January 31st 1919

It transpires that Leonard Campbell Taylor – younger brother of Fluff Taylor and the artist responsible for the front cover of our magazine, the ‘Draconian‘ – has been involved in most interesting work as a War Artist. He was attached to the port of Liverpool to supervise our ships with dazzle camouflage.

He is now able to reveal some of his work for us.

“The whole aim and object of this scheme is not invisibility, but so to distort the appearance of a vessel at sea and all its parts, especially the bridge, funnels and bows, that a Hun U-boat commander in making his reckoning of the ship’s course becomes confused and wrong in his calculation…”

It is interesting to hear that a apparently only one sixth of daylight penetrates a periscope, which must make it even more difficult, and often U-boats actually surface to identify their targets. The effectiveness of this camouflage is demonstrated in Leonard’s account of one of our biggest ships, HMT Olympic, encountering a U-boat:

HMT Olympic in dazzle camouflage

“The German Commander having made his calculations, correct as he no doubt thought, dived and again rose to the surface to find his quarry not at all where he expected her to be, instead he found himself right under the towering bows of the monster ship, who went full speed ahead, rammed the U-boat, split her in two, and when the Hun Commander was rescued from the water and taken prisoner, he owned that it was entirely due to the dazzle plan of the Olympic that he was so disastrously out in his reckoning.”

The person credited as the inventor of dazzle painting is Lieut.-Commander Norman Wilkinson (RNVR), who had been a marine artist before the War.

“There were about 420 designs in all, so many being applicable to each of the (roughly) 30 different types of merchantmen in existence, but special plans were designed for the large liners such as the Olympic, Mauretania, Aquitania, and Leviathan and for HM Cruisers, Sloops and Gunboats, each having its own design and sharing it with no other vessel.

Nearly all ships over 100 feet in length were eventually dazzled and on arrival in port, no matter how short a time previously painted, each vessel had to be touched up or entirely repainted with a new plan if the inspecting dazzle officer considered it necessary.

Acres had to be covered, sometimes in a very short space of time, for ships were not allowed to be detained a moment beyond their sailing time, and a couple of hundred or more men would be put to work on a large liner, and then you would scarcely notice them when distributed over over one of these immense vessels…

Dazzle Officers were stationed at all the important ports of Great Britain and Ireland and at those of Gibraltar, Malta and Port Said. Their business was to train the foreman, to supervise the work while in progress and to inspect finally each ship…

One’s life was consequently spent in the docks and among the ships, when not engaged in office work, and a marvellous place these docks at Liverpool are, with their river frontage of 8½ miles and the Birkenhead docks just across the Mersey. Here there was work night and day – a thousand repairs and alterations to be made, cargo vessels to be converted into troopships, guns and their platforms to be erected on board, Marconi houses, horse boxes, railway wagons and even large river steamers and launches to be placed on deck, cargo to be loaded or discharged and ships in dry dock, with gaping holes in their sides or bows twisted like a piece of tin-foil, having suffered from mine, torpedo or collision, to be patched up and mended…

There are about 30 miles of sheds in the Liverpool docks, varying from 60 to 90 feet wide, and there you can see almost everything, animal, vegetable and mineral, that the world produces.”

 

 

 

January 26th 1919

Kildare Dobbs, who in 1913 won a scholarship to St Columba’s College Dublin, writes from Dundrum in Ireland, having (thankfully) just escaped the clutches of the Great War:

“I joined the Dublin University OTC in December 1917, and was within four months of my commission. The WO won’t demobilise us yet, though I am trying to get my discharge.”

Kildare shares with us a sense of great loss at the deaths of two of the boys’ most popular masters. It was my habit to fine any boy late for breakfast a penny, and well do I remember the times Kildare recalls here:

“The OPS would hardly seem to me to be the same today without Mr Higginson and Mr Eastwood. They were the very life and soul of the Boarding House, and were ready for all the fun and mischief. I remember when Higgy came down to breakfast late, and Skipper would hand the money box to him amidst uproarious cheers. And once upon a time they were seen wrestling in the Common Room like a pair of schoolboys, and indeed they they weren’t very much more.

