“In justice to the Army we must understand that they are also at their wits’ end for men and as hardly any of them understand that the spirit wants support as well as the body, they look probably upon us all as cranks”

Henry Tonks (1862-1937) was a professor at the Slade School of Art, where Stanley Spencer had been among his pupils. He was trying to get Stanley released from the army to become a war artist,and was frustrated by the bureaucracy.

Vale Studio B
Vale Avenue
Chelsea SW8

Oct 12 1918

My dear Image

I am at my wits end to know what to do about the various cases of artists who are wanted by the Ministry of Information etc to do work whom the War Office will not let go. I received a pathetic letter from [Stanley] Spencer to whom I am very much attached and all I could do was to write him a letter consoling him as best I could. I will write to Yockney and ask him if he is willing (as representing the Ministry of Information) for me to try and come to some understanding. In justice to the Army we must understand that they are also at their wits’ end for men and as hardly any of them understand that the spirit wants support as well as the body, they look probably upon us all as cranks. The Admiralty are much easier to deal with.

Would you believe it, the Army will not release Russell, my chief assistant or give him time to paint a picture, he is 52, in the Res, volunteered, and been nearly 3 years in the Army. Write to poor Stanley Spencer and console him if you can.

Yours very sincerely
Henry Tonks

Letter from Henry Tonks to [Selwyn or John Maxwell] Image (D/EX801/110)

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“We have lost men and millions, but these wretched French return to smoking ruins”

Florence Image was devastated by the news that her beloved brother Sydney Spencer had been killed, just after returning to the Front after having shell shock.

29 Barton Road
7 Oct. ‘18

My very dear old man

You and your wife’s thoughts will, I know, be with us. We got home from London last Tuesday evening about 7. I was standing in hat and overcoat, my back to the fire, getting a warm. Florrie, the other side of the table, opened a bundle of letters. Suddenly – in a quiet, toneless voice, I heard her saying, “Sydney is killed”. I did not realise her meaning. It stunned me. And she, poor dear – I knew how passionate was the devotion between the brother and sister – and how he idolized her beyond any other woman in the world. She bore up, but I could not. To spare the old parents in their weakness, he (like his elder brother) had left all to her hands to manage. What a week!

The Major’s letter, scrawled in the hurry of the battle, is all that we have heard – and the pencil scrawl was but a few words.

“I am very, very sorry to have to tell you that your brother was killed on Sept. 24th.” (How matter of fact is the announcement!) “He was commanding B Company at the time. He was, I think, the keenest officer I have ever met. A shell burst near him and he was killed on the spot.”

We have heard no syllable since – nor could I find any mention of the Norfolks in the Times syllabus of those days. Poor boy! I told you how he was blown up by a shell on the fourth day of the advance, and how when he insisted on rejoining, the Colonel sent him down to the reserve, as not healed yet; but he wrote to us that he was less “tired” than those officers who had been years in the field – and he seems to have got his way – to this end.

But an end how glorious! He was BA of Oxford and was meaning to enter the church. Always he was doing something for others. It cheers me to remember that his was such a straight, clean, useful life. To us he is not, and never will be, dead.

Oh how I remember his leaving for the Front. He was staying with us, and went straight from our house without stopping, at so early an hour that I was not up. Florrie was with him to give him his breakfast: but I was abed still, when he came in for goodbye, and at the last moment he lifted to his lips my hand lying on the bedclothes. My last sight of Syd! He was so cheerful and so full of life.

Percy, the elder brother, is still at St Thomas’. The doctors marvel at their success with his left arm but he cannot move it yet: will he ever be able? His letter to her ended: “Thank God you have John, and thank God I have you both”.

The Impudence of the Kaiser! Announcing to the army that this tickling of the President was his own action; that he is still all in all. Wilson won’t be slimed over. We have lost men and millions, but these wretched French return to towns and villages that are smoking ruins – deliberately destroyed by the retiring Hun. I don’t care about a town for a town. We know that our squeamishness would let Germany off half price. No. We should compel them, by the labours of their own populace, to restore every ruined French town, every village, yes, every house: and keep military occupation of Germany until this has been done, and to France’s satisfaction.

Also, we should demand ample fines and indemnities.

Florence begs to join me in sending love to Mrs Smith and to you.

In all affection.

Yours
Bild

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

“Thinking so much of my own grief and never having courage to speak of it to anyone”

One of Sydney’s old friends shares his sorrow.

Sweethayes
Littlewick
Maidenhead

Oct 5th

My dearest Florence

How selfish I have been these last three days, thinking so much of my own grief and never having courage to speak of it to anyone. But, dear, I have been thinking constantly of you and wishing so much that I could send you just a message of love & sympathy.

I know only too well what you must be feeling in the loss of the dearest of brothers, and you, more than anyone, will understand how I am missing and ever shall miss the dearest of friends.

We had been so looking forward to having him with us again soon – that cannot be, but thank God the fondest & happiest memories of him will always stay with us.

With my dear love to you and Mr Image and every kind thought.

Always yours affectionately
Bertie M Lamb

Letter of sympathy to Florence Image on the death of Sydney (D/EX801/81)

“I have lost a friend”

A neighbour offers symapthy for the loss of Sydney Spencer.

Hedsordene
Cookham

3-10-18

My dear Floory

It was with the greatest sorrow Gwyn & I heard the sad news contained in your letter to Miss Bailey – Syd was such a ‘friend’ & we have known so much more of him during these years of war. He was so kind & cared so truly for others – poor or rich – & the pleasures he has given to Gwyn are numerous, helping her with her ‘collections’, badges or what-not.

G. was broken-hearted on hearing it, saying truly “I have lost a friend”.

Percy is down today – & he says Mrs Spencer & Annie are most brave – but Mr Spencer is feeling it very keenly – I feel so very sorry for you – you seem to have to shoulder all the trials & worries for your people. I do hope Mr Image will soon be better, but this sudden change to winter has been very trying.

I will call & see Mrs Spencer in a day or two, but I felt with Percy there, they would prefer to be alone.

Bess is staying with me for a few days. She is quite tired with her long duty at Hospital.

With our truest sympathy & kind regards to your husband –

Yours sincerely

Amy

Letter of sympathy to Florence Image on the death of Sydney (D/EX801/81)

“When my enemy is dead then he is but a soul thrown into the boundless space of infinity, & he is no longer my enemy”

We have followed the story of Sydney Spencer from timid young man scared by the roughness of the army, but driven to join up; through his finally ariving at the front in 1918, to an experience with shell shock in August. Sadly, he would not survive the war. This is the last full letter written by Sydney to his beloved sister Florence; a couple of field postcards followed, before his death in action less than two months before the end of the war. Here he describes his current bivouac, and spares a thought for the enemy. His story epitomises the tragedy of the war, and his spirit shines through the years between us.

Sept 15th 1918
7th Norfolks
My Dearest Florence

My pillow is my haversack containing iron rations, my bedding, borrowed Burberrys eyc. (My kit – all of it – is still wandering about between here & Cox & Co’s London!) Now for the door which is the chef d’oeuvre! It is about 2 ½ feet square i.e. the opening of it! The door is a lid of a sugar box which just fits it! Hence when I go to bed, I lie down on the ground & pull myself into the bivouac by my hands. When I go out, I have to go feet first, & back out probably looking about as dignified in the action as does a dog over whose head some wretched boy has tied a paper bag! Dear old Dillon [his captain] chuckles with delight when he sees me getting in & out. My batman is about as big as I am [Sydney was rather small] & he & I are about the only two who can fit inside! Mind you I believe that he & Bodger (Dillon’s batman) made the entrance small on purpose, a covert pulling of my leg. Nevertheless it is so ‘cumfy’ [sic] & warm & dry I love the little spot. Its dimensions are 7 feet length, 4 feet breadth. Height 2 ½ to 3 feet high. Voila ma cherie. Vous avez une phantasie vraisemblable de ma maisonette qui doit vous donner a rire? [This rather bad piece of French translates as “there you are, my darling. You have a vision resembling my little house which will make you laugh”.] …

Two nights ago German aeroplanes (note I say German, I hate ‘Hun’, ‘boche’ etc, it is petty!) came over on bombing intent. A low moon sickly behind a cloud hung (it could not do much else by the way!) in the sky! Planes over. Lights out! The usual boredom. Then about 14 search lights crisscrossed in the sky. Hallo, they have got one in the ray. I had my strong field glasses & there sure enough in the focus of about a dozen searchlights I could see him. He glowed against the deep blue green of the sky, like those lovely flies of May which have transparent emerald green wings. The usual rat-a-tan of machine guns & the muffled boom of shells bursting round him followed. Then high above him appeared a speck of light like a star which winked & glowed & winked again. Machine gun fire stopped. This was one of our men after him. A moment of waiting, a dull spark of light like a shooting star (a tracer bullet) sped by the enemy plane, another one, a momentary pause then a sheet of flame curved gracefully to earth followed by a brilliant stream of coloured lights – some mystic comet from a Miltonian chaos & dark night it looked – & the soul of an enemy passed into the infinite. Over lonely wooden crosses in shell holes one sees in German characters a name & above it the one word ‘Ruhe’ [rest]. I felt that for him. Through all this I cannot help preserving the thought that when my enemy is dead then he is but a soul thrown into the boundless space of infinity, & he is no longer my enemy. Another enemy plane came, another fight took place & he sped to earth at a sickly pace, his signal rockets all colours bursting out behind him in reckless profusion. I suppose he crashed to earth too somewhere, but he did not set on fire.

This afternoon I was in my nothings & a very smart sergeant came up to me & said, “Are you Sydney Spencer”? Well I thought “Yes I am Sydney Spencer as it happens but anyway what the – is it to do with you”, & then “My word, it is Frank Godfrey!” My dear, I was so overwhelmed at meeting someone from Cookham, that I nearly fell on his neck in front of the whole company – all with their nothings on – & wept. I had not seen him since Aug 1914. Thus does anyone from home stir one!

Percy. How is he? I hoped he would be held in bed for months to prevent his coming out soon….

Leave. Think, Florence, I have been out here 6 months & possibly before Christmas I may get leave! And then a rug in front of a warm fire, your sweet selves to charm me to laziness and – oh well – let’s wait till it comes off. I might get impatient if I wrote more on that score. …

Cigarettes. By the way, you said in one of your letters that you had sent Dillon 500 cigarettes. I think from a business point of view you should know that the parcel contained 200. He did not tell me for a long time, but when he did, I thought you ought to know in case Coln Lunn [the merchant] made a mistake & only packed 200, charging you with 500.

The men were delighted with the share they got of them. Dillon, dear old chap, was almost pathetically grateful….

My kit & cheque book are wandering about somewhere in France or England & have been doing so for the last about 40 days, & at present I sit twiddling my thumbs & waiting! When I came out of hospital, lo! I had no hat, no belt, no change of linen, no nothing except for a pair of Tommy’s slacks & a tunic! I managed to go to Le Havre where I spent fabulous sums on making myself look like an officer, having managed to borrow a cheque, which I changed at Cox & Co’s…

By the way, darling, you may send that kit for which I asked although probably by the time I get it all my other kit will come tumbling back & then I shall be once more told I possess too much.

All love to you my sweet sister & to John, of whose approbation – told me through your letters – I am more proud than I can say

Your always affectionate Brer Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EZ177/8/3/79-82)

“I thought the Military Cross was only given for bravery but apparently they still have a habit of coming up with the rations”

Conscientious – and modest – Sydney Spencer had been so keen to get back to duty he had not allowed enough recovery time after his experience with shell shock.

Sept 7th 1918

My Dearest Sister

When I ‘caught up’ with the regiment I was immediately ordered back to the transport lines for a few days as they considered I had not given myself enough time to rest enough! Voila! So I am here instead of there! Now in your ear, & John’s ear & Percy’s ear only a secret. Of course I was burning to put this on the first page but thought I would try & look or rather appear on paper bashful. Well I have been – now what do you think? I think I must try & hold out this sentence till I get
[on second sheet:]
on this side of the paper.

Well as I was saying – & I hope by now I have got you into a perfect fervour of impatience – I have been recommended for an MC!! Heavens what a shock it was to me. I thought it was only given for bravery but apparently they still have a habit of coming up with the rations. Mind not a word. I don’t say I have got it, I am recommended for it. So I demand silence on your part until you see in the Times that among some 50 million or so other names of MCs, mine too appears.

