Peaceful persuasion

Sydney Spencer moved to better quarters today, while Percy’s regiment was handing out food to starving locals.

Sydney Spencer
Saturday 11 May 1918

Got up at 4 am. ‘Stand to’ and took men over to yet another new BP. Got back at 5.30 & slept till 9. Had breakfast brought to me in bivy. After breakfast a shave & wash & wrote long letters to Broadbent & Father & Mother. A note from the Padre re wine bills.

After lunch to change bivys with D Company. Completed by 3.45. Changed my socks & had tea. Wrote to the mother of one of my wounded men. During the ‘bivy’ [illegible] this afternoon saw a very comic fight between two men carrying petrol cans.

After dinner we all sat & waited to ‘scoot’ for A—s, which waiting lasted till 9.45, & then we took up our bed & walked. We arrived at midnight.

Found my platoon’s billet a very cosy one. Came here to our billet. Jolly comfortable. A small room each, and a mess room decked with French flags! Probably an old café’. To bed in my flea bag & valise with clothes off for first time for 15 days, with exception of taking them off for a bath!

Percy Spencer
11 May 1918

A good day. Had tea with my old chums of the 1&2. Called on Blofeld of the TMs, who was full of glee over his TM barrage which led to the 23rd killing 70 Bosch. Met Lynes whose company lost the bit of trench afterwards retaken. He told me trench was full of kit & pillows!

25-0 band conducted by a private (my old friend at Chiseldon – [Henry?] Doe & varsity man – deputy organist of St Paul’s) played outside my orderly room.

A good deal of misery in village owing to a shortage of food, army fed these poor folk. Have an idea this is part of peaceful persuasion scheme. Col. Parish on leave – a great loss to the mess. I prosecuted in SIW case for Col. P. & man was convicted.

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

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Scenting battle

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about his experience defending a soldier at a court martial, as he awaited news about his destination at the front.

21st Res Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Mar. 24, 1918

My dear WF

Of course down here all we GS officers are scenting battle, but I think there’s a tremendous reserve of officers, and do not expect to be rushed out. Apropos of this – while at the Orderly Room the other day the CO showed me a letter from the 1/21st London regiment applying for me to be sent out as he wanted me as his adjutant. As the present CO of the 1/21st London does not know me, of course this is the going of General Kennedy.

My CO explained that unfortunately he could do nothing except to advise his correspondent to apply for me. So I am now in the flattering position of having 2 COs applying for me. And yet I get no forrader. Isn’t it galling!

This week I’ve had some good news. I was detailed to defend a man on a charge of allowing a prisoner to escape. There was no getting over the fact that he did let him go, and the assistant adjutant was pretty confident I couldn’t get him off.

However, I did, and enclose his letter of thanks. It was quite funny to hear myself described as “counsel for the Defence”, and quite a shock later, when rising to cross examine on behalf of the accused, to hear this described as “Cross examined by accused”.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/25-27)

Coming to the Front?

Florence Image sent her brother some gifts ready to take to the Front.

21st (Res) Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Feb 28, 1918

Dear WF

Very many thanks for the books and for the soap case…

Since [his last letter] an officer from Gen Kennedy’s Brigade has been here who introduced himself to me & told me Gen Kennedy talking to him the other day had told him I was coming out to the 15th. But I have no further news direct….

Yours ever

Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/17-18)

“Orders have a way of descending from the blue and we may get ours at any moment”

Percy Spencer anticipated his return to the Front would come at any minute. The battle of Bourlon Wood had occurred at the end of 1917. Captain Walter Stone won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his heroics.

21st (Res) Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Feb 24. 1918

My dear WF

It seems ages since I wrote to or heard from you. So I’ve filled my pipe (my nicest & foulest one) with the fragrant Mr Fryers and sat myself down to write you a line.

My principal news is that I’m still here with no news of going. It occurs to me that the cadet course having been lengthened there should be a gap in home recruits which we may stay at home to fill for a few weeks. On the other hand orders have a way of descending from the blue and we may get ours at any moment, and incidentally a few days leave.

Did you read of the 47th at Bourlon Wood and the gallant fight put up by Capt. Stone & Lieut. Burgeery? The man next door to me was Capt. Stone’s CSM. I think he almost wishes he was with him, altho’ he would now be dead.

Well, I suppose we shall soon have another chance of doing real things, and none of us will be really sorry. Life here is frightfully destructive and only endurable by fighting for reforms. So far as I can see the main return a grateful country has obtained from me to date is the issue of overalls for mess orderlies.

We’re having pretty mixed weather. Thursday was glorious and I thoroughly enjoyed our route march – once away from the camp, the country is delicious.

I’ve had a letter from the red haired Australian (No. 6) and the cox; what’s happened to the rest, I don’t know.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/14-16)

Women tip the Tommies to shop for them as they can get ham & cheese where the women can’t

Still training in Wiltshire, Percy Spencer wanted a special lamp to take back to the Front. He had also had a surprise reunion with younger brother Sydney – and was unimpressed with their other brother Harold’s attempts to sponge on good-natured Sydney.

