October 23rd 1916

Lieut. Geoff Buck (RFC) has completed his training and has now been let loose on the Boche!

Amongst the danger and excitement of war, these latest entries from his journal show an interesting range of emotions – who would have thought war could be a laughing matter?

Buck, Geoff27/9/16. “I took a machine and eight bombs and went off with 16 other machines to raid Bocheland. Flying close together with 16 others is ‘anellofajob’. But anyhow we all came back, and it was quite pleasant – no Hun machines and very few ‘Archies’. You can’t think how queer a big battle looks from upstairs – frightfully interesting, but I simply hate to think of the poor blighters on the ground..”

2/10/16. “Flying high in formation we got slightly ‘Archied’ over the lines (I disliked this because a little bit of iron on one of my eight bombs means that I go simply to swell the Roll of Honour). We dropped our bombs, and they all fell on their objective, and probably strafed some French peasants, mice and woodpeckers. But I hope we killed more Boches.

Then the fun began, pop-pop, bang, fizz-whizz, hiss, pop, bang, little black puffs all around us, and each explosion shook our little machines as if they had been kicked. This was most dangerous and unpleasant (so I thought), and after waving to my nearest fellow-sufferer to keep clear, I performed a memorable series of switchback vertical turns at an average speed of 150 mph. This upset Archibald’s calculations some, I guess, and anyhow I lost control and was much too frightened trying to get control of the machine again to be frightened about Archie.

It really is a sporting kind of life, and I laughed till I could hardly see the instruments.”


As a young Dragon, Geoff always enjoyed a good scrap. I recall a bike expedition to North Cerney in the summer of 1910.  Having gone by train to Fairford we bicycled to North Cerney. There followed a cricket match against a local team of boy scouts. The match was conveniently tied before the real fun started. Paddy Burton’s brother Phil wrote up the events that followed:

“…someone bagged one of the Boy Scouts’ caps, and this lead to a battle; after about ten minutes ragging they collected their troops and sounded the charge. They were much older than we were for the most part, and they outnumbered us, but we were not going to be beaten. Keyworth had a tremendous fight with the ‘Samsonian Beefer’ (aged 19) and everyone did his best to sit on the scout he had got hold of. Geoff Buck held down a writhing mass of three scouts, and Flea Carr White and Henry Way wrought frightful havoc.

When we were told to go to bed, the lawn (of the Rectory) was covered with Dragons sitting on scouts, and I may quite fairly say that we absolutely licked them. Then we cheered them and trooped off to bed.”

The next morning we started for home, stopping to lunch in Burford. Clearly it was a good one, as Billy Smyth recorded in the hotel’s visitors’ book:

Four cyclists arrived at the Inn of the Bull;
They came very empty and went away full;
Their names were the Skipper and Billy and Flea,
And Geoffrey; a hungrier four ne’er did you see.

The fare was roast beef with potatoes and peas,
And raspberry tart, and some excellent cheese;
A fair maiden served us with all of the best;
But who wrote this poem will never be guessed.

With so much to depress us in today’s world, it is good to have these memories of happier days to buck us up!



October 19th 1916


2nd Lieut. John Raikes (Essex Regiment)

One cannot guess at the number of shells that daily pour down on our troops on the Somme. I am very sorry to have to relate that John has been killed near Flers by one such shell on 10th October 1916.

Rev. Raikes, John’s father, has shared with us a letter he received from a brother officer, who witnessed the event:

“We had just come up by night to the support line and I had just started up with a working party. John had gone to his dug-out to get some rest; we were being heavily bombarded, and a high explosive shell burst right on the top, destroying the place and killing him instantaneously.

We buried him where he fell and have erected a temporary cross over his grave. ‘In memory of Lieut. Raikes, killed in action, Oct. 10th. 1916. RIP’”

John’s servant, also aged 20, was killed by the same shell. This lad, writing home to his mother a few days before, had said, ‘You needn’t worry about me. I am with a proper gentleman.’                                 

I remember Johnnie as a good-hearted, merry little fellow with a keen sense of humour. We went on several bicycle expeditions with the boys to his home and he always enjoyed showing us around the Zoological Gardens in the neighbourhood.

