Category Archives: The High School

In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Five) Finished at last !!!

Well, it has finally happened. After something like eight years of research and writing up, the fifth and final volume of “In the Footsteps of the Valiant” is complete and published and ready to be purchased…….

I have always said that my main intention was to get away from a list of war casualties which was just a surname and a set of initials displayed on a wall. I wanted to portray the High School’s war dead as young men with, perhaps, wives, families, houses, jobs, and, above all, their own lives to lead. Lives which they were prepared to sacrifice in the cause of freedom, to stop a madman whose crazed ideas would have transformed the entire world into his very own vale of tears.

No less an intention was the idea of trying to establish, once and for all, just how many war casualties the High School had. From around eighty, I have now pushed the number up to around 120.  Volume Five contains the detailed story of 22 High School casualties of World War Two, along with two men who gave their lives for their country during the following decade. And don’t forget, incidentally, that all five volumes have been deliberately constructed to contain the same amount of material as all of the others. Furthermore, that material is, overall, of the same quality as all the other volumes. No single book is full of exciting stories of derring-do, at the expense of another volume devoid of all excitement. I took great care to make that the case.

The men concerned in Volume 5 are :

Thomas Arthur Bird, Douglas Arthur Burgass, John Stuart Burnside, George Vernon Carlin, Frank Leonard Corner, George Edward Dance, John Arthur Finking, Bernard William Grocock, George Norman Hancock, Lewis Alan Hofton, John Mayo, Arthur Mellows, Roy Faulkner Newell, Herbert Temple Nidd, John Ebblewhite Paling, William Palmer, Peter Frederick Paulson, Ivan Roy James Perkins, Kenneth Walter Sansom, William Henry Shaw, John Aubrey Starkey, Leslie Hambleton Taylor, Peter Vernon and Ian Leslie Wilkinson.

Here are Messrs Frank Corner, the First XI cricket team scorer, John Mayo, First XV player, Arthur Mellows, First XI cricketer, and Peter Paulson, of 277 Battery (City of Nottingham) 68 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, killed by enemy fire as the Germans captured Tobruk.

Frank Corner:

John Mayo:

Arthur Mellows

And Peter Paulson

And here is Bernard William Grocock, shot down by Oberleutnant Helmut Lent of 6/Nachtgeschwader 1, the second greatest night fighter ace of all time.

John Aubrey Starkey, killed at HMS Bambara in Ceylon, as he flew his Grumman Hellcat fighter :

And Ian Leslie Wilkinson, First XV rugby player and First XI cricketer :

And Herbert Temple Nidd, surely the most colourful Old Nottinghamian of them all, a man who worked on every single one of the great North Atlantic liners of the 1930s, and whose understanding of the rule “Only one wife at a time” seems to have have been woefully deficient. And that may well go for his father, too.

They died in many different places. In the Denmark Strait, facing the Bismarck. In an Italian prison camp. Fighting Rommel in Tunisia. Shot by guerillas in Ethiopia. In the Netherlands, clearing the Scheldt Estuary of Germans. Crossing the Rhine only weeks from the end of the war. And in aircraft. Over Duisburg in a Lancaster. In a Gloster Meteor. In a Whitley over Staffordshire. In a Whitley over Berlin.  In a Liberator over Tripoli in Libya. And most interesting, the POW who died, or was perhaps murdered, on his “Long March”, as, in 1945, the Germans marched their prisoners hundreds of miles westwards in deep snow, away from the Russians. What a tale he had to tell. Other men from his camp had been stationed right next to Auschwitz and had watched carefully what the Germans were doing. Alas, had he survived, he might well have added his testimony to the prosecution’s case.

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I also discovered the only direct remembrance left behind by any of our Old Nottinghamians. Peter Vernon died at the age of 23 from an illness contracted in the North Atlantic on H.M. Motor Minesweeper 260. Battered ceaselessly by extra strong winds and freezing rain, Peter probably died in the Invergordon Royal Navy Auxiliary Hospital in northern Scotland. Before he went off to war, his father had already told him of his plan to rename their butcher’s shop, “A.Vernon & Son High Class Butcher”. A huge new sign was painted on the side of the building. Perhaps it was going to be a surprise when Peter came home on leave, although it certainly didn’t work out like that. Alas, we will never know.

What we can do, though, is to go to Ilkeston Road in Nottingham, and, at its junction with Stansfield Street, see the sign, which is still there. The only part of Peter Vernon’s life still remaining alive in our world……………………..

 

Any royalties generated by these books will be split between “ABF The Soldiers’ Charity” and the Royal Air Forces Association.

