“If only Fritz would drop a bomb on it, it would save further argument”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence to let her know how he was getting on. The following day he was to be wounded.

Aug 6, 1918
My dear WF

Almost I’ve forgotten how to write a letter. Lately I have been so busy picking up the threads and so on that I haven’t had time to write a line since July 14, I think it was – not even to write and wish you many happy returns of the 4th. However I’ll put the clock back a couple of days and do it now.

My diary has gone during the last few weeks and I’m racking my brain for news.

To go back, I finished my course on the 17th. My section, 4/7 of which was my Division, won the School cup. The runners up were also 4/7 my Division. So we set our caps at the Canadians, Australians & our friends from USA and swanked. Also individually my section scored highest marks in the examination. My own report read –
Qualifications Very good
Power of command Ditto
Keen

So there was much rejoicing and our [HLI?] instructor got very tipsy at our expense and insisted on singing all the Scotch songs ever written, and some which I believe had before scarcely escaped the boundaries of his “wee bit hoos ben” or some such foreign place.

After that I returned “here” – that’s interesting. From here I went up the line once or twice, and then went “there” and billeted the Battalion. With the aid of 200 men, made the area reasonably clean, and HQ habitable. There was even a piano and one evening we had our string trio over to play to us at mess, and afterwards the doctor (from USA) with a fine voice, sang to us and made us all homesick. And the adjutant begged for Raff’s [Cantina?] and got it, and wondered how I knew when I turned to him during the piece and said, “Your wife plays this”.

And then I came here again & the adjutant being inoculated & sick, I had to ride up the line and take over. And now I am here again (and it’s pouring with rain) in an abandoned cottage with an earth floor and leaky roof and really very comfortable. To a newcomer it would be startling to go round a battalion’s “billets” and hear our boys tell the visiting officer that they were quite comfortable in a tumbledown outhouse or barn. Someday again I expect we shall get luxurious again.

Had one very bad night here during an event I expect you are now reading about. Fritz bombed all night and generally played the devil. A few days before a billet of ours was gutted by fire due to another unit’s fault. Luckily overnight I had organised our people for such an event, and in 25 minutes we had it out and a large farm saved. The other unit having at last accepted liability, rebuilt the place. I remarked that if only Fritz would drop a bomb on it, it would save further argument. He did, but not till it had been rebuilt & occupied and the farmer was gloating over new buildings for old.

The CO has just turned up so I’ll close while I have the opportunity.
With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/58-60)

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The NCOs do not seem to know a great deal about bombs

Sydney was battling through his digestive issues – not to mention his self confidence.


Monday 22 July 1918

As I had had a hard day yesterday, what with the reconnaissance & my indisposition, I did not attend the first parade but went to aid post & there obtained some castor oil for inspection uses.

Went on 9.45 parade. Did platoon training which included some interesting fire orders work. After lunch rested & censored letters.

At 5.15 gave a lecture to all NCOs on bombs, chiefly about the mills bomb. The NCOs do not seem to know a great deal about bombs. I hope I didn’t bore them stiff. After the lecture there were no other parades.

Spent remainder of day in writing, playing patience etc. To bed fairly early. Feeling better after castor oil!

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

“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)

French camouflage and courtesy

Sydney Spencer’s stomach upset didn’t make his day any easier.

Sunday 21 July 1918

I had a most interesting day today. I got up at 6.45. Had a snap of breakfast despite my ‘colic’ – to put it politely.

At 8.30 I, with about 14 other officers, went off to a village due east of this village, about 10 kilos via a very roundabout route covering some 20 to 25 miles. Here we went to the [blank]ieme Division HQ French Army. Saw the French positions from Soutien line or purple line. French camouflage wonderful! French colonel’s courtesy more wonderful, chairs under arbour with dainty cup of coffee!

Returned by a blue shaky but wonderful car to lorry & got back to this place of Holy Refuge by 6 pm. My very poor digestion gave me a bad time on that lorry. After dinner I went to bed fairly early. But I sleep very badly these nights, getting little reading.

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

Bad sanitary conditions

Hygiene was not always ideal, with the inevitable results.

Saturday 20 July 1918

When I got up today I found that I was suffering very uncomfortable things from my tummy. Probably it is the water or perhaps the plague of flies or a combination of both, helped considerably by foetid pools of water, the ubiquitous French Muck heap always in the front garden (!) & the bad sanitary conditions.

