School must have been a really boring place; so little of what
happened seems to be worthy of retelling after all these years. The Beeb (Barrett the Music, German
and French teacher) has to have a mention, a weirdo if ever there was one and presumably the
majority of the teaching staff thought so too because none seemed to object to the constant
lunchtime Beeb Baits. These commonly consisted of boys lying on the school playing fields in such a
manner as to spell out the words WE HATE THE BEEB which would be visible from The Beebs room on
the upper floor. His detentions (12:30s, 1:20s) were handed out with gay (I intentionally use the word in a sense
not current in the 1950s) abandon and invariably unfairly.
The Beeb failed to reappear at school after one of the summer holidays, 1958 at
a guess, and it was widely believed that his dishonesty over exam marking had been exposed by the
identical Rumble twins (Michael and Maurice) who swapped places in the previous terms French exams.
One always did very well in Barretts French exams the other always did badly. When each
impersonated the other the same names as always came top and bottom of the class. However, others
claim that the reason was far more seedy.
The previous year (1957) had seen the schools 21st anniversary celebrations which involved a lavish Open Day for which pupils sold tickets around the town, the incentive being that the class that sold most would be rewarded with a month of Coca Cola instead of school milk. The whole enterprise was organised by Tommy Junior the history master and other things too libellous to mention here. In the event my class sold most tickets but somehow or other Tommys class (which came second) took the prize. Fortunately The Jab investigated this particular malpractice and we did get our Coke after all. Tommys other claim to fame was running the Combined Cadet Force, then part of the Parachute Regiment (from 1959 or thereabouts the CCF became associated with the Hampshire Regiment and we lost our parachute hat badges). Anyone else remember clambering over the back end of an army lorry at the traffic lights at the foot of Hospital Hill in Aldershot as it took us to the REME barracks, and then skiving off for the rest of Friday afternoon?
Almost impossible to believe fifty years later is that the Cadet Force armoury was unlocked on Friday afternoons and just about anyone could wander in and take a 303 Lee Enfield rifle from the rack. Many of them bore dates of manufacture from just before the first world war. The armoury also contained more modern weapons like Sten and Bren guns, these being easily dismantled into their component parts and spirited away piece by piece in satchels. One such Bren gun lived in the bedroom of a friend and was polished and admired by various young visitors. It being a different age, no one even thought of shooting a rabbit with it let alone anything more dangerous.
Do you remember the first ice cream war circa 1960? An enterprising precursor of Mr. Whippy attempted to sell ice cream across a low fence straight into the school premises with the result that we were banned from eating ice cream at lunchtime. This however was not enough to stop those who went home for lunch buying ice cream so ultimately all boys were banned from eating any ice cream at all while in uniform whatever the time of day. A few years later these events were repeated and the story got into the local newspaper and from there was picked up by the Daily Mail so that The Jabs mean streak became known nationwide.
Among other jolly japes was the great sewer explosion of 1958 or thereabouts. One of our number had been expelled from school which was not a very common event and all I remember about it was that the wrong pupil was the victim. Typical of much school justice no doubt. However this wronged pupil managed to find unexploded munitions on the nearby army ranges and contrived a very messy explosion in a sewer behind the toilet block. As a result everyone in school was kept behind for an hour after school every day for a week until someone owned up. As there was no one at school to own up this was a fruitless exercise for all concerned and eventually school teachers decided that they wanted to start going home at four oclock again. There was also an incident around the same time whereby Smith the physics teachers car was advertised for sale in the local paper without his prior knowledge. The Jab didnt see the joke and once again we got away too late to catch the school bus home.
Its probably best if I gloss over the time I accidentally started a fire in the old physics lab and hastily discovered that the CO2 extinguisher was very effective and left no tell tale signs. No one ever found out. Similarly the time I accidentally on purpose nudged Eli Eltringham as he carried a large bowl of ice from the second floor refectory. Anyone else remember the day the well padded Barry James fell over the balcony outside the second floor refectory and hit the polished metal stair rail on the ground floor, severely denting it but not himself apparently? I bumped into Barry quite often on one of the steam hauled commuter trains to Waterloo for some years after leaving school. Last I heard, subject to the frailties of an increasingly hazy memory, is that he became a councillor on Farnboroughs U.D.C. and had set up a business selling Scandinavian style light fittings.
Its probably also not a good idea to go into too much detail about the disastrously embarrassing school dance held jointly with the girls of Aldershot High School where it was discovered that few of us F.G.S. boys fully understood what a girl was! To their credit, the heads of both schools recognised the problem and arranged a series of joint school dancing lessons which proved highly popular, if ineffective in my own case.
Something I remember from my very last day at F.G.S. concerns my school cap. I didnt like wearing hats, never have, possibly because I was blessed with a 7½" hat size and the largest school cap available from the uniform supplier in Aldershot was 7¼". I showed my dislike for wearing the cap by only wearing it when within a few hundred yards of school, by perching it on the back of my head - given its size there was little alternative - never asking my parents for a new one in seven years and storing it in mothers vegetable rack that she kept in the garden shed where I parked my bike overnight. As such it lost all its colour and a lot of it became naked canvas. No one ever commented on it until my final day. A small gaggle of first formers surrounded me and begged me to give them the threadbare cap. Apparently it was the subject of much envy by the next generation of little rebels. I was happy to encourage them and threw the cap into their midst and left the premises, never to return.
If anyone should wonder what I did after leaving F.G.S. then running around the GPOs International telephone exchanges just about sums it up; later BT of course. Theres a picture or two on a telecoms history site. There was a brief preceding spell in insurance with Lindsey Pratt and me at the Prudentials London HQ and Ian Bonham at the nearby Royal Exchange. However I was not very happy supervising the Singer Sewing Machine Companys pension scheme and left after 16 months. Lin and Ian appeared to be more content and stayed with insurance resulting in me losing contact with both of them although Lin and I did eventually find each other again. Some 30 years later I managed to wangle a very early pension from BT which enables me to work as little as possible. A bit like going back to school really!
Malcolm Knight (F.G.S. 1954-1961)
More memories selected from contributors who prefer to remain anonymous.