Tag Archives: El Alamein

In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume Two)

We have just finished publishing my new book “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”. This is the second book of five, and tells about some more of the High School’s long forgotten casualties in World War II. Here is the front cover, with the shorter title and nine new pictures to look at:

And here is the blurb from the back cover:

“This is the second of five books commemorating the ultimate sacrifice made by the brightest young men of Nottingham in the Second World War. After six years of ground-breaking research, John Knifton has uncovered over 100 forgotten war heroes, men who served their country in countless ways. All of them had one thing in common: they spent their boyhood years at Nottingham High School.

This book does not glorify the deaths of these men; but instead builds a monument to the unfinished lives they sacrificed for our freedom today. John Knifton conjures up the ghost of these men’s forgotten lives: their childhoods, families, homes, neighbourhoods, and the loved ones they left behind. You will discover their boyhood hobbies and their sporting triumphs, where they worked as young adults and the jobs they had. Most of all, you will find all the previously unknown details of the conflicts they fought in and how they met their untimely ends.

John Knifton’s project puts the humanity back into history, set against the backdrop of the Nottingham of yesteryear. No tale untold. No anecdote ignored.”

This book is now available for purchase through Lulu.com:

https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/john-knifton/in-the-footsteps-of-the-valiant-the-lives-and-deaths-of-the-forgotten-heroes-of-nottingham-high-school-volume-two/paperback/product-176j6pwm.html

The book has 332 pages and is “Crown Quarto”, that is to say, 189 mms x 246 mm (7.44 inches x 9.68 inches). The book contains just under 150,000 words and can therefore be compared with books such as “Sense and Sensibility”(119K), “A Tale of Two Cities”(135K) “The Return of the King”(137K), 20,000 Leagues under the Sea” (138K), “Oliver Twist” (156K) and “The Two Towers” (156K).

It tells the tale of 26 Old Nottinghamians, including, as in Volume 1, a young man who died shortly after the end of the war. In this case, he was called Patrick Russell Ward. He was killed during RAF service in the 1950s and deserves to be remembered.

Here are the names of the young men who perished in World War II:

William Donald Birkett, George Renwick Hartwell Black, Henry Brener, Henry Abington Disbrowe, Dennis Peter Fellows, Frank Freeman, Albert Hayes, John Neville Hickman, Gordon Frederick Hopewell, Eric John Hughes, Arthur Reeson Johnson, Richard Henry Julian, John Michael Preskey Ley, John Ambrose Lloyd, Edwin William Lovegrove, John Richard Mason, Geoffrey Leonard Mee, Ernest Millington, Robert Percy Paulson, George Green Read, Alan Robert Rose, Gordon Percy Carver Smith, Ernest Adam Wagstaff, Patrick Russell Ward, John Roger West, Carl Robert Woolley.

One of the High School’s ex-masters died trying to delay the German advance at Dunkirk:

A young cricketer’s ship hit a mine off Malta:

One  Old Nottinghamian rower was claimed by paratyphoid on the banks of the River Brahmaputra. Another was killed by nightfighters in his Stirling bomber over Berlin. A third died in a Lancaster bomber over the Dortmund-Ems Canal.  Another, a good rugby player, was killed in a Halifax over the Waddensee.

Accidents took others, at Coniston Water, and at Topcliffe in North Yorkshire. One Stirling took off and flew away into history. It was never heard of again. One man was killed at El Alamein. Another died as the Rhine was crossed in 1945, one of 1,354,712 men involved in the battle. Another young man, a cricketer and a pilot instructor, was killed at Assinboia in Saskatchewan:

Alas, one poor individual was killed after the end of the war, out on army manoeuvres on Lüneburg Heath on May 26th 1945.

Another had been Marconi’s greatest helper. One young man was killed in the savage fighting around  Villers-Bocage and Lisieux, as the Allies left the beaches and moved to the north east and Nazi Germany:

One young man from Woodthorpe died of peritonitis when the regimental doctor applied the rule he had been given: “All enlisted men are lead swinging liars. They have never got any of the diseases that they say they have”:

And last, but certainly not least, one poor man was the victim of one of the most disgusting cover-ups in British military history, as his parents both went to their graves thinking he had been killed fighting on the beaches of Normandy, when in actual fact, he and all his colleagues had all been accidentally killed by the Royal Navy just outside Portsmouth:

And they all had their personalities, their hobbies and their lives. Playing cricket on the beautiful walled ground at Grantham where a huge supermarket now stands. Taking part in barrel jumping competitions at Nottingham’s brand new ice rink. Playing the bugle in the OTC band:

Rowing for the school in the race when they went through the wrong arch of Trent Bridge and finished second instead of first:

He might operate as a powerful and dangerous forward at rugby, but he will be remembered for playing a “prominent part” in the team’s festive occasions, reciting the monologues of Stanley Holloway, the famous northern comedian. Another First XV player was damned by Mr Kennard’s faint praise in the School Magazine:

“Has hardy fulfilled his promise. A steady player, however.”

And then to every one of the 26 comes sudden death, always unexpected at any given moment, but no real surprise when it came. And every one of those young heroes, to be honest, could have had the same obituary as that of the gentle giant, Ernest Adam Wagstaff:

“He died, as he had lived, for an ideal; in the lives of the few who knew him well his passing leaves a void which can never be filled.”

25 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, France, History, Nottingham, The High School

Letters carved in stone, sixty years ago

How many times have you walked out of the school’s Forest Road gate, and quite simply, failed to notice the extensive collection of carved initials on the left hand pillar? And if you did notice them, did you disregard them as being just more of the pointless graffiti that we are now forced to accept in the society of the early twenty first century? Or did you carefully look at the dates? But just wait awhile, gentle reader, and imagine the scene to yourself…

It is late 1942.  In Europe, Hitler stands on the opposite side of the English Channel, watching Dover through his binoculars.

