The Carvings in the Tower (2)

In May 1940, the senior members of the OTC (Officers Training Corps) had climbed up to the School Tower and carved their names and their message on a stone window sill. It is still there today, eighty odd years later:

Richard Milnes again had a poem published in the School Magazine in December 1936. It was entitled:


“The sun beat down on the Spanish fleet,

As loaded with treasures she lay;

Her sailors slept in the noonday heat,

Not a guard watched over the bay.

We wound in the cable as evening fell,

When a mist rose up from the sea.

My heart beat fast as we breasted the swell,

For all alone were we.

The night was black, not a single star,

Smiled down on the “Golden Hind.”

We could hear the billows over the bar,

And we blessed the darkness kind.

We waited, three score of British Lions,

Our cannon and pistols primed;

I heard the clatter of grappling-irons,

Then over her rail we climbed.

Then suddenly rose a warning shout

From a ship just over our lee.

We tried the swarthy Dons to rout,

But all alone were we.

Then as we fought with our backs to the mast

There came a cry from the right.

“Golden Hind !  Ahoy ! Avast !”

And we knew ‘twas the “Silver Sprite.”

Over the plank stepp’d the Dons of Spain

And her treasure lay in our hold.

There never will be such a fight again,

As was fought in those days of old.”

Given that he was only 13 years old, not a bad effort! At least it rhymes, something which few poets achieve nowadays. The following year saw Richard move into the Upper Fifth Form Classical with Mr Duddell aka “Uncle Albert”. As always for examination purposes, the 27 boys in the Form were combined with the 29 in Mr Palmer’s Upper Fifth Form Modern. Richard came 13th equal of the 56.

Here’s Mr Duddell in 1932 and 1942:

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This year Richard passed his School Certificate. In 1938-1939 he moved into the Classical Sixth Form, where Mr Gregg was his Form Master in a form of 13 students. The following year was Richard’s last in the High School. He spent it in the same Form, this time with Mr Beeby. Richard left on July 30th 1940, presumably the last day of the Summer Term. He was 17 years old and had achieved quite a lot this year. He had passed his Higher School Certificate (Classics) and in what was now called the Junior Training Corps, the JTC, he had joined the Air Cadet branch where he became a Lance-Corporal. He was awarded his much coveted “Certificate ‘A’” qualification which proved his good knowledge of military basics, and allowed him to be considered there and then as a potential officer in the part time Territorial Army. Richard also won the JTC contingent’s Musketry Prize. In the realm of sport, he won his full First XV colours in Rugby after being awarded his Second XV Colours the previous season.

This year, in Rowing, he also won his Colours and Blazer for the Second IV.

Richard then, left the High School on that last day of the Summer Term, July 30th 1940. Neither he, not his friends, could have been particularly sure about how the war would turn out and whether England would be invaded and conquered by Christmas. Still less did Richard know that he had 1,281 days left before he died in a place which, at this point, he had never heard of.


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

19 responses to “The Carvings in the Tower (2)

  1. Oh John! You can’t leave us hanging on a tenterhook like this.

    • Well, to be honest, that was actually the end of the story. The point I was making is that his death would have been so important to him, and to his family, yet in the vast scale of WW2, it was a trivial event, which actually happened not through enemy action but by problems while “undergoing training”.
      At the age of only 21, Richard died, probably in the hospital at Portree, the main town on the Isle of Skye in the Scottish Highlands. He is buried in the cemetery at Stronuirinish.

    • More than one, I’m afraid. His father died in the middle 1920s possibly having been weakened by his wounds during the First World War. His mother looked after the modest house off the ring road, and Richard made the very best of his chance at a public school. Because of his humble background he did not automatically become an officer but had to undergo interviews and many other tests. While his fitness was being tested in the mountains of Scotland in February 1944, he caught pneumonia and died. I suspect that he was the sort of man to carry on in awful weather conditions and risk his life, rather than quit and lose his chance of promotion. The final tragedy, of course, was his mother, who was left totally alone.

  2. GP

    That poem is very good – and then to take into consideration that he was only 13, makes it outstanding! (and I appreciated the fact that it rhymed!)

    • Absolutely. I cannot understand what has happened to poetry over the years. So many poets in the past managed to produce rhyming poetry that had a rhythm to it, not to mention the old song writers such as Cole Porter with his Napoleon Brandy and Mahatma Gandhi. an it be that difficult? The are such things as rhyming dictionaries after all!

      • GP

        I get bored reading non-rhyming stuff. To me it’s just prose, a flash short story. If I wanted to read prose – I’d pick up one of my books.

  3. That’s an excellent poem for a 13 year old. Clearly another potentially talented young man that never made it beyond the war’s end!

    • And his means of dying was a total waste. Trying to become an officer, his fitness was tested out in the mountains of Scotland in February 1944. The weather would have been Arctic or worse at altitude. He caught pneumonia and died, as a large proportion of patients with this dreadful disease did at this time. It wasn’t called “The Captain of the Men of Death” for nothing.

    • You are not wrong! What progress we might make if we could keep all of our very clever young people. The Second World War was a disaster and the First World War was even worse. In the latter conflict, just from our school alone there were some near-geniuses killed fighting for possession of a pile of mud. One of them, a young man called Wootton, had been at Cambridge University where he had never ever taken a university examination without being awarded a first class. He too paid the price for being unable to keep possession of a some strategically important mud in northern France.

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

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