Monday, 26 September 2011

Off to School and the end of the war

The war continued to be the background for my childhood and it seems almost incidental now that I actually went to school. I attended a nursery school at the bottom of the road prior to going to the local primary school in Silver Street. Boys and girls were separated and my only memories of girls at school were in the playgounds which were adjacent but separated by a high stone wall. Classrooms were lofty Victorian spaces with timber and glass panel walls and timber boarded floors. Blackboards were supported on free-standing easels at the front of the class next to the teacher's desk which was like a small magistrate's bench, presumably to enhance power and authority.

Our desks were set out in rows with seats attached by wrought iron frames so there was little chance to move about unless summoned to the front of the class or put behind the blackboard. In some cases punishment by the use of the cane was a last resort in an effort to maintain discipline. The strict Victorian teaching methods endured by our parents were still very much in use during our generation.

When I was 10 years old I went to the King's School in Ely as a day boy.  The school is one of the oldest in the country, being founded in the 10th century in the original abbey established by St Ethelred and given its Royal Charter by Henry VIII in 1541. Notable alumni include Edward the Confessor. Many of the school rooms are contained within the medieval buildings, including the 'porta' which dates from the 13th century. Even though I was young, I can remember feeling part of a privileged society. This was now 1944 and I suppose my father wanted to give me the best educational opportunities at a time when the future was uncertain for all of us.

It was during my time at King's I was introduced to formal games such as soccer and cricket; I was not much good at either. The school first and second teams played on the main field with its own pavilion a short distance from the school. Everybody else had to trundle down to the communal fields towards the river.  Like most boys I loved to climb trees but on one occasion, as we were sitting up in the trees waiting for our turn to bat, I was pulled out of the tree and fell forward onto the rough ground, making a large gash in my knee. I was sent home; a long way to walk with a scruffy handkerchief tied around my wound. My sister Betty found me when she got home from school; I was sitting with a dishcloth over my leg. She was the perfect nurse as she cleaned and dressed the wound. I think she must have had first aid lessons as she continued to clean and dress the wound over the next few weeks, overseen by my mother. Today we would have gone straight to hospital, but in those pre-NHS years, injuries like this were treated at home.

Although I was no good at ball games, I enjoyed swimming and we were regular visitors to the local open air pool in the summer months. The water was always cold, though the temperature displayed on the outside wall prepared you somewhat for the shock. Another option was swimming in the River Ouse which flows through Ely on the way to The Wash and the sea.

During the war years there wasn't much chance of holidays, however we were lucky to have a car so on an occasional Sunday, Father drove us to Hunstanton on the Norfolk coast. I remember it took more than two hours to get there, usually queues of traffic through King's Lynn and often the tide was miles out before we got there. [Note: Where we live now in Lincolnshire, a Sunday trip to Hunstanton has been part of our routine too, especially when my son Rory was young. There may be a bypass round King's Lynn now but there are still queues of traffic.....Trish]

The war in Europe came to an end on 8 May 1945 and, like everyone else, we put the flags out and had street parties. On 14 August 1945 the war in Japan ended following the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The development of the atom bomb represented a major breakthrough in scientfic discovery which, together with the development of jet propulsion, was to change our lives in the future, The age of nuclear power was about to begin. The V1 and V2 developed by the Germans to attack Britain in the later stages of the war became the means by which space travel and technology changed from science fiction to science fact.

Immediately after the war, the British Sugar Corporation moved part of its central offices to Peterborough and Father was promoted to a job as Central Purchasing Officer. This necessitated the whole family moving from Ely and my having to change schools. The distance was only 30 miles but it was a world apart.


  1. So weird to think how quickly we package ourselves off to A&E these days for often the smallest of scrapes when a generation ago people dealt with it all themselves and just got on with it.

  2. @Steve - And also the fact that there was probably some cost involved, even if they were paying some kind of insurance pre-NHS. It would have to be a fairly major injury before families would seek help. My dad did need to be in hospital for some time when he was 13 and it would have been 1947, but he doesn't mention the cost (I'll be writing this part of his story quite soon).

  3. Your poor dad's knee. As a fellow sports hater, I did wince at that bit!

    Can't imagine what it must have felt like to be alive at the end of the war, something to celebrate on one hand, but also something to fear with the advent of atomic bombs etc. on the other... Very thought provoking post Trish... Emma

  4. @Emma - it gets worse in the next episode I have to write - a broken leg is coming up next.
    Interesting you should comment on the passage about the future, post-war. I was dithering as to whether to edit some of Dad's writing about things not pertaining to him personally but then realised this was important, how his situation sat within the political/economic climate at the time. I'm glad I did.