Why WHS? - Chris Snuggs Mick in the Sick Bay - Mike O'Leary Nissen Huts in the 50s - Chris Snuggs Eric Coates: Fast Bowler - Mike O'Leary Woolverstone Hall - Mike O'Leary
My Smitherman Interview - Chris Snuggs Midnight Adventure - Mike O'Leary Life in a Nissen Hut - Mike O'Leary Sunday Mass for Catholics - Mike O'Leary My Lost Cricket Ball - Chris Snuggs
My First Latin Lesson - Chris Snuggs Raid on Orwell House - Chris Snuggs Those Nissen Huts! - Chris Snuggs The Annual Cross-Country - Mike O'Leary Cburch Field - Chris Snuggs
The Flu Epidemics - Chris Snuggs        
Woolverstone Hall - Michael John O'Leary

In 1957, I went to Woolverstone with 10 other boys from Burghley Road primary school.

Actually, there was to have been 12 of us but one boy dropped out because they were going to charge his parents fees of £240 a year or a term, I’m not quite sure, for him to attend! The fees were means tested, and me coming from a one-parent family meant that my mum only had to pay £5 a term.

All of us were encouraged to go to Woolverstone by our Burghley Road headmaster Mr Jackson who was a friend of Mr Smitherman, the headmaster of Woolverstone. Before I was accepted to go, I had to attend an interview with my mum at the L. C. C. at County Hall which ran Woolverstone.

Text Box:

I remember at one stage it looked as if I might not go to the school, but whatever the problem was, it was sorted out in the end and I was allowed to go. Looking back, I don’t think the problem had anything to do with my academic ability but more to do with the ability of my mum to pay for the fees and for all the clothes I would need to attend the school.

One day sometime before I went off to Woolverstone, I remember a lady who was probably a welfare officer employed by the L.C.C., taking me to a big warehouse somewhere filled with clothes and shoes and so on, and her choosing items to fit me, such as a tweed jacket, short pants, socks and shoes. One thing I did not get though, was a school blazer, as you can see in the photo. Sometime after I started at the school, someone took me into JJ Edwards clothes shop in Ipswich and I got a nice new one!

I enjoyed my stay at Woolverstone, and I especially remember the times when my mum would visit me on a parent's day, usually at half-term. She would often bring me a whole cold roast chicken and I would sit in the dorm later eating it, usually assisted by some of my friends!

I don’t remember exactly what brought it about, but on one visit in the Spring term of 1961, I persuaded my mum that I was sick of the school and wanted to leave! It may have been just on a whim, but I managed to get her to give notice to the school of my leaving. I was always a spoilt child and could usually get my own way with her. Because of a prank I was involved in on the last night of term, the school decided not to press for the one term’s notice period normally required, and so I left Woolverstone at the end of that term.

Looking back now, I realise that I never considered the feelings of my mum, just my own. She must have been lonely for me those years when I was at the school but I never thought about it that way. She was advised by Mr Jackson that it would be the best thing for me, and for an uneducated woman she took his word!

Most old boys you talk to now look back on their days at Woolverstone with fondness, but I don’t regard them like that. I’m not criticising the school in any way, just the effect me going there had on my mum. If I had not have gone there, undoubtedly my subsequent life would have been different. But worse, or better? I don’t think so, except that maybe it kept me off the streets of London and out of trouble. Without doubt though, my mum would have been happier I was with her. She sacrificed her happiness for what she thought was my benefit.


Four Words ....... Chris Snuggs

"Have you considered Woolverstone?"

The four words that changed my life: uttered in 1957 by Miss Gumbleton - headmistress of Brunswick Park Primary School in Camberwell - to my parents, then struggling with the problem of where to send me to school next.

Miraculously, I had passed the 11+, at least it seemed to my father a miracle. I don't think he ever really knew me: he certainly spent little time with me. I never rememebr him reading me bedside stories, one of the most important things one does with one's kid. He was kind enough - and never mistreated me - but our relationship was never warm and close. He had had little encouragement from his somewhat Victorian father, and had left school at 14 (very common in those days). None of his family had ever gone to grammar school, and I suppose he just assumed that I wouldn't either. I remember quite clearly telling him I had passed in the car as he drove me home from one of my last days at Brunswick Park.

We had just moved from Camberwell to West Norwood, which was in truth a considerable step up in terms of environment and housing, and it wasn't very easy to get home from Camberwell. Dad was just driving up the High Street in West Norwood (I have no idea why I waited so long on this 15 minutes car journey to tell him, NOR why parents in those days weren't informed by letter themselves; perhaps they were, but it hadn't arrived - in any case, the teachers had told us in school.) When I simply said: "By the way, I passed the 11+", he was so surprised that he turned round to look at me, the car did a mini swerve and he said: "WHAT?" And so I had to say it again.

Of course they hadn't heard of Woolverstone; I doubt whether many parents had, but Miss Gumbleton had. I suppose that County Hall was promoting the relatively new school and had sent out information to all primary schools. After all, kids like me were one of the target group for WHS: bright kids from very ordinary families living in grubby London backstreets.

Well, my parents weren't getting on too well and Miss Gumbleton did a good job of selling the school, and the upshot was that I went to WHS instead of Wilson's Grammar School between Peckham and Camberwell. That was no doubt a good school in its way, but as we know, WHS was rather different.

Four words ........... I have never talked to my mother about the decision to send me to WHS. I am pretty sure she was severely conflicted between on the one hand taking what seemed like an amazing opportunity and on the other being without me for most of the year, and Father's emotional distance with me was the exact opposite of my mother's - of that I am quite certain.

