“A torpedo boat came gliding in like a needle”

William Hallam was on holiday in Cornwall, but couldn’t escape the war.

William Hallam
16th July 1918

It was wet until dinner time then cleared and was a beautiful day. We had crabs for tea. This afternoon I took that book – rather big for a guide and went round identifying some of the old houses. The quaintest town – the old part – I was ever in but clean even in the lowest streets.

On the pier to-night we saw 2 merchant vessels come in for safety from the submarines and 3 chasers and then a torpedo boat came gliding in like a needle.

Florence Vansittart Neale
16 July 1918

Phyllis quite happy at 4 London General!…

Tzar shot by Bolshevists at Ekaterinberg.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8) and William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

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Submarine menace annoying

Florence Vansittart Neale was anxious about the Western Front, but more optimistic about the Navy.

27 May 1918

Lovely day. We had 24! wounded by launch. All out in boats. Bowls & croquet.

German offensive begun. Fear French & us falling back.

Submarine menace annoying, but we have or can getting it under.

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

German submarine base useless

The Vansittart Neales took their Australian guest out to tea.

12 May 1918

Henry & I & Captain Goudie to tea at Higginsons…

Ostend harbour filled up by the Vindictive. Submarine base useless.

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

In open boats for about 2 hours in a rough sea

Three Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist had a terrifying experience as they travelled home from India.

20 April 1918

Sister Alexandrina, Sister Marion Edith and Sister Edith Helen, who had left Calcutta March 9th, arrived safely after an adventurous voyage. They had only been allowed to travel with special permission from the Government of India on account of Sister Alexandrina’s state of health, which made it necessary for her to leave India.

Their ship was torpedoed by an enemy sub-marine in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Africa. Then passengers were transferred to the ship’s boats and all were saved. They were in open boats for about 2 hours in a rough sea. The Sisters & their companions were picked up by a British sloop-of-war and landed at Bizerta, where they remained for 4 days. Then they were taken on board a French mail boat carrying troops and were safely landed at Marseilles after a very uncomfortable voyage owing to the crowded condition of the steamer.

From Marseilles they travelled by train to Paris & Havre, & from thence crossed to Southampton.

Owing to rationing orders limiting the quantity to each House of certain articles of food, & the scarcity of others, the Sisters from the other Houses cannot for the present come to the House of Mercy for tea on Sundays, as has been the custom, nor have their meals there when having day’s retreats.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)

Many anti-submarine proposals have been received

An internee’s proposals for trapping enemy submarines were greeted with a signal lack of enthusiasm, while the imposition of rationing meant the Place of Internment (aka Reading Prison) had to revamp menus.


Board of Invention & Research
Victory House
Cockspur St
SW1

21-2-18

Sir

I am directed by the Board of Invention & Research to thank you for your letter of the 14th inst: transmitting particulars of anti-submarine proposals put forward by alien C. Slingeneyer, interned at Reading.

In reply, I beg to inform you that many similar proposals have already been received from various sources. If however the Inventor will be good enough to furnish a full description of the device to which he calls attention, the matter will receive careful consideration; and I am to ask that, if no objection be seen, alien C. Slingeneyer may be informed accordingly.

I am, sir,
Your obedient servant
Walter J. James

21-2-18
The Gov. P of I Reading

With ref: to the system of rationing which will shortly come into operation, the enclosed scale of dietary will be taken into use at your Establishment – as soon as you can make the necessary arrangements. The Commission desire to leave you a free hand as to the manner in which the ingredients shall be prepared and the Con: Pn: dietary is enclosed for your information. This, together with the present dietary for interned prisoners will be a guide as to the distribution of the various articles.

Fresh fish will be issued alternately with salt fish. The Commission are arranging for the supply of fresh fish to all Establishments and instructions will shortly reach you on this point.

The dietary cards at present in use will be withdrawn when the new dietary is introduced. On the introduction of the new dietary, no prisoner will be permitted to purchase rationed articles, or articles containing ingredients which are rationed. The rationed articles are bread, cereals (including flour, oatmeal, rice, tapioca, barley, beans, peas etc), meat, sugar, margarine or butter, fats, oils etc.

Signed Alfred Wall, Sec:

Breakfast Bread 6 oz
Porridge 1 pint
Margarine 1 oz
Tea or Coffee

Dinners

Sunday Bread 2 oz
[Illegible] Meat 2 ½ oz
Potatoes 16 oz
Rice 3 oz (uncooked)
Jam 2 oz

Monday Bread 2 oz
Soup 1 pint (containing 3 oz clods, 4 oz peas, 2 oz vegetables, 2 oz onions)
Potatoes 16 oz

Tuesday Bread 2 oz
Fish 12 oz uncooked
Potatoes 16 oz
Rice 3 oz uncooked made into puddings

Wednesdays Bread 2 oz
Salt Pork 13 oz
Haricot Beans [1 ½ oz?]
Potatoes 16 oz
Apple rings or fresh fruit

Thursday Bread 2 oz
Beef 6 oz uncooked
Potatoes 16 oz

Friday Bread 2 oz
Vegetable soup 1 pint consisting of 2 oz vegetables, 1 oz onions, ¼ oz fish, 5 oz peas
[Illegible]

Saturday Bread 2 oz
Fish 12 oz uncooked
Potatoes 16 oz
Tapioca 3 oz
Jam 2 oz

Suppers Bread 6 oz
Cocoa or Tea 1 pint
Margarine ¼ oz
Potatoes 6 oz
Cheese 1 oz

Fish – fresh and salt alternate days.

As the meat ration increases, the vegetable soup on Fridays will contain clods.

Fresh vegetables for part ration potatoes when obtainable.

These men can of course buy at the canteen or elsewhere such things as eggs, fruit, tinned fish &c: in fact anything that can be bought outside, not rationed, as in the past.

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“One of the most hopeless specimens of mankind I have ever come across” offers an answer to U-boats

Gustav Stichl, alias Steel, was a German wool merchant from Hamburg, aged 48 on internment in 1916. He was clearly very disaffected, and the Governor of Reading Prison, or Place of Internment, was annoyed by his complaints of ill treatment. Another internee, Belgian Charles Slingeneyer or Slingermeyer, was an engineer from Bruges, aged 36 when interned in 1916. He was classified as ‘alien, not enemy’, and was trying to support the war effort with his ingenious invention, but remained at Reading Prison until 1919.

9th February 1918
G Stichl

As regards this prisoner’s petition, I have no knowledge of his treatment before he came to Reading – but during the time he has been here every consideration has been shown to him not only by the officers but by the other prisoners.

He is a dirty, untidy and idle man. To my knowledge prisoners have cleaned up his cell for him on many occasions to avoid him being reported – and also because the smell was most offensive.
He has been offered every kind of work time after time, but refused all. The trade instructor by my orders has tried him 4 or 5 times at bags – he only spoils canvas. He refused cleaner’s work, and the only work he has attempted is unravelling some socks & balling the wool which he started a few days ago & which I gave him out of charity – but he won’t work full time even at that & earn the money he could, as after the Prisoners of War were removed to isle of Man, all men were located in one hall – this man considered it a grievance that he had to remove his furniture etc to his new cell & to assist other men in cleaning up the wing. The only one who [grumbled?].

As regards his teeth, his wife offered to pay half the regular charges if prisoner would work & earn the other half – he refused & did nothing. He is one of the most hopeless specimens of mankind I have ever come across and most of his troubles are of his own making. He has never been punished while here – simply because he is so hopeless & helpless – except by having his petitions stopped for a time by order of the Home Office.

C M Morgan
Gov.
9.2.18

February 9th 1918
Sir,

I beg of you to consider the following rough description of a device for dealing with U-boats.

Allow me to explain first on what grounds I based this device.
A Submarine is a very difficult thing to deal with, because:
1st It is always difficult to ascertain the presence of submarines without using detectors. (Without knowing how far the detectors in use are able to discover submarines I humbly remark here that if I had been able to work out my detector referred to in my letter to you on 4th of December 1916, I am almost certain that I would have had the means of not only detecting them but of “spotting” them also. Anyhow a detector, so constructed that by taking for instance the [main?] length for calculating the distance and the strength of sound for giving the direction, would enable vessels to keep out of the way in most cases.)

2nd A submarine is almost or wholly invisible to the vessel she intends to attack.

3rd Minefields are no barrier to submarines.

4th If a submarine is provided with a detector her commander must not fear to come to the surface and is guarded against unexpected attacks.

5th When destroyers or submarine chasers approach a submarine can dive and evade also her enemy.

Those five points are already enough to convince me that the best and surest way for dealing with submarines would be under the water, because it is the only way in which she cannot escape destruction, being caught unawares.

My device therefore would consist of a floating peculiar shaped nutlike structure, which lower part would reach the depth at which a submarine can safely remain under water, so as to prevent her from going under it or passing over it.

Floating body to be made out of mat[erial?] as invisible as possible from the surface.

Special mines to be attached to the aforesaid structure in such a way that, in the case of a submarine striking the structure they would without fail destroy her.

If this device were tried one would have the means of laying minefields against submarines as well as one has minefields against other vessels and the now dangerous zones could be well protected without loss of life or danger and operations by submarines as for instance at present in the Irish Channel could be made impossible.
If laid near a submarine base I am convinced that very few of them, if any at all, would pass through.

Nothing whatever will happen to any surface vessel on striking this structure.

