April 23rd 1918

 

Lieut. Greville Thomas (Gurkha Rifles)

Today, it is my sad duty to report the loss of someone who was not only a much loved Old Boy, but also a member of my own family.

My nephew, Greville Thomas, was killed on April 10th in Palestine.

My sister has forwarded to me a letter from Lieut.-Col. Shaw, commanding 3/3 Gurkha Rifles, with his account of Greville’s final action.

“On April 9th orders came for an advance for the 10th…  

As one of the preliminary moves of the day, we were to take the hill I have marked 6.

Your son’s Company (D Coy) was detailed for the job and, after a preliminary bombardment by our guns, he rushed the hill with practically no casualties…

At about 10 a.m the real advance began…

The General sent me orders to rush the Pimple from the direction of Hill 6 with the company holding that hill. I passed on these orders to your son, and we had a long talk on the telephone, discussing the matter and arranging for artillery co-operation. He was absolutely confident about it, though he knew the attack would involve loss, across the open as it was. His last words on the telephone were a very cheery ‘Very well sir; goodbye’ and I answered ‘Good luck, old boy,’ and we shut down the telephone.

The attack failed completely, though most gallantly made. The Pimple turned out to be the surprise of the day, and was heavily held by the enemy… the attack was simply swept away. The two leading platoons were shot away to a man, and the support platoon practically shared the same fate…

Greville fell while leading this platoon in its dash across the open. He died instantaneously with three machine-gun bullets in his chest.”

Greville’s parents had only recently received a letter from him, written two days before his death:

“Just a short line today as I am very busy. I take my Coy. into the attack tomorrow. It’s not a very big show and mine is the only Company in the Battalion doing it, but one never knows what opposition there will be…”

With so many soldiers having no known graves, it is comforting to hear from Lieut.-Col. Shaw that in Greville’s case at least, his body was recovered:

“The following day I started negotiations under the Red Cross flag with the Germans and Turks with a view to mutual burying of the dead. As a result, his body was buried by our Medical Officer on April 17th. The position of the grave has been registered and marked with a cross of stones alongside.”

Of my three Thomas nephews, only Lynam Thomas remains  – Eric, the middle of the three brothers (and not an Old Boy of the OPS), having been killed in action last December.

Greville’s chief characteristics were an intense love for the home circle, and an unremitting devotion to hard work and duty, with a keen sense of humour. He was a great forward at Rugby football and helped introduce the game at Rossall, to which he won an Open Scholarship in 1910.


					

April 8th 1918

Lieut. Greville Thomas (Gurkha Rifles) is in Palestine. Over Christmas he was on the Red Sea and was able to spend a few days in Jerusalem last month.

Greville has from his earliest days been a great letter-writer; his letters are capitally descriptive and expressive of his feelings and ideas, from his letters home from the OPS to some long beautiful letters he has been sending more recently from the East – this before his first experience of action:

26/3/18 “Tomorrow night we go into the real thing and I should like to write you a few lines today, as I may not get the chance to do so again for a week or two… 

We expect pretty stiff opposition now, but we are sure to win through. If I get through all right you’ll know.  I’ll write as often as I can; if I don’t, you’ll know I have done my best from the day I entered the Service and you needn’t worry about anything else…

I’m looking forward to tomorrow night and the following weeks. I shall see my first real fighting then. I’m enjoying every minute of the life now and wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

Greville is the oldest son of my sister Helen – and my own dear nephew. His family were encouraged by his fine words, but understandably anxious to hear that he came through all right.

Fortunately, we did not have to wait long to hear that, for now at least, all is well:

29/3/18. “I write, as it were, in the midst of battle. We captured the ridge we are on the night before last, and we have been fighting to hold it ever since. The hillock I and my Company took was defended by a machine-gun, a Lewis gun and about ten men – all Germans we think…

My only kit now is a blanket and note books and the small photos I have of you all. Well, cheerioh, all of you, and don’t worry about me. I quite enjoy the show. One has got one’s job to do, and I try to do mine to completion, and yet don’t take any unnecessary risks.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 13th 1917

Capt. Frank Spurling (Rifle Brigade)

Another dear friend and Old Boy has been taken from us. Frank Spurling has been killed.

He received gunshot wounds to the abdomen and lung during a tour of duty near Poperinghe on December 5th and died the following day at no. 44 Casualty Clearing Station.

The Spurlings are not only a long-standing OPS family, but one that knew before this war had started what it was to lose a son. In the South African War Alfred, the eldest brother, was besieged in Mafeking with Baden-Powell (and, as I recall, managed nonetheless to get a letter out by way of a native runner for the ‘Draconian’!)  Although he survived the siege, he was killed in action not long afterwards.

Another of his brothers, Rev. Henry Spurling, was one of the first editors of the ‘Draconian.’ He left our staff in December 1915 to act as chaplain and interpreter with the Hampshires.

