Category Archives: History

The Supermarine Walrus (5)

Here is the Airfix kit of the Walrus:

Assembly tended to be a rather fiddly process for an impatient young boy. I, for one, was completely unable to stick the numerous struts into the bottom wing, and then wait overnight while everything dried, so that the struts could then be lined up accurately with the holes in the top wing. If you didn’t do this, of course, you finished up with a very tricky sticky situation with an ever increasing amount of glue spreading from the top of the tube to clumsy little fingers to the flat surfaces of the wings.

And finally….

The Walrus was sometimes known as the “Steam-pigeon”, the name coming supposedly from the steam produced by water striking the hot Pegasus engine. Usually, though, its nickname was the “Shagbat”.

People ask, of course, “What is a shagbat?” Well, according to a book I found about British military aircraft, a shagbat was…

“a legendary bird, whose reputedly ever-decreasing circular flightpath had its own inevitable conclusion”.

So….. is there any other definition of a shagbat.? Well, I don’t think there is, but I can offer you a couple of twos for you to add together and produce at least fifty-five.

First of all, as a verb, “shag” is a word beloved of young men down the pub, and means “to have sex,” I tried very hard to think up some examples, but none of them were suitable, although the one about the hole in the fence was jolly funny. The Urban Dictionary expressed it very well, however:

“Used by people who think the term “making love” is too innocent and ” f**** ” is too coarse.”

And what does the “bat” bit mean? This I found in a second on-line dictionary:

“Any annoying post-menopausal woman, but especially one who applies a considerable amount of make-up….She may even scare small children with her appearance. An example would be “I try to be nice to the old bat.”:

Put the two words together and you have “shagbat”. The sort of woman you wake up with after a wild Saturday night in a small town whose name you cannot, for the moment, remember:

22 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History, Humour

The Supermarine Walrus (4)

Last time, we looked at how practically no provisions whatsoever were made in 1940 to rescue RAF fighter pilots who were forced to bale out over the sea:

“A passing ship is bound to pick them up, and pretty damn speedily at that, don’t you know, what ? what?”

During the Battle of Britain, Flight Lieutenant RF Aitken of the RNZAF was so disturbed by the death rates among his fellow fighter pilots that he actually “borrowed” a Supermarine Walrus flying boat from the Fleet Air Arm. During this period of grotesque complacency on the part of the RAF top brass, Flight Lieutenant Aitken,  despite working single handed, managed to rescue thirty five British and German flyers from The Cruel Sea during the summer of 1940.

The situation though, did not really improve. Twelve hundred British airmen went “into the drink” between February 1941-August 1941. Of these 444 were picked up by the British. 78 were picked up by the German Seenotdienst and 678 were not picked up by anybody whatsoever and they all died. Every single one. It was lucky that their training cost so little.

At official levels, it was only on August 22nd 1940 that an emergency meeting was held under the chairmanship of Air Marshal Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris to explore the shortcomings of air sea rescue provision.

And thus, from September 1941 onwards, the Air Sea Rescue Directorate became functional and gradually the RAF began to use the Supermarine Walrus more widely from coastal land bases as an Air Sea Rescue aircraft.

By the end of the war things had improved out of all recognition. The RAF now possessed not eighteen but 600 high speed rescue launches and numerous squadrons of specialist aircraft.

Even so, results were nowhere near 100%.

Many crews did not ever rescue anybody in all their years looking for stranded airmen. Some never found even a single dinghy. Worse still, some only ever found empty dinghies.

Some crews only ever found corpses, men frozen stiff with the cold, dead from exposure or any of the other conditions likely to occur in a dinghy which, for some reason best known to the top brass, did not have a covering of any kind and was completely open to the elements.

Old Nottinghamian, John Harold Gilbert Walker (1918-1942), died in this dreadful way. He was shot down in his Spitfire over St Omer, and four days later, the dinghy and his lifeless body were found, a mere eight miles south of Dungeness. John was only twenty three years of age and he had died of exposure waiting in vain to be rescued.

