Memories of the 40s & 50s
Random anecdotes from letters to Rosemary Sidwell
There is one thing that sticks in my mind is that when things became hectic and when the Otter VaIe Beagles met nearby, George would declare a holiday and we would all go Beagling, much to the annoyance of the then Master as of course a flock of some 175 boys were constantly ahead of the hounds who were following a line, the boys following their eyes. Not a very exciting anecdote I'm afraid, but one that sticks in the mind when Allhallows School was nothing but a Country Mansion at the time and had only "tuck boxes and desks."
Hoping to be kissed good night by Cynthia Shallow. I dont think I ever enjoyed this delectable delight, but her presence softened an otherwise fairly hostile world to a 9 year old.
Jack Beviss (30-37)
Once started it is hard not to write a book of school memories. Starting with your father: he taught me that in essay writing it was good to finish with some kind of reference to the beginning. In nearly 50 years as a professional hack - for newspapers, magazines and books - I have never forgotten that useful basic. I never inspired your father, or anybody else, by my school performances. So he always wrote "splendid" as his contribution to my reports. But I did once have to report to his study for a beating. At some point there was an influx of retired female teachers from London who we did not respect, as we should have done. For some reason I was picked on as especially cheeky and had to knock on the Headmaster's door. Beating was an everyday occurrence in those days and masters were supposed to use the cliché 'This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you'. Your father did not say this but with him it seemed to be true. I doubtless cried a little after receiving six (or was it three?) of his lightest swishes. I probably thought crying was expected. We were a deferential generation, your father was full of contrition, asked me to sit down to recover and offered me a glass of milk, before I was allowed to return to class, a bit of a hero.
You mention the Misses Hartwright and Cruthers teaching us juniors under the clock tower. For some reason I never learned to spell them until now and thought of them as Heartwright and Carruthers. I used to flirt with Miss Hartwright and call her "my heart", which seemed to be allowed for seven-year-olds. Every morning in class Miss Hartwright received the Daily Telegraph and the down market Miss Cruthers took the Daily Mail. I loved the look and sound of the high class paper which the Torygraph used in those days. In some subliminal way perhaps this pointed me towards becoming a newspaper journalist and decades of writing for the Telegraphs. I was diffident and undistinguished but my memories of those early years are happy. I was a day boy and we played the beautiful game of football (soccer) rather than the ugly mess of Rugby Union forced on older boys.
There were quite a lot of World War One echoes around, particularly the cough of the kindly but gassed GS 'Nap' Napier, warning of his approach far away. In class we would ask him, so that we could write it on top of our work, for the date. 'I don't know the date and I don't care a fig', he would reply. This always amused him greatly but his laughter invariably led to another paroxysm of coughing. Sergeant Major Agar (Aggar?) rolling up his trouser leg to show us his considerable wound. Rev Harry Burn (Byrne?) so easily led by us to abandon his less than scintillating Divinity lessons and talk about his sanitised adventures as a Chaplain on the killing fields of Flanders.
At one point, in 1940 no doubt, masters had to spend nights on the cliffs looking out for the invading German armada. I remember friendly art master FN 'Fanny' Butler catching up with his sleep in class. Percy Stumbles, star of the 1st XV rugby team, cutting through the opposition time after time in his last match. And so to RAF Bomber Command and an early death on a bombing raid over Germany. Occasional nights spent in the basement when enemy aircraft were thought to be flying overhead. The school assembled to hear your father's warnings about not picking up strange objects as they might be German booby traps. On D-Day an endless stream of aircraft with black and white markings on their wings flying over the cricket pitches towards France. On VE Day, those of us who could not go home to celebrate, climbing .the clock tower and banging the bells. After the war the wondrous stretch limo moving down the drive and inside it our most famous old boy, silver haired 'Bomber' Harris in full RAF kit, the prize day guest of honour.
Sean Day-Lewis. (38-49)
1. The school parading quite late at night to welcome back the shooters from the School's first Ashburton Shield victory at Bisley (to be repeated many times thereafter thanks to James Turner).
2. Being paraded and drilled on CCF days in front of the School by RSM Harry Aggar (who along with"Nap" had been at the School in Honiton when my Father and-Uncle were there so many years before).
