“This mysterious illness has been rife”

The influenza epidemic puzzled many people. Phyllis Vansittart Neale’s case, which we have been following in detail, was worse, and now her mother was ill with the stress.

The Influenza

This mysterious illness has been rife in the parish, though not so bad as in the towns. All our three schools, and the Infant School, have been closed at one time or another, and, as can be seen by the unusually long list of burials, there have been a sad number of deaths.

19 December 1918

Phyllis very ill.

I kept in bed all day by Dr Belfrage – nearly fainted. Edith went down to hospital for me. Ag went in afternoon and did not get back till 6.30. Felt dreadfully nervous. Said I must go to Hospital, sleep there. P. too ill for me to be away. Got up & dressed, went in officers’ taxi to Victoria, then tram. P. not to know. Kind Matron & night nurse.

Burghfield parish magazine, December 1918 (D/EX725/4); Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/9)

Coffee with a man back from France, war worn

Sydney Spencer resumed his diary on finally being sent to the Front, after three years of training.

Sunday 7 April 1918

8.15 pm
I left home at 7.50 for la belle France. Although I deplore the fact that I temporarily lost all my cash, my warrant, my food card etc, it took away the sting from the leavetaking. Thank goodness I found the whole pocket book in my cardigan. I leave Victoria tomorrow morning at 7.35, & report Folkestone at 10 am.

Arrived London 9 pm. Went to Grosvenor Hotel & had a very good night’s sleep despite the fact that I was unable to get any dinner or food of any sort. Thank goodness I had a few biscuits which Florence (bless her) had put in my pocket. I did manage to get a cup of coffee & drank it conversing with a man back from France, war worn.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15)

“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.

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.


Diary of Sydney Spencer

‘The old buffers are those good “christian” people unable to realise there is a war on or to get a move on’

Percy Spencer enjoyed his brief visit home on leave at Christmas, staying with one of his brothers in London and visiting his workplace.

Decr 29, 1916
Dear WF

These few lines are just to let you know that I have “arrived back safely in the trenches” after a very uncomfortable and tiresome journey. However, c’est la guerre.

I did not go down to Cookham again.

After walking over to Victoria and arriving nearly an hour late on Xmas Eve, I was sent back with a day’s extension, this day I spent very quietly in the armchair at my digs and at Mrs Hunt’s flat. Others more virtuous were held up at port of embarkation and [sic] this side and had a worse – much worse time than I.

I was very happy at 37 Dumbarton Rd. [Brother] Horace’s wife is all that is simple and charming; moreover she plays and sings very delightfully – she has temperament. I do hope you’ll soon have the luck to meet her.

Captain Holliday did not get leave and I didn’t see him. But I saw all the directors at N&G as a Board meeting was in progress when I arrived, which they suspended to have a chat with me. They were all very charming to me. Benny Greenwood who you may remember at Howard’s occasionally is now a Major in the RFC. I suppose he would now be about 23 or 4.

I had lunch with Mr Devlin and all the old foggies [sic] of the firm. Poor Mr Devlin – I’m sorry for him as the old buffers he has remaining with him are those good “christian” people unable to realise there is a war on or to get a move on: he told me with despair that they jogged along at the same old rate, or slower, and expected all the ancient pre-war facilities and privileges. Roll on the day when I can get back and re-introduce some ginger.

Garwood is just slicing the OXO and asks me to thank you for it. Earlier this evening he ventured the opinion that OXO was better than rum – it wasn’t very heartily received. He asks me add a PS that more sausages when next you are sending me anything would be very welcome.

With love to you both
Yours ever

Letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence Image (D/EZ177/7/5/43-44)

Silent tears and sad days

Now that he had settled in back behind the lines, Percy Spencer could reflect on his recent visit home on leave. he was much better than off than one poor man who had been given compassionate leave for teh funeral of a young son.

7th August 1915
Dear Florrie

Poor old girl – what a time you had at Victoria: what a time we all had. Well, if that were possible, my admiration for you has increased. One poor fellow in my carriage silently crying explained to me that he had only come home to bury his four year old boy. “He was the brightest little feller you ever saw: the wife was that proud of ‘im, and I loved ‘im; I loved the little chap, sergeant.” Ah me – these are sad days.

But here I am, right back into my work again, only the happy days at home remembered and looking forward to my next visit – for good, pray God….

We’re having a brief rest a good way behind the line, with the promise of a longer rest shortly. It seems quite strange not to hear the guns going. On Tuesday we’re to have a concert in the grounds of this place. It’s going to be quite a big affair I can tell you; I don’t know that I won’t sing at one of these stunts someday if you’ll send me a song…

Yours ever

Copy letter from Percy Spencer to his sister Florence (D/EZ177/7/4/41-42)