January 12th 1918

Lieut. Arthur Huson (RGA) has sent in this heart-felt appreciation of his, and our great friend, Bill Sheepshanks, whose death was confirmed recently.

2nd Lieut. William Sheepshanks (KRRC)

“Well, Sheepers, they have given me a difficult job this time, old thing, to try to do justice to your memory, but I should be a poor sort of pal if I did not make the attempt.

I remember you first when I arrived at the School House, very small and very frightened,  long time ago now, and you helped to make an easy path for me, a new boy in a new world.

It did not take long to grow to like you, and not long for that liking to develop into something deeper, for there have been few things in your short life that we have not done together…

It was always you that led the way and I never knew you chuck your hand in over any single thing you tried, and you wouldn’t let me do it either. The very thought of giving in never seemed to occur to you…

Do you remember the joys of the Varsity rugger, or the Eights, or lunch in a punt on the Cher on Sundays? We tried and shared them all. And how we crept out of our beds and waited together to get seats for the Mikado, for how we blessed Josias Conybeare and his car for taking us to an ‘International’ in Town?

And how faithful you were to the Skipper and his School. Not that it was a hard job, but ask GC (Mr GC Vassall, esteemed editor of the ‘Draconian‘) how many dinners or cricket matches you missed at the OPS. How we looked forward to those games. They were the only ones you were allowed to keep wicket or I to bowl, and with what joy we encompassed the fall of Pug Wallace – when we did.

Well those days are over, Sheepers, except in memory, and I don’t think I realised it properly until that Winchester meeting at Amiens the other day when you were not sitting next to me to talk about old times, as you surely would have been.

But your end was true to your life, old thing, and you have left behind you a memory as clean and happy as the life that bred it. Here’s luck to you on the other side, Sheepers. God knows you need no wishes of mine, but you shall have them nonetheless, for a cleaner, straighter, truer pal man never had.”

January 5th 1918

The battle at Cambrai, which was launched on November 20th 1917 with over 400 tanks, was reported in our newspapers as a great success.

The role of the cavalry has been a small one in this war, but it was hoped that they might have played a significant part if a breakthrough could be achieved. Capt. Reggie Carr-White (Indian Army), who was in reserve with Hodson’s Horse, found himself in the thick of the action when on November 30th there was a German counter-attack, his breakfast being rudely interrupted:

“An orderly came in with a message telling us to ‘stand to.’ Our horses were out at exercise, and we didn’t know where they had gone to… Meanwhile another message came in, telling us to move at once. . So we all hustled about and packed our things; in the meantime the horses came in and we moved off within the hour…

Nobody knew why we were being moved – the optimists, like myself, thought that we had broken the German line; and the pessimists thought the opposite had happened.”

The closer they got to the action, the clearer it became that the pessimists were right.

“We trotted about another six miles and then halted again, and watched a fine but very sad spectacle. We were in a valley, and about 500 yards in front of us was a low ridge. Along the top of this a British Cavalry regiment was galloping, with German crumps bursting in amongst them. Many of the troops got direct hits on them, and one could see a troop galloping along and suddenly it would practically disappear as a shell burst in it, then a second or two later one would see a few of them straggling forward and a small mound left behind. It made me feel a bit sick. But not a man checked, and all galloped steadily on…

My squadron was the rear squadron of the regiment, and I was about 100 yards behind B squadron, whom I saw trotting along quietly through a gap in the wire in front, and disappearing over the ridge. As I came to the gap and topped the ridge, an extraordinary sight met my eyes: galloping horses everywhere, many of them riderless, and there were many dead horses and men on the ground. Into this medley the Germans were putting crump after crump. B squadron was retiring at a slow gallop and in perfect formation…”

Reggie was told to retire with his squadron and find another way round, to avoid the artillery fire. It was a very confused situation, under shell fire, with people from numerous regiments and “tanks barging about.

They came back to a British-held trench. Reggie was possibly understating it when he said,

“It must have surprised them to have two squadrons of cavalry jumping over their heads.”

An alternative route was taken and they eventually found their way to the top of a low ridge where the rest of the regiment were digging in, alongside the Guards who successfully attacked and took Gouzancourt.

Digging in meant it was time to send the horses back and for the cavalry to become infantry, ready for another German attack.  There were still some British tanks involved in the action, although being a cavalry man, Reggie clearly has mixed feelings about this new form of combat.

“Just then several of our tanks rolled up and seemed uncertain where they were. It was pathetic how perplexed those tanks looked, nosing about liked puzzled rhinoceroses and they made us feel quite sorry for them… They then seemed to become inspired and waddled off, one after the other, towards the Germans.”

But there is no doubt in his mind that those who operate these tanks are brave men.

“One may make jokes about them, but in my opinion the fellows inside are the bravest fellows on earth. Shell after shell burst all round them, and finally of course, several got direct hits on them, and before long four of them were burning like great bonfires. Later in the day I met one of the officers, who had been in one. He told me all the crew in his had been killed and he was very cut about himself.

