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.

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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.

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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.

November 12th 1916

It is always a pleasure to welcome back our old boys and this week we were delighted to receive a visit from Lieut. Henry Tyndale (KRRC). He was on excellent form, although still lame from the wound he received last year in Flanders.

Harry has given us an account of how this came about for publication in this term’s ‘Draconian.’

tyndale“Away to our right, on high ground rising in the middle of a large wood, was a strong German redoubt, apparently untouched by our guns. From this redoubt machine-guns were keeping the edge of the wood under fire so that those parties who emerged soon lost their leaders and many of their men. My own men were held up by those in front, who could not move, and while finding out the exact situation, I was hit.  

Very fortunately I fell down into a shallow shell-crater. One of my men, who was beside me, straightened out my broken leg and bound up my wound, placing the broken part in a rough splint by tying it against a spade-handle. Once this was done I had very little pain, provided that I kept quite still,  and when the attempted counter-attack was over and the men had reformed in the original support trench, I was alone with one other wounded man.

As we were so near the open ground and probably under view of the enemy, I knew that there would be no prospect of a stretcher until dusk. I sent back a reassuring message to my Company Commander, who would know where I was lying. The afternoon was beautifully warm and I could watch the sun gradually getting lower in the heavens. There was little firing.

Towards dusk a party of volunteer stretcher-bearers came across me, but they had no means for carrying me in. I waited a long time for their return with the necessary stretcher, but night fell and flares went up along the line and I began to wonder whether they had forgotten me.

An hour after sunset I heard men moving in the undergrowth near me. It was with considerable difficulty that I could guide them to my shell-hole, so thick was the wood. They had no stretcher, but someone produced an overcoat, and with rifles run up the sleeves, this provided a fair stretcher. With difficulty they got me under way, but soon I was behind a small barrier of sandbags on a track through the wood, and a wide floor board proved an excellent substitute for a stretcher.

At the dressing station I met my Company Commander, who had been searching for me in vain and was greatly relieved to see me in safe hands; before dawn I was under chloroform, having my leg set, and in the early sunlight the ambulance took me to the train.”

Harry is a Winchester man through and through. Having won a scholarship there in 1900 and subsequently another one to New College (where he got a First in Classical Moderations and Literae Humaniores) he returned to teach at Winchester.

Being unfit for active service, Harry is now working in the Intelligence Department at the War Office.

October 11th 1916

AG Clarke

Lieut. Geoff Clarke (Rifle Brigade) was killed on the first day of the battle on the Somme. Further to what we were able to post at the time, a Sergeant P. Blunt has most kindly written to the family with further details:

28/9/16 “Well, as you know, on July 1st our Battalion was told off to attack a certain  part of the German line.

Lieut. Clarke, who was then our Battalion Bombing Officer, had rather a tough job and it was while going over towards the 3rd German line that I came across him. He was then slightly wounded, but refused all assistance and would insist on keeping going. He was again wounded, rather badly this time, but still refused all help and insisted on us to get along.

That was the last I ever saw of him; he was then lying in a trench hole. During the fighting and excitement that followed, I lost touch with him, but was told by a man who has since been killed that he saw a shell pitch into the hole that Lieut. Clarke lay in and he saw a body blown into the air.

When we returned from the third line, I went and looked for him, but could not see him anywhere…”

This is most painful reading for all those of us who knew him so well.

 

September 14th 1916

Yesterday Oxford was honoured by a visit from His Majesty the King.

Having driven up from Windsor, the King proceeded to the Parks where he inspected a battalion of Cadets.  Captain Jack Haldane (Black Watch) also got in on the act, as he was at the time giving bombing instruction there. (Such is his fascination with bombs that in certain military circles he is known as ‘Bombo.’)

After departing the Parks, the King went on to the High St. to visit the 3rd Southern General Hospital and the RFC School of Instruction.

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With Port Meadow becoming a military aerodrome for the training of pilots, maybe we can look forward to seeing some more of our Old Dragon aviators in the future.

Lieut. Geoff Buck (London Regiment and now RFC), who wired us back in July to say that he had returned home to train as a RFC pilot, has been keeping a record of his training (at Retford):

Buck, Geoff2/8/16. “We fly from 5-8 a.m., work in workshops and fly if possible 9.00 a.m – 12.30 p.m., and fly from 5.00 p.m. to dark. They give us three to four hours’ dual, and then we do about eight hours’ solo (including one cross-country). , and then (i.e after about a month, it depends on weather and machine) we go off to another station for higher instruction. Personally I have only had one flight of 35 minutes in a B.E. – but all in good time. Altogether it’s topping fun, but there is a lot of waiting about.”

5/8/16. “This is absolutely the life. I have done one hour’s dual control and can fly the bus by myself, but have never been up alone yet; they won’t send us up alone till we have done three hours dual. I simply love it! Better than skating, rugger, or even ski-ing. I want to be in the air the whole day long, but of course we have to do a lot of technical work too. Engines, motors, signalling, construction, theory, photography – and all is most interesting.”

16/8/16. “I did my first solo tonight in rather bad weather, made a perfect landing, and went to 700 ft. It was too perfect for words.”

On August 23rd Geoff moved to Narborough for further instruction.

23/8/16. I took my ticket thumbs up on the 19th. I flew to Norwich on Sunday, stopped the night, and flew back on Monday. Two machines crashed under me as I was starting to land (it was awfully windy and bumpy), and one pilot was killed, but I landed perfectly. Some game.”

We look forward to hearing more of Geoff’s exploits.

August 13th 1916

Edmund GayCaptain Edmund Gay (Norfolk Regiment) was declared missing a year ago.

The Daily Telegraph reported about ten days ago that our Government understands that there are only nineteen officers and 359 other ranks known still to be in Turkish hands as Prisoners of War.

