June 14th 1917

Regie Fletcher

Last Sunday Mr CRL Fletcher talked to the boys at our service about the war. His words were all the more powerful coming from someone who has lost two of his three sons. 2nd Lieut. Regie Fletcher was killed by shellfire in the first months of the war. 2nd Lieut. George Fletcher  was killed by sniper fire in the trenches in March 1915. Both were highly esteemed and are much missed by their Dragon friends.

First Mr Fletcher reminded us of the worries and sacrifices of parents:

George Fletcher

“We stand today – all of us – literally where Jesus stood – at the foot of a Calvary. We old ones have to learn to give up what is far dearer to us than life, the lives of our children; I wonder if you boys realise what the sight of a telegram, or even of a telegraph boy going down a road, means to half the parents in Oxford?

It may mean “Hurrah, I am coming home on leave”; it may mean we shall never see him on earth again. Really the chances, which of these two things it means, are about even.”

Much of his talk concerned the boys themselves, who have learnt they can “do their bit” by collecting eggs and grapes for the wounded, entertaining wounded soldiers and learning to shoot in the rifle range. Mr Fletcher recognises that, further to this, they are surrendering their childhood to the war.

“…You boys are learning to give up a hundred things to which you have been accustomed; I don’t in the least underrate the difficulty of giving up favourite things to eat, and I feel sure that this must be infinitely worse for you than it is for your elders, although I frankly own that I have the most horrible and continual craving for brown sugar.

But you are also learning better and greater sacrifices than this, you are learning to ‘put away childish things,’ to grow old and thoughtful before your due time, to help fathers and mothers to bear their unforgettable griefs, to harden yourselves to face a sterner life, in a poorer England, than any of which your fathers and mothers dreamed when you were born.

For the course of time has ‘swerved and crooked backwards’ in our days – probably just because we were all too comfortable and happy, (and therefore growing selfish and lazy).”

Then Mr Fletcher looked to the future and to what the boys should expect:

“The ship – I like to compare Britain to a ship – is scudding before a fearful hurricane, with half her sails blown away, and with jury masts very imperfectly rigged. The best and bravest of her crew have been washed away and swallowed up. Whether she will right herself in your time depends very much upon you – upon your grasping now the meaning of the words ‘duty’ and ‘sacrifice,’ and keeping them steadily in view as the only worthy ends of your lives.

You will one day have to rebuild not merely the material city of Ypres, and a few hundreds of other ruined places, but the whole fabric of European civilisation, and you must take care to lay its foundations so well and truly that such desolation as that of the last three years shall never occur again. And, even before you come to rebuild, it may very well happen to you, yes even to the youngest of you, to be called on to defend the last relics of that civilisation.

The real end of this war is yet a very long way off, and, if an inconclusive peace is now patched up, the flame will burst up again (all history is a clear proof of this) and that rekindled flame may very probably burn up your own lives…”

Mr Fletcher ended his talk thus:

“…I am not afraid of being called a visionary if I assert my belief in direct divine help and leading for the soldiers of England and France in the present war. When your turn comes, may your eyes be opened  to see the vision, but, even if you don’t see it, do not forget to feel continually for the divine hand which will sustain you in the day of battle.”

It is distressing, when looking at young innocent faces, to think they might be swallowed up in this conflict in their turn. We hope fervently this will not be the case.

I do not intend to dwell on this matter with the boys and shall speak to them further accordingly. My instincts tell me we should keep on as much as possible “as normal,” and the boys should not worry themselves about the more distant future and its possibilities.

As the war approaches the end of its third year, most of the boys now have only a faint memory of the normality of peacetime existence. How sad a thought that is.

 

 

 

June 4th 1916

Following the news of the sinking of HMS Invincible, our deep concern for the well-being of Lieut. Charles Fisher continues. As always, whilst we fear the worst, we must hope for the best.

We are also aware of others who may well have been involved in this battle off Jutland. Charles’s brother, Captain William Fisher (HMS St. Vincent) is known to be part of Jellicoe’s 1st Battle Squadron.

HMS St Vincent

HMS St Vincent

Mr & Mrs CRL Fletcher have already lost two sons to the war: Regie Fletcher was killed at Ypres on October 31st 1914 (a day that claimed three OPS victims), followed in March 1915 by his brother George Fletcher. Their oldest (and only remaining son) Lieut. Leslie Fletcher is known to be serving on HMS Colossus (also part of the 1st Battle Squadron). Surely fate cannot be so cruel as to take from the Fletcher family their only remaining child.

Attached to the 5th Battle Squadron are HMS Valiant and HMS Malaya. Both have Old Dragons aboard: Commander Geoffrey Freyberg in the former and Midshipman Percy Trevelyan in the latter.

