May 7th 1916

William Esson

Major William Esson (Royal Marines Light Infantry) 

Lance Freyberg

Lieut-Commander Lance Freyberg (RN)

On 27th April 1916, off the port of Malta, HMS Russell struck two mines laid by a German U-boat and sank. 27 Officers and 98 ratings were lost, including two Old Dragons, William Esson and Lance Freyberg.

HMS Russell

HMS Russell

HMS Russell was flying the flag of Admiral Fremantle, who was amongst the 702 saved. He has written from Malta to say of William Esson, “His cabin was immediately over where the mine struck us. We were hit only four miles from the entrance to Malta Harbour. At that time all the officers, except those actually on duty, were in their cabins, and it is for that reason that we lost such a very large proportion of officers. The great majority of the people on the deck below the main deck, including your husband and five lieutenants (this must include Lance Freyburg) were never seen after the explosion, indeed there are now alive only two men who were in that part of the ship… ”

Whilst 24 officers together with the Captain and Admiral were saved, 27 were killed – almost 50%.

The degree of grief currently the lot of the Esson family can only be understood when one remembers that William Esson’s sister Margaret is the wife of Capt. Edmund Gay (Norfolks), who has been “missing” since last August.

Of Lance Freyberg, Captain Bowden-Smith wrote, “He was asleep in his cabin at the time (5.30 a.m). The explosion took place immediately under his cabin and I think he must have been killed instantaneously and did not suffer. I am afraid that all his belongings went down with the ship. Nothing was saved.”

Clearly, William’s and Lance’s cabins were in very close proximity and it is some small comfort that two Old Dragons should be together, comrades in life and death.

HMS Russell was one of the ships for which our boys supplied the crew with pipes in November 1914. Lance wrote a charming letter back to them. It is a great sadness that the pipes have not become pipes of peace, as he had hoped.

 

November 23rd 1914

The arrival of winter weather has put an end, at least for the time being, to the fighting at Ypres. Both sides have suffered most horribly and there have been times when British troops have risked their lives to help the enemy wounded. George Fletcher (Royal Welsh Fusiliers) describes an incident in which he was involved.

George Fletcher

“We were fortunate in being able to rescue one wretched man. He was one of the advanced party in the charge, and had seven bullets in him. He stopped for a day in front of us shouting, but we were getting such a peppering from snipers all that day that we were not allowed to fetch him. At night I got two volunteers to come and fetch him, and just as we were getting out such a hail of bullets came that we nipped back.

I kept up a conversation (shouted) with him next day – he told me the Germans had been practically up to him in the night, but had refused to help him. I told him to hang on till night, and we would try and rescue him again. So at dusk I got two volunteers again, and we pulled him in successfully, and doctors say he will live in spite of his seven wounds. Funny thing, war.”

 * * * * * *

Whilst the war takes up the thoughts of us adults, it is important that life at the OPS continues as smoothly as possible for our young Dragons.

rugger

The beautiful weather which held for the first month of term made rugger impossible. In the first match, against Eagle House on November 4th, considering all things, although the team lost 0-22, they made a good show and look as they might develop into a good side.

I am not convinced of the desirability of keeping each boy to play in a particular place practically always. To know the game properly, a boy ought to be prepared to play half or forward or three-quarters as he may happen to be asked.

There seems to me nowadays a sort of prevalent fear of doing the wrong thing, and not enough initiative, not enough determination to get through and to score against the opponents…

I must say I think criticism of an individual’s play, sometimes very emphatic and loud-tongued, should be entirely abolished during the progress of the game; and nothing but encouragement allowed. Personally I know what the effect on myself would be if I were yelled at as a slacker or funk in the middle of a match!

Why, oh why do not Winchester, Charterhouse, Repton and Shrewsbury play rugby instead of the disgraced ‘soccer’? Malvern, Radley and Rossall have abandoned the professional game and joined the Rugger ranks…

 * * * * * *

The boys have sent stamps to the Base Hospital, and indeed have made a very large money collection considering their small incomes! The ‘Blue Dragon’ gramophone with its lovely old records and many new ones has delighted the inmates of Medical Ward V, where it is guarded jealously from the raids of other wards.

Hum Lynam

Hum Lynam

‘Hum’ has been almoner-in-chief and has installed and looked after Belgian refugees at the Lodge and elsewhere. He has also collected and forwarded sweaters, pipes, pencils and writing books, subscribed for by the boys, to various quarters, including HMS Colossus, HMS St. Vincent and HMS Russell.

 

We have had the following replies:

H.M.S. St Vincent

First Battle Squadron

November 20th 1914.

My Dear Dragons,

Pipes very much appreciated – now smoked by His Majesty’s Jollies.

Pipe 1
Who owned?                         

 

 

And the other one that might have been made by Krupp?

Pipe 2

 

It was a kind thought and entailing some sacrifice I’ve no doubt – parting with old friends – Censor allows no news.

William Fisher (Capt. R.N.)

H.M.S Russell

21/11/14

Dear Dragons,

A line to thank you all for sending us that generous supply of briar pipes. The men are no end pleased, and wish me to thank you for your kind thought for them. I only wish I could come and thank you all personally for them! But I shan’t be able to do that until they become Pipes of Peace.

 Lance Freyberg (Lieut-Commander R.N)