Four words .... and some ten years later, it was FIVE words uttered by Patrick Hutton that changed everything. I left WHS at the end of the 1st Year Sixth form and went to Emanuel School in Wandsworth. This change was so galactic that I didn't do well in enough in my "A" Levels at the end of the following year to get into university. I had always assumed I WOULD go to university; at WHS it had always seemed likely and logical; it was what the school expected and encouraged - but I had failed. I think my father assumed I had reached the peak of my potential and suggested I should get a job. I didn't know what to do. And then - I forget how it happened - I got in touch with Patrick Hutton, who had left WHS by then and was living in Barnes. He invited me to dinner one evening, and of course we chatted about WHS and my future. And he said: "You should go to university."

I had huge respect for Patrick Hutton, having had him for English in the VIth form. He was an absolutely delightful man: genuine, erudite, empathetic, considerate - and with a sense of humour. What he said had a huge impact on me, so much so that I knew I would do all I could to get back on course. I told my father - who disagreed, but to be fair didn't make too much of a fuss - and I started correspondence courses in German and English. The memories of that year are hazy, but I do remember working at home a lot and also as a general dogsbody in Bentalls of Kingston. I used to turn up in the mornings and they would send me wherever they needed a body: the laundry, the warehouse, to the cleaning and maintenance departments. It was a strange and somewhat stressful year, and at the end of it I went to Belsize Park to sit the exams at an open centre.

Well, I got "B"s in both English and German, and then into the UKC on a waiting list ..... And I had Patrick to thank. I am pretty sure I would never have done this without his encouragement: I seem to remember that I had convinced myself that I was a failure, that this was my fate and that I should look for some kind of job. I lost touch with Patrick after that and never thanked him properly.

I have been thinking recently about people I have met over a long teaching career. There we have been many nice (Derek T HATED us using that word!) colleagues I have worked closely and got on well with, but the number of those I feel really had something special; real qualities of the Human Spirit, of kindness, generosity, concern for others - is pretty limited. And the funny thing is that my personal list of such people is dominated by WHS teachers. It could be rose-tinted glasses of course - and one is always particularly affected by one's experiences when young - but their example inspired me. I won't give a list, but those who knew them will know who they were. It seems to me that at WHS there was an extraordinary coming together of really great teachers and people - for whatever reason. And in this we were lucky - and for it eternally grateful.


FOOTNOTE: Thinking back, I have realized one thing: leaving aside the not inconsiderable elements of love, sex, marriage and children, my first two years at WHS were the happiest of my life. It was all so intense and exciting: so many new faces, new surroundings, a new part of England I had never been to: the river, the woods, the fields, the local village. But above all, I loved class. It was hugely enjoyable learning things about such an incredible world. I especially loved science. I can't remember if we had separate biology and physics lessons in the first two yeas. I think so, but a doubt has crept in. Anyway, I remember the physics lessons with Fred Mudd especially, because science at primary school was a bit tame in comparison. At WHS we had REAL apparatus, and most of the lessons involved experiments as far as I remember - and when we didn't do experiments we were writing up notes of the experiments we had done. We played with bunsen burners, electrical apparatus, test tubes, dye strips and all manner of stuff. And I knew even at 11 that we were being taught things about the natural world that many of the great philosophers and most learned humans of the time did not know about. What a privilege, and to find out how things worked, how gases and electricity behaved was just magical. Biology was great, too. We did a fair number of experiments and learned about tropisms, the various cycles, cells and so on. Pop Corner was a kindly chap, and explained things really well.

I was very conflicted at the end of year two because I was very good at French and it was kind of assumed (including by me) that I would choose German over chemistry and Greek. Not doing Greek was not a problem (though in hindsight, why couldn't we have done Greek and latin combined?), but not doing chemistry more or less excluded any kind of future as a scientist, and though I liked French I did not find it as exciting as science. BUT, I was not great at maths, and so German it was. But chemistry! FUNDAMENTAL secrets about our existence, the combination of atoms producing everything. I am to this day embarrassed about my ignorance of chemistry, though watching "NCIS" has helped me catch up a bit!

At least I could do physics and biology till the end of the 5th form, and then it had to be French, German and English. The only consolation was that we did a course in 1963-1964 called "The History and Philosophy of Science", which I really enjoyed. ( I forget who taught it, anyone remember?) These days I still read a fair number of biographies of great scientists, and their lives and discoveries are absolutely fascinating. My hero is Michael Faraday, but Johannes Kepler comes close. And these guys achieved such great things at times of often perpetual war, plague, near starvation and all the rest.

And of course - unless aflicted by personal tragedy (I know an OB whose mother died on his first day at WHS) or bullying and so on - one has nothing to worry about: everything is organised for you: food, accommodation, timetable, lessons, activities, sport. It was only from the 3rd form that life started getting stressful, especially after the production of "The Bartered Bride" - but more of that another day!


The Smitherman Interview - and Sailing ....... Chris Snuggs

Memory has always seemed to me one of life's greatest mysteries and boons. Without memory, there would be no time, or at least no concept of it. Without memory, one would not actually "know" anything. And human memory is so capricious. How is controlled what one remembers and what one does not? I understand that retention of memory is strongly dependent on the emotion felt at the actual experience of an event. One would, therefore, remember one's first kiss, or indeed first slippering.Or in my case, falling over when about to score a winning try against Ipswich School.

