May 19th 1920

Capt. JG Smyth VC

Capt. W Leefe Robinson VC

 

 

 

 

 

V  C    D  A  Y

We are proud to honour two Old Dragons, Jack Smyth and William Leefe Robinson,  who were awarded the Victoria Cross in the War. May 18th was the day on which Jack won his VC in 1915 and we mark it at the school as our VC Day with a school holiday.

The weather was not kind to us, as Hum reports:

“A party of 135 took boats at Port Meadow and struggled against a violent gale and a high-running stream to the old spot at the foot of Wytham Wood, near Swinford Bridge. Here we were joined by Mrs (Harry) Smyth and the maids, who came by caravan, which had previously brought a mighty lunch and tea. Rain and wind did its futile best to depress the merry party; some got soaked, no one wanted to bathe.

It was with a sense of relief that we found all were safely home, with only one boat seriously damaged and sundry minor casualties.”

This was preceded by VC Sunday (May 16th) which was marked by a special service in commemoration of Old Dragons killed in the War. This will, we hope, be an annual observance. Mr CRL Fletcher, father of Regie and George Fletcher, both of whom laid down their lives in the War, gave the address.

Whilst recalling the exploits of our two VCs and mentioning the 20 DSOs and 48 MCs won by our Old Boys, he quoted Mr EW Hornung‘s famous words:

The brightest gems of valour in the Army's diadem
Are the VC and the DSO, MC and DCM,
But those who live to wear them will tell you they are dross
Beside the Final Honour of a simple wooden cross.

The text he took was from Thucydides: ‘To you who are the sons and brothers of the departed I see that the struggle to emulate them will be an arduous one’ and he ended his address observing,

“However great your own valour and virtue may grow to be, the world will hardly ever think you capable of equalling them, or even of approaching them. But, courage! and do, each one of you, your best to come as near as you can to them.”

This is the second address Mr Fletcher has given to the boys – the first was back in June 1917.

July 8th 1919

P E AC E   S U N D A Y

July 6th 1919

My brother Hum, as always, has taken particular interest in the religious side of life and made sure that we joined in the national celebration of Peace.

“Yesterday we attended Morning Service at the Cathedral, where we were courteously given seats in the Nave. The beautiful rendering of the Service by the Choir was a great musical treat, but we cannot believe that such form of worship is as suitable for boys as our own Sunday Service.”

In the afternoon a few of the boys found their way to the United Service in ‘Tom Quad‘ – along with a crowd estimated to be 10,000 strong! The band of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, along with the combined choirs of Christ Church, New College and Magdalene College Schools were an undoubted highlight.

 

There have been regular Sunday Services at the School this term, of which two were of particular note:

V C   D A Y

May 18th 1919

Jack Smyth’s Victoria Cross

We had hoped to give Rev. Col. Price’s VC Day sermon. But he writes that he ‘just said what he was feeling’ – and has been unable to ‘put it decently together.’ That is probably why it was so effective. He commented on the extreme youth of many of the VC winners, the high pitch to which the standard of bravery and sacrifice necessary for its winning has been raised during the war, yet ‘No VC’s act was more tremendously fine and great than that of Lieut. Smyth.’

Jack was once a very delicate boy, but his fine spirit and pluck pulled him through at that time, and the same grit and power has now won for him eternal fame.

We had a grand VC day picnic thereafter. Boats from Beesley’s took some 120 boys and staff up to Wytham Woods, while the caravan took the provisions and cookie and her staff to Swinford Bridge and a quarter-of-a-mile over the fields to the lock. The blue hyacinths were gorgeous. It was a day to remember.

June 8th 1919

We were delighted to have as preacher Rev Neville Talbot, whose brother Edward Talbot was an Old Dragon. Both served as chaplains throughout the war. Their father, the first Warden of Keble College, was a founder of the first girls’ colleges in Oxford (Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville).

Neville’s other brother, Gilbert Talbot, was killed at Ypres in December 1915 and the famous Talbot House at Poperinghe was founded in Gilbert’s memory by Neville and the Rev. ‘Tubby’ Clayton. It provided a resting place for soldiers to meet and relax in breaks from front line duties. Inside this house all were to be considered equal, regardless of rank, as the notice by the door required:

‘All rank abandon, ye who enter here.’

 

 

May 19th 1918

M A Y    1 8 t h    –    V C   D A Y

 

In honour of Capt. Jack Smyth (Sikhs, Indian Army) winning the Victoria Cross on this day in 1915, we have enjoyed a day off, and what a perfect day it turned out to be.

There was a great river picnic on the Upper River, with lunch and tea at the point where Wytham Wood comes nearest the river, just below Eynsham Bridge. The School House maids drove out and joined the party for tea and changed places with some of the juniors for the journey home.

The racing, the blisters, the bathe (Chell’s especially), the sun (Percival), the fruit salad, the big spoon (2 members of Staff), the walk home (Cecil and A.N. Other) and the frequent attempts to drown her crew (another member of the Staff) will long live in the memory.

Unfortunately, I had to attend a meeting in London and missed all the fun!

It has been some time since we last heard from Jack. As far as we know, he is doing a staff job in Bombay – safely away from the Western Front at least.

June 28th 1916

A report on the Summer Term at the OPS is long overdue.

A mumps scare put us into quarantine for the first month, but since then all has been well and we have been able to play cricket matches against other schools. The weather was lovely at the beginning, even if it is execrable at present. Some people call cold and rain healthy. It may be so, but it is not pleasant.

* * * * * * *

We have had two grand whole holidays. About 50 boys and girls went in a char-à-banc to Stokenchurch Woods on May 18th – V.C. Day, marking Jack Smyth‘s deeds of valour – and a more delightful day could not have been spent. Others went to Frilford and enjoyed golf with Mr Vassall.

* * * * * * *

I discovered that the school car could be put to a better use and as a result the Ford was sent to Rochdale at the beginning of June and a ‘Scott’ Ambulance body was built on the Ford chassis.

Since then it has been in constant use in taking wounded soldiers to and from the station and various hospitals, and in taking the men for country drives. It accommodates two stretcher cases very comfortably and often has carried six or seven sitting patients.  These patients were refreshed on their short journeys by bunches of grapes, kindly provided by money raised by the boys and their families.

* * * * * * *

We invited over a hundred wounded soldiers to attend our production of ‘The Gondoliers.’ They came limping in, some on sticks, some on crutches. Some in chairs and some on stretchers, but one and all meant to have a good time, and the Dragons in charge saw to it that they had it. What the doctors said the next day about the effects of too many cigarettes and too many other good things does not concern us here.

One thing that confused the soldiers was the fact that the female parts were also being played by boys. In short, nothing would persuade Tommy that black was white, and when he saw 3 or 4 girls, and very pretty ones too, girls they were – and he did not believe for one moment they were boys.

The actors themselves got a little mixed sometimes, and once one of them earnestly assured us that he would make a “dutiful husband, I mean wife.”

This made Tommy think a little, and one of the staff had the great idea of getting the ‘boy-girls’ amongst the wounded, and parting the golden and raven locks to show the unbelievers the unmistakable hairy heads of Dragons beneath.

On the way from the green room, one of the damsels tripped, and what he (she) said, made one soldier remark, “Well, that one’s a boy anyhow!”