Tag Archives: Second World War

My latest book

snip-of-coverThose of you who follow my blog will be familiar with the many stories I have told about Nottingham High School; its Founders, its coat of arms, its war heroes, its caretakers and its one or two villains. I have recently finished compiling these stories, and many more, into a new book called Nottingham High School: The Anecdotal History of a British Public School, published with Lulu.com.

My history is an entertaining one about the people behind the institution – what they thought, said, and did from the reign of Henry VIII up to the modern era. I want to tell the stories of the ordinary people whose actions changed the history of Nottingham forever, and those whose lives had much wider influence on the history of our country and on the lives of people across the world. I tell the tales of all people connected with the High School – teachers, support staff, boys, alumni… from caretakers to kings!

image_update_72e24141db868b82_1348683417_9j-4aaqskThe book is written in diary form and runs from Thursday, June 30th 1289 to Thursday, July 12th 2012. It’s an easy read that you can dip in and out of as you wish. Find out about the antics of the boys, the excesses of the staff, the sacrifices of the alumni, and the castle-like school building in all its majesty.

My book contains new and previously unpublished research into the lives of some of the most famous ex-pupils of the school. Read about the childhood of scurrilous author D.H.Lawrence, whose controversial books were still banned 50 years after he wrote them. Read about the disruptive antics of Albert Ball V.C., the daring air ace who always fought alone. Read about American Old Boy, Major General Mahin of the U.S. Army, a man whose power and authority in the Second World War rivalled that of General Patton, until he was killed (or was it murder?).

The tone of my work is interesting and light, but at the same time, as you know from my blogposts, I can show my more serious side when occasion demands. A very large number of former pupils from the High School died in the two World Wars and their sacrifices are reflected in my book.

I have really enjoyed writing this new history book, and I hope that you will find it an entertaining and intriguing read. If you would like to give it a go, then it is now available from my page on Lulu.com.

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Caretakers? The people who take care of us : Part Four

In 1935, ten years after that poor little fox was shot by Mr Hallam the School Caterer, Mr.Boot the lovable School Caretaker, was promoted to the post of “School Marshal” or “Porter”. The advertisement to fill his job as a mere caretaker attracted 1,475 applicants, a measure, perhaps, of the depths of the economic recession into which the country had been allowed to sink. Mr.Boot was then succeeded by Mr.Hubbuck, whom Mr.Reynolds was to call the “Beau Idéal” of caretakers.

During the 1930s, there had been a Porter’s Lodge next to the Western Porch, with a parlour, kitchen, scullery, three bedrooms and some cellars. Eventually, the cellars of the Porter’s Lodge became the School boiler house, and the parlour became a storeroom, where generations of caretakers brewed their tea, until Mr.Boot drank the very last cup, shortly before demolition in 1939:

west end of school

During the Second World War, in 1940, what might have been a very serious fire in the new West Block of the School was only prevented by the vigilance of the ever watchful School Caretaker, Mr.Hubbuck. It started in the Quartermaster’s Room, which later became the Book Room, right up in the roof, and soon spread to the N.A.A.F.I., later to become the Prep Handicraft Room. Mr.Hubbuck saw soldiers rushing up the stairs carrying buckets of water, and promptly called the Fire Brigade. Only minor damage was caused by the flames, but, typically, much more was done by the water from the Forest Road fire hydrants used to put them out. For months afterwards, the roof of that corner of the building had to be covered by a tarpaulin while it was being repaired.

Not long after this episode, the school became a sorting depot for troops who had survived the Dunkirk evacuation, and the South Notts Hussars departed, taking a large amount of stolen school equipment with them:

South-Nottinghamshire-Hussars-Badge_grande

On one evening in Arboretum Street, Mr.Hubbock came across a group of local youths who were stealing ropes from the gymnasium of the Girls’ High School. He got the ropes back by pretending to be a plain clothes policeman, but was astonished to find that the Army had left the school without even locking it. This, sadly, was minor fare by the standards of the military. Many large country houses commandeered by the Army had been picked completely clean of all valuables by 1945 and in some cases, the damage done was so extensive that the houses  had to be demolished.

In one edition of the “Nottinghamian”, Anthony R. Broome (1944-1950) reminisced about how….

“During the Second World War, lunch was taken in the School Refectory. I am quite sure providing food for energetic and growing boys during and after the conflict must have been a nightmare for those responsible. The fare provided could be described as reasonably acceptable to fairly awful. On one occasion a friend looked at his meat, winced, looked at me and said,  “That reminds me …I have not seen Mr.Ings’ dog this week.”

Mr.Ings was the caretaker and his dog was a large Alsatian. Sadly the remark was overheard by Miss Fraser, the Matron, who was supervising the lunch. She went berserk. A master appeared in an instant and we were sent outside where the untimely arrival of the dreaded Mr.Reynolds the Headmaster added to our discomfort. That afternoon we arrived home later than usual…and hungry as well.”

Fortunately, in Easter Term 1949, sweet rationing came to an end, to the great relief of Bill Boot, the then Caretaker, who was operating the Tuck Shop at the time.

In another edition of the “Nottinghamian”, Staff Member, Bill Neville, an ex-Head of Biology, reminisced about how Bill Boot had occupied the corner room which contained D.H.Lawrence’s carved initials, in the same corridor as the Staff Room.

