So many officers down with flu

Florence Vansittart Neale’s daughters saw the German submarines being surrendered.

25 November 1918

Heard from Phyllis. They watched the submarines all Friday afternoon. Boy had to go to Felixstowe. So many officers down with flue….

Feel on a holiday. No soldiers, no officers! Captain Carswell left this morning.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

Impertinent Germans

23 November 1918

Submarines arriving Harwich. Impertinents [illegible] would not sign till made to.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

‘Rather a rag after my “flue”’

The influenza epidemic meant that the toll of death was far from over.

22 November 1918

Submarines arriving at Harwich.

Have 10 gallons petrol a month for officers.

Felt rather a rag after my “flue”. Heard Fred Bennett died of it night before at Cliveden. He caught it at his brother Charlie’s funeral 10 days before. Fred in RFC looked so nice & handsome.

Canadians left 9.45. Captain C[arswell]. with them to Maidenhead.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

“Germans let prisoners loose, gave no food”

The British took charge of the entire German Navy. Every single ship was taken to Scotland, while the submarines were handed over at Harwich.

21 November 1918

German fleet in Scotland. 150 submarines to be given up. Sir R. Tyrwhitt receives them at Harwich. King up to Scotland to see Fleet.

Hear awful account of prisoners. Germans let them loose, gave no food. Many died on the road.

Canadians to play golf. Shaw caddied.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

German fleet begin surrender

Some severely wounded soldiers came to visit Bisham Abbey.

18 November 1918

Fleet begin surrender. Hope submarines going to Harwich.

Fine day. Henry & 2 officers motored to Oxford for the day….

Phyllis’s hospital party came. 3 men & a sister. Great success. They took them everywhere in bath chairs. Left about 4, after tea…

Many prisoners came back.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

Convoy attacked

The Harwich Force was a Navy squadron tasked with protecting shipping.

17 August 1918

Heard 2 destroyers Harwich base sunk. 26 lives lost. Convoying ships from Holland.

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

“A fine example of courage and coolness”

The vicar of Wargrave was optimistic that the war would end soon, as the parish celebrated the heroism of some of its men, and mourned the loss of others.


Another year opens under the cloud of War, but the very length of the shadows behind us should give new vigour to our hopes for the future. The War cannot last forever. The original plan of the enemy has certainly failed. The strength of the Allies grows greater. There is every promise that the Government will express the mind of the nation and that the people will gladly respond to the demands which may be made upon them. The conviction that our cause is righteous has possessed the soul of the nation and given character to our manner of fighting. The appeal to God for Victory is based upon submission to His Will; sobered by the realization that Victory must be used to the praise of His Holy Name; and inspired by the certainty that He, who ordereth all things in heaven and earth, is working His purpose out, and will over-rule the conflict of the nations to the advancement of His Kingdom and the greater happiness of mankind.

So with renewed hope let us take heart to utter the familiar words, and wish one and all a Happy New Year.

The Military Cross

Lieut. F. Kenneth Headington, 1st London Brigade, R.F.A. has been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in the field. We offer him out heartiest congratulations. It is indeed a happy thing when from the midst of the sorrows of war there comes occasion for the sympathy of joy. Their many friends will rejoice with Mr. and Mrs. Headington, and with all the family, in this good news of well deserved recognition.

We would like to mention the following commendation which Sergt. James Iles has received:-

“This N.C.O. has shown a high standard of efficiency throughout the campaign. He has been under direct observation of his squadron leader during two engagements. At Nevy, on September 1st, 1914, where he was wounded in the wrist, he continued to endeavour to use his rifle after being wounded, and when compelled to desist owing to hand becoming numb, he helped to bandage several more severely wounded men. At Potize, near Ypres, May 12th, 1915, he had all the men of his troop except himself and one other become casualties owing to shell fire. He still remained in his portion of the trench and showed a fine example of courage and coolness to the remainder of the squadron.”

We would like to mention that the Military Medal has been granted to the Sergeant.

