November 29th 1918

We must be thankful that the plague of ‘flu,’ which was so virulent in Oxford and elsewhere, has dealt lightly with us. We sent the boarders home for nearly three weeks.

The school was closed from Tuesday to Monday, and again from Thursday to Monday. Otherwise we kept the dayboys on.

The dozen or so boarders, who for various reasons could not go home, had some jolly expeditions, and did little work. They also made great use of the Carpenter’s Shop.

We let off some fireworks in honour of the Armistice yesterday. Many boys had never let off fireworks before, and there were moments when it seemed likely they would never let off any more (!) but there were no serious casualties.

It has been suggested that we should abolish Guy Fawkes’ Day and institute Nov. 11th instead, and burn a far less respectable and much more cowardly villain in effigy.

November 26th 1918

SURRENDER OF THE GERMAN HIGH SEAS FLEET

Thursday, November 21st 1918

HMS Queen Elizabeth overlooking the German surrender.

Three Old Dragons had the good fortune to witness the events of this historic day: Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (RN) on HMS Valiant, Lieut.-Commander Moray Wallace (RN) on HMS Relentless and Assistant Paymaster Percival Chapman (RN) on HMS Royal Sovereign.

The picture above, kindly sent to us by Geoffrey Freyberg, shows Admiral Beatty’s ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, watching over a German Konig class battleship (in the distance).

Geoffrey Freyberg (HMS Valiant) weighed anchor at 3.15am on November 21st to make their way to the rendez-vous with the German High Seas Fleet:

“We glide past the heavily-fortified island of Inchcolm, the Oxcars, and Black Rock booms… past Burntisland Roads… and then out into the night towards May Island, that bleak and barren outpost of the Forth, some 30 miles from Rosyth.

Clear of the outer gate we get out our Para-vanes, one of the three great inventions of the war at sea (the depth-charge and the hydrophone being the other two). The Para-vane looks like a short torpedo with wings, it is towed from the stern and cuts moored mines adrift as neatly as a slicing machine cuts rashers of bacon. 

We pass May Island at 6.02am… and steer east (true) to meet the advancing ‘enemy,’ with whom we have been in touch by W/T since midnight…

On meeting up with the German fleet, Moray Wallace (HMS Relentless), like many others no doubt, had his suspicions as to what would happen:

“They still flew their flag, and we had a feeling of possible treachery, for the men seemed scarce on deck, and they had their binoculars on us frequently from the bridge…

At last we passed May Island and dropped anchor in the Firth of Forth near the destroyer we were to examine for general sea-worthiness and hidden explosives…

As we climbed up the ladder and under the life-lines, the hands slouched round and peered at us, smoking cigars and cigarettes; all with their hands in their pockets and clustered together for’d as we reached the upper deck…

I saw no signs of mutiny; the hands seemed zealous to bring lamps and show off anything, and volunteered explanations. Nothing was as nice as in our own ships, and paint was everywhere instead of polished brass.”

Percival Chapman (HMS Royal Sovereign) describes the moment that marked the German surrender:

“Orders were given by the C-in-C that the German ensigns were to be hauled down at sunset this evening and were not to be hoisted again – in other words, sunset marked the virtual chucking up of the sponge.

Everyone became a trifle excited as sunset approached, some people having an idea that the Boches might attempt something dramatic when the critical moment arrived, such as a little diversion in the way of explosions etc. Nothing , however, happened except that the Hun battle cruiser ‘Derfflinger’ and one of their battleships were rather late on it. This was probably due to the almost complete lack of discipline which is now supposed to reign in the Hun Navy – anyway, whatever the cause, their slackness evoked derisive cheers  from the crew of the ‘Royal Oak.’

This was the only sign of jubilation anyone gave, cheers being against orders.” 

The battle cruiser ‘Derfflinger’

As I recall, the ‘Derfflinger’ fought at the Battle of Jutland and was responsible for the demise of HMS Invincible and Charles Fisher.

