The pleasant mudscape

Perhaps a brother’s experiences informed this schoolgirl’s creative writing.

Dialogue Between Two German Owls, or An Elegy written in Flanders

The shrapnel shrieks the knell of parting day;
In Flanders, mud above his gouty knee,
A sapper backwards ploughs his watery way,
To mend the telephone, and have some tea.

Now sinks the pleasant mudscape from the sight,
For, from the air, a sleety drizzle drenches,
Save where a lorrie [sic], with its floundering might,
Takes touzzly [sic] Tommies back towards the trenches.

Save that, on yonder splintered stump,
A German owl doth of her lord enquire,
“What bird is that, who buzzing round our dump,
Usurps our birth-right in this black quagmire?”

“Oft did our faint hearts to those bomb-shells yield,
In burrows hiding, while the crockery broke,
For England drives her aeroplanes afield,
Often to perish, ‘neath our strafing stroke.

Let them not mock what German soil,
And lager beer, and morning hates upbore,
Soon we shall hear, with a disdainful smile
Some long and glorious lies about that corps.

The boast of daring and the pomp of power
All that the British War Office e’er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour,
A reckless start-off to a German grave.”

Thus spake the German, heedless of the waste
For female ears this eloquence to raise,
And, as with long-drawn screams the shrapnel raced
Around her, she could see no cause for praise.

“Can leaking urn, or animated bust
Back to its mansion drive that floating flock?
Make those propellers churn the silent dust,
Or flatten out upon a cold dull rock?”

The applause of listening generals to command,
And angry threats of martial courts to raise,
To scatter pamphlets o’er a smiling land,
Or works like these their hapless nation pays.”

Haply some hairy headed swine may say,
“Oft have we heard him at the peep of dawn
Blowing with hasty bombs our food away
To beat the Hun upon the upland lawn.”

Then sank her head upon the lap of earth,
An owl, to fortune and to fame unknown;
A sniper frowned not on her humble birth,
And, very hungry, marked her for his own.

H. MOSS, Va.

Clewer: St Stephen’s High School Magazine, 1919 (D/EX1675/6/2/2)

Advertisements

“The war is likely to be the most striking event of the 20th century”

Newbury Museum planned to remember the war and its impact.

Museum and Free Library Committee
Monday, January 19th, 1919


The Hon. Curator laid before the Committee the following report for the past quarter:

Borough of Newbury Museum

Typical Collection.

The war is likely to be the most striking event of the 20th century, and we shall probably not be wrong in devoting the 1 foot 6 inches of wall space allotted to the century almost, if not entirely, to war exhibits. In the table-case there should be nine small but choice objects illustrating the following regions: Britain; North Europe; the campaign in the Murmansk Region; Central Europe; Germany or Austria; Italy; The Balkan Peninsula; Gallipoli; Serbia or Salonika; Egypt; Western Asia; Palestine or Mesopotamia; India; Japan. These objects must be small, as the space at our disposal is very limited, but should be choice. An instructional sectional Mill’s No 5 hand-grenade, an iron cross, and a Turkish cannon-ball, and such-like objects, would be most suitable. Besides these we might exhibit a German shrapnel-helmet, a British gas mask, and a French 75 mm shell-case.

Local Collections

These might be placed in a special case to illustrate the effect of the war on Newbury, and the share in it taken by the Borough and neighbourhood. It would be interesting to collect a complete series of posters, circulars and notices issued by the Police, the County Council, the Borough Council, and the Rural District Council, and by officials and committees acting under their authority; also a complete set of the issue of the “Newbury Weekly News” from the declaration of war to the conclusion of the peace celebrations. These cannot be displayed upon the walls of the Museum owing to lack of space, and the Museum possesses no accommodation for storing them in such a way as to be accessible to students. Perhaps this part of the record could be undertaken by the Free Library.

The special Museum case might, however, contain: Badges of officers and men of the Berkshire regiments; badges and insignia of Newbury Special Constables; badges and arms of the Newbury Volunteers; shell-cases made by Newbury munition firms. These seem to be all that we shall find room for, and ought to be sufficient to show posterity how the war affected Newbury and its neighbourhood.

War Collection – the following special report by the Hon. Curator on a war collection was held before the Committee.:-

Report on War Collections

Now that hostilities have ceased, it is time that the Committee decided what steps should be taken by the Museum to put on record the chief features of the war. In considering this question it will be well to give the matter careful thought, and to make sure that it is approached with due regard to proportion. On the one hand we must avoid concluding that, as the war is an affair of yesterday, it should not be represented in our Historical Collections, still more is it well to remember that, though at the present moment it seems to overshadow in importance all other events, yet it must not occupy an undue amount of space in our cases, but must take its place with other events of a perhaps less dramatic nature. There are two ways in which the war may be considered part of the Museum: one as part of the general history of the Old World, as exhibited on our typical collection; and the other as part of the history of Newbury, as exemplified by our Local Collections.

