“God give me power to say & act at home, so that those dear parents of mine shall receive comfort & support & not feel my going away”

After his desperate last ditch appeal to his superiors on 31 March, Sydney Spencer was at last headed to the front. His family were less pleased.

1918
April 5th

Yesterday I received the following telegram.

To Lieut S Spencer
Sc301, 4th.4.18
69th Division wires…
Under War Office Postal Telegram…

Second April order Lieut. S Spencer, 5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment join expeditionary force France on 8th instant. To report personally to the embarkation command at Folkestone not later than 10.0 am, & if passing through London, travel by the train leaving Victoria Station at 7.35 am on that date. Ends.

Acknowledge & report departure to this office in duplicate.

208th Brigade
Butterworth Lieut for Staff Captain.

And so at last they have taken notice of my repeated appeals. God is good.

See my letter to General Pritchard [sic?] on page 343 of this book [31 March]. He was very sweet, & naively reproved me for writing to him as ‘Sir’! rather than Dear General Pritchard! I go to Cambridge today to Florence & home I think on Sunday for a few hours. God give me power to say & act at home, so that those dear parents of mine shall receive comfort & support & not feel my going away.

SS
5.4.18

Diary of Sydney Spencer

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That snug retreat “Railway Dugouts”

Percy Spencer dropped a quick line to his sister Florence and brother in law John Maxwell Image as he prepared to head back to the front.

Decr 23rd, 1916

Dear WF and John

I’ve just got your dear wire – it’s like you both, full of good cheer and happiness…

In the dark hours of tomorrow I start back for that snug retreat “Railway Dugouts”. Thank God I shall take with me the fresh memory of your peaceful quiet home…

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/42)

The great sacrifice

Crazies Hill Notes

So far as we have observed the following from our list of those serving King and Country have been home on leave recently and it gave us great pleasure to welcome them:

Henry Doe, Hubert and Walter Denton, Tom Silver, Joseph Kimble, Jesse Waldron, Sam, Jim, David and Tom Weller.

Charles Ellison Woodward is a first-class wireless operator on a patrol yacht and not on a mine-sweeper as stated in our last issue.

Much sympathy is felt for Willie Denton who had a leg amputated owing to wounds and is now in Netley Hospital. He was a faithful member of our choir, and when home on leave some time ago he took his place in the choir as usual and we were all so glad to see him back. To his father and relatives as well as to himself we offer our sincere sympathy.

Hare Hatch

The deepest sympathy of a large circle of friends is felt for Mr. and Mrs. Sharp, whose son Valentin was killed at Salonica, on September 28th.

The Commanding Officer states: “We looked upon him not so much as a comrade but as a brother, he was greatly loved by the whole company.”

Valentine served at Gallipoli until he was wounded when, after a short period of convalescence at home, he was sent to Salonica where he has made the great sacrifice. This second bereavement has called forth the deepest sympathy for the family. We trust they will be supported and comforted by our prayers in the hour of trial.

Wargrave parish magazine, November 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

“He behaved with great bravery and died as a soldier”

Some men from the little village of Crazies Hill had been home on leave, but there was sad news for another local family.

Crazies Hill Notes

We were glad to see Charles Haycock and Bert Plested in Church the other Sunday – both back on leave from active service and looking well. We were also glad to see Charles Ellison Woodward, who is home on short leave from his dangerous work as wireless operator on a mine-sweeper. Sergeant Iles is home and looking well. Walter Denton has also been home during September; and as we are sending this to the printer, we hear that Jim Weller – one of five brothers serving – has come home for a few days.

Much sympathy is felt for Mr. and Mrs. Minchin of Upper Culham whose son was killed in action. We add the following taken from the “Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard”: –

“It is with much regret that we have to record the death of Mr. Arthur Minchin, who was killed in action in France on the 16th of August last. He was only 29 years of age. For several years he worked as one of the undergardeners at Park Place, and during the whole of that time he had been a most faithful member of the Remenham Parish Church choir. He was a young man of most agreeable manners, very unassuming, but was beloved by all who knew him. Less than two years ago he left Park Place and entered the Wiltshire Constabulary. He was for some time stationed at Trowbridge and The Wiltshire Times of Saturday last says “P.C. Minchin was deservedly popular with his comrades in the Police Force.”

