July 25th 1920

Jack Smyth has rounded off a remarkable week with his marriage to Miss Margaret Dundas on Thursday (July 22nd). We sent off Hum and Mrs Hum, resplendent in wedding garments and looking ‘buxom, blithe and debonair‘ to represent us. One observer commented “Hum’s topper recalled the delicious blends of thirty years ago and his smile overflowed the taxi.”

What a pity to find in the newspaper that Mr & Mrs Hum (and their daughter Audrey) Lynam has been misspelt as Lyman!

July 23rd 1920

July 21st 1920 – Prize-giving Day.

The Prize-giving this year was decidedly the best we have ever had; and it was a great joy to me to be present among the audience (for the reason, see below). If I had realised that Hum was such an orator he would have been turned on on many previous occasions!

We were also delighted to welcome back Jack Smyth, fresh from Buckingham Palace (again) to give away the prizes. He was kept on his feet some time as there were some 182 of them!

The final presentation was that of the Somerville Officers’ Cup. As required, it was awarded to the boy who ‘has the most gentlemanly bearing and best influence on other boys’ as decided on by the vote of the whole school. This year’s winner is Francis Wylie, who sadly leaves us now to go to Rugby.

Jack Smyth and Hum Lynam with Francis Wylie

Our guest then proceeded to make his speech and Old Jack’s soldier-like “few words” were exactly all that was wanted to complete the success of the day, including, as it did, this touching tribute to the school and those we have lost:

I needn’t tell you how much we ODs who are stranded out in India look forward to coming back to the OPS. There is something quite different about the OPS from any other preparatory school I have ever heard of. Someone said at the Old Boys’ Dinner that the remarkable thing about the OPS was that ODs have almost as much affection for it as they have for their public schools. Well, I should like to go one better and say that, as far as my experience goes, ODs have more affection for the OPS than they have for their public school. And to say that is to say a great deal, because I have never known a preparatory school where that has occurred before.

Before I left India I met one or two people who had just returned from leave in England and they gave one rather a depressing account of things at home. They said that the old spirit of unselfishness and cheerfulness which had burnt so brightly during the war, had rather died out, that our sacrifices in the war had been forgotten, and that there was generally rather a spirit of Bolshevism abroad. Now, I’m glad to say I haven’t found that at all. We as a nation are not given to talking sentiment and weeping for sorrows that are past, but I think that the sacrifices England made in the great war have been in no way forgotten because we don’t talk about them, and I know at any rate that the wonderful example set us by that gallant band of ODs who so gladly and ungrudgingly laid down their lives for their country in the great war will be an ever existing memory at the OPS.”

They will indeed not be forgotten. A brass, prepared by Messrs. Mowbray, is already fixed in the School Hall. It gives the names of our lost ones in the order in which they fell.  Hopefully our Memorial Cross will be ready for its installation on the banks of the Cherwell before the end of the year.

Lastly, why was I in the audience this year?

At the age of 62 and after 40 years schoolmastering in Oxford I feel that the School should be run by younger men, so I have got Hum to be Joint Headmaster, and am leaving the greater part of the management of the School to him. He with the stalwarts, GC Vassall and Lindsay Wallace, with the help of Mr Haynes and the younger men (not forgetting the ladies) will, I am certain, maintain the traditions and carry on the success of the School.

I still hope to spend some happy years in the position of (shall I say?) Warden of the School – and do some teaching and supervision and to keep up intimate connection with Old Boys and Girls – but I do not want to interview or correspond with new people; I cannot pretend to know intimately all the boys as I have always done in the past, and I do not mean to interfere with details or with general management. I once heard a splendid little girl of 9 say, when it was suggested that she should carve a ham, “All right, give me plenty of elbow room and NO ADVICE!” meaning of course, “no interfering and unasked-for advice,” and there is much justice in the demand!

 

 

July 21st 1920

Yesterday was a special day for the Smyth brothers, Jack and Billy:

Captain JG Smyth VC, 15th Ludhiana Sikhs, 43rd Infantry Brigade and Lieutenant (Acting Captain) HEF Smyth, 1st Battalion, Ox & Bucks Light Infantry were summoned to Buckingham Palace to receive decorations won in action in Waziristan and Russia (where the 1st Ox and Bucks were part of the Allied force that intervened in the Russian Civil War to assist the ‘White Russians’ in their fight against the Bolsheviks) respectively.

We understand that it was the first occasion on which two brothers had been decorated with the same decoration at the same investiture, and they marched up together to receive Military Crosses from the Duke of York, who was deputising for the first time for the King (who was unwell).

I gather both brothers were rather nervous – as was His Royal Highness, and the citations were never read out. We can at least rectify this here in Jack’s case:

“At Khajuri (Tohei Valley) on October 22nd, 1919, this officer’s gallantry and initiative under fire contributed largely towards the saving of a valuable convoy which was attacked by the enemy. Sent forward from Idak with reinforcements to clear up the situation he most ably appreciated a very critical situation which, but for his so doing, must have resulted in serious disaster. He displayed staff ability of a high order in co-ordination and reporting the situation, rallying personnel who were in a state of apathy, due to the casualties amongst their officers. He was subjected throughout this period to heavy and accurate enemy fire, which in no way deterred him from moving from place to place. His courage was an example to all, and resulted in the convoy being brought safely to Idak.”

