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.”

November 6th 1916

Although France is currently the centre of attention in this war, the North-West Frontier continues to require policing, in order to thwart German efforts to threaten British power in India.

north-west-frontier

Lieut. Jack Smyth VC (15th Sikhs), who wrote to us in June about the signalling course he was sent on, has written to say that he is back on active service there:

Jack Smyth28/10/16 “Here we are on the frontier, once more on active service and I am writing this in the Mess tent, well dug down below ground to escape stray bullets…

I arrived at Peshawar to find the regiment had marched out the day before and orders awaiting me to command the Depot.

A newly joined subaltern came up and reported that he had been left as Adjutant and handed over piles of correspondence, which we had to get down to at once…

We had two or three very strenuous days with the usual notes from everyone who had gone out with the regiment asking for various things they had left behind. This sort of thing:

‘Please get the keys of my bungalow from my gardener and on the bunch you will find a brass key, which opens the third drawer of my writing table. At the back of the drawer you will find my despatch case and in it my cheque book. Please send this out by the milk lorry tomorrow. Awfully sorry to bother you, as I know how busy you must be,’  but this is part of the Depot commander’s job…

Three days ago I was relieved and sent out to join the regiment. The Mohmands with whom we are fighting, or supposed to be fighting, have so far left us severely alone, but come down at night and snipe and hurl abuse at us…

We can’t attack them because they would only retire to their hills and we should need a large force and a long line of communication to follow them, and they won’t attack us because they think barbed wire and mountain guns an unfair advantage.”

Before this, Jack had been on leave in Kashmir, where he reports that he met up with fellow Old Dragon, 2nd Lieut. Edward Sheepshanks (Indian Army) at a dinner party,

“…and thereupon had an OD dinner on our own and drank to the Skipper and the OPS, which astonished the rest of the party…”

Knowing how lively an affair an OD dinner can be, I am not surprised they were astonished!

(At least there were no Wykehamists present to sing a joyous chorus in praise of the present subjunctive – and they did not have to suffer my recitation of the Banjo Song!)

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Roderick HaighToday is the second anniversary of the death of Lieut. Roderick Haigh (Queen’s Royal West Surreys). Thanks to his bequest, which paid for our shooting range, the boys will be competing for the Roderick Haigh Cup at the end of this term.

He was a noble man, who saw it as a privilege to die for his country.

March 9th 1916

Whilst Lt. Col. Fluff Taylor is busy defending the Suez Canal from our enemies on the ground, Lieut. Jack Slessor (RFC) is doing the same from the air. He is with C Flight, 17th Squadron Base, MEF, in Egypt.

Jack Slessor...

Lieut. Jack Slessor

“… We have been having a most exciting time of it since we arrived here (Suez)…

The enclosed is a sort of picture of an incident that happened to me when I was on a patrol job in the desert, with an observer.

We came upon quite a large reconnoitring patrol of the enemy’s cavalry, come down from the hills to have a look round. We had a machine gun with us and promptly came down to four or five hundred feet to make sure of them. They behaved in the most idiotic manner and seemed to lose their heads, for instead of scattering they most of them dismounted and gathered in a bunch, offering an ideal target; so we circled round and attacked them with the machine gun from about 4-500 feet.

It really was the funniest thing to watch, for as soon as I opened fire the horses took fright and bolted full speed to the mountains, leaving those who had dismounted running about in the sand and the whole scene was the most perfect chaos.

I evidently got in some lucky shots, as one or two fellows, who lay still, testified…”

Slessor attacks

J.C. Slessor v. the Turks

Incidentally, Jack is claiming to have been the first pilot ever to intercept an enemy aircraft over England, when he came up against a German Zeppelin on October 13th last year.

November 25th 1915

The first successful flight over the English Channel by Louis Bleriot took place in 1909, whilst Jack Slessor was busy playing in his gang and building forts at the OPS. He probably was aware of the event but not particularly excited by it or the founding of the Royal Flying Corps three years later. His father was in the Army and that was where his ambition lay. But surely, we all felt,  there could be no real hope of such a career for him. He was lame in both legs due to childhood polio. As a result, he was not allowed to play rugger. (As Jack Haldane’s sister Naomi was also not allowed to play, they would go rowing together on the Cherwell.)

Despite his infirmities and having been declared ‘totally unfit for any form of military service,’ Jack has been accepted by the Royal Flying Corps. A helpful uncle in the War Office is rumoured…

Jack has now won the race to become the first Old Dragon to fly across the Channel. He flew in a new biplane over the School field one day during games on his way from Coventry to Farnborough, flew across the Channel to St. Omer the next day and was back again with us watching games before we realised he had time to get started!

Here is a part of his account:

Jack Slessor...

2nd Lt. Jack Slessor

“We left Farnborough at 10.15 and got to Folkestone at 11.25. We went and had lunch… We pushed off from Folkestone a little after 3.00 and got to St. Omer a little after 4.00, taking about two and a half hours altogether…

I crossed the Channel at 9,000 feet, but there were great white clouds drifting at about 6,000 feet and a heat haze, so I did not see France till about mid-Channel… Cape Gris-nez was the first thing I saw and I followed the coast down to Calais and then up the railway inland to St. Omer. I could see the famous Belgian sand dunes and Hazebruck, and Ypres a blur in the distance.”

The noise of the aircraft was such that, on landing, Jack was almost stone deaf and unable to hear the noise of the guns.

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My brother (Hum Lynam) has been responsible for a concert held on November 15th in Keble College Dining Room in aid of the Professional Classes’ War Relief Fund & the Fund for Oxfordshire Prisoners of War in Germany.

The varied programme featured a number of people connected with the OPS. Miss Rosina Filippi is the mother of two of Old Dragons (John & Lawrence Dowson) and Miss Carmen Hill is married to George Drinkwater. Miss Hill sang in one of the Promenade Concerts of 1910 under Henry Wood with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra.