October 20th 1918

Daily Telegraph 17/10/18

The death of Fluff Taylor strikes at the heart of the OPS family and both my brother Hum and I would like to record our thoughts and appreciation of his life as a pupil, colleague and friend.

Fluff Taylor attended the OPS from 1882-86, coinciding with my arrival at the school (then at 17 Crick Road, Oxford) in 1882.

Fluff, as a Dragon

I can see Fluff now with his reddish curly rough hair and his honest freckled face and bright dancing eyes, dressed in a sailor suit. I used to put him up on a desk in the old school at Crick Road and he sang ‘Kitty Wells’ and recited the ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’ most pathetically.

Then later he was our swimming instructor and started the tradition of fearless diving which has been maintained ever since. In those days the Lodge was a merry place and Fluff was the life of it. Then we heard of his exploits in the Himalayas when fighting fierce tribesmen; the Boer War (which claimed the life of his brother, Rex), Graspan and Magersfontein, then colonial work in Nigeria.

When the Great War came he rejoined the Army, was wounded, went back again and after winning many decorations was hit by shrapnel under his helmet on October 1st.

During all those years he constantly came back to his old school, always the same old Fluff. He chummed with different generations of boys, he got them countless ‘halves’ and ‘no preps’; he told them grand yarns, he pillow-fought in the dorms…  There was always a thrill of delight when GC (Mr Vassall) told us that Fluff was coming.

And always he took me with him to the beautiful cemetery at Holywell and laid wreaths of flowers on the graves of his father and brother; and then he would talk to me of higher things, of the mysteries of life here and hereafter – and lately he always came back in our talks to the absolutely magnificent behaviour of his men – their humour, their readiness to make the best of things and such awful things, their refusal to give in to hunger and sleeplessness and awful sounds and sights; he told me how anxious they were about his welfare and that of other officers.

‘Tommy,’ like the boys and myself, never had a dearer or truer or warmer-hearted friend. His resting place is at La Kreule, but his spirit is ever with us to inspire and to cheer and to love.

My brother, Hum Lynam has written:

“In Bedford and Sandhurst days his buoyant spirit, supported by a high reputation as a footballer, won him great influence in School and College. But he was no mere jolly athlete. He won a Scholarship at Bedford and the School Prize for Latin Verse. He quoted Latin in letters from India, with just enough degree of error to prove the genuineness of his knowledge. His descriptions of the antiquities of Crete, his poems, his plea for the serious study of French, showed clearly the instinct of a scholar…

He once wrote a letter to the Draconian to protest that ‘none of the boys (as shown in a photo of the School XI which he had recently received) appears to possess a brush and comb.’ The protest is characteristic. As a soldier he knew and taught the importance of attention to detail: and in one of the best sermons we ever heard – which Fluff preached on March 4th 1917 – he elaborated this point to the complete conviction of right roughest-haired Dragon in the room.”

As our friend, Archer Vassall, has observed,

“There is no Dragon out of the whole number serving who was more intimately bound to the School.”

 

 

 

October 17th 1918

Brigadier-General Stuart Taylor (West Yorks)

Just as we read of German overtures for peace, we hear of the loss of one of our oldest and staunchest of friends – Fluff Taylor.

Fluff was coming on leave at the beginning of term, but he cabled us to say he could not come. This was followed by a letter saying “a special Hun-killing programme was arranged. On the day I should have come I was watching my lads kill Huns and take others prisoners, and they got a splendid haul.” 

Fluff was wounded in May 1916, just before the Battle of the Somme when his Leeds Pals were hit so badly, and he won the DSO last year. More recently he has been involved in the many attacks raining down on the Boche on the Western Front.

On October 1st, Fluff was touring the front line trenches near Ploegstreet, south of Ypres, when a shell exploded nearby. The Brigade Major was killed and Fluff was hit by shrapnel under the helmet and down his left side. He hear that he died of these wounds ten days later, on October 11th.

Like a bright star he burnt, and is suddenly extinguished; to his friends the world is darker. How he would have loved the glory and splendour of the final triumph for which he worked and fought so hard; but he has attained the still more splendid, though more sorrowful glory of a little white cross above his grave on the Western Front.

