Demobilised & returning to-morrow to the West Indies

1919
May 26

M L Simpson granted leave of absence for the morning, to spend it with her fiancé, who has been demobilised & is returning to-morrow to the West Indies.

Log book of St Stephen’s Girls’ School, Clewer (88/SCH/23/5)

Engaged to a Canadian

The war brought romance to many due to the mass movement of young men of marriagable age. One of the longstanding maids at Bisham Abbey found love with one of the Canadian soldiers staioned nearby.

19 March 1919
Quite upset at Johnson’s departure. Engaged to a Canadian who wants her to marry & go out at once.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

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

Men on their way home for a spell of leave stopped off at a special camp. This is a first hand description from one of the helpers.

“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)

“I feel no end of a fellow”

Percy continued to make progress.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
SE1
Sep 5, 1918

My dear WF

This morning I strolled upon the balcony and admired the view, and as I got out of bed, clothed and lung myself without assistance. I feel no end of a fellow.

My kit has just arrived, so tonight I shall have all the excitement of going through it and seeing of how much I have been robbed.
Mrs Curtis came to see me yesterday, and dear Mrs Hunt the day before, with gifts of grapes and heather. Marjorie, who is going to Horace in Scotland, is coming to see me on Saturday, after which I must somehow deny myself the pleasure of that family’s society. Really my nerves are not strong enough to stand it.

Will you send me Will’s address when you have time. I want to write to him.

Sister went away on leave today for a month. On Monday she became engaged to one of the doctors here. She half told me as much yesterday, and having observed a slightly more professional attitude to us all these last few days I’m not surprised – only heartbroken. At present it’s a great secret, so don’t do any congratulating when you meet again – Nurse Kirby simply told me so that I might release part of my affections for investment elsewhere.

Did I tell you I have got past the continual thermometer stage – now I only have to hold one on my mouth at breakfast time and watch my porridge grow cold. However as I’m to be operated upon next week I am again a pulse, and once more enjoy the privilege of having my hand held each morning.

A most unsatisfactory letter. Never mind.

With my dear love to you both
Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/89)

“Few workers have shown such a stout heart and cheerfulness under trials””

Burghfield women contributed to the national need as their talents offered. Olive Hockin (1881-1936) was a fervent suffragette with links to arson attacks. Her book was republished in 2016.

THE WAR

The Village Red Cross Working Party is in “full swing”, and much good work still continues to be done each week by the following members:

Mrs Appleton, Mrs Butler, Miss Bedford, Miss Brown, Miss Cullum, Miss Davidson, Mrs Evans, Mrs George, Mrs Groves, Miss Kent, Mrs Chamberlain, Mrs H Chamberlain, Mrs Lamperd, Mrs Marlow, Mrs Moore, Mrs Montague, Mrs Gray, Mrs Overton, Mrs Philpotts, Mrs Richards, Miss G Richards, Mrs Stroud, Mrs E Wise. Surely there are still more who would like to devote an hour and a half each Thursday afternoon to so good a cause.

We have pleasure in announcing the engagement of Miss Jolie B. Buck (grand-daughter of our honoured old friend and neighbour the late General Buck of the Hollies) to Captain James McCallum, of the Canadian Forestry Corps. Captain McCallum is probably going to France shortly, and the wedding will not take place for some time. Miss Buck is at present serving as a lady driver to the Forestry Corps at the Canadian Camp, Ufton.

“Two Girls on the Land – War Time on a Dartmoor Farm”, by Olive Hockin (Edward Arnold, 1918, 2s 6d). A record of a whole year’s work told with sympathy and directness. Few workers on a farm have shown such a stout heart and cheerfulness under trials as the authoress, Mrs Kirkwood’s daughter; and her Burghfield friends will find every page of her story interesting.

Burghfield parish magazine, August 1918 (D/EX725/4)

“Don’t know how they expect a fellow to keep his temperature down to normal when he is subject to such distracting influences”

Percy had been worrying about younger brother Sydney’s fate.

Bed 8
Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
Aug 19, 1918

My dear WF

Thanks as much as ever for your letters. Since “Aunt Margaret” was here today & pointed [sharpened] my pencil, Sister tells me I am not for the theatre tomorrow. Apparently all the tickets are not yet sold and they have postponed my appearance till Wednesday. Thursday I may or may not be a little unhappy so I suggest you come on Friday. But come just when you like, dear, or when John will spare you.

