“A chaffinch is singing impetuously overhead, & it is peace, absolute peace”

Sydney enjoyed a pleasant day off.

Sydney Spencer
Friday 7 June 1918

After a most beautiful night’s sleep I got up at eight o’clock. Took breakfast at my leisure & am now lying under an apple tree in an orchard with the four other men. We are sprawling on the grass in the warm sunshine & a chaffinch is singing impetuously overhead, & it is peace, absolute peace.

We are now going into Hesdin.

Went into Hesdin & bought some gloves. 22 francs. Also some cherries. Afterwards got my hair cut, & had a delicious bath in camp commandant’s enclosure. Returned to mess at 1 pm. After lunch wrote a long letter to Bertha Lamb & also to Florence.

After tea went over churchyard & church with Major Knights & Graham. Then a short walk. Finally we lay in orchard & read. I read more of Tartarin de Tarascon. Have got half way through it.

Now it is dinner time. The army chemical adviser & gas instructor has just rolled in. We start work tomorrow morning. After dinner, went to bed & read more of Tartarin de Tarascon. To sleep by about 10.30 pm. (After dinner a short walk to Barker’s billet.)

Will Spencer
7 June 1918

A letter … for me from Mother, from Florrie’s. …

Mother’s letter contained the news that Percy had received still further promotion, – that he and Horace and Sydney had not yet met in France, but hoped to do so later, – and that Stanley’s name had been suggested to undertake war pictures, & he had “accepted the offer”, & would be leaving his present position.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer in France (D/EZ177/8/15); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/29)

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Trying to ‘do their bit’

Food shortages were encouraging people to take up growing heir own fruit and veg.

Food Production.

The Committee of the Crowthorne, S. Sebastian, Finchampstead and Sandhurst Horticultural Society has decided to hold a Fruit and Vegetable Show during the month of October, the idea being to encourage the cultivation of food to the greatest extent possible. For this same purpose the Wokingham Horticultural Society has just been formed and proposes to hold a Show on Sept. 25th.

In this connection the ‘Wolf Cubs’ are trying to ‘do their bit’ on a piece of ground kindly lent to them.

Will anyone send them along a few seeds, but more especially seed potatoes.

Wokingham St Sebastian parish magazine, March 1918 (D/P154C/28A/1)

“It is easier to imagine Biblical scenes than before we came out to Palestine”

A Reading soldier fighting in Palestine reported to his home church on the Holy Land as it was now.

Feb 22nd

On Xmas Eve, as I lay in my bivouac not very far from Bethlehem, I thought of the first Christmas and what happened then. I should dearly have loved to spend the Xmas-day in the Holy Place, but that was not to be. I hope I shall have the opportunity of visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem and a few other places before I leave Palestine…

I went to a C. of E. service a few Sundays ago in a Greek Church in one of the many mud villages that lie amongst these hills. It was a building of just four bare walls, with a stone floor and no seats. Every man had to sit down on the hard cold stone, and, needless to say, soon felt stiff and cold. There were no lights except two electric ones that our own Res put up. These villages have no semblance of streets at all. One cannot walk two yards without having to step up or down big stones. There is no sign of any furniture in any of the huts – just a little straw packed away in a dark corner, presumably for a bed. The effluvium from these huts is often far from pleasant.

We enjoy at least one good thing out here, and that is the Jaffa oranges at ½ d each. Several times I have bought fifty at a time and polished them all off in about five days….

Flocks of sheep and goats can often be seen on the hills with a shepherd in charge, as of old. It is easier to imagine Biblical scenes than before we came out. The dress of natives is much the same as the Bible pictures represent.

G P Brant (OS)

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, June 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Many anti-submarine proposals have been received

An internee’s proposals for trapping enemy submarines were greeted with a signal lack of enthusiasm, while the imposition of rationing meant the Place of Internment (aka Reading Prison) had to revamp menus.


Board of Invention & Research
Victory House
Cockspur St
SW1

21-2-18

Sir

I am directed by the Board of Invention & Research to thank you for your letter of the 14th inst: transmitting particulars of anti-submarine proposals put forward by alien C. Slingeneyer, interned at Reading.

In reply, I beg to inform you that many similar proposals have already been received from various sources. If however the Inventor will be good enough to furnish a full description of the device to which he calls attention, the matter will receive careful consideration; and I am to ask that, if no objection be seen, alien C. Slingeneyer may be informed accordingly.

