JRGS News Archive Page 19
JRGS Alumni Society

Archived News/Activities

- Page 19 - Dec 2004 thru February 2005 -

JRGS Alumni Society

 

Lack of space prevents our including the following items on the main News Page, but here are some interesting
events/comments from the past several months.

   

 Peter Oxlade (JRCS 1940-44) vividly recalls wartime life at the school...

1943 2004

1943

2004

My post-11plus education began in the August of 1940, just 11 months after the outbreak of World War Two. I was to find out that war had a dramatic influence on my education and my personal development into adulthood.
   The sight of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain waving a piece of white paper on his return from talks with Herr Hitler in 1938 - declaring “I believe it is peace for our time” – remains with me to this day. It was probably the first time I had become aware of the preparations for war that had been going on around me at home. Gas masks had been provided and fitted for size to all citizens (we seemed to have become “citizens” at this time). It was not too long before it became apparent to the “experts” that the masks provided for our use were not considered to be effective and, therefore, we were provided with an extra filter to tape on to the mask to provide further protection against a gas attack. It is not suggested that this was a ploy by the government to raise the awareness of the inevitability of war – but it certainly did have that effect.
   Much of WW2 was also fought by those on the Home Front playing their part and sharing great losses along with their loved ones in the armed services. As I was to find, to a very large extent war had an adverse effect on my academic achievements on one side of the equation and my personal early development into adulthood on the other. Interrupted academic progress does not make a good bedfellow with the perils of war or indeed assist in a steady progress from childhood.
   It tends to be forgotten that our democratically elected Government introduced many draconian steps at that time, which by today’s standards would result in the Civil Rights organisations having the vapours in relation to such regulations. A law was introduced that removed the right of ownership of property and other possessions; meaning that the authorities could requisition people’s homes, or indeed entire tracts of land and buildings for military use. The collection of metal railings and gates from private property to be used as raw materials to assist the war effort brought little or no protest nor appeals! Every publication was under censorship. (Free press? Not during war!) Many parts of the country were out of bounds for anyone other than the military. During 1944 the build up to the invasion of Europe by the Allies virtually closed every road leading to the south coast. It was a military area and excluded all civilians.

September 1939 - preparing for war

On the morning of the 3rd of September 1939, at 11 o’clock precisely, my family gathered round the “wireless” for the expected speech to be made by the Prime Minister to announce either peace or war in Europe. It is the memory of his last few words on the day that still haunt me …… “no such communication has been received, and therefore this country is at war with Germany”. There was a complete silence from the family sitting there pale faced and digesting the words of the Prime Minister with their own thoughts and fears reflected in their facial expressions. My mother broke a pregnant silence by suggesting that “a nice cup of tea” would be good for us all! How many more times did I hear her say that in the next five years?
   Not many minutes after Chamberlain’s announcement the very first air raid warning sirens wailed and near panic prevailed. The extended family made to our shelter with white faces and visible shock showing. An uncle and aunt who were with us had forgotten to bring their gas masks. In haste the interior of our airing cupboard was cleared out and prepared for them to stand in. The door was closed and the gaps sealed with pasted paper (one small hole was left that they could seal from the inside if they found it to be necessary). Luckily the “all clear” sounded soon afterwards, to significant sighs of relief from the family and amid nervous laughter.
   The air raid shelter that had been planned and constructed by the family was primarily of steel scaffold poles and hundreds of sandbags. It had two entrance/exits; ventilation shafts; electric cables for lighting; six bunk-style beds and was completely lined with floorboards. A drainage sump had been dug at the lowest point in the garden, with a channel to it ensuring the shelter did not flood. Later in the war this shelter was to save our lives; the foresight shown by my family elders proved to be inspirational.
   On 4th September 1939 the mass evacuation of children from London started. Not a lot of sleep was enjoyed that night. Next day the tears of parents flowed freely as their children, duly labelled with names and home addresses, carried their gas masks and small cases as they departed on trains to “safer” parts of the country. A sense of excitement prevailed for the younger members of families who were to be evacuated to safe havens. Many children saw it as just another “school journey”. Not so with parents and relatives who were left with a deep sense of foreboding that this separation could be permanent if the country was invaded.
   I had been sent to Hove in Sussex for safety, and was billeted in Old Shoreham Road (a supposed safe place near to the dockyards; I think not). It was not the most pleasant time of my life and within some weeks I had sneaked onto a train in Brighton station, without being detected and minus a ticket. I travelled to Croydon, walked to my home in Thornton Heath, knocked at the door that was opened by a very surprised and tearful mother! I did not return to Hove.
   The fear of gas attacks and other dire predictions thankfully were not realised and we entered the period known as the “Phoney War”. A favourite saying of the time was “It will all be over by Christmas”! The phrase sounds ridiculous now but perhaps that is with the benefit of hindsight. Memories of the victory in the Great War ("The war to end all wars") were still embedded in most minds. Tommy Atkins, Jack Tar and Biggles would return triumphant again was a belief. How false this belief turned out to be as we were to discover during the next few months.
   It was a time when preparations for what was to come intensified. A “black out” of all lighting visible from the air was imposed; air raid wardens cycled the streets at night to ensure that the black out was fully enforced. Even a small shaft of light from the house would mean a knock on the door by the warden or a shouted command of “Put that light out”. Church bells were no longer permitted to peel out their call to worship, and were only to be used to warn the population that enemy parachutists were being landed in our country.
   All vehicles had to have their lights hooded to prevent enemy aircraft gaining any possible assistance from them. Kerbstones were painted white to assist safe walking at night, and the fear that the enemy might drop parachutists or spies was countered by the removal of road signs pointing directions to the next town being removed. Any street name that could indicate an area (such as Croydon Road) was replaced. Probably all this was done to re-assure the general public rather than to realistically have any effect on our foe should he invade our shores as had been predicted.
   At the end of September 1940, for the first time in this country a National Identity Card was issued to all citizens. (I still retain mine with its number of EJGX 21/4 – just in case?) It was at the beginning of 1940 that food rationing was introduced and subsequently quantities reduced dramatically as the "Battle of the Atlantic" heightened and the German U-Boats succeeded to a large extend by sinking many ships destined to deliver goods to the U.K.
   Preparations went ahead with the building of public shelters and other fortifications at points that would need to be defended in the event of the enemy invading. Some of these “pillboxes” can still be seen today in Croydon.
   The war was now in full swing across that vital stretch of water separating England from mainland Europe with the German army advancing on all fronts through Holland, Belgium and France at a frightening pace. The final indignity was the evacuation from Dunkirk of some 250,000 British and other troops – mainly by a flotilla of small boats requisitioned from South Coast ports and manned by civilian sailors. The evacuation was hailed as a victory by the British propaganda machine and not the huge defeat it really had been. It was presented as a victory of the people of a small nation standing up to an evil Nazi regime, and was christened the “Dunkirk Spirit”. This term was to be used time and again during that war to revive the population at times when it was needed to raise morale.

