“The Armistice was signed in a Railway Coach at 6 am this morning, but it is not to be made known until 11 so don’t tell anyone”

The stationmaster at Windsor, who had often come into contact with the Royal Family, got special advance notice of the Armistice.

On the morning of Nov 11th 1918 I had just started the 8.47 am train and [was] going back to my office when I saw HRH Princess Alice standing at the door and wondered what she wanted so early. When I reached there she said “I have got some news for you. The Armistice was signed in a Railway Coach at 6.0 am this morning, but it is not to be made known until 11.0 am, but I was sure you would like to know, so don’t tell anyone until then.” I thanked her for taking the trouble to come down to tell me and she returned to the Castle.

At 11.0 am the news was given out by the Mayor from the Town Hall.

Of course everyone was pleased and hoped there would never be another like it.

Memoir of S T Mann, stationmaster at Windsor (D/EX1915/5/14, pp. 127-128)

“Tommy from the line” thinks he should be able to buy “fags” at any hour of the day or night

A colourful glimpse of soldiers on their way home for a leave.

“LEAVES FROM A LEAVE CAMP.”

Mr Frampton, who is at Boulogne, sends us the following:-

“From the windows of the canteen where the writer is “doing his bit,” may be seen any evening a body of men with tin hats and rifles swinging along the road to the entrance of the “leave” camp. They are of many types, and it is most interesting to watch them file into the camp. One can see at a glance there are men from every walk of life, for the “khaki” does not cover a man so well that his former occupation cannot be shrewdly guessed.

As soon as they arrive in sight the canteen is at once closed. It has perhaps been open all the afternoon for the benefit of the staff attached to the camp, but it is necessary to close it now, for otherwise “Tommy” would make tracks for the counter in order to purchase “fags,” soap, towels, socks, and the numerous articles he is out of after a spell “up the line.” Of course, “Tommy” wishes to go to “Blighty” looking smart and clean, but he may not purchase just now. He is dealt with as follows:-

Each man as he passes the gate is served with a ticket entitling him to an evening meal and breakfast in the morning. After all have enjoyed the evening meal, the canteen opens for an hour or two, and Tommy may make his purchases. Cigarettes and tobacco are an easy first, and the other articles sold are far too numerous to specify. Well, from say 7 to 9 o’clock he can buy what he needs, or play games in the canteen. Each canteen boasts a piano also. So much for his first few hours in the last camp before that journey to “Blighty” in the morning.

Lights out at 10 p.m., and “Tommy” is safely tucked up, sometimes twelve in a tent, till morning. It is a bit close, but it keeps them warm. Well, now, the morning arrives at last for “Tommy” who is “going home,” but it arrives too soon for the canteen hands, who were in all probability up at 4.30 the morning previous. However the canteen hands are often aroused at about 4 a.m. by some wakeful “Tommy,” who enquires in no uncertain voice, “When are you going to open?” The response is, “When you’ve all had breakfast.” Sometimes the conversation is not so short and sweet, but long and, truth to tell, “very lurid,” for “Tommy from the line” thinks he should be able to buy “fags” at any hour of the day or night, for, does he not work and fight day and night? And on the other hand the canteen hands consider that from 4.30 a.m. till 9 p.m. is a fair day’s work (with short breaks), and do not care to be roused at 3.30 a.m. by a strident voice shouting “What time do you open?”

Well, the canteen does eventually open, and you can imagine, say 1,000 men, making a sudden rush to the counter. They’ve had breakfast, and been supplied with their railway pass and ration cards for use in “Blighty,” and now they are about to spend on luxuries not so easily procured “higher up.” They are easily and quickly served with chocolate for the kiddies, postcards for mother, fancy handkerchiefs for “My dear sweetheart,” etc., etc. The articles mentioned are only samples, for “Tommy” is pleased to buy the best he can get, as a rule, for he has also got some arrears of pay in his pocket.

About two or three hours after breakfast he receives the order “Fall in.” It does not take long to “Fall in,” and the march is begun to the quay side. The first man, for instance, steps on board at say 10.30 a.m., and one hour later he realises that all are on board and he is actually leaving France behind for a short space of time. Two hours to ——- and two more in the train brings him to a London terminus, and if he is as lucky as the writer he will be “indoors” in five or six hours after leaving France. Again, if he is lucky he will have a splendid time in “Blighty” and return in better trim for “doing his bit.”

