Tag Archives: Old Nottinghamians

A few days after D-Day (5)

In my previous article, I revealed that it is now known that one member of the crew of that Lancaster Z-NH, serial number ME150, brought down by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, did not perish, but survived the crash, only to be then killed, proudly fighting alongside the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Graignes.

For many years the tale had been told that the mystery aviator was an American fighter pilot who had been shot down, but in recent times, around 2008, the real truth has come to light. The mystery flyer was Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black of the Royal Australian Air Force.
I found the full, detailed story prominently featured on Channel Nine News:

“For sixty years his family had thought he died on D-Day in a relatively straight forward situation when his plane was shot down over occupied France by enemy fire. “We knew that he had been in a crashed plane and we always thought that he died there and then,” his great niece Elissa Liggins said. But Sergeant Black survived the crash, and was taken in by a brave French family for the night.
After a good stiff drink and a sleep Sergeant Black asked to be taken to the nearby village of Graignes where he met a group of American paratroopers. Their orders were to defend the village. Even after a plane crash, Sergeant Black was determined to help.”

graignes
“Aided by the villagers, the paratroopers and Sergeant Black set up a perimeter around Graignes.
After a couple of days, the Germans attacked. The allies successfully fought them off the first time but the Germans successfully attacked again.
The S.S. then executed many of the survivors. It is not clear exactly how Sergeant Stanley Black died but he was probably killed on June 11th. He was just 21 years old. The little village never forgot their “Australian hero”.

Decades later an English lady who lives in the village, Liane Ward-Cleaveley, felt frustrated his name was not on the plaque commemorating the battle. She contacted a Lancaster enthusiast in Australia, Graeme Roberts, who tracked down Sgt Black’s relatives.

“We got a phone call from a gentleman called Graeme who had read a message from an English lady living in France,” Ms Liggins recalled.
“She had a bee in her bonnet because this Australian who had battled hadn’t got his name on a memorial.”
Accompanied by members of the RAAF, Ms Liggins flew to France for the unveiling of her great uncle’s name on the village plaque.

ryinedchurch

“I don’t think any of us appreciated how big it was going to be for the family – certainly not for me – it’s quite life changing,” she said.
Flight Lieutenant Mark Schmidt describes it as “an amazing experience”.
“It’s an incredible story and then to go to the village and connect with the villagers there… he’s a hero to those guys they call him ‘the Australian who fell from the sky’,” he said.

Every single evening at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, a single Australian who died for his country is honoured. And recently, Sergeant Stanley Black was the chosen hero.
The Last Post was played and the Eternal Fame flickered. Ms Liggins and her family laid a wreath for their uncle. It was a poignant moment she will never forget:

“I sort of feel like I have a connection with him now, that just wasn’t there before, and I know his story intimately… it’s pretty powerful stuff,” she said.

A powerful story, to share with generations to come.
And what a story. The forces of darkest evil opposed by brave, brave men, women and children.

French villagers, French children, American paratroopers, British flyers and one very, very brave and determined Australian.

Here is a film of Graignes today.

 The church has been left exactly as the cowards of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division left it.

There is another excellent film on the Channel 9 News site. It is well worth watching.

If you are feeling brave, then try this website. It has a picture of Madame Marthe His, one of the only surviving witnesses of this Nazi war crime.

marthe-his-temoigne-au-memorial-de-graignes

She watched what the SS did when she was only 12, and now, 73 years later, and a very young looking 83, she is determined that it should not be forgotten.
In a video lower down the page, she tells her story in French where, at the least, you should be able to recognise a few words.

Here is roughly the same story in French for you to read as homework:

“À 12 ans, Marthe His a vu soldats américains et civils se faire massacrer par les Allemands à Graignes. 71 ans plus tard, elle est revenue pour témoigner.

Derrière ses petites lunettes rondes, les yeux bleus de Marthe His ont gardé toute leur vigueur. Au moment de témoigner, hier après-midi au mémorial de Graignes (Manche), un voile de tristesse a peut-être atténué leur éclat pendant quelques minutes. C’est tout en pudeur que ce petit bout de femme, âgée de 83 ans, a revécu en souvenir les massacres de Graignes en juin 1944.

Des 200 Américains qui débarquent dans la maison familiale, au sauvetage de 23 soldats. Elle replonge dans cette histoire tragique du débarquement dans la Manche.
Un épisode sanglant où 43 soldats Américains et 30 habitants de Graignes trouveront la mort des mains des Allemands.”

memorial

And don’t forget Flight Sergeant Stanley Black of the Royal Australian Air Force.

He didn’t need to do what he did.

But he did it nevertheless. A true hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A few days after D-Day (4)

I wrote a previous article about an Avro Lancaster Mark III bomber which took off from Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, ten miles south east of Lincoln, at twenty five minutes past midnight on June 7th 1944. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was ME150.

Operating in the direct aftermath of D-Day the crew were tasked with bombing Coutances, a beautiful little town just south west of Caen in Normandy, in an effort to disrupt the German transportation of troops.

balguthrie

Unfortunately, the aircraft was one of two hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire over Lison, and it crashed near the village of St Jean de Daye. All of the crew were killed except two.

The first of two subsequent articles told the story of John “Jock” Drylie, the aircraft’s navigator, and the only member of the crew who ever managed to return home, in his case, to Fife in Scotland:

DRYLIE PHOTO

This is the second article of the two, and tells the extraordinary story of Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black of the Royal Australian Air Force. He was the bomb aimer, only 21 years of age and the beloved son of George and Lillian Eliza Black, of North Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia.

On June 7th 1944, Stanley survived the crash, and, in fact, was virtually unscathed.

He soon met some American gentlemen, however, and then a very dark and grim tale indeed began to unfold.

