“Only 30 miles & we have taken 16 hours so far”

Sydney Spencer had a terrible journey behind the lines on his way to further training. No wonder he had a headache.

Wednesday 5 June 1918

3.45 am. Still seated in a motionless train. No nearer Abbeville, our destination. Eleven hours in the train & about 30 miles or less accomplished. I can hear the cookoo [sic] outside & thrushes singing, which sounds refreshing at any rate!

4.30 am. Still stuck fast!

8.30 am. We have moved a little! But we are not yet at Abbeville. Only 30 miles & we have taken 16 hours so far. Curious coincidence! The CO of chap going on curse with me sat on my right when I took my [illegible] in March! Major Monckton of Balliol!
Stoppage on line caused by Hun bombing line last night. 5 trains now in a long row!

We arrived at Abbeville at 11 o’clock. Changed & got to Etaples at 4.30 pm. Exactly 24 hours to go about 70 miles!

Etaples a glorious white splash of sunshine. The sea looked glorious from the Officers’ Club after dinner. After tea, a shampoo, shave & hot bath. This relieved a racking headache which I had developed. We went for a walk in Etaples & then to bed. Disturbed by a beast of a man who was absolutely blind drunk! He was sick in our tent! After that, peace.

Officers on our course from our corps, myself, Major Knights, [illegible], 2nd Lt Barker & a Welsh officer, Jones by name.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15)

Swindon full of drunken Scottish soldiers

Drunken soldiers swamped Swindon, according to the diary of our friend Wlliam Hallam:

27th February 1915
After tea to Bath Rd Reading Room. Saw two girls when they came in tonight said the town was full of drunken Scots who were in from Draycott camp.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/23)

Mother sends secret brandy to soldier son

Three of the Belgians at Bisham Abbey got an outing on 19 February.

19 February 1915
Edie took 3 men, Jean, Dominique, Jules, to Reading in the motor.

Heard Captain Long Innes men drunk (Irish Guards). At last discovered mother sent brandy inside a cake. Man had mild punishment – wrote stinger to mother. She prays for his soul, wishes to injure his body.

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

Drunk, disorderly and helpless: soldiers a disgrace to their uniform

William Hallam, formerly of Lockinge and now living in Swindon, was horrified by the soldiers’ drunken behaviour:

This afternoon I cleaned the windows and swept down the yard, and after tea I had a stroll round the town. The soldiers, who had come in from the new camp at Draycott, were about the streets in crowds, dozens of them, drunk, disorderly, and helpless. It was indeed a disgrace to the town and the uniform. People say it was just as bad last night.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/22)

Soldiers drunk at home and falling back abroad

William Hallam of Swindon observes some bad behaviour among the soldiers billetted locally, while Florence Vansittart Neale was following the war news closely while making Bisham Abbey ready for wounded soldiers:

3 September 1914

William Hallam
Marj. went to Wantage to-day. I met her at station to-night at ½ past 9. While I was waiting for the train at the bottom of the steps, 4 soldiers went up on the platform to go on duty as drunk as anything.

Florence Vansittart Neale
Chintz room ready – 5 beds….

Lord A. puts faith in Russians! So do I.

Germans getting nearer Paris – taken Amiens – Allies’ line falling back but not broken. We capture 10 guns. Fine cavalry charge. Wounded arriving. No news in papers of Russians but believe it is true.

Diaris of William Hallam (D/EX1415/22) and Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)