Morning parades fairly easy although the march rather tried me. After tea I concluded the day’s performance by being violently sick & having other troubles. I had only a couple of cups of tea today and a slice of bread & butter so that I went to be feeling very cheap! Maddison, Knights & Nixon to dinner.

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

“Don’t worry, she can’t speak English & I could never make love in French”

Percy Spencer was excited by his sister Florence’s getting a comic article published in Punch, and almost fell in love with a French girl.

July 14, 1918

My dear WF

Another week gone & here I am still at school & beginning to know something about musketry.

I’m very glad to hear Sydney is better again and delighted about the Punch article. Mind you send me a copy of the number.

This week I’ve been feeling very dicky myself. I think I had a touch of this strange fever, but a very slight one. Another officer here, I am sorry to say, has died with it.

Today I have been to a much bombed town near here for a holiday. There is quite a good officers’ club and one can generally meet old friends there and get a good dinner. It’s nice to sit in a pretty garden and receive tea from the fair hands of a wholesome English girl.

Today as you know is France’s National day. I went to the cathedral – which by the way has been rather badly bumped at the eastern end – and listened to a service. The singing was delightful, but it is difficult for me, much as I love the Roman Church’s seriousness, to refrain from smiling at their quaint beadles armed with swords and wearing mighty cocked hats, and at the endless collections.

Another good thing out here is the good nature of all motorists. One sets out to walk anywhere, hails the first car or bus or lorry, which always stops & takes you as far as it can. The other night a staff officer we coolly hailed drove us in here and offered to take us as afar as Paris if we liked. This however only applies as between Englishmen or as between French etc. but today I had quite a romantic experience.

Following the usual custom I stepped out to hail a car, but observing it was driven by a Frenchman, stepped back. However, it stopped & then to my pleasurable surprise I saw it was driven by a French GIRL. I’ve given her capitals as she was a capital girl. She wasn’t going very far my way but would give me a lift on my way. Well, the fair chauffeuse who was on her way to fetch the Prefect of the town we had just left melted, & when she got to her turning & I made to alight, she said she would drive me here and she did. After that we got very friendly and talked about London & the Thames, and she said that after the war she should come to London, and I said then I hoped we should meet again, whereupon she volunteered her address and I mine and neither of us could remember the other nor muster a pencil between us, so we pulled up at a cottage & borrowed one & some paper from an old lady who smiled approval at the beginning of a romance. And all the while the Prefect cooled his heels at some village down south!
I must be a lady killer after all!

Don’t worry, she can’t speak English & I could never make love in French, and Bordeaux (her home) is a long way.

Well, goodbye & God bless you both.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/53-55)

“He has had the good fortune to be drafted to Reading for treatment”

There was news of several of the soldiers from Reading’s Broad Street Congregational Church.

PERSONAL

We should like to offer our somewhat belated, but very sincere, congratulations to Captain Horace Beer of the RAF on his promotion. Captain Beer obtained his captaincy, it appears, several months ago; but it was only recently that the news reached us. He is now serving at the headquarters of the RAF and he has our best wishes for the future.

News has been received that Private E. Layton Francis has been wounded. He was serving with the London Scottish in Palestine, and many of our readers have enjoyed his vivid descriptions of places and people, which have appeared from time to time in these pages. Private Francis is now in one of the Stationary Hospitals in Gaza, suffering from a gunshot wound in his right arm. Beyond this there is no further information at the moment. We hope, however, that the wound is not serious, and that our friend may have a speedy recovery. Meanwhile we express our sympathy with Mr and Mrs Ernest Francis and their family in their anxiety.

Private F. W. Snell has been seriously wounded in the head and face while fighting in France. He has had the good fortune to be drafted to Reading for treatment and is now lying in No. 1 War Hospital. He is making good progress. We earnestly hope it may continue, and that before long we may see him back in our midst.

We are glad to see our young friend, Private George Hathaway, back at Broad Street. Private Hathaway was training with the Royal Warwicks, but he has been on the sick list for some time, and has now obtained his discharge. We trust that before long he may be restored to health.

BROTHERHOOD NOTES

We deeply regret to have to report the death of Brother Ernest Ward of Westfield Road, Caversham, who recently died of wounds….

Our musical director and choirmaster, Brother Wynton-Turner, will have commenced his military duties by the time these notes are in the hands of our readers. We wish him every success.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, June 1918 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“Indignant that the Boshe should dare to shell when I was going away to be ill”

Sydney had gone down with the dreaded influenza, and suffered through a horrendous journey to get to hospital.