These American gentlemen turned out to be the élite troops of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the American Army. Just after two o’clock in the morning of June 6th 1944, twelve planeloads of them had been dropped in error some eighteen miles from their correct drop zone. Wandering more or less at random around the marshes near Carentan, they were now very close to the village of Graignes:

Pathfinder_Plane15

At daybreak, the village mayor of Graignes, Monsieur Alphonse Voydie, woke up and suddenly noticed that the grass field behind his house was absolutely full of American soldiers.  As Mayor, he called an immediate emergency meeting of everybody in the town. The brave townspeople decided unanimously to feed the American soldiers, despite the very real risk that the Germans would shoot them all, both villagers and soldiers. Under the forceful command of Madame Germaine Boursier, all the women of the village began cooking around the clock to serve the Americans with at least two hot meals every day. At the same time, teams of villagers, men, women and children, began filling any wheeled vehicle with lost American equipment and then bringing it back to its rightful owners.

Militarily, though, the situation was hopeless. The 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the brave, helpful French villagers were completely surrounded by German troops including, among others, the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen under the command of SS-Standartenführer Otto Binge.

zz bocage

In view of what was about to happen, the fact that these Nazi troops were from the 17th SS Panzergrenadiers was supremely ironic. The unit had been raised near Poitiers in south-central France in October 1943.
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It consisted mainly of conscripts, many of whom were Rumanian Germans with a good number of French Fascist volunteers.

The SS duly attacked the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who were by now entrenched in the village. It took the Germans until June 11th to overwhelm the village, with just the church left to be captured:

church

The Americans had, by this point, claimed perhaps five or six hundred dead Germans, with the roughly the same number wounded.

To forestall all those who would defend those apologies for human beings who made up the Waffen SS, I would like to quote the Wikipedia account pretty much in full about what happened next. I have also added some extra details from a website about the battle in Normandy in 1944:

“The 17th SS stormed the church and found Captain Sophian’s medical aid station. They forced the Captain and all of the wounded outside against a wall. The men were divided into two groups and marched away. One group was marched down to the edge of a shallow pond behind Madame Boursier’s café. At the edge of the pond, the SS bayoneted the wounded men and threw them into the water one on top of the other. The other group of 507th paratroopers was forced to march to a field near the village of Le Mesnil Angot. There, the nine wounded men were forced to dig a pit. As soon as the pit was complete, the SS shot each one of them in the back of the head and dumped their bodies in the pit one on top of the other.

Other Germans began a round-up of the French civilians.  The SS men knew that the church’s belfry had been used as an observation point to direct mortar fire accurately onto their attacking troops. The SS soldiers therefore burst into the church rectory, dragged Father Leblastier and Father Lebarbanchon into the courtyard and shot them both to death. They then discovered Madeleine Pezeril and eighty-year-old Eugenie DuJardin. Overwhelmed with fear, the two old ladies had been cowering in their quarters ever since the end of the battle. The Germans shot and killed both women in their beds. Meanwhile, forty-four villagers had been rounded up and were being interrogated. They were threatened with immediate execution if they did not divulge the names of any villagers who had actively assisted the Americans. Not a single one of the villagers turned in a single name. And none of them revealed either the role that Alphonse Voydie had played in the Graignes drama. Had the Germans known what Voydie had done, they would most certainly have executed him too.

On Tuesday June 13th, the Germans burned the village. They poured gasoline over the bodies of Father Leblastier, Father Lebarbanchon, Eugenie DuJardin and Madeleine Pezeril and then set them on fire. The ensuing blaze was allowed to burn out of control, destroying 66 homes, the boys’ school, Madame Boursier’s café and the 12th-century church. Another 159 homes and other buildings were damaged either as a result of that fire or the fighting. Before the June 11th battle and the German retaliation that followed, the village of Graignes had consisted of just over two hundred homes and other structures. Afterward, only two houses survived unscathed.”

In the words of “morice”:

« A leur départ, l’école et l’église de Graignes n’existent plus, le village n’est qu’une ruine fumante. C’est un autre Oradour et un autre Maillé, la signature des SS aux abois en 1944 dans le pays. Au total, ils laissent derrière eux 63 morts. Seul le clocher du XIIème siècle resté debout défie toujours l’occupant. »

On July 6th 1986, a ceremony was held in the ruins of the church at Graignes during which eleven villagers were presented with the Award for Distinguished Civilian Service for their role in assisting the men of 3rd Battalion/507th. Six of those awards were posthumous.

Only one member of the SS was punished in any way for this incident, the rather unlucky Erwin Wilhelm Konrad Schienkiewitz who went to prison for life. If you look at the Wikipedia entry for 17th SS Panzergrenadiers, there is a shortish list of the war crimes for which some of them received prison sentences.

For the most part, they were to do with killing concentration camp prisoners, but they also executed the Mayor of a German town who wanted to surrender to the Allies and avoid unnecessary deaths. And they murdered a Jewish dentist. What bravery from the élite troops of the Master Race.

Like so many members of the Waffen SS, however, their commander,  SS-Standartenführer Otto Binge, lived out a full life and died peacefully in a warm bed on June 18th 1982.

And why am I telling this great long-winded tale, other than the fact that it deserves to be told anyway?

Well, because it is now known that one member of that crew of the 106 Squadron Lancaster Z-NH, serial number ME150, was killed proudly fighting alongside the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Graignes.
For many years, the tale had been told that there was an American fighter pilot involved in the fighting, but only in recent times, around 2008, has the real truth come to light. The mystery fighter pilot was none other than Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black, bomb aimer of the Royal Australian Air Force.

black

I will bring this tale to a conclusion in the near future.

To end with, let me repeat that none of these three articles about the Avro Lancaster III from Metheringham, Z-NH, ME150, shot down on June 7th 1944, could have been written without recourse to the websites and forums which I have indicated. I just hope that what I have written, tales which deserve to be heard, will reach another audience by my re-telling them.

