A necessary bit of war work

There was a call for men to join the Police Reservists and help maintain law and order at home.


Owing to removals and army munition work our numbers are becoming very much reduced, and we would earnestly ask any men in the parish of Earley, whether living in the Borough [of Reading] or not, who are not already acting as Specials or Reservists to come and give us a hand in this necessary bit of war work. After all, to patrol for 3 hours once a month from 9-12 pm is not a very great thing to ask, and there must be many men who could if they would come forward and thus ease the strain on those who have been quietly and steadily doing this work for over 3 years.

The Rev. H Wardley King, 1, Green Road, who is undertaking the duties of Sub-Divisional Officer pro tem, will be very grateful to receive names of any willing to help.


The following additional names have been added to our prayer list:

Cecil Webb, Herbert Plumer, Walter Smithers, Ernest Thompson, John Edwards, Eric Burchell.

In addition to those already mentioned, we especially commend the following to your prayers:

SICK OR WOUNDED: Duncan Simson, Levi Rackley, Charles Barton, George Bungay, Samuel Dee, George Embery, Ernest Embery, Benjamin Rickards, Albert Gray, Herbert Harper, Herbert Oliver, Clifford Holliday, Thomas Ilott, Arthur O’Dell, Owen Lewington, John Phillips.

KILLED: Charles Bowden, William Murphy, William Wynn, John Hitchcock, Albert Hosler.

MISSING: Arthur Langmead.

Earley St Peter parish magazine, October 1917 (D/P191/28A/24)

“There are some very tough and rough customers among us”

Percy Spencer thought his old boss might be able to pull a few strings for him. Meanwhile, he was enjoying training with other NCOs selected for promotion.

July 22, 1917
My dear WF

Captain Holliday has just written to tell me he has got a job at Whitehall – a rather private & special job apparently, and he asked me if he could do anything for me. I’ve asked him to try & get me sent to Trinity. I don’t think it is desirable to bother Col Ready any further, do you?

I’m having quite a good time here: the place is very healthy and well organised.

If it’s a question of breeding and education, I shall be all right as there are some very tough and rough customers among us, and very few of them would pull muster in the drawing room.

My room mates are respectively a collier boy, a student for the Baptist Ministry, an accountant, a jeweller, a regular soldier. The last is a fine fellow. Very badly educated and terribly worried by his inclination to swear. Nevertheless he’s a man’s man.

There’s a lot of ragging here. You see we are all pretty senior in rank and a Sergeant Instructor on parade has to stand an awful lot of quiet impudence. However we shall no doubt settle down when we get to our Cadet units.

With my love to you both

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/50-52)

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)

‘The old buffers are those good “christian” people unable to realise there is a war on or to get a move on’

Percy Spencer enjoyed his brief visit home on leave at Christmas, staying with one of his brothers in London and visiting his workplace.

Decr 29, 1916
Dear WF

These few lines are just to let you know that I have “arrived back safely in the trenches” after a very uncomfortable and tiresome journey. However, c’est la guerre.

I did not go down to Cookham again.

After walking over to Victoria and arriving nearly an hour late on Xmas Eve, I was sent back with a day’s extension, this day I spent very quietly in the armchair at my digs and at Mrs Hunt’s flat. Others more virtuous were held up at port of embarkation and [sic] this side and had a worse – much worse time than I.

I was very happy at 37 Dumbarton Rd. [Brother] Horace’s wife is all that is simple and charming; moreover she plays and sings very delightfully – she has temperament. I do hope you’ll soon have the luck to meet her.

Captain Holliday did not get leave and I didn’t see him. But I saw all the directors at N&G as a Board meeting was in progress when I arrived, which they suspended to have a chat with me. They were all very charming to me. Benny Greenwood who you may remember at Howard’s occasionally is now a Major in the RFC. I suppose he would now be about 23 or 4.

I had lunch with Mr Devlin and all the old foggies [sic] of the firm. Poor Mr Devlin – I’m sorry for him as the old buffers he has remaining with him are those good “christian” people unable to realise there is a war on or to get a move on: he told me with despair that they jogged along at the same old rate, or slower, and expected all the ancient pre-war facilities and privileges. Roll on the day when I can get back and re-introduce some ginger.

