“A bicycle made for two”

More from the Spencer brothers.

Will Spencer
15 May 1918

Some French soldiers were resting on the benches on the paved platform between the two buildings of the Blumlisalp Hotel. For the first time I had the feeling that the [interned] soldiers at this hotel were in some respects better off than those at the Waldpark. The hotel has more the unpretentious character of an Inn – is more rustic & more cheerful, with its water trough by the road & its tree-planted space between the two buildings. One of the soldiers was whistling the tune of “A bicycle made for two”, & I was surprised & amused to find that J. knew the words to almost the whole of the tune – which was more than I did.

Sydney Spencer
Wednesday 15 May 1918

3.30 pm. I am seated now, guess where, my dear diary? At Major Bracey’s working table at his billet! Only 3 kilos from where I at present live. I have just ridden over on Capt. Rolfe’s gee. Major Bracey is out however & won’t be back till 5, so I shall stick here to see him & having the football match I half promised to play in. I hope there won’t be a dust up about it though. It will be splendid to see old Bracey again, it is 14 months since I last saw him. Had a day off today. Dear old Rolfe, he did the straight by me after my two rather thorny days on Monday & Tuesday. Have just written to Father & Mother.

At 5.30 pm.
Major Bracey did not turn up. I waited till nearly 6 pm. Rode back. Watched football match between officers & men – a drawn game. After dinner walked over, saw dear old Bracey who cheered me up immensely. He walked back part of the way with me. To bed at 10.30 & read more of my book.

Percy Spencer
15 May 1918

A glorious sunshiny day. A good deal of trouble over billets. Trying to hang on in Warlos for a night at least. Division to be relieved tonight. Up half the night sorting details. Eventually turned in at 3 am after champagne supper & slept on floor in a company mess. Fritz bombed outskirts of village.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX802/28)

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A strange looking man who looked ill, got into a trench & started making charts

Sydney Spencer was obviously a suspicious looking character! Halma is a strategy board game involving constantly moving pieces across the board.

Sydney Spencer
Friday 10 May 1918

Got up at 7 am and went over to my platoon front to make out my range charts. I was taken for a spy and questioned by an Essex officer. The sentry had described me rather comically. I was to him a strange looking man who looked ill (!!) & wandered about, & finally got into a trench & started making charts!

At 9.45 gave evidence in a case at the orderly room & then had a bath at old brewery. Met Forster & another chap with whom I walked back.

Found that once made, our battle positions were to be changed! We seem to be sort of playing at Halma! After lunch I had a long sleep from 2.15 pm till 4.30 & much I enjoyed it too. Now I am writing to dear old Jumbo [Kenneth] Oliphant who wrote me last night. His address is St Margaret’s, Fern Hill Park, Woking.

Stand to tonight is at 8.15 pm. I took out a carrying party. Two journeys down a road you wot of, master diary. We had one casualty from machine gun fire. A C Company man. Got back at 11.30.

Letters from Florence, Broadbent & Father. Wrote a long letter to Florence.

Percy Spencer
10 May 1918

A glorious day. Paterson lunched with us. The Lance Corporal who was no good – only offence apparently that he plastered tracts on latrine seats.

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

“I am very contented with my lot, feel towards my men as one would almost feel towards one’s children, am proud of the responsibility entailed, & just dote on my company commander”

Sydney Spencer’s latest letter to his sister Florence was written in pencil on a rough scrap of paper. He had had rather a rude awakening, as he related with cheerful irony.

7th May 1918

My Dearest Florence

I think the one who keeps his eye on Providence, as the old lady at Cookham used to say, must have considered me in great need of a wash! Because why? Well I woke up about 7 hours ago with the idea strongly fixed in my mind that someone was trying to gouge my left eye out. When I came to, I found that a gentle stream of water was pattering onto my eyes. I promptly quarrelled with the forced washing & drew my macintosh over my head & listened in dread to the sundry streams which seemed to be running all round me.

Being small & covering no great area I managed to escape most of the cataracts, but I was very puzzled as to where the stream which gave such a limpid fountainlike sound was going to. When I got up at 6.30 & came to put on my steel helmet, I found that the gentleman mentioned above, indignant at my not taking his advances with regard to washing had caught sight of my steel helmet lying on the ground & had directed the stream with the limpid sound right into it, & there was enough water in it to have a regular washing day! So you see even providence thinks that cleanliness is next, etc. Quite comic don’t you think?

Just remember that I am very contented with my lot, feel towards my men as one would almost feel towards one’s children, am proud of the responsibility entailed, & just dote on my company commander

Your always affectionate Brer Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/8/3/29)

“Sydney has crossed to France at last”

In Switzerland, Will Spencer heard the news that younger brothers Sydney and Percy were now both fighting in France.

1 May 1918

Shortly before eleven Johanna came & handed to me a postcard from father, then a letter from him & a letter from Mother. These were dated April 18th, 16th & 13th respectively, & the card which I received from father yesterday, April 11th…

Johanna read in yesterday’s paper that a “Briefsperre” on the French frontier had just come to an end.

The letters contained the news that Sydney had crossed to France at last, & that Percy had also just returned thither.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

“No man’s land so quiet & peaceful as Cookham Moor on a weekday night”

Sydney Spencer wasted some time and energy hunting for some missing soldiers who were not missing at all, before leading a night party to mend barbed wire defences.

Tuesday 30 April 1918

I arrived in at 12.45 am this morning after examining the ground all round where the shell struck for two men who were missing. I also went to aid post & dressing stations, & caught no sign of them. At 8 am I went over to the company and found them there!

Rained hard all day so parades distinctive [sic] were off. At 3 we had a conference. After tea called on [A?] company, at 8.30 went out to Essex front lines with Corporal Wise & 8 men, with a wiring party. Tomorrow night we go up the line, then I hope my education will be completed.

As usual the job of wiring we had tonight was as cushy as it could be! A fine although cloudy night. Little excitement. Not too dark. No man’s land so quiet & peaceful as Cookham Moor on a weekday night. Got back to our cellar at 2.30 am. The fire was out so tea was off but had some biscuits, cheese & chocolate.

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EZ177/8/15)

The most appalling voyage

Percy Spencer had now returned to France after his training as a =n officer. He wrote a brief note to beloved sister Florence as he adapted to dry land.

15.4.18
My dear WF

After the most appalling voyage we arrived safely today.

Thank you so much dear for your wire.

I bought some field glasses at six guineas and have made out John’s cheque accordingly. Will you please thank him very much for the gift. It’ll be good to carry now close reminders of you both….

This is a very scrappy note, but you must forgive more until I have got over the Channel trip.

If you are writing home, you might say you have heard that I am in France.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/28)

Looking on the white cliffs of Old England

Sydney Spencer crossed over to France.

Monday 8 April 1918

Got to Folkestone at 10 am. Had a hot bath & lunch, & hair cut, am now on board the Victorian, & am up at fore part of vessel watching the loading of SAA ammunition & looking on the white cliffs of Old England, with just here & there a vivid green patch of grass. The whole atmosphere of the thing brings a quiet to my mind after these last few days which is exactly what I needed. 2.30 pm.

Boat started 4.30 pm. Landed. En avant pour la belle France enfin.
Instructions from AMLO office as follows. I go to 7th Norfolks, 12th Division. I dined and slept at the Officers’ Club, a very nice place. I went to RTO office at 8.30 pm & find that I go by train tomorrow at nine, but where I don’t know. At 8.15 pm I saw a nice Padre I met off to Italy via Paris. I have bought a copy of ‘Resurrection’ by Tolstoi [sic]. Tonight I wrote to Florence & Mother & wrote on my envelopes for the first time in my life “on active service”.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15)

“God give me power to say & act at home, so that those dear parents of mine shall receive comfort & support & not feel my going away”

After his desperate last ditch appeal to his superiors on 31 March, Sydney Spencer was at last headed to the front. His family were less pleased.

1918
April 5th

Yesterday I received the following telegram.

To Lieut S Spencer
Sc301, 4th.4.18
69th Division wires…
Under War Office Postal Telegram…

Second April order Lieut. S Spencer, 5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment join expeditionary force France on 8th instant. To report personally to the embarkation command at Folkestone not later than 10.0 am, & if passing through London, travel by the train leaving Victoria Station at 7.35 am on that date. Ends.

Acknowledge & report departure to this office in duplicate.

208th Brigade
Butterworth Lieut for Staff Captain.

And so at last they have taken notice of my repeated appeals. God is good.

See my letter to General Pritchard [sic?] on page 343 of this book [31 March]. He was very sweet, & naively reproved me for writing to him as ‘Sir’! rather than Dear General Pritchard! I go to Cambridge today to Florence & home I think on Sunday for a few hours. God give me power to say & act at home, so that those dear parents of mine shall receive comfort & support & not feel my going away.

SS
5.4.18

Diary of Sydney Spencer

‘A “fine big man” in his officer’s uniform’

Percy Spencer’s visit home on leave impressed his parents.

24 March 1918

A letter for me from Mother, dated March 18th. Father had been spending the weekend with the Shackels & taking the organ at Dropmore. Percy had been home. Looked a “fine big man” in his officer’s uniform. It was a pity, Mother adds, that the weather was too cold for her to go out with him. Stanley had received the letter which I wrote to him on Jan. 8th.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

The pinch will come after the war

The Spencer paterfamilias in Cookham was optimistic, while Florence Vansittart Neale despaired at the situation in Russia.

