Moving from billet to barn, from barn to billet

Sydney Spencer hosted a big dinner.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 16 May 1918

I was orderly officer today so that today’s diary means: Reporting B HQ at 8.45, inspecting billets from 9.30-11.30, censoring letters from 11.30 till 12.30, inspecting dinners. After lunch a lie down, a short read, mounting guard at 3.30. Dismounting old guard. 4 pm tea.

After tea preparation for dinner guest night. Dinner a huge success. Consisted of soup, choufleur au gratin [cauliflower cheese], salmon mayonaize (don’t know how to spell it!), pork with baked potatoes & cauliflower, and sweet of plum pudding & custard – savouries of hard boiled egg etc on toast, coffee, biscuits, chocolate & cheese, port, sherry, whiskey & lime juice, & smokes. Do not think, my dear old diary, that I am a gourmand! I hate remembering what I have eaten. But I just put it down as a curiosity in this year of the war 1918!

Took staff parade, visited guard. Mess crowded with officers & all company & when I got to bed they had a jolly time.

Percy Spencer
16 May 1918

Cash. I went to Beaucourt to draw cash. Met Anderson who asked to be remembered to WF [Percy’s sister Florence Image]. Spent day in moving from billet to barn, from barn to billet.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

Advertisements

Peaceful persuasion

Sydney Spencer moved to better quarters today, while Percy’s regiment was handing out food to starving locals.

Sydney Spencer
Saturday 11 May 1918

Got up at 4 am. ‘Stand to’ and took men over to yet another new BP. Got back at 5.30 & slept till 9. Had breakfast brought to me in bivy. After breakfast a shave & wash & wrote long letters to Broadbent & Father & Mother. A note from the Padre re wine bills.

After lunch to change bivys with D Company. Completed by 3.45. Changed my socks & had tea. Wrote to the mother of one of my wounded men. During the ‘bivy’ [illegible] this afternoon saw a very comic fight between two men carrying petrol cans.

After dinner we all sat & waited to ‘scoot’ for A—s, which waiting lasted till 9.45, & then we took up our bed & walked. We arrived at midnight.

Found my platoon’s billet a very cosy one. Came here to our billet. Jolly comfortable. A small room each, and a mess room decked with French flags! Probably an old café’. To bed in my flea bag & valise with clothes off for first time for 15 days, with exception of taking them off for a bath!

Percy Spencer
11 May 1918

A good day. Had tea with my old chums of the 1&2. Called on Blofeld of the TMs, who was full of glee over his TM barrage which led to the 23rd killing 70 Bosch. Met Lynes whose company lost the bit of trench afterwards retaken. He told me trench was full of kit & pillows!

25-0 band conducted by a private (my old friend at Chiseldon – [Henry?] Doe & varsity man – deputy organist of St Paul’s) played outside my orderly room.

A good deal of misery in village owing to a shortage of food, army fed these poor folk. Have an idea this is part of peaceful persuasion scheme. Col. Parish on leave – a great loss to the mess. I prosecuted in SIW case for Col. P. & man was convicted.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

Avoid rationed ham becoming unfit for human consumption

Rationing could sometimes restrict sales beyond what was sensible, allowing food to go off because no one was allowed to buy it:

9th May 1918

An application for the sale of hams was allowed at the maximum retail price of 1s 9 ½ d per lb without coupons in order to avoid the same becoming unfit for human consumption.

Newbury Borough Council Food Control Sub-committee minutes (N/AC1/2/9)

‘He has lately been on “hunger strike”, although I had my doubts about it being complete’

The Schraplowsky saga rolled on. Had his hunger strike caused the Polish internee to lose weight?

Place of Internment
Reading
8th May 1918

H. Schraplowsky

I have previously reported fully on this man’s case, and the letters he refers to are with the Prison Commissioners.

Taken from his record his weights are:

On arrest 23.6.15 – 222 lbs (dress not stated) – was then at Brixton
Reading 21.3.16 214 lbs
31.3.17 203 lbs (dress – without cap, coat or boots)
19.3.17 [sic?] 194 lbs

H M Prison
Reading
May 8 1918

From the MO to the Governor

Concerning the petition of H. Schraplowsky. He has lost a certain amount of weight, rather in my opinion to his advantage than otherwise. He is a dyspeptic to a moderate extent. This is not to be wondered at considering his fits of temper and his stand upon his grievances.