3. An occasion one night when there was a fire in the sewing room. The local fire brigade was called and all the boys were assembled in front of the School. The fire engine screamed down the drive and roared past the boys. A fireman jumped out, reeled out a hose and ran with it towards the sewing room, jumped over the wall- and rapidly, with considerable surprise, descended into the quadrangle below spurred on by the cheers of about 200 boys!. Fortunately he hung on to the hose which slowed his rate of descent just enough to prevent any injury.
James Kite (49-54)
RANDOM RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ANCIENT O.H.
The first glimpse of my future School at Rousdon occurred when we paid an organised visit from Honiton by train on the tiny branch line, to the small station at Combpyne, soon to be dubbed ‘The Combpyne Express’. As we walked down the drive past the lodge and through the woods, an imposing building unfolded before us; it seemed like a millionaire's residence after the somewhat ramshackle and scattered buildings that we had occupied in Honiton. After touring the main building and roaming the grounds, we were confident that life at Rousdon was going to be different and most enjoyable.
When we assembled at Rousdon for the first term there, few of us appreciated the amount of work that must have been put in during the holidays to ensure that the school started efficiently in the new surroundings. Looking back from nearly sixty years, it is quite clear that George Shallow and his staff must have worked like Trojans and the fact that things went smoothly, when we assembled, is an indication of the planning and execution carried out while we were enjoying our holidays. Unfortunately for every one concerned, the shadow of war was looming ever nearer so that settled conditions were enjoyed for a few months only. The 1940 summer was warm and dry and beautiful but my age group found it difficult to concentrate on work, or future exams, and even competitive games. From the spring of 1940, two or three masters left Rousdon to volunteer or be conscripts as no one doubted that we were going to be faced with a long war and few could predict how victory would be achieved.
We listened in amazement as the Nazis overran France, the Low Countries, Denmark and Norway, while the threat of an invasion of own own country, even East Devon, seemed real indeed. Being on the coast, with an isolated beach below our school, Rousdon could well have been chosen as one of the Nazi invasion beaches.
Our interest in the OTC (now CCF) grew as we realised that it would not be long before each one of us had to join the Armed Forces, in one category or another. One 'escape and evasion' exercise I remember well saw us acting in pairs, having been told to map read our way across country at the same time escaping detection by sentries posted at strategic points. It was a hot summer's day and my companion was a good friend, then Head of the School, John Waycott. Now I cannot remember how we fared; alas, John was not to survive the war. Nearly fifteen years later, I was to marry his younger sister, Jill. Apart from our OTC exercises and training, the older boys at Rousdon had to carry out fire-watching from the main tower of the School, a boring duty at first but when the German planes began to bomb Plymouth and even closer, Exeter, then the log book we had to keep was full of interesting entries. This fire watching took place during the hours of darkness and as far as I can recollect, we did a two hour stint of duty. To get to the tower entailed us passing through our Housemaster, Horace Lee's rooms. After we came off duty, we were allowed to brew up tea before we went back to bed. I recall that Horace's whisky decanter rarely remained inviolate: he never mentioned the fact but I think he felt that, as we were carrying out duties outside school hours, and as long as the tots were small, silence was the best policy! Whisky or tea, it was never easy to concentrate during class work after having lost valuable hours of sleep and with the war news ever worsening, it was not surprising that we did not do as well as we should have done in the Higher Certificate Examination. Indeed, we were but marking time until our turn came to go to war.
In the event no invasion ever landed on the Rousdon beach and certainly during my time there, no bombs either. Inevitably, being in a fairly isolated location, running the school became more and more difficult and the food, albeit plentiful for the most part, inevitably lacked variety. Petrol rationing, too, made it difficult for our parents to come and take us out during the weekends but in this respect I was fortunate because my parents owned the Hare and Hounds Inn above Sidbury, on Gittisham Common. They did not have enough petrol to come and fetch me but John Waycott and occasionally another friend, used to accompany me, to cycle the fifteen miles to Putt's Comer.
