‘I shall probably have to do the common or garden “over the bags” stunt one merry morning’

Percy Spencer’s hopes of a commission seemed to have been dashed, but now at last he was going to get the opportunity – although he would have to undergo extra training, and would probably not get the administrative job he was most suited for.

June 11, 1917
My dear WF

You’ll think I’m a dreadful correspondent, but you’ll have guessed the reason of my silence – I’ve been terribly busy.

My commission papers went up with an application for a direct commission to be granted to me from the OC of the Battalion I was and am wanted for. (By the way this CO is now a Brigadier.)

Well, there is a rule that no direct commissions are to be granted. So altho’ my application was recommended by the Divisional Corps & Army Commanders & a special application was made to the war Office, the WO has refused to allow me to hold commissioned rank, unless I first come home for a cadet course. The reason given being that it has been found undesirable to grant direct commissions whatever the circumstances to men who have been mainly engaged upon clerical work. Isn’t it funny – and isn’t it a nasty sort of reflection upon “clerks”?

Just then was not an opportune moment for going into such matters. So it was put on one side until today.

Tonight my papers have gone up again for a cadet course in England; and if I dodge the shells & the submarines I ought to be in England within 3 weeks for a cadet course somewhere.

The crab of the business is that it will only be by the veriest luck that I shall get an administrative appointment at the end of it, and shall probably have to do the common or garden “over the bags” stunt one merry morning.

Anyhow, I feel I ought to hold commissioned rank, whether as a fighting or an administrative officer – and this stigma upon clerks must be removed, what!

If and when I come home I shall have some long stories to tell, some of which I’m sure John will wholly approve….

Yours ever
Percy

The asparagus was great. Never was it eaten with such relish or in such extraordinary circumstances.

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/38-40)

Food ships from America

John Maxwell Image was hopeful that food restrictions might soon be a thing of the past now that the USA was a fully fledged ally.

29 Barton Road
3 June ‘17

Mon frere

Here’s a good news [sic] though (so it be true) which I heard yesterday from young Mike Foster’s American wife – the town holds no other such causeuse – she is a good deal too in the know, and she is quite recently back from the States – well, she told me that things are moving so briskly that by July 1st the American foodships will be coming over to Europe two or three every day…

With all love
Bild

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

Cambridge is crammed with cadets

The Image cats’ joy at the effect of food restrictions on their own diet, mentioned by John Maxwell Image on 13 February, inspired his wife Florence to write a comic article. It became her first publication when it appeared in Punch. Dr Image also noted sadly that all the new undergraduates were international students, all the British school leavers having joined up.

6 May 1917
My dearest old man

Cambridge is crammed with cadets. There are also youths in caps and gowns. I saw some in the Great Court when I dined last in Hall – alas not one English face above the white collars.

Your kind congratters on “Rations” pleased the Signora greatly. This morning she had a letter from her brother at the Front containing the compliments of the Mess to whom he had, dutifully, read it – and about three day ago another brother, in another part of France, vowed that the Punch so stuck out his pocket that he went about gingerly, fearing a reprimand for the misfit of his tunic. How fond the brothers are of her!

Tuissimus
JMI

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

A marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons

Percy Spencer was having difficulty getting his commission organised. He wrote to Florence with the latest news – and a story from the Somme.

May 1, 1917

My dear WF

Isn’t it perfect weather!

And that’s just about all that’s perfect hereaway.

Thank you for all your frequent letters: they’re so refreshing. Your last about [censored] is too delightful. I sometimes quote extracts from your letters to the Mess, so you see you’re helping to cheer more than one lonely soldier. Your jokes are always hugely appreciated.

Tonight I am going to a town some miles back to drive with the original officers and sergeants of my old Battalion. I thought it was very kind of them to remember me as I have had so little to do with them.

And tomorrow I have to go and see a still greater brass hat about my commission. I have an idea that there is no intention to hurry my affairs, the reason being, of course, that my experience & weight here are difficult to replace. However sooner or later I expect I shall be an officer or an angel – I have had thoughts of becoming the latter quite frequently of late.

