July 28th 1917

We return today, inevitably, to the War and news of three of our Old Dragons.

On July 21st, the papers reported a number of officers of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps as missing in action. One of them is 2nd Lieut. William Sheepshanks (KRRC).

His mother received a telegram to this effect on the 19th, informing her that Bill has been unaccounted for since July 10th, but that he may still be alive. We must resign ourselves, once again, to a period of painful uncertainty.

The regiment was stationed right on the coastline near Nieuport – at the end of the trench system which stretches from there to Switzerland, and was under severe bombardment. In an account in the Daily Telegraph giving the German view, it was stated by their authorities that they had taken 1,250 prisoners, 27 of whom were officers. That gives us hope.

Bill has been such a close friend of the OPS and he never missed any Old Boys’ dinner or cricket match if he could help it.

* * * * * * *

We were startled and sorry to hear that Lieut. Lindsay Wallace (OBLI) has suffered considerable injury in France, due to unusual causes.  Whilst on a training course behind the front, Pug sleep walked out of an upper floor window. He had a nasty time for a day or two, but is now safely back in Oxford at Somerville College, having been escorted from France by his Engineer-Lieutenant brother Moray Wallace. He will not be short of visitors – if we can get past Sister Wilkinson!

* * * * * * *

We can end with one piece of good news, which has been a fearfully long time coming. It has been confirmed that Capt. Aubrey de Selincourt (RFC), having been “missing” since he was shot down on May 28th, is in fact a Prisoner of War. He joins his fellow OD aviators, Captain William Leefe Robinson VC and Lieut. Peter Warren in captivity.

 

May 24th 1917

Every day I open the morning newspaper to read on the ‘Roll of Honour’ of large numbers of officers killed and wounded, always in fear that I shall see the name of one of our Old Boys.

I am also confronted by an increasing number of those who are pronounced as ‘Missing’. This gives hope, but the families of these men are condemned to months of uncertainty as to whether their loved ones are dead, wounded or captured. In the case of the family of Capt. Edmund Gay (Norfolk Regiment) it has been nearly two years; he has been missing since August 1915.

Now two more of our Old Dragons have joined this list.

On May 20th, Mr Herbertson received a telegram stating that his grandson, Lieut. Hunter Herbertson (King’s Royal Rifle Corps) was reported as missing, but he understands that this does not necessarily mean that he is either wounded or killed.

On the night of May 16th he went out on a patrol with two others near Cherisy (at the southern end of the Arras battlefield). None of them returned. Enquiries will be made in the hope that he was captured and is a prisoner of war.

Hunter had done two years at Balliol (reading History) when war was declared. He joined up, but whilst training he suffered a double tragedy. His father (Oxford’s first Professor of Geography) died in July 1915, followed two weeks later by his mother. Both are buried in the Holywell Cemetery.

 

Mr & Mrs Dowson have also been informed that their son, Captain John Dowson (Royal Berkshire Regiment) has been notified as “missing.”

Like Morice Thompson, he was involved in the attacks that took place on May 3rd in the Arras district, but as yet we have no further information as to the circumstances of his disappearance.

John has been a regular visitor to the school in recent times. When home on leave he was always about, ready to take a form or a game.

It is at times like this that you are glad to have a photograph that captures happier times and places to have in front of you. This is John, as the boys will remember him, and hopefully he will return to us in the fullness of time.

 

Better news was to be found on a list headed ‘Previously reported missing, now reported prisoners of war in German hands.’ Included on it was the name of 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren, whose fate has been unknown these past seven weeks.

His squadron was returning to their base on April 2nd when they were set upon by German squadron. It seems that Peter’s plane was singled one and forced to ditch behind enemy lines.

 

 

November 30th 1916

2nd Lieut. Maurice Jacks (KRRC) has returned wounded from the Front. He was involved in the attacks that took place around the River Ancre earlier this month.

jacks-ml3“The preliminary bombardment was in full swing, and our guns were giving the Germans beans; we were in the middle of them, so the noise was pretty terrific. The censor will not allow me to tell you how many there were, but I believe in this battle there were more than in any other of the Somme offensive.

It was the night of November 12th when we swam into our tents; we had to be up early the next morning ready to support the Division who were attacking. At 5.40 a.m. the guns loosed off ‘five minutes intense,’ and at 5.45 the infantry went over the top.

Shortly afterwards we moved up close behind them and halted in a valley to await orders. Bunches of ‘kamerads’ were coming in, many of them wounded and all more or less sullen; even our witticisms failed to cheer them up. Absurdly exaggerated reports of the success of the attack were current.

It was not until late in the afternoon that our orders arrived; and it was dark when, heavily laden with every conceivable form of tool and weapon, we went over the top. The guns showed amazing excitement, and their flashes were even more brilliant and alarming than Skipper’s lighting in ‘Macbeth.’

Our job was to clear out the first three German lines, which in their haste the attacking troops had not properly dealt with in the morning. There were any number of Huns, especially in the fourth line, where we finally settled down; all were reduced more or less to the Kamerad stage, with the exception of a few rash Prussians, and all night long we were coming across large dug-outs full of prisoners.