I have allowed him rice in place of bread, with pint of porridge extra. The bread however is digested by both officers and interned men. He has lately been on “hunger strike”, although I had my doubts about it being complete. The mixture that he refers to is a suitable one for gastric and intestinal dyspepsia.

W S Freeman

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Temporary apparent chaos

The Spencer brothers were both subject to a temporary reprieve.

Sydney Spencer
Wednesday 8 May 1918

After a good sleep from 4.30 till 9.30 I was called to go with Dillon to BHQ, to speak for 2 lance corporals (vide April 29). This was postponed so I washed, shaved & had a thorough good clean up after yesterday night’s escapade. Felt much lighter round the nether regions after I had removed the mud from trousers & boots. Had a short snooze after lunch. Then viewed scene for new bivys.

At 3 pm this afternoon we were informed that the company would move up a bit – consequence temporary apparent chaos while everyone ‘scrounged’ bits of wood & corrugated iron, old doors etc lying about for making new bivys. Finally we got the men fairly settled in by about 7 pm. Had dinner at 6.30 so as to give the men a chance of getting mess stuff away. While cutting ‘broom’ for our bivy, men from D Company passing by, not knowing me: “Hullo George, what yer doing… [remainder illegible but seems to be vulgar].

Percy Spencer
8 May 1918

A lovely day. Huns didn’t come up to time. Field cashier who had no cash – aide to contrary. Walk up to Hunancourt. Saw 1st shell hole for 10 months. Haven’t heard them shell again yet.

A jolly evening. Col. Parish gloating over leave & going down walks in various parts of London. Me le Maire [the local mayor] again dined with us & collared lots of bread. Fitzclarence lunched with us & told good stories of 3rd degree trial re loss of 5000 francs. Also of Mrs R- of Rouen.

Hun attack reported postponed 3 days.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

More than ever this year shall we need God’s blessing upon our food supplies

The availability of food was an increasing concern.

It is hoped that, weather permitting, a Procession of Intercession, similar to that of last year, will take place on Rogation Sunday [5 May1918]. The procession will leave the Hall at 3.30 pm. More than ever this year shall we need God’s blessing upon our food supplies. Two halting places for prayer will be made.

A distributing station for the food cooked in the National Kitchen will be opened in South Ascot. It is impossible at the moment to give the date of this opening. The difficulty lies in getting the plant necessary for cooking and conveying food on this large scale. It has been intimated that we are only anticipating compulsory action in making this venture. The hours will be 11.30-1.30 daily except Sundays. All food must be ordered at the depot on the previous day. The Vicar will be glad to receive any offers of voluntary help in the distribution. Further notices will be posted at the Post Office.

South Ascot Parochial Magazine, May 1918 (D/P186/28A/18)

Edible offal versus falling into a sewer

Food rationing had now hit the universities, accustomed to lavish tables. But if John Maxwell Image felt dismayed, he also knew of the privations at the front, and those suffered by French civilians, courtesy of his brothers in law.

29 Barton Road
5 May ‘18

My VDB

Your letter arrived on Friday, and I can’t tell you how it rejoiced me to find you writing in such good spirits. Cheltenham is the place for you, evidently… I am prostrated before… a Communal Kitchen that provides edible food. (So does NOT ours here.)
I am flooded with printed notices from Trinity “in consequence of a change in the Meat Control Regulations”. Butchers’ Meat will, from May 6 (tomorrow), be served in Hall only on Tuesdays and Saturdays. On which days a whole Coupon will be required from each diner.
If he dines without one, or is absent, sans notice, the Fellow incurs a fine of 5/-.

On Mondays and Thursdays, Poultry, Game, Bacon or “edible offal” (!!) will be served instead of Meat. (Note, every item headed with a capital, except “edible offal”.) “And on these days a half coupon only will be required.”

Anyhow, it is “for the period of the war”.

What is to be eaten on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday we are not informed. More “edible offal”?

