“All right, now mind all you – will attend the next – parade”

Back in the UK as he undertook officer training, Percy Spencer was amused by a sergeant particularly keen on ensuring religious observance.

July 29, 1917
My dear WF

Sunday, and if there could have been any doubt about it, this was settled by the burly orderly sergeant who appeared in our hut at 9.50 am and in stentorian tones demanded all Nonconformists on parade. Nobody moving, he added. “All right, now mind all of you – will attend the next – parade, C of E. Doesn’t matter a – what you are. Understand?” and I’ve no doubt he sings hymns beautifully.

There are strong rumours that we should be away from here by Friday next at latest. But I have nothing definite to go upon.

If I get 3 or 4 days I shall run up to London and get my kit together. Here I have nothing but army clothes. At the cadet school I shall want quite a lot of civilian things I have.

I am writing on the front at Abergele, a very quiet little place, charmingly situated north of St Ormes Head. On Tuesdays we come here to bathe – a great privilege but rather spoilt by the march here which the officer who takes us tries to do at 150 paces a minute, a frightful step.

I’ve heard from Will this week. He seems very well and still deep in the heights of mountains and size of lakes.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/6/58-61)

Great excitement at news of air raid

Our diarists were concerned by news of a major air raid in London.

William Hallam
7th July 1917

We had a Tasmanian soldier in to tea to-night. After tea I had a bath and shaved, dressed and along to Bath Rd reading room till 9. Bought 3 15/6 W. Sav. Certif. This makes 80 I have. Great excitement again – news of a big air raid on London but not much official news so probably exaggerated.

Florence Vansittart Neale
7 July 1917

Another bad air raid in London. So far 27 killed, 141 hurt. Have not heard extent of damage. (Over 40 killed.)

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

A heavy death toll

Our diarists heard the distressing news of massive air raids in other parts of the country.

Florence Vansittart Neale
13 June 1917

To tea with Krohutres. Mrs Iscombe there – told us about London air raid…

Big air raid in East End, London. Heavy death toll – school & near Liverpool.

William Hallam
13th June 1917

Great excitement amongst the people to-night hearing of a great air raid on London.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

Dismay as buildings are requisitioned

Not every organisation was patriotically delighted to give up their premises to war purposes.

The Waifs and Strays Society received with dismay, as no doubt did many other Church Organisations, the news that the Great Hall of the Church House had been requisitioned for Government purposes, and that its doors were therefore shut against all ‘May Meetings.’ It seemed to the ‘Waifs and Strays’ that a good – perhaps, a better – substitute for their great Annual Meeting would be (in addition to the early Celebration in St. Paul’s Cathedral) an afternoon Service of Thanksgiving and Supplication in a central London church which stood in no danger of being ‘commandeered.’

Wokingham St Sebastian parish magazine, May 1917 (D/P154C/28A/1)

Trapped in London

A Swiss acquaintance of Will Spencer had a business journey abroad interrupted by the British fear of anyone with German connections.

16 May 1917
After supper Frau Block chatted with us in the veranda. Her husband only got as far as London on his way to America. By the time he had got the papers which he required for travelling to America, the Dutch boat by which he intended to cross had sailed. Then came the “verschaufter U-Boot Krieg”, & now, as the son of a German mother, he has not yet obtained leave to return here.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/27)

New laid Easter eggs for wounded soldiers

Easter 1917 saw the children of Crazies Hill not longing for chocolate eggs for themselves, but real fresh eggs for wounded soldiers to eat.

Crazies Hill Notes

The children of the Sunday School, their parents and friends, during Lent and Easter week contributed £2 6s. for the purpose of purchasing Easter Eggs – new laid – for wounded soldiers. Mrs. Woodward acted as Hon. Treasurer to the fund, the success of which is entirely due to her energies in the matter. Mr. Woodward most generously provided packing cases and also packed the eggs with the satisfactory result that the following were dispatched and arrived still fresh and unbroken at various hospitals:-

100 eggs to Woodclyffe Auxilliary Hospital, Wargrave
100 eggs to 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth
72 eggs to King George Hospital, Stamford St., London
72 eggs to No. 1 War Hospital, Reading
66 eggs to 1st Western General Hospital, Fazekerley, Liverpool

The total number sent being 410.

Wargrave parish magazine, June 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

Mutiny in Russia, revolution in the East End

The worst mutiny of the Russian Revolution took place at Kronstadt in March, when two admirals were among the officers murdered. Admiral Viren was the unfortunate commander to be cut into pieces.

1917

Hear that Russian sailors killed all naval officers. Cut up an Admiral & sent pieces to each ship!!

In air raid in London hear police say children might press on the yellow from poison in shells.

They say air raids purposely go East End so as to make the people revolutionary.

Hear Stepney very revolutionary. Hate the King, say the war caused by personal quarrel between our King & Kaiser.