Let’s finish with two poems.

One by Keith Doncaster of Maples’ House and the Fifth Form:

“Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.”

And one, almost a thousand years older, from Wace, slightly altered:

“Eventually

All things decline

Everything falters, dies and ends

Towers cave in, walls collapse

Roses wither, horses stumble

Cloth grows old, men expire

Iron rusts and timber rots away

Nothing made by hand will last.

I understand the truth

That all must die, both clerk and lay

And the fame of men now dead

Will quickly be forgotten,

Unless the clerk takes up his pen

And brings their deeds to life again

 

I say and will say that I am

John Knifton from the City of Nottingham”

 

 

 

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The Carvings in the Tower (9)

Richard Arthur Palmer was the only Master (teacher) among the young men who, one day in May 1940, climbed up into the High School Tower, and carved their names and their message into the stone of one of the windowsills:

Richard Palmer worked as a Master at the High School from 1922-1958, although he had originally arrived as a ten year old boy on September 18th 1913. His father was a commercial traveller, Arthur James Palmer, of 64 Ebury Road, between Sherwood Rise and Hucknall Road.

His early career was very spectacular: having already been awarded a Sir Thomas White Junior Scholarship, he won the Mathematical Set 2a Prize, the 3A Form Prize, the Mathematical Set 3a Prize, Mr JD Player’s Prize for Arithmetic Junior, the Mathematical Set 4a Prize, the Mathematical Set 5a Prize, the Science Set 5a Prize, the Fifth Form A Prize, the Mathematical Set 6b Prize, Mr JD Player’s Prize for Arithmetic Senior,  and passed his Lower School Certificate with six First Class passes. Richard passed the London University Matriculation Examination in the First Division, became a Prefect and was promoted to Sergeant in the OTC. Already awarded a Foundation Scholarship, he also won a Sir Thomas White Senior Scholarship, the Mathematical Set 6a Prize, a Silver Medal for Mathematics and Dr Gow’s Prize for Geometry. Richard passed his Higher School Certificate and the London University Intermediate Science Examination and became the Captain of Rugby, the Captain of Cricket and the Captain of the School. In the OTC he won the Certificate “A” Prize and became the Acting Company Sergeant Major. In 1920-1921, he won a second Silver Medal for Mathematics, the CG Boyd Prize, the Mathematical Set 6a Prize, again, and was Captain of Cricket, again.

What a list!

Not surprisingly, he won a Scholarship for Mathematics at Queens’ College, Cambridge. Here is their Mathematical Bridge. All the stresses are calculated, and the bridge is constructed entirely without nails or screws and will only fall down if exactly 3.142 people stand on it in the middle. These lot are hopeless:

For family reasons, though, Richard was unable to go to Cambridge, so the Headmaster, Dr Turpin, immediately offered him a post on the staff, and he started to teach in the Summer Term of 1922, after spending the Easter Term as Captain of the School, again.

As a Master he was a Vice-President of the Debating Society, he commanded the Officers’ Training Corps, and while Mr Chamberlain was at Munich in 1938, Mr Palmer, with his colleague, Mr “Uncle Albert” Duddell, organised and helped dig a huge maze of zigzag trenches across the lawns at the front of the school. Let’s hope that they remembered to tell the Headmaster what they were going to do!

Mr Palmer played for the Staff Cricket Team and, during the war, he helped coach the School’s First XV rugby and First XI cricket. In 1941 he became Senior Mathematics Master for a short time. The following year, he went back to command the Officers’ Training Corps, became House Master of Mellers’ House and the Master in Charge of the Playing Fields. Here’s the OTC in 1941:

Mr Palmer spent all of his summer holidays from 1940-1949 organising the wartime School Harvest Camps, where he did all the cooking, and worked from 05:30 to 23:00:

Outside the School Mr Palmer commanded a company of the Nottingham Home Guard.

His character was very quiet, modest and unassuming, but he was always very keen and enthusiastic in everything he did. Mr Palmer was an extremely dutiful man and he showed wonderful loyalty to the School. He did not value material rewards and he prized above all his Territorial Army Decoration and the gold watch presented by his friends, the farmers of Car Colston, who had allowed him to run the School Harvest Camps on their land. Mr Palmer had what was, at the time, a record of forty four years’ unbroken association with the School. That record has since been broken.

He retired to his house at 28 Bingham Road in Nottingham, but he passed away after a long illness on January 10th 1958. His obituary in the Nottinghamian said that:

the School can have had no finer son or more faithful servant than Richard Palmer”

which is why I have written about him in such detail, lest, disappointed, he should turn away on his heels, and walk off into the mists of time for ever.