The trench was about one foot deep, having been battered out of recognition by our artillery. All the hours of darkness we had to spend in trying to make some cover, and when the foggy morning came we had it about four feet deep.

beaucourt-2We were not more than 70 yards from Beaucourt – or what was left of it; and at 7 a.m. we were to attack and take it. About 6.30 the Boches clearly ‘got the wind up,’ and bombarded us vigorously; a large chunk of shell hit me in the shoulder, but the wound was not bad; I was buried four times, and the fifth burial, which was complete, finally laid me out – leaving me with nine bits of shell in the head and face.

Somebody dug me out and bandaged me; and for the next half-hour I was busy digging out my Company Commander, who had been buried by the same shell, and tying up badly wounded men. Then feeling rather ‘groggy’ I decided to try to get out; by this time the trench had been nearly filled in, and the Germans were active with their M.G’s; so the journey was not altogether a safe one.

I came across a wounded Hun (a Prussian) hit in the foot and walking with difficulty; I gave him a hand – he was in a terrible funk, and full of ‘Kameradie’ (a very technical term), and altogether rather beastly! He thought that we would win the war but ‘would not need many ships to take our men home.’ This, I must say, is a very prevalent idea among the German privates.

On the way down, I met a man I knew escorting a bunch of prisoners, among whom were two officers; the latter, he said, had complained to him at being put under the escort of a private soldier – they expected English officers to escort them!

At the dressing-station I was patched up, and from there my progress to Blighty was slow and painful, but sure.”

Maurice arrived back in England on November 20th and has now been granted 8 weeks sick leave. Not surprisingly, he is still suffering from headaches. We wish him a speedy recovery.

November 12th 1916

It is always a pleasure to welcome back our old boys and this week we were delighted to receive a visit from Lieut. Henry Tyndale (KRRC). He was on excellent form, although still lame from the wound he received last year in Flanders.

Harry has given us an account of how this came about for publication in this term’s ‘Draconian.’

tyndale“Away to our right, on high ground rising in the middle of a large wood, was a strong German redoubt, apparently untouched by our guns. From this redoubt machine-guns were keeping the edge of the wood under fire so that those parties who emerged soon lost their leaders and many of their men. My own men were held up by those in front, who could not move, and while finding out the exact situation, I was hit.  

Very fortunately I fell down into a shallow shell-crater. One of my men, who was beside me, straightened out my broken leg and bound up my wound, placing the broken part in a rough splint by tying it against a spade-handle. Once this was done I had very little pain, provided that I kept quite still,  and when the attempted counter-attack was over and the men had reformed in the original support trench, I was alone with one other wounded man.

As we were so near the open ground and probably under view of the enemy, I knew that there would be no prospect of a stretcher until dusk. I sent back a reassuring message to my Company Commander, who would know where I was lying. The afternoon was beautifully warm and I could watch the sun gradually getting lower in the heavens. There was little firing.

Towards dusk a party of volunteer stretcher-bearers came across me, but they had no means for carrying me in. I waited a long time for their return with the necessary stretcher, but night fell and flares went up along the line and I began to wonder whether they had forgotten me.

An hour after sunset I heard men moving in the undergrowth near me. It was with considerable difficulty that I could guide them to my shell-hole, so thick was the wood. They had no stretcher, but someone produced an overcoat, and with rifles run up the sleeves, this provided a fair stretcher. With difficulty they got me under way, but soon I was behind a small barrier of sandbags on a track through the wood, and a wide floor board proved an excellent substitute for a stretcher.

At the dressing station I met my Company Commander, who had been searching for me in vain and was greatly relieved to see me in safe hands; before dawn I was under chloroform, having my leg set, and in the early sunlight the ambulance took me to the train.”

Harry is a Winchester man through and through. Having won a scholarship there in 1900 and subsequently another one to New College (where he got a First in Classical Moderations and Literae Humaniores) he returned to teach at Winchester.

Being unfit for active service, Harry is now working in the Intelligence Department at the War Office.

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.”

 

 

 

January 25th 1916

Tempest E1916

 

We are now settled into the Easter Term and our school production of ‘The Tempest’ was very well received. We are grateful to Hugh Sidgwick for his review, which gives star billing to Barbara Hilliard’s portrayal of Ariel:

Ariel E1916

Barbara Hilliard as Ariel

“And then, hovering over and around these two and all the rest of the play, leading them at will, beguiling, enchanting, invisible and omni-present, we had the lovely vision of Ariel. It (I use the word advisedly, for this came nearer than any Ariel before to the ideal, sexless spirit of air and fire), it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on the stage; presence, gesture, motion and voice alike were exquisite.

Ariel intoxicated our senses so completely that I fear we hardly did justice to her acting; but apart from everything else it was a masterly reading of the character and of the play. Ariel made all the points with clearness and certainty, grasped exactly and revealed to us what was going on and interposed her presence among the deluded mortals always at the right moment and in the right way.

It is difficult to say how much the success of the play owed to her, and in particular to her most delicate and airy singing of the beautiful music of Purcell and Arne (Englishmen both, thank heaven, and much better at Shakespeare than Schubert and Mendelssohn).

* * * * * * *

I believe that an acting knowledge of at least one of Shakespeare’s plays is an important and useful part of an OPS education.

Shakespeare has indeed aided and abetted 2nd Lieut. Maurice Jacks (KRRC), in giving us Maurice’s location in France without falling foul of the censor:

“Being more or less conscientious I cannot tell you exactly where ‘here’ is, but if you remember where Polonius was stabbed, you will be within reasonable distance of the spot.”

Young Dragons will surely work this out – but can you?

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.”