With regards the 290 officers (amongst whom Edmund is numbered) and 9,700 other ranks still missing, they feel that there are no longer any grounds for hoping they might be prisoners,

“and therefore it was consequently decided that the missing officers and men not accounted for must be officially accepted as dead. Effect is being given to this decision after due consideration of the circumstances of each individual case.”

There has still been no official confirmation of his death given to the family however, and until such time we will continue to list him as “missing.”

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Benham, FrankCaptain Frank Benham (RFA) was wounded by a German shell hitting his dug-out on August 5th. At the time he was in charge of a battery at Mametz Wood on the Somme.

On August 8th he was strong enough to be able to write to inform his wife of his situation and the matron on his ward has also written to say she hopes he will be strong enough to return to England shortly.

 

July 18th 1916

 

Lt Robert Gibson

Lieut. Robert Gibson (South Staffs Regiment attached to 2nd Bedfords)

The letter dear Robert wrote to us at the end of June warned us that the ‘Big Push’ was imminent and that he was going to be part of it.

It was clear from all he wrote that he understood that, not withstanding all the planning and practising for the ‘Push,’  much of what happens in battle is a matter of chance:

“It lies in the lap of the gods.”

He has become the fourth Old Boy to have been killed in the last two weeks.

Lieut. Col. HS Poyntz, the commanding officer of the Bedfordshires, has kindly written to the family with his condolences and to give an account of the attack in which Robert was killed:

“On July 11th at 3.27 a.m. we were ordered to attack Trones Wood where very heavy fighting has been going on. It had been taken by us and re-taken by the Germans, so we were ordered to re-take it again.”

A fellow officer, 2nd Lieut. Primrose-Wells, was close by when Robert and his platoon attacked a position that, as the gods would have it, had not been destroyed by our bombardment:

“We estimate that there were 300 Huns in the wood when we attacked. Your son was on my left and he and his platoon were to enter the wood a little way up on the west side. The Germans had a trench all down the west side of the wood, which we did not know about and just where your son wanted to enter was one of their strong points.

He and his platoon opened fire and he fired several shots himself with his revolver, but the Huns had the advantage from the trenches, besides being excellent shots. Your son was shot and died instantaneously, not making a sound.

I had to advance over the same ground and tried twice to get his body in, but lost men both times, so we left it until we could finally get the whole wood. We were relieved after 48 hours of very hard fighting – hand-to-hand – and very nerve-wracking.

Two days after, when the wood was finally taken by the British, I asked the Colonel if I might go up again and get your son’s body and bury it, but he refused to let me go and our Chaplain with four volunteers went up and found the body and buried him in Maricourt Cemetery.” 

 

Robert had a very successful school career, winning scholarships to Winchester and New College Oxford. A teacher who knew him at Winchester said that, during an experience lasting over twenty years, he had never come into contact with a mind so naturally gifted for classical scholarship as Robert Gibson’s.

The following tribute has been written by a great friend of his, both at the OPS and afterwards at Winchester.

“… When he came to Oxford, he looked round for some kind of service into which he might throw himself, and so discover something about a stratum of society widely separated from that which he knew. This he found in the boys’ club which had lately been started by New College in St. Ebbe’s; and if he was anything like as successful in winning the confidence of his men as he was with these boys, he must have been one of the most popular officers that ever entered the army.”

His Headmaster at Winchester has written a capital letter to Robert’s father:

“Your one consolation will be that he takes a very white soul to the other world, that he lived a keen, joyous, wholesome, and honourable life, very free from any sort of stain.” 

No tribute could be higher, and it comes from one who loved him, and knew him through and through.

 

 

July 11th 1916

AG Clarke

2nd Lieut. Geoffrey Clarke (Rifle Brigade)

It is with particular sadness that I have to give you the news of the death of Geoff Clarke. His brother, Capt. “Bim” Clarke (10th Gurkhas) received the telegram on July 7th and the notice of Geoff’s death is in the Times this morning.

Geoff, who was first thought to have been killed on July 2nd, was in fact a casualty of the initial attacks on July 1st. The Redan Ridge, north of Beaumont Hamel, was the objective of the 4th Division, which included Geoff Clarke’s Rifle Brigade. Although it must have been hoped that the bombardment of which we have read in the newspapers had obliterated the German defences, this does not appear to have been the case in this instance. When their time came to advance, The Rifle Brigade was repulsed with heavy losses.

Geoff was one of the few to reach the second line of German trenches, though twice wounded on the way. A fellow officer has kindly written to the family to explain the circumstances of his death:

“He led his bombers well on to his objective under a heavy fire before he fell, wounded, into a shell hole. One of our bombers dressed his wounds and Geoffrey continued to throw bombs into the enemy trench till he was killed by a Boche bomb.”

Geoff was the son of my predecessor, Rev AE Clarke, the first headmaster of the OPS. Geoff was only aged 3 when his father died and I have known him all his life. He boarded at the OPS, in the house run by his mother. He won scholarships to Winchester and then New College, Oxford.

He spent five years as an assistant master at the Royal Naval College at Osborne and then two years in Bethnal Green, helping to found Boys’ Clubs and studying the social and economic conditions. ‘A Text Book of National Economy’ resulted, for use in schools.

In 1914 he had attempted to enlist, but was rejected on medical grounds. He therefore undertook a course of physical training, first for Home Service and shortly after for General Service in the Royal Fusiliers (Public School Brigade). He obtained promotion to non-commission rank, and later received a commission in the Special Reserve 5th Rifle Brigade.

The last time I saw Geoff was at Tonbridge in 1915. He ‘spotted’ me in the Ford, and we had a pleasant lunch together and a long talk about old times and about the war.