February 23rd 1917

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Capt. Nevile West (Royal Berkshire Regiment)

Another Old Dragon has joined our Roll of Honour. Nevile West has been killed. He had already had one lucky excape. You may recall that he sent us an account of his experiences in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915.  He described how his camera was hit by a bullet that would otherwise have killed him.

Nevile’s bravery was recognised in the award of the MC ‘for conspicuous bravery‘ when he was twice wounded in an attack not long after the above incident.

It is understood that Nevile met his death on the night of January 16th when, in preparation for an attack, he and his company moved into position, where they experienced severe shelling. This bombardment claimed the lives of Nevile and one of his men, whilst five others were wounded.

Letters from fellow officers are always appreciated by family and friends alike, and it is inspiring to hear when one of our Old Boys is given such respect as Nevile was:

“His disposition was always bright and cheery, in fact he was the life of the mess, a good musician and a very fair artist, and up to the time of his death appeared to have led an almost charmed life, for he knew no fear or hesitation where duty called him and his one thought was the comfort and safety of his men.”

Nevile was somewhat reserved and diffident as a boy, as I recall, but had plenty of energy and ‘go’ and was much beloved by all who knew him at all intimately.

February 20th 1917

Lieut. Jack Slessor (RFC) makes light of crash he had with his aeroplane. It would seem to me that he had good reason to be “off games” for a bit, but the authorities clearly thought otherwise!

Jack Slessor...“I have just been mixed up in a difference of opinion between an aeroplane, a telegraph pole, and a ditch, so just at present I am convinced that flying is an over-rated pastime. My engine played me foul getting out of a field, and the machine, as the papers say, was seen to descend steeply, with the result that the telegraphic communication between two towns was seriously impaired and one telegraph pole and a formerly perfectly good machine badly bent.

Now I must depart to make supplication to my commanding officer for 48 hours leave, to rest my shattered nerves and throbbing brain.”

There is a postscript to his letter. It reads:

“P.S. Just returned from the aforesaid interview with the C.O. Nothing doing. He says it has been tried before.”

February 12th 1917

Capt. Rupert Lee (Worcesters) was a most welcome visitor and the boys much enjoyed the exhibition of conjuring he gave. He had learnt his tricks from a native in India.

Rupert gave us some excellent photographs, looted from the German Consulate (!) and has written an article for the next edition of our magazine on his time in Mesopotamia, of which this is a part:

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The Minaret at Busra

“An extraordinary affair occurred in our Mess in Busra just before I left; we all had native servants and it was customary to put the most reliable in charge of the whole; this man incurred the lasting hatred of one of the other servants (of another religion) through accusing him of the theft of a tin of stewed fruit.

So one day, when the butler went out to the town to see some of his friends, this other man came to me and asked to be allowed out. On my giving him permission, he proceeded to steal a bottle of whisky: and fortified by it, took one of our revolvers and sallied forth intent on the slaughter of his enemy.

He explained to me afterwards that a natural delicacy forbade him carrying out this business in our quarters, where he could have met him any day.

We captured him after all his ammunition (about 20 rounds) was expended and he was locked up. His subsequent examination was really very amusing, if one could forget the tragic side; he explained the whole thing in detail, regretting that these men were killed, but of course that was their fault for getting in the way.

What he was really most sorry about was that he failed to kill the butler and made a petition that he might be allowed to do so before being hanged.

I tried to get a plea of insanity brought forward, but the man himself would not hear of it and from his behaviour after the event it would never have gone through.

Things like this brought before us very vividly the fact that we were living on the edge of a precipice.”

 

February 3rd 1917

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Our attempts to keep the field clear for the boys to pay hockey have failed, but this cold spell of weather provides other opportunities too good to be missed!  Mr Haynes has found about 30 pairs of serviceable skates (rather primeval – but they will do).

We are taking some time off from our lessons to make the best of it whilst the conditions last. I have arranged with the University Skating Club that we use Long Meadow (by the Cherwell opposite Christ Church meadow).

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As you can see, the boys were a bit tentative to start off, but they soon got the hang of it. You don’t get anywhere without falling over a few times.

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The spills are all part of the fun!

 

 

 

January 28th 1917

The 2/4th Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry were deployed to France towards the end of May last year and with it a number of Old Dragons.

2nd Lieut. Walter Moberly was an early casualty, wounded on a reconnaissance up to the German wire (in daylight). Only with great difficulty was he able to make it back to our lines.

Capt. Douglas Rose, who returned home wounded in July, kindly wrote to us shortly afterwards with a full description of how he was hit. Happily his brother, Capt Geoffrey Rose is still going strong.

We are delighted to hear from Lieut. Sholto Marcon, who performed on some pretty muddy hockey pitches in his time (Oxford XI 1910-13 and English International), but nothing compared to what he is currently experiencing:

marcon-csw16.1.17. “For the last two months we have been in mudland and about that spot north and south of which you can see in the daily paper, there is generally shelling going on…

Dec. 25th found us in (the trenches) less than a week. No fraternising of course took place, though a Hun, bored to distraction with the war in general, came to see us at HQ that day. A fine fellow, and, considering all things, most astoundingly clean!