Jack Smyth pictured after the ceremony with his fiancée, Miss Dundas.

Today we bring the Summer Term to an end with sports, a concert and prize-giving, and Jack’s busy week continues as he is with us to make the presentations.

June 18th 1920

O.D. Dinner – June 12th 1920.

The Old Dragons have had their say on our reunion, now it is my turn!

It was the greatest pleasure to meet 115 of my Old Boys and the staff at dinner in the School Hall on Saturday. I am rather proud of having only in one case made a mistake in identification. If I failed to have a yarn with each individual it was for lack of time and not for lack of will. It was strange and delightful to feel that I am the one link between them all – that in the whole wide world there is no-one else who has known them all personally from their boyhood.

Walter Moberly (left) was one of our most distinguished Old Boys in the War, being twice mentioned in dispatches and winning the D.S.O in an action that sadly cost the lives of two other Old Dragons, Will Scott and Gifford Turrell. He has now returned to Lincoln College, where he is a Fellow, lecturing in philosophy.  Frank Sidgwick (right) continues to prosper with his publishing company Sidgwick & Jackson, having had particular success with the works of the war poet, Rupert Brooke.

Geoffrey Freyberg (left), having survived the battle at Jutland and witnessed the surrender of the German High Seas fleet in November 1918 on HMS Valiant, is now the King’s Harbour Master at Plymouth.  Geoffrey Rose (right) is in the process of writing up the history of the 2/4th Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the War, to be published later this year. Having been called to the Bar in 1912, he is returning to a legal career.

Philip Frere (left) provided the ‘Draconian’ with an account of the retreat enforced by the Germans’ Spring Offensive of March 1918 and Nevil Norway (right) having as a 17-year-old witnessed the events in Dublin of Easter 1917, served the final months of the War as a private soldier in the Suffolk Regiment.  He is now up at Balliol College, reading Engineering Science.

Maurice Campbell (left)  ended the war with typhus and malaria and was invalided home. Last year he was awarded the OBE for his services with a field ambulance and has now returned to Guy’s Hospital as a medical registrar. Pat Campbell (right) having gone straight into the Army from Winchester in 1917, has now returned to Oxford to study for a degree at Brasenose College.

Roger Mott, it may be recalled wrote to us back in 1915 of his “Balkan Find” – a memorial tablet from the time of the Emperor Hadrian, and I understand that it is now the proud possession of the new Imperial War Museum, officially opened on June 9th by King George V at the Crystal Palace.

Geoffrey Carpenter spent the War with the Uganda Medical Service and wrote to us following the Battle of Tanga, known as the Battle of the Bees. He has now returned to Oxford and is working as a Specialist Officer for the control of sleeping sickness in Uganda. He is bringing out a book later this year, ‘A Naturalist on Lake Victoria, with an account of Sleeping Sickness and the Tse-Tse Fly’, about his time there (1911-14), the introduction written by his friend an mentor Prof. EB Poulton (father of Ronnie Poulton).

Sydney Carline, whose experience of being shot down over the Somme in 1916 was reported to us by his brother George,  enjoyed the final months of the conflict as a war artist. Having returned from his tour of the Middle East for the Imperial War Museum with his brother Richard last year, they have both enjoyed a successful exhibition of their work in the Goupil Gallery in March.

Jack Gamlen was one of the most prolific of our ‘war correspondents.’ A regular guest critic of our school plays before the War, he was particularly missed here when we were putting on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in 1915 and he sent the boys a most witty verse.  We were delighted to have him back to review last term’s production of ‘Henry V’, even if his judgments were not always generous!

Noel Sergent, who sent us many descriptions of his time on the Gallipoli peninsula, together with a graphic account as to how he managed to escape drowning when his ship was torpedoed, we are delighted now to have on our staff, teaching French (of course) and mathematics. He is also a great asset on the river where he has been coaching diving.

Jack Smyth – whose array of medals impressed us all – was a regular correspondent in the War years. Who will ever forget the day to returned to the School with his VC? He has a busy time ahead – he is due to receive the MC on July 20th and be married on July 22nd,  but has kindly agreed to attend our Prizegiving on the 21st to give away the prizes!

There were many who were under Mr Clarke, my predecessor, and who had suffered from my mistakes and inexperience as a young teacher; and perhaps that meeting with an early generation of Dragons was of the greatest interest to me. They have had time to distinguish themselves, and many have done so…

And then, alas! there are so many whom we shall not see again at these gatherings, those who have so nobly given their lives for us.

(Of those mentioned above, a number had lost an Old Dragon brother in the War: Frank Sidgwick (Hugh), Geoffrey Freyberg (Lance), Maurice & Pat Campbell (Percy), for whom the day must have brought on very mixed emotions).