Will Spencer
23 February 1918

By this morning’s post we received a cheerful letter from Father… Sydney has taken his BA at Oxford. Has received splendid reports from his commanding officers. Was just getting into train at Paddington to come down to Cookham on a Saturday afternoon when he saw Percy on the next platform, whom he hadn’t seen for 2 years. He quickly fetched his luggage out, & stayed the night with Percy, who had just come up from Swindon for a few days, on business.

I was glad to learn from Father that they suffer no privation. The pinch will come after the war, he says, but what can be is being done to provide against that.

Florence Vansittart Neale
23 February 1918

Russians utter degradation, under the heel of Germany.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

A sailor home on leave

A teacher took time off to be with her Navy brother.

January 21st 1918

Miss Eustace was granted half a day’s leave of absence to see her brother, a sailor who was home on leave. Permission to be absent on this morning was granted by Headmaster.

Cookham Alwyn Road School log book (88/SCH/18/1, p. 308)

Showing generals how to perform card tricks

Will Spencer was glad to hear how his soldier brothers and family friends from Cookham were getting on. One brother, Horace, was a professional conjurer in peacetime, a skill which entertained his superiors.

13 January 1918

Read a long letter which had come for me by the morning post from Mother, describing their quiet Christmas – none of the boys, & Natalie [wife of Harold Spencer] not able to come, through having an influenza cold. Percy had been with them on the 22nd, leaving on the 23rd. Notwithstanding that the plums Mother had obtained proved to be old ones, the puddings, of which she made two, had been pronounced to be a success. Percy had said they were the best of her making he had ever tasted. She wished I might have been there, & then also have had a piece. The second pudding was still intact, save for the piece cut out which Percy had….

Katie Poskett’s elder boy is in the army, & the younger called up. She finds it difficult to bear. That Percy had passed all his exams I had previously heard. Mother now writes that he is Second Lieutenant & down in Wiltshire. Horace, in France, has been showing generals how he performs his card tricks, & then talks of ‘his friend General — ’ to comrades who “can only boast of corporals’ friendships”.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

Are you doing your part in this time of the Nation’s Trial?

Maidenhead gardeners were encouraged to grow food.

READ! IT IS URGENT!! IT CONCERNS YOU!!!

URGENT APPEALS AND WARNINGS BY LORD RHONDDA and MR. PROTHERO

LORD RHONDDA, The Food Controller, gives Notice that unless we Ration ourselves, we shall be rationed!

Mr PROTHERO, President of the Board of Agriculture, says without a vast increase in HOME PRODUCTION OF FOOD we can scarcely hope to hold out!

2,400,000 Acres of new land must be broken up before next April to produce Food for next year!

Are you doing your part in this time of the Nation’s Trial? Are you cultivating all the ground you can? Are you securing the Best Possible Crops? Webster’s Noted Seeds will enable you to do so. But they are scarce, and the demand will be heavy. Moral: Order Extra Early. Catalogues will be ready early in the New Year, and can be had Free, on application to

124, High Street, and Station Front,
MAIDENHEAD.
And at the COOKHAM and BOURNE END BRANCHES.

DO YOUR BIT, AND HELP TO WIN THE WAR

Advertisement in Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, December 1917 (D/P181/28A/26)

“The role of platonic friend is too difficult for me to sustain”

Percy Spencer found life at his parents emotionally challenging, so fled to his peacetime home in London, which was equally wearing.

27 Rattray Road
Brixton
SW

Decr 15, 1917

My dear WF

Cookham was a nightmare so I fled to London, and there I have been taking Dot out to lunch almost daily. She, I am happy to say, is quite normal again, but still very dependant upon her friends, so I think it has done her good to have me to talk to and detach her thoughts from the Battle of Cambrai. But the role of platonic friend is too difficult for me to sustain for long together, so just as your letter arrived I was writing to tell you that I am returning to 29 and peace on Monday 17th, please.


Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/6/74)

An air of sadness as nature reclaims the countryside

Percy Spencer shared his sense of an abandoned countryside with expat brother Will.

15 December 1917

A letter from Percy to us both, which I read to Johanna in the verandah after breakfast. After telling us about his rowing experiences [in Cambridge while training as an officer there], he continues:

“At the moment I am on [sic] a loose end, but expect to be in France or elsewhere by the middle of January. Cookham is very empty & silent. There is some compensation in the re-asserted claims of nature in the quiet corners of the earth as man’s claims have slackened, but altogether there is an air of sadness about the countryside, very depressing. I feel the water rat would much prefer to plop hastily into the water at your approach & the moorhen to scuttle jerkily into the reeds, than to feed unmolested & fearless of disturbance.”

So Percy feels that the water rat & the moorhen wish too, that the old times were back. In this feeling that the wild creatures must feel the same as he does, Percy not only shows a deep love of nature & of man, but also something of the imagination of a poet.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)