September 24th 1915

CHRISTMAS TERM 1915

It has been a very sad beginning of term, having to tell the boys that their dearly loved masters, Mr Eastwood and Mr Higginson, have both given their lives for their country.

They were the greatest of friends, although contrasting personalities. Eastwood was the practical, determined, go-ahead character, whilst Higgie was the idealist, the dreamer, the artist, musician and poet.

Leslie Eastwood had been with us since 1907 and had become a first-rate schoolmaster. His form was noted for its ‘thoroughness.’ Strict without being severe, he won the respect and love of his boys and they would at any time do anything for him. It was very seldom indeed that he had to ‘send’ a boy ‘in’ to me and yet he had his form always under control. At games, he was most keen and successful in his coaching and showed a manly and loyal spirit that was most stimulating. As a comrade to me on the Blue Dragon he was splendid.

‘Higgie’ was different in some ways. He was more of the idealist, more intellectual perhaps, a writer and thinker, a musician and artist; but he also endeared himself to us and his special work in inspiring enthusiasm for painting and singing was quite unique. The way in which he conquered the difficulties of the introduction of musical comedy at the OPS (H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance) at once stamped him as a genius in organization and initiative.

Well, we are all proud of the part they have taken in our country’s hour of need and oh, so sorry that we shall no more have them amongst us.

We will all miss them very much.

September 21st 1915

Eastwood 2

2nd Lieut. Leslie Eastwood (King’s Own Royal Lancashire Regiment).

We have just received the most shocking news that, far from recovering, Leslie Eastwood has succumbed to the dysentery of which he spoke in his letter of August 20th.

The sister in charge of the Officers’ Division of the 17th General Hospital at Alexandria has written to inform his parents of his death on September 19th saying,

“I am afraid he delayed too long before he gave in. One of his brother officers told me he suffered from dysentery since the first few days he came out here, but would never give in and report sick and probably, had he not been wounded, would not have given in when he did.

You may rest assured everything that was possible was done for him.”

We are all very shocked by this news and, as one of my colleagues has put it,

“He leaves a gap which we shall find it very hard to fill, as he knew what was wanted and what to expect from a boy. He was no respecter of persons and consequently his advice was generally sought by those who knew him; and he was respected by a still wider circle.”

The boys return to school tomorrow, no doubt full of their usual good cheer and optimism for the coming term, and I must dent their youthful enthusiasm with the most upsetting news of the death of one of their most popular masters.

This is a most cruel blow.

 

 

August 29th 1915

We had hoped to hear better news of our friend and colleague, Leslie Eastwood. He is still in the 17th General Hospital in Alexandria and he is now suffering from dysentery.

His family have kindly passed on to us his most recent letter to them:

Leslie Eastwood

2nd Lieut. L Eastwood, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Reg’t

“The 20th of the month and I am still lying in bed; what a waste of time it seems to be lying here, day after day! I was wounded on the 28th July, so I have been in bed 24 whole days; what a time it does seem. This dysentery which I have got takes a lot of getting rid of, but there is no doubt I am getting better gradually.

I think you would hardly recognise me now if you saw me. I have gone so thin, but it will all come right again when I once more get on my legs. My wounds have been quite all right and are healing well.

We get all sorts of visitors to the hospital: young ladies come with flowers and chocolates, cigarettes and tobacco, older ladies come with testaments and good advice and comforting words, and men come round with what news they can get from the Peninsula, which amounts to nothing.

I am in a nice airy ward with two other officers, one slightly wounded but also suffering from dysentery like myself, the other sent back from the Peninsula sick; I don’t know what is the matter with him.

Outside on the balcony is a poor Australian boy of 22, who has had one of his hands blown off by a bomb and is blinded in both eyes; he is just beginning to learn the Braille system of reading; it is very sad and I have seen many cases like his, or little better…”

It is typical of the man that he should be thinking of those worse off than himself. However, we would all be most relieved to hear that he is out of hospital before long. Let us hope that by the time the boys return for the Christmas Term, we will have news for them of the full recovery of one of their most loved and respected masters.

