Monthly Archives: July 2020

“In the Footsteps of the Valiant” : Volume One : the Verdict (2)

As I said a couple of days ago when I was talking about Volume One of “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”, I had hoped to portray the High School’s war dead as real human beings rather than just a surname and a set of initials in a very long list of names. That is why I tried so very hard to unearth a great number of tiny details which I hoped would help to portray them all as rounded young men rather than just a couple of lines in the School List:

Some of them I could only present as adults because there were no photographs of them as boys.

Alfred Chenhalls was the personal friend and accountant of Leslie Howard, “The Man Who Gave a Damn”. He had lived at 2 Hamilton Drive in The Park, his family occupying the whole house, not just a flat as it would be nowadays:

Edwin Thomas Banks lived at No 7 Rutland Road in West Bridgford. As I discovered from his squadron’s log book, he was killed flying his Gloster Gladiator biplane into Lake Ioannina in Greece. He was buried with a full military funeral and a large number of Greek Generals in attendance. As one of his friends said: “coldest wait ever.”  At school, Edwin had been a keen rower: “Not very heavy but a hard worker. He sits the boat well. There was a noticeable improvement in the Second Crew when he stroked it. Although he has a good beginning he is still rather short.” As well as short, he is also rather blurred in the only picture I could find of him :

Howard Rolleston Simmonds lived at 28 Nottingham Road in Bingham. He went to Canada to learn to fly, one of the 131,533 aircrew who graduated successfully from that enormous country, including the best part of fifty thousand pilots. Howard was sent to help look for a missing aeroplane, a Lockheed Hudson which had been lost off the coast of Nova Scotia. He was the pilot of an Avro Anson I, 652A, with a serial number of W1754. He and his crew just flew off and were never seen again and no wreck has ever been found. Here he is in uniform, proudly displaying his wings:

And here he is sitting in his Anson:

John Harold Gilbert Walker was a Spitfire pilot who was shot down over northern France in 1941. The objective was the railway marshalling yards at Hazebrouck on the outskirts of Dunkirk and four squadrons of Spitfires, including Nos 118 and 457, were escorting just six Douglas Boston Mark III bombers. He was already a veteran of the Battle of Britain, flying a Bristol Blenheim nightfighter:

Keith Henry Whitson served in India with the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. He survived the war only to perish at Pindi-Khut eight months or so after the end of hostilities. Interestingly, Pindi-Khut seems to have disappeared from the map since World War Two. Again, the only photograph I could get hold of is not particularly sharp :

William Ray Llewellyn from “Torisdale” in Devon Drive in Sherwood and then 136 Melton Road in West Bridgford. He appeared in two school plays. In the first, he played a young woman in “The Admirable Crichton” by JM Barrie. He really was damned by faint praise: “The rest of the cast was quite adequate. I have no criticisms of WR Llewellyn as a Lady’s Maid.”

In what is now pretty much a forgotten play, “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” by Beaumont and Fletcher, he played one of the three Gentlemen who made up “The Spectators”. The overall verdict in the School Magazine was that: “the School play delighted me and many others too. The performance began in the most striking way, with three spot lit Elizabethan cavaliers coming right from the back of the hall up on to the stage. Llewellyn, Marchmont and Rowbotham were realistically discourteous spectators, and throughout their long period on the stage made the most of their restricted opportunities……. William’s little brother, Peter George Llewellyn, also had a rôle in the play. Looking tiny, he played three bit parts, Ralph’s Boy, the Soldier and the Dancer.”

Here he is :

The four actors are Russell Cruddas Lansberry, young Peter, Derrick John Turner and RN Walker (no such person) according to one page of the School Magazine and Robert Norman Walters according to the next page.

And little Peter got an excellent review: “Their fellow dancer, PG Llewellyn, shared their good delivery and confidence. As Ralph’s boy, he played his part with humour; as a pikeman he was certainly a menace.”

Again, the picture of his elder brother, William Ray Llewellyn, required a lot of work on Photoshop and is still very poor:

William went to meet his maker in what was then called Ceylon, a place he clearly adored:

“I beheld the dawn yesterday. Not from the foothills of the Himalayas, not even from the more prosaic bedroom window but from the cockpit of an Avenger bomber flying over Ceylon. We had all scrambled whilst it was still dark. The air was still and not a bump disturbed our passage.”

