September 30th 1916

We have another letter from Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA), who is keeping us in touch with events on the Somme. I am delighted to hear that he has received his copy of our magazine, even if I have every intention of overlooking his protest:

sidgwick-ah-2“The ‘Draconian’ has arrived and I have been devouring it in a hole beneath the earth, to the accompaniment of heavy howitzers and field guns.

But I must write at once to protest against the publicity given to my private and amateur attempt to translate Roger Mott’s inscription…  I have always hated and frequently insulted archaeologists and now they have got a handle against me.

If, as I expect, about six of them write to the next number of the ‘Draconian’, cutting off my head and holding it up afterwards to show that there are no brains in it, for Heaven’s sake either suppress the letters or bribe some really eminent archaeologist to say that my translation is right.” 

Since his last letter, Hugh has been sent back to the headquarters in order to attend a course that will equip him for the role of Adjutant.

20/9/16. “Headquarters are a number of dug-outs and tents in a sea of mud: the Adjutant is a cross between a bottle-washer and a private secretary and there are more and worse telephones than ever. So for all practical purposes I am back in Whitehall and any sympathy expended on me as surrounded by the horrors of war will be quite wasted. I feel an awful backslider in leaving my battery, but orders is orders…

What I find most difficult to realise is that since I came out I have been in the middle of a big battle. It is quite a shock to read the ‘Times’ and find names mentioned as critical and exciting points, when I have been there on the previous day.

There is a casual air about a modern battlefield, until the show actually starts – people walking about, horses standing in lines, men cooking food, and telephonists brooding over their instruments at tapping in stations.”

 

 

September 25th 1916

Hugh has finally escaped the clutches of bureaucracy, where he has been the Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary to the Board of Education. He is now Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA).

He was commissioned into the Special Reserve of the Royal Garrison Artillery in January and is currently with a siege battery in France.  Having hoped that at the Front he would be free of modern communication systems that demand continual attention and instant reaction, he has been disappointed:

sidgwick-ah-2“The most distressing thing to me personally is the omnipotence and omnipresence of the telephone. It was my curse in civil life and I hated it bitterly and profoundly.

I did think that in military life I should escape it. But no; it is more important than ever; you range the country at the end of a telephone wire, and if it breaks you are an exile and outlaw at once; you come back and sit in your battery surrounded by telephones, all talkative and all meaning work.

The call to arms is a message dictated over the telephone and taken down on a pink form; the call to rest is the mystic word CI… I suppose when peace is declared the message will go round – Pip, Emma, Ack, C, E.

Of what is happening in the war we have not the slightest idea; a five day old Times is generally our latest news. We hear extraordinary rumours – that Roumania has come in, that a German Division has surrendered, that a Great Personage while addressing the Guards said that within 90 hours (now elapsed) something quite remarkable was going to happen. I believe these rumours are made up by Railway Transport Officers, to beguile the tedium of their existence.”

Hugh must have had to learn a lot in his new job rather quickly, but then scholars of Winchester & Balliol Colleges are quick learners. He makes it out to be easy enough:

“… the mathematics of siege gunnery are nothing alarming and many of the beautiful calculations we learnt in England go by the board. One has to know the difference between + and – , right and left, and to be able to add and work a slide rule, and read a map and take bearings, but that is about all.

I would volunteer to make quite an easy and profitable course of instruction in siege gunnery for VIa, and if they would give us a gun and let us practise on North Oxford from Shotover, so much the better for the cause of architecture.

If one of the Old Dragon airmen would come and observe, we could have a charming afternoon.”

I am not convinced as to the wisdom of arming the current VIa, and there might be mild concern amongst the residents of North Oxford as to whether their particular houses pass muster, or would be included in Hugh’s architectural cull.

September 20th 1916

Christmas Term 1916

The excitement of starting a new school year today is dulled by its coinciding with the anniversary of the deaths of two of our masters, Leslie Eastwood and Tom Higginson. Leslie died of dysentery in Egypt and Tom was crushed by the collapse of his dug-out in France. We remember them both with great affection…

Dragons, welcome back. We number 136 with the perfect split of 68 boarders and 68 day boys. The oldest boy in the school is H. Kingerlee (aged 14.8) and the youngest D. Wallace (aged 7.11). In the Junior Department we have 22 (aged from 8.11 down to 5.10).

