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 Frank Feates (JRGS 1943-49) recalls wartime experiences at JRCS...

On the day war broke out (some of you may remember this as one of the original wireless catchphrases of comedian Robb Wilton in the early Forties), or maybe the day before, I was evacuated with Woodside Infants School to Brighton. It was traumatic at East Croydon Station with children everywhere carrying gas masks in card boxes and one very small case of belongings.
   At Brighton I was assigned to a small house near the station with several other evacuees whom I did not know. What I do remember is sleeping in a bed with four other boys, three with heads on the headrest and the other two top to tail - and not enough to eat. I hated it, and the school that we shared with local children - they attended at 6.30 in the morning and we had the late shift until 6.30 at night. Understandably, the children did not like us. I was so unhappy that my parents brought me back to Croydon in 1940 just in time for the real war to start.
   Living near Croydon Aerodrome we saw lots of action in those early days when the Germans were making daylight raids. I vividly recall dogfights overhead, planes being shot down and parachutists, one of whom was machine-gunned on his way down. As kids we thought it as great, but later it made me a confirmed pacifist. We liked air raids, since we did not have to go to school if the sirens had sounded, and if in school we had to go to the brick shelters in the playground and sing to drown the noise!
   Later the night raids came - I still get a funny feeling in my stomach when I hear a multi-engined bomber on films or TV! I was not scared - I do not think kids are - and I used to go out looking for incendiary bombs and shrapnel as soon as my mother would let me and certainly before school if the sirens had not gone off. If they had there was no school before the all-clear.
   I remember little of Woodside School other than that we had slates rather than paper. I do not know if this was a wartime economy or if the school still used slates in peace time. We either spent the nights under a steel-table shelter (my mother, blind grandmother and me) or, if my father was not doing night work in a communal outside shelter, listening to bombers, shells and bombs.
   In late 1941 my mother and grandmother decided to leave my father in London and we went to Lewes to escape the Blitz just as it was ending! I went to school for two years in Lewes and enjoyed it very much. My teacher made school interesting and played a large part in stimulating me to learn. I recall all sorts of mental tests (I think paper was short) and many stories on a wide variety of topics. All this culminated in me taking the Croydon 11+ on my own in the County Hall, while being watched intently by a very scary porter. But I seemed to do well enough to get to John Ruskin. I think my parents tried to get me admission to Lewes Grammar School but Croydon would not pay the fees and my parents (father a porter at East Croydon station) certainly could not afford them.

First Day at John Ruskin Central School

JRGS Tamworth RoadSo I returned to Croydon in the summer of 1943 and in September entered form 1A of John Ruskin Central School as it was then - pictured right on Tamworth Road. I found all my teachers most stimulating, although looking back on it I assume they were all older and experienced as the younger ones would have been called up. Then in early 1944 we started to get the V1 flying bombs (buzz bomb) attacks. These pilotless robots were heading for London but many seemed to be a bit short on fuel. Croydon received the highest density of bombings of all the London areas. At first, after they had passed over we thought we were safe - the engine cut out when the fuel ran out and they then glided to the ground and exploded!

