Originally written as an article just on the author's time in Nysaland and Central Africa, it was thought valuable to add context to who ended up in the Colonial Service and what happened to them after they left the service. Hence, this is now a fuller biographical account of David Potter's life and work.
My earliest memories are of being taken to the vicarage of St Peter’s, Manchester Road, Bury, where father had continued as curate for two years after my birth in Bury Infirmary, Walmersley Road, on 11 June 1931. So I must have suffered a great deal of cooing and clucking from the ladies of the parish, and the men must have thought what a lucky chap the curate was in having such a pretty young wife. Mum would have had to give up her teaching job on getting married.
She told me she was a very ‘modern’ mother, following the latest fashions in bringing up babies. I cannot remember the name of the ‘guru’ she followed, but she said the result was I was half-starved until she abandoned his advice, and fed me properly!
They lived, lodging at the farm, until 1933 when they moved into a new? house at ‘Crail’? Bury Old Road, Heap Bridge, when father was inducted as Vicar of St George’s Church, Heap Bridge, a mill village between Bury and Heywood, of which borough it was part, the boundary being the River Roch (spelt Roach when we lived there.) The farmer was given the family car, an big old Morris with a dickey back, when the War broke out in 1939, for use as a tractor. I remember the open dicky vividly for when travelling I was placed in it, presumably with an adult, or two, and consequently got wet when it rained. So when we entered the Mersey tunnel, the rain stopped, my only memory of the tunnel -. I was probably 7 at the time. Father was a hopeless driver, always bumping into petrol pumps and things: much better with mules.
The nurse who brought me into the world was Dorothy Griffin, who became a friend of my parents, and of Jean and me when we met up in Nyasaland, 26 years later, and whom we visited fairly often after our return to England in 1967, when she was living in Harpenden. She died in the late 1970s.We lost touch when she had to move into a home. She was quite badly affected by being one of the first medical teams into the Belsen concentration camp.
Back to the vicarage, rather old-fashioned inside, but not an old building, ’posh’ and large compared with ‘Crail’, or ‘Sterndale’ the house on the corner of Bury Bury Old Road and the road to Birch at the top of Heap Brew, to which we moved only 100 yards or so along the road from ‘Crail’ The vicar of St Peter’s was Mr Hurst, and he had two daughters living at home, when not away at university. The one I kept in touch with was Frances, probably until I finished college in 1953. She was unmarried and became a teacher?. working in London, details of two of her addresses, including a telephone number, PRImrose 0310, in NW3. are in my address book.
I also remember visiting on occasions a family called Preston who lived in a council house, near St Chad’s? a daughter church of the parish with its own primary school.
Other memories are of a Mr Riddle, who lived in a large house, in one of the ‘poshest’.roads in Bury, and was a churchwarden and the only godparent I remember. He used to send me a 10/- note every Christmas; no other contact. Father was a keen Scouter, and one of his Scouts was George Clough, who subsequently became a leading solicitor in Bury.
Father was also very friendly with, I think, a Mr Snowden, who ran an import firm of bacon and dairy products from the Netherlands etc in a warehouse place by Victoria Station, Manchester. Very impressive to a small boy.His sons has a train set, I envied, and then, as presumably he grew more prosperous, they left the house further along Manchester Road towards Blackford Bridge, and moved out to Cheadle Hulme, where we visited them once or twice.
I also vaguely remember being taken to church ‘do s’ (how do you spell it?) in St Peter’s school across the main road from the church, to which the Vicarage was adjacent, on the same plot of land.
In the parish in Gigg Lane, was the Bury Football Club ground, to which the crowds walked or came in the tram cars along Manchester Road to the end of the Lane. I distinctly remember the row of trams along one side of Kay Gardens in the centre of Bury ready to take transport the fans on match days. During the war I walked to the ground with father from Heap Bridge, along Waterfold Lane, through the fields, under the Seven Arches railway bridge, crossed the River Roach through a paper? mill and walked up Gigg Lane. I stood in the boys’ stand whilst Dad stood with the adults, and it cost 6d. for me. Dad bought me a Bovril (hot beef drink) at half-time for 2p.
Heap Bridge on the banks of the Roach, had three significant factories, viz. Yates Duxbury, paper mills, whose pulp store went up in a most spectacular fire in 1938?; Crossland and Pickstone Dye Works, one access across a private bridge (which, after we moved in late 1940 or early 41 was a short cut to the village,) in Wrigley, later Bridge Hall Lane; at the end of which was the Transparent Paper Works, making a type of ‘cellophane‘paper from chemicals etc.
The village had Walsh‘s fish and chip shop, a Co-op, branch of the Bury Co-operative Society. Our number was 357 and it had an Education Sub-committee, which set competitions to which answers could be found in the dictionary or encyclopaedia,and I won quite a lot of prizes, mainly books, I think) There was also Mr Goldsmith’s Post Office and store, and another grocer’s shop which we patronised when falling out with the Co-op. A small sweet shop by the bus stop, so when nipping in to buy sweets one always worried if the bus would come and you’d miss it.
A favourite shop in the village was the.snobs’, the clog maker. I loved watching him measure the feet, make the wooden soles etc. and then fashion the leather uppers round them. We wanted clogs, and they had to have iron runners, so they could be used for creating sparks and also as weapons in kicking other children: even my sister Gillian had a pair, red ones without the iron runners, although I don't think mother thought it really very ladylike, or appropriate for the vicar’s daughter.
We had quite a good bus service. The trams were finishing when I was 3 or 4,the tracks were remaining for some time afterwards We had blue and white Rochdale Corporation buses, Bolton Corporation buses, brown I think, and Bury Corporation ones, later green? Service 21? or was it 23?.
There were two pubs The Bridge Inn and the name of the other I forget. I remember telling my parents as a small boy that they were serving milk at the Bridge Inn. “How did I know?“ “Because I saw people taking jugs there and carrying them away level.“ This was greeted with smiles, for of course they were buying beer at the ‘Jug and bottle’ section of the pub, common in those days. A habit of getting the wrong end of the stick or of getting two and two to make five, which has continued till now.
I started at Heap Bridge Council School in the Infants class at the age of 4, my teacher a Mrs/Miss? Hardwick. It was about 200 yards down the hill from Sterndale and only the road outside the house to cross, so I expect I was left to get there by myself, or with one of next door’s boys of my age, David? Grundy. The school was post World War I. The headmaster was Mr E.Ball, who lived in Rochdale Road, above the Seven Stars Inn, on the way from Heap Bridge to Bury about a mile from the school. He has a very good relationship with my father and the two of them co-operated in running a real welfare service for the village in the days before social services’
He had a limp from a war wound. He had been a prisoner-of-war in Germany and had picked up some of the language. So when father took in Lucy Rosenberg?, a German Jew, ostensibly as a housemaid, or nanny, under a special Home Office scheme,, and then her sister Lottie Rosenberg, a doctor, with a 5 or 6 year old son, George, my job was to take him to the school so he could talk German with Mr Ball, the only other person in the village, apart from his mother, with whom he could converse. Incidentally, father knew if the Germans, came he would have been in deep trouble, having helped jewish refugees.
It was a time of mass unemployment and poverty and looking at a school photograph there are only two boys with collar and tie and blazer or pullover., myself and Christopher Southurst?, whose father was a chartered accountant in Manchester, and his mother a Halstead, rich grocers in Bury. They had, what seemed to me a large house and garden, and central heating, the only house in the village with it or even dreamed of it, with a boiler house and large pipes. It was further down Heap Brew from the school, before the railway bridge, The line, a branch from the Bury to Rochdale line, served Duxbury’s and particularly the Transparent Mill, abutted the house and also the school. and quite a lot of school time was spent idly watching the trains through the windows
Most of the children came from the back-to back labourers’ houses around Lord Street, and were poorly dressed, some with rickets, a disease caused by poor diet, a few without shoes.
It was in retrospect a tough school, and as a small boy and I suppose the vicar’s son, I was bullied until the age of nine when I realised I had to stand up for myself, and became the rather aggressive person I have been ever since. Nor have I been bullied since either. Christopher Southurst? was sent away to Heversham school as a boarder at the age of ll, and I was led to believe, ruled the roost, knowing how to fight.
It was quite rough in playing outside with the Grundys and others in gangs. There was an old quarry opposite Sterndale and we used to throw stones at each other across it. I don’t recall anyone getting seriously hurt. We also used to ride ’bogies‘, a sort of go-cart with a plank of wood, two axles and four wheels, the front two of which could be steered with rope. We would hurtle down the steep slope in the field opposite, where we sledged in the winter snow, again no one seriously hurt, although rather dangerous.
We also got into mischief, although I was careful not to participate,, and certainly not to get caught. A grocer with whose shop was up the Heywood end of Bury Old Road, did a round in a van, and kept the cigarettes on the dashboard inside the nearside door, so some of the lads would lean in and help themselves. I didn’t smoke, possibly tried it and was sick! Another piece of vandalism was to throw stones and break the glass in the street lamps.
My brother Martin and I would be chalking girls’ prams and I would see father approaching. By the time he arrived I was nowhere to be seen, and Martin got the blame. I fear this happened on other occasions. No wonder he eventually finished up in New Zealand as far away from his brother as possible!
I also recall Miss Seddon, who lived opposite the Post Office, as my teacher in the next to the top class, as she frightened me by saying God wrote all your bad deeds in a book and you would be punished one day. Another memory is that Mr Ball loved playing contemporary tunes by ear on the piano, so had his class of boys and girls dancing ballroom dancing in the downstairs hall.,
We were lucky. Our parents thought seriously about sending us with other evacuees to North America when in June 1940 it appeared almost inevitable the Germans would soon be arriving. However they fortunately decided against it, as we would probably have been on the City of Benares which sailed from Liverpool with 740? children on board of whom only 11 survived when she was torpedoed in mid-Atlantic. The evacuation then ceased.
Martin and I used to fight, as boys do, with one another. We would start playing together, building castles with wood blocks with letters on to help us learn to read. We then started throwing spare wooden bricks etc ar the castles, then at each other, then hiding behind large armchairs, till father arrived to quell the riot.
Sterndale like Crail, a typical thirties house with two downstairs main rooms a hall and kitchen with two main rooms upstairs, a small front room and a bathroom. In 1940 there were three children and after March 12 a baby, Simon. But we also had a lodger, or rather billeted in the small front room, Pierre Gouvener ? a Free French airman. How did we squeeze in. Not well as we soon moved across the river to Old Bridge Hall, probably outside the parish boundary., but certainly in the Borough of Bury, not Heywood.
I left Heap Bridge Council School at the age.of ten to go to Regent Street? Central School, near Wham Bar, Heywood. I don’t think there was an exam, probably picked out as a potential grammar school, 11+ success by Mr Ball. However it marked the end of my primary school days.
I have omitted to mention memories of my father’s and my connection with his ’living’, that of St George’s, Heap Bridge.
He was inducted in 1933, having been appointed by the patron, Canon Hornby, the Vicar of Bury Parish Church, who went on to become Suffragan Bishop of Hulme. He was very much a leading member of the ‘establishment. He must have liked what he saw of the curate a mile or so away down the Manchester Road. Or perhaps there wasn’t much competition for the job at Heap Bridge: no clergy house, a poor mill village, and a modest stipend; simply a vacancy and a curate with one child and another on the way
Father was a great organiser. One of the main annual events in Anglican church life in Bury and other East Lancashire towns was the Whit week processions It was on Whit Friday in Bury with an open air service in Union Square.Each church had a band and I think children and possibly adults dressed up in a tableau for a few and best clothes for everyone. But St George’s was one of the best, with a ‘professional’ leader of the parade, viz Tommy Short, our barber, who was a church sidesman and also a communist, so used to marches etc. Father also recruited the Oldham Scottish Pipe Band which in full blast drowned the ordinary brass bands. The crowd certainly knew when St George’s were coming. The other memory is of the Pipe Band in full blast in the schoolroom, a noise equivalent to a modern ghetto blaster in full spate: for in the afternoon we went back to the home parish for field sports in a field, and then tea and evening entertainment.
The schoolroom was in the village below the church, just off Lord Street. One end of the school room, the size of a large classroom, a hall really, was a stage with some space behind, and toilets which father had built as an extension. Before, people went outside across the yard. There was also a kitchen and another classroom, where as a boy I used to join in the whist drives, with the adults.
Father used to write and produce pantomimes, using the songs and music he had picked up as a boy in the main Birmingham theatre, where he used to go each Monday night with a foster mother who was one of the cleaners, so had two free tickets ’in the gods’ (gallery). There he would have seen all the greats. Harry Lauder, Marie Lloyd, Vesta Tilley et al. He had a great repertoire of music hall songs, and had the music and albums, which I still have and played as a boy.
He was padre of Toc H. in Heywood and Chairman or Hon Sec? of the Bury Canine Society for he kept, bred and showed Old English sheepdogs. He was actually I believe a judge of the breed at the Royal? Agricultural Show at Great Harwood in about 1938 or so.
When the war came food became scarce and he had to get rid of seven? of the dogs, we kept one, at least one went to the farmer at Fletcher Fold, near Blackford Bridge where he and mother first lodged after their 1930 marriage, and another to Uncle Charlie at Romsley?
If you had been in Bury Open Market, by Kay Gardens, where the Metro Station is now, on a cold wet, Saturday evening, in 1941 or 42 you might have seen a small boy, me picking up the chickens heads from under the stalls. The farmers came in from the Fylde, to sell their produce and chickens, pies etc - direct selling. The chickens were plucked but hung up with the heads still on, presumably to show they were fresh, and these were then chopped off when sold. I took the heads in a bag home on the bus! where they were boiled up and presumably mixed with biscuits and scraps.
A poignant memory was of being in the choir and at evensong singing hymn Ancient and Modern 595 especially in the dark evenings, with a warm, dimly-lit church,(it had an efficient black-out system - no lights to show to enemy bombers), ‘Holy Father, in thy mercy, Hear our anxious prayer, For our loved ones now far distant ‘Neath Thy care.‘
For the young men who had been members of a youth group which met on Sunday evenings after church in the backroom at Sterndale, had been called up and were away at - I nearly put ‘at the front’ - but in World War II unlike WWI we were all at the front!
They used to write to Dad and he presumably wrote back I remember seeing a letter from Jim Hardman - he lived with his parents at 55 Pretty wood - in the files, and, of course, he could emphasize with them having being a soldier himself, in the Middle East for three or so years.
One lad, Harry Hart, was deferred for a time as he was the only son, of a widow and was an apprentice organ builder. He used to show me the organ which he played when the paid regular organist Mr Smith was absent. Harry would have been about five or six years older than me, and I looked up to him. He was eventually called up, and trained as aircrew in Canada. Then he was shot down and killed over St Lo in Normandy just after D-Day in June 1944. The first person I knew well to have died.
His mother gave me his bicycle, a rather heavy one with thick tyres, and I had it for another forty odd years until it was stolen from the cycle rack on Waterloo Station., chain cut through and more modern bikes left- must have had antique value. I had used it in Norfolk, cycling from Camberwell to King’s College in the Strand, fell off it hitting the curb crossing Waterloo Bridge,a bit drunk after a dance in the Great Hall, left on the terrace at King’s for many months after I left, and then picked up again to use whilst doing National Service at Orsett near Tilbury and then at Fareham, in Warwick and Claverham, and finally back in London.
I was a choirboy from the age of six or seven till we left for Norfolk when I was 14. When the choirboys got too excited playing noughts and crosses, ‘battleships, or hangman, father would turn round in the pulpit and say sternly ‘Be Quiet, David!’ Always felt it very unfair, but then I was a captive choirboy!
We formed a football team from the choir with difficulty, probably in 1944 or 5 and father had to make up the team. By then he had long since stopped playing football, but he was still playing when he first went to Heap Bridge, aged 38+. So he volunteered, or was ‘volunteered‘ to be goalkeeper. It was an away game to a team at Tottington, and we lost 0 - 15. And that was the end of that one game football team!
It was arranged I should be taught to play the piano with Mr Smith and I had lessons at his house near Tottington. At first I went on the electric train from Bury Bolton Street to Greenmount and then when he moved to a house the other side of the village up Four Lanes End Road, by tram, the terminus being in the centre of Tottington. It was not far away that the only V1 -flying bomb that ever came Lancashire way fell on a row of houses and killed several people. If it had gone another 50 yards or so it would have landed in fields, as did bombs dropped around Bury. and Heap Bridge.
The V 1 came over our house in Bridge Hall Lane about 8 o’clock as we were having breakfast. It sounded like a motor bike to us, but some evacuees staying with us, the Crooks, Peter and his mother, William Barnes’ sister, Gertrude, from the house next to Aldersmead, fleeing from the V I and V 2(rockets) bombing, turned ashen as they knew what it was. Fortunately for us the noise continued. It was when it stopped, that people’s hearts did too.
I was, and still am not a very musical person. It was seven years of hard slog for me, made to practice by may parents, and I did get to about Grade Four in Trinity College of Music House Music Exams in theory and playing. I did start a 60 + stretch of accompanying hymns and services generally at Sunday School at the age of 10 or so.
Brother Martin rebelled, and Norman Cutting (Ciffy) told father he was wasting his money on the private lessons in Cromer, and he was wasting his time. Martin then proceeded to teach himself the violin, the piano accordion etc, and even earned cash playing the fiddle later at Scottish hotel hogmanays. My younger sister, Judith, is very musical, reached Grade 8+ and is a professional organist, in other words gets paid. She was one of Mr Cuttings great successes. She learned on the organ of Cromer Parish Church where he was organist and choirmaster.
Actually I did not regret being able to play at a sufficient standard to play at the Malawi Independence Day service in Blantyre CCAP, and for church and school services and for the odd wedding and funeral at Roughton. On one occasion the ring slipped off the cushion as the best man passed it to the groom, and it fell through a grating. Father did not panic, but borrowed a ring from a nearby lady, used that, later jacked up the grating, retrieved the ring, and then had a special blessing of the ring.
I have suddenly realised I did not mention my stay in hospital, about the age of four, to have my tonsils out. I don't remember anything about it. But I do know Martin and Gillian were whipped off to the isolation hospital for a week or so ? with the scarlet fever I had passed on to them I had it so mildly it was not recognised until the others got ir, and by then there was no point in isolating me. We all had the usual childrens’ illnesses, measles, whooping cough, impetigo etc and regularly had hair combed with a very fine comb to get the nits out. But I don’t recall not being healthy. Martin had ear and nose trouble, which cleared up in the drier air of Norfolk.
From Heap Bridge Council School in the Borough of Heywood and subject to its Education Committee I went on at 10+ to Regent Street Central School under the same Authority. This was a sort of in-between school between grammar and secondary modern. I went in at 10+ and was in Form 1a as opposed to form 1b. It was a class, as far as I recall, where a number of the pupils were to take the 11+ for grammar school entry. If unsuccessful they would then carry on with the rest of that year‘s entry doing science, languages?, etc. Presumably the 10+ entry were primary school pupils picked out early on as potential grammar school types? I never really questioned it at the time.
Miss Mahon? was our class teacher. We had other teachers for science and for history. I particularly recall Mr Whitworth, who was very interested in running a special history club for selected boys - I don’t remember any girls accompanying the group on their visits to castles, etc. He also invited us to his house to play board games, including I recall, Buccaneer, a big deal at the time. I wondered why my father never seemed keen on this contact with Mr Whitworth. I learned later that he had been a pillar of St George’s until very soon after father’s arrival in 1933, when he left the scene. Now I realise that Mr W’s interest in boys was not regarded as healthy by my father, who having been in the army and the poor law service etc., was worldly wise. It must have been difficult for him, as I was so much in awe of Mr W, but I don’t recall any form of physical contact. Whether Mr W was careful to avoid trouble, whether father had warned him off, or whether Mr W was completely innocent of any paedophile activity I shall never know. It was many decades before I began to suspect any of this as I was unaware of such things, except in the most general terms, until much later in life,
The central school was not far from the railway line near Broadfield station. I went by bus from the bus stop on Rochdale road by Duxbury’s paper mill and got off at Wham Bar. For a time I took my baby brother, Simon, to a Wartime Day Nursery there on my way to school. He would be around 2 years old. Mother was working in Heywood Library at the time, as all adults had to be registered for work
I did pass the 11+ and I think might have gone to Manchester Grammar School, but in 1942 the City centre was being bombed to bits and it did not seem a good idea to cross it at the time. In any case we had moved down Heap Brew across the river to live in Old Bridge Hall, in Bridge Hall Lane (ex Wrigley Lane) and were now residents of the Borough of Bury, my birthplace, So I was offered a place by Bury Education Authority at its High School. This offer was declined because I became eligible for a Kay Scholarship at the Direct Grant, fee-paying Bury Grammar School., which my father accepted on my behalf. A Direct Grant School received a government grant in return for accepting 25% of its entry as 11+ passes, known generally as passing ‘the scholarship.’ We had free tuition and books and some of us were financed by the Roger Kay trust, hence ‘Kay Scholars.’ Just how much of this came from the trust and from the Direct Grant I have never discovered. We were all called Kay scholars however.
Before reminiscing about Bury Grammar School I shall write about Old Bridge Hall to which we moved in March? 1942 before moving to Roughton Rectory, Norfolk in December 1945
Old Bridge Hall was semi-detached, half of a considerable stone-built house, probably late 18th.century, perhaps earlier, situated on a ledge on the eastern bank of the River Roach, set back from the actual river with the Croston? and Pickston? dye-works and its associated lodges - two ? artificial mill-ponds, each the size of a 25 metre swimming pool - on the flood plain adjoining the actual river. There was access through the works and across a rickety road bridge to Rochdale road right next to Yates Duxbury paper mill. This had been re-built after a big fire in 193 ? which I remember seeing light up the night? sky from Sterndale a small boy, the store of wood pulp was highly combustible. Another burning night sky was looking the other way when Deansgate and central Manchester went up in flames during bombing in early 1942? The route through the dye-works was private and always a bit fraught, but generally a blind-eye was observed for us locals. It was a working area and really, in retrospect, quite dangerous especially the ill-kept bridge with a rough surface and without guard rails. It did however provide direct access to the village, rather than a longer walk to the end of Bridge Hall Lane and back left across the road bridge. I distinctly remember the stokers shovelling the coal into the gaping fiery mouths of the large Lancashire steam boilers, very dramatic.
One day my brother Martin was hesitatingly adjudged a hero for pulling another small boy who lived in one of a row of dilapidated cottage round the back of the hall out of one of the lodges. Harry was rather a rapscallion and he and Martin had been playing where they shouldn’t have been. Martin said Harry fell in, but the intriguing question was whether he was pushed in initially, because he was rather an obnoxious character
Just beyond the cottage was a dairy farm with a farm track lane leading down to Bridge Hall Lane one way and through woods besides the estate of the 19th. century Bridge Hall, a replacement for the Old Hall, next to it, on the other, to Summerseat? housing estate, Jericho on the Old Rochdale Road with access to Birtle (Bircle?)and the Pennines.
It was on the lane I had the first of my near-death experiences. I rode my bike out of the yard at the back of the house, across the front of the row of cottages, round the end of it straight on to the farm track, only to be knocked down by the vet’s? car coming down. He had no chance of avoiding me as it was a blind corner and it never occurred to me something might be coming down the rarely used track, only normally seeing occasional use by noisy farm vehicles However I was just knocked off the bike on to my behind, picked myself up, or was helped up by the shocked driver and we were both OK.
Old Bridge Hall had one large imposing reception room to the right on entering the front hall entrance and a smaller but still good size room to the left which became father’s study. Then stairs leading upstairs to a passage off which were two good sized bedrooms. This le on to a series of other small rooms, one of which was the family bathroom. Downstairs the hall led on to the kitchen where a lot of time was soent as the warmest room and various other storerooms.etc. These were obviously the servants quarters when it was one big house.
