“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)

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A new star

Always interested in the natural world, Sydney Spencer was excited by news of a newly discovered nova.

Sydney Spencer
Saturday 15 June 1918

I was orderly officer today & got up at 5.45, & saw the men’s breakfasts. Came back to mess, washed & dressed. After breakfast I wrote to some Scotch firm about shortbread. Looked round billets, then gathered up officers’ advance pay books & orders for pay for Battalion. Dillon let me have his horse ‘Charlie Chaplin’ & I rode to Acheux & got the money. A glorious morning. Saw Barker’s batman & sent message to him. Got back at 12.30. Dished money out.

After lunch took drummers up to range & picked up clips & ‘empties’. After tea wrote letters. After dinner a staff parade. Capt. Weave is back with Battalion. Dillon taught me double patience & we played a game, up till 11 pm. I used my new field glasses to try & find the new star in Aquila but I couldn’t find it.

End of 10th week [at the front].

Florence Vansittart Neale
15 June 1918

Expected 2 officers but they did not come.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer in France (D/EZ177/8/15); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Gas masks of all nations

Sydney was instructed in the use of gas masks and translating for fellow trainees, while Percy had a bad day.

Sydney Spencer
Saturday 8 June 1918

Another beautiful day after the light rain we had last night. Got up at 7.30. After breakfast lolled about a bit & then on parade by 9.30 am. First parade consisted in [sic] a lecture by Lieut. Ash on Warfare generally, followed by the Projector Gas attack, a very interesting part of the lecture to me as I had not heard more than vague rumours as to how it worked.

After lecture a break, then gas drill till 12.30. Adjustment of box respirators by members! Lunch, & afterwards parade till 4.30. Lecture on gas masks of all nations, ie English, French, German & Russian. The Russian is a hideous [sic] affair. After the lecture a talk from the QM Staff man on Inspection. A rotten exhibition. Then through lachrymator gas to test the masks. At 4.30 we dismissed.

After tea, walked to Hesdin with Barker. Made sundry purchases. Barker wanted anything from ninepins to elephants. He taxed my French noun vocabulary to the last ounce. After dinner a loll in the garden. Then writing up gas notes.

Percy Spencer
8 June 1918

Went up to Battalion HQ. A very pleasant walk up. Fireworks everywhere. An awful journey back. Horses bolted as we tore thro’ batteries shelling & being shelled.

Florence Vansittart Neale
8 June 1918

Better news in France. We retaking few places. Heard Boy [her son in law Leo Paget] 3 months more in England & has an MC.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Officers vs sergeants: sergeants won hands down

Sydney Spencer had a busy day. The Maud Allan affair referred to was a contemporary scandal in which a well known actress was accused of being a lesbian spy for the Germans, and sued for libel. One of her persecutors was Harold Sherwood Spencer, an American with no connection to the Berkshire family.

Monday 3 June 1918

Got up at 6. Paraded at 7. Inspected my platoon. Went to range from 7.30 to 9.15. Fired in sweepstake, officers vs sergeants. 15 rounds rapid was the shoot (mad minute). Sergeants won hands down. Top score sergeants = Sergeant York with 43. Top score officers myself with 31 only! Peyton 2nd with 30.

Took my platoon for a time in fire orders, & then scuttled off to O.14 C7.5 to a demonstration in wiring double apron fence. Knights was there & I enquired after his battle position affectionately. No wire cutters or gloves were to be found so I toddled back & fetched them. The Brigade Major wanted to know if I was any relation to Spencer in the ‘Billing’ Maud Allan affair!

After lunch slept till 4. Took company for march at 8.30. Had a nice ride on Charlie Chaplin [his commanding officer Dillon’s horse].

To bed at & read for a while.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15)

Shelled at dawn

It was a dramatic day for Percy Spencer.

22 May 1918

Shelled at dawn. Doe & I dressed hurriedly as we were getting a lot of backwash. Marvellous escape of 2 bivouacs due I think to AP shell. Horses moved. Bankes hit & died of wounds. All officers out except me. Went down to Bd. and was strafed re claims.

Went to Follies in evening with Davis.

Diary of Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

“A bicycle made for two”

More from the Spencer brothers.

