“The role of platonic friend is too difficult for me to sustain”

Percy Spencer found life at his parents emotionally challenging, so fled to his peacetime home in London, which was equally wearing.

27 Rattray Road
Brixton
SW

Decr 15, 1917

My dear WF

Cookham was a nightmare so I fled to London, and there I have been taking Dot out to lunch almost daily. She, I am happy to say, is quite normal again, but still very dependant upon her friends, so I think it has done her good to have me to talk to and detach her thoughts from the Battle of Cambrai. But the role of platonic friend is too difficult for me to sustain for long together, so just as your letter arrived I was writing to tell you that I am returning to 29 and peace on Monday 17th, please.


Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/6/74)

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An air of sadness as nature reclaims the countryside

Percy Spencer shared his sense of an abandoned countryside with expat brother Will.

15 December 1917

A letter from Percy to us both, which I read to Johanna in the verandah after breakfast. After telling us about his rowing experiences [in Cambridge while training as an officer there], he continues:

“At the moment I am on [sic] a loose end, but expect to be in France or elsewhere by the middle of January. Cookham is very empty & silent. There is some compensation in the re-asserted claims of nature in the quiet corners of the earth as man’s claims have slackened, but altogether there is an air of sadness about the countryside, very depressing. I feel the water rat would much prefer to plop hastily into the water at your approach & the moorhen to scuttle jerkily into the reeds, than to feed unmolested & fearless of disturbance.”

So Percy feels that the water rat & the moorhen wish too, that the old times were back. In this feeling that the wild creatures must feel the same as he does, Percy not only shows a deep love of nature & of man, but also something of the imagination of a poet.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)

Shot at dawn for “cowardice” caused by shell shock

John Maxwell Image wrote to his friend W F Smith, who was staying at Hindhead in south west Surrey, not far from the big army camp at Aldershot. Normally very gung-ho in support of the war, Image’s compassion had been aroused by stories of court martials and teenagers shot at dawn. The Revd Thomas Pym (1885-1945), in peacetime the chaplain at Image’s college, was serving as an army chaplain.

29 Barton Rd
6 Dec. ‘17
My very dear old man

The military cars to and fro Aldershot must surely be more or less an interesting sight.

The poor Tommy comes under this [?not clear] penalty quite frequently. Not often from cowardice, poor boy. Most often (I believe) it is from slinking off to some girl in the rear which is called “desertion”, tho’ he would have returned right enough.

Just before I was married there was shown to me a letter from a young Trin. Officer at the Front, describing a visit from one of our Trin. Chaplains, begging this young friend of his to “pray for him”, for he had to pass the night with a boy of 18 who was to be shot at dawn. Pym spoke then of a night with another poor child (of 17!) who had been shot the previous week, for what the CM was pleased to style Cowardice – though he had twice behaved with exceptional bravery, and it was only after seeing his two brothers killed at his side that on this occasion his nerve broke down. In an officer it would have been called “shell-shock”, and the interesting sufferer sent home to a cushy job in England. I know of 2 thus treated. Pym’s words brought the tears to my eyes. I see that he has told the story (slightly altered) in a book that has recently come out by him, Characteristics of the Army in Flanders.

Sir Arthur Yapp at the Guildhall last Friday. The Signora went (non ego) and returned enthusiastic – she and her Cook – over the great man’s dignity and sweetness. That evening he lectured the students (and I believe also them of Girton) in Newnham College – and left by the 9.9 for London.

One remark of his: “The vessels sunk by the U-boats during the week ending Nov. 24 (I forget how many that was) might have carried enough bread to feed Cambridge for nearly 7 years, or enough meat for 8 ½ years, or enough sugar for 64 years.”

He said that Food Tickets have changed Germany to a nation of forgers. He dreaded the like fate for England.

Yours ever
Bild

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

“We are soldiers”: German prisoners refuse to work beside the Conscientious Objectors

German society was even more strongly opposed to pacifists than their English counterparts.

29 Barton Road
13 Nov. ‘17
Desideratissimo

Today she [Florence] has had [visitors including] … one Oldham, a B.A. engaged in war work for aeroplanes.