John’s remains were returned to his family in Nottingham and he was interred in the cemetery of St Leonard’s Church in Wollaton on May 19th 1942. If you’re ever out that way, go and put a few flowers on his grave.

30 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History

Famous Monsters of Filmland (2)

I thought I’d cheer you all up with a few more covers from the American  horror film magazine from the 1960s called “Famous Monsters of Filmland”. There was nothing subtle about them. Here’s Boris Karloff, real name William Pratt, as “The Mummy”:

And here’s the long forgotten film star Duncan ‘Dean’ Parkin in the long forgotten film, “The War of the Colossal Beast”:

They’re all here. King Kong. And tonight, it’s Kentucky Fried Pterodactyl. Save me a wing :

And here’s Lon Chaney senior in the silent film of “The Phantom of the Opera”, still the best version to watch:

And here’s the little Martian guy from “War of the Worlds”, and I don’t mean Tom Cruise. This is the 1953 version, one of my favourite sci-fi films ever, produced by George Pal, one of my favourite sci-fi directors ever:

This is a very stylised cover based on the film “Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man” Note the damsel in distress and her gravity defying bosoms:

Having said that, it is arguable that the magazine cover does no more than echo the feel of the original film poster:

In a strange twist the two protagonists are played by Lon Chaney junior (the original Wolf Man, and completely expected) and Bela Lugosi (playing Frankenstein’s monster, an incredible piece of irony, given that Lugosi rejected the chance to be Frankenstein’s monster in the original film and let Boris Karloff take the role. Apparently, the monster wasn’t worthy of his acting talents).

Here are two wonderful Wolf Men (or Werewolves, or perhaps even Werewolfs). (Or even Wolf People). They look as if some buffoon has put them through the wrong cycle in the washing machine. This is the first one:

And here’s his younger brother. What a strange dental arrangement:

Here’s “The Monster from the Black Lagoon”, wishing he’d never used that cheap moisturising cream  :

This cover is about the silent film that does not exist any more in its fullest form, “London after Midnight”. It is available only in a reconstructed version. It looks like it’s back to strange dental arrangements again:

Not all of the artwork is good. Here’s a daubed Frankenstein, painted with a brush big enough to clean the garage out with:

Only the covers of the magazines are in colour, but there are some very striking black and white photographs inside. I have chosen some characters from my favourite horror films, the old 1930s Universal productions:

Here’s Doctor Pretorius. The man with all the best lines:

His toast:    “To a new world of gods and monsters! “

And:     “Do you like gin? It’s my only weakness. “

And:   “Have a cigar – they’re my only weakness! “

And then, in the mausoleum when the Frankenstein monster makes a sudden unexpected appearance:

“And I thought I was alone!”

And here’s the studio where Godzilla trashes Tokyo on a daily basis. Occasionally his Monkey Mate, King Kong, comes along to help him. The original film, “King Kong v Godzilla”, of course, was voted “Best Film for a late night beer drinking session” for eighteen consecutive years:

And finally, John Cleese’s entry in the Christmas Competition at the Ministry of Silly Werewolves:

 

 

 

30 Comments

Filed under Film & TV, History, Humour, Personal, Writing

“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (3)

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.

Arthur John Thurman was born on May 8th 1875, the son of Edward Harrington Thurman and Ann Eliza Thurman. The family lived in Castle Street off Sneinton Hollows. Edward was a maltster with business premises at 33 Sneinton Road. The family house in Castle Street would eventually be given the name of “Gloster Villa”. Here’s present-day Castle Street:

Castle Street is within sight of St Stephen’s Church, the place where DH Lawrence’s parents got married. Here’s the church:

And here’s the High School’s most famous Old Boy:

Arthur John Thurman entered the High School on June 2nd 1888 as Boy No 723. He was thirteen, and he left at the end of the Christmas Term, 1889.

Arthur played for the High School First Team at football on a number of occasions, although the match reports in the school magazine, “The Forester” are not sufficiently detailed to record his rather irregular appearances. Arthur then played for a number of years for Gedling Grove FC before joining the “Notts Club” (today’s Notts County) where he became:

“a valued playing member of the Reserves. He will be remembered by a great number of football enthusiasts as a useful player. Upon the accident to W Bull, he found a place in the League team”.