Hare Hatch Notes

We deeply sympathise with Mrs. Pugh in her second sad bereavement. Her son Charles has given his life for his country, he was seriously wounded whilst mine sweeping and had a relapse after being admitted into the hospital at Shotley, near Harwich, which proved fatal. His body was brought home and laid to rest in our Churchyard. The service which commenced with the hymn “Eternal Father strong to save” was most impressive. As the Naval Authorities were unable to send representatives, the soldiers at the Wargrave V.A.D. Hospital attended and some acted as bearers; “Honour to whom honour is due.” This loss coming so soon upon the death of Mrs. Pugh’s beloved husband, who was greatly respected and highly esteemed, must be hard to bear. We trust that our expressions of sympathy and our prayers may afford the family great comfort.

The deepest sympathy is also felt for Mr and Mrs Hunt, Tag Lane, whose son Arthur was killed in France on November 19th. As a member of the Sunday School and the Mission Choir he was most regular and attentive, he attained very high honours when a member of the Wargrave Scouts. He worked for several years with his father at The Lodge. We greatly regret his loss, the remembrance of him will not quickly pass away. He gave his life for a noble cause.

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

Uniforms allocated according to height

Sydney Spencer was beginning to get accustomed to military drill, when he met an old acquaintance from his YMCA work at the start of the war:

27 January 1915
This morning’s drilling was much more satisfactory. The Sergeant made us so several new motions which go under several terms which I recognise when I hear them but which I cannot yet remember apart. At 10 o’clock we went to the OTC headquarters and there we were measured for our overcoats. Not a careful examination, but according to height. I am 5’5”. After Latin Prose I went to Shepherds with Loughton & we were both measured for our OTC uniforms. We are to be fitted on Saturday. I met two people whom I knew. One was, of all people on earth, Hayes of Merton, with whom I worked at Harwich (YMCA work). He is staying at No. 41, only just a few yards down. He has been doing YMCA work at Havre for some time & has left his studies at Edinburgh for a time. The other person I met was the Rev. Demans of Hedsor.

We won’t be hearing from Sydney for a couple of months, as he was too busy with his new activities to write in his diary.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/14)

‘Unhappily he is American!’ – more on the YMCA at Harwich

Sydney Spencer took the opportunity of his 26th birthday to reflect further on his work with the YMCA with soldiers at Harwich, and record his impressions of some of his co-workers – and one ordinary soldier – for posterity. His brother Will, also mentioned here, was a refugee from Germany, where he had been teaching the piano at Cologne Conservatory.

Sunday October 4th
My birthday!…
Dear old Will has just come in to wish me many happy returns & would make me accept a gift of 5s, which I would much rather he had not given me at such a time!…

There is so much about my experiences at Harwich which I want to write on, but as I have written some pages & must just read them over & see what has been left out. I have just read through the 20 pages of my diary at Harwich & find that there are a fair number of little anecdotes which I wanted to chronicle, also I find that I have not written my impressions of Hayes yet, and I promised him he should not be let off but would go down to posterity – or oblivion – according as my diary should [illegible] in the future! I will begin with him first. He is a man 6 ft 2 ins in height; a finely built man, ruddy brown with grey blue eyes & a small moustache. He strikes one as being a splendid specimen of a full grown & well proportioned Englishman. Unhappily he is American! His people left England somewhere about 1727. His parents are missionaries in China. He studied first at a college in America & afterwards as a Rhodes scholar at Merton College, Oxford. He has just finished his course at Oxford taking “greats”. He is a Leander Club man, & just missed getting his “blue” for the sake of getting “Greats”. In fact in Oxford the name “John Hayes” of Merton was a name of one of the “Bloods” of Oxford. He was a remarkably refined and sensitive man. He was alive to every wind of thought, & his sarcasm was of that refined & polished order which made me almost long to offend him so as to be subjected to some of his sarcasm. I used to just hug myself with delight when I saw him put on a lazy sleepy expression for I knew then that the game was up and someone was in for it. The fun he had in his “study” of the officers was delicious & I can see him now marching up and down our marquee with his fingers on his chin or viciously biting his little fingernail, thinking out in the dim light of our post-9.30 candle, just precisely the right message & its exact wording to boot which he should send over to the mess the next morning in return for a rather enigmatic one received by us during the evening…

