French camouflage and courtesy

Sydney Spencer’s stomach upset didn’t make his day any easier.

Sunday 21 July 1918

I had a most interesting day today. I got up at 6.45. Had a snap of breakfast despite my ‘colic’ – to put it politely.

At 8.30 I, with about 14 other officers, went off to a village due east of this village, about 10 kilos via a very roundabout route covering some 20 to 25 miles. Here we went to the [blank]ieme Division HQ French Army. Saw the French positions from Soutien line or purple line. French camouflage wonderful! French colonel’s courtesy more wonderful, chairs under arbour with dainty cup of coffee!

Returned by a blue shaky but wonderful car to lorry & got back to this place of Holy Refuge by 6 pm. My very poor digestion gave me a bad time on that lorry. After dinner I went to bed fairly early. But I sleep very badly these nights, getting little reading.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)

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“Don’t worry, she can’t speak English & I could never make love in French”

Percy Spencer was excited by his sister Florence’s getting a comic article published in Punch, and almost fell in love with a French girl.

July 14, 1918

My dear WF

Another week gone & here I am still at school & beginning to know something about musketry.

I’m very glad to hear Sydney is better again and delighted about the Punch article. Mind you send me a copy of the number.

This week I’ve been feeling very dicky myself. I think I had a touch of this strange fever, but a very slight one. Another officer here, I am sorry to say, has died with it.

Today I have been to a much bombed town near here for a holiday. There is quite a good officers’ club and one can generally meet old friends there and get a good dinner. It’s nice to sit in a pretty garden and receive tea from the fair hands of a wholesome English girl.

Today as you know is France’s National day. I went to the cathedral – which by the way has been rather badly bumped at the eastern end – and listened to a service. The singing was delightful, but it is difficult for me, much as I love the Roman Church’s seriousness, to refrain from smiling at their quaint beadles armed with swords and wearing mighty cocked hats, and at the endless collections.

Another good thing out here is the good nature of all motorists. One sets out to walk anywhere, hails the first car or bus or lorry, which always stops & takes you as far as it can. The other night a staff officer we coolly hailed drove us in here and offered to take us as afar as Paris if we liked. This however only applies as between Englishmen or as between French etc. but today I had quite a romantic experience.

Following the usual custom I stepped out to hail a car, but observing it was driven by a Frenchman, stepped back. However, it stopped & then to my pleasurable surprise I saw it was driven by a French GIRL. I’ve given her capitals as she was a capital girl. She wasn’t going very far my way but would give me a lift on my way. Well, the fair chauffeuse who was on her way to fetch the Prefect of the town we had just left melted, & when she got to her turning & I made to alight, she said she would drive me here and she did. After that we got very friendly and talked about London & the Thames, and she said that after the war she should come to London, and I said then I hoped we should meet again, whereupon she volunteered her address and I mine and neither of us could remember the other nor muster a pencil between us, so we pulled up at a cottage & borrowed one & some paper from an old lady who smiled approval at the beginning of a romance. And all the while the Prefect cooled his heels at some village down south!
I must be a lady killer after all!

Don’t worry, she can’t speak English & I could never make love in French, and Bordeaux (her home) is a long way.

Well, goodbye & God bless you both.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/53-55)

German PoW on the run “is alleged to have drawn a formidable looking dagger (which was afterwards discovered in a rick where the fugitives had been hiding”

Three Germans PoWs on the run were foiled by the brave actions of a Berkshire policeman and three Special Constables.

6 July 1918

CHIEF CONSTABLE

Lt-Col Poulton attended the Committee and stated that he had been absent from his Police work for three years, and he thought it was time he returned to such work; that his Army work was now so organized that it could be easily carried on by some other officer; and that he had now reached the age of 60; and suggested that the Secretary of State be asked to apply to the War Office for his relase from Army Service to enable him to resume his duties as Chief Constable of the County, as from 31 August, 1918.

Resolved:
That the Secretary of State be asked to make the application to the war Office as suggested.

