“When we look back and see how terrible was the peril through which was passed, it is enough to make our blood freeze”

PEACE!

For the Peace which has been granted to us may the Lord’s holy Name be praised! The deliverance has been wonderful; we should be the most ungrateful people on earth if we failed to offer Him thanks. Our late foes are already threatening vengeance for peace terms which they describe as inhuman. But it is only just that the chief criminal should suffer most. As the Allied note stated, no fewer than seven millions of men lie buried in Europe as a result of Germany’s desire to tyrannise over the world, while twenty million other men carry upon them evidence of wounds and suffering. Something was bound to be done to make a repetition of the frightful crime impossible.

It was by a miracle of God’s mercy that we were saved from disaster. When we look back and see how terrible was the peril through which was passed, it is enough to make our blood freeze. But, defending the right, we were “under the shadow of the Almighty.” How better can we thank Him than by striving anew to get His Will done on earth? There are foes with whom we ought to come to fresh grips. Since we have won to-day, let us fight with more eagerness to-morrow. We can put aside machine-guns and bombing places and gas masks, and take up the old weapons of Faith and Prayer, the spear of Truth, and the sword of the Spirit. And may God bless our native land!

Maidenhead Congregational magazine, July 1919 (D/N33/12/1/5)

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“Right in front of the battalion, leading his men in true British style”

This supplement to the roll of honour’s bald list of names gives us more detail about the parish’s fallen heroes.

Supplement to the Wargrave Parish Magazine

ROLL OF HONOUR.
R.I.P.

Almighty and everlasting God, unto whom no prayer is ever made without hope of thy compassion: We remember before thee our brethren who have laid down their lives in the cause wherein their King and country sent them. Grant that they, who have readily obeyed the call of those to whom thou hast given authority on earth, may be accounted worthy among thy faithful servants in the kingdom of heaven; and give both to them and to us forgiveness of all our sins, and an ever increasing understanding of thy will; for his sake who loved us and gave himself to us, thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Baker, Edward
Private, 7th Wiltshire Regiment, killed in action on the Salonica Front, April 24th, 1917, aged 21. He was the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Baker. He was born at Wargrave and educated at the Piggott School. When the war commenced he was working as a grocer’s assistant in Wargrave. He volunteered in 1915 and was sent out in 1916. He was killed by a shell in a night charge.

Barker, Percy William

Private, 7th Batt. Royal Berkshire Regiment/ Killed at Salonica, July 4th 1917, aged 19. He was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. William Barker at Yeldall Lodge. His father was for twenty years a gardener at Yeldall. He was born at Crazies Hill and educated at the village school. On leaving school he began work as a gardener. He was one of the most helpful lads on the Boys’ Committee of the Boys’ Club. He volunteered May 11th, 1916. On July 4th, 1917, he was hit by a piece of shell from enemy aircraft while bathing and died within an hour. The Chaplain wrote to his parents “Your loss is shared by the whole battalion”.

Bennett, William
Sergeant, 8th Royal Berkshire Regiment, killed in France, Dec 3rd, 1916 aged 25. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bennett, of Wargrave, and when the war broke out he was working on a farm. He volunteered at once. He was killed instantly by a shell. One of his officers wrote: “Sergt. Bennett was the best N.C.O. we had in the company. Fearless, hardworking, willing, he was a constant inspiration to his platoon. His splendid record must inevitably have led to his decoration. We have lost an invaluable N.C.O. and a fine man. He was buried with all possible reverence about half a mile from Eaucourt L’Abbaye”.

Boyton, Bertram
Lieut., 6th London Brigade Royal Field Artillery, died of wounds in Palestine, Nov. 9th, 1917, aged 36. He was educated at King’s College, London, and was a Surveyor and Architect by profession. He was a Fellow of the Surveyors Institute and had won Gold and Silver Medals of the Society of Auctioneers by examination. He was married to Elsie, second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Morris, at the Parish Church, Wargrave, Sept. 7th 1905, He was a member of the London Rowing Club and the Henley Sailing Club, and keenly interested in all athletics. He enlisted in the Honourable Artillery Company in April 1915. He was given a commission in the 6th London R.F.A., in July 1915 and was promoted Lieutenant soon after. He went to France with his battery in June 1916, and to Salonica in the following November. He was sent to Egypt and Palestine in June 1917, and was wounded while taking his battery into action in an advance on November 6th. He died at El Arish on November 9th, 1917.