All love and affection to you both from

Your always loving Brer
Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/3/75-77)

“Our children will inherit a war eviller still”

John Maxwell Image’s latest letter to his old friend W F Smith saw hypocrisy among those advocating the growing of vegetables, while he and Florence heard that both Percy and Sydney had been wounded.

29 Barton Road
1 Sept. ‘18
My very dear ancient

We went to the Botanical Garden the other day, and found the great lawn stripped of grass, and from end to end now green with potatoes – that of course, one expected – but I boiled with wrath when great beds, which had been carefully set out with scientifically labelled specimens are now filled with kitchen vegetables – e.g. faded yellow beans rattling in their pods – for not a single one of them, either here or in other beds, had been picked. Woe unto you, S. and P., hypocrites – it is all shabby humbug. At least these might have been brought to utility. But for the publicity to myself, I would fain bring this scandal under the eye of the Local Food Controller, and give a dressing down to the paid Curator…

You object to RC “mummeries” and genuflexions which teach the men at the front to forget the inside of a church. What do you think of this, which I heard the other day from the Medical Officer of an Army Hospital at Cherryhinton? It had happened to the RC Padre only the day previously. A poor Anzac soldier was dying of his wounds, and in very low heart. The RC, who liked the man, was endeavouring to comfort him with the assurance that God is a Merciful God and will pardon the sinner who repents. “Ah, Sir”, said the dying man, “that is not my trouble. I know Him to be merciful: it’s the other chap I’m afraid of.” (The word used wasn’t “chap” but “b—“.)

To me it seems that our best, and only, chance, is for America to crush the High Command and Junkers while she is still hot on the business. If we cool down, the Hun, with our own Pacifists and Defeatists, will be too clever for us – and our children will inherit a war eviller still. It is horrible the slaughter and loss among the families known to us here. Not one seems to have escaped, wounds at least.

Florence has two brothers, Lieutenants in the Norfolks and the Civil Service Rifles respectively. When the push began, we had such a joyous letter from Percy at breakfast, and that same afternoon, as I was sitting in my study, a rap came at the door, and Ann’s voice: “Mistress has had a telegram. Mr Percy is wounded.” Very smart the WO was – “regret to inform you that … admitted 8 General Hospital Rouen August 9th. Gunshot wound left wrist and scalp severe.” Admitted Aug. 9: and news to us at Cambridge the very same day.
Then Sydney, the Norfolks, after fighting Thursday, Friday and Saturday – a shell landed exactly where he stood – with 6 of his men – only 1 of the 7 not killed or wounded.

You would imagine Florrie to be miserable. On the contrary, she is in brighter spirits than she had ever shewn during the English Advance. She feels that they are safe, for a short time – no anxiety: and I heard her giving joy, two days ago, to her Cook Ruth, who has just heard news of her brother being wounded and in hospital and therefore safe (poor Ann’s brother was killed).

We have had such charming letters from Colonels and Generals etc, re both boys, each of whom is a favourite in his Regiment. Sydney (whom his Colonel describes as always working “at Concert pitch”) will, I trust, soon be well enough to return. Poor Percy – they fear he will lose the use of his left hand.

Re the Greben. Admiral Troubridge (so I heard) had her nicely encircled, when suddenly came an Admiralty wire, ordering him to let her alone. He was recalled to England to explain his action – and produced this very telegram. They identified the room in the Admiralty from whence it came: but professed inability to identify the sender. Credit Judaeus Apella – Traitors in high places – who will never be dislodged. It is our own people we have to fear.

Kind love from us both to you both.

Ever yours
Bild

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

“Sometimes it’s a piece of shell – next day it will be a piece of bone”

Percy was clearly feeling a little better, and was able to observe life in his ward with his customary wry humour.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
SE1

Sep 1, 1918

My dear WF

Since Thursday morning I’ve lived – my arm went to sleep and has remained so. This morning the muck from it was much diminished and I am actually beginning to sleep without drugs and to walk a few paces. Two nights ago I indulged in the luxury of a bath and was strong enough to balance on one leg when necessary. In a few days time I am to be operated upon again to get at odds and ends of bone not wanted again. Of course I’m no end pleased at the prospect.

