The first few days at Greenacre school, as is usual for children at those tender years, fraught with a mixture of being away from my Mum, and entering the unknown, but nevertheless they passed off without too many problems, and I seemed to enjoy them. Mum had taken me for the first week or so, then asked Dinah Waters to take me with her, Dinah was then in her senior school.
That was alright until Geof was ill, and Mother had decided to keep him off school, this situation I didn't appreciate, saying to Mum that if he was not going to school, then I shouldn't, but I lost the day, and Dinah called, and off I went with her. Now her senior school was just above my Infants, so she left me, as usual, at my entrance, and she walked on to hers. I held back until I saw her disappear into her school, then I took to my heels, with the idea of playing truant. Keeping away from the immediate area of my home, I wandered about, but found that time was going very slowly, in fact, I just didn't know what to do with myself.
Fate took a hand, I was seen, and caught by my Grandmother, who was en route to No. 12, she grabbed my hand, and dragged me to Mum's, Mum was not pleased to see me. Putting on her hat and coat, she marched me off to the Greenacre, and straight to the Head mistress, a Miss Kerr, who told me off, and asked for an explanation regarding me playing' hookey'. In between my sobs, I stuttered out my reply, and once the lady heard my stammering, she changed her attitude towards me. Has he always stuttered, she asked Mum, 'Only when he's excited or stressed' she replied. Miss Kerr told me to give my responses more slowly, and then said that I was to go to her office every day, before I went into my classroom, so that she could try and break me of the habit of tripping up over words, then took me to my classroom.
Each morning I reported to her, for her 'therapy' session, before going to my class, and after a week or so of my visits to her, she thought that I had overcome my stutter, and my schooling went back to normal. I never played truant again.
All the teachers in the 'Infants' were ladies, in the 'Juniors' both men and women, and in the 'Seniors' all men. All the women were unmarried, and when they got married, they were not allowed to teach, as to the reason for this, I've no idea, unless if they had children of their own, there would be divided loyalties, between school, and home. yet the men could be wed, and often were, with their own children.
Time went on and I was allowed to find my own way to school, and my route took me along Admiralty road. About half way along this road was a sweet shop, which also sold all kinds of bottled soft drinks, and for a ha'penny, you could buy a glass of whatever flavour you choose, quite a few children took advantage of this 'pitstop', whereas I would, on the rare occasion, when I had some money, buy some mint sweets, which were covered in chocolate.
Every Monday I did have money, tuppenceha'penny, in total, which Mother had given me to pay for my week's supply of school milk, and no way could I even consider spending that on sweets. Every morning we had a third of a pint of milk, which was supplied with a straw, the neck of the bottle was sealed with a cardboard cap, in which was a partially cut out ring in the middle, this had to be pushed out, or rather, in to the milk, leaving a round hole, enabling the straw to be used, this we had to do ourselves, often with disastrous results, as sometimes the whole cap would collapse under the pressure you were applying, trying to remove the center. Often you would get covered in milk, and or, whoever was standing close to you, as the milk would come out in a stream, often wetting your jumper, and trousers, and maybe theirs.
But if you got the top off whole, once it was dry, it would make an excellent skimming card, which would be used in the playground at break time. The girls would save theirs to make pom poms, using different coloured wools, binding the wool around the wide edge, then through the hole, until the 'wall' of the disc was covered, tie a piece through its centre, to anchor it all together, before cutting the wool at the edge, resulting in the making of a fluffy ball.
Some of the children's parents could not afford to give their child a ha'penny a day for milk, as often the father would be out of work, or the mother was a widow, so the local council paid for them. I think all of us in the class were aware of those kids, but I don't recall any adverse comments to them, and as far as we were concerned they were still our classmates.
At Christmas time, on the afternoon that we broke up for the holidays, we would have a party, in the classroom. The teacher would hand out gifts that were donated by local shopkeepers. These took the form of board games, like Snakes and Ladders, except you had to work your way up to the Gibbs dentrifice castle, going back if you landed on tooth decay, etc, we were also given miniature bottles of tomato or brown sauce. One present I got was a money box shaped like a kitchen cleaner, 'Vim' which would allow you to put in money, actually sixpences, and would hold 19, when you pushed in the 20th one, the top sprung open, and you'd saved 10 bob(50 pence). With the use of one of Mothers dinner knives, the top could be lifted off, whenever you had the need for any saved cash.
