“What we have sunk to makes me sad”

John Maxwell Image had some interesting view on the effects of the war (some unfortunately anti-semitic).

29 Barton Road
7 April ‘19

My very dear old man

We have the American influx on us in full swing – u.g.s as plentiful as before the War: Navy blue and gold by the hundred: and now suddenly the Yanks. Where can all be accommodated?…

Ye take too much upon ye, ye sons of Zeruiah – that is the natural feeling as to the American air. They came in at the last hour – to receive every man a penny, and claim to boss the show.
Britain, bled to the white in men and money, cannot stand up against them. Grousing is no good. Our fighting class are killed off. Those now alive, want only panem et circences [bread and circuses]. They can‘t look beyond the day. Those who can make money, squander it: the unhappy ones with fixed incomes, and with a little saving, to tax for the proletariat’s advantage, won’t find England a fair country to live in, except for the Bolshevik. What claim to his own property will be regarded by Parliament.

Half an hour ago I was shewn Punches Almanack for 1915 – i.e. in the first 6 months of the War. It made me sad! What we expected then; and what we have sunk to. The retreat from Mons had but convinced us that we should thrash von Klack, and certainly – ; that, driven back to Germany, the Kaiser’s Army will be met by Cossacks in occupation of Berlin. No mention could I see of submarines! None of air-raids of any kind! What is more striking still, there was no hint of brutality by German soldiers, anywhere. There seemed in the country a contemptuous disdain for our German opponents. We should stamp them down, as did our fathers, and then Russia would mop them up. Poor Russia! And her German Tsaritsa – the cause of it all!

There was a curdling leader in the paper a few days ago on the Bolshevist Chiefs. Lenin, the writer who knows him [says], has brains and energy: and he is of noble birth. But Trotsky and the others – their names were all given – are one and all of them JEWS – and with the Jew characteristic of making a good thing for themselves, while others do the fighting.

It was a leader in the Times on April 1st (Tuesday). Read it. Trotsky, Zinovieff, Svendloff, Kameneff, Uritsky, Yoffe, Rodek, Litvinoff, many others – Jews one and all.

The Hon. Russell’s new book was reviewed in the Observer, did you see it? The Russell has the impertinence to pretend that Bolshevik ruthlessness is the offspring of Love! Is the man sane? or merely dishonest?

Your dear friend
JMI

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

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“What keen, sensible, often attractive faces the Huns had: nothing vicious or brutal; even kind-looking, sometimes!”

Florence Image and her frail elderly parents were dealing bravely with the loss of Sydney.

29 Barton Road
28 Oct ‘18

My very dear old man

On Thursday [Florence] goes up to London (and to Cookham), to settle poor Syd’s affairs. She has been in correspondence with the WO (how feelingly and touchingly some of them can write) – the disposal of his kit would be an overstrain for the broken old father. The mother appears so abnormal in the unnatural cheerfulness and insouciance she shews that Florrie dreads the crash which must come, when at last she begins to realise her loss. Both parents inundate poor Florrie with constant reams of letters, of portentous length: and besides, there are numberless letters eternally reaching her from officers, and Oxford people, who loved Sydney. I think these keep her life up – for she is full of energy and even bright…

I saw a posse of Hun prisoners march by, this afternoon, escorted by a soldier with fixed bayonet, and another whose rifle looked innocuous, behind. What keen, sensible, often attractive faces the Huns had: nothing vicious or brutal; even kind-looking, sometimes! And how coarse and vulgar and unheroic look our Tommies – I have often wondered why Punch, for instance, always gives our men animal countenances – and so do the photographs in the D. Mail, whereas the photographs there of Germans are often clean cut and amiable.

Florrie received today from the Front a letter saying that news had just reached the Regiment that the Military Cross had been awarded to Sydney Spencer! Poor Syd, it was promised to him as far back as August. I recall the joy with which he told us as a secret not to be spoken of. It will be a pride to us, in token that, in his 6 months’ active service, he bore himself manfully.

Florrie isn’t the least scared about Influenza. Our streets reek of eucalyptus and all the ladies are sucking Formamint.

With our dear good wishes to you both

Your loving friend
J M Bild

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

“Your brother did most excellent work in the last show, but unfortunately tried to accomplish more than a human being can out here”

Sydney Spencer had asked his sister Florence to send some cigarettes to his senior officer.

22 Aug 1918
Dear Mrs Image

I was astonished to receive a large parcel of cigarettes from you this morning.

