November 11th 1917

2nd Lieut. Pat Campbell, having returned to the Ypres front following four days’ leave in Paris, has found himself back in the thick of this seemingly never-ending battle at Ypres, which has been going on since July 31st.

23/10/17 “The veterans of the brigade say – at least some of them do – that in all the long years they have been out here they have never seen such a country of absolute desolation, or such mud, and that they have never had the breeze up so badly as they have in the last few days…”

Pat was involved in an attack on October 22nd. As the Forward Observation Officer for his Brigade, he had to make his way forward with four signallers to a pill box close to the front line. Carrying heavy equipment and in bad conditions, this took them 3 hours.

His job was to keep in touch with the advance and send back information to the artillery. This was easier said than done, it seems:

“It is very difficult to tell what has happened in the early stages of a battle; some of the walking wounded who come dancing down the line are so pleased with themselves that they tell you that everything is going top hole, though they were probably hit before the thing began, while others who are rather worse and have lost some of their friends are equally despondent.”

He and another officer took turns to go forward:

“We went out alternately to various HQ and other less official sources to find out what news we could get and whether the infantry wanted any particular artillery support. On one of these little trips I got rather a nasty shock, which made me decide that I was not going out any more.

Usually you can hear a shell coming for at least a second or two and one learns to act promptly, but on this occasion it was a light velocity shell, which came right alongside us without any warning at all.”

This seems a strange point at which to leave this incident, but Pat does, so there it is. The Campbells deserve their luck. Pat’s brother Percy Campbell was killed in the first battle at Ypres almost three years ago to the day in 1914.

In his letter Pat asks, “I am wondering what the papers said about yesterday’s battle. It seems to have been a pretty decent show…”

This is a view shared at least by the Daily Telegraph:

Given the conditions Pat describes, it is difficult to imagine how a battle can be fought:

“It was very tiring walking about because at every step you lifted pounds of thick Belgian mud. I don’t think you could find a single square yard in that area that was not part of a shell hole, but even so, you can’t have any idea of what it looks like. It is simply indescribable.”

It is not that often that an artillery officer finds himself in the front line and Pat is quick to acknowledge the role of the infantry, who are there all the time:

“The more you see of them, the greater respect you have for them all, and I think the subalterns in particular. Such things as trenches have practically ceased to exist now, and they just live in shell holes and going forward to attack over ground like this, I really can’t understand how they do it. “

And so say all of us.

October 22nd 1917

Friday’s newspaper published the latest lists from London Gazette and in it is the excellent news that 2nd Lieut. Walter Moberly (Ox & Bucks Light Infantry) has been awarded the DSO:

“In an advance against enemy positions three companies reached their objectives and consolidated. The commanders of all three companies were killed, and he thereupon assumed command of the front line. The position was extremely difficult, as the troops on both flanks had failed to reach their objectives, and the enemy were consequently holding positions at and slightly behind his flanks.

Communication with battalion headquarters failed, as runners were unable to get through the machine-gun and snipers’ fire from the front and flanks. In these circumstances this officer determined to hold on to the advanced line at all costs.

He took steps to defend his flanks, and organized an effective resistance to counter attacks. By his prompt and decisive action and complete disregard of danger he inspired his men with confidence; and if it had not been for this plucky decision and courageous determination on his part, the whole of the objectives gained would have had to be abandoned.”

It was in this attack – on August 22nd – that Will Scott, who had been with D Company, was killed and Gifford Turrell severely wounded. (Gifford is, we hear,  still at St Thomas’ Hospital in London).

The attack was witnessed by Capt. Geoffrey Rose, who has kindly provided this map:

The companies Walter took command of are shown as A, B and D Companies. They were fired on from both Schuler Farm and the gunpit to their rear.

C Company, in which Gifford Turrell was fighting, is shown as having been held up by enemy forces at Pond Farm.

The sadness of this is that, although the citation makes it clear that without Walter’s determination “the whole of the objectives gained would have had to be abandoned,”  Geoffrey Rose tells us that “what had been gained by it (the Ox & Bucks) with heavy loss was in fact given up by its successors almost at once.”

