October 6th 1917

The ‘Oxford Magazine’ has published an appreciation of the life of Capt. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA), who died of his wounds on September 17th:

“Another of the veriest sons of Oxford, and of the Morning, gone! And one of the brightest and best… he had such obvious qualities for true friendship – intelligence far above the average, wit and humour and a capacity for deep affection, and endless interests in many directions, the open road, or even more the open hills, music, mathematics, history, scholarship, education, social service and what not.

After a brilliant course at Winchester and Balliol – his was a case of double First Class Honours in Mathematics and Classics, something of a rarity nowadays with rising and specialist standards…

During his life he returned to the College the greater proportion of his stipend as Fellow to be applied to the support of necessitous students, and by his will he directed that the whole balance should be repaid to the Master and Fellows, leaving them free to allocate it in the same way, or in any manner they may approve…

Hugh has also left the OPS £100 in his will, which will aid our Leaving Exhibition Fund. This fund has, since 1908, been allowing me to give leaving exhibitions to help boys whose parents are not very well off to go to a good public school. (The first such award I gave to a young Jack Smyth, later to win the VC).

 

November 6th 1916

Although France is currently the centre of attention in this war, the North-West Frontier continues to require policing, in order to thwart German efforts to threaten British power in India.

north-west-frontier

Lieut. Jack Smyth VC (15th Sikhs), who wrote to us in June about the signalling course he was sent on, has written to say that he is back on active service there:

Jack Smyth28/10/16 “Here we are on the frontier, once more on active service and I am writing this in the Mess tent, well dug down below ground to escape stray bullets…

I arrived at Peshawar to find the regiment had marched out the day before and orders awaiting me to command the Depot.

A newly joined subaltern came up and reported that he had been left as Adjutant and handed over piles of correspondence, which we had to get down to at once…

We had two or three very strenuous days with the usual notes from everyone who had gone out with the regiment asking for various things they had left behind. This sort of thing:

‘Please get the keys of my bungalow from my gardener and on the bunch you will find a brass key, which opens the third drawer of my writing table. At the back of the drawer you will find my despatch case and in it my cheque book. Please send this out by the milk lorry tomorrow. Awfully sorry to bother you, as I know how busy you must be,’  but this is part of the Depot commander’s job…

Three days ago I was relieved and sent out to join the regiment. The Mohmands with whom we are fighting, or supposed to be fighting, have so far left us severely alone, but come down at night and snipe and hurl abuse at us…

We can’t attack them because they would only retire to their hills and we should need a large force and a long line of communication to follow them, and they won’t attack us because they think barbed wire and mountain guns an unfair advantage.”

Before this, Jack had been on leave in Kashmir, where he reports that he met up with fellow Old Dragon, 2nd Lieut. Edward Sheepshanks (Indian Army) at a dinner party,

“…and thereupon had an OD dinner on our own and drank to the Skipper and the OPS, which astonished the rest of the party…”

Knowing how lively an affair an OD dinner can be, I am not surprised they were astonished!

(At least there were no Wykehamists present to sing a joyous chorus in praise of the present subjunctive – and they did not have to suffer my recitation of the Banjo Song!)

* * * * * * *

Roderick HaighToday is the second anniversary of the death of Lieut. Roderick Haigh (Queen’s Royal West Surreys). Thanks to his bequest, which paid for our shooting range, the boys will be competing for the Roderick Haigh Cup at the end of this term.

He was a noble man, who saw it as a privilege to die for his country.

July 7th 1916

A letter has made its way from Lieut. Jack Smyth VC (15th Sikhs) in Peshawar in India.

Jack Smyth26/6/16. “I am so glad May 18th turned out a good day and the boys enjoyed the whole holiday. I do indeed hope I shall be able to spend it with you next year.

I am up doing a signalling course in a little hill station, but it gets most unpleasantly hot here in the middle of the day, especially as we are only in tents…

This course lasts three months, at the end of which time we shall be tapping out the Morse Code in our sleep and sending messages at table with our knives and forks and otherwise getting really ‘signalling mad.’

We waive flags from 7-8 a.m., starting easily and finally working up till we are sending almost the whole hour without a pause and everyone has muscles in his forearms like a blacksmith.

Breakfast at 8 and then we sit on the top of the hill in pairs and read messages in Helio, Morse and Semaphore till 11 a.m., by which time the rocks had got so hot that one can hardly sit on them. There is then a stampede to the Mess to get a long iced drink safely by one’s side before the lecture commences. This goes on till 12 and keeping awake is the hardest thing I have ever known.

We then take pencil and paper and write down while the Instructor sends us telephone messages till 1 p.m. Lunch, and then we write up any notes we have made, get into pyjamas and sleep till 4 p.m., when three days a week I play polo and the other days tennis…

There is only one ground here and we have to play at 4.30 p.m. (very hot then) so that the men can get their games afterwards. As soon as the last chukker is over, the polo posts are rooted up and half the ground converted into a hockey ground and half into a soccer ground and the men get two inter-company league matches in on each ground before it gets dark.

