June 18th 1920

O.D. Dinner – June 12th 1920.

The Old Dragons have had their say on our reunion, now it is my turn!

It was the greatest pleasure to meet 115 of my Old Boys and the staff at dinner in the School Hall on Saturday. I am rather proud of having only in one case made a mistake in identification. If I failed to have a yarn with each individual it was for lack of time and not for lack of will. It was strange and delightful to feel that I am the one link between them all – that in the whole wide world there is no-one else who has known them all personally from their boyhood.

Walter Moberly (left) was one of our most distinguished Old Boys in the War, being twice mentioned in dispatches and winning the D.S.O in an action that sadly cost the lives of two other Old Dragons, Will Scott and Gifford Turrell. He has now returned to Lincoln College, where he is a Fellow, lecturing in philosophy.  Frank Sidgwick (right) continues to prosper with his publishing company Sidgwick & Jackson, having had particular success with the works of the war poet, Rupert Brooke.

Geoffrey Freyberg (left), having survived the battle at Jutland and witnessed the surrender of the German High Seas fleet in November 1918 on HMS Valiant, is now the King’s Harbour Master at Plymouth.  Geoffrey Rose (right) is in the process of writing up the history of the 2/4th Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the War, to be published later this year. Having been called to the Bar in 1912, he is returning to a legal career.

Philip Frere (left) provided the ‘Draconian’ with an account of the retreat enforced by the Germans’ Spring Offensive of March 1918 and Nevil Norway (right) having as a 17-year-old witnessed the events in Dublin of Easter 1917, served the final months of the War as a private soldier in the Suffolk Regiment.  He is now up at Balliol College, reading Engineering Science.

Maurice Campbell (left)  ended the war with typhus and malaria and was invalided home. Last year he was awarded the OBE for his services with a field ambulance and has now returned to Guy’s Hospital as a medical registrar. Pat Campbell (right) having gone straight into the Army from Winchester in 1917, has now returned to Oxford to study for a degree at Brasenose College.

Roger Mott, it may be recalled wrote to us back in 1915 of his “Balkan Find” – a memorial tablet from the time of the Emperor Hadrian, and I understand that it is now the proud possession of the new Imperial War Museum, officially opened on June 9th by King George V at the Crystal Palace.

Geoffrey Carpenter spent the War with the Uganda Medical Service and wrote to us following the Battle of Tanga, known as the Battle of the Bees. He has now returned to Oxford and is working as a Specialist Officer for the control of sleeping sickness in Uganda. He is bringing out a book later this year, ‘A Naturalist on Lake Victoria, with an account of Sleeping Sickness and the Tse-Tse Fly’, about his time there (1911-14), the introduction written by his friend an mentor Prof. EB Poulton (father of Ronnie Poulton).

Sydney Carline, whose experience of being shot down over the Somme in 1916 was reported to us by his brother George,  enjoyed the final months of the conflict as a war artist. Having returned from his tour of the Middle East for the Imperial War Museum with his brother Richard last year, they have both enjoyed a successful exhibition of their work in the Goupil Gallery in March.

Jack Gamlen was one of the most prolific of our ‘war correspondents.’ A regular guest critic of our school plays before the War, he was particularly missed here when we were putting on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in 1915 and he sent the boys a most witty verse.  We were delighted to have him back to review last term’s production of ‘Henry V’, even if his judgments were not always generous!

Noel Sergent, who sent us many descriptions of his time on the Gallipoli peninsula, together with a graphic account as to how he managed to escape drowning when his ship was torpedoed, we are delighted now to have on our staff, teaching French (of course) and mathematics. He is also a great asset on the river where he has been coaching diving.

Jack Smyth – whose array of medals impressed us all – was a regular correspondent in the War years. Who will ever forget the day to returned to the School with his VC? He has a busy time ahead – he is due to receive the MC on July 20th and be married on July 22nd,  but has kindly agreed to attend our Prizegiving on the 21st to give away the prizes!

