“There are some very tough and rough customers among us”

Percy Spencer thought his old boss might be able to pull a few strings for him. Meanwhile, he was enjoying training with other NCOs selected for promotion.

July 22, 1917
My dear WF

Captain Holliday has just written to tell me he has got a job at Whitehall – a rather private & special job apparently, and he asked me if he could do anything for me. I’ve asked him to try & get me sent to Trinity. I don’t think it is desirable to bother Col Ready any further, do you?

I’m having quite a good time here: the place is very healthy and well organised.

If it’s a question of breeding and education, I shall be all right as there are some very tough and rough customers among us, and very few of them would pull muster in the drawing room.

My room mates are respectively a collier boy, a student for the Baptist Ministry, an accountant, a jeweller, a regular soldier. The last is a fine fellow. Very badly educated and terribly worried by his inclination to swear. Nevertheless he’s a man’s man.

There’s a lot of ragging here. You see we are all pretty senior in rank and a Sergeant Instructor on parade has to stand an awful lot of quiet impudence. However we shall no doubt settle down when we get to our Cadet units.

With my love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/50-52)

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Another of our hero lads has fallen in the terrible conflict

Reading’s Congregationalists continued to serve.

Sorrow.

We are deeply sorry to hear that another of our hero lads – Stanley Challen – has fallen in the terrible conflict. Whilst in action at Arras, on the May 3rd, he was struck by a shell and was instantaneously killed. To his loved ones the sad news came as a terrible blow, for he was of a lovable, thoughtful disposition, a devoted son and kind brother. We desire to express our truest sympathy with them, praying that our Heavenly Father may richly comfort and sustain them in these sad days.

Khaki Chat.

Jack Newey is back in the line again. Jesse Prouten is in England, and will probably appear from time to time among us. Mr Dormer has obtained a commission as equipment officer in the R.F.C., and is at present undergoing a course of instruction in this town. Mr Goddard is now “somewhere in France,” and so also to our surprise is Leslie Newey. The former has already written home expressing warm appreciation of the work of the Y.M.C.A. out there.

Trinity Congregational Church magazine, July 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

‘I shall probably have to do the common or garden “over the bags” stunt one merry morning’

Percy Spencer’s hopes of a commission seemed to have been dashed, but now at last he was going to get the opportunity – although he would have to undergo extra training, and would probably not get the administrative job he was most suited for.

June 11, 1917
My dear WF

You’ll think I’m a dreadful correspondent, but you’ll have guessed the reason of my silence – I’ve been terribly busy.

My commission papers went up with an application for a direct commission to be granted to me from the OC of the Battalion I was and am wanted for. (By the way this CO is now a Brigadier.)

Well, there is a rule that no direct commissions are to be granted. So altho’ my application was recommended by the Divisional Corps & Army Commanders & a special application was made to the war Office, the WO has refused to allow me to hold commissioned rank, unless I first come home for a cadet course. The reason given being that it has been found undesirable to grant direct commissions whatever the circumstances to men who have been mainly engaged upon clerical work. Isn’t it funny – and isn’t it a nasty sort of reflection upon “clerks”?

Just then was not an opportune moment for going into such matters. So it was put on one side until today.

Tonight my papers have gone up again for a cadet course in England; and if I dodge the shells & the submarines I ought to be in England within 3 weeks for a cadet course somewhere.

The crab of the business is that it will only be by the veriest luck that I shall get an administrative appointment at the end of it, and shall probably have to do the common or garden “over the bags” stunt one merry morning.

Anyhow, I feel I ought to hold commissioned rank, whether as a fighting or an administrative officer – and this stigma upon clerks must be removed, what!

If and when I come home I shall have some long stories to tell, some of which I’m sure John will wholly approve….

Yours ever
Percy

The asparagus was great. Never was it eaten with such relish or in such extraordinary circumstances.

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/38-40)

“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)

A marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons

Percy Spencer was having difficulty getting his commission organised. He wrote to Florence with the latest news – and a story from the Somme.

May 1, 1917

My dear WF

Isn’t it perfect weather!

And that’s just about all that’s perfect hereaway.

Thank you for all your frequent letters: they’re so refreshing. Your last about [censored] is too delightful. I sometimes quote extracts from your letters to the Mess, so you see you’re helping to cheer more than one lonely soldier. Your jokes are always hugely appreciated.

Tonight I am going to a town some miles back to drive with the original officers and sergeants of my old Battalion. I thought it was very kind of them to remember me as I have had so little to do with them.

