February 28th 1917

Rev. Robin Laffan, who was elected a Fellow and Chaplain of Queen’s College Cambridge in 1912, has been appointed as padre to the Mechanical Transport Companies, who are supplying the Serbs in the mountains of Western Macedonia, from where he writes:

laffan-29/2/17 “A short time ago there arrived a most fascinating number of the ‘Draconian’ (which, I may say, moved everyone’s admiration out here, when I said it was the magazine of a Preparatory School). So I felt that, although I hate letter-writing, it is my part to send a letter for the ‘Draconian,’ if it be thought worthy…

The language difficulty is a nuisance. It prevents our knowing the Serbs as we would like and occasionally gives rise to disasters.

For instance, a doctor in one of our hospitals for Serbs, thinking that he was beginning to get on well with the language, went round his ward asking each patient ‘Imate li jenu?’ (which means, though he was after something quite different: ‘Have you a wife?’) Those who replied ‘yes’ were left in peace. When any patient replied ‘no,’ the doctor told the nurse to give him a dose of castor oil.

The next day all the patients asserted they were married. As they did so again the third day, the doctor asked a further question. ‘Koliko imate jene?’ (How many wives have you?) At this they thought he was being insulting and an unpleasant situation was only saved by calling in an interpreter, who explained that the ‘gospodin doktor’ was really inquiring after bowel movements, not families.”

February 23rd 1917

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Capt. Nevile West (Royal Berkshire Regiment)

Another Old Dragon has joined our Roll of Honour. Nevile West has been killed. He had already had one lucky excape. You may recall that he sent us an account of his experiences in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915.  He described how his camera was hit by a bullet that would otherwise have killed him.

Nevile’s bravery was recognised in the award of the MC ‘for conspicuous bravery‘ when he was twice wounded in an attack not long after the above incident.

It is understood that Nevile met his death on the night of January 16th when, in preparation for an attack, he and his company moved into position, where they experienced severe shelling. This bombardment claimed the lives of Nevile and one of his men, whilst five others were wounded.

Letters from fellow officers are always appreciated by family and friends alike, and it is inspiring to hear when one of our Old Boys is given such respect as Nevile was:

“His disposition was always bright and cheery, in fact he was the life of the mess, a good musician and a very fair artist, and up to the time of his death appeared to have led an almost charmed life, for he knew no fear or hesitation where duty called him and his one thought was the comfort and safety of his men.”

Nevile was somewhat reserved and diffident as a boy, as I recall, but had plenty of energy and ‘go’ and was much beloved by all who knew him at all intimately.

February 20th 1917

Lieut. Jack Slessor (RFC) makes light of a crash he had with his aeroplane. It would seem to me that he had good reason to be “off games” for a bit, but the authorities clearly thought otherwise!

Jack Slessor...“I have just been mixed up in a difference of opinion between an aeroplane, a telegraph pole, and a ditch, so just at present I am convinced that flying is an over-rated pastime. My engine played me foul getting out of a field, and the machine, as the papers say, was seen to descend steeply, with the result that the telegraphic communication between two towns was seriously impaired and one telegraph pole and a formerly perfectly good machine badly bent.

Now I must depart to make supplication to my commanding officer for 48 hours leave, to rest my shattered nerves and throbbing brain.”

There is a postscript to his letter. It reads:

“P.S. Just returned from the aforesaid interview with the C.O. Nothing doing. He says it has been tried before.”

February 12th 1917

Capt. Rupert Lee (Worcesters) was a most welcome visitor and the boys much enjoyed the exhibition of conjuring he gave. He had learnt his tricks from a native in India.

Rupert gave us some excellent photographs, looted from the German Consulate (!) and has written an article for the next edition of our magazine on his time in Mesopotamia, of which this is a part:

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The Minaret at Busra

“An extraordinary affair occurred in our Mess in Busra just before I left; we all had native servants and it was customary to put the most reliable in charge of the whole; this man incurred the lasting hatred of one of the other servants (of another religion) through accusing him of the theft of a tin of stewed fruit.

So one day, when the butler went out to the town to see some of his friends, this other man came to me and asked to be allowed out. On my giving him permission, he proceeded to steal a bottle of whisky: and fortified by it, took one of our revolvers and sallied forth intent on the slaughter of his enemy.

He explained to me afterwards that a natural delicacy forbade him carrying out this business in our quarters, where he could have met him any day.

We captured him after all his ammunition (about 20 rounds) was expended and he was locked up. His subsequent examination was really very amusing, if one could forget the tragic side; he explained the whole thing in detail, regretting that these men were killed, but of course that was their fault for getting in the way.

What he was really most sorry about was that he failed to kill the butler and made a petition that he might be allowed to do so before being hanged.

I tried to get a plea of insanity brought forward, but the man himself would not hear of it and from his behaviour after the event it would never have gone through.

Things like this brought before us very vividly the fact that we were living on the edge of a precipice.”

 

February 3rd 1917

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Our attempts to keep the field clear for the boys to pay hockey have failed, but this cold spell of weather provides other opportunities too good to be missed!  Mr Haynes has found about 30 pairs of serviceable skates (rather primeval – but they will do).

We are taking some time off from our lessons to make the best of it whilst the conditions last. I have arranged with the University Skating Club that we use Long Meadow (by the Cherwell opposite Christ Church meadow).

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As you can see, the boys were a bit tentative to start off, but they soon got the hang of it. You don’t get anywhere without falling over a few times.

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The spills are all part of the fun!