Although he failed to impress Winchester quite enough for them to offer him a place, he won a scholarship to Radley and thereafter a Mathematical Exhibition to Corpus Christi College Oxford – the first Radleian to have won a Mathematical distinction at the University for many years.


October 15th 1916


2nd Lieut. Oswald Blencowe (Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry)

An eighth Old Dragon has laid down his life in the battle that has been raging on the Somme since July 1st. Oswald was killed on 7th October 1916 when temporarily attached to the Rifle Brigade.

It was the Brigade’s task to capture Rainbow and Cloudy Trenches, near Guedecourt. As soon as our barrage lifted the Riflemen (some of whom had been lying down in the open awaiting this moment) rose bravely to make the attack.  On reaching the crest of a hill about twenty yards from the German line they met with heavy machine-gun fire. All five officers of the two leading companies went down – four (including Oswald) were killed and a fifth severely wounded.


It is of some small consolation that the reserve troops coming up behind them were able to take Rainbow Trench.

A brother officer recalls Oswald most fondly:

“In the line he was of immense value to us, and in the most trying hours, when things were as bad as shells and foul weather could make them, he showed that rare kind of cheerfulness which does not offend nor depress by its artificiality. He set a high value on music and poetry. He sang well, and was strongly heard in a dug-out – carols, songs, and choruses, old English songs, and Gilbert and Sullivan. One day he pulled out the books he always carried with him – Omar Khayyam, and two volumes of the hundred best poems and three of us lay awake reading aloud to one another…

He was hit by a shell in the head in front of his men about ten yards from the enemy’s line, but such details are needless and unsatisfying; we know what he was when alive and in what manner and with what spirit he must have died. The circumstantial details are useless trappings.” 

We are thankful for information from the Colonel, confirming Oswald was given a proper burial:

“He had been temporarily attached to this battalion and had only been with us three days. He went into action alongside his battalion and was killed during a successful attack in which he was with the leading company.

He was buried by our Chaplain near the place where he fell, between our and the old German line.”

The news of Oswald’s death did not reach his parents until October 13th, six days after the event.




October 11th 1916

AG Clarke

Lieut. Geoff Clarke (Rifle Brigade) was killed on the first day of the battle on the Somme. Further to what we were able to post at the time, a Sergeant P. Blunt has most kindly written to the family with further details:

28/9/16 “Well, as you know, on July 1st our Battalion was told off to attack a certain  part of the German line.

Lieut. Clarke, who was then our Battalion Bombing Officer, had rather a tough job and it was while going over towards the 3rd German line that I came across him. He was then slightly wounded, but refused all assistance and would insist on keeping going. He was again wounded, rather badly this time, but still refused all help and insisted on us to get along.

That was the last I ever saw of him; he was then lying in a trench hole. During the fighting and excitement that followed, I lost touch with him, but was told by a man who has since been killed that he saw a shell pitch into the hole that Lieut. Clarke lay in and he saw a body blown into the air.

When we returned from the third line, I went and looked for him, but could not see him anywhere…”

This is most painful reading for all those of us who knew him so well.


October 8th 1916

Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA) is proving a prolific correspondent.  Being currently under-employed behind the lines on the Somme, he apparently has plenty of time for both reading and writing.

sidgwick-ah-226/9/16. “I was in the most forward of our batteries the other day just at ‘zero’ time – i.e. the prearranged moment when the final bombardment begins. The noise was really appalling. Our own howitzers were comparatively mild members of the orchestra: the high velocity guns easily out-topped them: now and then came the roar of the really big guns far behind: while the rumble of field guns was practically continuous. If you don’t stop to think, it is something of an experience: if you do, you want to sit down and cry.

Generally, I feel a complete fraud and quite unworthy of print in the ‘Draconian’.  I have only been a combatant for about six weeks and am now a petty clerk. So this is my last contribution to the war columns. Veni, vidi, Vick-E: I came, I saw a little of it and it was all over. Any telephonist will explain the joke to you. It is the first I have made since 1902.

