December 12th 1918

Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI) is, we know, a francophile – he wrote last year of his pleasure at working with the French on the Western Front.

Following the account of his experiences in the Battle of the Piave in June, here is his latest, and perhaps last, missive from Italy.

With the French in Italy.

30/11/18. “By great good fortune, I spent the last three months of the war with the French on the Asiago Plateau, acting as a liaison officer between them and my own Division…

The policy on both Divisional fronts was a constant raiding activity. The French are, as everyone knows, quite uncannily clever at raids. They have always taken more prisoners and had fewer casualties than the English, on every front. I could never learn the secret of their success, and they professed not to know it themselves. Each Division used to do a big raid every ten days…

[The French Division]… had a great success early in August. It captured nearly 150 prisoners at the cost of one man killed and six wounded… The prisoners were a sorry lot, as usual. Among them was a Regimental Commander (a Colonel). The [French] General did a thing which no English General, under any conceivable circumstances would do. He picked the captured Colonel up, put him in his car, and took him straight back to Divisional HQ, where he gave him breakfast in his mess.

After breakfast, the French General launched out into a magnificent tirade against Austria and all its works, and while he whipped the unhappy Colonel with his words, the latter sat, with his head in his hands, the picture of decadence, defeat and despair.

I was afterwards left alone with him under my charge and we had an interesting talk. He was a typical Austrian, weak, agreeable, strongly anti-Boche. He shrugged his shoulders over the whole business, and when I asked him what would happen to the Dual Monarchy after the War, he answered, ‘My dear fellow, so long as you leave me Paris to live in, and English clothes to wear, I don’t care!’

Daily Telegraph, 31/10/1918

After a crescendo of raids on the plateau, the Piave offensive was launched, and went well from the start. In four or five days, the enemy showed signs of a withdrawal on our front, and, at the given moment, the French and my own Division sprang upon his rearguards, kicked them off the plateau, and began the great pursuit…

I am writing in a great hurry, and have no time to tell you half the things that I should like to tell about the French. They are wonderful soldiers. British troops are just as brave, but I believe it is just to say that where we show great talent for war, the French show genius… 

They admire and love us because, as they say, we are a people ‘qui sait si bien se faire casser les dents.’ How true this is of France and England our casualty lists show, and we shall not forget it.

I hope that this is the last war letter I shall ever send to the ‘Draconian’!”

November 17th 1918

Lieut. Jack Pogson-Smith (OBLI) arrived back from the Macedonian Front on November 4th and a few days later made the mistake of visiting the ‘Draconian’ editor. Mr Vassall has duly extracted from him this account of armistice night in Salonika at the end of September:

Daily Telegraph, 1/10/18

“Really there was nothing at all exciting about it, as it was more or less expected, because for some days Bulgar officers had been passing blindfolded in cars through our lines, presumably to discuss terms.

If anything, I think there was a curious feeling of flatness. Possibly, though, this was merely due to the fact that we felt we could not celebrate the occasion as it deserved, as we had long ago run out of the wherewithal to celebrate anything, and the nearest EFC was a good thirty or forty miles away.

However, in the evening we did our best to make merry. Every unit sent up all the ‘Very’ lights it could lay hands on, and for a bit the Strumnica plain was quite gaily illuminated. But of course we soon ran out of ‘Very’ lights, so we lit a big bonfire in a river bed. This, however, was not a complete success, as we were promptly told to put it out, as we were interrupting visual signal communication with Battalion HQ. 

Fancy not being allowed the luxury of cutting yourself off from your HQ for a few blessed hours on armistice night!! 

But such is the Army.”

September 6th 1918

Whilst everyone’s attention is fixed on the exciting developments on the Western Front, letters continue to come in from Old Dragons in more distant parts of the world. For the first time we have received a letter from the New World.

Capt. Sholto Marcon (OBLI), having been given “6 months’ rest,” has spent the last two months of them in America, attached to a Military Mission.

The Deming Club, Camp Cody, Deming, New Mexico. (British Mission).

21/8/18.