And tomorrow I have to go and see a still greater brass hat about my commission. I have an idea that there is no intention to hurry my affairs, the reason being, of course, that my experience & weight here are difficult to replace. However sooner or later I expect I shall be an officer or an angel – I have had thoughts of becoming the latter quite frequently of late.

Rene Hunt tells me that [Percy’s brother] Horace is going to apply for a commission.

Before I forget it I must tell you a story of the Somme battle last year.

Our Headquarters were in some ruins off a very narrow and deep lane. On one side of the lane was a series of small splinter proof dugouts; on the other side a battery of guns. One of the splinter proofs just opposite a gun was occupied by “Baby” Huish, the Surrey cricketer (a splendid raconteur). “Baby” tells me that one morning, annoyed by a fellow walking about on his roof and throwing off portions of its brick and sandbag cover, he crawled out and asked the man what he thought he was doing. The man, ignoring him, continued to clear material from his roof and then turning towards the gun hailed the gunner in his gun pit. “How’s that, Bill, can you clear ‘er na?” Voice from gun pit – “Yes, that’ll be all right if we don’t ‘ave to drop below eighteen ‘undered”. Exit Baby to safer quarters.

A sad thing has happened to us. The rum issue has ceased, leaving us with a stock of lemons and a supply of all spice, cloves and cinnamon, no more rubbers of bridge and rum punch nightcaps. Jerome K Jerome’s “Told after supper” is nothing to our experiences in punch brewing – we can all make one pretty well, but there are some – well, I’m reckoned an expert.

A short time ago when moving into the line, the Signalling Officer noticed an ammunition box. “What’s that?” he asked. “Oh, that”, replied an innocent telegraphist, “is a test box Sapper Newport is making”. “Is it, I should like to see that”, said the officer, and opening the box all eager to examine the boy’s clever work (and he is clever) discovered a marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons!

But, alas, those days are over – over for good I hope.

Well, dear girl, goodbye.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/30-32)

Amateur dramatics behind the lines – “each pause is filled with the roar of guns & explosion of shells”

Percy wrote cheeefully to Florence, telling her about the amateur (and cross-dressing) dramatics by his soldiers.

April 24, 1917

I wonder if the sun is shining on you as well. It’s a perfectly glorious day here, full of sea, wind, aeroplanes and shells. There’s precious little sleep after daybreak this sort of weather.

Yesterday I went for quite a good walk across the fields along narrow waterways, and in the evening I went to the Follies and saw an absolutely topping performance. I do wish I could have you both here one evening just to show you what alluring damsels some of my boys make. Of course one can’t get away from the incongruity of it all, for each pause is filled with the roar of guns & explosion of shells, and at the end of each scene, as the windows are thrown open, bursting shells in the distance are just about all the view.

Altogether we’ve had a very good time lately, and but for a couple of rounds which the Huns fired at another NCO and myself a fortnight or so ago, we’ve been particularly immune from that being-shot-at feeling.

I’m enclosing one or 2 more souvenirs. I think Tyrrell’s is a perfectly charming group (the family put their Sunday clothes on for the event). The other is really sad – the central figure committed suicide a few days ago – why, heaven knows.

Well, I’m being so interrupted, I’m going to close.

Oh, I forgot to say I have been applied for direct (without a cadet course) by the OC of the Battalion I’m to go to, and the Brigadier has endorsed all the nice things said about me in the letter sent with my papers by the CO. So I doubt whether I shall get much, if any, time in England.

With my dear love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/29)

Percy Spencer is “in every way suited for a commission in HM Army”

Percy Spencer had been doing sterling service as a sergeant in the administrative section of the London Regiment. His commanding officer thought so highly of him that he recommended him for a commission. Shockingly, it was turned down.

I beg that application for a commission by Sergeant Spencer may be favourably considered.

In view of his services during the war and my own personal knowledge of him, both whilst commanding 142nd Inf. Brigade at various periods, and as OC 21st London Regiment, I am quite willing to take him at once into the battalion under my command as an officer without proceeding to a cadet school.

I have a vacancy for a 2/Lieut. Vice S/Lieut. Kennard attached from 24th London) who has now been transferred to RFC (21.4.17).

I think he is in every way suited for a commission in HM Army.

H P Kennedy, Lt Col,
Commanding 21st London Regiment
21.4.17

Copy letter from Lieutenant Colonel Kennedy (D/EZ177/7/12/34)

A record of which we may well be proud

Ascot churchgoers sent care parcels to their friends in the forces, and entertained strangers in the Royal Flying Corps.

ASCOT SAILORS AND SOLDIERS COMMITTEE.

