“All right, now mind all you – will attend the next – parade”

Back in the UK as he undertook officer training, Percy Spencer was amused by a sergeant particularly keen on ensuring religious observance.

July 29, 1917
My dear WF

Sunday, and if there could have been any doubt about it, this was settled by the burly orderly sergeant who appeared in our hut at 9.50 am and in stentorian tones demanded all Nonconformists on parade. Nobody moving, he added. “All right, now mind all of you – will attend the next – parade, C of E. Doesn’t matter a – what you are. Understand?” and I’ve no doubt he sings hymns beautifully.

There are strong rumours that we should be away from here by Friday next at latest. But I have nothing definite to go upon.

If I get 3 or 4 days I shall run up to London and get my kit together. Here I have nothing but army clothes. At the cadet school I shall want quite a lot of civilian things I have.

I am writing on the front at Abergele, a very quiet little place, charmingly situated north of St Ormes Head. On Tuesdays we come here to bathe – a great privilege but rather spoilt by the march here which the officer who takes us tries to do at 150 paces a minute, a frightful step.

I’ve heard from Will this week. He seems very well and still deep in the heights of mountains and size of lakes.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/6/58-61)

Voluntary workers get badges

Ladies from Crazies Hill were honoured for their hard work sewing and knitting for the wounded.

Crazies Hill Notes

With reference to the Working Party, Miss Rhodes has kindly forwarded the following:-

The Director General of Voluntary Organizations has issued Voluntary Workers’ Badges to the following members of the Crazies Hill Working Party who are entitled to a Badge, under the rules of the Association:-

Mrs. French Miss Kate Willis
Mrs. Whiting Miss Fleming
Mrs. Light Miss A. Fleming
Mrs. Waldron Mrs. Barfoot
Mrs. Habbits Mrs. Norris
Mrs. Stephens Miss Goodall
Mrs. King Mrs. Huckle
Miss Rose Mrs. Rhodes
Miss Mary Rose Miss Rhodes
Miss Beck

A letter received from the Secretary of the Hon. Lady Monro’s Hospital Depot says:

“Will you congratulate your workers for the splendid way in which they have worked and for the quality and quantity of their work and that we shall expect and hope for their help next winter. The following is a list of the things made:-

Pyjamas 132
Slippers 28
Mufflers 24
Slings 18
Socks 7 pairs
Mittens 13 pairs
Bed Socks 3 pairs
Helmets 112
Swabs 11
Bed Jackets 11
Treasure Bags 30

Sent to Bartholomews Hospital:-
4 Bed Jackets
13 Bed Gowns.”

Wargrave parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

“Nowadays there is not much time for letter writing”

Reading women made clothes and bandages for wounded soldiers, while both ladies and gentlemen contributed to the cost of materials.

CARE AND COMFORTS WORKING PARTY

We acknowledge with many thanks the following donations: Miss Hewitt, 2s 6d; Mrs Morley, 5s; Mr Howard Allsop, 10s; Mr W R Cook, 10s; Mr H Pretty, £4 6s 3d (being one penny for each day of the war). The garments sent during the month are: 9 white shirts, 4 helpless shirts, 21 bags, 4 pairs slippers, 4 longtailed bandages, 28 face cloths. Total with those already acknowledged, 2.364.

Funds were getting very low, so a few letters were written to some of the gentlemen of our congregation who cannot be expected to sew themselves, inviting them to help us, but nowadays there is not much time for letter writing, so will some more of our men folk be so kind as to send us contributions. They may rest assured that the work is well done and much appreciated.

Reading St. John parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P172/28A/24)

Police uniforms will have to be lower quality

The war continued to have an impact on the local police service.

