Monthly Archives: March 2015

Casualty rates in the Great War

Years ago I wrote a worldwide best-selling book about the history of football in the High School from 1870-1914.(Just kidding). In the foreword, I revealed the identity of the Old Boy who had won an Olympic Gold Medal for the United Kingdom at Association Football. I made public which Old Boy had scored more goals in a single F.A.Cup tie than any other player in the history of the competition. I listed the eight Old Boys who had played international football for England. I recalled the Old Boy whose refereeing in an F.A.Cup tie led the F.A. to introduce the concept of the neutral referee, an idea which has spread worldwide since that biased performance. I described an occasion when the High School goalkeeper let in the winning goal as a protest against the refereeing of the game, and the day when the referee refused to give a penalty because “penalty kicks were unknown in amateur football”. The reader could find out which team lost 0-13 and did not get the ball into the opposition half at any point during the game. In another fixture, against Nottingham Asylum, “the presence of so many lunatics unnerved the school team, for it did not come up to its normal form.”  I remembered the day when “The School Six defeated the Masters by three goals to one. The masters, who, like Hamlet, were somewhat “fat and scant of breath”, then demanded to play two fat men extra, to compensate for their want of nimbleness. This unfortunate challenge was accepted, and the School won again by ten goals to one.”

Overall,  this book provided many examples of extraordinary, and, indeed, often amusing events on the football pitches of Victorian and Edwardian England.

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When I first started my researches, looking through issue after issue of, firstly, “The Forester’, and then “The Nottinghamian”, it seemed that this would ever be the case. Here was a football spectators’ paradise, where goals rained into the net in every single game, as Leicester Wyggeston School  were beaten by 23-0 on two separate occasions. Deadly goal poachers scored hat tricks past defenders made slow-witted by heavy leather boots, and referees, and their decisions, grew ever more eccentric by the year.

 

My suspicions, though, were initially aroused by the story of William Norman Hoyte who was at the High School from 1904-1913, when he won an Open Scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge to read Natural Sciences. William represented his college at rowing and appeared in the Second May Boat. His studies, and his rowing, though, were interrupted by his military service as a Lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters in the Great War. He was a very brave young man and won the Military Cross twice. When he returned to Jesus College in 1919, though, he was unable to continue with his rowing. After the appalling carnage of the Great War, William Norman Hoyte M.C. and Bar was Jesus College’s only remaining rower from the pre-war years. All the rest had been killed.

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Morbid curiosity then caused me to wonder what were the eventual fates of those familiar names whose footballing deeds were recorded in perpetuity in their School Magazine, especially those who would have been of an age to have been sucked into the flesh shredding maelstrom of the Great War. where, on average, every single metre of trench was to be hit by a total of one ton of explosives. What I found, quite frankly, astounded me, and I do not feel that any reader, safe from harm, here at the beginning of the twenty first century, can begin to comprehend either the numbers of men involved in this war, or the enormous casualties which the nation suffered.

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During the Great War, for example, British forces lost 887,711 men killed and 1,663,570 men wounded. Of these 118,941 were officers. The British Empire had casualties of 1,244,589, with French deaths counted at 1,737,800. Italy lost 1,737,800 me killed and the Russians 3,394,369. Germany had 2,800,720 killed, the Austro-Hungarian Empire 2,081,200 and the Ottoman Empire 3,271,844. The United Kingdom lost as many as 2.20% of its total population, the French 4.39% and the Germans 4.32%.

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In individual battles, the loss of human life could be even more astounding. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1st 1916, the 8th Division lost 218 of its 300 officers at Ovillers in just two hours. Of 8,500 other ranks, 5,274 men perished. On this single day, the total casualties of the British Army were 57,470 men. German casualties were just over 300. In the first three days of the Battle of the Somme, the average daily casualties per division were 101 officers and 3,320 men. During the second week, 10,000 men a day were lost, and for the remaining four or five months of the campaign, casualty rates were in the range of 2,500 men per day. Overall, this battle was to cost the lives of 420,000 British and Commonwealth troops, with a total of 220,000 French casualties. German losses remain unknown but were at least 450,000, and may have reached 600,000. In the photograph below, the tiny squares are all graves:

