“This lying by & doing nothing, just resting resting resting has been not only a bodily but a true mental rest, & I would almost have wished my fever had lasted a bit longer”

Sydney was beginning to feel a little better.

Sunday 23 June 1918

Had a rather broken night. 50 officers came in with PVO, which rather created a flutter, & also I had a lot of stupid dreams. In consequence thereof I woke up with a very thick headache and feeling generally a bit peevish but this wore off.

At 6 my temperature was taken again. 98 something or other. Doctor when he saw me said I could get up so I went down to the stores & rescued my kit. Felt more like fainting with weakness but got me up & felt a little stronger each moment although I felt ridiculously peevish & weary. Thus does illness play with one’s fancies.

Lunch downstairs. Didn’t like going down much. My dear old diary, truth to tell, this lying by & doing nothing, just resting resting resting has been not only a bodily but a true mental rest, & I would almost have wished my fever had lasted a bit longer.

Played a game or two at Patience. By the way my bed is No. 11 & I am in ward OI, Rouen.

End of 11th week.

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

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“More might spare time from the river or their gardens to pray for the brothers and fathers and friends, who in our defence have neither our pleasures, our comfort, nor our safety”

The vicar of Maidenhead found wartime bread substitutes were inappropriate for Holy Communion.

The Vicar’s Letter

Dear Friends and Parishioners,-

Ascension Day and Whit-Sunday have come to us in glorious weather, and we had satisfactory numbers of Communicants and good congregations. Both might have been rather better, for though well up to the level of other years, in this time of stress, I think more might spare time from the river or their gardens to pray for the brothers and fathers and friends, who in our defence have neither our pleasures, our comfort, nor our safety…

St Luke’s is going to ask for some extra donations to wipe off our deficit. Collections have been up in both churches, but the price of fuel, light, etc, has soared like an aeroplane…

Lastly, I have to ask for your consideration in a very delicate matter that needs reverent treatment. We are very fortunate in being able to get a special loaf of bread made for Church use, which is purer and whiter than the ordinary war bread. This, I hope, we shall always be able to get for Sundays, and we are much indebted for the trouble that has been taken by those who supply us with the bread. But frequently there are (in addition to Thursday) occasional week-day Celebrations. Sometimes I can arrange for a special loaf; sometimes it is difficult for me to do so. In these last cases, on week-days I propose to use wafer bread, made in squares that one can break, thus preserving the symbolism of the “One Loaf”. It is made of pure wheat, flour and water, and thus obeys the spirit of the rubric at the end of the Holy Communion Service. And there is no Scriptural or Church Warrant for the use of potato flour, etc, in church bread.

I must ask you to believe me when I say that I do it reluctantly, but I feel that in the circumstances the use of the very crumbly war bread makes devout persons of all schools of thought in the Church feel that something else should be secured that can be more easily and reverently divided. In France, I believe, the Army almost always uses wafer bread for the Holy Communion Service. No one attending the week-day Services will, I think, be made uncomfortable by the change; and old-fashioned people will not be disturbed by any change on Sunday as long as I can get a special loaf made.

I remain, Your faithful friend and Vicar
C.E.M. FRY

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, June 1918 (D/P181/28A/27)

“Indignant that the Boshe should dare to shell when I was going away to be ill”

Sydney had gone down with the dreaded influenza, and suffered through a horrendous journey to get to hospital.

Written in Base Hospital, Rouen

No one could be more surprised than I am, my dear diary! It is now Saturday afternoon [22 June] & I am lying in a clean green tented ward with pretty chintz curtains at the windows suffering with PVO, this being the common or garden fever of unknown origin.

Here is the history of my movements from when I left off on Wednesday night. I had a curious night. Guns behind us very noisy owing to ‘Chinese Bombardment’ being put up. At 8 breakfast was brought in, & I could not eat it. Took a morning parade but felt mighty seedy.

After lunch lay on my valise & from then on till 7.30 when the doctor came it was one long nightmare. My temperature went up in leaps & bounds. My back ached, I shivered, my head was splitting, I had a hacking cough, & felt extraordinarily weak if I tried to walk. Doctor packed me off. Here is detail how one gets to base-hospital.

1. Doctor sent for stretcher bearers.
2. I was carted off to Battalion HQ.
3. Red X Ambulance car whisked me off to Hedanville.
4. Another car took me to Div. clearing station.
5. Another car took me to 3rd (Brit) Officers CCS at a place called Sezincourt. Here I spent the night between sheets in a massive old chateau looking out over great parklands.
6. At 9 am off in another ambulance car & planked onto an ambulance train.
7. Then 15 long long hours while the train tried its hardest not to get to Rouen.
8. At last the train stopped & a voice from the open called out peremptorily “Ere Bill let’s ‘ave them 21 officers!”

