Category Archives: Bomber Command

Vandalism in the School Archives? Or is it Art?

A few months ago, I went into the School Archives to photograph the School Lists. They are quite boring little booklets to be brutally honest, but they are very informative and record the names of all the members of all the forms in the School for every year. The oldest ones date from the late 1860s, but because I was researching the school’s casualties in World War II, I started my James Bond activities with 1892 and then went forwards as far as 1950. Just for the sake of argument, here’s one, with a particularly famous ex-pupil on it:

With all that information, it is actually a Victorian Excel Spreadsheet!

The only thing out of the ordinary that I found in 3.96 GB of School Lists was in the edition for 1941:

Once again, some young man was feeling the ‘Call of the Skies’:

Below the printers’ name, he had knocked out a couple of bombers;

Here’s the larger of the two bombers blown up as best I can:

It is called the 320 and has a range of 3,000 miles, with an endurance, I think he means, not ‘duration’, of 6 hours 8 minutes and a bomb load of 3,000lbs. It also has 8 machine guns. Looks a bit like a Blenheim with the nose of a Heinkel, the tail of an Airspeed Oxford perhaps and inline engines.

Here’s the smaller of the two bombers blown up as best I can:

It is called the 350 and has a range of 1,000 miles, with no armament. It looks a bit like a Blenheim with the nose of a Heinkel, the tail of an Airspeed Oxford perhaps and inline engines. Here’s one I prepared earlier:

I have also tried hard to blow up the first of the fighters:

It has one 1 inch cannon, in the propeller boss, by the look of it, and 8 machine guns.

The other fighter is rather Spitfire like:

It is called the 398 and has 4 cannon, 4 machine guns, an endurance of 5 hours and a range of 3,000 miles. I’m sorry to say that Maths was not necessarily this young man’s strong point! The German fighter has no names or specifications:

For me, it is mainly Focke Wulf Fw 190, but there is a little dash of Mitsubishi Zero in it as well perhaps.

I often think that we regret what we do not do far more than what we do do. When I was in the Sixth Form at Ashby-de-la-Zouch Boys’ Grammar School, we used to have French lessons in a smaller room because there were only 12 of us. One of the desks had a fantastic carving of a B-17 Flying Fortress, deep into the wood of the lid, with all the ailerons, all the machine guns and all the ventilation holes in the gun barrels. It was fabulous. This is the closest I can find on the Internet:Looking back at how much money the school had, I suspect it dated from  1943 rather than 1963 and the Airfix kit of that era:

My regret is that I did not find any way of preserving this work of art rather than it be thrown into a skip in the middle 70s.

Not much survives of the pupils in any school. And what does would have been classified as vandalism at the time. Such as this example from 1922:

or this one from 1942:

or this one from a young man who upset the High School more than he could ever imagine:





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

My Book (3)

I am still quite proud of the fact that I have found out so much information about the vast majority of these young men. I feel that I have done them all justice and that I have done my very best to keep them in people’s memories, even as they seem to be receding further and further into the anonymous grey mists of time. Here is the School Rugby team in 1926-1927:

I have made great efforts to drag the complete ghost out of the past and to write not just about their fiery deaths but to try and unfold the full and energetic lives they led. It’s only too easy to see a name on a war memorial, to read that name and then to forget it, all in the same moment. For that reason I have tried to describe their families, their fathers, their mothers, their brothers and sisters. I have tried to find out what their father did as a job, where the family lived, in some cases occupying just one or two houses in their lifetime, in others half a dozen. What were their houses like? How might they have travelled to the High School? I have tracked their Forms, their teachers, what they did at School, how their exams went, what position they came in class and what prizes they won, all the things that would have been so important to them at the time. I have written about what their Form Masters were like and talked about their careers. This is Mr Kennard. He definitely took no prisoners:

I have tried to find out what sports our future heroes played:

What school plays they were in. The French farce of the 1920s, “Dr Knock”, perhaps? And which one of these boys became the war hero?:

Or perhaps a play with a chance to wear a lovely frock and a string of pearls? :

Which person collected stamps and who loved to make home movies? I have tried to identify other boys in their Forms who might have been their friends, even if that is just a case of saying who won the Form Prize and where they lived, what job their father did and so on. Here is a class of really small boys, eight and nine year olds, before the First World War:

The worst thing I could have done would have been to have written three thousand words about their death and thirty about their lives. So whatever I could find, I have included. Their sports, their hobbies, their jobs between school and the forces, and, if possible, what their abilities and talents were.
By doing this I revealed, even to myself, just how many different places have provided High School pupils over these years and just how many hundreds of different jobs their fathers have done, some of them long gone and requiring a search on the Internet.

