A note from Bill Fry, August, 2002 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Bill now lives in Canada. See also Bill's contribution later on in February, 2010.
I have kept up a friendship with John Wymer since we were at school together at, what was then, the Richmond and East Sheen County School for Boys. I visited with him about a year and a half ago in England at the little village of Bildeston in Suffolk where he lives and we still keep up a regular correspondence after all these years.
I started at the school at the age of 10 in Form 2A in September of 1939, the month that the Second World War started and our Form was the first to go through to graduation during Wartime.
We were to have a few exciting moments at our school during the war years. On one occasion we were all leaving our bomb shelter, built on the school grounds when a Junkers 87, the Stuka dive-bomber appeared out of nowhere and released a small bomb. John Wymer actually saw the bomb leave the Stuka and shouted for us all to get back into the shelter. There followed a loud bang nearby in an open sports field without damage or injury. On another occasion, around lunchtime, a Heinkel 111 flew very low over our own sports field and we all crouched near the walls of the building watching the aircraft and listening to a burst of machine gun fire. None of us seemed particularly alarmed by this kind of thing treating it, as we did, like an exciting show of some kind. So much for the war stories but they were very different days.
As you may know, the Masters were men, of course, and wore black gowns while teaching.
Jim Dye (1936-41)………………….One of the real characters amongst the teaching staff was ‘Sark’ Mercer. It was his wont to make a noise which I can only represent by “Maw”. He made Physics a very interesting subject and, on one occasion (using our textbook ‘Heat, Light and Sound’) he suggested that if one or two boys could collect animal eyes from a slaughterhouse we could examine them in a lesson. At the next lesson he invited those who had brought something to bring it to the bench whereupon 75% of the class emptied bags of mixed eyes on to his bench. He responded with “Maw, I suppose you think you are very funny” and invited about a dozen boys to go to his bench, take a razor blade and cut eyes open to extract the lenses. The joke was, of course, on us……
When the Germans bombed London in daylight during 1940-1 we were herded into the shelters at the sound of the sirens. It was rather boring there because the interior lighting was poor, but the few seats near the entrance had the benefit of some daylight by the security wall at the entrance. I was one of the lucky few who grabbed one of these places as often as possible because our Maths Master, Mr. Burridge was happy to introduce us to the rudiments of Bridge. The result for me was to whet my appetite to do something I have enjoyed for some 62 years so far…!!
Corporal punishment at school is now considered a crime. However, I can only say that I experienced plenty of it at Shene and none of us ever thought it was unreasonable punishment because we knew we deserved it. Mr. Osmond the Latin master started his lesson by walking up and down the aisles between the desks and clipping every boy round the head with his hand to make sure we were all awake for the (boring) task of translating Virgil…….. Editor’s Note: Reg. Brigden later maintained this tradition in Shene Latin masters…….!!!!
Bob Mousley (1940-45)......................I was 11 years old in October 1939 and was due to go to Richmond and East Sheen County Grammar School for Boys, but in the rush of evacuation entered Windsor County Grammar School. There the tuck-shop sold magnificent greasy, sugary doughnuts that staved off my starvation at the hands of the poor OAPs with whom I was lodged. My parents came down to see me, and as they left the old boy had his hand out for a tip. Shortly after, I was relocated with a young milk-roundsman and his wife. The late nights and cards I could stand but my fellow evacuee, an East Ender, dropped an axe on me when we were up a tree. I returned from Windsor to the happy though well-bombed bosom of my family, missing the choral singing but never recovering from the phonetic alphabet of the French schoolbook.
Back in Sheen, Mr Hyde was my French master and very kindly. After the war I met him again and invited him and his wife to tea, and he never mentioned French. The final French oral exam we attended in twos. I was paired with Mowat, who was great at sports. I was a duffer, and during football the games-master used to send me down the road to buy his fags. The external oral examiner volleyed a load of French at me, and while I turned this over in my mind he delivered some more; but then immediately addressed Mowat, who replied with just two words: roughly “Weeh Msewer”. He passed & I failed. I had tried to teach him some Chemistry, starting easily with the preparation of hydrogen but found his concepts didn’t include zinc or acid. He made the mistake of standing as a tongue-tied candidate in a pseudo-political election organised by the Headmaster
The chemi-master (Mercer?) was good at the occasional spectacular, such as heating ammonium chromate in a quartz test tube, nearly spraying the front row with toxic green steam. My home chemistry was rather advanced, including chemiluminescence that entailed careful control of experimental temperatures, and trips to Hatton Garden chemical warehouses for supplies. During a hands-on experiment at school I was rather keen to present an accurate result, measuring the neutral point reached by adding acid to an alkali. Of course some swine swapped distilled water for my 1/10th normal acid, and I copied the result off the lad next to me. A classmate, Arnold Raymond was also keen on chemistry and we did some projects together, including a rocket, unwisely propelled by our version of ammonal. I got the throat-size wrong and as I approached the garden-pergola to see why it had hung-fire it detonated. We never did find the remnants of his father’s glass lampshade used as a launch pad. Arnold’s preference for chemistry as a clean and well-labelled parade of bottles close-stoppered on a shelf was thus reinforced.
The headmaster, Mr Sheppard was logical in his allocation of duties so the chemi-master was in charge of gas-raid precautions. Mr Sheppard roamed the corridors keeping his eye on things through the clear patch in anti-blast netting on the door glazing. The history master “Billy” Bacon was naturally put in charge of the book cupboard as his favourite attempt at discipline was a book thrown at ones head, or a cuff from behind. Our history book was a thick lend-lease job written from an USA point of view and not considered reliable by me, and rarely thrown. B B also taught religious instruction ineffectually, the majority of us seeming to be irreligious. One fellow pupil came to our school ejected from a religious school and from his family; befriending him I learnt about intolerance.
