Oh! what a blessing when families can be together in this dreadful time of strife & separation

Beer was in very short supply.

William Hallam
9th June 1918

Much colder to-day and heavy storms which were wanted badly but a N. wind with it. Didn’t go out all day except at 1 with Geo. to the Frome to have a drink. He says the first comfortable drink in a pub he’s had for months, for in Coventry if a pub has beer in it’s a fight for it.

Joan Daniels
June 9th Sunday

[After description of pleasant family day]

Oh! what a blessing when families can be together in this dreadful time of strife & separation.

Diaries of William Hallam of Swindon (D/EX1415/25); and Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

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A bolt from the blue

Aeroplanes overhead were becoming common both in France and on the home front.

Sydney Spencer
Tuesday 4 June 1918

I am seated in a waggon for 40 hommes or 8 chevaux at Candas! How do I come to be here? Well, hear my story with patience, my dear diary!

I rose at 6.30 as usual, on parade etc at 7 as usual, company training as usual till 10 am, & then a bolt from the blue! In other words a note from Mark Tapley to the effect that I would report Marronville for a gas course on the 7th, taking at least 36 hours to get there!

I promptly made up mess accounts. Came to P[u?]chvillers by mess cart with Fox, my batman. Caught a train at 4.30 & have now been waiting nearly 2 hours for this train to start!

The train started and we moved on in fits & starts. How many miles we moved I do not know, as I slept by fits and starts. Just before midnight, however, I woke to the tune of Fritz aeroplanes. He dropped sundry bombs starting a fire not far off to N. West.

William Hallam
4th June 1918

Last night I heard an aeroplane going over. I got up and looked out of the window and saw it drop a star light.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and William Hallam of Swindon (D/EX1415/25)

Americans fighting now

Was the tide on the turn at last?

Florence Vansittart Neale
3 June 1918

Rather better news – done some counter-attacks. Americans fighting now.

William Hallam
3rd June 1918

Still on overtime…

To-night I wrote to my nephew in Mesopotamia who is in hospital wounded in the arm.

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

“Even here aeroplanes are more ubiquitous than motor cars and went droning thro the blue at a great height like beetles”

On an antiquarian trip to his home region in the Vale of White Horse, William Hallam took the time to pay his respects at a war shrine.

18th May 1918

Got up at 7. Went to Challow sta. at 20 past 9. Walked thro’ Goosey across the fields – then onto Charney. Here I looked in the church as a young woman was cleaning it and getting ready for a wedding she told me. Notice that queer carving in chapel. Then I copied down all the Inscriptions I could decipher. The I went to a cottage and enquired the way to Cherbury Camp but the old man said I meant Chawberry. He told me the nearest way but I mistook it and went a devil of a way round. However I enquired again and got there alright about 1 o’clock. I was surprised to find such a perfect camp still existing in the midst of agricultural land. I sat on the bank and ate my lunch of bread and butter and a hard boiled egg and revelled in the sun. The cuckoo had been on all day long. The first day I’ve heard him this spring. There was not a cloud in the sky and even here aeroplanes are more ubiquitous than motor cars and went droning thro the blue at a great height like beetles. I sat here and thought for an hour. I looked over the ploughed field in the encampment and found one flint chip.

I came back into Charney the way I should have come – much nearer- and went into the Pub and had a pint and a ½ of ale. This landlady Shepherd knew me by seeing me regularly at St. Paul’s as they lived at Swindon until 3 years ago when they took this Pub. Her husband a smith now working she told me at Cheltenham in aeroplane works and rides on a bike to & from every week end- 45 miles. I asked about this old house near the Church. She told me a lady had bought it 2 or 3 years ago and spent a lot of money on it – then before she had finished it got tired of it and sold it to a Col. Colmes for 1800£ and now he is spending as much as he gave for it in restoring it. Fortunately in antiquarian lines the chapel & all being put back as it should be. When I started back I sat on the Oak bridge and saw the wedding – not a khaki one – party came out – quite a village wedding – all walking.

It was a scalding hot day and as I sat on a heap of stones resting and having a smoke 2 Swindon men passed by and had a chat on their way to Longworth. Further along the road I turned off and went to Denchworth & looked over the Church & churchyard and here I saw the first war shrine. A frame with a crucifix and list of the names of all the young men gone from the village with a prayer for the passer by to offer up for them so took off my hat and said it. Before it on a ledge were 2 brass vases of fresh flowers. I got back to Challow St. at 6 o’clock and got up home here at ½ past 7. The Country is at its best now especially the Vale.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

An air-ship passing over

Our new diarist Joan Daniels, aged 15, lived at 2 Southern Hill, Reading, where the family had moved from London to get away from the bombs. She was a pupil at the private Wilton House School.

