“The Buffs were smashed but our own line was intact”

Another of Sydney Spencer’s comrades made contact.

Hope Cottage
Baguley
Cheshire

23rd Decr 1918

Dear Mrs Image

I received your letter some days ago. As regards Sydney’s narrative I can add only a few particulars as I was hit the day the Boche attacked. I remember the strafe we got; Sydney had just relieved me and was in the front line when Johnny’s 27th Division attacked the Buffs on our right. The Buffs were smashed but our own line was intact. That evening (it was 6th Aug) we were told of the attack due on 8th, shortly afterwards I was hit and saw my last of Sydney and the others.

At present I am enjoying twelve days Xmas leave, and I hope that it will be my last leave. I expect to be discharged soon.

Thank you very much for your kind invitation. If ever I am in Cambridge I shall look you up.

You may rely on my doing my best to get any further information re Sydney that I can.

With best wishes for a Happy Xmas and New Year

I am
Yours sincerely

W I Dilworth

Letter of sympathy to Florence Image on the death of Sydney (D/EX801/81)

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A miserable state of things

The war might be over, but artist Stanley Spencer was still stuck in the army, with efforts to attach him to the War Artists Scheme having come to nothing.

Dec 1 1918
5 Raymond Bdgs
Grey’s Inn
WC1

Dear Mrs Image

I have written again to Ld [Milner?]’s Private Secretary, to whom I wrote about Stanley a month or so ago – asking whether anything can possibly be done.

It’s a miserable state of things; I wd do anything to get him out, but there seems to be a brick wall somewhere. If I hear anything to the purpose I will let you know at once. I am longing to have him back at his painting.

How interesting & delightful his letters are. I hope Gil & he will both soon be back with you. I am so sorry about your brother who was killed.

Tell Stanley I have had another shot at helping him…

Do let me know if you get any news from his side. I sent him my Memoir of Rupert Brooke some weeks ago, I hope he will have got it.

Yours sincerely
E Marsh

Letter from E Marsh to Florence Image (D/EX801/110)

“It is very hard indeed to realise that we shall not again see his figure when he is so very much alive in the hearts of his friends”

Percy Spencer was saddened to hear of the death of his younger brother Sydney.

Sunday

My darling sister

I’m grieved that the first shock of this blow should have fallen on you, yet there must be some comfort in knowing that it was dear Syd’s great love for you that so arranged it.

As soon as I got your letter I hastened home and stayed the night. Mother grieves when she thinks about it. Father cries if it is mentioned, but it is a merciful fact that neither appears heavily overpressed by it. Mother spoke as usual about all her little worries and Father too conducts himself much as usual.

Even in Cookham he was greatly loved and it is very hard indeed to realise that we shall not again see his figure when he is so very much alive in the hearts of his friends and those who came in contact with him. It is a happy thought that his was such a straight, clean, useful life that he is not and never will be dead.

I found father difficult about Syd’s kit. I am trying to get it sent here and have been up to Cox’s twice but if, as I imagine from the fact that the War Office wired father, Syd gave him as next of kin, my instructions will not be accepted unless covered by father’s authority.

I wish you would write to father and tell him you wish Syd’s kit sent here (27 Rattray Rd) and to write me a letter asking me to arrange this. I quite agree that it would be bad for mother to go through it.

Well, dear, I am afraid this is not a very comforting letter. That God you have John, and thank God I have you both.

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/7/94-96)

“The war is ending, it seems, but the misery of it cannot end with it”

More details of Sydney Spencer’s shell shock not long before his final days.

Oldbury House
Tewkesbury
9 Nov 1918

Dear Mrs Image

I was dreadfully sorry to hear of Sydney’s death, & it must have been a bitter shock to you, especially when you knew that there had been no real necessity for him to go back to duty when he did. You will be impatient to hear what Capt Dillon told me – though I fear it is as unsatisfactory as all such information must be.