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The Carvings in the Tower (8)

John Michael Taverner Saunders was born on March 14th 1922. His father, Mr W Saunders was a commercial traveller, and the family lived at Park View in Redhill, a suburb of Arnold to the east of the Mansfield Road:

John was one of the young men who carved their name and message on the window sill in the High School’s Tower:

John entered the High School on September 18th 1930 as Boy No 5459.

He was only eight years of age.

He passed through a succession of teachers and forms. First Form D with Miss Webb. Here is the best photograph of her I could find:

Then it was First Form B with Miss Baker. And First Form A with Mr Day and the School Nature Study Prize. Then the Second Form A with Mr “Tubby” Hardwick, badly gassed in WW1. Third Form A with Mr Gregg and Upper Fourth Form A with Mr “Beaky” Bridge, a very strange man. Here he is on the left:

Then came the Lower Fifth Form A with Mr “Fishy” Roche and then the Upper Fifth Form Classical with Mr “Uncle Albert” Duddell. Here he is:

Teachers and forms pass by with the years. Firstly the History Sixth Form with Mr Gregg, and then, in his second year, Mr Beeby. And very soon, May 20th-21st 1940, John was looking for German parachutists and carving his name.

John received four different scholarships because his parents sometimes struggled with the fees. He was a Dr.Gow Memorial (Special) Exhibitioner and an Agnes Mellers Scholar and a Foundation Scholar and the taxpayer also awarded him a Nottinghamshire Senior Scholarship.

His prize record included the SE Cairns Memorial Prize, Mr Durose’s Prize for History, the Cusin’s Memorial Prize for History, the Bowman-Hart Prize for Music and a Bronze Medal for Reading. He was a Prefect and in the Junior Training Corps he became the Company Quarter-Master Sergeant and then Company Sergeant Major. In sport, he won his First XV Colours at rugby as:

“an improved player and solid scrimmager. A front row forward who gets through a great deal of hard and useful work in the course of a game.”

Here’s his final record from the School List:

John left the High School in July 1941 and eventually finished up with the Royal Artillery. They, of course, had a very large selection of guns, including these giants, designed to bombard the enemy from long range :

This smaller weapon is an anti-tank gun:

And this is an anti-aircraft gun :

John was involved in fighting through the Netherlands, as the British Army tried to rescue the paratroops who had captured the Arnhem bridge but were now surrounded and cut off . Did he realise that fellow Old Nottinghamian, Tony Lloyd, lay in Kate ter Horst’s house in the town, one of 57 paratroopers given a temporary burial in a mass grave in the house’s garden?

And then John played his part in Operation Plunder, the crossing of the River Rhine at a small town called Wesel, all of it organised behind an impenetrable week long smoke screen. Did John Saunders ever realise that two of his schoolmates would die within just a few miles from him? Arthur Mellows (1931-35) and John Hickman (1934-37)? Here’s what was left  of Wesel at the end of World War Two:

John survived the war, but despite my best efforts, I could find no more mention of him until February 12th 2013 when he passed away peacefully in his sleep. On March 1st 2013, he was cremated at Macclesfield Crematorium with all donations in lieu of flowers to be made to SPANA (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad). He left behind him three daughters, six grandchildren and one great granddaughter.

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The Carvings in the Tower (7)

Richard Furley Mellor was one of the young men who, in May 1940, climbed up into the Tower of Nottingham High School, and left their names and message carved into the stone of one of the windowsills:

Richard lived at 26 Ramsdale Crescent in Sherwood.

He was the son of a lace manufacturer called Edwin Mellor who had been a high-flying factory owner in Nottingham around 1900. In 1908 Edwin became the Sheriff of Nottingham and in 1912, the Mayor. Richard, born on April 7th 1922, entered the High School on September 18th 1930. He left in March 1937 but returned in September 1938, leaving for good on July 29th 1941, more or less a year after he carved his name and message on the stone window sill in the High School Tower.

While he was at the High School, he had three different scholarships.  He also won a State Bursary in Science. Richard was a School Prefect and a corporal in the Junior Training Corps. He eventually finished by winning an Open Exhibition and the Kitchener Scholarship to read Science at Jesus College, Oxford:

During the war he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, having entered the service via the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He married Dorothy Mary Mellor in 1946, and stayed on in the Navy after the war, rising to the rank of Commander. From 1978 onwards, he was an aide-de-camp to the present Queen.