Frank was the youngest and had emigrated to South Africa to be an ostrich farmer in 1903. He returned in 1915 to join the Rifle Brigade. Dangerously wounded twice earlier in the war, Frank visited us earlier this term, before going out for the third time.

We loved Frank as dearly as we know he loved his old school, but the love of family comes above all else. What tragedy has beset them – Frank’s wife died last year, whilst he himself lay seriously wounded in France, and he now leaves a three year old daughter as an orphan.

 

May 27th 1916

Raymond Drew

Sergeant Raymond Drew (Royal Fusiliers)

Raymond Drew has been killed in an action that was not intended. He was in the trenches between Givency and Souchez near Vimy Ridge.

On May 23rd his Battalion was due to attack, along with the Battalions to their left and right. The attack was then cancelled and re-scheduled. However, this attack was also cancelled, as one of the flanking Battalions  was unable to advance, due to a heavy German barrage.

It appears that the message did not reach Raymond’s Company, which advanced and took the German trench, remaining in it for an hour and half until recalled.  It is likely that Raymond was one of the seven members of this Company killed in the attack.

Raymond came from an academic background, as his father was an assistant master at Eton College. He attended the OPS from 1893 till 1897 and won a Classical Scholarship to Rossall.  Thereafter he worked for the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation.

In 1914 he returned from India to join up as a private soldier in the 22nd (Kensington) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, and was subsequently promoted to the rank of sergeant.

 

 

November 23rd 1914

The arrival of winter weather has put an end, at least for the time being, to the fighting at Ypres. Both sides have suffered most horribly and there have been times when British troops have risked their lives to help the enemy wounded. George Fletcher (Royal Welsh Fusiliers) describes an incident in which he was involved.

George Fletcher

“We were fortunate in being able to rescue one wretched man. He was one of the advanced party in the charge, and had seven bullets in him. He stopped for a day in front of us shouting, but we were getting such a peppering from snipers all that day that we were not allowed to fetch him. At night I got two volunteers to come and fetch him, and just as we were getting out such a hail of bullets came that we nipped back.

I kept up a conversation (shouted) with him next day – he told me the Germans had been practically up to him in the night, but had refused to help him. I told him to hang on till night, and we would try and rescue him again. So at dusk I got two volunteers again, and we pulled him in successfully, and doctors say he will live in spite of his seven wounds. Funny thing, war.”

 * * * * * *

Whilst the war takes up the thoughts of us adults, it is important that life at the OPS continues as smoothly as possible for our young Dragons.

rugger

The beautiful weather which held for the first month of term made rugger impossible. In the first match, against Eagle House on November 4th, considering all things, although the team lost 0-22, they made a good show and look as they might develop into a good side.

I am not convinced of the desirability of keeping each boy to play in a particular place practically always. To know the game properly, a boy ought to be prepared to play half or forward or three-quarters as he may happen to be asked.

There seems to me nowadays a sort of prevalent fear of doing the wrong thing, and not enough initiative, not enough determination to get through and to score against the opponents…

I must say I think criticism of an individual’s play, sometimes very emphatic and loud-tongued, should be entirely abolished during the progress of the game; and nothing but encouragement allowed. Personally I know what the effect on myself would be if I were yelled at as a slacker or funk in the middle of a match!

Why, oh why do not Winchester, Charterhouse, Repton and Shrewsbury play rugby instead of the disgraced ‘soccer’? Malvern, Radley and Rossall have abandoned the professional game and joined the Rugger ranks…

 * * * * * *

The boys have sent stamps to the Base Hospital, and indeed have made a very large money collection considering their small incomes! The ‘Blue Dragon’ gramophone with its lovely old records and many new ones has delighted the inmates of Medical Ward V, where it is guarded jealously from the raids of other wards.

Hum Lynam

Hum Lynam

‘Hum’ has been almoner-in-chief and has installed and looked after Belgian refugees at the Lodge and elsewhere. He has also collected and forwarded sweaters, pipes, pencils and writing books, subscribed for by the boys, to various quarters, including HMS Colossus, HMS St. Vincent and HMS Russell.

 

We have had the following replies:

H.M.S. St Vincent

First Battle Squadron

November 20th 1914.

My Dear Dragons,

Pipes very much appreciated – now smoked by His Majesty’s Jollies.

Pipe 1
Who owned?                         

 

 

And the other one that might have been made by Krupp?

Pipe 2

 

It was a kind thought and entailing some sacrifice I’ve no doubt – parting with old friends – Censor allows no news.

William Fisher (Capt. R.N.)

H.M.S Russell

21/11/14

Dear Dragons,

A line to thank you all for sending us that generous supply of briar pipes. The men are no end pleased, and wish me to thank you for your kind thought for them. I only wish I could come and thank you all personally for them! But I shan’t be able to do that until they become Pipes of Peace.

 Lance Freyberg (Lieut-Commander R.N)