May 13th 1917

Lieut. Morice Thompson (Shropshire Light Infantry & MGC)

I am sorry to report that a second Old Dragon has been killed at Arras.

We have learnt from the Thompsons that Morice was killed by machine gun fire in the Scarpe Valley, whilst leading his section over the top in the big attack on May 3rd. At the time he was hit, it is reported, he was attending to a man in his section who was severely wounded.

Circumstances did not allow for the recovery of Morice’s body for burial.

The battle at Arras, which started on April 9th, has cost many lives.  The length of the lists in the newspapers seems almost as long as those from the Somme battle last year, when we lost nine of our Old Boys.

I remember Morice as a rather silent and reserved boy, but, as such boys often are, exceedingly popular and beloved by all who knew him at all intimately.

He played in many Old Dragon football matches and was always a most loyal Dragon.

 

February 12th 1917

Capt. Rupert Lee (Worcesters) was a most welcome visitor and the boys much enjoyed the exhibition of conjuring he gave. He had learnt his tricks from a native in India.

Rupert gave us some excellent photographs, looted from the German Consulate (!) and has written an article for the next edition of our magazine on his time in Mesopotamia, of which this is a part:

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The Minaret at Busra

“An extraordinary affair occurred in our Mess in Busra just before I left; we all had native servants and it was customary to put the most reliable in charge of the whole; this man incurred the lasting hatred of one of the other servants (of another religion) through accusing him of the theft of a tin of stewed fruit.

So one day, when the butler went out to the town to see some of his friends, this other man came to me and asked to be allowed out. On my giving him permission, he proceeded to steal a bottle of whisky: and fortified by it, took one of our revolvers and sallied forth intent on the slaughter of his enemy.

He explained to me afterwards that a natural delicacy forbade him carrying out this business in our quarters, where he could have met him any day.

We captured him after all his ammunition (about 20 rounds) was expended and he was locked up. His subsequent examination was really very amusing, if one could forget the tragic side; he explained the whole thing in detail, regretting that these men were killed, but of course that was their fault for getting in the way.

What he was really most sorry about was that he failed to kill the butler and made a petition that he might be allowed to do so before being hanged.

I tried to get a plea of insanity brought forward, but the man himself would not hear of it and from his behaviour after the event it would never have gone through.

Things like this brought before us very vividly the fact that we were living on the edge of a precipice.”

 

January 13th 1917

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Arthur Pilkington (OPS master & bursar 1890-1906)

Yesterday, I attended the burial of my old friend Pilk in the St. Cross, Holywell cemetery.

Pilk was a month younger than me and we have known each other man and boy for forty-four years. We entered King William’s College on the Isle of Man at the same time and what scrapes we got into and out of! (Perhaps it is as well to draw a veil!)

I was delighted when I was able to persuade him to join the OPS staff from St. Edward’s School in 1890. As a schoolmaster, he was first-rate both as a teacher of the classics and as a sportsman.

However, it was his offer to take over the running of the financial side that importantly ensured a successful move was made from Crick Road to our current location on the Bardwell Road. His work ensured that the £4,000 required for the new hall, classrooms and ‘The Lodge’ was raised.

I was much relieved not to have to deal with school bills. I am being always reminded of the occasion when I took them and the school reports off at the end of a Summer Term to complete whilst on my boat, ‘The Blue Dragon’. Unfortunately they all got washed overboard in a storm. My solution was to send the parents a letter saying, “Your boy is doing splendidly. Please pay what you think you owe.”

There may also have been some truth in the story that I occasionally borrowed off one member of staff to pay another. Anyhow, Pilk’s more conventional methods proved much more satisfactory all round.

In 1906 Pilk left the OPS, seeing the prospect of doing even better. He set up a first-rate coaching business further up Bardwell Road. He had Germans, Frenchmen and Poles, all of the best class, who were going in for various Oxford exams. (It is a curious fact that in this war one of his French pupils took prisoner one of his German pupils).

Around this time the younger of his two daughters (Madge) – the apple of his eye – died after a long illness and this was a terrible blow to his affectionate heart.

Just before the war broke out, his foreigners all left – they were chiefly German then – and he was offered and accepted a classical mastership at Cheltenham College where he was, as usual, successful and popular, until, at the middle of last term, he broke down. Then came the tragic and mysterious end.

He was last seen on 1st December. His body was found on 3rd January; he had drowned in the sea that washes the shores of his old school on the Isle of Man.

He was a splendid specimen of the best Irish type, boyish, mercurial, a capital raconteur, humorous and most lovable.

One and all are most grieved that our old friend has ‘gone west.’

 

October 15th 1916

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2nd Lieut. Oswald Blencowe (Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry)

An eighth Old Dragon has laid down his life in the battle that has been raging on the Somme since July 1st. Oswald was killed on 7th October 1916 when temporarily attached to the Rifle Brigade.

