A right little, tight little house with sandbag entrance steps and a strong sense of security

Percy Spencer told his sister Florence al about the cosy way he and a comrade had improved his current trench.

1.ii.18

Dear WF

Well, how are domestic affairs going?

We’re getting on quite well. Little by little we’re improving our “home”. Having been well strafed the other day, the map expert and I set to work to build a wall of sandbags at our end of the dugout. It’s now a right little, tight little house with sandbag entrance steps and a strong sense of security. Also we’ve got wooden gratings laid in the trenches, so we’re not so much in the mud as we were, and our home is greatly improved. You’d be surprised how each day “we” (that’s my brainy map expert assistant) make little improvements in ways and means. Now we each have a board bed off the ground, & a canvas bucket wash has taken the place of a teacup wash – by the way what would they say at home if I arose, cleaned my teeth, shaved, washed and breakfasted all from the same tin mug you sent me? But as I say, we’re gradually changing all that for the better. We took over a dirty untidy dugout open to the wind and the weather: we shall hand over a tidy, weather proof and shell proof residence, and I’m glad we shan’t hand it over to the people who left us such a miserable legacy. The best souvenir we found when digging to level the earth was a German officer’s revolver loaded in two chambers, one bullet having been bored at the top to make it a dum-dum. I wish I could have kept it and sent it you.

I’ve just been arranging a mouse trap on the tip cat system. We’ve made a beauty and the map expert with a bloodthirsty glint in his eye is toasting some cheese in the candle.
[Censored]

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/93)

“The villages have been ruthlessly pillaged, burnt, and razed to the ground”

A Reading man writes of his latest experiences at the front – and the death of a friend.

Our “Boys”

This terrible war has taken from us yet another of our brave soldier lads. Horace Pinker, who quite recently lost his brother and mother, was killed in France on the 5th of April. May the God of all comfort be very near to his father, sisters and brother – to console them in their keen sorrow!

The following extract from a letter sent by Eric Chapman to his mother is especially interesting, as it refers to the circumstances and death of his friend:-

“To return to my personal doings, it is unnecessary of course for me to allude to the German retirement on the western front, seeing that the papers are full of it. As you must have guessed, this has made a great difference to our lives, as we have had to be constantly hot on their heels. At times we come to close quarters with them, but on the whole they do not show much fight, and easily surrender or retire. The country over which we are advancing has been most thoroughly and diabolically destroyed. The villages have been ruthlessly pillaged, burnt, and razed to the ground. Not a thing of any value has been left behind by these barbarians. Even the young fruit trees have been deliberately maimed and rendered incapable of bearing fruit. Naturally this has made it most hard for us following in their tracks, as they intended it should, but we are able to overcome all difficulties and continue our victorious advance. There is not the slightest doubt we are winning by force of arms and smashing the Huns back to their own country. May the end come suddenly and speedily!

“Our battalion has just returned from a special attack, in which it distinguished itself, and about which the Colonel has given permission to write, so I am quite in order in relating a few facts without giving valuable information away. Our objective was a large village, fortified and held by the Huns. We commenced the attack in the early hours of the morning, and had to advance a distance of over 2,000 yards, before we came to grips with the enemy. It was snowing slightly at the time and a thin layer covered the ground as the men moved forward in waves to the attack. After we got fairly going I felt strangely exhilarated, and, much to my surprize quite unconcerned by the possibility of danger. The Huns yelled when they saw us coming, but our fellows yelled still louder, and never wavered a moment under the enemy’s fire. Barbed wire impeded our movements to a small extent, but in short time we had reached the village and were careering like mad through the streets. The Huns did not stand a ghost of a chance then, as our men paid back old scores, and in a few seconds they were doing their best to retreat. Many got back to tell the tale to Hindenburg, but I am thankful to say many not. It was not long before the whole village was in our hands, and after we had consolidated our gain we had some sport looking for souvenirs. The most interesting thing to us was the Germans’ rations which they left behind. Some of the men ate them, but although I am not dainty on this job, I did not have! The meat looked tempting enough, but had the undoubted characteristics of worn-out cab horse!

