This is the final state of George Calderon’s application for a commission:
The writing in red ink across the left hand side of the form reads: ‘Temporary Commission as Lieutenant in 9 Battln Oxford & Bucks Light Inftr & order to join’, dated today 1915.
This was a coup. Although in December the War Office was claiming that George’s military status was that of Interpreter, not 2nd Lieutenant, now he was being given a commission as a full lieutenant and with a first-rate regiment. The Oxfordshire Light Infantry had been formed in 1881, renamed in 1908, and were commonly known as the ‘Ox and Bucks’. In 1914 their 2nd Battalion had fought from Mons to Ypres and covered itself with glory at Nonneboschen on 11 November.
The letters ‘KIV’ in blue at the top of the form refer to the fact that the 9th Battalion of the Ox and Bucks was part of ‘K4’, the 4th Group of ‘Kitchener’s Army’, i.e. the New Army raised initially from volunteers following the outbreak of war. K4 had been created in November 1914 with six divisions; the 9th Ox and Bucks was in the 32nd Division.
At the present moment, the 9th Battalion was a ‘Service Battalion’ under orders of 96th Brigade. This meant it could see action but had only a defensive role: its main object was to provide ‘combat service’ to the brigade, i.e. vital logistical support for operations. However, as we shall see, this could change.
Clearly George had passed his medical with flying colours, but how on earth had he then achieved this flip behind the scenes from the Corps of Interpreters to a highly respected combatant regiment?
The main mover, probably, was Sir Coote Hedley, who worked within the General Staff and (George’s file reveals) could communicate between War Office departments on other people’s behalf. ‘Much against my will’, Hedley wrote in 1920, ‘I did my best and he got his commission’. G.F. Bradby, a contemporary of George’s at Rugby, wrote later: ‘it was inevitable that […] he would somehow find his way into the firing line. The story of how he succeeded is a romance in itself — a romance of which only he could have been the hero.’
Service and Reserve battalions trained recruits, but they also trained men returning to duty after being in medical care — presumably including subalterns — so this too might be how Calderon slipped into the 9th Ox and Bucks. Equally, the Oxford connection may have helped. Francis Newbolt, Henry’s son, had been at Oxford like his father, and wrote to George praising his regiment on 6 December 1914. Possibly George knew other Oxfordians in the Ox and Bucks and they helped him? Perhaps there was a connection between the regiment and Trinity College, Oxford, where George had been an undergraduate?
The power of Oxford networks in Edwardian life can hardly be overstated (curiously, one hears less of the Cambridge ones!). As Brian Harrison has analysed in Separate Spheres: The Opposition to Women’s Suffrage in Britain (1978), and Julia Bush discussed in Women Against the Vote: Female Anti-Suffragism in Britain (2007), both male and female Oxford networks were prominent in the anti-suffrage movement with which George was associated. Oxford connections also played an important part in staging George’s translations of Chekhov’s plays in successful productions in 1909 and 1925.
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