Mr Sheppard did considerable roaming the corridors when late in the war we got some female supply teachers. One unlikely incident remains in my memory. The lady teacher came out from behind her desk with her skirt pulled up enough to adjust one of her suspenders. What she or we thought she was up to I have no idea, but it caused some craning sideways to get a better look. In general we were incredibly naïve compared with youngsters of the present time. and I can remember the physical shock when I was twelve and stood transfixed as a muttering man cycling-by attaching the adjective “bloody” to every noun. The wartime removal of railings between our school and the secondary girls’ school next-door seemed to cause little difficulty, though a rumour circulated about someone getting “the paper girl” in trouble.
Betts (whose father was in rubber bands) and Castro were two chums in our class who were frequently out of favour. I got involved with Castro in a doomed attempt to mix a mouldable plastic from ex-army paint and sawdust.
One bit of enterprise I enjoyed was the chess club where we got out to play other schools. I particularly remember the write-up in the school magazine “Mousley is equally fast at wining or losing”. My father had taught me, and later I played Derek Marshall, eventually finding I hadn’t enough time for serious chess.
English language was taught by Mr Gardner, a moderately short man with pudgy fingers, who nevertheless could sit on a desk, reading and gesturing a Shakespearean part, making you forget he smelt of pipe tobacco. When we went to see a production of our exam play “Henry the Fourth, Part 1”, I thought the professional Falstaff comparatively weak. Mr G so thoroughly enjoyed declaiming; reading both parts when boasting Glendower proclaims “I can call spirits from the vasty deep” and is put-down with “Ay, so can any man but will they come when he calls”. He used to argue with me about photography as an art, and never could convince me that English grammar was logical. Reading A P Herbert’s “What a Word” in the school library and then various contradictory authors such as Partridge, Vallins and Gower consolidated this opinion. I was fascinated recently to find a school essay by me on the character of Hotspur that was so deep that the present me could hardly get to grips with it! At the end of the war the library boasted the enormous book by Abercrombie detailing the proposed rebuilding of London, it would make an interesting contrast with present reality.
The Headmaster took maths with a very well behaved class, since he held the ultimate sanction. I was a natural at maths and couldn’t think why anyone found it difficult or needed to study. His dictum “There are more ways of killing a cat than stuffing it with cream” was not helpful to those who, at that age, didn’t know of any way. He marked one exam out of 105, and I was mightily displeased but inaudible when he marked me down to 98 for poor handwriting.
The geography master Mr Goodbourn was effective and kept discipline; his main claim to fame was drawing maps on the board using a piece of chalk in each hand. I still have some information in my head about the products of Australia in 1940.
I enjoyed art but was no good at it and in woodwork have since limited myself to halving joints, and can remember little about the teachers. A failed artificial-diamond producer, who shared an enthusiasm for science, taught physics. Its not surprising after all this my career was in structural and materials research. My other enthusiasm is gardening which somehow was not spoilt by the dreadful experience of digging for victory in the dusty rubbish that was on the south of the school. I don’t remember any crop reaching maturity there.
I only experienced the finale of one episode, when what seemed hundreds of us followed a lad out of school along the Upper Richmond Road. He had made himself leader of a gang of heavyweights, but his lieutenants turned against him, and he was hounded out. This strange incident has stuck in my mind but I lack the whole story.
At the end of the war on VE night pupils ran around the school grounds exuberant and noisy, but we went home when some vandal set fire to the straw of a crate of glass.
It was a successful education but not always what was intended. In my War most memorable events happened after school. A bang and the lights went out, when they came back the French-doors were in the garden and we had traipsed about in soot. A V1 later, plaster-pinned grandpa in a broken bed but he was unharmed, I pulled myself up a ski-slope of plaster to my attic lab worrying about a possible acid/phenol reaction, etc.
Bill Balmforth (? - 1933)………………Jack Harris was my closest friend at school - we were 2 scholarship boys - but I was the one good at sport enjoying playing in the football and cricket teams. I had to leave school at 17 in 1933 starting work in Barclays Bank retiring as manager in 1976 from Andover branch, Hampshire. I continued my interest in sport becoming Captain of Basingstoke Golf Club for a year before I retired. I have 3 children, 7 grandchildren & 5 great grandchildren and live with my wife and our West Highland terrier Brandy in the small village of Chilbolton in Hampshire.
Larry Elliott (1935-42).............................In my first meeting with the college Vice Principal when I went up to Oxford in 1942 he asked what school I came from to which I replied Richmond and East Sheen County Grammar School for Boys. In his exaggerated plummy accent he said "I wonder who thought up that label". With a chip on my shoulder I added that some snobs were talking of changing the name to Shene School. Seven years later, after the MA degree ceremony, the same gentleman who had by now become Principal, greeted my parents in the main quadrangle and commented on the beauty of my Mother's accent, out of the Scottish Highlands. He added that he himself grew up in Glasgow, as a schoolboy conversing with his peer group in the roughest of Glaswegian accents.
A Shattering Experience as told to David Richardson, Text Editor…………..
……………………The war years of loud bangs and explosions in the immediate area were to have a inspiring effect on certain enquiring young minds and it was not difficult to distract the local Home Guard while detonators from the Ordnance store in the Park were quietly removed for experimentation and a particular group made it their business to enliven the day-to-day proceedings within the School.
On a November afternoon they had busied themselves with wiring the detonators inside the lamp holders of the classroom lights having first removed the bulbs. Mr Bayliss had the misfortune to be taking the final class of the day and, bounding into the room, could not fail to notice that the lights had no function as he stood on the dais and enquired “What’s wrong with the lights then?” No satisfactory explanation being received he almost leapt from the dais to the set of switches on the wall by the door. The class were to raise their desk lids in anticipation of the approaching mayhem as an enormous explosion blew the four lamp sockets to bits taking with them Bakelite lampshades and large parts of the ceiling plaster. Four smouldering lengths of flex hung from the badly damaged ceiling.
Mr Bayliss, who had been invalided out of the army did not survive the School after this episode.
This group was to become the scourge of the school and were from bomb blasted backgrounds and had all lost someone dear. Most had been pushed around from one relative to another. This group would ultimately be described as the Remove and one individual has described them as animals and vagrants of a horrible war with no feelings, no concerns for others and little interest in whether they lived or died.