“I am glad to say our casualties on this occasion were comparatively few, although I regret to have to relate the death in action of Horace Pinker. He was killed by a bullet, and died before the stretcher–bearers could get him to the dressing station. It is very sad for his people, but they can have the satisfaction of knowing that he died bravely and nobly, and was accorded a decent burial.”

It has long been felt that we have not done all that we might for those of our numbers who are taking part in this bitter struggle. At Christmas our young people collected enough to send parcels to all on the Institute Roll of Honour. Now it is wished to do the same for the others, and the kind help and generous support of all our friends if asked. We feel confident that this appeal will not be made in vain! Contributions may be sent to Miss Gough, Mrs. Hamilton Moss, Mrs. Streeter, or Miss Austin.

Trinity Congregational magazine, May 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

A wonderful escape from death

Several Winkfield men had suffered severe wounds.

OUR MEN WHO ARE SERVING.

Lieut. George Ferard has been severely wounded; he had a wonderful escape from death, for not only has he bullets in both thighs, and was shot through the arm, but he also had 5 bullets through his clothes and his revolver smashed by another. He is now in Hospital in England, and we rejoice to learn that he is doing well.

Lance-Corporal Wallace Nickless has been invalided out of the Army, for the wound in his left hand has rendered it useless for military service. Private Alfred Thurmer has also received his discharge through ill health, and we trust that both will find suitable and useful work.

Winkfeld section of Winkfield District Magazine, May 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/5)

“No other companion than the spit of rifle bullets”

Officer Sydney Spencer was training in musketry at home, and struggling with giving up smoking – a habit enjoyed by most of his fellow-officers. He wrote to his sister Florence to describe a typical day for him – and his cosy quarters.

Hillsboro Barracks
Sheffield

Jan 23rd 1917

My Dearest Sister

First of all let me say that my cold has entirely vanished & am feeling very well & fit & happy. Also you will be glad to know that I have really absolutely conquered my desire to smoke & have given it up. You know the Dr told me to give it up. Well I found it far easier said than done. I tried cutting myself down & when out in the slush & cold absolutely yearned & yearned for it until I was utterly miserably knuckled under & smoked! Well I got so peevish with myself for not apparently having the will power to give up smoking that I suddenly got up on my [illegible] legs & took & swore a big swear, that I would not smoke another cigarette & that is three days ago. It is such a tragedy that I can’t be writing about it. Now Madame do not laugh at me. It is a tragedy & so you would say too, of you knew what a consolation smoking had become to me. After dinner at night & everyone expands into the smoking attitude both physically & mentally, I simply groan inwardly & look with dumb longing at the fragrant cloud of tobacco coming from my neighbour’s mouth & wish & wish & wish until we rise from dinner when I escape & get something to read, or write to sweet sisters to attract my attention away. There now, what do you think of that for a model confession, and does my sweet content condone with or scold her brer Sydney?

One has a very full day out on snowcapped Derbyshire hills, lately with no other companion than the spit of rifle bullets (we are firing a G. Musketry course & I have 28 men at my firing points) & numbers of grouse. Programme for day: Rise 6.30, Breakfast 7. [Tram] 4 miles, march 4 miles. Firing course & freezing till 2.45. 4 mile march & tram 4 miles home. Evening, making up scores & filling in numerous Army Forms this & Army Forms that. Dinner 7.30. After dinner & delicious warm bath in camp bath, by my fire & snuggle in my armchair in my pyjamas when I write one letter (I am becoming a model letter writer once more), read a little – Black Tulip of Dumas at present, just read ‘Dead Souls’ by Gogol, & Pendennis – Thackeray – & then bed.

