The Carvings in the Tower (5)

Robert Michael Gunther (line 5 of the picture below) was one of the young men who, in May 1940, had climbed up into the Tower of the High School and carved their names and their message on a window sill. When the group did this, they could have had no idea how the war would turn out, whether the Germans would cross the Channel and occupy the country, or whether the British forces would manage to fight them off :

Robert lived at a house called “The Haven” in Burton Joyce, a village which is to the north of Nottingham, on the River Trent. He entered the High School on April 24th 1924. Robert won Mr Player’s Prize for Arithmetic (Intermediate) in 1938 and passed his School Certificate in 1939, just a year before he carved his name and message on the stone window sill in the School Tower.

In the OTC, he became a Lance Corporal and then a Corporal in 1938. He won the Certificate ‘A’ prize in 1939 and soon became Company Quarter-Master Sergeant and then Company Sergeant Major. In 1940, he was the most efficient senior NCO and the Commander of the Most Efficient House Platoon. A School Prefect, Robert won his First XV Colours and Cap, and captained the school rugby XV in 1940-1941:

“An exceptionally good leader, he also has shown himself outstanding in all departures (sic) of forward play.”

Robert left the High School on Christmas Eve, 1940. He joined the RNVR (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) and by 1942 he was a member of the Fleet Air Arm. He was trained at HMS Kipanga in Kenya and then at HMS Ukussa in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He then joined 810 Squadron. The motto means “Like lightning from the sky”:

810 Squadron, Robert included, flew off the aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious:

At the end of the academic year, in July 1944, the Nottinghamian carried the following message:

“We regret to announce that the following Old Boys have recently been reported “Missing”, and we hope that good news of their safety will soon be received: RM Gunther (1934-40) and FL Corner (1932-39)”.

The Nottinghamian said that Bob Gunther had disappeared during a routine flight over the Indian Ocean in June 1944. In actual fact, he had been shot down while acting as observer in a Fairey Barracuda during a bombing raid on Port Blair in the Andaman Islands.

The Andaman Islands are here:

Here is Port Blair:

And here is a Fairey Barracuda, which could carry combinations of a torpedo, bombs or rockets :

Bob and his pilot, Basil Willington Aldwell, were missing for 15 months. But Bob was not dead. The brutal Japanese had him, and his pilot, in their tender care. From July 13th 1944-August 27th 1945, he was imprisoned at Ofuna near Tokyo before spending two days at Shenagawa. When released he spent a long, long, time in hospital, before he was able to return home. Here are two typical victims of what was, ultimately, Japanese racism:

At Christmas 1945, another notification was published in the Nottinghamian:

“Sub-lieutenant RM Gunther RNVR (1934-1940) who disappeared on an operational flight over the Indian Ocean, in June 1944, is reported safe and on his way home. No news had been heard of him for some 15 months, and we are delighted to know of his safety.”

The extraordinary story also appeared in the Nottingham Evening News:

“One of the first Nottingham people to get a cablegram announcing the release of prisoners of war in Japan is Mrs KL Gunther of 37 Staunton Drive, Sherwood, who today was one of the first in Nottingham to receive news that her only son was returning home. His telegram read “Safe in Allied hands. Hope to be home soon. Writing. Address letters and telegrams to Liberated POW, c/o Australian Army Base Post Office, Melbourne.”

Sub Lieutenant RN Gunther of the Fleet Air Arm had been liberated. He had survived the Pacific war, a theatre where it was only too easy to lose your life.

Frank Leonard Corner, the other name in the Nottinghamian magazine of Summer 1944, was not so lucky.

At 00:25 on June 7th 1944, operating as a flight engineer, he had taken off from RAF Metheringham in an Avro Lancaster Mark III of 106 Squadron. It carried the squadron letters “Z-NH” and had a serial number of NE150. “Z-Zebra” was tasked with attacking bridges near Caen in the immediate aftermath of D-Day. It carried 18 x 500 lb bombs in its capacious bomb bay. Bombing from 3,000 feet and lower, at around 03:00 hours, the Lancasters were hit very severely by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, where a worker at the railway yard remembers vividly how the German gunners celebrated the fact that they had shot down a bomber, which must surely have been “Z-Zebra”. Frank was just twenty years old when he died. His service number was 222039 and his parents had by now moved to Whiston near Rotherham in South Yorkshire.