Rene Hunt tells me that [Percy’s brother] Horace is going to apply for a commission.

Before I forget it I must tell you a story of the Somme battle last year.

Our Headquarters were in some ruins off a very narrow and deep lane. On one side of the lane was a series of small splinter proof dugouts; on the other side a battery of guns. One of the splinter proofs just opposite a gun was occupied by “Baby” Huish, the Surrey cricketer (a splendid raconteur). “Baby” tells me that one morning, annoyed by a fellow walking about on his roof and throwing off portions of its brick and sandbag cover, he crawled out and asked the man what he thought he was doing. The man, ignoring him, continued to clear material from his roof and then turning towards the gun hailed the gunner in his gun pit. “How’s that, Bill, can you clear ‘er na?” Voice from gun pit – “Yes, that’ll be all right if we don’t ‘ave to drop below eighteen ‘undered”. Exit Baby to safer quarters.

A sad thing has happened to us. The rum issue has ceased, leaving us with a stock of lemons and a supply of all spice, cloves and cinnamon, no more rubbers of bridge and rum punch nightcaps. Jerome K Jerome’s “Told after supper” is nothing to our experiences in punch brewing – we can all make one pretty well, but there are some – well, I’m reckoned an expert.

A short time ago when moving into the line, the Signalling Officer noticed an ammunition box. “What’s that?” he asked. “Oh, that”, replied an innocent telegraphist, “is a test box Sapper Newport is making”. “Is it, I should like to see that”, said the officer, and opening the box all eager to examine the boy’s clever work (and he is clever) discovered a marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons!

But, alas, those days are over – over for good I hope.

Well, dear girl, goodbye.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/30-32)

We are not fighting the German nation

John Maxwell Image reminds us all that the war was not really against the German people, but against their leaders, the militarised Prussian aristocracy (the ‘Junkers’) and royal family.

29 Barton Road
3 April ‘17

I should like to announce that we are fighting Hohenzollerns and the Junker Oligarchy – not the German nation.

Your affect.
Bild

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

The horrors of winter war are over now

Spring was welcomed by John Maxwell Image, who sympathised with his brother in law Percy Spencer at the front, and was amused by wife Florence’s enthusiastic adoption of a potato allotment.

29 Barton Road
18 March ‘17

[Talking about his house]
Just at the garden’s paling lay an expanse of grassy fen, belonging to King’s College. It was indeed a godsend to this house as extending our outlook, our privacy and air freshness. Well – this glorious mead has been cut up into potato allotments! Crediti posteri. Florence (as full of energy as yourself) applied for one; as did most of the Varsity people around us: and has got 10 poles, which come close up to our palings. I declined anything to do with it…. It will give her plenty of fun, anyhow – though tillage by our old gardener at 4/6 per diem won’t speak for economy, I fear. Our two tall athletic Abigails are to take in turn the spade-culture. Indeed the whole scene is a lovely one, as beheld from our upper windows, male and female, old and young, rich and poor and each busy and toiling.

The winter happily is over. It will be spring campaigning. Iam ver appetebat cum Hannibal… The horrors of winter war. I remember a bit in one of Florrie’s brother’s letters, where he spoke of “the terrific bounds of red hot lumps of metal off the frozen surface of the road a few yards away from me”!!

Our best wishes and love to you both
Bild

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

The greatest of inventions that this war has produced

Percy Spencer was instructed by sister Florence to write to her husband John Maxwell Image about a new kind of weapon – the Stokes mortar, invented by Wilfred Stokes in 1915.

Mar. 13. 1917
My dear John

I’m under orders from WF to write and tell you “all about the Stokes gun”, with a sort of threat that if I don’t I shall forfeit your affection. Do please give her some lessons on the ‘power of command’.

And now to show she needs none, I’ll tell you, not everything, but a few things about our famous little strafer.

