January 20th 1919

We lost Ronnie Poulton on May 5th 1915, and just after Christmas, some three and a half years later, Professor Edward Poulton has been able for the first time to visit his son’s grave.

We are most grateful to him for sending in this for the next edition of the ‘Draconian

“The photograph of Ronald’s grave, taken by Capt. GM Gathorne-Hardy MC (4th Berks) and here reproduced, represents the original Cross erected after the funeral on May 6th 1915…

A year and a quarter later, Ronald’s Marlston friend, the Rev Frank Ford CF, replaced the original Cross by one of greater strength. It so happened that another friend, Capt. E Whitnall, was passing at the time, and his memories convey a striking and accurate picture of the spot:

‘On the 18th (August 1916) I was bicycling along the bumpy pavé which leads from the dead ruins of Ploegsteert village, with the shattered red brickwork of its church, along the straight, tall avenue to the foot of Hill 63, where the Messines Road turns and rises to the right…

At the parting of the roads, at the foot of the hill was a notice board, ‘Hyde Park Corner.’  Short of this, close to the edge of the road and lying in part of Ploegsteert Wood itself, was a little cemetery of neatly arranged brown wooden crosses…

At the very moment of passing I turned my head at seeing two men replacing one simple cross by another – as simple, but painted white – and caught the name. An officer of the 3rd Hussars with me exclaimed, ‘Why, that’s the name of a fellow I was with at Rugby!’ and so we helped…

A year later the second Cross, much splintered by shell fire, was replaced by my son-in-law, Capt. CP Symonds RAMC, who erected the strong and heavy oak Cross which still remains.

The cemetery passed into the possession of the enemy for some months last year, but Capt. Symonds was able to write, on October 24th, 1918:

‘I visited dear Ronald’s grave this afternoon, and am so glad to be able to tell you that it is almost exactly as I left it this time last year. The oak Cross is standing intact save for two small scratches, and the grave itself is quite tidy; in fact the whole cemetery seems to have suffered very little during the past year, in spite of its having twice changed hands. It was a very different scene from that on my last visit – no sounds or sights of active war – only the scars of the past.’

I visited the grave on December 20th, and found it uninjured, just as Capt. Symonds describes, although there are several large shell holes full of water within a few feet of it and most of the trees seen in the photograph have been destroyed…

On his grave a cowslip was growing, planted, I am sure, by loving hands.”

Professor Poulton is compiling a book on Ronald’s life, which he hopes to publish later this year.

* * * * * *

The ‘In Memoriam column’ in the ‘Times’ today carries the name of Martin Collier, for whom no grave was possible. He was lost exactly a year ago, in the vastness of the North Sea.

May 4th 1918

We still have no definite news of Capt. John Dowson (Royal Berks), who went missing in action exactly a year ago. However, the family has now posted this notice in the ‘In Memoriam’ column of the Times:

We have also received this touching tribute from Mr HC Bradby, his old housemaster at Rugby School:

‘Ingenui vultus puer, ingenuique pudoris.’

“Sometimes the oldest and stalest quotation revives with a new vigour and meaning in the mind, and no one who knew John Dowson could fail to find a new and unexpected freshness in that hackneyed line.

For the quality that most stood out in him was delightful ingeniousness, which sprang from a complete absence of vanity and self-consciousness and a readiness to respond to all that was friendly or beautiful or amazing in the world.

His intellectual abilities were curiously uneven. He was backward at most of the work which is done at schools and he became the ‘doyen’ of the Lower Middles. It was always a toss up in his Latin exercises whether Caesar would mount his horse or the horse mount Caesar, but when Shakespeare’s Caesar went out to his death on the Ides of March, no one could be more keenly alive than John to the situation; for he was a born actor, and was never so much himself as when imitating somebody else.

He was in short no reasoner, but an artist with a real love of beauty: and he showed it in his writing, for he could write with freshness and humour, as the pages of the ‘Draconian’ can testify; in his music too, for he was a most promising cellist, and sang as a boy with admirable taste; more recently he had shown it as well in some models for statuettes, which are remarkable for their suggestiveness and originality.

How far he could have gone as a musician or sculptor no one can say: undoubtedly there was in him a touch of genius struggling all the time for expression, and with more and more success.”

John was one of our most faithful and loving and beloved of Old Boys. It cheered us up to see his fine face and gloriously radiant smile, and indeed few boys have been so much loved by his comrades and masters and all who had dealings with him.

He was indeed ‘A boy of noble appearance and of a noble sense of honour.’

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.

May 24th 1917

Every day I open the morning newspaper to read on the ‘Roll of Honour’ of large numbers of officers killed and wounded, always in fear that I shall see the name of one of our Old Boys.

