May 24th 1917

Every day I open the morning newspaper to read on the ‘Roll of Honour’ of large numbers of officers killed and wounded, always in fear that I shall see the name of one of our Old Boys.

I am also confronted by an increasing number of those who are pronounced as ‘Missing’. This gives hope, but the families of these men are condemned to months of uncertainty as to whether their loved ones are dead, wounded or captured. In the case of the family of Capt. Edmund Gay (Norfolk Regiment) it has been nearly two years; he has been missing since August 1915.

Now two more of our Old Dragons have joined this list.

On May 20th, Mr Herbertson received a telegram stating that his grandson, Lieut. Hunter Herbertson (King’s Royal Rifle Corps) was reported as missing, but he understands that this does not necessarily mean that he is either wounded or killed.

On the night of May 16th he went out on a patrol with two others near Cherisy (at the southern end of the Arras battlefield). None of them returned. Enquiries will be made in the hope that he was captured and is a prisoner of war.

Hunter had done two years at Balliol (reading History) when war was declared. He joined up, but whilst training he suffered a double tragedy. His father (Oxford’s first Professor of Geography) died in July 1915, followed two weeks later by his mother. Both are buried in the Holywell Cemetery.

 

Mr & Mrs Dowson have also been informed that their son, Captain John Dowson (Royal Berkshire Regiment) has been notified as “missing.”

Like Morice Thompson, he was involved in the attacks that took place on May 3rd in the Arras district, but as yet we have no further information as to the circumstances of his disappearance.

John has been a regular visitor to the school in recent times. When home on leave he was always about, ready to take a form or a game.

It is at times like this that you are glad to have a photograph that captures happier times and places to have in front of you. This is John, as the boys will remember him, and hopefully he will return to us in the fullness of time.

 

Better news was to be found on a list headed ‘Previously reported missing, now reported prisoners of war in German hands.’ Included on it was the name of 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren, whose fate has been unknown these past seven weeks.

His squadron was returning to their base on April 2nd when they were set upon by German squadron. It seems that Peter’s plane was singled one and forced to ditch behind enemy lines.

 

 

May 5th 1917

The battle at Arras continues unabated. Indeed, a couple of nights ago (around 1 a.m) many in Oxford were awoken by the sounds of the artillery bombardment – or so it was believed to be. I did not hear it myself.

* * * * * * *

We now have more encouraging news of William Leefe Robinson. His sister has been told that a captured German airman has revealed that William is alive and is now a prisoner of war.

We still do not know the fate of Peter Warren, who has been missing since April 2nd.

The casualties suffered by our airman last month must be a matter of great concern to our leaders. The Daily Telegraph of April 27th reported a significant increase in our losses (killed, wounded and missing):  January – 56, February – 119, March – 152, April –  319.

Of the twenty or so Old Dragons serving with the RFC, William and Peter are the first to have been declared “missing” and the news of William renews our hope that Peter is also a prisoner.

* * * * * * *

It is good to have the boys back and on the very first day of term our cricket team enjoyed a match against a team of young Old Dragons who are still on holiday. We scored a creditable 63 to the ODs’ 93.

The new boys are settling in well, although there have been some tears. Indeed, I found young Betjemann crying outside the Lodge. We walked up and down the road whilst I tried to comfort him.  He does know Ralph Adams from their holidays in Cornwall, so we have put them both in Form II. Let’s hope Ralph can help buck him up.

My brother Hum got to know the Betjemanns on holiday in Trebetherick a few years ago, and hearing that John was not having a good time of it at Highgate School (where his German-sounding name led to some unpleasantness), suggested he came to board here at the OPS.

 

April 13th 1917

The Times and the Daily Telegraph have announced that our VC winner, Capt. William Leefe Robinson (RFC) is “missing.” Yesterday’s Telegraph added that “he was believed to have been killed.”

He is the second Old Dragon airman to have suffered this fate since the start of the month.  News has reached us that 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren (RFC) is also missing. He has been at the Front barely a month.

Peter was up at Magdalen in 1914 (where his uncle, Sir Herbert Warren, is President) and being only 17 yrs old was not then eligible for service, although he did join the University OTC.

He received his commission last July and trained as an Observer with 57 Squadron. He transferred to 34 Squadron in November to train as a pilot, graduating in early February. At the end of the month he was sent to the front to join 43 Squadron.

The Warrens have close connections with the OPS. Peter’s grandmother, Mrs Morrell, lives at Black Hall (No 21, St Giles) doors away from where the OPS started.

Peter’s uncle is Philip Morrell, who was a Dragon under Mr Clarke from 1878 until 1880, when the school consisted of a few rooms at No 26 St Giles. He now lives at Garsington Manor with his wife, Lady Ottoline, and is the Liberal MP for Burnley.

 

Both the Leefe Robinson and Warren families and friends will be enduring a period of great strain until further news is received about their loved ones. Certainly it is perfectly possible that, if they came down over enemy held territory, they are prisoners of war. We will live in hope that this is the case.