I progressed from Infants to Junior school, and a change of discipline, and a mixture of men and women teachers, the worst one, by far, was Miss Wade. She had eyes in the back of her head, and her hearing ability was so cute that you would not believe, and a martinet, if ever there was one. She insisted on complete silence when she was talking, or we were working, and if any one was found to be breaking her rules, the culprit would be named, she would tell them their offence, and made to stand against the side wall of the classroom, until she had finished the lesson. By this time, there would be several miscreants, both boys and girls. Before she dismissed the class she would walk across to the wall, and if you were a boy, she would pull up your short trouser leg, and slap you on the thigh, which stung, if a girl, she would pull up the skirt, and do the same to them.
There was, however, a nice teacher, Mr. Humphreys, who looked like a teacher should look, a kind face, rather plump, who would start his lesson with "I saw a blackbird this morning, on the way to school, and he said to me, 'morning George", for that was Mr. Humphrey's name, and would then speak, as if imitating the bird. He took us for English, and Art, and mental arithmetic. To keep our attention, when we did the arithmetic, he would offer a penny for the one who got all the right answers, and trying to sound modest, I often got the coin.
Miss Chubbock, wasn't bad, if I recall, nowhere near like Miss Wade, but Mr. Humphrey's was the best.
The Headmaster, everyone kept clear of, he too was plump, but had a very swarthy complexion, and possibly looked worse than he was. He drove to school in a model T Ford. Of course, in those days, only the professional, or shopkeepers, had cars, the majority of folk, relied on buses, or "Shank's pony(walking) unless you had a bicycle. So Mr. Baxter would arrive at school, and park it on the roadside. As soon as he had left it, we would all flock around it, not daring to touch anything. One or the other of us pointing out what the various knobs and levers did, until there would be a bellow of "You lot, get into school" and you found the man standing there behind you.
Then came the Seniors, this school was single sexed, with the girls Senior school next door, although it had a separate entrance. Male teachers in our side, Lady teachers their side.
Now we had different teachers, different set of rules, and harder discipline. The Headmaster, a Mr. Corlett, was an officer in the Great War, and he brought to the school some of his army training, such as, if you met him on your way to school, he would expect you to salute him. If you had occasion to speak to him, you stood at attention, making sure that you did not have your hands in your pockets. I'm making him sound awful, but he was far from that. For example, one of our classmates was missing from school, and come the next day he still didn't turn up. On the third day, a teacher saw the boy, in town, shopping, so the Head took it upon himself to go around to the lads house, which was in a poor part of town. The knock on the door brought the boy face to face with Mr. Corlett, who asked him the pertinent question, and found that the boy's mother, a widow, was ill in bed, and a younger child needed care and attention. The boy explained that he had to look after his Mum, and the infant. Straight away the Head contacted the Welfare people, who would see to the problems, enabling the boy to return to school. Once back at school, the Headmaster had words with the boy, and told him not to play these tricks again, but to let him know if there were any future problems. Occasionally we would see Mr. Corlett talking to the boy, asking him how things were going at home.
Mr. Corlett had another problem boy, one who was caught stealing, by a shopkeeper, who reported the lad to the Head. Evidently, the boy was known for his pilfering ways, often pinching things from this same shop, so the man kept an eye on him whenever he went in the shop. The shopkeeper did not want the police involved, so gave the Head the job of dealing with the boy.
On Friday afternoons, we would have assembly, in the hall, and all the school, pupils, and teachers attended this. Mr. Corlett always ran this get together, normally starting off with any new information, and school news in general, i.e. sports, or forthcoming events. Today was no exception, until he started to talk about dishonesty, and that he would be making an example of what punishment would be given to those who broke the rules. He then called out the boy found stealing, took him on to the stage, bent him over the edge of a table, and gave him the cane, telling him, and the rest of us, that that was the punishment, not only for stealing, but because he had let the school down, reminding us of the schools motto "Play up, play up, and play the game".
