Category Archives: Canada

In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Two)

We have just finished publishing my new book “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”. This is the second book of five, and tells about some more of the High School’s long forgotten casualties in World War II. Here is the front cover, with the shorter title and nine new pictures to look at:

And here is the blurb from the back cover:

“This is the second of five books commemorating the ultimate sacrifice made by the brightest young men of Nottingham in the Second World War. After six years of ground-breaking research, John Knifton has uncovered over 100 forgotten war heroes, men who served their country in countless ways. All of them had one thing in common: they spent their boyhood years at Nottingham High School.

This book does not glorify the deaths of these men; but instead builds a monument to the unfinished lives they sacrificed for our freedom today. John Knifton conjures up the ghost of these men’s forgotten lives: their childhoods, families, homes, neighbourhoods, and the loved ones they left behind. You will discover their boyhood hobbies and their sporting triumphs, where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. Most of all, you will find all the previously unknown details of the conflicts they fought in and how they met their untimely ends.

John Knifton’s project puts the humanity back into history, set against the backdrop of the Nottingham of yesteryear. No tale untold. No anecdote ignored.”

This book is now available for purchase through Lulu.com:

https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/john-knifton/in-the-footsteps-of-the-valiant-the-lives-and-deaths-of-the-forgotten-heroes-of-nottingham-high-school-volume-two/paperback/product-176j6pwm.html

The book has 332 pages and is “Crown Quarto”, that is to say, 189 mms x 246 mm (7.44 inches x 9.68 inches). The book contains just under 150,000 words and can therefore be compared with books such as “Sense and Sensibility”(119K), “A Tale of Two Cities”(135K) “The Return of the King”(137K), 20,000 Leagues under the Sea” (138K), “Oliver Twist” (156K) and “The Two Towers” (156K).

It tells the tale of 26 Old Nottinghamians, including, as in Volume 1, a young man who died shortly after the end of the war. In this case, he was called Patrick Russell Ward. He was killed during RAF service in the 1950s and deserves to be remembered.

Here are the names of the young men who perished in World War II:

William Donald Birkett, George Renwick Hartwell Black, Henry Brener, Henry Abington Disbrowe, Dennis Peter Fellows, Frank Freeman, Albert Hayes, John Neville Hickman, Gordon Frederick Hopewell, Eric John Hughes, Arthur Reeson Johnson, Richard Henry Julian, John Michael Preskey Ley, John Ambrose Lloyd, Edwin William Lovegrove, John Richard Mason, Geoffrey Leonard Mee, Ernest Millington, Robert Percy Paulson, George Green Read, Alan Robert Rose, Gordon Percy Carver Smith, Ernest Adam Wagstaff, Patrick Russell Ward, John Roger West, Carl Robert Woolley.

One of the High School’s ex-masters died trying to delay the German advance at Dunkirk:

A young cricketer’s ship hit a mine off Malta:

One  Old Nottinghamian rower was claimed by paratyphoid on the banks of the River Brahmaputra. Another was killed by nightfighters in his Stirling bomber over Berlin. A third died in a Lancaster bomber over the Dortmund-Ems Canal.  Another, a good rugby player, was killed in a Halifax over the Waddensee.

Accidents took others, at Coniston Water, and at Topcliffe in North Yorkshire. One Stirling took off and flew away into history. It was never heard of again. One man was killed at El Alamein. Another died as the Rhine was crossed in 1945, one of 1,354,712 men involved in the battle. Another young man, a cricketer and a pilot instructor, was killed at Assinboia in Saskatchewan:

Alas, one poor individual was killed after the end of the war, out on army manoeuvres on Lüneburg Heath on May 26th 1945.

Another had been Marconi’s greatest helper. One young man was killed in the savage fighting around  Villers-Bocage and Lisieux, as the Allies left the beaches and moved to the north east and Nazi Germany:

One young man from Woodthorpe died of peritonitis when the regimental doctor applied the rule he had been given: “All enlisted men are lead swinging liars. They have never got any of the diseases that they say they have”:

And last, but certainly not least, one poor man was the victim of one of the most disgusting cover-ups in British military history, as his parents both went to their graves thinking he had been killed fighting on the beaches of Normandy, when in actual fact, he and all his colleagues had all been accidentally killed by the Royal Navy just outside Portsmouth:

And they all had their personalities, their hobbies and their lives. Playing cricket on the beautiful walled ground at Grantham where a huge supermarket now stands. Taking part in barrel jumping competitions at Nottingham’s brand new ice rink. Playing the bugle in the OTC band:

Rowing for the school in the race when they went through the wrong arch of Trent Bridge and finished second instead of first:

He might operate as a powerful and dangerous forward at rugby, but he will be remembered for playing a “prominent part” in the team’s festive occasions, reciting the monologues of Stanley Holloway, the famous northern comedian. Another First XV player was damned by Mr Kennard’s faint praise in the School Magazine:

“Has hardy fulfilled his promise. A steady player, however.”