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Nor is this necessarily an isolated set of statistics. In the Second Battle of Ypres, in April 1915, the 149th Brigade lost over three quarters of their complement, a total of some 42 officers and 1,912 men. The 10th Brigade more or less ceased to exist, losing 73 officers and 2,346 men. In the Third Battle of Ypres, between August and November 1916, British infantry repeatedly advanced against German machine gunners, with casualties totalling 244,897. On the second day of the Battle of Loos, twelve battalions, numbering some 10,000 men, attacked the German machine guns. In just over three hours, 385 officers were lost, along with 7,681 men. On July 31st 1917, when the 1/1st Hertfordshires attacked the Langemarck Line, every single officer was a casualty and eleven of them were killed. The other ranks suffered 459 casualties and drafts of men had to be made to rebuild the battalion. Not until May 1918 was the 1/1st Hertfordshire Regiment fully reconstituted by absorbing thirty officers and 650 men from 6th Bedfordshire Regiment. In the Battle of Aubers Ridge, General Rawlinson, irritated with the lack of progress, complained to his Brigadier-Generals,

“Where are the Sherwood Foresters ?  Where are the Sherwood Foresters? ”

Brigadier-General Oxley replied, “They are lying out in no-man’s-land, sir, and most of them will never stand again.” Many of these particular casualties, especially the Lieutenants and Second Lieutenants, may well have been Old Nottinghamians, but nowadays, there is no way of being any more precise than that.

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One thing of which we are certain is that Robert George Hopewell played in the High School First Team from 1897-1899. Robert was the son of Noah and Margaret Hopewell, of Old Basford and the devoted husband of Gladys Eleanor Hopewell.  They lived at West Brook in Mansfield, Robert was killed at Thiepval during the Battle of the Somme on September 3rd 1916, at the age of 33. A stretcher-bearer’s description of Thiepval in 1916 has survived to the present day…

“The trenches were knee-deep in glueing mud and it was the hardest work I have ever done…The banks on each side were full of buried and half-buried corpses and the stench was appalling. As one was carrying a wounded man down, one perhaps got stuck in the mud and staggered whilst one extricated oneself or was extricated. You put out a hand to steady yourself, the earth gave way and you found that you were clutching the blackened face of a half-buried German.”

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Nowadays, Thiepval is the scene of a huge memorial dedicated to those British soldiers who have no known grave. There are 73,000 names listed on it.

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Thomas Cripwell Wilson was an Old Nottinghamian who served as a Private in the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion. He was the son of Thomas and Mary Carr Wilson, of 5, Mount Hooton Terrace, Forest Road, just a five minute walk from the High School. Thomas was wounded in 1915, but returned to France in 1917.

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He was killed in action in November of that same year. His war could be described in equally frank terms…

“All those picturesque phrases of war writers are dangerous because they show nothing of the individual horror, nothing of the fine personalities suddenly smashed into red beastliness, nothing of the sick fear that is tearing at the hearts of brave boys…a thing infinitely more terrible than physical agony.”

The earliest High School football players to be involved in the Great War were four boys who played in the 1891-1892 season, namely Blackwall, Hadfield, Senior and Wallis.

Ten years later, the 1901-1902 season was to provide a full team, eleven brave individuals called Constantine, Cooper, Cullen, Emmett, Hore, Johnson, Marrs, Millward, Settle, Watson and Woollatt.

By 1913-1914, even more footballers were destined to risk their lives on the Western Front. They were now a full tem with a generous selection of substitutes, including Barber, Boyd, Cleveland, Fleet, Harlow, Hind, Lyon, Munks, Nidd, Page, Parr, Prince, Sadler, Taylor, Telford, A.G.Wilson and W.M.Wilson.

Old Nottinghamians, both footballers and non-footballers, volunteered in huge numbers for the Great War. At least one thousand five hundred boys and staff went willingly from a comfortable, safe, and usually well-off  family background in Nottingham, to what was arguably the bloodiest war in human history.

