WARTIME SCHOOL DAYS
FIRST ROTARY TALK 2nd APRIL 1984 and a few later musings 28th March 2015 (14 pages)
When I considered giving a talk, it was to raise the question “By what quirk of fate did I arrive here today? Where did I come from? Who were my ancestors? and by what accidents was I propelled to the life I lead today?”
I am fortunate that my family has nearly 1,000 years of sketchy but recorded history and a good 400 years of well documented info. So, here was the beginning. The end was to conclude with life since school and arriving for lunch today. In my usual eccentric way, I’ve decided to start in the middle.
My family were as poor as church mice, although it had not always been so. My father’s parents and generations previously had been extremely wealthy and influential. In fact, an ancestor was granted arms in 1685 by James II in Dublin and was appointed a commissioner and asked to raise £6,000, but refused to act. He lived until 1711, so it didn’t bother him much. Another lost £10,000 in some sort of gamble, which must have made a large hole in the family fortunes of those days, but that’s another story.
My father’s family were a typical Victorian family – 9 children in number and Dad was regarded as something of a black sheep. Most of them had been to the well several times before he got there and he received very little.in the way of a legacy.He had left school at 12 and his first job was as a prospective butcher’s apprentice. The only significant thing from Dad that I can remember of that career path was his instructions to jump up and down if a customer appeared to keep the rats quiet. He also added that occasionally a rat would drop into the sausage grinder which seemed unfortunate both for the rat and the the customers. He then had a milk round and later a farm. It was a small farm in Cottingham, East Yorkshire and was doing reasonably well. He ventured to a large farm, rented of course, and it was a complete disaster. It was known as ‘Lawns Farm’, Cottingham. Some of the land now forms part of Hull University’s Halls of Residence, also now known as ‘The Lawns’. Things were so bad, the family was evicted. It was probably my father’s fault. He used to say “work was for fools and horses” and he didn’t intend being either.
All this was before I was born, this was the 1920’s. The family were split up, mother, sister, and brother stayed with one of mum’s sisters, my Auntie Doris, also very poor, but who let them have one room. This was in Withernsea, near the coast. My father lodged with friends in Hull. Mother got work, first as a waitress and later as a daily for a rather kind lady who owned some property. In return for a modest rent and collecting the other rents, my mum was offered a terrace house in Clyde Street, Hull. It was no mean task collecting rents in those days, but mum was pretty tough.
I arrived at Clyde Street on 6th March 1932. I wasn’t a popular baby, my mum was 45 and father 47. We later moved to the next street 60 White Street. It was still a sham 4 but a little larger, although it still had an external toilet and a coal house and a rear scullery. Both my brother and sister where still at home and so sleeping arrangements were stretched being just a terrace house with two small bedrooms. However, Aubrey was in the merchant service so was away most of the time. I recall mum telling me that Aubrey was bringing his girlfriend home to meet us and I was not to be a nuisance and stay out of the front room. Of course I did the opposite and it became my first little earner and business venture. Aubrey would give me sixpence to clear off, I was four years old and learning fast. Come 1939, war broke out; I was 7 years of age. Complete with gas mask I was evacuated. I remember the talk of evacuation and possible billets, Canada was mentioned. When I was delivered with dozens of other school children to the Hull Ferry and New Holland was the destination, I thought it sounded a similar place and journey. Interestingly and sadly, “The City of Benares” the first ship taking evacuees to Canada was torpedoed and sunk and most of the children drowned.
I spent one year in Lincolnshire at Saxby All Saints. It was a typical old fashioned country village with life dominated by the Squire and Vicar. Six months of the time was very happy with a farm worker’s family called Hebblethwaite. I remember them killing their very large pig, it was enormous and it seemed bigger, certainly wider, than most horses. They pole-axed it and de-bristled it in a wooden tank in scalding water. The feast of succulent spare-rib, sweetbreads, etc. was unbelievable, cutting up hams and rubbing in saltpetre was a different world.
Everyone seemed to keep a pig and a few chickens. We used to help ourselves to small pig potatoes that were being boiled in DIY cast iron boilers on our way to school. The village school was small and I am not sure how they coped with the influx of evacuees from Hull, but I don’t recall any problems as far as integrating with the local children. I remember we were all provided daily with a small bottle of milk. If we got it early as we arrived we would balance it near the radiator. Two hours later at playtime it was warm and delicious. I can’t remember much about the lessons. I do remember current affairs, it was mainly about the war in Europe and the Russian Red Army. Of course the Russians were then our allies and I can still remember Marshall’s Zhukov and Rokasovskis trying to hold the line to prevent the tanks of the invading German Armies reach Moscow. Like Napoleon both invaders were halted by the logistics of lengthening supplies during a terrible Russian winter.