I remember very clearly going in to see Mr Smitherman at County Hall for my WHS interview. Not the precise details, but the overall feel of the experience: that posh environment with all the wood pannelling; Mr Smitherman's deep desk and kindly manner. I can't on the other hand remember any questions he asked me, but VERY vivid is the memory of what I thought as I was leaving the room at the end of the interview. "SOD IT! I DIDN'T TELL HIM I COULD PLAY CHESS." I was certain that would have made a deep impression on him in relation to my intellect, maturity and promise. Still, he accepted me despite that - amazing ...... Passing the 11+ in itself was amazing as far as my father was concerned. For some reason, we were told at primary school rather than by letter to our parents, and I told him I had passed as he was driving me home to West Norwood. He was so astonished he nearly crashed the car. I will never forget that!

Something I REALLY cannot remember - but which someone might help me with - is WHEN and HOW it was decided whether we would do cricket or sailing. That is a complete blank. Did we do a cricket aptitude test of some kind? Did 1st years ALL play cricket for a while until the cricketing no-hopers were siphoned off to do sailing? A complete mystery. I was chosen (or opted, I don't remember) to do cricket, but throughout my years I always regretted that we cricketers had NO introduction to sailing AT ALL. Of course, not everything is possible, but wouldn't it have been nice if just for one week in the summer term we had all swapped around so that cricketers could have a few hours on the river? Sailing was completely cut off for cricketers, which was rather sad. I went sailing ONCE during my six years at WHS, when that exceedingly kind gentleman Clive Winter of the amazing Winter family took me out as his crew one Sunday. That was a jolly nice experience, and one I have never forgotten. Thank you Clive, even if you were just desperate for some muscle on that particular day!

As for sailing, one vaguely knew some of what was going on (probably from assembly notices as much as anything), that Gresham's School for example, was a very tough sailing opponent. But as usual, one knew absolutely nothing about Gresham's itself whatsoever. Well, nearly 60 years later, here is something about Gresham's, which turns out to be yet another long-established and magnificent East Anglian school. From the records I have, there was only ONE rugby match against Gresham's School: the Colts in 1980-1981 (lost 6-12). I wonder why we never played them at other sports? I am guessing, but I suspect it is because the staff found enough other schools rather nearer, Gresham's being nearly two hour's drive away near the north Norfolk coast.


My First Latin Lesson - Chris Snuggs

It was an ADVENTURE of GALACTIC proportions to be dumped on a coach and whisked up to a place in the country as far removed from the backstreets of Camberwell as one could imagine. I never kept a diary and the memories are patchy; many gone forever but a few still vivid, so these episodic accounts will be snippets garnered from assembled molecules in what remains of my brain.

WHS? It was many things, but primarily a SCHOOL of course. We all remember the rugby, the sailing, the productions, the music, the Young Farmers' BBQs to which GIRLS WERE INVITED - the slipperings in the dorm after lights out and so on, but when all's said and done, it was actually LESSONS that counted most - for me at least.

I had always loved school for the opportunity to LEARN stuff. Does that make me weird? I don't think so; there were lots of cool, sporty and generally heroic dudes around (a word not yet invented then) but quietly in the background plenty of genuine scholars. One of the things that most impressed me during my first days at school was the wooden board on which entries to Oxbridge were recorded with the names of boys who had won Exhibitions and Scholarships. It was obviously going to be a hoot, but a serious hoot .....

And my first memory of learning at WHS was with Mr Johnston. Form 1B had assembled in the right (from the stage) rear room of the assembly-hall waiting for the master to arrive. Suddenly, in he strode in his black gown. CRIKEY! It MUST be serious, we thought! A BLACK GOWN! No mortar board, but the gown sufficed. He didn't as far as I recall say a word, but wrote on the board.

insula
insula
insulam
insulae
insulae
insula

.... and made us repeat it for twenty minutes: good old-fashioned rote-learning of the kind they put in museums after the 60s. But one thing I can tell you; I NEVER forgot that declension. And then he started on subject, object, dative, genitive and ablative absolute: all a bit weird - and it took a while to sink in - but it sounded very learned and as so I felt like a proper scholar. THIS WAS LATIN! I had read about that in the “Billy Bunter” stories. True, Mr Johnston wasn’t quite like Quelch, and there was as yet no equivalent of Hurree Jamset Ram Singh, the Nabob of Bhanipur, but there was sure to be a Wingate around somewhere. It was all very wonderful.

Annual Cross-Countries - Michael John O'Leary

When I was in the 1st form in 1957/58, the annual cross-country was compulsory for all. To get out of it you had to have a note from matron or sick bay or something!

There were actually two cross-countries, a junior one for forms 1 to 3 and a senior for forms 4 to 6. The junior route was shorter than the senior. It cut back towards Woolverstone about half way along the run from the marina to Pin Mill.

The day of the junior cross-country, I went down to the locker room and found that some tosser had nicked my plimsoles. In those days there were no such things as trainers or runners or whatever! So, I had to run in my rugby boots!!

Running down the hard towards the marina was very painful on my feet because of the cement road, until I had the idea of moving to the grass verge.

I don't know how long the course was, but I completed it and came 68th, I seem to remember! The next year I came 15th, and in the 3rd form I came 6th. I nearly came 5th but at the last moment just before the finish line on Berners, some guy I didn’t hear came from behind and overtook me.


