The epidemic of influenza now spreading on the Continent

Neutral Switzerland was ravaged by the new virulent form of influenza.

8 July 1918

J[ohanna]. tells me that she had heard from Fraulein Emilie that the woman who had died in Geissental (Frau Schneiter), had died of influenza. A son of hers, a soldier, had come home on leave a fortnight ago & then sickened with influenza (“Grippe”), & she had then caught it from him. The epidemic of influenza now spreading on the Continent first appeared in Spain.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

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“Wounded in the back. Hope it is not serious. Poor boy”

Elisabeth, a German relative of Johanna’s had been visiting Will and Johanna Spencer in Switzerland. She was planning to sneak some gifts through customs inspection. This ruse proved successful and the gifts passed muster when Elisabeth returned to Germany on the 29th.

Will Spencer
21 June 1918

During the afternoon Johanna was wearing the shawl which she is asking Elisabeth to take with her for Mutter [Mother]. She wears it, in order that it may have a better chance of passing the Customs House as a worn article of apparel. Johanna also dried some lemon peel today, for Elisabeth to take with her.

Joan Daniels
June 21st Friday

Mummie had a PC from Gerlad saying that they had received a telegram from the War Office to say that Leslie [McKenzie] was wounded in the back. Hope it is not serious. Poor boy.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/26); and Joan Evelyn Daniels of Reading (D/EX1341/1)

“A chaffinch is singing impetuously overhead, & it is peace, absolute peace”

Sydney enjoyed a pleasant day off.

Sydney Spencer
Friday 7 June 1918

After a most beautiful night’s sleep I got up at eight o’clock. Took breakfast at my leisure & am now lying under an apple tree in an orchard with the four other men. We are sprawling on the grass in the warm sunshine & a chaffinch is singing impetuously overhead, & it is peace, absolute peace.

We are now going into Hesdin.

Went into Hesdin & bought some gloves. 22 francs. Also some cherries. Afterwards got my hair cut, & had a delicious bath in camp commandant’s enclosure. Returned to mess at 1 pm. After lunch wrote a long letter to Bertha Lamb & also to Florence.

After tea went over churchyard & church with Major Knights & Graham. Then a short walk. Finally we lay in orchard & read. I read more of Tartarin de Tarascon. Have got half way through it.

Now it is dinner time. The army chemical adviser & gas instructor has just rolled in. We start work tomorrow morning. After dinner, went to bed & read more of Tartarin de Tarascon. To sleep by about 10.30 pm. (After dinner a short walk to Barker’s billet.)

Will Spencer
7 June 1918

A letter … for me from Mother, from Florrie’s. …

Mother’s letter contained the news that Percy had received still further promotion, – that he and Horace and Sydney had not yet met in France, but hoped to do so later, – and that Stanley’s name had been suggested to undertake war pictures, & he had “accepted the offer”, & would be leaving his present position.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer in France (D/EZ177/8/15); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/29)

“A bicycle made for two”

More from the Spencer brothers.

Will Spencer
15 May 1918

Some French soldiers were resting on the benches on the paved platform between the two buildings of the Blumlisalp Hotel. For the first time I had the feeling that the [interned] soldiers at this hotel were in some respects better off than those at the Waldpark. The hotel has more the unpretentious character of an Inn – is more rustic & more cheerful, with its water trough by the road & its tree-planted space between the two buildings. One of the soldiers was whistling the tune of “A bicycle made for two”, & I was surprised & amused to find that J. knew the words to almost the whole of the tune – which was more than I did.

Sydney Spencer
Wednesday 15 May 1918

3.30 pm. I am seated now, guess where, my dear diary? At Major Bracey’s working table at his billet! Only 3 kilos from where I at present live. I have just ridden over on Capt. Rolfe’s gee. Major Bracey is out however & won’t be back till 5, so I shall stick here to see him & having the football match I half promised to play in. I hope there won’t be a dust up about it though. It will be splendid to see old Bracey again, it is 14 months since I last saw him. Had a day off today. Dear old Rolfe, he did the straight by me after my two rather thorny days on Monday & Tuesday. Have just written to Father & Mother.

At 5.30 pm.
Major Bracey did not turn up. I waited till nearly 6 pm. Rode back. Watched football match between officers & men – a drawn game. After dinner walked over, saw dear old Bracey who cheered me up immensely. He walked back part of the way with me. To bed at 10.30 & read more of my book.