A General from the Front was lunching in our Combination-room the other day, and said to us that in his section the German prisoners refuse to work beside the Conscientious O.’s “We are soldiers”, they say.

Ten days or so ago, at one of the dinners which the College gives to Cadets on receiving their Commissions, we had a couple of officers of Zouaves as guests. Mumbo (whose health is much improved) proposed their toast in French. Capt. Marcel (he looked a handsome Englishman) responded in his own tongue, and ended with a shout which sent the Cadets wild, “England for ever”!!

What think you of Ll. George’s speech in today’s paper? It is depressing but not depressed. I personally have no fear of any harm except what the English baser natures can induce our Government to do. Surely Russia teaches what must be the result to a nation of slaves who are suddenly emancipated from control. So will it be in Germany until they have settled down. Meanwhile it’s the present English people worth dying for?

Our love to you both.

Always affect. yours Bild.

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

Camouflage with a vengeance

The Images experienced a power cut as a result of an air raid, and heard some interesting Navy news.

29 Barton Road
22 Oct. ‘17
My Most Dear Old Man

On Friday evening we were at dinner – the clock, I remember, was in the middle of striking 8 – when, in a flash, down went the electric light, and up bounced Florence to find whether it was so all through the house. It was! and we had in a candle, to the accompaniment of bombs and anti-aircraft guns, seemingly 2 miles away to the north. I wonder, were they trying for the aerodrome at Hardwick? for they are reported to have attempted that at T in Norfolk. Well, we went unconcernedly to bed, and were awakened by a glare at 2.10 – sign that the raiders were clear of England. But oh how humiliating! They can drop bombs at will, and unharmed, in England. Once cross to France, and they are chivvied and hustled, go wherever they attempt. The French can bring them down. Never has there been such a field day before, for Zepps.

Some friends, fresh from Liverpool, told me the other day of the steady silent inundation of Americans now overflowing the place. Especially of the hundreds upon hundreds of Yankee aeroplanes, beautifully packed, daily landed on the quays.

In one dry dock these people came across a large Yankee man-of-war, painted blue with pink spots (or was it, pink with blue spots. Those were the colours anyhow.) Camouflage with a vengeance: but it has the effect of destroying outlines and muddling them up at a distance. This they observed especially in the case of HMS Ramillies lying out in the stream – a battleship, painted the most bizarre horror, chiefly black and white stripes.

All this is very fine – but as today’s Daily Mail asks, in Italics, ‘Who commands the North Sea?’ The British navy may be the ‘incomparable’ weapon we hear it called, but it is bluffed by the Huns and its convoys and their escort snapped up by a small force of 2 raiders, almost in hearing of the Grand Fleet. The Kaiser’s vaunt of Germany’s future being on the water looks justified – Nelson went to the Gulf of Riga – but we can’t.

Our united love to you both.
Ever yours,
Bild

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

“Hold your hand out naughty boy”

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about his experiences training to be an officer in Cambridge, and getting ticked off.

Oct 9, 1917
My dear WF

Our examination tomorrow is at 5.30 pm, so I am sorry I shall not be able to come up to tea….

Captain Louis has been talking “rowing” to me. He proposes making me Company stroke. I hope to get out of it, but may not as he very flatteringly describes my boat as easily the best, and the best they have seen here for a long time. Goodness knows what the others were like!

Today my platoon talked when marching to attention, so it was punished by being ordered to march a quarter of a mile really at attention. When ordered by the officer at the end of our punishment to “march at ease”, half the platoon immediately sang, “Hold your hand out naughty boy”, and the remainder, “And I don’t suppose we’ll do it again for months and months and months”.

With love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/67)

“I wish I had a hundred like him”

It was good luck that Percy Spencer’s officer training was taking place in Cambridge, at the very college where his brother in law was a don.

