Tag Archives: Battle of the Somme

“The Memorial: Beyond The Anzac Legend” with Dr Neil Oliver

 

Recently I have been watching a TV series with Neil Oliver about the Australian War Memorial in Canberra:

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It was called “The Memorial: Beyond The Anzac Legend” and it was on History Channel.
Here is the link.

The programmes examine what is being done to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, and in particular from an Australian point of view, the centenary of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

This is an extremely moving set of five programmes and in my opinion by far the best work that Dr Oliver has ever done on television:

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One episode featured the letters of two brothers initially from Manchester, England who then settled in South Australia and became Australians. The elder brother served as Second Lieutenant John Alexander Raws and his younger brother was Lieutenant Robert Goldthorpe Raws. After Gallipoli, they were both sent to France and the disastrous Battle of the Somme.

Robert was to die on either July 28th or 29th 1916 and John was killed shortly afterwards on August 23rd 1916. Their biographical details are available here. Firstly John Raws and then his brother Robert.
What makes it all so interesting is the fact that the letters home from the two officers have been preserved and can be downloaded from this link.

The best thing is to do is to download them as a 164 page PDF document. I actually right clicked the download link on my computer, and then I selected “Save target as”. I could then choose where the letters were downloaded on my computer. I am no computer wizard, and I found that if I just clicked “Download”, I couldn’t find them afterwards. At least two lost copies are just wandering around inside the machine somewhere.

The whole point about these letters is that, for some unknown reason, they came through to the people waiting at home without the censors doing anything about them. I have read a fair amount about the Great War and I have never come across any letters quite like these.

Some of the things said are just unbelievable by the censorship standards of the day. Just to encourage you to take that first step, here are a few extracts, with the page references:

Page 134

July 16, 1916

There is something rather humorous in this situation, when I actually come to it.

John Alexander Raws, who cannot tread upon a worm; who has never struck another human being except in fun; who cannot read of the bravery of others at the front without tears well into his eyes; who cannot think of blood, and mangled bodies, without bodily sickness, this man, I, go forth tomorrow to kill and maim,  murder and ravage.

It is funny.

But I am glad to go. It is what I set out for, and the mission must be fulfilled:

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Pages 136 and 137

How we do think of home, and laugh at the pettiness of our little daily annoyances. We could not sleep, we remember, because of the creaking of the pantry door, all the noise of the tram cars, all the kids playing around and making a row.
Well, we can’t sleep now because six shells are bursting around here every minute, and you can’t get much sleep between them:
Guns are belching out shells, with the most thunderous clap each time;
The ground is shaking with each little explosion;
I am wet, and the ground on which I rest is wet;
My feet are cold. In fact, I’m all cold, with my two skimpy blankets;
I am covered with cold, clotted sweat, and sometimes my person is foul.
I am hungry;
I am annoyed because of the absurdity of bloody war;
I see no chance of anything better for tomorrow, or the day after, or the year
after;
One could go on and on…..
And don’t think I always sleep on the wet ground. I sometimes get a dry bit. And I had a hot bath yesterday, and I am clean-for the time. By the way, while I was having my bath, another officer of his Majesty’s gallant forces was blown to pieces a little way in front. He had just come out of the trenches and was going to have his bath.

page 140

July 25th 1916

I am still alive but living rather a risky existence, what with shells and bullets and bayonets…..

August 4th 1916

I write from the battlefield of the Great Push with thousands of shells passing in a tornado overhead and thousands of unburied dead around me. It seems easy to say that, but you who have not seen it can hardly conceive the awfulness of it all:

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My battalion has been in it for eight days, and one-third of it is left–all shattered at that. And they’re sticking it still, incomparable heroes all. We are lousy, stinking, ragged, unshaven, sleepless. Even when we’re back a bit we can’t sleep for our own guns. I have one puttee, a dead man’s helmet, another dead man’s gas protector, a dead man’s bayonet. My tunic is rotten with other men’s blood and partly splattered with a comrade’s brains.
It is horrible, but why should you people at home not know? Several of my friends are raving mad. I met three offices out in No Man’s Land the other night, all rambling and mad. Poor Devils!

Chateau_Wood_Ypres_1917

page 141

Myself, I am alright. I have had much luck and kept my nerve so far. The awful difficulty is to keep it. The bravest of all often lose it. Courage does not count here. It is all nerve. Once that goes one becomes a gibbering maniac. The noise of our own guns, the enemy shells, and the getting lost in the darkness.
You see this is enemy country. We’re in the remnants of their trenches and wrecked villages, and the great horror of many of us is the fear of being lost with troops at night on the battlefield. We do all our fighting and moving at night and the confusion of passing through a barrage of enemy shells in the dark is pretty appalling . You’ve read of the wrecked villages. Well some of these about here are not wrecked. They are utterly destroyed, so that there are not even skeletons of buildings left. Nothing but a churned mass of  débris, with bricks, stones and girders and bodies pounded to nothing. And forests! There are not even tree trunks left, not a leave or a twig. All is buried and churned up and buried again.
The sad part is that one can see no end of this. If we live tonight we have to go through it tomorrow night and next week and next month. Poor wounded devils you meet on the stretchers are laughing with glee. One cannot blame them. They are getting out of this.

