I am still quite proud of the fact that I have found out so much information about the vast majority of these young men. I feel that I have done them all justice and that I have done my very best to keep them in people’s memories, even as they seem to be receding further and further into the anonymous grey mists of time. Here is the School Rugby team in 1926-1927:
I have made great efforts to drag the complete ghost out of the past and to write not just about their fiery deaths but to try and unfold the full and energetic lives they led. It’s only too easy to see a name on a war memorial, to read that name and then to forget it, all in the same moment. For that reason I have tried to describe their families, their fathers, their mothers, their brothers and sisters. I have tried to find out what their father did as a job, where the family lived, in some cases occupying just one or two houses in their lifetime, in others half a dozen. What were their houses like? How might they have travelled to the High School? I have tracked their Forms, their teachers, what they did at School, how their exams went, what position they came in class and what prizes they won, all the things that would have been so important to them at the time. I have written about what their Form Masters were like and talked about their careers. This is Mr Kennard. He definitely took no prisoners:
I have tried to find out what sports our future heroes played:
What school plays they were in. The French farce of the 1920s, “Dr Knock”, perhaps? And which one of these boys became the war hero?:
Or perhaps a play with a chance to wear a lovely frock and a string of pearls? :
Which person collected stamps and who loved to make home movies? I have tried to identify other boys in their Forms who might have been their friends, even if that is just a case of saying who won the Form Prize and where they lived, what job their father did and so on. Here is a class of really small boys, eight and nine year olds, before the First World War:
The worst thing I could have done would have been to have written three thousand words about their death and thirty about their lives. So whatever I could find, I have included. Their sports, their hobbies, their jobs between school and the forces, and, if possible, what their abilities and talents were.
By doing this I revealed, even to myself, just how many different places have provided High School pupils over these years and just how many hundreds of different jobs their fathers have done, some of them long gone and requiring a search on the Internet.
At least one High School hero of Bomber Command had come straight from Waring & Gillow’s shop to fly his Lancaster. He apparently said one day in the shop that selling double beds and three piece suites was not a worthy job for a man when his country was at war, and off he went. Waring & Gillow sold luxury furniture of all kinds, and they appear to have made a lot themselves, because here is their factory. :
And when I have written about the boys’ streets and houses, some simple directions are usually included. Without them, which of us could ever locate Balfour Road or Conway Avenue or Derby Terrace or Florence Road? And many old streets have completely disappeared. This is a very different Forest Recreation Ground, only a few decades before the first of the World War Two casualties was born. Look at the windmills, and the race course for horses. It was one of the very few ever to be a figure-of-eight, in the hope of some juicy crashes:
It is, of course, the young readers who are my ultimate target audience. It would be a tragedy indeed if they were never to realise who died for their right not to be brainwashed, not to speak German as their first language, not to be slave labourers in a foreign land and to have the right to make their own decisions at all the different stages of their young lives. Freedom does not come cheap, and I’m not talking about money. The situation is perhaps best summed up by what one Old Nottinghamian war hero has inscribed on his grave:
HE GAVE THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL
HIS UNFINISHED LIFE.
18 responses to “My Book (3)”
What a splendid aim, John. This reminds me of the excellent occasional TV series, ‘A House Through Time’ – I wonder if you’ve seen it?
Yes, I have, Derrick and it was to some extent the programme that gave me the idea to mention when the casualty’s family moved house, what sort of house it was and what jobs their neighbours did and so on. I even found one chap living in an ordinary semi in an ordinary part of Nottingham who had Nottingham Forest’s centre forward for a neighbour. I don’t really see that happening nowadays!
A great piece of work – well done!
Thanks very much for those kind words. I’m certainly on the last lap and I’m currently engaged in working out how to divide the text into a number of different books. There are 124 people at around five thousand words each, so one book would be too heavy to lift!
However the different volumes pan out, I also have to make sure that they are more or less uniform in terms of quality…..not all the Spitfire stories in one book, for example, and all the less exciting ones in another.
You most certainly did an outstanding job for these young men. You brought them back to life for us and honored them as a result.
That inscription hits home.
It certainly does, and it must have destroyed his parents if they were able to visit their son’s grave, which is in Hottot-Les-Bagues War Cemetery in Normandy. He was killed in the aftermath of D-Day.
It’s a feeling no parent should be forced to go through.
Fantastic work. It is the depth of character, their human qualities that will be remembered as we grow to care about them when we read the book.
I really hope so. I found one young man whose hobby was barrel-jumping and another whose amazing talents at playing female parts in plays, with his slinky silk dress and cigarette holder was, literally, talked about in the school magazine for years afterwards, and always somewhat wistfully. Another boy had the problem that between being picked for the part of Amelia and the performances of the play, his voice broke, and the “slinky silk dress and cigarette holder ” got a lot of laughs every time he said something.
Its certainly a huge task John, and one that will help keep their many memories alive.
Absolutely. In one of the answers above, I quote the maths of having 124 people at a probable average of 5,000 words. The shortest single account I have is around 1,500, but there are also some in the 10,000 word area, if there is an operational records book which relates a number of operations carried out by the person in question.
I will also include five people who died after the Commonwealth War Graves Commission date of December 31st 1947. One was ultimately a victim of the effects of a couple of years working for the Emperor in a Japanese mine, another drowned when his ship went down and the other three were killed in training, two in Meteors and one in a Chipmunk.
I guess a lot is determined by what information is readily available. Some public records are scant to say the least while others will haves reams of it. I’m sure you’ll produce a brilliant book reflective of your continuing drive for accuracy. Good luck with it John.
Your comment ‘It’s only too easy to see a name on a war memorial’ gave me cause to stop. I have been driving around the Western District of Victoria looking at bridges and trees and birds and mushrooms and everywhere I go I notice signs telling me I am driving through a small town. But often the only sign that can be seen is the sign itself. At the time of WWl the men of some communities enlisted and never came home and the village or community ceased to exist. Or there may be a small church that has a memorial plaque but the surrounding village has disappeared.
Your book is so much more than a memorial; it gives body to the simple inscription.
I certainly hope so. World War One was even worse in its effects than WW2. There are apparently whole areas of France which have not been farmed since 1914 because of the shortage of men, and in Canada, Newfoundland is hugely under populated, which is supposedly traceable back to a particular attack during the Battle of the Somme.
My wish is that the reader will see a real human being, not just a name and a service number. For this reason, I have supplied their addresses where I was able to find them out, so that the boys and girls at the school now will have a better idea of who use to live in the building which now houses “The Istanbul Off-licence” or the “Dixie Chicken Café”.
On my blog it says ‘Reply’ . How the hell can I reply to that. Of course there is a real human being. That is what is so sad. Trump is going to obliterate Iran in the same breath he is going to fall in love with Nth Korea. We all – the whole f…..g world are in the hands of a madman. Back then we understood. But now?????
Another fantastic post John.
Thanks very much, Lloyd. I’m hoping to inspire one or two youngsters to realise that history surrounds them, both in terms of houses and shops which haven’t always been what they are today.