I really knew Higgy better, as I used to take music all the time I was there, and perhaps the fellows who thought of him as a theme for fun didn’t quite realise what a good earnest Christian he was, and how his energy and enthusiasm were all unconsciously the bulwark of the keenness of the School in all the projects in which he had a share.

For his (and others) loss I suppose the School will always mourn: the shadow will lift, but even time cannot entirely blot out the remembrance.

As the French proverb says, ‘Suffering passes; to have suffered abideth forever.’ 

And so it is.”

January 20th 1919

We lost Ronnie Poulton on May 5th 1915, and just after Christmas, some three and a half years later, Professor Edward Poulton has been able for the first time to visit his son’s grave.

We are most grateful to him for sending in this for the next edition of the ‘Draconian

“The photograph of Ronald’s grave, taken by Capt. GM Gathorne-Hardy MC (4th Berks) and here reproduced, represents the original Cross erected after the funeral on May 6th 1915…

A year and a quarter later, Ronald’s Marlston friend, the Rev Frank Ford CF, replaced the original Cross by one of greater strength. It so happened that another friend, Capt. E Whitnall, was passing at the time, and his memories convey a striking and accurate picture of the spot:

‘On the 18th (August 1916) I was bicycling along the bumpy pavé which leads from the dead ruins of Ploegsteert village, with the shattered red brickwork of its church, along the straight, tall avenue to the foot of Hill 63, where the Messines Road turns and rises to the right…

At the parting of the roads, at the foot of the hill was a notice board, ‘Hyde Park Corner.’  Short of this, close to the edge of the road and lying in part of Ploegsteert Wood itself, was a little cemetery of neatly arranged brown wooden crosses…

At the very moment of passing I turned my head at seeing two men replacing one simple cross by another – as simple, but painted white – and caught the name. An officer of the 3rd Hussars with me exclaimed, ‘Why, that’s the name of a fellow I was with at Rugby!’ and so we helped…

A year later the second Cross, much splintered by shell fire, was replaced by my son-in-law, Capt. CP Symonds RAMC, who erected the strong and heavy oak Cross which still remains.

The cemetery passed into the possession of the enemy for some months last year, but Capt. Symonds was able to write, on October 24th, 1918:

‘I visited dear Ronald’s grave this afternoon, and am so glad to be able to tell you that it is almost exactly as I left it this time last year. The oak Cross is standing intact save for two small scratches, and the grave itself is quite tidy; in fact the whole cemetery seems to have suffered very little during the past year, in spite of its having twice changed hands. It was a very different scene from that on my last visit – no sounds or sights of active war – only the scars of the past.’

I visited the grave on December 20th, and found it uninjured, just as Capt. Symonds describes, although there are several large shell holes full of water within a few feet of it and most of the trees seen in the photograph have been destroyed…

On his grave a cowslip was growing, planted, I am sure, by loving hands.”

Professor Poulton is compiling a book on Ronald’s life, which he hopes to publish later this year.

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The ‘In Memoriam column’ in the ‘Times’ today carries the name of Martin Collier, for whom no grave was possible. He was lost exactly a year ago, in the vastness of the North Sea.

January 13th 1919

Another of our brethren has returned to the fold. 2nd Lieut. Adrian Raleigh (Leics), who was captured in the German Spring Offensive earlier this year has been repatriated, or rather, has repatriated himself!

Adrian tells us that after the armistice the prison guards at Mainz either went on strike or evaporated, allowing him and his fellow prisoners to wander the streets:

We spent several enjoyable days among the inhabitants, who appeared to be quite friendly and who were never tired of expressing their satisfaction at the downfall of the Kaiser.

Eventually, becoming tired of waiting for ‘immediate repatriation,’ 200 of us chartered a river steamer, at 20 marks per head, and started down the Rhine. The voyage lasted six days. We stopped at almost every town and village to load and unload cargo.

Our first landing place was Bingen, which we reached at 10 o’clock at night; here we went into the only café in the place and nearly lifted the roof with rag-times.