Resolved also on the motion of the Chairman [J. Herbert Benyon] and seconded by Sir R. B. D. Acland, knight: That the very best thanks of the Committee be accorded to Col. Ricardo for services rendered as Acting Chief Constable.

Capture of three escaped German prisoners

The Acting Chief Constable has brought to the notice of the Sub-committee the action of PC 105 Reginald Jordan, stationed at Burghfield, and of Special Constables Webb, Holland and Hill, in effecting the capture of three Prisoners of War who had escaped from Bramley Camp on 24 April 1918.

PC Jordan challenged these men whom he met at Burghfield at midnight, and, finding they were foreigners, attempted to arrest them. After a struggle in which one of them is alleged to have drawn a formidable looking dagger (which was afterwards discovered in a rick where the fugitives had been hiding), the Germans succeeded in escaping, but were discovered and recaptured the following evening by PC Jordan – with the assistance of the Special Constables above-named, who had been working indefatigably all day in search of them.

The Military authorities sent £4.10s.0d as a reward, which was apportioned as follows: PC 105 Jordan, £2; Sergeant Taylor (who had also assisted) and the three Special Constables, 12s.6d each.

MOTOR CARS

The two motor cars which were so kindly placed at the disposal of the Superintendent at Maidenhead and Wokingham at the commencement of the war by the late Mr Erskine have now been returned to the present owner, Mrs Luard of Binfield Grove, and I beg to recommend that a letter expressing the gratitude of this Committee for the use of the cars, which have been of very great value to the Police, be sent to that lady.

I should also like to take this opportunity of referring to the loss sustained to the Force by the death of the late Marquis of Downshire, who, as a Special Constable from the commencement of the war, had kindly placed his valuable time and the use of his two cars (free of any charge) at the disposal of the Superintendent of the Wokingham Division, and by this means saved the County a great deal of expense.

I recommend that a letter be written to the present Marquis from this Committee, expressing regret at the death of his father, and its appreciation of his generous services.

The present Marquis of Downshire has very kindly placed his car at the disposal of the Superintendent at Wokingham on condition that the County keeps the car insured, [and] pays the licence duty and cost of running.

Berkshire County Council and Quarter Sessions: Standing Joint Committee minutes (C/CL/C2/1/5)

“Indignant that the Boshe should dare to shell when I was going away to be ill”

Sydney had gone down with the dreaded influenza, and suffered through a horrendous journey to get to hospital.

Written in Base Hospital, Rouen

No one could be more surprised than I am, my dear diary! It is now Saturday afternoon [22 June] & I am lying in a clean green tented ward with pretty chintz curtains at the windows suffering with PVO, this being the common or garden fever of unknown origin.

Here is the history of my movements from when I left off on Wednesday night. I had a curious night. Guns behind us very noisy owing to ‘Chinese Bombardment’ being put up. At 8 breakfast was brought in, & I could not eat it. Took a morning parade but felt mighty seedy.

After lunch lay on my valise & from then on till 7.30 when the doctor came it was one long nightmare. My temperature went up in leaps & bounds. My back ached, I shivered, my head was splitting, I had a hacking cough, & felt extraordinarily weak if I tried to walk. Doctor packed me off. Here is detail how one gets to base-hospital.

1. Doctor sent for stretcher bearers.
2. I was carted off to Battalion HQ.
3. Red X Ambulance car whisked me off to Hedanville.
4. Another car took me to Div. clearing station.
5. Another car took me to 3rd (Brit) Officers CCS at a place called Sezincourt. Here I spent the night between sheets in a massive old chateau looking out over great parklands.
6. At 9 am off in another ambulance car & planked onto an ambulance train.
7. Then 15 long long hours while the train tried its hardest not to get to Rouen.
8. At last the train stopped & a voice from the open called out peremptorily “Ere Bill let’s ‘ave them 21 officers!”

It was raining then. Car brought me here & when I tumbled into these sheets at 12.15 this morning I was not unthankful. I have had my temperature taken umpteen times. It was up to 102.8 when taken at Hedanville but it had commenced abating by then. We were stuck at Hedanville by heavy shelling. I got impatient being of course light headed & felt indignant that the Boshe should dare to shell when I was going away to be ill. However at last after a decidedly near & unpleasing zzzzz bong! our car gathered its legs well under & scuttled, & the next shell rounded far behind by the time it came along.

