March 29th 1915

Further to Nevile West’s news (see March 22nd), we have now heard from Jack Smyth (Lieut., 15th Sikhs) that he was also involved in the Battle at Neuve Chapelle.

Jack Smyth

Lieut. J. Smyth (15th Sikhs)

24/3/15. “We have just returned from Neuve Chapelle (the name has been mentioned so much in the papers lately that I don’t think the censor can object to my putting it in here). I left my A.D.C. job as we were transferred to another Brigade and I have been with the regiment since the 8th.

We did seven days in the captured German trenches, and they were about the best we have ever been in; they had been in them about three months and had made them very strong and comfortable and had done themselves pretty well too as the empty wine bottles and cigar boxes showed.

They must have lost very heavily indeed, as there were rows of dead bodies in front of our trench from when they made a counter attack to try and get the place back and came under the fire of our machine-guns.

It was a relief having the trenches a good way apart, so that we could have patrols out at night and sleep comparatively comfortably, instead of the jumpy nights when the trenches are 50 and 80 yards apart, as we have been having lately.

The first night we were there one of our (Indian) scouts jumped on to one of their scouts and sat on his head and yelled for help and he was brought in; he tried to make out that our people had stolen his pipe from his pack, but as tobacco is pollution to our people he was deemed a liar by everybody present.

We brought in three of their wounded, who must have been out there for five or six days. They seem very callous about that sort of thing and never made an effort to bring them in, although they were nearer their trenches than ours more than a good deal.

They bombarded us fairly hard with artillery every day but without much result. On the evening of the 12th we were reduced to 5 officers: the C.O., three Company Commanders and myself, the other Company being commanded by a Native Officer. But our Adjutant has come out and several others and we now have got 14.

The men are very fit and very bucked about the whole show, which is about the biggest knock the Germans have had up this way.”

 

March 26th 1915

 

 WG Fletcher - full

2nd Lieut. WG Fletcher (Royal Welch Fusiliers)

A seventh Old Dragon has perished in this war. George Fletcher was hit in the head by a sniper’s bullet on March 20th as he looked over the parapet of his trench.

Robin Laffan, who knew George all through the OPS, Eton and Balliol has written a heart-felt appreciation of his and our dear friend.

“The war has taken its cruel toll from a family universally beloved by all who know them. In August last, the three sons of Mr. CRL Fletcher flew to arms as a matter of course. Today Leslie, on board HMS Colossus, is the only one still with us. In November the tale of Regie’s splendid death (see November 2nd); and now the blow is renewed with the tidings of George’s similar end.

His letters from the trenches abound in the fun which kept himself and his men cheery in the midst of their hardships. Knowing his enemies, he had an intense admiration and even affection for them. Like a true patriot, he delighted in the different culture of foreign nations. Six months at Tilly’s and six months as a schoolmaster in Schwerin gave George a considerable knowledge of Germany and the Germans. He used to relieve the tedium of the trenches with friendly sarcasm shouted at the opposite lines. ‘It ain’t ‘arf a joke being in Lieut. Fletcher’s trench,’ said his men, ‘E talks to the b*****s in their own b****y language.’

Of George’s courage it is superfluous to say much. Readers of The Times will have seen how an officer described him as ‘the bravest man I ever saw.’ He was mentioned in despatches on Feb 18th and he was again recommended for distinction after his reckless feat of crawling through the German lines and recovering from a tree a captured French flag. By such deeds of daring he restored the jaded spirits of his men. But those who were lucky enough to see him in February, when at last he got his leave after six and a half months at the front, realised that the strain had told heavily on him. His light-hearted gallantry was not the result of mere animal vigour, but the triumph of spirit over bodily and mental exhaustion.”

He wrote and spoke of this desire, when in the trenches, to receive the Blessed Sacrament, of which he was able to partake at Christmas. Thinking of him as he leaves us, we feel the solid truth of the words:                                               

‘The men who drink the blood of God

Go gaily in the dark.’

RIP.”

News of George’s death was announced on page 4 of yesterday’s edition of the Times under the title of ‘An Eton Master’s Death’. Since his departure for the Front, his father, CRL Fletcher, a Fellow of Magdalen College, has been at Eton teaching his classes in his stead.

(George wrote most interesting letters which were published here on November 9th and November 23rd and he is mentioned on December 28th.)

March 22nd 1915

News has been received of the battle fought at Neuve Chapelle earlier this month. Nevile West (Lieutenant in the Royal Berkshire Regiment) was involved.

Nevile West

Lieut. Nevile West

Neuve Chapelle, 19/3/15. “I think I may tell you, now that it is all over for the present, that our Regiment and my Company led the attack on Neuve Chapelle, which you have probably read much about. The attack was dated for last Wednesday, March 10th, and the night before I was detailed by the Brigade to take a party out to remove all the wire in front of our trenches, the Germans being about 100 yards away, at the time a most precarious game, as they heard us working at it and cutting, and so sent up magnesium flares and opened fire on us. Fortunately none of us was hit.