The fellow opposite is a perfect [illegible – source?] of wealth. They get something fresh out of him every day. He affords the sisters all the excitement of a bran pie insamuch as all the things are different – sometimes it’s a piece of shell – next day it will be a piece of bone, followed by a chunk of glass or a cork. I’ve got a small wager that inside a week they’ll find a bottle of whiskey in him somewhere.

I’ve asked No 9 (of Oriel College Oxford) what a “stunt” is and he confirms my opinion that today it has reached the stage when it means anything one likes to make it. Still I look back to the day when it was only applied to an out of the ordinary military minor enterprise. Nowadays, tricks in the air are stunts – so are raids – so is a disagreeable field practice or a route march – or the attendance at a court martial – and to go to big things, I remember that huge affair the battle of Messines being described as a “splendid stunt”. So carry on – make it mean what you like & look confident about it, you’ll worry through all right. I’m quite sure that will not satisfy John’s accurate mind.

No. 17 IBD “L” depot Calais means the “L” depot of the 17th Infantry Base Depot situated at Calais. It also means that Sydney having got beyond the point on the lines of communication from which officers are sent to rejoin their Battalion, has been sent back to the base depot, from there to be sent back to his Battalion when required or elsewhere possibly. Alternatively, assuming he is not yet fit, it means either that he is being sent to his base depot to convalesce, or being considered worn out he is there is do a few months tour of duty. Now I feel sure you must know exactly what it means.

This morning was very lovely. After I had been bathed, I lay and watched the Mother of Parliaments shyly move away from the night, down to the water’s edge and then silently and soberly await the first kiss and warm embrace of her other love. (It’s quite all right, I had some medicine yesterday.)

Just there I had to suspend operations for lunch – cold beef salad & potatoes: plum pie & custard. Unfortunately I had to refuse second helpings. However, as I lay here in the sunshine I feel that comfortable replete feeling stealing over me and presently I shall stretch forth my hand for John’s cigar and dissolve in smoke.

With my dear love to you both

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/85-88)

“I shall transfer all my affections to Sister Macgregor”

Percy Spencer tells his sister Florence about his experiences as a wounded soldier in a London hospital. He was very grateful to the kind nurses.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
London SW

Aug 14, 1918

My dear WF

Thank you so much for your letter. It will be nice to see you again on the 20th and you may be sure we shall be alone.

I did feel sort of used up at the end of the day, so yesterday told Sister I would see no one but Miss Image [Florence’s elderly sister in law], who luckily did not come, for she would have found a very sleepy fellow indeed – I slept from 1-3 pm. Last night with the aid of 2 tablets plus 2 more I got to sleep in the grey hours and feel fresher.

You can come just when you like, dear, but as my arm is dressed each morning and the time it is done depends on the amount of work, and sometimes I like to be still for a little while afterwards, you may not be able to see me before lunch – ie 12.30 – 1pm. But as early after that as you like.

Miss Image & Mrs Curtis came today. I do think it is sweet of “Aunt Margaret” to come, & she brought me some lovely roses. Mrs Curtis turned up later and very kindly brought me a supply of matches. I hope Aunt Margaret didn’t mind, but Mrs C is one of my faithful adherents I feel I cannot be “out” to. I foresee I shall have to sort my visitors over, and tell them when to come.

Well, Sister Kirby has just washed me like a mother, and given me some clean pyjamas and I think I love her best at the moment, but I fear we are fickle fellows, for at midnight when I cannot sleep and want my pillows put straight I shall transfer all my affections to Sister Macgregor, for she has a way with her with pillows and a sweet smile to boot.

Yrs ever, with my dear love to you both

Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/68-71)

“God bless our wives and kids” – not the King

Should patriotism, and loyalty to the Crown, be mixed with religion? John Maxwell Image was sceptical – while his wife’s foray into pig keeping was a mixed success.

29 Barton Road
4 Aug. ‘18
Tres Cher

Before I forget, let me tell you a tale of Warren, the gardener we share with the Foster Coopers. He is minister of a Grantchester Chapel, and father of a Lieutenant in the Army, and is himself worthy of such exalted claims – but he turns out to be incapable of bloodshed. All the wives in Barton Rd (my own excepted) are allowed to keep rabbits and fowls… Under Warren’s hands the pigs would die of old age – but that we have arranged with Warrington, our butcher, for the execution, I believe, in October….