There is much to look forward to: the rugger – let’s hope we have a good XV, using the shooting range, doing some carpentry, playing in concerts, preparation for our school play and maybe other dramatic productions, bicycle expeditions, picnics and of course some hard work! I trust too that many boarders will join Mr Haynes for the morning bathe in the River Cherwell before breakfast. A most bracing way to start the day!

Many boys, I know, have been writing a holiday diary over the summer and I look forward to marking them over the coming weeks and awarding prizes.

The greatest excitement of the holidays was William Leefe Robinson winning the Victoria Cross for shooting down an airship. As often happens in life, he was brought down to earth with a bump when, only 13 days after his extraordinary feat, a gust of air hit his aircraft as he was taking off and he crashed. Luckily, he escaped as the engine caught fire, but his plane was totally destroyed.

Nonetheless, there can be no doubt he will be back in the air fighting our enemies again very soon.

 

September 18th 1916

2nd Lieut. Sydney Carline (RFC, 19th Squadron) was shot down and wounded at the end of August over the Somme battlefield, on a bombing expedition against a railway cutting some 20 miles behind the front line.  His brother George visited him in hospital and has extracted the following details:

“After Sydney had dropped his bombs and was returning, it appears he got separated from the rest of his squadron and was attacked by four German machines. These machines had been flying at about 15,000 ft on the look-out for any separated machine to tackle. It is one of their methods to fly high and dive at a great speed on an enemy machine, firing their machine gun as soon as they are within range until they catch it up, when they turn to one side and continue their dive to their aerodrome and safety.

My brother was apparently unconscious of any enemy machines about, until he heard the firing of the gun behind him. He says that owing to the noise of the engine it is impossible to hear anything except a gun at close range or the explosions of anti-aircraft shells.

The first German machine damaged his engine slightly and wounded him in the leg. He says there were eight holes in the petrol tank, and other shots hit the back of the seat he was sitting on.  With his damaged engine he had to put his nose down to keep up speed and consequently could not bring his gun into play. His machine was a single-seated scout, with a Vickers gun timed off the engine to fire through the propeller, and to aim the gun the whole machine had to be directed towards the object, as the gun is a fixed one.

Not being able to turn and fly upwards at the German machines and so use the gun, he had to continue his course and keep turning about trying to escape the Germans or at least make their firing harmless, and at the same time firing a Lewis gun fitted behind him. But this gun, he says, is very difficult to aim with success and fly a machine at the same time.

One after another of these machines dived on to him firing their guns, and after he had dropped about 5,000 ft., the Germans made off home, and he was able to get over the lines again at about 5,000 ft. up. Crossing again by the Somme, ‘Archie’ left him alone, anywhere else he would have made a good target at that height.

His leg was numbed by the wound, so that it did not pain him, and by using his heel on the rudder instead of his toe, he was able to manage his machine all right and get back to the aerodrome. The petrol pouring from his tank was very useful, he said, as it kept his leg cool and he was able to drive his engine off his spare tank.”

b-e-12-carline

A B.E 12 aircraft of the type flown by the 19th Squadron.

Sydney has told George that he is spending his sick leave in helping with an invention connected with flying.

Before the war Sydney was a budding artist, following in the footsteps of his father George Carline. In 1911, W. Davis of Turl Street commissioned him to complete six charming etchings of Oxford.

On the outbreak of war he became a dispatch rider before joining the RFC.

September 14th 1916

Yesterday Oxford was honoured by a visit from His Majesty the King.

Having driven up from Windsor, the King proceeded to the Parks where he inspected a battalion of Cadets.  Captain Jack Haldane (Black Watch) also got in on the act, as he was at the time giving bombing instruction there. (Such is his fascination with bombs that in certain military circles he is known as ‘Bombo.’)