The Hon. Curator’s report was adopted and efforts were to be made to secure suitable exhibits.


Newbury Borough Council minutes (N/AC1/2/9)

“Right in front of the battalion, leading his men in true British style”

This supplement to the roll of honour’s bald list of names gives us more detail about the parish’s fallen heroes.

Supplement to the Wargrave Parish Magazine

ROLL OF HONOUR.
R.I.P.

Almighty and everlasting God, unto whom no prayer is ever made without hope of thy compassion: We remember before thee our brethren who have laid down their lives in the cause wherein their King and country sent them. Grant that they, who have readily obeyed the call of those to whom thou hast given authority on earth, may be accounted worthy among thy faithful servants in the kingdom of heaven; and give both to them and to us forgiveness of all our sins, and an ever increasing understanding of thy will; for his sake who loved us and gave himself to us, thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Baker, Edward
Private, 7th Wiltshire Regiment, killed in action on the Salonica Front, April 24th, 1917, aged 21. He was the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Baker. He was born at Wargrave and educated at the Piggott School. When the war commenced he was working as a grocer’s assistant in Wargrave. He volunteered in 1915 and was sent out in 1916. He was killed by a shell in a night charge.

Barker, Percy William

Private, 7th Batt. Royal Berkshire Regiment/ Killed at Salonica, July 4th 1917, aged 19. He was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. William Barker at Yeldall Lodge. His father was for twenty years a gardener at Yeldall. He was born at Crazies Hill and educated at the village school. On leaving school he began work as a gardener. He was one of the most helpful lads on the Boys’ Committee of the Boys’ Club. He volunteered May 11th, 1916. On July 4th, 1917, he was hit by a piece of shell from enemy aircraft while bathing and died within an hour. The Chaplain wrote to his parents “Your loss is shared by the whole battalion”.

Bennett, William
Sergeant, 8th Royal Berkshire Regiment, killed in France, Dec 3rd, 1916 aged 25. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bennett, of Wargrave, and when the war broke out he was working on a farm. He volunteered at once. He was killed instantly by a shell. One of his officers wrote: “Sergt. Bennett was the best N.C.O. we had in the company. Fearless, hardworking, willing, he was a constant inspiration to his platoon. His splendid record must inevitably have led to his decoration. We have lost an invaluable N.C.O. and a fine man. He was buried with all possible reverence about half a mile from Eaucourt L’Abbaye”.

Boyton, Bertram
Lieut., 6th London Brigade Royal Field Artillery, died of wounds in Palestine, Nov. 9th, 1917, aged 36. He was educated at King’s College, London, and was a Surveyor and Architect by profession. He was a Fellow of the Surveyors Institute and had won Gold and Silver Medals of the Society of Auctioneers by examination. He was married to Elsie, second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Morris, at the Parish Church, Wargrave, Sept. 7th 1905, He was a member of the London Rowing Club and the Henley Sailing Club, and keenly interested in all athletics. He enlisted in the Honourable Artillery Company in April 1915. He was given a commission in the 6th London R.F.A., in July 1915 and was promoted Lieutenant soon after. He went to France with his battery in June 1916, and to Salonica in the following November. He was sent to Egypt and Palestine in June 1917, and was wounded while taking his battery into action in an advance on November 6th. He died at El Arish on November 9th, 1917.

Buckett, Ernest Frederick

Private in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, killed in action Sept. 20th, 1917, in France, aged 23. The dearly loved husband of Dorothy May Buckett, married May 31st, 1917. He was educated at the Henley National School, and before the War was a slaughterman with Messrs. O’Hara & Lee, butchers, Henley and Wargrave. In 1910 he joined the Berkshire Yeomanry (Territorial Force), and was called up on August 4th, 1914, at the commencement of the war. He immediately volunteered for foreign service. He went to France in the spring of 1915. When he had completed his five years service, since the date of his enlistment, he volunteered for another year, but received his discharge as a time-expired man in January 1916. In July, 1916, he was called up under the new regulations and sent immediately to France where he remained, except for leave on the occasion of his marriage, until he fell in action, September 20th, 1917. (more…)

A very narrow escape

There was news of the fate of several men from Burghfield.

THE WAR

Honours and Promotions

Temporary Captain G H B Chance, MGC, to be Assistant Instructor, graded for pay at Hythe rate.

Casualties

Captain R P Bullivant, MC (1st County of London Yeomanry), killed in action, in Palestine; 2nd Lt A Searies (Suffolk Regiment), severely wounded; Albert Bond (13th Royal Fusiliers), wounded last April; L Clarke (2/4th Royal Berks), wounded; Eric G Lamperd (London Regiment), prisoner; F J Maunder (Devon Regiment), wounded; Lance Corporal Percy Watts (Royal Berks Regiment), wounded; Lance Corporal Alfred West (Inniskilling Fusiliers), prisoner.

