June 25th 1918

The Italian Campaign has dominated our newspapers’ coverage of the War these past ten days, and today’s announcement that the Austrian attack on our Italian allies has ended in total defeat is most satisfactory.

The Austrian offensive started on June 15th with attacks on the Asiago Plateau and the Battle of Piave River. Amongst the English troops involved in the battles were the 1/4th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI), appointed as an Aide-de-Camp at the Headquarters of 48th Division (of which the Ox & Bucks are part) at the beginning of this month, witnessed this unfolding drama. We are most grateful to him for his account of events.

“An Austrian attack was fully expected on that date, but it was not known for certain that the British front would be attacked. However, every preparation was made to receive it.

An intense bombardment started at 3 am on the 15th, and rolled along miles of the front, from our own sector eastwards…

Under cover of a thick morning mist, the enemy had penetrated our front line at more than one point; had captured one Battalion HQ and had probably captured another…  

I never saw anything so interesting as the left Battalion Sector of our Divisional front, where the fighting had been hardest. I got there with my General soon after the situation had been completely restored, and it was possible to reconstruct the whole attack. The enemy had got to within less than a hundred yards of Battalion HQ. He came on twice, and was twice repulsed by this battalion alone without any help.

The foremost of the enemy were lying just where they had dug themselves in with their entrenching tools, with their bombs and ammunition beside them. And never, in my life, shall I have so profoundly impressive an experience as that of going among our dead, (it was my own Battalion), and recognising my own friends lying just as they had fallen upon the field.

One of the finest deaths that day was that of an Orderly Room Clerk, who died literally defending his office. He had never had to fight for over three years, and when the sudden emergency came, faced it as if he had been in action all his days…

A cook, engaged in frying bacon at the Battalion HQ which was captured, suddenly saw an Austrian in his kitchen doorway. In an instant, he ran him through with a rusty old bayonet used for poking the fire.”

 

 

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.’

January 17th 1918

E A S T E R   T E R M   1 9 1 8

Yesterday saw the start of a new term. The School Roll numbers 141, of which 84 are boarders. Our Junior Department has a further 26 – the majority being 7 and 8 yr. olds.

Let us hope for a healthy term, free of illness. It will no doubt become even more difficult to keep everyone well fed. Yesterday’s announcement in the newspapers of compulsory rationing of butter and margarine (with other items undoubtedly to follow), allows us only 4 oz per person per week. Meat continues to be in short supply, although the importation of Argentinian beef is helping make up the difference.

* * * * * * *

It was a great pleasure to be able to share with our returning pupils the news of honours recently won in the war – particularly that of the DSO by one of their former teachers.

One of the more prestigious orders of chivalry is the Order of the Bath – founded by King George I in 1725. In the honours list announced in the New Year, Captain. WW Fisher (RN) and Temp. Brigadier-Gen. BG Price (Royal Fusiliers) were made Companions (CB).

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) has been awarded to Temp. Major LD Luard (ASC), Acting Maj. JAA Pickard (RE, Special Reserve) and, although not an Old Dragon but a much admired member of the Dragon staff before the war, Temp. Capt. WRG Bye (Royal West Surreys & General List).

No fewer than six have been awarded the Military Cross (MC): Acting Capt. FS Low (RFA), Acting Major VLS Cowley (Irish Rifles, attached to MGC), Temp. Captain WT Collier (RAMC), Capt. EH Evans (RWF), Temp. Lieut. GH Moberly (MGC), Captain. GF Thuillier (Devons).

* * * * * * *

Readers of The Times of 14/1/18 may have noticed this article on Capt. William Fisher (RN). For those who read other newspapers, here it is:

Director of Anti-Submarine Division

“Capt. WW Fisher commanded a battleship at Jutland, and was commended for his services in that action. He has received a CB. He had held several Staff appointments before the war, having served as flag commander to the Commander-in-Chief  of the Home Fleet at Devonport, while in the summer of 1912 he was selected to act as Assistant Umpire for the Grand Naval Manoeuvres.

He is a gunnery specialist and a French interpreter, and was commander of the ‘Indomitable‘ when that vessel made her record run across the Atlantic with King George, then Prince of Wales, on board in 1908.

He has been for some months the Director of the anti-Submarine Division of the Naval Staff.”

September 10th 1917

2nd Lieut. William Scott

 

It is only a week since we heard of the death of Will Scott and the words of his Commanding Officer and Company Commander made it evident that he was held in very high esteem. Now his parents have received a letter from  Company Sergeant-Major E Brooks, who was at his side at the end:

Sergeant-Major Brooks

“4.45 a.m. August 22nd came along; I saw Mr Scott spring up on his feet and then his men. Off we went together, Lieut. Scott in front. I soon had the news that he had been wounded in the wrist but was still carrying on.

At about 5.30 a.m. we reached our objective; along came Lieut. Scott as lively as ever with a wound in the wrist and another in his leg. We had a little talk over the situation when Lieut. Scott decided we should send a message back to Headquarters; out came the map and before I had time to get my pencil from my pocket he had the map reference ready.

