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.” 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.

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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.”

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JBBrooks

Capt. W.T. Brooks

Tyrell 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.”

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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.

 

 

September 23rd 1914

Skipper cropped Dragons. Welcome back to the OPS for the Christmas Term.

At a time when our country’s needs are greater than ours, a number of your masters have answered the call of duty and are now serving in His Majesty’s forces. Of the staff, all of military age have enlisted or received commissions straight off, taking it for granted that whatever views the Board of Education might have, their first duty was to their country.

Mr. Eastwood has joined the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment,

Mr. Watson, the Queen’s Own Dorset Yeomanry,

Mr. Higginson, the Shropshire Light Infantry

and Mr. Bye the U.P.S. Royal Fusiliers.

There are many Old Boys and Masters who have not yet gone to the front; these have been undergoing strenuous and trying training, and their time will come. While they are still in England we are delighted to see them. Nurse Wilkinson has also left us to work at the Base Hospital, where she has been in charge of some very trying cases, chiefly the dreaded tetanus. Her place in the boarding house has been taken by an old friend, Nurse Todhunter.

Two boys who were holidaying in Austria when war broke out have yet to return. We must all help out as best we can and we are welcoming into the school several American boys, whose parents ordinarily would have been travelling on the continent;  but owing to the war have come for a short time to reside in Oxford., and one boy who is a Belgian refugee. His father is a Professor at Louvain. We are also offering to take on, as a boarder entirely free of charge, the son of a British officer killed in the war.

We start the school year with 119 boys in the school in 8 classes, with another 20 in the Junior Department (aged 5-8 yrs).

 

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We have further news from Lieut. Victor Cowley (Royal Irish Rifles). The retreat from Mons finally came to an end on the River Marne, with the British then supporting a French counter-attack on the Germans.

 V Cowley  “On 5th September we found ourselves south of the forest of Crecy, having enticed the Germans far enough. From then onwards began our advance on their heels, capturing prisoners and transport every day. Plenty of fighting, especially crossing the Marne, but we were advancing, so what did it matter to us? …

It was here we made a big haul of prisoners, all of whom were only too glad to be captured. On being questioned they said they had been marched off their legs and been given no food. They had certainly had enough drink as one was able to trace where they had been the night before by the hundreds of bottles they left empty. The first remark one of them made on being captured was ‘Thank God, at last I am amongst friends.’ On being questioned as to the reason of this thankfulness he told us that he was a waiter at the Criterion, having lived at Bethnal Green till he was called upon to serve his country. He had been bullied about by his officers, given no food, and altogether was ‘fed up’ with it, and was delighted when he got the opportunity of being made a prisoner…

The 13th September saw us at Braisne waiting for the Sappers to throw a pontoon bridge across the Aisne to enable us to cross and turn the enemy out of the heights commanding the approaches to the river. They had destroyed all the bridges and most completely and their guns shelled every attempt to build temporary ones. During the night they put the pontoons in the river and some planks across on the debris of the railway bridge, over which we started to cross in single file. Only a few had got over when they opened a terrific fire on us which literally churned up the water all around us, and we were lucky in not having many hit. After crossing the river we had to cover 400 yards of open (ground) which was ploughed up by shells, there being a regular canopy of them overhead; a fragment of one of them got me on the arm but did no more damage than cut it a little. 

Next morning I went down to the temporary dressing stations, but as these seemed the butt for every shell, I thought the trenches we had dug on the heights were safer. I returned there to find we had suffered terribly in capturing one of their trenches, two officers being killed and seven wounded. The Germans were entrenched 500 yards away and a battery of their artillery 1200 yards. They kept up an incessant bombardment all day and it was a perfect inferno. Their ‘John Willies’ used to sing overhead, followed by the most awful explosion which very seldom did much damage except churning up the ground. However they affected the men’s nerves a little, which was a good thing as they had got rather callous about other shells and it made them keep under cover more. 

We were allowed to light no fires at all and no matches at night, and as it rained in deluges most part of the first few days, making everything into a quagmire, it was not at all comfortable, especially as we were on short rations of bully beef and biscuits.

The postman managed to get up to us one day, which made us forget all the attendant discomforts of shells and rain. One’s letters were very precious possessions as they whiled away many a weary hour in the trenches.

