Glorious sunshine – good for the Bosch, worse luck

Sydney Spencer was poised to move up the line to the worst action.

Sydney Spencer
Friday 17 May 1918

After a very good night’s sleep I got up at 3.30 after smoking a cigarette & taking an infinite childish delight in watching the bewildering clouds of vapours curling along the narrow slant of the shaft of sunshine which came through the small attic window in my room.

After breakfast I took rifle inspection afterwards. Sat & worked at mess bills & got them settled thank goodness. After lunch I went round to B HQ, settled up wine bills & left 80 francs with Sergeant Green for buying stuff while we are up the line.

It is now 4 pm & at 8.30 we go up the line again. So, my dear diary, I close your pages for a few days, as although I have been very careful to tell you little or nothing that is compromising, I dare not take you near where you might be taken prisoner! So au-revoir!

By the way, last night the Buffs made a big raid. Killed about 300, took prisoners, & got off with less than 10 casualties. It is a scorching hot day. We started out for the front line at 8.30 & got there at 11.15 & took over the trench without further ado – had absolutely no excitement getting there either.

Percy Spencer
17 May 1918

6 pm report from QM re petrol tins.

The best day since I arrived, a glorious sunshine. But good for the Bosch, worse luck. Division to be relieved tonight. We endeavouring to stay in Warlos for a might at least. Got NCO promotions nearly up to date, & a letter register started.
Pushed out of Warlos by 58th. Went to camp on hillside. Close quarters but lovely day. CO went to command 141.

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

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A manly sermon and modern religion

Sydney attended to the practical needs of his men while thinking about God.

Sydney Spencer
Sunday 12 May 1918

After a delicious night’s sleep in pyjamas on a semblance of a bed, I got up at 10 am! Wrote sundry letters. Made up my accounts. Went down & saw my platoon. They seemed very happy. Also to HQ Mess, settled wine account. After lunch got QM to change a cheque for 300 francs. Hence we have money again. Examined kits of platoon. Took them to a bath where they got change of clothes. Got their clothes and boots examined.

Tea & more letter writing. Heard from OB, Major Bracey, Field & Ruscoe. Got some money out of officers. Spent 47 francs on food for mess.

To evening service of YMCA. Christopherson, padre of Buffs, preached a manly sermon. Stayed to communion. About 60 men stopped. Had a talk with C afterwards. After dinner sat & talked ‘modern religion’ to Hervey & Rolfe.

Percy Spencer
12 May 1918

A wet day. But an eventful one because I have just heard my first shell since June last year. No connection, but the villagers are moving out in anticipation of Fritz’s attack, due originally on the 8th, next yesterday, & now fixed for the 14th.

Had a long chat with CO in the evening. CO told me forward HQ found my presence at Dept very useful. Major Woolley also wrote from England saying nice things about me. Another bad night owing to Bosch shelling & aircraft activity.

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

By gun barrow, train, foot and pony

It was a long day’s travel for Sydney Spencer.

Wednesday 10 April 1918

Rose at 6.30. Got breakfast & we – that is Capt. Richards, 13th Welsh, 38th Division – bagged a Lewis gun barrow & got our baggage to ROD convoy exchange station, where we had to wait till 10 o’clock for a Belle Eglise train.

I am now packed up in a corner, with the baggage, that’s the only word for it. Heaven only knows where the 12th Division is.

We have started 9.35 am, arrived at Belle Eglise at about 12. 12th Div Reinforcement officer gave me some tea. Very nice.

Marched 3 hours with some Berkshire Troops thro’ country. Found that 7th Norfolks were in line. QM [quartermaster] Frost arranged for a pony to take me to where the Battalion HQ was in rear, later heard that Battalion being relieved. The whole Div was relieved by 38th Div.

QM gave me job of billeting the Battalion here at Toutencourt.

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

A marvellous escape from an airship crash

Broad Street Church kept in contact with all its men who had joined up.

News has now been received from Air-Mechanic Fred W. Warman to the effect that he is interned at Croningen in Holland. He was acting as wireless-operator in the air-ship which came down there, and had a marvellous escape. We are glad to know that he writes in a bright and cheerful strain, and that he is trying to make the best of things.

Flight Sub-Lieut W. R. Taper of the RNAS has been appointed for duty in Malta. It has been a pleasure to see him frequently in our midst in recent weeks. The good wishes of many friends at Broad Street will go with him as he takes up his new duties.

BROTHERHOOD NOTES

Brother Woolley has consented to continue his good services by acting as correspondent with our members on service. This [is] a quiet piece of work which is bound to have its good results when things are normal again.

