August 30th 1916

CH Counsell

Further information has been received on the death of  Lieut. Christopher Counsell on July 6th.

A fellow officer in the Hants Regiment, 2nd Lieut. Churcher, has confirmed that Chris was providing a covering party for a working party when he was hit in the head, and possibly in both hands, by machine gun fire. He never regained consciousness and died in transit from 89 Field Ambulance to 29 Casualty Clearing Station.

Oxford has converted a number of buildings to receive and treat the wounded and by chance a wounded sergeant in Chris’s company was brought to the Oxford Hospital at the new Schools. He said that Chris was always ready and eager to go out at night on any wild entertainment towards the Hun lines, and he was evidently greatly impressed with his Lieutenant’s daring.

Christopher’s father, Dr H.E. Counsell (whose practice is at 37 Broad Street) is in charge of Surgical 5 in the North School.

* * * * * * *

The Esson family have suffered another bereavement: Mr William Esson passed away in Abingdon aged 78 on August 25th. (Mrs Esson predeceased him, having died in 1893).

His poor daughter Margaret lost her brother Capt. William Esson on April 27th 1916 on HMS Russell; her husband, Capt. Edmund Gay has been missing in action since August 12th 1915 and now her father has died, all in the space of just over a year.

August 26th 1916


Benham, Frank

Captain Frank Benham (RFA)

Frank has died in Queen Alexandra’s Hospital, Millbank, London.

He received wounds to the right side of the head, the neck and shoulder on August 5th. He was able to write three short communications to his wife on arrival at the No. 2 Stationary Hospital at Abbeville on the 8th and it was thought that he was being transferred to England on August 11th.

There was considerable confusion as to his whereabouts, until he sent a telegram to his wife saying he had arrived in Southampton on August 20th. The following day he was transferred to Queen Alexandra’s.

He had in fact spent the week following the 11th at the No.2 General Hospital at Havre, it having been decided that he was too exhausted to continue to England. On the 14th he suffered a minor haemorrhage from the neck wound. It stopped quite quickly, although the cause of it remained unexplained.

On August 22nd, Frank suffered another haemorrhage and underwent an unsuccessful operation to save him.

His wife was at his side when he died.

August 23rd 1916

Rats are constant and entirely unwelcome guests everywhere where there is human flesh on which to feast. British soldiers fight as continuous a battle with them as they do with the Germans, and it is splendid that there should now be an Officer Commanding Rats!

Capt. Douglas Rose (Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry) writes of attempts at a scientific approach to their extermination:

DM Rose“It was at the Field Ambulance that I met O.C. Rats. I had come in that afternoon, not wounded this time but with a silly leg and foot which I hardly possessed it seemed, a result of sciatica. The medical officer for the day was looking round for the night and brought a companion with him whom he introduced at O.C. Rats.

I had been keenly interested in this appointment ever since we received the order in the front Line to look out for any Rats that appeared to have died from natural causes and to send any such, duly labelled, to Brigade Headquarters for examination by a Bacteriologist.

“Well,” I said, “how’s business?”

“Nothing doing,” he replied. “I have only had two carcasses to examine, one of these had most of its ribs broken and the other appeared to have died of senile decay.”

‘B,’ in the next bed, said he had fired 72 rounds with his revolver at the beasts, and generally had a shoot at night, but had never seen a naturally deceased rat. I related my experiences with a cane and how I had once made the mistake of moving my foot too soon when I trod on one in mistake on the duckboards.

O.C. Rats said we must let some of them die naturally, otherwise how could he judge the effect of the serum which had been given to the rats by a thoughtful Government with views to exterminating them entirely.

I explained to him that when a Platoon Sergeant lost his upper denture completely, rats having taken it off from the shelf in his dug-out whilst he slept, and the Company Sergeant-Major had all the vulcanite bitten off his lower denture when having a siesta, one could hardly expect a truce between the men and the rats, so that the serum could work out to a scientific conclusion.

We all promised to secure some remarkably fine specimens for the Rat Commander and I fancy he will find some lively corpses when he opens the bag I intend to send him. Curiously enough, I have just heard from the Quarter-Master Sergeant that the dirge which the infants sing about fifteen times day in the schools adjoining is Fontaine’s Fable “The Lion and the Rat.”

