July 28th 1917

We return today, inevitably, to the War and news of three of our Old Dragons.

On July 21st, the papers reported a number of officers of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps as missing in action. One of them is 2nd Lieut. William Sheepshanks (KRRC).

His mother received a telegram to this effect on the 19th, informing her that Bill has been unaccounted for since July 10th, but that he may still be alive. We must resign ourselves, once again, to a period of painful uncertainty.

The regiment was stationed right on the coastline near Nieuport – at the end of the trench system which stretches from there to Switzerland, and was under severe bombardment. In an account in the Daily Telegraph giving the German view, it was stated by their authorities that they had taken 1,250 prisoners, 27 of whom were officers. That gives us hope.

Bill has been such a close friend of the OPS and he never missed any Old Boys’ dinner or cricket match if he could help it.

* * * * * * *

We were startled and sorry to hear that Lieut. Lindsay Wallace (OBLI) has suffered considerable injury in France, due to unusual causes.  Whilst on a training course behind the front, Pug sleep walked out of an upper floor window. He had a nasty time for a day or two, but is now safely back in Oxford at Somerville College, having been escorted from France by his Engineer-Lieutenant brother Moray Wallace. He will not be short of visitors – if we can get past Sister Wilkinson!

* * * * * * *

We can end with one piece of good news, which has been a fearfully long time coming. It has been confirmed that Capt. Aubrey de Selincourt (RFC), having been “missing” since he was shot down on May 28th, is in fact a Prisoner of War. He joins his fellow OD aviators, Captain William Leefe Robinson VC and Lieut. Peter Warren in captivity.

 

June 8th 1917

Another of our valiant airmen has been listed as missing – the third since the beginning of April.  Capt. Aubrey de Selincourt (RFC) went down on May 28th 1917.

According to information received,  he was on a photographic reconnaissance in his FE2d aircraft with three others near Douai (where there is a German aerodrome).  They were attacked by German planes and Aubrey was shot down.

The FE2d aircraft

The FE2d is a strange aircraft, where the pilot has the observer/gunner in front of him and the propeller behind him. It is said to be rather slow when compared with the German aeroplanes.

There is as yet no information to say that Aubrey survived his crash, but with both Capt. William Leefe Robinson and 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren in captivity, we can hope that Aubrey may have joined them in a prisoner of war camp.

When war broke out Aubrey, along with many of his contemporaries, joined the army. He served with the North Staffs Regiment in Gallipoli, where he contracted jaundice and had to return home. Once fit again, he asked to transfer to the RFC and trained as a pilot. He joined 25 Squadron in France in April 1917.

Aubrey is the younger brother of 2nd Lieut. Leslie de Selincourt (OBLI), who was badly wounded helping to relieve Kut last year.

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.

February 20th 1917

Lieut. Jack Slessor (RFC) makes light of a crash he had with his aeroplane. It would seem to me that he had good reason to be “off games” for a bit, but the authorities clearly thought otherwise!

Jack Slessor...“I have just been mixed up in a difference of opinion between an aeroplane, a telegraph pole, and a ditch, so just at present I am convinced that flying is an over-rated pastime. My engine played me foul getting out of a field, and the machine, as the papers say, was seen to descend steeply, with the result that the telegraphic communication between two towns was seriously impaired and one telegraph pole and a formerly perfectly good machine badly bent.

Now I must depart to make supplication to my commanding officer for 48 hours leave, to rest my shattered nerves and throbbing brain.”

There is a postscript to his letter. It reads:

“P.S. Just returned from the aforesaid interview with the C.O. Nothing doing. He says it has been tried before.”

October 23rd 1916

Lieut. Geoff Buck (RFC) has completed his training and has now been let loose on the Boche!

Amongst the danger and excitement of war, these latest entries from his journal show an interesting range of emotions – who would have thought war could be a laughing matter?

Buck, Geoff27/9/16. “I took a machine and eight bombs and went off with 16 other machines to raid Bocheland. Flying close together with 16 others is ‘anellofajob’. But anyhow we all came back, and it was quite pleasant – no Hun machines and very few ‘Archies’. You can’t think how queer a big battle looks from upstairs – frightfully interesting, but I simply hate to think of the poor blighters on the ground..”

