June 28th 1916

A report on the Summer Term at the OPS is long overdue.

A mumps scare put us into quarantine for the first month, but since then all has been well and we have been able to play cricket matches against other schools. The weather was lovely at the beginning, even if it is execrable at present. Some people call cold and rain healthy. It may be so, but it is not pleasant.

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We have had two grand whole holidays. About 50 boys and girls went in a char-à-banc to Stokenchurch Woods on May 18th – V.C. Day, marking Jack Smyth‘s deeds of valour – and a more delightful day could not have been spent. Others went to Frilford and enjoyed golf with Mr Vassall.

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I discovered that the school car could be put to a better use and as a result the Ford was sent to Rochdale at the beginning of June and a ‘Scott’ Ambulance body was built on the Ford chassis.

Since then it has been in constant use in taking wounded soldiers to and from the station and various hospitals, and in taking the men for country drives. It accommodates two stretcher cases very comfortably and often has carried six or seven sitting patients.  These patients were refreshed on their short journeys by bunches of grapes, kindly provided by money raised by the boys and their families.

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We invited over a hundred wounded soldiers to attend our production of ‘The Gondoliers.’ They came limping in, some on sticks, some on crutches. Some in chairs and some on stretchers, but one and all meant to have a good time, and the Dragons in charge saw to it that they had it. What the doctors said the next day about the effects of too many cigarettes and too many other good things does not concern us here.

One thing that confused the soldiers was the fact that the female parts were also being played by boys. In short, nothing would persuade Tommy that black was white, and when he saw 3 or 4 girls, and very pretty ones too, girls they were – and he did not believe for one moment they were boys.

The actors themselves got a little mixed sometimes, and once one of them earnestly assured us that he would make a “dutiful husband, I mean wife.”

This made Tommy think a little, and one of the staff had the great idea of getting the ‘boy-girls’ amongst the wounded, and parting the golden and raven locks to show the unbelievers the unmistakable hairy heads of Dragons beneath.

On the way from the green room, one of the damsels tripped, and what he (she) said, made one soldier remark, “Well, that one’s a boy anyhow!”

June 23rd 1916

TOT +GCV 3

Treffry, recovering from his wounds last summer, with Mr Vassall

Capt. Treffry Thompson (RAMC) has recovered from his wound and is now working on a Medical Board at the Cowley Barracks assessing those who are a little less enthusiastic about joining up, following the introduction of conscription earlier this year.

He has written with details of some of the cases with which he has been involved.

The following one concerns a time when two gypsies were presented to him:

“The entire room is suddenly disturbed by loud groans from No. 2 of the above pair who is in the hands of the 2nd Inquisitor.

Watch the performance. He groans loudly while his arms and legs are gently moved; swears he cannot move his right shoulder; forgets this a minute later and says it is his left. Says he has violent pains in the right knee and cannot bend it. Limps badly on trial, but unfortunately on the wrong leg.

The 4th Inquisitor arrives with another victim; a hard burly looking man, obviously very reluctant to be passed.

‘This man says he cannot work and never has.’

‘How old are you?’’          ’32.’

‘What’s your work?’          ‘Labourer.’

‘When did you do any labouring?’          ‘I can’t do none.’

‘What do you live on?’          ‘On me wages.’

‘Well you can work then?’          ‘Yes.’

‘What do you complain of?’          ‘Pains.’

‘Where?’          ‘In me ‘ed.’

‘Do you get any pains in your chest?’          ‘Yes, awful pains.’

‘Do you get any in your stomach?’          ‘Yes they does fair double me up.’

‘Do you get any in your back?’          ‘Yes, something cruel.’

‘Do you ever drink any beer?’          ‘What me? No never. Well perhaps I does have a drop occasionally.’

‘Do you get any trembling fits?’          ‘Yes, I goes all of a tremble at times.’

‘Especially when you see work?’          ‘Yes – er no.’

‘Do your feet get cold?’          ‘My feet gets terribly cold.’

‘Well, when you are in the army you can find out what “Cold Feet” means.’”

 

June 20th 1916

Wright EGE

2nd Lieut. George Wright (Somerset Light Infantry)

George Wright is dead. He was not killed in battle, but was a victim of one of the many shells that fall on Ypres daily. He was walking down a street when a shell fell and killed him outright.

