December 30th 1917

Capt. GK Rose – Capt. WH Moberly – Capt. CSW Marcon

Three Old Dragons of the 2/4th Ox & Bucks have kindly sent their picture, just in time to be included in the December edition of our magazine.

Capt. Geoffrey Rose tells us that the 2/4th Ox & Bucks near Arras were involved in a raid to draw the attention of the Germans away from Cambrai, just before the attack was launched there on November 20th. Capt. Walter Moberly and his company were chosen to carry out this diversionary attack, which was made on November 19th.

The attack was preceded by a gas attack using a mixture of lethal and non-lethal gas, which were “intermingled both by the Germans and ourselves with high explosive shells; the effect of each assisted the effect of the other. If one began to sneeze from the effect of non-lethal gas, one could not wear a gas helmet to resist the lethal; the high explosive shells disguised both types…

It was planned to fire lethal gas against the enemy for several nights. On the night of the raid and during it, non-lethal only would be used. The two gases smelt alike and the presumption was that on the night of the raid the enemy would wear gas-helmets…

B Company, though they missed the gap through the enemy’s wire, entered the trenches without opposition and captured a machine-gun which was pointing directly at their approach but never fired…

As often, there was difficulty in finding the way back to our lines; in fact, Moberly… after some wandering in No-Man’s-Land, entered the trenches of a Scotch division upon our right. His appearance and comparative inability to speak their language made him a suspicious visitor to our kilted neighbours. Moberly rejoined his countrymen under escort.”

Much has been written of the great attack made at Cambrai on November 20th, involving over 400 tanks.

Drawing by Geoffrey Rose

 

December 27th 1917

2nd Lieut. William Sheepshanks (KRRC)

It has been some five months since Bill was reported as “missing.” Just before Christmas, the family received from the Red Cross what they take to be confirmation that Bill died of his wounds on July 11th. The information came from KRRC men now in German prisoner of war camps.

Letter from the International Red Cross

19/12/17. “We beg to enclose, as a result of our enquiries in different camps in Germany, the statements of Capt. Hugh Ward, interned at Freiburg and 2nd Lieut. Rowland Madeley of the same unit, prisoner at Clausthal, Germany.”

Captain Ward’s statement accompanying this was, “I saw him carried out of the German dressing station in a moribund condition on the evening… He could not have lived more than half-an-hour. He was unconscious.”

 

The family have also heard this from Bill’s servant:

“… I was your son’s servant from the time he joined the battalion until the time he was taken prisoner along with the other officers, NCOs and men who were lucky enough to be spared on that most memorable day, July 10th, when the KRRC and the Northants made a great stand at Nieuport, Belgium.

The Germans started their terrible bombardment at 8 o’clock in the morning, and your son was very badly wounded at 9.30 a.m. and the Captain and two stretcher-bearers tried to get him to the dressing station, but owing to the heavy shell-fire it was impossible to get to him and a few of his platoon. At 7.30 in the evening the Germans attacked and took our positions, as we were surrounded and cut off…

On the morning of 11th July, I was told he had died at the German Field Dressing Station.”

The letter from the Red Cross concludes, “We deeply regret it should be our duty to convey such sad news to you, but we want to draw your attention to the fact that this statement is unofficial and cannot in any way be considered as an absolute certainty…”

It seems rather cruel to suggest there is a chance Bill could be still alive in the face of this evidence. Surely it will be enough to convince the Army Council to authorise publication of Bill’s name on the official casualty lists?

 

There are few boys who have captured our hearts so entirely as Bill Sheepshanks did. There was an individuality about him, a fearless independence, and at the same time a most fascinating and chivalrous courtesy which impressed us all. A powerful and active brain, coupled with a calm and always cheerful demeanour and a winning smile, were rare gifts which would have carried him far.

December 19th 1917

2nd Lieut. Willie Wells-Cole (Lincs)

Willie went missing in an attack on the first day of the 3rd battle at Ypres (July 31st) and, it has to be said, we did fear the worst even if we did not want to give up hope.

Word has now came through to the family from an officer, 2nd Lieut. Timpson, who is a Prisoner of War in Heidelberg, that Willie “was cut off and all his men captured. He was shot through the head and instantly killed. There are men here who were with him, though I was not.”

This is consistent with what another officer from his regiment has written: “…our company was protecting the flank of the battalion on our left. His was the leading platoon, and going a little beyond their objective… the whole lot were cut off.” 

We share with the family the belief that this is the end of the matter. Sadly, however, this is not the view of the authorities, who want signed statements from eye witnesses before providing next of kin with an official notification.

It may be many months yet before the family can wind up Willie’s affairs.

 

December 16th 1917

Christmas Term 1917

As another term draws to a close, there are always a number of matters to which I wish I had drawn attention. Thus, below are a collection of such things, of varying importance, but I hope worthy of being recorded here.

 

Our numbers this term totalled 143. Of these, 82 were boarders and 50 day boys and we had 11 day girls. The day boys were fewer than usual because many Oxford parents had left for work in Town or elsewhere, owing to the war; and in several cases their boys have been received into the Boarding House.

* * * * * * * *

We were delighted that Lieut. Lindsay Wallace – Pug – was able to rejoin the Staff this term. He was a boy at the OPS (1885-90) and a master (1901-15) before he joined the Army and was severely injured this summer.

He and his wife Deta are now looking after four young boarders in their house (which is known as the Ritz!)

