June 1st 1917

Following the news last week of John’s disappearance on the battlefield of Arras, Mr & Mrs Dowson have received a letter from his Company Commander, Captain Green of 1st Royal Berkshires.

Capt. OJ Dowson

28/5/17 “…As you perhaps know, my Company, to which your son belonged, attacked on April 28th, and he got back safely.

Then at dawn on May 3rd the remnants again attacked. The attack was successful in that we gained our objective, but no supplies were sent us and we had to evacuate the captured trench, lie in shell holes close by till dark and then get back.

John was quite fit after we entered the Boche line, and was so when last seen a few minutes before our withdrawal.

I have carefully questioned all the survivors, but from this time onwards nothing has been seen or heard of him.”

From what one can deduce from the above, the fighting was heavy and there were many casualties.  It is nearly a month ago now, and with each passing day the likelihood – I fear – of John having survived, grows more remote.

November 25th 1915

The first successful flight over the English Channel by Louis Bleriot took place in 1909, whilst Jack Slessor was busy playing in his gang and building forts at the OPS. He probably was aware of the event but not particularly excited by it or the founding of the Royal Flying Corps three years later. His father was in the Army and that was where his ambition lay. But surely, we all felt,  there could be no real hope of such a career for him. He was lame in both legs due to childhood polio. As a result, he was not allowed to play rugger. (As Jack Haldane’s sister Naomi was also not allowed to play, they would go rowing together on the Cherwell.)

Despite his infirmities and having been declared ‘totally unfit for any form of military service,’ Jack has been accepted by the Royal Flying Corps. A helpful uncle in the War Office is rumoured…

Jack has now won the race to become the first Old Dragon to fly across the Channel. He flew in a new biplane over the School field one day during games on his way from Coventry to Farnborough, flew across the Channel to St. Omer the next day and was back again with us watching games before we realised he had time to get started!

Here is a part of his account:

Jack Slessor...

2nd Lt. Jack Slessor

“We left Farnborough at 10.15 and got to Folkestone at 11.25. We went and had lunch… We pushed off from Folkestone a little after 3.00 and got to St. Omer a little after 4.00, taking about two and a half hours altogether…

I crossed the Channel at 9,000 feet, but there were great white clouds drifting at about 6,000 feet and a heat haze, so I did not see France till about mid-Channel… Cape Gris-nez was the first thing I saw and I followed the coast down to Calais and then up the railway inland to St. Omer. I could see the famous Belgian sand dunes and Hazebruck, and Ypres a blur in the distance.”

The noise of the aircraft was such that, on landing, Jack was almost stone deaf and unable to hear the noise of the guns.

* * * * * * * *

My brother (Hum Lynam) has been responsible for a concert held on November 15th in Keble College Dining Room in aid of the Professional Classes’ War Relief Fund & the Fund for Oxfordshire Prisoners of War in Germany.

The varied programme featured a number of people connected with the OPS. Miss Rosina Filippi is the mother of two of Old Dragons (John & Lawrence Dowson) and Miss Carmen Hill is married to George Drinkwater. Miss Hill sang in one of the Promenade Concerts of 1910 under Henry Wood with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra.



January 18th 1915

E A S T E R    T E R M    1 9 1 5 .

Hamlet 1915

Having devoted three days to rehearsal, we put on three performances of ‘Hamlet’ over the first weekend of the new term. This was generally reviewed favourably.

From the Oxford Magazine:

“From the melancholy business of arranging half-hearted lectures for skeleton classes, some of us were glad enough to snatch a respite by withdrawing to the OPS in order to witness the performance of no less a play than Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’…

As regards diction there was universal excellence; and it is clear that the OPS may rightfully boast of being a school of pure English, where elocution does not rank among the forgotten arts, as happens too often nowadays.”

We were delighted that Rosina Filippi was able to attend our first performance. She is well known as the first dramatist to adapt the works of Jane Austen for the stage. She is also the author of  ‘Hints to Speakers and Players’ and readers my be interested in the first chapter on ‘Diction and Elocution.’ She was rather more critical of the children:

“I think too much was sacrificed to the careful enunciation of words. It was too syllabic. I don’t mean that the sense of the sentences was not there – in many cases it was amazingly clear. It showed great intelligence on the part of the boys that they could deliver lines so accurately as to convey the adult reading in their own delivery; but the poetry as verse was gone; the metre was lost, there was no footing in the line. It was an intelligent reading but not scholarly.”

Finally, this performance was also reviewed by the Oxford Times:

“The boys and girls of Mr. Lynam’s school gave three performances of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet.’ The first, on Friday evening was witnessed by nearly 400 boys and girls from the various Oxford elementary and higher grade schools, and with the unfortunate exception of a knot of boys in one corner of the gallery, they all appeared to appreciate and enjoy the performance. The boys referred to did not know how to behave, and to some extent spoiled the evening for the rest.

Hamlet’s part was taken by Terence Greenidge. The boy’s elocution was perfect, and he never hesitated in the enunciation of the seven or eight hundred lines he had to say. His rendering was different from that of the professional Hamlet; he was not so much the ‘melancholy Dane’ as the fiery youth who until the end of the player scene was not sure of the Ghost’s story, but afterwards was ready to carry out his murdered father’s command to avenge and at the same time spare as far as possible his weak mother.”