Who’s who

Meet the Spencers

We will be following the Spencer family of Cookham throughout the war. Three of the seven sons served in the army, two volunteered for medical support services and one was exiled abroad with his German wife.

They were the children of organist and piano teacher William Spencer and his wife Anna, and grew up in Cookham High Street, where their eccentric elderly parents lived during the war. The children were all musical or artistic to some degree, and had been brought up with a deep love of nature.

Here is a little more information each of the Spencer siblings.

Will, the eldest, was a gifted musician. Before the war he was studying and teaching piano at the Conservatory in Cologne [Koln], Germany, with his German wife Johanna. In the summer of 1914 he was visiting his family in England, when the war prevented him returning home to Germany. Early in 1915, Will and Johanna were reunited in neutral Switzerland.

Percy Julius, the third son (sometimes called PJ), was the most practical of the boys, employed as a clerk in a big builders’ firm before the war. He joined up in 1914. His keen eye for detail provided fascinating details of life in the army.

Sydney, the most sensitive of the brothers, was an undergraduate at Oxford who planned eventually to seek ordination as a Church of England clergyman. He was not physically strong, but his idealistic character led him to volunteer for active service, and he joined up in 1915 after graduating.

Stanley and Gilbert, art students at the Slade, were less martial in their nature. Both would choose to join the Royal Army Medical Corps, contributing to the war effort but not by fighting. After the war, Stanley gainied international renown as an artist. His paintings inspired by World War I can be seen at Sandham Memorial Chapel, near Newbury.

Harold, another musician, was the black sheep of the family, always borrowing money and not repaying it. His wife Natalie was a dancer and dancing teacher. Horace, the fourth son, was a professional magician. They will make guest appearances through the eyes of their brothers.

Their sister Florence, 30, was a single woman living in Maidenhead. She had a close friendship with John Maxwell Image, a much older Cambridge academic who had acted as something of a mentor to the boys. Florence kept in close contact with her brothers, and was the axis around which the family circled.

Elder sister Annie plays little part in the letters, but she had been a major influence on the younger boys, who she had educated at home.

A podcast from Radio Berkshire focuses on the Spencers and the war.

Other individuals we will hear from frequently

Apsley Cherry-Garrard was a wealthy landowner who had been on Scott’s fatal expedition to the South Pole. He had poor vision, but he was keen to play his part in some way.

William Henry Hallam saw the war from the Home Front. He lived over the county boundary at Swindon, but he kept in touch with his childhood home in Lockinge.

Florence Vansittart Neale was the chatelaine of Bisham Abbey. She had a privileged source of war information in her husband, Admiralty official Henry Vansittart Neale, and was keen to help refugees and the wounded. By early 1915 Bisham Abbey had become a hospital for wounded Belgian soldiers.

The Dodeka Club was a group of 12 men of all ages (Dodeka is Greek for 12) associated with Trinity Congregational Church, Reading. They met monthly to share books and discuss topical subjects (which often included the war). Their voices represent the thoughtful middle classes.

The Revd T. Guy Rogers, vicar of Reading St John, was struggling with his conscience. Should he join the ranks of army chaplains?

The Glyns and their circle

A new family who will be enlivening the blog are the Glyns. Although their Berkshire connection during the war period is a bit tenuous, their letters have such strong character and details of wartime life we had to include them.

The Revd Edward Carr Glyn (1843-1928), Bishop of Peterborough 1896-1916 (whose mother was a Grenfell of Taplow), had married Lady Mary (nee Campbell). She was the daughter and sister of successive Dukes of Argyll, and grand daughter of the Duke of Sutherland. Her eldest brother, the Duke of Argyll, had been married to HRH Princess Louise, one of the daughters of Queen Victoria. The Bishop and Lady Mary had three children, each of whom had a strong personal interest in the progress of the war.

Their only son, Ralph, born in 1884, moved to Farnborough in north Berkshire after the war, and was a north Berkshire MP for many years. He was an officer in the Rifles Brigade who was attached to the War Office at the start of the war. In the summer of 1915 he was entrusted with a secret mission, and later served at the Dardanelles.

His sisters were both married to officers. Margaret (born in 1888 and known in the family as Meg) had married naval officer Herbert “Jim” Meade (a younger son of the Earl of Clanwilliam) in 1911, and lived in London with her two young children. Alice Mary Sybil (Maysie, born in 1889, had married army officer and Old Etonian John Wynne-Finch (b. 1891) in February 1914.

Their cousin, Lady Mary’s nephew Ivar Campbell, joined up when the war started. His widowed mother Sybil (Lady George) Campbell, and another cousin, Niall, Duke of Argyll, are other correspondents.

General Charles Callwell (1859-1928) was Director of Military Operations and Intelligence at the War Office, and served as a mentor to Ralph as well as his commanding officer.

New for 1918: the young girl’s view

Our latest diarist is Joan Daniels, a 15 year old from London who moved to Reading to escape air raids.

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