And then to every one of the 26 comes sudden death, always unexpected at any given moment, but no real surprise when it came. And every one of those young heroes, to be honest, could have had the same obituary as that of the gentle giant, Ernest Adam Wagstaff:

“He died, as he had lived, for an ideal; in the lives of the few who knew him well his passing leaves a void which can never be filled.”

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, France, History, Nottingham, The High School

“In the Footsteps of the Valiant” : Volume One : the Verdict (1)

I must admit that initially I was a little disappointed with the sales of my first volume of  “In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume One)” :

I soon realised, though, that money was not important because I had achieved exactly what I had intended to do.

I had discovered as many hitherto unknown war dead from the High School as I was likely to, increasing previous lists by up to forty new names. I had found a number of men who had died serving their country but who, because they were not killed while “on active service”, gun in hand, had been largely ignored up till now.

I had also succeeded in finding out a large number of tiny details which I hoped would help to portray all of these valiant men as real human beings rather than just a surname and initials in a very long list of names.

In this first volume of five, the men concerned were John Edwin Armitage, Francis Nairn Baird, Edwin Thomas Banks, Philip Mackenzie Britton, Warren Herbert Cheale, Alfred Tregear Chenhalls, Paul Wilson Cherry, Walter Raymond Julyan Hoyte, Charles Davy Hudson, Robert Renwick Jackson, William Roy Llewellyn, Anthony Bertram Lloyd, Ian Mactaggart MacKirdy, Bruce Arthur Richardson, Wilfrid Henry Vivian Richiardi, Sidney Moger Saxton, Clifford Frank Shearn, Howard Rolleston Simmonds, Philip Bonnington Smith, Richard Christopher Sowerbutts, John Harold Gilbert Walker, Alfred Highfield Warren, Keith Henry Whitson and John Jeffrey Catlin.

I realised that I had succeeded in what I was trying to do when I received a most encouraging comment from an Old Nottinghamian, Richard Edwards:

“I used to see the names of these young men on the War Memorial at school, but I never properly made the link to them as people that had real lives, with successes and failures like the rest of us. John Knifton has done a great job to honour these men, but also to make others think about them as individuals who had the same hopes that we all do. A fantastic effort – well done – and I thoroughly recommend it to other potential readers.”

When I asked Mr Edwards for permission to use his comment in a blog post, he gave me an even more glowing reference:

“I think that you have done an astounding job, not just in gathering the facts, but in allowing us to see the list of dead as young men with personalities and as people that we could have known, could have laughed with and could have grown up alongside. What a great way of properly honouring those people.

I wish you all the best, and congratulations on doing something so important.”

And that is the reason that I included everybody’s examination results, where they lived, what kind of area it was, not nowadays, but back in the day, as our American friends say. And to that can be added every detail I could glean from a number of very large books, from twenty or so Directories of Nottingham by Kelly, White and Wright and from the entire internet, from Ethiopia to Paraguay.

And all that has helped to discover a little more about the boys who had reached the end of their school years with perhaps only five or ten years of their young lives remaining. In some cases only two or three.

Alfred Warren of 166, Derby Road, Nottingham. He was the son of a grocer and a superb female impressionist in school plays:

“The School stage has rarely been graced by a more charmingly seductive figure than the Anna Waleska of AH Warren.”

A year later:

“His part did not allow him this year the opportunity to display those feminine wiles of whichhe has shown himself so complete a master, but his expression, now wheedling, now indifferent, was no less successful in enticing the unfortunate victim into her trap. Perhaps he tended to overdo that half crouching feline posture but nevertheless, clad in exquisite garments, he contrived to overcome the artificialities and discrepancies of Lady Ciceley’s rôle, and for that achievement alone he deserves high praise.”

