May 28th 1917

Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA) has replied to Fluff Taylor’s proposal that the School should have a War Memorial for Old Dragons who lay down their lives in this war.

He accepts that the building of a chapel might be the “normal” thing for a school to do…

15/5/17 “But we are not an ordinary school, and our tradition has always been cast in the opposite extreme. Routine, orthodoxy, ritual, unreasoning compliance with comme il faut – all these we have deliberately avoided. Some would say we have gone too far and undoubtedly our tradition, like the others, has its dangers. But freedom and sincerity and spontaneity and genuineness, and the mistrust of the second-rate and the second-hand, are things worth a good deal of risk to obtain and it is my firm belief that the best part of our school tradition is marked with just these characteristics.”

Hugh fears that a chapel would have to be under diocesan supervision and that school services on our present lines (with the staff and boys running them) would be impossible.

“If so, I can only say that the prospect fills me with fear. I fear… the apathy of routine: I fear the wrong kind of parent coming and saying ‘how nice and proper’ : I fear the right kind of parent coming and saying ‘After all, there’s not much in it between this and other schools’…

I am not thinking merely of those whose parents and upbringing are of some other specific creed: and I leave out of account the French and other non-British boys who have been such a strength to the School. I am thinking rather of the numbers in whom religious sensibility develops late, or takes some other form than participation in a uniform code of outward worship. Cannot we find some way of commemorating our common sacrifice which does not leave them out in the cold, and which does really link together all Dragons, past, present and to come?

My own feeling is that the War Memorial should be a building habitually and freely used by all Dragons, where the whole school meets occasionally for certain purposes and where at other times any boy can go at any hour of the day to read or write or reflect, with the names and records and memorials of the honoured dead visibly before him.”

In short, Hugh would rather we thought in terms of “a library, assembly hall, reading room, museum, concert hall or any mixture of these.”

 

Lieut. Martin Collier (RN) has also written. He supports the idea of a chapel:

“Provided, of course, that the School services remain exactly as they are at present, conducted by the boys themselves…”

 

I hope others will contribute their views to this debate and I look forward to hearing them.

 

 

May 24th 1917

Every day I open the morning newspaper to read on the ‘Roll of Honour’ of large numbers of officers killed and wounded, always in fear that I shall see the name of one of our Old Boys.

I am also confronted by a increasing number of those who are pronounced as ‘Missing’. This gives hope, but the families of these men are condemned to months of uncertainty as to whether their loved ones are dead, wounded or captured. In the case of the family of Capt. Edmund Gay (Norfolk Regiment) it has been nearly two years; he has been missing since August 1915.

Now two more of our Old Dragons have joined this list.

On May 20th, Mr Herbertson received a telegram stating that his grandson, Lieut. Hunter Herbertson (King’s Royal Rifle Corps) was reported as missing, but he understands that this does not necessarily mean that he is either wounded or killed.

On the night of May 16th he went out on a patrol with two others near Cherisy (at the southern end of the Arras battlefield). None of them returned. Enquiries will be made in the hope that he was captured and is a prisoner of war.

Hunter had done two years at Balliol (reading History) when war was declared. He joined up, but whilst training he suffered a double tragedy. His father (Oxford’s first Professor of Geography) died in July 1915, followed two weeks later by his mother. Both are buried in the Holywell Cemetery.

 

Mr  & Mrs Dowson have also been informed that their son, Captain John Dowson (Royal Berkshire Regiment) has been notified as “missing.”

Like Morice Thompson, he was involved in the attacks that took place on May 3rd in the Arras district, but as yet we have no further information as to the circumstances of his disappearance.

John has been a regular visitor to the school in recent times. When home on leave he was always about, ready to take a form or a game.

It is at times like this that you are glad to have a photograph that captures happier times and places to have in front of you. This is John, as the boys will remember him, and hopefully he will return to us in the fullness of time.

 

Better news was to be found on a list headed ‘Previously reported missing, now reported prisoners of war in German hands.’ Included on it was the name of 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren, whose fate has been unknown these past seven weeks.

His squadron was returning to their base on April 2nd when they were set upon by German squadron. It seems that Peter’s plane was singled one and forced to ditch behind enemy lines.

 

 

May 18th 1917

Young Dickie Wallace (aged 8 and in Form 1a) has shown me a letter he has just received from his uncle, Sous-Lieut. Noel Sergent (French Artillery), describing how he survived a torpedo attack on his way back to France.

13/5/17 “I left Salonika on Easter Sunday at 5 in the evening on a rotten old barge of 8000 tons, which could only go about 12 miles an hour. We called at Athens and Milos and on April 16th, while we were all having a snooze after lunch, we were torpedoed; we all went up on deck to see what was happening and we were told to put the boats and rafts out as soon as possible, as the ship would go down rapidly. So I went to my raft, which was forward, and found there was no time to spare, so we got her into the water.

In the meanwhile, the ship was sinking rapidly by the bows and when the bows went under, our raft was chucked up on to the deck and we all let go for fear of being crushed against some part, as the raft was bowled over and over by the waves.

I was washed down into the hold of the sinking ship by a big wave and drank and drank and drank, and all became dark round me. I thought it was the end and I remember saying to myself, ‘I’ve wondered how my end would come and this is it.’

In the meantime I did what I could to get to the surface and, as I got a glimmer of light, I made an effort and reached the surface and clutched at some boards that were floating about, and managed to keep up with one of these under each arm till I got my breath…

…The raft, which had presumably been wandering about on the deck, came near me and I gave two or three good strokes between waves and hung on to one of the ropes. But the backside of the old ship seemed to be right over the top of us and we couldn’t get the raft off the deck, as the waves kept shoving us back again…

As luck would have it, the ship sank down gradually, the funnel just missed us and the wash of the ship swept everything off the deck and the ship glided down just in front of us. There was no suction to speak of, so I was helped on to the raft where I was sick twice, and 3½ hours later we were picked up by a French torpedo boat…

There were 45 men drowned, chiefly owing to rough seas, too much clothing and tummy aches – as you know you mustn’t bathe (if you can help it) directly after a meal.