Sailing & Cricket - Chris Snuggs

If you liked cricket then you did cricket. I cannot remember how and when exactly this choice was made, but once made, that was it for the duration; I do not remember any of my peers ever changing from cricket to sailing or vice versa.

I had played cricket at primary school, mostly on a tarmacked playground surface with stumps on springs .... Once we played a match against another school in Ruskin Park not far from Camberwell. We got 11 runs and WON!!

Well, I wasn't bad at cricket so I did cricket, but to be honest I had (and was probably not alone in this) a high regard for the sailors. I mean, it was a WHS tradition carried over from the LNS and we were by the river and you could tell without actually participating that sailing was done jolly well and managed of course by Stretch, for whom I had a lot of admiration; apart from anything else he was my French teacher for six years and had also reputedly been a tank commander in the war.

We knew our school was a bit special and sailing was an activity of quality that contributed to its uniqueness and reputation. After leaving WHS I regretted not having had a chance to sail at all. Surely SOME way could have been found at some time for cricketers to experience sailing. The ONLY time I went out on the river at WHS was with Clive Winter, who took me out to crew on a lovely June day in around 1962. Clive is such a gentleman, then and now.

So, there you have it: no more making fun of sailors as people who couldn't play cricket - even though of course most of them probably couldn't!!


The Legendary Raid on Orwell House - Chris Snuggs

In 1959 - probably at the end of the summer term, but I don’t remember - I was a second former in Berners and half-asleep in the Old Orangerie dorm. Suddenly, the lights went on and two monitors became visible to the awakening boylets. I think the monitors were Glynne Thomas and George Meredith, who slept in a corner of the dorm behind a curtain as I recall. These were fair and decent chaps. George was a bit funnier and Glynne a bit gruff; he reminded me of Taffy. Anyway, completely out of the blue they announced that we were going to “raid Orwell House”.

Nothing remotely like this had ever happened, so we pitched in enthusiastically, not quite knowing what to expect. Under the older boys’s rigid military discipline, we prepared a quantity of plastic bags, some filled with water and others with flour; they had clearly thought this all out and prepared. When we were ready, we slunk commando style out of the Orangerie, past Diana and down on to Orwell House. Their defences were non-existent and it was very dark, so we crept in unnoticed and went up to the dorm. Major Meredith and Captain Thomas knew exactly where to go apparently ……

On their command, we burst into the first dorm and then on through the rest. I seem to remember that they were rooms with four pupils in which were all linked with inter-connecting doors. As we went we launched with hideous war cries our dastardly ammo onto the sleeping kids, who must have had the fright of their lives. Details are a bit vague, but I DO remember completely missing any viable target with my flour and water, a bitter regret that has stayed with me all my life.

It was all over in a flash and we hoofed it back fullspeed to the Orangerie, leapt into bed and played dead.

Well, some few minutes later we heard the inner door open and Shakey appeared along with the main lights …….. I didn’t SEE it was him but we all knew it had to be. I was at that point well under the bedclothes facing the wall and snoring heavily. I could sense and hear Shakey going round the room, which was rumbling ominously under the sound of heavy snoring. He must have decided that any retribution would have to wait until the morning, because after hovering for a while he left and the lights went out again.

The funny thing is that I don’t remember the subject coming up the next day. Perhaps we were going home or perhaps the staff took it in good humour and/or decided there was nothing they could do. And I don’t remember discussing it with any Orwell kids.

So ended the Legendary Raid on Orwell House. Nothing remotely like it had happened before or happened after ……. but it sticks indelibly in the memory. But what sort of life is it when one has never done anything as crazy as we did that night - thanks to George & Glynn?

Sometimes I wonder if it was all a dream, but then I feel a bit like that about life itself …..


Midnight Adventure and Away! - Michael John O'Leary

In 1961, on the last night of term we decided to go on a midnight 'recce' of the Main Building. For the life of me I can't remember now who 'we' were but there were 3 or 4 of us! I know the year because that was when I persuaded my mum that I had had enough of Woolverstone and wanted to leave. Actually, that night we hadn’t really planned anything beforehand and it was only when we got outside Hansons that we decided to head for the Main Building at all.

We crept up the stairs to the top floor and then through a door up to the roof! Don't ask me why but we did. When we got there, we surveyed the view, in the dark! We weren't sure what to do next, until someone had the bright idea of shinning down a drain pipe to the roof of the wing of the building that was used in those days to house the biology lab.

As I climbed down, I found myself next to a small window. Looking in, I saw Mr Shakeshaft and his missus lying in bed!! Fucking hell! What to do? I immediately leaped the remaining drop to the roof and then we all scattered and headed for home.

When we got back to the dorm, we crept in quietly in the dark and slipped into our beds. We were in the clear, we thought! But no. A couple of minutes passed, and then Mr Hanson came in to the dorm and, naming us individually, told us to see him in his study in the morning. He must have come in to the dorm while we were away from it and noted who was missing. Whether he was alerted by Shakeshaft, I never found out.

The next day, we all went down to see Hanson in his study. He threatened to keep us back from going home that day, but in the end he let us go. Apart from what the other teachers would have said, he knew our parents wouldn't wear it!

During the holiday period that followed, the school sent a letter to my mum saying they were not going to press for the one term's notice required when she had told them I wished to leave. They wanted rid of me then and there! I was a very precocious lad and I intercepted this letter before my mum ever saw it. She believed me when I said the school was letting me leave now. To the end of her life, she never did find out about that letter.

I don't know what happened to the other adventurers when they returned to the school the following term or what was said, but for me it was the end of my time at Woolverstone, the end of an era!