 

October 15th 1917

2nd Lieut. Walter Moberly (Ox & Bucks Light Infantry), has felt moved to contribute a piece in memory of Hugh Sidgwick, his contemporary at the OPS:

2nd Lt. W Moberly

“When my generation entered VIa in September 1894, we found him, though a year younger than the rest of us, already there, the only survivor of the previous year, amongst whom he had been the first…

With Hum (Lynam) to teach us and Sidgwick to set us a standard we had a most stimulating time; and I remember nothing to compare with it until I reached Senior Sixth Book at Winchester under Dr. Fearon…

I have never known any other case of a boy being so completely on a pinnacle by himself, though I have been told that ten years later Jack Haldane approached something of the same position…

In those days, Mr Lang of Magdalen, now Archbishop of York, used to teach us Divinity. I remember his describing to us one day the characteristics of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees respectively, and his asking us each in turn which we thought we should have been. Sidgwick, who was of course at the top, led off with proclaiming himself a Sadducee. The future Archbishop told him he had judged rightly, and so he certainly had…”

Walter further recalls Hugh speaking at an Old Dragon Dinner:

“He (Hugh) went on to ask what the distinctive character of the School and its training is. He found it in the Skipper’s refusal to force his boys into one or other of two or three conventional moulds, in his positive encouragement of originality, in the opportunity given to boys to discover their own peculiar interests and gifts; so that, if you were to collect a number of Old Boys in after-life and to ask what was the common stamp that the School had set on them, you would be able to point to no single machine-made quality, but you might observe that every one was very much himself.”

I have never believed that our boys are clay to be shaped as potters will, all much in the same way, and our way. To have tried to mould a Hugh Sidgwick was unthinkable. What if the chisel had slipped, what irretrievable damage might have been done?

Finally, few concerned with the School would disagree with Walter’s conclusion:

“If I were asked to illustrate the contribution of the OPS to English life, and now to England’s sacrifice, I should be content to couple his name to that of Ronald Poulton and let the OPS be judged by them.”

Capt. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA)

 

October 6th 1917

The ‘Oxford Magazine’ has published an appreciation of the life of Capt. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA), who died of his wounds on September 17th:

“Another of the veriest sons of Oxford, and of the Morning, gone! And one of the brightest and best… he had such obvious qualities for true friendship – intelligence far above the average, wit and humour and a capacity for deep affection, and endless interests in many directions, the open road, or even more the open hills, music, mathematics, history, scholarship, education, social service and what not.

After a brilliant course at Winchester and Balliol – his was a case of double First Class Honours in Mathematics and Classics, something of a rarity nowadays with rising and specialist standards…

During his life he returned to the College the greater proportion of his stipend as Fellow to be applied to the support of necessitous students, and by his will he directed that the whole balance should be repaid to the Master and Fellows, leaving them free to allocate it in the same way, or in any manner they may approve…

Hugh has also left the OPS £100 in his will, which will aid our Leaving Exhibition Fund. This fund has, since 1908, been allowing me to give leaving exhibitions to help boys whose parents are not very well off to go to a good public school. (The first such award I gave to a young Jack Smyth, later to win the VC).

 

September 24th 1917

Much as one would like to have enjoyed the celebration of the school’s 40th anniversary this past week, all possible pleasure has been overwhelmed by the sadness we are all feeling at the loss of Hugh Sidgwick. I have no hesitation in saying that he was the ablest boy that ever came to the school, and withal one of the most lovable.

The circumstances of his death (which it pains me greatly to write about) are that on September 16th, Hugh was getting into a car to go to HQ when a German aeroplane dropped a bomb, wounding him and several others.

He was taken straight to the Casualty Clearing Station and underwent an operation. However, there was internal bleeding and he lost consciousness and died in the early hours of the 17th. We are reassured to hear that he was in no pain and slipped away quietly.

By the time his mother received this telegram notifying them that Hugh had been wounded, he was in fact already dead.

Regret to inform you that No 46 Casualty Clearing Station reports September sixteenth Captain AH Sidgwick RGA 157 Siege Btty with bomb wound buttock and right knee. Condition dangerous…    Regret permission to visit cannot be granted.

By the time they received a second telegram the following day telling them of his death, he had been buried in the Mendinghem British Cemetery.

All so quick. One moment he is the vibrant human being we have all loved so much, the next…  all this.

