IN JANUARY 1940 I was 10-years-old and living with my sister, Kathleen, who was 12-years-old. My father worked for International Combustion in Derby where we lived.
As the Second World War had started my parents thought that Kathleen and I would be safer as boarders at Ashbourne Grammar School. So we started at the school in January 1940.
I didn’t see much of Kathleen because she was in a higher form that I was in and boys and girls boarded in separate houses. I was in the school house, which was in the old Elizabethan Grammar School, and under the charge of Captain Hastings. The head master was Major Ball.
The school house boys walked to the new main school for lessons. One day a boy called Jackson and I were late for school because we followed a herd of cows to the abattoir. Major Ball was waiting for us and gave us ‘two of the best’ with his cane.
There was deep snow in the winters of 1939 to 1945 and we boys revelled in it. We all used to pile on to the school house sledge and go racing downhill.
The cold and the snow had negative effects for me, however. I wore short trousers which cut into the backs of my knees, causing chaps. Walking was painful.
During a history lesson the teacher noticed this. She took me into a side room where the first aid box was and took out of it Vaseline and bandages which she applied to my legs. The relief was tremendous.
I’ve always been grateful to that teacher for that kindness.
With the arrival of spring, we boys seemed to ramble around the surrounding area at will, at weekends.
One day I entered a phone box intending to phone my mother. When the operator told me to put the money in I did so but sadly I didn’t have enough. However, the operator took my name and address and a few days later I received a refund in postage stamps. (The Post Office ran the telephone system then).
Another day I was with a boy who had an air rifle. I said that I would run ahead and he could try and hit me with a shot from his gun. What a stupid idea. The pellet hit the calf of my leg, causing it to bleed.
A boy called Jones gave me a boxing lesson, which resulted in my having a cauliflower ear. I’m surprised that a member of staff didn’t notice it.
I fared better when Jones and I had a wrestling match.
Hobbies at school house included making model planes. Some of us did a lot of roller skating.
We were all in the Cadet Corps for which we wore Khaki tanks and shorts, and puttees round our legs.
Caps were either forage caps or peak caps. I started with a forage cap but was delighted to swap it for a peak cap worn by another boy.
I was in the bugle section but no one had time to teach me how to play it. If we were marching and playing in public I just held my bugle to my lips pretending to play.
In the Cadet Corps we did a lot of drilling with rifles of World War One vintage or earlier. Target practice with 0.22 rifles was much more exciting.
As the threat of invasion loomed we had to dig trenches across the playing fields to prevent gliders from landing. Indian troops based nearby came to help with this work.
One evening we were allowed to visit the local cinema. The Indian soldiers were there too. I offered one a sweet and was delighted when he accepted it.
At the cinema I remember seeing ‘The Mikado’ and rocking with laughter at an Arthur Askey film.
My parents, Kathleen and I spent the Easter holidays at Wirksworth with the Mcfees who were friends of my mum and dad. The Mcfees owned two houses which were side by side.
They lived in one house. The other house was a schoolboy’s paradise. Gauge 0 model trains ran from room to room.
I felt so envious of young, tall Bob Mcfee, the son.
One evening we all went to the cinema to see a film called ‘Stagecoach’. Even at only 10 years of age I knew it was the best cowboy picture I had ever seen.
One afternoon in the summer term, dad came to see my play cricket in my ‘whites’. He saw me toddle out in my pads, and toddle back again having scored a ‘duck’.
After Dunkirk, French soldiers who had been evacuated from the beaches stopped in Ashbourne for something to eat.
In broken English they asked for ‘cakes’ but it sounded like ‘caks’.
Most of the boarders went home early that summer term so that there were only four of us left to represent school house in the swimming gala, including Jackson and myself.
I particularly recall the event ‘diving for spoons’. After the gala the pool was drained, and we four boys cleaned it with brushes.
By now, Kathleen and I had no home in Derby to go to. The house in Littleover Lane had been sold.
International Combustion had transferred my father to Dublin as its agent. So my parents, Kathleen and I boarded the Mail Boat with its two-pounder gun in the stern, and sailed from Britain at war to neutral Eire. But that’s another story.
For now, I would like to thank fate for the two exciting, enjoyable terms which I spent at Ashbourne Grammar School.