November 6th 1917

2nd Lieut. Gifford Turrell (OBLI)

This is the most distressing news that I have had to pass on during the course of this dreadful conflict. Indeed, the details are almost too painful for words, and I wondered if I should spare you them. However, I have come to the conclusion that I should not shy away from sharing what are the grim realities of war for our gallant Old Boys.

Yesterday Gifford Turrell was laid to rest in Oxford’s Holywell Cemetery, aged a mere 19 years.

He was severely wounded in the head in the attack made by the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry on August 22nd near St. Julien, the same engagement in which Lieut. Will Scott was killed and Walter Moberly won the DSO.

Gifford was brought back to St Thomas’ Hospital in London, where an operation was performed to remove fragments from the wound, leading to hope that he might make a recovery.

During his time in hospital however, Gifford was barely conscious and on Nov 1st he was assessed by a Medical Board. It noted that the brain had swollen to such an extent that it protruded through his skull and had become infected.

The report concluded: “He appears to be totally blind, and consciousness is very feeble. Pupils dilated & inactive, no motor paralysis. Sensation cannot be determined. In the last two days, there has been fever & meningitis has set in with a fit. Recovery is improbable & he is failing rapidly.”

Gifford died the following day – 72 days after he had been wounded. One can only hope that he was in such a state as to have been spared any pain. His passing must be seen as a merciful release for him and his family.

His body was brought back to Oxford so that his funeral could be at his old college (Queen’s).

May he finally rest in peace.

 

October 22nd 1917

Friday’s newspaper published the latest lists from London Gazette and in it is the excellent news that 2nd Lieut. Walter Moberly (Ox & Bucks Light Infantry) has been awarded the DSO:

“In an advance against enemy positions three companies reached their objectives and consolidated. The commanders of all three companies were killed, and he thereupon assumed command of the front line. The position was extremely difficult, as the troops on both flanks had failed to reach their objectives, and the enemy were consequently holding positions at and slightly behind his flanks.

Communication with battalion headquarters failed, as runners were unable to get through the machine-gun and snipers’ fire from the front and flanks. In these circumstances this officer determined to hold on to the advanced line at all costs.

He took steps to defend his flanks, and organized an effective resistance to counter attacks. By his prompt and decisive action and complete disregard of danger he inspired his men with confidence; and if it had not been for this plucky decision and courageous determination on his part, the whole of the objectives gained would have had to be abandoned.”

It was in this attack – on August 22nd – that Will Scott, who had been with D Company, was killed and Gifford Turrell severely wounded. (Gifford is, we hear,  still at St Thomas’ Hospital in London).

The attack was witnessed by Capt. Geoffrey Rose, who has kindly provided this map:

The companies Walter took command of are shown as A, B and D Companies. They were fired on from both Schuler Farm and the gunpit to their rear.

C Company, in which Gifford Turrell was fighting, is shown as having been held up by enemy forces at Pond Farm.

The sadness of this is that, although the citation makes it clear that without Walter’s determination “the whole of the objectives gained would have had to be abandoned,”  Geoffrey Rose tells us that “what had been gained by it (the Ox & Bucks) with heavy loss was in fact given up by its successors almost at once.”

 

September 10th 1917

2nd Lieut. William Scott

 

It is only a week since we heard of the death of Will Scott and the words of his Commanding Officer and Company Commander made it evident that he was held in very high esteem. Now his parents have received a letter from  Company Sergeant-Major E Brooks, who was at his side at the end:

Sergeant-Major Brooks

“4.45 a.m. August 22nd came along; I saw Mr Scott spring up on his feet and then his men. Off we went together, Lieut. Scott in front. I soon had the news that he had been wounded in the wrist but was still carrying on.

At about 5.30 a.m. we reached our objective; along came Lieut. Scott as lively as ever with a wound in the wrist and another in his leg. We had a little talk over the situation when Lieut. Scott decided we should send a message back to Headquarters; out came the map and before I had time to get my pencil from my pocket he had the map reference ready.

Everything was going well in our favour when an enemy machine gun rang out. We looked rather startled at each other for a few seconds and then I quickly discovered that my Commander had been hit. I placed him under cover as quickly as possible, but sorry to say he passed away in about half a minute from the time he was struck by the bullet.

Of course I knew then that I could not do any more for him, so I carried on with the work until dusk at 8 p.m.

As it was impossible to get him back I decided to bury him with the assistance of my batman. We made him a nice little grave and put him comfortably to rest. I hadn’t anything to make a little cross for him so I had to be contented with a field post card with his name and rank on it, which I placed firmly on his grave.

This was the end of my brave Commander; I can tell you I have never seen or heard of a braver man.”

This is quite something coming from Sergeant-Major Brooks, himself a winner of the Victoria Cross.

September 3rd 1917

Lieut. William Scott (Ox & Bucks Light Infantry)

This has been a distressing few weeks – these pages in quick succession have had to record the deaths of five Old Dragons, with Willie Wells-Cole also missing in action – all in the Flanders offensive around Ypres.

Will is now the sixth and, as with many of these brave young men, he was leading his men forward when he was killed in an attack on August 22nd.