Bruce Arthur Richardson, who lived on Edwards Lane, in the big house diagonally opposite Oxclose Lane Police Station. In his school play, “Twelfth Night”, he

“became the very model of idiocy. His voice was a masterpiece: no voice could be more completely asinine. His continual foolish mien, with mouth agape, doltish wonderment in his eyes, no less than occasional inspired brilliance of acting–such as the windmill gestures which accompanied his threat to beat Viola “like a dog”– helped to make his part a pleasing success”.

John Harold Gilbert Walker of 787 Mansfield Road. As soon as he left the High School John applied for entrance to Sandhurst in an effort to become an officer in the Army, his dream job for many, many years. He was rejected.

His personal tutor wrote: “A sound fellow, with great keenness in OTC. Desirous of entering the Army as a career, but prevented by lack of means.”

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Keith Henry Whitson of Wensley Road, one of the six roads which share the amazing roundabout on Thackeray’s Lane in Arnold. His father was Frank H Whitson who gave his job for the School Register as a “Branch Manager”. His mother was Dot Whitson, short, presumably, for “Dorothy”. Killed after the war’s end, Keith is buried in Rawalpindi War Cemetery in distant Pakistan:

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, Film & TV, France, History

What would you do ? (5) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys, and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

And the correct solution given on page 2 of the comic is:

“There was only one possible thing the trapper could do. He shot one of the attacking wolves. The rest of the pack, ravenous with hunger, turned on the fallen beast. This gave the man time to make a dash for the safety of his cabin.”

The trouble is that I just don’t think that that would work. We know a lot more about wolves nowadays than we did in 1963. Wolves are known to be extremely loyal to one another and I cannot imagine that their first reaction to one of their number being shot would be to eat him, no matter how hungry they were. I know that a wolf will fight and kill a rival from another pack, but he would never eat him, even if he himself was starving. In that case, why would he devour a colleague from his own pack?

And they’re all so sweet and cuddly. Here’s Mummy Wolf:

And here’s Baby Wolf:

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Filed under Canada, History, Humour, Literature, Personal, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

What would you do ? (5) The Puzzle

My 500th blog post……….enjoy !!!

“What would you do ?” used to appear on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for its front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

I hate snow. It always makes its way into your clothes and then melts. That, though, is the least of Trapper Jacques’s problems. He has been cut off by the wolves, at least six of them, and he only has a single bullet left. They are hunger crazed after the fish-and-chip van broke down and they stand firmly between Jacques and his lovely little cabin with his new Liberty curtains. If Jacques tries to run they will chase him and bite him and then tear him to pieces. The same fate will eventually befall him if he tries climbing that tree in the background.

What can  he do??

 

 

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Filed under Canada, History, Humour, Literature, Personal, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume One)

Three months or so have passed by since I first published “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”, which was the story of the lives and deaths of 23 of the 120 or so men who were educated at Nottingham High School and who subsequently sacrificed their lives for us all in the Second World War. Also included is one young man who was killed in the early 1950s in the RAF.

So far, I am afraid, sales have been really quite disappointing. I have no real idea why this should be the case. The book is of a length commensurate with the price. The number of words holds up well alongside, say, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, “The Two Towers”, “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Emma”.

The book is priced at £18 and is more or less entirely my original research. And what better things could you get for £18? Two cinema seats. A bottle of “Graham’s 10-Year-Old Tawny Port”. You could buy a Venus Fly Trap. Or a glasses case with your name on it. Or enough wildflower seeds to plant three square metres. You could buy some Miracle berry tablets. The tablets last for about an hour and alter your taste buds so that anything sour tastes sweet.

Perhaps the book is being perceived as being limited to only one town or city. I don’t know, but I had hoped that people would realise that Nottingham stands here for any British town of similar size.

What is much more important though, much more important than sales alone, is that my original research has now been completed and that we now have a much longer list of war casualties than was previously the case. In the immediate aftermath of the end of hostilities in 1945-1946, the High School thought that 82 of its former pupils had perished in the war. My researches have extended that number to 121 men whose lives and deaths have been investigated and will now never be forgotten. I have also found five deaths in the early 1950s. Once they have been unearthed and brought out into the light, they will never be lost again. And people will have a chance to read something about the lives of these brave men and to see what they did for us all.

