“Any letters which contain obscure expressions, abbreviations and indirect references to prohibited subjects are liable to delay, and may have to be stopped”

Complaints about how internees were treated were strictly forbidden.

19.7.18

[to] The Gov
Reading P of I

The U S of S [Under-Secretary of State] requests that the Irish interned prisoners in your custody may be informed as follows:

The S of S has asked that you may be reminded that letters are allowed for the purpose of communicating with your relations & friends on domestic matters and matters of business in which you are personally interested. They must not be used for the discussion of public events or for complaints about your internment or treatment; any such complaints should be made to the S of S.

Communications which offend against these rules will be stopped by the Censor.

Arrangements have been made to deal with all letters as quickly as possible, but any which contain obscure expressions, abbreviations and indirect references to prohibited subjects are liable to delay, and may have to be stopped.

If your correspondents understand English you are recommended to write to them in that language.

A J Wall
Secy

Each man was informed of this on reception and also a notice was placed In the hall.

A further notice embodying this letter has now been placed in the Irish Prison.

C M Morgan
Gov:
20-7-18

HM Prison
Reading
July 19. 18

From the MO to the Governor

Regarding the petition of H. Shlapowsky, I reported fully upon May 8th of this year.

He is [illegible – herplocked?] on the right side (not badly) and there is a weakness on the left, but … [illegible] behind. He has done no heavy work here, but has … [illegible] pretty, fights with fellow prisoners and has been on hunger strike.

What he says about us is nonsense, and I have declined to allow him to bug Alber from the Chemist.

Since his hunger strike in April, he has registered a weight of over 110 lbs. I am willing to supply him with a … [illegible] but I find we shall have a [illegible].

At the present time I see no necessity for increased rations.

W T Freeman.

Prison Commission
HO
SW1

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Advertisements

“The weather & the flies are very trying”

The heat was almost as troublesome as the enemy.

Wednesday 17 July 1918

Got up at 7.30 am. Flies were a nuisance. Air raid on village during night, about a dozen bombs dropped. 1 soldier killed, 5 wounded. A good parade this morning from 9-12.30. Inspection, Platoon & Section drill, PT, & BF. Break ½ hour. Rifle grenadiers from 11.30-12.30. Company arms drill. Marched home. Censored letters after lunch. Another broiling hot day.

The weather & the flies are very trying. After tea I began to fret. I wonder whether the photographer would turn up to take the officers of the Battalion. We were all at the orderly room at 7.30, but as a storm intervened he did not come. So I was unmercifully ragged by the CO who thought that it was my bad French which had made the muddle!

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

A good example of a good defensive position

Sydney Spencer and his men practiced tactics before meeting the locals.

Tuesday 16 July 1918

All the servants were very late this morning & we were not called until 7.55. It meant a rush! At nine on parade. Did a good morning’s work consisting of platoon drill, a very thorough inspection, I took the rifle bombers in cup discharge work, then we did a scheme from 11-1. Hervey took out his platoon to a hill with trenches. Kemp attacked. I was in reserve. A good example of how [sic] a good defensive position.

After lunch censored letters. Then went down to Kemp’s billet & played on an atrocious piano. A mademoiselle charmante [charming young lady] spoke pretty broken English, & prettier French. Madame gave me some flowers. Spent a pleasant evening – a really decent one. Acted as interpreter for a photographer who took our drums. The village crier, a pale looking youth with plaintive voice demanded after beating his drum that we should declare the boites de foin [haystacks] gathered in during the [illegible] in the morning.

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

One long delicious 24 hours of dolce far niente, carefully mapped out by me into periods of rest, sleep, reading, letter writing, hot bathing, shampooing & all those other little etceteras which make life glorious for a while

Sydney took advantage of his quiet day to write to his sister and her husband.

June 7th 1918
My Dearest Florence & Mr I

Turmoil is nearly always followed by peace, & the peace of this present is well worth the turmoil of that past. No Florence, it was not a case of stormed at by shot & shell bravely he fought & well, the turmoil herein referred to, is merely that of a 24 hour journey – nay a 36 hour journey in a truck on a railway line over a distance of 108 miles to get from somewhere to here (thus does the censor hamper & roil our English!) a distance of 33 miles.

