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.

 

November 2nd 1914

We can consider ourselves most fortunate that thus far there has only been one OPS fatality in the frightful conflict in which we are engaged. However, our good fortune has now ended and it is with a heavy heart that I report the deaths of three Old Dragons, all who have given their lives and all on the same day:  Saturday 31st October.

The fighting in the Ypres salient has stretched our forces to the very limits and they have valiantly prevented the Germans from breaking through. Rupert Lee’s regiment, the Worcesters, played a vital role (Rupert was wounded on the 16th and did not take part). Their counter-attack in which they retook the village of Gheluvelt saved the day and may yet prove to be a turning point in the battle.

Regie Fletcher

2nd Lieut RG Fletcher (RFA)

It was at that very moment that Regie Fletcher, who is serving in the RFA, was hit by shellfire as he crossed open ground from his dug-out to his guns. Attempts to save him were to no avail and he died two hours later. His burial was supervised by one of his close friends from Eton, who was nearby.

From the OPS Regie had won a scholarship to Eton (in 1905) and had gone on to Balliol College, Oxford. He rowed in the 1914 Boat Race for Oxford.

He loved to sleep in the open air, and would sleep quite comfortably under several degrees of frost. As in face and colouring, so in his fierce independence of character, he seemed like some old Norse Rover; and it was this same independence that made one of his schoolmasters compare him to Achilles. He was extraordinarily well-read for a man of twenty-two, in the best modern literature. His highest delight was in Greek poetry; he knew enormous stretches of Homer and Aeschylus by heart, and would chant them, to the amazement of his crew, in the Balliol barge.

He was second in command of the Artillery section of the Oxford University OTC (1913-14) and obtained his commission on the day war was declared. He sailed for France on August 20th with the RFA and so only saw just over two months’ service.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Whilst the Worcesters were saving the day, a number of the senior commanders were at nearby Hooge Chateau. General Munro and a number of other staff officers, including Arthur Percival, were conferring with the Divisional Commander, Major-General Lomax when a shell hit their office. Whilst Munro was only concussed, Arthur & six others were killed outright and General Lomax was very seriously wounded.

A Percival

Lt. Col Arthur J-B Percival (Northumberland Fusiliers).

Arthur, the son of the Rt Rev John Percival, the late Bishop of Hereford (and previously Headmaster of Clifton College, President of Trinity College, Oxford and Headmaster of Rugby) arrived at the OPS in 1879, only two years after the school was started. He was a resolute and sturdy little fellow, who went his own way regardless of what others might think of him, not afraid to stand up to anyone who tried to bully him, however big his opponent.

From the OPS Arthur went to Marlborough College before transferring to Rugby, when his father became headmaster there.  After Sandhurst he joined the Northumberland Fusiliers. He was present at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. He also fought in the Boer War and was the first Old Dragon to win a DSO in 1901.  During the first eleven weeks of the current war he was twice mentioned in Sir John French’s dispatches and was one of the first British officers to receive the Croix d’Officier of the Legion of Honour. He has been serving as General Staff Officer to Major-General Munro (2nd Division of the First Army Corps).

*  *  *  *  *  *

 Alan Leggett

2nd Lieut. Alan Leggett (North Staffs Regiment)

South of Ypres, the North Staffs Regiment has been engaged in action near Armentières. Alan Leggett ‘s trench was hit by a shell. A fellow officer and friend, 2nd Lieut. Pope,  has written to say “His death, I trust, was almost painless, for he was asleep when he was hit, and he became unconscious almost immediately.”

At the OPS he was always a chivalrous and gallant lad and, after Tonbridge and Sandhurst, Alan followed his father into the Army in 1912.

The day before he was killed, Alan’s name was forwarded hopefully to be mentioned in dispatches. Lieut. Pope’s words should provide some consolation to his parents in this time of grief:

“During our last engagement the Company, belonging to another Regiment which he had reinforced, withdrew, leaving him isolated on the Battalion’s right flank, but he absolutely refused to retire, because by so doing he feared he would expose our flank to the German attack, and so stayed there alone, and undoubtedly saved the part of his Company, if not the whole regiment.”

*  *  *  *  *  *

Missing in Action

Percy Campbell, who has been serving as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment at Ypres, has been declared “missing.” On October 24th there was such an intensive attack by both artillery and infantry that his battalion was virtually wiped out. Only 170 are accounted for, but it is known that a large number of our troops were captured in the first surprise attack made by the Germans and we fervently hope that Percy is one of them.

September 28th 1914

Our Old Dragon correspondent at Winchester has reported that Cyril King, who was due to be a House Prefect this term “is at present unavoidably detained in Germany.”

Cyril King

At the end of July 1914 Cyril was at Schluchsee in the Black Forest with his mother, four sisters and a tutor from New College, Coote. Although there were rumours of war, they were confident that if anything came of it, they would be able to return to England. Instead on August 7th they were arrested. We await further news.

*  *  *  *  *  *

We have received news from Rupert Lee, a Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment.  In good OPS tradition, he is keeping a diary, although rather different in content to the usual Dragon offerings at the end of the summer holidays.

“This diary must be read and criticised very leniently, being rather a disjointed sort of narrative. Pieces of it were written in strange postures and places, in varying frames of mind, sometimes left for weeks without an entry and then written up to date… It does not profess to be a connected narrative but merely a conglomeration of statements of happenings as they appeared to me at the moment…”

He writes of a very narrow escape he had during the retreat from Mons:

“Just as I got about twenty yards away from a wood a shell came crashing through the tops of the trees and burst quite close to me. My horse got it badly in the stomach. I got off and shot him to put him out of his agony… I then stood up and looking round saw, just at the end of the ride, two Germans. I bolted for the wood and as it happened it was extraordinarily fortunate that I did so. For they both dismounted and came down the ride  looking into the other side to that on which I was hidden. Just as they got opposite me the leading man put his gun up sharply. I shot him and bolted, as did his companion in the opposite direction.

I went about twenty yards and lay down behind a bush. Nothing happened, so after about twenty minutes I went back very quietly, took his shoulder strap off him and walked away.”

*  *  *  *  *  *

JBBrooks

Capt. W.T. Brooks

Tyrrell Brooks (recently promoted to Captain in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and ADC to General Morland) writes:

September 14th.

“We are having a VERY hard time and now the weather has changed to rain it is cold and greatly adds to the discomforts which we are undergoing. Our Infantry has been brilliant and have more than kept up their high traditions, their marching having been really good and their fighting power at the end of the trek has been unimpaired.

We have now started a great forward movement which, though costing many lives, will undoubtedly test our enemy to the utmost and they are, I think, in rather a tight hole from which it will take them all their skill to extricate themselves. However, they are splendid tacticians, but I doubt if they have the material which is worthy of their well planned tactics.

How long this war will last I know not, but one thing is certain and that is it will leave all concerned crippled with regard to fighting material and armaments. Our casualties have been large but the German ones must have been larger.”

*  *  *  *  *  *

Readers of the “Illustrated London News” may have noticed the photograph below, probably taken during the retreat from Mons, which shows our old boy, Arthur Percival, with a number of notable figures. Arthur, a veteran of the Boer War and the first Old Dragon to have won a DSO, is serving as a General Staff Officer to Major-General Monro.

Percival & Generals

(Left to Right): Gen. Sir Douglas Haig, Maj-Gen Monro, Lt Col AJB Percival DSO and another.