I am also confronted by an increasing number of those who are pronounced as ‘Missing’. This gives hope, but the families of these men are condemned to months of uncertainty as to whether their loved ones are dead, wounded or captured. In the case of the family of Capt. Edmund Gay (Norfolk Regiment) it has been nearly two years; he has been missing since August 1915.

Now two more of our Old Dragons have joined this list.

On May 20th, Mr Herbertson received a telegram stating that his grandson, Lieut. Hunter Herbertson (King’s Royal Rifle Corps) was reported as missing, but he understands that this does not necessarily mean that he is either wounded or killed.

On the night of May 16th he went out on a patrol with two others near Cherisy (at the southern end of the Arras battlefield). None of them returned. Enquiries will be made in the hope that he was captured and is a prisoner of war.

Hunter had done two years at Balliol (reading History) when war was declared. He joined up, but whilst training he suffered a double tragedy. His father (Oxford’s first Professor of Geography) died in July 1915, followed two weeks later by his mother. Both are buried in the Holywell Cemetery.

 

Mr & Mrs Dowson have also been informed that their son, Captain John Dowson (Royal Berkshire Regiment) has been notified as “missing.”

Like Morice Thompson, he was involved in the attacks that took place on May 3rd in the Arras district, but as yet we have no further information as to the circumstances of his disappearance.

John has been a regular visitor to the school in recent times. When home on leave he was always about, ready to take a form or a game.

It is at times like this that you are glad to have a photograph that captures happier times and places to have in front of you. This is John, as the boys will remember him, and hopefully he will return to us in the fullness of time.

 

Better news was to be found on a list headed ‘Previously reported missing, now reported prisoners of war in German hands.’ Included on it was the name of 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren, whose fate has been unknown these past seven weeks.

His squadron was returning to their base on April 2nd when they were set upon by German squadron. It seems that Peter’s plane was singled one and forced to ditch behind enemy lines.

 

 

May 13th 1917

Lieut. Morice Thompson (Shropshire Light Infantry & MGC)

I am sorry to report that a second Old Dragon has been killed at Arras.

We have learnt from the Thompsons that Morice was killed by machine gun fire in the Scarpe Valley, whilst leading his section over the top in the big attack on May 3rd. At the time he was hit, it is reported, he was attending to a man in his section who was severely wounded.

Circumstances did not allow for the recovery of Morice’s body for burial.

The battle at Arras, which started on April 9th, has cost many lives.  The length of the lists in the newspapers seems almost as long as those from the Somme battle last year, when we lost nine of our Old Boys.

I remember Morice as a rather silent and reserved boy, but, as such boys often are, exceedingly popular and beloved by all who knew him at all intimately.

He played in many Old Dragon football matches and was always a most loyal Dragon.

 

February 23rd 1917

west-n-2

Capt. Nevile West (Royal Berkshire Regiment)

Another Old Dragon has joined our Roll of Honour. Nevile West has been killed. He had already had one lucky excape. You may recall that he sent us an account of his experiences in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915.  He described how his camera was hit by a bullet that would otherwise have killed him.

Nevile’s bravery was recognised in the award of the MC ‘for conspicuous bravery‘ when he was twice wounded in an attack not long after the above incident.

It is understood that Nevile met his death on the night of January 16th when, in preparation for an attack, he and his company moved into position, where they experienced severe shelling. This bombardment claimed the lives of Nevile and one of his men, whilst five others were wounded.

Letters from fellow officers are always appreciated by family and friends alike, and it is inspiring to hear when one of our Old Boys is given such respect as Nevile was:

“His disposition was always bright and cheery, in fact he was the life of the mess, a good musician and a very fair artist, and up to the time of his death appeared to have led an almost charmed life, for he knew no fear or hesitation where duty called him and his one thought was the comfort and safety of his men.”

Nevile was somewhat reserved and diffident as a boy, as I recall, but had plenty of energy and ‘go’ and was much beloved by all who knew him at all intimately.

June 24th 1915

Nevile West

Nevile West has been awarded the Military Cross.

In today’s edition of ‘The London Gazette’:

“Second Lieutenant (temporary Lieutenant) Nevile West, 2nd Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire Regiment).

For conspicuous gallantry on the 9th May 1915, near Rouges Bancs. When the leading line of his battalion was unable to advance, all the officers having been shot, he rushed forward and attempted to lead the men on. He was almost immediately shot down, but, picking himself up, he went forward again till he was hit a second time.”

Nevile last wrote to us in March (see March 22nd) following the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, describing the loneliness of leadership thrust upon him in a similar situation.

Having visited us at the OPS recently, we are happy to report that Nevile is making a good recovery from his wounds.