My last letter [does not appear to survive] told you of my going to a gas school. Well, I am here. We arrived yesterday afternoon & the course does not start till tomorrow morning, so that today is just one long delicious 24 hours of dolce far niente, carefully mapped out by me into periods of rest, sleep, reading, letter writing, hot bathing, shampooing & all those other little etceteras which make life glorious for a while.

From your ever affectionate brother
Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/3/41, 43)

The internees may let their friends know where they are as soon as possible

The Irish internees were now to be allowed to communicate with their friends and relations, if under strict censorship.

H M Prison
Reading
May 31 1918

From the MO to the Governor

Concerning the petition of Max John Stephan.

I recommend that he be allowed to go to the dentist’s house under escort.

W Freeman

31.5.1918
[to] The Governor, Reading Prison

It has been decided that the privilege of writing & receiving letters, which has hitherto been suspended, shall now be granted to the interned Irish prisoners.

The examination of the letters will be undertaken on behalf of the Commissioners by the Postal Censorship. Accordingly all letters written by and all letters received for these prisoners, including P’Cards, telegrams, books, & newspapers, and any messages contained in parcels, will be sent by you – the envelopes remaining unopened – to the Chief Postal Censor, Strand House, Portugal Street, London, WC2. With each packet of letters, you will send a covering note as follows: This parcel contains letters received on – date -, for the Irish prisoners interned in Reading P. of I. signed – Governor; or This packet contains letters posted on – date by the Irish prisoners interned in Reading P. of I., signed – Governor.

If passed by the censor, they will be posted to the addresses, or returned to you to deliver to the internees, as the case may be.
The internees should tell their friends to address all letters, postcards, telegrams, and newspapers as follows:

Name
Prison – in brackets
c/o the Chief Police Censor, Strand House, Portugal St, WC2.

This will save delay, as ant letters &c sent to the Prison direct will have to be referred to the Censor in the first place.
Parcels should be addressed direct to the Prison: they must be carefully examined, and any written or printed matter contained in them must not be given to the prisoner until passed by the Censor.

In order that the internees may let their friends know where they are as soon as possible, they should be advised to limit their first communication to a postcard or telegram, stating where they are held, and explaining how letters, parcels &c should be addressed.

For the present, no visits can be allowed.

Signed A H Wall
Sec:

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

The two predominant results to be obtained: Discipline & Esprit de corps

Sydney’s delicate health was beginning to catch up with him.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 30 May 1918

Last night good old Dillon told me I was to see the doctor today & get a rest. So I sent a note round to the Adjutant to say I was seeing the doctor. I saw him at eleven o’clock & he apologised for having hurt me!

I did light duty during the morning & after lunch had a very long sleep, also inspected the guard before it paraded for guard mounting. Censored the letters. Got a tent in my platoon camouflaged, & did several other ‘no matter whats’ of no import practically, but of regimental vital importance. I think I see the end for which all these small things are done. One has always to keep one’s eyes on the two predominant results to be obtained: Discipline & Esprit de corps.

Rowell the TO comes to dinner tonight. He came & we had a fairly good mess night.

Percy Spencer
30 May 1918

2 a.m. moved at 21st camp after x-country trip thro’ bush and a mix-up with 9.2’s.

A lovely day. Mess cut into bank – earth seats.

Moved again to camp behind Franvillers in Bezieux rear defence line. Fritz shelled Franvillers and near us and bombed during evening. I dug trench round hut.

Florence Vansittart Neale
30 May 1918

Have lost Soissons.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

The men have little beyond what they stand in

The Governor of Reading was anxious about how to deal with gifts sent to the Irish internees from home, when they were banned from receiving letters.

Place of Internment
Reading
28 May 1918

1. Will the Commissioners please inform me what I should do with letters that arrive for the Irish interned prisoners – several have come today. I should prefer not to open them, as they many contain money – which would have to be acknowledged, and also as the men would not have the letters, it might lead to questions as to the amount received. I cannot well put them with property as any money orders would lapse. Should they be marked not delivered and returned to Post Office?