First bomb attacks on Croydon... and The Battle of Britain

It was in June 1940 that the first bombs dropped in the Croydon area, at Addington, with no damage reported. It was to be the first of the onslaught from the air that was to prove so frightening to all who lived through it. In August 1940, I watched from the safe distance of Beaulah Heights on the day the German bombers attacked Croydon Airport. All very exciting from where I was standing, and a sample of the impending tempest of war on the Home Front. It is unclear what happened on the RAF base in Croydon Airport that day, but a local factory adjacent to the ‘drome was hit and the first civilian casualties of war in Croydon occurred.
   We were all aware of the dangers of having the RAF bases at Croydon, Kenley and Biggin Hill adjacent to our homes. In some way, however, they were also a comforting force defending us. The population was to become very proud of each and every one of those brave young fighter pilots and all the ground staff airmen who fought with such valour when the conflict, now known as the Battle of Britain, started in earnest in August 1940.
   The sound of aircraft both friend and foe fighting it out above our heads, the vapour trails outlining the conflict in the sky and the falling of bombs in the Croydon area was soon to become a daily event with our streets and parks becoming viewing platforms and our skies a battlefield.
   The London area was surrounded by barrage balloons (huge gas-filled balloons) that trailed a thick hawser wire that was intended to slice the wings off any aircraft flying low enough to encounter the wire. There was an RAF site based on the large green near the Downsview Road Methodist Church from which these balloons were sent up. The establishment of this unit obviously brought much excitement to us and we used to watch the activities of releasing or recovering the balloon with much interest. One day, with no alert in force, I was adjacent to the site when out from the low clouds swooped a Heinkel bomber. Its crew machine-gunned the RAF site with me lying in a prone position as close to mother earth as I could get. It was over in seconds but to me it seemed much longer than that. No sooner had the danger passed than I sped off home on my cycle as fast as I could.
   Although it was grim in Croydon, the main target for the bombers was central London and the dockland area in the eastern parts of London.
   The German Air Force decided that the losses they were incurring in daylight raids were unsustainable in what had become known as the “Battle of Britain”. The Luftwaffe abandoned the daylight bombing in favour of a nighttimes Blitzkrieg. On the 20th August 1940 prime minister Winston Churchill, speaking of this victory by the RAF, said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. How right he was! From then on, night after night, the Luftwaffe bombers attacked the London area and dropped thousands of incendiary, high-explosive bombs and land mines, damaging or destroying large parts of the London area including Croydon (then a County Borough of Surrey and not part of Greater London).
   The nightly feared, distinctive throbbing drone of the Luftwaffe aircraft engines - and the dreaded whistle of the bombs as they rained from the sky and dropped nearby - remain with me clearly even now. The common belief at the time was that you would hear the whistle of bombs dropping, but not that of the one that hits you. I can vouch from personal experience that is a very correct saying.
   On the 21 October 1941 my parents house was partially destroyed and we were buried in our homemade shelter in the garden – luckily we had shovels in there and managed to dig ourselves out with the help of neighbours. We were dazed, bewildered and frightened, but so glad to have survived. But our house had with little or no roof left, its chimney stack deposited in a bedroom, all windows smashed and frames hanging at crazy angles, with both back and front entry doors laying on the floor amid brick and rubble. All this was too much for my mother who broke down and wept uncontrollably at the sight of her beloved home in ruins.
   Amazingly, the bathroom light was now shining brightly as if in protest at this act of aggression. The arrival of the local ARP (Air Raid Precaution) warden demanding of my father to ensure that the light be extinguished added to the unreality of it all. I cannot recall my father's comforting words to the warden.
   The family had now to find its way to the nearest “rest centre,” and to do so had to walk through any shrapnel falling from the anti-aircraft fire seeking to shoot down the enemy bombers. With his usual inventiveness my father found from somewhere a couple of metal buckets and a few sheets of materials for us to cover our heads as we made our way, fearfully, to the security of the rest centre. All very frightening.
   For the next few weeks we lived in the Downsview Methodist Church hall along with other families that had suffered a similar fate. It was there that I experienced human nature at its very best. Food was shared, as was clothing and blankets. A singsong in the evening and a few joint and personal prayers offered. We referred to it as the Bulldog or Dunkirk spirit.

