My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (4)

Fred had two poems which he really enjoyed. Last time we took a look at the first one of the two, “Tarantella”, which was written by Hilaire Belloc. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Fred’s second poem, “The Listeners” which was written by Walter de la Mare. This poem is great for children of around nine or ten, because it leaves so many questions unanswered and they can be asked to contribute their own ideas to the discussion:

‘Is anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;

And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.

So….no answer when the grey-eyed traveller knocked on the moonlit door. The place is completely deserted. Or is it?

But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.

In other words, not just one ghost but a host of unidentified phantoms. Are they going to make their presence known?

And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;

The ghosts just prefer to remain still. Saying nothing and totally unseen. The Traveller knocks loudly a second time.

For he suddenly smote the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head: –
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.

But it has no effect. They can hear every word from the Traveller, but prefer to say nothing. And they can hear his departure. His foot into the stirrup and the horse’s shoes on the  stone cobbles.

Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

And off he goes. The silent ghosts reclaim their building as soon as the Traveller is gone. And the building returns to its usual deserted state:

But why did he say ‘Tell them I came, and no one answered, That I kept my word,’? Alas, there are no hints given on that score, although clearly, there is some connection between all three protagonists, namely, the Traveller, the lone house and the listeners.

I think that the poem is as simple as that. It’s rather like when a stranger knocks on the door of the house next door to yours.  They wait for an answer but “answer came there none“. (Thank you, Lewis. Now just be quiet).

And you never do find out why they were knocking.

 

 

 

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They win. Zu Lus (1)

Recently we looked at how names have been given to the streets and roads of England. I told you too about the Egyptian quarter of Nottingham, where the streets are paved with compacted sand and camel droppings. All of this was in one particular working class area of Nottingham called New Basford, if you remember, and it had Cairo Street, Delta Street, Egypt Road, Rosetta Road and Suez Street.

I voted to have a “Hutt-hutt-hutt” Street, because “Hutt-hutt-hutt” is what you always say if you are riding a camel and you want it to go a lot, lot faster, rather like fighter pilots always say to themselves “light those afterburners NOW”. My suggestion of “Hutt-hutt-hutt” Street was turned down by the Nottingham City Planning Department (Street Names) because they said that it would cause total chaos if there was ever a person riding a camel at the T-junction with Nottingham Road and a pedestrian who was slightly deaf went up and asked the rider loudly :

“Excuse me, mate, but do you know where HUTT-HUTT-HUTT Street is please?”

Arguably though, the streets further to the north are even more interesting, not least because they are almost completely free of references to any of the Camelidae or indeed, the Giraffidae . Instead, the street names there commemorate the stunning victory by the Zulus over the British Army at Isandula or Isandlwana, during the Zulu War of 1879. It was the greatest victory by a native army over a Western European army since the Germans beat Quinctilius Varus in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. This map has Egypt Road and Suez Street at the very bottom left, along with the other Egyptian streets,  but then, there are five references to the Zulus a little further to the north:

These six streets in New Basford, then, are again connected with Africa, but this time with the south of the continent rather than the north. The names are perhaps a little more difficult to understand, and they require a fairly detailed knowledge of the war that the British fought against the Zulus under King Cetshwayo in 1879. Common place knowledge in some households, of course, but let me just refresh everyone’s memory. Here is the king, full name “Cetshwayo kaMpande”.

So, how did the war break out?

Well, basically, the British wanted to add Zululand to their Imperial Portfolio, so, on December 11th 1878, they gave the Zulu King Cetshwayo a set of demands which they knew he would never agree to. These included that the Zulu army be disbanded and the men allowed to go home and that the Zulu military system be discontinued. That was like asking the Irish to give up Guinness.

Meanwhile Lord Chelmsford had assembled an army of 18,000 men which marched into Zululand on January 11th 1879. On January 22nd 1879, part of that force, around 2,000 men, were attacked by 20,000 Zulus in what came to be called the Battle of Isandlwana, although it is also called the Battle of Isandula. The Zulus had their traditional, iron, assegai  spears and cow-hide shields, and the British had the outstanding Martini–Henry rifle and two seven pounder field guns, as well as a Hale rocket battery. The Zulu wars are beloved of wargamers, and this is the plastic model version of a rocket battery:

Normally, in a contest between rifles and spears and arrows, the European army would be expected to cope quite comfortably with odds of up to 200-300 to one, depending on the circumstances. Not here though. And people have been arguing ever since,

“Why?”, “Why did the British lose?”