There were many who were under Mr Clarke, my predecessor, and who had suffered from my mistakes and inexperience as a young teacher; and perhaps that meeting with an early generation of Dragons was of the greatest interest to me. They have had time to distinguish themselves, and many have done so…

And then, alas! there are so many whom we shall not see again at these gatherings, those who have so nobly given their lives for us.

(Of those mentioned above, a number had lost an Old Dragon brother in the War: Frank Sidgwick (Hugh), Geoffrey Freyberg (Lance), Maurice & Pat Campbell (Percy), for whom the day must have brought on very mixed emotions).

 

September 25th 1919

C H R I S T M A S   T E R M   1 9 1 9

Yesterday saw the start of a new school year.

We are delighted to welcome a number of new staff:

JB Brown BA (Hertford College Oxford), ex-Capt. Royal Scots; J Brucker, ex-Capt. Ox & Bucks Light Infantry; Miss Trevelyan LRAM (Music & Singing); Miss Anderson (Music).

We are also pleased to see the return of two Old Dragons: N Sergent, ex-Lieut. French Army and Rev HW Spurling, ex-CF Hants Regiment.

There are 26 news boys and another 7 in the Junior Department. Our numbers total 182 with 20 in the Junior Department.

To help accommodate this increase we have built on two additions to the School House. The Dining Hall has been increased and at School there are two large new classrooms, formed from an Army Hut (which was purchased over the summer), carefully prepared for the purpose, and two Masters’ rooms at the House, heated by hot water pipes, and lighted by electric light, have also been provided by the same means.

 

Huts such as these have been advertised in the newspapers:

A bargain for £10!

April 5th 1919

My brother Hum, in his role as Housemaster of School House, has prepared some remarks reflecting on the past term, for the next issue of the ‘Draconian’:

“The epidemics were not as formidable this term. The ‘flu’ was of a much milder type than the onslaught which we dodged last term, and it considerately spread its visitation over several weeks. We were lucky in getting excellent additional nurses, and in escaping complications in all cases.

It is almost ridiculous to treat German Measles seriously. In most cases there was no rise in temperature and the rash sometimes only popped out for a few hours. Our difficulty lay in dealing with boys normally ill, and infectious, but actually very full of life and mischief.

* * * * * *

On the last Sunday of term we anticipated what we hope may be a frequent delight next term, by a very enjoyable bike-ride and picnic to Begbroke, where the woods were explored and a rare plant was discovered by Mr. Haynes.

* * * * * * 

School services have been held each Sunday, sometimes at School and sometimes, during the ‘flu’, at the House. We hope and believe that our short services, with prayers, hymns and readings carefully selected, and rendered strikingly well by the boys themselves, followed by an address from a varied selection of preachers, each knowing the needs of boys, may engender an attitude towards worship different from that which has too frequently held among school boys. We hold that the religious life of a school – even a Preparatory School – should be the care of the boys and staff, lay as well as clerical.

It should claim interest least as much as cricket or football, and it should not be regarded as priggish to show such interest… We shall at all times be glad to welcome any Old Boy or friend who is willing to come and talk for 10-15 minutes to the boys at one of these services.

* * * * * * 

Mr W Bye BSc, at present Capt. Bye MC DSO, returns to us next term from military service. He will have a ‘small’ house (12 Bardwell Road) where he will be in charge of about a dozen boarders. There has been considerable demand for a ‘small’ house for boys just beginning their school career, and new boys will usually start with a term or two in this house.”

 

To this I may add that Noel Sergent, who entered the French Army as a poilu and won his commission in the Heavy Artillery, is joining the staff next term. He went right through the Gallipoli campaign, was torpedoed in the Mediterranean (a very narrow escape, only due to his wonderful powers of swimming) and fought through the last part of the war in Flanders.

His perfect French and good mathematics, besides his strong personality, should make him a valuable addition, and I hope a permanent one, to our staff.

