping up the stock of house linen; and that having regard to the reduction of lighting order in the Borough, which will take effect on the 10th instant, rear lamps for all bicycles used by the nurses be obtained and fixed at the expense of the institute.

Reduction in Lighting Order
Having regard to the reduction in lighting order about to take effect in the Borough, the Lady Superintendent was authorised to do what was necessary to give effect to the Order by providing additional blinds on curtains for the windows of the Institute. It was also resolved that the Lighting Committee of the Town Council be asked to arrange if possible that the lamp opposite the corner of the Institute should not be extinguished.

Minutes of Queen Victoria Institute for District Nursing, Reading (D/QX23/1/2)

A prisoner of war escapes by bicycle after a visit to the dentist

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey, wife of an Admiralty official, had plenty of war news for her diary today: a neighbour’s son taken prisoner, the brief but thrilling story of an escape, and news of the men in the hospital at Bisham Abbey.

North Sea battle. Enemy scuttled off. We presumed sank “Blucher” & injured 2 others. Sir David Beatty admiral, Com. Tyrwitt, “The Lion”, etc.

Rejoiced at Naval news…

Henry & I up to tea with Wethereds. Colonel Menzies there. Ronald prisoner. Vandeleur escaped from there – went to dentist, got change [of] suit & bike, frontier 15 miles off. Etienne Boileau managed four frost-bitten toes.

William Hallam, meanwhile, observed neighbours’ delight in the British victory at the Battle of Dogger Bank

25th January 1915
Great rejoicings at the Naval Victory in this morning’s papers. I went along to the Reading Room last thing to-night to see if any fresh news, but there wasn’t.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale, 25 January 1915 (D/EX73/3/17/8); Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/23)