The Zulus triumphed though, and Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony William Durnford is the man who is frequently blamed for the fact that this was the greatest defeat ever suffered by British soldiers against a native force armed with their traditional weapons.

After the battle, some 4,000 men of the Zulu “impi” (or regiment) called the “Undi impi” crossed the river and went off to attack Rorke’s Drift. The 150 or so men at this fortified mission station were commanded by Lieutenants John Chard of the Royal Engineers and Gonville Bromhead, the latter an Old Boy of Newark Magnus School in Nottinghsmshire.

The events there were subsequently portrayed in the film “Zulu”. Stanley Baker played John Chard:

And Sir Michael Caine played Gonville Bromhead. Not many people know that.

After Isandlwana, the British army was heavily reinforced and invaded Zululand for a second time. Sir Garnet Wolseley was sent to be in charge, but Chelmsford deliberately avoided handing over command to him. This time, Chelmsford managed to defeat the Zulus in a number of engagements, the last of which was the Battle of Ulundi on January 4th 1879. Soon afterwards, Chelmsford’s British army captured King Cetshwayo. At last, the British were victorious, although everybody was well aware who the real warriors were.

Next time: “The Mean Streets of New Basford in Nottingham” aka “The British salute the gallant losers”.

Incidentally, my Australian friend, John Corden, recently wrote a blog post about street names in Australia. It is a really good read and you can find him here. And, if you like his post, try writing something in his Comments section.

 

 

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The Carvings in the Tower (5)

Robert Michael Gunther (line 5 of the picture below) was one of the young men who, in May 1940, had climbed up into the Tower of the High School and carved their names and their message on a window sill. When the group did this, they could have had no idea how the war would turn out, whether the Germans would cross the Channel and occupy the country, or whether the British forces would manage to fight them off :

Robert lived at a house called “The Haven” in Burton Joyce, a village which is to the north of Nottingham, on the River Trent. He entered the High School on April 24th 1924. Robert won Mr Player’s Prize for Arithmetic (Intermediate) in 1938 and passed his School Certificate in 1939, just a year before he carved his name and message on the stone window sill in the School Tower.

In the OTC, he became a Lance Corporal and then a Corporal in 1938. He won the Certificate ‘A’ prize in 1939 and soon became Company Quarter-Master Sergeant and then Company Sergeant Major. In 1940, he was the most efficient senior NCO and the Commander of the Most Efficient House Platoon. A School Prefect, Robert won his First XV Colours and Cap, and captained the school rugby XV in 1940-1941:

“An exceptionally good leader, he also has shown himself outstanding in all departures (sic) of forward play.”

Robert left the High School on Christmas Eve, 1940. He joined the RNVR (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) and by 1942 he was a member of the Fleet Air Arm. He was trained at HMS Kipanga in Kenya and then at HMS Ukussa in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He then joined 810 Squadron. The motto means “Like lightning from the sky”:

810 Squadron, Robert included, flew off the aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious:

At the end of the academic year, in July 1944, the Nottinghamian carried the following message:

“We regret to announce that the following Old Boys have recently been reported “Missing”, and we hope that good news of their safety will soon be received: RM Gunther (1934-40) and FL Corner (1932-39)”.

The Nottinghamian said that Bob Gunther had disappeared during a routine flight over the Indian Ocean in June 1944. In actual fact, he had been shot down while acting as observer in a Fairey Barracuda during a bombing raid on Port Blair in the Andaman Islands.

The Andaman Islands are here:

Here is Port Blair:

And here is a Fairey Barracuda, which could carry combinations of a torpedo, bombs or rockets :

Bob and his pilot, Basil Willington Aldwell, were missing for 15 months. But Bob was not dead. The brutal Japanese had him, and his pilot, in their tender care. From July 13th 1944-August 27th 1945, he was imprisoned at Ofuna near Tokyo before spending two days at Shenagawa. When released he spent a long, long, time in hospital, before he was able to return home. Here are two typical victims of what was, ultimately, Japanese racism:

At Christmas 1945, another notification was published in the Nottinghamian:

“Sub-lieutenant RM Gunther RNVR (1934-1940) who disappeared on an operational flight over the Indian Ocean, in June 1944, is reported safe and on his way home. No news had been heard of him for some 15 months, and we are delighted to know of his safety.”