   If one passed over and cut out I used to jump on my bike to see where it fell. I sometimes arrived before the emergency services and looking back saw some horrific sights, but to a child nothing was real. Then the Germans modified the V1s so some turned round when the fuel ran out and that was the end of my cycle trips. I remember particularly one that fell into the Davis Theatre when a film was being shown and many were killed.
   We did not have sirens for the V1s, and it was largely left to our parents if we went to school or not. Fortunately, my parents made sure I went and I enjoyed the cycle ride through the town, being careful to miss the tram lines.
   Then my father was moved to Southampton, as it turned out to help with invasion preparations. I went to Eastleigh for a time where we were bombed (but not hit). Then my father was moved to Poole where the harbour was a mass of invasion vessels in a high-security area, including all the waterfront. However, we children seemed immune from the security - and we knew the gaps in the barbed wire - and had a great time with the troops (many of whom were Canadians). Some of them taught me to swim by throwing pennies into the harbour where it was relatively shallow and getting me to retrieve them. I made quite a bit of pocket money that way. I also did quite well in the local park. We knew where the troops took their girls of an evening, and a search of the grass often revealed cash (and other things) which had been lost from pockets.
   After another battle with Croydon Education Committee I was accepted at Poole Grammar School for my second year, but was placed in form 2d (d meaning dunce in my view - primarily to sons of middle class locals who could afford to pay the school fees for their children who could not pass the 11+). I learnt nothing in the year I was there but managed to come top on the basis of my previous year's schooling in Croydon.
   Victory in Europe came in May 1945 and I remember the celebrations with bonfires and many illicit flares and thunder flashes which no longer had military applications (although the war was still raging in the East). My father then returned to Croydon and we followed him, only to find that our house had been requisitioned and we had to go to court to get the sitting tenant out - in the meantime we had to find space in an Uncle's house as there was a massive housing shortage.
   Then I returned to John Ruskin in June, just in time for the annual examinations. I came bottom having done none of the work relative to the examination and, as a result, was kept down for a year. This was not too bad since I had been one of the youngest in my year anyway. I really enjoyed JR for the next four years and did well in my School Certificate. However, my parents could not afford to keep me at school for the sixth form, which was just starting, and I went to work as a lab boy at Burroughs Wellcome in Beckenham - but that is another story.
   Perhaps the greatest success at JR was dancing classes one of the teachers (Mr. Myers?) organised at lunch times. I never learnt to dance, but it did get me to go with other classmates to Mrs. Taylor's classes in Bridgestock Road, Thornton Heath. There I met an Old Palace Girl whom I married in 1953 and we have been together ever since!

Post-John Ruskin Career in Chemistry and Nuclear Science

While at Burroughs Wellcome I was allowed time for further part-time study and went to Birkbeck College in Fetter Lane just off Fleet Street. The building had been extensively damaged during the war. Eventually a decision was taken to demolish it and a new building eventually erected in Malet Street next to the main London University skyscraper. I managed to get Inter BSc in a year and continued to get a First Class Honours Chemistry degree in 1954. I then stayed at Birkbeck to get a PhD in Physical Chemistry in 1956, cycling all the time to and from Croydon- it made me pretty fit!
   In the meantime, I moved from Burroughs Welcome to The Chester Beatty Research Institute of the Royal Cancer Hospital in Kensington. I had aspirations to read medicine, but Croydon would not give me any financial support as I had not taken Higher Schools Certificate, and could not afford to support myself. However, our lab was in the forefront of research into DNA structure and I managed to meet Crick and Watson and many of the other leaders in the field.
   When I finished my PhD. I had no desire to serve in the forces and National Service was still demanded. So I went to Harwell which was the top nuclear site at the time. I had to stay two years to cover my National Service Commitment but actually stayed 22! It was a great life - plenty of research money, being allowed to do more or less what I wanted so long as I produced good scientific papers, and opportunities to travel the world attending scientific conferences and meeting top scientists. Our family also spent two years at the University of Chicago on an exchange, during which we visited 40 of the 50 States. A little research was also undertaken in my spare time, leading to more scientific papers.
   On return to Harwell I was rather disillusioned by the move to "commercial" work, and almost took up a job as deputy head of the Australian nuclear programme. But the Harwell Director put me off by telling me the really top jobs were only available to Australians (our previous Director had been an Australian!). As a result, I decided if I could not beat them I would join them so I went into the commercial side of the business as a project director. I decided that Harwell's skills were appropriate for the growing business of dealing with chemical and other environmental disasters, and set up a Hazardous Wastes Service and the National Chemical Emergency Service. Both were highly successful and now form the main work area of what is left of our nuclear programme.
   In 1978 I decided that I wanted a new challenge and joined the Civil Service to run the national programme relating to air, water and waste issues within the Department of the Environment. This meant I was telling the nuclear industry what to do with its waste and authorising disposals and storage. This was not appreciated by the nuclear industry as I knew too much of the inside story! I ended my career as Director and Chief Inspector of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution in 1991, and met The Queen who decorated me with the Order of Companion of the Bath in 1990.
   Afterwards I undertook consultancy services for five years, and became director of three large companies. At the age of 65 I finally decided to drop all serious work and enjoy life. This I have been doing, and have travelled most of the world in the process. Upon retiring from the civil service, I also became visiting Professor of Environmental Technology at Manchester University.
   Thanks to JRGS for all skills I learnt at the time that stood me in good stead.
   Incidentally, what is to be done in the long term with The Mill's so extensive records? It would be a shame if they are lost to posterity. Does Croydon have any repository for historic records?