“Bill Boot had been for many years the School Caretaker, and later became the School Marshal. The Caretaker’s House occupied the space between the West Block and what is now the Founder Hall. Where the Caretaker’s Bungalow now stands was an open space on which stood a hut, where the CCF Signal Section was housed. When the CCF Radio Net was started in 1951 (?), a radio station, complete with aerial mast was installed, to the considerable annoyance of the then caretaker, Mr. Ings, who protested that transmissions interfered with reception on his newly installed television (9 inch, black and white screen) -he may well have been one of the earliest members of the school to have a TV set. Certainly there was no set in the school for several years to come”.

Here are those famous initials of D.H.Lawrence, Schoolboy Vandal:

P1470269 ZZZZZZZ

These photographs now show the luxurious Caretakers’ Room which was newly constructed in the early 1950s. They were taken by that very popular teacher from the past, the Reverend Charlie Stephens:

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In December 1949, F.Martin Hall and John G.Golds celebrated Bill Boot’s birthday with the following poem which appeared in “The Nottinghamian”. It was dedicated to the ever popular figure of the school caretaker and although I have already quoted it in another blogpost, I make no excuse for repeating it. …

To Bill Boot on his 70th birthday

You are old, Father William, the schoolboy said,
And your tooth is of marvellous length,
Yet your tap on the door makes the whole building rock,
Where on earth do you find all that strength ?

In my youth, said the Sage, when I fought for the Queen,
Frequent exercise, Generals demanded,
I chased Kruger each morning around Spion Kop,
Do you wonder my muscles expanded ?

You are old, Father William, the schoolboy said,
And your hair has long since turned quite grey,
Yet your voice like a clarion round the School rings,
How d’you manage such volume, I pray ?

In my youth, said the Sage, when I served with Lord “Bobs,”
His commands could not travel by wireless
So I bawled them (in code) right across the Transvaal,
And my throat, by this means, became tireless.

You are old, Father William, yet your eagle eye
Seems as bright as the stars high in heaven,
Pray, how does your eyesight thus function so well,
With no help from Aneurin Bevan ?

I have answered your questions, the wrathful Sage said,
And as sure as my name’s William B.,
If you pester me further, my patience will go,
So be off, or I’ll put you in D.

(With apologies to Lewis Carroll. In the last verse it was considered impolite to suggest that Mr. Boot would actually threaten to kick anyone downstairs.)”

William “Bill” Boot was to retire in December 1950 after twenty-eight years’ service. He was replaced by Mr.T.H.Briggs, who had previously worked as a policeman in the city. Bill Boot had fought in the Boer War, and was famed for his rapid, shuffling gait, and his extremely rapid speech, which, with his accent, was frequently almost unintelligible. His hobby was fishing, and he travelled widely at weekends. When he retired, he received a small pension, but, alas, did not live very long to enjoy it, as he was sadly killed while crossing the road on December 7th 1952. Another victim, perhaps, of the “Curse of the High School Caretaker”.

The caretaker’s house, which was only a yard or two away from the entrance to the Founder Hall, was demolished in April 1965. This photograph shows the land during one of its many transition points:

no caretakers' house

The present day bungalow was built for Mr and Mrs Oldham, the School Caretaker and his First Lady. At the end of August 1976 though, poor Eric Oldham collapsed and died one sunny Saturday evening, as he walked round the school, locking up all the gates. Another popular man, the “Nottinghamian” described him as “one of the school’s most devoted servants and a warm hearted friend”:

mr oldham

Two memorable characters then appeared on the scene as School Caretakers. The first was Tony Hatcher:

tony hatcher

The second was Ray Eastwood. Together they were two of the nicest men I ever had the privilege to meet during my 38 years at the High School. Ray Eastwood was to retire as School Caretaker after many years’ valuable service, on Thursday, January 31st 2008.  He was an unfailingly nice man who always did his very best to be helpful. He always carried what appeared to be the largest bunch of keys in the world:

ray cccccccc

Neither Ray Eastwood nor his colleague, Tony Hatcher, will ever be forgotten by those who had the privilege of knowing them.

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Caretakers? The people who take care of us : Part Three

This is the third section of an eventual four, all of which tell the story of the remarkable characters who have worked as caretakers at the High School over the last 150 years.

In July 1950, Miss S.J.Webb, a teacher who was retiring after 23 years’ service in the Preparatory School for Boys from 7-11 years of age, had her “Memories of the Old Preparatory” published in the School Magazine:

“When I came in 1917, there were four Forms, 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D, and they occupied the four front rooms of houses No. 9 and No. 11, Miss Richmond was in charge and she and I lived in No.11. Mrs. Richardson was caretaker and as there was no dining hall, she provided dinner…for about twenty-two boys from the senior school. Her dinners soon became very popular, especially her puddings of which there always seemed an unfailing supply, and which were of a kind that usually finds favour with a hungry boy. The Prep. boys went home to dinner. This was possible as we had a very long dinner hour and in those days meat coupons had to be given up at each meal where meat was provided. Talking of caretakers, I can see old Holmes, caretaker of the big school, going down the steps and jangling a bunch of keys, calling out to the boys : “Doctor’s orders is . . .” (referring to Dr. Turpin, the Headmaster). His hobby was birds and his house seemed full of them:

m_budgie

He lived in the house now occupied by Mr.Ings on Waverley Mount, only it looked very different then. The Old Prep. was a very happy, busy, place and yet how leisurely compared with to-day! (1950)”

When Robert Holmes, the school’s eccentric and beloved caretaker, retired in the early 1920s, the following poem appeared in “The Nottinghamian”, in celebration of  an individual who was universally known as “Robert”. Almost totally deaf, and a great favourite of the boys, Robert was well-known for his poems, which he would pay to have printed, and then distribute himself around the school, to both boys and staff. In this way, for example, he celebrated the end of the Great War. Most unfortunately, few of his poems appear to have survived to the present day, although it may well be that the following effort, by “FROG”, is in the style of the great man. It starts by expressing the writer’s regrets at having eaten too many little cakes in Robert’s tuck shop:

TO ROBERT.