No details have yet been received about the lamented death of Captain Ritchie Bullivant, of which the whole parish will have heard with regret. It is hoped to give some fuller notice in a future magazine. Meanwhile his brother may be assured of general sympathy.

It is to be deplored that gallant Alfred Searies should have been seriously wounded, gunshot wounds in face and hand. He has, however, been able to be removed to hospital at Wimereux, so his mother may hope for the best. He had been doing duty for some time as acting captain; and we hear that he had also been recommended for the Military Cross, so he had been distinguishing himself before receiving his third wound.

2nd Lt G D Lake, ASC, MT, has lately had a very narrow escape from a shell bursting close to him and killing and injuring several men. We hope to see him safe and sound home for his approaching marriage, which is to take place (if he gets his expected “leave”) about mid-November.

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

“The war is ending, it seems, but the misery of it cannot end with it”

More details of Sydney Spencer’s shell shock not long before his final days.

Oldbury House
Tewkesbury
9 Nov 1918

Dear Mrs Image

I was dreadfully sorry to hear of Sydney’s death, & it must have been a bitter shock to you, especially when you knew that there had been no real necessity for him to go back to duty when he did. You will be impatient to hear what Capt Dillon told me – though I fear it is as unsatisfactory as all such information must be.

The MC was given, not for any single piece of bravery, but for continued good work during the battallion’s [sic] attack at Morlanecourt (near Albert) on Aug 8-10 & during the previous period when the company had a difficult time owing to the German attack on the division immediately on its right. Sydney put in a tremendous amount of work – too much, Capt. Dillon says: he was too careless about himself, got quite insufficient sleep & really prepared the way for his break-down & shell-shock. While in this over-taxed state the company got shelled rather badly, & a shell fell pretty close with the result that Sydney succumbed to the trembling kind of shock & had to go to hospital on Aug 10th. He was not actually wounded, except for a tiny scratch on the upper arm, which they put some iodine & a dressing on. When he got to hospital he pretended, for fun, that he had a very bad wound & the nurse took extra care in unbinding it, but enjoyed the joke when the wound was revealed. He told Capt. Dillon on his return that he was only really ill for three days, but Capt. Dillon thought that he had come back too soon & in any case sooner than he need have done.

He was first of all in hospital at Rouen & then spent time at Trouville. On his return he seemed very well & cheerful: Dillon saw him again on Sept 10th. The battalion was then very busy preparing for the attack which was to be made on Sept 18th. On the 17th he & Dillon had a cheerful chat about prospects: & Sydney said they both would get nice Blighty wounds & go back together & be out of it comfortably; he seemed quite confident that he was coming out of the affair with his life. On the 18th Dillon was wounded, & Sydney took his place automatically. The company had a very bad time & almost everybody was knocked out. This accounts for the fact that there is so great difficulty in getting any particulars. The attack took place east of Epehy, & Dillon thinks that in all probability it was there that Sydney was killed. The line was being advanced at the time, & in those circumstances, it is some slight consolation to know, his body would probably be buried decently & the exact spot recorded. If you wished to make any enquiries on that point the Graves Registration people would be the ones to apply to. I am afraid I don’t know their address. Capt. Dillon suggests as possible sources of information Sydney’s batman, the chaplain or the company sergeant-major; but I think you have already tried those people. The other lieutenant who was with Sydney was also killed at the same time.

Capt. Dillon can’t say much about the time Sydney was in hospital, & he does not understand how it is that you have heard nothing about it: for he knew that Sydney was in the habit of writing very full letters about everything. The lack of news from the 5th to 10th was probably due to the amount of fighting that was taking place. Capt. Dillon suggests that you might get some particulars of what was happening from the “Times” of 8th-10th – which however he says is full of mistakes (it was their battalion who took Morlanecourt, & the Americans had no share in it). But I feel that what you want is more personal details, & though I managed to extract some from Capt. Dillon (which I have told you) there are doubtless others which might be pumped out by yourself but hardly could be by anyone else. Capt. Dillon is apparently a very good sort, but rather lacks the faculty of unbosoming himself to strangers. If you do ever meet him you may be able to do better than I have; as to actual historical details I think he gave me all he could. One point he mentioned which may interest you was that Sydney won his MC within a mile or so of the sport where Percy [his brother] was wounded; Percy’s division being the next but one in the line. You may already know this.

I do hope that Percy’s wrist is making good progress: I had no idea that it was so bad as you say, or that his nerves were so badly upset. The war is ending, it seems, but the misery of it cannot end with it.


Yours sincerely
R. Harold Compton

Letter from R Harold Compton to Mrs Florence Image regarding the death in action of her brother Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EZ177/8/24)

“We must seek comfort in remembering what Sydney was, & in remembering him as he was”

The news of Sydney Spencer’s death in action reached his eldest brother Will in Switzerland.

