God’s wonderful deliverance of our own nation and the world from the tyranny of lawless force

The first Sunday after the Armistice was the occasion for services of thanksgiving across Berkshire.

Newbury

Monday, November 11th, St Martin’s Day, will for ever be remembered in the history of our country as the day on which the greatest of all wars came to an end, and the strongest and most ferocious of military nations confessed itself beaten. It has been a tremendous triumph for right and justice, and we have endeavoured to express our thankfulness to Almighty God, who has so signally vindicated His mighty power and has so wonderfully blessed our arms and those of our Allies. May we now as a nation and Empire prove ourselves more worthy of His goodness to us, and endeavour to work together to make the world a better, and therefore happier, world.

Thanksgiving Services were held at the Parish Church: on Tuesday morning [12 November], a celebration of the Holy Communion, when there were 88 communicants; on Wednesday afternoon [13 November], when the church was full; and the following Sunday [17 November]. There was also a United Thanksgiving Service in the Corn Exchange, under the presidency of the Mayor, on Sunday afternoon, when there must have been 2,000 people present, and when several hundred failed to gain admittance. Mr Liddle had got together a splendid orchestra for the occasion. May this spirit of thanksgiving remain with us, and may we not forget the spiritual lessons of the war.

The streets presented a very gay appearance, and there were processions (authorised and unauthorised) much to the delight of the young. All the fireworks possible to be obtained were let off in the streets, and one unexploded bomb was found inside the Churchyard gates, and handed over to the police. It appeared afterwards that another member of the Police Force had put it there for safety. We were very glad to see the excellent and sober spirit of the merry-makers. It was indeed an occasion for rejoicing with great joy.


Speenhamland

It was with feelings of profound thankfulness that we heard the Armistice had been signed. Our feelings were deeply stirred at the thought that at last this terrible War, which has oppressed us for over four years, was over, and that there were good prospects of a peace being signed, which we trust will be a righteous and lasting one. Our rejoicings took various shapes during the week, and culminated in our services in Church. We were glad to see many at the Celebrations and at other services; and it was a happy thought to hold a joint service in the Corn Exchange, which was crowded with a devout and reverent congregation. We shall long remember the sight of that vast audience.

Earley

Sunday, November 17, being the first Sunday after the declaration of peace, naturally was observed as a day of thanksgiving. The families of those on our roll of honour responded quickly to the invitation to send flowers, which were massed on the window shelf and corner where the roll hangs. The black oak was relieved by a magnificent display of colour, by flags hanging from the rood loft on the west side.

Reading

Such tremendous things have happened since the last issue of the Magazine that it is almost impossible adequately to express all we should like to say. On S. Martin’s Day, November 11th, about 11.15, came the great news of the signing of the Armistice, and the cessation of hostilities. At 12 o’clock at S. Marys a short impromptu Service of Thanksgiving was held which was attended by quite a number of the faithful. None of us will ever forget the crowded Civic Service held at S. Mary’s, on Wednesday November 13th, when the Mayor and corporation came in state to render solemn thanks to Almighty God for His wonderful deliverance of our own nation and the world from the tyranny of lawless force. Sunday, November 17th was observed as the special Day of Thanksgiving. At the Eucharist at 11 and at evensong at 6.30 the Church was fuller than it has ever been of late years. This is an encouraging sign that our people in in times of joy, as well as in times of trouble and distress, turn instinctively to God.

At 3.30 on the same Sunday the Church Lads’ Brigade came in full strength to S. Mary’s for their parade service; several Officers and Lads were admitted, and the address was given by the Rev. Edgar Rogers, Chaplain at C.L.B. Headquarters in London, who also preached at Evensong. It should be mentioned among the special features of the service of this great Sunday that a large and handsome silk Union Jack was carried in the Procession and also two laurel wreaths to which were tied bows of patriotic colours.

“Deo gratias.”


Broad Street Brotherhood

The Brotherhood held a great mass meeting on Sunday, November 17th, to celebrate, and give thanks for, the Armistice recently concluded with Germany.

Principal Childs of the Reading College [later Reading University] delivered a most impressive address on “The Responsibilities of Victory”, which gave us much food for thought, and left with the members present a clear conception of the trying and serious times with which our country is faced. It was truly a great meeting, and our best thanks are due to the President for arranging it.