He went out to France in July 1915 and was wounded soon after.  In November 1915 George won the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry:

“Hearing that a Sergeant had been buried in the fall of a gallery, he went down and along the gallery to rescue him, but, getting entangled in wire, got back only with great difficulty. Later he went down again with a mining officer and recovered the Sergeant’s body.”

He was a regular visitor to the OPS, attending three dinners before the war. His frequent visits are full of the most delightful memories and we will miss his cheery wit and humour.

The shock to us is all the greater as George was engaged to be married and was here watching games on the School Field with his fiancée when on leave, just a week before he was killed.

June 15th 1916

 

Deane EB

Private Edmund Deane (10th Bat. Canadian Infantry)

Whilst our attention has been focused on the Battle of Jutland, the Germans have launched another attack in the Ypres region, which claimed the life of Edmund Deane on June 3rd.

An official account states: “It was about 10 a.m. on June 2nd when the German preliminary bombardment of the Canadian position burst with the suddenness of a summer thunderstorm. A terrific drumfire of mixed shrapnel and high explosive swept over Hill 60, Mont Sorrel and Observatory Wood – the right apex of the Salient – isolating the sector absolutely. Warfare had never witnessed such a stupendous concentration of gunfire.

Storms of explosives rolled over the Canadian front and support lines with hurricane force and more than a hurricane destructiveness, wrecking position after position with ghastly thoroughness.

At 1 p.m. the German infantry emerged from their trenches and trotted over the scarred, shell-tossed earth where three hours previously had been well-built trenches manned by the best blood of Canada. They met with no resistance.

The 10th Battalion in the Brigade Reserve, when the storm broke, was at once ordered up to Mont Sorrel support lines in Armagh Wood, to assist the 7th Battalion, which was about to counter attack.”

The exact circumstances of Edmund’s death are uncertain, but we understand he was killed in the counter attack.

Edmund was at the OPS from 1879-83, under my predecessor as Headmaster, Rev AE Clark.  We overlapped by one year, as I joined the school as an Assistant Master in September 1882.

June 13th 1916

We have certainly had a very high opinion of our naval supremacy over recent years and some may be wondering why it was that the German High Seas Fleet was not obliterated at Jutland in the true Nelsonic style of the past. Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (HMS Valiant) suggests that maybe we have under-estimated the abilities of our enemy:

9/6/16. “Their shooting was marvellously accurate at the long ranges and their rapid fire astounding both by day and night. People at home talk of the High Canal Fleet covered with barnacles. My aunt! I should have liked to have had a few armchair critics by the side of the Captain and myself in the conning-tower that afternoon in May. They are foes worthy of our steel, but Von Sheer made one grave error.

Instead of breaking off the action when he had sunk the ‘Indefatigable,’  ‘Queen Mary’ and two new destroyers, he evidently thought he was going to smash the whole of Beatty’s Squadron and became intoxicated with success. He even finished off the ‘Defence’, ‘Black Prince’,  ‘Warrior’ and ‘Invincible’… only to find himself a few minutes later fairly landed in the arms of the great Sir John and the Grand Fleet, who gave him simple hell till 7.30, when the Huns turned and fled.”

It has been most interesting hearing Geoffrey’s account of the battle and no doubt it was of great service to the official account as submitted by the Captain of the ship.

History will decide the importance of the events of these past days. For us, whilst we mourn the loss of Charles Fisher, we are relieved that amongst the long list of those killed and wounded, there are no other Dragon names.

June 11th 1916

Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (HMS Valiant) continues his account of the battle, revealing how he has been able to recall the events so well:

7/6/16. “It is just a week today since our little picnic at the Little Fisher Bank took place, and there has been a tremendous amount of work since. We, so the Captain tells me, were almost the only ship to keep any real record of the show at the time, as I dictated notes throughout to a Midshipman with a note-book squatting down at my feet…

There were some weird happenings: we picked up a W.T. signal from one of our destroyers from the Sub-Lieut., worded as follows:- ‘My Captain is dying, the 1st Lieut., Surgeon and gunners are all dead, my bridge has been shot away so I do not know my position as I am isolated. Request instructions.’

That boy got his ship back safely as I saw her here two days later, and if any boy deserves a D.S.C., he does.”

I think this must be HMS Onslaught, about which we read in the Daily Telegraph on June 7th.