February 15th 1920

I n   G e r m a n y   ( 1 9 1 4 – 1 8 )

123456789 – 10111213Part 14

The staleness of which Cyril King wrote in October 1917 probably explains why he did not write much until the end of the war was in sight.

Towards the end of October 1918, when the German naval commanders ordered the Imperial fleet to sail out to engage the forces of the Royal Navy, the German sailors mutinied and this triggered a general state of revolution in Germany, leading to the Kaiser’s abdication on November 9th 1918.

News of this soon reached Ruhleben:

10/11/18. “They have had a revolution and are mightily pleased with it. Everyone here is wildly excited. A soldiers’ council has been formed among the garrison and representatives have just left for Berlin in the officers’ dog-cart flying a red flag. The officers have changed into mufti and most of them have gone home; but one, we hear, is to be courtmartialed.

A red flag has been hoisted on the flagstaff in the square where so many black and white eagles have flown during the last four years, for innumerable victories and royal birthdays! 

We heard firing last night and expect to be attacked by a mob at any minute – especially as several people have escaped, carrying food with them – and a bodyguard has been formed to patrol the camp and keep people from entering or leaving the camp.

They are absolutely certain to sign the armistice now.

How right Cyril was; at 11 o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, after four long years, the war was brought to an end.

11/11/18. They have signed all right. Powell has gone to the soldiers’ council at the War Office and asked about release. They say they will probably let us go as soon as they can get a train, but they don’t know whether we are to be counted as ‘prisoners of war.’

I am off to Berlin tomorrow to look round and see ‘Measure for Measure,’ which I hear is on at the ‘Volse’s Bûhné.”

Who would have believed that amongst such chaos, theatres continued to operate? Cyril’s adventures in the week that followed are the subject of the next instalment.

February 4th 1920

I n   G e r m a n y   ( 1 9 1 4 – 1 8 )

123456789 – 101112 – Part 13

The story of Cyril King‘s incarceration in Ruhleben for the duration of the war must be completed. This is the final part of his journal dated October 28th 1917, and conjures up an air of staleness. The novelty has worn off.

“Everything has seen its best days and is carried on rather mechanically and professionally. The old enthusiasm has died. ‘Family’ life has become rather a strain. We sit over our meals vacantly and in silence – every topic of conversation having been exhausted…

The camp is littered with dead and broken friendships and no one has a scrap of energy left.”

There were of course many attempts at escape, some of which were successful. But the thought of being transferred to a worse camp if caught deterred many, including King.

“There have been many attempts at escapes, and one or two successes. Last year in fact everyone was talking of trying, but the authorities decreed that failure would be punished by a fortnight’s dark cells, followed by a removal to Havelberg, which is a much worse camp, where one would have to begin life all over again – so that it doesn’t seem worthwhile, unless one had very good plans.

In order to lessen the chances of success still further, they have instituted two ‘Appels’ (roll-calls) a day – one at 8 am and the other at 7 pm when we have to line up and march on to the racecourse to be slowly and carefully counted. It is tiresome having to get up so early, but we have reduced it to a fine art so that we don’t jump out of bed till half a minute before the barrack moves off.

The camp is much emptier now, as most of the people over 45 have been released to England and about 200 invalids have been moved to Holland.”

January 28th 1920

The Easter Term has got off to its usual start – with our annual Shakespeare production, this time of ‘Henry V.’ We put on three performances: one on Friday evening for 330 boys, girls and teachers from various local elementary and secondary schools, and two on Saturday for OPS parents and friends.

We were delighted to welcome back Jack Gamlen, late of the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry,  to his old job of writing a review. It may be remembered that back in 1917, when he was unable to attend our production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ he sent a most witty poem to the cast.

Whilst the ‘Oxford Times’ was impressed (The whole performance was of a very high standard), Jack was far harder to please:

“Let me begin by saying that I enjoyed the play very much indeed, and that it was a rich reward for the actors themselves for hours of honest work. This reward to the actors is far more important than anything that concerns the audience, but, even so, my recollection of twenty earlier school plays forbids me to put this latest one among the very best.

There was never a Class III at the OPS, and if this ‘Henry V’ comes into Class II it is only because there was, by chance, not quite enough first-rate material to lift it higher. I judge by a fearfully high standard: how can I do otherwise?”

Jack was critical of a number of performances, including that of John Betjemann, whom the Oxford Times described as “the cleverest actor of all… he played the mad old King of France in such a way that, instead of being completely minor, it became one of the most impressive parts in the whole play. There was remarkable genius in this performance.” John played two minor roles, the other being that of the Duke of Cambridge.

