“The cleanest platoon he had seen on parade in this Battalion”

There was more glory for Sydney Spencer’s platoon.

Saturday 27 July 1918

Last night we were informed that the platoon competition would be judged by the CO & Capt Shutes at 7.30 am this morning. So we had breakfast at 6.45 am, on parade by 7.15. My platoon came up to the scratch wonderfully, and after an hour’s minute inspection by the CO & Shutes the CO said to me that my platoon was “easily the best”. He told Dillon it was the cleanest platoon he had seen on parade in this Battalion.

After parade went to range & fired No. 24 rifle grenades with RB Sections. Got back at 10.15. Had some biscuit & cheese, & at 11 o’clock a 2 hour route march. It poured with rain& we got splashed unmercifully with chalk & mud!

After lunch I took my clothes off & tried to sleep, flies preventing it! After tea ‘lazed’ & made up accounts. Bed at 10.30 & read ‘Masterman Ready’.

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

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“The weather & the flies are very trying”

The heat was almost as troublesome as the enemy.

Wednesday 17 July 1918

Got up at 7.30 am. Flies were a nuisance. Air raid on village during night, about a dozen bombs dropped. 1 soldier killed, 5 wounded. A good parade this morning from 9-12.30. Inspection, Platoon & Section drill, PT, & BF. Break ½ hour. Rifle grenadiers from 11.30-12.30. Company arms drill. Marched home. Censored letters after lunch. Another broiling hot day.

The weather & the flies are very trying. After tea I began to fret. I wonder whether the photographer would turn up to take the officers of the Battalion. We were all at the orderly room at 7.30, but as a storm intervened he did not come. So I was unmercifully ragged by the CO who thought that it was my bad French which had made the muddle!

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

“Sticky Stokes didn’t once hit the targets”

Sydney Spencer’s unit practiced their shooting in a special field exercise. He wasn’t over-impressed by the Stokes guns.

Thursday 13 June 1918

Today was our great field day but of course the Corps commander did not turn up! The Brigadier did, & was very pleased. The only remark I make on it is that as an exercise it may have been good & it certainly was carried out well, but ‘possible’ over that ground not nohow but contrariwise my dear diary!

I thoroughly enjoyed the latter part of the performance as old Pongo would have called it, owing to the fact that I was given charge of fire orders for rifle grenades & got some good volleys in on to the targets, getting my voice heard above the din of mimic warfare. Sticky Stokes didn’t once hit the targets! A conference on above at 5 pm. CO pleased.

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

Pot shots over the parapet

Soldiers coped with the onslaught in different ways.

Sydney Spencer
Sunday 26 May 1918
(written retrospectively on 28 May)

I came on trench duty at 12.30 am till stand down (normally at 4.30, but as the mist was very strong & heavy we stood to till 7). I then went on strike & had breakfast after 5 ½ hours trench duty!

At 7.30 I found Rolfe & Peyton taking pot shots over the parapet with Mills bombs & rifle grenades. Just for the sake of old times I threw one through the crater. It fell in our wire. At 10 the Bosche started a strafe on the whole of our front. This lasted until 12.30. I & my platoon grovelled on the trench bottom & made accusative remarks about his bad shooting, & Corporal Bindey [?] & I studied an ants’ nest to while away the time!

After lunch I was on duty again from 2 till 4 pm. After tea for about 10 minutes I suffered complete demoralisation, goodness only knows why! I slept for 1 hour & then as no evening hate took place at 6 pm I went to company headquarters & rested till dinner time.

After dinner I got ready to hand over after 9 days in line! Then came orders to stand to as a raid was expected. Discovered a ground search light on our front at 2.35. It played all along our front.

Percy Spencer
26 May 1918

Communion service in grass avenue outside chateau. Went over a tank.

Moved up close to Lavieville. Not bad quarters but well bombed all around & no protection. Hartley joined us.

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

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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Absolute disregard of danger

The village of Hare Hatch was proud of one of its sons, who had been given a medal following a brave stand under fire which sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie.

Hare Hatch Notes

We heartily congratulate our young friend Walter Rixon, Kiln Green, who has won the Military Medal, although but a lad when he enlisted soon after the war broke out, nothing could keep him back, he was attached to the 1/4 Royal Berkshire Regiment. The report of his bravery is as follows:-

“He showed absolute disregard of danger, he stood right on top of the trench in full view of all kinds of fire, and at a time when the Germans were shelling pretty heavily and were also busily engaged in sniping. There he stood – firing rifle grenades, and it was through him we were able to clear a party of Germans who were holding us up on the left. There were at least ten of them and by dropping a rifle grenade in the centre of the party he ousted them.”

