August 13th 1917

With the casualty lists growing to proportions not seen since the Somme battle last year, the news of the death of Alan Jenks is quickly followed by news that 2nd Lieut. William Wells-Cole (Lincolnshires) is missing.

Willie’s regiment were involved in the opening day’s attack on July 31st near Wytschaete. He and his company were not seen again after putting in their attack.

As a boy, Willie always refused to give in or to own himself beaten and it is difficult to imagine him having being taken prisoner.

 

 

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.”

December 15th 1916

In the course of the last four months a number of our gallant Old Boys have been honoured and, as the end of another term approaches, they should be recorded on these pages:

Victoria Cross (VC)

Capt. William Leefe Robinson (RFC), “for conspicuous bravery. He attacked an enemy airship under circumstances of great difficulty and danger, and sent it crashing to the ground as a flaming wreck. He had been in the air for more than two hours and had previously attacked another airship during his flight.”

Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

Capt. Harry Maule (North Lancs) has been awarded the DSO “for conspicuous gallantry when leading his company during operations. During several days’ fighting he set a fine example of cheerfulness and cool courage to those around him. He was three times knocked down by the blast of shells.” (Edinburgh Gazette, Sept. 28th 1916)

Major Ernest Knox (Sikhs) in Mesopotamia.

Major James Romanes (Royal Scots). “For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led his battalion with the greatest courage and initiative. He set a splendid example throughout the operations.” (London Gazette, Nov. 25th 1916)

Military Cross (MC)

2nd Lieut. Stopford Jacks (RFA). “He, assisted by a sergeant, organised a party to extinguish a fire in a bomb store. Although burnt in several places, he continued at the work until the fire was extinguished.” (Edinburgh Gazette, Dec. 13th 1916)

2nd Lieut. Budge Pellatt (Royal Irish). “When a Platoon was required from his company to replace casualties in the front line, he at once volunteered and led his men forward with the greatest determination, though suffering heavy casualties.”

2nd Lieut. Northcote Spicer (RFA). “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in registering all batteries of the artillery brigade from the advanced lines prior to attack. He was severely wounded, chiefly from having to signal by flag, which was observed by the enemy.” (London Gazette, Oct. 20th 1916)

French Honours

‘The Times’ (Sept 16th) noted that Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt had been made Grand Officier of the Legion of Honour.

2nd Lieut. Trevor Hoey (OBLI) has been awarded the Croix de Guerre decoration by the French Commander on the Salonika front for distinguished conduct, referred to in the Army Orders as follows:

“When all the other officers were placed hors de combat, he took command and led the final charge against the Bulgarian position, which was brilliantly carried at the point of the bayonet.”

Mentioned in Despatches

2nd Lieut. FRG Duckworth (RFA) in Salonika, Capt. WW Fisher (RN) & Cdr GH Freyberg (RN) at Jutland, Maj. EF Knox (36th Sikhs) – for the second time, Capt. RJK Mott (Staff) in Salonika, Lieut. JC Slessor (RFC) in Egypt, and Maj. RD Whigham (King’s Own Scottish Borderers) – for the second time.

It is difficult to express just how proud we are when our Old Boys distinguish themselves so.

September 18th 1916

2nd Lieut. Sydney Carline (RFC, 19th Squadron) was shot down and wounded at the end of August over the Somme battlefield, on a bombing expedition against a railway cutting some 20 miles behind the front line.  His brother George visited him in hospital and has extracted the following details:

“After Sydney had dropped his bombs and was returning, it appears he got separated from the rest of his squadron and was attacked by four German machines. These machines had been flying at about 15,000 ft on the look-out for any separated machine to tackle. It is one of their methods to fly high and dive at a great speed on an enemy machine, firing their machine gun as soon as they are within range until they catch it up, when they turn to one side and continue their dive to their aerodrome and safety.

My brother was apparently unconscious of any enemy machines about, until he heard the firing of the gun behind him. He says that owing to the noise of the engine it is impossible to hear anything except a gun at close range or the explosions of anti-aircraft shells.

The first German machine damaged his engine slightly and wounded him in the leg. He says there were eight holes in the petrol tank, and other shots hit the back of the seat he was sitting on.  With his damaged engine he had to put his nose down to keep up speed and consequently could not bring his gun into play. His machine was a single-seated scout, with a Vickers gun timed off the engine to fire through the propeller, and to aim the gun the whole machine had to be directed towards the object, as the gun is a fixed one.

Not being able to turn and fly upwards at the German machines and so use the gun, he had to continue his course and keep turning about trying to escape the Germans or at least make their firing harmless, and at the same time firing a Lewis gun fitted behind him. But this gun, he says, is very difficult to aim with success and fly a machine at the same time.

One after another of these machines dived on to him firing their guns, and after he had dropped about 5,000 ft., the Germans made off home, and he was able to get over the lines again at about 5,000 ft. up. Crossing again by the Somme, ‘Archie’ left him alone, anywhere else he would have made a good target at that height.

His leg was numbed by the wound, so that it did not pain him, and by using his heel on the rudder instead of his toe, he was able to manage his machine all right and get back to the aerodrome. The petrol pouring from his tank was very useful, he said, as it kept his leg cool and he was able to drive his engine off his spare tank.”

b-e-12-carline

A B.E 12 aircraft of the type flown by the 19th Squadron.

Sydney has told George that he is spending his sick leave in helping with an invention connected with flying.

Before the war Sydney was a budding artist, following in the footsteps of his father George Carline. In 1911, W. Davis of Turl Street commissioned him to complete six charming etchings of Oxford.

On the outbreak of war he became a dispatch rider before joining the RFC.

August 10th 1916

Paddy Burton‘s father, who writes under the pseudonym of ‘Touchstone’ for the Daily Mail, has sent us this poem for the forthcoming edition of the ‘Draconian,’ to be printed alongside the notice of his son’s death.

How well it captures the pain all parents must feel when receiving such heart-breaking news as the death of a beloved son.

Burton P (2b)

Deeply regret to inform you that Capt HPC Burton 1st Bedford Reg’t was killed in action July 27. The Army Council expresses their sympathy.

A SCRAP OF PAPER
A scrap of paper! “Killed in action,” so
Die all the dreams of happier days to be!
And yet, thank God, you were the first to go
When England called for Men to keep her free.
Thank God for that pure, manly heart and true
That kept your face for ever towards the light
That lit the only path you ever knew
And made you victor still in death’s despite.

Not all our sighs, not all our selfish tears,
Can call you back, but you whose clear young eyes
Looked on the promise of the coming years,
You never grudged the final sacrifice.
Is it not written that your latest breath
Bade him who brought you succour not to stay
But to pass onward through that land of death,
To lead your well-loved soldiers in the fray?

A scrap of paper? Nay, a sacred scroll,
A great and glorious treaty, signed and sealed
In your heart’s blood, wherein our England’s soul
For those who shall come after, stands revealed.
So thank we God who in his mercy gave
His own dear son to death upon the tree,
For all who follow him who died to save
And win the deathless crown of victory!
                                       Touchstone

August 5th 1916

 

Paddy Burton

Captain Paddy Burton (4th Bedfordshires)

Alongside the notification of the death of Robert Gibson, The Times yesterday also listed the death of Paddy Burton.

On July 27th, Paddy led an attack on Longueval by the 1st Bedfordshires (to whom he had been attached since May 1915). This was a success, but there were isolated pockets of resistance. He and another officer discussed how they could dislodge the Germans from a house, where a machine-gun was sweeping over the British position. Paddy decided on an attack with hand grenades, during which he fell wounded in the leg.

Company Sgt Major Afford went to his assistance, dressing his wound before attempting to carry him to a place of safety. During this, Paddy received a second wound, which proved to be fatal, a bullet having come through the lip of the shell hole, penetrated the lower part of his head.

Afford reported that Paddy “…remained conscious for a few hours, during which time I stayed with him and comforted him. His last words were to me, requesting me to carry on with the task he had so nobly set out to do…

At day-break I supervised his body being laid to rest close by the spot where he met his end.”

The day before he was killed, Paddy Burton reconnoitred the approaches to the village of Longueval together with another officer, who recalled:

“It was a very trying job, as our guide lost himself and we sent him back. We were under incessant shell-fire and we knew that a great part of the ground was exposed to snipers, and we had to find out absolutely everything for ourselves. I don’t think I could have done it without Paddy … He must have been at least as tired and depressed as I was, but he wouldn’t allow it to show.”

Paddy was one of those boys who make life ceaselessly interesting to a schoolmaster. It may be said that he was a strange compound of liberal and conservative, but what characterized him most was his independence of judgement and his pluck.

He was to have been married during his next leave.

July 11th 1916

AG Clarke

2nd Lieut. Geoffrey Clarke (Rifle Brigade)

It is with particular sadness that I have to give you the news of the death of Geoff Clarke. His brother, Capt. “Bim” Clarke (10th Gurkhas) received the telegram on July 7th and the notice of Geoff’s death is in the Times this morning.

Geoff, who was first thought to have been killed on July 2nd, was in fact a casualty of the initial attacks on July 1st. The Redan Ridge, north of Beaumont Hamel, was the objective of the 4th Division, which included Geoff Clarke’s Rifle Brigade. Although it must have been hoped that the bombardment of which we have read in the newspapers had obliterated the German defences, this does not appear to have been the case in this instance. When their time came to advance, The Rifle Brigade was repulsed with heavy losses.

Geoff was one of the few to reach the second line of German trenches, though twice wounded on the way. A fellow officer has kindly written to the family to explain the circumstances of his death:

“He led his bombers well on to his objective under a heavy fire before he fell, wounded, into a shell hole. One of our bombers dressed his wounds and Geoffrey continued to throw bombs into the enemy trench till he was killed by a Boche bomb.”

Geoff was the son of my predecessor, Rev AE Clarke, the first headmaster of the OPS. Geoff was only aged 3 when his father died and I have known him all his life. He boarded at the OPS, in the house run by his mother. He won scholarships to Winchester and then New College, Oxford.

He spent five years as an assistant master at the Royal Naval College at Osborne and then two years in Bethnal Green, helping to found Boys’ Clubs and studying the social and economic conditions. ‘A Text Book of National Economy’ resulted, for use in schools.

In 1914 he had attempted to enlist, but was rejected on medical grounds. He therefore undertook a course of physical training, first for Home Service and shortly after for General Service in the Royal Fusiliers (Public School Brigade). He obtained promotion to non-commission rank, and later received a commission in the Special Reserve 5th Rifle Brigade.

The last time I saw Geoff was at Tonbridge in 1915. He ‘spotted’ me in the Ford, and we had a pleasant lunch together and a long talk about old times and about the war.