I am, sir,
Your obedient servant
Walter J. James

21-2-18
The Gov. P of I Reading

With ref: to the system of rationing which will shortly come into operation, the enclosed scale of dietary will be taken into use at your Establishment – as soon as you can make the necessary arrangements. The Commission desire to leave you a free hand as to the manner in which the ingredients shall be prepared and the Con: Pn: dietary is enclosed for your information. This, together with the present dietary for interned prisoners will be a guide as to the distribution of the various articles.

Fresh fish will be issued alternately with salt fish. The Commission are arranging for the supply of fresh fish to all Establishments and instructions will shortly reach you on this point.

The dietary cards at present in use will be withdrawn when the new dietary is introduced. On the introduction of the new dietary, no prisoner will be permitted to purchase rationed articles, or articles containing ingredients which are rationed. The rationed articles are bread, cereals (including flour, oatmeal, rice, tapioca, barley, beans, peas etc), meat, sugar, margarine or butter, fats, oils etc.

Signed Alfred Wall, Sec:

Breakfast Bread 6 oz
Porridge 1 pint
Margarine 1 oz
Tea or Coffee

Dinners

Sunday Bread 2 oz
[Illegible] Meat 2 ½ oz
Potatoes 16 oz
Rice 3 oz (uncooked)
Jam 2 oz

Monday Bread 2 oz
Soup 1 pint (containing 3 oz clods, 4 oz peas, 2 oz vegetables, 2 oz onions)
Potatoes 16 oz

Tuesday Bread 2 oz
Fish 12 oz uncooked
Potatoes 16 oz
Rice 3 oz uncooked made into puddings

Wednesdays Bread 2 oz
Salt Pork 13 oz
Haricot Beans [1 ½ oz?]
Potatoes 16 oz
Apple rings or fresh fruit

Thursday Bread 2 oz
Beef 6 oz uncooked
Potatoes 16 oz

Friday Bread 2 oz
Vegetable soup 1 pint consisting of 2 oz vegetables, 1 oz onions, ¼ oz fish, 5 oz peas
[Illegible]

Saturday Bread 2 oz
Fish 12 oz uncooked
Potatoes 16 oz
Tapioca 3 oz
Jam 2 oz

Suppers Bread 6 oz
Cocoa or Tea 1 pint
Margarine ¼ oz
Potatoes 6 oz
Cheese 1 oz

Fish – fresh and salt alternate days.

As the meat ration increases, the vegetable soup on Fridays will contain clods.

Fresh vegetables for part ration potatoes when obtainable.

These men can of course buy at the canteen or elsewhere such things as eggs, fruit, tinned fish &c: in fact anything that can be bought outside, not rationed, as in the past.

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

Showing generals how to perform card tricks

Will Spencer was glad to hear how his soldier brothers and family friends from Cookham were getting on. One brother, Horace, was a professional conjurer in peacetime, a skill which entertained his superiors.

13 January 1918

Read a long letter which had come for me by the morning post from Mother, describing their quiet Christmas – none of the boys, & Natalie [wife of Harold Spencer] not able to come, through having an influenza cold. Percy had been with them on the 22nd, leaving on the 23rd. Notwithstanding that the plums Mother had obtained proved to be old ones, the puddings, of which she made two, had been pronounced to be a success. Percy had said they were the best of her making he had ever tasted. She wished I might have been there, & then also have had a piece. The second pudding was still intact, save for the piece cut out which Percy had….

Katie Poskett’s elder boy is in the army, & the younger called up. She finds it difficult to bear. That Percy had passed all his exams I had previously heard. Mother now writes that he is Second Lieutenant & down in Wiltshire. Horace, in France, has been showing generals how he performs his card tricks, & then talks of ‘his friend General — ’ to comrades who “can only boast of corporals’ friendships”.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

Beautiful gifts of fruit, vegetables and eggs

Harvest Festival gifts went to local hospitals treating wounded soldiers.

Hare Hatch Notes

The Harvest Festival was held on Sunday, October 7th. The number of communicants and the congregations throughout the day were, in spite of the bad weather, really most encouraging…

The gifts, especially those of fruit and vegetables, were more than we have had before, this in itself was a pleasant sight, but the object to which they were devoted made these gifts more acceptable. Twenty-three new laid eggs were brought by the members of the Sunday School…

Letters of thanks and appreciation have been received as follows…

“The Secretary of the Royal Berks Hospital begs to thank you for your kind present of Harvest gifts for the use of the patients.”