It was at these assemblies that we would all sing, one of the teachers playing the piano, often stirring songs, like "Men of Harlech" "To France there journeyed 2 grenadiers", then we would sing ``On Richmond hill there lived a lass" and many, many more, before ending the assembly with prayers.
We would also recite the Lords prayer each morning before we started our lessons, and 2 first periods a week, we would attend a short religious session, again, given by the Head, with a prayer, and a couple of hymns, one of them, I believe every child of my age knew then, "There is a green hill, far away".
One of the most popular teachers was Mr. L. C. Howes, given the nickname, Elsie. He would be our sports master, as well as trying to teach us maths and english, if he caught you talking, he would throw a piece of chalk, sometimes the blackboard eraser at the culprit, luckily for all concerned, he never hit anyone, whether it was deliberate, or his aim was bad, is another story.
1938 School Report
Signed by L.C.Howes
Many, many years after, in fact I was about 40 years of age, and a father, we were at Yarmouth, and I, with your Mum, went in the Ship public house, (This will be mentioned later)and who should walk past us, to the bar, but LC. On his return I bid him "Good evening, Mr. Howes", he stopped, looked at me, and I asked him if he remembered me, another long look, then he said that he did, but not my name, which I told him. (I thought he was just saying that). He told me that I was in the same class as Billy Chapman, when Billy was the football team captain. This really amazed me, and your Mum as well. We chatted a bit more, he was now a Headmaster, at a school in Gorleston, and he was teaching an Osborne, which turned out to be my nephew, John.
But back to schooldays, as I said, Elsie took us for games, these would take place on the South Denes, where, in the winter, the Scots girls would be gutting the herring. As no one had sports gear, we would wear a coloured ribbon, over one shoulder, so that you could recognise fellow team members, or opponents. Elsie would be referee, who would often join in the game. If one of the players let him get the ball, the cry would go up about that player being a creep.
Then we had Mac, a scotsman, he took us for geography, and he was a hard taskmaster, and miserable to boot, he definitely didn't have any favourites in his class, (Elsie told me, when I met him in the Ship. that Mac did not have a degree for teaching, so was not paid as much as a teacher who had the high qualifications, and yet he had much more teaching experience than some of the others).
We were introduced to woodwork, and made various small things, like a copper stick, letter racks, etc. We learnt how to make a mortise and tenon joint, butt joints, how to sharpen tools, and the proper way to saw a straight edge, which I still have difficulty with.
The Greenacre was one of the best equipped schools in the borough. Especially, as we had a modern gymnasium, complete with wall ladders, vaulting horses, tumble mats, even showers. At least one period a week would get us vaulting, forward rolling, playing medicine ball, and the usual keep fit exercises. A game we played there was hand ball, using a heavy medicine ball, which I enjoyed, On the long exercise forms we were taught the rudiments of swimming, laying on our tummies, doing the breast stroke. It was planned that, after the summer holidays, we would go to the town swimming pool, which was at present being cleaned, ready for an influx of the town's summer visitors.
Just prior to our summer break, all the town's schools would meet at the Wellington Pier gardens, for an inter school Sports afternoon. The gardens had been laid out specifically for this purpose, complete with a running track, around it's perimeter. A piano was required, and had to be taken from the Greenacre, this was to be trundled on a large wheelbarrow, by the school caretaker, with several of the larger boys to help him, as muggins was big, I, and others my size, got the job, We got the piano on the barrow, and left the school premises. On our way, the 'driver' or steerer, lost control, causing the barrow to crash into a pebble dashed wall, trapping me between it, and the barrow, a sharp stone on the wall cutting my eyebrow, I went back to school for a plaster, and was excused labouring, needless to say, I still have a slight scar from this accident. Though I had to attend the sports meeting as I was a member of the school's tug of war team.
I sat the 11 plus exam for entry into the Grammar school, Mum and Dad pinned their hopes on me, as Geof, when he sat it had not passed. The exam was in 2 parts, English, and mental arithmetic, I failed the English, so another disappointment for my parents.
To give an illustration on how important having a grammar school education was to us children, and especially to our parents, who being good parents, wanted their offspring to have a better chance in life than what they did.