pages 147 and 148

Just before daybreak, an engineer officer out there, who was hopelessly rattled, ordered us to go. The trench was not finished. I took it on myself to insist on the men staying, saying that any man who stopped digging would be shot. We dug on and finished amid a tornado of bursting shells. All the time, mind, the enemy flares are making the whole area almost as light as day. We got away as best we could. I was again in the rear going back, and again we were cut off and lost. We eventually found our way to the right spot. I was buried twice, and thrown down several times–buried with the dead and dying. The ground was covered with bodies in all stages of decay and mutilation, and I would, after struggling free from the earth, pick up a body by me to try to lift him out with me, and find him a decayed corpse. I pulled a head off one man and was covered with blood. The horror was indescribable:

cotrpses_Somme_1916

In the dim misty light of dawn I collected about 50 men and sent them off, mad with terror, on the right track for home. Then two brave fellows stayed behind and helped me with the only unburied wounded man we could find. The journey down with him was awful. He was delirious. I tied one of his legs to his pack with one of my puttees. On the way down I found another man and made him stay and help us. It was so terribly slow.

page 153

Well, I’ve had my whack and enough to last a life time. I think one could call it a crowded time. Shells—millions of shells, shells all day and all night, high explosives. I want to put somewhere in here that Goldy fell at Pozières, or rather beyond it. Shrapnel, minenwerfers, whizz-bangs, bombs, tear gas shells, gas shells, sulphur shells-and thousands of gaping dead:


The stench, and the horridness of it can but be mentioned. I have sat on corpses, walked on corpses, and pillaged corpses. I got many interesting German souvenirs and could have secured cartloads from their trenches, but I lost most of what I took, and usually was too busy to pick up anything. I lost nearly all my equipment and clothes and with them my curiosities, but I brought back one bonzer souvenir that I did not expect to bring back—myself.

You always told me I would stick it all right, and I did, but I’d give anything to be out of it for good. All of us would. I saw strong men who had been through Gallipoli sobbing and trembling as with fever–men who had never turned a hair before. The fact that it was all so new to me probably helped me enormously. Goldy fell in the first hour, before I even saw him. I reached the same ground next day.

I worry that if we are not careful, we will finish up celebrating the Great War and our eventual victory over the Germans. This collection of Australian letters will go a long way in preventing anybody from making that ridiculous mistake.

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Filed under France, History, Writing

Casualty rates in the Great War

Years ago I wrote a worldwide best-selling book about the history of football in the High School from 1870-1914.(Just kidding). In the foreword, I revealed the identity of the Old Boy who had won an Olympic Gold Medal for the United Kingdom at Association Football. I made public which Old Boy had scored more goals in a single F.A.Cup tie than any other player in the history of the competition. I listed the eight Old Boys who had played international football for England. I recalled the Old Boy whose refereeing in an F.A.Cup tie led the F.A. to introduce the concept of the neutral referee, an idea which has spread worldwide since that biased performance. I described an occasion when the High School goalkeeper let in the winning goal as a protest against the refereeing of the game, and the day when the referee refused to give a penalty because “penalty kicks were unknown in amateur football”. The reader could find out which team lost 0-13 and did not get the ball into the opposition half at any point during the game. In another fixture, against Nottingham Asylum, “the presence of so many lunatics unnerved the school team, for it did not come up to its normal form.”  I remembered the day when “The School Six defeated the Masters by three goals to one. The masters, who, like Hamlet, were somewhat “fat and scant of breath”, then demanded to play two fat men extra, to compensate for their want of nimbleness. This unfortunate challenge was accepted, and the School won again by ten goals to one.”

Overall,  this book provided many examples of extraordinary, and, indeed, often amusing events on the football pitches of Victorian and Edwardian England.

villa-cup

When I first started my researches, looking through issue after issue of, firstly, “The Forester’, and then “The Nottinghamian”, it seemed that this would ever be the case. Here was a football spectators’ paradise, where goals rained into the net in every single game, as Leicester Wyggeston School  were beaten by 23-0 on two separate occasions. Deadly goal poachers scored hat tricks past defenders made slow-witted by heavy leather boots, and referees, and their decisions, grew ever more eccentric by the year.

 

My suspicions, though, were initially aroused by the story of William Norman Hoyte who was at the High School from 1904-1913, when he won an Open Scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge to read Natural Sciences. William represented his college at rowing and appeared in the Second May Boat. His studies, and his rowing, though, were interrupted by his military service as a Lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters in the Great War. He was a very brave young man and won the Military Cross twice. When he returned to Jesus College in 1919, though, he was unable to continue with his rowing. After the appalling carnage of the Great War, William Norman Hoyte M.C. and Bar was Jesus College’s only remaining rower from the pre-war years. All the rest had been killed.

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Morbid curiosity then caused me to wonder what were the eventual fates of those familiar names whose footballing deeds were recorded in perpetuity in their School Magazine, especially those who would have been of an age to have been sucked into the flesh shredding maelstrom of the Great War. where, on average, every single metre of trench was to be hit by a total of one ton of explosives. What I found, quite frankly, astounded me, and I do not feel that any reader, safe from harm, here at the beginning of the twenty first century, can begin to comprehend either the numbers of men involved in this war, or the enormous casualties which the nation suffered.