The extraordinary story also appeared in the Nottingham Evening News:

“One of the first Nottingham people to get a cablegram announcing the release of prisoners of war in Japan is Mrs KL Gunther of 37 Staunton Drive, Sherwood, who today was one of the first in Nottingham to receive news that her only son was returning home. His telegram read “Safe in Allied hands. Hope to be home soon. Writing. Address letters and telegrams to Liberated POW, c/o Australian Army Base Post Office, Melbourne.”

Sub Lieutenant RN Gunther of the Fleet Air Arm had been liberated. He had survived the Pacific war, a theatre where it was only too easy to lose your life.

Frank Leonard Corner, the other name in the Nottinghamian magazine of Summer 1944, was not so lucky.

At 00:25 on June 7th 1944, operating as a flight engineer, he had taken off from RAF Metheringham in an Avro Lancaster Mark III of 106 Squadron. It carried the squadron letters “Z-NH” and had a serial number of NE150. “Z-Zebra” was tasked with attacking bridges near Caen in the immediate aftermath of D-Day. It carried 18 x 500 lb bombs in its capacious bomb bay. Bombing from 3,000 feet and lower, at around 03:00 hours, the Lancasters were hit very severely by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, where a worker at the railway yard remembers vividly how the German gunners celebrated the fact that they had shot down a bomber, which must surely have been “Z-Zebra”. Frank was just twenty years old when he died. His service number was 222039 and his parents had by now moved to Whiston near Rotherham in South Yorkshire.

Frank was the scorer for the school’s First XI cricket team in 1938. In the photograph below he sits cross legged in front of the team:

Three of that season’s cricketers were killed in the war, as well as the team scorer.

Boy No 4 on the front row, George Colin Brown, of the Second Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment, was killed in Normandy on July 8th 1944, as 7 Platoon helped to clear the village of Hérouville-Saint-Clair of Germans.

“We slowly crept forward across open fields. As we broke into a trot, the Germans came out of holes in the ground like rats and unleashed hell. Mortars rained down on us and machine gun bullets were flying everywhere. Ahead of me, my platoon commander, Lieutenant Brown and his batman were killed.”

George Colin Brown was just 24 years old when he died. He was a young man whose….

“fast in-swinging ‘yorker’ on the leg stump was so devastating on its day.”

Boy No 5 on the back row, Ian Leslie Wilkinson, was killed on January 31st 1944, after taking off on a routine training flight from RAF Tilstock in an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V of 81 OTU, serial number LA 765. They crashed about 30 miles away near Dilhorne, a tiny village in Staffordshire. Ian was 24 years old and he was training to be a bomber pilot.

Boy No 6 on the back row, John Richard Mason, was killed on Friday, April 16th 1943, near RCAF Station Assiniboia in southern Saskatchewan in Canada. Sergeant Mason, a Pilot Instructor, was instructing Trainee Pilot, Leading Aircraftman John Hugh Evans, when their Fairchild Cornell Mark I, serial number FJ654, crashed into the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

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A little taste of Egypt in Nottingham

How do they give names to the streets and roads of England? Well, there are lots of methods. Let’s take a quick look at Nottingham.

They are named after famous people (Shakespeare Street). They are named after the people who used to live there (Friargate) and the activities that used to happen there (Fletchergate….fletchers make arrows, or it’s from the word “flesh” which is what butchers sell you). Where the road goes to. (Hucknall Road). Who owned the land (Thackeray’s Lane). What the church is called (St Peter’s Gate). What building is there (Castle Gate). After events that happened in history. (Standard Hill…..where King Charles I first raised his banner and began forming an army at the outset of the English Civil War on August 22nd 1642.)

“Gata” incidentally is an old Viking word for street and will date back to 867AD when Nottingham was captured by the dreaded Northmen.

During the house building boom in the suburbs of Nottingham during the late 19th century and the early 20th century, the builder would often name streets after his own family. Here is an example in West Bridgford. Look for the Orange Arrow, wearing his anti-Covid mask:

The only problem is that we can recognise the first names such as Florence, Mabel and Violet,  but what was their surname? Was it Crosby or Trevelyan? So often they seem to miss this detail out, or  not to make it too obvious which name it is.

Has this builder tried his best to make it obvious by putting all of the first names around the surname “Musters” ?

Exactly the same thing was still going on in the mid-1970s when we moved into suburbia ourselves. The same problem remained, though. What was the surname? Our house was at the end of the Orange Arrow. The fourth one down the hill from the little gap which had an old oak tree in it.