My team and I put a great deal of time into designing the cover. I don’t know if anybody looked at the photographs very carefully but they were all chosen carefully and with a definite link to an Old Nottinghamian in mind. There was a Handley Page Halifax:

There was a Bridge Too Far :

All of a RAF base’s airmen walking back to the Mess after a raid :

Here, Iranian women sit and watch British lorries invade their country with minimal opposition from the Iranian Army and a great deal of co-operation from the Soviet Army :

The most beautiful aeroplane ever built, the saviour of our country, and arguably, the world.

A T-class destroyer of the Royal Navy :

Here’s the return from Dunkirk :

And here’s a Wellington crew just back from Germany.

And this is the war in the North African desert, a location visited by a good many Old Nottinghamians with both the Sherwood Foresters and the South Notts Hussars:

 

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“In the Footsteps of the Valiant” : Volume One : the Verdict (1)

I must admit that initially I was a little disappointed with the sales of my first volume of  “In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume One)” :

I soon realised, though, that money was not important because I had achieved exactly what I had intended to do.

I had discovered as many hitherto unknown war dead from the High School as I was likely to, increasing previous lists by up to forty new names. I had found a number of men who had died serving their country but who, because they were not killed while “on active service”, gun in hand, had been largely ignored up till now.

I had also succeeded in finding out a large number of tiny details which I hoped would help to portray all of these valiant men as real human beings rather than just a surname and initials in a very long list of names.

In this first volume of five, the men concerned were John Edwin Armitage, Francis Nairn Baird, Edwin Thomas Banks, Philip Mackenzie Britton, Warren Herbert Cheale, Alfred Tregear Chenhalls, Paul Wilson Cherry, Walter Raymond Julyan Hoyte, Charles Davy Hudson, Robert Renwick Jackson, William Roy Llewellyn, Anthony Bertram Lloyd, Ian Mactaggart MacKirdy, Bruce Arthur Richardson, Wilfrid Henry Vivian Richiardi, Sidney Moger Saxton, Clifford Frank Shearn, Howard Rolleston Simmonds, Philip Bonnington Smith, Richard Christopher Sowerbutts, John Harold Gilbert Walker, Alfred Highfield Warren, Keith Henry Whitson and John Jeffrey Catlin.

I realised that I had succeeded in what I was trying to do when I received a most encouraging comment from an Old Nottinghamian, Richard Edwards:

“I used to see the names of these young men on the War Memorial at school, but I never properly made the link to them as people that had real lives, with successes and failures like the rest of us. John Knifton has done a great job to honour these men, but also to make others think about them as individuals who had the same hopes that we all do. A fantastic effort – well done – and I thoroughly recommend it to other potential readers.”

When I asked Mr Edwards for permission to use his comment in a blog post, he gave me an even more glowing reference:

“I think that you have done an astounding job, not just in gathering the facts, but in allowing us to see the list of dead as young men with personalities and as people that we could have known, could have laughed with and could have grown up alongside. What a great way of properly honouring those people.

I wish you all the best, and congratulations on doing something so important.”

And that is the reason that I included everybody’s examination results, where they lived, what kind of area it was, not nowadays, but back in the day, as our American friends say. And to that can be added every detail I could glean from a number of very large books, from twenty or so Directories of Nottingham by Kelly, White and Wright and from the entire internet, from Ethiopia to Paraguay.

And all that has helped to discover a little more about the boys who had reached the end of their school years with perhaps only five or ten years of their young lives remaining. In some cases only two or three.

Alfred Warren of 166, Derby Road, Nottingham. He was the son of a grocer and a superb female impressionist in school plays:

“The School stage has rarely been graced by a more charmingly seductive figure than the Anna Waleska of AH Warren.”

A year later:

“His part did not allow him this year the opportunity to display those feminine wiles of whichhe has shown himself so complete a master, but his expression, now wheedling, now indifferent, was no less successful in enticing the unfortunate victim into her trap. Perhaps he tended to overdo that half crouching feline posture but nevertheless, clad in exquisite garments, he contrived to overcome the artificialities and discrepancies of Lady Ciceley’s rôle, and for that achievement alone he deserves high praise.”

Bruce Arthur Richardson, who lived on Edwards Lane, in the big house diagonally opposite Oxclose Lane Police Station. In his school play, “Twelfth Night”, he

“became the very model of idiocy. His voice was a masterpiece: no voice could be more completely asinine. His continual foolish mien, with mouth agape, doltish wonderment in his eyes, no less than occasional inspired brilliance of acting–such as the windmill gestures which accompanied his threat to beat Viola “like a dog”– helped to make his part a pleasing success”.

