December 12th 1918

Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI) is, we know, a francophile – he wrote last year of his pleasure at working with the French on the Western Front.

Following the account of his experiences in the Battle of the Piave in June, here is his latest, and perhaps last, missive from Italy.

With the French in Italy.

30/11/18. “By great good fortune, I spent the last three months of the war with the French on the Asiago Plateau, acting as a liaison officer between them and my own Division…

The policy on both Divisional fronts was a constant raiding activity. The French are, as everyone knows, quite uncannily clever at raids. They have always taken more prisoners and had fewer casualties than the English, on every front. I could never learn the secret of their success, and they professed not to know it themselves. Each Division used to do a big raid every ten days…

[The French Division]… had a great success early in August. It captured nearly 150 prisoners at the cost of one man killed and six wounded… The prisoners were a sorry lot, as usual. Among them was a Regimental Commander (a Colonel). The [French] General did a thing which no English General, under any conceivable circumstances would do. He picked the captured Colonel up, put him in his car, and took him straight back to Divisional HQ, where he gave him breakfast in his mess.

After breakfast, the French General launched out into a magnificent tirade against Austria and all its works, and while he whipped the unhappy Colonel with his words, the latter sat, with his head in his hands, the picture of decadence, defeat and despair.

I was afterwards left alone with him under my charge and we had an interesting talk. He was a typical Austrian, weak, agreeable, strongly anti-Boche. He shrugged his shoulders over the whole business, and when I asked him what would happen to the Dual Monarchy after the War, he answered, ‘My dear fellow, so long as you leave me Paris to live in, and English clothes to wear, I don’t care!’

Daily Telegraph, 31/10/1918

After a crescendo of raids on the plateau, the Piave offensive was launched, and went well from the start. In four or five days, the enemy showed signs of a withdrawal on our front, and, at the given moment, the French and my own Division sprang upon his rearguards, kicked them off the plateau, and began the great pursuit…

I am writing in a great hurry, and have no time to tell you half the things that I should like to tell about the French. They are wonderful soldiers. British troops are just as brave, but I believe it is just to say that where we show great talent for war, the French show genius… 

They admire and love us because, as they say, we are a people ‘qui sait si bien se faire casser les dents.’ How true this is of France and England our casualty lists show, and we shall not forget it.

I hope that this is the last war letter I shall ever send to the ‘Draconian’!”

December 9th 1918

2nd Lieut. Vincent Alford (RGA) only left the OPS in 1913. In January 1918, having just left Winchester, Lally (as he was universally called) came to our rescue, playing the part of Touchstone in ‘As You Like It,’ when his younger brother Robert fell ill.

In May this year he was gazetted as 2nd Lieut. and now writes from 328 Siege Battery:

“I’m a colossal fraud, as I only saw about a few weeks of the war. The Boche ran so fast towards the end that it was next to impossible for our guns to keep up with him.

A week ago we came back to a large, straggling village called Beauval, just south of Doullens. It hasn’t seen the war except for an occasional shell last March, and it’s blessed to live in houses with a roof.

I had a capital whole-day tip to Mons, a large Belgian town in mining country, with shops and civilians and Boche money and prices (!!) that would knock spots off the Food Controller’s most fantastic efforts.”

Mons? This takes us back to the beginning of the war, when Lieut. Victor Cowley (Royal Irish Rifles) and Lieut. Rupert Lee (Worcs) first wrote with news of the retreat from Mons in September 1914.

How much have we endured since then.

December 5th 1918

Daily Telegraph, 4/12/1918

We are sorry to hear of the death of a former OPS parent and indeed the trustee who, along with Rev JR King and W Esson Esq approved the terms and conditions under which I was able to acquire the OPS in January 1887.

Dr John Percival was the first Headmaster of Clifton College when it opened in 1862, before becoming President of Trinity College Oxford in 1878. Then in 1887 he succeeded Dr Jex-Blake as Headmaster of Rugby. His obituary celebrates his considerable contribution to education:

Dr Percival has been described as one of the greatest headmasters of the latter half of the last century. He undoubtedly exercised a strong influence over the boys, to whom to always inculcated the highest ideals of manliness and virtue…

He was one of the originators of University College Bristol, and was an active worker in the cause for women’s education. He was the first President of the Council of Somerville College, Oxford.”

Dr Percival was made Bishop of Hereford in 1895. He retired to Oxford last year.