The MC was given, not for any single piece of bravery, but for continued good work during the battallion’s [sic] attack at Morlanecourt (near Albert) on Aug 8-10 & during the previous period when the company had a difficult time owing to the German attack on the division immediately on its right. Sydney put in a tremendous amount of work – too much, Capt. Dillon says: he was too careless about himself, got quite insufficient sleep & really prepared the way for his break-down & shell-shock. While in this over-taxed state the company got shelled rather badly, & a shell fell pretty close with the result that Sydney succumbed to the trembling kind of shock & had to go to hospital on Aug 10th. He was not actually wounded, except for a tiny scratch on the upper arm, which they put some iodine & a dressing on. When he got to hospital he pretended, for fun, that he had a very bad wound & the nurse took extra care in unbinding it, but enjoyed the joke when the wound was revealed. He told Capt. Dillon on his return that he was only really ill for three days, but Capt. Dillon thought that he had come back too soon & in any case sooner than he need have done.

He was first of all in hospital at Rouen & then spent time at Trouville. On his return he seemed very well & cheerful: Dillon saw him again on Sept 10th. The battalion was then very busy preparing for the attack which was to be made on Sept 18th. On the 17th he & Dillon had a cheerful chat about prospects: & Sydney said they both would get nice Blighty wounds & go back together & be out of it comfortably; he seemed quite confident that he was coming out of the affair with his life. On the 18th Dillon was wounded, & Sydney took his place automatically. The company had a very bad time & almost everybody was knocked out. This accounts for the fact that there is so great difficulty in getting any particulars. The attack took place east of Epehy, & Dillon thinks that in all probability it was there that Sydney was killed. The line was being advanced at the time, & in those circumstances, it is some slight consolation to know, his body would probably be buried decently & the exact spot recorded. If you wished to make any enquiries on that point the Graves Registration people would be the ones to apply to. I am afraid I don’t know their address. Capt. Dillon suggests as possible sources of information Sydney’s batman, the chaplain or the company sergeant-major; but I think you have already tried those people. The other lieutenant who was with Sydney was also killed at the same time.

Capt. Dillon can’t say much about the time Sydney was in hospital, & he does not understand how it is that you have heard nothing about it: for he knew that Sydney was in the habit of writing very full letters about everything. The lack of news from the 5th to 10th was probably due to the amount of fighting that was taking place. Capt. Dillon suggests that you might get some particulars of what was happening from the “Times” of 8th-10th – which however he says is full of mistakes (it was their battalion who took Morlanecourt, & the Americans had no share in it). But I feel that what you want is more personal details, & though I managed to extract some from Capt. Dillon (which I have told you) there are doubtless others which might be pumped out by yourself but hardly could be by anyone else. Capt. Dillon is apparently a very good sort, but rather lacks the faculty of unbosoming himself to strangers. If you do ever meet him you may be able to do better than I have; as to actual historical details I think he gave me all he could. One point he mentioned which may interest you was that Sydney won his MC within a mile or so of the sport where Percy [his brother] was wounded; Percy’s division being the next but one in the line. You may already know this.

I do hope that Percy’s wrist is making good progress: I had no idea that it was so bad as you say, or that his nerves were so badly upset. The war is ending, it seems, but the misery of it cannot end with it.


Yours sincerely
R. Harold Compton

Letter from R Harold Compton to Mrs Florence Image regarding the death in action of her brother Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EZ177/8/24)

Very hard lines that he should not have lived to hear about his medal

One of Sydney Spencer’s fellow officers was able to give his sister a ittle more information about his death in action.

7th Bn Norfolk Regiment
BEF

Nov. 3rd

Dear Mrs Image

I am very sorry I have been so long in writing to you again, but it has been hard to find time to write letters.

Possibly you have heard by now; some days after your brother was killed, it was published in orders that he has been awarded the Military Cross for Gallantry.

It seems very hard lines that he should not have lived to hear about it.

I assure you, it was very well earned.

What I am so sorry about is that you have not had any other letters beyond mine. (Possibly you have, by now.)

The reason is that at the time your brother was killed, all the officers were in the line – fighting, and when the Battalion came out, there were so many changes amongst officers.

No, your brother did not get his Captaincy, as he was only commanding a Company for a few days.

He was killed near EPEHY.

Captain Dillon was wounded when the battalion was in the line.

He is at present in England.

Yrs sincerely

R Gilham

Letter to Floence Image (D/EX801/78)

“Nothing that the war has brought me is anything to compare with your suffering, and no courage I have shewn, can compare with your superhuman endurance”

Florence Image reveals the strain it took to stay strong for her family in the face of Sydney’s death.