Life in Saxby All Saints was very rural and old fashioned. It was my first experience of country life and I was always on the lookout for bird’s eggs and bird’s nests. I can still feel the excitement of discovering a large nest of Pheasant eggs whilst wandering through the wood opposite. The only lights in the cottages were oil lamps, Mrs H. would do a little sewing, we usually all went to bed when it got really dark. I would be given a candle, which was the equivalent of “goodnight.” They were very kind, and although I was homesick, they looked after me very well. Father used to send me 2/6d occasionally through a local farmer, Mr Clubley, who attended Hull Cattle Market. Father was then cattle dealing as his principal occupation.
Unfortunately, for reasons I can’t recall, after six months I went to the other end of the village to stay with another Mrs H.., a relation of the first family. She was an elderly widow with a grown up daughter. She was an absolute witch and beat me regularly with the back of a hand brush. I probably deserved it, but I could feel the bump on my head for years.
I think my parents got the message somehow and in any case we were in the middle of what was described as the phony war, so I returned home just in time for me to enjoy the Blitz. It was strange and exiting. We would just get to sleep and the air raid sirens would go. Father slept on, but my mum, sister (my brother was now married and as a member of the RNVR (the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve had long gone) and myself would disappear into the street shelter. The early shelters were dug-out types, made of corrugated iron and sand bags and full of water. These were later demolished and replaced with solid brick ones, above the ground and quite comfortable if you got there early before all the seats or beds were occupied. We would listen for the whine of shells and bombs and as youngsters had to be physically restrained from flying out to find shrapnel souvenirs. The whole basis of school life was exchanging a piece of shell, preferably the nose cone, for the fin of an incendiary bomb – it was a new currency. I have quite vivid memories of the Blitz of May ’41, when the centre of Hull and West Hull got a real pasting. Our neighbour but two had their own garden shelter and if you were in favour you occasionally got an invite. We were in their shelter on this night, the noise was deafening and I couldn’t believe our house would still be there. When we finally emerged, several streets adjacent to us had been devastated; whole rows of terrace houses had gone.
It was the same night the Hammonds Department store in Hull was bombed and raised to the ground along with most of central Hull. As the jerry aircraft came over, several search lights would try to latch on to them and then the Costello gun would sound off. We recognised it immediately. The houses were not too well built to say the least, jerry built, Barrat 1880 vintage and the Costello gun would inspect all the footings with the vibration. Yet even through all those bombing raids and Hull’s devastation, as an eight-year-old I cannot recall being scared. I suppose my age group were growing up with it and probably thought such things were normal.
By contrast, I was terrified by a young woman living in our cul-de-sac, she had been terribly burnt and most of her facial skin had been burnt off leaving her looking ghoulish and ghastly. She rarely came outside, but the odd glimpse of her was chilling. Poor woman I can see her now and I had nightmarish dreams about her often. We are so fortunate these days to help such unfortunate people live a full life.
When the sirens sounded, Father never got out of bed, except when he did fire-watching. Dad was too old for the Second World War and had Consumption during the First or so the doctor said!!!!! Mum said it was Old Crawley’s stout. Father was apparently a funny green colour, near death’s door for a couple of months and had a wheezy chest for several years.
Old Crawley, as everyone knew him, lived in a solitary house, on a tip. The tip was situated behind Boothferry Park, the old Hull City ground. He scratched a living by persuading “out of works” to riddle tip waste for cast iron and ferrous metal. He kept chickens and goats and various wildlife and his residence was open to all. It was quite usual to see a couple of chickens on the table wandering about. He prided himself on his stout. Every occasion of bottle opening was celebrated by spraying the walls and ceiling. Mum was certain Father’s green hue emanated from Old Crawley’s stout. Crawley was a real character and owned a variety of slum property on Hessle Road in Hull. He would set off with his horse and rully to collect the rents and repair his property with used fish boxes. Conversely, I could say I am here today because of Old Crawley and his goat. When I was small I was a skinny reckling and nothing seemed to improve things until Mum decided to use his goat’s milk. She always maintained that it was the only thing that did me any good and built me up.
Crawley wasn’t the only character my Dad associated with, ”Old Hebb” was such another. He lived on a smallholding down Haltemprice Street, off Hawthorne Avenue in West Hull and kept a few cows. Dad sold him the occasional milking cow or sometimes bought a drape (a cow finished milking). We called in to see him quite often. Mr Hebb was a retired ex-railway engine driver and his home was adjacent to the railway line. Each time a train passed by the driver would blow his hooter. I found this strange until I realised each hoot signified coal being chucked over Mr Hebb’s hedge.
Thorp’y was another character. He scratched a living with a horse and rully moving things, hoping his son would take over when he returned and was demobbed from the war. He also rented a few ramshackle sheds further down Haltemprice Street. Dad would sell him rabbit skins which were hung in rows to dry out and presumably ended up as hats or gloves eventually.
Yet another colourful individual was” Whimsical Walker” nicknamed after a musical clown, he was another cow keeper but who would do anything for a crust. He got into transport mainly moving and selling manure. A little man, a chain smoker, a large family and a wicked sense of humour. Towards the end of the war, he got a contract to move prisoners of war from their camps to their work on farms each day. The contract included both Italian prisoners and German prisoners who mutually hated each other. Whimsy would purposely mix them up and enjoy the resultant fights. He also enjoyed the old time music hall at the “Tivoli” or the “Continental” theatres and would travel to the theatre in the manure wagon. He and the wife didn’t smell too sweet in the dress circle.
