“No wonder the Australians are No. 1 on the Hun blacklist”

Percy told sister Florence about a day off – visiting friends in the trenches.

June 17, 1918
My dear WF

I must have written you a pippy letter – a poor return for all you do for me. I’m sorry.

Many thanks for the splendid tinder lighter and the other items in the parcel. I think I must have left several pairs of socks at 27 Tattray Road, as I do not recognise those you have sent. You are quite right, it wasn’t eyelets but “the things you twist the laces round” I wanted.

I’m still here amongst the strange insects. Never have I seen such a variety of dragonflies, and just now a pair of very large gaudy yellow birds I can’t give a name to came & had a battle outside this bivouac.

Yesterday I had a rather hard but jolly holiday. I got up about 6 am, nightingales singing gloriously, had brekker, and started off up the line with my batman. Just as I started the Huns commenced to shell the village nearby I was going through, which I thought was very thoughtful of them as it gave me an opportunity to go by another route and avoid the place. After a couple of hours walk through charming scenery and peaceful valleys I arrived at my destination. I had only intended stopping an hour, but eventually stopped all day. To lunch so that I could first go round the trenches and see the boys. To tea so that I could play bridge with the CO. Walking across country, taking short cuts and dodging unhealthy places is awfully tiring so I slept gloriously last night and got up late.

Enclosed for John’s edification I send you a note from my rough diamond No. 6 [not found in the archive]. No wonder the Australians are No. 1 on the Hun blacklist.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/45-46)

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“We had a sort of bet as to whether I should scream or not. I didn’t so I won!”

Sydney’s soldiers were not keeping up to the standard he wanted. To make matters worse, he had toothache.

Sydney Spencer
Wednesday 29 May 1918

Got up at 7.45 am. After breakfast on parade at 9 am. Inspected platoon. It was dirty.

At 9.30 to platoon & tried to get them ready for company inspection. The Gods were against me. Sergeant Leigh was Battalion Orderly Sergeant, & Corporal Wise was company orderly sergeant. Net result, inspection, despite my immortal efforts to get the men clean, a ‘fiasco’. Let down by one man with a dirty bayonet.

After lunch sat & waited for orders to come through about fires. There arrived at 3.30 & we all proceeded to write them out. I live in tents, mark you, & I have to hang up orders reference woodwork (being stoves) being inspected if orders about asbestos floorings etc [sic]!

After tea I took the bull by the horns, in other words I visited the American MO & he tugged out my bad tooth. He had two tries & got it out. We had a sort of bet as to whether I should scream or not. I didn’t so I won!

Percy Spencer
29 May 1918

A lovely day. Our planes very active over Bosch lines. We move today. Played bridge with Major P[arish] as partner until relieved. We won, altho’ I didn’t call but once.

Florence Vansittart Neale
29 May 1918

News not very reassuring – but line not broken.

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

A marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons

Percy Spencer was having difficulty getting his commission organised. He wrote to Florence with the latest news – and a story from the Somme.

May 1, 1917

My dear WF

Isn’t it perfect weather!

And that’s just about all that’s perfect hereaway.

Thank you for all your frequent letters: they’re so refreshing. Your last about [censored] is too delightful. I sometimes quote extracts from your letters to the Mess, so you see you’re helping to cheer more than one lonely soldier. Your jokes are always hugely appreciated.

Tonight I am going to a town some miles back to drive with the original officers and sergeants of my old Battalion. I thought it was very kind of them to remember me as I have had so little to do with them.

And tomorrow I have to go and see a still greater brass hat about my commission. I have an idea that there is no intention to hurry my affairs, the reason being, of course, that my experience & weight here are difficult to replace. However sooner or later I expect I shall be an officer or an angel – I have had thoughts of becoming the latter quite frequently of late.

Rene Hunt tells me that [Percy’s brother] Horace is going to apply for a commission.

Before I forget it I must tell you a story of the Somme battle last year.

Our Headquarters were in some ruins off a very narrow and deep lane. On one side of the lane was a series of small splinter proof dugouts; on the other side a battery of guns. One of the splinter proofs just opposite a gun was occupied by “Baby” Huish, the Surrey cricketer (a splendid raconteur). “Baby” tells me that one morning, annoyed by a fellow walking about on his roof and throwing off portions of its brick and sandbag cover, he crawled out and asked the man what he thought he was doing. The man, ignoring him, continued to clear material from his roof and then turning towards the gun hailed the gunner in his gun pit. “How’s that, Bill, can you clear ‘er na?” Voice from gun pit – “Yes, that’ll be all right if we don’t ‘ave to drop below eighteen ‘undered”. Exit Baby to safer quarters.

