December 12th 1918

Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI) is, we know, a francophile – he wrote last year of his pleasure at working with the French on the Western Front.

Following the account of his experiences in the Battle of the Piave in June, here is his latest, and perhaps last, missive from Italy.

With the French in Italy.

30/11/18. “By great good fortune, I spent the last three months of the war with the French on the Asiago Plateau, acting as a liaison officer between them and my own Division…

The policy on both Divisional fronts was a constant raiding activity. The French are, as everyone knows, quite uncannily clever at raids. They have always taken more prisoners and had fewer casualties than the English, on every front. I could never learn the secret of their success, and they professed not to know it themselves. Each Division used to do a big raid every ten days…

[The French Division]… had a great success early in August. It captured nearly 150 prisoners at the cost of one man killed and six wounded… The prisoners were a sorry lot, as usual. Among them was a Regimental Commander (a Colonel). The [French] General did a thing which no English General, under any conceivable circumstances would do. He picked the captured Colonel up, put him in his car, and took him straight back to Divisional HQ, where he gave him breakfast in his mess.

After breakfast, the French General launched out into a magnificent tirade against Austria and all its works, and while he whipped the unhappy Colonel with his words, the latter sat, with his head in his hands, the picture of decadence, defeat and despair.

I was afterwards left alone with him under my charge and we had an interesting talk. He was a typical Austrian, weak, agreeable, strongly anti-Boche. He shrugged his shoulders over the whole business, and when I asked him what would happen to the Dual Monarchy after the War, he answered, ‘My dear fellow, so long as you leave me Paris to live in, and English clothes to wear, I don’t care!’

Daily Telegraph, 31/10/1918

After a crescendo of raids on the plateau, the Piave offensive was launched, and went well from the start. In four or five days, the enemy showed signs of a withdrawal on our front, and, at the given moment, the French and my own Division sprang upon his rearguards, kicked them off the plateau, and began the great pursuit…

I am writing in a great hurry, and have no time to tell you half the things that I should like to tell about the French. They are wonderful soldiers. British troops are just as brave, but I believe it is just to say that where we show great talent for war, the French show genius… 

They admire and love us because, as they say, we are a people ‘qui sait si bien se faire casser les dents.’ How true this is of France and England our casualty lists show, and we shall not forget it.

I hope that this is the last war letter I shall ever send to the ‘Draconian’!”

December 9th 1918

2nd Lieut. Vincent Alford (RGA) only left the OPS in 1913. In January 1918, having just left Winchester, Lally (as he was universally called) came to our rescue, playing the part of Touchstone in ‘As You Like It,’ when his younger brother Robert fell ill.

In May this year he was gazetted as 2nd Lieut. and now writes from 328 Siege Battery:

“I’m a colossal fraud, as I only saw about a few weeks of the war. The Boche ran so fast towards the end that it was next to impossible for our guns to keep up with him.

A week ago we came back to a large, straggling village called Beauval, just south of Doullens. It hasn’t seen the war except for an occasional shell last March, and it’s blessed to live in houses with a roof.

I had a capital whole-day tip to Mons, a large Belgian town in mining country, with shops and civilians and Boche money and prices (!!) that would knock spots off the Food Controller’s most fantastic efforts.”

Mons? This takes us back to the beginning of the war, when Lieut. Victor Cowley (Royal Irish Rifles) and Lieut. Rupert Lee (Worcs) first wrote with news of the retreat from Mons in September 1914.

How much have we endured since then.

December 5th 1918

Daily Telegraph, 4/12/1918

We are sorry to hear of the death of a former OPS parent and indeed the trustee who, along with Rev JR King and W Esson Esq approved the terms and conditions under which I was able to acquire the OPS in January 1887.

Dr John Percival was the first Headmaster of Clifton College when it opened in 1862, before becoming President of Trinity College Oxford in 1878. Then in 1887 he succeeded Dr Jex-Blake as Headmaster of Rugby. His obituary celebrates his considerable contribution to education:

Dr Percival has been described as one of the greatest headmasters of the latter half of the last century. He undoubtedly exercised a strong influence over the boys, to whom to always inculcated the highest ideals of manliness and virtue…

He was one of the originators of University College Bristol, and was an active worker in the cause for women’s education. He was the first President of the Council of Somerville College, Oxford.”

Dr Percival was made Bishop of Hereford in 1895. He retired to Oxford last year.

He was the father of Arthur Percival (Lieut.- Col., Northumberland Fusiliers) who together with his brother Launcelot joined the OPS in 1879. Arthur was one of three of our Old Boys who was killed on October 31st 1914.

Launcelot Percival is currently Rector of St Mary’s, Bryanston Square in London, having distinguished himself before the war as an English rugger international and as one of the first invited to join the Barbarians Club.

December 2nd 1918

Daily Telegraph 28/11/1918

Following the news of the surrender of more German U-boats, we were honoured to receive a letter from Rear-Admiral Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt KCB DSO RN. It gave me great pleasure this morning to read it to the boys:

HMS Curacoa  

28.11.18

Dear Mr Lynam,

It will, I feel sure, be of interest to the School to know that the 5th Group of German submarines arrived yesterday, making the total number surrendered 114. There are a few more to follow.

I think that I, being an Old Boy, have the right to demand a whole holiday honour of the occasion. It would give me great pleasure if you could see your way to granting the school this favour and hope it will give them some pleasure too.

Yours sincerely,

Reginald Tyrwhitt

In reply, I have suggested that we should supplement our annual whole holiday on VC Day by an annual Navy Day on the anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, May 31st 1916 – a victory which shut up the German fleet useless in harbours for the rest of the war.

HMS Curacoa

The Admiral has also sent us his account of the surrender of the first group of U-boats on November 20th:

“It was a most impressive sight to me, this long line of over five miles of German submarines steaming peacefully along, and one could scarcely realise that a short week ago, the slightest rumour of one such craft being in the neighbourhood was enough to bring our destroyers tearing up from all sides to hunt him to death…

The German captains were required to sign a paper on which certain conditions were laid down; the drift of these being that their boats were in good running order and ready for sea in all respects, also that no ‘booby traps’ or other such pleasant devices were arranged on board for our reception. Each boat now ran up the White Ensign, and with our prize crew in charge and the Germans fallen in on the foc’sle, proceeded into Harwich Harbour.

There was a certain amount of trouble over this latter condition; the German crews had been heavily bribed to induce them to come and had apparently not been told that they would be taken into a British port under our War Flag, as they call it.  It is a most interesting fact that the majority immediately concluded that they were about to be paraded through the streets of Harwich at the mercy of the inhabitants, after the manner of a sort of ancient Roman triumph.

One can easily imagine what would have been our fate if the conditions had been reversed.”