The pinch will come after the war

The Spencer paterfamilias in Cookham was optimistic, while Florence Vansittart Neale despaired at the situation in Russia.

Will Spencer
23 February 1918

By this morning’s post we received a cheerful letter from Father… Sydney has taken his BA at Oxford. Has received splendid reports from his commanding officers. Was just getting into train at Paddington to come down to Cookham on a Saturday afternoon when he saw Percy on the next platform, whom he hadn’t seen for 2 years. He quickly fetched his luggage out, & stayed the night with Percy, who had just come up from Swindon for a few days, on business.

I was glad to learn from Father that they suffer no privation. The pinch will come after the war, he says, but what can be is being done to provide against that.

Florence Vansittart Neale
23 February 1918

Russians utter degradation, under the heel of Germany.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)


“He died gloriously doing glorious deeds during the course of our brilliant advance “

Tribute was paid to former students at Reading School who had fallen in recent months.

Killed in Action.

Central Ontario Regt. Pte. F.C.(Eric) Lawes, eldest son of Mr. F.J. laws., of 116, Hamilton Road, Reading, aged 22 years. On August 8th.

Captain Brain, Killed In Action.

The sympathy of the whole town will go out to Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Brain in the loss of their second son, Captain Frances Sydney Brain, Royal Berks Regiment, who was killed in action on the 3rd October. Born IN 1893, he was educated at Reading School and Leighton Park School, and in 1912 he obtained a scholarship at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. At the outbreak of the war he joined the Cambridge University O.T.C., and on February 26th, 1915, was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant, being promoted Lieutenant on July 29th, 1918. He proceeded to France in June, 1916, and was recently promoted Captain. The news of his death was received by his parents on Wednesday, and was contained in a letter from the chaplain of his regiment, who wrote as follows to Mr. and Mrs. Brain:-

“I am so grieved to have to tell you of the loss of your gallant son in action on the 3rd inst. He was hit on the head by a shell during the course of our brilliant advance and died instantly. I hope it will be of some little consolation to know that he died gloriously doing glorious deeds. He is a great loss to the regiment, as he was one of our most promising officers. In him I, too, had a friend, and more than a friend, for we were both of the same Varsity, and had mutual friends. I was able to get his body and bring it back to a little cemetery which we started here, where he lies with others of his regiment. We had the service of the Church of England, the last post and a funeral party. My prayers go up that the Almighty will give you strength to bear your sorrow.”

Lieut. H.M. Cook Killed.

Lieut. Howard Mortimer Cook, who was killed on August 8-9, would have been 29 September 1st had he lived. He was the elder son of Mr. John R. Cook, late of Lloyds Bank, Reading, and Mrs. Cook, and grandson of the late Town Clerk of Reading (Mr. Henry Day). He was educated at Reading School and St Edmunds Hall, Oxford, where he rowed in the eight. Although his original intention was to take Orders, at the outbreak of war he was on the point of leaving for Holland to take up teaching in schools, and his passport bore the date of August 4, 1914. He applied for a commission at once, having in the meantime joined a Public Schools Battalion as a private, and in November, 1914, he was gazetted to the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment. He went to the front in February 1916, being attached to the 5th Battalion, and shortly afterwards was wounded in the head by shrapnel but after a few months at home he returned to the front. He and two other officers were especially mentioned in certain orders of the day as having accomplished some very good work at Cambrai, in which the 5th Berks played so prominent a part. In May last he was transferred to the machine-gun corps. He was killed by the explosion of a mine when taking his section into action during the night. His commanding officer wrote that although he had only been in his battalion a short time he was very popular and his death meant a sad loss to the regiment.


Previously reported missing, now known to have been killed in action on the 31st July, Captain John Waldron Mathews, F.A.F., of San Julian, Patagonia, elder son of E.J. Mathews and Mrs. Mathews, Brockley Combe, Weybridge, aged 28.

Death of Lieut. F.L. Hedgcock.