After serving some time as P.C. he, seven months ago, joined the colours and was immediately sent over to France. For over five years he had been a member of the Territorial Force at Henley and was universally liked by his comrades. In France, he did good work as is testified by the C.O. who writes to his widow as follows:-

“He (Private Arthur Minchin) was a brave man – a good soldier, and his loss is deeply regretted by officers and comrades alike.”

The Chaplain of his battalion also writes:

“He behaved with great bravery and died as a soldier. He was very popular with his comrades who miss him very much.”

The sincerest sympathy is extended to his young widow. He had only been married seven months.

Wargrave parish magazine, October 1917 (D/P145/28A/31)

A marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons

Percy Spencer was having difficulty getting his commission organised. He wrote to Florence with the latest news – and a story from the Somme.

May 1, 1917

My dear WF

Isn’t it perfect weather!

And that’s just about all that’s perfect hereaway.

Thank you for all your frequent letters: they’re so refreshing. Your last about [censored] is too delightful. I sometimes quote extracts from your letters to the Mess, so you see you’re helping to cheer more than one lonely soldier. Your jokes are always hugely appreciated.

Tonight I am going to a town some miles back to drive with the original officers and sergeants of my old Battalion. I thought it was very kind of them to remember me as I have had so little to do with them.

And tomorrow I have to go and see a still greater brass hat about my commission. I have an idea that there is no intention to hurry my affairs, the reason being, of course, that my experience & weight here are difficult to replace. However sooner or later I expect I shall be an officer or an angel – I have had thoughts of becoming the latter quite frequently of late.

Rene Hunt tells me that [Percy’s brother] Horace is going to apply for a commission.

Before I forget it I must tell you a story of the Somme battle last year.

Our Headquarters were in some ruins off a very narrow and deep lane. On one side of the lane was a series of small splinter proof dugouts; on the other side a battery of guns. One of the splinter proofs just opposite a gun was occupied by “Baby” Huish, the Surrey cricketer (a splendid raconteur). “Baby” tells me that one morning, annoyed by a fellow walking about on his roof and throwing off portions of its brick and sandbag cover, he crawled out and asked the man what he thought he was doing. The man, ignoring him, continued to clear material from his roof and then turning towards the gun hailed the gunner in his gun pit. “How’s that, Bill, can you clear ‘er na?” Voice from gun pit – “Yes, that’ll be all right if we don’t ‘ave to drop below eighteen ‘undered”. Exit Baby to safer quarters.

A sad thing has happened to us. The rum issue has ceased, leaving us with a stock of lemons and a supply of all spice, cloves and cinnamon, no more rubbers of bridge and rum punch nightcaps. Jerome K Jerome’s “Told after supper” is nothing to our experiences in punch brewing – we can all make one pretty well, but there are some – well, I’m reckoned an expert.

A short time ago when moving into the line, the Signalling Officer noticed an ammunition box. “What’s that?” he asked. “Oh, that”, replied an innocent telegraphist, “is a test box Sapper Newport is making”. “Is it, I should like to see that”, said the officer, and opening the box all eager to examine the boy’s clever work (and he is clever) discovered a marvellous piece of electrical work consisting entirely of lemons!

But, alas, those days are over – over for good I hope.

Well, dear girl, goodbye.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/30-32)

The finest, cosiest, and prettiest place in the whole Second Army Area

A Reading church sponsored a place of recreation for soldiers at the front.

“Words Fail Us.”

Such are the words used on a Christmas card by the Y.M.C.A. to convey their deep gratitude to all who have helped in the erection of Huts in France and elsewhere. The words may be even more fittingly used to emphasise the desperate need for these buildings, and we rejoice in having been privileged to take part in this good work. It will be remembered that soon after our pastor’s return from France in March of last year, he announced his wish to erect a Y.M.C.A. hut, and was met by so gratifying a response from his many friends in Trinity and elsewhere that, by the end of August it was being used by our fighting men on the Western “Front.” This month, by the help of the above-mentioned Christmas card, we are able to show our readers a picture of our own hut.

It is situated La Clytte, about 4.5 miles south-west of Ypres and within three miles of the front firing-line very, very near danger. It is by the side of a road, along which is passing a continual stream of men to and from the trenches. Near by is a rest camp, into which the men are drafted after having served a certain time actually in the line. Hence our Hut, capable of accommodating from two hundred to three hundred men, meets the very real need of a large number of men actually in “the thick of it.”