Francis  "Fetsus" Feates, Benson, Wallingford, Oxfordshire. March 2008 Email

Mike Etheridge (JRGS 1963-65) adds: What a remarkable story from Frank. In particular I found his war experience most interesting as it reminded me of my family's tales about evacuation away from Croydon in the early years of the war, and the attacks by the flying bombs in the latter part of the war. (My twin sisters went to Cropwell Bishop in Nottingham, my older brother, Ron, to the West Country - he ran away from his foster home!)

I have attached some scanned pages from the book Courageous Croydon (right), which was produced in 1984 by the Croydon Advertiser and gives an extensive account of the flying bomb attacks on the town.

I have also included the maps of the bomb sites, which may remind Frank of the locations he cycled to.

Click on any thumbnail to view a larger version.

And here to view a s continuous PDF.

©Croydon Advertiser. All rights reserved.

Courageous Croydon
Courageous Croydon Courageous Croydon
Courageous Croydon Courageous Croydon
Courageous Croydon Courageous Croydon

Other memories I have of the past just after the war is that we had a collection of shrapnel at home (as did Frank) that was found, I think, by my older brother. We also had some small 1937 Reichsparty badgecomponents of Pom-Pom guns that my mum brought home from the "Acc and Tab" (Accumulators and Tabulators) factory in Thornton Road, where she assisted as an inspector during the war.
   Last year I was able to recover from a friend the gas masks that were allocated to our family during the war. My wife used these gas masks plus a hand-cranked siren as props for her junior school play about evacuation.
   This same friend has a 1939 Third Reich party badge I dug up from my mum and dad's garden in Lucerne road. The badge is very similar to that shown upper-right, and made of white metal. I can only speculate as to how the badge arrived in the garden - could it have been dropped by a German plane or had it been inserted within the V1 bomb that fell nearby in Brigstock Road?

Mike Marsh (JRGS 1949-55) adds: Just to jog the memories, The Alumni may be interested in these pictures of East Croydon Station as it used to be when I was at school and undoubtedly as Frank Feates knew it. He must have left school just as I was joining it.
   The B&W one on the left was from the Thirties; the colour one is from the Eighties, before it was "refurbished".

