December 28th 1914

We hear that George Fletcher (Royal Welch Fusiliers) is making a name for himself on both sides of the front line. Apparently he taunts the Germans with any news that comes his way of Allied successes, which he chalks up on a board. The Saxons opposite then take pot shots at it, which the Tommy likes to score as if he was on the ranges at Bisley!

George was trying to persuade the Germans to join in a beer, sausage and plum pudding evening on Christmas Day but his C.O was not impressed. Nonetheless, the Germans did provide two barrels of beer and there was general fraternization and exchanging of food and cigarettes.

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Greville Drew (Capt. R.E.) was able to enjoy a more relaxed time well behind the front line.

Greville DrewXmas Day.  “We are very glad to be out for Xmas and a few days’ rest. We are in an extremely comfortable billet with a dining room, sitting room, kitchen, and two bedrooms for the four of us that there are now – three officers and an interpreter – or interrupter as the Indians all insist on calling them.

We have decided to have a real day off today and are leaving the men to their own devices for the first time since we have been in the country. Tomorrow we shall start getting them really straightened out. All the same, we are not to be caught napping today. We have orders to stand by in case the enemy should consider Xmas Day a suitable opportunity for a little devilry, so we are all ready to move at a moment’s notice.

The King’s Xmas cards to all ranks have just arrived.

I am glad to see from the ‘Daily Mail’ that they are at last publishing in the papers the fact that all the troops are amply provided with clothing and comforts. Really since we got a mention in despatches, the things sent to us have become a positive nuisance. For instance someone sent us 300 cardigan jackets (for about 150 men we have left in the Company). We don’t know what to do with them, and we have been fully occupied with more important duties than sorting out what we do want and what we don’t, and sending them back again. What is wanted is a central depot in London for each corps, or division, and then when a unit wants something it can write and ask for it.”

December 21st 1914

A number of Old Dragons are serving in the Royal Navy. Earlier this month an action was fought in the Falkland Islands by a British fleet under Vice Admiral Sturdee, who had been dispatched to intercept Admiral Spee’s East Asiatic squadron. The action that ensued is here recounted by an Old Dragon, Lieut. Desmond Stride, who was on HMS Cornwall.

HMS Cornwall

HMS Cornwall

“A flag-lieutenant in his pyjamas hurried off to tell Admiral Sturdee that they had sighted the enemy and he found the Admiral shaving. ‘You had better get into our clothes, and I will finish what I am doing,’ was the calm comment, ‘then we will have breakfast.’”

Thus fortified, the British ships, having now been observed by the German fleet, gave chase. The speed of the British Battle Cruisers proved too much and the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau turned to give battle. Both were sunk. Stride’s ship was responsible for the sinking of the Leipzig and “all the German ships were badly on fire before the end, and according to survivors, the Germans assisted – when all their ammunition was expended – in the sinking of their ships, by opening torpedo tubes etc.”

Stride was in charge of a 6” gun and was in action for about four hours. It was indeed a clear victory. Only one German ship escaped and whilst over 2,000 Germans were killed, there were only ten British casualties. Although HMS Cornwall sustained a number of hits, damage was slight.

“There was only one serious casualty on my ship. When the fight was over I asked my servant how things had gone. The man looked very grave. ‘Well, what is it?’ I asked. ‘It’s my poor canary; he’d dead. All the feathers were blown off, and the cage, for which I paid 2s 9d at Plymouth, is smashed to pieces. It was a beautiful cage, sir.’”

I sympathise with this loss. Desmond no doubt remembers my study, where two parrots, 27 small birds and 5 canaries enliven the atmosphere. A few of the small birds live loose, whilst Joey and Polly fly about the room – and occasionally devour or otherwise destroy papers of value, such as the boys’ poems or exam papers; they also nibble bits with great discrimination out of my best books.

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We have received another extract from the diary of Treffry Thompson (RAMC), who is still attached to the Royal Horse Artillery near Ypres. It is good to hear that he has been enjoying a period of rest and recreation too.

Treffry Thompson

Treffry Thompson

30/11/14. “Resting… A typical day is as follows. I wake lazily at 7.30 when my servant brings me coffee and hot water. Down and walk sedately up to Mess for comfortable breakfast. Smoke a pipe and look at papers. Start off at 9.15 on horseback to do morning rounds. Trot along canal through woods for 1½ miles. Woods very pleasant and many pheasants about. See the sick of C Battery, then go on to K down the road. Chat with officers and then go off for a short gallop across country to Ammunition Column… Trot back to lunch.

After lunch either the General or some of the Staff come and we go off to the woods with two borrowed 12-bores. We then spend the afternoon waking up pheasants in the more open parts of the woods and get, say, six brace. Back to a cosy tea and much chatting. Change, read papers, and write letters. At 7.30 an excellent dinner of pheasant, venison etc. Pipes and more reading and off to bed at 10. And this is War!”

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Next term we will be putting on ‘Hamlet.’ During November, the two top forms read though the play in lessons. There was a certain amount of acting, the parts spread amongst the children and they have all been asked to learn passages for prep. Some of the more difficult passages I have explained to them, but the boys soon got the drift of the thing and gradually grasped the various scenes for themselves. I always prefer that they should form their own ideas, even if not quite accurate ones, than I should give them mine. ‘Clarendon Press’ notes, all philological and critical comments are rigidly avoided. I prefer the haphazard to ordered method.

All the parts were allocated before the holidays and by the start of term the boys are expected to know them absolutely pat. There will be three days for rehearsals and the play will be performed on January 16th in the Hall.

