Old Uffingtonians Association (1994)

   Willesden County Grammar School                         Ex-Pupils 1924-1967                    


Whos Who




Old Uffs





For more info', email


1940-47 "The Comic of the Sixth"
(according to the Autumn 1946 magazine)
David Davis

Willesden County School.  1940-47

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 scholarship children. 

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