July 21st 1920

Yesterday was a special day for the Smyth brothers, Jack and Billy:

Captain JG Smyth VC, 15th Ludhiana Sikhs, 43rd Infantry Brigade and Lieutenant (Acting Captain) HEF Smyth, 1st Battalion, Ox & Bucks Light Infantry were summoned to Buckingham Palace to receive decorations won in action in Waziristan and Russia (where the 1st Ox and Bucks were part of the Allied force that intervened in the Russian Civil War to assist the ‘White Russians’ in their fight against the Bolsheviks) respectively.

We understand that it was the first occasion on which two brothers had been decorated with the same decoration at the same investiture, and they marched up together to receive Military Crosses from the Duke of York, who was deputising for the first time for the King (who was unwell).

I gather both brothers were rather nervous – as was His Royal Highness, and the citations were never read out. We can at least rectify this here in Jack’s case:

“At Khajuri (Tohei Valley) on October 22nd, 1919, this officer’s gallantry and initiative under fire contributed largely towards the saving of a valuable convoy which was attacked by the enemy. Sent forward from Idak with reinforcements to clear up the situation he most ably appreciated a very critical situation which, but for his so doing, must have resulted in serious disaster. He displayed staff ability of a high order in co-ordination and reporting the situation, rallying personnel who were in a state of apathy, due to the casualties amongst their officers. He was subjected throughout this period to heavy and accurate enemy fire, which in no way deterred him from moving from place to place. His courage was an example to all, and resulted in the convoy being brought safely to Idak.”

Jack Smyth pictured after the ceremony with his fiancée, Miss Dundas.

Today we bring the Summer Term to an end with sports, a concert and prize-giving, and Jack’s busy week continues as he is with us to make the presentations.

November 6th 1916

Although France is currently the centre of attention in this war, the North-West Frontier continues to require policing, in order to thwart German efforts to threaten British power in India.

north-west-frontier

Lieut. Jack Smyth VC (15th Sikhs), who wrote to us in June about the signalling course he was sent on, has written to say that he is back on active service there:

Jack Smyth28/10/16 “Here we are on the frontier, once more on active service and I am writing this in the Mess tent, well dug down below ground to escape stray bullets…

I arrived at Peshawar to find the regiment had marched out the day before and orders awaiting me to command the Depot.

A newly joined subaltern came up and reported that he had been left as Adjutant and handed over piles of correspondence, which we had to get down to at once…

We had two or three very strenuous days with the usual notes from everyone who had gone out with the regiment asking for various things they had left behind. This sort of thing:

‘Please get the keys of my bungalow from my gardener and on the bunch you will find a brass key, which opens the third drawer of my writing table. At the back of the drawer you will find my despatch case and in it my cheque book. Please send this out by the milk lorry tomorrow. Awfully sorry to bother you, as I know how busy you must be,’  but this is part of the Depot commander’s job…

Three days ago I was relieved and sent out to join the regiment. The Mohmands with whom we are fighting, or supposed to be fighting, have so far left us severely alone, but come down at night and snipe and hurl abuse at us…

We can’t attack them because they would only retire to their hills and we should need a large force and a long line of communication to follow them, and they won’t attack us because they think barbed wire and mountain guns an unfair advantage.”

Before this, Jack had been on leave in Kashmir, where he reports that he met up with fellow Old Dragon, 2nd Lieut. Edward Sheepshanks (Indian Army) at a dinner party,

“…and thereupon had an OD dinner on our own and drank to the Skipper and the OPS, which astonished the rest of the party…”

Knowing how lively an affair an OD dinner can be, I am not surprised they were astonished!

(At least there were no Wykehamists present to sing a joyous chorus in praise of the present subjunctive – and they did not have to suffer my recitation of the Banjo Song!)

* * * * * * *

Roderick HaighToday is the second anniversary of the death of Lieut. Roderick Haigh (Queen’s Royal West Surreys). Thanks to his bequest, which paid for our shooting range, the boys will be competing for the Roderick Haigh Cup at the end of this term.

He was a noble man, who saw it as a privilege to die for his country.

July 7th 1916

A letter has made its way from Lieut. Jack Smyth VC (15th Sikhs) in Peshawar in India.

Jack Smyth26/6/16. “I am so glad May 18th turned out a good day and the boys enjoyed the whole holiday. I do indeed hope I shall be able to spend it with you next year.

