‘Just the clothes we stood up in’

On the 18th of September Percy wrote to his sister Florence, anticipating his transfer to his boss’s Territorial regiment. He was quite cheerful about current conditions although remaining critical of the earlier shambles. No doubt his brother Sydney would have been touched by the praise of the YNCA, for whom he was working at another camp.

Sep 18.14

My dear Florrie

Today it is glorious, but I am a wanderer, attached to no Company and without a roof until tonight. All my chums left yesterday for Woolwich. I remain here pending my transfer, but they are all so busy here, I doubt if I get it for a few days.

The instructors and other kind people are frequently distributing pipes, tobacco, shirts, socks and so forth among the men.

Practically all of us, acting on the advice of the recruiting sergeants, came away in just the clothes we stood up in, and our discomforts would have been very much relieved, if we had been warned to come better prepared.

All the men are improving in appearance – the hard work and diet is pulling up the slackers, and there is nothing to complain of the men going away for their course of training at Woolwich. A week here is doing wonders with them.

The YMCA people are the salvation of the camp. God knows what the fellows would do if they were left to their own resources.

The townspeople are very good to us; we are given apples and things on march, and we always come in for a cheer or two.

If I am transferred I hope I shall be able to do my drills and musketry course, and I hope too we shall see some service, as it is fairly certain that if I remained with the Gloucesters, I should see service, and I don’t want to be out of it.

Yours ever
Percy

The same day he chased up that elusive transfer request again with Captain Holliday

Horfield YMCA
opposite Barracks
Bristol

18 Sept 1914

Staff Capt R J Holliday

Dear Sir

I have just seen the orderly sergeant in reference to my transfer, and he informs me that there is no form I can fill up as the matter is unusual, and it will be necessary for you to apply to the War Office for a special order. I hope you will not have much difficulty in doing this, as I am afraid you have already been put to a lot of trouble on my behalf.

Major Trench and Major Spragget here, and other officers, seemed to see no difficulty – only the NCOs.

My term of service is the same as everyone else’s in Kitchener’s Army – three years, if the war lasts as long, but we are all to be discharged with the utmost speed at the conclusion of the war, so I do not see why there should be any difficulty in my transferring to your regiment, which I believe is also a general service regiment for the duration of the war.

I hope you will be able to arrange my transfer, as I should of course be glad to be serving under you.

Yours faithfully
Percy J Spencer

Letters from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/3/7 and 7/12/4)

A most uncomfortable time – but the men are transformed

Percy Spencer was keen to arrange his transfer. He spoke frankly about army life and the shocking conditions for new recruits in a letter to his father in Cookham. He had also met some of the survivors of the retreat from Mons.

Private Spencer
No: 11814
The Gloucester Regiment
YMCA Tent
Horfield Camp
Bristol
Sep. 17.14

Dear Father

But for the fact that I shall probably get my transfer, I should today have been off with my company to Woolwich. Under the circumstances, I shall probably be here another four days, now.

We were a merry party, wet through or dry, penniless or flush, we saw the fun in everything, and when there was no fun, one of us made it.

My chums of a week have gone and you wouldn’t believe how lonely I felt looking round our empty tent. If I don’t get my transfer, I am after them; they may not be good enough for a dinner party but the sort of men I should like to fight with.

We lost a lot of men at Mons, and some of the wounded are here, fine earnest looking fellows, all anxious to get back again. All the men here who have seen service, have a wonderfully straight, stern look.

I have been very chatty with the officers this last day or two about my transfer. They are a fine body of men, sympathetic and anxious to relieve our conditions if possible. Practically active service conditions, to quote the press, are very trying to untrained men, and it would sicken your heart to see the fellows going down all over the ground at first parade. But I am told that when a few days ago. Men were sleeping on the grass without cover (luckily I have at least escaped that), the Colonel would walk round after midnight, and see that every man at least had a blanket.

Yesterday I saw Major Trench about my transfer. He thought I should get it, and told me to see the CO this morning. I made my first salute, turned right about and went flying over some tent rope. Today, amongst 500 men in the YMCA tent, he remembered my face, and stopped to ask me how I had fared, and expressed the hope that I should get my transfer. A wonderful man, with eyes like electric drills but so kind. He made a rattling good speech to us the other day – nothing silly, just earnest and sincere. None of the claptrap we had served up to us in London.

Your loving son
Percy

On the same day Percy wrote to his peacetime boss, Captain Holliday, to try to move things along, with a brief comment on life in the camp. (more…)