Election day

It was the first chance many people had to vote – women and poorer men.

14 December 1918

Election day. 1st time all on same day. Not known result till 28th.

Packed up bag & took champagne to Hospital. P[hyllis] decidedly more cheerful. Felt better. Tells me the crisis is past! Difficulty opening champagne. Oor Sister had regular volts. I came home 2.5.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

No champagne in the shops

Things were improving, so Florence Vansittart Neale made a short detour.

13 December 1918

Heard fair night. Cough bad. Went by way of Stone’s for champagne – could get none, then to A&N – none there. On to Hospital via Westminster. Saw submarines.

Found her rather drowsy – slept a good deal all day, but Dr [March?] more satisfied. We again alone most of afternoon & had tea. I left after 5.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

“A bicycle made for two”

More from the Spencer brothers.

Will Spencer
15 May 1918

Some French soldiers were resting on the benches on the paved platform between the two buildings of the Blumlisalp Hotel. For the first time I had the feeling that the [interned] soldiers at this hotel were in some respects better off than those at the Waldpark. The hotel has more the unpretentious character of an Inn – is more rustic & more cheerful, with its water trough by the road & its tree-planted space between the two buildings. One of the soldiers was whistling the tune of “A bicycle made for two”, & I was surprised & amused to find that J. knew the words to almost the whole of the tune – which was more than I did.

Sydney Spencer
Wednesday 15 May 1918

3.30 pm. I am seated now, guess where, my dear diary? At Major Bracey’s working table at his billet! Only 3 kilos from where I at present live. I have just ridden over on Capt. Rolfe’s gee. Major Bracey is out however & won’t be back till 5, so I shall stick here to see him & having the football match I half promised to play in. I hope there won’t be a dust up about it though. It will be splendid to see old Bracey again, it is 14 months since I last saw him. Had a day off today. Dear old Rolfe, he did the straight by me after my two rather thorny days on Monday & Tuesday. Have just written to Father & Mother.

At 5.30 pm.
Major Bracey did not turn up. I waited till nearly 6 pm. Rode back. Watched football match between officers & men – a drawn game. After dinner walked over, saw dear old Bracey who cheered me up immensely. He walked back part of the way with me. To bed at 10.30 & read more of my book.

Percy Spencer
15 May 1918

A glorious sunshiny day. A good deal of trouble over billets. Trying to hang on in Warlos for a night at least. Division to be relieved tonight. Up half the night sorting details. Eventually turned in at 3 am after champagne supper & slept on floor in a company mess. Fritz bombed outskirts of village.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX802/28)

No plum pudding

It was a festive Christmas at Bisham Abbey, although the family missed daughter Phyllis and son in law Leo “Boy” Paget, respectively nursing and fighting.

25 December 1917

Had soup, turkey and bread sauce!! No plum pudding, but omnibus with dates. Drank health absent ones, Phyllis & Boy, in champagne.

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

Military discipline improves the uncouth miner

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image wrote to the wife of a friend living abroad with comments on life in a university during the war. One change was that women’s sport took on a new importance.

TCC [Trinity College, Cambridge]
Easter Day, 4 April 1915

My dear Mrs Smith

I counted 384 Monmouths at early service (9.30) this morning, and behaving so devoutly. Military discipline, how it improves the uncouth miner – and how gloriously they sing.

Today I have, for the first time since January 26, heard St Mary’s clock chime. Our oracles are yet dumb, at Trinity and elsewhere, and streets and Courts lend no help to Zeppelins for finding their way. At Hall (but I must have told you) barely a glimmer comes from the pendant chandeliers: and the two High Tables are dimly lighted by wax candles. It is grand, at Grace time, to watch the dignified Head Waiter hold, with much state, a silver candlestick before the VM and Dean to enable them to read the Board. For the last fortnight, however, we have been dining in Combination Room, to my great comfort – but from motives of economy. Dress clothes, however, tonight, and the “foaming grape of eastern France”. We don’t anticipate total prohibition. It may be found necessary….