In thanking you very much indeed, I realise the presence of your brother’s guiding hand. Further you must know that I am unable at present to share the cigarettes with those whom he would wish me to share with, for about five days ago I got a mouthful of gas & at present I am in bed in a Rest Camp behind the lines. I am ever so sorry that your gift did not go straight up to the fellows in the line for we have been on starvation rations for cigarettes lately & I’m sure they would burst into tears at a box this size.
However, as I expect to return in a few days I will see to it that some of the crumbs reach their hungry mouths.

Your brother did most excellent work in the last show, but unfortunately tried to accomplish more than a human being can out here. I felt sure that as a result he would break down as I could not prevail on him to take much rest. I am sure you will be glad to know he commanded the best platoon in the battalion, & we shall all be eager to see him back again but, as I wrote him, it must not be until he is really fit this time. However, a spell at Trouville should do him all the good in the world if this lovely weather continues.

I heard that another brother had been wounded by a bomb – I hope he got to Blighty & is making good recovery.

Please let me thank you again for an almost priceless gift as things are at present, though I fear I receive it under false pretenses.

With kind regards, I remain
Yours sincerely
G E Dillon

Hearty congratulations on your article in Punch – much appreciated by “the troops”.

Letter from Captain Dillon (D/EX801/78)

“I get no time for reading so it takes me a long time to get to sleep!”

Sydney Spencer’s unit practiced their technical skills behind the lines.

Wednesday 24 July 1918

Got up at 6.45. Route march from 7.15 to 8.30. Dillon went to see tanks so that Dawkins was in charge of company. Parade at 10 am. My platoon did a stunt with Dawkins on a strong point watching an attack. By coincidence I worked the oracle in exactly the way he did, rifle section working down at side of the field, bombing section at corner of a copse, L Gunners on left. Remainder of morning in squad drill.

After lunch spent a long afternoon playing patience, & censoring letters. Likewise after tea I did not do a great deal. Managed to get a letter to Florence after a struggle. Her article in Punch has not appeared. It is called “Or Both”. Went to bed fairly early tonight. These nights I get no time for reading so it takes me a long time to get to sleep!

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

“What glorious War news! It fills me with chastened joy”

The Spencers’ patriotism was moderated by their affection for Will’s German wife.

Fernley
Cookham

July 21, 1918

My Dear Sydney, …

Your birthday letter to Nan [Sydney’s elder sister Annie] was accompanied by one from Gil [brother Gilbert, later a well known artist]. He is training for the Infantry, not as I feared for the Air Corps. Letter was dated June 9. He does not think much of Cairo. Is about to visit the Pyramids.

Flo’s ‘On Both’ has not yet appeared in ‘Punch’.

We are all well at Fernley. Horace [another brother] is in a base hospital with malaria.

Harold [yet another brother] expects to be transferred to a military band which will I hope put an end to his grousing.

Write soon.

With our united love, Father.

P.S. What glorious War news! It fills me with chastened joy. Chastened for we are not yet out of the wood. Besides Johanna [his German daughter-in-law] whom I dearly love! I can’t help thinking grievingly of her. F.

Letter from William Spencer of Cookham to his son Sydney at the front (D/EZ177/1/6/2-3)

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)

“Don’t worry, she can’t speak English & I could never make love in French”

Percy Spencer was excited by his sister Florence’s getting a comic article published in Punch, and almost fell in love with a French girl.

July 14, 1918

My dear WF

Another week gone & here I am still at school & beginning to know something about musketry.

I’m very glad to hear Sydney is better again and delighted about the Punch article. Mind you send me a copy of the number.

This week I’ve been feeling very dicky myself. I think I had a touch of this strange fever, but a very slight one. Another officer here, I am sorry to say, has died with it.

Today I have been to a much bombed town near here for a holiday. There is quite a good officers’ club and one can generally meet old friends there and get a good dinner. It’s nice to sit in a pretty garden and receive tea from the fair hands of a wholesome English girl.

Today as you know is France’s National day. I went to the cathedral – which by the way has been rather badly bumped at the eastern end – and listened to a service. The singing was delightful, but it is difficult for me, much as I love the Roman Church’s seriousness, to refrain from smiling at their quaint beadles armed with swords and wearing mighty cocked hats, and at the endless collections.

Another good thing out here is the good nature of all motorists. One sets out to walk anywhere, hails the first car or bus or lorry, which always stops & takes you as far as it can. The other night a staff officer we coolly hailed drove us in here and offered to take us as afar as Paris if we liked. This however only applies as between Englishmen or as between French etc. but today I had quite a romantic experience.