Last night I was inoculated and I haven’t been feeling very lively since, but Aunt Margaret’s visit today did me a world of good. She is so sweet & restful. Sister just loves her. By the way another nurse has come along, a very finely built & good looking girl. Yesterday too we had a Canadian Red Cross girl all day. Don’t know how they expect a fellow to keep his temperature down to normal when he is subject to such distracting influences.

It was more than kind of General Seagrave to write to you insamuch as he was not longer with or anything to do with the Battalion when I was hit.

Your fuel problem is a nightmare. You’ll have to collect wood.

Yesterday Mr & Mrs Curtis came to see me – bless their hearts. Mrs Curtis with a huge bunch of flowers from a garden at Loughborough Grove – by the way they had a quarrel about who should carry them – and Mr Curtis with 2 cigars. Mr Tom Curtis wanted to see me so he came on Saturday and talked solemnly for a couple of hours about soffits of staircases and dados and wall casings – it was funny.

Well, good night my darling sister.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

PS I was so thankful to get your news of Syd, as on the 7th in the hospital train, the wounded officer in the bunk above me, who happened to command the next platoon to Sydney in the Norfolk Regiment, told me Syd was going over in the attack.

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/77-79)

“I shall transfer all my affections to Sister Macgregor”

Percy Spencer tells his sister Florence about his experiences as a wounded soldier in a London hospital. He was very grateful to the kind nurses.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
London SW

Aug 14, 1918

My dear WF

Thank you so much for your letter. It will be nice to see you again on the 20th and you may be sure we shall be alone.

I did feel sort of used up at the end of the day, so yesterday told Sister I would see no one but Miss Image [Florence’s elderly sister in law], who luckily did not come, for she would have found a very sleepy fellow indeed – I slept from 1-3 pm. Last night with the aid of 2 tablets plus 2 more I got to sleep in the grey hours and feel fresher.

You can come just when you like, dear, but as my arm is dressed each morning and the time it is done depends on the amount of work, and sometimes I like to be still for a little while afterwards, you may not be able to see me before lunch – ie 12.30 – 1pm. But as early after that as you like.

Miss Image & Mrs Curtis came today. I do think it is sweet of “Aunt Margaret” to come, & she brought me some lovely roses. Mrs Curtis turned up later and very kindly brought me a supply of matches. I hope Aunt Margaret didn’t mind, but Mrs C is one of my faithful adherents I feel I cannot be “out” to. I foresee I shall have to sort my visitors over, and tell them when to come.

Well, Sister Kirby has just washed me like a mother, and given me some clean pyjamas and I think I love her best at the moment, but I fear we are fickle fellows, for at midnight when I cannot sleep and want my pillows put straight I shall transfer all my affections to Sister Macgregor, for she has a way with her with pillows and a sweet smile to boot.

Yrs ever, with my dear love to you both

Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/68-71)

“The many bigamous marriages which have been contracted”

Many soldiers got married while on leave. Shockingly, we discover some of them were not actually free to marry…

My Dear Friends,

We have nearly reached the fourth anniversary of the war: The end is not yet in sight, but there are great reasons for hope, and we have very much to be thankful for. June and July were to have been two of the months in which we were told to expect the greatest scarcity of food, but the supply has been increased rather than diminished, and as regards to the war itself, our anxieties are certainly less than they were a month or two ago. Let us remember to keep August 4th as a special day of prayer and thanksgiving. We shall have a better opportunity of doing so as this time it falls on a Sunday.

I should like to call particular attention to the notice in the Bishop’s Message with regard to the “Marriage of Soldiers from Colonies and Dominions.” Men often require to be married quickly on short leave, and hitherto I have been able to marry them, provided that they have known each other for a considerable time, and that the parents of the intended bride have made enquires and satisfied themselves that all was right.

Henceforward, however, I can neither grant a licence to or marry any man from the Colonies or Dominions unless I have received the certificate of the officer in charge of military records. I am sorry to say that this order on the part of the authorities is due to the many bigamous marriages which have been contracted. A short while ago I heard of an officer forbidding five sets of Banns in one Church at one time because the men were all married.