Here’s Notts County around this time. If you know how to play musical chairs, you won’t be surprised to know that this team doubled up as the Notts County Musical Moustaches team:

On December 3rd 1898, Walter Bull, the regular First Team Number 4, was seriously injured during County’s 0-1 defeat at Meadow Lane. They were playing Everton, a team who had fielded seven international players for the game.

Initially Bull’s place was taken by Alfred B Carter in a 4-1 victory over Bury. On December 17th though, Arthur Thurman took Alfred’s place in the Notts County team. Making his début, he performed well as a right half in a 1-1 draw at Stoke City’s Victoria Ground, in front of some 4,000 spectators. County’s goal was scored by Harry Fletcher. On December 24th, Arthur was equally successful in a 1-0 home victory over Aston Villa. He gave what “The Forester”, called “an exceedingly creditable exhibition as a hard and consistent half back.” County’s winning goal came from Alexander Maconnachie. This was a famous victory as Aston Villa would finish this, the 1898-1899 season, as League Champions.

Here’s a County v Villa game of the period. Strangely, the goalkeeper seems to be dressed the same as the rest of the team, except for his cap:

After the  Aston Villa game, County’s number four shirt went to Ernie Watts for six games until Walter Bull had recovered. Then Walter got back his old shirt and Ernie Watts kept his place in the team, for the rest of the season.

Arthur would probably have played many more games for Notts County, but the Second Boer War broke out in October 1899, caused by the shocking treatment by the Boers of British gold prospectors in the Transvaal. A completely understandable reason for a war, and the deaths of 30,000 men. Bad treatment of our gold prospectors? Unforgivable. The “bad treatment” seems to be getting really out of hand at this point :

According to “The Forester”, Arthur was

“among the first to volunteer to join the Imperial Yeomanry, a mounted unit made up exclusively of volunteers.”

They were never a particularly effective regiment. Many of them had already :

“been captured two or three times, giving the Boers on each occasion a free horse, a free rifle and 150 rounds of ammunition “.

Arthur was accepted into the Imperial Yeomanry and left England in the SS Winifredian. Here’s the Imperial Yeomanry and their Dad. You may laugh, but I’ve seen the paternity test results :

During the voyage Arthur impressed his superiors with his demeanour and his always immaculate appearance, and he was promoted to Quartermaster Sergeant in the 12th Company of the 3rd Battalion of the Yeomanry. He was ordered to join Lord Methuen’s force and duly proceeded to Boshof in the Orange River Colony.

At Boshof he was seized with enteric fever and he died on May 30th 1900, presumably without seeing a single Boer.

There were 23,026 British casualties during this war, but the majority, some 60% at least, succumbed not to the Boers, but to enteric fever, or typhoid, as it is now called.

The news of Arthur’s death was received:

“……….with deep regret by a large circle of friends and acquaintances in Nottingham.

The announcement of his untimely death, at the early age of 25, comes in singularly sad circumstances. He leaves a widow and one child, born subsequent to his departure for the seat of war.”

Arthur’s death is commemorated on the Boer War Memorial which used to stand in Queen Street in the city centre, but was moved in 1927 to the Forest Recreation Ground. He is recorded as “S.Q.M.S. A. Thurman”, one of three members of the Imperial Yeomanry / South Notts Hussars who died.

 

30 Comments

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

The Supermarine Walrus (3)

The RAF’s provisions for Air Sea Rescue during much of the Second World War were absolutely abysmal. Nowadays there would be Public Inquiries and the newspapers would be explaining to their readers exactly what corporate manslaughter was.

Throughout the first two years of the conflict the RAF had twenty eight ships and no search aircraft. During the Battle of Britain, recent research has revealed that around two hundred pilots died unnecessarily when they ditched in the English Channel:

Indeed, in August 1940, Air Vice Marshal Sir Keith Park, who commanded the fighter group in the south east, actually ordered his flight controllers not to vector pilots over the sea because “too many were getting drowned:

The problem was that most of them perished once they hit the water because they were only visible until their parachute folded up into the waves and both pilot and parachute sank.

