Monthly Archives: September 2019

The problems with researching World War Two (3)

Last time I was talking about the difficulties faced by the researcher trying to link a High School boy with a war casualty, in the absence of any details to prove that link.

Let’s move on, though, to some even more complex examples. We all know this rhyme:

“This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none and this little piggy cried wee wee wee wee all the way home.”

Can you pick out which one is which in this slideshow?

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Well, how many little piggies were involved? And which jobs could have been done by the same, single, pig?

Let’s take it one stage further.

What is the minimum number of little piggies required to satisfy the rhyme?

And what is the maximum number of little piggies possible to satisfy the rhyme?

Let’s look at the maximum possible first. We begin with two little piggies, one to go to market (TLP-1) and one not to (TLP-2). TLP-2 stays at home, worried that he has agoraphobia. And then there is TLP-3 who gorged himself on roast beef in a fast-food restaurant in Texas. TLP-4 was worried that the meat was not beef but pork, so he did not eat any. His friend, TLP-5, was so upset by the idea of porcine cannibalism being broached that he ran home as fast as his little legs would carry him. So the answer is FIVE.

In the minimalist world, TLP-1 and TLP-2 are mutually exclusive, so they are both needed. In other words, you cannot go to market and stay home as well.

But it’s perfectly possible to go to market (TLP-1) and to have roast beef when you get there (TLP-3).

And it is equally possible that a little piggy could stay at home (TLP-2) and then prefer to watch television and eat ice cream and chocolate rather than consume roast beef (TLP-4). That means that TLP-1 and TLP-2 can easily cover the workload of TLP-3 and TLP-4. What about TLP-5? Do we need a third small porcine individual just to run home? Of course not. When TLP-1 has finished his work as TLP-3, he can return to base as TLP-5. So all that work, but, in actual fact, only TWO pigs are needed to do it.

When you are a little more experienced, you should try looking at the other possibilities. Could “The Three Little Pigs” have been hired for the job? And what about four?

And my point is? Well, if you are investigating William Brown, Boy No 3553, you may have to look at which William Brown could have been in a certain place at a certain time, and which William Brown could not. Your carefully planned series of events may come crashing down to earth when you realise that your Private Brown has been killed in Libya but buried in Burma. And William Brown is a nightmare name anyway, with any solution highly unlikely.  Boy No 3553 might well have grown up to be Able Seaman Brown (D/JX169407), but then again, he might have become Flight Sergeant Brown (R/111993) or Gunner Brown (1443935) or Lance Corporal Brown (3770585) of the Royal Irish Fusiliers or Stoker 1st Class Brown (D/KX 88989) or Ordinary Signalman Brown (D/JX 269496) or Stoker 1st Class Brown (D/KX 165881) or Corporal Brown (532583) of the Royal Air Force or Gunner Brown (1721406) or Private Brown (13000452) of the Pioneer Corps or Private Brown (7262686 of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

The unusual nature of somebody’s name is a reasonable indicator of a link but it should not really be the only evidence presented. Boy No 5168 was William Henry Goodwin which I thought would be an unusual enough name to link the little boy with any war casualty of that name who might turn up on the CWGC list. In actual fact, just to disprove the point, I managed to find two different William Henry Goodwins, neither of whom attended the High School.
The first one was wounded in Libya in North Africa but he lived to tell the tale (WHG-1). The second one was on a different list because he was killed in North Africa. He is buried in the Alexandria War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt (WHG-2). Which one was Boy No 5168? Was it just one of them?
Or was it both of them, as WHG-1 was first wounded in Libya, and then, as WHG-2, a few months later in a second incident, was hit a second time by machine gun fire, killed, and then buried in Egypt?

Or was it neither of them, because there were actually three individuals? One was wounded in Libya (WHG-1), one was killed in Egypt (WHG-2) and one stayed at home and spent the whole of the Second World War managing a fish and chip shop in Basford so that he never turned up in military records (WHG-3).

Supporting details are absolutely crucial.

Let’s continue with the WHG-community as an example. Simple question. Can we be certain that WHG-1 and WHG-2 and WHG-3 are all different people without supporting details? And contrariwise, can we be certain that they are all the same person without supporting details? Well, in a word. NO. We can’t. In fact, we can’t be certain of anything.