Buckett, Ernest Frederick

Private in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, killed in action Sept. 20th, 1917, in France, aged 23. The dearly loved husband of Dorothy May Buckett, married May 31st, 1917. He was educated at the Henley National School, and before the War was a slaughterman with Messrs. O’Hara & Lee, butchers, Henley and Wargrave. In 1910 he joined the Berkshire Yeomanry (Territorial Force), and was called up on August 4th, 1914, at the commencement of the war. He immediately volunteered for foreign service. He went to France in the spring of 1915. When he had completed his five years service, since the date of his enlistment, he volunteered for another year, but received his discharge as a time-expired man in January 1916. In July, 1916, he was called up under the new regulations and sent immediately to France where he remained, except for leave on the occasion of his marriage, until he fell in action, September 20th, 1917. (more…)

Magnificently maintaining the British tradition through dangers and hardships

News of Reading men:

PERSONAL

We desire to offer our hearty congratulations to Lieut. W. D. Hart of the Royal Marine Artillery, who has been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in the field. Lieutenant Hart, MC, joined the RMA in August 1915, and obtained his commission in October 1916. Before the war he attended the Young men’s Bible Class, and was a valued member of our Church Choir.

Our friend Private F. Snell is once more in the No. 1 War Hospital, Reading, for treatment. We trust the operation which he must undergo may be successful, and that we may ere long have the pleasure of welcoming him back into our midst.

Private Hedley Wyles has been in hospital in Dublin. We are glad to know that he is now better, and able to resume his duties with the Royal Wiltshire Regiment.

Private Duncan Frame has gone to France with the Hants Regiment. Our thoughts and prayers go with him and the many other Broad Street “boys”, who are so magnificently maintaining the British tradition.

We were glad to have Lieutenant Oswald Francis, MC, worshipping with us once more when he was recently home on furlough, and to know that he has come safely through his many dangers and hardships.

Private E. G. Emmett is at the RAF Armament School at Uxbridge, hoping to qualify as an Instructor in Machine Gunnery. It was a pleasure to see him looking so well when he was on furlough a few days ago.

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

“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)

Veritable hell: “We knew that some one had blundered, but obedience is the first rule of the army”

Here is a dramatic account of life in the Army Service Corps taking water to the thirsty troops one terrible day in Mesopotamia.

(We publish the following account of an exciting adventure in Mesopotamia in justice to the gallant men of the A.S.C., in case there should still be any who are liable to despise the man not in the front line. ED)

“A Stunt.”
(By a FORD Driver in Mesopotamia)

We had just completed an eleven days’ continuous run, and were expecting a day or two’s well earned rest, but such was not to be.

We reached —— at midnight and “parked up” our cars outside the old Turkish Cavalry Barracks. I “clicked” for guard, and at 3.30 a.m. took a telegram from a despatch rider, containing instructions to move off and load up immediately, So at the first streak of dawn, amid much “wailing and gnashing of teeth”, we “wound up,” and after picking up supplies we started off on a joy ride across the desert to an unknown destination, for a journey of indefinite duration.

We arrived at ——, and to our great joy were informed that we were to rest for the remainder of the day. What hopes!

For the next two days we had barely time to eat the necessary “bully,” so busy were we rushing supplies of all descriptions to an advanced position.

At the end of the second day, thinking we had earned a little sleep, we had just got into our blankets when the whistle announced “fall in.”

This time (about 8.30 p.m.) it was to pick up troops, under sealed orders. For the first fifteen minutes all was well, then we pulled up, and the fun commenced. All lamps out, no smoking, talking or blowing of hooters, the greatest precautions to be taken.

Of course, you should know that we were on the desert, following a track which we had never travelled before, everything pitch black, laden with troops, with the knowledge that with us rested the success of the action planned for the following day break.