This house was rented as there was no parsonage with St George’s. I remember seeing correspondence about this. Father complained he was paying too little rent! But the landlord wrote firmly that he fixed the rent and that was it. He knew the family was not wealthy and this was his way of ghelping the church and the family. Incidentally I believe our family Doctor Faulds, never presented a bill. There was, I seem to remember, an old custom professional people did not always charge one another for services rendered, or perhaps he too took the same line as the landlord. (Later in the 80s at Easter I gave the Vicar a sack of potatoes rather than cash for an Easter offering - because the Revenue started to treat the clergy’s Easter offering as income for tax purposes. Whether this was the case in the 1940s I doubt, but it might have been)
We continued to have servicemen billeted on us, or perhaps taken in to help with the finances, four children and a fifth, Judith in 1944! We had a couple of WRAF at one time, and father organised a social evening for them and other servicemen.at the house. They were not teetotal. All was going well when I suddenly heard father banging on one of the bedroom doors and shouting ass it had been locked. I wondered what was going on. Innocent boy at 12 or 13! Can’t recall what ensued. We weren't told.
We also had two Free French Officers for a time. They took over father’s study and on taking them coffee I noticed they had plans they were annotating of airfields at places like Arras and Armetieres, which later became targets for Mosquito bombing raids around D-Day in June 1944, They also used to go off to London, presumably to see General de Gaulle, and on one occasion they came back with lobsters and cooked them for us, the first lobster I ever tasted.
Another Bury Grammar School boy, Jimmy Kirkman, lived further along the Lane in some new houses for, I think, the management of the close by Transparent Paper Mill. He was younger than me so I don’t think we became close friends. I was more interested in one of two sisters living at a lodge in between. The first stirrings of sexual attraction att age 14. We may have met at parties. I fantasized. There may have been an exchange of Christmas presents in December 1945 but I don't even remember of plucking up courage to ask for a date.
Bury Grammar School was very different from Regent Street. Most notably that many of the boys seemed to have lots of pocket money, and it was a Public School, defined as the Headmaster being a member of the Headmasters’ Conference. It was definitely upper middle class. Corporal punishment was the norm, and I was beaten once or twice a term, for some min0r misdemeanour, such as talking in class etc. Often the choice was 500 lines or six of the cane on the behind, and being lazy I chose the latter. Then there was the clip round the ear or the use of a gym slipper. We regarded this as perfectly normal. On one occasion I felt it a bit over the top as the cane had cut through my trousers and underpants and cut wheals in the skin which I showed my brother when having my nightly bath. But one didn’t complain or tell father. he would probably have walloped one as well.
We had some excellent teaching. In my first year in Upper III M our form master was Dr Meier, who taught French and German, a German, and an excellent teacher with firm standards. Our English teacher was Mr Windross? not so good a disciplinarian. The rhyme went @ The boy stood on the burning deck, The captain blew his hooter, And who do you think came riding past? Why Windbag on his scooter‘! Boyhood humour! I was quite good at woodwork with another stern teacher, Grundy? and just before I left got interested in metal work, as there was a small workshop - I think this was an after-school activity. The main influence on me was from A L Shaw, the Latin and Greek master. He later became a Bury own councillor as inter alia he felt the Local Education Committee was not generous enough in awarding grants to BGS students going on to universities, especially Oxbridge. He taught us some classics, but was easily diverted on to politics and current affairs. During the 1945 general election campaign he ran a mock election in the Upper Fourths. I was the Liberal candidate and won, Geoffrey Moorhouse later a Guardian leader writer, columnist, journalist and then successful author, who had three wives - in succession! -, retired to Hawes in Yorkshire, where he died in 2010? was the Labour candidate. He lived at Ainsworth and was a close friend. One day he bunked off school to go to a football match at Burnden Park? the home ground of his beloved Bolton Wanderers, where he was lucky to avoid being crushed when several people died in a barrier collapse. We were a threesome. The third being David Hill who lived at Edenfield, and was the Conservative candidate., He became a solicitor in local government and was unbeknown to me working for the Greater London Council when we were resident in London. I only discovered this when his younger brother contacted me after I had put a note in The BGS Old Boys newsletter. It turned out he was living in a retirement home near Bournemouth. So I went to see him in July 2012. Very sad, as he could hardly speak and oral contact was almost impossible, but I think he was pleased to see me 67 years after I left Bury we did not keep in contact: new school for me and new friends.
The Headmaster was L. C. Lord, in retrospect a fine one. Father consulted him before accepting the invitation to move to Roughton. Martin’s health was a factor as he had ear, nose and throat trouble, which cleared up in the dry Norfolk air. I was a bright lad, but lazy, and Mr Lord felt we, and I suspect father too, would benefit from a change and country air. At BGS we had monthly reports with a White card for a certain number of good marks, and. a Blue card for fewer, but still well above average. This kept the masters on their toes, probably to a greater effect than on the boys. I usually came 5th to 7th in class. At my next school I was top of the form: not quite such a high academic standard as at Bury.
One big scandal to us boys was when one of the Sixth Form punched a rather obnoxious master called Fawcett. Rapidly hushed up. When years later I mentioned this incident to Cubbon, by then Sir Brian, after a dinner of the Association of Lancastrians in London, he claimed to have no remembrance of it.
A major social learning incident which had a great effect on me, which has lasted all my life, is that under pressure I cheated in a Latin exam in the final week or so of my last term at BGS in December 1945. I think I had crib notes on my hand, or a bit of paper. I forget the detail. But I was so ashamed of myself, and prayed hard for forgiveness and was thoroughly upset. I felt I had let myself down. And since then I have not consciously told lies or been dishonest, because I know my conscience would make me feel terrible. Just not worth it!
School dinners (lunches for southerners) were 1/- and poor quality. So I was given a shilling a day to pay for them. However I discovered I could get meat and potato pie for 1/1 at the Co-op café adjacent to Kay Gardens, in the town centre, a ten minute walk from school up Tenterden Street and along Silver Street. Dinner break was from 12 noon to 1.30 pm as many boys went home for the meal. Nobody queried my disappearance and I as back in time to play football with a tennis ball in the yard before scho0l restarted. But from where did the extra penny come from? The answer is by trading comics, Dandy, Rover, Beano, Wizard, etc. I bought from one boyf for a penny and sold to another for 1.5 pence.
We had one Jewish boy in our class, and I am sure there were others in the school as Prestwich and the surrounding areas were well within the school’s catchment area. His name was Joshua Jolles, we called him Josh and although a little odd, we regarded him affectionately. I never remember any anti-Semitism even passing through Cheetham Hill on bus trips to Manchester
BGS had a cadet Corps, but I didn’t join, nor did any of the threesome. I think we perhaps had too close a direct knowledge of what war really involved, or an anti-militaristic attitude, or just not the flavour of the month. I did join the cadet corps at the next school however.
BGS had a covered swimming pool completed just before the war. I was not very sporting, being small and not very robust. But I did have good lungs so could stay under water to pick up more plates from the bottom of the pool than others: also to run cross country. We played football and cricket at the sports ground at Buckley Wells a great spot for train spotting.
Father was good at sharing his interest in theatre with me. We saw leading Shakespearian actors, such as the Dames, Edith Evans, Sybil Thorndyke and her husband Lewuis Casson?, They came to Bury as part of a government scheme to buck up the morale of the mill workers under a scheme called CEMA, Council for Education in Music and the Arts?: the civil equilavent of ENSA. The plays took place in The Technical College Hall with a fine stage and auditorium, the building completed around the beginning of the was.
Another riveting experience of the Bard’s works was a performance of the Scottish play at the Manchester Opera House with flamboyant Donald Woolfit vastly overplaying the title role. Great fun!
A life memory was at 12 being in the upper circle at BELLE VUE, reached by the Longsight tram. The theatre was part of a large entertainment area, which even included a motor cycling race track, and I think a zoo, etc. The venue was reached by the Longsight tram. It was for a performance of the Messiah with the Halle orchestra, the Huddersfield, Leeds and Halle Choruses, soloists Isobel Bailey, soprano, Heddle Nash,?, tenor, Marjorie Thomas? or was it Kathleen Ferrier?, alto, and Norman Walker? bass. An incredible first experience of a large musical event with world class artists. The conductor was Sir Malcolm Sergeant. The solo ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’ was particularly memorable, and another great performance was by our younger daughter, Ruth, at Backwell School, when she remained behind after we moved to London. I had vaguely remembered she had paid herself for singing lessons, but not having heard her sing for almost two years it was a most pleasant surprise to hear her fill the sports hall with handel’s famous piece. I also remember Lilac Time, a musical play based on Schubert’s music at the Bury Hippodrome, which had weekly rep. Also to see musicals at the Bolton theatre one of which included the song ‘Tea for Two’.
My other contact with leading artists was when I took one of the sheepdogs by public transport to the Palace Theatre, Manchester. Father had hired the dog to a company putting on a show called ‘Panama Hattie‘ with Bebe Daniels, Claude Hulbert? and other leading stage and radio actors. They wanted it delivered on a Sunday, when father was otherwise engaged. It was a great thrill for a 12 year old boy to meet these ‘celebrities’ and they took me to tea in a taxi! - a first? - to the top Manchester hotel, the Midland, for tea.
I used to go off from home with a packed lunch, to Ashworth Valley with friends a valley in the Pennines, north west of Rochdale, by Bamford, and up past Jericho and Bircle, where we would dam streams etc. One afternoon a plane came over, low down, so we all glanced up. Then dived for cover as it was a German. It fired its machine guns, probably not at us, but to clear them, and the went on, having come in under the radar, no siren, and dropped its bombs on the RAF 35 Maintenance Unit hangars in the fields above Heap Bridge on the way to Birtle, a mile or so from Sterndale, the other side of the railway line.
Another day out was when Martin and I, aged 13 or 14, one summer day, took the train from Bury Knowsley Street to Liverpool Exchange, 45 miles or so away. Then we would do a round trip on the overhead railway from Pierhead to the northern terminus to see the ships in the then very busy docks. Then again from Pierhead, by the Liver Building, take the ferry to New Brighton, a seaside pleasure suburb on the Wirral. Martin used to retail the story. I don’t remember it. He claimed that when we had fish and chips, costing say 1/6, the café proprietor offered us each a cup of tea and some bread. When he presented the bill it was more than the 3/- I apparently considered due. The man said we had to pay for the tea and bread. I am supposed to have told him he didn’t tell us they were extra and that I had assumed he was being generous to two young boys. He threatened to call the police. Martin said I told him to go ahead, and I would tell them what a rotten swindler he was. We were then presumably booted out pronto, having paid the contracted 3/-.
Then it was off to 'Norfolk'
Roughton, a village situated in a dip in the main Cromer to Norwich road, the A142?, four miles south of the former and 22 from the latter, had father as its Rector from January 1946 until his death in February? 1959. It is a scattered village, but where a road from Thorpe Market towards Felbrigg cuts obliquely across the main road are situated a garage, the New Inn, the village school, and since about 1960 a fish and chip shop. Formerly there was a blacksmiths and a post office cum store, now part of the garage, one of the few in the area supplying LPG.
St Mary the Virgin’s Church, with its Saxon round flint tower and 14th Century building is situated a hundred yards along a farm lane to the left of the main road, on the rise south from the village centre. Further at the top of the rise, the Rectory lies back from the road behind a patch of woodland, encircled by a driveway.
The church now has a pipe organ and electricity. Then we only had oil lamps, and so in the winter had evensong in the afternoon. Whilst I was living at the Rectory, I was the organist, although the ‘organ’ was actually a harmonium kept going by pumping on pedals with one’s feet. After Dad died, he was succeeded by Gilbert Spurrell, whom I knew at King’s College. He came from well-off land-owning family, I believe, from Suffield, a village about ten miles away. He modernised the Rectory and tidied up the church, had the bells re-hung and tuned and, with a legacy, it resulted in a new pipe organ, the creation of a proper vestry in the base of the tower with a wooden door instead of a ragged curtain, etc. Gilbert, like my father, was an AKC (Associate of King’s College, London}, as were Jean and me, but in our cases, non-theological. Then later, when the parish of Roughton was amalgamated with that of Northrepps, David Ainsworth, its rector, became another AKC rector. We also knew David at Kings - another story later!
Some villagers thought the churchyard, ’boneyard‘ in the local dialect, was haunted. They could see lights and a figure up in the church yard at midnight. Actually it was father going to light or stoke the boiler on a Saturday night so there would be some heat in the church at next morning’s services. I also played for weddings and funerals. At one wedding the couple were at the foot of the chancel and as the best man went to take the ring from the groom to place it on his bride’s finger, it slid off its cushion and fell through the central heating system’s grating on to the cobwebs on the pipes below. Then we had the spectacle of father, the robed priest, on his knees trying to pull up the grating and rescue it. Having failed, he borrowed a ring from one of the congregation, and used that. Then at the conclusion of the service, got the grating up, retrieved the ring, and called the couple back from their photographing, and quickly blessed it and re-did that bit of the marriage ceremony.
On another occasion at a funeral, when the coffin had been lowered into the grave in the church yard, the bands with which the undertaker’s men lower it got stuck on the wood planks at the bottom of the grave, and couldn’t be withdrawn. So after the last mourners had cleared the churchyard gate, father told me to jump down into the grave, straddle the coffin and lift it, so the bands could be freed!
This was not the only occasion I was in a grave. Another time the gravedigger’s arthritis was playing up, so I was designated to get in there and carry on digging. The church yard had been used for burials since Saxon times, so as I dug in the sandy soil it changed colour and I realised I was digging decomposed bones. So I put a bit of it in an envelope and sent it with a love letter to Jean, my fiancee.
The Rectory was a typical Victorian edifice with three large reception rooms facing south with a stepped lawn in front, and beyond, in my time the remains of a tennis court. Beyond that was a field and open country stretching away to the boundary of the Gunton Hall estate. When we arrived, the field, glebe land so the Rector got the rents, was just used for grazing horses for a Miss Dunning, who had a farm about half a mile away. Father made his reputation in the village one day, when they were having difficulty in catching the horses, father went into the field and rounded them up without delay. After all, he had driven mules through Palestine for four years, so English Shire horses must have been a doddle!.
But father wished to help a young man in the village, Horace Rump, who had some land behind the police station and was trying to make a living selling vegetables to local hotels and shops, and wished to expand his activity by cultivating the Rectory field. So father let him have the tenancy, and Horace ploughed the field. He grew wheat one year, and we had the threshing machinery in the field, complete with steam engine - but might have been diesel! I learned how to build a haystack.
The corn was cut with a tractor-hauled cutter that went round and round the corn, with the standing bit in the middle getting gradually smaller. Then along one side would be the man with the gun, and on the other sides the village youngsters with sticks, all there to catch and kill the rabbits and other game that had been trapped in the corn, as it tried to escape. All great fun. At 15 I had my own shot-run, a twelve bore I think. At the beginning I was lucky enough to bring down a partridge in Horace’s other field at some distance, so had the un-deserved reputation o f being a good shot; although I didn’t have much success later. I took the gun to Africa with me but got rid of it when the troubles started - see below if I get that far.
The house lay about 75 yards back off the road behind a patch of open woodland. There was a semi-circular drive, so there were two access points to the main road. On the west side of the house was the front door, with an open turning-space in front of it, and a study to its right. Then to the north were a kitchen and a scullery, and a larger inner room with a coal-fired stove, which became the main living room in the winter, as the only warm one in the house! Across a yard were the old stables in which we kept our bikes. When we arrived there were still acetylene lamps to be found. In the yard was also the outside toilet, a thunder-box: a wooden seat on a box with a bucket in it. The contents were duly emptied on to the kitchen garden via a compost heap which lay to the east of the house. There was also the shed with the well and its pump.
The water system consisted of a canvas belt, studied with metal ‘cups’ which went around a block and pulley about 15 feet down, being driven by an old Petter diesel engine, started, if you were lucky, with swinging a starting handle. The dislodged water was then pumped up into tanks in the ceiling., and then through a standard piping system to baths and basins.
However the belt used to break, and the block and pulley hauled up with a grapnel so the repaired belt could be threaded round it. Meanwhile water had to be carried from the police house well; a big incentive to get the repair done as quickly as possible. After I went off to college in 1949 father got a new Lister pump, engine and water system. He also had the electricity put in when it came available, as before we used Aladdin, Tilley and other oil lamps, cookers and heaters. The knowledge of how these worked came in very useful later when we had power cuts in London, and on Thames barges, in Malawi and at camp etc.
At the rear of the house were stone-ledged deeper rooms, which were much cooler and were obviously used for food and wine storage
Upstairs there were three corresponding large bedrooms facing south. Mum and Dad had the front one, Martin and I the middle one, and the Grandpa Barnes and Peggy the back one, when they came to live with us for a time. There were four? other smaller rooms and a bathroom as well as an upstairs and downstairs lavatory. There were two staircases, the main one by the front door, and the other at the back of the house, which was obviously designed with live-in servants in mind; proved by the existence of bell-pulls in each major room, and a row of bells in our ‘living’ room downstairs, with the relevant rooms indicated. There was a system of wires and ropes involved, and great sport was to get in the roof and set them all ringing at once; a practice quickly stamped out, as for the first few months after moving in, we had an elderly couple the Rev and Mrs Alston, a former Rector of Roughton living in some of the front rooms, until they could move into their new accommodation. With five young children roaming about, it seems unbelievable. Not surprisingly there was friction. Another drawback was the roof leaked. so when heavy rains came the front landing was laced with a series of buckets and pails.
There were two beds in the room Martin and I shared, with a full size billiard table between them. This had apparently been moved out of the village hall for safety during the war. It was so cold in the room, one ‘ran a hundred yards’ on getting into bed to try and warm it, and oneself, up.
In the parking/ turning space to the west of the house was a manhole, ignored, until one day, some time after the field had started to be cultivated, it lifted and began to ooze sewage. The cause was the deeper ploughing had crushed the field drains that spread the sewage out below the field surface. So it all piled up backwards. And guess who had to get down into the manhole and dig it out? I stank for weeks, but gained an intimate first-hand knowledge of sewage systems.
Dad was good with animals, and hopeless with machines, as already indicated. He had rabbits, geese, hens, goats, pigs, dogs and towards the end a Guernsey cow. When a pig was killed, in and after the war, the owner kept half and the rest went to the ‘government‘. I remember the hocks of bacon etc hanging on hooks in the ’living’ room, They didn’t last long, just a few weeks - but luxury, as the ration was about four ounces? of bacon/meat? per person per week.
Father was active in the social life of Cromer. There wasn’t much in Roughton, except for the concerts and plays he arranged in the village hall. He was secretary, or some other officer of the Cromer Society, which organised extension lectures, classical concerts and other cultural activities. He was the Padre of the Cromer Branch of Toc H, a basically religious organisation founded in Popperinghe in Belgium in World war I by an Anglican chaplain, Tubby Clayton, later vicar of All Saints? Hallowes? by the Tower (of London). He also was the Cromer organiser for the university extension lectures arranged by the University of Cambridge Board of Extra Mural Studies. Lecturers came from Cambridge the 80 odd miles to Cromer in the afternoon and returned later that evening usually with a break at the Rectory en route. One frequent lecturer who became a great friend of father’s was Dr. Leslie Wayper of St Catherine’s and Fitzwilliam House, and I believe they speculated together on the stock exchange, successfully so there was enough cash for mum to buy Treetops after father died; and a place was found for Martin at Fitzwilliam House, later College?. What gave dad great pleasure was to be made a member of the University’s Extra Mural Board - not bad for a lad who left school at 14.
Dad was also elected to the North Norfolk District Council representing Roughton, and served for many years until his death. He cycled to the four miles to Cromer and seven to Sheringham as we didn’t have a car. He was non-political, and at one County Council election he proposed the conservative candidate, and mother seconded the labour candidate or vice versa, on the candidates personalities. It caused a few eyebrows raised in the village!.Mother also closed the MothersUnion branch because the organisation refused membership to un-married mothers.
Mother, as all the children were now aty school was able to resume teaching. At first she could only get an appointment at Matlaske, a village school 7 miles away, quite a bicycle ride. But fortunately a vacancy came up at Roughton School where she had several happy years till she had a stroke and fell off her auto cycle in 1963?, by then living at Treetops on the Hall road, out of Cromer, aged 59. She had about 20+ 4 -8 year olds in her class and the Head, Mr E Yarham, took the 8- 11s Each pupil had its work load. She sat at her desk and the pupils came to her, except when she took the whole class. Every child could read by the time they left her class for Mr Yarham’s, except one, Billy Baker. He soon learned, as Mr Y had a simple direct method of instruction. ‘What‘s that word?’ ‘Wrong‘ Clip round the ear.
Mother said in an idle moment looking at the infant faces before her it was ‘interesting; to note facial images which did not relate to those of their fathers as recorded on the register, but to other men in the village!
It was a Voluntary Aided School, a church school where the local authority paid for everything except structural repairs. The church thus appointed two-thirds of the governors. Father would conduct a short service some mornings and it was during one of these, mum playing the piano, that he collapsed and died from a heart attack.
Mum did have help in the house. a particular favourite was Mrs Woodhouse, who made super Norfolk dumplings to go with a stew. The school had its own cook for the school dinners, which I think father as well as mother enjoyed. Another feature was that every Tuesday/ evening Mr Mutimer called to collect the week’s shopping order. He had a shop in Cromer and delivered the groceries on Thursday? evening. Otherwise we bought odds and ends from the Post Office cum shop near the school or Mr Crouch’s grocers etc where the Metton turn-off left the Felbrigg road, about half a mile from the Rectory down a back road, and the school.
Mum and Dad also took into the family three other children usually between 8 and 10 who stayed with us for several years until their early teens. They were children of one-parent families in the custody of fathers in the service. Pat Hart’s father was a warrant officer in the RAF, Roy’s an NCO in the Army, and Peter was in the care of an uncle, a Major? General, who was GOC East Africa, at the time of Malawi’s independence celebrations. Pat and Roy were little trouble and Roy, who joined the Army and got promoted as an NCO kept in touch with Mum till she died. Peter Heyman, an ex public school boarder had been expelled from King’s School, Canterbury, was often in trouble and father had to ‘bail ‘him out many times. He ven got him an apprenticeship with Mr Cheverton, a Cromer printer, and that didn’t work out. Eventually Peter moved away, to
the relief of many locals.
The three came as a result of father answering adverts in the Personal column of ‘The Times' which was then a major featur of its classified adverts front-page. It was partly I think, because he was sympathetic, having been put out by his father to foster parents, but more recently I think also that mum and dad needed the money. It was privately arranged fostering. I don’t recall social services being involved, although perhaps there was some sort of bureaucratic form-filling involved.
I had quite a busy social life, apart from school. Just after we arrived, I got a few boys together to try and start scout troop. We met in an outside barn at Captain Gibson’s house on the Felbrigg road, which had a large garden and woodland. This was unofficial, and did not last long, as I then joined an official Scout troop at West Runton, seven miles away, run from her house/bungalow on the Cromer Road, by a Miss Marsh: a very unusual appointment as there were very few lady scouters in the late 40’s. I think my membership lasted for 12 months or so.
I also belonged to a weekly Christian youth group organised by Cromer Parish Church. This was, and is, a very evangelical outfit. Its patron is The Church Pastoral Aid Society. At school we, in the Sixth Form, were listening to BBC talks for schools including some by Prof. C H Dodd? a noted theologian. Also I listened to Dad’ sermons, so my theology was not that of a Mr Wright, the curate, a staunch Protestant from Northern Ireland. On one occasion, I suggested to Mr Wright after a disquisition on the first verses of St John’s Gospel, that if you studied the Greek, as I was doing at school, a different interpretation of the meaning could be entertained. I don't think Mr Wright had done. any Greek, but the interjection did not go down well. Shortly afterwards the group were asked to vacate the church rooms, so we moved to a room in the Methodist church near Cromer Beach railway station at the corner of the Hall and Holt Roads. When we were all due to go off to work or university in mid-1949 we wound up the group, using the remaining funds on a fish and chip supper!
I was, without doubt, a disruptive influence. Another speaker was a Mr Nor(th)gate, a layman, who ran an outpost of the Parish Church, a meeting hall in Suffield Park. He used to tell us how many converts he had made. So one occasion, having asked him how many years he had been working at the mission, I suggested I had calculated he should have had a membership of 5000!. No wonder we were asked to move on - a corrupting influence!
Another joy of the group was that it was an opportunity for meeting up with opposite sex. I first starred going out with a girl whose name I am sorry to say I have forgotten, possibly Maureen?, but she soon gave me the push and I had a relationship - purely platonic - very different times! - with Ann Yarham, which might have developed if we hadn’t gone off to different places of learning. Her father was the Head of Roughton village School. We met up again when Jean and I visited MakerereUniversity in Kampala, Uganda, on our way back on leave from Malawi in Jan?1960. She was married to a lecturer there.
