March 29th 1917

It is now over a year since Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI) last visited us. His witty poem, sent to the boys before their performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ earlier this term was much appreciated, and now he writes to sing the praises of our French allies. He is quite a Francophile!

Here he describes his experience of taking over a section of the trenches from the French:

“I think that none of our party shared my excitement and joy at meeting the French army in the field. In the British area it is difficult to feel that one is in France; even Amiens and Abbeville breathe a mixed (a very mixed) atmosphere. But here, below ground (in a dug-out), we were in France at last. We got to business at once and I began my duties as Brigade Interpreter. The French Brigadier impressed us all very much…

As it was now mid-day, the Colonel suggested that we should have lunch before we came to business. We agreed, and ate one of the best lunches I ever came across. There were five courses, there was red wine, there was champagne, yet everything was simple and the meal was short. At first everyone was shy and I had to do the talking for the English side. But as time went on, both sides thawed, and by the time we had coffee everyone was talking some sort of French.

After lunch we got to business at once. The Colonel was wonderful. He had every detail that we wanted at his finger tips and scarcely ever referred to his Adjutant. After an hour in looking at maps and discussing dispositions, he took us some way forward to an O.P, from which we had a wonderful view of the German front…

The next day I returned with the Brigade Major and again called upon the French Brigadier in order to arrange the final details of the forthcoming relief…

He spoke the most exquisite French and had the most exquisitely simple manners. I am sure that he is descended from one of those French Officers of the old days, who used to call out to their men ‘Messieurs les gendarmes de la maison du Roi, veuillez assurer vos chapeaux. Nous allons avoir l’honneur de charger…’

The French fighting man is a glorious creature and the sight of him should convince any armchair pessimist that nothing can ever kill France, however full her cemeteries may be (and they are terribly full round here)…

Let there be no misunderstanding about what France is. She is, and has been for a thousand years, the most civilized country in the world and her salvation is the first and greatest object of the war, for the presence of a single German soldier on French soil is an obscene thing.

My dear Dragons, educate yourselves to love France. Learn to read and speak French well, NOW, and, after the war, get your parents, whether they can afford it or not, to take you often to France…

There is nothing un-British or decadent in this love of France; and there is something very stupid and ugly in the want of it.  Every civilized being ought to write on his heart the fine old motto, ‘Chacun a deux pays: le sien et La France.’

Clearly we must have more French lessons!

March 25th 1917

Last heard of, Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA) was in a dug-out in France, writing the Prologue for our production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’

Since then, he has been summoned back to England by the Board of Education to assist the minister, Mr HAL Fisher, with a new Education Act. Important work no doubt and, in fact, more worthy of Hugh’s extraordinary intellectual capabilities than the RGA.

Here, in a welcome contribution to the next edition of the ‘Draconian,’ he depicts himself as a “shirker” in a “funk-hole” in London.

From a Funk-hole.
                    1.
This is the song of a shirker in a funk-hole.
He has alternated, and will continue to alternate, between
      being a shirker in a funk-hole, and an over-fed hero
      intrepidly sitting at a telephone in France.
But for the time being he is a shirker in a funk-hole again.
                    2.
The men in funk-holes are acute, over-worked, and tired.
They get no leave and no potatoes.
They are insulted in the press.
They are assisted temporarily in their labours by dons,
      women, and business men.
But they stick it.
                    3.
The warmth and cleanliness of the funk-holes are pleasant 
      after France.
The shirker is glad to have interesting work to do again
Until it comes to doing it.
In France the work is not so hard.
                    4.
London is a good place compared with France.
But it involves being taken to revues.
Revues are better than violent shelling,
But moderate shelling is better than revues.
                    5.
Of course there is the moral aspect.
But moral aspects don't worry the shirkers much.
                    6.
If you consider who are really enduring the hardships of war,
There are eleven classes in order of endurance.
The first six all consist of people who go into the
      front line and get shelled, or who go about in ships, or fly.
The seventh consists of people in this country who work.
The eighth consists of Staffs, Base Censors and others,
      who sit behind the line
And have a high old time.
The ninth consists of a Railway Transport Officer, whom I know.
The tenth consists of journalists.
The eleventh consists of people who appear in the Sketch
      in full evening dress as interested in War Work.
                    7.
The shirker has belonged to Classes Four, Seven and Eight.
So he knows.
At the moment he belongs to Class Ten
If you consider the 'Draconian' a journal.
                    8.
Having concluded his song the shirker returns to his funk-hole
In the hope of persuading someone else to do the work.
Unfortunately there are no N.C.O's there.