Even when we were school prefects and, indeed, John was Head of School, we were only allowed out after Morning Service on Sundays and that provided we were back in time for the Evening Service which meant a thirty mile turnaround and certainly the return journey was usually against the clock. As a result we tended to arrive a minute or two before going into the School Chapel, hot and sweaty and hardly in the best frame of mind for religious observances. The time factor apart, the actual cycling was invariably a pleasure because the roads were so empty. My parents, living in a rural environment, had close contacts with the local farmers so that they did not do too badly with farmpurchases so that our Sunday meals at The Hare and Hounds were much appreciated by those friends who accompanied me on the weekly cycling 'marathons'. Before I left School, we heard that an O.H., 'Buck' Ruxton, had been killed in action: that more than anything else brought it home to us that war spelt danger and even death. For my age group, the exploits of the RAF pilots during the Battle of Britain attracted us into volunteering our services as airmen. Our hopes were to be dashed initially as the replacements had already been enlisted for training: I was told that there would be a delay of quite a few months before I could be accepted for training as a pilot. A few months, when several of my friends had already 'gone to war" seemed an interminably long time so that I sought an interview with George Shallow. Accompanied by my father, we listened as George suggested that I join the Indian Army as a Cadet. He had done so during the First World War and in his words, "I saw the world and served with excellent troops, as well as having a most interesting time". So I accepted his advice and within three months, as a Cadet, was boarding a ship to sail to India. But that is another story.
My last few days at Allhallows were strangely unreal because it was virtually impossible to concentrate on work For us senior boys, therelationship with the masters seemed to change as the older ones had lived through a similar situation in the First World War: they were reluctant to drive us hard or worry about the less important school rules. Occasionally one or two OHs would return to Rousdon, wearing their newly acquired uniforms. In January 1942, I, also, paid an afternoon visit to the School in uniform, prior to rejoining the Indian Army Cadets at Aldershot after a short embarkation leave. I was able to play hockey that afternoon when military fitness enabled me to be quicker and stronger than my old School mates - or perhaps that was my imagination!
The next time I saw Allhallows was in 1946 after four eventful years abroad. Thatwas not unique because many of my old contemporaries - who survived the war - had equally interesting exploits to describe. It was good to see Allhallows again in peacetime and renew a friendly acquaintance with some old masters who had been there in 1939/40 but had joined up for the duration of the war: Jack Jarchow, Jimmy Turner, T.A. Jones, just to mention three, as well as the older stalwarts who had played a big part in helping George Shallow keep Allhallows running during those difficult times in particular G.S.. Napier ('Nap'), and Horace Lee. And. now I am a truly ancient OH!
Eric (Birdie) Smith.
Some extracts from letters home (broadly London)
"I hope you're alright after Friday night and possibly last night although I haven't heard the news or seen the papers yet."
"On Friday Squad 1 in charge of Kane had the whole afternoon path finding for the Home Guard down on the beach. It was great fun climbing up the cliffs and trying to find paths on the lands slip. We had tea at the landslip cottage after our exertions. Kane, David Shallow, Alford and myself were the only ones who did any climbing and at one place after a hard climb to the land slip from the beach we found we were entirely surrounded by undergrowth and had to find a route to the Lyme-Seaton path which we did after plunging through brambles and down and up valleys covered with more trees and brambles."
( Note: It was probably a state secret at the time, but, as I recall, we were seeking a suitable site on the undercliff for a look-out post for adrift survivors come D-Day, some 4 months later.)
"We are just hearing the 9 Clock news about the fall of Cassino isn't it marvelous. It must be almost 4 months that we have been trying to capture it."
"I am afraid if the Coast Ban is still on you will not be able to come down as they are very strict in Lyme Regis, for instance two boys went in there the other day and forgot their identity cards, they were stopped and told to report to the nearest police station within 24 hours.
( Note: much of the south coast was for some time prior to D-Day a region accessible only to those formally permitted. I cannot precisely recall how far westwards the ban extended, but I expect that Budleigh Salterton was open to allcomers...)
A distinct memory:
The sight, on the evening of June 5th 1944, of the invasion fleet probably some 10 miles away, and from Beer Head in the West to Portland Bill in the East. A beautiful summer evening, long ago....
