November 22nd 1917

Earlier this month we entertained about 100 wounded soldiers to a performance of  “HMS Pinafore” and judging from their remarks it gave them real pleasure. At the request of Sister Wilkinson we put on a special performance at Somerville College for those who were unable to attend.

We are delighted to have received these kind words of appreciation:

“The crew of the saucy ship dropped anchor at Somerville Hospital on Thursday evening, Nov. 15th, 1917, at 5pm. It was with feelings of curious anticipation that we wended our way to listen to the delightful strains of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Pinafore.’

The performance was an undoubted success, the audience was in the happiest of moods and many of the numbers were received with well merited applause. The juvenile buoyancy of the crew together with the nautical stage settings were worthy of the very best ‘official’ recognition. The boys worked in true Jack Tar spirit, combined with a breezy cheerfulness, and all contributed in full measure to the evening’s enjoyment…

The performance was greatly appreciated and did quite a lot to brighten and cheer the wounded who are back in Oxford from the great adventure overseas.”

November 16th 1917

I was looking for some relief from this never-ending war, and my thoughts turned to rugger.

Martin Collier

Lieut. Martin Collier (RN) is an Old Dragon player of note, having represented the Navy (1910-14), United Services (1910-14) and The South (1913-14). In normal times we would do well to listen any advice he cared to offer on the playing of the game, but the notes he has sent us, written, he says “after a recent match on the East Coast,describe, perhaps, a wartime version of the game that is certainly not cricket!

“Somewhere within the precincts of Rugby School may be seen a stone bearing an inscription to the memory of a boy who, during a game of soccer ‘with a fine disregard for the rules of the game, picked up the ball and ran with it.’ This commemorates the birth of the Royal and Ancient game of Rugger.

So far as we know, there is as yet no memorial to the man who ‘with a fine disregard for the rules of the game’ (a delicious phrase) first plugged his immediate opponent in the eye; thus developing the game into its present fine, manly and vigorous form so popular in Great Yarmouth this year.

For the benefit of those of our readers as yet unversed, we propose to outline a few of the more elementary points and moves in this splendid sport; with the hope that they will practise them in solitude, and presently confute our opponents by displaying their prowess on the field of play.

  1. THE HAND-OFF. An absurd rule forbids this to be administered – as Nature obviously intended it – with the clenched fist. Only a few old-fashioned referees however, still object to it in this form; and, as so useful a weapon can hardly be dispensed with, it should be used, as Nature intended, whenever possible. The user may be sure of our sympathy should an obsolete but keen-sighted referee ‘order him off.’
  2. THE SCRAG. The ‘modus operandi’ of this delightful ‘tour-de-force’ is as follows. The scragger seizes his intended victim round the neck with the right arm, at the same time binding his arms to his sides with the left. Throwing his weight back he then jerks the scraggee off his balance and, while falling, slews half round, so that he – the scragger – will fall on top. At the same time, the right arm is shifted a few inches so that the wrist or knuckles, when the prone position is finally obtained, will lie between the victim’s face and mother earth. Then placing all his weight on the back of the scraggee’s head, the right wrist or knuckles are worked to and fro. The referee blows his whistle for ‘cease firing,’ and one or both participants in the ‘tête-à-tête’ then rejoin their fellow players. Some half-hearted players have a foolish prejudice, sometimes even amounting to a rooted objection, to playing the part of the scraggee unless they are in possession of the ball. But this is quite a minor point.
  3. THE SUPER-SCRAG. This is a refinement or improved variation on the above, and should be employed when it is desired that any particular player should take no further part in the game. The selected opponent is grasped round the neck with both hands from the front, as though about to be fondled. The head is then pulled forward and down as briskly as possible, the operator at the same time lifting his knee forward and up in a similar brisk manner. If correctly timed, and if the opponent has a certain amount of forward momentum at the critical moment, the operator’s knee and the victim’s chin will meet at a point with a very considerable force of impact. Stretcher-bearers then remove the body so that it will not interfere with play.”

I think that is quite enough for now – there is more dubious advice on ‘holding the ball in the scrum,’ which can be divulged at some point in the future.

November 11th 1917

2nd Lieut. Pat Campbell, having returned to the Ypres front following four days’ leave in Paris, has found himself back in the thick of this seemingly never-ending battle at Ypres, which has been going on since July 31st.

23/10/17 “The veterans of the brigade say – at least some of them do – that in all the long years they have been out here they have never seen such a country of absolute desolation, or such mud, and that they have never had the breeze up so badly as they have in the last few days…”

Pat was involved in an attack on October 22nd. As the Forward Observation Officer for his Brigade, he had to make his way forward with four signallers to a pill box close to the front line. Carrying heavy equipment and in bad conditions, this took them 3 hours.

His job was to keep in touch with the advance and send back information to the artillery. This was easier said than done, it seems:

“It is very difficult to tell what has happened in the early stages of a battle; some of the walking wounded who come dancing down the line are so pleased with themselves that they tell you that everything is going top hole, though they were probably hit before the thing began, while others who are rather worse and have lost some of their friends are equally despondent.”

He and another officer took turns to go forward:

“We went out alternately to various HQ and other less official sources to find out what news we could get and whether the infantry wanted any particular artillery support. On one of these little trips I got rather a nasty shock, which made me decide that I was not going out any more.

Usually you can hear a shell coming for at least a second or two and one learns to act promptly, but on this occasion it was a light velocity shell, which came right alongside us without any warning at all.”

This seems a strange point at which to leave this incident, but Pat does, so there it is. The Campbells deserve their luck. Pat’s brother Percy Campbell was killed in the first battle at Ypres almost three years ago to the day in 1914.

