Germans massing in Flanders

There was ominous news from the Front.

7 December 1917

Germans massing in Flanders. Rumours of Roumania [sic] joining Armistice.

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

Advertisements

15 more German divisions coming from Russian front!

With revolutionary Russia out of the war, many German troops were freed up to face the Allies.

6 December 1917

Heard of our giving up Bourlon Wood. Very bad, but 15 more German divisions coming from Russian front!!

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

Shot at dawn for “cowardice” caused by shell shock

John Maxwell Image wrote to his friend W F Smith, who was staying at Hindhead in south west Surrey, not far from the big army camp at Aldershot. Normally very gung-ho in support of the war, Image’s compassion had been aroused by stories of court martials and teenagers shot at dawn. The Revd Thomas Pym (1885-1945), in peacetime the chaplain at Image’s college, was serving as an army chaplain.

29 Barton Rd
6 Dec. ‘17
My very dear old man

The military cars to and fro Aldershot must surely be more or less an interesting sight.

The poor Tommy comes under this [?not clear] penalty quite frequently. Not often from cowardice, poor boy. Most often (I believe) it is from slinking off to some girl in the rear which is called “desertion”, tho’ he would have returned right enough.

Just before I was married there was shown to me a letter from a young Trin. Officer at the Front, describing a visit from one of our Trin. Chaplains, begging this young friend of his to “pray for him”, for he had to pass the night with a boy of 18 who was to be shot at dawn. Pym spoke then of a night with another poor child (of 17!) who had been shot the previous week, for what the CM was pleased to style Cowardice – though he had twice behaved with exceptional bravery, and it was only after seeing his two brothers killed at his side that on this occasion his nerve broke down. In an officer it would have been called “shell-shock”, and the interesting sufferer sent home to a cushy job in England. I know of 2 thus treated. Pym’s words brought the tears to my eyes. I see that he has told the story (slightly altered) in a book that has recently come out by him, Characteristics of the Army in Flanders.

Sir Arthur Yapp at the Guildhall last Friday. The Signora went (non ego) and returned enthusiastic – she and her Cook – over the great man’s dignity and sweetness. That evening he lectured the students (and I believe also them of Girton) in Newnham College – and left by the 9.9 for London.

One remark of his: “The vessels sunk by the U-boats during the week ending Nov. 24 (I forget how many that was) might have carried enough bread to feed Cambridge for nearly 7 years, or enough meat for 8 ½ years, or enough sugar for 64 years.”

He said that Food Tickets have changed Germany to a nation of forgers. He dreaded the like fate for England.

Yours ever
Bild

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

“It was all very suggestive of Bethlehem, except for the noise of the guns outside”

Another army chaplain reports his experiences leading services and planning social activities very close to the front line.

5 December 1917

The following extracts are from 2 letters which Mother received lately from the Sub-Warden with the troops in France.

“This morning, I had an hour’s walk through mud & trenches, delayed by the unwelcome attention of a German aeroplane for a while, but otherwise uneventful, & at last arrived at a certain dug out. There was a steep staircase down about 20 ft, then a square flat, and then 5 or 6 more steps to the right. On the square flat I arranged a little altar. Men all up & down the stairs crouching to one side so as to leave me room to pass to communicate them, and a few outside in the trench kneeling in the mud. At the bottom, a few Non-Conformist officers were very reverent & interested… I reminded them that our Lord chose a “dug out” when He first came to earth… It was all very suggestive of Bethlehem, except for the noise of the guns outside.”

“We have discovered a large cellar beneath ruins close to the lines. There is plenty of room for a canteen, reading rooms & a chapel. The chapel is to be dedicated to St John Baptist. I wonder if the Community would furnish the altar for us; the Pioneers would make the altar… I said Mass there this morning & 60 men came & were very reverent and appreciative.”

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

We refused peace terms thinking the Germans were “on the run”.

