January 25th 1915

At the beginning of last term four most valued members of staff left us to join the armed forces. Mr Higginson, we note, has been promoted to Captain in the 6th Battalion of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and has been undergoing training at Aldershot and on Salisbury Plain.

Mr Watson left to join the Queen’s Own Dorset Yeomanry and was by chance in the vicinity of the attack launched by the Germans on the people of Norfolk last week.

 The Zeppelin Raid January 19th 1915.

Blair Watson

Mr Blair Watson

“On the evening of Tuesday 19th January, some of the quiet villages and sea-board towns of Norfolk were roused by the purring drone of motor engines and the crashing of bombs from the sky woke them to the fact that the long-expected Zeppelins had arrived. Yarmouth was subjected to a feverish outpouring of these missiles which destroyed a considerable amount of property and killed two people, a man and a woman, both typical raid victims, poor, inoffensive and old.

The only disappointing feature from the German point of view was that the wild panic supposed to be engendered by these instruments of frightfulness took the form of an inquisitive crowd gazing sky-wards and a few family shot-guns fired into the air by irate old men long after the monsters had disappeared.

From Yarmouth the fleet spread itself over Norfolk, spitting bombs with reckless vehemence and doing the same amount of trivial and unnecessary damage wherever it went. One of the number passed quite close to Sandringham and dropped bombs at Derringham, three miles away from the King’s residence.

King’s Lynn was the object of a heavy bombardment and here whole streets of houses in the working-class and dock quarter were damaged, some of them reduced to ruins, but with the loss of only two lives, the victims being a boy of seventeen and the young widow of a soldier who lost his life at Mons. The raiders then drew off at about 11.15 p.m., having spent less than three hours over English soil and hurried back to spread the tidings of their magnificent exploits.

When one reflects that the total ‘bag’ consisted of four harmless non-militants and a certain amount of damage to private property, one cannot help thinking that the shortage of petrol in Germany is not so acute as some authorities would have us believe.”                                                                                                                                                                                           

These deaths are said to be the first ever suffered in this country due to aerial bombardment.

* * * * * * *

Henry Souttar (previously featured in this log on October 5th & 19th) has had a book published in which he recounts his recent experiences. It is called ‘A Surgeon in Belgium’  and in it he tells of a quite astonishing incident concerning the Editor of an English Sporting Journal, who had joined the Belgian Army in the exciting role of machine-gunner in an armoured motor car.

On one occasion, having got out of his car to reconnoitre, some Germans in hiding opened fire and shot him, breaking the bones of both legs. He fell to the ground and an officer in the car by some mistake gave the order to start. But the Sporting Editor had no intention of being left behind. He seized one of the rear springs and held on, while his back and broken legs were bumped along the ground for half a mile at the rate of 25 miles per hour. He is now well and in England.

January 18th 1915

E A S T E R    T E R M    1 9 1 5 .

Hamlet 1915

Having devoted three days to rehearsal, we put on three performances of ‘Hamlet’ over the first weekend of the new term. This was generally reviewed favourably.

From the Oxford Magazine:

“From the melancholy business of arranging half-hearted lectures for skeleton classes, some of us were glad enough to snatch a respite by withdrawing to the OPS in order to witness the performance of no less a play than Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’…

As regards diction there was universal excellence; and it is clear that the OPS may rightfully boast of being a school of pure English, where elocution does not rank among the forgotten arts, as happens too often nowadays.”

We were delighted that Rosina Filippi was able to attend our first performance. She is well known as the first dramatist to adapt the works of Jane Austen for the stage. She is also the author of  ‘Hints to Speakers and Players’ and readers my be interested in the first chapter on ‘Diction and Elocution.’ She was rather more critical of the children:

“I think too much was sacrificed to the careful enunciation of words. It was too syllabic. I don’t mean that the sense of the sentences was not there – in many cases it was amazingly clear. It showed great intelligence on the part of the boys that they could deliver lines so accurately as to convey the adult reading in their own delivery; but the poetry as verse was gone; the metre was lost, there was no footing in the line. It was an intelligent reading but not scholarly.”

Finally, this performance was also reviewed by the Oxford Times:

“The boys and girls of Mr. Lynam’s school gave three performances of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet.’ The first, on Friday evening was witnessed by nearly 400 boys and girls from the various Oxford elementary and higher grade schools, and with the unfortunate exception of a knot of boys in one corner of the gallery, they all appeared to appreciate and enjoy the performance. The boys referred to did not know how to behave, and to some extent spoiled the evening for the rest.

Hamlet’s part was taken by Terence Greenidge. The boy’s elocution was perfect, and he never hesitated in the enunciation of the seven or eight hundred lines he had to say. His rendering was different from that of the professional Hamlet; he was not so much the ‘melancholy Dane’ as the fiery youth who until the end of the player scene was not sure of the Ghost’s story, but afterwards was ready to carry out his murdered father’s command to avenge and at the same time spare as far as possible his weak mother.”

January 11th 1915

Old Dragons are also involved in fighting the war in other parts of the world. Geoffrey Carpenter (Capt. Uganda Medical Service) is in charge of a field ambulance in British East Africa and has written to tell us of the Battle of Tanga, which took place in early November.B.E.A

“You will have seen in the papers that there had been some stiff fighting in BEA, mostly on the coast, where an attack on a fortified town (where our men had been told there would be no opposition) was repulsed with considerable slaughter. The Germans had a very large number of maxims, in trees, or firing through holes cut in enormous tree trunks, each one covered by another behind, and with all the ranges carefully marked off. They had also enlisted the services of large numbers of bees – ferociously stinging – which set upon our men and of course considerably aided the rout. Indeed one or two men died of bee stings…

We do not have enough troops to do more than maintain a defensive position and have made our line of defence along the north bank of the river Kagera, which flows into the lake at about the middle of its west coast… As it is impassable in most places, owing to dense belts of papyrus along its banks, it makes a most excellent line of defence. The actual political frontier is some miles to the north of the river, so that we hold a strip of territory really part of GEA. I think I may claim to be (at least one of) the first Old Dragons to invade German territory.