Arrival of Flying Bombs and V2 rockets

In 1944 the first of the Flying Bombs arrived. Those on the receiving end of V1s (as the Germans called them) referred them to as Doodle Bugs or Buzz bombs. I was on Fire Watch that night and called my father to see the sight of what we thought were enemy aircraft on fire. My father suggested it was some new  defence we had found to shoot down enemy aircraft. We soon realised that the boot was on the other foot and it was, in fact, a new weapon of destruction that the Germans had devised and were attacking us with.
   The V2 rocket weapon that followed the Doodle Bug was even more destructive, and to which there was no  defence at all. The first V2 rocket landed in North London in September 1944 destroying houses and killing occupants. There was no warning as these missiles travelled at three times the speed of sound. It was indeed fortunate for the population that by this time the Allied Forces had invaded Normandy and concentrated on the armies advancing on land. They bombed day and night to capture or destroy the launch sites of both the V1 and V2 weapons.
   On March 10 1945 I was in Farringdon Road adjacent to Holborn Viaduct when one of these undetectable V2 vehicles of destruction landed on Smithfield market some 400 yards from where I was standing. The devastation and the sight of the dead or injured were to be part of my nightmares for a long time to come!
   It was not until long after the war ended that it was discovered that there were some 6,000 of these weapons available or nearly available, in an underground weapons factory in Germany. Had the enemy been given a little more time, these weapons would more than likely have changed the entire outcome of that war. It is a sobering thought and a cause for thanks that God preserved us.
   During the conflict I was just too young to join the armed services, but as with so many others I wanted to assist in the “war effort”. I was a messenger for the Auxiliary Fire Service, a stretcher-bearer in Croydon General Hospital, replenishment assistant in the Armed Forces Canteen in central Croydon, a firewatcher and headed a team of volunteers who carried out the installation of Morrison shelters in the homes of the elderly, infirm or those whose male occupants were in the armed forces.
This was the background against which my education at John Ruskin Central School took place - at “War-time Ruskin”.

First days at John Ruskin Central School... and “ducking the brats”

It was in the autumn of 1940 when my friend and cousin Edward Evans and I arrived for enrolment into John Ruskin Central School. I experienced the usual first-day nerves that everybody has to endure at this first big change in life. The school had only recently re-opened for pupils who had either returned from the mass evacuation programme at the commencement of the Second World War - or, like me, had returned to my own home. My first impression of John Ruskin Central School was one of (to use one of today’s phrases) shock and awe. I had entered an establishment where I was amongst the youngest and the smallest; that was a big shock. Awed because the teaching staff were all-male (with one exception) and to me at that time to be feared. I had become used to more sympathetic female teachers at my elementary school who, without exception, displayed a softer pastoral role.
   John Ruskin CS was located in Tamworth Road, West Croydon, having moved there in 1935 from its original site in Scarbrook Road. The sight of those very silent, smooth-running trolley buses gliding up and down the road outside the school (on routes between Croydon and Hammersmith) was a new experience for me; as was the rattle of the noisy trams that ploughed through the centre of Croydon.
   The Tamworth Arms Public House opposite the School and another hostelry stood out from the many small shops in the area of Reeves Corner. The main shopping giants of Allders, Kennards and Woolworths were a little nearer the centre of town. It was so different from the environment to which I had become accustomed on the sleepy middle-class estate, situated between Thornton Heath and Norbury, where I lived.
   That first morning the new boys were marshalled into their third-form groupings in the main playground, keenly observed by the headmaster, Mr. McLeod, from his favourite position at the top of the steps near the school entrance, and overlooking the front playground. I was allocated to form 3C and my cousin Edward Evans to form 3A. My form master was, I believe, Mr. Myers, a short and stocky academic with a quiet but positive and severe manner. It was he who called the roll and explained the school rules and its expectations of us. Edward and 3A had the same process given to them by Mr. Marsden.
  It was on day two that I realised that, as a new boy of form 3, you would be bullied by the “forth formers”. The cry of “duck the brats” would ring out loud and clear in that front playground at each break period, and the water fountain worked overtime as “brats” heads were forcibly bent low and the tap brought into life. It was not pleasant and was my very first experience of this “public school” behaviour I had read about in the comic Boys Own, where prefects had “fags” and used their privileges unfairly. The ducking of the brats routine was to last for a few days before the masters stopped it, but the memory of it was to remain with me sufficiently to cause me to vow that when I became a forth former I would not join in, but instead would actively do whatever I could to prevent this unpleasant practice being inflicted on new entrants.
   With the Battle of Britain in full swing we spent many hours each day in the air raid shelters at the school. The shelters were the original cloakrooms that had been bricked up, reinforced and had a blast wall outside to give as much protection as possible should the building suffer bomb damage. There was one such shelter at each end of the school building. No daylight entered these tombs and pupils therefore remained under artificial lighting for long periods of time during air raids. To say the least, this was unpleasant and not conducive to easy learning.