THE ROLL OF HONOUR

The list of our men who have responded to the call of God and King and Country. (more…)

“Everyone misses his smiling face”

There was good news and not-so-good news of Maidenhead men.

OUR SOLDIERS.

We are very sorry to learn that Ernest Bristow has been wounded, but there seems every hope that his injuries are not serious. One of his chums writes,

“He went up to one of our advanced dressing stations to take over stores, and it was while standing at the mouth of a dug-out that he was wounded. A Bosche fleet of aeroplanes came over, and a bomb dropped quite near, wounding some ten men and killing two others. He caught it in the left arm and in both legs, but his wounds are flesh wounds, and not dangerous. He suffered from a severe shaking up, but bore it extremely well. The sergeant who dressed his wounds thinks he will soon be all right again. Everyone misses his smiling face and bright personality, and none more than his sorrowing pal. We all feel that his loss to the Unit is irreparable… He was by far the best clerk, and one of the most popular in the Unit.”

We earnestly trust that the hopeful tone of this letter may be justified by events, and that Corporal Bristow will suffer no permanent injury.

Harold Islip, who returned to his post after leave about a month ago, has been in hospital suffering from dysentery. Cyril Hews, George Belcher, and Donald Wilson have been home again for ten days, all in good health and spirits. Herbert Brand, who has been Company Q.M.S. in the 8th Berks., has been for two or three months past in a Cadet Corps, and expects shortly to receive a Commission.

Wilfred Collins is now quite convalescent and was in Maidenhead a few days ago.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, November 1917 (D/N33/12/1/5)

A day of grief and glory: another of our boys has heard the call of God and joined the throngs invading heaven “with gay and careless faces”

Memories are shared of a Reading-born man whose death had been reported.

Harry Ireland Long

It was with deep regret that we heard of the death of Lance-Corpl. Harry Long, who was killed in action in Flanders on August 15th. To most of us his name is familiar, as being the son of our old and esteemed friends, Mr. and Mrs. William Long, and to them, as to his sister and brothers, we offer our deep sympathy. Some, however, had a more intimate knowledge, and one of those, the Rev. Herbert Snell, of Caterham, a former minister of Trinity, has kindly written the following:-

“Lest Heaven be thronged with greybeards hoary,
God, who made boys for his delight,
Stoops, in a day of grief and glory,
And calls them in, in from the night.
When they come trooping from the War,
Our skies have many a new gold star.”

Another of our boys has heard the call of God and joined the throngs invading heaven “with gay and careless faces.” Another has cheerfully and bravely given his life to make earth clean again, and keep it safe for those who regard honour among the highest and love peace.

It is easy enough to write these words, but behind them are living hearts that ache with grief and yet rejoice with noble pride.

Harry Ireland Long was the eldest son of William and Anna Long. He was born February 25th 1886, at Reading, and was killed in Flanders on August 15th, 1917.

“Trinity” will remember him, first of all, as a youngster, attending school at Miss Lacy’s and at Miss Burgisi’s, and on Sundays as a member of Mr. H.A. Baynes’ Bible-class. When I knew him he was at Reading School, which he left in 1901 in order to work for a while in his father’s business. Everyone liked his handsome face, with bold dark eyes and pleasant smile; though there was plenty of the boy about him there was a serious vein in Harry’s thinking which soon brought him to face the great deep questions of life. A year had scarcely elapsed from the time of leaving school before he joined the membership of Trinity Church.

In 1904, Harry went to Kingston in Jamaica where he worked for eight years. During that time he went through the terrible experiences of the great earthquake of January, 1907. Although he escaped the physical perils of that time, I have some kind of an idea that it was then he met his “fate,” and that there was some connection between the incidents of January, 1907, and a marriage which took place in Kingston, 1910, between Harry on the one side, and Miss Isabel Frances, of Crouch end, London on the other. But I do not give this as authoritative, lest, perchance, a very treacherous memory should have betrayed me.

Only this I know, and can speak thereon with utter confidence, having been privileged to visit on several occasions their delightful little home in Montreal, that it was a marriage full of happiness and promise.

It was in 1912 that they migrated to Montreal and in 1914 that I found them there, with Maurice who had joined them about a year before. I was at that time taking charge of Emmanuel Church during Dr. Hugh Pedley’s vacation, and being altogether a stranded and solitary stranger in the huge city, it was an indescribable pleasure to receive an English welcome in a Canadian home. None of us thought, in those early uninstructed days of the war, that it would ever be necessary for one of us to join up, and it was utterly beyond the limits of considered possibilities that one of our laughing circle should, in three years from then, have given his life for freedom.