7 July 1917

On 8 May last the Acting Chief Constable was informed by the Home Office that the War Cabinet had decided that further members of Police Forces should be released for military service; and that the minimum number to be supplied by Berkshire was 20. he accordingly released that number of the youngest Constables on 1 June, as follows:

PC 44, James H. Benson Married
PC 193, Wilfred Thomas Ditto
PC 192, Henry J. Boshier Ditto
PC 59, James Strange Ditto
PC 29, Charles J. Simmonds Single
PC 187, Harry Hankins Married
PC 180, George W. G. Plumb Ditto
PC 152, Bertie W. Smith Ditto
PC 4, Charles W. Green Ditto
PC 220, Bertram G. Sherwood Ditto
PC 207, Albert J. Harvey Ditto
PC 160, Allan Miles Single
PC 76, Kenneth Chapman Married
PC 157, James A. Butler Ditto
PC 191, Ernest Culley Ditto
PC 67, Ernest West Ditto
PC 53, Francis G. E. Bailey Single
PC 118, Frederick Bailey Ditto
PC 8, Charles V. Foster Married
PC 121, Thomas H. Fletcher Ditto

In accordance with the Committee’s decision on 5 July, 1915, the allowance to the wives of married Constables during the latter’s absence on military service will be the amount the Constables were receiving from Police Funds for pay and war bonus – less the amount received from Army Funds … and the wives will be allowed to remain in their houses on payment of half the usual deduction for house rent.

As regards the single Constables, PC 29 Simmonds alone has been contributing regularly, 6/- per week to the support of his relatives, and the Sub-committee recommend that an allowance of 6d per day be granted in this case.

No further First Police Reservists have been called up for active Police duty, and endeavours will be made to manage with the assistance of the Special Constables whenever practicable.

Three of the Constables who have now joined the Army formed part of the number furnished under agreement to Newbury Borough, and have not yet been replaced pending the reconsideration of the agreement.

Clothing and Helmets for 1918

A tender was obtained from Messrs Titley, Son & Price for the supply of Police clothing for 1918, but the prices being so much in excess of the previous contract, they were communicated with, with a view to the prices being reduced; and they subsequently offered to supply the clothing at the same prices as in 1917, but stipulated that, while the material would be serviceable, it would be of a lower quality. The overcoats, capes and undress trousers would be of the same weight and appearance as, but would not be, all wool. At the same time they strongly recommended the retention of the Sergeants’ and Constables’ winter trouser material at the price quoted, viz £1.1s.0d, instead of 16s 0d as last year. It is recommended that this offer be accepted.

The garments required for the 1918 issue will be Great Coats, Serges, Dress Trousers, Undress Trousers, and Summer Helmets.

Messrs Christy & Co are at present unable to tender for the Caps and Helmets, owing to the Government having commandeered their stock and, as the Committee understand other firms are in like position, it is recommended that tenders be not invited this year.

Adopted.

Class “B” First Police Reserve

The position and pay of Class “B” men on the First Police Reserve – some of whom have been on duty since the beginning of the war – have been brought to the notice of the Sub-committee. In view of the present high prices of food, etc, the Sub-committee recommend that their rate of pay be increased from 5/- to 5/6 per day as from 1 April, 1917…

Carried: That Class “B” First Police Reserve be granted a bonus of 3/6 per week as from 1 April, 19817, instead of the increased rate of pay as recommended by the Finance Sub-committee.

Standing Joint Committee minutes (C/CL/C2/1/5)

Regular orders for definite hospitals

The Wargrave Surgical Dressings Emergency Society was now run on more organised lines.

Wargrave Surgical Dressings Emergency Society

Since April 25th, 1915 to January 9th, 1917, the Surgical Dressings Emergency Society has sent out from Wargrave Station – to Casualty Clearing Stations, Hospitals in France, in Gallipolli, Mesopotamia and Salonica,

344,866 Dressings
8,447 Comforts such as Shirts, Pyjamas, Shoes, Bed Jackets, Mufflers etc.

The Society is now working under the Director General of Voluntary Organizations (War Office) and he has somewhat changed the system of working.

We have now regular monthly orders for definite hospitals; a certain number of Dressings and Comforts to provide –

Dressing Gowns, Slippers, Bed Jackets, Handkerchiefs, Towels, and Socks are needed next month – besides the Dressings.

