September 21st 1917

Today is the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Oxford Preparatory School, or the Oxford Little Boys’ School as it was first known, in 1877.

As shown in this notification in the University Gazette, there were 30 founders, including four Heads of Colleges and seven Professors.

AE Clarke, Headmaster 1877-86

Two rooms were rented at 26 St Giles, known then as Balliol Hall, and Mr Clarke was appointed as the first headmaster. The first intake consisted of 14 boys, including the son of the Dean of Christ Church, Lionel Liddell.  What a shame his older sister (of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ fame) was too old to be a Dragon!

A number of these founders had sons who have featured on these pages. Rev. Tyrwhitt is the father of Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt and W Esson is the father of Major William Esson (killed when HMS Russell sank). Professor Price’s son, Lieut-Col Bartholomew Price, won the DSO in the South African War as well as being ‘Promoted for Service in the Field’ in the current war.

Mr Clarke took me on as an assistant master in 1882 and a strong personal relationship grew up between us over the following years. He was most forbearing with the many mistakes made by a young and untrained teacher, and let me run the games and out-of-school activities in my own way without interference.

Once he obviously should have given me the sack when, after taking the Cricket XI in a brake to Cothill, on our return we found a police sergeant awaiting us at the Boarding House, and with him a rubicund gentleman with a bandaged eye who complained that we had all shot at him with pea-shooters when crossing Folly Bridge!

I have to admit that, having confiscated said item on the outward journey, the real culprit was not any of the boys…

 

September 19th 1917

Capt. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA)

Today I should have been concentrating on the start of a new school year, but the most calamitous news came to me from Mrs Sidgwick. Hugh has been killed.

At this time, I feel able only to share with you my response to his mother:

My dear Mrs Sidgwick,

No words can express my sorrow and feeling of personal loss – it is too too cruel a fate – such a glorious intellect & so noble a character, with so splendid a future before him.

There must be some future reunion with these noble souls – or we all are in the hands of a fiendish force which drives us & jibes at our hopes – I have just told the boys of the severest loss we have yet suffered. With the exception of Frank (& that possibly because I have seen more of him) Hugh was of all my old boys the best beloved and most proudly looked upon by me – and this does not express

my very deep feeling of sympathy with you & Frank & his sisters. His father is I hope spared the full knowledge of the loss he has suffered, but I do mourn with you all and sympathise most deeply.

Yours ever,

His old Skipper

 

 

 

Hugh’s father’s illness renders it unlikely that the family will share this news with him.

 

September 15th 1917

Capt. Tom Sheepshanks (Norfolks) has been attached to the 11th Suffolks, who last month took part in operations to capture a series of German positions, which formed the advance elements of the Hindenburg Line. I think it can be said that they met with singular success:

“We had a champagne dinner the night before we moved up and I remember quite well – well. I think we had better leave it at that; we are digressing.

Zero day was Sunday August 26th, and on Friday we moved up towards the line and bivouacked in a copse… Friday night the other Coy Commander and I walked up to BHQ and went out to reconnoitre the jumping off place, which was a sunken road some distance in front of our line. Saturday we spent sleeping and dishing out bombs, flares etc.

Zero hour was fixed for 4.30 a.m. Sunday morning and we had to be in position by 2 a.m., so we gave the men a hot meal about 11 o’clock at night with a good tot of rum in their tea, under the influence of which I made them a patriotic speech and we then moved off. The intelligence officer had been out earlier in the evening and marked the respective company frontages with pegs marked with luminous paint, so we all got into position quite happily…

The only worry was the cooing of the carrier pigeons and the violent blasphemies of the signallers in charge of them. The noise those beastly birds made was something outrageous and the signaller made it even worse by threatening in a raucous whisper to wring their blank blank necks unless they shut up. I shut him up and the birds quieted down…

Punctually at 4.30 the machine gun barrage opened up and a few seconds later the 18 pounders let fly. We were attacking on a three company front, mine being in the centre, and my company’s objective was a place called Malakoff Farm, with a line of trenches in front of the farm and another behind it.

The barrage was all shrapnel and we followed it at a distance of about 30 yards; the ground wasn’t cut up and the going was good. Eventually we reached the wire or what was left of Fritz’s front line. Our heavies had knocked the trench and wire absolutely flat, so we found no one there.

That was our first objective and the leading wave stopped there and started to consolidate. The rest of the company went on…

A few moments later we got up to our final objective, waited for the barrage to lift and then rushed it. That was where we scored so much by following the barrage closely. He had two or three m.g’s there, but we were on him so quickly that he only got one into action and that didn’t fire long. Fritz showed no fight at all. He either ran away or put up his hands.

One of them was quite pathetic. He was so keen to surrender that he evinced a desire to embrace and kiss me. I kicked him over the back of the trench and went on to dug-out just beyond, which seemed to promise something. We raked ten men out of it and last of all, to my intense delight, an officer with a beautiful automatic and a pair of Zeiss. He seemed unwilling to give them up to my Corporal at first. He thought better of it a second or two later. That Corporal never did like Huns and had a very business-like fist.