 

October 14th 1918

2nd Lieut. Stuart Ricketts (RFA)

Stuart Ricketts has finally succumbed to wounds he suffered on August 29th, when his battery were supporting an attack east of Albert and came under enemy artillery fire.

His wounds, caused by shrapnel, were very serious, affecting his lower abdomen as well as breaking his left shoulder, upper arm and hip. He was sent to Rouen, where he suffered for 5 weeks; three operations were performed on him, but they were to no avail and he died of peritonitis on October 5th.

Amongst many heroes, Stuart was more of a hero in his life of the last six years than many. A bad attack of sciatica at Oundle left him with curvature of the spine and a short leg. In spite of much suffering he took the Woolwich exam, choosing to join the RE. This was not to be.

He spent the next five years trying to regain his physical fitness, and after many operations and the weariness of a plaster jacket he, by his great will power, became restored to health and strength. While he was ill, he studied for matriculation and the first medical, and then became a student at King’s, spending his vacation as dresser there.

After passing into the Flying Corps he was medically examined and turned down because of his heart; this was a great disappointment; however, he did not despair, and eventually was passed for the RFA. He went to France in June and was very happy over there, saying it was a grand life, but primitive.

Stuart visited us only last term and we were all pleased with his fitness and cheeriness. It is most disconcerting to find that, having suffered so much in his life already, his final months were ones of yet more pain and suffering.

 

October 10th 1918

We have had a most unexpected letter from Potter Baldwin, who with his brother Charles was at the OPS between 1898-1902, when his family came over from New York to spend some time in Oxford.

3/10/18. Company B., 345th Infantry, American Expeditionary Force, France.

“I have been in the service of Uncle Sam since July 8th, when I enlisted in the Army in New York.

I have been on this side about a month. Of course, our plans are unsettled, and we do not know our next move. In Liverpool station we were served hot coffee and biscuits by the Red Cross.

I noticed a fellow wearing the old familiar cap, with the Dragon on it; he was helping his mother. I spoke to him and his mother, who told me of you and the school. It certainly makes the world seem very small, especially after one has travelled nearly 4,000 miles by boat.” 

This must have coincided with the start of term, when the boarders were returning to school.

OPS boarders come from far and wide – the three Liverpool boys are part of a significant northern contingent, consisting of 9 from Lancashire, 9 from Yorkshire and 1 from each of Cumberland, Cheshire and Northumberland. From even further afield we have 2 from Dublin, 3 from Scotland and 1 from each of Jersey, France and India.

The greatest number do of course come from London/Middlesex (21), whilst we have representatives from 16 other counties: Buckinghamshire (1), Cornwall (3), Derbyshire (1), Devon (4), Essex (1), Gloucestershire (2), Hampshire (5), Hertfordshire (4), Norfolk (1), Northamptonshire (1), Rutland (2), Somerset (4), Staffordshire (1), Surrey (2), Warwickshire (1) and Wiltshire (1).

October 6th 1918

Whilst the papers have been full of the advances being made on the Western Front, General Allenby’s successes in Palestine have also been a feature.

Capt. Billy Collier (RAMC) played a small part in progress on this front over the summer and has kindly sent us an account of an expedition with the Camel Corps to attack the Hedjaz railway, which set out from Akaba on August 2nd.

The column progressed via Rumm towards their objective, the Mudowwara station:

“The station was protected by three redoubts, each on a hill and two parties were to attack the two southern of these from the rear, while a third went for the station… 

One of the most wonderful sights I have seen was our attack on the middle redoubt. Through my glasses, I could see a long line of men, silhouetted against the first light of dawn, as they climbed the hills, and in spite of bombs and rifle fire streamed along the crest without a halt.

Our relief was great when up went the signal for the capture of the southern redoubt, followed quickly by that from the station. From now onwards I was busy with the wounded and I did not reach the station and breakfast till about 11. Here was the Turkish garrison all captured – 6 officers and over 150 men, of whom about 30 were wounded.”

The following day (9th) they moved on, “blowing up the line, the station and the magnificent wells and engines the Turks had built there.” 

