That weird & wonderful place known as “up the line”

Percy Spencer had recovered from the rough sea crossing, and anticipated his arrival at the Front.

Apl 17, 1918

My dear WF

In a few days time I expect to be in that weird & wonderful place known as “up the line”.

My posting order is through, and my address will be “15th Lon Regt, 140th Infantry Brigade, BEF, France”.

I’m the only one going to the 15th. Everyone else is going to his own regiment, as apparently the authorities, if slow, have a long memory, and my fortune may not be bad.

When you have time, will you please place an order with Colin Lunn for 1/6 of Fryers “Original” per month – 1/6 to be sent out now.

I’m afraid my letter last night [poss 7/7/28] was rather incoherent. The boat still rocks if I look down, but I’m almost enjoying a pipe again.

Today we have been doing gas again, and that I think is about all that will be required of us until we go up.

I’ll write more when I have more news.

With love to all

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/29)

“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

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

“It’s entirely up to you whether you have an easy or hard time”

Percy Spencer had a few more trenchant comments on his experiences as a trainee officer.

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

Jan 27th, 1918

My dear WF

I’m still here and finding life pretty strenuous, it’s entirely up to you whether you have an easy or hard time, but the man who can sit down and let things rip isn’t much account.

Today I held the finals of my platoon boxing competition. They were gory affairs but fought out in good spirit and with plenty of spirit. For the moment I’m frightfully popular. Tomorrow at inspection time they won’t like me a little bit.

Tonight I’ve again been to the little church of Lyddington. It is so restful to get away to real village life and the walk back again in the moonlight through scattered groups of white rubble, thatched cottages and farmsteads a happy recollection.

Yesterday the subalterns were instructed by the senior subaltern in mess etiquette. The meeting was too funny, as, without prejudice, the boot is on the other leg, and a good many of us weren’t afraid to say so. Altogether I think the meeting did good inasmuch as it cleared the air.

And now I’m smoking my pipe and writing a few letters – and don’t I wish it was in the cosy drawing room at 29 [Florence’s house]. Der Tag!

With all my love to you both

Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/9-10)

Lemonade crystals for the troops

Ascot soldiers and sailors received regular parcels from home. The contents included concentrate to make a fizzy lemon drink.


The object of this Committee is to keep in touch with every Ascot man who is serving his Country abroad, and to show appreciation of what he is doing. Correspondence is kept up with the men and parcels are sent out periodically.

Recently, parcels have been sent out to 101 men, namely:

10 in the Navy, consisting of book, pipe and socks. 63 in the B.E.F., consisting of matches, candle, bootlaces, towel, lemonade crystals, soap, pipe, and 1/4lb. of tobacco.

28 in the M.E.F. and India, consisting of lemonade crystals, socks, pipe, 1/4lb. of tobacco and tinder.

In sending these the Committee have found a number of changes of address, and several additions to the number of men serving. In future, in order to avoid disappointment, it is important that any changes should be at once notified to any member of the Committee or to Mr. W.H. Tottie.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, September 1917 (D/P151/28A/9/9)

“I am doing my bit for them, as I know there is a lot that can’t”

Soldiers from Ascot appreciated gifts from the schoolchildren, while one man with a local connection had been awarded a French medal.


The Boys’ Entertainment was highly successful and produced £12 9s. 0d., after deducting all expenses, and enabled the Committee to send a parcel “With best wishes from the Boys of Ascot Heath School,” to every Ascot man serving at sea or abroad. To every man a pip, a khaki handkerchief, and some cigarettes were sent, and to those in France in addition a couple of candles, and to others either another handkerchief or a packet of sweets. A good many letters have been received saying that the parcels had arrives safely and were much appreciated, and the following from one man is a sample of others:

“I thank all the boys of Ascot Heath Schools for their kindness in sending me a parcel which I received safe and sound. It was what I wanted as I am an old smoker of a pipe, and please tell them that I am doing my bit for them, as I know there is a lot that can’t.”