   In order to continue our education in the shelters, pupils were provided with “mill-boards” (compressed cardboard squares) which could only be used by perching them on one's knees for writing of essays or struggling with maths problems. These were not exactly the best of conditions to produce good results but represented an attempt to retain some normality. It should not be presumed that these “millboards” were not to only remain as aids to our education for too long! They became a weapon of class warfare being used in the exchanges of power that were enjoyed between 3A and 3C, each having its territory at opposite ends of the building.
   I regret that I am unable to remember where the staff sheltered at these times but, wherever that was, I believe they were just as terrified as we were. Like us, the teachers probably shared the previous night’s pronouncements of the nightly "Lord Haw-Haw" broadcast from Germany, predicting the night’s fate or giving a list of ships sunk by U-boats, or any true or false victory claimed by the Nazis. While he was ridiculed and despised it did seem that his information was in the main uncomfortably accurate and therefore an effective weapon in the propaganda war. The previous night’s broadcast by Lord Haw-Haw (always announced as "Germany Calling" and pronounced "Jarmany Calling") would be a daily topic in the schools shelters, and no doubt in the staff room as well. The real name of Lord Haw-Haw was James Joyce, an Englishman. He was hanged in 1945 as a traitor to this country.
   The commencement of the nighttimes bombing blitz meant that most of the daylight hours were reasonably free of enemy aircraft and we were able to use the classrooms for the majority of the time. However, on occasions it was difficult to even get to school after the previous night’s bombing. Routes were closed off because of unexploded bombs, bomb craters or fires still raging and being attended to by the Civil Defense services. The effect of the previous night’s bombing would sometimes mean a loss of electricity and therefore the trams and trolleybuses could not operate. Buses could not be relied upon for most of the time because of the diversions or serious bomb damage to bus garages. To get to school, one either had to walk or find an old cycle to cover the distance by taking any safe route that remained or could be found.
   After a night’s intensive bombing, there were days when either a master or one or more boys failed to arrive at school. It was understood usually that they had been “bombed out” the night before. There were occasions that one or more never did come back.

