Category Archives: Nottingham

In the Steps 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

“Of course, we were much younger then” (2)

This is a second series of photographs taken by the Reverend Charles H Stephens. They portray some of the actors in the Junior Plays during the academic year 1976-1977. All of them were in Form 2L. What is most striking is how the actors have begged, stolen or borrowed, items from ordinary life and then, by putting them all together, have created a character for their own particular Junior Play.

The first picture shows the actors in a drama whose plot I cannot begin to imagine. It must surely involve a huge admirer of Harpo Marx, whose hobbies include cross dressing in those night dresses you get in the Hammer Horror films of the period. Just to prove the point, on the right is a sinister Christopher Lee type figure, presumably waiting patiently for a cup of luke warm blood from the demented waiter in the middle:

Picture Two shows the Exorcist in the middle, apparently wearing some of the Reverend’s robes that had shrunk in the wash and were therefore surplice to requirements. The little boy on the left clearly has completely the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the rule that “Junior Plays are not performed in School Uniform”. Just taking your tie out of your jacket will not be enough. And on the right, the happy little chap who won the North of England “Neat shirt sleeve folding” competition for the next fourteen years running:

The third photograph shows a capacity for violence compatible perhaps with “Straw Dogs” or “Clockwork Orange”, two films of the time. On the left is the little boy who had clearly decided that the winner of the Junior Plays will be decided not by the judging panel nor the Ballot Box but by the Armalite. In the middle is the representative of the Metropolitan Police, looking a little morose, perhaps, but with his plastic policeman’s helmet, just like you get in toy shops, jauntily on the back of his head:

The boy on the right looks rather sad too. The police had promised to help him find, and then recover, his trousers. Still, that dress is rather nice and compliments perfectly his top garment, whatever it may be. A housecoat? Or the “Something more comfortable” that dubious young women with dyed blonde hair are keen to get into?

Next is the Junior Play set at Woodstock with three classic haircuts, two state of the art guitars and one army surplus coat in two extra small. Note the camouflaged ex-US Army cap that fishermen wear and always cover with lots of badges. Note, too, the denim waistcoat complete with war surplus sew-on USAAF wings:

The final photograph shows the final three actors. On the right is the cowboy, whose costume is the easiest of the lot. A pair of jeans, a heavy, thick shirt, your Dad’s fishing hat and your little brother’s cap gun. And in the middle, somebody to whom you’d really have to pose that embarrassing question “And who are you meant to be, sonny?”. Well, he has made a fair attempt at reconstructing the beret of the Parachute Regiment, but the shirt and the trousers are a strange combination. Note the snake belt fastening, incidentally, which was then compulsory for all small boys to wear at least once before they reached the age of fourteen. On the left, he must surely be something Arabian, but exactly what I am not so sure. He has his mum’s tea towel over his head, held on with elastic, and a pair of wide, flared, bell-bottomed trousers which belong to his sister. Presumably his mother hasn’t noticed her missing Laura Ashley curtains in the third bedroom. Let’s hope too that that is a plastic scimitar and that the bra-like garment over his shirt has not been borrowed from his sister:

Next time, we’ll look at some of the School Plays over the years.

They laboured under a terrible handicap, which is clearly stated in the School Magazine:

“After the First World War, the Dramatic Society would put on an annual play for their parents and their siblings and friends to come and see. Usually, it was a classic, although not always by Shakespeare. The problem was that the School was for boys only and, in the words of the School Magazine: “The Dramatic Society has always hesitated to produce a modern play because of the difficulty of finding boys capable of filling the female parts. Twentieth Century dress does not lend itself so well to the purpose of transformation as do Elizabethan and Georgian costumes”.

 

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Filed under History, Literature, Nottingham, The High School, Writing

“Of course, we were much younger then” (1)

The Reverend Charles H Stephens, as we have seen before on numerous occasions, was a very keen and excellent photographer, as well as a teacher of Geography and a Minister of the Church. He has left to us a great many photographs of the ordinary moments of school life at Nottingham High School between 1945-1978.

These first few are of the Junior Plays, but date from the late 1950s. Junior Plays were prepared and rehearsed in English lessons, and then put on in the Hall, say, with the rest of the year watching. The very best of the plays might then be watched by pupils from other years.

Here is a photograph by the Reverend called “R Williams & Junior Plays”:

I cropped the photograph to produce this one of Mr Williams, looking for all the world like an earnest disciple of Jean-Paul Sartre. I think wearing pullovers like that must have been compulsory until at least 1962:

The first actors captured by the Reverend are some of the members of Form 2K in “Island of Doom”. The photograph was taken in 1958:

The following year, the Reverend took this picture of the preparation for another round of Junior Plays. The Masters are labelled as Mr RWilliams (1956-1962), Mr CN Lammiman (1957-1962) and Mr BE Towers (1945-1964). I’m afraid that I know very little of any of them. In 1964, I  was still in my first year at secondary school:

This photograph presumably dates from around the same time. It is entitled “Unknown actors near E5”:

I have not written a great deal about Junior Plays in my various publications. I do know, however, that in 1964, 2L put on the very successful “The True Story of Good King Wenceslas”. This was in the same year as the first ever Old Folk’s Christmas Party.

In 1972, five Junior Plays were put on in the Founder Hall. 3A1 produced an “offbeat version of the Robin Hood legend”, 2A1 managed an “ingenious insight into the life behind cave paintings”, and 3B2 offered “Carry on Chaucer!” The theme of 1L’s play was “a serious one”, although the title has not survived. The competition was eventually won by Mr SG Nash (1970-1974) and 1H, with their unforgettable “The Gong Wong Ruby”. They received the Bryden Trophy.

On a warm July evening in 1975, four Junior Plays took place. They were “Charlotte’s Web” performed by 1M and masterminded by Mr R Stirrup (1968-1980), a modernised version of “The Kraken” by 2AL, aided by Mr G Powell (1974-1977), “Dillisclondes Saga” from Mr CJP Smith (1974-1992) and 3BT, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by 3BS and Mr JM Royston (1972-1975). The eventual winner was “Liang and the Magic Brush” from Mr PE Norris (1970-1975) and 1K, a traditional Chinese folk story, specially written for this occasion.

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Filed under Film & TV, History, Nottingham, 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 (6)

Last time I was talking about renegade football teams which originated in the High School. Even before the change to rugby in 1914-1915, we have at least one photograph in the School Archives of what appears to be an unidentified team with an unidentified member of staff. It may well be that in an era when the High School played football officially, there were still those who wanted to be renegades, playing under a false name at the bottom end of League Division Three.:

Once football disappeared at the end of December 1914, that was it. No going back. School sport was crushed under the weight of a thick layer of gravel and tarmac called “Rugby Union”. But before long, thistles started to grow through. After January 1915, the High School might not allow any boy to play football in a school context, other than kickabouts in the school yard, but there were always at least eleven rebels, totally dedicated to football, willing to dig an escape tunnel to the nearest football pitch.  This may well be the first mystery photograph of a football team from the early part of rugby years:

Here is number two in the series of renegade High School teams. It dates from the years immediately after the Second World War. Here is the team photograph:

It looks like they are kitted out in white shirts, black shirts and, probably, red socks. Here is their badge, Photoshopped quite a bit:

And now a little bit more:

When I started I thought that the badge was an “N” and a “U” entwined but now I’m not so sure. Does anybody have any ideas about it? Any information about this team or indeed, any of the others, would be welcome in the Comments section.

Back to the original photograph. Who is the man behind the team, as it were? I don’t recognise him as a member of staff. Perhaps he was the father of one of the players:

The photograph is captioned on the back:

“An unofficial football team. The Headmaster, Mr Reynolds, didn’t approve of soccer and wouldn’t allow an official team. A group of 6th formers formed this team as “Nottingham United” and played behind the West Bridgford Tennis Club on Wilford Lane”.

A final act of rebellion came in the late 195os according to JA Dixon (1951-1960) who has written:

” While in Lower 5G,  I was also playing with a rebel soccer team,  Kingswood Methodists of Wollaton with a whole host of School ‘rebels’, including  Dick Lovell, Rob Spray, Graham Machin, Mick Hutson. Charlie Graham, Rob Wilson, Keith Richardson, Alan Scott, many of whom ended up being School Prefects!”