I have been much in luck lately. My bare room has become adorned with a large square carpet & a cushioned basketchair. Both from billiard room of mess which has been furnished with Billiard Table & so has no need of carpet & chair. Mother mine is sending me some of my photos of my friends to hang on my walls & that will make them a little less bare than they are at present.

[Letter ends here]

Letter from Sydney Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/8/2/8)

Swimming, sliding, gliding and staggering along the trenches

Percy Spencer wrote to his new brother in law with a vivid description of life in the muddy trenches.

26.10.15
Dear Mr Image

Almost it seems another world that last I saw you in. we move so often and crowd so many events into our time that the clock seems to have more hours in it nowadays than in ordinary peaceful times.

Here I am in a long lean dugout made by the Huns. [Censored.]

Being in a Hun’s trench naturally the parados [sic] is our screen from the enemy. And that makes life fairly exciting, for the parados is very low in places with here and there a gap. Bullets are plentiful and shells quite frequent, but at present we are all here still and keeping fit. You can’t be anything else while life overhead is so exciting, and life underfoot is equally so, for swimming, sliding, gliding and staggering along the trenches the slightest error will land you at the bottom of a shoot 15 or 20 feet deep – German funk holes scarcely wide enough to admit a man, diving steeply into the bowels of the earth: a tribute to the power of our artillery.

Another thing that strikes one is this evidence of the Huns to stay for the duration of the War. The officers’ dug-outs are walled, floored and ceiled with wood – spacious beds are built between walls at either end. The walls are papered with a cheerful pattern; the ceiling is also papered. Between beds 2 small tables, a couple of chairs, a comfortable arm chair and a full length mirror. On the floor oil cloth – on the walls a few pictures. A stove with flue carried up and through the wall heats the room. The trench leading down to this palace is floored with wood gratings: at the entrance door there is a good scraper – overhead a porch formed with a circular sheet of corrugated iron – “Home from home”.

Well, we’ve run up against a pretty rotten kind of existence as the result of our “push”, but no doubt if this war goes on through the winter which God forbid, when our line is straightened and settled down we shall get better quarters. At present we are “fighting” our men from pretty close up.

This morning I went round the reserve lines with the Brigadier and at one point got well “strafed”.

The reason apparently was a man standing in full view of the Huns on his parapet. He was looking for a bottle of rum another had taken from him and thrown over the parapet. Queer how men will risk their own and others’ lives.

Well, we’ve a strange collection of men and I find them a humorous one too. We all get as much fun out of this life as we can and the dry hunour of our Signal Section is a constant source of amusement to me. One “Taffy” speaks a weird language he describes as pure English. He’s been advised to have a phonetic vocabulary printed down one side of his tunic with the English equivalent opposite, so that we should only have to run our fingers down until we came to the sound he was making. He’s not at all pleased.

It’s 11.30 pip emma as the Signallers say, so good night my dear friend.

With love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/10/11)

“You will be proud of our boys when I tell of the splendid way they went over the top”

The first bloody day of the Battle of the Somme”>Battle of the Somme was described to Earley churchgoers by one of their lads who was wounded that day.

The Great Attack of July 1st

One of our old CLB and Sunday School boys now wounded writes:

My wound is most serious and I progress favourably. I still have bullet in my leg though, but am going to have it taken out soon. You will be proud of our boys when I tell of the splendid way they went over the top. We had a busy and sleepless night on the Friday. We all knew what the morrow meant, and were waiting in eager anticipation of coming to grips: it is a feeling which comes over you suddenly and makes you see red. Well, we saw red.

At 7.30 our colonel blew the whistle, and the line advanced. It was splendid; looking right and left, one could see a single even line “charging” at the walk. We were the first line over. Their artillery had been smashed by ours before, but oh! the machine gun fire we came under was hell itself, and we suffered.