In January a parcel was sent to Ascot men in the Navy or Army serving abroad “with every good wish for a happy New Year from your friends in Ascot.” The parcel contained a fitting writing case, a pair of thick socks, and some candles for the men in the trenches, and was sent to 12 men in the Navy, 75 men in France, and 13 in Egypt, Salonica and Mesopotamia.

Many letters have since been received from the men thanking Ascot for their kind thoughts of them, and giving good accounts of themselves. The cost of the parcels with the postages has more than exhausted the funds at the disposal of the Committee, and we must hope of means of replenishing the fund before long.

We are very pleased to hear that Sergeant Grimmett has been recommended for a commission, and we cordially congratulate him. This will make the sixth commission specially earned by Ascot, and is surely a record of which we may well be proud. The names of the gallant six are- 2nd Lieuts. Baker, Grimmett, Robinson, Stuart, Taylor and Watson, and we wish them “Good Luck.”

We regret to have to add the name of William J. Tidy (Gun Section H. A. C.) to our Prisoners of War.

CLUB ROOM for the men of the Royal Flying Corps.

Through the earnestness and energy of several ladies of All Saints congregation a Club Room has been opened at the Fire Brigade Station in High Street, the Committee of the Brigade having most kindly lent their premises for the purpose.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, March 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/3)

“One hole is no worse than another”

Efficient NCO Percy Spencer had the prospect of a commission as an officer – eventually.

Mar 22, 1917
Dear WF

My junior commission is indefinitely postponed. They won’t willingly let me go, so I have a compact with the Brigade Major that as soon as I can be spared, it’ll go forward.

But something has altered all that.

Today the Colonel of our senior Battalion & his second in command asked to speak with me a minute in the camp, and offered me a commission in his Battalion, & what is more, to make me assistant Adjutant straight away, with the promise of adjutancy as soon as that appointment fell vacant.

That’s a pretty steep offer, & coming from a Regular Army officer, reminded by me of the fact that I had had no military training, a very high compliment. It took my breath away.

I’m now waiting for the Brigade Major to let me off my promise. If he does I shall ask the Colonel to take me, & if he does it will be all to the family credit with some added risk to myself. But really from experience lately, one hole is no worse than another.

With my dear love to both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/25)

Greater love hath no man than this

Caversham men’s service was honoured.

ANOTHER DISTINCTION FOR CAVERSHAM.

Hearty congratulations to 2nd Lieut. A.F.C. Hill, upon receiving the Military Cross for gallant conduct with the Salonika Expeditions. This is the fourth Military Cross awarded to Caversham men, the other recipients being the Rev. C.W.O. Jenkyn, Army Chaplain; 2nd Lieut. D.T. Cowan, A. and S. Highlanders; and Sergt.-Major Wilfred Lee, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry.

Lieut. E.J. Churchill, R.E., has been “mentioned in dispatches.”

Sergt. E. Canning, of 1/4TH Royal Berks, is one of the two non-commissioned officers selected out of his battalion for the honour of a Commission.

Caversham roll of honour.

“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friend”

Name, Ship or Regiment and address, Date of death
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“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)

The bravest man in the trenches

Many of the former pupils of Reading School were serving with distinction.

O.R. NEWS.

Military Cross

Temp. 2nd Lieut. F.A.L. Edwards, Royal Berks Regiment.- For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy twice attacked under cover of liquid fire, 2nd Lieut. Edwards showed great pluck under most trying circumstances and held off the enemy. He was badly wounded in the head while constructing a barricade within twenty-five yards of the enemy.

2nd Lieut. (Temp. Lieut.) W/C. Costin, Gloucester Regiment. – For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy penetrated our front line he pushed forward to a point where he was much exposed, and directed an accurate fire on the trench with his trench guns. It was largely due to his skill and courage that we recaptured the trench. An Old Boy of Reading School, he won a scholarship at St. John’s College. Oxford.

2nd Lieut. D.F.Cowan.

Killed in Action.

Lieut. Hubert Charles Loder Minchin, Indian Infantry, was the eldest of three sons of the late Lieut-Col. Hugh Minchin, Indian Army, who followed their father into that branch of the service, and of whom the youngest was wounded in France in May, 1915. Lieutenant Minchin, who was 23 years old, was educated at Bath College, Reading School, and Sandhurst. After a probationary year with the Royal Sussex Regiment, he was posted to the 125th (Napier’s) Rifles, then at Mhow, with whom he served in the trenches.

After the engagement at Givenchy on December 20th, 1914, he was reported missing. Sometime later an Indian Officer, on returning to duty from hospital, reported that he had seen Lieut. Minchin struck in the neck, and killed instantly, when in the act of personally discharging a machine-gun against the enemy. The Indian officer has now notified that he must be believed to have fallen on that day.
2nd lieut.