We greatly regret to record the death of Second Lieut. Frederick Leslie Hedgcock, M.G.C., who was killed in action on Sunday Sept, 29th, at the age of 20, after having served with his Regiment in France over seven months. He was educated at Reading School and Brighton College, and was the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Hedgcock, of St. Margaret’s, Shinfield Road, Reading. Mr Hedgcock has two other sons serving in the Army, the eldest, Captain S.E. Hedgcock, now on the staff in Mesopotamia, and Lieut. S.D. Hedgcock, recently gazetted to the R.E. Both have been on active service, the eldest at Suvla Bay and the second son twice in France.

A brother officer writes: –

“we were fighting in a very important sector, and had done very well. Your son was shot through the heart, and was therefore instantly killed.”

His Major writes that he was killed while leading his men into action.

“On behalf of the officers and man of the company, I would tender you our heartfelt sympathy in your sad bereavement. We have lost an excellent officer and you have lost an excellent son.”

Pte. L.C. Shore

Pte. Leonard C. Shore, Lincolns, who died on August 19th of wounds received in action in France, was the son of Lance-Corpl. Shore and Mrs Shore, of 51, Francis Street, Reading, and was 19 years of age. He was educated at the Central School, and at Reading School, having won an entrance scholarship to the latter. Prior to joining up in April, 1917, he was in the office of the surveyor of taxes at Richmond (Surrey). His father, an old soldier, is serving with the Rifle Brigade in Egypt, where he has been for the past three years.

Funeral of Capt. S.J. Hawkes.

At St Bartholomew’s church, Reading, on Monday afternoon, a very large congregation assembled to pay their last tributes to Capt. Septimus J. Hawkes, Royal Berks Regt.

At St. Bartholomew’s Church, Reading, on Monday afternoon, a very large congregation assembled to pay their last tributes to Captain. Septimus J. Hawkes, Royal Berks Regt, who died suddenly in his barrack quarters at Dublin on the previous Wednesday. The Rev. T.J. Norris was the efficient clergyman, being assisted by the Revs. A.T. Gray, B. Mead and H. Elton Lury, C.F., the latter reading the lesson. The deceased officer was before the war, greatly in the boys of St. Bartholomew’s Church, and held this position of Scoutmaster of the St. Bartholomew’s Troup. Educated at Reading School, where he was a member of the Officers Training Corps and of the Rugby xv. He joined the University and Public Schools Brigade. Soon after the commencement of hostilities, and subsequently transferred to the Military College, Sandhurst, where he obtained his commission in the Royal Berks Regt. He soon went to France, and after serving there for some time was wounded and returned to England, and later, with the rank of Captain, went to Ireland. As recently as last month Capt. Hawkes was on leave in Reading on the occasion of the wedding of one of his brothers, at which ceremony he performed the duties of best man. A short time ago Capt. Hawkes successfully passed the difficult examination for the Royal Air Force to which he had transferred just prior to his death.

Reading School Magazine, December 1918 (SCH3/14/34)

Promise of such a splendid leader

A young man with a bright future was the latest to fall at the Front.

Walford Vernon Knowles

By the death of Walford Knowles on the last day of the old year, yet another name is added to the Roll of boys from Trinity who have laid down their lives in defence of home and country and of human liberty, whose names will live while Trinity stands.

In a letter dated the 6th of January, 1918, Capt. H. A. Curtis writes:

“It is with deep regret that I have to write and inform you of the death of your son. It happened at about 6.15 on the morning of December 31st. We were ‘standing to’ at the time, and the enemy put down a heavy barrage on to the position we were holding. As is usual, all Officers were on duty at the time, and it appears that a heavy shell fell within a yard or so of your son, killing him instantaneously. I am more than sorry to have lost him, as during the short time he was with us he had become very popular amongst his brother Officers, N.C.O’s. and the men, and we all miss him dearly. It seems all the more sad owing to the fact that this was his first tour of trench duty, and he gave promise of such a splendid leader.”

