Shot through the head

News of the last days of Berkshire soliders continued to trickle in.

Casualties

Sergeant A E Bolton (2nd DG, Queen’s Bays), died in France; Private W H Brown (8th Royal Berks), twice wounded, and prisoner since last April (omitted before); Frank Hicks (2nd Royal Berks), at last officially presumed killed on 9th May, 1915; W Painter (RE), wounded and gassed; J W G Phillips (RAF Labour Company), killed; H J Pembroke (1st Royal Irish Fusiliers), killed in action, 1st October, 1918; G H Poulton-Smith (RGA), wounded; died (of pneumonia) in Italy.

Captain Bullivant’s Death

One day last September, his unit, the 1st Middlesex Yeomanry, was holdig a line of out-posts in Palestine, when a Turkish column was reported to be moving across the front. He rode forward with an orderly to reconnoitre, sending his trumpeter back with orders for the squadron to follow. When they did, however, they at once came under fire, and had to go into action (no doubt dismounted), without having see him or being able to gather which way he had gone in the tangle of ridges and valleys; and the engagement continued for some hours, finishing up in the dark, miles from where it began. Search was made for him early next morning, and a patrol brought in his body. He had been shot through the head, and “must have come right on to them when he galloped over the ridge”, writes his subaltern. His orderly had had his horse shot, and could not himself be traced at the time of writing. A gallant death: but a sad loss to his family and to this parish, in which he took great intrest, and in whose affairs we hoped he was destined to play an active part. He was a Rugby and Cambridge man.

Lieut. Alfred Searies has made a wonderful recovery, and been home on leave. He was buried and damaged while occupying a “pill-box”, and only recovered consciousness five days later in hospital. His MC has been duly awarded him.

Burghfield parish magazine, December 1918 (D/EX725/4)

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“If they dress my hand in the morning you mustn’t expect me to be very lively”

Percy was still suffering in hospital.

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

Aug 16, 1918

My dear WF

Had a pretty bad night and a frightful head this morning. However a couple of [illegible] and a morning’s sleep put me all right again. My hand was dressed partially without pain today. To make up for it they “re-adjusted the extensions”. However, I feel much comfortabler.

Aunt Margaret is writing to you about Tuesday. The surgeon has chosen that day to reset my wrist. But I believe Aunt Margaret has squeezed Sister for you to come & see me in the morning. But if they dress my hand in the morning you mustn’t expect me to be very lively, dear.

So Bates & Sgt Newton have written you. The former is a most excellent & interesting fellow, very much under the spell of the East. Newton was the fellow I was training as orderly room sergeant – has done some gallant things and got the Military Medal.

I’ll write later on to Gen. Kennedy, dear.

With my dear love to you both

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/7/73-74)

“My dear old platoon”

We last saw Sydney marching back from the trenches through the night.

Wednesday 10 July 1918

We were marching still when Wednesday came in. Arrived at our first long resting place between W & V at about 3 am. We had a cup of tea & a biscuit on the wet ground for which I am very grateful. Slept with my head on my pack after discovering that my batman had left my burbury behind & brought with him an old one!

Started off again at 5.30 & got here to H…t at 7. Saw men into tents. Then wandered about rather unhappily not knowing whether I belonged to C Company or not, at last orderly room let me come back to B Company at 11.30 on parade. Saw my dear old platoon again.

After lunch took my clothes off & got into my valise in the sunshine. Slept until rain caught me. Slept till 5. Dressed & tea. Spent evening lolling etc.

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

A new star

Always interested in the natural world, Sydney Spencer was excited by news of a newly discovered nova.

Sydney Spencer
Saturday 15 June 1918

I was orderly officer today & got up at 5.45, & saw the men’s breakfasts. Came back to mess, washed & dressed. After breakfast I wrote to some Scotch firm about shortbread. Looked round billets, then gathered up officers’ advance pay books & orders for pay for Battalion. Dillon let me have his horse ‘Charlie Chaplin’ & I rode to Acheux & got the money. A glorious morning. Saw Barker’s batman & sent message to him. Got back at 12.30. Dished money out.

After lunch took drummers up to range & picked up clips & ‘empties’. After tea wrote letters. After dinner a staff parade. Capt. Weave is back with Battalion. Dillon taught me double patience & we played a game, up till 11 pm. I used my new field glasses to try & find the new star in Aquila but I couldn’t find it.

End of 10th week [at the front].

Florence Vansittart Neale
15 June 1918

Expected 2 officers but they did not come.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer in France (D/EZ177/8/15); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“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)

“We had a sort of bet as to whether I should scream or not. I didn’t so I won!”

Sydney’s soldiers were not keeping up to the standard he wanted. To make matters worse, he had toothache.

Sydney Spencer
Wednesday 29 May 1918

Got up at 7.45 am. After breakfast on parade at 9 am. Inspected platoon. It was dirty.

At 9.30 to platoon & tried to get them ready for company inspection. The Gods were against me. Sergeant Leigh was Battalion Orderly Sergeant, & Corporal Wise was company orderly sergeant. Net result, inspection, despite my immortal efforts to get the men clean, a ‘fiasco’. Let down by one man with a dirty bayonet.

After lunch sat & waited for orders to come through about fires. There arrived at 3.30 & we all proceeded to write them out. I live in tents, mark you, & I have to hang up orders reference woodwork (being stoves) being inspected if orders about asbestos floorings etc [sic]!

After tea I took the bull by the horns, in other words I visited the American MO & he tugged out my bad tooth. He had two tries & got it out. We had a sort of bet as to whether I should scream or not. I didn’t so I won!

Percy Spencer
29 May 1918

A lovely day. Our planes very active over Bosch lines. We move today. Played bridge with Major P[arish] as partner until relieved. We won, altho’ I didn’t call but once.

Florence Vansittart Neale
29 May 1918

News not very reassuring – but line not broken.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Moving from billet to barn, from barn to billet

Sydney Spencer hosted a big dinner.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 16 May 1918

I was orderly officer today so that today’s diary means: Reporting B HQ at 8.45, inspecting billets from 9.30-11.30, censoring letters from 11.30 till 12.30, inspecting dinners. After lunch a lie down, a short read, mounting guard at 3.30. Dismounting old guard. 4 pm tea.

After tea preparation for dinner guest night. Dinner a huge success. Consisted of soup, choufleur au gratin [cauliflower cheese], salmon mayonaize (don’t know how to spell it!), pork with baked potatoes & cauliflower, and sweet of plum pudding & custard – savouries of hard boiled egg etc on toast, coffee, biscuits, chocolate & cheese, port, sherry, whiskey & lime juice, & smokes. Do not think, my dear old diary, that I am a gourmand! I hate remembering what I have eaten. But I just put it down as a curiosity in this year of the war 1918!

Took staff parade, visited guard. Mess crowded with officers & all company & when I got to bed they had a jolly time.

Percy Spencer
16 May 1918

Cash. I went to Beaucourt to draw cash. Met Anderson who asked to be remembered to WF [Percy’s sister Florence Image]. Spent day in moving from billet to barn, from barn to billet.

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

“My platoon front looks very tidy & neat now”

Sydney Spencer had his platoon spick and span.

Sunday 28 April 1918

Got up rather late. Washed & shaved after breakfast. Usual parade with platoon. Read farewell order from Div. commander. My platoon front looks very tidy & neat now. A new corporal joined us, Coproral Wise by name.

Back to our foxes earth & worked out my PMC accounts & [mulcted?] the company for 20 francs apiece.

After lunch read for a time & then had a glorious sleep till 4 pm, then tea. My prismatic compass came today, also a letter from PS who is in the 1/15 Londons, & has work in orderly room so I hope to hear that he has got adjutancy later on, also a letter from Walter.

A company had casualties tonight from shell fire, at the same time as my post was shelled.


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

“There are some splendid fellows here”

Although he calls it a field card (the printed cards issued to soldiers about to go into action, or just admitted to hospital, to inform family members), this note to Florence was actually on proper notepaper.

Apl 25, 1918
My dear WF

This is only a field card really to let you know I’m well and with my unit. Today I was hauled into the Orderly Room and I shall probably soon be officially Assistant Adjutant, but please don’t let anyone address me as such.

There are some splendid fellows here. So different from a reserve unit in England.

With my dear love to you all.
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/31)

It is all so like soldiering in England except for the rumble of artillery and the latrines

Sydney Spencer’s soldiers complained about smelly, unsanitary toilet facilities.

Tuesday 16 April 1918

Had the warmest and most comfortable night’s rest since being in France. Rose at 7.15. Am now inspecting billets. 9.30.

10.50 am. Have finished orderly officer’s work for time being. Latrine accommodation was the great bug bear! Had to “square” smell up, as poor old Archdale would have said had he been alive.

I am beginning to settle down nicely now although one can hardly say settle down because it is all so like soldiering in England except for the rumble of artillery which is distant from line.

It is warmer today & wind has dropped. Just a spot or two of rain, that is all.

[Continued in pencil:]

My pen has given out so pencil is the only resort. After lunch I got hold of a cottager’s wife who would bake our pots for tonight, & also bought a chicken for 7 francs.

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

“The Royal Naval Division had encamped in our Nissen huts & refused to budge”

Sydney Spencer had the unappetising job of taking part in a court martial, before a dispute over who would get to sleep in a Nissen hut.

Monday 15 April 1918

9.15 am.
At 12 midnight a note came in to detail me for a court martial with 9th Essex Regiment at 10 am. Also orders came in for practice taking up of a trench system at —. We move into T-c-t this afternoon, after lunch. Have just made up my accounts.

FGC Martial over by 11.50. I spent remainder of morning in censoring about 100 letters and studying Intelligence reports, till 1 pm when company returned from scheme. 3 pm started for T-t-c-t.