John Harold Gilbert Walker of 787 Mansfield Road. As soon as he left the High School John applied for entrance to Sandhurst in an effort to become an officer in the Army, his dream job for many, many years. He was rejected.

His personal tutor wrote: “A sound fellow, with great keenness in OTC. Desirous of entering the Army as a career, but prevented by lack of means.”

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Keith Henry Whitson of Wensley Road, one of the six roads which share the amazing roundabout on Thackeray’s Lane in Arnold. His father was Frank H Whitson who gave his job for the School Register as a “Branch Manager”. His mother was Dot Whitson, short, presumably, for “Dorothy”. Killed after the war’s end, Keith is buried in Rawalpindi War Cemetery in distant Pakistan:

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What would you do ? (6) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

And the correct solution given on page 2 of the comic is:

” The soldier knew that the altar in a church usually faces east…looking towards Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ.  With this knowledge he decided to take a chance and get his bearings from the altar’s position. After that it was simple. If he faced the altar, then the north was to his left and the south was to his right. Before night fell, he was safe and sound back behind his lines.”

I’m happy with that, but I’m just trying to think if there are any other easy ways of establishing the cardinal points. The longest axis of a church is west-east and the wall without a door, thanks to the Northmen aka the Vikings, is the Northern one. The people in graves in a churchyard will rise up toward the east. Muslim graves too, face east.

There must be others. I know there’s one about moss on trees but I can’t think what it means. Do you know any others?

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What would you do ? (6) The Puzzle

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

So…..it’s one “A dilly of a pickle”.  Alone on the front line. Cut off from the rest of his unit. He shelters from the bombs and shells in a ruined church. His own lines and safety lie to the east. But which way is east? The weather vane  has been shot to pieces and the smoke of the battle obscures the disc of the sun.

What can  he do??

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Bomber Harris, not a happy man (5)

According to Roy Irons in his splendid book, “The Relentless Offensive: War and Bomber Command”, Arthur Harris hated the Short Stirling, but he reserved his finest vitriol for the Handley Page Halifax. Here’s a Mark I:

The Mark I had Merlins and a front turret but the Mark 2 had the Merlins and a different nose:

The Mark III has the familiar nose, but has a different tail and Bristol Hercules radial engines:

Harris was not alone though in his hostility towards the Halifax. It was well known fact that the Halifax could not lift its bombload up to 20,000 feet and that its range was too short to take any 0f the longer, more evasive routes as the Lancasters did. Per hundred tons of bombs dropped, the Lancaster lost only one third of the personnel who were killed in Halifaxes. Overall, three Halifaxes were lost to every two Lancasters and those two Lancasters dropped almost twice the weight of bombs dropped by the three Halifaxes.

Harris knew all of these basic facts about the Halifax but he also knew a great deal of other information which nobody else was given. Most of it came from the captured pilots of Junkers Ju88 nightfighters.  They reported that they “could normally approach our aircraft well within gun range and even up to fifty yards without apparently being seen at all”.

Here’s a Ju88 night fighter:

To prove the point, Harris borrowed a Bristol Beaufighter and its crew from 25 Squadron at RAF Wittering and had a Halifax bomber put to the test. The two crewmembers in the Beaufighter found that the Halifax bomber they were chasing had “inadequate exhaust dampers” which meant that the flames from the bomber’s engines were visible to the Beaufighter one and a half miles away. In contrast, the rear gunner of the Halifax could only see the Beaufighter if it was within 1100 yards, just over six tenths of a mile. And that was looking back in level flight. Harris found that the Halifax rear turret possessed “blindness in all directions, and especially downwards”. He stated that the turret was “80% angle iron and 20% scratched perspex”.

Only in 1944 did a turret which has the kind of visibility that is required become available. It was actually designed by Bomber Command themselves. This was the Rose turret, mentioned previously, which was designed, at the specific demands of Bomber Harris, by Air Vice Marshal Edward Rice.  Rice was one of the senior Bomber Command station commanders, and had travelled with Harris to visit Rose Brothers at the start of the project. He subsequently led No. 1 Group RAF. Here’s a Rose turret being fitted. Bigger, longer guns and no metal in the line of vision:

Harris called the Halifax “a deplorable aircraft” on more than one occasion. He thought that the aircraft and its dreadful Bristol Hercules engines were particularly well suited to each other and that these awful engines should be reserved exclusively for the Halifax, because “it’s useless anyway”. Harris despaired that:

“nothing whatever is being done to make this deplorable product worthy for war”.

