November 29th 1915

Capt. Jack Denniston (King’s Own Scottish Borderers) reports that a letter from fellow Old Dragon, Naomi Haldane (Lord Haldane’s niece), was of no help in getting him out of a spot of bother!

J Denniston

Capt. J Denniston

“You will be shocked to hear that I was arrested as a spy last night. It was great fun. I had to take a working party of 150 men up to the trenches to work. They were divided into three sections. I went with one section myself and left the other two to the sergeants. After settling up my own section and visiting one of the other two, I went to look for the third.

They were working in a rather obscure and unimportant little trench and I wondered about for some time, unable to find them. After wandering about a bit, I wondered into a keep. The sentry challenged me. I answered him and he said he didn’t know my name and seemed embarrassed. So to console him, I suggested that he should arrest me and take me to the officer commanding the keep. He said there was no officer but a corporal in charge. The corporal emerged from the dug-out and I abused him for being (apparently) asleep.

The sentry began timidly, ‘Corporal, this gentleman…’

‘Here, none of that!’ I interrupted. ‘You’ve got to tell him that you consider me a suspicious character and have therefore arrested me.’

He obeyed, rather coyly, and I then explained my position to the corporal, who seemed quite satisfied and let me go, without, however, being able to direct me to my destination.

Wondering on, I met a Scottish officer with another working party. I asked him to direct me, but he couldn’t. Then I said, ‘What’s the number of this trench?’

He then said he must detain me until I could prove my identity. I assented cordially…

‘Let’s see,’ I said. ‘I wonder if I have any letters on me, or anything which would convince you.’ I felt in my pockets, but could find nothing but the inside of a letter from Naomi Haldane.

‘I have a letter,’ said I, ‘from a friend of mine, but as she is the niece of the notorious Germanophile, Lord Haldane, I suppose it only makes things worse. He took this quite seriously and agreed that the letter was not satisfactory… He said he was sorry to detain me, but two German officers had been caught recently, wearing British uniform and that he had to be careful.”

Eventually Jack was recognised by one of the men in the machine-gun section of his company and all was well.

November 25th 1915

The first successful flight over the English Channel by Louis Bleriot took place in 1909, whilst Jack Slessor was busy playing in his gang and building forts at the OPS. He probably was aware of the event but not particularly excited by it or the founding of the Royal Flying Corps three years later. His father was in the Army and that was where his ambition lay. But surely, we all felt,  there could be no real hope of such a career for him. He was lame in both legs due to childhood polio. As a result, he was not allowed to play rugger. (As Jack Haldane’s sister Naomi was also not allowed to play, they would go rowing together on the Cherwell.)

Despite his infirmities and having been declared ‘totally unfit for any form of military service,’ Jack has been accepted by the Royal Flying Corps. A helpful uncle in the War Office is rumoured…

Jack has now won the race to become the first Old Dragon to fly across the Channel. He flew in a new biplane over the School field one day during games on his way from Coventry to Farnborough, flew across the Channel to St. Omer the next day and was back again with us watching games before we realised he had time to get started!

Here is a part of his account:

Jack Slessor...

2nd Lt. Jack Slessor

“We left Farnborough at 10.15 and got to Folkestone at 11.25. We went and had lunch… We pushed off from Folkestone a little after 3.00 and got to St. Omer a little after 4.00, taking about two and a half hours altogether…

I crossed the Channel at 9,000 feet, but there were great white clouds drifting at about 6,000 feet and a heat haze, so I did not see France till about mid-Channel… Cape Gris-nez was the first thing I saw and I followed the coast down to Calais and then up the railway inland to St. Omer. I could see the famous Belgian sand dunes and Hazebruck, and Ypres a blur in the distance.”

The noise of the aircraft was such that, on landing, Jack was almost stone deaf and unable to hear the noise of the guns.

* * * * * * * *

My brother (Hum Lynam) has been responsible for a concert held on November 15th in Keble College Dining Room in aid of the Professional Classes’ War Relief Fund & the Fund for Oxfordshire Prisoners of War in Germany.

The varied programme featured a number of people connected with the OPS. Miss Rosina Filippi is the mother of two of Old Dragons (John & Lawrence Dowson) and Miss Carmen Hill is married to George Drinkwater. Miss Hill sang in one of the Promenade Concerts of 1910 under Henry Wood with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra.

 

 

November 20th 1915

It is some time since I last mentioned my own daughter Kit on these pages. The story following the most happy event of her wedding (see March 1st) has been too painful to tell until now.

Her marriage to Lieut. Marshall lasted less than three months. He contracted meningitis and died in hospital in Portsmouth on May 12th 1915. During his illness and following his death, Kit showed great fortitude. May I leave it at that?

Only five months later and she is, I am proud to say, in France, driving a car and working in connection with St. Leonard’s School YMCA hut, Camp 18, Harfleur Valley,  near Havre.  Albeit behind the lines, she has been seeing a lot of the Tommies and it is most interesting to hear about them in her letters.

