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.

* * * * * *

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.

December 27th 1918

Jones’s Wedding and Other Poems

by Hugh Sidgwick

(Edward Arnold, priced 3/6)

It is just over a year since the death of Hugh Sidgwick, and it is a pleasure to note the publication of this tale in rhymed prose, which he began before the War. He worked on it in those grim times that followed, finally finishing it during the period when he was recalled from active service to work on Mr HAL Fisher’s Education Act during the early months of 1917 (during which time he also wrote ‘From a Funk-hole.’)

This review was in the ‘Oxford Magazine’:

“This tale, so playfully, so delicately told, is like an epitaph, at once grave and gay, on an Oxford friendship, or a group of Oxford friends, and young Oxford before the War lives again in these pages. The humours of the Commemoration Ball, the agony and joy of the Eights, have never been more happily translated than in ‘Eileen’ and in ‘Janet,’ but ‘Dorothy’ gains an added poetic virtue from her setting in the mountains and the lakes. Jones ‘goes over the top’ into matrimony; the author, the ‘I’ of the narrative, alas, will never come back to us from France, to determine in a sequel the fates of Robinson, Brown and Smith, and delight us with fresh sallies of his wit and satire, never malicious and never beside the mark, his merry irony, with sometimes almost a sob in its voice.

The versification owes its lift to Browning, but the Education Office must have made Sidgwick something of a cockney, for the letter ‘r’ hardly exists for him, and ‘cards’ as a rhyme to ‘Promenades’ is almost more than we can bear, while ‘Neitsche’ and ‘feature’ as a jingle set our teeth on edge; but could he reply to us, it would be with a smile and a fresh atrocity. And this poem is dated to last year; so far was he ‘au-dessus de la melee’!”

The range of Hugh’s literary interests was evident in the library of books that was returned to the family on his death, along with his kit: a complete Jane Austen, the Oxford India-paper Vergil and Horace, a Tacitus, Mackail’s Greek Anthology, as well as volumes of Stevenson, Belloc and Kipling.

However, the writing of such verse as this must surely have been Hugh’s way of amusing himself and distracting his thoughts from more disturbing images of war.

Hugh’s description of the differences between Oxford and Cambridge men cannot fail but to raise a smile in this festive season:

Brown once wrote a didactic poem,
"The Oxford Man and How to Know Him,"
In which he said the distinctive mark
Was a fatal readiness to embark
(Disregarding the obvious dangers)
On abstract topics with total strangers - 
Art, the Future, the Kingdom of Ends - 
While he reserved for his real friends,
In soul-communion knit together,
His views on clothes and food and the weather.
Per contra, with Cambridge men he found
The order was the other way round.
Brown's statement, of course, is much too sweeping,
But some of the facts do seem in keeping.

October 6th 1918

Whilst the papers have been full of the advances being made on the Western Front, General Allenby’s successes in Palestine have also been a feature.

Capt. Billy Collier (RAMC) played a small part in progress on this front over the summer and has kindly sent us an account of an expedition with the Camel Corps to attack the Hedjaz railway, which set out from Akaba on August 2nd.

The column progressed via Rumm towards their objective, the Mudowwara station:

“The station was protected by three redoubts, each on a hill and two parties were to attack the two southern of these from the rear, while a third went for the station… 

One of the most wonderful sights I have seen was our attack on the middle redoubt. Through my glasses, I could see a long line of men, silhouetted against the first light of dawn, as they climbed the hills, and in spite of bombs and rifle fire streamed along the crest without a halt.

Our relief was great when up went the signal for the capture of the southern redoubt, followed quickly by that from the station. From now onwards I was busy with the wounded and I did not reach the station and breakfast till about 11. Here was the Turkish garrison all captured – 6 officers and over 150 men, of whom about 30 were wounded.”

The following day (9th) they moved on, “blowing up the line, the station and the magnificent wells and engines the Turks had built there.” 

By the 14th they had reached Bair and, intent on another scheme of attack, were joined by a new Political Officer:

“We were joined today by Colonel Lawrence as Political Officer and he remained with us, though living for the most part with his own men, practically till the end of the trip. He has a most wonderful influence throughout this country – even, I believe, throughout Arabia and Mesopotamia. In this country he always dresses and generally lives as a Bedouin and has become a sort of ‘great white chief.’ His home is in Oxford.

His party of 50 braves or personal bodyguard arrived on camels the following day, singing and firing their rifles into the air. Firing off a rifle seems to be a popular form of amusement.”

Their plans, however, were discovered by two enemy planes, which flew over them at low altitude.

“Reports were received that our objective was more strongly held than had been anticipated, and this with the fact that we must have been spotted by the aeroplanes decided Col. B and Col. L that the projected attack was too risky.”

