March 7th 1918

There has been a most welcome lull in the fighting in France, although we are led to believe that the Germans are planning a major offensive for the Spring. However, we have received the news that on January 20th 2nd Lieut. Edmund Fisher (RFA)  was taken ill and was sent to No.8 General Hospital in Rouen. His letter is remarkably cheery, in the circumstances:

“Here I am. Well, to begin with, my old friend indigestion on the march. The American doctor we have, tried valiantly, but eventually had to despatch me in a little ambulance. It was a job to get one that would do anything else but send one on. Eventually, after bumping about most of the day, a Central Clearing Station took me in.

Next day, I was sent to the base and a journey of 12 hours in the train. Fairly crowded beds on the floors and then bang! I was dropped by exhausted bearers on this ward floor. Here all is well. I have been given the cosiest corner. The VADs and sisters are of the best and the other officers a good sample.

No fever now.

Tout va bien

Je suis bien content.”

Although Edmund considered himself “bien content”, the news the family received from the CCS dated January 21st was that he was seriously ill with appendicitis.

Subsequently, Edmund has been transferred to the Lady Inchcapers Military Hospital, 7 Seamore Place in London on February 11th. (It is a small hospital with only 10 beds and is affiliated to Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital in Millbank).

We hope that he can now make a good recovery.

February 25th 1918

Lieut. Pat Duff (RFA) was collared by GC (Mr Vassall) to write back from Mesopotamia – and he has now obliged. He describes his progress up the Tigris from Busra to Kut before marching on to Bagdad.

8/2/18 “Busra is a place of of quite impressive size with very good looking houses and offices facing the river. The river itself is about 500 yards broad there, and ocean-going steamers go right up against the wharves. There was such a multitude of different craft lying in the stream that I was rather reminded of the Isis by the barges at Eights Week!

At a palace called Kurnah (where the old bed of the Euphrates meets the Tigris) I was shown the Tree of Good and Evil: it was near Temptation Square!

Another object of Biblical interest was Ezra’s tomb, somewhat further up the Tigris: can’t quite make out why he should have come back this way to die because, when last heard of, he was leading an expedition from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem…

I travelled most of the way up to Kut by river. At Kut I got hitched on to an echelon of about 600 horses and mules with transport, and had to march it to Baghdad. Was about 15 days doing this, as we got stuck in the mud owing to rains and all movement was impossible…

Baghdad, although the guide books would say it ‘presents no special features,’ was worth a guinea a minute to me, because of the miscellaneous crowd that inhabit it…

The bazaars are like an endless series of transformation scenes at Drury Lane: it was in such a place as the coppersmith’s quarter where Aladdin must have got his lamps, and, although I didn’t recognise Ali Barba, I could see the Forty Thieves wherever I liked to look.

From the river, Baghdad looks very handsome: the buildings facing the river on the left bank are good, and there are two boat bridges over the river.

The boats on the river rather fascinated me: some are like gondolas, others like wherries on the Norfolk Broads. But there is no wood in this country, and consequently a lot of river transport is done by coracles made of wickerwork and hides and bitumen. (Incidentally, Herodotus in his book on Mesopotamia says, ‘after the city of Babylon itself, what struck me most was the coracles’!  It is interesting to see them functioning to this day.”

Pat ends his letter by saying, “If any enterprising young Dragon would be a pioneer or a ‘builder of empire,’ he need look no further than Mesopotamia for a country that will pay a thousandfold all the labour that is put into it.

I hope you are all flourishing, and often am thinking of ‘the School House afar on the banks of the Cher.'”

January 17th 1918

E A S T E R   T E R M   1 9 1 8

Yesterday saw the start of a new term. The School Roll numbers 141, of which 84 are boarders. Our Junior Department has a further 26 – the majority being 7 and 8 yr. olds.

Let us hope for a healthy term, free of illness. It will no doubt become even more difficult to keep everyone well fed. Yesterday’s announcement in the newspapers of compulsory rationing of butter and margarine (with other items undoubtedly to follow), allows us only 4 oz per person per week. Meat continues to be in short supply, although the importation of Argentinian beef is helping make up the difference.

* * * * * * *

It was a great pleasure to be able to share with our returning pupils the news of honours recently won in the war – particularly that of the DSO by one of their former teachers.

One of the more prestigious orders of chivalry is the Order of the Bath – founded by King George I in 1725. In the honours list announced in the New Year, Captain. WW Fisher (RN) and Temp. Brigadier-Gen. BG Price (Royal Fusiliers) were made Companions (CB).

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) has been awarded to Temp. Major LD Luard (ASC), Acting Maj. JAA Pickard (RE, Special Reserve) and, although not an Old Dragon but a much admired member of the Dragon staff before the war, Temp. Capt. WRG Bye (Royal West Surreys & General List).

No fewer than six have been awarded the Military Cross (MC): Acting Capt. FS Low (RFA), Acting Major VLS Cowley (Irish Rifles, attached to MGC), Temp. Captain WT Collier (RAMC), Capt. EH Evans (RWF), Temp. Lieut. GH Moberly (MGC), Captain. GF Thuillier (Devons).

* * * * * * *

Readers of The Times of 14/1/18 may have noticed this article on Capt. William Fisher (RN). For those who read other newspapers, here it is:

Director of Anti-Submarine Division

“Capt. WW Fisher commanded a battleship at Jutland, and was commended for his services in that action. He has received a CB. He had held several Staff appointments before the war, having served as flag commander to the Commander-in-Chief  of the Home Fleet at Devonport, while in the summer of 1912 he was selected to act as Assistant Umpire for the Grand Naval Manoeuvres.

He is a gunnery specialist and a French interpreter, and was commander of the ‘Indomitable‘ when that vessel made her record run across the Atlantic with King George, then Prince of Wales, on board in 1908.

He has been for some months the Director of the anti-Submarine Division of the Naval Staff.”

November 11th 1917

2nd Lieut. Pat Campbell, having returned to the Ypres front following four days’ leave in Paris, has found himself back in the thick of this seemingly never-ending battle at Ypres, which has been going on since July 31st.

23/10/17 “The veterans of the brigade say – at least some of them do – that in all the long years they have been out here they have never seen such a country of absolute desolation, or such mud, and that they have never had the breeze up so badly as they have in the last few days…”

Pat was involved in an attack on October 22nd. As the Forward Observation Officer for his Brigade, he had to make his way forward with four signallers to a pill box close to the front line. Carrying heavy equipment and in bad conditions, this took them 3 hours.

His job was to keep in touch with the advance and send back information to the artillery. This was easier said than done, it seems:

“It is very difficult to tell what has happened in the early stages of a battle; some of the walking wounded who come dancing down the line are so pleased with themselves that they tell you that everything is going top hole, though they were probably hit before the thing began, while others who are rather worse and have lost some of their friends are equally despondent.”

He and another officer took turns to go forward:

“We went out alternately to various HQ and other less official sources to find out what news we could get and whether the infantry wanted any particular artillery support. On one of these little trips I got rather a nasty shock, which made me decide that I was not going out any more.

Usually you can hear a shell coming for at least a second or two and one learns to act promptly, but on this occasion it was a light velocity shell, which came right alongside us without any warning at all.”

This seems a strange point at which to leave this incident, but Pat does, so there it is. The Campbells deserve their luck. Pat’s brother Percy Campbell was killed in the first battle at Ypres almost three years ago to the day in 1914.

In his letter Pat asks, “I am wondering what the papers said about yesterday’s battle. It seems to have been a pretty decent show…”

This is a view shared at least by the Daily Telegraph:

Given the conditions Pat describes, it is difficult to imagine how a battle can be fought:

“It was very tiring walking about because at every step you lifted pounds of thick Belgian mud. I don’t think you could find a single square yard in that area that was not part of a shell hole, but even so, you can’t have any idea of what it looks like. It is simply indescribable.”

