“What keen, sensible, often attractive faces the Huns had: nothing vicious or brutal; even kind-looking, sometimes!”

Florence Image and her frail elderly parents were dealing bravely with the loss of Sydney.

29 Barton Road
28 Oct ‘18

My very dear old man

On Thursday [Florence] goes up to London (and to Cookham), to settle poor Syd’s affairs. She has been in correspondence with the WO (how feelingly and touchingly some of them can write) – the disposal of his kit would be an overstrain for the broken old father. The mother appears so abnormal in the unnatural cheerfulness and insouciance she shews that Florrie dreads the crash which must come, when at last she begins to realise her loss. Both parents inundate poor Florrie with constant reams of letters, of portentous length: and besides, there are numberless letters eternally reaching her from officers, and Oxford people, who loved Sydney. I think these keep her life up – for she is full of energy and even bright…

I saw a posse of Hun prisoners march by, this afternoon, escorted by a soldier with fixed bayonet, and another whose rifle looked innocuous, behind. What keen, sensible, often attractive faces the Huns had: nothing vicious or brutal; even kind-looking, sometimes! And how coarse and vulgar and unheroic look our Tommies – I have often wondered why Punch, for instance, always gives our men animal countenances – and so do the photographs in the D. Mail, whereas the photographs there of Germans are often clean cut and amiable.

Florrie received today from the Front a letter saying that news had just reached the Regiment that the Military Cross had been awarded to Sydney Spencer! Poor Syd, it was promised to him as far back as August. I recall the joy with which he told us as a secret not to be spoken of. It will be a pride to us, in token that, in his 6 months’ active service, he bore himself manfully.

Florrie isn’t the least scared about Influenza. Our streets reek of eucalyptus and all the ladies are sucking Formamint.

With our dear good wishes to you both

Your loving friend
J M Bild

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

Advertisements

Camouflage with a vengeance

The Images experienced a power cut as a result of an air raid, and heard some interesting Navy news.

29 Barton Road
22 Oct. ‘17
My Most Dear Old Man

On Friday evening we were at dinner – the clock, I remember, was in the middle of striking 8 – when, in a flash, down went the electric light, and up bounced Florence to find whether it was so all through the house. It was! and we had in a candle, to the accompaniment of bombs and anti-aircraft guns, seemingly 2 miles away to the north. I wonder, were they trying for the aerodrome at Hardwick? for they are reported to have attempted that at T in Norfolk. Well, we went unconcernedly to bed, and were awakened by a glare at 2.10 – sign that the raiders were clear of England. But oh how humiliating! They can drop bombs at will, and unharmed, in England. Once cross to France, and they are chivvied and hustled, go wherever they attempt. The French can bring them down. Never has there been such a field day before, for Zepps.

Some friends, fresh from Liverpool, told me the other day of the steady silent inundation of Americans now overflowing the place. Especially of the hundreds upon hundreds of Yankee aeroplanes, beautifully packed, daily landed on the quays.

In one dry dock these people came across a large Yankee man-of-war, painted blue with pink spots (or was it, pink with blue spots. Those were the colours anyhow.) Camouflage with a vengeance: but it has the effect of destroying outlines and muddling them up at a distance. This they observed especially in the case of HMS Ramillies lying out in the stream – a battleship, painted the most bizarre horror, chiefly black and white stripes.

All this is very fine – but as today’s Daily Mail asks, in Italics, ‘Who commands the North Sea?’ The British navy may be the ‘incomparable’ weapon we hear it called, but it is bluffed by the Huns and its convoys and their escort snapped up by a small force of 2 raiders, almost in hearing of the Grand Fleet. The Kaiser’s vaunt of Germany’s future being on the water looks justified – Nelson went to the Gulf of Riga – but we can’t.

Our united love to you both.
Ever yours,
Bild

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

The “Daily Mail” is demanding that Asquith & Churchill should be impeached

Expat Will Spencer had plenty to interest him in the Swiss newspapers – the first news of the Russian Revolution, plus the official enquiry into the fiasco of the Dardanelles expedition.

16 March 1917

Max Ohler’s birthday.