I suppose the character of this war was bound to lead to the development of the mortar. For one thing, in a vast number of cases the distance between the opposing trenches is so short that to hit the enemy trench without damaging one’s own demands closer shooting than modern artillery has yet completely achieved. Hence, as I say, the development of the mortar which from its size and easy portability to forward positions was bound to become an important weapon for short range work. But no one who saw the primitive weapons of this kind which we possessed in 1915 had much hope that the “wonderful Stokes gun”, the existence of which was at first a carefully guarded secret from the Huns, would prove the success and surprise to the enemy that was expected by the experts.

Its advance upon old types was at once recognised, but I do not think its unique effectiveness would have been thoroughly appreciated, but for the perseverance and pluck of our men who work the guns.

Of course owing to their weight and difficulties of ammunition supply, all guns, mortars and mechanical contrivances for trench warfare diminish rapidly in value as an attach advances, but for preparing the way for an assault I believe the Stokes gun is one of our most valuable weapons, and perhaps our most valuable trench weapon. I should not be surprised if it were ultimately classed as the greatest of inventions that this war has produced, excepting, of course, the Kaiser’s utterances.

I’m told its rapidity of fire has the most terrorising effect and in one heavy battle last year, when the preliminary preparation had not been thoroughly completed, it was our Stokes strafe (creating I believe, a record for volume of fire) which not only ripened the harvest for our fellows, but actually gathered it in, for the Huns never waited for them, but ran in with their hands up.

Curiously enough, arising out of a discussion in the mess yesterday upon the reward of the great inventor, some said that the joy of personal achievement was his real reward, others that it was determined purely by the extent of his cash profit, and another that his reward was essentially the consciousness of having benefitted humanity, the latter opinion being cited as Mr Stokes’ recompense; and upon its being suggested that the last was rather a matter of point of view, like a true Christian and Britisher, he challenged the suggestion and stood to his statement.

So, altho’ I’m afraid Mr Censor will not pass any remarks as to the principle of the gun, its rate of fire, ranges and kinds, anyway you’ll be satisfied that it’s a bonnie weapon [censored].

A little while ago WF asked me if a report of “our raid” was true. It was indeed a champion affair, never do I remember such a tornado of fire, but as you will have realised, beyond the broad facts that there was a raid, and I believe the most successful one ever made by the British, the newspaper report is sheer nonsense. The gorgeous gentleman who resides in comfort somewhere behind and seems to have the newspaper glory of this Division peculiarly under his care, succeeds only in getting well outside the truth, and making us appear ridiculous in the eyes of those who do know what is and what is not possible.

Recently I have missed 2 opportunities for souvenirs. One, the top of a brass candlestick discharged from a shrapnel shell at us last night – whether Fritz has grown humorous or artistic, I don’t know, but it strikes me as a rather charming idea of conveying “evening hate”. The other was very curious. In clearing the manure refuse etc from a farmyard midden a stone’s throw from here a Uhlan, intact, with lance complete, was discovered standing upright in the mire. Unfortunately he had been completely souvenired before I heard about him, otherwise you should have had a morsel. It would be interesting to know how he met his death.

Well, I think that’s all the news I have to tell you just now. Life is fairly lively, and we still have to do a good deal of shell dodging.

However it’s all towards the end of the war.

With love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/10/11)

A most unsoldierly appearance

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence to gently discourage her frequent food gifts, as he felt guilty accepting them when he knew food was in short supply in England.

Mar. 6, 1917
My dear WF

Yes, I got the socks & very good & welcome they are.

I’ve just read a very interesting document on “Delousing”.
Camphor and Naphthalene are or is recommended. Can you in some odd corner of your time help me in the greatest problem of this part of the world next to shell dodging!

I loved your last letter: as I think I have told you already, my greatest regret is that I can’t preserve your letters. I keep ‘em till my pockets present a most unsoldierly appearance & then they have to go west. Why “west” by the way?

