Looking on the white cliffs of Old England

Sydney Spencer crossed over to France.

Monday 8 April 1918

Got to Folkestone at 10 am. Had a hot bath & lunch, & hair cut, am now on board the Victorian, & am up at fore part of vessel watching the loading of SAA ammunition & looking on the white cliffs of Old England, with just here & there a vivid green patch of grass. The whole atmosphere of the thing brings a quiet to my mind after these last few days which is exactly what I needed. 2.30 pm.

Boat started 4.30 pm. Landed. En avant pour la belle France enfin.
Instructions from AMLO office as follows. I go to 7th Norfolks, 12th Division. I dined and slept at the Officers’ Club, a very nice place. I went to RTO office at 8.30 pm & find that I go by train tomorrow at nine, but where I don’t know. At 8.15 pm I saw a nice Padre I met off to Italy via Paris. I have bought a copy of ‘Resurrection’ by Tolstoi [sic]. Tonight I wrote to Florence & Mother & wrote on my envelopes for the first time in my life “on active service”.

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

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Coffee with a man back from France, war worn

Sydney Spencer resumed his diary on finally being sent to the Front, after three years of training.

Sunday 7 April 1918

8.15 pm
I left home at 7.50 for la belle France. Although I deplore the fact that I temporarily lost all my cash, my warrant, my food card etc, it took away the sting from the leavetaking. Thank goodness I found the whole pocket book in my cardigan. I leave Victoria tomorrow morning at 7.35, & report Folkestone at 10 am.

Arrived London 9 pm. Went to Grosvenor Hotel & had a very good night’s sleep despite the fact that I was unable to get any dinner or food of any sort. Thank goodness I had a few biscuits which Florence (bless her) had put in my pocket. I did manage to get a cup of coffee & drank it conversing with a man back from France, war worn.


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

“God give me power to say & act at home, so that those dear parents of mine shall receive comfort & support & not feel my going away”

After his desperate last ditch appeal to his superiors on 31 March, Sydney Spencer was at last headed to the front. His family were less pleased.

1918
April 5th

Yesterday I received the following telegram.

To Lieut S Spencer
Sc301, 4th.4.18
69th Division wires…
Under War Office Postal Telegram…

Second April order Lieut. S Spencer, 5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment join expeditionary force France on 8th instant. To report personally to the embarkation command at Folkestone not later than 10.0 am, & if passing through London, travel by the train leaving Victoria Station at 7.35 am on that date. Ends.

Acknowledge & report departure to this office in duplicate.

208th Brigade
Butterworth Lieut for Staff Captain.

And so at last they have taken notice of my repeated appeals. God is good.

See my letter to General Pritchard [sic?] on page 343 of this book [31 March]. He was very sweet, & naively reproved me for writing to him as ‘Sir’! rather than Dear General Pritchard! I go to Cambridge today to Florence & home I think on Sunday for a few hours. God give me power to say & act at home, so that those dear parents of mine shall receive comfort & support & not feel my going away.

SS
5.4.18

Diary of Sydney Spencer

A great honour and a proud record

A Berkshire landowner’s wife was only the fifth woman in the country to be awarded the title of Dame – equivalent of a man being knighted. Men from the are were also being honoured for their roles.

THE WAR

The great honour that has been conferred upon the lady now to be known as Dame Edith Benyon, is of importance to other parishes besides Englefield. Apart from the share in this honour that the county justly claims, a considerable portion of Sulhamstead belongs to, and is farmed by, the Englefield estate, and Sulhamstead has its own reasons for being glad. Apart from Queen Alexandra, only four other ladies in the United Kingdom have received this honour.

We take the liberty of quoting the following, which is appearing in the Englefield Parish Magazine:

“DAME EDITH BENYON

It was a great honour that the King conferred on the lady who now enjoys the above title. It means that she has been appointed a Dame of the Grand Cross of the British Empire, for her services in connection with the VAD work at the Englefield Hospital, as well as in the County. It is, we need scarcely say, a well-deserved reward for her untiring services. Dame Edith looks upon it as an honour not only to herself, but to the village and the County of Berkshire. It may be useful here to mention that letters should be addressed to her, ‘Dame Edith Benyon, GBE’ on the envelope, and inside she will be addressed as ‘Dear Dame Edith’. So her old title of ‘Mrs Benyon’ will be dropped for good and all.”

Flight-Lieutenant Jock Norton has received a Bar to his Military Cross for recent military services.

Private William Marlow has been awarded the Military Medal in France, and was to have returned home to have it presented to him, but has now been sent to another front.

The following from the “Westminster Gazette” will greatly interest all who remember Sir Reginald Bacon, when in the old days, as nephew of Major Thoyts, he used to visit at Sulhamstead House.