On an unknown date he was awarded the VRD, which is the Volunteer Officers’ Decoration and is awarded to Officers of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. From 1908-1947, the medal compelled you to have the initials “VD” after your name, but after many complaints this was eventually changed to “VRD”. The decoration was usually given to part-time commissioned officers in the United Kingdom’s Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve after twenty years of service as efficient and thoroughly capable officers. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for June 17th 1995, Richard was admitted “To be an Ordinary Member of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire:

 

At the time he was Vice Chairman of the Avon Family Health Services Authority and he was rewarded “for his services to Health Care”.

Richard died peacefully in 2010 at the age of 87.

 

 

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (2)

Ivan Keith Doncaster, usually known as Keith, began his education at Wellington Street Infants’ School in Long Eaton, built as recently as 1911 for 320 girls and 320 infants.

Keith left his local school and moved to the High School on May 2nd 1933. Just nine years of age, he was Boy No 5701 and he went straight into Hardy’s House and First Form C with Miss Richmond. There were 28 boys in the Form and Keith, very much a latecomer to the school year, finished an extremely creditable tenth. Here is a  fairly poor picture of Miss Richmond:

The following year it was First Form B with Miss Baker. Of the 21 boys, Keith came 11th. Here is Miss Baker, in between Mr Kennard and Mr Bridge, a pedagogical rock and a hard place.

Here’s a picture of Miss Baker a few years later:

The next year Keith was in First Form A with Mr Day, who, tragically, was to die of pneumonia on March 25th 1935, just before the end of the Easter Term. Mr Page took over his form. During that same year of 1934-1935, Miss Richmond had already passed away from pneumonia on January 7th. Keith finished fifth of the sixteen in the Form and also won the Preparatory School Drawing Prize.

Outside the classroom, Keith was in the Preparatory XI team for the “Preparatory Schools Spelling League Competition No 23”, although I couldn’t find out how he fared.

In 1935-1936, Keith was with Mr Hardwick in Second Form A. Here is Mr Hardwick in 1959, a picture taken by the Reverend Stephens:

Keith was now in a Main School house, Maples’, rather than Hardy’s House. There were 28 in the Form and Keith came 21st, not a disastrous result in a form which contained seven Entrance Scholars and Foundation Scholars and the winner of the Second Forms French Prize, Peter Robert Scott. This year, Keith found true fame by having a short poem featured in the School Magazine. It was entitled “Poetry” and this is how it went:

Poetry

“I’m not a Poet

And I know it.

The next line will take some time.

Now I’ve started,

All thoughts have parted

From my head,

So now I think I’ll go to bed.”

Next time, another poem published in the Nottinghamian. You will not be able to read it without putting on your salty sea dog accent. Or even, perhaps, pirate.

 

 

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The Carvings in the Tower (6)

David John Furley was one of the young men who, in May 1940, had climbed up into the Tower of the High School and carved their names and their message on a stone window sill:

And here’s the Tower, pictured on a rather dark day between the two world wars:

David Furley had entered the High School on September 18th 1930 and he left on the last day of the Summer Term, July 30th 1940. The son of a hosiery manufacturer, Athelstan Willis Furley, he lived at 18 Markham Crescent, 50 yards from where Richard  Milnes lived in Langar Close, in that triangle of streets where Valley Road meets the Mansfield Road. Here’s his house today. You can just see a window behind the foliage:

David was an extremely clever young man. He received various School scholarships, a minimum of a dozen prizes or other awards and became the Captain of the School. In the OTC he was Company Sergeant Major and in cricket, he was a regular player for the First XI, winning his colours during the 1940 season. He left to read Classics at Jesus College, Cambridge with a £100 Open Scholarship and an £80 City of Nottingham Scholarship. Nearly all of his Classics Masters were Cambridge men, Mr Beeby (Jesus College), Mr Duddell (Gonville & Caius College) and Mr Gregg (St Catharine’s College). Only Mr Roche had gone elsewhere (London University).

Here is  the list of all his prizes, scholarships and awards, as they appeared in the School List:

During the war, David became a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery Company, serving in Bombay in India and then in Burma. Here they are, in their ceremonial uniforms:

He then returned to Cambridge University to complete his degree, and became an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College.

In 1947, he began lecturing at University College, London, soon becoming “one of the 20th century’s outstanding scholars of Greco-Roman philosophy” and soon afterwards a professor at Princeton University in the United States. In collaboration with Cooper, Frede, Nehamas, Penner and Vlastos, he helped build Princeton’s reputation as a world-leading centre for the study of ancient philosophy. This is Princeton:

His books on philosophy were widely known for their brilliance and their brevity. Most famous were “Two studies in the Greek Atomists”, “Self-movers”, (15 pages), “The rainfall example in Physics II.8”, (6 pages), “Lucretius and the Stoics” (20 pages) and “Galen: On Respiration and the Arteries”. He planned to write his final book, “The Greek Cosmologists”, in two volumes, but after Volume I appeared in 1987, Volume II unfortunately never came to fruition. His best articles and essays were all published together, however, in “Cosmic Problems”. For many years, David was:

“widely regarded within the ancient philosophy community as one of the subject’s most brilliant practitioners”.