Wargrave parish magazine, June 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

Furze Platt has no lack of War Workers

The women of Furze Platt were hard at work.

Furze Platt War Working Party

The following work has been completed during the last six months:- Mosquito Nets 59, Anti-Vermin Vests 44, Sun Shields 85, Bandages 46, Shirts 21, Bags 133, Bed Socks 80 pairs, Slippers 21 pairs, Nightingales 18, Bed jackets 41, Swabs 300, Mufflers 35, Mittens 61, Socks 7 pairs, Helmet 1.

The subscriptions have fallen by about 15/- a month, as against the amount subscribed at this time last year, and the cost of wool and material has greatly risen. Thanks to having some material in stock at the end of last year, the Working Party has been able to furnish almost the same amount of goods for hospitals and troops at the front; but I should like to call people’s attention to the position of affairs, and to beg them, as far as is in their power, to keep up their subscriptions.

The fact that so much work has been done shows that Furze Platt has no lack of War Workers, and we may be proud of the fact that no work has been returned to us by the Depot as incorrectly done.

G.M. Skrine, Hon. Sec. and Treasurer

June 26th 1917

Furze Platt War Working Party

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P181/28A/26)

A wonderful escape from death

Several Winkfield men had suffered severe wounds.

OUR MEN WHO ARE SERVING.

Lieut. George Ferard has been severely wounded; he had a wonderful escape from death, for not only has he bullets in both thighs, and was shot through the arm, but he also had 5 bullets through his clothes and his revolver smashed by another. He is now in Hospital in England, and we rejoice to learn that he is doing well.

Lance-Corporal Wallace Nickless has been invalided out of the Army, for the wound in his left hand has rendered it useless for military service. Private Alfred Thurmer has also received his discharge through ill health, and we trust that both will find suitable and useful work.

Winkfeld section of Winkfield District Magazine, May 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/5)

Fallen on the field of war

Warfield’s women had contributed large amounts of clothing and bandages for wounded soldiers, while two more of the parish’s men had lost their lives.

Since our last issue we have to record the deaths of Major Alexander Wood and Walter Parsons who have fallen on the field of war. We desire to express our sincere sympathy with their respective widows and families.

It will be of some interest to the parish to hear some account of the Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild in Warfield. Since its institution, in 1914 no less than 430 articles (including vests, sandbags, housewifes, treasure-bags, bed-jackets, gloves, pillows, hot water bottle-covers, shirts, operation stockings, sun shields, surgeon’s coats, slippers, jug-covers, quilts and pyjamas) have been sent to Head-Quarters; also 79 pairs of mittens to Colonel Burgess, and 407 bandages with 156 face-swabs to the Mayoress of Reading for the War Hospitals of that town.

Warfield section of Winkfield District Magazine, May 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/5)

“No better discipline or anything of that sort, I hope”

Percy Spencer wrote to Florence asking for some
Lysol petroleum jelly, an antiseptic. He had recently attended a dinner with old comrades, which had both tragic and comic elements.

May 3, 1917
My dear WF

This is just a few scrambled lines, mostly to ask for things.

I should very much like a tube of Lysall [Lysol] petroleum jelly, or a small bottle of Lysall and some phospherine tablets.

Also some ink to fit my box.

If I have any merino underwear or any shirts, I should like them please!

I’m sorry I can’t think of anything more to ask just now!

Well, I saw the Big Brass Hat yesterday and he said “H’m yes” 3 times, so I expect I’m in for something pretty bad – probably a month’s training in the trenches – or “something worth boiling out in it”.

We had a first rate dinner the night before last – the surviving officers & sergeants of my old Battalion, numbered just 18, 15 of whom were present. It was a right good evening, tho’ it had its tragic side.

By the way I am the only original member of the staff left: also I am the only remaining Staff Clerk in the Division who came out with us. The only original Quartermaster in the Division (of my old Battalion) was at the dinner. In fact so many of us were the only remaining something or other, we felt quite lonely.

