The internees may let their friends know where they are as soon as possible

The Irish internees were now to be allowed to communicate with their friends and relations, if under strict censorship.

H M Prison
Reading
May 31 1918

From the MO to the Governor

Concerning the petition of Max John Stephan.

I recommend that he be allowed to go to the dentist’s house under escort.

W Freeman

31.5.1918
[to] The Governor, Reading Prison

It has been decided that the privilege of writing & receiving letters, which has hitherto been suspended, shall now be granted to the interned Irish prisoners.

The examination of the letters will be undertaken on behalf of the Commissioners by the Postal Censorship. Accordingly all letters written by and all letters received for these prisoners, including P’Cards, telegrams, books, & newspapers, and any messages contained in parcels, will be sent by you – the envelopes remaining unopened – to the Chief Postal Censor, Strand House, Portugal Street, London, WC2. With each packet of letters, you will send a covering note as follows: This parcel contains letters received on – date -, for the Irish prisoners interned in Reading P. of I. signed – Governor; or This packet contains letters posted on – date by the Irish prisoners interned in Reading P. of I., signed – Governor.

If passed by the censor, they will be posted to the addresses, or returned to you to deliver to the internees, as the case may be.
The internees should tell their friends to address all letters, postcards, telegrams, and newspapers as follows:

Name
Prison – in brackets
c/o the Chief Police Censor, Strand House, Portugal St, WC2.

This will save delay, as ant letters &c sent to the Prison direct will have to be referred to the Censor in the first place.
Parcels should be addressed direct to the Prison: they must be carefully examined, and any written or printed matter contained in them must not be given to the prisoner until passed by the Censor.

In order that the internees may let their friends know where they are as soon as possible, they should be advised to limit their first communication to a postcard or telegram, stating where they are held, and explaining how letters, parcels &c should be addressed.

For the present, no visits can be allowed.

Signed A H Wall
Sec:

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

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“I was the veriest coward inside”

Sydney Spencer’s experience with battlefield dentistry offers a reflection on courage.

May 31st [1918]

My Darling Florence & Mr I

No other news except that I had a huge tooth drawn two nights ago! A sort of duel between myself & the American doctor as to whether I should scream or not. I didn’t murmur so I won. But I was the veriest coward inside. I simply yelled myself hoarse mentally, which gave me much comfort & relief. Sitting on a box in an orchard with a solemn American doctor with large round glasses making desperate dashes as a refractory tooth with horrid instrument, & no freezing mixture & no gas, these things are anathema!…

From your always affectionate Brer
Snippets

Letter from Sydney Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/8/3/40)

“We had a sort of bet as to whether I should scream or not. I didn’t so I won!”

Sydney’s soldiers were not keeping up to the standard he wanted. To make matters worse, he had toothache.

Sydney Spencer
Wednesday 29 May 1918

Got up at 7.45 am. After breakfast on parade at 9 am. Inspected platoon. It was dirty.

At 9.30 to platoon & tried to get them ready for company inspection. The Gods were against me. Sergeant Leigh was Battalion Orderly Sergeant, & Corporal Wise was company orderly sergeant. Net result, inspection, despite my immortal efforts to get the men clean, a ‘fiasco’. Let down by one man with a dirty bayonet.

After lunch sat & waited for orders to come through about fires. There arrived at 3.30 & we all proceeded to write them out. I live in tents, mark you, & I have to hang up orders reference woodwork (being stoves) being inspected if orders about asbestos floorings etc [sic]!

After tea I took the bull by the horns, in other words I visited the American MO & he tugged out my bad tooth. He had two tries & got it out. We had a sort of bet as to whether I should scream or not. I didn’t so I won!

Percy Spencer
29 May 1918

A lovely day. Our planes very active over Bosch lines. We move today. Played bridge with Major P[arish] as partner until relieved. We won, altho’ I didn’t call but once.

Florence Vansittart Neale
29 May 1918

News not very reassuring – but line not broken.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

A very sketchy but very jolly time – perpetual movement and precious little sleep

Percy Spencer shared his latest doings with his sister.

May 21, 1918

My dear WF

I don’t appear to have written you a letter since the 13th. And there has really been no reason why not except a mass of work. I’m very glad to say that I can see the results of my labour, anyway, so that should console you, even if you don’t see many letters.