There is one final photograph that I have come across, although I do not really think that it is a renegade football team so much as a question, perhaps, of misidentification.  We have a Junior School section of the High School, known years ago as the “Preparatory School” or quite simply the “Prep”. It has always educated boys below the age of eleven. A friend of mine who used to work there, Mr Eddie Jones, sent me a photograph he had taken of an old photograph that they had. It had always thought that the photograph showed a cup-winning team from some long ago forgotten competition in the City of Nottingham, but I am not so sure. Here it is:

There are quite lot of problems. The football is marked “1898-1899” whereas the current understanding is that the Prep School did not come into being until September 1905 when it was:

“…set up in a house at 11, Waverley Mount where Dr Dixon had lived so many years before.  There were thirty two pupils, making up a senior form taught initially by Mr R.Dark and then soon afterwards by Mr H.A.Leggett.  Two ladies taught the other form, one of whom “lived in”, acting as a housekeeper as well as a teacher.”

The two members of staff on the photograph, Messrs JA Jones and D Stephenson are not on any staff list we currently use, and none of the named players are on the School Register, as far as I can see. The boys’ names are:

(back row) L Jones, F Palmer and W Harwood.  On the front row are  G Bramwell, T Rees, L Kirk, SJ Shaw, JF Bamforth,  E Wright (Captain),  N Dass,  F Bramley and  D Richards.

I do wonder who this team may be. In the late Victorian era, the High School did not ever play in stripes of this Notts County type, but wore all black kit with white sleeves. I wonder if the mystery team are anything to do with Notts County?

Nowadays, of course, football is open to any boy in the Sixth Form with no restrictions whatsoever. What happy times we had:

“What larks, Pip! What larks!”

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Strange Days Indeed

The Reverend Charles Stephens has left us a lot of photographs and some of them are rather strange, to say the least. We’ve already had a look at the men in white coats:

And the Zombie Attack :

But there are plenty more in the same vein. When I scanned these photographs in 1992 or thereabouts, I had to give many of them my own rather silly titles. This is called “The Skull Society”. I have absolutely no idea what it is:

This photograph is called, rather imaginatively, “Boy with a chair on his head”. Again, I have absolutely no idea what it is, although it may well be the Headmaster’s chair, normally kept on the stage of the Assembly Hall :

Very similar is “Two boys and a Dustbin”, the second title in a row that sounds like a pencil sketch by Salvador Dali:

I wanted to call this  “The School Home Brewing Society” but I don’t think that even back in 1957 there was any such body. I have absolutely no idea what the photograph is, nor, indeed, the brand of beer :

I think that this one was taken on a field trip somewhere. It is entitled “The Longest Legs in Showbiz”:

Just two more to go. This is “Unknown Happy Boy” AKA “Unknown Boy Dancing”:

I hadn’t noticed when I scanned these photographs into digital form in the early 1990s, that the photograph above has actually been flipped. Not by me, as far as I know, but by the Reverend for some reason we will never know. Here is the original location, immediately much more recognisable:

And now, the strangest of the strange. Something we will probably never see again in our lifetime. This is entitled “Car Parking in Arboretum Street, 1961”:

I think this photograph was taken at the western end of the street, and the building set back on the right is the now demolished old Music School. The rather beautiful building on the left must have gone the same way, I suppose, although I have no idea what it is. The nearer car is an Austin Cambridge, or maybe a Morris Oxford. and the further one is a Hillman Minx. Why were there no traffic wardens in those days, to clamp down on untidy and reckless parking like that?

Always finish on a song. And which song could be better than this?

 

 

 

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Renegade Football at the High School (5)

This photograph shows the First Team in the 1904-1905 season. It was taken at Mapperley Park Sports Ground, opposite the old Carrington Lido on Mansfield Road.

Sergeant Holmes is again present, and the players are….

