April 12th 1916

We have another book written by an Old Boy to review for the Draconian:

The O.T.C and the Great War – Capt. Alan Haig-Brown

(Priced 7/6 from ‘Country Life’)

This book is a history of the Volunteer movement at the Universities and Public Schools under the title of the Officers’ Training Corps. The Corps was once described as the “spoilt child of the War Office.” Since August 1914, however, it has supplied over 20,500 officers to the army.

Alan was at the OPS as a boy from 1888-90. He won a scholarship to Charterhouse, where his father was headmaster, and thereafter he became the first of our old boys to attend Cambridge University (Pembroke College).

Alan became a schoolmaster and in 1906 took command of the Lancing School Corps. In that role he attended a meeting at the War Office, where Sir Edward Ward, with Lord Haldane in attendance, presented his suggestions for change. Rather than the University and School Corps be attached to the local Volunteer Battalions, they would now become the senior and junior divisions respectively, of a new Officers’ Training Corps under the direct control of the War Office.

Haig-Brown h&s

Maj. A. Haig-Brown

“The whole matter had been carefully thought out; the actual details were waiting for us – there was really nothing to discuss,” Alan opines in this book. “But where many schoolmasters are present, lack of discussion is improbable, and if there are headmasters amongst them, as in the case, impossible.”

The structure was easily agreed, particularly as it addressed the question of how to attract volunteers to join the Corps. Up to recent times, the prospect of ever needing to repel an invasion seemed a very remote possibility. Alan amusingly notes that “as for examinations, so for war, it is a British custom to prepare overnight or early next morning.”

An Officers’ Training Corps was much easier to promote, “that there really was a need for officers, and that every member was to be trained to fit himself as a leader of men and as an important and desired servant of the Empire.”

At Lancing, one way or another, Alan Haig-Brown persuaded every boy to volunteer for the OTC, making them, it is said, the only school with 100% participation.

Clearly, without these important changes, which were made in 1908, we would not have been able to combat Germany’s aggression in 1914 so swiftly.

* * * * * * *

Although Alan is referred to above as Captain Haig-Brown, the London Gazette confirmed last week the rank of temporary Major. He is to be the second in Command of the 23rd (Service) Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment (2nd Footballers).

Alan is well qualified for this regiment, having won a footballing Blue at Cambridge in 1898 and 1899 and played seven games as an amateur for the Southern League side, Tottenham Hotspur in 1901-3.

May 4th 1915

A number of Old Dragons are involved in the battle that has been going on in the Ypres area since April 22nd. Donald Innes enlisted immediately at the start of the war as a despatch rider in the Motor Cycle Corps:

Donald Innes

Sgt. D. Innes

May 1st 1915. “On one of my rides I came across Treffry Thompson OD at Hazebrouk; he seemed very fit. Since Ypres is at present the centre of interest, perhaps a short account of it would not be amiss… 

One’s first view of the Cathedral reminds one of Magdalen tower; and the cloisters attached are very like those there also. The town has been smashed up more or less in zones, just short of and just beyond the Cathedral: where the shells fell short or overshot it. I was there the night before the attack on Hill 60, and then the Cloth Hall did not seem so very badly damaged, but of course I don’t know what this other bombardment has done.

The inhabitants seem to take things very philosophically, and one got a limited but quite excellent dinner there in a more or less patched up café. Where the shops are absolutely smashed, the owners sell their goods in the street outside.

With regard to the actual fighting, one sees very little of it and it is just a matter of chance if one happens to be there at the time, the trenches acting as a kind of touch-line inside which we play; so I will leave the description of that to ODs who are in the thick of it. 

I saw a little of Neuve Chapelle, and for an infantry man a modern attack can only be described as ‘Hell let loose.’ I thanked God I was a Despatch Rider. Our troubles are rather neatly put by one of the D.Rs in what he called the D.R’s prayer:-

From holes, shells, and motor ‘bus

Good Lord deliver us.”

 * * * * * * *

Donald Innes was one of the five Old Dragons to win Oxford hockey blues in 1911. All five of them are now in the Army.

1911 Hockey Blues

Standing: Donald Innes (Sgt. Motor Cycle Corps) and Patrick Duff (2nd Lieut. RFA in Gallipoli)

Sitting: John Brooks (2nd Lieut. Indian Army), Sholto Marcon (2nd Lieut. OBLI), Ronnie Poulton (Lieut. Royal Berks).