Strangest of all, though, in Nottingham, are the streets which are all, clearly, named after a particular event, or even after another country. Between 1880-1900, the theme in a particular suburb of Nottingham, namely New Basford, was Egypt. This was a working class area with a huge number of terraced houses, and somebody, somewhere, decided to name the streets there in such a way as to commemorate the British involvement in Egypt, although I have been unable to ascertain any definite answer to that simple question….”Why now? ”   Was it to commemorate Nelson’s victory in the Battle of the Nile in 1798 ? Or the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 ? I just don’t know.  Perhaps it was because of events in 1882. Wikipedia says that :

“After increasing tensions and nationalist revolts, the United Kingdom invaded Egypt in 1882, crushing the Egyptian army at the Battle of Tell El Kebir and militarily occupying the country. Following this, the Khedivate became a de facto British protectorate under nominal Ottoman sovereignty”.

Whatever the answer, we now have, in New Basford, an Egypt Road, a Cairo Street, a Delta Street, a Suez Street and a Rosetta Road :

Do we all understand these references ?

Well, first of all, in the photograph below, there’s Egypt Street on the left, the home of Ramesses the Great and the Arab world’s greatest rock group, Mo Salah and the Pyramids. As a bonus, there’s also an excellent view of the junction with Suez Street :

Suez also has a canal. Here it is during the rush hour. It looks like the US Navy has brought its aircraft out to sunbathe:

Cairo is famous for its rush hour although I was really disappointed that it was cars not camels. Camels are far too clever to get into this kind of mess :

And here’s Cairo Street, once the traffic has thinned out a little. Watch out for that camel behind you!

Here’s the Nile Delta, which has its very own rush hour, but with dhows rather than supertankers :

Last and most famous is the Rosetta Stone, commissioned by Pharaoh Ptolemy V and found in the city of Rosetta two thousand years later, decorated with the same thing written in three different languages.

Firstly, there are hieroglyphics for the priests, then Demotic, the native Egyptian script used for everyday business, and Ancient Greek, the language of the civil service. At this time Egypt was ruled over by Greek speakers after Alexander the Great conquered the country :

Notice how somebody has put a magnifying glass over each bit, so that you can see the differences. Rosetta Road has no such problems over communication, because 99% of the time, it is deserted, except for cars:

Originally the French had the Rosetta Stone, but after Admiral Nelson beat them in the Battle of the Nile, the English took it to the British Museum where, even now, it is the most visited thing in the whole museum. I thought that title might have belonged to the toilets:

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (3)

Fred had two poems which he really enjoyed. I’m not so sure now that they didn’t both of them portray him as a man with a drink problem, insofar as they both have strong connections with establishments which sold alcohol, quite possibly in large quantities.

Anyway, the first poem of the two is called “Tarantella” and was written by Hilaire Belloc. The tarantella is a dance for two people which is supposed to mimic musically the very strong jerking spasms brought on by the bite of the wolf spider. The latter is a very large spider, but have no fear, there will be no pictures of arachnids here. Instead, just happy people enjoying a dance:

Those “strong spasms”, incidentally, are supposedly paralleled psychologically by the extreme emotions of falling in love.  In terms of the spider’s poison, however, love won’t stop the effects of the bite. Only dancing around like some kind of mad person can prevent the death of whoever has been bitten.

Here’s the first bit, a masterpiece of juggling with words, as the author tries to take Miranda back in time to one hell of a night that they shared years ago:

Do you remember an Inn, Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading of the straw
for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar,
And the cheers and the jeers of the young
muleteers
Under the vine of the dark veranda?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young
muleteers
Who hadn’t got a penny,
And who weren’t paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the din;
And the Hip! Hop! Hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the twirl and the swirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Glancing,
Dancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin,
Out and in
And the Ting! Tong! Tang! of the guitar?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?
The next five lines of the poem show, though, how that memorable night of years ago has disappeared for ever into the past, and, like all our experiences as human beings, it can never be recreated, however hard we try:
  Never more;
Miranda,
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar:
And Aragon a torrent at the door.

One critic, Oli Foster, has called the last twelve lines of the poem “a lament for all lost experience.” The poem finishes with the even more pessimistic final seven lines…

No sound
    In the walls of the Halls where falls
    The tread
    Of the feet of the dead to the ground
    No sound:
    But the boom
    Of the far Waterfall like Doom.

