A passport and an aspirin

British expat Will Spencer found an offer of medication helped in cutting red tape in Switzerland.

1 June 1917

Called at the Stadtpolizei for my papers, as we are going away shortly (My passport is at present, as far as I know, in the hands of the Bundesrat [Town Hall] officials, but I believe the Town Police have a copy of it, & it was this that I asked for), but the official reminded me that he could only give them to me on my returning the Aufenthaltsbewilligung I had received from them.

I returned to the Pension [guesthouse] to get the latter, but then remembered that I had also given that, with the other papers, to Herrn Stucki. On my way I called again at the Town Police, to offer the official I had spoken with an Aspirin tablet, as I had received the – correct – impression that he was suffering from neuralgia.

Herr Stucki told me that I should not require my papers (passport) while travelling, as we were not going to stay anywhere more than two months.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/27)

Advertisements

“Just now on the threshold of a good roll up of the Huns I’m afraid there’ll be no time for reading in the army”

Percy Spencer and his colleagues had the opportunity to socialise with French girls behind the lines – and some romances developed, as Percy told his sister.

April 17 1917
My dear WF

Circumstances have prevented me from writing sooner, but please don’t ever imagine just because I sometimes cease my very occasional letters for a while that therefore I’m fighting in every battle on the Western front. I have always made a point of sending at least a field card whenever I am in any danger or you may have reason that I may be.

I’m enclosing a few souvenirs just to show that all our times are not anxious ones. The photos were taken in the rain in a quiet little village on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. You’ll note that all married and attached have vanished from the “mascot” group. We have had a very good, if strenuous time. The fellow who is understudying me against my departure (if that ever happens) and our mess mascot were mutually smitten, and altho’ I have done my utmost to persuade him from making the lady an alien, he is in daily correspondence with her, getting frightfully absent minded, and goes around humming her favourite tune until we put up a solid barrage of the same tune in the lady’s Anglo-French style.

As for my Benjamin (“Miss Mary Jones”, the junior clerk) the case is indeed desperate. All thoughts of his first love Lily of Clapham Common seem to be banished at the mention of “Jacqueline”, the blue-eyed maid at the second estaminet on the right. Her winsomeness was a great trial to me, as “Mary” was dangerously enchanted by her charms. On the day he was inoculated and should have kept very quiet, he was missing – sitting at the shrine of his goddess, drinking benedictions and secret smiles: as I find him out to his billet he assured me with tears in his eyes, “I’ve only had 2, sergeant”. Of course he ought to be dead, but he isn’t – and Jacqueline regards me as an ogre. However I think she judged me a little bit better before we left, for on the day we went away Mary had a scrawly pencilled note as follows –

My dear Dolly
I must see you at once. Tell your sergeant that if you no come quick I finish with you for ever.
With love & kisses
XXXXXX
from your
Jacqueline

He went.

And every now and then I see him take out an old passport and look at the left hand corner, and smile at her miniature there.

Dear old Will has sent me a long letter enclosing a photo of Johanna & himself and offering a selection from a number of books as a birthday present. I’ll let you know later what I’d like, but just now on the threshold of a good roll up of the Huns I’m afraid there’ll be no time for reading in the army.

I believe my affairs are going thro’ all right, but it may be some time yet or not at all before my promotion comes through – I hope it will be very soon or not at all. Further promotion would be very remote, if the job hung fire for long.

With my dear love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/26-28)

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
Affectionately

Bild [nickname]

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