Following the usual custom I stepped out to hail a car, but observing it was driven by a Frenchman, stepped back. However, it stopped & then to my pleasurable surprise I saw it was driven by a French GIRL. I’ve given her capitals as she was a capital girl. She wasn’t going very far my way but would give me a lift on my way. Well, the fair chauffeuse who was on her way to fetch the Prefect of the town we had just left melted, & when she got to her turning & I made to alight, she said she would drive me here and she did. After that we got very friendly and talked about London & the Thames, and she said that after the war she should come to London, and I said then I hoped we should meet again, whereupon she volunteered her address and I mine and neither of us could remember the other nor muster a pencil between us, so we pulled up at a cottage & borrowed one & some paper from an old lady who smiled approval at the beginning of a romance. And all the while the Prefect cooled his heels at some village down south!
I must be a lady killer after all!

Don’t worry, she can’t speak English & I could never make love in French, and Bordeaux (her home) is a long way.

Well, goodbye & God bless you both.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/53-55)

“I wonder what England would say to a dozen tanned fellows nonchalantly stripping & dressing up in feminine attire”

Percy Spencer told his sister Florence about the cross-dressing entertainment on offer behind the lines.

May 22, 1918
My dear WF

Letters do take a long time these days.

However I got one from you yesterday though apparently you had not got mine of the 13th when you wrote it.

I’m writing this now because I don’t suppose I shall be able to write later on or for a day or two. But don’t imagine I’m going into action.

Just at the moment every officer but me is out so I have a whole battalion under my command. The only snag about it is that Brer Hun turned us out of bed at 6 am this morning with a few 8” – one of them dropped unhealthily near me by the way – and if they start again I shall have to move the men to a safer spot, so I’m sort of listening for the next shell.

It’s a perfect day succeeding a perfect day. Last night I went into the valley below to watch the Follies perform. Transport arrangements broke down so they were 2 hours late. I wonder what England would say to a dozen tanned fellows arriving at an improvised stage by the roadside and nonchalantly stripping & dressing up in feminine attire, and making up as charming damsels & so forth. The dress of members of the audience was no less extraordinary. About the most decent was a Varsity bathing costume.
Mind you, let me know about the Punch sketch.

With my dear love to all at 29

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/39)

Horribly mutilated by shell fire

Animals were among the many victims of the war.

Sydney Spencer
Monday 13 May 1918

Got up at 6.50. Breakfast at 7.30. Peyton & I took company along the line to M- M-. Men walked along. I took first tack from 10-12.20. On way there a dead mule lay on track. Neck & chest horribly mutilated by shell fire. Poor beast. Our tool cart mules for a long time refused to pass it! They knew!

It rained from 10 on till 2.30 when we got back to A-n. After lunch I to bed as Pepys would have said. It is now 4.45 pm & I am just going to dress. A very ‘Novembery’ day. Yesterday I found some interesting old bills & receipts, dates 1782 & 3. I sent them to Florence. I hope she gets them.

After tea called down to interview with CO. I had let my men straggle a bit in the mud when coming home. Bad for discipline. After dinner to bed & lay awake reading till about 1.30 when I at last got some sleep. Finished reading Rupert of Hentzau, & this week’s Punch.

Percy Spencer
13 May 1918

A nice dirty day, promising trouble for the Hun tomorrow if he tries his luck against us. Dreamt of Gil last night. Somehow he got down a narrow shaft and I had to haul him out. He was in a pretty bad way.

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

“One can get absolutely nothing except very poor & cheap cigarettes, or bootlaces when you want a cup of tea, or a tine of dubbin when you want some chocolate!”

In another pencil letter on a scrap of paper, Sydney Spencer wrote to his sister Florence.

May 10th 1918
My ownest own Florence

I think my last letter said that I had received cigarettes [and] tin box safely, but bless my soul & body if I didn’t forget for the Nth time to say that I received & do receive Punch regularly & it is great pleasure to get it too. Can I get Spirit cigarettes. My dear lady. War is not what it was. In these days of rapid movement (I call my bivvy nowadays ‘where-my-caravan-doesn’t-rest-for-long’), one can get absolutely nothing except very poor & cheap cigarettes, or bootlaces when you want a cup of tea, or a tine of dubbin when you want some chocolate! So Spirit cigarettes are a Godsend!

I am sending you a cheque for £7. Will you take what you want from it for my debt to you & part what I owe Percy [their brother]. If you could order some Spirit cigarettes to be sent out to me every fortnight, 200 at a time, that would be very agreeable to me….

I know all the flowers round here. Just outside I found a plant of wild tanseys & another of delicate blue periwinkle. Why has it such an ugly name! The cock crowing would have just the same effect on me I am sure, although I must own that at the present moment a cock’s crow would be pleasing.