Harry enlisted in the 244th Canadian Battalion Kitchener’s Own on September 1st, 1916. Owing to his previous training in the Victoria Rifles (Montreal’s volunteer contingent), he was almost at once given Sergeant’s rank, and when he came to England in April, 1917, it was a company Quarter-master Sergeant. Six weeks later he went to the Front with a draft to reinforce a Canadian battalion already there, and so lost his stripes, but he was speedily promoted again to Lance-Corporal, and it was while “gallantly leading his section in an attack against a strong German position,” that he met his death. The Chaplain of his Battalion, Capt. C. Stuart, speaks of him as having speedily won a place for himself in affection and esteem of all the boys. “He was so keen and willing in his work, so cheerful always in the face of all discomforts and difficulties that he became one of the most popular men in his platoon.”

And so another of our boys is gone. And the world is becoming more cheerless as we think we shall have to go on to the end without them.

But this also we know, and it far outweighs the gloom, they have brightened the earth by their example, they have for ever enriched life by their self-sacrifice.

Harry Ireland Long will not be forgotten at Trinity, and his name will go down with honour among those who have helped to save the world for Christ.

“Oh, if the sonless mothers weeping
And the widowed girls could see inside,
The glory that hath them in keeping
Who went to the Great War and died,
They would rise and put their mourning off,
And say ‘Thank God, he has enough.”

Trinity Congregational Magazine, October 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

Gallant service since 1914

A veteran of the first days of the war and the Retreat from Mons was rewarded for his service.

The Military Cross

We tender our most sincere congratulations to Captain John Boyd, of the Coldstream Guards, on winning the Military Cross.

Captain Boyd was Lieutenant and Quartermaster in the Coldstream Guards when the War broke out in August 1914. He was immediately sent to France, and from the days of Mons to the present time he has been with his regiment at the Front. His many friends learn with the greatest of pleasure of this latest recognition of his gallant service.

Wargrave parish magazine, July 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

“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)

“Marmalade, marmalade, & not a pot of jam for weeks”

Percy Spencer was normally very grateful to his Florence for her frequent presents. But occasionally she made an inopportune choice of item:

27.6.16
My darling sister

Thanks for all your delightful letters & parcels. By the way the tin of marmalade was the best joke ever cracked. Some of the fellows on first coming out get “bully” sent them, but to send a tin of marmalade after it’s been marmalade, marmalade, & not a pot of jam for weeks, and I had the previous day remonstrated with the QMS for not giving us our fair share of the minute jam supply was an accomplishment that will never be surpassed in the war.

We’re having a driving wearing time and I don’t expect to have a moment for a long time, so please accept postcards with all my love, & don’t think I’m neglecting you.

How I should love to be with you at Abingdon – dear old place.
Your loving brer
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/5/20)

Virtual civil war in America

Ralph Glyn’s cousin Niall, Duke of Argyll, paid an inspection visit to France.

Coombe
31 March 1916
My dear Ralph

Your [letter] arrived today. Many thanks. I was not telling you however about any Charlie French but of Lord French. I lunched with him last Thursday to meet Sir Arthur Herbert, just back from the USA, who was most interesting a – virtual civil war going on as an average of 4 munition places a week are being blown up of which Europe hears nothing….

I had a very interesting time away [in France] and saw Vornelot (now a hospital) on my way back. Queen Amelie had been there for a bit which excited Aunt L [Princess Louise, Dowager Duchess of Argyll] terribly, but once you lend a house what does it matter. 780 nurses have already used it as a rest. I thought it a beastly place anyway, a mad thing to go and build anyway.

I had a long & very interesting talk with the Bishop of Amiens about the invaded part of his diocese – French politics etc, he told me many interesting things…

Yesterday I met Carben de Viard a very clever Belgian at the de Lalaings. He was secretary for years to King Leopold & told me curious details about his last hours and words. He is just back from 4 months mission to the USA as to which I heard a lot. The position there is extraordinary….

The French & Belgian Generals I ran across at Amiens etc were all very optimistic as to duration.

Your affect. Cousin
Niall

The former Royal Naval Air Service friend of Ralph’s who wrote to him on 27 January was bitterly disappointed with his new assignment as a quartermaster.

United Service Club
Pall Mall, SW
March 31st, 1916

My dear RG

Very many thanks indeed for your letter. I am going off to take up my new duties as an AA & QMG to one of the Home [illegible] Mounted Divisions. About the last thing I wanted!

