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.

December 16th 1918

Daily Telegraph, 16/12/1918

Today’s paper brings the good news that Capt. William Leefe Robinson VC (RAF) has been repatriated and is in good health.

2nd Lieut. William Dyson (Devon) and 2nd Lieut. Adrian Raleigh (Leics), who both were captured in the German Spring Offensive earlier this year, were reported to have returned on December 8th.

Lieut. Blake Budden (Middlesex), who was interned in Holland, has also now returned.

We await news of two other Old Dragon fliers who have been in captivity, Capt. Aubrey de Selincourt (RAF) and 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren (RAF).

 

 

December 12th 1918

Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI) is, we know, a francophile – he wrote last year of his pleasure at working with the French on the Western Front.

Following the account of his experiences in the Battle of the Piave in June, here is his latest, and perhaps last, missive from Italy.

With the French in Italy.

30/11/18. “By great good fortune, I spent the last three months of the war with the French on the Asiago Plateau, acting as a liaison officer between them and my own Division…

The policy on both Divisional fronts was a constant raiding activity. The French are, as everyone knows, quite uncannily clever at raids. They have always taken more prisoners and had fewer casualties than the English, on every front. I could never learn the secret of their success, and they professed not to know it themselves. Each Division used to do a big raid every ten days…

[The French Division]… had a great success early in August. It captured nearly 150 prisoners at the cost of one man killed and six wounded… The prisoners were a sorry lot, as usual. Among them was a Regimental Commander (a Colonel). The [French] General did a thing which no English General, under any conceivable circumstances would do. He picked the captured Colonel up, put him in his car, and took him straight back to Divisional HQ, where he gave him breakfast in his mess.

After breakfast, the French General launched out into a magnificent tirade against Austria and all its works, and while he whipped the unhappy Colonel with his words, the latter sat, with his head in his hands, the picture of decadence, defeat and despair.

I was afterwards left alone with him under my charge and we had an interesting talk. He was a typical Austrian, weak, agreeable, strongly anti-Boche. He shrugged his shoulders over the whole business, and when I asked him what would happen to the Dual Monarchy after the War, he answered, ‘My dear fellow, so long as you leave me Paris to live in, and English clothes to wear, I don’t care!’

Daily Telegraph, 31/10/1918

After a crescendo of raids on the plateau, the Piave offensive was launched, and went well from the start. In four or five days, the enemy showed signs of a withdrawal on our front, and, at the given moment, the French and my own Division sprang upon his rearguards, kicked them off the plateau, and began the great pursuit…

I am writing in a great hurry, and have no time to tell you half the things that I should like to tell about the French. They are wonderful soldiers. British troops are just as brave, but I believe it is just to say that where we show great talent for war, the French show genius… 

They admire and love us because, as they say, we are a people ‘qui sait si bien se faire casser les dents.’ How true this is of France and England our casualty lists show, and we shall not forget it.

I hope that this is the last war letter I shall ever send to the ‘Draconian’!”

December 5th 1918

Daily Telegraph, 4/12/1918

We are sorry to hear of the death of a former OPS parent and indeed the trustee who, along with Rev JR King and W Esson Esq approved the terms and conditions under which I was able to acquire the OPS in January 1887.

Dr John Percival was the first Headmaster of Clifton College when it opened in 1862, before becoming President of Trinity College Oxford in 1878. Then in 1887 he succeeded Dr Jex-Blake as Headmaster of Rugby. His obituary celebrates his considerable contribution to education:

Dr Percival has been described as one of the greatest headmasters of the latter half of the last century. He undoubtedly exercised a strong influence over the boys, to whom to always inculcated the highest ideals of manliness and virtue…

He was one of the originators of University College Bristol, and was an active worker in the cause for women’s education. He was the first President of the Council of Somerville College, Oxford.”

Dr Percival was made Bishop of Hereford in 1895. He retired to Oxford last year.

He was the father of Arthur Percival (Lieut.- Col., Northumberland Fusiliers) who together with his brother Launcelot joined the OPS in 1879. Arthur was one of three of our Old Boys who was killed on October 31st 1914.

Launcelot Percival is currently Rector of St Mary’s, Bryanston Square in London, having distinguished himself before the war as an English rugger international and as one of the first invited to join the Barbarians Club.

November 17th 1918

Lieut. Jack Pogson-Smith (OBLI) arrived back from the Macedonian Front on November 4th and a few days later made the mistake of visiting the ‘Draconian’ editor. Mr Vassall has duly extracted from him this account of armistice night in Salonika at the end of September:

Daily Telegraph, 1/10/18

“Really there was nothing at all exciting about it, as it was more or less expected, because for some days Bulgar officers had been passing blindfolded in cars through our lines, presumably to discuss terms.

If anything, I think there was a curious feeling of flatness. Possibly, though, this was merely due to the fact that we felt we could not celebrate the occasion as it deserved, as we had long ago run out of the wherewithal to celebrate anything, and the nearest EFC was a good thirty or forty miles away.

However, in the evening we did our best to make merry. Every unit sent up all the ‘Very’ lights it could lay hands on, and for a bit the Strumnica plain was quite gaily illuminated. But of course we soon ran out of ‘Very’ lights, so we lit a big bonfire in a river bed. This, however, was not a complete success, as we were promptly told to put it out, as we were interrupting visual signal communication with Battalion HQ. 

