Sick at the thought of how we are being let down at Versailles today!

John Maxwell Image was not optimistic about the future. His wounded brother in law was our friend Percy Spencer.

29 Barton Road
7 May ‘19

My dearest old man

Florence … wants to see her wounded brother who is still at St Thomas’s Hospital, poor fellow.

I feel sick at the thought of how we are being let down at Versailles today! Especially at the ingratitude of Belgium, and of Italy – the latter I have heard vigorously defended here. But Belgium!

And the Agitators in Britain!

And Shinn [sic] Fein impudence!

What a future lies before every one in England except the moneygrubber and the Profiteer and their lickspittles.


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

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Whom could England put in place of Lloyd George at this juncture?

The upcoming General Election was a historic one – the first in which all men over 21, and at least some women (married women over 30), could vote. The new Labour Party appealed to the working class new voters.

6 Dec. ‘18
My very dear old man

The Poll (but possibly you already know this) will be taken on MTWOF (16th to 20th)…

As for the election – I’m not “enthusing”. I only seem to fear it is Eclipse and the rest nowhere. Whom could England put in place of Lloyd George at this juncture?

We shan’t make Germany cash up, but under any other leader we should secure less than under him.

Beattie and Foch have ‘guts’ and are not timorous of Ultimatums – but these civilian tin-gods! I really half think that one of the Labour men would be more solid and less certain to be weakened than the creatures we are sending. The Hun will play upon Wilson’s vanity for bossing, and England, as usual, will cringe. Carson wouldn’t! O that he could have gone.

Ever affec.
Bild.

Her wounded brother, after whom you kindly ask, is still in St Thomas’s Hospital. It will, I fear, be a very long time with his left wrist – but I can see the great progress in it already.

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

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

Nothing but absolute fitness is any good up the line

Percy Spencer was recovering well, but worried about younger brother Sydney.

Monday Sept 15 [1918] [date added by Florence, only Monday in P’s hand]

My dear WF

I won’t put the date on – it’s so long since I wrote you. Very sorry.

Tomorrow I hope to get out.

Since Friday night I have had practically no pain, but for some reason – probably due to returned circulation, consequent upon my getting up and walking about, one side of my hand has swelled pretty badly and the top wound is inclined to be dirty again. Nevertheless I haven’t a temperature and I feel much better in myself so there’s no need to worry. Also in parts of my little finger I begin to feel again.

I am so glad to hear about Sydney & hope his recommendation goes through. It is a pity he returned so soon, and I hope he’ll soon learn that nothing but absolute fitness is any good up the line.

It was a Captain Davenport. MC, who was with me on Thursday. I was his understudy & but for the accident of his arrival in France a few days before me and my casualty coming a few days before his, I should have had his job – adjutant. Altho’ hit in the leg & back (both slight) he crawled across London on strike to tell me all the news and to talk over “our campaigns”. I’m afraid Aunt Margaret felst sort of frozen out, altho’ I did my best to avoid this. It’s quite obvious I was lucky to get out so lightly – our fellows & officers have had a very thin time and suffered many casualties.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/92)

“One leg off, two large wounds in the other, a wound in his back and two fractured fingers – otherwise he’s first rate”

Percy Spencer was still suffering with his wound – but he saw many others far worse off.

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

Sep 6 1918

My dear WF

A month today – and it seems like a year. But I’m not writing you an anniversary letter. Fact is Aunt Margaret is so faithful I fear she will have told you I’m to have my hand played about with today – so this is to let you know that the game is over and I’m all right. Exactly what they did was to cut the plaster splint away and release the wrist to see whether it was in a good position. I think this plaster cutting “stunt” must have been on the Inquisition list of tortures.

A poor fellow came in last night with one leg off, two large wounds in the other, a wound in his back and two fractured fingers – otherwise he’s first rate.

There’s one thing about my old wrist – it’s a first rate barometer – so I don’t ever expect to get wet at a picnic.

Did I tell you my kit came yesterday. It has travelled very badly but with the Curtis’ good offices I hope to get it in order. I’m afraid I’ve lost your photograph – a diligent search didn’t discover it yesterday, but I hope to find it today.

By the way I’m flooded with tobacco & chocolate. The pound packet of chocolate you sent me & which I hold in reserve has come back, also the last tin of tobacco sent out, so now I have 1 ¼ lbs.

It’s such a lovely afternoon, I think I’ll get up and go on the balcony.

With my dear love to you both

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/90)

“I feel no end of a fellow”

Percy continued to make progress.

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

My dear WF

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

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

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

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

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

A most unsatisfactory letter. Never mind.

With my dear love to you both
Yrs ever
Percy

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

“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)

“There are some days when my arm is scarcely endurable””

Percy Spencer was recovering from his wound.

Aug 29 [1918]

My dear WF

Very many thanks for the lavender bags. The Night Nurse specially appreciates your remembering her as you have not seen her. My adjutant’s wife came to see me 2 days ago and brought her little girl. I begged the enclosed photos from her.

The surgeon is quite satisfied with my wrist & I can see for myself it begins to look healthier. Changes in the weather are my worst enemy and there are some days – as for instance yesterday – when my arm is scarcely endurable, and letter writing is difficult, so you must forgive me if sometimes I do not write.

…I’ve always meant to ask you – did you see that a fellow was killed at Heacham the other week by a low flying plane – “accidental death” I expect was the verdict.