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During the Great War, for example, British forces lost 887,711 men killed and 1,663,570 men wounded. Of these 118,941 were officers. The British Empire had casualties of 1,244,589, with French deaths counted at 1,737,800. Italy lost 1,737,800 me killed and the Russians 3,394,369. Germany had 2,800,720 killed, the Austro-Hungarian Empire 2,081,200 and the Ottoman Empire 3,271,844. The United Kingdom lost as many as 2.20% of its total population, the French 4.39% and the Germans 4.32%.

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In individual battles, the loss of human life could be even more astounding. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1st 1916, the 8th Division lost 218 of its 300 officers at Ovillers in just two hours. Of 8,500 other ranks, 5,274 men perished. On this single day, the total casualties of the British Army were 57,470 men. German casualties were just over 300. In the first three days of the Battle of the Somme, the average daily casualties per division were 101 officers and 3,320 men. During the second week, 10,000 men a day were lost, and for the remaining four or five months of the campaign, casualty rates were in the range of 2,500 men per day. Overall, this battle was to cost the lives of 420,000 British and Commonwealth troops, with a total of 220,000 French casualties. German losses remain unknown but were at least 450,000, and may have reached 600,000. In the photograph below, the tiny squares are all graves:

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Nor is this necessarily an isolated set of statistics. In the Second Battle of Ypres, in April 1915, the 149th Brigade lost over three quarters of their complement, a total of some 42 officers and 1,912 men. The 10th Brigade more or less ceased to exist, losing 73 officers and 2,346 men. In the Third Battle of Ypres, between August and November 1916, British infantry repeatedly advanced against German machine gunners, with casualties totalling 244,897. On the second day of the Battle of Loos, twelve battalions, numbering some 10,000 men, attacked the German machine guns. In just over three hours, 385 officers were lost, along with 7,681 men. On July 31st 1917, when the 1/1st Hertfordshires attacked the Langemarck Line, every single officer was a casualty and eleven of them were killed. The other ranks suffered 459 casualties and drafts of men had to be made to rebuild the battalion. Not until May 1918 was the 1/1st Hertfordshire Regiment fully reconstituted by absorbing thirty officers and 650 men from 6th Bedfordshire Regiment. In the Battle of Aubers Ridge, General Rawlinson, irritated with the lack of progress, complained to his Brigadier-Generals,

“Where are the Sherwood Foresters ?  Where are the Sherwood Foresters? ”

Brigadier-General Oxley replied, “They are lying out in no-man’s-land, sir, and most of them will never stand again.” Many of these particular casualties, especially the Lieutenants and Second Lieutenants, may well have been Old Nottinghamians, but nowadays, there is no way of being any more precise than that.

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One thing of which we are certain is that Robert George Hopewell played in the High School First Team from 1897-1899. Robert was the son of Noah and Margaret Hopewell, of Old Basford and the devoted husband of Gladys Eleanor Hopewell.  They lived at West Brook in Mansfield, Robert was killed at Thiepval during the Battle of the Somme on September 3rd 1916, at the age of 33. A stretcher-bearer’s description of Thiepval in 1916 has survived to the present day…

“The trenches were knee-deep in glueing mud and it was the hardest work I have ever done…The banks on each side were full of buried and half-buried corpses and the stench was appalling. As one was carrying a wounded man down, one perhaps got stuck in the mud and staggered whilst one extricated oneself or was extricated. You put out a hand to steady yourself, the earth gave way and you found that you were clutching the blackened face of a half-buried German.”

Revelon, gefallener Deutscher

Nowadays, Thiepval is the scene of a huge memorial dedicated to those British soldiers who have no known grave. There are 73,000 names listed on it.

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Thomas Cripwell Wilson was an Old Nottinghamian who served as a Private in the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion. He was the son of Thomas and Mary Carr Wilson, of 5, Mount Hooton Terrace, Forest Road, just a five minute walk from the High School. Thomas was wounded in 1915, but returned to France in 1917.

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He was killed in action in November of that same year. His war could be described in equally frank terms…

“All those picturesque phrases of war writers are dangerous because they show nothing of the individual horror, nothing of the fine personalities suddenly smashed into red beastliness, nothing of the sick fear that is tearing at the hearts of brave boys…a thing infinitely more terrible than physical agony.”

The earliest High School football players to be involved in the Great War were four boys who played in the 1891-1892 season, namely Blackwall, Hadfield, Senior and Wallis.

Ten years later, the 1901-1902 season was to provide a full team, eleven brave individuals called Constantine, Cooper, Cullen, Emmett, Hore, Johnson, Marrs, Millward, Settle, Watson and Woollatt.

By 1913-1914, even more footballers were destined to risk their lives on the Western Front. They were now a full tem with a generous selection of substitutes, including Barber, Boyd, Cleveland, Fleet, Harlow, Hind, Lyon, Munks, Nidd, Page, Parr, Prince, Sadler, Taylor, Telford, A.G.Wilson and W.M.Wilson.

Old Nottinghamians, both footballers and non-footballers, volunteered in huge numbers for the Great War. At least one thousand five hundred boys and staff went willingly from a comfortable, safe, and usually well-off  family background in Nottingham, to what was arguably the bloodiest war in human history.

