Retro: City ex-schoolboys fought on every British wartime front

The King Edward School 1939 first cricket XI
The King Edward School 1939 first cricket XI
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A book being launched next week at Sheffield’s Off the Shelf festival looks at what happened to pupils of a city school in World War Two.

Another Generation is John Cornwell’s follow-up to his book on King Edward VII School pupils fighting in World War One . He has again uncovered some fascinating stories.

A newspaper cutting showing pupils studying in a private house in late 1939

A newspaper cutting showing pupils studying in a private house in late 1939

As the author, a former head of the school governors, notes, the school’s losses were even higher in World War Two than the First World War.

He estimates that around 1,000 old boys joined up, serving in units around the world, fighting in every significant British campaign.

The school war memorial records 110 names. More than half killed served in the RAF, many in Bomber Command.

One name on the memorial was actually a pupil. Gordon Strange was killed in November 1940 when, as part of the of the school’s scout troop, he was helping out at a War Weapons Week display in the foyer of Sheffield City Hall.

Mermbers of the 1936-7 King Edward School football team included Eric Sivill, seated far left, who defused the first V1 bomb to land intact in England

Mermbers of the 1936-7 King Edward School football team included Eric Sivill, seated far left, who defused the first V1 bomb to land intact in England

The Firth Park youngster, described as a brilliant scholar, died from his injuries when one of the anti-tank rifles on show was accidentally discharged.

Commander Geoffrey Gled-hill Turner was one of several highly-decorated ex-pupils. He won the George Cross for his bravery in defusing aerial mines and bombs that landed on Britain during the Blitz.

He was wounded in Liverpool when a mine that he had twice tried to defuse finally went off. He eventually went on to command a minesweeper and won the George Medal for jumping into the North Sea to tie a tow rope to a mine so that it could be moved to a safe place to be detonated.

Brigadier Sir Edgar ‘Bill’ Williams served in North Africa as Field Marshal Montgomery’s intelligence officer. He also worked with General Eisenhower’s US team.

Gordon Strange, who died in a terrible wartime accident at Sheffield City Hall

Gordon Strange, who died in a terrible wartime accident at Sheffield City Hall

After the war, Bill moved on to the new UN Security Council but resigned over political difficulties with his Russian boss.

He returned to Oxford University, where he had studied and worked before the war, and later became a vice-chancellor. He also worked as warden of Rhodes House, mentoring the famous US Rhodes Scholars, including a young Bill Clinton.

Lieut Gordon Nornable of the Gordon Highlanders worked with French Maquis resistance fighters near Lyon on guerrilla operations. A fluent French speaker, he posed as a hotel receptionist.

One of the many notable RAF officers was Wing Commander Robert Bray, who won the DFC and Bar while flying with 105 Squadron, one of the elite new Pathfinder units.

The King Edward School World War Two plaque

The King Edward School World War Two plaque

Flying Mosquitoes, he went ahead to drop flares on targets during the Battles of the Ruhr and Berlin. During a raid on the IG Farben works in May 1944, his plane was hit by flak and he limped home on one engine. In March 1945 he was in charge of the 571 Pathfinder Squadron.

After the war, he joined the family firm of Bray Brothers, gentleman’s outfitters.

Another well-known city business name was Captain Howard Woodcock, who set up Woodcock Travel after the war.

As a Royal Artillery captain, he took part in the defence of Kohima in India, mentioned in dispatches for gallantry.

He also fought the Japanese Army in Burma in 1945.

The book also looks at the changes that took place in the school during the war and in the lead-up to the conflict.

Commander Geoffrey Gledhill Turner, who won the George Cross

Commander Geoffrey Gledhill Turner, who won the George Cross

This included efforts by pre-war head Richard Graham to foster international links and understanding, including with Germany. However, things turned sour when a group of pupils invited over turned out to be Hitler Youth, whose behaviour gave cause for alarm.

They asked to visit Derwent Dam and East End steelworks and took lots of photographs.

John recounts that a 2012 BBC documentary discovered that the students had been working on official orders from the German Reich! The trip also attracted the notice of MI5.

As staff went off to fight, the school recruited German, Austrian and Jewish refugees, including some who had been interned on the Isle of Man. Pupils who had fled the Nazis ended up at the school as well.

Another Generation – The History of King Edward VII School in WWII will be launched at the upper school on Glossop Road on Thursday at 7pm.

Anyone is welcome to attend and entry is free. The books will be on sale on the night for £10, with proceeds going to school funds.

Captain Howard Woodcock, who took part in the defence of Kohima in India

Captain Howard Woodcock, who took part in the defence of Kohima in India