The Sandiacre Screw Company (3)

Last time we were following Keith Doncaster’s progress through the High School, with two unmarried women teachers in the Preparatory School (which was as the rules demanded. As soon as women teachers got married, they were forced to resign.) After a spell with Messrs Day and Hardwick, Keith remained in an “A” Form in 1936-1937. This was the Third Form A with Mr Beeby. This Form of 28 boys had seven ex-Scholarship holders but only one of the previous year’s seven had retained his award. Here’s a very poor picture of Mr Beeby. He is right in the middle of the group:

Mr Beeby soon left the High School to join the RAF. He was absent from at least September 1941-1946. Flying Officer Beeby served in the Signals Unit of the Technical Branch who carried out all kinds of electronic warfare and radio counter-measures including the blocking of the famous German Very High Frequency bombing system called “Knickebein”. This was all “Top Secret”, of course. Mr Beeby certainly would not have been able to discuss what he had been up to with his pupils in the Air Training Corps. He might even have been associated with code breaking. Lots of codebreakers were recruited among the top Classics and Mathematics graduates at Cambridge. Here’s the equipment the Germans used for “Knickebein”:

Keith didn’t win a prize or a scholarship this year and he came 23rd in the Form. This was  sufficient reason to relegate him into a “B” Form the following year, the Upper Fourth Form B with Mr Kennard. This Form had 27 boys and sixteen of them opted to join the OTC, the Officers’ Training Corps, including Keith, who finished the year seventh in the Form. In 1938-1939, Keith was in the Lower Fifth Form with Mr Parsons. Here’s Mr WA Parsons, one of the two Masters in charge of cricket. He was universally known as “Wappy”. Right next to him is Bruce Richardson who lived in the big house diagonally opposite Oxclose Lane Police Station at the junction with Edwards Lane. Four years after this photograph was taken, “Farmer” Richardson would die on the perimeter of Dunkirk, trying to buy time for the British Expeditionary Force to get back across the Channel. It wasn’t called “Operation Certain Death” but it might just as well have been:

There were 21 boys in the Lower Fifth Form, 15 of whom were in the OTC, including Keith. Indeed, we still have a photograph of the OTC taken during the calendar year of 1939 and Keith is on the left hand end of the front row, as we look at it. Despite his physical age of either 15 or 16, he looks almost boyish, rather thin and rather delicate. There are a couple of boys who look less adult than him, but of the 26 individuals in the photograph, there are more than twenty who seem so much more physically prepared to leave the High School than he appears to be. In the end-of-year examinations, by the way, Keith finished a respectable sixth:

Here is Keith in close up:

The next year, 1939-1940 was Keith’s last in the High School. He spent it with Mr Thomas in Fifth Form B. There were 26 boys in the Form. Here’s Mr Adan Thomas in later years, in a superb photograph taken by the Reverend Stephens:

Keith does not seem to have taken his end-of-year examinations and he is not recorded in the School List for the Form, even as an “X, not placed”. The situation is rather strange because the School Register says that his departure occurred on July 30th 1940, which was presumably the last day of the working term. So why did he not take the School examinations?

There is some indication, though, that Keith took, and passed, his School Certificate this year and that may have had some connection with it.

Keith did achieve three very important things during this year, though. He became a OTC A/cadet (an air cadet), and he was promoted to Lance Corporal. He also passed the all-important OTC Certificate “A”. With that, he took one more step towards his premature death:






Filed under Aviation, cricket, History, military, Nottingham, Science

20 responses to “The Sandiacre Screw Company (3)

  1. More important history involving the impact of WW2 on normal lives

    • Thank you Derrick, you are very kind. I was recently in contact with a late middle aged man who, as a child, had lived opposite the Doncasters, and who knew them. He said they always had an aura of sadness about them, something he couldn’t put his finger on. After nearly fifty years, my blog post explained what the problem was, although they themselves never spoke about the loss of their only son. I suppose that such a tragic event is something that you would never get over.