The modern Pepys and Shane Leslie book are much appreciated here. Leslie is quite interesting, but what right has he to be compiling memoirs and summing up an epoch at his age (31)?

Besides, I am not at all so certain that the epoch is over yet. Everyone I meet out here appears to wish to live after the war pretty much as he did before, though all agree that other people ought to reform their ways and show signs of spiritual uplift.

I hope all goes well with the OPS.”

October 3rd 1916

No regular reader of the newspapers and their lists of casualties can be in any doubt that the fighting on the Somme continues to be fierce and costly. (How grateful we are that we have suffered no fatalities since August).

Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI), who joined the Push on August 13th, tells me that he “has no great tale to tell.” I beg to disagree, as his description of the advances made from Ovillers towards Thiepval is most illuminating.


“We struck north for Ovillers… it was my first sight of the front and I shall never forget it. Less than three hours march had carried us from corn-fields and unruined villages to an obscure desert which looked like nothing but the surface of the moon. We marched through Ovillers, passing streams of wounded and weary men who were returning from the front line.

Then we turned sharp to the left up a narrow, freshly dug, communications trench. In it I felt quite safe, though enemy 5.9 shells began to fall pretty thickly round us. We went on and on very slowly, and with many halts for half-an-hour, and then at last turned into the third line trench, which we were to occupy as company in reserve.”

Here Jack and his men had to endure some fairly heavy shelling, but were pulled back the following day for a brief period.

“We returned three days afterwards, and this time my Company took over the front line. We were heavily shelled from the first. One man in my platoon was killed by a shell, within three yards of me, just as we had taken up our position.”

Again, the shelling was constant but there were no infantry attacks and Jack returned safely.

“A week later we were back again, further to the left, and in full sight of Thiepval, which looks so harmless and so near in the strong sunlight of a hot morning.

In all this part of the line, the trenches were really not trenches at all. They had been blown to bits weeks before and gave scarcely any shelter to my men, several of whom were under fire for the first time.

On the afternoon of our first day up (August 23rd), an attack was to be made by the Bucks battalion on our left against the enemy line some 200 yards in front. I was in charge of a bombing section, with orders to push on to the enemy trench at Point ***  as soon as the Bucks went over, and to join up with them.

From a shell-hole I watched our wonderful preliminary bombardment of the enemy’s lines. It was terrifying, but extraordinarily interesting. I say ‘terrifying,’ because some of our shells burst very close to us; far too close to be pleasant. Then the barrage suddenly stopped, and the Bucks went over, alas, only to come back (what was left of them) in a very few minutes, for they were mown down by machine-gun fire which started the moment our own barrage lifted.

I now sent back for further orders, and was told to push on to Point ***  if I could. So I organised my bombing party, and sent two men up the communicator, where I already held a ‘bomb-stop,’ (a barricade in the trench dividing Br/Ger troops) to see how near the enemy was. They came back at once and reported about 20 of the enemy behind the next traverse but one. I didn’t believe them, so went myself, and found about 10 of them behind the next traverse but two. We looked at each other and I came back quickly. The attitude of the enemy was expectant, but not very menacing.

I waited for about half an hour, in order to allow the Huns to recover from the sight of me, and then advanced with my whole party. We all expected death, but there was no time to think about it.

When we reached the point at which I had sighted the enemy, I found a German, three yards in front of me, who was just about to descend into a dug-out. His head was already out of sight. I had a beautiful revolver shot at him, and his body and legs followed his head. It was a good moment.

Immediately afterwards the enemy woke up, and there was bombing at close quarters. We conjugated the verb “to bomb” in all its moods and tenses, and my party had wonderful escapes and only two slight casualties. The enemy then retired round the corner of the communicator into their own trench, and as I did not feel equal to attacking their whole first line with one section, I ‘consolidated my position,’ and remained where I was until I was relieved…

This is all I will tell you this time. The Somme trenches are very horrible; shells are very horrible; and fighting is tiring beyond anything which can be conceived at home.

What most impresses me is the speed with which one forgets the horrors as soon as one leaves them behind.”