“The real thing: he was a rock, strong, capable, self-reliant, and possessed the complete confidence of every man and officer in the battalion”

A tribute was paid to a Burghfield hero.

THE WAR

IN MEMORIAM

George Ouvry William Willink, MC
2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

George was only 2 ½ years old when the family came here, in July 1890, so his life’s home has been in the parish, and he loved it. And that he has not been spared to live out his days at Hillfields is a sore loss to all classes.

Perhaps no record can be more suitable for printing in the Magazine than the following notice by his Eton Tutor, Mr Vaughan, his parents’ old friend, which appeared in the Eton College Chronicle:

“George Willink came from Mr Locke’s school, St Neot’s, Eversley, in 1901 to Mr Vaughan’s House. Diffident at first, and somewhat slow in thought, he yet showed already those qualities of steadfastness, unselfishness and good temper, which in time won for him the respect and affection of all. He made himself, by pluck and concentration, one of the best in the House at football and fives. In the Lent Half of 1907 he played for Eton v. Harrow in the first “Rugger” match between the two schools, when Eton won by 12 points to 0, and in the summer of that year rowed 2 in the Eight at Henley, and thus at the end of his blameless career came into his own.

“He was always so self-effacing”, writes the boy who was his most intimate friend in the House, “that it was only those who knew him really well, as I did, that realised what a splendid fellow he was”.

It might truly have been said of him at Eton, as it was at Oxford, that “Things, whatever they were, would go all right, if he was mixed up with them.” Throughout his life he thus exercised far more influence than he himself realised. “If my own sons”, his Oxford tutor wrote, “should grow up with that sort of character, I should feel more thankful for this than for anything else in the world.”

In 1907 he went up to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he not only rowed in the Varsity Trial Eights, and managed his College Boat Club, of which he was captain, but worked hard at History, and reaped his reward by obtaining a Second Class in the History School in 1911. In 1913 he was called to the Bar. A keen member of the Eton, and of the Oxford, OTC, in both of which he was a sergeant, he had, on coming to London, joined the Inns of Court OTC (in which his father had once been a captain), and was a lieutenant when the war broke out.

He commanded for some time as captain, No. 1 Company of the Battalion at Berkhamsted, and the universal testimony of officers and men to his good work is remarkable. The words of one of the former (Sir F G Kenyon) may be quoted: “There never was an officer more hard-working, more conscientious, more self-sacrificing, and without claiming any credit for himself”.

In 1916, as soon as he could obtain permission to leave Berkhamsted, he joined the Berks Territorials, in his his brother Captain F A Willink had already seen foreign service, and in July proceeded to France.

In 1917 he was mentioned in dispatches, and later gained the MC for a daring rescue by digging out with a few men, under heavy fire, some buried gunners. Rejoining his regiment, after a “course” behind the lines, on March 23rd, he took over command of his Battalion, the CO having been killed a few days before.

On the 28th he fell while he was gallantly leading, in advance of his men, a counter-attack. “On the first day that I took over the brigade, in September 1916,” writes his Brigadier, “I put him down in my mind at once as the real thing. He was a rock, strong, capable, self-reliant, and possessed the complete confidence of every man and officer in the battalion.”

In the words of a barrister, twenty years his senior in age, who served as his CSM at Berkhamsted: “He was one of the ‘gentlemen unafraid’ and as such has found his welcome in Valhalla’”.

More might be said, especially as to the affection which he inspired, as well as confidence. But this is not the place for it, and after all, his Burghfield neighbours know.

Honours and Promotions

Temp. Lt Geoffrey H B Chance to be Temp. Captain from 27th April 1917.

Casualties

Private E J V Cox (Worcester Regiment), missing; Private F G Cummins (Royal Berks Regiment), severely wounded; Private D Hutchins (Royal Berks Regiment), wounded.

Lance Corporal Howard Pembroke (see Magazine for April) has been definitely offered the choice of a commission in either the Infantry or the Royal Air Service. But he prefers to remain in the ASC, where however he will have to wait for a similar chance until he is older.

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

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Making up for other men’s lack of duty

Sydney Spencer wrote to his brother Percy to tackle Percy’s doubts about Sydney’s joining up. Sydney was still at Oxford at this point, and this letter explains exactly why he chose to join the army.

12 Southmoor Road
Oxford
Monday June 7th [1915]

My dear Percy

So I hear from Flo [their sister Florence] that you don’t approve. And why. Because you want to shield me from horrors which other people have to endure. Well that doesn’t wash. As things stand now, if the horrors were 50 times greater it would make little difference. If you were over here in England just now to hear the way some men talk you would be glad enough that anyone should be willing. I played tennis last week. A lolling lazy looking Welshman enters into conversation with me.

“Why don’t you think you will pass Mods?”
“Because the OTC work has swallowed up an enormous amount of time.” “Well I suppose you must have liked military life to make you join the OTC”.
“Yes indeed,” I said, “a man who has spent most of his life reading poetry & playing the piano would naturally be deeply absorbed in such work!”
“Well I can’t understand what made you join the OTC if you didn’t like the work.”

I just looked at him, & then he said in a confused tone “Oh I suppose you felt it a duty.”

I don’t say that there are numbers of such people about but I feel that it is well to make up in any small way possible for what is lacking in other men’s sense of duty by offering myself unconditionally.

If the thing turns out to be too much, well I should knuckle under, I suppose, & what’s left of me would get a discharge, & would settle down to civilian life again with this much added to it however, that I had done my share even if it was ever so small a share. As to my being saved from these horrors, I don’t see a single argument in favour of such an attitude. Put me in Madame Tussaud’s & preserve me in spirits right out, one might as well suggest, and I prefer neither of those alternatives. I feel that if God Almighty has other work for me to do, He will play the Germans all sorts of tricks, so that I may pull through. And if I don’t, well I shall fall in good company.

Letter from Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/4)

The sticking point: more thoughts from Sydney Spencer

Sydney Spencer’s plans were still undecided.

Friday 14th of August
Yesterday morning I had a letter from Dr Pope in reply to the one which I sent him on Tuesday. I will copy it here as it explains itself.

Aug 12th
Dear Mr Spencer
I think you are asking quite rightly. I have placed your application in the hands of Capt. Ballein, Headquarters OU OTC [Oxford University Officer Training Corps], Alfred Street, Oxford, & he has taken charge of it. I took the letter to him myself so that I know it is with the right person.
God bless & keep you
R H Pope

Last night I had a letter from Captain Ballein mentioned in the above as follows.

Oxford Univerisity Officers Training Corps
9 Alfred Street
Oxford
Dear Sir
Dr Pope has handed me your letter. I am afraid that we cannot help you to find work, as we are engaged solely in appointing officers for commission, & you have unfortunately had no military experience. Perhaps you might be of use in a military hospital. There is a large hospital being formed here in Oxford in the Examination School.
Yours truly
F Ballein
For the Adjutant

So now I can do nothing but wait. I can write to the Examination Schools & let them have my name as being willing to do any work that is wanted, so I shall do that & then just await events. Willie Thompson (of Clouskeagh Castle Co Dublin) wrote me that he will not be able to get to Persia now that this war is on. England has come to the sticking point in a most wonderful way & all are getting that quiet noble fortitude that is necessary under these circumstances. Conservative & Liberal join in united praise of our government & its actions & its preparations, & we may all be thankful that England goes into this terrible war with clean hands.

I am writing this over at Sweethayes [at Littlewick Green] & mother is here to tea. Ella has promised to give me some lessons on “first aid”, so when I come over here I shall be able to get just a little knowledge of the subject.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)