The elder son of our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Knowles, he was born in January, 1898 and educated at Reading School, into which he took an open Scholarship in 1909, one of the first Scholarships offered by the Reading Town Council. In 1916 he passed the Higher Certificate Examination with distinction in French and German. During his last year at school he won the Laud Scholarship (the blue ribbon of Reading School). Also an exhibition at Worcester College, Oxford, and was further awarded the Ewelme Exhibition at New College, Oxford.

It was not only in his studies that he did well, but in every side of School life he made his mark, becoming a member of the Rugby Football and cricket teams, a sergeant in the Officers’ Training Corps, and finally Captain of the School. Of those who have in recent years held this coveted position he is the third to make the supreme sacrifice during the war, the other two being Marsden Cooper (another Trinity boy) and D.J. Davies.

“As head of the school,” says Mr. Keeton, the Headmaster, “he was extremely conscientious and energetic, and in all departments showed the same qualities and zest and keenness and the desire to do his very best. He won the esteem and affection of all, both masters and boys.”

On reaching military age he carried the same characteristics into the sterner school of war, passing with credit through his cadetship at Gales and afterwards Portsmouth. He went out to France early in October as a Second Lieutenant in the County Regiment and in his all-too-brief period of service had already won the affection and esteem of his comrades and superior officers.

Walford Knowles was in the fullest sense of the words a child of Trinity. There he was baptized, and there he attended during the whole of his life. For several years a loyal member of the Institute, he joined this Church and was received into its fellowship on his confession of faith on September 13th, 1914. During the early winters of the war, and especially during last autumn, before leaving for France, he showed a very keen interest in the Trinity Soldiers’ Club, where his presence and companionship was always appreciated by the men.

The sad news of his death reached us a few minutes before the January Church Meeting, and a resolution of deepest sympathy with his parents and family was passed with the heartfelt consent of all present. In moving that this message be sent, the pastor spoke of the very fine qualities both in mind and heart which had endeared Walford to so a wide circle of friends, and caused them to entertain high expectations for him of a successful career at the University and after that of a life of fruitful service. He referred to his own close and intimate friendship with him, and the great opinion he had formed both of his character and abilities. Undoubtedly there were in him the making of a genuine scholar, a sincere and able thinker, a trusty friend, and a particularly fine type of Christian citizen.

We are sure that the sympathy of Trinity folk as a whole goes out to Mr. and Mrs. Knowles, and their family in this sorrow, and the prayer of us all is that they may be greatly comforted.

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

Reading has lost one of the most distinguished of its young men

Old Redigensians – Old Boys of Reading School – were among the many on active service.



D.W. Carter

The funeral took on Monday at Caversham Cemetery, of Mr. Donovan Carter, only son of Mr and Mrs. A.W. Carter, Of “Maubeuge,” Church Road, Caversham, who was drowned while, bathing last week at Peterborough, where he was stationed with the R.N.A.S.

Carter was educated at Reading School, and spent three years in the O.T.C., passing the School Leaving Certificate in 1913. He passed the London Matriculation in 1914, and was studying for B.Sc., with a view to taking research work in a Belgian chemical works in which his father is interested. He was passed for a commission in the A.S.C. in Jan., 1915 but, eager to serve his country at the earliest possible moment, he would not wait for the commission and enlisted in the R.N.A.S. as a driver in June of that year. Most of his time he spent at an R.N.A.S. station at Felixstowe, afterwards training at the Crystal Palace as an engineer. All the naval ratings and officers turned out to do him honour when he was brought home from Peterborough.

2nd-Lieut. D.J. Davies.

-By the death of second-lieutenant D.J. Davies, the only of Mr. and Mrs, of the Market Place, Reading, Reading has lost one of the most distinguished of its young men and Reading School one of the most brilliant of its old boys.

Davies’ record at Reading School was a remarkable one. When he left in the summer of 1915 he was the Captain of the School, the highest honour which a school can confer on any boy, and the holder of a Drapers’ Scholarship and an Open Classical Scholarship at Trinity College, Oxford. He Joined the O.T.C. on the outbreak of the war in 1914, and in the Spring Term of 1915 he was in Rugby XV.; and won his 1st XV. Colours. He was a prominent member of the Literary and Debating Societies. On the occasion of the school holding a debate in French, Davies opened the debate.

