Sir George Monoux Grammar School 1946-52
(c) Vin Callcut 2002-2017. Small extracts can be used with acknowledgements to 'Oldcopper.org' website.
Helpful comments are very welcome.
Sir George Monoux School 1946-52
Eur Ing Vin Callcut
Gym and the Dancing Class
Debating Society, Inter-Schools Discussion Group
The school intake of 1946 must have had some unusual characters. Returned to Walthamstow after the wartime evacuations or recovering from the trauma of the blitz, we were all probably looking forward to the rest of our school lives being stable. For me this was my sixth school in as many years, some being around Higham’s Park and Chingford and others during evacuation to Brackley, Northants. Each had been different with some doing plenty to encourage a spirit of self survival to a greater extent than being a good priming for a grammar school. However, the 11+ was passed. First impressions of Monoux were very promising with expansive grounds and a magnificent building that had interior toilets and classrooms without folding walls! Getting to the school was by 102 bus to Chingford Mount and then by 38 bus or better by using an excellent trolleybus. Mostly the trolleybuses were first choice but if the road outside Walthamstow stadium was flooded by the River Ching they could not get through. Before long a switch was made to parking a bike in the cycle sheds.
The ragging on the first day was not a good welcome but less prolonged than the way in which evacuees had been shown how unwelcome we were. Now back home we were fully used to exploring blitzed buildings with a sense of imagination that had made life much more enjoyable. We had also had a sense of freedom adventuring unsupervised through Epping Forest in a way that would never be allowed now. After such a varied childhood, respect for elders was not automatic.
Life now started in form room 1a, also the music room, and became better organised although there was the surprise of being transferred from room to room while others had their music periods. Memories of the first year seem a little vaguer than those later but initial progress was to have an influence on subjects and sets selected for the rest of the school life. Perhaps it is not surprising that the events remembered after all these years were the unusual and irregular rather than the routine academic work. Since others have already praised the efforts of the senior masters, these remarks look more at events and subjects.
A start was made with replacing all the leaded light windows to the side that faced Farnan Avenue. The incident had been a bad one with destruction and loss of life caused by a V2 on the 14th September 1944. I well remember seeing it streak down and across the sky from the playground at Handsworth Avenue Junior School. The effect on the pupils at Monoux on the day has been well described already by Arthur Roberts. Somehow the headmaster had obtained an allocation of strategic lead to do the job. The glaziers seemed keen to keep the trimmed offcuts but we thought that we could make better use of them. Soon the lapels of many of the school blazers were drooping under the weight of plaster-moulded castings of speedway riders finished in the colours of West Ham, Wimbledon or Walthamstow.
As mentioned, the merits of most of the senior masters have already been very well covered by others but there has been scant mention of some of the temporary and junior staff. At this time there were a series of masters returning from the forces who tended to replace both some older masters who had stayed on through the wartime long after their official retirement age and a few female teachers who may have been thought not up to handling effectively the lively lads of the time. Then came a few teachers newly qualified who had finished their university courses after the war. While the senior masters continued with their special subjects, this meant some lack of continuity for the youngsters.
It still rankles with me that for each of the first three years our history syllabus at Monoux started with the Romans and Normans and got little further. Even at junior schools I had already been told about hypocausts and portcullises several times and these were repeated in years one to three by three different masters. Year four opened with the arrival of a gowned master announcing that we were starting the ‘O’ level course and tackling the years 1831-1931. This later period was very useful background to recent happenings but - what had happened between the raising of the portcullises and the repeal of the Corn Laws? Only now that I have retired to Broseley in the Shropshire heart of the Industrial Revolution has time has been found to catch up a little.
The geography lessons were always of great interest and subsequent benefit. Mr West gave us an excellent idea of which countries were where and what they produced. Certainly this gave much more confidence when travelling on pleasure or business or even when listening to or watching the latest news. What a pity the topics seem less well covered today. With the comprehending of world geography also came some idea that other folk would appreciate an attempt to understand their language.
Four years of French did sink in to some extent but seems to have stayed well in the background. Perhaps there was the typical British regret that a country that at times had large areas subject to British Kings could not now be bothered to speak English. When we tried their language they seemed to take pride in not slowing down to give us a chance! So only occasionally does it resurface and show that the basics are still there. I suppose this training did give some help during attempts to learn something useful before travelling to Poland, Portugal, Hungary, Sweden and Spain although none got far.
On the other hand, only two years of German have frequently proved invaluable. Dr Martin Warschauer was very much under rated by us at the time as has been mentioned by others. I have it on my conscience that we sometimes played him up badly. The board rubber might jump out of reach just as his hand was about to use it or, in the middle of the lesson, a pile of books might suddenly fall from the top of the tall cupboard at the back of the room. At one time there was a craze for the entire form to advance their desks slightly every time he turned to face the blackboard. The effect was meant to be a joke rather than a show of enthusiasm but was probably intimidating but tactfully ignored. One day another master tried to get into the room during a lesson and found the door opening obstructed by a desk. We backed off and fortunately little was said at the time but the ‘joke’ was not repeated.
Soon after the memorable school visit to Kandersteg in 1951 we had the first visit of the exchange students from Weilburg which seemed to go very well. Our welcome guest was a very genial Gerhard Leistner who was then head boy at the Gymnasium Phillipinum. During the return visit in 1952 the students, their parents and the school staff gave us a superb welcome. We were told of the long standing local relationships with our royal family and the way that the Selters Sprüdel mineral water bottling plant had had a vital export trade to Britain. The Leistner family looked after me with very warm hospitality and the fact that Gerhard was the only one speaking any English meant that my basic German came in useful. In fact it was supplemented by a few colloquialisms that have been used elsewhere in Germany ever since. By the next year I had left school, started work, bought a pre-war motor bike and soon returned to visit again during a two week circular tour on the £25 exchange then allowed. Since then I have returned to Germany many times by bike, car, van, train and air on pleasure and business. Gerhard and his wife now live in Siegen. The extra confidence given by some use of the language has been of inestimable value at international meetings. At one time I had meetings in the Berlin enclave twice a year and was able to try going in and out by each of the corridor routes from Hamburg round to Vienna!
Music lessons did not give me so much benefit. I knew that Mr Belchambers was well known for many years before the war as conductor of the local choirs but his enthusiasm and expertise was far beyond some of us. Shakespearian songs did not suit our temperament at all and ‘Where the Bee sucks there suck I’ was often mispronounced with glee. That giant wind-up horn gramophone used for demonstrations did not help either. It took umpteen 78rpm records to get through a symphony and from our desks we could only look at Mr Belchambers sitting disconsolately behind his desk while each side dragged on towards the finale. Fortunately the situation was well saved when Walthamstow Borough Council put on a weekly series of concerts up at the Town Hall introducing the instruments of the orchestra.
After registration, we started every day with assembly standing in the school hall without dreaming that before long new schools would be built without any space big enough to hold all the pupils at one time. Generally the hymn, prayer and reading went routinely with only the announcements to include something unexpected. The only time I remember an incident was just before one Christmas when the hymn ‘While Shepherds Watch their flocks by Night’ had been chosen. Without prompting, the entire school seemed to sing the words of a popular advert of the time. Mr Stirrup just left the dais in disgust without giving the notices.
In retrospect, the school song was a good one. Is it still used?
How magnificent to find when I started that Monoux had a dining room on site! The food was always something for growing lads to look forward to and enjoy each day. I do not remember that any meal was ever inedible though perhaps there were a few things not so well appreciated. It was quite a revelation for my wife, a good cook, to realise that main meals could be classified as either ‘lumpistew’ or ‘runnistew’ or something else. Puddings should best be either suet puddings with thick custard or ‘Chinese Wedding Cake’ (rice with sultanas). Even after a good lunch there was still the urge for more – was there still free bottles of milk left? Should we go over to Woodheads corner shop or even up to Methvens at the Bell Corner for a school cap full of chips? Nowadays we eat much less.
Like others I did not appreciate being chased outside in all weathers for the ‘Colonel’s’ compulsory mass gym sessions. The only thing that lightened that part of the day was watching Mr Ames, the school caretaker, shovelling and barrowing coke from that enormous stockpile across to the boilers in the basement. Would the heap last through the Winter? How come he had coke in 1947 when we had to queue for each domestic sackful at the gasworks? Was doing his job preferably to organised exercises?
