"My piece about Jimmy Sime’s famous photograph (Intelligent Life, spring) contained two mysteries," writes Ian Jack ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Summer 2010
My piece about Jimmy Sime’s famous photograph (Intelligent Life, spring) contained two mysteries. We learned the fate of the two Harrovians, Peter Wagner and Tim Dyson, and of Jack Catlin, one of the three local boys seen with the top-hatted Wagner and Dyson outside Lord’s in 1937. Dyson died in 1938, Wagner in 1984. Catlin, though not well, still takes the odd constitutional along the seafront near his home in Weymouth. But what of George Salmon (above) and George Young (below)? The last word of them was the Daily Mail story in 1998, which described Salmon as a foreman, retired from a metal-supply company, and Young as a window-cleaner. Twelve years on, at the London locations mentioned, I could find no trace of either.
Salmon’s elder son, also George, got in touch from Gulfport, Mississippi, to say that his father had died ten years ago. Out of our conversation, and one with his brother John, came a brief biography. In the war Salmon was a pom-pom gunner on the convoy escort HMS Duckworth, protecting Allied shipping in the Atlantic. Later he went to work for the metal firm Righton’s at its London warehouse. The Mail had exaggerated his role, John said; his father had played no part in its European expansion. “That made me laugh, I’m afraid. He never liked having authority. Dad had to do the heavy lifting side of things, which is why he retired at 60.” Then had come a spell as a doorman at Paddington Green College. He never much spoke about the war and John doubted that he’d ever voted. He bought his flat from the council and died from a brain tumour. He had been a happy presence in the family’s life. “He was a fit, fit, fit man,” George junior said. “He didn’t smoke and he didn’t drink. He loved cricket, reading and listening to bands in the park. He never missed the Trooping the Colour.”
His sons have prospered. George junior moved to Canada, started a joinery business in Toronto and married a banker. Gulfport is his winter home, an escape from the snow. John is a telephone engineer, nearing retirement in Hertfordshire and buying a holiday home in Cape Coral, Florida, a day’s drive from Gulfport. The brothers say their father always got a kick from Sime’s picture. George has the jigsaw (“Toffs and Toughs”) on his coffee table in Gulfport and a print on his wall in Toronto. He used to ask guests which three of the five were still alive “and they always guessed right—the ‘toughs’ ”.
Neither brother had kept in touch with George Young, though they went to school with his sons and, like their fathers, made money as boys at Lord’s by returning rented cushions and collecting deposits (“a little local industry even in the 1960s,” says George Salmon junior). Most probably, Young is dead too.
A reader, Sara Lane, wrote to say that he had cleaned her windows in Marylebone. “He was a delightful man, debonair, brown-eyed, humorous, with beautiful manners. He told us about the war...and the photograph, which evidently amused him...In the ’90s he stopped coming regularly. He always said one of his sons would take over when he hung up his cloth, but we did not hear of this. The last time he came, he looked so tired that we felt we couldn’t go on asking him to exert himself.”
For 73 years Sime’s picture has represented social division. Now that we know of the boys as individuals rather than symbols, people can see it differently. To some, it might even offer a kind of healing. Margaret Baynham, who knew Tim Dyson 80 years ago, wrote again from Whitchurch in Hampshire. She remembered Mrs Dyson’s Elizabeth Arden face powder on her dressing table and the two Great Danes that filled the Dysons’ small house. She was glad to hear that Catlin, Salmon and Young had led long and happy lives, in contrast to Dyson who died of diptheria at 16. “Tim would have got on well with them—the idea of ‘class’ is such a comical notion...Grandfather Dixon [like her father, an officer in the Royal Horse Artillery] said his farrier sergeant was the greatest gentleman he knew.”
(Ian Jack is a columnist on the Guardian and author of "The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain".)