 

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A few days after D-Day (3)

I have written two previous articles about an Avro Lancaster Mark III bomber which took off from Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, ten miles south east of Lincoln at twenty five minutes past midnight on June 7th 1944. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was ME150.

Operating in the direct aftermath of D-Day the crew were tasked with bombing Coutances, a beautiful little town just south west of Caen in Normandy, in an effort to disrupt German transportation of troops:

balguthrie

Unfortunately, the aircraft was hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire over Lison, a town near Coutances, and it crashed near the village of St Jean de Daye. All of the crew were killed except two.

The first of two articles will tell the story of John “Jock” Drylie, the aircraft’s navigator, and the only member of the crew who managed, eventually, to return home, in his case, to Fife in Scotland. “Jock” Drylie is known to be on this photograph of a Short Stirling bomber and its crew, but the names of the individual flyers remain unknown:

DRYLIE PHOTO

I found John’s story on a forum, one of what must be hundreds devoted to the aircraft of the RAF in the Second World War.

The tale of John Drylie was posted by Michel Tardivat in 2014:

“When the aircraft crashed, five members of the crew were either unconscious or dead. He buried his parachute and hid in the deep bushes of Normandy for two or three days, he did not know how long. Driven by hunger, he knocked on the door of a farm near the village of Saint-Fromond. The owner of the farm was Arthur Michel who carefully checked John’s proof of identity with the local French Résistance. At this time, it was only too easy for German agents to pose, for example, as British soldiers, or downed flyers, in order to penetrate the Résistance network. Brave Monsieur Michel kept John at his farm, pretending, as the Scot could speak no French whatsoever, that he was a deaf and dumb farm worker.

All of the crew members from ME150 were initially reported as missing in action. His family, and especially his young fiancée, Margaret, were devastated. She was working at Stirling Castle as a radio operator for the Army.
In actual fact, John was already on his way back home. Arthur Michel continued his heroism by driving John to Bayeux. Again, the Germans had only one penalty for people caught helping Allies soldiers, and that was death. After that, the equally brave men and women of the Résistance network continued the process, and Flying Officer Drylie was back in Britain by July 19th 1944.

In the late 1940s, Farmer Michel took a wife and she was able, in the era of rationing and postwar shortages, to wear a silk wedding dress made from the material of John Drylie’s parachute. Arthur Michel and his lucky wife had just one daughter who was the village teacher at Saint-Fromond all her working life. At the moment, she lives in the family farm, which has been converted into a Bed and Breakfast establishment.

During the 1950s, the Drylie family would visit their French friends and their son Peter, would play around the wrecked fuselage of the Lancaster bomber which remained virtually untouched in a field near the village for many, many years.

Nowadays, in the cemetery at Saint-Fromond, brave Arthur Michel rests in peace. On his tomb is fixed a medal. It was placed there by the grateful RAF.”

John Drylie seems to have been very greatly affected by the events of June 7th 1944. He hardly ever spoke about what had happened to him in that doomed Lancaster. He never wore his wartime medals. He never attended any official ceremonies connected with that terrible night.

DRYLIE PHOTO

Just once,though, he came with three generations of his family, his children and grand-children, to visit the most famous places from D-Day, namely, Saint-Lô, Bayeux, Sainte-Mère-Église  and Colleville. It is unknown whether he visited the cemetery at Saint-Fromond or at Bayeux, but I would be very surprised if he did not. He was certainly seen to be very deeply moved as he stood silently at the places he visited

“Jock” Drylie was a chartered-accountant for all of his life. He travelled extensively between workplaces in Paris and in Scotland. He passed away in September 1990, in his house, “Balguthrie”, in Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland:

balguthrie

He was buried in the local churchyard with his wife Margaret and his son Peter.

Personally, I would posit that John Drylie, who hardly ever spoke about what had happened, never wore his wartime medals and never attended any official ceremonies, was a classic sufferer from Survivor Guilt.

To quote Wikipedia:

“Stephen Joseph, a psychologist at the University of Warwick, has said: “There were three types of Survivor Guilt: first, there was guilt about staying alive while others died; second, there was a guilt about the things they failed to do – these people often suffered post-traumatic ‘intrusions’ as they relived the event again and again; third, there were feelings of guilt about what they did do, such as scrambling over others to escape. These people usually wanted to avoid thinking about the catastrophe. They didn’t want to be reminded of what really happened.”

I am sure that, by now, Jock will have met up with all his old pals in Heaven and they will have told him that he should feel no guilt. In Bomber Command, death was so often decided by blind chance, nothing more:

Lancaster_B_MkI_44_Sqn_RAF_in_flight_1942

 

To end with, let me repeat that none of these three articles about the Avro Lancaster III from Metheringham, Z-NH, ME150, shot down on June 7th 1944, could have been written without recourse to the websites and forums which I have indicated. I just hope that what I have written, tales which deserve to be heard, will reach another audience by my re-telling them.

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A few days after D-Day (1)

Frank Leonard Corner attended the High School just  a few years before before the Second World War. He spent at least one season as the young scorer for the School’s First XI cricket team:

P1300886 1938

Of the three cricketers behind young Frank Corner, the one on the extreme right is George Brown. Playing for the School cricket team, George was a real asset with his “devastating fast in-swinging yorker on the leg stump”. On a forgotten Saturday in July 1944, however, now Lieutenant Brown, he was killed in action during the aftermath of the D-Day landings. He was just 24 years of age. Lieutenant Brown was in the 2nd Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment (3rd Infantry Division) and on that day, the blast of an exploding German mortar shell was even more devastating than his “devastating fast in-swinging yorker on the leg stump”.

Young Frank Corner, though, left the High School and its cricket team, on the faintly ominous date of July 31st 1939. First of all, he worked briefly for the Notts War Agricultural Committee. Around this time, he had also played rugby for the Old Nottinghamians’ Wartime XV.

