School History

Midsummer 1915

Volume X Midsummer 1915 No. 56


Editorial

We are publishing a Supplementary List to the roll of Honour, which is, however, still very incomplete.  We should, therefore, be very pleased to receive further additions, for publication in subsequent issues.

The Voluntary Training Corps has proved to be a great success and is doing good work.  Twice a week some hundred boys may be seen bathed in perspiration, executing weird contortions more or less in accordance with the instructions of three hoarse masters, or performing complicated evolutions with fearsome weapons.

News of Old Boys at the Front

The following are extracts from letters: -

From Edsell Hinwood, one of the most popular Captains the School ever had.

Winburg 15th November 1914
We have been cut off from civilization for a whole week.  We have occasionally passed through villages late at night, very often not being aware of the fact.  Last Saturday and Sunday were terrible days.  We started at 2am Saturday morning with a ration of one biscuit each; camped at mid-day for a rest.  We had been there about almost two hours when a messenger arrived with the news "that a patrol party, consisting of 75 of our men, was being cut up about five miles from the camp". We saddled up and raced like 600 madmen.  As soon as we put in an appearance the rebels cleared.  It turned out to be Conroy and a part of his commando.  They dispersed in every direction.  We chased them for miles.  The dust and heat were terrible.  The chase lasted till dark.  We then camped until 3 am and set off again.  Between 8 am and 6 pm I am sure that not half-an-hour elapsed without a charge.  Men and horses were absolutely gone in.  All that time we had practically nothing to eat.  But we had a jolly good result to report, as we had completely smashed up and dispersed Conroy's commando, captured all their supplies and belongings, including Conroy's motor car.  We camped for the night at a farmhouse, our poor horses were given a little food, and a few who had energy enough left got a cup of mealy-meal each; the majority were too tired to bother about it.  I was not able to turn in as I was one of the unfortunate ones told off to guard the prisoners.  We made an early start Monday morning and got to Odendaalsrust about 8 am, only to find that the rebels had looted the place of all food-stuffs.  The only food obtainable was a few tins of herrings and sardines, working out at five men to a tin.  So we tracked on to Virginia, at which place we were camped when called to the assistance of the patrol on Saturday.  We got there about 1 pm, and were jolly glad to get hold of our supply wagons again.  In two days we had marched 120 miles.

Monday night we started off after de Wet, and after two nights and days of heavy marching we struck him at day- light on Thursday morning.  We Somerset men had the distinction of being the first to storm and occupy the mountain overlooking the camp.  We took the position without firing a shot; it was then quite dark, one could see his camp about two miles away outlined by a ring of fires.  We knew that we were working in concert with General Botha, and that he was to appear on the other side of daylight.  De Wet's scouts spotted us; then the fight started.

De Wet stormed our position.  All the men behaved splendidly.  Some of them were exposed to deadly fire, but not one of them gave an inch.  Then our one and only maxim gun started to speak to them, and after about an hour and a half of heavy firing on both sides, the rebels turned and fled.  We chased them all over the place and the consequences was that small parties of our fellows at different times were cut off and got in to serious trouble.  Our mutual friend was with one such party, and was forced to surrender.  The rebels had hardly finished robbing them when they were attacked by a part of General Botha's force.  Our friends and the others had just to lie on the open ground again under terrible fire.  The rebels cleared, and after an interview with General Botha they were allowed to get back to camp.  They had great difficulty in establishing their identity, Botha believing them to be rebels.  The day of the fight we all wore a white band on the left arm, but during the day we found the rebels  were doing the same, and consequently it was impossible to distinguish one from the other.  Several times men were fired on by their comrades.  Well, it was a great fight, and ended in us capturing everything that De Wet had; most of his men got away without saddle or bridle or boots or socks.  Our commando captured 250 prisoners, nearly 300 horses, all his weapons and supplies.  General Botha must have taken a number of prisoners, as we drove the rebels right in to him.  Later in the day they were engaged by another commando, so they got a good shaking.  We buried 23 rebels, but that must have been a very small proportion of the number killed.  We lost 6 killed and about 30 wounded; two or three of the latter have since died.  All the Somerset men came out without a scratch; some of our horses were hit.  We have a lot to be thankful for, as the firing at times was terrific.  I am writing in the Town Hall here;  it has been turned into a convalescent home.  I escorted a wounded man in to-day, so am staying over for a day's rest.  We are having a rough time, but so long as the results are good and we keep well we haven't much to complain about.  The weather is bad, frightful heat in the day and terrible cold at night.  The fellows are stuck at camp without any writing material.  We have had no post for a week, and likely not to get any just yet.