The attack commenced the following morning with half-an-hour’s terrific bombardment of the Hun trenches, which, being so close, proved a terrible ordeal for us sitting cramped in the wet trenches, several shells pitching short in amongst us; anyway it blew all their barbed wire entanglements away, and their trenches and themselves to blazes.

When the half-hour was over, we advanced, the only opposition being a machine gun which did for several. The Hun trenches were a terrible sight when we got there, masses of horribly mangled remains, and the whole air full of picric acid fumes from the lyddite shells. The front line (ours) went straight across the three lines of their trenches, and proceeded as far as the near side of the village, when we started entrenching ourselves under heavy enfilade fire, shrapnel and high explosive shells included.

This was due to the attack on our left primarily failing; their second go cleared the situation, however. Another regiment then passed through us, took the village, and established a line a few hundred yards on the further side. The Indian Division was on our right, and they were too impetuous, and receiving less opposition, got too far ahead, and had to be brought back a bit. Prisoners and wounded were streaming down the road from Neuve Chapelle to our Aid Posts all day.

It was a terrible day, horrible sights. May it be a long time before I see such another, and when quiet came not with darkness, but about midnight, one’s nerves were all over the place. During the actual proceedings one has little time to think. The next day was quieter, the Huns shelled us continuously, but not so vigorously. My skipper was wounded, while next to me, by a shrapnel shell bursting overhead; and therefore left me in command of the Company, as I am still; being alone like that, at such a crisis, a horrible feeling of loneliness came over me, and does come now.

The next morning (Friday) the Huns made a counter-attack on our position, shouting in pure English, ‘Don’t shoot, we are the H.L.I,’ and as that regiment was on our right, and slightly in advance, we were at first taken in, but when it was discovered that it was the Huns advancing, rapid fire was opened, and the ground in front of our trenches now is heaped with their dead, and those that were wounded crawled into our lines. We cannot bury them, so must leave them there to rot; won’t it be terrible if the weather gets really warm, and the sun hot?

That same morning, the Huns, having failed in their counter-attack, bombarded our trenches and the village furiously for an hour, and God alone knows how we lived through it, the bits of shell and the fumes were horrible; it is impossible to get away from either, and I saw two men blown quite 30 feet in the air.

Their bombardment lulled at about 10.30, and at 11.00 we started bombarding their trenches preparatory to attacking again. We could see the wretched Huns flying for all they were worth. A and C Companies were then in support to the Rifle Brigade. When our bombardment ceased, the R.B’s got out of the trenches, and began to attack; they fortunately hadn’t gone far before (I should think) about 12 German machine guns opened fire, and God knows how any of them escaped; I was right in the open at the time and it was hell. Those that remained crawled back at dusk. A great friend of mine who was in the 1st Battalion with me was riddled with bullets, and killed instantly.

A bullet hit my camera which was in my coat pocket, and just turned its course enough. Otherwise, ‘I shouldn’t have gone no further.’ My luck has been extraordinary; may it long continue so. We have just been sent two more 2nd Lieutenants. Apart from that we have only five Officers left.

Well, such is my news, but you will learn more about it from the papers, as they get the operations taken as a whole. The Huns lost terribly, and I fear we did also, although with the modern machines of war, one can expect nothing else. It is terrible, real hell on earth.”

March 15th 1915

Ruttledge MC

Capt. JF Ruttledge

In this week’s ‘London Gazette’ is the announcement that Jack Ruttledge, now a Captain in the Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment), has been honoured with the award of the Military Cross.

The citation reads, ‘For great coolness and gallantry on 19th December 1914, near Neuve Chapelle. When his company were moving over open ground under very heavy fire, many casualties occurred and Lieutenant Ruttledge remained to the last, helping the wounded away to cover.’

 * * * * * * *

An anonymous Old Dragon has written in to give us a glimpse on the sort of life being enjoyed in the trenches at present.

“In the Trenches

La Belle France

March 12th 1915

 The last three days and nights were very noisy and a bit bomby and grenadey. On several occasions we had Brigade orders to open heavy machine gun and rifle fire at the German breastworks backed up by artillery fire at a certain time, and the row usually lasted for about half-an-hour. These unaccustomed bursts of activity were partly to make the Huns as nervy as possible, and partly to prevent them sending reinforcements while attacks were being made between here and * * * * *   (censored).

I was rather lucky in not getting hit the other day. I was working with two men a few yards behind the parados, where one ought, barring accidents, to be pretty safe, when a rifle grenade suddenly dropped and exploded six yards from us. We felt the shock of the explosion and gust of hot air in our faces, but none of us got hurt. We have been sending quite a lot over into their trench (70 yards distant) lately, and they invariably send just the same number back. Some 15” howitzers have arrived at the front, and are apparently found to be a great success. They say that if one of these shells drops in a decent sized factory it absolutely levels the whole place.”