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Filed under Football, France, History, Nottingham, Politics, The High School

Ancient initials carved a century ago

In the High School, there is a much vandalised stone mantelpiece over an old fireplace on the ground floor. Boys have carved their names on it well over a hundred years ago and the letters are only just beginning to disappear into the thick levels of gloss paint now used to cover the original stone. The fireplace is located between the General Office and the entrance to the Assembly Hall, so literally thousands of boys will have queued past it as they go into Morning Assembly.

On Wednesday, January 18th 1899, Thomas Ignatius Joseph Gillott entered the school. He was to leave during the course of his fourth academic year, in July 1902. Sadly Thomas died on Sunday, July 6th 1913, after a failed operation at the London Hospital. On that same day in 1899, his brother Bernard Cuthbert Gillott, also entered the school. He was destined to remain a pupil only until the end of that academic year and he left in July 1899. With the advent of the Great War, Bernard was to join the army, where he served as a Captain in the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment. A brave man, he won both the British Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre. Eventually he was  severely wounded, but thankfully he survived, and he was invalided home to England.

On Tuesday, September 12th 1899, the youngest of the three brothers, Oswald Cornek Gillot entered the school aged nine. Oswald was born in Ripley on July 22nd 1890 and his father was Thomas Gillot, M.I.C.E., a civil engineer whose address was given as either, Upland House, Eastwood, or Langley Mill near Ilkeston.  Possibly towards the end of the Summer Term, 1905, Oswald carved his name on that extremely popular stone mantelpiece on the ground floor fireplace between the General Office and the Assembly Hall. Oswald left the High School in March 1907.

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Taking decent photographs of these carved signatures has in actual fact, proved extremely difficult. They are located on the northern side of the school where the usually tropical English sun does not often penetrate,  and they are surrounded by vast thick walls of stone and brick, with a singular lack of windows. This means that the whole area is more or less permanently dark from a photographic point of view. Added to this is the fact that in the century or so since these interesting acts of senseless vandalism were carried out, a succession of school caretakers, under the almost inhuman management pressure to hurry up that all school caretakers permanently face, have repainted the mantelpiece with a succession of layers of whitish gloss paint, all of them applied without having the time to remove the previous one. The stone therefore, now wears a building’s equivalent of an inflatable Sumo suit.
Consequently, I have been forced to Photoshop the pictures I took so that the now faint carvings stand out a little more clearly from the dimly lit and pale coloured background. One unfortunate young man, R.Salew, has proved completely impossible to conjure out of the camouflaging layers that now hide his signature. But he is definitely there.
Towards the end of the Christmas Term, 1904, John Francis Haseldine carved his name, in rather florid handwriting, on that same stone mantelpiece.

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John was born on December 28th 1886 and entered the High School on May 4th 1896, aged nine. His father was Frank Haseldine, a lace manufacturer of St.John’s Grove, Beeston. John was a very good footballer (soccer player), and made his début for the First XI on Wednesday, March 26th 1902, in an away game against Loughborough Grammar School. We know that the school’s best player, J.B.Sim, worked hard throughout the match, but, according to the School Magazine of the time,“The Forester”, he was “too carefully watched” by the Loughborough defence, and the game was lost by 0-2. That particular spring, John had been in the team which had won the Football Sixes, a six-a-side competition organised within the school by the boys themselves, with the teams all drawn out of a hat. It was taken, of course, extremely seriously. Coincidentally, the winning team’s captain was that very same J.B.Sim, who was a well-known High School footballer of that era, with more than fifty appearances for the First XI.
On Wednesday, February 14th 1903, John scored his only goal for the school, in a 4-1 away victory over Mansfield Grammar School, “a rather poor and one-sided game”. As an ever present in the team, John won his football colours at the end of this season and was also awarded a “Standard Medal” for Football . In season 1903-1904, he became Captain of Football.  John spent the Christmas Term of 1904 at the High School, but, like so many boys during this period, he left half way through the academic year in December 1904.
In the Great War John was a Major in the Royal Engineers, Special Reserve. He was Mentioned in Dispatches on June 3rd 1916 and received the Military Cross on January 1st 1917. By 1929, he was living at Northdene, New Barnet, in  the northern suburbs of Greater London.
Among the other more legible carved names are “A.E.Anthony” and “G.Devey”. What is apparently “R.Salew” is also there, although there are many, many  layers of gloss paint to obscure the lettering of this particular name, and the photo has not come out because of this. Another seems to read “B.Abel 1905-190” as if the young man had been interrupted, perhaps by a Master (teacher), as he came towards the end of his carving, and then did not ever return to finish the job.

Alfred Edward Anthony was born on June 12 1906, and entered the school on September 18th 1918, aged twelve. His father was F.W.Anthony of 120, Radcliffe Road, West Bridgford. He was the Managing Director of Gotham Co Ltd (apparently sic). Alfred left the school in December 1922.

anthony 1 ccccccc

“G.Devey” was the elder brother of Reginald Devey, whose own name had already been carved on the fireplace upstairs, in the staffroom corridor, alongside that of D.H.Lawrence and L.S.Laver, the High School’s very own Latin Champion of the World.

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This ground floor effort though, was Gerald Bertil Devey, who was born on June 10th 1903,. Gerald entered the school on May 27th 1918 at the rather late age of fourteen. His father was James Edward Devey, a civil servant, and the family lived at 22, Ebury Road, Sherwood Rise. Gerald left the High School in July 1919.