The picture represents its actual appearance from outside, which resembles many other Y.M. Huts, but the interior is most beautifully and artistically decorated with about 250 coloured pictures, with the result that Mr. Holmes (Sec. Y.M.C.A. 2nd Army) pronounces it to be the finest, cosiest, and prettiest place in the whole Second Army Area. For this proud distinction we must thank its present leader, Mr Cecil Dunford, who is an artist, and so in touch with colour-printing firms. To him, too, we are indebted to him for our picture. His helpers are the Rev. Eric Farrar, son of Dean Farrar a most interesting fact and the Rev. Herbert Brown, Chaplain to the Embassy at Madrid.

At Christmas-time, our thoughts flew naturally to the men in our Hut, and Mr Harrison, anticipating our wishes, telegraphed that a sum of £20 was to be spent on festivities. It will interest all to hear what was done.

On Christmas Eve a Carol service took place, assisted by a regimental band, followed by a distribution of free gifts and cake. On Christmas Day the Hut was crowded for service at 10 a.m., and 45 men present at Holy Communion. From 12-1 a free distribution of cakes and tea was enjoyed. An afternoon concert was held, after which the men were again supplied with tea and cakes. At 6.30 p.m. a very informal concert was held, interspersed with games and amusing competitions ducking for apples bobbing in a pail of water, drawing in to the mouth a piece of toffee tied to a long string held between the teeth, pinning blindfold a moustache to the Kaiser’s portrait, etc. Free drinks and tobacco were again distributed, and after three hearty cheers for the people of Reading, the National Anthem brought a memorable day to a close.

To the men this day was a bright spot in their cheerless, dangerous life, and their enjoyment is depicted by Mr Dunford in some clever sketches one of a man straight from the line, in a tin helmet and with pack on his back, beaming happily at a steaming mug of cocoa, and murmuring “Good ‘ealth to the Y.M.”; another man, whose swelled cheek testifies to the huge mouthful of sandwich (evidently “tres bon!” in quality and quantity), wittily designated “an attach in force on the salient.” To the helpers the Christmas festivities evidently proved exhausting as shown by two laughable sketches of utter collapse, one worker clinging feebly to a post, the other being dragged along the floor to a place of rest. Yet we venture to think that even they, with us, rejoice to do something to brighten the lot of our brave boys in khaki.


Trinity Congregational Church, Reading: magazine, February 1917 (D/EX1237/1)

“A cheap and illogical effusion” and “cheeky suggestion” from the American President

Captain Austin Longland was on his way home to Radley for a spell on leave. The SS Kashmir was a P&O cargo ship which had been requisitioned to carry troops.

Jan 25th ’17

P&OSNCo
SS Kashmir

Another note to show you that I am comfortably settled, with far better accommodation than the Atlantic Transport Line gave me on my outward journey – but a fat old doctor in my cabin who looks as if he would snore. The 6 are all together on the boat, so I shall have their company for meals, tho’ their higher rank prevents me from sharing a cabin with any of them.

So, given a calm journey, we ought to have quite a nice trip, especially as I have still escaped any duties, and should now I think get right back without having to shepherd any men.

Each day this week I have taken a walk in the afternoon, and am getting to know the place a little. Should be able to how you round if ever we spend a winter in the South of France! Had hoped to get ashore for one or two small things, but once on board they won’t let us off again. If ever I come on leave again, by the way, I shall be wiser in many ways!

Marseilles is a very large place, without much character, lying at the head of the bay, its harbour guarded partly by a chain of islands where are German prisoners. ..

They would never give us any idea when we were likely to go, or I could at least have wired my address and got a letter from you. As it is there is probably one on the ship, and I shall have to travel in its company for a week or more before I see it. There may even be one or two fresh ones awaiting my return among all the relics of last year.

What a cheap and illogical effusion Wilson has put forward as his answer to our and the German terms, – with a cheeky suggestion that only such arrangements between the European powers can obtain as commend themselves to the USA.

ACL

Letter from Austin Longland of Radley (D/EX2564/1/8)

Six months on the Somme underage

Florence Vansittart Neale and William Hallam came from different backgrounds, but both their daughters were affected by the war. Phyllis Vansittart Neale, now 25, was nursing, while the teenage Muriel Hallam’s boyfriend had been called up, having already seen service underage.

Florence Vansittart Neale
9 January 1917

Got telegram from Phyllis, arrived Monday night in London – crossing 5.45. Henry went to [illegible] & on to London, & came down same train. I met them at Maidenhead on my way from Polly….
Phyllis seemed very well, except chilblains on her hand.