At least one High School hero of Bomber Command had come straight from Waring & Gillow’s shop to fly his Lancaster. He apparently said one day in the shop that selling double beds and three piece suites was not a worthy job for a man when his country was at war, and off he went. Waring & Gillow sold luxury furniture of all kinds, and they appear to have made a lot themselves, because here is their factory. :

And when I have written about the boys’ streets and houses, some simple directions are usually included. Without them, which of us could ever locate Balfour Road or Conway Avenue or Derby Terrace or Florence Road? And many old streets have completely disappeared. This is a very different Forest Recreation Ground, only a few decades before the first of the World War Two casualties was born. Look at the windmills, and the race course for horses. It was one of the very few ever to be a figure-of-eight, in the hope of some juicy crashes:

It is, of course, the young readers who are my ultimate target audience. It would be a tragedy indeed if they were never to realise who died for their right not to be brainwashed, not to speak German as their first language, not to be slave labourers in a foreign land and to have the right to make their own decisions at all the different stages of their young lives. Freedom does not come cheap, and I’m not talking about money. The situation is perhaps best summed up by what one Old Nottinghamian war hero has inscribed on his grave:



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Nottingham, Politics, The High School, Writing

My Book (2)

With the books that I eventually produce, my main intention will be to preserve our knowledge of the sacrifices made by these men, but at the same time, I do feel that I have one other main aim, which is to demonstrate that, as we live our own lives, we are surrounded by history of all kinds.

History is always there, hiding in the streets we walk down and in the houses we walk past. It is there, hiding in the buildings of a great city and it is hiding even in the corridors and rooms of the High School. It hides behind the modern frontage of the Park Salon and Quality4Students on Derby Road, up near Canning Circus:

History even hides behind the steamed up windows of the City Chicken Cafe and the Istanbul Off Licence on Mansfield Road:

It hides catastrophic defeats:

And it hides catastrophic accidents:


There’s no blue plaque to remember Peter Vernon, though. No flag flies over the home of “Watty” Watson. We have no statue in Edwards Lane of “Farmer” Richardson. No films are ever shown on our televisions of George Brown, the young man:

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

But I do not want this secret history of ordinary people to be forgotten. The modest men in these books all died for our freedom. Freedom from oppression, freedom from racism, freedom from random prejudice, from arrest without reason, from chance execution, from a quick death in a gas chamber or a slow death as a slave labourer :

They saved us from a society without free speech, without choice and with no discussion of the future of us all:

They saved us from a political system which, at the end of the war, was quite willing to kill a substantial percentage of its own citizens as the best way forward towards a better life.
In this book, therefore, you will find as much as I could discover about well over a hundred men from Nottingham High School who gave their lives willingly in the cause of freedom.
That sounds a great many people and it was, for a school with total numbers of between five and six hundred at any one moment during the period under review.

The criteria for being added to the list were, for the most part, inclusion in the long list kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which uses its own date limits for the casualty’s death of September 3rd 1939 to December 31st 1947. I did stretch the definition slightly to include the men who died while working to support the Allied cause. A university lecturer who is killed in an aircraft crash as he travels from place to place on a lecture tour around the Mediterranean theatre will be in the list, just as much as the man who organises food for a million refugees in India and who prevents the outbreak of a typhoid epidemic. Both are clearly making contributions to the war effort. They are both, to quote a famous football manager, “Getting us closer to the top of the hill.”


Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Nottingham, Politics, The High School, Writing

My Book (1)

It is a long time since I shared with you what I was up to, away from the knockabout world of blog posting. Some of you will know that for the last four years at least I have been researching the boys of the High School who gave their lives in the Second World War. At first, it was seven days a week, four hours a day, but I am now down to six days a week with three hours as a minimum and the usual being around three and a half hours. It’s difficult to describe what a huge job it was:

I began this mammoth task because as far as I was aware, nobody had ever carried out any research whatsoever about the brave Old Nottinghamians who gave their lives during the Second World War. At the moment I have around 120 people to include in an eventual book, of which 110 are men who qualify 100% as war casualties. Because of the volume of information I have discovered, hundreds of thousands of words, the final work is likely to be in three volumes if not four:

The majority of research I have carried out on the Internet which has supplied me with details which have never been known before. Most of all, I have discovered a large number of former pupils who deserve to be recognised as Old Nottinghamian war casualties but who were not included when the original lists were being compiled:

That is far from a criticism. In the late 1940s, how could anybody have found out that a little boy of eight or nine who spent just a couple of terms in the Preparatory School in the early 1920s had been killed in a tank three miles east of Hamburg five years before? Communication by letter:

and communication by postcard:

with other information distributed in newspapers could not possibly have coped with demands of this kind:

On occasion, the School Magazine, the Nottinghamian, got me started with my researches, but overall, the solutions were largely provided by the men who have dedicated their entire lives to the recording of the minutest details of the Second World War. Men who have recorded the names of every RAF man killed in an aircraft of Bomber Command. Men who have recorded the names of every sailor who did not come home from the sea in World War Two. Every U-boat captain and his every kill. Every nightfighter pilot and every bomber he shot down:

I just felt that, unless I did produced some committed and detailed research of my own right now, there was a real risk that nothing would have been done by the time we reached the centenary of the beginning of the conflict in 2039.
In many ways, that absence of detailed research by others might even be seen as a bonus, because there would be very few people out there who could contradict what I had written. On the other hand, I do feel that after so many thousands of hours working on the project, there should be no huge errors in what I have produced. (Touch wood). Even my best guesses have often proved later to be quite reasonable ones, based on what, in many cases, is a paucity of actual facts.


Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Nottingham, Politics, The High School, Writing

The Nightingale and Bomber Command

This is a very famous recording of a nightingale singing its little heart out, only to be interrupted by the enormous noise of a large number of Bomber Command aircraft approaching and then flying over. Undaunted, the nightingale carries on with its beautiful song as the bombers leave and the roar of their engines gradually fades away. The recording lasts quite a long time but it is well worth listening to in its entirety, particularly if you have never heard it before. It comes from spud4x:

The recording was made from a garden in Surrey, England during the evening of May 19th 1942 as 197 aircraft flew over on their way to bomb Mannheim. There were 105 Wellingtons, 31 Stirlings, 29 Halifaxes, 15 Hampdens, 13 Lancasters and 4 Manchesters:

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47 men would be killed and 23 would finish up as prisoners of war. Eleven days later would come the first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne. And in the woods of England, and indeed Germany, the war would count for very little. The bluebells would be lingering on and the nightingales would be starting to sing.

The nightingale has a very powerful, very famous, but not necessarily hyper distinctive song. On birdwatching trips, I have often seen people listen to a hidden blackcap or garden warbler and walk away happy that they have heard a nightingale. John Keats too, may have been misled. Some critics have mentioned that the bird’s behaviour as Keats describes it, is on occasion not dreadfully nightingaley. But the poetic thoughts are dreadfully, well, poetic:

“Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
         No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
         In ancient days by emperor and clown”
Perhaps John Clare, of whom I wrote long. long ago, had a better idea:
“See there! she’s sitting on the old oak bough,
Mute in her fears ; our presence doth retard
Her joys, and doubt turns every rapture chill.
Sing on, sweet bird! may no worse hap befall
Thy visions, than the fear that now deceives.”

Anyway, there’s only one nightingale and here it is…

And here’s another version of that BBC recording:

If you’re interested, this is also to be found on Youtube. It is a recording made of a Bomber Command crew on a bombing mission over Germany:

As a fully paid up very sad person, I have two CDs  of this type of thing, bought many years ago from Amazon and I have listened to them many times.

This is the first one and this is the second one. They are particularly good for driving through rush hour traffic on your way to work. Goggles optional.




Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Humour, Personal, Wildlife and Nature

Fred walks home with Will

As I mentioned before, my Dad, Fred, during his time in the RAF, was frequently given 24 hour passes which ran from 00:00 hours on the first day to 23:59 on the second. They weren’t much use when he was with 20 Operational Training Unit in Lossiemouth which even nowadays, using the motorways, is a there-and-back trip of almost 930 miles. Here’s the old Lossiemouth from a wartime picture:

And here’s the brand new sign at the gate:

Here’s the journey by car today:

On the other hand when Fred was stationed at Elsham Wolds in Lincolnshire, two day passes were fine. Here’s the home of 103 Squadron in 1943:

Fred was often forced to travel in the early morning because he wanted to make use of the first few hours of his pass, usually from around 00.40 by the time he had walked down to Barnetby Station, to when the earliest train left Barnetby at, say, 01.10.

From Barnetby he usually travelled to Lincoln, then Nottingham and then Derby, although he could carry on from Derby to Burton-on-Trent if he so wished. The orange arrow points to Elsham Wolds, and Burton-on-Trent has been hidden, more or less, by the first triangular sign with an exclamation mark, just to the south of Derby:

Here’s a map of the local area around Woodville, the mining village where Fred lived. His house was quite close to the tip of the orange arrow, in actual fact. The station at Burton-on-Trent is the tiny white  dot on the spindly black thread running from north east to southwest near the town, just below the “U-R” of “BURTON” :

The problem Fred faced at this point, however, was that from Burton-on-Trent to Woodville where he lived, there would be no buses running if it he had arrived at Burton Station at four o’clock in the morning. If that were the case, there was only one remedy…what used to be called “Shanks’s Pony”. Do check out the link. It is quite an interesting origin for this phrase and useful for the American version of it too.

