March 7th 1918

There has been a most welcome lull in the fighting in France, although we are led to believe that the Germans are planning a major offensive for the Spring. However, we have received the news that on January 20th 2nd Lieut. Edmund Fisher (RFA)  was taken ill and was sent to No.8 General Hospital in Rouen. His letter is remarkably cheery, in the circumstances:

“Here I am. Well, to begin with, my old friend indigestion on the march. The American doctor we have, tried valiantly, but eventually had to despatch me in a little ambulance. It was a job to get one that would do anything else but send one on. Eventually, after bumping about most of the day, a Central Clearing Station took me in.

Next day, I was sent to the base and a journey of 12 hours in the train. Fairly crowded beds on the floors and then bang! I was dropped by exhausted bearers on this ward floor. Here all is well. I have been given the cosiest corner. The VADs and sisters are of the best and the other officers a good sample.

No fever now.

Tout va bien

Je suis bien content.”

Although Edmund considered himself “bien content”, the news the family received from the CCS dated January 21st was that he was seriously ill with appendicitis.

Subsequently, Edmund has been transferred to the Lady Inchcapers Military Hospital, 7 Seamore Place in London on February 11th. (It is a small hospital with only 10 beds and is affiliated to Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital in Millbank).

We hope that he can now make a good recovery.

February 20th 1917

Lieut. Jack Slessor (RFC) makes light of a crash he had with his aeroplane. It would seem to me that he had good reason to be “off games” for a bit, but the authorities clearly thought otherwise!

Jack Slessor...“I have just been mixed up in a difference of opinion between an aeroplane, a telegraph pole, and a ditch, so just at present I am convinced that flying is an over-rated pastime. My engine played me foul getting out of a field, and the machine, as the papers say, was seen to descend steeply, with the result that the telegraphic communication between two towns was seriously impaired and one telegraph pole and a formerly perfectly good machine badly bent.

Now I must depart to make supplication to my commanding officer for 48 hours leave, to rest my shattered nerves and throbbing brain.”

There is a postscript to his letter. It reads:

“P.S. Just returned from the aforesaid interview with the C.O. Nothing doing. He says it has been tried before.”

March 9th 1916

Whilst Lt. Col. Fluff Taylor is busy defending the Suez Canal from our enemies on the ground, Lieut. Jack Slessor (RFC) is doing the same from the air. He is with C Flight, 17th Squadron Base, MEF, in Egypt.

Jack Slessor...

Lieut. Jack Slessor

“… We have been having a most exciting time of it since we arrived here (Suez)…

The enclosed is a sort of picture of an incident that happened to me when I was on a patrol job in the desert, with an observer.

We came upon quite a large reconnoitring patrol of the enemy’s cavalry, come down from the hills to have a look round. We had a machine gun with us and promptly came down to four or five hundred feet to make sure of them. They behaved in the most idiotic manner and seemed to lose their heads, for instead of scattering they most of them dismounted and gathered in a bunch, offering an ideal target; so we circled round and attacked them with the machine gun from about 4-500 feet.

It really was the funniest thing to watch, for as soon as I opened fire the horses took fright and bolted full speed to the mountains, leaving those who had dismounted running about in the sand and the whole scene was the most perfect chaos.

I evidently got in some lucky shots, as one or two fellows, who lay still, testified…”

Slessor attacks

J.C. Slessor v. the Turks

Incidentally, Jack is claiming to have been the first pilot ever to intercept an enemy aircraft over England, when he came up against a German Zeppelin on October 13th last year.

November 25th 1915

The first successful flight over the English Channel by Louis Bleriot took place in 1909, whilst Jack Slessor was busy playing in his gang and building forts at the OPS. He probably was aware of the event but not particularly excited by it or the founding of the Royal Flying Corps three years later. His father was in the Army and that was where his ambition lay. But surely, we all felt,  there could be no real hope of such a career for him. He was lame in both legs due to childhood polio. As a result, he was not allowed to play rugger. (As Jack Haldane’s sister Naomi was also not allowed to play, they would go rowing together on the Cherwell.)

Despite his infirmities and having been declared ‘totally unfit for any form of military service,’ Jack has been accepted by the Royal Flying Corps. A helpful uncle in the War Office is rumoured…

Jack has now won the race to become the first Old Dragon to fly across the Channel. He flew in a new biplane over the School field one day during games on his way from Coventry to Farnborough, flew across the Channel to St. Omer the next day and was back again with us watching games before we realised he had time to get started!

Here is a part of his account:

Jack Slessor...

2nd Lt. Jack Slessor

“We left Farnborough at 10.15 and got to Folkestone at 11.25. We went and had lunch… We pushed off from Folkestone a little after 3.00 and got to St. Omer a little after 4.00, taking about two and a half hours altogether…

I crossed the Channel at 9,000 feet, but there were great white clouds drifting at about 6,000 feet and a heat haze, so I did not see France till about mid-Channel… Cape Gris-nez was the first thing I saw and I followed the coast down to Calais and then up the railway inland to St. Omer. I could see the famous Belgian sand dunes and Hazebruck, and Ypres a blur in the distance.”

The noise of the aircraft was such that, on landing, Jack was almost stone deaf and unable to hear the noise of the guns.

* * * * * * * *

My brother (Hum Lynam) has been responsible for a concert held on November 15th in Keble College Dining Room in aid of the Professional Classes’ War Relief Fund & the Fund for Oxfordshire Prisoners of War in Germany.

The varied programme featured a number of people connected with the OPS. Miss Rosina Filippi is the mother of two of Old Dragons (John & Lawrence Dowson) and Miss Carmen Hill is married to George Drinkwater. Miss Hill sang in one of the Promenade Concerts of 1910 under Henry Wood with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra.