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National ‘Best Friends’ Day 

Arguably the most famous friendship in the history of King Edward’s School is JRR Tolkien’s first ‘fellowship’, a tightly-knit group of highly-academic schoolboys comprising Tolkien and his three friends – Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith and Chris Wiseman. This friendship has been well documented, most notably by the author John Garth in his award-winning ‘Tolkien and the Great War’.

From L-R: GB Smith, JRR Tolkien, CL Wiseman and RQ Gilson as young men during the Great War

 

However, in a recently discovered letter published in the KES Old Edwardians’ Gazette (April, 1988, Issue 240), Christopher Wiseman tells of another significant schoolboy friendship, with someone whom Wiseman describes touchingly as his ‘best friend’, Eric Brett Young.

One of the only surviving photographs of Eric Brett Young, courtesy of the Francis Brett Young Society

 

EBY, the younger brother of the novelist Francis Brett Young, entered KES in September 1905 on a full scholarship.

 

Eric Brett Young’s Pupil Record Card from the Foundation archive

Wiseman’s letter reveals that Eric was ‘very able, but he suffered from a serious disability…he had to wear a boot on his left foot with a sole some four inches thick.’ Young’s disability, known as leg-length discrepancy, together with the cumbersome boot he had to wear, impacted his ability to move around the school building. Wiseman recalls:

 

 

Wiseman’s letter recounts lessons in which the two boys studied Caesar, Cicero, Thucydides and Virgil, sitting at the back of the classroom to take advantage of the heat from the open fire. On one memorable occasion Eric was asked to ‘collect the proses’ [homework] from desks in the classroom, but instead of handing them to the Master Eric threw them on the fire. Wiseman suspected the Master’s calm reaction suggested that was just what he wanted to happen!

Eric left school in July 1910, joining the staff of a local newspaper in Cornwall and leaving Christopher to forge new, later to become more famous, friendships on the rugby field and in the library of King Edward’s School, Birmingham.

Eric Brett Young died aged 39 in 1931. He published two novels, The Dancing Beggars and Murder at Fleet, along with several collaborations with his brother, Francis.