He never failed in a public examination and passed the Higher Certificate Examination of the Oxford and Cambridge Board in 1913 with one distinction, in 1914 with four distinctions and in 1915 with five distinctions, coming out at the head of over 1,700 candidates. He competed regularly in the school sports and won several prizes in the under 15 events. Latterly, however, intellectual pursuits were more to his inclination, though he always took a very keen interest in all the school activities. He combined great ability with a real capacity for thoroughness and hard work, and had he lived would have gone far. He died, his tank being struck by a shell, on July 31st, the day before his 20th birthday. His loss is greatly to be regretted.

His Commanding Officer, writing to his father, says:-

The death of your son is a great loss to us all; he was very popular and was an exceedingly gallant officer. Up to the time of his death his tank did exceedingly good work.

Death of Mr. Sydney Lowsley.

Mr. Sydney Lowsley, Deputy Borough Engineer of Harrogate, son of the late Dr. Lowsley, of Reading, died in a London naval hospital last week. Mr, Lowsley, who joined the R.N.A.S. Last July as draughtsman, contracted double pneumonia while training and succumbed after three weeks’ illness. He served his articles with the Borough Engineer at Wolverhampton, and from there went to Westminster, Lewisham, and finally to Harrogate. He leaves a widow and two children.

Gallant Deeds.

Military Cross.

Lieut. Oswald Francis, Royal Berks Regt., has been awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the recent fighting in Belgium, and also had the honour of being personally congratulated by Sir Douglas Haig. He left Sandhurst in September, 1915, and has served for the last 15 months in France and Belgium, for the greater part of the time on the Somme Front.


Bardsley, Capt. R.C., Manchester Regt., elder son of Mrs. Bardsley, of 72, Addington Road, Reading. Severely in the right arm and hand, on Oct.8th. Capt. Bardsley was educated at Reading School, where he distinguished himself in all athletic pursuits.

Reading School Magazine, December 1917 (SCH3/14/34)

“He died, as he had always lived with us, a brave and perfect gentleman”

Tribute is paid to two Caversham men.

S. Peter’s


Second–Lieutenant Thomas Clark Powell, R.G.A.

Born in 1897, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Cotton Powell, of Fairlawn, Caversham, he was educated at Ashdown House, Forest Row, and at Shrewsbury. At the latter school he had a distinguished career: he became head of his house and a cadet Officer in the Officers’ Training Corps, and at the end of 1915 he was elected to an open Mathematical Scholarship at New College, Oxford.

On leaving in 1916 he obtained a commission in the R.G.A., and went to the front in France in September of the same year. He was slightly wounded early this year, and on the night of July 14th was struck by a shell and mortally wounded, dying shortly after reaching the Casualty Clearing Station; and so closing a career of great promise.

An Officer of his Battery writes:

“He had been tending our wounded, and was mending the telephone lines, when he was hit. He died, as he had always lived with us, a brave and perfect gentleman.”

S. John’s

We regret to have to record the death of Harry Borton, sidesman at S. John’s. He is the first of the officials connected with the church in our district to give his life in war service at the front. He was not very well known to many at as. John’s. For he was of a very quiet and retiring nature and fond of his home. But he was regularly in church on a Sunday morning with his wife and used to sit well to back on the pulpit side. Mrs. Borton may be sure she has the sympathy of the congregation in her sorrow.

Caversham parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P162/28A/7)

The bravest man in the trenches

Many of the former pupils of Reading School were serving with distinction.


Military Cross

Temp. 2nd Lieut. F.A.L. Edwards, Royal Berks Regiment.- For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy twice attacked under cover of liquid fire, 2nd Lieut. Edwards showed great pluck under most trying circumstances and held off the enemy. He was badly wounded in the head while constructing a barricade within twenty-five yards of the enemy.