Percy Spencer
15 May 1918

A glorious sunshiny day. A good deal of trouble over billets. Trying to hang on in Warlos for a night at least. Division to be relieved tonight. Up half the night sorting details. Eventually turned in at 3 am after champagne supper & slept on floor in a company mess. Fritz bombed outskirts of village.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX802/28)

“Master Chaffinch sings near by me despite the swish of shells through the air or craaack of shrapnel”

Sydney Spencer took comfort in nature surviving the battlefield, but the nice weather meant easy pickings for the German artillery. Meanwhile their brother Will was in touch with a former pupil in Germany.

Percy Spencer
9 May 1918

A lovely day again, worse luck. Huns shelled our boys with 8” & gas. 14 gassed.

Dr Caux had tea with us & told us pretty story of old lady who refused to leave until her children left, asked how many she had, she replied that she didn’t know, & pointing to the yard crowded with Tommies, exclaimed, “These are my children”.

Sydney Spencer
Thursday 9 May 1918

I was very cold in the night so felt rather cheap when I got up this morning. A glorious spring morning. The grass on which I lie now at 12.30 pm is sweet May scented. All around are the ubiquitous dandelions, daisies & buttercups, & here & there graceful patches of delicate green & white, made by the greater sketchwort. Master Chaffinch sings near by me despite the [illegible] and swish of shells through the air & the angry snip of 18 pounders, or craaack of shrapnel.

Now for some lunch. Saw a beautiful little ‘copper’ butterfly today. The last I saw was at dear old Thoresby Camp, Worksop, only 8 short months ago. After lunch a read or sleep & then worked out mess accounts. After tea continued on mess accounts. At 8.30 ‘stand to’. No 5 platoon dug my fire positions in new battle positions. Bed about 10 pm. Oh happy day. A long night’s sleep.

Will Spencer
9 May 1918

Was pleased to receive a long letter from Fraulein Hildegard Vogel from Cassel, telling me of her musical studies under Dr Zulauf (is now studying the Chopin Fantasia!) & enclosing a photograph of herself with her fiancé. J. thinks, from his uniform, that he is an officer in the Artillery. As the elder of her two brothers (aged 18) is in a Cadet School, & the younger, who is physically & mentally weak, is just going to a Waldpaedagogium in Berka in Thuringen, they (the mother and two daughters) are leaving Cassel next month & going to live in a smaller house in Naumburg a/d Saale, where they will be near Berka.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX802/28)

Hunger strike due to bad temper

The Schraplowsky saga rumbled on.

Place of Internment, Reading
4 May 1918

Sir

I have the honour to report with reference to letter … dated 3 May 1918 that the hunger strike of Herman von Schraplowsky had nothing to do with the reasons of his internment or nationality but was due to temper.

On 9th April he wrote an impertinent letter to his wife regarding the Medical Officer and his treatment. I informed him that he could not utilise his letters for that purpose – that he could not write the letter – and that if he had any grievance against his medical treatment he could see me, or he could petition on the point if not satisfied with my decision. He was rather impertinent saying he would write just what he liked. I stopped the letter.

At his next visit on 20th April, he referred to this to his visitor. I attached the letter in question to the report of the visit to the Prison Commissioners – all visits are reported.
On 24th April he again wrote and the letter was improper. I awarded him 10 days forfeiture of privileges on no 2 diet. He then went on hunger strike. In accordance with standing orders the Medical Officer reported the case to the Prison Commissioners at the expiration of 48 hours. And as the man is excitable with an exceedingly bad temper, added that it might be necessary to forcibly feed him, but that as he weighed close on 200 lbs, it would not hurt him to go a bit longer.

On 27th April, as the Chairman of the Visiting Committee called at the Prison, I suggested that he should go and see Shraplowsky without me – he did so. Schraplowsky turned his back on him and refused to speak.

I then tried a method of my own, and had some onions fried over his cell, and when the smell was at its best had then placed with potatoes in his cell. In a few minutes he was eating everything at hand.

He was not forcibly fed – neither was he confined to bed.

I have not under the circumstances informed him as to your letter today regarding his nationality, but when I visited him this morning I asked him in conversation the questions, and his reply is that he is a Russian Pole, and that he would not go to Germany, but to Poland or to Switzerland where his wife comes from.