I am now (with one other white man) in a fort which we have taken over from the Germans, who retired when we advanced. They had simply erected four walls enclosing a square space. Since we have been here (2½ months) we have taken it in hand and have made no end of a place of it – bomb-proof houses to live in, underground magazine, underground passage leading to an outlying maxim pit, and other dodges so that it seems a very strong place now.

We are about four miles north of the river on a hill top, overlooking a flat plain, with other hills to the east and west. Curiously enough the other white man, who is in charge of the fort and of a section of the line of defence, is Captain Bertram Garratt of the Indian Army, Old Dragon and who was a little senior to me. We both hope the squareheads will attack so that we can have some fun.”

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, we gather Frank Sidgwick is finding training difficult – particularly on the Parade Ground.

“Form Fours”

A Volunteer’s Nightmare.

If you’re a Volunteer Artist or Athlete, or if you defend the Home,

You sacrifice “Ease” for “Attention,” and march like a metronome;

But of all elementary movements you learn in your Volunteer Corps

The one that is really perplexing is known as the Forming of Fours.

 

Imagine us numbered off from the right: the Sergeant faces the squad,

And says that only the odd files move – I always seem to be odd!

And then his instructions run like this (very simple in black and white) –

“A pace to the rear with the left foot, and one to the right with the right.”

 

Of course if you don’t think deeply, you do it without a hitch;

You have only to know your right and left, and remember which is which;

But as soon as you try to be careful, you get in the deuce of a plight,

With “a pace to the right with your left foot, and one to the rear with the right!”

 

Besides, when you’re thoroughly muddled the Sergeant doubles your doubts

By saying that rules reverse themselves as soon as you’re “turned about;”

So round you go on your right heel, and practise until you are deft

At “a pace to the front with the right foot, and one to the left with the left.”

 

In my dreams the Sergeant, the Kaiser, and Kipling mix my feet,

Saying “East is left, and Right is Might, and never the twain shall meet!”

In my nightmare squad all files are odd, and their Fours are horribly queer,

With “a pace to the left with the front foot, and one to the right with the rear!”

 

No.5 Balham A.V.F., A Company . Platoon 1 = F.Sidgwick.

January 4th 1915

This is the third letter we have received from Tyrell Brooks (Capt. Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry) – see Sept 28th & October 29th for his previous ones. With some nine years’ experience in the Army, he has got to know “Tommy” pretty well.

“Dear Skipper,JBBrooks

A strange mixture of sentiment and pathos is Private Thomas Atkins. A splendid grouser when in clover, when really up against it he faces with equanimity the longest of days and most trying trench work.

In letter writing he uses the most pious and well rounded phrases which would delight the soul of a cleric and give him hope, and afterwards you will hear the same hero expressing to his friends his grievances in language that even a bargee would resent.

The glamour of the battlefield of the last century is conspicuous by its absence in this. The bayoneting of the German is not a daily occurrence, but when the chance comes it is taken and afterwards affords pleasurable thought and scope for writing home – as after all there is little to write about when you live in a trench for four days at a time, having shrapnel for breakfast, high explosive for lunch, and rifle fire when you should be having your evening glass of ale in the canteen.

Perhaps the great thing which buoys up T.A during the weary days in the trenches is “castle building.” By this I mean highly exaggerated thoughts of home, his best girl (they all have them) and of the time and reflected glory, consequent on the defeat of the enemy, that will be his when he gets there. And if he is wounded – well somebody else will take his place and he will become a ‘ERO.

His sense of humour allows us to name the various kind of shells he is daily in contact with. They are “Little Willies,” “Dirty Dicks,” “Black Marias,” and “Jack Johnstons,” according to their size.

Here is a good and true story. Just after Ypres, a troop train full of enthusiasts pulled up opposite a hospital one in a siding. Those in the troop train were longing to perform deeds of valour and longing for blood. Those in the hospital train had already shed much in the lowlands of Flanders. Those in the troop train were hanging out of the windows and trucks joking with each other. Suddenly the hospital train started slowly forward and a troop train enthusiast shouted out “Are we downhearted?” and the chorus answered “No” – but again he shouted “Are we downhearted?” and again the chorus bellowed “No.” This was more than a figure in the hospital train, swathed in bandages, could stand. Propping himself up he retorted “Ain’t you? Well you bloody soon will be!” which said, he returned to a prone position.

Remember Pte Thomas Atkins and the great work he is doing under conditions which are difficult, to put it very mildly, and wish him a speedy return to realize the “castles” that he built in the trenches.”

 *  *  *  *  *  *

Jack Smyth played Juliet in the 1906 production of Romeo and Juliet here at the OPS to good reviews and if this did not necessarily suggest a military future for him, the following year he played a very youthful Macduff in Macbeth and, as the reviewer noted,  “looked a sort of Sir Galahad in his armour, but he showed plenty of fire when his opportunity came in the final scenes.”

Coincidentally, now a 21 year old Lieutenant in the 15th Sikhs, he writes in a similar vein about the splendid British Tommy:Jack Smyth

“The British Tommy is simply magnificent… One in a regiment close to us the other day came up very pale, and saluted, and asked if he could go to the rear. ‘Whatever for?’ said his officer. ‘Well sir, I’ve been ‘it three times’ he said.

Before we came under fire for the first time I asked a sergeant who had been at Mons what it was like. ‘Perfect ‘ell, sir,’ he replied, and he wasn’t far wrong.”