June 25th 1918

The Italian Campaign has dominated our newspapers’ coverage of the War these past ten days, and today’s announcement that the Austrian attack on our Italian allies has ended in total defeat is most satisfactory.

The Austrian offensive started on June 15th with attacks on the Asiago Plateau and the Battle of Piave River. Amongst the English troops involved in the battles were the 1/4th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI), appointed as an Aide-de-Camp at the Headquarters of 48th Division (of which the Ox & Bucks are part) at the beginning of this month, witnessed this unfolding drama. We are most grateful to him for his account of events.

“An Austrian attack was fully expected on that date, but it was not known for certain that the British front would be attacked. However, every preparation was made to receive it.

An intense bombardment started at 3 am on the 15th, and rolled along miles of the front, from our own sector eastwards…

Under cover of a thick morning mist, the enemy had penetrated our front line at more than one point; had captured one Battalion HQ and had probably captured another…  

I never saw anything so interesting as the left Battalion Sector of our Divisional front, where the fighting had been hardest. I got there with my General soon after the situation had been completely restored, and it was possible to reconstruct the whole attack. The enemy had got to within less than a hundred yards of Battalion HQ. He came on twice, and was twice repulsed by this battalion alone without any help.

The foremost of the enemy were lying just where they had dug themselves in with their entrenching tools, with their bombs and ammunition beside them. And never, in my life, shall I have so profoundly impressive an experience as that of going among our dead, (it was my own Battalion), and recognising my own friends lying just as they had fallen upon the field.

One of the finest deaths that day was that of an Orderly Room Clerk, who died literally defending his office. He had never had to fight for over three years, and when the sudden emergency came, faced it as if he had been in action all his days…

A cook, engaged in frying bacon at the Battalion HQ which was captured, suddenly saw an Austrian in his kitchen doorway. In an instant, he ran him through with a rusty old bayonet used for poking the fire.”

 

 

June 17th 1918

The first few months of this year have seen considerable activity on the Western Front, with a series of attacks made on our positions by the Germans. Three Old Dragons have lost their lives in these battles, together with two more members of the newly formed RAF.

Thankfully, as a school we have had no more losses in May, or indeed so far this month. Nor have we heard much news of our Old Dragons there. This may be due to the fact that, with the considerable movement of the front line and greater confusion (as testified by the extraordinarily long lists of those declared ‘Missing’) there has been less time for our scribes to record the events (Philip Frere being an honourable exception).

* * * * * * *

In the meanwhile, warfare of a different nature has been taking place here: the annual Fathers v Sons cricket match. I am grateful to Capt. Fyle for this account:

“I have a distinct recollection that the Fathers won, which in retrospect is unaccountable. It was mainly due, I think, to the staff work and sound cricket of Skipper Mallalieu, and to the steady offensive of a bearded bowler, who was in action continuously without relief. Also the side included more cricketers than was quite fair. One of them wore a cricket cap and batting gloves.

Then there was Mr Wallace*. True the appearance of Richard Wallace justified his inclusion in the side, but I hardly think it was the proper place for the author of the remark that ‘Parents are the sort of people who ought never to have children.’

Also the side included an obvious golfer, who, if I remember rightly, hit six successive full shots for six apiece and nearly caused enough casualties among the spectators to strike a war correspondent dumb…

Nor must I omit to record the stand made by Col. Stenning and Capt. Wylie, which according to the expert commentator would have produced considerably more than three runs, had not the latter been brilliantly caught off a shot which looked like a late cut to square leg, while the former encountered that unconscionable anomaly, a straight long-hop.

But the dissolution of this partnership was probably due to the guile of Skipper, who seeing them getting their eyes a little less out, tripped on the field with a telegram containing news of three Winchester scholarships.

Of the school’s innings, I do not feel qualified to speak. It seemed to me that they all played brilliantly and would certainly have beaten any but a quite first-class team. They were not well supported by their umpires, one of whom gave ‘run out’ against a boy who would certainly have reached the crease in another two or three minutes. Umpires ought to remember which side they are on.”

For the record the Fathers totalled 115 and the boys were bowled out for 102. More important were the three scholarships won by F Huggins (3rd), R Alford (12th), E Slater (15th). Well done boys!

Daily Telegraph, June 17th 1918

 

*This, of course, is our returned soldier cum OPS schoolmaster,’Pug‘ – a sportsman of some note.

