Category Archives: The High School

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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Filed under Football, History, Nottingham, The High School

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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Filed under Football, History, Nottingham, The High School

The problems with researching World War Two (3)

Last time I was talking about the difficulties faced by the researcher trying to link a High School boy with a war casualty, in the absence of any details to prove that link.

Let’s move on, though, to some even more complex examples. We all know this rhyme:

“This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none and this little piggy cried wee wee wee wee all the way home.”

Can you pick out which one is which in this slideshow?

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Well, how many little piggies were involved? And which jobs could have been done by the same, single, pig?

Let’s take it one stage further.

What is the minimum number of little piggies required to satisfy the rhyme?

And what is the maximum number of little piggies possible to satisfy the rhyme?

Let’s look at the maximum possible first. We begin with two little piggies, one to go to market (TLP-1) and one not to (TLP-2). TLP-2 stays at home, worried that he has agoraphobia. And then there is TLP-3 who gorged himself on roast beef in a fast-food restaurant in Texas. TLP-4 was worried that the meat was not beef but pork, so he did not eat any. His friend, TLP-5, was so upset by the idea of porcine cannibalism being broached that he ran home as fast as his little legs would carry him. So the answer is FIVE.

In the minimalist world, TLP-1 and TLP-2 are mutually exclusive, so they are both needed. In other words, you cannot go to market and stay home as well.

But it’s perfectly possible to go to market (TLP-1) and to have roast beef when you get there (TLP-3).

And it is equally possible that a little piggy could stay at home (TLP-2) and then prefer to watch television and eat ice cream and chocolate rather than consume roast beef (TLP-4). That means that TLP-1 and TLP-2 can easily cover the workload of TLP-3 and TLP-4. What about TLP-5? Do we need a third small porcine individual just to run home? Of course not. When TLP-1 has finished his work as TLP-3, he can return to base as TLP-5. So all that work, but, in actual fact, only TWO pigs are needed to do it.

When you are a little more experienced, you should try looking at the other possibilities. Could “The Three Little Pigs” have been hired for the job? And what about four?

And my point is? Well, if you are investigating William Brown, Boy No 3553, you may have to look at which William Brown could have been in a certain place at a certain time, and which William Brown could not. Your carefully planned series of events may come crashing down to earth when you realise that your Private Brown has been killed in Libya but buried in Burma. And William Brown is a nightmare name anyway, with any solution highly unlikely.  Boy No 3553 might well have grown up to be Able Seaman Brown (D/JX169407), but then again, he might have become Flight Sergeant Brown (R/111993) or Gunner Brown (1443935) or Lance Corporal Brown (3770585) of the Royal Irish Fusiliers or Stoker 1st Class Brown (D/KX 88989) or Ordinary Signalman Brown (D/JX 269496) or Stoker 1st Class Brown (D/KX 165881) or Corporal Brown (532583) of the Royal Air Force or Gunner Brown (1721406) or Private Brown (13000452) of the Pioneer Corps or Private Brown (7262686 of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

The unusual nature of somebody’s name is a reasonable indicator of a link but it should not really be the only evidence presented. Boy No 5168 was William Henry Goodwin which I thought would be an unusual enough name to link the little boy with any war casualty of that name who might turn up on the CWGC list. In actual fact, just to disprove the point, I managed to find two different William Henry Goodwins, neither of whom attended the High School.
The first one was wounded in Libya in North Africa but he lived to tell the tale (WHG-1). The second one was on a different list because he was killed in North Africa. He is buried in the Alexandria War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt (WHG-2). Which one was Boy No 5168? Was it just one of them?
Or was it both of them, as WHG-1 was first wounded in Libya, and then, as WHG-2, a few months later in a second incident, was hit a second time by machine gun fire, killed, and then buried in Egypt?

Or was it neither of them, because there were actually three individuals? One was wounded in Libya (WHG-1), one was killed in Egypt (WHG-2) and one stayed at home and spent the whole of the Second World War managing a fish and chip shop in Basford so that he never turned up in military records (WHG-3).

Supporting details are absolutely crucial.

Let’s continue with the WHG-community as an example. Simple question. Can we be certain that WHG-1 and WHG-2 and WHG-3 are all different people without supporting details? And contrariwise, can we be certain that they are all the same person without supporting details? Well, in a word. NO. We can’t. In fact, we can’t be certain of anything.

That’s why we examined those little pigs. In the WHG-community, at least one person has to go to North Africa and if he does, then he can be killed but he can’t spend all six years of the conflict in Basford managing his chip shop. Even if he does change his name to Billy to avoid military service:

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Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School, Writing

Renegade Football at the High School (4)

In the Spring Term of 1915 more than fifty or sixty boys began to turn up for rugby practice every single Wednesday and Saturday at the High School’s Sports Ground in Mapperley Park. “Welcome Back O Orange Arrow” :

This is the sport they were learning. Notice the oval ball:

So far the school was not playing any fixtures but merely learning the game. Official matches began in the Christmas Term of 1915 but the First XV were forced to anticipate their first ever victory for quite some time. One heavy defeat came at Newark Magnus School by 0-43. When they played the return game against Newark, in very poor weather, much was made of the fact that they lost by only 0-8, the team’s best performance so far in the new sport of rugby. Their best quality seems to have been their sportsmanship and they played at least one game without conceding a single penalty. Here’s a rugby game from long, long ago, before anybody thought of playing with a ball:

The Second XV found life equally difficult but much of it was their own fault. The whole lot of them were what Philip Larkin would one day call “Losers, loblolly-men, louts” :

“….the fly in the ointment this term has been the very irregular amount of keenness shown in the Second Game. There are far too many hefty fellows in the Upper part of the School who prefer to spend their half holidays idling about, perchance frequenting picture palaces, or doing something equally futile…It is not as if these fellows spent their afternoons in some profitable pursuit ; that might be mistaken, but it would be to a certain extent excusable. They simply waste their time.”

