Category Archives: Africa

“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (1)

The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer (Dutch) states, the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, over the British Empire’s influence in South Africa. The British Empire owned Cape Colony and the Bechuanaland Protectorate.

The catalyst for the war was the discovery of diamonds and gold in the Boer states.

Alexander Frederic Wallis was born on January 18th 1867. Nottingham had seen its worst floods for fifteen years on January 9th. Two feet of water washed over the railway tracks at the station. On the 14th, a recently constructed factory on Carlton-road (sic) had caught fire. On March 14th, the Mechanics Hall was completely destroyed by fire. On March 20th an enormous fire destroyed the premises of William Smith, a “chenille and gimp manufacturer”. On April 2nd, the council agreed to order a steam fire engine, at a cost of £650. This type of thing. A combined fire engine and smoke screen generator:

Alexander Frederic Wallis’ father was Alexander Bruce Wallis, the Captain and Adjutant of the Robin Hood Rifles. In 1879 the family’s address was 1 Goodwin Street, near All Saints’ Church in the area to the west of Waverley Street, more or less directly opposite the bandstand in the Arboretum Park. Goodwin Street is very, very striking, with its tall tenement houses like you might find in Edinburgh or Glasgow. They all have four floors including one for the servants.Here it is. Look for the orange fire engine arrow.

The “education facility” in the middle at the top is the High School. Raleigh Street (west of the Arboretum Lake, and south of the orange arrow) was where the history of Raleigh bicycles started in 1885. That is why the brand was called “Raleigh”.

In the same year, Captain Wallis had moved to nearby No 3 Burns Street, a magnificent Victorian house with that eccentric, almost random architecture of the wilder Victorian architects of the period, including huge gables, oriel windows, patterns made with darker bricks and a pointed archway to the front door. Here is the house today:

By 1894, now Major Wallis rather than Captain, he and his family were living at 50 Forest Road West, extremely close to the High School. On the map above,  Forest Road West is to the west of the small lemon yellow coloured circle which represents the High School’s tram stop. Four years later in 1898-1899, Major Wallis and his family had moved to Neville Terrace at 15 Wellington Square, directly off Derby Road just after Canning Circus. This must have been much more convenient for the Robin Hood Rifles’ Orderly Room in Castle Yard. The family were still there in 1904, but after that, I was unable to trace them.

Their son, Alexander Frederic Wallis entered the High School on September 12th 1879 as Boy No 583. He was 12 years old. His career remains a blank because the majority of the School Lists have not survived and the rest are just lists of boys’ surnames with no distinguishing initials. The School played soccer then but Alexander does not figure in the reports we still have, nor indeed, in the records of the cricket team. He left the High School at the end of the Christmas Term in 1882. Here is the High School during that era, captured in a high quality albumen print:

At this time the Headmaster was Dr Robert Dixon, nicknamed “Dido” and the staff would have included Mr Bray or “Donkey”, Mr Seymour or “Donkeys”, Mr Jennings or “Jigger”, Mr Corner or “Sammy” and his younger brother, Mr J Corner or “Jig”, Mr Townson or “Benjy” , the Reverend Easton or “Jiggerty” and Mr William Edward Ryles or “Jumbo” and Mr Wilfrid Tyson Ryles or “Nipper”.

Nicknameless staff included Herr Altorfer, Monsieur Brunner, Monsieur Durand, Mr Jackson, Mr Small and Sergeant-Major Vickers the Drill Sergeant. There was also Mr Leopold Compline Wilkes or “Demi”, who went to South Africa in 1893 to be Headmaster of Kimberley Public School, only to die of typhoid, or enteric fever, on May 16th 1899, aged only 37. Here they all are. Still shocked by the recent death of General Custer:

Like poor “Demi”,  young Alexander Wallis, now 33 years of age, was also destined to die in South Africa, but as a soldier during the Second Boer War. He was just one of the 23,000 who paid the ultimate price of other men’s greed. Here is his epitaph taken from “The Forester” as the first School Magazine was called :