There are currently five OPS assistant masters, who left us over the last year, in the Army. Along with Leslie Eastwood, we continue to keep Blair Watson, Tom Higginson, Pug Wallace and Mr Bye very much in mind.

 

 

 

 

 

August 13th 1915

We have another letter from Leslie Eastwood, written from the 17th General Hospital in Alexandria, to which he has been transferred following the wounds he suffered in the Gallipoli campaign.

Leslie Eastwood

2nd Lieut. Leslie Eastwood

“I don’t think I have yet given you any detailed account of how I was wounded. We had just come out of a long communication trench to the firing line on our way to camp for the night; we were marching by small parties. I was at the end of my platoon. For some reason we were held up and I went forward to see the cause of the delay. I had just stopped under a tree to speak to two officers, when shrapnel burst and picked me off in the leg and arm; it felt just as if I had been hit by a mighty blow with a sledge hammer.

I was taken to the clearing hospital where I was very uncomfortable for 16 hours, having nothing to lie on but a stretcher; then I was taken on board a hospital ship where I remained 10 days. I was operated on and the bullet taken out of my leg; chloroform is not at all bad, not so bad as gas. I arrived here two days ago and am very comfortable. 

How long I shall be a cripple I don’t know; the Doctor on the ship said my knee is damaged; the Doctor here does not think so, so I don’t know how long it will take. There is no chance of my getting home, as they only send cases that take over three months to cure.”

August 9th 1915

Leslie Eastwood was one of the first members of the OPS staff to leave us for service in the Army. Now a 2nd Lieutenant with the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, he has been serving in Gallipoli.

We have just received a letter from him, informing us he has been wounded:

Leslie Eastwood

2nd Lieut. Leslie Eastwood

2/8/15. “I hope you will get this letter before you hear from any other source that I am wounded. I have two wounds, one in the arm, quite slight, and one in the leg which may, perhaps, have done some damage to the knee. The bullet is still in and the Doctor has not yet made a thorough examination; it gives me practically no pain now and I don’t think it can be at all bad. I am on a new Hospital Ship which had just come out here.”

It is good of him to write to us so promptly and we all hope that he will make a speedy recovery.

September 23rd 1914

Skipper cropped Dragons. Welcome back to the OPS for the Christmas Term.

At a time when our country’s needs are greater than ours, a number of your masters have answered the call of duty and are now serving in His Majesty’s forces. Of the staff, all of military age have enlisted or received commissions straight off, taking it for granted that whatever views the Board of Education might have, their first duty was to their country.

Mr. Eastwood has joined the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment,

Mr. Watson, the Queen’s Own Dorset Yeomanry,

Mr. Higginson, the Shropshire Light Infantry

and Mr. Bye the U.P.S. Royal Fusiliers.

There are many Old Boys and Masters who have not yet gone to the front; these have been undergoing strenuous and trying training, and their time will come. While they are still in England we are delighted to see them. Nurse Wilkinson has also left us to work at the Base Hospital, where she has been in charge of some very trying cases, chiefly the dreaded tetanus. Her place in the boarding house has been taken by an old friend, Nurse Todhunter.

Two boys who were holidaying in Austria when war broke out have yet to return. We must all help out as best we can and we are welcoming into the school several American boys, whose parents ordinarily would have been travelling on the continent;  but owing to the war have come for a short time to reside in Oxford., and one boy who is a Belgian refugee. His father is a Professor at Louvain. We are also offering to take on, as a boarder entirely free of charge, the son of a British officer killed in the war.

We start the school year with 119 boys in the school in 8 classes, with another 20 in the Junior Department (aged 5-8 yrs).