Frank, though, like so many hundreds of thousands of other young men, was soon to feel the “Call of the Skies”. He joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and was soon promoted to be Flight Sergeant Corner.

In due course, Flight Sergeant Corner joined 106 Squadron, stationed at Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, just south east of Lincoln itself. Here is the old gymnasium, still left after all these years:

Metheringham_Gymnaxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Here is the building used to practice dropping bombs accurately:

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And here is the beautifully maintained Memorial Garden:

1280px-RAF_Metheringham_Memorial_Garden

Frank was the Flight Engineer in an Avro Lancaster Mark III. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was ME150.
Operating in the direct aftermath of D-Day the bomber took off from Metheringham at twenty five minutes past midnight on June 7th 1944. It was tasked with bombing Coutances, a beautiful little town just south west of Caen in Normandy.

Just give you an idea of the numbers involved, the “The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book” by Chris Everitt and Martin Middlebrook reveals that:

“there was a total of 1,065 aircraft, made up of 589 Lancasters, 418 Halifaxes, and 58 Mosquitos.  They were to bomb the lines of communication behind the D-Day battle area. All of the targets were in or near French towns. 3,488 tons of bombs were dropped on targets at Achères, Argentan, Caen, Châteaudun, Conde sur Noireau, Coutances, St Lô, Lisieux and Vire. Every effort was made to bomb accurately but casualties to the French civilians were inevitable. Cloud affected the accuracy of the bombing at many of the targets and, at Achères, the Master Bomber ordered the raid to be abandoned because of cloud and no bombs were dropped. 10 Lancasters and 1 Halifax were lost in these raids; 6 of the Lancasters were lost in the No 5 Group raid at Caen, where the main force of bombers had to wait for the target to be properly marked and then fly over an area full of German units and guns at bombing heights below 3,000ft. Some details are available of the effects of the bombing. At Argentan, Châteaudun and Lisieux, much damage was done to railways, although the towns, Lisieux in particular, were hit by many bombs. Important bridges at Coutances were badly damaged and the town centres of Caen, Condé sur Noireau, St-Lô and Vire were all badly bombed and most of the roads through those towns were blocked.
….19 aircraft were minelaying in the Brest area, and 26 aircraft on Resistance operations. No aircraft lost.

Total effort for the night: 1,160 sorties, 11 aircraft (0.9 per cent) lost.”

lanc crash

Alas, young Frank Corner was one of that minuscule 0.9%. His bomber was shot down and crashed near the tiny village of St Jean de Daye:

dAYE

On June 11th 1944, the Wing Commander of 106 Squadron actually sent a report to the Air Ministry, explaining that the crew of Z-NH had been told to bomb bridges in Caen. This is thought possibly to explain why the aircraft finally came down near St Jean de Daye. They had been hit by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, where a worker at the railway yard remembers how the German gunners celebrated the fact that they had shot down a bomber.

Frank was just twenty one years old when he died. His service number was 222039 and his parents were Captain Leonard Leslie Corner and Florence Edna Corner, of Whiston, Yorkshire.

Frank is buried in the War Cemetery in Bayeux, in Calvados, Normandy, France along with 3,805 other war casualties. He has paid with his young life the price of our freedom:

ddday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Notts £100 million striker (1877-1891) (second half)

In my previous blogpost about Harry Cursham, the Notts County superstar, I wrote for the most part about his exploits in the F.A.Cup. At the time, the F.A.Cup was the only official competition in existence for football clubs. Apart from international matches, which, with just four countries, permitted only three games per season, Harry could only play in friendly games until some bright spark invented the Football League in 1888.

Here is an abridged version of Harry’s exploits in friendly fixtures. For me, the most wonderful things are the evocative names of some of those long defunct clubs.

In 1877-1878, Harry scored a hat trick on his début at home against Stoke (4-1), and five goals in an away game against Manchester (6-0). He got four in an 8-2 victory over Derby Grammar School, and also appeared in an amazing 1-10 defeat at Southwell. Harry would have worn this kit:

notts_county_1877-1878

The photograph below shows the Notts.County team which played a prestige friendly against Queens’ Park, of Glasgow, Scotland, on November 18th 1877 at Hampden Park.

(back row) Erasmus Keely, Fred Rothera, Arthur Ashwell (Umpire), Harold Greenhalgh, Harry  Cursham, George Seals. (front row) Richard Greenhalgh, Arthur Cursham, Ernest Greenhalgh, Tom Oliver, S.Keely. Henry Jessop is sitting on the floor. As well as Harry, Arthur Ashwell, Arthur Cursham, Henry Jessop, Tom Oliver and George Seals were all ex-High School pupils:

q park

In 1880-1881, Harry scored 13 goals in 10 appearances, including five at home to Sheffield (8-1), a game in which fellow Old Nottinghamian Harold Morse scored the other three goals. He scored five more goals in what was then Notts’ record winning margin, namely 15-1 at home to Newark.

In 1881-1882, Harry produced 21 goals in just 15 appearances. By now an outside left, he scored four at home to Staveley (7-0) and Derby Midland (7-2), and four more away to Pilgrims (5-1). He scored twos at home to the Old Carthusians (5-1) and the Sheffield Club (5-1) and away to Nottingham Forest (5-0). At one point, he managed 16 goals in six consecutive games (1-2-2-2-4-4 ). In addition, the scorers of three goals in a 5-0 victory over the Sheffield Club remain unknown, as do all the goalscorers in a 13-0 rout of Grantham. It is surely beyond credence that Harry did not score at least once in this particular game.

