August 24th 1917

2nd Lieut. Alan Cam (Royal Engineers)

The current battle in Flanders has claimed a second victim from our ranks. Alan Cam – or rather Tom, as he has always been known to us – has been killed in the battle for Langemarck.

Tom has been in the thick of the fighting in recent months, being attached to the 36th (Ulster) Division. He went through the battle of Messines, being wounded for the first time just before the attack, but refused to report lest he should miss it.

He was wounded a second time on August 14th before being killed two days later. The notice of his death in today’s edition of The Times quotes Tom’s CO as saying Tom was killed “by machine-gun fire whilst leading his section to the site of the work they were to do. The fire was very heavy indeed there and by getting up to lead and encourage the men he met his death.”

His corporal kindly recovered Tom’s revolver and wrist watch and returned them to his father accompanied by a letter. A previous CO, Major Boyle wrote that Tom was “so full of life and fun and always wanted to do the daring jobs… It is always boys like this that are caught.”

Fortune does not always favour the brave.

 

August 9th 1917

Major Alan Jenks (Royal Engineers)

Over a week has gone by since the new battle at Ypres started and it is only now that news of casualties sustained on that first day are coming through. Sadly one of them, as reported in The Times yesterday is Major Alan Jenks, killed by a sniper on July 31st.

His CO was good enough to write to his family the following day:

“It happened yesterday afternoon. An attack had been made in the morning, and during the afternoon he went out to reconnoitre the ground gained. He insisted on doing this, though the Brigadier for whom he was working did his best to dissuade him. He had not gone far beyond our first line before he was hit by a sniper and fell.”

This was Alan’s way, winning the MC in 1915 “for conspicuous gallantry and ability… He made a valuable reconnaissance of the enemy’s trenches and in the ensuing fight displayed great personal dash, initiative and resource.” He was twice mentioned in dispatches.

Alan wrote us a most amusing letter at the end of last year, recalling his school days and complaining that water in France fails to flow downhill.

 

January 31st 1916

It has been brought to our notice that The London Gazette earlier this month listed two more of our Old Boys who have been awarded the DSO: Major George Stack (RE) and Major Frederick St J Tyrwhitt (1st Worcs).

George was mentioned in despatches on January 1st 1916 and has now been awarded the DSO “for consistently good work in the front line during the past six months. This officer has proved himself quite above the average in his powers of organising work and seeing it pushed through. He has been indefatigable in his exertions and never spares himself. All day and every day and most nights he is at work in and behind the front line. He is absolutely fearless. He gets all work entrusted to him done with the minimum of friction to all concerned.”

We were delighted to get a letter from George last month:

GH Stack

Major George Stack

“I never forget that I am an OD… I’m afraid I don’t shine as a scribe and a magazine article would be quite beyond my powers.”

George was only at the OPS for a year, during which time he gained a Scholarship to Westminster School, chiefly for his Mathematics.  Even if an article is beyond him (which I doubt) there is nothing wrong with his letter-writing!

He is now heading for the East:

“We are now about to be transferred to another sphere of activity, though I don’t know for certain which. Everyone here is full of beans and confidence – the nearer you are to the front line trenches, the more cheerful you find everybody.”

We do not as yet know the circumstances in which Major Frederick Tyrwhitt* won his DSO, but we can at least record it as the fifth won thus far, in addition to Jack Smyth‘s VC.

(* brother of Major Nathaniel Tyrwhitt, whose death we reported in December, and a cousin of Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt)

August 4th 1915

Whilst we are enjoying our holidays, it is good to learn that some of our troops are also enjoying a break from the war. The soldiers need to be entertained as well as rested and it takes an Old Dragon Royal Engineer with experience of life on the River Cherwell to organise something like this!

Aquatic ‘Spasms’ at the Front

August 1st 1915.

“Yesterday we organised a Regatta, or rather some water-sports on the Canal basin, by the side of which our train is stabled. Everything passed off most successfully, and it was a very laughable affair as well as a big success. The greasy pole was however too easy, and the expert came too soon among the competitors and released the coop which held the duck, who fell into the water, where it was chased and captured by one of the competitors.

We wound up the programme with a surprise for the spectators. A mock telegram was read out as from the Kaiser saying he was sending a submarine to stop the sports. A submarine with U.29 painted on it was then pulled in by wires, and as a wind-up, we exploded a mine under it.

All events were held in the water; and the instability of the rafts (which were made of sleepers lashed to drums) was a source of constant amusement.

The very last item on the programme was the presentation of prizes, among them being a Challenge Shield made out of a German shell.”

