A Club-room fully furnished as for the RAF

A boys’ club in Ascot got a peace dividend in the form of new premises.

The CLB Company has gained for itself keen and generous friends in Miss Baird and Major Hay. It has had opened for its use the RAF Club-room, near the station, where a Club will be run… Not only does the Company step into a Club, but a Club-room fully furnished as for the RAF. And to crown it all, Mr Marment has placed in Major Hay’s hands a cheque for £21 as a legacy from the RAF funds.

South Ascot Parochial magazine, April 1919 (D/P186/28A/19)

People in London rather wild

It was understandable after four and a half years of war that some of those celebrating its end behaved badly.

19 November 1918

People in London rather wild. Burnt some of the German guns in bonfire.

Stayed in bed for Dr Moore. Said I could get up. Take it easy. Not go out yet.

Lt Knapman & Hay came about 11. on leave from France. Going to Cologne – army of occupation. They on river in canoe…

Henry to London. Saw guns in St James’ Park.

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

Nothing but wire between us and the enemy

Percy Spencer described the part of France he was based in to his sister Florence – and the musical backdrop of nightingales and mouth organs (harmonicas), not far from the hellish mud of the trenches.

Apl 25, 1916
My darling sister

[Censored, probably by Florence]

It’s the most lovely day that ever was. I’ve strolled out of our chateau straight up into a scrubby copse at the top of a very steep hill and here I am lying on quaker oats, eggs and bacon, writing to you and listening to a nightingale. He’s not quite in full song but for wartime he’s very good indeed and I’m grateful.

Already the sun was getting too hot so I have shifted into the breeze and an even wider view. This is a lovely corner of France. Everything is beautiful and only man is vile – that’s because the women left the corn during a very “unhealthy” period. But that’s not quite true for the lady owner has motored up from the south for a couple of days to settle a few business matters and she’s rather nice. Garwood says she’s “a decent bit of stuff” so taking the acme of perfection in womanhood as being “a posh bit” (Major Trevor’s wife reached that standard), you’ll be able to arrive at this lady’s position.

There’s a mouth organ playing in the valley beneath me, and being played remarkably well – “despise not the mouth organ”. As I think I have already told you, Ian Hay has my hearty endorsement to that remark. Many months ago I remember being largely amused at one of our boys’ letters home – “One thing I’ve been longing to ask you for, but I know how things are at home, and don’t like to bother you, but now Sis has got a job could you send me a mouth organ, a 1/- linnet is the best, but I expect they’re more expensive now owing to the war”. But after April 1915 when one mouth organ played a dozen or so of our weary fellows in from their 3 days cellar and shell experience, I made up my mind that the mouth organ was a noble instrument.

I told you, I think, I went round the line the other day. To complete my experience I went round the remaining portion by night with the General, that being the only time it can be approached with any degree of security.

It was an eerie experience and a fearfully wet one, the ground being as torn and riven with shell fire that it seems to slide away under your feet, and in the trenches, mud and water – water up to your thigh if you were unlucky, and mud that wrestled with you at each step for possession of your gum boots.

We went right out into the open (it’s a curious line about here) and with nothing between us and the Huns 100 yards away but a couple of frail curtains of wire – ours and theirs. Here the officers stood for a little while discussing points. I stood anxiously watching the enemy lights soaring into the sky towards us like evil eyes searching for victims to disclose to the German rifles, and behind me crouched an orderly also frightened to death at his exposed position murmured thro’ his chattering teeth, “C- this is all right”.

Well, we landed home safe and sound at 2.30 a.m. By 3.30 a.m. I’d scraped half of France off my clothes and turned in for an hour; turned in again then for another 2 hours when I got up for good, scraped the other half of France off my togs and “carried on”.
About my commission. There was a strong suggestion that being a sergeant I should probably only get six weeks training out here and then be chucked into some line regiment. That’s not good enough and unless I can see my way to getting a reasonable period of training that would enable me to take command of a platoon with confidence and also give me an opportunity of showing my administrative abilities, I’m not going to proceed any further.

Well. Time’s up.

On the right there’s a dear old chateau, dating back to William I’s time, with many grey limestone towers. To the left stretch the everlasting hills clothed with the wooded promise of summer. Overhead a couple of aeroplanes are humming and Hunning and right at my feet in the hollow stands “my chateau” and there I go – to work.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/8-14)

“If only there was a man at the Head with more heart, more imagination, & less astute worldly wiseman view of the Church and its interests!

