Moving from billet to barn, from barn to billet

Sydney Spencer hosted a big dinner.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 16 May 1918

I was orderly officer today so that today’s diary means: Reporting B HQ at 8.45, inspecting billets from 9.30-11.30, censoring letters from 11.30 till 12.30, inspecting dinners. After lunch a lie down, a short read, mounting guard at 3.30. Dismounting old guard. 4 pm tea.

After tea preparation for dinner guest night. Dinner a huge success. Consisted of soup, choufleur au gratin [cauliflower cheese], salmon mayonaize (don’t know how to spell it!), pork with baked potatoes & cauliflower, and sweet of plum pudding & custard – savouries of hard boiled egg etc on toast, coffee, biscuits, chocolate & cheese, port, sherry, whiskey & lime juice, & smokes. Do not think, my dear old diary, that I am a gourmand! I hate remembering what I have eaten. But I just put it down as a curiosity in this year of the war 1918!

Took staff parade, visited guard. Mess crowded with officers & all company & when I got to bed they had a jolly time.

Percy Spencer
16 May 1918

Cash. I went to Beaucourt to draw cash. Met Anderson who asked to be remembered to WF [Percy’s sister Florence Image]. Spent day in moving from billet to barn, from barn to billet.

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

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“No better discipline or anything of that sort, I hope”

Percy Spencer wrote to Florence asking for some
Lysol petroleum jelly, an antiseptic. He had recently attended a dinner with old comrades, which had both tragic and comic elements.

May 3, 1917
My dear WF

This is just a few scrambled lines, mostly to ask for things.

I should very much like a tube of Lysall [Lysol] petroleum jelly, or a small bottle of Lysall and some phospherine tablets.

Also some ink to fit my box.

If I have any merino underwear or any shirts, I should like them please!

I’m sorry I can’t think of anything more to ask just now!

Well, I saw the Big Brass Hat yesterday and he said “H’m yes” 3 times, so I expect I’m in for something pretty bad – probably a month’s training in the trenches – or “something worth boiling out in it”.

We had a first rate dinner the night before last – the surviving officers & sergeants of my old Battalion, numbered just 18, 15 of whom were present. It was a right good evening, tho’ it had its tragic side.

By the way I am the only original member of the staff left: also I am the only remaining Staff Clerk in the Division who came out with us. The only original Quartermaster in the Division (of my old Battalion) was at the dinner. In fact so many of us were the only remaining something or other, we felt quite lonely.

Well, dear girl, I’m sending you the souvenir of that event. “Pat” enlisted as a private tho’ in private life he is Paterson of the Home Office – head of the Prisons of England – a fine man with a grand head. Dear old RSM Fisler’s speech was too funny. Private Pat, Corporal Pat, Sergeant Pat & 2nd Lt Pat of No. 4 Platoon was the well beloved of this Battalion of rough lads, and the fine old RSM ran himself high & dry on the rock of affection for the battalion idol: “that’s about all I’ve got to say, I think, sir”, he concluded lamely after a long pause.

The Sergeant Cook was pressed to sing – everyone knew he wanted to sing, and what he wanted to sing, and what he would sing – still he announced as he reluctantly rose to his feet, it would be a sad song. Nobody said, “We know; it’s going to be “Speak not ‘er nime”, tho’ everyone knew that “Speak not ‘er nime” it would be notwithstanding the cheering effect of a [bumper?] of port & Kummel shandy the worthy fellow had mixed for himself under the impression the harmless looking liquor was a sort of Perrier.

And so the evening passed. We talked of the St Albans days & the early days out here, of this good fellow and that, of a stout hearted Sergeant who wouldn’t be put off his game by enemy shelling before the battle of Loos – “What’s that?” exclaimed a jumpy platoon sergeant as a crump landed near. “Spades trumps” replied the other, and as the next one landed even nearer, “Clubs laid, your turn to play.”

But always we got back to Pat – to the early days out here, when as a Lance Corporal he “borrowed” the transport officer’s mount and a local landau & drove his “boys” out, only to run into the Divisional General. Of the Divisional General’s wrath & enquiry as to disciplinary action taken, & the CO’s reply – “This NCO has been promoted to Corporal”.

And I reminded him of the day when talking to the RSM he passed by en route for the guard room, there to comfort one of his platoon with all the food & illegal things he could buy.

