The pleasant mudscape

Perhaps a brother’s experiences informed this schoolgirl’s creative writing.

Dialogue Between Two German Owls, or An Elegy written in Flanders

The shrapnel shrieks the knell of parting day;
In Flanders, mud above his gouty knee,
A sapper backwards ploughs his watery way,
To mend the telephone, and have some tea.

Now sinks the pleasant mudscape from the sight,
For, from the air, a sleety drizzle drenches,
Save where a lorrie [sic], with its floundering might,
Takes touzzly [sic] Tommies back towards the trenches.

Save that, on yonder splintered stump,
A German owl doth of her lord enquire,
“What bird is that, who buzzing round our dump,
Usurps our birth-right in this black quagmire?”

“Oft did our faint hearts to those bomb-shells yield,
In burrows hiding, while the crockery broke,
For England drives her aeroplanes afield,
Often to perish, ‘neath our strafing stroke.

Let them not mock what German soil,
And lager beer, and morning hates upbore,
Soon we shall hear, with a disdainful smile
Some long and glorious lies about that corps.

The boast of daring and the pomp of power
All that the British War Office e’er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour,
A reckless start-off to a German grave.”

Thus spake the German, heedless of the waste
For female ears this eloquence to raise,
And, as with long-drawn screams the shrapnel raced
Around her, she could see no cause for praise.

“Can leaking urn, or animated bust
Back to its mansion drive that floating flock?
Make those propellers churn the silent dust,
Or flatten out upon a cold dull rock?”

The applause of listening generals to command,
And angry threats of martial courts to raise,
To scatter pamphlets o’er a smiling land,
Or works like these their hapless nation pays.”

Haply some hairy headed swine may say,
“Oft have we heard him at the peep of dawn
Blowing with hasty bombs our food away
To beat the Hun upon the upland lawn.”

Then sank her head upon the lap of earth,
An owl, to fortune and to fame unknown;
A sniper frowned not on her humble birth,
And, very hungry, marked her for his own.

H. MOSS, Va.

Clewer: St Stephen’s High School Magazine, 1919 (D/EX1675/6/2/2)

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There is a new spirit amongst our young people

An elderly nonconformist clergyman had hope for the post war world and the new generation.

The Gates of Youth, By Rev. Monro Gibson, M.A., LL.D.

I am now about as far away from the gates of Youth as any one in this world can well be, but the remarkable thing is that the father I go from them, the increasing distance, instead of making them look smaller, makes them seem larger and ever larger – so much so that in my old age I confess to a great and increasing longing to help my young friends to see what a glorious, magnificent life which is opening before them.

The adventure of life begins with the dawn of personal responsibility. In childhood we are in a garden, a Garden of Eden, let us say, sheltered, secluded, happy in its limitations; but sooner or later the gates of Eden open outwards, and the world is all before us with its continents and islands, its seas and oceans, its illimitable possibilities; its fearful risks on the one hand, its great reaches on the other.

Difference between Men and Animals

Herein lies the immense difference between the life of man and that of lower animals. They have each their limits imposed on them by nature. In every case there is growth along certain fixed lines, and up to certain fixed limits; but in no case is there any possibility of a development at all corresponding to that of the boy into a Shakespeare or a Newton, or the girl into a Florence Nightingale or a Catherine Booth; and that altogether irrespective of the infinities and eternities which lie beyond. On the other hand, there is no peril corresponding to that which may transform a noble youth into a Judas or a Kaiser or a sot.

