“It is easier to imagine Biblical scenes than before we came out to Palestine”

A Reading soldier fighting in Palestine reported to his home church on the Holy Land as it was now.

Feb 22nd

On Xmas Eve, as I lay in my bivouac not very far from Bethlehem, I thought of the first Christmas and what happened then. I should dearly have loved to spend the Xmas-day in the Holy Place, but that was not to be. I hope I shall have the opportunity of visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem and a few other places before I leave Palestine…

I went to a C. of E. service a few Sundays ago in a Greek Church in one of the many mud villages that lie amongst these hills. It was a building of just four bare walls, with a stone floor and no seats. Every man had to sit down on the hard cold stone, and, needless to say, soon felt stiff and cold. There were no lights except two electric ones that our own Res put up. These villages have no semblance of streets at all. One cannot walk two yards without having to step up or down big stones. There is no sign of any furniture in any of the huts – just a little straw packed away in a dark corner, presumably for a bed. The effluvium from these huts is often far from pleasant.

We enjoy at least one good thing out here, and that is the Jaffa oranges at ½ d each. Several times I have bought fifty at a time and polished them all off in about five days….

Flocks of sheep and goats can often be seen on the hills with a shepherd in charge, as of old. It is easier to imagine Biblical scenes than before we came out. The dress of natives is much the same as the Bible pictures represent.

G P Brant (OS)

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, June 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

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“Freedom, Freedom at last!”

The Reading soldier we heard from a few days home after the entry into Jerusalem wrote home again with his impressions of the city at the end of the Ottoman era.

MORE ABOUT JERUSALEM

By the kindness of our friends Mr and Mrs Ernest Francis we are enabled to give another extract from a letter recently received from their son Private E. Layton Francis, of the London Scottish Regiment. We feel sure it will prove interesting to many at Broad Street, where Private Layton Francis is so highly regarded.

Egyptian Expeditionary Force
17/12/17

It is most awfully interesting here, and the experience is worth much. There are all manner of conditions of men here – Natives who adhere to the customs and dress of our Lord’s time, Mahomedans [sic] of every description, and highly educated native Jews. One Jew told me he had lived in London and Cardiff for some years, and showed me his business cards. He was immensely relieved at our advance, and said we “kicked Johnny out like a football”. Another American Jew was overjoyed at seeing us, and he kept repeating “Freedom, Freedom at last!”

The building we are billeted in appears to have been built for a school. We are on the first floor. There are several small rooms opening on one side, and on the other side there is one tremendous window made up of small panes about one foot square. The weather is still very cold, but we have overcoats now, and so are better able to cope with it. This afternoon (18th December) I had the great privilege of going over the old “Holy City” of Jerusalem. I should explain that there is the New City of Jerusalem and the old Holy City.

The Holy City is surrounded by walls entirely, and entrance is through the various gates. We entered by the Jaffa gate, and passed through St Stephen’s Gate and saw several of the others. The first place of interest is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here is a slab of marble which is claimed to cover the spot where the body of Jesus laid before He was buried. Then there is the Hill Calvary, just outside the City walls. This is not a green hill, now at any rate, but is very stony, and it is quite a small hill too. The Garden of Gethsemane is full of cypress and olive trees, and is at the foot of the Mount of Olives, quite near to the city wall. The site of the Old Temple is located, but the Moslems have built a magnificent mosque almost on the spot. The mosque is the Mosque of St Omar [sic], and it is a most wonderful building, the base being of inlaid marble, and the rest beautiful mosaic work. The Jews will not walk on the site of the Temple as they believe the Ark of the Covenant to be buried there. But nearby is the “Jews’ wailing place”, a huge wall made up of the original stones of the Temple, and here every Sabbath the Jews pray for the restoration of the Temple, and of their land. Then there is the Golden Gate. This gate is entirely walled in, and the Jews believe it will not be opened until the Messiah comes.

The streets of Jerusalem are very narrow, the houses from the opposite sides almost touching one another. Many streets are like arcades, or to describe them better, like tunnels through solid stone. The shops are just holes in the side of the tunnel.

I must close now although there is much more to say – later on.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, Marc h1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Sleeping accommodation for the soldiers in the winter months

Groups associated with an Earley church were homeless after their premises were taken over for soldiers to sleep at.