It was raining then. Car brought me here & when I tumbled into these sheets at 12.15 this morning I was not unthankful. I have had my temperature taken umpteen times. It was up to 102.8 when taken at Hedanville but it had commenced abating by then. We were stuck at Hedanville by heavy shelling. I got impatient being of course light headed & felt indignant that the Boshe should dare to shell when I was going away to be ill. However at last after a decidedly near & unpleasing zzzzz bong! our car gathered its legs well under & scuttled, & the next shell rounded far behind by the time it came along.

It is getting on for tea time & I have only just got hold of my kit, & you. I am reading a stupid book called “An Adventuress”! To sleep at about 9 at night. My temperature about normal. 99.

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

“Dreaming incessantly that I had lost my platoon Lewis Gun Section & could find it nowhere”

It was a frustrating day for Sydney.

Wednesday 19 June 1918

It was raining hard when we got up this morning at 7.30. I had a very bad night of it, dreaming incessantly that I had lost my platoon Lewis Gun Section & could find it nowhere.

I took some of men [involved] in last night’s escapade for some arms & close order drill till 10.30. Camp cleaned up & kits packed by 11.30, ready to move to S-n-s, where we go today.

1 o’clock order came in that we should not move till tomorrow. Had two or three hours of quiet & rest.

At 5.30 was informed that company would march to new area. Am now doing my utmost to get on with the move as the skipper has not yet returned. Now I have to go to orderly room.

6.45 pm. No. 5 & 6 platoons moved off. Dillon returned, thank goodness. Got into new area at 10 pm. Dillon & I shared mattress in a dugout.

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

Reflected glory

A Reading man was honoured for his heroic acts.

Trinity Roll of Honour

Sidney A. Bushell, R.A.F.
Walter John Harvey, A.S.C.
A. Vernon Lovegrove, R.G.A.
Ernest Pocock, 2/6 Warwicks.
Howard H. Streeter, M.G.C.
William Vincent, W.R.B.
Jack Wakefield, Royal Warwicks.
William Alfred Williams, 313th Reserve Labour Battalion.

We are delighted to hear that Lieut. John A. Brain had safely reached Reading on Tuesday, May 21st, and was being cared for, within reach of his friends, at No.1 War Hospital. After a few days his progress became less satisfactory, and on Tuesday, May 28th, his condition was again giving cause for anxiety. A further operation was found to be necessary, and we are more than glad to be able to report, at the time of going to press, was that the operation had been carried out quite successfully, and that he is now doing well.

Our heartiest congratulations to Lce-Corpl. Herbert E. Longhurst, on being awarded the Military Medal, “for his gallantry on March 25th, 1918, when be assisted to save a badly wounded officer under heavy machine gun fire and a fast advancing enemy. Later he rendered great assistance in rallying troops and stragglers, and worked hard on a trench system.”

Our quotation is taken from the white card expressing the appreciation of his Divisional Commander, which has been forwarded to his friends by the Major Commanding his Company, together with “the congratulations of all his old comrades in the company,” on his well-merited honour. We understand that Lce.-Corpl. Longhurst is in hospital somewhere in France, making a good recovery from the effects of German gas.

We trust that he may soon be fully restored to health, and can tell him that we at Trinity are taking to ourselves a little reflected glory and we are all the better and happier for it.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, June 1918 (D/EX1237/1)

“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)

A very unfortunate incident

Sydney was not far back enough from the lines to avoid danger.

Tuesday 18 June 1918

Got up at 6.30 am. After breakfast carried out the following programme with my platoon down in the orchard which I found last night. 7.30-8 inspection. 8-8.30 PT. 8.30-9.30 arms drill & close order drill. 9.30-10.30 musketry including rapid loading & [wealing?] of SBRs, gudging [gauging?] distance etc. 10.30-11 a break & a run. 11-11.30 BF. Back to camp & a sleep, thank goodness, till lunch time.

After lunch another sleep till tea time. After tea my two rifle sections made concertina barbed wire entanglements. They were very successful. During afternoon & evening we were pretty heavily shelled with long range HV for a back area. One landed about 30 yards from my platoon bivys! Later in evening more shelling ensued. This resulted in a very unfortunate incident. Bed in clothes at 11 pm. Raining hard.

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

Sneezing gas or hay fever?

Sydney was plagued by hay fever and thirst.

Sydney Spencer
Monday 17 June 1918

Got up at 6.45. Paraded at 7.45 for inspection. After inspection half an hour’s PT followed by a half hour’s run & then dismissed. Spent a lot of time reconnoitring. It was a scorching hot day, & the scent of clover fields so strong & pollen so strong that 4 out of 8 of us were set to sneezing violently. Some thought that it was sneezing gas as we were shelled pretty closely while on the trench line in front of A-y Wood, but I don’t think so.

