Blowing bubbles

The Vansittart Neales hovered over Phllis in London.

4 January 1919

H ∓ I off early to hospital as he off to Bisham 11.20 to meet Mr Lawrence about sale next Wednesday. I sat with P till lunch. The wound hurting. Dr to dress it. Lunch at lawn & back there till 5 when Shaw came for me…

Phyllis to have vaccine inoculation & to blow bubbles.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

“Don’t know how they expect a fellow to keep his temperature down to normal when he is subject to such distracting influences”

Percy had been worrying about younger brother Sydney’s fate.

Bed 8
Florence Ward
St Thomas Hosp[ital]
Aug 19, 1918

My dear WF

Thanks as much as ever for your letters. Since “Aunt Margaret” was here today & pointed [sharpened] my pencil, Sister tells me I am not for the theatre tomorrow. Apparently all the tickets are not yet sold and they have postponed my appearance till Wednesday. Thursday I may or may not be a little unhappy so I suggest you come on Friday. But come just when you like, dear, or when John will spare you.

Last night I was inoculated and I haven’t been feeling very lively since, but Aunt Margaret’s visit today did me a world of good. She is so sweet & restful. Sister just loves her. By the way another nurse has come along, a very finely built & good looking girl. Yesterday too we had a Canadian Red Cross girl all day. Don’t know how they expect a fellow to keep his temperature down to normal when he is subject to such distracting influences.

It was more than kind of General Seagrave to write to you insamuch as he was not longer with or anything to do with the Battalion when I was hit.

Your fuel problem is a nightmare. You’ll have to collect wood.

Yesterday Mr & Mrs Curtis came to see me – bless their hearts. Mrs Curtis with a huge bunch of flowers from a garden at Loughborough Grove – by the way they had a quarrel about who should carry them – and Mr Curtis with 2 cigars. Mr Tom Curtis wanted to see me so he came on Saturday and talked solemnly for a couple of hours about soffits of staircases and dados and wall casings – it was funny.

Well, good night my darling sister.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

PS I was so thankful to get your news of Syd, as on the 7th in the hospital train, the wounded officer in the bunk above me, who happened to command the next platoon to Sydney in the Norfolk Regiment, told me Syd was going over in the attack.

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/77-79)

“If only Fritz would drop a bomb on it, it would save further argument”

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence to let her know how he was getting on. The following day he was to be wounded.

Aug 6, 1918
My dear WF

Almost I’ve forgotten how to write a letter. Lately I have been so busy picking up the threads and so on that I haven’t had time to write a line since July 14, I think it was – not even to write and wish you many happy returns of the 4th. However I’ll put the clock back a couple of days and do it now.

My diary has gone during the last few weeks and I’m racking my brain for news.

To go back, I finished my course on the 17th. My section, 4/7 of which was my Division, won the School cup. The runners up were also 4/7 my Division. So we set our caps at the Canadians, Australians & our friends from USA and swanked. Also individually my section scored highest marks in the examination. My own report read –
Qualifications Very good
Power of command Ditto
Keen

So there was much rejoicing and our [HLI?] instructor got very tipsy at our expense and insisted on singing all the Scotch songs ever written, and some which I believe had before scarcely escaped the boundaries of his “wee bit hoos ben” or some such foreign place.

After that I returned “here” – that’s interesting. From here I went up the line once or twice, and then went “there” and billeted the Battalion. With the aid of 200 men, made the area reasonably clean, and HQ habitable. There was even a piano and one evening we had our string trio over to play to us at mess, and afterwards the doctor (from USA) with a fine voice, sang to us and made us all homesick. And the adjutant begged for Raff’s [Cantina?] and got it, and wondered how I knew when I turned to him during the piece and said, “Your wife plays this”.

And then I came here again & the adjutant being inoculated & sick, I had to ride up the line and take over. And now I am here again (and it’s pouring with rain) in an abandoned cottage with an earth floor and leaky roof and really very comfortable. To a newcomer it would be startling to go round a battalion’s “billets” and hear our boys tell the visiting officer that they were quite comfortable in a tumbledown outhouse or barn. Someday again I expect we shall get luxurious again.

Had one very bad night here during an event I expect you are now reading about. Fritz bombed all night and generally played the devil. A few days before a billet of ours was gutted by fire due to another unit’s fault. Luckily overnight I had organised our people for such an event, and in 25 minutes we had it out and a large farm saved. The other unit having at last accepted liability, rebuilt the place. I remarked that if only Fritz would drop a bomb on it, it would save further argument. He did, but not till it had been rebuilt & occupied and the farmer was gloating over new buildings for old.

The CO has just turned up so I’ll close while I have the opportunity.
With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/58-60)

The only thing the soldier never seems to do is to ‘rest’

Army chaplain T Guy Rogers describes how he encouraged the soldiers to attend his services in their spare time.

My Dear Friends,
June 15th 1916.

Would it surprise you to hear that your Chaplain has become a Hun! Only temporarily and to oblige, morally or immutably. Do not be shocked nor repudiate him as your representative! It was only at manoeuvres to swell the skeleton army opposed to the British. A well delivered smoke bomb soon put him out of action. He has since returned to his allegiance with a profound respect for the élan of the British Infantry.

This is a glimpse of how we spend our time when we are ‘at rest’- a phrase which makes the soldier smile. Marches, attacks, drill, occupy our attention. Bath parade and ‘foot parade’ and kit parade and gas helmet parade are arranged as pleasant little interludes. The only thing the soldier never seems to do is to ‘rest’ in the loose sense in which it is so often employed of slacking or doing nothing. When the Commanding Officer is done with him, and the Medical Officers’ fever for inoculation is spent, and the Sergeant-Major has ceased from troubling, he organizes himself for cricket and football and rounders.

Finally, he has the Chaplain to reckon with! It is he who comes along smiling and debonair with a haversack slung across his shoulders (concealing beneath his gay exterior a nervousness which is often acute); ‘What about a service, men,’ he says, ‘on the grass under the trees before the cricket and football begin – just twenty minutes. I’ve got hymn sheets with our favourite hymns – what do you say?’ And they come of their own free will – at first slowly, gradually overcoming their inertia, but gathering force and numbers as they get under way and at last singing with heartiness and animation which shows the interruption is not resented.

In the midst of all this happy open air life there suddenly comes an order that we are wanted somewhere. We are all whirled away in motor buses a distance of twenty miles and we are in the midst of stern realities again.

Remember all our brave men recalled thus suddenly to the line.

Your sincere friend,
T. GUY ROGERS.

Reading St John parish magazine, July 1916 (D/P172/28A/24)

Inoculation knocks the stuffing out of a soldier

Vaccination against infectious diseases was required of all soldiers heading for the front.

Silverdale
Belmont Hill
St Albans
[Postcard postmarked 10 Feb 1915]

Dear Florrie…
Last Monday I was inoculated for the first time & it has rather knocked the stuffing out of me all this week…
Yours ever
Percy

Postcard from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/4/4)

Indian troops get great reception in France

Phyllis and Elizabeth Vansittart Neale, heiresses to Bisham Abbey, were both committed to nursing during the war. One important step was being vaccinated against infectious diseases.

1 October 1914

Girls both 2nd inoculation – did not affect them.

21st day of the Battle of the Aisne! Not ended yet. Hope Allies are outflanking the Germans. Strong reinforcements (no). Indian troops in France – great reception at Marseilles. Lady Amherst’s son killed.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)