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 a 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.

August 16th 1916

CDF at sea croppedYou may have seen the Poet Laureate, Mr Robert Bridges has published a piece entitled ‘The Chivalry of the Sea‘ and the more observant amongst you may have noticed that this is dedicated to our own Charles Fisher, who went down with HMS Invincible at Jutland.

The well-known composer, Sir Hubert Parry, is setting the piece to music.

A friend of Charles Fisher’s, Mr George Lyttelton, has written a capital piece in Charles’ memory. Apparently Charles told him that all he wished to do after the war was to go to bed for five years, only getting up for meals – before adding that this was not to be considered incompatible with an earlier wish to end his days in a Worcestershire vicarage, having helped to settle the date of Deuteronomy.

How I do miss Charles.

June 7th 1916

As far as one can tell, there have been no other casualties amongst the naval Old Dragons at Jutland – for which we are all most thankful.

Charles Fisher’s brother Captain William Fisher (HMS St Vincent) was also involved in this action, and was lucky enough just prior to the battle to be able to spend some time with Charles.

WW Fisher

William Fisher

“Charles and I were on shore together having the greatest fun when recalled, as we have been recalled dozens of times before.”

Then, by another extraordinary coincidence, he found himself at the scene of his brother’s death very shortly after the event:

“Exactly twenty-four hours later the ‘St. Vincent’ steamed past the wreck of a ship which we took to be a German. We were, with other ships near us in the line, engaging four German Dreadnaughts at the time, but I looked to see if there was anyone in the water near this ship and saw nothing – not even floating wreckage. All round was still calm water.

The wreck might have been there for weeks – and yet we know now she went down only about a quarter of an hour before our arrival. Her bow was high in the air and so was her stern, the centre having been split in two and apparently resting on the bottom.”

Invincible sunk

The wreck of HMS Invincible

It was not long before someone spotted on the starboard side at the stern, the name: HMS Invincible, and William realised that he had lost his brother.

William writes of Charles:

“I am comforted by the knowledge that he who had seen so much carnage will have steadied everyone near him.

How proud I have been to walk about as Charles’s brother, and prouder, if possible, than ever now…”

These are sentiments we can all share.

* * * * * * * *

TyrwhittIt is good to read some good news at this time. In today’s Court Circular column it is recorded that Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt was yesterday invested by the King at Buckingham Palace with the insignia of a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order.

June 6th 1916

HMS Invincible

HMS Invincible

It transpires that there were only six survivors from HMS Invincible and it is by extraordinary luck that one of them, Commander Dannreuther, was at the side of Charles Fisher when the explosion occurred.

HMS Invincible was involved in a gun battle with the German battleship ‘Derffinger’:

“We hit the Derffinger with our first salvo and continued to hit her entirely owing to the perfect rate Charles gave us.

It was all over in a few minutes and death came suddenly and painlessly. Everything was going splendidly at the time, and it was entirely due to Charles’ cool head and excellent judgement that our firing was so effective.

I saw him only a few minutes before the end – a smile on his face and his eyes sparkling. He was by my side and in the highest spirits when there was a great explosion and shock, and when I recovered consciousness I found myself in the water.

Ship and crew had disappeared.”

Commander Dannreuther estimates that this great ship went to the bottom in a matter of only 15 seconds.