An old anti-aircraft shell case had been obtained and a small task force was to fill it with saltpetre, sulphur, iron filings and fertiliser and crimp the end of the case in the carpentry shop vice. The pressure inside the shell case was now close to explosive and weighed in at about eight pounds. A fuse trail of locally-produced gunpowder was laid out in a small scratched out furrow of a ditch across the playing field to a further pile of gunpowder alongside the Physics laboratory. The task force was now sited approximately 30 feet away from the ‘bomb’. The fuse was lit and it fizzed, spluttered and extinguished itself. One of the group, now sited only 15 feet away from the ‘bomb’ was to accelerate proceedings by tossing a lighted match at the gunpowder trail which reached the device in a second causing a colossal explosion.
Editor’s Note: Some of this group were to suffer severe injury from burns and shrapnel wounds although others were unharmed. The Physics laboratory had lost all windows and ceiling and the wall where the device had been placed had suffered a foot-wide gap that could be walked through.
Of this group at least one is now a well-respected pillar of society although the later development of the others is unknown.
John Currie (? - ?)...........................................Does anyone remember the Boy Scout Tattoo organised by Messrs. Shackell, MacLaren and Green, the Scoutmasters of the School Troop (1st East Sheen) and held on the School playing field in the 30's..? Various displays of Scoutcraft were on offer and when darkness fell parents with cars were asked to train their headlights on the scene. This event would have been about 1935 and ended, of course, with a Camp Fire and Singsong.
At one particular Parents' occasion shortly after I had become a pupil at the School my father was to meet Mr. Hyde and, to their mutual surprise, they recognised each other as Old Boys of Upper Latymer School. In addition to his French teaching Mr Hyde also ran a Nature Study group and was Games Master..........
By 1941 I was in the Army and en route to North Africa on the Queen Mary. She was a dry ship as far as the troops were concerned but carried a contingent of Royal Naval gunners, manning AA and other pieces of artillery. The Navy had their own mess and canteen...............To my amazement, one of the sailors was an ex-schoolmate named Brown.....!!...He was one of two brothers and lived in Barnes. I am unable to state his first name but can report that I supped several illicit pints in his company......
In the 1960's Mr. Neville Chapman (father of Jeremy (1957-61)) taught Biology and also ran the school Drama Group in which my son Robert was a participant. Neville was one of the producers of the Richmond Community Association Players and was instrumental in encouraging my wife, daughter and myself to take to the amateur stage...a very enjoyable hobby which was to absorb my family for many years.
Dave Wright (? - ?).....(now living in South Africa)...................Thanks for including me in your distribution list for the Old Boys Reunion at the Foxhills Golf club on the 26th March, 2004. I regret that I shall be unable to attend as one of my three sons, with his family, will be coming to visit us from Atlanta, USA on 3rd April and I think the timing will be somewhat tight.
Please give my regards to Alan Bloxham (who also lived in Palmerston Road), Pete Jeffs (who used to sit next to me at school and do my English provided I did his Maths) and all the boys who played soccer with me.
I was at School during the War and was reported by Mrs. Dancer, the Secretary when she observed that, at the sound of the warning siren for enemy aircraft that required us to report to the air raid shelters, I turned my bike around at the School gate and headed back to Sheen Common to resume a game of cricket. I duly received the cane from HHS, the Headmaster........
John Beardmore (1930-37).............................The County School system was the phenomenon of twentieth century education when a boy could be accepted after an entrance examination and be given a sound education which would set him on course for University or a promising entry into business if he so wished. There were scholarships available, otherwise the fee was £4 per term (an average weekly wage) until one passed the University of London General School Certificate examination at the age of 15 when education at the School was free. The system embraced a good standard of discipline and healthy competition both in academic study and sport and was led by dedicated headmasters and teachers.
Our Headmaster Mr HH Shephard MA was in his 30s and had served in Mesopotamia during the First World War. He could sometimes be prevailed upon to relate his experiences to an eager class of boys. He was the youngest appointed head in the country and was allowed to choose his own team of masters, all with good degrees, to teach some 320 boys from the ages of 10 to 16 1/2.
The Deputy Head was Mr Bacon who taught History. There was also Mr Hyde (a fine cricketer despite an astigmatism of the eye) and Mr. Maclaren both of whom taught French. Mr. Gardner who became a Professor of Literature and a famous Oxford Don and Mr Beresford both taught English Literature. Mr. Goodbourn taught Geography and another two good cricketers Mr Hunter and Mr Davis both taught Latin. Messrs Burridge and Stone (nicknamed Granite) taught Mathematics while sallow faced Mr TEG Green (nicknamed Teggy) taught Chemistry while Sarky (for sarcastic Mr Mercer) taught Physics. The Head taught Religious Instruction and current and foreign affairs (but no politics). Mr. Shackell taught Biology and also how to use a saw and chisel without shedding blood. Mr. Douglas Percy Bliss, the Art Master who wore a bow tie (very daring), exhibited at the Royal Academy where one summer a picture of the school under snow received a mention in the national press.
The school was divided into four houses: Fife, York, Temple and Hood and a 'top house' cup was awarded at the end of the school year. The school's aim was matriculation success and academic achievement was fairly high. Several boys went on to University before the Second World War engulfed them. Good manners were the norm and the class would stand when the master first entered the room. Discipline was strict but fair. Insolence and cheek were rare but usually dealt with by a clip around the head. Lines were freely handed out as was the occasional punishment of Wednesday afternoon detention (normally a half-day).
I canot recall the cane having been adminstered by the Headmaster in private, and if it was, it was very rare, nor can I recall anyone being expelled. On the whole we were a fairly well behaved lot who doffed our caps to masters and adults alike. One or two of the masters were a bit free with the slipper and I recall popular Mr. Maclaren (a Scot, of course) who raised the window, put the boy's head out, lowered the window and administered four of the best on the miscreant's backside. As one's head was outside and the punishment was taking place inside, one did not really believe it was happening at all. There were no hard feelings on the part of the boys who had been slippered and they were often treated as heroes. School punishment was regarded by parents as richly deserved.