He was the father of Arthur Percival (Lieut.- Col., Northumberland Fusiliers) who together with his brother Launcelot joined the OPS in 1879. Arthur was one of three of our Old Boys who was killed on October 31st 1914.

Launcelot Percival is currently Rector of St Mary’s, Bryanston Square in London, having distinguished himself before the war as an English rugger international and as one of the first invited to join the Barbarians Club.

December 2nd 1918

Daily Telegraph 28/11/1918

Following the news of the surrender of more German U-boats, we were honoured to receive a letter from Rear-Admiral Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt KCB DSO RN. It gave me great pleasure this morning to read it to the boys:

HMS Curacoa  

28.11.18

Dear Mr Lynam,

It will, I feel sure, be of interest to the School to know that the 5th Group of German submarines arrived yesterday, making the total number surrendered 114. There are a few more to follow.

I think that I, being an Old Boy, have the right to demand a whole holiday honour of the occasion. It would give me great pleasure if you could see your way to granting the school this favour and hope it will give them some pleasure too.

Yours sincerely,

Reginald Tyrwhitt

In reply, I have suggested that we should supplement our annual whole holiday on VC Day by an annual Navy Day on the anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, May 31st 1916 – a victory which shut up the German fleet useless in harbours for the rest of the war.

HMS Curacoa

The Admiral has also sent us his account of the surrender of the first group of U-boats on November 20th:

“It was a most impressive sight to me, this long line of over five miles of German submarines steaming peacefully along, and one could scarcely realise that a short week ago, the slightest rumour of one such craft being in the neighbourhood was enough to bring our destroyers tearing up from all sides to hunt him to death…

The German captains were required to sign a paper on which certain conditions were laid down; the drift of these being that their boats were in good running order and ready for sea in all respects, also that no ‘booby traps’ or other such pleasant devices were arranged on board for our reception. Each boat now ran up the White Ensign, and with our prize crew in charge and the Germans fallen in on the foc’sle, proceeded into Harwich Harbour.

There was a certain amount of trouble over this latter condition; the German crews had been heavily bribed to induce them to come and had apparently not been told that they would be taken into a British port under our War Flag, as they call it.  It is a most interesting fact that the majority immediately concluded that they were about to be paraded through the streets of Harwich at the mercy of the inhabitants, after the manner of a sort of ancient Roman triumph.

One can easily imagine what would have been our fate if the conditions had been reversed.”

November 29th 1918

We must be thankful that the plague of ‘flu,’ which was so virulent in Oxford and elsewhere, has dealt lightly with us. We sent the boarders home for nearly three weeks.

The school was closed from Tuesday to Monday, and again from Thursday to Monday. Otherwise we kept the dayboys on.

The dozen or so boarders, who for various reasons could not go home, had some jolly expeditions, and did little work. They also made great use of the Carpenter’s Shop.

We let off some fireworks in honour of the Armistice yesterday. Many boys had never let off fireworks before, and there were moments when it seemed likely they would never let off any more (!) but there were no serious casualties.

It has been suggested that we should abolish Guy Fawkes’ Day and institute Nov. 11th instead, and burn a far less respectable and much more cowardly villain in effigy.

November 26th 1918

SURRENDER OF THE GERMAN HIGH SEAS FLEET

Thursday, November 21st 1918

HMS Queen Elizabeth overlooking the German surrender.

Three Old Dragons had the good fortune to witness the events of this historic day: Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (RN) on HMS Valiant, Lieut.-Commander Moray Wallace (RN) on HMS Relentless and Assistant Paymaster Percival Chapman (RN) on HMS Royal Sovereign.

The picture above, kindly sent to us by Geoffrey Freyberg, shows Admiral Beatty’s ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, watching over a German Konig class battleship (in the distance).

Geoffrey Freyberg (HMS Valiant) weighed anchor at 3.15am on November 21st to make their way to the rendez-vous with the German High Seas Fleet:

“We glide past the heavily-fortified island of Inchcolm, the Oxcars, and Black Rock booms… past Burntisland Roads… and then out into the night towards May Island, that bleak and barren outpost of the Forth, some 30 miles from Rosyth.

Clear of the outer gate we get out our Para-vanes, one of the three great inventions of the war at sea (the depth-charge and the hydrophone being the other two). The Para-vane looks like a short torpedo with wings, it is towed from the stern and cuts moored mines adrift as neatly as a slicing machine cuts rashers of bacon. 