There was just no effective means of looking at all those waves from above and finding a downed pilot.

It all came from that lack of decent search aircraft. Making up the deficit in reconnaissance aircraft with Avro Ansons and Westland Lysanders was no use. Their range was not long enough. The Anson was 660 miles, and the Lysander just 600 miles. A limit of 600-700 miles didn’t allow them to carry out patrols of either the required time or the required distance.

Overall therefore, there was very little chance of survival if you ditched into the sea, and only the occasional flier was picked up by a passing destroyer or fishing boat:

On one day in August 1940, fifteen of the eighteen RAF pilots who baled out over the North Sea and the English Channel were lost to the cold, cold, waves. Overall, the statistics showed that if a pilot baled out over land, he had a fifty per cent chance of survival. Over water that fell to twenty per cent. In the words of one writer, “The ditching of a British aeroplane in the Channel or the North Sea usually doomed its crew.”

The men to blame, of course, as always, were the top brass who sat in their offices and decided:

“There are so many ships constantly sailing round British waters that nobody could possibly fail to be picked up, and picked up pretty damn speedily at that, don’t you know, what ? what?”

 

30 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History, Humour

Famous Monsters of Filmland (1)

When I was a little boy of ten or eleven, I used to go up the road to the shop which sold newspapers and magazines to see if anything new had come in. One day, the proprietor, Albert Taylor, had taken delivery of some recently arrived American magazines called “Famous Monsters of Filmland”. In 1963, they were absolutely amazing from a ten year old’s point of view.

They allowed me to meet people I had never encountered before. Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein in the Universal film of 1935, one of the very few sequels better than its original:

I met Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula in 1931, with his wonderful line of “I never drink….. wine.”  and  “To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious! ”

Here’s the werewolf who, in 1961, barked at the postman and chased cars in “The Curse of the Werewolf”:

There were also more recent monsters such as Gorgo, who I later found out was, more or less, the British Godzilla:

Here is the demon from “Night of the Demon”, a film from 1957, which certainly spent most of its life in the UK at least, banned completely, as being too horrific even for the censor to watch:

Occasionally, some of the magazines actually featured a compilation of all the monsters. Can you find Christopher Lee, or Claude Rains in this one? Lon Chaney Senior? More difficult to find is Fredric March:

I was actually quite disappointed when I eventually found out that only the cover of the magazine was in colour. This was because the majority of the films inside the magazine had been made in black and white.

In actual fact, the black and white photographs could still be very striking. Here’s Boris Karloff and Una O’Connor waiting for a bus:

Or what about this wonderful shot from “The Bride of Frankenstein” ?:

To finish with, look at Boris Karloff’s spiritual son, Christopher Lee. In this shot, Lee was playing Kharis, the muddiest boy ever to lose his mummy. See how Tommy Cooper on the left is still working on one of his magic tricks:

Who’s Tommy Cooper? Never  heard of him? Well you have a treat in store:

I hope you watched Tommy Cooper. He could make statues laugh. He actually died of a heart attack on stage and people laughed because they thought it was part of the act.

24 Comments

Filed under Film & TV, History, Humour, Personal

The Supermarine Walrus (2)

Last time, we were looking at the Supermarine Walrus amphibian which was used by the RAF in the second half of the Second World War:The Germans entered the war completely prepared for air-sea-rescue, of course. They had a dedicated arm of the Luftwaffe called the Seenotdienst and they made extensive use of the Dornier Do24, one of the comparatively few three engined aircraft used in the conflict:

The Dornier Do 24 was initially built for the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Koninklijke Marine, to be used primarily in the Dutch East Indies, today’s Indonesia. The Do24 was very much admired by the Seenotdienst so, in the words of Adolf Hitler, “I invaded the country and I stole all six of them.”