Jack’s assessment of this role was more critical:

“Betjemann was the best of the conspirators… but he over-acted… I am sorry to find fault, because Betjemann showed a good deal of promise which will come out, another time, if he allows himself to be natural.”  

The truth about young Betjemann is, Jack should understand, to him, being “natural” is to over-act!

 

January 23rd 1920

This week, the University magazine ‘Isis’ has featured our colleague and esteemed editor of the ‘Draconian‘ magazine, GC (‘Cheese’) Vassall, who has been helping get sport going again in the undergraduate world with the same verve and enthusiasm with which he conducts himself at the OPS.

Mr Gilbert Vassall

I S I S   I D O L  N o. 4 9 5

MR GILBERT CLAUDE VASSALL

(Hon. Treasurer, Oxford University's Athletics Club, 
 Rugby Union Football Club and Association Football Club; 
 Hon. Sec. of the Blues Committee)

As some people in Oxford may still be unfamiliar with his 
appearance, perhaps I had better describe him: it would be a 
pity if he were not recognised, for he is playing a big part 
now in the re-ordering of the undergraduate life of Oxford.

He is a well-set-up fellow, aged about 43. He is clean-shaved, 
has lightish hair and nice pink cheeks. He has an expansive 
smile and does not smoke. He often wears an 'Authentic' tie, 
but, in other respects, he is careless about his dress. I am 
not even sure that he has a tailor; he certainly has no hatter. 
So, if you see a man in the Parks, or on the running track, or 
on the Iffley Road Football ground, looking like this, you will 
know that it is 'V.'

He won countless athletic trophies. He appeared many times for 
the Old Carthusians and was 'capped' for England, but preferred 
to captain Oxford against Cambridge on the day of the match. He 
played football in France, Canada and America, and in such 
forlorn and dangerous places as Liepsic, Prague, Vienna and 
Buda-Pesth.

For many years before the War he acted as judge in the inter-
Varsity sports. As a cricketer he was never in the running for 
a Blue, but he was thought good enough, after he went down, to 
appear for Somerset..

Of his characteristics as a football player I cannot speak, for 
the finer points of the Association game are a mystery to me, 
but I know he has broken a cross-bar and a goal-post. On the 
field I only met him once, and he struck me as being a 
particularly brutal player...

He understands how things should be done, and he will give his 
opinion with a directness which may be disconcerting, but which 
will certainly command respect. For his opinion will be based 
upon principles which do not admit of pettiness or brag or 
insincerity. He will help Oxford to take her rightful place again 
as leader in all that is best and most untainted by false ideals.

 

January 16th 1920

Lieut.-Col. George Stack (Royal Engineers)

We are very sorry to learn, rather belatedly, of the death on active service of George Stack on September 16th 1919. He had served in France, Kut and Palestine during the war and was mentioned in despatches four times as well as being awarded the DSO in 1916.

Of his part in the battles of Neuve Chapelle and Ypres (1915) he wrote, in his letter to us in December of that year, “The sappers, of course, have been hard at it all the time. The work involved in maintaining old trenches, making new ones, wire entanglements, redoubts, defence of houses and villages etc., has been heavy and continuous. My own job has been to assist in this as far as possible…”

After being in France from the beginning, he went out with the Kut Relief Expedition in 1916, and was with the 3rd Lahore Division on General Maude’s entry into Bagdad.

Gen. Maude enters Baghdad, March 11th 1917.

In March 1918 the Division was sent to Palestine and was serving all through that campaign under General Allenby. During the 1916-17 campaign on the Tigris, the 3rd Sappers and Miners were often up to their waists in water for five or six nights, fighting the floods.

A farewell order to the Sappers and Miners, 3rd Division RE, given by Major HD Keary, is the best evidence for George’s wonderful work:

“Later on in India and Mesopotamia, when others fell sick, he carried on single-handed until at last he was in charge of an area extending from (but not including) Kontara up to and including Damascus, and from the sea to the Mecca railway, an enormous tract of country…  

Early in August 1919, the Chief Engineer had to go on leave, and George Stack had to take on the duties of Chief Engineer as well as those of Commander Royal Engineers, so his area stretched right up to the Taurus…”

Even he was not proof against the effects of wounds, five or six years’ fighting with little or no leave, exposure and overwork, and he now lies buried in the little British military cemetery between the villages of Ramleh and Ludd, on the slope of a hill which looks east to Jerusalem.