2. Parcels – should they be opened & delivered or returned or what is being done?

3. All of the men have requested to write for money and clothing. My instructions at present are no letters or visits. 1 and 3 depend on each other as regards letters. So far I have issued any clothing that has come, as the men have little beyond what they stand in.

Since writing the above, parcels of Jam – sugar – cakes have arrived from Ireland. All are rationed articles, what is to be done with them please.

At present they can be locked up.
CMM

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Moving from billet to barn, from barn to billet

Sydney Spencer hosted a big dinner.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 16 May 1918

I was orderly officer today so that today’s diary means: Reporting B HQ at 8.45, inspecting billets from 9.30-11.30, censoring letters from 11.30 till 12.30, inspecting dinners. After lunch a lie down, a short read, mounting guard at 3.30. Dismounting old guard. 4 pm tea.

After tea preparation for dinner guest night. Dinner a huge success. Consisted of soup, choufleur au gratin [cauliflower cheese], salmon mayonaize (don’t know how to spell it!), pork with baked potatoes & cauliflower, and sweet of plum pudding & custard – savouries of hard boiled egg etc on toast, coffee, biscuits, chocolate & cheese, port, sherry, whiskey & lime juice, & smokes. Do not think, my dear old diary, that I am a gourmand! I hate remembering what I have eaten. But I just put it down as a curiosity in this year of the war 1918!

Took staff parade, visited guard. Mess crowded with officers & all company & when I got to bed they had a jolly time.

Percy Spencer
16 May 1918

Cash. I went to Beaucourt to draw cash. Met Anderson who asked to be remembered to WF [Percy’s sister Florence Image]. Spent day in moving from billet to barn, from barn to billet.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

“The bread is quite good, and I buy it myself”

Herman von Shraplowsky was a middle aged Russian stockbroker. Neither convicted or an enemy alien, why had he even been interned for over two years?

Place of Internment, Reading
22nd April 1918

H. Schraplowsky
22.5.15 S of S Order, Aliens Act, Deportation

The above named Alien was visited on the 20th inst. by Mrs Schraplowsky and Miss Cornish (friend) of 66 Station Rd, Church Rd, Finchley, London.

The conversation was upon family matters. The Alien stated he had written a letter to his wife concerning the bread, which he was unable to eat, but that the letter was suppressed.

C M Morgan
Governor
[to] The Commissioners

22 April 1918
H. Schraplowsky

Prisoner wrote a letter to his wife abusing the Medical Officer and stating that he could not eat the bread. I told the man that the letter was untrue and offensive, and that he could rewrite it. He began again to abuse the Medical Officer and said he would write the same thing. So I ordered letter to be suppressed as a forfeit.

C M Morgan
Governor

The bread is quite good, and I buy it myself in preference to bread that can be bought elsewhere.

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“The Royal Naval Division had encamped in our Nissen huts & refused to budge”

Sydney Spencer had the unappetising job of taking part in a court martial, before a dispute over who would get to sleep in a Nissen hut.

Monday 15 April 1918

9.15 am.
At 12 midnight a note came in to detail me for a court martial with 9th Essex Regiment at 10 am. Also orders came in for practice taking up of a trench system at —. We move into T-c-t this afternoon, after lunch. Have just made up my accounts.

FGC Martial over by 11.50. I spent remainder of morning in censoring about 100 letters and studying Intelligence reports, till 1 pm when company returned from scheme. 3 pm started for T-t-c-t.

Arrived at billets at 4 pm to find that Royal Naval Division had encamped in our Nissen huts & refused to budge. Result, we were camped outside & behagged the city until matters straightened themselves out, when we gave over half the huts to the RND.

Dinner at 9.30. I am orderly officer tomorrow. Duties start at 8.45. Had no chance of a read this evening as ten of us crowded into 1 Nissen hut.

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

“Something attempted, and something done”: a bombing raid on a German Aerodrome

Here we get a rare first person account of an air raid over the German army.