Mostly boys lived locally within a mile or so of the school in Sheen, Barnes and Mortlake. All wore the school cap and tie but blazers were optional. Most boys came from middle class families
There was an hour or so of homework and also a 'home reader'... a book to be read at leisure and upon which one was tested at the end of each term. There was plenty of after-school activity: Library, chess, stamps Debating Society, sports training, dramatics, scouting and even gardening. These were run by masters in their own time given freely.
Parents were expected to to attend Sports Days and Speech Days. The format for Speech Days would also include the School Choir and a play preceded by a visiting VIP who awarded the prizes and made a suitable and comforting speech to the parents. The Headmaster and masters were treated with much awe and respect by the parents. The boys barely knew each other's Christian names. Always surnames and often just 'man' which sounded very macho...
At Christmas it was usual for each Form to collect sixpence a head and present the form master with a present costing about ten bob...often a hideous table lamp or tie or pipe or cigarette box if the master smoked. This would be accepted with grace by the master who would always confirm the desirability of the item proffered.
The First World War was still fresh in the minds of parents and masters and Armistice Day was strictly observed......... Woe betide any boy who made a noise during the two minutes silence when the entire country would come to a complete standstill. On Empire Day we gathered in the hall to sing 'Jerusalem' and watch the Union Jack being reverently unfurled.
Later in school life a third of a pint of milk was issued to boys at the morning break. This cost our parents a halfpenny a day and was said to have body-building powers.
Certain older boys were hero-worshipped chiefly for the sporting and athletic prowess. Notable were Matthews an exceptionally fast swimmer and Furneaux who ran 100 yards in 10 seconds. There was also the notable Crofts, a scholarship boy whose parents were too poor to provide him with a school cap.........the Headmaster provided one. Crofts was to become Head Boy and went on, like Morrel another boy with pebble glasses, to sweep the academic board with honours and a place at Oxford University.
I matriculated at 16 and left a few months later. Within three years I was receiving my baptism of fire as an Ordinary Seaman on a destroyer in the first Battle of Narvik. Some of my class had volunteered to train as fighter pilots in the RAF and were to lose their lives and I was to frequently wonder what had happened to my contemporaries during the War....who had died...and who had survived...? It was not until sixty years later during the VE and VJ ceremonies of remembrance that I returned for the first time to my old school. It was a general sale event and I was able to speak to a master and a parent who gave me a warm welcome.
The Girls School close by in Hertford Avenue from which we were separated by a high wire fence was strictly out of bounds. Both schools have now joined forces and become a Comprehensive School of some 1200 pupils many of them coming from as far afield as Wandsworth. The playground has shrunk to accommodate more classrooms as has the gardening plot at the rear. Where classrooms now stand boys dug for Victory in the Second World War. The Tuck Shop where we had purchased toffees at ten for a penny has been swallowed up by more office and teaching space. Unfortunately the buildings look shabby and appear to lack care with loose bricks, a collapsed wall and the inevitable graffiti. It looked very sad. The revered space in front of the Headmaster's study, once billiard table green was now trampled down and a short cut.
I was to wander into the School Hall and under the balcony behind stacked chairs found the Roll of Honour of those lost in the War. I was moved to read 80 names, at least half of them boys I had known, many of them close form mates. As I read the names I could easily put faces to them and realised that it is only their school fellows who can even remember what they looked like. I came away saddened.
Our generation likes to think that things were better in our day. Today's problems in education are many. We are told this relates to funding or the lack of it. However, the mind and the will to study and achieve is free. Determination and self-discipline come from within. These are basic and it is at home that education really begins............
John Leach (1938-1944)..............................I got into the County School by passing an entrance examination and had to pay some fees, I think. The School was due to close in one year as it had been condemned. We were to join the East Sheen County School on their premises and War was declared during the Summer Holidays. Plans were in hand for evacuation to the country. Half of the School went with the masters and I went to Sheen with all the other boys who were left at home.
Boys and masters reappeared at school from evacuation at different periods over the War years. School carried on pretty much as normal although we were frequently in shelters during air raids. At first masters read books to us in the shelters but later lessons and exams were undertaken in the shelters. Exams were disrupted and some were deferred and some pupils were able to read exam papers that they had obtained from friends in other schools while other pupils missed exams completely because they were at home for lunch during raids and returned late after the All
Clear. The Mortlake Girls School was bombed so the girls came to the empty buildings next to the Boys school. These buildings had been occupied by Sheen County Girls before they joined up with Richmond County Girls at Parkshot. Mortlake Girls entered their school by the Hertford Road entrance and the Boys County by Wallorton Gardens with a gate and fence between. The boys were allowed to park their bikes in sheds in the girls school and this led to problems since the girls finished their day earlier than the boys and were known to sabotage the bikes.................. We were to be known as 'County Closet Cleaners'
I was at school with the brother of Wing Commander Paddy Finucane DFC, an air ace who was deservedly headlined in the newspapers as a hero. The Wing Commander was unfortunately killed when shot down in a Spitfire over France.
I recall Roy Parsons particularly well since he was regularly picked to play in goal for the School Juniors, a position that I coveted. Roy's name appeared on the team sheet far more regularly than mine but I did get my chance eventually. Roy lived at 'The Hope' public house in Kew Road with his parents and brother Dennis who went to Gainsborough Road School. Dennis served in the RAF and was also to be lost over the Aegean Sea.
There was much to amuse us out of school and activities included cycling to the aerodrome on Saturdays, making model aeroplanes, School Scouts and Air Scouts (there was great rivalry between East Sheen and Petersham Scouts), Air Spotters Magazine, reading Soviet news to be informed on Russian war news, looking for shrapnel after air raids, cigarette cards, metal soldiers, ships, tanks etc and playing war games.
