CONTRIBUTION BY DICK SMITH 1951/1956
To start with let me quote Robert W. Service:-
Though names I change from time to time,
A stickler for correctness I’m,
To write God-honest truth I strive,
And here to best of memory, I’ve.
I was born at Lytham in 1940, the son of a serving police officer. As was the way of the police force in those days, officers were often ‘transferred’ to various parts of Lancashire. As a result my early education was often interrupted by such moves.
So, back in 1950, my father left the police force and as a family we settled in Blackpool. I attended St. Kentigern’s school and, for the first and not the last time in my life I was lucky. I was placed in the class run by a Mrs. Garvey. She worked very hard on improving my education and I am delighted to say that in 1951 I passed the 11+ examination. That was followed by taking the entrance examination to St. Joseph’s College. This took place at the school and, if memory serves me right, on a Saturday morning. I passed that and the next thing that happened was that my father and I attended an interview with Brother Woodhouse, the then Headmaster. I remember Brother Woodhouse giving me this advice. That passing the 11+ was only the start of the things and that “I must not rest on my oars”. Sadly I didn’t heed his advice.
In the September of that year I presented myself at the school and started my education there in Form Two Alpha. The form master was the fearsome Brother Duignan. More of him later. My classmates included Terry McGreevey, Stuart McKenna, Joe Ennis, Bill McMullen, Ken Brown and Alex Dunn. My memories of Brother Duignan are mixed. Some bad and some good. It is an understatement to say that I was scared of him. My first taste of the dreaded strap came in the first couple of weeks at the school. Brother Duignan had a ‘spelling test’. This merely comprised of going around the class, a boy at a time, and asking him to spell a word. If the lucky boy got it right that was it for him. He could remain seated for the rest of the ‘test’. Those of us who failed remained standing. ‘Deggie’ then started again with those standing asking each of them to spell a word. Those who got it right sat down. Those who got it wrong remained standing. I was one the last two who failed to spell a single word. I believe the other unfortunate boy was Bill McMullen. For our stupidity we each got two strokes of the strap.
As I say, Brother Duignan was a fearsome character. He also taught Latin. The homework exercise books had salmon pink covers. He came into the class, slammed the homework books on his desk followed by slamming his strap on top of the books. Another fun day ahead! To this day I don’t like salmon, maybe the colour of those Latin homework books had something to do with it. The colour only acted as a reminder of what lay ahead.
Amazingly I do have some fond memories of the man though. He introduced me to rugby and I will be eternally grateful to him for that. At that age I showed an aptitude for ‘tackling’, a skill later to dessert me. Probably due to cowardice. I remember playing for I think the ‘under 12’s’ against Blackpool Grammar school. The game was played on the ‘top pitch’. Brother Duignan wrote a review of the game and placed it on the notice board. The report included a paragraph that said both myself and a boy called Ken Harris had played and tackled very well. I was naive enough to think that as a result he would view my stupidity less sternly. I was wrong.
The next year our Form Master was a Brother Burns, he of the scarred ears. Many rumours circulated as to how he came by those scars. The rumour that we chose to believe was that he had been tortured whilst a prisoner of the Japanese. I liked ‘Burnsie’ very much. A strict but caring sort of man. He was another of the Brothers besotted with the game of rugby. The junior French master was a Mr. Bernard Howe. I think my inability to grasp the rudiments of French grammar drove the poor man to distraction. To such an extent to be ‘kept in’ each and every Tuesday became the norm. By now I was playing for the Bantams rugby side and that side was run by Brother Burns. Also, in winter, Bantams training took place each Tuesday evening after school. So ‘Burnsie’ prevailed upon Mr. Howe to release me from detention for Bantams training but on the condition that he himself would keep me in at a later date. This he did and tried to get across to me the mysteries of French grammar. To no avail I’m afraid. I can still hear the poor man asking me “exactly what is it that you don’t understand”. For whatever reason I was afraid to tell him the truth. The truth was that I understood none of it.
