“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]

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

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

“Primitive and different” in the Balkans

A friend of Ralph Glyn’s was following in his footsteps in Serbia.

88 Ebury St

14th July, 1915
Dear Mr Glyn,

I am just home from Serbia where I have been for the last 3 months – an interesting time at Belgrad [sic]! Everywhere I heard much of you – even once when I fussed about a particularly dirty looking bedroom in the Olympos at Salonika I was assured that it must be the best they had, as it had had the honour of being occupied by you. Even so far as Nish and Belgrad [sic] I used to hear people discussing the young officer who was “very much not married” as they put it!!

Other more serious people told me of the splendid work you did. I always told you that you would succeed, didn’t I? May I congratulate you and offer you my best wishes for its continuance and your safety through this beastly war.

I’m going back to the Balkans almost at once and expect to be out there until the war is over. The spirit of unrest entered into my soul a long time ago and I cannot settle anywhere for long….

The Balkans are interesting in that they are primitive and different and I like the language; also I’ve learnt a lot about medicine, which I always wanted to do but couldn’t. I saw Typhus at its worst in a hospital, of which I have been acting as secretary, within 100 yards of the Austrians, and now I’m anxious to get back before the line gets closed or cut. The Germans have sent about 60,000 to Comlin to strengthen the Austrians there, which looks like another walk through Belgrad [sic].

Do write sometime and tell me such of your doings as are not government property.


Letter from “AEM” to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C31/9)