In the First Volume, the men featured are Alfred Highfield Warren, Bruce Arthur Richardson, Sidney Moger Saxton, Edwin Thomas Banks, Francis Nairn Baird, Clifford Frank Shearn, John Edwin Armitage, Wilfrid Henry Vivian Richiardi, Ian Mactaggart MacKirdy, John Harold Gilbert Walker, Robert Renwick Jackson, Howard Rolleston Simmonds, Charles Davy Hudson, Alfred Tregear Chenhalls, Walter Raymond Julyan Hoyte, Paul Wilson Cherry, Warren Herbert Cheale, Philip Bonnington Smith, Anthony Bertram Lloyd, Philip Mackenzie Britton, Richard Christopher Sowerbutts, William Roy Llewellyn, Keith Henry Whitson and John Jeffrey Catlin.

Here are just a few of them. This is Tony Lloyd of the Parachute Regiment:

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This is Keith Whitson:

And  John Harold Gilbert Walker, Spitfire pilot:

And Alfred Chenhalls:

And Edwin Banks and his aircraft, a Gloster Gladiator:

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And Robert Renwick Jackson and his all-black Douglas Boston:

Their brave deaths spanned a whole world. Killed in a Dakota over the Bay of Biscay. Killed in a Bomber Command aircraft over Germany. Killed by the Blitz in Leicester. Killed in North Africa fighting on foot. Killed fighting to seize a bridge in Sicily. Killed fighting to seize a bridge too far in the Netherlands. Killed by exposure during the summer in an unenclosed RAF dinghy in the English Channel. Killed in the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia. Killed crashing a Gloster Gladiator in Greece. Lost for ever in the trackless snowy Canadian wastes. Killed crashing a Fleet Air Arm fighter into the warm waters off Trincomalee.

Here’s that link:

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, Criminology, France, History, Nottingham, Personal, The High School, Writing

My New Book

We have just finished publishing my new book about the High School’s casualties in WW2. Here is the front cover:

And here is the blurb from the back cover:

In the Footsteps of the Valiant: The Lives and Deaths of the Forgotten Heroes of Nottingham High School (Vol.1).

This is the first volume of a series detailing the Old Nottinghamians of all ages who sacrificed their lives in the cause of freedom during the Second World War. After nearly five years of ground breaking research, I have been able to add at least forty new names to the official casualty list. I have also uncovered details of the fates of almost all of these hundred and twenty casualties wherever they died, from Saskatchewan to Iran.

This is not, however, a book just about death. I also tell the stories of their lives: their families, where they used to live and their years at school with Masters very different from those of today. You will discover their boyhood hobbies and their sporting triumphs, where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. Most of all, you will find all the details of the conflicts they fought in and how they met their deaths, the details of which were completely unknown until I carried out my groundbreaking research. And all this is spiced with countless tales of the living Nottingham of yesteryear, a city so different from that of today.

No tale is left untold. No anecdote ignored.

Now available for purchase through Lulu.com:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-knifton/in-the-footsteps-of-the-valiant-the-lives-and-deaths-of-the-forgotten-heroes-of-nottingham-high-school-volume-one/paperback/product-24309191.html

The book has 348 pages and is 24 x 19 cms in size (9½ inches x 7½ inches). Any profits will go to ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and the RAF Benevolent Fund.

The title refers to “the Valiant” because for the last hundred years or so, the hymn sung in the very first assembly of the school year is that old favourite, “He who would valiant be”. The hymn was the only one ever written by John Bunyan, the author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. Here are the words of the three verses. They don’t write them like that any more:

“He who would valiant be ‘gainst all disaster
Let him in constancy follow the Master
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim

Who so beset him round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound – his strength the more is
No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight
He will make good his right to be a pilgrim

Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit
We know we at the end, shall life inherit
Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say
I’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim”

Here’s the video:

Apparently the boys back in the 1920s wanted to sing the original unexpurgated John Bunyan version, but were not allowed to. Verse 3 lines 1 and 2 used to be:

“Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend,

Can daunt his spirit “

Verse 2 lines 5 and 6 used to be equally exciting with:

“No lion can him fright,

He’ll with a giant fight,”

You can read all about it here.

This hymn has nowadays become the Battle Hymn of the SAS.

One Old Nottinghamian was killed fighting with the SAS in the Mediterranean theatre. Another died at Arnhem:

And another in Iran:

Another in Burma:

Another in Egypt:

In Leicester:

In Greece:

And in Saskatchewan, Canada:

And now, after nearly five years of completely original and ground breaking research, at least forty new names can now be added to the old list of eighty.

And the hitherto unknown details of the fates of almost all of these hundred and twenty casualties have been discovered.

The full story is available here.

