Old Uffingtonians Association (1994)

   Willesden County Grammar School                         Ex-Pupils 1924-1967                    


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Memories from 1930-35

I have found it fascinating to read through these memories, even back to the reminder that the first school was built on allotments, and with memories of teachers I haven’t thought of for 70 years, e.g. ‘Billie’ Butler’s dress sense.  And the great appreciation of Mr Wallis – what an outstanding headmaster he was.  Others’ memories have re-kindled some of my own.

I remember when the original school was being enlarged – and in particular an English lesson with Mr Wilson.  Battling against the noise of builders, we were asked to write a poem similar to the famous one, The Morte d'Arthur, by Lord Tennyson, which began  ‘So all day long the noise of battle rolled’.  Mr Wilson (we still have to address teachers thus, don’t we, even at age 85!) started us off with ‘So all day long the noise of toil rolls’ which I amended too noisily to ‘So all day long the noise of toilet rolls’ - much to Mr Wilson’s amusement.

Mention of his name carries me to those school camping weekends. On arrival, it was natural to change into easy clothes, and I remember how nearly shocked we were when we realise that he and Miss Snell must have changed in the hut at the same time – such behaviour 30 years before the dashing 1960s!  An echo of ‘daring behaviour’ also occurred in the games we played – such a risky one as ‘Truth or Dare?’ I remember Daphne Blampied having to eat a dessert spoon full of salt, and being amazed that she could.  It was only later that it was revealed she had taken the alleged salt from the sugar bowl. I have very happy memories of camps at both the sites.

How well the teachers of those days served us in their own time – the multitude of clubs and other activities in dinnertimes or after school which made our schooldays so rich.  I have happy memories of chess, stamp collecting etc at such times.

And the delights of the school orchestra and great results which were eventually produced from our painful attacks on violins and the like. And the school plays – I particularly remember Macbeth, and remember The Walrus and the Carpenter, as mentioned in Jack Summers valuable recollections.

Sometimes instead of gym lessons we used to go to the adjacent King Edward’s Recreation ground to swim in the pool there. Perhaps the cost was 1d? (less than half a ‘new’ penny, yet I reckon it gave us as much pleasure as today’s magnificent structures whose entrance fees have to be so high that many are kept out. Did ‘our’ swimming pool turn into one of those?).  On one occasion the gypsies were setting up the annual fair nearby, and a couple of us chose to spend time there instead of swimming.  We were treated lightly by the gym teacher (was he one-eyed?) who merely said ‘So you prefer to spend time with the gyppoes?’

It was interesting to read Jack Summers’ mention of the visit to the film Little Women.  I remember the crocodile walk to the cinema, and wondering why we were going to the pictures in school time.  The mystery solved at last! – the cinema was owned by the father of a pupil!

Jack also mentions our link with correspondents in Germany. I tied up with one (Walter Schmoldt) and am still in touch with him.  I visited him in Hamburg in those Nazi days, and have many vivid memories. His family remained as far from Nazism as possible.  Once after revolutionary talk I foolishly played The Red Flag on the piano, and had to be hushed because they knew there was a spy in an adjoining flat. We cycled into Denmark and it was only afterwards that I learned how difficult it was for Walter to cross the border, because he had refused to join the Hitler Youth.  We spent a night at a farm in Denmark, and it was there that Walter learned of, and became shocked by, the existence of concentration camps (in those days they were for political opponents).  For long his parents refused to hang out the Nazi flag on state occasions.  At last they felt they had to do so, but his mother made a pocket-handkerchief sized one to express their real feelings.  Long after the war Walter agreed to write an account of his non-Nazi schooldays and then his war experiences – a massive account which I typed up into a book of 60 A4 sheets (but could not get anyone to publish it).

How grand were the playing fields in those days! Good not only for sports but also relaxing in the balmy sunny days of those years.  (Did the sun always shine in our youth?)  Which reminds me of some of the school’s great sportsmen.  I remained in touch with Ron Freeman until his death (and still am with his widow, and former scholar, Olive nee Ives).  Ron was a keen cricketer and once had the delight of sitting with two English Test players at either Lords (where Ron was a member) or in Australia (where he worked for a time) - three ex cricket captains from Willesden County Grammar School.

And beyond the school gates…….. . I remember the delights of the environment - the sight of cows grazing at the dairy farm nearby, the pleasantness of Harlesden Road leading towards the busyness of the Jubilee Clock area, with, as somebody mentions elsewhere in these memoirs, the screeching of the flanges of the tram wheels round the sharp bend.  Recently I read Zadie Smith’s book ‘White teeth’ which has descriptions of the local area, and includes a school which, this OldUffs website tells us, is based on ours.  How things have changed!  The happiest days of our lives?  Or do we wear rose-tinted glasses in our old age?  As far as I am concerned, those days were among the tops!

Bert Hatton