One experience I suffered: I had to be dug out of the mud one night, and not till one has suffered this experience can one realise that it is possible for people to get drowned in the mud. We had gone out to lay a line, and about 20 yards from HQ I stepped into a mud patch, and there I had to stay till a duckboard and a spade were brought, and my leg was dug up, as you would dig up a plant.

The men stick the mud and weather conditions generally in splendid style, and are real bricks in all they do.

They had their Christmas Dinner on Jan. 4th, as they were well ‘back’ by then and with the help of the eatables kindly sent out by a Committee in Oxford, and supplemented by purchases from Canteens out here, everything was ‘tra bon.’

In the evening the Sergeants had a dinner on their own and seemed very cheery when we looked in half way through the proceedings.”

 

 

January 25th 1917

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Midsummer Night’s Dream

As is our custom, the term started last week with our annual Shakespeare play. We gave four performances of Midsummer Night’s Dream. The first was to an audience of teachers, boys and girls, from some of the Oxford Elementary Schools – an audience of about 350. Letters subsequently received showed that it was greatly appreciated and that Puck was specially popular.

The second performance was enjoyed by about 120 wounded soldiers, who were afterwards entertained to tea. On Saturday there were the usual afternoon and evening performances for parents and friends.

“It was indeed a welcome boon that the Dragons gave us this year,” wrote one of our reviewers, “to transport us for three hours’ space away from the sorrows and difficulties of this unintelligible war to the flowers and forest glades of Shakespeare’s Warwickshire…

While we were waiting for the play to begin, it was sad to notice the absence of ODs among the audience, and sadder still to reflect how many of them had consummated the great sacrifice for their country. Indeed Dragons, if any, will fully understand the meaning of the line –

‘We must be free or die, who speak the tongue
That Shakespeare spake.’

Many of the ODs now in the trenches were doubtless present with us in spirit that night and not only the writer of the noble prologue, which touched eloquently on the thought we all were feeling…”

The writer of “noble prologue” was Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA), whilst in a dug-out in France, and his words were delivered by Oberon:

Prologue
Think it not strange that at this hour, in a world of waste and wrath,
I come to lead your thoughts away by a wandering woodland path,
Far from the scarred terrain of war and the perilous haunted seas,
To the moonlight on the forest and the glimmer between the trees –
To light your steps in the murk and gloom by fancy’s fitful gleam,
From the dark, substantial winter day to a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Not strange – they would not think it, our brother Dragons who stand
In the line in France or Flanders, on the deck or the desert sand.
They would not grudge our revels, or wonder that today
We come to enact before you the loveliest English play.
For all the cause they fight for, the things they hold most dear,
England, and Home, and Beauty – will you not find them here?

Hugh’s brother, Frank Sidgwick, also contributed a review to the ‘Draconian.’

“I needn’t tell ODs that everybody was word perfect. I think Theseus twice said: ‘For aye to be in a shady cloister mewed,’ and Lysander gobbed a difficult line in the afternoon, but got it right at night; the accents on ‘persever,’ ‘revenue,’ ‘edict,’ etc., were correctly given; and I think I heard ‘prehaps’ instead of ‘perhaps’ once or twice…”

One or two other faults were also noticed:

“Some of the actors were too fond of nodding and smiling at their friends in the audience. One of the characters, supposed to be lying asleep, actually clapped his hands in applause of a song by Puck!”

Ah well, we do not pretend to be prefect.

 

 

January 20th 1917

Today’s Daily Telegraph, I note, records on their Roll of Honour, the death of 2nd Lieut. Wallace Hardman, alongside five others from the Manchester Regiment. From articles over the past week it has become clear that he was killed in the engagement that took place on January 9th at Mahammed Abdul Hassan, north of Kut.

The Hardman and Mallalieu cousins are bearing up well in the face of the news, as we settle into a new term – the eighth of the war thus far.

Young Percival Mallalieu (aged 8 and in Form 1a), remembers being with his Aunt Minnie (Wallace’s mother) last autumn on a walk that took them past her local Post Office, when someone came out with a telegram. She must have feared the worst, but as it transpired it was only to give her the news that Laurie (her third son) had arrived safely back at Bedford School.

“Auntie Minnie held the message so that we could see it; but her hand was shaking so much that we could not read it.” Percival recalled.

The telegram she so feared at that moment was the one she received a week ago, on January 13th:

hardman-telegram

 

I am very grateful to the Hardman family for this most charming picture of their grandmother with ten of her grandchildren, taken in 1902. Three of them have now given their lives and four others are serving officers.

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The older boys in the back row are David Westcott Brown (killed), Maurice Campbell (Lieut., RAMC) and Percy Campbell (killed).

The middle row shows Pat Campbell (2nd Lieut., RFA) Hugh Brown (Capt., Bedfordshires and recently wounded) and Geoffrey Brown.

With their grandmother in the front row are Donald Hardman (Artists Rifles for RFC) and Wallace Hardman (killed).

How can anyone look at such a picture without shedding a tear?