The Germans also made extensive use of the Heinkel He59 which was unarmed and painted white with big red cross:

These floatplanes would cheerfully rescue both Luftwaffe and RAF aircrew. Nevertheless, there was a suspicion that the Germans might have been using their aircraft for proscribed reconnaissance activities and the RAF was told to shoot them all down in Bulletin 1254, which indicated that “all enemy air-sea rescue aircraft were to be destroyed wherever they were encountered”. In retrospect, perhaps a little disappointing as a decision.

The older He 59 was much more comparable with the Walrus, perhaps, than the Do24. This Heinkel biplane was much slower than the monoplane Dornier (and was therefore much easier to shoot down as part of Bulletin 1254). Both aircraft made extensive use of the invention of Ernst Udet, the yellow-painted “Rettungsbojen” or rescue buoys:

These buoy-type floats were highly visible and they held emergency equipment such as food, water, blankets, dry clothing enough for four men, and an assortment of board games including, of course, “Risk”, for the Germans. Here’s a cut-away of the buoy:

And here is a rare picture of Admiral Donitz about to begin his famous speech announcing that all the lighthouses of the world were now part of the Greater German Reich:

Shot-down airmen from both sides were strongly attracted to these buoys and many a desperate game of Schcrabble or Buckaroo was played to decide who had first dibs with the rescue buoys’ bratwurst or their assortment of smoked cheeses. British airmen and seamen called the Rettungsbojen “Lobster Pots” for their shape:

The rescue buoys also attracted the close attentions of many sailors in both German and British rescue boats. They would come to inspect the buoys from time to time and “friendly” downed airmen were rescued, but enemy aircrew automatically became prisoners of war.

 

14 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History, Humour

“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (2)

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.

Major Alexander Bruce Wallis had already lost one of his three sons, Captain Alexander Frederic Wallis, on February 24th 1900. He was killed in action near Arundel, near Colesberg, in Cape Colony in South Africa. Major Wallis’ grief, though, was not over yet , not by a long chalk.

He had another, third and youngest, son whose name was Harry Wallis. Harry was born on September 17th 1869 and entered the High School on January 21st 1881 as Boy No 648. He was eleven years old. Hardly any details are available about an individual boy during this period of the school’s history. Set against this is the fact that Harry was there to watch the crisis which gripped the school during this period. Standards were plummeting and by November 1883 more than a quarter of the boys had left. By March 1884 the Headmaster was seriously ill, and was given three months sick-leave. Here is the School at the time.

An official inspection scrutinized the School and said:

“The School is at present not in an efficient or satisfactory state. Generally, there is a want of vigour and enterprise in the management and administration.”

The Headmaster resigned and Dr James Gow took over.

Dr Gow was a lawyer, not a teacher. He saved the High School. He examined the dreadful situation analytically, and reported that:

“I am inclined to think that the School Buildings are not so grossly inconvenient and the School Staff is not so grossly incompetent as they have sometimes been represented. I am confident that by a few changes, mostly trivial, the School can almost at once be brought into a good state of efficiency.”

And he was right. And Dr Gow walked into history:

“He found a rabble and he left a public school.”

(It’s always better that way round, of course.)

This is the albumen print of the High School which I used when I was talking about the tragic and, arguably, pointless death of Harry’s brother, Alexander Frederic. It is certainly of much better quality than the picture above. Can you see the patterned brickwork of the crenellations ?

Harry Wallis left the High School in July 1885. He went to work in Messrs Moore & Robinson’s Bank which operated from 1836-1901. They were based at Beast Market Hill in the Market Place, somewhere near where the Bell Inn is nowadays. The manager was Mr James Stedman. Here’s the Wright’s nineteenth edition of their Directory of Nottingham, published in 1898-1899 :

Harry knew he had the wrong job, working in a bank. Like his father and his elder brother, he yearned to enlist and to become a soldier. Mr Stedman gave him his discharge and Harry went to South Africa. One of his first tastes of adventure was the Jameson Raid. This fiasco took place from December 29th 1895 –January 2nd 1896. It was a botched British raid against the Dutch Republic of the Transvaal. Led by Dr Leander Starr Jameson and using his colonialist troops, these men were employed ostensibly as police officers in the police force, owned by Alfred Beit’s and Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company.