The listed periods varied by term from gymnastics to boxing to field and track events. The least said the better but life did get much better when badminton and tennis became good alternatives. When Mr Ninnim offered us the after-school dancing lessons it seemed a good idea to join. Such basics have also been very useful whenever some attempt at ballroom dancing has been needed. At first there were girls coming only from Walthamstow County High School, dressed in green. They sat down one side of the hall with the boys the other. Somehow the command ‘Advance’ was given and we all rose, walked towards each other and danced with whoever was opposite. Later we were also joined by blue-tunicced girls from Woodford County High and it was obvious that on average they were taller than their Walthamstow cousins. With luck you could meet a girl and talk to her face to face instead of just to the top of her head.
Of all the after-school activities available, this was the most enjoyable for me. The chess club had been interesting but as students later, we switched to Bridge. The debating topics of course included politics, religion and the atom bomb amongst others and most participants had authoritative views on what needed to be done to sort out the country and the rest of the world. Obviously ideas varied from person and gave rise to lively evenings. During the 1951 parliamentary election we had useful addresses from each of the three candidates in the school hall. The best quote remembered is from the Liberal candidate who proclaimed to us all ‘True Liberalism is true anarchy’ which has not been heard since. Is it true? As Conservative candidate in the school mock election I had a splendid group of helpers and romped to victory.
The establishment of the Inter-Schools Discussion Group (ISDG) gave us the chance to broaden experience of views from elsewhere, especially the ardent communists of Romford. Eventually, when as chairman of the ISDG trying to keep order and balance, I came to realise that the more heated a discussion became the less chance there was of anybody changing their opinions. This served very well later when trying to obtaining agreed compromises at meetings.
Mathematics was a subject that went well as far as ‘O’ level. The syllabus was clear and in ‘B’ set we were taken through each topic in turn. Our year was the first to take the new ‘GCE’ exam with its pass or fail as the only criteria and most of us passed. In this stream most were not expected to take maths any further whereas the ‘A’ set would be able to continue with the sixth form work. My parents suggested that I go on to do physics, chemistry, pure and applied maths with the idea of going to university. A start was made in first year sixth with three of the subjects making progress. Not so the pure maths that was essential for all science subjects. The ‘A’ set had not stopped at the GCE syllabus but already galloped ahead to an extent that was impossible for me to catch up whilst also doing the other subjects. ‘Tubby’ Taylor worked from rapidly from one side of the board to the other at an incomprehensible rate and then cleaned it in a floury of chalk dust that must have done his lungs no good at all. I was given the notes made by someone who had left but that was the only help offered.
By the end of the first term in the sixth form it was obvious that this was not the way for me. Without a State Scholarship there was no chance of the family being able to afford to send me to university. Only one or two scholarships a year were granted to the best in the school and I was not going to be one of those. The only useful alternative was perhaps to be the Scientific Civil Service exams. It would be better to leave and find a job with good motivation and training prospects including the then current excellent national scheme for studying one day and two evenings a week, doing homework on the other evenings and at weekends. A job as a trainee laboratory assistant with the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association near Euston gave me the excellent start towards management in industry and eventually retiring as Director of the Copper Development Association. The start given by the time spent at Sir George Monoux Grammar School must be thanked for a very enjoyable working life. As a retirement project I am trying to record the makers of domestic copper and brass from 1851-1951 and show the results on the ‘oldcopper.org’ and ‘oldcopper.org.uk’ websites. This will hopefully help others and be some return for the way that I have been helped through the years.
It is good to see how well the ‘Old Monovians’ website is developing and that many members are so enthusiastic. My congratulations to all involved. How well the website saves the cost of the regular magazines and the printing of ‘Who’s Who of Old Monovians’- I still have my copy of the 1966 edition. The worst investment I ever made was to take out a ‘Life Membership’ just weeks before the original Old Monovians Association folded back in the 1960s !
The last joint outing with 1946 year friends was an informal but memorable day trip to the Isle of Man for the Senior TT race in 1955. A few of us went overnight by train from Euston and found that the excursion-included dinner in the restaurant car was being served by enthusiasts who found enough extra food to serve us not only with ‘seconds’ but with ‘thirds’ as well. The driver of the ‘Coronation’ on the front of the train must have also been a keen motorcyclist since he seemed to ‘earhole’ the train round the bends as we tried to drink our coffees. However, he did slow down well in time to thread us through Liverpool and down to the dockside station. Unrepeatable Happy Days! Now I am only in occasional touch with Alan Staddon of all the friends made back in Monoux days.