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John Rylett Salew entered the school on May 4th 1916, aged fourteen. He left in December 1918. John was born on February 28th 1902 and his father was Joseph William Salew, an “agent” of 19, William Rd, West Bridgford.

Bertram Albert Abel was born on July 31st 1889 and entered the school on September 13th 1905, aged sixteen. His father was William Jenkinson Abel, a clerk to the Nottingham Education Committee. The family lived at 99, Waterloo Crescent, and Bertram left the school in July 1907.

b abell ccccccc
The fact that “S.Vasey” has carved his name in two different places on the stone, one of them complete with his own personal dates, namely “1917” and “1917-1922” shows not only that he had an extremely strong desire for immortality, but that, within the context of the High School, it has been fulfilled. He must have been a very swift, and fairly brazen, vandal.

zzzzz  s vasey 1907

Stanley Vasey was born on June 5th 1905 and he entered the school at the age of thirteen, on September 18 1918. His father was Alfred Vasey, a shop inspector, and the family lived at 15, Glebe Road, West Bridgford. He left in December 1922.

zzzzzzzzzz vasey 1922
It is actually possible to best guess friendship groups among these carved names. Messrs Anthony, Devey and Vasey, for example, all joined the school in 1918. They all left in the latter half of 1922. They must surely have known each other. John Rylett Salew and Stanley Vasey both lived within a penknife’s throw of each other in the very posh Nottingham suburb of West Bridgford. Did the four boys seal their friendship by committing their names to the hard surface of that much painted fireplace ? Did three of them keep watch while the fourth scratched his name into the welcoming stone ?

The other names on the fireplace, some of them extremely indistinct, include “F.B.Ludlow”, “N.G.Peet”, “Littler”, “Meigh” and “Holmes”. The latter was possibly the George Chudleigh Holmes who was a regular player in the First XI football team during the 1902-1903 season. Born on June 15th 1887, George entered the school on January 17th 1900, aged twelve. His father was George H.Holmes, a Lace Manufacturer of Gregory Street, Old Lenton. George left at Easter 1903, perhaps once the football season was over.

hiolmes 2 ccccccccc
Fred (sic) Ball Ludlow was born on April 28th 1891. He entered the school on May 1st 1900 aged   nine. His father was William Ludlow, a clerk in the Gas Depôt. The family lived at 10, Willoughby Avenue, Lenton in the western suburbs of the City. Fred left in June 1907.

ludlow cccccc

Noel George Peet was born on December 26th 1901 and entered the High School on April 26th 1917, aged fifteen. His father was William George Peet, a “general agent”, and the family lived at 413, Mansfield Road. Noel left the school in July 1919. Perhaps he was a relative of Mrs.Mary Peet who was the school’s nurse during the late 1970s and the 1980s.

Samuel Littler was born on May 16th 1891. He entered the school on September 16th 1903 aged twelve. The family lived at 8, Appleton Gate, Newark-on-Trent, and his father, a veterinary surgeon, was also called Samuel Littler. Samuel junior left in July 1908.

Vincent George Meigh entered the school as an Agnes Mellers scholar on September 12th 1899 aged ten, the cost of his place in the school automatically paid for. His father was George Meigh, a schoolmaster of 3, Willoughby Avenue, Lenton. Vincent left in December, 1903.

meigh ccccc
On the mantelpiece, one set of letters to set the heart a-flutter is “(illegible)BALL  1900-1907” , but this cannot be the famous air ace, as there are clearly a fair number of letters before the B-A-L-L. In any case, Albert Ball did not stay long in the High School, being expelled after an incident when he disrupted school assembly by emptying a large bag of bullseyes, gobstoppers and bouncing sweets onto the floor.

Best fit is probably Oliver Herbert Ball, who was born on August 13th 1891. He had entered the school on January 17th 1900, aged eight, as the third of three brothers. Oliver was to leave in July 1907. His mother was called Emma, and his father was Alfred Holmes Ball, the “Laundry Man” of “Sunnyside”, Daybrook, Notts.  Presumably, this was the company which was eventually to become the massive “Daybrook Laundry”.’ It was situated opposite the Home Brewery on the Mansfield Road, and was only recently demolished during the first decade of the twenty first century. The Arnold branch of the “Aldi” supermarket chain has now been built on this site during the latter part of 2014. It was open for business by the end of the year. Look for the orange arrow:

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During the Great War, Oliver Ball was to serve as a Second Lieutenant in the 10th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment.  Aged only twenty five, he was killed on September 28th 1916 and is buried in the Guards’ Cemetery at Lesboeufs in France. Oliver’s  death was part of the Somme offensive.  He shares the cemetery with 1,492 identified casualties, and a grand total of 3.136 men.

oh ball

Oliver Ball’s elder brother was Walter William Ball, the second son of the three, and himself an Old Nottinghamian. Walter had returned to the Western Front, and the Yorkshire Regiment, from his leave in Nottingham on Friday, November 19th 1915. The “Nottingham Guardian” reported his death on Monday, November 29th 1915. He had apparently been shot through the head by a sniper while organising a firing party with his captain. The tragic news was communicated to his parents by his younger brother, Second Lieutenant Oliver Ball, who held a commission in the same regiment. According to the “Nottingham Guardian”, Walter was “well-known in Nottingham and had a large circle of friends”. He had received his commission as a Second Lieutenant a mere twelve months previously. Walter is buried in Houplines Communal Cemetery Extension in France, Plot 1, Row A, Grave 21. He was 28 years of age.

