In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Four)

As we found with Volume 3, things moved at a rather slow pace for the publication of Volume 4, but you will be pleased to hear that it has finally made its appearance, detailing 25 of the High School’s casualties in World War II.

Don’t think, incidentally, that we were running out of steam. As I mentioned last time, all five volumes have been deliberately constructed to contain the same amount of material as all of the others. Furthermore, that material is, overall, of the same quality as all the other volumes. No single book is full of exciting stories of derring-do, at the expense of another volume devoid of all excitement. I took great care to make that the case.

Indeed, Volume 4 contains the detailed story of “Watty” Watson, the Battle of Britain fighter pilot who would die, it was alleged by his colleagues in 152 Squadron, the victim of Irish saboteurs in the parachute packing plant.

This volume, therefore, portrays not just the terrible excitement of World War II, but the backgrounds of these 25 young men who died fighting it. Their families, their houses, their school years with Masters very different from those of today:

You can read about their boyhood hobbies, their sporting triumphs, where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. And all of this is related against the background of the living Nottingham of yesteryear, a city almost completely different from that of today.

That is not to say, of course, that you will not find all the details of the conflicts in which these young men fought and the circumstances in which they met their deaths. On occasion, particularly in the case of the more peculiar training accidents, I have even attempted to find explanations for events. Most details of this kind were completely unknown until I carried out my groundbreaking research.

In this volume, you will meet the ON who was killed trying to defend Liverpool at night in a Boulton Paul Defiant night-fighter:

The ON shot down over West Norfolk by Oberleutnant Paul Semrau of the Fernnachtjagd:

The ON who flew his Vickers Wellington straight into the cold waters of Tremadog Bay in North Wales, for no apparent reason:

The ON who worked for the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying American bombers across the Atlantic:

The ON who left his jacket hanging in the School Archives, where it still hangs today. Alas, it may look as if it is waiting for its owner to come in, a laughing, jovial, chubby middle aged man, who will boast that his school cricket blazer still fits him, but who will be sadly disappointed when he takes it off the hanger and realises just how thin he was back in the day.

Alas, he sleeps now in Tobruk Cemetery:

Another ON perished trying to cross the River Volturno in Italy. He and his colleagues were prevented, temporarily, from so doing by the Hermann Göring Division and the 15th Panzergrenadiers.

The ON whose Whitley bomber crossed the North Sea on a bombing mission only to be hit by anti-aircraft fire and crash, as my researches have discovered, on a hillside near Hüffe Farm south of the village of Lashorst, near the small town of Preußisch Oldendorf in North Rhine-Westphalia, nineteen miles east-north-east of Osnabrück and almost midway between that city and Hannover:

The ON in the wrong place at the wrong time. The place, the Bomb Dump at RAF Graveley, which stored the bombs for the missions of an entire squadron over, at least, a number of days. The time, five seconds before it all blew up.

The ON who fought with the SAS, the Special Air Service and then the SBS, the Special Boat Service. The SAS still do not know how he died.

The ON whose family owned and traded under the name of “Pork Farms”:

The ON, a young man whose “fast in-swinging ‘yorker’ on the leg stump was so devastating on its day.”  Alas, six years later, he was one of the day’s casualties “laid out on the ground in front of the church wall” in Hérouville,  as the Allies fought hard to clear another of the many little villages  in Normandy.

And finally, the ON who was a history lecturer at Glasgow University, but who, in October 1941, thought it was his duty to give lectures to the ordinary troops in the North African and Mediterranean theatres about why we are fighting and the world after the war. Backwards  and forwards he criss-crossed the area time and again. And the ordinary men lapped it up. They were so happy that a university lecturer who didn’t need to be there had come to see them and to explain the politics of the day.

And don’t forget, our history writing motto still remains:

“No tale is left untold. No anecdote is ignored.”

This book is now available for purchase through







Filed under Africa, Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, military, Nottingham, Personal, The High School, Writing

16 responses to “In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Four)

    • Thank you, Derrick. I just felt that the 80-odd we knew about were not particularly well known and when I started to find so many men who had given their lives without anybody even knowing about it, I needed little convincing that something had to be done.
      The final clincher was George Colin Brown whose “fast in-swinging ‘yorker’ on the leg stump was so devastating on its day.” Sadly, he finished up playing for England in a totally unexpected way, as you can see in one of the paragraphs above.

  1. Ana amazing milestone John to have four out now. Well done to you!

    • Thank you so much. After retiring, I suddenly found I had so much energy. Previously I had spent my free time slumped in front of the TV, but it was so different in my early sixties. I could write for four hours every day, seven days a week, without any real need for weekends.

    • Thank you very much. I have been very determined that these young men should not be forgotten for what they did. As one of them has on his gravestone, “He gave the greatest gift he had, the rest of his life.”
      Hopefully, somebody one day will do the same for all of the young men and women who gave the rest of their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. They do not deserve anonymity as their fate.

  2. John, congrats on getting your fourth book of the series out into the world!

    • Thank you so much! At one point, I didn’t think that we were going to get beyond volume 2 but here we are at Volume 4, and volume 5 in preparation. It’s a pity that the story took a number of books, but clearly the lives and deaths of 130 people won’t occupy just 200 pages, if you’re going to do justice to them.
      To be honest, though, my hat is off to all the people who, like yourself, write fiction. That is a much more difficult game than what I have done, much more difficult.

  3. Good news – glad to hear you got it done!

  4. Chris Waller

    Your mention of the ON’s jacket which still hangs in the School Archive is very poignant. One wonders what was in his mind when he last hung it there. Did he have no doubts that he would come back to collect it?

    On a practical note, you mention that one ON in the ATA flew American bombers across the Atlantic. Am I right to assume that this involved a stop for refuelling at some point? (Greenland?) I am guessing that those aircraft would not have had the range to make the crossing in a single flight.

    • As far as I know, it was his parents who brought his blazer in, (before their son’s death) and then left it to the school. Clearly, it would be an interesting thing to have in, say, 2038.
      As regards crossing the Atlantic, there were different methods. B-24 Liberators with so-called “Tokyo tanks” could do it in one go, from say, Newfoundland or Greenland, but it was a hazardous trip. Smaller bombers such as the B-25, filled the bomb bay and the fuselage space with extra fuel tanks which could then be stripped out and sent back, perhaps by ship.
      There were also approved routes with a lot of shortish stages which are listed at
      Casualty rates could be quite high, with none of the modern navigational aids, extremely poor weather, and the occasional German fighter with its base in Brittany.

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

    Until we meet again..
    May your troubles be less
    Your blessings be more
    And nothing but happiness
    Come through your door
    (Irish Saying)

  6. And thank you for reading! Brodi Ashton is certainly correct in what she says about heroes and the fact that to be a hero you have to make a choice, rather than just be born with a particular ability. My Dad in the RAF in WW2 said that everybody was absolutely scared stiff of flying off to bomb Germany, but they all made sure that when take-off time came round at 10.00pm they were all sitting in their seats ready to go. That was making a choice, I suppose, choosing not to give in to their fear.
    Another key factor, my Dad said, was that getting killed was always something that happened to somebody else.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.