March 25th 1916

Charlie Childe 2

Capt. Charles Childe (8th Gloucestershire Regiment)

The news of  the death of one of our old boys is always painful and even more so when the family are neighbours. Mrs Childe lives at 7 Chadlington Road, next door to the Macdonells, whose son Alasdair was killed in October.

We have received these details from Capt. WD Chamberlain of the RAMC, who attended him:

“Poor Childe was hit at 10.45 p.m. The bullet went into his head above the ear and came out over his forehead, as near as I can make out, though I did not see the helmet. I saw him about 11.15 p.m. He was completely unconscious and at no time recovered any degree of consciousness while in my hands. He died, I believe, about 3.30 or 4 a.m. (on March 21st) in Merville.”

Another officer, who was with Charlie shortly after he was hit, thinks it was an unaimed bullet, coming from some distance, diagonally across their trench.

 

Charlie’s letters to us have given much pleasure, as have his visits – every term since the war began – and now we must face the realisation we shall see him no more.

Last September he sent a five-leaved clover he found near his billet, which he hoped would bring luck…

March 16th 1916

It is marvellous how some of our old boys correspond with us, despite the many distractions provided by the war and the need to keep in touch with their families.

This is the eighth time Capt. Charlie Childe has appeared on these pages.  He has been out of the front line, but expects to return to the action very shortly. This period of ‘rest’ has given him and his colleagues time to enjoy Frank Sidgwick‘s Narrative Macaronic Verse:

Charlie Childe9/3/16. “Thanks very much for the books of poems. I have lent them to two or three fellows and they liked them, especially Sidgwick’s collection in the small blue book…”

Charlie has been in reserve, but stationed near to a gun battery, which was very inconsiderately shelled:

“One old fellow was rather shaken and got behind a wall; he might just as well put up an umbrella.

From then onwards they put over 70 shells at 3-minute intervals – big 8-inch howitzers. Practically every shot got into the battery position – a farm and garden about the size of the School House grounds. That is wonderful shooting at a range of at least six miles, when you consider that all the German gunners could see was their own gun and probably a hedge in front.

They did not hit any of the guns as it happened, only filled the place with big holes and knocked a piece off the house. There was a sausage-balloon up behind their lines, so there must have been an enthusiastic Fritz up there spotting for his battery.”

Despite this, Charlie seems to have enjoyed this period of ‘rest.’

“This is quite a good place on the whole. We can get a good dinner and baths, and there are plenty of shops where we can get anything we want. I don’t think it will last much longer though, as it is about our turn to be in the line again.”

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.”

 

 

October 23rd 1915

Captain Charlie Childe (Gloucestershire Regiment) has also been in the vicinity of Loos and reports further on the treatment of prisoners – this time by the Germans.

Charlie Childe

Capt. CM Childe

9/10/15. “It is impossible to realise what a war of extermination this is until you get here. In that last advance there was apparently mighty little quarter asked or given. We know that the Welsh and Royal Welch Fusiliers who attacked (with us behind them waiting our turn) had a taste of it.

The attack was held up and the Germans called in the wounded: ‘Come in Tommy, we won’t hurt you,’ and so on.

They then put them into a traverse and bombed them to death with hand-bombs, and the same thing was done to the Black Watch.

Certainly, our people are frightfully sick and think they would bayonet every German on sight…”

16/10/15.  …this ought to cheer you up. It appeared in ‘Intelligence’ the other night, that an officer of the German General Staff had been found dead near the Hohenzollern Redoubt by Loos, and his diary quoted the following as being partly the words of a certain General and partly his own opinion.

The General said, ‘…We have failed to defeat the Russian Army, which has withdrawn from our grasp and retired to a destination unknown. If the Russians cannot be discouraged, a time will come when we Germans will have to treat for a peace, the terms of which will be dictated by our enemies. It will not rest on this generation, but on our grandsons to gain the world power for which we strive and for which our soldier heroes are sacrificing themselves on the limitless fields of Russia.'”

That our children and indeed our children’s children might be still be engaged in settling this conflict is unthinkable.

September 30th 1915

Captain Charlie Childe (Gloucester Regiment) reports that trench warfare in some sectors has become less than chivalrous with regards the treatment of prisoners:

Charlie Childe

Captain CM Childe

21/9/15. “Here is a pleasant tit-bit, which ought to be framed in gold. The French Staff report that at Souchez (about 8 miles north of Arras) last week they captured 2000 of the breed, pumped them dry of information, disarmed them and then packed them off down a communication trench. A Zouave or two were waiting round a traverse and, as each Deutsche filed past, he was gracefully and neatly dispatched; cf. Agag of old. The French don’t want prisoners – all they want is scalps, and you would feel the same after a long weekend in the Glory Hole Orchard.”

Charlie mentioned the “Glory Hole” in his journal last month:

“My four guns covered a frontage which included a bit called the ‘Glory Hole.’ The average distance across to ‘Germany’ is 450 yards, but 40 yards at the ‘Glory Hole’ jutting out into a sharp salient…

A salient is always a cheerful spot. You get potted from all directions, sides, back and front, and in the same way flares go up all night too. Also you come within range of a variety of attractions, such as bombs, rifle-grenades, unpleasantly near snipers, pip-squeaks, whizz-bangs, and all the other devices of the people opposite, and lastly and best of all, their horrible minenwurfer.

This throws a bomb of very high explosive, 3 feet long by 12 inches diameter. The bomb goes vertically up to a great height and then curves over and falls with a soft, heavy ‘wop’ and then, just as you put yourself on the back and say ‘it isn’t going off this time,’ you hear a roar like absolutely nothing on earth and it shakes the ground for two or three acres or more. The effect though is extraordinarily local, just a hole varying from 15 feet by 6 feet to 10 feet by 5 feet.”

 

September 4th 1915

Charlie Childe was reading Medicine at Pembroke College, Cambridge, when the war broke out. Having got a commission in the 8th Gloucestershire Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant, he has achieved rapid promotion, from a full Lieutenant now to the rank of Captain.

His life on the Western Front, as described below, is distinctly preferable to that described recently by our Old Dragons in Gallipoli.

Charlie Childe

Capt. CM Childe

6/8/15. “I can’t plead the excuse of being at war for not having written before…  for my part, I live, eat, sleep and feed in perfect comfort and feel no more uncivilised than at a garden party at home.

One day Jack Smyth turned up to lunch here. His regiment was then in the trenches quite near. However, the trenches are on the reverse slope of a hill, so once out you can get on a horse or motor-bike, or your flat feet and go wherever you like. He chose the motor-bike, lunch here, and an afternoon’s shopping in a town quite handy; then in the evening he went back and took on the role of cannon-fodder for a bit during the evening ‘hate’ period.

Another rum thing: the trenches are close together and so each evening the various regimental transports on either side come along with supplies, and the only available roads are well known to both sides. Consequently neither side shells the opposing transport coming up, because it’s a case of both or neither being knocked out, and ‘live and let live’ is more satisfactory when possible.

Then there is long corn between the trenches, and so you can get out and sit about, if you feel inclined, quite happily. Apparently it has been done, but Jack wasn’t for it himself.

Tomorrow the Padre and I are lunching in the town. A pal of his in command of a motor-ambulance is calling for us and bringing me back in time for an afternoon’s parade.

We bathe in the river before breakfast – the whole section, 65 strong – and again after lunch, and generally go for a ride in the evening.

The bathing has apparently offended some august swell’s senses, as an Army Order now insists on pants. The Padre is a very good sort and has a pair of very shrunken and minute ones which he uses for diving in. He keeps them on the bank to put on when he gets out again, and so the order is complied with.”

By a strange coincidence, we have been informed that by the wish of the Curators of the Parks (here in Oxford) all those who bathe in the river after 8 a.m. will, for the future, be required to wear bathing costumes.