I.
Ah ! Robert, would that I could be
As free from pain as when
I had not yet gone on the “spree”
In thine enticing den!
When I did buy a penny cake.
And had a joyous chew,
I little thought that tummy ache
Would make me want to – – – – !
II.
And yet I curse my cruel fate
That I must parted be
From thee. O man of mighty weight
Who bid’st “good-day” to me
When up the steps of N.H.S.
At one past nine I race…..
Thou let’st me in, so heaven bless
Thy brightly beaming face,
III
In heat, in cold, in wet, in dry,
I hear thy morning bell
And sometimes if I’m lucky, I
Get in, and then all’s well:
But oft I’m late, and then, Ah Woe!
With fifty lines I’m vexed,
Or in detention have to go –
(Yes muse? Thank you for next.)

IV.
My muse forsakes me wherefore here
Mine eloquence I’ll stay;
Before I go away
May Allah ever champion thee,
And bless thy kind old heart —
Yes, Robert ? Doctor’s orders, eh?
All right, I will depart!

This cartoon of Robert appeared in “The Nottinghamian” in July 1922.  It was his job to ring the school bell:

ringing bell arly

In 1923, sadly, both Robert, the School Caretaker, and his wife passed on. Robert had always been a writer of very vivid letters, and, as we have seen, he wrote much poetry. This is how he celebrated the early days of the Cadet Corps…

“If you look through them gates
You’ll see Captain Yates
A-drilling of boys by the score.
So come on, my lads,
Get leave of your dads
And join the High School Corps.”

This seems to have been the only single one of Robert’s celebrated poems to have survived. It is extremely reminiscent of Pam Ayres, a very successful poet of the 1970s and 1980s.

During this period in the 1920s, many boys used the extensive rail network which criss-crossed the county at this time. Local stations included the Victoria Station, from which there was a long and tiring trudge up a never ending hill to the High School, firstly along Shakespeare Street and then up Waverley Street. Here is the long demolished station:

nottingham(c1903)victoria_old51

Quite often, the boys who were late would be able to hear the caretaker distantly tolling the school bell, and this event was later to be described by a great author,  D.H.Lawrence himself.  Another station which many boys used to use was on the far side of the Forest, at what is now the eastern end of Gregory Boulevard. Those boys could then make use of the many footpaths which came up the hill towards the school, around the back of the Church Cemetery. The “Train Boys” of course, were continually subject to the vagaries of the railway system, but, at the same time, they were famed for their ability to use this to explain away their extreme lateness, absence of homework etc. etc

cartoon of train boys

On the evening of Tuesday, June 16th 1925, a simply dreadful event occurred.  Mr.Hallam, the School Caterer, shot and killed a fox. the so-called “Mrs.Reynard”, and surely one of Nottingham’s first ever urban foxes. This cruel man provided a very sharp contrast with Robert Holmes, the Caretaker,who had loved all of God’s creatures.

The fox was a vixen who had been a particular favourite of the senior boys and who had introduced them to “unknown parts of the shrubbery”, in front of the school, where they had been able to take a keen interest in her activities. One prefect had even ruined his trousers by following her through the dense undergrowth:

Fox_009

One day, however, the fox went too far, and allegedly attacked the School Caretaker’s cat. The School Caretaker then asked Mr.Hallam, the School Caterer, for help, and the latter turned up one evening “in the playground armed to the teeth with a gun and two tame rabbits.” The staff and their wives, playing on the tennis courts, were then rather amazed to see Mr.Hallam leave the two tame rabbits on the lawn and await developments. Sure enough, the fox soon arrived, attempted to eat the rabbits, and was promptly shot dead.

The “Shrubbery” was a dense jungle of vegetation at the front of the school at this time. Nowadays, it has been opened up and gentrified somewhat, as the Lower Lawns. The jungle certainly appears thick enough to allow naughty boys, or naughty young men, to smoke a cigarette or two in there at break. This old postcard shows just how dense the foliage was:

front schoollll

This article will be concluded in the near future.

 

 

 

 

 

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Caretakers? The people who take care of us : Part Two

This is the second section of an eventual four, all of which will tell the story of the remarkable characters who have worked as caretakers at the High School over the last 150 years.

When “Knolley” Knowles retired from his post as School Porter in 1898, his place was taken by Mr Robert Holmes, the brother of the Army Drill Serjeant, George Holmes. The latter, after long years of faithful service, was allowed to move into “Knolley’s” old house on Clarendon Street, but only on condition that he found accommodation for his brother, Robert Holmes, the new caretaker. He, therefore, moved Robert into the rooms which he himself had just occupied, but had been forced to vacate because of the terrible fumes from the heating system.

The recently retired “Knolley”, unfortunately, did not live very long to enjoy his hard earned retirement presents, a “handsome easy chair, and a case of silver spoons”. He died on Sunday, March 25th 1900 at his home at 36, Hartley Road. He was seventy-two years of age, and his real name, unknown to nearly everybody at the High School, was William Knowles Keach. The funeral took place at the Church Cemetery on Mansfield Road on Thursday, April 27th and was attended by Dr Gow, the Headmaster, and a number of senior teachers including Mr Corner, Mr W.E.Ryles, Mr Liddell and many of the senior boys of the school. There were many handsome wreathes and crosses in evidence:

cemetry

Mrs Rebecca Keach was to outlive her husband by several years. She eventually passed away in June 1911, at the family home in Hartley Road.