                                            17th March 1917

Class Ten? Needless to say, Hugh was never in anything but the top forms in his time at the OPS!

March 21st 1917

Lieut.-Col Stuart Taylor (West Yorks) has written to the Editor of our magazine formally to ask us to address the question of how we commemorate those Old Dragons who have laid down their lives.

Various Public Schools are already raising money for their Old Boys. Indeed last week we read that Eton has raised £101,000 for a Memorial, and in order to educate the sons of fallen Old Etonians at Eton. 750 of the 5,200 Etonians serving have been killed.

A letter in the Daily Telegraph yesterday (on page 9) invites Old Rugbeians to attend a meeting with the same aim in mind. Other Public Schools are sure to follow this example.

They are, of course, considerably larger schools with many parents of considerably greater means than ours.  Nonetheless, at present we have about 350 Old Dragons serving, of whom 39 have lost their lives and it is right that we now give consideration to this question.

Fluff Taylor’s letter is very timely.

 

A War Memorial

BEF, France.

March 14th 1917.

To the Editor of the Draconian,

11 Charlbury Road, Oxford.

Dear Sir,

I would like to suggest that the time has now arrived for the consideration of a memorial to the gallant Dragons who have given and who may be called upon to give their lives for their country in this great war.

The School is without a Chapel, and I can think of no more appropriate permanent memorial than a Chapel, which will be a lasting tribute to those who have died and a continual reminder of their heroic deaths to those who come after.

I will give £50 to start the fund for the building of the Chapel, and I am sure Old Boys and Parents will subscribe if the proposition is placed before them.

Yours,

Stuart C Taylor (OD), KOYLI (Lieut.-Col., 15th West Yorks R.)

 

We shall be glad to receive any correspondence on the matter.

 

March 17th 1917

Having read in the newspapers over the past few days of the Germans’ “strategic retreat,” from the battlefields of the Somme, we are most fortunate to have another letter from 2nd Lieut. Humphrey Arden (RGA) and discover he was there to witness the event. His description of the land that is now in the hands of the Allies is, I am sure you find, of considerable interest.

14/3/17 “So it has happened at last! What a hopeless wish it seemed a year ago that in twelve months the Hun would be deliberately retreating, and that after shooting on a point one day at a range of 8000 or 9000 yards, we could go on the morrow and examine the very spot, and see the craters made by our own shells…

The newly captured ground resembles, more than anything I’ve seen, imaginative pictures by artists entitled ‘The Battlefield’ or ‘After the Fight.’

Dead men, dead horses, shattered gun emplacements, broken limbers and wagons, rifles, bombs, equipment, and all the ghastly filth of carnage. How the Hun has stood the hammering so long is a marvel. He says he goes willingly and I don’t doubt it.

There is a valley leading down to a famous ravine, which is enough to make one sick, if one hadn’t become hardened gradually to such things. In one spot evidently our guns caught a Boche battery taking in ammunition. The teams and their drivers had been blown to pieces, the wagons are pitiable wrecks, and the whole place stinks of death. It is gratifying and interesting to see shrapnel heads of your own calibre right in the middle of a gun emplacement at which you had been firing a few days before.”

The retreat took all by surprise and Humphrey’s account describes how the Hun took advantage of the weather conditions to put it into effect.