The Military Authorities have taken over the use of the Mission Room, Cumberland Road. This means that the Sunday School, Mothers’ Meeting, Clothing Club and Scouts have to find a home elsewhere. Their purpose is to provide sleeping accommodation for the soldiers in the winter months who have been bivouacking in the College grounds on Whitley Hill, and so far we are glad that they should be undercover. But for ourselves it is not very convenient. Application has been made to the Education Authority for the loan of a hall or classroom in the New Town school and if this is granted our trouble will be ended.

Earley St Nicolas parish magazine December 1917 (D/P192/28A/14)

Nowhere to go but their billets

A church hall in Reading became the off-duty home for men training to be Pioneers (military engineers).

The Parish Hall has been taken over by the military authorities who intend to use it as a reading room and recreation room for the Pioneer School of Instruction which numbers 400 NCOs and men who on a wet day have no-where to go but their billets. In consequence the Hall will not be available for any other purpose, parochial or otherwise.

The Vicar has heard from Mr Hepple who asks to be remembered to his many friends. Mr Hepple is Chaplain to a West Country regiment in Mesopotamia. He writes in excellent spirits and is enjoying temperature of between 86 and 110 degrees in the shade. When the cold winter days come we will warm ourselves by thinking of Mr Hepple.

Christ Church parish magazine, Noveber 1917 (D/P170/28A/24)

Wounded soldiers get a space for reading, writing and social intercourse

Broad Street Congregational Church’s latest effort was to offer organised entertainment to wounded soldiers who had been aimlessly wandering the streets.

HOSPITALITY TO SOLDIERS

On Monday October 15th, a new movement was inaugurated in our Schoolroom. For some time previously various members of the congregation has been impressed with the idea that something should be done for the Wounded Soldiers who gather each afternoon in Broad Street, and who appeared to need a place where they could rest (particularly in wet weather), play games, and be able to obtain light refreshments. It was felt that there was need of something of the same sort being done for other men and women in khaki in the town in the evening. These matters were considered by the Church members, and ultimately it was decided that an attempt should be made to meet the needs referred to, and a Committee immediately got to work, with the result that the Schoolroom and two adjoining rooms were ready for occupation by the soldiers on the 15th.

Subsequent events have proved that the needs were even greater than we thought. From the very first the undertaking has been a success. The various Military Hospitals and billeting places had been informed, by printed handbill, of our arrangements, and this was all that was necessary. Almost as soon as the doors were opened, our wounded friends began to arrive, and every afternoon since they have been coming to Broad Street in large numbers. Each evening, too, there is a good attendance of men and women in khaki. Our visitors are allowed to amuse themselves in the way they deem best. Some make good use of the writing room, in which writing-paper and envelopes are provided without cost; whilst others join in one or other of the various games. Magazines and papers are supplied for those who care to read them; and the piano is in almost constant use by those who enliven the whole proceedings. The original intention was to try the experiment for a month, but the success was such that it has now been decided to continue indefinitely. It has also been decided to meet a further need by opening the rooms for reading, writing and social intercourse each Sunday afternoon from 4 to 6.15 pm.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, December 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“Now what’s up? Well, I have been up! Yes, up in an aeroplane!”

Sydney Spencer was enthralled with the experience of flight.

At The Race Course
Doncaster
Sunday Sept 24 [1917]

My Dearest Sister Mine

Now what’s up? Well, I have been up! Yes, up in an aeroplane! I am part of an advance party for our B[riga]de & am billeted with the 41st RS Flying Corps for about 3 weeks & well I got round a delightful flying pilot of the name of Hirst to take me for a joy ride! This morning I walked into the aerodrome & looked charming & when Hirst came along & said that he thought the air was not fit for flying but he would just go up & test it, I smiled & said let me go too, & lo & behold, yes in a quarter of an hour I had been for a flight over fields & woods & seem people down below (only 500 feet though) & cows & trees & roads looking like a nursery Noah’s ark affair.

I have never had such a sense of exhilaration in my life. In the last few seconds when we seemed to make a clean dive for the earth & one looked over the nose of the car & saw the great earth loom up & such to met you, as it were, I could have clapped my hands with delight like a foolish child.

