Nottingham High School has a very obvious high and splendidly Gothic tower, complete with a tiny turret. It totally dominates the skyline of the city. The tower was even mentioned by DH Lawrence in his first novel, “The White Peacock” as “the square tower of my old school.” A brand new flagpole was erected on the top to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria on Tuesday, June 21st 1887.
This tower has always been accessible to the boys, one way or another. For years, it played host to the deliberations of the School Prefects, and the beatings they inflicted. In May 1940, with England expecting to be invaded at any moment, the senior members of the OTC (Officers Training Corps) climbed up there and carved their names and their message to the future on a stone window sill. They are still there today, eighty odd years later:
“The following were members of the anti-parachutist squad May 20-21,1940 (being first to do so) RA Palmer, JS Gibson, DJ Furley, RM Gunther, RB Holroyd, RV Milnes, R Mellor, JMT Saunders”.
But who were these young men, and what happened to them during their lives? After all, they must are all be dead today. But, sadly, not every one of them even made it through to the end of the war.
Richard Vernon Milnes was born on March 29th 1923. His father, William Vernon Milnes, died when Richard was quite young. His wife, Florence Annie Milnes became the bread winner, working as a school teacher, one occupation which was more open to women than most at this time. The family were living at 8 Langar Close, in the triangle between Mansfield Road and Valley Road:
Richard entered the High School on September 20th 1934 as Boy No 5855. He was only eleven years of age and he was a Sir Thomas White Entrance Scholar. He went into Cooper’s House and Third Form A with Mr Gregg as his Form Master. There were 29 boys in the Form and Richard finished the year in second position.
Richard then moved into the Upper Fourth Form A with Mr Bridge.Here he is, in the darker blazer, looking fairly angry, as he often did:
(back row) “Beaky” Bridge, “Wappy” Parsons, Reg Simpson, the future Test cricketer, Arthur Mellows, the future paratrooper, killed in “Operation Plunder”, the crossing of the Rhine into Germany, 1945. (front row) Bruce “Farmer” Richardson, killed while defending the perimeter of Dunkirk so others could get onto the boats, 1940. John Louis Pilsworth, Prefect, and Eric James Dickenson, Captain of Cricket and of Rugby.
There were 29 in the Upper Fourth Form A and Richard was one of the four boys who were “not placed” in the end of the year examinations, absent, I would presume, for reasons of illness. Only six boys joined the Officers Training Corps that year but Richard was not one of them. During this year Richard wrote a poem which was published in the School Magazine. It was entitled “Winter”, and it was a lovely little poem for a boy of thirteen:
The wind goes whistling round the eaves,
Scattering far and wide the leaves.
The leafless oak-tree creaks and heaves.
Winter is here.
Clammy fog is swirling drearily,
Ghostly buildings looking eerily,
Cars are crawling, hooting, wearily.
Winter is here.
The snow is falling, smooth and white,
Covering the earth with a canopy bright,
Luminous in the pale moonlight.
Yes, winter is here.
During the following year of 1936-1937, Richard was with “Fishy” Roche in Lower Fifth Form A. The Form contained 31 boys of whom sixteen, including now Richard, were in the Officers Training Corps.
More about Richard next time.