April 5th 1918

The Maitland Buildings, Somerville College (1913)

The death of Edmund Fisher, following that of his brother Charles at Jutland, is a terrible blow for the Fisher family as well as his many friends.

Some small consolation may be gained from the fact that he does leave a considerable legacy in the form of the buildings he has designed, the most impressive of which are to be found in the shape of the Maitland Buildings at Somerville College on Woodstock Road.

In April 1915, these buildings were requisitioned by War Office as a military hospital for wounded officers, and the Hall was used for a time as a medical ward, before being converted to its current use as an Officers’ Mess.

At the OPS we will remember Edmund for the Museum, which he designed.

Edmund can rest assured that the Museum is well used. This last term it was open to the whole school. A large number of boys have used it and studied the different collections. In addition there have been informal meetings on Natural History subjects several Saturday evenings.

We hope next term to have on show from time to time any interesting flowers or other Natural History objects found by the boys or other friends of the School. We hope also that we shall be able to get out into the country pretty often to look for specimens, but there is one form of collection – birds’ eggs – which ought to be discouraged this year entirely.

It is quite easy and interesting to look at and perhaps photograph nests without disturbing them, and the small insect-eating birds are so scarce, owing to the cold winter when we all enjoyed the skating, that no one ought to risk making them scarcer.

The butterflies and hawk moths have been rearranged and make a very good show. We have got a shell cabinet, but the arranging will have to stand over till next winter.

We are grateful for these recent gifts to the Museum: An African Tom-Tom (J Sanderson), tortoise’s and horse’s skulls (B Schuster), tiger’s skull (C Edwards) and African war stamps (Capt. GDH Carpenter).

The Museum was built to commemorate the death of my old sailing friend Maurice Church. He was a boy at the School (1884-86) and returned to join the staff (1898-1900). He enlisted as a Trooper in the Oxfordshire Yeomanry, going off to fight in the South African War. He was killed at Hartbeestfontein in February 1901.

 

 

April 2nd 1918

2nd Lieut. Edmund Fisher (RFA)

Just over two months after he was struck down by appendicitis in France, Edmund Fisher has died, on Easter Sunday, leaving a widow with five sons and two daughters.

In 1915, being well over military age and ineligible for active service, he went out as an orderly to the Hôpital Temporaire d’Arc-en-Barrois, organized by Miss Bromley-Martin and her sisters for French soldiers, and was there through the summer, mainly helping with X-ray work.

Later he succeeded in being accepted for active service, and having completed his training for the RFA, crossed to France on June 5th 1917. He took part in the fighting in the Ypres salient and again in the battle of Cambrai.

He was generally employed to look after camps of mules and horses and to send and often accompany ammunition to the batteries.

The Museum

Edmund had been an architect before the war. He designed our own Museum and carpenter’s shop – the Maurice Church Memorial – and was also responsible for the Maitland Building at Somerville College, now being used by wounded officers. His brother, The Rt. Hon. HAL Fisher, currently President of the Board of Education, was at the time President of the Somerville College Council.

Edmund was a good rider to hounds and at one time master of a pack of beagles. Indeed, no form of country sport was alien to him.

In conversation he was pithy and humorous, in judgement always independent, in observation alert.

The war has claimed no gentler or more spirited victim.

 

 

 

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.