‘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)

“If we waste bread, we are helping the Germans to win the war”

Newbury people were urged not to waste food, particularly bread.

The King has issued a Proclamation on food saving, which is being read, by Royal Command, in Church, but it would perhaps be also as well to put the case in plain language:

1. The stock of bread in the country is not sufficient.

2. The German submarines may make it still more in-sufficient.

3. Therefore we must save all the bread we can.

4. We must not catch horses with bread.

5. We must not give crusts to birds or pigs.

6. We must not throw bread into the street, canal, or dust-bin.

7. We must not cut the crusts off toast.

8. We must eat as little bread as is consistent with health.

9. If we do otherwise, we are helping the Germans to win the war.

The Soldiers’ Club is moving on June 2nd, to “the King’s Arms” in the Market Place. This Hostel must now resign itself to the provision of temperance drinks only. The ladies in charge will be glad of any help in money or kind.

Newbury St Nicholas parish magazine, June 1917 (D/P89/28A/13)

Hard fighting in France

Florence Vansittart Neale was cheered by the latest from the Front.

18 May 1917

Bullecourt finally taken by us after hard fighting – attacks [illegible] since May 5.

French say we have sunk 23 submarines between May 1-5.

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

Trapped in London

A Swiss acquaintance of Will Spencer had a business journey abroad interrupted by the British fear of anyone with German connections.

16 May 1917
After supper Frau Block chatted with us in the veranda. Her husband only got as far as London on his way to America. By the time he had got the papers which he required for travelling to America, the Dutch boat by which he intended to cross had sailed. Then came the “verschaufter U-Boot Krieg”, & now, as the son of a German mother, he has not yet obtained leave to return here.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/27)

Are You GROWING all the FOOD you can for YOURSELF and THE NATION?

Entrepreneurial Maidenhead nurseryman J P Webster encouraged people to buy his products to tackle food shortages.

“The U-Boat Problem is not solved, and the real problem threatens the food of the people to an extent that no one could have anticipated.”

First Lord of the Admiralty, 8th March, 1917.

Do You

REALISE THE EXTREME GRAVITY OF THAT STATEMENT?

Are You

GROWING all the FOOD you can for YOURSELF and THE NATION?

The Nation

APPEALS to YOU to cultivate every yard of Land you can in this time of her trial!

OUR SEEDS ARE UNSURPASSED

And will ensure you Good Crops.

And Crops are largely increased by the use of Chemical Fertilisers. We stock all the standard kinds.

J. P. WEBSTER, FRHS, SEEDSMAN AND HORTICULTURAL SUNDRIESMAN,
124 High Street, & Station Front, Maidenhead
ALSO AT COOKHAM AND BOURNE END.

Valuable prizes offered at all Local Shows.

“Unless the nation as a whole shoulders part of the burden of victory it will not profit by the triumph, for it is not what a nation gains, but what a nation gives, that makes it great”

– Prime Minister.

Advertisement in Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, April 1917 (D/P181/28A/26)

Submarine destroyed

Florence Vansittart headed home after her Isle of Wight holiday, and witnessed an exciting naval fight. She also saw the sad remains of the Gloucester Castle, a hospital ship which had been sunk by the Germans a few days earlier.

4 April 1917
Nice crossing on deck. Saw submarine dest[roy] a submarine; also the Gloucester Castle here under water. Last hospital ships torpedoed off Culver (Sat).

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

Where are they?

Holidaying on the Isle of Wight, Florence Vansittart Neale’s attention turned to the plight of prisoners of war, and the fear of submariners landing secretly.

31 March 1917

Ventnor. A wife of a Turkish prisoner taken at Kut is here. They are so far treated well, but the poor Tommies, they are afraid of them – to fear out of the 6000 taken whether any will return. It is supposed that the Turks do not ill treat them themselves but give them over to the Arabs & Kurds.

I hear that a captain of a German submarine was taken & a bill for dinner was found in his pocket a few days old from an hotel at Bournemouth.

A submarine was found caught in the boom outside Cowes, but no crew. Where are they?

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

Netted submarines

Henry Vansittart Neale’s late sister Henrietta, to whom he had been very close as a child, had married into the Dickinson family.