A widowed friend of Mother's lived just up. the road from us, she had a son, my age, who sat, and passed his exams, there was only one problem, there was very little money coming into the house, and definitely none for school uniform, books, and sports gear. But the Mother set out her stall, so as not to deprive her son's chance of a better future, and not only took in washing, but went out scrubbing floors, giving her the extra cash she needed. Her sacrifices paid dividends, as Mum told me later, that once the boy had finished his education, he landed himself a good job.
As War seemed imminent, the A. R. P. was formed, and to give them, and 'first aiders' a touch of realism, as regarding the medical treatment of possible civilian casualties, volunteers were asked at the school to became 'the injured', and one evening, I, and several others, met outside St. James's church, to be tagged, stating what had happened to us, i.e.. broken legs, arm blown off, head injuries, and so on. We then had to lay down on the road whilst the medics attended to us, splinting here, bandaging there, then we were examined by a doctor, to check on the treatment we had been given. It was fun, and most of us enjoyed it, not seeing the serious side of the proceedings.
It was during the start of our 1939 school holidays, just prior to the war starting that Jimmy and I were walking along the beach towards the Harbours Mouth, when we saw a small sand pile, surmounted with a stick, which, from a distance looked like a white flag, when we got close to it, we found a message written on the "flag' saying "meet me at ! o clock. Both Jim and I thought of spies, so leaving the flag where it was, we hurried off home, hoping to find a policeman on the way. In those days you could guarantee finding one, who we told about our discovery. He took our names and addresses, and we duly arrived home. We both told our respective parents about what we had found, and sat down to dinner. I was just putting my last mouthful away, when a knock came at our door, and there stood a policeman. It was a good job that I had informed Mum about the message, as she would have thought the worst. The bobby was dressed in his drivers uniform, which was rather strange, as although he was driving a car, he wore gaiters, as if he was a horseman, "Could your son come with me", and Mum called me to the door and said that I was to go with the policeman. He drove us to within a 100 yards of where we had found the message, and we sat there till about 1-45pm, waiting to see if anyone turned up, and eventually he returned me to my home.
---------September the third, 1939, and war was declared. -----The very first evening, we had an air raid, well the sirens went off, and all the adults got extremely worried, one neighbour started screaming, to be quietened down by another neighbour. It lasted about half an hour, then the "All clear' sounded. From what I've heard since, every town had a warning, so it was just an exercise.
Blackout curtains, or window covers were made, as it was now a punishable offence to show a light from your house. Dad got some tarred paper, and fixed it to a wooden frame, screwed turnbuckles on the window frames, to hold the blackout screens tight to the window. Heavy curtains were hung over every outside door, which you had to get between the curtain and the door, and pull them shut, before you dared open the door.
At school we had been issued with gas masks, which we had to take with us wherever we went, and again, it was against the law not to have yours with you at all times. We would have, or try to have, lessons, whilst wearing them. Once they had been on a couple of minutes the eyepiece would steam up. so that you could hardly see out of them. Various ideas came about on how to stop the 'fogging', smear a thin coating of Vaseline on the inside of the eyepiece, cut a slice of potato and smear that on, were a couple of useless tips, actually, nothing seemed to help, and once you had the mask on you resigned yourself to being partially blind.
As the masks came in cardboard boxes, with a piece of string attached to help you carry them, we found that not only the container, but the string as well, soon deteriorated. People handy with a needle and thread made a cover, with a material carry handle. The men, and boys would get their wives, or Mothers, to cover the box with thin canvas, whereas the females would use cloth with a flower, or some other form of decoration, to make theirs with.
An air raid shelter had to be built at school, this was made of ordinary house bricks, that I'm certain would have easily been blown down, with just the blast of a bomb.
Swimming was cancelled, the town pool was emptied, evidently to stop sea planes landing on it. The broads had projections stretched across them, again to stop sea planes from doing the same thing.
The Army moved into town, and started laying mines on the beach, plus miles and miles of barbed wire, at the normal high water level. The Pier had it's centre section removed, to hinder invasion troops using them as a means to land. The Home guard, or as it was first known, the local defense volunteers, was formed, although there were not many rifles about, and they would drill with poles, and pitchforks. Yes, Britain was at war !!.