  2. GP

    Dunkirk really was certain death. I read once about the rescue attempts – and they all should be commended.
    I’m so glad you are saving all this fantastic history, John.

    • Thank you. I have made it my mission really to preserve history as seen from the point of view of the ordinary man or woman. I suppose what set me off was a talk I heard from an 80 year old survivor of Auschwitz, who had met the infamous Dr Mengele face to face. The old man described life and death in the camp and told my colleague and myself that, as teachers, we needed to tell his story every time we could. It was the same with a 65 year old veteran of the Battle of the Somme in WW1. He lost both his legs to an artillery shell, and he wanted his story remembered, and indeed, his hatred of the generals in their comfortable chateau ten miles from the battlefield.
      Ordinary people, whose tale should be heard!

  3. What an great story and a wonderful story teller. Thank you John.

    • Well, all I can say is “Thank you very much for those kind words”. I really do value them, coming as they do from somebody who has 6,284 followers, and who has written blog posts for so many years.

  4. An intriguing episode. I was not aware that male high school students were inducted at such an early age in military training for preparation as army reserve officers.

    • What happened, and still does, is that British public schools (fee paying, private, schools) would have a cadet force with army, navy and RAF sections. Participation is completely voluntary (and always has been at the school I worked in). The boys would learn marching, shooting a rifle etc and would also visit various forces bases around the country. Once a year, boys could go off to camp, and spend a week on an RAF base, or with the army on ,manoeuvres and so on.
      Before WW2, there was also the Certificate “A” (above) which they could go in for if they wished. It was a series of various tests, and, if passed, it gave the holder the right to apply to be an officer in the real army.
      The certificate speaks of a “national emergency”, and if this happened, such as after Dunkirk, Certificate “A” holders found themselves not fighting, but training volunteers (as if they were actually officers) in the simple skills they had learnt, such as marching, shooting, etc etc. After Dunkirk, there was a real emergency. England south of the Thames was defended by just the one tank, and London had fewer than 100 anti-aircraft guns.

  5. You write such intriguing posts. I like reading about your local history.

    • Thank you very much, you are very kind. I was never in the forces, but compliments from people who were mean a great deal to me. I certainly think I’m on the right track, as I have had a number of communications from British veterans congratulating me on my work, both in blog posts and in the books about the school’s war casualties.
      I believe in always being on the side of the ordinary soldier, sailor or airman. They are the ones who do the job, not politicians or even high ranking officers, from what I’ve seen.

  6. They are just boys! He looks so young in that picture barely old enough to dress himself let alone fight for his country! Anyone who stayed behind at Dunkirk deserved a medal in my opinion. The rear guard saved a lot of lives in those few days.

    • They certainly did. All the facts and figures are here:
      in the section called “Aftermath” and then “Analysis” and also in “Aftermath” and “Casualties”.
      Around 130,000 French soldiers were evacuated but in excess of 100,000 went back to France, hoping to fight the Germans in battles after Dunkirk. Only about 50,000 got to the front line, however. After the war, most of the French men became workers for the Reich, either in France or, more frequently I think, in Germany

  7. Boys. They were only boys and some of them looked so very young and immature. Every story I read makes me wonder how I would have been if I was there then and it terrifies me.

    • You would have been as tough as all Aussies are, both young and old. Why do you think your cricket team wipes the floor with England every time they play? And you would have been the kid with the notebook, writing down possible areas for your blog posting fifty years into the future.
      More seriously, all I can offer is my Dad. He was in the RAF for five years and came back with PTSD and facial tics and twitches that lasted until around 1970. And he drank too much, but he had seen sights that would be too horrific for a modern horror film and could probably never be wiped from anybody’s mind.
      He did say, though, that everybody in Bomber Command was sh*t scared most of the time, but all that mattered were two things. (1) the most important, never let the rest of the crew down (2) when the lorry picks up the men to fly the mission and take them out to their Lancaster, be on it.

      • I don’t know how tough I would have been. From my mother’s side I would have been first in line to volunteer. From my Father’s side I would have had the sh1t kicked out of me for being a conscientious objector.

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