Of that return, more another time, for it has many a sad side to it, but as the writer is not now at camp where “Tommy” passes through on his return, perhaps he may never give you the impressions he gains by witnessing the return of so many fine men, whose hearts are doubtless very full of their own thoughts.

In conclusion, it may interest those at home to know that both “Tommy” and his officers are catered for by the “Expeditionary Force Canteen,” and the “Canteens” are an institution likely to remain very much in the foreground in the army when the great day of “Peace” shall arrive once more. May that day be not far distant!”

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, October 1918 (D/N33/12/1/5)

“Grim & sullen, at his post, never budging or paying any attention to anything at all but the patch of “no man’s land” immediately to his front”

As he travelled slowly back to the front, Sydney reflected on an old soldier who taught him a lesson about what was really important at war.

Wednesday 3 July 1918

11.30 am I don’t think I have felt so easy in mind, or fit and well, for about 8 weeks as I feel today. The influence of this club with all its civilizing attributes has sunk right into me, & has made me quiet & contented with everything. Have been writing letters to Florence, Mother & Father. After lunch I take my draft to station to leave by 2 o’clock train for Doullens change for Domleger.

6.30 pm. After waiting for 4 ½ hours on the station here at Etaples, I have managed to get into a carriage with my kit too!

6.45. Train started.

7.30 pm. Montreuil. We passed near Hesdin at 7.45, passed through Beaurainville, the rest of the journey today passed tranquilly with the exception that the OC train was a terrible fidget! Got some broken sleep occasionally. Had an argument about money with an RFA officer.

Sydney to Florence
EFC Officers Rest House and Mess

July 3rd 1918
My Dearest Florence

In my platoon I have one Private Smith. He is a young old man of about 38 or 40. He is uncouth & gruff, he has a seared, wrinkled, weatherbeaten, ugly face, & out of the line worries one by his apparent lack of power ever to look a soldier. I noticed this man & one day [censored], I went up to him & said “Well, Smith, how does the world treat you?”

He looked at me sullenly & grunted, & said “Well, I have been out ‘ere a long time & I suffers terrible, me bones is all stiff & I gits rheumatic pains something terrible etc etc”. I turned away [censored] saying to myself, another old soldier of the eternally grumbling type”.

We went up the line, & one day when it was dull & misty while on my tour of trench duty, I saw Smith cautiously peering over the parapet with a spotlessly clean rifle, looking well groomed & cared for, glued to his shoulder. I took no notice, but from then onwards I kept my eye on him.

On bright days he was never there, but so sure as it was a dull day, misty, or bad for observation, no matter at what time I went along, there I should find him, grim & sullen, at his post, never budging or paying any attention to anything at all but the patch of “no man’s land” immediately to his front. Now he is a sanitary man, & he is never officially a sentry, & never has orders to do sentry duty. Yet for hours daily I used to find him solemnly on the watch!

It puzzled me, so I paused in passing him one day & said “Well, Smith, do you think that brother Fritz intends coming over?” With much grimacing & grunting he slowly lifted himself from his post, & a slow rustic smile breaking out over his ugly face he said, “Well, sir, these youngsters doant realize & so I likes to keep on the watch meself a bit when the weather’s bad, but you know sir, my back, it’s fit nigh to break, in this damp weather & gits that stiff I wonder whether I shall ever be fit agin etc etc.” [Censored]

I felt then humble & respectful. He was his younger brother’s keeper very really. He had a lesson to teach me & I hope I learned it. [Censored] the native beauty of the character of this very rough diamond.

Your always affectionate Brer Sydney

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and letter (D/EZ177/8/3/51)

“I am deeply in love with the world & the inhabitants thereof”

Sydney had emerged from his post-illness depression in high spirits.

Tuesday 2 July 1918

Got up at 4 am feeling cross with myself for feeling cross at having to get up so early! Got breakfast at 11.45. Took over my draft of 29 at 5.30. Drew an iron ration! Marched to station. Tucked my men away & saw they had their rations. Train started about 1 hour late, 8 am.

Got to Etaples at 12. Bagged a tent (& put up a bed!). Got a bath, shave, shampoo & wave at Fichet. Lunch & a talk with a long [serving?] [other?] ranker who was with Col. Harris in India. Have just had a bath & went busking with no things at all on.

I spent the rest of the day writing letters to Florence, OB & Col. Harris. This day’s rest is doing me untold good. After dinner for a long walk with an ASC chap. A most interesting conversation.