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

The “Daily Mail” is demanding that Asquith & Churchill should be impeached

Expat Will Spencer had plenty to interest him in the Swiss newspapers – the first news of the Russian Revolution, plus the official enquiry into the fiasco of the Dardanelles expedition.

16 March 1917

Max Ohler’s birthday.

News in the paper of a revolution in St Petersburg. Also a rumour that the Czar is a prisoner, & has abdicated, & that his brother, the Grand-duke Michael Alexandrovitch, has been appointed regent….

Read an article in by the London correspondent of the “Bund” on the report of the Commission which was appointed to enquire into the conduct of the British Dardanelles Expedition. Lloyd George had said in Feb. 1915 that the Army was not there to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the Navy. The responsibility for the land operations(100,000 killed, wounded & missing, & 100,000 sick) being persevered with, rested with Asquith, Churchill & – though one is reluctant to say it under the circumstances – chiefly with the late Lord Kitchener.

My question is, did Asquith know that the chances of success were too small to justify the prosecution of the campaign? Or did he think it best to be guided by the opinion of Kitchener, & was it the expressed opinion of the latter that the chances were good enough. In the latter case, I am sorry for Asquith. The expedition was an expensive failure, but if the attempt had not been made, probably plenty would have said afterwards that it ought to have been made. It is always much easier to judge after the event.

The “Daily Mail” is demanding that by way of a warning to others, Asquith & Churchill should be impeached. Apparently it was from Australia & New Zealand that the demand for an enquiry came, very large contingents from those colonies having taken part & suffered heavily in the campaign.

Diary of Will Spencer (D/EX801/27)

To be attested for the army

A teacher was set to join up.

9th March 1917

Mr Pyke absent in London to be attested for army.

Newbury St Nicolas CE (Boys) School log book (90/SCH/5/3, p. 33)

“The nation generally has not yet realised the gravity of the situation”

Cranbourne people were encouraged to invest their savings in the war effort.

The Sunday School was crowded on Thursday, March 8th, when Mrs. Boyce gave a very vigorous address on “Food Saving.” She said that the nation generally had not yet realised the gravity of the situation, and the necessity for the control of food. We had suffered from want of foresight on the part of the Government, not merely during the early months of the War, but during the work and self-sacrifice of us who remain in the safety of our homes.

Our Sailors and Soldiers are doing their bit. We also have to do our bit by using as sparingly as possible all commodities that are sea-borne.

Mr. Creasy after spoke on the subject of war-savings.

It may interest residents of Cranbourne to know that a National War Savings Association has been started, and up to date 134 people have joined. Anyone may join, and a card is supplied. The subscriptions are paid by buying sixpenny coupons and affixing them to the cards. When a member has 31 sixpenny coupons on his card a War Savings Certificate will then be given in exchange for the completed card.

War Savings Certificates for 15/6 may, if desired, be purchased outright. The money paid by each person is sent at once to the Treasury, London, it is in fact money lent to the Government, who in return give generous terms. For 15/6 the Government agree in five years to give one pound sterling.

All the money collected is spent on the Army and Navy to provide men, ships, guns and munitions to terminate this great war.

The more money each individual leads the Government the sooner relations and friends will return to their homes and settle down to a peaceful life once more.

Cranbourne section of Winkfield District Magazine, April 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/4)

Fine clothes for wounded officers

Wargrave Surgical Dressings Emergency Society had been very productive, sending masses of bandages, clothing and bedding for the uses of the wounded. Note the class-related distinctions, with officers given better quality items.

Wargrave Surgical Dressings Emergency Society
Feb 22nd, 1917.

Fifteen Bales have left the Wargrave workrooms since January 5th, 1917, in answer to the requisitions of the Director General of Voluntary Organisations.

Six Bales have gone direct for the use of the troops at the Front containing:
564 pairs of Knitted Mittens
277 Knitted Mufflers
148 Knitted Helmets
226 pairs of Socks (heavy hand-knitted)
12 heavy long sleeved Cardigans
12 pair of knitted Gloves
5 dozen pieces of Soap.
And oddments of knitted Comforts.

These all went addressed to the A.M.F.O., Le Havre, France, for immediate distribution.

The other Nine Bales contained:

228 Pneumonia Jackets
308 treasure Bags
156 Long heavy operation Stockings
58 pairs of fine pyjamas for Officers
16 fine Flannel Shirts for Officers
156 Surgical Boots and Slippers
13 Pillows
24 Pillow Cases
36 Handkerchiefs
108 Knitted Washcloths
6 double-lined fine twill Flannel Dressing Gowns for Officers
8 fine flannel dressing jackets for Officers
6 pairs of soft grey flannel ward suits for Officers

Hospitals sent to:

C.O 11 General Hospital, B.E.F., France
Sister-in-Charge, 8 Ambulance Train, B.E.F., France
Military Orthopaedic Hospital, Duncane Road, Shepherd’s Bush
The Stewart Norfolk War Hospital for Officers, Thorpe, Norwich
The Matron 17 Park Lane, London (for Officers)
The Highland Casualty Clearing Station, B.E.F., France
Military Hospital, Park Hall Camp, Owestry (Urgent).