Oh, the discipline of No 4 was awful, but they’d follow Pat anywhere.
Pat had to go away for a long time – upon returning he asked how things were with No. 4. “Oh, they’ve gone downhill fast, sir, since you left”. “No better discipline or anything of that sort, I hope”, Pat enquired anxiously. “Oh no” replied his informant in a horrified tone.

And now this same Pat is our Divisional Lecturer on “Discipline”.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/33-35)

The Church Lads’ Brigade goes into khaki

Over 50 men who had previously been members of the Earley St Peter branch of the semi-military religious boys’ club were now serving.

Church Lads’ Brigade.

The time has come when we are obliged to adopt the Service (khaki) uniform. Many companies have been in uniform for the past 2 years. The Reading Battalion has hitherto tried to manage without incurring this extra expense, but is now compelled to fall into line. The Battalion is making a very strong appeal for the necessary funds to enable them to do this, and we hope our readers will liberally respond. The Church Lads’ Brigade has been in existence for twenty-three years and our organization some three years ago received recognition by the War Office under Cadet Regulations. We appeal with the more confidence on account of the work the Church Lads’ Brigade is doing at the present time. Over 200,000 past and present members are serving in H.M. Forces, 500 of whom are old members of this Battalion, and so satisfied is the War Office with the efficiency of our organization that they have conferred upon it the unique distinction of allowing a Special Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifles to be formed of its members. Of our S. Peter’s, Earley, Company no less than 56 of the past and present members are serving as will be seen from the subjoined list.

4th (Cadet) Battalion Oxford Regiment, S. Peter’s, Earley Company, No. 2679.

Present Officers – O’Leary, Sergeant. C.J., 1st Batt. Dorset Regt. (wounded).

Past Officers – Strong, Sergt. L.P./ Canadian Forces.

Lads – Past and Present
Jones, H., 11th Batt. Suffolk Regt.; Goodger, F., Driver B.R.C. Ambulance, France; Spratley, E., H.M.S. Britannia; Spratley, A., Government Railway Work, France; Green, Lce.-Corpl. G., 4th Batt. Oxford and Bucks L.I.; Leaver, Sergt. A., A.S.C.; Howlett, P., Australian Contingent; Bolton, C., 4th Royal Berks. Regt.; Simson, V., H.M.S. Magnificent; Harwood, P., A.S.C.; Townsend, G., H.M.S. Syren; Admas, J., R.M.L.I. (H.M.S. Rapid); Adams, D., R.M.L.I.; Ballard, A., 1st Canadian Contingent (wounded); Bowden, J., 4th Royal Berks. Regt. (wounded); Martin, J., Dragoon Guards; Maskell, G., 6th Batt. Royal Berks. Regiment; Ansell, Lce.-Corpl. G., 12th Batt. Hampshire Regt.; Harding, G., R.M.A.; Harding, H., 5th Batt. Royal Berks. Regt.; Edwards, F., Royal Navy; Wright, G., 8th Batt. Royal Berks. Regt.; Snellgrove, F., 17th Batt. K.R.R.; Parker, Lce.-Corpl. J., 4th Batt. Royal Berks. Regt.; Borroughs, H., R.A.M.C.; Beeson, F., Berks R.H.A.; Iles, B., H.M.S. Canada; Gains, V., R.E.; Barton, C., 4th Batt. Royal Berks. Regt.; Jacobs, A., A.S.C.; Hitchcock, J., 7th Batt. Gloucester Regt.; Berry, F., 4th Batt. Royal Berks. Regt.; Illott, A., 4th Batt. Royal Berks. Regt.; Gatehouse, R., R.M.L.I. (H.M.S. Stonewall Jackson); Worsfold, A., 2nd Batt. K.R.R.; Allen J., 7th Batt.Royal Berks. Regt.; Neale, W., 3rd Batt. Royal Berks Regt.; Shorter, E., R.E.; Shorter, H., R.E.; Port, C., A.S.C.; Waller, L., H.M.S. Agincourt; Phillips, J., Berks R.H.A.; Watts, E., R.N. Flying Corps; Webb, Lce-Corpl. E., 8th Co. R.E.

Earley St Peter parish magazine, October 1915 (D/P191/28A/22)