EFC Officers Rest House and Mess
June[mistake for July] 2nd 1918

My Dearest Florence

Yet another rest house & yet another place. I am gradually getting back to my B[attalio]n. I expect I shall be back by tomorrow night or Thursday morning at the latest. I went into hospital on Thursday 20th June, came out on Tuesday 25th & here is July 2nd & I am still wending my way back.

I have just had, here at the Club, a delicious hot bath, a hair cut, a shave & a shampoo. Small talk did I hear you say? Really Florence I am surprised at you. Why, these things are red letter days in our career out here. One gloats over it for days. There one does not get a shave every day, one gets a bath of sorts quite occasionally, but all on one day & done by a professional man, why, one feels frightfully clean & composed in mind & spirit.

I suppose a reaction is setting in after my depression. I am full of high spirits, nothing annoys me, I am deeply in love with the world & the inhabitants thereof, & the sun is shining “as hard as he knows how” for me. …

Your always affectionate Brer Sydney

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15); and letter (D/EZ177/8/3/50)

A sweet oblivion

Another long journey for Sydney, still not all that well.

Thursday 27 June 1918

A lovely morning. Got up at 6.30 after breakfast. Saw the MO then got packed up & rested a time. 10 am to Adjutant. I go by a train which leaves I suppose somewhere about 4 pm.

Got into train for Calais at 4 pm. Had to march down here. It was very tiring. Saw Jourdain who left 208th Brigade for Egypt in February. He was only in Egypt a week or two at base!

Train started at 4.45. I am pt in charge of front half of train. Just my luck.

Journey was a good one. I didn’t worry about the men. Was too tired & they behaved decently. Besides we did not wait at stations long enough. We passed through Acherecourt & Darnetal en route for Etaples. I slept by about 10 pm & the rest of the hours of darkness were a sweet oblivion.

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

“Saw some poor old ladies who have been gassed with yellow X – a lamentable sight.”

Civilians were among the victims of German poison gas.

Tuesday 11 June 1918

Got up at 7.45 am. Got my kit packed by Fox [his batman]. Had breakfast, & then Jones stropped my razor & got a really good shave. After breakfast got down to Hesdin station. Train was due to leave at 10.15 so Graham & I bought biscuits, strawberries & bananas to eat if no food was available. Started at 11.45. Got to St Pol at 1.15. Lunch at the EFC canteen. Town has been fairly well shelled & bombed. Saw some poor old ladies who have been gassed with yellow X. ‘De profundis’ a lamentable sight.

7.30 pm Candas. We stay the night here at Candas as we cannot go further until tomorrow morning at 7.30. Tea at Café’ [illegible] Henly. Then kits to RTO office, a walk and dinner at same café’. Just discovered that I have left my advance pay book & my cheque book, ‘horribili dictu’, at Marronville!

After dinner I made paper frogs for French officers who thought them ‘tres gentils’. To bed at rest camp at 10 pm.

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

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)

Coffee with a man back from France, war worn

Sydney Spencer resumed his diary on finally being sent to the Front, after three years of training.

Sunday 7 April 1918

8.15 pm
I left home at 7.50 for la belle France. Although I deplore the fact that I temporarily lost all my cash, my warrant, my food card etc, it took away the sting from the leavetaking. Thank goodness I found the whole pocket book in my cardigan. I leave Victoria tomorrow morning at 7.35, & report Folkestone at 10 am.

Arrived London 9 pm. Went to Grosvenor Hotel & had a very good night’s sleep despite the fact that I was unable to get any dinner or food of any sort. Thank goodness I had a few biscuits which Florence (bless her) had put in my pocket. I did manage to get a cup of coffee & drank it conversing with a man back from France, war worn.


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

The pinch will come after the war

The Spencer paterfamilias in Cookham was optimistic, while Florence Vansittart Neale despaired at the situation in Russia.

Will Spencer
23 February 1918

By this morning’s post we received a cheerful letter from Father… Sydney has taken his BA at Oxford. Has received splendid reports from his commanding officers. Was just getting into train at Paddington to come down to Cookham on a Saturday afternoon when he saw Percy on the next platform, whom he hadn’t seen for 2 years. He quickly fetched his luggage out, & stayed the night with Percy, who had just come up from Swindon for a few days, on business.

I was glad to learn from Father that they suffer no privation. The pinch will come after the war, he says, but what can be is being done to provide against that.