We are most grateful to Old Dragons  Maurice Jacks, Pat Duff, Jack Richards and Oliver Sturt, who have been most useful in giving us temporary help over this past term and we are greatly indebted to them.

 

March 24th 1918

Sous-Lieut. Noel Sergent (French Artillery) has been enjoying an interesting job as an ‘officier d’antenne’, receiving messages from aeroplanes and then transmitting them on to his Battery for action. He has written to tell of us of his first experience of flying:

13.3.18.  6th Groupe, Secteur 21. “While they were preparing, a young observer came up and offered me his warm things, which are a kind of combinagger which you put over your boots and bags and coat and everything, and button up down the front. It is fur-lined and is guaranteed to keep you warm at any temperature. Then he gave me his gloves and a fur-lined foot-bag, which I declined as it wasn’t cold, and a woolly cap, then an aviator’s helmet over the top and goggles. I felt like a diver with all that on, and climbing in was a bit of a job.

The young hero [the pilot] got in first in front between between two hefty great motors, and I climbed in behind and sat on a kind of piano stool which slides backwards and forwards…

Then he set the motor working and we manoeuvred into position with a mechanic hanging on to each wing, taking gigantic hops like a couple of fleas. Once in position, we stopped dead and the pilot told me to strap myself in and put on my goggles… He then set the two motors going full split and we got going fast (about 90 or 100 miles an hour) and before I knew where I was, I looked down and there was a map underneath.

I had told the fellow I wanted to fly over the 6th Groupe so he did and came right down over the groupe and they all came out and waved their hands at me, and I dropped a message of good will saying that I was tired of war on earth and was migrating to the moon!

Then we made for the lines and went up to about 600 metres and I observed our batteries until we got over the Yser, which is no man’s land – or rather water… We flew up and down the Yser for a bit and then my friend suddenly swooped down to 300 metres. The Germans didn’t like this, but we got away before their machine-guns got going properly… 

My word, you should have seen the houses of La Panne flying past. After that, as soon as we crossed the French frontier we went up again, then down to the Kennel. It was all great fun and the pilot was a very clever fellow…

But the end of the story is that his Squadron Commander was at La Panne and saw us playing monkey tricks, so my friend got 18 days ‘arrêt de riguer.'”

From what Noel says, it appears that he is stationed near the French/Belgian border  – La Penne being on the coast not far from Dunkirk. The letter was written before the Germans launched their offensive on March 21st, and things may be less relaxed now, even if the main area of fighting is further south.

The newspapers suggest that the German attacks are being resisted successfully. Sir Douglas Haig’s communiqué of Friday 22nd is reassuring of that:

May 18th 1917

Young Dickie Wallace (aged 8 and in Form 1a) has shown me a letter he has just received from his uncle, Sous-Lieut. Noel Sergent (French Artillery), describing how he survived a torpedo attack on his way back to France.

13/5/17 “I left Salonika on Easter Sunday at 5 in the evening on a rotten old barge of 8000 tons, which could only go about 12 miles an hour. We called at Athens and Milos and on April 16th, while we were all having a snooze after lunch, we were torpedoed; we all went up on deck to see what was happening and we were told to put the boats and rafts out as soon as possible, as the ship would go down rapidly. So I went to my raft, which was forward, and found there was no time to spare, so we got her into the water.

In the meanwhile, the ship was sinking rapidly by the bows and when the bows went under, our raft was chucked up on to the deck and we all let go for fear of being crushed against some part, as the raft was bowled over and over by the waves.

I was washed down into the hold of the sinking ship by a big wave and drank and drank and drank, and all became dark round me. I thought it was the end and I remember saying to myself, ‘I’ve wondered how my end would come and this is it.’