No sooner had the German fleet been captured  than they became something of a tourist attraction, although Geoffrey Freyberg was still slightly wary:

“Two days later I took a party of ladies, including my own family… round the German ships at anchor. One looked at these great ships at a range of only 5 or 10 yards with a queer feeling, almost expecting that a mad German would sweep the crowded stern sheets of our steam barge with a machine-gun. The sailors looked sullen and defiant, the officers, for the most part, looked dejected and ignored our close visit of inspection…”

November 23rd 1918

Daily Telegraph 21/11/18

Sub-Lieut. Francis Studdy (RN), on HMS Danae, witnessed the surrender of the first group of German U-boats on November 20th – to an Old Dragon, Rear-Admiral Reginald Tyrwhitt (RN), “of Arethusa fame,” (as the Daily Telegraph described him.)

It was a coincidence (surely?) that the ship detailed to lead in the U-boats was HMS Dragon!

20/11/18 “All ships sounded off ‘Action Stations’ at once. The light cruiser HMS Dragon (our sister ship) was detailed to lead them in, and took up her station ahead of the two merchant ships, who were to act as transports to take the German crews back. We carried on to the end of the line, the eighteen destroyers ranging themselves on each side along the line of submarines…

At 10.30 we reached the place where the Dragon and the two transports were anchored off Felixstowe, and anchored ourselves. As each U-boat came up a motor boat went alongside and put a prize crew on board…

The manner in which the Germans surrendered their boats differed greatly. In some cases they seemed only too pleased to hand over; in others they were stoically indifferent. In one submarine the captain crashed his binoculars to the deck and wept passionately, several of the crew ‘following their senior officer’s motions.’…

As they moored up, the German crews were put on board destroyers and taken out to the transports waiting for them. The officers have no control over their men at all, and both men and submarines are in a filthy condition, but at the same time they look healthy and appear to be well fed. One destroyer officer who took one batch out said that they smelt something awful and that it took him several days to get rid of the stench.

In one submarine the crew took a dislike to their captain, so they just ditched him and put someone else in his uniform. They were quite candid about the whole thing, because the officer taking over the boat commented on the youthful appearance of the captain and asked him how long he had been in command. He replied a few hours and then volunteered the above information…

When all the U-boat crews were embarked in the two transports, the Dragon escorted them off the premises.”

 

 

November 20th 1918

Mr Bye was one of four members of staff who left us to join up on the outbreak of war in 1914, and now the gallant editor of the ‘Draconian’ has persuaded him to contribute an article about the modern wonder that is the Tank, together with an excellent sketch.  As Capt. WRG Bye MC DSO (Royal West Surrey Regiment), he has had ample opportunity to acquaint himself with them.

Mark V one star Tank as drawn by Mr. Bye

“The latest Tank – Mark V one star – besides being much superior to the older type in speed, power, armament etc., is also so constructed as to render the crews immune from ‘splashing.’ In the older Tank many serious casualties were caused to the crews by sprays of molten lead which flew into the interior through the crevices etc., in the plate, when the Tank was under rifle fire and machine gun fire.

My first Tank ride was… 1½ miles in a Mark V one star over rather variegated country comprising many trenches and fear-inspiring ditches.

Prior to this, I had always felt a certain amount of pity for a Tank crew and thanked my stars I was not compelled – like them – to live a good part of my life being shaken to bits inside one of these crawling ironclads. However, as a result of this ride, my views have changed somewhat, as the trip was accomplished with much less pain than I had anticipated…

After a short time we began to imagine ourselves in danger of being melted alive and so the side doors and top apertures were opened, which relieved our distress somewhat. And yet a trained crew are capable of sticking that stifling oily atmosphere for eight hours.

In some of the operations of 1918, platoons of infantry were carried into action in Mark V one star Tanks, but the great drawback was that after some distance the men were absolutely done in and had to be rested before they could go on.”