They had a large family and all of them from the earliest age had to work hard, they could all drive tractors, milk cows, shovel manure or demolish buildings. I recall that Mrs Walker was driving the tractor and had a serious accident when the tractor turned over and Mrs Walker was trapped underneath with her foot jammed and one of the boys aged nine stopped the engine and released her.
My Father also knew one or two tricks on how to make a living. Street betting was illegal, but Father would run a book and in order to impress, he would iron out numerous margarine papers cut to the same size as a pound and put a few pounds at each end which gave the impression of a large wad, for reassurance to the punters.
“A north east town was bombed last night” said the news on the radio. No wonder! It wasn’t so much because of Hull’s strategic importance, as much as the fact that it was en-route for West Yorkshire, Manchester or Liverpool etc. If the Luftwaffe met much resistance coming or going, they gave us what was left, frequently all of it. Hull had far more bombs per population than any other UK city.
In fact Hull had 60 air raids before a bomb fell on London according to T Geraghty’s book “A North East Coast Town” and 86,715 houses were damaged out of a total of 92,660.
I also recall in the early days of the war, an armed trawler from Hull captured a German submarine and having killed most of the crew towed it into the docks. It received national publicity and the success was used to boost people’s moral. This was a period when Hitler was having all the success and anything to strengthen the war effort was highlighted. One of the trawlers crew (the mate) lived near us. Unfortunately he had an unsavoury reputation and rumours were rife that he had been involved in helping himself to the sailors’ personal effects.
Another sad memory is the Telegram Boy. Everybody in the street hated the arrival of the telegram boy, its portent was someone killed or missing. I remember him arriving at the house opposite and hearing the poor young woman cry with anguish. “We regret to inform you that your husband etc is missing presumed killed” was the standard message. Usually everyone rallied around to offer tea and sympathy and that was it, no counsellors, no carers, nothing and the war continued.
I went to a total of eight schools during my school days due to the War and the Blitz, it was a real merry-go-round. Hitler seemed to follow me around knocking them down. After May 41, Mum thought I had better disappear somewhere else, so I went to my Aunt Kit in Withernsea, not the same Aunt as Mum had stayed with but another sister of my mum. An interesting family – Leslie and Douglas and Vera, my cousins, were all completely deaf and used sign language to communicate. Douglas and particularly Vera were exceptional at lip reading. So much so that many people were not aware of Vera’s disability. In fact Vera ran the house, organising shopping, ration books, and all our daily needs. She even organised our bedtimes. You knew when you were given a mug of cocoa, bed was the next step. The final signal came when Vera picked up the alarm clock and pointed to it. Auntie Kit just cooked and prepared the food. Douglas was quite faddy about his food and disliked Auntie Kit’s pie crusts. He would hide them around the plate and saucer edges. He also had quite a temper and would throw the odd knife and fork if roused. Leslie by contrast ate everything in front of him.
The house was large and beautiful. I recall the hall, staircase, and landing painted in white with the sun streaming through the stained glass panels in the entrance. Much different to our sham floor in Hull. At the rear were farm buildings including a first floor granary. The land extended to an orchard and a large garden. The house next door was requisitioned and was occupied by soldiers.
They were there most probably to patrol the sea front and to man the pill boxes. The beach was off limits to the public and was barb wired with large rolls of wire the entire length. There were pillboxes at various intervals.
My cousins, the two boys, both older than me, got away with murder!!! The family were then reasonably well off. Uncle Joe had two cars, one an open tourer bull-nosed Morris. (My dad told me years later he never paid any bills so no wonder they were well off!). His business was poultry, he would buy geese/ducks/chickens etc and the family would dress them and sell them at a shop they rented on Hessle Road and in the Hull Shambles. Christmas was a real sweat, everybody covered from head to toe in feathers, even I was enlisted and I used to pluck Khaki- Campbell ducks and the chickens. Uncle Joe was a past master at the odd scam – he would buy Irish eggs, which were cheap and we would rub the marks off and sell them as English fresh farm.
My recollection is of him coming home at night and everyone waiting to see what he had brought, sometimes it might be a case of sardines or boxes of chocolates. Every day seemed like Christmas – Black Market, no doubt.
Uncle Joe was a member of the Buffaloes. I was never sure what they did or what it all meant, but I recall they met at the Spread Eagle pub at the corner of Seaside Road and Hull Road. I also recall seeing a group photo with Uncle Joe in the centre as the worshipful master or something.
Uncle Joe was very generous and kind to his family and that included me. I had my first car drive with him when collecting chickens. Unfortunately I had my hand in the door when Uncle Joe closed it. He was most concerned and I remember him with affection.
