A miserable state of things

The war might be over, but artist Stanley Spencer was still stuck in the army, with efforts to attach him to the War Artists Scheme having come to nothing.

Dec 1 1918
5 Raymond Bdgs
Grey’s Inn
WC1

Dear Mrs Image

I have written again to Ld [Milner?]’s Private Secretary, to whom I wrote about Stanley a month or so ago – asking whether anything can possibly be done.

It’s a miserable state of things; I wd do anything to get him out, but there seems to be a brick wall somewhere. If I hear anything to the purpose I will let you know at once. I am longing to have him back at his painting.

How interesting & delightful his letters are. I hope Gil & he will both soon be back with you. I am so sorry about your brother who was killed.

Tell Stanley I have had another shot at helping him…

Do let me know if you get any news from his side. I sent him my Memoir of Rupert Brooke some weeks ago, I hope he will have got it.

Yours sincerely
E Marsh

Letter from E Marsh to Florence Image (D/EX801/110)

“Nothing that the war has brought me is anything to compare with your suffering, and no courage I have shewn, can compare with your superhuman endurance”

Florence Image reveals the strain it took to stay strong for her family in the face of Sydney’s death.

29, Boston Road
Cambridge

Oct. 29 1918

My own dear Stan

John says, “Are you writing to dear old Stanley? Then tell him his letters give me the greatest pleasure to read.” Well my darling, I do pray you will get some of our letters soon. I am getting yours so quickly – less than 3 weeks! I was dreadfully bothered about you. Do ask for leave. The infantry won’t know you have been 2 ¼ years without any. When you get back to your unit, beg the Colonel to grant you either (a) your overdue leave – or (b) sick leave with a view to discharge. Tell him how many times you have had malaria. Lloyd George promised you all leave in the spring. Last week the WO said they were granting leave as fast as possible – and again they assured the House of Commons that something like 1500 had had leave recently from Salonika – I enclose a cutting. But I hope the Min. of Inform. Affair will come off soon, if the war isn’t over first. I do long to hear the story of what you did for your Captain darling.

I feel your letters acutely darling. If my letters seem prosaic and material it’s because I have had a tremendous strain on my emotions, and I hardly dare take out my thoughts and look at them at all – because I’ve got to keep well, & be strong for all your sakes. I’ve written reams on your account – and it’s for you & Gil, and to keep Mother & Father going, for your sake, and for Perce [sic] – as well as my beloved John – I’ve got to keep going – or rather keep the ship going – See? But of course nothing that the war has brought me is anything to compare with your suffering, and no courage I have shewn, can compare with your superhuman endurance. My only struggle is not just to keep myself going – but to keep the ship going – do you understand? And so I am the most extraordinary creature apparently. I haven’t cried about Syd – and every time dear John attempts to be even sad about it – I am quite firm & cross. In fact it’s carry on – carry on – carry on – all the while – and snub every gust of longing or regret, love & hatred (like you I get awful fits of hatred as well as love) and save up all your energy for the end of the war and the radiant return to the old order – for you the front bedroom of a sunny warm day – with [Tobit?] – when the war is over. I’ll burst – and then you’ll be astonished at all I say. I get madder & amdder & madder with those who have not been wrenched up by the roots in this war. “Why cumbereth it the ground?”

Well, this is an ugly letter. It’s all imported rage with those who don’t dream what you in Salonika endure – and if they did wouldn’t dream what you in particular endure. But I do – and meanwhile I am trying to get you some light books to carry. I have ordered Andrew Marvell, and hope to get it in a week. His poems. Do you want his Satires too? And have you got a Bible? And do express any other longing you have. What you tell me of Heine & Goethe is so interesting. I’d no idea they had the taint. Tell me one or two nice things you would like to beautify your dust-bins out there. I do hope you will get the parcel with biscuits I sent you.

I heard yesterday that Syd has been awarded the Military Cross for what he did on Aug. 8th, and am vain-glorious enough to be glad, because he told me before he was killed, he was recommended for it, and was very pleased, because of the pleasure he knew it would confer on us…

Your own loving
Flongy

Have you plenty of shirts etc?

Letter from Florence Image to her brother Stanley Spencer (D/EX801/110)

“His soldiering days are probably over”

With six of their seven sons having joined the army, the Spencers of Cookham had a lot to worry about.