29 Barton Road
30 Sept. ‘17

My very dear Old Man

Your school friend, Whitworth, came with two daughters to call upon me the other day. They seemed to take to the Signora – but oh for me! quite casually for he made sure I knew, during tea he mentioned that dear Willy Dobbs [later note by Florence – ‘Brother of Sir Henry Dobbs – son of my husband’s beloved friend’] was dead – killed in action on July 31st. He had in his pocket a letter from the mother, quoting kind phrases – “The best officer in the Regiment” was how they spoke of him. Poor dear Willy! I was mentioning how he had given me the tea-tray on my wedding: and had caused it to be made specially to his pattern – and then Whitworth told me!!!

Florence has a brother of hers [Percy] in No. 5 cadet battalion – quartered in Trinity. You can guess what it is to her – and I love him. The Colonel said to me, “I wish I had a hundred like him” – so modest, so clearheaded – how his men will rely on him! The Company had boatraces last week (they have use of TBC boat house and slips) and Percy Spencer stroked his platoon’s Eight, and won the final.

JMI

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

A German commander with a sense of humour

On their trip to Cornwall, Florence and John Maxwell Image heard an entertaining if unlikely tale.

29 Barton Road
27 Aug. ‘17
My most dear old man

On Thursday to Landsend, stopping our car for tea at the famous Gurrend’s Head. Here was current a pleasing myth. It is a desolate scene, with one tiny farm house and a shabby aleshop calling itself an Inn. To this latter came, recently, an affable stranger in mufti, who called for a drink, wrote his name in the guest book, and went. Not until afterwards was he discovered to have been the Commander of a U-boat in the sea below! That man had a sense of humour.

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

Living at an awful rate

Percy Spencer told his sister Florence about his experiences training as an officer.

No 5 OCB
Room G8
New Court
Trinity College
Cambridge

Aug 18
My dear WF

We’re living at an awful rate and feel very used up at the end of the week. No doubt as soon as we have the rough edges taken off, it won’t be such a physical strain and we shall all be as fit as fiddles.

At the Cadet Club my first cup of coffee was handed to me by the girl you introduced me to. I can’t think of her name.

A wounded soldier has recognised me. I couldn’t remember his name, but being reminded by him that he belonged to the 4th Welsh Fusiliers of our Division, I plunged desperately, addressed him as Sergeant Jones and won….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/65-66)

The chemistry of the gas helmet

After a period training at Kinmel Park in Wales, studying such matters as the workings of the gas helmet issued to troops, Percy Spencer wrote to sister Florence Image with good news.

Aug 10, 1917
My dear WF

Thanks to John my address is
Cadet P J Spencer
B Company
No. 5 Officer Cadet Battalion
Trinity College
Cambridge

All the bad men from Kinmel are here too, so at any rate I feel I shall have a moral advantage.

I’ve just been trying to get the rules and regulations into my head. Luckily I realised early that it couldn’t be done and gave it up….

You are quite right about Kinmel. I was awfully well and jolly there, and look and feel very fit. Even the lectures were entertaining, no matter how dry. For instance one lecturer (a schoolmaster before the war) taking us in musketry, and looking very brainy, explained (in fact he was so pleased with the idea, he explained it twice) that “an explosion is the immediate or spontaneous transition of a solid into a gas. Q.E.D., which those of you who have studied Euclid will know means Quod erat dictum!!!”

We also had some very interesting lectures on the gas or PH ‘Elmet. Really they were not so much lectures on the helmet as they were upon methods of dodging learned recruits. If I am unlucky enough to get hold of some recruit who evinces a knowledge of chemistry, I am to switch off on to the mechanism of the helmet, of which he’ll probably be ignorant, and vice versa. Presumably if one is unlucky enough to be landed with a recruit who knows both the mechanism & the chemistry of the helmet there is nothing to be done but to lead him gently to the gas chamber….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/62-64)

“There are some very tough and rough customers among us”

Percy Spencer thought his old boss might be able to pull a few strings for him. Meanwhile, he was enjoying training with other NCOs selected for promotion.

July 22, 1917
My dear WF

Captain Holliday has just written to tell me he has got a job at Whitehall – a rather private & special job apparently, and he asked me if he could do anything for me. I’ve asked him to try & get me sent to Trinity. I don’t think it is desirable to bother Col Ready any further, do you?