I am up doing a signalling course in a little hill station, but it gets most unpleasantly hot here in the middle of the day, especially as we are only in tents…

This course lasts three months, at the end of which time we shall be tapping out the Morse Code in our sleep and sending messages at table with our knives and forks and otherwise getting really ‘signalling mad.’

We waive flags from 7-8 a.m., starting easily and finally working up till we are sending almost the whole hour without a pause and everyone has muscles in his forearms like a blacksmith.

Breakfast at 8 and then we sit on the top of the hill in pairs and read messages in Helio, Morse and Semaphore till 11 a.m., by which time the rocks had got so hot that one can hardly sit on them. There is then a stampede to the Mess to get a long iced drink safely by one’s side before the lecture commences. This goes on till 12 and keeping awake is the hardest thing I have ever known.

We then take pencil and paper and write down while the Instructor sends us telephone messages till 1 p.m. Lunch, and then we write up any notes we have made, get into pyjamas and sleep till 4 p.m., when three days a week I play polo and the other days tennis…

There is only one ground here and we have to play at 4.30 p.m. (very hot then) so that the men can get their games afterwards. As soon as the last chukker is over, the polo posts are rooted up and half the ground converted into a hockey ground and half into a soccer ground and the men get two inter-company league matches in on each ground before it gets dark.

It is the only flat bit of ground in the place, and when the soccer and hockey are fairly underway and the officers’ tennis courts and squash courts in one corner are going strong, the whole place is covered with flying figures ‘strafing’ various sorts and sizes of balls with different kinds of weapons.”

All so very different when compared with what our troops are currently facing in France at the moment, but it is good to know that Jack, who has surely already done his bit, is safe and well.

February 23rd 1916

With magazines such as our Draconian making their way to front line trenches, some thought has to be given to security.

We are requested by the Director of Military Intelligence at the War Office to state that the matter contained in any War Article or Letter in the Draconian is to be treated as confidential, and that no extracts from them may be sent for publication to the newspapers.

* * * * * * * *

It is good to know that magazines, such as our own Draconian, are well received by our old boys. Capt. Maurice Jacks (KRRC) writes from Northern France:

jacks-ml3“In a stray ‘Oxford Chronicle’ which found its way to this dreary corner of Northern France the other day I read an account of ‘The Tempest’ and a letter from the Skipper about the bad state of the roads. These two led my thoughts to the ‘School House afar’ and hence this letter. My ‘Draconian’ has not turned up yet; but I can’t get on without it and have written for a copy from home.”

The Draconian has certainly made its way to General Headquarters where Major Cecil Lucas (RHA) and friends “simply devoured every word… and look forward to every number like anything.”

Capt. Charlie Childe (Gloucestershire Regiment), on reading what he had written in the first months of the War, now finds that he sees things differently:

Charlie Childe“I have just had the ‘Draconian’ and was very glad to get it. I’m afraid some of my letters now display a rather green and enthusiastic spirit. In fact I rather wonder at myself in the first days of August and September as a fierce hero! I see I said I didn’t mind shells. However, I am not ashamed to admit that familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. Jack Smyth quite agreed with me in this when I saw him last, so that is enough to go by…”

Lieut. Jack Smyth VC (15th Ludhiana Sikhs) has received his Draconian in Egypt:

Jack Smyth“I wrapped myself up in two blankets in  a deck chair yesterday evening and read the ‘Draconian’ from start to finish.

Charlie Childe’s letters interested me a great deal, as I have been practically in all the places he mentions.”

 

 

 

December 31st 1915

Christmas for our gallant old boys, stationed in numerous theatres of war, has varied considerably.

Capt. Geoffrey Carpenter (Uganda Medical Service) is currently somewhere in the vicinity of Kabale in Uganda:

“Xmas Day passed without any excitement and our mess managed to put up quite a decent dinner. Tinned tomato soup, herrings and jugged hare, a guinea-fowl (shot with a rifle) to take turkey’s place – they are as good eating as any bird I know.”

Capt. Charlie Childe (Gloucestershire Regiment), in a billet near Richebourg St. Vaast, on the other hand, has had no relief from the day-to-day realities of the war:

Charlie Childe“From 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve till 5 p.m. on Christmas Day all our batteries had more or less carte blanche and all started blazing away at midnight.