One confession however. I was not strapped in, preferred not to be. The Pilot said, “when we come down you will want to grab at something I expect, so grab at the struts on either side”. Well, I thought to myself, Pah, who wants to grab at struts? But at the first dive, what do you think I did? Well, I made a momentary grab at the struts, but only momentary. I felt wild with myself for shewing ever such a small show of feeling.

My dear lady, what do you think of that now for an experience?

All love to you both from
Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer to his sister Florence Image (D/EZ177/8/2/22)

“Many of us feel there is a reasonable hope of a termination of hostilities before Christmas”

An army chaplain with links to Mortimer shares details of his life in Normandy.

Mr Bowden writes:-

Dear Vicar,

It is a long time since I sent a contribution to the Magazine, not that I have forgotten Mortimer but I have so little of interest to relate. My work is now in the docks area – I have charge of No. 2 General Hospital, on the quay alongside which the hospital ships lie and take in the wounded direct from the trains to convey them to Southampton. Any cases which prove too bad for the boat journey we take in to our hospital which is directly over the railway station, and occasionally we get a train load for treatment at No. 2. We have three very fine, airy wards; and a broad balcony facing the sea runs the whole length of the hospital; in the summer we place many beds out there – the men love to be in the open air and watch the shipping and the aircraft. The hospital commands a fine view of the town on one side and the mouth of the Seine with Trouville and Honfleur on the other.

In addition to hospital work I have some 1,500 Army Ordnance and 650 Army Service Corps men to work amongst. These are busy on the docks all day long but can be seen in the Recreation Huts and in their billets in the evening and at meal times.

There are plenty of amusements provided for them – some sort of entertainment almost every night. We also have recently acquired a recreation ground for their use and a cricket ground as well as a tennis court for officers and N.C.O.’s.

It might be of interest if I give my Sunday programme – I start early with a Celebration of Holy Communion at 6 a.m. for the A.O.D. in a little chapel near their quarters – another celebration at 7 a.m. for the hospital staff in a hut on the quay. This is always followed by a series of private Communions to sick men and officers in the various wards and huts; [sic] then back to breakfast. I used to have a Parade Service at 10-30 for the R.A.M.C. but have dropped it as it was an inconvenient time for the men. At 11-30 we have a Parade Service for the A.O.D. in one of the warehouses on the docks – the men climb up on the boxes all round a space left for the purpose – we have a good choir, an hearty service, and then the men go straight off to their dinner at noon, or soon after.

Then I have nothing till 5-15 when I hold Ward Services in hospital – these are very much appreciated by the patients and are of an informal nature as all denominations join in. The men love singing hymns and the Sisters come and help form a choir. At 7 p.m. we are now having open-air services in the A.S.C. camp on the river front between the docks and hospital. Here the men are mostly getting on in years – I believe the average age is about 42 – All younger men have long since been sent “up the line.” Of course a large portion of both A.S.C. and A.O.D. men have done their bit at the front in various units and have been sent back to work at the Base owing to wounds or some physical disability rendering them unfit for the fighting line.

Sometimes my day ends here or I have a service at the Y.M.C.A. or in one of the other huts, in turn with other Padres.

We have many destroyers constantly alongside the quays, the escorts for hospital ships, transports, &c. I go aboard when I can but generally most of the sailors are sleeping as they are working all night and its [sic] not often possible to hold a Service for them, but one gets some interesting talks with men and officers.

Just now we have a Mortimer man in hospital – Sergt. Shackleford – he is doing very well. He is only the second man I have met from the parish since I joined the B.E.F. – the other being Frank Parsons.

We are all very cheerful about the position of things just now and many of us feel there is a reasonable hope of a termination of hostilities before Xmas.

With best wishes to all friends.

Yours very sincerely,

W. S. Bowden, C.F.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P120/28A/14)

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.
(more…)

“Just now on the threshold of a good roll up of the Huns I’m afraid there’ll be no time for reading in the army”

Percy Spencer and his colleagues had the opportunity to socialise with French girls behind the lines – and some romances developed, as Percy told his sister.

April 17 1917
My dear WF

Circumstances have prevented me from writing sooner, but please don’t ever imagine just because I sometimes cease my very occasional letters for a while that therefore I’m fighting in every battle on the Western front. I have always made a point of sending at least a field card whenever I am in any danger or you may have reason that I may be.