When we got to the German line the enemy dead were piled in heaps; the sight was awful, but our boys stuck it and were just as though on the parade ground. It was a spirit never to be forgotten. We had captured three of their lines before I was hit. It was bloody work indeed, they do not like our bayonet at all, and I managed to get back to our lines after two hours struggle for the German machine gunners are cowards; if they saw a wounded man crawling back to safety, or in a shell hole, they would train their guns on him and give him an unpleasant time. This was one of my experiences; I got through though.

A Newbury man was among the many reported missing:

We deeply regret to hear that 2nd Lieut. Basil Henry Belcher has been reported missing in France after an attack on July 1st.

Meanwhile Florence Vansittart Neale was optimistic back home in Bisham.

1 July 1916
The great push began – we took La Boiselle. Going on well.

Earley parish magazine, September 1916 (D/P192/28A/14); Newbury parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P89/28A/13); Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Patriotism is not enough

The Maidenhead parish magazine included various inspiring stories arising from the war, some well known today like that of Edith Cavell, other less so.

Sons of the Clergy.

All classes of the community have vied with each other in manifesting courageous self-sacrifice in the nation’s hour of need. But without drawing undue distinctions it is generally admitted that the sons of the clergy have been conspicuous in the Roll of Honour throughout the War. Week after week the long list of names appearing in the Church newspapers bear eloquent testimony to this fact. The work of the clergy in ministering to those left behind in a variety of ways has been of the greatest value.

“How Can I Help England – Say?”

Miss Helena L. Powell, the Principal of St. Mary’s College, Lancaster Gate, has written an earnest and helpful leaflet for children, showing how children can help in the War. It is addressed to the elder children in our Day and Sunday Schools, and copies required for distribution to these may be had free of charge from Miss Edith Neville, Banstead Place, Banstead, Surrey.

A Daughter of the Parsonage.

Edith Cavell, Directrice d’Ecole des Infirmières, Brussels, who was shot by order of Court-Martial in Brussels on a charge of aiding the escape over the frontier of British, French and Belgian soldiers, was the daughter of the late Rev. Frederick Cavell, Vicar of Swardeston, Norfolk. She was formerly a nurse in the London Hospital. In 1907 she went to Brussels, and when the Germans entered the city she refused to leave.

The Rev H. S. Gahan, British Chaplain at Brussels, has given a touching account of her last hours.

“She said, ‘I have no fear nor shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me.’ She further said, ‘I thank God for this ten weeks’ quiet before the end. Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty. This time of rest has been a great mercy. They have all been very kind to me here. But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’

We partook of Holy Communion together, and she received the Gospel message of consolation with all her heart. At the close of the little service I began to repeat the words ‘Abide with Me,’ and she joined softly in the end. We sat quietly talking until it was time for me to go. She gave me parting messages for relations and friends. She spoke of her soul’s needs at the moment, and she received the assurance of God’s Words as only the Christian can do.”

(more…)

“Why is the atmosphere of life more cheerful nearer to all the horrors and ugliness of modern war than it is behind?”

Ralph Glyn had political ambitions, and the College constituency in Glasgow was being nursed for him. He had narrowly lost the 1910 election to a Liberal (he was a Conservative/Unionist). While serving in the army he delivered a lengthy statement to those he viewed as future constituents. Unfortunately for him and all his work, the constituency was abolished before the 1918 election. The paper itself, however, is an interesting insight into the views of an intelligent officer into attitudes at home and at the front.

GHQ
MEF
November 1915

I have been asked by one or two friends in the College Division to write a letter that may be a link between so many old friends of those former days, when Peace was not understood, and myself. To do this as I would wish by personal letter my work here will not allow. I must ask everyone who reads these lines to believe how sincere are my wishes for as happy a New Year as these days permits to be theirs.

I write these lines because I have always been open with my friends in Glasgow, and I believe you will all understand how it is impossible to write “news”.

There are many who have been all the time in France, or in Gallipoli, whilst some have been in both theatres of operations; but there are few officers now who have not spent some time at home, either wounded, or on leave or duty, and so it is possible to take a comprehensive survey of men, matters and means.