I was seriously handicapped by having on at the time a pair of heavy English football boots, which I had specially had out from England, and also a large artilleryman’s ‘Capote’ (a heavy coat with large cape attached to it).

Thank God I had learnt to swim under water, or you would never have had this letter…

Your loving uncle,

Noles.”

May 13th 1917

Lieut. Morice Thompson (Shropshire Light Infantry & MGC)

I am sorry to report that a second Old Dragon has been killed at Arras.

We have learnt from the Thompsons that Morice was killed by machine gun fire in the Scarpe Valley, whilst leading his section over the top in the big attack on May 3rd. At the time he was hit, it is reported, he was attending to a man in his section who was severely wounded.

Circumstances did not allow for the recovery of Morice’s body for burial.

The battle at Arras, which started on April 9th, has cost many lives.  The length of the lists in the newspapers seems almost as long as those from the Somme battle last year, when we lost nine of our Old Boys.

I remember Morice as a rather silent and reserved boy, but, as such boys often are, exceedingly popular and beloved by all who knew him at all intimately.

He played in many Old Dragon football matches and was always a most loyal Dragon.

 

May 9th 1917

No-one went off to war with a heavier heart than our own Pug – Lieut. Lindsay Wallace (OBLI) – being a Dragon, man and boy.

Since he left our Staff he has managed a number of visits, much to the delight of the boys. Last term he talked to them on the subject “With the troops in training” and they were intrigued by his description of the workings of the Mills bomb.

Pug has now returned to active service and even if , dare I say it, the OPS is not always the tidiest of places, the contrast between home and the Front is a stark one.

28/4/17 “We started off yesterday from the base and were told we would take about two days to reach our division.

Three of us had a first-class compartment to ourselves. We managed to get some tea and cake before leaving the station and then started on our journey very slowly indeed at about 4 p.m.

I have never seen such a sight as the sides of the line, in some places they are layers deep in tins of all descriptions thrown out of the carriages. This doesn’t apply to one particular spot but all along the line: without exaggeration there must have been millions of tins.

Also all along the line were kids who kept shouting ‘bisceet,’ and they generally got one. In many places there were German prisoners, who got cigarettes thrown to them…

After quite a good meal, which was helped on very much by heating up a meat tin over my cooker, we all settled down to sleep and I was very glad to have quite a good night.

Then all of a sudden we were woken up, about 5.30, and all told to get out. We got up and packed our various belongings and turned out, and there we were, right in it: almost every house is blown to bits, some have the walls standing and a few have the roof left in places.

It was a bit of a shock getting out of the train into a sort of shattered world.”

 

I have picked out this picture to remind us all of happier times.

It was taken by our VC hero, Jack Smyth outside The Lodge a few years before the war, and shows three stalwarts of my Staff: my brother Hum (AE Lynam), Pug (WJL Wallace) and Cheese (GC Vassall).

It seems a long time ago and from a different world now.

 

May 5th 1917

The battle at Arras continues unabated. Indeed, a couple of nights ago (around 1 a.m) many in Oxford were awoken by the sounds of the artillery bombardment – or so it was believed to be. I did not hear it myself.

* * * * * * *

We now have more encouraging news of William Leefe Robinson. His sister has been told that a captured German airman has revealed that William is alive and is now a prisoner of war.

We still do not know the fate of Peter Warren, who has been missing since April 2nd.

The casualties suffered by our airman last month must be a matter of great concern to our leaders. The Daily Telegraph of April 27th reported a significant increase in our losses (killed, wounded and missing):  January – 56, February – 119, March – 152, April –  319.

Of the twenty or so Old Dragons serving with the RFC, William and Peter are the first to have been declared “missing” and the news of William renews our hope that Peter is also a prisoner.

* * * * * * *

It is good to have the boys back and on the very first day of term our cricket team enjoyed a match against a team of young Old Dragons who are still on holiday. We scored a creditable 63 to the ODs’ 93.

The new boys are settling in well, although there have been some tears. Indeed, I found young Betjemann crying outside the Lodge. We walked up and down the road whilst I tried to comfort him.  He does know Ralph Adams from their holidays in Cornwall, so we have put them both in Form II. Let’s hope Ralph can help buck him up.

My brother Hum got to know the Betjemanns on holiday in Trebetherick a few years ago, and hearing that John was not having a good time of it at Highgate School (where his German-sounding name led to some unpleasantness), suggested he came to board here at the OPS.

 

May 2nd 1917

Summer Term 1917

Today we open the gates to a new term and we welcome 18 new boys into the school: G Naish (aged 12.9), E Webb (11.1), D Seebohm (10.3), G Page (11.10), C de Bunsen (11.6), T Anson (13.3), J Betjemann (10.8), M Garrett (7.11), C Neep (9.0), C John (8.10), W Haselfoot (9.0), Joan Gibson (9.4), B Gibson (8.1), Marguerite Leplae (9.7), M Edginton (9.2), A Onions (9.1), Joan Stenning (8.8), B Thomas (9.8).

A special mention should also be made of young Stephen Field, who joined us midway through last term. He is the son of the late Captain Stephen Field, who died so heroically whilst tending his fellow prisoners at the Wittenberg Camp.

Stephen has received a War Exhibition at Wellington College and has passed the necessary examination. He is only ten years old and will, I hope, be with us for two or three years before going to Wellington.