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As far as I can trace, the third brother seems to have survived the war.

One of the more notable objects on the mantelpiece is perhaps the school badge which has been carved relatively large, and in primitive style, with the lozenge and the three merles or heraldic blackbirds still recognisable even now, the best part of a century after it was executed by some unknown, juvenile artist.

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Less time proof perhaps, are the boys who managed to carve only their initials, namely “JL”, “MV”, either “WA” or “WR”, and either “BFW” or “SFW”. It is just so difficult to be certain about whose initials they might be. In some cases, there are literally dozens of possible candidates in the school registers, and it becomes almost a pointless effort to try and guess who has carved them.

Some boys seem to have been able to make only part of their name legible. We appear to have, therefore, a group of letters which seems to spell “H-LLF”.

Similarly, I have tried so hard to turn “—-NGTON” into Victor George Darrington, one of the very few young men to have captained the school at both football and rugby. The time is right (he entered the school in 1909, aged twelve) but the fact is that the blurred and multi-layer gloss paint painted-over obscured letters just do not look like they were ever meant to spell Darrington.

Even more striking is the young member of what is probably the “Chambers” family who did not manage to carve his initials clearly. The name can be seen just above “A.E.Anthony”, although the letters seem to be an even whiter shade of pale.  Just a cursory perusal of the school registers reveals the existence, between 1897 and 1926, of “E.Chambers”, “W. Chambers”, “P. Chambers”, “N. Chambers”, “J.F. Chambers”, “J.S. Chambers”, “A. Chambers”, “C.G. Chambers”, “J. Chambers”, “B.J. Chambers”, “C.C. Chambers”,  “S.H. Chambers”, “D.B. Chambers”, and a second “W. Chambers”

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No doubt a really thorough search would reveal even more members of the apparently vast Chambers clan.
It would be nice to think, though, that the perpetrator was the (uninitialled) Chambers of Form IVb, whose doings are reported in the Prefects’ Book for Thursday, February 1st 1912….

“…A meeting was held before afternoon school, Towles and Haubitz (prefects) being absent. Chambers (IVb) had been reported for carrying a loaded revolver in his pocket. He admitted the offence, and produced the weapon, which proved to be loaded in four chambers. He was requested not to bring it to school again, and the School Captain decided to interview the Headmaster.”

Most unfortunately, no record has survived of the outcome of this conversation. Here again, it is possible to guess at putative friendships between the names in the stone. Two of the boys, for example, Fred Ball Ludlow and Oliver Herbert Ball, both joined the school in 1900, and their entries are virtually next to each other in the School Register. Perhaps the use of the surname of one as the middle name of the other hints at a blood relationship, rather than just one of mere friendship.
Coincidentally, a third name on this single ancient page of the school register is that of Harold Binks, who entered the school in the very same year of 1900, although Harold was never to carve his own name on the fireplace. From his reminiscences, published in April 1935, we know that one of his best friends in the Senior School was called Ball. It seems likely too that another of the friends was Oswald Cornek Gillot, who was already in the school when Ludlow, Ball and Binks arrived. All these boys were of the same age, and they all left the school in the latter part of the academic year 1906-1907. As we have already noted, Gillot lived near distant Ilkeston, but Holmes lived in Gregory Street, Old Lenton, very close to Ludlow and Meigh who themselves both lived in the same street, namely Willoughby Avenue, Lenton. Again, we can imagine two keeping watch while the third one carried out the evil deed with his penknife.

On Thursday, June 7th 1917, just  ten years after carving his name on the stone fireplace, Oswald Cornek Gillott was killed at the age of twenty six, yet another hapless victim of the Great War. Even a school as small as the High School (400  pupils) was to provide some three hundred young men, all destined to die well before their time.

After he left the school, Oswald moved to Teesside, and became a twenty year old apprentice mechanical engineer living at 2, Woodland Terrace, Borough Road, Middlesbrough, Yorkshire. When the Great War came, Oswald joined the 68th Field Company of The Royal Engineers. They trained at Newark-on-Trent before sailing from Liverpool for Gallipoli at the end of June 1915. They remained at Lala Baba in Suvla Bay until December 19th and 20th 1915, when they withdrew and returned to Egypt by the end of January. Oswald was recorded as having been wounded during this period. In June 1916 the Division was ordered to France to reinforce the Third Army on the Somme. By July, they were in the Front Line and took part in the fighting at Thiepval. In early 1917 they were fighting on the Ancre, and then moved north to Flanders for the Battle of Messines
Messines_Ridge_from_Hill_63 cccccccSecond Lieutenant Oswald Gillott’s last day on Earth was June 7th 1917, coincidentally no doubt, the first day of the successful attack on the Messines Ridge.  The assault was preceded by the detonation of nineteen large mines, in what was described at the time as “the loudest explosion in human history”. Oswald, as a member of the Royal Engineers, may well have been involved in this activity when he was killed. On the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website there are a mere three pages of Gillotts, with only thirty two men of this name killed. Oswald Gillott lies in the Messine Ridge British Cemetery in Mesen, West-Vlaanderen in Belgium along with the 577 of his colleagues whose remains have been identified.

