December 31st 1916

With 1916 drawing to a close, we look back on the terrible loss of life we have endured and remember in particular the nine Old Dragons who were killed in the four and a half months that comprised the battle on the Somme:

July 1st.

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Geoffrey Clarke (2nd Lieut. Rifle Brigade). Aged 33.

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John Ruttledge (Capt. West Yorks Regiment). Aged 21.

July 6th

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Christopher Counsell (Lieut. Hampshire Regiment). Aged 26.

July 7th

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Robert Gibson (Lieut. South Staffs Regiment). Aged 21.

July 14th

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David Westcott Brown (Capt. Leicestershire Regiment). Aged 23.

July 27th

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Paddy Burton (Temporary Capt., 4th Bedfordshires). Aged 23.

August 22nd

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Frank Benham (Captain, RFA). Aged 30.

October 7th

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Oswald Blencowe (2nd Lieut., Ox & Bucks Light Infantry). Aged 26.

October 10th

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John Raikes (2nd Lieut. Essex Regiment). Aged 20.

All these families have suffered tragic losses and Claude Burton, Paddy’s father, a regular contributor of verse to the ‘Daily Mail’ under the pseudonym of ‘Touchstone,’ has put into words most poignantly the feelings of sacrifice and pain experienced by parents:

Killed in Action
The world seems full of you, now you are gone.
You were, of all these dear familiar things,
Part of our daily life that still drags on
And still around small, trivial objects clings
The sweet and subtle fragrance that is you,
Half balm, half torture to the stricken heart 
That knows high courage is a hero's due - 
That we, like you, must strive to bear our part.

Though the blood drip unseen from wounds within
That even length of years must leave unhealed - 
You bid us conquer pain that we may win
To that high goal your passing has revealed.
You gave your life, and if we too must give
Our very flesh and blood - a sacrifice
That that great cause that claimed you still might live;
Surely the gift is fitting in God's eyes.

Somewhere beyond the range of mortal sight
We know you strive as nobly as of yore,
A soldier still amidst the Hosts of Light;
Though we may see your well-loved face no more.
Oh! Pity us if from these realms unknown
Your eyes look down upon our mortal pain
And plead for us before your Captain's throne
That we may reach those heights you died to gain.

December 27th 1916

Whilst it is to be very much hoped that everyone is enjoying their Christmas holiday, there is one task that the VIth Form must not forget to complete.

As is the tradition, they spent the second half of term getting to know a Shakespeare play – in this case ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ The parts have been assigned and must be known absolutely pat. Boys should get their sisters etc to improve their acting during these holidays.

Normally, that most faithful of Old Dragons, Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI), would attend a performance to review it, but he has written to say he is otherwise engaged on the Western Front and he tells us that he will instead, “dream mid-winter nights’ dreams” about us all.

The boys will enjoy this witty poem, written for them by Jack, whilst on active service in France:

TO THE CAST OF 'A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.'
Dear Players, take from one who used,
Each year, to be your faithful critic - 
A task he'd never have refused,
Though deaf or blind, or paralytic -

A tribute to your former skill,
Good wishes for your next excursion
In plays which universal Will
Devised for his and your diversion.

I mind the day, in 'ninety-eight,
When I myself appeared as Theseus,
(At two days' notice, let me state,)
Expecting hisses loud as geese use.

And, I can tell you from my heart,
To have such memories to remember,
Helps me to play the harder part
Of fighting Germans in December.

          J.G., France, Dec., 1916

December 21st 1916

queens-hallOn Tuesday 12th December, a concert was given by the Bach Choir in Queen’s Hall (the home of Sir Henry Wood’s Promenade concerts since 1895).  It was described in the newspaper as being “of very considerable and exceptional interest.”

The Daily Telegraph continued by saying that the novelty of the evening was “Sir Hubert Parry’s setting for five part chorus and orchestra of the Poet Laureate’s fine naval ode, The Chivalry of the Sea.’   

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Sir Hubert Parry

A work of no soaring ambition this; yet one characteristic of its composer in its dignity and the suggestion of depth underlying its reticent emotional appeal. There are contrasts in the musical mood in keeping with those embodied in the text, and from the sombre opening phrases, illustrating the line, ‘Over the warring waters, beneath the wandering skies,’ to the last, the spirit of the ode, dedicated to the memory of a young lieutenant of the RNVR, is faithfully reflected.”