These things being so, there is call for the most earnest thought in passing through these fateful Gates. It will not do simply to yield to the impulse of the moment as if it did not matter much how you set out or what you were aiming at. I do think, however, that there are some warnings which, though very much needed four years ago, are not called for now. For there is a new spirit amongst our young people. There has been a high summons to whole-souled devotion to a great cause, and to that summons there has been a noble response, so that I believe there are very few young men or young women either, who would be willing now to welcome a life of self-indulgence or pleasure-seeking or easy-going mediocracy; and those who would still prefer that kind of thing are too far down to be likely to be reached by any high appeal. The great majority now, I am sure, demand the strenuous life, the life of active service with something in it of adventure or peril, calling for courage, resourcefulness, sacrifice if need be. The cricket pitch and the golf course, the dance and the supper party may still find a corner in life but only a corner. Surely the feeling now is practically universal that to put one’s life into any such things as these is despicable in the last degree. How encouraging it is to find that when there is a call for volunteers to an enterprise which means almost certain death, like the attack ion Zeebrugge or the final Voyage of The Vindictive, every one is not only ready but is disappointed if he cannot be accepted.

A New World

You may say: It is the War that has done this, and we are all very glad that it has come to an end. Yes: but is there any reason why the spirit the War has called forth should come to an end with it? By no means. We are constantly reminded that it is a new world we are entering into, with greater opportunities, nobler prospects and more difficult problems that we have ever known; and there will be a new call for the exercise of all the noblest faculties the War has evoked, and for many others for which even its multiplied demands have not afforded scope and opportunity. Surely it is not without significance that a man who represents so large and in many respects so unpromising a constituency as H. G. Wells has done should even passionately urge the claims of the Kingdom of God upon the service of us all, and especially of our young people who will be the chief agents in the new developments before us. We have all along had before s the call to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” to make that the great ambition of our lives; but so far it has kindled the souls of only a very small minority. May it not now “catch on,” to use the common phrase, and gather itself the patriotism, the enthusiasm, the devotion, courage and self-sacrifice of the generation now coming on the scene.

Moreover, we are now apparently entering on a new era of democracy whose success will depend not on a small number of super-men or heroes of the Nietschean or Carlylean type to subdue the masses to their will; but on the people, each with his share of responsibility, every one with his full share of opportunity, with education that will open up fields of service to every variety of talent, and with institutions that will give full scope for its exercise. Even as things have been in the world, our young people have had much encouragement to put forth every effort in the beginning of life to train their powers for usefulness; but it is more worth while now than ever it was before. In the old Book of Proverbs it is written, “A man’s gift maketh room for him.” True now in a fuller sense than when the wise man wrote it down, it will still be more so in the days that are coming. Therefore I would congratulate our young people especially on the prospect before them, entering on life in times like these which are more full of portent and of promise than even those of which the poet Wordsworth wrote:

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven.”

It is indeed true as it always was, that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life”; but now that there is this new spirit in the land for enduring hardness, for concentration of energy, for ventures of faith and courage, and now that the life which is set before us, which and full as it has always been, promises to be richer and fuller than ever, we may hope that it will no longer be true that “few there be that find it,” but that multitudes of our young people, young men and young women, will press through the gates into the new life.

Newbury and Thatcham Congregational Magazine, May 1919 (D/N32/12/1/1/1)

Hope springs eternal

This poem may have been inspired by having lived under the shadow of war for years.

“Hope Springs Eternal.”

YOUTH looks upon the world and sees it fair;
Exultant in his strength, he fears for nought;
The years behind seem as a mounted stair,
The years before are rosate in his thought.

He dreams of fame, success, the world’s applause,
Of love, maybe, and deeds of high romance,
Obedient ever to his nature’s laws
Bidding him hope, nor doubt of what may chance.

When age is drawing on, he muses o’er
The retrospect of shattered hopes, and sees
How barren proved his dream’s enchanted shore,
The strand whereto he voyaged through troubled seas;

Dark and uncertain looks the future: yet
He needs must hope until his sun be set.

T.G.W.

The Newburian (magazine of St Bartholomew’s School, Newbury), April 1919 (N/D161/1/9)

“Nothing that the war has brought me is anything to compare with your suffering, and no courage I have shewn, can compare with your superhuman endurance”

Florence Image reveals the strain it took to stay strong for her family in the face of Sydney’s death.