The newspapers are the only medium between the Public and events that happen behind the veil of the censor. Letters from friends and relations pass from the Front to those at home producing for a period a clear gleam of light – sometimes too vivid – of what is fact and reality at one small point of that vague term “The Front”. The days are shortening, the winter with all its horrors is close upon us and we are all well aware that if only something could be lifted the Future would be brighter and more easy to face. To arrive at any satisfactory conclusion we must try and see things as they are – undisguised but very possibly naked and ashamed. No time should be lost in establishing both at “the front” and at “the back” a “New Feeling” based upon the firm belief that at last true bearings have been taken, the clouds have lifted and the sun seen long enough to enable the exact position of the ship to be located, and that each and all having but the one port open to them are determined, in spite of all stress of weather, to reach their destination without undue delay.

Why is the atmosphere of life more cheerful nearer to all the horrors and ugliness of modern war than it is behind? There is nothing in any trench in France or Gallipoli to equal the gloom of many a house at home. The individual man is happy when he knows he is doing “his bit” and has that feeling down his back of something worthy of accomplishment being well done. But this same feeling should animate those miners, munition-workers, ship-builders and all that other host at home, whose work is as vital to the war’s success as any gallant action in the trenches. Why is there this feeling of unrest and mistrust in so many quarters? “Out here”, be it in France or Gallipoli, this war acts in one way all the time and without variation. The Regular Army has almost ceased to exist as it was before the war. Officers and men have fallen and others have taken their place. The tradition of a great regiment holds all the new comers in its sway and the magic mantle of “esprit de corps” stirs through the new blood of the recruit, officer and man, tempering and making him part of the original stock. The Reserve ceased to exist when war began; because by our system the fighting force of the country, Regular and Reserve, were and are one and indivisible. Any gunner will tell you that had it not been for the “dug out” the new armies could not have been born. The “dug out” has much to bear from the gibes of younger men who too often assume that all “dug outs” must be musty and old, stupid and out of date, but he can console himself with the knowledge that without him the Regular serving soldiers could not have kept the machine running.
(more…)

Home from home in a German dugout

Percy Spencer wrote to his new brother in law John Maxwell Image with his impressions of trench life – and the captured German trench he was now in.

26.10.15
Dear Mr Image

Almost it seems another world that last I saw you in. We move so often and crowd so many events into our time that the clock seems to have more hours in it nowadays than in ordinary peaceful times.

Here I am in a long lean dugout made by the Huns. [Censored.] Being in a Hun’s trench naturally the parados [sic] is our screen from the enemy. And that makes life fairly exciting for the parados is very low in places with here and there a gap. Bullets are plentiful and shells quite frequent, but at present we are all here still and keeping fit. You can’t be anything else while life overhead is so exciting, and life underfoot is equally so, for swimming, sliding, gliding and staggering along the trenches the slightest error will land you at the bottom of a shoot 15 or 20 feet deep – German funk holes scarcely wide enough to admit a man, diving steeply into the bowels of the earth: a tribute to the power of our artillery.

Another thing that strikes one is this evidence of the Huns to stay for the duration of the War. The officers’ dug-outs are walled, floored and ceiled with wood – spacious beds are built between walls at either end. The walls are papered with a cheerful pattern; the ceiling is also papered. Between beds 2 small tables, a couple of chairs, a comfortable arm chair and a full length mirror. On the floor oil cloth – on the walls a few pictures. A stove with flue carried up and through the wall heats the room. The trench leading down to this palace is floored with wood gratings: at the entrance door there is a good scraper – overhead a porch formed with a circular sheet of corrugated iron – “Home from home”.

Well, we’ve run up against a pretty rotten kind of existence as the result of our “push”, but no doubt if this war goes on through the winter which God forbid, when our line is straightened and settled down we shall get better quarters. At present we are “fighting” our men from pretty close up.