News in the paper of a revolution in St Petersburg. Also a rumour that the Czar is a prisoner, & has abdicated, & that his brother, the Grand-duke Michael Alexandrovitch, has been appointed regent….

Read an article in by the London correspondent of the “Bund” on the report of the Commission which was appointed to enquire into the conduct of the British Dardanelles Expedition. Lloyd George had said in Feb. 1915 that the Army was not there to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the Navy. The responsibility for the land operations(100,000 killed, wounded & missing, & 100,000 sick) being persevered with, rested with Asquith, Churchill & – though one is reluctant to say it under the circumstances – chiefly with the late Lord Kitchener.

My question is, did Asquith know that the chances of success were too small to justify the prosecution of the campaign? Or did he think it best to be guided by the opinion of Kitchener, & was it the expressed opinion of the latter that the chances were good enough. In the latter case, I am sorry for Asquith. The expedition was an expensive failure, but if the attempt had not been made, probably plenty would have said afterwards that it ought to have been made. It is always much easier to judge after the event.

The “Daily Mail” is demanding that by way of a warning to others, Asquith & Churchill should be impeached. Apparently it was from Australia & New Zealand that the demand for an enquiry came, very large contingents from those colonies having taken part & suffered heavily in the campaign.

Diary of Will Spencer (D/EX801/27)

A birthday stroll up the trenches

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with the latest from the front. So far he had avoided service at the front line, but was not far away. He was optimistic that the end was in sight.

Apl 7 1916
Dear WF

I must steal an hour and let the work go hang, for yesterday I sent you a card, “letter follows”, and if one doesn’t hop along hard on the heels of that promise, there’ll be trouble, I know.
This war business is getting a confounded nuisance; I’m really getting no proper opportunity to enjoy this lovely spring – and that’s a pity for it’s a lovely country we’re in – hills, woods and water, and so far a most peaceful time. But – well, guess where I am.

To celebrate my birthday (by the way, many thanks for your jolly letter and present, I’ve only just dipped into the first 100,000 but can already see it’s written by one of us) – well, dear old Will sent me a manuscript of his song, which I’m in for, and trembling I shall lose, and for which I haven’t yet been able to write and thank him.
[Censored]…

But all this time you’re dying to know how I celebrated my birthday. I took a stroll up the trenches. At least it began as a stroll, continued as a wade, and climaxed as a swim. Lovely place, Flanders! Anyway I’ve been along the firing line and into a sap towards the German line. To have kept out of that for over 12 months is something to brag about, and to achieve it after all that time, even something more to be proud of.

It was a perfectly peaceful sunshiny day and I thoroughly enjoyed my tour, as the geography of the country makes this part of the line peculiarly interesting.

How much longer shells and us will be strangers, I don’t know. It’s now about 3 months since I heard one close.

There have been a good many aeroplane duels and I saw a very pretty one the other day in which our fellow drove the Hun to earth. Our fighting plane was naturally slower than the German scout machine, but what we lacked in speed in the can, the airman made up for in skill. The way he manoeuvred into range and by cool planning overcame his sped handicap was quite pretty from our point of view.
The Daily Mail is pretty well informed about our movements, I notice, but its air knowledge is very slight, I believe. I took an opportunity of talking “Fokker” to some of the air service and was rejoiced to learn that it’s looked on simply as a paper campaign, the superiority of the enemy, type for type, being purely imaginary – in fact I was told the boot is entirely on the other plane, and I believe it.

Sorry you’ve been troubled with Zeps. I expect though with the next moon you’ll have seen the last of them. Our aeroplanes in the summer will, I imagine, be a sure defence.

I suppose and hope there’ll be a terrific bust up soon – a strong push, all together, ought to write “finis” to Germany.

Of course, if Germany will kindly continue to do the pushing, tant mieux.

And Verdun is a very hopeful sign of her impending crash, I think. To my mind it means the gambler’s throw or political pressure.
But that’s shop. However, even here in peaceful slumbering valleys it’s still war. Every night we sally forth to slaughter rats (game abounds).