Willing to answer any questions and to give all further necessary information on this subject if required, I remain, Sir,

Your humble servant
Charles Slingeneyer

Reading Prison [Place of Internment] letter book (P/RP1/8/2/1)

“2 Divisions ran away & so caused Cambrai defeat”

Florence Vansittart Neale was puzzled as how to manage Bisham Abbey with less food available, while the news – and rumours – continued to fascinate her.

1 January 1918
Worried morning over rations. Very difficult but must do it. Edith arranging next Sunday’s “chain of prayer”.

January 1918 [inserted at front, no date]

Hear Haig in London, very sick about things. He had refused to send Divisions to Italy, but had to. Wanted to resign. He said a great deal too much fuss made about Sir J Byng’s push & also a great deal about the subsequent retreat!

Hear we send up stuff against [balloons?] which make the men so deadly seasick they have to come down. On return Irish leave this Xmas, 1000s stuck at Holyhead 5 days. Too many submarines there. At last escorted over by American destroyer & gun boats.

Hear 2 Divisions ran away & so caused Cambrai defeat. Hear General [illegible] sent back after it., then returned by Army Council & again sent back after St Quentin retreat! Hunter-Weston “honouring heroic deed” (drunken Tommie). Foch becoming Generalissimo (March 1918).

Meat & butter rations begin.

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

Shot at dawn for “cowardice” caused by shell shock

John Maxwell Image wrote to his friend W F Smith, who was staying at Hindhead in south west Surrey, not far from the big army camp at Aldershot. Normally very gung-ho in support of the war, Image’s compassion had been aroused by stories of court martials and teenagers shot at dawn. The Revd Thomas Pym (1885-1945), in peacetime the chaplain at Image’s college, was serving as an army chaplain.

29 Barton Rd
6 Dec. ‘17
My very dear old man

The military cars to and fro Aldershot must surely be more or less an interesting sight.

The poor Tommy comes under this [?not clear] penalty quite frequently. Not often from cowardice, poor boy. Most often (I believe) it is from slinking off to some girl in the rear which is called “desertion”, tho’ he would have returned right enough.

Just before I was married there was shown to me a letter from a young Trin. Officer at the Front, describing a visit from one of our Trin. Chaplains, begging this young friend of his to “pray for him”, for he had to pass the night with a boy of 18 who was to be shot at dawn. Pym spoke then of a night with another poor child (of 17!) who had been shot the previous week, for what the CM was pleased to style Cowardice – though he had twice behaved with exceptional bravery, and it was only after seeing his two brothers killed at his side that on this occasion his nerve broke down. In an officer it would have been called “shell-shock”, and the interesting sufferer sent home to a cushy job in England. I know of 2 thus treated. Pym’s words brought the tears to my eyes. I see that he has told the story (slightly altered) in a book that has recently come out by him, Characteristics of the Army in Flanders.

Sir Arthur Yapp at the Guildhall last Friday. The Signora went (non ego) and returned enthusiastic – she and her Cook – over the great man’s dignity and sweetness. That evening he lectured the students (and I believe also them of Girton) in Newnham College – and left by the 9.9 for London.

One remark of his: “The vessels sunk by the U-boats during the week ending Nov. 24 (I forget how many that was) might have carried enough bread to feed Cambridge for nearly 7 years, or enough meat for 8 ½ years, or enough sugar for 64 years.”

He said that Food Tickets have changed Germany to a nation of forgers. He dreaded the like fate for England.

Yours ever
Bild

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

“The attempt of our enemies to starve us has practically failed”

In Earley people were grateful for good weather, which looked set to relieve the pressure on the food supply.

The Vicar’s Letter

My dear friends

Autumn is drawing on apace, and we have again reached the time for our Harvest Thanksgiving, which is fixed for Sunday, October 7th.

This year we ought to be especially thankful. At one time our outlook as regards food appeared to be far from satisfactory, but God has blessed us during the past month with such weather that in most districts the greater part of the harvest has been gathered in without much damage, and the attempt of our enemies to starve us by unrestricted submarine warfare, though still serious, has practically failed. Surely we ought to join together in our thanksgivings, and especially at Holy Communion, with a deepened sense of what we owe to God for our nation and for ourselves.

And while we are thanking God for our material harvest, let us all think of those fields which are ripe for the spiritual harvest in India, Canada, South Africa, and throughout the world… Do we realise as we ought the enormous responsibility that will rest upon our country after the war for the spiritual harvest of the world?

Your friend and Vicar
W W Fowler.

Earley St Peter parish magazine, October 1917 (D/P191/28A/24)

Escape in a barrel

Florence Vansittart Neale’s nephew Lieutenant Paul Eddis was a submarine officer who had been interned in neutral Denmark for some time. He made a daring escape hidden in a barrel.

Florence Vansittart Neale
30 September 1917

Exciting letter of Paul’s escape. He home Friday. Got in barrel….

Too full moon! Fear raids. General Maude’s victory in Mesopotamia very good.

30th week of air raids. Met by barrage of fire. 3 balloons brought down.

Heard of Paul’s arrival & escape in barrel to waiting yacht 15 hours! Evading destroyers [illegible] to Helsingborn.

William Hallam
30th September 1917

Up at 10 past 5 and working from 6 till 1. Beautiful weather still and the nights as light as can be with a full harvest moon – just right for those air raiders. After dinner – roast lamb fowl too dear; 1/9 a lb, I went to bed … A gloriously bright moonlight night.

Diaries of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8); and William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

Safe in Sweden after escaping

Florence Vansittart Neale was thrilled to hear that her nephew Paul Eddis, who had been interned in Denmark with his submarine crew, had managed to escape!

22 September 1917

Exciting news about Paul’s escape. Safe at Gothenberg!!

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

Scarborough under attack

Sir Henry Vansittart Neale served on the local (Maidenhead) Tribunal hearing conscientious objectors’ and essential workers’ cases against conscription. Meanwhile, the Yorkshire town of Scarborough was being attacked from the sea.

5 September 1917

Men out on river. About 40 came. Henry at Tribunal & Food Production meetings…

Bombardment of Scarborough.

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

A German commander with a sense of humour

On their trip to Cornwall, Florence and John Maxwell Image heard an entertaining if unlikely tale.

29 Barton Road
27 Aug. ‘17
My most dear old man

On Thursday to Landsend, stopping our car for tea at the famous Gurrend’s Head. Here was current a pleasing myth. It is a desolate scene, with one tiny farm house and a shabby aleshop calling itself an Inn. To this latter came, recently, an affable stranger in mufti, who called for a drink, wrote his name in the guest book, and went. Not until afterwards was he discovered to have been the Commander of a U-boat in the sea below! That man had a sense of humour.

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

“Scalps” secured by our airships

Even an idyllic seaside holiday for the Images was interrupted by the war.

Polcurrian Hotel
Mullion
S. Cornwall

Monday, Aug. 6, 1917

My very dear old man

O but this is a heavenly morning! Brilliant sky, such as I never saw in England before, in August – and the bay underneath my window of such glorious dazzling blue as I think would equal – or put to shame – South Seas or Tropics – and underneath it all, the sneaking deadly submarine. One came in here ten days ago, but had to quit re infecta, without any murders.

But a couple of young ladies from this hotel actually saw, last week, at the Lizard, 6 miles away, a U-boat torpedo strike a steamer and heard the explosion. And a man, who had cycled over, described to me the passionate race of 3 English destroyers to the rescue and our own Mullion airship hovering overhead. They did not get that submarine, though: or at least will not own to it. Discipline makes them very reticent. Still, in less guarded moments, hints are dropped as to several “scalps” secured by one or other of the airships….

Letters tell us … of two raids there – raids never mentioned yet in any newspaper!

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

‘I shall probably have to do the common or garden “over the bags” stunt one merry morning’

Percy Spencer’s hopes of a commission seemed to have been dashed, but now at last he was going to get the opportunity – although he would have to undergo extra training, and would probably not get the administrative job he was most suited for.

June 11, 1917
My dear WF

You’ll think I’m a dreadful correspondent, but you’ll have guessed the reason of my silence – I’ve been terribly busy.

My commission papers went up with an application for a direct commission to be granted to me from the OC of the Battalion I was and am wanted for. (By the way this CO is now a Brigadier.)

Well, there is a rule that no direct commissions are to be granted. So altho’ my application was recommended by the Divisional Corps & Army Commanders & a special application was made to the war Office, the WO has refused to allow me to hold commissioned rank, unless I first come home for a cadet course. The reason given being that it has been found undesirable to grant direct commissions whatever the circumstances to men who have been mainly engaged upon clerical work. Isn’t it funny – and isn’t it a nasty sort of reflection upon “clerks”?

Just then was not an opportune moment for going into such matters. So it was put on one side until today.

Tonight my papers have gone up again for a cadet course in England; and if I dodge the shells & the submarines I ought to be in England within 3 weeks for a cadet course somewhere.

The crab of the business is that it will only be by the veriest luck that I shall get an administrative appointment at the end of it, and shall probably have to do the common or garden “over the bags” stunt one merry morning.

Anyhow, I feel I ought to hold commissioned rank, whether as a fighting or an administrative officer – and this stigma upon clerks must be removed, what!

If and when I come home I shall have some long stories to tell, some of which I’m sure John will wholly approve….

Yours ever
Percy

The asparagus was great. Never was it eaten with such relish or in such extraordinary circumstances.

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/38-40)