Ragging the OC Rats is entirely in character with a young Douglas in his schooldays!


August 21st 1916

I read with interest in the Daily Telegraph recently of the sacrifices being suffered by other schools. By the standard of Wellington College, our losses pale into insignificance. It was reported that of the 3,020 Wellingtonians serving, 395 have been killed and 490 wounded. In addition 4 masters have lost their lives.

Wellington is, of course, a much bigger school than the OPS, numbering 526 in 1914. Our numbers only reached 100 in 1905 and at the beginning of the war we had 119 children in the school (not counting our junior department of 20 children aged 5-8 yrs old).

Yet, by December 1914 there were 225 Old Dragons and staff in the armed forces, with a further 10 at Sandhurst, Keyham or Osborne and it may well be that there are over 300 serving now.

Our Roll of Honour currently lists 33 killed (including 2 members of staff) and 59 wounded/missing – 21 of whom since April.

* * * * * * *

My mind, now with some time to think on such things, dwells on the present stir in educational circles. Are we to have a scientific instead of a literary basis for the education of our children, or are the two to be combined in the scholastic edifice?

Preparatory Schools must of course follow the Public Schools and they the Universities. Shall we, after having conquered the Germans, proceed to imitate their methods and systems? Has our Public School education proved itself so much inferior in its product to the ‘scientific’ and ‘methodical’ Prussian system?

At the cost of a few days’ war expenditure a scheme could be carried out for all those young Englanders, whose so called education has hitherto been cut short at the age of 14, that would give every class the English Public School spirit and, in a generation, class antagonism would die down and the whole nation would be strengthened morally, physically and intellectually.

Here at the OPS, we have always tried to foster interest in Nature and her workings and should only be too glad to extend opportunities in such direction; Archer Vassall, Treffry Thompson, Dr. Slater, Professor Poulton and others have helped inspire this interest.

I hope to arrange for a regular series of lectures on the lines of the Ashmolean Society; this should be easy in Oxford. A knowledge of and an interest in ‘the world around us’ – this is of at least equal importance with, even if it does not include, the study of mind and thought; but this is a very different thing from a so-called ‘scientific’ and ‘systematic’ education, which rules out the Humanities and produces the German and his Kultur, as well as the weird English style in which its advocates usually express themselves.

* * * * * * *

My top English form last term did a good deal of essay writing and learning of good English and has somewhat neglected the acquisition of historical and geographical information, but the boys in future years will, I hope, bless me and not blame me for this; and if the pen be really mightier than the sword, they will have an armoury that will stand them in good stead.

August 16th 1916

CDF at sea croppedYou may have seen the Poet Laureate, Mr Robert Bridges has published a piece entitled ‘The Chivalry of the Sea‘ and the more observant amongst you may have noticed that this is dedicated to our own Charles Fisher, who went down with HMS Invincible at Jutland.

The well-known composer, Sir Hubert Parry, is setting the piece to music.

A friend of Charles Fisher’s, Mr George Lyttelton, has written a capital piece in Charles’ memory. Apparently Charles told him that all he wished to do after the war was to go to bed for five years, only getting up for meals – before adding that this was not to be considered incompatible with an earlier wish to end his days in a Worcestershire vicarage, having helped to settle the date of Deuteronomy.

How I do miss Charles.

August 13th 1916

Edmund GayCaptain Edmund Gay (Norfolk Regiment) was declared missing a year ago.

The Daily Telegraph reported about ten days ago that our Government understands that there are only nineteen officers and 359 other ranks known still to be in Turkish hands as Prisoners of War.

With regards the 290 officers (amongst whom Edmund is numbered) and 9,700 other ranks still missing, they feel that there are no longer any grounds for hoping they might be prisoners,

“and therefore it was consequently decided that the missing officers and men not accounted for must be officially accepted as dead. Effect is being given to this decision after due consideration of the circumstances of each individual case.”

There has still been no official confirmation of his death given to the family however, and until such time we will continue to list him as “missing.”