“During days of thick fog when all observation was impossible, he took the advantage of a couple of days of frost to get his guns away and destroy most – though not all – of his dug-outs, and retire behind the next line of barbed-wire with machine-guns to hold us up. Our infantry followed close on his heels as far as they could, and pounced on some patrols that came out to see if we were following.

But for the moment, of course, a halt had to be called to save useless sacrifice. Barbed wire cannot be dealt with except by guns, and guns cannot move up without roads, and roads there were none.

Oh yes, they are marked on the map all right, but it would puzzle you to pick out any but the two principal ones from the desert of shell holes; and even the principal roads are swimming in mud, pitted with craters, and at vital points ruined and blown up by the Hun.

Advance is a wonderful feat in this place. Light railways follow up to within a quarter of a mile of the infantry in two days… and armies of men set to work making new roads and repairing the faintest traces of old ones.

Soon our guns were ready to deal with the next line of barbed-wire, and having shattered it to bits and cleaned up the enemy garrison, the same thing occurred again. This time the Hun did not wait for the attack but bolted as soon as our shower of shells showed him it was imminent.

And so, I suppose, it will go on till the vaunted concrete line or ‘Hindenburg Stellung’ is reached.”

March 11th 1917

Lord Devonport (the Food Controller) has asked that we observe restraint (Daily Telegraph, Feb 3rd, p.9and suggests we limit our consumption to 4 lbs of bread, 2½ lbs of meat and ¾ lb sugar per person per week.

This subject of War Rations – albeit voluntary – at Schools, has elicited considerable correspondence, starting with my letter of February 17th to the Editor of the Times:

Sir,

I have a household of 103, including 70 boys under 14. I find we use on an average over 5lb. bread per head per week (including flour for pastry, etc), nearly 3lb. meat, including bacon and sausages and fish, and ¾ lb sugar, including cookery, but not jam and marmalade. A reduction in bread and meat would affect the boys much more than the grown-ups.

We tried giving rations of bread for a day – 4 oz. for breakfast and dinner, 4 oz. for tea and supper, the remaining 8 oz. per week per head going as flour for pastry etc. The majority of the boys had not enough. Now to put these boys on rations would mean pecuniary profit to myself and detriment to the children whose parents pay me for feeding them.

It appears to me to be neither patriotic nor honest to adopt rations under these circumstances. I hear that it is done, however, at houses in various public schools.

An authoritative reply in your columns would be useful.

Yours etc.,

CC Lynam

This brought some indignant remonstrances and was taken as intimating that the introduction of Rations implied underfeeding at schools.

I found that instead of saving themselves expense, the housemasters provided substitutes considerably more expensive than the food which was rationed (eg malt cakes, oatmeal and wheaten biscuits, maize scones, an increased amount of fish, eggs and cheese etc.)

But what was a really satisfactory outcome was the fact that the Food Controller has declared that in the case of growing boys and girls, the Ration order is not expected to be strictly complied with.

In meat I find that we are within the mark, but I cannot bring myself to believe that a restricted bread supply is good for young people; or that substitutes altogether supply the same nutriment.

As regards sugar, at the Boarding House a rather curious thing happened. One week, following the example recommended by an old boy, each boy and grown-up had a cardboard box containing 10 oz. of sugar for the week – it being considered that 2 oz. per week per head should be used in cooking.

By the end of the week most boys had a good deal left. Some had not touched their rations; they proposed to take or send it home, or to have a good toffee-making session. My Lady housekeeper, seeing the boxes were not empty, thought the boys had been practising economy, and merely filled up each box to 10 oz.

In the morning there were cries of dismay! The boys naturally thought that the amount saved was their own property; and I could but declare that ‘a ration’s a ration’ and that it is the property of the rationee. So each boy had to estimate the amount of sugar left in his box and it was weighed out to him.

At the end of term I dare say I will end up buying back off the boys quite a lot of sugar. Well, either they had previously had had too much or else now they are having too little!