June 13th 1918

We are delighted to hear from Capt. Maurice Campbell (RAMC), who has written up his nine day journey (without maps) along the Bagdad – Persian Road (March 23rd – 31st.) for publication in the ‘Draconian.’

“This 200 miles through the hills still remains after thousands of years one of the worst and most difficult main roads in the world.

27/3/18. “We had only come 20 miles of our 120 (not counting of course the 80 I had done by car). Except for army mules for the Lewis guns and ammunition, our transport was entirely Persian mules, which are larger animals, supposed to carry 300 lbs…

The mules were looked after by a weird crew, dressed rather like the pirates in Peter Pan – especially the head man, who wore a bright blue coat and bright yellow trousers and looked the biggest villain I have ever seen…”

To prove the point, the following day, this ‘head man’ demonstrated his capacity for villainy on his own men:

“…it seemed as though they would never get loaded but finally the head man went up to various mules he thought underloaded, beat the driver over the head and tipped the whole load on the ground. The man then loaded again with another 100 lbs.”

Once underway,  even these hardy animals found the going tough:

“We started about six down a narrow lane, which got rougher and rougher. Even the mules could hardly stand and one was overbalanced by its load into a stream at the side. Several loads came off…”

Their resilience, however, is remarkable:

“Their saddles were kept on day and night and during the day even when we stopped for an hour their loads were never touched. But in spite of this they were ready to go on all day, grazing as they went. The one trouble was their speed – about two miles an hour, which made the day’s march a long one, although they never halted when we did.”

Of all the difficulties Maurice encountered on his journey, this is perhaps the strangest:

30/3/18 “In the morning we were greeted by the news that one of the mules had been eaten by a lion. On enquiry, it turned out to be a wretched creature which had been too lame to carry a load at all, so we suspected this was only the first stage in the manufacture of some circumstantial evidence so they might claim compensation.”

The following day, although still not at his final destination, Maurice was at least over the worst of it:

31/3/18. “This was the end of our journey on the Bagdad –  Persian road. From here to the Caspian it is good military road built by the Russians. From Bagdad to Qizil Roht, where I was camped, it passes over absolutely flat plains.”

Meanwhile, Maurice’s youngest brother 2nd Lieut. Pat Campbell (RFA) is serving in France.

We still remember the pain of awaiting news of the middle brother, 2nd Lieut. Percy Campbell, who was the second of our Old Boys to be killed, in October 1914.

The Roll now stands at sixty-six Old Boys, who have given their lives in this struggle against German aggression.

June 7th 1918

Lieut. St. John Backhouse (RAF)

Another loss – as recorded in yesterday’s edition of the Times –  has to be recorded from the springtime fighting, this time in Salonica. Jack Backhouse was apparently declared missing, but probably killed (although I saw no notice in the newspapers to that effect).

The details supplied by Jack’s commanding officer made it clear that it was unlikely he would have survived being shot down:

“Lieut. Backhouse was doing an army reconnaissance about sixty miles beyond the lines… and was attacked by three hostile Scouts. One of these three dived on the tail of Lieut. Backhouse’s machine and shot him through the neck. The machine fell from 8,000 to 10,000 ft.”

However, we have to thank the chivalry of German airmen for confirmation of his death. This note was dropped from one of their planes recently:

“On 3rd April at 3pm one of your two-seaters was brought down… after a brave fight in the air. The pilot, Lieut. Backhouse, was killed by a bullet through the head, the Observer, Lieut. Still, was killed by the fall. The burial was carried out with full military honours. Signed June 1st. The German Airmen.”

Having first joined the First Sportsman Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers, as a Private and then in 1916 taking up a commission in the East Lancashire Regiment, Jack transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in September 1917.

 

June 1st 1918

There is news that 2nd Lieut. Adrian Raleigh (Leics) and 2nd. Lieut. William Dyson (Devons) went missing in recent fighting at the Front.

Adrian is the son of Sir Walter Raleigh, Oxford’s Professor of English Literature. (Professor Raleigh is a familiar figure, along with the Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges, training with the Oxford Volunteer Corps – known to some as ‘Godley’s Own’ – around the town).

Adrian was wounded on March 24th and captured along with a significant proportion of his unit the following day. News that he was a prisoner of war was noted in the newspapers on May 3rd.

The Devons were enveloped by a German attack on Villers Bretonneux, near Amiens, on April 24th and William Dyson is one of many whose fate is unknown. He is listed as “missing,” but in the circumstances there is every chance that he has become a prisoner of war.