Garwood wishes me to thank you for the “rum” you sent him. It makes a splendid drink.

The food question seems to be acute, and I feel that we are probably living better here than the masses are at home. Of course I love your parcels, but don’t you think, dear, that the time has come when they should be suspended, or made more occasional, and the cake cut out altogether. Please don’t be hurt, we thoroughly appreciate your dear gifts, but personally I almost have a guilty conscience in enjoying them.

I have been so busy I am sorry there is no time for more just now but to send you both my dearest love and to hope you’re both as fit as I am.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/24)

“I think we must be winning”

Stanley Spencer missed the art world while serving as a medical orderly. The Raverats were French artist Jacques and his English wife Gwen, also an artist, and the grand daughter of Charles Darwin, who had been a fellow-student of Stanley and his brother Gilbert at the Slade. Their daughter Elisabeth was born in 1916.

Feb. 24th, 1917.

Dear Florence,

I do not know how many letters I owe you, but I will do my best. I got the Lond. Univ. Coll. Pro Patria and Union Magazine to-day which contained a lot of real interesting news about a lot of my old Slade friends.

I am aching and aching for a good book to read. Of course the boys have a few cheap novels, but I would rather waste my life away than read a sentence from one of these ‘books’.

Do tell me all about Mrs Raverat’s baby. Oh, what would I not give to see it. When I heard about it I laughed for sheer joy, and when the chaps in the tent asked me what I was laughing at I said “I don’t know; I think we must be winning.”

The photo of J.M.I. has not come yet, but I get mails everyday just now, so I expect it will be here soon. Much love to him and to you, Flongy dear.

From your loving brother

STANLEY.

Letter from Stanley Spencer to Florence Image (D/EX801/20)

Cats bless food restrictions

John Maxwell Image wrote to his old friend W F Smith with news of how food rationing was affecting his household, including the pets cats, formerly fed on scraps and leftovers, but now treated to tasty offal not fit for human consumption. Lord Devonport was the Government Food Controller. More sadly, Rudolph Cecil Hutchinson, a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, had been exceptionally severely wounded at the Battle of Loos back in 1915. After over a year’s suffering, he finally died in Cambridge in February 1917. He seems to have been generally known as Cecil. A memoir of him was published privately in 1918 and can be downloaded free.

29 Barton Road
13 Feb. ‘17

Praeclarissime EMY


The Signora … is away at a Newnham College concert, with a fair Marylander, youthful spouse of a Trinity MA, who on his part has been spirited off to scientific War Work at L’pool…

Well, as for Devonport, she accepted him enthusiastically. The hosue is put on rations of bread, meat and sugar – and so cannily that I can’t discover any difference. Helen and Ann, two excellent sisters, are devoted to their mistress’s will. Joe and Binnie bless Devonport all day, for, obviously, the house-meat cannot any longer be cast to the cats: so special supplied – I trust not 5 lb weekly – of lights and such like dainties come in for their use and behoof. Their little barrels bulge – and the 2 tails are rolling pins for size.

We have for many months baked our own bread – the best standard bread I ever ate! 12 lbs of flour produces a long loaf each day, which is bisected each morning, one half for the parlour and one for the kitchen. Helen, who is the surgeon, rigorously adheres to the Devonport law, and always I see some over on our table at night. The only difficulty is there being so very, very little flour for puddings. I don’t mind, and the petticoats don’t grouse….

We had a military funeral in Trinity this morning. A BA Lieut. There must have been over 100 troops – the coffin on a gun carriage, draped with the Union Jack. The first part of the service in Chapel at 11.45. And then the procession – band playing (very poorly) the Dead March went down Trin. St and Trin. Lane, through the Paddocks. Rudolph Cecil Hopkinson, Lieut. RE – died of wounds on Feb. 9th.

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

“Sickened by this uncalled for impertinence of President Wilson”

Percy Spencer spent part of his leave with his parents in Cookham, then headed for his sister’s house in Cambridge. Brother in law John Maxwell Image had some more to say about the political scene – he was very unimpressed by US President Wilson!