29, Boston Road
Cambridge

Oct. 29 1918

My own dear Stan

John says, “Are you writing to dear old Stanley? Then tell him his letters give me the greatest pleasure to read.” Well my darling, I do pray you will get some of our letters soon. I am getting yours so quickly – less than 3 weeks! I was dreadfully bothered about you. Do ask for leave. The infantry won’t know you have been 2 ¼ years without any. When you get back to your unit, beg the Colonel to grant you either (a) your overdue leave – or (b) sick leave with a view to discharge. Tell him how many times you have had malaria. Lloyd George promised you all leave in the spring. Last week the WO said they were granting leave as fast as possible – and again they assured the House of Commons that something like 1500 had had leave recently from Salonika – I enclose a cutting. But I hope the Min. of Inform. Affair will come off soon, if the war isn’t over first. I do long to hear the story of what you did for your Captain darling.

I feel your letters acutely darling. If my letters seem prosaic and material it’s because I have had a tremendous strain on my emotions, and I hardly dare take out my thoughts and look at them at all – because I’ve got to keep well, & be strong for all your sakes. I’ve written reams on your account – and it’s for you & Gil, and to keep Mother & Father going, for your sake, and for Perce [sic] – as well as my beloved John – I’ve got to keep going – or rather keep the ship going – See? But of course nothing that the war has brought me is anything to compare with your suffering, and no courage I have shewn, can compare with your superhuman endurance. My only struggle is not just to keep myself going – but to keep the ship going – do you understand? And so I am the most extraordinary creature apparently. I haven’t cried about Syd – and every time dear John attempts to be even sad about it – I am quite firm & cross. In fact it’s carry on – carry on – carry on – all the while – and snub every gust of longing or regret, love & hatred (like you I get awful fits of hatred as well as love) and save up all your energy for the end of the war and the radiant return to the old order – for you the front bedroom of a sunny warm day – with [Tobit?] – when the war is over. I’ll burst – and then you’ll be astonished at all I say. I get madder & amdder & madder with those who have not been wrenched up by the roots in this war. “Why cumbereth it the ground?”

Well, this is an ugly letter. It’s all imported rage with those who don’t dream what you in Salonika endure – and if they did wouldn’t dream what you in particular endure. But I do – and meanwhile I am trying to get you some light books to carry. I have ordered Andrew Marvell, and hope to get it in a week. His poems. Do you want his Satires too? And have you got a Bible? And do express any other longing you have. What you tell me of Heine & Goethe is so interesting. I’d no idea they had the taint. Tell me one or two nice things you would like to beautify your dust-bins out there. I do hope you will get the parcel with biscuits I sent you.

I heard yesterday that Syd has been awarded the Military Cross for what he did on Aug. 8th, and am vain-glorious enough to be glad, because he told me before he was killed, he was recommended for it, and was very pleased, because of the pleasure he knew it would confer on us…

Your own loving
Flongy

Have you plenty of shirts etc?

Letter from Florence Image to her brother Stanley Spencer (D/EX801/110)

“What keen, sensible, often attractive faces the Huns had: nothing vicious or brutal; even kind-looking, sometimes!”

Florence Image and her frail elderly parents were dealing bravely with the loss of Sydney.

29 Barton Road
28 Oct ‘18

My very dear old man

On Thursday [Florence] goes up to London (and to Cookham), to settle poor Syd’s affairs. She has been in correspondence with the WO (how feelingly and touchingly some of them can write) – the disposal of his kit would be an overstrain for the broken old father. The mother appears so abnormal in the unnatural cheerfulness and insouciance she shews that Florrie dreads the crash which must come, when at last she begins to realise her loss. Both parents inundate poor Florrie with constant reams of letters, of portentous length: and besides, there are numberless letters eternally reaching her from officers, and Oxford people, who loved Sydney. I think these keep her life up – for she is full of energy and even bright…

I saw a posse of Hun prisoners march by, this afternoon, escorted by a soldier with fixed bayonet, and another whose rifle looked innocuous, behind. What keen, sensible, often attractive faces the Huns had: nothing vicious or brutal; even kind-looking, sometimes! And how coarse and vulgar and unheroic look our Tommies – I have often wondered why Punch, for instance, always gives our men animal countenances – and so do the photographs in the D. Mail, whereas the photographs there of Germans are often clean cut and amiable.