Garwood is just slicing the OXO and asks me to thank you for it. Earlier this evening he ventured the opinion that OXO was better than rum – it wasn’t very heartily received. He asks me add a PS that more sausages when next you are sending me anything would be very welcome.

With love to you both
Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/5/43-44)

“Things are pretty unbearable here, now”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence, asking for cigarettes and a treatment for lice. He was clearly greatly appreciated by his commanding officer for his remarkable efficiency, but was thinking of getting a commission.

Dear WF

Don’t worry about sending me anything at all except Fryers – that I can’t get here. By the way, do you get this “out of bond”? If ordered from a tobacconist to be sent out to me regularly, it would of course be much cheaper and save you some trouble.

The difficulties at home are of course unknown to us and I quite understand that you have a good deal of unnecessary worry over me, as you don’t know how well we are provided for or can provide for ourselves.

Thank you very much for the gloves and the helmet – they’ll be most useful, but don’t send any sweaters or comforters or spiritive, etc, as I have plenty of clothing and woollen things – our needs get simpler as we go on.

The dear old ladies of St Albans wrote and congratulated me on my medal.


Captain Holliday is to have 6 months home service. I don’t quite know what I shall do, but if he doesn’t get into something where he can get me with him I think I shall try for a cadet school course with a view to taking a commission. Things are pretty unbearable here, now.

“Not knowing of a better ‘ole I haven’t gone to it”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence. He was clearly fed up, but resigned.

Dear WF

Not knowing of a better ‘ole I haven’t gone to it.

Same old address.

It never occurred to me that to a civilian mind a stationary transfer would seem an impossibility. Still, there it is.

After all this time, we clerks to Staffs stand on the same basis, all belonging to the Clerks Section of the ASC, but not moving on from our appointments.

Capt. Holliday went away 6 weeks ago – sick. He’s at the White Hart Hotel, Lewes, for the present, where I have written him. Exactly what will happen to him & to me in the future I don’t know, but I don’t expect him back here.

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/31)

“The horizon of men’s thoughts has been suddenly and immensely expanded”

The vicar of Earley St Peter faced the enormity of the challenge of the National Mission.


It is doubtful whether the Church of England has ever been called to a task so great as that to which we are now summoned by the Archbishops. There have been great movements within the Church; but this is a movement of the whole Church, a call to discharge that mission to the nation, as a nation, with which it is entrusted. The times require such an effort; the horizon of men’s thoughts has been suddenly and immensely expanded; we are conscious, as most of us were not two years ago, of our membership in the nation, and of the responsibility of our nation in the world.

Our sons and brothers at the Front are serving their nation and helping it to meet its responsibility, at the risk of their lives; many of them in doing so are finding a new realisation of God. We at home must seek from God the power to rise to new heights so that we may be worthy of their sacrifice and provide for them on their return a home that will sustain their spirit of devotion to duty and service to God.

But to this end we must first take stock of ourselves. Very much has come to light which shows the need for amendment and renewal of life. It is sad to find how little the manhood of the nation, as represented by the men in training camps and the like, is really touched by the church. We have not brought home the message with which we are entrusted as it needs to be brought home. We must seek in prayer and meditation and conference to find the cause of our ineffectiveness where it exists, so that we may repent of it and remove it where it lies in ourselves as individuals or as members of the Church in our neighbourhood.

If we will do that, there is before us a great hope – the hope of an England leavened and guided in regard to its whole life, domestic, social, industrial, political, international, by a Church whose members have sought the will of God in humility and prayer….


The following additional names have been added to our prayer list:
James Ilott, Albert Barton, William Pocock, Edward Whitworth, Alfred Harris, Albert Higgs, Wilfred Capel, George Bungay, Frank Bedford, Herbert Canning, Donald Hendy, Alfred Harwood, Albert Brown, Charles Webb.

