May 13th 1918

Capt. Geoffrey Carpenter (Uganda Medical Service) writes from the Victoria Falls Hotel in Southern Rhodesia, where he is on leave, having been up country in Singida district of Tanganyika dealing with an outbreak of the plague.

16/4/18. “The inhabitants of this district, known as Wanyaturu, were having rather a poor time, for beside the plague there was smallpox in the country, and they had no grain, all their reserves having been used, and the crops not yet having come on, so they were living on grass seeds, meat and the blood of their cattle, which they obtain and drink after the custom of their northern neighbours, the Masai. 

The jugular vein of an ox is made to stand out prominently by pressure, and then a little arrow is shot into it from a few yards away. This is the time honoured procedure – but one wonders why such a round-about method is used instead of the knife! The warm blood is drunk fresh; though I am a medicine man myself, I could never bring myself to face this procedure, though my curiosity longed to be satisfied!

I am taking advantage of this leave to see one of the world’s wonders… viz., the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi, near Livingstone… 

Firstly, get it into your heads that the renowned Niagara falls are not in it with the Zambezi falls! The latter are twice as broad and two and a half times as high as the Niagara, but perhaps the word deep describes it better than high, seeing that the water drops into an immense chasm, for the level of the country is the same above as below the falls. The river, a mile and a quarter broad, suddenly falls over into a fissure deep set at right angles to its course, and very narrow, in some places less than 400 feet across…

The spray produced by the terrific impact of water at the bottom of the chasm rises high into the air above the surrounding country for some hundreds of feet, forming a white column which is visible from 25 miles away…

I also send one of the railway’s printed maps and a set of picture cards which I should like to be put up on the walls of the Museum, so that the falls may be somewhat more than an empty name on the map.”

November 30th 1916

2nd Lieut. Maurice Jacks (KRRC) has returned wounded from the Front. He was involved in the attacks that took place around the River Ancre earlier this month.

jacks-ml3“The preliminary bombardment was in full swing, and our guns were giving the Germans beans; we were in the middle of them, so the noise was pretty terrific. The censor will not allow me to tell you how many there were, but I believe in this battle there were more than in any other of the Somme offensive.

It was the night of November 12th when we swam into our tents; we had to be up early the next morning ready to support the Division who were attacking. At 5.40 a.m. the guns loosed off ‘five minutes intense,’ and at 5.45 the infantry went over the top.

Shortly afterwards we moved up close behind them and halted in a valley to await orders. Bunches of ‘kamerads’ were coming in, many of them wounded and all more or less sullen; even our witticisms failed to cheer them up. Absurdly exaggerated reports of the success of the attack were current.

It was not until late in the afternoon that our orders arrived; and it was dark when, heavily laden with every conceivable form of tool and weapon, we went over the top. The guns showed amazing excitement, and their flashes were even more brilliant and alarming than Skipper’s lighting in ‘Macbeth.’

Our job was to clear out the first three German lines, which in their haste the attacking troops had not properly dealt with in the morning. There were any number of Huns, especially in the fourth line, where we finally settled down; all were reduced more or less to the Kamerad stage, with the exception of a few rash Prussians, and all night long we were coming across large dug-outs full of prisoners.

The trench was about one foot deep, having been battered out of recognition by our artillery. All the hours of darkness we had to spend in trying to make some cover, and when the foggy morning came we had it about four feet deep.

beaucourt-2We were not more than 70 yards from Beaucourt – or what was left of it; and at 7 a.m. we were to attack and take it. About 6.30 the Boches clearly ‘got the wind up,’ and bombarded us vigorously; a large chunk of shell hit me in the shoulder, but the wound was not bad; I was buried four times, and the fifth burial, which was complete, finally laid me out – leaving me with nine bits of shell in the head and face.

Somebody dug me out and bandaged me; and for the next half-hour I was busy digging out my Company Commander, who had been buried by the same shell, and tying up badly wounded men. Then feeling rather ‘groggy’ I decided to try to get out; by this time the trench had been nearly filled in, and the Germans were active with their M.G’s; so the journey was not altogether a safe one.

I came across a wounded Hun (a Prussian) hit in the foot and walking with difficulty; I gave him a hand – he was in a terrible funk, and full of ‘Kameradie’ (a very technical term), and altogether rather beastly! He thought that we would win the war but ‘would not need many ships to take our men home.’ This, I must say, is a very prevalent idea among the German privates.

On the way down, I met a man I knew escorting a bunch of prisoners, among whom were two officers; the latter, he said, had complained to him at being put under the escort of a private soldier – they expected English officers to escort them!

At the dressing-station I was patched up, and from there my progress to Blighty was slow and painful, but sure.”

Maurice arrived back in England on November 20th and has now been granted 8 weeks sick leave. Not surprisingly, he is still suffering from headaches. We wish him a speedy recovery.

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.”

 

 

 

January 27th 1916

I wonder if you have worked out where Capt. Maurice Jacks was when he wrote:

“Being more or less conscientious I cannot tell you exactly where ‘here’ is, but if you remember where Polonius was stabbed, you will be within reasonable distance of the spot.”

Polonius stabbed

Polonius was hiding behind a rich tapestry (typically hung to make a screen) when stabbed by Hamlet. Such a tapestry was called an arras.

So, our man is somewhere near the town of Arras, to the north of Albert in the region of the Somme.

W Front map

 

Two marks if you got it right, one if you got it wrong!

 

 

 

January 25th 1916

Tempest E1916

 

We are now settled into the Easter Term and our school production of ‘The Tempest’ was very well received. We are grateful to Hugh Sidgwick for his review, which gives star billing to Barbara Hilliard’s portrayal of Ariel:

Ariel E1916

Barbara Hilliard as Ariel

“And then, hovering over and around these two and all the rest of the play, leading them at will, beguiling, enchanting, invisible and omni-present, we had the lovely vision of Ariel. It (I use the word advisedly, for this came nearer than any Ariel before to the ideal, sexless spirit of air and fire), it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on the stage; presence, gesture, motion and voice alike were exquisite.

Ariel intoxicated our senses so completely that I fear we hardly did justice to her acting; but apart from everything else it was a masterly reading of the character and of the play. Ariel made all the points with clearness and certainty, grasped exactly and revealed to us what was going on and interposed her presence among the deluded mortals always at the right moment and in the right way.

It is difficult to say how much the success of the play owed to her, and in particular to her most delicate and airy singing of the beautiful music of Purcell and Arne (Englishmen both, thank heaven, and much better at Shakespeare than Schubert and Mendelssohn).

* * * * * * *

I believe that an acting knowledge of at least one of Shakespeare’s plays is an important and useful part of an OPS education.

Shakespeare has indeed aided and abetted 2nd Lieut. Maurice Jacks (KRRC), in giving us Maurice’s location in France without falling foul of the censor:

“Being more or less conscientious I cannot tell you exactly where ‘here’ is, but if you remember where Polonius was stabbed, you will be within reasonable distance of the spot.”

Young Dragons will surely work this out – but can you?

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.”

 

 

January 11th 1915

Old Dragons are also involved in fighting the war in other parts of the world. Geoffrey Carpenter (Capt. Uganda Medical Service) is in charge of a field ambulance in British East Africa and has written to tell us of the Battle of Tanga, which took place in early November.

“You will have seen in the papers that there had been some stiff fighting in BEA, mostly on the coast, where an attack on a fortified town (where our men had been told there would be no opposition) was repulsed with considerable slaughter. The Germans had a very large number of maxims, in trees, or firing through holes cut in enormous tree trunks, each one covered by another behind, and with all the ranges carefully marked off. They had also enlisted the services of large numbers of bees – ferociously stinging – which set upon our men and of course considerably aided the rout. Indeed one or two men died of bee stings…B.E.A

We do not have enough troops to do more than maintain a defensive position and have made our line of defence along the north bank of the river Kagera, which flows into the lake at about the middle of its west coast… As it is impassable in most places, owing to dense belts of papyrus along its banks, it makes a most excellent line of defence. The actual political frontier is some miles to the north of the river, so that we hold a strip of territory really part of GEA. I think I may claim to be (at least one of) the first Old Dragons to invade German territory.

I am now (with one other white man) in a fort which we have taken over from the Germans, who retired when we advanced. They had simply erected four walls enclosing a square space. Since we have been here (2½ months) we have taken it in hand and have made no end of a place of it – bomb-proof houses to live in, underground magazine, underground passage leading to an outlying maxim pit, and other dodges so that it seems a very strong place now.

We are about four miles north of the river on a hill top, overlooking a flat plain, with other hills to the east and west. Curiously enough the other white man, who is in charge of the fort and of a section of the line of defence, is Captain Bertram Garratt of the Indian Army, Old Dragon and who was a little senior to me. We both hope the squareheads will attack so that we can have some fun.”

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, we gather Frank Sidgwick is finding training difficult – particularly on the Parade Ground.

“Form Fours”

A Volunteer’s Nightmare.

If you’re a Volunteer Artist or Athlete, or if you defend the Home,

You sacrifice “Ease” for “Attention,” and march like a metronome;

But of all elementary movements you learn in your Volunteer Corps

The one that is really perplexing is known as the Forming of Fours.

 

Imagine us numbered off from the right: the Sergeant faces the squad,

And says that only the odd files move – I always seem to be odd!

And then his instructions run like this (very simple in black and white) –

“A pace to the rear with the left foot, and one to the right with the right.”

 

Of course if you don’t think deeply, you do it without a hitch;

You have only to know your right and left, and remember which is which;

But as soon as you try to be careful, you get in the deuce of a plight,

With “a pace to the right with your left foot, and one to the rear with the right!”

 

Besides, when you’re thoroughly muddled the Sergeant doubles your doubts

By saying that rules reverse themselves as soon as you’re “turned about;”

So round you go on your right heel, and practise until you are deft

At “a pace to the front with the right foot, and one to the left with the left.”

 

In my dreams the Sergeant, the Kaiser, and Kipling mix my feet,

Saying “East is left, and Right is Might, and never the twain shall meet!”

In my nightmare squad all files are odd, and their Fours are horribly queer,

With “a pace to the left with the front foot, and one to the right with the rear!”

 

No.5 Balham A.V.F., A Company . Platoon 1 = F.Sidgwick.