I was almost expelled during my last two months for throwing stones down the air raid shelters while the school dinner boys were still inside. We were on our way back from lunch and were spotted running away. The Headmaster was to tell me that "If he (the Headmaster) was my father he would not employ me in his shop".............I was still at the shop 50 years later and a Director of a Company with 1400 shops and a Governor of the college that replaced the School. Unfortunately the Headmaster never lived to see it............................
Brian Pollard (1937-43).......We moved to Barnes from Morden in early 1937. I had taken my 11+ in 1936 and had won a scholarship to Sutton County School. This was a dreadful year in which I was bullied unmercifully and dubbed a ‘scholarship drip’ and ‘four eyes'. (I had worn specs. for many years). I was very glad to move away.
East Sheen County School For Boys was a haven of peace until the War. I do not remember much of the lessons, or of my contemporaries, but some of my teachers have left their hard work imprinted in my personality.
I have happy memories of Messrs. Sheppard (Headmaster), ‘Baldy' Stone (Maths), MacLaren, Hyde (French), Fairhurst(Art) , Shackell(Woodwork), Harris and Bacon (History), Beresford(English), Gardner(Eng Lang?), Hillman (English), ‘ Sarky’ Mercer (Physics), ‘Teg’ Green, Wolff (Chemistry), Goodbourne(Geography). Others will come ,I hope ,in time. Flack (PE)? and, of course, Major Kirkby,(‘Vulch’), OC Army cadets (and German), I think.
In the autumn of 1939, many of us were evacuated to Reading. It was a very unsettling time and, early in 1940, several of us returned. It was then we discovered that the Richmond boys were with us. Other names now come to mind, Derek Wellman, Graham Harris, ‘Bertie’ Hales.
It seems that, from then onwards, most of my life seemed to be taken up by the Army Cadets and the Home Guard, or taking lessons in the shelters. I remember enjoying being a table monitor, as we were allowed ‘seconds' of pudding.
There were obviously good and bad times, no need to dwell upon the latter. At first, Bertie Hale was CSM. He was a bully, but kept the company together. Eventually, I was promoted to take his place. Bill Bettison was my platoon sergeant. Then Bill and I were promoted to be ‘Cadet Under Officers’ That was a great honour. One of the highlights of my week was on an occasional Sunday morning. I went to the girl’s Central School on the Upper Richmond road, near the Roehampton club. There I took a gaggle of girl cadets for parade-ground drill ! Great fun.
I also remember marching the platoon to Sheen Common, past our cottage in Christchurch Road, some Friday afternoons to play war games. We were not, however, permitted to take our rifles! I joined the Home Guard in 1942, falsifying my age, ending up as a Lance corporal, only I think , because I was strong enough to carry the Lewis gun.
Classmates: Brian Perry, Fred Nockolds, Bill Bettison, David Heal, Gerald Skelly,'Prof’ 'Kemp, (who used to entertain us on the piano in the hall at lunch time), Leslie Biddlecombe (a year younger, I think) The latter died, some time after his Army service.
In 1943, (after School Cert. Exams the previous year), having just made the 5 credits, I volunteered for the Army, via a university short course at Edinburgh, preparatory to going into the Royal Artillery and hopefully commissioned.
I served in the Far East, at first in the Indian Artillery. Then transferred to British Army in 1947, at partition time. I finished as adjutant to the transit camp in Karachi. Flown home in early 1948, as a Captain R.A.(hostilities only). Demobbed in April, and started at UCL, on an Ex-Serviceman’s Grant in October of that year.
I married Joan in 1949 and qualified as a medic. from UCH London in 1954. Thankfully, we are still together. We came to Maidstone in 1959 and have remained, very happily. I was a family doctor from 1956 until 1991 and enjoyed every minute! Although retired, I am still very busy and am determined to continue to be so until ‘I am taken’.
One of my oldest school friends is Norman Williams,(1936-42) who lives with his second wife only a short distance from me. We renewed our acquaintance by accident in 1979 during a holiday in Rhodes. Little did I know that I had been working in the same hospital as his first wife (now deceased). She was a physiotherapist. He left Sheen to finish at Tiffin's. I have not been able to come across any references to this school, (in Kingston) on the Friends Reunited website.
Norman remembers: Monk, Skelly, Ayliff, Beresford-Davies, Brooks, Coggins, Claridge, Cumber, Dye, Fletcher, Finucane K., W. Lott, Peter Ellis, John Moffatt, Michael Short, George Weedon. Deceased: John MacFarlane, Bowden, Dutton, Oakley, John Seys,
I would be very happy to receive messages from my school past, that is, if there are any survivors .
Norman Eric Williams (1935-1942)……………. Born 16 May 1926 and at East Sheen County School where I took my matric. (I will write separately some reminiscences of my time at. the school). As East Sheen did not have an arts Sixth Form, I went to Tiffin’s School in Kingston. There I learned to play rugby, asTiffin’s played soccer for one term and rugby for one term.
I joined the RAF and enjoyed a RAF six months short University course atMagdalenCollege,Oxfordbefore joining the RAF proper in the autumn of 1944 training aircrew. The RAF squadron atOxfordat that time included Warren Mitchell, Robert Hardy and Richard Burton - and my history tutor was AJP Taylor. However, with the end of the war there was no need to train aircrew, so I had to ‘remuster’ and became a PTI (Physical Training Instructor at Cosford. (My contemporaries at East Sheen will recall that gymnasium work was well provided for - there was none atTiffin’s though.) I was demobbed early in 1948.
My older brother John Williams (also ex East Sheen school, - and later Sir John Williams, British High Commissioner inKenya) was atFitzwilliamCollege,Cambridgewhere I joined him later in 1948. I had played a lot of rugby in the RAF, and managed to get a rugby ‘blue’ in 1950….. (we lost!). I also played forRosslynParkand was in the team that won the seven-a-sides at Twickenham in 1950 and also the first English team to win the Scottish sevens atMelrose. I played soccer and tennis for my college and also basketball for the university. I took my BA degree in 1950 with first class Honours
I married in 1952, joined the Colonial Service as a District Officer and went toNorthern Rhodesia.Independencewas granted in 1964 whenNorthern RhodesiabecameZambia. My two Sons were born inNorthern Rhodesia, one in the capitalLusakaand the other in Kasama, the administrative centre for theNorthern Province.