The worst day was the 19th September, as they had the range to an inch and we cringed in our trenches while the shells shrieked and burst around us, in the parapet, knocking down trees in the wood just behind us, trying to frighten us into submission, but so well had we entrenched ourselves that very few got hit. Unfortunately the Colonel and Adjutant were both very badly hit, but that was about all. They kept it up from dawn till about 6.30, when hordes of infantry were launched at us. We were just the reverse side of a slope so could not fire at them till they got within about 50 yards of us. I worked one of my machine-guns and they went down like corn cut by a reaper. I got through 1200 rounds before a bullet picked me off through the neck, a most horrid sensation!

The three days getting to St Mazaire in a cattle truck which was disguised as a hospital train, words fail me to describe, or the horrors of the jolting over side lines. It was heavenly to be carried on board one of the Union Castle boats, the ‘Carisbrooke Castle,’ and so home to England. It was hard to believe that one had been one of the actors in the world’s greatest tragedy, and the whole experience seems like one gigantic nightmare.

Whatever the result may be, what success can recompense one for the loss of those good friends and comrades who fell never to rise again?”

 

This is what the soldiers refer to as a “blighty one”– a wound serious enough to necessitate evacuation back to England. We are all delighted to hear that Victor has made back to England safely and agree entirely with the sentiments expressed above.

 

September 19th 1914

In the ‘Times’ today we note the death in action of one of our Old Boys.

R Pringle

Lieut. Robert Pringle (Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment).

We regret to announce the death of Robert Pringle. He had been in the Army since 1907 and was one of the first Old Dragons into battle, seeing action at Mons. We understand that he died of wounds suffered in the battle going on near the River Aisne on September 15th.

Robert was a boarder with us for just one year (1895-96) and went on to Winchester via St. Cuthbert’s, Malvern. He was married in April 1913 and leaves a wife and daughter, to whom we send our condolences.

September 14th 1914

Since the outbreak of war on August 4th, a number of Old Dragons have been in action as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) deployed to assist our allies against the German onslaught. We have received this account of the events of last month from Lieut. Victor Cowley, who is serving with the Royal Irish Rifles.          

V Cowley

Victor Cowley

At 1.30 a.m. that night (August 22nd – 23rd) we were sleeping comfortably in billets at Cipley when we got the order to prepare to move in the direction of Bavay. After marching and counter-marching we eventually started to entrench a position in a beetroot field. Hardly had we dug down a foot into the ground when the first shell burst over us, a fragment of it hitting one of the machine-guns and breaking off a piece which struck the sergeant on the head, doing no material damage.

The ground was soft and the earth flew as we burrowed like rabbits to get cover. It was the first time we had been under fire and we were all anxious to know what it felt like. The relief was wonderful when we found that though the air seemed thick with shells, we were still alive. The men began jeering at the shooting and singing ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’; however they were quietened down a little when two shells burst in the trench, one in the parapet and the other knocking the gun back into the trench and nearly taking off the head of No.1, who was working it.

From the first shot being fired till late in the evening it was one incessant bombardment, but of my section of eight they only killed one and wounded another. Several times we were almost buried alive by shells bursting in or near the parapet of the trench. It was most anxious work later in the darkness waiting for them to attack us, but when they did they were met by a fire which cannot have left many unhit. We could not wait till daylight to see the results of our work as we received the order to retire about midnight, and I must own that we were all quite relieved.

We heard that the French on our right hand had retired and that the Germans had started a very powerful enveloping movement round our left flank N.W of Mons, and it was touch and go whether or not they surrounded us.

We had to march night and day fighting a series of rear-guard actions the whole time, but the weight of the pursuit was relieved by the cavalry.

The men suffered terribly from sore feet and want of sleep; so much so that after a temporary halt two miles outside Le Cateau it was found impossible to wake some of the men when the regiment moved on again…  

Between 23rd and 29th August we marched 140 miles and fought two big battles (Mons and Le Cateau). This does not sound as trying as it was, but lack of food and sleep made it a perfect nightmare. The worst was marching at night as it was impossible to keep awake; I used to arrange with someone to lead me while I went to sleep, and in turn led them. It was no use riding my horse as when I went to sleep I used to fall off which woke me up too suddenly…

At every place one halted, excursions were made for eggs, bread and chickens, but one never knew if you would have time to cook them. I became an excellent cook, my forte being ‘aeroplane duck.’ The recipe for this was after having caught, killed and plucked your duck, to truss it with sticks like a man on the rack, then hang it from a tripod over a wood fire, turning it over when the underneath was cooked. The basting was done by filling its inside with bacon fat which melted and oozed through, giving it a delicious flavour…”