“The war is ending, it seems, but the misery of it cannot end with it”

More details of Sydney Spencer’s shell shock not long before his final days.

Oldbury House
Tewkesbury
9 Nov 1918

Dear Mrs Image

I was dreadfully sorry to hear of Sydney’s death, & it must have been a bitter shock to you, especially when you knew that there had been no real necessity for him to go back to duty when he did. You will be impatient to hear what Capt Dillon told me – though I fear it is as unsatisfactory as all such information must be.

The MC was given, not for any single piece of bravery, but for continued good work during the battallion’s [sic] attack at Morlanecourt (near Albert) on Aug 8-10 & during the previous period when the company had a difficult time owing to the German attack on the division immediately on its right. Sydney put in a tremendous amount of work – too much, Capt. Dillon says: he was too careless about himself, got quite insufficient sleep & really prepared the way for his break-down & shell-shock. While in this over-taxed state the company got shelled rather badly, & a shell fell pretty close with the result that Sydney succumbed to the trembling kind of shock & had to go to hospital on Aug 10th. He was not actually wounded, except for a tiny scratch on the upper arm, which they put some iodine & a dressing on. When he got to hospital he pretended, for fun, that he had a very bad wound & the nurse took extra care in unbinding it, but enjoyed the joke when the wound was revealed. He told Capt. Dillon on his return that he was only really ill for three days, but Capt. Dillon thought that he had come back too soon & in any case sooner than he need have done.

He was first of all in hospital at Rouen & then spent time at Trouville. On his return he seemed very well & cheerful: Dillon saw him again on Sept 10th. The battalion was then very busy preparing for the attack which was to be made on Sept 18th. On the 17th he & Dillon had a cheerful chat about prospects: & Sydney said they both would get nice Blighty wounds & go back together & be out of it comfortably; he seemed quite confident that he was coming out of the affair with his life. On the 18th Dillon was wounded, & Sydney took his place automatically. The company had a very bad time & almost everybody was knocked out. This accounts for the fact that there is so great difficulty in getting any particulars. The attack took place east of Epehy, & Dillon thinks that in all probability it was there that Sydney was killed. The line was being advanced at the time, & in those circumstances, it is some slight consolation to know, his body would probably be buried decently & the exact spot recorded. If you wished to make any enquiries on that point the Graves Registration people would be the ones to apply to. I am afraid I don’t know their address. Capt. Dillon suggests as possible sources of information Sydney’s batman, the chaplain or the company sergeant-major; but I think you have already tried those people. The other lieutenant who was with Sydney was also killed at the same time.

Capt. Dillon can’t say much about the time Sydney was in hospital, & he does not understand how it is that you have heard nothing about it: for he knew that Sydney was in the habit of writing very full letters about everything. The lack of news from the 5th to 10th was probably due to the amount of fighting that was taking place. Capt. Dillon suggests that you might get some particulars of what was happening from the “Times” of 8th-10th – which however he says is full of mistakes (it was their battalion who took Morlanecourt, & the Americans had no share in it). But I feel that what you want is more personal details, & though I managed to extract some from Capt. Dillon (which I have told you) there are doubtless others which might be pumped out by yourself but hardly could be by anyone else. Capt. Dillon is apparently a very good sort, but rather lacks the faculty of unbosoming himself to strangers. If you do ever meet him you may be able to do better than I have; as to actual historical details I think he gave me all he could. One point he mentioned which may interest you was that Sydney won his MC within a mile or so of the sport where Percy [his brother] was wounded; Percy’s division being the next but one in the line. You may already know this.

I do hope that Percy’s wrist is making good progress: I had no idea that it was so bad as you say, or that his nerves were so badly upset. The war is ending, it seems, but the misery of it cannot end with it.


Yours sincerely
R. Harold Compton

Letter from R Harold Compton to Mrs Florence Image regarding the death in action of her brother Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EZ177/8/24)

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The best results are obtained only by getting into touch with the men personally

Thousands of wounded or sick troops had now returned home. the nation owed them support for their service. Some needed medical help, others re-training for new occupations, or help finding jobs.