Virtually everything he produced is a gem, and many have become classics. There are many who have argued that he was the cleverest pupil the High School has ever produced.

David Sedley wrote an obituary for David Furley, which lists the books he wrote and their length. On one occasion, apparently, he launched his newest book at a conference, and began by handing out copies to everyone. The book was fewer than 20 pages, but, because of David’s well-known intellect, nobody laughed when they first saw how short it was. They read it, and acknowledged that what he had written was a work of genius:

“The most recurrent motif of his work was the systematic contrast between two radically opposed philosophical and scientific worldviews, atomism and Aristotelianism, his analyses typically shedding equal light on both traditions. The leading exhibit is undoubtedly his brilliant 1967 book “Two Studies in the Greek Atomists.” ….A model of lucid and judicious scholarship, this monograph did much, perhaps more than any other single book, to bring Epicureanism into the philosophical mainstream.”

“Furley’s work proved seminal in his genius for writing a short but incisive article which provoked an entire micro-industry of debate. His classic “Self-movers”, a mere 15 pages in the original 1978 publication, became the focus of a subsequent conference at Pittsburgh, which in turn led to a multi-authored volume.

“Another such case is “The rainfall example in Physics II.8” (1986), which argued with amazing concision – it weighed in at just six printed pages – that, contrary to the current orthodoxy, Aristotle in fact believed that rainfall is purposive, and not merely the mechanical outcome of meteorological processes.”

A third case is “Lucretius and the Stoics” (1966). Lucretius was one of Furley’s heroes. The article, running to an impressive 20 pages, presented a major challenge to the orthodoxy that Lucretius’s polemics are typically directed against Stoic rivals. Resistance to this article’s findings has been widespread in Lucretian circles, but it still has its defenders, and the debate remains evenly balanced.”

Here’s Lucretius in an 18th century drawing:

And here’s Furley at varying ages:

 

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I just wish that I understood anything of what Professor Furley had written. I even thought that “Lucretius and the Stoics” was a 1950s Rock and Roll group.

 

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The Sandiacre Screw Company (1)

This is the first of  twelve posts which will tell the story of Keith Doncaster. They will appear over the course of, probably, a year, and I would encourage you to read them all. Keith was just one of the 119 young men from Nottingham High School who perished in the fight to save England and freedom during World War 2. I have found out more about Keith than any other casualty. What I did find is a wonderful advertisement for the evils of war, as what may well have been just one cannon shell from a night fighter, ultimately, deprived thousands of people of their livelihoods, in one of the very few large factories in a small town in Derbyshire called Sandiacre.

Ivan Keith Doncaster was born on October 17th 1923. His father was Raymond Doncaster who was an engineer. Ray’s father was Sir Robert Doncaster, the founder of the Sandiacre Screw Company, one of the biggest firms in the Nottingham area, with enormous and extensive premises on Sandiacre’s Bradley Street:

Here’s one of their adverts:

And a map shows how big the factory was and how many people it must have provided with employment. The orange arrow points to only some of the pale brownish area occupied by the factory. Nottingham is to the east:

The Doncaster family lived in a very large house in Longmoor Lane in Sandiacre, a small town of some nine thousand inhabitants, almost equidistant from Derby and Nottingham and to the east of Junction 25 of the M1.

Keith’s mother was Evelyn Mary Fell. Keith’s father Ray Doncaster served in the army during the First World War, eventually becoming a Lieutenant in the Army of Occupation of the Rhine. His elder brother, Robert Ivan Doncaster, had been killed in action on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916, only 50 days after he arrived in France. He is buried in Authuille, three miles north of the town of Albert.

When he returned in 1919, Ray became Assistant Works Manager of his father’s company. He then became Works Manager, eventually replacing his father as Managing Director. He retired during the 1960s. It does not take a fortune teller to work out that, had he lived, Ray’s only son, Ivan Keith Doncaster, would himself one day have acceded to that position and the factory would have gone on, providing money, food and accommodation for countless numbers of people not just in the town, but from the densely populated area around. Instead, Keith did not come back from his war in Bomber Command and, during the 1960s, the company just disappeared, taking perhaps thousands of jobs with it. And just one cannon shell would have been enough to bring Keith Doncaster’s Lancaster down.

