“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)

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Glorious sunshine – good for the Bosch, worse luck

Sydney Spencer was poised to move up the line to the worst action.

Sydney Spencer
Friday 17 May 1918

After a very good night’s sleep I got up at 3.30 after smoking a cigarette & taking an infinite childish delight in watching the bewildering clouds of vapours curling along the narrow slant of the shaft of sunshine which came through the small attic window in my room.

After breakfast I took rifle inspection afterwards. Sat & worked at mess bills & got them settled thank goodness. After lunch I went round to B HQ, settled up wine bills & left 80 francs with Sergeant Green for buying stuff while we are up the line.

It is now 4 pm & at 8.30 we go up the line again. So, my dear diary, I close your pages for a few days, as although I have been very careful to tell you little or nothing that is compromising, I dare not take you near where you might be taken prisoner! So au-revoir!

By the way, last night the Buffs made a big raid. Killed about 300, took prisoners, & got off with less than 10 casualties. It is a scorching hot day. We started out for the front line at 8.30 & got there at 11.15 & took over the trench without further ado – had absolutely no excitement getting there either.

Percy Spencer
17 May 1918

6 pm report from QM re petrol tins.

The best day since I arrived, a glorious sunshine. But good for the Bosch, worse luck. Division to be relieved tonight. We endeavouring to stay in Warlos for a might at least. Got NCO promotions nearly up to date, & a letter register started.
Pushed out of Warlos by 58th. Went to camp on hillside. Close quarters but lovely day. CO went to command 141.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); and Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67)

“A bicycle made for two”

More from the Spencer brothers.

Will Spencer
15 May 1918

Some French soldiers were resting on the benches on the paved platform between the two buildings of the Blumlisalp Hotel. For the first time I had the feeling that the [interned] soldiers at this hotel were in some respects better off than those at the Waldpark. The hotel has more the unpretentious character of an Inn – is more rustic & more cheerful, with its water trough by the road & its tree-planted space between the two buildings. One of the soldiers was whistling the tune of “A bicycle made for two”, & I was surprised & amused to find that J. knew the words to almost the whole of the tune – which was more than I did.

Sydney Spencer
Wednesday 15 May 1918

3.30 pm. I am seated now, guess where, my dear diary? At Major Bracey’s working table at his billet! Only 3 kilos from where I at present live. I have just ridden over on Capt. Rolfe’s gee. Major Bracey is out however & won’t be back till 5, so I shall stick here to see him & having the football match I half promised to play in. I hope there won’t be a dust up about it though. It will be splendid to see old Bracey again, it is 14 months since I last saw him. Had a day off today. Dear old Rolfe, he did the straight by me after my two rather thorny days on Monday & Tuesday. Have just written to Father & Mother.

At 5.30 pm.
Major Bracey did not turn up. I waited till nearly 6 pm. Rode back. Watched football match between officers & men – a drawn game. After dinner walked over, saw dear old Bracey who cheered me up immensely. He walked back part of the way with me. To bed at 10.30 & read more of my book.

Percy Spencer
15 May 1918

A glorious sunshiny day. A good deal of trouble over billets. Trying to hang on in Warlos for a night at least. Division to be relieved tonight. Up half the night sorting details. Eventually turned in at 3 am after champagne supper & slept on floor in a company mess. Fritz bombed outskirts of village.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer, 1918 (D/EZ177/8/15); Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); and Will Spencer in Switzerland (D/EX802/28)

A most queer looking article: first sight of a tank

Percy Spencer was struggling with morale in France, while a tank visited Swindon.

Percy Spencer
29 April 1918

Letter to COs re deficiencies. Battalion moved by lorry to [Warlos?]. Rotten trip. Feeling wretched myself. Had to bolt for it during a check, close to French troops playing games & using [untrailleuse?]. Splendid troops. Long hopped till I caught column. A bad move – billets not fixed up.

William Hallam
29th April 1918

This morning bitterly cold – enough for snow – the wind still N or N.E. I cam home at ½ past 5 to-night and rushed over my tea and washed and dressed and with wife went over Hay Lane into Victoria Rd to see the Tank Julian come down from the Square to the Public Offices. A most queer looking article. I never saw such a crowd in Swindon before. Could hardly move out of the crowd all round the Town Hall when once we got in. The kids and hooligans swarmed up those lime trees round the space at the back and broke them about something scandalous.

Florence Vansittart Neale
29 April 1918
Modeste left. George Harding came to say goodbye. Going depot at Dover. Soldiers came [and] cleared later. Some out on boat, bowls, billiards.

Diaries of Percy Spencer (D/EX801/67); William Hallam (D/EX1415/25); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)