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.

May 30th 1915

A Memorial Service for the life of Ronnie Poulton was held in St Giles’ Church, Oxford, yesterday, which I attended with some of the OPS staff and boys.

Rev. William Temple gave an excellent address in which he emphasised the role Ronnie might have played at Huntley & Palmer (which he had inherited in 1913) and in a wider field of industrial relations after the war.

“Many of us believed that with his ready sympathy, his utter freedom from selfishness, and his courage to follow what he saw to be right, he would grasp the causes of our labour unrest and class friction, and by removing them from the great industry in whose control a large part was to be his, set an example which would prove a great force in our social regeneration… What he hated most in our usual manner of life was the artificial barriers that hold people apart, and the suspiciousness of one class towards another…”

Commenting on Ronnie’s ready sympathy, his utter freedom from selfishness and his courage to follow what he saw to be right, he added,

“There are many of us who, if asked to point to a life without blemish, would have pointed to Ronald Poulton.”

* * * * * * *

We are grateful to Lieut. G.M. Gathorne-Hardy, who recently sent this picture of Ronnie’s grave to his parents.

RWPP grave

May 8th 1915

 

Ronnie Poulton

Lieut. Ronald Poulton Palmer (Royal Berks Regiment)

We have received further details from Jack Conybeare of dear Ronnie’s death, which occurred on the night of May 4th/5th.

5/5/15. “I have just heard that poor Ronald is dead. He was shot through the heart, in the early hours of this morning, and was killed instantaneously. This is the first real shock I have had since we have been out here. There always are a certain number of bullets flying about, but they never seem to hit anyone one knows, and in consequence, I, at any rate, had half forgotten that a friend might at any moment be killed. This is rather a rude awakening.

I last saw Ronald about ten days ago, when he came to see me in the trenches, as his company were taking over from us. It seems, indeed, hard lines, that a stray bullet should light on one who had both the power and the inclination to do so much good in the world…

I was talking to one of the Berks’ officers this morning. He told me that Ronald was far and away the most popular officer in the battalion, both among officers and men.

Apparently he was standing on top of the parapet last night, directing a working party, when he was hit. Of course, by day, anyone who shows his head above the parapet is courting disaster; in fact if one is caught doing so one is threatened with court-martial. At night, on the other hand, we perpetually have working parties of one kind or another out, either wiring, repairing the parapet, or doing something which involves coming from under cover, and one simply takes the risk of stray bullets.”

Captain Jack Conybeare (Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry) was at both the OPS and Rugby with Ronnie.