“The real thing: he was a rock, strong, capable, self-reliant, and possessed the complete confidence of every man and officer in the battalion”

A tribute was paid to a Burghfield hero.

THE WAR

IN MEMORIAM

George Ouvry William Willink, MC
2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

George was only 2 ½ years old when the family came here, in July 1890, so his life’s home has been in the parish, and he loved it. And that he has not been spared to live out his days at Hillfields is a sore loss to all classes.

Perhaps no record can be more suitable for printing in the Magazine than the following notice by his Eton Tutor, Mr Vaughan, his parents’ old friend, which appeared in the Eton College Chronicle:

“George Willink came from Mr Locke’s school, St Neot’s, Eversley, in 1901 to Mr Vaughan’s House. Diffident at first, and somewhat slow in thought, he yet showed already those qualities of steadfastness, unselfishness and good temper, which in time won for him the respect and affection of all. He made himself, by pluck and concentration, one of the best in the House at football and fives. In the Lent Half of 1907 he played for Eton v. Harrow in the first “Rugger” match between the two schools, when Eton won by 12 points to 0, and in the summer of that year rowed 2 in the Eight at Henley, and thus at the end of his blameless career came into his own.

“He was always so self-effacing”, writes the boy who was his most intimate friend in the House, “that it was only those who knew him really well, as I did, that realised what a splendid fellow he was”.

It might truly have been said of him at Eton, as it was at Oxford, that “Things, whatever they were, would go all right, if he was mixed up with them.” Throughout his life he thus exercised far more influence than he himself realised. “If my own sons”, his Oxford tutor wrote, “should grow up with that sort of character, I should feel more thankful for this than for anything else in the world.”

In 1907 he went up to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he not only rowed in the Varsity Trial Eights, and managed his College Boat Club, of which he was captain, but worked hard at History, and reaped his reward by obtaining a Second Class in the History School in 1911. In 1913 he was called to the Bar. A keen member of the Eton, and of the Oxford, OTC, in both of which he was a sergeant, he had, on coming to London, joined the Inns of Court OTC (in which his father had once been a captain), and was a lieutenant when the war broke out.

He commanded for some time as captain, No. 1 Company of the Battalion at Berkhamsted, and the universal testimony of officers and men to his good work is remarkable. The words of one of the former (Sir F G Kenyon) may be quoted: “There never was an officer more hard-working, more conscientious, more self-sacrificing, and without claiming any credit for himself”.

In 1916, as soon as he could obtain permission to leave Berkhamsted, he joined the Berks Territorials, in his his brother Captain F A Willink had already seen foreign service, and in July proceeded to France.

In 1917 he was mentioned in dispatches, and later gained the MC for a daring rescue by digging out with a few men, under heavy fire, some buried gunners. Rejoining his regiment, after a “course” behind the lines, on March 23rd, he took over command of his Battalion, the CO having been killed a few days before.

On the 28th he fell while he was gallantly leading, in advance of his men, a counter-attack. “On the first day that I took over the brigade, in September 1916,” writes his Brigadier, “I put him down in my mind at once as the real thing. He was a rock, strong, capable, self-reliant, and possessed the complete confidence of every man and officer in the battalion.”

In the words of a barrister, twenty years his senior in age, who served as his CSM at Berkhamsted: “He was one of the ‘gentlemen unafraid’ and as such has found his welcome in Valhalla’”.

More might be said, especially as to the affection which he inspired, as well as confidence. But this is not the place for it, and after all, his Burghfield neighbours know.

Honours and Promotions

Temp. Lt Geoffrey H B Chance to be Temp. Captain from 27th April 1917.

Casualties

Private E J V Cox (Worcester Regiment), missing; Private F G Cummins (Royal Berks Regiment), severely wounded; Private D Hutchins (Royal Berks Regiment), wounded.

Lance Corporal Howard Pembroke (see Magazine for April) has been definitely offered the choice of a commission in either the Infantry or the Royal Air Service. But he prefers to remain in the ASC, where however he will have to wait for a similar chance until he is older.

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

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“A dirty morning but bad for the Hun so it’s a good day after all”

Percy Spencer wrote a long letter to his sister Florence based on his diary.

May 13, 1918

Ny dear WF

It’s along time since I wrote you, but now I swear to steal an hour and give you a sort of diary of events.