Also to a nine year old boy treasures under the stairs were magic. Boxes filled with lead toys Cowboys and Indians, regiments of soldiers (some repaired with broken heads refitted with matchsticks) and farm yards complete with all the animals.
The family were quite eccentric. We had a family pet called Betty; she was a beautiful, white goat. Vera, the daughter, loved her very much. She wandered in and out of the house at will. Everything for Betty was the very best. Carrots and fresh fruit would be carefully washed, peeled and sliced for her. She wore a nice red ribbon. When she had been milked by Vera, she would come in and put both feet on the table, and help herself to a cake, the flowers, her own milk or whatever took her fancy. Vera would only let her graze after an inspection of the grass. She agreed to let her graze the churchyard opposite, but Betty’s favourite titbit was the notice-board. She loved the fresh notices and devoured them with relish as soon as they were put up.
For a short while Uncle Joe kept a large Billy Goat, we lads yoked it up to a cart and toured Withernsea. Whenever Uncle Joe was out we’d all attempt to start the remaining car. We travelled in style in the open tourer, through Withernsea’s main street on several occasions. Nobody said anything, at least not to us, indeed Leslie often went shopping on his own helping himself to whatever he fancied. The shopkeepers just sent Uncle Joe a bill. It was a real happy-go-lucky family, like old Crawley’s, but cleaner I hasten to add. Chickens would wander in and out just like Betty. My aunt would make dough and leave it in a panchen to prove in front of the fire, I remember one day a cockerel with both feet in the dough trying to beat a retreat, but firmly stuck.
I can count three firsts at Withernsea. At the church opposite, I became a choir boy and remember being paid 3d for each wedding. This was the first time I’d earned anything, if you discounted the 6d my brother used to give me when I was four to leave him and my future sister-in-law undisturbed in the front room when courting. I then got a job as an errand boy delivering coalite blocks for 1/6d per week, working one hour per night and Saturday morning. The weight on the front of the bike was so great I would have developed biceps like Charles Atlas, if the job had lasted long. Thirdly I became a Cub and passed my tender pad and fire lighting with the proverbial two matches.
From Cubs I chiefly remember, whilst on an outing, someone noticed a wart on my knuckle. They suggested rubbing it with the milk root of a dandelion, like a fool I did, but low and behold it worked and I’ve never had a wart since.
My aunt’s house was named “Surrey House” and was next door to the school. I used to hear the whistle before I left home.
Withernsea was hit by a string of bombs down the Main Street and I heard the whole thing. I felt a real expert coming from the battered Big City. I recognised the sound and then saw the plane before it made its bombing run and said quite casually to my aunt, “That’s a Dornier 215” she told me not to be ridiculous, then all hell broke loose. She rammed me under a reinforced table. We were later told that the bomber had been shot down by a spitfire over the North Sea, but that could have been a little reassuring propaganda. Even in Withernsea we took air raid precautions seriously and used blackout paper to cover the windows at night and sticky brown rolls of paper to criss cross all the windows to prevent broken glass shattering in one piece.
Queuing was a product of the Second World War, before that it was a complete free for all. I recall going to the fish shop just round the corner in Seaside Road. The fish shop was packed to the door. The server just picked anyone to serve next. At nine years of age and small for my age at that I was invisible. I remained unnoticed for an hour until I fought my way to the front.
Another vestige of the past was notices when entering Seaside Gardens which warned that those young offenders who vandalised anything would receive the birch.
After a year at Withernsea things seemed quiet at home, so Mum let me go back home again. The lull was short lived and I was evacuated to Etton Pasture Camp near Beverley. I had a pal from Wheeler Street school days who was there already. When I arrived I immediately got several good hidings, because my pal couldn’t fight and had told everyone I would sort them out when I arrived. The camp had six separate timber dormitories, with a school assembly hall, messing facilities and a hospital block, all centred round a quadrangle, and set in, I guess, about 80 acres. It was quite good really. I was in the local church choir and remember swapping comics and pumping the organ, and walking the 1½ miles back and forth to church. I recall the old Vicar was called Opie. He looked after three parishes, although his vicarage was at Etton. He would finish morning prayers, mount his large chestnut gelding and ride side saddle to South Dalton for his next service. If he got really angry he frothed a little round the mouth. The choir boys liked to steam him a little and they persuaded me one day, just as we were in the vestry ready on cue for the service to start, to ask him, “Why can’t you serve God and Mammon”. I didn’t know what I was asking, but he was absolutely livid. I was congratulated all round later. Our mainstay at the church was Mr John Albert Bugg, a very kindly man, who sang ‘Nunc Dimitis’ as though it was coming out of his boots. He took the collection and did everything, Church Warden, the lot. He knew my dad and my occasional 2/6d started again.
I visited the church in the 80’s and nosed around in the church and the vestry where we had carved our names as lads and there was the collection plate inscribed in memory of Mr Bugg. He had only recently died and had served the church well for over 50 years. By an amazing coincidence I looked at the Bible, which was open for the lesson and, you’ve guessed it, it read “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” The strange thing was as I stepped up to read I fully expected it.
