News from the hospital

12 January 1919

Newton telephoned. P[hyllis]s’s temperature had been up but better. She inoculated this morning so keeping her quiet, so I did not go down.

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

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A black doctor

Florence Vansittart Neale was interested to encounter a non-white doctor, perhaps for the first time.

8 January 1919

Rather better day with Phyllis. Had inoculation – given by black doctor! in arm.

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

Blowing bubbles

The Vansittart Neales hovered over Phllis in London.

4 January 1919

H ∓ I off early to hospital as he off to Bisham 11.20 to meet Mr Lawrence about sale next Wednesday. I sat with P till lunch. The wound hurting. Dr to dress it. Lunch at lawn & back there till 5 when Shaw came for me…

Phyllis to have vaccine inoculation & to blow bubbles.

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

Comradeship: the beginning, the middle and the end of military success

Sydney Spencer was dejected when he was not among those sent to the Front.

12 Angel Hill
Bury St Edmunds
Saturday Nov 13th 1915

My Darling Florence

I am very weary tonight. Such things do happen & go on happening with bewildering rapidity that one doesn’t know where one is. Last weekend we were all to have new rifles. Rumour said we were off to the front at once. Result great joy & excitement. Officers warned to get inoculated. Further proof. I was nearly telegraphing you to ask to come to you after the business was over.

Then on Thursday the crash came. Most of our best men are off on Monday to go almost immediately to the front, & we officers who know how to love our own men are left, with the prospect of having about 200 men between us instead of about 800! Worse still they are the cowards who would not volunteer or else the men who are too young or unfit! Of course you will all say at once how glad you are, but from my own point of view I am not. Imagine losing all those men whom I have loved so much – I have one corporal & 3 men left! – & having a lot of conscript troops thrust into my hands with the prospect of giving them recruit drill for the next 3 or four months!

To most of us the whole thing is insufferable. First of all our best officers are taken & that nearly caused a mutiny among the officers, & now the very kernel & mainstay of our battalion is walked off with & we are expected to be cheerful, & to go on “doing our bit”. Esprit de corps is almost the beginning, the middle & the end of military success. How on earth our esprit de corps is to be kept going, under these trying circumstances I don’t know. Perhaps this brigade is not of the highest order. I do not see that necessitates breaking the hearts of men & officers by promising them all sorts of things & then ruthlessly treading on just the one joy of military life, comradeship. In a game of football you will often find, that mediocre players who know each other well & who have often played together will put up a far better game than an eleven which comprises picked players who have never seen each other before. It doesn’t need any further words of mine to draw the analogy.

A catchphrase known to officer & man will often carry men & officers through the most fearful ordeals, when the choicest of logical arguments & careful encouragements on the part of a strange officer to strange men will utterly fail. I used to often call out to my men at work “Now then, what’s happening over there?” That has become a phrase, & it will often bring good humour & order back when men are inclined to be fractious. All these and many other arguments come to one’s mind at once when one learns how battalions are chopped up & shifted from place to place. It comes to this, half the officers of a battalion are unknown to the other half of the officers & almost entirely to the men of the battalion, & away goes comradeship & esprit de corps.

What a pleasure it is to share an evening’s talk round the fire when we are all together with the phrase “Do you remember” – It makes the whole thing worth doing & relieves the monotony of the jog trot military life. Militarism kills initiative almost entirely & one begins to feel that one is sacrificing ones elasticity of intellect to the cause too! That is of course part & parcel of the necessary sacrifice one is making but realising the hugeness of the thing – a palpable lack of alert intelligence at the end of the war – one is inclined to feel a little grumbly when even our one consolation, comradeship, is attacked & taken away!

If only some of you knew how I have longed to have the time for the letters you all wait for. It takes away all the peace of mind at my disposal when I think of all the friendships which I am gradually letting slip. I know they are going because I get fewer & fewer letters from people. I can’t blame them, but it makes me feel a bit dumpy sometimes. Even Loughton feels the same. We can’t get the time for using thought or for quiet reading or writing & there’s an end on it. Now this letter seems to me to be very grumblesome but really my darling sister I don’t feel a bit grumpy, it is only a sort of attempt to justify a weakness on my part.

All love from
Your v affectionate
Brer Syd

Letter from Sydney Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/8/2/2-4)