“Nothing that the war has brought me is anything to compare with your suffering, and no courage I have shewn, can compare with your superhuman endurance”

Florence Image reveals the strain it took to stay strong for her family in the face of Sydney’s death.

29, Boston Road
Cambridge

Oct. 29 1918

My own dear Stan

John says, “Are you writing to dear old Stanley? Then tell him his letters give me the greatest pleasure to read.” Well my darling, I do pray you will get some of our letters soon. I am getting yours so quickly – less than 3 weeks! I was dreadfully bothered about you. Do ask for leave. The infantry won’t know you have been 2 ¼ years without any. When you get back to your unit, beg the Colonel to grant you either (a) your overdue leave – or (b) sick leave with a view to discharge. Tell him how many times you have had malaria. Lloyd George promised you all leave in the spring. Last week the WO said they were granting leave as fast as possible – and again they assured the House of Commons that something like 1500 had had leave recently from Salonika – I enclose a cutting. But I hope the Min. of Inform. Affair will come off soon, if the war isn’t over first. I do long to hear the story of what you did for your Captain darling.

I feel your letters acutely darling. If my letters seem prosaic and material it’s because I have had a tremendous strain on my emotions, and I hardly dare take out my thoughts and look at them at all – because I’ve got to keep well, & be strong for all your sakes. I’ve written reams on your account – and it’s for you & Gil, and to keep Mother & Father going, for your sake, and for Perce [sic] – as well as my beloved John – I’ve got to keep going – or rather keep the ship going – See? But of course nothing that the war has brought me is anything to compare with your suffering, and no courage I have shewn, can compare with your superhuman endurance. My only struggle is not just to keep myself going – but to keep the ship going – do you understand? And so I am the most extraordinary creature apparently. I haven’t cried about Syd – and every time dear John attempts to be even sad about it – I am quite firm & cross. In fact it’s carry on – carry on – carry on – all the while – and snub every gust of longing or regret, love & hatred (like you I get awful fits of hatred as well as love) and save up all your energy for the end of the war and the radiant return to the old order – for you the front bedroom of a sunny warm day – with [Tobit?] – when the war is over. I’ll burst – and then you’ll be astonished at all I say. I get madder & amdder & madder with those who have not been wrenched up by the roots in this war. “Why cumbereth it the ground?”

Well, this is an ugly letter. It’s all imported rage with those who don’t dream what you in Salonika endure – and if they did wouldn’t dream what you in particular endure. But I do – and meanwhile I am trying to get you some light books to carry. I have ordered Andrew Marvell, and hope to get it in a week. His poems. Do you want his Satires too? And have you got a Bible? And do express any other longing you have. What you tell me of Heine & Goethe is so interesting. I’d no idea they had the taint. Tell me one or two nice things you would like to beautify your dust-bins out there. I do hope you will get the parcel with biscuits I sent you.

I heard yesterday that Syd has been awarded the Military Cross for what he did on Aug. 8th, and am vain-glorious enough to be glad, because he told me before he was killed, he was recommended for it, and was very pleased, because of the pleasure he knew it would confer on us…

Your own loving
Flongy

Have you plenty of shirts etc?

Letter from Florence Image to her brother Stanley Spencer (D/EX801/110)

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“In spite of dark hours of disappointment, all those on active service at home and abroad are looking for the dawn”

More and more men were being called up.

PERSONAL

The many friends of Cadet Douglas Baker, son of our esteemed Deacon, Mr Henry Baker, will be glad to hear that he has successfully passed all his examinations, and is now awaiting his commission as an officer in the RAF. We tender him our heartiest congratulations and good wishes. Our young friend has already several years of service to his credit, and a record of which he may justly feel proud.

We also desire to congratulate Sergeant C. S. Stebbings on his recent promotion. Sergeant Stebbings has served for more than 2 ½ years with the Royal Engineers in France, and he has just returned “on leave” with his three stripes. So far he has come through “safe and sound”. We earnestly hope that the like good fortune may be his in coming days.

Fred Warman writes very cheerily from his internment camp at Groningen, Holland. The supply of food, he tells us, is insufficient, but “by buying biscuits and chocolates, which are very dear, I manage to live fairly well and endeavour to keep up my health and strength.” He is learning to speak Dutch, and has made some good friends.

