“There are 10 of us in a hut called a Nisson Hut”

Sydney Spencer had previously written to his sister Florence b(in an undated letter not included on the blog) asking her to send some items from home. Now he learned that he would not be able to take even what he already had when they moved to the trenches.

18 April 1918
7th Norfolk Regiment
BEF France

My Dearest Florence

Here’s a pretty kettle of fish! Just as I have written to you about my flea bag etc I learn today that we have got to reduce our kit! So the flea bag must not be sent! So if it has been sent I suppose I must send it back! The other stuff I have asked for I simply can’t do without.

It is Thursday night & there are 10 of us in a hut called a Nisson [sic] Hut. It is in form like a boiler cut in half but we are quite comfortable comparatively speaking….

I am having to send you my bath & my spare tunic & mess tin, as I must reduce my kit. I have two blankets & a spare pair of breeches & a suit of Tommy’s clothing so I am alright. The gramophone is playing & we have just had the 1812 Symphony. I hope you won’t object to the packing of the parcel. I could only get hold of a sandbag!

All love my Darling Sister

Your ever affectionate Brer
Sydney
18.4.18
6.45

Letter from Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EZ177/8/3/19)

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A right little, tight little house with sandbag entrance steps and a strong sense of security

Percy Spencer told his sister Florence al about the cosy way he and a comrade had improved his current trench.

1.ii.18

Dear WF

Well, how are domestic affairs going?

We’re getting on quite well. Little by little we’re improving our “home”. Having been well strafed the other day, the map expert and I set to work to build a wall of sandbags at our end of the dugout. It’s now a right little, tight little house with sandbag entrance steps and a strong sense of security. Also we’ve got wooden gratings laid in the trenches, so we’re not so much in the mud as we were, and our home is greatly improved. You’d be surprised how each day “we” (that’s my brainy map expert assistant) make little improvements in ways and means. Now we each have a board bed off the ground, & a canvas bucket wash has taken the place of a teacup wash – by the way what would they say at home if I arose, cleaned my teeth, shaved, washed and breakfasted all from the same tin mug you sent me? But as I say, we’re gradually changing all that for the better. We took over a dirty untidy dugout open to the wind and the weather: we shall hand over a tidy, weather proof and shell proof residence, and I’m glad we shan’t hand it over to the people who left us such a miserable legacy. The best souvenir we found when digging to level the earth was a German officer’s revolver loaded in two chambers, one bullet having been bored at the top to make it a dum-dum. I wish I could have kept it and sent it you.

I’ve just been arranging a mouse trap on the tip cat system. We’ve made a beauty and the map expert with a bloodthirsty glint in his eye is toasting some cheese in the candle.
[Censored]

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/93)

A marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons

Percy Spencer was having difficulty getting his commission organised. He wrote to Florence with the latest news – and a story from the Somme.

May 1, 1917

My dear WF

Isn’t it perfect weather!

And that’s just about all that’s perfect hereaway.

Thank you for all your frequent letters: they’re so refreshing. Your last about [censored] is too delightful. I sometimes quote extracts from your letters to the Mess, so you see you’re helping to cheer more than one lonely soldier. Your jokes are always hugely appreciated.

Tonight I am going to a town some miles back to drive with the original officers and sergeants of my old Battalion. I thought it was very kind of them to remember me as I have had so little to do with them.

And tomorrow I have to go and see a still greater brass hat about my commission. I have an idea that there is no intention to hurry my affairs, the reason being, of course, that my experience & weight here are difficult to replace. However sooner or later I expect I shall be an officer or an angel – I have had thoughts of becoming the latter quite frequently of late.

Rene Hunt tells me that [Percy’s brother] Horace is going to apply for a commission.

Before I forget it I must tell you a story of the Somme battle last year.

Our Headquarters were in some ruins off a very narrow and deep lane. On one side of the lane was a series of small splinter proof dugouts; on the other side a battery of guns. One of the splinter proofs just opposite a gun was occupied by “Baby” Huish, the Surrey cricketer (a splendid raconteur). “Baby” tells me that one morning, annoyed by a fellow walking about on his roof and throwing off portions of its brick and sandbag cover, he crawled out and asked the man what he thought he was doing. The man, ignoring him, continued to clear material from his roof and then turning towards the gun hailed the gunner in his gun pit. “How’s that, Bill, can you clear ‘er na?” Voice from gun pit – “Yes, that’ll be all right if we don’t ‘ave to drop below eighteen ‘undered”. Exit Baby to safer quarters.

