There were two reasons I had to pass the 11+ to get to grammar school. One
was the fear of falling foul of the Jones twins at secondary modern who seemed to be the
local bullies at the time (I mentioned this to my cousin recently who is a fair
bit older and she retorted “Oh, they weren’t that bad!”); the other was the fact
that my elder brother Richard was already a pupil and I lapped up his accounts
of whatever he and his classmates were getting up to. It probably didn’t help
though with those masters he had fallen foul of! For Mum it was yet another
child to have to kit out at the outfitters in Aldershot. (†)
Thus I found myself in 2B with dear old Nuncs, and local chums Ted Neville, Rodney Connor, David Hughes, Jeff Barnes, Ian Bonham…
I suffered in Latin, just couldn’t grasp it, and was invariably at the bottom of the class, but once Nuncs asked the Latin for ‘in the city’, and it amazingly came all the way down to me. It was probably the only thing I had grasped and I piped up “urbe”, for which I was given sixpence and the whole class had to make room for me to go to the top. It wasn’t long however before I was back where I belonged. I remember his sponsoring a trip to Fleet Cinema to see Richard the Third, which we were reading that year. Much later, in 1965, when plans to move to Frankfurt were in the making I bumped into him in the paper shop in Fleet and told him of my intentions. “Oh, you won’t be any good at German either” he retorted, which I thought rather unkind, but I can since reassure him, in thought anyway.
I had a pretty good singing voice, used to have to sing solo at prayers in primary school and was in most musicals we put on, plus church choir. Thus it was that I fell foul of ‘Beeb’, that very strange individual. I enjoyed singing (still do) and couldn’t seem to or didn’t want to pretend I couldn’t, just to avoid his classes. He had me singing Händels Messiah, and tried to keep me late to ‘practice’, but the excuse of my having to get the bus always seemed to work. I can’t recall his ever being improper to me, but didn’t we have fun with him! I remember friend Fish slapping his wrist and telling him to leave off, and Timbrell putting a dead mouse into the piano and making a great fuss when Beeb opened the top to discover why a couple of notes were dead. And the ‘Beeb baiting’ with ball bearings, or names trampled in the snow outside his window. All very strange and, with hindsight, sad. It wasn’t surprising, of course, that few volunteered for the school choir, and I recall an attempt, I believe from the Jab, to get those who sang in their church choirs to enlist. We even had to confirm in writing whether we were in a local church choir or not.
I had no problem with Doc. Sewell, in fact I enjoyed his lessons. I never experienced anything improper with him either, was no good at Maths, but English language seemed to be one of my few stronger subjects. On my first visit to East Berlin in 1966 I even found a bookshop with copies of ‘Black Beauty°, published in the GDR but with notes in Russian. I bought two copies, one of which was intended for him. I can’t recall getting one to him, perhaps he had left the school by then.
Dickie (Richards) Junior was much too nice, at least to begin with, but had to put up with an awful lot of heckling in RE. A few terms later he seemed to have changed completely, as though he had taken a course in toughness. It backfired miserably, however, and I can only recall his being a very unhappy chap.
Tommy Junior, or Joe Thomas as my brother’s age group called him, was strict but fair, and his cold showers after PT were something else. Again, I don’t think there was any impropriety involved. He even complimented me once after a soccer match in which I had scored a goal, and in which he was referee. You didn’t want to fall foul of him during cadets of a Friday. It was bad enough having to dress up as squaddies, especially if you had business in Aldershot after school with all those officers about. My problem was that I never knew who to salute (and that comes from a Major’s brat!). I failed miserably in my attempts to join the band, avoided the radio squad and map reading, so that left hanging around the rifle range, or doing nothing at all except wandering around the school with a rifle cadged from the armoury. In fact, Tommy caught me once: “Where are you off to Lathan?” “Rifle range, Sir”. It seemed to work. Field Day was always exciting, because we got to fire real ·303s.