It is the only flat bit of ground in the place, and when the soccer and hockey are fairly underway and the officers’ tennis courts and squash courts in one corner are going strong, the whole place is covered with flying figures ‘strafing’ various sorts and sizes of balls with different kinds of weapons.”

All so very different when compared with what our troops are currently facing in France at the moment, but it is good to know that Jack, who has surely already done his bit, is safe and well.

June 28th 1916

A report on the Summer Term at the OPS is long overdue.

A mumps scare put us into quarantine for the first month, but since then all has been well and we have been able to play cricket matches against other schools. The weather was lovely at the beginning, even if it is execrable at present. Some people call cold and rain healthy. It may be so, but it is not pleasant.

* * * * * * *

We have had two grand whole holidays. About 50 boys and girls went in a char-à-banc to Stokenchurch Woods on May 18th – V.C. Day, marking Jack Smyth‘s deeds of valour – and a more delightful day could not have been spent. Others went to Frilford and enjoyed golf with Mr Vassall.

* * * * * * *

I discovered that the school car could be put to a better use and as a result the Ford was sent to Rochdale at the beginning of June and a ‘Scott’ Ambulance body was built on the Ford chassis.

Since then it has been in constant use in taking wounded soldiers to and from the station and various hospitals, and in taking the men for country drives. It accommodates two stretcher cases very comfortably and often has carried six or seven sitting patients.  These patients were refreshed on their short journeys by bunches of grapes, kindly provided by money raised by the boys and their families.

* * * * * * *

We invited over a hundred wounded soldiers to attend our production of ‘The Gondoliers.’ They came limping in, some on sticks, some on crutches. Some in chairs and some on stretchers, but one and all meant to have a good time, and the Dragons in charge saw to it that they had it. What the doctors said the next day about the effects of too many cigarettes and too many other good things does not concern us here.

One thing that confused the soldiers was the fact that the female parts were also being played by boys. In short, nothing would persuade Tommy that black was white, and when he saw 3 or 4 girls, and very pretty ones too, girls they were – and he did not believe for one moment they were boys.

The actors themselves got a little mixed sometimes, and once one of them earnestly assured us that he would make a “dutiful husband, I mean wife.”

This made Tommy think a little, and one of the staff had the great idea of getting the ‘boy-girls’ amongst the wounded, and parting the golden and raven locks to show the unbelievers the unmistakable hairy heads of Dragons beneath.

On the way from the green room, one of the damsels tripped, and what he (she) said, made one soldier remark, “Well, that one’s a boy anyhow!”

February 23rd 1916

With magazines such as our Draconian making their way to front line trenches, some thought has to be given to security.

We are requested by the Director of Military Intelligence at the War Office to state that the matter contained in any War Article or Letter in the Draconian is to be treated as confidential, and that no extracts from them may be sent for publication to the newspapers.

* * * * * * * *

It is good to know that magazines, such as our own Draconian, are well received by our old boys. Capt. Maurice Jacks (KRRC) writes from Northern France:

jacks-ml3“In a stray ‘Oxford Chronicle’ which found its way to this dreary corner of Northern France the other day I read an account of ‘The Tempest’ and a letter from the Skipper about the bad state of the roads. These two led my thoughts to the ‘School House afar’ and hence this letter. My ‘Draconian’ has not turned up yet; but I can’t get on without it and have written for a copy from home.”

The Draconian has certainly made its way to General Headquarters where Major Cecil Lucas (RHA) and friends “simply devoured every word… and look forward to every number like anything.”

Capt. Charlie Childe (Gloucestershire Regiment), on reading what he had written in the first months of the War, now finds that he sees things differently:

Charlie Childe“I have just had the ‘Draconian’ and was very glad to get it. I’m afraid some of my letters now display a rather green and enthusiastic spirit. In fact I rather wonder at myself in the first days of August and September as a fierce hero! I see I said I didn’t mind shells. However, I am not ashamed to admit that familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. Jack Smyth quite agreed with me in this when I saw him last, so that is enough to go by…”

Lieut. Jack Smyth VC (15th Ludhiana Sikhs) has received his Draconian in Egypt:

Jack Smyth“I wrapped myself up in two blankets in  a deck chair yesterday evening and read the ‘Draconian’ from start to finish.

Charlie Childe’s letters interested me a great deal, as I have been practically in all the places he mentions.”

 

 

 

December 31st 1915

Christmas for our gallant old boys, stationed in numerous theatres of war, has varied considerably.

Capt. Geoffrey Carpenter (Uganda Medical Service) is currently somewhere in the vicinity of Kabale in Uganda:

“Xmas Day passed without any excitement and our mess managed to put up quite a decent dinner. Tinned tomato soup, herrings and jugged hare, a guinea-fowl (shot with a rifle) to take turkey’s place – they are as good eating as any bird I know.”

Capt. Charlie Childe (Gloucestershire Regiment), in a billet near Richebourg St. Vaast, on the other hand, has had no relief from the day-to-day realities of the war:

Charlie Childe“From 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve till 5 p.m. on Christmas Day all our batteries had more or less carte blanche and all started blazing away at midnight.

