First Term 1938
The Easter term 1938 was my first at Allhallows and the last term for the school at Honiton. My brother and I were both put into Walpole House. H.A.Lee was the Housemaster. Walpole was some way out of the town on the North side just above the railway station. I recall that the weather that term was particularly wet and it was pretty miserable having to walk to and fro to the main school buildings twice a day. I can’t say that either my brother or myself were very happy with our new school and we both felt homesick. We were called to the Headmaster’s House, which was in the high street and George Shallow gave us a fatherly talk. He explained it was not unusual for new boys to be overawed in a school with big and senior boys but that things normally changed for the better in the longer term, which in fact was the case for me. The things I remember about my term at Honiton were the fine Chapel, bare dinning room and classrooms; fire practice with a stirrup pump behind the Angel Hotel in case of an air raid should there be a war. The sky being lit up by the Northern Lights. Eating fudge bought from the tea rooms a few yards up the high street from the school.
Move to Rousdon
During the Easter holidays 1938 all the furniture at Honiton was moved to Rousdon and put into place before the start of the summer term. It must have been a masterpiece of staffwork to have everything ready for the return of the boys. Apart from exploring the building and grounds I can’t recall anything which distracted from a smooth transfer of the school from Honiton. The main drive was much narrower than now as the trees and undergrowth had grown to the edge of the tarmac. The Home farm was operating as such. The walled garden had many large greenhouses one of which was used as an art classroom run by the art master F.N.Butler. The church was too small for the school to use as a chapel but I was confirmed there on the 16 th June 1938 by the Bishop of Crediton. The great hall was used for chapel services until the present crypt chapel was built in 1939/40. The crypt was used as a miniature range for the first year at Rousdon and I remember shooting the Country Life Competition on the range in the Christmas Term 1938.
Bats in the Belfry
Chapel services were held in the great hall for the first few terms at Rousdon as it was big enough and there was a huge church type organ in situ on the balcony. The organiser was a Mr. Evans who came from Wales.
Air for the organ was supplied by a large hand operated bellows in the belfry above the organ and a signal when air was required was communicated by a blast on a whistle at the end of a tube by the organist.
John Franklin (Franco) and I were regular bellows operators which was more fun than attending the service, unfortunately there was a colony of bats in the room where the bellows were and the bats would take off when we started to pump. Neither of us were fond of flying bats and we interrupted our pumping to avoid them, meanwhile the bellows sank lower and lower as the air was drawn off from the organ. We were reminded of our primary duty to keep the bellows inflated by frantic blasts on the whistle by Mr. Evans as the notes from the organ faded during a hymn. It was quite a comic scene.
School prefects were allowed to ‘beat’ boys for misdemeanours with the permission of the housemaster, if the offence warranted a caning, but no permission was required if the beating was administered with a slipper. The most common beatings were for talking after lights out. I was beaten by a slipper once during my time at Allhallows and that was in my first year. I had made a crystal set which I took to bed and would listen to Radio Portland through headphones. One night I fell asleep without removing the headphones.
I am glad to say that I never exercised my power when I was made a school prefect, although I carried a swagger cane in the folds of my gown, which acted as a deterrent to the juniors when I took their prep
1939 was a quiet year, nothing of significance comes to mind apart from the outbreak of war but there was no fighting in the months immediately after the declaration. I was head of Stanton common room which was located immediately above the library, later in 1940 the common room was converted to a dormitory, John Yallop was head of Stanton followed by Bob Grey (Dago) and later by EGG Fisher (Breed). The cricket ground was surrounded by iron rail fencing on the south and western sides. The outfield was very rough and bumpy making fielding very difficult. I remembered a Lysander Army Co-operation aeroplane landing on thehockey/rugby field to the east of the driveway. I believe the pilot was Bell-Syer.
1940 was a full and eventful year the Phoney War came to an end in May when the Germans invaded the Low Countries followed by the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk and the fall of France. A Local Defence Volunteer Platoon (later called the Home Guard) was formed at Rousdon all boys 17 years or older joined, the OC was Captain HA Lee, MBE.
During the summer of 1940 when there was a possibility of invasion we manned lookouts on the cliffs during the hours of day light – I was on duty one bright summer’s day in June looking out over Lyme Bay when a fighter aircraft approached our position from the south it was flying very low and the next moment it hit the water the tail stayed in sight for a few moments before it disappeared below the surface. The air sea rescue unit at Lyme Regis was alerted and within minutes a motor launch was on its way to pick up the pilot. We got a written commendation from Major Allhusen for our alertness
In July I was walking down the road towards the west lodge when a Hurricane Fighter swooped in from the direction of the sea, it was clearly in trouble as the engine was misfiring it disappeared from view over the Lyme Regis Seaton road. John Franklin who was with me agreed that the aircraft must have crashed. We both ran in the direction we had last seen it. It must have taken us some 20 minutes to reach the main road where we saw the aircraft lying on its back some hundred yards from the road with its guns pointing towards the road. There was no sign of the pilot who might have baled out before the landing or he had been given a lift by a passing motorist. The spot where the aircraft was is unchanged to this day, about half a mile west of the main entrance to Allhallows.
Another incident in the summer of 1940 happened during the Sunday morning chapel service. During prayers there was the noise of two aircraft and the quick fire of canon machine guns followed by the whistle of empty canon cases descending which hit the roof of the school. The boys could hardly wait for the end of the service to rush out and claim the souvenirs.
One of our duties as members of the Home Guard was to undertake fire watching patrols at night in the tower. The duty came round about once a month as we got paid subsistence allowance; there was no shortage of volunteers. The way to the tower was through Horace Lee’s study and up the stairs. It was sometimes quite chilly on watch and when we came back through the study we had a nip out of Horace’s bottle of Haig Whisky. As we thought he might notice the level in the bottle had dropped we topped it up with water. This custom went on for several patrols and it seemed that Horace hadn’t noticed any change or he attributed the lack of strength in the whisky to wartime restrictions. However, all good things come to an end. One hockey match at half time Horace who was in charge of hockey came over to the team and said “there’s not enough energy in the way you’re playing because you drink too much whisky”. I always thought what a clever way to get the point across without confronting any individual.
The Home Guard was issued with all sorts of weaponry which had been discarded by the regular army. One of the guns the Rousdon Platoon was given was a WWI Hotchkiss machine gun. The OC (Capt. Lee) had nominated me to be in charge of the gun. One summer’s evening the OC rushed into my study and told me to get the MG and ammunition and to follow him to the cliff top at the extreme western point of the estate. The gun weighed some 80 lbs and was awkward to carry even though I had an assistant. As we staggered along the OC explained that there was a mine floating in the sea towards Seaton and that he had authority to explode it with machinegun fire. On arrival at the cliff top we took up firing positions and the OC with binoculars would observe the fall of shot. I reported that the mine was in my sights, the OC said fire, I pulled the trigger and the gun barrel fell off the end; the OC was not amused. Having refixed the barrel several rounds were fired which appeared to hit the mine without effect. Darkness precluded any further expenditure of ammunition. It later transpired that the mine was in fact a beer barrel and when recovered was riddled with bullet holes.
‘Chips’ Desborough Clifton-Moore