February 8th 1918

Lieut. Martin Collier (RN)

We now have further news regarding the death of Martin Collier. He received orders to take his submarine, H 10, with a crew of 26, on dangerous secret service. He sailed from Harwich into the North Sea, never to return. It is thought that perhaps the submarine hit a mine.  Martin had left a noble letter to be delivered to his family in case he did not return.

Further tributes have been forthcoming, this from Sidney Herbert, a fellow officer:

“Martin Collier was captain of one of those of our submarines which go out and are no more heard of, and had I any official knowledge of how they were lost I might not reveal it.”

Sidney remembers stories of Martin when they were at RNC Osborne, roaming the island “sometimes within bounds, sometimes with long chases that brought him in contact with authorities in a way which made the less daring among us hold our breath.”

From Osborne Martin went on to Dartmouth, where his sport flourished. Martin was a talented rugby player. He played for the United Services and he was described as “the hardest working forward in perhaps the best club pack in England.”

In 1913/14 he played for the South and could well have gone on to make the England team.  He was also a boxer of note, winning the Navy & Marines’ middle-weight boxing championship of 1910.

I am most grateful to Martin’s father, Lieut.-Col. Collier, for forwarding me the letter he received from the chaplain of HMS Alecto, written immediately after H 10 had failed to return:

“… I knew your son very well indeed and without any hesitation I can say that he was one of the very finest characters it has ever been my privilege to meet. He was a real, clean, upright Christian gentleman. I personally shall miss him more than I can say.

He was a great help to me here, and the example he set of simple manly religion greatly impressed the officers and men, not only of his own crew, but of the whole depot. He always read the lesson at our parade services when he was in harbour, and was a very regular communicant…

He was most sympathetic and understanding and we all loved him. His crew, whom I knew well, were devoted to him. I saw his coxswain’s wife yesterday, and she told me that she tried to persuade her husband to report sick and miss this last trip, as he had a bad cold. But the coxswain said he couldn’t think of letting Mr Collier go without him.

This spirit animated the whole crew, and proves what we who knew him always recognised, that your son was a born leader of men – but he was more than that, he was a very perfect and courageous gentleman…

He has fought the good fight, he has finished his course, he has kept the faith…”

Coincidentally, today’s ‘Roll of Honour’ in the Daily Telegraph not only recorded Martin’s death, but also listed 2nd Lieut. William Sheepshanks (KRRC) as “Previously reported missing, now reported killed.”

We posted as much on December 27th (Bill having been “missing” since July 10th 1917). It has taken until now for the authorities finally to make this official.

 

 

January 12th 1918

Lieut. Arthur Huson (RGA) has sent in this heart-felt appreciation of his, and our great friend, Bill Sheepshanks, whose death was confirmed recently.

2nd Lieut. William Sheepshanks (KRRC)

“Well, Sheepers, they have given me a difficult job this time, old thing, to try to do justice to your memory, but I should be a poor sort of pal if I did not make the attempt.

I remember you first when I arrived at the School House, very small and very frightened,  long time ago now, and you helped to make an easy path for me, a new boy in a new world.

It did not take long to grow to like you, and not long for that liking to develop into something deeper, for there have been few things in your short life that we have not done together…

It was always you that led the way and I never knew you chuck your hand in over any single thing you tried, and you wouldn’t let me do it either. The very thought of giving in never seemed to occur to you…

Do you remember the joys of the Varsity rugger, or the Eights, or lunch in a punt on the Cher on Sundays? We tried and shared them all. And how we crept out of our beds and waited together to get seats for the Mikado, for how we blessed Josias Conybeare and his car for taking us to an ‘International’ in Town?

And how faithful you were to the Skipper and his School. Not that it was a hard job, but ask GC (Mr GC Vassall, esteemed editor of the ‘Draconian‘) how many dinners or cricket matches you missed at the OPS. How we looked forward to those games. They were the only ones you were allowed to keep wicket or I to bowl, and with what joy we encompassed the fall of Pug Wallace – when we did.

Well those days are over, Sheepers, except in memory, and I don’t think I realised it properly until that Winchester meeting at Amiens the other day when you were not sitting next to me to talk about old times, as you surely would have been.

