I told you last time about my first book, “500 Happy Returns: Nottingham High School’s Birthday“.
I’m sure you will have heard about my second book, “Nottingham High School : an Anecdotal History”.
Nearly thirty years in the writing, I was quite happy with it and it seems to be selling quite well. I would just love to know where all the people who bought it lived. My first sales ever were two books in Tennessee. What a long, long way from Nottingham!
I still get a kick from all those old photographs. The staff in 1880 or thereabouts:
And then in 1901:
The man at the right hand end of the back row won a Victoria Cross in World War I. Theodore Hardy. Always late for his lessons though, apparently. But he never got told off, probably because he was a Reverend.
And here’s “Nipper” Ryles, with that blank expression on his face which all teachers have from time to time:
I started my next venture about 18 months ago. It was inspired by a fellow teacher and friend of mine, Simon Williams, who had researched the stories of the young men from the High School who were killed in the First World War. He suggested I took a look at the Second World War dead and that is what I’ve been doing.
I was sadly surprised how the numbers went up as I began my researches. It started with 82 on the official list but I have pushed it up to at least 106 with probably more to come.
I’m writing about every single one of them and I have researched both in the School Archives and on the Internet where some absolute treasure houses are to be found.
U-boat of the Day (bottom left)
Everything possible about the Royal Navy and who fired at my Dad’s plane?
Now I have started to write them all up and I’ve got 50 odd of them done. Most run to 4,000-5,000 words because a lot of explanation has to be given. It’ s no use just writing, “He was killed in his Whitley during Operation Husky” and leaving it at that. And I’ve also talked about where they lived, with most of the houses still there and occupied by people who know nothing of their history, nothing of the man who was killed by the Bismarck:
I have been amazed at where all these casualties occurred. Arnhem, The Battle of Britain, Burma, Canada, Dunkirk, India, Iran, Jerusalem, Milford Haven, Sicily, Singapore, Tobruk, Yugoslavia. Killed on a Death March. Killed in a Spitfire, killed in a Lancaster, a Whitley, a Gloster Gladiator. A man who was in the SAS and whose death was so mysterious even they don’t know how he died. And all those who were killed in training. The man in Canada who flew off and was never seen again . The ones who died of pneumonia. The officer cadet who died of hypothermia. But they all started out as schoolboys:
The Great Army of the Dead, who all did what they were asked to :
It’s rather difficult to say that people will enjoy such a book, but it will certainly remind them of who preserved our freedom at the cost of their own life. I suppose what I am trying to do is what Robert Wace, a Norman cleric, said in the Roman de Rou in 1170:
All things decline
Everything falters, dies and ends
Towers cave in, walls collapse
Roses wither, horses stumble
Cloth grows old, men expire
Iron rusts and timber rots away
Nothing made by hand will last
I understand the truth
That all must die, both clerk and lay
And the fame of men now dead
Will quickly be forgotten
Unless the clerk takes up his pen
And brings their deeds to life again
24 responses to “And here is the News (2)……”
What a wonderful poem John. Even though the physical aspects of life expire and may no longer exist, as long as we keep a historical record, nothing is ever truly lost and always remembered.
It certainly is. And I like to think that with our blogs we are all in our own way contributing to a situation where the deeds of brave men and women are not forgotten. I certainly would not have started all my researches about these WW2 heroes without the inspiration of the blogs that I follow.
Here, here, John.
Congratulations on the work, John. Most apt poem
Thank you, Derrick. It started as an interesting thing to do but it seems to have turned into a part-time job. I hadn’t realised that so many ordinary people are capable of such heroism.
I suppose they were all ordinary people then
You and Robert Wace, both sages of your era.
You are very kind. Hopefully, this is ‘sage’ in the sense of ‘wise man’ rather than ‘bushy North American plant with silvery-grey leaves’….although, I will be the first to admit that my hair isn’t quite as dark brown as it used to be!
What a meaningful project, and so interesting the reach that young men, all from the same place, ended up having.
I was astonished when I found out that hardly anything happened in WW2 without one of our former pupils being involved. They certainly did their bit for a school that only ever had between 400-500 pupils during this time.
John, google Nicholas Langman (NHS 69-79). Recently awarded the CMG for his work at the F&C office/MI6. If the stories are true ….
Thanks for that. It looks as if he will be one for somebody to write about in 50 or a 100 years time. I did find an ex-pupil who did stirring deeds for the French resistance but he survived the war so he didn’t make the cut for the work I am doing at the moment.
Great poem, very appropriate.
I found this link today and thought of you – you need to go about halfway down,
Thank you for that. In Bomber Command they used to drop bottles out of aircraft, either full or not, because it was believed that on the ground they sounded exactly like whistling bombs. And somewhere, I’m pretty sure that I read the story of a stricken RAF aircraft, out of ammunition, about to be shot down by a German aircraft, who trailed toilet paper out the back of his plane, and the German flew off, thinking that it must be yet another British secret weapon.
I seem to recall Biggles dropping bottles in the Great War to mimic bombs.
Toilet paper as a secret weapon – priceless.
Congratulations on your new book, John! The individuals who buy your book may in some way be linked with Nottingham High School. There should be a way in which you could engage them to share their link, if one exists.
Yes, I’m sure they must be. It’s just that sitting here in Nottingham, places like Tennessee seem very distant for, say, a little boy that I taught when he was just eleven or twelve. And thank you for your kind words. by the way. They are very gracious.
That poem says it all John and should be remembered. Congratulations on the first book and good luck with the second. It sounds a brilliant and fascinating subject and one that truly needs writing. So many young men paid the ultimate sacrifice and, as it says, if we don’t write it down they will be forgotten and lost in the past. The blogs we write certainly go some way I hope, to redressing the balance. I should imagine the stories you will come across will be every bit as amazing as the deeds they did.
I fully agree with you about the blogs. They do a great deal towards making sure that people are remembered. I would like to see more new streets and features on new housing developments named after war heroes rather than the present system whereby the builder just names them after members of his family.
That is certainly a good idea John. If we have to build over these historic sites let’s at least remember their names in the street or buildings names.
A wonderful poem and you must be feeling so good about your work, thank you for sharing. Regards, Lakshmi
My pleasure, Lakshmi. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Sorry for the late comment, I’ve been catching up on the blog having come to it looking for your book(s). Regarding the war dead, the local historians in my village are doing a similar thing during for 2014-18. They have gathered all the relevant names in the churchyard and done the research, and in each issue of the village newsletter we get a write-up of the lives and backgrounds of the local men who died in the first World War, on or around the centenary of their deaths. They are also remembered in church on the Sunday closest to their deaths. I haven’t been in the village long and don’t know the families concerned, but I think it’s a good and important project.
Thanks very much for your comment. What the people are doing in your village is an excellent idea, because otherwise the men who sacrificed their lives will just be forgotten. Personally, I have found out all kinds of details about the High School’s Second World War dead, and most important of all, I have found an extra 20 or so to add to the list. If I hadn’t done that they would have been lost for ever.