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.”

March 29th 1916

Lieut. Jack Haldane (Black Watch) has recovered from the wounds he suffered last May and since August has been training soldiers in the use of hand and rifle grenades. It is not surprising to learn that some of his methods have been, shall we say, unorthodox.

JBS Haldane“Among the things which we occasionally did as demonstrations was to catch lighted bombs and throw them back, or more accurately, sideways, out of the trench.

I had a one-eyed and rarely quite sober corporal who used to do this, but I sometimes did it myself. I admit that we used to lengthen the time fuse beforehand. Provided you are a good judge of time, it is no more dangerous than crossing the road among motor traffic, but it is more impressive to onlookers.

Some idiot asked questions about it in Parliament and got an army order issued forbidding the practice.”

* * * * * * *

In the next edition of the Draconian we will be publishing this poem, which Jack has kindly sent us for publication:

An Intense Bombardment.
The earth is burning; through her smoke there looms
The wreckage of the immemorial years;
The fruit of all that labour, all those tears
Now in an hour collapses and consumes.
Those monstrous masses of black oily fumes
Are so much vaster than the men, whose cheers
In this apocalyptic din none hears,
They seem like angels who fulfil God's dooms.
The breastwork there, that with its long brown wave
Threatened the cities that we die to save
Boils as a cauldron, its defenders hurled
To darkness and confusion and the grave,
And overhead great black clouds densely curled
Hide from the sea the anguish of the world.
                               "Safety-catch."

 Jack was nick-named “Safety-catch” by his men, as he was always saying “Remember your safety-catch” when with the Black Watch in the trenches last year.

 

March 18th 1916

Nigel Madan

Lieut. Nigel Madan (8th King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment)

We had heard that Nigel Madan was missing and we are distressed to see his death announced in today’s edition of The Times.

It is understood that Nigel’s regiment was involved in diversionary attacks around the Ypres Salient.  The Germans had captured strategically important high ground called the ‘Bluff’ last month and the aim was to re-take this to deny the Germans the opportunity to observe our lines.

The artillery bombardment began on 1st March and the attack went in early on the morning of 2nd March. It caught the Germans by surprise and was successful. Nigel Madam, however, was declared missing at the end of the day and today’s announcement confirms that he did indeed die in this attack.

Nigel’s father is Mr Falconer Madan, Bodley’s Librarian, and Nigel attended the OPS in 1897/98.

All who knew him mourn a gallant gentleman, who fell in the flower of his early manhood, fighting for his country and in defence of a cause of which no higher can be found.