There’s nothing else to say but “good afternoon”. Oh, yesterday I saw a jolly sight – a popular horse bolting with an unpopular officer – they made a splendid if undignified race of it, but a fatal error of judgment on the part of the officer, who assumed the horse would carry on straight through the chateau instead of swerving to the left towards its stable, lost him the race by a short length, only the officer leaving the course and carrying straight on towards the house….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/6-7)

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)

The people of Wimereux promise to tend British soldiers’ graves

The people of Stratfield Mortimer were helping to grow fruit and vegetables for the Navy. They were also in touch with an army chaplain, who gave them some information censored from the national press relating to French care of British war graves. These graves, at Wimereux in north-eastern France, three miles north of Boulogne, are now cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Our Splendid Sailors
A local depot is being opened at Mortimer for supplying fresh fruit and vegetables to the Fleet. Gifts, however small, will be gratefully received by Miss Ludlam, at the Red House, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in each week. It is hoped to dispatch a consignment every Thursday, so those who are kind enough to send green vegetables are asked to do so on Wednesdays. The name and address of the donor should be sent – by this means the actual recipient in the Fleet may know to whom to write direct letters of acknowledgment. The scheme has the direct approval of the Admiralty.

The Rev. W. S. Bowdon C.F
Mr. Bowdon now writes:-

We had an interesting ceremony here on All Saints’ Day when the kiddies put flowers on the graves of our men – some 700 are buried here. The Mayor promised in the name of the people of Wimereux that they would always tend their graves as if they were their own men. It was all very nice, and I wrote a long account for the Daily Mail, but the Censor wouldn’t pass it – couldn’t create a precedent! I was amazed and surprised, seeing that my C.O. took the matter up and sent in the article for me. It seemed to us both just the kind of thing to interest people at home and augment the kindly feeling between the two peoples.

Am busy as ever – 16 Services last Sunday, 4 Sermons, and quite a lot of Private Communions during the week. It is very difficult to find time for letter-writing. As for books, I haven’t opened one since my arrival – but I didn’t expect to. Have only been outside Wimereux once, for 1½ hours, since I was attached to the Hospital, except for business journeys (1/4 hour’s tram ride) to Boulogne. I must try and get a half-day off sometimes, but just now the Recreation Hut and business connected with it occupies all my time that I am away from patients.

Awfully sad about the hospital ship sunk yesterday – quite a number of our patients and doctors were on board from Wimereux. We are anxiously awaiting further particulars.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, December 1914 (D/P120/28A/14)

The press is evil and needs to be slayed like a dragon

Lady Mary Glyn, wife of the Bishop of Peterborough, wrote to her soldier son Ralph Glyn with news of a contretemps over Red Cross work in their home town. She was also scathing about the press, particularly the empire of press baron Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, which included the Times, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror.

Peter[borough]
Dec 2, 1915
My own darling Scrappits

Like Jim [her son in law, naval officer Jim Meade] I can scarcely bear to read the papers, and I read the Harmondsworth [sic] Press, & believe they are part of the Evil Thing which we have to slay like the Dragon. One has to think of that patron saint St George very often, for we are now to fight in the country of the dragon, and we have a host of St Georges and if only we women could be worthier, and help to keep England what it may be, waiting and ready for the regeneration that must surely come for your reward, when you all come back! But there is something strange the matter as one reads society paper paragraphs, even in the good old Observer, and find the same “vanity” and the same obsession of dress and extravagance, even when they talk Economy and Thrift, and “Mince” like women of old. Punch is good this week. I want to send Punch out to you…

Long ago we sent the things from Fortnum & Mason, trusting more to Expert Packers, but I long to send you a home packed, and now Jim is going away – going to sea again today, and I shall get Meg to make enquiries for me….