The Guards and a regiment of Indian cavalry attacked Gauche Wood, dismounted; they followed behind the tanks and took the wood fairly easily. In places they got in with the bayonet.”

From the map it is clear that the German counter-attack had made deep inroads, before being repulsed by our troops to the line shown, just west of Villers-Guislain.

 

January 1st 1918

As we move into a New Year, I look back with a mixture of pride and extreme sadness at the achievements and sacrifice made by so many in 1917.

Since July, 13 Old Boys have been wounded, one has received the DSO, three the Military Cross, one a special promotion, one a Croix de Guerre, one an Egyptian distinction, one a Belgian, one an Italian and one a Royal Red Cross award. There have been 13 ‘Mentions in Despatches’ (Bat Price for the 5th, Tyrrell Brooks the 4th and Jocelyn Pickard the 3rd time).

The Roll of Old Boys that have fallen includes some of my best, and best-loved, friends. Their lives cannot and must not have been given in vain: and the thought that has come down the ages, that the souls of the brave and righteous still live on, cannot lie.

None do we mourn more greatly than Hugh Sidgwick. His family has passed to me this tribute from his old employer, Sir Amherst Selby-Bigge, Permanent Secretary to the Board of Education, reflecting on Hugh’s abilities:

“He was not only a perfect Private Secretary, but a very dear friend who could be trusted with anything. His loyalty, sincerity and candour were perfect and I never found in him the slightest touch of vanity or self-seeking…

His mind was singularly cool and well balanced and his exposition of intricate problems admirably clear and logical. His knowledge of Mathematics and power of handling figures were invaluable…

He had the gift of writing straight ahead in good proportion and with clear expression and articulation of argument, almost as quickly as another man could dictate…

When he was in doubt about coherence and lucidity of an important paper for publication he used to test it by turning it into Greek, and I have in my possession an admirable Greek version of a letter addressed by the President of the Board (HAL Fisher) to teachers, concerning their duties in regard to military service…”

Hugh was one of 18 Old Dragons to perish in 1917, 9 of whom were involved with the third and grimmest of struggles at Ypres. The fates of Edmund Gay,  John Dowson and Hunter Herbertson remain unknown.

          Capt. E Gay            Capt. OJ Dowson     Lieut. H Herbertson

Is it too much to expect, or even suggest, that 1918 might see the end of this terrible conflict?

 

December 30th 1917

Capt. GK Rose – Capt. WH Moberly – Capt. CSW Marcon

Three Old Dragons of the 2/4th Ox & Bucks have kindly sent their picture, just in time to be included in the December edition of our magazine.

Capt. Geoffrey Rose tells us that the 2/4th Ox & Bucks near Arras were involved in a raid to draw the attention of the Germans away from Cambrai, just before the attack was launched there on November 20th. Capt. Walter Moberly and his company were chosen to carry out this diversionary attack, which was made on November 19th.

The attack was preceded by a gas attack using a mixture of lethal and non-lethal gas, which were “intermingled both by the Germans and ourselves with high explosive shells; the effect of each assisted the effect of the other. If one began to sneeze from the effect of non-lethal gas, one could not wear a gas helmet to resist the lethal; the high explosive shells disguised both types…

It was planned to fire lethal gas against the enemy for several nights. On the night of the raid and during it, non-lethal only would be used. The two gases smelt alike and the presumption was that on the night of the raid the enemy would wear gas-helmets…

B Company, though they missed the gap through the enemy’s wire, entered the trenches without opposition and captured a machine-gun which was pointing directly at their approach but never fired…

As often, there was difficulty in finding the way back to our lines; in fact, Moberly… after some wandering in No-Man’s-Land, entered the trenches of a Scotch division upon our right. His appearance and comparative inability to speak their language made him a suspicious visitor to our kilted neighbours. Moberly rejoined his countrymen under escort.”

Much has been written of the great attack made at Cambrai on November 20th, involving over 400 tanks.

Drawing by Geoffrey Rose

 

December 27th 1917

2nd Lieut. William Sheepshanks (KRRC)

It has been some five months since Bill was reported as “missing.” Just before Christmas, the family received from the Red Cross what they take to be confirmation that Bill died of his wounds on July 11th. The information came from KRRC men now in German prisoner of war camps.

Letter from the International Red Cross

19/12/17. “We beg to enclose, as a result of our enquiries in different camps in Germany, the statements of Capt. Hugh Ward, interned at Freiburg and 2nd Lieut. Rowland Madeley of the same unit, prisoner at Clausthal, Germany.”

Captain Ward’s statement accompanying this was, “I saw him carried out of the German dressing station in a moribund condition on the evening… He could not have lived more than half-an-hour. He was unconscious.”