Elsie was called up, and we started having a succession of new, much older teachers, as the conflict progressed, and the call up age went higher.
But Yarmouth was not expected to see much of the war, and was deemed a safe place, whereas London was expected to get the hammering, so evacuees started to arrive in town from the capital, although a few started at the Greenacre, they didn't mix with us. They didn't stay long, either, as once France capitulated, it was thought that any invasion would be on the East coast, so the kids went back to London, and Yarmouth started to send their schoolchildren away, mainly to the Nottinghamshire area, though their evacuation was purely voluntary.
With the withdrawal of the troops from the continent, known as Dunkirk, a lot of the soldiers, of all nationalities, were rescued by any boat that could carry them. Boats of every size and type went across, to France, even pleasure boats that normally took holiday makers out to Scroby island and back, these came from not only Yarmouth, but all over the East, and South coast, bringing back thousands of men, as did, of course, the Royal Navy. Geof, by now was at work, at Pickfords the removal people, as a general dogsbody, although he had to start learning shorthand, for what ever reason. As his working time allowed him an hour for dinner, he found he was hard pressed to come home, eat his meal, and return in the allotted time, so he bought himself a bicycle, Hercules roadster, trouble was that he could not sit on the seat, and reach the pedals in comfort so Dad fitted the pedals with wooden blocks, which naturally came off as he grew taller. The bike became a bone of contention between the two brothers, and though I could not ride then, I would rush my dinner, go outside and grab his bike, placing one foot on a pedal, I would use it as a scooter. One day, I went a bit too far, and caused Geof to be late for work, from then on I was barred from using it. I crazed Mum for one, and as a neighbours son had been called up, and did not need his, they offered it to Mum, for me. It cost seven and six pence, (37. 5 pence), which I paid back to Mum, each week out of my pocket money. Dad and Geof taught me to ride, and I would go all over the town on it, except for school, as we were not allowed to use bikes if we lived within walking distance from the Greenacre.
Jerry decided to bomb, and strafe, a lightship, the East Dudgeon, which, though it did not sink, the action caused it's crew members to take to the lifeboat. They rowed towards land, and just as they got close to safety, a wave overturned the boat, and only one crew member survived, he managing to get to land, completely exhausted. He found some cover, where he rested a short while, then he raised the alarm, which by this time was too late to help his fellows, in the sea. His rescuers took him to hospital, who notified the Yarmouth base. Dad was told to go, by taxi, from Yarmouth, and collect him.
The lightship was towed into Yarmouth harbour, for repair, and Dad arranged for me to have a look over the ship. Once aboard, the sight I saw was really eye opening, and gave me the impression that a giant hand had lifted the vessel up, and then thrown it down. The only thing that was not broken was an egg, which had been put in to a cocoa tin, by one of the crew. Why it was in there I've no idea.
As Jerry was now bombing known defenseless boats, the Trinity service recalled all it's lightships, and closed down it's base at Yarmouth, as the invasion of the U. K was expected on that coast. Dad was transferred to London, Mum, Geof and I, were offered a home with Uncle Ted, and Aunt Vi, in Reading, until Dad could sort out some accommodation for us in the big city.
Geof had to change his workplace, and luckily, he got a transfer to the Pickfords office in Reading.
I started at a new school, which was a short distance from Uncle's house, and though I found it hard going at first, not so much the lessons, but the dialect differences. I had the mickey taken out of me, well and truly. Most of the class spoke with a London accent, and here I was, in the midst of them, speaking broad Norfolk, it took a little time before I was accepted, and apart from me frequently getting the cane for talking, all went well.
We started swimming lessons, first on dry land, and eventually in the town pool, which was a little distance from school, with the help of some flotation gear.
But things were not going well at our new home, Aunt Vi had invited her sister, and 2 children, from Lowestoft, to stay with them. The children, both younger than me, were ok, but having 3 women in a kitchen was a different kettle of fish, especially as two of them were from another town, which itself, was a bone of contention, as those people born in Lowestoft, thought themselves better than those born in Yarmouth, and vice versa, causing Mother to chivvy Dad to hurry up and find us accommodation in London.