The number of Ascot men now on our list is 97, and we are glad to say that we continue to receive good reports of all of them. The two prisoners seem to be fairly well treated; and the four men still suffering from wounds are still going on well.

It is a satisfaction to be able to report that Grenade-Sergeant Robinson of the 2nd Wilts, whose father was formerly in the Rifle Brigade and has lately come to live in Ascot, has been mentioned in despatches and been awarded the D.C.M. and the “Medaille Militaire.”

ANOTHER ACCOUNT of the Boy’s Entertainment.

The Boys of the Ascot Heath Schools gave a concert on Wednesday, 23rd February, in All Saints parish Room at 2.45 p.m. in the afternoon and repeated the entertainment in the evening at 7.30 p.m. The object of the concert was one well calculated to appeal to the hearts and so the pockets of Ascot people: it was to raise enough money to enable a parcel to be sent to every man on active service in the Navy or the Army with the best wishes of the boys as a token of their affectionate remembrance. The attendance at the afternoon performance was most gratifying, and at once ensured the success of the scheme from a financial point of view; while in the evening the room was packed to the doors.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Monthly Magazine, April 1916 (D/P151/28A/8/4)

Terribly sad – but a splendid ideal of self-sacrifice

A Newbury teacher left his school for the trenches, as two other young men were reported killed.

The Managers of the Schools have presented Miss Bell with a Bible, in recognition of the nearly twenty years’ service in the Boys School, which she finished last year; and have presented Mr Nicklen with a wrist watch, on his leaving the school for the Army, he having been a few months longer than Miss Bell a teacher at the School. Mr Nicklen also received a handsome case of pipes together with a pouch from the teachers and the boys. Mr G F Pyke is at present medically prevented from joining the Army, as he wished to do.

The Deanery Secretary of UMCA, Miss Howard, has been endeavouring to arrange for the Annual Meeting in the Oddfellows’ Hall, but it seems better to postpone the meeting to some date after Lent… In the meantime the Mission remains, as ever, in urgent need of prayer and assistance. We hope that the successful prosecution of the Campaign in East Africa will soon result in the setting free of the Missionaries imprisoned within.

We offer our sincerest sympathies to Mr and Mrs Brown, of 47 Northbrook Street, and Mr and Mrs Breach, of 13 Victoria Street, on their loss of a son at the War. It is terribly sad to think of all these fine young fellows being called away so suddenly, and of the great sorrow that is being caused in so many homes: but they are raising up for the Nation a splendid ideal of self-sacrifice.

Newbury parish magazine, April 1916 (D/P89/28A/13)

“God and Right” is the fighting motto of our sailors and soldiers

The vicar of Winkfield had some stirring words for parishioners, who had sent Christmas gifts to men at the front.



You will have already received my letter about the Day of National Intercession on January 2nd, and I sincerely hope that there will be very few this year who will have the reproach of neglecting to respond to this piece of duty to their country, the joining and offering of humble homage to Almighty God in humble recognition of our National reliance upon His overruling Hand.

We long for peace and pray it may come this year, but we believe with our whole souls that we are fighting for God and Right, and it is this that has nerved so many thousands to answer their country’s call as clear call from God, and to offer their young lives willingly, cheerfully and gladly until a just and lasting peace can be secured.
And this brings the thought, has my response to the call of God and His Church to serve in His Army against all the forces of evil, been like that? Ought not our Christian soldiering to be far more real and earnest? If “God and Right” be the fighting motto of our sailors and soldiers, shall it not also be a New Year’s motto for all of us who are pledged to serve in the Army of God. May it be yours and mine in this New Year.

Your sincere Friend and Vicar,



The Christmas presents to our men were sent off in good time and already Mrs. Maynard has received several grateful letters with warm expressions of thanks to all kind friends in Winkfield who helped, and this proof that they were not forgotten be those at home is what seems to have been especially appreciated by the men.

