“It fills one with awe and an almost anguish of anxiety that the peoples to whom sovereignty is passing will be restrained by some clear vision”

Ralph Glyn had ambitions to go into politics. He was elected Unionist MP for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire in 1918, holding the seat until 1922. He then became MP for Abingdon in 1924.

Nov. 5, 1918
My own darling

As letters are so provokingly slow in getting to you I shall write every day. Do give me telegraph address for you & also tell me if there is any quicker way for addressing letters as now your armies are in full hue & cry. The news every day is so immense – one feels no brain or heart can compass it but it fills one with awe and an almost anguish of anxiety that the peoples to whom sovereignty is passing will be restrained by some clear vision and faith of the powers of the world to come and of the Everlasting Dominion that is to endure.

Aunt Alice is wonderful – no repining over the sacrifice – a great radiant spirit which is all one with those who fight here and there where they are still leading and know the triumph, but how thankful one is to be here to see this more than dawning break into a glorious dazzling light of a new day.

I have been thinking so much about you and Clackmannan and E Stirling. It is a great temptation and if only the Engine works I should wish it for you. It is so near home and you have friends all about there, and if it is a reasonably safe seat I think your future lies in reconstruction, but you may have to make your pot boil to win the independence you need to have of Party machine so sedulously being put together by that dreadful Asquith – I hope his scheme will meet with the failure it deserves though he does stand for Free Trade, I dread it now with him it means a free hand to deal with Germany. He is a terrible snake in the grass. And she is worse!…

Jim has been keeping his first birthday at home since the 1912 year after his marriage. So his first with the children….

Very own
Mur

Lady Mary Glyn to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/5)

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“A dirty morning but bad for the Hun so it’s a good day after all”

Percy Spencer wrote a long letter to his sister Florence based on his diary.

May 13, 1918

Ny dear WF

It’s along time since I wrote you, but now I swear to steal an hour and give you a sort of diary of events.

First of all, though, before I forget them list of wants –

Propane Royal Navy dressing
2 pairs long cord laces for field boots
Wrights coal tar soap

Also what does my baccy cost out of bond? What would 50 small size Meriel de luxe cigars cost out of bond? And what would 100 reasonably good Virginia cigarettes cost out of bond?

If you could do all that for me when passing the tobacconist, the chemist & Thrussell’s. I shall be very grateful.

I’m trying hard for your sake to keep a diary that is within the law. Just how far I had got in my last letter I forget, so forgive me if I repeat myself.

On My 3rd Ridley, my No. 6 in the famous Eight, turned up and talked over our Trinity days.

The next day was mostly solid work. Colonel P[arish]’s band played at mess, I think it was that evening the Mayor dined with us and we drank to France and the King, and everyone was awfully friendly and nothing disturbed the harmony except Col. P’s boyish anxiety for Paddy, a lovely Irish terrier, the regimental mascot, which is always being stolen. Paddy was tied to the big iron entrance gates while the band played, and every few minutes Col. P jumped up to see none of the crowd outside had borrowed him.

On the 5th the Padre, a delightful fellow, messed with us. The CO wound up a jolly evening with an imaginary stroll “down the Dilly”.
The next day was wet. M. Le Maire [the local mayor] dined with us and under the influence of his own good brandy made a clean breast of buried souvenirs de la guerre.

The 7th was a red letter day. Many honours were received by the Division, Col. P getting a DSO and our own CO his 2nd bar to DSO.
In the evening another padre came in and talked politics & economies till a late hour.….

The 8th was a lovely day. The field cashier turned up short of cash & I had to cycle to another village to get money for the boys. Me. Le Maire [the local mayor] again dined with us & collared lots of bread. Col. P spent the evening gloating over the anticipation of leave and going [on] imaginary walks all over London much to our CO’s disgust. The APM lunched with us and told us amusing “3rd degree” trial stories.

The 9th produced the best story I’ve heard for along time. Told me by an interpreter at lunch who had been engaged upon taking a census of people in a certain village in the forward village [sic] and persuading them to leave. An elderly lady refused to go without her children. And how many children have you, enquired the interpreter. I don’t know, she replied. But surely madam! Exclaimed the interpreter. Pointing to the yard crowded with Tommies, she exclaimed, “There are my children: when they go, I go.”

10th Paterson the popular officer of my old regiment dined with us.
On the 11th I had tea with my old friends Tyrrell, Garwood & a host of others. They all made me very welcome, only “Miss Toms” couldn’t remember to call me anything but “Sergeant Spencer”.