Newbury St Nicolas parish magazine, December 1918 (D/P89/28A/13); Speenhamland parish magazine, December 1918 (D/P116B/28A/2); Earley St Bartholomew parish magazine, December 1918 (D/P192/28A/15); Reading St Mary parish magazine, December 1918 (D/P98/28A/13); Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, December 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

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“Don’t know how they expect a fellow to keep his temperature down to normal when he is subject to such distracting influences”

Percy had been worrying about younger brother Sydney’s fate.

Bed 8
Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
Aug 19, 1918

My dear WF

Thanks as much as ever for your letters. Since “Aunt Margaret” was here today & pointed [sharpened] my pencil, Sister tells me I am not for the theatre tomorrow. Apparently all the tickets are not yet sold and they have postponed my appearance till Wednesday. Thursday I may or may not be a little unhappy so I suggest you come on Friday. But come just when you like, dear, or when John will spare you.

Last night I was inoculated and I haven’t been feeling very lively since, but Aunt Margaret’s visit today did me a world of good. She is so sweet & restful. Sister just loves her. By the way another nurse has come along, a very finely built & good looking girl. Yesterday too we had a Canadian Red Cross girl all day. Don’t know how they expect a fellow to keep his temperature down to normal when he is subject to such distracting influences.

It was more than kind of General Seagrave to write to you insamuch as he was not longer with or anything to do with the Battalion when I was hit.

Your fuel problem is a nightmare. You’ll have to collect wood.

Yesterday Mr & Mrs Curtis came to see me – bless their hearts. Mrs Curtis with a huge bunch of flowers from a garden at Loughborough Grove – by the way they had a quarrel about who should carry them – and Mr Curtis with 2 cigars. Mr Tom Curtis wanted to see me so he came on Saturday and talked solemnly for a couple of hours about soffits of staircases and dados and wall casings – it was funny.

Well, good night my darling sister.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

PS I was so thankful to get your news of Syd, as on the 7th in the hospital train, the wounded officer in the bunk above me, who happened to command the next platoon to Sydney in the Norfolk Regiment, told me Syd was going over in the attack.

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/77-79)

“I shall transfer all my affections to Sister Macgregor”

Percy Spencer tells his sister Florence about his experiences as a wounded soldier in a London hospital. He was very grateful to the kind nurses.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
London SW

Aug 14, 1918

My dear WF

Thank you so much for your letter. It will be nice to see you again on the 20th and you may be sure we shall be alone.

I did feel sort of used up at the end of the day, so yesterday told Sister I would see no one but Miss Image [Florence’s elderly sister in law], who luckily did not come, for she would have found a very sleepy fellow indeed – I slept from 1-3 pm. Last night with the aid of 2 tablets plus 2 more I got to sleep in the grey hours and feel fresher.

You can come just when you like, dear, but as my arm is dressed each morning and the time it is done depends on the amount of work, and sometimes I like to be still for a little while afterwards, you may not be able to see me before lunch – ie 12.30 – 1pm. But as early after that as you like.

Miss Image & Mrs Curtis came today. I do think it is sweet of “Aunt Margaret” to come, & she brought me some lovely roses. Mrs Curtis turned up later and very kindly brought me a supply of matches. I hope Aunt Margaret didn’t mind, but Mrs C is one of my faithful adherents I feel I cannot be “out” to. I foresee I shall have to sort my visitors over, and tell them when to come.

Well, Sister Kirby has just washed me like a mother, and given me some clean pyjamas and I think I love her best at the moment, but I fear we are fickle fellows, for at midnight when I cannot sleep and want my pillows put straight I shall transfer all my affections to Sister Macgregor, for she has a way with her with pillows and a sweet smile to boot.

Yrs ever, with my dear love to you both

Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/68-71)

The air is rent now & then by the zip zip of machine gun fire!

Even now he was in the trenches, Sydney Spencer was able to note the resilience of the local wildlife.

Thursday 2 May 1918

10.30 am. In a CT trench long disused. It is almost impossible at the moment to believe that I am within 1000 yds of the front line! The banks are alive with dandelions. The villages or vills are bedecked with them. Larks sing high, the drowsy bumble [bee], pollen laden, blunders from one dandelion to another. In a pond below in the trench I have watched the quick water boatman & the dainty daddy long legs, & I have watched the bright yellow frog & teased him into an enforced immersion of over 80 seconds.