Sybil Campbell wrote to her sister in law Lady Mary Glyn with exciting news of a shipwreck in the Inner Hebrides.

Ap. 10/16
Tiree

My dear M.

Tomorrow is mail day, & my daily Light is full of memorial dates. I am here for the Red Cross, & odds & ends. Rather a sad island, hating “the Tribunal”, & the compulsion. A really sad lot get off on physical defects, but of 19 attested, 13 had varicose veins, & other things speaking of inbreeding. But, the spirit is not of submission to the “will of God”.

We have had a shipwrecked crew on the island. The Admanton, 4000 ton coal for fleet from Cardiff, sent down by the fire of a submarine between Barra & Sherryvore, about 10 miles off us. Heavy firing was heard by many & the coast watchers were reporting, then at 2 a large ship’s boat of very exhausted men made for “Sahara”, the one port on the north side, & that a mere creek.

About 7, seeing nothing, they were fired at, the shot passing over the bridge, then a torpedo passed under the boat, but as she had discharged the cargo she was light & it passed under the bow. One German, knowing her unarmed, proceeded to finish her with shell. The men tumbled to their boats, the Germans left these alive, “behaving well as they could have shelled us under in no time”. It was a rough wild morning & a very frozen crew of 9 with the captain landed after battling from 7 a.m. to 2. The captain got a change & some tea from the township, & then drove over to Island House to report to the Admiralty & owners. They came from Cardiff, a little Welshman.

I happened to be at Island House as he drove up. It was curious to see & hear all 1st hand. They say that 7 have been destroyed lately on this line to the main fleet. MacD[onald?] a patrol captain in Oban, & to the Rear Admiral at Cromarty. The 2nd boat separated. She was seen further east & the captain thought she would get into Coll.

On Sunday a.m. the patrol boats came racing in here. The Oban one took off the crew, & were able to report the 2nd boat had been picked up off the kairns of Coll & taken to Tobermory. Several injured men in her, then a 2nd patrol boat is now stationed here, & cruises round. She has Marines on board,& they landed yesterday & were at various houses asking for a drink of milk, & getting it, & tho’ they offered money none would take it. I daresay the patrols are a little annoyed for an islander saw & reported the conning tower of a submarine between us & the Dutchman, & tho’ a patrol came, I fancy they were all a little incredulous.

We think this beat has not been enough patrolled, the patrols lying thick in & around Stornoway. This boat is to make Tiree its headquarters for a month. It is rough & bitter work for all concerned.
(more…)

A ghastly pantomime

John Maxwell Image wrote to his friend W F Smith with news of a visit from a distinguished former pupil; reactions to a threatened air raid; and a book he had read by ‘Ian Hay’ (the pseudonym of a serving officer).

29 Barton Road, [Cambridge]
3 April ‘16
My most dear old man

That was a tumultuous week just passed. Tuesday’s blizzard came on in an undreamed of fury. We were delightedly entertaining an old pupil – now CE and General Commanding a Brigade of Cavalry, who passing thro’ C[ambridge] on the day previous, had learnt my marriage, and came off at once with his congratulations and the remembrances he was charged with by his brother – another pupil and now Colonel of an Infantry Battalion and DSO. It was a happy meeting. Florence apologised for having to put his teacup in a writing table in our tiny drawing room, because we had not yet set up one of those cunning nests of teatables. Next day arrived a beauty from him, begging we would accept it as a belated wedding present. A day later, and he was ordered away again: but the flying call was such a delicious whiff out of the early past.

I never saw such blinding snow before, and oh the prostrate treeboles next day – like spillikins on the grass. I counted 50 khakis labouring on their trunks in our paddocks, and at least as many in St John’s…

On Friday evening I was finishing a letter when suddenly the electric light went down, then rose, then sank – three times altogether, and left us with the faintest glimmer, just shewing enough that someone else was in the room. The official C. warning of Zepps. We packed the servants in snug armchairs by the kitchen fire: and ourselves went out into Barton Rd, where were sundry residents, chattering under the stars, – and a Trinity friend of mine in khaki, stopping all cyclists and compelling them to put out their lights. The sharp military “Halt” in the dark made at least one fellow tumble off his bike in terror! People said they heard bombs. I heard nothing, not even the drone of a Zeppelin – though one or more did pass over C – but innocuous. The Berlin news claims, I see, C among its victims.