In addition to those already mentioned, we especially commend the following to your prayers:

Sick and Wounded: Maurice Holliday, Alfred Smith, Albert Hiscock, Albert Saunders.
Prisoner of War: Albert Harwood.

Earley St Peter parish magazine, June 1916 (D/P191/28A/23/6)

Much needed gifts for the Belgians via Harrods

People from Cranbourne and Chavey Down were generous in their gifts for our Belgian allies.

Chavey Down

The working party at Chavey Down have forwarded a nice parcel of very well made children’s clothes to the Belgian Refugees at Folkestone, where they are very much needed.


The HARVEST THANKSGIVING SERVICES were held on October 5th. Only the East end and the Font were decorated with flowers. The real decorations of the Church were gifts from the congregation for the distressed in Belgium. A really remarkable response was made to the appeal for these gifts. Nine cases (kindly given by Mr. Laird) were delivered to Messrs. Harrods for shipment to Belgium. The driver of the van said “I am going back to London with almost as much as I started with.”

* * *

The following are the names of those from this Parish who are serving in His Majesty’s Forces:

Creasy G., Midshipman H. M. S. Conqueror.
Creasy, R., 2nd Lieut. R. F. A.
Haig, J., Major, Westminster Dragoons.
Needham, E. J., Lieut, Northamptonshire Regiment.
Needham, R. P., 2nd Lieut, Northamptonshire Regiment.
Phillips, E. H., D. S. O, Major R. F. A.
Phillips, R. N., Captain, Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
Phillips, G. F., Captain, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
Andrews, James, Hampshire Regiment.
Barratt, Archibald Richard, National Reserve.
Beasley, T.
Brant, Ernest Harold.
Bish, Walter George, Army Service Corps.
Boyde, Albert Ernest, Army Service Corps.
Boyde, Edward Joseph, Royal Navy.
Clarke, Wilfred Lawson, Royal Berks Regiment.
Cox, Amariah, Royal Berks Regiment.
Curtis, Eric, Seaforth Highlanders.
George, William, Royal Artillery.
Goodchild, Charles.
Greenough, Edward, Royal Engineers.
Herridge, John, Royal Engineers.
Herridge, William, Royal Engineers.
Harwood, Frederick, 12th Lancers.
Higgs, Herbert, Army Service Corps.
Holliday, Walter George, Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
Harriss, Theodore William, Royal Berks Regiment.
Harriss, Frederick, Royal Engineers.
Hawthorn, George Albert, Royal Naval Flying Corps.
Hillyer, Tom, Canadian Contingent.
Mapp, Ernest, Royal Berks Regiment.
Pither, J. A., Royal Berks Regiment.
Pither, J., Enniskillen Dragoons.
Sarney, Albert Edward, Royal Navy.
Sarney, Francis, Grenadier Guards.
Searle, George, 2nd Life Guards.
Walls, Charles John, Royal Berks Regiment.
Walls, Leslie, Royal Berks Regiment.
Williams, R. F. Maxwell, Royal Naval Brigade.
Ward, Theodore Alfred, Royal Berks Regiment.
Weston, George.

* * *

C. E. M. S.
The annual business meeting was held on October 14th. After the Election of Officers and other business them embers and a few friends were shown some lantern slides illustrating the war in Belgium.

Chavey Down and Cranbourne sections of Winkfield District Magazine, November 1914 (D/P151/28A/6/11)

A husband and wife separated by the war

Will Spencer, formerly Professor of Music at Cologne [Koln], Germany, was temporarily residing in Cookham with his elderly parents, but unhappily separated from his German wife Johanna who had stayed behind. He wrote to his younger brother Sydney reporting what he knew about how poor Johanna was getting on:


Nov. 5th, 1914

Dear Syd,

We have been getting very cheerful letters from Percy of late. I had one from him this morning, in answer to one I wrote him last Sunday. Of course you know he & his “lot” (including Capt. Ralph Holliday) are at present at Braintree, in Essex. His full address is –
Rose Cottage,
Bocking Place,
– but in the letter which I have just received from him he says that he imagines that they will not be staying there much longer.

