May 6th 1919

Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (RN), who reported on the surrender of the German U-boats in November, has returned from a week of celebrations in Paris and Cherbourg at the invitation of a grateful French nation. He and his ship, HMS Valiant, have now returned to Scapa Flow, from where he has written to us.

The French government had wished to honour the work of the Royal Navy in the War and on April 23rd (St George’s Day) held a review of our naval troops in the Court of Honour of the Hotel des Invalides, conducted by the Governor of Paris. It was attended by both Rear-Admiral Reginald Tyrwhitt and Admiral Sir David Beatty, their staffs and various ships’ companies.

On April 26th Geoffrey and his fellow officers were taken to see Reims and something of the war-torn countryside:

“From Château Thierry and Épernay we passed through the devastated area. Every town and every village was in ruins. Famous Châteaux with their roofs battered in, with broken beds gaping out of holes in the walls, and Churches with perhaps only half the Chancel or the Choir still standing, made one realize for perhaps the first time the feelings of intense hatred of the French towards the Boche, and one now understands why it is the Frenchmen are still burning to revenge themselves…

Reims had 100,000 inhabitants before the war, but only 10% now remain. Sixteen houses only are undamaged in the City. Little or no repair has been undertaken in the devastated area owing to lack of building material.”

Reims Cathedral is in a particularly bad condition.

“Outside its western front we were met by Cardinal Luçon (aged 83) and conducted round the ruins of what was once the most glorious Church in France. The building is no longer open to the public as it is in a state of dangerous collapse, the roof lies on the floor, the High Altar has vanished and the Northern Tower looks very shaky.”

Reims Cathedral nave.

“We now motored out in the rain to Fort la Pompelle, the N.E. corner of the Reims defences and the scene of desperate fighting. All the trenches are filled in, but shells, grenades, human bones and an occasional dead horse with miles of wire lie everywhere. Two grenades went off without hurting anyone, and of course most fellows carried back trophies in the shape of broken rifles or fragments of shell.

La Pompelle Fort

A French Colonel of Infantry at one place said, ‘Gentlemen, this is holy ground, as you stand on the bodies of all my officers and most of my men. I ask you to salute them.'”

When they had all returned to Paris that evening, at the end of a very full day, they looked for some lighter entertainment:

“Although feeling rather tired, we again sallied forth to visit the magnificent Allied Officers’ Club next to the British Embassy. Finding this rather dull we moved on to Maxims, which has just been reopened after the recent brawl there, which resulted in four American and French officers being killed or wounded because an American kissed a French lady…”

March 18th 1919

Commander John Bywater-Ward (RN)

Yesterday’s edition of the Times brought news of the death of Jack Bywater-Ward, at his home at Shanklin on the Isle of Wight, on March 14th.

During the War he served in the North Sea, where he contracted consumption. Continued ill health forced him into retirement last July.

Jack trained for the navy on HMS Britannia, becoming a Midshipman in 1898, aged 16. He subsequently served on HMS Canopus (1907-9) and was on the staff of HMS Excellent (Portsmouth Gunnery School) as Senior Staff Lieut.  From 1912-17 he served on HMS Ajax, and was awarded the Russian Order of St. Anne, 3rd class, “with swords” for distinguished service during the Battle of Jutland.

HMS Ajax’s forward guns.

In 1917 he was back at HMS Excellent as a Commander, instructing on the Long Gunnery Course Gunnery on Whale Island, Portsmouth, where he was also credited with four inventions that were accepted by the Admiralty.

Jack’s father died in 1898, but he is survived by his mother (who lives here in Oxford), his wife and eight-year-old daughter.

He will be buried on the Isle, at St Helen’s Churchyard, St Helens.

March 12th 1919

Sub-Lieut. Percy Trevelyan (RN)

It is now four months since the Armistice was signed and we assumed that those who had served their country so faithfully were to be spared. However, the influenza and associated illnesses are proving just as deadly.

Percy Trevelyan, who had been assigned to HMS Sable in December, died of bronchial pneumonia at his home on Marston Ferry Road in Oxford on March 10th, aged just 19.

He only spent a year at the OPS (1909-10), being ordered by his doctor to go to a school with a different climate, but we all grew very fond of him and his bright, happy disposition during the short time he was with us.

He entered the Navy by way of the Royal Naval Colleges at Osborne and Dartmouth.

At Jutland, Percy (then a 16 year old midshipman) was in the thick of the fighting, being on the battleship HMS Malaya, which sustained more casualties than any other battleship that day.

He then served in the Dover Patrol for about nine months on the patrol boat HMS P 50, when it was commanded by another Old Dragon, Lieut. Desmond Stride (RN).

Percy lost his mother in 1903 and his older brother Wilfred, who served with the Rifle Brigade, died at Ypres in May 1915 after barely a month at the Front.

His body is to be interred in the family plot alongside his mother at Wolvercote Cemetery.

 

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).