During the last few years of the nineteenth century Dr Gow would coach his Classical Sixth Form class to Oxbridge Scholarship standard, usually teaching them for four periods a day, keeping just one period free mid-morning for seeing parents:

dr gow

There was no telephone in those days. Visitors’ cards and telegrams were brought to Dr Gow during class teaching time by Robert Holmes, the caretaker. One telegram particularly amused both the great man and his class. “Dear Headmaster, Please tell the boys that Bovril says Mafeking is relieved”…a slick piece of advertising.

Just after the Great War, a short novel entitled “The Three Merles” appeared in the bookshops of the nation:

lozengeIt portrayed the High School at the turn of the century and had been written by a former pupil of the school, Richard St.Clair Page. Set in an imaginary school, just like the real one, the plot had a Mr.Lupton, and a Serjeant Holmes as its School Porter.….The book’s sergeant was new to the job, having  just been promoted from being caretaker in a warehouse in the town. Hence he was always very polite when he brought a message:

“Dr.Govan wishes to see Master Grier at the break”

When the newness began to wear off, “Master” before a small boy’s name would soon just disappear. The Doctor had called him “The Porter”, when he introduced him to the school after prayers the week before.

“Boys, I wish you to know Serjeant Holmes, the new porter of the school.” And the sergeant, with his medals shining very brightly, had saluted the whole school.

As a body the school resented him. He belonged to the new order of things, and the school thought it preferred the old times to the many new things which were being introduced.”

Now though, let’s meet the real High School’s real George Holmes, who was the school’s Drill Serjeant. He was responsible for:

“…the usual manual exercise and marching drill, bayonet exercise, sword drill for infantry and cavalry and Indian club exercise.”

In this photograph of the staff, taken possibly in 1885, he is sitting on the grass:

staff 17890

Every time I see that photograph, I can imagine the Rolling Stones using it as an album cover. Perhaps that’s what the unfortunate fold is. Damage caused by Mick Jagger.

In 1901, the school magazine, “The Forester”, decided once again to look back into the past. It published “A Memory” of old Mr Knowles, the long serving school caretaker, who had retired just three years previously, and who had recently died. “Knolley” had obviously been so well loved in the school that everybody wanted to remember him. They just could not let him disappear for ever. He had:

“a wonderful sense of humour and a stock of jokes. With what gusto he rang that bell so that you stopped up your ears at the deafeningness of it. When raking out the fires, with what quiet satisfaction he gave the finishing touch, a smart single rap of the poker on the bar ! Never did he cause irritation, he was universally liked.”

“What Old Boy cannot remember the occasions when, by forgetting his books, he has obtained the privilege of making an awesome journey, with Knowles as guide, through the mysterious Coal Hole?

Who cannot recall the many times when the front door has been held open by Knolley’s friendly hands while a frantic headlong rush up the front steps has just saved a punishment for lateness? Who after the heat of the game hasn’t refreshed himself with a glass of cold water or excellent herb beer at Knowles’ Lodge?”

Equally respected was his wife, Mrs Knowles, who:

“was as kind as a mother to small boys…if we had scratched a finger, fallen in the mud, bumped a forehead, or met with any other of a boy’s accidents.”

In December 1915, Robert Knowles, “Knolley”s brother, who had been appointed as caretaker in 1898, set up the Nottingham High School Pets’ Club which took place every Wednesday. He spoke to potential members for forty minutes at an inaugural meeting, and kept them enthralled by his enthusiasm for the subject, offering advice on the care of pets and how to purchase them:

caret

Old Boy, Roy Henderson, was later to speak about the school just before the Great War….

“Nobody was ever allowed inside the school during breaks, but it never seemed to rain! In any case, all the boys were always very keen to get out of the building. There were few amenities for the boys, including just six to eight cracked stone washbasins. There was a tuck shop, near the south eastern corner of the present day West Quadrangle. It was run by Robert, the School Caretaker. The small shop on Forest Road which boys at the end of the twentieth century called “Dicko’s” was at this time called “Baldry’s”, and it was a sweet shop. A female member of staff, a Mrs Digblair, lived in the rooms above it. She was one of the school’s first ever mistresses, and members of the Sixth Form loved to go and have tea with her.”

This superbly detailed view of the school was taken from an overflying biplane in 1921. Waverley Mount, bottom left, used to be called Clarendon Street, and the first house on the left as you walked away from the High School was the “Caretaker’s Cottage”. In the garden, just to the right, the white areas are, in actual fact, lines of washing which has been put out to dry. Presumably, this means that the photo was taken on a Monday morning. Notice the figures on the tennis court. They are surely waving to this mechanical marvel as  it passes overhead:

aerial

This article will be continued in the near future.

 

 

 

 

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Caretakers? The people who take care of us : Part One

This is the first section of an eventual four, all of which will tell the story of the remarkable characters who have worked as caretakers at the High School over the last 150 years.

When I first became a teacher, my Dad, who had spent most of his life doing exactly that same job, gave me some valuable advice. He asked me “Who is the most important person in any school?”

I gave him a list of likely candidates, but he dismissed them all as incorrect by some margin. The correct answer of course, was “The caretaker.” If there is no Head Teacher, it’s no problem, and lessons will go on. A teacher is missing, off sick? Somebody else will cover the lessons, no problem. No caretaker and the toilets are blocked? No school, we all have to go home!”

caret

I have found it more or less impossible, though, to create a complete list of High School caretakers over the last 150 or so years, because such men are quite simply not considered to be important enough to be remembered, unlike Headmasters, the names of which are all displayed on the wall behind the Reception Desk.