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, Film & TV, France, History, Nottingham, Politics, Russia, The High School, Writing

Renegade Football at the High School (2)

Last time, I spoke of the actual end of High School football at Christmas 1914, and the reasons that brought it about. Basically, they were mostly connected with the idea of “other things to do”.

There were picture palaces and films. Exciting films about beautiful women such as Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford. Beautiful Lillian Gish was once the Number One star in Hollywood yet today she is forgotten. Years ago I bought her autograph for next to nothing on ebay. Mary Pickford was equally famous. She was a Canadian and my grandfather, Will Knifton and his brother, John Knifton, worked as bricklayers on her mansion,  shortly after their arrival in Canada, before the First World War :

 

Some of the films were comedies about “bathing beauties” whatever they were:

The Boy Scouts attracted some of the boys:

Strangely enough, though, this unwillingness to give up their valuable time and participate in football did not seem initially to have a direct relationship with the success, or lack of it, of the School’s First Team.

Indeed, the football teams, both First and Second Teams, may actually have been too successful for their own good. Playing so many matches, both on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and occasionally after lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, meant that the supply of younger talent was denied the facilities or the opportunities to train or to practice.

Match reports are incomplete for the 1911-1912 season, but those that do still exist show an impressive start to the year, which read:

Played 11        won 10                        drew 1             lost 0

Even in the 1913-1914 season, things were far from disastrous:

Played 13       won 7                          drew 0           lost 6

We  know only a little about the social aspirations of the parents and staff but the School magazine provided some of their views, and they were certainly in favour of rugby, the upper class game. “Follow the money” as the Americans say:

“Rugger is the finer game and produces better all-round development.”

“Rugger is much superior”

Here’s an early rugby team:

A lot of the parents’ ideas were based on class prejudice. This is a rather unusual opinion below, but this parent would like to see the public schools and the amateur football players exert more influence on the professional game :

“I shall always be sorry to see the Public Schoolboy seceding from Soccer. For good or ill, it has taken a hold upon the working classes of the Kingdom, and the more the game is leavened by pure amateurism, the better. There is a field of real social reform in the Association of Public School football with the professional and League variety.”

At least one other parent thought along similar lines:

“Soccer is England’s game at present, and the more Schoolboys drafted into it the better ; we do not want the national game to drift into the hands of professionals.”

Here is an amateur boys’ team of the period:

Such comments in the “Rugger or Soccer ? ” debate make it abundantly clear that football was perceived as a sport where the professional players , and the working class, were taking over from the amateur player , and the upper class. Of the two Nottingham teams, Nottingham Forest, for example, indubitably represented the working class and wore red shirts. Notts County, on the other hand, had been founded by young men from the professional classes such as bankers, lawyers, and lacemakers, who, in 1862, after enjoying playing football in “The Hollow”, a piece of waste ground near the Cavalry Barracks in the exclusive Park Estate, had decided to form a club.

As we saw last time, the General Committee at the High School, presumably of School sport, and made up of Masters, had voted 2-1 in favour of adapting rugby as the new school sport. The boys in the Upper School were thought to favour very strongly the handling game “because of the novelty of the suggestion”, and the parents, had also voted for rugby by a 3-2 majority. The Old Boys favoured the same sport by a majority similar to that of the parents. The only group who seemed to favour football were the smaller boys, those who were not about to go off to university, but instead were in the First, Second and Third Years. I suspect that the Fourth and Fifth Years were probably divided in their opinions but I have no irrefutable evidence for that. Indeed, I did find at least one source that said that overall, the boys in the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Forms would probably have opted to continue with football. What was certainly true is that hardly anybody, parents, boys, even the staff, had ever seen a game of rugby played.

By today’s standards, the voting procedure about the taking up of rugby was hardly carried out in a particularly unbiassed way. The envelope sent out to Old Boys and parents containing their voting slip also contained a short article summarising “the advantages claimed for Rugger.”

Even the article in “The Nottinghamian” was at pains to point out how many other schools would be available to play rugby fixtures, if the change was made. They included recent converts such as Trent College, Denstone, Newark, Grantham, Retford, Oakham, Leeds, Bradford and the Birmingham schools.

In many ways, therefore, the decision to adapt rugby would seem already to have been taken, long before any Old Boys or parents were asked to rubberstamp it in a postal ballot.

 

 

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Filed under Canada, Football, History, Nottingham, The High School

Will Knifton v the Kaiser (Round 4)

This is the fourth, and final, round of my Grandfather, Will’s, tales about his life in the First World War.