Supposedly the raid would encourage the Uitlanders, the pro-British citizens, to rebel against Paul Kruger, the Transvaal president, and his supporters. A pro-British government would quickly be set up. Then the British would get all of the Boers’ gold and diamonds. Here’s “Oom Paul Kruger” as he was called at the time :

Absolutely nothing happened and Jameson was arrested. The anti-English Boers, though, were by this time more than ready for a fight against the British when the Second Boer War came round.

Here is part of Harry’s epitaph taken from “The Forester”, the first School Magazine.

“Returning to England after the Jameson Raid, Harry then returned to South Africa and became a Lieutenant in the British South Africa Mounted Police. After doing much good work on active service, he died of enteric fever (typhoid) on April 21st 1900 at Gaberones, the capital city of the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland. He was thirty years old. Great sympathy is felt with his father who has thus lost two sons in the war.”

The sad father, Major Alexander Bruce Wallis, now had only one remaining son, Francis Edward Wallis, born on December 24th 1862 and the eldest of the three. He entered the High School on Friday, September 12th 1879 as Boy No 584. He was sixteen years old. I have found out no more than that about him, although I am fairly confident that he would probably have joined the Army at some point and perhaps then served in Africa. Hopefully, he joined just in time to hear somebody say :

“Have those Zulus definitely gone then?”

And Francis Edward Wallis was certainly not killed in World War One. Thank the Lord.

 

19 Comments

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

The Supermarine Walrus (1)

In a recent blog post, I wrote about the most famous flying boat of World War Two, the Short Sunderland. I was lucky enough to visit the RAF Museum at Hendon in north London, where the aircraft is positioned in a very large space, unlike the way it was rather cramped way it was displayed when I went to Duxford in 2009:

With the Sunderland, under its starboard wing almost, is a Supermarine Walrus, which is not a flying boat but an amphibian, an aircraft which can go on land as well as on water.

The Walrus is an extremely unattractive flying machine, and it is extremely difficult to imagine that it was designed by RJ Mitchell, the man who designed the world’s most beautiful aircraft ever. This was the fighter that was originally to be called the Supermarine Shrew, until the name was changed to Supermarine Spitfire (“just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose.” (Mitchell)).

The Walrus was intended to be a gunnery spotting aircraft for sea battles between big warships, but this only happened twice, in the Battle of Cape Spartivento and the Battle of Cape Matapan. In actual fact, the Walrus’ main task was to patrol the seas looking for German or Italian submarines and surface warships. By 1941, the Walruses, or perhaps Walri, had air-to-surface radar for this purpose, although by 1943, all catapult-launched aircraft on Royal Navy ships, including the Walrus, were being phased out as the catapult and the hangar took up too much deck space.

The Walrus was then used at sea only on aircraft carriers as its landing speed was very low and neither flaps nor a tail-hook was necessary. The Royal Navy didn’t have that many aircraft carriers, so the main use of the Walrus now became chiefly air-sea rescue from land bases.

Before the Walrus, the British had not had any aircraft specifically designed for air-sea rescue in home waters.

Here’s the Walrus from the front:

And here it is from the back. Notice how the four bladed propeller is so close to the rear gunner that it may give him a short-back-and-sides haircut if he is not careful:

Here are the wheels which the pilot would lower before landing in the normal way on a runway. As I mentioned above, the Walrus had such a low stalling speed that it could land on an aircraft carrier without recourse to an arrester hook or to any safety nets. Presumably this allowed the Walrus to transport very badly wounded casualties to an aircraft carrier for immediate medical treatment, if the wounded man was too badly injured for a long flight to land :

Here are the floats underneath each wing tip. They appear to have about three thousand of Rosie the Riveter’s finest holding them together:

And to finish up, here’s an overall view of a Walrus:

It flies at about 55mph, but finds long climbs rather challenging. No, just joking!

33 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History, Humour

“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.

24 Comments

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