I attended the local school in Newent when l was five, following in the footsteps of my older brothers. Regrettably, due to me catching chicken pox & measles, I missed a lot of time at school, something that l never really caught up on & would pay the price for this later. However, despite missing so much school, I thoroughly enjoyed myself playing outside at home.
The Red House was directly opposite the church and behind that was a large lake fully of coarse fish - roach, tench, perch and eels, & it was here that l spent most of my spare time fishing. When not fishing & thanks to the large numbers of small birds raiding our fruit trees l was given, at the age of about 7 or 8, an air riffle to help reduce the local bird population and save our fruit trees from attack!
A household of three boys and a little girl constantly fighting & getting up to mischief together with a busy Post Office to run, was beginning to get too much for my mother. So my elder brothers were packed off to Worcester Royal Grammar School as boarders, stopping in the White Ladies schoolhouse, then in 1938 at the age of 10, it was my turn for White Ladies. Being 10 years old in the summer term I should have gone into the prep, but was put in Lower 1 as I was 12 months behind my contemporaries and struggling academically. I did not catch up until the third form.
I hated White Ladies, it was like borstal. From being allowed to run wild at home, l found the discipline, the fagging, the bullying plus the head boy handing out the slipper ad lib, very hard to bear. As for the slipper, it was no ordinary slipper being made of leather with hobnails in the heel & leaving nasty bruises in its wake. Not all was doom & gloom, you could plan & plot to reek revenge on your persecutors & have the last laugh hopefully.
There were about 35 to 40 boarders at school with the youngest being around 8. Sports included boxing & as you can imagine the competition was hard & fierce as you were sparing against boys 2 years older than yourself. Playing rugby against boys 4 to 5 years older then playing fives with no gloves “because only cissies wear gloves” would not be tolerated these days but then, this was the norm and you dare not show any form of emotion, if you did, you would be known as a 'cry-baby' or a 'creep' for the rest of your school life. You had to fight your corner to survive and from the age of ten I did just that.
Looking back, life in the schoolhouse made you pretty tough, never showing sympathy and a tendency to behave more like a machine; it was not for the soft hearted, weak or delicate, l survived & fortunately for me, these attributes stood me in good stead during the war years. We didn't all survive the schools harsh regime, my brother Bob left school at the end of 1939 due in main to the bullying going on to work in a bank, then a drawing office, in fact, anywhere to escape White Ladies!
Our two house masters were, “Camel” Humphries, who was killed in Normandy, and “Geezer” Wright. Considering the harshness of school, they were great chaps, Camel came to me one day and asked would I look after two boys, 8 and 9, making sure they were not bullied or picked on and to look after their general well being. Well, these two boys followed me around like my pet dog at home, and by the end of term Camel came and dragged me off to meet one of the boys’ mother who thanked me for looking after her son! I asked Camel a long time after, why he gave me the 2 boys to look after, his reply was, “You were a fighter and wouldn't grovel to anybody!' He also informed me l was a good influence to their character building. Camel went on, by now in full swing, 'You don't have to be academically brilliant in this world, it is what you are that counts!”
So it was that I soldiered on at White Ladies in the closing years of the 1930s. World War II began & the Germans started their bombing campaign on Birmingham and Coventry. I remember the headmaster’s wife panicking and sending all us boys down to sleep in the basement. As the war continued, and with 'Jerry' dropping bombs in what seemed a pretty random manner, the boarders were asked to become become day pupils (known as daybugs) so day boys we became.
I was about the nearest to school and could commute in, courtesy of the Great Western Railway, this meant an early start, catching the train 7 a.m from Newent to Ledbury Junction, then change trains to Worcester via Malvern. The return journey saw me leaving school at 3 p.m. however it was easier for me to take my bike on the train to Ledbury then cycle home. In the summer the bike ride was fine, but it was pretty grim during the winter months. l did this trip daily during term time, including half day Saturdays too!
To pass the time at home when it was wet, l used to shoot at the telephone cups, which were part of the post office telephone exchange. We had a choice of about 100 cups to aim for. One day the Linesman was complaining that he had to change 25 cups and was going to report us. That however, was before lunch but the afternoon came, his van was still parked outside. I was informed that the linesman was upstairs in the loft of the old coach house, he had gone up for something or other, well at the same time, my rather large alsation called Smithy was missing, no where to be found. Eventually, after a lot of barking had alerted further investigation, the linesman was found trapped upstairs in the coach house with smithy sat at the bottom of the stairs. After some negotiation, the linesman agreed not to report us.
When i was 15, began to help repair radios and deliver telegrams for pocket money. From my earings I earned enough cash to buy radio bits, I must have made most of C J Cams magazine’s 50 tested wireless circuits. With my .22 rifle I kept a lot of people happy supplying fresh rabbits for the pot, as it was war time and meat was in short supply.
As l grew up l discovered motor bikes - I had an old belt drive Sunbeam that I used to race around the field at the top of the garden, running it on t.v.o. (tractor paraffin) but to start it you needed to use petrol or a blow lamp. The farmer who owned the fields was a special constable and stopped me and claimed that I was using illegal petrol, he made me stop the engine as he would not believe me when l said that I was running on t.v.o. After ten minutes chatter the engine got cold and would not restart, I had made my point! Speed was the key to everything, from the bank at the bottom of the garden to the steps at the top was about 200 yards and 1 could get up to 30/40 mph on a run, trusting that my breaks would work when l got to the end!