By the 14th they had reached Bair and, intent on another scheme of attack, were joined by a new Political Officer:

“We were joined today by Colonel Lawrence as Political Officer and he remained with us, though living for the most part with his own men, practically till the end of the trip. He has a most wonderful influence throughout this country – even, I believe, throughout Arabia and Mesopotamia. In this country he always dresses and generally lives as a Bedouin and has become a sort of ‘great white chief.’ His home is in Oxford.

His party of 50 braves or personal bodyguard arrived on camels the following day, singing and firing their rifles into the air. Firing off a rifle seems to be a popular form of amusement.”

Their plans, however, were discovered by two enemy planes, which flew over them at low altitude.

“Reports were received that our objective was more strongly held than had been anticipated, and this with the fact that we must have been spotted by the aeroplanes decided Col. B and Col. L that the projected attack was too risky.”

On their journey back to Bair, Billy was summoned to tend a British officer who had been accidentally shot:

“When we got there, we found that the bullet had gone through his heart and death must have been almost instantaneous. It appeared that one of Col. Lawrence’s braves had been picking up his rifle from the ground just behind him when it went off accidentally. The rifle had a long loop of string which actually went round the trigger and was no doubt responsible for the accident; in every civilised country it would have been regarded as criminal negligence.”

They made the journey back to Bair without any further alarms, with their rations just about finished.

“The same morning I went on with Col. L and three sick men… We crossed the Hedjaz railway at a destroyed station just before sunset, and for some miles drove up hill and down dale, on a surface of sharp stones, large and small. Luckily we had no punctures and soon after dark we got on to a tolerably level road which brought us at length to Aba el Lissan, the headquarters of the Hedjaz northern army and our own British HQ. We were received with great excitement, for no news of the column had been received since we left Bair 8 days previously.”

I understand that the Lawrence family do indeed live in Oxford – on Polstead Road – not far from the Campbells, with whom they are acquainted.

 

October 2nd 1918

Capt. Francis Twigg (Northants)

As our forces continue to advance on a number of fronts, it is with deep regret that we have to report the death of Francis Twigg.

Following the Battle of Epehy, our troops were involved in a number of minor operations prior to launching the attack on the  Hindenburg Line on September 29th. Frank was involved in one of these operations and died leading his company into the attack on September 24th.

Frank was certain to join the army as soon as the call came, and from the Royal Warwicks he received a commission in the 3rd Northants. At the time of his death he was with the 1st Battalion and there, as everywhere, as boy and man, he won the love and respect of his fellows.

 

Always known as ‘Bonk,’ Frank was the youngest of three brothers who attended the OPS between 1891-99. A good games player, he represented the Midland Counties in hockey in the International Trial games.

 

September 21st 1918

C H R I S T M A S   T E R M   1 9 1 8

Yesterday we started the new school year with numbers standing at 170, including 15 girls. Hopefully everyone has returned as refreshed as I am from a break with school life.

Having failed to include them on these pages before, I would like to draw attention to some things I said on Prize Day in July:

“I have long looked forward to having Hum as a recognised partner in the Headmastership of the School, and that I am pressing for a scheme to carry this out; there are difficulties, chiefly the fact that the School is not exactly my own financially! But I expect there is a way out.

I have enjoyed taking a larger share in the teaching than I have done for a good many years, but I was 60 a few weeks ago, and alas as the years glide by one cannot expect to maintain the vigour and resources of even middle age and one is happily not not yet senile enough to imagine oneself as efficient as one should be in running a great school like this.

Parents have been uniformly kind and helpful both to Hum and myself in the changes we have made. The changes have been all to the good and all the good traditions of the Boarders have been maintained. Self-reliance, freedom, absence of unmeaning convention, originality of character, all these have been fostered, the almost unique (in Preparatory Schools) encouragement of parents to see as much of their children as possible during term time and so to keep the home tie strong, this tradition of our school has been carried on – hospitality to Old Boys and parents, another traditional feature, has been maintained as far as and even further than rations will allow.”

In particular, we look forward to welcoming our Old Boys back – indeed a visit is expected shortly from Fluff Taylor – now a Brigadier-General in charge of 93rd Brigade – no doubt ordering me to grant the boys an extra ‘half-day’!