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Filed under Football, France, History, Nottingham, Politics, The High School

The Ghost of George’s Hill

I used to be a teacher. Not much connection there with scary monsters, but I did once hear an absolutely wonderful ghost story at a Parents’ Evening. The phantom involved is actually very famous in Nottinghamshire, but at the time, I had never heard this scary tale.

I was speaking to a boy’s mother. She said that the family lived in the village of Calverton.  She told me how her husband refused ever to drive again along a certain road to the north of Nottingham because it was strongly haunted, and he had been absolutely terrified when he met the ghost. Look for the orange arrow…

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In the map above, the yellow road in the centre is the B684, the “Plains Road” which leaves Nottingham northwards and climbs slowly but surely along what must have been at one time an ancient Stone Age Ridge Route and perhaps even a hunting trail. With some amazing views, particular to the east, the road eventually sweeps around to the west  to join the main road from Nottingham, the  A614. This road goes northwards towards the A1 at Clumber Park, the “Great North Road”. Just before this major junction there is a minor cross roads called Dorket Head where a country lane winds northwards down an extremely steep hill. It forms a short cut down to what is nowadays the dormitory village of Calverton.

The map below is a larger scale version of the most important features in the tale. (the orange arrow points to the steeply winding country lane in question)

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The mother explained how her husband had seen the ghost and he had been so absolutely terrified that, after this, he had never ever again driven back home along this road. He therefore ignored an obvious shortcut to Calverton from his office, one which would have saved quite a lot in petrol costs over the weeks and months. Instead the husband preferred to spend his hard earned cash on driving around the three sides of a rectangle, but a rectangle where there was no possible prospect of being terrified out of his wits on a second occasion. This circuitous route ran along the B684 to the main road, the A614, and then along the next turn right, the brown road past Ramsdale House and up to the Arts Centre, and then another right turn into Calverton. The three sides of his rectangle must have included making at least one right turn across the high-speed oncoming traffic on the A614.

Her husband had seen the ghost in the absolutely classic way which is featured on so many different websites about Nottinghamshire phantoms.

Basically it is a very simple scenario. As you drive down the narrow road following the twisting, turning descent with great care, concentrating hard on what is ahead of you, you suddenly notice that there is somebody sitting in the empty back seat of your car. You will see the stranger occasionally in the rear view mirror when the car swings from side to side as you follow the twisting loops of the road. Sightings of your unwanted passenger will be only fleeting, but they will seem more terrifying because of this. Drivers who stop the car to look behind them invariably find that the rear seat is empty.

Anyway, this particular father was so terrified that he never again even contemplated going down the hill. The ghost he saw, as far as I remember, was an old woman. The mother also told me how a very great number of people in Calverton, if they can possibly avoid it, would not consider for a moment driving down this hill for the very same reason as her husband.

Ten minutes’ research on the Internet revealed that the road is called George’s Lane and the hill is called George’s Hill. The haunting seems to be most frequent at Dorket Head or at the junction with Spindle Lane. On this map, Dorket Head is the crossroads which forms the junction of George’s Lane with the B684. The dotted line, indicated again by the orange arrow, is Spindle Lane.

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Nicholas A.C. Blake of Nottingham made an appeal for information on his website. He too had seen an old lady in the car and he sought other witnesses at “nblake42@hotmail.com”

Sarah Meakin of Carlton, Nottingham, returned from Calverton after some babysitting to feel the car suddenly go cold on a warm summer’s evening, and she then looked in her rear view mirror to see “a black hooded figure, which can only describe as looking like a monk”.
The absolutely splendid “Paranormal Database” reveals that…

“A ghostly entity is reported to materialise on the back seat of passing cars in both of these locations – on the lane the figure takes the form of an old lady, and on the hill the figure wears a black hooded garment. Normally the witness only sees the entity in the rear view mirror; when they turn round, the figure has vanished.”

Well, you know where George’s Lane is, and you know what might happen and you know what you might see. So off you go, and make sure you keep your eyes on the road, as well as on your rear view mirror.

