Tag Archives: Malta

“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (1)

The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer (Dutch) states, the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, over the British Empire’s influence in South Africa. The British Empire owned Cape Colony and the Bechuanaland Protectorate.

The catalyst for the war was the discovery of diamonds and gold in the Boer states.

Alexander Frederic Wallis was born on January 18th 1867. Nottingham had seen its worst floods for fifteen years on January 9th. Two feet of water washed over the railway tracks at the station. On the 14th, a recently constructed factory on Carlton-road (sic) had caught fire. On March 14th, the Mechanics Hall was completely destroyed by fire. On March 20th an enormous fire destroyed the premises of William Smith, a “chenille and gimp manufacturer”. On April 2nd, the council agreed to order a steam fire engine, at a cost of £650. This type of thing. A combined fire engine and smoke screen generator:

Alexander Frederic Wallis’ father was Alexander Bruce Wallis, the Captain and Adjutant of the Robin Hood Rifles. In 1879 the family’s address was 1 Goodwin Street, near All Saints’ Church in the area to the west of Waverley Street, more or less directly opposite the bandstand in the Arboretum Park. Goodwin Street is very, very striking, with its tall tenement houses like you might find in Edinburgh or Glasgow. They all have four floors including one for the servants.Here it is. Look for the orange fire engine arrow.

The “education facility” in the middle at the top is the High School. Raleigh Street (west of the Arboretum Lake, and south of the orange arrow) was where the history of Raleigh bicycles started in 1885. That is why the brand was called “Raleigh”.

In the same year, Captain Wallis had moved to nearby No 3 Burns Street, a magnificent Victorian house with that eccentric, almost random architecture of the wilder Victorian architects of the period, including huge gables, oriel windows, patterns made with darker bricks and a pointed archway to the front door. Here is the house today:

By 1894, now Major Wallis rather than Captain, he and his family were living at 50 Forest Road West, extremely close to the High School. On the map above,  Forest Road West is to the west of the small lemon yellow coloured circle which represents the High School’s tram stop. Four years later in 1898-1899, Major Wallis and his family had moved to Neville Terrace at 15 Wellington Square, directly off Derby Road just after Canning Circus. This must have been much more convenient for the Robin Hood Rifles’ Orderly Room in Castle Yard. The family were still there in 1904, but after that, I was unable to trace them.

Their son, Alexander Frederic Wallis entered the High School on September 12th 1879 as Boy No 583. He was 12 years old. His career remains a blank because the majority of the School Lists have not survived and the rest are just lists of boys’ surnames with no distinguishing initials. The School played soccer then but Alexander does not figure in the reports we still have, nor indeed, in the records of the cricket team. He left the High School at the end of the Christmas Term in 1882. Here is the High School during that era, captured in a high quality albumen print:

At this time the Headmaster was Dr Robert Dixon, nicknamed “Dido” and the staff would have included Mr Bray or “Donkey”, Mr Seymour or “Donkeys”, Mr Jennings or “Jigger”, Mr Corner or “Sammy” and his younger brother, Mr J Corner or “Jig”, Mr Townson or “Benjy” , the Reverend Easton or “Jiggerty” and Mr William Edward Ryles or “Jumbo” and Mr Wilfrid Tyson Ryles or “Nipper”.

Nicknameless staff included Herr Altorfer, Monsieur Brunner, Monsieur Durand, Mr Jackson, Mr Small and Sergeant-Major Vickers the Drill Sergeant. There was also Mr Leopold Compline Wilkes or “Demi”, who went to South Africa in 1893 to be Headmaster of Kimberley Public School, only to die of typhoid, or enteric fever, on May 16th 1899, aged only 37. Here they all are. Still shocked by the recent death of General Custer:

Like poor “Demi”,  young Alexander Wallis, now 33 years of age, was also destined to die in South Africa, but as a soldier during the Second Boer War. He was just one of the 23,000 who paid the ultimate price of other men’s greed. Here is his epitaph taken from “The Forester” as the first School Magazine was called :