I also very occasionally went to dances at West Runton, at a dance hall there, and another at the Cromer Links Club? just below the Lighthouse on the Overstrand Road. I cannot recall whether I had a partner, I rather think I took pot luck.
I also had birthday/Christmas parties at the Rectory. Ideal for games like hide and seek, of which we had a more sophisticated version called ‘Sardines‘? In this you hid with a partner of the opposite sex, an excuse for surreptitious cuddling! But by the time I got to the Sixth Form it became a boys only ‘gambling’ session, actually pontoon or 21-up.
At the last session in 1949 I found a bottle of whisky hidden in the food cupboard so we drank that together with beer bought from the New Inn. Father was not pleased!
We also had a session at Geoffrey Land’s house at Rivington? near Happisburgh. And it was there that I was put off gambling for life - because I won! We were introduced to poker, and started to play for real money. I stuck, and the other 4 or 5 owed me £5, possibly each, a huge amount of money to me with my 15 shillings (75p) a quarter allowance. I knew they couldn’t afford it so refused to accept it. But it was a salutary lesson and I have never wanted to gamble seriously since.
The only horse racing I have been to, was cycling the 15 miles or so to the Fakenham National Hunt Races.
In my first term at the Paston School, in its fourth form, I cycled in to Gunton Station for the 08.55 London train from Cromer High But I had to hang about in North Walsham till nearly 5pm to get a return train, whereas there was a 3.50pm train via Mundesley to Cromer Beach, which I could leave at Cromer Links Halt, and collect my bike from Cromer High Station, where I would have left it. This was my route thereafter, and the girls from the High School known as ‘the cookies‘ as its founder was a Miss Cook., made it an even more attractive proposition. Later I left my bike at a farm, just a little way down the hill towards Cromer, belonging to a relation of my sixth form fellow-student Brian Durrant, with whom I a am still in touch.
The school was founded in 1606 by Sir William Paston of the historic medieval Norfolk family - the Paston letters! It has the only school song, I have come across that you can easily sing in a pub.
Anno domini 606 as the tale was told to me,
Is a solemn date or us to fix
Deep in our memory
Sir William Paston he up and said
The Norfolk lads have overmuch liberty
Come hither Rev Michael Tylles
And into their heads we’ll hammer
Godly learning to guide their wills
Arithmetic writing and grammar
Chorus: This was the Paston School
This is the Paston School
and we will se that this shall be
For ever the Paston School
Twere long to tell of all who came
Of Tenison, Wharton, Hoste
Their names are on the roll of fame
And never shall be lost
But stand and shout As the last we bring
Horatio Nelson Of him we sing
For he is our proudest boast
His eye was clear, his head was cool
His glory is our star
For what he learned at the Paston school
He taught at Trafalgar
As those who went before us strove
to keep our banner high
In peaceful academic groves
Or fields where heroes die
Or in the common daily round
Unsung, unpraised, but happily crowned
So will we strive, so will we dare
In all we say or do
De Mieux en mieux partous
(but here the deeper voices of the sixth would sing the chorus of rule Britannia, with the head and old boys on the staff pretending not to notice!)
I joined the school’s section of the Army Cadet Force, and indeed went to a camp with them. but when I reached the Sixth Form I was promoted to Company Quarter Master Sergeant. This meant I looked after the stores kept in a wooden hut at the end of the playground. It had a warm stove and sitting there, whenever there was a parade or activity, was much preferable to marching up and down in the cold. I also learned bout Army accounting!
The stores etc were watched over by an officer. This was my geography master ‘Albert’ Salamon, who had been with the 14th Army in Burma. The section was to become a Combined (rather than just an Army) Cadet Force, and therefore visiting officers were to supervise the hand-over, including checking the stores. So the recently appointed new Head, Lt Col Kenneth Marshall, recently with the Education Corps in Germany, gave them a good liquid lunch. And Captain Salamon had previously told me how to get everything ready. The procedure went something like this.
Capt S. How many greatcoats have we on the shelf? Me: 7
C.S. How many are we supposed to have? Me: 9
C.S. Write down 5 on the form, and hide 2 away as ‘spares’
No wonder we beat the Japanese!
Later in my National Service, in charge of an education centre being handed over, you might have seen me touring units on Salisbury Plain exchanging items of stores to get my stocks in order.
In the late forties masters were returning from the war; George Cooper, Grantham-Hill and others replacing elderly teachers, like Miss Lumb who tried to teach us English.
School was more relaxed than it became later. We had just gone through a war and they knew, as we did, that if we had been only a couple or so years older we could have been sitting in bombers or tanks.
An example was nipping off to a newly opened coffee bar, ‘The Oaks‘ a real innovation, at the top of Grammar School Road, a hundred yards beyond the school gate. There the some sixth formers would escape, as did a couple of so masters. The two groups pretended not to see one another, as neither was supposed to be there. I expect Col Marshall knew, but an appropriately ‘Nelsonian‘ blind eye was adopted.
Lt.Col. Marshall was still full of idealism, and had the sixth formers introduced to economics, as well religious ideas, by means of BBC broadcasts. He got the music master, ‘Ciffy‘ Cutting, to introduce us to classical music. We carefully studied Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony - its theme is running through my head, as I write 63+ years later - inter alia.
Kenneth Marshall liked Gilbert and Sullivan - gave him a chance to play Sir Joseph Porter in HMS Pinnafore. I was a mere sailor. But no girls, so the junior boys took the ‘female’ parts. I was Mrs. ? in a J B Priestley play and later played her husband Mr ? when Tetherdown Players put the same play on 20 years later.
In my final year in the sixth, we wanted a final dance to which the Girls High School sixth formers would be invited. Official permission was withheld. So we went ahead anyway on our own, and hired the large room at the Kings Arms Hotel, just by the back gate to the school. It was a great success.
Another feature of post-war optimism and implementation of ideas, led by the Norfolk County Council’s Director of Eeducation, W.O. Bell, later first Director of the Cambridge University Institute of Education, was a course at Wymondham College on current affairs, etc. I also went to a sixth form course at Ashridge, a country house, near Tring, in Hertfordshire, when Ludovic Kennedy, later a celebrated author, was a lecturer; but a major attraction was the presence of his fiancee, the famous film-star red-headed Moira Shearer.
Bell was a real innovator.The County Council had bought Holt Hall, a large mansion and estate, with woods, fields and a lake on the Cley road, just outside the town. Here he ran summer camps for boys and girls, almost unknown then, from the county’s secondary schools, grammar and secondary modern. The tents were clearly segregated by gender, but not by type of school. He had his sports people and other staff to help him run the various activities, outdoor when possible. We did Scottish and country dancing and the usual scout and guide sort of activities.
I went in all my four summer holidays. I remember at the last one, in 1949, with some of the girls, we bunked off one night into Holt. As I was then 18, I had my first drink in a pub, and then we went back and had a row on the lake. My female companion was a girl called Mary Snell, on whom I was quite keen, but she gave me the brush off when I attempted a follow-up after returning home from the camp
At the school I took the Cambridge Scholarship exams on my own initiative, not expecting to get that or an Exhibition, but possibly an interview. I wrote an essay answer to a quote about a horse and rider based on racial oppression I seem to remember. Anyway I got an interview at Selwyn and I was told come back when you have done your national service. I interpreted this to apply again then when you will be reconsidered. 18 months later, when I was in my second year at King‘s College, London I received a letter asking me if I was still interested!
My Higher School Certificate results were not good enough for me to be awarded a county scholarship grant. Half way through my sixth form the new head changed its curriculum, so you took English and History and then a choice of French, History or Geography. As I was taking the last three it worked out I had about 5 or 6 lessons of Geography about 4 of Latin and 2 of French. I got 45 marks in two of the language papers when the pass mark was 43 so it was a near thing. I‘ve normally been lucky! I did get a ‘good’ in geography. But from what he had seen of me at camp I think Bell considered me a good enough prospect to benefit from a university education and I was awarded a special grant, a little less in value than the actual scholarship grant.
I only applied to one other college, King’s, in the Strand. My father had met my mother there when they were both students and an uncle was there too. They accepted me at the interview, but when I asked if the place could be held till I had done my two years national service, they said they couldn’t guarantee it. So I accepted and went up in October 1949.
King’s College, London
In October 1949 I ceased to be a schoolboy living at home, and entered the big wide, world, having the freedom to make my own decisions, in a very different environment - London
With one suitcase I took the train to Liverpool Street, and then went on to Waterloo to take the train to Ashtead, Surrey. I spent my first term there, lodging with my Auntie Elsie and Uncle Douglas Barnard, my cousin Ken’s parents. Douglas was a bank official in Lloyds? Bank in Eastcheap in the City and hated his job and the daily commuting. He lived for his boat in North Wales, but did not live long after retirement to enjoy it.
Elsie did the minimum of work. Ken was at Charterhouse School, financed by a philanthropist, Mr Wall, who also financed one girl at boarding school, Sue. the two eventually married one another, which must have pleased their mutual benefactor. Ken went up to Christ Church, Oxford, to read chemistry, and then became a teacher at Aldenham School where he spent the rest of his working life. He inherited his father’s boat and he and Sue and children enjoyed sailing it.
It was a drag commuting from Ashtead, so in my second term I moved into lodgings at Anerley, just below the remains of the Crystal Palace which had burnt down in 1936.
It still involved a train journey, this time to Charing Cross, via London Bridge, from Anerley, or to Waterloo, changing at Clapham junction, from Crystal Palace low level.
I think it was then I brought my old bicycle, once Harry Hart’s, up to London and cycled into King’s in the Strand. I certainly had the bike in my second and subsequent years at college.
For my second and third years I lodged in TocH Mark III in Church Crescent, Hackney, just off Well Street and just north of Victoria Park. Trolleybus 677 passed the door. I used the No. 6 bus from Well Street to the Strand when I didn’t cycle. Toc H was a man’s hostel: there were others in London and I think in other cities. It was for single working men, all sorts - city clerks, tradesmen, skilled workmen and only two or three students out of the 15 or so residents. There was a cook and housekeeper, but I think we could make drinks and snacks.
Whilst there I helped with a local cub pack and went to the Hackney Scout Association camp site, of which more in my National Service chapter, at High Beech in Epping Forest. I also played the organ in the large church opposite on occasions. It had a long nave with organ in the chancel and the pipes about 50 yards away at the west end of the nave. So the organist heard the notes well after he had played them, and was already on the next ones - very disconcerting and took a lot of getting used to.
My main subject was Geography for a B.A., with subsidiary French. No problems with the former, but the latter was a disaster. I used to get 2 marks out of 25,or even less, for my prose translation, and even when I persuaded a girl in her second year to do it for me, I still only got 12/25. After six weeks of this I was in despair. I don’t recall whether it was on my initiative or his but I had an interview with the Sub Dean of the Arts faculty, Dr Landers, to whom I am eternally grateful, and it was agreed I should drop French and do History as my subsid. No problem and I much enjoyed it. One half was Imperial History with a Canadian Professor, who in the exam set one question on each of his ten or so excellent lectures, and the other, English History post 1485. I concentrated on the Tudors and the 19th century, quite enough. Michael Howard was a history lecturer whose lectures were always packed as he gave most amusing and salacious but still meaty lectures on the Tudors. Michael became Sir Michael after founding the Department of War Studies at king’s and later had chairs at Oxford and became a world academic figure. He was also Warden of the Plats - but more of that later.
Professor Sydney Wooldridge FRS was head of the geography department. He believed in field trips one walked and really got close to the land. He specialised in geomorphology although much of his theorising was highly disputed when more technical approaches were undertaken. He was often pointing out pene plains, or should it be planes -erosion surfaces - which I had some difficulty in picking out. in later years on other field trips Ted Yates, one of his students and also a lecturer in geomorphology admitted he had the same problem. So I felt a lot better!
In the final BA degree exam, held in lecture halls of the Imperial Institute ? in South Kensington, right behind the Albert Hall, we had nine three-hour papers. I gave up revision a few days before the start, and went walking in the Surrey Hills. This was on the advice of one of the LSE professors, who was my ‘tutor’, for King’s and LSE were in a Joint School of Geography, which lasted for a couple more decades or so, probably the finest academically university geography department in the world at the time.
I had looked into the Tennessee Valley HEP schemes and its topography and as a example it appeared in questions on economics, physical, and probably political geography. A little factual knowledge used to illustrate many aspects of the subject. What was and should be the core of a good university education, an ability to present an argument, backed up with evidence, and not a mere regurgitation of memorised facts and other people‘s work. One of the nine papers consisted of two essays, one to take two hours approximately and the other the remaining hour. I wrote on the geographical issues involved in the growth of Mussolini’s Italian empire, or something on those lines, and cannot remember the other subject. I had received no lectures or indeed any form of discussion or seminar on the matter, but wrote from my reading of The Times and general background knowledge. I was told by Bryan Langlands I got a First on that paper.
I did not work very hard, and did not rate my chances of a good degree at all highly. I was amazed when the little brown envelope came with a hand-written note to say I had an upper-second. We had left a stamped addressed envelope with one of the academic staff so we non-London residents could be informed instead of having to go to the Senate House to see the results posted up. I felt a bit guilty because unlike some of my fellow students especially the girls who had slaved away in the libraries whilst I enjoyed myself in other college activities, and did not gain their just rewards.
A look into my field work note-book, which I still have, shows I was lazy and did not deserve a first. At Easter 1959 the report of the field week at St Boniface College, Warminster, where the theolgs went for their ‘practical’ training after getting their BDs or AKCs, is a full one with lots of lovely sketches of the landscape, photography too expensive for a poor student like me who didn’t even have a camera.
The second field week in 1950 was at the University College of Exeter as it then was and the notes are quite adequate. I was quite put down when I pointed out to Wooldridge that the narrowness of the Exe Valley at Exeter the, lowest bridging point, was clearly indicated by the fact that at St David’s station there were trains bound for London pointing in opposite directions, one the GWR leaving to the north and the other, the Southern leading to the east. He wasn’t interested!
The third week was at Sheffield University, and I have a photo of Wooldridge striding ahead with me following ‘in the steps of the master.’ This report is a very scrappy affair, with a note attached saying I hadn’t time to finish this off and present it properly!
Another paper I much enjoyed was one of those that could be chosen from a list. Very few students chose ‘A history of geographical ideas and discovery’. Only about four or five of us attended this lecture series, led by a very nice man, Dr Wood. A paper that had me worried was one on Map Projections and Surveying. A close examination of past papers showed that there was a limited number of questions on surveying and more on projections. I calculated I could just get away with only answering the survey questions although choice would be limited. My mathematical knowledge was not up to getting my head round map projections so I left them out of my revision, not having understood them in the first place I was lucky in not being caught out in the actual exam being able to find enough survey questions. The practical surveying was done by the pond on Hampstead Heath plane tabling and compass traverse. I used the knowledge gained, years later, in doing a survey for a projected school at Mzimba in Malawi for the World Bank and it was reproduced in their published report.
Other lecturers were Billy? Balchin who later had a chair at Swansea? University and gained national notoriety for travelling on the train without paying the fare. And the youngest assistant lecturer was Alice Coleman, who later also made the national press becoming an advisor on housing to the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. One early memory of Alice, was when she led a day’s field excursion across the North Downs south of Dartford. She was a geomorphologist, in fact I believe a former student of Wooldridge’s. she was very keen, and actually probably about the same age as some of the students in the group, who were war veterans,. I was a mere 18, so was fascinated with their chat about their experiences. One had been a tank commander in the desert, another a naval oficer landing people on the Dalmation coast to join up with Yugoslav partisans, and other. Alice was quite upset as this was more interesting to us than peering at the surrounding landscape. In retrospect, I felt sorry for her, as this was long before women’s lib, and she was a young woman with a group of battle-hardened men, except for e. We were rather rude, and insensitive.
Another field excursion where Alice met up with a distraction was a day field-trip arranged by the Joint School Geography Society in the 1980s to the East End. Alice had achieved national notice as an advisor to the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, on urban development with especial reference to high-rise flats. I remember little about the trip except that it ended in Victoria Park, a stone’s throw away from Mark III, the Toc H hostel.
Victoria Park was where I watched the large meetings of striking London dockers - leader communist Jack Dash - and witnessed how they were manipulated by left wing,mainly communist, agitators to get the mass votes they wanted.
So I was on home territory. As we passed through a group of high-rise flats just north of Mile End, some women on one of the upper open passageways recognised Alice, and hurled abuse at her because they felt affronted at the descriptions given to them. Several came down to the open courtyard and had a real slanging match with Alice, who tried hard to defend herself against these virulent East Enders. I cannot remember the details.It was rather embarrassing. I had some sympathy with the women as I felt they were being patronised and disliked being told what was good for them.
As well as becoming a BA(Hons) graduate I was also awarded an Associateship of King’s College - AKC For the first two terms of each of the three academic years a lecture was held, for non-theological students, at 10am each Monday morning for one hour on a Christian/philosophical theological subject. Then one sat an exam paper and if the results of the three end-of-session exams were satisfactory one was awarded an AKC. Mine was on one of the few bits of vellum still extant,, as I was well-known to the power-that-be (see below) (Jean got hers ‘with credit’!) Father’s AKC was a diploma for trainee ordinands.
I was having a great time at college and a means of delaying the dreaded ‘national service‘- conscription into the armed forces, had a strong appeal. I was told I could do research, but there was no money available. However one could apply to do a one-year course for a Post-graduate Certificate in Education and be financed with a grant. Most King’s graduates; like Jean later, opted to do it at the Institute of Education in Malet Street in Bloomsbury, by the University of London Senate House. But King’s had its own relatively small Depart of Education and I was lucky enough to be awarded a place.
The understanding of receiving the PGCE grant was one would then enter the teaching profession. It was not a legal, binding matter, and at the beginning of the course I regret to say I had no intention of becoming a teacher. But it was a good course and I was inspired to take up the job. Compared with the Institute course it was more practical and down-to earth with more individual attention, and used people with successful hands-on experience.
I remember a vivid example of good teaching, in one talk, rather than a lecture, by a retired head. He had told the parable of the prodigal son. To illustrate he drew a line on the blackboard - chalk and blackboard then - to represent a road coming down a hill. At the bottom was the father, still mourning the loss of his younger son who had taken the money due to him and gone off to enjoy it and was considered lost, and mother and the elder son, all represented by stick figures. He then drew stick figure at the top of the hill and asked the class who it would ? Reply ‘the prodigal son!’ :No! it’s the postman!
Then another figure to bring down the hill to join the family. Very simple, but I still remember almost 60 years later.
As will be seen I had far more interesting things to do than work at the ’education’ stuff. o I never opened a book on the theory, philosophy etc till about 6 weeks before the exam, probably about the beginning of May as the exam was in June. I then got hold of a series of cram books on the Philosophy of education, etc. and hoped for the best. One question came up on Voluntary Schools. I don’t recall any lectures or reaching on that subject, but I knew a great deal about it having heard father talking about as the Correspondent or reporting governor/secretary as well as vicar of Roughton Voluntary Aided School. So it was a horses mouth report of what actually happened on the ground. I expect the examiner found it vastly entertaining after the repetitive dull stuff he/she had to churn through.
In the second term of my post-graduate year we had teaching practice. At Kings it was done in a solid lump of probably four days a week for a couple of months at the one school. in my case this was Westminster City School, a 19th century grammar school in Victorian buildings in Palace Street, just off Victoria Street. I was given a second year form s geography -very trusting, in retrospect - so had a chance to get to know the class, although I wasn't the world‘s best disciplinarian. However I was better than a lecturer at the Institute of Education. It was his misfortune when he came to give a demonstration lesson together with a bunch of his students amongst whom were some former Kings geography department contemporaries. He taught in one room with students through an arch in the room behind I was there as well because otherwise I would have been teaching the same set of boys - my class. Unfortunately he couldn't keep order and the boys were throwing paper pellets about etc. Very embarrassing. especially when he went on about what a difficult class etc it was. I kept ‘mum; but felt a lot better.
I also helped with games, and in a sense became part of the school. Jean and took the bus one foggy night to attend a school concert, but the bus came to a shuddering halt in the middle of Whitehall a foot or so behind the tail of a horse on a statue. The fog was so thick the driver refused to drive on and the bus was abandoned. So Jean and I felt our way round Parliament Square and along Victoria Street hardly able to see the kerb. This was the winter of 1952, the great Smog, and about five thousand people died that night. It led to smoke prevention legislation and was the last London ’pea-souper.’
For my fourth and final year I moved into King‘s College Hall formerly a large house called the Platanes, and therefore known as ’The Plats’ It was situated just off Denmark Hill, south of Camberwell Green, with King’s college Hospital just across the way. So half the chaps - single sex in those days - were medical students, and what I heard over the dining tables made me wary of doctors for life. I was very fortunate for the Warden was a young history lecturer, one Michael Howard - see above. He introduced some ’Oxford‘ ideas. He would invite some of us for sherry etc after dinner\to meet people of note. As a result I was privileged to join in a small group discussion with a leading intellectual of the Labour Party, Dick Crossman. I learned a great deal that night about the inner workings of government and party politics, much of which stood me in good stead later in life.
The other introduction was to have a May Ball, and he persuaded me to organise it. A band, black-tie, programmes, very up-market. It was a great success and went on into the small hours. So Jean had to spend the rest of the night on my bed but not with me sharing ing it - but on the floor. Very circumspect in those days - before the pill! It was a men only hostel. In College Hall, women only, in Malet Street, men had to be out the building by 11pm, or was it 10.30?
My life nearly came to an end at the Plats one night. I was returning about midnight, having seen Jean back to College Hall, having used the 68 bus, and about to enter via the front door when there was a thus on the drive beside me. On looking down I saw it was a small beer barrel. The lads having a party in an upstairs room had simply pitched it our of the window when they had drained it. I went up to remonstrate but was soon pacified with some liquid refreshment.
About this time the college realised that the halls of residence could be let out during the vacations. So the Warden, Michael Howard, was showing some prospective clients round, probably letting agents, and on opening a bathroom door with a flourish discovered a medical student ‘sleeping it off’ in the bath! An interview later and a sherry presumably settled the matter. Life was much more relaxed then Little H & S.!
A already indicated there was much, much more to my time at King’s than academic study. At the end of my first year I got myself elected to the Union Society Executive Committee as a General Rep On my first day there the whole student body walked out of Kings along the Strand, past the then existent Aldwych Tube Station and down Surrey Street, to a former hotel, bought by the college and turned into a students union building and that was its opening day. I spent a lot of my three years in it, mostly drinking coffee. There was a bar, in a small downstairs room, with room for about 20 people squeezed up. No room for meetings. Anyway I couldn’t afford to drink except on rare occasions. Then I went on to be anointed as ULU rep (Kings rep on the University of London Students) and the NUS rep. This meant I attended meetings of the National Union of Students - very enlightening. At that time 1951-2 the International Union of Students Unions, HQ in Prague, was a communist front organisation and they tried hard to get their man elected as President of the NUS. I could see what was going on - moves of no confidence in the existing president etc so was firmly opposed.
On a lighter note, at a dance at an NUS conference at Nottingham University, I some how finished in the last six of an elimination dance. We were then sat down in front of typewriters and asked to type ‘The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog: which covers all the letters in the alphabet.’ I had almost never used a typewriter, but won as finishing first with a clean sheet. It must have been the drink!
At Surrey Street union premises there were cabarets, and for one turn David Ainsworth -see above - came on wearing only a an animal skin and with a great deal of effort raised up a bar with heavy weights. Then put it down very carefullyto applause. I was a thin little chap who then walked on, casually picked it up and walked off. Of course it was a sham I was also the hero in a ‘ Murder in the Red Barn’ type of comic play put on in my final year when the villain was a very large chap.
In my second year I joined the college boat club, as a cox. We were based at the prestigious Thames Rowing Club boathouse just above Putney Bridge. The boatman there was called Phelps, a famous Thames boatmen family. It was very ’hairy’ at times, ax there were still lots of tugs and barges on the river as well as sailing boats from the nearby Ranelegh? Club, and pleasure boats We had several near misses: once nearly trapped between two barges swinging together with the tide. But the worst and it could have been very serious with a fatality occurred when going up stream against the ebb tide. On approaching Hammersmith Bridge there was insufficient water to take the nearside arch so I pulled out to go round the pillar and through the next arch. However there an eight coming down with the stream and some how we got our bow across the eight between his four and five, And there we were locked together sweeping down stream before we got shoved off clear. A near thing! The first of several scrapes. So far I have been lucky.