Written in Base Hospital, Rouen

No one could be more surprised than I am, my dear diary! It is now Saturday afternoon [22 June] & I am lying in a clean green tented ward with pretty chintz curtains at the windows suffering with PVO, this being the common or garden fever of unknown origin.

Here is the history of my movements from when I left off on Wednesday night. I had a curious night. Guns behind us very noisy owing to ‘Chinese Bombardment’ being put up. At 8 breakfast was brought in, & I could not eat it. Took a morning parade but felt mighty seedy.

After lunch lay on my valise & from then on till 7.30 when the doctor came it was one long nightmare. My temperature went up in leaps & bounds. My back ached, I shivered, my head was splitting, I had a hacking cough, & felt extraordinarily weak if I tried to walk. Doctor packed me off. Here is detail how one gets to base-hospital.

1. Doctor sent for stretcher bearers.
2. I was carted off to Battalion HQ.
3. Red X Ambulance car whisked me off to Hedanville.
4. Another car took me to Div. clearing station.
5. Another car took me to 3rd (Brit) Officers CCS at a place called Sezincourt. Here I spent the night between sheets in a massive old chateau looking out over great parklands.
6. At 9 am off in another ambulance car & planked onto an ambulance train.
7. Then 15 long long hours while the train tried its hardest not to get to Rouen.
8. At last the train stopped & a voice from the open called out peremptorily “Ere Bill let’s ‘ave them 21 officers!”

It was raining then. Car brought me here & when I tumbled into these sheets at 12.15 this morning I was not unthankful. I have had my temperature taken umpteen times. It was up to 102.8 when taken at Hedanville but it had commenced abating by then. We were stuck at Hedanville by heavy shelling. I got impatient being of course light headed & felt indignant that the Boshe should dare to shell when I was going away to be ill. However at last after a decidedly near & unpleasing zzzzz bong! our car gathered its legs well under & scuttled, & the next shell rounded far behind by the time it came along.

It is getting on for tea time & I have only just got hold of my kit, & you. I am reading a stupid book called “An Adventuress”! To sleep at about 9 at night. My temperature about normal. 99.

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

He has given his health, as his brother has given his life

Burghfield men continued to pay a high price.

THE WAR

Honours and Promotions

Cadet Alfred Searies has been posted as 2nd Lieutenant to the Suffolk Regiment. Lance Corporal Percy Sheppard (Army Ordnance Corps) and Rifleman E Wigmore (Rifle Brigade) have been promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

Casualties

Ernest Eaton (Royal Berks Regiment) wounded; 2md Lieut. F Wheeler (King’s Liverpool Regiment), Sergeant Wigmore (see above) and Private W H Brown (Royal Berks Regiment), Prisoners of War.

Discharges

Captain Francis A Willink (4th Royal Berks Regiment), Dysentery and Colitis; Isaac Osman (Labour Corps, ex Rifle Brigade), Rheumatism.

The promised statement about the late Captain George Willink is held over.

Congratulations to 2nd Lieut. Alfred Searies. He is the first of Mr Sheppard’s “old boys” of the Burghfield C of E School to obtain a commission. Let us hope he will not be the last, as he certainly will not be the least, either in stature or merit.

Condolences with Captain Francis Willink, who sorely against his will is, after fifteen Medical Boards, gazetted out of the Army “on account of ill-health contracted on active service”. He worked up from Private to a Commission in the Eton College OTC. On going to Oxford in 1910, he joined the 4th Royal Berks, and was a Lieutenant when war broke out, soon afterwards being made Captain and given command of “E” (the Newbury) Company. In March 1915 he went to France with the Battalion, which had then become the 1/4th, upon the formation of the 2nd unit. They went immediately into trenches at “Lug Street”, afterwards holding sections of the line by Bethune, and later at Hebuterne. The trying conditions of active service however told upon him and brought on dysentery and colitis, and after holding out as long as he possibly could, perhaps too long, he was invalided home in September 1915. Since then he has done a lot of useful work with the 3rd Line at Weston-Super-Mare, and Windmill Hill on Salisbury Plain, and for some time was Draft Officer. But his health did not really improve, and about a year ago he was transferred to Reserve, since which time he has been further twice medically examined and is now declared to be permanently unfit for medical service. He has given his health, as his brother has given his life. Fortunately there is still useful work open to him to do of national importance.

Burghfield parish magazine, June 1918 (D/EX725/4)

“Only 30 miles & we have taken 16 hours so far”

Sydney Spencer had a terrible journey behind the lines on his way to further training. No wonder he had a headache.

