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)

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A most queer looking article: first sight of a tank

Percy Spencer was struggling with morale in France, while a tank visited Swindon.

Percy Spencer
29 April 1918

Letter to COs re deficiencies. Battalion moved by lorry to [Warlos?]. Rotten trip. Feeling wretched myself. Had to bolt for it during a check, close to French troops playing games & using [untrailleuse?]. Splendid troops. Long hopped till I caught column. A bad move – billets not fixed up.

William Hallam
29th April 1918

This morning bitterly cold – enough for snow – the wind still N or N.E. I cam home at ½ past 5 to-night and rushed over my tea and washed and dressed and with wife went over Hay Lane into Victoria Rd to see the Tank Julian come down from the Square to the Public Offices. A most queer looking article. I never saw such a crowd in Swindon before. Could hardly move out of the crowd all round the Town Hall when once we got in. The kids and hooligans swarmed up those lime trees round the space at the back and broke them about something scandalous.

Florence Vansittart Neale
29 April 1918
Modeste left. George Harding came to say goodbye. Going depot at Dover. Soldiers came [and] cleared later. Some out on boat, bowls, billiards.

Diaries of Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); William Hallam (D/EX1415/25); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

A lovely afternoon

It was non-stop action at Bisham Abbey, as one party of guests left just as a group of wounded officers arrived for the afternoon. Meanwhile an attempted coup in revolutionary Russia by the head of the armed forces was making the international headlines.

10 September 1917

Canadians left quite early, 7.55…

Played croquet till lunch. Rested after till the 16 wounded arrived.

Lovely afternoon – played bowls. Others went on river. Went about 7.

Kerensky orders Korniloff to give up being C. in C.

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

A “fine display of assmanship” in Earley

Wounded soldiers being nursed in Reading were treated to a party in Earley, complete with a possibly rather overworked donkey.

21st June

The longest Day in summer was the occasion of the entertainment of about 40 wounded soldiers from two of the town hospitals to a garden party at the Vicarage. The hostesses were the members of the Girls’ Club. Of these, with others who were present to assist at the games, there were a goodly number, and although the party amounted to about 100 persons. The manager of Tramways was good enough to provide two cars without charge for the conveyance of the soldiers, and the home send off at 6.30 occasioned quite a flutter in the neighbouring windows.

The soldiers were received by Mrs Norris, as head of the club, and the members at 3pm; and the weather being all that could be wished proceedings opened quietly enough with skittles and bowls for the active, and a rest for such that were tired. But the spirit which moves between guests and hostesses who have not met hitherto, and which is especially welcome on these occasions had not yet arrived. His appearance, however, at a quarter to four was unmistakeable in the form of an ass harnessed to a barrel organ and guided by an Italian, arriving on the lawn suddenly in the midst of the company.

Henceforth the soberness of the games and the sweet music of Mr Cyphus at the piano gave way to donkey rides for nothing accompanied to the familiar airs associated with the streets, and until the tea bell sounded the bowls and the skittles lay idle on the grass. Earlier in the day the girls had decorated the Parish Hall with flags and flowers and had provided a sumptuous tea, of which all partook with great satisfaction. After which the Vicar, on behalf of the hostesses, offered a welcome to the guests of the afternoon. As was fitting he touched lightly both on the grave and gay sides of the occasion, and drew in response an excellent reply from the senior representative from Struan House Hospital which was concluded in much cheering.

The hundred then took up their position on the lawn and submitted themselves to the menacing eye of the camera, which doubtless will on this occasion make us all look beautiful. This ordeal over, and our brother the ass having been refreshed, moreover the courage of those who wished to ride and had no experience of it being quickened by the successful gallops of others – a fine display of assmanship was given especially when the fair rider was supported by footmen on either side: and all went as merry as wedding bells until the inexorable call of time at 6.30. So ended a memorable occasion.


Earley parish magazine, July 1916 (D/P192/28A/14)