We stayed two nights at Cologne, which was strewn with flags and placards bearing the inscription ‘Welcome to our brave troops, beaten by no foe’…

Finally, we crossed the Dutch frontier and landed at Nymegen, where the Dutch greeted us with ‘England Uber Alles.’ Here we were met by the British RTO and entrained for Rotterdam, and so home after a rather varied tour of Germany.”

 

 

January 9th 1919

Whilst boarders at the OPS come from all over the country, the dayboys of course live close by the school. An exception to this was Seyyid Ali, whose death (on December 20th) has been announced and whose family background was totally unlike that of any other of our old boys.

Seyyid Ali bin Hamud Al-Busaid (to give him his full name) was the son of the 7th Sultan of Zanzibar. In 1898-99 he came to Oxford to be tutored by Mr Farnell, Vice-Rector of Exeter College. During this time, as Seyyid Ali, he attended the OPS with the particular purpose that he should learn something of our Games. His contemporaries will remember his dashing runs as wing three-quarter for the School XV.

On leaving Oxford, he spent three years at Harrow School.

The Sultan of Zanzibar (c.1907)

He became the 8th Sultan in 1902, but there was a regency until he came of age in 1905. His reign was a short one; ill health forced him to abdicate in 1911 and it is with sadness that we now hear of his death.

* * * * * *

Zanzibar became a British Protectorate in 1890 (by the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty that gave the Germans Heligoland, which allowed them control of the Kiel Canal).

Zanzibar’s history thereafter has been strange to say the least. In 1896 the 5th Sultan died and a cousin of his seized the throne. Three days later, in a “war” that lasted some 38-45 minutes (surely the shortest war in history!) he was overthrown by the British and Seyyid Ali’s father was installed as the 7th Sultan.

The 7th Sultan was responsible for the abolition of slavery in Zanzibar, for which he was knighted by Queen Victoria, and this was the background to Seyyid Ali coming to England for his education.

January 4th 1919

Capt. William Leefe Robinson VC

His funeral, which was held yesterday, was the occasion of an impressive display of respect and made the front page of the ‘Daily Sketch‘ and was also featured in the ‘Times’:

“Shortly before the procession left Lavender Cottage, the residence of Major Clifton – in which Capt. Robinson was staying as a guest when he died – a large wreath of laurel leaves, a tribute from the General Officer Commanding and the other officers of the 6th Brigade of the RAF, was dropped in front of the dwelling from an aeroplane. A flight of aeroplanes circled above the house and over the heads of the crowd who lined the roadway along which the coffin, covered by the Union Jack, was borne upon a RAF aeroplane trolley drawn by a RAF motor-van to the place of interment, a distance of nearly a mile…

The procession was headed by the Band of the RAF playing a funeral march, and detachments of the Force followed and formed a guard of honour within the churchyard…

Two of Capt. Robinson’s favourite hymns, ‘Fight the Good Fight’ and ‘For All the Saints who from their Labours Rest’ were sung and the Psalm, ‘God is our Refuge’ was chanted by the choir…”

This is the second war-related death in the Robinson family, William’s brother, 2nd Lieut. Harold Leefe Robinson (Indian Army), having been killed near Kut in 1916.

* * * * * *

19 Old Dragons laid down their lives for their country in 1918. The full Roll of Honour now stands at 77 (with Edmund Gay and John Dowson still unaccounted for). We continue to raise money for a War Memorial in their honour.

January 1st 1919

Capt. William Leefe Robinson VC (RAF)

Having heard only a couple of weeks ago that he had returned in good health, it is a shock to read of the death of William Leefe Robinson, which occurred yesterday.

It is clear now that the information was wrong – he was in a weakened state as a result of the treatment he received at the hands of the Germans whilst in captivity (which included time in solitary confinement following his attempts to escape).

The cause of his death, however, was influenza, which we learn he had been battling for over a week at the home of friends in Stanmore near Harrow.

* * * * * *

Also in today’s newspaper is news of the safe return from captivity of Capt. Aubrey de Selincourt (RAF) and Lieut. Peter Warren (RAF).