Last Sunday Mr CRL Fletcher talked to the boys at our service about the war. His words were all the more powerful coming from someone who has lost two of his three sons. 2nd Lieut. Regie Fletcher was killed by shellfire in the first months of the war. 2nd Lieut. George Fletcher was killed by sniper fire in the trenches in March 1915. Both were highly esteemed and are much missed by their Dragon friends.
First Mr Fletcher reminded us of the worries and sacrifices of parents:
“We stand today – all of us – literally where Jesus stood – at the foot of a Calvary. We old ones have to learn to give up what is far dearer to us than life, the lives of our children; I wonder if you boys realise what the sight of a telegram, or even of a telegraph boy going down a road, means to half the parents in Oxford?
It may mean “Hurrah, I am coming home on leave”; it may mean we shall never see him on earth again. Really the chances, which of these two things it means, are about even.”
Much of his talk concerned the boys themselves, who have learnt they can “do their bit” by collecting eggs and grapes for the wounded, entertaining wounded soldiers and learning to shoot in the rifle range. Mr Fletcher recognises that, further to this, they are surrendering their childhood to the war.
“…You boys are learning to give up a hundred things to which you have been accustomed; I don’t in the least underrate the difficulty of giving up favourite things to eat, and I feel sure that this must be infinitely worse for you than it is for your elders, although I frankly own that I have the most horrible and continual craving for brown sugar.
But you are also learning better and greater sacrifices than this, you are learning to ‘put away childish things,’ to grow old and thoughtful before your due time, to help fathers and mothers to bear their unforgettable griefs, to harden yourselves to face a sterner life, in a poorer England, than any of which your fathers and mothers dreamed when you were born.
For the course of time has ‘swerved and crooked backwards’ in our days – probably just because we were all too comfortable and happy, (and therefore growing selfish and lazy).”
Then Mr Fletcher looked to the future and to what the boys should expect:
“The ship – I like to compare Britain to a ship – is scudding before a fearful hurricane, with half her sails blown away, and with jury masts very imperfectly rigged. The best and bravest of her crew have been washed away and swallowed up. Whether she will right herself in your time depends very much upon you – upon your grasping now the meaning of the words ‘duty’ and ‘sacrifice,’ and keeping them steadily in view as the only worthy ends of your lives.
You will one day have to rebuild not merely the material city of Ypres, and a few hundreds of other ruined places, but the whole fabric of European civilisation, and you must take care to lay its foundations so well and truly that such desolation as that of the last three years shall never occur again. And, even before you come to rebuild, it may very well happen to you, yes even to the youngest of you, to be called on to defend the last relics of that civilisation.
The real end of this war is yet a very long way off, and, if an inconclusive peace is now patched up, the flame will burst up again (all history is a clear proof of this) and that rekindled flame may very probably burn up your own lives…”
Mr Fletcher ended his talk thus:
“…I am not afraid of being called a visionary if I assert my belief in direct divine help and leading for the soldiers of England and France in the present war. When your turn comes, may your eyes be opened to see the vision, but, even if you don’t see it, do not forget to feel continually for the divine hand which will sustain you in the day of battle.”
It is distressing, when looking at young innocent faces, to think they might be swallowed up in this conflict in their turn. We hope fervently this will not be the case.
I do not intend to dwell on this matter with the boys and shall speak to them further accordingly. My instincts tell me we should keep on as much as possible “as normal,” and the boys should not worry themselves about the more distant future and its possibilities.
As the war approaches the end of its third year, most of the boys now have only a faint memory of the normality of peacetime existence. How sad a thought that is.