An awful, awful tragedy

Lady Mary Glyn wrote to Ralph again to let him know how her Red Cross and other war work was going.

Jan 18th [1916]…

We heard of the great doings at the G[reat] E[astern] Rest Room. Over 100 men there last night – 40 sailors, 60 men & then more, and an efficient staff of helpers. All night. Then in afternoon I … called on Recruiting Officer’s wife…

From 6 to 9 (with break for dinner) the Knights Chamber Private Registered Red X Work Party. 32 workers all in caps & white aprons and sleeves, and it is really a joy to see that Room full – all happy, and the long tables covered with clean oil baize, and your old nursery cupboard moved there to hold the material. I hear there is a tremendous “muddle” at Northampton, & as these inanities here appealed to Lord Spencer they have dragged him into their mesh of muddle, and I have written no word & keep silence, but events move, and things must take their course. Sir George Pragnell looks like a bulldog that will not easily let go, and the evidence he took from me was quite sufficient to show misapplication of money, and a vast trickery of the public they feared my action would bring to light. They would have done better to leave me alone!…

I read the papers and wish I knew what to think! Montenegro and its heights to add to the pecuniary burdens of ruined nations, but in the meantime how far adding to their resources?…

My whole love always
Own Mur

Ralph’s sister Meg also wrote to him, with thoughts on politics, and more on the Campbell family’s loss with the death of their cousin Ivar. (more…)


Absolute hell a few miles away

Percy Spencer told sister Florence he was safe, and gave her some information about the supply of newspapers at the front. But the danger was alleviated by some puppies:

May 26, 1915
Dear Florrie

I’m having a rest.

The Brigade Major mentioned the other day that he thought I was the hardest worked fellow on the staff – I suppose because to avoid mistakes I take night messages and often get very little sleep. So to my disgust I’m not in the battle now raging but am remaining behind to carry on with a few ore & Captain Holliday and to rest as much as I can. Really I suppose I’m lucky as it’s absolute hell a few miles away where we are successfully operating though losing a lot of men.

Thank you for your letters and parcel. I’m blessed if I remember if I wrote and thanked you for the parcel with the cake mother made in it, and father’s flowers. It was kind of him to fag about with them.

I expect you are having the same sort of weather as we are – glorious but terribly hot.

Today brought me four letters – yours, one from T.W., another from Sydney and one from Mrs Everest his former landlady]. Dear old lady; I think she’ll be leaving me something in her will if I don’t look out. Anyway you and I seem to have brought a gleam of sunshine into their (hers and Annie’s) secluded lives – and we are all glad of it.

All this morning I spent in the garden idly watching aeroplanes being shelled, or – for a change – two little brown puppies here, playing hide and seek round a small clump of iris. But for this damnable war and all the uncertainty it involves us in, our situation would be enviable.

Have I told you that I get the Advertiser [presumably the Maidenhead Advertiser] every week (thanks very much), and do not require any money as I keep the petty cash.

Generals & people like that get the “Times” through about 7-8 pm the day of issue, but Mrs Hothouse is wrong in stating that the men get anything more than one day old papers. Very often they don’t get that.

I’ve absolutely nothing to tell you except that I keep remarkably well and jolly. Give my love to all at home.

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/4/30)

‘The rattle of machine gun or musketry fire has added a pizzicato accompaniment to the solemn roar of the heavy artillery’

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister with thanks for her gifts, and more impressions of life close behind the front line.

Mar. 28. 1915
Dear Florrie

Thank you for the cigarettes, the compass, the fresh linen, and for everything else you have sent me. I’m sure everything must have reached me as I have been fairly bombarded with gifts and letters. Thank Mrs Everest [his former landlady] for me for the cake and flowers – both arrived quite fresh. The cake lasted no time but the flowers are still at the last village we were at, where they are the admiration of the household.

We are now within constant sound of the guns, day and night, and every now and then throughout this lovely Sunday the rattle of machine gun or musketry fire has added a pizzicato accompaniment to the solemn roar of the heavy artillery.

I’m again quartered in a lovely house, but not so well off for food as as the last house where the folk were most hospitable and opened a bottle of champagne in our honour the last night we were with them. Yesterday we marched up here, and started business again. It’s a rum affair. No sooner do you get going at one place than you are off to another.

Some of our fellows were fortunate enough to see a fine aeroplane fight near here today, but I wasn’t among them, and don’t know how low the fight went – we won though, I expect.

We get daily papers up here one day old and the postal service is excellent, so don’t worry on those scores.

Well dear, I’ve really nothing to tell you except to say how much I appreciate all you have done for me and your regular supply of news…

Yours ever

Will you please forward the enclosed few lines to Will [their older brother, living in neutral Switzerland].

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/4/16-17)

The best butter: Christmas in Cookham

Sydney Spencer reports on a wartime Christmas at home in Cookham. A quiet day was enlivened by the unexpected arrival of soldier brother Percy, who had got leave at the last minute:

Christmas Boxing Day 1914
We had to spend a quiet day yesterday, for which I must own I was very glad. With war going on as it is now, & all the horrors which it entails, one does not feel very festive at such a time! So we had no holly or mistletoe, & no “high jinks” in the evening, but we had a quiet day instead, which we were able to thoroughly enjoy so far as it was possible when Percy was unable to be with us, & Horace was away in Africa, & Harold & Natalie were unable to get to us as they had an engagement to play to the wounded soldiers who are round about here…. Just as I wrote these last two or three words the front door opened and Percy walked in so exit myself for the time being, Mr Diary.

Percy has just gone over to the Worcesters, so I can just write a few more lines. He is now a sergeant & has been told that he stands a very good chance of getting a commission if he applies for one. He has just told us that his old landladies had made him a lovely Christmas cake & that the baker had burnt it to a cinder & sent them another in its place. They said “yes, & I expect he made it of egg powder & ours was made with fresh eggs, & he used margarine & we used the best butter & almonds & sultanas,” & here they both melted into tears! Also Mrs Everest, the elder of the two, had a slight accident. She was knocked against the railings by some drunken soldiers, & having been taken into a shop to recover, was given some neat brandy! When Percy arrived home he found the old lady considerably dazed, apparently not from the bruise or the shock as much as from the neat brandy!

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

‘Thank goodness she’s only been married once’

Percy Spencer was still stationed at St Albans, and seems to have been enjoying himself. He writes to sister Florence about recent exploits – and his lachrymose landlady:

Belmont Hill
St Albans
Decr 6.14

Dear Florrie…

Fortunately for my health’s sake, going out on manoeuvres has been added to my duties. Twice last week I was out all day urging a bicycle over ploughed fields & steep hills, and through hedges I should at any other time have admired. On Thursday we had a splendid day – and won handsomely…

This next Friday we are to have a slap up fight with a “skeleton army”. So you see that’s all we are good for at present, and we shan’t be going to the front for ages….

Yesterday I rode round town on a horse I hadn’t ridden before – it was a most exciting experience for both of us. I’m glad to say we finished up together. It was a grand diagonal race, the wonder of the populace and the fear of all cyclists.

Tomorrow is Mrs Everest’s [his hostess] wedding day. Poor old lady, she is in rather a lachrymose condition and has been for some days. Arthur’s birthday, her birthday, Arthur’s funeral week and their wedding day are all sacred days, kept with tears and misery. I sympathise but – thank goodness she’s only been married once.

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/3/28)