It has been certain for some time that such protection was needed and the rule is an excellent one, but it will inevitably cause delay and disappointment. The best plan will be for any man, whether at home or abroad, who thinks there is a chance of his getting leave and being married within three months (during which period Licences and Banns are available) to write to me stating his native country, and also his rank, regiment and number, so that the certificate may be obtained, in which case no delay need take place.

Your friend and Vicar,

W.W. Fowler

Marriages of Soldiers from Colonies and Dominions.

It is my duty to call attention to a notice issued by authority as follows:

It is necessary to make sure that there is no matrimonial impediment to the marriage in England and Whales of men of all ranks serving in the Overseas Contingents. Every Clergyman therefore who is asked to publish the banns of marriage of such a bridegroom, whether Officer, Warrant Officer, No-Commissioned Officer, or Man, is requested to explain to the parties that before doing so he must receive the Certificate of the Officer in Charge of Military Records.

Australia
Officer in Charge of Records.
Telephone No. Victoria 8860.
Australian Army Headquarters,
130, Horseferry Road, S.W.1.

Canada
Officer in Charge of Records.
Telephone No. City 2691
Canadian Record Office
Green Arbour House, Old Bailey, E.C.

Newfoundland
Chief paymaster and Officer in Charge of Records.
Telephone No. Victoria147.
Newfoundland Army Contingent,
58, Victoria Street, S.W.1.

New Zealand
Officer in charge of Records
Telephone No. Museum 3360.
New Zealand Army Headquarters,
Southampton Row, W.C.1.

South Africa
Officer in Charge of Records
Telephone No. Victoria 4911.
South African Army Record Office,
65, Victoria Street, S.W.1.

Written on official paper stating the marital condition of the bridegroom as entered in the records. It is recognized that delay will be caused to those who wish to be married quickly. The certificate should be preserved.

This notice is issued in conjunction with the Military Authorities who are prepared to assist in this matter as and when the occasions arise. Similar instructions are being given to the Diocesan registrar with reference to the issue of marriage licences on behalf of such men.


List of Men Serving in His Majesty’s Forces

The following additional names have been added to our prayer list: Robert Whitworth, Albert Hannay, Freeman Holland.

In addition we commend the following to our prayers :

Died of Wounds or Illness: Edward Broad, Charles Cripps.

Wounded: Fred Brooker, Richard Embery.

Prisoner: Arthur Hosler.

Missing: Alfred Levens.


Earley St Peter parish magazine, July 1918 (D/P191/28A/25)

“Her young man who was missing is now a prisoner in Germany”

July 22nd Monday
Florence had a letter this morning to say that her young man who was missing is now a prisoner in Germany.

Diary of Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

“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)

“2 old boys have been awarded the Military Medal for bravery in France”

A school was proud of two Old Boys, while a teacher took off time to spend it with her sweetheart while he was home on leave.

White Waltham
June 10th 1918

News has been received that 2 old boys, George Ranscombe and Oliver Clark have been awarded the Military Medal for bravery in France. A letter of congratulations has been sent to Sergeant Clark and Lance Corporal Ranscombe signed by scholars, staff and correspondent congratulating them on their success.

Clewer
June 10th 1918

Miss Crook is absent from school on June 10th onwards to visit the home of her fiancé home from the Front.

White Waltham CE School log book (D/P 142/28/3/2, pp. 269-270); Clewer St. Stephen Intermediate Girls School log book (SCH/8/8/2, p. 176)

“Master Chaffinch sings near by me despite the swish of shells through the air or craaack of shrapnel”

Sydney Spencer took comfort in nature surviving the battlefield, but the nice weather meant easy pickings for the German artillery. Meanwhile their brother Will was in touch with a former pupil in Germany.

Percy Spencer
9 May 1918

A lovely day again, worse luck. Huns shelled our boys with 8” & gas. 14 gassed.

Dr Caux had tea with us & told us pretty story of old lady who refused to leave until her children left, asked how many she had, she replied that she didn’t know, & pointing to the yard crowded with Tommies, exclaimed, “These are my children”.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 9 May 1918

I was very cold in the night so felt rather cheap when I got up this morning. A glorious spring morning. The grass on which I lie now at 12.30 pm is sweet May scented. All around are the ubiquitous dandelions, daisies & buttercups, & here & there graceful patches of delicate green & white, made by the greater sketchwort. Master Chaffinch sings near by me despite the [illegible] and swish of shells through the air & the angry snip of 18 pounders, or craaack of shrapnel.

