Stories about Schools

Schooldays in the 1940s

a biography of Reggie Gray

Reggie was initially sent to Newtown Infants but his mother complained that this was too far for him to walk so instead he started at St Mary’s Church Rooms. Later he transferred to Hinton Baptist where a room was used for infants during the war. Evacuees were taught separately in a room upstairs. When the air raid sirens sounded the children would dive under the desks. This would not have had much effect on the first floor in the event of an actual raid! At playtime Reggie remembers sitting and playing ‘horses’ on the shaped wall in front of the Chapel – this still survives to this day. There were US servicemen based at Bovingdon and often some would be in the town and hand out sweets to the children.

At Whitehill Junior Boys Reggie was not allowed to participate in PE owing to him having contracted polio as a baby, which left him with one leg considerably shorter than the other.

He suffered some small-scale bullying at school but not by the local ‘working class’ boys, with whom he had grown up. He was allowed out of school 10 minutes before the other boys but instead of going straight home he would ‘lie in wait’ in shop doorways and startle his would-be persecutors as they passed by. He was not to be intimidated and this strength of character has stood him in good stead all his life.

His first two teachers were women but in the third year he first experienced a male teacher – the highly-respected and well-remembered Jim Randall. He taught with discipline but a great deal of kindness and Reggie began to learn how to be a man. Jim instigated the Bird and Tree Club. Boys would pay 4d to belong to the club and could choose their own subject. Reggie chose rooks for his bird to study as there were many near his home in the Park. There was also a Saturday morning club when Jim took the boys out on nature rambles with sketch-books. They had to make observations and write up illustrated reports. They could supplement their research at the Boots Lending Library or the Magnet Library.

School meals were provided and these were sometimes taken at the Salvation Army Citadel, prepared in the Germain Street central kitchens.

At the age of eight the boys transferred to Germain Street School. Here Reggie enjoyed English lessons with Frank Coles, who instilled a love of words that has stayed with him. He particularly liked writing compositions. The boys moved from room to room for each subject, including woodwork in the workshop.

There were four grades of ability at the school, each taught by a different teacher. All subjects were taught at the same time and pupils could be moved up or down according to their ability at any time during the school year. Reggie missed a month of schooling whilst he was in hospital. There was a teacher there but all ages were taught by him so it was not very successful.

Meals were provided in the school canteen. Because Reggie’s birthday fell at the end of September he had to stay on at school until the Christmas following his fifteenth birthday.