As his General has written:

His life was given for his Country just as much as if he had been killed in the trenches.”

January 9th 1920

Jack Haldane, having been Junior Librarian of the Union on return from the War, is now to be an Oxford Don – strangely, to lecture for Science Schools, which he himself has never taken!

The University magazine, ‘Isis,’ has recently featured Jack as their ‘Idol’ for the week, and his time at the OPS is mentioned:

“Like many other little boys, he went to a preparatory school, in his case to Mr Lynam’s in Oxford, whence he proceeded to Eton with a scholarship. Whilst still a ‘Dragon,’ the Gods, Frankenstein-like, became frightened of the monster they had created, for they tried to translate him to other spheres of action, by causing him to undergo a compound fracture of the base of the skull. In direct contradiction of all the ordinary laws, our Idol survived, a magnificent example of the Darwinian theory, which he used to discuss with his nurse – the survival of the fittest…”

Also recalled are some of Jack’s wartime experiences (which he claims to have enjoyed):

“At the beginning of the War our Idol received a commission in the 3rd Battalion of the Black Watch, served in France and in Mesopotamia with the 1st and 2nd Battalions of that Regiment, and was twice wounded. Whilst he was in France, he was one of the first persons on whom they experimented with Chlorine Gas in the funny crude old gas-mask devices, a piece of unshowy and cold-blooded gallantry which commands everyone’s admiration.”

There is one story that particularly raises an eyebrow…

“In Simla, one night, at the Club, he is reported to have mixed (internally) every cocktail in the place, and to have run all the way home at a perfectly incredible speed; during that run he is supposed to have experienced and understood for the first and only time what the Fourth Dimension really is.”

The article ends with a fitting tribute:

“There are some who considered our pre-war Haldane to have been a little farouche; whether that be so or not, our present Idol is a wonderfully kind and tolerant friend to many. We have hope we have said enough to make it quite clear that he is a great, great man, in whom there is not once trace of intellectual snobbery which characterises so many of the little great men.

Should our readers wish to know anything further about him, to conclude let us say that he takes a hat size seven and five-eighths, and has had mumps three times.”

 

 

December 22nd 1919

Notes for the Term

With the term now over, the next edition of the ‘Draconian’ magazine is being prepared.  Under this heading are included a number of points of interest that have emerged during the term:

I have received from West Coker Rectory a number of essays written by the children attending the Church School. They show that essay writing is carefully taught; and though in originality of treatment and in expression they naturally fall short of our boys and girls of the same age, I must say that, in writing and spelling, on the average they beat us. I am much pleased to see how good they are.

* * * * * *

The competitors for Mr. Fitch’s Speech Prize were A Carling, P Mallalieu, Betjemann, Chadwick, B Burton. Carling received 10 votes and Mallalieu and Betjemann 2 each.

* * * * * *

The boys subscribed £20 to help the Barnado Home and £5 for the crippled children’s ward at the Headington Orthopaedic Hospital.

* * * * * *

Garner (Lynam)’s valuable 15 inch brass cartridge case from the Hohenzollern Redoubt has been hung up as a school gong. It awaits an inscription.

* * * * * *

During the past term, Dr FG Hobson, working under Professor G Dreyer of the Department of Pathology, has made observations upon a number of boys in the school. These observations have consisted of measurement of standing height, sitting height and chest circumference, and in addition the weight and lung capacity of each boy has been taken.

The observations were taken at the beginning and end of term and it is hoped to follow the same boys through succeeding terms.

The work is being done under the auspices of the Medical Research Committee and forms part of a general investigation, which is now proceeding, upon the questions of Standards of Physique and Physical Fitness. When sufficiently extensive observations have been made, a report will be sent in giving the results of the enquiry as far as it may be of interest and value to the school.

* * * * * *

As Hum (Lynam) reports below, we have had a reasonably healthy term, and have taken measures to combat any influenza:

“Acting on the advice of the local doctors, we had all but half a dozen of the boarders inoculated (by two injections at an interval of a week) against Influenza. There was no case of indisposition resulting from the inoculation, and we hope it may be as successful here as at a friendly rival establishment where, they assure us, they have never had a cold since it was done, eight months ago.

During the last three weeks of term we had a few cases of ‘impetigo contagiosa’ – better known as scrum-pox; and also of chicken pox. The latter seems hardly worthy of the name of disease, and is usually much less serious than a severe cold.”

* * * * * *

Next term starts on Tuesday 20th January 1920.