AN OLD GRAMMARIAN LOOKS BACK Derrick Pearce (1938—1945)
Immediate Source: Stratton, Don, (1990) Wellingborough Grammar School 1930-1975 Old Grammarians
|Pupil view 1939-45|
Derrick Pearce (1938—1945), the Association general secretary, recalls the wartime years at the School. His article is entitled: -
THE VALIANT YEARS
When the Second World War broke out in September 1939 it brought disruption and change often on a vast scale, in the organisation and life of the School. Many of the staff and older pupils faced the prospect of an unknown period of time in His Majesty’s Forces. Some served in foreign parts and were separated from their loved ones for several years. A few of these were honoured and decorated for their services, and 25 former pupils gave their lives, whilst others were wounded and seriously injured. As a young lad of 11 years old, just moving into form 3b, I could not possibly envisage the change, heroism, and tragedies the war would bring, but I can remember the lighter side of life and the humour of the School in wartime.
I believe that we were issued with gas masks just before the war started. These were carried in cardboard boxes until these were replaced by more durable containers. These we hung round our necks or draped over our shoulders and supplemented satchel and kit bags as offensive weapons. We were encouraged to wear them for short periods of time in the classrooms and small boys enjoyed having their lessons disturbed by practice gas mask sessions.
One of our first wartime tasks was to glue pieces of gauze to the inside of many windows of the School. This was supposed to prevent serious fragmentation if bombs were dropped nearby. Again lessons were interrupted for this worthwhile war work.
A ‘military’ organisation was soon formed, the ATC Flight with Dr Adamson and Mr Nicholas as the officers. Boys joined the ATC for varied reasons: some genuinely intended to go into the RAF and considered that the training given would benefit them in this direction while others saw it was a means of escaping from the less popular lessons. Mr Laurie’s maths’ lessons were sadly depleted, though this did not appear to deter Mr Laurie. Dr Adamson and Mr Nicholas quickly became skilled in the art of morse code transmission, aircraft recognition and navigation, and endeavoured to transmit these skills to the young potential fliers. Drill was an essential part of the training and a squad of boys resplendent in their uniforms could often be seen marching up and down in the playground under the watchful eyes of raucous NCO’s. A delight for the cadets was a visit to Sywell aerodrome to be given a flight in a Tiger Moth or Domingue. Others were more fortunate and spent a day at an American airbase where they were allowed to look round a Flying Fortress a few even flew in one. The American food dished out was certainly a luxury in those days of rationing.
As the war went its course several members of the staff were called up, and their places were taken by ladies. The first three female members of staff were Miss Harris (French), Miss Harrison (Biology) and Mrs Ferguson (Physics I think). Soon others arrived on the scene. Miss Gregory replaced Mr Dunning and later married the music master, Mr Wintersgill. For a short time we had a very attractive Miss Howse as an art teacher but mysteriously she disappeared from the scene: this was the cause of some broken hearts, but Mr Nicholas informed me many years afterwards that she nipped off one weekend, married an American serviceman and did not return. Two delightful ladies were a Mrs Allen and Mrs Colsell who lived in the Hatton Park Road area. I remember one splendid Christmas party they gave for the sixth form. Occasionally there were rumours of romantic liaisons between female and male members of staff. Some pupils developed crushes and I recollect one evacuee pupil receiving a severe caning from Mr Woolley for sending a smutty Valentine card to Miss Harris.
Reference has been made somewhere to the influx of evacuees to the School. Certainly the majority fitted in extremely well and made lasting friendships in the area. B. A. Goodman from Haberdashers Aske’s School stayed with a Mrs Lack who lived in The Drive and for over 30 years after the end of the war he still maintained close touch with her, visiting her on many occasions and showing great kindness.
Certain aspects of school life were affected by the war. The Scout troop continued but Scout master Mr Pine went into HMF and was replaced by Mr Dunning, who went into the RAF and was replaced by Mr Weatherhead. Mr Cooke also was an active scoutmaster. Because of the shortage of petrol, other than black market variety, school camps had to be reached on foot. On one occasion when a camp was held at Castle Ashby the scouts pushed the trek cart, a mountain of tents, poles, ropes, pots and pans etc, as far as Grendon hill. Unfortunately half way up the hill the scouts lost control and the trek cart crashed to the bottom. Pots and pans were everywhere. On another occasion a small donkey pulled the trek cart to the Lavendon area. The donkey was tethered to the pole in the middle of the camp but broke free in the blackness of the night and succeeded in kicking out the tent pegs and bringing down the tents. Another recollection of a camp is one held at Finedon and John Fielder at 5.00am swinging through the trees giving an impersonation of Tarzan.
The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) arranged afternoon concerts in the School hall. I recollect one or two string quartets with rather elderly ladies playing violas and cellos. Mrs Woolley, the headmaster’s wife, supplemented these activities by playing her flute. She wore long dangling earrings which swayed from side to side with the music. How we hated those concerts, but there were enough vigilant members of staff to see that order was maintained.
Older pupils were employed for the then princely sum of three shillings a night as firewatchers. Three persons were on duty and one of these had to be a member of staff. Some cordial relationships developed during these evenings and many a friendly game of cards was played. Fortunately no incendiary bombs fell on the School and our firefighting abilities were not tested.
The difficulty of obtaining school uniforms because of clothes rationing meant a decline in the standard of school dress. ‘Ringworm’ caps grew fewer and fewer, and sports coats replaced blazers for senior pupils.
Cricket and rugby continued to be played, though the sports field could not be cut as often as necessary because of the petrol shortage. When teams travelled to other schools, journeys had to be on infrequent trains. An away cricket match against Bedford Modern School meant a long walk from Bedford Station to the school. Bags containing cricket gear were heavy to carry but the boys managed it with much grumbling. Occasionally our rugby team, strengthened by one or two staff members, played against H M Forces teams; one such team represented the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.
There were one or two changes in the curriculum. Several years were wasted by certain forms in learning Esperanto. Towards the end of the war Russian was taught; no doubt as a tribute to our allies. VJ and VE Days were particular causes for celebration. After these, I presume the School returned to normal.
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