I’m enclosing a few souvenirs just to show that all our times are not anxious ones. The photos were taken in the rain in a quiet little village on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. You’ll note that all married and attached have vanished from the “mascot” group. We have had a very good, if strenuous time. The fellow who is understudying me against my departure (if that ever happens) and our mess mascot were mutually smitten, and altho’ I have done my utmost to persuade him from making the lady an alien, he is in daily correspondence with her, getting frightfully absent minded, and goes around humming her favourite tune until we put up a solid barrage of the same tune in the lady’s Anglo-French style.

As for my Benjamin (“Miss Mary Jones”, the junior clerk) the case is indeed desperate. All thoughts of his first love Lily of Clapham Common seem to be banished at the mention of “Jacqueline”, the blue-eyed maid at the second estaminet on the right. Her winsomeness was a great trial to me, as “Mary” was dangerously enchanted by her charms. On the day he was inoculated and should have kept very quiet, he was missing – sitting at the shrine of his goddess, drinking benedictions and secret smiles: as I find him out to his billet he assured me with tears in his eyes, “I’ve only had 2, sergeant”. Of course he ought to be dead, but he isn’t – and Jacqueline regards me as an ogre. However I think she judged me a little bit better before we left, for on the day we went away Mary had a scrawly pencilled note as follows –

My dear Dolly
I must see you at once. Tell your sergeant that if you no come quick I finish with you for ever.
With love & kisses
XXXXXX
from your
Jacqueline

He went.

And every now and then I see him take out an old passport and look at the left hand corner, and smile at her miniature there.

Dear old Will has sent me a long letter enclosing a photo of Johanna & himself and offering a selection from a number of books as a birthday present. I’ll let you know later what I’d like, but just now on the threshold of a good roll up of the Huns I’m afraid there’ll be no time for reading in the army.

I believe my affairs are going thro’ all right, but it may be some time yet or not at all before my promotion comes through – I hope it will be very soon or not at all. Further promotion would be very remote, if the job hung fire for long.

With my dear love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/26-28)

“This year we shall be obliged to keep Lent, whether we like it or not”

Shortages were beginning to affect everyone.

LENT

It seems that this year we shall be obliged to keep Lent, whether we like it or not. Railway travel has been curtailed, food prices are still rising, food is getting scarce, and all the efforts of the nation are to be devoted to winning the war. As Church-people we are used to the season of Lent, but there is a question whether we have kept it as we ought, in fact it is certain that many Church-people have paid very little attention to the Church’s injunctions in this respect. But we cannot disobey the State with impunity, and we should be extremely selfish if we did not do our bit to practise economy, and so help to save the Nation’s food. There are many who might, with advantage, purchase War Savings Certificates, to help the country and to make provision for the future; and we would beg all our readers to do their very utmost to carry out the Food Controller’s instructions, in the spirit in which they were issued. The Germans are not yet decisively beaten – if this is to be done, everyone of us will have to help.

We should like to offer our sincere sympathy to Mr and Mrs Savage on the untimely death of a good son and promising young soldier. Edward George Savage was confirmed at the Parish Church in 1912. He passed away from the effects of pneumonia, following upon an attack of measles… The coffin was borne by soldiers, and there was a following party of the Royal Flying Corps.

We would also offer our sincere sympathy to Mrs Manley on the death of her husband on service, as announced in the “Newbury Weekly News” of February 15th.

The National Schools have had a bad time during the long continued frost: first of all on account of the heating apparatus misbehaving itself; and secondly, on account of the water being frozen. The Managers have endeavoured to remedy the former by adding to the boiler: it is possible that the coke does not nowadays give out so much heat, as certain properties have to be taken out for the manufacture of explosives.

The Parish Room has now been evacuated by the Military, and has returned to its usual state. The soldiers were very quiet and well behaved during their stay there. The occupation brought in a little money to the Parish Room Fund. We trust that outside people, who have been accustomed to use the room, will now appreciate the privilege more. The men who were billeted in the Parish Room desire, through the medium of the Parish Magazine, to sincerely thank all those who so kindly contributed to their comfort during their stay there.