I went in on Christmas Day after tea and there was a great deal of whizz-banging and salvoes of shrapnel all night. I was quite pleased when I got back to my dug-out, as it was rather a poor game wandering about over the open in the pitch dark, and wet, with all this hatred breaking out from time to time.”

Lieut. Jack Smyth (15th Ludhiana Sikhs) is now in Egypt, defending Alexandria from attack by the German-supported Sennussi tribe. No Christmas spirit to be found there either:

Jack Smyth“I spent the most exciting Christmas Day and the coldest Christmas night I have ever spent in my life; the whole day was spent in an attack on the Sennussi position. I was doing Adjutant duties and as I had only a few days before come out of hospital in Alexandria, I was almost dead, not counting the additional ‘almosts’ from bullets…

I should love to have been able to get back to Oxford for Xmas, but must not think of such things till the war is over…”

2nd Lieut. Maurice Jacks (King’s Royal Rifle Corps), whose location is given simply as “this dreary corner of North France” has ascertained that the Boche may be suffering somewhat worse than our troops:

“A deserter came in the other day and to his amazement the men gave him cigarettes and tea, and Headquarters a dinner; he was feted all round, but we could not let him off without displaying a little ‘frightfulness’ and the whole battalion having just had a Xmas dinner of goose and plum pudding, we asked him, ‘I suppose you had goose and plum pudding on Xmas Day. We all did!’

He threw up his hands in amazement and was green with envy; he apparently had not even had a sausage!”

Lastly, my daughter, Kit Marshall (St. Leonard’s School YMCA hut, Camp 18, Harfleur Valley, near Havre) has been helping entertain those Tommies behind the lines, who were able to celebrate in some style:

KIt Lynam portrait“This morning we were all taken to the Irishmen’s and RFA dining halls to see their Christmas dinner and the decorations. They had turkey, geese, plum puddings, some given by the Ulster women, and beer.

Then at 3 p.m. we went to their concert. The men from both dining halls crammed into one… and they all joined in the choruses – ‘The little Grey Home’, ‘The Sunshine of Your Smile’, ‘Ragtime Cowboy Joe’ etc.

The pianist was splendid, played anything in any key; the voices were somewhat husky, the result of a huge dinner and a very smoky atmosphere. They had been given churchwarden pipes, too, by the Ulster women and the scene was most picturesque – all these men standing and sitting under the elaborate wreaths of different coloured paper and evergreens, all singing lustily.

Now I am sitting in the pay-box, having a slack time, as most of the men are down dancing in the lower Hut. All those under 5 ft. 6 ins. are decorated with ribbons, which shows that they are ladies…”

For these men, Kit’s old school (after the OPS of course!), St Leonard’s, provided Christmas presents:

…The men came up to the platform, each in turn, and dipped into a huge bran-pie for a present… 1,465 presents were given away and still some did not get any. They were awfully pleased with the things they got: wallets, handkerchiefs, socks, pocket-books, knives, pipes, purses, cigarette cases, cases for matchboxes etc etc. The School and Seniors gave the money, about £68, and Miss Grant chose and sent all the presents.”

 

 

July 14th 1915

What a great day of celebration yesterday was!

Jack Smyth, having been invested with the Victoria Cross by His Majesty, travelled straight to Oxford and his old school.

JS in School photo 1915

Young Cyril Harvey, who made the short speech referred to below, has written up the events of the day for the magazine:

At nine o’clock on Tuesday 13th July, the school photograph was taken, and Jack Smyth was photographed with us. When the business was over we went into the Hall and sang a hymn. It was then the embarrassing duty of one of the boys to make a short (extremely short) speech, and he felt much more comfortable after it was finished.

Jack Smyth was then requested to tell us exactly how he won the VC. He climbed on to the platform to the accompaniment of thunderous cheers, and drew a map and explained all about it. In conclusion he said, “Needless to say, this is the first and last time I am ever going to say anything about this, and I would not have done so today unless I had been bullied into it by G.C.” *   At this we nearly took the roof off with shouting.

Jack Smyth got down from his perch, and standing between the parallel bars produced his Victoria Cross, while the whole school filed by, one by one, to examine it. 