Will Spencer
23 October 1918

After breakfast I played [the piano] a little. I had just gone to my room to finish my note to Director Eppler [a potential employer], when Johanna came in & sat down on the sofa opposite me with a troubled face. I was afraid that she had had bad news from [her sister] Agnes, but the news which she had to tell me was that dear Sydney had fallen. She shed a few tears in telling me, & handed to me the letters which she had received from Mother & Father last night, but had not told me about it until this morning, to avoid the danger of the news affecting my night’s rest. But she would probably have had a better night than she did if she had not still had the breaking of the news to me to look forward to.

My feeling, in thinking of Sydney, is one of thankfulness for what his life was.

Mother’s & Father’s letters were both dated Oct. 3rd. Sydney had suffered no pain, having been killed instantly by a shell on Septe 24th (?) (the date had been almost obliterated, but it looked like the 24th. His Major had written that he was one of the keenest officers he had known. Father wrote that he had never known Sydney to speak an unkind word to or of anyone. Mother quoted a loving message which he had written to her from the front on Sept. 15th.

As it was a beautiful morning, Johanna & I afterwards went for a stroll through the wood together. After dinner, Johanna produced a bundle of photographs, & found the photo of Sydney which she had thought of this morning – the one which he sent us from Epsom [where he had been studying before going to Oxford in 1914]. On the back of it Sydney had written “An amateur photo taken by my friend Willie Birch last Sunday week, Nov. 5th, 1911.” During the latter part of the day, Johanna & I both wrote to Mother & Father. I wrote that we must seek comfort in remembering what Sydney was, & in remembering him as he was.

Florence Vansittart Neale
23 October 1918

Heard cases of flu & some deaths in Marlow. Mabel wired for for Jack, but rather better.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

“Thy warfare is accomplished”

The devasated father of Sydney Spencer wrote a poem in tribute to his son.

To Sydney

O well-beloved! How shall we pay
The debt to thee we owe?
How find the words half adequate
Thy priceless worth to show?

Fair as the Evening Star wert thou
Pure as the morning dew
As gentle as a little child
Brave as the dauntless few

Who once at Crecy did withstand
Their proud insisting foes
And scattered them in hideous rout
With their good English bows

So with thy peers didst thou withstand
Th’exciting German host
With them didst share the glorious day
That shamed the foe’s proud boast

Thou took’st thy Father’s gifts with joy
The beauty of the flowers
The glory of the starry sky
And of the cloud-built towers

The thoughts of great men fitly clothed
In words that flame like fire
And Music’s deep, mysterious voice
For thou could’st touch the lyre

Thine was a perfect sacrifice
In thought, in will, in deed;
Thou couldst have been in England still
But thou wert of the breed

Who hear the clarion call but once
To where red Danger’s tide
Most fiercely sets, and thither haste
As bridegroom to his bride

Could’st thou have known, thou had’st forgiven
The foe who aimed the shell
For in thy brave and gentle heart
Nought but pure love did dwell

Would we have shaped it otherwise?
‘Twas not within our choice;
Or, still to feel thy loving touch,
To hear thy gentle voice

To Duty we had recreant proved
Perchance, and tried to sway
Thy steps from that appointed path
Which thou didst know thy Way

“Thy warfare is accomplished”
Life’s battle nobly won
And thou beyond the stars hast heard
Thy Father’s great “Well Done”

FATHER
Fernley, Cookham, Oct. 22nd, 1918

Poem by William Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/78)

“I did not think you were down that line and on the trail of the cauldron horror”

Lady Mary Glyn was closely following the war news. The ‘cauldron horror’ may be a reference to the Red Terror in Russia, or more likely the last bloody fighting in the breaking of the Hindenburg Line. Ralph’s current role was attached to the American Expeditionary Force.

Oct 8 1918
St Mary’s
Bramber
Sussex

My own darling

Your letter of Saturday night here this morning… I see papa Joffre has Flu, & there is so much of it about and I wish you had had the jolly medicine with you. I did send some to your AGF address.

I had been reading so carefully word for word the story of that attack and wondered just how it would strike you, but I did not think you were down that line and on the trail of the cauldron horror. Only the Morning Post believed in the factory. Both D. Chron: & Times believed in the smash in of a shell. But when I got hold of enclosed last night it seemed to me a good hint for BM to AEF & now your letter comes confirming it….

Own Mur

Letter from Lady Mary Glyn to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C2/5)

“We have lost men and millions, but these wretched French return to smoking ruins”

Florence Image was devastated by the news that her beloved brother Sydney Spencer had been killed, just after returning to the Front after having shell shock.