Joan Daniels
1918
May 14th Tuesday

Had a postcard from [family friend] Mrs McKenzie saying that Cyril had been awarded the DSO. We were all ever so delighted as he has done so well altogether, going out as a 2nd Lieutenant & is now a Captain. All accounts of his deeds which earned him his medal on Thursday when she comes for the day.

William Hallam
14th May 1918

I heard a great noise of aeroplanes going over in the night but this morning I hear it was an air-ship passing over – following the Rly. so I wish I had got up and looked out of window as I had a good mind to but felt too lazy.

Diaries of Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1); and William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

Too exciting to enjoy

Patriotic enthusiasm in Swindon was aroused by the public exhibition of a tank and a flying dispay.

4th May 1918

An ideal day. After dinner I chopped up fire wood for a week then shaved and washed and dressed and with wife and Mur & Marj. went down to the Public Offices. Great crowds there. Wife & I went into the Pub. Off. and each got a W.S.C., then down into the enclosure where the Tank was and had a tank stamp put on it and poked in our heads and looked round it. Not much room for the poor devils who worked them…

After tea I went to Bath Rd reading room, then hearing a lot of flying going on I went down the Town, and was glad I did, for an aviator was giving a most marvellous display of flying at the Town Hall. He seemed capable of doing anything with his machine. Looping the loop and flying down under the telephone wires and round the clock and coming up over the roof and round the corners enough to frighten one to death. Expected him to come a crash on the ground or into the walls every minute. It was too exciting to enjoy it. Men like this I should think too valuable to risk losing.

I heard 120,000£ has been invested this week in Swindon in the War Loan.

Diary of William Hallam (D/EX1415/25)

A most queer looking article: first sight of a tank

Percy Spencer was struggling with morale in France, while a tank visited Swindon.

Percy Spencer
29 April 1918

Letter to COs re deficiencies. Battalion moved by lorry to [Warlos?]. Rotten trip. Feeling wretched myself. Had to bolt for it during a check, close to French troops playing games & using [untrailleuse?]. Splendid troops. Long hopped till I caught column. A bad move – billets not fixed up.

William Hallam
29th April 1918

This morning bitterly cold – enough for snow – the wind still N or N.E. I cam home at ½ past 5 to-night and rushed over my tea and washed and dressed and with wife went over Hay Lane into Victoria Rd to see the Tank Julian come down from the Square to the Public Offices. A most queer looking article. I never saw such a crowd in Swindon before. Could hardly move out of the crowd all round the Town Hall when once we got in. The kids and hooligans swarmed up those lime trees round the space at the back and broke them about something scandalous.

Florence Vansittart Neale
29 April 1918
Modeste left. George Harding came to say goodbye. Going depot at Dover. Soldiers came [and] cleared later. Some out on boat, bowls, billiards.

Diaries of Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); William Hallam (D/EX1415/25); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Aeroplanes advertising Tank Week

Airborne propaganda was not quite as successful as planned, thanks to the British weather.

William Hallam
28th April 1918

Another cold day and it rained hard as I went to Church at XI.

Aeroplanes came over this afternoon dropping leaflets advertising Tank Week this coming week. Unfortunately just as the aeroplanes came over the town from the W. a heavy storm of wind and rain came on and as the 5 planes showered down the leaflets the largest quantity went away like a flock of birds towards Wootton Bassett, which I should imagine some of them reached.

It cleared afterwards and wife, Marj. & I went out for a walk along Victoria road and the Bath Rd. Met Lieut Girling down by the Public Offices where they were getting ready for the Tank and he came home to tea and supper with us.

Florence Vansittart Neale
28 April 1918

News about the same. Still holding – we not gone further back.

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

The best results are obtained only by getting into touch with the men personally

Thousands of wounded or sick troops had now returned home. the nation owed them support for their service. Some needed medical help, others re-training for new occupations, or help finding jobs.

The Disablements Sub-committee beg to report that they have been notified of approximately 2,524 disabled soldiers and sailors discharged into the county. Of the cases now entered upon the Register, which exclude those being investigated, the numbers specifying disabilities are as follows:

Amputation of leg or foot 51
Amputation of arm or hand 34
Other wounds or injuries to leg or foot 353
Other wounds or injuries to arm or hand 147
Other wounds or injuries to head 69
Other wounds or injuries 192
Blindness and other eye affections 77
Heart diseases 217
Chest complaints 93
Tuberculosis 101
Deafness and affections of the ear 72
Rheumatism 151
Epilepsy 37
Neurasthenia 47
Other mental affections 31
Other disabilities 532

Of this number all have been provided with a Medical Attendant [i.e. a doctor] under the National Health Insurance Act, and special treatment, including the supply or repair of artificial limbs and surgical appliances, has been provided in accordance with the recommendations of Military Authorities, Medical Boards or ordinary medical Attendants.