I returned toEnglandin 1970 and got a job with Liverpool City Council. In 1974 I moved toKentto work for the County Council where I stayed until retirement in 1990.
In 1981 I remarried………….. my second wife taught me how to paint, and this has been one of my favourite hobbies in retirement; also gardening, amateur theatre, golf, and the odd game of chess. I would be very happy to hear from any of my contemporaries at East Sheen and David Richardson , the Editor of this site will be happy to provide my details, on request.
Jim Dye (?-?).........................in a letter to David Richardson dated 27th June, 2008...............Many thanks for your invitation to the Shene Old Boys Reunion. I would have liked to attend but for health reasons my doctor has banned me from driving so I'm unable to be there. The journey by train is not very easy so you will have to count me out.
It's a shame as a guided tour would have been fun - and I could have indicated where the bomb craters were left by Jerry in the playground...!
Denys Justham (1939-1945)........................ in a letter to David Richardson dated 8th July, 2008. "Regarding the Reunion I would, of course, have liked to attend and also tour the School which completed my grammar school education in 1945 when I left the Richmond and East Sheen County Grammar School for Boys, as it was then.
There were some fine masters teaching at the time including Dr. Gardner D.Lit who taught English Language and Literature, the latter being my favourite subject. The Geography master also taught Economics.
School lunch breaks were often interrupted by Flying Bombs when their engines cut out and we waited for the explosion.
However, at the age of 79, hoping to make 80 on December 23rd, 2008 it is not really practicable for me to makes these journeys"
Raymond Silcock (who must have been at Sheen Grammar School in about 1927) and is surely our oldest Old Boy? .........from a correspondence with his carer, Susan Harper in July, 2008
Ray & I were looking at the website so that Ray could remember his school. Unfortunately Ray does not remember much about present day but can remember years ago as clear as anything. It helps to talk to him about the old days and I printed off information about the teachers some time ago - at home before we had internet access at work - now we have internet access I am sat with Ray doing this. Ray is living in a residential care home in Marlborough, Wiltshire. We have just 17 residents and he has lived here for over 4 years. Ray went to the brand new school at the age of 14 or 15, he only had about 1-2 years there. He said he was at a terrible school before this and learnt very little, he wasn't at Shene long enough for them to improve his education. The school had it's own sport ground and a very good football and cricket team - which Ray was more interested in than lessons! He remembers Mr Bacon, he was a forthright man, very good teacher, maintained discipline. Mr Gardner - English master - Ray didn't get on well with him but he says he was a good master. Ray remembers most when prompted so it's really good to have all the information on the internet, I have been able to look up about East Sheen, Shene School, the East End Dwellings company (Ray's first employer) and his beloved Chelsea Football club - past players. It is so useful to have things to talk about with him.
He remembers Mr MacLaren and is pleased to hear about Mrs MacLaren. I don't know if what Ray remembers is all correct - but he can recall more than me about my school days!!
From William Sarony Fry on 22nd February 2010
I have to tell you that I must decline the invitation although it does sound a very attractive idea. .
I will be about a month away from my 82nd birthday on the day of the get together and although I am still fairly well and, in fact, playing doubles tennis twice a week, travel is increasingly tiring and I fear that I would be out of touch with the young whippersnappers aged about 50 or so.
I have to congratulate you personally to take the time and energy to make this reunion possible and still remember the fledgling poker players so long ago - Alan Burgess, Bill Burgess, David Arabian, among others - and your own recollection of those far off misspent days.
I suppose it is worth reminding you that during the war there were a couple of memorable moments. One sunny lunchtime we were all outside the main entrance and a Heinkel 111 came over so low that we could see the heads of the crew behind their glass covers and there was a burst of machine gun fire either from the Heinkel or from the Bank of England grounds next door.
Also one day when we were leaving the brick shelter built at the side of the school building John Wymer who was ahead of the rest of us saw a Junkers 87 Stuka diving down and releasing a small bomb, again into the Bank of England grounds. He shoved us all back into the shelter and many of us did not believe him until we heard the thump of the bomb going off next door.
Also Wing Commander Paddy Finucane's brother was in our group at school the day after Paddy was shot down into the Channel. We did not know what to say to Finucane that day. Paddy was a real fighter ace and still only about 21 years old.
John Worth (1939-?)…………………………………..I cannot remember all the specific dates but can approximate the years. The air raid sirens were sounded soon after war had been declared. My father and I were fitting the doors to the air raid shelter which we had built. It was completely underground with 3" reinforced concrete walls on the inside, and brick walling on the outside. The roof was 6" to 8" thick reinforced concrete covered with 3 feet of earth. The door was faced on both sides with steel sheeting. It was heavy so we had to get help from our next door neighbour in order to hang it.
We had been issued with gas masks and public shelters had been built. Barrage balloons loomed overhead. Mother made 'blackout' curtains in order to prevent light shining out. We put tape over the windows to prevent the glass flying about.
My father and I, together with an office colleague, had an allotment in Hounslow. We cycled there every Sunday morning on our tandem. A tray was fitted over the rear handlebars and carried the produce. Our journey took us along the Great West road, past the Gillette factory where there was a cycle track.
Christ Church, East Sheen where the congregation was quite large. Father often played the organ for services. Mother and he were members of the Royal Choral Society so there was always music in our home. I was a great disappointment to them, I'm sure as I displayed no musical talent at all.
Father joined the Air Raid Precautions team. His operation post was built on a traffic island near home. He underwent training in; fIrst aid, dealing with incendiary bombs, organisation of rescue and fire service, ensuring no lights could be seen and dealing generally with any untoward emergency. Each post had an area to patrol.
We all had ration books to ensure that everyone had a fair share of food. Petrol was severely rationed. All road transport had lights restricted to just a pencil light and of course there were no street lights.