On one occasion, Fred came back on leave from Elsham Wolds and he then continued through Derby station to the local station at Burton-on-Trent. When he emerged onto the street, knowing full well that he had a five mile walk in front of him, he found that his father, Will, then in his mid-fifties, had spent at least a couple of hours of the early morning darkness walking the five miles from their house in Woodville to meet his son at the station as he got off the train:

They walked back together in the fresh, bright summer sunshine, the road even more deserted than normal as it was so early in the morning. Not a single word was said between father and son at any point in their journey. Their mutual respect and solidarity, their love, was expressed not by words but by a deed, the walking of five miles just to be with somebody that extra couple of hours, even if the time together were to be passed in total silence.

In later years, Fred was to say that one of the greatest regrets of his life was that he had never said anything to his father during this walk and that his father had never said anything to him. In general, Fred wished that there had been much more obvious affection shown during his life with his parents. Will had never hugged Fred or even held him in his arms as a young child. Never in his entire live did he ever express his undoubted love for his son by such gestures, which he would have thought unmanly.

Here they are, in a local park on holiday in Blackpool. Notice the fashion statements. Will is wearing those two coloured shoes and Fred has one of those elasticated belts that fastens with a metal snake device:



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal

Fred walks home on leave

One beautiful summer’s afternoon, Fred was returning on leave from his airbase at Elsham Wolds in north Lincolnshire. The orange arrow is RAF Elsham Wolds, and Fred departed from a station near Elsham before continuing to Lincoln, to Nottingham and finally to Derby:

Derby was, and is, a huge station by English standards:

Fred arrived on time at Derby station, but there were no more trains to take him on to Burton-on-Trent (bottom left on the map above). He decided therefore to walk the twelve miles back home to the little mining village of Woodville, something which he had often done in the opposite direction in pre-war years, when he had been to watch Derby County play football at the Baseball Ground.

It was a Sunday, and after a couple of miles or so, Fred crossed the River Trent over the five spans of Swarkestone Bridge:

Fred then continued across the meandering  stone causeway, built by the Saxons, which crosses the floodplain of the River Trent. Things are a little bit different nowadays:

Or at least, things are a little different from what Fred would have known. These two photographs are taken from the same spot, but are separated by at least a century :

After the meandering charms of the ancient crossing, Fred then set off to the right, up the hill, towards the next village of Ticknall. As the evening moved slowly ever closer to sunset, everything grew very calm and very still, the light hovered on the edge of dusk, and just as he reached the top of the first long steady rise, Fred could hear, ringing out through the silence, the bugle sounding the Last Post at the nearby German prisoner of war camp:

Fred stopped to listen as the familiar notes echoed in evocative fashion over the late evening landscape, as the bright light of the sinking sun illuminated a pastoral scene in an England which is now long gone and will never return. It was a uniquely beautiful and unrepeatable moment in his life:

During the rest of his lifetime, Fred was never aware of a couple of facts about this moment. Firstly, he always thought that the prison camp was at Castle Donington but in actual fact it was somewhat closer to where he was, at Weston-on-Trent. I know that because I have just looked at the list of all the POW camps in the country.

Secondly, as he walked through the village of Ticknall, under the bridge which used to carry the railway to the limestone quarry…

…as he walked past St George’s Church…

….he did not know that the building held, hidden away somewhere in a safe place, a great many records of his own family history. He did not know that his family had been baptised there, married there and buried there for centuries. They included…

his own grandfather, John Knifton (1850-1934), John’s father, Thomas Moor Knifton, and his mother, Jemima Knifton, and her mother, Katharine Knifton, and then her father, Richard Kniveton and lastly, George Kniveton, born, in all probability, before 1700.

Another England which is now long gone and will never return:

Fred would have walked past all the old water pumps at the side of the road, every fifty yards through the whole village. I bet some of them were still working then. If Fred had done his long walk previously, he might even have known which pumps could slake his thirst after perhaps seven or eight miles of walking:

Fred could not possibly have known, though, that only fifteen years later, in his Connaught green Austin A40 Devon saloon, he would drive, not walk, through the village, and his young son would count the pumps out loud as they passed along. Fred didn’t know that that was going to happen in the near future. He was too busy in the present, fighting to make sure that England had a future:





Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Personal