A sad thing has happened to us. The rum issue has ceased, leaving us with a stock of lemons and a supply of all spice, cloves and cinnamon, no more rubbers of bridge and rum punch nightcaps. Jerome K Jerome’s “Told after supper” is nothing to our experiences in punch brewing – we can all make one pretty well, but there are some – well, I’m reckoned an expert.

A short time ago when moving into the line, the Signalling Officer noticed an ammunition box. “What’s that?” he asked. “Oh, that”, replied an innocent telegraphist, “is a test box Sapper Newport is making”. “Is it, I should like to see that”, said the officer, and opening the box all eager to examine the boy’s clever work (and he is clever) discovered a marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons!

But, alas, those days are over – over for good I hope.

Well, dear girl, goodbye.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/30-32)

Mosquito nets and sandbags

Ascot ladies’ sewing now including manufacturing mosquito nets, perhaps for those wounded in fighting in the Middle East.

All Saints Parish Working Party for the War will re-open Thursday, October 5th, at 2 p.m, and will be continued on subsequent Thursdays until further notice. The Working Party has now been formally affiliated with the Ascot War Hospital Supply Depot, and, so far, eight War Office badges have been awarded as follows: Mrs. Bunce, Mrs. Ednie, Mrs. Grimmett, Mrs. Hullcoop, Mrs. Moore, Mrs. Morton, Mrs. Sumner, Miss A. Winter.

The number of articles made by the Working Party up to date has been.-

130 Capeline bandages, 5 hip bandages, 75 bed jackets, 35 shirts, 45 pairs socks, 30 pairs operation stockings, 80 cushions, 60 mosquito nets, 40 small beaded mats, 117 sandbags: total 637.

Donations made to the amount of £59 17s. 4d. have been received: expenditure, £44 0s. 11d.: leaving a balance in hand of £15 16s. 5d.

Further contribution will be gratefully received by Mrs. Tottie, Sherlocks, Ascot.

Ascot section of Winkfield District Magazine, October 1916 (D/P151/28A/8/10)

The difference between fair terms & absolute surrender

The son of the vicar of Radley, Captain Austin Longland was serving in Salonika with the Wiltshire Regiment, where he struggled with the heat, but hoped the Germans were about to give in.

Thursday July 6th [1916]

Temperature in here continues at 95-105 degrees I’m told by the doctor. Also I’ve just had my 2nd dose of typhoid & perityphoid inoculations & have a day off duty in consequence. Twice clouds have gathered, & once we had a violent storm of thunder & lightning but never a drop of rain. Needless to say all beauty’s gone. The sun glares down, trying the eyes, and our view of the town is blurred by a continuous cloud of fine grey dust. I have told you that from the sea up to the hills the ground rises steadily till the last steep ascent, & we’re therefore, tho’ considerably below the level of the actual hills, some height above the town which is about 5 miles away. We are to the left of the road this time, but we can see the sites of our 2 early camps and get a rather different view of the town & the citadel. You remember the shock I had on returning our bivouacs last Sunday fortnight & finding them gone and all my kit packed. My first idea then was that we were going forward – first stop Nish or Sofia, but when it was known that we were to march back over the hills no one knew what to expect.

The men were more cheerful than I’ve seen them in this country – all firmly persuaded that they were going back to France – an opinion which I hadn’t the heart to discourage, but did not hold myself.
Since then nothing has happened. From about 6 to 6.45 each day in the morning the battalion does its old physical drill, & parade which the officers, except Waylen who takes it, do not attend, going out instead to study tactics with the NCOs, each company by itself. This lasts 6 till 9. Three days a week we go a route march from 5-8 a.m. In the evening we parade from 5.45 till 6.15. doing physical exercises gain, officers & all – & that is the day. The NCOs class was ordered by the Brigade & is most useful – tho’ of course it’s what we ought to have done at Marlboro’. So from 9 till 5.45 every day & from 6.30 onwards we have nothing to do except sit in our hut.

Wood as usual is scarce, so there’s not chance to make a chair. At present I am seated on 2 sand-bags, which raises one off the ground a bit. We have a hut for a common room, but tho’ it has forms and a table, it’s very hot & full of flies. Here the flies grew so unbearable that I ordered yards of muslin from the town & with its aid we ae at last at peace. We feed in a hut off a sand bag table & seated on sand bag seats. I’ve just been busy trying to make that fly-proof – harder but even more necessary. If you sit still for a moment you can always count over 50 on the plate in front of you.
(more…)

The dugout canteen does a roaring trade

The Revd T Guy Rogers was now running a canteen for soldiers in a dugout as well as continuing his religious work.