When returning the following morning, we could hardly believe our eyes, when we saw the route we had taken in the dark, deep, yawning precipices and huge boulders of rock, and the places of danger which we passed but “where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise.” Anyhow, after about an hour’s ride or so, during which time we had relieved the tension on our nerves by smashing a few radiators, losing the column and sundry other mere “inconveniences,” it was decided to pull up for one-and-a-half hours till the moon should show just a glimmer, for progress under the circumstances was absolutely impossible.

This hour-and-a-half was even more nerve racking than driving, as we hardly dared to whisper, for here we were, stranded in “No Man’s Land,” where, apart from the actual enemy, viz.:- Johnny Turk, the great nuisances were the hostile and cunning Arabs, who do not at all object to using us as targets for practical jokes of a serious nature.

At last we started off again, and after many and indescribable difficulties, we parked up under the shelter of a big hill to drop our men and to wait for dawn and further instructions.

The day broke and with the dawn our brave men went over the top of the hill, but Johnny was not asleep this time, for he soon started throwing a few shells over, and we, being somewhat interested, stood on top of our cars to watch the proceedings, until one of the enemy’s aeroplanes “spotted” our “place of rest” and gave information to his artillery, who got our range to a nicety, and we (reckless, daring spectators) began to discover, a few at a time, that the underneath parts of our cars needed attention, but I freely admit, that to stand and allow someone to throw 6in. shells into our midst, while powerless to reply or defend ourselves, did not greatly appeal to me at least.

However, our time of idleness was brief, for word came through, even in the early dewy hours of the morning, that the only water available for our advancing troops was from the salt lakes.

Then we got busy, packets, tanks, buckets, petrol tins, canvas water carriers, everything capable of holding water is flung aboard and we dash off by two’s and three’s from our “park” to gain a river some few miles across the desert.

But Johnny had anticipated our movement and had the river banks nicely covered with snipers and machine guns, so instead of running “en bloc” and filling up altogether, we had to dash up one or two at a time and fill up our receptacles.

When all the difficulties were overcome, and we were ready to commence our return journey, it was approximately 10 a.m., with a temperature of 110° in the shade, when we regained sight of our troops it was practically midday, with a temperature of 128° in the shade.

Then came a veritable hell, the water had to be got to the troops and orders came through that the M.T.’s were to “carry on.”

We knew that some one had blundered, but obedience is the first rule of the army.

The M.T.’s had never been under fire in Mesopotamia before and never since, except in cases of single cars on special detail, but here we were, about eighty cars in column, ordered to practically reach the front line trenches, shells bursting right and left. Did someone mention “Brooklands?”

Never before had Ford cars travelled at such a speed, sixty pounders make excellent accelerators. There were many miraculous escapes, cars riddled with machine gun bullets and shrapnel, some cars put out of action, here and there was a man putting on a spare wheel under fire, but marvellous to relate, not one of our men was touched. I shall not forget a shell dropping and rolling under a car about two yards away.

Thank God, ‘twas a “dud.”

Eventually the trenches were reached, the sight was almost beyond description, dead and dying, troops mad with thirst, they had been drinking salt water, and more men had been “laid low” by sun and thirst than anything else.

Disregarding discipline, our cars were raided, the water speedily drunk, and all craving for more. Then we drove, hither and thither, picking up wounded and dying, and made our way to the field hospital. By this time it was “every man for himself,” and we practically worked individually, using our own discretion. During this time, two of our men gained Military Medals, and one of our officers was “mentioned” and has since received promotion.

Night was now drawing near, but it made no difference to us. Half was ordered to move the Casualty Clearing Station and then drive thirty miles (this time in safety) across the desert for more ammunition.

On the return journey, I, personally, and several of my “pals,” I know, fell asleep over the wheel, to be suddenly and rudely awoke by a “gentle” drop into a hole or a bump against a sand bank.
When we got back we found that our troops had retired about seven or eight miles, and while we were fetching the stores and wounded back, the Arabs had great sport “sniping” at us, and some of us nearly got into trouble for stopping to reply to their “overtures of good will.”

But we successfully completed the retirement, and Johnny did not follow up, so the “stunt” s finished, and we returned to —- for a rest, — what hopes, we were dead beat, no sleep for over fifty-six hours, but within twenty-four hours we were again on our ordinary work of carrying supplies from one dump to another, to be forgotten until the next stunt, but don’t forget, — when the M.T.’s are wanted again, they will be there.