By now the year was 1953. Up to that point all my rugby had been played as a loose head prop forward. It became abundantly clear to one and all that I wasn’t developing the physique to continue playing in that position. It was decided therefore that I should try my hand as a hooker. The teacher responsible for coaching me in that position was Brother O’Keefe. Brother O’Keefe had recently joined the teaching staff from St. Edward’s at Liverpool and was known by pupils there simply as BOK. One memory I have that illustrates the love of rugby held by many teachers at St. Joseph’s concerns BOK. One lesson, I’m afraid I cannot now remember what the lesson was about, was due to be given by him. He was a round, prematurely balding man who was a caricature of a cleric. I remember him walking into the class carrying a rugby ball. He called me out to the front and told the rest of the class to read whatever text book related to the so called lesson. Then he played scrum half to me binding down against a classroom wall and learning to ‘strike’ at a rugby ball.
Many happy memories of that 1953/54 season. Of the touring All Blacks. Of being taken by the school to watch them play at Maine Road, Manchester. Of two members of that touring side, Kevin Skinner and Bill McCaw visiting St. Joseph’s and presenting school rugby colours. Of playing rugby (but never winning) against St. Edward’s at Liverpool. Of the excitement of meeting their P.E. Teacher, the late Martin Regan, the Liverpool and England fly half. Of Burnsie deciding that we should have our own Haka – Zami, Zicky, Ziro etc. And many more happy memories.
And so to 1956. I wasn’t the brightest pupil to have graced the school, far from it. So, in the autumn of that year I applied to become a police cadet with Lancashire Constabulary. The application needed two referees. I remember taking a deep breath, marching up the drive at St. Joseph’s, knocking on the front door of the normally ‘out of bounds’ house and asking to see Brother Dolan, the Headmaster, who had taken over from Brother Woodhouse. I told him of my application and the need for two referees. There and then the man wrote me a wonderful reference. He then walked me down the hill to the main gates, shook my hand and wished me all the best in my future. A gesture that I will never forget.
So my years at St. Joseph’s ended and my life long career in the police service began. What did St. Joseph’s give me? At least two things: discipline and a love of rugby. The police force I joined was then a highly disciplined body. The discipline I learned at St. Joseph’s stood me in good stead. The transition from the discipline at school to discipline of police force was seamless. And what of rugby? I very soon became a part of the Lancashire Police rugby team and quickly become a part of my new surroundings, of ‘fitting in’ if you like. Also in my civilian life I played rugby for anyone who would have me. As I have said about my rugby, more enthusiasm that ability. As it helped me in the police force it also helped me to become part of the community.
Now for the million dollar question. What did I or what do I think of the Congregation of Irish Christian Brothers? They were undoubtedly very tough, corporal punishment used probably to excess. Some people suggest as a manifestation of their celibate and frustrated life. The only evidence of paedophilic behaviour I saw at the school came not from a Brother but from a lay teacher. That man left the school very suddenly, who knows where to? My view is that we cannot judge ‘now’ with ‘then’. At a recent Old Boys Dinner, Tom Kelly, in his address, quoted L.P. Hartley who said 'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there'. How very true. When the time comes for the ICB’s to be judged I hope the good they did outweighs the bad. They taught boys all over the world. They brought hope to the young boys who had previously no hope. We need look no further that the City of Liverpool. The large Irish population there is a direct result of the thousands of people who left Ireland for far off lands. Many got no further than Liverpool. This resulted in slums developing, of disease, poverty and crime. It is widely believed by social historians that things improved considerably when the Brothers came to the city and established their schools there. For the first time boys realised that they had an opportunity for a better life. Of having an education, a free education, that would help lead them out of their poverty stricken and miserable lives.
I agree with Pat Nolan. In his personal memories he spoke of discipline and respect being the by-products of a religious education. He spoke of these qualities now being in short supply. Those attributes were what the Christian Brothers taught and he added 'wasn’t that worth a few red hands'. I’m not and never have been a religious man. I am more than aware of the imperfections and frailties of the human race. No one person, no one group is perfect. The Congregation of Irish Christian Brothers are no different. I for one though am grateful for the grit, backbone and common sense they put into me as a boy, qualities essential to progress into adulthood.
|Back to memories page.|