A very gallant officer and gentleman, recklessly brave and a fine example of cool courage

The Old Boys of Reading School were distinguishing themselves at the Front.

O.R. NEWS.

Killed in Action.

2nd Lieut. Norman A. Howell, King’s Shropshire Light infantry. On December 23rd.

He is the second son of Mr. W. Roland Howell, architect, of this town. Born at Reading in April 1897, he was educated at Reading School and St. Laurence College, Ramsgate, and had been about a year in his father’s office before joining the Army in November, 1915. His cadet training at school and college enabled him to get his commission. He was posted to the King’s Shropshire’s, was ordered to the front at the end of June last, and has been in the thick of the Somme fighting for six months. Lieut. Norman Howell came home on his first leave on December 6th and returned on the 16th. Within a week he had made the great sacrifice.

His Commanding Officer wrote to Mr. Howell on December 24th:

“I deeply regret to report the death of your son, who was serving in my Battalion. Whilst going up to the front line trenches in charge of a party last night an enemy sniper shot him through the head, killing him instantly. This morning his body was buried by the Chaplain near where he fell, with military honours, officers and men attending.

“I had trench mortars and rifle grenades on the sniper’s post, patrols had reported 8 to 10 Huns there, none there now! On behalf of his comrades, officers, N.C.O.’s and men, I wish to convey to you our profound sympathy . He was loved and respected by all of us, and we mourn the loss of a very gallant officer and gentleman. To all of us he was known as recklessly brave and a fine example of cool courage, devoted to his duties, which he discharged most cheerfully under the most trying conditions.”

“I placed him in charge of the Lewis Gun detachment, on which he had set his heart and soul. He belonged to my own Headquarters’ mess, and I took particular interest in him. A cross has been put up on the grave near Les Boeufs.”

It will be remembered that in October, 1915, Mr. Howell’s elder son, 2nd Lieut. Roland Basil Howell, was reported “wounded and missing.” Nothing has since been heard of him, and any hopes of his being alive hangs on the very slenderest thread. On the 16th of last month the War Office wrote saying that they were now forced to believe he was killed.

Lieut. Basil Howell was born in October, 1895, and received his commission in the 4th North Staffordshire’s three months after the war started. He was attached to the Northumberland Fusiliers (the Fighting Fifth), and went to the front in May, 1915.

Reports received from the front show that on the night of October 1st-2nd, 1915, the battalion to which Lieut. Howell was attached were in severe action. After all the officers of the company had been killed he gallantly led a bombing party to attack a German trench, but was never seen again.

Every possible enquiry was made through the War Office, the American Embassy, the Red Cross, and the wounded men who returned to England. Many references were made by the latter to the respect and love they had for the brave young officer. Like his brother he was educated at Reading School and St Laurence College, and had started his training to follow in his father’s profession. For many years he was an enthusiastic scout, and took a big share in starting the South Reading Troop.

Lieut. Cedric Charles Okey Taylor, East Kent Regiment, attached to Trench Mortar Battery, only son of Mrs. Taylor, 39, Weltje Road, Ravenscroft Park, W., and of the late Mr. Charles Warmsley Taylor, of Reading. Further details are now to hand of Lieut. Taylor’s death.

He died for King and country on December 3rd, 1916, in his 22nd year. Young in years but old in endurance, he was in constant action for 15 months at Ypres in 1915 and on the Somme in 1916. He is laid to rest in the cemetery, at Faubourg d’Amiens, Arras.

2nd Lieut. W. Marsden Cooper, Worcestershires, only son of Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper, 107, London Street, Reading, aged 19.

Cooper was only 19 years of age and went out to the front in the Worcestershire’s about the middle of December, shortly after completing his course at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was educated at Reading School, where he gained a Council scholarship in 1909. His School career was unusually distinguished. In 1914 he gained a School Certificate followed the next year by a higher certificate.

In response to his country’s call, he decided to take a commission, and in the entrance examination for the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, held in February, 1916, he came out second on the list, gaining a Prize Cadetship. At Sandhurst his success was no less pronounced than at school, and he gained the position of Sergeant in his cadet unit, the highest position a cadet can obtain, before he left College. Not only did he have considerable intellectual gifts, as his record shows but he was a fine athlete as well. He was an excellent all round cricketer and his natural powers as a bowler would have enabled him to make his mark in really good company. As a Rugby Football player he showed great promise, and before he left school he had the distinction of being captain of football, captain of cricket and captain of the school. Yet he was never elated by success, and perhaps it was more than anything else his modesty which made him so popular with the boys and the masters alike. Those who have watched his career, for the last two years, and marked the way in which his development always seemed to keep pace with his new responsibilities feel a special grief that a young life so full of promise should have been brought thus prematurely to a close.
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All right, in a topsy turvy world, but assaulted by vermin

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with a blackly comic description of dealing with vermin at the Front.

Decr 7, 1916
My dear WF

A few lines to let you know that if the rest of the world is topsy-
turvy, I’m all right.

This in spite of a very troublesome day yesterday.