Here and there a few red brick buildings remain. And a few walls. They are all that is left of the Sandiacre Screw Company nowadays:

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The Carvings in the Tower (5)

Robert Michael Gunther (line 5 of the picture below) was one of the young men who, in May 1940, had climbed up into the Tower of the High School and carved their names and their message on a window sill. When the group did this, they could have had no idea how the war would turn out, whether the Germans would cross the Channel and occupy the country, or whether the British forces would manage to fight them off :

Robert lived at a house called “The Haven” in Burton Joyce, a village which is to the north of Nottingham, on the River Trent. He entered the High School on April 24th 1924. Robert won Mr Player’s Prize for Arithmetic (Intermediate) in 1938 and passed his School Certificate in 1939, just a year before he carved his name and message on the stone window sill in the School Tower.

In the OTC, he became a Lance Corporal and then a Corporal in 1938. He won the Certificate ‘A’ prize in 1939 and soon became Company Quarter-Master Sergeant and then Company Sergeant Major. In 1940, he was the most efficient senior NCO and the Commander of the Most Efficient House Platoon. A School Prefect, Robert won his First XV Colours and Cap, and captained the school rugby XV in 1940-1941:

“An exceptionally good leader, he also has shown himself outstanding in all departures (sic) of forward play.”

Robert left the High School on Christmas Eve, 1940. He joined the RNVR (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) and by 1942 he was a member of the Fleet Air Arm. He was trained at HMS Kipanga in Kenya and then at HMS Ukussa in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He then joined 810 Squadron. The motto means “Like lightning from the sky”:

810 Squadron, Robert included, flew off the aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious:

At the end of the academic year, in July 1944, the Nottinghamian carried the following message:

“We regret to announce that the following Old Boys have recently been reported “Missing”, and we hope that good news of their safety will soon be received: RM Gunther (1934-40) and FL Corner (1932-39)”.

The Nottinghamian said that Bob Gunther had disappeared during a routine flight over the Indian Ocean in June 1944. In actual fact, he had been shot down while acting as observer in a Fairey Barracuda during a bombing raid on Port Blair in the Andaman Islands.

The Andaman Islands are here:

Here is Port Blair:

And here is a Fairey Barracuda, which could carry combinations of a torpedo, bombs or rockets :

Bob and his pilot, Basil Willington Aldwell, were missing for 15 months. But Bob was not dead. The brutal Japanese had him, and his pilot, in their tender care. From July 13th 1944-August 27th 1945, he was imprisoned at Ofuna near Tokyo before spending two days at Shenagawa. When released he spent a long, long, time in hospital, before he was able to return home. Here are two typical victims of what was, ultimately, Japanese racism:

At Christmas 1945, another notification was published in the Nottinghamian:

“Sub-lieutenant RM Gunther RNVR (1934-1940) who disappeared on an operational flight over the Indian Ocean, in June 1944, is reported safe and on his way home. No news had been heard of him for some 15 months, and we are delighted to know of his safety.”

The extraordinary story also appeared in the Nottingham Evening News:

“One of the first Nottingham people to get a cablegram announcing the release of prisoners of war in Japan is Mrs KL Gunther of 37 Staunton Drive, Sherwood, who today was one of the first in Nottingham to receive news that her only son was returning home. His telegram read “Safe in Allied hands. Hope to be home soon. Writing. Address letters and telegrams to Liberated POW, c/o Australian Army Base Post Office, Melbourne.”

Sub Lieutenant RN Gunther of the Fleet Air Arm had been liberated. He had survived the Pacific war, a theatre where it was only too easy to lose your life.

Frank Leonard Corner, the other name in the Nottinghamian magazine of Summer 1944, was not so lucky.

At 00:25 on June 7th 1944, operating as a flight engineer, he had taken off from RAF Metheringham in an Avro Lancaster Mark III of 106 Squadron. It carried the squadron letters “Z-NH” and had a serial number of NE150. “Z-Zebra” was tasked with attacking bridges near Caen in the immediate aftermath of D-Day. It carried 18 x 500 lb bombs in its capacious bomb bay. Bombing from 3,000 feet and lower, at around 03:00 hours, the Lancasters were hit very severely by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, where a worker at the railway yard remembers vividly how the German gunners celebrated the fact that they had shot down a bomber, which must surely have been “Z-Zebra”. Frank was just twenty years old when he died. His service number was 222039 and his parents had by now moved to Whiston near Rotherham in South Yorkshire.

