September 19th 1917

Capt. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA)

Today I should have been concentrating on the start of a new school year, but the most calamitous news came to me from Mrs Sidgwick. Hugh has been killed.

At this time, I feel able only to share with you my response to his mother:

My dear Mrs Sidgwick,

No words can express my sorrow and feeling of personal loss – it is too too cruel a fate – such a glorious intellect & so noble a character, with so splendid a future before him.

There must be some future reunion with these noble souls – or we all are in the hands of a fiendish force which drives us & jibes at our hopes – I have just told the boys of the severest loss we have yet suffered. With the exception of Frank (& that possibly because I have seen more of him) Hugh was of all my old boys the best beloved and most proudly looked upon by me – and this does not express

my very deep feeling of sympathy with you & Frank & his sisters. His father is I hope spared the full knowledge of the loss he has suffered, but I do mourn with you all and sympathise most deeply.

Yours ever,

His old Skipper

 

 

 

Hugh’s father’s illness renders it unlikely that the family will share this news with him.

 

September 6th 1917

Thank goodness for some good news this time.

Hugh is now CAPTAIN Hugh Sidgwick (RGA)!

30/8/17. “They have promoted me to Captain, and I have spent money heavily on new spots to cover myself with.

I am also in a quite different part of the country, and not nearly so pleasant a one. Still, I have been very lucky for most of the summer and so I ought not to grouse.

At present I hope you are all getting some sort of holiday. Most people at home seem to be more sensible on the subject of holidays this year, and I hear that even the Civil Service are going to get them.

For a purely restful and irresponsible holiday I can recommend active service, provided you choose your front carefully. Charming scenery, cheerful company, unlimited food and drink, corps intelligence supplied daily and shelling on alternate Tuesdays…”

I can think of better alternatives for the last two weeks of the summer holiday, so, tempting – but no thank you, Hugh!

 

July 18th 1917

KCB FOR CAPTAIN TYRWHITT

Capt. Reginald Tyrwhitt, CB, DSO, RN (Commodore, First Class).

The Times today has the joyous news of the award of a Dragon KCB:

“Captain Tyrwhitt has been concerned in some of the most brilliant naval exploits of the war, and the honour conferred on him by the King is well deserved. He commanded the destroyer flotillas in the famous action with a German squadron in Heligoland Bight on August 28th 1914. Concerning this action, which resulted in the destruction of the cruisers Mainz, Ariadne and Koln, the official despatch stated ‘his attack was delivered with great skill and gallantry.’ On the same date he was made CB…

He led the destroyer flotillas in the Dogger Bank action of January 24th 1915 and was in command of the Arethusa when she struck a mine and was wrecked off the east coast in February 1916.

Captain Tyrwhitt was awarded the DSO in June 1916, ‘in recognition of services rendered in the prosecution of the war,’ and was decorated Commander of the Legion of Honour by the President of the French Republic in September 1916.

A scouting force of light cruisers and destroyers under Captain Tyrwhitt, on May 10th of the present year, chased 11 German destroyers for 80 minutes and engaged them at long range until they took refuge under the batteries of Zeebrugge. Only the precipitate flight of the enemy’s ships saved them from disaster.

A few weeks later, on June 5th, a force of light cruisers and destroyers under his command engaged six German destroyers at long range, and in a running fight one of the enemy’s ships, S20, was sunk and another was severely damaged.”

 

In addition, the London Gazette lists Lieut.-Col Stuart Taylor (West Yorks) as having been awarded the DSO:

“For conspicuous gallantry when in command of the right of an infantry attack. The attacking troops having been compelled to fall back, he collected the remnants of his battalion and about 100 men of other units, and, regardless of a heavy fire, he organised these in defence of a position, and by his fine example of courage and skill he successfully resisted three counter-attacks, and thus saved a critical situation.”

Fluff will no doubt be demanding another half-holiday for the boys on the back of this when he next visits!