I’m a bit hazy about the next ten minutes. I found both my platoon commanders had got in all right and also the company on either side, but there was a lot of sniping going on and a m.g was causing my men trouble. My Sergeant-Major, the finest man I’ve ever known, got killed trying to locate it and knock it out, and one of my subalterns who was standing talking to me got hit badly, whilst I had one through my hair at the back of my head.

However we soon got things straight and started to dig ourselves in. We had got all of our objectives and felt very pleased with ourselves.”

Tom added that his regiment won a VC, three MCs, a DCM and twelve Military Medals in this action.

 

We still live in hope that Tom’s brother Bill Sheepshanks, who went missing in an action fought on July 26th, is alive and a prisoner of war.

 

 

 

 

September 10th 1917

2nd Lieut. William Scott

 

It is only a week since we heard of the death of Will Scott and the words of his Commanding Officer and Company Commander made it evident that he was held in very high esteem. Now his parents have received a letter from  Company Sergeant-Major E Brooks, who was at his side at the end:

Sergeant-Major Brooks

“4.45 a.m. August 22nd came along; I saw Mr Scott spring up on his feet and then his men. Off we went together, Lieut. Scott in front. I soon had the news that he had been wounded in the wrist but was still carrying on.

At about 5.30 a.m. we reached our objective; along came Lieut. Scott as lively as ever with a wound in the wrist and another in his leg. We had a little talk over the situation when Lieut. Scott decided we should send a message back to Headquarters; out came the map and before I had time to get my pencil from my pocket he had the map reference ready.

Everything was going well in our favour when an enemy machine gun rang out. We looked rather startled at each other for a few seconds and then I quickly discovered that my Commander had been hit. I placed him under cover as quickly as possible, but sorry to say he passed away in about half a minute from the time he was struck by the bullet.

Of course I knew then that I could not do any more for him, so I carried on with the work until dusk at 8 p.m.

As it was impossible to get him back I decided to bury him with the assistance of my batman. We made him a nice little grave and put him comfortably to rest. I hadn’t anything to make a little cross for him so I had to be contented with a field post card with his name and rank on it, which I placed firmly on his grave.

This was the end of my brave Commander; I can tell you I have never seen or heard of a braver man.”

This is quite something coming from Sergeant-Major Brooks, himself a winner of the Victoria Cross.

September 6th 1917

Thank goodness for some good news this time.

Hugh is now CAPTAIN Hugh Sidgwick (RGA)!

30/8/17. “They have promoted me to Captain, and I have spent money heavily on new spots to cover myself with.

I am also in a quite different part of the country, and not nearly so pleasant a one. Still, I have been very lucky for most of the summer and so I ought not to grouse.

At present I hope you are all getting some sort of holiday. Most people at home seem to be more sensible on the subject of holidays this year, and I hear that even the Civil Service are going to get them.

For a purely restful and irresponsible holiday I can recommend active service, provided you choose your front carefully. Charming scenery, cheerful company, unlimited food and drink, corps intelligence supplied daily and shelling on alternate Tuesdays…”

I can think of better alternatives for the last two weeks of the summer holiday, so, tempting – but no thank you, Hugh!

 

September 3rd 1917

Lieut. William Scott (Ox & Bucks Light Infantry)

This has been a distressing few weeks – these pages in quick succession have had to record the deaths of five Old Dragons, with Willie Wells-Cole also missing in action – all in the Flanders offensive around Ypres.

Will is now the sixth and, as with many of these brave young men, he was leading his men forward when he was killed in an attack on August 22nd.

His colonel has written consoling words to the family: “Your brave boy died leading his men to victory, and it was by his example that the victory was gained, as he was hit twice, once severely, but still refused to quit, and it was at the head of his company that he was hit for the third time, but still thinking of duty before himself he continued to give orders up to the last.”

His Company Commander Capt. Geoffrey Rose, also an Old Dragon, wrote most warmly to Will’s parents:

“No mere words of mine could suffice to describe the pride and grief which is felt in the Battalion and most especially in this Company at his death. Your son is famous for acts of the greatest bravery and devotion to duty that are unequalled in the records of this Battalion…”

Will was twice wounded last year as well as suffering from trench fever.

From Rugby School, Will went to McGill University in Montreal in 1910. Thereafter Will embarked on a promising career, engaged by the Canadian Government to determine latitudes and longitudes in the Rocky Mountains.

When the war came, failing to gain admission to a Canadian contingent due to his short sightedness, he returned to England to join the OBLI. As the Times obituary noted, in this he was following family tradition, “his grandfather and his great-grandfather had both served in that regiment, the former at Waterloo.”

 

 

 

 

September 1st 1917

2nd Lieut. Revere Osler (RFA)

Sir William & Lady Osler have been advised of the death of Revere, their only child, on August 30th.

Revere was severely wounded by the explosion of a shell and taken to a casualty clearing station at Dozinghem. Sir William, Oxford’s Regius Professor of Medicine, has friends amongst the doctors and surgeons currently active in France, who rushed to Revere’s side.  Despite the attention of these eminent men, he could not be saved.

To those who knew Revere as a boy at the OPS at all intimately, he was a delightful friend and companion and was greatly loved. The ordinary Public School curriculum (in which he took little interest) hardly gave him the opportunity for showing his genius, which lay in two directions, observation and love of nature, and also devotion to art and literature.