August 5th 1918

We have two more Military Crosses to celebrate – both listed in the London Gazette of July 26th.

Capt. PB Frere (KRRC): “He covered 1000 yards of open ground under extremely heavy fire to inform the battalion on the left that we were about to withdraw. Again, next day he personally, under heavy machine-gun fire at close range, took orders for withdrawals to two companies, and was largely responsible for the successful withdrawal of his battalion. He exhibited great courage and cheerfulness under most trying conditions.” 

Although Philip did not mention this incident specifically, it seems likely to fit in with the events of March 24th which he described in his last letter.

Lieut. PJ Campbell (RFA): “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He directed the fire of his battery from a most exposed position, inflicting heavy casualties on the advancing enemy. During the whole retirement he occupied most forward positions, exposing himself to great danger, and supplied much valuable information throughout.” 

Pat too was doing his best to hold back the advancing Germans on March 24th.

May 17th 1918

Capt. Philip Frere (KRRC), who visited us last term, was caught up in the Spring Offensive launched by the Boche on March 21st. His record of events, which we have now received, makes the most gripping reading and shows how desperately hard pressed our troops were at that time:

28/3/18. “It all started on the 22nd, as far as we were concerned. We were in Corps Reserve, and had been standing by to move at an hour’s notice.

We were just drinking our port after an early dinner, when we were interrupted by a burst of M.G. fire from about 500 yards, sweeping the village. It was a patrol that had pushed right through. Of course, this was rather sudden when we thought we were six miles at least from the battle. We turned out at once, got the Companies into a trench outside the village and kept off the Boche. We managed to get in touch with the people on the right and left and to form some sort of line…

On the morning of the 23rd, we started scrapping; eventually we saw that the Boche had got right through on our right and were coming round, so we had to hook it, and jolly quick too. He shelled us very heavily with whizz-bangs at point blank range for a time. Our guns behaved as at a military tournament, coming into action at a gallop. We left a platoon to cover our retirement, and then got back as best we could to a line facing South instead of East.

We had a horrid time there; I have never been under such heavy fire in my life. The Boche was streaming over the ridge opposite and we fired as much as we could, husbanding our ammunition; his advance was covered with M.G. fire most awfully well directed, and eventually the people on the left went and we had to swing back N.W…

The first two days I had nothing but a cup of cocoa and a slice of biscuit and marmalade which we found; but then food doesn’t matter and I was hardly hungry. The awful part was thirst, and it was not until the eve of the 24th that we came upon a water point and managed to fill up just before the Boche arrived. I did not know what thirst was till then.

But even this was not so bad as the fatigue and awful depression. What was happening? When would it all end? How long were we to continue this unending fighting? We had not the least idea where the rest of our Brigade and Division were, we had no orders what to do, and were left to gloomy speculation how on earth we were going to subsist.

At Ytres on the 23rd, we managed to hold on till about 4 p.m. when we found that the Boche had crossed the canal, so we fixed up a line behind with the people on our right and retired to it.

Soon after we got into position the Boche started to shell us with a H.V. gun (11”). How on earth he got them up I do not know, there must have been about six of them. I then spent the most unpleasant two hours I have known. We cowered down in the bottom of a shallow trench with these huge shells falling all about the place and four German aeroplanes flying round and round fifty feet above us; not one of ours was to be seen, and we had no ammunition left to fire at them…

Next morning, the 24th, at dawn, we found that we were at the point of the salient about three miles deep and about a mile across at the base. I never thought that we should extricate ourselves, but we did.

All that day the same thing went on, the men were absolutely done, parched with thirst, and with no spirit left at all. That evening we reached Le Sars and dropped where we stood; however, we had fallen on our feet, for we found the Transport and got food and water. That night I got a little sleep, but the cold was ghastly.

Next morning, the 25th, we started with a very heavy action in front of Le Sars; my Assistant Adjutant was killed and the second in command saved me by stopping a bullet in front of me. That day we fought three actions and came to rest in the evening near Beaucourt.