This reconnoitring scheme took place from 9.30 till 3.30, 6 hours in a scorching sun with two biscuits & not a drop of drink! ‘No [won?]’ as the troops would say. The landscape was lovely. Saw numbers of swallow tail butterflies, scarlet pimpernels in abundance. A glorious walk if it had been a pleasure walk. A sleep. Dinner at seven. A turmoil of chits & arrangements & bed finally.

Joan Daniels
June 17th Monday

This morning the Austrian report said they had taken 10,000 prisoners, but tonight the paper says that they were completely squashed, which is a good thing. I am afraid the McKenzies will be anxious about Leslie, but trust he is alright.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer in France (D/EZ177/8/15); and Joan Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

He has given his health, as his brother has given his life

Burghfield men continued to pay a high price.

THE WAR

Honours and Promotions

Cadet Alfred Searies has been posted as 2nd Lieutenant to the Suffolk Regiment. Lance Corporal Percy Sheppard (Army Ordnance Corps) and Rifleman E Wigmore (Rifle Brigade) have been promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

Casualties

Ernest Eaton (Royal Berks Regiment) wounded; 2md Lieut. F Wheeler (King’s Liverpool Regiment), Sergeant Wigmore (see above) and Private W H Brown (Royal Berks Regiment), Prisoners of War.

Discharges

Captain Francis A Willink (4th Royal Berks Regiment), Dysentery and Colitis; Isaac Osman (Labour Corps, ex Rifle Brigade), Rheumatism.

The promised statement about the late Captain George Willink is held over.

Congratulations to 2nd Lieut. Alfred Searies. He is the first of Mr Sheppard’s “old boys” of the Burghfield C of E School to obtain a commission. Let us hope he will not be the last, as he certainly will not be the least, either in stature or merit.

Condolences with Captain Francis Willink, who sorely against his will is, after fifteen Medical Boards, gazetted out of the Army “on account of ill-health contracted on active service”. He worked up from Private to a Commission in the Eton College OTC. On going to Oxford in 1910, he joined the 4th Royal Berks, and was a Lieutenant when war broke out, soon afterwards being made Captain and given command of “E” (the Newbury) Company. In March 1915 he went to France with the Battalion, which had then become the 1/4th, upon the formation of the 2nd unit. They went immediately into trenches at “Lug Street”, afterwards holding sections of the line by Bethune, and later at Hebuterne. The trying conditions of active service however told upon him and brought on dysentery and colitis, and after holding out as long as he possibly could, perhaps too long, he was invalided home in September 1915. Since then he has done a lot of useful work with the 3rd Line at Weston-Super-Mare, and Windmill Hill on Salisbury Plain, and for some time was Draft Officer. But his health did not really improve, and about a year ago he was transferred to Reserve, since which time he has been further twice medically examined and is now declared to be permanently unfit for medical service. He has given his health, as his brother has given his life. Fortunately there is still useful work open to him to do of national importance.

Burghfield parish magazine, June 1918 (D/EX725/4)

“The men always say we move on a Sunday”

Sydney was on the move again.

Sunday 16 June 1918

And so, my dear diary, once more we make a move on a Sunday! The men always say we move on a Sunday, although I have not specially noticed it.

Got up at 6.45. Went to Holy Communion at ‘Gaspers’ entertainment barn at 7.30. Took church parade for Dillon. An old French peasant kicked up a row. My knowledge of French led me into the task of getting rid of him!

At 12 noon we knew nothing about moving. At 1.45 Dillon & I were playing double patience. At 2 pm we marched off for a camp between F-c-v-e & H-d-v-e. Arrived there at 4.30 pm. Men under ‘Arab’ bivouacs in a corn field at edge of trench system, ourselves, 4 of us in a tent near road. A rest & bed by 10 pm. EA [enemy aeroplanes] heard overhead but no shelling except of V-ns.

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

“May his sacrifice not be in vain!”

There was sad news for many Reading families.

The Vicar’s Notes

Intercessions

Let us remember in our prayers all our fighting men, especially, among the prisoners, Alfred Standbridge, of Boarded Lane, one of our server; Roy Russell, of Minster Street; Walter Nunn of Hope Street (also wounded); Frank Thomas, of Lavender Street.

The Fallen, especially Norman Day, of Anstey Road (died of wounds); Arthur Walley, of Bartlett’s Cottages, killed in action on Easter Day; George Gardiner, Of Lavender Place (died from wounds).
R.I.P.

All Saints District
List of Men Serving in His Majesty’s forces

We shall be very grateful for additions or corrections to our list so that it may be kept up to date.

We offer our deepest sympathy to one of the oldest members of the choir, Mr Sales, on the loss of a second son. Percy Sales was well known in the district and will be much missed. – R.I.P.