It is getting on for tea time & I have only just got hold of my kit, & you. I am reading a stupid book called “An Adventuress”! To sleep at about 9 at night. My temperature about normal. 99.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)

“Even here aeroplanes are more ubiquitous than motor cars and went droning thro the blue at a great height like beetles”

On an antiquarian trip to his home region in the Vale of White Horse, William Hallam took the time to pay his respects at a war shrine.

18th May 1918

Got up at 7. Went to Challow sta. at 20 past 9. Walked thro’ Goosey across the fields – then onto Charney. Here I looked in the church as a young woman was cleaning it and getting ready for a wedding she told me. Notice that queer carving in chapel. Then I copied down all the Inscriptions I could decipher. The I went to a cottage and enquired the way to Cherbury Camp but the old man said I meant Chawberry. He told me the nearest way but I mistook it and went a devil of a way round. However I enquired again and got there alright about 1 o’clock. I was surprised to find such a perfect camp still existing in the midst of agricultural land. I sat on the bank and ate my lunch of bread and butter and a hard boiled egg and revelled in the sun. The cuckoo had been on all day long. The first day I’ve heard him this spring. There was not a cloud in the sky and even here aeroplanes are more ubiquitous than motor cars and went droning thro the blue at a great height like beetles. I sat here and thought for an hour. I looked over the ploughed field in the encampment and found one flint chip.

I came back into Charney the way I should have come – much nearer- and went into the Pub and had a pint and a ½ of ale. This landlady Shepherd knew me by seeing me regularly at St. Paul’s as they lived at Swindon until 3 years ago when they took this Pub. Her husband a smith now working she told me at Cheltenham in aeroplane works and rides on a bike to & from every week end- 45 miles. I asked about this old house near the Church. She told me a lady had bought it 2 or 3 years ago and spent a lot of money on it – then before she had finished it got tired of it and sold it to a Col. Colmes for 1800£ and now he is spending as much as he gave for it in restoring it. Fortunately in antiquarian lines the chapel & all being put back as it should be. When I started back I sat on the Oak bridge and saw the wedding – not a khaki one – party came out – quite a village wedding – all walking.

It was a scalding hot day and as I sat on a heap of stones resting and having a smoke 2 Swindon men passed by and had a chat on their way to Longworth. Further along the road I turned off and went to Denchworth & looked over the Church & churchyard and here I saw the first war shrine. A frame with a crucifix and list of the names of all the young men gone from the village with a prayer for the passer by to offer up for them so took off my hat and said it. Before it on a ledge were 2 brass vases of fresh flowers. I got back to Challow St. at 6 o’clock and got up home here at ½ past 7. The Country is at its best now especially the Vale.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

Offensive may begin soon

Press baron Lord Rothermere had been a controversial chairman of the Air Council.

25 April 1918
Motored to Reading for Commandandants meeting….

Fear offensive beginning.

Lord Rothermere resigns.

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

Fitting gas helmets

As a gas expert, Sydney helped with the issuing of gas helmets.

1918
March 26th

I superintend fitting of 250 men of Brigade at Race course, 51 KOYLI, 51 Notts & Derbys.

27th Ditto 400 Notts & Derbys.

28 I fit men of 52nd Notts & Derbys at Redmines, Sheffield.

Proceeding with gas cylinder in car (general’s) at 8.30 am.

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

Germans being pushed back with great slaughter

A group of ladies from the Maidenhead area shared a car to a meeting about getting women working on the land.

25 April 1917

We all to Maidenhead after early lunch en route for Reading. Helen motored H Moule, EVN [Edith Vansittart Neale], E[dith] Frere & I to Women’s Agricultural Meeting, & Bessie Sturges met us. Good meeting. Women spoke well. Recruits came in!

Germans being pushed back with great slaughter.

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

“The Huns threw a lot of shells about” – and gassed one of their own men

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with his latest news. This letter, which is, unusually for Percy, typed, is badly torn and parts are missing. He had been gassed, and met an old friend.