April 10th

The canteen is successfully opened, and is doing a roaring trade. We started at 5 p.m. on Saturday (just after the men had been paid), and sold 200 frs. worth in a couple of hours… you should have seen the crowd trying to get into the very small quarters. I tried to give them a start by helping to sell behind the counter, but I soon get hopelessly muddled trying to calculate how much chocolate I should sell for 90 centimetres at 15 centimetres a bar! My arithmetic was never strong – I found a R.A.M.C sergeant, whose father had been a shopkeeper, and put him on it while I sat by aghast at the speed with which he calculated to the uttermost farthing. We have now got three men told off to the job, one of whom is quite good and understands shop-dressing. He has made the stacks of tinned fruits look so fetching, you cannot choose but buy.

The place itself is just a dug-out made of sand bags under the ramparts. We have pinched an old door and are getting a lock and key by the less interesting method of purchase! There is a great demand for candles. Soap, too, comes high in the list of articles which ‘Tommy’ feels the need of…

I never found it so easy to make my Sunday arrangements. This is because I have a comparatively small area to cover. On the other hand the Sundays are tiring for we have to take a great number of small Services. The work is quite fascinating though, and the deeper one gets – how shall I put it? into the perils of the firing line, the more the men seem to want what one has to give them…

I had a series of short Services in the morning from 9-12.30, celebrating three times – once in the bowels of the earth, once in a cellar. In the last place I had 18 Communicants crammed into a very small space. I had to disperse with kneeling, except at the actual partaking… Then in the afternoon three more services, 3, 4, and 6 p.m. Then some funerals. I do not finish till about 9.30.

Reading St. John parish magazine, May 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

The sterner side of warfare and the moral support of blankets

More from T Guy Rogers, the army chaplain who was a former vicar of Reading St John.

April 1st, 1916

The sterner side of warfare is very much to the fore. I am kept very busy getting about among the troops, with a good deal of night work up till 12 o’clock…

I am getting some interesting ‘souvenirs’ – one a steel arrow, dropped with many others, from a German aeroplane, on the town last night; another a piece of shrapnel stuck in the sand bags of our dug-out rocked with the concussion of the shells all round us…

It is wonderful what moral support is to be got from blankets, and lying warm and comfortable where shelling is going on.

My Sunday Services – I wonder how they will work out – I am just going out to arrange: little companies in cellars and dug-outs I expect – one cannot march men about.

Reading St John parish magazine, May 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

How to make a working fireplace when housed in a hovel

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with his latest reports from the Front.

Mar. 6 1916
Dear WF

Our QMS, who is not very bright in the morning, gives as the reason that his bed being too short to lie full length in, he requires a longer rest.
[Censored section, probably by Florence]

The weather has been simply awful, and awfully simple – snow frost rain – rain snow frost. And I’ve had a wretchedly cold wet time. However I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my old St Albans outings on a larger scale in grander country and feel all the better for it.

We were housed (when we weren’t out in the snow covered hills) in a hovel with a stone floor, a broken window and a fireplace. Plenty of room for ingenuity, and we didn’t miss the opportunity. Four different kinds of fireplaces we invented and tried – each one smoked more than the last. The fourth, a domed affair carried out in brick bats and mud mortar, was certainly the most impressive – especially in its smoking capacity. Our ingenuity in stopping the cracks was only beaten by the ingenuity of the fire (which seemed to enter thoroughly into the spirit of the thing) in finding other and bigger outlets.

But personally I preferred the ingenious construction of our first effort – a neat thing in biscuit tins, with a sporting rifle case chimney. For acrid smoke producing, it easily beat the band – and the artistic lines of effort no. 2, a sweet scheme in brewery copper covers and heavy fire bars with a broken bucket chimney. It went to my heart to part with it.

Yours ever
Percy

Thanks for the sausages. They were fine and much enjoyed. Glad you got the sandbags. Rather a souvenir, don’t you think?

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

A very hot time

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister with vivid descriptions of the French countryside behind the lines.

Feb. 14 1916
My darling sister
(Don’t tell John!)

Another jolly parcel has arrived, and I feel I must once again say how much I appreciate all the thought and labour these milestones of sisterly affection mean.

You’ll be glad to hear that you needn’t worry about me for some time now. Today I’ve chosen to cycle, or rather to tramp against a gale, rather than to travel by train. There’s a bit of country hereabouts that is really pretty, and I never miss a chance of going thro’ it.
The rain cleared and the sun shone out just as I was passing a pit, very like Cookham Dean Chalk-pit, only not so steep, and red iron ore earth instead of the white chalk. And half way up, resting easily from his quarrying stood a splendid boy in a sky blue shirt and russet cord breeches. These peasants and miners know how to dress.
At another place I was passing a flying ground. A biplane staggering in the gale, coming in from a flight, made two long swoops and steadying beautifully landed gently on the earth. The orderly, however, failed to catch the left wing, and the wind catching the machine sideways, instead turned it completely over. Luckily the airman was not hurt.

