May 30th 1915

A Memorial Service for the life of Ronnie Poulton was held in St Giles’ Church, Oxford, yesterday, which I attended with some of the OPS staff and boys.

Rev. William Temple gave an excellent address in which he emphasised the role Ronnie might have played at Huntley & Palmer (which he had inherited in 1913) and in a wider field of industrial relations after the war.

“Many of us believed that with his ready sympathy, his utter freedom from selfishness, and his courage to follow what he saw to be right, he would grasp the causes of our labour unrest and class friction, and by removing them from the great industry in whose control a large part was to be his, set an example which would prove a great force in our social regeneration… What he hated most in our usual manner of life was the artificial barriers that hold people apart, and the suspiciousness of one class towards another…”

Commenting on Ronnie’s ready sympathy, his utter freedom from selfishness and his courage to follow what he saw to be right, he added,

“There are many of us who, if asked to point to a life without blemish, would have pointed to Ronald Poulton.”

* * * * * * *

We are grateful to Lieut. G.M. Gathorne-Hardy, who recently sent this picture of Ronnie’s grave to his parents.

RWPP grave

May 27th 1915

Attempts to break through at Gallipoli continue, where Pat Duff is currently with the RFA. Part of his job is to join the infantry in their trenches to identify suitable targets for the artillery. This, strangely, includes the Turks’ tea-time.

22/5/15. “I was in the observing station yesterday evening with G. We peered through our glasses for ages and could see nothing, until at last little puffs of smoke came out of one of the Turkish trenches, signifying that the Ottoman was making his tea.

This was more than we could stand, so we telephoned down to the Battery, ‘Action,’ and gave various angles and elevations with the result that the Turkish trench was heavily shelled, causing, as we hoped, AAD (which being interpreted means ‘Alarm And Despondency.’)

It is rumoured that the above condition prevails in the English Press regarding this expedition; not surprised.”

May 25th 1915

We have further news from Lieut. Jack Smyth (15th Sikhs), who has been in the thick of it at Ypres. It is remarkable to hear that he is the only officer in his regiment to have come through the war unscathed.

23/5/15. “We are in some support trenches now behind the firing line and I am writing this in a ruined farm, behind Jack Smythwhich we have made our headquarters; there are only six of us left and 190 men, so we don’t take up much room… 

We had the most extraordinary luck as a regiment up till the end of April, as, although we had had several officers wounded, we had not one killed, but during the last three weeks we have had six hit and out of these five were killed, which is real bad luck. Losing five officers makes an awful gap in a small community like ours, where we all mess together…

We struck the German 41 cm gun at Ypres for the first time. It makes a noise going through the air like an express train going through a station, and if it pitches anywhere within half-a-mile, you feel the end of the world has come. The situation there was perfectly extraordinary, as we were holding what they called the horse-shoe to protect Ypres (for sentimental reasons more than anything else) and so were shelled from all sides. It was a most extraordinary sight at night from our trench, as the German flares came from every side. We have just been in a very nasty bit of trench which was captured from the Huns, and we and the Huns were in the same trench with a barrier of earth in between. Most unpleasant!

A Corporal of the Shires made a grand remark the other day when the regiment was ordered to attack, ‘Now then No 3 Company, fall in for the thinning out parade.’

I am now the only one in the regiment who has been right through the show without being either wounded or invalided sick; the Quartermaster, who was the only other one, went down with measles last week!

We had dreadful bad luck with the weather last week, as the Huns did seem to be on the run, but then down came the rain and the ground became a swamp again and stopped the whole thing. I got out of my depth in a trench three days ago and had to swim!

I was most awfully sorry to hear of Ronnie Poulton’s death…

Well I must end up now, the best of luck to the OPS.”

 

 

 

May 23rd 1915

Who would have thought that childhood games of “forts” at the OPS would take on such significance in this time of  war? Treffry Thompson (RAMC) and his colleagues have been struggling considerably with the building of dug-outs – sometimes with disastrous results:

18/5/15. “Cold and foggy, which prevented any shelling. Went on improving trenches. Rain continued and ground Teffrey Thompsonvery wet. In afternoon started building sumptuous H.Q. dug-out with great beams for roof with magnificent table and fine brocaded chairs out of neighbouring chateau. My experience at OPS in fort-building in the School hedge was of untold value.

Just before dark, Capt O was in his dug-out and saw a bit of entrance beginning to fall in. He started to walk out, shouting ‘Hi! Who’s walking on the roof?’ It was supported by a large iron bedstead, which collapsed and broke his neck. I was at the other end of our bit of the trench seeing the sick men, and of course he was quite dead when I reached him.

Had hardly got back to our dug-out when they asked me to go and see a subaltern who had apparently gone mad. I found L, who was one of the few who had come safely through the bombardment on the 13th and he was completely off his head from the shock of hearing of O’s death, on top of the previous strain. Gave him some morphia and got him quiet and put him in a dug-out.

No sooner back in our own dug-out than I was told there was a man with a broken leg buried in another dug-out. Went along and we got him out of the mud, and getting hold of some pieces of wood, fixed up his leg.

After this series of collapsing dug-outs, we turned everybody out of any dug-out that wasn’t absolutely sound. After much agitation over telephone, we managed to get the injured and sick away to an ambulance, but this was no joke as it was pitch-dark and the ground quite sodden. Of course the Germans must needs start shelling the Halte, just as we were getting the men into the ambulance on the road. However nothing happened.”