I think the last straw came after an incident between Geof, and I. I got on well with Uncle Ted, so much so that he allowed me to use his carpentry tools, which he kept in his shed at the bottom of his garden, and one afternoon, I was busy trying to make a boat out of a piece of wood, when Geof came down, and immediately started taking a rise out of me, he being extremely caustic in his remarks. Eventually my temper got the better of me, and I picked up a block of wood, and threw it at him, luckily for him that I missed, as it could have caused a nasty injury. Mother happened to see me throw the missile, and I felt the benefit of her tongue, but Aunt Vi had heard the conversation prior to me letting fly, and took my side.
A fortnight later, we were on our way to join Dad, and I left Reading with mixed feelings, as I got on so very well with my uncle, who had sold his shop at the beginning of the war, and was now a special constable, who when he was off duty would ask me if I would like a walk with him across the fields nearby, during which he would regale me with tales of his past, his youth, experiences in the Great war, etc. I was a good listener, asking a few questions. He showed me where the grass snakes lived, pointed out other items of interest, I do believe that he was, in a way, making up for the times he should have spent with his own son, when he was my age.
My last day at school came, and I took in my autograph book, (anyone who was anyone had an autograph book). A couple of signatures from friends, and an entry by Mr. Fordham, my teacher, His offering was something that has stuck in my mind ever since. Using musical signs, he wrote, "Never B sharp, never B flat, always B natural", It's hard to live by that message. .
I cannot remember how we traveled to London, but we met Dad, who took us to Forest Gate, to some 'digs' with a Mr. and Mrs. Davis, whilst Dad could find some better place for us.
The Davis's did not have any children, and I think that I would have been a new experience to them. They did have a dog, very old and very blind, who was extremely cuddly, who I could not get enough off.
Mr. Davis worked, mainly on nights, at the telephone exchange, and during the day, after he had rested, he would get out his quarter size billiard table, and teach me to play. He often told me jokes, never smutty ones, always clean, and what he thought suitable for the ears of a 12 year old. I spent quite a lot of my time with him, though I cannot recall what Geof, or Mum was doing whilst we were there.
I believe that we stayed about a month, before Dad found us a more permanent home at 47 Mortlake road, Ilford. I remember the day we moved in, Dad had organised the moving of our furniture and chattels from 12 Camden, and all of us helped to empty the removal van, into our new abode.
The house was a complete contrast to the 2 up, and 2 down we had at No. 12, 3 good sized bedrooms, which meant no more sharing with my brother, and an indoor, and outdoor toilet, plus the luxury of a bathroom.
Once Dad and Mum had finished with my services, I went to explore the cellar, and found small bottles of coloured inks, small paint brushes, numerous funny shaped writing pens, and hanging on a hook was a bowler hat, me not stopping to find out if it was clean or dirty, put it straight on my head, and rushed up stairs to show my find.
Geof and I found a group of Leclanche cells, these were stone jars, filled with sal ammoniac, complete with carbon rods, a very early form of wet battery, giving just sufficient power to operate the doorbell, which was not working at that time. Between us we got it operating, after a fashion.
Geof could not transfer again to a new Pickfords office, so found a job with the Co-op, mainly as a delivery boy, and I was found a school, about 400 yards from where we now lived, Dad going backwards and forwards to work at St Katherines wharf, by bus, and tube, Mum settling down to making a home for us.
Our neighbours, on one side were 3 sisters, two of them widows, the other a spinster, one of the 3 was a blind lady, Mrs. Trillo. The names of the others escapes me. They were all of a good age, and occasionally, during our stay, Mum would do some shopping for them, and Dad would tidy up their garden.
On the other side was the 'Talleys, Mr. Mrs. and daughter Betty, she was Geof's age, though still at school. Mr Talley was a master tailor, with his business premises in the Elephant and Castle area. A fighter pilot in the first world war, and very street wise, whereas his wife Thelma, was the complete opposite, and came over to us as being quite naive.
(More about her later)
Adolf was getting ready to invade, but had to soften us up before he could, so he started his bombing offensive on the capital, and I remember the start of it all so clearly.