On the Wednesday (Oct 28th) I received a letter from Johanna’s brother in New York (Robert) enclosing a letter which his wife had received from Johanna, from which I saw that she was worrying a good deal because she did not know what I thought about the war, nor whether I was influenced by what the English papers were saying about the Germans. I have since had a nice letter from Johanna that has cheered me up again, but before that I was feeling very depressed, not only because of Johanna’s misgiving that we might disagree when we met again, but also because I did not know whether she had received the letter which I had written to her on Oct 15th & 16th. For I had written those letters in English (at her suggestion) instead of writing in German, as I had done up till then, & I had a misgiving that Johanna might have been mistaken in thinking that it was better for me to write in English, & they might not reach her. But the letter which I received from her yesterday has reassured me on that point. She received them both.

Letter from Will Spencer to his brother Sydney (D/EZ177/3/1/3)

Miserable digs – but song and dance by the keenest soldier enlivens life

Percy tells his sister some of the lighter side of army life.

St Albans
Oct. 22.14

My dear Florrie

… Last night I learned that Dean Bleaken does not arrive until the 28th. By then I should have commenced my training, and have more regular hours than at present, which will enable me I hope to use Mr Image’s introduction. It will be rather funny if I meet our Brigade Major there. His name is Capt. Shenton of the Somerset Light Infantry. A fine fellow with a most musical voice. He is apparently a great friend of Canon Glossop here, so it is quite possible that I may therefore meet my Brigade Major outside the office later on.

I expect to change my billet on Saturday (of this I will give you prompt notice) as the condition of affairs where I am is too miserable and hopeless for words, so do not write to me at the above address after you receive this until I write again.

Every other night I am sleeping at the Brigade office, so that, in the event of a night alarm there will be an intelligent fellow here to get the Brigade together!!

There are all sorts of rumours as to our next move, but I really don’t think anyone knows what is going to happen to us. Probably it will depend upon how the war goes, and if it goes favourably, I don’t suppose we shall see foreign soil this side of Christmas.

I dare say you know, the men of this Brigade belong to the lower classes of South London. There is a sprinkling of swells and decent fellows, but mainly they are rough – very rough.

One fellow, “Dave” is a hefty baker’s lad for whom I already have a great fondness. As Capt. Holliday says, no matter what you ask him to do, he’ll have a dart for it – he’s a kind of Horace, only much more boyish. If he hasn’t anything to do, he’ll find a job. Today I found him voluntarily scrubbing the doors and paint generally, just to pass the time away, pausing now and then to execute a vigorous sand dance to the music hall ditty he was singing in the real Bermondsey style.

Now I am just off to try and fix up my new diggings, so I’ll say good night.

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer to his siter Florence (D/EZ177/7/3/13-14)

Ridiculously soft conditions – but rumours are rife

Percy continued to worry about the permanence of his transfer. He wrote to his sister to tell her about his situation, and thank her for what was to be the first of many articles of warm clothing.

Hart Road
St Albans
Oct. 6.14

Dear Florrie

How rapidly my future changes. I forget whether I have told you that my transfer will not be confirmed, and I may therefore have to return to Kitchener’s Own. But Capt. Holliday is most anxious to retain me, and if I cannot get a discharge either free or by payment (and I do not think I shall) the Brigadier General is going to apply for me to be attached to Headquarters Staff here.

There are all kinds of rumours rife as to our destination and the date of our departure, but altho’ I have been given “definite information” on the point, I really believe no one here knows anything reliable on the point.

Whenever, and wherever, I go, you may rely upon it, I shall try and give you good notice.

It is good of you to knit me a muffler, and very kind of Mrs Fuller too to make me one. Just at present these welcome comforts when I really go on active service, or if I have to return to camp, make me smile. The conditions here, so far as I am concerned, are ridiculously soft. But, as I say, I should be glad enough to have them when later on the conditions will be more soldierly.

Lord Roberts is coming this afternoon to have a look at the troops at work. He is coming to my office so I shall have a good view of the old fellow.

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer of Cookham to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/3/10-11)

Too soft a time in St Albans

Percy Spencer reports the latest on his situation to John Maxwell Image, a Cambridge don who was a close friend of the family.