A battery of 3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns, search lights and a barrage balloon were installed near the Sheen Gate of Richmond Park. They had a good view over greater
London from there.
Sheen Gate was a short walk from home and I was interested in the activities of the gun crews which could be seen through the gates. Nothing much happened locally in the first period of the war. We equipped" the shelter with a bunk for me and my parents slept on a bed on the floor.
Early in July of 1940 it started. The first daylight raid on
London occurred. It affected the docks mainly. August 23rd the blitz of London began. At night we lived in the air raid shelter. The noise was terrific when the ack ack guns fired in the park. There also seemed to be a mobile heavy gun mounted on a truck which ran on the railway between Richmond and the city. We never found out the truth of this. Certainly we heard the loco shunting about.
In early June I remember seeing hundreds of privately owned small boats going down the Thames. They crossed to France to help to evacuate our troops. Father asked if our 14 foot sailing dinghy would be of any use. We didn't have an outboard motor so it remained with us.
Between July and October the Battle of Britain took place. I could see some of it from my bedroom window. The aircraft were not visible but the vapour trails were. Pupils from my school were called up. One of these was Paddy Finucane who became a fighter pilot. He had been responsible for my joining the school athletics team and air scouts.
In March, 1941 the blitz was resumed on London. This brought war to our door step. At the time I cycled home from school for my lunch and cycled back. Returning to school after lunch one day a stray bomber, hit by the guns in Richmond Park took his revenge by machine gunning as he flew down Sheen Lane, a straight road from the park. He missed everyone, but frightened us all. He crashed in the cemetery and we all had heavily chlorinated water for weeks to prevent infection.
We were periodically showered with incendiary bombs at night. People became adept at picking up unexploded bombs and shoving them in buckets of sand. We had to stop this however because some of them were designed to explode when moved.
I had quite a collection of shrapnel by this time. One piece was
particularly interesting. It must have been a piece of shell casing as the machining marks showed on the outside.
It had to happen. One night a land mine fell and landed half way up the Clifford Bridge which was a humped back bridge over the railway line between East Sheen and Mortlake stations. We all had to evacuate. My parents decided to go to my mother's sister who lived near to the Mortlake brewery. The alternative was the East Sheen cinema. As far as I can remember it was late evening. Father was on ARP duty and Mother and I were in the shelter. Father helped us with some clothes and off we went. I slept with my 2 cousins under the kitchen table. Presumably everyone else was either under the stairs or in the air raid shelter.
The following day a Royal Navy expert came to deal with the mine which had not exploded. As he worked on it, up it went. The blast blew off his clothes, but he survived. Our home was badly damaged
: roof, windows, badly cracked wall and other minor problems. The services were not affected. We had a nice mess to clear up. Father and I straightened the roof tiles as best we could. Fortunately very few fell to the ground. After clearing up glass and plaster from the bedroom ceilings the place was inhabitable. At this time we more or less lived in the shelter during the evenings and nights so it didn't matter so much about the house.
On my way to school from home one lunch time I had just reached school when I heard a German bomber flying in low cloud. The unsynchronised engines gave them away. Suddenly, a bomb whistled down. I flattened myself on the ground, no time to go to the shelter. It plunged into the Bank of England sports ground and blew up. The plane was either hit or lost. The sirens went after the happening.
Late in 1941 Father decided it would be best if Mother and I were to evacuate. We went to Cornwall, first to the Bridge House Hotel, Boscastle for a month and then to Traclago, a farm near Camelford. A place was made for me at Camelford Grammar School. Evacuees were not made welcome, even less at school. School life was a misery but farm life in free time was a joy. I learnt very little over the two years in school. The classes were much larger than I had previously experienced. French in Richmond had been taught in the phonetic way, but at Camelford it was all text book language structure, noun and verb order. I had no knowledge of Latin and even less after two years.
I walked to and from school, including home for lunch. It was a hilly walk of two miles. In winter it was more difficult because of the snow drifts which were formed from the wind coming down from Bodmin Moor. I cannot ever remember being absent. Newspapers had to be collected from Camelford; the Daily Telegraph was collected when it arrived, often three or four would arrive at once, depending on the trains from
London. The Sunday paper was brought to the farm by the maid's father. He worked in the nearby china clay quarry.
There was a battery operated radio in the farm house, but the mistress of the house, the sister-in-law of the owner, objected to anyone using it. I avoided her whenever possible and clung to Farmer William like glue.
Father came to see us at Christmas and very occasionally in between times. I seemed to grow apart from my father and never recaptured the closeness of childhood. He brought my bicycle down and later, a Richmond friend and his mother also evacuated to Camelford. They lived nearer to the town than we did. We spent dozens of happy afternoons together with our cycles and usually went to Trebarwith beach.
Getting to market was fun. We drove the sheep and cattle to the market in Camelford. We had to go along the main road. There were very few cars about. Farmer William's brother had an Austin 7 with a dickey seat and I had trips to Launceston with him. He lived on his own farm at Bossiney.
We attended Advent Church, near Camelford which was very different from our home Church. There were usually only two or three other people there as many of the people in the area were Methodists and went to Chapel in Camelford. I found this division of Churches very strange.
I had the freedom of a 250 acre farm rather than a large town back garden. It was very quiet at night and very dark as there was no electricity. The house was lit by lamps and candles. I don't remember ever being afraid because I knew my Mother was there. The owner became a second father to me. I learnt a lot about farm work. The winter of 1942 was fairly severe but a sledge was made for me and a field was set aside for sledging. I became popular for a short time. The farm backed on to Bodmin Moor so digging sheep out of snowdrifts was a favourite. Water had to be pumped up to the house from the well. This became my job. Farmer William did not have a tractor until well after the war.
