Lifestory Showcase - Chappell
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I had not been at school very long before Mr Bowring left or died, I do not remember which, and Mr George Allan took his place. But it was Mr Bowring who agreed that I should be given a chance to go to school, for in those days it was entirely up to the Headmaster and teacher as to whether they could cope with a ‘cripple’ (awful word) or not.
The first morning I arrived at school on my little three-wheeler tricycle. Mother had got me safely there from Clayford Road (Bracken Road now). I could pedal the tricycle long before I could walk at all. Miss Thomas and Miss Durrant took me into the classroom, they had to help me with coat, hat and gloves, help me to the bucket, but I was at 'school'.
I think I was almost seven on that great day and how excited I was, I remember it well. I don't remember being in Miss Thomas's class for very long1 it was definitely Miss Durrant who was my 'guardian angel' for the next eight or nine years. I could always go to her at any time to share my troubles and joys.
Right to this day,(I am almost 66 now) I say that I would have never been there or got through those happy school days without her, she was there all her working life and always taught the infants. I know there will be many who will remember Miss Durrant with as much love and affection as I have in my heart for her, for she was kindness itself to everyone.
She cycled to school on an old upright bicycle from Poole or Parkstone every day in all winds and weathers, right through the war years (I never remember her not turning up on time) and she was always the last teacher to leave in the afternoon, summer or winter. Her class would go home at 3.30, but the juniors and seniors could never leave their classrooms until the bell was rung at 3.45.
We all either rode bicycles or walked to school, from Uddens and Clayford and other out-of-the way places such as Lornham, Dudsbury and Parley, and from all over the village. There were two of Mr Robinson's (Robbie) coaches that would bring older children from as far away as Verwood, Three Cross, Westmoors (gypsies), Horton, and as far as West Parley in the opposite direction. Goodness knows what time those children left home and got home at night for I know many of them had to trek across fields, common and up and down very rough rutted farm tracks where they lived. No one moaned or missed school very often. I rode my tricycle and usually got a push up the hill.
We all had to be thereby 8.55 and through that school gate before it was locked with a Prefect waiting to take names to Mr Allan. A very. very good excuse had to found for being that second late, otherwise it meant staying in after all the others had gone home to write out in best handwriting, one hundred times, ‘I must not be late for school'
It was all great fun to me and I would never stay at home, wind, rain or snow, I was always there. There were no radiators or any central heating or electric and it was gas-light in the classrooms and a coke fired stove with a large fireguard in the centre. Our desks where we kept our books had lift-up lids. The toilets were only buckets which were full and overflowing by the end of the day when the caretaker had to empty them all, where I do not know. Not much had changed since my mother was at school.
I went to school for half a day at first but very soon I was there all day (I must have forgotten to go home). Packed lunches had to be taken to school and eaten out on the common where now the new schools are. That meant me as well unless it was pouring with rain when I was allowed to eat my dinner in the classroom on my own. Wet days always found our wet clothes on the stove steaming away.
Our pants had to dry on us. There were not the waterproofs we have today, and boys wore short trousers until they were about thirteen .1 sat in my usual desk nearest the stove all through the winter and I was always there at school, whatever the weather, just like Miss Durrant,. I recall one very snowy week when at the end of it, I was the only child with full marks in the register throughout that very bad spell.
Before school started all (apart from me) would line tip by class in rows and march into school to the tune of ‘Blaze away’. No talking was allowed. Assembly was held in the hall every morning with a hymn and a prayer before we went into the classroom. The lessons were hard work. After the register was called we had Bible Study before any other lesson.
Then we would have Arithmetic and English before dinner with a break at eleven for a bottle of milk. In the afternoon we had Nature Study, we might even go out for a walk (ride for me) looking for different flowers, birds’ nests and leaves which we later had to draw. We had an afternoon break when some of us had another bottle of milk. I loved milk and would have another half-penny in my dark blue knicker pocket for a spare bottle if there were any left after school.
The teachers rode their bicycles to school as well. One travelled 20 or 30 miles every day on her cycle for about 25 years, all her teaching life, and I don’t think she ever missed a day. There was no Staff Room or coffee or tea for them. I can't ever recall seeing a teacher drinking anything. I suppose they did but l can’t think where or when.