 

The family have also heard this from Bill’s servant:

“… I was your son’s servant from the time he joined the battalion until the time he was taken prisoner along with the other officers, NCOs and men who were lucky enough to be spared on that most memorable day, July 10th, when the KRRC and the Northants made a great stand at Nieuport, Belgium.

The Germans started their terrible bombardment at 8 o’clock in the morning, and your son was very badly wounded at 9.30 a.m. and the Captain and two stretcher-bearers tried to get him to the dressing station, but owing to the heavy shell-fire it was impossible to get to him and a few of his platoon. At 7.30 in the evening the Germans attacked and took our positions, as we were surrounded and cut off…

On the morning of 11th July, I was told he had died at the German Field Dressing Station.”

The letter from the Red Cross concludes, “We deeply regret it should be our duty to convey such sad news to you, but we want to draw your attention to the fact that this statement is unofficial and cannot in any way be considered as an absolute certainty…”

It seems rather cruel to suggest there is a chance Bill could be still alive in the face of this evidence. Surely it will be enough to convince the Army Council to authorise publication of Bill’s name on the official casualty lists?

 

There are few boys who have captured our hearts so entirely as Bill Sheepshanks did. There was an individuality about him, a fearless independence, and at the same time a most fascinating and chivalrous courtesy which impressed us all. A powerful and active brain, coupled with a calm and always cheerful demeanour and a winning smile, were rare gifts which would have carried him far.

December 19th 1917

2nd Lieut. Willie Wells-Cole (Lincs)

Willie went missing in an attack on the first day of the 3rd battle at Ypres (July 31st) and, it has to be said, we did fear the worst even if we did not want to give up hope.

Word has now came through to the family from an officer, 2nd Lieut. Timpson, who is a Prisoner of War in Heidelberg, that Willie “was cut off and all his men captured. He was shot through the head and instantly killed. There are men here who were with him, though I was not.”

This is consistent with what another officer from his regiment has written: “…our company was protecting the flank of the battalion on our left. His was the leading platoon, and going a little beyond their objective… the whole lot were cut off.” 

We share with the family the belief that this is the end of the matter. Sadly, however, this is not the view of the authorities, who want signed statements from eye witnesses before providing next of kin with an official notification.

It may be many months yet before the family can wind up Willie’s affairs.

 

December 16th 1917

Christmas Term 1917

As another term draws to a close, there are always a number of matters to which I wish I had drawn attention. Thus, below are a collection of such things, of varying importance, but I hope worthy of being recorded here.

 

Our numbers this term totalled 143. Of these, 82 were boarders and 50 day boys and we had 11 day girls. The day boys were fewer than usual because many Oxford parents had left for work in Town or elsewhere, owing to the war; and in several cases their boys have been received into the Boarding House.

* * * * * * * *

We were delighted that Lieut. Lindsay Wallace – Pug – was able to rejoin the Staff this term. He was a boy at the OPS (1885-90) and a master (1901-15) before he joined the Army and was severely injured this summer.

He and his wife Deta are now looking after four young boarders in their house (which is known as the Ritz!)

* * * * * * * *

Miss Bagguley has taught the OPS for about 30 years, and, in the nature of things, will only remain with us a short time longer; Miss Williams has been here for 17 years, and now owing to her brother’s blindness (caused by a wound received in action) she has to leave us and live at home in London.

It is proposed to raise a joint subscription for a testimonial to them from their old pupils and friends. Will any who wish to contribute send their contributions to Lieut. Lindsay Wallace, 6 Park Town, Oxford.

* * * * * * * *

The Ford Ambulance caravan has been greatly in demand for convoy purposes. Since its equipment with an ambulance body it has met upwards of 60 convoys and has conveyed some 300 officers and soldiers to the hospitals in Oxford.

As a caravan it gave Kit, Joyce and myself a delightful summer holiday, with some adventurous incidents. It has now been fitted with a gas-bag, which however leaks at the seams and is not in use at present.

* * * * * * * *

We introduced morning drill this term. Swedish exercise took place from 8.50 – 9.00 in the Covered Playground. Hum tells me that the boys have become reconciled to missing 10 minutes of cramming up Prep before school, and have seemed fresher and better in school for the preliminary breathing and exercise in the open.

* * * * * * * *

The football team was so good and the selection so difficult that 17 colours were given. Four matches were won and we were only just beaten by a much heavier team of Radley boys under 15.

* * * * * * * *

May I thank those parents who, in response to the bursarial appeal accompanying the last School accounts, have added various sums to those accounts? I am afraid I must add that these additions, which amount in all to about £100 for the term, were far from enough to meet the vastly increased expenditure.

It is inevitable that all the salaries of masters, mistresses and other workers have had to be raised considerably, in addition to the great increase in housekeeping expenses. I only ask those, whose means enable them to do so, to increase their payments for their sons.

Many schools have raised their fees all round, but I know that would hit some of the parents of my boys very hard, and I will not do it.

 

Next term begins on Wednesday 16th January.