Well, dear girl, I’m sending you the souvenir of that event. “Pat” enlisted as a private tho’ in private life he is Paterson of the Home Office – head of the Prisons of England – a fine man with a grand head. Dear old RSM Fisler’s speech was too funny. Private Pat, Corporal Pat, Sergeant Pat & 2nd Lt Pat of No. 4 Platoon was the well beloved of this Battalion of rough lads, and the fine old RSM ran himself high & dry on the rock of affection for the battalion idol: “that’s about all I’ve got to say, I think, sir”, he concluded lamely after a long pause.

The Sergeant Cook was pressed to sing – everyone knew he wanted to sing, and what he wanted to sing, and what he would sing – still he announced as he reluctantly rose to his feet, it would be a sad song. Nobody said, “We know; it’s going to be “Speak not ‘er nime”, tho’ everyone knew that “Speak not ‘er nime” it would be notwithstanding the cheering effect of a [bumper?] of port & Kummel shandy the worthy fellow had mixed for himself under the impression the harmless looking liquor was a sort of Perrier.

And so the evening passed. We talked of the St Albans days & the early days out here, of this good fellow and that, of a stout hearted Sergeant who wouldn’t be put off his game by enemy shelling before the battle of Loos – “What’s that?” exclaimed a jumpy platoon sergeant as a crump landed near. “Spades trumps” replied the other, and as the next one landed even nearer, “Clubs laid, your turn to play.”

But always we got back to Pat – to the early days out here, when as a Lance Corporal he “borrowed” the transport officer’s mount and a local landau & drove his “boys” out, only to run into the Divisional General. Of the Divisional General’s wrath & enquiry as to disciplinary action taken, & the CO’s reply – “This NCO has been promoted to Corporal”.

And I reminded him of the day when talking to the RSM he passed by en route for the guard room, there to comfort one of his platoon with all the food & illegal things he could buy.

Oh, the discipline of No 4 was awful, but they’d follow Pat anywhere.
Pat had to go away for a long time – upon returning he asked how things were with No. 4. “Oh, they’ve gone downhill fast, sir, since you left”. “No better discipline or anything of that sort, I hope”, Pat enquired anxiously. “Oh no” replied his informant in a horrified tone.

And now this same Pat is our Divisional Lecturer on “Discipline”.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/33-35)

An inspiration to future generations

The needlewomen of Reading St John continued to beaver away, while ex-vicar T. Guy Rogers was regarded as an inspiration.

CARE & COMFORTS

The following articles have been sent by the Working Party:

9 helpless shirts, 41 pillow cases, 24 locker cloths, 12 bags, 1 shirt, 3 bandages, and 3 pairs of slippers; also 3 invalid caps given by Miss Bowyer and mittens from Miss Martin. Total with those already acknowledged, 2037. Miss Bell has kindly given one dozen yards of flannelette to the Working Party.

REV. T. GUY ROGERS.

An excellent portrait of the Rev. T. Guy Rogers in his Army Chaplain’s uniform has by his kindness been presented to the Church, and now hangs with the portraits of other Vicars of the parish in S. John’s vestry.

It is, and ought always to be, an inspiration to the parish to remember those who have ministered here, and the portrait of Mr. Rogers will speak to the present generation, and we hope also to succeeding generations, of one who for six years had charge of the parish and won distinction as an Army Chaplain in the Great War.

Reading St. John parish magazine, April 1917 (D/P172/28A/24)

Truly Mortimer has done well, and the workers have earned the handsome official War Worker badge

The Stratfield Mortimer women were particularly industrious, producing almost three times as many bandages and clothing for the troops as every other village in Bradfield Poor Law Union combined!

The War-Working Party

Some account of this important piece of the parish’s activity has been long overdue. Workers have been numerous and diligent, much being done at home in addition to what is accomplished at the meetings. Mrs. Alfred Palmer, as organiser, has been indefatigable; and the tedious work of much cutting out has been in the capable hands of Mrs. Thatcher, Mrs. Charles Thorp, and Miss Illman.