I doubt if die Madame [Mrs Smith] would entirely have approved of the blending of all denominations in the afternoon service today at St Mark’s (recently appointed our parish church). Florence was present and tells me that the lesson from Revelation was read by a Sergeant (and beautifully read, with all aspirates correct) who, as he turned away from the reading desk, subjoined “And may God add his blessing to the reading of his ‘Oly Word”. He was followed by a Trinity Cadet from the Front – a gentleman, and who probably had been some sort of missionary…

Are you affected by the singing of the National Anthem, now so usual in Church? But it upsets me. We were told that at the Front, when it is sung, the men never mention King George, but the words they sing are “God bless our wives and kids”. Is that true, I wonder?

I am, most fraternally, yours
Bild

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

Showing off for the pretty girls

The Images were on holiday, where they observed pilots in practice – and taking girls for joy rides.

At Mr Linnell’s Bungalow
Heacham
Norfolk

9 July 1918

MVDB

[Florence] is off on her cycle to Hunstanton about registering for the new ration books…

We could not, for some time, realise the points of the compass here. Norfolk is in East Anglia, therefore the sea stretching before our windows was obviously to the East – that was self-evident – and when at sunset we were confronted by a crimson orb looking straight in at our French windows, we felt I don’t know how! Was it credible that the East and the Battle Ground lay at our backs?

We are in the vicinity of 2 large aerodromes and aerial messengers pass the lazy clouds all day long. On certain days they explode bombs in the sea at a target. These are advertised by a red flag. Once we watched with interest a pompous looking officer in khaki stalk out over about a mile of sand to the Wash. Just as he got there, one, two, 3 columns of water shot up in the air, apparently quite close to him, and of course with a thundering report. It was quite like the pictures of an attack at the Front. Promptly the gallant Warrior turned round and executed a movement to the rear, with slow dignity.

But on ordinary days the planes are simply flying for practice – and altho’ this is extremely dangerous and positively forbidden, a plane will fly down the whole line of bungalows, so close that you can see the men inside saluting the pretty girls they pass and skimming the roofs in the pride of showing off.

Yesterday, for instance, one of these mountebanks was exhibiting over the beach, looping the loop, and skimming the roofs, till all of a sudden he swooped down on to the shingle, in front of a bungalow where stood a tall fellow (in citi, how did he escape khaki?) with his 3 wives [sic], all showy, stylish girls. Out jumped a couple of well-bronzed, good-looking young officers, and the man and his wives accosted them. I heard the wives ask for a fly, and the officer’s reply was that it was “most strictly” forbidden.

Poor souls, an hour later (they had been having tea in the bungalow) they came down the beach, one flying man and one wife mounted the plane and up she started – (the ruts of her wheels on the beach remained till high tide) – and soared for 5 minutes: then, the wife descended, and another wife took her place for another 5 minute sail – and then, at 5.35, No. C6860 was off to Thetford, and I expect a wigging for her officers if they were found out.

Ever fraternally
Bild

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

“Far away from my battalion and the plague of khaki”

Percy had gone on ahead of his unit to arrange billets in the French countryside.

June 19 [1918]
My dear WF

I like this place. Far away from my battalion and the plague of khaki, here I am billeting – at least I was yesterday.

Today I’m just waiting for my people to turn up.

I like the chateau with its monster lime trees – one, the largest I have ever seen. And I like the big farmer who took me into a direct current from his styes and there held me in lengthy conversation – and the old ladies apparently born in strait waistcoats who hold one spellbound for hours in a flood of patois out of which one thing only is clear – they require an exorbitant price for what they are pleased to call an officers’ mess.

The postman, fat & aged, is refreshing too. His cheerful announcement of letters & postcards with all details and contents of the letter is good to the heart. His cheery good day to me as I passed and request for a cigarette & explanation that tobacco is very scarce went straight to my cigarette case.

And then there is M. le Maire, schoolmaster & umpteen other things, who left his overalled charges to show me billeting matters and give me lengthy explanations only pausing to hurl corrections across the courtyard to the schoolroom, where one of the boys was reading aloud.