Their cloakroom was not much bigger than a cupboard and I can't even remember them eating. Besides travelling quite a long way they would take home all the exercise books to mark every night. Some would have to be marked by oil-lamp or candles. The towns had electricity or gas but certainly not the villages like ours. I can remember much later when we had mains electric and gas for the first time. The meters took 6d or 1/- and if we had no money we had no light.
My next teacher was Miss Osman who also cycled each day from Gaunts Common. She also helped me so much. I cannot remember not being able to read (I must have learned at a very early age) and was often asked to listen while other children read to me and to help them. Writing always was and still is a very big problem, (if only there had been a typewriter or better still a COMPUTER in those days) but right through school every teacher would read and mark my work with ticks and crosses and sometimes a V.G. along with the rest.
Our exercise books were always marked and corrected every day, Miss Osman was to become a pen-friend of mine for many years, for she left to get married at the end of that year and became Mrs Sparrow, living and teaching in Sandbach, Cheshire. I must have been teacher's pet for I was even sent a piece of wedding cake. The last I heard of her was about 15 years ago, then she was a widow and had lost a leg.
It must have been September 1939 when the war had begun and we had returned to school to our new classes and new teachers. I worried right through that long hot summer holiday, with fear and trembling, as I had to go up into a man’s class. Mr Billett and then Mr Deacon were to be my teachers. Things were never going to be the same and how would a man help me? But as it happened we got along fine together - when bang! ‘Adolf’ had bit the south coast - especially Southampton.
That weekend the newly formed Air Raid Wardens and Home Guards, and everyone else were around to every home, telling us we had to make room for the dozens of coaches of evacuated children and a few mothers who were on their way to Ferndown. Mother was told to expect six that night in our little bungalow, so she dashed up to Mr Fry the butcher and brought home a bag of bones, and made a huge stew but no one came that evening.
The next day, Sunday, we went up to the school where we found a very unhappy mother and her small daughter who came home with us; but like many more of those evacuees they soon returned to Southampton. With a fighter based airfield at Hurn for Spitfires we were all in the firing line right through the Battle of Britain. While the sirens were wailing, the German planes were seen above us and we could hear their droning engines, we would stand and watch those wonderful little "Spits" come up and fight them off or shoot them down The bombers would be trying to reach and bomb our cities and after a while we would hear some of them heading back to Germany still being chased by our “Spits”.
If the Germans hadn't been able to drop all their load of bombs, we would get the odd one dropped ‘willy-nilly’ as they were supposed to get rid of them before returning home. One very wet and windy night, we had one of these jettisoned parcels, a present from Italy, the landmine I mentioned earlier. We, however, had the Spitfires and the Hurricanes and as history shows it was they and their pilots who won the Battle of Britain in 1940.
There was chaos at school for a while when our three male teachers were called up into the Army, just like all our fathers. Ferndown School was crammed full, with more than double the numbers of children, thanks to the arrival of the evacuees. Two infant classes went down to St. Mary’s Church Sunday Schoolroom. There were strange teachers walking around, frightened to death of having to cope with someone like me.
The evacuees arrived with dirty and crawling heads, scabies, measles chicken-pox, you name it, they had it. Some of these children began to take the ‘Mickey’ out of me, taking away my tricycle amongst other things, but all my boy and girl friends soon sorted them out. Were you one of my defenders? Did you ever carry me out on the stretcher from the class room to the trenches out on the common as soon as the Air Raid Siren on top of he Village Hall next door began to wail? Were you one who may have sometimes tipped me off of it?
Another day I remember well, during the early days of the war, is when Hot Dinners costing 5d a day started to be served. These were cooked and eaten in the old British Legion Hut and later in the domestic science room, but they were good and it made sure that we children were reasonably fed during the war years with all its rationing. We had Horlicks as well as the bottles of milk at a half-penny a bottle. I had two ordered and often had a spare one every day from Bolten's Dairy. Happy Days! We also had our first ‘tuck-shop’ of whatever chocolates and sweets were available at this time.
Although most of the evacuees returned home, a few big families were given empty houses and they stayed on. But we still had these teachers none of us liked. Does anyone remember as I do, Miss Pooley and Miss Hall, both rather f-t (plump) and real battle-axes? It was Miss Hall who sent me out of the room because the desk kept squeaking. I wonder if anyone else but me remembers Miss Hall making us all write out from the black-board, the whole of Shakespeare's “MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM”?
