February 6th 1919

The occasion of the investiture of Rear-Admiral Tyrwhitt on Monday with the Freedom of Oxford was quite splendid, amidst much cheering and singing of ‘For he’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’ The parchment he received was in a silver casket with the Oxford and the Tyrwhitt family coats of arms on it. It was most impressive!

Accepting his honour in the name of the Harwich force which he led so ably throughout the war, he recalled his early days on the upper river and when he rowed in a race from Godstow to Binsey in 1880, aged 10. Many was the time when he came to grief on the river and he was dried out outwardly and inwardly refreshed at the nearby Trout Inn.

The only note of sadness was that his father, who was vicar of St Mary Magdalen’s (1858-72) and died at 62 Banbury Rd in 1895, was not able to share the moment with him.

Our young scribe, John Brunyate (aged 12), concludes his account of the three days of the Admiral’s stay in Oxford:

“On Tuesday, to our delight, he came up and was photographed with the whole school. He brought with him two of the original members of the school, his brother Beauchamp Tyrwhitt and Dr. FC Ford, and, after he had satisfied the many autograph hunters, he claimed a repetition of the extra half.

In the afternoon, Mr Vassall represented the school at the Sheldonian, and found himself supported by Walter Moberly, Jack Gamlen and other ODs.”

This event was staged to confer on the Admiral a Doctorate in Civil Law (DCL) and the Public Orator, Dr AD Godley, made the presentation address. As it was long – and in Latin – we shall not include it here. Suffice it to say, in essence it said exactly the same thing as the song that was sung at his investiture with the Freedom!

Rear-Admiral Sir RY Tyrwhitt KCB DSO RN as DCL

 

 

 

February 3rd 1919

Daily Telegraph, December 5th 1918

This much heralded event is upon us today, but in advance of it we were delighted to have Rear-Admiral Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt to address the boys at the School Service yesterday.

It is good for a boy to be asked to record events on important occasions such as this (as with the visits of Jack Smyth VC and Archbishop Cosmo Lang) and this time it is John Brunyate who is responsible for what follows, starting with the Admiral’s excellent address of which this was part:

“I remember I was generally somewhere near the bottom of my form, but I did learn how to make up my own mind. Now it may seem a hard thing for you to prepare for the future, but it is not really difficult if you keep a straight course all along. Do not wander to this side or that, either through temptation or outside influence, and, above all, do not rely too much on others. Make up your own minds. The advice of others is very useful occasionally, but when one gets too used to outside advice one cannot help oneself, and when the emergency comes one cannot get on alone.”

Sir Reginald went on to tell of the raid on Cuxhaven (December 1914), when he was in charge of the light cruisers and destroyers accompanying the transports which were carrying a number of seaplanes that were to carry out the raid. However, they were spotted by the enemy and he had to make the decision as to whether to carry on or call the mission off. The manner in which he reached his conclusion was remarkable.

Opting not to ask for another opinion, which would only make him more undecided, he noticed a ball of light in the sky in the Cuxhaven direction.

“I was then joined by an officer who said, ‘Do you know what day it is, sir? It is Christmas Day.’

‘So it is,’ I replied, ‘I had forgotten. Then that’s the Star in the East and I’m going on.’  My mind was made up, and from that moment I had not the slightest doubt about the success of our enterprise. 

The light in the sky proved eventually to be the planet Jupiter and it remained visible for quite a long time after the sun rose.”

Today the boys are enjoying an “extra half” and a number of the staff will be at the Oxford Town Hall to see the Admiral receive the Freedom of the City.

 

 

August 16th 1918

Lieut. Brian Bickmore (RN)

Brian Bickmore has been the victim of an tragic accident. His ship, the destroyer HMS Comet, was escorting SS Gordonia from Taranto to Malta when they collided on August 4th.

The Captain of HMS Comet, despite it being a very difficult time for him (as you will read below), has been able to furnish the family with the following details concerning Brian’s death:

“He was in his cabin at the time, and it was completely destroyed by the ship which ran into us. He must have been killed instantly. Nothing was ever seen of him afterwards, although a thorough search was made.”

Brian had served for nearly three years in the Mediterranean and was expected home on leave when the accident happened.