May 18th 1915

Pat Duff (another of our 1911 Oxford Hockey Blues – see May 4th picture) is now a 2nd Lieutenant in the RFA with our forces in Gallipoli. He has some amusing stories to tell about our French allies.

9/5/15 “There have been some strenuous night attacks, and stray people dashing into one’s lines at night give alarming views of what is going on. The Frenchman gets rattled at times. One dashed into my lines two nights ago (being nearly shot by my guard).

I shouted ‘Francais, venez ici.’ He was a little man with a huge rifle and bayonet, and looked as if he were supporting a lamp-post. I asked what was happening, and where were his comrades.

He gesticulated and danced about saying ‘on crie, sauve qui peut. Rien ne va plus; les Turcs do this, that, and the other and I am a most miserable soldier.’

So I replied, ‘Courage, comrade; revanche, Marseillaise, Paris attaque, grande attaque.’

Upon which he took heart and returned whence he came, leaving me, however, a bit disconcerted, as that was the only news of the situation I had, and the shrapnel was very frequent and rifle fire seemed to be getting nearer. However, Frenchmen always get hold of the wrong end of the stick, so I decided to wait for confirmation, which of course didn’t come…

Great fun talking to the French tommies, and hearing how as the Corporal was about to bayonet a Turk, another Turk was just about to knife the Corporal when Alphonse and Pierre appeared behind the last-named Turk. As they go to kill him, a sniper appears in the rear.

‘But I am here, and tire mon fusil and lui make brûler la tête, which flees into two piece’ – whereat he waves his arms like a windmill.

15/5/15. There was rather fun the other day, though I didn’t see it. A hare got up and all the English, of course, leapt to their feet with fearful yells. Presently a French General came to complain of this behaviour: ‘à la guerre, comme à la guerre, et à la chasse come à la chasse!’  He explained that his enfants think it is the Turks who arrive when they hear the row. 

I must honestly say that I think this is going to be a long affair, but I hope to return some day.”

May 15th 1915

Lieut. Treffry Thompson (RAMC) is currently attached to the 18th Hussars as their Medical Officer and can vouch for all the horrors currently being Teffrey Thompsonendured by our troops at Ypres.

May 13th 1915. “Marched in evening north of Ypres across Canal to Bryke, then guided by guides who didn’t know the way, through much barbed wire to Wieltje.

We stopped on road near trenches. Enemy’s flares very active. Somebody told us it would be just as well to get into the ditch as a machine gun covered the road. We did so and the machine gun started at once.

When it had finished, we took over trenches on each side of the road. We were disgusted at the rotten condition of the trenches, but we discovered the reason next day: it was very wet and mushy and we started to repair trenches, but found remains of Frenchmen in the mud, and couldn’t go any deeper. We got one dug-out built before dawn and the trenches repaired a bit. Started to go to sleep at dawn, but inferno of shell-fire started and lasted from 3.45 a.m. to 5 p.m.

At the very beginning the telephone dug-out was blown in, removing our luncheon basket and my box of cigars. Three very frightened telephonists suddenly tried to get into our dug-out.

The shelling was appalling. For hours on end the whole place rocked, and afterwards we heard that the trenches had been invisible owing to dust and smoke. Dozens of wounded began to come in to our part of the trench where ‘C’ squadron were. The Major went along to ‘A’ squadron and there was wounded and then killed.

‘A’ squadron retired, with their trenches blown in, across the open to some alleged trenches further back. These they could not find and had to advance again across the open to their blown-in trenches. There was a complete gap of 40 yards blown in and covered by a machine gun on the right of ‘C’ squadron, which made it impossible to get along to see anybody.

I had the dug-out and a portion of protected trench filled with wounded and when they got so thick that we couldn’t turn round, told them they had better take their chance and go. I pointed out the position where there was less shell-fire in the direction of Bryke and at the end of day heard that 100 had got through all right.

After about four hours, the German fire occasionally slackened and we expected an attack, but could only see a few Germans looking over their trenches. The shelling, chiefly groups of 4-6 exploding ‘crumps,’ continued to blow in our trenches, and about mid-day the Captain decided that we should move to the left where there was less shelling. He did not go, but some of us moved across the road to a support trench filled with East Lancs…

Starting down a communication trench I suddenly found myself on my hands at the other end, as a ‘crump’ seems to have gone off just behind me. I got across the road, but the man behind was caught by the machine gun through the chest, but we carried him down to the support trench, where I did him up and it took two grains of morphia to quieten him…

During all this shelling we could actually see the ‘crumps’ before they hit the ground. They looked just like pointed cricket balls, and really stand about 2.9 high and are 8.2 in diameter.

Towards evening, the shelling died down and I tried to find our dressing-station. Couldn’t find any trace, but heard that the Cavalry had been wiped out. Wandered back to chateau west of Ypres, got some more dressings, heard that remnant of the regiment had gone up again under one of the Captains, so bolted after them on a bike. Raining hard; wandered half the night trying to find them. Went back to chateau and slept. Three officers, practically untouched through this awful day, as a result of the nervous strain of the shelling, had the jumps so badly that they had to be sent sick.”

 

May 14th 1915

Tyrwhitt

An investiture was held today at Buckingham Palace at which Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt RN had the honour of being received by his Majesty the King and was invested with the Insignia of a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (Military Division).

Reginald reports that he had a twenty minute talk with the King in which “he was perfectly charming and at the end he gave me my C.B. without any formality, which pleased me enormously.”

This award was made to Reginald in recognition of his role in devising and leading the attack on the German forces off Heligoland Bight on August 28th 1914.