That’s why we examined those little pigs. In the WHG-community, at least one person has to go to North Africa and if he does, then he can be killed but he can’t spend all six years of the conflict in Basford managing his chip shop. Even if he does change his name to Billy to avoid military service:



Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School, Writing

“Hilarity with Heraldry” (2)

Last time, I was talking about “The Tiger Album of Football Club Badges” and I made the point that, back in 1961, lots of football clubs turned straight to the local town’s arms for their own badge. Here’s Aldershot, their nickname is “The Shots”. They’re not that bad, though:

Here’s Barnsley and Birmingham City which both refer back to their industrial heritage:

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There are lots of animals used. Glamorgan Rugby play like dragons and Leicester Rugby Club are actually called “Leicester Tigers”.

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In football, Newcastle United  are close to the sea which is probably full of seahorses at that point and Rotherham United must have had lots of deer in the area at one time:

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Lions are always popular as ‘supporters’, in heraldic terms really, rather than sitting behind the goal, roaring on their team. Here’s Halifax Town and Plymouth Albion rugby club. Funny how both pairs of lions have learned to dance:

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Some don’t fit into any category. Perhaps Fulham have the waters of the nearby River Thames on the shield:

Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters obviously have their cross to bear:

Other badges are derived from their local town’s coat of arms but in a less elaborate way. Luton Town, Pontypridd Rugby Club, Torquay by the sea and Tranmere Rovers:

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Grimsby is by the sea and the team are nicknamed “the Mariners” and Falkirk supporters look very fierce indeed:

Most interesting are the old Manchester City and Manchester United badges:

Despite their century or more of rivalry, both clubs wanted clearly to reflect their city. Here is the city’s coat of arms:

And what about those Bristols, I hear you shout. Bristol City, the Robins with a bright red breast and Bristol Rovers, “the Black Arabs”. I looked that up, and apparently when they were first founded, Rovers played in all black because they very much admired the Arabs rugby team who also played in all black. Here are the old badges of the two clubs:

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And here is the badge of the City of Bristol:

The idea even seems to have influenced Gloucester Rugby Club:
Next time, football and a bunch of animals.


Filed under Football, History, Wildlife and Nature

Renegade Football at the High School (4)

In the Spring Term of 1915 more than fifty or sixty boys began to turn up for rugby practice every single Wednesday and Saturday at the High School’s Sports Ground in Mapperley Park. “Welcome Back O Orange Arrow” :

This is the sport they were learning. Notice the oval ball:

So far the school was not playing any fixtures but merely learning the game. Official matches began in the Christmas Term of 1915 but the First XV were forced to anticipate their first ever victory for quite some time. One heavy defeat came at Newark Magnus School by 0-43. When they played the return game against Newark, in very poor weather, much was made of the fact that they lost by only 0-8, the team’s best performance so far in the new sport of rugby. Their best quality seems to have been their sportsmanship and they played at least one game without conceding a single penalty. Here’s a rugby game from long, long ago, before anybody thought of playing with a ball:

The Second XV found life equally difficult but much of it was their own fault. The whole lot of them were what Philip Larkin would one day call “Losers, loblolly-men, louts” :

“….the fly in the ointment this term has been the very irregular amount of keenness shown in the Second Game. There are far too many hefty fellows in the Upper part of the School who prefer to spend their half holidays idling about, perchance frequenting picture palaces, or doing something equally futile…It is not as if these fellows spent their afternoons in some profitable pursuit ; that might be mistaken, but it would be to a certain extent excusable. They simply waste their time.”

The first victories for both teams came in the Christmas Term of 1916 when the First XV won five of its six matches. Here is one of the earliest photographs of the High School First XV I could find. It is the team in 1926 and “Guts” Kennard stands on the left and the Groundsman, Mr Albert Onions is on the right:

Here is the team for 1929:

We know who the players are in this photograph:

Back row: BF Sander, MH Pockson, HR Lawrence, TC Doar, GB Green, LCS Sutton, AH Bowman, NH Baker, Mr Kennard

Middle row: CF Carr, AG Payne, JT Thompson, AS Hancock (Captain), RP Lawrence, AV Spencer

Front row: JR Bignall, G Cooke

This is a photograph of the earliest rugby match I could find, played at Valley Road Playing Fields on Thursday, October 6th 1932. The First XV played Mr R A Palmer’s XV, but lost by 0-18:

I did mention in previous posts about this subject, though, the fact that: “The boys, by a substantial majority, would have opted for football.” instead of making the change to rugby. Not that that was enough to persuade the boys actually to attend football practices, of course.

Football, though, always seems to have appealed to the rebellious nature of the boys, especially when rugby took over as the Chosen Sport. Even when football was a school sport, though, some of the younger boys wanted more of it, and they were quite prepared to break the rules of the High School to achieve that aim. The first incident occurred on Saturday, November 21st 1908, and shocked the School Prefects to the core. We’ll see how that came about and why the Prefects had to hold an emergency meeting, another time.


Filed under Football, History, Nottingham, The High School

The problems with researching World War Two (2)

Last time, I wrote about what problems may be caused when the wonderful website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission contains no details whatsoever about a particular individual, other than the date of his death:

The name of his regiment, by the way, is of little help. Men were switched between regiments and battalions all the time. It would give you a very large shove, in, probably, the right direction, but you could never be 100% water tight sure.

If all you have is the name and the date of death, I suppose that you could try to find a website that has all the past issues of local newspapers in Britain. Hopefully, you might find Fred Walker in the Deaths section for May 22nd 1946 onwards. But how would you know which newspaper to look in? You would have to try all of the Nottingham ones and then perhaps Mansfield and then perhaps Newark. But what if Fred’s family had moved to Durham after he left the High School at the age of seven? Or Tobermory? Or Armagh? Or, as one did, Paraguay?

The second major problem is that any possibly helpful supporting details about the individual serviceman can be almost impossible to come by. So difficult, in fact, that the whole situation soon becomes an impossible one.

This is because detailed service records after 1922 are still, ninety years after World War Two, accessible only to a direct relative, such as a son or a grandson. And these records are all held in the steely grip of the Ministry of Defence:

To take my own experiences as an example, I decided to buy access to my Dad’s records of his service in the RAF.

I had to send them his death certificate and my own birth certificate, to prove that he was dead and that I was his son. Both of them had to be the original documents, because photocopies were not allowed. I also had to send them a large sum of money. Here’s my Dad, ready to take on the Führer:

And what I got back contained very little indeed of any consequence, although it did make me think of studying for “GCSE Abbreviations (Paper 1 : RAF)”.  The abbreviations included:

“S/GCA”,  “P/R”,  “NVC”,  “A3B”,  “3RC”,  16.B.C.”,  “B/X”,  “S.F.U”,  “W/Mech”,  “W/T Equip”,  “X”, “H”, “HH”,  “HHH”,  “1.S.S.” or perhaps “I.S.S.”,  “S/GCA”,  “2 GCA Unit”  and “15 R.C.”.

Just imagine. All that palaver to get the records and when you get them you can’t understand them.

And that isn’t the only problem  with accessing the records of an individual serviceman. In 1940,  just to provide the splendid celebratory pink icing on the top of the researcher’s celebration cake, heavy bombing by the Luftwaffe destroyed up to 60% of all the war records in existence up to that point.

And what the Luftwaffe missed, the various fire brigades gave a damn good soaking to make most of it completely unusable;

And that’s not all. The 1931 National Census was completely destroyed by fire on Saturday, December 19th 1942. All of its documents were being stored in a building at Hayes in Middlesex.

This catastrophe cannot be blamed on the naughty Luftwaffe though. It was just an ordinary fire, although it is difficult to believe that storing huge amounts of furniture right next to tons of census paperwork was a particularly clever move.

At all times, there were six paid firewatchers on duty in the building but it is now known that some of them were smokers and that at least one of them threw a lighted cigarette stub down on the floor at one point. That was not a particularly clever move either.

Don’t be downhearted though. Other countries are just as fond of a nice welcoming fire. A substantial proportion of the USA’s 1890 census went up in smoke. And the Irish! Well, it’s almost unbelievable!

The Irish censuses for 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851 were all burned by a large fire at the Public Records Office. Oscar Wilde was Irish. And what was it he said?

“To burn one census may be regarded as a misfortune.

To burn two censuses looks like carelessness.

To burn three censuses might be regarded as third time unlucky,

But to burn four censuses may well be the work of

Der man ‘imself,

Art’ur Brown”






Filed under Bomber Command, History, Nottingham, The High School, Writing