Since this report we are pleased to hear that he has been promoted to Sergeant, “Bravo, Walter”. We all wish him a safe return home.

Wargrave parish magazine, December 1916 (D/P145/28A/31)

“They got more than they bargained for”

Ralph Glyn’s married sisters, Meg Meade and Maysie Wynne-Finch, wrote to him after his brief leave. Meg lived in London and was acting as Ralph’s financial proxy while he was away. Maysie, who was staying with her sister, told Ralph all about her husband’s wound. Neither woman was a fan of British politicians.

Oct 15th
23 Wilton Place
SW

My darling Ralph

It was very sad returning here with the babies on the 12th to find you had gone. If only you could have stayed a few days longer here, it would have been perfect. But I am hoping always that we shall have you back very soon. If you don’t come straight back here, I’ll never never forgive you!…

Bless you for your letter you wrote to me before leaving London. Jim [her husband] loved getting the maps… Anne [her daughter] has drawn you a sunset & has written you a letter which I enclose “For Uncle Ralph at Darnelles” she said.

I went to Cox this morning & saw your old friend Mr Smith. He was very kind to me, & I have a cheque book to draw on your account, so look out!

And in accordance with your long & interesting letter I got from you today, I have only been mixing with Cabinet Ministers today. That’s all. I took your letter to Sir Edward Carson to Eaton Place. Instead of putting it in the letter box I thought I’d go one better & give it to the butler so I rang the bell. The door opened & out stepped Bonar Law & Sir Edward! I mumbled to the latter “This letter is from my brother Ralph Glyn” & fled, however Sir Edward insisted on shaking me warmly by the hand, & your letter has evidently been too much for him, because all the papers have been remarking on his conspicuous absence from the Cabinet meeting today.

Things do look serious. The best news I’ve heard since war began, I heard at dinner tonight at the [Somertons?]. There was a nice man there called Baker Kerr who said he knew you, but what tickled me was that he said that we should have conscription in 6 weeks time. I hope to Heaven it’s true. Things have been bungled & enough misery caused by the selfish stupidity & timidity of politicians. I hear that the Zepps have strict orders not to drop any bombs on Whitehall or Downing Street for our Government are Germany’s best friends.

What a bore for you being hung up in Rome… Don’t pull the noses of any of the irritating Dips who are there either, if you can help it. They must be perfectly maddening to deal with…

Dad … tells us a Zepp passed over Peter[borough] last night, & did a lot of harm at Hertford, killed a lot of people, & smashed up the town. The Zepp raid here on Wednesday night was quite amusing. I was in the middle of writing a letter to Dickie when the guns started firing. So I collected the babies & we went to the kitchen till it was over. Of course I went out to try & see the Zepp, but I can’t say I succeeded. I saw confused shadows in the searchlight, but I did see the bursting shell from our guns, but most other people seem to have seen the Zepp & say there were 4 of them or 5….

Maysie tells me she has protected me by sending you all the news…

Your always lovingest
Meg

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“Cut out for a staff officer”

E C Glyn, Bishop of Peterborough, and his wife Lady Mary, each wrote to their son Ralph as he left the country for a diplomatic mission. Their news included the fact that their son in law John Wynne-Finch had been wounded.

The Palace
Peterborough
Oct. 14, 1915

My own darling darling

It makes it somehow more true having to write for this mail that you have really gone, but it is I know all right and you have been sent to the work you wished & to the friends you best can help, and I so and will confide moment by moment – the cov’ring wing has been over us, and it helps so to see it at times. You will hear from Maysie how the news came to her of John’s wounding the very day Meg got back, and after the first intimation they had a bad four hours – waiting to know details. Then his own letter came 9.45 pm telling her all about it and now the fear is it is so “slight” he may not be sent home, and I have just come in from long day in Leicester & find no further news so I fear he is not yet sent across and I wonder if she can go to him. It was a rifle grenade that hit him in back & arm. He walked 2 miles to a dressing station & saw his friends, & had 2 cups of tea before being taken off in an ambulance. And he wrote cheerfully.

Now she has a delightful letter from the Major, with great praise of him. He was in the thick of the awful fighting the day before, Friday 8th, & did very well….

And now there has been another Zepp raid & Meg has had her own way & has been in London. She and Addie wished so to be there, and I only hope the children were not frightened…

so darling, own best, own son
Own Mur
Oct 14 1915
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