In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Two)

We have just finished publishing my new book “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”. This is the second book of five, and tells about some more of the High School’s long forgotten casualties in World War II. Here is the front cover, with the shorter title and nine new pictures to look at:

And here is the blurb from the back cover:

“This is the second of five books commemorating the ultimate sacrifice made by the brightest young men of Nottingham in the Second World War. After six years of ground-breaking research, John Knifton has uncovered over 100 forgotten war heroes, men who served their country in countless ways. All of them had one thing in common: they spent their boyhood years at Nottingham High School.

This book does not glorify the deaths of these men; but instead builds a monument to the unfinished lives they sacrificed for our freedom today. John Knifton conjures up the ghost of these men’s forgotten lives: their childhoods, families, homes, neighbourhoods, and the loved ones they left behind. You will discover their boyhood hobbies and their sporting triumphs, where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. Most of all, you will find all the previously unknown details of the conflicts they fought in and how they met their untimely ends.

John Knifton’s project puts the humanity back into history, set against the backdrop of the Nottingham of yesteryear. No tale untold. No anecdote ignored.”

This book is now available for purchase through

The book has 332 pages and is “Crown Quarto”, that is to say, 189 mms x 246 mm (7.44 inches x 9.68 inches). The book contains just under 150,000 words and can therefore be compared with books such as “Sense and Sensibility”(119K), “A Tale of Two Cities”(135K) “The Return of the King”(137K), 20,000 Leagues under the Sea” (138K), “Oliver Twist” (156K) and “The Two Towers” (156K).

It tells the tale of 26 Old Nottinghamians, including, as in Volume 1, a young man who died shortly after the end of the war. In this case, he was called Patrick Russell Ward. He was killed during RAF service in the 1950s and deserves to be remembered.

Here are the names of the young men who perished in World War II:

William Donald Birkett, George Renwick Hartwell Black, Henry Brener, Henry Abington Disbrowe, Dennis Peter Fellows, Frank Freeman, Albert Hayes, John Neville Hickman, Gordon Frederick Hopewell, Eric John Hughes, Arthur Reeson Johnson, Richard Henry Julian, John Michael Preskey Ley, John Ambrose Lloyd, Edwin William Lovegrove, John Richard Mason, Geoffrey Leonard Mee, Ernest Millington, Robert Percy Paulson, George Green Read, Alan Robert Rose, Gordon Percy Carver Smith, Ernest Adam Wagstaff, Patrick Russell Ward, John Roger West, Carl Robert Woolley.

One of the High School’s ex-masters died trying to delay the German advance at Dunkirk:

A young cricketer’s ship hit a mine off Malta:

One  Old Nottinghamian rower was claimed by paratyphoid on the banks of the River Brahmaputra. Another was killed by nightfighters in his Stirling bomber over Berlin. A third died in a Lancaster bomber over the Dortmund-Ems Canal.  Another, a good rugby player, was killed in a Halifax over the Waddensee.

Accidents took others, at Coniston Water, and at Topcliffe in North Yorkshire. One Stirling took off and flew away into history. It was never heard of again. One man was killed at El Alamein. Another died as the Rhine was crossed in 1945, one of 1,354,712 men involved in the battle. Another young man, a cricketer and a pilot instructor, was killed at Assinboia in Saskatchewan:

Alas, one poor individual was killed after the end of the war, out on army manoeuvres on Lüneburg Heath on May 26th 1945.

Another had been Marconi’s greatest helper. One young man was killed in the savage fighting around  Villers-Bocage and Lisieux, as the Allies left the beaches and moved to the north east and Nazi Germany:

One young man from Woodthorpe died of peritonitis when the regimental doctor applied the rule he had been given: “All enlisted men are lead swinging liars. They have never got any of the diseases that they say they have”:

And last, but certainly not least, one poor man was the victim of one of the most disgusting cover-ups in British military history, as his parents both went to their graves thinking he had been killed fighting on the beaches of Normandy, when in actual fact, he and all his colleagues had all been accidentally killed by the Royal Navy just outside Portsmouth:

And they all had their personalities, their hobbies and their lives. Playing cricket on the beautiful walled ground at Grantham where a huge supermarket now stands. Taking part in barrel jumping competitions at Nottingham’s brand new ice rink. Playing the bugle in the OTC band:

Rowing for the school in the race when they went through the wrong arch of Trent Bridge and finished second instead of first:

He might operate as a powerful and dangerous forward at rugby, but he will be remembered for playing a “prominent part” in the team’s festive occasions, reciting the monologues of Stanley Holloway, the famous northern comedian. Another First XV player was damned by Mr Kennard’s faint praise in the School Magazine:

“Has hardy fulfilled his promise. A steady player, however.”

