April 5th 1918

The Maitland Buildings, Somerville College (1913)

The death of Edmund Fisher, following that of his brother Charles at Jutland, is a terrible blow for the Fisher family as well as his many friends.

Some small consolation may be gained from the fact that he does leave a considerable legacy in the form of the buildings he has designed, the most impressive of which are to be found in the shape of the Maitland Buildings at Somerville College on Woodstock Road.

In April 1915, these buildings were requisitioned by War Office as a military hospital for wounded officers, and the Hall was used for a time as a medical ward, before being converted to its current use as an Officers’ Mess.

At the OPS we will remember Edmund for the Museum, which he designed.

Edmund can rest assured that the Museum is well used. This last term it was open to the whole school. A large number of boys have used it and studied the different collections. In addition there have been informal meetings on Natural History subjects several Saturday evenings.

We hope next term to have on show from time to time any interesting flowers or other Natural History objects found by the boys or other friends of the School. We hope also that we shall be able to get out into the country pretty often to look for specimens, but there is one form of collection – birds’ eggs – which ought to be discouraged this year entirely.

It is quite easy and interesting to look at and perhaps photograph nests without disturbing them, and the small insect-eating birds are so scarce, owing to the cold winter when we all enjoyed the skating, that no one ought to risk making them scarcer.

The butterflies and hawk moths have been rearranged and make a very good show. We have got a shell cabinet, but the arranging will have to stand over till next winter.

We are grateful for these recent gifts to the Museum: An African Tom-Tom (J Sanderson), tortoise’s and horse’s skulls (B Schuster), tiger’s skull (C Edwards) and African war stamps (Capt. GDH Carpenter).

The Museum was built to commemorate the death of my old sailing friend Maurice Church. He was a boy at the School (1884-86) and returned to join the staff (1898-1900). He enlisted as a Trooper in the Oxfordshire Yeomanry, going off to fight in the South African War. He was killed at Hartbeestfontein in February 1901.

 

 

April 2nd 1918

2nd Lieut. Edmund Fisher (RFA)

Just over two months after he was struck down by appendicitis in France, Edmund Fisher has died, on Easter Sunday, leaving a widow with five sons and two daughters.

In 1915, being well over military age and ineligible for active service, he went out as an orderly to the Hôpital Temporaire d’Arc-en-Barrois, organized by Miss Bromley-Martin and her sisters for French soldiers, and was there through the summer, mainly helping with X-ray work.

Later he succeeded in being accepted for active service, and having completed his training for the RFA, crossed to France on June 5th 1917. He took part in the fighting in the Ypres salient and again in the battle of Cambrai.

He was generally employed to look after camps of mules and horses and to send and often accompany ammunition to the batteries.

The Museum

Edmund had been an architect before the war. He designed our own Museum and carpenter’s shop – the Maurice Church Memorial – and was also responsible for the Maitland Building at Somerville College, now being used by wounded officers. His brother, The Rt. Hon. HAL Fisher, currently President of the Board of Education, was at the time President of the Somerville College Council.

Edmund was a good rider to hounds and at one time master of a pack of beagles. Indeed, no form of country sport was alien to him.

In conversation he was pithy and humorous, in judgement always independent, in observation alert.

The war has claimed no gentler or more spirited victim.

 

 

 

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.