“Captain Alexander Frederic Wallis, killed in action near Arundel, near Colesberg, in Cape Colony, on February 24th 1900, was the second son of Major AB Wallis, formerly of the 33rd Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment and late adjutant of the Robin Hood Rifles. He entered the High School on September 12th 1879 and left at Christmas, 1882, being afterwards educated at Derby and Sandhurst. Captain Wallis entered the 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment as a second- lieutenant and obtained his lieutenancy in 1889 and his captaincy in 1896. He served in Bermuda, Halifax, Jamaica, St Helena, Natal and Zululand. On the outbreak of the Matabele war in 1896 he proceeded to Mafeking where he served at the base and on lines of communication. At the finish of the war he went to Malta and was then quartered with the regiment at Dover in Kent. The regiment then went out to South Africa, Captain Wallis being in command of the Mounted Infantry Company. On his arrival in Cape Town he joined Major-General Clements’s (sic) Brigade at Arundel. He had just celebrated his 33rd birthday, and had 13 years’ army service. In Nottingham much sympathy is felt for Major Wallis in his bereavement.”

The village of Colesberg saw many battles and skirmishes during the Second Boer War. They brought into opposition the British and the Boers of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. This is the view looking towards the village:

A day-by-day timeline of the war listed the day of Alexander’s death as an “engagement” rather than a skirmish or a battle.

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Filed under Africa, History, military, Nottingham, Politics, The High School

My Dad, Fred, and the Hollywood cinema of yesteryear

When he was a little boy, perhaps around ten or twelve years of age, around 1933, my Dad, Fred along with some friends, walked the mile or so to nearby Swadlincote, to go to the cinema. Here is the cinema:

That’s not the best of views, so here is the “Empire” but in later years:

Swadlincote has always had two cinemas but never at the same time. The sequence is usually

Cinema 1 open

Cinema 1 goes bust

Interval of five years

Cinema 2 open

Cinema 2 goes bust

Interval of five years

Cinema 1 is reopened by over-optimistic idiot

Cinema 1 goes bust

Cinema 2 is eventually reopened by another over-optimistic idiot

And so on

Anyway, Fred and his pals, all around ten to twelve years old, weren’t there to see any old film. They were there to see Boris Karloff in “The Mummy”, one of the most frightening horror films of that decade. Feeling extremely brave, they sneaked in and settled down, waiting to be frightened:

Fred was not, of course, like the modern child, immured to fear by hour after hour of relentless television, and he came out chilled to the core by Karloff, completely terrified by the whole film. And so did the rest of them.

There could be no sharper contrast, however, than that between this Karloff chiller and Fred’s favourite, and funniest, Laurel and Hardy film. The latter was “Fra Diavolo”, which, again, he would have seen at the cinema in Swadlincote:

One other tiny detail that I can remember my Dad supplying, which must have come from this era, was how, when watching silent films at the cinema, however old you were, you were expected to read the words of the dialogue for yourself. Nobody would help you. If you asked for assistance, you would be told contemptuously, “Learn to read !”

Overall, Fred must have been very interested in the cinema. His collection of old magazines, kept for thirty or more years in the glass fronted bookcase in the front room of his parents’ house, contained ones which featured German expressionist cinema of the 1920s, including both Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari”. The stills featured included Rotwang’s house, Maria the Robot and the somnambulist Conrad Veidt carrying his victim high above the rooftops.

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On one occasion, Fred was actually able to meet a real, genuine Hollywood star. Just after the war ended, he was in Brighton for some long forgotten reason. He decided to visit a very distant cousin who worked in a local cinema, and who may well have been one of the Sussex branch of the Knifton family.

At the time, this particular cinema was the centre of all attention, as it was being visited by Charles Laughton, the world famous English and Hollywood film actor. Laughton was there to give a little publicity to one of his less famous films, a rather unloved feature entitled “The Beachcomber”, made with his then wife Elsa Lanchester in 1938. All of the cinema employees lined up to meet their famous guest, and Fred, at the urgent bidding of his cousin, joined on to the very end of the line, thereby managing, eventually, to shake hands with the great man:

Years earlier, of course, Fred had watched the inimitable Laughton in the 1933 film, “The Private Life of Henry VIII”. In common with countless thousands of other cinema goers, he had particularly vivid memories of the greedy king eating a whole chicken with his bare hands, and then throwing bits of meat and bone over his shoulder to the waiting hounds:

Who said that table manners were a thing of the past?