2nd Lieut. (Temp. Lieut.) W/C. Costin, Gloucester Regiment. – For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy penetrated our front line he pushed forward to a point where he was much exposed, and directed an accurate fire on the trench with his trench guns. It was largely due to his skill and courage that we recaptured the trench. An Old Boy of Reading School, he won a scholarship at St. John’s College. Oxford.

2nd Lieut. D.F.Cowan.

Killed in Action.

Lieut. Hubert Charles Loder Minchin, Indian Infantry, was the eldest of three sons of the late Lieut-Col. Hugh Minchin, Indian Army, who followed their father into that branch of the service, and of whom the youngest was wounded in France in May, 1915. Lieutenant Minchin, who was 23 years old, was educated at Bath College, Reading School, and Sandhurst. After a probationary year with the Royal Sussex Regiment, he was posted to the 125th (Napier’s) Rifles, then at Mhow, with whom he served in the trenches.

After the engagement at Givenchy on December 20th, 1914, he was reported missing. Sometime later an Indian Officer, on returning to duty from hospital, reported that he had seen Lieut. Minchin struck in the neck, and killed instantly, when in the act of personally discharging a machine-gun against the enemy. The Indian officer has now notified that he must be believed to have fallen on that day.
2nd lieut.

F.A.L. Edwards, Royal Berkshire Regiment, awarded the military cross, died of wounds on August 10th. He was 23 years of age, and the youngest son of the late Capt. H.H. Edwards, Royal Navy, and Mrs. Edwards, of Broadlands, Cholsey. He was educated at Reading School and the City and Guilds College, Kensington. He had been on active service 10 months. His Adjutant wrote:

“He was the bravest man in the trenches. All the men say he was simply wonderful on the morning of August 8th. We lost a very gallant soldier and a very lovable man.”


The evidence of blood and tears

The rector of Theale preached on the war at a prestigious annual service at an Oxford College.

Friday, June 25th 1915

War As A World Judgment: St. John the Baptist Service at Magdalen.

Arrangements were yesterday made at Magdalen College for the service which is customarily held on St. John the Baptist’s Day in the quadrangle overlooked by the stone-canopied pulpit, a relic of the ancient Hospital of St. John the Baptist, but at the last moment owing to the rain it was necessary for the service to take place in the chapel. The preacher was the Rev. S. C. F. Angel-Smith (Hertford College), rector of Theale, Reading, and amongst those present were the Principal of Brasenose (Pro-Vice-Chancellor), the President of Magdalen (Sir Herbert Warren), the Senior and Junior Proctors, and a number of senior and junior members of the University.

The Rev. Angel-Smith took as his text St. Matthew III. 1-2 “In those days came John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He urged them in this “dies irae,” when the world was plunged into the whirlpool of war, when

“Human sorrow fills the air,
Death is reigning everywhere.”

To try and read the secret of the world-tragedy, that they might catch, if it might be, a ray of hope for the world’s redemption. Let them pass from the Baptist’s message of “the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” to another kingdom the very contradiction of it. He reminded them of the temptation and the offer to Christ of the kingdoms of the world, and added the devil, discomfited by the Christ, had gained many a victory through the subsequent ages. In these last days could they fail to credit him with perhaps his most conspicuous success in the world’s history?

Harrowing scenes with maddened mothers desperate to reach wounded sons abroad

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image wrote to the wife of his friend W F Smith, who was living abroad, with a report on the rush to get passports in order to attend a dying son’s hospital bed.

TCC [Trinity College, Cambridge]
Thursday 29 April 1915

My dear Mrs Smith

Here in England Passport Photographs are being turned out by the thousand – owing to the accursed War. A lady friend of mine whose son – his battalion (Rifle Brigade) will not go out till next month – has already had hers done, to enable her to start at the first moment’s notice for the French Hospital where she foresees the boy will be lying, directly after he has entered the deadly Trenches.