And then there is Madame at the estaminet where I have my temporary headquarters, who provides me with an interminable reserve of eggs and coffee, and constant shocks. The climax was reached when I asked for milk, and taking a homely bedroom utensil [a chamberpot!], she drew therein a supply from her little goat and served me liberally therefrom.

And that’s my village.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/47-49)

“No wonder the Australians are No. 1 on the Hun blacklist”

Percy told sister Florence about a day off – visiting friends in the trenches.

June 17, 1918
My dear WF

I must have written you a pippy letter – a poor return for all you do for me. I’m sorry.

Many thanks for the splendid tinder lighter and the other items in the parcel. I think I must have left several pairs of socks at 27 Tattray Road, as I do not recognise those you have sent. You are quite right, it wasn’t eyelets but “the things you twist the laces round” I wanted.

I’m still here amongst the strange insects. Never have I seen such a variety of dragonflies, and just now a pair of very large gaudy yellow birds I can’t give a name to came & had a battle outside this bivouac.

Yesterday I had a rather hard but jolly holiday. I got up about 6 am, nightingales singing gloriously, had brekker, and started off up the line with my batman. Just as I started the Huns commenced to shell the village nearby I was going through, which I thought was very thoughtful of them as it gave me an opportunity to go by another route and avoid the place. After a couple of hours walk through charming scenery and peaceful valleys I arrived at my destination. I had only intended stopping an hour, but eventually stopped all day. To lunch so that I could first go round the trenches and see the boys. To tea so that I could play bridge with the CO. Walking across country, taking short cuts and dodging unhealthy places is awfully tiring so I slept gloriously last night and got up late.

Enclosed for John’s edification I send you a note from my rough diamond No. 6 [not found in the archive]. No wonder the Australians are No. 1 on the Hun blacklist.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/45-46)

One long delicious 24 hours of dolce far niente, carefully mapped out by me into periods of rest, sleep, reading, letter writing, hot bathing, shampooing & all those other little etceteras which make life glorious for a while

Sydney took advantage of his quiet day to write to his sister and her husband.

June 7th 1918
My Dearest Florence & Mr I

Turmoil is nearly always followed by peace, & the peace of this present is well worth the turmoil of that past. No Florence, it was not a case of stormed at by shot & shell bravely he fought & well, the turmoil herein referred to, is merely that of a 24 hour journey – nay a 36 hour journey in a truck on a railway line over a distance of 108 miles to get from somewhere to here (thus does the censor hamper & roil our English!) a distance of 33 miles.

My last letter [does not appear to survive] told you of my going to a gas school. Well, I am here. We arrived yesterday afternoon & the course does not start till tomorrow morning, so that today is just one long delicious 24 hours of dolce far niente, carefully mapped out by me into periods of rest, sleep, reading, letter writing, hot bathing, shampooing & all those other little etceteras which make life glorious for a while.

From your ever affectionate brother
Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/3/41, 43)

The German prince who refused to demobilise the British Navy

Prince Louis of Battenberg, the father of Earl Mountbatten and grandfather of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, lived at Lynden Manor in Holyport, Bray. Despite coming from a princely German family, he had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy. His son is the inspiration behind the name for the new Prince Louis.

29 Barton Road
2 June ‘18

My very dear old man,

Before I forget, I must tell you of a thing that has happened in the last few days.

At Duxford (do you know it?) a village a few miles off, I have seen it – there is a large aerodrome. Its machines are eternally flying over our garden, more than a dozen a day. It is a training school for USA aeronauts.

Yesterday the Hon. LL.D. was conferred on President Wilson by proxy
(didn’t he write a most flattering letter of acceptance? Surely I read such a one), and also upon L. of B. [Prince Louis of Battenberg] – now called Louis Mountbatten, Marquis of Milford Haven: – who was immediately afterwards to deliver the Rede Lecture. Subject, the British Navy 1814 to 1914. You may guess that drew me… Such a tall majestic man – but so simple and kindly looking. It wasn’t an able lecture (me judice) – but, all through, I was reflecting the fact that this was the clear head which refused to demobilise the British Navy after the manoeuvres, as the Admiralty purposed, and the Hun had counted on: so that the outbreak of war found every ship fully manned and prepared.

Ever yours,
Bild

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