The grand total of articles made from Dec. 1915 to Mar. 1917 is as follows:- Shirts, 109; bed-jackets, 188; mufflers, 117; Helmets, 46; pairs of socks, 146; pairs of bed socks, 42; pairs of mittens, 281; bandages of various sorts, 785; total 1,714.

This noble total gains its real significance when it is added that the number of articles made in all the villages in the Bradfield Union during the first 12 months was only 6,459. Truly Mortimer has done well, and the workers have earned the handsome official W.W. badge which has been granted to many of them.

And now about funds. More than £50 has been received and spent up to last Xmas. Some £30 or £40 more is needed, and quickly too: material, and especially the flannel material, which is a necessity, is now so dear. Are there any who are unable to come and work, who can yet give – to the encouragement of the actual workers? Gifts, large or small, would be welcomed by Mrs. Roalfe Cox who is Hon. Treasurer. The committee is about to discuss methods of getting more money, as unless this can be speedily provided it may be necessary to cease even giving out work after the end of this month.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, April 1917 (D/P120/28A/14)

A shortage of starch

The Sisterhood of St John Baptist had to amend its habit due to shortages.

26 March 1917

Notice from Mother that owing to the difficulty in obtaining starch, we should discontinue wearing cuffs for the present as a war measure.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

A most unsoldierly appearance

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence to gently discourage her frequent food gifts, as he felt guilty accepting them when he knew food was in short supply in England.

Mar. 6, 1917
My dear WF

Yes, I got the socks & very good & welcome they are.

I’ve just read a very interesting document on “Delousing”.
Camphor and Naphthalene are or is recommended. Can you in some odd corner of your time help me in the greatest problem of this part of the world next to shell dodging!

I loved your last letter: as I think I have told you already, my greatest regret is that I can’t preserve your letters. I keep ‘em till my pockets present a most unsoldierly appearance & then they have to go west. Why “west” by the way?

Garwood wishes me to thank you for the “rum” you sent him. It makes a splendid drink.

The food question seems to be acute, and I feel that we are probably living better here than the masses are at home. Of course I love your parcels, but don’t you think, dear, that the time has come when they should be suspended, or made more occasional, and the cake cut out altogether. Please don’t be hurt, we thoroughly appreciate your dear gifts, but personally I almost have a guilty conscience in enjoying them.

I have been so busy I am sorry there is no time for more just now but to send you both my dearest love and to hope you’re both as fit as I am.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/24)

Fine clothes for wounded officers

Wargrave Surgical Dressings Emergency Society had been very productive, sending masses of bandages, clothing and bedding for the uses of the wounded. Note the class-related distinctions, with officers given better quality items.

Wargrave Surgical Dressings Emergency Society
Feb 22nd, 1917.

Fifteen Bales have left the Wargrave workrooms since January 5th, 1917, in answer to the requisitions of the Director General of Voluntary Organisations.

Six Bales have gone direct for the use of the troops at the Front containing:
564 pairs of Knitted Mittens
277 Knitted Mufflers
148 Knitted Helmets
226 pairs of Socks (heavy hand-knitted)
12 heavy long sleeved Cardigans
12 pair of knitted Gloves
5 dozen pieces of Soap.
And oddments of knitted Comforts.

These all went addressed to the A.M.F.O., Le Havre, France, for immediate distribution.

The other Nine Bales contained:

228 Pneumonia Jackets
308 treasure Bags
156 Long heavy operation Stockings
58 pairs of fine pyjamas for Officers
16 fine Flannel Shirts for Officers
156 Surgical Boots and Slippers
13 Pillows
24 Pillow Cases
36 Handkerchiefs
108 Knitted Washcloths
6 double-lined fine twill Flannel Dressing Gowns for Officers
8 fine flannel dressing jackets for Officers
6 pairs of soft grey flannel ward suits for Officers

Hospitals sent to:

C.O 11 General Hospital, B.E.F., France
Sister-in-Charge, 8 Ambulance Train, B.E.F., France
Military Orthopaedic Hospital, Duncane Road, Shepherd’s Bush
The Stewart Norfolk War Hospital for Officers, Thorpe, Norwich
The Matron 17 Park Lane, London (for Officers)
The Highland Casualty Clearing Station, B.E.F., France
Military Hospital, Park Hall Camp, Owestry (Urgent).