…The padre discussed my religious outlook before he left and promised to have a battle royal for the benefit of my soul upon his return, merrily running through a list of the souls he had vanquished in this very ward. However I don’t think we shall get very far, as I shall first require his Christian qualifications before I allow him to operate. If he passes the test I’m thinking [last page missing]

Part of letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/83-84)

And down came the bombs

Percy Spencer was making a good recovery.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]

Aug 27 [1918]

My dear WF

I’ve had some delightful letters from France. ‘Davey’ is the adjutant whose job I should have got had he not recovered and returned to the Battalion a week or so before me, and whose job I should eventually got [sic]. Dr [Camp/Lang?] is an interpreter, very literary fellow, who has done wonderful things in Spain. He was dining with me on the eventful night when hearing the old Bosch overhead I amused the fellows with a description of our real thoughts and the Hun plane’s thoughts on such an occasion – and down came the bombs.

Last night I got up for a couple of hours and didn’t feel too tired. Also last night I had a fairly good night without the aid of a sleeping draught. Mr Adams is satisfied with my hand – in fact all’s well again.

Can you send me Will’s address, and I should like the other boys’ addresses when you have time.

With my dear love to you both

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/82)

“I take gas like a lamb”

Percy Spencer was expecting an operation on his injured wrist.

Bed 8, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
Aug 21, 1918

My dear WF

6 am and I’ve been washed & tidied up. Aren’t the hours they keep frightful?

I don’t expect to be conscious before the country post goes out today, but in case you don’t get a line from me in the morning, don’t worry dear – I take gas like a lamb and there’s nothing dangerous about the operation. Lastly I feel very fit & well this morning.
As it’s so early of course I haven’t any news except that (unless I dreamt it) there was a heavy bombardment in the early hours of this morning, which spelt attempted air raid I expect.

Just had my last meal (breakfast) till tonight. Sister says I’m a most uninteresting patient – temperature & pulse both normal.
I’m not at all sure my wrist is as bad as they think. I frequently feel or think I feel in my little finger and believe I can waggle it slightly – but of course this may be imagination. Anyway I shall know, I hope, tomorrow.

With my dear love to you both
Yrs ever

Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/80-81)

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

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

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

My dear WF

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

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

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

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

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

Well, good night my darling sister.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

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

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

“If they dress my hand in the morning you mustn’t expect me to be very lively”

Percy was still suffering in hospital.

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

Aug 16, 1918

My dear WF

Had a pretty bad night and a frightful head this morning. However a couple of [illegible] and a morning’s sleep put me all right again. My hand was dressed partially without pain today. To make up for it they “re-adjusted the extensions”. However, I feel much comfortabler.

Aunt Margaret is writing to you about Tuesday. The surgeon has chosen that day to reset my wrist. But I believe Aunt Margaret has squeezed Sister for you to come & see me in the morning. But if they dress my hand in the morning you mustn’t expect me to be very lively, dear.

So Bates & Sgt Newton have written you. The former is a most excellent & interesting fellow, very much under the spell of the East. Newton was the fellow I was training as orderly room sergeant – has done some gallant things and got the Military Medal.

I’ll write later on to Gen. Kennedy, dear.

With my dear love to you both

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/7/73-74)

A much better time than usual

Percy Spencer told Florence he had had a better night.

8 Bed, Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]

Aug 15, 1918

My dear WF

A few lines to let you know I’m feeling fit after a good night and good day. Sister Kirby dressed my wound for me and I had a much better time than usual.

Yrs ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/72)

“I shall transfer all my affections to Sister Macgregor”

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

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

Aug 14, 1918

My dear WF

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

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

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

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

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

Yrs ever, with my dear love to you both

Percy

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

Four days in the trenches and never saw a German until they got him

Elderly Cambridge don John Maxwell Image (a friend of the Spencer family of Cookham) wrote to a friend with an insight into life in a university town almost taken over by the army. He had visited a wounded former student in London: William Cary Dobbs, a member of the Anglo-Irish gentry, was no youngster, in his 40s. He had been wounded in February 1915 at the Battle of Ypres, and was later killed in action.

[17 March 1915]

Wednesday, St Patrick’s Day 1915

VDB [his friend’s nickname]

This letter, in reply to yours received just a fortnight ago, would have been written long ago, but I am only just convalescing from a brutal cold and cough… I attribute it to the bitter North wind that met me on Westminster Bridge and on every open space on my return afoot from a visit to Willie Dobbs in St Thomas’s Hospital. He had been but 4 days in the trenches when they got him. He suggested in a letter how much he would like to see me: and feeling how lonely he might be, I came up from C[ambridge], I may say on purpose. I went to him on Sat, and Sund. Ha, ha! lonely!! At the first visit (he has a room to himself and one other officer – somewhat dirty, but very snug. But to me the long corridor where the men are berthed in two rows seemed the more cheerful). Well, on Saturday I found 2 young ladies – a cousin and a pretty sister – and two or three men in attendance. On Sunday a different sister and, counting one after another, I should guess about six men – nearly all of whom professed to remember me at Trinity, and two had the audacity to improvise (which they called “quoting”) remarks made by me to them on various occasions. Such subtle flattery there was no resisting: although I could swear to having never set eyes on any one of them before. We had loads of stimulating War-gup from the London Clubs. All has perished from my memory. Had I felt equal to writing when your letter came, I could have ladled out to you some prime yarns. Willie, in a long grey dressing gown, looked utterly unchanged from what I saw last June. His wound was in the left upper arm, just above the elbow – a compound fracture, worse luck, but from a rifle bullet, not shell. He doesn’t seem troubled by it. He has to sleep on his back, somewhat tiring, and they had begun to massage the hand and fingers.

Four days only in the trenches – and he told me that he never saw a German! The way they fed him up on his journey to the sea was most hospitable – beef tea and champagne at every town. No sooner had he touched old England’s hospitable shore than every comfort had to be paid for. In France all was free.

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