29, Boston Road
Cambridge

Oct. 29 1918

My own dear Stan

John says, “Are you writing to dear old Stanley? Then tell him his letters give me the greatest pleasure to read.” Well my darling, I do pray you will get some of our letters soon. I am getting yours so quickly – less than 3 weeks! I was dreadfully bothered about you. Do ask for leave. The infantry won’t know you have been 2 ¼ years without any. When you get back to your unit, beg the Colonel to grant you either (a) your overdue leave – or (b) sick leave with a view to discharge. Tell him how many times you have had malaria. Lloyd George promised you all leave in the spring. Last week the WO said they were granting leave as fast as possible – and again they assured the House of Commons that something like 1500 had had leave recently from Salonika – I enclose a cutting. But I hope the Min. of Inform. Affair will come off soon, if the war isn’t over first. I do long to hear the story of what you did for your Captain darling.

I feel your letters acutely darling. If my letters seem prosaic and material it’s because I have had a tremendous strain on my emotions, and I hardly dare take out my thoughts and look at them at all – because I’ve got to keep well, & be strong for all your sakes. I’ve written reams on your account – and it’s for you & Gil, and to keep Mother & Father going, for your sake, and for Perce [sic] – as well as my beloved John – I’ve got to keep going – or rather keep the ship going – See? But of course nothing that the war has brought me is anything to compare with your suffering, and no courage I have shewn, can compare with your superhuman endurance. My only struggle is not just to keep myself going – but to keep the ship going – do you understand? And so I am the most extraordinary creature apparently. I haven’t cried about Syd – and every time dear John attempts to be even sad about it – I am quite firm & cross. In fact it’s carry on – carry on – carry on – all the while – and snub every gust of longing or regret, love & hatred (like you I get awful fits of hatred as well as love) and save up all your energy for the end of the war and the radiant return to the old order – for you the front bedroom of a sunny warm day – with [Tobit?] – when the war is over. I’ll burst – and then you’ll be astonished at all I say. I get madder & amdder & madder with those who have not been wrenched up by the roots in this war. “Why cumbereth it the ground?”

Well, this is an ugly letter. It’s all imported rage with those who don’t dream what you in Salonika endure – and if they did wouldn’t dream what you in particular endure. But I do – and meanwhile I am trying to get you some light books to carry. I have ordered Andrew Marvell, and hope to get it in a week. His poems. Do you want his Satires too? And have you got a Bible? And do express any other longing you have. What you tell me of Heine & Goethe is so interesting. I’d no idea they had the taint. Tell me one or two nice things you would like to beautify your dust-bins out there. I do hope you will get the parcel with biscuits I sent you.

I heard yesterday that Syd has been awarded the Military Cross for what he did on Aug. 8th, and am vain-glorious enough to be glad, because he told me before he was killed, he was recommended for it, and was very pleased, because of the pleasure he knew it would confer on us…

Your own loving
Flongy

Have you plenty of shirts etc?

Letter from Florence Image to her brother Stanley Spencer (D/EX801/110)

“Too particularly sad just at this time when we are rejoicing at the thought of Peace”

There was something particularly poignant in the timing of Sydney Spencer’s death so soon before the end.

King Edward’s School for Girls
Handsworth
Birmingham

22.X.’18

My dear Mrs Image

Mother has written to tell me of your sad news, and I felt I should like to write you a wee note to send you my love and sympathy. I am so awfully sorry – more than I can say – it seems too particularly sad just at this time when we are rejoicing at the thought of Peace….

I have often thought of your brothers and hoped they were safe. Will you excuse me if I quote a few lines from Rupert Brooke –

“Yet behind the night
Waits for the great unborn, somewhere afar
Some white tremendous daybreak, & the light
Returning, shall give back the golden hours,
Ocean a windless level, Earth a lawn
Spacious & full of sunlit dancing places,
And laughter, & music, & among the flowers
The gay child’s heart of men, & the child faces
O heart in the great Dawn.”

With love
from
I V Wanstall

Letter of sympathy to Florence Image on the death of Sydney (D/EX801/81)

“Thy warfare is accomplished”

The devasated father of Sydney Spencer wrote a poem in tribute to his son.