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Second Lieutenant Gillott, aged twenty seven was one of a trifling 24,562 casualties, as the British under Field Marshal Herbert Charles Onslow Plumer, 1st Viscount Plumer, GCB GCMG GCVO GBE slowly began to learn how to fight battles at much lower costs than previously. (Battle of the Somme, 623,907 dead).

The other side of the coin, of course, is the fact that if the Field Marshall and his lordly colleagues are not much more careful with the lives of their social inferiors, they will risk actually running out of men. The  623,907 men killed in the Battle of the Somme is a catastrophe, but the apparently much lower figure of 24,562 killed during the assault on Messine Ridge could well be regarded as every single man in a town the size of, say, present-day Arnold or Newark-on-Trent.

One set of initials I have not dealt with. That is F.C.Mahin, one of the High School’s very few Americans, and I will talk about his incredible and hitherto completely unknown life in another blog post.

 

 

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The End of the British Empire, December 26th 1913

The very first game of Rugby in the long history of the High School was played on Friday, December 26th 1913, the last Christmas and the last Boxing Day before the outbreak of the Great War. The game took place on the High School’s playing fields at Mapperley Park Sports Ground , used by the school since 1897, when they had left the Forest Recreation Ground which was considered to be too dangerous for boys to play sport there.

This map shows the walk from the High School (which is in the bottom left on the opposite side of the yellow road from the “C” of “Cemy”) down to Mapperley Park in the centre right, indicated by the orange arrow. The present day Games Field, at Valley Road, is the blue word “Day”  in the top left hand corner.

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This map shows the site of the Sports Ground in greater detail. Look for the orange arrow again.

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This is the Pavilion at the Mapperley Park Sports Ground which was demolished only within the last twenty or thirty years . The young men are a long forgotten First XI school cricket team from just a few short years before  the Great War.

pavilionThe gentleman on the left of the back row is Mr.Albert Grant Onion, the groundsman. He coached the High School cricketers with great enthusiasm, and saw many of them go on to do very well with local clubs. In 25 years, he did not miss umpiring a single 1st XI fixture, and was famed for his fairness and impartiality. He and his wife and daughters were responsible, too, for preparing all of the teas for the players. The young man at the other end of the back row is probably the team scorer, who kept an exact record of the game. Alternatively, he may be the reserve player, the so-called twelfth man.

On this occasion though, on Boxing Day, 1913,  it was not a cricket match but a rugby game. As a preliminary before the school’s changeover from Football, which was played from 1870-1914, to the new sport of  Rugby Union, therefore, the Old Nottinghamians played against Notts Rugby F.C.. The Old Boys lost a closely fought game by (three tries) 9 points to (three goals), 15 points. The tries were scored by H.A.Johnstone, C.G.Boyd and D.P.C.Grant. The referee was Mr.Lionel Kirk. Presumably, this fixture served for many people as a demonstration of the new sport.  In the days before television, the majority of Old Boys and Masters, and especially the parents and current pupils, would probably never have seen the game played before.

The Old Boys’ team was Stocks; H.A.Johnstone, H.S.Stocks (Captain), A.Willatt, R.L.W.Herrick, C.G.Boyd, W.Johnstone; D.P.C.Grant, F.Hardwick, J.K.Turpin, A.R.S.Grant, H.W.Ballamy, L.W.Peck, E.G.Hogan and W.S.Facon.

A pleasant interval in the Christmas festivities, one might think, a little respite from a surfeit of roast turkey, brussels sprouts, Christmas pudding, port, sherry, cigars and all the other indulgences of this wonderful time of year. Except that nobody who was there on that fatal Friday knew that a World War was to break out within less than eight months. That more than four years of fighting would leave almost a million British dead, and in that number would be more than three hundred Old Nottinghamians.

In actual fact, the eventual fate of the members of the Old Boys’ Rugby team pretty much defies belief. As well-intentioned, patriotic, decent, optimistic, courageous and athletic young men, they were to run forward into the maelstrom of the Great War as if it were a blood spattered combine harvester.

Henry Archer Johnstone became a Major in the 152nd Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. He was the beloved son of John and Ada Johnstone, of Fairmead, Risley, Derbyshire.

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Henry was to die on Tuesday, May 21st 1918, at the age of only twenty eight. He is buried in Wancourt British Cemetery near Arras in northern France. His rugby playing days were finally over.

H.S.Stocks, who left the High School in July 1904, was eventually to become a Lieutenant in the 7th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. He was severely wounded on Friday, July 7th 1916, in the Battle of the Somme, and rendered unfit for further active service. I would certainly have been very surprised if he ever played any more Rugby matches with his young laughing friends.

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John Riversdale Warren Herrick was a Captain in the “2nd King Edward’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles). He was in the 3rd Battalion attached to the 11th Gurkha Rifles when he was fatally wounded on active service in Iraq. The son of Dr.R.W.Herrick and Mrs.Edith Herrick of 30, Regent Street, Nottingham, Captain Herrick was to die from his wounds on Sunday, October 24th 1920 at the age of only twenty seven. He is buried in the Basra War Cemetery, Iraq. His rugby playing days were finally over.

