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.

 

 

February 3rd 1918

I am grateful to Lieut. Spencer Leeson (RNVR) for this appreciation of the life of Martin Collier, who has become the 58th of our old boys to have laid down his life for the country:

“Memories of Martin must be vivid and clear-cut in the minds of all his friends. He was one of those men who, as it were, hit you straight between the eyes the first minute you saw him. You were conscious at once of a personality, and at the mention of his name afterwards many scenes came crowding into memory with the figure of Martin in high relief, saying or doing some characteristic thing.

Many will remember even how he used to arrive at school in the morning – hands in pockets, a battered old cap a little to the back of his head, passing jauntily through the gate leading to the asphalt, and on frosty mornings, rushing to the top of the slide to take his place in the queue.

On the rugger ground, of course, he was in his glory…

Martin Collier outside School House

The ordinary school matches never roused in him the stern ardour with which he entered upon a Dayboy and Boarder match… He always played a great game on these days, as I have particular reason to know, for he generally marked me out of touch. He would speak of these games with great enthusiasm when he was well on the way to his International Cap, and of all the matches he played, I do not believe he enjoyed any more than those at the School for the OD side.

One game particularly will be remembered – surely the greatest the ODs ever played – when GC (Mr Vassall) collected an OD side which Lindsay Wallace took down in December 1913 to meet the Osborne officers and staff. Martin led the pack in tremendous style, and our victory was largely due to his and Lindsay’s play.

Whenever I met him afterwards, Martin would speak rapturously of that game, and declare that when the OD scrum got well together, no side on earth could beat them.”

We did so hope that Martin would have lived to fulfil his ambition to play for England, and his last letters to the school – one on some rather robust rugger tactics and the other in support of a War Memorial, will be treasured.

There was more to Martin than sporting prowess, however, and Spencer is right to remember this:

“He carried his taste for literature with him into the service, and would relate afterwards how hard he found it to get time for reading, and how his Philistine colleagues used to enquire what earthly good there was in Tennyson or Browning.

In one of the last letters I had from him, he told me how he was enjoying a volume of Plutarch, which he could read, he said, in his submarine, during his off-time, ‘not a hundred miles from the coast of Germany.’

His memory will be enshrined among us, as long as any are alive who knew him.”

 

January 17th 1918

E A S T E R   T E R M   1 9 1 8

Yesterday saw the start of a new term. The School Roll numbers 141, of which 84 are boarders. Our Junior Department has a further 26 – the majority being 7 and 8 yr. olds.

Let us hope for a healthy term, free of illness. It will no doubt become even more difficult to keep everyone well fed. Yesterday’s announcement in the newspapers of compulsory rationing of butter and margarine (with other items undoubtedly to follow), allows us only 4 oz per person per week. Meat continues to be in short supply, although the importation of Argentinian beef is helping make up the difference.

* * * * * * *

It was a great pleasure to be able to share with our returning pupils the news of honours recently won in the war – particularly that of the DSO by one of their former teachers.

One of the more prestigious orders of chivalry is the Order of the Bath – founded by King George I in 1725. In the honours list announced in the New Year, Captain. WW Fisher (RN) and Temp. Brigadier-Gen. BG Price (Royal Fusiliers) were made Companions (CB).

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) has been awarded to Temp. Major LD Luard (ASC), Acting Maj. JAA Pickard (RE, Special Reserve) and, although not an Old Dragon but a much admired member of the Dragon staff before the war, Temp. Capt. WRG Bye (Royal West Surreys & General List).

No fewer than six have been awarded the Military Cross (MC): Acting Capt. FS Low (RFA), Acting Major VLS Cowley (Irish Rifles, attached to MGC), Temp. Captain WT Collier (RAMC), Capt. EH Evans (RWF), Temp. Lieut. GH Moberly (MGC), Captain. GF Thuillier (Devons).

* * * * * * *

Readers of The Times of 14/1/18 may have noticed this article on Capt. William Fisher (RN). For those who read other newspapers, here it is:

Director of Anti-Submarine Division

“Capt. WW Fisher commanded a battleship at Jutland, and was commended for his services in that action. He has received a CB. He had held several Staff appointments before the war, having served as flag commander to the Commander-in-Chief  of the Home Fleet at Devonport, while in the summer of 1912 he was selected to act as Assistant Umpire for the Grand Naval Manoeuvres.