I was cox of the second eight and having won every race I expected to be made cox of the first eight. I had been very faithful in attending training sessions cycling right across central London from Hackney to Putney every Saturday and from Kings on Wednesday afternoons. I had won by the simple expedient of pushing the other boat out of the tide run, ignoring clashing blades, shouts of the umpire etc. It is essential to get the force of the tidal flow on that stretch of the river and I have seen several Oxford or Cambridge coxes lose the Boat Race by not getting it.
It was decided I was too dangerous so not chosen. to cox the first eight. SO I looked around and with my union society connections was made aware of a vacancy for a goalkeeper in the hockey team; another ’dangerous’ position. We wore cricket pads and football boots with a pad over the toes, no head protection - nothing like the armour they wear today. However Kings had a very good side that year so I has little to do. I occasionally have small night mares of me facing the Navy forward about to belt the ball in my direction having broken clear of our defence. Not a pleasant position!
One advantage of hockey was e had a shorter playing time than the rugger or soccer chaps so got in the bath while it was still relatively clean All the chaps who wanted to used the same bath about the size of a small swimming pool, all starkers, and very communal with some excellent, usually bawdy, singing. Then a shower afterwards.
Without much to do I would watch the girls playing netball, and one particular, very athletic red-head attracted my attention. So when I saw the same girl at a dance in the Kings Great Hall I plucked up the courage to ask her for a dance. And we went on from there. She was a bit surprised she told me later when I invited me to join me at evensong one Sunday. She was in her second year so exams were not pressing and I was not bothering about work -see above. I invited her to the Commemoration Ball at Claridges which was a good move and our courtship progressed. When I first took her back to college hall after a little conversation opposite I shook hands, didn’t get round to kissing till the third time.
At Easter 1953 the hockey team did a West Country tour playing local clubs. All I remember of it is staying at the Livermead? Hotel in Torquay, and from there going on to Bideford and Laren House, Westward Ho!, Jean’s home, and meeting her parents for the first time.
Then soon after, or was it before?, I invited Jean for a weekend in Norfolk. So we took the train from Liverpool Street to cromer, and then the bus. She had quite a shock as we went in, as usual, by the back door through into the living room, the warm one with the stove, and found it full of tobacco smoke with score of men sitting round smoking. It was a Toc H meeting. Jean;s arrival caused a rapid re-arrangement of the sleeping arrangements as I had failed to mention the friend I was bringing was female.Mother had to rearrange the beds and bedrooms as it was certainly not done in respectable househild for unmarried couples to share a bedroom - let alone a bed - especially in a Rectory!
Jean like most people, following a line in a Noel Coward play ‘Very flat -Norfolk!‘
believed it was. So at that time I took her a cycle ride which included a ride up on to Kelling Heath from Salthouse past the Dun Cow? pub where a few weeks earlier some people had been drowned when the sea came the half mile? or so over the salt marshes in the Great 1953 Flood.
At the start of my fourth year, I think, I splashed out and bought a dress suit. Very good quality as it was a utility suit: that was all there was. Government, because of the shortage of material, decreed only one type of cloth, good quality. It last for decades. I was able to afford it, bought from Horne’s tailors on the corner of the Strand and Waterloo Bridge Road, not cheap as I had money from my bus conductor vacation earnings.
I have just realised I have not yet mentioned ‘bus conducting.’ In June 1950 having come down after my first term I needed extra money. I tried currant picking, but it was hard work, and the girls earned far more than my pittance, so I looked round for an easy, interesting and well-paid job and struck oil. I had noticed long queues at Cromer Bus Station, and it occurred to me that the Eastern Counties bus company must run far more services in the summer season for which they would need extra crew.
So I knocked on the door of the manager’s office on the bus station, and asked for a job. Archie, ahe was known to the staff, was rather reluctant. He expressed a doubt as ti whether the company would employ 18 year old school-leavers. But he agreed to look into it and told me to ‘come back, tomorrow’, Which I did and was given a bus pass to go to Surrey Street, the Norwich Bus Station for an interview and possible training. It was four-day course but after two days I was told to clear off as they couldn’t teach me any more. It was full employment then and they had been having to take drop-outs from the Labour Exchange.
So I started a new summer career. The regular staff were quite happy to have us students and at the time there were no split-shifts so if you started at 0600 you finished just after 1pm or starting at 4 finished about midnight. They also had small holdings or other jobs so needed some overtime but not too much. Most of the routes were long country routes so there was time to have a read of the book in your box. The average wage then was about £4.10.0 a week One glorious week I received £13 through working triple time on a Bank holiday. And all I did was stand on the platform of the bus the 26 miles to Norwich and come back ‘light’(empty) It was because there only a limited number of ticket machins, so Archie loaded a double-decker with Norwich-only passengers from the long queue and I just had to be there for legality.
One of our routes went round a group of villages inland from Sheringham en route to Cromer, one bus a day. A lovely day and lots of families out for the day to the beach at Cromer. I knew there would not be another bus available so asked everyone to squeeze up so there would be only eight standings passengers, the legal limit. I thought I had issued a lot of tickets so counted the passengers off at the terminus, Cromer bus station. There were 75 on a 35 seater bus!
On route 36 Cromer to Hunstanton we usually changed crews at wells Station. on one evening with only a couple of passengers or so by mutual agreement we stopped the bus at stiff key and all had fish and chips! It was a long route along the coast one night about 10.30 as I came off duty at the bus garage the phone rang and as no one else was answering it, I did. It was a man phoning from Blakeney Point Hotel. He had gone off to the gents and the bus had left without him. I suggested he took a taxi and sent the bill in tio the bus company. No on else wanted to take a decision, after all it was their jobs at stake. I told Archie next morning and no repercussions!
I was a bus conductors for three summer vacations.There were eventually hundreds of student conductors but I think I was one of the first. The money was used on trips across to Europe and Ireland. there was a £50 limit of foreign currency, but I spent less. In 1950 I went to Victoria Station to book a ticket to Paris and was told there were none available, as presumably the boat train was full? I didn’t believe a cross-channel boat could be full, so bought a ticket to Newhaven on another train, and simply bought a ticket from there to paris without any bother. then on to Bonn. At the youth hostel there I swapped a rail ticket or paid for a trip up the Rhine going south young Germans on the boat tried to convince me that Austria was part of Germany as Hitler had proclaimed. At the time going up stream was very slow, so by the time the boat reached Bingen it was getting dark, and there was a beer festival on. So I got off and had a merry night I much regretted next morning on the train to Frankfurt. Eventually reached Vienna, through the Russian Zone of Austria, and the Semmering Pass, as I had to enter from the British zone. Got off the train, got on a tram, asked some French soldiers, as had some French, but no German, where the student quarter was and found a hostel there. I went into the Russian sector of the City to witness the famous Wheel - a feature of the then current Harry Lime, ‘The Third Man’ hit film. Then I had youth hostelled in Bonn and sailed up the Rhine to Bonn
In Vienna I bought a ticket to St Germain near Vichy, France for £4.10/- which took me the hundreds of miles through Venice Milan and Nice to finish up at St Pourcain where Martin and I had stayed for a fortnight in 1948? an exchange visit? (I omitted to mention this in the previous chapter. We arrived in paris in the dark, took the Metro to the porte de Pantin terminus? walked across an empty enormous open space - Les Halles market?) to a light in a house our beds for the night. Then south to St Germain-des fosses, met by our hosts. We stayed in a huilerie‘, a small shop where the walnuts,wheat etc was crushed with a large mill stone. Le proprieter took us round with him visiting the farms to buy his raw material and everywhere we had to drink to celebrate les anglais and victory in the was just ended. I think Martin and I were somewhat inebriated much of the time. For years afterwards people used to comment that I spoke French with the local regional accent, that of Les Bourbonnais.)
The other major excursion was to Ireland, toured by bus and train. I wanted to find people speaking Irish as their normal tongue, on the buses in the shops. So off to the West via Dublin, Cork, kissed the Blarney Stone - unnecessary in my case! - to Valencia Island, bare-footed children, and on the up the coast to Achill Island through to (London)derry, Giants Causeway and Belfast. I was told they spoke Irish on the Blaskett Isles miles off in the Atlantic but had no time to find out. Nowhere did I find every-day spoken Irish.)
After one Great Hall dance, dressed in my DJ having drunk a little too much I had difficulty riding my bike over Waterloo Bridge on my way back to Camberwell and kept hitting the curb and falling off. Luckily there were no police around, or I might have been charged with being drunk in charge of a vehicle!
No doubt there are other anecdotes I may add in an extra appendix. The first appendix will be reproducing a ‘Profile’ from King’s News a newspaper published by the students’ union, written by its then editor, Fred Allgood. (I think Fred hyped it up - he became a Fleet street hack later - but it may amuse and does sum up much of my life at KCL
It was at Fred’s 21 St? birthday party?, a posh black-tie affair at the hotel by Maidenhead bridge over the Thames that I had another lucky escape. Well-oiled some bright spark decided the party ought to take a trip on the river. So a whole group including Jean and me piled on to a punt like boat at the adjacent landing stage. I don’t know whether we actually cast off or not but I suddenly realised that there was about an inch of clearance and it only required a little movement and the party would have been pitched in to the flowing Thames. The girls in long ball dresses wouldn’t have stood a chance. So using my Stentorian cox’ voice, I bawled at everyone to ‘abandon ship’ at once, and fortunately in their semi-drunken state they did)
In the summer of 1953 I received my National Service call-up papers to report to the Duke of Wellington Regiment’s barracks in Halifax, Yorkshire on September 8? and a railway warrant from Barnstaple Victoria Road, GWR. This because I had given as my address Laren House where I spent the preceding couple of weeks after a truncated spell on the buses
In September 1953 I said good-bye to Jean at Barnstaple Victoria Road Railway station and set off for Halifax, having been ordered to report to the Duke of Wellington’s regimental barracks for infantry training, having been allocated to the Royal Army Educational Corps.
Having failed to do any research on the matter I had simply allowed my registration to take its course, not as far as I remember having expressed any request as to service or branch. As a result, presumably as an already trained teacher I was allocated to the Army as an educationalist. If I had known I would have volunteered for the Navy or RAF as those services commissioned their ‘schoolies’ Not so the Army which presumably didn’t want any N. S. 2-year intellectuals in the officers’ mess as a corrupting influence. If one volunteered for a three-year contract a commission was a strong proposition, otherwise one was posted as a temporary sergeant. The ‘Army’ did not like educationalists. When demobbed and placed on something called the short term reserve ‘Sergeants’ were demoted and reverted to privates! It didn’t happen to me as I went off to Nyasaland.
The barracks at Halifax were gaunt Victorian buildings without mod cons, enclosed in a high brick wall. It was in fact a prison as for the first weeks the recruits were not allowed out - with one exception! There was either not a chapel or perhaps not a priest, so on Sunday one was allowed out to go to church. I took advantage of this ‘loophole‘: although I was in fact a regular church goer at the time anyway. But it did feel like an escape to freedom for a short while.
We slept on palliasses filled with straw, about 20 of us in a barrack room, and were roused at 6 am by shouting corporals. We shaved in cold water and were on parade at 6.30 for a roll call and then to breakfast. As far as I can remember the food was quite good, necessary for the hard physical military training we were to undertake. It was pretty tough, and very hard on chaps whose mothers had done everything for them. Having been a Scout with camping and living in a cold country Rectory, it wasn’t too bad for me. It was something that had to be undergone so ‘make the best of it’ was my motto.
After six weeks the 22 of us in the RAEC and about five of the other recruits were transferred to Imphal Barracks, Fulford, not far from York city centre, for training as potential officers! The barracks here were much more salubrious, dating probably from the thirties. We were still about 20 to a room in two rooms with ablutions in between. The group had an officer, recently returned from Korea, with an MC and half an arm and leg missing, a war veteran Sergeant and a Corporal or two.
As all of us recruits had been through the war, all probably with experience of being bombed or being machine-gunned. We did know by experience what it was about. So when we were told you dug a hole and keep your head down, that is exactly what we did and nothing much happened. When we did battle exercises on Strensall Common outside York on the way to Maldon and Scarborough, most of us, viz. the 22-year olds with their PGCEs simply wrote letters or read or dozed.
I was probably fitter than at any time of my life before or since. I was small and thin then. I was actually the best at cross-country running, and was always the one hoisted up walls and other objects on assault courses to pull the others up. However we did take the training seriously as there was a war going on, and in fact quite enjoyed the challenge, of learning about bren guns,rifles, horrible sten guns - chop off your fingers if not careful! and firing them. Somewhat to my surprise I was not a bad shot.
We kept something like office hours. We were allowed out at week-ends Saturday noon to reveille on Monday morning., and in the evenings if nothing else on. We were paid 22 shillings and ten pence a week. I spent 22/- or so on a Forces return ticket to London King’s Cross, and two pence on a cup of tea in the NAAFI - Navy, Army and Air Force‘s Institution - Canteen on Monday and in the evening a 6d seat in the Theatre Royal? York which had a repertory fresh play each week and 2d for the programme. What I lived on in London is a mystery,. Probably savings from my bus conducting!, or Jean! I would leave York station about 1 getting to King’s Cross about 5 and on Sunday night leave the Cross about midnight getting to York about 4am to walk to the barracks 30 minutes, and up again at 6.30 I was tough in those days!
With almost no money Jean and I walked miles around London. We had one good evening meal at the High Street tearooms just off Cambridge Circus At Marble Arch Lions there was a buffet type meal and one learned to pile one’s plate up by building a wall round the edge to contain a mass of food piled up within. I slept on the floor of Bob Parker’s garret in Bayswater and when Jean came round the two of us drank tea out of jam as he only had one cup. I wasn’t destitute, as well fed during the week, and of course had a good home back in Norfolk.
We were always being told to use our initiative, and did. One evening we were taken in lorries to the top of Ilkley Moor in pitch dark and told to make our way to a map reference a couple of miles beyond the town. We were in groups of six sent off separately at intervals, or perhaps dropped off at intervals. I don’t remember which. However We had a map, but I pointed out that once we had correctly identified the lights of Ilkley all we had to do was walk towards it. Arriving there another chap and I felt we had walked long enough leaving the other four. So we cadged a lift off a passing car, a chap taking his daughter home after a music lesson. We sat in the back with our rifles - not loaded - and knapsack etc. We alighted a half a mile or so from the rendez-vous and went into a pub. Sat before the fire having divested ourselves of our impedimenta, with a beer? until it was time to move. On the way up the lane a fire engine came along and gave us a lift to within a hundred yards or so of the RV, but out of sight.
We strolled up and were hardly noticed, in spite of the fact that most of our contingent had been caught in an ambush set by the senior group, because there was a right hoo-ha about another group who rolled up in a car. One of the members of another group had rung his dad after being dropped off on the moor and they had been picked up and spent the evening at his home, presumably being dined and wined and spent the evening watching the TV It was regarded as a bit over the top. We had sailed through the ambush un-noticed being in the back of a civilian’s car
Very soon after arriving at Imphal Barracks, I learned the hockey team was short of a goal keeper. Wednesday afternoon was sports afternoon - at least for the regulars, not sure about the recruits. So I volunteered. The rest of the team were officers or senior NCOS, so I was very much the odd one out. It meant that I made some useful contacts.
When we had finished the basic infantry training, most of the RAEC people were sent off for RAEC induction courses, but I and a couple of others were left behind. So we had to do ‘fatigues’ After one spell in the blanket store, I looked for a better position and found one; assistant to the cook and general waiter in the Sergeants Mess. Before long I had improved the menu influencing the chef a catering corps private. I introduced serving cocoa etc to those watching the -then very rare- TV at 9 to 10 pm. Of course, this meant I couldn’t be expected to get up in the morning with the others, but was allowed to stay in bed until 7.30am. It also meant I could also watch the TV in the warm - better than a barrack room or the NAFFI, and I fed and drank well!
I was then posted to Orsett Camp, just up the road from Tilbury not far from Grays. I don’t remember much of the course. It was a spin-off from the main RAEC centre and was a rather ad--hoc set up. I remember teaching a soldier to read. He was a bright Londoner but had missed schooling due to the blitz. We, as always, had map-reading exercises. In retrospect, an easy way of filling in time for the staff. A ‘doddle’ for the geographers, who were much better at it than the instructors!.
One built-up exercise turned out to be a lorry trip along the A12 to Epping Forest. There was a hole in the canvas cover at the front of the Bedford truck so I put my map board against it to keep out the draught and kept it in place by leaning against. The lorry stopped suddenly at traffic light lurched forward, the map board slipped down on to the road and the officer following in his car ran over it. It cost me 7/6 damages. He was a good chap however and gave me an extended pass so I could go to Jean‘s 21st birthday party in London.
Although the idea was being placed in unfamiliar forest territory, it was another ‘doddle’ for me as we were deposited right outside the Hackney Scout Association campsite at High Beech where I had camped. We were to make our way to an RV at The Wake (White?) Arms?Hotel. I said to my lot ’follow me’, no maps needed and we got to the RV before the officers in their car.
The RAEC Officer was a nice chap and gave me an special week-day - time-off - pass to go up to London for Jean’s 21st birthday party at a café in the Aldwych. Her parents came up for it. I think I used to cycle to Laindon station for the train to Fenchurch Street
At the end of the two month course there was to be a passing-out parade followed by a short service of blessing in the chapel by the parade ground. Someone was needed to play the organ . So guess who volunteered. Of course, I couldn’t play the organ wearing boots, shoes were needed: also some practising of the hymns etc. So I was excused the parade, and sat in the warm chapel playing the organ, while the rest of the mob marched up and down outside in the cold.
A fortnight in Aldershot before being posted to Fort Fareham? between Fareham and Gosport. This was one of the forts ringing Portsmouth dating from the mid-19th century. It was now the Fire Control Centre for the Anti-aircraft defences of Portsmouth and Southampton Three was a large map of the French coast and the Solent area. On the map the ATS girls moved blocks as indicators of the movement of hostile aircraft so the gun units could be activated. I was in a glass verandah above the map recording what was happening in the exercises that took place. Very similar to shots of the RAF control rooms. I had been allocated to Anti-Aircraft Command, and wore its red arrow flash.
Because it was a very small unit there was no Sergeants Mess and I ate in a café in Fareham High Street. I cycled to and fro on my old bike which I had rescued from the terrace at King’s where it had languished for many months.
After a couple of months I was posted to join 43rd Light Anti-Aircraft and Searchlight Regiment at Bulford Barracks on Salisbury Plain, not far from Andover, and Stonehenge and spprnt the rest of my NS career there, about 15 months. It was an unusual set-up. Many of the NCOs were finishing 22 year engagements. I was the only National Serviceman in the Mess, for most of the time., before a REME (Royal Regiment of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers).
I replaced two RAEC sergeants two or the years younger than me. I was rostered as duty sergeant of the guard soon after my arrival. I hated it, especially of being responsible for misbehaving soldiers locked in the cells. I noticed the RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major0 looking out of his office window so carefully marched the small duty squad nearly into a flower bed. I went to see him the following morning, or was called in?. I explained that I did some evening teaching - of senior NCOs nearing retirement who wished to pass the ‘First Class’ level of educational attainment, which qualification would give them a few pence more on their pensions. He took the point -recognised I was not a regular - was doing two person’s job etc. So I was never rostered for a duty again.
I also arranged evening courses at the local education authority educational establishments, mostly in Salisbury, including one for myself. This was in woodwork - cabinet making- with a local top-class craftsman/furniture-making artist. The result was a fine box with craftsman-like dove-tail joints etc. which has lasted for decades as a shoe box and is still extant, as I write, in the room below me! It al so meant I could go on to the cinema afterwards and have my bus fares refunded!.
I had my own room in the education centre- a former barrack block - and had it ‘cleaned;‘ by the centre orderly. Often he was a graduate NS squaddie, who after a cursory clean round the centre would spend much of the day parked in my arm chair, listening to my wireless, an abandoned army radio receiver.
I usually got up just after 8am in time to walk the 100 or so yards to get to the Sergeants Mess before it closed for breakfast at 8.45. Then lessons most of the day;: nothing too strenuous.
I acquired some useful accomplishments in my 18 months at Bulford when the regiment went to camp in Cornwall I stayed behind with a few others. I learned to drive with help of some of the signallers, a 15cwt truck to start with and a and Rover in which I took the civilian test, and passed so had a normal licence. Having driven only a lorry and Land Rover, several months later - after demob - I wondered why my father-in-law to-be‘s Ford 8 wouldn’t go up hill in 3rd gear!
As the usual bar supervisors wre away I was asked to do the job for a week or so. So I learned about ‘selvage’ in beer barrels, how many tots of whisky etc in a bottle - 16? or 6 glasses ofwine from a normal bottle.
On Saturdays I packed up early to catch the 11 40 or so bus to Andover to take the train to Waterloo, unless I had cadged a lift from someone driving ‘up to town‘.
One Monday morning I was awakened by a knock on my door with an orderly delivering the order that I was to report to the colonel, officer commanding at 9.am. So I marched in,and my heart sank when he said ‘we were looking for you on Saturday morning.’ Of course I had already gone. However he went on to say I had won a chicken in a raffle, run for one of his wife’s charities - tickets sold in the Mess. I suppose. He had taken it home and put it in the fridge or freezer. I said
thank you and gave it to the Mess chef. The C O was perfectly aware I had left a bit early. Some of his officers’ week-ends went from Thursday night to Tuesday morning ….!
I had a pass for the week-end - usually ‘36’ hours - officially noon Saturday to midnight Sunday, but in practice Reveille on Monday. Sometimes one had a ’48’ from about 5 on Friday to Monday. I only spent about 5 or 6 Saturday nights in camp in my whole 2 years - and four of those were in the first four weeks at Halifax.
My passes were signed by my RAEC officer, who lived at home in Brighton and set off each Monday to visit the RAEC staff in Ack-Ack units as far as Plymouth or perhaps beyond. I was his final call on Friday morning. We got on very well. So much so that when Jean was doing an exercise during her PGCE at the Institute of Education on the Sutton Hoo Viking Ship he made her a film-strip as a teaching aid.
The regulars were very good to me as the only NS man, partly I think because I was older and more mature and worldly-wise than my predecessors, but mainly because I took part in social activities, in the life of the Mess. One week-end Jean, by then my fiancee, came down by Royal Blue coach to Bulford for a Mess Dance or ‘do’ and slept at one of the Sergeant’s family house in the Married Quarters. No ‘hanky-panky’ in those days. I also played in the Sergeants’ cricket team against another similar lot. With my experience as umpire in village cricket, I had about 7 men on the leg side, bowled short pitch and slow outside the leg stump; the batsmen did cow-shots and I took about 6 for 30! So giving up my evenings to help with their education and all the above, I was accepted and have happy memories of my not very arduous national service.
Anti-Aircraft Command was abolished in early?1955 and we came under southern command. About that time with only a few months to go I stopped sending in the monthly progress report forms. And nobody ever asked for them! An example I followed later in government service with the same result.!
For the last six months of national service N.S. men received full regular pay, so financially I was doing well. With the help of my RAEC officer boss I was able to take time off to go for interviews for jobs. I was due to be demobbed on 17? September, 1955, but school started on about the 5th. So although leave was not allowed for a month or so before demob, rules were waived so I returned to civvies some what prematurely. However I did have to report to Crowborough in Sussex to be demobbed, so had a day off school ( and that meant I lost a day’s service when I got my teachers pension!) That was the last day I wore a military uniform, and when some months later I handed it all in at Liverpool Street Parcels Office as I was off to Nyasaland -it was one of the happiest days of my life!
My first job (regular) and lead - up to the second
I applied for several teaching jobs whilst at Bulford, presumably from adverts in The Times Educational Supplement, and had special leave to attend interviews. The first was at an LEA secondary school, a 1930s grammar school in a north east London suburb Harrow or Pinner, I think. Didn’t much like the school, so was not upset to be unsuccessful. The second interview was at Sir Joseph? Williamson‘s? Mathematical School at Rochester. It was in a scatter of old buildings and I was disappointed not to get that one. The third was for a Geography/English teacher at North West Ham Technical School. This was somewhat of a misnomer, because it was really a commercial secondary school. It took in two forms of 30 pupils each at 11+ and a further one form entry of children from the Borough of West Ham and also from S E Essex who were showing artistic ability. The idea was to train students with skills to become workers in the nearby City (of London), clerks and commercial artists.