…One of our boys got hit when last I was in the trenches – we had a very hot time, and the Huns put in some awfully good shooting – I’m hoping he goes to Cambridge [for nursing] for he’s a “duck of a boy” with the bonniest legs – but of course you’re a girl – sorry. Well, if he comes to Cambridge I’ll send you his name & regiment.

Oh, when in the old German trenches, I cut these samples of German sandbags. You’ll see their tastes are many – and I have seen them a kind of cheap wallpaper pattern….

Yours, Percy

No batteries next time. Then one each parcel, please. Parcels better packed than any. Less packing would do, if it would lessen cost.

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/5/4)

All trying to “do our bit” to help our King and Country in one way or another

Spurred on by the loss of local men, women in Bracknell and district were working hard making medical supplies and warm clothing for the troops and Navy.

THE WAR

We have, we are grieved to say, two more names to add to the Roll of Honour of this Parish.

Percy Treble of the Royal Berks Regt. has been killed in the fighting in France and Harry Rixon of the Canadian Contingent succumbed to wounds received from bombs dropped by a Zeppelin in the last great raid. The families of both these young men are well known in Bracknell, and great sympathy is felt for them in their sorrow.

* * *

THE WAR WORK DEPOT.

The work at the Depot proceeds very satisfactorily and since it was opened on July 28th, many sandbags have been sent to Miss Tyler’s office in Highgate for distribution to the Front. The Needlework department has sent 19 flannel shirts, 10 cotton ditto, 41 pyjama suits, 22 bed jackets to the Central Depot, St. Marylebone, and to the mine sweepers 23 flannel shirts. The Surgical Dressing Department has made and handed over to the same Central Depot of which Miss Ethel McCaul is the organiser, 13 leg rests, 55 splints, 15 hip, 30 T., 20 stump and 80 abdominal bandages, 468 Turkey towelling, 408 gauze and 620 puff (gauze and wool) swabs, 20 caps for head wound dressings, 54 jug and basin covers. The Knitting department too has been doing good work and several dozen pairs of socks, sea boot stockings, steering gloves, mittens and cuffs have been made, also scarves and helmets, for the men of the mine sweeping fleet, patrol boats and trawlers.

The number of workers attending the depot continues to be satisfactory, though there is still room for more, who would be welcome. The average attendance is about 100 each day. The hours the rooms are now open are from 9.45 to 4.45 on Wednesdays and Fridays, the failing daylight making it expedient to close earlier. Tea is served at 4.15 at a charge of 2d. per head; the money thus taken goes towards the running expenses of cleaning and firing. For the convenience of those workers wishing to bring their lunch, arrangements are made for them to eat it in comfort, and upon notice being given to the Secretary on their arrival, tea can be made, or soup, milk or other hot drinks warmed for them.

Warfield Parish has its subsidiary working party and is making hospital clothing, housewives, and sandbags, and sending in through this depot, providing their own material but using the patterns supplied by Bracknell. Chavey Down is doing the same and has sent in a capital consignment of pyjama suits and helpless-case night shirts to the needlework department. Thus are we all trying to “do our bit” to help our King and Country in one way or another.

Bracknell section of Winkfield District Magazine, November 1915 (D/P151/28A/7/11)

Guides to make sandbags

Girl Guides in Bisham were invited to make sandbags for the trenches.

10 November 1915
To village about GG’s making sandbags.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“Every additional sand-bag may mean the preservation of a soldier’s life”

As Newbury men fell at the Front, the town’s women were trying to save lives by making sandbags.

The War has been lately still further brought home to us by the casualties which have occurred among our old lads. We should like to express our sincerest sympathy with the parents of those who have been killed or wounded, or reported missing, among the latter being Sydney Isaac Hughes, Joseph Alfred Hopson, and Harry Brice Biddis; and especially with Mr Gregory and his family on the death of his only son, William George, one of our old choir-boys, who was killed at that terrible scene of war, the Dardanelles. Willie Gregory was one of our best choir-boys, and was a young man of much promise, and we now hold his memory in special honour for his noble death of self-sacrifice. It has been truly said that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church’, and those who die today in the sacred cause of truth and justice, are adding strength and glory to the Church to which they belong, and are giving fresh incentive to us to lead a true Christian life.

A special War Intercession Service for men has been organised by Mr Rupert Adey, and has been held on Monday nights in the Parish Room. It is possible that this will be combined with the Men’s Bible Class, which starts again on the first Monday in October.