Wednesday 5 June 1918

3.45 am. Still seated in a motionless train. No nearer Abbeville, our destination. Eleven hours in the train & about 30 miles or less accomplished. I can hear the cookoo [sic] outside & thrushes singing, which sounds refreshing at any rate!

4.30 am. Still stuck fast!

8.30 am. We have moved a little! But we are not yet at Abbeville. Only 30 miles & we have taken 16 hours so far. Curious coincidence! The CO of chap going on curse with me sat on my right when I took my [illegible] in March! Major Monckton of Balliol!
Stoppage on line caused by Hun bombing line last night. 5 trains now in a long row!

We arrived at Abbeville at 11 o’clock. Changed & got to Etaples at 4.30 pm. Exactly 24 hours to go about 70 miles!

Etaples a glorious white splash of sunshine. The sea looked glorious from the Officers’ Club after dinner. After tea, a shampoo, shave & hot bath. This relieved a racking headache which I had developed. We went for a walk in Etaples & then to bed. Disturbed by a beast of a man who was absolutely blind drunk! He was sick in our tent! After that, peace.

Officers on our course from our corps, myself, Major Knights, [illegible], 2nd Lt Barker & a Welsh officer, Jones by name.

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

The two predominant results to be obtained: Discipline & Esprit de corps

Sydney’s delicate health was beginning to catch up with him.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 30 May 1918

Last night good old Dillon told me I was to see the doctor today & get a rest. So I sent a note round to the Adjutant to say I was seeing the doctor. I saw him at eleven o’clock & he apologised for having hurt me!

I did light duty during the morning & after lunch had a very long sleep, also inspected the guard before it paraded for guard mounting. Censored the letters. Got a tent in my platoon camouflaged, & did several other ‘no matter whats’ of no import practically, but of regimental vital importance. I think I see the end for which all these small things are done. One has always to keep one’s eyes on the two predominant results to be obtained: Discipline & Esprit de corps.

Rowell the TO comes to dinner tonight. He came & we had a fairly good mess night.

Percy Spencer
30 May 1918

2 a.m. moved at 21st camp after x-country trip thro’ bush and a mix-up with 9.2’s.

A lovely day. Mess cut into bank – earth seats.

Moved again to camp behind Franvillers in Bezieux rear defence line. Fritz shelled Franvillers and near us and bombed during evening. I dug trench round hut.

Florence Vansittart Neale
30 May 1918

Have lost Soissons.

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)

Alas! glorious victories cost precious lives!

There was news of several Maidenhead men, one of whom had paid the ultimate price while taking part in an important operation.

OUR SOLDEIRS.

Reginald Hill is at a Convalescent Home, but he has not quite done with the Hospital yet. However, he hopes to say farewell to his friends at Sheffield in a month or so. Ernest Bristow has not yet been able to make the promised move to Cliveden, apparently because there has been a slight set-back in the healing process. But he is in excellent spirits. Harold Islip is in Hospital in France, suffering from a slight attack of trench fever. He expects shortly to return to England to be trained for a Commission. Wilfrid Collins has returned to Canada. Cecil Meade has been invalided home from Salonika, with a touch of malaria. He is reporting himself immediately, but does not expect to return to the East. Benjamin Gibbons is out of hospital again, and has been sent to Ireland. Herbert Brand has been gazetted 2nd Lieut. in the Staffordshires. Alfred Vardy went over to France at the beginning of April. Harry Baldwin has been home on leave, and anticipates being sent on active service (naval) very shortly. Wallace Mattingley, after a year’s training at Sandhurt, has received a Commission in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers.

We deeply regret to record the death of Arthur Ada, who was killed in the attack upon Zeebrugge on the night of Monday, April 22nd. Alas! glorious victories cost precious lives! We sympathise deeply with his sorrowing friends and relatives. There will be a touch of pride and admiration in the recollection of him when the manner of his death is recalled. It is said that before the operation actually took place everyone was informed quite clearly of the risk, but that no one backed out. The body was brought to Maidenhead for burial, and after a service in the Baptist Chapel (where Mr. Ada was organist), conducted by Revs. T. W. Way and T. F. Lewis, the interment was made at the Cemetery. Mr. Ada at one time contemplated offering himself for Missionary service.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, May 1918 (D/N33/12/1/5)

“We can ill afford to lose men of this sort”

Winkfield families heard news of loved ones.