Lady Exeter writes “that they are within sound of the guns”. I think this was meant to tell her that the Battery is being moved up….
A real burlesque is going on over the registration of this “Red Cross” business here, and at last the town knows, and the town talks, and the remarks to me are amusing! They, however (the Committee) have no idea of climbing down, and I have got Sir Edward Ward to register them as they are, & they are to have two committees, but have not even yet decided if they will have a “Hospital Depot”, so I am moving at once, & so has Lilah Buller, and so has Miss Cartwright, & so has Lady Knightley, & when we are in full swing they will not be able to avoid our getting grants of money from them, or direct from Headquarters. And it is the finance part that has kept me waiting. Northampton refuses to help Miss Cartwright, though there at Brackley she is the only Depot for sick & wounded at the front, & Lilah Buller says they “approve” her but I gather she too can get no funds. This is all so monstrous. And when the truth is known support will come. We are not yet in possession of a house – I wish we were – but it will come at the right moment, & in the right way. The great thing is done and it is all miracle of mercy, for Dad is looking forward now too…

Today is so lovely. I have to run round soldiers & sailors’ wives & mothers, and shall have the lift of the motor today….

I long to know more of what you are going through. All accounts differ in the papers of the climate. Poor Meg. I am glad Jim goes in fair weather. Maysie hopes that at Captain “D” there may be more chances of their meeting,, but the goodbye must be hard, hard work….

Own own own Mur

Letter from Lady Mary Glyn to her son Ralph (D/EGL/C2/2)

Dream it true: unexpected joy for Florence Spencer

Percy Spencer had just received the unexpected news that his sister, 30 year old Florence, was engaged to be married to elderly Cambridge don John Maxwell Image. Dr Image had been close to Florence for some time, but it was only recently that the friendship had, despite a 40 year difference in their ages, had blossomed into a genuine romance.

3.9.15
My dear Florrie

I’m well and have been well. We’ve had a quiet peaceful time in charming surroundings, but my work has been heavier than usual…

I’m so surprised and happy to hear of the possibility of your coming joy. Dream it true dear.

We’ve had all sorts of good times lately, concerts and sports (of which perhaps you read an account in the Daily Mail) and I have been out once or twice, so you’ll wonder why I haven’t written to you.


Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/4/43)

Sorry to hear about Rupert Brooke’s death

Rupert Brooke was one of the most famous of the early war poets. He died on 23 April 1915 while on active service in Greece as a naval lieutenant. Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence on hearing of Brooke’s death, revealing that his own brother the artist Stanley Spencer was a Brooke fan.

May 17, 1915
Dear Florrie

Thank you for all your parcels and faithful correspondence. You must think me awfully slack, but I’m not. “My King and country” is needing an alarming number of the days & hours just at present, and I have no time to write even a field postcard sometimes.

I stand the racket of the long hours very well, I think, and beyond that I am not hard worked – in fact I sometimes wonder whether I shall ever get my old speed back again.

I was sorry to hear about Rupert Brooke’s death – Stan will be sorry too, I expect, as I believe he and you both admired his poetry, and Stan liked the man. Personally I don’t think his work will be more than that of the [illegible] of the best man’s in a bad time.

We had a rare old dust-up last Sunday week – and next spring in our room at Lyme you and I will listen to the history of it all. Meanwhile if you haven’t already heard all details, read the description of our two attacks on May 9th in The Daily Mail May 15th. Its accuracy as an outline of the day’s events is remarkably accurate.

I wasn’t at the place of the postcard [Rouen Cathedral] when I sent it to you – as a matter of fact we were in action and I was off to our palatial dug-out a good deal further forward, but I have since had a night’s “rest” in the town, broken by shells which the houses opposite stopped fortunately, though one of them immediately opposite and dead in a line with our billet wiped out a poor family.

About 2 p.m. I was ordered to the cellar where all of us remained until morning.

Now we are in the line again about 6 miles due east of that town and at the present moment the din of gunfire is too awful – it fairly rattles your frame at every report.

How are you all this long time? I hope well and jolly. I hope too the people of our nation will not lose its head but deal with all [restrictions?] sanely and moderately. I don’t like the papers at all. The state of domestic affairs is not necessary.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/4/27)

Tremendous fighting retreat from Mons

Florence Vansittart Neale continued to follow the war news. Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien led the retreat from Mons.

10 September 1914

Sir J. French’s 1st despatch in D.M. [Daily Mail?]. Tremendous fighting retreat from Mons. Most courageous. S. Dorrien. Haig specially mentioned. Allies still pursuing. No mention of Russians yet!

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)