In the evening another Regimental Band played outside my orderly room, conducted to my pleasant surprise by the private in my platoon in England who is a Mus. Doc. [doctor of music] & deputy organist of St Paul’s. Col. P went on leave. I prosecuted in a case for him.

12th: a very uneventful day because I have heard the full song of a Bosch shell for the first time for 10 months. Had a long chat with the CO who said the folks forward were finding me very useful. A letter too from a wounded Major in England arrived saying nice things about me. I’m easily getting to the not altogether enviable position of having a reputation to live up to. By the way I might say here that KK has been perfectly charming to me.

And that brings me up to today – a dirty morning but bad for the Hun so it’s a good day after all.

Give my love to all at 29 & let me know if you don’t like this sort of letter.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister (D/EZ177/7/7/35-36)

Victory for Lloyd George, accused of making a mis-statement about man-power

Major General Sir Frederick Maurice made a controversial allegation that Parliament had been misled regarding the manning of the Western Front.

10 May 1918

Another officer here – Australian Captain Goudie – Artillery.

Victory for Lloyd George. Asquith’s motion about Sir F. Maurice’s letter defeated. He accused Lloyd George of making a mis-statement about man-power. Mesopotamian troops & Bonar Law’s statement about the interversion of the line not settled in Versailles Conference.


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

Sweet memories of past summers & bold promises of future ones

Sydney had a day’s rest before venturing into No Man’s Land to set some barbed wire.

Sydney Spencer
Tuesday 7 May 1918

After a rather damp night I woke up at 6.30. ‘Stand to’ was off owing to rain (stand to in this back area being a sort of eyewash). Just going to put on my steel helmet when I found it full of water! Did not get very wet considering the streams of water I heard running through the roof in different places. I seem to have dodged them, thank goodness!

A freezing day and rained almost incessantly till about 2 pm. Still we had little else to do but snooze & eat all day long. Had a delicious bath at old brewery despite the rain! A swallow got among a pile of tangled hops the while & preened himself & murmured sweet memories of past summers & bold promises of future ones in my ear. After lunch slept.

After tea informed that I was in charge of a wiring party for no man’s land. Started out at 9 pm. Landed at spot at 11.45. Wire etc arrived at 1.45. Worked till 2.45. Got back at 3.45. Saw that men had some tea.

Percy Spencer
7 May 1918

Another wet day. Clearing towards evening. Hun attack expected tomorrow. CO Bar to DSO. Col. Parish DSO. Both dined with General [Mildren?]. Brown Wilkinson came in after mess & talked politics & economics till 11.20 pm. Good stories of parsons – “The first prayer ever addressed to a Boston audience”, & “Oh thou simplest of all beings – I wasna addressing my remarks to the congregation”.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15) and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

“Sickened by this uncalled for impertinence of President Wilson”

Percy Spencer spent part of his leave with his parents in Cookham, then headed for his sister’s house in Cambridge. Brother in law John Maxwell Image had some more to say about the political scene – he was very unimpressed by US President Wilson!

24 Dec. [1916]

Florence specially bids me join her good wishes with mine to Mrs Smith and you, we can’t at this juncture say for a Merry Xmas, but our heartfelt good wishes that you may have a Good and Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.

She got back here on Thursday [from Cookham]: and is at this moment in bed with a rancorous cold which she brought back from her voyaging, together with her brother. Poor fellow, he had to leave the very next morning (and is back at the Front by now): but he longed to see me, just once again. He is one of those fine fellows whom you feel you can trust through thick and thin. Florence showed me a thing he values far above medals – an autograph appraisement of him by the General. It is scribbled in pencil, but I never read stronger and I may say more affectionate words of the way he is looked up to and regarded by the entire Staff of the Brigade; and (it would have been tame without that) of his coolness under fire and his courage. Prizing it as he did, he would not take it back, but left it for safety – not with his parents, but with Florence. It is touching to note how the brothers, one and all, turn to her for everything.

I have never felt more bewildered – more sickened – than by this uncalled for impertinence of President Wilson. Does he dare to pretend that, in his view, the desire of each side is “virtually the same”, to secure the “rights and privileges of weak peoples and small states”?!!!

To quote the Observer, he would “present Germany with a gratuitous certificate of moral equality. Take the Hun out of quarantine and provide him with a clean bill of health”.

The Right Answer is the answer of Jehu.

Let Mr Wilson ponder what will be the lot of America, should Germany establish the world-empire she is striving for.