30/9/16

Life is such a harassing affair nowadays that I [never see]m to have both the time and the humour to write you … lines, but if I don’t soon send you a letter I [shall for]get altogether how to write one, so here we are, and … excuse the type.

This pushing business is business, but it’s very […] I can assure you. However, the Huns are absolutely […] and very much on the wobble, and I still hope for [the s]udden collapse I feel sure will be the end of this …

Since writing to you last I have added the experience of being lachrymatory [tear] gassed. It was jolly. [Every]one scrambling for helmets and goggles and crying […], the gas seeming to have caused an inflammation which [was] very much aggravated when one closed one’s eyes. At […] the enemy, and I had the pleasure of getting out […]ration orders wearing a gas helmet and goggles. We [wer]e a remarkable assembly – you couldn’t tell t’other from [whi]ch, and when I had finished at my typewriter I was surprised to find that the man at my elbow crowded on the dug-out steps was a German officer prisoner we had captured. It was rather a joke for this fellow to be brought in and suddenly hoist by his own petard, so to speak.

Since then we have had a “rest” – quite an eventful one, for on one occasion I spent a few thrilling minutes watching parachute descents from kite balloons and on another, after tea, lying out in the sunshine, suddenly I espied a splendid fox wending its way amongst some […] trenches and taking cover in the wire entanglement […] rank grass. We chivvied it out and had a small fox [hole?] all on our own.

The night we came out and went into rest we had […] welcome – the Huns threw a lot of shells about and […] knocked down the house opposite us. That’s the second time they’ve done that – it’s most inconsiderate.

By the way I’ve been looking out for Jack Jackson for a long time. He was wounded at LOOS and I imagine he […] long come out again. Anyway a short time ago toward the end of a pretty big do, I was going up in a Staff car [and] just as I was stepping in, who should go by but Jack. [We] only had time for a handshake, and then on he went up […] the line and I to the comparative safety of a dug-out. I hope he came through all right as the main part of that […] bump so far as his Brigade was concerned was then over.

If you could send me some gloves I should be glad.

I am now transferred to the A.S.C. but have no number at present. My pay is 3/6d per day as from Mar. 9th. You might make a note of this. I was sorry to transfer, but had to….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/30)

“His steel helmet had a hole right through it”

John Maxwell Image wrote to his old friend W F Smith with news of a former pupil, wounded for a second time.

29 Barton Road
[Cambridge]
6 Aug. ‘16

Poor, illstarred Willie Dobbs has stopped another bullet – this time, a shrapnel from one of our own guns 120 yards off – a premature burst. He wrote to me from the Hospital in France, quite in the jaunty Irish way –

“treated me very leniently”, he said, “for it hit me in the wind”. But it must have been a narrow escape, for it went right through the body, “cracking a rib, and came out through another hole on the right of my chest. This was on the 19th and the 2 holes are nearly healed and probably the rib will not take more than a month.”

Mrs Dobbs writes that his steel helmet had a hole right through it. He is now in King Edward VIIth Hospital, London, and “doing well”. Sybil Dobbs found him “looking wonderfully well and in good spirits”, but still in bed….

The King was here on Thursday, to inspect Cadets. They seem to have tried to keep in secret in Camb[ridge]. Indeed we heard of it accidentally – though notice of course had been posted in the Common Room. Madame, full of loyalty, came in early: and we sat down on chairs upon the lawn before the Library. The sky was blue, the air genially warm, the grass and trees most refreshing. The College gates were closed to outsiders – and we and a few others spent a happy half hour watching lazy, pipe-smoking cadets try to build a bridge across the Cam. The menu supposed them to be “surprised in the act” by the King. He came in a small procession of motors, and plainly enjoyed the unceremonious visit, for he staid [sic] a long time. Mumbo in Scarlet received him. And it was grand to behold the monarch subsequently shake hands warmly with our Head Porter, Coe….

I went on Friday to hear OB’s “friend”, Vinogradoff. The Russians are all put up in Nevile’s Court. I ought to go one night to dine and see them. Shall I?

