“We must seek comfort in remembering what Sydney was, & in remembering him as he was”

The news of Sydney Spencer’s death in action reached his eldest brother Will in Switzerland.

Will Spencer
23 October 1918

After breakfast I played [the piano] a little. I had just gone to my room to finish my note to Director Eppler [a potential employer], when Johanna came in & sat down on the sofa opposite me with a troubled face. I was afraid that she had had bad news from [her sister] Agnes, but the news which she had to tell me was that dear Sydney had fallen. She shed a few tears in telling me, & handed to me the letters which she had received from Mother & Father last night, but had not told me about it until this morning, to avoid the danger of the news affecting my night’s rest. But she would probably have had a better night than she did if she had not still had the breaking of the news to me to look forward to.

My feeling, in thinking of Sydney, is one of thankfulness for what his life was.

Mother’s & Father’s letters were both dated Oct. 3rd. Sydney had suffered no pain, having been killed instantly by a shell on Septe 24th (?) (the date had been almost obliterated, but it looked like the 24th. His Major had written that he was one of the keenest officers he had known. Father wrote that he had never known Sydney to speak an unkind word to or of anyone. Mother quoted a loving message which he had written to her from the front on Sept. 15th.

As it was a beautiful morning, Johanna & I afterwards went for a stroll through the wood together. After dinner, Johanna produced a bundle of photographs, & found the photo of Sydney which she had thought of this morning – the one which he sent us from Epsom [where he had been studying before going to Oxford in 1914]. On the back of it Sydney had written “An amateur photo taken by my friend Willie Birch last Sunday week, Nov. 5th, 1911.” During the latter part of the day, Johanna & I both wrote to Mother & Father. I wrote that we must seek comfort in remembering what Sydney was, & in remembering him as he was.

Florence Vansittart Neale
23 October 1918

Heard cases of flu & some deaths in Marlow. Mabel wired for for Jack, but rather better.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

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“We pray that their relatives may before long hear news of them”

Sad news kept coming.

We offer our deep sympathy to the family of Archie Taylor, the news of whose death from wounds received early in the Somme offensive has been notified to his parents.

The following are reported wounded, and we are glad to hear that they are progressing favourably: — R Oldham, T. Barker, H. Henley, E. Law, A. May, J. Williams, W. Ewart.

We very much regret to hear that both Reginald Turner and William Watson are reported missing and we pray that their relatives may before long hear news of them.

Letters of thanks for Christmas parcels are still being received from men in the East: — P. Matthews, S. C. Woods, A. Birch, F.C. Havell.

Ascot section of Winkfield and Warfield Magazine, May 1918 (D/P 151/28A/10/5)

Help with ration cards

Feb 14th and 15th 1918

Miss Birch was granted permission to go and help with Ration Cards at Town Hall.

Redlands Boys’ School log book (86/SCH/3/30, p. 333)

Great and sustained efforts by the staff of the Clerk of the Peace

The Standing Joint Committee heard that the Clerk of the Peace, who did the administrative work for the county Quarter Sessions, was struggling with the shortage of staff due to the war. Meanwhile, a young Berkshire policeman had died from wounds.


The report of the Staff Purposes Committee was presented as follows:
The Sub-committee have received an application from the Clerk of the Peace as follows:-

Sicne the outbreak of war those members of my permanent staff who have not joined the colours have been working under great difficulties, and although I have engaged certain temporary clerks, that assistance has been quite inadequate to carry on the work of the office efficiently without great and sustained efforts on the part of my permanent clerks. Furthermore, the work of my department being of a highly technical nature requiring special knowledge not easily obtainable, the temporary clerks require very close and constant supervision, which has caused an additional strain on the permanent members of the staff. In addition considerable war work has been thrown on me without any extra help – notably the War Agricultural Committee, which has been very heavy.

Owing to the scarcity of clerical labour it has been necessary, in order to obtain temporary clerks, to offer salaries far in excess – in proportion to the work done – of those of the permanent staff. I feel compelled therefore to ask the Committee to reconsider the salaries of the latter (who have all reached their maximums), and respectfully make the following suggestions:-

J. Gentry Birch (married), 28 years service. Present salary £160. 5s. 0d. Maximum to be increased to £180 by two annual increases.
A. W. Longhurst (married), 21 years service. Present salary £150. Maximum to be increased to £180 by three annual increases.
E. Arthur Longhurst (married), 12 years service. Present salary £80. Maximum to be increased to £110 by annual increases of £10.
S. L. Mills (married), 8 years service. Present salary £110. Receive £10 rise.
B. Vivian (single), 8 years service, age 22. Present salary £40. Maximum to be increased to £60 by two annual increases…

Eight members of the staff (including the Deputy) are on active service… I would respectfully ask that a sum be added sufficient to enable me to engage an additional clerk (at about 30/- a week)…

Adopted.

Acting Chief Constable’s report

I regret having to report the death of PC 78, Alfred Mark Thompson, which occurred on 24th August, 1916, from wounds received while fighting in France.

The deceased was a very promising young Constable, who at the time of his death was only 23 years of age, and had served 5 years and 4 months in this Force. He leaves a widow but no children.

Standing Joint Committee minutes, 7 October 1916 (C/CL/C2/1/5)

Dreading having to obey for three years

Sydney Spencer was still agonising over his future, as he found out a friend had joined up. He confided in his diary:

Sunday 6th September
Editarton, Lynwood Road, Epsom

Yesterday morning two things happened. One, a letter from Mr Ruscoe, & the other a letter I wrote to London. Hence I am here in Epsom just for the night. The following is my letter to the Secretary of the Ex-Public School & University Corps:

Fernlea, Cookham, Sept 5th

Dear Sir

I have spent three days in Oxford trying to get some work to do with the following result: Mr Cookson of Magdalen College advised me to get some drill practice and then join the OTC.