 

To these awards, we should also note these honours which have been acquired in the course of this term:

 

Lieut.- Col AR Haig Brown (Middlesex Regiment) and Major S Low (RGA) have both been awarded the DSO.

Capt. GK Rose MC (OBLI) now has a Bar to his Military Cross. The citation reads:

“When in command of a raid on the enemy’s trenches, he displayed the greatest skill and energy. He organized an effective resistance to the enemy counter attack, and conducted a masterly withdrawal under heavy machine gun and rifle fire.”

The Croix de Guerre has been awarded to Capt. JD Denniston (RNR) and 2nd Lieut. CM Hughes-Games (Gloucs), has the MC:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He displayed great coolness and initiative when in command of a daylight patrol, obtaining valuable information. He has at all times displayed great gallantry under fire.”

 

 

June 19th 1917

Capt. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA) still finds time to write to us and his letters are never anything but interesting.

Part of Hugh’s job in the RGA is to spend time in a front-line Observation Post (OP) identifying suitable targets for the guns and seeing the fruits of their labours. In between times there are often lulls in the action:

4/6/17. “I read a Jacobs novel in the intervals and tried to pass the novel-reader’s test. This, by the way, is recommended to anyone who wants to kill time: it is as follows.

Write down the full names of twelve characters in each of 24 novels. Most people can do eight or nine in about twenty novels without difficulty: it is the last few names and books that cause the trouble, unless, like myself,  you have a mis-spent youth behind you.”

5/6/17. “Another beautiful summer morning. Administrative convulsions are proceeding, which may result in my having to command the Battery for a day or two, or in my going elsewhere. But I have long ceased worrying.

As my late OC remarked in a moment of pardonable irritation, the Heavy Artillery only exist to be badgered about (that was not exactly the word he used): and the main thing is to take life calmly.”  

 

 

 

June 11th 1917

2nd Lieut. Humphrey Arden (RGA)

The onset of a major battle such as the one recently started at Messines prepares us for bad news, but in Humphrey’s case, when we were reading his final letter (as it turns out) only a few days ago, it is still a terrible shock.

The information his parents have received is that he was killed on June 6th during the artillery build-up to the battle that commenced the following day:

“During the last few days your boy was really great. The Battery had been under heavy shell fire and we had a large number of casualties. Humphrey was amongst them…

He was taken to Bailleul, but died of his wounds, which were severe…”

Humphrey’s parents have passed on comments from the letters of his fellow officers:

“I should like to tell you how splendid he has been out here, how absolutely brave, simple, unassuming, and unselfish, and how we miss him…”

“Though he never won honours, he has deserved them time and again – and I know he was recommended on three different occasions. But he never coveted them…”

“His loss is our greatest calamity. We had grown to look up to him for advice and it was an open secret between us that he had always been the pillar on which our splendid Battery had been built. He had the confidence, esteem, respect and devotion of every officer and man in the Battery.” 

Humphrey was one of those whose lives gave promise of a brilliant future. A Cambridge man, a great athlete, a musician of no mean promise, one who exercised extraordinary influence on his fellow men, a lover of all the arts and of everything beautiful.

As the obituary in The Times & Daily Telegraph today reminds us, he was intending to take up holy orders.

 

June 5th 1917

Last year 2nd Lieut. Humphrey Arden (RGA) gave us a gunner’s view from the Somme and now he has been in the thick of it again – presumably at Arras. His latest letter recounts events “of just over a month ago.”

30/5/17. “There was to be a big attack and certain objectives were, as usual, laid down. We were ordered to push forward our OP by stages to a point a few hundred yards behind the final objective, following up the attack and keeping up communication, sending back information and reporting and dealing with counter attacks and so on. It all sounds very easy.

At Zero hour I was at the regular OP with a drum of cable ready to go forward. The attack began while it was still dark and the usual hideous inferno of noise reached perhaps the greatest intensity of the whole war…

About an hour after it was light the wounded began to straggle back, but they could give me no information, having been hit at the outset…

Programmes are always arranged on the assumption that everything goes well. Accordingly I set out with my signaller, laying the line as we went. When we reached the valley below our hill I realised that it was absolutely thick with machine gun and rifle bullets, besides the usual shells. We therefore rushed from shell hole to shell hole, a few yards at a time, till we reached the first spot indicated on the programme.