Everything was going well in our favour when an enemy machine gun rang out. We looked rather startled at each other for a few seconds and then I quickly discovered that my Commander had been hit. I placed him under cover as quickly as possible, but sorry to say he passed away in about half a minute from the time he was struck by the bullet.

Of course I knew then that I could not do any more for him, so I carried on with the work until dusk at 8 p.m.

As it was impossible to get him back I decided to bury him with the assistance of my batman. We made him a nice little grave and put him comfortably to rest. I hadn’t anything to make a little cross for him so I had to be contented with a field post card with his name and rank on it, which I placed firmly on his grave.

This was the end of my brave Commander; I can tell you I have never seen or heard of a braver man.”

This is quite something coming from Sergeant-Major Brooks, himself a winner of the Victoria Cross.

September 3rd 1917

Lieut. William Scott (Ox & Bucks Light Infantry)

This has been a distressing few weeks – these pages in quick succession have had to record the deaths of five Old Dragons, with Willie Wells-Cole also missing in action – all in the Flanders offensive around Ypres.

Will is now the sixth and, as with many of these brave young men, he was leading his men forward when he was killed in an attack on August 22nd.

His colonel has written consoling words to the family: “Your brave boy died leading his men to victory, and it was by his example that the victory was gained, as he was hit twice, once severely, but still refused to quit, and it was at the head of his company that he was hit for the third time, but still thinking of duty before himself he continued to give orders up to the last.”

His Company Commander Capt. Geoffrey Rose, also an Old Dragon, wrote most warmly to Will’s parents:

“No mere words of mine could suffice to describe the pride and grief which is felt in the Battalion and most especially in this Company at his death. Your son is famous for acts of the greatest bravery and devotion to duty that are unequalled in the records of this Battalion…”

Will was twice wounded last year as well as suffering from trench fever.

From Rugby School, Will went to McGill University in Montreal in 1910. Thereafter Will embarked on a promising career, engaged by the Canadian Government to determine latitudes and longitudes in the Rocky Mountains.

When the war came, failing to gain admission to a Canadian contingent due to his short sightedness, he returned to England to join the OBLI. As the Times obituary noted, in this he was following family tradition, “his grandfather and his great-grandfather had both served in that regiment, the former at Waterloo.”

 

 

 

 

July 28th 1917

We return today, inevitably, to the War and news of three of our Old Dragons.

On July 21st, the papers reported a number of officers of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps as missing in action. One of them is 2nd Lieut. William Sheepshanks (KRRC).

His mother received a telegram to this effect on the 19th, informing her that Bill has been unaccounted for since July 10th, but that he may still be alive. We must resign ourselves, once again, to a period of painful uncertainty.

The regiment was stationed right on the coastline near Nieuport – at the end of the trench system which stretches from there to Switzerland, and was under severe bombardment. In an account in the Daily Telegraph giving the German view, it was stated by their authorities that they had taken 1,250 prisoners, 27 of whom were officers. That gives us hope.

Bill has been such a close friend of the OPS and he never missed any Old Boys’ dinner or cricket match if he could help it.

* * * * * * *

We were startled and sorry to hear that Lieut. Lindsay Wallace (OBLI) has suffered considerable injury in France, due to unusual causes.  Whilst on a training course behind the front, Pug sleep walked out of an upper floor window. He had a nasty time for a day or two, but is now safely back in Oxford at Somerville College, having been escorted from France by his Engineer-Lieutenant brother Moray Wallace. He will not be short of visitors – if we can get past Sister Wilkinson!

* * * * * * *

We can end with one piece of good news, which has been a fearfully long time coming. It has been confirmed that Capt. Aubrey de Selincourt (RFC), having been “missing” since he was shot down on May 28th, is in fact a Prisoner of War. He joins his fellow OD aviators, Captain William Leefe Robinson VC and Lieut. Peter Warren in captivity.

 

June 8th 1917

Another of our valiant airmen has been listed as missing – the third since the beginning of April.  Capt. Aubrey de Selincourt (RFC) went down on May 28th 1917.

According to information received,  he was on a photographic reconnaissance in his FE2d aircraft with three others near Douai (where there is a German aerodrome).  They were attacked by German planes and Aubrey was shot down.

The FE2d aircraft

The FE2d is a strange aircraft, where the pilot has the observer/gunner in front of him and the propeller behind him. It is said to be rather slow when compared with the German aeroplanes.

There is as yet no information to say that Aubrey survived his crash, but with both Capt. William Leefe Robinson and 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren in captivity, we can hope that Aubrey may have joined them in a prisoner of war camp.

When war broke out Aubrey, along with many of his contemporaries, joined the army. He served with the North Staffs Regiment in Gallipoli, where he contracted jaundice and had to return home. Once fit again, he asked to transfer to the RFC and trained as a pilot. He joined 25 Squadron in France in April 1917.

Aubrey is the younger brother of 2nd Lieut. Leslie de Selincourt (OBLI), who was badly wounded helping to relieve Kut last year.