Category Archives: The High School

The problems with researching World War Two (1)

During my researches of the High School’s war casualties, I soon encountered one, huge, huge, problem. This was the fact that somebody at the High School, a pupil or a member of staff, might have exactly the same name as a casualty listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website, but beyond that, there was nothing else to link them together, or to keep them firmly apart. No date of birth. No date of death. No parents’ names. No place where they had lived. Nothing.

The reason for this strange state of affairs is that in the huge number of names listed on the CWGC website there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of casualties which provide no extra details at all which would allow any definite links to be made. In particular, no date of birth is ever listed.

I have always presumed that this has happened because, when the new recruit filled in the paperwork early in his military career, there was some kind of option which allowed him to preserve his privacy in this way.

To take a completely random example, Sergeant Leonard Thompson in the RAF was killed on Wednesday, September 16, 1942 and his sacrifice is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial near London. And there are no more details than that provided about Leonard, no date of birth, no age, no parents’ names, no town of origin, and no town of residence, absolutely nothing. So if there is a Leonard Thompson in the School Register, of an age to be in the Royal Air Force, there is no definite way of linking the two together, unless you find it mentioned in another book or on another website elsewhere (something which I have not yet done in five years of research).

This is all there is to link Leonard to anybody else:

Certainly, photographic evidence is of little value. Are these the same person? The little bugler boy at the High School:

And the rear gunner on an Avro Lancaster bomber (front row, right) ?

Let’s take another completely random example. In the School Register, Boy No 4959, John Taylor, is an orphan and has no parents listed. Only Mrs AM Cooke is recorded as a “Father or next Friend”. She is most probably a relative of one of John’s parents and is now the adult legally responsible for John Taylor’s welfare. Clearly, the original Mr Taylor has passed away and so too, probably, has Mrs Taylor.

But was young High School boy, John Taylor, Boy No 4959 in the School Register, the same person as Private Taylor, 4748560, of the York and Lancaster Regiment? Or was he Able Seaman Taylor, D/JX 303159, in the Royal Navy? Or perhaps he was Engine Room Artificer 4th Class,  John Taylor, D/MX 75819. Or maybe Stoker 1st Class JohnTaylor,  P/KX 601918 ?

Or perhaps the High School’s John Taylor was Flight Sergeant Taylor, Service Number  1079856? Or was he Gunner John Taylor, 4385260 ? or Private John Taylor, 3909612 of the South Wales Borderers? Or Sapper John Taylor 1888052 of the Royal Engineers? Maybe  he was Gunner John Taylor, 941298, of the Royal Artillery ?

Back to Leonard Thompson. Another war casualty to bear the same name was Gunner Leonard Thompson. He was killed on Thursday, May 18, 1944 and he is buried in the Beach Head War Cemetery at Anzio in Italy. He was a member of the 92 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery. There are no more details about him either. There is no age, no parents’ names, no town of origin, no town of residence, nothing. He might well be the Leonard Thompson in the School Register but then again, he might not. There is nothing definite to link him to the High School. Here is the beach at Anzio, as usual, full of Americans in their flashy, cheap tanks:

Still, at least it kept the Germans’ towels off the sunloungers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Nottingham, 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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Renegade Football at the High School (1)

The High School plays rugby nowadays. Before this, they used to play football, (or soccer) and were very, very successful. They provided nine England players, who were Frank Ernest Burton, Arthur William Cursham, Henry Alfred Cursham, John Auger Dixon, Arthur Cooper Goodyer, John Edward Leighton, Tinsley Lindley, Harold Morse and Frederick William Chapman who was an Amateur international. Many of these Victorian superstars are now long forgotten. Who would recognise Arthur Goodyer if he walked in through the High School’s front gate?

Three of these men captained England. One was Arthur William Cursham who captained his country on two occasions, namely against Scotland in 1878, when he scored a goal, and against Wales in 1879. His second goal for his country came against  Wales in 1883.

The most famous captain of the three was Tinsley Lindley, the man who had a career total of fifteen goals in thirteen appearances for his country. He also held an England scoring record of having scored in nine consecutive games between March 1886 and April 1889. This record was eventually beaten by Ian Wright of Arsenal, more than a century later.

The High School also provided the highest scorer in the history of the FA Cup, Harry Cursham:

The High School also gave us Frederick William Chapman, who appeared in the Great Britain team which competed in the Olympic Football Tournament in 1908. Great Britain won the final 2-0 against Denmark, and Chapman scored the opening goal. Always called simply “Fred”, he is the only Old Nottinghamian ever to win an Olympic gold medal, and, given the limited number of countries who were playing football at this time, he had good reason to consider himself a champion of the world. Chapman went on to play for the  England amateur team on twenty occasions, captaining them at least once, thereby becoming the third captain of England to be provided by the High School.

Here is a picture of the Nottingham High School 1st XI in 1897. Frederick William Chapman, the winner of an Olympic Gold Medal, stands at the right hand end of the back row. A determined detective could make a code out of the bricks in the wall behind the team, and discover where the picture was taken. A large clue is that the team were standing in the modern Dining Room, at the end opposite the area where the meals are served:

And here are his international caps:

The High School switched to rugby after Christmas 1914. Ironically, this was shortly after football was seen to be an amazing peace maker during the First World War with the Christmas Truce which brought much of the Western Front to a temporary stop for a few days. Even so, it was well worth it, insofar as British casualties were running at the time at an average of 4,000 men a day killed or wounded:

The two prime movers in the High School’s change to rugby were Mr Leggett of the Preparatory School and Mr Lloyd Morgan. When they volunteered to go to the war, Mr Kennard took over. He had captained the Lancashire XV and played for the North of England in an England trial. Here is Joseph Kennard with four of the First XV  in 1929:

Mr Kennard could be a hard man sometimes, and occasionally he could justifiably be described as rather strange.

Around 1935 he was living at 58 Ebers Road in Mapperley, a small semi-detached house. By 1936, he had moved to No 41, a very much larger detached house with a larger garden. For some reason he was violently opposed to the Salvation Army and continually expressed his disgust that they would come and play outside his house in Ebers Road on a Sunday morning. By now he was seen as, in the words of Geoffrey Tompkin, as “exceedingly fierce with a bald head, a black military moustache and spectacles”.

We’ll have a more detailed look at the reasons why the change from football to rugby was made next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vandalism in the School Archives? Or is it Art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other fighter is rather Spitfire like:

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

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

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

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

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

or this one from 1942:

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

 

 

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My Book (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

HE GAVE THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL
HIS UNFINISHED LIFE.

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My Book (2)

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

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


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

It hides catastrophic defeats:

And it hides catastrophic accidents:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Book (1)

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

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

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

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

and communication by postcard:

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

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

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

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