Will Spencer
30 September 1918

By the afternoon post a letter of Sept. 11 from father. They have had news from Stanley. They are not allowed to know Gilbert’s present whereabouts. Sydney has gone back to the front. Harold leading an orchestra (in Plymouth, Father believes). Horace is better, but Father thinks his soldiering days are probably over.

Florence Vansittart Neale
30 September 1918

We reached Cambrai. 2nd Army with Belgians got Dixmade.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“What glorious War news! It fills me with chastened joy”

The Spencers’ patriotism was moderated by their affection for Will’s German wife.

Fernley
Cookham

July 21, 1918

My Dear Sydney, …

Your birthday letter to Nan [Sydney’s elder sister Annie] was accompanied by one from Gil [brother Gilbert, later a well known artist]. He is training for the Infantry, not as I feared for the Air Corps. Letter was dated June 9. He does not think much of Cairo. Is about to visit the Pyramids.

Flo’s ‘On Both’ has not yet appeared in ‘Punch’.

We are all well at Fernley. Horace [another brother] is in a base hospital with malaria.

Harold [yet another brother] expects to be transferred to a military band which will I hope put an end to his grousing.

Write soon.

With our united love, Father.

P.S. What glorious War news! It fills me with chastened joy. Chastened for we are not yet out of the wood. Besides Johanna [his German daughter-in-law] whom I dearly love! I can’t help thinking grievingly of her. F.

Letter from William Spencer of Cookham to his son Sydney at the front (D/EZ177/1/6/2-3)

“It’s wonderful how B. Company is scattered, and sad how many of them have gone under”

Percy Spencer was enjoying a reprieve from the fighting, and looking forward to our American allies making an impact.

July 8, 1918
My dear WF

I expect you are wondering why I haven’t written for so long. Lately I have been working moving, & so often cut off from communication, you must forgive me.

Now I am at a course near the base. It’s such a rest to have definite working hours & playing hours. We work jolly hard but after work I can take a rod & fish or swim, or walk to a fairly civilized town. Last night I fished & all but landed the largest roach I have ever hooked.

My duties with the battalion have involved riding. I had the other day to ride about 20 miles to prosecute in a CM case. As the horse’s name was “Satan” & I hadn’t been on a horse for 3 years you may imagine my feelings. However we went very well together. 2 days later, I had to do a staff ride with Gen. Kennedy as he’s something of a horseman, again I wasn’t very happy. However I didn’t fall off & coming home even ventured upon a few gallops.
I’m sorry about Sydney. I expect it’s the “Flu” or “PVO”. We’ve had an awful lot of it, but I’m glad to say I have practically escaped.

Please keep me posted with news of Stan & Gil. Isn’t it funny how we all focus on you. I hope you realise how flattering it is.
While you have been having November weather, we have been sweltering & wishing for a cool breeze now & then.

I like this part of France – it is so rich in wild flowers, woods, streams, birds and dragon flies. Did I tell you of the beautiful golden birds which used to haunt my bivouac? I have long since found out that they are the famous French Oriel. The dragon flies are marvellous. Never have I seen such numbers or variety.

Do you remember my church door Christmas card? If so you will know about where I am when I tell you I’m just going to have a look at it again.

There are no end of Americans here. All well built fellows and very keen. It’ll be a bad day for the Hun that they take the field in earnest. How many there are I don’t know, but enough to make the necessary weight till our turn comes round again.

We have an American doctor from Philadelphia – a fine big fellow….

Yesterday I met a nice boy from No. 5 platoon who remembered me though I couldn’t place him. It’s wonderful how B. Company is scattered, and sad how many of them have gone under. I was lucky to miss the grand “withdrawal”.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/7/50-52)

Horribly mutilated by shell fire

Animals were among the many victims of the war.

Sydney Spencer
Monday 13 May 1918

Got up at 6.50. Breakfast at 7.30. Peyton & I took company along the line to M- M-. Men walked along. I took first tack from 10-12.20. On way there a dead mule lay on track. Neck & chest horribly mutilated by shell fire. Poor beast. Our tool cart mules for a long time refused to pass it! They knew!

It rained from 10 on till 2.30 when we got back to A-n. After lunch I to bed as Pepys would have said. It is now 4.45 pm & I am just going to dress. A very ‘Novembery’ day. Yesterday I found some interesting old bills & receipts, dates 1782 & 3. I sent them to Florence. I hope she gets them.

