[From The Barrovian #119 - March 1919]
When we got on board the steamer at the end of last term, our holiday mood received an unexpected damper in the news that the Governor had resigned. One refrain echoed round the ship, "We shall never get a better friend to the College."
Only those who are " inside the works " know the unremitting attention Lord Raglan always found time to give to College business, his grasp of all the intricate problems on which the success of a Public School depends, and the unerring shrewdness with which he decided every difficult question that came before him. We may, at any rate, be thankful that he saw the war out, for there have been critical times when, with less discerning and courageous leading, irrecoverable mistakes might have been made.
But to everyone alike Lord Raglan was a popular Governor in the best sense of the word. His breezy speeches at Prize-givings were looked forward to by the many who, possibly, find these functions, in the bulk, less exciting than a picture palace. His inspection of the Corps always added something to cur knowledge and kept us up to the mark, and on his unofficial visits even :he smallest boys felt that he came amongst them as a friend. Lord Raglan watched with a stimulating interest every development of the College life; he remembered everyone, and made everyone. feel at hom?. He gave, too, the final pledge of confidence in sending his own son to the College, and we like to think that the career of Captain the Hon. N. F. Somerset, D.S.O., M.C., has justified his choice.
But no visit of the Governor was felt tc be complete unless ire was accompanied by.Lady Raglan, whose gracious presence bound us, as indeed all the Island, under her spell. And though we cannot hope for successors who will make themselves so entirely part of the College, Lord and Lady Raglan have, after a long term of arduous work well done, earned a rest, which we earnestly trust they may for many a long year have good health to enjoy.
The above curve is the best answer we can give to the question, often put to us, " How has the war affected the College ?" for though in normal times numbers are not the only or the best test of prosperity, they provide a working index of the U-boat blockade as it has concerned us. Our experience is probably unique among Public Schools, and it may be of interest, now that the naval censorship is with- drawn. to record some things on which " Dora " previously bade us be silent.
But first we must digress. The fortune of Public Schools in general during the war has belied all forecasts. A momentary period of financial uncertainty in the country was followed by one of quite abnormal industrial prosperity, where, though many of the old clientéle, they of fixed incomes suffered severely, new classes, with incomes, despite high prices and taxation, rising, and with most avenues for expenditure barred, " discovered " the Public Schools. The O.T.C. offered chances of commissions for their sons, and the splendid contribution of Public School boys, especially in the early days, won for them a well deserved prestige, which, pace our critics, we shall not lose if we face Peace as we faced War. So, though at first the mistaken policy of the War Office in giving direct commissions at 17 seriously depleted most schools, the deficit was more than made up soon after by the new influx and by the fact that boys who, presumably, would have left earlier, stayed on now to about 18½, till called up for an officer cadet battalion. Thus followed a " boom " unheard of in the annals of Public Schools. Our curve, it will be seen, follows the general line, though the recovery was retarded until such time as the waning fear of the U-boat was finally over-balanced by the spreading news that there was " corn in Egypt," or, rather, meat in the land of Mona.
At first we listened securely to the distant clash of arms - there were those who even took refuge among us from the early raids on the Yorkshire coast-and contributed our personal quantum by conducting aliens to the internment camps, conveyed over to Douglas by motor-cars at 5 a.m. One good story of those days must not be allowed to die. A large German, kept in line on the Victoria Pier by the bayonet of a very small cadet, now holding H.M. commission, asked, insultingly, " Are you a sprout?" " No," was the proud answer, " I'm an O.T.C." But our troubles began on Feb. 18, 1915, and some 30 boys remained on the Island for the Easter holidays. In those days we did not understand, among other things, the long range from their bases at which submarines could operate, and it was thought that they might effect a landing somewhere near Santon and march overland to Castletown, where was oil, raiding the armoury on the way. Hence peremptory orders came one afternoon that the O.T.C. should mount guards day and night over the College, but no more serious affray occurred than a sentry, at 11 p.m., holding up the Principal, who did not know the pass-word.
It is noteworthy that only one boy was removed during the whole war for fear of submarines, but entries during 1915 fell towards vanishing point. By the summer of 1916 the recovery had begun, and there seemed grounds for greater confidence. The early submarines, being small, could not get through the nets of the Northern channel, and when they dashed up from the south their course could be traced by airships. It was known that the Admiral at Liverpool personally regulated every sailing of the Isle of Man boats, stopping them when he thought there was risk. Our route was off the main danger points of ocean traffic, and on so protected a route, while our steamers were not worth a torpedo, a U-boat rising to the surface for gun-fire would run serious risks of being sunk. More than anything else, however, the opinion grew that the Germans would not sink the Isle of Man steamer if they could. The export of food-stuffs from the Island was prohibted, and so far from helping the supplies of England, these boats were bringing food and many articles of value for 20,000 Germans interned at Douglas and at Knockaloe. Stories were current, probably substantially true, that the directors, asked by the Imperial Government to camouflage their ships, replied that they did not want them sunk by mistake for another boat, and that a U-boat captain sent his compliments by a captured fisherman to the captain of the " Fenella," and asked to be allowed to point out that his propellor was out of order-which turned out to be the case. At any rate, the Isle of Man steamers ran throughout the war with few interruptions, at scheduled times, with red funnels, and without mishap.
But a mine is a different thing from a torpedo-it does not discriminate. Ordinarily, indeed, there was a large measure of security in the marvellous development of mine-sweeping, for the enemy had to sow their mines at night, and our boats sailed each day only after the course had been thoroughly; swept. The plan, however, adopted by the Germans in 1917 was to end the war in a few months by sowing mines indiscriminately in the mouths of all our ports-only so could they get prey enough and quick enough. Eighteen submarines operated off Liverpool, of which, in three weeks, we destroyed fourteen. Our Admiralty were annoyed that they could not get the remaining four, but, by April, the German Admiralty must have known that this too expensive mode of attack had failed.
While it lasted it was serious enough. Submarines sailed up even as far as Princes Landing Stage at night, dropping mines. Our boats sailed irregularly: for 48 hours one of them was kept outside the Mersey, and, just when things seemed to be getting better, an American steamer blew up within a mile of the Tynwald, which rescued her crew and passengers. A snowstorm was raging, and the victim was out of the Admiralty course. But what happened to one ship might have happened to another, and this was the occasion when the College spent the Easter holidays on the Island. After that the U-boats had to go further afield for victims.
It is remarkable that the " ruthless blockade " did not stop, the upward curve of numbers. Hindenburg never said a more ominous thing for Germany than that the war would be won by the strongest nerves. " My boy," wrote one father, " will continue to cross the sea so long as there is one boat afloat flying the Union Jack." " He will be very disappointed," wrote another, " if he does not see a submarine." " I have chosen the school I mean to send my boy to, and I am not going to be deterred by the Germans," said the father of a new boy, crossing on a day when all the ports in the Irish Sea were closed, and the Isle of Man boat, escorted by a destroyer, was the only boat allowed out. We draw from a virile stock, and the College cannot be-too grateful,. not only for their confidence, but that it was not misplaced.
We could tell of other things, too, not recorded in the official news, of torpedoed mariners fed, clothed, and provided with smokes, of German sailors' hats adorning Hostel studies, of the " Celtic" beached at Peel, of Z34, which found that by landing on College field it could get lunch, how jealously it kept the secret from other airships, and of official wrath descending on the too zealous photographer; but the paper shortage is still with us - we must close. We can, at least, say of the War, " Quorum pars - quantulacunque - fuimus."
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2019