21st Res Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Feb 11, 1918

My dear WF

I’ve just returned from 48 hours leave, a frightful scramble, but the break is worth it.

Luckily I was able to catch Dot in town and we went together to “General Pat” at the Haymarket, after trying without success to get into the Albert Hall to hear Carrie Tubb, Ivor Foster & Harry Dearth. She is very much better I’m glad to say.

As I was seeing her off at Paddington, Sydney turned up, and I persuaded him to take his luggage out of the train and stay with me the night in my digs. We hadn’t met for over a year so I was very glad to see him again. He doesn’t seem to have altered a scrap.

We had a talk about Harold, and Sydney is sending me a letter about him. Apparently Harold looks on Sydney as an investment from which he is entitled to expect an income. It’s too preposterous.

I expect my embarkation leave pretty soon now – probably about the time Sydney will be with you. I suppose I may come too if I have a ration card, but please let me know dear, as I don’t wish to crowd you, or add to your food expenditure. In London though the women tip the Tommies to shop for them as they can get ham & cheese where the women can’t.

All last week I was upon battalion duties and lost touch with my boys, and it was very disheartening this morning to find that they had started off badly. However I’ll soon get them going again I hope.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Percy to Florence
Feb 11, 1918
My dear WF

The lamp is an ORILUX, made by J. H. STEWARD Ltd, 406, STRAND, LONDON. The price including spare bulb 25/- (probably more now).

It is a first rate long life lamp, well protected from weather, most suited for wearing on a belt, military fashion, but quite suitable for carrying by hand. I think, however, Stewards could show more suitable hand lamps.

Yours ever
Percy

Letters from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/11-13)

“It’s entirely up to you whether you have an easy or hard time”

Percy Spencer had a few more trenchant comments on his experiences as a trainee officer.

21st (Res) Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Jan 27th, 1918

My dear WF

I’m still here and finding life pretty strenuous, it’s entirely up to you whether you have an easy or hard time, but the man who can sit down and let things rip isn’t much account.

Today I held the finals of my platoon boxing competition. They were gory affairs but fought out in good spirit and with plenty of spirit. For the moment I’m frightfully popular. Tomorrow at inspection time they won’t like me a little bit.

Tonight I’ve again been to the little church of Lyddington. It is so restful to get away to real village life and the walk back again in the moonlight through scattered groups of white rubble, thatched cottages and farmsteads a happy recollection.

Yesterday the subalterns were instructed by the senior subaltern in mess etiquette. The meeting was too funny, as, without prejudice, the boot is on the other leg, and a good many of us weren’t afraid to say so. Altogether I think the meeting did good inasmuch as it cleared the air.

And now I’m smoking my pipe and writing a few letters – and don’t I wish it was in the cosy drawing room at 29 [Florence’s house]. Der Tag!

With all my love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/9-10)

A boastful Bosch killer

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about his current situation.

21st Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Jan 20, 1918

My dear WF

Did I tell you I’m now in quarters – that is a narrow room with curtained window, carpeted floor and a stove. Well, I am, anyway, and feeling more dignified and comfortable, you’ll be glad to hear.
A large draft of our fellows have gone on embarkation leave today, and I just missed it by a few hours’ seniority so I expect to be here a little longer anyway. But I may not get quite such a nice long leave as they are having.

Yesterday I met two Australians (officers) who knew my No. 6 [in his rowing crew] very well and spoke very highly of him as a Bosch killer. He was a very boastful fellow, but sound enough and never bragged about his battle exploits, but apparently he has many scalps to his credit. So I think John ought to forgive his inclusion in my eight altho’ he was an Australian.

Did I tell you I fired a revolver course during the awful weather last week? Anyway I [censored] passed out a first class shot.

My application for leave has been turned down for the moment on grounds which have not applied to others. However, I’m old enough to be philosophical and shan’t worry if I can’t get my way.

I have asked Thrussell to send my boots here, thanks dear. Thanks too for … the wool and for the ammunition boots.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

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

“My Colt revolver is much too heavy for me”

Webley revolvers were the standard small firearm issued to officers, but there were not enough to go around, as Percy Spencer, suffering toothache, told his sister Florence.

21st (Res) Battalion Lon[don] Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Jan 15, 1918

My dear WF

We are still having vile weather. Today it has been snowing incessantly.

Yesterday I saw the dentist who said he would not pass me GR and gave me a chit to the effect that I was urgently in need of dental treatment. So today I have applied for ten days leave. I don’t suppose for a moment I shall get it, though short periods of leave are given very freely.

I should very much like some khaki wool for mending. One pair of socks has been mended with a whitish wool which looks unsightly.