I may add that he completed his ten days today and his conduct is normal, in fact civil.

I have the honour to be
Sir

Your obedient servant
C M Morgan, Governor

[to]The Secretary of State, Home Office

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

Peppered all along our line

Sydney Spencer was under fire and trying to catch some sleep, while brother Percy was behind the lines and Will’s wife was trying to get permission to visit her sister in Germany.

Sydney Spencer
Saturday 4 May 1918

I started tour of duty at 10 pm [last] Saturday night. Finished at 4.30 this morning. Took on again at 5.30-7.30 so as to get a long morning’s sleep.

Was on Tour duty till 4.30 this morning. At 2.45 enemy sent over a few shells into village behind us. Rain set in at 2.15 am & continued to drizzle until 4 am. Had a half hour ‘kip’ till 4.30, then ‘stand to’ till 5.30 & I took tour duty till 7.30. Examined rifles & feet. Saw gun sections issued & [tried?], then sleep till 8 am. After breakfast more sleep till 10.

Brigadier came along at 10.30 just when I was rubbing my feet & getting my boots cleaned. He had a good deal to say, looked severe, but it struck me he had very kindly eyes. Got some more sleep in after lunch.

On duty 3.30-5.30. Many enemy aeroplanes came over. A glorious day with a little rain early in the day. At stand to the Neuglanders did a strafe & bombing raid, & we were peppered all along our line, particularly my platoon front. No casualties however. No 7 had one slight one.

Took a wiring party along New Broad & put up a tangle barrier on road & obstacle on right.

Percy Spencer
4 May 1918

Another hard day. Got some useful work done. Office in a chaotic state still. Col. Parrish’s band played at mess. Col. P constant anxiety about “Paddy” the Irish Terrier.

Will Spencer
4 May 1918

I was playing in the library after breakfast when the taller of the two Canadian ladies [staying at the same hotel] (their name, by the way, is Thompson) came in. … She left at 10.30 to meet a tall young Belgian soldier on the hotel terrace. She distributes Bible reading cards among the soldiers.

[It seems that the hotel was used partly for the accommodation of interned soldiers from foreign nations.]

By the morning post letters for Johanna from her Engeloch (enclosing form of application for her to travel into Germany for her to fill up), & from Agnes…

Before dinner J. wrote to Agnes asking for medical testimony that her mother was ill, & after dinner she filled up the above mentioned form of application.

[She eventually got permission to go in August.]

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX802/28)

“Men who were interned had to write through a friend in a neutral country”

Following yesterday’s query, it emerged that an internee’s foreign correspondent was innocuously enough his sister, who had also helped another internee communicate with his wife in Germany.

Place of Internment
Reading

1st May 1918

I have made enquiries and Hemmerle states that Fraulein Maria Hemmerle, per Witwe Hasler, is his sister. She works in a factory in Kanton Schwyz, and the Widow Hasler is the woman who keeps the lodging house where she lives. He does not know Hasler.

Fraulein Anna Hemmerle is another sister who worked in a factory in Kanton St Gallen. Johan Ulrich Wohlwerk was the proprietor of an inn where she lodged. She has now left the factory and returned home to the Hemmerle address of – Dominikus Hemmerle (father), Vaduz, Lichtenstein.

Hemmerle says that when men who were interned had to write through a friend in a neutral country, Bushe wrote through Hemmerle’s sister Maria Hemmerle to his wife in Munich. Maria Hemmerle had the wife’s address and forwarded on the letters.

Bushe’s wife was deported from England during the time Bushe was interned.

I may add that Bushe nearly always wrote through Fraulein Hemmerle while he was at Reading.

C M Morgan

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

“Sydney has crossed to France at last”

In Switzerland, Will Spencer heard the news that younger brothers Sydney and Percy were now both fighting in France.

1 May 1918

Shortly before eleven Johanna came & handed to me a postcard from father, then a letter from him & a letter from Mother. These were dated April 18th, 16th & 13th respectively, & the card which I received from father yesterday, April 11th…

Johanna read in yesterday’s paper that a “Briefsperre” on the French frontier had just come to an end.