To Sydney

O well-beloved! How shall we pay
The debt to thee we owe?
How find the words half adequate
Thy priceless worth to show?

Fair as the Evening Star wert thou
Pure as the morning dew
As gentle as a little child
Brave as the dauntless few

Who once at Crecy did withstand
Their proud insisting foes
And scattered them in hideous rout
With their good English bows

So with thy peers didst thou withstand
Th’exciting German host
With them didst share the glorious day
That shamed the foe’s proud boast

Thou took’st thy Father’s gifts with joy
The beauty of the flowers
The glory of the starry sky
And of the cloud-built towers

The thoughts of great men fitly clothed
In words that flame like fire
And Music’s deep, mysterious voice
For thou could’st touch the lyre

Thine was a perfect sacrifice
In thought, in will, in deed;
Thou couldst have been in England still
But thou wert of the breed

Who hear the clarion call but once
To where red Danger’s tide
Most fiercely sets, and thither haste
As bridegroom to his bride

Could’st thou have known, thou had’st forgiven
The foe who aimed the shell
For in thy brave and gentle heart
Nought but pure love did dwell

Would we have shaped it otherwise?
‘Twas not within our choice;
Or, still to feel thy loving touch,
To hear thy gentle voice

To Duty we had recreant proved
Perchance, and tried to sway
Thy steps from that appointed path
Which thou didst know thy Way

“Thy warfare is accomplished”
Life’s battle nobly won
And thou beyond the stars hast heard
Thy Father’s great “Well Done”

FATHER
Fernley, Cookham, Oct. 22nd, 1918

Poem by William Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/78)

To find a soldier’s rest

This poem was written by army chaplain the Revd Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. It is entitled ‘Prayer Before An Attack’.

The following verses quoted by the Pastor in a recent sermon are given here by request:-

It ain’t as I think ‘E’ll keep me safe
While the other blokes goes down;
And it ain’t as I wants to leave the earth
And wear an ‘ero’s crown.
It ain’t for that as I says my prayers
When I goes to the attack;
But I pray that whatever comes my way,
I may never turn my back.
I leave the matter o’ life and death
To the Lord who knows what’s best;
And I pray that I still play the man,
Whether I turn East or West.
But grant me, God to do my bit,
And then If I must turn West,
I’ll be unashamed when my name is named.
And I’ll find a soldier’s rest.


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

“Such was his enthusiasm that he was led to write war verses with a view to stimulating the slacker”

Here we learn of the war experiences of some of the Old Boys of St Bartholomew’s Grammar School, Newbury, who had lost their lives.

In Memoriam.

In reporting the deaths of the following Old Newburians, we take this opportunity of expressing our most sincere sympathy with the bereaved friends and relations.

N. G. Burgess.

Croix De Guerre

Lieutenant Nathaniel Gordon Burgess, Croix De Guerre, R.N.R., entered the N.G.S. in April, 1901, and left at Christmas, 1906, from the South House. He obtained his place in both the second Cricket and Football elevens in 1903 and got into both firsts in his last year. On leaving school he entered the Civil Service, but subsequently turned to the Mercantile Marine. His connection with the Senior Service dates from April, 1915, when his offer of service was accepted and he was granted the commission of Sub.-Lieutenant. The following September he was promoted to Acting Lieutenant and posted to H.M.S Conquest. While serving under the then Commodore Tyrrwhit he had the good fortune to capture two German trawlers laden with munitions; and the telegrams of congratulations, both from his Commanding Officer and the Admiralty, together with the battered flag of one of the trawlers, were among his most cherished possessions. The posthumous award of the Croix de Guerre was conferred on him by the French Government for his gallantry in the naval action off Lowestoft, in July 1916, when a German shell entered one of the magazines of his ship. Fortunately the shell did not immediately explode, and, by flooding the magazine compartment, the gallant officer prevented what might have been serious damage, his action being regarded very highly by the authorities.. thus it was a very promising life which was cut short when at the age of twenty-six, Burgess was lost at sea in March of this year.