Florence Vansittart Neale
23 February 1918

Russians utter degradation, under the heel of Germany.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Women tip the Tommies to shop for them as they can get ham & cheese where the women can’t

Still training in Wiltshire, Percy Spencer wanted a special lamp to take back to the Front. He had also had a surprise reunion with younger brother Sydney – and was unimpressed with their other brother Harold’s attempts to sponge on good-natured Sydney.

21st Res Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Feb 11, 1918

My dear WF

I’ve just returned from 48 hours leave, a frightful scramble, but the break is worth it.

Luckily I was able to catch Dot in town and we went together to “General Pat” at the Haymarket, after trying without success to get into the Albert Hall to hear Carrie Tubb, Ivor Foster & Harry Dearth. She is very much better I’m glad to say.

As I was seeing her off at Paddington, Sydney turned up, and I persuaded him to take his luggage out of the train and stay with me the night in my digs. We hadn’t met for over a year so I was very glad to see him again. He doesn’t seem to have altered a scrap.

We had a talk about Harold, and Sydney is sending me a letter about him. Apparently Harold looks on Sydney as an investment from which he is entitled to expect an income. It’s too preposterous.

I expect my embarkation leave pretty soon now – probably about the time Sydney will be with you. I suppose I may come too if I have a ration card, but please let me know dear, as I don’t wish to crowd you, or add to your food expenditure. In London though the women tip the Tommies to shop for them as they can get ham & cheese where the women can’t.

All last week I was upon battalion duties and lost touch with my boys, and it was very disheartening this morning to find that they had started off badly. However I’ll soon get them going again I hope.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Percy to Florence
Feb 11, 1918
My dear WF

The lamp is an ORILUX, made by J. H. STEWARD Ltd, 406, STRAND, LONDON. The price including spare bulb 25/- (probably more now).

It is a first rate long life lamp, well protected from weather, most suited for wearing on a belt, military fashion, but quite suitable for carrying by hand. I think, however, Stewards could show more suitable hand lamps.

Yours ever
Percy

Letters from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/11-13)

Tanks break the Hindenburg Line

Personal tragedy was alleviated by the success of the British forces.

21 November 1917

Henry at committees all day Maidenhead, so motor brought back Dottie & took her to the station. She spent the day with me. We talked & worked.

I have undertaken 2 pr socks & 2 mufflers a week for France.

Heard Willie Parker missing, fear killed. It’s awful!

Brilliant success of our Western Front. “Byng”, tanks & cavalry – broken Hindenburg line. Great surprise to enemy – nearly to Cambrai.

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

“Many of us feel there is a reasonable hope of a termination of hostilities before Christmas”

An army chaplain with links to Mortimer shares details of his life in Normandy.

Mr Bowden writes:-

Dear Vicar,

It is a long time since I sent a contribution to the Magazine, not that I have forgotten Mortimer but I have so little of interest to relate. My work is now in the docks area – I have charge of No. 2 General Hospital, on the quay alongside which the hospital ships lie and take in the wounded direct from the trains to convey them to Southampton. Any cases which prove too bad for the boat journey we take in to our hospital which is directly over the railway station, and occasionally we get a train load for treatment at No. 2. We have three very fine, airy wards; and a broad balcony facing the sea runs the whole length of the hospital; in the summer we place many beds out there – the men love to be in the open air and watch the shipping and the aircraft. The hospital commands a fine view of the town on one side and the mouth of the Seine with Trouville and Honfleur on the other.

In addition to hospital work I have some 1,500 Army Ordnance and 650 Army Service Corps men to work amongst. These are busy on the docks all day long but can be seen in the Recreation Huts and in their billets in the evening and at meal times.

There are plenty of amusements provided for them – some sort of entertainment almost every night. We also have recently acquired a recreation ground for their use and a cricket ground as well as a tennis court for officers and N.C.O.’s.

It might be of interest if I give my Sunday programme – I start early with a Celebration of Holy Communion at 6 a.m. for the A.O.D. in a little chapel near their quarters – another celebration at 7 a.m. for the hospital staff in a hut on the quay. This is always followed by a series of private Communions to sick men and officers in the various wards and huts; [sic] then back to breakfast. I used to have a Parade Service at 10-30 for the R.A.M.C. but have dropped it as it was an inconvenient time for the men. At 11-30 we have a Parade Service for the A.O.D. in one of the warehouses on the docks – the men climb up on the boxes all round a space left for the purpose – we have a good choir, an hearty service, and then the men go straight off to their dinner at noon, or soon after.