The Newburian (magazine of St Bartholomew’s School, Newbury), July 1918 (N/D161/1/8)

Reflected glory

A Reading man was honoured for his heroic acts.

Trinity Roll of Honour

Sidney A. Bushell, R.A.F.
Walter John Harvey, A.S.C.
A. Vernon Lovegrove, R.G.A.
Ernest Pocock, 2/6 Warwicks.
Howard H. Streeter, M.G.C.
William Vincent, W.R.B.
Jack Wakefield, Royal Warwicks.
William Alfred Williams, 313th Reserve Labour Battalion.

We are delighted to hear that Lieut. John A. Brain had safely reached Reading on Tuesday, May 21st, and was being cared for, within reach of his friends, at No.1 War Hospital. After a few days his progress became less satisfactory, and on Tuesday, May 28th, his condition was again giving cause for anxiety. A further operation was found to be necessary, and we are more than glad to be able to report, at the time of going to press, was that the operation had been carried out quite successfully, and that he is now doing well.

Our heartiest congratulations to Lce-Corpl. Herbert E. Longhurst, on being awarded the Military Medal, “for his gallantry on March 25th, 1918, when be assisted to save a badly wounded officer under heavy machine gun fire and a fast advancing enemy. Later he rendered great assistance in rallying troops and stragglers, and worked hard on a trench system.”

Our quotation is taken from the white card expressing the appreciation of his Divisional Commander, which has been forwarded to his friends by the Major Commanding his Company, together with “the congratulations of all his old comrades in the company,” on his well-merited honour. We understand that Lce.-Corpl. Longhurst is in hospital somewhere in France, making a good recovery from the effects of German gas.

We trust that he may soon be fully restored to health, and can tell him that we at Trinity are taking to ourselves a little reflected glory and we are all the better and happier for it.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, June 1918 (D/EX1237/1)

“The line is a very different country now to what it was when I was here in September 1916”

Percy Spencer, as a single man, relied heavily on his sister Florence for the supply of toiletries and other things, and even asked her to do his mending. He was pleased to hear that former art student brother Stanley had been asked to join the War Artists scheme. As Percy proudly predicted, it was to be the first step in a starry career.

June 5, 1918

My dear WF

Thank you for the long letter, battery, key ring and tinder ‘lighter’, the lighter however does everything but light and the battery is the wrong shape. I think I said tubular. However I’m trying to get one here.

I got the last parcel – in fact all you have sent I think, dear. But letters do seem scarce when one’s only correspondents are a dear sister and one’s mother and father.

Can I give you another wants list –

6 eyelets for field boots
1 pair long laces (field boots)
2 pairs mohair laces (ankle boots)
Cake Wrights coal tar soap
Tube Kolynos tooth paste
Socks

3 or 4 pairs of socks I have, want mending. May I send them back to you on receipt of some from you?

I can’t remember whether I left any at my diggings. If you have none I’ll write to Mrs Curtis.

I’m having a lovely time camped in a wood by a stream. Worked pretty hard, as the orderly room has run downhill badly and I’m applying ginger.

We generally get a few hours bombing each night and occasional shelling and gas shelling, but nothing very near. Had a lucky escape further back a week or so ago. The Huns shelled our camp and dropped a shell close to the tent the doctor and I were in and between 2 bivouacs. Luckily we were all sleeping at the time and the force of the explosion and another from the shell went over us.

Last night I went for a walk up the line as I was feeling rather bilious. It was about 8 miles up from here. A very different country now to what it was when I was here in September 1916. It was a very quiet trip, no shelling or machine gunning. Arrived back at 2.30 am and feel all the better for my walk this morning.

Have you seen that Gen. K has got a CMG?

Your news about Stanley is the best that has reached me for many a day. Of course it’s a terrific compliment to his work and an appreciation which may be the making of his name.

I rather think that Sydney is north of me.

Yours ever
Percy


Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/41-44)

“It was like a benediction falling on the earth, & the air wounded & bleeding from the incessant noise & was rested & sighed contentedly for that brief space, when respite was allowed”

Sydney Spencer had been unable to take his diary with him to the front line, so he wrote up his experiences on 28 May 1918. He was able to delight in the glories of nature even there, despite the horrors of war.