Inserted at the front of Florence Vansittart Neale’s diary are her notes made sometime in December 1917 on war news. The impact of America joining the war was beginning to be felt.

December 1917

Hear 4 generals sent home without return tickets!

Hear Germans offered good peace terms 3 months ago. We refused thinking they were “on the run”.

Our troops hissed going through Rome. Cadorna hated by Army – he the Vatican’s party.

Coldstreams scared 91,000 prisoners being taken.

One HQ taken – generals and colonels still adding.

Hear American troops to be trained in Ireland to shame the Irish.

500,000 Americans already in France.

Hear through W Grimmett last push we took any amount of stores & clothing, made light railway & sent it to base before 2 days.

Hear another push is to begin soon.

Americans getting to France about 5000 a week.

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

The man who made the escape key

The governor of Reading Prison wrote to the Prison Commissioners about one of the foreign internees he considered to be a bad influence. Paul, alias Henry Mayer, was duly transferred to Brixton Prison in December 1917, for transfer to the Isle of Man. He was a German engineer, aged 26 when interned in 1916.

29 Nov 1917

P Meyer [sic]
S of S Order 12.7.06, Aliens Act Deportation

The above prisoner has been one of the leading agitators here as regards the proposed hunger strike.

He was also in touch with the men who escaped – and though I cannot prove it I am convinced in my mind from all the information I have obtained that he was the man who made the key with which the men opened the gates to the exercise court. His conduct is bad and today he has just completed 3 days No. 1 diet and 14 days No. 2 for refusing to obey orders and using filthy and grossly insubordinate language to a warden.

He is treated in the “Friendly Alien Wing” – now abolished, but claims to be a German and his record shows him born in Berlin – in my opinion he is certainly a German. As his influence is for the bad, I should be glad if he could be removed either to a prison or if he is a German to a Camp.

C M Morgan, Governor

He is an old criminal convicted in this country.

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

Germans “too downtrodden to rise”

Florence Vansittart Neale was glued to every wild rumour about the war, while Will Spencer’s love for his German wife had only grown stronger through their difficult years of exile in Switzerland.

Florence Vansittart Neale
November 1917
[inserted before 23 November]

Hear P. Innes says state of Germany awful. People too weak to rise, able bodied men only able to work half time, too downtrodden to rise.
Hear the Pope instigated the Italians to give up. He encouraged Austrian spies everywhere!

23 November 1917

Hear Boy cannot get Paris leave. Hope for January…. Hear most domestic servants to be requisitioned for work – only allowed 1 servant each person! Counting the gardeners!!!

Hear General Plumer & staff have been in Italy 3 weeks to see how many necessary to keep Italy. Our troops must go over Mt Cenes pass.

Hear through Marga that a Florentine Regiment who deserted was sent back to Florence with “traitors to their country” on their brassades.

Hear many battalions would willingly shoot 1 in 10 of strikers [illegible].

Will Spencer
23 November 1917

During the afternoon I called & had an interview with Herrn Fursprech Engeloch. Father need take no further steps to obtain attestation of my residence in Cookham before Jan. 19/15, as it may not be needed. As soon as the matter comes before the Gemeinde (I told him we had chosen Oberburg [as their official home town in Switzerland]. Herr E. will let Oberst Reichel know, in order that he can then write on our behalf, stating that we are friends of his, as he has kindly offered to do. Probably the best means of letting the German authorities know that I had become a Swiss subject would be to apply to have Johanna’s money sent here, mentioning thereby that I am a Swiss subject, & if that is questioned, to then place the matter in the hands of the Swiss Political Department. My naturalization cannot finally be ratified until the Grosser Rat has met again. It only meets twice a year, & will meet next, Herr E. said, in Feb. or March, or at the latest in April….