29 Barton Road
7 Oct. ‘18

My very dear old man

You and your wife’s thoughts will, I know, be with us. We got home from London last Tuesday evening about 7. I was standing in hat and overcoat, my back to the fire, getting a warm. Florrie, the other side of the table, opened a bundle of letters. Suddenly – in a quiet, toneless voice, I heard her saying, “Sydney is killed”. I did not realise her meaning. It stunned me. And she, poor dear – I knew how passionate was the devotion between the brother and sister – and how he idolized her beyond any other woman in the world. She bore up, but I could not. To spare the old parents in their weakness, he (like his elder brother) had left all to her hands to manage. What a week!

The Major’s letter, scrawled in the hurry of the battle, is all that we have heard – and the pencil scrawl was but a few words.

“I am very, very sorry to have to tell you that your brother was killed on Sept. 24th.” (How matter of fact is the announcement!) “He was commanding B Company at the time. He was, I think, the keenest officer I have ever met. A shell burst near him and he was killed on the spot.”

We have heard no syllable since – nor could I find any mention of the Norfolks in the Times syllabus of those days. Poor boy! I told you how he was blown up by a shell on the fourth day of the advance, and how when he insisted on rejoining, the Colonel sent him down to the reserve, as not healed yet; but he wrote to us that he was less “tired” than those officers who had been years in the field – and he seems to have got his way – to this end.

But an end how glorious! He was BA of Oxford and was meaning to enter the church. Always he was doing something for others. It cheers me to remember that his was such a straight, clean, useful life. To us he is not, and never will be, dead.

Oh how I remember his leaving for the Front. He was staying with us, and went straight from our house without stopping, at so early an hour that I was not up. Florrie was with him to give him his breakfast: but I was abed still, when he came in for goodbye, and at the last moment he lifted to his lips my hand lying on the bedclothes. My last sight of Syd! He was so cheerful and so full of life.

Percy, the elder brother, is still at St Thomas’. The doctors marvel at their success with his left arm but he cannot move it yet: will he ever be able? His letter to her ended: “Thank God you have John, and thank God I have you both”.

The Impudence of the Kaiser! Announcing to the army that this tickling of the President was his own action; that he is still all in all. Wilson won’t be slimed over. We have lost men and millions, but these wretched French return to towns and villages that are smoking ruins – deliberately destroyed by the retiring Hun. I don’t care about a town for a town. We know that our squeamishness would let Germany off half price. No. We should compel them, by the labours of their own populace, to restore every ruined French town, every village, yes, every house: and keep military occupation of Germany until this has been done, and to France’s satisfaction.

Also, we should demand ample fines and indemnities.

Florence begs to join me in sending love to Mrs Smith and to you.

In all affection.

Yours
Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

Killed in action by the bursting of a shell

Another family was bereaved.

THE WAR

We greatly regret to recall the sad news which reached Mr and Mrs G Wells, of the Kennels, on Sunday, October 6th, that their son, Gunner J Wells, RGA, had been killed in action by the bursting of a shell on September 30th. He died immediately, on the field. His age was 22 years.

Sulhamstead parish magazine, November 1918 (D/EX725/4)

“I am hopeful that the next few weeks will see us very near the end of the war”

A chaplain told his Maidenhead friends about his experiences with our Serbian allies.

Letter from Rev. J. Sellors

Dear Friends,-

To-day we have had some excellent news which will be old by the time you read this. We have just heard that Bulgaria has signed an unconditional peace, and I am hopeful that the next few weeks will see us very near the end of the war. At this stage I am allowed to say that part of my work was to visit a British battery on the part of the front where the Allies – Serbs and French – first broke through the Bulgar lines. It was in the sector between Monastir and the Vardar, comprising the Moglena range of mountains, which rise abruptly from a plain to a height of anything from 4,000 to 6,000 feet, bounded on the left by Mount Kaimachalan, over 8,000 feet high. When crossing the plain I could see the Bulgar lines near the crest of the mountains, and knew that from their observation posts in the direction of Vetrenick and Kozyak they could see my car approaching, and I rather sympathised with the rabbit (the wild one, not Mr. Chevasse’s variety) which knows there is a man with a gun in the neighbourhood, and wonders when he is going to fire, and if he is a good shot. However, I was fortunate enough to escape any shelling, although the roads and villages en route were on several occasions shelled shortly before or after I had passed by.

The enemy positions seemed absolutely impregnable, and we felt here the Allies had little chance of success if the Bulgars made a very determined resistance. We were immensely pleased and cheered to hear that after an intense bombardment of only seven minutes, an attack was made which broke right through the lines held by the very dazed surviving Bulgars, overcame all resistance offered in reserve trenches, and never stopped till the enemy cried for peace. The Serbs were simply magnificent. They bounded forward at the rate of some 40 kilometres (about 25 miles) a day. The enemy was given no chance to reorganize; a great part of his whole army was thrown into absolute chaos, and having lost practically the whole of its supplies, food, ammunition, guns etc., with a fortnight it acknowledged itself as beaten. Personally I do not think that without the Serbs the Allied victory would have been so speedy and complete. They are wonderful fighters, and charming, simple people. I see a good deal of them, as I am chaplain to the British units attached to the Serbian army and have my headquarters at a hospital for Serbs (37th General Serbian Hospital, Salonika Forces).