I was confirmed at Etton by the Bishop of Hull when I was 11. He obviously had not heard about my reputation. Outside, near the Church and not far from Mr Bugg’s grave, was the Reverend Opie’s stone. I enjoyed the day. Incidentally, Etton Church has links with several American Presidents, the most recent being George Bush the 41st President. Apparently a persecuted priest, John Lowthrop born 1584, emigrated to the States in the 17th century and is also ancestor to Grant, Roosevelt, Longfellow, Adeli Stephenson and Joseph Smith, the Mormon.
Etton also has links with the Knights Templar who were a military religious order and occupied a site in Etton during the 13th and early 14th century.
Most of the choir boys at the church were from Etton camp, that is evacuees from Hull. Three brothers called McKenzie were from Hessle Road in Hull, two were in the choir, Tom being the eldest. I seem to recall that one of the boys, Norman McKenzie, was accidentally drowned in the village pond which was extremely deep. He was playing on the ice and unfortunately he fell through the ice somewhere in the centre of the pond and by the time he was rescued it was too late. It was the first time someone I knew of a similar age had accidentally died and it made quite a lasting impression on me.
My two years at Etton were quite eventful. I used to enjoy walking and wandering all over the countryside, very often chased by the local gamekeepers. I knew every walnut tree, apple orchard and mushroom patch in the district. I also still had the fascination for bird’s eggs and wildlife; I was always searching for pheasant’s nests, larks, thrush, etc. I don’t remember pinching more than one and then only pheasant eggs. They looked so big. I remember eating one raw in front of the other lads. It didn’t bother me but they turned puce.
I recall seeing my first Kingfisher and Wordsworth’s poem “The Cuckoo” always reminds me of those days. One verse in particular, “the same as in my school days I listened to that cry, which looked for in a thousand ways, in bush and tree and sky.” I remember one of the teachers called Jack Singleton, describing me to a packed assembly, “as the boy who roams the countryside.” He, by the way, was a First World War veteran. His room was at the end of my billet. He would polish his boots until they reflected like mirrors. He couldn’t stand the French and the French teacher was indeed French, so they didn’t speak. In late ’43 the roads around Etton were packed with army vehicles preparing for D Day, amongst them some Free French. Old Singleton wouldn’t look in their direction. He quite liked me in an odd sort of way and would send me for Park Drive cigarettes, 10 “drives round the park.” as he called them. When we were out illegally after lights out, we would look for the glow of his cigarette.
He could get quite wild. I remember we were presented with a strong, stout, scout staff 1½” wide and 6ft long. This night we were making a lot of noise and rioting generally, when old Singleton appeared in his long night shirt, complete with scout staff and launched himself at each bed with gusto. Bottom bunks were popular that night.
My wanderings took me to Beverley, South Dalton, Cherry Burton, Lund and even as far as Middleton on the Wolds. I was attracted there because Mr Clubley, who Father gave the 2/6d to in Lincolnshire, had moved farms. He also had two pretty daughters and I didn’t mind the walk if Sunday tea and a little spooning were at the end of it.
Lots of boys ran away, mostly back home to Hull. Whilst I never did, I and the other choir boys always encouraged them. It was quite an event and I remember on our way back from choir practise discussing a mass run away. Lots of lads needed very little encouragement. So we drummed up quite a crowd to run home one weekend. I remember helping them through the hedge and waving them off. Les Schultz (his uncle was Lord Mayor of Hull) was very good, he just could not settle and always wanted to go home. We could get him started any time, virtually to order.
The teachers would be galloping about, some on bikes, some on foot, we were quite proud. Les was a real third time loser. He would get the most sumptuous parcels from home, with large fruit pies and chocolates etc. His bed was in the middle of the dormitory. I recall him stuffing himself one day, when an argument was going on between both ends of the billet and football boots were flying about, Les looked up and stopped one, which laid him out. It seemed such a pity to waste all those lovely pies, so we all helped him out while he was recovering.
I sometimes walked to Beverley and bought some chocolate spread and ice-cream wafers, you couldn’t get ice-cream. I remember making some concoction of choc spread, cocoa and dried milk. I sold these sandwiches and made a profit. When I made my concoction, I stood it on the heating rail behind the beds to melt. Unfortunately, it was sometimes used as a route and thoroughfare. My concoction traced Man Friday’s feet all the way to the loo and back. I remember quite a few of the teachers, Mr Upton, Miss Eagle and Miss Berry used to be popping in and out of each other’s rooms all night. I’d already started my own rumblings with the farmer’s daughters, so I thought it can’t be sugar they’ve forgotten. I have a feeling that they had a great war.