I propose filling in these pages, my dear Mr Diary, by giving you a broad idea of what happened in the line during these days from Whit Sunday [19 May] until Thursday 23, as I am not certain as to details from day to day.

The normal day’s work consisted of short ‘patches’ of sleep at any odd time, sometimes only twice during the 9 days tour 6 hours sleep in the 24 hours, on an average between 2 & 3 hours. Meals were at 4.30 after stand down. Lunch at 12.30 or 1. Tea at 4 pm & dinner (so its name went & for trench life well deserved it too) at 7. For 4 days from 7.45-8.45 we had to wear small box respirators for practice.

Nights were spent on trench duty, wiring, digging, & for me on one evening a calling party. Also patrols. I only took one, a listening post, although I was detailed for 4 of them. The first three were cancelled as the entire regiment did them instead. After three days in my part of the line I was shunted into immediate support just behind 8 & 5 Platoons, about 25 yards behind the front line. This meant that I became a sort of ‘fatigue dance of death’ in the evenings. I had, while in actual front line, a Lewis gun post, and a rifleman’s post. This new position of mine was not the most comfortable as master Fritz was very fond of playing attention to that quarter twice a day, but we got used to that. On our last day we had the biggest strafe, which included an aeroplane at a very low height.

The weather while we were up the line was glorious from the day we went up until we came out, without a cloud with the exception of one day which rained soft, rained on us & made the soil beastly.

Now something about the nature I was able to study during my tour of ‘Narrow streets’. We had times, occasionally we had moments when peace seemed to reign supreme. One day I was able to stand in the W- C- trenches for fully five minutes without hearing guns either near or distant, nor the clack of L. Guns or Machine guns, nor the hum of aeroplanes. It was wonderful that smooth quiet moment or two when the month of summer was allowed to hold full sway. It was like a benediction falling on the earth, & the air wounded & bleeding from the incessant noise & was rested & sighed contentedly for that brief space, when respite was allowed.

Now to talk of the life I saw in ‘Narrow Street’. First of all the butterflies. They were beautiful. Dear old Peyton used to laugh at me and say “Spencer has a lot of little boxes in his bivy filled with butterflies”, but that wasn’t true. I wrote to Florence one morning & just when I was in the middle of a list of butterflies which I had seen, master Boche started and gave us 3 /12 hours of the worst I have tasted, but I finished my letter all the same for that. Here is a list of butterflies.

1. Small white.
2. Green veined white.
3. Tortoiseshell.
4. Red admiral.
5. Peacock.
6. Small fritillary.
7. Large fritillary.
8. Small Heath.
9. Meadow brown.
10. Small blue.
11. Swallow Tail.
& I think but am not certain
12. The Painted Lady.

I did not see the large white nor orange tip, nor brimstone, which is passing strange, don’t you think, master diary? Of other insects, the handsomest was a glorious heavily built yellow gold & black bodied dragon fly. One morning, in the cool of the hour after stand down, I found one asleep & he went about contentedly on my [illegible] sleeve until the warm sun kissed him into life again. This seemed to highly amuse the men, especially when I shewed them his huge maw, which he opened when I blew on him gently: they also thought me very intrepid, as they thought all dragon flies stung! Frogs there were in abundance, & myriads of dusty coloured running spiders. Also many beautiful beetles. I saw one black & red fly busily hauling off the dead body of a spider! Had he killed it, I wondered? A turning of the tables. Also I found a beautiful emerald green ladybird, who when turned on its back opened its wing casts, prised itself onto its head, turned a somersault & landed on its feet in a tick! That is about all I have to relate.

For the rest, the usual round of wiring parties, water carrying, etc.

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

Shattered leg, indomitable spirit

A brave Earley soldier had to face a future with only one leg.

Lieut Hugh Kenney is making excellent progress in No 1 Reading War Hospital. Severely wounded by machine gun which shattered his leg, necessitating amputation, he nevertheless retains indomitable spirit and enjoys the visits of his many friends.

