A continuous bombardment

The war was getting closer for British expat Will Spencer. On holiday in the town of Rheinfelden, on the River Rhine near Basel, close to the German border, he and wife Johanna could hear the guns at the Western Front. Alsace was contested territory between France and Germany.

Will Spencer
4 September 1917

Saw a soldier on the tower of the Town Hall looking westward through a binocular. (Watching for aeroplanes?) Afterwards I went for a wander in the woods. Again heard the sound of a continuous bombardment in Alsace, as we did on Sunday [2 September].

Florence Vansittart Neale
4 September 1917

Lt Kelly returned after smash from aeroplane….

Air raid in London – Chapel St, Edgware Rd. Mr A[ustman] slept under tree at night!!

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/27)

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Pounding the Germans

Florence Vansittart Neale rejoiced in the war news.

14 March 1917

Almost at Bapaume, pounding the Germans. Outer defences are gone. Our guns doing great havoc. Gunboats up Tigris.

Heard from Maisie 2 subs sunk in Clyde.

C. Menzies told me 9 sunk in 5 days. Navy jubilant. We had new bomb flung from destroyers, if it does not hit the periscope makes such commotion in water submarine comes up. Then our guns go at them.

Henry busy day at Maidenhead – District Council – massage – Tribunal.

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

“The Huns ran from the tanks like hares”

John Maxwell Image wrote to a friend with his latest thoughts, and passing on brother-in-law Percy Spencer’s impressions.

29 Barton Road
Tuesday 10 Oct ‘16

My Very Dear Old Man

I quite understand, and share with you, the absorbing interest of the daily War News. Nothing else matters, now-a-days. What do you make of this morning’s news of the U boat blockade of the United States coast? If America really shuts them out from supplies in her ports, it must be over in a month or so – and if it succeeds, the exasperation of the Yanks’ commerce must kick Wilson into activity. Anyhow it is a risky move for Germany on the brink of a Presidential election. Therefore I should judge it a sop to soothe German home politics – now that things are growing so disastrous on the Somme.

I went last Friday to see the German “Albatross” (captured by us on 15 October last year) which the WO has presented to the University. It is said to be a fine specimen, tho’ the class has been cut out since. I was very little impressed. For one thing it was so much smaller than I expected – a snout nosed, biplane, 2 seater.

We have had 2 Zepp raids since my last letter. I slept peacefully through both. In the latter of the two the Zepp dropped a starshell on Grantchester: and then passed over Barton Road, probably over our own garden, for Prof. Stanley Gardiner (opposite us) heard its drone, and turning over in bed said to his wife, “the raid is over – there are the trains running again”. We were at tea in his lovely house and garden yesterday when he told me this…

Brandon, one of the two airmen who got DSO for bringing down the flaming Zepp was at Trinity Hall.

A Tank passed through Camb[ridge] on Friday. The Signora got an amusing letter from one of her brothers at the Front, last Saturday, in which he says of the Tanks, “they are very funny, but the boundless faith in them of the folks at home is even funnier. On the day when they were first used, the Huns ran from them like hares – this, although they were aware of their advent” (clearly, nothing can be kept from the Hun spy). Two are known to have got in once to the place near Thetford where the Tanks were secretly built. To go on with Percy Spencer: “One of these contraptions was observed going through the main street of a captured village with our boys riding all over her and hanging on the back.” His chief praise, however, is for our Aeroplanes. “In the air, the Hun is a nonentity – and he owns it every day” – and I remember how, when he first went out, he used to laugh and vow that he had seen hundreds shot at, but never one brought down!

These submarine brutes, who torpedo ships without warning! Did you notice that the first question asked by the Submarine at Newport was for the Bremen? Why, his Government, weeks ago, published to the world the safe arrival of the Bremen in America. Does he presume to disbelieve his own Government? The Americans honestly know nothing of her, but we in England for some time past have heard it whispered that she is safe at Falmouth. The Falmouth watch for U boats is very strict, and has been (so they boast) inordinately successful. A lady who came back a few weeks ago from a holiday, recounted to me how she was one afternoon walking by the shore when a destroyer tore past her in furious haste, all the funnels vomiting columns of black smoke. No sooner as she past Pendennis Point than the firing began. It died away – and presently, soberly and slowly, the destroyer came back, another destroyer keeping pace, and between them – the German submarine. What wouldn’t I have given for that sight.

I am told – by Ball, so it is likely to be correct – that Trinity expects this term 47 men of all years, including BAs!

