Monthly Archives: September 2022

The Sandiacre Screw Company (10)

The brave young men from the High School who died defending their country have left relatively little behind them. Sometimes we have a  few blurry photographs of school plays (the “woman” next to the teacher, and the boy in the middle of the very back row);

And sometimes we have a few blurry pictures of them in their uniforms:

We have some nice pieces of writing in the Nottinghamian magazine from Frank Corner and from John Walker. In the School Archives, John Grain’s school cricket blazer has hung on a hook there since 1936 and will hopefully continue to hang there until “towers cave in and walls collapse”. Whenever I saw it, I always thought that John could not possibly have imagined such a lonely fate for his blazer. No, he thought that one day in 1980. when he was 61 years old and a fat old man, he would come up to visit his old school and get them to dig out his old blazer and he’d then try it on. He’d say:

“Look! It almost fits me!”

And everybody would laugh and say:

“Why!  You can’t even get it over your shoulders! You must have grown a lot of muscles in the last forty five years! Perhaps the army made you fitter!”

And then he’d go back to his grandchildren and tell them where he’d been that day, and what it was like when he was at school.

We have a couple of Keith Doncaster’s poems.

In addition, we also have a lovely picture of the Officers Training Corps in 1937, with Keith on the left hand end of the very front row, looking extremely youthful and nowhere near his calendar age:

Keith Doncaster though, is the only casualty from the Second World War, of around 125 men, of whom we have a cinefilm. It was originally for sale on the internet but it can now be watched for free on BFI-Player, courtesy of the BFI, the British Film Institute. The four-minute film is silent and rather blurred, but everything is recognisable.

The title is “Shenstone and Longmoor Farm May-July 1943” but most of it clearly shows Keith in the garden of the family house in Sandiacre, relaxing on leave in the early summer of 1943.

Keith is in full, impeccable, RAF uniform, his hair shining with the traditional Brylcreem. He is a very slight young man, looking much younger than his actual age:

And then you can turn it into a close-up:

Then we see him walking towards the camera:

Then he’s on the lawn scratching the cat’s ears,:

He’s walking around the lawn, and then sitting down on a garden bench:

His sergeant’s stripes stand out in a pale grey world. What must be his father is there, wearing his office suit and smoking a cigarette:

A very old couple is there too. They could be Grandma and Grandad, but equally, they may well be the gardener and the cook:

There are shots of what must be Longmoor Farm with cows. One of them is very tame and Keith can scratch the back of its head and neck just like a dog:

Back at Sandiacre, the humans are still a mystery. Keith is with an elegantly dressed woman that may be his mother:

Certainly Dad is there, this time without the hat:

Back on the farm there is a herd of cows in a field, then two calves are let loose in a field to scamper and chase each other like two dogs:

But who are the two men? The cowmen? Alas, we will certainly never know:

And one of the stills I produced is quite lovely:

One more blog post, before Keith Doncaster fades back into history.

The home movie is available at

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-doncaster-shenstone-and-longmoor-farm-may-july-1943-1943-online

and of slightly lower standards of presentation, at

https://www.macearchive.org/films/doncaster-shenstone-and-longmoor-farm-may-july-1943

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Film & TV, History, military, Nottingham, The High School

Stories about my Dad (3)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  gave up his exciting job as a Brylcreem Boy of Bomber Command and signed up to be for what was called at the time “emergency training” as a teacher. It has always intrigued me as to how many veterans of Bomber Command became teachers. And I have my own ideas about that! Fred finished up getting a job quite near to his home, at a school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. The school was built in 1898 for 420 children. Fred taught there until the mid-1950s.

Here’s a modern map of the area. The Orange Arrow points to where Hastings Road School used to stand before it had to be demolished in the late 1950s, lest the subsidence problems made it collapse completely with the teachers and children inside :

When my Dad, Fred, worked there, the vast majority of the children were the sons and daughters of miners, both of coal and of clay. They were all what you would call “rough diamonds”.

Most of them, therefore, were far from sophisticated, either in their knowledge or their behaviour or, indeed, their hygiene. Fred used to tell the story of having a boy in his class called “Stinky Roberts” . At the beginning of the school year, Fred was given the helpful advice by his colleagues never to let this particular boy sit next to a hot radiator under any circumstances. If he sits next to a radiator, then make him move!