In 1882-1883, he scored 29 goals in 16 appearances. Having moved to centre forward, he opened the season with six goals against a Local Clubs’ XI (10-1) and scored four at home to Stoke (5-0) with four away at Sheffield (8-2). He got a hat trick in a 10-0 home win over Mitchell St.George’s, and scored twos at home against Sheffield (8-1), Liverpool Ramblers (3-1),Walsall (7-2) and Wednesbury Old Athletic (6-1) and away against Aston Villa (2-1). At one point, Harry managed 16 goals in five games (6-2-2-4-2 ). The scorers remain unknown in a 5-1 victory at Stoke:

harry 1

The 1883-1884 season produced 22 goals in 21 appearances. Playing mainly as an outside left, Harry scored four goals in a 5-1 victory over Padiham, and hat tricks at home to Sheffield Attercliffe (6-2) and Brentwood (3-2). He got twos in a 6-1 home victory over the South of England and in a 4-1 home win against Great Lever.

The following season of 1884-1885, he was to score 19 goals in just 22 appearances, with four in an 8-0 home victory over Derby Midland, and twos at home to Sheffield (6-2), Notts Rangers (6-2), Corinthians (3-2), and, most important of all, against Nottingham Forest, in a 3-2 home victory. He played this season mostly as an outside left, but in January, Harry missed the games against Blackburn Olympic (1-1) and Preston North End (2-3), as he was in mourning for his brother, Arthur, who, having recently emigrated, had died in Pera, Florida on Christmas Eve at the age of only 32, of what was variously called malarial fever or yellow fever. In the game against Blackburn Olympic, the County team all wore black crêpe armbands as a mark of respect. Here is the Olympic team:

blackburn1886

Immediately before the start of this season, “Mercutio”, in his “Nottingham Football Annual”, had described Harry Cursham as:

“A grand forward. Plays on either wing, and has distinguished himself in the centre. Is at his best perhaps on the left, in which position he frequently evokes admiration by the brilliancy of his runs. A splendid shot at goal, and altogether one of the best men of the day.”

In 1885-1886 Harry managed hat tricks at home to West Bromwich Albion (4-3) and Nottingham Forest (5-0). The next season there were 15 goals in 23 games as Harry, by now back at inside left, scored goals steadily throughout the season. He cannot, though, have enjoyed Notts’ narrow 0-14 defeat at the hands of Preston North End, “The Invincibles”, who were to win the first ever Football League Championship in 1888-1889. They were one of the greatest teams in the history of the Football League:

preston-north-end-1889-514

In the last season before the establishment of the Football League, 1887-1888, Harry, now operating at either left or right full back scored only 2 goals in 19 games. They both came in a 4-0 home victory over Grimsby Town, one of only three games in the forward line. Here is the Notts kit from 1888-1890:notts_county_1880-1890

In 1888-1889, Harry, still a right back, became one of the small number of High School boys to have played League football. He played eight times and his two goals came when he reverted to centre forward, in home victories over West Bromwich Albion (2-1) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-0). The latter effort, scored after two goals from Ted May, was his last goal for Notts County.

In matches other than F.A.Cup ties, therefore, Harry managed a minimum of 158 goals in 183 appearances. When the F.A.Cup ties are added in, his career total becomes a phenomenal 235 goals in 202 appearances. In very many games, of course, the scorers’ names have been lost and we have no means of knowing if that total of 235 is too low.

On March 18th 1882, Harry refereed the friendly match between Nottingham Forest and a Trent-Wanderers Combination. In this match, Forest’s goalkeeper, John Sands, came out of goal, and scored a goal, surely one of the first times that this had ever happened in football history.

Some years after this, Harry refereed the friendly game between Nottingham Forest and Notts Rangers (0-2), one of the Nottingham’s first ever matches under floodlights. The game kicked off at 8 p.m., on Monday, March 25th 1889. The lighting was provided by Wells lights, fourteen of which were set up around the ground. Powered by oil, they provided, in theory, some 14,000 candlepower each. More than 5,000 spectators were attracted to this unusual game.

Given his amazing record as a goalscorer, Harry was to play for England on several occasions:

h cursham

He made his début in 1880 as an outside right, a late replacement in the team as England beat Wales by 3-2 at Wrexham. In 1882, he played as outside left in a record away performance at Belfast in Ireland. Harry scored one goal of England’s thirteen, without reply from the Irish. Here are the Irish, looking very dapper:

M014Ire1882Ire 13-0

Later that year he played as a left half against Scotland in Glasgow, a game the English lost, rather unluckily, by five goals to one. Can you spot the fresh faced Harry in the picture below?

sco 5 eng 1

This particular game was refereed by the splendidly named official, Mr Segar R Bastard. Crowds were to recognise his offspring in innumerable matches down the years.

Harry then scored one goal as England lost by 3-5 to Wales at Wrexham. In February, 1883, he celebrated being in the same England team as his Old Nottinghamian brother, Arthur, by scoring a goal in a 5-0 revenge victory over the Welsh.  In the same month, as an outside left, he helped England beat the Irish by 7-0 at Liverpool. In March 1883, he again appeared with his brother Arthur, this time as a left half, losing to Scotland by 2-3 at Sheffield.

This is the England team which played against Scotland at Sheffield on March 10th 1883. It contained three Notts County players, and two Old Nottinghamians, one of whom, Harry Cursham, is seated second from the left on the middle row. His brother, Arthur Cursham, may be the player seated on the left of the front row, and half back Stuart Macrae is possibly the player at the right hand end of the middle row. Readers may wish to look at other pictures of Notts County, and decide for themselves !

eng v sco 1883

On February 25th 1884, as outside left, Harry scored a hat-trick in England’s 8-1 victory over Ireland in Belfast. This was his last game for England, and he had scored five goals in eight appearances at this level. This remains the record number of England international caps by a Notts County player. What a pity there were only three games per season. What a pity Harry Cursham never played against Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein or Gibraltar. What goals Harry would have scored!