Harris was no fool, though, and realised that:

“the two strongest motives of Englishmen in the aircraft industry are patriotic devotion and commercial gain. They will never think of new designs when more orders for the old ones are to be had. To obtain or maintain an order book, aircraft companies will promise anything”.

Occasionally, Harris put it more bluntly:

“Nothing will be done until Handley Page and his gang are kicked out, lock, stock and barrel.”

This could not be done though, and instead Handley Page continued to make Halifaxes and to sell them to the RAF, whose use of “this deplorable aircraft” was limited to attacking short range targets. The reason for this was that if the Halifax was abandoned, six months’ bomber production would have been lost, because all of the extra tools and facilities for producing Lancasters would have needed to be put into place.

Harris was convinced that the Bomber Command offensive was vital to winning the war. He had no patience whatsoever with any of the board members at either Handley Page or Shorts:

“Unless we can get the heavy bomber programme put right, we are sunk. We cannot do this by polite negotiation with these crooks and incompetents. In Russia it would long ago have been arranged with a gun, and to that extent, I am a fervid Communist.”

Just to make it 100% clear, the “crooks and incompetents” were Handley Page and his gang and Oswald Short and a good many others in his firm. And Harris wanted them all put against a wall and shot:

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (6)

The story of Mr Noy which you read in Part 5 of “The Fairies of Cornwall”, has a good many parallels with quite a number of various themes. Those of you who have ever read the books of David Paulides about the huge numbers of people who have disappeared in the National Parks of the USA will feel almost uncanny connections with the prolonged search for Mr Noy. There is a further connection with those strange cases narrated by Paulides when:

“in the grey of the morning, a horse was heard to neigh and dogs were heard barking among a dense group of trees and bushes”

almost as if they were making a noise in a different dimension. This strange phenomenon occurs in one of Paulides’ books, when a lost woman’s voice is heard by several witnesses apparently inside the rock of a cliff in the desert. She was never found.

This incident with poor Mr Noy could well be an alien abduction of medieval times expressed in terms that an agricultural worker in, say, 1400 or 1500, could understand. Mr Noy is taken away into that thicket and kept separate from the world for several days. Anything could be happening to him, and, as in all the best sci-fi films, his memory has been wiped clean at the very end.

A further parallel with alien abduction comes with the idea of Mr Noy’s sleep and of his waking up days later although he thinks it is just the next morning. This is another very strong reminder of Rip van Winkle, a fictional story by Washington Irving but one which is closely connected to two folk tales, set nearly four thousand miles apart.

Washington Irving’s father lived in the Orkneys, islands to the north east of Scotland. He could not have avoided knowing the story of the drunken fiddler who hears music coming from the burial mound of Salt Knowe near to the Ring of Brodgar. He goes inside and finds a group of trolls having a party. He stays there for two hours but then discovers that fifty years have passed outside the mound. Here’s the Ring of Brodgar:

And here’s the nearby burial mound of Salt Knowe:

We have already seen how the plot of Rip van Winkle is very like the story of the Iroquois hunter in the twelfth century.  It is very similar also to an upstate New York legend told by the Seneca tribe. A young squirrel hunter encounters “The Little People”, and spends the night with them. When he goes back to his village, it is completely overgrown and his entire tribe has moved on. For them, a year has passed.

Most of the world’s religions have a very similar tale which usually takes place in a cave, or at least somewhere reminiscent of a cave. There is the story of the legendary sage Epimenides of Knossos who spent fifty-seven years in a Cretan cave. Here he is:

“The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus” spent three hundred years inside a cave near Ephesus and in Judaism, there is the story of Honi ha-M’agel. Here’s his tomb:

All of these widely scattered stories could conceivably be explained by superior beings who have mastered the manipulation of time.