I was sorry to have to tell Johanna how long we might have to wait for the ratification of our naturalization. After we had had coffee in Johanna’s room, something moved me to tell her that I had learned to know her better & that she had become more to me than ever during these last years – in some ways years of trial – in Switzerland. Johanna had afterwards to go into the town, but she would not let me go with her, as I was not quite up to the mark, & she thought it better for me to rest. When she returned, she thanked me again for what I had said. I said that I was sorry that they were only words that I had spoken, that I felt such things were better expressed in deeds, but she comforted me with the assurance that what I had said had not been merely words.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)

Tanks break the Hindenburg Line

Personal tragedy was alleviated by the success of the British forces.

21 November 1917

Henry at committees all day Maidenhead, so motor brought back Dottie & took her to the station. She spent the day with me. We talked & worked.

I have undertaken 2 pr socks & 2 mufflers a week for France.

Heard Willie Parker missing, fear killed. It’s awful!

Brilliant success of our Western Front. “Byng”, tanks & cavalry – broken Hindenburg line. Great surprise to enemy – nearly to Cambrai.

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

A simple, innocent looking British soldier

Will Spencer was now seeking Swiss citizenship, but still took an interest when he ran into a British soldier interned there. He and wife Johanna were very short of cash, even though Johanna’s sister was sending them what she could from Germany.

18 November 1917

To the English Church. Sat in the second row, in order to be out of danger of draughts from the door, as I have not yet quite got rid of my cold. Only two persons in the choir – one on each side – a lady on the left & on the rights a simple, innocent looking British soldier who seemed to have a tenor voice – he was at any rate singing the melody….

After Johanna had entertained me to tea in her room (she had already had tea at the Judge’s) she told me that the matter that she had been speaking to the Judge about was the question of our borrowing money until I am a Swiss citizen, in order that Agnes may run no further risk in sending to us. The Judge kindly offered us the help of his name, but Johanna will write to Direktor Loeliger first. She did so this evening.


Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26)

“Everyone misses his smiling face”

There was good news and not-so-good news of Maidenhead men.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are very sorry to learn that Ernest Bristow has been wounded, but there seems every hope that his injuries are not serious. One of his chums writes,

“He went up to one of our advanced dressing stations to take over stores, and it was while standing at the mouth of a dug-out that he was wounded. A Bosche fleet of aeroplanes came over, and a bomb dropped quite near, wounding some ten men and killing two others. He caught it in the left arm and in both legs, but his wounds are flesh wounds, and not dangerous. He suffered from a severe shaking up, but bore it extremely well. The sergeant who dressed his wounds thinks he will soon be all right again. Everyone misses his smiling face and bright personality, and none more than his sorrowing pal. We all feel that his loss to the Unit is irreparable… He was by far the best clerk, and one of the most popular in the Unit.”

We earnestly trust that the hopeful tone of this letter may be justified by events, and that Corporal Bristow will suffer no permanent injury.

Harold Islip, who returned to his post after leave about a month ago, has been in hospital suffering from dysentery. Cyril Hews, George Belcher, and Donald Wilson have been home again for ten days, all in good health and spirits. Herbert Brand, who has been Company Q.M.S. in the 8th Berks., has been for two or three months past in a Cadet Corps, and expects shortly to receive a Commission.

Wilfred Collins is now quite convalescent and was in Maidenhead a few days ago.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, November 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

“We are soldiers”: German prisoners refuse to work beside the Conscientious Objectors

German society was even more strongly opposed to pacifists than their English counterparts.

29 Barton Road
13 Nov. ‘17
Desideratissimo

Today she [Florence] has had [visitors including] … one Oldham, a B.A. engaged in war work for aeroplanes.

A General from the Front was lunching in our Combination-room the other day, and said to us that in his section the German prisoners refuse to work beside the Conscientious O.’s “We are soldiers”, they say.

Ten days or so ago, at one of the dinners which the College gives to Cadets on receiving their Commissions, we had a couple of officers of Zouaves as guests. Mumbo (whose health is much improved) proposed their toast in French. Capt. Marcel (he looked a handsome Englishman) responded in his own tongue, and ended with a shout which sent the Cadets wild, “England for ever”!!

