“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:

15 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, Film & TV, France, History

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

  1. Richard Edwards’s comments are rewards in themselves.

    • Absolutely, Derrick. Having gone through the process of writing-checking spellings and typos-improving the English-improving the English again, and then again, I had very little faith in what I had written, but his kind words made me realise that I had perhaps done a reasonable job.

  2. It sounds a stunning piece of work John and with reviews like that you haven’t gone wrong. Certainly those connected with the school and Nottingham in general, would be greatly interested in such a detailed book.

    • Let’s hope so! Eventually, when all five volumes are finished, I shall put a set of them in the City Archives and that should give people a chance to view them for free, especially if they are looking after just one particular relative.

  3. John, the response received from Richard Edwards attests to the validity of your labor of love. Well done! While money may not be the goal in publishing our work, it means a lot when our book is read and enjoyed by others.

  4. Yes, you are absolutely right there. I can still remember how surprised and delighted I was to read Mr Edwards’ comments. The confidence of a would-be writer can be a very fragile thing, and he did a lot for my morale, to say the least!

  5. Did John Walker ever make into a service? That would have been quite a disappointment when you’re young.

    • Yes, he did. He joined the RAF which were a lot more democratic than the army. He flew Blenheims and then Spitfires. He was shot down over Calais in 1941, went into the Channel and then sat in his dinghy and waited to be rescued. Sadly, he wasn’t and when he was found four days later, he had died of the cold.

  6. It’s the work that matters John, just to have done what you set out to do is an achievement. The fact that you’ve received such positive feedback is wonderful. Well done.

  7. Chris Waller

    You have taken on an almost Herculean task and Richard Edwards’s comments are apposite. Your book makes ever more poignant the loss of the lives of these young men, embroiled in a war not of their choosing. Regardless of sales, it will remain a work of reference for future generations.

    BTW, I tried to send you an email but it bounced back with some odd error message about Microsoft Outlook. Have you changed you email address?

    • No, there has been no change. My email address has stayed the same throughout. You could always use the “Contact” facility (top of page).
      As regards the five books, I do intend to see them as works of reference, and I will be leaving a set of five volumes at the County Archives and in the main Local Collection of Nottingham’s Central Library. I just hope everything goes OK with the printing and then posting the books back to me and to any would be readers.

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