February 24th 1920

I n   G e r m a n y   ( 1 9 1 4 – 1 8 )

123456789 – 1011121314Part 15

Berlin, in the week after the Armistice was signed on November 11th, appears to have been an extraordinary place – not what one would have expected in the aftermath of national defeat and humiliation. Cyril King and his fellow prisoners in Ruhleben were free to roam at will and rather enjoy themselves:

20/11/18. “I think that’s the date, but I am not quite sure, as we have lost all count of time. What a week it has been! I have been out to Berlin several times and have slept three nights there in a clean and comfortable hotel where a friend of R’s got us a room.

The first time we made elaborate plans for escape, but now I just wait at the gate until it is opened to let a soldier in or out, and then slip boldly through. A tram stops practically at our doors and runs all the way into Berlin…

I got some cash by selling an old German frock-coat and trousers, which I had bought in Baden-Baden for 100 marks, but it is all gone already, as money runs away like anything, and one has to pay 15 marks for a two course dinner of soup and potatoes and vegetables!..

I have seen ‘Measure for Measure’ twice, and ‘Twelfth Night’ at Reinhardt’s Theatre once and could have seen ‘Hamlet’ or ‘The Merchant of Venice’ if I had had time – as they are all on in Berlin now! ‘Measure for Measure’ was too wonderfully done for words and I have never seen anything like it. Both times the house was packed and it was a tremendous success – whilst all the time the town is starving – for it is indeed, and I haven’t seen a single cheek that wasn’t deadly pale.

They talk about nothing but the revolution and seem to have forgotten all about the war. ‘Now we are free like you,’ someone said to me in a restaurant. Everyone is very polite but not cringing as I had expected…

I have heard some speeches by Socialists and have seen the marks of machine-gun shots in the walls of the Palace and War Office, and the four-mile long funeral procession of the ’80 heroes’ of the revolution – most of the sights in fact. It is all very depressing.

The camp is a horrible place now – full of soldiers, searching the dustbins and trying to buy old clothes and food and haggling… about prices. The ground is everywhere covered with paper and rags and wood.

We may go at any time now, and it is unsafe to keep away from the camp too long. We have placed our books and most valuable possessions in wooden boxes, which we have stacked in the YMCA hall, in the hope that the Dutch Embassy will forward them later.”

Berlin was indeed a strange place at this time.

January 28th 1920

The Easter Term has got off to its usual start – with our annual Shakespeare production, this time of ‘Henry V.’ We put on three performances: one on Friday evening for 330 boys, girls and teachers from various local elementary and secondary schools, and two on Saturday for OPS parents and friends.

We were delighted to welcome back Jack Gamlen, late of the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry,  to his old job of writing a review. It may be remembered that back in 1917, when he was unable to attend our production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ he sent a most witty poem to the cast.

Whilst the ‘Oxford Times’ was impressed (The whole performance was of a very high standard), Jack was far harder to please:

“Let me begin by saying that I enjoyed the play very much indeed, and that it was a rich reward for the actors themselves for hours of honest work. This reward to the actors is far more important than anything that concerns the audience, but, even so, my recollection of twenty earlier school plays forbids me to put this latest one among the very best.

There was never a Class III at the OPS, and if this ‘Henry V’ comes into Class II it is only because there was, by chance, not quite enough first-rate material to lift it higher. I judge by a fearfully high standard: how can I do otherwise?”

Jack was critical of a number of performances, including that of John Betjemann, whom the Oxford Times described as “the cleverest actor of all… he played the mad old King of France in such a way that, instead of being completely minor, it became one of the most impressive parts in the whole play. There was remarkable genius in this performance.” John played two minor roles, the other being that of the Duke of Cambridge.

Jack’s assessment of this role was more critical:

“Betjemann was the best of the conspirators… but he over-acted… I am sorry to find fault, because Betjemann showed a good deal of promise which will come out, another time, if he allows himself to be natural.”  

The truth about young Betjemann is, Jack should understand, to him, being “natural” is to over-act!