Earley St Bartholomew parish magazine, May 1918 (D/P192/28A/15)

“If you dare mention little tattling birds & ‘scared of shells’ to me again I’ll —“

Sydney Spencer addressed this note (written in pencil) to his sister Florence. Someone had told her he was afraid of the costant shelling.

Time 4.15 pm Date May 17th Year 1918 Place A mortal coil

My Darling Sister Mister

I want nothing now except some toothpaste, my love, & you could send that with your weekly letter. You say weekly, but I seem to get them nearly every other day! If you dare mention little tattling birds & ‘scared of shells’ to me again I’ll —. …

If I had felt scared I should make no bones about the matter, but you must remember that as a bombing officer I got so used to ‘explosions’ that although shells & whiz-bangs & machine guns struck me as being a bit incongruous & out of place – as they seem a sort of affront & one feels inclined to say ‘how dare you! Do you know who I am?’ Still, to say or even whisper that I was scared of them is emphatically a terminological inexact trick….

I hope that will temporally [sic] satisfy a sister who loves to feel that war is all martyrdom to an always affectionate

Brer
Sydney

PS But it isn’t. NOT NOHOW.

Letter from Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/3/35)

“His splendid bravery inspired all troops in the vicinity to rise for the occasion”

An experienced officer who in peacetime had worked managing a Wargrave estate was one of the few to be honoured with the Victoria Cross for his great courage. Oliver Spencer Watson (1876-1918) is buried in France.

The Late Lieut.-Col. O. C. Spencer Watson, V.C.

A supplement to the “London Gazette” of May 8th gave the following particulars respecting the award of the V.C. to Lieut.-Col. O. C. Spencer Watson, D.S.O. (Reserve of Officers), late King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry:

“For most conspicuous bravery, self-sacrificing devotion to duty during a critical period of operations. His command was at a point where continual attacks were made by the enemy in order to pierce the line, and an intricate system of old trenches in front, coupled with the fact that his position was under constant rifle and machine gun fire, rendered the situation more dangerous. A counter attack had been made against the enemy position, which at first achieved its object, but as they were holding out in two impoverished points Lieut.-Col. Watson saw that immediate action was necessary, and he let his remaining small reserve to the attack, organising bombing parties and leading attacks under intense rifle and machine gun fire.

Outnumbered, he finally ordered his men to retire, remaining himself in a communication trench to cover the retirement, though he faced almost certain death by so doing. The assault he led was at a critical moment, and without doubt saved the line. Both in the assault and in covering his men’s retirement he held his life as nothing, and his splendid bravery inspired all troops in the vicinity to rise for the occasion and save a breach being made in a hardly tried and attenuated line. Lieut.-Col. Watson was killed while covering the withdrawal.”

“The Times” of May 11th gave the following particulars, respecting Lieut.-Col. Watson: –

He was the youngest son of the late W. Spencer Watson, F.R.C.S., and was educated at St Paul’s and passed into the Army from Sandhurst, being gazetted to the Yorks Light Infantry in 1897. He was invalided in 1904, after taking part in the Tirah campaign 1897-1898, in which he was dangerously wounded, and in the China campaign of 1900, receiving the medal for each of these campaigns, in the first case with two clasps.

In 1910 he joined a Yeomanry regiment, and on the outbreak of war went with them to Egypt as captain and took part in the fighting on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Promoted major, he came home to join a battalion of the Y.O.Y.L.I., going with them to France early in 1917. In May of that year he was dangerously wounded at Bullecourt, and received D.S.O. for gallantry and leadership.

He returned to the front last January, although he had not recovered from the effect of his wound; was shortly afterwards promoted lieut-colonel, and was killed in action on March 28th. Lieut-Colonel Watson was a keen sportsman, and was known locally as a good cricketer, boatman, and footballer, as well as a straight rider to hounds. Up to the time that he joined the forces in the present conflict he had been the estate agent to Sir Charles Henry, Bart., M.P., at Parkwood, and managed the Farm at Crazies Hill.

Wargrave parish magazine, June 1918 (D/P145/28A/31)

A strange looking man who looked ill, got into a trench & started making charts

Sydney Spencer was obviously a suspicious looking character! Halma is a strategy board game involving constantly moving pieces across the board.