Seventy-seven parcels were sent, practically all of which contained some articles of warm clothing, besides cigarettes, pipes, tobacco, chocolate, biscuits, &c., and a pocket testament and tiny prayer book.

Winkfield section of Winkfield District Monthly Magazine, January 1916 (D/P151/28A/8/1)

The “fun city”

Ascot was affected by the war in various ways: hosting a big hospital, losing teachers to the armed forces, and so on. A couple of the men who had joined up wrote home with their impressions of life at the front:

THE MILITARY HOSPITAL is closed for the present for the purpose of carrying out some necessary alterations. We have sustained a great loss in the death of Miss Blackburn, the Commandant of the Ascot Voluntary Aid Detachment, and of the Hospital. Her absolute unselfishness and devotion to her work endeared her to all who had the privilege of knowing her.

MR.B.G.GIBBONS, Assistant Manager in the Boys’ School, has volunteered for Military Service. He will be much missed in the Church Choir, as well as at the Schools. His post will be kept open for him: and we shall welcome him back, if all is well, when the war is over.

THE WAR is at its height. It is difficult to turn our thoughts to anything else. Our faith in the justice of our cause, and our humble confidence that GOD will further the efforts of those who are fighting not for personal gain but for the Christian ideal of righteousness and honourable dealing, make us as sanguine as to the ultimate issue. But, in the meanwhile, the strain is terrible. Not only our deep recognition of the magnificent self-sacrifice and courage of our navy and army, but our prayers on their behalf, must increase more and more in their earnestness every day. On Wednesdays at 8 p.m., as well as on Sundays, special intercessions are offered in the All Saints Church.

THE ROLL OF HONOUR.- Nearly 180 names are entered upon our All Saints Roll. The following extracts from letters to the Rector will be read with interest.

(i) From Lance-Corp. ARTHUR T. N. JONES.

At present we are billeted at a farm, and sleep in a barn about 60 N.C.O.s and men. Things of course are a little more rough and ready out here… We find the pack rather more trying now that we carry everything, including “Emergency Ration”: but we are very fit on the whole, and one feels far more at home with things after the first few days.


It was about 6 p.m. on March 9th that the first half of our Battalion said au revoir to England. I shall never forget just those few moments. It was glorious, yet a very sad time. We lined the side of the boat facing the landing stage, and shouted “good bye” to the others on shore. To add to the impressiveness of the departure, our pipers played us away with “Auld Lang Syne” “The wearin’ o’ the green,” and other Irish airs. Those were glorious moments and in fact made one feel throaty…

On April 8th we first marched up to the “fun city.” While on the march and near our destination, shells began to whistle over our heads, just as a greeting I suppose… We seemed to go through miles and miles of trench before arriving in the firing line. The first half day was very quiet, excepting for the continual whiz of shells. You really would be astounded to see what trench life is like. It is almost as safe in a dug-out as you are in England. Of course, one has to chance a shell coming there, but rifle shots have no possibility of hitting you. The place where we were was a very important front, and seemed impregnable. The huge solid parapets of earth sand bags, the dug-outs, and trench itself, are marvellous.

***We have no more space for further extracts in the May Magazine from this most graphic and admirably written letter of our Ascot “lad” Gus Turner (if we may still call him so). But we will quote further from his letter in the Magazine for June. He tells about a German star-shell and its effect upon himself. And he tells of the Holy Communion celebrated early on Sunday mornings on the stage of a modern theatre. But you must wait till the June Magazine.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magzine, May 1916 (D/P151/28A/7/5)

A nice Highland Colonel shows the Vansittart Neales around Aldershot

The Vansittart Neale ladies of Bisham Abbey had an outing to see an army camp, at Aldershot.

27 October 1914
I, Edith & Bubs went to Aldershot. Found 33 camp at Rushmoor after some difficulty. Very nice Colonel Scott & Captain Macgregor, Gordon Highlanders, showed us all. Pipe Major exhibited the pipes & drums.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)