October 13th 1915

Lieut. Tom Whittingham (Leicester Regiment) has most kindly written offering his condolences on the death of the two members of our staff, Leslie Eastwood and Tom Higginson:

Tom Whittingham

Lt. T Whittingham

9/10/15. “I must write to sympathise on the loss of two of the staff. But it is by far the noblest death a man can die, and it does one no good to sorrow about these things. Out here, unfortunately, one rarely seems to be able to realise a casualty fully when it occurs; death seems to come as a matter of course. It is only when a death occurs amongst the men one is always with, and knows best, that one can grasp the full meaning of what has happened.”

* * * * * * *

We were delighted to see Surgeon Basil Playne (RN, RND) arriving with his DSO decoration to show to the boys and demanding an extra ‘half’ as a reward for his endeavours. He was motoring through Oxford on his way home with his wife.

Jim MacLean

Capt. J MacLean

Lieut. Jim MacLean (Royal Engineers) – with his Military Cross –  was also with us for the weekend and gained ‘no prep’ by telling the boys one evening all about life in the trenches with bombs, grenades etc. He startled us by saying that the soldiers spent all their time carrying up provisions and building material to the front trenches, as there wasn’t any ‘fighting,’ and explained how bridges and pontoons are built over rivers and canals under fire.

He was awarded the MC “for conspicuous gallantry and determination during the nights of August 25th – 31st 1915, when he skilfully erected a bridge over the Yser Canal near Boesinghe under heavy rifle fire. Although he lost several of his men, he carried the work through satisfactorily.”

If we get any more visits from Old Dragons demanding extra ‘halves’ and ‘no prep,’ we shall get no work done at all!

 

      

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 15th

Basil Playne

Surgeon Basil Playne (RN, Royal Naval Division).

The London Gazette of September 13th lists Basil as having been awarded the DSO:

“For gallantry and good service during operations near Gaba Tepe from April 28th to May 1st, 1915. On several occasions he rushed across the open (the communication trench being incomplete) into the fire trenches and attended the seriously wounded, regardless of the severity of the enemy’s fire; on one occasion he carried a wounded officer on his back from the fire trench to the communication trench under heavy fire.

His conspicuous bravery not only inspired the stretcher bearers to perform fine work, but gave confidence and spirit to all ranks. He was again several times brought to notice for gallant deeds when attending the wounded on May 3rd and 4th.”

September 8th 1915

 

Philip Chapman

Private Philip Chapman (Hampshire Regiment)

A letter received from his parents informs us of the very sad news of Philip’s death.

He was wounded in Gallipoli in an attack made on 21-24th August. The attack was nearly over and he had been ordered with another man to bring up a munitions box. They were pausing for a moment to rest when a shell came over a rise and exploded near them, shattering Philip’s right fore-arm and giving him a great wound in the back, where the muscle was exposed and lacerated. The wounds were dressed at once, as the advance was over and the arm was amputated just below the elbow.

He was taken to Malta, which he reached on Sunday night, August 29th and was admitted to the care of his godfather, Mr Charles Symonds, of Guy’s Hospital, who is one of the surgeons in charge of the hospitals there.

On September 5th Mr Symonds wrote to Philip’s parents:-

“All our efforts failed, and the dear boy passed away last night at 10 o’clock…

Yesterday it was obvious that he could not live long and I was with him in the morning and again in the afternoon and later on till he died. He asked for me and seemed so relieved when I was near. Then I left a little before six to operate on an urgent case some distance away, and got back about 8.45.

He welcomed me again and asked if he would ‘pull through’ and again ‘would he be here tomorrow?’

I said a few words, and later ‘Goodbye,’ and he, as bravely as anyone could do, replied ‘Goodbye.’

I said, ‘You must give me a kiss that I may give it to your mother,’ and he did so.

I said we should meet again, and he said ‘Yes, we shall,’ and then he fell on a little sleep.

Waking, perhaps from the oxygen we were giving to relieve his breathing, he said, ‘I was quite prepared to die, and does not this bring it all over again?’

When I said it was to ease is breathing, he said ‘All right’ in that quiet, satisfied and resigned way that I had so much learned to appreciate.

I gave a little morphia, which relieved his back pains. Never did he wander for a moment or utter one unclear word; he was fully conscious and knew his end was near.

