May 24th 1917

Every day I open the morning newspaper to read on the ‘Roll of Honour’ of large numbers of officers killed and wounded, always in fear that I shall see the name of one of our Old Boys.

I am also confronted by a increasing number of those who are pronounced as ‘Missing’. This gives hope, but the families of these men are condemned to months of uncertainty as to whether their loved ones are dead, wounded or captured. In the case of the family of Capt. Edmund Gay (Norfolk Regiment) it has been nearly two years; he has been missing since August 1915.

Now two more of our Old Dragons have joined this list.

On May 20th, Mr Herbertson received a telegram stating that his grandson, Lieut. Hunter Herbertson (King’s Royal Rifle Corps) was reported as missing, but he understands that this does not necessarily mean that he is either wounded or killed.

On the night of May 16th he went out on a patrol with two others near Cherisy (at the southern end of the Arras battlefield). None of them returned. Enquiries will be made in the hope that he was captured and is a prisoner of war.

Hunter had done two years at Balliol (reading History) when war was declared. He joined up, but whilst training he suffered a double tragedy. His father (Oxford’s first Professor of Geography) died in July 1915, followed two weeks later by his mother. Both are buried in the Holywell Cemetery.

 

Mr  & Mrs Dowson have also been informed that their son, Captain John Dowson (Royal Berkshire Regiment) has been notified as “missing.”

Like Morice Thompson, he was involved in the attacks that took place on May 3rd in the Arras district, but as yet we have no further information as to the circumstances of his disappearance.

John has been a regular visitor to the school in recent times. When home on leave he was always about, ready to take a form or a game.

It is at times like this that you are glad to have a photograph that captures happier times and places to have in front of you. This is John, as the boys will remember him, and hopefully he will return to us in the fullness of time.

 

Better news was to be found on a list headed ‘Previously reported missing, now reported prisoners of war in German hands.’ Included on it was the name of 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren, whose fate has been unknown these past seven weeks.

His squadron was returning to their base on April 2nd when they were set upon by German squadron. It seems that Peter’s plane was singled one and forced to ditch behind enemy lines.

 

 

May 9th 1917

No-one went off to war with a heavier heart than our own Pug – Lieut. Lindsay Wallace (OBLI) – being a Dragon, man and boy.

Since he left our Staff he has managed a number of visits, much to the delight of the boys. Last term he talked to them on the subject “With the troops in training” and they were intrigued by his description of the workings of the Mills bomb.

Pug has now returned to active service and even if , dare I say it, the OPS is not always the tidiest of places, the contrast between home and the Front is a stark one.

28/4/17 “We started off yesterday from the base and were told we would take about two days to reach our division.

Three of us had a first-class compartment to ourselves. We managed to get some tea and cake before leaving the station and then started on our journey very slowly indeed at about 4 p.m.

I have never seen such a sight as the sides of the line, in some places they are layers deep in tins of all descriptions thrown out of the carriages. This doesn’t apply to one particular spot but all along the line: without exaggeration there must have been millions of tins.

Also all along the line were kids who kept shouting ‘bisceet,’ and they generally got one. In many places there were German prisoners, who got cigarettes thrown to them…

After quite a good meal, which was helped on very much by heating up a meat tin over my cooker, we all settled down to sleep and I was very glad to have quite a good night.

Then all of a sudden we were woken up, about 5.30, and all told to get out. We got up and packed our various belongings and turned out, and there we were, right in it: almost every house is blown to bits, some have the walls standing and a few have the roof left in places.

It was a bit of a shock getting out of the train into a sort of shattered world.”

 

I have picked out this picture to remind us all of happier times.

It was taken by our VC hero, Jack Smyth outside The Lodge a few years before the war, and shows three stalwarts of my Staff: my brother Hum (AE Lynam), Pug (WJL Wallace) and Cheese (GC Vassall).

It seems a long time ago and from a different world now.

 

April 28th 1917

The holidays are a time to enjoy some light reading and I am delighted to say that Sidgwick & Jackson have just published a collection of songs and poems from the previously published ‘Logs of the Blue Dragon.’ It is now on sale for the princely sum of one shilling!

Both Frank and Hugh Sidgwick have contributed to this volume and here, by way of example, is one of Hugh’s contributions:

Nimium ne Crede Experto                               

“This narrow strait,” (the Sailing Directions said)
   “Is full of rocks and difficult to enter;
Whirlpools are common here at every tide;
There are uncharted reefs on every side
   And currents (twenty knots) along the centre.”
“Come,” said the Skipper, “we will go in there.”
            (We went in there.)

“There is no sand” (the Sailing Directions said),
   “The anchorage is thoroughly unsafe.
There is no shelter from the frequent squalls,
Save on the west, among the overfalls.
   Boats should go on to Loch MacInchmaquaif.”
“Come,” said the Skipper, “We will anchor here.”
            (We anchored here.)

                                  Hugh Sidgwick

In my humble opinion, this rather overrates my nautical abilities!

Mr SPB Mais, who came to teach at the OPS for the Summer Term of 1909 (on the recommendation of his tutor at Christ Church, our own Charles Fisher), has written enthusiastically about our new book. He is now at Sherborne School and he describes the arrival of the book there through the post as giving rise to high excitement in the Mais household:

“I forgot my bath, my shaving water, even my breakfast. I was late for chapel and nearly turned my lecture on Range-Finding into a reading on Voyages of a five and a twelve ton yawl. I managed to restrain myself until the English hour for Army candidates. Then for three-quarters of an hour I gave myself up to delirious pleasure…

It is enough to say that no past or present Dragon will feel satisfied until he has learnt by heart all the cheerful, witty, honest poetry which is here presented all for his delight.”

 

 

 

 

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!

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.”

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