“These things cannot be done in five minutes – but do you not think that nearly 4 months is rather a long delay?”

Sydney Spencer was increasingly frustrated that he was still on the home front.

Copy of a letter I sent to Brigadier General Pratt [sic?] commanding 208th Inf. Brigade at Doncaster on Easter Sunday March 31st 1918.

From The Brigade Gas Officer
208th Inf. Brigade

To the Commander
208th Inf. Brigade

Sir:

I have the honour to lay the following request before you hoping that it will meet with the great consideration which you have shewn at all times towards me in my rather unhappy position. May I be forgiven if for the moment I break through that necessary reserve which rightly exists between a junior subaltern & his General Officer Commanding, & write rather more openly than official language will allow, even being you, for the time being, as one who has seen more of life & service than I have lived years, & one who has shewn great sympathy & willingness to aid me towards the one great end to which I unceasingly look, rather than as my superior officer to whom I have no right to address the following in such terms as I am about to use.

Sir: both you & General Fortescue before you have done your best to get me overseas, & have rightly understood the unenviable position I am now in, & yet nothing has happened. My first definite application through the Brigade to the Division must have reached the division at about Christmas time. Since then other applications have gone in. Nothing has come of it. Lord Stanley, when he was with the Brigade, told me to be patient & that these things cannot be done in five minutes. I realize that, but do you not think that nearly 4 months is rather a long delay? Hence I feel driven to ask the following favour. May I be allowed an interview with the General Officer commanding the Division so that I may know what are his real feelings about my position.

General Fortescue, Colonel Harris told me in Sheffield last week, definitely stated that the taking up of my post as Brigade Gas Officer would in no way interfere with my going out as a SS officer should the opportunity arise. In five days time I shall have held my appointment 5 months. Six months is the full term of this office according to ACI Instructions. Frankly, Sir, if I have given satisfaction in my work, & if I have put enthusiasm into the Battalion Gas officers under me, & they have given me every support, as this last week has shewn, it is on my part, an enthusiasm born of an unceasing desire to keep from becoming despondent, & lose after nearly 3 years home service as a General Service Officer. May I hope that the length of this letter, & the language in which it is couched, has in no way given offence.

I have the honour, Sir,
To be
Your obedient servant

Sydney Spencer Lieut
Doncaster

31.3.13

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12)

Advertisements

“The doctor called it ‘Influenza’, but I called it things in much less mild language!”

Training in Yorkshire, Sydney Spencer contracted influenza, the scourge which would end up killing more people than the war. He gives a graphic description.

Warmsworth Hall
Doncaster
Sunday March 3rd 1918
My Dearest Sister

Do you imagine for a single moment what happened last Tuesday? I fell suddenly & grieviously sick! What of? I know not. The doctor called it ‘Influenza’, but I called it things in much less mild language! I had a fearful headache which nearly blinded me & a swollen throat which resulted when I ate in my having a fearfully exciting & incessant sort of steeplechase going on in my throat, ie the food ran along my tongue, paused in mute horror, took breath, gathered itself up carefully like a cat does before jumping, took a flying leap at the small breach left where my throat once was, landed gasping on the brink & then I did the rest by a spasmodic system of gulps. And that’s the only amusement I got out of it! Well, my sickness left me yesterday as suddenly as it came!

The joke of the matter is that a man in this house was discovered to be the proud possessor of a throat which for days past had been dip (no I dare not spell it!) – let us just call it dipth—ia! Furthermore since the aforesaid man was batman to Capt. Fitch who sleeps opposite me, well by the time Thursday came, when I was feeling much less alive than dead, I was having a fairly cheerful outlook on life.

I gargled with ‘lysol’ & that killed whatever germs had attacked my throat & I am as well as possible again.

What do you think of that for a bloodcurdling tale?

Dear old Rowell, commonly known as ‘Pongo’, is now writing his one letter a week to “his Muzzie” as he puts it. He is a sailor by profession, frank & open, but a very blasphemous young man (not really but he bluffs it). He can scarcely spell his own name but is a gentleman by birth & education. He has so far asked me how to spell Warmsworth, the date of the day, & ‘week’, in one minute I shall have to give him my undivided attention, bless him. (Yes, Pongo, UPSET does spell upset, & been spells been & not bean!)

All love to you both, & my humble respects to the kings among feline races.

Your affectionate Brer
Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer to his sister Florence Image (D/EZ177/8/3/7)

“Now what’s up? Well, I have been up! Yes, up in an aeroplane!”

Sydney Spencer was enthralled with the experience of flight.

At The Race Course
Doncaster
Sunday Sept 24 [1917]

My Dearest Sister Mine

Now what’s up? Well, I have been up! Yes, up in an aeroplane! I am part of an advance party for our B[riga]de & am billeted with the 41st RS Flying Corps for about 3 weeks & well I got round a delightful flying pilot of the name of Hirst to take me for a joy ride! This morning I walked into the aerodrome & looked charming & when Hirst came along & said that he thought the air was not fit for flying but he would just go up & test it, I smiled & said let me go too, & lo & behold, yes in a quarter of an hour I had been for a flight over fields & woods & seem people down below (only 500 feet though) & cows & trees & roads looking like a nursery Noah’s ark affair.

I have never had such a sense of exhilaration in my life. In the last few seconds when we seemed to make a clean dive for the earth & one looked over the nose of the car & saw the great earth loom up & such to met you, as it were, I could have clapped my hands with delight like a foolish child.

One confession however. I was not strapped in, preferred not to be. The Pilot said, “when we come down you will want to grab at something I expect, so grab at the struts on either side”. Well, I thought to myself, Pah, who wants to grab at struts? But at the first dive, what do you think I did? Well, I made a momentary grab at the struts, but only momentary. I felt wild with myself for shewing ever such a small show of feeling.

My dear lady, what do you think of that now for an experience?

All love to you both from
Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer to his sister Florence Image (D/EZ177/8/2/22)

Learning to ride in the army

Sydney Spencer was training at Doncaster, and receiving riding lessons, a traditional officer’s skill.

Nov 7th [1916]
By order 1804 I am detailed with Ferrier, Brierly & Clemence to join Lt Col Simpson’s (Yorkshire Dragoons) equitation classes on Fisher Park on Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays.

Florence Vansittart Neale
7 November 1916

Our submarine hit 2 dreadnaughts.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12)

Billeted at Royal Flying Corps

Sydney Spencer’s battalion was about to move again, and he was sent on ahead.

September 21st, 1916

I go to Doncaster for advance party. Billeted at Royal Flying Corps.

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12)