Sunday Mass For Catholics - Michael John O'Leary

Among the Catholics who went to Woolverstone, I am an unknown and consequently unsung hero for what I did one Sunday morning while going to Mass in Ipswich! In 1957/58 (I think?) the Catholics in the school (or some of them anyway) would travel into Ipswich to go to Mass in an old Dormobile van driven by Mr Bullard. The van had two bench seats in the back mounted longitudinally facing each other so that when it was fully occupied with about 10 or 12 people, each person sat with his knees touching the knees of someone on the other bench.

The van always smelled of diesel fumes and one hot day on our journey it became so powerful that I began to feel sick. As we rode along I felt worse and worse so that at some point, the vomit welled up in my throat and actually entered my mouth. If I had spewed it out it would have gone everywhere and over just about everyone! With a supreme effort I managed to swallow it back down. I can't see kids now with that sort of restraint!

After an eternity (probably a couple of minutes), the van stopped outside the church and we all got out. I immediately went to the side and vomited a couple of mouthfuls to the ground. "Are you ok, O'Leary?" someone said. "Yes, I think so" I said. And we all went into Mass. When I got a bit older, I was allowed to ride into Mass on my bike. Thank goodness!


  Nissen Huts in the 50s  -  Chris Snuggs et all on FB  


Chris Snuggs - Berners/Halls 58-65: “I must have seen this photo before but been half asleep at the time. I NEVER realized there were Nissen huts THERE! That must be in the very first one or two years - around 1950. Or perhaps even BEFORE? Does anyone at WHS in the early 50s remember them?”

Ron Gould - Corners 50-55: “They were the "dining rooms" and kitchens we also saw films there, too.”

Jonathan Kemp - Corners 73-80: “Circus never came to school in my day.”

Robin Sullivan - Hansons 50-55: “The dorms were in the front of the Main Buildings. I spent 5 years eating and watching films in those huts.”

Karen Tweed: "Fond memories eh, Dad?? xxx”

Frank Lee - Orwell 58-60: “Didn't one of them become the Tuck Shop?”

Chris Snuggs: “Not in 58. That was further down OS facing the open space towards Pin Mill.”

Michael Handley - Hansons 51-56: “They were the Mess Decks (dining rooms & kitchens).”

Philip Hart - Orwell 77-82: “Improved by Orwell development? That looks fine to me,what's the tent for? Not as small as the Maths one with Taffy, or where the tuck shop was (and Cadets’ one too.)”

Chris Snuggs: “The huts we knew from 58 to 65 were much smaller: Brian Middlebrooks’s latin hut, and Mr Girling's maths hut for example. The big huts and all those on the main field were all gone by September 1958.”

Ron Gould: “The marquee might have been there for one of the first big school parents/open days. Or it might have been the Coronation; most boys went home for a special holiday. Some of us stayed for the weekend - me and a few others were on an MTB on the Orwell. On Coronation Day (Tuesday 2 June, 1953) the school was thrown open to all the nearby villages for a great fête, with sports, games, food etc.”

Chris Snuggs: "Shame we have no photos of that!"

Philip Hart: “I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO GO ON AN MTB ... WOW.”

Christian M Dunkley-clark - Halls 80-85: “What's an MTB?”

Philip Hart: “A Motor Torpedo Boat.”

John Tuddenham - Hansons 51-57: “I was on Westminster Embankment that day ... my dad got my sister and me tickets ... £5 I think ... a lot in those days!! Great day ...”

Thomas Newsham - Johnstons 54-59: “The two huts to the left of the Marquee are the kitchens; the huts to the left of those are the dining rooms. This of course was prior to the gradual move into the new buildings.”

John Tuddenham: “Totally agree ... dining rooms ... used to love the trifle on Sundays!!!


Life in a Nissen hut - Tom Browne’s Schooldays it ain’t
Michael John O'Leary

In 1957/58 I was in the 1st form and we lived in a Nissen hut on a corner of Berners near the new (as it was then) Science block. I remember we were all very small kids (I was about 4 foot nothing or thereabouts, then - I’m not much bigger now!) but there was one kid, Gwatkin, who was a man-child! He must have been at least 6 foot. Every morning rain or shine we would get up, put on our dressing gowns, grab our washing kit bags and then run the 50 yards or so from the hut to the shower block in the wing of the Main Building near the tennis court.

The huts were very cold and so two rectangular heaters were mounted at strategic points in the gangway between the bottoms of the beds that ran from one end of the hut to the other. The heaters were solidly fixed to the ground and stood about waist high. They were each covered in a thick wire mesh to let the heat through the top and protect us from touching them by hand. They used to get really hot! We would put shelled chestnuts on top of the mesh to roast them! One night, Francis Green (Runty, as he was called then) was messing about in his pyjamas before lights out and was running along the gangway between the beds, looking behind as he ran. Somehow, he bumped into one of the heaters and ended up spread-eagled on top of it. For a few seconds, he lay there stranded like a fish out of water before he started screaming and managed to throw himself off. For whatever reason, Runty was one of those kids that didn’t wear pyjama tops, and there was a smell of burning flesh! Hehad to be rushed to sick bay (or hospital, I can’t remember). Years later you could still see crosshatch pattern scarring on his stomach!

