2017 · ISSUE 6
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
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.
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,
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
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.