Foster’s art classes were not to my liking, he always seemed bad-tempered, and I got thumped once with a paint brush.
French with Charlie Upton was fine, but Charlie Sweet I did not get on with. Too much of a stickler for pronunciation. “Ouvrez la porte” he would go, his long thin nose quivering with anticipation, but he didn’t like what he heard. However, since it was another of my better subjects, it must have helped.
I seem to remember table tennis sessions in the hall during lunch break, but was rarely successful in getting a table. Roger Howells, an excellent player always seemed to be able to bag the best table .
Former pupils who fell in action or were missing in action during WWII were listed on a Roll of Honour in the hall. Later I was to work together with one of them, Tommy Atkins, at FUDC. Lucky Tommy!
I once got into a fist flight with poor Mackey, who broke my nose. No idea why we didn’t get on.
Someone brought a real boomerang to school, which started a short-lived fad. Conkers didn’t last long either, nor acorns. They even stopped us shoving the new Whizwheel cars along the gutters in the quadrangles. We used to try to shut the classroom windows, nasty metal things, from the outside. I duly lost a fingernail and had to go to hospital.
I recall a trip with Tom Pascoe to London, where we visited the Science Museum and Fords at Dagenham. What a difference to a later visit to clean and shiny Vauxhall at Luton. I had chosen his woodwork class rather than German (!) because my brother used to bring home various things he’d made. But in truth it was a waste of time because all we did was mess about, making sticky glue and heating up coins for someone to pick up, etc.
I regretted not having been able to afford the Wales trip to Towyn etc. I remember Baz Harris telling me about their visit to Danygraig railway shed (87C) where some of my favourite saddle tanks were stabled.
Now and again I was chosen to play soccer for the school. We even beat Winchester once, thanks in the main to Dick Letford, Bob Croucher, the Rumble twins. Years later, must have been 1972, I was at Glasgow Airport waiting for a flight back to Heathrow when I saw someone I thought I recognized. I went over and asked him: “Are you Mick or are you Mo?” No longer sure which of the twins it was, but it was good to chat.
I can’t recall the purpose of being in ‘Houses’, nor how we were split amongst them. I was in Kingsley, I think we wore green. I guess it was mainly for inter-house sport, and was probably an attempt at cross-class integration.
A couple of times I played truant, not just to miss the first lesson due to not having done my homework, but a whole day out. I had fallen in love with the Tiger Moths I had seen prancing about in the air at Fairoaks airfield, so one day I was to be found thumbing a lift along the Chobham Road in Woking. A van stopped, and the driver offered to take me to the village, from where I could do the rest on foot. As soon as I got in I froze and was speechless. The driver was non other than Alec Bedser (Surrey and England cricketer) who had an office furniture firm in Woking with his brother Eric. I still have his autograph, written in my green ink Biro. It took until 1993 for me to actually fly in a Tiger Moth, a German-registered one, from a Russian Hind helicopter base in the former East Germany! Fantastic!
The other time (let’s keep it to two!) I cycled to Heathrow and was on the north side near the wartime building where VIPs were interviewed for ‘In Town Tonight’ or whatever, when Broderick Crawford (Highway Patrol, etc.) appeared, and we were duly photographed together, me with trousers still tucked into socks! Happy days!
On the school bus we would invariably pass girls waiting at their bus stops going to Aldershot High, and I took a liking to one particular young lady waiting at the Farnborough cinema. Our method of communication was to wrap a message in an eraser held by an elastic band and lob it out of the window, no mean feat. After a few attempts it seemed to have worked and I believe Margaret and I corresponded. I even cycled over to her place, but in the end was too shy to make anything out of it.
On the last day of school it was tradition to throw one’s cap out of the bus window into the Basingstoke canal. I had long since lost mine.
Happy memories remain.
† Edgar Jerome in the Shopping Arcade in Aldershot.
FUDC: Fleet Urban District Council.
Cinema: The long demolished Rex.
Alan Lathan : November 2013