Coffee and biscuits

The Earley branch of the Church of England Men’s Society was at the forefront of attempts to entertain locally billeted soldiers.


Men’s services are not being held during July and August, but will recommence on September 12th. Two more concerts have been given to the members of the Army Service Corps stationed in Earley. The Hall is nearly full of soldiers at every concert and there is no doubt that these entertainments are much appreciated. The Army Service Corps has provided a band, which did capital service at the concert on July 22nd. Lack of funds has made it necessary to limit the refreshments to coffee and biscuits, and even then it was necessary to obtain a continuation of the support hitherto so generously afforded if these concerts are to be continued. It is hoped to hold one every fortnight. Donations should be sent to Mr. H. W. Keep, 7, Melrose Avenue, who is acting as Treasurer to the Soldiers’ Entertainments’ Fund.

Earley St Peter parish magazine, August 1915 (D/P191/28A/22)

Feeling is bitter against the strikers at home

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence on a rare quiet morning at the front with instructions as to the kind of things he wanted her to send – and the ones he didn’t. He also shared some views on strikes at home.

May 20, 1915
My dear Florrie

It’s a truly peaceful morning; the guns are practically silent; I’ve had five hours undisturbed rest, and moreover being situated in the section of the line known as the “rest cure” I’ve time enough and inclination enough to write.

Thank you for all the things you have sent me. For the present don’t send any more spiritive (while we are stationary I can’t use it except wastefully). Also don’t send matches – we have plenty, and don’t send much café’ au lait. If you send any of the latter, send the smallest tin you can get; it’s difficult to carry an opened tin about. Don’t send refills for torch quite so frequently – if you are now sending at intervals of a week, for the future send at intervals of ten days. But always have the refills treated before sending. The last but one was absolutely “dead” when it arrived.

Fruit is very difficult to obtain and so sometimes is bread, so if you can send me a little tinned or dried fruit occasionally it will be very welcome.

I like the “broad cut” Fryers but it’s very funny you should have tried so hard to get it and refused the “original” as I prefer the latter. I always seem to have plenty to smoke – perhaps a little less tobacco wouldn’t be a mistake.

It’s a fine day, suitable for aeroplanes and I hear the anti-aircraft guns at work, so soon I expect the big guns will begin to roar, and this lovely spring morning full of promise of happiness will be sullied. Well, we’ll enjoy it while we can, and I mean to stroll out directly into the brilliant sunshine and have a look at a bank at the end of the garden which is a mass of double daisies and forget-me-nots. There too I’m sure to find a nightingale singing in the branches of an ash tree undisturbed by the awful events in its neighbourhood.

There is a good piano in perfect tune in this house, and in the evening the Brigade Major usually sings a few of Boney Gray’s of Chevalier’s songs, or some of the soldiers’ ditties which I understand years ago he went to the trouble of collecting & publishing. He’s very much like Mr Ray in many ways and can sing his kind of song very well indeed….

Is Sydney taking a commission right away? I shall be glad to hear if so. He has written to me several times and must think I have forgotten him as I haven’t replied at all I believe. But I really haven’t had the time. Give him my love and tell him I’ll write when I can. Tell dear old Will the same. I have received his letters all right enough [from Switzerland] and you can tell him that very curiously they pass through the hands of an A.E. postal corporal somewhere at the base. This corporal prior to his promotion was attached to us, and he has sent me a message on the envelope of each of Will’s letters.

How are they all at home? I hope well. Father seems to be worried by the course of events at home. I do hope our nation won’t make itself a byword by losing its head and sanity.
Feeling here is very bitter against the strikers at home. Of course the men at home may be enduring hardships; but the men at the front are enduring even greater ones, and the time for adjustment is après la guerre [after the war].

I continue to astonish the natives with my French. Most of them understand me. Those who don’t, I enquire, “Do you speak English?” “No.” “Do you speak German?” “Of course not.” “Then what language do you speak? For you don’t speak your own.” They always take that as a huge joke and the domestic commissariat is generally immediately at my disposal….

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/4/28-29)

‘Such revulsions of feelings’: Sydney Spencer’s emotional rollercoaster continues

Sydney Spencer was continuing to work hard as a volunteer at a YMCA tent. He had little time for his diary, but managed to find a few minutes to record his changing feelings:

Tuesday September 21st
I have absolutely had not a moment in which to write, although I have longed to get time to do so. I have had such experiences, such revulsions of feelings, such surprises, pleasures, disappointments, elations, & depressions, all in these few days that I wonder how many months or perhaps years of experience I have had in these ten days …

The work here has proved most strenuous. We have to be up by 5.30 or soon after to supply coffee & tea – seldom tea – for the men. We now have an orderly, Tight by name. he is, I think, strictly honest and fairly hard working too. The lad we had whom we called “Tommy Atkins”, a boy of eleven, who looked seven, & who was as sharp as a needle, proved what I feared he would – not honest! We found that he had been selling 3d packets of cigarettes for 1d, so we had to tell him that we should not need his help any more! Today we have a man here who plays [music, probably the piano] quite respectably & says that he was at Charterhouse to school. His father has a large business in the city – a tailor I believe he is.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)