Yesterday, at 11 pm, I was pulling off my trousers for bed, when down once more went the ghastly pantomime of the lowered lights and I had to rouse those integuments and go forth to see what was to be seen. On both nights the lights were kept down till 4 am. This morning the sudden raised flash woke me up from the sweetest slumber.

I hear from our carpenter that much damage has been done at Woolwich, where he has a couple of sons. Not a hint of this is suffered to appear in the Press….

“In Germany the devil’s forge at Essen was roaring night and day: in Great Britain Trades Union bosses were carefully adjusting the respective claims of patriotism and personal dignity before taking their coats off.

Out here we are reasonable men, and we realise that it requires some time to devise a system for supplying munitions which shall hurt the feelings of no pacifist, which shall interfere with no man’s holiday or glass of beer, which shall insult no honest toiler by compelling him to work side by side with those who are not of his industrial tabernacle, and which shall imperil no statesman’s seat in parliament.”

Read “The First Hundred Thousand” by Ian Hay (of Joh.[St John’s College]. I Hay (I forget his patronymic) is at the Front and describes the training and subsequent war experiences of a Kitchener’s Battalion so graphically that I have never seen it better done.

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

A masque for Serbian relief

An enterprising drama teacher put on a performance in aid of our suffering Serbian allies. To get an idea of the evening, here is the script of The Masque of the Two Strangers.

THE TOWN HALL, READING

MISS MARY HAY, A.L.A.M. ELOCUTION, ASSISTED BY HER PUPILS, Has much pleasure in announcing Two Dramatic Recitals of the “Masque of the Two Strangers” (by kind permission of Lady Alix Egerton), And Scenes found on incidents in Dante’s “Vita Nuova”, On Wednesday, October 20th, 1915 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., IN AID OF THE SERBIAN RELIEF FUND,
And under the distinguished patronage of

The Lord-Lieutenant of Berkshire and Mrs Benyon,
His Worship the Mayor of Reading
His Excellency Monsieur Creddo Miyatovich (Serbian Minister)
Mr. Henry Ainley
Lady Armstrong
The Rev. and Mrs Beloe
Mr. and Mrs. F. R. Benson
Mr. Acton Bond
The Principal of University College, Reading and Mrs. Childs
Mr. John L. Child
The Ven. Archdeacon of Berkshire and Mrs. Ducat
Mr. and Mrs. C. I. Evans
Mrs. Downing Fullerton
Countess Gurowska
Viscountess Hambleden
Miss Holmes
Miss Knighton
The Misses Lacy
Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Mackenzie
Lady Makins
Mrs. W. A. Mount
Mrs. Murdoch
Miss Musson
Mrs. G. W. Palmer
Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Palmer
Miss Prebble
Mr. and Mrs. Rannie
Lord and Lady Reading
Mr. F. G. T. Rowecroft
The Rev. Gore Skipwith and Mrs. Skipwith
Mr. W. Stewart
Mrs. Tyser
Lady Wantage
Mrs. Waring
Miss White
Mrs. Leslie Wilson.

Doors open at 2.30 and 7.30 P.M.

Tickets: Afternoon Sofa Stalls, 4- Reserved Seats, 3/- Admission 2/-
Evening Sofa Stalls, 3/- Reserved Seats, 2/- Admission 1/-
Special Terms to Schools.

Box Office : – Attwells, Binfield & Co., 162 & 163 Friar Street, Reading. Telephone No. 11 .

Programme for recitals at Town Hall in Aid of Serbian Relief Fund, 1915 (D/EX1734/1)

Daring raid of our aviators

The air raid on Lake Constance is better known as the Friedrichshafen raid, and it was the first pre-emptive air strike on an enemy airbase of the war. more on the raid

23 November 1914

Mrs Hay & Belgian archaeologist M. Herbos to lunch. Flattering mention Oxford Huzzars [sic] in Times. Tremendous battle going on by Vistula & Warta near Lodz.

Daring raid of our aviators to Lake Constance – to try blow up Zeppelin shed. Read of one man wounded. No further news in Western Front.

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