Despite Mr. Bye’s words, as someone happiest on the open sea, I am not sure I could endure the conditions suffered by those brave soldiers who manned these Tanks.

It is rather appropriate to produce this article today, as it is a year ago to the day that the Battle of Cambrai, famously involving over 400 tanks, started.

November 17th 1918

Lieut. Jack Pogson-Smith (OBLI) arrived back from the Macedonian Front on November 4th and a few days later made the mistake of visiting the ‘Draconian’ editor. Mr Vassall has duly extracted from him this account of armistice night in Salonika at the end of September:

Daily Telegraph, 1/10/18

“Really there was nothing at all exciting about it, as it was more or less expected, because for some days Bulgar officers had been passing blindfolded in cars through our lines, presumably to discuss terms.

If anything, I think there was a curious feeling of flatness. Possibly, though, this was merely due to the fact that we felt we could not celebrate the occasion as it deserved, as we had long ago run out of the wherewithal to celebrate anything, and the nearest EFC was a good thirty or forty miles away.

However, in the evening we did our best to make merry. Every unit sent up all the ‘Very’ lights it could lay hands on, and for a bit the Strumnica plain was quite gaily illuminated. But of course we soon ran out of ‘Very’ lights, so we lit a big bonfire in a river bed. This, however, was not a complete success, as we were promptly told to put it out, as we were interrupting visual signal communication with Battalion HQ. 

Fancy not being allowed the luxury of cutting yourself off from your HQ for a few blessed hours on armistice night!! 

But such is the Army.”

November 12th 1918

P E A C E   A T   L A S T !

Daily Telegraph, 12/11/1918

After four years of sacrifice, yesterday’s news of the Armistice is more than a little tinged with sadness at the thought of so many who have not lived to see this day.

As in London, the news of the Armistice was received with some enthusiasm in Oxford.

The first indication for many of us was the tolling of ‘Great Tom‘ in Wren’s Tom Tower at Christ Church (which, like Big Ben, has been silenced for the duration).

At 6pm the Mayor read out the terms of the Armistice in the city centre and the day concluded with fireworks and a bonfire (with the effigy of the Kaiser being consumed by the fire) outside St. John’s College in St. Giles, a stone’s throw from where the OPS started in 1877.

When the boarders return, we will have our own celebration.

Those noble sorts who have followed the King’s example – including Rear-Admiral Tyrwhitt –  in giving up alcohol till the war ended, can now enjoy their first drink since 1915!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 10th 1918

Although the newspapers give us hope of an end to our agonies very shortly, we still have digest the news of those who will not live to see the fruits of their endeavours.

Capt. Kenneth Rudd (West Yorks) was killed exactly a month ago and now we have further information on the circumstances surrounding Kenneth’s death from his commanding officer and friend:

Kenneth Rudd

“Capt. Rudd was with me when he was killed. The Battalion had just reached our final objective in our advance on the morning of October 10th. We were talking to each other when an enemy shell burst just behind us. Capt. Rudd fell and I bent down to him to ask him where he was hit. He replied ‘All over the back, sir.’ He then caught hold of my hand and I could see he was going. I knelt down and kissed him for I loved your boy and in a moment he was dead.

Today I have been out to see his grave. It is in a little British cemetery (near Audencourt, east of Cambrai), with officers and men who were killed in August 1914. A wooden cross with his name and Regiment etc has been put up and I have arranged for some flowers to be planted on his grave…

A short time ago I recommended him for the MC. I do wish he had lived to receive the decoration he earned so well. I am afraid a posthumous award of the MC is very rare.

To me he was always ‘Ruddy’ and I shall always remember him as a most perfect gentleman and one of the best officers I have ever known. We were close friends and I was more attached to him than to any officer I have ever known.

Capt. Rudd died as he would wish to have died. In the face of the enemy, the end of the war in sight and his last fight won.”