As I write, the units are scattered all over the country, but my parish used to extend about 50 miles of front and lines of communication, and I visited a battery, a number of transport companies, hospitals, etc., and had to use a motor car for the performance of my duties. (Don’t imagine me riding about in great comfort. The car was really a small Ford van, generally used for carrying shells and supplies, and we had to travel along very uneven roads, sometimes mere cart tracks, and owing to the consequent bumping, the intense heat of the sun, and that rising from the engine, together with the dust, riding was often the reverse of pleasant.)

I find that on the whole the “padre’s” work is very much appreciated, and one is constantly receiving proof that man instinctively wants God and reverences Christ, and it is a great privilege to take part in the work of proclaiming God to others and seeking to drawn men to Him. Men out here have been torn away from all the things which hitherto filled their loves, and I think this enforced detachment from normal pursuits has led many who previously luke-warm Christians to find that their religion alone in such times of stress can comfort, strengthen, inspire and sustain them. Thus I think the war will have the effect of deepening the religious life of many, even if it does not lead the indifferent man to faith in God through Christ.

I trust before many months have passed I shall be with you again in Maidenhead for a short time.

With prayers for you all, especially those in sorrow or anxiety,

Yours sincerely,

J. SELLORS, C.F.

Macedonia, Sept. 30th, 1918

Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, November 1918 (D/P181/28A/27)

“When my enemy is dead then he is but a soul thrown into the boundless space of infinity, & he is no longer my enemy”

We have followed the story of Sydney Spencer from timid young man scared by the roughness of the army, but driven to join up; through his finally ariving at the front in 1918, to an experience with shell shock in August. Sadly, he would not survive the war. This is the last full letter written by Sydney to his beloved sister Florence; a couple of field postcards followed, before his death in action less than two months before the end of the war. Here he describes his current bivouac, and spares a thought for the enemy. His story epitomises the tragedy of the war, and his spirit shines through the years between us.

Sept 15th 1918
7th Norfolks
My Dearest Florence

My pillow is my haversack containing iron rations, my bedding, borrowed Burberrys eyc. (My kit – all of it – is still wandering about between here & Cox & Co’s London!) Now for the door which is the chef d’oeuvre! It is about 2 ½ feet square i.e. the opening of it! The door is a lid of a sugar box which just fits it! Hence when I go to bed, I lie down on the ground & pull myself into the bivouac by my hands. When I go out, I have to go feet first, & back out probably looking about as dignified in the action as does a dog over whose head some wretched boy has tied a paper bag! Dear old Dillon [his captain] chuckles with delight when he sees me getting in & out. My batman is about as big as I am [Sydney was rather small] & he & I are about the only two who can fit inside! Mind you I believe that he & Bodger (Dillon’s batman) made the entrance small on purpose, a covert pulling of my leg. Nevertheless it is so ‘cumfy’ [sic] & warm & dry I love the little spot. Its dimensions are 7 feet length, 4 feet breadth. Height 2 ½ to 3 feet high. Voila ma cherie. Vous avez une phantasie vraisemblable de ma maisonette qui doit vous donner a rire? [This rather bad piece of French translates as “there you are, my darling. You have a vision resembling my little house which will make you laugh”.] …

Two nights ago German aeroplanes (note I say German, I hate ‘Hun’, ‘boche’ etc, it is petty!) came over on bombing intent. A low moon sickly behind a cloud hung (it could not do much else by the way!) in the sky! Planes over. Lights out! The usual boredom. Then about 14 search lights crisscrossed in the sky. Hallo, they have got one in the ray. I had my strong field glasses & there sure enough in the focus of about a dozen searchlights I could see him. He glowed against the deep blue green of the sky, like those lovely flies of May which have transparent emerald green wings. The usual rat-a-tan of machine guns & the muffled boom of shells bursting round him followed. Then high above him appeared a speck of light like a star which winked & glowed & winked again. Machine gun fire stopped. This was one of our men after him. A moment of waiting, a dull spark of light like a shooting star (a tracer bullet) sped by the enemy plane, another one, a momentary pause then a sheet of flame curved gracefully to earth followed by a brilliant stream of coloured lights – some mystic comet from a Miltonian chaos & dark night it looked – & the soul of an enemy passed into the infinite. Over lonely wooden crosses in shell holes one sees in German characters a name & above it the one word ‘Ruhe’ [rest]. I felt that for him. Through all this I cannot help preserving the thought that when my enemy is dead then he is but a soul thrown into the boundless space of infinity, & he is no longer my enemy. Another enemy plane came, another fight took place & he sped to earth at a sickly pace, his signal rockets all colours bursting out behind him in reckless profusion. I suppose he crashed to earth too somewhere, but he did not set on fire.