But, please be aware. Restaurants of all types seem to frown on throwing bits of meat and bone over your shoulder, and there are very seldom any waiting hounds to tidy up the mess.

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Filed under Africa, History, Humour, Literature, Personal, Science

Books for Christmas (2)

I thought it might be nice if I gave you an idea of some of the best books that I have read over the past few years so that you could consider them as a Christmas present for one of your friends or family. All of the books featured are, in my opinion, well worth reading. They are all available on the Internet. In some cases, what appear to be very expensive volumes can be acquired for a fraction of the cost, if you go to abebooks or bookfinder, or if you consider the option of buying them second hand. It ‘s something I have never understood, but with some very expensive volumes, it is even possible to buy them brand new at a very much reduced price, again, if you shop around.

The first book is quite unusual since it is an attack by a German writer on the dastardly deeds of Bomber Command, and presumably, by extension , on the American Eighth Air Force. Jörg Friedrich obviously remembers very well Dresden, Hamburg, Darmstadt, Wurzburg, Pforzheim and so on. He seems to have forgotten the people who invented the indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians at places such as London and even York Minster in WW1, and then Guernica, Rotterdam, Warsaw and so on. And there are some factual errors.

Overall the book reminds me of the verdict of a German friend of mine about the generation before his own:

“They start a war and then moan about losing it.”

Even so, “The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945” by Jörg Friedrich and Allison Brown is quite an intriguing book. Some of the things he says made me quite angry but perhaps because many of them are things that I have worried about myself, but loyally continued to defend.

A nice contrast is the book by two German academics, Sonke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, entitled “Soldaten”.  They examine the dreadful, appalling things done by ordinary Germans in World War Two, and then look at whether the Americans in Vietnam or Iraq could have done the same. A really good book, which does not leave you feeling too good about your own morality.

In my previous selection, the best book was either “Subsmash” or “Bombing Germany : the Final Phase”. In this second selection, the book we should all read and take in is “Soldaten”:

It’s quite a contrast with our next book, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by DH Lawrence. There are a lot of different editions of this masterpiece, and I would recommend the one which has a preface or introduction by Doris Lessing. Do NOT be tempted by an edition “with extra new added pornography”. In any case, the book is also about WW1 and about the disappearing English landscape.

As you can see, the cover of the best edition has the gamekeeper putting his trousers back on, or, more likely, taking them off yet again.

Perhaps even better to read are Lawrence’s “Selected Stories”. You get 400 pages of his best short stories, including my own particular favourite “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”.

Next on the list is “Black and British: A Forgotten History” by David Olusoga. This book should be a compulsory read in every secondary school in England. How much really interesting history has been hidden away because of prejudice? Black Africans on Hadrian’s Wall, a black man killed by a white mob in Liverpool and the fight to abolish slavery, among many other long avoided stories.

Four books I haven’t read yet, although I’m certainly looking forward to them. Firstly, “Lend-Lease And Soviet Aviation in the Second World War” by Vladimir Kotelnikov. I have looked at the pictures of the P-39s and P-40s with red stars on them, and the Short Stirling, but I haven’t read the text yet. If it’s as good as the illustrations, it will be brilliant.

I haven’t read this book either, although I have read the companion volume about cricketers killed in World War One. It’s “The Coming Storm: Test and First Class Cricketers Killed in World War II” by Nigel McCrery. I have no reason to believe that this book will be anything other than extremely well researched and an interesting read.

Next book in the “In Tray” is  “Mettle and Pasture”, the story of the Second Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment during WW2, written by Gary J Weight. I am hoping it will be a great read. It has certainly got some excellent reviews on amazon.co.uk.

The last book in the “In Tray” is called “Luftwaffe over America” by Manfred Griehl. The author examines the Germans’ very real plans to bomb the eastern seaboard of the United States during the Second World War,  using their Me 264s, Ju 290s and 390s and the Ta 400 from Focke Wulf. As a little boy, I was always intrigued by the fact that, on a trial flight, a Ju 290 supposedly got within ten miles of New York.

That’s all for now. Third and final part next time.

 

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Filed under Africa, Aviation, Bomber Command, cricket, Criminology, History, Literature, military, Politics, Russia, war crimes, Writing