A manly sermon and modern religion

Sydney attended to the practical needs of his men while thinking about God.

Sydney Spencer
Sunday 12 May 1918

After a delicious night’s sleep in pyjamas on a semblance of a bed, I got up at 10 am! Wrote sundry letters. Made up my accounts. Went down & saw my platoon. They seemed very happy. Also to HQ Mess, settled wine account. After lunch got QM to change a cheque for 300 francs. Hence we have money again. Examined kits of platoon. Took them to a bath where they got change of clothes. Got their clothes and boots examined.

Tea & more letter writing. Heard from OB, Major Bracey, Field & Ruscoe. Got some money out of officers. Spent 47 francs on food for mess.

To evening service of YMCA. Christopherson, padre of Buffs, preached a manly sermon. Stayed to communion. About 60 men stopped. Had a talk with C afterwards. After dinner sat & talked ‘modern religion’ to Hervey & Rolfe.

Percy Spencer
12 May 1918

A wet day. But an eventful one because I have just heard my first shell since June last year. No connection, but the villagers are moving out in anticipation of Fritz’s attack, due originally on the 8th, next yesterday, & now fixed for the 14th.

Had a long chat with CO in the evening. CO told me forward HQ found my presence at Dept very useful. Major Woolley also wrote from England saying nice things about me. Another bad night owing to Bosch shelling & aircraft activity.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

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Too refined for the rough army?

The saga of Sydney’s attempts to join the army continued, as he was contemptuously turned down for being too weedy:

Sept 7th
Fernlea [Cookham]
In answer to my letter to the Secretary of the OPS&U Force I received the following letter this morning

Victoria Street
Westminster SW
Sept 6th 1914

Dear Sir
In answer to your letter, we regret to say that you would have no chance of passing the medical examination on your chest measurement.
Yours faithfully
Hector J Boon
Secretary

When I got home from Epsom yesterday – I started at 2 pm, called at the Birches, went as far as Ewell with Willie Birch, & saw the Stevens, & got home here to Cookham at 5 o’clock – I found a letter from Jumbo [Sydney’s friend Kenneth Oliphant] proposing that I should join him in a YMCA camp for three weeks. As I have just had this letter from the OPS&U Force people I feel free to take on such work which not only will be doing something, but will be much more in my line of work.

Dear old Willie Birch is by now gone off to do his drilling. I am so sorry that he has joined the East Surrey as it is the most rough of all the corps – so Percy tells me! Percy [Sydney’s older brother] volunteers today & will soon telegraph us as to whether he will be accepted, & whether he has passed his medical examination. God go with him if he is accepted. I must write a line or two to the Ruscoes, & to the Birches. Poor Mrs Birch, I fear she will be very unhappy – her only son being gone. Am I wrong to hope that he will be invalided out? He is so refined a boy, as is also dear old Percy, to bear the brunt of being thrown among such men so vastly differing from them.

(Diary of Sydney Spencer, 7 September 1914 (D/EX801/12)

Dreading having to obey for three years

Sydney Spencer was still agonising over his future, as he found out a friend had joined up. He confided in his diary:

Sunday 6th September
Editarton, Lynwood Road, Epsom

Yesterday morning two things happened. One, a letter from Mr Ruscoe, & the other a letter I wrote to London. Hence I am here in Epsom just for the night. The following is my letter to the Secretary of the Ex-Public School & University Corps:

Fernlea, Cookham, Sept 5th

Dear Sir

I have spent three days in Oxford trying to get some work to do with the following result: Mr Cookson of Magdalen College advised me to get some drill practice and then join the OTC.

As I am not satisfied that I have done all in my power I apply to you to ask you whether I might have a chance of getting into the ex-public school and university corps in formation. I would willingly cycle up to London any day if you thought that the following statistics concerning myself would not make such a journey fruitless.

I am still a University man but it is doubtful as to whether I can continue my studies at Oxford. My age is 25 years 22 months. My height is 5 ft 4 ½ ins. Weight 8 stone 1 lb. Chest measurement 32 ½ ins. Constitutionally strong but physically rather weak. A good walker & good lungs! No military experience. I should be obliged for any advice or information you could send me.

Yours truly

That letter may mean my going up to London on Monday. Mr Ruscoe’s letter was to ask me to come and stay for a bit. As yesterday seemed the only chance, I cycled down here, getting a puncture en route. I got here at about 1.45. I found that Willie Birch has joined the East Surrey & is off on Monday! Poor, poor Mrs Birch, it does seem terribly sad for her. It is a hard thing that a mother should lose her only son! I hope too, & pray, that Willie will bear the brunt of what he has undertaken. It will be a fearful strain on him, I feel sure, & when temptation comes, may he be guarded & kept from all wrong. I am very glad that he is joining with four or five others whom he knows. So he will not be altogether alone. I am going to eight o’clock celebration in a few minutes, & shall sit with him. There is one thing about this corps I am trying to join, I fear that one has to bury oneself in it, also supply one’s own kit. But that remains to be yet proved. This failing, I can make no other efforts for I feel sure that I have then done all that is expected of me.

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham, meanwhile, was hearing of various family friends who had joined up including one with similar qualms to those of Sydney Sepncer.

6 September 1914
Church [at] 11. Willy read out names of those gone to volunteer…

Sep joined Public School Corps – rather dreads having to obey for 3 years!…

Papers signed by Allies. None will make peace without the others. Signed Kitchener – Cambon – Beckendorf.

(Diary of Sydney Spencer, 6 September 1914); Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)