CONTRIBUTION BY DAVID HENRY 1942/1948
(I'm indebted to Pat Nolan, Derek Lore and Doug Curson for corrections and additions.)
By 1942 at the age of 12, I was soon enrolled at St Joseph's College, Blackpool, a boys grammar school. I believe it was a "Grant Aided" school supported with taxpayer funds. For sure, by the time of the 1944 Education Act, all secondary education was free to students. (Thanks to DL and DC for clarification on this point -- DH).
(I remember that we had to buy our books but the war meant that books were scarce so most were handed down from one class to the next -- PN)
From the Newton Drive entrance, you went up a mild incline towards The House, which was off-limits to us boys. You turned left, past the science lab and “the bogs” and into the playground. The school was a brick-built three-storey affair and its main entrance was on your right from the playground. (In 1941 we all had to wear "house shoes" inside the school and each boy had his own pigeonhole in the main corridor to keep them - it meant changing shoes every time you went in or out of the building. House shoes went out quite early in the war when clothing became rationed and a ration could not be spared for such niceties -- DC)
You then went up a few stone steps and turned left into a long corridor with classrooms on the left, followed by the boarders’ day room and changing rooms that led to the gym. There was a masochistic civilian gym teacher who once made us hang from the top bar facing inwards with our legs out at right angles—it was agony.
Straight ahead from the main entrance you went past the master’s room on the left and Refectory on the right, (I remember how awful the meals were! -- DC) and the boarder’s coat room and tuck shop just next to the back entrance to the House.
This pattern of classrooms was duplicated on the next floor, except that the Chapel was above the day room. I believe it was used only by the seventy or so boarders out of maybe four hundred boys and of course by the Brothers and a visiting priest from St Kentigern’s nearby. When I became a boarder in my final year, I was inducted into the top floor where we had bedrooms for six or more boys, and toilets and showers. I don’t recall taking the cold showers traditionally recommended for teenage boys to repress their raging hormones, but there was always a Brother prowling around the area on the watch for any hanky-panky.
The school was run by the Irish Christian Brothers, a Catholic teaching order based in Dublin. Students were mostly but not all Catholics, who came from all over, some of whom were boarders from places like the Isle of Man (e.g. John Frehe and Peter McAleer. -- DC)
The teaching staff were partly Brothers and partly civilians. The Brothers had the ability to chastise delinquent boys with the aid of The Strap, a foot-long thick leather job they kept secreted within the folds of their intimidating black habit, but which they would bring forth at the slightest provocation to give you a quick one-two on the hands, or worse, "six of the best". Say the class was being questioned on some Latin verbs; if you failed to answer correctly, you had to join the line at the side of the class. At the end of the questions, the brother went down the line doling out the punishment, a process that was quick, efficient and painful. (One day a strap fell from a brother's pocket without him noticing. It was smartly spirited away, cut into very small pieces, and distributed to the class. -- DC)
One of my teachers was Brother Coffey, a younger man with orange coloured hair, who took us for Organic Chemistry in the Sixth Form. He had “trouble wit his trees, as in Everybody, turn to page turdy tree.” He also substituted one day in our Catechism Class and got in a tizzy when it came to the question about taking care to avoid temptation from the irregular motions of the flesh. I thought it was Oyston who had the temerity to ask, “Please sir, what are the irregular motions of the flesh?” Poor Bro Coffey, he blushed like a young girl and stammered his way through a very hesitant reply. Well, stop sniggering, what would you have said?
Monsieur LeBrun was our French teacher; his face was long and lugubrious, but he was a decent chap on the whole. There was a famous incident when some brave boy brought one of the new steel DDT bombs to school. You shut the windows and disinfected a room by breaking off a key whereupon the contents sprayed out and filled the room in a few seconds. Well, this lad—I thought it was Patrick Nolan, but he vigorously denied it sixty years later—thought it would be a lark to let it off in the Master’s room, and so he opened the door a bit, did the deed and promptly scarpered. At the next French lesson we enjoyed the spectacle of poor M. LeBrun who had suffered from the spray practically crying and declaring that he would resign. But he never did nor was the culprit ever caught.