We have about 650, I hear, Cadets in Trinity, candidates for Commissions – most of them have already been at the Front. A week ago we entertained some 120 of these, who had just received their Commissions, at dinner. There must have been 160 in all. I went. Joey in the chair. 2 High Tables and 3 of in the body of the Hall. One of the Cadet captains was overheard preparing his men, as they stood in New Court ready to march to Hall – “Now, boys, understand: this is a dinner – not a Blind”.

All love to you and die Madame

Yours evermore
Bild

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

A terrible blow

Petrol shortages meant a blow for Florence Vansittart Neale, on holiday in Kent. Glycerine was needed for explosives.

21 July 1916
Heard all petrol stopped for private cars! Terrrible blow. Went into Folkestone to try to get some. Heard we could not. Wired to [Kidnes?] – no use!…

Still going well, but awful casualties.

Also no glycerine to be sold without doctor’s orders.

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

An “exhibition of heartless callousness on the part of race-goers at this present crisis”

Churchgoers thought the continuance of horse racing during the war was unpatriotic.

THE BISHOP’S MESSAGE

The following extracts are from the Bishop’s message in the June Diocesan Magazine:

Your prayers are asked specially
For the preparation of the National Mission…
For the maintenance of the unity of the nation.
For victory in the war, and peace.
For wisdom in dealing with the conscientious objectors….

RACE MEETINGS DURING THE WAR

The following resolution was passed unanimously by the Sonning deanery. A great deal of indignation was felt and expressed at the motor traffic on the Bath Road during the Newbury Races:

“That this meeting of clergy, laymen, and laywomen, representatives of parishes in the Sonning deanery, in the diocese of Oxford, protests against the exhibition of heartless callousness on the part of race-goers at this present crisis, and calls upon His Majesty’s Government to reconsider the question of racing during war-time; and urges all earnest churchpeople to strive to show a spirit of self-sacrifice at this time.”

WAR MEMORIALS

I feel sure that a great many clergy, churchwardens and others would wish for advice about proposed war memorials as time goes on. Accordingly, I have asked the following (their number will probably be slightly increased) to act as a consultative committee:
Canon Ottley, Canon Herbert Barnett, the Revs. F J Brown, Sydney Cooper, W C Emeris and E J Norris, Mr F N A Garry, and Mr F C Eeles. Anyone wanting the help of this committee should write to the Rev. W C Emeris, the Vicarage, Burford, Oxon.

C OXON

Earley St Peter parish magazine, June 1916 (D/P191/28A/31/6)

“One cannot altogether wish anyone in France” – but thank heavens for conscription

Army officer John Wynne-Finch and his wife Maysie were outraged that apparently healthy young men were escaping conscription.

May 5/16
Voelas
Bettws-y-Coed
N Wales

My dear darling R.

Have I written since John was declared by the doctor to have German measles, & forbidden to go near barracks till the 10th? He’s never been ill, & I’ve never caught it … & I doubt really if he had!! However, we sent for the motor, as he was not allowed in a train & came off up here on Monday…

The Tribunals scandals in these parts make one quite sick – all the young men getting off, it’s too shameful, but inevitable with the kind of people on the Tribunals – no gentlemen & all scoundrels in with the other & relations to all. John is wild….

You sound to be having a wonderfully interesting time. I’ve never heard anyone yet not say the same about the PoW. He must be too delightful. I’m sorry you’ve lost Captain Barnard, you’ll miss him. It must have been very hard to know what to do about that other job. One would love you to be nearer in some ways, & yet one cannot altogether wish anyone in France. John will be back there soon I expect. The time at Windsor goes terribly fast.

Tony went to Dublin with dispatches last Saturday. Awfully interesting…

Thank heaven we’ve got compulsion at last & have shot the rebels. It gives one some hope for this rotten government.

Letter from Maysie Wynne-Finch to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/4)

“The beastly Bosch measles”

Recovering at her parents’ home from an attack of German measles (rubella), Meg Meade thought the mere name of the illness was unpatriotic.