I was very lucky. It had an excellent Headmaster, Mr Bandy, who had acquired some very good staff. The yearly change in staff was only two or three - say 5% - and for good reasons such as family calls, promotion etc. -whereas in much of the rest of East London it could be as much as 50% It was a happy staffroom, and we usually gathered in the staffroom for a cup of tea and a chat at the end of the school day before going off home.
As soon as I had got my job in West Ham, Jean started looking for jobs nearby and landed one at Brampton Secondary Modern School (Girls) in East Ham.
She then got herself a room in a house in Hampton Road, Forest Gate, through the owner. a fellow student at The Institute of Education where Jean and she were doing the PGCE.
She the arranged for a room for me with owner’s parents who had a smaller house the other side of Forest Gate Station overlooking the railway line. I lived there for our first two terms until we were married at Easter, when I moved in with Jean.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Back to the job. I had 24 girls and six boys in the form I was given. I taught them English and Geography and also Geography to other classes. The Geography was fine, but I only had School Certificate English, taken at the age of 16. So I used to get Jean to tell me what to do, and they had ’How Horatius held the Bridge‘ and other such poems for weeks on end. I, unlike Jean, who is brilliant, am not the world’s greatest teacher, and had some problems in discipline. But I survived and had much support from Mr Bandy and other members of staff. I also took my share in supervising sport and in other after-school activities such as drama.
And on one memorable occasion Jean and I took our form classes on a day’s outing to nearby Epping Forest - about 54 girls and 6 boys. Jean’s girls were beautifully behaved, mine less so, but they didn’t let me down. It would be impossible these days for two teachers in their first probationary year being permitted on their own to undertake such an outing; travelling by public transport, bus, to the forest edge, walking to pick up the British Rail train at Chingford for Liverpool Street and back to Plaistow/West Ham on the Underground, District Line.
On April 4th 1956 Jean and I were married in the Congregational Church in Bideford, Devon, where Jean’s father was Secretary and her mother a leading member andSunday school superintendent. My father, by kind courtesy of the minister, Mr Herring,did the actual marriage with Mr Herring taking the service. The chief bridesmaid was Frances (Maidie) Paddon, Jean’s best friend since babyhood, with my sisters as the other bridesmaids. My brother Martin was best man. My family, plus Roy, had travelled down by train a day or two earlier, and stayed in a local hotel or boarding house on the road from Westward Ho! to Northam.
Why 4th April?. Because the tax year ended and still does on April 5. So we could the claim, as a married couple, its tax allowance for the whole year 1955/56, and this was a fair sum as Jean had been earning for half a year and me for the whole of it. It also fell conveniently at the start of the Easter holidays. it was just the requisite three months since the marriage was notified /registered at the Christmas when I was technically resident at Westward Ho! for the necessary week. Anyway something like that, so the marriage certificate only cost 3/6 (12p) instead of a special licence at 110p or more!.
The reception was held in Jean’s parents house, Laren House, in Westward Ho! and was non-alcoholic, as they were teetotallers. (When we ‘removed’ them out up to Claverham in 1974 we discovered a couple of bottles, whisky and brandy or sherry in a wardrobe - presumably for medical reasons!) About 30 people - the Potter clan plus a few local church friends and ex-school and college friends. We set off on our honeymoon by train from Bideford for Teignmouth, changing at xeter St David’s accompanied by guests returning home!
At Teignmouth we lodged with a Mrs Andrews in Higher Brimleyt, possibly no.22, just above the railway station. We chose Teignmouth so Jean could show me the places where she had spent her childhood, which included walks to Maidencombe and Dawlish, and trips to Buckfastleigh where she had spent two years at school after being evacuated there to stay with her grandparents, when her Teignmouth school was bombed with her inside it. Neither of our families were very ‘touchy-feely’, nor are we. We were both very shy and the marriage was not consummated until the second night.
When we returned to Westward Ho! after the week in Teignmouth, we found a letter from the Colonial Office offering me a job as ‘Master, Dedza Secondary School, Nyasaland.’ A rapid perusal of maps to find out where it was! I had applied to the Colonial Office for a job in teaching some months before, with Jean’s full approval a she had always had leanings to serve as a missionary. An interview at the Colonial Office in Great Smith Street, off Victoria Street,opposite Church, near Westminster Abbey had followed, and the letter was the first intimation I had been successful. Jean’s parents were supportive, but it must have been a great wrench at the prospect of their only child disappearing for at least three years into the heart of Africa, when they would probably miss the birth and early years of grandchildren. They had read of the hard drinking of men in the colonies and warned me of it. Actually I only got drunk once - after a party at the District Commissioner’s in Dedza.
Then it was back to Forest Gate to work, but with the big difference I could move in with Jean and spend the night there! - not allowed (or happened) before.! So the first thing we bought was a put-you-up double bed sofa. When the bed was put up it filled the room and left only a small space to eat etc, But it was only for the couple of months, April to July of the summer term We also bought a mobile radio, about the size of a small attache case. Quite expensive £20+ well above the average weekly wage!
I was earning about £650 a year and Jean about £100 less as I had increments for National Service I think, and salaries were linked to degree level, but not teaching qualification!
Before the Easter and news of my job in Nyasaland so I would be resigning in the summer, I had been going up to the Institute of Education in Bloomsbury for a course leading to a Masters degree, a rather desultory effort.
Jean had learned about the room available in Hampton Road from a fellow trainee student teacher at the Institute the previous year and rented it from her parents. The friend’s husband worked at the Ford plant at Dagenham where he was a shop steward and one evening we were invited to their flat for a meal. I had a long chat about unions for I had been a member of several as bus conductor, student, and teacher and had witnessed the big dockers strike meetings in Victoria Park. It was particularly interesting as he was a genuine working class highly intelligent communist, and we had a most friendly exchange of views I learned a lot.
The staff at the schools gave us a wonderful set of kitchen utensils as a wedding presents and we still have two of the set of pyrex dishes and the stainless steel masher, ladle, serving spoon, spatula, fork and soup ladle set hanging on its row of hooks before me as as I type this.
We attended a pre -training course at a teacher training college in Flax Bourton Hall just outside Bristol. It was a week’s introductory course led by Ian Stott, a retired Church of Scotland missionary in Nyasaland who had later joined the government service and his wife, Mary? The only thing I remember is, knowing we were going to Dedza, where at 5,000+ feet high it would be cold his advice to take some bellows - most useful. There were other tips too, some more useful than others.
We were given an outfit allowance and we spent most of it at a specialist firm, Allisons, for equipping people going out to the colonies, in Farringon Road, in the City of London.
We were to sail from Southampton on the Union Castle Line Stirling Castle on August 30 1956.…….
"We're off to Nyasaland" I informed my bride on our return from honeymoon in April 1956.
She, having never heard of it, an atlas was rapidly produced. Having been interviewed at the old
Colonial Office some months earlier, and expressed a preference for Uganda I was somewhat
surprised to learn to learn I had been appointed as 'Master, Dedza Secondary School,
So the following August saw the happy couple set sail, steerage class, on the Union Castle Mail
ship, the 'Stirling Castle' for Cape Town. On arrival we took the train for a 2000 mile, four day
journey north to Nyasaland via Mafeking, Bulawayo, Salisbury, and Dondo Junction, just short
of Beira, for the rail car for Limbe. Here we were met by the school's Headmaster, Jack Smith,
who helped them buy a car, an essential piece of equipment when resident 140 miles further
north and 65 miles from the nearest town, Lilongwe.
Between getting married and leaving for Africa we, both teaching in East London, had been
living in one room. On arrival, at the school we moved into a large three-bedroom house with a
sitting and dining room, bathroom, two kitchens a khonde (veranda), basic furniture and
servants' quarters. However there was only a fitful supply of electricity in the evenings from the
school's generator, turned off at 10 pm with paraffin Tilley lamps at the ready if one was giving a
dinner party. Otherwise one went to bed, as the work-day started early. We did have piped water,
sometimes rather muddy, especially in the dry season, piped from a dam half-way up the side of
the mountain against which the school had been built. The hot water system consisted of two 44
gallon steel drums on brick pillars beneath which a fire could be lit. They were filled with water
from the nearby stream by the gardener. Quite often the stoker was too enthusiastic, the water in
the drums boiled and they bounced up and down with steam pouring out in a most alarming
manner. But there was never an accident so there must have been some secret P.W.D. safety
The house was my first brush with 'authority'. Even before leaving England. I was informed I
could not take my wife with me because of a shortage of accommodation. Pointing out that
whilst this may be the situation in the capital and major towns, it was not the position on the
school sites. Therefore "no wife, no go." Not everyone was so bold and had to go without marital
comforts for some months. Hence our first child was born less than 12 months after our arrival.
Unlike many appointees we did not have a lengthy training course before departure, simply a few
days at a former country house, transmogrified into a teacher training college, at Flax Bourton,
near Bristol. The course was run by Ian Stott and his wife who had spent years in Nyasaland as
missionaries before he joined the government education department. The most useful hint, of
which there were many, was to take a pair of bellows, for fires were needed at Dedza at an
altitude of over 5000 feet. We went quite well equipped with household utensils and general
impedimenta. One comforting item was a battery short-wave receiver, with accumulators which
could be re-charged from the school's erratic electricity supply. We were thus able to listen to the BBC Overseas Service, and have been switched on to 'The Archers' ever since.
We only ever had two servants, a gardener and a general house servant. One of them, Tito, first
the 'garden-boy' and then the 'house-boy' - I regret that 'boy' was the generic term at the time,
although we never addressed our servants directly as 'boy' - joined us soon after our arrival and
was with us until we came home ten years later. Some colleagues felt it was against their
principles to employ servants. But the locals regarded this as unfair. Their argument was that
the Europeans had the money: it was their duty to spread it around. Except for tea in bed, brought
in by the house servant - we bought a 'teasmaid' on return to the UK - my wife did all the actual
cooking, on a Dover, wood-burning range. The family never had any tummy troubles, unlike
others who had a local cook; nor did any of us suffer from malaria, for we were diligent with
mosquito nets and a daily prophylactic.
We were blessed with our first child and then a second whilst at Dedza. I drove my wife the 65
miles to Lilongwe over dirt, pot-holed roads of mud, quite an experience for some one about to
give birth. Actually she drove herself, because holding on to the steering wheel and concentrating
on keeping the car on the road took her mind off other matters. Our daughter used to play with
Tito's and the other servant's children. My wife on showing some small children when back in
England a photo of two of them of the same size taken together, one black, one white, was asked
"Which of them is yours?", strongly suggesting colour prejudice is not innate.
The school had originally been more of a trade school with workshops etc. and educated boys up
to Cambridge Overseas School Certificate level, as did two other secondary schools viz. Zomba
Catholic known as 'Box 2' (Dedza was 'Box 48' - after the Post Office box numbers) and
Blantyre (protestant). However after a visit from Miss Gwilliam, the Colonial Office Inspector
and the arrival of Jack Smith, ex-Mauritius and Fiji, a Sixth Form was started. Previously
Nyasaland students went to Goromonzi school in Southern and then to Munale, in Northern
Rhodesia. I was fortunate enough to be able to design and equip a geography lab in a former
woodwork room, which would have been the envy of many English grammar schools. I taught
primarily geography, but also history, religous education and music. The standard of teaching
was extremely high and our students went on to major universities in the UK and elsewhere
becoming doctors, professors, etc. and one, after service in the World Bank, is currently
Malawi's Minister of Finance.
One evening in March 1959 a State of Emergency was declared. I was the member of staff on duty
that night. On finding the classrooms, where prep should have been taking place, empty, I went
up the hill and found all the students in a high state of tension assembled in the hall. Asking them
unsuccessfully to disperse and go on to prep, I then picked out the youngest and 'weakest' and
luckily cajoled them into moving down and so on until only the ring-leaders remained and
without followers they duly succumbed. A rather tense moment. The boys were sent home a few
days later. But not before the school had been 'strafed' by Rhodesian jets, which frightened the
boys, many of who had never seen a train let alone a jet. The District Commissioner turned up in
a Land Rover with armed policeman, and had to be 'shoo-ed' away, before the students saw
Age fifteen I had bought a shot-gun and took it with me expecting the place to be full of wild animals. But the locals had seen most of them off. The only thing I shot was a civet cat which
had been hanging round the house after our domestic animal. But when the Emergency came I
swapped the gun for a set of golf clubs, and made sure the servants and other knew there was no
longer a firearm in the house.
An example of how mis-understandings occur came about, probably in 1957, when Vincent
Gondwe asked me in the staff room one day if I had received instructions to promote the
Federation in my lessons. I had not, and said so. He thought he knew I was lying, because the
locals had an intelligence system even better than the colonial government's, and were aware that
Stowell, then Director of Education had indeed sent out such an order. What they did not realise
was that Jack Smith being a wily old bird, and knowing how his mainly young idealistic staff,
there to help Nyasaland become self-governing, would re-act. Personally I had been somewhat
sympathetic to the Federation till Roy Welensky changed the rules to ensure the whites of
Southern Rhodesia would remain in the driving seat. Some years later after self-government I
raised the matter with Vincent and sorted it out, resuming our friendship.
After nearly three and a half years we went on leave in 1960, flying home vie Entebbe to see
friends at Makere, and returning by ship on the Kenya Castle via Suez, Tanga, Mombasa,
Zanzibar, Dar-es-Salaam, and back by train from Beira. I was then Deputy Headmaster, but
soon, at very short notice was posted to Blantyre as Acting Provincial Education Officer, pending
the arrival of Dick Travers from Kenya. He followed on from Ivan Freeman, also from Kenya,
who succeeded Stowell, and Harry Hudson came from Uganda to be Deputy Director. They all
brought a refreshing change to the education set-up and enabled considerable progress to be
made. I then became District Education Officer for Blantyre Urban, Rural and Chiradzulu.
Subsequently I was Regional Education Officer in Northern and then Southern Regions. Officer
in charge of setting up and running Day Secondary Schools and Chief Administrative Officer of
the Polytechnic, not answerable to the Principal! We had two more children, one born in Mzuzu
and the fourth one in Blantyre.
One certainly had to make decisions, and be versatile. Blantyre Urban was an unusual District in
that the majority of the teachers were female, whose husbands were employed in business,
government or other services. The primary schools were run by the churches. Suddenly I was
informed I had to pay the teachers and was given the funds to do so. But I had neither the staff
nor the time to pay them out individually as the churches had done. I therefore told the teachers
they had to open an account at one of the four banks. Then four lists were drawn up with salaries
due, four cheques were issued and the banks did the rest. Major spin-offs were that the wives had
direct control of their money, and it started to build-up a internal savings, an important factor in
To do all the paper-work I had to employ an additional, reliable, competent accounts clerk. But
how to pay her? I had however been given a large sum of money to build new primary schools,
so a little of that was siphoned off. A traveller called offering to sell me steel frameworks for a
school building. I was able to give him a list of quantities and the costs of building. These were
available as the missions always claimed that the government grants for the construction of
teachers' houses and classrooms did not cover the costs. Getting tired of this constant
complaining, I worked out the bills of quantities, priced and distributed them. The matter was never raised again as it turned out the government was slightly overpaying!
The salesman went on to Zomba the capital and sold the Education Department a ton or so of the
stuff. Unfortunately the Works Department refused to authorise payment. Meanwhile the sisters
at Mlanje had built a large extension to their teacher training college relying on faith to pay the
bills. The problem was solved however as the Blantyre Archdiocese bought the steelwork and the
Education Department helped finance the Mlanje development.
As a 'field' officer, often with rather tenuous communication links with the Ministry in Zomba,
one had to make one's own decisions. I soon came to the conclusion that I must make 90%
without telling HQ, 8% telling them what I had done, and 2% seeking advice. As time went the
latter two percentages became steadily smaller. However there were exceptions. When the UK
supplier of school books and equipment sent out a member of staff to find why the company had
not been paid by the new local authorities, who had spent the school fees on more exciting things
like Land Rovers etc. I was instructed to report to Zomba to explain why I had failed to report
this heinous behaviour. However the meeting was immediately cancelled when I drew attention
to the two or three telephone calls and a letter pointing out what was happening.
Accompanying representatives of the Beit Trust, I was somewhat surprised to learn they had
paid for a primary school we visited. This was because the Roman Catholics
had received a considerable sum for the same building. A quiet word with Father X, the mission's
Education Secretary, secured a promise not to do it again. There was little point in making a fuss
because I knew that the mission had spent far more than the government at promoting primary
education in the area.
My personal relations with the new Malawian ministers were cordial. Perhaps the fact that Mr.
Chiume and I, unlike most of my European colleagues, were both 'vertically '
challenged' had something to do with it. Also because if I disagreed with him, politely of course,
I did not hesitate to put my case. Officers were expected to accompany the Minister on 'ulendo'
Usually they were late at the rendez-vous, sometimes by a couple of days! Our motor-caravan
proved its worth on those occasions. Once at the end of visit to a remote part of the Southern
region, still fifty odd miles from Limbe and the minister was holding a late afternoon political
rally, I asked if I could leave as I had a play rehearsal that evening back in town. He refused. But
as the meeting was about to start and the locals had presented him with gifts, including lots of
eggs, he gave me a basket of them, and told me to go, and I just made my rehearsal in time.
The Malawi Congress Party officials on Likoma island complained to the Minister that the
colonialist Regional Education Office had chosen to site their new day secondary school where
he, rather than they, felt it should be built. Kanyama Chiume, I was told, replied, "If Mr. Potter
thinks that's where it should go, so be it." I had sited it there because, having checked the charts,
I knew the Lake steamer bringing the cement etc. could come close inshore either side of the
school, depending on the prevailing wind. The site also had the advantage, for a government
school, of being some way from the Anglican cathedral, the focal point of island life.
At Dedza, I ran a Rover Scout Crew at a nearby Forestry Training School, and there was a Scout
Troop at the school. Scouting was very popular and I continued in various capacities until the
movement was banned, except for Europeans and Asians, by Dr. Banda. As the government were
my employers I had, very regretfully, to resign. Ironically a Malawian Scouter who had received
the highest level of scout training with a view to becoming the national leader was taken into the
replacement Young Pioneers organisation. Its training manuals, apart from those concerned with
political and military matters, were virtually identical with those of the scouts.
Other tasks I undertook were acting as second-in command for running the Independence and
Republic celebrations. For a time just before the former event I was in charge as my chiefs
stomach ulcer blew up and Dr. Banda as an ex-UK GP confined him to bed. Consequently I was
summoned to the Presidential bungalow and had, most unusually, a private interview. I will never
know whether Dr. Banda did this deliberately or not. But everyone knew of this personal, private
briefing and it gave me the authority to countermand the Malawian ministers' and other
demands, by simply saying, The president wants.." No one else knew what was said but it can
now be revealed that the Life President wanted to be certain his unpublicised guests from South
Africa were properly looked after.
Another occasion which required some rapid quick thinking was the day before the Republic was
to be launched with a service and gun salute. Checking the already printed service with the
Malawi Rifles (ex-KAR) band we came to one hymn marked 'typical tumbuka tune'. The band
were non-plussed. I tried to contact Tom Colvin, a Scots missionary who had drawn up the order
of service: he was in Geneva. So I worked out the rhythm, and sang the melody to the band, with
the immediate response 'Inde, bwana' They certainly knew the tune and so the Republic of
Malawi was launched to the tune of the children's hymn "Jesus loves me this I know, 'cos the
Bible tells me so".
Yet another additional task was to run the Music and Dance Festivals which the new regime
introduced to revive and encourage traditional cultural activities. This involved using buses.
When running the first one in Mzuzu I persuaded the Nyasaland Bus company to run a relief
(duplicate) service bus about 150 miles to Chitipa (Fort Hill) and gratis 'private' hire back, 300
miles or so. And repeat the procedure to get the participants back home. Meeting the General
Manager at a play rehearsal in Limbe some months later he waxed indignant at the so-and-so
who had bamboozled his staff into making such an agreement. I kept my counsel. When
organising the next Festival in Blantyre I couldn't pull off the same arrangement and would incur
considerable up-front costs, which I might not re-coup if it rained. So I asked for a guarantee
against loss. I was told government didn't give guarantees. So I said "No guarantee, no festival."
They did not wish to upset the Minister, so accounting policy took a rapid U-turn.
The experience of having to make decisions and being responsible for one's own actions was not
necessarily always appropriate on returning to a more ordered, bureaucratic hierarchical regime
back home. Some ex-colonials failed to adapt but others went on to do very well in their second
careers. I returned to educational administration in Warwickshire but soon changed occupations
completely to become a government servant again. This time as an economist in the Home Civil
Service, with another enjoyable and varied second career, almost as incident ridden and exciting
as the first.
We finally left Malawi in January 1967. The children were growing up. I would need a job in the
UK and at the age of almost 36 it was getting rather late to start a new career. But most of all I
felt I had done as much as I could to carry out the job I had come out to do, that of helping the
country attain self-government.
Further Adventures in Africa
In addition to the chapter on 'Education' in Colin Baker's book Expatriate Experience Of Life
And Work In Nyasaland - there are many more anecdotes to do with my time in Africa of which here are a few I can remember.
Soon after acquiring our new Opel caravan, in fact the day after driving it up from Blantyre to
Dedza, to the Angoni Highlands hotel, where we spent a night or two before moving into our
house on the school site, I managed to crash the car. It skidded in loose sand on the road.
Completely inexperienced in driving on dirt roads, I had not realised the tyres were bone hard
having been prepared for the tarmac roads in the Blantyre/area, and that one avoided the soft
road edges, sticking to the (literally) crown of the road. Fortunately I was unhurt, and the car
could be driven - back down to Blantyre for the bodywork to be hammered out. The car served
us faithfully thereafter, for thousands of miles through mud, sand, rivers etc and often at 40 mph
on the corrugations - anything slower, and the car felt as though it was shaking to pieces, and
probably would have.
A memorable occasion was trusting an old map - that's all there were - when we, including
months-old Anne, took a 'road' from the Roman Catholic mission at Bembeke, down the 2000
foot escarpment to another RC mission at Mua near the Lake. The 'road' got steeper and steeper
and we suspected something was not quite right. But there was nowhere to turn and it was too
steep to back up. We knew, it when the abandoned 'road' was blocked by a fallen tree. The road
building had started but was soon abandoned.
But the only way out was to keep on going down. So having a long tow rope on board we
belayed the car round a tree and with the help of a friendly local walking by edged it on the slope
round the blockage with the baby in her basket - a cane-work 'cot' made by our gardener which
lasted for all four children and came back to the UK - by an open door to grab it if the car
disappeared down below. We managed this twice and then had to find a way through the woods
before reaching the open coast road and on to the Mission. The fathers were amazed as no other
vehicle had managed to traverse the 'road' as far as anyone knew. Returning to Dedza was
relatively easy as there was another road up the escarpment built when the first attempt was
abandoned. The story spread through the land and we were known throughout the land for this
I had two adventures with rivers and cars. Once with the Opel and Jean's parents in the car we
came to a river we had to cross by a ford. Not sure how deep it was, the passengers got out whilst
I gently drove the car on. It was actually shallow enough for them to wade across, it not having
been deemed advisable to try and reverse back.
On another occasion, travelling with the Deputy Chief Education Officer, Harry Hudson and his
wife returning from Likabula, on the edge of Mlanje mountain to Limbe, we diverted from the
usual route because of a flooded river. Harry had a Citroen which had a pneumatic body-lifting
arrangement, very useful where the roads had been eroded by flood water so the car could lower
itself down into the gap and up the other side. On one occasion the water was still flowing fast.
Harry and I wanted to try and drive through, but his wife said no. In retrospect, just as well, as I expect we would have been swept away.
As an Education Officer I had some interesting decisions to make, e.g. discovering that although
there was obviously a fixed date and time for the national Standard six exams, at a certain school,
the nuns had held it several days earlier. As it was remote and there were no phones in those
days, a blind eye or rather a deaf ear was called for.