Well my dear girl, I’ve lately had a very sketchy but very jolly time – perpetual movement and precious little sleep. We’re in lovely surroundings in a wood on one side of a steep valley. The days are quiet and very hot and the night is filled with the roar of guns. On the other side of the valley from another camp every evening a very fine trumpet player amuses all the world with cheery music and beautiful clear toned calls. And when he ceases, the nightingales improve upon his performance and sing all through the night whatever the guns are doing.

We’re all more or less on tiptoe and I’m getting rather fed up with it, one gets so little time to oneself and the night has a nasty way of turning itself into day. Nevertheless even that sort of life has its compensations.

For instance on Whit Sunday I arose at 2 am and didn’t turn in again until I had strolled around our wooded hilltop with our padre (a delightful fellow) and watched the sun rise and heard the birds sing praises to his glory.

On the 16th I met Anderson. You will remember him at the Boarding House at St Albans. Did you meet his wife? He told me you did. The war has made him look sterner but he has not lost his delightful smile.

On the 18th we had a terrific thunderstorm and life was moist. I had a painful toothache and got our dentist to haul out a wisdom tooth. A very trying performance as the tooth had an unauthorised prong. However I daresay the extra prong accounted for my extreme wisdom, so that problem’s settled, and now I suppose I shall be very foolish.

On Monday (yesterday) our Follies gave an open air performance on the hillside. I was unable to get away to it, but it was very jolly to view from a distance.

Will you let everyone who ought to have a photo have one. If possible I should like to see one of each myself.

Could you send me a tinder lighter some time, and a refill for my short tubular torch. I also badly need a key ring. I’m so sorry to bother you about these things, but they are unobtainable out here….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/37)

“Started my first adventure in the front line”

Sydney Spencer was at the real front line at last.

Sydney Spencer
Saturday 18 May 1918

At stand to this morning, i.e. 4 am. Started my first adventure in the front line. My bit of line was on the extreme right flank, being a straight portion facing due east, & running north & south. On my left was No. 8 platoon. From my front I could see the crater 250 yards away slightly to my right. It had a great coil of French wire all round it. The hill on which it stood sloped down to a valley along which runs the New B Hand road. At the end of a patch of withered tree stumps & behind out of sight, the site of BH on the left of the road, the hill rose up again & went over the crest on which was line of NZs, C & D on our left.

[Illegible] front ran north & south, while the remainder of B Company was in a weird sort of re-cutment like a horse shoe, a very curious position as posts of Peyton’s platoon could fire at posts of Hervey’s platoon if they faced their direct front. The day was spent in settling on fire positions, sleeping & eating. Company HQ was in a dugout in the local support line…

Percy Spencer
18 May 1918

Another lovely day. Heavy thunderstorm in afternoon. I went down to Warlos and had to wade. Rathorn & party from Wing arrived. Awful toothache. Had wisdom tooth drawn. A painful business – a 4 pronged beggar. One prong too many, aid the dentist.

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

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.
(more…)

“One of the most hopeless specimens of mankind I have ever come across” offers an answer to U-boats

Gustav Stichl, alias Steel, was a German wool merchant from Hamburg, aged 48 on internment in 1916. He was clearly very disaffected, and the Governor of Reading Prison, or Place of Internment, was annoyed by his complaints of ill treatment. Another internee, Belgian Charles Slingeneyer or Slingermeyer, was an engineer from Bruges, aged 36 when interned in 1916. He was classified as ‘alien, not enemy’, and was trying to support the war effort with his ingenious invention, but remained at Reading Prison until 1919.

9th February 1918
G Stichl

As regards this prisoner’s petition, I have no knowledge of his treatment before he came to Reading – but during the time he has been here every consideration has been shown to him not only by the officers but by the other prisoners.

He is a dirty, untidy and idle man. To my knowledge prisoners have cleaned up his cell for him on many occasions to avoid him being reported – and also because the smell was most offensive.
He has been offered every kind of work time after time, but refused all. The trade instructor by my orders has tried him 4 or 5 times at bags – he only spoils canvas. He refused cleaner’s work, and the only work he has attempted is unravelling some socks & balling the wool which he started a few days ago & which I gave him out of charity – but he won’t work full time even at that & earn the money he could, as after the Prisoners of War were removed to isle of Man, all men were located in one hall – this man considered it a grievance that he had to remove his furniture etc to his new cell & to assist other men in cleaning up the wing. The only one who [grumbled?].

As regards his teeth, his wife offered to pay half the regular charges if prisoner would work & earn the other half – he refused & did nothing. He is one of the most hopeless specimens of mankind I have ever come across and most of his troubles are of his own making. He has never been punished while here – simply because he is so hopeless & helpless – except by having his petitions stopped for a time by order of the Home Office.

C M Morgan
Gov.
9.2.18

February 9th 1918
Sir,

I beg of you to consider the following rough description of a device for dealing with U-boats.

Allow me to explain first on what grounds I based this device.
A Submarine is a very difficult thing to deal with, because:
1st It is always difficult to ascertain the presence of submarines without using detectors. (Without knowing how far the detectors in use are able to discover submarines I humbly remark here that if I had been able to work out my detector referred to in my letter to you on 4th of December 1916, I am almost certain that I would have had the means of not only detecting them but of “spotting” them also. Anyhow a detector, so constructed that by taking for instance the [main?] length for calculating the distance and the strength of sound for giving the direction, would enable vessels to keep out of the way in most cases.)

2nd A submarine is almost or wholly invisible to the vessel she intends to attack.

3rd Minefields are no barrier to submarines.

4th If a submarine is provided with a detector her commander must not fear to come to the surface and is guarded against unexpected attacks.

5th When destroyers or submarine chasers approach a submarine can dive and evade also her enemy.

Those five points are already enough to convince me that the best and surest way for dealing with submarines would be under the water, because it is the only way in which she cannot escape destruction, being caught unawares.

My device therefore would consist of a floating peculiar shaped nutlike structure, which lower part would reach the depth at which a submarine can safely remain under water, so as to prevent her from going under it or passing over it.

Floating body to be made out of mat[erial?] as invisible as possible from the surface.

Special mines to be attached to the aforesaid structure in such a way that, in the case of a submarine striking the structure they would without fail destroy her.

If this device were tried one would have the means of laying minefields against submarines as well as one has minefields against other vessels and the now dangerous zones could be well protected without loss of life or danger and operations by submarines as for instance at present in the Irish Channel could be made impossible.
If laid near a submarine base I am convinced that very few of them, if any at all, would pass through.

Nothing whatever will happen to any surface vessel on striking this structure.

Willing to answer any questions and to give all further necessary information on this subject if required, I remain, Sir,

Your humble servant
Charles Slingeneyer

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“My Colt revolver is much too heavy for me”

Webley revolvers were the standard small firearm issued to officers, but there were not enough to go around, as Percy Spencer, suffering toothache, told his sister Florence.

21st (Res) Battalion Lon[don] Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Jan 15, 1918

My dear WF

We are still having vile weather. Today it has been snowing incessantly.

Yesterday I saw the dentist who said he would not pass me GR and gave me a chit to the effect that I was urgently in need of dental treatment. So today I have applied for ten days leave. I don’t suppose for a moment I shall get it, though short periods of leave are given very freely.

I should very much like some khaki wool for mending. One pair of socks has been mended with a whitish wool which looks unsightly.

I’m now on a revolver course, but don’t expect to do any good as my Colt revolver is much too heavy for me and I am endeavouring to change it for a Webley.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

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

“Life here promises to be frightfully monotonous after I get to regular regimental duties”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence as he approached the end of his training as an officer.

21st (Res) Battalion Lon[don] Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Near Swindon

Jan 4, 1918

My dear WF

What a glorious day it’s been. Today I’ve been on the hill tops watching boys doing an attack practice with live ammunition – quite exciting. A delicious day. What must it have been from your friendly bay windows.

Life here promises to be frightfully monotonous after I get to regular regimental duties. At the moment about 50 of us kill time at what is termed a Brigade Class. This carries on for about 3 weeks; then there is a 4 day revolver course, and then we footle around until our orders come through for France or Egypt. We then get about 5 days leave, after which we may flit at any time.

There is a medical examination before we go, and I propose if my teeth do not improve to have them put right before I go out. Conditions here not being very good, I find my teeth giving me a certain amount of trouble, so I think it advisable to get them seen to before I’m called upon to stand the harder conditions of France or Egypt.

[Censored by Florence]

Very shortly I am leading a patrol of young officers around some infant mountains, returning about 1 a.m. if I don’t get lost in the Wiltshire hills, so I’m now off to study the map.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/1-2)

“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)

A wretched day

Florence Vansittart Neale found the agony of dental treatment without anaesthesia was nothing to the pain of bereavement.

22 November 1916
I to dentist. Had tooth out. No gas. Rather a wrench, had abscess. Felt quite a wreck all day – took aspirin & hot bottle. Most wretched day body & mind. Could only think of Sep.

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