Private Gerald S. Hampton has been wounded in the right hand, and is now in a hospital at Warwick. We are not informed of the extent of his injury, but we hope it is not serious, and that he may have a speedy recovery.

SUNDAY SCHOOL NOTES

Our young friend, Mr Hedley Wyles, who for some time past has helped us as pianist in our morning school, has recently been called to the colours. We greatly regret this has become necessary, but our bets wishes go with him and we trust ‘ere long to have the pleasure of welcoming him back again safe and sound. Miss W. Quelch has very kindly undertaken to fill the post vacated by Mr Wyles.

BROTHERHOOD NOTES

“O.A.S” [on active service]

It is a joy to receive letters from our Brothers abroad bearing this inscription, for right well we know they are on active service away on the battle fronts!

Whilst congratulating them on their sacrificial work out yonder, we at home are striving to deserve a similar title…

In spite of dark hours of disappointment, all those on active service at home and abroad are looking for the dawn, and with outstretched hand say to each other with faith and confidence:
“Hope on, the sun is rising, prepare for the coming day. God be with you till we meet again.”…

We are not forgetting our Brother on service. The number increases week by week, so that it has become almost impossible for Brother Woolley to write a personal letter to each member individually, so it is hoped that a special monthly message from the President with a reprint of these notes will be sent each month to brothers on service.

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

Internees allowed to purchase anything that can be purchased by ordinary outside people

A series of exchanges about food supplies at Reading Prison shows how internees could supplement the official rations.

30 July 1918
As bacon is now obtainable without coupons, some of the interned prisoners are asking if they may buy some, if they can get it.
Instructions requested please.
C M Morgan
Gov

Please state what articles of diet the Internees are permitted to purchase & whether there is any limit in quantity.
OFNT
6-8.18

They are allowed to purchase anything that can be purchased by ordinary outside people – except extra cereals, ie cake, biscuits; and their jam purchase is limited to 8 oz per head per week (in addition to what is issued to them).
C M Morgan
Gov
8/8/18

This may be permitted if it can be obtained locally and does not interfere with the supplies available for the general population in the neighbourhood.
OFNT
13/8/18

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“My dear old platoon”

We last saw Sydney marching back from the trenches through the night.

Wednesday 10 July 1918

We were marching still when Wednesday came in. Arrived at our first long resting place between W & V at about 3 am. We had a cup of tea & a biscuit on the wet ground for which I am very grateful. Slept with my head on my pack after discovering that my batman had left my burbury behind & brought with him an old one!

Started off again at 5.30 & got here to H…t at 7. Saw men into tents. Then wandered about rather unhappily not knowing whether I belonged to C Company or not, at last orderly room let me come back to B Company at 11.30 on parade. Saw my dear old platoon again.

After lunch took my clothes off & got into my valise in the sunshine. Slept until rain caught me. Slept till 5. Dressed & tea. Spent evening lolling etc.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15)

Sneezing gas or hay fever?

Sydney was plagued by hay fever and thirst.

Sydney Spencer
Monday 17 June 1918

Got up at 6.45. Paraded at 7.45 for inspection. After inspection half an hour’s PT followed by a half hour’s run & then dismissed. Spent a lot of time reconnoitring. It was a scorching hot day, & the scent of clover fields so strong & pollen so strong that 4 out of 8 of us were set to sneezing violently. Some thought that it was sneezing gas as we were shelled pretty closely while on the trench line in front of A-y Wood, but I don’t think so.

This reconnoitring scheme took place from 9.30 till 3.30, 6 hours in a scorching sun with two biscuits & not a drop of drink! ‘No [won?]’ as the troops would say. The landscape was lovely. Saw numbers of swallow tail butterflies, scarlet pimpernels in abundance. A glorious walk if it had been a pleasure walk. A sleep. Dinner at seven. A turmoil of chits & arrangements & bed finally.

Joan Daniels
June 17th Monday

This morning the Austrian report said they had taken 10,000 prisoners, but tonight the paper says that they were completely squashed, which is a good thing. I am afraid the McKenzies will be anxious about Leslie, but trust he is alright.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer in France (D/EZ177/8/15); and Joan Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

A new star

Always interested in the natural world, Sydney Spencer was excited by news of a newly discovered nova.