The first victories for both teams came in the Christmas Term of 1916 when the First XV won five of its six matches. Here is one of the earliest photographs of the High School First XV I could find. It is the team in 1926 and “Guts” Kennard stands on the left and the Groundsman, Mr Albert Onions is on the right:

Here is the team for 1929:

We know who the players are in this photograph:

Back row: BF Sander, MH Pockson, HR Lawrence, TC Doar, GB Green, LCS Sutton, AH Bowman, NH Baker, Mr Kennard

Middle row: CF Carr, AG Payne, JT Thompson, AS Hancock (Captain), RP Lawrence, AV Spencer

Front row: JR Bignall, G Cooke

This is a photograph of the earliest rugby match I could find, played at Valley Road Playing Fields on Thursday, October 6th 1932. The First XV played Mr R A Palmer’s XV, but lost by 0-18:

I did mention in previous posts about this subject, though, the fact that: “The boys, by a substantial majority, would have opted for football.” instead of making the change to rugby. Not that that was enough to persuade the boys actually to attend football practices, of course.

Football, though, always seems to have appealed to the rebellious nature of the boys, especially when rugby took over as the Chosen Sport. Even when football was a school sport, though, some of the younger boys wanted more of it, and they were quite prepared to break the rules of the High School to achieve that aim. The first incident occurred on Saturday, November 21st 1908, and shocked the School Prefects to the core. We’ll see how that came about and why the Prefects had to hold an emergency meeting, another time.

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The problems with researching World War Two (2)

Last time, I wrote about what problems may be caused when the wonderful website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission contains no details whatsoever about a particular individual, other than the date of his death:

The name of his regiment, by the way, is of little help. Men were switched between regiments and battalions all the time. It would give you a very large shove, in, probably, the right direction, but you could never be 100% water tight sure.

If all you have is the name and the date of death, I suppose that you could try to find a website that has all the past issues of local newspapers in Britain. Hopefully, you might find Fred Walker in the Deaths section for May 22nd 1946 onwards. But how would you know which newspaper to look in? You would have to try all of the Nottingham ones and then perhaps Mansfield and then perhaps Newark. But what if Fred’s family had moved to Durham after he left the High School at the age of seven? Or Tobermory? Or Armagh? Or, as one did, Paraguay?

The second major problem is that any possibly helpful supporting details about the individual serviceman can be almost impossible to come by. So difficult, in fact, that the whole situation soon becomes an impossible one.

This is because detailed service records after 1922 are still, ninety years after World War Two, accessible only to a direct relative, such as a son or a grandson. And these records are all held in the steely grip of the Ministry of Defence:

To take my own experiences as an example, I decided to buy access to my Dad’s records of his service in the RAF.

I had to send them his death certificate and my own birth certificate, to prove that he was dead and that I was his son. Both of them had to be the original documents, because photocopies were not allowed. I also had to send them a large sum of money. Here’s my Dad, ready to take on the Führer:

And what I got back contained very little indeed of any consequence, although it did make me think of studying for “GCSE Abbreviations (Paper 1 : RAF)”.  The abbreviations included:

“S/GCA”,  “P/R”,  “NVC”,  “A3B”,  “3RC”,  16.B.C.”,  “B/X”,  “S.F.U”,  “W/Mech”,  “W/T Equip”,  “X”, “H”, “HH”,  “HHH”,  “1.S.S.” or perhaps “I.S.S.”,  “S/GCA”,  “2 GCA Unit”  and “15 R.C.”.

Just imagine. All that palaver to get the records and when you get them you can’t understand them.

And that isn’t the only problem  with accessing the records of an individual serviceman. In 1940,  just to provide the splendid celebratory pink icing on the top of the researcher’s celebration cake, heavy bombing by the Luftwaffe destroyed up to 60% of all the war records in existence up to that point.

And what the Luftwaffe missed, the various fire brigades gave a damn good soaking to make most of it completely unusable;

And that’s not all. The 1931 National Census was completely destroyed by fire on Saturday, December 19th 1942. All of its documents were being stored in a building at Hayes in Middlesex.

This catastrophe cannot be blamed on the naughty Luftwaffe though. It was just an ordinary fire, although it is difficult to believe that storing huge amounts of furniture right next to tons of census paperwork was a particularly clever move.

At all times, there were six paid firewatchers on duty in the building but it is now known that some of them were smokers and that at least one of them threw a lighted cigarette stub down on the floor at one point. That was not a particularly clever move either.

Don’t be downhearted though. Other countries are just as fond of a nice welcoming fire. A substantial proportion of the USA’s 1890 census went up in smoke. And the Irish! Well, it’s almost unbelievable!

The Irish censuses for 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851 were all burned by a large fire at the Public Records Office. Oscar Wilde was Irish. And what was it he said?

“To burn one census may be regarded as a misfortune.

To burn two censuses looks like carelessness.

To burn three censuses might be regarded as third time unlucky,

But to burn four censuses may well be the work of

Der man ‘imself,

Art’ur Brown”

 

 

 

 

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