This morning I went round the reserve lines with the Brigadier and at one point got well “strafed”.

The reason apparently was a man standing in full view of the Huns on his parapet. He was looking for a bottle of rum another had taken from him and thrown over the parapet. Queer how men will risk their own and others’ lives.

Well, we’ve a strange collection of men and I find them a humorous one too. We all get as much fun out of this life as we can and the dry hunour of our Signal Section is a constant source of amusement to me. One “Taffy” speaks a weird language he describes as pure English. He’s been advised to have a phonetic vocabulary printed down one side of his tunic with the English equivalent opposite, so that we should only have to run our fingers down until we came to the sound he was making. He’s not at all pleased.

It’s 11.30 pip emma as the Signallers say, so good night my dear friend.

With love to you both
Yours ever

Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/10/11)

“The crack of bombs and the whistle of the bullets”

There was news of a number of wounded men from Ascot. One, Augustus Turner, wrote an illuminating letter about his experiences under heavy fire in the trenches.

We have to record, with regret, the following casualties during the past month.-
Harry Cooper (R. Middlesex Regiment) wounded, now at the Northern General Hospital, Sheffield.
Corporal of the Horse Harry Bonnard (1st Life Guards) wounded.
Captain Sidney Clement (5th Australian Bush Regiment) missing.
James Johnson (1st Life Guards) missing.
Rifleman Augustus Turner (London Irish Rifles) wounded, now in Woolwich Hospital, progressing favourably.
Ernest Oran (1st Life Guards) sick.
Thomas John Minns (1st Batt. R. Berks) wounded.

We give some further extracts from Rifleman Augustus Turner’s interesting letter from the Front.-

“In the evening, by which time we had got accustomed to the noise of bullets and shells and conditions in general, I was one of a party to go sapping. This experience will ever remain in my mind. A sap or a trench had already been dug a distance of about 50 yards from our first trench towards the Germans, and it was our duty to dig still further. I entered the sap first, and when a short distance along a star shell was sent up by the Germans. I’d been warned to keep low when any star shells were sent up so as not to be seen. I did bend down, but almost immediately after the star went up a bomb followed and exploded in the air above me. I don’t remember whether I laid full length on my own accord or really how I got down, but after the bang I found myself lying on my spade measuring my height and a little more perhaps, at the bottom of the sap. The explosion was terrific, it shook the ground and me too, but apart from that I was uninjured. This is just another form of a greeting of the Germans, but in a very short while the crack of bombs and the whistle of the bullets from our men and the ‘Germs’ which passed just above my head, had not the slightest effect and I worked on merrily, smothering myself with clay and throwing above that which didn’t stop on my clothes. It seems strange, but it is quite true that one gets accustomed to the worst of conditions in a very short while.

The sapping continued all night, reliefs taking place of course, and at 3.30a.m. on 12th March, I finished my duty in the sap, when an order was given ‘Rapid fire.’ It continued for an hour, and such a noise is hard to beat. An attack from the Germans was about to take place, but was repelled by this deadly fire. A fellow who dare risk being out in the open under such fire deserves V.C.’s all over him. Just before this hail of lead, an attempt to blow up the trench next to ours by mines, was made; the earth blew up high in all directions, in front of the trench. This made another tremendous report. Morning began to dawn, and things quietened down a bit, and at 9.a.m., on the 12th March we went from the trenches back to our base, after having an experience, which I think, none of us will ever forget.

Our stay in barracks was not for long, for on 13th March we were ordered back to the trenches again for a stay of 24 hours. It is pitiful to see some of the houses- which used-to-be. In villages near the trenches it is one mass of ruin; churches, too, are included. All that remains of what must have been a fine old church is half of the tower. An extraordinary thing in one of these wrecked villages is a beautifully constructed shrine by the roadside. It is practically untouched excepting for a bullet hole just here and there. Needless to say, it attracts everybody’s attention. Our Sunday service was conducted last Sunday in a modern theatre, built 1912. Holy Communion was celebrated at 8 a.m. on the stage of this theatre, but there not being sufficient room we had to remove the pit. This may strike one as being very curious, but I can say from experience a theatre can be turned into a very fine church. Our chaplain, who is a very pleasant gentleman, officiated.