First of all, though, before I forget them list of wants –

Propane Royal Navy dressing
2 pairs long cord laces for field boots
Wrights coal tar soap

Also what does my baccy cost out of bond? What would 50 small size Meriel de luxe cigars cost out of bond? And what would 100 reasonably good Virginia cigarettes cost out of bond?

If you could do all that for me when passing the tobacconist, the chemist & Thrussell’s. I shall be very grateful.

I’m trying hard for your sake to keep a diary that is within the law. Just how far I had got in my last letter I forget, so forgive me if I repeat myself.

On My 3rd Ridley, my No. 6 in the famous Eight, turned up and talked over our Trinity days.

The next day was mostly solid work. Colonel P[arish]’s band played at mess, I think it was that evening the Mayor dined with us and we drank to France and the King, and everyone was awfully friendly and nothing disturbed the harmony except Col. P’s boyish anxiety for Paddy, a lovely Irish terrier, the regimental mascot, which is always being stolen. Paddy was tied to the big iron entrance gates while the band played, and every few minutes Col. P jumped up to see none of the crowd outside had borrowed him.

On the 5th the Padre, a delightful fellow, messed with us. The CO wound up a jolly evening with an imaginary stroll “down the Dilly”.
The next day was wet. M. Le Maire [the local mayor] dined with us and under the influence of his own good brandy made a clean breast of buried souvenirs de la guerre.

The 7th was a red letter day. Many honours were received by the Division, Col. P getting a DSO and our own CO his 2nd bar to DSO.
In the evening another padre came in and talked politics & economies till a late hour.….

The 8th was a lovely day. The field cashier turned up short of cash & I had to cycle to another village to get money for the boys. Me. Le Maire [the local mayor] again dined with us & collared lots of bread. Col. P spent the evening gloating over the anticipation of leave and going [on] imaginary walks all over London much to our CO’s disgust. The APM lunched with us and told us amusing “3rd degree” trial stories.

The 9th produced the best story I’ve heard for along time. Told me by an interpreter at lunch who had been engaged upon taking a census of people in a certain village in the forward village [sic] and persuading them to leave. An elderly lady refused to go without her children. And how many children have you, enquired the interpreter. I don’t know, she replied. But surely madam! Exclaimed the interpreter. Pointing to the yard crowded with Tommies, she exclaimed, “There are my children: when they go, I go.”

10th Paterson the popular officer of my old regiment dined with us.
On the 11th I had tea with my old friends Tyrrell, Garwood & a host of others. They all made me very welcome, only “Miss Toms” couldn’t remember to call me anything but “Sergeant Spencer”.

In the evening another Regimental Band played outside my orderly room, conducted to my pleasant surprise by the private in my platoon in England who is a Mus. Doc. [doctor of music] & deputy organist of St Paul’s. Col. P went on leave. I prosecuted in a case for him.

12th: a very uneventful day because I have heard the full song of a Bosch shell for the first time for 10 months. Had a long chat with the CO who said the folks forward were finding me very useful. A letter too from a wounded Major in England arrived saying nice things about me. I’m easily getting to the not altogether enviable position of having a reputation to live up to. By the way I might say here that KK has been perfectly charming to me.

And that brings me up to today – a dirty morning but bad for the Hun so it’s a good day after all.

Give my love to all at 29 & let me know if you don’t like this sort of letter.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister (D/EZ177/7/7/35-36)

“In this wretched country, in these wretched conditions, I’m very happy”

Percy Spencer told sister Florence he was having a good time.

May 5, 1918

My dear WF

The CO has borrowed my pen so you’ll have to put up with pencil.
I’m having a fine time working hard re-organising our office, and in the mess enjoying the society of gentlemen.

2 colonels are living with us (having a rest), one has commanded this regiment and the other does. They’re like a couple of schoolboys and spend a lot of time pulling each other’s legs.
John would love one of them in particular. As each of our shells hurtle over he counts the seconds to the burst and describes the damage to the Hun. If only each shell did the damage described, the war would be over.

[censored]

The Padre is a perfectly delightful fellow. In short, in this wretched country, in these wretched conditions, I’m very happy.
All the boys of my old staff are here and seem to take a mighty pleasure in saluting me.

Last night we dined in state with the Regimental Band playing. The CO had invited M. Le Maire [the local mayor] – an ancient old fellow with flowing whiskers. It was a great affair, especially the wine drinking and tasting when the French & our own National Anthems were played.