Another French teacher was Mr Callaghan. (He was a raving lunatic who hated teaching!--DL) and (Callaghan handed out more physical punishment than any of the Bros. I was in his "Foreign Legion" and had to stand out at the start of a lesson and be caned, just to remind me that I was stupid. -- PN)
My favourite teacher was Bro O’Leary, (mine too -- PN) who took us for maths in the sixth form. He made it all sound so simple and straightforward, and got us all through our exams. He once started in to our first calculus lesson when he said, “Good Heavens! I just realized you boys haven’t had Coordinate Geometry yet! And it’s a prerequisite to the calculus…” and proceeded to spend the next few weeks on that instead. He also took us for our religion class from 12 to 12:30 every day. Soon after I revisited St Jo’s in 1970, and met with him again, “Josh” O’Leary died from cancer. (Although Josh did not like me I thought he was a good guy and a good teacher...he gave us some good advice which I took to heart..."The most important move in your life was to gain your School Certificate and the next most important decision will be your choice of a wife" -- DL) (When asked by my parents to assess me he said: "Patrick is like a wild animal that could become very docile but could also turn very savage -- PN)
I have a book entitled Arthur Mee’s Book of Everlasting Things, inscribed First Prize IV.B — David Henry. It was so boring and I was doubly incensed that someone else who won the Second Prize got a book about Tanks in Wartime. They say what goes around comes around, and now Arthur Mee’s book holds a pride of place on my bookshelf and gives me great pleasure from time to time when I dip into its poetry and extracts from classical stories.
May 5, 1945 was V E-Day, the end of the war in Europe, and memorable because we were given a measly half day off. We soon heard that Pablo’s Ice Cream Shop was giving away free ice-cream, so we headed downtown only to find a queue about a half mile long leading to the shop. Nothing daunted, we queued up and after being served, ran back to the end of the line for a second double vanilla cone. (Yes! I have forgotten this...I was also in the queue that day. -- DL)
End-of-term exams were a stressful three days or so, and we would spend long homework hours "swotting up" for them. My reports from St Josephs were on the whole pretty good, and were prepared by Bro O’Carroll and later by Bro S. F. O’Leary. They were countersigned in turn by headmasters J.Q. Moran, J.D. Goulding and T. D. Woodhouse.
Bro. Goulding (he was head when I joined the school in '39 and then returned or appeared from "The House" sometime later -- PN) once stood in as a substitute teacher during our religion period and that was when I first became aware of his rather messy habit, I thought, of taking snuff. He would produce a small box from somewhere inside his habit, open it, and extract a pinch of the stuff which he then proceeded to apply to a nostril and sniff it noisily up his nose. Because some of it dropped on his chest, he would then tried to brush it off with his sleeve, leaving a prominent brown stain on his black habit. He otherwise seemed a rather harmless chap with a soft voice. I learned recently that he had been headmaster once before for a few years during the twenties, and I wondered what that was all about.
Woodhouse was reportedly the best educated and most capable of all the Brothers. (I'm quite sure he was head and shoulders above the rest -- DC) He took us for Latin, and there was once a famous exam he conducted that shows his determination. We used to have the exam questions reproduced in purple ink by one of those messy rotary Gestetner (?) machines. It seems that either the machine malfunctioned or they ran out of supplies, but whatever the reason, there were no exam papers for us that day; I think it was a trial run for School Cert Latin. When he announced this to us, a rustle of excitement ran through the class, quickly stifled by him. “Don’t think you’ll get away without taking the exam,” said he, and proceeded to write out the exam questions in small script on the blackboard. On two boards in fact, as some of them were lengthy passages that had to be translated. We groaned internally, but it was still wartime, and we just had to “grin and bear it.” It must have been even tougher for those at the back of the class…
The aim of the academic program was to get us through the School Certificate, taken at age 16 (15 in my case). It consisted of exams set by Cambridge University (No. The exams were generally Northern Universities Joint Matriculation Board Exams. In the Sixth Form, if you were good enough, you might be encouraged also to take the Oxford and Cambridge Scholarship Papers -- DC) and marked under their control. It was three weeks before I had to take these exams in 1945 when I decided to climb a tree in our back garden. Well, the bough broke and I crashed to the ground, breaking my right wrist. Once the cast was put on it was clear I couldn’t write my exams the normal way. The only alternative was to write left handed and backward with the aid of a mirror, which I taught myself to do and became reasonably proficient at it. There must have been some very understanding markers of our test papers, because I did OK.
There were no multiple choice questions in those days; your answers were expected to be in good English sentences and essays. There were grades of Excellent (No. Distinctions -- DC), Good (No. Credits -- DC), Fair, Pass and Fail. (DC is right. I was quoting the marking system used in the school's reports. -- DH) For example, I scored E in History and G in my other 8 subjects: English Language, English Literature, Maths, French, Latin, Chemistry, Physics and Religion (I think). Of these subjects my favourites were Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry in Maths, and the two languages French and Latin. I was capable of turning in a decent essay, but intensely disliked learning poetry and speeches from Shakespeare and worst of all that jumble of facts in English History. I was amazed then, and still now, that History was my best result in the School Cert exam and that my later specialty Physics was OK but no better than any other subject. The message appears to be that I responded best to logical structures, rules and procedures with predictable outcomes. (I got six "credits" and two "passes"in my school cert are you sure of the 'good' and 'fair'? Maybe it was changed in your year. -- DL)
I was immensely proud of the one-upmanship implicit on joining the Sixth Form with its privilege of working in the library instead of a mere classroom with its rows of desks. There was a massive table with big legs, and we sat around it in chairs, with arms I think. The walls were lined with glass-fronted bookcases, referred to by the Brothers as "presses". I'm pretty sure that we never used any of those books, as the room didn't in fact function as a library. Another valued privilege was the occasional private study period, that I'm afraid we tended to abuse rather badly and sometimes very noisily. For example, in one corner there stood an upright piano and I well remember when one of the chaps played boogie-woogie on it, with an impressive left hand as I recall.
(There were two doors to the sixth form common room, one from the passageway and one that led into a large room with a snooker table, the boarders common room. Next to the second door there were a couple of loose floorboards that could be lifted and a descent made under the floor, I suppose that I must have been instrumental in either finding this or leading the exploration of the space below because I had the nickname 'Chad' (after the wall drawing, known to the Yanks as 'Kilroy', with the bubble "Wot No....?) At first we used candles or torches when visiting the area below but later we had electric bulbs with a lead plugged in behind one of the 'presses'. I did have photographs of various people sticking their heads out of the entrance. Below we had a collection of 'Men Only' magazines and various things. I do not remember the teaching staff finding this hide-hole during my time. -- PN)
If you wanted to continue your education, you stayed on in the Sixth for another two years and typically studied three or four subjects in a science or arts specialization. I was persuaded to study Physics, Pure Maths, Applied Maths and Chemistry in order to take the Higher School Certificate, used by Universities as a screening exam for prospective entrants. Your results were also taken into account when applying for a scholarship, exhibition or bursary.
When I look back, I'm amazed at how lightly and cavalierly the very important decision was taken of what subjects to study. There was no such thing as "career counselling" or "aptitude testing". It was simply that my physics teacher Mr Slater ("Smiley") took a shine to my work, and said of course I should take science subjects. (I remember he smoked like a chimney and wore a gown which stank of tobacco - he lived I believe in Galgate and drove a black saloon car -- DC) After passing my HSC, the same thing happened, more or less automatically; I would study physics at university, according to Mr Slater. Well he would, wouldn't he? He was probably rated on the number of his students who went to University in physics. That was it. I don't even think there was much if any discussion about this at home. (That led naturally to a Bachelor's Degree in Science and later on a Masters Degree in Nuclear Physics. If I had my "druthers" over again, I would have felt much more comfortable taking an engineering degree rather than being shoehorned into the physics that I just wasn't brilliant enough to shine at.)
Sports were pushed pretty strongly at St Jo's, principally rugby—that I was no good at—and cricket, which I was quite good at and finished my last year of school as captain of the First XI. The sports fields were on the side of Layton Mount and so were divided into two terraced sections. The rugby pitch was on the lower section while the upper half had the cricket pitch and athletics oval.
Perhaps the only extra-curricular activity we were obliged to take part in was the School Play, performed in the Jubilee Theatre in downtown Blackpool. My first experience was when I was cast as Lucius, servant to Brutus in a big production of Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar". My mother had to make a costume for me, and did so out of some old striped curtain material. I was so embarrassed and totally mortified by how I looked in it. Things became worse when I suffered severe stage fright that caused me to stumble over the three simple lines I had to deliver.
The next year—my final year—I had a principal part, that of Duke Orlando in "As You Like It". When I look over that play now, nearly sixty years on, I find it hard to believe I acted such a major role, as my memory never was my strongest skill. However I recall quite well the scene in which I, a Duke, had to wrestle with and defeat Jacques, a wrestler, played by Pete Tracy. He was a well set up lad and we rehearsed the "fight" where I had to throw him to the ground, strongly aided by his big leap over my back. I have a copy of the School Magazine for 1948 (a great year for St Jo’s) with several photos of me in this play.
That same Magazine indicates I was made the Assistant Editor. Perhaps that was why my article entitled Science Survey II—X-Rays was given two pages. Re-reading this nearly sixty years later, I must say I’m quite impressed at the clarity of the exposition, written in good flowing English.
In the Upper Sixth, Bro. O’Leary instituted formal debates from time to time, and that magazine reported on several of them where I acquitted myself adequately as either a lead speaker or second.
Being an all boys school, where we were kept busy all the time, St Jo's didn't offer much opportunity to become aware of girls. Of course there was much sniggering at the dirty photos and jokes we managed to smuggle in and swap with each other. In the Upper Sixth form, I was elected to be secretary of the ATU. The guys had printed up a membership card for all the sixth formers, with my signature on it! It wasn't until I got my own card that I found out I had been scammed: ATU was replaced in large letters by the Anti-Teachers Union, or was it the Anti-Twanking Union!
Looking at one of those old panoramic photos taken of all the boys in the school in 1946, I recognise few names and fewer faces. Nolan, Wade, Cookson, Curson, McConville, Moran, Carman. Not even me...
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