Cornwall entered my soul and Farmer William my heart. He taught me to build hay ricks and corn stacks. Harvest time was interesting as a steam engine towed a threshing machine up the hill to the farm. It worked the thresher. I was in a kind of heaven. I was taught to use a 12 bore shot gun as rabbits were a real pest. When we left to return home in 1943 Farmer William gave me his single barrel shot gun. He had apparently never given anything away before. I treasured and used it, finally parting with it in my late sixties. He was a kind and hospitable man. At harvest time a large supper was laid on for the family, neighbours, helpers and workers. Some 25 people were seated around the table in the kitchen. The resident maid was kept busy refilling the teacups. The people sitting down were teasing her by presenting their cups just as she put the pot down. She eventually realised what they were doing and said, 'You set of buggers' in a broad Cornish accent. I had never seen this many people at one table before and was not accustomed to the noise and banter.
A mouse lived under the kitchen grandfather clock. No matter how many traps were set he was never caught. There were five cats, called the Christian cats, who controlled the mice but they did not come indoors. I was taught and allowed to lead the plough horses out to the field. Betsy knew when there was heavy work to do and would gently pin my foot to the ground when I took her for a pre work drink. I learnt how to persuade her to move. Shouting did not work.
At Christmas, carol singers walked the two miles from Camelford to sing and join the household in mince pies and a hot drink. Also at Christmas some Canadian air force men were invited to a meal. They were stationed nearby. I have always assumed at Davidstowe but I'm not sure.
Spot, the dog was a border collie and was told to stay with me when I was about the farm. He was my first experience of large pets and I loved him. He helped me collect the bullocks and sheep for inspection and counting. Looking back Spot did the work and I stood by for encouragement. When the Canadian airmen left that evening we never saw Spot again. For a working dog to stay away from home would indicate that he was prevented from returning.
One event caused hilarity in the neighbourhood for weeks. The War Agricultural Committee insisted that Traclago must produce some grain. Farmer William explained that the farm was not arable and could not be arable because of the depth of soil on the rock beneath the fields. The officials got difficult and insisted. He got stubborn and declined saying that plough shares were impossible to get and he couldn't risk his. Fellow farmers came from all around for the great day when the 'suit' arranged for a tractor and plough to begin work. After the breaking of nine plough shares and much laughter and derision from the on-lookers, the 'suit' gave up. I learnt a lot from the incident, but mostly to listen and use the knowledge and understanding of the local knowledge.
The war did not entirely go away. We could see Plymouth being attacked from the top floor of the house; what we saw were the fires, not the aircraft.
In 1944 the house in East Sheen had been restored and Mother and I returned home. Back in East Sheen I returned to the Grammar school. I had lost virtually 2 years of my education. Day raids in London had almost stopped. As long as one could dress quickly it was possible to go to bed and only use the shelter when the warning sounded. This gave the two minutes needed to dress and get to the shelter. It was after this period that the 'doodlebugs' began. Your tummy turned over when their engines cut out. You waited for the explosion. One of these incidents was more frightening than anything else I felt throughout the war. I was at school and we were at after noon break. There had been no air raid warning when a flying bomb came over. The engine cut out and down it came with a mighty explosion. I was convinced it was near my home. When released from school I pedalled as fast as I could, fearing for my Mother who was at home. The bomb had landed in a nearby cemetery, shattering windows but doing little other structural damage.
After the doodlebug (V 1) came the V2 rocket. The first one fell in Chiswick across the river from my home. We sat at lunch when we heard this big explosion. There was no sound before or after its arrival. The government delayed any information about it. Luckily the Germans could not mass produce them and the rapid advance of our troops meant London was soon out of range. Some helicopters sound like the V1
We went to the city for the peace celebrations. We managed to get in front of Buckingham Palace and watch the royal family come out onto the balcony and wave. The royal family then was King George V1, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. Mr Churchill was with them.
Then came the time of ' getting back to normal', whatever that was. Our garden returned to lawn, the guns and searchlights were taken away, the barrage balloons no longer loomed over us. Our Sunday afternoon walks in
Richmond Park entering through the Sheen Gate resumed. Rationing stayed for a long time and there were many shortages. Schooling became normal, but I had lost two years at the Richmond end and it was a tremendous struggle to get to Matriculation and Higher School Certificate. I longed in these years for the quiet of Cornwall and the companionship of Farmer William.
At heart I feel a Cornishman. The urge to go each year does not diminish. I make my annual pilgrimage to Camelford, sit in
Advent Church and think of mother and put flowers on Farmer William's grave and sit with him for a while.
Stuart Vernon Cook (East Sheen County Grammar School (c 1933)…………. A correspondence with his daughter in July, 2012…………………….
Hello Mr Richardson,
My father Stuart Vernon Cook passed away and when my sisters and I were going through the attic, discovered two pictures taken of the class of 1937 and the other class of 39. My father was in both of them and they are in pretty good condition. We wondered if you would like to have them and include them on your website. My dad was an airgunner in the RAF flying Halifax bombers thence to the Royal Canadian Air force after the war and worked in Intelligence until his retirement when he moved on to work at American Express in Brighton, Sussex.
The two pictures are about a metre in length and 30cm high (39 inches x 12 inches). I don’t need to have them returned and they could be rolled up and sent to an address if you are interested.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Good afternoon, Jay………….
……and many thanks for writing. I have many of these photos but not the ones you mention and they will be a valuable addition to my collection of memorabilia which, to the best of my knowledge, is the only one in existence regarding the East Sheen and Richmond Grammar Schools that merged in 1939 to form the school as we later knew it, Richmond and East Sheen County Grammar School for Boys.
Thank you for your kind thought and for tracking me down. The name Percy Kunzli of Barnes fits in well here. He is deceased now but he remembered your father well as a fellow schoolboy and was anxious to get in touch.
Please tell me when your father passed on so that I can ensure a suitable mention on www.sheneob.co.uk
Hello David, How wonderful to have such a prompt response and to know that the pictures will be appreciated! My dad passed away October 2005, but we did not unearth the pictures until my mom unfortunately passed away two months ago. I am so sorry Percy did not manage to contact Dad, it is a shame when people grow older and move away and don’t stay in contact. I will send the pictures as soon as I can and I am pleased that the pictures will be put to good use.