In the Summer of 1937 as an 8 year old new boy who's Mother had just died. I was treated more tenderly than would have normally been the case. On two occasions when I was Suffering from headaches I was sent to your nursery in Bank House, ie the front of the junior school building were the brown lino ended and the carpets began! I also remember that Autumn, I think. we tinies were allowed onto the front first floor balconies to watch some sort of procession in the High Street. Later. and this would have been at Rousdon, I remember your Father would always end his lessons by saying 'Boys will gather up their books and pass quietly out.' - a split infinitive and wishfull thinking! At Rousdon during the war it is difficult to pick out the highlights; As a junior I distinctly remember crouching behind the wash stands in the bay window of the top floor dormatories in the old nursery wing. watching the crank winged heinkle diving at us out of the moonlight; but I think he was only taking photographs of a prominent landmark as there was no straffing fire that we had anticipated. "I can also remember fire watching from the top of the tower one night when Portland was attacked and marvelling at how any plane could escapethe hail of AA tracer that was clearly visible. In the first I ight of morning we saw a burning ship stand out across Lyme bay and later sink with the stem coming right up out of the water so that it went down vertically. And then there was the time a Lysander landed on the playing fields - but I am not sure why.
We used to frighten ourselves at night with tales of the haunting of the marble staircase by the captain of the ship from which the marble was recovered, always with his dog. Easy to let your imagination run away with you when going to the 'Old Man's' study in the tower to fire watch. Along the marble corridors passing all those stuffed birds lit only by the one dim blue bulb at each comer. or just the moonl ight. On one occasion. I think with Essame or somebody from Baker House. I volunteered to go and collect some sausages from his locker in Baker common room (the old gun room) and was scared out of my wits at 2am by hearing someone or something moving about in the darkened common room, luckily the lockers were in the ante room so when the noise increased and it seemed as though someone was banging the desk lids, I grabbed the sausages and fled up the stairs to the main corridor and the up the little stairs by the library - I dare not go near the marble staircase. The sausages, had gone off but we still cooked and ate them and survived!
Arnold Huxtable and myself. both not appreciating cricket (You had to play all Wednesday afternoon and missed you halfday!) got involved in the gardening club. We did the dry stone walling for the terraces at your Fathers garden at the East Lodge and cut down trees to make the rose pergola etc.
We were friendly with old man Gapper at the gardens and also with young Steve from Combepyne who also worked in the gardens and used to visit his family in Combepyne for breakfast after communion at the local church. Somehow we 'borrowed' the map of the undercliff minefild from the old man's study and with others. started to cut a new path down to the beach. We started just above the cliff cottage where Anny Gapper the post lady lived wih her Mother. We used to visit on a Sunday afternoon for a lardy cake tea- 6d. each. Anyway we got quite a lot of steps dug and faced with timber we cut from the woods and spl it. We made the big mistake of not getting a member of staff to sponsor us and we were eventually stopped from our efforts and accused of going down the cliffs' just to smoke' it was that' just' that really hurt and was most unjust as we also did a lot of work!
We, that is Arnold and myself, also started the carpentry club and negotiated the use of one of the farm buildings. We managed to find bits of an old tortoise stove and from various pieces of old iron pipe of different sizes we fashioned a chimney which we pushed out through the roof and disguised with ivy and brambles (the roof at the back was at ground level). We had many a good fry up on Winter evenings; we also did some carpentry!
Do you rember that an American ship went down somewhere off the bay and some of the cargo was washed onto the beach - US cigarettes in jars some of which survived long enough to be gathered up. Arnold and I made pipes from rose bols. we were pruning the main terrace roses at the time. and bamboo stems from around the fish pond. We used the dried out cigarette tobacco in them. All in deadly secret you understand. At the end of the Spring term I bent down some of the bamboos so that in the Summer I had supply of curly stems. I still have one of those pipes. Anyway that Summer. Boret, the junior house master asked us to make him some dummy pipes as the juniors were starting to copy us and he didn't want them smoking - so much for secrecy!
Dennis Gower. (37-45)
I have so many anecdotes, as I am sure we all have, about my days at Allhallows. Some I think would be too sentimental boring to others or downright unrepeatable!! But one thing does stand out in my mind. I am a great believer in corporal punishment, provided the punishment fits the crime. But I did feel aggrieved when in the space of a couple terms aged 12 or 13 got three lots of ‘stripes’ from "Tommy" Thompson! All of which I never felt deserved such treatment!