The pinnacle, or perhaps, nadir, of Will’s relationship with the upper classes came when he was given an officer’s beloved horse to look after. This was the kind of thing:

In the stable, the highly strung beast decided it would kick Will, very hard and very painfully. Will, however, was not a man to take things lying down, so he took a run up, rather like a football goalkeeper about to take a goal kick, and kicked the animal very, very hard in the testicles. This would have been honours even, perhaps, but unfortunately, the officer had just returned to the stable to see how his pride and joy was faring, and was actually standing right behind Will as he did the evil deed.

For his crimes, Will was charged, court martialled, found guilty, and given Field Punishment Number One, which consisted of being handcuffed, fettered and then tied to a gun carriage wheel for twenty-four hours. This picture is the closest fit I could find:

In similar vein, I remember as a teenager, talking to another veteran, an old man who used to spend all day, every day, sitting on the bench seat, watching the traffic go around the Tollgate roundabout in our small mining village, Woodville. This man had been gravely wounded on July 1st 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. When a shell went off in that disastrous attack, he had been knocked unconscious, coming round to find that he had lost both of his legs in the explosion.

Luckily for him, as he acknowledged later, he was found by the Germans, who saved his life. He was always to say that the levels of care among the German forces were so much better than those in the British Army, where the officers’ horses tended to be better looked after than the men. This is a German military hospital:

Much to my very great regret, I have forgotten the name of this man, but I will never forget the bitterness or the truth of his words. Sharply resentful, he told me how every day, for almost sixty years, he had no choice but to put on his two artificial legs. He began with leather straps under each groin, and then the large strap around his waist. Then came more straps over both of his shoulders.

Even after all these years, he had persistent sores wherever the rough leather rubbed into his skin, particularly on his shoulders, and the poor man was in constant pain. Many people in Woodville thought that he was just a moaner, but he had a lot to moan about. Like my grandfather, he was not much of a fan of Field Marshall Haig either.

At the end of the Great War, Will returned from France directly to Woodville, and the life he had known before he emigrated to the New World. He went back to his church in Church Gresley, where everyone was delighted to see him. So much so, in fact, that they presented him with his own copy of “The Methodist Hymn Book”

Inside the front cover, it was inscribed…

“Wesleyan Church, Church Gresley

Presented to Mr.W.H.Knifton as a token of gratitude to God for his preservation while on Active Service during the Great War, and as a momento of the hearty good
feeling with which he is welcomed on his return.

On behalf of the Church and Sunday School,

L.GREGSON
W.WILTON
A.DYTHAM ”

Will never seemed to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but the war certainly affected some aspects of his thoughts and behaviour. In the trenches, for example, there was a seemingly permanent shortage of sugar. For this reason, long years after the conflict had finished, Will would never fail to celebrate the existence of the delectable white powder. If you visited him and he made you a cup of tea, he would normally put between six to eight spoons full of sugar in it, and even when there were objections, nobody ever escaped with fewer than four spoons full.

Another fear which Will brought back from the trenches, beyond that of running out of sugar, was the much more real one of rats. There were certainly plenty of them about. Here is a French military ratcatcher, “un dératiseur” and his dog:

Will knew very well that besides an entire suite of unpleasant, and occasionally sickening, behaviours, rats carried Weil’s Disease, an ailment which even now, as I write, has no known cure. In 1941, during his ab initio training for the RAF, Fred was to experience the same fear as his father had known twenty or so years previously, as rats, bold and unafraid, ran over his chest and feet as he camped out in the winter woods.

Incidentally, a lot of people nowadays want to think that the First World War was a “war for democracy”. It wasn’t. It was a war for power and empire. Just to knock the democracy idea firmly on the head , the figures I found on the Internet were that 7,694,741 people were eligible to vote in 1914. The population of the United Kingdom and its colony of Ireland was approximately 46 million. That is 16.72 percent who were able to vote. And who do you think did most of the fighting? The 16% or the 84%?

