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 26th 1915

 

 WG Fletcher - full

2nd Lieut. WG Fletcher (Royal Welch Fusiliers)

A seventh Old Dragon has perished in this war. George Fletcher was hit in the head by a sniper’s bullet on March 20th as he looked over the parapet of his trench.

Robin Laffan, who knew George all through the OPS, Eton and Balliol has written a heart-felt appreciation of his and our dear friend.

“The war has taken its cruel toll from a family universally beloved by all who know them. In August last, the three sons of Mr. CRL Fletcher flew to arms as a matter of course. Today Leslie, on board HMS Colossus, is the only one still with us. In November the tale of Regie’s splendid death (see November 2nd); and now the blow is renewed with the tidings of George’s similar end.

His letters from the trenches abound in the fun which kept himself and his men cheery in the midst of their hardships. Knowing his enemies, he had an intense admiration and even affection for them. Like a true patriot, he delighted in the different culture of foreign nations. Six months at Tilly’s and six months as a schoolmaster in Schwerin gave George a considerable knowledge of Germany and the Germans. He used to relieve the tedium of the trenches with friendly sarcasm shouted at the opposite lines. ‘It ain’t ‘arf a joke being in Lieut. Fletcher’s trench,’ said his men, ‘E talks to the b*****s in their own b****y language.’

Of George’s courage it is superfluous to say much. Readers of The Times will have seen how an officer described him as ‘the bravest man I ever saw.’ He was mentioned in despatches on Feb 18th and he was again recommended for distinction after his reckless feat of crawling through the German lines and recovering from a tree a captured French flag. By such deeds of daring he restored the jaded spirits of his men. But those who were lucky enough to see him in February, when at last he got his leave after six and a half months at the front, realised that the strain had told heavily on him. His light-hearted gallantry was not the result of mere animal vigour, but the triumph of spirit over bodily and mental exhaustion.”

He wrote and spoke of this desire, when in the trenches, to receive the Blessed Sacrament, of which he was able to partake at Christmas. Thinking of him as he leaves us, we feel the solid truth of the words:                                               

‘The men who drink the blood of God

Go gaily in the dark.’

RIP.”

News of George’s death was announced on page 4 of yesterday’s edition of the Times under the title of ‘An Eton Master’s Death’. Since his departure for the Front, his father, CRL Fletcher, a Fellow of Magdalen College, has been at Eton teaching his classes in his stead.

(George wrote most interesting letters which were published here on November 9th and November 23rd and he is mentioned on December 28th.)