It is not that often that an artillery officer finds himself in the front line and Pat is quick to acknowledge the role of the infantry, who are there all the time:

“The more you see of them, the greater respect you have for them all, and I think the subalterns in particular. Such things as trenches have practically ceased to exist now, and they just live in shell holes and going forward to attack over ground like this, I really can’t understand how they do it. “

And so say all of us.

September 1st 1917

2nd Lieut. Revere Osler (RFA)

Sir William & Lady Osler have been advised of the death of Revere, their only child, on August 30th.

Revere was severely wounded by the explosion of a shell and taken to a casualty clearing station at Dozinghem. Sir William, Oxford’s Regius Professor of Medicine, has friends amongst the doctors and surgeons currently active in France, who rushed to Revere’s side.  Despite the attention of these eminent men, he could not be saved.

To those who knew Revere as a boy at the OPS at all intimately, he was a delightful friend and companion and was greatly loved. The ordinary Public School curriculum (in which he took little interest) hardly gave him the opportunity for showing his genius, which lay in two directions, observation and love of nature, and also devotion to art and literature.



March 17th 1917

Having read in the newspapers over the past few days of the Germans’ “strategic retreat,” from the battlefields of the Somme, we are most fortunate to have another letter from 2nd Lieut. Humphrey Arden (RGA) and discover he was there to witness the event. His description of the land that is now in the hands of the Allies is, I am sure you find, of considerable interest.

14/3/17 “So it has happened at last! What a hopeless wish it seemed a year ago that in twelve months the Hun would be deliberately retreating, and that after shooting on a point one day at a range of 8000 or 9000 yards, we could go on the morrow and examine the very spot, and see the craters made by our own shells…

The newly captured ground resembles, more than anything I’ve seen, imaginative pictures by artists entitled ‘The Battlefield’ or ‘After the Fight.’

Dead men, dead horses, shattered gun emplacements, broken limbers and wagons, rifles, bombs, equipment, and all the ghastly filth of carnage. How the Hun has stood the hammering so long is a marvel. He says he goes willingly and I don’t doubt it.

There is a valley leading down to a famous ravine, which is enough to make one sick, if one hadn’t become hardened gradually to such things. In one spot evidently our guns caught a Boche battery taking in ammunition. The teams and their drivers had been blown to pieces, the wagons are pitiable wrecks, and the whole place stinks of death. It is gratifying and interesting to see shrapnel heads of your own calibre right in the middle of a gun emplacement at which you had been firing a few days before.”

The retreat took all by surprise and Humphrey’s account describes how the Hun took advantage of the weather conditions to put it into effect.

“During days of thick fog when all observation was impossible, he took the advantage of a couple of days of frost to get his guns away and destroy most – though not all – of his dug-outs, and retire behind the next line of barbed-wire with machine-guns to hold us up. Our infantry followed close on his heels as far as they could, and pounced on some patrols that came out to see if we were following.

But for the moment, of course, a halt had to be called to save useless sacrifice. Barbed wire cannot be dealt with except by guns, and guns cannot move up without roads, and roads there were none.

Oh yes, they are marked on the map all right, but it would puzzle you to pick out any but the two principal ones from the desert of shell holes; and even the principal roads are swimming in mud, pitted with craters, and at vital points ruined and blown up by the Hun.

Advance is a wonderful feat in this place. Light railways follow up to within a quarter of a mile of the infantry in two days… and armies of men set to work making new roads and repairing the faintest traces of old ones.

Soon our guns were ready to deal with the next line of barbed-wire, and having shattered it to bits and cleaned up the enemy garrison, the same thing occurred again. This time the Hun did not wait for the attack but bolted as soon as our shower of shells showed him it was imminent.

And so, I suppose, it will go on till the vaunted concrete line or ‘Hindenburg Stellung’ is reached.”

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.