April 21st 1917

Lieut. John Pratt (Yorkshire Regiment)

Announced in The Times yesterday was the death, on April 11th at St. Martin sur Caquel, of Jack Pratt, the second Old Dragon to die in the battle at Arras.

His regiment was involved in an attack on the Hindenburg Line. The artillery having failed to destroy the barbed wire defences, John went ahead with a machine gun to find a gap in the wire entanglement through which he might take his Company.  He was picked off by a sniper.

His Commanding Officer has commended him for his gallantry and devotion to duty.

During his time at the OPS Jack was a promising athlete and a merry youngster around the school, with plenty of pluck and nerve. He distinguished himself at Blundell’s School, which he entered in 1908, by getting his cricket and rugger colours whilst still aged 15.

April 19th 1917

2nd Lieut. Rafe Griffith (Royal West Kents) only left us five years ago, in August 1912 (with an Exhibition to St. Bees College, where Harold and William Leefe Robinson also went).

We presume that this description is of the Battle of Arras, which has featured in our newspapers of late and opened up on the morning of April 9th:

14/4/17. “Here we are absolutely untouched. We ‘went over’ at 5.30 a.m., and of course it was raining. Never shall I forget ‘zero.’ There are two outstanding things, barrage and the company going over. Every gun massed at A______ went off together, as though worked by a spring, in one great crash.

The company went over as though starting a 100 yard race, never a man late. The whole way through I can’t say enough for the men. They were magnificent throughout, laughing and joking all the time. There aren’t any duds in the British Army; they are all as plucky as anything and full of the fighting spirit.

We took old Fritz by surprise, entirely; we were over his first lines before he had realised anything. Some of them were in bed with their boots off. I had two lucky escapes. Before we reached our front line, my haversack was shot away; we were finally held up by a strong party of Germans at the end of a communication trench. Three bombing raids were led against them, but their snipers were too hot for us. Then a bullet went through my steel helmet. We finally rushed them over the open and bagged the lot. We then went on to our objective and found Fritz had cleared off.

We stayed there that night and the next day had to go on to the furthest point our troops reached. It snowed hard all the time, and we were all soaked to the skin and a bitter wind was blowing.

On arriving at our destination, we found the Boche on three sides of us and had quite a nasty time from his shelling…

The line nowadays is a very funny place. Both sides sit in shell holes and little bits of trenches a few feet deep, with gaps here and there in the line, so when we take over a bit of the front, we don’t know whether we are hanging by a thread, so to speak, or strongly supported on the flanks. Fritz doesn’t give us much opportunity to find out either, as his snipers are always on the watch and it is more than one’s life is worth to show oneself…

The general feeling out here now is that the war may be over by the Autumn, but that we shall have to fight very hard.”

This is encouraging to hear.

April 16th 1917

clunet-jean

Dr. Jean Clunet

News has reached us that Jean succumbed to the typhus fever on April 3rd.

He joined the French Army as a surgeon at the beginning of the war and had many escapades, which we reported last April.

Following an eventful time in France and Gallipoli, Jean was part of the French military mission sent to Romania to provide assistance. There he was chief doctor of the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Bucharest.

In December, Jean set up a field hospital in the village of Bucium to care for typhus sufferers and this has not only cost him his life, but the lives of several of his staff.

Jean was one of the ten French Old Dragons serving with the French Army.

April 13th 1917

The Times and the Daily Telegraph have announced that our VC winner, Capt. William Leefe Robinson (RFC) is “missing.” Yesterday’s Telegraph added that “he was believed to have been killed.”

He is the second Old Dragon airman to have suffered this fate since the start of the month.  News has reached us that 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren (RFC) is also missing. He has been at the Front barely a month.

Peter was up at Magdalen in 1914 (where his uncle, Sir Herbert Warren, is President) and being only 17 yrs old was not then eligible for service, although he did join the University OTC.

He received his commission last July and trained as an Observer with 57 Squadron. He transferred to 34 Squadron in November to train as a pilot, graduating in early February. At the end of the month he was sent to the front to join 43 Squadron.

The Warrens have close connections with the OPS. Peter’s grandmother, Mrs Morrell, lives at Black Hall (No 21, St Giles) doors away from where the OPS started.

Peter’s uncle is Philip Morrell, who was a Dragon under Mr Clarke from 1878 until 1880, when the school consisted of a few rooms at No 26 St Giles. He now lives at Garsington Manor with his wife, Lady Ottoline, and is the Liberal MP for Burnley.

 

Both the Leefe Robinson and Warren families and friends will be enduring a period of great strain until further news is received about their loved ones. Certainly it is perfectly possible that, if they came down over enemy held territory, they are prisoners of war. We will live in hope that this is the case.

April 4th 1917

The holidays are here and we have every reason to be thankful, that during a term in which there has been a great deal of illness at many Preparatory or Public Schools, we have had nothing worse than an epidemic of mild mumps. Otherwise we have been delightfully free even from colds and coughs. Several boys have suffered from bad chilblains.

* * * * * * * *

We will remember this term particularly for the ice-skating. In the end, we had glorious skating for three weeks (Jan 27th – Feb 18th) on the University Skating Club flooded meadow. The authorities were good enough to admit us at half fees (3d a time) and, even so, got about £15 from the School!

Mr Haynes produced about 30 pairs of primeval skates that had been stowed away in the dim past, but before the skating was over many new ones had been purchased.

The morning was quite the best time to go and we took off one of the morning hours of work. Often the Caravan-Ambulance made three or four journeys with small boys and provisions for picnic lunch on the ice (once, when changing a wheel for a puncture, she went down gracefully on to her axle and was derelict for some hours).

ice-skating-6

Many boys learnt to skate quite well – Dennis Buck (who, given the opportunity, will rival his brother Geoffrey some day) and Fred Huggins could cut all forward threes and do outside edge backwards. This is G.C’s description of their performances – G.C (Mr Vassall) also gave them handsome skating prizes as rewards for their efforts.

* * * * * * * *

Miss Field’s collection of eggs for the wounded soldiers has been greatly appreciated at the hospitals. During this term 1,738 have been delivered, making a total of 3,531 since the start at Mr Fletcher’s instigation in October last.

 

Next term begins on Wednesday 2nd May.

 

Postscript. We have had word that Jack Haldane, who had recovered from his previous wound and gone out to Mesopotamia, to his intense chagrin, was wounded again the day before the fall of Kut. He was injured whilst trying to put out a fire in his camp, when a bomb exploded and wounded him in the leg.

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!