With the books that I eventually produce, my main intention will be to preserve our knowledge of the sacrifices made by these men, but at the same time, I do feel that I have one other main aim, which is to demonstrate that, as we live our own lives, we are surrounded by history of all kinds.
History is always there, hiding in the streets we walk down and in the houses we walk past. It is there, hiding in the buildings of a great city and it is hiding even in the corridors and rooms of the High School. It hides behind the modern frontage of the Park Salon and Quality4Students on Derby Road, up near Canning Circus:
History even hides behind the steamed up windows of the City Chicken Cafe and the Istanbul Off Licence on Mansfield Road:
It hides catastrophic defeats:
And it hides catastrophic accidents:
There’s no blue plaque to remember Peter Vernon, though. No flag flies over the home of “Watty” Watson. We have no statue in Edwards Lane of “Farmer” Richardson. No films are ever shown on our televisions of George Brown, the young man:
“whose fast in-swinging yorker on the leg stump was so devastating on its day.”
But I do not want this secret history of ordinary people to be forgotten. The modest men in these books all died for our freedom. Freedom from oppression, freedom from racism, freedom from random prejudice, from arrest without reason, from chance execution, from a quick death in a gas chamber or a slow death as a slave labourer :
They saved us from a society without free speech, without choice and with no discussion of the future of us all:
They saved us from a political system which, at the end of the war, was quite willing to kill a substantial percentage of its own citizens as the best way forward towards a better life.
In this book, therefore, you will find as much as I could discover about well over a hundred men from Nottingham High School who gave their lives willingly in the cause of freedom.
That sounds a great many people and it was, for a school with total numbers of between five and six hundred at any one moment during the period under review.
The criteria for being added to the list were, for the most part, inclusion in the long list kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which uses its own date limits for the casualty’s death of September 3rd 1939 to December 31st 1947. I did stretch the definition slightly to include the men who died while working to support the Allied cause. A university lecturer who is killed in an aircraft crash as he travels from place to place on a lecture tour around the Mediterranean theatre will be in the list, just as much as the man who organises food for a million refugees in India and who prevents the outbreak of a typhoid epidemic. Both are clearly making contributions to the war effort. They are both, to quote a famous football manager, “Getting us closer to the top of the hill.”
14 responses to “My Book (2)”
Yes, we are surrounded by history of all kinds — a continuously unrolling story that we ignore. We focus on our own generation and ignore those that preceded us. To my mind it is not the sum of events that is important, it is all of the individual events, the little events that create the sum. You do great work, John. Keep it up.
Thank you very much. You are very kind. When I was a little boy, my Dad showed me a Saxon church which had a number of grooves worn in the stones on the outside. This was apparently the work of the local men who would attend the church service back in the 1100s and then go outside and sharpen their arrows before going off to archery practice. Week after week after week. And one day, they went to France and won the Battle of Agincourt.
As a child, I was absolutely entranced by that little bit of local history and I just can’t stop looking for more examples of things that seem trivial yet, when you explore them, they are actually quite significant.
Years ago when I studied history at the University of Colorado, we studied the “big events”, the sweeping events which changed society. I asked a professor once about the “small” things that changed society, and his reply was that they certainly occurred but that it was the big events that mattered. Perhaps, he was right. The archers of Agincourt, though, would not have been there without years of training, the development of the long bow and armor penetrating arrowheads, and a culture that promoted archery. All small things in and of themselves, that led to the big event. The small things of which you write, John, were important. Keep it up.
A splendid project, John
Thank you, Derrick. Famous last words, but so far it is going OK, more or less. I just didn’t think there’d be so many of them!
I have often tried to get people to look into the area they call home – because I know they’ll be surprised at all the history they’ve been overlooking day after day. You teach the readers a good lesson with your work here, John!
What a brilliant project. And some really poignant reflections. Congratulations, John.
Thank you very much. I now have to split the hundred odd people into the requisite number of books that are light enough to be lifted, and take it from there!
It is, indeed, important that we do not forget history and the men and women who sacrificed their lives so that we could have a better future. All the best, John 🙂
Thanks very much. I just wish more was done to remember people that we owe so much to. A few street names wouldn’t hurt, for example.
We are indeed surrounded by history and those whom made it. Each little part on it’s on may seem tiny or maybe even insignificant, but put them together and we have history in the making. Everyone who plays their part in that wider scheme of things is worthy of mentioning in my eyes. A very worthy project indeed John!
Thanks very much. I’d never thought of so many people doing little bits to push history along, but you’re absolutely right. They all play their part!
Yes, history is always there around us. And all those countless people who have give up their lives for the sake of the country. Thank you for sharing.
I’m glad you enjoyed it. I find it fascinating to think that somebody used to live in a certain house and walk in through that particular door, and look through that particular window, warm himself at that particular fire and so on. Most fascinating is to look at a huge tree that somebody planted as a little tiny plant years and years and years ago and now it is a hundred feet tall.