“Far away from my battalion and the plague of khaki”

Percy had gone on ahead of his unit to arrange billets in the French countryside.

June 19 [1918]
My dear WF

I like this place. Far away from my battalion and the plague of khaki, here I am billeting – at least I was yesterday.

Today I’m just waiting for my people to turn up.

I like the chateau with its monster lime trees – one, the largest I have ever seen. And I like the big farmer who took me into a direct current from his styes and there held me in lengthy conversation – and the old ladies apparently born in strait waistcoats who hold one spellbound for hours in a flood of patois out of which one thing only is clear – they require an exorbitant price for what they are pleased to call an officers’ mess.

The postman, fat & aged, is refreshing too. His cheerful announcement of letters & postcards with all details and contents of the letter is good to the heart. His cheery good day to me as I passed and request for a cigarette & explanation that tobacco is very scarce went straight to my cigarette case.

And then there is M. le Maire, schoolmaster & umpteen other things, who left his overalled charges to show me billeting matters and give me lengthy explanations only pausing to hurl corrections across the courtyard to the schoolroom, where one of the boys was reading aloud.

And then there is Madame at the estaminet where I have my temporary headquarters, who provides me with an interminable reserve of eggs and coffee, and constant shocks. The climax was reached when I asked for milk, and taking a homely bedroom utensil [a chamberpot!], she drew therein a supply from her little goat and served me liberally therefrom.

And that’s my village.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/47-49)

Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence again. He was not very flattering about artist brother Stanley’s potential as a soldier, but was concerned about newly commissioned brother Sydney.

June 4, 1915
Dear Florrie

Here we are after a night move two days ago, a little move to the south and west. Jack Jackson’s regiment went by me in the dark but I didn’t catch sight of him. I expect he’s all right still as I believe our brigade has done most of the serious work so far.
This is a delightful and wealthy place – with a more glorious garden still than the last, and all the peace of a private farm, and all the joy of peasant men and women working about the place. But we are under the eye of the enemy so all our movements are dark and clandestine.

Mother’s letter was quite good. The artful touch about Edith French was very amusing. Edith will look perfectly charming in a nurse’s uniform, I agree. Tell mother I’m sure she’ll be wrapped up by the first sensible fellow fortunate enough to be wounded and nursed by her, and that I’ll try hard for the post.

By the way, the sweet little lady had written me a charming letter which I hope to answer. Why on earth isn’t she married? The men of her own wealth must be blind, or is it because she lives at the end of the world?

I do hope Stan will stick by the home. He really isn’t of much account for military purposes, but of course I understand it’s hard for him to remain out of this business, and he might be useful in the medical way.

Of course Sydney if he gets a commission and comes out soon will have the worst of it, and take exceedingly serious risks of at least being winged. Nobody except those who have been through it knows the cost and danger of an attack, and I don’t want him to be told, but, Flo dear, if he comes out as a subaltern, hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.


Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/4/32)