But the word “Fish” is not mentioned once on these Bills of Fare!

Florence is a genius of a Food Provider. I don’t feel the pinch of hunger. Indeed she and Ruth (the Cook) dish up food that is distinctly “edible”. Salmon, Sole, Bloater, Woodpigeon, etc, and ‘made dishes’ that do the pair credit.

Florence’s two officer brothers write very cheerfully and much oftener than one would expect. Two of their epistles came with yours on Friday, both are in the middle of the great Push, and keep their tails up well.

One had difficulty in getting there. He and his men were stranded within 5 or 6 miles of the British line by the French “borrowing” their “train complete with kits and rations and half their men”.

“The climax (he went on) came when at 2 a.m. this morning one of the party pitched into a ditch which was really the outfall from a sewer. The proceedings were trying for the victim. However he’s quite scraped down now. We dried him in sections before some boilers, and if one keeps up-wind, he’s all right. The worst is, if his kit doesn’t turn up, he has nothing else in France to escape into”.

The other brother sent a very mixed bag. He had been out on a raid the night before. He spoke of cuckoos, housemartins, song birds – lying on his back in an orchard reading the Lady of Shalott, white and blue and tortoiseshell butterflies, – and “when the battery behind us ceased fire for the moment, chaffinches making melody on the trees above” (he must have read Chaucer as well as Tennyson) – then, more sadly, of a “poor old badly crippled woman” who sobbed, in patois, pouring out her troubles to him, and “pathetically asked me whether I would do her the kindness of shooting her! My Captain, who says that he is a well-seasoned soldier, was quite overcome by the incident, so you can imagine that I had to take very great care to preserve an outward calm.”

Most affec.
Bild

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

Hunger strike due to bad temper

The Schraplowsky saga rumbled on.

Place of Internment, Reading
4 May 1918

Sir

I have the honour to report with reference to letter … dated 3 May 1918 that the hunger strike of Herman von Schraplowsky had nothing to do with the reasons of his internment or nationality but was due to temper.

On 9th April he wrote an impertinent letter to his wife regarding the Medical Officer and his treatment. I informed him that he could not utilise his letters for that purpose – that he could not write the letter – and that if he had any grievance against his medical treatment he could see me, or he could petition on the point if not satisfied with my decision. He was rather impertinent saying he would write just what he liked. I stopped the letter.

At his next visit on 20th April, he referred to this to his visitor. I attached the letter in question to the report of the visit to the Prison Commissioners – all visits are reported.
On 24th April he again wrote and the letter was improper. I awarded him 10 days forfeiture of privileges on no 2 diet. He then went on hunger strike. In accordance with standing orders the Medical Officer reported the case to the Prison Commissioners at the expiration of 48 hours. And as the man is excitable with an exceedingly bad temper, added that it might be necessary to forcibly feed him, but that as he weighed close on 200 lbs, it would not hurt him to go a bit longer.

On 27th April, as the Chairman of the Visiting Committee called at the Prison, I suggested that he should go and see Shraplowsky without me – he did so. Schraplowsky turned his back on him and refused to speak.

I then tried a method of my own, and had some onions fried over his cell, and when the smell was at its best had then placed with potatoes in his cell. In a few minutes he was eating everything at hand.

He was not forcibly fed – neither was he confined to bed.

I have not under the circumstances informed him as to your letter today regarding his nationality, but when I visited him this morning I asked him in conversation the questions, and his reply is that he is a Russian Pole, and that he would not go to Germany, but to Poland or to Switzerland where his wife comes from.

I may add that he completed his ten days today and his conduct is normal, in fact civil.

I have the honour to be
Sir

Your obedient servant
C M Morgan, Governor

[to]The Secretary of State, Home Office

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

Hunger striker is a big fat man

Alarmed by the story of internee Schraplowsky’s hunger strike, the authorities wondered if he had been force fed before the fried onions trick, while another troublesome inmate needed sanctioning.

30th April 1918
Reading P.I.