The air is rent now & then by the zip zip of machine gun fire! A perfectly glorious day. Butterflies scattered all over the landscape.

It is tea time & my man Fox is making me a scrambled egg tea at the bottom of my dugout! After stand to hour, I took out a party of men & duckboarded CT going down to White City Trenches. Had an hour’s sleep at 2.30.


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

The work of vandal hands

Sydney Spencer was distressed by the signs of looting and damage by the enemy, but could still delight in natural beauty.

Friday 26 April 1918

I got up at 7.30 & Peyton & I went into the cook-house, & we sat by the fire & talked about Oxford & had a cup of tea, & then we had breakfast. Morning spent in gas drill, rifle inspection & mouching [sic] round & lying about.

After lunch we went down to the platoons & O ticked them off about camouflage. Then went for a ‘scrounge’ with Harvey through the town. Very pathetic. In one house I found beautiful books, furniture & china all pelmel [sic] smashed & broken & torn by vandal hands on the ground. Upstairs large cupboards ruthlessly torn open, quantities of women’s apparel lying thick on the floors, & [illegible] lying full sprawl on the apparel a massive black dog with weak brown eyes, also looked long & sadly at me. In a ruined chateau I found a curious letter written on Sept 25 1915 from here.

After tea rations came. While I was away at D company HQ, 2, 15 point 9 shells got used. B company HQ. No damage to life but a hole in wall just outside the cellar. Tonight Rolfe and [illegible] have gone on working parties.

I gathered some lovely apple blossom from an apple tree blown up by a shell today. Also some forgetmenots, wallflowers, [peonies?], cowslips & bunches of blossoming branches of Tulip Tree.


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

Flowers for the war shrines

Clewer people were placings flowers at the roadside memorials which had sprung up in the parish during the war.

St Agnes’, Clewer

Several people have asked whether they may take flowers for the War Shrines. Most certainly they may do so, and it is much hoped that they will, and specially those whose relatives have their names on these Rolls of Honour. The flowers should be taken to Mr. Pert or Mrs. Cornish, who have kindly taken charge of the Shrines, and who will be very glad to put any flowers in the boxes provided for them.

Clewer parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P39/28A/9)

Anterhinums instead of vegetables

The head gardener at Bisham Abbey made the mistake of thinking the flower garden should be defended against vegetables. Meanwhile General John Pershing (1860-1948) made a visit.

9 June 1917

Martin had planted anterhinums instead of vegetables! Has to take them up….

American General & staff arrived – General Pershing.

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

“The White Comrade” reminds us of self-sacrifice and intercession

The church of St John the Baptist in Windsor now had a special area dedicated to the war. It was dominated by a print of the popular painting The White Comrade, by George Hillyard Swinstead, which depicted a wounded soldier being helped by an orderly, with Jesus (clad in white) looking on. Two real wounded soldiers were the artist’s models.

War Corner

Many members of our congregation will have noticed the War Corner which has been formed in the Parish Church, but there may still be some who do not yet know of it.

At the east end of the north aisle, against a dark blue background, is placed the Cross, and below it, on each side of a wooden shield on which is the picture “The White Comrade”, are the flags of the Allied Nations, and round these are hung the lists of those who are serving or who have given their lives in the war, and for whom our prayers have been asked.

The War Corner is meant to remind us of two of the great needs of today, self-sacrifice and intercession, and it is hoped that very many – children as well as adults – will, when passing the church, spare a few minutes to come and pray for God’s protection and guidance for ourselves and our Allies during the war.

It is thought that some people, particularly those who have friends serving, may like to undertake, in turn, to supply flowers or money with which to supply flowers, for the War Corner. Will any who would like to do this, kindly communicate with the vicar or with Miss Claudine Smith, 4 Claremont Road.

Mrs Trotter is very kindly giving the flowers to the end of November.