East Croydon - '30s East Croydon - '80s

Re-reading through all the war-time memories of Croydon and of the old school in Tamworth Road has evoked some nostalgia for me this afternoon, so thanks to all the contributors.
   Looking at the list of sites where the Doodle Dugs landed was interesting and told me that there were a cluster which fell around where I was living at the time in Shirley. I did remember some falling although I did not know exactly where, but was not aware that there had been any quite so close as the list suggests! It could have been during one of the periods when I was sent away to live in Somerset with grandparents. There were some V2 rockets landing somewhere nearby whose destructive power was much greater, and you never heard them coming.
   I attended two schools during those periods down in the west country. I was only seven when the war ended, so neither would have been for any great period of time since I was also attending Monks Orchard School in Shirley when I was back home. Nevertheless, I do remember both schools, at least one of which was using slates to write on. One was in Dorset actually and I think that was the one I only went to for a very short period of time.
   Looking at my mother's Identity Card shows that she was living in Beaminster (Dorset) in 1943, which was the year I started school, and she then moved to North Perrott (Somerset) in1944, which was the school I remember most. It is still there although is now a private cottage so it couldn't have been very big as a school, but then the village was not very large.
   I did attend Monks Orchard during the war because I can remember the air raid sirens sounding and we had to go along to the shelter, which was the cloakroom with a reinforced concrete roof. That school is still there and in use.
   My father stayed in Croydon and worked at two places during the war. One was at Creed's round the corner from the East Croydon railway station, and the other was at RAF Kidbrook. Between them his was considered to be a reserved occupation, so he did not go into the Forces although he did belong to the Home Guard.
   When I started at JRGS in 1949, Mr. Myers was teaching French for at least some of my time although Mr. Fisher also taught me. In my last year, which took up one term at Shirley Road, I was taught Spanish by Mr. Richardson (Bon). I seem to remember Mr. Myers also teaching Latin in my early years although it was Mr. Rees who finished my short and not very illustrious three years struggling with that language.

Francis  "Fetsus" Feates replies: It is great to realise the JRGS site gets such a good readership, and so quickly. The contribution from Mike Eldridge was particularly interesting as we have a copy of Croydon Courageous, which was published by The Croydon Times very soon after the war. I think it is the first edition of Mike's booklet as the material inside is similar, but the cover has been updated. I also have the flying bomb map which was an insert. It is quite horrifying to look at it again and wonder how we survived with just windows broken and ceilings down.
   The other Mike's photos of East Croydon also brought back memories. I recall my father carrying very heavy cases for passengers and tying parcels with string - he taught me the method I still use for knotting string round parcels. On special days I was allowed in the porter's room - full of smoke and card players.

Paul Graham (JRGS 1959-66) adds: I also looked at the bomb damage around where I lived in South Norwood and Anerley. It gave me a sober reminder of why all the clusters of prefabs were in certain places.

Mike Etheridge replies: Frank was right about the reproduction of Courageous Croydon. My copy is a 40th Anniversary Edition see the added page below left, with acknowledgements.
   I have also attached another scan for Mike Marsh that illustrates V1 damage to houses in Shirley Way.
Courageous Croydon Courageous Croydon

ML adds: Here is an enlarged version of the image shown above-right of Shirley Way. taken in June 1944.
Shirley Way is located off Shirley Church Road, half a mile east of the former JRGS site on Upper Shirley Road.

Shirley Way, June 1944


 Mel Lambert (JRGS 1959-65) reviews "More Memories of Croydon"...

More Memories of Croydon More Memories of Croydon Surrey Street
Memories of Croydon ISBN: 1 903204 35 6
Click on any image to access a larger version.
Far right is a photo of Surrey Street taken in 1950 from
the top of Grant's department store, looking north-west.

I received this book as a Christmas present from a fellow ex-pat living here in California. Wendy Williams, who is also my townhouse neighbor, attended Shirley High School for Girls (close to the Upper Shirley Road JRGS site) and Old Palace School in Central Croydon.
  Having enjoyed the previous offering from True North Books, Memories of Croydon, sponsored by Whitgift Shopping centre, this latest publication offers more of the same theme, including vintage images of Croydon and the surrounding area from the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, in addition to spotlights of Croydon-based companies and organizations, including Croydon College, Old Palace School of John Whitgift, Trinity School, and Whitgift School. The 124-page hard-cover book was edited by Stephen Griffiths,

   More information is available from Amazon and True North Books Ltd., Heathfield Industrial Estate, Heathfield Street, Elland, HX5 9AE, West Yorks. Phone: 01422-344344. Artwork design ©True North Books. All rights reserved.