“I got glimpses of Halifax, New York and Washington on my way here – and of course saw a good deal of the east, south and south-west on my actual journey to this out-of-the-way spot, ‘Wild and Woolly Cody.’

This is certainly some spot, and I have made the acquaintance of such friends as sandstorms, ‘dust devils,’ yucca and cactus plants, tarantulas, horned toads, jack rabbits, ‘children of the earth‘ (insects which some of the natives say have human faces, and which they fear considerably), turkey buzzardsgophers, prairie dogs, (similar to squirrels – living in communities in the sand), and locusts. Rattlesnakes and centipedes, though quite numerous in this area, I have not yet seen…”

Sholto has taken the opportunity to explore the area extensively.

“Many Indian tribes have made their home in the State in the past and even now, of course, there are many Indian Reservations and Pueblo Indian dwellings. The Apache and Navajo were most common, and one can get many blankets, mats etc made by the latter.

We hear great tales of Geronimo, who must have been a wonderful leader in his way (according to ‘old-timers’ who, if one can get them to talk, prove most interesting historians)…”

September 2nd 1918

Lieut. Follett Holt (OBLI/Tank Corps)

The recent advances made on the Western Front were bound to be at a price and it is with sadness that I have to report Follett’s death on August 22nd near Bray-on-Somme in the battle to re-take Albert.

Follett served in France with the 6th Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (the same unit as Oswald Blencowe, who died on the Somme in 1916), but since June he has been attached to the 4th Tank Carrier Company.

His captain wrote most generously of the love both officers and men had for him and how he died a gallant Englishman:

“On the 22nd we went forward in the attack just north of Bray and it fell to Follett’s lot to carry up some much needed supplies to the infantry under a devastating barrage…

He never hesitated but pressed forward to his objective, and the last I saw of them they were moving forward to the enemy lines. Unfortunately, a direct hit from a shell knocked them out before they arrived at their destination…

His corporal rushed up to him and found him dead along with one of his men, three others being wounded in the same tank.” 

Despite the circumstances, it is very much hoped that Follett will receive a proper burial:

“We made several efforts during the day to reach the tank which was in the enemy lines, and at last I succeeded in getting to it yesterday morning when I saw Follett’s remains, but was unable to remove his body owing to very heavy shelling. However, the news tonight is that the Boche has been pressed further back, and I hope by daylight tomorrow to be able to get to the tank and bury him.”

As a young Dragon, Follett’s gentle, affectionate nature won him many friends amongst us, and his love of home was a guiding factor in his life.

 

The German successes earlier in the year have been dramatically reversed and since August 8th and the advances made in the Battle of Amiens it really seems possible that the tide may have turned.

Daily Telegraph, September 2nd 1918

 

August 22nd 1918

Lieut. Will Scott

Capt. Walter Moberly

2nd Lieut. Gifford Turrell

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, August 22nd, evokes mixed emotions, being the anniversary of the death of Will Scott on the one hand, and on the other hand, the occasion when Walter Moberly won his DSO.

They both took part in an attack made by the Ox & Bucks as a small part of the third battle at Ypres, along with Gifford Turrell, whilst another Old Dragon, Geoffrey Roserecorded events for posterity.

Whilst Walter’s conduct earned him the DSO, Will Scott was killed leading his company into the attack and Gifford Turrell suffered such severe wounds that he died of them nearly three months later. Thus, tragedy outweighed any pleasure one might have derived from Walter’s triumph.

 

We are very proud that the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry has included no fewer than 22 Old Dragons in their ranks:

Capt. LWH Bailie – mentioned in despatches; wounded

2nd Lieut. OC Blencowe – killed on the Somme (1916)

Major JJ Conybeare – MC

Lieut. LS Dowson – wounded

Lieut. JCB Gamlen

Lieut. JTS Hoey – Croix de Guerre; wounded

2nd Lieut. FH Holt – attached to Tank Corps

2nd Lieut. H Jefferson – killed near Ypres (1917)