On their journey back to Bair, Billy was summoned to tend a British officer who had been accidentally shot:

“When we got there, we found that the bullet had gone through his heart and death must have been almost instantaneous. It appeared that one of Col. Lawrence’s braves had been picking up his rifle from the ground just behind him when it went off accidentally. The rifle had a long loop of string which actually went round the trigger and was no doubt responsible for the accident; in every civilised country it would have been regarded as criminal negligence.”

They made the journey back to Bair without any further alarms, with their rations just about finished.

“The same morning I went on with Col. L and three sick men… We crossed the Hedjaz railway at a destroyed station just before sunset, and for some miles drove up hill and down dale, on a surface of sharp stones, large and small. Luckily we had no punctures and soon after dark we got on to a tolerably level road which brought us at length to Aba el Lissan, the headquarters of the Hedjaz northern army and our own British HQ. We were received with great excitement, for no news of the column had been received since we left Bair 8 days previously.”

I understand that the Lawrence family do indeed live in Oxford – on Polstead Road – not far from the Campbells, with whom they are acquainted.

 

June 25th 1918

The Italian Campaign has dominated our newspapers’ coverage of the War these past ten days, and today’s announcement that the Austrian attack on our Italian allies has ended in total defeat is most satisfactory.

The Austrian offensive started on June 15th with attacks on the Asiago Plateau and the Battle of Piave River. Amongst the English troops involved in the battles were the 1/4th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI), appointed as an Aide-de-Camp at the Headquarters of 48th Division (of which the Ox & Bucks are part) at the beginning of this month, witnessed this unfolding drama. We are most grateful to him for his account of events.

“An Austrian attack was fully expected on that date, but it was not known for certain that the British front would be attacked. However, every preparation was made to receive it.

An intense bombardment started at 3 am on the 15th, and rolled along miles of the front, from our own sector eastwards…

Under cover of a thick morning mist, the enemy had penetrated our front line at more than one point; had captured one Battalion HQ and had probably captured another…  

I never saw anything so interesting as the left Battalion Sector of our Divisional front, where the fighting had been hardest. I got there with my General soon after the situation had been completely restored, and it was possible to reconstruct the whole attack. The enemy had got to within less than a hundred yards of Battalion HQ. He came on twice, and was twice repulsed by this battalion alone without any help.

The foremost of the enemy were lying just where they had dug themselves in with their entrenching tools, with their bombs and ammunition beside them. And never, in my life, shall I have so profoundly impressive an experience as that of going among our dead, (it was my own Battalion), and recognising my own friends lying just as they had fallen upon the field.

One of the finest deaths that day was that of an Orderly Room Clerk, who died literally defending his office. He had never had to fight for over three years, and when the sudden emergency came, faced it as if he had been in action all his days…

A cook, engaged in frying bacon at the Battalion HQ which was captured, suddenly saw an Austrian in his kitchen doorway. In an instant, he ran him through with a rusty old bayonet used for poking the fire.”

 

 

May 9th 1918

Lieut. Hunter Herbertson (KRRC)

Having been on the missing list since May 1917, Hunter’s death has finally been confirmed –  after a very trying period of uncertainty for family and friends.

On the night of May 16th 1917 Hunter had gone out on a patrol with two others near Cherisy (at the southern end of the Arras battlefield). None of them returned.

It was nearly a year ago that, on May 20th1917, his grandfather received a telegram stating that Hunter was missing, but noting that “this does not necessarily mean that he is either wounded or killed.”

Having heard nothing further, Mr Herbertson wrote on July 12th for news. Three days later a reply informed him that Hunter was on the list of missing officers sent to the Netherland Legation for circulation throughout German POW camps and hospitals.

There followed a further period of waiting. Then the Red Cross forwarded (on January 29th1918) a statement from a POW, Rifleman Woods, saying that Hunter had been “Killed, on patrol duty, near Reincourt.”  The Red Cross added that “this statement is unofficial and cannot in any way be considered as an absolute certainty.”

Finally, on April 12th 1918, the War Office wrote to Hunter’s grandfather to say that they had come to the conclusion that Hunter had been killed, and agreed to add his name to the official casualty lists. This duly appeared in the newspaper yesterday:

With this letter was Rifleman Woods’ full statement:

“Whilst on patrol Lieut. Herbertson attempted to return, but was caught in the barbed wire entanglement where he was killed. I was accompanying this officer. I am quite positive that this officer was killed.”

The strange thing is that this statement is dated August 30th 1917, so either the authorities had overlooked this information, or it had taken seven and a half months to reach them. Either way, an agony of waiting for the family.

The ‘Oxford Magazine’, in their tribute to Hunter, has described him as “a quiet, studious, rather reserved man, though kindly and high-minded, he was the last person one would have expected to make the keen and effective soldier he did…”

We have vivid recollections of his complete indifference to the chance of punishment, his aptitude for getting into and out of scrapes, his quick brain and obvious gift of commanding a following, and we have not been at all surprised at his successful career as a soldier.