From the 1 April 1917, 280 cases have received Institutional treatment – both in and out-patient – at Military Hospitals, Civil Hospitals, Sanatoria, Cottage Hospitals or Convalescent Homes.
The total number of tuberculous soldiers and sailors to date is 101, and of these 72 have received Institutional treatment within the County under the County Scheme and three have received Institutional treatment outside the County Scheme. This treatment is provided through the County Insurance Committee.

The Committee has assisted with Buckinghamshire War Pensions Committee in the provision of a new wing for Orthopaedic Treatment at the King Edward VII Hospital, Windsor. This, which was urgently needed, and will be of the greatest benefit to men in that part of the county, will be opened in the course of two or three weeks. The Committee has also been instrumental with the Buckinghamshire Committee in obtaining the approval of the Minister of Pensions to a proposed Scheme for the provision, equipment, and establishment of a special hospital for totally disabled soldiers and sailors at Slough and an assurance from the Ministry of adequate fees for maintenance thereof. Her Royal Highness Princess Alice is forming a provisional Committee, and we have every hope that the proposed arrangements will e speedily carried into effect.
(more…)

The bridegroom was under orders to hold himself in readiness for service abroad

A nurse married an army officer – and had to face the thought of his being sent to the front soon afterwards.

We present our congratulations to Miss Hilda Sturgess on the occasion of her marriage on April 16th with 2nd Lieut. Harold Bloomfield. Miss Sturgess was an exemplary Sunday school teacher previous to the war; since 1914 she has been a nurse in England, Eygpt, and France, and her long standing engagement ended with her marriage at the village church near Swindon camp, which was attended by the colonel and officers, who, by their hospitality in providing the wedding breakfast and enthusiastically welcoming the bride, more than covered the disappointment caused by the bridegroom being under orders to remain at Swindon and hold himself in readiness for service abroad.

Earley St Bartholomew parish magazine, June 1918 (D/P192/28A/15)

The war news is most depressing

The Vansittart Neales were holidaying on the Isle of Wight. The closeness to the Channel made naval news a little closer to home.

Florence Vansittart Neale
11 April 1918

Only 4 big vessels sunk last week.

William Hallam
11th April 1918

Another wet day. Funny weather- murky, damp and foggy, and the war news most depressing.

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

“A pint of ale or rather Government control rubbish”

William Hallam was fed up with the way the government had reduced the strength of beers.

William Hallam
6th April 1918

A very dull morning. I went up to Wantage Rd. by 10 past 2 train. Had a walk to the station in a pouring wet rain, but it cleared up before I got to Wantage Rd so had a dry walk up from the station.

I had a red herring for my dinner to-day and it made me so thirsty; it was that salty that I had to go into the pub at Wan. Rd. and have a pint of ale or rather Government control rubbish which was all they had in.

Florence Vansittart Neale
6 April 1918

Our line still held. Cheerful letter from Percival. Think they see the end in sight.

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

Germans 6 to our 1

The news was so bad that even militant union members were holding back now.

Florence Vansittart Neale
26 March 1918

Bapaume lost. Germans 6 to our 1. Nice prayers by Archbishop. Boy & Bubs [Leo and Elizabeth Paget] left us for the White House.

William Hallam
26th March 1918

A meeting of the A.S.E. to protest against such a thing as striking in this crisis so I went to support it.

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

Scenting battle

Percy Spencer told sister Florence about his experience defending a soldier at a court martial, as he awaited news about his destination at the front.

21st Res Battalion London Regiment
G Lines
Chiseldon Camp
Nr Swindon

Mar. 24, 1918

My dear WF

Of course down here all we GS officers are scenting battle, but I think there’s a tremendous reserve of officers, and do not expect to be rushed out. Apropos of this – while at the Orderly Room the other day the CO showed me a letter from the 1/21st London regiment applying for me to be sent out as he wanted me as his adjutant. As the present CO of the 1/21st London does not know me, of course this is the going of General Kennedy.

My CO explained that unfortunately he could do nothing except to advise his correspondent to apply for me. So I am now in the flattering position of having 2 COs applying for me. And yet I get no forrader. Isn’t it galling!

This week I’ve had some good news. I was detailed to defend a man on a charge of allowing a prisoner to escape. There was no getting over the fact that he did let him go, and the assistant adjutant was pretty confident I couldn’t get him off.

However, I did, and enclose his letter of thanks. It was quite funny to hear myself described as “counsel for the Defence”, and quite a shock later, when rising to cross examine on behalf of the accused, to hear this described as “Cross examined by accused”.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/25-27)

The great German offensive

The Germans were fighting back in strength.

Florence Vansittart Neale
21 March 1918

The great German offensive begun – along a reach of 50 miles. Fear an awful tussle.

William Hallam
21st March 1918

An air ship went over the works to-day but I didn’t see it.

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