 

September 19th 1917

Capt. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA)

Today I should have been concentrating on the start of a new school year, but the most calamitous news came to me from Mrs Sidgwick. Hugh has been killed.

At this time, I feel able only to share with you my response to his mother:

My dear Mrs Sidgwick,

No words can express my sorrow and feeling of personal loss – it is too too cruel a fate – such a glorious intellect & so noble a character, with so splendid a future before him.

There must be some future reunion with these noble souls – or we all are in the hands of a fiendish force which drives us & jibes at our hopes – I have just told the boys of the severest loss we have yet suffered. With the exception of Frank (& that possibly because I have seen more of him) Hugh was of all my old boys the best beloved and most proudly looked upon by me – and this does not express

my very deep feeling of sympathy with you & Frank & his sisters. His father is I hope spared the full knowledge of the loss he has suffered, but I do mourn with you all and sympathise most deeply.

Yours ever,

His old Skipper

 

 

 

Hugh’s father’s illness renders it unlikely that the family will share this news with him.

 

September 15th 1917

Capt. Tom Sheepshanks (Norfolks) has been attached to the 11th Suffolks, who last month took part in operations to capture a series of German positions, which formed the advance elements of the Hindenburg Line. I think it can be said that they met with singular success:

“We had a champagne dinner the night before we moved up and I remember quite well – well. I think we had better leave it at that; we are digressing.

Zero day was Sunday August 26th, and on Friday we moved up towards the line and bivouacked in a copse… Friday night the other Coy Commander and I walked up to BHQ and went out to reconnoitre the jumping off place, which was a sunken road some distance in front of our line. Saturday we spent sleeping and dishing out bombs, flares etc.

Zero hour was fixed for 4.30 a.m. Sunday morning and we had to be in position by 2 a.m., so we gave the men a hot meal about 11 o’clock at night with a good tot of rum in their tea, under the influence of which I made them a patriotic speech and we then moved off. The intelligence officer had been out earlier in the evening and marked the respective company frontages with pegs marked with luminous paint, so we all got into position quite happily…

The only worry was the cooing of the carrier pigeons and the violent blasphemies of the signallers in charge of them. The noise those beastly birds made was something outrageous and the signaller made it even worse by threatening in a raucous whisper to wring their blank blank necks unless they shut up. I shut him up and the birds quieted down…

Punctually at 4.30 the machine gun barrage opened up and a few seconds later the 18 pounders let fly. We were attacking on a three company front, mine being in the centre, and my company’s objective was a place called Malakoff Farm, with a line of trenches in front of the farm and another behind it.

The barrage was all shrapnel and we followed it at a distance of about 30 yards; the ground wasn’t cut up and the going was good. Eventually we reached the wire or what was left of Fritz’s front line. Our heavies had knocked the trench and wire absolutely flat, so we found no one there.

That was our first objective and the leading wave stopped there and started to consolidate. The rest of the company went on…

A few moments later we got up to our final objective, waited for the barrage to lift and then rushed it. That was where we scored so much by following the barrage closely. He had two or three m.g’s there, but we were on him so quickly that he only got one into action and that didn’t fire long. Fritz showed no fight at all. He either ran away or put up his hands.

One of them was quite pathetic. He was so keen to surrender that he evinced a desire to embrace and kiss me. I kicked him over the back of the trench and went on to dug-out just beyond, which seemed to promise something. We raked ten men out of it and last of all, to my intense delight, an officer with a beautiful automatic and a pair of Zeiss. He seemed unwilling to give them up to my Corporal at first. He thought better of it a second or two later. That Corporal never did like Huns and had a very business-like fist.

I’m a bit hazy about the next ten minutes. I found both my platoon commanders had got in all right and also the company on either side, but there was a lot of sniping going on and a m.g was causing my men trouble. My Sergeant-Major, the finest man I’ve ever known, got killed trying to locate it and knock it out, and one of my subalterns who was standing talking to me got hit badly, whilst I had one through my hair at the back of my head.

However we soon got things straight and started to dig ourselves in. We had got all of our objectives and felt very pleased with ourselves.”

Tom added that his regiment won a VC, three MCs, a DCM and twelve Military Medals in this action.

 

We still live in hope that Tom’s brother Bill Sheepshanks, who went missing in an action fought on July 26th, is alive and a prisoner of war.