I told you how I ran into 2 of the fellows we rowed against at Cambridge.

Well, yesterday my rough diamond (No. 6) found me out and we had a long talk together.

Sydney has written me again. He doesn’t seem to like shells, curiously enough, but appears quite happy.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/7/33-34)

“Orders have a way of descending from the blue and we may get ours at any moment”

Percy Spencer anticipated his return to the Front would come at any minute. The battle of Bourlon Wood had occurred at the end of 1917. Captain Walter Stone won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his heroics.

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

Feb 24. 1918

My dear WF

It seems ages since I wrote to or heard from you. So I’ve filled my pipe (my nicest & foulest one) with the fragrant Mr Fryers and sat myself down to write you a line.

My principal news is that I’m still here with no news of going. It occurs to me that the cadet course having been lengthened there should be a gap in home recruits which we may stay at home to fill for a few weeks. On the other hand orders have a way of descending from the blue and we may get ours at any moment, and incidentally a few days leave.

Did you read of the 47th at Bourlon Wood and the gallant fight put up by Capt. Stone & Lieut. Burgeery? The man next door to me was Capt. Stone’s CSM. I think he almost wishes he was with him, altho’ he would now be dead.

Well, I suppose we shall soon have another chance of doing real things, and none of us will be really sorry. Life here is frightfully destructive and only endurable by fighting for reforms. So far as I can see the main return a grateful country has obtained from me to date is the issue of overalls for mess orderlies.

We’re having pretty mixed weather. Thursday was glorious and I thoroughly enjoyed our route march – once away from the camp, the country is delicious.

I’ve had a letter from the red haired Australian (No. 6) and the cox; what’s happened to the rest, I don’t know.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/14-16)

“The only way interest has been maintained, has been by wagers”

Percy Spencer told sister Florence he was enjoying his officer training – although he seems to have more out of the camaraderie and sports than the boring lectures on naval and military history. The German warship Emden was sunk by the British in autumn 1914.

Thursday Nov 22, 1917
My dear WF

These few lines to let you know how cheery we all feel in spite of a plague of lectures and the shadow of our final.

Yesterday we rowed a great race. Unprejudiced opinion is that we won: the verdict was a dead heat, and we have to row again. We did enjoy it.

Today we attended our 3rd Naval History lecture. Mr Dykes was there. It’s a terribly slow affair. At the conclusion of tonight’s lecture we had only got to the destruction of the Emden – or rather, to be exact, it was at 6.39 pm. I know, as the only way interest has been maintained, has been by wagers as to the lecture and at what time in that lecture she would be put out of action. Betting was about 6-4 in favour of 6 pm tonight. I think the lecturer must have had a lot of money on the other way.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/6/72)

Just one of the best men

A Caversham-born architect who rose from the ranks to a commission was killed. Haslam’s legacy includes St Andrew’s Church in Caversham, while his father’s family firm is still going strong.

Parish Church (S. Peter’s)
Personal Notes

Lieut. James Haslam, London Regiment, killed on October 30th, was a prominent Thames rowing man. Born in 1880, he was the third son of Mr. Dryland Haslam, of Warren House, Caversham, and was educated at Bradfield College. Soon after leaving school he joined the Artists’ Rifles, and also volunteered for the South African War, in which he served for two-and-a-half years, with Paget’s Horse, and received the Queen’s and King’s medals.

After his return he began business as an architect and surveyor at Reading. In 1904 he was appointed secretary to the Reading Chamber of Commerce, and held the appointment up to his death. He rejoined the ranks of the London Regiment directly war broke out, and went to France on October 26th, 1914. He had been promoted to Company Sergeant–Major before taking up a commission, and had been at the front almost continuously. He was slightly wounded early in the present year.

A brother Officer wrote: –

“His loss is a great blow to the battalion. He was noted for his kindness to all, both before and after he took his commission, Lieut. Haslam was just one of the best men, and we always had great admiration for him.”

Lieut. Haslam rowed for Reading R.C. for several years, and stroked the four for the Wyfold Cup at Henley Regatta for three years, in addition to winning prizes at many other regattas,. He was captain and hon. Secretary of the Reading R.C. for some time and a prominent official of the Reading Amateur Regatta. He played hockey for the Berkshire Gentleman and Football for the Reading Amateurs and other clubs. He was captain of the Church Lads’ Brigade at Caversham. He leaves a widow.