Hart Road
St Albans
Oct. 5, 1914

Dear Mr Image

Thank you so much for your letter.

I am having a very soft time here at present – too soft altogether, but if I am allowed to remain, I have been promised that ample opportunity will be given to me to do my training and musketry.
Unfortunately the GOC Salisbury District has refused to confirm my transfer, and I am supposed to return to Bristol.

Captain Holliday is most anxious to retain me; in fact he has made such representations to me that I feel bound to stay with him if it is at all possible.

All day long we have been deep in the “Army Act”, “Manual of Military Law”, “Royal Warrants” etc, until I am beginning to think in sections and sub-sections.

The result of our researches is not at all promising, but I am tonight making an application for a discharge for the purpose of re-enlistment. It is very doubtful indeed that I shall get a discharge either by “indulgence” or by payment, and failing these, it is intended to apply for my attachment to the 22nd C of London Battalion, 6th London Infantry Brigade. Failing all these expedients, I shall have to return to Bristol. But in that case, I think I shall be able to transfer to the Bristol Battalion of my regiment, which is composed of Bristol professional and business men – anyway I shall try.

The impression here is that the Territorials will see more service than Kitchener’s Vagabonds, and certainly they should do, as they are practically equipped, and their training is well advanced. But I feel there is an afternoon feeling about the men here which was absent from my mob.

Of course if the City Battalions or the Public School Corps had been known to me, or had commenced recruiting at the time I joined the army, I should have been enlisted in their ranks. But we were informed that a good class of man was enlisting in Kitchener’s Own – I hope the recruiters will prove correct.

Thank you for the introduction to the Dean of St Albans. I hope to use it, but now my freedom may be terminated by a Corporal and file from Bristol, I suppose.

I’m very much in love with St Albans already. There seems to be all sorts of nooks and corners I should love to explore, so I hope to stay. But with the Cathedral I am rather disappointed. I like the exterior from the west end immensely, but the interior I found rather commonplace.

Yours affectionately
Percy Spencer

Letter from Percy Spencer to John Maxwell Image (D/EZ177/7/10/7-8)

‘As slow as carthorses’: Percy Spencer tries to move on

Percy Spencer continued to struggle getting his transfer organised. On 19 September he wrote again to Captain Holliday, his peacetime boss, suggesting a medical discharge might be fudged:

Pte Spencer
The Gloucester Regiment
Horfield Camp
Sep. 19.14

Dear Sir

As wired to you today, I can’t get the adjutant to transfer or discharge. He is not unwilling, but acting, as it seems to me, on the advice of the head clerk in the Orderly Room, he cannot see his way to do anything.

I suggested that a medical exam might discover that I had a weak heart (which I’m supposed to have), or that a stiff joint on my big toe might get me a discharge, but this I understand would prevent my re-enlisting.

The only course he could suggest was that you should apply to the War Office through your CO for my transfer. This I gathered might involve the payment of a few pounds, but I should of course be prepared to repay this to you.

As I am being shoved about from pillar to post pending the settlement of this matter, and if I do not soon get away to Abbey Wood (which would be convenient) I shall be booked for this place or Tidworth (both of which units I hope to avoid), could you let me know by Monday (midday) whether you are doing anything further in the matter. Otherwise I propose to apply for my pass to Abbey Wood to rejoin my company. Drilling with Cheltenham farm hands is getting on my nerves – they’re as slow as carthorses, though very useful lads to have around in a charge, if once they get going, I should think.

I daresay, too, if I get attached to a permanent training station, I shall get through my course in time to see some service.

But I hope to hear on Monday that you have been able to take further steps in the matter of my transfer.

In any case, whether you are able to do this or not, I am very glad you wanted me to serve under you, and grateful for all the trouble you have taken.

Yours faithfully
Percy J Spencer
To – Staff Captain Holliday

Letter from Percy Spencer to Captain Holliday, D/EZ177/7/12/5

A most uncomfortable time – but the men are transformed

Percy Spencer was keen to arrange his transfer. He spoke frankly about army life and the shocking conditions for new recruits in a letter to his father in Cookham. He had also met some of the survivors of the retreat from Mons.