After I had played at the service in the Co-operative Hall on the first Sunday night I was there, on coming into the body of the hall I was accosted by one of Kitchener’s men who wanted me to have a cup of tea with him at his expense, as a mark of his appreciation of my work. This of course I willingly did & we drank mutual goodwill to each other in cups of tea. I was delighted with this expression of his goodwill. On the night of our concert, that is the Wednesday night, after the preparations for the concert had been made, I found at 6.45 that the tent was already filling with men, while I was in a desperately begrimed condition & needed to find a place to wash & clean myself up. This operation had to take place on the concert platform & I had the curious experience of making my ablutions before an audience of some thirty or forty men! In the middle of these ablutions Captain Watson walked in & chuckled with delight over my idea for footlights, which by the way if I have not before mentioned it were 8 or ten candles placed in saucers on a form.

Dr Marks whom I mentioned in connection with Gravel Hill was a dear old man. A child psychologist – I think a professor of Sheffield University, he had a very beautiful character, & spent himself in his eagerness to do all he could in this YMCA work.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

Heartily sick of seeing soldiers, thank you

Soon after his Harwich experiences with the YMCA, Sydney Spencer of Cookham paid a visit to Kenneth ‘Jumbo’ Oliphant, the friend he had worked there with, and the latter’s mother, in Woking, Surrey. They had both had quite enough of the army.

Sept 30th
At home in Cookham

I spent from last Saturday tea time till Tuesday at St Margaret’s, Fern Hill Park, Woking, with Kenneth & Mrs Oliphant. It was a most restful time after the stress of Harwich. As soon as we got into the house Mrs Oliphant told Kenneth that the King was reviewing troops in Woking & would we like to go. It was pathetic. We had been seeing soldiers until we were heartily sick of it & here they were again. We declined the invitation smilingly…

Fred Oliphant [Kenneth’s brother] has a commission in the Seaforths and Granville [another brother] in the old Public School & University Corps. Higham of Oriel wrote me that Wright is also in that corps. I expect he will be as merry in that as he was up at Keswick.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

The last of active service?

Having completed his stint with the YMCA, Sydney Spencer thought it was all over. He would, of course, be proved wrong – we’ll be hearing from him again.

Sept 25th
At the Savages’ Shakespeare Hotel, York Road, Waterloo WC
Oliphant and I are sleeping the night here. Our experience at Harwich is over. I have seen my last of “Active Service” I suppose either for good or for a time.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

Heavy breathing and foul language – but a great success

Sydney Spencer faces his last day at the YMCA camp, and looks back over his experiences.

Thursday Sept 24th
[Opposite a page setting out the Morse code]
The following is the Morse Code written in this book for me by one of the privates here. He lent over our impromptu letter box & wrote it earnestly with much heavy breathings. I want to learn this code if at all possible…

Tomorrow I leave the camp. Am I sorry? Yes, I must own that I have quite a number of regrets in leaving Harwich. The last two or three days have been such a pleasure & I have so warmed to the work that I shall distinctly leave behind many pleasant memories, & but very few unhappy ones. With the exception of one man’s foul language to myself, for which I just straightly attacked him, I have had not one unpleasant passage of arms with the men. Our concert last evening was really a huge success. The place after a most strenuous two hours preparing looked – use a university modernism – “top hole”. I had a very busy time of it preparing, & when it was done – the platform made, the counter covered up, and candles placed in saucers on a form for footlights, then I really felt that we were well rewarded for our labours. The items on the programme were all or nearly all quite successful, & Private Macgregor who sang Father O’Flinn and Long Live The King, & other songs, really was the best item of the evening for his healthy figure & his splendid voice, & his splendid taste in singing made him for me the best of the bunch. He took a real joy in his singing & made the whole air tingle with the splendid swing of his singing. Today has been a rather hard day for me, as Hayes has been out most of the day to get a rest from yesterday’s concert. Tonight he has gone out with the “light” signallers, with Lieutenant Chadington who was last night at our concert, & also sang. He sang very well indeed – rag times – and delighted the men. Daldry was very cut up because we had the counter closed up. I should think that the concert would have been lowered 80 or 90 per cent at least.