The Fellowship dinner was for tonight. It is postponed till Thursday – after the funerals of Keith Lucas (killed from an aeroplane) nd poor Alfred Humphry. He is buried today at Thaxted…

Our most affectionate wishes to you both.
Bild

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

“This neighbourhood is becoming unhealthy for Zepps”

Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Berkshire and Hertfordshire landowner and former Antarctic explorer, witnessed an air raid at close quarters.

Lamer, Oct 2, [1916]
Dear Farrer

I confess my heart stood still for about ½ minute last night as a Zepp passed over the top of the house fairly low. She dropped some 30-40 bombs later & I got a good view of her coming down in flames – so vivid that I fancied I could feel the heat coming from her. This neighbourhood is becoming unhealthy for Zepps; from the course this one took I should say that it intended to avenge the one that was brought down at Cuffley – when we had 3 of them here. …

Yours very sincerely

Apsley Cherry-Garrard

Letter from Apsley Cherry-Garrard (D/EHR/Z9/74)

Shot in cold blood, and now “beyond the reach of human injustice and incompetence”

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image was excited by the new tanks rolling into action; philosophical about air raids – and horrified by first-hand stories of the executions of young men for cowardice or desertion.

29 Barton Road
[Cambridge]

23 Sept. ‘16

Mon Ami!

I share your views about the ghastly War. With its slaughters and its expenditure, where shall we be left after it is over. Any peace that leaves Germany still united – united for evil – is a fool madness that deserves the new War it will render a certainty.

I am in a fever to see the photograph of a Tank in action. I can’t imagine its appearance. I don’t believe them lengthy like caterpillars – but more like mammoths, Behemoths – “painted in venomous reptilian colours” for invisibility – and “waddling on” over trenches.

Today’s paper speaks of a seaplane over Dover yesterday. This is the very general prelude to a Zepp raid: and we expect one accordingly tonight, if their courage hasn’t oozed out. There is a Flying Camp near here – at Thetford, I believe. Daily, Planes soar over us – a sight I view every time with fresh pleasure. Twice we have had an Airship – huge, but not like the pictures of the German Zepps. I may as well tell you of our own experience on Saturday 3 weeks ago. Peaceful and unsuspecting, we were sitting in the drawing room at 10.30 when suddenly the electric lights went down and left the house in darkness. This is the official warning of Zepps. So we went out into Barton Rd. Not a glimmer, nor a sound. Quite unimpressive.

We turned in to bed – all standing (in Navy language) – and I into the deepest slumber, from which I was eventually shaken to hear an agitated voice, “they’re here”. I bundled out, lit a match and read on my watch 2.50. There was no mistaking – a thunderous drone, such as I had never heard before – and, seemingly, exactly overhead. We hurried down into the road. The roar grew fainter, and then began – deep and dignified – the guns. I guessed them to be on the Gogmagogs – then sharp explosions, which we took for bombs, thrown haphazard by the Zepp which was undoubtedly fleeing for the coast.

Robinson’s Zepp had come to earth at 2.30. Possibly ours was the wounded bird, which dropped a gondola or something in Norfolk when making its escape?

At 4.5 our electric lights went up again, and we to bed. Decorous night-rails, this time.

The Signora has a wee aluminium fragment from the Zepp that was brought down at Salonica. It was picked up by a young soldier who had been in her Sunday School Class. We had a sudden visit from her youngest brother, Gilbert, home on 6 days leave from Salonica. You have heard me speak of him as the rising artist who at 20 years of age sold a picture for £100, and is now a Tommy at 1/- a day. I fell in love with him on the spot. So simple, so lovable, – above all, such a child – going about the world unprotected!

By the way Gilbert saw the Zepp come down in flames at Salonica.
He had many yarns. The one that most made me shudder was of the announcement at a morning parade, “Sergeant So-and-so of the Connaught Rangers was shot this morning by sentence of a Court Martial for refusing to obey an order”. Just that! I have heard of these shootings in cold blood, several times, at the Front in France. Always they made me feel sick. A boy (on one occasion) of 17 ½, who had fought magnificently at Hill 60: and then lost his nerve, when his 2 brothers were killed in the trench at his side. Pym (our TCC [Trinity College, Cambridge] chaplain) sat with him all night and gave him the Sacrament. He

“could only feel what a real comfort it was to know that the boy was now beyond the reach of human injustice and incompetence”.

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

Noisy bomb throwing practice

Draycot (later known as Chiseldon) Camp was a few miles away from William Hallam in Swindon.