F.A.L. Edwards, Royal Berkshire Regiment, awarded the military cross, died of wounds on August 10th. He was 23 years of age, and the youngest son of the late Capt. H.H. Edwards, Royal Navy, and Mrs. Edwards, of Broadlands, Cholsey. He was educated at Reading School and the City and Guilds College, Kensington. He had been on active service 10 months. His Adjutant wrote:

“He was the bravest man in the trenches. All the men say he was simply wonderful on the morning of August 8th. We lost a very gallant soldier and a very lovable man.”

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“Things are pretty unbearable here, now”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence, asking for cigarettes and a treatment for lice. He was clearly greatly appreciated by his commanding officer for his remarkable efficiency, but was thinking of getting a commission.

2.11.16
Dear WF

Don’t worry about sending me anything at all except Fryers – that I can’t get here. By the way, do you get this “out of bond”? If ordered from a tobacconist to be sent out to me regularly, it would of course be much cheaper and save you some trouble.

The difficulties at home are of course unknown to us and I quite understand that you have a good deal of unnecessary worry over me, as you don’t know how well we are provided for or can provide for ourselves.

Thank you very much for the gloves and the helmet – they’ll be most useful, but don’t send any sweaters or comforters or spiritive, etc, as I have plenty of clothing and woollen things – our needs get simpler as we go on.

The dear old ladies of St Albans wrote and congratulated me on my medal.

[Censored]

Captain Holliday is to have 6 months home service. I don’t quite know what I shall do, but if he doesn’t get into something where he can get me with him I think I shall try for a cadet school course with a view to taking a commission. Things are pretty unbearable here, now.
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Our soldiers – and our conscientious objector

There was news of the varying destinations of various men associated with Maidenhead Congregational Church. One was even a conscientious objector.

OUR SOLDIERS.

David Dalgliesh, at the conclusion of his training, has received a Commission in the Royal Flying Corps, and is at present at Hendon. Frank Pigg has departed for Salonika and John Boyd for France. Our Deacon, P.S. Eastman, has been compelled to leave the doors of his business closed and is in training for the Royal Naval Air Service at the Crystal Palace. He will probably be engaged in photographic work. Percy Lewis has been placed in charge of the Mobile X-ray Unit of the 1st Army. Reginald Hill has gone over with his regiment to France. Archibald Fraser has enlisted in the Army Service Corps, and is at present stationed at Lee. F. Kempster, who is a “conscientious objector,” has gone to take up farm work in the south of England. Herbert G. Wood is in British East Africa.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, October 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

“There is a very great difference between the cases of men who have earned promotion abroad and of men who have been promoted when merely engaged in semi-civilian work at home”

The County Council Finance and General Purposes Committee report of 22 July 1916 dealt with the Council’s continuing financial support for employees who had joined up.

WAR ALLOWANCES

Promotion money

Your committee recommend that as regards Non-commissioned Officers and Privates who obtained promotion (other than promotion in Commissioned rank) prior to 6 November, 1915 … they shall continue to receive the full benefit of such promotions [in the added allowance made by BCC]; and that all other cases be dealt with on their merits. The Committee feel that there is a very great difference between the cases of men who have earned promotion abroad and of men who have been promoted when merely engaged in semi-civilian work at home. There are cases also of men who obtained Commissions shortly after enlistment, which equitably might not perhaps be considered cases of promotion….

Separation allowances

Your committee recommend that full separation allowances be deducted except in the cases of men who, having enlisted between 15 May and 6 November, 1915, may be considered by the Local Government Board … to have been induced to enlist by the resolution of the Council of 15 May 1915. In these cases, it is recommended that only half separation allowances be deducted, but where men have married after enlistment and subsequent to 15 May, 1915, full separation allowance be deducted….

No employee who joined prior to 9 November, 1915, shall in any case receive less in allowances, plus Naval or Military pay, plus family or separation allowances than than his civil pay prior to enlistment.
The Committee have been informed that there are a number of men marrying after enlistment who have not informed the Treasurer of the fact, and have been receiving the full County allowances without deduction of separation allowances. It is recommended that the necessary adjustments be made from future payments, if any; and that all payments hitherto made under such circumstances be ratified.

In the case of employees who die or have died on active service, leaving a wife or other dependants, the committee recommend that they be authorised to continue the payment of the dependants’ allowances for such period, not exceeding three months in all, as the circumstances of each particular case may require….

BCC Finance and General Purposes Committee report (C/CL/C1/1/19)