A very sketchy but very jolly time – perpetual movement and precious little sleep

Percy Spencer shared his latest doings with his sister.

May 21, 1918

My dear WF

I don’t appear to have written you a letter since the 13th. And there has really been no reason why not except a mass of work. I’m very glad to say that I can see the results of my labour, anyway, so that should console you, even if you don’t see many letters.

Well my dear girl, I’ve lately had a very sketchy but very jolly time – perpetual movement and precious little sleep. We’re in lovely surroundings in a wood on one side of a steep valley. The days are quiet and very hot and the night is filled with the roar of guns. On the other side of the valley from another camp every evening a very fine trumpet player amuses all the world with cheery music and beautiful clear toned calls. And when he ceases, the nightingales improve upon his performance and sing all through the night whatever the guns are doing.

We’re all more or less on tiptoe and I’m getting rather fed up with it, one gets so little time to oneself and the night has a nasty way of turning itself into day. Nevertheless even that sort of life has its compensations.

For instance on Whit Sunday I arose at 2 am and didn’t turn in again until I had strolled around our wooded hilltop with our padre (a delightful fellow) and watched the sun rise and heard the birds sing praises to his glory.

On the 16th I met Anderson. You will remember him at the Boarding House at St Albans. Did you meet his wife? He told me you did. The war has made him look sterner but he has not lost his delightful smile.

On the 18th we had a terrific thunderstorm and life was moist. I had a painful toothache and got our dentist to haul out a wisdom tooth. A very trying performance as the tooth had an unauthorised prong. However I daresay the extra prong accounted for my extreme wisdom, so that problem’s settled, and now I suppose I shall be very foolish.

On Monday (yesterday) our Follies gave an open air performance on the hillside. I was unable to get away to it, but it was very jolly to view from a distance.

Will you let everyone who ought to have a photo have one. If possible I should like to see one of each myself.

Could you send me a tinder lighter some time, and a refill for my short tubular torch. I also badly need a key ring. I’m so sorry to bother you about these things, but they are unobtainable out here….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/37)

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“Started my first adventure in the front line”

Sydney Spencer was at the real front line at last.

Sydney Spencer
Saturday 18 May 1918

At stand to this morning, i.e. 4 am. Started my first adventure in the front line. My bit of line was on the extreme right flank, being a straight portion facing due east, & running north & south. On my left was No. 8 platoon. From my front I could see the crater 250 yards away slightly to my right. It had a great coil of French wire all round it. The hill on which it stood sloped down to a valley along which runs the New B Hand road. At the end of a patch of withered tree stumps & behind out of sight, the site of BH on the left of the road, the hill rose up again & went over the crest on which was line of NZs, C & D on our left.

[Illegible] front ran north & south, while the remainder of B Company was in a weird sort of re-cutment like a horse shoe, a very curious position as posts of Peyton’s platoon could fire at posts of Hervey’s platoon if they faced their direct front. The day was spent in settling on fire positions, sleeping & eating. Company HQ was in a dugout in the local support line…

Percy Spencer
18 May 1918

Another lovely day. Heavy thunderstorm in afternoon. I went down to Warlos and had to wade. Rathorn & party from Wing arrived. Awful toothache. Had wisdom tooth drawn. A painful business – a 4 pronged beggar. One prong too many, aid the dentist.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15); and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)