A Committee has been formed for the purpose of providing additional sand-bags for our troops. The committee consists of Mrs A Camp, Mrs H Cooke, Mrs C A Hawker, Nrs G W Roberts, with Miss Boldero as Treasurer, and Mrs L R Majendie in the chair. A large number of bags have been cut out by Mr H Godding, and these can be obtained at the Parish Room on Tuesday mornings from 11 to 12, beginning with Tuesday, October 5th, and Thursday evenings, from 7 to 8, beginning with Thursday, October 7th. We hope that many people will come and take the bags home to sew up, instruction as to which will be obtainable at the Parish Room: and the Treasurer will be very glad to receive subscriptions towards the cost of the material, which is between six and seven pounds. Every additional sand-bag may mean the preservation of a soldier’s life.

Newbury parish magazine, October 1915 (D/P89/28A/13)

Splendid sandbags go straight to the front

Women in Dedworth were working hard making sandbags for the front. To some these might have seemed less rewarding than making things for the wounded, but their products were just as useful.

All Saints’, Dedworth

The second instalment of sand-bags sent up have been acknowledged, and are reported “splendid – sent straight to the front.” Two or three private letters written home by Dedworth soldiers speak of the value they set on the sand-bags, and the huge quantity required. Shall not all this encourage us to make a great effort to raise funds and stitch bags when Mothers’ Meetings, Clubs, etc., start again in the autumn?

Clewer parish magazine, September 1915 (D/P39/28A/9)

Married just before her husband sailed for the Dardanelles

The people of Bracknell were supporting the war in various ways, but special sympathy must be reserved for a recent bride now, tragically, a widow. The unfortunate May Harley did at least find love again, as she remarried after the war.

THE WAR

Very much sympathy is felt for Mrs. Harley, and her mother, Mrs Sheppee, at the death of Lieut. J. Harley, who has been killed at the Dardanelles. It will be remembered that it was only a few weeks ago that Mrs. Harley was married, just before her husband sailed, and now he has fallen in the service of his country.

Leonard Taylor is reported to have been wounded in the hand. He is serving in the Canadian contingent, and was in the terrible fighting that followed the first use by the enemy of deadly gas. In that fight he came off unscathed.

Lady Berkeley has written to say that her husband, Colonel Foley, who is in command of one of our Berkshire Battalions, writes of the need for sand bags. Mrs. Mackenzie is sending 100 from her working party, and we hope that more will soon be ready from the War supply depôt which is being formed in Bracknell. From many sources we hear that the demand for sand bags is practically unlimited.

Since the end of April a weekly despatch of eggs has been sent from Bracknell for the use of the wounded in the Reading Hospitals.

Dozen Dozen
April 29 8 6 June 18 4 4
May 7 16 2 ” 25 6 6
” 14 10 0 July 2 9 6
” 21 8 0 ” 9 8 0
” 28 4 1 ” 16 5 4
June 4 10 9 ” 23 3 8
” 11 6 5

Anyone able and willing to add to this collection should send eggs to the Vicarage. They are sent off on Fridays.

ST. JOHN AMBULANCE ASSOCIATION AND BRITISH RED CROSS SOCIETY.

The Penny Collection in the Easthampstead and Warfield Parishes realized £25 14s. 3d. Mr. F.W. Hunton organised the collection and a number of ladies and gentlemen assisted him in the work. The money has been sent to Mrs. Gardner, who is collecting from the various parishes in Berks. In a letter of thanks she says: “I am sure you will be glad to hear that East Berks. has done well in the collection. I have – with your kind cheque – £323 15s. 0d. and I have yet five or six centres to hear from.”

Bracknell section of Winkfield District Monthly Magazine, August 1915 (D/P151/28A/7/8)

Sandbags and khaki handkerchiefs

The industrious workers of Wokingham St Sebastian had produced an impressive amount of sandbags, hospital bags and handkerchiefs.

War Supplies.

Four Hundred Sandbags have now been despatched for the use of the troops, and there are 300 more in the making. A cordial letter of thanks to all who have helped has been received and is posted in the Parish Room where anyone can see it. In addition to the sandbags, 70 hospital bags for the sick and wounded, and two dozen kharki [sic] handkerchiefs have been made. The costs have been about £18, which is just covered by the donations so far received. Now we shall have to suspend work for a time until more donations come in. Miss M. Monk Smith, ‘Ravenscourt,’ is the Hon. Treasurer.

Material already given out should be made up and returned to the Parish Room as soon as possible.

Wokingham St Sebastian parish magazine, August 1915 (D/P154C/28A/1)