Mel Lambert, Burbank, USA. March 2008, Email

Derek Charlwood (JRGS 1958-64) adds: The book has gone on my birthday present list!
   The front cover photo took me straight back to Saturday mornings with Mum, when she would walk the whole length of Surrey Street market (which seemed very long in those days), checking all the prices of vegetables on every stall, before walking back the other way to make her purchases - all to save a few pennies.
   In these times of plenty, I think we forget how hard it was for our parents to make ends meet, and have enough to pay the rent man, insurance man, milkman and various other callers who wanted to take their share of our income.

ML replies: Talking of austerity and making ends meet, I can recall in the late Fifties a plan from Croydon Council to evict tenants from the New Addington housing estate, where my family then lived, if the family income was more than £20 per week. If memory serves me right, there was a segment on BBC TV's Panorama program about the proposal, which eventually was dropped.


 Tony Almond (John Newnham 1957-61) recalls Mr. Myers, a former JRGS master...

Autumn 1951, page 4I thought The Alumni might be interested in a minor piece of information (for what it's worth) that really links the old John Ruskin Grammar School in Shirley with John Newnham School (which later became John Ruskin College).
   I attended John Newnham from 1957 to 1961. At the age of 63 I still am very proud of what was an excellent school which, like many others in the then County Borough of Croydon, had a jealously-guarded, excellent reputation.
   The Headmaster during my years there was a Mr. Charles H. Myers (known rather irreverently as "Jerry"). And the link - Mr. Myers had hitherto been a French master at John Ruskin, as described on page 4 of the Autumn 1951 school magazine, as shown left; click on the thumbnail to view a larger version.
   I will admit to having logged-on to The Mill rather by accident, but was delighted to see a photograph of the Shirley tower mill on the website. I remember this windmill from my early days of living in Addington; I would often pass it on a 130 bus and it appeared to me to be little more than a rather neglected and featureless structure.
   However, in recent years I have developed an interest in windmills and had a rather delightful visit to Shirley Mill a couple of years ago. The quality of the restoration work is truly impressive and, to my way of thinking, it ranks among the very best preserved mills in England. I'm am so very glad that it did not suffer the same fate as your own school.
   I took the liberty of trawling through The Mill's extremely fascinating archived records and discovered that Mr. C. Myers was "second master" in the late 1940s and probably through to the early Fifties, when John Newnham opened.
   My ex-brother-in-law had told me many years ago that he was taught French by Mr. Myers but, having spent over an hour searching the archives, I was beginning to think that I had either misheard, or been misinformed. Nevertheless, in an early Newsletter one of the Alumni had very kindly posted a list of masters who were in post from 1947 to about 1950. However, the Newsletter entry has done the job very much better than I did. I read with great interest the extract from the school magazine and was especially pleased to note that Mr. Myers was held in such high regard by JRGS own staff and pupils.
   As our Headmaster, Mr. Myers was well-liked and greatly respected and - quite rightly - dropped heavily on anyone who failed to uphold the school's good name. Fortunately, most of his colleagues were of much the same calibre and outlook and I am greatly indebted to them for both education and guidance. (I rather think that, as a generation, we owe much, not only to the quality of our schools and tutors, but also to RAB Butler's 1944 Education Act.)
   Charles Myers retired as headmaster some time during the mid- to late-Sixties, I believe; certainly, when I visited John Newnham in 1971 he had been retired for several years. Few of the tutors from my time were still there, but those who were remembered him with considerable affection and contrasted him with the then-present headmaster. Whereas Mr. Myers was always a very dapper, smartly dressed gentleman, I distinctly remember the word scruffy entering into the conversation when they discussed his replacement. Clearly he wasn't of the same calibre as CM, neither did he command the same degree of respect!.
   I understand that Charles Myers and his wife moved down to the South Coast, but I'm not sure exactly where. One or two of the masters continued to visit him and I was told that he remained in excellent health.
   Like other JRGS Alumni, I lived in New Addington - on Ownstead Hill, just off Salcot Crescent - and, before going to John Newnham, had attended Rowdown Junior School.
   Someone once said to me: "Never go back". But, a couple of years ago I ignored that advice and was somewhat disappointed. New Addington's Central Parade was rather untidy. The trams had arrived and I thought their routing had rather spoiled the area (especially along Coombe Lane, Gravel Hill and through Addington Village).
   Very many of the houses at New Addington have been bought by their tenants and modified in various ways, thereby adding considerable variety to their appearance. Sadly, the old Boot's Estate where I had lived was a shock; it appeared rather shabby and uncared for. In contrast, the original council estate was very pleasant; many of the roads have open greens which are well tended and I think that these enhance and complement the attractiveness of the surrounding properties.
   I will continue to visit The Mill and thanks to all for the rather nostalgic trip.