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Filed under Nottingham, The High School

As promised, a beautiful bird in the garden

In a previous blogpost I extolled at great length the many ways in which a fascinating plant called the teasel was extremely beneficial to wildlife. In the summer therefore, our garden played host to a number of lovely butterflies:

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The teasel also kept us human beings interested by drowning passing insects and slowly absorbing the chemicals from their bodies. Here is the teasel in flower:

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I hope you have not forgotten though, how I made a solemn promise that, when the seeds had matured, the seed heads would play host to one of our most beautiful birds, the Goldfinch.
They should have been here in autumn, but now, at last, they have finally made their long awaited appearance. I, of course, missed them on their first visit, but my daughter and fellow blogger saw them and took a few photographs. Here are some of them.

Firstly, it may actually be a case of “Spot the bird”:

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Not always an easy decision to make:

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Yes, at last, a Goldfinch:

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As far as I know, the males and females are the same:

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At least, they look it:

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Filed under My Garden, My House, Nottingham, Science, Wildlife and Nature

Excitement with a capital Egret

(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

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Saturday, June 18, 1988

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Excitement with a capital E. I ring faithful old Birdline, at two o’clock, and for once strike lucky. The pre-recorded message tells me that a Great White Egret is present at Rutland Water, on the Egleton Reserve. I ring Paul before jumping into the car and heading off at a rate of knots. Noble and honourable to the core. Except Paul isn’t there. I decide on a compromise, or, as you are entitled to call it, the coward’s way out. I’ve already promised my wife that I’ll take her to Sainsbury’s, so I spend the next half hour driving round the Ring Road at 90 miles per hour, doing a week’s shopping in a British Olympic qualifying time, and then returning to phone Paul just once more. Still no answer. Knowing him, he’s properly gone off with his mate Mark to see the bird without bothering to tell me. So into the car I jump, and off I go.

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It takes me about three quarters of an hour to do the forty miles to Rutland Water, with an irritating delay in the Saturday shopping traffic at both Melton Mowbray and Oakham.

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When I get to the reserve, there is a heart stopping moment when I see that there are no cars in the reserve car park. Not to worry, the bird has just moved a short distance out of the reserve, towards the Hambleton Road. The warden on duty gives me a disconcertingly long set of immensely complex instructions to take me down to a crossroads, where the bird is still on view. In actual fact, his instructions prove to be wonderfully exact and easy to follow, and I am soon beside a crossroads, where there is an obvious crowd of birdwatchers, and a great tangle of carelessly parked and apparently abandoned cars.

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I see the bird immediately from the car, before I even pull to a halt. It flies in an almighty arc, with that same translucent pearly white as the  Little Egret I saw at Frampton, only this time the bird is a lot bigger, the size of a Grey Heron.

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When I finally arrive on foot at “The Place”, “The Bird” has landed on the very topmost branch of a tree, about seventy yards from the road. It is a very striking individual, looking absolutely enormous, perched in the very top twigs of what is not really a particularly large  tree. The bird appears to be extremely precariously balanced, but it seems happy enough. I get it in my telescope and watch it until boredom sets in. The bird is, by now, just very gradually beginning to get more and more restless, as a larger and larger crowd builds up, and the hum of human conversation gradually becomes louder and louder. It keeps looking around in an almost panicky sort of way, until it finally flies off low between the trees, looking for all the world as if it is going just a few hundred yards away.

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In actual fact, it isn’t, and the rare visitor is never seen again on the reserve.I drive around to the northern section of the reserve, where there are a lot of quiet places, all ideal habit for an egret. It isn’t there. I look for a good half hour, but finally have to admit defeat. It’s really sad how many birdwatchers arrive after the bird’s departure, some from as far away as Somerset. On the other hand, it is certainly arguable that it is the large number of noisy, chattering birdwatchers that have caused the bird to fly off.

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Nowadays, some twenty five years later, the Great White Egret is by no means a rare bird in England.

They have bred here on at least two occasions, in 2012 and 2013, at Shapwick Heath, Nature England’s National Nature Reserve in Somerset.

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Every year, up to forty individuals will arrive in England in the winter, having left the colder climes of mainland Europe. The bird which remains still genuinely rare in England, though, is the American version of this bird, the Great Egret Ardea alba egretta (as opposed to the European Great White Egret Ardea alba alba). This subspecies is suspected as having occurred in the UK as a very rare vagrant on just a few occasions.