The cane was a bamboo bound in adhesive tape, and on each occasion I remember proudly lowering my pants to show my pals the cuts, often bleeding. The first occasion was, having been reported by Miss Archery for tearing my sheets and saying nothing about it. I had written to my Mother who said she would bring up some replacements the following weekend, so I had "hidden” the torn ones in my drawer!
The next occasion was, with others of kicking our aluminum washbasins around the dormitory during which fun some got dented!
The third was when I used my lighter to ignite someone else's lighter fuel in a boot-polish tin lid to see it burn. Regretfully another boy, who shall be nameless, kicked the tin of flaming fuel over the Middy Common room wall, singeing the paint!
The other thing that, looking back, is so different from today is the lack of free time we had: We were at it all day until supervised prepfinished at 8pm. Then after prayers, we had three quarters of an hour until 9pm up to bed for 9.30 lights out.
Saturday was morning lessons, afternoon sports and evening prep as usual Sunday had Matins and Evensong so we actually had Sunday afternoon off but usually that had to be "off" premises and during which time we had to find and saw up 10 logs for the Prefects Study. No saws provide, you had to buy your own!
Having said that they were great days which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Terry Hatton. (44-49)
In retrospect not a single boy had his hands in his pockets when I joined the school – Pockets were sewn up!
My first morning waking up in a Chudleigh dormitory and washing in icy cold water in the basins provided, the chatter increased in volume; suddenly the form of a boy/man erupted from sleep with instructions to “Shut Up”. This was my first encounter with J.A.Waycott, Head of School, if my memory is right the winner of the M.C. and killed in action within 2 years.
The remembered occasion of one little boy, who was a great favourite with the San Matron and after he had been repeatably been called ‘Dumbo’ because of his protruding ears, and in tears, in an attempt to console him said “Everyone has a nick name” to which he replied “What! Like yours”, they all call you ‘the old San Bitch”. With that she stormed out to the Headmaster’s study and asked him “Do you know what the boys in this school call me behind my back” and he, so I heard, said, “Of course I do”, she was a tartar but a very good Matron.
- Fire watching on the tower.
- Boiled egg for Sunday breakfast. (Sometimes they were not too fresh, but they were better than egg powder)
- The initial of putting on a stiff collar (with black tie on Sundays)
- The magic of receiving food from home – we were so hungry at times.
- The searching of the local countryside to find wood to cut up for studies & common rooms (cut 100 logs was more productive than 100 lines)
- Seeing the first Dominium troops in Lyme Regis, mostly slumped in Jeeps, smoking huge cigars.
- The assistance given to the War Effort by our helping to harvest potatoes and flax.
- Early morning PT.
Philip Midgley (40-45)
1. The Headmaster (Shallow) getting the whole school out of bed in the middle of the night during the winter of either 36/37 or 37/38 to witness an amazing clear display of the Northern Lights, viewed from the bridge.
2. The Tuck Shop with Mrs Aggar dispensing vimto, buns & crunchies.
3. Harry Aggar in charge of the gym – he & I never got on for some reason until he discovered that my father had been in the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 and of course so had he. After that we were fine!
4. Mickey Thompson (Thompson II) giving thanks to the our Lord for our deliverance from a beating from the HM after we had been caught flicking jam on the ceiling of the Junior Dinning Hall.
5. At Rousdon. Spending most of a Saturday & Sunday night down in the changing rooms with the Home Guard stood to when an old lady living in a clifftop cottage near Lyme saw a rambler in the dusk with a pack on his back hurrying to catch the last train back to Axminster, during the invasion scare of 1940.
6. Monday or Tuesday night fire watching on the Tower. A brilliant summer night (1942 or 43) with a full moon. 3 ME 110s came over from France, divided over the school, one each to Lyme, Axminster & Seaton, dropped their bombs at random and disappeared over the Channel again, with one of them taking a shot at an old white carthorse in the field between the tennis courts and the cliff.
7. The experience of measles & chicken pox during the first term at Rousdon – I had both at the same time.