Frank was the scorer for the school’s First XI cricket team in 1938. In the photograph below he sits cross legged in front of the team:

Three of that season’s cricketers were killed in the war, as well as the team scorer.

Boy No 4 on the front row, George Colin Brown, of the Second Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment, was killed in Normandy on July 8th 1944, as 7 Platoon helped to clear the village of Hérouville-Saint-Clair of Germans.

“We slowly crept forward across open fields. As we broke into a trot, the Germans came out of holes in the ground like rats and unleashed hell. Mortars rained down on us and machine gun bullets were flying everywhere. Ahead of me, my platoon commander, Lieutenant Brown and his batman were killed.”

George Colin Brown was just 24 years old when he died. He was a young man whose….

“fast in-swinging ‘yorker’ on the leg stump was so devastating on its day.”

Boy No 5 on the back row, Ian Leslie Wilkinson, was killed on January 31st 1944, after taking off on a routine training flight from RAF Tilstock in an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V of 81 OTU, serial number LA 765. They crashed about 30 miles away near Dilhorne, a tiny village in Staffordshire. Ian was 24 years old and he was training to be a bomber pilot.

Boy No 6 on the back row, John Richard Mason, was killed on Friday, April 16th 1943, near RCAF Station Assiniboia in southern Saskatchewan in Canada. Sergeant Mason, a Pilot Instructor, was instructing Trainee Pilot, Leading Aircraftman John Hugh Evans, when their Fairchild Cornell Mark I, serial number FJ654, crashed into the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

10 Comments

Filed under Africa, Aviation, cricket, History, military, Nottingham, The High School, war crimes

10 responses to “The Carvings in the Tower (5)

  1. No wonder you needed to take a break from this

    • Precisely. Having started in 2015, I am just getting to the end of the publication process for the final volume of the five.
      I was probably inspired to start writing them by George Colin Brown, one of the three young men above. The school magazine provided an obituary, and it contained the phrase I included here, namely that his “fast in-swinging ‘yorker’ on the leg stump was so devastating on its day.” I had seen such descriptions in Wisden’s obituaries, but they were usually attached to 80 year olds, rather than young men of 24.

      • My most devastating ball was an out swinging one aimed from wide of the bowling crease way outside the leg stump with a late swing round the batsman’s legs – I couldn’t bowl an accurate in swinger. Only, of course, when the conditions were right. One weekend I took 8 for 37 in a school match followed by 7 for 12 for my club. I thought of this when I read your post.

  2. Thank you for those kind words. Most of the information came from the school magazine, which has recorded events in the school since the late 19th century. Without all that information, it would have been impossible to produce very much at all. The next major contributor was Wikipedia, which provides an idiot’s guide to so many battles and campaigns that I knew little or nothing about.

  3. Your research and attention to detail is remarkable John, and you are to be congratulated on your last volume. This post alone goes to show how widespread the war was, and how dangerous a game training was. There’s was a sad loss for Nottingham.

    • Thank you again for your kind words. I just hope that all of my details are correct !
      I paid for a year’s subscription to a website with military records and I hadn’t realised that many of the people I looked up would not be there in any great detail. As the years go by, they add more and more records to the website and the possibility is always there that something new will contradict what I have written.
      The war was, as you have said, an event that involved the whole world, and at least one Old Nottinghamian seems to have been involved in virtually all of the different theatres of operations. Only Russia is missing, for obvious reasons!

      • This is a problem I find, where new information comes to light and the information previously thought right, was in fact wrong. I’ve just been finding that out after another reader queried one death I believed to be right. The circumstances were indeed different!

  4. Why are people so cruel to each other? I am just asking, I know the answer.

  5. I think that the ease with which we turn to violence has allowed us to dominate this planet totally, but we now that battle is won, we find it extremely difficult to give up our desire to be violent.
    Violence is something that we all have inside us, as is racism, and we just have to fight a constant battle to suppress them both.

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