I took and failed my 11+ at Etton. Looking back, I suppose it wasn’t a surprise for by that time I had already attended Wheeler Street, Saxby All Saints, Springburn Street School off Hessle Road (after being bombed out by Hitler), then Withernsea and then to Wheeler Street once again. I remember Miss Berry read out the successes and the failures and that was that. I liked Miss Eagle who took us for English. She also took us for dancing and its funny how you always remember compliments. She partnered me to the anniversary waltz and I remember her remarking “Tony you are a wonderful dancer”. I expect it was very much an overstatement but I have never forgotten the remark. Compliments were as a rare as hen’s teeth as far as I was concerned.
Its funny how you can recall certain dates. I remember George VI announcing D Day on June 6th, the allied invasion of Europe whilst at Etton. Mum would send me a parcel now and again and it was a real treat. Unfortunately, the only thing I can remember now is the haslet she always popped in. I hated it and swapped it straight away if I could. If I couldn’t swap it, it gradually curled up at the edges. Needless to say I’ve never liked it since. There was very little to buy in the shops. HP sauce was about the lot. We would buy a bottle to make the dry bread taste better and we got our 2oz bar of chocolate or equivalent (blended of course) with our coupons once a week from the camp Tuck Shop. I do remember getting at least two food parcels from either America or Canada – Sugared Almonds and white chocolate were included and Spam. Spam seemed like fillet steak. I still like spam.
Although most of us wanted to go home there were mixed feelings because I am sure the teachers did their best to look after us. I recall with warmth the enjoyment of Christmas carolling in and around the village and being invited into the Hall for hot toddies. The music was full of carols of course, but we also sang all the popular songs such as the White Cliffs of Dover and Bless ‘em All. All songs of the patriotic spirit which made us proud to be British when Britain and its empire stood alone against a terrible enemy. We were also recruited to help on local farms with the harvest, picking potatoes and pulling worzels etc. I still recall that we were issued with a useless dinner knife each which made cutting the leaves off the worzels impossible. At the camp we also kept pigs and chickens, and when we were bored, we visited local orchards and nicked a few apples, pears and plums for excitement.
I suppose it was a very healthy environment, but if we were unwell we had a nurse and a small hospital. We had regular check-ups and nurse inspected us for dicks or impetigo, dirty nails and the great unwashed. She was less than gentle, I hated her cutting my nails and promptly did it myself by biting them. It took me another 50 years to break the habit. There where many children who were very unhappy and bed wetting was common. They had to sleep on a rubberised ground sheet and were not popular.
During the war children were measured for height and feet length and if you exceeded the average you were given extra coupons. I qualified for having large feet but boots and shoes were not available, so we were given wooden clogs. The clogs chafed my ankles so badly that they swelled up and the clogs crippled me. Eventually I was given dispensation.
I do remember enjoying the twice weekly choir practice and we hatched all manner of daring do’s and we persuaded ourselves that there was a ghost in the mausoleum near South Dalton Church and we would go and look for it after lights out. We must have been out hours because it is a long walk. When we got there I am sure we were all delighted that the mausoleum was securely locked and the ghost must’ve been relieved to be left undisturbed.
To summarise though Etton did not do me any harm and played a big part in creating my independent spirit and lateral thinking, ghosts apart.
In September 1944, it was back to Wheeler Street School now based at Eastfield Road School. I was quite shocked to see numerous unfamiliar black American soldiers and some billeted near us at the corner of Melrose Street and Anlaby Road. We soon learned how to say “got any gum chum”. Despite us being cheeky they were quite kind to us. I also accompanied Les Shultz to the synagogue in Linnaeous Street on a Saturday morning occasionally. Not to change my religion, but because a number of French Canadian Jewish soldiers attended on Saturdays. Sometimes they would give us sweets but more often than not we persuaded them to give us Sweet Capral French Cigarettes.
Cigarettes were very popular as British cig’s were in short supply. In those days the popular expensive ones where Capstan, Players and Craven A and the cheaper Woodbines, Park Drive etc. To supplement these you could buy Turf or Passing Cloud which were awful. You could also buy tobacco such as Old Holborn and Punch and roll your own. The Americans of course smoked Camel, Lucky Strike, Marlborough and these were very popular and highly prized. I puffed occasionally, but my sister was always delighted when I brought home the Canadian Sweet Capral’s.
At school it wasn’t long before I started my next business venture – running a marble shooting gallery. I started by setting up 4 marbles close together on bumpy concrete on the school quadrangle and carefully marking the line, offered them to anyone who could hit them. I collected the marbles that missed and resold them. I got quite sophisticated and my brother (now demobbed) produced a rather elegant purpose made gallery to be aimed at. I was making 1/6d per day and I felt quite expansive. It broke my heart when I passed the entrance exam for Hull Technical College. I couldn’t even sell the goodwill.
At this time 1948, my Father bought a smallholding at Hessle. It had previously been a sizeable farm and dated back to Elizabethan times, but the railway had cut it off and the old farm stood on 3½ acres. It cost £1,400; my father could only get a mortgage with my brother as guarantor because of his age and principally because he was, as usual, hard up. They got a £700 mortgage; my dad borrowed £500 from a pal and the balance, i.e. ingoings, etc. cost another £650, which consisted of £550 from my brother, £100 from my sister and £50 from yours truly. It was a very rough old spot, with an earth privy, no lighting, except gas and one solitary cold tap, hot water if you remembered to fill the reservoir in the battered Yorkshire range. The outhouses adjoined the house, with a common roof overall. We were overrun with rats. Father hung bottles down every corner of the granary. Mother was more practical and brought in cats.