There was a Unified Teachers Code of employment, rather better than some in the UK, and a
case came up in a primary school in Mlanje of a girl pupil becoming pregnant, by it was claimed,
one of the teachers. So a disciplinary tribunal was set up with the Regional Education Officer
me, as chairman and one representative of the teachers' union and one from the employers. I
asked that one of these be female. We heard evidence from the relevant parties and then I
arranged for the female rep to be alone with girl, my suggesting to the other male on the panei
we 'went for a beer' By the time of our return the woman had got the girl to reveal the identity
of the true father and the teacher was innocent. He, probably only person in the village with the
money to pay for the loss of a (virgin) bride-price, had been set up.
When it was clear that one of my District Education Officers was being distracted from his job
after some hints had failed to obtain an improvement, I mentioned to him that there was probably
a vacancy coming up far away in the Lower River area where it was very hot. Not a pleasant
posting, unlike the one he currently occupied. Nothing further needed to be said, and we
remained good colleagues as his work resumed its normal tenor.
An interesting job arouse when Mr Borley, Director of the Game, Fish and Tse-Tse control
department, based at Fort Johnston at the foot of Lake Nyasa, asked me to help with the problem
of tse-tse fly control as the tse caused cattle to weaken and die. His men went out on patrol and
caught the tse-tse, but where did the sighting take place? I devised a method by which they
recorded the direction in which they were moving and the time each observation was made. Thus
knowing the speed at which they were walking it became possible to make a rough map of the
I decided to try this out. A lift in a Land Rover to a remote spot in the bush, a few miles away
from the Boma (District HQ), from which I walked on. A little worrying in a clearing to come
across elephant droppings -probably days old - but how was I to know? - and then being laughed
at by baboons. I pointed my stick at them pretending it was a gun but they weren't fooled.
Arriving at a remote village the small children ran away in alarm - almost certainly the first
white person they had seen.
Mr Borley told me later the system worked. A pleasant by-product was that Jean, Anne and I
stayed for a couple of days or so in the local lakeshore hotel, expenses paid, at least mine!
We were involved with the Malawi Independence and Republic Celebrations on July 6 1966 and
1968? respectively. Brian Walker, an Admin Officer, two years behind me at Bury Grammar
School, was in charge at Independence with me as his deputy. Ten days before the day Brian
went down with a stomach ulcer, and Dr Banda, who had been a GP in N W London put him to
bed. So I was in charge. One task was arranging the seating plan on the podium in the Stadium where the main events took place. I carefully arranged excellent seats for
Jean and me! A difficulty arose when the Duke of Edinburgh's entourage included an additional
security man at the last minute, so a late re-arrangement persuading the dignitaries to move
along. The Malawian ministers wanted seats on the front row, but this was still a colonial affair,
so no go. They knew I had had a personal interview with the Dr B. but they didn't know any
details, so I simply said 'His Excellency wants it done this way.' In effect he had given me the
authority needed One minister I had to be firm with was a Mr Muwalo - the only person I have
known who has finished up at the end of a hangman's noose - for allegedly plotting to
overthrow Dr B.
Brian looked after some events, I did the others. There were several 'emergencies' One was
important guests stranded at the frontier and or even at Dar es Salaam. Had to organise clearance
and even an aeroplane. When I attended the final rehearsal at the Kanjedza Centre for the
Republic midnight hand-over service the programme was already printed. For one hymn it read
'typical Tumbuka' (tribal) tune. The KAR (later Malawi Rifles) military band looked blank.
Wfiiere was Tom Colvin, a Scots missionary who had devised that part of the service in
Geneva! So I worked out the metre, and the Republic of Malawi was launched to the tune of a
children's hymn 'Jesus loves me, This I know 'cos the Bible tells me so!', which the band knew
Problems were there to be solved. There was only enough seating for two outside events. So as
soon as the opening of the Independence Arch had finished and the guests departed, prisoners,
who had been hidden behind bushes rushed forward, put the seating on lorries to be taken to the
Before the State Balls Jean and I did the seating. At Independence Day the top European officials
were invited, but at Republic Day, when the African ministers were in charge, they invited those who
had done the work. It was quite a job keeping the Israeli apart from the the Arab etc.
One of the privileges I had was being elected by the Anglican Diocesan Synod as, I think, the
only non-Malawian, to the 11 man body which elected the first black bishop in Malawi. It was
Joseph Mtekateka from Mozambique to be Bishop of Lake Malawi, based on Likoma.
An enjoyable 'ulendo' (safari) was by government launch from Nkata Bay to Likoma to site the
new government secondary school. Government supplied some building material and steel
corrugated sheets for the roofing. This would be unloaded from a lake steamer and so I chose a
site, well away from the dominating cathedral and its influence, on an isthmus so the vessel
could choose to unload on the leeward side. Two of the local politicians complained to Mr
Chiume, the Minister of Education, that the colonialist officer, me, had ignored them. Tony
Davis told me that Chiume told them that if Mr Potter said that was the right place, so be it!
Unlike most officers I got on well with Chiume - perhaps because we are both 'vertically
challenged' and I didn't fear or suck up to him.
The first time I climbed Mlanje Mountain was with two rover scouts from the Forestry Crew. We
didn't have porters, which annoyed them. We set off for the summit but there was no map and we
actually arrived at the South Peak. We knew this because people had reached it from the other side of the mountain, whereas we had crossed from the Lichenya plateau, where we stayed in the
mountain hut club's hut. We were almost certainly the first recorded to make that journey, and
my companions were the first non-whites to use the hut.
On the way back to Dedza we had lunch with Mr Westrop, a tea-planter and Scout
Commissioner, and his wife. Jean had joined us, and while the men had a beer, Jean was chatting
to Mrs Westrop. She told Jean it would be the first time in her life she had sat down to a meal
with a black man and was very nervous; as a result, so was Jean. But the atmosphere changed
when the talk turned to the flora and Mrs W was astonished as my African colleagues knew the
Latin names of the various plants - they were foresters - and Mrs W was also a botanist, so the
A year or two later Jean and I with two children climbed the mountain with porters and with our
servant Tito carrying the baby on his back, to stay in the same hut. My chief memory is of Jean
and I making love in the heather under an African sky!
We still have on our wall a leopard skin which a villager brought to our door at Dedza in 1957.
had been killed at the village and there was then no market for the skin - that soon changed! We
paid 30/- for it, I think (1.50), and then had it cured by the Zambezi Mission people at Blantyre
for I think 3.00 pounds. The whole thing cost 4/10/- (4.50) We also have a snake skin I bought for
50p from a chap who came aboard the lake steamer the 'Ilala' whilst I was doing a ulendo
visiting village schools along the lake shore, not easily accessible by road.
This chapter has gone on long enough. There are many other stories - a trip across Northern
Rhodesia to the Copper Belt and back - with family and spare petrol and springs on board etc. -
travelling on an Arab dhow on the Lake - flying in a de Havilland single engine Beaver beating
up deer and crocodiles -and having one break down a hundred miles from my destination so
having to take the bus - driving our motor caravan on hairpin bids on dirt mountain roads - etc
Our last flight was dodging tropical storms as we flew in a DC3 to Beira to join the Ellerman
Lines' 'City of Exeter' for our final voyage home. A year before we had taken the 'Shaw Saville
'Northern Star' from Durban to Durban via Freemantle, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland.
Rarotonga, Tahiti, Apulculco, Panama Canal, Curacao, Trinidad, Lisbon, and Southampton.
Three weeks in UK, and then Madeira, Cape Town and Durban. UDI declared in Rhodesia so
motor caravan and family booked on an Italian Lloyd Triestino vessel to Beira and then up to
Limbe by train.
On the City of Exeter a cargo vessel with luxury space and facilities for 100 passengers, we
called at Lourenco Marques, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, and Las Palma:
Gran Canaria. On this leg I met a man who later offered me a job as a result of our conversation.
‘Back home for good’
The City of Exeter was late. I had applied for a job as an Assistant Education Officer in the Borough of Rochdale. The interview was scheduled for a day before our arrival, but took place just after we docked at the King George V dock in London. I had been on the phone to the Chief Education Officer as we sailed up the Channel who said do come up and I will try and get the committee to delay the decision until the afternoon when they‘ve seen you. I expect he wanted me for the job! However they wouldn’t wait so I didn’t get the job. If I had, life might have been very different as the Chief Education Officer post at neighbouring Bury, my home town, came up a year or so later. It had been blacklisted by the Association of Education Officers, so I think I would have had a good chance - local lad etc
We settled in at my mother’s house -Tree Tops - a bungalow on the Hall Road, Cromer to Felbrigg about a mile from the resort, whilst I sought a new job. I was still getting paid as I had still some leave left. I sent off dozens of applications. The first offer of an interview that came up was for an Assistant Education Officer based in Warwick with the County Council, closely followed by one from the Scottish Government Development Department (I had a degree in geography). I stalled on the latter, attractive though it was, and went off to Warwick The interview went fairly well, although I was puzzled to be asked if I was familiar with railways! The four candidates waited together for the result. One, a woman, was called for and returned to say she had been offered the job, but didn’t know, on second thoughts, whether to accept it, as she lived with her mother at the other end of the country. I said if she didn’t want it, I did, as I had a wife and four children to feed and currently was unemployed. So she said ‘you have it‘; and so I was offered it and accepted it.
Some time later I received a letter from the man who had offered me a job on the way home, before he disembarked in the Canaries. He ran a fish-meal business in Belfast and neither of his two children, son and daughter, were interested in taking it over. He offered me a six-month probationary contract to see if we clicked and if we did my eventually taking it over. But it meant being away six to nine months of the year buying fish in South Africa, Canada etc. Although tempted, I had a wife and four children so not really on!
For ten glorious days I was in receipt of two salaries as the start of my new job overlapped with the last days of my terminal leave. I lodged with the Vicar of St Nicholas, Warwick travelling to Cromer each week-end until we were able to buy a house and furniture. The Vicar, an Oxford economics graduate was upset as his former parochial church council treasurer had just been sent down for stealing £20,000 or so over a period of years from church funds. A trusted man, a bank manager! Corruption - not only in Malawi. A lesson in being insistent on seeing accounts - if only to try and stop people fiddling!
We soon settled down in Warwick, my attending St Mary’s C of E and both of us the URC, where I played the organ on occasions. Jean became the chairman of the Warwick Council of Churches. She, possibly unconsciously, followed the Malawian practice of not taking votes in meetings but talking it through so the ‘ind’ of those present emerged and some members did not feel alienated by a vote. It worked as the church representatives were people of good will and recognised when they were in a minority. When the Council got a bit moribund, the clergy stopped coming. They soon returned when the laity got on with making decisions anyway.
She organised a series of Lent Lectures on the theme of a meeting of the World Council of Churches in Sweden It took the form of dinner in the Lord Leycester Hotel before the public meeting. One of the speakers was Lord March, who was very interested in the fact I had elected an Anglican bishop and at his request I sent him details of how we did it.
We had bought a an excellent four or five bed roomed house, formerly the Methodist manse, at No 1 Cape Road, using the ¼ gratuity. We had quite a lot done to the house, using the ¼ of my pension entitlement commuted into a lump sum. An very good investment. in particular the kitchen area was divided off by a stable door from the breakfast room, so the children could play there whilst mother/father was accessible and in earshot but neatly cut off! There wee attic rooms where the elder children slept so a rope was provided as a fire escape!
The house was very close to the town centre and only about three minutes walk from my office, in ChurchStreet? immediately opposite and overlooking the Shire Hall and Courthouse. The police once used the overlooking window to photograph witnesses etc leaving the Crown Court. I was quite happy with this but came under fire from others!
One day I arrived home for lunch to find two police officers waiting for me. ne from the Irish Garda and the other a local sergeant. A couple of weeks or so earlier we had been on a family holiday to the Republic by sea and had hired a car the take us around. W¬e had a minor bump in Cork so wondered a bit about the insurance. However our deposit was returned without question.
I now found out why! The car had been fished out of the River Liffey! We had returned with it to Donegal Quay on departure to find no agent of the hire company present so in accord with what was apparently the usual practice, left the car keys and documents with shipping office. So my name was down as the car’s last user, and the Irish thought they had got their man! They were a bit non-plussed when I produced my deposit receipt etc. and left with apologies. It appeared the car had been stolen, used for a ‘job’ and dumped in the river!
The local Music/Cultural Society organised concerts and I was roped in as a kind of administrator financial dogsbod. I particular remember a concert in the Shire Hall by Gerald ? a world famous accompanist and that made a profit being a one-man show with one big fee, but a good audience The next?production was ’The Dream of Gerontius‘ in St Mary’s Church with a full orchestra and soloists. It looked like being a gigantic flop so I arranged to circulate schools to bring parties of children and parents and disaster was avoided. They then did not accept my advice on ticket pricing for a ‘pop’ concert and I withdrew my services - possibly because we were off to London!
Back to the question on railways at my interview. It appeared that they had the 11+ -secondary school selection tests - sent by rail from Moray House, the publishers, by train from Edinburgh, and they would get lost en route, especially in Birmingham, and the officer running the exams had to run round to find them.
However I thought there were easier, and probably cheaper, methods of transport. So looked at road and air services before having a brilliant idea. I realised the Education Department had mini-buses and even vans at its special schools etc. so suggested my assistant - I didn't let on he didn't drive, - but having a companion was sensible - should drive up to Edinburgh and collect the papers.
This was agreed so John and I drove up one Friday, collected the papers on Saturday morning and returned the van to its ‘safe’ parking space in the Princes Street railway station yard, and then enjoyed the rest of the day in the city before returning to Warwick on the Sunday.
But we had not realised how heavy paper was, and the van was well down on its springs, grossly overloaded. We were advised by a lorry driver, on loading, to avoid going right down the A1, as there was a weighbridge en route, so we diverted earlier along the way and crawled over the Pennines in bottom gear to join the M1 motorway.
We were stopped by a policeman on the A1 in Scotland,who claimed we needed a ’C’ ? licence as a commercial vehicle. I suggested we were a private vehicle carrying our own goods, but that he should get in touch with the Warwickshire County Council Clerk and Solicitor whose name and address were written on the side of the vehicle. Nothing eventuated. However I learned years later that when my successor did the same trip using a larger vehicle, it was stolen from the parking lot with the papers inside!
Another wheeze was that registered post was being used to send out and have returned the papers for the separate exams to the primary schools. So I suggested that members of the office staff could drive out and deliver them on a set of rotas I prepared. We worked out this would be cheaper, more secure, and reliable. It enabled officers to meet the heads they dealt with and see the schools, a very valuable by-product and a welcome break from the office. The Deputy Chief Education Officer was a bit taken aback to find the office depopulated.
I also re-organised the job, including a method of paying for school trips, so Heads were given much more freedom and did not have to get permission for each outing. This saved a whole clerk’s job in the County Treasurer’s Department and cut my office’s workload, especially mine, so I had time to help the Assistant Education Officer(finance), .’
I was responsible for school admissions and in particular there was a huge new housing development taking place at Chelemsley Wood on the edge of Birmingham within the county. It takes time to build schools, and immediately adjacent in the Birmingham City area were lots of empty primary school places as the immediate post-war bulge of child births had passed through and not been replaced. So we had to do a deal with the Birmingham people. Also we couldn't follow the normal practice of building up the secondary school one year at a time. Several years had to start at once because of the influx of all ages of children at once. This was a new thing for sleepy Warwickshire and it required new thinking!
I began to realise how centralised government was and that power rested in Whitehall, so when I saw an advert for Research Officers in various government departments, and not fancying soldiering on to 65 in local government, as it seemed then, I put in an application, remembering I had a geography degree awarded 18 years previously.
Somewhat to my surprise I was invited to an interview - a day out in London expenses paid! The interview went quite well. I was relaxed as didn't really anticipate it would come to anything, as I had no serious research experience. I had already had two interviews for more senior education posts, one in Coventry, after only nine months in Warwick, and another in Sheffield, which I was told I would have got if there had not been another equally judged candidate living locally in Rotherham.
A letter came one Saturday morning when we were still in bed. I glanced at it and didn't see my name under the Overseas Development Department or any of the first few listed, so tossed it to Jean, who pointed out my name was right at the bottom under Board of Trade. On the interviewing panel was the head of the Board’s Research Department, Bob Howard, a Yorkshireman, who must have seen some potential in me.
I was posted as Research Officer, to the Board of Trade Regional Office in Birmingham, so we continued to live in Warwick.
It was quite an easy commute to Birmingham as Warwick railway station was only five minutes or so distant across the park with a fairly frequent service to Moor Street station. Then a 20 minute or so walk through the Bull Ring and up past the hospital to the office at Five Ways, in a block just above what later became the re-opened railway station of that name
On my first Monday morning the fire alarm went at about 10 am so I put my coat on and went down stairs to the assembly point. My Chief asked what I thought I was doing as it was only a test of the alarm, to which my reply was no one had told me!
I was soon transferred to the East Midlands Office at Nottingham and we had started to look at possible locations for a move. In the meantime I was commuting to Nottingham on Monday mornings returning Friday night. I lodged with my brother Martin’s former boss in the Colonial Audit Service in Kano, Nigeria, Philip Davidson, who had become an Anglican priest and was now Rector of Buckland Brewer, a village about four miles south east of the city centre, where the office was located. I had a motor scooter and travelled in past Trent Bridge the Nottingamshire County Cricket Ground.
However fate intervened and we moved to Muswell Hill, N6, in North London, rather than Nottingham. This was because, after answering a circular asking for volunteers to become government economists, and being interviewed by the head of the Government Economic Service, I was chosen to become a student, on full salary, at the London School of Economics. I was to do a preliminary year before entering the M.Sc. Econ course for the second year. In effect I covered the three year B.Sc. Econ course in that year. It was quite a grind. I realised, years later, that LSE would never have looked at me if I had not been nominated by the H M Treasury of the Civil Service Department, as I had only School Certificate Maths, no statistics, and no economics!
I did start to referee Soccer at the LSE Sports Ground at New Malden but the it took up too much time and I was being paid.
I made friends with Demetrius Vouliatakis from Piraeus, the port of Athens, who had come with his wife and two young boys, and lodged near us in Haringey. to study for the master’s degree at LSE. We saw something of them as a family and Jean and I spent a happy holiday with the in Greece a few years later.
It was however something of a tragedy. When we came out of the final exam in the econometric - ‘maths - paper Demetrius said he had got stuck and only done two of the four questions. My heart sank as I knew, correctly as it turned out, that he had failed, but obviously couldn’t say so: a difficult moment. I had realised in one question the numbers had gone haywire so wrote on the paper that I had obviously made a ‘boo-boo‘ but finished it off using algebra - letters - to show I knew the method: scraped through on that paper. I knew you had to do four of the questions set as demanded.
It was an interesting situation as I was older than most of the lecturers and already had a successful? career behind me and considerable experience of life. Harry Johnstone was a colleague and joint-professor with Milton Freedman, the world-famous economist at the University of Chicago. On one occasion he was very critical of a paper Demetrius had written, using his knowledge of banking and the euro. Harry wanted a theoretical, rather than a pragmatic paper. Demetrius was completely floored, unable to work, in tears. So I went to see Harry and said he should see Demetrius and give him some confidence again. particularly as Deemtretius was a much better student than me
Harry said he marked it late at night as he had so much to do. I suggested he had already made his name and should relax a bit and enjoy it, like Milton. But Harry had pulled himself up from a very poor background and felt he had to keep going. He died of a heart attack about 18 months later - a work alcoholic. But he did come to a party at our house in Fordington road, just north of Highgate Wood.
Other lecturers included Richard Layard, Meghamsai? Desai, and Brian Griffiths, all of whom were later enobled. Richard became my tutor, as I gave up the Economics of Less Developed Countries because I lost confidence in the professor, a Burmese, and instead after a few weeks joined the course on the Economics of Education and Human Capital, with Richard, especially as the only other LSE student doing the course was a Greek girl, escaping from family pressures having a whale of a time at the opera, dances etc. I didn’t think they would want two failures!
Richard was always willing to discuss and listen and admit he could be wrong. Brian Griffiths sometimes missed or was late for lectures as he was busy advising the Conservative government. Desai took a class and when I failed to solve the question mathematically after hours of effort, having done the economics side in a few minutes, I made him have a go when he attempted to move on. With a board covered with numbers and still no answer he said lets go for tea and never came back! This rankled for many years until I tackled him on it, privately, years later after a public lecture. He just laughed. I was too conscientious.
I was sceptical about models etc at the time and still am
Having obtained my M.Sc. Econ degree without any particular distinction I was posted, as a Senior Research Officer to an Economics and Statistics Division dealing with the economics of private industry under Dennys Broyd, a remarkable man. I commuted in to Abell House in Horseferry Road by scooter from Highgate. But time for another chapter.
I had hardly settled in to work in Abell House when I answered a call for someone to assist a senior Home Office statistician in compiling the statistics of the incoming Asian refugees from Uganda. We shared a large office in a tall building at the end of Lambeth Bridge with wonderful views up and down the Thames. The Uganda Resettlement Board. had been set up by an Order in Council and we reported direct to the Home Secretary. We had a Director, an Under Secretary an Assistant Secretary from the Home Office. and a few Principals and executive officers recruited from several other departments on secondment.
We soon tidied up the stats which was mainly finding out how many were coming and where in UK they might finish up. It soon became clear that would be in Leicester where there was already a community, London and a few other locations
Being a completely new Board set up in a great hurry, there were no established procedures, and it was very unorthodox as we had emergency powers. In the beginning there were only about 12 of us from Under Secretary to Higher Executive Officer level as management. We went to the Cabinet Office in Great George Street and were briefed directly by the Home Secretary, almost unprecedented for some of our grades. I became one of the management team as someone had to go to Birmingham to placate the City Council officers who felt they were to be inundated with the Ugandan Asian refugees, and no one else seemed to be available. After that I was sent off to set up four of the ten or so Resettlement centres that were set up.
The Birmingham Post reported a senior officer from the Uganda Resettlement Board had come to Birmingham to consult about the ingress of refugees with top officials at City Hall and had been able to re-assure them it would not be excessive. A photograph of me with the Town Clerk etc appeared on the front page much to the amusement of my former colleagues in the regional office.
The first centre I set up was at Tonfanau, between Tywyn and Barmouth in Wales. I suggested the refugees could be transported by train as more secure, probably cheaper, than coaches, and the idea was accepted. So a train was booked from the Newbury Race course station, where there was a loop platform by which the buses bringing the Asians from the camp at nearby Greenham Common could draw up. To my dismay the buses were late which meant the special charter train missed its carefully planned path and so was subject to delays en route. It was the first and only time I was responsible officer for a main line train.
I had suggested a train to Tonfanau as I knew of it from being a member of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society at Tywyn and a volunteer guard. Memorable events were standing at an open door of one of the carriages as the ten or so coaches passed through New Street station. The authorities in Birmingham feared there might be racial trouble so they had cleared the platform and had policeman paced along it. I felt I was taking the salute! We had some ladies from the WRVS to help with welfare,and when the empty coaching stock returned we were the only passengers and we disembarked at New Street at about 2 am the following morning.
I was tasked with arranging food supplies for 1500? camp residents. So I called a meeting in the Town Hall at Tywyn of the shopkeepers in the town. It was too big a job for any of them, except a butcher who had the school meals contract. There was a time limit so I gave them an hour to sort out a joint bid. They failed, so the contract went to a supply firm in Llandudno.?
We, under the direction of the local Ministry of Public Works? man, who was somewhat shocked, for as well as being told to refurbish the abandoned Army camp he had just received notification he was being transferred to Katmandu in Nepal! However the camp received its first train only ten days after the order was given. I remember ordering the Army to transfer a large quantity stoves across country.
Another shock was being told to arrange another train from Harlow to Tonfanau for plane loads of refugees coming to nearby Stansted. However the timing was uncertain and it was not possible at Harlow to having a train hanging about as it had been at Newbury Racecourse station. Therefore the people had to be stacked some where for a few hours. I was told the planes were already en route. So I rang the Chief Executive of Essex County Council and it was arranged that they could stay in the balconies of a sports hall adjacent to the station, until the train could arrive It must have been rather bizarre with the pupils down below in the gym with an audience flown in from Africa.