“Captain Alexander Frederic Wallis, killed in action near Arundel, near Colesberg, in Cape Colony, on February 24th 1900, was the second son of Major AB Wallis, formerly of the 33rd Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment and late adjutant of the Robin Hood Rifles. He entered the High School on September 12th 1879 and left at Christmas, 1882, being afterwards educated at Derby and Sandhurst. Captain Wallis entered the 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment as a second- lieutenant and obtained his lieutenancy in 1889 and his captaincy in 1896. He served in Bermuda, Halifax, Jamaica, St Helena, Natal and Zululand. On the outbreak of the Matabele war in 1896 he proceeded to Mafeking where he served at the base and on lines of communication. At the finish of the war he went to Malta and was then quartered with the regiment at Dover in Kent. The regiment then went out to South Africa, Captain Wallis being in command of the Mounted Infantry Company. On his arrival in Cape Town he joined Major-General Clements’s (sic) Brigade at Arundel. He had just celebrated his 33rd birthday, and had 13 years’ army service. In Nottingham much sympathy is felt for Major Wallis in his bereavement.”

The village of Colesberg saw many battles and skirmishes during the Second Boer War. They brought into opposition the British and the Boers of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. This is the view looking towards the village:

A day-by-day timeline of the war listed the day of Alexander’s death as an “engagement” rather than a skirmish or a battle.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, History, military, Nottingham, Politics, The High School

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

A lovely old bird called Elsie

(An extract from my birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

Saturday, June 25, 1988

Birdline organises another weekend for me. Look for the orange arrows:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This Saturday, it’s a vagrant duck from North America, a drake Surf Scoter, that has been found offshore at Holme next the Sea  in north Norfolk. A very well-behaved bird, it has been seen every single day of the week, and should be a cinch. Should be:

xxxxxxx surf_scoter_1655

I go with Paul, Robin and Sue. It’s a beautiful summer’s day, blue skies, a bright sun and a typically bracing east coast wind. After an uneventful three hour trip, we park in a layby at the side of the road at the western end of the Holme reserve. As soon as we get out of the car, I see a most peculiar bird. It’s a large tern, flying steadily eastwards along the beach. About the size of a Sandwich Tern, it has a straw yellow bill. I am paralysed, I can’t remember what colour bill a Sandwich Tern has. For a few moments, I think that I’ve got everything exactly backwards, so that all Sandwich Terns have a yellow bill with a black tip. But that’s not the right way round. Sandwich Terns have a black bill with a yellow tip! I force myself to look at the bird for the duration of the flypast, but it’s very difficult to take in a great deal, because I’m so panic stricken:

Sterne voyageuse (Sterna bengalensis)

I think of shouting to Paul, but he’s three miles away, year ticking Redshank. I don’t have the courage to yell to another group of nearby birdwatchers, because deep down, I have a terrible suspicion that I have got it all wrong, that I will be calling out to them just for a Sandwich Tern. I keep looking. The bird is fairly round winged, with fairly dark upper parts to both its wings and back. It has a noticeably white trailing edge to its wings, a little like a Laughing Gull, and for a tern, it seems big, almost the size and bulk of a gull. I walk thirty or forty yards, trying to dismiss the bird as an aberration, the product of a rarity crazed mind. I even consider the idea that I just got out of the car, tired from the driving, and somehow misidentified a Little Tern. There are quite a lot of them over the beach, and mental blocks through fatigue are not that unusual. Then suddenly, the bird reappears. It is in company with  two Sandwich Terns and I can easily pick it out, totally different from its two companions:

 

This time, I shout to Paul and tell him to get on to the last bird. He manages to pick it out and agrees with me on two things. Firstly, that it is different to the Sandwich Terns, and secondly, that it has a straw yellow bill.  We have an exciting discussion about it and Paul puts forward the idea that it is a Lesser Crested Tern, a very rare vagrant to Britain, but one which has been seen a few times of late, due in part, it is thought, to a single lost bird which wanders the east coast of Britain, looking eagerly for its Libyan homeland. I haven’t a clue. I’ve never even heard of a Lesser Crested Tern. I thought that Gaddafi had abolished birds as being too flippant. I don’t even have a book with Lesser Crested Tern in it:

xxxx LCT 2

When I get back to Nottingham, I spend many a happy hour, trying to get information on the mystery bird. What convinces me though, is an illustration that I find in an old Indian birdwatching book, where the most salient points are the yellow beak, the dark mantle and the brightest of white trailing edges. They ought to know. They see them a damned sight more often than I do. And what finally proves it to me totally is an announcement a couple of days later that a Lesser Crested Tern has recently been present, on and off, at Cley next the Sea, just a few miles down the coast to the east. Seduced by the promise of eternal fame, I send a letter to the Norfolk Bird Recorder, and also to the Reserve Warden at Holme.