At Tech I was on a building course and put it to practical use by altering piggeries and proudly built an outside loo with W.C. and a real sewer connection, sheer luxury after the one holer. The only sad note was the greenhouse was denied the privy’s resources.
Father kept pigs and we took it in turns twice per week to collect the swill from the nearby council estate. Most customers kept the swill just inside the loo and my brother swore that there were occasions when he grabbed a leg inadvertently, as he reached for the swill tin.
The swill was boiled with fish offal and potatoes. We served this delectable menu to the pigs, sometimes mixed with sharps. We suspected that some customers would be curious to know why their ham tasted remarkably like cod. Father spent many happy hours leaning over the half door, gazing at and occasionally poking the pigs. Whilst most people discussed the weather, Father’s topic was how the pigs were doing. All visitors were invited to view how well they were doing. We bred from a couple of gilts and brought a friend’s boar, when necessary, to service them.
Everything was gloriously haphazard. Mum kept the chickens and Father a Shire horse called Dick Barton. My brother and I would suggest he should sell the horse for a pony, when Dick’s manure got so high that Dick couldn’t stand up straight in his stable. We also kept the odd cow now and again. I recall being aroused at 1 a.m. to hold on to the end of a rope to help Father turn a calf’s head round, so the heifer could calve properly. Whenever I watched the vet series, I was always reminded of Dad. He hadn’t much faith in vets and did most things himself. Several times when we reared chicks, the rats would get them and if we heard scuffling in the hen house, we would all race and throw anything that came to hand at the rats. We were not too successful hitting the rats, but I remember coming very close to an accident one day when Father threw the axe in my direction. The rats would run quite close to the wall and were extremely hard to hit. We also had a first class watchdog called Nellie. She was a large goose and raised caine if anyone came on to the property.
My Mum’s church for many years was St. John’s Newington. After returning from Etton, I became a member of the church choir. We had several vicars, latterly a Reverend Dennier, later to become Rural Dean of York. He was a daunting character and gave the most lengthy, boring sermons. Sometimes we would be rustling about, swapping comics, etc. when you would realise the drone of his voice had stopped. It was slightly unnerving to suddenly realise his piercing eyes, followed by those of the whole congregation, were upon you. When I was 15 and quite keen on scouting at St. John’s, I decided to quit the choir. I recall advising his nibs of my intentions. He was furious and asked why. I made the remark that I’d been a choir boy at three different churches and “had done my bit.” I thought he was going to have convulsions and he screamed “You can never do enough for God” frothing around the mouth. I seem to have that affect on vicars.
As I remarked I was heavily into Scouts. It was a good troop and we had many happy days doing lots of camping. There was quite a lot of rivalry, particularly with a boy called Edwin Hay and both he and I had aspirations to go to the Jamboree in 1947 in France and we both hoped to be the next Troop Leader. Edwin and I were both selected and joined 32 others to form the East Riding contingent, provided we achieved our first class badge. We met together at Drewton Manor near South Cave, the home of Major Ingleby. A wonderful manor house, set in an idyllic country estate. We camped near a small lake and were all introduced to each other.
The contingent was led by Cecil Slack, a director of the local company Reckitts. The other senior scouters were Mr Lowther a journalist with the Bridlington Gazette and a headmaster, John Harris from Driffield if my memory serves me correctly.
Major Ingleby and Mr Slack were ex-army officers and had served in the first world war, so most of our training was carried out with military precision.
Following the initial get-together we were pretty motivated to achieve our first class badge and we met again shortly before our trip to France at Figham near Beverley to complete our training in preparation for our impending trip.
Cecil Moorhouse Slack was indeed a wonderful man, but I did not discover how wonderful and capable he was until quite recently (2014) when I became aware of his army record in the First World War and his story can be seen on the world wide web. It certainly makes clear the terrible conditions men were expected to fight under. Sometimes up to their thighs in thick muddy water. The East Yorkshire Regiment were in the thick of it and sometimes had to be dragged out of the trenches with ropes. The death toll among both officers and men was appalling. Somehow Lieutenant Slack survived and showed gallantry of the highest order winning the MC for his bravery and leadership.
It is also clear that Major Ingleby and Cecil Slack were brothers in arms and letters tell the story of Lieutenant Slacks incarceration and as a prisoner of war the connection.
In a recent Flashback article in the Hull Daily Mail (2013) is a story of a 1914 desertion. The soldier Private Charles Frederick Mcoll, a member of the 1/4th battalion East Yorkshire Regiment, had deserted his post and run away only to be recaptured and tried. He was sentenced to death and it fell to Lt Slack to lead the 10 man firing squad and carry out the sentence. Such is fate.