Frank was the scorer for the school’s First XI cricket team in 1938. In the photograph below he sits cross legged in front of the team:

Three of that season’s cricketers were killed in the war, as well as the team scorer.

Boy No 4 on the front row, George Colin Brown, of the Second Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment, was killed in Normandy on July 8th 1944, as 7 Platoon helped to clear the village of Hérouville-Saint-Clair of Germans.

“We slowly crept forward across open fields. As we broke into a trot, the Germans came out of holes in the ground like rats and unleashed hell. Mortars rained down on us and machine gun bullets were flying everywhere. Ahead of me, my platoon commander, Lieutenant Brown and his batman were killed.”

George Colin Brown was just 24 years old when he died. He was a young man whose….

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

Boy No 5 on the back row, Ian Leslie Wilkinson, was killed on January 31st 1944, after taking off on a routine training flight from RAF Tilstock in an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V of 81 OTU, serial number LA 765. They crashed about 30 miles away near Dilhorne, a tiny village in Staffordshire. Ian was 24 years old and he was training to be a bomber pilot.

Boy No 6 on the back row, John Richard Mason, was killed on Friday, April 16th 1943, near RCAF Station Assiniboia in southern Saskatchewan in Canada. Sergeant Mason, a Pilot Instructor, was instructing Trainee Pilot, Leading Aircraftman John Hugh Evans, when their Fairchild Cornell Mark I, serial number FJ654, crashed into the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

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Why no statue ? (6) John Player

Last time, I was talking about how the High School’s most philanthropic Old Boy, John Dane Player, had set up wonderful leisure facilities for his tobacco company’s employees. All kind of sports were catered for and there was even a company newspaper called “Navy Cuttings”. John Player’s generosity didn’t stop there, though. Mr and Mrs Player did not have any children of their own and they donated extremely generous sums of money to the Nottingham Children’s Hospital, as well as to the Nottingham General Hospital. In 1933, for example, he donated £25,000 to the General Hospital (£1.8 million today). In 1927, he had already given a total of £50,000 to extend Nottingham Children’s Hospital (£3.2 million today). Here’s the original Children’s Hospital, on Chestnut Grove, just off the Mansfield Road :

At the Children’s Hospital, John Player served on the management committee, attending weekly meetings and visiting the children almost daily for the rest of his life. When he died in 1950, he had donated £180,000 to the Children’s Hospital (worth an absolute minimum of £6.2 million in today’s money, and considerably more in real terms as the buying power of the pound was much greater in years gone by.)

Here Princess Mary is accompanied by Mr John Player at the opening of the Player Wing on April 30th 1927. You can probably guess who paid for it all:

Away from the hospital donations, Nottingham University received large amounts of money from John Player, who also paid for a great many convalescent homes, churches and church halls, including St. Margaret’s church on Aspley Lane and the village hall at Whatton. Here’s St Margaret’s:

In November 1903, Old Boy, John Dane Player became a Governor of Nottingham High School. His acceptance was typically modest…

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be a Governor of my old School; please convey to the Governing Body my thanks. I much appreciate the honour they have done me.”

His first gift was a cheque for £300 (£36,717 in today’s terms). He soon became one of the founders and main supporters of the Dame Agnes Mellers Lads’ Club.

By 1933, he had paid for several new High School buildings including the Gymnasium and the newly converted Library. He had already paid for the East Block. Then it was a new cycle shed, a Sixth Form darkroom, a junior science laboratory, a second science lecture room and a new cloakroom. He had also bought the Valley Road playing fields for the school and then provided them with a school Assembly Hall. After that he financed the plan whereby the Middle Block was demolished to build new science laboratories as well as a new three storey West Block. Even five years after his death, the North Block was constructed largely due to his generosity. In actual fact, very little of the major building in the school between 1868-1960 was not directly due to the generosity of John Player.

Here’s an aerial view of the High School in the 1950s. If you find the main entrance steps (bottom left, one o’clock from the circular walkway around the war memorial), they lead to the old building from the 1860s, which is roughly a dozen windows wide. The rest is all down to John Player, and the gap in what is, very roughly, the rather angular figure eight of the school, will be filled by the North Block, five years after John Player’s death. Even readers who have never seen the High School might be able to pick out the West Block, the East Block, the Middle Block,  the Assembly Hall and, by a process of elimination, the Gymnasium.