Another potentially difficult one was establishing a resettlement centre at ex-RAF Gaydon outside Leamington Spa, a centre for fascist, racial National Front activity. The other person, a former Provincial Commissioner in Tanganyika establishing the centres had been howled down at a preliminary meeting on Merseyside and been unable to proceed. I took the line with the local authority and welfare people assembled that the Asians were not here voluntarily, and that they themselves would have been happy to help people flooded out of parts of the UK.
The Asians had been forced to leave their luggage on the tarmac at Entebbe. Cargo planes were hired to fly it in to London Heathrow. It was suggested the Board take over a hangar and take responsibility for its distribution. I said I didn't think this was a good idea, for government would have claims galore to deal with. The refugees had East African Airways documentation and could claim, in theory, under the Warsaw Convention. I suggested the normal forwarding agents’ channels were used, and the Board paid the costs for the vast majority who were in receipt of national assistance. So a system was established where the recipient of goods got a certificate from social security that he or she was in receipt of assistance, attached it to the forwarding agents invoice which was then sent to the Board for payment.
At the same time as operating the baggage system, I was asked to inspect centres to check on what was actually happening. So I was given a secretarial assistant and we devised a system where she could answer on my behalf most of the ensuing correspondence which had a definite pattern, leaving the ‘difficult’ ones for me.
It was quite fun travelling around the country from Piddlehinton in deepest Dorset, to Horrabridge on the edge of Dartmoor, to Maresfield? in Sussex, to RAF Haver? in Suffolk, and the other four or so locations. An interesting job was helping Sir Hugh Turnbull to select men - no women! - as camp commandants. They would arrive at the door of the building and I would welcome them - as there were no other staff, and show the into a nearby waiting room, if necessary taking their umbrellas and topcoats. When we were ready to interview them, I would collect them and usher them into the presence of Sir Hugh, and the look on some of their faces was something to behold when I sat down next to him to conduct the interview was quite something as several had been very abrupt even rude! They had often come as the result of an advert in the Officers Association magazine and some tried the ‘regimental tie‘ - ‘old boy’ approach. This went down like a lead balloon with Sir Hugh who had had considerable trouble from ‘Mad Mike Mitch’ an army commander when he was Governor of Aden.
Many of the Board officials got a promotion out of it. But I was in the Research Officer class and hadn’t been doing research, so was ineligible. When the refugees had all landed and been housed, more senior officers arrived from the Home Office. One asked me when the Board had decided on the policy over baggage, When I answered that they hadn’t but I had arranged it all, he blanched, and I never saw or heard from him again. The Civil servants got the centres closed and the refugees housed, using more senior officers at principal level to negotiate with local authorities etc. Al l the baggage of the 25.000 refugees was dealt with for about £25,000; all within six-nine months or so without a big hoo-ha. It was a remarkable achievement. Later with Vietnam refugees using voluntary agencies it was much less satisfactory.
One last anecdote, as that’s quite enough of life in the URB. I worked solidly 7/7 for about eight weeks, and the awarded myself a few days off-the -record leave before returning to Abell House.
Quite a few of the Ugandan Asians were from remote country areas and had brought food supplies with the to the airport. It had been out in the sun and rain, but was still loaded on to the aircraft, and was a sodden mess on arrival in UK. What to do with it? I got round the Port Health Officers? at Heathrow and possibly Gatwick? and arranged for large holes to be dug and all perishable stuff to be quietly buried. No official papers or the like to the best of my knowledge!
Armed with my M.Sc. (Econ) I was back as a Senior Research Officer to a Division of the Economics and Statistics Division of the Department of Trade and Industry (as the Board of Trade had become) based in Abell House, in Horseferry Road. My boss was Dennis Broyd, a remarkable man who had resigned from Marks and Spencers where he had been advisor to the top brass (Marcus Sieff?)but realised it was a family business and he was not a family member, and joined a specialist unit, (Department of Scientific and Industrial Research?) later absorbed into the DTI.
He used to report directly to the Permanent Secretary (Sir Peter Carey?) and was one of the architects of Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s ‘White Heat of the Technological Revolution.’?’ He was unconventional and dressed in bomber jackets and I think jeans, but he was good. His team used to on occasions follow him to the pub at lunchtime which could last a couple of hours or more, but we produced ‘the goods.‘ He also had Christmas and other parties, known throughout the DTI,as he wrote brilliant parodies of colleagues and our activities.
I got on well with him as, I believe, a fellow maverick, and I was very upset when he fell ill and died of a liver disease, caught when attending the Wagner festival in Bayreuth.? It was a blow to my career as I had been getting ‘1’s from him in the annual personal assessments on a scale of 1-7. It reverted to ‘4’ when I had other less percipient ‘bosses.'
I was told much later that for most officers the scores under the various headings, ‘efficiency’, ‘relations with senior/junior officers ’ etc etc were pretty constant, a level line, whereas mine shot up and down like a yo-yo.
We dealt with policy issues related to the economics of private industry, and some of my work was published in Government Economic Service Working Papers (see CV Appendix)
I had lots of interesting assignments as our field was the economics of private industry. The work was very varied, and involved visits far an wide. One area was the recruitment of consultants. Atkins at Epsom was quite an experience, as when I first went there before any contract was negotiated - a preliminary visit - I was entertained to lunch in the Directors’ dining room. As the contract was firmed up, it was the managers’ dining room, and finally the canteen. But when later Atkins asked for more money, due to inflation etc it was claimed, I pointed out to the Under Secretary of the relevant section that they were using more junior staff than they had contracted for and so were spending less. I had checked this out in drawing up the agreements and so was aware of the changes in staffing.They didn’t get the extra cash.
Another job was process plant - heavy engineering - N Sea oil platforms - and also electric generators GEC and Parsons. I was a member of the National Advisory committee on Process Plant. I attended a short course at the BP Training Centre in a country house at Knebworth/ near Hitchin, on the World Oil Industry, led by an expert called Frankel?. Fascination as 49 of the 51 ? people there were from the oil industry and all sorts of ’off-the-record’ details were revealed about the industry. I learned about the Rotterdam spot price and how long-term contracts were fixed, as they forgot there were ‘outsiders‘ present!. Quite useful later in Tonga when the government there felt it was not getting a fair deal from one of the majors.
I also looked into the sugar refining industry, Tate & Lyle, British Sugar Corporation and Manbre? & Garton? Tate & Lyle Directors gave me a good lunch! I represented the DTI at a creditors meeting in Birmingham at the liquidation of a large steel mill. I wrote a paper suggesting that allowing the pound to fall - devaluation - would probably result in inflation. Not the flavour of the month! The Treasury I think said it was’ interesting ‘- Code for the ‘kiss of death!‘
One task took me to a working committee on Paper and Pulp of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development?) The Swedes had fielded an economist to back up their arguments and our administrative colleagues felt they needed their own technical back-up. I had to swot it all up and enjoyed it.
The job was rather like a barristers - learn as much as possible about a ‘case’ -project, policy suggestion etc. to prepare a paper and/or make a presentation, or argue the DTI’s corner in a meeting.
The first time I went to the OECD which met in Paris, I took the plane. Only one runway, so delay -no advance notice - at Heathrow so arrived at Paris Orly about midnight. The next time, and subsequently, turned up at Victoria Railway Station about 9.30pm, was shown into my compartment on the Night Ferry and went to bed. A slight disturbance as the train was loaded on to the ferry at Dover and again when run off in Dunkerque, breakfast about 8 and arrival at the Gare du Nord at 9 in good time for the 10am meeting in the XV1 Arrondissment. by the Bois du Boulogne. Return after lunch on the third day was by a diesel train to the beach at Calais, and a hovercraft to Dover -taking about ten minutes longer than plane and tube - door to door -to home in Highgate. No more expensive than the plane and much more fun and pleasant. Also a hotel just off the Champs-des -Elyse was very convenient.
Another unusual job was to form part of the UK delegation to The U N World Population Conference in Bucharest in 1974. I was one of the three civil servants, an Under Secretary, an Assistant Secretary and me, by then a Principal? The leader was a Politician, Lord ?, and another delegate was the General Secretary of the TUC or was it the TG & W Union whose name escapes me, Marie ?,a very pleasant lady who got me to escort her on a walk round the city. On the Sunday we were taken in Russian ? cars to the former Royal Palace, with rooms in different styles, oriental, russian etc. to Brasov and a look at the outside of the castle of Vlad? where Dracula was reputed to reside.
We were warned in a secure room at the embassy that the cars would probably be bugged, so be circumspect in conversation - a point I made to Jean when we stayed in a hotel in Prague some years later.
The Conference was split into three main subject sessions with a plenary session to which they made their report. The three UK civil servants were all in one of these, with the under-Secretary made the chairman. The UN system was to have the Chairman, Secretary and Rapporteur etc. each from a different continent. However the man from Asia, a Bangladeshi? fell ill so the Assistant Secretary was given his job. This left the UK officials’ delegation reduced to one - me. So I was told about 11pm one night I was to present the UK official case to the ‘discussion’ ‘theme’ session next morning. So I sat down and wrote it finishing about 2am. I suppose it was the usual official line, but I did - horror, horror! - introduce a few jokes and tried to make it lively and interesting. It seemed to go down well, people looked interested and being an ex-teacher was able to keep most of their attention. Anyway I was congratulated afterwards by the American delegate, and also by the Russian.: and the translating staff as not only did I give them a copy in advance but read reasonably slowly and clearly. The contrast was that most delegates had a long-prepared speech they read in a monotone as quickly as they could - dead boring!.
The Assistant Secretary and I went by train, very unusual apparently. Although it was called the Orient Express it was a travesty of its former self. It was crowded with locals returning from the West loaded up with goods and we had to fight for our so-called reserve seats from Vienna? I had been given a Diplomatic Romanian Visa stamped in my passport and a loose sheet visa with a photograph for Hungary. This was taken from me on the way out. I did mention that I then had no document for the return through Hungary to the Embassy staff in Bucharest, with but with usual Foreign Office bonhomie was told ‘Oh, that’ll be fine, old boy. Don’t worry.!’
Well, it wasn’t. When the Hungarian border guards came through the train, my companion, the Assistant Secretary, produced his passport and a document - no problem. However I had no document, so they looked very grave and went off with my passport. As we approached Budapest my companion became quite agitated as he pointed out I now had no passport and may be in trouble. I pointed out there was nothing I could do about it. But the customs/immigration people turned up and indicated I must leave the train in Budapest and presumably get some documentation there. So I left my companion to journey on to London, where he reported I had been detained in Hungary.
I left the station and took a taxi to the British Embassy. I had a printed card with its address as I had taken the precaution of getting in advance the addresses of the embassies in both Budapest and Bucharest in case of need. It was early on a Saturday morning so fairly quiet. When the taxi drew up at the Embassy it was all boarded up ready for re-decoration. Telling myself not to panic I indicated to the taxi driver to wait with my luggage -what there was of it, as I travel light- alighted and fortunately found a small door, entered to arrive in the palatial lobby to find an English doorman/security man behind a desk. At first he seemed disinclined to help but when I forcibly pointed out it was his lot - the FO - who had got me into this pickle - and he recognised a fellow-Lancastrian he paid off the taxi., and we settled down to await the arrival of the duty officer, over several cups of tea and a biscuit or two. When he arrived he called for the duty typist but unfortunately it was her day-off and she was 60 miles away at Lake Baikal, so he had to type the request for exit papers himself. This took quite a time before we set off for the appropriate Hungarian government office Unfortunately it was not the right one, so we set off again across the river to Buda? I was getting a good tour of the city in his Ford Capri. On arrival we went down stairs to a hatch door. He passed in the papers and we settled down sitting uncomfortably on the stairs to wait. After about half an hour the FO man became impatient, banded on the klatch door and started a spiel about insult etc. The a door at the side was quietly opened and we were ushered into a beautiful room with an avuncular moustached official gentlemen seated behind a large desk, who quietly welcomed me and handed me papers and my passport and politely asked me to leave Hungary as soon as possible.
I was then driven to the station and soon was on a sparsely filled train which ambled its way on a fine summer’s day along by the Danube, with a good view of Bratislava,
Slovakia, across the river, to Vienna.
I had an appointment to spend a couple days at the Munich Centre for Advanced Statistics, to lecture to Third World statisticians on industrial development, about 15 miles west of the city. But I just had time to have a stop-over in Salzburg, instead of the couple of days holiday I had promised myself. I was amused that the statisticians had worked out that ticket checks on the S-bahn were so infrequent that it was cheaper not to buy tickets and club round for the fine if someone was caught.
On my way back I travelled down the Rhine on the Rheingold express to the Hook of Holland. the train seemed rather empty. It was a bit blowey when I got off the train at the Hook straight onto the Harwich Ferry and went to bed in my cabin. I was rather surprised to see we had started but seemed to be travelling along the quay and then a tug was pulling us clear. I realised why as soon as we got clear of the harbour mouth as it was extremely rough. When we got to Harwich I rang Jean to report my arrival in England and she seemed most surprised, as the wireless had reported all ferry services had been cancelled. Incidentally my boss Dennis Broyd had been told I had been detained in Hungary, but he didn’t worry my wife as he said he knew I would turn up.
When we moved to London in August 1970 from 1 Cape Road Warwick, we bought No 1 Fordington Road N6, just north of Highgate Wood. we had a small mortgage of £6000, the only one we ever had. Strangely when we eventually retired to Teignmouth it was to No 1 Ivy Lane.
Whilst resident in Haringey I was District Commissioner of the Hornsey District Scouts, Chairman and Hon Treasurer of the Haringey Community Relations Council, organist at Muswell Hill URC,, and acted and stage managed with the Tether down (URC Church) Players, etc
One of my tasks as DC Scouts was to arrange the disposal of the Scout Huts of disbanded groups where the trustees had ‘evaporated‘ The national Guide and Scout Associations soon realised they should assume trusteeships of buildings etc to avoid similar situations.
I realised that many of the scouts in the District were not going to get a summer camp, because their leaders were not competent, available, or willing to run one. So I decided to run a District Camp, and take the responsibility for it. As it happened the Venture Unit and some other Scouters agreed to take on almost all the various tasks - no one was willing to take on overall responsibility,but happy to do subsidiary tasks - and I finished up with only one -sanitary man We had an excellent camp at the Broadstone Warren official Scout Association Camp site in Sussex. I had my own tent and created some amusement by digging a trench round it in case it rained. It didn’t, so I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing others get wet.
How I became involved in the Community Relations set-up was rather incidental. The Muswell Hill Council of churches were unable to find anyone to represent them at the quarterly meetings of the London Borough of Haringey Community Relations Council. So as I had overseas experience they asked me. Being me I had something to say about race relations etc so became noticed. It was a great surprise to be nominated and elected as the Council’s Chairman at the next AGM. I later found out that I was regarded as a fair independent and the majority Caribbean delegates couldn’t agree on a nominee due to rivalry between the islands,so picked on me. A very interesting and lively year with politically active people from the various religious, political and racial groups. I then moved o the quieter but powerful position as hon treasurer. I organised the Council so different committees covered children‘s nurseries, employment, etc with just the chairman on the executive committee. People then joined the committees because of their interest in its function, rather than ‘race relations,’ per se.
We also appointed a paid Community Relations Officer. Lots of applications and the first weed-out was rejecting anyone who had no experience of working with volunteer. The person appointed, Geoff?? became a ‘big-noise’ in the race relations industry.
I gradually got tired of London, and applied for a move to Bristol. It may have been a delayed rection to Keith’s death in march 1973 when he was knocked down whilst doing his paper round, about 8.45 on a Sunday morning. He was taken to hospital at Archway, and the last we saw of him was when he was wheeled past on a stretcher - his long hair hanging down. we were told he had irreparable brain damage so Jean and I reluctantly agreed to let nature take its course. We had a quiet family funeral and a memorial service - (Jean put the service together and wrote a hymn) - in a packed Tetherdown URC, with masses of students from Creighton his school. We received £500 from the newspaper association charity and this was used to renovate the school swimming pool a cause dear to Keith who had been on the school council.
I used to commute from Highgate into work by scooter most days. I had it when staying with Philip Davidson at Cropwell Butler nrear in Nottingham and in fact rode it from there to London. But I didn’t take it to Bristol! I did take our Renault 12 Esrate which we had bought new in 197. and brought it back to London later, finally selling it for £15 in the Old Kent road. It had done 185,000 miles, carried loads of girls guides, sacks of potatoes, and been to Austria and back! So we had our money’s worth.
In September 1975 we left London for Somerset (Avon) but that’s time for another chapter.
We Go West
We spent a fair time looking for a house within easy commuting distance of the Pithay, off Corn street, in the heart of Bristol, in which was located the South West Regional Office of the Department of Trade & Industry (ex Board of Trade) We looked at a couple of houses north of Bristol. One near Thornbury, close to the Severn Road bridge had signed photos of the royal family in the loo! Another was a farm between the railway and the motorway. South of the river was a fine house next to a church near Bleadon Hill beyond Weston on the edge of the Somerset Levels and another, with a swimming pool, both right next to the A38 near Winscombe. But none quite right or within our price range of c£40,0000 the amount we received for 1 Fordington Road (we paid £16,000,5 years earlier).
Then we found Claverham House, in the village of that name, between Yatton and Cleve, 11 miles from Bristol. It was a fine Georgian House, built in 1743, Grade 11 listed. Its original estate had gradually been sold off, also the rear part of the house and outbuildings, but it still had a hectare of land, a croquet lawn, a hard tennis court and a ha-ha. etc. We were able to divide the house so Jean’s parents could have their own separate living room, bedroom, kitchen and facilities, as Jean’s Mum was becoming more infirm. My brother Simon and I did their removal from Laren House, Westward Ho!, North Devon using a hired van - the largest vehicle not needing an HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicle) driving licence
The field in front of the house had been used for 364-day grazing (the one day a year not rented out meant an agricultural tenancy could not be established). I checked with my opposite number in the Bristol office of the Ministry of Ag. & Fish, and discovered it was Grade 1 land. So I looked into the possibility of a cider apple orchard either intensively planted, or more loosely with grass areas used for grazing. There was money available to finance it from the cider makers, but it would result in one’s being dependent on them to buy the crop and finish up as a ‘price taker.’
So I decided to farm it myself. It had a large tree in the middle of the field which prevented its proper use for arable farming. So I had it pulled out. A big job, and at first the effect of the JCB pulling it up was to lift its rear wheels off the ground!
Having been used for rough grazing the land was weed-riven and a mess. To clear it, I bought a load of Scots seed potatoes for £600 and it cost another £200 for planting, machine and labour hire. It was 1975/76 and there was a drought. But my field was OK because being on the edge of the Yatton marsh area there was a water table near the surface with good soil; a layer of ‘loess’?on clay kept it moist. So we had a good crop of potatoes when they were in short supply. I had them harvested, using hired machinery,and stored them in the garage, Got the children to bag them and grossed £2800. With the £2000 profit we made, I bought a small garden tractor, with an attachment to cut the grass, together with a small trailer. The children were then happy to cut the two lawns driving the sit-on tractor. The trailer was also used for distributing nitrogen etc when I grew other crops later. I also literally paid out £100 to the two child helpers, Ian and Ruth, and £200 to Jean for which they duly signed, before handing me back the notes. We then all went on a cruise to west Africa. I later grew wheat using a hired-in combine, the straw going to a neighbouring dairy farmer friend, whom I helped in pulling out a calf from its mother’s womb. I learned to grow winter wheat which had time to grow roots into the water table, rather than spring sown could suffer from drought. I also grew more potatoes, stubble turnips and rape, which was then grazed by another farmers’ sheep and carrots and onions, sometimes more successfully than others!
Because I had grossed over, I think, £1750 in a three-month period I was legally bound to register for VAT(Value Added Tax). This I was happy to do as my outgoings were zero rated and I could reclaim the tax on my out-goings. I registered our Renault 12 estate car as a ’farm vehicle‘ as I could claim the VAT back on petrol tyres etc for the vehicle regardless of the fact that the only farm usage was to deliver potatoes to the office canteen and for occasional purchases of fertiliser etc.
As the Inland Revenue were paying me instead of vice-versa I soon had a visit from the VAT Inspector. But I was careful to keep meticulous accounts and support documents so the actual check took about 10-15 minutes and we spent the next 30 exchanging anecdotes about the iniquities of the civil service.
For a time I commuted to work on a 90 cc Honda. Then flexi-time was introduced and it was cheaper and easier to take a bus from the village at 9.32, just inside the cheap fare zone. I thus arrived in the office just before 10am to the annoyance of the Deputy Controller, a stickler for the rules. I also told him I was taking two days leave in advance, as permitted in the rules. He was not amused!. He would alter some of my work, so I simply altered it back to the original.
Soon after I arrived in the office I put to my staff of three or four, 10 suggestions for ‘improvements‘ They explained why eight of them wouldn’t work or were not practical or more efficient, but agreed two were an improvements and could be adopted. We were then receiving from the BSO (Business Statistics Office) in Newport, data on the firms in the region, especially employment figures. The clerks were then busy copying them on to the existing individual firms’ card records, taking several hours to do so. As the data was already on the computer print-out, this seemed unnecessary. Admittedly it was quicker to look up a card, but as we only needed to look up a few firms’ details a month the extra minutes required for each one, was trivial compared with the time spent copying the data, for the whole lot.
I had a similar situation years later with OFTEL ( a quango) after our return to London. Two days were spent photocopying invoices etc unnecessarily, until I stopped it.
An interesting task was to comment on the development of Concorde, then taking place at Filton, in the north of Bristol. I wrote it would not be a commercial success because it was too noisy to be permitted over populated areas. Not popular!
Other tasks included attending the various County Structure Plan Enquiries, representing the DTI.; being part of an enquiry into the fishing industry, ( and as the most junior member of the team, the one who wrote the report!); the declining Cornish tin mines; and an analysis of the effect of the Assisted Areas - grants to manufacturing industry-on employment. This was published as Government Economic Service Working Paper No.50. ’Survey of employees in manufacturing industry in south west England.’ produced with my colleague John Lambert. Again the findings were not popular as it showed the government assistance actually attracted an input of workers who brought their families with them and tended to augment, rather than lessen, the unemployment figures.
I did a great deal of travelling, as the government’s South West Region is big. At the northern end of Gloucestershire, just south of Stratford, one is nearer the Scottish border than to Penzance and Lands End. I would get calls from DTI in London asking me to visit a firm in Cornwall, and I would gently point out I was geographically nearer to them in London than I was to the place they required me to visit!
At the time the magazine ’Punch‘ used to have a paragraph or two of’ ’gobbledigook’? lots of long words looking impressive, but actually nonsense. I used to draft papers for the South West Economic Planning Board - a collection of departmental officials, local government officers and politicians, trade unionists, businessmen etc. In a spirit of development I inserted one such paragraph in one of my papers, expecting to have it noticed and be told not to be frivolous. To my amazement it went through into the distributed papers and nobody noticed. It seemed to show either they didn’t even read the paper or were unwilling to admit they didn’t understand it.
I was asked if I would volunteer to attend and assess on behalf of the DTI a week-end course for people planning to set up their own micro business. It was being held in a hotel in Paignton?, with the lecturers being experienced successful owners of small businesses. The fee-paying course was put together by the National Extension College, Cambridge, in co-operation with Local Education Authorities supported Lloyds Bank and Shell U.K. Ltd and the DTI.
I realised this was the opportunity for some original research. We actually had the names and details of people actually starting up. There was data for those who survived, but not for the unsuccessful as they would never appear in official records. So I asked the 22 starting-up if they would co-operate with an annual visit to check on their progress or lack of it, and 21 agreed. The odd one, two ladies who didn’t like men, or at least this one!
So for the next three or four years I interviewed the 21 and tabulated their business development.
As I shortly afterwards moved back to London, it gave me a fortnight each summer touring the South West. I wrote it all up and it was published by Shell anonymously ‘New Business Start-Ups in the west Country: The First Four Years’, as the DTI declined to do so.! But it was reviewed favourably in The Guardian, and I believe used as reference material by academics and others.