J. V. Hallen.

Corporal John Vernie Hallen, School House 1905-1908, was born in 1894 and received his preliminary education at College House, Hungerford, thence going to The Ferns, Thatcham, from which school he finally came to the N.G.S., getting into both the Cricket and Football Seconds in 1907. After leaving here he became an expert motor engineer, from which occupation he joined up early in the war, determined at all costs to uphold the honour of his country. Such was his enthusiasm that he was led to write war verses with a view to stimulating the slacker, which we understand to have been always well received, and in the meanwhile he found time to use his great physical strength in winning the heavy weight boxing championship of his regiment, the 1st Surrey Rifles. Such was the man who was killed in action in France some three months ago.

F. C. Mortimer.

Private Frederick C. Mortimer, South House 1910-1915, who was reportedly killed in action “in the Field,” on Friday the 26th of April, was exactly nineteen years and four months old on the day of his death. He took a keen enjoyment in outdoor sport and got into the Second Cricket Eleven in 1914, while his dash was quite a feature of the First Fifteen in his last year here. Always cheerful and amusing, he was generally liked in his form and took his school life with a lightheartedness that made it well worth living. His last letter to his parents was dated on the day of his death, from France, whither he was drafted on the first of last February, after a year’s training at Dovercourt and Colchester. We cannot but feel that he died as he had lived, quickly and cheerfully.

R. Cowell-Townshend.

Second Lieutenant Roy Cowell-Townshend, R.A.F., Country House 1913-1916, was a promising Cricketer, having played for the first eleven both in 1915 and in his last term. On leaving school he wished to become an electrical engineer and entere4d into apprenticeship with Messrs. Thornycroft, on June 1st, 1916. Having reached the age of eighteen, he was called to the colours on February 17th, 1917, and went into training on Salisbury Plain, quickly gaining a stripe and the Cross Guns of the marksman. Soon afterwards he was drafted to the R.F.C. as a Cadet and went to Hursley Park for his course. From here he went first to Hastings and then to Oxford when, having passed all his exams, he was granted his commission on December 7th, 1917. He then went to Scampton, Lincoln, where he qualified as a Pilot, and afterwards to Shrewsbury, where he was practicing with a Bombing Machine he was to take on to France. Every report speaks of him as having been a most reliable pilot, and he had never had an accident while in this position, nor even a bad landing, and at the time of his death he was acting as passenger. The fatal accident occurred on May 29th, 1918, the machine, which the instructor was piloting, having a rough landing, and Townshend being pitched forward and killed instantaneously. His body was brought to his home at Hungerford, where he was buried with military honours on June 3rd.

The Newburian (magazine of St Bartholomew’s School, Newbury), July 1918 (N/D161/1/8)

On both

Elderly William Spencer of Cookham was proud that his daughter Florence Image was having her first satirical article published in Punch.

Fernley
Cookham
July 14, 1918

My dear Sydney, …

I am very glad you like my first effort in blank verse. … But Flo [his daughter Florence] has beaten me altogether. I can only attain to the ‘Advertiser’ but she, a puss, has just had an article of more than a column’s length accepted by ‘Punch’. She has revised the proof & I expect it will appear next Wednesday though it does not follow that acceptance means immediate publication. It has to do with ‘Dora’ & is entitled ‘On Both’ referring to any breach of D.O.R.A’s act being punishable with six months imprisonment, or a £50 fine, or both.

Letter from William Spencer of Cookham to his son Sydney (at the front) (D/EZ177/1/6/1)

Edible offal versus falling into a sewer

Food rationing had now hit the universities, accustomed to lavish tables. But if John Maxwell Image felt dismayed, he also knew of the privations at the front, and those suffered by French civilians, courtesy of his brothers in law.