The night was better, the Boche did not molest us and we managed to get hot food from the Transport; I found a tarpaulin which kept me moderately warm, though I was too tired to sleep.”

It is difficult to find a good map on which one can place such events, but this one from the newspapers is the best I can do. Philip’s line of retreat is just south of Bertincourt (Ytres) going due west to Le Sars.

Whilst we have read a lot about the German casualties being enormous, this account, along with the never ending lists of fallen officers in the newspapers, show that our losses have been very considerable as well:

“You could put what is left of the Battalion into a drawing room. I have had a great piece of luck coming through it and I don’t know how I managed it.”

Philip’s sang-froid is truly remarkable; he and his troops must have been driven right to the very limits of their powers of endurance. I fear that the horror of it all will live with them for quite some time.

So much for this. It is an episode about which one could easily write a book, but I have neither the time nor the inclination. I hope to be able to sleep tonight. Last night I had nothing but nightmares.”

 

April 27th 1918

Lieut. Henry Addis (Royal Dublin Fusiliers)

On April 11th Henry’s name appeared in the Daily Telegraph ‘Roll of Honour as being “wounded and missing, believed killedand whilst we feared the worst there was, given the confusion at the outset of the German offensive, a glimmer of hope.

However, it is now stated in the Times that Henry was killed in action on the first day of the German Offensive (March 21st.)

The German attack, made under the cover of a thick mist and in great numbers, overran many of our troops in the forward positions. Henry was stationed near the front (represented by the thick black line) at Lempire (east of Peronne) and it is understood that he was in a dug-out with his Captain when a messenger came with a despatch.

They told him where to take it, and he came back almost at once and shouted down that the Germans were upon them. The Captain and Henry got the men out immediately and there was a fierce fight. At the end of about twenty minutes, the Captain was shot through the chest and fell and another bullet went through his head and killed him. Henry ran to his side, but was immediately shot.

It is proving to be a harrowing month – this new phrase of the war has seen the deaths of 4 of our Old Boys endeavouring to hold back the German advance (Alan Haigh-Brown, George Thuillier and Ronald Stonehouse being the others). With casualty lists being the length they are, I fear there may be further additions to this list still to come.

 

Whilst at the Dragon, Henry was a quiet, reserved boy, with a considerable sense of humour. He was not particularly keen on games, but had his own amusements and was an interested observer of all that went on. He was always popular with a good set of boys. He was a good essay writer and fond of history.

His line of thought was always independent and original, and it is impossible to think of him without remembering the twinkle in his eye, which brought him into many scrapes and saved him from their usual consequences.

 

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.

 

 

April 13th 1917

The Times and the Daily Telegraph have announced that our VC winner, Capt. William Leefe Robinson (RFC) is “missing.” Yesterday’s Telegraph added that “he was believed to have been killed.”

He is the second Old Dragon airman to have suffered this fate since the start of the month.  News has reached us that 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren (RFC) is also missing. He has been at the Front barely a month.

Peter was up at Magdalen in 1914 (where his uncle, Sir Herbert Warren, is President) and being only 17 yrs old was not then eligible for service, although he did join the University OTC.

He received his commission last July and trained as an Observer with 57 Squadron. He transferred to 34 Squadron in November to train as a pilot, graduating in early February. At the end of the month he was sent to the front to join 43 Squadron.

The Warrens have close connections with the OPS. Peter’s grandmother, Mrs Morrell, lives at Black Hall (No 21, St Giles) doors away from where the OPS started.

Peter’s uncle is Philip Morrell, who was a Dragon under Mr Clarke from 1878 until 1880, when the school consisted of a few rooms at No 26 St Giles. He now lives at Garsington Manor with his wife, Lady Ottoline, and is the Liberal MP for Burnley.

 

Both the Leefe Robinson and Warren families and friends will be enduring a period of great strain until further news is received about their loved ones. Certainly it is perfectly possible that, if they came down over enemy held territory, they are prisoners of war. We will live in hope that this is the case.

December 21st 1916

queens-hallOn Tuesday 12th December, a concert was given by the Bach Choir in Queen’s Hall (the home of Sir Henry Wood’s Promenade concerts since 1895).  It was described in the newspaper as being “of very considerable and exceptional interest.”

The Daily Telegraph continued by saying that the novelty of the evening was “Sir Hubert Parry’s setting for five part chorus and orchestra of the Poet Laureate’s fine naval ode, The Chivalry of the Sea.’   

parry

Sir Hubert Parry

A work of no soaring ambition this; yet one characteristic of its composer in its dignity and the suggestion of depth underlying its reticent emotional appeal. There are contrasts in the musical mood in keeping with those embodied in the text, and from the sombre opening phrases, illustrating the line, ‘Over the warring waters, beneath the wandering skies,’ to the last, the spirit of the ode, dedicated to the memory of a young lieutenant of the RNVR, is faithfully reflected.”

The young lieutenant referred to, I am proud to say, is our own Charles Fisher, who went down on HMS Invincible at the Battle of Jutland, aged 38. (His brother is Dr HAL Fisher).

Robert Bridges begins his ode with the words, ‘Dedicated to the memory of Charles Fisher, late student of Christ Church, Oxford.’

 

 

 

 

December 15th 1916

In the course of the last four months a number of our gallant Old Boys have been honoured and, as the end of another term approaches, they should be recorded on these pages:

Victoria Cross (VC)

Capt. William Leefe Robinson (RFC), “for conspicuous bravery. He attacked an enemy airship under circumstances of great difficulty and danger, and sent it crashing to the ground as a flaming wreck. He had been in the air for more than two hours and had previously attacked another airship during his flight.”

Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

Capt. Harry Maule (North Lancs) has been awarded the DSO “for conspicuous gallantry when leading his company during operations. During several days’ fighting he set a fine example of cheerfulness and cool courage to those around him. He was three times knocked down by the blast of shells.” (Edinburgh Gazette, Sept. 28th 1916)

Major Ernest Knox (Sikhs) in Mesopotamia.

Major James Romanes (Royal Scots). “For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led his battalion with the greatest courage and initiative. He set a splendid example throughout the operations.” (London Gazette, Nov. 25th 1916)

Military Cross (MC)

2nd Lieut. Stopford Jacks (RFA). “He, assisted by a sergeant, organised a party to extinguish a fire in a bomb store. Although burnt in several places, he continued at the work until the fire was extinguished.” (Edinburgh Gazette, Dec. 13th 1916)

2nd Lieut. Budge Pellatt (Royal Irish). “When a Platoon was required from his company to replace casualties in the front line, he at once volunteered and led his men forward with the greatest determination, though suffering heavy casualties.”

2nd Lieut. Northcote Spicer (RFA). “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in registering all batteries of the artillery brigade from the advanced lines prior to attack. He was severely wounded, chiefly from having to signal by flag, which was observed by the enemy.” (London Gazette, Oct. 20th 1916)

French Honours

‘The Times’ (Sept 16th) noted that Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt had been made Grand Officier of the Legion of Honour.

2nd Lieut. Trevor Hoey (OBLI) has been awarded the Croix de Guerre decoration by the French Commander on the Salonika front for distinguished conduct, referred to in the Army Orders as follows:

“When all the other officers were placed hors de combat, he took command and led the final charge against the Bulgarian position, which was brilliantly carried at the point of the bayonet.”

Mentioned in Despatches

2nd Lieut. FRG Duckworth (RFA) in Salonika, Capt. WW Fisher (RN) & Cdr GH Freyberg (RN) at Jutland, Maj. EF Knox (36th Sikhs) – for the second time, Capt. RJK Mott (Staff) in Salonika, Lieut. JC Slessor (RFC) in Egypt, and Maj. RD Whigham (King’s Own Scottish Borderers) – for the second time.

It is difficult to express just how proud we are when our Old Boys distinguish themselves so.