Florrie received today from the Front a letter saying that news had just reached the Regiment that the Military Cross had been awarded to Sydney Spencer! Poor Syd, it was promised to him as far back as August. I recall the joy with which he told us as a secret not to be spoken of. It will be a pride to us, in token that, in his 6 months’ active service, he bore himself manfully.

Florrie isn’t the least scared about Influenza. Our streets reek of eucalyptus and all the ladies are sucking Formamint.

With our dear good wishes to you both

Your loving friend
J M Bild

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

Details of the last moments of a friend are wonderfully precious

Sydney Spencer’s good friend and army comrade Henry Loughton shared in the general grief at his death.

2/5th Norfolk Regiment
49TDS
Royal Air Force
Catterick
Yorks

23 Oct. 18

Dear Mrs Image

I convey to you my heartfelt sympathy at this time as you mourn the loss of your brother Sydney.

I am very grateful for the kindliness which prompted your letter. Details of the last moments of a friend are wonderfully precious and especially so when the noble courage they define is so truly typical, and of the essence of the life into which I am proud to have memory for me.

I am immeasurably thankful that he desired me to possess a memento.

I am at present attached for training to a long distance bombing and reconnaissance squadron and hope to be in France in a month or so.

Believe me,
Yours very sincerely

Henry E Loughton

2/5th Norfolk Regiment
49TDS
Riyal Air Force
Catterick
Yorks
23 Oct. 18

Letter of sympathy to Florence Image on the death of her brother Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/81)

“We must seek comfort in remembering what Sydney was, & in remembering him as he was”

The news of Sydney Spencer’s death in action reached his eldest brother Will in Switzerland.

Will Spencer
23 October 1918

After breakfast I played [the piano] a little. I had just gone to my room to finish my note to Director Eppler [a potential employer], when Johanna came in & sat down on the sofa opposite me with a troubled face. I was afraid that she had had bad news from [her sister] Agnes, but the news which she had to tell me was that dear Sydney had fallen. She shed a few tears in telling me, & handed to me the letters which she had received from Mother & Father last night, but had not told me about it until this morning, to avoid the danger of the news affecting my night’s rest. But she would probably have had a better night than she did if she had not still had the breaking of the news to me to look forward to.

My feeling, in thinking of Sydney, is one of thankfulness for what his life was.

Mother’s & Father’s letters were both dated Oct. 3rd. Sydney had suffered no pain, having been killed instantly by a shell on Septe 24th (?) (the date had been almost obliterated, but it looked like the 24th. His Major had written that he was one of the keenest officers he had known. Father wrote that he had never known Sydney to speak an unkind word to or of anyone. Mother quoted a loving message which he had written to her from the front on Sept. 15th.

As it was a beautiful morning, Johanna & I afterwards went for a stroll through the wood together. After dinner, Johanna produced a bundle of photographs, & found the photo of Sydney which she had thought of this morning – the one which he sent us from Epsom [where he had been studying before going to Oxford in 1914]. On the back of it Sydney had written “An amateur photo taken by my friend Willie Birch last Sunday week, Nov. 5th, 1911.” During the latter part of the day, Johanna & I both wrote to Mother & Father. I wrote that we must seek comfort in remembering what Sydney was, & in remembering him as he was.

Florence Vansittart Neale
23 October 1918

Heard cases of flu & some deaths in Marlow. Mabel wired for for Jack, but rather better.

Diaries of Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX801/28); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

“Too particularly sad just at this time when we are rejoicing at the thought of Peace”

There was something particularly poignant in the timing of Sydney Spencer’s death so soon before the end.

King Edward’s School for Girls
Handsworth
Birmingham

22.X.’18

My dear Mrs Image

Mother has written to tell me of your sad news, and I felt I should like to write you a wee note to send you my love and sympathy. I am so awfully sorry – more than I can say – it seems too particularly sad just at this time when we are rejoicing at the thought of Peace….

I have often thought of your brothers and hoped they were safe. Will you excuse me if I quote a few lines from Rupert Brooke –

“Yet behind the night
Waits for the great unborn, somewhere afar
Some white tremendous daybreak, & the light
Returning, shall give back the golden hours,
Ocean a windless level, Earth a lawn
Spacious & full of sunlit dancing places,
And laughter, & music, & among the flowers
The gay child’s heart of men, & the child faces
O heart in the great Dawn.”