Will Spencer
15 May 1918

Some French soldiers were resting on the benches on the paved platform between the two buildings of the Blumlisalp Hotel. For the first time I had the feeling that the [interned] soldiers at this hotel were in some respects better off than those at the Waldpark. The hotel has more the unpretentious character of an Inn – is more rustic & more cheerful, with its water trough by the road & its tree-planted space between the two buildings. One of the soldiers was whistling the tune of “A bicycle made for two”, & I was surprised & amused to find that J. knew the words to almost the whole of the tune – which was more than I did.

Sydney Spencer
Wednesday 15 May 1918

3.30 pm. I am seated now, guess where, my dear diary? At Major Bracey’s working table at his billet! Only 3 kilos from where I at present live. I have just ridden over on Capt. Rolfe’s gee. Major Bracey is out however & won’t be back till 5, so I shall stick here to see him & having the football match I half promised to play in. I hope there won’t be a dust up about it though. It will be splendid to see old Bracey again, it is 14 months since I last saw him. Had a day off today. Dear old Rolfe, he did the straight by me after my two rather thorny days on Monday & Tuesday. Have just written to Father & Mother.

At 5.30 pm.
Major Bracey did not turn up. I waited till nearly 6 pm. Rode back. Watched football match between officers & men – a drawn game. After dinner walked over, saw dear old Bracey who cheered me up immensely. He walked back part of the way with me. To bed at 10.30 & read more of my book.

Percy Spencer
15 May 1918

A glorious sunshiny day. A good deal of trouble over billets. Trying to hang on in Warlos for a night at least. Division to be relieved tonight. Up half the night sorting details. Eventually turned in at 3 am after champagne supper & slept on floor in a company mess. Fritz bombed outskirts of village.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX802/28)

Sick and wounded horses

Berkshire children supported efforts to help war horses.

Ascot Heath Girls School
23rd April 1918

The girls contributed to the St George’s Day effort to raise money for the RSPCA for the benefit of sick and wounded horses. A guinea was sent from this school.

Bradfield CE School
April 23rd 1918

St George’s Day – collection on behalf of sick and wounded horses realised 15/-, which was duly forwarded to the Hon. Secretary RSPCA.

Log books of Ascot Heath Girls School (C/EL109/2, p. 288); and Bradfield CE School (D/P22/28/2, p. 200)

By gun barrow, train, foot and pony

It was a long day’s travel for Sydney Spencer.

Wednesday 10 April 1918

Rose at 6.30. Got breakfast & we – that is Capt. Richards, 13th Welsh, 38th Division – bagged a Lewis gun barrow & got our baggage to ROD convoy exchange station, where we had to wait till 10 o’clock for a Belle Eglise train.

I am now packed up in a corner, with the baggage, that’s the only word for it. Heaven only knows where the 12th Division is.

We have started 9.35 am, arrived at Belle Eglise at about 12. 12th Div Reinforcement officer gave me some tea. Very nice.

Marched 3 hours with some Berkshire Troops thro’ country. Found that 7th Norfolks were in line. QM [quartermaster] Frost arranged for a pony to take me to where the Battalion HQ was in rear, later heard that Battalion being relieved. The whole Div was relieved by 38th Div.

QM gave me job of billeting the Battalion here at Toutencourt.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15)

“A horse flesh shop has opened here now but I notice a good many more people were outside than in”

Food shortages had led to an attempt to sell horsemeat to the British – who were not keen.

15th February 1918

Down to Ship to pay A.S.E. then got our meat – a piece of pork. 5lbs to last us all the week. A horse flesh shop has opened here now but I notice a good many more people were outside than in.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

During the war we all have to make ourselves responsible for more than we could rightly undertake in time of peace

The new vicar of Wargrave took on a new role as school inspector for church schools, mainly because his ownership of a horse meant he had transport denied to others.

Diocesan Inspection

There is one General Diocesan Inspector in this diocese who gives his whole time to the work, but the area of the three counties is so large that he can only visit one in each year. He is therefore assisted in each Deanery by an Honorary Inspector, appointed by the Bishop, who examines the Schools in two out of every three years.

The Vicar resigned this office when he left the parish of Medmenham in the Deanery of Wycombe. He has been asked to resume it in this Deanery. There are twenty-six schools to be inspected in the sixteen parishes of this Sonning Deanery. Somebody must do the work and it requires somebody with a horse, (even motor cars cannot run without petrol). So the Vicar has felt that it would not be right to decline. It is very congenial work, but acceptance of any additional task seems to require a word of explanation when we are shorthanded here and the things already left undone are evidence that the Vicar has no time to spare.