Then I have nothing till 5-15 when I hold Ward Services in hospital – these are very much appreciated by the patients and are of an informal nature as all denominations join in. The men love singing hymns and the Sisters come and help form a choir. At 7 p.m. we are now having open-air services in the A.S.C. camp on the river front between the docks and hospital. Here the men are mostly getting on in years – I believe the average age is about 42 – All younger men have long since been sent “up the line.” Of course a large portion of both A.S.C. and A.O.D. men have done their bit at the front in various units and have been sent back to work at the Base owing to wounds or some physical disability rendering them unfit for the fighting line.

Sometimes my day ends here or I have a service at the Y.M.C.A. or in one of the other huts, in turn with other Padres.

We have many destroyers constantly alongside the quays, the escorts for hospital ships, transports, &c. I go aboard when I can but generally most of the sailors are sleeping as they are working all night and its [sic] not often possible to hold a Service for them, but one gets some interesting talks with men and officers.

Just now we have a Mortimer man in hospital – Sergt. Shackleford – he is doing very well. He is only the second man I have met from the parish since I joined the B.E.F. – the other being Frank Parsons.

We are all very cheerful about the position of things just now and many of us feel there is a reasonable hope of a termination of hostilities before Xmas.

With best wishes to all friends.

Yours very sincerely,

W. S. Bowden, C.F.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, August 1917 (D/P120/28A/14)

A canteen at the station

Every little helped, as the Sulhamstead postmistress collected money for a canteen for troops passing through Reading. The South Eastern Railway Station site is now part of the main Reading station, but was originally completely separate. It was the terminus for the line through Guildford to Redhill (and which now goes on to Gatwick Airport).

THE WAR
SOLDIERS’ AND SAILORS’ FREE CANTEEN
Mrs Fremantle has a box at the Post Office to collect for the canteen at the South Eastern Railway Station, Reading. The box has just been opened and contained 3s. 2d.

Sulhamstead parish magazine, November 1916 (D/EX725/3)

Seeing the draft off

Sydney Spencer said goodbye to some of the soldiers he had trained, off to the front lines, wile yet again, he remained behind.

August 16, 1916
I go to Ripon, & return late to see draft off. Sleep in waiting room with Archdale & return Ripon by 7 am train on 17th.

Diary of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12)

“These Colours speak to us of a mighty struggle which involves sacrifice even unto death”

Windsor said a formal goodbye to the Canadians who had been stationed nearby as they headed to Kent, and then to the front.

Church and Empire

Wednesday, August 16th, was a red-letter day in the history of our Parish Church. A request had come from the Colonel of the 99th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, recruited in Windsor, Ontario, that their Colours might be deposited in our church for safe keeping during the war. It is needless to say that the request was most willingly and gladly granted, and August 16th was arranged as the day on which the ceremony should take place. Forthwith the citizens and church people of the Mother city prepared to welcome their brothers from the Overseas Daughter.

Our leading citizen [the mayor], ever ready to uphold the honour of the Royal Borough, at once declared his wish to extend his hospitality and official welcome to our guests. It was decided that as a parish we should entertain them at tea, and our churchwardens met with a ready answer to their appeal for funds and lady helpers. Permission was asked and gladly granted for them to see St George’s and the Albert Memorial Chapels, the Castle, Terraces and the Royal Stables.

The party, which included Lt Col Welch, commanding the 99th Battalion, Col Reid, Agent General for Canada, Lt-Col Casgrain, commanding the King’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Bushey Park, Mr W Blaynay, representing the Canadian Press, several officers of the Battalion, the Colour Guard, and the Band, arrived at the SWR station at 11.30, and were met by the vicar, who had come up from his holiday for the occasion, and several representatives of the church. From the station they marched, the band playing, and the Colours unfurled, to the Guildhall, which by kind permission of the Mayor was used as “Headquarters” for the day. Sightseeing followed till 1 o’clock, when the Mayor formally received his guests and entertained them in sumptuous fashion at lunch.

For an account of the speeches we must refer our readers to the Windsor and Eton Express of August 18th, in which will be found a very full and interesting report of the whole day’s proceedings.

Next came the event of the day, the ceremony of depositing the Colours in the Parish Church.

It is not likely that any one of the very large congregation which filled the church will ever forget what must have been one of the most interesting and impressive services ever held in the church.
It is probably true to say that most of us realised in a new way the meaning of our Empire, and the part the Church plays and has played in the building and cementing of that Empire’s fabric; and to that new realisation we were helped both by the ceremony itself and the most eloquent and inspiring words spoken from the pulpit by the vicar. (more…)