June 19th 1917

Capt. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA) still finds time to write to us and his letters are never anything but interesting.

Part of Hugh’s job in the RGA is to spend time in a front-line Observation Post (OP) identifying suitable targets for the guns and seeing the fruits of their labours. In between times there are often lulls in the action:

4/6/17. “I read a Jacobs novel in the intervals and tried to pass the novel-reader’s test. This, by the way, is recommended to anyone who wants to kill time: it is as follows.

Write down the full names of twelve characters in each of 24 novels. Most people can do eight or nine in about twenty novels without difficulty: it is the last few names and books that cause the trouble, unless, like myself,  you have a mis-spent youth behind you.”

5/6/17. “Another beautiful summer morning. Administrative convulsions are proceeding, which may result in my having to command the Battery for a day or two, or in my going elsewhere. But I have long ceased worrying.

As my late OC remarked in a moment of pardonable irritation, the Heavy Artillery only exist to be badgered about (that was not exactly the word he used): and the main thing is to take life calmly.”  

 

 

 

May 28th 1917

Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA) has replied to Fluff Taylor’s proposal that the School should have a War Memorial for Old Dragons who lay down their lives in this war.

He accepts that the building of a chapel might be the “normal” thing for a school to do…

15/5/17 “But we are not an ordinary school, and our tradition has always been cast in the opposite extreme. Routine, orthodoxy, ritual, unreasoning compliance with comme il faut – all these we have deliberately avoided. Some would say we have gone too far and undoubtedly our tradition, like the others, has its dangers. But freedom and sincerity and spontaneity and genuineness, and the mistrust of the second-rate and the second-hand, are things worth a good deal of risk to obtain and it is my firm belief that the best part of our school tradition is marked with just these characteristics.”

Hugh fears that a chapel would have to be under diocesan supervision and that school services on our present lines (with the staff and boys running them) would be impossible.

“If so, I can only say that the prospect fills me with fear. I fear… the apathy of routine: I fear the wrong kind of parent coming and saying ‘how nice and proper’ : I fear the right kind of parent coming and saying ‘After all, there’s not much in it between this and other schools’…

I am not thinking merely of those whose parents and upbringing are of some other specific creed: and I leave out of account the French and other non-British boys who have been such a strength to the School. I am thinking rather of the numbers in whom religious sensibility develops late, or takes some other form than participation in a uniform code of outward worship. Cannot we find some way of commemorating our common sacrifice which does not leave them out in the cold, and which does really link together all Dragons, past, present and to come?

My own feeling is that the War Memorial should be a building habitually and freely used by all Dragons, where the whole school meets occasionally for certain purposes and where at other times any boy can go at any hour of the day to read or write or reflect, with the names and records and memorials of the honoured dead visibly before him.”

In short, Hugh would rather we thought in terms of “a library, assembly hall, reading room, museum, concert hall or any mixture of these.”

 

Lieut. Martin Collier (RN) has also written. He supports the idea of a chapel:

“Provided, of course, that the School services remain exactly as they are at present, conducted by the boys themselves…”

 

I hope others will contribute their views to this debate and I look forward to hearing them.

 

 

May 9th 1917

No-one went off to war with a heavier heart than our own Pug – Lieut. Lindsay Wallace (OBLI) – being a Dragon, man and boy.

Since he left our Staff he has managed a number of visits, much to the delight of the boys. Last term he talked to them on the subject “With the troops in training” and they were intrigued by his description of the workings of the Mills bomb.

Pug has now returned to active service and even if , dare I say it, the OPS is not always the tidiest of places, the contrast between home and the Front is a stark one.

28/4/17 “We started off yesterday from the base and were told we would take about two days to reach our division.

Three of us had a first-class compartment to ourselves. We managed to get some tea and cake before leaving the station and then started on our journey very slowly indeed at about 4 p.m.

