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2017 · ISSUE 6

25

FROM THE ARCHIVES

A Story in Verse

At the end of the Summer term 1935, the Draconian

published the Dragon Book of Verse.

Book I appeared first; Book II

followed soon after. By 1937

they were moulded into a single

volume with an Oxford Blue cover.

The final edition was published in

about 1967.

Mr G C Vassall and Frank

Sedgwick (Old Dragon, who

founded the Shakespeare Head

Press) corrected typographical

errors that had crept in to earlier

versions. Mrs Allington added

delightful wood block illustrations.

The Book of Verse was

originally edited by two unrelated

Dragon staff with the same

surname of Wilkinson. Together

they sifted poetry from Chaucer

to more contemporary writers.

William Alexander Chapin

Wilkinson (Wilkie) joined the

Dragon in 1930 as a Classics,

English and Mathematics teacher.

Many an OD had cause to bless

his attention to detail but he sadly

died five years after he retired in

1964. Noel Hawtrey Wilkinson,

the son of a prep school

Headmaster in Aldeburgh, Suffolk,

arrived at the Dragon in 1931,

staying for just four years before

joining his family at their school.

He died in 1983.

The book sold all over the world and was

well received. Schools in Africa, America

and all over the Commonwealth used it as a

standard text book. The copyright was sold

to the OUP in the late 1950s.

Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-

Clark, two Dragon English teachers, widened

the scope of the poetry books for children,

working with the OUP in the 1980s.

A host of new versions of this original

poetry book for children are still in print

today. Even now, copies of the first Dragon

Book of Verse can be found in far-flung

locations, usually well used and a constant

companion to the owner.

A Gift from South Africa

The photo was taken in 1915 by R Sturt (OD 1917) when

Smyth visited the School to tell the story of his VC on

the very July day that it was awarded by the King.

Skipper’s spirit

Arriving at the Dragon in September 1901,

a small eight-year-old boy, Jackie Smyth,

cycled up Banbury Road from St Giles on a

large, old bicycle loaned by their neighbour,

William Morris.

Jackie’s great grandparents on his father’s

side had been wealthy. By 1893, all that was

gone. His father worked for the Indian Civil

Service in the heat of the jungles of Burma to

support his growing family.

As Jackie wrote in his autobiography,

his life took a change for the better when he

joined the Dragon. “Many people who wanted

to send their children to the school and found

it difficult to meet the fees, had cause to bless

Skipper’s helping hand.” Skipper’s generous

hand extended to all three Smyth brothers.

Despite a major illness, which meant he

spent two years in bed, Jackie began to recover

by 1905. He had a small part in

Henry V

,

which was carried off well, and captained the

1st XI cricket team in 1908. Every morning,

he ran from Banbury Road to Kidlington and

back, thus regaining his earlier fitness.

Jackie won a scholarship to Repton School

in June 1908. Every public school had a long

list of items which the parents had to furnish

for their sons. Such expense was beyond his

parents. In July 1908, at Prizegiving, Skipper

announced he was setting up a subscription

fund to help boys whose parents were not

very well off to go to a good public school.

One father of a scholar donated £10 as a first

donation. Skipper announced, “I am giving a

leaving exhibition this year to a boy who most

fully deserves it.” That boy was Jackie. The

fund continued for many years.

Jackie trained at the Royal Military College

for entry into the Indian Army. They paid

better than the British Army and made fewer

demands on his allowance in items of kit. His

pragmatic decision proved to be a good one.

His military career moved on very quickly; he

won his VC when aged just 21. His later career

as a Member of Parliament proved what a wise

investment Skipper had made.

Illustration by G Alington for

The Village Schoolmaster

by Oliver Goldsmith.

When Leslie Proctor, now aged 91, and formerly an

English Master at Krugersdorp High School, and

later Senior Lecturer in English at the Johannesburg

College of Education, South Africa, discovered his

daughter Val was editing for the Dragon School,

he donated his copy of the Book of Dragon Verse

for the Archives. Leslie explained, “I first came

across the volume in 1950, when I came to South

Africa as a young schoolmaster at St John’s

College Preparatory School in Johannesburg.

The book was required reading for the Senior

pupils in the Prep School, and it was used

particularly for the Declamation Prize,

a voluntary activity for the boys.”

It is good to know that the Dragon Book

of verse was used all over the world.