Local amenities... Wandle Park and Croydon town centre

   It was at about this time when there had been a pause in the daytime attacks by enemy aircraft, that an exploration of the local school area became an attraction. During the lunch break we would go across the iron railway bridge in Waddon Road to visit Wandle Park. (That same bridge is still in use, but is now over the Tramlink route from West Croydon to Wimbledon.) Apart from the Air Raid shelters around the park, it was a delightful area to be in. A large boating lake was still in use, fed by the river Wandle that then flowed lazily on its way to the Mitcham area. At that time, the Croydon Gas Works and its gasholders dominated the skyline – but it was nevertheless a beauty spot. It provided us with a large grassed area that invited us to place our jackets strategically to act as temporary goal posts. A tennis ball would be produced, tempting us to try our skills at what has since become known as the beautiful game! This was probably the prelude to the school’s wartime football team revived by Mr. C. E. Smith when he joined JRCS in 1942 – more of this later.
   The shopping centre of Croydon was nothing like the Whitgift Centre that attracts so many shoppers today. Most of the area now occupied by the shopping centre was the site of Whitgift Middle School (now located in Shirley, and renamed Whitgift Trinity) complete with its own playing fields for rugby and cricket. It was always a pleasure to explore Croydon during those lunch periods. The danger of air raids, whilst not as regular as in the early days, was always a possible hazard and an occasional glance at the Town Hall Belfry was a sensible precaution. The purpose of this was to see if that Belfry was displaying a green flag (indicating “All Clear”) or a red flag (indicating that a warning was still in progress). It is difficult to accept now that, during the war, the Town Hall in Katherine Street. was the tallest building in town.
   Regular war-related presentations were housed on the forecourt of the Town Hall, for example, to promote the sale of War Bonds or the recruitment of men and women for one of the civil  defence organisations. A favourite display was in aid of the “Spitfire Fund” - members of the public were invited to contribute to buy a Spitfire for Croydon. On one occasion in addition to the arbitrary Spitfire, there was, parked on a flatbed lorry, a German Me109 (the German near-equivalent to the Spitfire) that had been shot down in Surrey. Although badly damaged, this was a great attraction to us boys. The notice alongside said “Made in Germany – finished in England”. All very patriotic and made us feel proud to be British.
   There were no school dinners provided at Ruskin and if we were hungry we would visit the local civic centre restaurant where a main meal of “meat and two veg” could be obtained for five pence in “old money” (less than 2p in today’s currency). The Government set up these very basic unattractive food establishments with the intention of assisting workers to get food if no factory canteens existed. With the shortages and food-rationing regime in place, the civic centres were much in demand. At lunchtime, the BBC would broadcast from a factory “somewhere in Britain” a programme called “Workers Playtime”. The entertainers were comedians and singers that were popular at that time, and the appearance of a “war hero” was usually included to encourage the public to stand firm and help the war effort.
   As an alternative to a civic centre meal, we would sometimes use a “greasy spoon” café near Reeves Corner and obtain sausages and chips that seemed much more to our liking. The sausages were mainly bread and bran with a few bits of offal included – but to us it was a rarity and we always enjoyed that special treat.
   School outings were very restricted because of the dangers of air attacks, but I do remember going to see a Shakespeare play at the Grand Theatre in South End Croydon. The theatre was not aptly named and had obviously seen better day, and I am sure a better performance of the old Bard’s works. There, as in other entertainment establishments, a performance would be temporarily halted and an announcement made that an “Air Raid” warning had been sounded. It was then optional whether to go to the shelters or stay put. The actors in the true style of their profession remained – the show must go on!
   The other establishment that attracted the boys and many others was Wilson's Tea and Coffee House in North End opposite the Whitgift Alms Houses (once the Whitgift Hospital). The smell of freshly roasting coffee beans and baked cakes wafting gently into North End was like a light shining through very dark times. We never went inside as boys, but probably looked like "The Bisto Kids" portrayed in the well-known advertisement as we stood outside enjoying the smell and the window display.

The JRCS school world... and discipline

Discipline at Ruskin was severe in those troubled times. Certainly, by current standards it would be seen to be draconian and totally unacceptable to the present-day generation The relationship between master and pupil was still at a stage when the pupil only spoke when spoken to. If he wished to speak in class it was a requirement to raise one hand in the air and wait for that to be acknowledged before speaking.

   The headmaster (not a term that is used any more?) was Mr. McLeod, or "Mac", as he was known, was an imposing figure. Although he had no whiskers, he would have made an ideal Mr. Pickwick in any Dickens production. The hat he wore at all times outside the school was not exactly a stovepipe style but not far off it. As his position demanded at the time, he remained aloof and distant and much feared. When he decided to take a class and read a chapter or two from a book, a complete silence fell in the classroom as his brilliant speaking voice brought the books content clearly to us all. One day, I remember him beautifully reading a chapter or two from White Fang. It made such an impression that I managed to get a copy from the library to read and enjoyed every page.
   For those who transgressed any rule, the ultimate penalty was a visit to Mr. McLeod’s study. There, you had to wait dutifully outside, absolutely silent and face the wall before being called in for the “stick”! I was not convinced that his verbal lashing really rang true when the headmaster said: “This will hurt me more than you”. However, one visit was enough! For lesser infringements it was a requirement to miss break-time and some lunchtimes by standing silent and absolutely still, facing the wall bars in the gymnasium on the ground floor. At first, it appeared that no master was present and a relaxed mood prevailed. However, boys were unaware of a small window in the staff room that overlooked the gymnasium where they were always being observed; the punishment then repeated the next day. It did take some time to realise that the staff room spy hole was being used for that purpose.
   The writing of lines was another punishment used by masters. Because of the shortage of paper all punishment lines had to contain a minimum number of words, but the actual number escapes me.
   It was Mr. G. Chinnock who introduced us to the world of carpentry and to the skills that were needed to enable us to make use of “the wonders of wood”, as he called it. It was very early in those lessons, when we were being shown dovetail jointing and dowling together with the safe use of saws and chisels, that he remarked that it seemed likely most of us would perhaps remember that Joseph was once a carpenter and that a prayer might just assist our efforts! Mr. Chinnock was not an academic and as such stood out from the other teaching staff by demonstrating that skills of the hands did have an importance as well as the use of the brain. The teaching method he used was simple in that he demonstrated his craft for us to follow, and was always ready with individual encouragement and advice when needed.
   I have only ever met one other carpenter since I left John Ruskin, over 60 years ago, that could produce the quality of work of Mr. Chinnock. "Chin", as we knew him, served the school well over many years and added value to what was primarily an academic institution. I believe Mr. Chinnock to be a founder member of our school, having joined Ruskin in 1920 at Scarbrook Road, Croydon.
   Mr. William Cracknell, or "Wally" as we named him, was a tremendous teacher of English and pushed his pupils to improve in every way he could. I was certainly not his best pupil by any means but I learned so much from the man both in improving my English and in the presentation of my work. In later years when I needed to produce reports, I remembered his early teaching that the English language was very special and should be treated and used as such. Those words have come back to me time and again; I now often use them when talking to my grandchildren about the importance of the English language.
   Mr. Cracknell was also a firm but fair disciplinarian. My main memory of him was the sight of him wringing his hands like a surgeon preparing for a surgical operation with his face screwed up (in false anger) when he saw me with my hand in my pockets (a practice that was frowned upon at Ruskin). “Oxlade – take your hands out of your pockets, you horrible little man,” he would bellow. Then followed a lecture on the need for having a correct posture, dress and, of course, pronunciation. The man was a Gem whom I respected and remembered long after I had left John Ruskin.
   Mr. Myers was the first teacher that I met when I entered the portals of John Ruskin. He was a man of small physical stature who was always approachable and gave advice to any pupil who needed help. He could bring a class to order with just a glance over the top of his glasses.