Whether it was because Fred did not believe the other teachers, or whether it was because, in the absence of any particularly obvious hygiene problem, he quite simply forgot their advice, remains unclear.  But on one unfortunate day, when “Stinky” did get to sit by that scorching radiator, the wisdom of his colleagues became manifest, as the unbelievable stench of long unwashed filth and ancient, uncontrolled urine wafted inescapably around the room. In this way, Fred learnt one of the most important basics of teaching, namely that no boy is ever given a nickname without very good reason.

At one point, Fred had a bet with another teacher that he could leave his class working quietly while he went down to Lloyds Bank in Swadlincote to draw out some money. The pupils were told to behave themselves properly while he was away, and to continue with their work. This they duly did, and Fred won the bet.

In another variation of what was obviously the same story, Fred did not go down to the bank in Swadlincote, but instead, went to post a letter at the Church Gresley Post Office, a destination considerably nearer to Hastings Road School, and, from the point of view of unsupervised children, a much shorter, and therefore, perhaps, a more plausible time to be away.

One of Fred’s more pleasant jobs was the fact that he ran the school football team. He was partnered in this by his young friend, Vernon Langford. We do actually have a misty photograph of the staff at Hastings Road. Here it is :

The teachers are (back row), Mr Morris, Mr Roberts, Mr Baker, Mr Picker, Mr Goodall and Mr Knifton. The front row comprises Miss Rowe, Miss Smith, Mr Handford, Mrs Errington and Mrs P Middleton.

Fred’s teaching career at Hastings Road reached its pinnacle when he was conducting a lesson in Physics. At this time all secondary school teachers, even those who were trained to teach Geography, were expected to be able to turn their hand to more or less anything.

Fred’s brief was to demonstrate the effects of air pressure, so he took a pint glass, filled it with water, and then put a sheet of card over the top. He then explained that in a moment, when he turned the glass upside down, the contents would not spill out, because the air pressure on the card, which was equal to hundreds of pounds, was pressing down and keeping it in place. This news was received by the children, of course, with immense scepticism.

When Fred turned the glass over, however, perhaps as much to his surprise as anybody else’s, the rather unlikely result was that the card did actually stay in place, and the water did not spill out. The children’s reaction was astonishing. They were all totally amazed. One boy stood up, and shouted at the top of his voice, “A miracle ! A miracle ! Mester Knifton’s worked a miracle ! ” And then he ran out of the room and around the school, still shouting

“A miracle ! A miracle ! Mester Knifton’s worked a miracle ! ”

I believe that this incident was the closest that Fred ever came to being regarded as divine. Here’s a video of a mere mortal man trying out this trick:

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Humour, my Dad, Personal, Science

The Sandiacre Screw Company (9)

There is a rather beautiful stained glass window to the memory of young Ivan Keith Doncaster in St Giles’ Church in Sandiacre in Derbyshire.

It has a wonderful representation of St George with his sword and shield. Notice how he is flying, totally in keeping with an RAF casualty :

Lower down, Lincoln Cathedral is included:

There is also a superb illustration of an airman kneeling in prayer under the Tree of Life. To the right is the badge of the RAF with “Per ardua ad astra” and the badge of 166 Squadron, with its bulldog and its motto of “Tenacity” :

In the Long Eaton Advertiser, in Keith’s obituary, the local newspaper said that he was “thoughtful, quiet and unassuming, with a great love of the land and the country people”.

On his gravestone, Keith’s parents had the following inscription:

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die”.

The wireless operator, Edward Ellis Jones, had slightly more direct feelings expressed:

“He gave his life that others might live. God bless him”

These sentiments are echoed by the words on the gravestone of Roy Elkington Ault, the bomb aimer:

“He died so that England might live”.

Similar feelings to these were expressed by Keith in his “Last letter”, the letter which is left behind, sealed, and may only be opened by parents or wife in the event of the writer’s death:

“These ops are what we have been training for, for many months. Now is our chance to make this earth a place for decent people to live in. I hope that the seven of us can flatten a large number of German homes as well as factories during our tour of ops. If I do have to go then I only hope that I can have a good chance to do some damage over there first. If that happens I shall die in the way that any Englishman would want to—fighting for his country.”

There are two more blog posts in the future to round off this tragic tale. And by the way, the pictures of those beautiful stained glass windows were originally put on the internet by “Berenice UK” in 2015.

Here’s Keith at the High School again:

Here he is in the RAF……..

And here he is at home as Sergeant Doncaster, mid-upper gunner…..

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, military, Nottingham, The High School