Finding a roomy hole nearby, we settled down in it to consider the situation and fix up the phone. Watching over the top a few minutes later, I was surprised to see our infantry go over the top from the original front line, and they were met by such a concentrated fury of machine guns and shells that I knew they had not been able to advance at all in the first attack.

We tried to send information back to this effect, but of course our line was broken. Out we got to mend it, which we did successfully, and we were just about 20 yards from our shell hole when ‘pht pht pht’ came a sniper’s bullets, so close that I knew he had spotted us. We dived into a hole and completed our 20 yards about a yard at a time, just diving to earth as the ‘pht’ of the bullet arrived. I got my information back , but for the moment could do no more as the sniper had seen where we disappeared, and every few minutes he would send one over the lip of the crater on the chance of catching one of us…

A little later, thinking that the Hun would surely have forgotten us, I decided to make another attempt to get forward… I got out of the hole, but hadn’t gone 5 yards before ‘pht pht pht’ came the bullets again. Down I went into a hole – not nearly such a nice one, as it was near to the carcass of a horse. I had no sooner got into this when a great 8-inch shell came right down beside the carcass and threw the whole horse bodily about 15 feet into the air, right over my head, and it landed the other side of me about 15 yards away. A great jagged piece of this shell hit me hard on the helmet, but I hardly felt it.”

With some difficulty by mid afternoon Humphrey had got his line through to the second location on the programme, but thereafter could get no further, as the infantry had not reached their objectives.

His job done, he and his signaller returned to the battery. It does not sound as if this “big attack” met with great success, despite their considerable efforts.

It is a sobering thought, but if it wasn’t for the dead horse, Humphrey must surely have perished.

May 28th 1917

Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA) has replied to Fluff Taylor’s proposal that the School should have a War Memorial for Old Dragons who lay down their lives in this war.

He accepts that the building of a chapel might be the “normal” thing for a school to do…

15/5/17 “But we are not an ordinary school, and our tradition has always been cast in the opposite extreme. Routine, orthodoxy, ritual, unreasoning compliance with comme il faut – all these we have deliberately avoided. Some would say we have gone too far and undoubtedly our tradition, like the others, has its dangers. But freedom and sincerity and spontaneity and genuineness, and the mistrust of the second-rate and the second-hand, are things worth a good deal of risk to obtain and it is my firm belief that the best part of our school tradition is marked with just these characteristics.”

Hugh fears that a chapel would have to be under diocesan supervision and that school services on our present lines (with the staff and boys running them) would be impossible.

“If so, I can only say that the prospect fills me with fear. I fear… the apathy of routine: I fear the wrong kind of parent coming and saying ‘how nice and proper’ : I fear the right kind of parent coming and saying ‘After all, there’s not much in it between this and other schools’…

I am not thinking merely of those whose parents and upbringing are of some other specific creed: and I leave out of account the French and other non-British boys who have been such a strength to the School. I am thinking rather of the numbers in whom religious sensibility develops late, or takes some other form than participation in a uniform code of outward worship. Cannot we find some way of commemorating our common sacrifice which does not leave them out in the cold, and which does really link together all Dragons, past, present and to come?

My own feeling is that the War Memorial should be a building habitually and freely used by all Dragons, where the whole school meets occasionally for certain purposes and where at other times any boy can go at any hour of the day to read or write or reflect, with the names and records and memorials of the honoured dead visibly before him.”

In short, Hugh would rather we thought in terms of “a library, assembly hall, reading room, museum, concert hall or any mixture of these.”

 

Lieut. Martin Collier (RN) has also written. He supports the idea of a chapel:

“Provided, of course, that the School services remain exactly as they are at present, conducted by the boys themselves…”

 

I hope others will contribute their views to this debate and I look forward to hearing them.