September 3rd 1922

The arrival of September sees the completion of the 104th edition of ‘The Draconian’, by its editor of these past 14 years, GC (Cheese) Vassall, covering the events of last term. There have been many highlights, one of which was on May 21st, VC Sunday, the annual celebration of Jack Smyth and William Leefe Robinson‘s wartime achievements.

It was a delight to have Major Tyrrell Brooks MC give the address at our Sunday Service. As a title he took these (unattributed) words:

‘You must remember that people with visions from high mountains must also pass through deep valleys – you must realise what is happening and that Light will come again.’

He started his address by explaining how these words struck a chord with him, as someone returning from the war:

“To me, when I was told [these words], they meant an infinite deal. The war was over, and we who had been living on our nerves for five years were subject to deep fits of depression, alternating with optimism – in other words, the main issue of one’s professional life had passed and had left a blank, and the world seemed upside-down, and nothing normal…”

Having emphasised the difficulty of adjusting to a new world of peace, Tyrrell expanded on how, some eight years ago, Europe descended into war and the standing armies had been swamped and their places taken up by thousands of volunteers:

“About the time I am referring to everybody had gone from the mountain tops and were in the deep valleys. The great opening battles of the war had been fought and a paralysis, through lack of manpower and temporary exhaustion, had made the battle front a desolate and gloomy picture of trenches and mud. Into these conditions the volunteers of the early days were thrust; no chance of distinction, no glamour of moving battle, but simply a duty to be performed, and that was sticking it out while the nation re-organised to win.

Looking back on those days, one realises so well that the attribute which pulled one out of the deep valleys was a thing called ‘patient courage’ – the power and grit to live, and cheerfully live, under conditions which, to say the least of it, were appalling…”

He ended his address by urging us all to confront the challenges of the present and future, warning us to expect ‘ups and downs’ and to realise that if something is worth having, it is worth fighting for.

“I often think it is a good thing to think and ponder over those great years of 1914-18; it is good to realise what the patient courage of those that fell meant in that great struggle; it is good also to train yourself to acquire that patient courage in everyday life – and when you are in doubt, think of the lines which are inscribed on a stone cross in a quaint little old Devonshire village to commemorate those who had given their lives to keep England free:

‘Those who live on ‘midst English pastures green, look at this Cross and think what might have been.'”

Tyrrell contributed on a number of occasions to the wartime editions of ‘The Draconian’ – his letter about Tommy Atkins was particularly striking.


January 4th 1915

This is the third letter we have received from Tyrrell Brooks (Capt. Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry) – see September 28th & October 29th for his previous ones. With some nine years’ experience in the Army, he has got to know “Tommy” pretty well.

“Dear Skipper,JBBrooks

A strange mixture of sentiment and pathos is Private Thomas Atkins. A splendid grouser when in clover, when really up against it he faces with equanimity the longest of days and most trying trench work.

In letter writing he uses the most pious and well rounded phrases which would delight the soul of a cleric and give him hope, and afterwards you will hear the same hero expressing to his friends his grievances in language that even a bargee would resent.

The glamour of the battlefield of the last century is conspicuous by its absence in this. The bayoneting of the German is not a daily occurrence, but when the chance comes it is taken and afterwards affords pleasurable thought and scope for writing home – as after all there is little to write about when you live in a trench for four days at a time, having shrapnel for breakfast, high explosive for lunch, and rifle fire when you should be having your evening glass of ale in the canteen.

Perhaps the great thing which buoys up T.A during the weary days in the trenches is “castle building.” By this I mean highly exaggerated thoughts of home, his best girl (they all have them) and of the time and reflected glory, consequent on the defeat of the enemy, that will be his when he gets there. And if he is wounded – well somebody else will take his place and he will become a ‘ERO.

His sense of humour allows us to name the various kind of shells he is daily in contact with. They are “Little Willies,” “Dirty Dicks,” “Black Marias,” and “Jack Johnstons,” according to their size.

Here is a good and true story. Just after Ypres, a troop train full of enthusiasts pulled up opposite a hospital one in a siding. Those in the troop train were longing to perform deeds of valour and longing for blood. Those in the hospital train had already shed much in the lowlands of Flanders. Those in the troop train were hanging out of the windows and trucks joking with each other. Suddenly the hospital train started slowly forward and a troop train enthusiast shouted out “Are we downhearted?” and the chorus answered “No” – but again he shouted “Are we downhearted?” and again the chorus bellowed “No.” This was more than a figure in the hospital train, swathed in bandages, could stand. Propping himself up he retorted “Ain’t you? Well you bloody soon will be!” which said, he returned to a prone position.

Remember Pte Thomas Atkins and the great work he is doing under conditions which are difficult, to put it very mildly, and wish him a speedy return to realize the “castles” that he built in the trenches.”

 *  *  *  *  *  *

Jack Smyth played Juliet in the 1906 production of Romeo and Juliet here at the OPS to good reviews and if this did not necessarily suggest a military future for him, the following year he played a very youthful Macduff in Macbeth and, as the reviewer noted,  “looked a sort of Sir Galahad in his armour, but he showed plenty of fire when his opportunity came in the final scenes.”