“Another change is announced in the appointment of Vice-Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon as Controller of the Munitions Inventions Department, for which office he gives up his command of the Dover Patrol. Despite the fact that thousands of men are crossing between this country and France every day, he can claim that no life has been lost in the cross-Channel traffic from Folkestone or Dover during that time. That is a proud record, and if his successor achieves as much we shall have every reason for satisfaction.”

Lieutenant H A Benyon has been gazetted Captain.

Sulhamstead parish magazine, February 1918 (D/EX725/4)

Nursing the convalescent

The Community of St John Baptist had been taking in wounded soldiers at their convalescent home by the sea in Kent.

2 November 1917

Notice sent that the Royal Red Cross decoration had been awarded by the King to Sister Laura Jane as Sister Superior, St Andrew’s Home, Folkestone, where convalescent wounded soldiers have been nursed since the beginning of the war.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

A great air raid

The Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist were relieved not to have suffered at the hands of the latest air raid.

31 October 1917
News came of a great air raid by the Germans on the eastern counties & London. No damage done in any of our Houses in London or at Folkestone either to the Sisters and those in their care, or to property. D. G. [Deo gratias – thanks be to God].

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Invalided solider sent to a Convalescent Home

Hospitals didn’t want wounded soldiers to block beds.

8th June 1917
Convalescent Patient.

The action of the Hon. Secretary in sending an invalided soldier not an inmate of the Hospital to a Convalescent Home at Folkestone was approved.

Maidenhead Cottage Hospital governors’ minutes (D/H1/1/2, p. 338)

74 killed in Folkestone

The peace of Bisham Abbey seemed like a million miles from the south coast, hit by air raids.

2 June 1917

Captain Kennedy arrived – another Australian. Sat out. Men boated.

Bad raid on Folkestone – 74 people killed.

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

Enthusiasm for cooking lessons dwindles

Enthusiasm for wartime cookery lessons in Bisham had dwindled:

28 May 1917

Only 3 women came for cooking lessons on Tuesday.

Raid was on Folkestone mostly, 76 killed.

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

Mercifully preserved from an air raid

The Clewer-based Commnity of St John Baptist had a big convalescent home in Folkestone on the Kent coast, and also did mission work in the town. They faced the danger of an air raid in May 1917.

25 May 1917

A bad air raid took place at Folkestone in the evening. About 60 killed and many more injured. Our 3 houses, and all our Sisters, patients & workers mercifully preserved from any injury, for which special thanksgiving was made afterwards at the altar.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Italy declares war on Germany

Our diarists Florence Vansittart Neale and William Hallam were busy in different ways. Italy had been at war with Austria for a year, but now formally added Germany to her enemies.

Florence Vansittart Neale
28 Aug 1916

Most lovely. Submarines about….

Went to Folkestone… Invited soldiers for Wed.

Italy declared war on Germany.

William Hallam
28th August 1916

Fine day. Gun work came in to-day so working overtime till ½ past 7.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8);
and William Hallam (D/EX1415/24)

Australians wounded at the Somme

Still on holiday in Kent, the Vansittart Neales visited a war hospital run by the Red Cross in Sandgate, near Folkestone.

26 July 1916
Henry & I went to the Bevan Hospital – saw Australians just back from the Somme.

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

A terrible blow

Petrol shortages meant a blow for Florence Vansittart Neale, on holiday in Kent. Glycerine was needed for explosives.

21 July 1916
Heard all petrol stopped for private cars! Terrrible blow. Went into Folkestone to try to get some. Heard we could not. Wired to [Kidnes?] – no use!…

Still going well, but awful casualties.

Also no glycerine to be sold without doctor’s orders.

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

Slightly pushing on

Florence Vansittart Neale was staying in Folkestone, Kent.

8 July 1916

Motored to Lympne. Saw church & view over aerodrome…

British bombarding again. Slightly pushing on, on all fronts.

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

No April fooling in the shadow of air raids

Air raids were a worrying experience for people at home – even if they were not directly affected.

Florence Vansittart Neale
1 April 1916

Papers & letters very late owing to Zepps – big raid over east coast. 5 Zepp: altogether. One brought down in Thames – crew captured….

Wire saying Bubs safe at Boulogne. Also letter from her from Folkestone.

Community of St John Baptist
1 April 1916

Air raid during past night in some parts of the country. Stricter orders as to lights.

William Hallam
1st April 1916

I had just gone up to bed at 10 last night when the hooter blew a Zepp warning but still, I was not at all anxious but got into bed and went to sleep although the rest were nervous. No April fooling here now to-day.

To night I put 4£ in P. B. bank and 15/6 in War Saving Certif.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5);
Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/24)