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Alice in Wonderland (3)

I mentioned previously that “Alice in Wonderland” began its life as a book on Friday, July 4th 1862, when a select group of people, both adults and children, took a short trip by boat on the River Thames. They went from Folly Bridge near Oxford to the village of Godstow, a trip of some three miles. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll was with his friend the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and they had with them some of the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church College, namely “Prima”, Lorina Liddell (13), “Secunda”, Alice (10) and “Tertia”, Edith (8). Here’s Dodgson’s photograph of Edith, Lorina and Alice:

The tale was told that day, for the most part while resting under the haycocks of Godstow village. The story was a particularly rich and complex one, and Alice Liddell in particular asked several times that Dodgson should write it down. The latter spent most of the night recalling all of the many events he had invented. This is his first draft of the tale and can be bought as a book in its own right:

Dodgson, the son of a clergyman, was a long standing family friend of the Liddells, although the relationship ran off the rails rather badly in June 1863 when he stopped seeing both the parents and the children for many, many weeks. Dodgson would later mix socially with the Dean and his wife as he previously had, but the children would never be taken out by him again. Here’s Henry George Liddell, the Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford:

In 1864, Dodgson gave Alice a bound edition of the very first manuscript entitled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”. In 1865 the printed book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” appeared and made the nom de plume of “Lewis Carroll” a household name. Here’s a first edition, dedicated to “Ella Chlora Williams from the Author”. It is currently on sale at Abebooks for £75,000.

There is a tale attached to the first edition:

“The very first edition was printed in Oxford at the Clarendon Press in June 1865. On July 19th 1865, Dodgson discovered that John Tenniel was not happy with the printing, and he withdrew all two thousand copies from sale. He had gifted some to his friends, but he recalled them and then donated them to local hospitals in Oxford. There, over the weeks and months, they were trashed. Only 23 are thought to have survived, and one of the Holy Grails of book collecting was born.”

In 1871, the sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” was published…..

This first edition will set you back £40,000.

Go on! Buy them both!! You know you want to !

We do not know why the sudden rift occurred between Dodgson and the Liddell family. The page of Dodgson’s diary for June 27th-29th 1863 has been torn out of the book by one of his family members, most probably his niece, Violet Dodgson, or her sister Menella. Reasons suggested include the idea that he had proposed marriage between himself and Alice when she was old enough. Mrs Liddell, though, supposedly wanted Alice to marry Prince Leopold of Belgium.

Further reasons were that there was gossip about Dodgson’s feelings towards Ina Liddell, then fourteen, going on fifteen and, by the standards of the time, ready to accept suitors (the age of consent was then twelve). Equally Dodgson may also have been making a play for the children’s governess, whose name I have been unable to discover.

In 1996, Karoline Leach found what have become known as the “Cut pages in diary” document—a note allegedly written by Charles Dodgson’s niece, Violet Dodgson, summarising the missing page from June 27th–29th  1863, apparently written before she (or her sister Menella) removed the page. The note reads:

“L.C. learns from Mrs. Liddell that he is supposed to be using the children as a means of paying court to the governess—he is also supposed by some to be courting Ina”

In her book, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, Jenny Woolf argues that the problem with Mrs Liddell was caused by Lorina herself becoming too keen on Dodgson and not the other way around.

I have the feeling that, as she gradually grew up, Alice became less and less happy, as if she was beginning to mourn for the passing of her childhood. Or perhaps she finally became fed up with her mother’s pushy ambitions. When she was twenty, Alice had her photograph taken by the society photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. The results look as if she has just got back from storming the beaches of Iwo Jima:

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In actual fact, Mrs Liddell had already returned to Dodgson when Alice was eighteen, but only in his capacity as one of top society’s most fashionable photographers. She wanted the now famous author to take a series of photographs of her daughter, possibly to show Alice off as a good marriage prospect to potential suitors.

Dodgson then photographed Alice for the last time. There has been much speculation about why she has that “1,000 yard stare”, but my personal guess is that having found out that she was not allowed to marry Prince Leopold because she did not have royal status, Alice may not have been best pleased when she then found out that she could have had one of the nation’s most famous authors as her husband, only to have her own mother put a stop to it all.

Alice went on to marry Reginald Hargreaves who was immensely wealthy. When he died in 1926, though, the cost of maintaining the estate was such that Alice had to sell her bound edition of the manuscript entitled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” which Dodgson had gifted her in 1864.

It realised £14,500 at auction, nearly four times the reserve price. The book was eventually bought by a consortium of American bibliophiles and presented to the British people “in recognition of Britain’s courage in facing Hitler before America came into the war”. And quite right too!

 

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