Not A Chance

Great Britain remains resolutely defiant, but largely unable to press home any significant advantage. The British  armed forces are quite simply, not strong enough. There have been hardly any significant victories so far for the British, and there seem to be few obvious ways forward to rid the continent of what will eventually become known as “The Scourge of the Swastika”. Only the victory by Montgomery at El Alamein in North Africa lights up the Stygian gloom. And how many British people actually realise at the time the real significance of the telegram General Friedrich Paulus sends his Führer, telling him that the German Sixth Army is now completely surrounded?

stalingrad_dead_germans_ww2_

These dark days are recalled on the Forest Road entrance of the High School, where boys, or, more likely, young men, have carved their initials more than seventy years ago. And some dates, and even a slightly misunderstood swastika.

first one

Judging by the physical height of this insolent vandalism, they may well have been in, say, the Fifth Form, literally, upwards. They include what appears to be “WH 1942”, “DP” and “DP 1942”, along with what may possibly be “SS 1940”, and the undated “MB”, “HE”, “HS” and “PFP”. Indeed, the only problem with these initials is that they are extremely difficult to photograph, because, like other interesting acts of vandalism, they are hidden away from direct sunlight, and the subleties of the various shades of stone have proved beyond the capabilities of my camera, even though it does have quite a decent lens. Only Photoshop has dragged the past out into the present.

P1220254START VHERE

My subsequent researches, and best guesses, have revealed a few likely suspects. “WH” and “DP” may conceivably have been young colleagues in the Fifth Form A with Mr.Whimster during the academic year 1941-1942.

William Norman Hill was born on November 23rd 1927, and entered the High School on September 20th 1938 at the age of ten. His father was Mr F.Hill, a School Master of 8, Lexington Gardens, Sherwood. He left the school on July 31st 1945.

Dennis Plackett was born on October 22nd 1927. He entered the school on Monday, September 25th 1939, at the age of eleven. His mother was Mrs.Ellen Plackett, a housewife of 7, Anthill Street, Stapleford.  Dennis was a gifted young man, a Nottinghamshire County Council Scholar, and he left the school on August 1st 1944.

Another interpretation is that “WH 1942” was William Jack Harrison. This young man was, quite simply, outstanding. He was born on December 5th 1924, and entered the High School on September 19th 1935 at the age of ten. His mother was Mrs E.M.Harrison of 53, Burlington Road, Sherwood.  He would have been in the Upper Fifth Form with Mr.Palmer in 1941-1942, and then in the Mathematical and Science Sixth Form with Mr.Holgate during the academic year of 1942-1943. William stood out in two separate areas. In 1940 he was initially a Lance-corporal in the Junior Training Corps, but he soon became a full Corporal. In 1941, he won Mr Frazier’s prize for the most efficient Junior NCO or cadet, and was then named Commander of the Most Proficient House Platoon. At some point towards the end of the academic year of 1941-1942, he promoted to be the Junior Training Corps Company Sergeant Major.

In addition, in the sporting world, by the time the School List for 1942-1943 was published, William had won his First XV Colours and his Cap for Rugby and had been named as Captain of Rugby. In the Summer Term, he went on to be the Captain of Cricket, and to be awarded his Cricket Colours and his Scarf. He was also, by dint of his sporting position as Captain of Cricket, a School Prefect. William left the school on December 19th 1942.

The reason that I myself would prefer this interpretation is that “DP” and “DP 1942” may well be David Phillips, who was in the Economics Sixth Form with Mr Smyth during the two academic years of 1940-1941 and 1941-1942. He may well have been carrying out some kind of school tradition when he carved his name and the date on the pillar, knowing that he was going to leave the school in July 1942.

7ngttrrrrr

David was born on May 2nd 1923, and entered the school on January 13th 1935 at the age of eleven. His father was Mr P.Phillips, a Factory Manager of 45, Austen Avenue, on the far side of the Forest Recreation Ground.

austen a2

We have relatively few details of David’s career at the High School, but we do know that by September 1941, he was a Corporal in the Junior Training Corps. In the Christmas Term of 1942, he was awarded his Full Colours for Rugby, and he became a School Prefect. David was also awarded his Rowing Colours for his achievements with the Second IV.

I have a very strong feeling that these two young men were friends. Austen Avenue, of course, is arguably, on the same cycle route home as Burlington Road, Sherwood, where William Harrison lived.

burlington a2

 

Perhaps the two walked down together across the Forest Recreation Ground, and David would then get on his bike and cycle slowly off towards Austen Avenue. William would continue down what would have been at the time an undoubtedly more traffic free Mansfield Road, towards Burlington Road in Sherwood.

David Phillips shared the very same interests as William Harrison. They were both in the same rugby team, and both seemed to have loved sport, whether rugby, cricket or rowing. They were both in the Junior Training Corps and clearly were attracted to the military life. As regards their academic classes, they were a year apart, but I feel that their common interests would have overcome this difference, especially when the two rugby players, or Junior Training Corps members, realised that they could walk down across the Forest together every evening after a hard day at school.

And when the end of 1942 came round, they may well both have left the school on the same day, December 19th. Were they both going into the Army together?

The interpretations above are all based on a combination of informed best guesses, a thorough search of the relevant School Lists and registers and the usual human desire to take purely circumstantial evidence as proven fact. Not surprisingly, though, it has proved impossible to trace any of the other initials in any meaningful kind of way. There were quite simply too many possible “SS”s in 1940, and “MB”, “HE” and even “PFP” have all proved equally beyond my powers. Even so, this must be among the oldest graffitti in Nottingham.

one

 

13 Comments

Filed under History, Nottingham, The High School