But your end was true to your life, old thing, and you have left behind you a memory as clean and happy as the life that bred it. Here’s luck to you on the other side, Sheepers. God knows you need no wishes of mine, but you shall have them nonetheless, for a cleaner, straighter, truer pal man never had.”

December 27th 1917

2nd Lieut. William Sheepshanks (KRRC)

It has been some five months since Bill was reported as “missing.” Just before Christmas, the family received from the Red Cross what they take to be confirmation that Bill died of his wounds on July 11th. The information came from KRRC men now in German prisoner of war camps.

Letter from the International Red Cross

19/12/17. “We beg to enclose, as a result of our enquiries in different camps in Germany, the statements of Capt. Hugh Ward, interned at Freiburg and 2nd Lieut. Rowland Madeley of the same unit, prisoner at Clausthal, Germany.”

Captain Ward’s statement accompanying this was, “I saw him carried out of the German dressing station in a moribund condition on the evening… He could not have lived more than half-an-hour. He was unconscious.”

 

The family have also heard this from Bill’s servant:

“… I was your son’s servant from the time he joined the battalion until the time he was taken prisoner along with the other officers, NCOs and men who were lucky enough to be spared on that most memorable day, July 10th, when the KRRC and the Northants made a great stand at Nieuport, Belgium.

The Germans started their terrible bombardment at 8 o’clock in the morning, and your son was very badly wounded at 9.30 a.m. and the Captain and two stretcher-bearers tried to get him to the dressing station, but owing to the heavy shell-fire it was impossible to get to him and a few of his platoon. At 7.30 in the evening the Germans attacked and took our positions, as we were surrounded and cut off…

On the morning of 11th July, I was told he had died at the German Field Dressing Station.”

The letter from the Red Cross concludes, “We deeply regret it should be our duty to convey such sad news to you, but we want to draw your attention to the fact that this statement is unofficial and cannot in any way be considered as an absolute certainty…”

It seems rather cruel to suggest there is a chance Bill could be still alive in the face of this evidence. Surely it will be enough to convince the Army Council to authorise publication of Bill’s name on the official casualty lists?

 

There are few boys who have captured our hearts so entirely as Bill Sheepshanks did. There was an individuality about him, a fearless independence, and at the same time a most fascinating and chivalrous courtesy which impressed us all. A powerful and active brain, coupled with a calm and always cheerful demeanour and a winning smile, were rare gifts which would have carried him far.

July 28th 1917

We return today, inevitably, to the War and news of three of our Old Dragons.

On July 21st, the papers reported a number of officers of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps as missing in action. One of them is 2nd Lieut. William Sheepshanks (KRRC).

His mother received a telegram to this effect on the 19th, informing her that Bill has been unaccounted for since July 10th, but that he may still be alive. We must resign ourselves, once again, to a period of painful uncertainty.

The regiment was stationed right on the coastline near Nieuport – at the end of the trench system which stretches from there to Switzerland, and was under severe bombardment. In an account in the Daily Telegraph giving the German view, it was stated by their authorities that they had taken 1,250 prisoners, 27 of whom were officers. That gives us hope.

Bill has been such a close friend of the OPS and he never missed any Old Boys’ dinner or cricket match if he could help it.

* * * * * * *

We were startled and sorry to hear that Lieut. Lindsay Wallace (OBLI) has suffered considerable injury in France, due to unusual causes.  Whilst on a training course behind the front, Pug sleep walked out of an upper floor window. He had a nasty time for a day or two, but is now safely back in Oxford at Somerville College, having been escorted from France by his Engineer-Lieutenant brother Moray Wallace. He will not be short of visitors – if we can get past Sister Wilkinson!

* * * * * * *

We can end with one piece of good news, which has been a fearfully long time coming. It has been confirmed that Capt. Aubrey de Selincourt (RFC), having been “missing” since he was shot down on May 28th, is in fact a Prisoner of War. He joins his fellow OD aviators, Captain William Leefe Robinson VC and Lieut. Peter Warren in captivity.