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)

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French holding fairly, lost in some parts, but fighting very hard

It was the last day of Sydney Spencer’s gas training course.

Sydney Spencer
Monday 10 June 1918

Got up at 7.15. After breakfast, I wrote up some of my notes. Then to lecture given by chemical adviser Major Edwardes-Ker, on Responsibilities of Officers.

Then the usual last day of course lectures by students. Very droll, some of them, too. Major Knights was asked about Green X shells & spoke lengthily about what his CO had said concerning yellow X shells. Jones the Welsh man had a fit of spoonerisms, talking of ‘belastic lands’ for elastic bands! Poor Bin – he was dumb! Hardwick knew nothing but was so droll as to pass it all off. Graham was very good indeed. I had to speak on ‘Reliefs’ & gassed areas, etc. Major Ker promised to send my notes down to Broadbent in England. Wore SBB for an hour. After lunch a short lecture by Ash. Then break up of school.

After tea to Hesdin shopping & a bath at common dark place. Dinner, a short walk with Major Knights and then the completion of note writing up to 12.30 am. Wrote letter to Major Ker, reference notes & to bed & read Tartarin de Tarascon.

Florence Vansittart Neale
10 June 1918

Canadians left 9.45…

Disturbed siesta. Soldiers came early – nice set of men. Boats, bowls, croquet & tennis. Left 6.30.

French holding fairly. Lost in some parts, but fighting very hard.

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

Battalion HQ in very deep dugout

Sydney had a sightly better journey today, and paid more attention to the controversial Billing case at home.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 6 June 1918

Rose at 5 am. Got breakfast, & into the train for Hesdin by 6.30. It is now 9.30 & we haven’t yet started. Another glorious morning, all sunshine.

Billing has been pronounced ‘not guilty’. Justice Darling makes use of the following expression, ‘I tell you now that I do not care a bit for you or anyone like you, or what you say about me’ seems ridiculously childish. A street boy would have pulled a face & said ‘yar ‘oo cares for you’ & would have called for more conviction with him!

Started for Hesdin (30 miles) at 9.30. Got there 11.30. Wonderful. Lorry jumped to Marronville, arriving at 12 noon. Graham & I billeted at the mead, a long low white cottage facing the church. Mess will be started tomorrow morning.

Had lunch at the Hotel de Commerce. Walked back to billets. Slept. Got some [illegible] out of the sergeant. Walked down with Graham & Barker to Hesdin. Had dinner at the Hotel de France. Back by 9.15 & to bed. Started reading Tartarin de Tarascon by Alphonse Daudet. A very droll book.

Percy Spencer
6 June 1918

17th relieved us and we went into support. Battalion HQ in very deep dugout.

Florence Vansittart Neale
6 June 1918

Early church – dog walk – then fussed to find rooms for farm workers till lunch. Heard another officer coming today & one tomorrow. Captain Petcher AFC Maidenhead called on Miss Areson.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“Down here because the raids upset her so”

The Daniels family welcomed an additional guest fleeing from air raids in the East End – a young relative of their maid.

Florence Vansittart Neale
5 June 1918

Amusing lunch. Officers described German prisoners! They both left (Granville & Knapman).

Joan Daniels
June 5th Wednesday

Florence’s little sister came with her mending. Mummie has had her down here because the raids upset her so. They live in Plaistow & had bombs very near them last time. She is a most amusing kiddie…

Uncle Jack went to be medically examined & is passed Grade 3. That means if anyone goes it has to be Daddie, but it strengthens the latter’s position with regard to exemption.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and Joan Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

Americans fighting now

Was the tide on the turn at last?

Florence Vansittart Neale
3 June 1918

Rather better news – done some counter-attacks. Americans fighting now.

William Hallam
3rd June 1918

Still on overtime…

To-night I wrote to my nephew in Mesopotamia who is in hospital wounded in the arm.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and William Hallam of Swindon (D/EX1415/25)

“The brutal diabolical Hun: may God frustrate their wicked purpose”

Civilians followed the war news closely.

Joan Daniels
May 28th Tuesday

We all went down to Caversham to see a boat race between Reading Flying School & the Henley Equipment Officers. Reading won by straights, a great triumph.

The Germans slightly advance on the Ancre. May this be their last chance & may God frustrate their wicked purpose & give peace to our beautiful country once more.

Elsie went to Hendon yesterday & saw Mrs Douglass. Eina has been gassed & was back in the hospital that the brutal diabolical Hun bombed so mercilessly for three hours last week. He (Eina) got badly wounded in the head with a piece of shell during the raid. Mr Douglass has gone over to France.

Florence Vansittart Neale
28 May 1918

Line not broken. Hard fighting but we going back slowly.

Diaries of Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1); and
Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Submarine menace annoying

Florence Vansittart Neale was anxious about the Western Front, but more optimistic about the Navy.

27 May 1918

Lovely day. We had 24! wounded by launch. All out in boats. Bowls & croquet.

German offensive begun. Fear French & us falling back.

Submarine menace annoying, but we have or can getting it under.

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

A lovely evening for 18 wounded soldiers

A party of wounded soldiers visited Bisham Abbey by river.

13 May 1918

Had 18 wounded. They came by steamer rather late. Played outdoor games, billiards & river. Lovely evening.

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

German submarine base useless

The Vansittart Neales took their Australian guest out to tea.

12 May 1918

Henry & I & Captain Goudie to tea at Higginsons…

Ostend harbour filled up by the Vindictive. Submarine base useless.

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

A friendly princess

Bisham Abbey received a royal visit.

11 May 1918

Prepared for the Princess Victoria’s visit. Mme d’Hartpond brought her to tea to see house. She very charming & friendly …

Phyllis left 7.21 for Oxford ….

Officers stayed out on river.

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

Victory for Lloyd George, accused of making a mis-statement about man-power

Major General Sir Frederick Maurice made a controversial allegation that Parliament had been misled regarding the manning of the Western Front.

10 May 1918

Another officer here – Australian Captain Goudie – Artillery.

Victory for Lloyd George. Asquith’s motion about Sir F. Maurice’s letter defeated. He accused Lloyd George of making a mis-statement about man-power. Mesopotamian troops & Bonar Law’s statement about the interversion of the line not settled in Versailles Conference.


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

When will it end!!

The Australian Flying Corps was established in 1912. Lieutenant Keith Cecil Hodgson was born in 1892. He would survive the war.

1 May 1918

Young Australian FC officer came, Lt Hodgson. Very shy youth but pleasant…

When will it end!!

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

Offensive may begin soon

Press baron Lord Rothermere had been a controversial chairman of the Air Council.

25 April 1918
Motored to Reading for Commandandants meeting….

Fear offensive beginning.

Lord Rothermere resigns.

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

“O Lord how long!”

The war was entering a crucial phase, with an intense need for men leading to new pressures in Ireland, still troubled by the aftermath of the Easter Rising.

10 April 1918

Still holding line but falling back. Hard fighting.

Lovely morning. K & I down in shelter – she read Lloyd George’s speech on manpower. Irish conscription & men up to 50. Clergy also. Must have more men. Civil servants and luxury trades drastic comb[at?]ants.

O Lord how long!

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

Great reduction in coal ration

Sir Henry Rawlinson (1864-1925) was to be held responsible after the war for some of the tactical decisions which had led to appalling losses at the Battle of the Somme. During the war, however, his star was still bright.

3 April 1918

H to Coal Ration Committee. Great reduction!

Germans not yet begun further big attack. General Gough was sent back. Sir H Rawlinson takes his place.

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