Midshipman Francis Studdy is believed to be on HMS Temeraire in the 4th Battle Squadron, Lieut-Commander John Bywater-Ward is on HMS Ajax and, lastly, we think Lieut. Desmond Stride is on HMS Conqueror.

We await news of all of them.

November 2nd 1914

We can consider ourselves most fortunate that thus far there has only been one OPS fatality in the frightful conflict in which we are engaged. However, our good fortune has now ended and it is with a heavy heart that I report the deaths of three Old Dragons, all who have given their lives and all on the same day:  Saturday 31st October.

The fighting in the Ypres salient has stretched our forces to the very limits and they have valiantly prevented the Germans from breaking through. Rupert Lee’s regiment, the Worcesters, played a vital role (Rupert was wounded on the 16th and did not take part). Their counter-attack in which they retook the village of Gheluvelt saved the day and may yet prove to be a turning point in the battle.

Regie Fletcher

2nd Lieut RG Fletcher (RFA)

It was at that very moment that Regie Fletcher, who is serving in the RFA, was hit by shellfire as he crossed open ground from his dug-out to his guns. Attempts to save him were to no avail and he died two hours later. His burial was supervised by one of his close friends from Eton, who was nearby.

From the OPS Regie had won a scholarship to Eton (in 1905) and had gone on to Balliol College, Oxford. He rowed in the 1914 Boat Race for Oxford.

He loved to sleep in the open air, and would sleep quite comfortably under several degrees of frost. As in face and colouring, so in his fierce independence of character, he seemed like some old Norse Rover; and it was this same independence that made one of his schoolmasters compare him to Achilles. He was extraordinarily well-read for a man of twenty-two, in the best modern literature. His highest delight was in Greek poetry; he knew enormous stretches of Homer and Aeschylus by heart, and would chant them, to the amazement of his crew, in the Balliol barge.

He was second in command of the Artillery section of the Oxford University OTC (1913-14) and obtained his commission on the day war was declared. He sailed for France on August 20th with the RFA and so only saw just over two months’ service.

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Whilst the Worcesters were saving the day, a number of the senior commanders were at nearby Hooge Chateau. General Munro and a number of other staff officers, including Arthur Percival, were conferring with the Divisional Commander, Major-General Lomax when a shell hit their office. Whilst Munro was only concussed, Arthur & six others were killed outright and General Lomax was very seriously wounded.

A Percival

Lt. Col Arthur J-B Percival (Northumberland Fusiliers).

Arthur, the son of the Rt Rev John Percival, the late Bishop of Hereford (and previously Headmaster of Clifton College, President of Trinity College, Oxford and Headmaster of Rugby) arrived at the OPS in 1879, only two years after the school was started. He was a resolute and sturdy little fellow, who went his own way regardless of what others might think of him, not afraid to stand up to anyone who tried to bully him, however big his opponent.

From the OPS Arthur went to Marlborough College before transferring to Rugby, when his father became headmaster there.  After Sandhurst he joined the Northumberland Fusiliers. He was present at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. He also fought in the Boer War and was the first Old Dragon to win a DSO in 1901.  During the first eleven weeks of the current war he was twice mentioned in Sir John French’s dispatches and was one of the first British officers to receive the Croix d’Officier of the Legion of Honour. He has been serving as General Staff Officer to Major-General Munro (2nd Division of the First Army Corps).

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 Alan Leggett

2nd Lieut. Alan Leggett (North Staffs Regiment)

South of Ypres, the North Staffs Regiment has been engaged in action near Armentières. Alan Leggett ‘s trench was hit by a shell. A fellow officer and friend, 2nd Lieut. Pope,  has written to say “His death, I trust, was almost painless, for he was asleep when he was hit, and he became unconscious almost immediately.”

At the OPS he was always a chivalrous and gallant lad and, after Tonbridge and Sandhurst, Alan followed his father into the Army in 1912.

The day before he was killed, Alan’s name was forwarded hopefully to be mentioned in dispatches. Lieut. Pope’s words should provide some consolation to his parents in this time of grief:

“During our last engagement the Company, belonging to another Regiment which he had reinforced, withdrew, leaving him isolated on the Battalion’s right flank, but he absolutely refused to retire, because by so doing he feared he would expose our flank to the German attack, and so stayed there alone, and undoubtedly saved the part of his Company, if not the whole regiment.”

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Missing in Action

Percy Campbell, who has been serving as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment at Ypres, has been declared “missing.” On October 24th there was such an intensive attack by both artillery and infantry that his battalion was virtually wiped out. Only 170 are accounted for, but it is known that a large number of our troops were captured in the first surprise attack made by the Germans and we fervently hope that Percy is one of them.