Sydney Spencer
Saturday 15 June 1918

I was orderly officer today & got up at 5.45, & saw the men’s breakfasts. Came back to mess, washed & dressed. After breakfast I wrote to some Scotch firm about shortbread. Looked round billets, then gathered up officers’ advance pay books & orders for pay for Battalion. Dillon let me have his horse ‘Charlie Chaplin’ & I rode to Acheux & got the money. A glorious morning. Saw Barker’s batman & sent message to him. Got back at 12.30. Dished money out.

After lunch took drummers up to range & picked up clips & ‘empties’. After tea wrote letters. After dinner a staff parade. Capt. Weave is back with Battalion. Dillon taught me double patience & we played a game, up till 11 pm. I used my new field glasses to try & find the new star in Aquila but I couldn’t find it.

End of 10th week [at the front].

Florence Vansittart Neale
15 June 1918

Expected 2 officers but they did not come.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer in France (D/EZ177/8/15); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“Saw some poor old ladies who have been gassed with yellow X – a lamentable sight.”

Civilians were among the victims of German poison gas.

Tuesday 11 June 1918

Got up at 7.45 am. Got my kit packed by Fox [his batman]. Had breakfast, & then Jones stropped my razor & got a really good shave. After breakfast got down to Hesdin station. Train was due to leave at 10.15 so Graham & I bought biscuits, strawberries & bananas to eat if no food was available. Started at 11.45. Got to St Pol at 1.15. Lunch at the EFC canteen. Town has been fairly well shelled & bombed. Saw some poor old ladies who have been gassed with yellow X. ‘De profundis’ a lamentable sight.

7.30 pm Candas. We stay the night here at Candas as we cannot go further until tomorrow morning at 7.30. Tea at Café’ [illegible] Henly. Then kits to RTO office, a walk and dinner at same café’. Just discovered that I have left my advance pay book & my cheque book, ‘horribili dictu’, at Marronville!

After dinner I made paper frogs for French officers who thought them ‘tres gentils’. To bed at rest camp at 10 pm.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)

The happy faces of the Tommies

Reading churchgoers’ support made all the difference for men at the front.

Church News
An Echo from “Our Hut”

The following letter of unsolicited appreciation from one frequenter of the Trinity Y.M.C.A. Hut will be read with interested by all. It was sent to our Church Secretary, Mr. Brain. December 9th, 1917.

“Dear Sir

“I Feel I should like to express and I know my comrades here will share the same sentiments with me, my appreciation of your kindness in providing the Y.M.C.A. hut for us. Your congregation cannot realise to the full extent the great boon and blessing it proves to our men out here. It is a great convenience to be able to go in the hut of an evening and have a chat and a cup of cocoa. It breaks the monotony of the life out here.

Concerts are frequently held in the hut, which on such occasions is always packed. Last night’s concert was packed to overflowing, and the cigarettes, cocoa and biscuits which were provided through the generosity of the members of your congregation were greatly appreciated, they came as a surprise, and if the donors could have seen the happy faces of the Tommies, they would be more than compensated for their kindness.

“Mr Harrison who has proved a most popular leader and who has always been kindness itself will be telling you in more forceful language than mine, the benefits of the hut, so wishing all your members a most happy Christmas and prosperous New Year,

“Believe me, yours gratefully,

“Jas. W. Waters,

“No. 165,208, 88th Brigade,
“R.F.A.”

Trinity Congregational Magazine, February 1918 (D/EX1237/1)

“The French are very selfish”

John Heading, a young man working with a labour company in France, wrote to his Berkshire farmer uncle with his impressions of his work – and the French.

Pte J C Heading
84,790
142nd Labour Co.,
BEF
France

My dear Uncle

I received your very kind letter, and we are glad of some warm weather. We have had quite a lot of thunder shower[s] ever since St Swythyn’s day, but it’s been very growing [sic]. The pears are very plentiful.

The French people charge very dear for everything. I take care they have very little of my money. There’s a reason in all things and they are very selfish. I’m very glad that this Heavenly Father has so mercifully spared my life up to the present time. I can assure you I have had some very narrow escapes. It’s only him that has kept me safe.