His colonel has written consoling words to the family: “Your brave boy died leading his men to victory, and it was by his example that the victory was gained, as he was hit twice, once severely, but still refused to quit, and it was at the head of his company that he was hit for the third time, but still thinking of duty before himself he continued to give orders up to the last.”

His Company Commander Capt. Geoffrey Rose, also an Old Dragon, wrote most warmly to Will’s parents:

“No mere words of mine could suffice to describe the pride and grief which is felt in the Battalion and most especially in this Company at his death. Your son is famous for acts of the greatest bravery and devotion to duty that are unequalled in the records of this Battalion…”

Will was twice wounded last year as well as suffering from trench fever.

From Rugby School, Will went to McGill University in Montreal in 1910. Thereafter Will embarked on a promising career, engaged by the Canadian Government to determine latitudes and longitudes in the Rocky Mountains.

When the war came, failing to gain admission to a Canadian contingent due to his short sightedness, he returned to England to join the OBLI. As the Times obituary noted, in this he was following family tradition, “his grandfather and his great-grandfather had both served in that regiment, the former at Waterloo.”

 

 

 

 

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 9th 1917

No-one went off to war with a heavier heart than our own Pug – Lieut. Lindsay Wallace (OBLI) – being a Dragon, man and boy.

Since he left our Staff he has managed a number of visits, much to the delight of the boys. Last term he talked to them on the subject “With the troops in training” and they were intrigued by his description of the workings of the Mills bomb.

Pug has now returned to active service and even if , dare I say it, the OPS is not always the tidiest of places, the contrast between home and the Front is a stark one.

28/4/17 “We started off yesterday from the base and were told we would take about two days to reach our division.

Three of us had a first-class compartment to ourselves. We managed to get some tea and cake before leaving the station and then started on our journey very slowly indeed at about 4 p.m.

I have never seen such a sight as the sides of the line, in some places they are layers deep in tins of all descriptions thrown out of the carriages. This doesn’t apply to one particular spot but all along the line: without exaggeration there must have been millions of tins.

Also all along the line were kids who kept shouting ‘bisceet,’ and they generally got one. In many places there were German prisoners, who got cigarettes thrown to them…

After quite a good meal, which was helped on very much by heating up a meat tin over my cooker, we all settled down to sleep and I was very glad to have quite a good night.

Then all of a sudden we were woken up, about 5.30, and all told to get out. We got up and packed our various belongings and turned out, and there we were, right in it: almost every house is blown to bits, some have the walls standing and a few have the roof left in places.

It was a bit of a shock getting out of the train into a sort of shattered world.”

 

I have picked out this picture to remind us all of happier times.

It was taken by our VC hero, Jack Smyth outside The Lodge a few years before the war, and shows three stalwarts of my Staff: my brother Hum (AE Lynam), Pug (WJL Wallace) and Cheese (GC Vassall).

It seems a long time ago and from a different world now.

 

March 29th 1917

It is now over a year since Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI) last visited us. His witty poem, sent to the boys before their performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ earlier this term was much appreciated, and now he writes to sing the praises of our French allies. He is quite a Francophile!

Here he describes his experience of taking over a section of the trenches from the French:

“I think that none of our party shared my excitement and joy at meeting the French army in the field. In the British area it is difficult to feel that one is in France; even Amiens and Abbeville breathe a mixed (a very mixed) atmosphere. But here, below ground (in a dug-out), we were in France at last. We got to business at once and I began my duties as Brigade Interpreter. The French Brigadier impressed us all very much…

As it was now mid-day, the Colonel suggested that we should have lunch before we came to business. We agreed, and ate one of the best lunches I ever came across. There were five courses, there was red wine, there was champagne, yet everything was simple and the meal was short. At first everyone was shy and I had to do the talking for the English side. But as time went on, both sides thawed, and by the time we had coffee everyone was talking some sort of French.

After lunch we got to business at once. The Colonel was wonderful. He had every detail that we wanted at his finger tips and scarcely ever referred to his Adjutant. After an hour in looking at maps and discussing dispositions, he took us some way forward to an O.P, from which we had a wonderful view of the German front…

The next day I returned with the Brigade Major and again called upon the French Brigadier in order to arrange the final details of the forthcoming relief…

He spoke the most exquisite French and had the most exquisitely simple manners. I am sure that he is descended from one of those French Officers of the old days, who used to call out to their men ‘Messieurs les gendarmes de la maison du Roi, veuillez assurer vos chapeaux. Nous allons avoir l’honneur de charger…’

The French fighting man is a glorious creature and the sight of him should convince any armchair pessimist that nothing can ever kill France, however full her cemeteries may be (and they are terribly full round here)…

Let there be no misunderstanding about what France is. She is, and has been for a thousand years, the most civilized country in the world and her salvation is the first and greatest object of the war, for the presence of a single German soldier on French soil is an obscene thing.

My dear Dragons, educate yourselves to love France. Learn to read and speak French well, NOW, and, after the war, get your parents, whether they can afford it or not, to take you often to France…

There is nothing un-British or decadent in this love of France; and there is something very stupid and ugly in the want of it.  Every civilized being ought to write on his heart the fine old motto, ‘Chacun a deux pays: le sien et La France.’

Clearly we must have more French lessons!