Whereas further south, in the region of the Somme, it is possible to dig deep trenches with underground dug-outs, we understand that in the Ypres area the water table is much higher and such trenches are nigh impossible to build.

“I don’t know if I have explained to you that we aren’t in actual trenches at all, but behind a parapet made of sand bags riveted up with sheets of corrugated iron, hurdles etc., with earth thrown up on the enemy’s side. This parapet varies in height, but I should say the average is between 6 and 7 feet.

This sort of breastwork is of course only of use when we are too near to the enemy to have much fear of artillery fire. The old earth trenches became uninhabitable long ago on account of the mud, but the men still have to dig in where they get shelled, as of course our parapets are no protection against shell-fire.”

Trench pic

 

March 8th 1915

This is a translation of an article written by a Lieut-Colonel Kaden in the Lille War Gazette, a German weekly newspaper. Dated March 3rd 1915, it was sent in by Jack Smyth, having been found on a German prisoner captured in recent fighting. It is printed under the title, ‘A Nation Gone Mad’ and marks the birthday a hundred years ago of the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismark.

Let every German, man or woman, young or old, find in his heart a Bismark Column, a pillar of fire now in these days of storm and stress. Let this fire, enkindled in every German breast, be a fire of joy, of holiest enthusiasm. But let it be terrible, unfettered, let it carry horror and destruction! Call it HATE! Let no one come to you with ‘Love thine enemy!’ We all have but one enemy, England! How long have we wooed her almost to the point of our own self-abasement. She would have none of us, so leave to her the apostles of peace, the ‘No War’ disciples. The time has passed when we would do homage to everything English – our cousins that were!

‘God punish England!’ This is the greeting that now passes when Germans meet. The fire of this righteous hate is all aglow!

You men of Germany, from East and West, forced to shed your blood in the defence of your homeland through England’s infamous envy and hatred of Germany’s progress, feed the flame that burns in your souls. We have but one war-cry ‘GOD PUNISH ENGLAND!’ Hiss this to one another in the trenches, in the charge, hiss as it were the sound of licking flames.

Behold in every dead comrade a sacrifice forced from you by this accursed people. Take ten-fold vengeance for each hero’s death!

You German people at home, feed this fire of hate!

You mothers, engrave this in the heart of the babe at your breast!

You thousands of teachers, to whom millions of German children look up with eyes and hearts, teach HATE! Unquenchable HATE!

What CARTHAGE was to ROME, ENGLAND is to GERMANY. For ROME as for us it is a question of ‘to be or not to be.’ May our people find a faithful mentor like Cato. His ‘ceterum censeo, Carthaginem esse delendam’ for us Germans means – ‘GOD PUNISH ENGLAND’”

 

This is of interest as showing the hatred of Great Britain which is being sedulously cultivated in Germany. This hatred is being encouraged and fostered officially by every possible means.

March 1st 1915

My daughter Kit on ‘Blue Dragon’ in 1912

Amongst all the depressing war news, there has been at least one cause for celebration. My daughter Kit is married. On February 27th we had a whole holiday in honour of her wedding. All who know him agree that Lieut. Marshall, the bridegroom, has only one fault – and that is that he is not an Old Dragon. A wedding under the auspices of about a hundred schoolboys, mostly armed with confetti and old shoes, is an ordeal severe enough in all conscience. But the bride and bridegroom took it all smilingly.

We are not quite sure how they actually took the incident on the first tee of the golf course at Frilford when their golf club bags discharged pounds of confetti in a strong wind, but can well believe that the bridegroom, at all events, was imperturbable. The boys subscribed for a very nice wedding present in the shape of a serviceable suitcase.

* * * * * *

Kit was the first of a number of girls I have admitted to the OPS since 1898.

I have sometimes been, shall I say, criticised for admitting a few very select girls to the School. Personally I have no doubt whatever of the good effects it has on the boys, nor of the benefit that the girls themselves obtain. It is absurd to say that it makes the boys girlish or the girls boyish. The prejudice against the presence of girls at a preparatory school is merely a silly conventional attitude.

By the bye, I have never heard any objections to co-educating!

* * * * * *

We have also noted with great pleasure the announcement of the engagement of Naomi Haldane, rising seventeen, to one of her brother Jack’s best friends, Dick Mitchison. They are not to marry until next year. In the meanwhile Lieut. Mitchison is at the Front.

Naomi, who has been such a prolific contributor to the pages of ‘The Draconian’ over the years,  has submitted a most touching poem for our next edition.

In the grey evening after I come home
I draw the curtains to shut in the light
– One never knows what cruel things may roam
Through the wet cloud-banks in the hostile night –
And when the fire’s lit, and throwing wide
Streamers of flame light, dancing as I look,
And I am reading at the fire-side,
Now and again I glance across the book
To think if you were sitting in that chair
Your eyes and mouth, your forehead, oh my dear,
And the red glow reflected in your hair…
Only you’re out in Flanders, and I am here.

 

Naomi & Kit 1906

Naomi Haldane & Kit Lynam in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ in 1906.