Private Spencer
No: 11814
The Gloucester Regiment
Horfield Camp
Sep. 17.14

Dear Father

But for the fact that I shall probably get my transfer, I should today have been off with my company to Woolwich. Under the circumstances, I shall probably be here another four days, now.

We were a merry party, wet through or dry, penniless or flush, we saw the fun in everything, and when there was no fun, one of us made it.

My chums of a week have gone and you wouldn’t believe how lonely I felt looking round our empty tent. If I don’t get my transfer, I am after them; they may not be good enough for a dinner party but the sort of men I should like to fight with.

We lost a lot of men at Mons, and some of the wounded are here, fine earnest looking fellows, all anxious to get back again. All the men here who have seen service, have a wonderfully straight, stern look.

I have been very chatty with the officers this last day or two about my transfer. They are a fine body of men, sympathetic and anxious to relieve our conditions if possible. Practically active service conditions, to quote the press, are very trying to untrained men, and it would sicken your heart to see the fellows going down all over the ground at first parade. But I am told that when a few days ago. Men were sleeping on the grass without cover (luckily I have at least escaped that), the Colonel would walk round after midnight, and see that every man at least had a blanket.

Yesterday I saw Major Trench about my transfer. He thought I should get it, and told me to see the CO this morning. I made my first salute, turned right about and went flying over some tent rope. Today, amongst 500 men in the YMCA tent, he remembered my face, and stopped to ask me how I had fared, and expressed the hope that I should get my transfer. A wonderful man, with eyes like electric drills but so kind. He made a rattling good speech to us the other day – nothing silly, just earnest and sincere. None of the claptrap we had served up to us in London.

Your loving son

On the same day Percy wrote to his peacetime boss, Captain Holliday, to try to move things along, with a brief comment on life in the camp. (more…)

“If there is not an enquiry into the management of Kitchener’s Army after the war, I shall be surprised”

Percy Spencer continues to fulminate against the conditions in his army camp:

No. 4 Company
The Gloucesters
Horfield Camp
Sep. 16.14

Dear Mr Image

Thank you so much for your letter and enclosure – the uncertainty of our movements makes the latter very welcome indeed.

I hope you don’t imagine I am a grumbler. As you say, the discipline is splendid for us all – the improvement in the lowest types is obvious to anyone, but unnecessary hardships are an absurdity.
We are doing 7 parades a day, and untrained men must be treated well to stand this.

If there is not an enquiry into the management of Kitchener’s Army after the war, I shall be surprised.
All of us would rather be taking our chances on active service conditions than staying here under conditions that are almost as severe. The tents leak like sieves, most of our fellows are doing their drills in wet and leaky boots, and at times the rations have been short. If you saw men going down and being carried off on 1st parade, you would feel as strongly about it as myself.

Our fifteen are a jolly set; we all make the best of our conditions and keep smiling. As a matter of fact, we were complimented yesterday by an officer on parade – he said we were the smartest square.

Personally I am feeling splendid. Time flies so, I do not remember if I told you that yesterday we had to take all the obstacles on the parade ground, including a fence, a 6’ 0” wide ditch, and a 7’ 0” high wall – nothing stopped us.

Today we have been down to Bristol for a much needed bath – what a treat after having your clothes on for a week.

I think we marched well – all of us singing choruses, and gaining confidence in our invincibility at every step.

It is wonderful how reliant an organised force feels. In another month I can see our fellows insisting upon going to the front, and I can quite understand now, the Irish Guards (I think it was) rioting because they couldn’t go to the front.

I have just heard again from Capt. Holliday that he will be glad to have me, and that with him I should stand a better chance of promotion.

As a matter of fact I am beginning to wish I was going to stay with the Gloucesters, but now I have seen the Adjutant, and I am given to understand the transfer could and should be made. I shall, if possible, get a transfer.

[The letter is not signed, and the second page may be missing.]

Letter from Percy Spencer to John Maxwell Image (D/EZ177/7/10/5)