The Photographer at Harrods, who is being worked to death, describes to her the heart-rending interviews he has to undergo with maddened mothers imploring him to produce in a couple of hours the likeness without which the passport is unable to bring her to receive, perhaps, the dying words of the wounded son. The scenes are harrowing, he says.

The world was at peace – Germany itself (despite the wolf lurking secret under every German fleece) would have kept peace, but for these malign Prussian robber-savages.

Who, so prate our Prigs, must not be “humiliated”, or even penalized for their crime.

Leave Prussia unbroken, and let our children, half a century hence, be destroyed by a fresh and bloodier hurricane of these same villains, when maybe there are no France and Russia at their side.

How strange to you would seem Cambridge as an armed camp. We, by this time, are inured to it. Full term is on – yet the streets swarm with khaki only – massed Regiments in the Great Court two or three times a day – the streets blocked with Paddocks echoing to drill – and the River at the backs alive with canoes and punts of an afternoon.

Yesterday, for the first time since January 26, we were allowed electric light, instead of candles, to eat our dinner by: and this with only one half the regular number of burners.

No light in the Great Court (you’ve no conception of the grace and majesty of the buildings seen under the full moon).

St Mary’s Clock restarted its chimes on Easter Sunday, but by daylight only. Silent all the night. A week ago the Trinity Clock resumed striking the Hour, with both voices, but not the Quarters: and by day only.

At 1 pm for the last week a huge hooter has emitted its gigantic wailing, heard all over the Town: this is merely to teach the populace. When that hooter shall rouse us from slumber, it will imply a Zeppelin over Cambridge…

The German war book owns that there is no check save the fear of Reprisals – which they have no dread of from England, the flabby. Possibly France and Russia may be less squeamish.

The 2nd battalion of the Monmouths (how different from the first battalion!) evacuated Whewell’s Courts on the 21st – leaving such filth behind them – broken windows, smashed doors and electric fittings, scribbled walls, etc, that the Junior Bursar demanded over £100 damages before he would consent to admit another Regiment. That Regiment was only a couple of hours off, and the billeting officer was at his wits’ end to put them anywhere else – so the terms were granted.

The Regiment in question is the 4th Royal Surrey – a very different set of men. The finest and best drilled Territorials I ever saw. Their Colonel, Campion (Unionist MP for Lewes, New College, Oxon) – sat next me in Hall, and is as nice a fellow as his Regiment are “smart and snappy”….

I respect the autocratic eraser too much to give you any of the hundred thrilling rumours (or canards) hovering around us. Will he suffer me to say that we lie under a rotten ministry?

Love to both

Bild [nickname]

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don (D/EX801/1)

Military discipline improves the uncouth miner

Cambridge don John Maxwell Image wrote to the wife of a friend living abroad with comments on life in a university during the war. One change was that women’s sport took on a new importance.

TCC [Trinity College, Cambridge]
Easter Day, 4 April 1915

My dear Mrs Smith

I counted 384 Monmouths at early service (9.30) this morning, and behaving so devoutly. Military discipline, how it improves the uncouth miner – and how gloriously they sing.

Today I have, for the first time since January 26, heard St Mary’s clock chime. Our oracles are yet dumb, at Trinity and elsewhere, and streets and Courts lend no help to Zeppelins for finding their way. At Hall (but I must have told you) barely a glimmer comes from the pendant chandeliers: and the two High Tables are dimly lighted by wax candles. It is grand, at Grace time, to watch the dignified Head Waiter hold, with much state, a silver candlestick before the VM and Dean to enable them to read the Board. For the last fortnight, however, we have been dining in Combination Room, to my great comfort – but from motives of economy. Dress clothes, however, tonight, and the “foaming grape of eastern France”. We don’t anticipate total prohibition. It may be found necessary….