2/10/16. “Flying high in formation we got slightly ‘Archied’ over the lines (I disliked this because a little bit of iron on one of my eight bombs means that I go simply to swell the Roll of Honour). We dropped our bombs, and they all fell on their objective, and probably strafed some French peasants, mice and woodpeckers. But I hope we killed more Boches.

Then the fun began, pop-pop, bang, fizz-whizz, hiss, pop, bang, little black puffs all around us, and each explosion shook our little machines as if they had been kicked. This was most dangerous and unpleasant (so I thought), and after waving to my nearest fellow-sufferer to keep clear, I performed a memorable series of switchback vertical turns at an average speed of 150 mph. This upset Archibald’s calculations some, I guess, and anyhow I lost control and was much too frightened trying to get control of the machine again to be frightened about Archie.

It really is a sporting kind of life, and I laughed till I could hardly see the instruments.”

 

As a young Dragon, Geoff always enjoyed a good scrap. I recall a bike expedition to North Cerney in the summer of 1910.  Having gone by train to Fairford we bicycled to North Cerney. There followed a cricket match against a local team of boy scouts. The match was conveniently tied before the real fun started. Paddy Burton’s brother Phil wrote up the events that followed:

“…someone bagged one of the Boy Scouts’ caps, and this lead to a battle; after about ten minutes ragging they collected their troops and sounded the charge. They were much older than we were for the most part, and they outnumbered us, but we were not going to be beaten. Keyworth had a tremendous fight with the ‘Samsonian Beefer’ (aged 19) and everyone did his best to sit on the scout he had got hold of. Geoff Buck held down a writhing mass of three scouts, and Flea Carr White and Henry Way wrought frightful havoc.

When we were told to go to bed, the lawn (of the Rectory) was covered with Dragons sitting on scouts, and I may quite fairly say that we absolutely licked them. Then we cheered them and trooped off to bed.”

The next morning we started for home, stopping to lunch in Burford. Clearly it was a good one, as Billy Smyth recorded in the hotel’s visitors’ book:

Four cyclists arrived at the Inn of the Bull;
They came very empty and went away full;
Their names were the Skipper and Billy and Flea,
And Geoffrey; a hungrier four ne’er did you see.

The fare was roast beef with potatoes and peas,
And raspberry tart, and some excellent cheese;
A fair maiden served us with all of the best;
But who wrote this poem will never be guessed.

With so much to depress us in today’s world, it is good to have these memories of happier days to buck us up!

 

 

September 20th 1916

Christmas Term 1916

The excitement of starting a new school year today is dulled by its coinciding with the anniversary of the deaths of two of our masters, Leslie Eastwood and Tom Higginson. Leslie died of dysentery in Egypt and Tom was crushed by the collapse of his dug-out in France. We remember them both with great affection…

Dragons, welcome back. We number 136 with the perfect split of 68 boarders and 68 day boys. The oldest boy in the school is H. Kingerlee (aged 14.8) and the youngest D. Wallace (aged 7.11). In the Junior Department we have 22 (aged from 8.11 down to 5.10).

There is much to look forward to: the rugger – let’s hope we have a good XV, using the shooting range, doing some carpentry, playing in concerts, preparation for our school play and maybe other dramatic productions, bicycle expeditions, picnics and of course some hard work! I trust too that many boarders will join Mr Haynes for the morning bathe in the River Cherwell before breakfast. A most bracing way to start the day!

Many boys, I know, have been writing a holiday diary over the summer and I look forward to marking them over the coming weeks and awarding prizes.

The greatest excitement of the holidays was William Leefe Robinson winning the Victoria Cross for shooting down an airship. As often happens in life, he was brought down to earth with a bump when, only 13 days after his extraordinary feat, a gust of air hit his aircraft as he was taking off and he crashed. Luckily, he escaped as the engine caught fire, but his plane was totally destroyed.

Nonetheless, there can be no doubt he will be back in the air fighting our enemies again very soon.