A sad thing has happened to us. The rum issue has ceased, leaving us with a stock of lemons and a supply of all spice, cloves and cinnamon, no more rubbers of bridge and rum punch nightcaps. Jerome K Jerome’s “Told after supper” is nothing to our experiences in punch brewing – we can all make one pretty well, but there are some – well, I’m reckoned an expert.

A short time ago when moving into the line, the Signalling Officer noticed an ammunition box. “What’s that?” he asked. “Oh, that”, replied an innocent telegraphist, “is a test box Sapper Newport is making”. “Is it, I should like to see that”, said the officer, and opening the box all eager to examine the boy’s clever work (and he is clever) discovered a marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons!

But, alas, those days are over – over for good I hope.

Well, dear girl, goodbye.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/30-32)

“Most all my friends have been killed in this ghastly war” – and the peace will be worse

A lady acquaintance of Ralph Glyn was deeply depressed by the losses of the war and the prospects for the future. Ralph was not to marry until some years after the war (1921), when he married a war widow, Sibell Long, nee Van den Bempde-Johnson, whose husband was killed in January 1917.

Hotel Brighton
218, rue du Rivoli – Paris

Your two notes were muchly enjoyed, dear old fellow, even if I have been so silent.

At the above address I have been with my offspring and her governess since the end of November. Why? I came over to join my family at The Riviera, got this far and decided my mood required work rather than idleness, so have been here ever since and shall remain here in all probability until about end of May before crossing over to England again – so, if you receive this before seeing the “[illegible] poplars” try to stop off here a few days and tell me the exciting news in detail about your contemplation of matrimony: who is she, etc. You don’t sound terribly elated over this idea; the reason being dislike of work-house! Better keep it a secret from [Mor?]; the idea would not flatter her conceit much. Are you in earnest, or has the war & heat gone to the canny Scotchman’s head?

Of news, doubtless I must leave lots for the days fly by and I manage to accomplish nothing or at least very little that I intend, which annoys me intensely – but really they all seem alike, remarkably monotonous – life is an existence one must “carry on” and it is a borne – you see I, too, am depressed – for like you, most all my friends have been killed in this ghastly war. And one’s friends gone, of what good is it all, even when peace does come – in fact, I think it will almost be worse – re-construction is always the hardest period.

Your brothers-in-law, they are safe I hope! Remember me to your [illegible – little?] sisters when you write. I like specially Mrs Meade. She has an unusual amount of charm. “Sister Maude” is playing golf daily at Monte Carlo, etc. It sounds so nice & peaceful I wish I could do it, but it only makes me more restless and gives me furiously to think.

I have been offered a job on a sanitary train (ambulance), French, to be an auxiliarer [sic]. It goes up to the front & brings the men back to the different bases. That means working on it one month & resting one month & so on. But it also means binding myself to remain here for a definite number of months – so I must give it thought on account of my daughter, who, by the way, goes to school each morning as well as having a governess, and just think, she will be seven next week, the 15th. How aged I must be, also to return to the topic of my work, I don’t think my nursing abilities are very strong – do you? I can see you now giving way to shrieks of merriment over my entering Charing X Hospital. How long ago that seems!

Have you read the First Hundred Thousand by Ian Hay? It is about IE’s (1) and very amusing as well as interesting. Cyprian Bridge sent it over to me with a couple of others – get it, if you can.

Now good-night, it’s nearly eleven & I have a strong inclination to snuggle down in the cushions & go to dreamland – for I must confess to scribbling this in bed.

Write me soon again.

Good-luck!

Ethel [Furtlingham?]
10 March 1916

PS You ask me for future plans. I confess to none, I live for the day – maybe one day, tomorrow will look less grey – in the meantime I still laugh, because I was so made – at my christening the fairly godmother gave me two invaluable possessions, a sense of humour and a “joie de vivre” – and even with most of my friends dead I still have those traits – tho’ they are a bit dim at times. Sorry to have written you such a cheerless letter – promise not to again! And now, really, “au revoir” until I get your next letter.

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/16)

Red Cross training funds raised

The Red Cross class in Wargrave raised funds to keep going by playing cards.

On Thursday February 11th, a Whist Drive was held in connection with the Red Cross Society Class now being delighted with the arrangements made for them. The prize winners were Mrs. Baxter and Mr. Murkett, for the highest; Mrs. Prater and Mr. J. Brant, mystery number; and Mrs. Goodal and Mr. Roberts, for Bridge, respectively. The arrangements were carried out by a Committee of Class, including Mrs. Butterworth, Mrs. Firbank, Mrs Dulley, Mrs. Mead, Miss Lovell and Miss Oliver, and Mr. Butterworth, assisted by Mrs. A. Whitbread, Mr. Wrigley, and Mr. T. Whitbread. It is expected that the funds will be augmented by over £2. 10s. 0d.

Wargrave parish magazine, March 1915 (D/P145/28A/31)