Sydney Spencer’s diary, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

The YMCA: just a splendid grocery association?

Sydney Spencer tells us more about his work with the YMCA in an army camp. The poem he liked so much is by Henry Newbolt, and is now regarded with more irony.

14th Sept. Monday morning at the Packerton YMCA camp

I am to sleep in the marquee tonight with Hayes. I am only sorry that Jumbo [his friend Kenneth Oliphant] and I are parted. Yesterday I very much enjoyed the day at Gravel Hill. At 6 o’clock I got some tea at Harwich, & then went into the writing & reading room downstairs where I found a Private Russell who had a talk with me which ended by my having an opportunity of giving him a Testament, with which he was not only delighted, but said that he had “mates” who would like some too.

[Section censored in later years by Sydney’s sister and heir Florence]

I went to the Co-operative Hall at 7.30 and played right on without a moment’s break till 9 o’clock. I should think I must have played about sixty hymns or more.

I said I had not a break, but now I remember that Hindle spoke to the men for about ten minutes, & they very much appreciated his really good address which he gave. I was surprised at the way in which the men had turned up to the service. There were about 300 of them and they sang with the greatest gusto imaginable. They sang hymn after hymn & their choice of hymns was really good. They had for one, “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land”. This hymn went best of all, I think on the whole. Hindle works himself to death & does, I think, splendid work, although I think that it is a great pity that he frivols so on his table conversation. Conversation has been of a better kind lately & I am very glad of it. I am waiting just outside the YMCA canteen in the lobby place of the guard house, & one of the prisoners inside is playing a flute & is playing Home Sweet Home in a slim melancholy way which makes it comic. I begin to doubt of its being a flute, I should imagine it is a mouth organ by the sounds of the chords put in which I had not before heard. Hayes roasted Daldy splendidly last night saying that he thought we were a splendid grocery association & that we ought to chuck the YMCA. I am glad he did for he – Daldy – seems to think of nothing except the money part of the affair, & it absolutely disgusts me. I am very glad that Hayes is shewing his colours to such an extent, I shall get on much better for it. (more…)

Talking to the men, and enemy vessels spotted: Sydney Spencer’s adventures at Harwich continue

Sydney Spencer writes about his work with the YMCA at an army camp in Harwich:

Sunday September 13th

This morning we have been to Gravel Hill – that is to say Dr Marks and myself – as he was shorthanded & wanted help. I enjoyed going with him as I had an opportunity of getting into conversation with some half dozen of the men, & a very nice talk it was too. From the window where we were (the YMCA abode here is a four roomed house) we could see right out to the North Sea…. Last night just before we closed up, I had a little talk to one of the guards, who gave me some very interesting information. The River Stour goes by just below our canteen at Packerton, & he pointed out to me 15 destroyers lying in the harvour. They are distinguished by the cross at the mast heads. They had torpedo tubes at the stern, & also ship maxims like small cannon – which the guard described as being like bears, & so they are too. Also he shewed me the Austrian trading vessel which was captured & fired through the middle, & which turned out to be a mine layer, also a German boat a little nearer to us, & close at hand a large German trading boat which had on it a cargo of boots – he stated their value at £2,000,000, but that with a very little thought appears obviously impossible.

I am up at Gravel Hill again this afternoon. There is a “Tommy” here who is struggling with a letter to his mother. He is a finely built man, young & brown & boyish. He is sprawling in his chair & obviously finds the writing a greater nuisance than trench digging! His face is intensely serious, his pen travels up & down each letter laboriously …

Outside there hangs on a piece of wire a large iron ring. This is used as a clock, which unfortunately gives no other time than the hour. A man has just struck two upon this weird bell. The men have just been having their dinners. The tins they have them in are kit shaped, & the meat they have! It is simply lumps of meat clipped up & boiled in pots. The grease & fat & smell are really when blended together something too awful. Poor old Percy, that is all I can say. He must be having a beastly time of it all round. I only hope that he has accepted a post with Mr Holliday.

