February 25th 1916

French close-up

Captain Robert French (Royal Welch Fusiliers)

The death of Robert French, which occurred on February 19th in the Empire Hospital for Officers in London, was announced in the Times yesterday.

We had news of his situation last month (January 5th) and understood that he had been hopeful of recovery and was quite expecting to go to a convalescent home in Roehampton up to, at any rate, a week or two before his death. And now, nearly five months after he was wounded, he has succumbed to infection.

Robert won a scholarship to Blundell’s School from the OPS and was part of the Officer Training Corps there, rising to the rank of Sergeant. In 1911 he was commissioned in to the 3rd Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers as a probationary second Lieutenant.  According to his father, he spent the whole of a legacy (practically all he had) on his training and outfit. This was in addition to the Government grant, which was found to be totally inadequate for the purpose.

At the outbreak of war, Robert joined the 2nd Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers (the same unit as Capt. George Fletcher, who was killed on March 20th 1915). He took part in the retreat from Mons and the battles of the Marne and Aisne and was promoted to the rank of Captain in February 1915.

 

 

February 23rd 1916

With magazines such as our Draconian making their way to front line trenches, some thought has to be given to security.

We are requested by the Director of Military Intelligence at the War Office to state that the matter contained in any War Article or Letter in the Draconian is to be treated as confidential, and that no extracts from them may be sent for publication to the newspapers.

* * * * * * * *

It is good to know that magazines, such as our own Draconian, are well received by our old boys. Capt. Maurice Jacks (KRRC) writes from Northern France:

jacks-ml3“In a stray ‘Oxford Chronicle’ which found its way to this dreary corner of Northern France the other day I read an account of ‘The Tempest’ and a letter from the Skipper about the bad state of the roads. These two led my thoughts to the ‘School House afar’ and hence this letter. My ‘Draconian’ has not turned up yet; but I can’t get on without it and have written for a copy from home.”

The Draconian has certainly made its way to General Headquarters where Major Cecil Lucas (RHA) and friends “simply devoured every word… and look forward to every number like anything.”

Capt. Charlie Childe (Gloucestershire Regiment), on reading what he had written in the first months of the War, now finds that he sees things differently:

Charlie Childe“I have just had the ‘Draconian’ and was very glad to get it. I’m afraid some of my letters now display a rather green and enthusiastic spirit. In fact I rather wonder at myself in the first days of August and September as a fierce hero! I see I said I didn’t mind shells. However, I am not ashamed to admit that familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. Jack Smyth quite agreed with me in this when I saw him last, so that is enough to go by…”

Lieut. Jack Smyth VC (15th Ludhiana Sikhs) has received his Draconian in Egypt:

Jack Smyth“I wrapped myself up in two blankets in  a deck chair yesterday evening and read the ‘Draconian’ from start to finish.

Charlie Childe’s letters interested me a great deal, as I have been practically in all the places he mentions.”

 

 

 

February 12th 1916

Yesterday, our dear young Naomi Haldane was married to Dick Mitchison, a 2nd Lieutenant with the Queen’s Bays. The marriage took place at the Oxford Registry Office on the High Street. Only a few friends (including Aldous Huxley, the editor of the literary magazine, ‘Oxford Poetry’) attended and the austerity of these times restrained them from holding a party.

We, however, celebrated by taking a half-holiday!

Naomi has been training as a nurse at St. Thomas’s in London, but recently has been  helping with the outpatients at the Radcliffe Infirmary.

It is only ten years since Naomi was performing on the OPS stage here in Romeo & Juliet. How quickly our children grow up!

February 9th 1916

2nd Lieut. Leslie de Selincourt (OBLI) has reached Ali Garbi but floods, a shortage of mule rations and an uncertainty as to the friendliness of the Arabs in the area make for slow progress.

de Selincourt L

Leslie de Selincourt

“There is a biggish Arab village 1½ miles downstream from which we bought eggs yesterday in large quantities. They charged a lot and they all turned out to be bad, so this morning we strapped on our revolvers, took half a dozen trusty followers with rifles and kit bags and marched straight into the village.

With the aid of an interpreter we interviewed the Sheik, explained our discovery about the eggs and demanded the right number in the right condition. It was about eight dozen. They hummed and hawed in excited tones and then some slunk away and after a considerable delay reappeared with two eggs. We explained that the compensation was inadequate. They merely looked stupid and pretended not to understand. So the word was given and we scattered through the village.

Time was called after sixteen minutes and the bag was as follows: 54 hens, 19 eggs, 2 leaded sticks, a Service Colt (loaded, ancient, but still serviceable), a cartridge belt containing 31 cartridges (also ancient) and a coffee pot. They came off very lightly, and as a hen in this country can be bought for four annas, we didn’t take enough to pay for our loss in eggs. But we didn’t want to make enemies of these people and if they don’t swindle us we are quite willing to trade fairly with them.”

So far Leslie and his troops have marched about 190 miles and they are now 42 miles from the firing line.

February 5th 1916

We heard last month from Sub-Lieut. Dick Sergent (RNVR) on his escape from Gallipoli. We are now equally delighted to receive this letter from his brother Sous-Lieut. Noel Sergent (French Artillery) on the island of Mudros. He was amongst the final troops to leave, on January 8th.

Noel Sergent

Sous-Lieut. Noel Sergent

23/1/16. “Our battery was the last French battery to go off. They fired up to 5 in the evening, then at 7 the Captain, Lieutenant, another, myself and seven men remained at the guns. We rammed earth sacks down the mouths of the guns, then put 26 dynamite cartridges in each and a Cordon Bickford and more sacks. Then we got our packs and banged about with a sledge-hammer, put the breeches of the guns on the trucks and started off.

At the crossroads we met the 52nd division coming down quite noiselessly, in fours. This was the last division and that meant that if the Turks chose to attack they could simply come straight through, as our trenches were empty.

When we got to Sedd-ul-Behr we left our packs behind the Chateau d’Europe and went on to the water’s edge. Just then, as I was emptying the breech into the water, the horn announcing a flash from Asia sounded. That meant 40 seconds before the shell came along. We all got behind anything and the shot went just over our heads on to the quay by the ‘River Clyde’ and the bottom of the old shell went off into the sea. .

We have been badly bombed and shelled lately and the batteries up against us were getting really too numerous, so in one way it was time we went, but at the same time it is sickening to think that we have been under fire for six months and that the total result of our fighting is that we have got to go and leave our material and everything, especially some 100,000 dead, in the hands of the Turks.

It is a good thing anyway that England has at last realised her mistake and had been brave enough to own up to it.”