The Surf Scoter, of course, after all this, is long gone. We spend the rest of the day looking for it, but without any luck at all. The Common Scoters are exactly that, but among the hundreds of sea duck, there is no bright white head:

We also see a lot of Little Terns, who succeed in sowing the seeds of doubt, but who, at the same time, solve quite a few problems. They fly down the same track as the putative Lesser Crested Tern, but with a completely different flight action. They flutter like butterflies. They don’t fly purposefully like the mystery bird:

And anyway, I saw it in the company of Sandwich Terns, so I have a good idea of its size, and it’s a lot bigger than a Little Tern. It’s a different bird, in actual fact. A thrilling end to a memorable day is provided as we motor south to Kings Lynn, on the way back. Look for the orange arrow:

lynn

Just beyond the ring road, we see a large raptor quartering the fields to our left:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Montagu's_Harrier

It crosses the road above our heads, continues the quartering, and finally disappears behind the line of trees on the horizon. It is a male Montagu’s Harrier, perhaps the North Wootton bird, but more likely, from a site not yet revealed to the Verminous Company of Egg Thieves. It is fairly isolated out here though. Let’s hope that the Montagu’s Harrier family spend their summer undisturbed, raise their babies and leave peacefully. Flying back if possible, not over Malta or any other world centre of illegal hunting:

xxxxx montagus_Harrier_Serengeti_

 

I sent in my claim of a Lesser Crested Tern to the British Bird Rarities Committee, but after a year or two of careful consideration, they rejected it,  even though the Birdwatching Committee in Norfolk seemed reasonably satisfied with it. So, a few years later, I drove to Spurn Head in Yorkshire to see another, or conceivably the same returning, Lesser Crested Tern. Look for Nottingham in the bottom left and the orange arrow:

spurn

I went there on two separate occasions, and finished up driving nearly 500 miles in total. After almost two days standing in “The Place”, “The Bird” did not deign to tern up (sick). On the second day, I was there at seven in the morning, and I was then the last to leave at eight o’clock in the evening. Another birdwatcher arriving alone at half past eight then found the bird exactly where it was supposed to be standing and I’d missed it. That started to make it personal.

A little while later, I drove to the north Norfolk coast where foolhardy twitchers were wading across a tidal creek to Scolt Head Island, their telescopes and tripods held above their heads like the Marines in Vietnam. They were looking for a Lesser Crested Tern which had been seen in the Sandwich Tern colony. Look for the orange arrow: 

scolt

I decided, though, to stay on the mainland, not drown and keep my eyes open for the bird flying down the coast to fish. Three wasted hours. No chance!

It was by now way beyond personal. Around this time a Lesser Crested Tern had been hybridising with Sandwich Terns in a tern colony on the Farne Islands, some three or four miles off the coast of Northumberland, some 200 miles to the north of Nottingham. Eventually, everybody realised that all the many records of Lesser Crested Tern on the English East Coast were most probably this one returning individual, being seen over and over again by different people.  Because the initials of a Lesser Crested Tern are “LCT”, the bird was now being called “Elsie”. I decided to bite the bullet  and drive up to the Farne Islands. As the bird was nesting, it should be a cinch. Should be.

Look for the orange arrows :

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I failed to see it. So I decided to try again, and at very long last, I saw Elsie’s straw yellow bill sticking jauntily out of a crowd of black billed Sandwich Terns, all sitting on their eggs.

And I watched this good tern, this most excellent tern, for a very long time. A very long time. And then, half an hour later, I came back for seconds. And yes, I had already seen a bird just like Elsie, with her unmistakable bill, somewhere else, a long time previously, but the details escaped me for the moment.
Afterwards, I worked out that the nearest colonies of Lesser Crested Tern were on the coast of Libya. To see one, I had driven to Holme (210 miles for the round trip), Spurn Head twice (500 miles for two round trips), Scolt Head Island (250 miles for the round trip) and the Farne Islands(880 miles for two round trips). How far is it to Libya by car?

11 Comments

Filed under History, Personal, Science, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature