“Master Chaffinch sings near by me despite the swish of shells through the air or craaack of shrapnel”

Sydney Spencer took comfort in nature surviving the battlefield, but the nice weather meant easy pickings for the German artillery. Meanwhile their brother Will was in touch with a former pupil in Germany.

Percy Spencer
9 May 1918

A lovely day again, worse luck. Huns shelled our boys with 8” & gas. 14 gassed.

Dr Caux had tea with us & told us pretty story of old lady who refused to leave until her children left, asked how many she had, she replied that she didn’t know, & pointing to the yard crowded with Tommies, exclaimed, “These are my children”.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 9 May 1918

I was very cold in the night so felt rather cheap when I got up this morning. A glorious spring morning. The grass on which I lie now at 12.30 pm is sweet May scented. All around are the ubiquitous dandelions, daisies & buttercups, & here & there graceful patches of delicate green & white, made by the greater sketchwort. Master Chaffinch sings near by me despite the [illegible] and swish of shells through the air & the angry snip of 18 pounders, or craaack of shrapnel.

Now for some lunch. Saw a beautiful little ‘copper’ butterfly today. The last I saw was at dear old Thoresby Camp, Worksop, only 8 short months ago. After lunch a read or sleep & then worked out mess accounts. After tea continued on mess accounts. At 8.30 ‘stand to’. No 5 platoon dug my fire positions in new battle positions. Bed about 10 pm. Oh happy day. A long night’s sleep.

Will Spencer
9 May 1918

Was pleased to receive a long letter from Fraulein Hildegard Vogel from Cassel, telling me of her musical studies under Dr Zulauf (is now studying the Chopin Fantasia!) & enclosing a photograph of herself with her fiancé. J. thinks, from his uniform, that he is an officer in the Artillery. As the elder of her two brothers (aged 18) is in a Cadet School, & the younger, who is physically & mentally weak, is just going to a Waldpaedagogium in Berka in Thuringen, they (the mother and two daughters) are leaving Cassel next month & going to live in a smaller house in Naumburg a/d Saale, where they will be near Berka.

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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The Italians “prefer money to fighting”

Ralph Glyn, a young officer attached to the War Office, was on a diplomatic mission to our allies in Serbia. He took the opportunity of a break in Rome to report on a country preparing to join the war – sometime. Colonel Sir Charles Lamb http://lafayette.org.uk/lam2898.html (1857-1948) was the British military attache at Rome, while the less positive Captain William Boyle (1873-1967) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Boyle,_12th_Earl_of_Cork was the British naval attache. Both were from upper class families – Lamb was a baronet, while Boyle was cousin and heir to the Earl of Cork and Orrery. Italy eventually declared war on Austria in May 1915, and on Turkey and Germany in August. We will be hearing much more from Ralph Glyn and his family – see the Who’s Who page for more information.

Private
Syracuse 26/1/15

Dear General

We have arrived here after a very good journey with a break at Rome. We cross to Malta tomorrow night arriving there on the 28th. I don’t know whether we shall leave that day or the following but it is blowing a bit and I doubt if we shall reach the Piraeus before the 31st.

When I was in Rome I had a long talk both to Colonel Lamb & to Captain Boyle. They have both the fixed idea that Italy will not come in for some little time. Boyle is doubtful if they will come in until some very good excuse is forthcoming. He thinks that the Italians would feel some difficulty in going against their old ‘friends’ without some obvious cause. The northern manufacturing centres are making so much profit that they prefer money to fighting. Their naval yards are working overtime but very few extra men are being employed. All the energy is being devoted to military rather than naval work. Boyle pretends to believe that he will know the Italians mean to fight when they ‘come in’. I rather think he wants to get a ship out home!

Lamb on the other hand, although he has only been out a very short time, has found out a very great deal. Nobody better could be in his job. He has looked up all his old friends & learnt a great deal from them. Besides this the King gave him a long audience when he went to the Quirinal. Colonel Lamb was when I saw him writing a long report which will be in your hands as soon as this. From what I gathered Lamb is sure that Italy will come in – late in April. The transport section is the difficulty. There is no organised mechanical transport & the Rome WO is divided into two – Operations & Transport. All the Transport staff officers on mobilization go to their various districts & there bring together what transport is on the district list. It is now thought to be too late in the day to have a service for ‘conductors’ & the trouble already looms large. To operate until the snow is off the hills is almost impossible. Bologna will be the advanced base, & the doubling of the railway through the Appennines is not yet completed – this is another worry. The whole of northern Italy was full of troops on the move as we came through & the Swiss have strong guards at all the stations. There is an idea in Rome that the Germans & Austrians are now massing troops near Triest [sic] & that their objective is not Servia [sic].

It is difficult to believe this as they can have no object in bringing Italy in against them, & much might happen if they give the Serbs a knock before Italy or Roumania [sic] come in.

The Italians have found that much of their Krupp bought shells are loaded with faulty powder. They are busy now emptying & refilling. This puts their normal output back a good deal. They can put 1,200,000 men in the field with 259 4-gun batteries. The Deport gun is great success & the mobile militia batteries are being given the Krupp guns as the Deport are given to the active batteries.
These are only very rough impressions – I know you will so soon have full details from Col: Lamb.

I shall hope soon to send you other letters more worth reading.

I am, Sir,
Yours,
Ralph Glyn

Letter from Ralph Glyn to General Charles Callwell (D/EGL/C24)