The Vicar has received from one of our Cranbourne Airmen the following account of a bombing raid on a German Aerodrome. The fear of the Censor prevents us mentioning the name of the writer, but it will not be difficult to guess who is the writer. It only seems a few weeks ago since he was a boy in our Schools and singing in our Choir. We are sure Mr. Aldworth will be proud that one of his pupils can write so well and graphically. The following is the account:

“A slight mist hung over the Aerodrome as the bombing machines were wheeled from the hangers. One by one their engines were started up for nothing is left to chance on these strafing expeditions. Meanwhile myself and fellow airmen had been summoned to a little office to learn the whereabouts of our objective. After a few minutes consultation and map reading we made our way to the machines, which looked spick and span, ready for the coming strafe. In a short space of time all was ready and one by one the machines left the ground. Steadily the indicator of the alti-meter was registering, and I knew my machine was climbing well, and it grew colder and colder, although we were wrapped up well. Looking ahead I found the formation of which I was at the rear, in perfect order.

Suddenly a sharp crack under the tail of my machine told me that anti-aircraft gunners had spotted us and that we were over hostile country. A quick glance at my map to pick up my bearings and then one seems to possess the eyes of a hawk. All at once a signal was made by the squadron leader denoting that we were nearing the objective. The air by this time is thick with shrapnel bursts, and looking through the trap door perceived the hangars of the night raiders. A few seconds to take line of sight and then a quick pull at the bomb-wires. Suddenly a streak of light flashes by and looking round I espy a German machine coming full tilt with its pilot firing rapidly. Like a flash I swung my guns at the oncoming Hun, who finding it getting too warm thought discretion the better part of valour and made off. During this little scrap my pilot had got the nose of the machine well down for home where we arrived in a short space of time. I made my report of ‘something attempted, and something done’, had earned a night’s repose.”

We are glad to hear that Pte. H.W. Edmonds is progressing favourably.

Cranbourne section of Winkfield and Warfield Magazine, April 1918 (D/P 151/28A/10/4)

“Our small tent collapsed in a blizzard”

Army chaplain J Sellors reached his post in southern Greece, where he found the weather not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Letter from the Rev. J. Sellors

Dear Friends,

I last wrote to you when I was on my way out here. I have now been here for about a month, and my address at present is 28th General Hospital, Salonika, where any letters you may wish to write will find me. (We are not allowed to put our address at the top of letters).

I cannot give details of my journey, but I think the censor will allow me to say that shortly before reaching here there was no railway for a distance of about thirty miles, and we had to take motor lorries. For fifteen or more miles we passed through a valley completely filled with olive trees, then we had to climb over a mountain pass. We ascended to a height of between 3,000 and 4,000 feet, and saw around us deep valleys and snow-tipped mountain peaks, which glistened like silver in the sunlight. In several places we were only a few feet from the edge of a precipice without any protecting wall; a little carelessness on the part of the driver, and – imagine the result!

When we arrived at Salonika we were sent to a camp for a few days to await orders. The weather was beautifully warm and bright until we arrived here, when it changed suddenly, and a bitterly cold wind sprang up and the rain came in torrents.

The second night we had a blizzard, and just after, two of us Chaplains, who were together, had retired to rest, our small tent collapsed, and we had an exciting few minutes extricating our bedding and seeking dry quarters in a hut, where we spent the remainder of the night. Next morning we found part of our belongings covered with several inches of snow and mud. We had scented trouble before going to roost, so were not altogether unprepared for our experience.

I will endeavour to tell you a little about my work when next I write. I am quite well, and happy in my work.

March 22nd, 1918

Yours sincerely, J. SELLORS, C.F.

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, May 1918 (D/P181/28A/27)

“This front is not so quiet as the papers would have you believe”

A member of Broad Street Brotherhood wrote home from service in a bleak part of the Balkans.

Somewhere in Macedonia
5th March 1918

I am taking the first opportunity of writing to thank you and the friends at Broad St for the nice Xmas parcel which arrived safely last week. It is indeed most kind of you all to think of me in this distant land, and I can assure you your kindness is keenly appreciated.