In the meantime I did what I could to get to the surface and, as I got a glimmer of light, I made an effort and reached the surface and clutched at some boards that were floating about, and managed to keep up with one of these under each arm till I got my breath…

…The raft, which had presumably been wandering about on the deck, came near me and I gave two or three good strokes between waves and hung on to one of the ropes. But the backside of the old ship seemed to be right over the top of us and we couldn’t get the raft off the deck, as the waves kept shoving us back again…

As luck would have it, the ship sank down gradually, the funnel just missed us and the wash of the ship swept everything off the deck and the ship glided down just in front of us. There was no suction to speak of, so I was helped on to the raft where I was sick twice, and 3½ hours later we were picked up by a French torpedo boat…

There were 45 men drowned, chiefly owing to rough seas, too much clothing and tummy aches – as you know you mustn’t bathe (if you can help it) directly after a meal.

I was seriously handicapped by having on at the time a pair of heavy English football boots, which I had specially had out from England, and also a large artilleryman’s ‘Capote’ (a heavy coat with large cape attached to it).

Thank God I had learnt to swim under water, or you would never have had this letter…

Your loving uncle,

Noles.”

May 24th 1916

Sous-Lieut. Noel Sergent (French Artillery) has met up with a number of his old OPS friends in recent months in Salonika:

“I’ve seen Molyneux, Wicks and Hoey once at a tea party to which I was invited. Molyneux was just the same as when he commanded an army of small boys and stormed the mound which was stoutly defended by ‘Captain’ Rupert Lee and his followers…”

Noel’s recent letter describes how he witnessed the shooting down of a German Zeppelin:

11/5/16. “We saw a Zep get knocked out in grand style. It was a trap. They pretended not to have noticed him till he was well over Salonika. (The aerial raid alarm had sounded three-quarters of an hour before and the aviators had already taken up their posts in the air.

Then at a given signal the searchlights were flashed on and spotted him immediately and the guns started blazing away. One beastly gun fired short every time and showered shrapnel and iron on our poor little camp and gave us a bad time for ten minutes. The old Zep was a long way up, but with my glasses I could get a ripping view; it looked splendid and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

Then one of our aeroplanes flashed a light on six times and the search-lights were turned off and the guns stopped firing and left the rest to our ‘Avion-canon’ (Voisin biplanes with a small naval gun on board).

Some time later we could see a huge bonfire a long way off in the distance and a huge flame shot up. Later again there were three or four explosions and a telephone message came through to say it was the Zep gone to glory, and a huge cheer went up.”

As no British plane has yet managed to shoot a Zeppelin out of the skies over England, it is difficult to believe it was the French planes that were totally responsible for this singular success.

February 5th 1916

We heard last month from Sub-Lieut. Dick Sergent (RNVR) on his escape from Gallipoli. We are now equally delighted to receive this letter from his brother Sous-Lieut. Noel Sergent (French Artillery) on the island of Mudros. He was amongst the final troops to leave, on January 8th.

Noel Sergent

Sous-Lieut. Noel Sergent

23/1/16. “Our battery was the last French battery to go off. They fired up to 5 in the evening, then at 7 the Captain, Lieutenant, another, myself and seven men remained at the guns. We rammed earth sacks down the mouths of the guns, then put 26 dynamite cartridges in each and a Cordon Bickford and more sacks. Then we got our packs and banged about with a sledge-hammer, put the breeches of the guns on the trucks and started off.

At the crossroads we met the 52nd division coming down quite noiselessly, in fours. This was the last division and that meant that if the Turks chose to attack they could simply come straight through, as our trenches were empty.

When we got to Sedd-ul-Behr we left our packs behind the Chateau d’Europe and went on to the water’s edge. Just then, as I was emptying the breech into the water, the horn announcing a flash from Asia sounded. That meant 40 seconds before the shell came along. We all got behind anything and the shot went just over our heads on to the quay by the ‘River Clyde’ and the bottom of the old shell went off into the sea. .

We have been badly bombed and shelled lately and the batteries up against us were getting really too numerous, so in one way it was time we went, but at the same time it is sickening to think that we have been under fire for six months and that the total result of our fighting is that we have got to go and leave our material and everything, especially some 100,000 dead, in the hands of the Turks.

It is a good thing anyway that England has at last realised her mistake and has been brave enough to own up to it.”

October 4th 1915

We can now reveal that Noel Sergent is part of the 51e Batterie, 10e Artillerie, E.N.E. Secteur 194, Armee d’Orient and not far from where Pat Duff is stationed. Recently Noel was inspected by Sir Ian Hamilton, the Commander in Chief of our forces in Gallipoli:

Noel Sergent

Sous-Lieut JNB Sergent

“Sir Ian Hamilton came round the guns and spoke to me and said he had played golf at Valescure (Saint-Raphael, in France) and that the links were very bad, and then, just as he was going off, he turned round and asked me how long I thought the war was going to last. I wasn’t going to make an idiot of myself by making a wild guess, so I said we have had so many surprises that I couldn’t possibly tell. So he told me that in his opinion the war would last about another year, and that the Germans weren’t counting on having to go through another winter campaign, and that next spring something decisive would happen, and that decisive something would come from this side.

Pat Duff came and saw me the other day; he is very thin owing to a touch of dysentery, so I gave him the pomegranate skin which had just reached me. He brought me over papers – Sphere, Tatler etc and I was delighted to see him.

27/9/15. Yesterday I had the pleasantest morning I have had yet. I returned Pat Duff’s visit and, after about half-hour’s tramp, I came to a farm where I found some of my R.E. friends, who had been here but had moved up. I gave them some lemons I had brought in my pocket and then went Duff-wards.

I went up this ravine (from Gully Beach) for about ten minutes and came to a notice-board: 460 Battery Winter Quarters. I asked for Duff and was shown to the top of Gurkha Bluff. There I found him in his dug-out. He is so situated as to be able to see Imbros and Samothrace and the sea through the ravine; lucky devil! … The gun is a quite nice 4.2. I photoed it with Duff and friend standing by.”                         

 

September 12th 1915

There are a number of our Old Boys serving in the French Army, including Sous Lieut. Noel Sergent (French Artillery), who was also involved in the fighting in Gallipoli last month.

August. “Do you want to know my exact address? Well, I am in the ****** battery of the ****** regiment d’artillerie in the ****** French Army somewhere in Turkey. So like that you are ‘fixed,’ as the Americans say. So am I. In a devilish tight fix between the Devil (surnamed Achi Baba) and the deep sea, alias the Hellespont – most appropriately named.

We have two 9½ inch coast guns, and we had a job hauling them up in three parts each, the piece itself causing the greatest difficulty owing to its weight (16 tons). We put 100 men on either side and hauled away; then, when we got them up, 25 of us had to put them in place. We were at work for four nights from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., with just a cup of caffeine at eleven.

Our guns were ready for firing yesterday, so we started today. We topped our drive, put our second shot over the green, on the green in 3…

On August 6th we assisted at an attack. It was a tremendous business and the best way I can describe it is by comparing it to a terrific thunderstorm when the thunder and lightning came before the rain, and directly the rain comes the thunder and lightning stop. The thunder and lightning are the flash and bang of multitudinous guns, and the patter of the rain is the rifle and machine gun fire. What a fearful noise they make once they are started! I believe we took two trenches – hardly seemed worth the ammunition.”

N Sergent + gun

Noel Sergent with his gun crew.

Noel is the youngest of the three Sergent brothers, all of whom attended the OPS. They have an English mother and a French father who did not like the Napoleonic nature of the French education system.

In 1911, the Sergent brothers, then all living in France, made considerable names for themselves as Association Football players. Victor (full-back and captain), Dick (inside-left) and Noel (right-half) were joined by their Old Dragon friend and brother-in-law ‘Pug’ Wallace (centre-half) playing for Stad Raphaelois, and they won the French Championship.

Whilst his older brothers have joined the British Army, Noel elected to join the French Army.