From the Woodclyffe Auxilliary Hospital, Wargrave:

“I need hardly tell you how very much the beautiful gifts of fruit, vegetables etc, from your Harvest Festival are being appreciated, and we send very many thanks to all who sent them. H.R. Marshall, for Commandant.”

Wargrave parish magazine, November 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

Food from Harvest “will be greatly appreciated by the wounded men in hospital”

Worshippers at Broad Street Church sent their Harvest Festival offerings to the Royal Berkshire Hospital for wounded soldiers.

HARVEST FESTIVAL

The Harvest Thanksgiving Services, held on Sunday, September 23rd, afforded joy and inspiration to all who were able to attend. The church was very prettily and effectively decorated for the occasion. A plentiful supply of fruit, vegetables, flowers, etc, had been provided…

On the following day the good things provided were conveyed by Mr Bunce to the Royal Berks Hospital, for the wounded soldiers who are there.

Mr Rawlinson [the minister] has since received the following letter from the secretary of that institution:

“Dear Sir

Many thanks for your letter, and for the eggs, fruit, vegetables, flowers, bread, etc, which arrived yesterday.

These will be greatly appreciated by the wounded men in hospital, and I should be grateful if you would accept for yourself, and kindly convey to all concerned, an expression of our warmest thanks for this generous present.

I am, dear Sir,
Yours faithfully

Herman Burney
Secretary”

BROTHERHOOD NOTES

The annual Harvest Festival in connection with the church was held on Sunday September 23rd, and as usual our brothers contributed very liberally with fruit and vegetables from their allotments.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, October 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

Squads of schoolboys to bring in the harvest

Shortages of labour due to the vast numbers of men gone to the war combined with restricted imports to lead to fears for a food crisis.

Public School Boys as Harvesters

The Director-General of National Service has appealed for the help of the elder boys from Public and Secondary Schools as a Reserve of Labour.

There has been good response from the Schools on the part of the Masters and Boys.

Free railway warrants are to be provided for volunteers undertaking work for two consecutive weeks in term time or three consecutive weeks in the holidays.

Boys will be organised in squads. Each squad will be in charge of an assistant master.

Squads will not be asked to do any work under this Scheme on Sundays.

Boys will receive the current rate of wages applicable to the locality, i.e. 3d to 4d. per hour. Boys will only be paid for work done. When not employed through wet weather or for other reasons, they will receive no pay.

Squads for fruit picking are included in the Scheme.

The Rev. R. Holmes, White Waltham Vicarage, Maidenhead, is Secretary for this District and he has asked the Vicar, the Rev. S. M. Winter, to act as Local Correspondent for Wargrave. Applications for the services of such volunteer workers for further particulars should be addressed to him.

Potato Spraying

The Food Protection Committee, through the kindness of the President, have taken steps to obtain Sprayers and the necessary Spraying Material.

The Sprayers will be lent by the Committee to all who require them, and the Liquid will be obtainable at cost price.

Wargrave parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

Collect all the blackberries from the hedges

Food shortages were tackled by encouraging people to pick and preserve homegroown and wild fruits.

Fruit Bottling

It is again by the kindness of the President that the Committee are able to announce a large supply, one hundred dozen, of bottles. These have been bought on special terms from the Ministry of Food, and will be obtainable at cost price from the Wargrave Shop.

Notes on Fruit Bottling

1. Clean and dry the bottles thoroughly; and always remember in dealing with glass vessels of any sort not to put them when cold into hot water, or when they are hot not to put them into cold water or even stand them down on a cold surface such as some stone slab, or on bricks, or you will be almost certain to crack them. If you are going to wash a dirty glass bottle put it first into luke warm water and, if necessary, increase the heat gradually. A bottle taken out of very hot water should be stood on a wooden surface or a blanket may be placed over a stone slab to take off the first shock of the cold stone. The very smallest crack in a bottle may make the contents go rotten.