New Windsor St John the Baptist parish magazine, November 1916 (D/P149/28A/21/5)

“I suppose we must win, eventually” – but we need a dictator

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image was unimpressed by the country’s leadership, and thought Sir George Richardson, founder of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force should take over the air forces. His wife Florence, nee Spencer, of Cookham, was the sister of Percy and Stanley Spencer, mentioned here.

29 Barton Road
20 Feb. ‘16

Here is a story I heard from our Cook [aged 21] yesterday of her brother. Poor fellow, he has been killed since – but he was in the retreat from Mons, and he wrote home that for 5 days they had no food if any kind. The letter contained a snowdrop which the writer had picked from the top of his trench and sent to his mother, writing “I hope the base censor will not take it”. Letter and snowdrop arrived safe: and underneath this passage was written “The Censor has resisted the temptation”.

I suppose we must win, eventually. We want the elder Pitt. If such a man exists among us now, he is not allowed a chance. The Air Service! And my pupil unshamed preaching that we must take the butcheries lying down, for babes and women are of no importance. In no branch was the personal superiority of the British men more marked than in this of the air. But it needs a dictator. We have such a man – not Curzon – or Winston – but him who made the Ulster army. He mayn’t know much of Aeronautics, but he “can make a small State great”. I don’t suppose the “terrible Cornet of Horse” knew much of the Art Military, but see what he did in 1759, by Land and Sea – with a fleet and army emasculated by 40 years of peace.

My wife (she has a brother in Salonica, and another in Flanders, “mentioned in despatches”) begs me to send her kindest wishes along with mine to both.

Ever your loving
Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

“By far the best entertainment our wounded heroes get in the district”

The parish of Earley St Peter made something of a speciality of entertaining wounded soldiers.

EARLEY “WOUNDED SOLDIERS” ENTERTAINMENT FUND

In continuation of my account dated 25th November last, I am glad to report that there seems to be no lack of interest shewn by our friends and helpers in this deserving cause, nor in appreciation of our efforts by those whom we have been privileged to entertain.

Fifty-five guests were entertained on the 1st inst. and 55 on the 15th, and it needs but little time to be spent amongst them to find out how pleased they are with the form of entertainment provided. Presents of fruit, flowers, smokes, sweets, cakes, &c, continue to be given, whilst additional games have been introduced; three especially good ones, “Fishing” and “Bombardo”, kindly introduced by Miss Joel, and Parlour Bagatelle by Mrs Helps, having proved a great attraction. The hat-trimming, hairdressing, bowling and other competitions continue in great favour, and the evergreen sketch, “Mixed Pickles”, by the Misses Hayward and E. Francis and Messrs Edwin and Maurice Love creates much amusement, in fact we now have the credit of providing by far the best entertainment our wounded heroes get in the district.

I regret the Editor cannot allow this report to stand over for the special event we hope to provide on Wednesday, the 29th instant. On that date we are arranging to give dinner to 60 at 12.45, followed by the usual amusements: and promises of joints, puddings, mince pies and other good things have already been provided, so that an excellent repast is certain, and the only difficulty we are likely to have to face will be the provision of motors. In regard to this branch of helpers we have had the assistance of Mr Friedlander, Mrs Joel (bus and car), Mr Ed. Heelas, Lieut. Usmar, Mr D. Helps, Mr Richard Lea, Mr O. Dixon, [and] Mr A. C. Jordan, and to them our grateful thanks are due.

It is impossible to write to all who may wish to contribute to this Fund, but our hon secretary, Mr Love, or myself, will be glad to receive any additional gifts at any time. Since my last report the following further gifts have been received. Our Lady Subscribers have been good enough to attend and give valuable help.

Chas. J Howlett, Hon. Treasurer
16 December, 1915

DONATIONS

Miss George (further donation) 2s.6d
Mrs Lily 5s
Mrs Jordan (further donation) 5s
Mr E. D. Heelas £1
Heelas, Sons & Co., Ltd 5s
Anon (further donation) 2s.6d
Miss Montizambert (further donation) 10s
Mr and Miss Jordan (donation, prizes) 1s.6d
Miss Maurice 10s

GIFTS IN KIND
Miss Eileen Joel, Cakes and Cigarettes
Mrs A. C. Jordan, Cakes
Mrs Friedlander, Fruit
Mrs Marshall, Cigarettes
Mrs Wooldridge, Flowers and Fruit
Miss Jordan, Prizes
Mrs Bright, Cakes
Mrs Masser, Cigarettes
Mr A. C. Jordan, Chocolates and Cigars
Lieut. Usmar, Cigarettes
Mrs Murton, Cigarettes
Miss L. Goodwin, Cakes
The Misses Beauchamp, Cakes
Miss Lea, Cakes

Earley St Peter parish magazine, January 1916 (D/P191/28A/23/1)

A sumptuous tea

Wounded soldiers invited to tea at Trinity Church in Queen’s Road contributed to their own entertainment.