 

July 8th 1919

P E AC E   S U N D A Y

July 6th 1919

My brother Hum, as always, has taken particular interest in the religious side of life and made sure that we joined in the national celebration of Peace.

“Yesterday we attended Morning Service at the Cathedral, where we were courteously given seats in the Nave. The beautiful rendering of the Service by the Choir was a great musical treat, but we cannot believe that such form of worship is as suitable for boys as our own Sunday Service.”

In the afternoon a few of the boys found their way to the United Service in ‘Tom Quad‘ – along with a crowd estimated to be 10,000 strong! The band of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, along with the combined choirs of Christ Church, New College and Magdalene College Schools were an undoubted highlight.

 

There have been regular Sunday Services at the School this term, of which two were of particular note:

V C   D A Y

May 18th 1919

Jack Smyth’s Victoria Cross

We had hoped to give Rev. Col. Price’s VC Day sermon. But he writes that he ‘just said what he was feeling’ – and has been unable to ‘put it decently together.’ That is probably why it was so effective. He commented on the extreme youth of many of the VC winners, the high pitch to which the standard of bravery and sacrifice necessary for its winning has been raised during the war, yet ‘No VC’s act was more tremendously fine and great than that of Lieut. Smyth.’

Jack was once a very delicate boy, but his fine spirit and pluck pulled him through at that time, and the same grit and power has now won for him eternal fame.

We had a grand VC day picnic thereafter. Boats from Beesley’s took some 120 boys and staff up to Wytham Woods, while the caravan took the provisions and cookie and her staff to Swinford Bridge and a quarter-of-a-mile over the fields to the lock. The blue hyacinths were gorgeous. It was a day to remember.

June 8th 1919

We were delighted to have as preacher Rev Neville Talbot, whose brother Edward Talbot was an Old Dragon. Both served as chaplains throughout the war. Their father, the first Warden of Keble College, was a founder of the first girls’ colleges in Oxford (Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville).

Neville’s other brother, Gilbert Talbot, was killed at Ypres in December 1915 and the famous Talbot House at Poperinghe was founded in Gilbert’s memory by Neville and the Rev. ‘Tubby’ Clayton. It provided a resting place for soldiers to meet and relax in breaks from front line duties. Inside this house all were to be considered equal, regardless of rank, as the notice by the door required:

‘All rank abandon, ye who enter here.’

 

 

August 11th 1918

After a considerable period of time, we have heard from Capt. Jack Smyth (Sikhs, Indian Army) with his news:

21.7.18 “I’ve been travelling about a good deal lately; I left my regiment last Christmas up in Pershawar and went down to the Central Provinces to the Staff School, where I remained for three months. It was most awfully hard work, but all very interesting, and we had long days riding all over the country doing schemes…

Shortly after the course was over, I was appointed Brigade Major, Bombay, which was about the best job I could have got, and I went there in April.

I was then transferred as Brigade Major, 43rd Brigade, Lahore. Of course this place, being in the Punjab, is fiendishly hot in the hot weather (it has been 118° in the shade by day and 97° in a room with electric fans by night), but the work is interesting and there are heaps of troops here.

One thing I did love about Bombay was the sea; the yachting season was just over, but I did a good deal of bathing.

In the Yacht Club all men bowed down to me on account of my being one of the crew of the ‘Blue Dragon.’ You have no idea how the fame of the ‘Blue Dragon’ has spread in Bombay. I was always introduced as ‘Capt. Smyth, one of the crew of the ‘Blue Dragon’ you know,’ whereupon I was looked upon with awe, the choicest wines were produced, I was asked innumerable questions by people who knew the Log off by heart, my opinion was asked on different rigs which I knew nothing about, and I received numerous offers to go as ‘crew’ on some of the best yachts for next season.

So, if ever Skipper chances to go to the Yacht Club, Bombay, they will receive him with open arms…”

What an enticing thought, but I suspect Jack was diverting attention away from talk of his VC exploits.

May 19th 1918

M A Y    1 8 t h    –    V C   D A Y

 

In honour of Capt. Jack Smyth (Sikhs, Indian Army) winning the Victoria Cross on this day in 1915, we have enjoyed a day off, and what a perfect day it turned out to be.

There was a great river picnic on the Upper River, with lunch and tea at the point where Wytham Wood comes nearest the river, just below Eynsham Bridge. The School House maids drove out and joined the party for tea and changed places with some of the juniors for the journey home.

The racing, the blisters, the bathe (Chell’s especially), the sun (Percival), the fruit salad, the big spoon (2 members of Staff), the walk home (Cecil and A.N. Other) and the frequent attempts to drown her crew (another member of the Staff) will long live in the memory.

Unfortunately, I had to attend a meeting in London and missed all the fun!

It has been some time since we last heard from Jack. As far as we know, he is doing a staff job in Bombay – safely away from the Western Front at least.

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.