21 March 1917

I hear that Dover Harbour is full of netted submarines (Muriel Dickinson).

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

21 March 1917

Wrote a letter to Percy, wishing him many happy returns from us both, & thanking him from us both for handing in an enquiry to the British Graves Commission with regard to our missing relative. Asked him to mention to Florrie some books or songs or some other little thing he would like to have, which she could then send him on my behalf. To assist him in choosing (if he decided for books), gave him alist of about 25 volumes in the Everyman’s Library Series, a catalogue of which I have here. Johanna brought a copy of the photograph Frau von Tobiesen took of us at hergiswil, which I enclosed.

Diary of Will Spencer (D/EX801/27)

“The German retreat is only taking place because they are pushed by us”

Florence Vansittart Neale’s Admiralty official husband, or one of his colleagues, was encouraging about the Navy’s successes.

19 March 1917

I hear through the Admiralty we think we have mastered the submarines, but the mines are still troublesome & will be for some time.

Also the German retreat is only taking place because they are pushed by us.

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

Pounding the Germans

Florence Vansittart Neale rejoiced in the war news.

14 March 1917

Almost at Bapaume, pounding the Germans. Outer defences are gone. Our guns doing great havoc. Gunboats up Tigris.

Heard from Maisie 2 subs sunk in Clyde.

C. Menzies told me 9 sunk in 5 days. Navy jubilant. We had new bomb flung from destroyers, if it does not hit the periscope makes such commotion in water submarine comes up. Then our guns go at them.

Henry busy day at Maidenhead – District Council – massage – Tribunal.

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

Germans sink neutral ships

Another German war crime resulted in an attack on Dutch vessels.

25 February 1917
German submarines sunk 7 Dutch steamers which sailed from Falmouth!! Crews saved.

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

Restriction of imports

Florence Vansittart Neale was concerned about upcoming shortages of foods and other goods.

24 February 1917
Lloyd George’s speech on restriction of imports in consequence of submarine menace – all willing to be restricted.

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

Beer and bottled water to be in short supply

Sydney Spencer underwent training in gas exposure, while Florence Vansittart Neale was shocked by the amount of items to be restricted.

Sydney Spencer of Cookham
Feb 22

I go through chlorine gas for first time (in a P.H. helmet).

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey
22 February 1917

Large contingent of nurses & MOs from Cliveden. Saw everything & had tea in hall. Came at 3, left 5.30….

Good speech by E. Carson on submarine menace – very serious, but hope it will get [illegible].

Importations of timber, apples, tomatoes, raw fruits, tea, restricted, meat, paper, wines, silks, only 10,000,000 barrels of beer – spirits also restricted, aerated water and table water.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

We must expect more food restrictions

Florence Vansittart Neale heard some news about upcoming food shortages.

14 February 1917
Henry Nichols & nurse came to lunch – Sir E. Carson says we are getting submarines but must expect to be much more restricted as to food.

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

A national duty, to avoid a national calamity

A Berkshire nurseryman saw potential profit in the war, as people were encouraged to grow vegetables at home.

THE SUBMARINE WAR

Merchant Ships are being Sunk in all directions,

Imports of Grain, &c., are all seriously hindered,

And we are still in the Midst of the War!

Do you realise that this means

A TERRIBLE SHORTAGE OF FOOD IN THE NEAR FUTURE?

In order to avoid this there must be in 1917

A LARGE INCREASE IN GARDEN CROPS!

Show real Patriotism by Cropping your Garden to its utmost capacity; and if possible by taking more Ground.

It is no longer a personal Matter. It has become

A NATIONAL DUTY

In order to avoid

A NATIONAL CALAMITY.

WEBSTER’S 1917 SEEDS ARE EQUAL TO THE BEST OBTAINABLE

SOW WEBSTER’S SEEDS IN 1917 for your own Profit and the Nation’s Welfare. Catalogues Now Ready, FREE to all.

124, High Street, and Station Front, Maidenhead.

And at the COOKHAM and BOURNE END BRANCHES

DO YOUR BIT, AND HELP TO WIN THE WAR

Advertisement in Maidenhead St Luke parish magazine, February 1917 (D/P181/28A/26)