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A Family at War

Posted in This months highlight on 01 Apr 2014

This letter - written on cheap, wartime paper - was sent by Percy Spencer of Cookham as he prepared to enlist to fight in World War One.

Percy was the seventh child of William Spencer, a self-taught musician and piano teacher. Along with many of his siblings, Percy had artistic aspirations. While his brother Sir Stanley is the most remembered member of the family, the other Spencer siblings were all interesting characters in their own right.

This letter was written from London to Percy’s sister Florence just two days after war was declared in August 1914. Percy explained his reasons for joining up: ‘Don’t think this brutal, but I must point out to you that no man at my time of life can stand aside and let his fellow fight for him, without having an adequate reason for so doing.’

Percy wrote a succession of vivid letters home to Florence during the course of the war, which now form part of a substantial Spencer family archive at the BRO. Percy was a great success: enlisting as a private, he rose to the rank of sergeant almost immediately and was a commissioned officer by 1917. After the war he worked in education.

Percy was one of three Spencer boys to enlist at the start of World War One. Stanley served in the east, in Macedonia, while Sydney joined Percy on the western front. Only Sydney never made it home: awarded the Military Cross for bravery, he was killed in 1918 at the age of twenty-nine.