March 6th 1917

We have a mumps epidemic and thus have been obliged to have our Sunday services at School. We have therefore had Old Boys on leave preaching – or rather talking (the word preaching, except in the case of a minister of religion, has an annoying meaning).

This week Lieut.-Col Stuart Taylor (West Yorks), ‘Fluff,’ gave the boys a capital talk:

Stuart Taylor 2“You see, in the Parks, the Drill Sergeant drilling the soldiers. Perhaps you wonder why it is necessary to be so particular that the soldiers should turn their heads and eyes to the right on the words ‘eyes right,’ why they should spring smartly to attention at the word of command, or why they must stand absolutely still and steady in the ranks. Why is it?

Why shouldn’t 1,000,000 men each be given a rifle, taught how to fire it, and be sent out to kill Germans? Simply because they will have, in the course of their work, to face unusual situations, sudden dangers, where steadiness, coolness and level-headedness are necessary.

You cannot trust a man or boy’s instinct to prompt him to do the right thing. It will make him do the natural thing. The natural thing is to avoid danger, to run away from it. Instinct will prompt this. But habit, which is the child of discipline, will make a man or boy face the danger and act rightly in an emergency…

The soldier is taught to keep his buttons bright, his hair brushed and short, his clothes clean and smart, not because these things in themselves are of great importance, but because they all tend to make him punctual, clean, smart, cheerful and tidy in mind and body throughout his life.

A smart, well turned out, well-disciplined regiment always fights much better than a dirty, ill-disciplined one. There is no doubt whatever about that…

If a bomb dropped in the street and damaged some people, the natural inclination of a man or boy is to avoid the danger and ugliness of pain and suffering, but the habit of your training, to command yourself and your natural instinct, will teach you to go and succour those who are injured and prevent others coming into danger…

And the outward and visible sign of your habit, of your discipline, is the Dragon which you wear on your cap…

That Dragon represents to you and to all who know you and your famous badge, the desire and determination to live a helpful, kind, courageous and unselfish life; to be true not only to others, but to yourself’. There is nothing so sad as the man or boy who succeeds in deceiving himself. It is far worse than deceiving others, because before successfully deceiving one’s own self, all self-respect must have disappeared.

That Dragon of yours stands to you and me as a symbol of courage, truth, unselfishness and kindliness.

I have met men who wore that badge in all parts of the world, in the North West Frontier of India, Mauritius, South and West Africa, Malta, Crete, Egypt and during the present war, in France; and everyone who knows it, loves it and respects it.”

 

February 28th 1917

Rev. Robin Laffan, who was elected a Fellow and Chaplain of Queen’s College Cambridge in 1912, has been appointed as padre to the Mechanical Transport Companies, who are supplying the Serbs in the mountains of Western Macedonia, from where he writes:

laffan-29/2/17 “A short time ago there arrived a most fascinating number of the ‘Draconian’ (which, I may say, moved everyone’s admiration out here, when I said it was the magazine of a Preparatory School). So I felt that, although I hate letter-writing, it is my part to send a letter for the ‘Draconian,’ if it be thought worthy…

The language difficulty is a nuisance. It prevents our knowing the Serbs as we would like and occasionally gives rise to disasters.

For instance, a doctor in one of our hospitals for Serbs, thinking that he was beginning to get on well with the language, went round his ward asking each patient ‘Imate li jenu?’ (which means, though he was after something quite different: ‘Have you a wife?’) Those who replied ‘yes’ were left in peace. When any patient replied ‘no,’ the doctor told the nurse to give him a dose of castor oil.

The next day all the patients asserted they were married. As they did so again the third day, the doctor asked a further question. ‘Koliko imate jene?’ (How many wives have you?) At this they thought he was being insulting and an unpleasant situation was only saved by calling in an interpreter, who explained that the ‘gospodin doktor’ was really inquiring after bowel movements, not families.”