Wounded Soldiers Tea

On December 15th we had the pleasure of entertaining about 45 patients from Redlands War Hospital. By the kindness of the Tramways Manager, a special car was provided, which brought our guests to Trinity soon after two o’clock.

Various games – cards, bagatelle, dominoes, draughts, were indulged in with evident enjoyment until 4.15, when we all sat down to a sumptuous tea. Soon, a very festive appearance was presented, as crackers were pulled, and soldiers and lady-helpers alike donned the fanciful headgear.

After tea, songs were contributed by various friends, and two most interesting turns were provided by Private Fielding, A.S.C, who, accompanied on the piano by Private Barraclough, A.S.C., played first with bones, and then upon the rather unusual instruments – four wine glasses.

Flowers, magazines, and fruit were given to the men as they left, to give to those in hospital who were unable to be present.

Trinity Congregational Church, Reading: church magazine, February 1916 (D/EX1237/1/11)

No one who has not experienced the hell of an attack in this trench warfare can have more than the shadow of a glimpse of its awfulness

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about his situation just behind the lines. He was nonchalant about the danger, but made it clear how horrific it was in the trenches.

June 1st 1915

My dear Florrie

Here’s a glorious 1st of June. Everything in the garden is simply grand.

Thank you for all your letters and the parcel or parcels sent since last I had an opportunity of writing to you. Even the bread arrived in good condition.

But please do not send me anything I have not asked for – it only involves waste, or gifts to others who are quite well cared for.
We’ve had a good rest here – I more than the majority of the staff as I was not taken into the action you have probably read about, in which our fellows did so well, but was left here to rest. I went up for a few hours just before we were relieved, but that is all I had to do with it.

So Gil is going into the RAMC – I’m glad of that; and Syd into an infantry battalion for which I am not so glad as I’m afraid he does not realise what he is in for. In fact, no one at home in or out of the army who has not experienced the hell of an attack in this trench warfare can have more than the shadow of a glimpse of its awfulness.

My office is in the conservatory. A lovely [?] shelters me from the sun – orchids grow around in the rockery which forms three of the walls. On the lawn is a lovely clump of rhododendrons and many trees – as pleasant a place and scene as one could wish. But over it sing the shells for us and other places – two – three – four – five – six – seven – eight – nine – have just followed each other in quick succession and pluncked in the next street. One of these days they’ll make a mistake and hit us.

Well, dear girl, I haven’t anything to tell you except that I am well and looking forward to the far off day of our return to our ain folk.

Give my love to all

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/4/31)

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
Percy

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

Feeling is bitter against the strikers at home

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence on a rare quiet morning at the front with instructions as to the kind of things he wanted her to send – and the ones he didn’t. He also shared some views on strikes at home.


May 20, 1915
My dear Florrie

It’s a truly peaceful morning; the guns are practically silent; I’ve had five hours undisturbed rest, and moreover being situated in the section of the line known as the “rest cure” I’ve time enough and inclination enough to write.

Thank you for all the things you have sent me. For the present don’t send any more spiritive (while we are stationary I can’t use it except wastefully). Also don’t send matches – we have plenty, and don’t send much café’ au lait. If you send any of the latter, send the smallest tin you can get; it’s difficult to carry an opened tin about. Don’t send refills for torch quite so frequently – if you are now sending at intervals of a week, for the future send at intervals of ten days. But always have the refills treated before sending. The last but one was absolutely “dead” when it arrived.

Fruit is very difficult to obtain and so sometimes is bread, so if you can send me a little tinned or dried fruit occasionally it will be very welcome.

I like the “broad cut” Fryers but it’s very funny you should have tried so hard to get it and refused the “original” as I prefer the latter. I always seem to have plenty to smoke – perhaps a little less tobacco wouldn’t be a mistake.