The young lieutenant referred to, I am proud to say, is our own Charles Fisher, who went down on HMS Invincible at the Battle of Jutland, aged 38. (His brother is Dr HAL Fisher).

Robert Bridges begins his ode with the words, ‘Dedicated to the memory of Charles Fisher, late student of Christ Church, Oxford.’

 

 

 

 

December 18th 1916

As this term comes to a close, it is right that we should record some of the many note-worthy events that have taken place:

The Ambulance has been used for meeting convoys of wounded and conveying them from the station to the various hospitals. I have to thank the boys and others for supplying grapes, for which the wounded men express thanks. After their long and often tedious journey, a few grapes are found more refreshing than anything else.

* * * * * * *

Lieut. Hoare, brother of two new boys, gave us a capital description of the Tanks. He had just come from the Somme and had seen them in their first actions.

* * * * * * *

Bathing Parade!

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These boys have kept up the morning bathe in the river with Mr Haynes before breakfast for the whole term: A. Owen, J. Tew,  C. Jaques, A. Rees,  E. Moffatt, whilst B. Mallalieu, R. Ferguson, T. Horsley and C. Salkeld only gave it up for the last ten days, owing to feverish colds. They started on Sept 20th (58°F) and finished on Dec 16th (34°F).

* * * * * * *

Mr CRL Fletcher (the father of Regie and George came and spoke to the boys early in the term about collecting new laid eggs for the wounded soldiers in the Oxford hospitals. Miss Field undertook the arrangements and the conveyance of the eggs. The response has been enthusiastic – 1,416 eggs ‘of the best’ have been handed in to the Matron at the Base Hospital during the 8 or 9 weeks since Mr Fletcher came.

* * * * * * *

During the second half of term, the VIth Forms learnt the whole of ‘The Passing of Arthur’ by Tennyson. With only one or two exceptions the whole form of 35 boys knew the poem perfectly and I am sure they find it a ‘possession for ever.’

As our hours for English are so limited, I fear that the form will come out badly in History and Geography.

* * * * * * *

NOTICE

In response to an appeal from many quarters, we have decided to add another week to the holidays this Christmas.

The boarders will return on Tuesday, January 16th. School will begin on Wednesday, January 17th, at 9 a.m.

The Play (Midsummer Night’s Dream) will be on Saturday January 20th at 2.30 and 5.45 p.m.

 

December 15th 1916

In the course of the last four months a number of our gallant Old Boys have been honoured and, as the end of another term approaches, they should be recorded on these pages:

Victoria Cross (VC)

Capt. William Leefe Robinson (RFC), “for 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.”

Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

Capt. Harry Maule (North Lancs) has been awarded the DSO “for conspicuous gallantry when leading his company during operations. During several days’ fighting he set a fine example of cheerfulness and cool courage to those around him. He was three times knocked down by the blast of shells.” (Edinburgh Gazette, Sept. 28th 1916)

Major Ernest Knox (Sikhs) in Mesopotamia.

Major James Romanes (Royal Scots). “For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led his battalion with the greatest courage and initiative. He set a splendid example throughout the operations.” (London Gazette, Nov. 25th 1916)

Military Cross (MC)

2nd Lieut. Stopford Jacks (RFA). “He, assisted by a sergeant, organised a party to extinguish a fire in a bomb store. Although burnt in several places, he continued at the work until the fire was extinguished.” (Edinburgh Gazette, Dec. 13th 1916)

2nd Lieut. Budge Pellatt (Royal Irish). “When a Platoon was required from his company to replace casualties in the front line, he at once volunteered and led his men forward with the greatest determination, though suffering heavy casualties.”

2nd Lieut. Northcote Spicer (RFA). “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in registering all batteries of the artillery brigade from the advanced lines prior to attack. He was severely wounded, chiefly from having to signal by flag, which was observed by the enemy.” (London Gazette, Oct. 20th 1916)

French Honours

‘The Times’ (Sept 16th) noted that Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt had been made Grand Officier of the Legion of Honour.

2nd Lieut. Trevor Hoey (OBLI) has been awarded the Croix de Guerre decoration by the French Commander on the Salonika front for distinguished conduct, referred to in the Army Orders as follows:

“When all the other officers were placed hors de combat, he took command and led the final charge against the Bulgarian position, which was brilliantly carried at the point of the bayonet.”