After tea called down to interview with CO. I had let my men straggle a bit in the mud when coming home. Bad for discipline. After dinner to bed & lay awake reading till about 1.30 when I at last got some sleep. Finished reading Rupert of Hentzau, & this week’s Punch.

Percy Spencer
13 May 1918

A nice dirty day, promising trouble for the Hun tomorrow if he tries his luck against us. Dreamt of Gil last night. Somehow he got down a narrow shaft and I had to haul him out. He was in a pretty bad way.

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

News of the Spencers reaches Switzerland

Sometimes Will Spencer felt isolated from family news in his home in Switzerland. So it was good to hear how everyone was getting on.

8 April 1917

By the first post this morning we received a short letter from Father. Florrie has got a sketch entitled “Rations” into “Punch”. Percy has been offered a commission. Harold better. Stanley & Gilbert cheery. Stanley has sent Mother £5, in addition to the 3/6 a week which he allows her.

Diary of Will Spencer (D/EX801/27)

Shot in cold blood, and now “beyond the reach of human injustice and incompetence”

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image was excited by the new tanks rolling into action; philosophical about air raids – and horrified by first-hand stories of the executions of young men for cowardice or desertion.

29 Barton Road
[Cambridge]

23 Sept. ‘16

Mon Ami!

I share your views about the ghastly War. With its slaughters and its expenditure, where shall we be left after it is over. Any peace that leaves Germany still united – united for evil – is a fool madness that deserves the new War it will render a certainty.

I am in a fever to see the photograph of a Tank in action. I can’t imagine its appearance. I don’t believe them lengthy like caterpillars – but more like mammoths, Behemoths – “painted in venomous reptilian colours” for invisibility – and “waddling on” over trenches.

Today’s paper speaks of a seaplane over Dover yesterday. This is the very general prelude to a Zepp raid: and we expect one accordingly tonight, if their courage hasn’t oozed out. There is a Flying Camp near here – at Thetford, I believe. Daily, Planes soar over us – a sight I view every time with fresh pleasure. Twice we have had an Airship – huge, but not like the pictures of the German Zepps. I may as well tell you of our own experience on Saturday 3 weeks ago. Peaceful and unsuspecting, we were sitting in the drawing room at 10.30 when suddenly the electric lights went down and left the house in darkness. This is the official warning of Zepps. So we went out into Barton Rd. Not a glimmer, nor a sound. Quite unimpressive.

We turned in to bed – all standing (in Navy language) – and I into the deepest slumber, from which I was eventually shaken to hear an agitated voice, “they’re here”. I bundled out, lit a match and read on my watch 2.50. There was no mistaking – a thunderous drone, such as I had never heard before – and, seemingly, exactly overhead. We hurried down into the road. The roar grew fainter, and then began – deep and dignified – the guns. I guessed them to be on the Gogmagogs – then sharp explosions, which we took for bombs, thrown haphazard by the Zepp which was undoubtedly fleeing for the coast.

Robinson’s Zepp had come to earth at 2.30. Possibly ours was the wounded bird, which dropped a gondola or something in Norfolk when making its escape?

At 4.5 our electric lights went up again, and we to bed. Decorous night-rails, this time.

The Signora has a wee aluminium fragment from the Zepp that was brought down at Salonica. It was picked up by a young soldier who had been in her Sunday School Class. We had a sudden visit from her youngest brother, Gilbert, home on 6 days leave from Salonica. You have heard me speak of him as the rising artist who at 20 years of age sold a picture for £100, and is now a Tommy at 1/- a day. I fell in love with him on the spot. So simple, so lovable, – above all, such a child – going about the world unprotected!

By the way Gilbert saw the Zepp come down in flames at Salonica.
He had many yarns. The one that most made me shudder was of the announcement at a morning parade, “Sergeant So-and-so of the Connaught Rangers was shot this morning by sentence of a Court Martial for refusing to obey an order”. Just that! I have heard of these shootings in cold blood, several times, at the Front in France. Always they made me feel sick. A boy (on one occasion) of 17 ½, who had fought magnificently at Hill 60: and then lost his nerve, when his 2 brothers were killed in the trench at his side. Pym (our TCC [Trinity College, Cambridge] chaplain) sat with him all night and gave him the Sacrament. He

“could only feel what a real comfort it was to know that the boy was now beyond the reach of human injustice and incompetence”.