That is not to say, however, that the High School does not value its caretakers very highly. In school magazines such as “The Nottinghamian” and before that, “The Forester”, there are many affectionate reminiscences either by or about the school’s caretakers. And in these reminiscences, it soon becomes abundantly clear that the High School’s caretakers have always been very popular, well loved figures, especially with the boys.

William Knowles Keach was one of the very first caretakers, towards the end of the nineteenth century. His daughter provided some trips down Memory Lane from the period 1880-1883…

“My father, Mr.Keach, was the first caretaker of the School when it was moved to its present site in 1868 ; he remained until about 1890 : for some unknown reason, he was always known as Knowles, or by the affectionate nickname “Knolley”. He was initially employed by Lawyer Patchett , a leading Nottingham figure. My father was an expert at his work for which he received 13s. 0d. a week, but lost his pay during “wet time.”, that is to say, periods when rain forced him to wait inside for the weather to improve. Mr.Patchett suggested to my father that he should try for the job at the new school which was being built. Naturally, my mother was consulted, and she thought it “a good thing, Bill” since the wage was to be 18s. 0d. a week, plus house, coal and gas, with no loss of money in wet weather. Children, however, were frowned upon, but my father gave an assurance that there would be no trouble, and his application was successful. The caretaker’s house was at that time a part of the school building and consisted of a kitchen and parlour on the ground floor, a cellar and three bedrooms upstairs – one over the side door, another over the bay window, and the third over Mr Liddell’s classroom (later 4A room). I was born in this house in 1870, and lived there with my father and mother, three brothers and three sisters. The family did all the caretaking and cleaning in the school. My father was also responsible for the upkeep of the grounds and garden:

front schoollll

He did all the lawn mowing, and supervised the removal of the sandstone when the yard and gardens of to-day were excavated – no small task. In winter we helped him to clear snow from the paths. For general repairs a Mr. Rushworth was called in. He was known as “quarter-to-three” feet, on account of the way he walked!

In those days the school yard was all open country, with grass and gorse bushes. There was no wall on Forest Road, a street where windmills still stood or had perhaps only recently disappeared. There were no railings on Arboretum Street, just a rough fence. The grounds immediately around the buildings consisted of sandstone outcrops, loose sand and plantations of trees and shrubs, some of which were on the site of the present caretaker’s house and the present Music Room, though at a higher level. Here is some of that loose sand, still there in the 1930s:

one west

The Headmaster, Dr, Dixon, lived in the end house of Waverley Mount (then called Clarendon Road). This house later became part of the “Preparatory School.”, and was demolished to build the present building. The other part of the large house was occupied by Mr. Taylor, the veterinarian. Many years later the great “Drawing Room” with its barrel roof was built on top of the north wing, and our house had to be partly demolished to make way for it. The present caretaker’s house was then built. Mr.Tait was responsible for the erection, under Mr.Patchett’s direction, and Mr.Jelly was the joiner for the Drawing Room. There was a bit of jealousy between them about the cost.”

In 1880 a new and rather grand sounding Porter’s Lodge was completed to the south east of what is now called Waverley Mount. Previously, Mr.Keach, aka Mr.Knowles,  had lived with his family in a room at the southern end of the class-room corridor (near present day W2). As mentioned above, his wife had given birth to at least one baby in this rather cramped accommodation. Young Miss Keach appears to be the only baby ever born in the High School, unless, of course, somebody knows better….

Mr.Knowles, as School Caretaker, had the duty of locking up all the gates on Forest Road at 2.15p.m.  His greatest delight was to lock up just before the appointed time, and then beam at the small batch of boys who came running up from the Forest, where they had stayed to see the first horse race, which was generally timed to start at 2 o’clock. This meant their running round Waverley Street to another school entrance and a bad mark if they were late! Here is the Forest in the 1880s, looking down towards the horse racing course:

forest

Mr.Knowles was also remembered for the occasions when he would come to put extra coal on the huge coal fires which were used to heat every classroom. If the Master’s desk was sited in the correct position, “Knolley” was able to go up behind the Master with his dirty, blackened, coal encrusted hands and pretend to move forward and seize the Master’s often bald head, as if to leave black sooty handprints on it. This caused enormous merriment among the watching schoolboys.

This marvellous photograph shows the school at the end of the nineteenth century. Notice the many chimneys all contained in large chimney stacks, and all obviously requiring frequent injections of fresh coal. Notice also the three boys lounging at the corner of the building. Their companion is sitting on the edge of the tennis court:

west end of school

On Wednesday, December 21st 1898 the High School broke up for Christmas, and Mr.Knowles, now the School Porter, retired after thirty three years of service. The school prefects had organised a collection, and the boys of the school contributed over £33. This enormous sum of money was used to purchase a “handsome easy chair, and a case of silver spoons”. The balance, a total of twenty five sovereigns, was presented to Mr.and Mrs.Knowles by W.A.Blackwall and the other prefects, together with a beautifully illuminated address.

This article will be continued in the near future.