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School Gardener wins F.A.Cup Medal !!!

During the early months of the Easter Term of 1925, the long serving and popular School Gardener, Mr Kidd, was taken seriously ill. He had worked at the High School for thirty-seven years, and “must have been seen by thousands of boys at his work in front of the school.”  Mr Kidd was not well enough to carry on with his job and, poor man, was eventually to succumb to his illness during the early part of the Summer Term.  He was duly succeeded as the School Gardener by Mr Wragg, whom the “Nottinghamian” called “a footballer and cricketer of great prowess”.

Mr Wragg was paid £3 per week, which was a decent wage in 1925. At the same time, my own Grandad was more than happy to earn £2.20 as his weekly wage in a clay works in South Derbyshire. I have done quite a lot of research about who exactly Mr Wragg was.  Of course, nearly a century after the event, it is impossible to establish the truth without the slightest shred of doubt whatsoever, but I am now 99.9% certain that the High School’s new Gardener was William Arthur “Willie” Wragg.

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Willie Wragg was born in Radford, Nottingham in 1875, and initially played local football for Notts Olympic, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Newstead Byron and then Hucknall Portland. He was soon signed by Nottingham Forest and played for them as a professional footballer from 1896-1899. Appearing usually as a left-half, Willie made 48 League appearances in the First Division for Forest and scored one goal. Overall, he played 58 times for Forest in all competitions. This photograph shows the home of Nottingham Forest, the City Ground, during the 1898-1899 season:

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Willie made his début at home to Liverpool on November 28th 1896 in a comfortable 2-0 victory. He went on to play a further twelve times in the First Division that season, with a further four appearances in the F.A.Cup. He scored a single goal in a friendly match, a 2-1 victory over Dundee United at Crystal Palace. The following season of 1896-1897, Willie Wragg made 24 appearances in Division One and six in the F.A.Cup. He scored a single goal in the First Division in a 1-1 draw at home to Sunderland. The next season of 1897-1898 was his last at Forest. He played 13 times with most of his games coming as a left fullback. His final appearance came as a left half in a 0-0 draw at home to local rivals Notts County in front of a crowd of some 16,000 spectators. Here is Notts County’s magpie kit on that long ago Saturday, September 4th 1897. The crowd was a very respectable 15,000 spectators:

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As far as the boys are concerned the School Gardener can be a rather anonymous figure, working away quietly at the front of the school, a man whom the majority of pupils would not even notice. They were probably unaware of his lengthy pedigree as a professional footballer, but many hundreds of those unknowing little boys would have given a great deal to get their hands on what Willie Wragg had won during his three years at Forest, namely a Winner’s Medal from an F.A.Cup Final.

Willie had played at Crystal Palace on April 16th 1898 in front of a crowd of 62,017 spectators, when Nottingham Forest beat Derby County, Steve Bloomer and all, by three goals to one. Here is the front of the programme:

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And here is the back:$(KGrHqFHJE4FGNV2GFfCBRonbILDSQ~~60_35

From his position as a left-half, Willie actually created Forest’s first goal, for it was from his free kick on the left near the touchline, that the ball eventually reached Arthur Capes who hit  the back of the net through a crowd of defenders.  Here is a picture of the game in progress…IMAGE_386

And here is a second photograph from a little further back…

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Later in the game, Wragg aggravated an injury suffered in the first-half, and, in the days before substitutes, was forced to move out on to the wing, not taking much further part in the game.That did not stop his appearance on the souvenir cigarette card…

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Willie then left Forest, to go and play for Leicester Fosse in the Second Division. He spent two seasons at Leicester, making 50 appearances and scoring four goals. He was perhaps a little slower now and played at full back. Willie also became the club’s free kick specialist. He went on to appear just once for Small Heath (later to become Birmingham City), but he was unfortunately unable to displace George Adey from the team. His footballing career then rather petered out as he played for Watford in the Southern League and then Hinckley Town in the Midland League. His Football League career began again with Chesterfield Town (20 appearances, no goals) before a final return to non-League football with Accrington Stanley, Doncaster Rovers and finally Brighton & Hove Albion. Overall, Willie Wragg had made 119 appearances in the Football League.