(back row)      S.D.M.Horner, C.F.R.Fryer, M.J.Hogan, R.E.Trease and J.P.K.Groves

(seated)          R.G.Cairns, R.B.Wray, R.Cooper (Captain) and L.W.Peters

(seated on grass)        H.E.Mills and P.G.Richards

On the right is twelfth man, F.C.Mahin. You can read about the incredible life of Frank Cadle Mahin in three of my previous blog posts.

I believe that the photograph was taken on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 12th 1904, just before the High School played against Mr.Hughes’ XI, perhaps to commemorate the game for the old Drill Sergeant. The School won 12-5, and we know that Cooper in defence was the outstanding player, but the whole team played well, and the forwards’ finishing was particularly deadly. This year, the team was amazingly successful. Their season began with victories by 5-4, 2-1, 23-0, 12-5, 9-0, 15-0, 3-1, 4-1, 11-0, 16-1. They had scored exactly 100 goals by November 3rd, in only ten games.

Notice that it is warm enough for the changing room windows to be open, and the design of the ball is still that old fashioned “Terry’s Chocolate Orange”. Horner has forgotten his football socks, and, because this game marked his début for the side, Fryer’s mother has not yet had the time to sew his school badge onto his shirt. Frank Mahin is, in actual fact, in the full School uniform of the time…a respectable suit or jacket, topped with a Sixth Form white straw boater, with a school ribbon around it. Here he is in American military uniform:

Football, though always, seems to have appealed to the rebellious nature of the boys. Even when it was a school sport, some of them wanted more, and they were quite prepared to break the rules of the High School to achieve that aim. The Prefects’ Book records how “an extraordinary meeting of the Prefects was held after morning school on November 23rd 1908”.

AB Jordan reported that a Master, Mr WT “Nipper” Ryles…

“… had complained about a cutting in the “Football Post” & “Nottingham
Journal”, stating that the High School had been beaten 5-1 by some unknown team called Notts Juniors, reported 8 boys out of IIIC, 1 out of IIIB, 1 out of IVB. The boys were Davie (J.R.), Herrick (R.L.W.), Gant (H.G.) Hemsley, Major, Parrott, Wilmot, Tyler, Cowlishaw & Sadler. They had played against a team of Board School boys down at Bridgford, under the name of Nottm High School Third Form. The other team had put the result in the paper. They were told that such teams must not be played, & that nothing must be sent to the papers except the results of 1st XI & 2nd XI matches.   Signed  AB Jordan”.

The School Archives also have a photograph of older boys in an unknown team.  Nobody has any real, definite and provable idea about who they might be. Perhaps they were something unofficial too:

The man behind the team is not a known member of staff. Here he is:

Is the mystery man is one of  Haig’s staff officers from 1914, on an early lookout for likely cannon fodder for the Western Front? Why should I think that? Well, take a look at this photograph of a group of what were probably the cleverest, shrewdest military thinkers of their age, “Field Marshal Haig and the Blockheads”. Perhaps, front left, Tubby Watson?  :

The next team photograph is not one I am particularly proud of. It is the sad result of the practise of using a camera to scan images because it is so much quicker. It appeared in the School Magazine a few years ago  and they seemed to have little knowledge of who it is:

The caption reads

“Is the above photograph a School Football Team of the early 1890s? The only proof that the team is the three merles badge on the shirt of one of the boys. The photograph is supplied by Don E Stocker (1926-1932) and his father EB Stocker (1889-1891). Is the man on the right a master or possibly Mr Onions, the groundsman and cricket coach?

Well, he’s neither a Master nor Mr Onions in my opinion:

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And the badge may mean it is a High School team but not 100% definitely. It might be the only football shirt he has:

And surely, if it was a High School football team, more than one would be wearing a proper football shirt. As far as I can see, the majority of the players are wearing ordinary white shirts such as they might wear in the bank where they worked, or the technical drawing office.

I don’t think the team is pre-1900 either because the ball is made of 18 panels sewed together. Balls from this period tended to be like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange with lots of segments held in place by a circular piece of leather on either side. It may be a renegade team though, because School football stopped in 1914 and this photograph may well date from after that.

More Ché Guevarras of High School football next time.

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