Sydney Spencer
Friday 10 May 1918

Got up at 7 am and went over to my platoon front to make out my range charts. I was taken for a spy and questioned by an Essex officer. The sentry had described me rather comically. I was to him a strange looking man who looked ill (!!) & wandered about, & finally got into a trench & started making charts!

At 9.45 gave evidence in a case at the orderly room & then had a bath at old brewery. Met Forster & another chap with whom I walked back.

Found that once made, our battle positions were to be changed! We seem to be sort of playing at Halma! After lunch I had a long sleep from 2.15 pm till 4.30 & much I enjoyed it too. Now I am writing to dear old Jumbo [Kenneth] Oliphant who wrote me last night. His address is St Margaret’s, Fern Hill Park, Woking.

Stand to tonight is at 8.15 pm. I took out a carrying party. Two journeys down a road you wot of, master diary. We had one casualty from machine gun fire. A C Company man. Got back at 11.30.

Letters from Florence, Broadbent & Father. Wrote a long letter to Florence.

Percy Spencer
10 May 1918

A glorious day. Paterson lunched with us. The Lance Corporal who was no good – only offence apparently that he plastered tracts on latrine seats.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

The air is rent now & then by the zip zip of machine gun fire!

Even now he was in the trenches, Sydney Spencer was able to note the resilience of the local wildlife.

Thursday 2 May 1918

10.30 am. In a CT trench long disused. It is almost impossible at the moment to believe that I am within 1000 yds of the front line! The banks are alive with dandelions. The villages or vills are bedecked with them. Larks sing high, the drowsy bumble [bee], pollen laden, blunders from one dandelion to another. In a pond below in the trench I have watched the quick water boatman & the dainty daddy long legs, & I have watched the bright yellow frog & teased him into an enforced immersion of over 80 seconds.

The air is rent now & then by the zip zip of machine gun fire! A perfectly glorious day. Butterflies scattered all over the landscape.

It is tea time & my man Fox is making me a scrambled egg tea at the bottom of my dugout! After stand to hour, I took out a party of men & duckboarded CT going down to White City Trenches. Had an hour’s sleep at 2.30.


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

“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)

A game with Johnny Turk

A Sunningdale man was fighting in Turkish-ruled Palestine.

Bevis Jerome’s letter from Palestine we are reluctantly obliged to condense for we have not space for the whole of it. He writes on April 23.

‘We have made some big moves since I wrote last to you, and have been through some heavy fighting, but I am glad to say I have come through it safely so far. We started off for the first push from Beulah and the first place we went through was Beersheba. I expected to find a town, but it had only a few nice buildings and mostly mud huts. We then went up into the Judean hills and came up with the Turks again. They were holding some very strong positions and just behind them were some wells that we wanted to get.

Well it took us four days to drive them from the hills and I can tell you we were jolly glad when they were on the run again for we had had just about enough of it. Then we had a short rest while the mounted troops chased till they were held up and of course we had to go in again.

We have had some very long marches and it was wonderful how they managed to get our rations up and the guns along for it is a very bad country. After a time we came to Solomon’s wells outside Bethlehem. The Turks were holding some strong positions but soon had to give way. The weather at this time was very bad as the wet season had started and we had only thin drill suits.

We had a very rough Christmas as we were in the lines and it rained hard all day and it was February before our mails arrived, still better late than never. Our boys had a game with Johnny Turk a few days before Christmas. It was an early morning stunt and I do not know who were more surprised, our lads or the Turks, for they were at each other before they knew it, and some of the Turks were still under their blankets, you may guess it did not take long to hustle them out. We got over 100 prisoners and 3 machine guns. Not a bad Christmas bow.

I have been to Jericho and do not think many of us want to go there again. The weather is a treat now and we are in the line at a pretty part of the country. I am enclosing a photo of the Hill of Temptation just outside Jericho which I bought at the Monastery that you can see about half way up. It is a wonderful place and built right into the mountain. It is the hill where Our Lord was tempted by Satan.

Again thanking you for the nice parcel,

I remain yours respectfully,

Pte. B. Jerome.’

Sunningdale Parish magazine, July 1918 (D/P150B/28A/10)