It was what we would have expected.

 

February 25th 1918

Lieut. Pat Duff (RFA) was collared by GC (Mr Vassall) to write back from Mesopotamia – and he has now obliged. He describes his progress up the Tigris from Busra to Kut before marching on to Bagdad.

8/2/18 “Busra is a place of of quite impressive size with very good looking houses and offices facing the river. The river itself is about 500 yards broad there, and ocean-going steamers go right up against the wharves. There was such a multitude of different craft lying in the stream that I was rather reminded of the Isis by the barges at Eights Week!

At a palace called Kurnah (where the old bed of the Euphrates meets the Tigris) I was shown the Tree of Good and Evil: it was near Temptation Square!

Another object of Biblical interest was Ezra’s tomb, somewhat further up the Tigris: can’t quite make out why he should have come back this way to die because, when last heard of, he was leading an expedition from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem…

I travelled most of the way up to Kut by river. At Kut I got hitched on to an echelon of about 600 horses and mules with transport, and had to march it to Baghdad. Was about 15 days doing this, as we got stuck in the mud owing to rains and all movement was impossible…

Baghdad, although the guide books would say it ‘presents no special features,’ was worth a guinea a minute to me, because of the miscellaneous crowd that inhabit it…

The bazaars are like an endless series of transformation scenes at Drury Lane: it was in such a place as the coppersmith’s quarter where Aladdin must have got his lamps, and, although I didn’t recognise Ali Barba, I could see the Forty Thieves wherever I liked to look.

From the river, Baghdad looks very handsome: the buildings facing the river on the left bank are good, and there are two boat bridges over the river.

The boats on the river rather fascinated me: some are like gondolas, others like wherries on the Norfolk Broads. But there is no wood in this country, and consequently a lot of river transport is done by coracles made of wickerwork and hides and bitumen. (Incidentally, Herodotus in his book on Mesopotamia says, ‘after the city of Babylon itself, what struck me most was the coracles’!  It is interesting to see them functioning to this day.”

Pat ends his letter by saying, “If any enterprising young Dragon would be a pioneer or a ‘builder of empire,’ he need look no further than Mesopotamia for a country that will pay a thousandfold all the labour that is put into it.

I hope you are all flourishing, and often am thinking of ‘the School House afar on the banks of the Cher.'”

January 17th 1918

E A S T E R   T E R M   1 9 1 8

Yesterday saw the start of a new term. The School Roll numbers 141, of which 84 are boarders. Our Junior Department has a further 26 – the majority being 7 and 8 yr. olds.

Let us hope for a healthy term, free of illness. It will no doubt become even more difficult to keep everyone well fed. Yesterday’s announcement in the newspapers of compulsory rationing of butter and margarine (with other items undoubtedly to follow), allows us only 4 oz per person per week. Meat continues to be in short supply, although the importation of Argentinian beef is helping make up the difference.

* * * * * * *

It was a great pleasure to be able to share with our returning pupils the news of honours recently won in the war – particularly that of the DSO by one of their former teachers.

One of the more prestigious orders of chivalry is the Order of the Bath – founded by King George I in 1725. In the honours list announced in the New Year, Captain. WW Fisher (RN) and Temp. Brigadier-Gen. BG Price (Royal Fusiliers) were made Companions (CB).

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) has been awarded to Temp. Major LD Luard (ASC), Acting Maj. JAA Pickard (RE, Special Reserve) and, although not an Old Dragon but a much admired member of the Dragon staff before the war, Temp. Capt. WRG Bye (Royal West Surreys & General List).

No fewer than six have been awarded the Military Cross (MC): Acting Capt. FS Low (RFA), Acting Major VLS Cowley (Irish Rifles, attached to MGC), Temp. Captain WT Collier (RAMC), Capt. EH Evans (RWF), Temp. Lieut. GH Moberly (MGC), Captain. GF Thuillier (Devons).

* * * * * * *

Readers of The Times of 14/1/18 may have noticed this article on Capt. William Fisher (RN). For those who read other newspapers, here it is:

Director of Anti-Submarine Division

“Capt. WW Fisher commanded a battleship at Jutland, and was commended for his services in that action. He has received a CB. He had held several Staff appointments before the war, having served as flag commander to the Commander-in-Chief  of the Home Fleet at Devonport, while in the summer of 1912 he was selected to act as Assistant Umpire for the Grand Naval Manoeuvres.

He is a gunnery specialist and a French interpreter, and was commander of the ‘Indomitable‘ when that vessel made her record run across the Atlantic with King George, then Prince of Wales, on board in 1908.

He has been for some months the Director of the anti-Submarine Division of the Naval Staff.”