JS VC

Jack Smyth’s VC, dated 18 May 1915

He wound up by asking the Skipper for a whole holiday. After more cheering, Jack Smyth stepped boldly from the school buildings to face an enormous body of photographers. This latter ordeal ended the morning’s proceedings. In the afternoon we played a most exciting cricket match against Jack Smyth’s team.  

Dragon Cricket Club Innings:

C. Owen b. HM Smyth                          19

H. Gaskell b. Mrs Wallace                      7

C. Harvey lbw b. Mrs Wallace              57

R. Potts c. Childe b. Skipper                   7

J. Lynam c. JG Smyth b. Childe            14

F. Hudson b. HM Smyth                         8

B. Mallalieu b. Mrs Wallace                    0

H. Hall run out                                         7

A. Owen not out                                      2

Extras                                               21

                                                               147

 Jack Smyth XII’s Innings:

Lt. FG Drew lbw b. Harvey                    30

Capt. C. Childe st. Lynam b. Potts         0

Skipper b. H. Hall                                    8

Hum b. Potts                                           1

2nd Lt. G Rowell b. Harvey                    0

HM Smyth b. Harvey                            54

Mrs. Wallace run out                             0

Miss Fisher not out                                1

Dick Wallace c. Prichard b. Harvey       0

Maj. Proudfoot b. Owen                      11

G. Nugent run out                                  0

Lt. JG Smyth VC retired                        51

Extras                                               7

                                                      126

It is doubtful which was the most enjoyed, his innings, or winning the match, or the subsequent bathe with him (his first since he swam the stream with his bombs) and several members of his eleven.”

It should be noted that seven of Jack’s team are Old Dragons: my brother Hum, Greville Drew, Charlie Childe, G Rowell, Harry Smyth, Mrs Wallace and of course Jack himself). * “G.C” is of course my colleague and editor of the ‘Draconian,’ Mr G.C. Vassall, known to all as ‘Cheese.’

June 29th 1915

The London Gazette – June 29th 1915

Jack Smyth

We read that His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to Jack Smyth!

“Lieutenant John George Smyth, 15th Ludhiana Sikhs, Indian Army.

For most conspicuous bravery near Richebourg L’Avoue on 18th May, 1915.

With a bombing party of 10 men, who voluntarily undertook this duty, he conveyed a supply of 96 bombs to within 20 yards of the enemy’s position over exceptionally dangerous ground, after the attempts of two other parties had failed.

Lieutenant Smyth succeeded in taking the bombs to the desired position with the aid of two of his men (the other eight having been killed or wounded), and to effect his purpose he had to swim a stream, being exposed the whole time to howitzer, shrapnel, machine gun and rifle fire.”

Little of this could we deduce from Jack’s last letter (see May 25th). We will await further details regarding this splendid achievement over the coming days…

May 25th 1915

We have further news from Lieut. Jack Smyth (15th Sikhs), who has been in the thick of it at Ypres. It is remarkable to hear that he is the only officer in his regiment to have come through the war unscathed.

23/5/15. “We are in some support trenches now behind the firing line and I am writing this in a ruined farm, behind Jack Smythwhich we have made our headquarters; there are only six of us left and 190 men, so we don’t take up much room… 

We had the most extraordinary luck as a regiment up till the end of April, as, although we had had several officers wounded, we had not one killed, but during the last three weeks we have had six hit and out of these five were killed, which is real bad luck. Losing five officers makes an awful gap in a small community like ours, where we all mess together…

We struck the German 41 cm gun at Ypres for the first time. It makes a noise going through the air like an express train going through a station, and if it pitches anywhere within half-a-mile, you feel the end of the world has come. The situation there was perfectly extraordinary, as we were holding what they called the horse-shoe to protect Ypres (for sentimental reasons more than anything else) and so were shelled from all sides. It was a most extraordinary sight at night from our trench, as the German flares came from every side. We have just been in a very nasty bit of trench which was captured from the Huns, and we and the Huns were in the same trench with a barrier of earth in between. Most unpleasant!

A Corporal of the Shires made a grand remark the other day when the regiment was ordered to attack, ‘Now then No 3 Company, fall in for the thinning out parade.’

I am now the only one in the regiment who has been right through the show without being either wounded or invalided sick; the Quartermaster, who was the only other one, went down with measles last week!

We had dreadful bad luck with the weather last week, as the Huns did seem to be on the run, but then down came the rain and the ground became a swamp again and stopped the whole thing. I got out of my depth in a trench three days ago and had to swim!

I was most awfully sorry to hear of Ronnie Poulton’s death…

Well I must end up now, the best of luck to the OPS.”

 

 

 

March 29th 1915

Further to Nevile West’s news (see March 22nd), we have now heard from Jack Smyth (Lieut., 15th Sikhs) that he was also involved in the Battle at Neuve Chapelle.

Jack Smyth

Lieut. J. Smyth (15th Sikhs)

24/3/15. “We have just returned from Neuve Chapelle (the name has been mentioned so much in the papers lately that I don’t think the censor can object to my putting it in here). I left my A.D.C. job as we were transferred to another Brigade and I have been with the regiment since the 8th.

We did seven days in the captured German trenches, and they were about the best we have ever been in; they had been in them about three months and had made them very strong and comfortable and had done themselves pretty well too as the empty wine bottles and cigar boxes showed.

They must have lost very heavily indeed, as there were rows of dead bodies in front of our trench from when they made a counter attack to try and get the place back and came under the fire of our machine-guns.

It was a relief having the trenches a good way apart, so that we could have patrols out at night and sleep comparatively comfortably, instead of the jumpy nights when the trenches are 50 and 80 yards apart, as we have been having lately.

The first night we were there one of our (Indian) scouts jumped on to one of their scouts and sat on his head and yelled for help and he was brought in; he tried to make out that our people had stolen his pipe from his pack, but as tobacco is pollution to our people he was deemed a liar by everybody present.

We brought in three of their wounded, who must have been out there for five or six days. They seem very callous about that sort of thing and never made an effort to bring them in, although they were nearer their trenches than ours more than a good deal.

They bombarded us fairly hard with artillery every day but without much result. On the evening of the 12th we were reduced to 5 officers: the C.O., three Company Commanders and myself, the other Company being commanded by a Native Officer. But our Adjutant has come out and several others and we now have got 14.

The men are very fit and very bucked about the whole show, which is about the biggest knock the Germans have had up this way.”

 

 

February 22nd 1915

Only ten years ago, Jack Smyth, aged 12, was recovering from a serious illness. For two years he had blown up like a balloon, whilst getting weaker and weaker. His recovery was almost as sudden as its onset. His nurse, thinking he was dying, decided to offer him whatever he would like to eat and for some reason he chose a steak. Although this surely cannot have been the only reason, it proved a turning point and by the Easter Term 1905 he was able to return to school.

After Repton and Sandhurst, Jack, who did not have the private means to consider a British regiment, joined the Indian Army. The bill for his kit, when he spent a year with the Green Howards in 1912, was beyond what he and his mother could afford, so I and a number of others stepped in to help.

Now he is with the 15th Sikhs, involved in the continuing trench warfare. We received two letters from him last week, dated the 11th and 15th February:

Jack Smyth

Lieut. Jack Smyth

15.2.15. “I am writing this in a German trench and am too filthy and muddy and disreputable for words. As I expect you saw in the papers the Indian Corps captured a German position the other day, and here we are holding on to it for all we are worth. It is more interesting here in a place where the Germans have been for about four months; the place is quite dry, a captured pump tells us the reason why; they did themselves pretty well as all the dug-outs are littered with old bottles of champagne etc., and photos of the Kaiser, and letters and food, etc. Our men rather fancy the German boots and I have one of their haversacks.

There are about 100 of their dead lying just outside my trench where they were discovered creeping up to try and recapture the place and were promptly laid out by a machine gun. 

I haven’t taken off my boots for five days and am a sight for the gods.”

Clearly, his kit is still a matter of concern for Jack!

His earlier letter tells a remarkable tale of good luck enjoyed by a friend of his.

“About five years ago, an old mullah in India gave him a silver charm, which he said would bring him luck and also save his life. He went home on leave the other day and was promptly married (I suppose that was the luck) and yesterday, from a good position behind a big tree, he was having a good look  at the German trenches, when a bullet came through the tree (not bullet proof) and hit the bottom button of his coat, smashing it to bits and winding him, but never penetrated his body. The charm, which he always wore and which was underneath his shirt, was squashed flat, but beyond a very sore tummy, he is none the worse and is now fairly convinced that he will see this show through all right.”