With reference to the petition of Bernard H. Rohls and your report which accompanied it, the Secretary of State is of opinion that the prisoner should be punished for making such untrue statements. Please state what punishment you suggest should be [illegible].
[signature]
Secretary

As this man has repeatedly brought untrue accusations against Warders & other prisoners, I would suggest forfeiture of privileges for 21 or 28 days and a severe warning. Forfeiture of privileges would not affect his dietary, with the exception of preventing him from buying in the Canteen or outside.

It would entail forfeiture of letters, stamps, newspapers, writing, association, and his exercise would be 2 hours a day instead of being practically unlimited during hours from 8.40 -12 noon, 1.45-5 pm, 5.25 pm – 7.40.

CM Morgan
Governor
2-5-18

2.5.18
[to] The Governor, Reading P.I.
It has been decided to approve of your recommendation. You are therefore authorised to deprive Rohls of all privileges for 21 days and to warn him strictly, informing him of the reason why he is punished.

J F Wall
Secretary 10-5-18

[to]The Gov, Reading P of I
If this man [Schraplowsky] was forcibly fed please furnish the particulars called for on enclosed form.
AJW
Sec 1-5-18

Prisoner was not forcibly fed.

He went on hunger strike after breakfast – 24.4.18 until afternoon of 27-4-18. He is a big fat man and the M.O. decided he might remain until morning of 28th when he should feed him. However prisoner gave in as reported.

A report from M.O. was forwarded on 26-4-18.

C M Morgan
Gov

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

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)

An increased butter ration

There was a glut of butter, allowing Newbury shoppers a larger ration.


30th April 1918

The Food Control Committees Local Distribution Amendment Order, 1918, was considered and adopted; and the Executive Officer was to notify the Ministry of Food of such adoption.

The Milk (Summer Prices) Order, 1918, was considered, and it was decided that the maximum retail price of milk delivered to purchasers for the months of May, June and July, should be 1s 8d per imperial gallon.

The Committee sanctioned an increase of salary to Mr Kimber and Miss Wallace.

The Enforcement Officer having reported that the accumulated stock of home-made butter was largely in excess of the normal requirements, the Committee sanctioned an increased ration to ½ lb per head for one week.

Newbury Borough Council Food Control Committee minutes (N/AC1/2/9)

“No man’s land so quiet & peaceful as Cookham Moor on a weekday night”

Sydney Spencer wasted some time and energy hunting for some missing soldiers who were not missing at all, before leading a night party to mend barbed wire defences.

Tuesday 30 April 1918

I arrived in at 12.45 am this morning after examining the ground all round where the shell struck for two men who were missing. I also went to aid post & dressing stations, & caught no sign of them. At 8 am I went over to the company and found them there!

Rained hard all day so parades distinctive [sic] were off. At 3 we had a conference. After tea called on [A?] company, at 8.30 went out to Essex front lines with Corporal Wise & 8 men, with a wiring party. Tomorrow night we go up the line, then I hope my education will be completed.

As usual the job of wiring we had tonight was as cushy as it could be! A fine although cloudy night. Little excitement. Not too dark. No man’s land so quiet & peaceful as Cookham Moor on a weekday night. Got back to our cellar at 2.30 am. The fire was out so tea was off but had some biscuits, cheese & chocolate.

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

Fried onions too much for a hunger striker

The Governor of Reading Prison had an ingenious way of ending a hunger strike.

Place of Internment
Reading
27 April 1918

H. Schraplowsky

With reference to my report yesterday as to this man going on hunger strike, I have now to report that I had some onions fried near his cell and placed in his potatoes. The smell was too much for him & he is now eating all he can see.

C M Morgan
Gov.
[to] The Commissioners

The absolute necessity for food production

Children contributed to the food supply.

Hinton Waldrist
April 26th 1918

Received letters signed Beresford thanking boys for their work in sending vegetables to the sailors.

Ascot Heath
April 26th 1918

Occasional extra time in the Garden will be taken, in view of the absolute necessity for food production.

Sandhurst
April 26th 1918

The recently formed War Savings Association has made an excellent start with about 60 members.

Hinton Waldrist C of E School log book (C/EL84/2, p. 165); Ascot Heath Boys’ School log book (C/EL110/4, p. 94); Lower Sandhurst School log book (C/EL66/1, p. 436)

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)