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RAF Elsham Wolds: Part Three

I have now written two articles about RAF Elsham Wolds. I intend to carry on with this series of articles by firstly looking at the fate of just one single aircraft, an Avro Lancaster Mk III with the squadron letters “PM-I” and the serial number “JB745”. It took off from Elsham Wolds at precisely one minute past midnight on February 20th 1944. It was going to bomb Leipzig, which was a very, very long way involving an eight hour round trip, much of it over the Fatherland. Lancaster “JB745” was far from being a lone bomber, and the setting-up of this raid shows just what enormous levels of organisation and man power were involved in bombing a city more than 800 miles away:

A_Lancaster_Mk_III_of_N

A total of 823 aircraft set off, comprising 561 Avro Lancasters, 255 Handley Page Halifaxes and  seven De Havilland Mosquitoes.  A diversionary attack was arranged, with 45 Short Stirlings on a mine laying raid on Kiel with four Handley Page Halifaxes as Pathfinders marking their targets for them. This is a Halifax, with its square tailfins and wings and its radial engines:

Halifax-mk3xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

In addition to these aircraft, 15 Mosquitoes attacked Berlin, 16 Mosquitoes equipped with Oboe attacked German night fighter bases and 12 Mosquito patrols went out over Germany using Serrate to find and shoot down German night fighters. Three more Mosquitoes attacked Aachen as a diversion and three more Mosquitoes attacked flying bomb sites in France:

Mosquito_Fighter-bomber

This was a total effort of 921 aircraft over Germany. Every single one of these bombers needed a huge number of people to fill it with fuel, load the bombs, replenish the ammunition in the gun turrets. and so on. The fuel and bombs can certainly be seen in this picture. Even what appears to be the refreshment van can be seen at the top right:

_the_personnel_required_

The losses on this particular raid over Leipzig were the highest of the whole war so far, with 78 aircraft lost out of the total of 921, a completely unsustainable loss rate of 9.55 %.  The previous worst total had been the 58 aircraft destroyed while bombing Magdeburg on January 21st-22nd 1943.
Some 44 Avro Lancasters were lost along with 34 Handley Page Halifaxes. The main problems were that the Germans were not fooled by the mine laying raid on Kiel. Only a very few night fighters were sent out there, and those that had been were soon summoned back to attack the real bomber stream. The bombers had been detected by German radar, operating as part of the famous Kammhüber Line, as soon as they crossed the Dutch coast. Here is the Great Man, Nachtjagdgeneraal Josef Kammhüber:

Josef Kammhuber

The very capable operators in the Luftwaffe control rooms were extremely efficient, and quickly summoned large numbers of fighters to attack the bombers. In actual fact, the RAF bombers were under continuous attack every single second of the 1500 + miles of the round trip between the enemy coast and Leipzig.

In those days, meteorological forecasting was in its infancy, and unexpected high winds meant that many bombers arrived too early over Leipzig. They then had to wait for the exact targets to be marked by the Pathfinders. As they circled around waiting for the Pathfinders to arrive, around twenty of the bombers were shot down by anti-aircraft fire. A further four aircraft were lost in collisions with other circling bombers. The city of Leipzig was wreathed in cloud and the Pathfinders were forced to drop their flares by parachute, the so-called Wanganui method. Given that some aircraft would have found the target using the Oboe radar device, then they were actually using “Musical Wanganui”.
That arrangement worked all right in the beginning but gradually bombs became increasingly widely spread across a huge area:

Attack_on_Hamburg

Few details of the results of the bombing are known, even today. There was no immediate reconnaissance, so very little was ever discovered about the effects of this particular raid. The Germans, of course, said nothing about their losses.
At some point in the operation, Lancaster “JB745” was shot down. Nobody knows if this was by a night fighter, or by anti-aircraft fire (“flak”), or whether it collided with another aircraft. Nobody survived and the crew members, fittingly perhaps, are all buried together in Hannover War Cemetery.
Sergeant William Leslie Bradley was the pilot. He was just 24 years of age and like so many others, had originally served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. From Selby in Yorkshire, his Service Number was 1129431 and he was the much loved son of Mr Wilson W. S. and Mrs Beatrice Bradley. William would never have the chance to lament the lack of shoppers in the modern Selby:

selby
The Flight Engineer was Sergeant Francis James Taylor, a youngster of only 21 years of age. He too had been in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was the much loved son of Mr Francis James Taylor and Mrs Cathrine (sic) Taylor, of Bolton, Lancashire. His Service Number was 2202861. He would never live to see the modern Bolton, Gateway to the North West:

Bolton modern

The navigator was a little older than that, at 24 years of age. He was Flight Sergeant Thomas Frederick  Johnston who, like many of his colleagues had been in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.  His Service Number was 1387379 and he was the much loved son of Thomas Frederick and Julia Johnston. They all lived in Coulsdon in Surrey, just to the south of London. Without the Leipzig raid, he would have been in his fifties when this photo of the High Street of his local town was taken:

Coulsdon_in_1983 in fifties

The bomb aimer was Flight Sergeant Jack Luck, who was just 22 years of age. He was a native of Newmarket, which is in Ontario in Canada. Young Jack was a member therefore, of the Royal Canadian Air Force:

220px-Join_the_Team_RCAF

Jack’s Service Number was R/105215 and he was the much loved son of Mr Harold John and Mrs Charlotte Luck. Here is the town hall in Newmarket:

NewmarketO town hall
The wireless operator was Sergeant Ernest Walter Hamilton. His flying had started in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and his Service Number was 1238004. Strangely the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website has no further details that I can find about Sergeant Hamilton.
The two gunners are both named. I suspect that Pilot Officer Arthur Stevens was the mid-upper turret gunner. He was by far the oldest of the crew at an almost ancient 37 years of age. His Service Number was 87717, a lowish number which probably shows more years in the RAF than the rest of the crew. Arthur was the son of Mr Herbert Frank and Mrs Ethel Mary Stevens. He had a wife, Celia Frances Stevens and the family all lived in Richmond in Surrey. Arthur at least though, would not be taking any more books out of the library, or watching any more humorous plays at the local theatre:

Richmond_Theatre_libraryzzzzzz

The young man named last in the crew list, and most probably therefore, the rear gunner, was Sergeant Frederick George Francis Osborne. Frederick was only 19 years old when he was killed. Like many of his fellow members of the crew, he had been in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. His Service Number was 1395421 and he was the much loved young son of Mr and Mrs Frederick Osborne, of Kendrick Mews, South Kensington, in the City of London:

_Kensington_mews

I tried to find out some background details about these seven young men who so willingly laid down their young lives to defeat the scourge of Hitler’s Germany. I would have to say that I was not particularly successful except for the following extract, which captures brilliantly well why so many people even nowadays, some seventy years later, still want to find out about the wartime heroes in their family.

I would not normally quote somebody else at length in an article, but I think you will see why I have done so when you read it. This is taken from a website entitled “The Wartime Memories Project – RAF Elsham Wold during the Second World War”. It contains a page about Elsham Wolds and another one about 103 Squadron. If you have any information to give Mr Osborne, you can do it via this link here. Anyway, here’s what he wrote:

“Freddie Osbourne was a member of Sergeant W.L.Bradley’s crew, Lancaster 111, JB745 PM-1,shot down en route to Leipzig. He was only 19, whereas his other gunner colleague was 37. Sadly, I have no photograph of him or his aircraft. As a young lad, I used to go out with his Father, Fred Osborne, helping him with his flower deliveries on a Saturday morning, but neither he, nor my Aunt Grace, would ever talk of him, and it has taken a lifetime to find details of him via a good friend with splendid connections, who handed me many details. It appears that both Aunt and Uncle were too grief stricken to ever mention their only child to anyone, even family. If anyone surviving 103 squadron could give me some idea what Freddie was like as a lad of 19 doing a man’s job, and what he was like at the tail end of a gun, and how many German planes did he shoot down? I would love to know, as I am immensely proud of him. If anybody knows of a picture of him, I will gladly pay for a copy and all expenses. He died on the 20th.February, 1944 and I consider it my duty to pay his grave a visit in Hanover, as a mark of respect to him and the other members of the crew.
Sadly, bad health has held me back for some time, but I will get there somehow. Thank you in anticipation.
Terence Osborne”

You may think that this was the worst thing to happen to one of 103 Squadron’s Lancasters during  the Leipzig raid, but you would be wrong. Sadly and tragically, very, very wrong.

One final word. All of the websites I have used can be reached through the links above. I could not have produced this article, however, without recourse to the superb books by W.R.Chorley. Their detail is almost unbelievable and I would urge anyone interested by the bomber war to think seriously of purchasing at least one of them. The books bring home just how many young men were killed in Bomber Command during the Second World War. When the first book in the series arrived at our home, my daughter thought it contained all the casualties for the whole war, but, alas, it was just 1944.

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RAF Elsham Wolds: Part Two

In a previous article, I wrote of how I had visited the RAF airbase where my Dad, Fred, had served during the Second World War, RAF Elsham Wolds in north Lincolnshire. Look for the orange arrow:

small scale

Not much of the original airfield was left, just a single aircraft hangar, which looked like a very large Nissen hut and was now painted white.
Very little else remained of 103 Squadron’s old home, beyond various stretches of derelict runway, now mostly covered in huge piles of builder’s rubble. Half of one runway has Severn Trent Water Authority buildings standing on it. The other end has a metal fence built over it. A second runway has a major road, the A15, constructed more or less right on top of it:

the new road
If you knew where to look, and could recognise what they were, there were still quite a number of disused dispersal points. Overall, it seemed a very long time indeed since those dark painted bombers had taken off, every single one of them straining their Merlin engines for altitude as they passed low over the village of Elsham. Within just a few miles of Elsham is Reed’s Island, a distinctively shaped land mass, situated in the estuary of the River Humber. Look for the orange arrow. When they were flying back to base, like all the other members of the squadron, the pilot of Fred’s aircraft used it as a rough and ready aid to navigation. Note Elsham village in the bottom right of the map:

reads island

Fifty years later, I myself was to visit Reed’s Island, not as a wireless operator / air gunner, but as a birdwatcher / twitcher, to see a rare Kentish Plover, which was spending the winter there:

K-Plover

In Fred’s time, the man in charge of Bomber Command was Arthur Harris:

Bomber-Harris-595x781
According to Fred, Harris, who was usually known to his men not so much as “Bomber”, but rather as “Butcher” or “Butch” Harris, was an absolute tartar. Whenever he came across a bomber which was not in service, he wanted to know why it was still being repaired, why it was not yet back in action, and when would it be possible for it to return to dropping bombs on the Germans.

Despite much encouragement from members of his own staff, Harris did not often visit airbases, because he felt that all the painting and decorating which would be carried out for his arrival was something which would inevitably interrupt the much more important business of killing the enemy.
Fred always used to say that he had actually seen Harris, though, and my subsequent researches have revealed that the great man did in actual fact visit Elsham Wolds, on September 16th 1943 to speak to 103 Squadron. He was greeted with sustained cheering by everyone present, and I presume that this must have been the occasion when Fred saw him.