* * * * * * *

Benham, FrankCaptain Frank Benham (RFA) was wounded by a German shell hitting his dug-out on August 5th. At the time he was in charge of a battery at Mametz Wood on the Somme.

On August 8th he was strong enough to be able to write to inform his wife of his situation and the matron on his ward has also written to say she hopes he will be strong enough to return to England shortly.


August 10th 1916

Paddy Burton‘s father, who writes under the pseudonym of ‘Touchstone’ for the Daily Mail, has sent us this poem for the forthcoming edition of the ‘Draconian,’ to be printed alongside the notice of his son’s death.

How well it captures the pain all parents must feel when receiving such heart-breaking news as the death of a beloved son.

Burton P (2b)

Deeply regret to inform you that Capt HPC Burton 1st Bedford Reg’t was killed in action July 27. The Army Council expresses their sympathy.

A scrap of paper! “Killed in action,” so
Die all the dreams of happier days to be!
And yet, thank God, you were the first to go
When England called for Men to keep her free.
Thank God for that pure, manly heart and true
That kept your face for ever towards the light
That lit the only path you ever knew
And made you victor still in death’s despite.

Not all our sighs, not all our selfish tears,
Can call you back, but you whose clear young eyes
Looked on the promise of the coming years,
You never grudged the final sacrifice.
Is it not written that your latest breath
Bade him who brought you succour not to stay
But to pass onward through that land of death,
To lead your well-loved soldiers in the fray?

A scrap of paper? Nay, a sacred scroll,
A great and glorious treaty, signed and sealed
In your heart’s blood, wherein our England’s soul
For those who shall come after, stands revealed.
So thank we God who in his mercy gave
His own dear son to death upon the tree,
For all who follow him who died to save
And win the deathless crown of victory!

August 5th 1916


Paddy Burton

Captain Paddy Burton (4th Bedfordshires)

Alongside the notification of the death of Robert Gibson, The Times yesterday also listed the death of Paddy Burton.

On July 27th, Paddy led an attack on Longueval by the 1st Bedfordshires (to whom he had been attached since May 1915). This was a success, but there were isolated pockets of resistance. He and another officer discussed how they could dislodge the Germans from a house, where a machine-gun was sweeping over the British position. Paddy decided on an attack with hand grenades, during which he fell wounded in the leg.

Company Sgt Major Afford went to his assistance, dressing his wound before attempting to carry him to a place of safety. However, before Afford could move him, Paddy received a second and fatal wound, caused by a bullet having come through the lip of the shell hole and penetrating the lower part of his head.

Afford reported that Paddy “…remained conscious for a few hours, during which time I stayed with him and comforted him. His last words were to me, requesting me to carry on with the task he had so nobly set out to do…

At day-break I supervised his body being laid to rest close by the spot where he met his end.”

The day before he was killed, Paddy Burton had reconnoitred the approaches to the village of Longueval together with another officer, who recalled:

“It was a very trying job, as our guide lost himself and we sent him back. We were under incessant shell-fire and we knew that a great part of the ground was exposed to snipers, and we had to find out absolutely everything for ourselves. I don’t think I could have done it without Paddy… He must have been at least as tired and depressed as I was, but he wouldn’t allow it to show.”

Paddy was one of those boys who make life ceaselessly interesting to a schoolmaster. It may be said that he was a strange compound of liberal and conservative, but what characterized him most was his independence of judgement and his pluck.

He was to have been married during his next leave.

August 3rd 1916


Leggett, Eric

Major Eric Leggett (Royal Artillery)

A third Leggett brother has died – barely two weeks after his older brother, Wilfred. Eric perished not in action, but of scarlet fever, whilst serving at the front. He had been taken to the hospital in St. Omer, where he died on July 30th.

No loss has been such a shock to me. Eric was my cabin boy on the ‘Blue Dragon‘ on many an adventurous cruise. After he left the OPS, I visited him when he was at Wellington and Woolwich. It was delightful to be taken round by him. Whilst full of fun, there was always a serious and romantic side to his character.

Eric married in 1911 and his son, Hector, born the following year, is down to join the OPS in September 1921.

Of the four Leggett brothers, only Lieut. Hugh Leggett survives.