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Senekal O.F.S 22nd November 1914
We had another fight in taking this place Friday afternoon.  We - the Somerset Squadron - got under terrific fire.  We were ordered to storm a fortified hill, about 40 of us in all. There were at least 200 rebels in the position.  We charged straight at it across a bare flat, and as soon as we got within range the rebels opened a murderous fire.  The bullets simply rained round us, and it was wonderful that no more of us were hit.  However, we got to the position, and after a short but sharp fire the rebels fled.  Three Somerset men were killed.  The rest of us got off without a scratch, and I can assure you we were jolly thankful.  We had been in saddle two days and two nights with just an hour's rest now and then.  We were absolutely worn out.  Our captain said yesterday that he was going to write a special letter to the Mayor congratulating the town.  I met the Magistrate here yesterday.  He is a jolly nice chap.  He took me up to his house.  I had three cups of tea (with milk) and a plate of bread and butter.  I had almost forgotten that there were such things as milk and butter in the world.  I'm keeping as fit as possible.  I have got a bit thinner, and shall soon be like a piece of biltong, burnt quite hard and black.  The continual wind and dust is most unpleasant; everything is full of sand. 

****

Lieut. J.H. Dible, who is with the Indian Expeditionary Force somewhere in France says: -

I hope you are all fit.  I am fairly so, but this war is a rotten business.  In the words of one man, "You are either bored stiff, or else frightened out of your life". 

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T.W. Mason, writing from the Dardanelles says: -

When I last saw you I said that we were about to sail for India.  We all thought we were, but we are now at the Eastern seat of operations - the Dardanelles.

The roar of shells is quite as familiar as the bell for "Break".  There are two places which have been invaded (deleted by Censor).  The enemy has suffered frightfully in each instance.  The three most exciting days were the landing at these places and the taking of Fort Seddul Bahr.  Two days were taken in which to land in the face of tremendous odds.  Men were shot whilst leaving transports, so what must it have been like on the beach!  When the troops did get ashore they just slaughtered the Turks.  It is a sight to see the British troops making a bayonet charge.  I should say pursuit, because the Turks, if possible, bolt at the sight of cold steel.  The great thing was the capture of Seddul Bahr.  It was a feat which would have been impossible for any but British troops.  From prisoners we learn that the dogged perseverance and grit frightens them as much as anything else.

Well, warships had been bombarding this fort for a whole day, the transports getting a hot time of it, for we were only a quarter of a mile from the shore, so you can guess what it was like 12in shells, shrapnel, and aeroplane bombs all around you.  At a given order a storming party set out and cut their way through barbed wire entanglements up to the fort, where they scaled the walls and killed all the defenders with the bayonet.  The chief point in the whole thing was the grit in charging under a demoralizing shrapnel and rifle fire.

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From A. Delouche

"I was at the siege of Liege and at the Battle of Haelen Diest, Malines, Termonde, and Yser, and am now having two weeks' rest near Calais.  So you see the old School was represented in the Belgium campaign".

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From H. Mackeith

"I wonder whether you would care to hear of my impressions of existence on so-called 'Active Service'.  I am afraid that up to the present our activities have not been great, and so I have the less reason to tempt the Censor's pencil.  So far, our life seems to consist in establishing a pocket edition of a Hospital in a village school.  Then people with minor troubles, such as blistered feet and so on, come and spend a few days resting before returning to work with their units.  After a few days in one place, one moves on to another, and the same process goes on.  Occasionally a man does really get hurt, or manages to make himself ill; then he is immediately sent away to some more permanent hospital, so all we have at present are people who are just unwell enough to get a little rest.

"I am beginning to tire of the monotony of the country; the scenery seems to consist solely of poplars, windmills and churches.  One or two of the latter are certainly fine, but I am looking for a respectable hill.  Here, apparently anything more than 50 feet above the surrounding country ranks almost as a mountain and would merit the title, judged by the extent of view which it commands.

"It is amazing how the British Army has settled down in all these country villages and towns.  One marvels at the matter of fact way in which Indians, Colonials and all the men from home - Regulars, Territorial or Kitchener's Army men - fraternise with one another and with the original inhabitants.  Strange it is, also, to find how well a Tommy can explain his desires with the aid of a small phrase book, two hands and a few expressions, which one might call 'Pidgin-French', and which seem universally understood.  French and English money both circulate with equal freedom at a simplified rate of exchange (10 centimes to the penny)".

F.C. MacLauchlan has been appointed 2nd Lieut. in the Army Service Corps.  This is the third son that Col. J. MacLauchlan, V.D., J.P., has now holding a commission.  The two younger are Lieutenants. All three have been at the front, and have had hair-breath escapes.  Once in the trenches a shell exploded in the very spot where one was standing , and buried him in earth, but fortunately he was uninjured.

School Notes

One of the features of the present term has been the formation of a Training Corps. The object of this Corps is to provide Military Training of substantially the same kind as that given in Officers Training Corps and Cadet Corps.  Membership is restricted to boys of 13 years and over.  Over 100 boys joined i.e. about 95 percent of those eligible. The keenness shown by all, and the progress made are most gratifying.  Shooting takes place on a 25-yard range at the lower end of the playground.  The Corps is greatly indebted to Dr. A.A. MacKeith for his kindness in presenting to it a capital air rifle.  Another similar rifle has been purchased out of funds granted by the Governors.  Dummy rifles have been obtained for drill purposes, and many boys are rapidly becoming proficient in their use.

Next term we are losing Mr McGhee who obtained  the permission of the Governors to go and finish the war.  While we are very sorry to lose him, even for a short time, we cannot but admire the splendid spirit which is prompting him.  We wish him the best of luck and look forward to his triumphant return in the near future.