The males of the two Universities don’t meet in combat this year. The ladies do: and Camb has won both matches, both Hockey and Lacrosse. In each of these (see photographs [sadly not surviving]) Oxford played in decent skirts. The Camb women wore KILTS…

Ever yours Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don (D/EX801/1)

‘Hungering for something beyond the vapidity of his military associates’

Sydney Spencer contributes a pen portrait of a fellow officer who shared his artistic temperament:

28 March 1915

I want to commandeer today’s page with a description of a Lieutenant Poole who had tea with us. He is a Cambridge man & had only just been made a fellow of St John’s Oxford when he joined. He is a delightful man but his open disgust at all things military is extraordinary. He is much loved by his platoon though, which shews that he knows how to control his disgust. He is a brilliant scholar, a true gentleman and a Christian – attributes which seem lamentably absent in the majority of vapid insipid looking subalterns! It was almost pathetic after tea when Mr Way asked me to play some music. I played a slow movement from a Beethoven sonata & then Mr Way asked what constituted a sonata & I gave him a sketch from different sonatas, & played a few bars of the Waldstein. When Lt Poole heard this he begged me to play it right through. I protested that it was awfully difficult, & could scarcely play more than a few bars. He still insisted & so I stumbled through it & he listened to it with delight! The psychological reason for his delight was I feel sure that he was starving for something intellectual & refining, hungering for something beyond the vapidity of his military associates & so he revelled in listening to my poor struggles just as a starving man – even if an epicure – would revel in a dry muddy crust of bread. I asked him if it were not possible to mentally hibernate, saying that that was what I hoped to do, as the only means of making existence & a commission at all tolerable!

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/14)

Uniforms allocated according to height

Sydney Spencer was beginning to get accustomed to military drill, when he met an old acquaintance from his YMCA work at the start of the war:

27 January 1915
This morning’s drilling was much more satisfactory. The Sergeant made us so several new motions which go under several terms which I recognise when I hear them but which I cannot yet remember apart. At 10 o’clock we went to the OTC headquarters and there we were measured for our overcoats. Not a careful examination, but according to height. I am 5’5”. After Latin Prose I went to Shepherds with Loughton & we were both measured for our OTC uniforms. We are to be fitted on Saturday. I met two people whom I knew. One was, of all people on earth, Hayes of Merton, with whom I worked at Harwich (YMCA work). He is staying at No. 41, only just a few yards down. He has been doing YMCA work at Havre for some time & has left his studies at Edinburgh for a time. The other person I met was the Rev. Demans of Hedsor.

We won’t be hearing from Sydney for a couple of months, as he was too busy with his new activities to write in his diary.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/14)

A terrifying sergeant wakes up the OTC

New OTC recruit Sydney Spencer experienced drill for the first time on 25 January. It was a challenge for the mild-mannered undergraduate.

25 January 1915
This morning I went to my first parade & put myself under the protection of dear old Loughton. It was of course a very new sensation to be ordered about in matters concerning my bodily movements. It is strange how very seldom if ever in my life, my bodily movements have been under the control of anyone outside my immediate self. I suppose that only when I was about 10, when I did a little infant school drilling, or when I learned to swim, & had a few breathing lessons, or when I have been sounded by the doctor, & sighed, & coughed and said “r” or “99”, did I feel the power of another mind over my corporal freedom. Did I like this subservience to the will of another? I answer conclusively and inclusively “Yes”. There was an intellectual satisfaction in the knowledge that one is voluntarily surrendering oneself to the mind & will of another. It is peculiarly difficult to quite explain how this comes about, perhaps there are other thoughts inevitably bound up in it too, i.e. – “No man is safe to command, but he who has learned well how to obey” (a Kempis chapter XX: Book I). I felt an infinite amount of satisfaction from this my first drill, for with all the ceaseless comments, of “eyes right”, “hands to side”, “heels together”, “form fours”, “form two deep”, “right turn”, “about turn”, etc etc, there was the growing knowledge & experience of the infinite depth of meaning in the words, “implicit & unquestioning obedience”. A command is given, I don’t know what it intends, never mind, obey each detail & get the result, & other peoples’ actions look after themselves!

As my head is really very full for the moment of OTC work I shall discuss that question fairly fully these days. Of course we had the usual sort of lectures and mods work in the morning, i.e. Tacitus & Livy. After lunch came the crucial point. I had to face the ordeal of going on company drill with no knowledge of what was expected of me! Things were pretty exciting. First of all I had no place and so that made rather a fly in the ointment. Then Lieutenant Claypole, a young faced chubby fellow who has just been made 1st Lieutenant took up, and we had sundry types of marching to so, some of which were moderately successful, others of which were an appalling hash up since there were a fair number of recruits in our C Company. After a good deal of this type of drilling we had to go to Keble & get rifles. This made matters exciting in the extreme for me, as I never thought I should be able to carry the beastly thing when I got it. To add to the general feeling of ignorance, there was the sergeant who now took us in hand. He was an enormous fellow, Sergeant Glover by name. He has a terrifying bass drone, and his orders split the air for yards around. His whole abdomen seems to contract when he shouts out his commands, & he works us up to such a pitch in marching – at first – that it is almost ludicrous. Of course his whole intention is to make us wake up. He informed me at the end of the rifle drilling that the rifle did not weigh 15 pounds but only eight pounds and a half! He saw that I was having a battle with it but was not cruelly sarcastic, only humorously so. He treated Greenhalgh rather abominably which made him go down in my estimation.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/14)

Rededicated to God

Sydney Spencer renewed his religious commitemnet following his decision to join the Officers’ Training Corps at Oxford:

24 January 1915
I went to the Communion as I felt that I wanted to rededicate myself now that I have taken so important a step as to join in with the aweful [sic] world struggle.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/14)

The war engulfs Sydney Spencer

After months of agonising, undergraduate Sydney Spencer took a significant step in his progress towards the army, when he joined the Officers’ Training Corps at Oxford.

22 January 1915
I join the Officers’ Training Corps this day!

Have just had two letters. One from Father & one from Harold.

On Harold’s PC it says “Yes certainly” which means I may buy a uniform; & Father says he feels that I must join which means I shall enrol myself a member of the OTC this morning! Hurrah! It is a relief to feel that I shall at last be outside the pale of the power of the recruit catcher & be able to stare those wretched king-and-country-need-you posters out of countenance. What a peculiar change in a life like mine. Me a soldier of all impossible things. Well, “that is what becomes of that”, & you may fill in what that means ad libertam. By the way when I saw the Adjutant Commanding Officer last night the curve of his mouth & the angle of his glasses struck me as familiar – where had I seen him before. I remember! In the summer term I took Smalls, & there swept up & down the great north school in robed dignity a man with a peculiar curve to his mouth and a certain angle to his glasses! The same man. He was an invigilator the last time I saw him!

7.45pm So the war has engulfed me at last! I am just returned from signing my name on the enrolment list of the OTC. I now belong to C Company, Class II of the OTC, and that’s the humour on it! I am thankful to have taken the plunge. Now may God go forward with me and lead me where He will through this strange fantasy of life which when it unfolded its blossom a year ago seemed to pint me n to a life of quiet study, contemplation & general seclusion from officialism. And now. Well, Colonel Stenning said on parting, “You understand that parades etc are compulsory.” I am under orders, I am a unit in a vast machine, I have a place to fill, an office to fit myself for, and if need be a country to fight for.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/14)

A lump to stand on

Sydney Spencer continued to think seriously of a future as an army officer, despite his slight build:

21 January 1915
I wrote to Harold and Father this morning to find out whether they agree & will help me to get into the OTC. Also last night when I had done my work I wrote to Captain Wixly & told him of what I was intending to do if matters sorted themselves out properly. When I was discussing probabilities with Loughton I suggested that if I did ever get a commission and went out to the trenches they would have to make a little lump for me to stand on! He was highly amused at this!!

This evening I went to see Colonel Stenning at the OTC Offices in Alfred St, No 9. (Ye Gods! I have been to the wrong Alfred Street every time! How was I to know that there was another Alfred Street?) He tells me that I can go into the Corps as soon as I definitely know from home as to whether it is approved of.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/14)