I’m having quite a good time here: the place is very healthy and well organised.

If it’s a question of breeding and education, I shall be all right as there are some very tough and rough customers among us, and very few of them would pull muster in the drawing room.

My room mates are respectively a collier boy, a student for the Baptist Ministry, an accountant, a jeweller, a regular soldier. The last is a fine fellow. Very badly educated and terribly worried by his inclination to swear. Nevertheless he’s a man’s man.

There’s a lot of ragging here. You see we are all pretty senior in rank and a Sergeant Instructor on parade has to stand an awful lot of quiet impudence. However we shall no doubt settle down when we get to our Cadet units.

With my love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/50-52)

“Their language is of the bluest, but their hearts are sound enough”

Percy Spencer reported on his experience in officer training. Most of his fellows had, like himself, been at the front in the other ranks, and been selected for promotion based on merit, rather than the traditional pre-war gentlemen only.

July 17, 1917
My dear WF

My address is No. S/4/087268 Sgt P J Spencer, ASC, Attd C Company, 58th TRB, Sergeants Mess, No 9 Camp, Kinmel Park, Rhyl. That’s all.
And really I think that sums up the horror of this place.

From my very short experience, it seems to be an exceedingly well organised place – the staff are pretty stiff on parade, but jolly good fellows off it.

Just how long I shall be here it is difficult to say. It depends apparently on the needs of Cadet units. Probably I shall not be here more than 2 ½ weeks. But I may be here 6 weeks.

I am told the War Office issues orders as to when and where men are to be sent. So I may possibly still go to Cambridge. Application to the GOC 13th Training Reserve Brigade from Col Ready might possibly be useful, but I don’t think so, as rumour hath it that we ASC people do a special course somewhere in this part of the world. There is also a rumour that some men get 4 days leave from here before joining their Cadet School.

There is an extraordinary mixture of men here. Their language is of the bluest, but their hearts are sound enough….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/46-49)

“Battles are nothing to what I have had to endure the last 4 days”

At last Percy Spencer was on his way back home, to undergo training as an officer in North Wales.

July 2, 1917
My dear WF

At last my soul is my own.

Battles are nothing to what I have had to endure the last 4 days.

Anyhow, here I am, just arrived from Southport with 15 days leave and orders to report on July 16 to GOC 13th Training Reserve Brigade, Kinmel Park, near Rhyl.

I did not receive your letter saying Col Ready had applied for me.

My programme is to go to Cookham for 3 or 4 days or perhaps a week & then I should like to come to you, supposing you’ll have me, and I am not coming to Trinity….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/42)

Remarkably happy & conversational

Percy’s transfer to a commission was now well on rack. Better still, it looked as if he might get to do his training at Trinity College, Cambridge, where brother in law John Maxwell Image was a don.

June 23, 1917
My dear WF

My orders have just come in.

I am due to leave here (and, I expect, to arrive in England) on the 29th inst.

I am then entitled to 14 days leave, and after that, I may get longer leave still (some get months) or I may go straight to a Cadet Corps.

If dear John’s note to Col Ready is successful, I expect I shall go straight to Trinity after my leave.

By the way, I am No S/4/087268 Sgt PJS, 47th Div Train, in case you want this information.

I hope I’ll get thro’ my course all right, but I shall be starting from scratch, so shall have to work jolly hard.

Yesterday I went to a very jolly dinner – we were 16 & we all got remarkably happy & conversational.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/41)

Food ships from America

John Maxwell Image was hopeful that food restrictions might soon be a thing of the past now that the USA was a fully fledged ally.

29 Barton Road
3 June ‘17

Mon frere

Here’s a good news [sic] though (so it be true) which I heard yesterday from young Mike Foster’s American wife – the town holds no other such causeuse – she is a good deal too in the know, and she is quite recently back from the States – well, she told me that things are moving so briskly that by July 1st the American foodships will be coming over to Europe two or three every day…

With all love
Bild

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