One final fact is that we actually know the identity of “Miranda”. She was Miranda Mackintosh, a Scottish lady, and Belloc met her during a walking holiday, at the hamlet of Canranc on the River Aragon in the Pyrenees in 1909.

Belloc wrote the poem in 1929 as a souvenir for Ms Mackintosh and he gave it to her as a New Year’s present.

Belloc in his private life was a very controversial character and in articles I have read about anti-Semitic poets, his name unfailingly crops up, usually fairly early in the list. His other political views are, to me personally, quite extraordinary. One of the best things to read that I found was here. Another point of view is his Wikipedia page .

Next time, we’ll look at the other one of the two poems my Dad, Fred, enjoyed so much.

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Why no statue ? (6) John Player

Last time, I was talking about how the High School’s most philanthropic Old Boy, John Dane Player, had set up wonderful leisure facilities for his tobacco company’s employees. All kind of sports were catered for and there was even a company newspaper called “Navy Cuttings”. John Player’s generosity didn’t stop there, though. Mr and Mrs Player did not have any children of their own and they donated extremely generous sums of money to the Nottingham Children’s Hospital, as well as to the Nottingham General Hospital. In 1933, for example, he donated £25,000 to the General Hospital (£1.8 million today). In 1927, he had already given a total of £50,000 to extend Nottingham Children’s Hospital (£3.2 million today). Here’s the original Children’s Hospital, on Chestnut Grove, just off the Mansfield Road :

At the Children’s Hospital, John Player served on the management committee, attending weekly meetings and visiting the children almost daily for the rest of his life. When he died in 1950, he had donated £180,000 to the Children’s Hospital (worth an absolute minimum of £6.2 million in today’s money, and considerably more in real terms as the buying power of the pound was much greater in years gone by.)

Here Princess Mary is accompanied by Mr John Player at the opening of the Player Wing on April 30th 1927. You can probably guess who paid for it all:

Away from the hospital donations, Nottingham University received large amounts of money from John Player, who also paid for a great many convalescent homes, churches and church halls, including St. Margaret’s church on Aspley Lane and the village hall at Whatton. Here’s St Margaret’s:

In November 1903, Old Boy, John Dane Player became a Governor of Nottingham High School. His acceptance was typically modest…

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be a Governor of my old School; please convey to the Governing Body my thanks. I much appreciate the honour they have done me.”

His first gift was a cheque for £300 (£36,717 in today’s terms). He soon became one of the founders and main supporters of the Dame Agnes Mellers Lads’ Club.

By 1933, he had paid for several new High School buildings including the Gymnasium and the newly converted Library. He had already paid for the East Block. Then it was a new cycle shed, a Sixth Form darkroom, a junior science laboratory, a second science lecture room and a new cloakroom. He had also bought the Valley Road playing fields for the school and then provided them with a school Assembly Hall. After that he financed the plan whereby the Middle Block was demolished to build new science laboratories as well as a new three storey West Block. Even five years after his death, the North Block was constructed largely due to his generosity. In actual fact, very little of the major building in the school between 1868-1960 was not directly due to the generosity of John Player.

Here’s an aerial view of the High School in the 1950s. If you find the main entrance steps (bottom left, one o’clock from the circular walkway around the war memorial), they lead to the old building from the 1860s, which is roughly a dozen windows wide. The rest is all down to John Player, and the gap in what is, very roughly, the rather angular figure eight of the school, will be filled by the North Block, five years after John Player’s death. Even readers who have never seen the High School might be able to pick out the West Block, the East Block, the Middle Block,  the Assembly Hall and, by a process of elimination, the Gymnasium.

We still have some photographs of the building process. This is the Assembly Hall in the mid-thirties:

The Assembly Hall, incidentally, was never consecrated as a Christian site of worship, and this wise decision allowed it to be used for plays, debates, concerts and functions. It was the Headmaster, Mr Reynolds, who devised the system whereby, if the School Bible was resting on its lectern, then the hall was a Place of Worship, but if it was not there, then the building was being used for secular purposes. Mr Reynolds wanted to call it the Player Hall, but this was resisted by John Player himself, who said that it should not be a “Player’s Hall, but a Workers’ Hall.”

This is the North Block being erected in the late fifties, early sixties:

John Dane Player paid for some of the shiniest floors in the world. Player’s Parquet with a current street value of £8 million:

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Despite his immense wealth, John Dane Player was a very modest man. His own admiration was reserved for the brilliant scholars the High School turned out at that time. On one occasion, he is known to have said to a fellow Old Boy:

“I was no good at school. Were you? ”

Those brilliant scholars are largely gone and forgotten, of course, and it was they who benefited from the High School, rather than vice versa. Indeed, one is tempted to wonder where the High School would be now, were it not for John Dane Player.

Incidentally, I have been unable to trace the first two photographs. If anybody has a genuine problem with them, then please contact me.

 

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The Carvings in the Tower (4)

On October 27th and November 12th, I wrote about the life of Richard Vernon Milnes, one of the more senior members of the OTC (Officers Training Corps). In May 1940, a group of eight of them all climbed up to the School Tower and carved their names and their message on a stone window sill. I told Richard’s story as far as July 30th 1940, the last day of the Summer Term, when he left the High School for ever at the end of the six years he spent there.

When Richard walked out of the High School for that last time on that particular date, neither he, nor his friends, could have been particularly sure about how the war would turn out or whether England would be invaded and conquered by Christmas.  Still less did Richard know that he had just 1,281 days left before he died in a place which, at this point, he had never heard of.

Obviously, I should have completed the story of Richard’s by writing about the 1,281 days before his death. But I got it wrong. I was so keen to get on to the next name carved in the stone that I got ahead of myself. I missed out the sad details of Richard’s tragic death.  So accept my apologies, dear reader. And let’s pick up the tale, and read on……..

Soon after he left the High School, Richard married his wife Barbara. Their first daughter was born on January 1st 1944.

Shortly afterwards, Richard applied to become an officer. This desire to serve his country, though, would rob him of his young life. Aged only 21, while “undergoing training”, Richard died of pneumonia, probably in the hospital at Portree, the main town on the Isle of Skye in the Western Scottish Highlands. This was on February 29th 1944. I have found nothing precise about his death and probably never will. Here’s Portree today:

Initially, few men wanted commissions and many men dropped out of the training. Changes were then made to attract men from more humble backgrounds, and to break the mould which said that only the upper classes possessed sufficient brain power to be an officer. The rigidity of the system was quite astonishing. Even in the South Notts Hussars, High School boys were always limited to being just corporals or sergeants. The officers had always been to more illustrious schools in the region such as Repton or Uppingham.

Promises for change had been made, though. Candidates were no longer asked which school they had attended. New leadership activities were used to test out the candidates, with an emphasis on problem solving and command tasks.

Successful applicants were then sent to Officer Cadet Training Units. To improve their physical fitness, these were in the Brecon Beacons or the Scottish Highlands, particularly the Black Cuillins on Skye, which were possibly the most difficult mountains in the whole country:

Many problems occurred with this physical training, which was often in such terrible weather that the men’s health was affected. Cadets frequently suffered from exhaustion. And the constantly cold, wet weather could affect everybody after an entire month in the mountains, hiding in ditches filled with cold water or sleeping in a freezing damp tent. And there were lots of twenty mile marches. And runs up steep hills. And night marches in the pouring rain.

Would-be officers require outstanding qualities but not at the expense of their deaths. Most, though, did not want to be returned to their units and they were completely willing to risk their own lives. And there were deaths. Two 19-year old cadets, for example, drowned in North Wales, trying to cross a river patrolled by “enemy” troops.

During his physical training, Richard Milnes died of pneumonia, one of the greatest killers of the twentieth century.

One other Old Nottinghamian serviceman died of illness during the war, a butcher’s son from Ilkeston Road, named Peter Vernon. He died in the North Atlantic at the age of 23, through “illness contracted during naval operations in northern waters on H.M. Motor Minesweeper 260″, battered ceaselessly by extra strong winds and freezing rain. Peter probably died in the Invergordon Royal Navy Auxiliary Hospital.

Portree and Invergordon are only 90-100 miles apart and Peter died on January 26th 1944, just over a month before Richard Milnes would pass away. It may well have been the same spell of awful weather that killed them both.

Richard Milnes was buried in Stronuirinish Cemetery near Portree. He was 21.

 

 

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (2)

Last time, I told you my Dad’s three favourite lines of poetry, which he would quote out loud at what he thought was the right moment.