 

*  *  *  *  *  *

We have further news from Lieut. Victor Cowley (Royal Irish Rifles). The retreat from Mons finally came to an end on the River Marne, with the British then supporting a French counter-attack on the Germans.

V Cowley“On 5th September we found ourselves south of the forest of Crecy, having enticed the Germans far enough. From then onwards began our advance on their heels, capturing prisoners and transport every day. Plenty of fighting, especially crossing the Marne, but we were advancing, so what did it matter to us? …

It was here we made a big haul of prisoners, all of whom were only too glad to be captured. On being questioned they said they had been marched off their legs and been given no food. They had certainly had enough drink as one was able to trace where they had been the night before by the hundreds of bottles they left empty. The first remark one of them made on being captured was ‘Thank God, at last I am amongst friends.’ On being questioned as to the reason of this thankfulness he told us that he was a waiter at the Criterion, having lived at Bethnal Green till he was called upon to serve his country. He had been bullied about by his officers, given no food, and altogether was ‘fed up’ with it, and was delighted when he got the opportunity of being made a prisoner…

The 13th September saw us at Braisne waiting for the Sappers to throw a pontoon bridge across the Aisne to enable us to cross and turn the enemy out of the heights commanding the approaches to the river. They had destroyed all the bridges and most completely and their guns shelled every attempt to build temporary ones. During the night they put the pontoons in the river and some planks across on the debris of the railway bridge, over which we started to cross in single file. Only a few had got over when they opened a terrific fire on us which literally churned up the water all around us, and we were lucky in not having many hit. After crossing the river we had to cover 400 yards of open (ground) which was ploughed up by shells, there being a regular canopy of them overhead; a fragment of one of them got me on the arm but did no more damage than cut it a little. 

Next morning I went down to the temporary dressing stations, but as these seemed the butt for every shell, I thought the trenches we had dug on the heights were safer. I returned there to find we had suffered terribly in capturing one of their trenches, two officers being killed and seven wounded. The Germans were entrenched 500 yards away and a battery of their artillery 1200 yards. They kept up an incessant bombardment all day and it was a perfect inferno. Their ‘John Willies’ used to sing overhead, followed by the most awful explosion which very seldom did much damage except churning up the ground. However they affected the men’s nerves a little, which was a good thing as they had got rather callous about other shells and it made them keep under cover more. 

We were allowed to light no fires at all and no matches at night, and as it rained in deluges most part of the first few days, making everything into a quagmire, it was not at all comfortable, especially as we were on short rations of bully beef and biscuits.

The postman managed to get up to us one day, which made us forget all the attendant discomforts of shells and rain. One’s letters were very precious possessions as they whiled away many a weary hour in the trenches.

The worst day was the 19th September, as they had the range to an inch and we cringed in our trenches while the shells shrieked and burst around us, in the parapet, knocking down trees in the wood just behind us, trying to frighten us into submission, but so well had we entrenched ourselves that very few got hit. Unfortunately the Colonel and Adjutant were both very badly hit, but that was about all. They kept it up from dawn till about 6.30, when hordes of infantry were launched at us. We were just the reverse side of a slope so could not fire at them till they got within about 50 yards of us. I worked one of my machine-guns and they went down like corn cut by a reaper. I got through 1200 rounds before a bullet picked me off through the neck, a most horrid sensation!

The three days getting to St Mazaire in a cattle truck which was disguised as a hospital train, words fail me to describe, or the horrors of the jolting over side lines. It was heavenly to be carried on board one of the Union Castle boats, the ‘Carisbrooke Castle,’ and so home to England. It was hard to believe that one had been one of the actors in the world’s greatest tragedy, and the whole experience seems like one gigantic nightmare.

Whatever the result may be, what success can recompense one for the loss of those good friends and comrades who fell never to rise again?”

 

This is what the soldiers refer to as a “blighty one”– a wound serious enough to necessitate evacuation back to England. We are all delighted to hear that Victor has made back to England safely and agree entirely with the sentiments expressed above.