At the OPS he was a keen, determined boy with a merry twinkle in his eye, loyal and affectionate. He was full of life, and took the keenest interest in his work.

HMS Comet

Two days afterwards (on August 6th), HMS Comet, having lost a significant part of her stern as a result of the collision, was herself under tow when an explosion occurred, which sank the ship.

This short article in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ must surely refer to HMS Comet’s demise:

Daily Telegraph, 14/8/1918

 

 

 

February 19th 1918

Martin Collier‘s death has weighed on my mind these past days and my thoughts go back to memories I have of him as an OPS schoolboy in the early years of this new and none too happy century.

Martin was to be prepared, not for the usual entrance examination to Public Schools, but for the requirements of the recently founded Royal Naval College at Osborne on the Isle of Wight. (Martin was the first Dragon to enter the Royal Navy by this route).

Despite my dislike for ‘cramming,’ I realised that Martin would need help if he was to be successful.

Martin, when a Dragon

When the time was approaching for Martin to compete for a Royal Naval Cadetship at Osborne, we were much exercised by the prospect of the newly established ‘Interview.’ There were all sorts of stories about it, but the great thing seemed to be to give the interviewers a ‘lead’. So, in the Easter holidays, I took Martin with two other boys, Jack Brooks and Ernest Filleul, for a cruise in a small yacht on the south coast…

At the beginning of term I said to Martin, “Draw me a picture of the ‘Enchantress.’” He drew the most remarkable picture, a triangular jib at each end, the mast nearer to the stern than to the bows. I made him copy a picture of the yacht, taught him how to draw it, taught him the rig and the names of the halliards etc. Then I asked him where we had been. He had only the vaguest notion of the map, so he had to spend hours over copying the chart from the Wight to Dartmouth, with the lights, ports, five-fathom line etc.

After the interview he came dashing up to me with a splendid grin, “The Admiral said, ‘I hear you have been doing some yachting. What was the yacht like? How rigged? Her tonnage?’ and then told me to sit down and draw a map of our cruise. I was rather a long time over it, and he came and looked at it and carried it off and showed it to the other interviewers – I was just putting in the five-fathom line – and they seemed very pleased with it!”

Of course, to a boy a cruise is just a holiday with plenty of fun and amusement, but he does not naturally get into his head much about the rig of boats or the intricacies of a chart, and what a terrible loss it would have been if Martin had not been ‘passed’ by the interviewers!

I have no repentance for that bit of ‘cram.’

(Before moving on to Dartmouth, Martin was in the XV, won the middle-weight boxing and was a cadet captain).

 

 

February 8th 1918

Lieut. Martin Collier (RN)

We now have further news regarding the death of Martin Collier. He received orders to take his submarine, H 10, with a crew of 26, on dangerous secret service. He sailed from Harwich into the North Sea, never to return. It is thought that perhaps the submarine hit a mine.  Martin had left a noble letter to be delivered to his family in case he did not return.

Further tributes have been forthcoming, this from Sidney Herbert, a fellow officer:

“Martin Collier was captain of one of those of our submarines which go out and are no more heard of, and had I any official knowledge of how they were lost I might not reveal it.”

Sidney remembers stories of Martin when they were at RNC Osborne, roaming the island “sometimes within bounds, sometimes with long chases that brought him in contact with authorities in a way which made the less daring among us hold our breath.”

From Osborne Martin went on to Dartmouth, where his sport flourished. Martin was a talented rugby player. He played for the United Services and he was described as “the hardest working forward in perhaps the best club pack in England.”

In 1913/14 he played for the South and could well have gone on to make the England team.  He was also a boxer of note, winning the Navy & Marines’ middle-weight boxing championship of 1910.

I am most grateful to Martin’s father, Lieut.-Col. Collier, for forwarding me the letter he received from the chaplain of HMS Alecto, written immediately after H 10 had failed to return:

“… I knew your son very well indeed and without any hesitation I can say that he was one of the very finest characters it has ever been my privilege to meet. He was a real, clean, upright Christian gentleman. I personally shall miss him more than I can say.

He was a great help to me here, and the example he set of simple manly religion greatly impressed the officers and men, not only of his own crew, but of the whole depot. He always read the lesson at our parade services when he was in harbour, and was a very regular communicant…

He was most sympathetic and understanding and we all loved him. His crew, whom I knew well, were devoted to him. I saw his coxswain’s wife yesterday, and she told me that she tried to persuade her husband to report sick and miss this last trip, as he had a bad cold. But the coxswain said he couldn’t think of letting Mr Collier go without him.

This spirit animated the whole crew, and proves what we who knew him always recognised, that your son was a born leader of men – but he was more than that, he was a very perfect and courageous gentleman…

He has fought the good fight, he has finished his course, he has kept the faith…”

Coincidentally, today’s ‘Roll of Honour’ in the Daily Telegraph not only recorded Martin’s death, but also listed 2nd Lieut. William Sheepshanks (KRRC) as “Previously reported missing, now reported killed.”

We posted as much on December 27th (Bill having been “missing” since July 10th 1917). It has taken until now for the authorities finally to make this official.

 

 

February 3rd 1918

I am grateful to Lieut. Spencer Leeson (RNVR) for this appreciation of the life of Martin Collier, who has become the 58th of our old boys to have laid down his life for the country:

“Memories of Martin must be vivid and clear-cut in the minds of all his friends. He was one of those men who, as it were, hit you straight between the eyes the first minute you saw him. You were conscious at once of a personality, and at the mention of his name afterwards many scenes came crowding into memory with the figure of Martin in high relief, saying or doing some characteristic thing.

Many will remember even how he used to arrive at school in the morning – hands in pockets, a battered old cap a little to the back of his head, passing jauntily through the gate leading to the asphalt, and on frosty mornings, rushing to the top of the slide to take his place in the queue.

On the rugger ground, of course, he was in his glory…

Martin Collier outside School House

The ordinary school matches never roused in him the stern ardour with which he entered upon a Dayboy and Boarder match… He always played a great game on these days, as I have particular reason to know, for he generally marked me out of touch. He would speak of these games with great enthusiasm when he was well on the way to his International Cap, and of all the matches he played, I do not believe he enjoyed any more than those at the School for the OD side.

One game particularly will be remembered – surely the greatest the ODs ever played – when GC (Mr Vassall) collected an OD side which Lindsay Wallace took down in December 1913 to meet the Osborne officers and staff. Martin led the pack in tremendous style, and our victory was largely due to his and Lindsay’s play.

Whenever I met him afterwards, Martin would speak rapturously of that game, and declare that when the OD scrum got well together, no side on earth could beat them.”

We did so hope that Martin would have lived to fulfil his ambition to play for England, and his last letters to the school – one on some rather robust rugger tactics and the other in support of a War Memorial, will be treasured.

There was more to Martin than sporting prowess, however, and Spencer is right to remember this:

“He carried his taste for literature with him into the service, and would relate afterwards how hard he found it to get time for reading, and how his Philistine colleagues used to enquire what earthly good there was in Tennyson or Browning.

In one of the last letters I had from him, he told me how he was enjoying a volume of Plutarch, which he could read, he said, in his submarine, during his off-time, ‘not a hundred miles from the coast of Germany.’

His memory will be enshrined among us, as long as any are alive who knew him.”

 

January 30th 1918

Lieut. Martin Collier (RN)

The war continues to take its toll of our very best and best-loved Old Boys. Just as it seemed we would go through January without loss, we read with the heaviest of hearts today that Martin Collier has been lost at sea.

He was in command of submarine H10, which went out on a mission and has not returned. The obituary in The Times today gives the date of his death as being January 19th and gave these details of his life:

 “He distinguished himself as an athlete. Both at Osborne and Dartmouth he won a reputation in boxing and at Rugby football. Later he played for the Navy, the United Services and the South.

In the spring of 1914, in the last Army and Navy Boxing Championship Meeting at Portsmouth, he won the championship in the officers’ light heavies.

One who knew him well writes: ‘He was a real, clean, Christian gentleman… and the example he set of simple, manly religion greatly impressed the officers and men not only of his own crew, but of the whole depot.’”

He is another of whom I can say that he loved the School as the School loved him. A chasm has swallowed him up leaving us, his friends of a life-time, bereft. There is so much more to be said about Martin, and I am sure that once we have composed ourselves, we will address this.