I am glad to hear that things are fairly smooth in your patch now. I hope they will get even better.

I have seen Buzzard at home and he will probably now have given you all the news. I hear he is taking command of a Howitzer Brigade now.
I will write again soon if there are developments in my case. I am so sick about it all that I cannot write any more now and must go off to my job.

All good luck to you.
Yours always

[Illegible – MD?]

Letters to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C16; C32/21)

How to make a working fireplace when housed in a hovel

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with his latest reports from the Front.

Mar. 6 1916
Dear WF

Our QMS, who is not very bright in the morning, gives as the reason that his bed being too short to lie full length in, he requires a longer rest.
[Censored section, probably by Florence]

The weather has been simply awful, and awfully simple – snow frost rain – rain snow frost. And I’ve had a wretchedly cold wet time. However I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my old St Albans outings on a larger scale in grander country and feel all the better for it.

We were housed (when we weren’t out in the snow covered hills) in a hovel with a stone floor, a broken window and a fireplace. Plenty of room for ingenuity, and we didn’t miss the opportunity. Four different kinds of fireplaces we invented and tried – each one smoked more than the last. The fourth, a domed affair carried out in brick bats and mud mortar, was certainly the most impressive – especially in its smoking capacity. Our ingenuity in stopping the cracks was only beaten by the ingenuity of the fire (which seemed to enter thoroughly into the spirit of the thing) in finding other and bigger outlets.

But personally I preferred the ingenious construction of our first effort – a neat thing in biscuit tins, with a sporting rifle case chimney. For acrid smoke producing, it easily beat the band – and the artistic lines of effort no. 2, a sweet scheme in brewery copper covers and heavy fire bars with a broken bucket chimney. It went to my heart to part with it.

Yours ever
Percy

Thanks for the sausages. They were fine and much enjoyed. Glad you got the sandbags. Rather a souvenir, don’t you think?

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/5)

“No German shell will ever penetrate the Bucks accent”

Percy Spencer was still delighted by news of his sister’s engagement, and had some cheery reports for her of life near the Front. The amusing books Florence was sending him were going down well.

9.9.15
Dear Florrie

Hurrah! for the good tidings of great joy. Don’t let anything postpone it.

Give my love to Mr Image and tell him all my sympathy is his. Poor fellow, he’ll never have any peace at all now, and as for an enjoyable pipe, already he must see the vision of it fast fading. They’re always sending our fellows away upon courses of instruction in the various arts of killing; why not send you away for a 14 day’s pipe loading course with say a one day refresher course occasionally. Something of the kind will have to be done.

Well dear, I’ve no news to tell you except that I’m very busy so don’t expect to hear from me much. But don’t worry.

I’ll write when I can, and when I can’t, take it for granted I’m all right. I’ll let you know soon enough if I’m not all right.

I’ve just discovered a Maidenhead boy in our Signal Section; also a Wycombe man who went to school with the Skulls! So I think I’m safe enough, as the Signal Office is between me and the enemy, and no German shell will ever penetrate the Bucks accent, or anybody connected to a Wycombite Skull. After thinking it over carefully, I’m sure you’ll agree that even Will in his worst moments couldn’t beat that at short notice.

“Short [Cruises?]” has been a Godsend to us. The Quartermaster Sergeant has even been seen to smile once or twice lately since I lent it to him, and he confesses that it’s done him a world of good. It’s just the sort of thing we have time for, and the style of reading to take us away from the monotony of our affairs.

My heartiest good wishes and love to you both
Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/4/44)

Proud of our men

More men had joined from Theale.

FOR KING AND COUNTRY.
Frederick Warwick … Royal Berkshire Regiment.
William Fisher … … Royal Garrison Artillery.
William Hill … … 16th Lancers.

The rector believes there are others who have joined, and he will be glad to received their names and regiments. A complete Roll will shortly be drawn up and placed in the Church Porch.

Mr. FRED DAVIS.
We congratulate Mr. Fred Davis on the distinction he has won in the service of his country. Mr Davis, R.A.M.C. has been honourably mentioned in Dispatches, and has been given a Commission. He is now Lieutenant Quarter Master Davis. He also holds the South African Medal, the King’s Medal for South Africa, and the 18 Years’ Good Conduct Medal. His old parish and his home are proud of him.

Theale parish magazine, April 1915 (D/P132B/28A/4)

blog Capt Fred Davis 1940

Here is Fred Davis in later life, thanks to his great grandson.