It was a dream to me when I could not keep up and stayed in at every break-time copying it out of other children’s exercise books because she would fill and refill the board far too quickly for me. We were all supposed to learn every word and act it at the end of term. We never did, and I for one, have never looked at William Shakespeare again. It put me off of reading the Bard for life.
I finished school up in the ‘Top class’ with the very nice understanding Miss Morgan who did all she could to help me, and when it came to our final examinations, I was allowed extra time to finish all the papers and came very near the top of the class overall. I was top for General Knowledge because I had always done more reading than anyone else.
I always had a book on the go and could do extra reading during PT., art and dress-making lessons. Also during the last two or three years I had to lie on my stretcher for an hour after dinner so I passed the time reading. I was also interested in nature and everything around me. Every child helped me through those school days in their own way.
I should have left school at Easter 1944, but managed to keep quiet as I thought, but I was advised to leave at the end of summer term, as Mr Allan said there were plans being made for me to go to Exeter. I had to leave but went back to see Miss Durrant sometimes after I left school. It was then, and only then, that I realised how different I was from any of my school friends. By this time my parents had learned that I was a ‘spastic’ which meant nothing to them or me.
Soon, however. I was to meet another person very much like myself. I found her again after reading her book and now she is living here in Milton Keynes just around the corner from me.
I would have loved to have seen inside that old school again before it was demolished in 1990. The inside is still so vivid in my mind’s eye, every classroom, the two cloakrooms either end with the rows of pegs and the old stone sinks with cold taps, where anyone needing a drink. held the water between their hands. The staff cloakrooms were like cupboards and Mr Allan had a very small room, where everyone in trouble would have to wait outside to see him.
This often ended in the culprits receiving six of the best with the ‘Cane’ and that wasn’t forgotten for a while.
There was no staff room at all, and as I have already said I cannot remember ever seeing a teacher with a drink of any sort. “What did they do?”, and “Where were their toilets?” I have tried to work these questions out. There were the extra three classrooms in the Annexe, no toilets over there, only those dirty, always full, buckets behind the brick wall over by the bicycle shed.
The same set-up in the boys’ playground, with an iron fence between the two playgrounds so never the twain could mix at break times. The girls’ playground was tarmaced for games and PT (PE today). This was just body exercise every day to keep supple and warm especially in winter. There was football for the boys but I do not remember anything about cricket or any other game for the them. There was netball and rounders for the girls.
Before the classes marched into school they lined up in the girls’ playground. This was the only time the boys could cross the line into our playground, they had their own narrow pathway into school. Brothers and sisters had to part at the gate. I used to carry Derek to school standing on the back of my tricycle then he would jump off and push me up the hill. A policeman stopped us once for riding two on a tricycle as he would if there were two on a bicycle.
When the school was empty and waiting to be demolished; everything had been taken out, but I was told that in those few weeks everywhere was daubed and covered in graffiti. It just upset and horrified me to think that for 100 years thousands of feet went through that door and nothing happened like that.
I have made a list of the names of all those I can remember knowing at school. The names and faces have come flooding back to me, but I must have missed out quite a few. Some of these are a bit older or younger than I, but they all went to “Our School” at sometime or other. All lived locally for I have not included our war time visitors ( the evacuees.) as they just came and went.
These were also the years of very cold winters, getting frozen and wet going to school, although, I used an army cape to cover me and the tricycle, with woolly hats and gaiters up my legs. Mother would warm all my clothes by the fire before she dressed me, battling to get gloves or mittens on to my screwed up hands.
Colds and coughs were common, everyone had them, a rub with ‘Vick’ and a hot water bottle or a hot brick from the oven for the night would work wonders. Winters were always followed by long hot summers and we could play out of doors at weekends and after school until bed-time.
I remember a man riding a penny~farthing cycle along the main road every evening, where he came from or went to one knew. Bicycles were being used more for pleasure as well as work and people would go off for a long ride in the evenings. Everyone seemed to be healthy and brown through just living out of doors. Doctors were too expensive to call in anyway.
In the autumn I would love to go to my friend Nancy who lived in an old cottage at Uddens (a posh restaurant now) and we would collect chestnuts for mother. I never liked them but mum did and she would bring us baskets full of apples from work and make great big apple dumplings when we came home from school. Derek devoured six once before tea. Those were the days of hardship and happiness in lots of ways.
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