OUR MEN WHO ARE SERVING

With deep sympathy for his bereaved relatives, we have to record this month the death in action of Lieut. George Ferard, who was killed instantaneously on February 21st whilst giving first aid to one of his wounded men in the front line when under machine gun fire. Lieut. Ferard had been twice invalided home severely wounded and had only just returned to France from leave.

One of the Officers of the Devon Regiment writes “He was a very great loss to the battalion in many ways, we can ill afford to lose men of this sort.”

We have also to mourn the loss of 2nd Lieut. Arthur Cartland who was killed last month in a flying accident near Newcastle. Educated at our schools he joined the Flying Corps in 1913 and acting as “Observer” saw a great deal of active service in France. He did so well that he rapidly rose to the rank of Sergeant, and then gained his Commission and qualified as a pilot last year. Only three days before his death he was home on leave under orders to proceed to the front. He was buried at Worthing with military honours on March 2nd. This is the second son Mrs. Cartland has lost in the war, and our deep sympathy goes out to her and her family.

We congratulate most heartily Captain Sir Thomas Berney – now home on leave from Palestine – on winning the Military Cross awarded after the battle of Gaza.

We were glad to welcome home on leave this month Private R. Mitchell, who has now quite recovered from his wound; and Privates A. Carter and A. Holmes, both of whom were at the battle of Mons and now hold the 1914 medal.

We are glad to learn that Lance-Corporal James Knight, who has been ill in hospital, is progressing favourably.

Winkfield section of Winkfield and Warfield Magazine, April 1918 (D/P 151/28A/10/4)

The best results are obtained only by getting into touch with the men personally

Thousands of wounded or sick troops had now returned home. the nation owed them support for their service. Some needed medical help, others re-training for new occupations, or help finding jobs.

The Disablements Sub-committee beg to report that they have been notified of approximately 2,524 disabled soldiers and sailors discharged into the county. Of the cases now entered upon the Register, which exclude those being investigated, the numbers specifying disabilities are as follows:

Amputation of leg or foot 51
Amputation of arm or hand 34
Other wounds or injuries to leg or foot 353
Other wounds or injuries to arm or hand 147
Other wounds or injuries to head 69
Other wounds or injuries 192
Blindness and other eye affections 77
Heart diseases 217
Chest complaints 93
Tuberculosis 101
Deafness and affections of the ear 72
Rheumatism 151
Epilepsy 37
Neurasthenia 47
Other mental affections 31
Other disabilities 532

Of this number all have been provided with a Medical Attendant [i.e. a doctor] under the National Health Insurance Act, and special treatment, including the supply or repair of artificial limbs and surgical appliances, has been provided in accordance with the recommendations of Military Authorities, Medical Boards or ordinary medical Attendants.

From the 1 April 1917, 280 cases have received Institutional treatment – both in and out-patient – at Military Hospitals, Civil Hospitals, Sanatoria, Cottage Hospitals or Convalescent Homes.
The total number of tuberculous soldiers and sailors to date is 101, and of these 72 have received Institutional treatment within the County under the County Scheme and three have received Institutional treatment outside the County Scheme. This treatment is provided through the County Insurance Committee.

The Committee has assisted with Buckinghamshire War Pensions Committee in the provision of a new wing for Orthopaedic Treatment at the King Edward VII Hospital, Windsor. This, which was urgently needed, and will be of the greatest benefit to men in that part of the county, will be opened in the course of two or three weeks. The Committee has also been instrumental with the Buckinghamshire Committee in obtaining the approval of the Minister of Pensions to a proposed Scheme for the provision, equipment, and establishment of a special hospital for totally disabled soldiers and sailors at Slough and an assurance from the Ministry of adequate fees for maintenance thereof. Her Royal Highness Princess Alice is forming a provisional Committee, and we have every hope that the proposed arrangements will e speedily carried into effect.
(more…)

Ordered to France at once

A young Maidenhead soldier would have his leave extended as he managed to catch an infectious disease while home on leave.

King Street School, Maidenhead
16th April 1918

Mrs Trace had leave of absence for the afternoon as her husband is ordered to France at once.

Mrs Bland’s Infant School, Burghfield
April 16th 1918.

Bertie West absent owing to the fact that his brother who is a soldier is home on leave and has contracted German measles.

Log books of King Street School, Maidenhead (C/EL77/1, p. 418); and Mrs Bland’s Infant School, Burghfield (86/SCH/1/1, p. 235)