Another night, it was after lights out and some of us were whispering to each other about this and that. We had been warned a couple of times by the dorm monitors, Abel Williams and a guy called Abrahams - can’t remember his first name. Finally, they decided enough was enough and shouted out “Who was talking?” None of us said anything, so they repeated the question. Still no answer. “If no one owns up, you’re all going to be in detention!” they thundered. Silence. To this day I don’t know why I did it, but after about 5 seconds I said “I was.” Theirs was an empty threat but I didn’t know it at the time. “Come here” they said. They lived in a corner section at the end of the dorm surrounded by a number of tall metal coat lockers to give them some privacy away from us lot. When I got to them, Abel Williams thought for a few moments and then opened one of the lockers and said “Get in.” I obeyed, meekly. The locker was empty and I could easily squeeze into it but I had to keep upright. Then he closed the door. I don’t remember being very frightened, but he kept me in there in the dark for maybe 10 minutes. And hat was it.

A few years ago at one of the reunions, I met Abel Williams and mentioned the incident in front of a small group of people. He looked very shamefaced and muttered something incomprehensible. I laughed. I’ve never regarded it as a traumatic experience although I still remember it in detail to this day. He didn’t slap me or punch me or anything so I don’t think it did any long-term harm. Those were the (tough) days!


Those Nissen huts .... Chris Snuggs

Closing my eyes and clearing my brain of rubbish (quite a long process) I visualized the old Nissen huts ..... What came to mind first? Funnily enough, it was the realization that I never remember being COLD during a lesson. And that is odd, because they can’t have been well insulated and we had some pretty cold winters - yet they only had as I recall a single fairly small stove somewhere in the middle.

One cannot work when cold, but I never remember not being able to work. And of course, NOW I wonder who lit the stoves every day? At that age (even in the mid to late teens) I did not wonder about this. It is amazing what one takes for granted. You went in, took your seat and worked - end of.

So WHO DID light the stoves? And there were several to be lit. How many, do you think? Five or six a day?

Another thing I took for granted was that Brian Middlebrook had his hut and never taught and would never teach anywhere else - and yet WHY? Who decided that Doc T would have that comfy room in the new hall building, or Stretch his permanent room on the top floor of Berners? AND that they would NEVER HAVE A CHANGE?

I did latin for five years; the first with Mr Johnston in a room at the back of the hall but otherwise with Brian Middlebrook in a Nissen hut.

Maths I ALWAYS had in a Nissen hut. I seem to recall all other subjects being in other places, but the poor old maths and classics teachers were almost always down in the huts. Did they never complain?

Nice surroundings are .... nice, but the funny thing is that those old huts made no difference to my learning. We worked hard and learned a lot: Like most of the others I guess, I never gave it a thought. There is this nice phrase today: “It is what it is.”, and thinking back, obviously for us: “It was as it was.” We just accepted it all and got on with it. And I myself enjoyed it -. even maths for the first three or so years until Mr Girling started on calculus. The problam with THAT was that he never actually made clear what it was FOR!

Same with trigonometry! What was the POINT of eternally having to prove that tríangle A equalled triangle B? I could never see the point. I mean, if you had a house with two triangular rooms why would you have to prove that one angle in it equalled an angle in the other room? You could just go and MEASURE it! Once I could calculate the area of a triangle I had reached my limit, and that was JOLLY USEFUL in later life doing DIY! The importance of finding the value of that dastardly X was pretty clear in comparison, so I preferred algebra.

Latin, however, was always enjoyable: one felt really serious! Enjoyable not in a laughing sense: Brian was a lovely man, but not really dynamic or very funny as such. I don’t remember too many jokes, or lurid and racy stories about the antics of Roman senators. Nevertheless, he was kind, clear, organised and obviously loved his subject (and teaching it), and that communicated itself to us. And in the 5th form we got onto REAL latin literature: Martial’s epigrams no less.

At the time we sometimes asked what the point of studying a so-called dead language was, but I am glad I did it since it gave us a really sound grasp of grammar. And of course there is the historical influence of latin and indeed Rome and Greece on our lives still today. In retrospect, I would have preferred to have done a course entitled “Antiquity”, and studied more Greek and Roman history and philosophy as well as latin. I don’t, for example, remember learning much about the Trojans, Alexander The Great or the Persians at school - or of course the Battle of Thermopylae, and the extraordinary Greeks who saved Europe from the Persians. The history of the Roman Republic and then Empire was something I only really learned about much later. Perhaps we did more of those topics than I remember; it is such a long time ago, and others may have different memories.

Happy Days......

This seems to be about a bloke complaining
about his neighbours from hell!
NOTHING MUCH HAS CHANGED THERE!


The Cricket Ball - Chris Snuggs


My mother once bought me a new cricket ball
To take with me to Woolverstone Hall.
It cost her a guinea; it was all she had got.
We hadn't much money, so it meant such a lot.

We went to a shop near Waterloo Station,
I was only ten, but with great expectation.
I kept my ball in a box by my bed.
It smelled of leather, all shiny and red.

When I got on the coach to Woolverstone Hall
I took with me my prized cricket ball.
I showed it around with pleasure and pride,
And we organized a game down on Orwell Side.

I was useless at cricket but for once I connected,
My shot, however, was badly directed.
The ball plopped over the long balustrade,
And for forty long years, there it has stayed.

Try as we might it remained unfound,
Somewhere hidden between nettles and ground.
That beautiful ball; its use was so short,
Lying there so long, yet still in my thoughts.

I feel sad for that ball, so long still and cold,
And now, like me, grown so wrinkly and old,
And nobody knows how I loved that ball,
Which my mother bought me for Woolverstone Hall.