21st September 1916
Last night the soldiers at Draycott [sic] were practicing with bomb throwing and the noise was so audible here it woke me up. Made up my mind to go to Uffington, in the holidays we are to have at the end of the month; and go to Shellingford and copy down the Inscr. there.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/24)

How to throw bombs

Sydney Spencer was sent for training throwing grenades.

Aug 15 [1916]

Battalion 1296. Lieut Spencer will proceed to Ripon tomorrow to arrange for throwing of bombs by men of this Battalion at present at Ripon.

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

Sore losses

There was painful news for some Maidenhead families.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We deeply regret to record the death of Duncan Wilson, who fell a victim to a bomb dropped from an enemy aeroplane at the Front on July 11th. He was employed at Horlick’s Malted Milk Factory in Slough before joining the ranks and spending his Sundays in Maidenhead was a regular worshipper at our Church. He was a young man of character and promise, and his death is a sore loss to his friends and family.

It is painful too, to hear that Arthur Hedges has been missing since the beginning of July, and that his friends have practically given up hope.

Robert Anderson, who a few months ago received his discharge at the expiration of his term, has been compelled by recent legislation to join up again. John Bolton is in France.

Alas! Since writing the above lines, information has been received of the death of another of our lads. Robert Harris, one of the most devoted members of our Institute, who confessed his faith in Christ by joining the Church about two years ago, was killed by a bomb on July 24th. He was the eldest son of Mr. William Harris, Builder, Holman Leaze, and before enlisting was engaged in the Argus Press Printing Works. He was a young man of most amiable disposition, and was very popular among his fellow members in the Institute. He would have reached his 20th birthday on August 7th.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, August 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

“Very severely wounded in many places by a bursting of a bomb in the trenches”

More men from Winkfield were headed to the Front.

OUR MEN WHO ARE SERVING.

The following have joined His Majesty’s Forces during last month:-

Gunner Albert Jones, Royal Berks. Horse Artillery.
Pte. William Chater, Scots Guards.
Gunner Bernard N. Greatham, Royal Garrison Artillery.
Pte. Frederick Jackman, Royal Engineers.

Let us especially remember just now in our prayers the following who have just left for the Front:-

Pte. Edward Thurmer, Pte. Sidney Thurmer, Pte. Alfred Shefford. Also L.M. Donald Thurmer, who has recently sailed for Mudros, and Pte. Bernard Greatham who has sailed for Garrison duty at Hong Kong.

We regret to announce that Pte. Wilfred Church has been invalided out of the Army; we trust he will soon recover his health and be able again to take up useful work.

Pte. Walter Woodage, 1st Royal Fusiliers, was very severely wounded in many places by a bursting of a bomb in the trenches. He is now in hospital in England and recently wrote to the Vicar saying that he was getting on well, so we trust his recovery will now be rapid.
We are sorry to hear that Pte. James Moir was severely wounded in the campaign in East Africa, but he is now reported to as doing well. His brother, Pte. Joseph Moir, we welcome home on a well earned leave of several months and look forward to having the benefit of his services again to the choir.

Winkfield section of Warfield District Magazine, July 2016 (D/P151/28A/8/7)

Great push begun

There was a mixture of tragedy close to home and better news of the war as a whole.

26 June 1916

Charley Paine & young Sweet killed! He flying. Charlie bombing.
Hear Lille is taken by us! Rumour not confirmed. Hear no letters to come from the Front – great push begun.

Hear Admiral Beattie said 6 big battleships, 7 cruisers, 20 destroyers gone down of enemy in Jutland battle. Hear mist helped us. Our big battleships able to come in range & did terrible damage in 10 minutes.

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

“It is appalling these awful losses, goodness knows where we find all the officers”

Two of Ralph Glyn’s fellow officers wrote to him with their opinions on the war.

June 20th [1916]
Dear Glyn

Very many thanks for your letter. I was very pleased to hear from you. Georgevitch has evidently done something to get himself into very hot water, I believe the question of decorations has something to do with it, anyhow he is absolutely shelved. You will have heard that a Colonel Nikolauivitch has been appointed Military Attache in London; it is just as well no one proposed Georgevitch for there, as he would have been refused. When they were discussing the question of who to send, they privately asked me & I suggested G, but was at once told that his name would not be entertained for a moment. I fear that there is nothing more that can be done for him. He got into trouble once before I understand over his treatment of his soldiers, & was for this reason only not with a battery in the Field Army.

It is appalling these awful losses, goodness knows where we find all the officers. Still one hopes on the whole the thing is going well though slowly.