Fancy not being allowed the luxury of cutting yourself off from your HQ for a few blessed hours on armistice night!! 

But such is the Army.”

October 6th 1918

Whilst the papers have been full of the advances being made on the Western Front, General Allenby’s successes in Palestine have also been a feature.

Capt. Billy Collier (RAMC) played a small part in progress on this front over the summer and has kindly sent us an account of an expedition with the Camel Corps to attack the Hedjaz railway, which set out from Akaba on August 2nd.

The column progressed via Rumm towards their objective, the Mudowwara station:

“The station was protected by three redoubts, each on a hill and two parties were to attack the two southern of these from the rear, while a third went for the station… 

One of the most wonderful sights I have seen was our attack on the middle redoubt. Through my glasses, I could see a long line of men, silhouetted against the first light of dawn, as they climbed the hills, and in spite of bombs and rifle fire streamed along the crest without a halt.

Our relief was great when up went the signal for the capture of the southern redoubt, followed quickly by that from the station. From now onwards I was busy with the wounded and I did not reach the station and breakfast till about 11. Here was the Turkish garrison all captured – 6 officers and over 150 men, of whom about 30 were wounded.”

The following day (9th) they moved on, “blowing up the line, the station and the magnificent wells and engines the Turks had built there.” 

By the 14th they had reached Bair and, intent on another scheme of attack, were joined by a new Political Officer:

“We were joined today by Colonel Lawrence as Political Officer and he remained with us, though living for the most part with his own men, practically till the end of the trip. He has a most wonderful influence throughout this country – even, I believe, throughout Arabia and Mesopotamia. In this country he always dresses and generally lives as a Bedouin and has become a sort of ‘great white chief.’ His home is in Oxford.

His party of 50 braves or personal bodyguard arrived on camels the following day, singing and firing their rifles into the air. Firing off a rifle seems to be a popular form of amusement.”

Their plans, however, were discovered by two enemy planes, which flew over them at low altitude.

“Reports were received that our objective was more strongly held than had been anticipated, and this with the fact that we must have been spotted by the aeroplanes decided Col. B and Col. L that the projected attack was too risky.”

On their journey back to Bair, Billy was summoned to tend a British officer who had been accidentally shot:

“When we got there, we found that the bullet had gone through his heart and death must have been almost instantaneous. It appeared that one of Col. Lawrence’s braves had been picking up his rifle from the ground just behind him when it went off accidentally. The rifle had a long loop of string which actually went round the trigger and was no doubt responsible for the accident; in every civilised country it would have been regarded as criminal negligence.”

They made the journey back to Bair without any further alarms, with their rations just about finished.

“The same morning I went on with Col. L and three sick men… We crossed the Hedjaz railway at a destroyed station just before sunset, and for some miles drove up hill and down dale, on a surface of sharp stones, large and small. Luckily we had no punctures and soon after dark we got on to a tolerably level road which brought us at length to Aba el Lissan, the headquarters of the Hedjaz northern army and our own British HQ. We were received with great excitement, for no news of the column had been received since we left Bair 8 days previously.”

I understand that the Lawrence family do indeed live in Oxford – on Polstead Road – not far from the Campbells, with whom they are acquainted.

 

August 28th 1918

In addition to the Military Crosses won recently by Jim MacLean, Pat Campbell and Philip Frere, we must record the honours gained over recent months by eight other Old Dragons.

Bar to DSO

Lt.-Col. JGP Romanes (Royal Scots): “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He commanded his battalion with great skill and courage in a night attack. Under his leadership the battalion captured all its objectives without check, inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, captured over 50 prisoners, and consolidated all the ground won under intense shell fire.” (London Gazette 26/8/18).

DSO

Capt. EH Evans (Royal Welch Fusiliers): “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an attack. He showed great skill in consolidating and organising against counter-attack. He moved about the firing line continuously encouraging the men and organising the defences.” (London Gazette 18/8/18).

Maj. EHW Williams (Hussars): “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led a mounted charge along a hostile line, after the infantry line had broken back, taking the line in flank, and in the face of the heaviest machine-gun fire, he carried out the manoeuvre successfully, sabring nearly 100 of the enemy, and taking 100 prisoners, although his own troop was only 150. His fine action rallied the infantry, who advanced and recovered over 3,000 yards in depth of the whole line.” (London Gazette 26/7/18).

2nd Bar to MC

Capt. CM Hughes Games (Gloucs). “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Whilst in command of the support company of the battalion he displayed wonderful energy and determination in checking the enemy advance, which had broken into our front line. He formed a block and organised its defence with machine-guns until badly wounded by a sniper. His example of courageous coolness was responsible for holding the hostile advance, and gave his battalion time to reorganise and take up a new defensive position.” (London Gazette 18/7/18).

MC

Capt. GC Drinkwater (RFA). (London Gazette 16/1/18).

Capt. RJK Mott (Special List). (London Gazette 3/6/18).

Lieut. DEI Innes (RE). (London Gazette 3/6/18).

Capt. CP Warren (Rifle Brigade). (London Gazette 3/6/18).