2. Pick your fruit when it is just ripe and no more. Clean it and dry it. Pack it closely in the bottles, which should be quite full. Apples and pears should be cut in quarters; and all other fruit should be put in whole. Then fill the bottles with clean warm water, and put on the rubber ring and the glass lid, and next put the metal rim loosely over them. At present do not screw the metal rim down tight. Stand the bottles up to their necks in cold water in a fish kettle or open boiler, which should have a false bottom so as to prevent the bottles standing on the thin metal of the kettle which gets so hot as to occasionally crack the glass*. Put a little hay round the bottom of the bottles to prevent their hitting one another when the water boils, and so getting cracked. Bring the water in the kettle very slowly to the boil, and let it boil for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, with a cloth in your hand to prevent the bottles burning you, take each bottle out one by one, and without a moments delay screw the metal rim down tight upon the glass lip and rubber ring below it, whilst the water in the bottle is at boiling heat. Then take out the next bottle and serve it the same, and so on till all your bottles are tightly screwed down. The neglect to screw the lid down tight IMMEDIATELY the bottle is taken out of the kettle is at the bottom of almost all failures.

The above is a rough and ready method, but it will be found to answer if you will

3. REMEMBER –
To fill your bottles with fruit
To fill each bottle with clean warm water, but do not use any sugar
To leave the metal rim and glass cover just loose while cooking
To have a false bottom in the kettle and to put a little hay round the bottom of the bottles
To fill the kettle with cold water
To boil up the water in the kettle very gradually, and then
To keep it boiling steadily for 15 to 20 minutes
To screw each bottle down quite tight the moment you take it out of the boiling kettle, one minute’s delay may spoil the whole bottle of fruit.

4. Gooseberries Raspberries, Currants, Plums, Damsons, Blackberries, Apples, Pears, and most other fruit may be preserved in this way. Strawberries are not recommended.

5. Do not forget to collect all the Blackberries from the hedges, and remember that for bottling they should not be too ripe. By doing this, even the very young children can help to increase the food supply.

6. How to use bottled fruit:- Unscrew the metal rim and if the glass lid does not come off easily lift it carefully by inserting a blunt screw driver between the bottle and the indiarubber band. The contents of the bottle can be used in any way in which fresh fruit is used, by cooking it in puddings, or pies or by stewing it with a little sugar.

Anyone desiring more detailed information should obtain the R.H.S. Pamphlet (Price 6d.) on Fruit and Vegetable Bottling and Storing R.H.S. Office, Vincent Square, Westminster, SW1.

Wargrave parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

Sugar for jam makers

Jam makers had good news of a relaxation of food restrictions.

HOME-MADE JAM.

One section of the community may derive benefit from an attempt that is being made by the Food Controller to provide sugar for preserving fruit. Those who have fruit bushes, trees, or plants in their gardens, and who desire to convert it into jam for domestic consumption, are informed that an endeavour is being made by the Sugar Commission to supply ‘some sugar for this purpose provided stocks are available.’ It must be understood that the notice is addressed to ‘private growers who wish to preserve their fruit on their own premises.’

The sugar is to be obtained through the local grocer, who will receive supplies according to the advice of the Commission, quantities being specially allotted by name of customer. Application forms should be asked for at once from Mr. C. S. Rewcastle, care of Messrs. J.V. Drake and Co., 10 and 11, Mincing lane, E.C.3. A stamped-addressed envelope must be enclosed, and no correspondence will be entered into. The notice indicates that purchasers of fruit for preserving need not apply.

Reading St. John parish magazine, June 1917 (D/P172/28A/24)

Cancelling the Sunday School tea is helping their country to some small extent

Food shortages meant that the usual summer tea party for children attending the Sunday School at St John’s Church in east Reading had to be called off. Instead, the children were to be given a war savings certificate.

SUNDAY SCHOOL TREAT.

This has always been a very great event in the lives of our Sunday Schools, but this year it will be deprived of its most attractive feature, for in view of the very clear instructions of the Food Controller we cannot give the children a tea. The Sunday School Committee has gone carefully into the question of the form the Treat should take this year so as to give the children a good time and also to give them some compensation for the loss of their tea.

They have decided that the children shall march out to some field as in former years, and that they shall be refreshed with whatever fruit is in season and available, and also that there shall be given to each child a sixpenny War Savings Stamp. They feel that in this way the children will be given a real and lasting equivalent for their tea; those who already belong, as very many of them do, to a War Savings Association will be encouraged to continue, those who do not will be stimulated to join up.

At the same time contributors to the treat will feel that they are helping their country to some small extent, and the children to a very real extent, and will be relieved of the uncomfortable feeling that owing to the embargo on the tea, they are saving their own pockets at the expense of the children.

Reading St. John parish magazine, June 1917 (D/P172/28A/24)

A marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons

Percy Spencer was having difficulty getting his commission organised. He wrote to Florence with the latest news – and a story from the Somme.

May 1, 1917

My dear WF

Isn’t it perfect weather!