It’s a fine day, suitable for aeroplanes and I hear the anti-aircraft guns at work, so soon I expect the big guns will begin to roar, and this lovely spring morning full of promise of happiness will be sullied. Well, we’ll enjoy it while we can, and I mean to stroll out directly into the brilliant sunshine and have a look at a bank at the end of the garden which is a mass of double daisies and forget-me-nots. There too I’m sure to find a nightingale singing in the branches of an ash tree undisturbed by the awful events in its neighbourhood.

There is a good piano in perfect tune in this house, and in the evening the Brigade Major usually sings a few of Boney Gray’s of Chevalier’s songs, or some of the soldiers’ ditties which I understand years ago he went to the trouble of collecting & publishing. He’s very much like Mr Ray in many ways and can sing his kind of song very well indeed….

Is Sydney taking a commission right away? I shall be glad to hear if so. He has written to me several times and must think I have forgotten him as I haven’t replied at all I believe. But I really haven’t had the time. Give him my love and tell him I’ll write when I can. Tell dear old Will the same. I have received his letters all right enough [from Switzerland] and you can tell him that very curiously they pass through the hands of an A.E. postal corporal somewhere at the base. This corporal prior to his promotion was attached to us, and he has sent me a message on the envelope of each of Will’s letters.

How are they all at home? I hope well. Father seems to be worried by the course of events at home. I do hope our nation won’t make itself a byword by losing its head and sanity.
Feeling here is very bitter against the strikers at home. Of course the men at home may be enduring hardships; but the men at the front are enduring even greater ones, and the time for adjustment is après la guerre [after the war].

I continue to astonish the natives with my French. Most of them understand me. Those who don’t, I enquire, “Do you speak English?” “No.” “Do you speak German?” “Of course not.” “Then what language do you speak? For you don’t speak your own.” They always take that as a huge joke and the domestic commissariat is generally immediately at my disposal….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/4/28-29)

Bloodstained souvenirs – and undefeated nightingales

Percy Spencer wrote occasionally to his sister’s friend John Maxwell Image, an elderly Cambridge don. In May 1915 he also sent him some rather gory war souvenirs.

May 19, 1915

Dear Mr Image

I have just sent you these souvenirs – a slim German cartridge, a stout French one and a piece of German shrapnel. I am afraid the bloodstain on the German cartridge has nearly worn off in my pocket, but hope there is still sufficient of it to satisfy your ferocity.

At our last resting place but one the owner of the house showed me his souvenirs and gaining confidence in my discretion as we went along, eventually removed a cabinet and withdrew from behind it a newspaper. Carefully unwrapping it he fairly purred with delight as a British bayonet bloody to the hilt was revealed. I’m sorry you weren’t there, but someday we must all go there together and you & the jolly good fellow who lives there can gloat over all his gory relics. Mademoiselle will join you, I’m sure – a most bloodthirsty damsel.

We captured a couple of Huns the other night and I was at the entertainment we had about 1 a.m. cross examining the fellows. One, a youngster, spoke English very well indeed, and was most interesting. He told us that the Germans didn’t “strafe” England half so much as the papers – in fact it was just a newspaper phrase! [see 10 May for the story being taken seriously].

We’ve had to put up with a good deal of shelling lately and yesterday a couple of 8 lyddites nearly found us. They burst outside the garden of this house but huge chunks of metal were hurled against the walls and over our fellows in the open who threw themselves flat down upon the earth.

Every now and then there’s a hellish bombardment and our house shakes and the papers lying about jerk [illegible] the table. But there’s never too great an inferno to stop the nightingales’ song or to wither the glory of our garden sweet with the scent of lilies of the valley and happy in the joy of sunlit daisies & forget-me-nots. Thank God for that.

On May 9th within 1000 yards of the battle and amidst the most awful din an old farmer strutted out solemnly smoking his pipe and commenced weeding the ground near our dugout where we were hiding from well directed shell fire! Man’s a wonderfully adaptable animal.

Thank you for the token. The play cut is a very nice tobacco, but I’m not to be weaned from my Fryer’s.

Yours ever
Percy J Spencer

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/10/10)