December 14th 1914

It has been a long term and the holidays are upon us.

With all those staff of military age enlisting, we have taken on a number of new people this term. As it was obvious that my staff was no place for ‘fit’ young men, and I did not want unfit ones, I took steps to fill their places as far as possible with ladies. Miss Violet Field and Miss Dorothy Pinhey have come into the House, and very soon established themselves in the respect and affection of the boys, by entering into their lives in the most devoted way. I am sure this term will be remembered in the Boarding House for their delightful stories and readings on the dark evenings. Miss Pinhey has taken all the singing and piano teaching, Mrs Molyneux has taught the violin and Mrs Sturt has most kindly undertaken the drawing and painting, whilst Miss Field has started and taught knitting.

Dragons – I have some advice that I would like you boys to consider for the holidays:

Keep fit – don’t stop in bed late and don’t go to bed late. Take a cold bath every morning, don’t frowse over the fire, take a good walk or have a game out of doors every day.

Be kind and amiable to those at home, including servants. Remember the description of the boy (not a Dragon) who whines “I don’t know what to do!” who bags the best chairs, who won’t play with younger brothers and sisters, who is rude and says “I shan’t,” “I don’t want to,” who says “Oh bother” when asked to do anything, who ‘bags’ the best things for himself, who at a party gets excited and ‘barges’ about and plays the fool generally, often ending up by stodging to such an extent that he is ill in the night. For heaven’s sake, be all of you as far from and as different from this sort of ass as you possibly can. You can make the holidays very happy ones if you try your best to do so. And I hope you will all have very happy ones.

Next term begins on Wednesday 13th January 1915

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As the term draws to a close, I must freely recant certain views I have held, views held I believe by a great many Englishmen whose ideas of peace and brotherhood have been rudely shattered.

I believed that the peoples of the civilised world were too sensible to put their differences to the rude arbitrament of war, that the principles of Christianity, or at all events of moral ethics, were too strongly established to allow it. I was wrong. The enemy has thrown down the glove to challenge civilisation and freedom, and all that is dear to the peace lover, and perforce we had to take it up and to fight our best for civilisation, freedom and peace.

And it cannot be said that those connected with the OPS have failed to respond to the call. The lives of some of our best have been given freely; many others have spent untold hours of privation, anxiety, and brave determination; and all are animated by the feeling that no sacrifice is too great for our noble cause.

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No official news has yet been received of 2nd Lieut. Percy Campbell (2nd Battalion Wiltshire Regt., who was reported to be missing, but is believed to have lost his life in Flanders, on Saturday October 24th, while attempting to bring in a wounded brother-officer.

December 7th 1914

Alan Leggett, one of the three Old Dragons killed on October 31st and whose death was posted on these pages on November 2nd,  was interred with full military honours at St. Martin’s, Cheriton in Kent on Wednesday afternoon. On Monday his body had been brought from Boulogne by his father. The coffin, which was borne from the house to the church on a gun carriage drawn by men of the Northamptonshire Regiment, was draped with the Union Jack. A firing party composed of men of the Northamptonshire Regiment marched in front of the gun carriage.


Lieut. Leggett’s funeral procession.

We are grateful to Col. and Mrs Leggett for sharing with us the contents a postcard Alan wrote to them only a day before he died.

“I am at present in some trenches. I have been here for over 24 hours now, and expect to stay for four or five days before being relieved. We live like rabbits, keeping out of sight and under cover. The German shells have been peppering us a good deal and we get smothered with earth and get buried now and again; however, thank God, I am still fit and sound; the ground regularly trembles when it is struck. It rained a bit last night, so we had an unpleasant time of it. One’s feet get chilled to the bone; however, with all you sent me, I am warm enough otherwise. It will be a mercy when this is over – it is awful. Well no more now, keep cheery, and don’t be anxious. Very best of love, Alan”

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Greville Drew (Capt. Royal Engineers) reports better conditions at the front, but hostilities continue, even if there is no major battle.

Greville Drew

Capt. Greville Drew

4/12/14. “All the troops are either in the trenches or comfortably in billets in farm houses, barns etc and they really have to endure very little hardship, as far as the cold is concerned. It is true that some of them got caught during that very cold snap, when it suddenly froze after raining, and I know one regiment had 120 cases of frost-bitten feet. What is going to be the trouble is the wet and not the cold. I have just done six days on end in the trenches, up night and day, and I can assure you there is not much suffering from cold there.

Every man digs out his own little shelter in the firing-line, and roofs it over with material and stuff out of the houses on the road behind. There is a huge brazier burning every few yards and the trenches at night are very nice and comfortable – when it isn’t raining. With my section during my week in the trenches I was lucky enough to have hardly any rain at all, and in any case it would not have affected me much, as my dug-put was quite weather-proof, roofed in with an old ammunition box full of charcoal, burning all the time. I did all my cooking on that.

That is another thing. All our troops are fed absolutely tip-top. We get bacon, fresh or tinned meat, jam, cheese, tea, sugar, every day, with butter and tobacco and matches occasionally. Of course, we buy our own butter, of which there is any amount about. In fact, one of the things that strikes one is how the civil population is staying right up near the firing-line. It seems foolish in a way, as the number of spies and snipers is prodigious.

During an attack on a German sap-head we lost one officer killed, one wounded, and six men killed and wounded, but we accounted for over forty Germans, who were stuck through with bayonets whilst fast asleep in their covey-holes!

By all appearances we are just sitting tight in our trenches until we get all our new troops trained and ready.”