Friday 11 April 2014

Remembrance : Heroes of Sherwood

I’m going to be a bit parochial in today’s Remembrance article and look at some of the lgbt war heroes from, or associated with, Nottinghamshire.

Famous war heroes include Lord Byron, who joined the Greek independence movement in 1823 and died the following year, and Lawrence of Arabia, who was stationed at RAF Cranwell just over the county border and visited Nottingham and Newark regularly on his Nottingham-built Brough motorbike.

I’ll start my look at less well-known war heroes in the Medieval period and 2 of my personal heroes – Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe. They me and fought in the wars against France in the 1300s and eventually became a couple. Unlike thousands of other soldiers, who were killed in the wards, William and John survived to become trusted friends of the king. I’ve mentioned this couple several times on my blog with regard to their residing at Nottingham Castle, their place in the origin of Robin Hood, and in their Medieval same-sex union.

Moving nearer to our own time we reach the 19th century and Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton (1840-1870). He, too, has been mentioned before, here and here. Lord Arthur was a Midshipman with the Naval Brigade and served during the Indian Mutiny of 1858 on board HMS Shannon and at the Relief of Lucknow. He wasn’t cut out for the military life. He was considered something of a “mummy’s boy” and his father suspected Arthur “too friendly” with boys for his own good. However, Arthur served with distinction. At Lucknow he was badly injured and was invalided out of the brigade. It seems he suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder for some time, perhaps exacerbated by a tropical disease. He seemed to return to health and normality after living in Paris for a while and meeting Ernest Boulton. The stress of the war may have contributed to Arthur’s presumed suicide a week before his 30th birthday.

A Nottinghamshire war hero saw active service in the Middle East. Capt. Myles Hildyard (1914-2005) came from an old county family who lived at Flintham Hall. He studied to be a lawyer like his father, a County Court judge, but the start of World War II thrust him into the footsteps of his grandfather, an army general. Myles was commissioned into the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers), one of the last cavalry regiments to use horses in battle. In 1941 the Rangers were posted to Crete.

During the Nazi invasion of the island the UK troops were forced to evacuate under fire. The Rangers were left behind and became prisoners of war. Myles escaped and walked bare-foot to a port undiscovered. He paid a Cretan boat-owner to row him to Turkey. It took many days, hopping from island to island, dodging the Nazi patrol boats. Myles was awarded the Military Cross for his escape. He was then commissioned into Military Intelligence in Egypt and fought in the battles of Maretti and Enfidaville. For this work he received an MBE. Myles helped to plan and take part in the D-Day landings in 1942, helping to liberate Bayeux. On V-E Day Myles was in hospital – not injured but visiting his partner, an officer in the hussars who had been wounded. In his many letters and diaries are references to him taking his partner to military dances, a measure of the acceptance same-sex couples had in the British forces before the 1950s.

One war hero connects the Nottinghamshire militia to Noël Coward. Philip Streatfeild (1879-1915) was an officer in the Sherwood Foresters, an artillery regiment based in Nottingham. Philip was originally an artist and may have first met the teenage Noël Coward at his studio in London (Noel’s mother is said to have been the studio cleaner). Philip soon became infatuated with the boy and whisked him away on a painting trip to Cornwall. World War I broke out soon afterwards and Philip enlisted into the Sherwood Foresters. Apparently he took Noël to some of his regimental clubs where the young boy was “adopted” as the unofficial regimental mascot! Philip and the Sherwood Forester were sent to the French trenches. Like so many soldiers it wasn’t the fighting that killed Philip. It was disease which flourished in the dank trenches. Philip contracted tuberculosis and died in a trench hospital in June 1915.

There are several other lgbt war heroes I could have included today, but I’ll leave them for another time when I can give them more space.

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