KIt Lynam portrait

Kit Marshall

27/10/15. “Lots of our men went up to the Line tonight; it is rotten saying goodbye to them… I wonder if we shall ever see them again? I picked up and took three men down to Havre who were going to ‘Blighty’ this morning. One man had been blown up by a trench-mortar and had had one side of his head dislodged. Another man had had cholera and enteric on August 21st in hospital at ‘Eatables,’ came down here for a rest, and had been doing fatigue for three weeks, though his nerves are gone.”

Kit has also noted that Tommies doing fatigue get a shilling a day, whereas the local navvies get three times as much. She comments,

“No wonder our men get fed up. A lot of things want straightening out.”

29/10/15. “The King visited the camp yesterday, and he looked ill and worn. Only a few of the soldiers around saw him, as they had been on fatigue the day before in a downpour of rain, and of course were soaked to the skin. They have no change of clothes and consequently could not appear properly dressed, so had to stay in their tents till he had gone.”

It must have been soon after this that the King was himself injured.

As with our young subalterns, Kit is meeting the sort of people she could not have got to know in normal life. She has been asked to help write their letters and deal with tales of domestic woe.

“One man came and told us a most pathetic story yesterday. He had been home on leave and when he got to his house, he found it was shut up and his wife and ten months old daughter had gone off with a Belgian refugee…”

The Tommy who has surprised her most is a strongly built north country miner, who was able to quote Shelley and Keats to her and wanted her to teach him Latin (“I have got a Latin grammar in my tent,” he told her).

How did he come to be so educated?

(7/11/15) “You see, I like my books better than women, and they call me a woman-hater – It is funny I should be telling you that, isn’t it? But I have been living in lodgings, and I have never met a woman who liked poetry.”

Having had 23 teeth out recently, he could not return to the line until a new set of false teeth arrived, so Kit got to know him even better and has found that he has the most extraordinary knowledge of poetry.

“…he floors me completely in all save Swinburne and Kipling, which two he does not know. But what surprises me is that things we have been educated up to, such as Milton’s sonnets, Dante, Spenser and the like, he has discovered and read for his own enjoyment.  He has never discussed poetry and his opinions are entirely his own. Ever since he was ten he has lived in lodgings, thirty-five of them, and he is now twenty-five…  Browning he quoted freely, Tennyson, Longfellow etc, but Shelley and Keats he knows to perfection and just glories in them.

One day he said, ‘Have you read Kubla Khan?’ I told him it was one of my favourite poems. He said he thought it was the one inspiration Coleridge ever had and was most interested to hear it was a dream…”

November 16th 1915

Mikado 10.1915

The school’s  recent performances of Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘The Mikado’, could not go by without noting the pain we still feel at the loss of the two members of staff who have died in the War, Leslie Eastwood and Tom Higginson. Higgy it was who first brought G & S to the OPS stage.

How appropriate that we were joined in the audience by a number of wounded soldiers, who were most appreciative. As one of our reviewers said,

“How can one care to do anything so much as for these dear men who have gone out, simply, with a sort of bright eagerness and cheeriness, to lay down their lives and who, having nearly lost them, having seen death and hell and having suffered every torment and hardness, return with the same brightness and cheeriness in this dark world of loss and anxiety?”

The Friday audiences were cheered by many young soldiers, all longing to be out of the OTC and at the Front, and the mother of the School’s own VC, just home from seeing him in Egypt, and by some Dragons home from the Front in France, Russia and the Dardanelles.

2nd Lieut. Jack Gamlen (Ox & Bucks Light Infantry) attended the one of these performances.

“It was delightful to find this performance awaiting one as a treat after a cold and wet October in camp. We, too, when under canvas, had tried to warm ourselves by singing songs from the G & S operas.

Our greatest success was to rouse our Colonel in his pyjamas at 11 pm, by beating the big drum as an accompaniment to the Duke of Plaza-Toro’s  first song, and to be sent to bed. There were five of us, including a College Dean, two solicitors and a real wounded warrior from the Indian Army…”

When Jack came down from Balliol (to which he had won an exhibition from Rugby School) he trained as a solicitor and was practising here in Oxford in the firm of Morrell, Peel & Gamlen, when the war broke out. Much of his military training has been done locally and he likely to be sent to the Front before long.

November 6th 1915

Yesterday, Mrs Hum (Lynam) received this touching letter from Alasdair Macdonell’s mother:

6 Chad letter 1

 

Dear Mrs Lynam,

I could not write and thank you and Mr Lynam before, so only sent a formal card. I am enclosing one of the cards in memory of my boy – Mr Billson was an old college friend of my husband’s and knew Alasdair since he was a baby. I like the verses on the back so much. You were quite right in what you said. The bond between

 

 

6 Chad letter 2my boy and me was ideal – he was the most tender loving son any mother could have, and so unselfish and bright – for all his thoughts as he left were for me and his father and sisters but not a thought for himself or his danger. If letters could help (and they do) the number we have had from his friends whom we never knew would make any mother proud – and the tender note in them all was wonderful –  showing what intense love they all bore him – please thank your husband for his more than kind letter.

Yours very sincerely,

M. Louise Macdonell

 

 

Macdonell card 1

Macdonell card 2