Personally I believe that Willie Wragg may well have acquired his job as School Gardener at the High School through his past career at Nottingham Forest. At the time of the Cup win in 1898, the club’s then Chairman was Mr William Thomas Hancock, a prominent Old Boy of the High School, who had retired as Chairman of Nottingham Forest in 1920, only five years before Willie Wragg was appointed as the School Gardener. In 1925 Mr Hancock was still a Life Member of the football club.

Most romantically of all though, perhaps ex-Chairman Hancock still remembered his day of glory when he posed on the Official Photograph of the F.A.Cup Winners of 1898 and knew exactly who had done more than his share to make possible that unique and unrepeatable thrill of being a winner. Mr Hancock is the gentleman third from the left on the back row.

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Indeed, in 1898, when this photograph was taken of the players in the victorious team at Crystal Palace, how proud Mr Hancock must have been to stand with them:

back row: H.Hallam (Secretary), T.McInnes, Mr W. T. Hancock (Chairman), A.Ritchie, D.Allsop, unknown, A.Scott, unknown, A.Spouncer, G.Bee (Trainer)

front row:  C.H.Richards, Frank Forman, J.McPherson, W.A.Wragg, A.Capes

sitting:  L.Benbow

The photograph is, in itself, quite interesting, because it is one of two very similar photographs. In one of them, Forest posed with the cup, and in the other, they were photographed without it. The reason for this was that the crowd for the F.A.Cup Final was 62,000 spectators and almost all of them invariably invaded the playing area after the end of the game. This made it quite impossible to take a proper photograph of the winning team. And certainly the crowds do look huge and they seem to be pretty much left to their own devices…

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The usual convention, therefore, was that both teams were photographed before the match, in conditions of complete calm, the photographers taking two pictures of each, one as victors with the trophy, the other as losers without it.  Afterwards, the two irrelevant photos were destroyed, although this has clearly not happened in this case.

It is also known that in this particular year, enormous problems were experienced with Forest’s red shirts and blue shorts, which did not show up particularly well in the comparatively dull weather conditions.

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The photographers therefore asked them to pose in Derby’s kit, wearing white shirts and black shorts. Perhaps this is why they look especially miserable, although, of course, Forest were certainly to have the last laugh.

Whatever the reason for Willie Wragg becoming the School Gardener, though, there was certainly an enormous connection between the football club and the High School. Almost forty Old Nottinghamians had already played for Forest, especially in the 1880s, and many of them had represented the club in important cup games, including semi-finals. By 1925, they were all just of the age to occupy important administrative posts in the club and certainly Tinsley Lindley had been a Committee member at Forest.

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Another familiar face at the City Ground was an Old Nottinghamian who had made his England début alongside Tinsley Lindley in a 6-1 victory over Ireland in Belfast. This was John Edward Leighton, called “Teddy” when he was at school, or, when he played for Forest, “Kipper”, because of his incredible ability to fall asleep in the dressing room before games. Indeed, old Mr Leighton was to fall asleep for the very last time at the City Ground, on the afternoon of Saturday, April 15th 1944, at the age of seventy-nine after a fatal seizure. His sudden demise occurred during a Wartime Cup tie between Nottingham Forest and Northampton Town, a fixture in which the Reds were eventually to triumph by 1-0. Here is “Kipper” though, on a better, and younger, day, sitting with all his pals, it is thought, in the Church Cemetery on Forest Road. They are all wearing the same bright scarlet shirts, and they are universally known as “The Garibaldi Reds” One day they will win the European Cup. Twice.

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Two strange graves

Wandering around Penzance Cemetery looking for the graves of three Luftwaffe bomber crew members, I soon found the War Graves Section of the cemetery.

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Of the 110 identified casualties, two stood out from the rest for very different reasons. The first is a war grave of an extremely strange and unusual political background, coupled with a puzzling discrepancy over dates.
According to his grave, Sapper William Ormerod (1903548) of the 661st General Construction Company of the Royal Engineers died on June 17th 1941.