We still have some photographs of the building process. This is the Assembly Hall in the mid-thirties:

The Assembly Hall, incidentally, was never consecrated as a Christian site of worship, and this wise decision allowed it to be used for plays, debates, concerts and functions. It was the Headmaster, Mr Reynolds, who devised the system whereby, if the School Bible was resting on its lectern, then the hall was a Place of Worship, but if it was not there, then the building was being used for secular purposes. Mr Reynolds wanted to call it the Player Hall, but this was resisted by John Player himself, who said that it should not be a “Player’s Hall, but a Workers’ Hall.”

This is the North Block being erected in the late fifties, early sixties:

John Dane Player paid for some of the shiniest floors in the world. Player’s Parquet with a current street value of £8 million:

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Despite his immense wealth, John Dane Player was a very modest man. His own admiration was reserved for the brilliant scholars the High School turned out at that time. On one occasion, he is known to have said to a fellow Old Boy:

“I was no good at school. Were you? ”

Those brilliant scholars are largely gone and forgotten, of course, and it was they who benefited from the High School, rather than vice versa. Indeed, one is tempted to wonder where the High School would be now, were it not for John Dane Player.

Incidentally, I have been unable to trace the first two photographs. If anybody has a genuine problem with them, then please contact me.

 

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The Carvings in the Tower (4)

On October 27th and November 12th, I wrote about the life of Richard Vernon Milnes, one of the more senior members of the OTC (Officers Training Corps). In May 1940, a group of eight of them all climbed up to the School Tower and carved their names and their message on a stone window sill. I told Richard’s story as far as July 30th 1940, the last day of the Summer Term, when he left the High School for ever at the end of the six years he spent there.

When Richard walked out of the High School for that last time on that particular date, neither he, nor his friends, could have been particularly sure about how the war would turn out or whether England would be invaded and conquered by Christmas.  Still less did Richard know that he had just 1,281 days left before he died in a place which, at this point, he had never heard of.

Obviously, I should have completed the story of Richard’s by writing about the 1,281 days before his death. But I got it wrong. I was so keen to get on to the next name carved in the stone that I got ahead of myself. I missed out the sad details of Richard’s tragic death.  So accept my apologies, dear reader. And let’s pick up the tale, and read on……..

Soon after he left the High School, Richard married his wife Barbara. Their first daughter was born on January 1st 1944.

Shortly afterwards, Richard applied to become an officer. This desire to serve his country, though, would rob him of his young life. Aged only 21, while “undergoing training”, Richard died of pneumonia, probably in the hospital at Portree, the main town on the Isle of Skye in the Western Scottish Highlands. This was on February 29th 1944. I have found nothing precise about his death and probably never will. Here’s Portree today:

Initially, few men wanted commissions and many men dropped out of the training. Changes were then made to attract men from more humble backgrounds, and to break the mould which said that only the upper classes possessed sufficient brain power to be an officer. The rigidity of the system was quite astonishing. Even in the South Notts Hussars, High School boys were always limited to being just corporals or sergeants. The officers had always been to more illustrious schools in the region such as Repton or Uppingham.

Promises for change had been made, though. Candidates were no longer asked which school they had attended. New leadership activities were used to test out the candidates, with an emphasis on problem solving and command tasks.

Successful applicants were then sent to Officer Cadet Training Units. To improve their physical fitness, these were in the Brecon Beacons or the Scottish Highlands, particularly the Black Cuillins on Skye, which were possibly the most difficult mountains in the whole country:

Many problems occurred with this physical training, which was often in such terrible weather that the men’s health was affected. Cadets frequently suffered from exhaustion. And the constantly cold, wet weather could affect everybody after an entire month in the mountains, hiding in ditches filled with cold water or sleeping in a freezing damp tent. And there were lots of twenty mile marches. And runs up steep hills. And night marches in the pouring rain.

Would-be officers require outstanding qualities but not at the expense of their deaths. Most, though, did not want to be returned to their units and they were completely willing to risk their own lives. And there were deaths. Two 19-year old cadets, for example, drowned in North Wales, trying to cross a river patrolled by “enemy” troops.

During his physical training, Richard Milnes died of pneumonia, one of the greatest killers of the twentieth century.

One other Old Nottinghamian serviceman died of illness during the war, a butcher’s son from Ilkeston Road, named Peter Vernon. He died in the North Atlantic at the age of 23, through “illness contracted during naval operations in northern waters on H.M. Motor Minesweeper 260″, battered ceaselessly by extra strong winds and freezing rain. Peter probably died in the Invergordon Royal Navy Auxiliary Hospital.

Portree and Invergordon are only 90-100 miles apart and Peter died on January 26th 1944, just over a month before Richard Milnes would pass away. It may well have been the same spell of awful weather that killed them both.

Richard Milnes was buried in Stronuirinish Cemetery near Portree. He was 21.

 

 

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