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

“The war is still on and we’re still alive and well”

Percy Spencer was on the move, and wrote briefly to his sister Florence.

Sep 10, 1916
Dear WF

A few lines to let you know the war is still on and we’re still alive and well.

Last night I slept in a manger, today I’m under canvas and looking out upon a wide expanse of hills. A nasty east wind blight rather spoils it. Still, all’s well.

Thank you for all your letters and for the book. You seem to have a genius for choosing the right sort of book for out here and all your volumes have had a wide circulation.

So dear old Gil is home. I do hope he gets some leave, but from what I hear I’m afraid he may not….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/28-29)

‘He has now volunteered for Field Ambulance work at Salonika’

Will Spencer had news of several of his brothers. Stanley and Gilbert, both art students and a year apart in age, were very close to one another, and both had joined the Royal Army Medical Corps.

31 August 1916

Letters from Mother & from Florrie. Both contained the news that Gilbert had recently written from a hospital ship at Marseilles. He has now volunteered for Field Ambulance work at Salonika. Stanley hopes he may be going to Salonika, as he so much wants to be with Gilbert. Horace better, & making himself useful by making tables & chairs.

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

Time I offered the country my estimable services

Percy Spencer had enjoyed a short leave in England and was now in France, and was now keen to get a commission. He wrote to his sister Florence:

Jan 16 1916
Dear W. F.

Anyway you know by the field postcards that “I’m ‘ere”.

Very busy too as usual.

Of course I’m glad I was “mentioned” (though there are thousands who ought to have been before me) as it’s a kind of certificate that I’m doing my share of the work; and at home they’ll place quite a false value upon it and rejoice, which will do them good and won’t harm anyone.

Yes, by a stroke of luck I got my mackintosh again. Mr Curtis retrieved it for me at the last moment.

It was a wretched journey back. They seem to make us as uncomfortable as possible these trips.

About my application for a commission. I’ve written to my CO asking him for a nomination in the 2nd or 3rd or the Queen’s, but have not yet heard from him.

Sydney, alas, hasn’t written to me yet, so I don’t suppose he has been able to do anything towards getting me a commission in his regiment.

So I’m sending an ordinary application form along which I hope you’ll kindly get signed for me by Lord Boston & JMI [John Maxwell Image]. (The original form is rather out of date, and I don’t think it advisable to send it in.)

Of course if I get a commission I may only to hack work in a Battalion, and have to take my chance in a scrimmage, but really, however the matter goes, I think it’s time I offered the country my estimable services in the commissioned ranks – if it’ll have them – judging by the quality of some of our latest “finds”….

The supplies were ample – amazingly ample at first sight, but nevertheless only sufficient for the journey, as it turned out, for they kept us a day at Boulogne in one of the Godforsaken “rest” camps.

Just before leaving old England I had the bloater paste sandwiches. They were excellent, and it was a great sorrow to me I had them such a little while. However “fish to fish” – ‘twas a fitting funeral.

Can you send me a diary tablet please? Also some more ink!

If Gil is not able to get things, let me know, and send him a parcel occasionally at my expense.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/1-3)

Delighted with the honour

William Spencer of Cookham wrote to his married daughter Florence with news of her brothers.

4.I.16

Mr & Mrs Fuller have written congratulating on honour conferred on [William’s son] Percy. We are delighted. It was in the ‘Times’ on Jan. 1. They are sending us their copy. This should help him in the matter of a Commission I think. …

Stan: [son Stanley, the artist] writes that the Sergt at Beaufort War Hospital has just heard that all the R.H.M.C men who left with Gil: [another son, Gilbert] for Salonika are quite well.

F[ather].

Postcard from William Spencer of Cookham to his daughter Florence Image (D/EZ177/1/7)

A delightful spot behind the lines

Percy Spencer was in a cheerful mood as the summer started in France. He wrote to his sister Florence to describe the area he was based, a short way from the front lines, and to comment on his brother Stanley’s joining the RAMC:

June 5, 1915
Dear Florrie

We are having the most glorious weather and we are in a most delightful spot.

Today the peasant girls have been mowing the lawn – how Stan would love to draw them, rough, bronzed lassies with their large handkerchiefs over their heads and shoulders and tied under their chins.