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William was born in Manchester and had lived in London. As Sapper Ormerod, he was a British Volunteer in the Winter War of 1939-1940 and was killed in action fighting against the Soviet Red Army in Finland.

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Sapper Ormerod was initially buried in Karelia, but at some point his remains were returned to England. This lengthy delay is presumably the reason that the date of death on his grave in Penzance is listed as June 17th 1941, when there is much evidence to support the idea that he was actually killed in the previous year. But neither is a death date of June 17th 1940 particularly likely either, given that the Winter War ended with the Peace of Moscow,  a treaty which was signed on March 12th 1940. Perhaps Sapper Ormerod was initially injured in combat, and then died of his wounds.

The Soviet Union, of course, were our allies for the vast majority of the Second World War. Before Hitler’s surprise attack on Russia, however, the Soviets, having signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in August 1939, the so-called Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, were considered by the British to be an ally of Nazi Germany.

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For this reason, when the Soviets attacked Finland on November 30th 1939, the gallant Finns were considered to be our allies. Presumably, this was the reason that men such as Sapper William Ormerod went out there to fight and in some cases, to make the supreme sacrifice. The great ironies of war were re-established, of course on June 22nd 1941, Operation Barbarossa, when Hitler attacked his erstwhile ally. The Soviet Union then immediately ceased to be a bunch of Commies and became our true and most wonderful of friends. The gallant little Finns became our treacherous, despicable enemies. Too late alas, for William Ormerod.

A second war grave in Penzance Cemetery is unusual for a very different reason. It is the grave of John Ostrich.

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John was a member of the Merchant Navy and served as a Mess Room Boy. He was aged only fourteen years and 344 days old at the time of his death. John was the son of Louis and Nancy Ostrich of Canton in Cardiff, and was a member of the crew of the S.S. Margo, a cargo ship registered in Cardiff, with a weight of 1,412 tons.

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John was killed on March 8th 1941. This account comes from a Merchant Navy Message Board and was written by a guest who signed in with the name of “SIF9HD8”. I hope he will not mind my quoting his words…

“On the afternoon of the March 8, 1941, sailing in the English Channel, the Margo came under attack from three German aircraft who proceeded to rake the ship with machine gun, cannon fire and bombs. Although no bombs or explosives hit the Margo, the ship was violently shaken by the concussion of the near misses and her hull and superstructure were pierced by cannon and machine gun fire. Crew members returned fire with small calibre weapons onboard the Margo, and in the process hit one of the aircraft, which was subsequently seen to break off the attack and black smoke was observed coming from the starboard engine. The remaining aircraft continued their attacks for several more minutes, which was eventually broken off and the aircraft disappeared over the horizon. While assessing the ship’s damage, it was found four crew had suffered various injuries and the young Mess Room Boy lay dead. A course was then set for Penzance to land the wounded and the dead”.

At the tender age of fourteen, John Ostrich was one of the youngest casualties of the Second World War. I found another part of the story on the Internet….

“Archie Richards, a former serviceman with the Royal Navy, who notified the local; newspaper, “The Cornishman” of the grave, said: “I don’t want this to be a competition for who has the youngest war dead. I just want to let people know that a 14-year-old died for his country and lies here.” His final resting place is sited across a path from other war graves, meaning John Ostrich is separated from fallen comrades . Mr Richards added: “I also hope that maybe a family member might come across this and want to visit the grave”.

For years,  the Royal Navy Association had held a service at the war memorial in Penzance cemetery and members had wondered about this boy. Recent government acknowledgement now allows Merchant Navy veterans to stand alongside armed forces personnel and their efforts and achievements in time of war have been recognised as an important part in winning the war.”

A book “They Shall Grow Not Old” by Billy McGee is dedicated to more than 500 boys aged under 16 who died in service with the Merchant Navy during the Second World War. It is only available from the author who can be contacted on “billy1963@ntlworld.com”

The Margo herself had a very long and complex history. Just one screen capture hardly does it justice.

Capture

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