The Carvings in the Tower (1)

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.





Filed under cricket, History, military, Nottingham, The High School, Writing

14 responses to “The Carvings in the Tower (1)

  1. Fascinating – if only they knew you would be doing this

    • That’s a very interesting idea, Derrick. They must certainly have been thinking about what the future held for England. May 13th 1940 was Churchill’s speech about “blood, toil, tears and sweat”. May 20th the German tanks reached the Channel coast of France, and May 27th the Dunkirk evacuation began. As human beings, they must have wondered too about what the future held for them, as we all do. And very few of us get it right when we are 18, for example, or even 21.

  2. It is certainly a school with history. Thanks John for all your research.

    • My pleasure. I enjoyed the fact that there was an Archives Room at the High School, where the past came so close to the present. And the store of photographs is quite simply amazing, with the very oldest one taken in 1868, the same year when the last convict ship ever, the Hougoumont, arrived in Western Australia.

  3. Another excellent post John.

    • Thank you very much. It all comes from that single b/w photograph which is kept in the School Archives. It was one of a very large number that I scanned into the school’s computer system when we acquired our first ever scanner, some time in the early1990s. Personally, I have never seen the window ledge in question, because during my time the tower was off limits as being in too dangerous a condition.

  4. GP

    So sad that the world lost these talented and smart young men.
    The poem is great!

    • Not every single one was killed. In the picture of the five cricketers, in their striped blazers, sadly two of the five perished and of the eight on the window sill, just one died, of pneumonia contracted when out on a practice mission in the mountains to see if he had what was needed to become an officer.
      Overall, the private schools in England, where you paid a fee to attend, had a higher casualty rate than the ordinary free schools run by the state. It was worse in WW1 than in WW2 but in WW2 it was still there. This was because the British insisted in making their officers distinctive. In WW1, they had flat caps, revolvers not rifles and a loud whistle. So the naughty German snipers singled them out and shot them. What cheats! That’s not playing fair!
      And I think the poem is great too!

      • GP

        It’s for reasons such as that, that the US troops removed any distinction of rank before going into combat – the soldiers knew who was in charge.

  5. Another interesting and informative post John. It’s a real shame so many talented young people from across the world were to lose their lives in war.

    • Yes, I think we’d be living in an earthly paradise were it mot for the disastrous effects of two world wars. One important factor was that the university students tended to get the more dangerous jobs, such as Second Lieutenant in WW1 and aircrew in WW2.

      • Jeff Tupholme

        You may be interested to read the book ‘Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!: A World without World War I’, which sets out various possible scenarios for the present in that eventuality.

      • Thanks very much for that. I’m a bit of a sucker for alternative history. I’ve watched, relatively recently, “It happened here”, a sixties film about an England occupied by the Germans.
        The big problem I have is that my pile of books still to be read never seems to diminish, and then there are all the books and films I’d like to experience again. It’s a tough life being a pensioner!

  6. Pingback: The Carvings in the Tower (4) | John Knifton

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