After departing the Parks, the King went on to the High St. to visit the 3rd Southern General Hospital and the RFC School of Instruction.

* * * * * * *

With Port Meadow becoming a military aerodrome for the training of pilots, maybe we can look forward to seeing some more of our Old Dragon aviators in the future.

Lieut. Geoff Buck (London Regiment and now RFC), who wired us back in July to say that he had returned home to train as a RFC pilot, has been keeping a record of his training (at Retford):

Buck, Geoff2/8/16. “We fly from 5-8 a.m., work in workshops and fly if possible 9.00 a.m – 12.30 p.m., and fly from 5.00 p.m. to dark. They give us three to four hours’ dual, and then we do about eight hours’ solo (including one cross-country). , and then (i.e after about a month, it depends on weather and machine) we go off to another station for higher instruction. Personally I have only had one flight of 35 minutes in a B.E. – but all in good time. Altogether it’s topping fun, but there is a lot of waiting about.”

5/8/16. “This is absolutely the life. I have done one hour’s dual control and can fly the bus by myself, but have never been up alone yet; they won’t send us up alone till we have done three hours dual. I simply love it! Better than skating, rugger, or even ski-ing. I want to be in the air the whole day long, but of course we have to do a lot of technical work too. Engines, motors, signalling, construction, theory, photography – and all is most interesting.”

16/8/16. “I did my first solo tonight in rather bad weather, made a perfect landing, and went to 700 ft. It was too perfect for words.”

On August 23rd Geoff moved to Narborough for further instruction.

23/8/16. I took my ticket thumbs up on the 19th. I flew to Norwich on Sunday, stopped the night, and flew back on Monday. Two machines crashed under me as I was starting to land (it was awfully windy and bumpy), and one pilot was killed, but I landed perfectly. Some game.”

We look forward to hearing more of Geoff’s exploits.

September 9th 1916

Airship

The Schütte-Lanz SL 11 airship

Yesterday Lieut. William Leefe Robinson was summoned to Windsor Castle to receive his Victoria Cross from the King in person, in recognition of having been the first person to shoot down a German airship over England.

The crowds lined the street to greet him, but horror of all horrors, his car broke down on the way and he was late!

He has become something of a national hero and his account of the events of that night makes most interesting reading:

Leefe Robinson Billy 2“I had been up something more than an hour when I saw the first Zeppelin; she was flying high and I followed her, climbing to get a position above. But there was a heavy fog and she escaped me. I attacked her at long range, but she made off before I could see if I had done any damage.

The next ship I saw, I determined I would attack from the first position I found. I met her just after two o’clock (Sunday morning, the 3rd). She was flying at 10,000 feet. Soon she appeared to catch fire in her forward petrol tank. The flames spread rapidly along her body. She made off eastwards on fire. In several minutes she dipped by the nose and dived slowly in flames to the earth.

I was so pleased that, in my excitement, I pulled the ‘joystick’ and looped the loop several times.”

William has also become entitled to claim over £3,500 in rewards offered by certain private dignitaries for the first person to bring down an airship on English soil.

Maybe a new car will be in order?

 

 

 

 

September 6th 1916

London Gazette, September 5th 1916

Leefe Robinson Billy

We have a second winner of the Victoria Cross. First Jack Smyth and now William Leefe Robinson!

Today’s newspaper (see p.9) reveals that the airship which crashed to the ground at Cuffley in Hertfordshire in the early hours of September 3rd was shot down by our Old Boy.

“His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to Lieut. William Leefe Robinson, Worc. Regiment and RFC, for most conspicuous bravery. He attacked an enemy airship under circumstances of great difficulty and danger, and sent it crashing to the ground as a flaming wreck. He had been in the air for more than two hours and had previously attacked another airship during his flight.”

We cannot pretend that the OPS has been a major influence in William’s life, as he only spent a short time with us in 1901, when he was over here with his family from Southern India.

William was only with us for one term in 1902 and was bottom of Miss Bagguley’s form. His people only stayed in Oxford for the summer of that year. His brother Harold Leefe Robinson was also here. He was killed at Kut in April.