As I am not satisfied that I have done all in my power I apply to you to ask you whether I might have a chance of getting into the ex-public school and university corps in formation. I would willingly cycle up to London any day if you thought that the following statistics concerning myself would not make such a journey fruitless.

I am still a University man but it is doubtful as to whether I can continue my studies at Oxford. My age is 25 years 22 months. My height is 5 ft 4 ½ ins. Weight 8 stone 1 lb. Chest measurement 32 ½ ins. Constitutionally strong but physically rather weak. A good walker & good lungs! No military experience. I should be obliged for any advice or information you could send me.

Yours truly

That letter may mean my going up to London on Monday. Mr Ruscoe’s letter was to ask me to come and stay for a bit. As yesterday seemed the only chance, I cycled down here, getting a puncture en route. I got here at about 1.45. I found that Willie Birch has joined the East Surrey & is off on Monday! Poor, poor Mrs Birch, it does seem terribly sad for her. It is a hard thing that a mother should lose her only son! I hope too, & pray, that Willie will bear the brunt of what he has undertaken. It will be a fearful strain on him, I feel sure, & when temptation comes, may he be guarded & kept from all wrong. I am very glad that he is joining with four or five others whom he knows. So he will not be altogether alone. I am going to eight o’clock celebration in a few minutes, & shall sit with him. There is one thing about this corps I am trying to join, I fear that one has to bury oneself in it, also supply one’s own kit. But that remains to be yet proved. This failing, I can make no other efforts for I feel sure that I have then done all that is expected of me.

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham, meanwhile, was hearing of various family friends who had joined up including one with similar qualms to those of Sydney Sepncer.

6 September 1914
Church [at] 11. Willy read out names of those gone to volunteer…

Sep joined Public School Corps – rather dreads having to obey for 3 years!…

Papers signed by Allies. None will make peace without the others. Signed Kitchener – Cambon – Beckendorf.

(Diary of Sydney Spencer, 6 September 1914); Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Sydney Spencer considers his future

Sydney Spencer of Cookham agonised over what service he should offer his country, and wrote to an Oxford mentor for advice.

Wednesday August 12th
Yesterday I made up my mind after a week’s thinking it over, & pausing. This letter which I sent to Dr Pope at the Delegacy will of itself explain what I made up my mind to. I wrote as follows

Fernlea
Cookham on Thames
August 11th 1914
Dear Sir
Feeling that I cannot but offer whatever service I may, in the cause of my country, I write to you in the hope that I may be useful in some way or other. I am a student for Holy Orders at Oxford. I am aged 25, and am 5 ft 4 ½ ins in height & my weight is 8 stone. My chest measurement in 32 ins. My recent weight 8 stone 1 lb 5 oz. Physically I am by no means strong but am constitutionally very healthy. Of course I should be willing to undergo medical examination to satisfy authorities on that point. I have had no sort of military training either at Oxford or elsewhere. The only assets which I feel might be of use are a good experience in all sorts of horse work, & straightforward cooking, & a natural aptitude for attendance on sick people, when hands for the work have been wanting. I feel that these are lamentably poor assets, but hoped that they might be of use in a hospital where probably an odd job man would be of use. Also I have gone in for music a good deal & this might be helpful to men in the wards. Also at such times men may like help in the spiritual way & I feel that my future vocation should allow me to do all in my power. If a short course of training in nursing was possible, & I know where to get it, I would willingly do so, if it means making a useful instrument for my country. If I am of no use, you will excuse my troubling you on the grounds of anxiety to do my duty hoever small it might be.
Yours truly
Sydney Spencer

Of course Dr Pope knew a good many of the details of this letter but I felt it best to put in all details in case he had to send the letter on elsewhere. I have had no answer yet & only hope that some work may be found for me to do. I have started on “mods” work but it is not very spirited as yet; I had a long letter from Willie Birch this morning & he tells me that although he longs to enlist, he has hesitated for the sake of his mother. I am glad that he as been so thoughtful & not been headstrong & anxious to rush off at once regardless of consequence. Dear old “Jumbo” [Oliphant] may be gone to the front by now, but I have a good mind to write him a line at Wycliffe Hall just to find out. Mrs Raphael sent me a long letter this morning in answer to mine. She is full of sympathy as usual, & expresses great sympathy with Will in his position. She enclosed a poem which Hopkins once recited to me. It rings true & expresses a great deal of what I feel just now.

What have I to do with idols?
I have heard Him, and observed Him (Hosea XIV.8)
Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not thine a captured heart?
“Chief among ten thousand” own Him
Joyful choose the better part

Idols once they won thee, charmed thee
Lovely things of time & sense
Gilded thus does sin disarm thee
Honeyed, lest thou turn thee thence

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not the sense of right or duty
But the sight of peerless worth!

Not the crushing of those idols
With its bitter void and smart
But the beaming of His beauty
The unveiling of His heart

Who extinguishes his taper
Till he hails the rising sun?
Who discards the garb of winter
Till the summer has begun?

‘Tis that look that melted Peter
‘Tis that face that Stephen saw
‘Tis that heart that wept with Mary
Can alone from idols draw

Draw, and win, and fill completely
Till the cup o’erflow the brim
What have we to do with idols
Who have companied with Him?

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)