The Disablements Sub-committee beg to report that they have been notified of approximately 2,524 disabled soldiers and sailors discharged into the county. Of the cases now entered upon the Register, which exclude those being investigated, the numbers specifying disabilities are as follows:

Amputation of leg or foot 51
Amputation of arm or hand 34
Other wounds or injuries to leg or foot 353
Other wounds or injuries to arm or hand 147
Other wounds or injuries to head 69
Other wounds or injuries 192
Blindness and other eye affections 77
Heart diseases 217
Chest complaints 93
Tuberculosis 101
Deafness and affections of the ear 72
Rheumatism 151
Epilepsy 37
Neurasthenia 47
Other mental affections 31
Other disabilities 532

Of this number all have been provided with a Medical Attendant [i.e. a doctor] under the National Health Insurance Act, and special treatment, including the supply or repair of artificial limbs and surgical appliances, has been provided in accordance with the recommendations of Military Authorities, Medical Boards or ordinary medical Attendants.

From the 1 April 1917, 280 cases have received Institutional treatment – both in and out-patient – at Military Hospitals, Civil Hospitals, Sanatoria, Cottage Hospitals or Convalescent Homes.
The total number of tuberculous soldiers and sailors to date is 101, and of these 72 have received Institutional treatment within the County under the County Scheme and three have received Institutional treatment outside the County Scheme. This treatment is provided through the County Insurance Committee.

The Committee has assisted with Buckinghamshire War Pensions Committee in the provision of a new wing for Orthopaedic Treatment at the King Edward VII Hospital, Windsor. This, which was urgently needed, and will be of the greatest benefit to men in that part of the county, will be opened in the course of two or three weeks. The Committee has also been instrumental with the Buckinghamshire Committee in obtaining the approval of the Minister of Pensions to a proposed Scheme for the provision, equipment, and establishment of a special hospital for totally disabled soldiers and sailors at Slough and an assurance from the Ministry of adequate fees for maintenance thereof. Her Royal Highness Princess Alice is forming a provisional Committee, and we have every hope that the proposed arrangements will e speedily carried into effect.
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Cadets in training “lie on the floor, don’t need beds”

John Maxwell Image, the elderly Cambridge don who had married Florence Spencer from Cookham, wrote to a friend to express his frustrations with the lack of progress in the war, and to talk about wartime life in Cambridge.

29 Barton Road
12 March ‘16

I think I must copy you in reading the M[orning] Post. The rags we take in are D. Mail for me, and Times for la Signora, who won’t stoop to the Mail, tho’ aware that the letterpress in each is identical.
Jackson has once or twice indicated to me that his paper is now your MP. I used to value the Times for the letters written to it. But there are no good letter-writers now-a-days.

Perhaps the new man in East Hertford may wake up Independent Members next Tuesday, if there are any such in Parliament. The Air attacks, and the Naval attacks, which we must with certainty expect will involve novelties that our drones have never dreamt of.

We have more men, and better men, and more money. Yet there we stick, just to be attacked when and where Germany chooses. A fixed figure for the hand of scorn – yes, what scorn! All the trumps: but the player, Asquith! “What War needs is not men, but a Man”, said Nap.

The Zeps (or possibly a Zep) was over Camb[ridge] the other night. We slumbered peacefully and knew nothing till next day. One Airship was seen by the crew of the antiaircraft guns by Story’s Way on the Huntingdon Road. And the electric lighting was shut off at the works: so we heard from one or two people who tried in vain to turn on theirs that night. I don’t think that last precaution had been taken before, but I walked back to Trinity on the night of the Book Club Sale without a glimmer. I had ordered a taxi, and they phoned at the last minute that the fog (it was a sudden fog) was so blind that they dared not send a carriage out. I had in my pocket a flash torch – rapidly expiring – but it just lasted.

We are to have 400 Cadets (i.e. candidates for Commissions) in Trinity. I sat next Major Reddy, the Commanding Officer, who has most healthy ideas of taut discipline – e.g. 4 men to a set of rooms: “they lie on the floor, you know” said he: “don’t need beds”. They will begin in the New Court. How will you keep them quiet at night? I asked. They must be in College at 9.30, for they have to be up early, usw.

Our next door neighbours, the Comptons – he a young son of a Fellow of Caius, she, one of the most beautiful girls ever seen – are on very friendly terms. Alas, he goes off on War Work in May – and the home will be broken up. Yesterday the Signora [Florence] devoted herself to cutting out and sticking War clippings in our scrapbook, whilst I looked on….

Letter from John Maxwell Image to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)