With our enthusiasm and the training, Edward Hay and I both achieved our first class badges and were rewarded with being part of a superb jamboree at Moisson near Paris. As a postscript, I became Troop Leader but Edwin achieved far more, becoming a very young Professor at an excellent university. Not bad for a lad from Haddon Street off Hawthorn Avenue.
I recall the embarrassment of our Scouter when our Paris guide showed us all round the red light district of Paris. There was a lot of nod, nod, wink wink, among the scouts as we saw the girls showing their wares. It was all great fun and to see Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower was also a wonderful experience.
Funny how it is the cock-ups which remain in the memory. I remember well how we were given strict instructions when using the Paris Metro and emphasis placed on getting in quickly before the doors closed. On this occasion those pearls of wisdom came from Mr Lowther. Our sheer delight was to see all 32 of us quickly on board watched by poor Mr Lowther desperately trying to join us, as the doors closed and the train left with us all waving goodbye to him. It was also memorable when canoeing down a tributary of the Seine to see John Harris floundering and wet through after he turned his canoe upside down.
France was in a pretty parlous state so soon after the War. Everywhere the war had left its mark, with bridges blown up, buildings demolished, and temporary graves at the roadside, with often a German helmet acting as a headstone. Still it was a glorious adventure for us boys. 45,000 attended from all over the world. President Truman sent the American contingent over on a troopship. I suppose organising such a large event in war torn France was a logical nightmare. Food was hit and miss and basic. The bread was made of maize and as hard as a brick. It arrived on tipper trucks and was tipped straight onto the street. We were too hungry to object.
I was now completing my school days at the Hull Tech. I was never very good at Physics. The teacher was slightly mad, he had a large bald boffin like head and concentrated our minds by the use of the “Boys’ Friend”. This was a large flexible piece of wood 2” wide and highly polished. He would ask a question and it was the done thing to put your hand in the air, whether you knew the answer or not. If you didn’t raise your hand, you were immediately asked and suitably punished. The trick was to sit behind someone bright, who usually knew the answer, keeping your hand in line with his. If Mad Alf Pearson pointed in your direction, hopefully, the boy in front would answer. The odds were certainly better than keeping your hand down. He gave me the longest line I ever received, I still remember it. “Rule 4 of the School Rules states that boys must not enter outside the precincts of the school boundary during school hours as such conduct is likely to lead to avoidable accidents.” Even the paid scribes, who did your lines for you at 1d per page, jibbed at that. He was smart enough to realise you couldn’t get it all on one line and copy them sheet form downwards. 500 of those lines are a memory forever.
Our woodwork teacher Mr Bray was also on the loony side and cycled to school on an old drop handlebars cycle. Nothing wrong with that I suppose, but he was rather ancient or appeared so and kept a close eye on his bike which was nearby in the classroom. He was very mild usually but seemed to endlessly respond to most questions about what to do next by saying “Go away boy, go away and plane it 1″1/2″ by 1″1/4″. This was his response what ever you had asked.
There were large cupboards under the benches and while Mr Bray was out we were all fooling about and stuffed Curtis, who was not particularly popular, was into one of the cupboards just as Mr Bray returned to the rowdy class. We had been trying to let Curtis out without Bray noticing but we were too late. Bray was so annoyed he picked up one of his pieces of timber and layed about us. I suppose in today’s world he would have been dismissed but we all felt lucky to have escaped serious bodily damage.
Johnny Redhead, another teacher, was a time served tradesmen bricklayer. I got on well with him except on one occasion when I was playing around with a new Diston trowel I had just bought. He confiscated it for the term much to my chagrin. I was quite devastated. They were the best quality trowels on the market and very scarce and the trowel and I were separated for a full term. Mr Redhead left school before I did, to become a farmer. His wife’s family were farmers in Holderness and an early death in the family meant a change of career for Johnny. Despite my trowel spending time in his prison I liked Mr Redhead who had a great sense of humour.
Douglas’s Smaje took us for technical drawings etc and was a strict character. What would make him furious was to enter the classroom and smell smoke. He would have all the large windows open so we froze, and do his best to ferret out the guilty party who was responsible, usually to no avail.
I worked with him years later on a panel with myself representing the Federation of Master Builders. We were helping young people become ‘improvers’ in the construction industry and ultimately tradesmen. When these young people appeared before us, his first question was always “Can you get up in the morning”
Also on the panel was Mr Green who was the centre manager and previously interviewed each applicant and gave us a written report. I read each report as the applicant came in. To my horror I read that the applicant did the same as me, bit his nails and was damned for it. I quickly put one hand in my pocket and just showed the knuckles of my right hand.
Another teacher was called Kitching, who took us for English Literature. I remember him for his deadly accuracy with the chalk or the wooden rubber. If really upset, he could hit any boy talking without turning round from the blackboard. We held him in awe for this.
So much for my school days. I left at 16 to join the newly formed Apprentice Training Scheme.