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.

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.

 

 

March 29th 1917

It is now over a year since Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI) last visited us. His witty poem, sent to the boys before their performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ earlier this term was much appreciated, and now he writes to sing the praises of our French allies. He is quite a Francophile!

Here he describes his experience of taking over a section of the trenches from the French:

“I think that none of our party shared my excitement and joy at meeting the French army in the field. In the British area it is difficult to feel that one is in France; even Amiens and Abbeville breathe a mixed (a very mixed) atmosphere. But here, below ground (in a dug-out), we were in France at last. We got to business at once and I began my duties as Brigade Interpreter. The French Brigadier impressed us all very much…

As it was now mid-day, the Colonel suggested that we should have lunch before we came to business. We agreed, and ate one of the best lunches I ever came across. There were five courses, there was red wine, there was champagne, yet everything was simple and the meal was short. At first everyone was shy and I had to do the talking for the English side. But as time went on, both sides thawed, and by the time we had coffee everyone was talking some sort of French.

After lunch we got to business at once. The Colonel was wonderful. He had every detail that we wanted at his finger tips and scarcely ever referred to his Adjutant. After an hour in looking at maps and discussing dispositions, he took us some way forward to an O.P, from which we had a wonderful view of the German front…

The next day I returned with the Brigade Major and again called upon the French Brigadier in order to arrange the final details of the forthcoming relief…

He spoke the most exquisite French and had the most exquisitely simple manners. I am sure that he is descended from one of those French Officers of the old days, who used to call out to their men ‘Messieurs les gendarmes de la maison du Roi, veuillez assurer vos chapeaux. Nous allons avoir l’honneur de charger…’

The French fighting man is a glorious creature and the sight of him should convince any armchair pessimist that nothing can ever kill France, however full her cemeteries may be (and they are terribly full round here)…

Let there be no misunderstanding about what France is. She is, and has been for a thousand years, the most civilized country in the world and her salvation is the first and greatest object of the war, for the presence of a single German soldier on French soil is an obscene thing.

My dear Dragons, educate yourselves to love France. Learn to read and speak French well, NOW, and, after the war, get your parents, whether they can afford it or not, to take you often to France…

There is nothing un-British or decadent in this love of France; and there is something very stupid and ugly in the want of it.  Every civilized being ought to write on his heart the fine old motto, ‘Chacun a deux pays: le sien et La France.’

Clearly we must have more French lessons!