I have never seen such a sight as the sides of the line, in some places they are layers deep in tins of all descriptions thrown out of the carriages. This doesn’t apply to one particular spot but all along the line: without exaggeration there must have been millions of tins.

Also all along the line were kids who kept shouting ‘bisceet,’ and they generally got one. In many places there were German prisoners, who got cigarettes thrown to them…

After quite a good meal, which was helped on very much by heating up a meat tin over my cooker, we all settled down to sleep and I was very glad to have quite a good night.

Then all of a sudden we were woken up, about 5.30, and all told to get out. We got up and packed our various belongings and turned out, and there we were, right in it: almost every house is blown to bits, some have the walls standing and a few have the roof left in places.

It was a bit of a shock getting out of the train into a sort of shattered world.”

 

I have picked out this picture to remind us all of happier times.

It was taken by our VC hero, Jack Smyth outside The Lodge a few years before the war, and shows three stalwarts of my Staff: my brother Hum (AE Lynam), Pug (WJL Wallace) and Cheese (GC Vassall).

It seems a long time ago and from a different world now.

 

April 28th 1917

The holidays are a time to enjoy some light reading and I am delighted to say that Sidgwick & Jackson have just published a collection of songs and poems from the previously published ‘Logs of the Blue Dragon.’ It is now on sale for the princely sum of one shilling!

Both Frank and Hugh Sidgwick have contributed to this volume and here, by way of example, is one of Hugh’s contributions:

Nimium ne Crede Experto                               

“This narrow strait,” (the Sailing Directions said)
   “Is full of rocks and difficult to enter;
Whirlpools are common here at every tide;
There are uncharted reefs on every side
   And currents (twenty knots) along the centre.”
“Come,” said the Skipper, “we will go in there.”
            (We went in there.)

“There is no sand” (the Sailing Directions said),
   “The anchorage is thoroughly unsafe.
There is no shelter from the frequent squalls,
Save on the west, among the overfalls.
   Boats should go on to Loch MacInchmaquaif.”
“Come,” said the Skipper, “We will anchor here.”
            (We anchored here.)

                                  Hugh Sidgwick

In my humble opinion, this rather overrates my nautical abilities!

Mr SPB Mais, who came to teach at the OPS for the Summer Term of 1909 (on the recommendation of his tutor at Christ Church, our own Charles Fisher), has written enthusiastically about our new book. He is now at Sherborne School and he describes the arrival of the book there through the post as giving rise to high excitement in the Mais household:

“I forgot my bath, my shaving water, even my breakfast. I was late for chapel and nearly turned my lecture on Range-Finding into a reading on Voyages of a five and a twelve ton yawl. I managed to restrain myself until the English hour for Army candidates. Then for three-quarters of an hour I gave myself up to delirious pleasure…

It is enough to say that no past or present Dragon will feel satisfied until he has learnt by heart all the cheerful, witty, honest poetry which is here presented all for his delight.”

 

 

 

 

March 25th 1917

Last heard of, Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA) was in a dug-out in France, writing the Prologue for our production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’

Since then, he has been summoned back to England by the Board of Education to assist the minister, Mr HAL Fisher, with a new Education Act. Important work no doubt and, in fact, more worthy of Hugh’s extraordinary intellectual capabilities than the RGA.

Here, in a welcome contribution to the next edition of the ‘Draconian,’ he depicts himself as a “shirker” in a “funk-hole” in London.