29 Barton Road
5 May ‘18

My VDB

Your letter arrived on Friday, and I can’t tell you how it rejoiced me to find you writing in such good spirits. Cheltenham is the place for you, evidently… I am prostrated before… a Communal Kitchen that provides edible food. (So does NOT ours here.)
I am flooded with printed notices from Trinity “in consequence of a change in the Meat Control Regulations”. Butchers’ Meat will, from May 6 (tomorrow), be served in Hall only on Tuesdays and Saturdays. On which days a whole Coupon will be required from each diner.
If he dines without one, or is absent, sans notice, the Fellow incurs a fine of 5/-.

On Mondays and Thursdays, Poultry, Game, Bacon or “edible offal” (!!) will be served instead of Meat. (Note, every item headed with a capital, except “edible offal”.) “And on these days a half coupon only will be required.”

Anyhow, it is “for the period of the war”.

What is to be eaten on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday we are not informed. More “edible offal”?

But the word “Fish” is not mentioned once on these Bills of Fare!

Florence is a genius of a Food Provider. I don’t feel the pinch of hunger. Indeed she and Ruth (the Cook) dish up food that is distinctly “edible”. Salmon, Sole, Bloater, Woodpigeon, etc, and ‘made dishes’ that do the pair credit.

Florence’s two officer brothers write very cheerfully and much oftener than one would expect. Two of their epistles came with yours on Friday, both are in the middle of the great Push, and keep their tails up well.

One had difficulty in getting there. He and his men were stranded within 5 or 6 miles of the British line by the French “borrowing” their “train complete with kits and rations and half their men”.

“The climax (he went on) came when at 2 a.m. this morning one of the party pitched into a ditch which was really the outfall from a sewer. The proceedings were trying for the victim. However he’s quite scraped down now. We dried him in sections before some boilers, and if one keeps up-wind, he’s all right. The worst is, if his kit doesn’t turn up, he has nothing else in France to escape into”.

The other brother sent a very mixed bag. He had been out on a raid the night before. He spoke of cuckoos, housemartins, song birds – lying on his back in an orchard reading the Lady of Shalott, white and blue and tortoiseshell butterflies, – and “when the battery behind us ceased fire for the moment, chaffinches making melody on the trees above” (he must have read Chaucer as well as Tennyson) – then, more sadly, of a “poor old badly crippled woman” who sobbed, in patois, pouring out her troubles to him, and “pathetically asked me whether I would do her the kindness of shooting her! My Captain, who says that he is a well-seasoned soldier, was quite overcome by the incident, so you can imagine that I had to take very great care to preserve an outward calm.”

Most affec.
Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

“He sang a cheery song to me which for a wonder was not disturbed by the boom & shriek of shells”

Sydney Spencer could still delight in birdsong.

Saturday 27 April 1918

Got up at 7.30. Last night our goods came up, also drinks. Thank goodness the drinks came as everyone was getting very weary of waiting & I was wondering how long my popularity as MP would last! We had our usual parade at 9.45. Inspection of rifles… I got a lot more camouflage done. Wrote to Florence.

After lunch read a little. Went down to company, inspected ammunition, gave the men some cigarettes. Came back to orchard behind my platoon & read Tennyson, “The Lady of Shalott” & a few others. Saw a blue butterfly & other butterflies. I saw also a lovely cock chaffinch. He sang a cheery song to me which for a wonder was not disturbed by the boom & shriek of shells.

After tea wrote to Florence. Then came post with rations, bringing me despatch case & lots of useful articles & a long letter from Florence. She pulled my leg by addressing me as Sir – yours to hand etc, & signed it Yours faithfully, Image & Co.

Went on working party Suffs with Peyton from 8-11 pm.

After tea officers of A Company called on us. Then went for a walk towards windmill on our left. At 8 I took a working party to Suffs. In orchard over way about 8 ten shells burst all round us, one slight casualty only. During work on CT Trench was [enfiladed?] by shell fire & luckily all shells landed on parapet.

Heard a nightingale singing in the orchard this morning.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15)

“10 seconds later his plane was crippled on the ground, enveloped in gigantic flames”

Sydney Spencer revealed life behind the lines in France in his diary, and wrote to his sister with more details.