 

Aquatic Spasms

December 28th 1914

We hear that George Fletcher (Royal Welsh Fusiliers) is making a name for himself on both sides of the front line. Apparently he taunts the Germans with any news that comes his way of Allied successes, which he chalks up on a board. The Saxons opposite then take pot shots at it, which the Tommy likes to score as if he was on the ranges at Bisley!

George was trying to persuade the Germans to join in a beer, sausage and plum pudding evening on Christmas Day but his C.O was not impressed. Nonetheless, the Germans did provide two barrels of beer and there was general fraternization and exchanging of food and cigarettes.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Greville Drew (Capt. R.E.) was able to enjoy a more relaxed time well behind the front line.

Greville DrewXmas Day.  “We are very glad to be out for Xmas and a few days’ rest. We are in an extremely comfortable billet with a dining room, sitting room, kitchen, and two bedrooms for the four of us that there are now – three officers and an interpreter – or interrupter as the Indians all insist on calling them.

We have decided to have a real day off today and are leaving the men to their own devices for the first time since we have been in the country. Tomorrow we shall start getting them really straightened out. All the same, we are not to be caught napping today. We have orders to stand by in case the enemy should consider Xmas Day a suitable opportunity for a little devilry, so we are all ready to move at a moment’s notice.

The King’s Xmas cards to all ranks have just arrived.

I am glad to see from the ‘Daily Mail’ that they are at last publishing in the papers the fact that all the troops are amply provided with clothing and comforts. Really since we got a mention in despatches, the things sent to us have become a positive nuisance. For instance someone sent us 300 cardigan jackets (for about 150 men we have left in the Company). We don’t know what to do with them, and we have been fully occupied with more important duties than sorting out what we do want and what we don’t, and sending them back again. What is wanted is a central depot in London for each corps, or division, and then when a unit wants something it can write and ask for it.”

December 7th 1914

Alan Leggett, one of the three Old Dragons killed on October 31st and whose death was posted on these pages on November 2nd,  was interred with full military honours at St. Martin’s, Cheriton in Kent on Wednesday afternoon. On Monday his body had been brought from Boulogne by his father. The coffin, which was borne from the house to the church on a gun carriage drawn by men of the Northamptonshire Regiment, was draped with the Union Jack. A firing party composed of men of the Northamptonshire Regt. marched in front of the gun carriage.

Cheriton

Lieut. Leggett’s funeral procession.

We are grateful to Col. and Mrs Leggett for sharing with us the contents a postcard Alan wrote to them only a day before he died.

“I am at present in some trenches. I have been here for over 24 hours now, and expect to stay for four or five days before being relieved. We live like rabbits, keeping out of sight and under cover. The German shells have been peppering us a good deal and we get smothered with earth and get buried now and again; however, thank God, I am still fit and sound; the ground regularly trembles when it is struck. It rained a bit last night, so we had an unpleasant time of it. One’s feet get chilled to the bone; however, with all you sent me, I am warm enough otherwise. It will be a mercy when this is over – it is awful. Well no more now, keep cheery, and don’t be anxious. Very best of love, Alan”

*  *  *  *  *  *

Greville Drew (Capt. Royal Engineers) reports better conditions at the front, but hostilities continue, even if there is no major battle.

Greville Drew

Capt. Greville Drew

4/12/14. “All the troops are either in the trenches or comfortably in billets in farm houses, barns etc and they really have to endure very little hardship, as far as the cold is concerned. It is true that some of them got caught during that very cold snap, when it suddenly froze after raining, and I know one regiment had 120 cases of frost-bitten feet. What is going to be the trouble is the wet and not the cold. I have just done six days on end in the trenches, up night and day, and I can assure you there is not much suffering from cold there.

Every man digs out his own little shelter in the firing-line, and roofs it over with material and stuff out of the houses on the road behind. There is a huge brazier burning every few yards and the trenches at night are very nice and comfortable – when it isn’t raining. With my section during my week in the trenches I was lucky enough to have hardly any rain at all, and in any case it would not have affected me much, as my dug-put was quite weather-proof, roofed in with an old ammunition box full of charcoal, burning all the time. I did all my cooking on that.

That is another thing. All our troops are fed absolutely tip-top. We get bacon, fresh or tinned meat, jam, cheese, tea, sugar, every day, with butter and tobacco and matches occasionally. Of course, we buy our own butter, of which there is any amount about. In fact, one of the things that strikes one is how the civil population is staying right up near the firing-line. It seems foolish in a way, as the number of spies and snipers is prodigious.

During an attack on a German sap-head we lost one officer killed, one wounded, and six men killed and wounded, but we accounted for over forty Germans, who were stuck through with bayonets whilst fast asleep in their covey-holes!

By all appearances we are just sitting tight in our trenches until we get all our new troops trained and ready.”