Wargrave parish magazine, March 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

“Are we down-hearted”?

A PoW writes home after two years in the hands of the enemy.

Prisoners of War.

We think it would interest our readers to see extracts from letters from one of our Prisoners of War, Private W. Simmonds, of Dedworth. Every month we send in from Clewer a small collection for the Prisoners of War Fund. This month 16/- was sent. The Boys of St. Augustine’s Home contribute largely towards it. Mrs. Buttress and Mrs. Cowie very gladly receive contributions, however small, as they all mount up. They are sent in the beginning of each month, and after reading the letter you will see how very grateful the recipients are. The parcels used to be packed weekly at the Town Hall, Windsor, but now they are sent straight from the London Depot, 4, Thurloe Place, London, S.W.

Letter from Private Simmonds, Kriegsgefangenenlager, Prisoner of War, Langensalza, Germany, Jan., 1917.

Dear Mrs. Cowie,

So pleased to have the pleasure of writing to you, to let you know that I am still in splendid health, thanks to the parcels you send me weekly, for these I think go a long way to keep our spirits up in this very trying time, but I suppose we shall have to stick to our well-known motto – “Are we down-hearted”? At present there is still the same answer amongst us, that is, “No.” But we shall be pleased when it is all finished and we can return to those who are dear to us again.

Madam, I should be very pleased if you can give any instructions as to the acknowledging of the parcels, as no name of the donor is received from the Central Prisoners of War Committee, London. It was a splendid parcel, and of course I should like for yourself to continue packing the parcel, but there we are in war time, and orders are orders, so we must abide by them for the present, but not much longer, I hope.

You say in your letter, Madam, that we must have patience, but I am afraid mine won’t last out; being here two years has tried my patience to its utmost, but still with the help of those fine parcels I have managed to pull through with flying colours. I shall certainly have to visit that War Shrine in Dedworth when I return.

And now will you kindly convey best wishes and thanks to His Worship the Mayor of Windsor, yourself, and all helpers of the Committee and all in the dear old Royal Borough and vicinity for their-never-to-be-forgotten kindness towards myself and all other unfortunate comrades of the Borough. I am sure, Madam, if you and the Mayor heard how good we all speak of you, you would be prouder than the V.C. winner. Again thanking you and all members of the Committee for their kindness,

I remain yours thankfully,

W. SIMMONDS (Private).

Clewer St Andrew parish magazine, March 1917 (D/P39/28A/9)

An intelligence role for a dancer?

Many wounded prisoners of war were transferred to neutral Switzerland. Will Spencer wanted to meet a new arrival, still suffering from wounds from the first day of the bloody battle of the Somme. He also heard from his sister in law Natalie, a dancer, that her husband, Harold, had been called up, and that she too hoped to do war work.

19 January 1917

A letter from Natalie, from their new home, 18 Elgin Avenue, London NW. Harold has to join the army on Jan. 19th (today), but only for Garrison service at home. She is hoping that her knowledge of Spanish, & a personal introduction to the Head of the Intelligence Dept, will lead to her getting something to do at the latter.

Mr Arthur Hodges, now Lieutenant, who was wounded on July 1st, has now been brought to Chateau d’Oex. Wrote to Lieut. H., offering to call on him next Wednesday (from Gstaad).

Diary of Will Spencer, 1917 (D/EX801/27)

Aircraft insurance in Hurst and Twyford

A Hurst charity decided to insure its premises against damage from air raids.

12th January 1917

Air-craft Insurance.

It was resolved that the Air Craft Insurance on Shaftesbury Avenue property, Hurst Almshouses, and Twyford Almshouses be renewed for a further period of twelve months; and the clerk was instructed to apply to the Trustees of the Brockenborough Estate for payment of the premium on Twyford Almshouses.

Hurst Parochial Charities trustees’ minutes (D/QX30/1/4)

Six months on the Somme underage

Florence Vansittart Neale and William Hallam came from different backgrounds, but both their daughters were affected by the war. Phyllis Vansittart Neale, now 25, was nursing, while the teenage Muriel Hallam’s boyfriend had been called up, having already seen service underage.

Florence Vansittart Neale
9 January 1917

Got telegram from Phyllis, arrived Monday night in London – crossing 5.45. Henry went to [illegible] & on to London, & came down same train. I met them at Maidenhead on my way from Polly….
Phyllis seemed very well, except chilblains on her hand.

William Hallam
9th January 1917

Poor Muriel’s sweet-heart Frank Brittain has been called up again for the Army. He had 6 months on the Somme and was then claimed by his father as under 18. Now he is 18 this last week & has to join up again.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)