We have just heard some good news – this is Wednesday Aug 1st 1917. I am asking my wife to forward this letter on to you. We only get a green envelope once a fortnight and I send something home in that envelope for my wife. All other letters have to be left open to be censored. I may not post this letter until Friday has [sic] we expect to be paid then. I hope that you are all quite well and that the Country looks well. We, all of us, will be glad when the War is over, I can assure you.

We have a bath every week and we have to do our own washing. We are at a rail Head and have to unload trucks of Coal, Hay, Oats, Biscuits and all such things for the Troops. It’s a very heavy thunder storm, Aug Wed 8th, 1917.

I now conclude with best love to all. I remain

Your affect. Nephew
Pte J C Heading
84,790

Letter from Private John Heading to his uncle Albert Castle of Charlton, 1 and 8 August 1917 (D/EX2547/2/3/10)

“It is a long time since bread from England has arrived without being mouldy”

Albert Cusden, one of four Reading brothers interned in Germany, and a talented amateur artist, wrote to his parents. They were dependent on food supplies sent from home, as their captors had little to go around due to blockades of trade. Some of Albert’s Ruhleben drawings are in the BRO archives.

Aug. 14th 1916
My dear parents

Since my letter to Lucy, very many thanks for parcels from S to X. Everything arrived in good condition with exception of bread. As I mentioned before, it is a long time since bread from England has arrived without being mouldy. Everyone makes same complaint, so it must be weather. The Swiss bread has been coming regularly to Arch & Dick in good condition and is sufficient for us. I presume that before receiving this you will have stopped sending any more from England as advised. Could someone drop a card to Mrs Miller and inform the Sawyers not to send any more bread either. Arch wrote to Mrs Miller a week or two back asking her not to send any more with cheese as she had been doing, but now it is better than none at all. The Sawyers’ toasted loaf had been coming all right, but last twice has been bad, so would be better not to risk any more. As an example, on Saturday four parcels came for us, being from home, Mrs Miller, Mrs West & Aunt Eliza. Each contained bread, I think seven loaves in all, which had to be thrown away being mouldy right through. So it would be a pity to risk any more, and as said before the Swiss is enough. Could you perhaps also drop card to Mrs West thanking her for parcel, as I cannot write her this week, and it would stop her from sending any more a little earlier. The biscuits she sent with bread were all right. The home made jam was extremely nice. Congratulations to Edie from us all. Hope she and the baby are both getting on perfectly. I must say you kept it very secret, no-one having a word of the coming event….

Dick received parcel from Poole through Mrs Ward of Donnington Gardens and acknowledged it to Mrs Ward as he had not Poole address and suggested she might send letter on. Since your letter came to me, he has written Mrs Ward, so I suppose it is now all right.

Probably this week will send off some sketches, mostly head studies. Should like you to put them by for me until I return, whenever that will be. I have been doing a deal of portrait sketching of late, and in most cases the fellows have sent the sketches home. I get the practice, the sitter the sketch, and I have no trouble in finding sitters. In one or two cases have later on commissions. We are keeping well, and you are all the same?

With love to all,

Your affectionate son,

Albert

Letter from Albert Cusden in Ruhleben to Mrs J Cusden, 57 Castle Street, Reading (D/EX1485/4/4/2)

“God and Right” is the fighting motto of our sailors and soldiers

The vicar of Winkfield had some stirring words for parishioners, who had sent Christmas gifts to men at the front.

THE VICAR’S LETTER.

MY DEAR FRIENDS.

You will have already received my letter about the Day of National Intercession on January 2nd, and I sincerely hope that there will be very few this year who will have the reproach of neglecting to respond to this piece of duty to their country, the joining and offering of humble homage to Almighty God in humble recognition of our National reliance upon His overruling Hand.

We long for peace and pray it may come this year, but we believe with our whole souls that we are fighting for God and Right, and it is this that has nerved so many thousands to answer their country’s call as clear call from God, and to offer their young lives willingly, cheerfully and gladly until a just and lasting peace can be secured.
And this brings the thought, has my response to the call of God and His Church to serve in His Army against all the forces of evil, been like that? Ought not our Christian soldiering to be far more real and earnest? If “God and Right” be the fighting motto of our sailors and soldiers, shall it not also be a New Year’s motto for all of us who are pledged to serve in the Army of God. May it be yours and mine in this New Year.