Mrs L R Majendie would be grateful for gifts of material, such as cretonne, for the members of the Mothers’ Meetings to make “treasure bags” for wounded soldiers.

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, March 1917 (D/P89/28A/13)

The spirit of the times

Newbury supported the war effort in various ways. The parish church gave up its hall, Sunday School children were displaced, women prayed, and the well-off were expected to donate to government “savings” schemes.

The Soldiers in the Parish Room are grateful for any gifts of papers and magazines for their spare moments. We are glad to know that they find it a comfortable billet, as far as such quarters can be comfortable.

The attendance at the Friday Women’s Service has not lately been kept up to the former standard and we should very much like to see more coming to take part in this weekly act of intercession. Surely in these days there is more and more need of prayer, prayer for others, prayer for ourselves, prayer for our brave sailors and soldiers and airmen, prayer that people’s hearts may be turned to God, and that as a Nation and an Empire we may become more worthy of the victory and peace which we all so much desire.

Owing to the occupation of the Parish Rooms by the military, the boys’ and girls’ Sunday Schools have had to be temporarily transferred to the Day Schools. This involves rather a longer walk on the part of teachers and scholars, but they have entered into the spirit of the times, and put up with the change without grumbling, and we are glad of this.

Our best congratulations to Sergeant Ernest Hill on his promotion.

Since our last issue the Government have started a new War Loan, which it is hoped will bring in a very large sum of money, such as is necessary for the prosecution of the war. It is, clearly, the duty of all who can do so, to contribute to this Loan, but those who have not the means for this should certainly do their utmost, both to be economical in their personal and household expenses, and to try and save up pence and sixpences to invest in the Post Office War Savings Certificates.

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, February 1917 (D/P89/28A/13)

Don’t imagine tanks mean the end of the war

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence to describe his current quarters (a cowhouse in a devastated village), and the impact of our newest weapon: tanks.

3.10.16
My dear WF

It sounds paradoxical, but the nearer to the enemy we get, the more peace we get. In other words, action replaces preparation.

It’s 9 am and I’ve just had brekker after a fairly good night – turned in at 10 pm, called at 1 am, up till 4 am, put Garwood in then, and turned in till 7.30 am. Turning in consists of rolling myself up in my blankets on the bench where I am sitting, and falling straight off to sleep in spite of constant traffic and telephoning within a few feet of me. I’m writing from a spacious cellar in which there is a telephone exchange, officers’ mess and sleeping accommodation, our office, officers’ kitchen and men’s sleeping accommodation. In peace times it was an underground cowhouse. The whole system of accommodation here is most interesting and I should love to show you over it – after the war. The village where it is is a complete ruin – scarcely a vestige of the place remains and none at all of the church – a couple of crosses of before the war-date stand in the little churchyard, and standing there before brekker this morning I saw the bodies of a couple of Huns who had been buried there and been concealed by a shell.

[Censored section]

Outside at this moment is a very pale Hun – you could only tell he was a Hun by his tin hat (a very useful and artistic design), for he’s been in a shell hole for 3 days and is thickly muddied khaki from head to foot. He like all the others we get is very thankful to be cotched [sic].

The “tanks” are of course very funny, but the boundless faith of the folk at home in them is even funnier. Our native concert in our ideas is apt to run away with us. With enough of them they may go a long way to winning the war for us. But don’t imagine “tanks” mean the end of the war. (more…)

Billeted at Royal Flying Corps

Sydney Spencer’s battalion was about to move again, and he was sent on ahead.

September 21st, 1916

I go to Doncaster for advance party. Billeted at Royal Flying Corps.

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12)

“The war is still on and we’re still alive and well”

Percy Spencer was on the move, and wrote briefly to his sister Florence.

Sep 10, 1916
Dear WF

A few lines to let you know the war is still on and we’re still alive and well.

Last night I slept in a manger, today I’m under canvas and looking out upon a wide expanse of hills. A nasty east wind blight rather spoils it. Still, all’s well.

Thank you for all your letters and for the book. You seem to have a genius for choosing the right sort of book for out here and all your volumes have had a wide circulation.

So dear old Gil is home. I do hope he gets some leave, but from what I hear I’m afraid he may not….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/28-29)

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)