Wargrave parish magazine, March 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

“Only those who have lived amongst the Boche can fully appreciate what it means to be at the mercy of a brutal bully”

A man educated at Reading School reveals the horrors of being a prisoner of the Germans.

THE UNSPEAKABLE HUN.
A True Story.

It was Thursday morning, February 16th of last year [1917], and intensely cold, the thermometer registering 10 degrees below Zero. At 9 a German soldier came to tell me that I was wanted at the camp hospital. I was there met by the British doctor, Capt. Frank Park, C.A.M.C., who told me that their ere sixteen British Prisoners had just newly arrived from the station seven Kilometres away. With him I went into ward 2, and there saw 16 specimens of humanity. That is all you could call them, 16 frozen, hollow cheeked wrecks, the remnants of hundreds and hundreds of once strong, healthy men, who had been taken prisoners and kept to work behind the lines. Their comrades were dead.

Now these men were captured in September, October and November, 1916, and kept to work close to the front, working in preparation of the big German retreat then planned to take place in February and March, 1917. Their work was demolishing houses, bridges, felling trees, making roads and digging trenches, those called the Hindenburg line. This line and others were built by prisoners of war. We praised German engineering skill and paid silent tribute to the endurance and work of German working parties, but the work of prisoners, Russians and Rumanians in thousands and tens of thousands, and of British. They worked under appalling conditions, brutal treatment, blows, kicks, death if they refused, with housing and quarters not fit for pigs and food not enough to keep even body and soul together. What did it matter if they died, there were plenty more where they came from? Germany numbered her prisoners by millions. Prisoners they were, not prisoners of war; slaves, yea, worse than slaves.

These details these poor wretches told us with tears in their eyes when they spoke of some dear friend and pal who died beside them at his work, died of exposure, starvation, or our own shell fire. They told us of the clothes they had to wear. There was no need to tell, we saw it ourselves when we undressed them. Here is the list, and think of the temperature and cold as you read it:

Thin service tunic and trousers, old cotton shirt, socks and boots, and old cap. That was all, no warm under clothing, no great coat. All these the Boche had stolen under the plea they needed to be fumigated. But they were never returned.

And what did the outside world know of this or care? It may have cared, it must have cared, but it knew nothing. Germany took great care of that. These men were reported in British Casualty lists as “missing,” and missing they will remain till the end of time. But they were not missing; they were once strong healthy men, prisoners of war. They were not allowed to write to their relatives, Germany did not want the world to know where they were, or of their existence.

Amongst the sixteen who reached Minden were men who had been prisoners four or five months. This I found out as a fact when I wrote home to their relatives. They told me of pals who died beside them and I reported them to the Record Office of their Regiments and my letter never got home. It was always a mystery to us that these sixteen and other little parties later ever got back into Germany. They attributed it to the fact that, being men of fine physique and health, they didn’t succumb as quickly as their comrades went to hospital suffering chiefly from dysentery, recovered a little strength, and the Germans, seeing it was no good sending them back to the line. Put them on a train and back they came into Germany.

This is just one isolated instance of many that might be quoted. What one must realise in relation to these crimes is that while primarily they may be said to be the work of the system and spirit inculcated throughout the German Army by “Prussian Militarism,” yet nevertheless they were perpetrated by the Boche generally, and that right down to the very last German soldier this devilish brutality is to be expected and looked for. This is not generally realized, and only those who have lived amongst the Boche can fully appreciate what it means to be at the mercy of a brutal bully. You have no possible redress, no chance of even making your conditions known to the outside world, and you have only your own British spirit to carry you through.

If you can realise what this means, perhaps then you can appreciate what the ex-prisoner feels when he tells you that never again can he hold out his hand in friendship to a German.

CAPT. REV. A. GILLES WILKEN.
(Late British Prisoner of War).

Reading School magazine December 1918 (SCH3/14/34)