Your sincere Friend and Vicar,

H. M. MAYNARD.

PARISH NOTES

The Christmas presents to our men were sent off in good time and already Mrs. Maynard has received several grateful letters with warm expressions of thanks to all kind friends in Winkfield who helped, and this proof that they were not forgotten be those at home is what seems to have been especially appreciated by the men.

Seventy-seven parcels were sent, practically all of which contained some articles of warm clothing, besides cigarettes, pipes, tobacco, chocolate, biscuits, &c., and a pocket testament and tiny prayer book.

Winkfield section of Winkfield District Monthly Magazine, January 1916 (D/P151/28A/8/1)

Christmas parcels

There was an interdenominational effort in Bracknell to co-ordinate sending Christmas gifts to the men at the front.

Christmas parcels have been sent to all the men who are on active service both in the Navy and the Army. The Chavey Down men received their parcels through the working party on the Down. The members of the Congregational Church and P.S.A. sent to those connected with their organizations, and the remainder, about 70 in number, were provided for by subscriptions contributed by many in Bracknell.

Grateful letters of acknowledgement have come from a large number of the men, who desire the Vicar to thank all the Bracknell friends who contributed; the contents of the parcels seem to have been much appreciated.

The parcels were packed by Mrs. Barnett at the Vicarage, with the kind assistance of Mr. Payne and Miss Hunton. The contents of the parcels were such things as biscuits in tins, cake, Oxo, potted meat, milk and cocoa, chocolate, apples, soap, candles and cigarettes.

Bracknell section of Winkfield District Monthly Magazine, January 1916 (D/P151/28A/8/1)

Are the hens patriotic?

Ascot parishioners were encouraged to make gifts to British PoWs, and to provide nourishing, easy-to-eat eggs for the wounded at home.

It is … proposed to send (through the channel of the Church Army) an “offering from All Saints Church, Ascot,” to the British Prisoners in Germany. We would suggest packets of cocoa and chocolate, biscuits, tinned milk, peppermint, wool and knitting needles, &c. All these offerings can be brought, together with the fruit and flowers, to the Church on Saturday, October 2nd, from 10 a.m. to 10.30 a.m.

ASCOT HOSPITAL EGG LEAGUE.

Have the hens forgotten? Or have the owners of the hens forgotten? Or is it the case that for a time the hens refuse to lay? But the hospital is full of wounded and sick soldiers – they badly need eggs to help them recover. Will the owners of the hens, and all whom this notice concerns, remind their hens how the hens at Sunninghill are patriotic, and send their quota of eggs in large numbers to the Hospital? Shall Sunninghill do better than Ascot? Will Magazine readers who have poultry, and eggs to spare, and who would like to become members of the Ascot Hospital Egg League, kindly send in their names and addressed to Miss La Trobe Bateman, at the Rectory – who will supply them with all information?

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, October 195 (D/P151/28A/7/10)

“A rummy go”: 10 miles from the fighting, farmers are at work

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister about life close behind the line.

April 12th 1915
Dear Florrie

You’re a marvel.

Never was there such a parcel. The ingenuity of it all passes the mere mind of a man. Thank you for all its contents – chocolate, [spiritives?], battery, tobacco, tripod, cap, matches – is there anything I’ve forgotten!

And thanks for the biscuits.

Yesterday we had some fun. A hostile aeroplane came over, fired at by our allies’ guns. Then some of our aircraft got up, but too late to engage, otherwise we were looking forward to a fight right over our heads. However the enemy was driven off and had again to run the gauntlet of gunfire.

We’ve lost a few of our men up to date, but not many, and they have created a good impression I believe in the fighting line.

I think I told you I had been pretty close up, and now I hear from Stan that one of the Kennedys had been killed just about where I was.

I wonder if H Jackson of the 7th will ever look in here – quite likely as they are in our Division. I suppose he’s a lieutenant…

While I’ve been writing to you an aeroplane has been skirmishing around and being shelled. It’s a rummy go. Guns going and rifles cracking a short distance away from peaceful agricultural employment. I think that struck me more than anything else. A short ten miles from the fighting line over ground which had been quite recently the scene of bloody engagements, farmers were at work again.


Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/4/22)