After leaving Notts County, Harry played an unrecorded number of games for Grantham:

Grantham_Town_FC_logoOn March 12th 1891, Harry appeared for the Nottingham High School Old Boys at the Gregory Ground, in their fixture against the current High School First Team. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Old Boys won by 3-1, with Harry getting their second goal midway through the second half. In 1896, Harry, along with Tinsley Lindley, was invited to play in the first ever “Gentlemen versus Players” game, a prestigious friendly, which would help to make absolutely clear to all the working class spectators the rigid class differences and privileges in force in the hierarchical society of the time. To both men’s credit, they refused the opportunity, preferring to watch a local derby match, Forest v County.

By 1929, Harry was living at “The Firs”, Holme Pierrepoint:

old man

Harry passed away peacefully there on Wednesday, August 6th 1941, at the age of eighty-two. He was survived by his widow, and his daughter, Mrs.R.S.Challands. Harry had two sons. One, Curzon, was a solicitor, while the other son, Francis George, was a Major in the 8th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters during the Great War. He was tragically killed in an accident on active service at Aldershot on August 31st 1918, at the age of only twenty-nine.

Harry’s funeral took place at Holme Pierrepont Parish Church on Saturday, August 9th 1941:

church hpp xxxxxxx

His old friend, the Archdeacon J.P.Hales took the service, assisted by Canon A.D.Allen, the Rector of the parish. Harry was buried behind the church. Harry’s wife, Frances Anne Elizabeth, was to pass away on March 8th 1946, at the age of eighty-two. She was buried with her husband:

grave

Only ten metres away from these two graves lies Harry’s other son, Curzon. He lived to a ripe old age, dying on June 17th 1981 just three weeks short of his 94th birthday. His wife, Sheila Moorhouse Cursham (1891-1968) is interred with him. Next to Harry and Frances lies his son, Francis:

son cursham-granve-a

By the way, the illustrations of the old football kits came from the best ever website for the soccer nerd and all the boys who had more than twenty different Subbuteo teams. New Brighton Tower 1898? Oh, yes.

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Filed under Football, History, Nottingham, The High School

Notts £100 million striker (1877-1891) (first half)

Harry Cursham has scored more goals in the F.A Cup competition than any other soccer player in history.

Harry was born at Wilford Grange near Nottingham on November 27th 1859, one of the five sons of William George Cursham, a solicitor. He entered the High School at the age of nine on January 18th 1869, on the same day as his brother, Charles. Harry had three brothers in total. Like him, they all attended the High School. They were Arthur William Cursham, (born 1853), Charles Lambert Cursham, (born 1858), and William Cursham (born 1862). Here is the High School of Harry’s day:

first day

During his school career Harry played for the High School First Team, but only a very few editions of the school magazine, “The Forester”, have survived from this period. Unfortunately, the very few match reports are not particularly detailed, and there is no mention of Harry as a footballer.

Harry does appear as an athlete.  He won a 100 yards’ race for boys under eleven at the Annual Athletic Sports in September 1870. This major event in the social calendar of Victorian Nottingham took place at Trent Bridge, with the crowd entertained throughout the two days by the regimental band of the Robin Hood Rifles. “Cursham ii” won “a capital race” for second place, narrowly beating Brewill, “who ran remarkably well for so small a boy” by about two yards. It was only after the end of the race that the apparently easy winner, Anderson, was disqualified for being over age, thus leaving Harry in first place.

After leaving in 1875, Harry transferred to Repton School as a boarder. He remained there until Christmas 1876, and represented the school at both football and cricket. Harry returned to Nottingham in 1877 and joined Notts County for the 1877-1878 season. Both he, and his brother, Arthur, soon became very great favourites with the crowd. Harry was too young to have worn Notts’ wonderful “convict kit”:

notts_county_1872-1873

On November 3rd 1877, “…these splendidly built players…”, Harry and elder brother, Charles, played for County in their first ever F.A.Cup tie, against the Sheffield Club, for whom Arthur Cursham made an appearance. Arthur, of course, was normally a Notts County player. The match took place at Trent Bridge, and was drawn 1-1. Arthur scored for Sheffield, and Charles for Notts County. The County team included at least four Old Nottinghamians, namely Harry Cursham, Charles Cursham, Thomas Oliver, George Seals, and, possibly, Henry Jessop as a fifth.

In the replay, Arthur scored twice for Sheffield, and County lost 0-3, but Harry was seen as a promising débutant during the season, appearing in the prestigious friendly against Scottish club, Queen’s Park, at Hampden.

Harry soon became a high scoring forward, and scored well in excess of 200 goals in thirteen seasons. “The Football Annual” described him as…

“…one of the best forwards of the day, plays brilliantly on either wing but is particularly effective on the left.”

Elsewhere, he is described as having been:

“…at home on either wing or in the centre, and had good dribbling skills.”

In the 1880s, a third source said that Harry was

“…the most versatile player Notts had during that period, for he was at home anywhere, and was an indispensable member of the English eleven.”

Here is our hero:

cursham

On November 16th 1878, Harry played for Notts County in their First Round F.A.Cup tie against Nottingham Forest at Beeston Cricket Ground, Nottingham Forest having waived their right to host the game. The fact that the Forest Recreation Ground was public land meant that it was impossible to charge admission money. Forest won 3-1, in front of a crowd of some 500 spectators, with goals from Turner, Goodyer and Smith. The attendance was the highest ever recorded for a football match in Nottingham. Special excursion trains were used to take them out of the City.

On November 11th 1880, Harry returned to the High School, and appeared on the Forest for the School First XI  against the Bank. The match took place on a “merit half-holiday”, and the High School fielded six Old Boys, including Harry and Charles Cursham. The Bank’s team was formidable, with several “players of no small note in the local football world”. The game was fast and even, but the the High School’s players were on top form. They ran out the eventual winners by 4-1.

