Uncertain whether any part of the properties are suitable for land settlement

It was hard to find land to offer to ex-servicemen hoping to go into farming.

Report of Small Holdings and Allotment Committee to BCC, 18 January 1919


Land belonging to Oriel College

Correspondence, which has passed between the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries and Oriel College with reference to an offer by the latter of land for the settlement of ex-servicemen, has resulted in the College sending to the Board a schedule of their lands in various counties. In the correspondence the Treasurer of the College reminds the Board that in addition to the reluctance that the College naturally feel in disturbing the tenants of lands held under them, they would make themselves liable to claims for compensation should they seek to render their land available for the purpose. In the circumstances they suggest the Board should address the leading farmers on the subject in order that they may voluntarily relinquish land for the purpose. The Treasurer states that the College have no unoccupied lands in hand, and are uncertain whether any part of the properties are suitable for land settlement.

The Board request that the property in the county should be inspected to ascertain whether it would be suitable for the purpose.

The College Authorities have been asked to send a detailed schedule and a plan of each farm to facilitate this.


Port Down and Freeman’s Marsh

It has been suggested to the Committee that the above property might be acquired for land settlement.

The land is stated to be part of the endowment of the Town and Manor Charity at Hungerford, to be about 350 acres in extent, but to be subject to certain common rights.

The Clerk to the Charity has been communicated with; he states he will bring the matter before the trustees at their next meeting….


St John’s College land

The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries asked the Council to report on the Manor Farm, Long Wittenham, which had been put forward for the settlement of ex-service men.

After considering a report by the Land Steward, the Board have requested the Council to consider the advisability of negotiating for the acquisition of the property.

The Committee also considered the report, and asked the Sub-committee to enter into negotiations.

Report of Small Holdings and Allotment Committee to Berkshire County Council, 18 January 1919, in BCC minutes (C/CL/C1/1/22)

“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)

Depressed in the desolate quads of Oxford

Sydney Spencer had already noted that Oriel College was the worst affected by the enthusiasm of his fellow students to join up. A friend still at Oriel found himself one of just seven students in the second and third year:

October 15th Thursday
Higham is coming here in a moment or two – it is now 2 pm – to go for a walk with me … He is a boy – for he is not quite 21 – who has had an extraordinarily easy & smooth life, an only son, & a much loved one, & a favourite in the neighbourhood from which he comes… He has been at Oriel College two years …Now has come this war. He loses school friends & college friends galore. He returns to Oriel to find that he is one of seven men left who are not freshers. He finds Oriel so desolate that he quotes words of one Sheridan’s to the effect that

one quadrangle is desolate & empty, grass grows on the gravel & owls & bats flit where peals of youthful laughter used to make glad the air.

In fact he, an enforced non-combatant, feels hopelessly lost & did feel when I had tea with him on Sunday hopelessly dumpy. He can’t shake off the feeling of blank loss when he thinks of all the men who are gone off to the front, among them his great chum Leslie Wisely.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

Oxford colleges are suffering dreadfully

Sydney Spencer records the emptied quads of Oxford:

Michaelmas Term
Tuesday October 13th 1914

Instead of there being 4000 men up there are only 700 2nd year & third year men, & 700 freshmen. 1400 in all! Many colleges are suffering dreadfully & Oriel has suffered to an extent which is deplorable, but as that brings me to one of my furious “thinks” I will leave that till this afternoon!

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

Heartily sick of seeing soldiers, thank you

Soon after his Harwich experiences with the YMCA, Sydney Spencer of Cookham paid a visit to Kenneth ‘Jumbo’ Oliphant, the friend he had worked there with, and the latter’s mother, in Woking, Surrey. They had both had quite enough of the army.

Sept 30th
At home in Cookham

I spent from last Saturday tea time till Tuesday at St Margaret’s, Fern Hill Park, Woking, with Kenneth & Mrs Oliphant. It was a most restful time after the stress of Harwich. As soon as we got into the house Mrs Oliphant told Kenneth that the King was reviewing troops in Woking & would we like to go. It was pathetic. We had been seeing soldiers until we were heartily sick of it & here they were again. We declined the invitation smilingly…

Fred Oliphant [Kenneth’s brother] has a commission in the Seaforths and Granville [another brother] in the old Public School & University Corps. Higham of Oriel wrote me that Wright is also in that corps. I expect he will be as merry in that as he was up at Keswick.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

The heavy cloud of impending war

Our first glimpse into the attitudes of Berkshire people to the First World War comes a day before the formal declaration of war by Great Britain, but when it was obvious that we would be engulfed. Sydney Spencer of Cookham was a 25 year old undergraduate at Oxford, studying with the intention of being ordained as a Church of England clergyman. A sensitive and religious young man who had just returned from the Keswick Convention, an annual religious conference held at Keswick in the Lake District, his initial response is thoughtful and shows not everyone was swept away by jingoistic fervour. One particular concern for the Spencers was the position of Sydney’s eldest brother Will, a musician who lived in Germany with his German wife Johanna. Will was visiting the family when war was declared – but Johanna was at home in Cologne (Koln). Sydney’s diaries and letters will be a recurring theme in the story of Berkshire at war, together with those of his more secular-minded brother Percy, and this entry comes from his diary:

Cookham August 3rd 1914
War! When I was a boy I used often to try to imagine to myself what must be the sensation & knowledge of war. I brought up to my mind the utter dislocation of civilised continuity of progress in Europe at large, & tried to imagine the probability of being called on to fight for our own country, in fact I called up in those vivid colours of boyhood’s fancy all the outstanding horrors of war – & more particularly war of a general character in Europe. Suddenly like a great storm swamping over a swelling landscape blotting out all present ease of mind & casting heavy shadows on all the future, comes this trumpet blast “War in Europe”. All my boyish fancies came sweeping over me, all those carefully imagined horrors & terrors came up to my mind, & also, no longer can I smile to myself & say, “Ah but it’s only pretence”. Instead I and all of us are conscious of a great & heavy cloud which overhangs us, & we know that we cannot shake ourselves free from it till it has burst over us & scattered its bitter waters over rich & poor, high & low. Every hour brings its full quota of dread news, the atmosphere of sombre dread & painful eagerness for more cheerful news, is almost unbearable. I find myself sometimes having a terrible desire to awaken & find that all is a dream. But no, like a dread octopus the tentacles of this great monster of war seem to survive & stretch above us, ever threatening, ever closer & closer, & we feel that we can but wait & pray & be patient. It is not as though I or one or two others, may suffer, for that would be a very hard cross to bear for some, but it is as though God had lain a huge cross upon the face of Europe, & that the whole of Europe is having to help bear it.

In these last few days, a thought has grown up in my mind & increases day by day. It is highly probable that this terrible war, which threatens to convulse the whole of Europe, may mean for me the sudden collapse & end of my university career. War means financial ruin, & I have to face the matter calmly & steadily & see Oxford, my Oxford, dying away as a golden dream of the past. Last week, coming home from Keswick by train I looked out for a few moments over the vista of my past life, & could not but murmur, “Why, oh Lord, hast thou so abundantly blessed me, why have all my wants & desires been satisfied, why have I had so deep a draught of the cup of earthly & spiritual happiness, where is that cross I was promised if I would follow thee; Oh God, is this to be my cross? Is this thy purpose with me? Have I reached the parting of the ways? Is bitterness to be at last my cup? How then am I to meet it? With bowed head & trembling knee? No, I thank God that the victory may be mine. If all my days of sunshine have not strengthened me for what may come, my religion was worth very little. I have often prayed that I might learn the Gospel of bitterness & pain that I might be closer in touch with other men, & could say with St Paul [quotes from Bible in Greek]. Is this to be the test? Has God heard my eager cry to even be honoured with a cup of bitterness, & is he about to send me one brimming over & full of all the bitterness & gall of shattered hopes for the future? I may not yet know. My whole being goes out to God, & I dare but pray, ‘<ay this pass from me’, but I pray to be able to bear what may come. God has decreed – may my vry be ever ‘Thine not mine Oh Lord, in the ordering of my footsteps. My will not thine be done on earth as in heaven.’ Let the future hold what it may for me, ill or disappointment, or the reinstatement of affairs as they have been, the lesson of the present is that I must learn more of my utter dependence upon God & see how he works his way in me, & try to put no barrier in the way of a full working out of that purpose. That then may be the future that I have to look upon. What is the future of others?

With universal war in Europe there is no knowing what the future may have in store. One feels the awful powerlessness of oneself in the face of this universal solemnity. With Germany declaring war on France & Russia, with Austria against Servia [sic], & the prospect of England’s having to step in and aid France, one wonders how it will all end, & what will be the vista of carnage & destruction that we may have to look back upon.

Will is over here in England with us, & there is now no possibility of his getting back to Germany to Johanna. All steamers to France & Germany are cut off, & one is not even sure that letters can be got backwards & forwards. We are all very anxious here, for Will’s position is indeed a most uncomfortable one, & one which we are all anxious to relieve as far as we are able to. It is now certain that it is impossible for Will to get back to Germany & it is not at all certain as to whether Johanna can get to England. This cloud of war has swept over the sunny landscape of my mind & has almost made me forget those many happy hours which I spent up in Keswick a fortnight ago. It would be hard to say in a few words all that Convention meant to me, with its teaching & its atmosphere of spiritual thirst. I think perhaps that the greatest good which I derived comes from the companionship of those nine days, with those 15 other men coming from different colleges, all of them so different in nature & outlook, all so willing to give and take, all so manly in their religion & displaying that finest of all characters, a Christ man. It was so refreshing to see tall stalwart athletic men full of youth & vigour & fun, eagerly looking for spiritual benefit, & searching for a Living Christ, & finding him too! I made a great chum of Higham of Oriel College & he & I had many walks and talks together, & I got to like the fellow immensely. He is only 20 & is just entering on his last year in Oxford. He is 6 foot [2?] ins, & we must have presented a comical appearance when we went off together for our walks. He opened his mind fully to me, & I was so glad to find that he was really & deeply moved to search after those higher & nobler things in life & religion instead of being satisfied with a superficial knowledge, & having a thirst lamentably easy to quench.

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12)

Sydney’s friend Reginald Higham was ordained in 1919. He later served as vicar of Branksome, Dorset.