May 5th 1917

The battle at Arras continues unabated. Indeed, a couple of nights ago (around 1 a.m) many in Oxford were awoken by the sounds of the artillery bombardment – or so it was believed to be. I did not hear it myself.

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We now have more encouraging news of William Leefe Robinson. His sister has been told that a captured German airman has revealed that William is alive and is now a prisoner of war.

We still do not know the fate of Peter Warren, who has been missing since April 2nd.

The casualties suffered by our airman last month must be a matter of great concern to our leaders. The Daily Telegraph of April 27th reported a significant increase in our losses (killed, wounded and missing):  January – 56, February – 119, March – 152, April –  319.

Of the twenty or so Old Dragons serving with the RFC, William and Peter are the first to have been declared “missing” and the news of William renews our hope that Peter is also a prisoner.

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It is good to have the boys back and on the very first day of term our cricket team enjoyed a match against a team of young Old Dragons who are still on holiday. We scored a creditable 63 to the ODs’ 93.

The new boys are settling in well, although there have been some tears. Indeed, I found young Betjemann crying outside the Lodge. We walked up and down the road whilst I tried to comfort him.  He does know Ralph Adams from their holidays in Cornwall, so we have put them both in Form II. Let’s hope Ralph can help buck him up.

My brother Hum got to know the Betjemanns on holiday in Trebetherick a few years ago, and hearing that John was not having a good time of it at Highgate School (where his German-sounding name led to some unpleasantness), suggested he came to board here at the OPS.

 

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 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.

September 20th 1916

Christmas Term 1916

The excitement of starting a new school year today is dulled by its coinciding with the anniversary of the deaths of two of our masters, Leslie Eastwood and Tom Higginson. Leslie died of dysentery in Egypt and Tom was crushed by the collapse of his dug-out in France. We remember them both with great affection…

Dragons, welcome back. We number 136 with the perfect split of 68 boarders and 68 day boys. The oldest boy in the school is H. Kingerlee (aged 14.8) and the youngest D. Wallace (aged 7.11). In the Junior Department we have 22 (aged from 8.11 down to 5.10).

There is much to look forward to: the rugger – let’s hope we have a good XV, using the shooting range, doing some carpentry, playing in concerts, preparation for our school play and maybe other dramatic productions, bicycle expeditions, picnics and of course some hard work! I trust too that many boarders will join Mr Haynes for the morning bathe in the River Cherwell before breakfast. A most bracing way to start the day!

Many boys, I know, have been writing a holiday diary over the summer and I look forward to marking them over the coming weeks and awarding prizes.

The greatest excitement of the holidays was William Leefe Robinson winning the Victoria Cross for shooting down an airship. As often happens in life, he was brought down to earth with a bump when, only 13 days after his extraordinary feat, a gust of air hit his aircraft as he was taking off and he crashed. Luckily, he escaped as the engine caught fire, but his plane was totally destroyed.

Nonetheless, there can be no doubt he will be back in the air fighting our enemies again very soon.

 

September 9th 1916

Airship

The Schütte-Lanz SL 11 airship

Yesterday Lieut. William Leefe Robinson was summoned to Windsor Castle to receive his Victoria Cross from the King in person, in recognition of having been the first person to shoot down a German airship over England.

The crowds lined the street to greet him, but horror of all horrors, his car broke down on the way and he was late!

He has become something of a national hero and his account of the events of that night makes most interesting reading:

Leefe Robinson Billy 2“I had been up something more than an hour when I saw the first Zeppelin; she was flying high and I followed her, climbing to get a position above. But there was a heavy fog and she escaped me. I attacked her at long range, but she made off before I could see if I had done any damage.

The next ship I saw, I determined I would attack from the first position I found. I met her just after two o’clock (Sunday morning, the 3rd). She was flying at 10,000 feet. Soon she appeared to catch fire in her forward petrol tank. The flames spread rapidly along her body. She made off eastwards on fire. In several minutes she dipped by the nose and dived slowly in flames to the earth.

I was so pleased that, in my excitement, I pulled the ‘joystick’ and looped the loop several times.”

William has also become entitled to claim over £3,500 in rewards offered by certain private dignitaries for the first person to bring down an airship on English soil.

Maybe a new car will be in order?

 

 

 

 

September 6th 1916

London Gazette, September 5th 1916

Leefe Robinson Billy

We have a second winner of the Victoria Cross. First Jack Smyth and now William Leefe Robinson!

Today’s newspaper (see p.9) reveals that the airship which crashed to the ground at Cuffley in Hertfordshire in the early hours of September 3rd was shot down by our Old Boy.

“His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to Lieut. William Leefe Robinson, Worc. Regiment and RFC, for most 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.”

We cannot pretend that the OPS has been a major influence in William’s life, as he only spent a short time with us in 1901, when he was over here with his family from Southern India.

William was only with us for one term in 1902 and was bottom of Miss Bagguley’s form. His people only stayed in Oxford for the summer of that year. His brother Harold Leefe Robinson was also here. He was killed at Kut in April.

 

April 26th 1916

Harold Leefe Robinson

2nd Lieut. Harold Leefe Robinson (101st Grenadiers, Indian Army)

Yesterday’s edition of ‘The Times’ reported the death, on April 19th, of Harold Leefe Robinson.

Harold, together with his brother William, was only briefly at the OPS, in 1901-2,  after which he returned to India with his mother. He did return to England to complete his education at St Bees School in Cumberland, but he then went back to India and took charge of a tea estate in the Coimbatore district in 1913.

On the outbreak of war he joined up and entered the Indian Army Reserve. He was attached to the Mahratta Light Infantry and had been serving in Mesopotamia since December. He died of wounds received during the attempts to relieve our troops stationed in Kut.

(His brother William Leefe Robinson, who is now in the RFC, has been wounded, having received a shrapnel wound in the leg when flying over Lille on May 9th last year.)

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Today’s ‘Daily Telegraph’ contains news (on page 9) of an attack on the GPO in Dublin, which gives us great concern for one Old Dragon family living there: the Norways.

In 1912, Nevil Norway‘s father, Arthur Hamilton Norway, was made Secretary to the Post Office in Ireland – in effect in charge of the Post Office throughout the country. His office is in the Post Office building attacked by the rebels.

We await news as to both his safety and that of the family. Nevil Norway, now aged 17, will have returned home recently for the holidays from Shrewsbury, where he is now at school.