Tony Almond, Staines, Surrey (formerly, of course, in Middlesex). February 2008 Email.

Terence Morris (JRGS 1942-50) adds: Alumni might be interested to know that during the war, when there was a shortage of masters at the "Old" John Ruskin in Tamworth Road, "Jerry" Myers used to teach maths, as did "Stinker" Cresswell, notwithstanding he was also teaching French and the latter was also teaching his own subject, namely history. They were both important after 1945 when John Ruskin achieved what it ought to have had years before, i.e. Grammar School status.

Frank "Festus" Feates (JRGS 1943-49) adds: Tony Almond's notes on "Jerry" Myers bought back memories of my schooldays and led to me getting out some of my archives. I joined John Ruskin in 1943 after I had been evacuated to Lewes with my Junior School - Woodside. My parents had to select a Central school whilst I was away, and they thought John Ruskin sounded much better than Selhurst or Whitgift - although it is unlikely I would have been accepted by either!
   When I took my 11+ I had no idea what was happening. I was sent to Sussex County Council offices one day and was presented with a pile of exam papers, which included multiple choice questions in a format I had never seen before. However, I must have done reasonably well to get to JR, which was an all-scholarship boys school
in those days. The school had just been upgraded from a Central to a Grammar school [in 1945], which had been designed to train "artisans" in manual skills, I was told.
   Mr. McLeod was headmaster and as I recall he showed great interest in his pupils, knowing all 300 by name.
   Mr. Myers was a very good teacher, but I do recall when some French children visited the school they could not understand him! It must have been very difficult teaching foreign languages during the war with no visits and no
exchanges. Looking at my reports I see that in French I moved from "very weak" in 1944 to "good progress" (51%) in my final year - 1949. Just enough to get my School Certificate.
   Mention of nicknames for teachers reminds me that we had "Chips" Chinnock teaching woodwork. My only success was screwing together two pieces of wood to form a V, which my mother proudly displayed in the window on VE Day. "Puncher" Pearce tried to teach us maths and PE. I also recall one of our school concerts about 1947 - the teachers always did one sketch - when Mr. Manning made up a parody involving all the staff names. I will never forget when he got to "Stinker" Cresswell (nickname from a character on wartime radio in Band Wagon, Richard "Stinker" Murdoch) and made a deliberate mistake calling him by his nickname - he said "Poor Old 'Stinker' - sorry I meant 'That Great Thinker'." It caused an uproar.
   My nickname was "Festus," after the character in The Trumpet Major, which we read for School Certificate.
   I spent my school days in Tamworth Road and never studied in Shirley. I did revisit the school in about 1951 when the organ was installed, and was most impressed. I also returned to Tamworth Road recently when my wife went to an Old Palace reunion and found the place full of teen-age girls - never in my days!
   The archives are great! I send copies of my old magazines some years ago and have followed progress ever since. Unfortunately, there is little about us War Boys, but not surprising as we are all approaching (or past) 80!

Tony Childs (JRGS 1947-53) adds: "Jerry" Myers, as well as teaching French (and Latin), was also deputy head at JRGS at Tamworth Road, but went to John Newnham before the move to Shirley.


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