This afternoon I was in my nothings & a very smart sergeant came up to me & said, “Are you Sydney Spencer”? Well I thought “Yes I am Sydney Spencer as it happens but anyway what the – is it to do with you”, & then “My word, it is Frank Godfrey!” My dear, I was so overwhelmed at meeting someone from Cookham, that I nearly fell on his neck in front of the whole company – all with their nothings on – & wept. I had not seen him since Aug 1914. Thus does anyone from home stir one!

Percy. How is he? I hoped he would be held in bed for months to prevent his coming out soon….

Leave. Think, Florence, I have been out here 6 months & possibly before Christmas I may get leave! And then a rug in front of a warm fire, your sweet selves to charm me to laziness and – oh well – let’s wait till it comes off. I might get impatient if I wrote more on that score. …

Cigarettes. By the way, you said in one of your letters that you had sent Dillon 500 cigarettes. I think from a business point of view you should know that the parcel contained 200. He did not tell me for a long time, but when he did, I thought you ought to know in case Coln Lunn [the merchant] made a mistake & only packed 200, charging you with 500.

The men were delighted with the share they got of them. Dillon, dear old chap, was almost pathetically grateful….

My kit & cheque book are wandering about somewhere in France or England & have been doing so for the last about 40 days, & at present I sit twiddling my thumbs & waiting! When I came out of hospital, lo! I had no hat, no belt, no change of linen, no nothing except for a pair of Tommy’s slacks & a tunic! I managed to go to Le Havre where I spent fabulous sums on making myself look like an officer, having managed to borrow a cheque, which I changed at Cox & Co’s…

By the way, darling, you may send that kit for which I asked although probably by the time I get it all my other kit will come tumbling back & then I shall be once more told I possess too much.

All love to you my sweet sister & to John, of whose approbation – told me through your letters – I am more proud than I can say

Your always affectionate Brer Sydney

Letter from Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EZ177/8/3/79-82)

Splendid courage and untiring energy throughout the heavy fighting

Two brothers were reported killed.

Roll of Honour.
R.I.P.

Almighty and everlasting God, unto whom no prayer is ever made without hope of thy compassion: we remember before thee our brethren who have laid down their lives in the cause wherein their King and country sent them. Grant that they, who have readily obeyed the call of those to whom thou hast given authority on earth, may be accounted worthy of a place among thy faithful servants in the kingdom of heaven; and give both to them and to us forgiveness for all our sins and an ever increasing understanding of thy will; for his sake who loved us and gave himself for us, thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The following names must be added to the Roll of Honour:-

Loughton, Frederick George.
Private, Grenadier Guards, aged 33. He was the second son of Mr. William Loughton of Wargrave. He was a Piggott Scholar and educated at Wargrave. Before the war he was a gardener at Ouseleys, where he had been five years. He volunteered but was not accepted as fit for service. In September 1917, he was called up and sent to France after four weeks training. He was reported Missing in November 1917, and in June 1918, his name was recorded among the killed. He married in August 1917, and his wife survives him.

Loughton, Joseph Burton. Private, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, killed in action March 29th, 1918, aged 27. He was the third son of Mr. William Loughton. He was educated at Piggott School, Wargrave. Before the war he was a gardener and had been in the same situation for six years. He volunteered in February, 1915. He was sent to France in November, 1915, and with the exception of three short periods of leave he remained there until his death. He was killed instantly by a shell. His Captain wrote: –

“he did his duty as a soldier and a man and behaved with splendid courage and untiring energy throughout the heavy fighting. His death is a great loss to us all”.


Wargrave parish magazine, September 1918 (D/P145/28A/31)

“Our children will inherit a war eviller still”

John Maxwell Image’s latest letter to his old friend W F Smith saw hypocrisy among those advocating the growing of vegetables, while he and Florence heard that both Percy and Sydney had been wounded.

29 Barton Road
1 Sept. ‘18
My very dear ancient

We went to the Botanical Garden the other day, and found the great lawn stripped of grass, and from end to end now green with potatoes – that of course, one expected – but I boiled with wrath when great beds, which had been carefully set out with scientifically labelled specimens are now filled with kitchen vegetables – e.g. faded yellow beans rattling in their pods – for not a single one of them, either here or in other beds, had been picked. Woe unto you, S. and P., hypocrites – it is all shabby humbug. At least these might have been brought to utility. But for the publicity to myself, I would fain bring this scandal under the eye of the Local Food Controller, and give a dressing down to the paid Curator…

You object to RC “mummeries” and genuflexions which teach the men at the front to forget the inside of a church. What do you think of this, which I heard the other day from the Medical Officer of an Army Hospital at Cherryhinton? It had happened to the RC Padre only the day previously. A poor Anzac soldier was dying of his wounds, and in very low heart. The RC, who liked the man, was endeavouring to comfort him with the assurance that God is a Merciful God and will pardon the sinner who repents. “Ah, Sir”, said the dying man, “that is not my trouble. I know Him to be merciful: it’s the other chap I’m afraid of.” (The word used wasn’t “chap” but “b—“.)