With love
from
I V Wanstall

Letter of sympathy to Florence Image on the death of Sydney (D/EX801/81)

“Thy warfare is accomplished”

The devasated father of Sydney Spencer wrote a poem in tribute to his son.

To Sydney

O well-beloved! How shall we pay
The debt to thee we owe?
How find the words half adequate
Thy priceless worth to show?

Fair as the Evening Star wert thou
Pure as the morning dew
As gentle as a little child
Brave as the dauntless few

Who once at Crecy did withstand
Their proud insisting foes
And scattered them in hideous rout
With their good English bows

So with thy peers didst thou withstand
Th’exciting German host
With them didst share the glorious day
That shamed the foe’s proud boast

Thou took’st thy Father’s gifts with joy
The beauty of the flowers
The glory of the starry sky
And of the cloud-built towers

The thoughts of great men fitly clothed
In words that flame like fire
And Music’s deep, mysterious voice
For thou could’st touch the lyre

Thine was a perfect sacrifice
In thought, in will, in deed;
Thou couldst have been in England still
But thou wert of the breed

Who hear the clarion call but once
To where red Danger’s tide
Most fiercely sets, and thither haste
As bridegroom to his bride

Could’st thou have known, thou had’st forgiven
The foe who aimed the shell
For in thy brave and gentle heart
Nought but pure love did dwell

Would we have shaped it otherwise?
‘Twas not within our choice;
Or, still to feel thy loving touch,
To hear thy gentle voice

To Duty we had recreant proved
Perchance, and tried to sway
Thy steps from that appointed path
Which thou didst know thy Way

“Thy warfare is accomplished”
Life’s battle nobly won
And thou beyond the stars hast heard
Thy Father’s great “Well Done”

FATHER
Fernley, Cookham, Oct. 22nd, 1918

Poem by William Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/78)

“Anything that one can say sounds so trivial”

A friend who Florence had been visiting just before receiving the news of her brother’s death sent her sympathy.

78 Parkhurst Rd
Holloway
N7

Oct 7th 1918

My dear Florence

I do so wish that sad letter had found its way here instead of awaiting you at your home on your return. I feel we could have been a little consoling to you both & you would have seen your brother Percy too. I am filled with upset that I did not say “stay a day or so longer & we will chance strikes, etc”, I should have loved to.

Let me know if I can be of any service at any time. Anything that one can say sounds so trivial, so I send you both my best love & heartfelt sympathy.

Affectionately yours
Janet

Letter of sympathy to Florence Image on the death of Sydney (D/EX801/81)

“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
Bild

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

“Thinking so much of my own grief and never having courage to speak of it to anyone”

One of Sydney’s old friends shares his sorrow.

Sweethayes
Littlewick
Maidenhead

Oct 5th

My dearest Florence

How selfish I have been these last three days, thinking so much of my own grief and never having courage to speak of it to anyone. But, dear, I have been thinking constantly of you and wishing so much that I could send you just a message of love & sympathy.

I know only too well what you must be feeling in the loss of the dearest of brothers, and you, more than anyone, will understand how I am missing and ever shall miss the dearest of friends.

We had been so looking forward to having him with us again soon – that cannot be, but thank God the fondest & happiest memories of him will always stay with us.

With my dear love to you and Mr Image and every kind thought.

Always yours affectionately
Bertie M Lamb

Letter of sympathy to Florence Image on the death of Sydney (D/EX801/81)

How sad it is to lose one’s friends in this terrible war

Sydney’s university landlady sheds new light on him as a soucrce of comedy.

12 Southmoor Road
Oxford

Oct. 4th / 18

Dear Mrs Image

Your sad news came as a great shock to myself & Mother, we do indeed feel Mr Spencer’s loss very deeply, he was a true friend & we always enjoyed his company. He did one good with his bright ways. We never enjoyed a good laugh so much as when he was here. How sad it is to lose one’s friends in this terrible war. Please accept our deepest sympathy, for you have lost a dear brother, & I feel so for his mother, how terribly grieved she will be.

It was good of you to write to tell me. As regards his wish which I appreciate very greatly, will you kindly choose something for me, what you think he would like me to have.

Yours very sincerely
Mary Hobbs

Letter of sympathy from Sydney Spencer’s former landlady (D/EX801/81)