(from the “Times.”)

Caversham parish magazine, November 1917 (D/P162/28A/7)

“Hold your hand out naughty boy”

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about his experiences training to be an officer in Cambridge, and getting ticked off.

Oct 9, 1917
My dear WF

Our examination tomorrow is at 5.30 pm, so I am sorry I shall not be able to come up to tea….

Captain Louis has been talking “rowing” to me. He proposes making me Company stroke. I hope to get out of it, but may not as he very flatteringly describes my boat as easily the best, and the best they have seen here for a long time. Goodness knows what the others were like!

Today my platoon talked when marching to attention, so it was punished by being ordered to march a quarter of a mile really at attention. When ordered by the officer at the end of our punishment to “march at ease”, half the platoon immediately sang, “Hold your hand out naughty boy”, and the remainder, “And I don’t suppose we’ll do it again for months and months and months”.

With love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/67)

The bravest man in the trenches

Many of the former pupils of Reading School were serving with distinction.

O.R. NEWS.

Military Cross

Temp. 2nd Lieut. F.A.L. Edwards, Royal Berks Regiment.- For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy twice attacked under cover of liquid fire, 2nd Lieut. Edwards showed great pluck under most trying circumstances and held off the enemy. He was badly wounded in the head while constructing a barricade within twenty-five yards of the enemy.

2nd Lieut. (Temp. Lieut.) W/C. Costin, Gloucester Regiment. – For conspicuous gallantry during operations. When the enemy penetrated our front line he pushed forward to a point where he was much exposed, and directed an accurate fire on the trench with his trench guns. It was largely due to his skill and courage that we recaptured the trench. An Old Boy of Reading School, he won a scholarship at St. John’s College. Oxford.

2nd Lieut. D.F.Cowan.

Killed in Action.

Lieut. Hubert Charles Loder Minchin, Indian Infantry, was the eldest of three sons of the late Lieut-Col. Hugh Minchin, Indian Army, who followed their father into that branch of the service, and of whom the youngest was wounded in France in May, 1915. Lieutenant Minchin, who was 23 years old, was educated at Bath College, Reading School, and Sandhurst. After a probationary year with the Royal Sussex Regiment, he was posted to the 125th (Napier’s) Rifles, then at Mhow, with whom he served in the trenches.

After the engagement at Givenchy on December 20th, 1914, he was reported missing. Sometime later an Indian Officer, on returning to duty from hospital, reported that he had seen Lieut. Minchin struck in the neck, and killed instantly, when in the act of personally discharging a machine-gun against the enemy. The Indian officer has now notified that he must be believed to have fallen on that day.
2nd lieut.

F.A.L. Edwards, Royal Berkshire Regiment, awarded the military cross, died of wounds on August 10th. He was 23 years of age, and the youngest son of the late Capt. H.H. Edwards, Royal Navy, and Mrs. Edwards, of Broadlands, Cholsey. He was educated at Reading School and the City and Guilds College, Kensington. He had been on active service 10 months. His Adjutant wrote:

“He was the bravest man in the trenches. All the men say he was simply wonderful on the morning of August 8th. We lost a very gallant soldier and a very lovable man.”

(more…)

Many voices silenced forever: Oxford will never be the same

After the turmoil of his summer, Sydney Spencer of Cookham returned to Oxford for the Michaelmas term to finish his degree. On the day he went back, he turned to that faithful friend, his diary, sadly anticipating the changes he knew would be there.