Now for some lunch. Saw a beautiful little ‘copper’ butterfly today. The last I saw was at dear old Thoresby Camp, Worksop, only 8 short months ago. After lunch a read or sleep & then worked out mess accounts. After tea continued on mess accounts. At 8.30 ‘stand to’. No 5 platoon dug my fire positions in new battle positions. Bed about 10 pm. Oh happy day. A long night’s sleep.

Will Spencer
9 May 1918

Was pleased to receive a long letter from Fraulein Hildegard Vogel from Cassel, telling me of her musical studies under Dr Zulauf (is now studying the Chopin Fantasia!) & enclosing a photograph of herself with her fiancé. J. thinks, from his uniform, that he is an officer in the Artillery. As the elder of her two brothers (aged 18) is in a Cadet School, & the younger, who is physically & mentally weak, is just going to a Waldpaedagogium in Berka in Thuringen, they (the mother and two daughters) are leaving Cassel next month & going to live in a smaller house in Naumburg a/d Saale, where they will be near Berka.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX802/28)

The bridegroom was under orders to hold himself in readiness for service abroad

A nurse married an army officer – and had to face the thought of his being sent to the front soon afterwards.

We present our congratulations to Miss Hilda Sturgess on the occasion of her marriage on April 16th with 2nd Lieut. Harold Bloomfield. Miss Sturgess was an exemplary Sunday school teacher previous to the war; since 1914 she has been a nurse in England, Eygpt, and France, and her long standing engagement ended with her marriage at the village church near Swindon camp, which was attended by the colonel and officers, who, by their hospitality in providing the wedding breakfast and enthusiastically welcoming the bride, more than covered the disappointment caused by the bridegroom being under orders to remain at Swindon and hold himself in readiness for service abroad.

Earley St Bartholomew parish magazine, June 1918 (D/P192/28A/15)

The clear, brave notes of the “Last Post” are heard again

There was news of a number of men from Burghfield.

THE WAR

Honours and Promotions

Captain Richard P Bullivant of the Mill House (County of London Yemanry) has been awarded the Military Cross for good service in Palestine, particularly in connection with the charge of dismounted Yeomanry near Jerusalem.

Mr George D Lake of Brookfield has received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant after OTC training, and is to join his unit (ASC, MT) in France on 1st March.

Ernest Wise (2/4th Royal Berks) has been made Provost-Sergeant of the Battalion.

Casualties

B Hutchins (2/4th Royal Berks), wounded, a second time.

Discharge

A C Lovelock (ASC, MT), ill health, Feb 1918.

Obituary Notice

Lance-Corporal R T Montagu (see last month’s magazine). Mr Montagu has received a letter from the captain of his son’s Company containing the words –

“Your son was in my platoon before I took over the command of the Company, and I gave him his lance stripe. He was a thoroughly good fellow, and a really fine soldier. The Company has lost a good man, and he will be greatly missed.”

He appears to have been killed by a shell while out on patrol early on the morning of the 8th January.

The death of Ernest Goddard is recorded with regret. He died at home on 12th February. He was called up from Reserve at outbreak of war, and posted to the 1st Royal Berks. Wounded in October 1915, he lost his right arm, and was discharged in June 1916. We all sympathize with his father and the family. The Depot of the Regiment sent a bearer party with a corporal and a bugler to his funeral on the 16th February; and the clear, brave notes of the “Last Post” were heard again in our quiet churchyard.

Burghfield parish magazine, March 1918 (D/EX725/4)

“The role of platonic friend is too difficult for me to sustain”

Percy Spencer found life at his parents emotionally challenging, so fled to his peacetime home in London, which was equally wearing.

27 Rattray Road
Brixton
SW

Decr 15, 1917

My dear WF

Cookham was a nightmare so I fled to London, and there I have been taking Dot out to lunch almost daily. She, I am happy to say, is quite normal again, but still very dependant upon her friends, so I think it has done her good to have me to talk to and detach her thoughts from the Battle of Cambrai. But the role of platonic friend is too difficult for me to sustain for long together, so just as your letter arrived I was writing to tell you that I am returning to 29 and peace on Monday 17th, please.


Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/6/74)