The miners too are great. One I met the other day was particularly remarkable in his bronze blue overall and black [illegible] cap. He was a tall spare man with coal begrimed face, hands and clothes; only one thing was clean – a kind of cerise coloured scarf. I daresay the colouring sounds awful, but take it from me, he looked fine.

I see you are going to send me more bread. Don’t trouble to; we can obtain any we want from the village as a rule.

Stan’s idea of bargaining where he will go is rather pathetic – he’d better know that it’s utterly futile. But this he can do under existing orders. If he is not sent to join Gil, he or Gil can apply to their Commanding Officer for a transfer and it must be sanctioned on the grounds that they are brothers and wish to serve in the same unit of the same branch of the service [in the RAMC].

Yes, our fellows have done well, very well, and so their pictures are appearing in the paper, as you say. Curiously enough, the photos of the 24th are the photos of our boys of the 22nd, and you may be interested to know the leading boy in the picture of a company led by a bearded officer has been wounded in the eye, but is still with us. Again a picture of the answer to K. of K.’s appeal for men up to 40 is that of our own men who were sent back to the second line unit when we came out.

Love to all
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/4/33)

No one who has not experienced the hell of an attack in this trench warfare can have more than the shadow of a glimpse of its awfulness

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about his situation just behind the lines. He was nonchalant about the danger, but made it clear how horrific it was in the trenches.

June 1st 1915

My dear Florrie

Here’s a glorious 1st of June. Everything in the garden is simply grand.

Thank you for all your letters and the parcel or parcels sent since last I had an opportunity of writing to you. Even the bread arrived in good condition.

But please do not send me anything I have not asked for – it only involves waste, or gifts to others who are quite well cared for.
We’ve had a good rest here – I more than the majority of the staff as I was not taken into the action you have probably read about, in which our fellows did so well, but was left here to rest. I went up for a few hours just before we were relieved, but that is all I had to do with it.

So Gil is going into the RAMC – I’m glad of that; and Syd into an infantry battalion for which I am not so glad as I’m afraid he does not realise what he is in for. In fact, no one at home in or out of the army who has not experienced the hell of an attack in this trench warfare can have more than the shadow of a glimpse of its awfulness.

My office is in the conservatory. A lovely [?] shelters me from the sun – orchids grow around in the rockery which forms three of the walls. On the lawn is a lovely clump of rhododendrons and many trees – as pleasant a place and scene as one could wish. But over it sing the shells for us and other places – two – three – four – five – six – seven – eight – nine – have just followed each other in quick succession and pluncked in the next street. One of these days they’ll make a mistake and hit us.

Well, dear girl, I haven’t anything to tell you except that I am well and looking forward to the far off day of our return to our ain folk.

Give my love to all

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/4/31)

Church parade, from a distance

Percy Spencer wrote from France to his sister Florence with details of his life over there. There are references to his artist brothers Stanley and Gilbert, and the latter’s susceptibility to a recruiting band. Percy felt that the artistic pair were unsuited to battle.

Mar. 29. 1915
Dear Florrie

Thank you for your letters.

Don’t send any more socks or linen out of any kind until I ask for some, as so far I have arranged laundry all right.

Today the Bishop of London held Church parade here for some of our men. I contented myself with a near view of his Lordship through field glasses and a more distant view of the band. It played very fairly through the opening hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross”. Somehow I always enjoy church music more as a listener. I’d much rather sit in the churchyard at home and listen to the service than take part in it.

I got your lovely parcel – its neatness was a marvel. You must have been hours packing it.

The guns have been very busy early today, but this afternoon there was nothing to hear but the hum of aeroplanes, of which quite a few have been over.

Your letters are not censored at all so far as I know – at least I’ve never heard of anything censored, so say on.

I think I told you we are quartered in a lovely house but the blinds have to be down to protect the tapestries! And that’s a shame in springtime. Anyway I doubt the supposed value of some of the tapestries. They appear to me to belong to a late and poor period, nothing like the beautiful specimens they have at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I should like to have Stan’s opinion on them. That reminds me, where is Ravenal’s place – it would be funny if I were in his chateau.

Gil tells me Jupp has taken a commission in the artillery, and writes of the effect of the recruiting bands upon him when he was at the National Gallery the other day. Don’t let him do anything foolish.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/4/18-19)