Coincidentally, now a 21 year old Lieutenant in the 15th Sikhs, he writes in a similar vein about the splendid British Tommy:Jack Smyth

“The British Tommy is simply magnificent… One in a regiment close to us the other day came up very pale, and saluted, and asked if he could go to the rear. ‘Whatever for?’ said his officer. ‘Well sir, I’ve been ‘it three times’ he said.

Before we came under fire for the first time I asked a sergeant who had been at Mons what it was like. ‘Perfect ‘ell, sir,’ he replied, and he wasn’t far wrong.”

October 29th 1914

Whilst the German advances through Belgium and France have now been arrested, attempts to outflank the German forces seem to have failed.   Tyrrell Brooks (Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry) does not think we can now hope for a quick victory.


23/10/14 “We have been in this place for eight days and there is a sort of state of siege – each side digging in – so one hardly ever gets on a horse and consequently they are all eating their heads off. I have three extraordinarily good horses, all of which would make real good hunters.

This war is going to be a very slow one, and a decisive victory seems hard to realise or rather imagine, owing to the length of the line and the various ups and downs which occur in it. There is one thing I am sure of and that is the Germans are as tired and cold as we are, perhaps more so, as I doubt if their Commissariat is as good as ours. The RAMC have done splendid work out here and the removal of the sick has been quickly and splendidly carried out.”

* * * * * * *

Roderick Haigh (Royal West Surrey Regiment) has been wounded in the battle going on at Ypres, although thankfully not badly:

Roderick HaighSt Crispin’s Day (25/10/14). “This has been no St Crispin, but a quiet, peaceful Sunday in Reserve after a week’s very heavy fighting.

On Tuesday last I was wounded by a shrapnel bullet in my thumb. These bullets are about 1/3 to ½ inch in diameter. The bullet was ¾ covered. I at once bit the bullet out, and Capt. Weeding put on my ‘First Field Dressing.’ It is a very slight wound indeed, and is healing up well. I am remaining with my unit, and can even write orders, although, as it is my right hand, I cannot write as fast as usual.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoy it all. There is something so noble and something so grand about the whole show, which places it on a far higher plane than any other scene in which one has acted in this life.”

September 28th 1914

Our Old Dragon correspondent at Winchester has reported that Cyril King, who was due to be a House Prefect this term “is at present unavoidably detained in Germany.”

At the end of July 1914 Cyril was at Schluchsee in the Black Forest with his mother, four sisters and a tutor from New College, Coote. Although there were rumours of war, they were confident that if anything came of it, they would be able to return to England. Instead on August 7th they were arrested. We await further news.

*  *  *  *  *  *

We have received news from Rupert Lee, a Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment.  In good OPS tradition, he is keeping a diary, although rather different in content to the usual Dragon offerings at the end of the summer holidays.

“This diary must be read and criticised very leniently, being rather a disjointed sort of narrative. Pieces of it were written in strange postures and places, in varying frames of mind, sometimes left for weeks without an entry and then written up to date… It does not profess to be a connected narrative but merely a conglomeration of statements of happenings as they appeared to me at the moment…”

He writes of a very narrow escape he had during the retreat from Mons:

“Just as I got about twenty yards away from a wood a shell came crashing through the tops of the trees and burst quite close to me. My horse got it badly in the stomach. I got off and shot him to put him out of his agony… I then stood up and looking round saw, just at the end of the ride, two Germans. I bolted for the wood and as it happened it was extraordinarily fortunate that I did so. For they both dismounted and came down the ride  looking into the other side to that on which I was hidden. Just as they got opposite me the leading man put his gun up sharply. I shot him and bolted, as did his companion in the opposite direction.

I went about twenty yards and lay down behind a bush. Nothing happened, so after about twenty minutes I went back very quietly, took his shoulder strap off him and walked away.”

*  *  *  *  *  *


Capt. W.T. Brooks

Tyrrell Brooks (recently promoted to Captain in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and ADC to General Morland) writes:

September 14th.

“We are having a VERY hard time and now the weather has changed to rain it is cold and greatly adds to the discomforts which we are undergoing. Our Infantry has been brilliant and have more than kept up their high traditions, their marching having been really good and their fighting power at the end of the trek has been unimpaired.

We have now started a great forward movement which, though costing many lives, will undoubtedly test our enemy to the utmost and they are, I think, in rather a tight hole from which it will take them all their skill to extricate themselves. However, they are splendid tacticians, but I doubt if they have the material which is worthy of their well planned tactics.

How long this war will last I know not, but one thing is certain and that is it will leave all concerned crippled with regard to fighting material and armaments. Our casualties have been large but the German ones must have been larger.”

*  *  *  *  *  *

Readers of the “Illustrated London News” may have noticed the photograph below, probably taken during the retreat from Mons, which shows our old boy, Arthur Percival, with a number of notable figures. Arthur, a veteran of the Boer War and the first Old Dragon to have won a DSO, is serving as a General Staff Officer to Major-General Monro.

Percival & Generals

(Left to Right): Gen. Sir Douglas Haig, Maj-Gen Monro, Lt Col AJB Percival DSO and another.