I went in on Christmas Day after tea and there was a great deal of whizz-banging and salvoes of shrapnel all night. I was quite pleased when I got back to my dug-out, as it was rather a poor game wandering about over the open in the pitch dark, and wet, with all this hatred breaking out from time to time.”

Lieut. Jack Smyth (15th Ludhiana Sikhs) is now in Egypt, defending Alexandria from attack by the German-supported Sennussi tribe. No Christmas spirit to be found there either:

Jack Smyth“I spent the most exciting Christmas Day and the coldest Christmas night I have ever spent in my life; the whole day was spent in an attack on the Sennussi position. I was doing Adjutant duties and as I had only a few days before come out of hospital in Alexandria, I was almost dead, not counting the additional ‘almosts’ from bullets…

I should love to have been able to get back to Oxford for Xmas, but must not think of such things till the war is over…”

2nd Lieut. Maurice Jacks (King’s Royal Rifle Corps), whose location is given simply as “this dreary corner of North France” has ascertained that the Boche may be suffering somewhat worse than our troops:

“A deserter came in the other day and to his amazement the men gave him cigarettes and tea, and Headquarters a dinner; he was feted all round, but we could not let him off without displaying a little ‘frightfulness’ and the whole battalion having just had a Xmas dinner of goose and plum pudding, we asked him, ‘I suppose you had goose and plum pudding on Xmas Day. We all did!’

He threw up his hands in amazement and was green with envy; he apparently had not even had a sausage!”

Lastly, my daughter, Kit Marshall (St. Leonard’s School YMCA hut, Camp 18, Harfleur Valley, near Havre) has been helping entertain those Tommies behind the lines, who were able to celebrate in some style:

KIt Lynam portrait“This morning we were all taken to the Irishmen’s and RFA dining halls to see their Christmas dinner and the decorations. They had turkey, geese, plum puddings, some given by the Ulster women, and beer.

Then at 3 p.m. we went to their concert. The men from both dining halls crammed into one… and they all joined in the choruses – ‘The little Grey Home’, ‘The Sunshine of Your Smile’, ‘Ragtime Cowboy Joe’ etc.

The pianist was splendid, played anything in any key; the voices were somewhat husky, the result of a huge dinner and a very smoky atmosphere. They had been given churchwarden pipes, too, by the Ulster women and the scene was most picturesque – all these men standing and sitting under the elaborate wreaths of different coloured paper and evergreens, all singing lustily.

Now I am sitting in the pay-box, having a slack time, as most of the men are down dancing in the lower Hut. All those under 5 ft. 6 ins. are decorated with ribbons, which shows that they are ladies…”

For these men, Kit’s old school (after the OPS of course!), St Leonard’s, provided Christmas presents:

…The men came up to the platform, each in turn, and dipped into a huge bran-pie for a present… 1,465 presents were given away and still some did not get any. They were awfully pleased with the things they got: wallets, handkerchiefs, socks, pocket-books, knives, pipes, purses, cigarette cases, cases for matchboxes etc etc. The School and Seniors gave the money, about £68, and Miss Grant chose and sent all the presents.”

 

 

October 29th 1915

It is good to learn that Major Charles Mayhew (RMLI) – whose father is the chaplain here at Wadham College – has received his copy of the school magazine safely, even though he is so far away in the Dardanelles:

Suvla Bay 5/10/15. “I have been reading with great interest the experiences of various ODs in the Great War, as set forth in the last copy of the Draconian and I feel I must congratulate the Skipper and say how great an honour I feel it is to have once been a member of the School that supplied the hero of quite one of the bravest deeds in the whole war. I refer of course to Jack Smyth…

I thought it might interest you to hear something of the Naval side of the Dardanelles campaign, as far as is possible…

The chief work of the Navy lies in making all arrangements for and superintending the landing of troops detailed for the operation and in covering the landing with their guns… After the landing has been effected, the next duty is to supervise the landing of various stores…

A secondary duty is to keep down the fire, as far as possible, of the Turkish guns whenever they start shelling the beaches or the transports and store-ships in the Bay. This in theory sounds fairly simple, as the ships’ guns easily outrange all the guns that can be brought against us, but their guns are all in such well concealed positions behind hills or other natural features, that it is only by the aid of observation officers in aeroplanes fitted with wireless, that we can be spotted on to them.

We usually get up a game of hockey on the quarterdeck in the evenings, which makes up in vigour what it lacks in science and observance of the rules, and causes more casualties among officers than all the shelling…

The other evening, just after dark, a tremendous bombardment started all round our lines and the sight of the shrapnel and star-shells bursting, with the noise of the continuous rattle of maxims and rifle firing, was most awe-inspiring and we thought that the Turks must be making a most determined night attack, but the real explanation was that our men in the trenches had just heard the good news from the Western Front, and a Scotch regiment started playing the bagpipes and cheering lustily, which so alarmed the Turks that they started all down the line, loosing off anything that came to hand.”

* * * * * * *

The last letter we received from Jack Smyth was at the end of September. He is now in Egypt and is enjoying a rather safer existence:

“The climate here is perfect and there is very good tennis and boating and bathing in the salt lakes, so that we have almost forgotten about the war…”

He tells us that is hoping to return to more active service before too long in France, or possibly in the Dardanelles.