Capt. S Marcon

Capt. WH Moberly – DSO, thrice wounded; twice mentioned in despatches

Lieut. JE Pogson Smith

Major DM Rose – wounded

Major GK Rose – MC & Bar; mentioned in despatches

Major RRS Rowell

Lieut. WD Scott – killed near Ypres (1917)

2nd Lieut. HA Smith – wounded

Lieut. HEF Smyth

Capt. RF Symonds – Croix de Guerre; twice wounded

2nd Lieut. HG Turrell – died of his wounds (November 1917)

Capt. WJL Wallace – disabled & invalided from the Service

Lieut. CL Wicks

June 25th 1918

The Italian Campaign has dominated our newspapers’ coverage of the War these past ten days, and today’s announcement that the Austrian attack on our Italian allies has ended in total defeat is most satisfactory.

The Austrian offensive started on June 15th with attacks on the Asiago Plateau and the Battle of Piave River. Amongst the English troops involved in the battles were the 1/4th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI), appointed as an Aide-de-Camp at the Headquarters of 48th Division (of which the Ox & Bucks are part) at the beginning of this month, witnessed this unfolding drama. We are most grateful to him for his account of events.

“An Austrian attack was fully expected on that date, but it was not known for certain that the British front would be attacked. However, every preparation was made to receive it.

An intense bombardment started at 3 am on the 15th, and rolled along miles of the front, from our own sector eastwards…

Under cover of a thick morning mist, the enemy had penetrated our front line at more than one point; had captured one Battalion HQ and had probably captured another…  

I never saw anything so interesting as the left Battalion Sector of our Divisional front, where the fighting had been hardest. I got there with my General soon after the situation had been completely restored, and it was possible to reconstruct the whole attack. The enemy had got to within less than a hundred yards of Battalion HQ. He came on twice, and was twice repulsed by this battalion alone without any help.

The foremost of the enemy were lying just where they had dug themselves in with their entrenching tools, with their bombs and ammunition beside them. And never, in my life, shall I have so profoundly impressive an experience as that of going among our dead, (it was my own Battalion), and recognising my own friends lying just as they had fallen upon the field.

One of the finest deaths that day was that of an Orderly Room Clerk, who died literally defending his office. He had never had to fight for over three years, and when the sudden emergency came, faced it as if he had been in action all his days…

A cook, engaged in frying bacon at the Battalion HQ which was captured, suddenly saw an Austrian in his kitchen doorway. In an instant, he ran him through with a rusty old bayonet used for poking the fire.”

 

 

December 30th 1917

Capt. GK Rose – Capt. WH Moberly – Capt. CSW Marcon

Three Old Dragons of the 2/4th Ox & Bucks have kindly sent their picture, just in time to be included in the December edition of our magazine.

Capt. Geoffrey Rose tells us that the 2/4th Ox & Bucks near Arras were involved in a raid to draw the attention of the Germans away from Cambrai, just before the attack was launched there on November 20th. Capt. Walter Moberly and his company were chosen to carry out this diversionary attack, which was made on November 19th.

The attack was preceded by a gas attack using a mixture of lethal and non-lethal gas, which were “intermingled both by the Germans and ourselves with high explosive shells; the effect of each assisted the effect of the other. If one began to sneeze from the effect of non-lethal gas, one could not wear a gas helmet to resist the lethal; the high explosive shells disguised both types…

It was planned to fire lethal gas against the enemy for several nights. On the night of the raid and during it, non-lethal only would be used. The two gases smelt alike and the presumption was that on the night of the raid the enemy would wear gas-helmets…

B Company, though they missed the gap through the enemy’s wire, entered the trenches without opposition and captured a machine-gun which was pointing directly at their approach but never fired…

As often, there was difficulty in finding the way back to our lines; in fact, Moberly… after some wandering in No-Man’s-Land, entered the trenches of a Scotch division upon our right. His appearance and comparative inability to speak their language made him a suspicious visitor to our kilted neighbours. Moberly rejoined his countrymen under escort.”

Much has been written of the great attack made at Cambrai on November 20th, involving over 400 tanks.

Drawing by Geoffrey Rose