And that’s just about all that’s perfect hereaway.

Thank you for all your frequent letters: they’re so refreshing. Your last about [censored] is too delightful. I sometimes quote extracts from your letters to the Mess, so you see you’re helping to cheer more than one lonely soldier. Your jokes are always hugely appreciated.

Tonight I am going to a town some miles back to drive with the original officers and sergeants of my old Battalion. I thought it was very kind of them to remember me as I have had so little to do with them.

And tomorrow I have to go and see a still greater brass hat about my commission. I have an idea that there is no intention to hurry my affairs, the reason being, of course, that my experience & weight here are difficult to replace. However sooner or later I expect I shall be an officer or an angel – I have had thoughts of becoming the latter quite frequently of late.

Rene Hunt tells me that [Percy’s brother] Horace is going to apply for a commission.

Before I forget it I must tell you a story of the Somme battle last year.

Our Headquarters were in some ruins off a very narrow and deep lane. On one side of the lane was a series of small splinter proof dugouts; on the other side a battery of guns. One of the splinter proofs just opposite a gun was occupied by “Baby” Huish, the Surrey cricketer (a splendid raconteur). “Baby” tells me that one morning, annoyed by a fellow walking about on his roof and throwing off portions of its brick and sandbag cover, he crawled out and asked the man what he thought he was doing. The man, ignoring him, continued to clear material from his roof and then turning towards the gun hailed the gunner in his gun pit. “How’s that, Bill, can you clear ‘er na?” Voice from gun pit – “Yes, that’ll be all right if we don’t ‘ave to drop below eighteen ‘undered”. Exit Baby to safer quarters.

A sad thing has happened to us. The rum issue has ceased, leaving us with a stock of lemons and a supply of all spice, cloves and cinnamon, no more rubbers of bridge and rum punch nightcaps. Jerome K Jerome’s “Told after supper” is nothing to our experiences in punch brewing – we can all make one pretty well, but there are some – well, I’m reckoned an expert.

A short time ago when moving into the line, the Signalling Officer noticed an ammunition box. “What’s that?” he asked. “Oh, that”, replied an innocent telegraphist, “is a test box Sapper Newport is making”. “Is it, I should like to see that”, said the officer, and opening the box all eager to examine the boy’s clever work (and he is clever) discovered a marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons!

But, alas, those days are over – over for good I hope.

Well, dear girl, goodbye.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/30-32)

Much pleasure for children and wounded soldiers

Maidenhead children entertained wounded soldiers – possibly those confined to their beds and unable to attend the more elaborate entertainments elsewhere.


21st February 1917

Some of the bigger children were taken to the Red + Hospital at 5 p.m. to give a short entertainment (of work done in school) to the soldiers. Afterwards they distributed fruit, cigarettes & eggs which had been collected in school. This small effort gave much pleasure to children and men.

Log book of King Street School, Maidenhead (C/EL77/1, p. 388)

Music and chess on leave

Will Spencer heard the details of a family Christmas at Cookham, with Percy and Sydney both on leave.

22 January 1917

Letters for us both, from Mother – a long one for me. When Florrie & Percy & Sydney were all at home, Annie played to them after supper, & they all enjoyed it. Annie practises every day, & plays “very well indeed” now. Percy played chess with Sydney, & afterwards Percy was Mother’s partner & Sydney Father’s in a game of whist. Percy visited “the Hunts & Captain Holliday” while he was over. (Is Captain H. no longer with Percy at the Front?) Mrs Raverat had sent 60 lbs of apples to Mother, & one of the officers’ wives had made an exquisite white wool shawl for her (Sydney paid for the wool). Mrs Philip Wigg had made some white wool bed socks for her.

Diary of Will Spencer, 1917 (D/EX801/27)

Socks and sardines

East Reading women and children continued to support the wounded:

CARE AND COMFORTS COMMITTEE

The vicar has received a letter from this Committee acknowledging with many thanks the receipt of the following:

Cake, eggs, biscuits, sardines, sweets, fruit, potted meat, honey, jam, books and magazines, from the children at St John’s Church. These gifts were presented at the service on October 28th.

The following articles have been sent from the Working Party: 16 shirts, 5 bed jackets, 3 pyjamas, 32 pillow cases, 7 pairs socks, 2 socks (arm), 88 many-tailed bandages, 28 locker cloths, 14 treasure bags. Total, with those already sent, 1,849.

Reading St. John parish magazine, December 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)