And then to every one of the 26 comes sudden death, always unexpected at any given moment, but no real surprise when it came. And every one of those young heroes, to be honest, could have had the same obituary as that of the gentle giant, Ernest Adam Wagstaff:

“He died, as he had lived, for an ideal; in the lives of the few who knew him well his passing leaves a void which can never be filled.”


Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, France, History, Nottingham, The High School

25 responses to “In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Two)

  1. I know this will be a remarkable hit for you, John. Each man’s story is intriguing. What you’re doing with this series of books is incredible, an honorable way to give these men tribute.

    • Thanks very much. I really value your encouraging words. Eventually, I will put a set in the Nottinghamshire County Archives, and then another set in the Local Collection in the Angel Row Library which looks after the history of the City of Nottingham.

      I rather liked Pierre Lagacé’s words in his recent blog post.
      “We shall not forget, for to forget is the greatest casualty.”

      Well, not on my watch, anyway!

  2. Thank you for sharing!.. “Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.” (Brodi Ashton)… 🙂

    • They certainly are. It must take a lot of courage, pure and simple, to volunteer to go and fight for your country.
      Not every one of these young men died a glorious death but they all put their lives on the line. As the grieving mother of one of them had inscribed on her son’s grave:

      “He gave the greatest gift of all. His unfinished life”.

  3. All the best with your second book, John. Hope it receives a good response.

  4. Good luck with the new book John. I hope it (and the series) are a great success, an excellent tribute to those young men from Nottingham who died so young.

    • Thank you very much indeed. At least we now know exactly who fromk the school lost their lives fighting for our country, and they can now be remembered as something more then a name and initials on a war memorial.

  5. John, you know by now how difficult these posts are for me to read. My eyes sting with tears as I view how young these “kids” were. That brings to mind we are only young once and may the lesson be throughout each and every story you tell, that any young men and women who read your reads know to enjoy life NOW. The future is not guaranteed for happiness, and in fact, it rarely is. I also congratulate you on your great endeavor to remember these young men who would otherwise be forgotten. Bless you!

    • Thank you Amy. You make me feel quite humble! Basically, if only one person is put off volunteering to take part in one of these new types of war, which are merely talked up to make politicians look good (Tony Blair, for example) then I am happy.
      We all need to value our own individual lives as something precious, a tiny candle that can light a vast darkness of ignorance.

      • John, your last sentence says it all. There is a poet in there somewhere I just know it. We who know how to shine brightly will light bit by bit this vast ocean of ignorance that is boiling over the top. Bless you for these words and may they encourage you as they have encouraged me.

      • I really think you might enjoy reading Lakshmi Bhat who is an Indian lady who writes blog posts about her life and events around her home in India. She is the person who gave me the tiny candle that can light a vast darkness but she exceeded herself with “…when all the wars are over, a butterfly will still be beautiful”.
        Here is her address:
        She is a lovely person and very wise.

  6. John Swain

    I’ve tried and failed so far to leave a review on the Lulu site for John Knifton’s very impressive second volume “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”. In the meantime, here it is:

    This is the second volume (of five) of John Knifton’s history of those former pupils and staff of Nottingham High School who met an untimely end due to the Second World War or shortly afterwards. John Knifton recognises that not all casualties wore a combatant’s uniform and so civilians are also rightly included. The present volume contains details of twenty-six individuals, adding to the twenty-four already included in volume 1, which was published in late 2019.
    To someone like myself, reared on a tasty diet of Commando and Victor comics in the 1960s, with heroic tales of derring-do, of blokes charging Nazi machine-gun nests several times a day, the idea that most World War II casualties lost their lives in far more prosaic fashions, often in accidents or avoidable mishaps, is a healthy reality check. John Knifton’s research reveals that many young men were killed in very mundane circumstances and yet their sacrifice is no less poignant or noteworthy. We learn that several Old Nottinghamians were victims as much of sub-standard machinery, such as the Short Stirling bomber, or inappropriate medical support, as in the sad tale of Gunner Robert Paulson who could have been saved if the doctor had treated him promptly for appendicitis and not as a malingerer. In one case, that of Sub-Lieutenant Frank Freeman, the true circumstances of his death due to his Landing Craft colliding with the battleship HMS Rodney in the Solent the day after D-Day 1944 were only revealed in 2011 when the wreck of the landing craft was found by a Sub-Aqua club. Even more recently, in 2015, information has emerged about a mid-air collision over Germany between two Lancaster bombers in September 1944 which cost the lives of wireless operator Sergeant Richard Julian and several others. This book reminds us that the past is an ever-changing landscape, with new pieces of the jig-saw being discovered regularly. However, we may have to wait until 2045 when the National Archives’ embargo on the activities of 42 S/L regiment will be lifted and we may finally discover why Captain Eric Hughes died on manoeuvres in Germany, eighteen days after VE Day 1945.
    John Knifton’s painstaking research has unearthed a great deal of information about the families these casualties left behind, their economic backgrounds and homes, as well as the activities they enjoyed at school and sometimes as adults, which helps us to appreciate the Valiant as rounded individuals. This is a book which travels far beyond the confines of Nottingham and not simply because the individuals were found in all theatres of the war, on land, sea and air, at home and abroad. We also learn about some of the enemy, often discovering the name of the Luftwaffe pilot who shot down the RAF plane containing the Old Nottinghamian and in some cases what fate had in store for the German pilot too.
    This book will be of great value to anyone interested in early twentieth century history and not simply those who have a connection with Nottingham and its environs, or specifically Nottingham High School. There are nuggets of fascinating information throughout the book, including a healthy corrective that, in the real-life story of the Great Escape, there were no members of the American armed forces who escaped to freedom, temporarily or otherwise, such as the character Captain Hilts memorably portrayed on a motorbike by Steve McQueen!

    John Swain

    • Thanks very much for those kind words. I’m glad that you enjoyed the book. I like your idea of pieces of the jig-saw being discovered regularly. There are a good few mysteries revealed in this volume and a few which will remain unsolved, at least for the moment. I shall certainly be first in the queue though in 2045 when the secret documents about Captain Eric Hughes out there on Luneburg Heath in May 1945 are finally opened to public scrutiny.

  7. Through you, all these young men will be remembered Thank you.

    • I hope so. So many of them were so young and missed out on so much of life such as a wife, children and so on. And hopefully, we who were saved are worthy of their sacrifice/

  8. Stefan Krzeminski

    I’ve also been unable to post a review on the publisher’s own website. I hope that what follows is just a temporary substitute.
    John is to be warmly congratulated on the publication of the second volume of his remarkably ambitious series “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”. Written with the intention of honouring the sacrifice of a further twenty six Old Nottinghamians and thus rescuing their memory from undeserved neglect, the book contains an astonishing degree of fascinating detail about their lives and ultimate fate, the result – in John’s own words – of “many thousands of hours of working on the project, three or four hours a day, six or seven days a week”. Such dedication alone merits acclaim. Equally admirable is John’s effective use of his skill as a writer. The narrative is never pedestrian, often lively, and consistently infused with a deep regard for the importance of meticulous research. The result is a highly readable and extensively informative addition to the history of the High School, the wider social history of Nottingham and – not least – the collective knowledge and understanding of the Second World War. The book, indeed the entire series, deserves as wide a readership as possible, but it is particularly significant that it is the young who are John’s ultimate target audience. Whatever the merits of the argument that much current history teaching is imbalanced and insufficiently edifying, “it would be a tragedy indeed if [the young] 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” (from the Preface). As recent events have shown, there are some young activists who seem to believe that Winston Churchill was a racist. As the former Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan said in response, “Just wait until they hear about the guy he defeated”. John’s work is a timely reminder of the importance of memory and gratitude.

    • Thank you very much for those kind words, Stefan. I don’t know if it’s the correct metaphor, but you have hit the nail right on the head by your remarks towards the end of your review.

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