It was the Brigade’s task to capture Rainbow and Cloudy Trenches, near Guedecourt. As soon as our barrage lifted the Riflemen (some of whom had been lying down in the open awaiting this moment) rose bravely to make the attack.  On reaching the crest of a hill about twenty yards from the German line they met with heavy machine-gun fire. All five officers of the two leading companies went down – four (including Oswald) were killed and a fifth severely wounded.

guedecourt-map

It is of some small consolation that the reserve troops coming up behind them were able to take Rainbow Trench.

A brother officer recalls Oswald most fondly:

“In the line he was of immense value to us, and in the most trying hours, when things were as bad as shells and foul weather could make them, he showed that rare kind of cheerfulness which does not offend nor depress by its artificiality. He set a high value on music and poetry. He sang well, and was strongly heard in a dug-out – carols, songs, and choruses, old English songs, and Gilbert and Sullivan. One day he pulled out the books he always carried with him – Omar Khayyam, and two volumes of the hundred best poems and three of us lay awake reading aloud to one another…

He was hit by a shell in the head in front of his men about ten yards from the enemy’s line, but such details are needless and unsatisfying; we know what he was when alive and in what manner and with what spirit he must have died. The circumstantial details are useless trappings.” 

We are thankful for information from the Colonel, confirming Oswald was given a proper burial:

“He had been temporarily attached to this battalion and had only been with us three days. He went into action alongside his battalion and was killed during a successful attack in which he was with the leading company.

He was buried by our Chaplain near the place where he fell, between our and the old German line.”

The news of Oswald’s death did not reach his parents until October 13th, six days after the event.

blencowe-telegram

 

 

June 15th 1916

 

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Private Edmund Deane (10th Bat. Canadian Infantry)

Whilst our attention has been focused on the Battle of Jutland, the Germans have launched another attack in the Ypres region, which claimed the life of Edmund Deane on June 3rd.

An official account states: “It was about 10 a.m. on June 2nd when the German preliminary bombardment of the Canadian position burst with the suddenness of a summer thunderstorm. A terrific drumfire of mixed shrapnel and high explosive swept over Hill 60, Mont Sorrel and Observatory Wood – the right apex of the Salient – isolating the sector absolutely. Warfare had never witnessed such a stupendous concentration of gunfire.

Storms of explosives rolled over the Canadian front and support lines with hurricane force and more than a hurricane destructiveness, wrecking position after position with ghastly thoroughness.

At 1 p.m. the German infantry emerged from their trenches and trotted over the scarred, shell-tossed earth where three hours previously had been well-built trenches manned by the best blood of Canada. They met with no resistance.

The 10th Battalion in the Brigade Reserve, when the storm broke, was at once ordered up to Mont Sorrel support lines in Armagh Wood, to assist the 7th Battalion, which was about to counter attack.”

The exact circumstances of Edmund’s death are uncertain, but we understand he was killed in the counter attack.

Edmund was at the OPS from 1879-83, under my predecessor as Headmaster, Rev AE Clark.  We overlapped by one year, as I joined the school as an Assistant Master in September 1882.

May 24th 1916

Sous-Lieut. Noel Sergent (French Artillery) has met up with a number of his old OPS friends in recent months in Salonika:

“I’ve seen Molyneux, Wicks and Hoey once at a tea party to which I was invited. Molyneux was just the same as when he commanded an army of small boys and stormed the mound which was stoutly defended by ‘Captain’ Rupert Lee and his followers…”

Noel’s recent letter describes how he witnessed the shooting down of a German Zeppelin:

Noel Sergent11/5/16. “We saw a Zep get knocked out in grand style. It was a trap. They pretended not to have noticed him till he was well over Salonika. (The aerial raid alarm had sounded three-quarters of an hour before and the aviators had already taken up their posts in the air.

Then at a given signal the searchlights were flashed on and spotted him immediately and the guns started blazing away. One beastly gun fired short every time and showered shrapnel and iron on our poor little camp and gave us a bad time for ten minutes. The old Zep was a long way up, but with my glasses I could get a ripping view; it looked splendid and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

Then one of our aeroplanes flashed a light on six times and the search-lights were turned off and the guns stopped firing and left the rest to our ‘Avion-canon’ (Voisin biplanes with a small naval gun on board).

Some time later we could see a huge bonfire a long way off in the distance and a huge flame shot up. Later again there were three or four explosions and a telephone message came through to say it was the Zep gone to glory, and a huge cheer went up.”

As no British plane has yet managed to shoot a Zeppelin out of the skies over England, it is difficult to believe it was the French planes that were totally responsible for this singular success.