The soldiers here seem fine fellows. They all look very fit and not a tiny bit perturbed through the war. Fighting has not the tiniest effect upon them apparently. That ‘Use is second nature’ seems perfectly true. This war is a fearful thing, but it is giving us all such an experience and bringing upon most of us such a fine condition of health that if we are spared to see it through we can never forget it. I am indeed sorry to hear of the outbreak of disease at the Ascot Hospital, but am more sorry to know of Miss Blackburn being a victim. I truly hope it will be very soon suppressed. I trust, sir, that my letter will not be boring to you, and in conclusion, I would like to say that I’m longing for the day when I can enter Ascot’s dear old church and thank the Almighty for deliverance and protection from and through this awful and terrible war.

With best wishes for your health and well-being.

I am, sir, yours faithfully,

AUGUSTUS T. TURNER.”

* *

A WORKING PARTY has been held (usually at the Rectory) from August to December, and is now going on. In the first instance the work and a contribution in money was sent to Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild. At the present time we are working for the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (Scottish Women’s Hospitals.) Pyjamas, slippers, and hot water covers are out chief contributions. Units are in France and Serbia. The sun of £41 13s. 3d. has been sent in money: and we have an “Ascot bed” in one of the Hospitals.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine (D/P151/28A/17/6)

Bloodstained souvenirs – and undefeated nightingales

Percy Spencer wrote occasionally to his sister’s friend John Maxwell Image, an elderly Cambridge don. In May 1915 he also sent him some rather gory war souvenirs.

May 19, 1915

Dear Mr Image

I have just sent you these souvenirs – a slim German cartridge, a stout French one and a piece of German shrapnel. I am afraid the bloodstain on the German cartridge has nearly worn off in my pocket, but hope there is still sufficient of it to satisfy your ferocity.

At our last resting place but one the owner of the house showed me his souvenirs and gaining confidence in my discretion as we went along, eventually removed a cabinet and withdrew from behind it a newspaper. Carefully unwrapping it he fairly purred with delight as a British bayonet bloody to the hilt was revealed. I’m sorry you weren’t there, but someday we must all go there together and you & the jolly good fellow who lives there can gloat over all his gory relics. Mademoiselle will join you, I’m sure – a most bloodthirsty damsel.

We captured a couple of Huns the other night and I was at the entertainment we had about 1 a.m. cross examining the fellows. One, a youngster, spoke English very well indeed, and was most interesting. He told us that the Germans didn’t “strafe” England half so much as the papers – in fact it was just a newspaper phrase! [see 10 May for the story being taken seriously].

We’ve had to put up with a good deal of shelling lately and yesterday a couple of 8 lyddites nearly found us. They burst outside the garden of this house but huge chunks of metal were hurled against the walls and over our fellows in the open who threw themselves flat down upon the earth.

Every now and then there’s a hellish bombardment and our house shakes and the papers lying about jerk [illegible] the table. But there’s never too great an inferno to stop the nightingales’ song or to wither the glory of our garden sweet with the scent of lilies of the valley and happy in the joy of sunlit daisies & forget-me-nots. Thank God for that.

On May 9th within 1000 yards of the battle and amidst the most awful din an old farmer strutted out solemnly smoking his pipe and commenced weeding the ground near our dugout where we were hiding from well directed shell fire! Man’s a wonderfully adaptable animal.

Thank you for the token. The play cut is a very nice tobacco, but I’m not to be weaned from my Fryer’s.

Yours ever
Percy J Spencer

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/10/10)