I am glad to say I am better, though I have had a bit of [fun?] lately, everyone is having it too. [Hemlis?] & his division have left as you will have heard, most of them I believe going to help at Malta & elsewhere. The country is [illegible] fun from Typhus now, & there is a general air of cleanliness & sanitation about. All his troops practically are inoculated against Cholera.

My wife has been in the North all this time working up relief funds for Serbia, & has collected quite a lot of money; so anyhow you would not have had a chance of meeting her, thanks very much all the same. Things are very quiet here, but I am busy enough with wires & things the WO want. We were visited by 3 Austro-German aeroplanes the other day who dropped some bombs & made a lot of noise, but did not do much damage. We bagged one on its way back.
Wishing you the best of luck.

Yrs sincerely
Arthur Harrison

(more…)

A terrible price – are we worth it?

Eric Guy Sutton, a member of the wealthy family which owned Sutton’s Seeds, Reading’s iconic horticultural business, had joined up soon after the start of the war. He was awarded the Military Cross a year later for saving a fellow soldier’s life, but was killed in action in April 1916. His home church, St John’s, was devastated by the news.

It was with great sorrow and deep sympathy for the bereaved family that we heard of the death of Lieut. E. G. Sutton. This most promising young officer, who had already been awarded the Military Cross for an act of great courage and self-sacrifice, was killed on Saturday, April 8th, in the gallant performance of his duty. We shall hope to publish some details of his career in the next issue of the magazine.

“Ye are not your own. You are bought with a price” (1 Cor VI.20)
Most of us were moved, I think, a few weeks ago by a story of almost unexampled heroism given in a list of recently conferred V.C.’s. A young officer attempted to throw a bomb into the enemy’s trench. The missile, however, struck his own parapet and fell in to his own trench. The officer cried a warning to his comrades and himself sprang back into safety, but then noting that his warning had been unheeded, turned back, flung himself upon the bomb and was destroyed by its explosion. And I wonder what were the feelings of his comrades and whether the thought of our text came into their minds, and they said to themselves: “We are not our own, we have been bought with a price.” And I wonder how many of us at home had the same thought in our minds as we read the account, or whether we have ever sufficiently thought at all that not to one such glorious act of heroism, but to countless splendid and ungrudging acts of devotion, do we owe today the security of our shores, the air we breathe untainted by foul poison emanations, the food we eat unstinted in quantity, our women their honour, our children their deliverance from brutality, our old people the quiet, even tenor of their placid lives, and all of us our immunity from the horrors that have desolated Belgium and Poland and Serbia.

We are bought with a price! Who will deny it? Vicarious suffering! Vicarious death!, say some. “We can’t understand it, we can’t accept it!” To such, I say: Alas for the poverty of your intellect and the hardness of your heart, when the very thing is happening today before your very eyes and crying to your souls. When not one minute passes, but even now in France, in Russia, on the seas, wherever the ceaseless battle rages, a man dies that other men may live. We are bought with a price, and day by day in that pitiful concentration of tragedy we know as the casualty list, the bill is presented, and every now and then, at longer intervals, the account is rendered up to date. And how stands it today? Some half a million of Englishmen slain, mutilated, sick, languishing in pestilent Wittenberg prison camps – for us. Mown down by machine guns, crashing from the air in the shattered aeroplane, settling to the ocean-bed in the sunken submarine, buried beneath the soil, buried beneath the waves, unburied in the hideous no-man’s-land between the trenches, tossing in our hospitals, limping about our streets, cry of the wounded and sob of the broken of heart, laughing boys who do not know what awaits them, grave-faced men who do, going forth in courage to do their part – behold the price that is paid; the price that is paid for us; in virtue of which we sit tranquilly in this church this morning, and shall walk tranquilly home to our tranquil and ample dinners.

(more…)

Sinn Fein in Dublin

Florence Vansittart Neale was glued to news reports of the Easter Rising in Ireland as well as war news. She was actually wrong, as Sinn Fein played no role in the Easter Rising.

25 April 1916

Evening papers full of interest Dublin rising “Sinn Feins”. P.O. seized…

Also bomb of Lowestoft & German ships came out.

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

Good at throwing bombs

Sydney Spencer was the star of his bomb throwing training course.

April 15th

Battalion orders 591, Godstone.

Lt S Spencer obtained a Brigade Bombing Certificate at Godstone Bomb throwing School. The Commanding Officer wishes to congratulate this officer on his exceedingly good report.

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

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)