William Hallam
9th January 1917

Poor Muriel’s sweet-heart Frank Brittain has been called up again for the Army. He had 6 months on the Somme and was then claimed by his father as under 18. Now he is 18 this last week & has to join up again.

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

“The very next day they received a telegram announcing that it was all over”

A Winkfield man who had returned to the Somme after being wounded was killed a few weeks later.

OUR MEN WHO ARE SERVING.

Again this month we have to record the sad news that another of our men has made the supreme sacrifice and laid down his life for his country, for Pte. George Faithful was severely wounded in the Somme offensive and succumbed to his wounds a few days later. His parents on October 23rd heard that he was wounded, and the very next day they received a telegram announcing that it was all over. Only a few months ago he was invalided home wounded, and he had been out at the front again for only a few weeks before he met his death.

A Memorial Service was held on Sunday evening, October 31st, and heartfelt sympathy goes out to his bereaved relatives.

Winkfield section of Winkfield District Magazine, November 1916 (D/P151/28A/11)

“It is appalling these awful losses, goodness knows where we find all the officers”

Two of Ralph Glyn’s fellow officers wrote to him with their opinions on the war.

June 20th [1916]
Dear Glyn

Very many thanks for your letter. I was very pleased to hear from you. Georgevitch has evidently done something to get himself into very hot water, I believe the question of decorations has something to do with it, anyhow he is absolutely shelved. You will have heard that a Colonel Nikolauivitch has been appointed Military Attache in London; it is just as well no one proposed Georgevitch for there, as he would have been refused. When they were discussing the question of who to send, they privately asked me & I suggested G, but was at once told that his name would not be entertained for a moment. I fear that there is nothing more that can be done for him. He got into trouble once before I understand over his treatment of his soldiers, & was for this reason only not with a battery in the Field Army.

It is appalling these awful losses, goodness knows where we find all the officers. Still one hopes on the whole the thing is going well though slowly.

I am glad to say I am better, though I have had a bit of [fun?] lately, everyone is having it too. [Hemlis?] & his division have left as you will have heard, most of them I believe going to help at Malta & elsewhere. The country is [illegible] fun from Typhus now, & there is a general air of cleanliness & sanitation about. All his troops practically are inoculated against Cholera.

My wife has been in the North all this time working up relief funds for Serbia, & has collected quite a lot of money; so anyhow you would not have had a chance of meeting her, thanks very much all the same. Things are very quiet here, but I am busy enough with wires & things the WO want. We were visited by 3 Austro-German aeroplanes the other day who dropped some bombs & made a lot of noise, but did not do much damage. We bagged one on its way back.
Wishing you the best of luck.

Yrs sincerely
Arthur Harrison

(more…)

A very hostile reception

Percy continues yesterday’s letter.

Tomorrow’s come and with it your letter (and another Garwood has discovered in his pockets dated May 22).

Well, I know now you did get my telegram, and feel all the more keenly our mutual disappointment; WF, my darling sister, I could cry when I read your loving preparation for my visit. But luckily I’ve been too busy today to do that for we’ve moved bag and baggage to another and largerer [sic] place, and for the first time in our experience have met with a very hostile reception. However, we’re friends again with a very handsome hot tempered maid, in fact – don’t tell mother, but she’s winked at me. Not knowing the correct repartee, I referred to higher authority (the Staff Captain), who solemnly winked back, and now we’re awfully friendly. We’ve been invited to take coffee, allowed to store our bicycles under the eaves of a stinking sty and graciously directed to the “usual offices” by every member of the family, though nothing could be further from an Englishman’s thoughts than to explore the mysteries of French sanitation.

However, here we are: for how long I don’t know, but I don’t suppose we shall be doing much for a while. Did you see today’s tosh in the Chronicle? Thank goodness our fellows only laugh and “carry on” as usual in spite of such hysterical stuff. Our Division don’t want that kind of nonsense: our reputation on facts is good enough without frothy journalism.

[Censored section]

This is terrible news about K of K. Thank goodness his great work is well under weigh [sic].

Unfortunately such an event, the first report of the naval battle, and the local attacks on our front all tend to buck up the Hun & will tend to prolonging the war, the latter I imagine are solely to keep up the morale of the troops, as they have no real significance.
And too, K of K was a name to compare with – there were never two opinions about who should be at the War Office.

His greatness is hard luck on his successor, even if he should happen to be a Welshman. I hope a soldier of worth & experience will get the post, though, and an Engineer for preference – lawyers are becoming a curse.