* * * * * * * *

Miss Bagguley has taught the OPS for about 30 years, and, in the nature of things, will only remain with us a short time longer; Miss Williams has been here for 17 years, and now owing to her brother’s blindness (caused by a wound received in action) she has to leave us and live at home in London.

It is proposed to raise a joint subscription for a testimonial to them from their old pupils and friends. Will any who wish to contribute send their contributions to Lieut. Lindsay Wallace, 6 Park Town, Oxford.

* * * * * * * *

The Ford Ambulance caravan has been greatly in demand for convoy purposes. Since its equipment with an ambulance body it has met upwards of 60 convoys and has conveyed some 300 officers and soldiers to the hospitals in Oxford.

As a caravan it gave Kit, Joyce and myself a delightful summer holiday, with some adventurous incidents. It has now been fitted with a gas-bag, which however leaks at the seams and is not in use at present.

* * * * * * * *

We introduced morning drill this term. Swedish exercise took place from 8.50 – 9.00 in the Covered Playground. Hum tells me that the boys have become reconciled to missing 10 minutes of cramming up Prep before school, and have seemed fresher and better in school for the preliminary breathing and exercise in the open.

* * * * * * * *

The football team was so good and the selection so difficult that 17 colours were given. Four matches were won and we were only just beaten by a much heavier team of Radley boys under 15.

* * * * * * * *

May I thank those parents who, in response to the bursarial appeal accompanying the last School accounts, have added various sums to those accounts? I am afraid I must add that these additions, which amount in all to about £100 for the term, were far from enough to meet the vastly increased expenditure.

It is inevitable that all the salaries of masters, mistresses and other workers have had to be raised considerably, in addition to the great increase in housekeeping expenses. I only ask those, whose means enable them to do so, to increase their payments for their sons.

Many schools have raised their fees all round, but I know that would hit some of the parents of my boys very hard, and I will not do it.

 

Next term begins on Wednesday 16th January.

December 13th 1917

Capt. Frank Spurling (Rifle Brigade)

Another dear friend and Old Boy has been taken from us. Frank Spurling has been killed.

He received gunshot wounds to the abdomen and lung during a tour of duty near Poperinghe on December 5th and died the following day at no. 44 Casualty Clearing Station.

The Spurlings are not only a long-standing OPS family, but one that knew before this war had started what it was to lose a son. In the South African War Alfred, the eldest brother, was besieged in Mafeking with Baden-Powell (and, as I recall, managed nonetheless to get a letter out by way of a native runner for the ‘Draconian’!)  Although he survived the siege, he was killed in action not long afterwards.

Another of his brothers, Rev. Henry Spurling, was one of the first editors of the ‘Draconian.’ He left our staff in December 1915 to act as chaplain and interpreter with the Hampshires.

Frank was the youngest and had emigrated to South Africa to be an ostrich farmer in 1903. He returned in 1915 to join the Rifle Brigade. Dangerously wounded twice earlier in the war, Frank visited us earlier this term, before going out for the third time.

We loved Frank as dearly as we know he loved his old school, but the love of family comes above all else. What tragedy has beset them – Frank’s wife died last year, whilst he himself lay seriously wounded in France, and he now leaves a three year old daughter as an orphan.

 

December 11th 1917

This is the final instalment from Capt. Treffry Thompson‘s diary, covering the retreat after the Battle of Caporetto. The train eventually was able to speed up to take them across the River Piave to safety.

His final entry tells the story of how the Lieut.- Quartermaster had tried to rescue as much of their kit from the advancing enemy:

2/11/17 “At this point the Lieut.-Quartermaster turned up…

He said that he tried in vain to save our kits and ordnance, which he could easily have done if he could only have got lorries – he was promised lorries by Italian officers but none arrived – finally he bagged an old farm cart and an older horse and made a harness of belts and slings and straps. He opened all our kits and got out all valuable stuff and packed it on the cart.

He had with him an RAMC corporal with D’s motor-bike and one or two ASC men – they set fire to all the rest of the kit and stores… and they started off for the west – when they left the whole place was in flames and being shelled and bombed.

They got about six miles when the horse died – they harnessed themselves into it and the cart broke down – finally they had to leave everything as they were being sniped and came on as they were, riding a borrowed push-bike and harnessed up to the motor-bike.”

A gallant effort!

 

December 6th 1917

Lieut. Locke Kendall (Norfolks & MGC)

The Kendall family have written to inform us that Locke has been killed on active service in Palestine. As might be expected, news takes a little longer to reach us from the more distant theatres of war and the details too are few.

He went out to Palestine in February this year, and was serving with the 21st Cavalry Machine Gun Squadron, 8th Mounted Brigade, Yeomanry Division.

As to the manner of his death, all we are able to ascertain is that he was wounded in an engagement on November 21st and died the following day of his wounds, at a place called Tartah.

Looking back at the Daily Telegraph of November 26th, it seems likely that Locke lost his life storming the Nebi Sanwil Ridge.

At the OPS we shall always remember his cheery optimism and willingness to tackle any unpleasant or difficult job that had to be dealt with.

Locke will also be remembered for his great ability at hockey. He represented Suffolk in 1908 and played with his brother Jack for Norfolk the following year. He was awarded his Blue when up at Cambridge in 1913 and won an international cap against France in April 1914 –  a resounding 6-0 victory.