Mentioned in Despatches

2nd Lieut. FRG Duckworth (RFA) in Salonika, Capt. WW Fisher (RN) & Cdr GH Freyberg (RN) at Jutland, Maj. EF Knox (36th Sikhs) – for the second time, Capt. RJK Mott (Staff) in Salonika, Lieut. JC Slessor (RFC) in Egypt, and Maj. RD Whigham (King’s Own Scottish Borderers) – for the second time.

It is difficult to express just how proud we are when our Old Boys distinguish themselves so.

December 11th 1916

Our new Prime Minister, Mr Lloyd George has announced his new Government and amongst the new appointments is Dr HAL Fisher, as President of the Board of Education.

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Dr HAL Fisher

Although we cannot claim him as an Old Boy, four of his brothers were at the OPS.

Since 1913, Dr Fisher has been Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield University and his appointment to the Board of Education is unusual, in that Mr Lloyd George has appointed an expert in the field of education, rather than a politician. Perhaps he will now be found a seat in the Commons.

The Fisher family is well known in Oxford. Dr Fisher’s father, Mr Herbert Fisher, was a Christ Church man and became tutor to the future King Edward VII in 1859.

One of his daughters, Adeline, is married to the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (who joined the RAMC as a Private in 1914).

Of his sons, Edmund Fisher has enjoyed success as an architect. At Somerville College both the Maitland Building (1910–11) and Hall (1912–13) are his work. He is currently training to be with the RFA, whilst his brother Edwin is serving with the Life Guards.

Lastly, Charles Fisher (who was Senior Censor at Christ Church) went down with HMS Invincible at Jutland and William, having been Captain of HMS St. Vincent at Jutland, has recently joined the Anti-Submarine Division at the Admiralty.

 

December 9th 1916

By a strange coincidence, on the same day Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI) wrote to us of meeting Capt. Leslie Grundy (late of York & Lancaster Reg., now with 90th Machine Gun Corps), Leslie also wrote to us of an incident that had occurred the previous evening, when he was sitting in a small cellar of a largely demolished house.

grundy-glo25.11.16 “I heard the swish of a shell and heard a loud detonation. I went up the cellar steps to ask how far off it had fallen and was told that it had fallen about 200 yards away and that only a few splinters had come our way.

I had got to the top step of the cellar when I found a man in my way at the top. I had just touched him and was going to tell him to move aside when we all heard a shell coming. We all ducked instinctively, the man on the top step falling on me. I had lost my balance, but before my feet had left the step I was on, there was a brilliant flash and a terrific explosion.

I scrambled out from under the fellow who was on top of me and found myself at the bottom of the steps with the place full of dust. There were some cries coming from above. I lit a candle and found that the centre part of the roof of the cellar had fallen in and had smashed the table, but had missed the officer and the two servants who were in there and that they were only a bit dazed.

I then went up above and found men lying all over the place. I flashed my torch around and saw that five were obviously dead and that about six more were lying about groaning. Another man and myself got the two worst cases into the cellar and started bandaging them up.

I went up with another fellow and we got the third man down. As we were going down the stairs, another shell came and burst about 20 yards to the flank and, I found afterwards, smashed in half another cellar on top of three men, also killing three of the limber horses and wounding the fourth…

The shelling stopped and we went up to count the damage.

Right on top of the cellar was a huge crater, 6 ft. across and going right through the 3 ft. of bricks on top of the roof. It was not 6 ft. from where my head had been. Two small beams had apparently saved me. They were riddled with splinters, but apparently the force of the shell had gone in another direction.

Five men were lying round the entrance dead. Three of them were in my company and two belonged to the other company. One of my best sergeants and two of my best men. The two others were guides.

We took the personal effects of the five to send to their homes and put them in a shell hole not far away. We buried them this morning. The three horses are still lying across the road. Two of my wounded have since died in the dressing station. In all I lost about ten men killed and wounded, and the other company about seven.

Incidents like this are happening every day on all parts of the front and they happen pretty frequently around here, but you seldom hear about these small details, so I thought I would tell you about one of them – not so much for the morbid interest of the thing as to give you some idea of what war is like…

I am very fit at present with the exception of slight deafness and headache caused by the explosion.”

Certainly, such details are not to be found in our newspapers or, from what Jack Gamlen told us, Brigade Intelligence Reports either.