I’m now on a revolver course, but don’t expect to do any good as my Colt revolver is much too heavy for me and I am endeavouring to change it for a Webley.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/5-6)

A wild course of indiscipline

Percy Spencer wrote again to sister Florence. As one of the older trainee officers in his 30s, he was working with many who were just out of public school or university.

21st (Res) Battalion Lon[don] Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon
Jan 9, 1918

My Dear WF

I have been so busy the last few days working and keeping warm. I have been quite unable to write…

My life here is at present very much on the lines of a cadet – I am still at school, tramping among the hills and freezing. I have 30 boys to look after and having pulled them up short in their wild course of indiscipline, we’re beginning to get on quite well together. Today I went and saw them play football. We won a very bad game.

Yesterday I was Battalion Orderly Officer and woke things up generally. Strangely enough altho’ my brother officers have been tongue licked in consequence, I think I’m better liked than I was.
Today I’ve been on the hills, 820 ft high, attacking places. It was better fun than roaming about over them at midnight as I had to do the other night.

Marlborough 7 miles away seems a very nice place, and I hope to go there on pleasure.

Swindon 4 miles away is a wretched town with no soul.

This is a very straggly letter dear, but you’ll have to let it pass until I get rid of a wretched cold that has overtaken me….

Yours ever
Percy

PS I want John’s very kind present to me to be glasses, & I’ll choose them when next on leave, if I may.

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/3-4)

“Life here promises to be frightfully monotonous after I get to regular regimental duties”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence as he approached the end of his training as an officer.

21st (Res) Battalion Lon[don] Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Near Swindon

Jan 4, 1918

My dear WF

What a glorious day it’s been. Today I’ve been on the hill tops watching boys doing an attack practice with live ammunition – quite exciting. A delicious day. What must it have been from your friendly bay windows.

Life here promises to be frightfully monotonous after I get to regular regimental duties. At the moment about 50 of us kill time at what is termed a Brigade Class. This carries on for about 3 weeks; then there is a 4 day revolver course, and then we footle around until our orders come through for France or Egypt. We then get about 5 days leave, after which we may flit at any time.

There is a medical examination before we go, and I propose if my teeth do not improve to have them put right before I go out. Conditions here not being very good, I find my teeth giving me a certain amount of trouble, so I think it advisable to get them seen to before I’m called upon to stand the harder conditions of France or Egypt.

[Censored by Florence]

Very shortly I am leading a patrol of young officers around some infant mountains, returning about 1 a.m. if I don’t get lost in the Wiltshire hills, so I’m now off to study the map.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/1-2)

Peace and joy

Percy Spencer had enjoyed a restful Christmas break with his sister and brother in law in Cambridge. Now it was back to the grind of officer training.

21st London Reserve Battalion
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Near Swindon
Decr 28 1917

My dear Florence and John

The 10.4 ran.

Never did I hate a train so heartily. It didn’t matter so much when she only put a comma into my paragraph of happiness. But now she’s added a colon – and colons always depressed me.
..
Thank you with all my heart for the peace and joy of 29. it’s been a great thing for me – my stay at Cambridge.

Could you, WF, please send me my heavy black marching boots.

Tomorrow I hope to write at length.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/6/75)

“There’s some fun in this life though the monotony and drudgery”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with his impressions of the camp where he was undergoing officer training.

21st (Res) Bn, London Regt
G Lines
Chisledon Camp
Nr Swindon

Jan 13, 1917

My dear WF

Tomorrow I intend to see the MO here and try for leave to get dental treatment in London. If I fail, I shall in any case get 4-6 days before I go out and shall, of course, come to see you.

It is still bitterly cold here, but today has been very fine and I have enjoyed myself though on duty.

As company orderly officer I had to inspect huts this morning. In two huts men were standing about instead of being on parade. Most of them informed me they were an ablution fatigue, and until they moved off to the washing sheds I had to appear wise, though at a loss to know what they meant. One poor little fellow who looked ill and who I assumed to be sick, when asked what was the matter with him, replied, “Religion, Sir”. He eventually explained he was a Jew.

So there’s some fun in this life though the monotony and drudgery of feet & kit inspections and so on are trying at times.

I have bought my boys a few books and some boxing gloves. If you at any time have any cheap books you have done with, I shall be very glad to have them….

Of course there are a lot of officers here I know very well.
Unfortunately there are several here who wish they hadn’t reason to know me, and therefore I am not as happy or comfortable as I should be as a stranger to the Division. However, I can’t help that.

Now I’m off to church so I’ll say goodbye.

With my dear love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/8-9)

Noisy bomb throwing practice

Draycot (later known as Chiseldon) Camp was a few miles away from William Hallam in Swindon.

21st September 1916
Last night the soldiers at Draycott [sic] were practicing with bomb throwing and the noise was so audible here it woke me up. Made up my mind to go to Uffington, in the holidays we are to have at the end of the month; and go to Shellingford and copy down the Inscr. there.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/24)