Nevertheless, ever since Agadir in 1911, I have placed full trust in Lloyd George as a fighting chief – once he could shake clear from “Wait and See”. He has done that now. He is practically a Dictator. It may not be pleasant for the home-folk, but it is the winning card. Once more is true the claim, “I know I can save this people, and that nobody else can”. It is Lloyd George or nothing.

Carson, no doubt, might: but he is older: and would he have received such unanimous acceptance?

How will the worn out Balfour manage at the FO? He was so singularly gauche in his announcements from the Admiralty that I am of those who see, in his appointment and that of Lord Robert Cecil, a sop to the Salisbury influence. He resembles Grey in being a gentleman. In other things I hope he will be clearer and keensighted.

The Hall was full on Wednesday – 199 Cadets and 37 Dons and Officers. Government limitation of 3 courses. I had 1. Hare Soup. 2. Wing Fowl. 3. Mincepie – and felt far more comfortable than after the gorges of old time. Wines were Fizz and Port, only. The former foamed forth during the soup. The Master and VM were unable to come, and I was in the Chair: and let in for some of the oratory. It was a joyous party. The boys (nearly all of whom had served at the Front already, and had wounds and medals to shew) were so sweet and friendly. They buzzed round, begging your signature on their menus. They set such store by this, and send the cards home to the ends of the earth. I signed my name well over 100 times. Fortunately I had the Colonel on my right, so I got him to stand up and send them to their places; else we should have got no forrader, at one time. At 10 he and I eloped: but the fun went on – and what most relieved me was that I escaped the sickening song Auld Lang Syne…

Your most affectionate
Bild

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

“We look on you as a sure winner” – but party politics are finished

Ralph Glyn was worried that the constituency being nursed for him on his return after the war might be being poached while he was at the front.

12 Woodside Crescent
11th June 1916

My dear Glyn

I received yours of 29th May only last evening and hasten to reply so that you may keep your mind at rest. I am quite positive that old Smith Park has no thought or desire of becoming candidate for College Division – I do not even think that at the moment he has any thoughts of trying to get into Parliament but I repeat most confidently that I am quite sure he has not his eyes on College. He has expressed his desire frequently, in which I believe he is sincere, that when the election comes he may still be President [of the Unionist Association] and so be the Leader of the local organisation which returns you as Member for College Division.

Neither Park nor any of your friends have any wish for a change of candidate. But if unfortunately such an occasion should arise, take it from me, of course confidentially, that the Colonel would not be the candidate. Whilst the opposition would welcome him, our own side would not adopt him. He has put up the backs of some of our principal workers, quite unintentionally but still he would not command enthusiasm.

For all that he makes a very good President and would make a better one still if he would only be a little more free, so far as the Association is concerned, with the shipping profits. He takes far too much the business view of everything & I expect his letters to you have been on that line.

At a time like this when everything political is dead (certainly it is in College) I don’t think it necessary for the candidate to be on the spot. Indeed being on active service strengthens his position in the constituency.

You retain the confidence of your friends & have earned the respect of your opponents. Your position in College today is stronger than ever and I do trust you will now drop once and for all any of those fantastic ideas you have formed and believe me when I tell you that you are the one & only candidate your friends & supporters wish, both on personal grounds & because we think you are the likeliest candidate to carry the seat. We look on you as a sure winner.

College don’t wish a “commercial magnate” – they prefer a soldier who has been & seen. As regards politics after the war, I quite agree with you there must be a great change. People at home recognise this as much as those who have been overseas. The party system on the old lines is done. However we must “wait & see” how things develop. Meantime don’t worry but first let things go on as they are & whatever you do, don’t let Sir George Younger lure you away from College. If he does there will be a fine row.

I have written you quite straightly & frankly. Glad you are getting a run home & do hope your new appointment means good promotion. If you go again to France you may now come up against quite a lot of the College Boys. I suppose you know John Grant has been out there now for many months. He was home on leave early in May looking better than ever he did in his life & in splendid spirits.

Hope if you get leave you will manage a run down to Glasgow. All your friends will be glad to see you. Let me know.

Trusting you are well & fit as this leaves me.

Yours sincerely
A E McDonell

Letter from Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/37)

The heavens have not fallen

Political ally Colonel Smith Park wrote to Ralph Glyn with his views about possible changes after the war, as well as comments on the latest war-related news.