From a Funk-hole.
                    1.
This is the song of a shirker in a funk-hole.
He has alternated, and will continue to alternate, between
      being a shirker in a funk-hole, and an over-fed hero
      intrepidly sitting at a telephone in France.
But for the time being he is a shirker in a funk-hole again.
                    2.
The men in funk-holes are acute, over-worked, and tired.
They get no leave and no potatoes.
They are insulted in the press.
They are assisted temporarily in their labours by dons,
      women, and business men.
But they stick it.
                    3.
The warmth and cleanliness of the funk-holes are pleasant 
      after France.
The shirker is glad to have interesting work to do again
Until it comes to doing it.
In France the work is not so hard.
                    4.
London is a good place compared with France.
But it involves being taken to revues.
Revues are better than violent shelling,
But moderate shelling is better than revues.
                    5.
Of course there is the moral aspect.
But moral aspects don't worry the shirkers much.
                    6.
If you consider who are really enduring the hardships of war,
There are eleven classes in order of endurance.
The first six all consist of people who go into the
      front line and get shelled, or who go about in ships, or fly.
The seventh consists of people in this country who work.
The eighth consists of Staffs, Base Censors and others,
      who sit behind the line
And have a high old time.
The ninth consists of a Railway Transport Officer, whom I know.
The tenth consists of journalists.
The eleventh consists of people who appear in the Sketch
      in full evening dress as interested in War Work.
                    7.
The shirker has belonged to Classes Four, Seven and Eight.
So he knows.
At the moment he belongs to Class Ten
If you consider the 'Draconian' a journal.
                    8.
Having concluded his song the shirker returns to his funk-hole
In the hope of persuading someone else to do the work.
Unfortunately there are no N.C.O's there.

                                            17th March 1917

Class Ten? Needless to say, Hugh was never in anything but the top forms in his time at the OPS!

January 25th 1917

mnd-cast

Midsummer Night’s Dream

As is our custom, the term started last week with our annual Shakespeare play. We gave four performances of Midsummer Night’s Dream. The first was to an audience of teachers, boys and girls, from some of the Oxford Elementary Schools – an audience of about 350. Letters subsequently received showed that it was greatly appreciated and that Puck was specially popular.

The second performance was enjoyed by about 120 wounded soldiers, who were afterwards entertained to tea. On Saturday there were the usual afternoon and evening performances for parents and friends.

“It was indeed a welcome boon that the Dragons gave us this year,” wrote one of our reviewers, “to transport us for three hours’ space away from the sorrows and difficulties of this unintelligible war to the flowers and forest glades of Shakespeare’s Warwickshire…

While we were waiting for the play to begin, it was sad to notice the absence of ODs among the audience, and sadder still to reflect how many of them had consummated the great sacrifice for their country. Indeed Dragons, if any, will fully understand the meaning of the line –

‘We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
That Shakespeare spake.’

Many of the ODs now in the trenches were doubtless present with us in spirit that night and not only the writer of the noble prologue, which touched eloquently on the thought we all were feeling…”

The writer of “noble prologue” was Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA), whilst in a dug-out in France, and his words were delivered by Oberon:

Prologue
Think it not strange that at this hour, in a world of waste and wrath,
I come to lead your thoughts away by a wandering woodland path,
Far from the scarred terrain of war and the perilous haunted seas,
To the moonlight on the forest and the glimmer between the trees –
To light your steps in the murk and gloom by fancy’s fitful gleam,
From the dark, substantial winter day to a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Not strange – they would not think it, our brother Dragons who stand
In the line in France or Flanders, on the deck or the desert sand.
They would not grudge our revels, or wonder that today
We come to enact before you the loveliest English play.
For all the cause they fight for, the things they hold most dear,
England, and Home, and Beauty – will you not find them here?

Hugh’s brother, Frank Sidgwick, also contributed a review to the ‘Draconian.’

“I needn’t tell ODs that everybody was word perfect. I think Theseus twice said: ‘For aye to be in a shady cloister mewed,’ and Lysander gobbed a difficult line in the afternoon, but got it right at night; the accents on ‘persever,’ ‘revenue,’ ‘edict,’ etc., were correctly given; and I think I heard ‘prehaps’ instead of ‘perhaps’ once or twice…”

One or two other faults were also noticed:

“Some of the actors were too fond of nodding and smiling at their friends in the audience. One of the characters, supposed to be lying asleep, actually clapped his hands in applause of a song by Puck!”

Ah well, we do not pretend to be prefect.

 

 

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.