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.”

October 15th 1917

2nd Lieut. Walter Moberly (Ox & Bucks Light Infantry), has felt moved to contribute a piece in memory of Hugh Sidgwick, his contemporary at the OPS:

2nd Lt. W Moberly

“When my generation entered VIa in September 1894, we found him, though a year younger than the rest of us, already there, the only survivor of the previous year, amongst whom he had been the first…

With Hum (Lynam) to teach us and Sidgwick to set us a standard we had a most stimulating time; and I remember nothing to compare with it until I reached Senior Sixth Book at Winchester under Dr. Fearon…

I have never known any other case of a boy being so completely on a pinnacle by himself, though I have been told that ten years later Jack Haldane approached something of the same position…

In those days, Mr Lang of Magdalen, now Archbishop of York, used to teach us Divinity. I remember his describing to us one day the characteristics of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees respectively, and his asking us each in turn which we thought we should have been. Sidgwick, who was of course at the top, led off with proclaiming himself a Sadducee. The future Archbishop told him he had judged rightly, and so he certainly had…”

Walter further recalls Hugh speaking at an Old Dragon Dinner:

“He (Hugh) went on to ask what the distinctive character of the School and its training is. He found it in the Skipper’s refusal to force his boys into one or other of two or three conventional moulds, in his positive encouragement of originality, in the opportunity given to boys to discover their own peculiar interests and gifts; so that, if you were to collect a number of Old Boys in after-life and to ask what was the common stamp that the School had set on them, you would be able to point to no single machine-made quality, but you might observe that every one was very much himself.”

I have never believed that our boys are clay to be shaped as potters will, all much in the same way, and our way. To have tried to mould a Hugh Sidgwick was unthinkable. What if the chisel had slipped, what irretrievable damage might have been done?

Finally, few concerned with the School would disagree with Walter’s conclusion:

“If I were asked to illustrate the contribution of the OPS to English life, and now to England’s sacrifice, I should be content to couple his name to that of Ronald Poulton and let the OPS be judged by them.”

Capt. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA)

 

October 11th 1917

Lieut. Gus Hume-Gore (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) was seconded to the King’s African Rifles with the British East Africa Expeditionary Force last December. Whereas many an Old Dragon is complaining of the mud so prevalent on the Western Front, Gus has very different but equally trying conditions with which to contend:

4/10/17 “I have just had my first wash and shave for seven days and feel quite respectable again.

We have just done a great push and advanced about 8 miles with some heavy fighing. The positions the Germans take up are terrible. They get well dug-in and then stick trees and spikes etc well round them, so that attacking over the open with a lot of machine guns firing at you is a nasty job.

The heat is overwhelming and makes even breathing difficult. My arms and knees are the colour of bronze…

We are simply eaten alive with mosquitoes, bugs etc., as we can’t put up a net when we are on the move. There is a lot of swampy ground around here.

I am trying to improve my German by reading German letters and books which are lying about all over the place.” 

One can forget that this war is being fought across the world, so we are grateful to Gus for reminding us of this.

 

October 6th 1917

The ‘Oxford Magazine’ has published an appreciation of the life of Capt. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA), who died of his wounds on September 17th:

“Another of the veriest sons of Oxford, and of the Morning, gone! And one of the brightest and best… he had such obvious qualities for true friendship – intelligence far above the average, wit and humour and a capacity for deep affection, and endless interests in many directions, the open road, or even more the open hills, music, mathematics, history, scholarship, education, social service and what not.

After a brilliant course at Winchester and Balliol – his was a case of double First Class Honours in Mathematics and Classics, something of a rarity nowadays with rising and specialist standards…

During his life he returned to the College the greater proportion of his stipend as Fellow to be applied to the support of necessitous students, and by his will he directed that the whole balance should be repaid to the Master and Fellows, leaving them free to allocate it in the same way, or in any manner they may approve…

Hugh has also left the OPS £100 in his will, which will aid our Leaving Exhibition Fund. This fund has, since 1908, been allowing me to give leaving exhibitions to help boys whose parents are not very well off to go to a good public school. (The first such award I gave to a young Jack Smyth, later to win the VC).

 

September 30th 1917

Sergeant Robert Pratt (Military Labour Bureau)

We have received news from Robert’s family that he died of the spotted fever at Iringa in Eastern Africa on September 9th.

In 1914, soon after arriving in Johannesburg, where he had gone to join the National Bank of South Africa, he was taken seriously ill, but recovered and with the opening of the East African campaign he passed riding and shooting tests and joined that fine body of men, Van de Venter’s Scouts.

In a short time 70% of them lost their lives and in 1917 Robert was drafted into the Military Labour Bureau.

He was a bright, merry, conscientious boy all the time he was with us; anxious to reach the high standard he had set himself both in and out of school.

I met him a few years later by chance in Stoke-on-Trent. He told me he meant to come and see his old school again after he had done something creditable.

His is the 51st name to be added to our Roll of Honour.

 

 

September 24th 1917

Much as one would like to have enjoyed the celebration of the school’s 40th anniversary this past week, all possible pleasure has been overwhelmed by the sadness we are all feeling at the loss of Hugh Sidgwick. I have no hesitation in saying that he was the ablest boy that ever came to the school, and withal one of the most lovable.

The circumstances of his death (which it pains me greatly to write about) are that on September 16th, Hugh was getting into a car to go to HQ when a German aeroplane dropped a bomb, wounding him and several others.

He was taken straight to the Casualty Clearing Station and underwent an operation. However, there was internal bleeding and he lost consciousness and died in the early hours of the 17th. We are reassured to hear that he was in no pain and slipped away quietly.

By the time his mother received this telegram notifying them that Hugh had been wounded, he was in fact already dead.

Regret to inform you that No 46 Casualty Clearing Station reports September sixteenth Captain AH Sidgwick RGA 157 Siege Btty with bomb wound buttock and right knee. Condition dangerous…    Regret permission to visit cannot be granted.

By the time they received a second telegram the following day telling them of his death, he had been buried in the Mendinghem British Cemetery.

All so quick. One moment he is the vibrant human being we have all loved so much, the next…  all this.

 

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…