Memory - mine, at least - is rather mercurial. Vivid events swirl in
a mistiness of uncertainty and, 61 years after leaving school, one wonders
whether the detail is accurate. Fortunately when I want to recall
Willesden County School, I have many photos of football and cricket teams
to look at, as well as one of the 1946 Lower Sixth. And I still have
my school reports, but they lack the detail of present-day reports and
teachers were not expected to write reams about each pupil. Each
report is headed 'The County of Middlesex' and 'Willesden County School',
there is no mention of 'Grammar' whatsoever. The reports remind me
that, for six of my seven years at 'WCS' I had only three form teachers;
Miss Tomkins, Mr. Newton and, in the Sixth, Mr. Forbes. All reports
have the signature of L. F. Wallis, the Headmaster, a kindly, dignified
and, for the times, progressive school-leader, who treated us all with
great courtesy and respect.
Interestingly, the boys were always
referred to by their surnames. Even amongst themselves the boys
always addressed each other by their surnames, even when we knew each
other's first names. The girls were addressed by their first names.
I sat next to a Margaret in Year 1 and thought she was gorgeous.
Later in Year 5 I remember Joan Oliver, Katherine Reynolds and June Wisby.
The First XI Cricket scorer was the lovely Edna Lanham.
The School had been evacuated to
Northampton in September 1939, but the 'phoney war' that lasted until the
following April led to many pupils returning home by the Christmas of
1939. WCS re-opened in September 1940, although half the staff was
still in Northampton. My first contact with the building was some
time in the preceding Spring, I went there to take my scholarship exam.
I can still remember my trembling hands as I started my test-papers, I
knew that this was an event of the greatest importance. As this was
prior to 1944 Education act, some pupils had paid places, the rest were
So my start at the school coincided with the beginning of the Blitz of
London. We started morning school at 10 o'clock so that the pupils
could get some sleep after the raids. Our gasmasks - to be carried
at all times - were tested in a small tear-gas-filled room of f the
Chemistry lab. I remember that some of the classrooms had phones
arranged around the sides because, had there been a Nazi invasion, the
school would have become some sort of communications centre. My
recollections of the early years are vague. I recall that many of
our teachers were women and that the only men teachers were either too old
for military service or unfit. Women took us for PE and Games and
supervised the football and cricket matches. I confess that I feel
quite ashamed at the part I played in 'playing-up' some of the teachers.
Poor Miss Barge, for example, who tried to teach us Geography. And
the diminutive Welshman (nicknamed Arthur Askey) who tried to teach us
History. I once went into a classroom and, since I assumed that he
had not yet arrived to teach us, I stood at the front and, using my Welsh
accent (learned during my evacuation to Wales in September 1939), started
the lesson in the way that Arthur Askey would have done. I hadn't
noticed that he was in fact standing at the back of the room. His
'Get Out, Davis' became a catch-phrase thereafter. I have happy
memories of the school at that time, but wonder whether and how much the
air-raids affected the pupils and their behaviour.
Staffing problems must have been very difficult and, although the teachers
were committed to giving us all the very best possible education, our
education was seriously affected by the war. It must have been very
tough on the teachers in wartime London.
It is only recently that I was able to fill in the detail of a
particularly vivid memory. In the 'Doodlebug' Summer of 1944 we used
to go into the shelters for lessons because there was a '24-hour Alert'.
One afternoon my friend, Brian Freeman and I were on our way to King
Edward's Park to meet the Landsberger twins (now Frank and Ralph Land) to
play cricket; a tree would act as the wicket. As Brian and I reached
the junction of Furness Road and Doyle Gardens we heard the approach of V1
flying-bomb: its engine cut out and we leapt over a wall into a garden and
flung ourselves down flat. The bomb fell close to the junction of
Doyle Gardens and All Souls Avenue, some two hundred yards away. I
can still recall the 'thrust' of the blast. We rushed to see the
destruction. For years I could not remember the date of this and
only in the last few years learned that it was June 18th. Why were
we not at school? Later research revealed that, because Kilburn
Grammar School had been damaged a couple of weeks earlier, the KGS pupils
were using WCS during the afternoons. Hence we were 'free'.
My memory of events when I was in the Fifth and Sixth Forms is more
detailed. I was active in the cricket, football and table tennis
teams. The last year of the war and the General Election of 1945
affected us very much. Some of us went to election meetings, for
example. It surprises me today that so few of my fellow Fifth
formers went on into the Sixth Form for they were a bright lot.
I still have school-magazines of the
period to remind me of my fellow pupils. They were a very
intelligent group. A high proportion of the Sixth were Jewish, both
clever and committed; a proportion of these were German refugees.
Some of them were excellent ball-players and were unable to play in
Saturday matches against other schools. Cohen, I recall clearly, was
a really first-class ball-player, stylish in cricket, football and
table-tennis. The Sixth Form was scintillating in so many ways.
The most brilliant of my fellow students was Derek Ricks. He came,
like me, from a working class background and excelled at everything he
touched. He was a good athlete and games player as well as
cartoonist. He became an outstanding surgeon, but unfortunately died
in his fifties and I read his obituary in the London Times. (The
Deputy Head, Mr. Southam, also died at the age of 52 in 1947.) There
were so many memorable 'characters' in the Sixth Form. The eccentric
Sam Litvin, the poet-philosopher, for example, who, with his strange
delivery, opened the bowling with me in the 1946 Cricket First XI.
The nimble Skalicky; fun-loving Ullman, who died a couple of years ago;
the energetic Ling, (killed in his twenties, I believe, in a road
accident); magisterial cricketer, Carne, who made a rich contribution to
the life of the Sixth Form; the dazzling football dribblers Abrahams and
McCall; both of whom were excellent cricketers; the table-tennis wizards,
Cohen and Schaefer. There were so many. Where are they all
now? I still frequently recall with poignant pleasure my best
school-friend Gerald Fleischer, who died from cancer at 23 and who sought
to emulate his hero, Dennis Compton. He and I went one afternoon
into the neighbouring park for an illicit smoke. We were reported to
Mr. Southam, the deputy head, who described us as bad eggs. I can't
help noticing that I have mentioned no girls; it can't be that they made
an insignificant contribution to the life of the School - there were in
fact only 6 girls in the 32 strong Lower Sixth in 1946! (Maybe
it is because my girl friend, whom I later married, was not at WCS.)
I shall always be grateful to several
of the teachers. Miss Thomas, who delivered crisp English lessons,
and Miss Tomkins, who, although unsmiling and apparently severe, was a
first class maths teacher. But the one who really shaped the lives
of quite a few of my fellow-students - and mine too - was Iris Stevenson.
She was an energetic and enthusiastic Geographer. Early in 1946 she
realised that four of her Geography Sixth Formers, who wanted to
specialise in Geography at university, would be unable to do so given
their existing subject-passes. She told the Landsberger twins, Ricks
and myself that the only solution was for her to teach us Economics and to
specialise in Geography within the London University Economics degree.
She studied the subject by means of a postal course and her four students
did well in their Economics 'Higher School Certificate'. There were
times when we helped her understand the subject! We pupils all felt
that it was a joy and a privilege to study with her. We all strove
to maintain contact with her until her death over forty years later.
There are so many others that deserve
a mention and so many events left undescribed, but .... It was a
wonderful school and I am grateful for being one of its products.
David Davis 1940-47