The fact is that during the war we all have to make ourselves responsible for more than we could rightly undertake in time of peace. And if we happen to have experience which makes a particular task lighter than it would be to a new hand it is not fair to decline it, unless it is an absolute impossibility. This work is done in the morning in the Schools and late at night at home so it will not much interfere with parochial visiting.

Wargrave parish magazine, February 1918 (D/P145/28A/31)

A useless horse

28 November 1917

Man came to fetch chestnuts. Horse from Government useless….

Wire from Boy [their son in law Leo Paget] to say Paris leave on from 10th to 16th.

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

Ploughing new ground

Lawns and other land not normally ploughed was turned to growing crops for food during the war. Meanwhile, the news from Russia seemed to be better, although this was a false dawn.

14 November 1917

Ploughman & horse coming to plough up new ground (15 acres), more this year…

Russia better. Kerensky, Korniloff & Kaledin beaten rebels.

Allenby in Holy land very good.

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

“They would be bitterly disappointed if they could see how few really care”

Enthusiasm was flagging among those who had committed to praying for the troops in Cookham Dean – but the village’s children cared about injured horses.

The Vicar’s Letter

Might I plead once more for more regular attendance at our ordinary Intercession Services? Why has the attendance dropped in numbers so seriously – especially on Wednesdays at 11? As far as possible I vary the Services so that they should not be the same – and I would urge those who began well and attended so regularly during the first months of the war to begin again. ‘Be not weary of doing well’, says St. Paul, who there enforces a lesson we all need to learn over and over again. The thoughts of so many on Active Service turn for comfort and support to the thought that at certain times, ‘Many are gathered together praying’ for them in the Church which at home they know best and love most; and I fear they would be bitterly disappointed if they could see how few really care to come with any regularity to the Services provided for them. Do think of this, and act upon it.

The Roll of Honour

The promotion of Pte. E. Blinko to be Corporal should have been notified some months ago. We should like to congratulate most heartily Capt. Vesci Batchelor M.G.C. (elder son of the Vicar of Cookham), who has recently been promoted Major, and 2nd Lieut. C. Edwards promoted Lieut.

Parish Registers

The children of the school have made a Collection on behalf of the Wounded Horses Fund, and have sent up £1 to the R.S.P.C.A. Society.


Cookham Dean parish magazine, November 1917 (D/P43B/28A/11)

Donations for wounded army horses

Berkshire schools were affected by the war in varying ways.

Abingdon Girls’ CE School
1917, 23rd-27th July

As last year the County Council gave War Time Certificates instead of Prizes.

During the year the girls have sent:

1. To the Jack Cornwall Fund for Memorial Ward – 13/
2. Xmas puddings for soldiers at the Front – one guinea
3. To the RSPCA Fund for sick and wounded army horses – 12/
4. The Overseas Fund on Empire Day – 7/

Broadmoor School
27th July 1917

Miss Haines was allowed to leave school at 2 o’clock on Monday to see a friend from the trenches.

Charlton Infant School
27th July 1917

The usual school treat is not taking place this year, in accordance with the wishes of the Food Controller.

Abingdon Girls’ CE School log book (C/EL 2/2); Crowthorne: Broadmoor School log book (C/EL100); Charlton Infant School log book (C/EL12)

Strict rationing at the Sunday School treat

While other towns had cancelled Sunday School parties, or at least put them on without the usual refreshments, it was business as usual in Maidenhead.

THE S. S. TREAT.

At a meeting of the Superintendents and Secretaries of the Maidenhead Free Church Sunday Schools, it was resolved to hold the Treats as usual this year. This will be good news to our youngsters, for in many towns, some of them not far distant from us, the Food Controller’s frown has prevailed. The demands for food economy can be met, so our Superintendents and Secretaries think, by strict rationing, and every child’s portion is to be separately tied up in paper, with no free helping from plates! And as the delightful Thicket is so near, and there is no call for economy in the use of healthy muscles, we need make no demand on railway or horse wagon, and fresh air is plentiful enough, and we hope high spirits too. So let our young folks look forward to the 12th July.

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