What think you of Ll. George’s speech in today’s paper? It is depressing but not depressed. I personally have no fear of any harm except what the English baser natures can induce our Government to do. Surely Russia teaches what must be the result to a nation of slaves who are suddenly emancipated from control. So will it be in Germany until they have settled down. Meanwhile it’s the present English people worth dying for?

Our love to you both.

Always affect. yours Bild.

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

Clothing prisoners

Dr John Baker, Superintendent of Broadmoor Hospital, which doubled as Crowthorne War Hospital for mentally ill PoWs, wanted to make sure that men leaving his care were warmly dressed for their winter journey home. Following this letter, they were issued with coats, underwear, braces and neck comforters.

Crowthorne War Hospital
Berks
5th November 1917

From Officer i/c Crowthorne War Hospital
To DDMS Aldershot

Seven insane German Prisoners of War have been recommended for repatriation. I understand that they will be removed shortly. The clothing in which some of these Prisoners arrived at the Hospital was in some cases either bad or defective. I shall be glad to be favoured with any instructions that may exist with regard to the clothing of Prisoners on repatriation or some guidance in the matter especially as to whether deficiencies may be made good from Hospital stock or otherwise.

[File copy not signed]

Letter from Dr Baker, Broadmoor correspondence file (D/H14/A6/2/51)

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)

Plodding on

Will Spencer’s quest to change nationality was going well. Florence Vansittart Neale continued to be anxious about the war news.

Florence Vansittart Neale
27 October 1917

No air raids mercifully, tho’ bright moon. Germans pushing Italians back. Germans claim 20,000 prisoners. We plodding on.

Will Spencer
27 October 1917

Called & spoke for the first time with Herrn Fursprech Engeloch, who expressed himself very pleased that the matter of my naturalization would now end satisfactorily. He returned to me my Aufeuthaltsbewilligung, for the event of our going to Goldiwil.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)
and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX810/26)

Camouflage with a vengeance

The Images experienced a power cut as a result of an air raid, and heard some interesting Navy news.

29 Barton Road
22 Oct. ‘17
My Most Dear Old Man

On Friday evening we were at dinner – the clock, I remember, was in the middle of striking 8 – when, in a flash, down went the electric light, and up bounced Florence to find whether it was so all through the house. It was! and we had in a candle, to the accompaniment of bombs and anti-aircraft guns, seemingly 2 miles away to the north. I wonder, were they trying for the aerodrome at Hardwick? for they are reported to have attempted that at T in Norfolk. Well, we went unconcernedly to bed, and were awakened by a glare at 2.10 – sign that the raiders were clear of England. But oh how humiliating! They can drop bombs at will, and unharmed, in England. Once cross to France, and they are chivvied and hustled, go wherever they attempt. The French can bring them down. Never has there been such a field day before, for Zepps.

Some friends, fresh from Liverpool, told me the other day of the steady silent inundation of Americans now overflowing the place. Especially of the hundreds upon hundreds of Yankee aeroplanes, beautifully packed, daily landed on the quays.

In one dry dock these people came across a large Yankee man-of-war, painted blue with pink spots (or was it, pink with blue spots. Those were the colours anyhow.) Camouflage with a vengeance: but it has the effect of destroying outlines and muddling them up at a distance. This they observed especially in the case of HMS Ramillies lying out in the stream – a battleship, painted the most bizarre horror, chiefly black and white stripes.

All this is very fine – but as today’s Daily Mail asks, in Italics, ‘Who commands the North Sea?’ The British navy may be the ‘incomparable’ weapon we hear it called, but it is bluffed by the Huns and its convoys and their escort snapped up by a small force of 2 raiders, almost in hearing of the Grand Fleet. The Kaiser’s vaunt of Germany’s future being on the water looks justified – Nelson went to the Gulf of Riga – but we can’t.

Our united love to you both.
Ever yours,
Bild

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