Any mention of autumn, in any context, in real life, on TV, the fact that it was October, any of those would produce Keats’ line:

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”

Sometimes he would manage the second line after it:

“Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun”

Any bird high up in the sky, perhaps a skylark but definitely not an eagle, pigeon or airliner would produce Shelley’s line:

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,”

And then, Fred’s improvement on the lines by William Henry Davies:

“What is this life if so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare ? ”

Any mention of ships though, either in real life or on television, would set him off with some phrases, or even a couple of lines, from another of Fred’s favourite poets, namely John Masefield. All the family, therefore, soon became familiar with the various vessels of his poem “Cargoes”, and their home ports.  There was a “quinquireme of Nineveh ” and a “ stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus ” or, much more more likely in the North Sea off Skegness or Scarborough, perhaps, a “ dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack. ”

The first verse was a

“Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.”

The second verse was equally exotic:

“Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.”

And here’s that very galleon:

In contrast, though, the third, and last, verse is about a ship of a much humbler origin:

“Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.”

And here it is:

And now, some of the meanings:

Nineveh was the ancient capital of Assyria. You can see its ruins on the opposite bank of the River Tigris from Mosul, in northern Iraq.

Ophir was probably one of the many empires which flourished either on the banks of the Nile or in the Horn of Africa. King Solomon received a cargo from Ophir every three years. It was a consignment of gold, silver, sandalwood, pearl, ivory, apes, and peacocks. Presumably, the quinqireme in the poem was on its way to Israel.

Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz. The name comes from the Greek “αμέθυστος“.

Moidores were a Portuguese gold coin of the early 18th century and then worth about 27 shillings.

Topaz is a silicate mineral of aluminium and fluorine with the chemical formula Al2SiO4(F, OH)2. Topaz crystallizes in the orthorhombic system, and its crystals are mostly prismatic terminated by pyramidal and other faces. (There will be a test next Monday).

As a preliminary to the test, which one is which? Moidores? Topaz? Amethyst?

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Why no statue ? (5) John Dane Player

John Player’s cigarette company was, strangely enough, set up in Nottingham by a man called John Player. In 1868, he had a shop on Beastmarket Hill and was busy pre-packing the various blends of tobacco so that he could serve his customers much more quickly when they came in. By 1877, he was operating from Broad Marsh, where he introduced ready-packed cigarettes in a readily identifiable packet. He registered as his trademark the well-known drawing of Nottingham Castle. Here it is, at the top of the packet :

In 1883, the famous sailor’s head first appeared. Four years later the famous “Navy Cut” cigarettes were introduced.

When John Player died in 1884, a group of friends of the family ran the company until the two sons, John Dane Player and William Goodacre Player, were able to take over in 1893. Both of these young men were Old Nottinghamians. John had been Boy No 563 and William had been Boy No 564. They were both living in Belgrave Square off All Saints Street, when they entered the High School on January 22nd 1879. At this point, they were both in the Lower School with Nos 541 and 542 respectively.

When the two brothers took over the family business, it was worth around £200,000 (£2.65 million today). They soon merged with WD & HO Wills, the makers of “Woodbines”. These were very popular cigarettes during World War 1 and were handed out free to the troops as they went into the front line trenches (even though it may have been bad for their health).

Player’s, though, continued to market Navy Cut, John Player Special and Gold Leaf. By the beginning of WW2 in 1939, Player’s were selling 67% of the cigarettes in Great Britain. They were extremely popular among the middle classes in the south of the country.  And women found them very chic and alluring:

At that time there was little idea that cigarettes were dangerous. Any number of “physicians” were willing to step forward and approve cigarettes. Some even thought that cigarettes were beneficial and could cure throat and lung problems. Here’s the most surreal image of that era

“More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!”

So everybody was totally confident about the safety of cigarettes and more people smoked than didn’t. John Player and Sons made money in in unbelievably huge amounts. It was said that once a year, when John Dane Player signed the company’s tax cheque, they paid for the National Health service.

Here are the John Player Tobacco Warehouses in Radford, a working class area of Nottingham. The architects all won prizes:

The first people to benefit from the company’s huge income were the company’s employees. Player’s recreation ground was opened on Aspley Lane in 1906. In 1910, they began paying every employee an annual bonus. Holidays with pay were started in 1922. Wages were high and working conditions were excellent and always as safe as possible. In 1934 the two brothers were both made Freemen of Nottingham for their investment in the welfare of their workers. At the end of the war “Navy Cuttings”, a periodical exclusively for employees at Player’s, was published. It was issued once a month until 1967. The contents included information about the different departments and their staff to sports fixtures and forthcoming marriages. The sports articles were always very popular and employees were praised for their sporting prowess.

