November 16th 1917

I was looking for some relief from this never-ending war, and my thoughts turned to rugger.

Martin Collier

Lieut. Martin Collier (RN) is an Old Dragon player of note, having represented the Navy (1910-14), United Services (1910-14) and The South (1913-14). In normal times we would do well to listen any advice he cared to offer on the playing of the game, but the notes he has sent us, written, he says “after a recent match on the East Coast,describe, perhaps, a wartime version of the game that is certainly not cricket!

“Somewhere within the precincts of Rugby School may be seen a stone bearing an inscription to the memory of a boy who, during a game of soccer ‘with a fine disregard for the rules of the game, picked up the ball and ran with it.’ This commemorates the birth of the Royal and Ancient game of Rugger.

So far as we know, there is as yet no memorial to the man who ‘with a fine disregard for the rules of the game’ (a delicious phrase) first plugged his immediate opponent in the eye; thus developing the game into its present fine, manly and vigorous form so popular in Great Yarmouth this year.

For the benefit of those of our readers as yet unversed, we propose to outline a few of the more elementary points and moves in this splendid sport; with the hope that they will practise them in solitude, and presently confute our opponents by displaying their prowess on the field of play.

  1. THE HAND-OFF. An absurd rule forbids this to be administered – as Nature obviously intended it – with the clenched fist. Only a few old-fashioned referees however, still object to it in this form; and, as so useful a weapon can hardly be dispensed with, it should be used, as Nature intended, whenever possible. The user may be sure of our sympathy should an obsolete but keen-sighted referee ‘order him off.’
  2. THE SCRAG. The ‘modus operandi’ of this delightful ‘tour-de-force’ is as follows. The scragger seizes his intended victim round the neck with the right arm, at the same time binding his arms to his sides with the left. Throwing his weight back he then jerks the scraggee off his balance and, while falling, slews half round, so that he – the scragger – will fall on top. At the same time, the right arm is shifted a few inches so that the wrist or knuckles, when the prone position is finally obtained, will lie between the victim’s face and mother earth. Then placing all his weight on the back of the scraggee’s head, the right wrist or knuckles are worked to and fro. The referee blows his whistle for ‘cease firing,’ and one or both participants in the ‘tête-à-tête’ then rejoin their fellow players. Some half-hearted players have a foolish prejudice, sometimes even amounting to a rooted objection, to playing the part of the scraggee unless they are in possession of the ball. But this is quite a minor point.
  3. THE SUPER-SCRAG. This is a refinement or improved variation on the above, and should be employed when it is desired that any particular player should take no further part in the game. The selected opponent is grasped round the neck with both hands from the front, as though about to be fondled. The head is then pulled forward and down as briskly as possible, the operator at the same time lifting his knee forward and up in a similar brisk manner. If correctly timed, and if the opponent has a certain amount of forward momentum at the critical moment, the operator’s knee and the victim’s chin will meet at a point with a very considerable force of impact. Stretcher-bearers then remove the body so that it will not interfere with play.”

I think that is quite enough for now – there is more dubious advice on ‘holding the ball in the scrum,’ which can be divulged at some point in the future.

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.

 

 

August 16th 1916

CDF at sea croppedYou may have seen the Poet Laureate, Mr Robert Bridges has published a piece entitled ‘The Chivalry of the Sea‘ and the more observant amongst you may have noticed that this is dedicated to our own Charles Fisher, who went down with HMS Invincible at Jutland.

The well-known composer, Sir Hubert Parry, is setting the piece to music.

A friend of Charles Fisher’s, Mr George Lyttelton, has written a capital piece in Charles’ memory. Apparently Charles told him that all he wished to do after the war was to go to bed for five years, only getting up for meals – before adding that this was not to be considered incompatible with an earlier wish to end his days in a Worcestershire vicarage, having helped to settle the date of Deuteronomy.

How I do miss Charles.