Arrived at billets at 4 pm to find that Royal Naval Division had encamped in our Nissen huts & refused to budge. Result, we were camped outside & behagged the city until matters straightened themselves out, when we gave over half the huts to the RND.

Dinner at 9.30. I am orderly officer tomorrow. Duties start at 8.45. Had no chance of a read this evening as ten of us crowded into 1 Nissen hut.

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

Scenting battle

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about his experience defending a soldier at a court martial, as he awaited news about his destination at the front.

21st Res Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Mar. 24, 1918

My dear WF

Of course down here all we GS officers are scenting battle, but I think there’s a tremendous reserve of officers, and do not expect to be rushed out. Apropos of this – while at the Orderly Room the other day the CO showed me a letter from the 1/21st London regiment applying for me to be sent out as he wanted me as his adjutant. As the present CO of the 1/21st London does not know me, of course this is the going of General Kennedy.

My CO explained that unfortunately he could do nothing except to advise his correspondent to apply for me. So I am now in the flattering position of having 2 COs applying for me. And yet I get no forrader. Isn’t it galling!

This week I’ve had some good news. I was detailed to defend a man on a charge of allowing a prisoner to escape. There was no getting over the fact that he did let him go, and the assistant adjutant was pretty confident I couldn’t get him off.

However, I did, and enclose his letter of thanks. It was quite funny to hear myself described as “counsel for the Defence”, and quite a shock later, when rising to cross examine on behalf of the accused, to hear this described as “Cross examined by accused”.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/25-27)

“Orders have a way of descending from the blue and we may get ours at any moment”

Percy Spencer anticipated his return to the Front would come at any minute. The battle of Bourlon Wood had occurred at the end of 1917. Captain Walter Stone won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his heroics.

21st (Res) Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Feb 24. 1918

My dear WF

It seems ages since I wrote to or heard from you. So I’ve filled my pipe (my nicest & foulest one) with the fragrant Mr Fryers and sat myself down to write you a line.

My principal news is that I’m still here with no news of going. It occurs to me that the cadet course having been lengthened there should be a gap in home recruits which we may stay at home to fill for a few weeks. On the other hand orders have a way of descending from the blue and we may get ours at any moment, and incidentally a few days leave.

Did you read of the 47th at Bourlon Wood and the gallant fight put up by Capt. Stone & Lieut. Burgeery? The man next door to me was Capt. Stone’s CSM. I think he almost wishes he was with him, altho’ he would now be dead.

Well, I suppose we shall soon have another chance of doing real things, and none of us will be really sorry. Life here is frightfully destructive and only endurable by fighting for reforms. So far as I can see the main return a grateful country has obtained from me to date is the issue of overalls for mess orderlies.

We’re having pretty mixed weather. Thursday was glorious and I thoroughly enjoyed our route march – once away from the camp, the country is delicious.

I’ve had a letter from the red haired Australian (No. 6) and the cox; what’s happened to the rest, I don’t know.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/14-16)

No charge

A concert version of the opera Tom Jones in aid of YMCA war work was performed in Reading Town Hall by the choir of Broad Street Congregational Church. (A report of the concert appeared in the Berkshire Chronicle on 2 February 1917.)

Our Choirmaster (Mr F W Harvey) and the members of the choir are to be congratulated upon the pronounced success of their concert on January 31st. it was a great achievement to attract once more an audience which filled the large Town Hall…

The following Saturday [3 February], the programme was repeated for the wounded soldiers, nurses and orderlies from the various War Hospitals in the district…. There was no charge for admission on this occasion, as the expenses for the full orchestra, etc, had been met by a collection taken at the close of the original concert, supplemented by contributions from a number of friends.

Reading Broad Street Congregational Magazine, March 1917 (D/N11/12/1/14)

“There’s some fun in this life though the monotony and drudgery”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with his impressions of the camp where he was undergoing officer training.

21st (Res) Bn, London Regt
G Lines
Chisledon Camp
Nr Swindon

Jan 13, 1917

My dear WF

Tomorrow I intend to see the MO here and try for leave to get dental treatment in London. If I fail, I shall in any case get 4-6 days before I go out and shall, of course, come to see you.

It is still bitterly cold here, but today has been very fine and I have enjoyed myself though on duty.

As company orderly officer I had to inspect huts this morning. In two huts men were standing about instead of being on parade. Most of them informed me they were an ablution fatigue, and until they moved off to the washing sheds I had to appear wise, though at a loss to know what they meant. One poor little fellow who looked ill and who I assumed to be sick, when asked what was the matter with him, replied, “Religion, Sir”. He eventually explained he was a Jew.

So there’s some fun in this life though the monotony and drudgery of feet & kit inspections and so on are trying at times.

I have bought my boys a few books and some boxing gloves. If you at any time have any cheap books you have done with, I shall be very glad to have them….

Of course there are a lot of officers here I know very well.
Unfortunately there are several here who wish they hadn’t reason to know me, and therefore I am not as happy or comfortable as I should be as a stranger to the Division. However, I can’t help that.

Now I’m off to church so I’ll say goodbye.

With my dear love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/8-9)