24 Dec. [1916]

Florence specially bids me join her good wishes with mine to Mrs Smith and you, we can’t at this juncture say for a Merry Xmas, but our heartfelt good wishes that you may have a Good and Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.

She got back here on Thursday [from Cookham]: and is at this moment in bed with a rancorous cold which she brought back from her voyaging, together with her brother. Poor fellow, he had to leave the very next morning (and is back at the Front by now): but he longed to see me, just once again. He is one of those fine fellows whom you feel you can trust through thick and thin. Florence showed me a thing he values far above medals – an autograph appraisement of him by the General. It is scribbled in pencil, but I never read stronger and I may say more affectionate words of the way he is looked up to and regarded by the entire Staff of the Brigade; and (it would have been tame without that) of his coolness under fire and his courage. Prizing it as he did, he would not take it back, but left it for safety – not with his parents, but with Florence. It is touching to note how the brothers, one and all, turn to her for everything.

I have never felt more bewildered – more sickened – than by this uncalled for impertinence of President Wilson. Does he dare to pretend that, in his view, the desire of each side is “virtually the same”, to secure the “rights and privileges of weak peoples and small states”?!!!

To quote the Observer, he would “present Germany with a gratuitous certificate of moral equality. Take the Hun out of quarantine and provide him with a clean bill of health”.

The Right Answer is the answer of Jehu.

Let Mr Wilson ponder what will be the lot of America, should Germany establish the world-empire she is striving for.

Nevertheless, ever since Agadir in 1911, I have placed full trust in Lloyd George as a fighting chief – once he could shake clear from “Wait and See”. He has done that now. He is practically a Dictator. It may not be pleasant for the home-folk, but it is the winning card. Once more is true the claim, “I know I can save this people, and that nobody else can”. It is Lloyd George or nothing.

Carson, no doubt, might: but he is older: and would he have received such unanimous acceptance?

How will the worn out Balfour manage at the FO? He was so singularly gauche in his announcements from the Admiralty that I am of those who see, in his appointment and that of Lord Robert Cecil, a sop to the Salisbury influence. He resembles Grey in being a gentleman. In other things I hope he will be clearer and keensighted.

The Hall was full on Wednesday – 199 Cadets and 37 Dons and Officers. Government limitation of 3 courses. I had 1. Hare Soup. 2. Wing Fowl. 3. Mincepie – and felt far more comfortable than after the gorges of old time. Wines were Fizz and Port, only. The former foamed forth during the soup. The Master and VM were unable to come, and I was in the Chair: and let in for some of the oratory. It was a joyous party. The boys (nearly all of whom had served at the Front already, and had wounds and medals to shew) were so sweet and friendly. They buzzed round, begging your signature on their menus. They set such store by this, and send the cards home to the ends of the earth. I signed my name well over 100 times. Fortunately I had the Colonel on my right, so I got him to stand up and send them to their places; else we should have got no forrader, at one time. At 10 he and I eloped: but the fun went on – and what most relieved me was that I escaped the sickening song Auld Lang Syne…

Your most affectionate
Bild

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

To see a beribboned brother

Florence Image went home to Cookham to see her brother Percy, home on leave.

29 Barton Road
17 Dec ‘16

Dilectissimo!

This is the Husband all forlorn
Who ours’d the inauspicious morn

And the frozen snow crackling beneath taxi wheels that bore his missus off. She is gone for six days to see her people, and notably a beribboned brother, home on leave from the front…

Next Wednesday (20th) Trinity entertains with Champagne and Feasting and dress clothes a number of Cadets of No 5 Battalion who are taking their Commissions: and I would fain be present. I caught it so for missing the last of these functions.

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

“Do they really think it economical and saving?”

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image was not impressed by the way his college was implementing food restrictions. His colleagues were, he felt, likely to have extra helpings of the main course if they felt short changed.