The males of the two Universities don’t meet in combat this year. The ladies do: and Camb has won both matches, both Hockey and Lacrosse. In each of these (see photographs [sadly not surviving]) Oxford played in decent skirts. The Camb women wore KILTS…

Ever yours Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don (D/EX801/1)

‘The rattle of machine gun or musketry fire has added a pizzicato accompaniment to the solemn roar of the heavy artillery’

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister with thanks for her gifts, and more impressions of life close behind the front line.

Mar. 28. 1915
Dear Florrie

Thank you for the cigarettes, the compass, the fresh linen, and for everything else you have sent me. I’m sure everything must have reached me as I have been fairly bombarded with gifts and letters. Thank Mrs Everest [his former landlady] for me for the cake and flowers – both arrived quite fresh. The cake lasted no time but the flowers are still at the last village we were at, where they are the admiration of the household.

We are now within constant sound of the guns, day and night, and every now and then throughout this lovely Sunday the rattle of machine gun or musketry fire has added a pizzicato accompaniment to the solemn roar of the heavy artillery.

I’m again quartered in a lovely house, but not so well off for food as as the last house where the folk were most hospitable and opened a bottle of champagne in our honour the last night we were with them. Yesterday we marched up here, and started business again. It’s a rum affair. No sooner do you get going at one place than you are off to another.

Some of our fellows were fortunate enough to see a fine aeroplane fight near here today, but I wasn’t among them, and don’t know how low the fight went – we won though, I expect.

We get daily papers up here one day old and the postal service is excellent, so don’t worry on those scores.

Well dear, I’ve really nothing to tell you except to say how much I appreciate all you have done for me and your regular supply of news…

Yours ever

Will you please forward the enclosed few lines to Will [their older brother, living in neutral Switzerland].

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/4/16-17)

Four days in the trenches and never saw a German until they got him

Elderly Cambridge don John Maxwell Image (a friend of the Spencer family of Cookham) wrote to a friend with an insight into life in a university town almost taken over by the army. He had visited a wounded former student in London: William Cary Dobbs, a member of the Anglo-Irish gentry, was no youngster, in his 40s. He had been wounded in February 1915 at the Battle of Ypres, and was later killed in action.

[17 March 1915]

Wednesday, St Patrick’s Day 1915

VDB [his friend’s nickname]

This letter, in reply to yours received just a fortnight ago, would have been written long ago, but I am only just convalescing from a brutal cold and cough… I attribute it to the bitter North wind that met me on Westminster Bridge and on every open space on my return afoot from a visit to Willie Dobbs in St Thomas’s Hospital. He had been but 4 days in the trenches when they got him. He suggested in a letter how much he would like to see me: and feeling how lonely he might be, I came up from C[ambridge], I may say on purpose. I went to him on Sat, and Sund. Ha, ha! lonely!! At the first visit (he has a room to himself and one other officer – somewhat dirty, but very snug. But to me the long corridor where the men are berthed in two rows seemed the more cheerful). Well, on Saturday I found 2 young ladies – a cousin and a pretty sister – and two or three men in attendance. On Sunday a different sister and, counting one after another, I should guess about six men – nearly all of whom professed to remember me at Trinity, and two had the audacity to improvise (which they called “quoting”) remarks made by me to them on various occasions. Such subtle flattery there was no resisting: although I could swear to having never set eyes on any one of them before. We had loads of stimulating War-gup from the London Clubs. All has perished from my memory. Had I felt equal to writing when your letter came, I could have ladled out to you some prime yarns. Willie, in a long grey dressing gown, looked utterly unchanged from what I saw last June. His wound was in the left upper arm, just above the elbow – a compound fracture, worse luck, but from a rifle bullet, not shell. He doesn’t seem troubled by it. He has to sleep on his back, somewhat tiring, and they had begun to massage the hand and fingers.

Four days only in the trenches – and he told me that he never saw a German! The way they fed him up on his journey to the sea was most hospitable – beef tea and champagne at every town. No sooner had he touched old England’s hospitable shore than every comfort had to be paid for. In France all was free.