To begin at the beginning, by the simple expedient of obtaining new blankets and jumping into a complete new change of clothes, I solved the vermin difficulty. At least I thought I had until yesterday when a persistent irritation of the left forearm led to investigation with unhappy results. However I was cheered to think that here at last was a chance for Aunt Margaret’s shirt. So I took the treatment thro’ all its stages, defended my cubicle with a “box barrage” of Keating’s cum sulphur and retired to roost in a whirl of asepso, brimstone and virtue – the first result was to get rid of the [illegible], who sniffing the Keatinged atmosphere, decided that “outside was good enough for him”. I was just dropping off to sleep when I found his place had been taken by a large rat who perched on the cigar box which had contained Aunt Margaret’s shirt, just above my head, was devouring the stump of a candle by which I had been reading a few pages of The Lost Tribes.

From that moment I got no peace – encouraged by the comfortable warmth of my bed the little centipedes attacked in force at all points – but the Asepso – Keating’s – sulphur – Aunt Margaret’s shirt was too strong a defence, and baffled and exhausted they fell back upoj their original line, there to hold a concert of war. Apparently the result was a decision to evacuate – anyway my person seemed for the next hour or two to be reckoned a sort of tram centre. However the evacuation completed I slept until, awakened to receive a very late or very early post. Previously I glanced thro’ the various papers until I got to orders – nothing on the front page; turned over and there staring me in the face I read – 1345 – The Louse Problem on the Western Front. With a yell I hurled the hudget at the orderly and retired beneath the blankets there to solve the problem from the sure defence of Aunt Margaret’s shirt.

This and the rat problem are all about [sic] we have to worry about – the rat problem I shall solve with an air pistol I am going to get.

[Censored]

I’m as glad to get all your letters and parcels – the letters are often my only contact with home, and they are so refreshing in these monotonous surroundings.

[Censored]
Sorry this is such a verminous monograph.

My dear love to JMI.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/37-41)

A birthday stroll up the trenches

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with the latest from the front. So far he had avoided service at the front line, but was not far away. He was optimistic that the end was in sight.

Apl 7 1916
Dear WF

I must steal an hour and let the work go hang, for yesterday I sent you a card, “letter follows”, and if one doesn’t hop along hard on the heels of that promise, there’ll be trouble, I know.
This war business is getting a confounded nuisance; I’m really getting no proper opportunity to enjoy this lovely spring – and that’s a pity for it’s a lovely country we’re in – hills, woods and water, and so far a most peaceful time. But – well, guess where I am.

To celebrate my birthday (by the way, many thanks for your jolly letter and present, I’ve only just dipped into the first 100,000 but can already see it’s written by one of us) – well, dear old Will sent me a manuscript of his song, which I’m in for, and trembling I shall lose, and for which I haven’t yet been able to write and thank him.
[Censored]…

But all this time you’re dying to know how I celebrated my birthday. I took a stroll up the trenches. At least it began as a stroll, continued as a wade, and climaxed as a swim. Lovely place, Flanders! Anyway I’ve been along the firing line and into a sap towards the German line. To have kept out of that for over 12 months is something to brag about, and to achieve it after all that time, even something more to be proud of.

It was a perfectly peaceful sunshiny day and I thoroughly enjoyed my tour, as the geography of the country makes this part of the line peculiarly interesting.

How much longer shells and us will be strangers, I don’t know. It’s now about 3 months since I heard one close.

There have been a good many aeroplane duels and I saw a very pretty one the other day in which our fellow drove the Hun to earth. Our fighting plane was naturally slower than the German scout machine, but what we lacked in speed in the can, the airman made up for in skill. The way he manoeuvred into range and by cool planning overcame his sped handicap was quite pretty from our point of view.
The Daily Mail is pretty well informed about our movements, I notice, but its air knowledge is very slight, I believe. I took an opportunity of talking “Fokker” to some of the air service and was rejoiced to learn that it’s looked on simply as a paper campaign, the superiority of the enemy, type for type, being purely imaginary – in fact I was told the boot is entirely on the other plane, and I believe it.

Sorry you’ve been troubled with Zeps. I expect though with the next moon you’ll have seen the last of them. Our aeroplanes in the summer will, I imagine, be a sure defence.

I suppose and hope there’ll be a terrific bust up soon – a strong push, all together, ought to write “finis” to Germany.

Of course, if Germany will kindly continue to do the pushing, tant mieux.

And Verdun is a very hopeful sign of her impending crash, I think. To my mind it means the gambler’s throw or political pressure.
But that’s shop. However, even here in peaceful slumbering valleys it’s still war. Every night we sally forth to slaughter rats (game abounds).

There’s nothing else to say but “good afternoon”. Oh, yesterday I saw a jolly sight – a popular horse bolting with an unpopular officer – they made a splendid if undignified race of it, but a fatal error of judgment on the part of the officer, who assumed the horse would carry on straight through the chateau instead of swerving to the left towards its stable, lost him the race by a short length, only the officer leaving the course and carrying straight on towards the house….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/6-7)