Diary
Sunday 21 April 1918

Men bathed today from 9-4. So ‘Beer’ company officers had a rest in bed. Got up at 8.30, had a cold bath. After breakfast wrote to Mother & Father & Florence. It is now 11.15 am. A sunny morn & I am in a bit of pretty woodland. We parade at 11.30 am so I must go.

We had our parade on some fields near to billets. Only a short inspection & a talk and organization of platoon. I take over No 6 Platoon. After lunch took out company for football. After tea went to church in ‘flying fox’ lecture hall. A good service with a band and some solos from Elijah. A lovely day with plenty of sunshine.

After dinner I tried on my field boots which came today. They fit well. To bed at 10. Read Tennyson.

Letter

7th Norfolk Regiment
BEF
France

Sunday
21.4.18

My Dearest Florence & Mr I

Just a short line to let you know that I am very well & quite happy. Nothing exciting has yet taken place. The great pleasure at present is coming across lots of men who used to be in our regiment, who shew in their slow Norfolk way a keen relish at meeting a man of the old (help! I nearly got within reach of the censor I believe!) regiment. Also I have come across two men who were up at Oxford with me, one yesterday & one last week. …

Yesterday night a man was ‘stunting’ in his plane just above us. One moment he was like a calm serene bird floating down the wind. 10 seconds later his plane was crippled on the ground, enveloped in gigantic flames. I only hope he escaped a horrible death!

All love to you both
Your affectionate Brer Sydney

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and letter to his sister and brother in law (D/EZ177/8/3/20)

Slush, real Flanders slush everywhere

It was a gloomy day, but a more cheerful evening, for Sydney Spencer and his fellow officers.

Thursday 18 April 1918

Got up at 7.30. A miserable day, wet & slush, real Flanders slush everywhere. Parades up on the high ground at the range, not of the most cheerful with a biting wind & drizzle, but we got through alright. We had some gas stunts very like what we had in England, except that the Div officer had not the stuff I could use.

After lunch went down to billets & gave two lectures on gas to the company, & there was a kit inspection. After tea wrote a few cards & a letter to Florence. Also packed some spare kit to send home. Washed & changed & bad dinner.

The other chaps are now playing vingt et un, & I am going to be OC gramophone, & then to bed to read Tennyson.

8.45 pm. A fine moonlight night.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15)

“It seemed very strange to be doing my work after so many months”

Sydney Spencer was still some way behind the front line.

Wednesday 17 April 1918

Got up at 7.30. A better morning, warmer, but wind.

Went on parade at 9. A march of about one mile up on to a trench system where … I did platoon’s drill for a time. It seemed very strange to be doing my work after so many months.

After lunch fine again till 3 when it poured with rain. I gave a lecture to ‘B’ company on Gas. Paid company at 3.30.

After tea got my clothes dry, changed, made out mess and [illegible] for A and B companies. After dinner, all officers paid me so that I was able to make things square.

To bed at 9.30 & read In Memoriam for a little while. A fine night.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15)

A horrible stench

Foraging for provisions in the French countryside could be challenging in unexpected ways.

Sunday 14 April 1918.

Rose at 8 am. Cozens Hardy not at all well. Has a high fever. Took working party with me to hangars again, a stiff job, which we completed by 1.15 pm after a struggle. I did not like the engineer chief under whom I was working. He was “naggy”.

After lunch had a sleep. Cozens Hardy gone into hospital. Capt. Dillon’s taken over company.

After tea went with Frost the Mess waiter & got 2 kilos of very good pork from a farm nearby. The farmer’s wife was cleaning offal, the most horrible stench emanating therefrom & she in polite French offered me a chair with her beady brown eyes sparkling.

Before dinner I wrote letters, & after dinner cleared up. Read In Memoriam to the accompaniment of the sound of shellfire & to sleep. In bed by 9 pm.

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EZ177/8/15)