More fond memories of Mr. Charles Smith

   Mr. C. E. Smith arrived at John Ruskin in September 1942. The suggestion that he had served in the Royal Navy as a PTI has since proved to be just another boyhood fable. Mr. Smith brought with him the customs that applied to the armed forces of the day and the tigerish enthusiasm for the teaching of the need to be fit and healthy. The importance of this discipline was applied equally as much in his teaching of the understanding and practical use of mathematics. His arrival completely changed the methods of control that we had enjoyed both in the classroom and sports activity. It also moved the existing school discipline code to a higher level.
   To us he was known as "Cyril" (not to his face, of course) although he also was known by other names such as "Smithy" or "Smuts", etc. His maths lessons were excellently presented and he had the ability to adjust his methods to meet the needs of the class. I can still remember clearly that I had not understood sines, cosines and tangents etc. before he arrived on the scene, but he remedied it for me. Perhaps it was the discipline he demanded, or perhaps it was his teaching skills, honed to perfection, that had just added that extra bit of appeal to us.
   As far as sport and PT was concerned, we certainly had entered a new era. All physical training sessions carried a new enthusiasm and the targets he set for us were always just out of our reach. Encouragement in its many forms he offered in abundance, and that wicked smile he used to ensure a greater effort was part of his “charm”. Prior to his arrival PT was a relaxing time and not a strenuous exercise period. After his appointment the change was dramatic in that the exercises were varied and the tempo was lifted to a much higher level.
   Handball was the first new game that he introduced to the School and it took off at the speed of light. Within a very short space of time we had House Teams (Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta) for handball, and it worked wonders for the morale and enthusiasm of the school.
   Mr. Smith reintroduced football to the programme and we had to train (military-style) to be the fittest team of all the schools in the area. The ideas he imposed did in fact produce a good standard and the rewards of that were in the number of matches that we won convincingly. It has to be said that Mr. Smith was very strict but very clear in his demands on us, having his very own way in teaching team spirit and the need for everyone to be an equal part of the team.
   On one occasion we had beaten St. Josephs College 12 – 1. It was an outstanding result and our centre forward Derek Kepler had scored 11 of the 12 goals. When the team sheet for the next match was published Derek’s name was not there. Derek and I approached Mr. Smith and pointed out that the name of Kepler was not mentioned in the team. Looking at us with his head held slightly back (one of his favourite postures) he asked how many goals Kepler had scored in the last match? Naively we unanimously said 11. “Exactly”, said Mr. Smith, “but if you [Kepler] had passed the ball more to your team mates we would have scored many more goals”. It was a point well made by Mr. Smith, and understood by Derek Kepler and myself – if not immediately, we did much later!
   The football pitch we used was really a patch of ground on the edge of Heath Clark School. It housed a tin shed that was used as a dressing room and only had one cold water tap and a couple of tin buckets as washing facilities. It really was awful but true to his tradition he made it feel like Wembley – well nearly.
   Mr. Smith became a legend in his own time. Always his own man with no favourites, he was very strict and successfully imposed his teaching methods that were probably more akin to a military establishment than an academic one. Yes – he was a teacher much respected by his pupils and a legend in his own time as has been reflected in other epistles on the JRGS Website.
   In 1974 my daughter Lynda joined the sixth form at the school and from what she has told me, Mr. Smith had not changed his style and was still very much respected by the students more than three decades after he joined Ruskin.
   Mr. Biggs was the geography teacher for a short time whilst I was in the “Remove”. It was at a time of great shortage of teaching materials and the availability of books and maps in his subject was very obvious. The geography room was on the top floor rear (at the opposite end to Mr. McLeod's study). The only wall map of the world was on the same wall as the blackboard, and it clearly depicted in colour red the extent of the British Empire upon which the sun never set! It showed the sphere of influence Britain had at that time - a role in part at least that our former colony of America has now assumed.
   Mr. Biggs arose to the challenge of lack of teaching materials by hand producing on the blackboard, with chalks or various colours, very accurate maps that he used as illustrations in his lessons. The maps that I recall most were those of Canada with its borders to the USA and the Great Lakes.
   Mr. Cresswell was, for some reason, nicknamed "Stinker" Cresswell. I am unsure why this rather unkind name should have been accredited to him. My memory of him is that he was always immaculately dressed and well groomed. He had a quite severe nature and held court in class in the strongest way.
   Mr. Smoothey was our art teacher; his lessons were conducted in the hall at the centre of the second floor. He looked like an artist, articulated like one and did wonders in the art lessons with the little and fast dwindling supplies of brushes, paints and paper. I remember his working with me on a scene depicting trench warfare. In the painting was a lantern hanging from a post and the shadows of light cast on the soldiers and their equipment was the key to the painting. I never did manage to achieve any great result with that shadow exercise, but I remember the part that he painted as an example and how brilliant I thought it was. Art galleries always revive the name of Smoothey for me.