By now Harry had already played for England on one occasion, against Wales at Wrexham on March 15th 1880. As far as I can trace, this game against the Bank is the only occasion on which a current England international represented the High School in any sport.

In the 1881-1882 season, Harry played in the F.A.Cup tie between Notts County and Wednesbury Strollers, a game controversially refereed by Leonard Lindley, the brother of Tinsley Lindley. The visitors led by 2-0 at the interval, but an own goal, and two each from Arthur and Harry Cursham looked to have given Notts a 5-3 victory. Wednesbury were not happy though, with the fact that they had two hotly contested goals awarded against them, by a referee from the same town as their opponents. He was also a personal friend of the Notts County players. Wednesbury Strollers protested to the F.A., who ordered the first ever replay, on a neutral ground, with a neutral referee. This idea of a neutral referee was one which was soon to become fundamental to cup competitions, not just in England, but the whole world over.

The replay took place at Derby and the result was Notts County 11 Wednesbury Strollers 1. Official records state that Harry scored six goals, but he himself claimed throughout his life that he had got nine, explaining that the referee had confused him with his two brothers, Arthur and Charles. Nine goals in a single game would, over a century later, still remain a record for the F.A.Cup. This total was equalled by Ted MacDougall for Bournemouth against Margate in the First Round on Nov 20th 1971, but it has never been beaten:

ted macdouygall

By now, Harry was centre forward for County, and he continued his remarkable goal scoring feats. In the F.A.Cup in 1882-1883, County defeated the Sheffield Club  by 6-1, before beating Phoenix Bessemer of Rotherham by 4-1, and Sheffield Wednesday by the same score. They were then drawn against Aston Villa, with Notts County hanging on grimly to a 4-3 winning margin, Harry having grabbed a hat-trick. Villa protested, however, that in the dying minutes, Harry had fisted out what would have been an equalising goal. Harry appeared before the F.A. to discuss the “long-arm incident”. He explained that the goalkeeper had been hidden behind him, and that it must have been his hand that had knocked away the ball. Obviously, the F.A. were not used to dealing with High School boys, and their far-fetched excuses, and Harry was believed.

Here is the team photo for the semi-final. At least three of the players were surprise choices, and were pasted into the photograph later on:

county semi final

(back row) Arthur Ashwell (Umpire), Johnny Dixon, Herbert Emmitt, Billy Gunn, Harry Moore, Alf Dobson (second row) Mordecai Sherwin, Arthur Cursham, Stuart Macrae (front row) Charley Dobson, Harry Cursham, H.Chapman (his first name remains apparently unknown. Surely not Herbert?)

Arthur Ashwell, Arthur Cursham , Johnny Dixon and Harry were all ex-High School boys. In those days, the goalkeeper could be pushed physically into the net, so it paid him to maintain a healthy pie intake. Mordecai Sherwin (16 stone) though, had a long way to go to keep up with 22-stone Fatty Foulke in this Sheffield United team of 1901:

Sheffield_United_FC_1901_team

In the semi-final, Harry scored, but Notts County lost 1-2 against the Old Etonians, who included Lord Kinnaird, and Percy de Paravicini:

In 1883-1884, Harry scored a hat trick against Sheffield Heeley in the first round and then grabbed the winner in a fifth round tie against “The Swifts”. Along with Old Nottinghamian, John Dixon, Harry appeared in the semi-final against Blackburn Rovers but Notts County lost by the only goal of the game, as their goalkeeper, sixteen stone Mordecai Sherwin, was easily barged into the back of the net.

This is Notts’ oldest programme, against the Sheffield Club at Trent Bridge on January 3rd 1885,  watched by 5,000 spectators:

programme

The Old Nottinghamians in the team were Frederick Snook, Harry Jackson, Johnny Dixon and Harry Cursham. The game ended in a 5-0 victory, with County’s goals coming from Dobson, Gunn, Harry Jackson, Harry Cursham and Marshall.

On October 24th 1885, Harry scored four goals in County’s record F.A.Cup victory, a 15-0 rout of Rotherham Town in the First Round at Trent Bridge. Later that year, Harry Cursham appeared in a Sixth Round F.A.Cup tie against the previous season’s beaten finalists, Queen’s Park of Glasgow. The match was played at Trent Bridge before 17,000 spectators, many people having arrived by carriage  from early morning onwards. By the end of normal time the game was poised evenly at 2-2, but the Scottish captain refused to play extra time, because he claimed that the crowd had encroached onto the playing surface and delayed the end of the match. County duly kicked off, unopposed, and kicked the ball into the empty net. The F.A., however, ordered a replay at Derby, where Queen’s Park grabbed the winner in the second half. They duly went on to the final, where they lost to Blackburn Rovers.

Harry Cursham’s overall total in the F.A.Cup remains the all time goal scoring record. In his career, he managed an official 49 goals, or an unofficial 52 goals, both of which totals have only ever been approached by the peerless Denis Law (41):

law_2779943b

and the man who said that playing for Juventus was just like living in a foreign country, Ian Rush (42).

ian-rush-

In addition, many readers may feel that the two goals he scored in the original, void, game against Wednesbury Strollers should be incorporated in the overall total, giving Harry a record 54 goals in the F.A.Cup. Harry’s full F.A.Cup scoring record was…