Then most wonderful of all, he fixed his eyes looking outward, as he lay on his side and said slowly and with halting breath – each word separated, and some syllables also – ‘This is the most be-a-utiful moment of my life… Oh! What a su-p-erb mo-ment.’

Then he smiled so sweetly and with so satisfied an expression that we knew he had seen a vision…

I shall ever be grateful to a kind Providence who guided our wounded boy to my care, and that I was able to help him in his last moments.”

We remember Philip at the OPS as a quiet, serious, affectionate boy with a devotion to music; he was always to be found at the piano in his free time. On leaving Clifton College, he studied music with the aim of becoming a College organist.

He tried to join the ‘Artists’ when the war broke out. He was rejected on account of his short sight, but he got glasses and became an efficient marksman. He then joined the 8th Battalion Hampshire Regiment.

 

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.

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 15th 1915

JBS Haldane

Lieut. JBS Haldane (Black Watch)

If anyone could be said to be enjoying the war, it is Jack Haldane. For him, life in the trenches is apparently “an enjoyable experience.”

Having joined the Black Watch, he has discovered the joys of bomb-throwing. His detachment have been allowed to roam along the line, firing off trench mortars and experimental devices at will. Such visits are not always popular with those around them at the time, as Charlie Childe, now a lieutenant in the Gloucestershire Regiment, told me.

“These trench mortar people are a little tribe of pariahs, who stalk up and down other people’s trenches, drink their whiskey, and make themselves quite pleasant. Meanwhile their satellites stealthily fire the beastly things, knock in some Hun dug-outs, put out a few of their cook-houses (you can see the smoke coming out of their trenches here and there), and thoroughly annoy the Hun over his lunch – a most ungentlemanly thing to do. Fritz then urgently telephones to his gunners, and the creators of all the fuss have meanwhile gone away somewhere else.”

Jack’s previous experiences helping his father, John Scott Haldane, understand the dangers of gases in mines, have turned out to be of particular help to our war effort.

When on April 22nd 1915, the Germans released a gas attack allied troops at Ypres, it was not surprising that Lord Kitchener should turn to the good Dr. for advice. JS Haldane went straight over to France to investigate the situation personally, returning with the lung of one of the dead to investigate in the laboratory at his home, ‘Cherwell’. It was imperative to confirm the exact nature of the gas and develop an effective respirator as soon as possible. Here, aided by a long-standing family friend, Aldous Huxley, taking notes for him, he carried out numerous tests on the effects of chlorine gas on himself and other volunteers.

Last month JS Haldane was back in France, where he set up a laboratory in St Omer. Jack was summoned from his bombing duties to assist him. The Professor could think of no-one better than his son to have in his gas chamber, reporting on the effects of the gas he was inhaling.

“We had to compare the effects on ourselves of various quantities, with and without respirators. It stung the eyes and produced a tendency to gasp and cough when breathed. For this reason trained physiologists had to be employed.”

But why did it have to be him in the gas chamber? Jack continued:

“An ordinary soldier would probably restrain his tendency to gasp, cough and throw himself about if he were working a machine-gun in battle, but could not do so in a laboratory experiment with nothing to take his mind off his own feelings. An experienced physiologist has more self-control.

It was also necessary to see if one could run or work hard in the respirators, so we had a wheel of some kind to turn by hand in the gas chamber, not to mention doing 50 yard sprints in respirators outside. As each of us got sufficiently affected by gas to render his lungs duly irritable, another would take his place. None of us was much the worse for the gas, or in any real danger, as we knew where to stop, but some had to go to bed for a few days, and I was very short of breath and incapable of running for a month or so.”

Jack, on learning that his troops were about to go into an attack, returned to the trenches. Here he suffered wounds from shell fire and found himself being given a lift by the Prince of Wales to the Casualty Clearing Station. “Oh, it’s you.” The Prince is reputed to have said. They had met in Oxford before the war, where one of the Prince’s tutors was another OPS Old Boy– Lionel Smith.

Jack’s wounds were “blighty” ones and he is now back here in Oxford at ‘Cherwell’, recovering from an operation to remove a shell splinter.

The sounds of our old colleague Blair Watson, firing off blanks from his revolver on the school fields for the boys benefit, were resoundingly defeated by Jack exploding German bombs along the road at Cherwell.  He is clearly on the mend!

Indeed, together with his sister (Naomi) he is now going to set this term’s General Paper, to be undertaken shortly by our 5th and 6th forms.