February 12th 1916

Yesterday, our dear young Naomi Haldane was married to Dick Mitchison, a 2nd Lieutenant with the Queen’s Bays. The marriage took place at the Oxford Registry Office on the High Street. Only a few friends (including Aldous Huxley, the editor of the literary magazine, ‘Oxford Poetry’) attended and the austerity of these times restrained them from holding a party.

We, however, celebrated by taking a half-holiday!

Naomi has been training as a nurse at St. Thomas’s in London, but recently has been  helping with the outpatients at the Radcliffe Infirmary.

It is only ten years since Naomi was performing on the OPS stage here in Romeo & Juliet. How quickly our children grow up!

November 29th 1915

Capt. Jack Denniston (King’s Own Scottish Borderers) reports that a letter from fellow Old Dragon, Naomi Haldane (Lord Haldane’s niece), was of no help in getting him out of a spot of bother!

J Denniston

Capt. J Denniston

“You will be shocked to hear that I was arrested as a spy last night. It was great fun. I had to take a working party of 150 men up to the trenches to work. They were divided into three sections. I went with one section myself and left the other two to the sergeants. After settling up my own section and visiting one of the other two, I went to look for the third.

They were working in a rather obscure and unimportant little trench and I wondered about for some time, unable to find them. After wandering about a bit, I wondered into a keep. The sentry challenged me. I answered him and he said he didn’t know my name and seemed embarrassed. So to console him, I suggested that he should arrest me and take me to the officer commanding the keep. He said there was no officer but a corporal in charge. The corporal emerged from the dug-out and I abused him for being (apparently) asleep.

The sentry began timidly, ‘Corporal, this gentleman…’

‘Here, none of that!’ I interrupted. ‘You’ve got to tell him that you consider me a suspicious character and have therefore arrested me.’

He obeyed, rather coyly, and I then explained my position to the corporal, who seemed quite satisfied and let me go, without, however, being able to direct me to my destination.

Wondering on, I met a Scottish officer with another working party. I asked him to direct me, but he couldn’t. Then I said, ‘What’s the number of this trench?’

He then said he must detain me until I could prove my identity. I assented cordially…

‘Let’s see,’ I said. ‘I wonder if I have any letters on me, or anything which would convince you.’ I felt in my pockets, but could find nothing but the inside of a letter from Naomi Haldane.

‘I have a letter,’ said I, ‘from a friend of mine, but as she is the niece of the notorious Germanophile, Lord Haldane, I suppose it only makes things worse. He took this quite seriously and agreed that the letter was not satisfactory… He said he was sorry to detain me, but two German officers had been caught recently, wearing British uniform and that he had to be careful.”

Eventually Jack was recognised by one of the men in the machine-gun section of his company and all was well.

November 25th 1915

The first successful flight over the English Channel by Louis Bleriot took place in 1909, whilst Jack Slessor was busy playing in his gang and building forts at the OPS. He probably was aware of the event but not particularly excited by it or the founding of the Royal Flying Corps three years later. His father was in the Army and that was where his ambition lay. But surely, we all felt,  there could be no real hope of such a career for him. He was lame in both legs due to childhood polio. As a result, he was not allowed to play rugger. (As Jack Haldane’s sister Naomi was also not allowed to play, they would go rowing together on the Cherwell.)

Despite his infirmities and having been declared ‘totally unfit for any form of military service,’ Jack has been accepted by the Royal Flying Corps. A helpful uncle in the War Office is rumoured…

Jack has now won the race to become the first Old Dragon to fly across the Channel. He flew in a new biplane over the School field one day during games on his way from Coventry to Farnborough, flew across the Channel to St. Omer the next day and was back again with us watching games before we realised he had time to get started!

Here is a part of his account:

Jack Slessor...

2nd Lt. Jack Slessor

“We left Farnborough at 10.15 and got to Folkestone at 11.25. We went and had lunch… We pushed off from Folkestone a little after 3.00 and got to St. Omer a little after 4.00, taking about two and a half hours altogether…

I crossed the Channel at 9,000 feet, but there were great white clouds drifting at about 6,000 feet and a heat haze, so I did not see France till about mid-Channel… Cape Gris-nez was the first thing I saw and I followed the coast down to Calais and then up the railway inland to St. Omer. I could see the famous Belgian sand dunes and Hazebruck, and Ypres a blur in the distance.”

The noise of the aircraft was such that, on landing, Jack was almost stone deaf and unable to hear the noise of the guns.

* * * * * * * *

My brother (Hum Lynam) has been responsible for a concert held on November 15th in Keble College Dining Room in aid of the Professional Classes’ War Relief Fund & the Fund for Oxfordshire Prisoners of War in Germany.

The varied programme featured a number of people connected with the OPS. Miss Rosina Filippi is the mother of two of Old Dragons (John & Lawrence Dowson) and Miss Carmen Hill is married to George Drinkwater. Miss Hill sang in one of the Promenade Concerts of 1910 under Henry Wood with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra.

 

 

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.

* * * * * *

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!

* * * * * *

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.