To me it seems that our best, and only, chance, is for America to crush the High Command and Junkers while she is still hot on the business. If we cool down, the Hun, with our own Pacifists and Defeatists, will be too clever for us – and our children will inherit a war eviller still. It is horrible the slaughter and loss among the families known to us here. Not one seems to have escaped, wounds at least.

Florence has two brothers, Lieutenants in the Norfolks and the Civil Service Rifles respectively. When the push began, we had such a joyous letter from Percy at breakfast, and that same afternoon, as I was sitting in my study, a rap came at the door, and Ann’s voice: “Mistress has had a telegram. Mr Percy is wounded.” Very smart the WO was – “regret to inform you that … admitted 8 General Hospital Rouen August 9th. Gunshot wound left wrist and scalp severe.” Admitted Aug. 9: and news to us at Cambridge the very same day.
Then Sydney, the Norfolks, after fighting Thursday, Friday and Saturday – a shell landed exactly where he stood – with 6 of his men – only 1 of the 7 not killed or wounded.

You would imagine Florrie to be miserable. On the contrary, she is in brighter spirits than she had ever shewn during the English Advance. She feels that they are safe, for a short time – no anxiety: and I heard her giving joy, two days ago, to her Cook Ruth, who has just heard news of her brother being wounded and in hospital and therefore safe (poor Ann’s brother was killed).

We have had such charming letters from Colonels and Generals etc, re both boys, each of whom is a favourite in his Regiment. Sydney (whom his Colonel describes as always working “at Concert pitch”) will, I trust, soon be well enough to return. Poor Percy – they fear he will lose the use of his left hand.

Re the Greben. Admiral Troubridge (so I heard) had her nicely encircled, when suddenly came an Admiralty wire, ordering him to let her alone. He was recalled to England to explain his action – and produced this very telegram. They identified the room in the Admiralty from whence it came: but professed inability to identify the sender. Credit Judaeus Apella – Traitors in high places – who will never be dislodged. It is our own people we have to fear.

Kind love from us both to you both.

Ever yours
Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

“Sometimes it’s a piece of shell – next day it will be a piece of bone”

Percy was clearly feeling a little better, and was able to observe life in his ward with his customary wry humour.

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

Sep 1, 1918

My dear WF

Since Thursday morning I’ve lived – my arm went to sleep and has remained so. This morning the muck from it was much diminished and I am actually beginning to sleep without drugs and to walk a few paces. Two nights ago I indulged in the luxury of a bath and was strong enough to balance on one leg when necessary. In a few days time I am to be operated upon again to get at odds and ends of bone not wanted again. Of course I’m no end pleased at the prospect.

The fellow opposite is a perfect [illegible – source?] of wealth. They get something fresh out of him every day. He affords the sisters all the excitement of a bran pie insamuch as all the things are different – sometimes it’s a piece of shell – next day it will be a piece of bone, followed by a chunk of glass or a cork. I’ve got a small wager that inside a week they’ll find a bottle of whiskey in him somewhere.

I’ve asked No 9 (of Oriel College Oxford) what a “stunt” is and he confirms my opinion that today it has reached the stage when it means anything one likes to make it. Still I look back to the day when it was only applied to an out of the ordinary military minor enterprise. Nowadays, tricks in the air are stunts – so are raids – so is a disagreeable field practice or a route march – or the attendance at a court martial – and to go to big things, I remember that huge affair the battle of Messines being described as a “splendid stunt”. So carry on – make it mean what you like & look confident about it, you’ll worry through all right. I’m quite sure that will not satisfy John’s accurate mind.

No. 17 IBD “L” depot Calais means the “L” depot of the 17th Infantry Base Depot situated at Calais. It also means that Sydney having got beyond the point on the lines of communication from which officers are sent to rejoin their Battalion, has been sent back to the base depot, from there to be sent back to his Battalion when required or elsewhere possibly. Alternatively, assuming he is not yet fit, it means either that he is being sent to his base depot to convalesce, or being considered worn out he is there is do a few months tour of duty. Now I feel sure you must know exactly what it means.

This morning was very lovely. After I had been bathed, I lay and watched the Mother of Parliaments shyly move away from the night, down to the water’s edge and then silently and soberly await the first kiss and warm embrace of her other love. (It’s quite all right, I had some medicine yesterday.)

Just there I had to suspend operations for lunch – cold beef salad & potatoes: plum pie & custard. Unfortunately I had to refuse second helpings. However, as I lay here in the sunshine I feel that comfortable replete feeling stealing over me and presently I shall stretch forth my hand for John’s cigar and dissolve in smoke.

With my dear love to you both

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/85-88)