Now it is midnight, & I’ll curl up on the straw which is mighty comfortable too, & sleep as I always do out here without a dream & quite peacefully. A few nights ago I slept quietly through the explosion of about 150 lbs of guncotton within about 100 yds of my dugout!…

Your always affectionate
Brer Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/8/3/30-32)

Cambridge is crammed with cadets

The Image cats’ joy at the effect of food restrictions on their own diet, mentioned by John Maxwell Image on 13 February, inspired his wife Florence to write a comic article. It became her first publication when it appeared in Punch. Dr Image also noted sadly that all the new undergraduates were international students, all the British school leavers having joined up.

6 May 1917
My dearest old man

Cambridge is crammed with cadets. There are also youths in caps and gowns. I saw some in the Great Court when I dined last in Hall – alas not one English face above the white collars.

Your kind congratters on “Rations” pleased the Signora greatly. This morning she had a letter from her brother at the Front containing the compliments of the Mess to whom he had, dutifully, read it – and about three day ago another brother, in another part of France, vowed that the Punch so stuck out his pocket that he went about gingerly, fearing a reprimand for the misfit of his tunic. How fond the brothers are of her!

Tuissimus
JMI

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

A marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons

Percy Spencer was having difficulty getting his commission organised. He wrote to Florence with the latest news – and a story from the Somme.

May 1, 1917

My dear WF

Isn’t it perfect weather!

And that’s just about all that’s perfect hereaway.

Thank you for all your frequent letters: they’re so refreshing. Your last about [censored] is too delightful. I sometimes quote extracts from your letters to the Mess, so you see you’re helping to cheer more than one lonely soldier. Your jokes are always hugely appreciated.

Tonight I am going to a town some miles back to drive with the original officers and sergeants of my old Battalion. I thought it was very kind of them to remember me as I have had so little to do with them.

And tomorrow I have to go and see a still greater brass hat about my commission. I have an idea that there is no intention to hurry my affairs, the reason being, of course, that my experience & weight here are difficult to replace. However sooner or later I expect I shall be an officer or an angel – I have had thoughts of becoming the latter quite frequently of late.

Rene Hunt tells me that [Percy’s brother] Horace is going to apply for a commission.

Before I forget it I must tell you a story of the Somme battle last year.

Our Headquarters were in some ruins off a very narrow and deep lane. On one side of the lane was a series of small splinter proof dugouts; on the other side a battery of guns. One of the splinter proofs just opposite a gun was occupied by “Baby” Huish, the Surrey cricketer (a splendid raconteur). “Baby” tells me that one morning, annoyed by a fellow walking about on his roof and throwing off portions of its brick and sandbag cover, he crawled out and asked the man what he thought he was doing. The man, ignoring him, continued to clear material from his roof and then turning towards the gun hailed the gunner in his gun pit. “How’s that, Bill, can you clear ‘er na?” Voice from gun pit – “Yes, that’ll be all right if we don’t ‘ave to drop below eighteen ‘undered”. Exit Baby to safer quarters.

A sad thing has happened to us. The rum issue has ceased, leaving us with a stock of lemons and a supply of all spice, cloves and cinnamon, no more rubbers of bridge and rum punch nightcaps. Jerome K Jerome’s “Told after supper” is nothing to our experiences in punch brewing – we can all make one pretty well, but there are some – well, I’m reckoned an expert.

A short time ago when moving into the line, the Signalling Officer noticed an ammunition box. “What’s that?” he asked. “Oh, that”, replied an innocent telegraphist, “is a test box Sapper Newport is making”. “Is it, I should like to see that”, said the officer, and opening the box all eager to examine the boy’s clever work (and he is clever) discovered a marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons!

But, alas, those days are over – over for good I hope.

Well, dear girl, goodbye.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/30-32)

News of the Spencers reaches Switzerland

Sometimes Will Spencer felt isolated from family news in his home in Switzerland. So it was good to hear how everyone was getting on.

8 April 1917

By the first post this morning we received a short letter from Father. Florrie has got a sketch entitled “Rations” into “Punch”. Percy has been offered a commission. Harold better. Stanley & Gilbert cheery. Stanley has sent Mother £5, in addition to the 3/6 a week which he allows her.

Diary of Will Spencer (D/EX801/27)

Human kites: an ambulance convoy on the move

The Revd T Guy Rogers, former vicar of St John’s Church, Reading, reports his latest adventures as as army chaplain attached to a medical contingent.

A FIELD AMBULANCE TREK (BY REV. T. GUY ROGERS).