We pass May Island at 6.02am… and steer east (true) to meet the advancing ‘enemy,’ with whom we have been in touch by W/T since midnight…

On meeting up with the German fleet, Moray Wallace (HMS Relentless), like many others no doubt, had his suspicions as to what would happen:

“They still flew their flag, and we had a feeling of possible treachery, for the men seemed scarce on deck, and they had their binoculars on us frequently from the bridge…

At last we passed May Island and dropped anchor in the Firth of Forth near the destroyer we were to examine for general sea-worthiness and hidden explosives…

As we climbed up the ladder and under the life-lines, the hands slouched round and peered at us, smoking cigars and cigarettes; all with their hands in their pockets and clustered together for’d as we reached the upper deck…

I saw no signs of mutiny; the hands seemed zealous to bring lamps and show off anything, and volunteered explanations. Nothing was as nice as in our own ships, and paint was everywhere instead of polished brass.”

Percival Chapman (HMS Royal Sovereign) describes the moment that marked the German surrender:

“Orders were given by the C-in-C that the German ensigns were to be hauled down at sunset this evening and were not to be hoisted again – in other words, sunset marked the virtual chucking up of the sponge.

Everyone became a trifle excited as sunset approached, some people having an idea that the Boches might attempt something dramatic when the critical moment arrived, such as a little diversion in the way of explosions etc. Nothing , however, happened except that the Hun battle cruiser ‘Derfflinger’ and one of their battleships were rather late on it. This was probably due to the almost complete lack of discipline which is now supposed to reign in the Hun Navy – anyway, whatever the cause, their slackness evoked derisive cheers  from the crew of the ‘Royal Oak.’

This was the only sign of jubilation anyone gave, cheers being against orders.” 

The battle cruiser ‘Derfflinger’

As I recall, the ‘Derfflinger’ fought at the Battle of Jutland and was responsible for the demise of HMS Invincible and Charles Fisher.

No sooner had the German fleet been captured  than they became something of a tourist attraction, although Geoffrey Freyberg was still slightly wary:

“Two days later I took a party of ladies, including my own family… round the German ships at anchor. One looked at these great ships at a range of only 5 or 10 yards with a queer feeling, almost expecting that a mad German would sweep the crowded stern sheets of our steam barge with a machine-gun. The sailors looked sullen and defiant, the officers, for the most part, looked dejected and ignored our close visit of inspection…”

November 23rd 1918

Daily Telegraph 21/11/18

Sub-Lieut. Francis Studdy (RN), on HMS Danae, witnessed the surrender of the first group of German U-boats on November 20th – to an Old Dragon, Rear-Admiral Reginald Tyrwhitt (RN), “of Arethusa fame,” (as the Daily Telegraph described him.)

It was a coincidence (surely?) that the ship detailed to lead in the U-boats was HMS Dragon!

20/11/18 “All ships sounded off ‘Action Stations’ at once. The light cruiser HMS Dragon (our sister ship) was detailed to lead them in, and took up her station ahead of the two merchant ships, who were to act as transports to take the German crews back. We carried on to the end of the line, the eighteen destroyers ranging themselves on each side along the line of submarines…

At 10.30 we reached the place where the Dragon and the two transports were anchored off Felixstowe, and anchored ourselves. As each U-boat came up a motor boat went alongside and put a prize crew on board…

The manner in which the Germans surrendered their boats differed greatly. In some cases they seemed only too pleased to hand over; in others they were stoically indifferent. In one submarine the captain crashed his binoculars to the deck and wept passionately, several of the crew ‘following their senior officer’s motions.’…

As they moored up, the German crews were put on board destroyers and taken out to the transports waiting for them. The officers have no control over their men at all, and both men and submarines are in a filthy condition, but at the same time they look healthy and appear to be well fed. One destroyer officer who took one batch out said that they smelt something awful and that it took him several days to get rid of the stench.

In one submarine the crew took a dislike to their captain, so they just ditched him and put someone else in his uniform. They were quite candid about the whole thing, because the officer taking over the boat commented on the youthful appearance of the captain and asked him how long he had been in command. He replied a few hours and then volunteered the above information…

When all the U-boat crews were embarked in the two transports, the Dragon escorted them off the premises.”