The shop is long gone, and now the school, too.
There remain but my memories, so vivid and true.
For my mother who loved me bought me that ball,
To take with me to Woolverstone Hall
.


© Chris Snuggs 2005
WHS - Berners & Halls Houses: '58 to '63


Eric Coates - Fast Bowler! - Michael John O'Leary

 

One gamesday in the Summer of 1959 or 60, we were playing cricket on Berners and Eric was bowling. As he trundled back to his mark on his very long run up, the facing batsman decided he needed to make an adjustment and put up his hand to stop play. The umpire at the bowler’s end raised his arm to signal that Eric should wait.

Eric never used to wear his glasses while playing cricket and didn’t see the signal, so when he got back to his mark, he turned and immediately started his increasingly thunderous run in!

Well, everyone panicked! The batsman ran one way, the wicketkeeper another, and the slips scattered leaving 3 lonely stumps waiting for destruction. Eric released one of his screamers and the ball missed the stumps by a whisker and galloped off to the boundary. We all fell about laughing! What a memory.


Mick in the Sick Bay - Michael John O'Leary

When I was in the 2nd or 3rd form (58/59/60), I fractured a bone in my foot playing football (sacrilege!) in a kickabout on Orwell Side. I had to be taken to hospital in Ipswich and ended up having a plaster cast on my right leg from my toes to just under the knee.

They attached a metal u‑shaped rung under my heel so that I could walk without touching the floor with the plaster. To avoid crunching my foot to the floor while walking, I needed to twist it from front on to sideways every step. Because my toes were exposed, I used to wear a sock over the end of the foot to keep them warm!

In order to let the plaster set properly without me attempting to walk about, it was decided that I should spend the first night back from hospital under supervision in Sick Bay. I remember in the evening for supper, matron or the nurse or whoever gave me a round of banana and honey sandwiches. They were delicious! I still make them for myself occasionally now in my old age!

Anyway, came lights out and I was left alone in one of the bedrooms. Apparently, there were no other boys there at the time. In the middle of the night, I woke up dying for a pee. I got out of bed and hobbled out of the door to somewhere (a landing?) and looked around for the toilet. I couldn't see one. In desperation, I shouted out (not too loudly, I imagine now), "Hello, is there anyone there?" When I didn't get an answer, I panicked! I started to look urgently for the toilet. I looked into a couple of rooms but they seemed to be bedrooms like mine. I couldn't find a toilet!

Finally, I went into one of these bedrooms and spied a window. I struggled over and managed to open it. Then I got a chair and put it in front of the window. With great difficulty due to the plaster, I eventually climbed on to the chair and then with immense relief (excuse the pun) I peed out of the window! I was like the Manneken Pis in Brussels. What pleasure! I was on the 1st floor so I didn't see where the pee went.

Now, believe it or not, I remember needing to pee again urgently either that same night or maybe the next night or even on another occasion in Sick Bay! To be honest, I can't remember when it was, it's all jumbled in my memory. But this time instead of using the window, I peed into a sink in the bedroom! If it was on another night, I can't see why I hadn't found out where the toilet was! But there we are, the bottom line is I peed out of a window on one occasion and into a sink on another in Sick Bay and no one ever found out - until now!

As a postscript to this story, later that term my mum came down to visit me on a parent's day and was surprised and a little shocked to find me walking about with a plaster cast on my leg and an iron rung underneath! The school hadn’t even seen fit to let her know what had happened to me.


Church Field - Chris Snuggs ('58 to '65)

Of the many things I took for granted at school, one was Church Field. It was there; we went up there two or three times a week in the rugby season, watched or played and came home to tea - it all seemed completely normal. And yet in retrospect, what a magnificent jewel that was for the school: what huge luck to find such a flat piece of land with no stones, bordered by trees with a beautiful church at one side.

Obviously part of the original estate, someone in London (or maybe even Mr Smitherman?) made sure it became part of the school. I guess we will never know who exactly it was that fought to change it from a field of potatoes or grazing cows to a revered place of sport.

And it was revered - dare I say "hallowed"?. The very words "Church Field" had a special ring to them. It was not right outside the front door of the main buildings; we had to trudge our way up there, but somehow that added to the aura. The spectators went up first, and then the teams arrived and took up their places. I was lucky enough to play there many times, but most distinctly remember standing on the touchline as a first former watching that magnificent Bill Coutts 1st XV play Wymondham: Coutts, Marriott, House, Fletcher et al...... it was then that we realized how important rugby was at WHS. It was all so ritualistic, so magnificent.

I later played for the 1st XV, and so enjoyed the whole range of associations experienced with that field. And those experiences included the Saturday morning meetings of the 1st XV in the 6th Form Common Room of Halls house, where Taffy went over the tactics and gave us a pep talk. How important and privileged we felt!

Yes, I for one took it for granted, but imagine what WHS would have been without Church Field. I played on many pitches at and after Woolverstone - including at university - but never on a pitch like ours at school.



The Flu Epidemics
INTRODUCTION: "The Asian flu of 1957" by Kara Rogers

Asian flu of 1957, also called Asian flu pandemic of 1957, outbreak of influenza that was first identified in February 1957 in East Asia and that subsequently spread to countries worldwide. The 1957 Asian flu was the second major influenza pandemic to occur in the 20th century; it followed the influenza pandemic of 1918–19 (also known as Spanish flu) and preceded the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968. The Asian flu outbreak caused an estimated one million to two million deaths worldwide and is generally considered to have been the least severe of the three influenza pandemics of the 20th century.

The 1957 outbreak was caused by a virus known as influenza A subtype H2N2, or Asian flu virus. Research has indicated that this virus was a reassortant (mixed species) strain, originating from strains of avian influenza and human influenza viruses. In the 1960s the human H2N2 strain underwent a series of minor genetic modifications, a process known as antigenic drift. These slight modifications produced periodic epidemics. After 10 years of evolution, the Asian flu virus disappeared, having been replaced through antigenic shift by a new influenza A subtype, H3N2, which gave rise to the Hong Kong flu pandemic.


In the first months of the 1957 Asian flu pandemic, the virus spread throughout China and surrounding regions. By midsummer it had reached the United States, where it appears to have initially infected relatively few people. Several months later, however, numerous cases of infection were reported, especially in young children, the elderly, and pregnant women. This upsurge in cases was the result of a second pandemic wave of illness that struck the Northern Hemisphere in November 1957. At that time the pandemic was also already widespread in the United Kingdom. By December a total of some 3,550 deaths had been reported in England and Wales. The second wave was particularly devastating, and by March 1958 an estimated 69,800 deaths had occurred in the United States.

Similar to the 1968 Hong Kong flu, the Asian flu was associated with variation in susceptibility and course of illness. Whereas some infected individuals experienced only minor symptoms, such as cough and mild fever, others experienced life-threatening complications such as pneumonia. Those persons who were unaffected by the virus were believed to have possessed protective antibodies to other, closely related strains of influenza. The rapid development of a vaccine against the H2N2 virus and the availability of antibiotics to treat secondary infections limited the spread and mortality of the pandemic.


David Waterhouse - March 17 at 11:39 PM: There is chat on social media about past pandemics. I wonder how many remember the flu outbreak that hit WHS around 59/60? The sick bay was overwhelmed and Hall's House, I think, was evacuated and turned into a mini-hospital. Morale among us randy adolescents was much improved by the drafting in of a pretty young nurse to help run the wards: she was up for a little banter and, in hindsight, probably wasn't that much older than we were. I wonder what happened to her – I guess she'd be about 80 now.

Harvey Angel: I remember the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968. I was fortunate to be one of the first to get it, so I managed to secure a spot in sick bay. Many of those who caught it later on were stuck in bed in their Houses. Once recovered, I found there were very few pupils attending the classes. No prep, as I recall, during this period. Good whilst it lasted!

Michael John O'Leary: In the late 50's, I was tested at the school for Asian Flu and the result was positive although I had no symptoms. About 10 of us were then segregated from the rest of the school for 2 weeks and kept in sick-bay. We were only allowed to go for walks when everyone else was in lessons. I seem to remember sometime later being sent home by train to Liverpool Street Station because of it!??

Jon Kemp: We had one in the late 70's, our class was down from thirty to about 6. There was also a Scarletina outbreak in the mid 70's.

Peter Warne: All I can remember is the foot and mouth outbreak in 67. It affected some of us worse than others.

David Waterhouse: I remember that very well – I'd left school and was an army corporal with a section of men burying or burning carcases and scrubbing and disinfecting farms around Cheshire. At the peak we were six weeks behind, burying pretty ripe carcases: long-dead cows just smell, but sheep are mechanically unsound and bits come off in your hands.

Chris Jenkins: I remember that I don't think I caught it but was moved from Corners to Johnsons. Or am I losing the plot?

Barry Clark: Hi David Waterhouse: I certainly remember the 'Asian Flu' of 1959/60 Unlike Michael John O'Leary I got it later. By that time Johnston's had been converted into Sick Bay. I was in the dining room with, I guess, 60 other beds. I had the misfortune to still be very small and was wrapped in sheet to be used as rugby ball by some of the older boys, who were obviously feeling better and missing sport (thanks Doug Gardner - I think - apologies if I am wrong but I couldn't see?). I was unceremoniously dropped to the floor (or knocked on?) when Richardson came to investigate, and duly boll*cked for being out of bed then cuffed back in. Moral: get ill early, while there are beds, before the NHS is overrun, probably applies now. Still my cohort will be self isolating I guess. Be safe and well all of you.

Chris Snuggs:
I remember three periods of being confined to bed. The first must have been in 59/60 when I was one of four in Berners to get some kind of flu and be put in the little room right above the entrance to the main house. I cannot remember who the others were. I don't remember feeling very ill or what we did, though I suppose we must have read a lot ....

I also remember being embedded in Halls - perhaps we were moved there from Berners when the epidemic spread, so that stay in Halls must also have been part of the 58/59 epidemic. We had to stay in bed and be examined every day by a nurse who always wanted to know if our bowels had opened ...... which we also found quite funny at the time ....

Later I was in sick-bay for a while (possibly not related to an epidemic, but I just don't remember) with a Jewish boy called Stone (Philip or Jon?) and a senior boy called Chris "Viv" Seeney, who was a bit menacing .... That must have been in October 1962 as I distinctly remember hearing the news about the Cuban missile crisis while we were there. The other stupid thing I remember is when Stone once fell over and Seeney said: "OMG, there's a heavy Jew on the ground." - which I thought was quite funny .....

The funny thing is that on none of these occasions do I remember feeling particularly ill.

One thing I would say as a teacher since I left university in 1971 is that one's worst nightmare is a child in your care being seriously hurt, ill or God-forbid dying, so it is not surprising that the school took these flu epidemics seriously. However, as far as I remember, nobody died ......