In his letter Pat asks, “I am wondering what the papers said about yesterday’s battle. It seems to have been a pretty decent show…”

This is a view shared at least by the Daily Telegraph:

Given the conditions Pat describes, it is difficult to imagine how a battle can be fought:

“It was very tiring walking about because at every step you lifted pounds of thick Belgian mud. I don’t think you could find a single square yard in that area that was not part of a shell hole, but even so, you can’t have any idea of what it looks like. It is simply indescribable.”

It is not that often that an artillery officer finds himself in the front line and Pat is quick to acknowledge the role of the infantry, who are there all the time:

“The more you see of them, the greater respect you have for them all, and I think the subalterns in particular. Such things as trenches have practically ceased to exist now, and they just live in shell holes and going forward to attack over ground like this, I really can’t understand how they do it. “

And so say all of us.

November 6th 1917

2nd Lieut. Gifford Turrell (OBLI)

This is the most distressing news that I have had to pass on during the course of this dreadful conflict. Indeed, the details are almost too painful for words, and I wondered if I should spare you them. However, I have come to the conclusion that I should not shy away from sharing what are the grim realities of war for our gallant Old Boys.

Yesterday Gifford Turrell was laid to rest in Oxford’s Holywell Cemetery, aged a mere 19 years.

He was severely wounded in the head in the attack made by the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry on August 22nd near St. Julien, the same engagement in which Lieut. Will Scott was killed and Walter Moberly won the DSO.

Gifford was brought back to St Thomas’ Hospital in London, where an operation was performed to remove fragments from the wound, leading to hope that he might make a recovery.

During his time in hospital however, Gifford was barely conscious and on Nov 1st he was assessed by a Medical Board. It noted that the brain had swollen to such an extent that it protruded through his skull and had become infected.

The report concluded: “He appears to be totally blind, and consciousness is very feeble. Pupils dilated & inactive, no motor paralysis. Sensation cannot be determined. In the last two days, there has been fever & meningitis has set in with a fit. Recovery is improbable & he is failing rapidly.”

Gifford died the following day – 72 days after he had been wounded. One can only hope that he was in such a state as to have been spared any pain. His passing must be seen as a merciful release for him and his family.

His body was brought back to Oxford so that his funeral could be at his old college (Queen’s).

May he finally rest in peace.

 

November 1st 1917

Lieut. Gustavus Hume-Gore (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders)

News from German East Africa takes time to reach our shores and only recently have we heard of the death of Lieut. Gus Hume-Gore, who since December has been attached to the King’s African Rifles.

The bare facts are that he was killed in a battle fought at Nakadi River, 28 miles from Lindi on October 17th.

He was involved in an attack on German troops, driving them back over what was a dry river bed. However, the exact manner in which Gus met his death is unknown.

We were most grateful to have received his descriptions of the conditions faced by our troops in East Africa, written within a week of his death. Illness was rife, but it was noted that in his time with the Battalion he had never been taken sick, and was one of only three in the Battalion not to require hospital treatment.

October 22nd 1917

Friday’s newspaper published the latest lists from London Gazette and in it is the excellent news that 2nd Lieut. Walter Moberly (Ox & Bucks Light Infantry) has been awarded the DSO:

“In an advance against enemy positions three companies reached their objectives and consolidated. The commanders of all three companies were killed, and he thereupon assumed command of the front line. The position was extremely difficult, as the troops on both flanks had failed to reach their objectives, and the enemy were consequently holding positions at and slightly behind his flanks.

Communication with battalion headquarters failed, as runners were unable to get through the machine-gun and snipers’ fire from the front and flanks. In these circumstances this officer determined to hold on to the advanced line at all costs.

He took steps to defend his flanks, and organized an effective resistance to counter attacks. By his prompt and decisive action and complete disregard of danger he inspired his men with confidence; and if it had not been for this plucky decision and courageous determination on his part, the whole of the objectives gained would have had to be abandoned.”

It was in this attack – on August 22nd – that Will Scott, who had been with D Company, was killed and Gifford Turrell severely wounded. (Gifford is, we hear,  still at St Thomas’ Hospital in London).

The attack was witnessed by Capt. Geoffrey Rose, who has kindly provided this map:

The companies Walter took command of are shown as A, B and D Companies. They were fired on from both Schuler Farm and the gunpit to their rear.

C Company, in which Gifford Turrell was fighting, is shown as having been held up by enemy forces at Pond Farm.

The sadness of this is that, although the citation makes it clear that without Walter’s determination “the whole of the objectives gained would have had to be abandoned,”  Geoffrey Rose tells us that “what had been gained by it (the Ox & Bucks) with heavy loss was in fact given up by its successors almost at once.”

 

October 18th 1917

A second letter has been received from Lieut. Gus Hume-Gore (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders), who is with the King’s African Rifles and the British East Africa Expeditionary Force.

In addition to the extreme heat he complained about last time, he now catalogues a number of other difficulties the British soldier faces:

11/10/17 “Tinned rations that are mostly full of sand before you have finished eating them (aided by the worst kind of flies), the water in your bottle a bit more than lukewarm, and not the best of water very often at that; bottles have been filled from a stream and then dead bodies have been discovered roosting against a rock up-stream; sun that burns the eyes out of you; sun that makes you sick, that goes clean through your backbone and out the other side; sun that makes everything made of metal red-hot, so hot that it will blister your fingers if you give it a chance – and miles and miles of the ‘road’ that never seems to grow less and is harder and harder the farther you get.

When the rains come in about three weeks and then slack off for a bit, I gather that everything I have tried to picture may be multiplied by about ten.”