Business is slack here & I have a little time to spare for writing. Right out to sea I can see a couple of ships which look like destroyers although I can only see smoke as from one funnel.

I am to go oout to Packerton & sleep with Hayes in the marquee. That will be splendid work as we shall have a chance of knowing and talking to the men. The only thing is that I should have loved to have “Jumbo” with us too.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 13 September 1914 (D/EX801/12)

‘Transported into a Zulu village’: Sydney Spencer describes an army camp

Sydney and his friend “Jumbo” Oliphant were disappointed by the lack of a religious atmosphere at their YMCA camp, but he felt he was doing good work. He paints a colourful picture of the army camp he was serving in his diary:

Saturday September 12th

Saturday night after the Packerton work I went to the Co-operative Hall & banged the piano for two mortal hours for the men collected there. There were about 300 of them & the noise when they were all shouting was deafening in the extreme. I do not feel – neither does Jumbo – that the atmosphere which is allowed & tolerated is by any means what we expected or desired. When an institution sets out to be definitely Christian, & then seems to drop the matter of religion entirely into the background, – well – then one cannot but be disappointed & disgusted too. We don’t, when we get home at night, even have prayers or grace at meals or any other than vapid & even superficial conversation. Perhaps Jumbo & I are too anxious to see the deeper side of men’s religious convictions come uppermost. At any rate the work is jolly good work & it is a great pleasure to do this for the men, for the pleasant manners & simple jokes do one good.

Yesterday I went across to the trenches to see about our new marquee just being put up for us. The whole place, trenches & camp & all is surrounded by barbed wire fences. An ordinary fence of wood – posts about four feet apart & barbed twice are set-up & from each post wires are stretched, on either side to a distance of about 5 feet & then barbed wires are set along these at intervals, so that to the one trying to get through the obstruction there are some twelve or more stretches of barbed wire to obstruct him. Trenches are dug some feet deep. They appeared to be a good five* feet deep or more & about three feet wide. But why they should be so deep I do not see, since the soldiers have to be on a level so that though their bodies are hidden, yet their arms should be on a level with the surface of the ground so that they can level & use their muskets. Of course these trenches are protected in front by stacks of [sic] karkai coloured sandbags through which there must be holes so that they can fire through them. The insides of the trenches are lined with fine chicken gauge wire doubtless to keep the earth from falling and crumbling from the sides. There seem to be networks of these trenches all over the place. I was thunderstruck when I got into the camp itself. I expected to see a huge vista of white tents like flocks of geese on the landscape & suddenly I seemed transported into a Zulu village. The whole ground was covered with straw & hay & rushes. Huts were built all over the place. Simply posts driven into the ground, with cross pieces on the top. Sacking formed the basement of the covering in some places, & then straw, hay & even unthreshed barley & rushes are employed & are tied in bunches all around these erections, forming huts which are altogether the native Zulu huts. Some are quite open in front; & the ground is strewn with straw & hay, others are three parts enclosed, & even have a sacking doorway which completely encloses them. Those long sashes of reeds, which grow up the strand at home in Cookham are employed quite a lot as there are quantities of them in the freshwater ponds & ditches round here. Out of one of these huts – a large completely enclosed one – stumbled a boy of about 19, he had thick black hair & a turn-up nose, & small eyes. He was late for his drill, & he stumbled along, rubbing his eyes & screwing up his eyes in the daylight & looking distinctly not happy. That same young man visits our canteen pretty frequently & the cakes & pork pies he consumes are uncountable.
* correct depth is 6ft 11 ins. (note added 13/10/14)

(Diary of Sydney Spencer, 12 September 1914, D/EX801/12)