196 St Vincent Street
Glasgow

4 May 1916

Dear Glyn

I note with interest your views as to the future. I have no doubt there will be great changes – I hope we will get rid of the lot of the lawyers – but all the same the party system will continue. I would like to see – by proportional representation or otherwise – candidates far more independent of the political caucus, which has really become a business, and this may come.

What a fiasco the Irish rebellion has been. The one good feature has been the promptitude with which it was quelled by the military.

The Govt have at last taken the compulsion plunge – & the heavens have not fallen…

We have already collected about £60,000 for the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Limbless Sailors & Soldiers – we are aiming at £100,000.

Trusting you will come safely through the war.

Yours very truly
J Smith Park

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/36)

I hope war may end this summer – and a national spirit of compromise will defeat party politics

A political contact of Ralph Glyn’s in Scotland, whose factory was involved in aeroplane manufacture, had news of the home situation.

2 April 1916
My dear Glyn

Thanks for yours of 19th ult. You of course understand that the financial deficit is mainly due to you not having paid in full your customary subscription. If you have decided not to do so I think it would be well to tell Nicol this definitely so that the Committee may know they must consider cutting down expenses, by getting a cheaper organiser or otherwise.

I agree that people generally are very sick of party politics but while I sincerely hope that after the war a much larger number will view matters in a broader & more national spirit, I much fear all the same that the party conflict will be keener than ever – it will be the parties that will differ & I hope to a large extent we may get rid of the “wait & see” lawyer class who have gone so near ruining the country.

There is some but not much improvement on our workmen – it is the women who are acting so nobly – but they have been so pandered to by politicians in the past that one can hardly wonder. I have a strong belief too that much of the trouble has been because of German money. I happened to be at Parkhead when the recent trouble broke out & I strongly urged that if the known leaders of trouble could not be shot they should at least be removed, & this latter I am glad to say was done & the trouble appears to be fizzling out. Our advisory committee has been kept very busy & I am told its work has been considered by the tribunal to be the best in the City.

You will be interested to know that I am one of the promoters of a Scottish Hospital for Limbless Soldiers & Sailors. We are getting a gift of Erskine House for the purpose – & the necessary land at agricultural value. Your Aunt HRH Princess Louise has agreed to be our patron & we have already collected about £25,000. By the way I had the pleasure of showing HRH over our works, in which she was tremendously interested, as wee were in her. She is a most engaging personality.

Did I tell you I had a flight in one of the aeroplanes we built? It was very enjoyable. We are building Zeps, so I hope to go up in one of them. I trust you are keeping in good health & that we may see you safely home soon. I still hope war may end this summer.

Yours very truly
J Smith Park

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/22)

Lord Harmsworth “stirring up trouble and strife wherever he can with his infamous little rags of newspapers”

A female friend wrote to Ralph with her views on the domestic political position and the trashier end of the press. Their mutual acquaintance Major General Sir Cecil Bingham (1861-1934) had commanded the Cavalry Corps in France until it was dismantled in March 1916 and he was brought back to England.

26 St James’ Place
SW
28th March 1916

Dearest Ralph

I love getting your letters, and in imagination have written to you every week at least! But I admit my imagination occasionally is like the Yellow Man’s, so perhaps you have not received them quite regularly!! I miss you very much. I wish you were still on your old jobs in France, and popping home occasionally so that I could see you. Is there no chance of your getting home soon?

There is really very little news from home. We have passed a most uneventful spring, if the villainously cold weather of the last two months can be called spring!…

I think the Government is very rocky, and I should not be surprised if there is a split any day now over this Compulsion business. Squith [sic] has carted Eddie Derby, as he has carted everybody else. No truthful straightforward man is a match for that wily old fox. I am very glad that Carson has come back to the House during the last two days. I am sure he is the only man to form a Government if Squith does have to go. I expect they will be obliged to bring in a Compulsion Bill all round, in which case McKenna and Runciman for sure, and various others probably, will go. It is a pity you are not home, you would revel in it all.

Harmsworth has behaved quite abominably, stirring up trouble and strife wherever he can with his infamous little rags of newspapers, and at the same time trying to humbug in a dignified manner with the “Times”. It really makes one quite sick.

Military matters have been very quiet and I have heard of no rows or rumpuses. Georgie writes quite happily from billets. They had a bad time in the trenches about a month ago, but he fortunately came through it quite all right. I think what he has felt most has been the cold. He is delighted to think that the worst of this is over now.

It was bad luck for Cis Bingham losing his command, wasn’t it? He says he would not have minded so much if he could have only had one slap at the Boches with his mounted Army, but it was not to be, and now they are all split up and he is sadly at home doing nothing…

I have seen nothing of Meg for some time. I think she has been paying a prolonged visit to your parents at Peter. She will have to break out badly when she returns to London as a reaction!