 

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Filed under Canada, Criminology, France, History, Personal, Politics

Will Knifton v the Kaiser (Round 3)

My Grandfather Will, as we have already seen, spent approximately two years four months in a Canadian Army at war. At the end of the conflict, an officer stood at the front of the men on parade, and made a speech about what would happen when they all returned home. With his optimistic words, delivered no doubt in all sincerity by this upper class young man, Will became one of an unknown but enormous number of soldiers who, in 1919, were promised “a home fit for heroes”. Politicians were quick to jump on the bandwagon, of course:

In actual fact, before his return, Will was already very cynical about whether he would receive his just rewards for fighting in the war. Indeed, after just a short time back home in England, he became certain that he was destined never to be given what was due to him. These were the days, of course, when injured ex-soldiers would beg in the streets, unable to find employment. It affected both the victors and the vanquished:

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Overall, Will had very little time for high ranking officers. He did not like the way that they refused to visit the front line with its ever present smell of rotting corpses, but preferred instead to stay in the palatial comfort of country houses miles behind the fighting troops:

As a boy, I remember him telling me never ever to buy a poppy for the Haig Fund because he hated Earl Haig so much. He thought that Haig had no regard whatsoever for the casualties among his men, and that he did not care a jot about their eventual, and dismal, fate. Thank God that Will had no access to the Internet and never found out that Haig was Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE. Will did not realise either that Haig’s wife, Maud, was a maid of honour to Queen Alexandra, wife of King George V, and that that, supposedly, was how he got his job, in charge of the armies of the British Empire. Years before, in 1905, Haig had put his hat in the ring for a plum job at the War Office but his efforts had all been in vain because he was accused of “too blatantly relying on royal influence”.  (Groot). Here are Queen Alexandra and her daughters at “Maud’s wedding”:

For Will and a very large number of his fellow soldiers, the establishment of Haig’s post-war charity was merely a means for a guilty butcher to salve his blood soaked conscience:

Instead, Will urged me to give any money I had to the Salvation Army, who had always been on hand, ready and willing to help the ordinary soldier.

One final tale. In later years, Will told me how, in the Great War, Gurkhas were sent out at night, to make their way over to the German trenches and to kill as many of the enemy as possible. The Gurkhas were paid one shilling for every German’s right ear that they brought back, threading them carefully onto a piece of wire carried on the front of their chest. The problem was, however, that the Gurkhas were extremely efficient and brought back so many ears that the whole process became a very expensive one, so expensive, in actual fact, that it was discontinued. Fierce little chaps. Every time they get their kukris out they must draw blood, even if it is their own:

The senior officers also seem to have considered it vaguely disquieting to kill the enemy in this very direct, but rather brutal, or even unsporting, way.

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Will Knifton v the Kaiser (Round 2)

When Will was in Flanders during the First World War, he would occasionally get stuck in deep mud, or, in the winter, perhaps out on sentry duty, he would actually become frozen solid into it:

Over the course of the days, and more particularly the nights, Will would often go through the ghastly process of having his feet freeze, melt and then refreeze again. This gave him the unmistakable scars of a condition known as “trench foot”, which, although it is relatively unknown in our modern army, was a frequent occurrence in the trenches of the Great War.

When he was in Burton-upon-Trent Hospital in 1970, dying at some eighty years of age, Will became a bit of an attraction, as young doctors, who had never seen trench foot before, came flocking from all over the hospital to see an example of it. I myself looked at his feet, and, if there had not been a nearby bed to sink down onto, would probably have fainted outright. I will never forget the brown, yellowing skin, almost like a tattoo in the same colours as the Flanders mud, and his scars, and his twisted, mutilated toes:

On at least one occasion during a particular period of action Will was hit in the legs and wounded by two bullets from a German machine gun. He never expressed any real hatred of the Germans to me, though, despite the fact that he risked his life fighting them for more than two years.

I  always thought that Will considered the enemy as just somebody whom you had to shoot at when ordered to do so, but there were no particularly personal issues involved. It was just what happened in times of war:

This attitude may, of course, have been accentuated by the fact that Will spent a fair proportion of his wartime career with the Royal Canadian Field Artillery. Firing projectiles at an enemy who may be five or more miles away does not necessarily encourage anybody to hate them as individuals.

During the enormous battles of the Great War though, Will recounted how, on several occasions, he was on the fire-step of a trench, defending the Canadian line against waves of advancing German infantry. He used to say how, at the time, he resented it, when the officer gave the order, “Fire at Will ! ” because he always thought it was going to be something personal against him.

According to his official service records, Will spent more or less all of his time in France with the Canadian Field Artillery. Conceivably, the moment when Will was firing a mere rifle in such apparently defensive circumstances, may have come in an emergency situation during the great Ludendorff Spring Offensive of 1918.

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