I must heartily congratulate whoever was responsible for the selection of the contents. They were just what I was in need of – especially the writing pad, toilet soap and cigarettes. These things are very difficult to obtain in our part of the line, which is in a most deserted and desolate area, far removed from any YMCA tent or EF canteen, and 50 or 60 miles from Salonica…

Of course I cannot give you any details of our doings out here, but I can assure, you, this front is not so quiet as the papers would have you believe. Praying that the Almighty’s richest blessing may crown all your efforts to brighten matters in “dear old Blighty”.

W J Dance (OS) [on active service]

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, April 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“For twelve hours on end we were serving men who had just come out alive, though not unscarred, from one of the most terrible battles of this most terrible of all wars”

An account of life at one of the YMCA Huts close to the front lines.

“Four Months in Trinity Hut.”

My second period of service with the Y.M.C.A. at the front is now a thing of the past, and I can never say enough to express my gratitude to the friends who made it possible for me to answer the clearest call that ever yet came to me. Looking back on those four months there is no doubt in my mind that they held what was in many ways the greatest experience and supreme opportunity of my life up to now.

It is of course out of the question for me to convey here an adequate idea or connected account of those experiences. Apart from the limited space, very strict regulations forbid me to print anything of a military or even semi-military character. But in my two lectures at Park [Congregational Church, Reading] on January 9th and 16th, and on Sunday afternoons at the Institute I was able to say something about the ordinary workaday life and work at Trinity Hut, and also about sundry adventures that befell me out there.

Speaking quite generally, this visit was from my point of view far and away more satisfactory than was even my last. There was much less in proportion of the mere manual drudgery, such as could be done as well or better by orderlies. As leader of our own hut, one had of course far more initiative, and fuller opportunities for the kind of service that one was most anxious to render. The chief of these were those afforded by our Sunday evening services which will remain with me as priceless memory so long as I live, those and the many chances of quiet personal talks with the men who are bearing the brunt of the present conflict.

It was a very great delight to see and welcome quite a number of our Trinity boys. In this respect my one great disappointment was quickly merged into something far deeper – the sense of irreparable loss and personal sorrow on Learning that the meeting with Wilfred Drake, to which we had looked forward so eagerly, was not to be. He was taken from us on the very day of my arrival at Trinity Hut, not more than three miles or so from its doors; and there are many of us for whom Trinity will never be quite the same, without his bright smile and cheery voice and loyal comradeship in all good things.

Where every day was packed with work and events of the most absorbing interest, it is not easy to make a selection for special reference; but perhaps the most outstanding feature of all was our work among the wounded. During the September fighting we opened a large marquee half-a-mile or so from the hut, at a dressing station in the village. There many hundreds of walking wounded passed through our hands on their way back to the Hospitals behind the lines, in the base towns, or (the lucky ones) in “dear old Blighty.” I shall never forget those days, still less those nights, when sometimes for twelve hours on end we were serving men who had just come out alive, though not unscarred, from one of the most terrible battles of this most terrible of all wars.

I am glad to be able to reproduce on the adjoining page some sketches and outlines drawn by Mr. Cecil Dunford – the first leader of our Hut – which will convey a better of its general shape and proportions than any mere verbal description. The original will, I hope, be framed and hung up in due course somewhere on Church premises.

And now glad as I am to have that priceless experience, I am no less glad to be home again, and back at work which lies so near my heart and among the friends to whose loyalty and patience I owe so much. May God help us all be brave and faithful in these great, stern, tragic, faithful times. To Him let us commit ourselves and our sacred cause, putting all our trust in him, and praying for fulfilment in us of the ancient promise, “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”

Trinity Congregational Magazine, February 1918 (D/EX1237/1)

A uniform bombed to cinders

Air raids were apparently more damaging and extensive than the general public was aware of.

29 Barton Road
30 Dec. ‘17
My very dear old man

Are you really thinking of “some sunny place on the South Coast”. Well, but gare les obus – F’s KRR brother called at his London tailor’s on the 21st, to try on a new uniform. The tunic had been bombed to cinders in the raid three days before, and the poor tailor at work on it was in hospital! Much ghastly work, which we’re never allowed to hear of in the newspapers, is done in these raids. London is so vast that the quarters untouched have grown careless and indifferent…

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