Nov  3rd 1877         Notts County v  Sheffield                                     1-1               (1)
Nov  4th 1880         Notts County v Derbyshire F.C                          4-4              (2)
Nov  27th 1880       Notts County v Derbyshire F.C                          4-2              (2)
Nov  24th 1881       Notts County v Wednesbury Strollers               5-2              (2)
Dec  10th 1881        Notts County v Wednesbury Strollers              11-1              (6/9)
Jan   14th 1882       Notts County v Aston Villa                                   1-4              (1)
Nov  4th 1882         Notts County v Sheffield Club                             6-1              (2)
Dec 27th 1882        Notts County v Phoenix Bessemer                     4-1               (1)
Feb 12th 1883         Notts County v Sheffield Wednesday                4-1               (1)
Mar 3rd 1883          Notts County v Aston Villa                                  4-3              (3)
Mar 17th 1883        Notts County v Old Etonians                               1-2               (1)
Nov 10th 1883        Notts County v Sheffield Heeley                         3-1               (3)
Dec 15th 1883         Notts County v Grantham                                   4-0               (2)
Feb  9th 1884          Notts County v Swifts                                           1-1                (1)
Feb 14th 1884         Notts County v Swifts                                           1-0                (1)
Dec 6th 1884           Notts County v Staveley                                       2-0               (1)
Jan 3rd 1885           Notts County v Sheffield Club                             5-0               (1)
Feb 21st 1885          Notts County v Queens’ Park                              2-2                (1)
Oct 24th 1885         Notts County v Rotherham Town                     15-0               (4)
Nov 21st 1885         Notts County v Sheffield Club                             8-0               (1)
Dec 12th 1885        Notts County v Notts Rangers                              3-0               (3)
Oct 30th 1886        Notts County v Basford Rovers                           13-0              (1)
Nov 13th 1886        Notts County v Notts Rangers                              3-3               (1)
Nov 20th 1886       Notts County v Notts Rangers                              5-0               (3)
Dec 11th 1886         Notts County v Staveley                                         3-0               (1)
Jan 29th 1887        Notts County v Great Marlow                               5-2               (3)
Feb 19th 1887         Notts County v West Bromwich  Albion             1-4               (1)
Dec  8th 1888         Notts County v Staveley                                         3-1               (1)

Fittingly, Harry scored in his last ever F.A.Cup game as Notts County’s centre forward:

Feb 28th 1891        Notts County v Sunderland                                   3-3                (1)
Semi-final tie, played at Bramall Lane

This gave Harry an unprecedented career total of 52 goals in 44 F.A.Cup ties (or 54 in 45, if the first game against Wednesbury Strollers is incorporated in the totals.).

There has, of course, been criticism of the strength of the opposition against which Harry scored his F.A.Cup goals. It is worth mentioning, however, that, as an amateur, he may have chosen not to play in some cup ties where he would surely have scored even more goals…

1887-1888              Notts County  v Lincoln Ramblers                        9-0
1888-1889              Notts County  v Eckington                                      4-1
1888-1889              Notts County  v Beeston St.John’s                        4-2
1888-1889              Notts County  v Old Brightonians                         2-0

The F.A.Cup Ties against Eckington and Beeston St.John’s were both contested by Notts County’s reserve side. Harry may well have considered it beneath his dignity to play in these games, even though at this time he was by no means a regular First Team player. Harry also missed the Fourth Round of the F.A.Cup in 1884-1885. This was a 4-1 away win over Walsall Swifts, which took place in front of 5,000 spectators on January 4th 1885. Harry was unfortunately away on honeymoon, having got married in Wilford Church on January 20th. His team mates presented him with a silver plate to mark the occasion:

newsapaper

Harry’s last appearance for County in the F.A.Cup is linked extremely closely with his last appearance in the Football League on February 10th 1891, playing as a right full back, in a 4-0 home victory over Burnley. Harry had not appeared in the First Team for over two years, but the regular right back, Tom McLean, was injured, and the Team Management Committee decided to recall Harry.

The reason for this unexpected decision is that County had reached the Sixth Round of the F.A.Cup and had been drawn at home to Stoke. If Tom McLean was still injured, then Harry would be the ideal replacement. He was an older player, experienced with big games and large crowds.

In actual fact, Tom McLean was to return for the Stoke game, which County won by a single goal. McLean’s injury, however, must have flared up again, as Harry returned to the First Team for his last ever appearance in the F.A.Cup, on February 28th 1891, when he played as a right full back in the semi-final tie against Sunderland. The game was at Bramall Lane, and ended 3-3. Fittingly, some 25,000 spectators watched Harry play for the last time. By now, their kit was the familiar:

notts_county_1890-1900

For the replay, Harry was again replaced by Tom McLean. Tom’s injury cannot have healed properly, however, since he did not get into the team for the Final.

Neither did Harry, who was replaced by Alex “Sandy” Ferguson, a Scotsman from Rangers, who had played only twice previously. County’s only fixture before the Final was a League game against Blackburn Rovers, who would be County’s opponents in the Final. Notts won this League game with great ease, by 7-1. They then chose to keep the same side for the F.A.Cup Final at the Kennington Oval, and were never even remotely in the game. Blackburn won 3-1 with consummate ease:

blackburn-rovers-vs-notts-county-f-a-cup-final-1891_i-G-46-4625-3MOFG00Z

Perhaps the Team Management Committee wished that they had kept faith with Harry, who was surely the man for the big occasion. What a way it would have been to finish off his glorious career, winning the F.A.Cup for the first time ever. It was not until 1894 that Notts County finally won the F.A.Cup. And by one of life’s incredible ironies, it was on the day of the Final against Bolton Wanderers that the Nottingham Football News was able to announce the tragically premature death of Alex “Sandy” Ferguson, who had by now moved on to Newark Town.

By the way, the illustrations of the two football kits come from the best ever website for the soccer nerd and all the boys who had more than twenty different Subbuteo teams. New Brighton Tower 1898? Oh, yes.

 

 

 

 

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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.

zzzzzz   Massengrab_

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.

somme

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%.

zzzzzz-Ypres-necropole-

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:

zzzzzz -Douaumont_ossuary3

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.

zzzz ertyuio

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.

zzzzzz b Morgen53

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.

wilson

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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