June 13th 1916

We have certainly had a very high opinion of our naval supremacy over recent years and some may be wondering why it was that the German High Seas Fleet was not obliterated at Jutland in the true Nelsonic style of the past. Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (HMS Valiant) suggests that maybe we have under-estimated the abilities of our enemy:

9/6/16. “Their shooting was marvellously accurate at the long ranges and their rapid fire astounding both by day and night. People at home talk of the High Canal Fleet covered with barnacles. My aunt! I should have liked to have had a few armchair critics by the side of the Captain and myself in the conning-tower that afternoon in May. They are foes worthy of our steel, but Von Sheer made one grave error.

Instead of breaking off the action when he had sunk the ‘Indefatigable,’  ‘Queen Mary’ and two new destroyers, he evidently thought he was going to smash the whole of Beatty’s Squadron and became intoxicated with success. He even finished off the ‘Defence’, ‘Black Prince’,  ‘Warrior’ and ‘Invincible’… only to find himself a few minutes later fairly landed in the arms of the great Sir John and the Grand Fleet, who gave him simple hell till 7.30, when the Huns turned and fled.”

It has been most interesting hearing Geoffrey’s account of the battle and no doubt it was of great service to the official account as submitted by the Captain of the ship.

History will decide the importance of the events of these past days. For us, whilst we mourn the loss of Charles Fisher, we are relieved that amongst the long list of those killed and wounded, there are no other Dragon names.

June 11th 1916

Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (HMS Valiant) continues his account of the battle, revealing how he has been able to recall the events so well:

7/6/16. “It is just a week today since our little picnic at the Little Fisher Bank took place, and there has been a tremendous amount of work since. We, so the Captain tells me, were almost the only ship to keep any real record of the show at the time, as I dictated notes throughout to a Midshipman with a note-book squatting down at my feet…

There were some weird happenings: we picked up a W.T. signal from one of our destroyers from the Sub-Lieut., worded as follows:- ‘My Captain is dying, the 1st Lieut., Surgeon and gunners are all dead, my bridge has been shot away so I do not know my position as I am isolated. Request instructions.’

That boy got his ship back safely as I saw her here two days later, and if any boy deserves a D.S.C., he does.”

I think this must be HMS Onslaught, about which we read in the Daily Telegraph on June 7th.

June 10th 1916

Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (HMS Valiant) continues in his correspondence to fill in further detail of the events of the battle off Jutland, including a story of British pluck in an unlikely quarter:

6/6/16. “The Admiral addressed us on deck this morning and said this ship was worthy of her name throughout the long day of May 31st

One can only liken it all to some of the pictures of Hell by Gustav Doré. No artist could ever reproduce the scene on canvas, and no pen except that of a master of prose could help people to realise what it was like. I was not afraid (nobody was), but at the same time I confess quite candidly I did not enjoy all these little night picnics off the Danish coast…

The Germans claim today that at 7.30 p.m. they made (it was launched to cover their retreat) a successful destroyer attack (in daylight of course). Well, I saw it – eight huge modern boats – and a fiasco it was. We hit and stopped two; some other ship knocked out a third; two more were cut off by our light cruisers and presumably sunk; the remaining three bolted. Successful? I don’t think.

Our living crest, a very fine cock, was walking round our decks throughout the action quite unconcerned, and he went to inspect his nest towards the end of the party only to find it blown to blazes, and to get his tail feathers blown off at the same time by the discharge of our own guns. But he is quite happy now and very much alive.”

 

June 9th 1916

We have a further information from Commander Geoffrey Freyberg, who is being kept busy writing up the events as experienced by HMS Valiant at the Battle of Jutland.

5/6/16. I’ve been at work on a plan of the scrap all day…

I must have seen as much of the fight as any man in the fleet. Beatty got hell to start with, as, to his surprise, the Huns accepted action with the utmost alacrity at 5.30 p.m. on the 31st. At 4.01 we came into action; at 4.02 ‘Indefatigable’ blew up; at 4.15 ‘Queen Mary’ ditto. Not an encouraging start, as I saw both go.

At 4.30 our Battle Cruisers legged it at 28 knots, and we were left to fight a rear-guard action; our four against eleven Huns, with the light in their favour. From 4.30-6.15 p.m. we drew them on towards Sir John Jellicoe…

‘Defence’ and ‘Black Prince’ were sunk at 6.15 as they came up and Sir John Jellicoe arrived. Then the Huns got hell till 7.25, when they broke off the action and fled.”