April 1st 1916

As the term ends and our children disperse for the holidays, there are always a few points of interest to record for the school magazine, which Mr Vassall is busy preparing:

In common with the rest of Oxford, it has been necessary to modify the lights in rooms and corridors. It is one of the minor troubles of the war and it has given us occasional visits from courteous special constables. One was taken to an upper dorm to find a solitary candle on the floor, but the reflection from the white ceiling made the light visible from a considerable distance.

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We have had curious weather this term, ranging from extreme mildness at the beginning of February to an extraordinary fall of snow and a most fearful blizzard right at the end of March. In the teeth of it Mrs Marshall (my daughter, Kit) crossed the Channel from Havre to Southampton for a fortnight’s ‘leave.’

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We have been lucky this term in getting nothing worse than chicken-pox! Almost all the boys have gone up in weight since the end of last term.

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We had a whole school holiday for Mr Watson’s wedding and the boarders went off in a motor-bus to the common between Long Hanborough and Witney, the Ford taking a full load of ladies and lunch – we cooked and ate sausages etc. and then basked in the sunshine.

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Several bike expeditions with the Ford to convey lunch and girls have taken place. The woods at Beckley, the ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ and Shillingford have been the scenes of merry picnic parties.

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GK ChestertonThe senior boys enjoyed a talk on ‘Soldiers’ Songs’ by GK Chesterton.

Mr Chesterton, who lives in Beaconsfield,  is famously both tall and of considerable girth.   A lady in London is reputed to have asked him why he was not “out at the Front” to which he replied, “If you go round to the side, you will see that I am.”

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Jean ClunetJean Clunet, who was here as a boy in 1887/88, is now a surgeon in the French Army. He is a man of many adventures. He was in the thick of the fighting in Morocco in 1912; at the battle of Charleroi; in the battle of the Marne; won the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in the Rheims-Soissons sector; was ten months on the Gallipoli peninsula; obtained a few weeks’ leave and was returning to Salonika when his ship, the Provence II, was torpedoed by a submarine. He was one of the survivors and is now ready for further adventures.

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Old Boys have won this term two DSOs, four MCs, one Legion of Honour, one Croix de Guerre and seventeen ‘Mentions in Despatches.’

 

The Summer Term will commence on May 3rd 1916

March 22nd 1916.

My daughter Kit is proving a good correspondent and writes most interestingly from her YMCA hut near Havre:

“Do you remember me telling you about the literary miner? He is in ‘Blighty’, having been badly wounded in the head. He has sent me out Ibsen’s ‘The Warriors of Helgeland’; he writes that he has just discovered Oscar Wilde and is devouring his plays…

Kit Lynam 1912The others all tease me about young Davie Curry; the poor boy has had almost everything the matter with him; he has been blown up and is now lame, but he still has a delicious twinkle in his eyes, dimples, sticking out ears and a brogue of the very finest. He was eighteen the other day, having joined when he was ‘saxteen past’; he has got no parents and used to work in the Belfast shipyards…

I heard that he had lost his pay-book and could not get any pay, so I asked him as nicely as I could if I could help him in any way, and immediately he flared up, ‘Who’s after tellin’ you I had lost it? Shure it’s no matter at all, I have got plenty money.’ Though, of course, I knew he had not got any…

Next morning I asked him if he would help me clean Betsy (the car) as she was so dirty, and he polished her well, but was quite reluctant to take the ‘bulls’ eyes’ I offered him.

Since then, he has taken Betsy under his especial care and ‘shure he forgits’ everything I tell him, but I could never be cross with him, his smile is much too captivating.

He and some other Irish boys found a young boy wandering about and brought him in to their Sergeant. This young kiddy of ten said his father and two brothers had been killed in the Belgian Army and his mother in the explosion at Harfleur. The Sergeant took him to the C.O. and asked permission to adopt him – it was granted and he became the mascot.

He was called Jimmy Ulster and we all bought him clothes; the tailor made him a khaki suit, he marched at the head of the Band and we all spoilt him thoroughly. He was most vivacious and sang French songs, soon learnt English ones and he used to entertain us immensely; and help us too, with opening match boxes, peeling potatoes etc.

Then the end came, his father was discovered in the worst slum in Havre, no-one knew of his mother and all his tales were absolutely and entirely untrue!

He was taken home, but returned to camp immediately. He was put into the guardroom under arrest and finally was marched off between two burly Sergeants as an escort!”

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.”

 

 

March 1st 1915

My daughter Kit on ‘Blue Dragon’ in 1912

Amongst all the depressing war news, there has been at least one cause for celebration. My daughter Kit is married. On February 27th we had a whole holiday in honour of her wedding. All who know him agree that Lieut. Marshall, the bridegroom, has only one fault – and that is that he is not an Old Dragon. A wedding under the auspices of about a hundred schoolboys, mostly armed with confetti and old shoes, is an ordeal severe enough in all conscience. But the bride and bridegroom took it all smilingly.

We are not quite sure how they actually took the incident on the first tee of the golf course at Frilford when their golf club bags discharged pounds of confetti in a strong wind, but can well believe that the bridegroom, at all events, was imperturbable. The boys subscribed for a very nice wedding present in the shape of a serviceable suitcase.

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Kit was the first of a number of girls I have admitted to the OPS since 1898.

I have sometimes been, shall I say, criticised for admitting a few very select girls to the School. Personally I have no doubt whatever of the good effects it has on the boys, nor of the benefit that the girls themselves obtain. It is absurd to say that it makes the boys girlish or the girls boyish. The prejudice against the presence of girls at a preparatory school is merely a silly conventional attitude.

By the bye, I have never heard any objections to co-educating!

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We have also noted with great pleasure the announcement of the engagement of Naomi Haldane, rising seventeen, to one of her brother Jack’s best friends, Dick Mitchison. They are not to marry until next year. In the meanwhile Lieut. Mitchison is at the Front.

Naomi, who has been such a prolific contributor to the pages of ‘The Draconian’ over the years,  has submitted a most touching poem for our next edition.

In the grey evening after I come home
I draw the curtains to shut in the light
– One never knows what cruel things may roam
Through the wet cloud-banks in the hostile night –
And when the fire’s lit, and throwing wide
Streamers of flame light, dancing as I look,
And I am reading at the fire-side,
Now and again I glance across the book
To think if you were sitting in that chair
Your eyes and mouth, your forehead, oh my dear,
And the red glow reflected in your hair…
Only you’re out in Flanders, and I am here.

 

Naomi & Kit 1906

Naomi Haldane & Kit Lynam in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ in 1906.