I tried to let your flat for you to a lady, but she did not think it would quite meet all the necessities of her wardrobe, a nail behind the door being all that I could suggest to hang up her numerous garments. But surely now everything in Egypt has quietened down you will agitate to come home? I can’t imagine your restless spirit being content to slumber away the hours with the old Mummies and Rameseses.

The Boches are getting unpleasantly active in sinking our merchant ships, and I can’t help thinking the Authorities are getting anxious about it. If only America could be gingered up to seize all the German ships in their ports, it would help us quite enormously, as tonnage is getting very short, and daily now the Government are prohibiting fresh imports. There is no doubt about it that very soon we shall be distinctly uncomfortable, which will be a horrid crow for the old Boches.

I heard rather a nice story – which you mustn’t tell at Peter. A man appeared before a Tribunal for Exemption from Service saying “I am a soldier of the Lord!. “You are a hell of a long long way from your Barracks then” – said a voice in the background.

Goodbye dear Ralph. I wish you weren’t so far away. Take great care of yourself & come home soon.

Best love from
Edith

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/19)

“Why is the atmosphere of life more cheerful nearer to all the horrors and ugliness of modern war than it is behind?”

Ralph Glyn had political ambitions, and the College constituency in Glasgow was being nursed for him. He had narrowly lost the 1910 election to a Liberal (he was a Conservative/Unionist). While serving in the army he delivered a lengthy statement to those he viewed as future constituents. Unfortunately for him and all his work, the constituency was abolished before the 1918 election. The paper itself, however, is an interesting insight into the views of an intelligent officer into attitudes at home and at the front.

GHQ
MEF
November 1915

I have been asked by one or two friends in the College Division to write a letter that may be a link between so many old friends of those former days, when Peace was not understood, and myself. To do this as I would wish by personal letter my work here will not allow. I must ask everyone who reads these lines to believe how sincere are my wishes for as happy a New Year as these days permits to be theirs.

I write these lines because I have always been open with my friends in Glasgow, and I believe you will all understand how it is impossible to write “news”.

There are many who have been all the time in France, or in Gallipoli, whilst some have been in both theatres of operations; but there are few officers now who have not spent some time at home, either wounded, or on leave or duty, and so it is possible to take a comprehensive survey of men, matters and means.

The newspapers are the only medium between the Public and events that happen behind the veil of the censor. Letters from friends and relations pass from the Front to those at home producing for a period a clear gleam of light – sometimes too vivid – of what is fact and reality at one small point of that vague term “The Front”. The days are shortening, the winter with all its horrors is close upon us and we are all well aware that if only something could be lifted the Future would be brighter and more easy to face. To arrive at any satisfactory conclusion we must try and see things as they are – undisguised but very possibly naked and ashamed. No time should be lost in establishing both at “the front” and at “the back” a “New Feeling” based upon the firm belief that at last true bearings have been taken, the clouds have lifted and the sun seen long enough to enable the exact position of the ship to be located, and that each and all having but the one port open to them are determined, in spite of all stress of weather, to reach their destination without undue delay.

Why is the atmosphere of life more cheerful nearer to all the horrors and ugliness of modern war than it is behind? There is nothing in any trench in France or Gallipoli to equal the gloom of many a house at home. The individual man is happy when he knows he is doing “his bit” and has that feeling down his back of something worthy of accomplishment being well done. But this same feeling should animate those miners, munition-workers, ship-builders and all that other host at home, whose work is as vital to the war’s success as any gallant action in the trenches. Why is there this feeling of unrest and mistrust in so many quarters? “Out here”, be it in France or Gallipoli, this war acts in one way all the time and without variation. The Regular Army has almost ceased to exist as it was before the war. Officers and men have fallen and others have taken their place. The tradition of a great regiment holds all the new comers in its sway and the magic mantle of “esprit de corps” stirs through the new blood of the recruit, officer and man, tempering and making him part of the original stock. The Reserve ceased to exist when war began; because by our system the fighting force of the country, Regular and Reserve, were and are one and indivisible. Any gunner will tell you that had it not been for the “dug out” the new armies could not have been born. The “dug out” has much to bear from the gibes of younger men who too often assume that all “dug outs” must be musty and old, stupid and out of date, but he can console himself with the knowledge that without him the Regular serving soldiers could not have kept the machine running.
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