Saturday October 10th
Once more I am seated on the platform at Maidenhead waiting for the train which is to take me to my Oxford. That golden alma mater of mine which can never wear the same appearance for me again. Scenes I have looked upon may be looked upon again but never again as I have seen them in the past: Oxford, the full blooded, Oxford the youthful, may not in my terms of residence, ever again look & be as she has been, & I feel a certain amount of sadness at the thought. I never thought to see her dear walls & towers again. I lay in New College gardens on her cool lawns & drank in the sweet mellowness, & dreamed of what Oxford had been to me & bade [sic] fairwell to her, & here I am returning to her again, one of the very few who will be there this Michaelmas term. Once more shall I see the sights I have loved, & be surrounded by all that is beautiful in this world, but I shall wander sadly through my Oxford’s streets which will no longer ring with the sound of many feet, buoyant & full of life, & impatient with ambition. Already many a one who left Oxford last term with promises as to what he would do next term, has met his death & closed his young life on the battle field. Already many a voice which has sung with laughter in college rag, & which cheered on boat after boat on the river, is silenced for ever, perhaps voices raised at our Union debates will never again appeal to listeners, neither will their owners win a political crown, which they in their youthful eagerness hoped would be theirs one day. Many a one who with a sigh left his books & lingeringly looked round his study, mellowed with many years of smoke fumes, & leather bound books, will never again enter his quiet retreat or fondle his treasured Homers & Horaces. Yet again shall Oxford smile & youth rejoice in careless thoughtless fun for thank God war cannot last forever! and youth is optimistic and enthusiastic. God bless to me this new term & help me & all who love Him to do the work he sends us!

I understand that instead of there being about 4000 up at Oxford this term there will be only about 1000! I am wondering if the Union will be again opened, for these institutions are only rich & well furnished & kept up so long as they are patronised. It seems a wonderful thing to me that after all the turmoil of this long long long vacation that I am really on the way back to Oxford.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EX801/12)

‘Unhappily he is American!’ – more on the YMCA at Harwich

Sydney Spencer took the opportunity of his 26th birthday to reflect further on his work with the YMCA with soldiers at Harwich, and record his impressions of some of his co-workers – and one ordinary soldier – for posterity. His brother Will, also mentioned here, was a refugee from Germany, where he had been teaching the piano at Cologne Conservatory.

Sunday October 4th
My birthday!…
Dear old Will has just come in to wish me many happy returns & would make me accept a gift of 5s, which I would much rather he had not given me at such a time!…

There is so much about my experiences at Harwich which I want to write on, but as I have written some pages & must just read them over & see what has been left out. I have just read through the 20 pages of my diary at Harwich & find that there are a fair number of little anecdotes which I wanted to chronicle, also I find that I have not written my impressions of Hayes yet, and I promised him he should not be let off but would go down to posterity – or oblivion – according as my diary should [illegible] in the future! I will begin with him first. He is a man 6 ft 2 ins in height; a finely built man, ruddy brown with grey blue eyes & a small moustache. He strikes one as being a splendid specimen of a full grown & well proportioned Englishman. Unhappily he is American! His people left England somewhere about 1727. His parents are missionaries in China. He studied first at a college in America & afterwards as a Rhodes scholar at Merton College, Oxford. He has just finished his course at Oxford taking “greats”. He is a Leander Club man, & just missed getting his “blue” for the sake of getting “Greats”. In fact in Oxford the name “John Hayes” of Merton was a name of one of the “Bloods” of Oxford. He was a remarkably refined and sensitive man. He was alive to every wind of thought, & his sarcasm was of that refined & polished order which made me almost long to offend him so as to be subjected to some of his sarcasm. I used to just hug myself with delight when I saw him put on a lazy sleepy expression for I knew then that the game was up and someone was in for it. The fun he had in his “study” of the officers was delicious & I can see him now marching up and down our marquee with his fingers on his chin or viciously biting his little fingernail, thinking out in the dim light of our post-9.30 candle, just precisely the right message & its exact wording to boot which he should send over to the mess the next morning in return for a rather enigmatic one received by us during the evening…

After I had played at the service in the Co-operative Hall on the first Sunday night I was there, on coming into the body of the hall I was accosted by one of Kitchener’s men who wanted me to have a cup of tea with him at his expense, as a mark of his appreciation of my work. This of course I willingly did & we drank mutual goodwill to each other in cups of tea. I was delighted with this expression of his goodwill. On the night of our concert, that is the Wednesday night, after the preparations for the concert had been made, I found at 6.45 that the tent was already filling with men, while I was in a desperately begrimed condition & needed to find a place to wash & clean myself up. This operation had to take place on the concert platform & I had the curious experience of making my ablutions before an audience of some thirty or forty men! In the middle of these ablutions Captain Watson walked in & chuckled with delight over my idea for footlights, which by the way if I have not before mentioned it were 8 or ten candles placed in saucers on a form.

Dr Marks whom I mentioned in connection with Gravel Hill was a dear old man. A child psychologist – I think a professor of Sheffield University, he had a very beautiful character, & spent himself in his eagerness to do all he could in this YMCA work.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)