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Charles Gordon Boyd was a Second Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters, but was attached to the 9th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment. On Thursday, May 3rd 1917, he was killed whilst attacking Fontaine-Les-Croiselles with ‘D’ Company at the age of only twenty four. He was the son of George Herbert Boyd and Sarah Louisa Boyd, of, initially, 13, Tavistock Drive, Mapperley Park. Charles Boyd had been the Captain of the School in 1911-1912. In cricket, he was the First Team’s wicketkeeper and he was an enthusiastic footballer who played regularly for the First Eleven. His full record as a goalscorer was eleven goals in nine appearances. He surely got changed for this particular fixture in his own home nearby and perhaps walked along Tavistock Drive to the pitch in a laughing little group of his fellow players.  At the time of his death, his parents had moved to St Peter’s-in-Thanet, Kent. Tragically, Charles Boyd’s remains were not found until some six years after his death, in November 1923, when he was reburied in the Heninel-Croisilles Road Cemetery in the Pas-de-Calais in northern France. His rugby playing days were finally over.

James Knowles Turpin was the beloved only son of Harry and Minnie Turpin, of 68, Henry Road, West Bridgford. James was a Second Lieutenant in “A” Battery, 241st South Midland Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.

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On Tuesday, August 14th 1917, he was killed in action at Boundary Road behind the Brigade HQ at Hill Top Farm near St Jaan just west of the frontline.  he was just twenty five years of age. He was buried in Plot 6, Row D, Grave 7 in Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. His rugby playing days were finally over.

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Allan Roy Stewart Grant, while he was at school as A.R.S.Grant, was nicknamed “Pongy” by his fellow students, because of his parents’ choice of initials for him. He served as a Captain in the 10th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, Ross-shire, Buffs, and the Duke of Albany’s. He was awarded the Military Cross. “Pongy” survived the conflict and duly returned to Nottingham.

Not so his elder brother, Donald Patrick Clarke Grant, who was in the 7th Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders.  He is listed as either a Lance-Corporal (by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission), or a Lieutenant (in the school lists of the fallen). He was killed on Thursday, April 12th 1917 at the age of only twenty seven. He had previously been the Manager at the British Crown Insurance Office in Nottingham. His remains were never found but his death is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Both young men were the beloved sons of the Reverend John Charles Grant, a Minister of Religion, and his wife Ellen Jemima Grant who lived at “The Manse” at 16, Baker Street, Nottingham. The family was of Scottish origin. Donald had, in actual fact, been born at Loanhead in Midlothian.

Harold William Ballamy was a Lieutenant in “B” Battery of the 231st Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.

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He was the beloved son of Frederick William Ballamy, a commercial traveller, and his mother,  Mrs.M.A.Ballamy of 17a, Gedling Grove.

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He was killed on either Tuesday, August 14th or Wednesday, August 15th 1917, as part of the Third Battle of Ypres, usually known as the Battle of Passchendaele. He was twenty four years of age, and is buried in Fosse No 10 in the Communal Cemetery Extension at Sains-en-Gohelle,  in the Pas-de-Calais in northern France. His rugby playing days were finally over.

Leslie Wayland Peck was the son of Thomas Wayland Peck, a Clerk in Holy Orders, and a Diocesan Inspector of Schools, who had been, from 1885-1900, a master at the High School. From 1886-1893, despite being a teacher, Peck Senior had played regularly for the school’s First Team at both football and cricket. The family lived initially at 12, Arboretum Street, Nottingham, and then in Gedling Grove. He must certainly have known Harold Ballamy, a near neighbour. Perhaps the two boys used to make the short walk to school every morning, accompanied by Mr Peck. What could have been more embarrassing than walking to school with one of the teachers? Fortunately it was a very short walk. Today it would just necessitate crossing over the tram lines at  the High School tram stop.

Leslie Peck left the High School in June 1910, and joined the Bank, an establishment which was later to change its name to the National Westminster Bank. He had already served in the School Cadet Corps under Captain Trotman, and then joined the Sherwood Foresters Special Reserve. He was called up, and sent to France quite early in the Great War. He was “Mentioned in Dispatches”, but after being extremely badly shell-shocked, was invalided back home for a period of hospital treatment.

H08331 Leslie was then posted back to the Sherwood Foresters, but was never well enough to serve overseas again. I would certainly have been very surprised if he ever played any more Rugby matches with his young laughing friends.

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M.J.Hogan was the school goalkeeper from 1903-1905. In the Great War he became a Sergeant in the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. He was severely wounded on an unknown date. His goalkeeping days, and his rugby playing days too, were probably over for ever.

hogan 1904

I have been unable to trace anything concrete for W.S.Facon although according to the London Gazette, a Lieutenant W.S.Facon was promoted to Captain on December 21st 1921. The Internet also reveals that in the Air Force List for May 1939, a W.S.Facon worked at the Air Ministry in the Department of the Permanent Under-Secretary in the Directorate of Contracts.

I have been unable to trace either how many of these keen pioneer rugby players had been in the Officer Training Corps, but however many it was, it certainly had not trained them well enough for the Somme (1916) or Passchendaele (1917)

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