And so am I, you’ll be saying, if I keep on scribbling.

But before I close I must tell you about Nini. Nini is a duck of a child at our mess, very interested in all branches of mischief. Thin, lithe & lovely, she dances round our mess, evading our fellows’ longing arms, and clamouring for “music”. We’ve all wound our gramophone till we’re sick of every time it plays. It’s rough luck on us and on the gramophone, but the imp’s worth it…

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer to Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/5/18-19)

Home from the trenches

A Cookham teacher wanted extra time off to spend with her brother who was home on leave.

May 2nd 1916

School opened today…

Received telegram from Miss Pounds – infant teacher – asking extension of holiday for two days as her brother had just come home from the trenches in France.

Cookham Alwyn Road School log book (88/SCH/18/1, p. 272)

“Your services are of such value to the State”

A request was made to transfer Ralph Glyn from Egypt to become aide-de-camp to the Commander of the 8th Corps in France.

Headquarters, VIII Corps
BEF France
May 1st, 1916

Dear Glyn

I rather feared it would be impossible for you to get away from Egypt where your services and knowledge of the Balkans are of such value to the State.

I, however, should much have liked to have had you on my staff, and I, therefore, got the authorities here to wire and offer you the appointment in case perchance it might have suited you to take it.

The best of luck to you wherever you are, and whatever you do.

Yours sincerely,
Aylmer Hunter-Weston

Letter to Ralph Glyn (D/EGL/C32/33)

“Wireless telegraphy has been tremendously developed for intelligence” and is invaluable

Ralph Glyn’s Intelligence colleague Charles French wrote to him in Cairo.

Private
WO

25.IV.16

My dear Glyn

I was very glad to get letters from both you & Perkins by last mail. The organisation of the I branch in Egypt is now becoming quite clear to me, thanks to you two, & the knowledge will be an immense help to all of us.

Judging by your telegrams you seem to be having quite a busy time on the eastern frontier & apparently you are killing a number of Turks which is satisfactory. I am afraid this enemy activity may rather upset your plans of getting to France or home; but personally I find that one gets aaccustomed to sticking in the one place – Perhaps it is unenterprising – But on the other hand the scope of my activities have grown unceasingly ever since I came to the WO. You wouldn’t know many of my section now but I think you’d find it improved. It has been a great advantage breaking up the MO Directorate into MO [Military Operations] & MI [Military Intelligence].

I suppose you’ve met Lefroy – a most scientific bird who may be very useful. You might tell Holdick that here in England W/T [wireless telegraphy] has been tremendously developed for intelligence in every direction – We have a special section under Simpson, who is under me which is doing nothing but W/T and it is perfectly invaluable.

Much of the credit is due to you.

Yours ever
C French

Letter from Charles French to Ralph (D/EGL/C32/31)

A long road still to travel

Members of Maidenhead Congregational Church had to face the fact that life was different in wartime. Particular difficulties were faced by Belgian refugees, who spoke little or no English in a less globalised world than today.

THE HOLIDAYS.
There has not been the usual spirit of happy freedom for any of us in this year’s holiday month. Some have not felt able to leave home at all, and others have been compelled to be content with a shortened time of leisure. But we shall do well to use every means to maintain our ordinary level of health and spirits. If “business as usual” is not an attainable ideal, we must try to live up to “health and nerve as usual.” It may be that we have yet a long road to travel before we see the end of the present horrors. It may be that anxieties and fears are yet to come to us in intensified forms. We must keep up heart. There is of course enough in the possibilities of everyone of us to make us depressed, if we calculate all the possibilities of evil, and sum them up into one terrifying spectre. There is nothing the heart of man needs more than a message of courage and confidence. And we can only get it out of faith, it grows as a blossom upon the plant of faith. Only as we learn to trust in God’s love, and become sure of the gracious purpose, can we maintain our hearts in balance and in peace.

OUR BELGIAN REFUGEES.
Some of our friends have been inquiring why the men of our Belgian household have not found some remunerative employment during these many months. As a matter of fact, they have not been altogether idle. Mr. Dykes kindly found them work on his farm for awhile, but the experiment was not wholly a success. The language difficulty was a serious handicap, they were quite unskilled in farming occupations, and there were other hindrances. One of them was for a time engaged in a local builder’s yard. At the time of writing one is at work for a boat builder in Oxford, and if the arrangement seems likely to continue, perhaps his wife and two little girls may join him there.

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