The letters contained the news that Sydney had crossed to France at last, & that Percy had also just returned thither.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

A lost Iron Cross from 1916

Will Spencer and his wife had an unexpected discovery on a walk at Lake Thun in Switzerland.

25 April 1918

Farther up the [Goldiwil] road Johanna picked up a small round brooch bearing a representation of the Iron Cross, with an initial W and the date 1916. She was the more surprised to find it, as this is not a district in which German soldiers are interned. This was the first time J. had walked up to Goldiwil from Thun.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

About to leave for military training

The divided loyalties of international couple Will and Johanna were poignantly underlined when Johanna’s 17 year old nephew was called up in Germany – ready to face Will’s brothers on the British side.

27 March 1918

Wrote a ppc [picture postcard] to [Johanna’s nephew] Kurt for his birthday on the 31st. He is about to leave Bonn for his military training. Will be eighteen on the 31st.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

“Providing a man is practical & unselfish, the life is not bad”

Will Spencer heard from soldier brother Horace, who offered a pleasant view of army life, and from the wife of another soldier brother, Natalie.

19 March 1918

When I got back, Johanna asked me if it was my birthday. Letters from Natalie & from Horace, & a parcel [and letter from a Swiss friend]…

Reading the [three] letters to Johanna, with running comments, after dinner, was quite a long proceeding, as Natalie’s letter was one of 8 large pages!.

Horace writes to me,

“Perhaps you are sometimes pained at the conjectured hardships that we have to undergo, so I will try to relieve your mind on that point. Providing a man is practical & unselfish, the life is not bad, there are kind words and deeds exchanged at all times, & so the atmosphere is pleasant. He has heard concerts & lectures, visited 6 cathedral towns in France, has learned to play chess, & read – amongst other books – Holmes’ Life of Mozart….

Natalie writes that Harold “had a rotten [underlined] time one way & another, tho’ now his lines seem to have fallen into pleasanter places”.


Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

‘A “fine big man” in his officer’s uniform’

Percy Spencer’s visit home on leave impressed his parents.

24 March 1918

A letter for me from Mother, dated March 18th. Father had been spending the weekend with the Shackels & taking the organ at Dropmore. Percy had been home. Looked a “fine big man” in his officer’s uniform. It was a pity, Mother adds, that the weather was too cold for her to go out with him. Stanley had received the letter which I wrote to him on Jan. 8th.

Diary of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28)

Letters home from internees ‘should bear no indication that it comes from this country’

There were severe restrictions on allowing internees to communicate with their home country, at least if it was somewhere like Belgium, which was partly occupied by the enemy. Travel agency Thomas Cook helped with getting letters to a neutral country, which would then send them on. A Belgian internee in Reading decided to give up writing home.

Thos Cook & Son
Ludgate Circus
London EC4

13th March

[To] The Assistant Secretary
Prison Commission
Home Office
London SW1

Dear Sir

We are in receipt of your favour of 11th inst enclosing a post-card for transmission to Belgium which we return herewith. This must either be written on a Dutch or Swiss Post-card, or sent in the form of a letter, and it should bear no indication that it comes from this country. We have no arrangements for dealing with replies from Belgium, and if the sender desires a reply it will be necessary for him to insert on the card or in the letter an address in a neutral country, to which a reply can be sent. We have no Dutch cards at the present time, but we enclose a Swiss card which can be made use of if desired.

Yours truly
Thos: Cook & Son

The Governor, Reading
Please explain to the Prisoner.
J F Wall, Sec
14/3/18

Explained to prisoner.
He states he will not write any more.
C M Morgan
18-3-18

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

The pinch will come after the war

The Spencer paterfamilias in Cookham was optimistic, while Florence Vansittart Neale despaired at the situation in Russia.

Will Spencer
23 February 1918

By this morning’s post we received a cheerful letter from Father… Sydney has taken his BA at Oxford. Has received splendid reports from his commanding officers. Was just getting into train at Paddington to come down to Cookham on a Saturday afternoon when he saw Percy on the next platform, whom he hadn’t seen for 2 years. He quickly fetched his luggage out, & stayed the night with Percy, who had just come up from Swindon for a few days, on business.

I was glad to learn from Father that they suffer no privation. The pinch will come after the war, he says, but what can be is being done to provide against that.

Florence Vansittart Neale
23 February 1918

Russians utter degradation, under the heel of Germany.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)