We would also offer our deepest sympathy to Mrs. Austen Leigh and family on the death of her youngest son Acting Captain Arthur Alexander Austen Leigh who was killed in action on May 11th. – R.I.P.

S. Saviours District
R.I.P.

Frank Chard, an old S. Saviours lad, has laid down his life in France. He had served in the army for some time during the war and had only recently returned to the front after his marriage. We feel much with his wife and family who mourn his loss, and also with the army who have lost in him a good soldier. May his sacrifice not be in vain!


Lads Club

We are very sorry to hear that Bert Griffin is dangerously ill in hospital in France; we hope his slight improvement will be maintained. Ben Josey is still very ill. G. Mittam, W. Sawyer are slowly recovering from their wounds. L. Shipway has quite recovered and others who are in H.M.Forces are doing well.

Our Soldiers

Edward James Bonny and Frederick Hearn are prisoners and Charles and James Wayman are missing. William Jessy and Arthur Dye and George Ward are sick, and Tom Josey wounded. They need our prayers.

Sidesman

Mr George Wells has to rejoin the Army at the end of May, but tho’ we shall lose his faithful services for the time being, we shall count him as one of our S. Saviour’s Sidesmen, and one and all wish him well.

Reading St Mary parish magazine, June 1918 (D/P98/28A/13)

A new star

Always interested in the natural world, Sydney Spencer was excited by news of a newly discovered nova.

Sydney Spencer
Saturday 15 June 1918

I was orderly officer today & got up at 5.45, & saw the men’s breakfasts. Came back to mess, washed & dressed. After breakfast I wrote to some Scotch firm about shortbread. Looked round billets, then gathered up officers’ advance pay books & orders for pay for Battalion. Dillon let me have his horse ‘Charlie Chaplin’ & I rode to Acheux & got the money. A glorious morning. Saw Barker’s batman & sent message to him. Got back at 12.30. Dished money out.

After lunch took drummers up to range & picked up clips & ‘empties’. After tea wrote letters. After dinner a staff parade. Capt. Weave is back with Battalion. Dillon taught me double patience & we played a game, up till 11 pm. I used my new field glasses to try & find the new star in Aquila but I couldn’t find it.

End of 10th week [at the front].

Florence Vansittart Neale
15 June 1918

Expected 2 officers but they did not come.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer in France (D/EZ177/8/15); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

A doctor’s departure for France to serve with the Forces

A new surgeon was needed in Maidenhead due to a local doctor joining the RAMC. Dr Joseph Skevington (1873-1952) was knighted after the war.

14th June 1918

Consulting Surgeon.

The Chairman had a letter from the Hon. Surgeon J. O. Skevington, in reply to a letter of thanks for his services, sent him on his having to relinquish temporarily his connection with the Cottage Hospital, on his departure for France to serve with the Forces; and also a letter from Dr. Moore explaining entire concurrence of the Cott Hosp Medical Staff with Dr. Skevington’s suggestions.

Resolved on the proposal of Father Curtin, and seconded by Mr. Chamberlain, that Mr. Mawood be informed that on the recommendation of Dr. Skevington, and the entire approval of the Cottage Hospital Medical Staff, the Board of Governors would be pleased if he would accept the post of Honorary Consulting Surgeon to the Cottage Hospital during the absence on service of Dr. Skevington.

Maidenhead Cottage Hospital governors’ minutes (D/H1/1/2, p. 360)

Almost a great success

It was another practice day for Sydney.

Friday 14 June 1918

Got up at 6. Paraded at 7 am for Inspection. After Inspection marched to range. Here we practised an attack. Field firing practice viz platoon advancing under orders of platoon commander. Ten section commanders took over. Lewis Guns were used. First attempt of mine a bit of a failure. Second attempt I think almost a great success. My platoon got best average for shots on target. 118 on section targets & 17 over jumping jimmys.

After dinner a rest. After tea nothing much was doing & I wrote sundry letters. After dinner most of officers in B invaded our mess & had a merry time. Rumours of move on Sunday, just down south.

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

“Sticky Stokes didn’t once hit the targets”

Sydney Spencer’s unit practiced their shooting in a special field exercise. He wasn’t over-impressed by the Stokes guns.

Thursday 13 June 1918

Today was our great field day but of course the Corps commander did not turn up! The Brigadier did, & was very pleased. The only remark I make on it is that as an exercise it may have been good & it certainly was carried out well, but ‘possible’ over that ground not nohow but contrariwise my dear diary!

I thoroughly enjoyed the latter part of the performance as old Pongo would have called it, owing to the fact that I was given charge of fire orders for rifle grenades & got some good volleys in on to the targets, getting my voice heard above the din of mimic warfare. Sticky Stokes didn’t once hit the targets! A conference on above at 5 pm. CO pleased.

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