Relocation to Swansea ends JRCS school experience

In the late summer of 1944 the intensity of the attacks by V1s finally resulted in my father dispatching my mother, my brother and sister and myself to Swansea in Wales for a month’s break from the bombing. It was to be the final break for me from John Ruskin Central School. I remember with great fondness my school days and all the masters and boys that I have had the privilege of being with.
   I have no doubt that the four years that I spent at JRCS, albeit at a time of great difficulty, gave me a good grounding for the life that was ahead of me. I have used our school motto “AGE QUOD AGIS” often, and built it into my business life in later years.
   Both Edward Evans, my friend and cousin, left John Ruskin Central School for Boys in 1944 unaware that within 12 months it was to be made into a Grammar School. Edward joined an Art studio until he was called up for National Service in the Royal Corps of Signals. After demobilisation he joined his father's building business and on his death became the sole owner. Edward became National President of the Master Builders Federation and was eventually awarded the OBE for his services to the building industry. Now retired, he lives in Northamptonshire.
   After leaving JRCS I found employment in the newspaper world for 18 months and then joined the Royal Air Force. Following demobilisation to G Reserve, I decided that an ability to repair watches would be useful but soon realised that it was not to be my future. I became an office administrator for a private telephone company before becoming interested in logistics with Philips Electrical. I remained with Philips in their distribution company, London Carriers International, as General Manager until my retirement in 1990.
   My interest in care for the elderly and other disadvantaged people became focused when I discovered the appalling treatment my mother received in Care Homes in the final year of her life. Determined to prevent, if I could, others from suffering a similar fate I became a Lay Assessor of Adult Homes, working as a volunteer within the Inspection Unit of Social Services. I was appointed Chairperson for the Advisory Panel Social Service Inspection Unit until that unit closed four years later. I am currently a Lay Adjudicator in the Social Services benefit system.
   John Ruskin High School headmaster William Patterson asked me in 1987 if I would consider becoming a governor at the new site in Shirley. I did. But that’s another story.

Peter Oxlade, February 2005 email.

 

 Eric Webster (JRGS 1962-67) reveals his Antipodean Memento from Shirley...

JRGS brickI attach a photograph, probably the most emotional one ever offered to The Mill web site.

   This extraordinary image is of a piece of brick that was rescued by my late father from JRGS as it underwent the indignity of demolition. But more... this is probably the only piece of that hallowed edifice to be found in New Zealand - until somebody reports otherwise.

   It rests in honoured peace on our kitchen table, and is clearly identifiable as New Zealand because it is upside down. And you will know that it is not Oz nor RSA when I tell you that it is pouring with rain outside. Click on the image left to view a larger version.

   One wonders where else in the world these fractions of magnificence reside, quietly content that their great work is done and will never be forgotten. AGE QUOD AGIS was penned as much for them as for us!

   I suggest viewing should be for adults only, ideally as part of a support group.

Eric Webster, New Zealand, February 2005 email.

 

 Vincent Denham (JRGS 1965-70) recalls his fourth- and fifth-form master ...

I have just looked at the 1967 photo (great to see that!) and read some of the memories of teachers and fellow pupils from my time at JRGS from 1965 to 1970: 1K, 2W, 3C, 4S and 5S.
  Funny how time mellows, but I can’t help thinking that some of the stories are told through tinted eyes. Of course I generally had a good time; who wouldn’t enjoy playing cricket and learning in such a secure environment? I remember most things fondly.
   But I also felt bullied and unsupported by a certain well-chronicled mathematics teacher, who also happened to be my form master for two years.
   I was told again and again that I was “no good at maths” and therefore was entitled to no help. Furthermore, probably because my equals signs were frequently not at the regulation distance from the right hand side of the page, I suffered ritual humiliation both inside and outside of the classroom.
   Of course, all of this was at the time said to be “character forming”. Didn’t help me much, I am afraid!!

Vincent Denham, Bristol, February 2005 email.

 

 An Obituary: Nicholas M. Goy (JRGS 1963-70), who passed away last year...

We are very sad to have to report that ex-alumnus Nick Goy died last year. Nick was born in 1951 in Croydon and was at JRGS from 1963 to 1970, leaving just before the change to John Ruskin High. He was in 5S in July 1968 when he gained eight GCE O Levels, and then in July 1970 gained three A Levels in Pure Maths, Applied Maths and Physics before going on to a degree in Electrical Engineering at Chelsea College of Technology. He was a prefect in 1969-70.

   His career was in computers and he lived in Cambridge, UK, where he was very much involved in the local community. His widow Hilary is a teacher and in that capacity knew Mr. A. J. B. "Tony" Crowe, an inspiring teacher of English and Drama at John Ruskin from 1960 to 1963 before leaving to go to Homerton Teachers Training College near Cambridge.

   When Nick joined our group of ex-pupils, he threw himself into research with typical energy and thoroughness. On a trip to Croydon Archives in 2003, he discovered many things of great interest, not least of which was the full extent of the link with John Ruskin School with Malcolm Muggeridge (who briefly taught there) and his father, Croydon Councillor Muggeridge.

   Our condolences go to Hilary, his family and all his friends and colleagues in Cambridge, Croydon and elsewhere - Paul Graham (JRGS 1959-65)

 

 Paul Graham (JRGS 1959-65) recalls Mr. Hancock, music head and form master...

Reading Brian Thorogood's and John Byford's recent excellent articles, both of which mentioned the head of music at John Ruskin, Mr. "Spike" Hancock, brought back memories of my own. Like John, I was in 1H in 1959-60, with Mr. Hancock as form master, and have a similar experience in that he remains strongest in my memory of the staff I had in that year. A small man, he tended to remain up on the raised platform at the front of the music room - to retain better control, I think. The room was almost directly opposite the front entrance to the main School Hall. I remember never being late for assemblies! Around the walls were short biographies of Mr. Hancock's favourite composers, generally English of the late 19th or early 20th century, including that young boy's favourite, Rubbra.

   Sadly, I had not been brought up to learn any musical instrument, and although I enjoyed listening, felt an outsider in the subject throughout. In lessons, as well as singing (I can still remember "The Ash Grove") we were given whole classical musical scores to follow as Mr. Hancock played the record and conducted. I was intrigued, but reading music remained a mystery for many decades afterwards, as did chord structures. I tended to achieve a worthy average of 50% in the task of determining aurally if music was in the major or minor key, and was relieved to be able to drop the subject soon afterwards in the second or third form. Many pupils have spoken positively of Mr. Hancock but, to me, he was something of a disappointment. Whilst I enjoyed the concerts, I felt that he and the school could have done a lot more to encourage wider participation by pupils.

    In the middle years at John Ruskin, I remember colleague Derek Smith, then and now a talented musician, gently ribbing me for my lack of interest in popular music but, as with a lot of things, I was a late developer.

   Perversely, it was Mr. "Sam" Chaundy who had a stronger musical influence on me than Mr. Hancock. In the sixth form he was my Physics and Form Tutor, but although sometimes a little pompous, was interested in a wide range of cultural, political and social matters. When he urged us to listen to then relatively obscure composers like Mahler and Stravinsky, it certainly had a long term effect on me. I was also intrigued enough in sixth form General Studies by Mr. "Rhino" Rees telling me that, as a mathematician, I ought to study and enjoy Bach, that I did. Now... why didn't "Spike" think of that? Like much of life at JRGS, the best education came outside normal lessons.

Paul Graham, Iver, Bucks, UK, January 2005 email.

Peter Wilson (JRGS 1956-63) adds: I was in 2H with Mr. Hancock as my form-master. Didn't he have a rather nice daughter named Christine? I recall meeting her socially at a party - and I think she may have attended one or more of the JRGS Christmas or Summer dances. I must confess that when I discovered whose daughter she was I didn't pursue the interest!

   Similarly, Mr. "Joe" Lowe's daughter used to attend JRGS School Dances. The joke was that it was said that if you danced with her you became a prefect! (I doubt if this was true.)

   I was told by one of Mr. "Rhino" Rees's more senior Latin/Greek pupils that he visited the dreaded man at home for tea on more than one occasion. He found "Rhino" quite a different person "at home" with Mrs. Rees very clearly in charge.

 

  Roger Adcock (JRGS 1963-68) offers news of a TV show written by Allan Cubitt...

Alumni living abroad - or far from a television - probably missed this item. But, as can be seen from the "Radio Times" listing shown right, those kind folk here in UK had the choice of programmes on BBC1, which on Boxing Day evening offered Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, written by our own 1967-5G Wonder Allan Cubitt (JRGS 1963-69). [More]

   The original screenplay by Allan "re-unites an estranged Holmes and his friend Doctor John Watson in a desperate bid to solve a case which threatens to overwhelm the privilege and tranquility of Edwardian aristocratic society." Alan also wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, shown originally by the BBC on Boxing Day 2002.

   RT1  RT2  RT3

   Above are scans from a recent issue of "Radio Times" profiling the new production, together with the full Boxing Day schedule. Click on each thumbnail to access a full-sized version.

   I watched Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking and it was excellent; well done Allan!
   We are in contact with Allan, who also wrote Prime Suspect 2 and Anna Karenina, amongst many other worthy works and books. (Incidentally, Allan returned to JRGS to teach but subsequently left to write.)

Roger Adcock, Oxted, Surrey, December 2004 email.

    

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