“Saw poor old Miles’ grave in the cemetery extension”

Sydney Spencer rejoined his unit – and found an old friend’s grave.

Saturday 6 July 1918

Got up after a delightful night’s sleep at 7.45. Dressed in a leisurely fashion as befitted the atmosphere of the charming village & the fact that we did not move till 9.30. A lorry took us through Longvillers to Domleger. 11 a, started for Raincheval for Hedanville. A glorious morning.

Landed at Candas at 11.30. Had an omelette [sic] & tea at Estaminet. Got on board train at 1.30. Started for Raincheval at 2.45. There I found a French go cart waiting for me. I got here through Toutencourt to Harponville. It is now 12 weeks ago that I left there for Maillet-Mailly!

I am resting here at billet no. 102. Hervey, Slater & Bradley here. Saw poor old Miles’ grave in the cemetery extension. Also saw Pte Brooker’s grave, an old 2/5th Norfolk Regt.

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

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A million Americans – good fighters

America’s Independence Day was marked by a baseball match between teams from their Navy and Army at Chelsea football ground.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 4 July 1918

Train supposed to start at 8.30. Started at about 10.30. Arrived Domleger 11.30. Marched through Gramont to Domqueur. I found that all the Norfolk Details were gone up the line. In fact I saw Shute & Knights & Sergeant Major Fuller & others, who got into the train which I left! So I am OC Norfolk details – only 11 of us & have before me the prospect of a few days of the most charming place.

To bed at 9. Lt Pratley of 7th Norfolks my bed companion.

Florence Vansittart Neale
4 July 1918

1,000,000 Americans in France – good fighters. Baseball match.

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

“Grim & sullen, at his post, never budging or paying any attention to anything at all but the patch of “no man’s land” immediately to his front”

As he travelled slowly back to the front, Sydney reflected on an old soldier who taught him a lesson about what was really important at war.

Wednesday 3 July 1918

11.30 am I don’t think I have felt so easy in mind, or fit and well, for about 8 weeks as I feel today. The influence of this club with all its civilizing attributes has sunk right into me, & has made me quiet & contented with everything. Have been writing letters to Florence, Mother & Father. After lunch I take my draft to station to leave by 2 o’clock train for Doullens change for Domleger.

6.30 pm. After waiting for 4 ½ hours on the station here at Etaples, I have managed to get into a carriage with my kit too!

6.45. Train started.

7.30 pm. Montreuil. We passed near Hesdin at 7.45, passed through Beaurainville, the rest of the journey today passed tranquilly with the exception that the OC train was a terrible fidget! Got some broken sleep occasionally. Had an argument about money with an RFA officer.

Sydney to Florence
EFC Officers Rest House and Mess

July 3rd 1918
My Dearest Florence

In my platoon I have one Private Smith. He is a young old man of about 38 or 40. He is uncouth & gruff, he has a seared, wrinkled, weatherbeaten, ugly face, & out of the line worries one by his apparent lack of power ever to look a soldier. I noticed this man & one day [censored], I went up to him & said “Well, Smith, how does the world treat you?”

He looked at me sullenly & grunted, & said “Well, I have been out ‘ere a long time & I suffers terrible, me bones is all stiff & I gits rheumatic pains something terrible etc etc”. I turned away [censored] saying to myself, another old soldier of the eternally grumbling type”.

We went up the line, & one day when it was dull & misty while on my tour of trench duty, I saw Smith cautiously peering over the parapet with a spotlessly clean rifle, looking well groomed & cared for, glued to his shoulder. I took no notice, but from then onwards I kept my eye on him.

On bright days he was never there, but so sure as it was a dull day, misty, or bad for observation, no matter at what time I went along, there I should find him, grim & sullen, at his post, never budging or paying any attention to anything at all but the patch of “no man’s land” immediately to his front. Now he is a sanitary man, & he is never officially a sentry, & never has orders to do sentry duty. Yet for hours daily I used to find him solemnly on the watch!

It puzzled me, so I paused in passing him one day & said “Well, Smith, do you think that brother Fritz intends coming over?” With much grimacing & grunting he slowly lifted himself from his post, & a slow rustic smile breaking out over his ugly face he said, “Well, sir, these youngsters doant realize & so I likes to keep on the watch meself a bit when the weather’s bad, but you know sir, my back, it’s fit nigh to break, in this damp weather & gits that stiff I wonder whether I shall ever be fit agin etc etc.” [Censored]

I felt then humble & respectful. He was his younger brother’s keeper very really. He had a lesson to teach me & I hope I learned it. [Censored] the native beauty of the character of this very rough diamond.

Your always affectionate Brer Sydney

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and letter (D/EZ177/8/3/51)