May 2nd [1916]
The Palace
Peterborough

My own darling Ralph

At last I can send you a scrawl, but the beastly Bosch measles has left me with weak eyes so I can’t read or write much, & also feeling very weak. But to be accounted for I suppose because my temperature for 2 days was 104. But it was a dreadful way of spending Easter with the por parents, but perhaps it was a blessing in disguise as I have certainly given Dad other things to think of than his resignation….

John has very slight Hun measles too, so he & Maysie have motored to Voelas…

Jim has been having a busy time at sea, he is very well, but I do long so much to see him…

From your own loving Meg

Darling take care of yourself & your dear tummy & don’t do anything risky for it!

Letter from Meg Meade to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/4)

Nothing but wire between us and the enemy

Percy Spencer described the part of France he was based in to his sister Florence – and the musical backdrop of nightingales and mouth organs (harmonicas), not far from the hellish mud of the trenches.

Apl 25, 1916
My darling sister

[Censored, probably by Florence]

It’s the most lovely day that ever was. I’ve strolled out of our chateau straight up into a scrubby copse at the top of a very steep hill and here I am lying on quaker oats, eggs and bacon, writing to you and listening to a nightingale. He’s not quite in full song but for wartime he’s very good indeed and I’m grateful.

Already the sun was getting too hot so I have shifted into the breeze and an even wider view. This is a lovely corner of France. Everything is beautiful and only man is vile – that’s because the women left the corn during a very “unhealthy” period. But that’s not quite true for the lady owner has motored up from the south for a couple of days to settle a few business matters and she’s rather nice. Garwood says she’s “a decent bit of stuff” so taking the acme of perfection in womanhood as being “a posh bit” (Major Trevor’s wife reached that standard), you’ll be able to arrive at this lady’s position.

There’s a mouth organ playing in the valley beneath me, and being played remarkably well – “despise not the mouth organ”. As I think I have already told you, Ian Hay has my hearty endorsement to that remark. Many months ago I remember being largely amused at one of our boys’ letters home – “One thing I’ve been longing to ask you for, but I know how things are at home, and don’t like to bother you, but now Sis has got a job could you send me a mouth organ, a 1/- linnet is the best, but I expect they’re more expensive now owing to the war”. But after April 1915 when one mouth organ played a dozen or so of our weary fellows in from their 3 days cellar and shell experience, I made up my mind that the mouth organ was a noble instrument.

I told you, I think, I went round the line the other day. To complete my experience I went round the remaining portion by night with the General, that being the only time it can be approached with any degree of security.

It was an eerie experience and a fearfully wet one, the ground being as torn and riven with shell fire that it seems to slide away under your feet, and in the trenches, mud and water – water up to your thigh if you were unlucky, and mud that wrestled with you at each step for possession of your gum boots.

We went right out into the open (it’s a curious line about here) and with nothing between us and the Huns 100 yards away but a couple of frail curtains of wire – ours and theirs. Here the officers stood for a little while discussing points. I stood anxiously watching the enemy lights soaring into the sky towards us like evil eyes searching for victims to disclose to the German rifles, and behind me crouched an orderly also frightened to death at his exposed position murmured thro’ his chattering teeth, “C- this is all right”.

Well, we landed home safe and sound at 2.30 a.m. By 3.30 a.m. I’d scraped half of France off my clothes and turned in for an hour; turned in again then for another 2 hours when I got up for good, scraped the other half of France off my togs and “carried on”.
About my commission. There was a strong suggestion that being a sergeant I should probably only get six weeks training out here and then be chucked into some line regiment. That’s not good enough and unless I can see my way to getting a reasonable period of training that would enable me to take command of a platoon with confidence and also give me an opportunity of showing my administrative abilities, I’m not going to proceed any further.

Well. Time’s up.

On the right there’s a dear old chateau, dating back to William I’s time, with many grey limestone towers. To the left stretch the everlasting hills clothed with the wooded promise of summer. Overhead a couple of aeroplanes are humming and Hunning and right at my feet in the hollow stands “my chateau” and there I go – to work.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/8-14)