The atmosphere at the factory was wonderful:

“A lot of people met their husbands and wives at the factory.   We were like one big family.”

One employee said:

“Jobs were only advertised internally. People were moved round the departments and life was very varied. You just felt as if they cared for each employee.”

Sports clubs were set up and led to a comprehensive welfare and sports organisation with private grounds of a very high standard. Employees played in Players Sports teams in a number of different sports such as athletics, soccer, cricket and field hockey for example, and it was all paid for, with weekends away for participants. Here’s the Christmas party:

Just look at their faces. They are happy. And look at their clothes. They have enough money to be well dressed. They even have a company nurse. Can you spot her, standing behind Wally?

John Player had clearly succeeded in his mission. He had built a factory, employed thousands of people and then managed to treat them all decently. And they, clearly,  had responded to his kindness. They liked going to work.

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (1)

My Grandfather, Will, had apparently always loved poetry, and in this respect, his son, and my Dad, Fred, was to follow willingly in his father’s footsteps. This burgeoning love of rhyme was nurtured and encouraged by the fact that, like many children in the British Empire, Fred possessed a set of  “The Children’s Encyclopedia” by Arthur Mee, a famous, familiar and popular book of the 1930s:

Arthur Mee believed that the English, and in particular the English boy, were the “peak of creation”, although my mother, well familiar both with me and her husband, thought he was a madman. Each volume of Mee’s ten volume set of encyclopedias contained sixteen different themes or subjects and great prominence was always given to the Poetry sections, which were selected by Sir John Hammerton, a famous contemporary historian. Fred also liked the dinosaur pictures too:

Fred would often quote poetry, and his three favourite lines were……

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness ”

This is a line of Keats which was automatically triggered by any mention whatsoever of autumn. Or by a walk into a wood in autumn. Or a TV programme about autumn.

Keats’ best pal, Shelley, wrote the lines which are in second place:

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,”

These words would invariably emerge should any sighting of a skylark occur, perhaps during a walk alongside a field of corn. Quite often, it would be just any bird seen to be doing skylarky type things:

In third place came the rather wise, and arguably, slightly incorrect ……

“What is this life if so full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare ? ”

The correct version has no “so” and, surprisingly, no question mark:

“What is this life if,  full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare. ”

The poem was written by William H Davies, a Welsh poet, who spent many years as a tramp or hobo, in the United Kingdom and the United States. Presumably my Dad did not know that he was Welsh. Being Welsh was never a plus point with my Dad.

Fred always professed that his favourite poet was John Clare.  You can read about him in one of my early and probably over long posts, here.

And this is John Clare, perhaps “before” and “after” the boiled egg hairstyle became popular:

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In retrospect, I have always felt that Fred saw Clare as the simple, agricultural working class man, held firmly in his place in a world dominated by the upper classes, who were, for the most part as poets, fairly worthless and useless aesthetes, lacking Clare’s poetic talents, his intelligence and his capacity for accurate observation of the world around him. Perhaps too, as a native of the simple country village of Woodville, Fred could recognise the truth of the statement by Ronald Blythe, the President of the Clare Society, that the impoverished poet was “England’s most articulate village voice”.

It is not a giant leap, of course, to say that Fred probably saw his own life as directly paralleling that of Clare, denied as he was for purely financial reasons, the chance to go to a grammar school, and to have the same education as the more successful, and much less talented, upper class people that he would meet during the rest of his life, particularly in the RAF.

Given this love of John Clare, therefore, every time that he physically saw one running about, perhaps in a school playground when he was on yard duty, Fred would always identify this black and white bird as the “little trotty wagtail”, a phrase taken from one of Clare’s most frequently quoted poems:

Little trotty wagtail, he went in the rain,
And tittering, tottering sideways he near got straight again.
He stooped to get a worm, and look’d up to catch a fly,
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry.

Little trotty wagtail, he waddled in the mud,
And left his little footmarks, trample where he would.
He waddled in the water-pudge, and waggle went his tail,
And chirrupt up his wings to dry upon the garden rail.

Little trotty wagtail, you nimble all about,
And in the dimpling water-pudge you waddle in and out;
Your home is nigh at hand, and in the warm pigsty,
So little Master Wagtail, I’ll bid you a goodbye.

 

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