29 Barton Road
8 Dec. ‘16
My very dear old man,

Yesterday (Thursday 7th) was our Commemoration – not Feast, that’s been abolished during the War – dinner…

But only listen! This is a notice sent round by the Council on Dec. 6 (Wednesday).

“In accordance with an Order made under the Defence of the Realm Regulations (see “the Times” Dec 6, 1916) the High Table Dinner on and after Friday December 8th, and until further notice, will consist of three courses and cheese. On Wednesdays and Fridays, soup, fish and the choice of a sweet or savoury will be provided. On other days the dinner will consist of soup, meat and the choice of a sweet or savoury. A vegetarian dish will continue to be provided daily as an alternative to the fish or meat course.
Henry Jackson
Vice Master.”

Do they really think it economical and saving to have 2, or possibly 3, helpings of sirloin or Saddle? Instead of one help of joint and one of some cheap entrée, made up out of scraps and leavings?

Gwatkin’s letter is to be published separately. I hear that the Foreign Office will use it to state our case. I read it in the Camb. Review and admire and respect it even as you do.

Love to you both from us,
Bild.


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

All right, in a topsy turvy world, but assaulted by vermin

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with a blackly comic description of dealing with vermin at the Front.

Decr 7, 1916
My dear WF

A few lines to let you know that if the rest of the world is topsy-
turvy, I’m all right.

This in spite of a very troublesome day yesterday.

To begin at the beginning, by the simple expedient of obtaining new blankets and jumping into a complete new change of clothes, I solved the vermin difficulty. At least I thought I had until yesterday when a persistent irritation of the left forearm led to investigation with unhappy results. However I was cheered to think that here at last was a chance for Aunt Margaret’s shirt. So I took the treatment thro’ all its stages, defended my cubicle with a “box barrage” of Keating’s cum sulphur and retired to roost in a whirl of asepso, brimstone and virtue – the first result was to get rid of the [illegible], who sniffing the Keatinged atmosphere, decided that “outside was good enough for him”. I was just dropping off to sleep when I found his place had been taken by a large rat who perched on the cigar box which had contained Aunt Margaret’s shirt, just above my head, was devouring the stump of a candle by which I had been reading a few pages of The Lost Tribes.

From that moment I got no peace – encouraged by the comfortable warmth of my bed the little centipedes attacked in force at all points – but the Asepso – Keating’s – sulphur – Aunt Margaret’s shirt was too strong a defence, and baffled and exhausted they fell back upoj their original line, there to hold a concert of war. Apparently the result was a decision to evacuate – anyway my person seemed for the next hour or two to be reckoned a sort of tram centre. However the evacuation completed I slept until, awakened to receive a very late or very early post. Previously I glanced thro’ the various papers until I got to orders – nothing on the front page; turned over and there staring me in the face I read – 1345 – The Louse Problem on the Western Front. With a yell I hurled the hudget at the orderly and retired beneath the blankets there to solve the problem from the sure defence of Aunt Margaret’s shirt.

This and the rat problem are all about [sic] we have to worry about – the rat problem I shall solve with an air pistol I am going to get.

[Censored]

I’m as glad to get all your letters and parcels – the letters are often my only contact with home, and they are so refreshing in these monotonous surroundings.

[Censored]
Sorry this is such a verminous monograph.

My dear love to JMI.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/37-41)

Painting shells khaki

John Maxwell Image wrote to his friend W F Smith. Wife Florence had taken up war work in Cambridge.

29 Barton Road
14 Nov ‘16

The indefatigable [Florence] has spent the morning making Hospital Swabs – herself the 30th lady at Cats: and is spending the afternoon in the Engineering Lab. painting shells a khaki, to preserve the metal. The Munitions Office has sent a special deputy down here to try for alarger output of shells: so I infer that ours must be of a good brand….

Times next Monday to cost 1 1/2d!!!

Our affectionate wishes to you both.

Tuissimus [yours]
Bild

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