 

January 25th 1917

mnd-cast

Midsummer Night’s Dream

As is our custom, the term started last week with our annual Shakespeare play. We gave four performances of Midsummer Night’s Dream. The first was to an audience of teachers, boys and girls, from some of the Oxford Elementary Schools – an audience of about 350. Letters subsequently received showed that it was greatly appreciated and that Puck was specially popular.

The second performance was enjoyed by about 120 wounded soldiers, who were afterwards entertained to tea. On Saturday there were the usual afternoon and evening performances for parents and friends.

“It was indeed a welcome boon that the Dragons gave us this year,” wrote one of our reviewers, “to transport us for three hours’ space away from the sorrows and difficulties of this unintelligible war to the flowers and forest glades of Shakespeare’s Warwickshire…

While we were waiting for the play to begin, it was sad to notice the absence of ODs among the audience, and sadder still to reflect how many of them had consummated the great sacrifice for their country. Indeed Dragons, if any, will fully understand the meaning of the line –

‘We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
That Shakespeare spake.’

Many of the ODs now in the trenches were doubtless present with us in spirit that night and not only the writer of the noble prologue, which touched eloquently on the thought we all were feeling…”

The writer of “noble prologue” was Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA), whilst in a dug-out in France, and his words were delivered by Oberon:

Prologue
Think it not strange that at this hour, in a world of waste and wrath,
I come to lead your thoughts away by a wandering woodland path,
Far from the scarred terrain of war and the perilous haunted seas,
To the moonlight on the forest and the glimmer between the trees –
To light your steps in the murk and gloom by fancy’s fitful gleam,
From the dark, substantial winter day to a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Not strange – they would not think it, our brother Dragons who stand
In the line in France or Flanders, on the deck or the desert sand.
They would not grudge our revels, or wonder that today
We come to enact before you the loveliest English play.
For all the cause they fight for, the things they hold most dear,
England, and Home, and Beauty – will you not find them here?

Hugh’s brother, Frank Sidgwick, also contributed a review to the ‘Draconian.’

“I needn’t tell ODs that everybody was word perfect. I think Theseus twice said: ‘For aye to be in a shady cloister mewed,’ and Lysander gobbed a difficult line in the afternoon, but got it right at night; the accents on ‘persever,’ ‘revenue,’ ‘edict,’ etc., were correctly given; and I think I heard ‘prehaps’ instead of ‘perhaps’ once or twice…”

One or two other faults were also noticed:

“Some of the actors were too fond of nodding and smiling at their friends in the audience. One of the characters, supposed to be lying asleep, actually clapped his hands in applause of a song by Puck!”

Ah well, we do not pretend to be prefect.

 

 

December 27th 1916

Whilst it is to be very much hoped that everyone is enjoying their Christmas holiday, there is one task that the VIth Form must not forget to complete.

As is the tradition, they spent the second half of term getting to know a Shakespeare play – in this case ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ The parts have been assigned and must be known absolutely pat. Boys should get their sisters etc to improve their acting during these holidays.

Normally, that most faithful of Old Dragons, Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI), would attend a performance to review it, but he has written to say he is otherwise engaged on the Western Front and he tells us that he will instead, “dream mid-winter nights’ dreams” about us all.

The boys will enjoy this witty poem, written for them by Jack, whilst on active service in France:

TO THE CAST OF 'A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.'
Dear Players, take from one who used,
Each year, to be your faithful critic - 
A task he'd never have refused,
Though deaf or blind, or paralytic -

A tribute to your former skill,
Good wishes for your next excursion
In plays which universal Will
Devised for his and your diversion.

I mind the day, in 'ninety-eight,
When I myself appeared as Theseus,
(At two days' notice, let me state,)
Expecting hisses loud as geese use.

And, I can tell you from my heart,
To have such memories to remember,
Helps me to play the harder part
Of fighting Germans in December.

          J.G., France, Dec., 1916

January 27th 1916

I wonder if you have worked out where Capt. Maurice Jacks was when he wrote:

“Being more or less conscientious I cannot tell you exactly where ‘here’ is, but if you remember where Polonius was stabbed, you will be within reasonable distance of the spot.”

Polonius stabbed

Polonius was hiding behind a rich tapestry (typically hung to make a screen) when stabbed by Hamlet. Such a tapestry was called an arras.

So, our man is somewhere near the town of Arras, to the north of Albert in the region of the Somme.