But I became rather dissatisfied with the South West Office - probably missed the excitement and challenge of being near the centre of things and intellectual stimulant and Jean wasn’t particularly happy. Her mother had died and her father was quite prepared to move with us. So we sold up, sent a lot of stuff to the tip, and auction and bought 26 Fentiman Road, SW8, just round the corner from the Oval cricket ground, for £80,000. The choice was to live in the countryside and put up with the commuting, or live in the centre. No way to live in the suburbs and spend the same amount of time commuting as from a nice house in Wrotham, Kent, which I liked. But Jean wanted the ’ bright lights‘. So we finished up within walking distance of the ‘Old Vic’ theatre, and could tell the time on Big Ben from the top of the house.
Back to London Again
Back in London I resumed working in EcS 3 c with Dennis Broyd, but he died from a liver disease contracted on a visit to the Wagner festival at Bayreuth in Germany I had been to see him when ill and attended his funeral. DTI was then reorganised- yet again with a new title. By Dennis I had been graded 1 on a scale of 1 to 7 in the annual assessments. With a new boss it slipped to 4. I don’t think his mind moved like mine.
I was told that for most people the scoring for each attribute was roughly level, but mine went up and down like a ‘yo-yo’. I got on well, I believe, with those working for me, but crossed swords with some of my bosses, and was also an independent thinker willing to express his sometimes controversial views, these being on occasions ‘outside the box.‘ I remember the new boss saying to me ‘David, how have you had such an interesting life? I think he had spent 30 odd years travelling each day on the 8.17? from Alton?
The bulk of my work in the Economics and Statistics Division was assessing two of Sectoral Industry Schemes. I referred to the Wool Textiles Scheme assessment in Chapter Eleven and the other major one was of grants to the Non-Ferrous Foundry industry. These were published by the Government Economic Service (H M Treasury) and it was a big thrill to find them catalogued and available in the British Library of Economics and Political Science at the LSE. It was fascinating to learn that quite a number of parts for the US firm Pratt & Whitney’s jet engines were produced in the UK using the lost-wax method of casting.
But I was then asked if I would go to India to conduct a feasibility study on whether aid should be given under the Colombo Plan to the development of a Precision Engineering section at the Government of India’s Central Machine Institute, at Bangalore. The request for an economist to accompany a Professor of Engineering from Loughborough University had come from the Overseas Development Agency. I suspect that DTI ‘establishments’ selected me as someone who would not be ‘culture shocked’, or was someone who never badgered them about promotion prospects etc. or someone senior wanted this awkward character out of the way!,
I had no hesitation in jumping at the prospect. I was given an outfit allowance to buy a tropical suit and flew off to Dehli - a chaotic airport and I had to fight my way out of the crush as my welcome party failed to materialise. But I had a decent hotel and Bob (the professor) and I were allocated a senior official of the Department of Heavy Industry - a Mr Malhotra -to escort us. Fortunately he and I got on well with a mutual interest in cricket and discussion about our different faiths Christian and Hindu.
Right at the start we were led to the office of the Permanent Secretary, who had been Head of Indian railways - the world’s largest ‘company’ in the magnificent Lutyens buildings.,We were supposed to have only 15 minutes of the great man’s time, but he and I got talking about the European Common Market etc after the main business was over. When we left I said to Bob I had ‘got the message’-disguised as it was. The Central Machine Tool Institute was run by academic engineers who had been trained in communist countries. so they were used to laying down the law and being bureaucratic, and were government I.e. civil servants. The permanent secretary had strongly stressed we should visit the motor vehicle research institute financed the private automobile sector at Pune (Poona)? He wanted the CMI to be associated with the private sector. He couched his wishes in civil service indirectness but I picked up the vibes. Bob hadn‘nt. But I had years of local and central government service behind me and the Indian Civil Service and the Colonial service were very similar in outlook. and practise.
It was fascinating with visits to a motor-cycle factory about 20 miles from Dehli in Farinebad, to the Ambassador motor works in Madras, and other works in Mumbai. Doors were opened with a senior man with us, and flights etc all went smoothly without hassle red carpets everywhere. We finally pitched up in Bangalore. and stayed at the West End Hotel, where I wrote our report over the final three days before returning via Dehli.
Not all work, however. A most interesting journey by car to nearby Mysore the former state capital of Kerala, with the Maharaja’s palace.
Bob had been to the CMTI before and met the Principal. Since their first meeting the latter had been ill and as Bob was speaking with him I noticed he seemed not very interested and very lacklustre. On the wall of his office was a framed piece of poetry by Tragore and when I drew his attention to it he immediately livened up as we discussed it. He had lost interest in the present and was already looking to the future!
My report concluded with the comment ‘India has many professional beggars and their government follows their example.' I felt there was sufficient wealth already in India to deal with its poverty, as a local, whom I met whilst walking round the cathedral told me. (A point now picked up by HMG in 2013!)
I coped well with the vegetarian diet of South India - in fact enjoyed it - but the tea was always stewed. A real joy was the first decent cup of tea for three weeks after the BOAC return flight home took off from Dehli.! No hassle this time - as a proper official send-off.
My proficiency in Scottish Dancing came in useful. We were there over New Year and at a party at The British Council’s chief’s house, I was able to make up the numbers for the Eightsome Reel -which earned me a lot of ‘brownie points’ with our host. I was impressed by the fact that unlike all the other British diplomats and officials and families, to the best of my knowledge, he was the only one who lived outside the High Commission compound, with Indian neighbours.
I think it was on my return from India that I found the Research Class had been abolished and I was regraded as a Principal -Grade 7 in the Administrative Class. This meant a change of union from the Institute of Professional and Technical servants (IPCTS?) to the First Division Association (the FDA); not as an Economic Advisor, even though I had a master’s degree in economics But not all the Research Class had been economists!
I was then appointed as Head of a section dealing with the recovery of Regional Development Grants in the Regional Policy Division. This was dealing with companies that had failed to comply with the contractural terms on which they had received government grants. It involved policy, negotiating settlements, instructing solicitors, ‘write-offs, and fraud.
One practice I got stopped was that of firms going into liquidation, and then opening up under a new name as a new legal entity, with the same directors, assets etc. I pointed out that the Act said the Secretary of State ‘may’ give grants and therefore should not give them to the ‘new’ firms, even if they were a new legal entity. This then became policy. It also struck me that although repayments were not pursued, ‘written off’, when it was judged too expensive to prosecute, an attempt should be made to recover some of the money due. So, having cleared the approach with the solicitors, I then went to see a couple of the defaulting firms and following ‘real world’ business practice, was successful in recovering an agreed amount. The firm’s directors were agreeably surprised at this ‘non-civil service’ approach e.g. a mention of a subsidiary firm’s name appearing in Dun and Bradstreet? or the London Gazette as in liquidation as it would bring the group’s creditors descending like a ‘ton of bricks’
During my time in London I had a hankering for a change of career again, in the private sector. I applied for three other jobs: one with the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF), another with the Imperial Tobacco Group and the third with the World Bank, and got interviews for all three. The EEF one was to become their economic guru with a public face. It was quickly obvious that my relations with the tall ’superior’ ex- P &A advertising type would not work and we parted amicably. At the Imperial Group I was interviewed by their chief economist and one other, to be a lateral thinker reporting direct to the Board as they were considering moving in to the wider catering and other businesses. The firm had a whole section of number-crunchers and it became obvious that their future would not be rosy with me around. So I talked myself out of that job. It was ironic that shortly afterwards they bought the Howard-Johnson? chain of roadside restaurants in the USA. I would never have let them do that, as the units were sited on the existing roads which were being by-passed by new state highways! (as happened to lots of Little Chefs here),. The number-crunching unit was also disbanded, anyway.
The third job was with the World Bank advising on economic development in Uganda. It was extremely well-paid. They flew me out, but as soon as I got there I knew it was a non-starter. The place was in chaos after the departure of Amin. I was supposed to stay in the Club in Kampala but my place was taken by a senior UN man. So I was taken to a guest house run by some Danes? At 9.15 pm light machine guns opened up soon followed by heavier ones. As in the bombing during the war I put my head under the bedclothes and hoped for the best. The army had seized control of the economy, there were no real statistics and no order, the job was a non-starter, so I promptly declined the offer. The High Commission had 5 staff, was heavily fortified and guarded by nine marines. On the way out by car, en route to Entebbe airport, we had a security man ‘fixer‘ in the front seat, who talked us through a road block, with AK47s pointed at us in the rear seats through the open car windows. I had a stiff gin and tonic as soon as the plane for Nairobi took off. I had an afternoon and evening spare so located David Rubadiri, ex Dedza colleague, now in exile, and at the University English Dep’t and had dinner with him and Gertrude (One of their daughters, Lindiwe, who had graduated in Nairobi as an engineer, later stayed with us in London on her way to take up a scholarship at Preston,arranged by another Dedza colleague, Geoff Goodwin,the Central Lancashire College Bursar, to do a Ph.D.) I was up graded to First Class on the BA flight home. The Uganda job interview was an interesting if scary experience, and I witnessed and experienced what happens when law and order breaks down.
In 1985 out of the blue I was asked by ‘Establishments’ if I would be interested in a six-month assignment through the Commonwealth Secretariat under the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation as Commercial Advisor to the Government of Tonga. Having checked with Jean I jumped at the offer. The task was to advise on their price control system. This was new territory for me so I had to quickly to mug up on the subject by getting hold the papers etc associated with our own former Price Control system.
I was given six months ‘leave of absence’ without pay, but with the time recognised for pension purposes. The Commonwealth Secretariat gave me a reasonable allowance and provided the accommodation and expenses, plus a generous non-taxable terminal gratuity, with which I bought an annuity, the fruits of which I am still enjoying. I had a pleasant flat overlooking the coastal road and the off-shore coral reef. It was in easy walking distance of my office near the centre of Nuku’a’lofa, the capital, on the main island of Tongatapu. (Tonga comprised several other islands scattered around that part of the South Pacific, of which I visited Ha‘apai and Vava‘u, and Eu’a.
I was allocated to the Ministry of Industry,Commerce and Tourism, and was allocated a large office formerly occupied by the Permanent Secretary. He was an Indian, a CFTC appointment, who had been there for ll? years, had brought in his family and looked as though he was settling down. The Tongans in general did not like non-Tongans settling, so he got the push. The new Permanent Secretary, a Tongan, moved into an office adjoining the minister‘s. The Minister was Baron Vaia??, with whom I got on well. During the War he had flown a Catalina flying-boat with the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The office shelves were filled with files, many confidential. Tongans in general are not very interested in the written word. One of the files was concerned with my appointment. I was fascinated to read that three candidates were nominated by the Commonwealth Secretariat. One had been head of Price Control in one of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, and the other head of Price Control in another of the three, and me. The Baron had written a firm NO against the first two, and Yes for me. He knew I would not try to settle or to engage in ‘other’ activities.
The job was fairly straightforward. They still had wartime price control with a fixed percentage levy on imported goods. This was fine when there was little inflation and stable exchange rates. But when the next lot of goods you imported would cost a lot more than the ones you were currently selling, observance of the code led to ruin. The branches of the two large international companies, Burns Philip and ? got round it by only controlling a few goods and were well in with the powers-that-be, whereas the individual Tongan retailer using his off-shore earnings to start a small store soon went bust, especially when local custom meant relatives were allowed unlimited credit! I did not inquire too closely into the exact mechanisms. After I had gone, and the system was run down, the Chief Local Price Control Inspector, a very nice man, with whom I got on well, was taken on by one of the big companies!
I had really completed the job after two months, and then wrote the report, as I knew it would take ages for the Tonga colleagues to get round to reading it and then considering it. I also knew most would not get further than the first chapter or so. So the first chapter contained 14 sentences summarising my recommendations. The second chapter was the same 14 sentences with a few sentences of explanation for each one. The other chapters were the full report. Nothing happened for the next few months until a meeting was called to review my paper a week before I was due to leave. It was chaired by the Minister of Finance. Only he and I spoke, and had a good discussion. He had read economics? inter alia at Balliol. I recommended the abolition of all the controls. I didn’t think they would, but would want to do it more gradually, which they did. Or was it the other way round?
After two months Jean came out to join me, accompanied by our son, Ian She had been commissioned by the Girl Guides to persuade Tonga to become an independent Guide Association not still linked to London. it was quite a task as the Tongans arranged things by word of mouth so she practically had to write the necessary documents herself and had considerable difficulty in arranging meetings.
One day Jean, Ruth and me flew in a small plane to Eu’a, a ten minute flight. The plane then flew back. I was there to see the local price inspector and what was going on, whilst the other two explored the island,. There being no more flights that day we arranged to return on a boat leaving at noon, for the two hour trip to back to Nuku’a’lofa. I was on board in good time, but was disturbed when the crowded boat (there was a special rugby? match)started to cast off about 11.45 without Jean and our younger daughter, Ruth. I saw them coming and persuaded the boat’s crew to hang on. Jean and Ruth were grabbed aboard and we three perched in the bow in front of the wheel house together with several sacks containing small pigs, and one large sow with her legs tied. Jean had open toed sandals and suddenly realised when we were some way out, rolling steadily in the swell, that the pig was biting her toe. What a story1 Bitten by a pig in the Pacific Ocean!
One memorable occasion was when we were in Ha’a’apai, having dined with the Local Price Control officer and his family. Afterwards we sat outside in the warm Pacific evening with the moonlight playing over the sea whilst he played on his guitar various melodies of the Pacific islands whilst his daughter performed appropriate dances and hand and arm movements gracefully before us. We also saw some unusual white ‘flowers’ on long storks, and it was only when we looked closely we saw they were upturned half-egg-shells!
From Tonga we flew to Nandi in Fiji, en route to Vanuatu, where Jean had been deputed to ‘find‘ the Guides, if they still existed, as no replies to letters etc from London had been received for yonks. We had a good hotel in Nandi with its surrounding sugar cane fields and nearby port of Lautoka. We hired a car and drove to the capital and round the island.
But once clear of the capital we were on rough dirt roads. Being used to Malawi roads it was no problem for us. But it was for the car! It was returned covered in dust and with a few scratches and dents. I don’t think the hire company was used to having their cars ‘’off the tarmac!‘
Jean found the guides still going strong Vanuatu, formerly a condominium run jointly by the French and British. I enjoyed snorkelling for the first time and a trip out to sea on a large yacht cruising round the world. It was fine snorkelling from a small boat in the harbour, but declined, not being a strong swimmer, to do so out at sea. And was very glad I did as another elderly chap got into difficulties and had to be rescued.
Back to Blighty and Retirement
On returning to UK, and DTI, I had a week or so on ‘gardening leave’, whilst my future was considered. I had an interview with one head of department, but it was obvious we were mutually incompatible. Then a short spell of what I have recorded as a ‘short-term assignment, interviewing senior management on the outcome of projects grant aided under the Support for Innovation Scheme. I have no recollection of this.
But I do recollect clearly being sent along to the newly created Office of Telecommunications, the first of the -‘quangos’ - semi-independent bodies set up to regulate service industries, e.g. gas, electricity water etc. The Office was on the fourth? floor of Atlantic House in Holborn. The job was to sort out the admin and finance of the Office. It was manned by junior staff seconded from DTI, and technical officers. In charge with an academic economist, Professor Bryan Carsberg, as Director. His Deputy was a Grade 6? officer who was not interested in the more mundane aspects of admin. I was not initially particularly interested in the job, but in the interview it became clear I would be given a free hand to get the admin etc straightened out. The interview was a bit frigid until I drew the officer’s attention to a photograph of the MV ‘Uganda’ on the wall. It turned out she had been responsible for requisitioning the recently renovated vessel for duty in the Falklands War, thus depriving Jean and me of the holiday cruise we had booked on her. This broke the ice. It turned out later that initially she had no intention of recommending me for the job, as I had little intention of taking it. But we got on well.
The Senior professional, scientific staff were brought into order by my ruling that they wouldn't get their orders for equipment etc through without following due process. It was perhaps helpful that Bryan Carsberg, who had been at the LSE in the early seventies when I was there, and was also a colleague of Professor Robert (Bob) Parker. I was able to get my new systems in place quite quickly so had time for long lunch hours, spent gradually assimilating all the Museum of London had to offer also enjoying mid-day concerts at City churches. I used to take the train from Elephant and Castle to Holborn Viaduct, having parked my bike in a back street behind the station.
I discovered staff were spending nearly two days a month/week? photocopying support documents for instructions for payment being sent to the DTI Payments office in Newport, S Wales.- a normal DTI procedure. But the Office of Telecomms Accounting Officer was its Director, not the Permanent secretary of the DTI, so all that was necessary was a payment instruction. Therefore I instructed the staff not to send them and if a complaint was received to pass it up the line so it would eventually reach me. It never did, and we saved nearly two days work. (I have a feeling I have already told this story! But never mind it’s a good one and here it’s in context!).
After several months in this post and when I was coasting along a scheme was launched where one could retire and immediately be awarded the pension earned to date - not redundancy with an enhanced pension, but not having to wait for it until retirement age of 60. I worked out we could afford to live on what the pension would bring, plus my overseas pension, and my annuity. It was possible because I had chosen about 13years earlier to buy additional pension from my salary. I foresaw inflation and it was an excellent investment. I did not envisage any further promotion. I did ponder offering to become Oftel’s economist, but decided on retirement. So kept quiet, and gave the requisite six months notice, my final day being my 56th birthday ll June 1987
Almost immediately I set off for New Zealand to meet up with Jean in Tonga. She was out in the Pacific, again for the Girl Guides, this time to get the guide associations in Kiribati and Tuvalu (formerly the Gilbert and Ellis Islands) to become independent.
But when I arrived at Gatwick I was informed the flight would not be stopping at Fiji, where I had arranged to meet up with Jean. I decided to fly on to Hawaii to try and proceed from there. On arrival in Honolulu I was offered a flight on an old DC8, but not happy as an unfamiliar air line. But discovered I could ring Air New Zealand’s office in Los Angeles on a reverse charge, i.e. free to me, call. They were able to fix me up with a flight to Nandi, Fiji, with Air Canada, whose plane bound for Australia, did not have the range to skip Fiji.
Jean, meanwhile, was in Kiribati and was told she would have to fly to Nauru and then on to Auckland. But at the last minute, she got a flight to Nandi and then on to Tonga. I had a couple of pleasant days in Honolulu, which included a pleasure flight around the volcano in the next island, Maui?, in a small 8 -seater? twin-engined vintage aircraft.
We had agreed, before I left Gatwick, by phone, as things were so uncertain that we would make our separate ways, come what may to meet up at my brother Martin’s, our destination, in Lyttleton, New Zealand.
However we actually did manage to meet up in Tonga, Jean catching the last flight from Fiji to Tonga before the revolution really took off. Jean went to buy pineapples in a shop in the airport, but on opening the door found it full of soldiers who quickly ushered her out.
But then a problem arose in getting a flight from Tonga to Auckland as all flights were full. New Zealand had withdrawn restrictions on Pacific Islanders settling in the country so hundreds were piling in before the NX government changed its mind, which it quickly did. However, my friend, the former Chief Price Control Officer, had a brother who was the Air NZ booking agent in Tonga, so seats were found for Jean and me!
Having settled back at No 26 Fentiman Road SW8, I obtained an Amstrad Word Processor and went on to write my book on the Talyllyn Railway I got a grudging half-consent from David St John Thomas, at school with Jean and an unsuccessful, would-be boy friend to publish it, if half-suitable, which he did.
I put in a claim for expenses to be off-set against Income Tax. At first, the Inspector rejected it on the grounds that many ex-civil servants claimed they were writing a book, which never materialised But I pointed out I had a publisher. For overnight etc expenses I claimed at exactly the same rate as that to which the Inspector himself was entitled. so it was not, surprise. surprise, queried. In the end the Revenue got its money from the royalties income. The book, The Talyllyn Railway sold 3000 hard copies and 1000 soft, or the other way round, and is now available, at an inflated price, on the second-hand market.
In August 1993 we moved to Teignmouth, Jean‘s birthplace and where she lived till she was 18 and left for university, London, and eventually me. I had got tired of living in London, increasingly noisy and smelly, and I did not anticipate a long life. I felt Jean would be better off living with people she had grown up with, and events have proved me right. I like Teignmouth, anyway!
In the six years in north Lambeth I enjoyed watching cricket at the Oval as a member of Surrey County Cricket Club. Jean’s father lived with us until his death in 1991? For six months or so we left No 26 in the hands of student lodgers and lived in a flat in the premises of Christ Church and Upton Chapel, in Westminster Bridge Road, across the road from Lambeth North Tube Station. This was because the caretaker died suddenly and I, who was Church Treasurer, took up the task voluntarily, but with the use of the flat. An interesting time, right in the centre, close to Parliament, Waterloo Station, etc
In Teignmouth I was elected a member of the Town and District Councils in 1995, but gave up from stress - headaches and pains behind the neck - in 1999. I played the organ at the URC for about ten years and used to attend early communion at St James’ church, but lost my faith, so gave up. A half-faith? has since returned, but no longer a church member or regular attender.
I became a volunteer guard on the South Devon Railway but retired on becoming 75 as I felt I was no longer reliable enough to fill a safety-critical position, but kept on doing other jobs for the railway until 2013. For four years, 2002-06, I was the Met Observer for Teignmouth, taking observations twice a day. This was as a hobby, but because I used the District council’s equipment, I became a very junior employee. I noticed Teignmouth had been sending data to the national centre for a century, so organised a celebration lunch in the Yacht Club inviting dignitaries like the Head of the Met Service, County and District council chiefs, the Mayor etc on council-headed notepaper but signed by me! Also got the Council to pay for it!
I joined the Devon and Exeter Institution, a private library in The Cathedral Close, Exeter, and each Friday afternoon looked after the office, going up by train.
Jean and I had excellent holidays. We toured Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, went round the world twice, stayed in Japan, Taiwan, Hong-Kong, Macau, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, cruised the Amazon from Manaus, and the coastal cities of South America to Buenos Aires, India, USA but not (yet!) Canada, as well as almost all Europe. I had a week in St Petersburg, Russia, where I was able to use my limited Russian.
I spent two years after 1999 as an occasional student in the Russian department of Exeter University doing the first two years of the undergraduate course. I then continued half-heartedly for several years on my own, but then ran out of steam. When I have finished this effort - very soon - I’ll probably carry on. Fine with written word but oral work …?
I am going to conclude - as I wish to get this put into available form for those interested- with my near misses; three or four of my ‘nine lives!‘ I was knocked down, aged 12, off my bike for the first time, coming round some cottages, near Old Bridge Hall, into a farm track by a car driven by the vet! The second time by a taxi in Vauxhall Bridge Road, when I crossed a line of stationary traffic to go into a side street, forgetting there was a bus lane. No damage to me, except for a bruised behind, or to the bike, but a knocked-off wing mirror was picked up from the road by me and handed to the driver. The taxi firm sent me a bill for days off-the-road etc etc - but I remembered my house policy covered some non-motorised vehicles, so simply passed on the claim to the insurance company, saying it was a lot of make-believe.
The nearest miss was when we were sitting in the front seats of a coach going north along the M5 from Cheltenham to Birmingham International as the railway line was closed for renovation. Suddenly the driver braked as a lorry came across the reservation and finished up next to the coach facing the other way on the hard shoulder. It cleared the front of the bus by a matter of a few feet. The driver and a passenger - a nurse I think - got out to attend to the lorry driver. A lady started screaming to get out so I stood across the gangway and stopped her. Then another passenger calmed her down. I sat next to the driver as we set off, talking to him in case of delayed shock, he having previously informed the emergency services. He didn’t hang around otherwise we would have been delayed for ever.
The final example was in Madeira where we had gone up by bus to the heights above Funchal. Having walked past the top cable-car station, we were looking for a way down. Finding a finger post, for what looked like a path down through the woodland, we set off. It got steeper and steeper and soon too steep for Jean to be able to get back up. So we carried on, and then had to cross over the narrow walls- only about two feet wide with paving stones - of dams blocking off the side-valley streams. It was a drop of several hundred feet to the forested valley below. On one dam wall two paving stones were missing, so it was very much a matter of picking ones way very carefully. Jean lost her nerve, so I went back and held her hand, and we made it. A bit daft really, as if either of us had lost our footing we would have both gone down. A relief to carry on to the main road and get a bus back to town.
As I now close down - August 2013 - the above is only a glimpse of what has, to date, been the generally enjoyable life - much of it shared with Jean - of an inquisitive nosey-parker, who can instantaneously bring up an anecdote on what seems an infinite number of personal experiences, enough to bore the pants off anybody. I hope it hasn't been you!.