And sure enough, Harris spent much of his time at Elsham Wolds trying to find out why aircraft were being repaired, how long the work would take, and exactly when they would be back on strength, ready to drop bombs on the Germans.
In actual fact, Fred had been very lucky to have seen Harris. Despite those constant urgings by his fellow officers, he was only ever to make around six visits to Bomber Command airbases during the whole time that he was the head of that formidable organisation.
Fred never mentioned to me any of the men he met during his time at operational bomber airfields, although I do remember that he once mentioned the presence of a Jamaican pilot with 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds, presumably because this man was black, which would have been unusual in Bomber Command at the time.
Years later, totally by coincidence, I was surprised to see in “Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War”, that on February 15th 1944, a Lancaster Mk III, ND 363, with the squadron letters PM-A of 103 Squadron, took off from Elsham at 17.10 to bomb Berlin. The plane was shot down by a night fighter two minutes before eleven o’clock, crashing into the sea near the island of Texel in Holland. The entire crew was killed. Among them was Squadron Leader Harold Lester Lindo who, although he was in the Royal Canadian Air Force, was actually from Sligoville in Jamaica. Lindo was not, however, a pilot but a navigator. Another Caribbean navigator was Cy Grant, who came from British Guiana and arrived in England to join the RAF in 1941. After undergoing initial training, he too was posted in 1943, to 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds, as one of the seven-man crew of an Avro Lancaster bomber. Here he is:

grant

I have mentioned before the risks of bombing Germany, statistically four times more dangerous than attacking anywhere else in the rest of occupied Europe. In 1943, for example, in some squadrons, losses in the Battle of Berlin sometimes ran as high as twenty per cent. At Elsham Wolds, 103 Squadron had the lowest losses in 1 Group but they still lost 31 Lancasters in the Battle of Berlin, with, perhaps, 217 men killed. At the time, Bomber Command pilots, of course, received the princely sum of £5 per week for their efforts, with other members of the crew paid correspondingly less.
During his time at Elsham Wolds, Fred conceivably came across the record holding Lancaster in Bomber Command, although I do know that he never flew in it on an operation. ED888 was to carry out an unprecedented 140 bombing raids over enemy territory:

db_Mike_Squared_Flying1

This legendary Lancaster began its operational career on the night of May 4th 1943, initially in B Flight of 103 squadron, where she was known as “M-Mother”. In November 1943, to mark its fiftieth operation, the aircraft was awarded her very own Distinguished Flying Cross. When she then passed into Elsham’s second squadron, 576 squadron, she became known as “Mike Squared”. To commemorate her completion of one hundred sorties, the aircraft duly received a Distinguished Service Order. By now she had returned to 103 squadron and was known unofficially as “M-Mother-of-them-all”. Eventually to complete 140 operations with two Luftwaffe fighters shot down, ED888 finally received a Bar to her Distinguished Flying Cross:

ED888M

The aircraft was struck off charge on January 8, 1947 and scrapped without the slightest thought of preservation in a museum. Yet she was the greatest Lancaster of them all.
The only part of “M-Mother” which remains nowadays is, in fact, her bomb release cable, which was taken off the aircraft in 1947 by Flight Lieutenant John Henry, one of three Australian brothers, who were all in 103 squadron and who did, on one particular operation, all fly together to bomb Cologne. Flight Lieutenant Henry flew “M-Mother” on its very last trip down to the Maintenance Unit at RAF Tollerton in Nottinghamshire, where it was finally broken up:

mike squared

Not everything was hearts and flowers in Bomber Command though. My Dad once had a trick played on him by men who perhaps should have known better, but who could be forgiven a lot for finding any way whatsoever of dealing with some appalling events.

One day, on an unknown airfield in an unknown year, probably towards the beginning of his air force career and possibly at Elsham Wolds, the young Fred was approached by one of his superiors, perhaps a Flight Sergeant. Fred was told that he had to come and help get the Squadron Leader back from the runway. He innocently thought that it would merely be a matter of going out and telling the man, politely, that he was now needed to come inside. Fred did wonder, however, about the strange objects they were carrying out there onto the vast expanse of tarmac:

tipped on xxxxxx

Fred could not see anybody at all as he stepped out onto the runway. They walked further and further. Suddenly Fred realised why they were equipped with a sack and a shovel. The Squadron Leader was out on the runway, but was, unfortunately, no longer a living, recognisable, human being.
The poor man had been the victim of a crash as he came in to land, and was now just a collection of smears of what Fred described to me years later as “lumps of hairy strawberry jam”. He was picked up with the shovel, put into the sack, and then the two young men went back to their own lives.
As I found out in later life from various books I had read, this term, “strawberry jam”, was frequently used by members of Bomber Command to refer to the residue remaining after what might nowadays be termed “catastrophic and large scale injuries to personnel”.
The phrase typifies the kind of outcome one can expect when the human body is placed in a heavy metal machine travelling at hundreds of miles an hour, and there are then sudden and calamitous problems:

hali

Perhaps Fred himself was familiar from his own father, Will, with the Great War equivalent of this Second World War expression. The Great War was fought with big guns, huge artillery pieces, and most men were killed when a shell landed and blew them to smithereens, “knocked to spots” as the soldiers of the day grimly called it:

gun
It has been suggested elsewhere, of course, that this use of slang to describe being killed, in what were frequently the most horrendous of fashions, was a sub-conscious means of reducing the natural fears of these brave young men of Bomber Command. If, therefore, you “got the chop”, “went for a beer”, “went for a burton”, “your number came up”, “you met the Reaper”, or as the Americans in the Eighth Air Force used to say, “bought a farm”, the expressions became events no more sinister than the other famous slang expressions of the RAF, such as Wizzo” or “Wizard”, “Crackerjack”, “ops” “kites”, “props”, “sprogs” and the one which has come down all those years to our own time, “Gremlins”.

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