He is a gunnery specialist and a French interpreter, and was commander of the ‘Indomitable‘ when that vessel made her record run across the Atlantic with King George, then Prince of Wales, on board in 1908.

He has been for some months the Director of the anti-Submarine Division of the Naval Staff.”

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.”

January 1st 1918

As we move into a New Year, I look back with a mixture of pride and extreme sadness at the achievements and sacrifice made by so many in 1917.

Since July, 13 Old Boys have been wounded, one has received the DSO, three the Military Cross, one a special promotion, one a Croix de Guerre, one an Egyptian distinction, one a Belgian, one an Italian and one a Royal Red Cross award. There have been 13 ‘Mentions in Despatches’ (Bat Price for the 5th, Tyrrell Brooks the 4th and Jocelyn Pickard the 3rd time).

The Roll of Old Boys that have fallen includes some of my best, and best-loved, friends. Their lives cannot and must not have been given in vain: and the thought that has come down the ages, that the souls of the brave and righteous still live on, cannot lie.

None do we mourn more greatly than Hugh Sidgwick. His family has passed to me this tribute from his old employer, Sir Amherst Selby-Bigge, Permanent Secretary to the Board of Education, reflecting on Hugh’s abilities:

“He was not only a perfect Private Secretary, but a very dear friend who could be trusted with anything. His loyalty, sincerity and candour were perfect and I never found in him the slightest touch of vanity or self-seeking…

His mind was singularly cool and well balanced and his exposition of intricate problems admirably clear and logical. His knowledge of Mathematics and power of handling figures were invaluable…

He had the gift of writing straight ahead in good proportion and with clear expression and articulation of argument, almost as quickly as another man could dictate…

When he was in doubt about coherence and lucidity of an important paper for publication he used to test it by turning it into Greek, and I have in my possession an admirable Greek version of a letter addressed by the President of the Board (HAL Fisher) to teachers, concerning their duties in regard to military service…”

Hugh was one of 18 Old Dragons to perish in 1917, 9 of whom were involved with the third and grimmest of struggles at Ypres. The fates of Edmund Gay,  John Dowson and Hunter Herbertson remain unknown.

          Capt. E Gay            Capt. OJ Dowson     Lieut. H Herbertson

Is it too much to expect, or even suggest, that 1918 might see the end of this terrible conflict?

 

December 30th 1917

Capt. GK Rose – Capt. WH Moberly – Capt. CSW Marcon

Three Old Dragons of the 2/4th Ox & Bucks have kindly sent their picture, just in time to be included in the December edition of our magazine.

Capt. Geoffrey Rose tells us that the 2/4th Ox & Bucks near Arras were involved in a raid to draw the attention of the Germans away from Cambrai, just before the attack was launched there on November 20th. Capt. Walter Moberly and his company were chosen to carry out this diversionary attack, which was made on November 19th.

The attack was preceded by a gas attack using a mixture of lethal and non-lethal gas, which were “intermingled both by the Germans and ourselves with high explosive shells; the effect of each assisted the effect of the other. If one began to sneeze from the effect of non-lethal gas, one could not wear a gas helmet to resist the lethal; the high explosive shells disguised both types…

It was planned to fire lethal gas against the enemy for several nights. On the night of the raid and during it, non-lethal only would be used. The two gases smelt alike and the presumption was that on the night of the raid the enemy would wear gas-helmets…

B Company, though they missed the gap through the enemy’s wire, entered the trenches without opposition and captured a machine-gun which was pointing directly at their approach but never fired…

As often, there was difficulty in finding the way back to our lines; in fact, Moberly… after some wandering in No-Man’s-Land, entered the trenches of a Scotch division upon our right. His appearance and comparative inability to speak their language made him a suspicious visitor to our kilted neighbours. Moberly rejoined his countrymen under escort.”

Much has been written of the great attack made at Cambrai on November 20th, involving over 400 tanks.

Drawing by Geoffrey Rose

 

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.