W Front map

 

Two marks if you got it right, one if you got it wrong!

 

 

 

January 25th 1916

Tempest E1916

 

We are now settled into the Easter Term and our school production of ‘The Tempest’ was very well received. We are grateful to Hugh Sidgwick for his review, which gives star billing to Barbara Hilliard’s portrayal of Ariel:

Ariel E1916

Barbara Hilliard as Ariel

“And then, hovering over and around these two and all the rest of the play, leading them at will, beguiling, enchanting, invisible and omni-present, we had the lovely vision of Ariel. It (I use the word advisedly, for this came nearer than any Ariel before to the ideal, sexless spirit of air and fire), it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on the stage; presence, gesture, motion and voice alike were exquisite.

Ariel intoxicated our senses so completely that I fear we hardly did justice to her acting; but apart from everything else it was a masterly reading of the character and of the play. Ariel made all the points with clearness and certainty, grasped exactly and revealed to us what was going on and interposed her presence among the deluded mortals always at the right moment and in the right way.

It is difficult to say how much the success of the play owed to her, and in particular to her most delicate and airy singing of the beautiful music of Purcell and Arne (Englishmen both, thank heaven, and much better at Shakespeare than Schubert and Mendelssohn).

* * * * * * *

I believe that an acting knowledge of at least one of Shakespeare’s plays is an important and useful part of an OPS education.

Shakespeare has indeed aided and abetted 2nd Lieut. Maurice Jacks (KRRC), in giving us Maurice’s location in France without falling foul of the censor:

“Being more or less conscientious I cannot tell you exactly where ‘here’ is, but if you remember where Polonius was stabbed, you will be within reasonable distance of the spot.”

Young Dragons will surely work this out – but can you?

December 21st 1915

A number of minor items of interest, concerning the term that has just ended, failed to make these pages. These are now included here, together with some information pertaining to the start of next term:

The first half of term we had practically no illness at all. Later on we had some coughs and colds. Two boarders were rather seriously ill with pleurisy, but it was taken in time and both have quite recovered. One little fellow had to have the operation for appendicitis, but has made a capital recovery (he is the first boarder on record to undergo it).

* * * * * *

The boys have done some excellent knitting. Sock knitting was supposed to be too difficult, but many excellent pairs of socks were produced. Also a large supply of toys and other products of the carpenter’s shop were forwarded to the Albert Hall Exhibition.

* * * * * *

Young Lance Mallalieu’s Marionette Shows have given much amusement on winter evenings.

* * * * * *

It has been most delightful to welcome so many Old Dragons back this term to tell us something of their experiences and hopes. Besides giving the greatest pleasure to us who knew them as ‘kiddies,’ it is a fine thing for the boys to see and hear those who have taken part in the great war. It does us all good to have them amongst us.

* * * * * *

The Ford has taken parties of wounded soldiers to Woostock, Frilford and Stanton Harcourt; more interesting companions than these men ‘home from the war’ it would be hard to find.

* * * * * *

Spurling H

Rev. Spurling

We are sadly losing the Rev. Henry Spurling from our staff. The Hampshire Regiment, which he has joined as Chaplain and interpreter and possibly fighter (he actually starts as a Tommy!) with the hearty approval of the Bishop of Winchester, has for its Colonel Bobby Johnson (OD), for its adjutant Stephen Low (OD), one of its captains Lionel Smith (OD) and a subaltern Wilfred Johnson (OD). The regiment is bound for East Africa.

Henry, together with Bobby Johnson, started our magazine, The Draconian, when they had moved on to Winchester College, their aim being to keep in touch with other Old Dragons and “to tighten the bond of union between friendships that would otherwise be severed…”

* * * * * *

Next term we will perform ‘Hamlet.’ The various parts have been assigned. The words are to be known pat and I shall be grateful if parents and friends will hear them in the holidays. N.B. No books will be allowed on stage at all when we begin the rehearsals on Wednesday Jan. 12th. I hope to have a performance for the Elementary School children on Thursday (13th), one for wounded soldiers on Friday (14th) and the usual two performances for friends on the Saturday (15th).

 

Next term begins on Wednesday 12th January 1916.