Here we are on ‘trek’ – only half a dozen miles from our starting place – destination all unknown. It was a good thing the journey was a short one – we made it against driving wind and rain, and it was difficult either to sit on a horse or to walk. Everybody’s mackintosh was distended like a balloon – the Sergeant Major on horseback might have been mistaken for a zeppelin. If only the wind could have done a little more for us and converted us into human kites we might have enjoyed the struggle with the elements, but as it was we were merely buffeted and knocked about.

Here and there the ranks were broken as someone plunged into the ditch by the side of the road to recover his cap blown off by the wind. The lucky ones (including the Padre) found them floating peak upwards, the unlucky ones peak downwards. Every now and then we halted, blocked by transport ahead of us, and resigned ourselves to a profane silence. These halts may be said to have begun before we started (this is what one of the Irish contingent said anyhow!), for just as we moved up the narrow by-street, C.O. riding as the head, R.A.M.C. in serried ranks following, transport bringing up the rear, ready to defile upon the road of march, we found our exit blocked by troops in motion. So we sat upon our horses, or stood upon our feet, while the wind blew and the rain poured, admiring the balloon-like forms in front of us.

At length – a long length it seemed to us – the troops passed our exit and it was possible for us at last to ‘debouch’ (ah! That word has a good military sound about it!) upon the road behind them. But the halt was ill-omened, prophetic of many halts behind this column which had filched our right of way. ‘How do you pass the time during these delays?’ Punch’s historic answer gives the correct reply: ‘Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sit.’ (no ‘p’ in the last word, though Tommy Atkins is apt to insert it when he quotes the ‘bon mot’!)

At last we march in, though at first it looks as if there was nothing to march into. Motor wagons are side tracked, horses stabled, men billeted, and last, according to unwritten law, Officers find their way to the Mess, if there is one, and concentrate upon a scratch meal, to which a ravenous appetite does ample justice.

Reading St John parish magazine, March 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

The press is evil and needs to be slayed like a dragon

Lady Mary Glyn, wife of the Bishop of Peterborough, wrote to her soldier son Ralph Glyn with news of a contretemps over Red Cross work in their home town. She was also scathing about the press, particularly the empire of press baron Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, which included the Times, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror.

Peter[borough]
Dec 2, 1915
My own darling Scrappits

Like Jim [her son in law, naval officer Jim Meade] I can scarcely bear to read the papers, and I read the Harmondsworth [sic] Press, & believe they are part of the Evil Thing which we have to slay like the Dragon. One has to think of that patron saint St George very often, for we are now to fight in the country of the dragon, and we have a host of St Georges and if only we women could be worthier, and help to keep England what it may be, waiting and ready for the regeneration that must surely come for your reward, when you all come back! But there is something strange the matter as one reads society paper paragraphs, even in the good old Observer, and find the same “vanity” and the same obsession of dress and extravagance, even when they talk Economy and Thrift, and “Mince” like women of old. Punch is good this week. I want to send Punch out to you…

Long ago we sent the things from Fortnum & Mason, trusting more to Expert Packers, but I long to send you a home packed, and now Jim is going away – going to sea again today, and I shall get Meg to make enquiries for me….

Lady Exeter writes “that they are within sound of the guns”. I think this was meant to tell her that the Battery is being moved up….
A real burlesque is going on over the registration of this “Red Cross” business here, and at last the town knows, and the town talks, and the remarks to me are amusing! They, however (the Committee) have no idea of climbing down, and I have got Sir Edward Ward to register them as they are, & they are to have two committees, but have not even yet decided if they will have a “Hospital Depot”, so I am moving at once, & so has Lilah Buller, and so has Miss Cartwright, & so has Lady Knightley, & when we are in full swing they will not be able to avoid our getting grants of money from them, or direct from Headquarters. And it is the finance part that has kept me waiting. Northampton refuses to help Miss Cartwright, though there at Brackley she is the only Depot for sick & wounded at the front, & Lilah Buller says they “approve” her but I gather she too can get no funds. This is all so monstrous. And when the truth is known support will come. We are not yet in possession of a house – I wish we were – but it will come at the right moment, & in the right way. The great thing is done and it is all miracle of mercy, for Dad is looking forward now too…

Today is so lovely. I have to run round soldiers & sailors’ wives & mothers, and shall have the lift of the motor today….

I long to know more of what you are going through. All accounts differ in the papers of the climate. Poor Meg. I am glad Jim goes in fair weather. Maysie hopes that at Captain “D” there may be more chances of their meeting,, but the goodbye must be hard, hard work….

Own own own Mur

Letter from Lady Mary Glyn to her son Ralph (D/EGL/C2/2)