Andrew Szepesy   -    Johnstons 52-59

Dear Eric, here I am again. Not cured, regrettably, but it is now clear, that if I wait for that to happen, it will be autumn before I put digit to key again.

At least we now have Spring weather to cheer us up. We also have 2,000 saplings in the ground; 15 Guinea Fowl - (not Pea Fowl - as I inadvertently wrote) - all G-fowling away in the inner hazel plantation; 14-hectares of newly-sown White Clover; a quite extensively renovated house - & a building site's worth of debris to clear up. Not to mention a fine coating of cement dust everywhere. 

I'm far from a fan of our Grant & Subsidy system, which seems to me to be a big con to keep hordes of overpaid bureaucrats in cushy jobs manipulating tax-payers with their own money, but in all honesty, there is no way we would have undertaken this operation without the carrot of the Grant & the stick of the deadline. 

     

A major Spring Clean looms - but I can postpone my bit of this a little while longer if I immediately get down to the episode of the transubstantiation of our First Headmaster. This will be a bit rough & ready - but better an R & R something, than a P-(perfectly) P-(polished) nothing. Especially, as this is not trying to be a book. Let us regard it as a kind of Intelligence Report knocked out on the hoof, while dodging enemy pursuit. Not, perhaps, too unlike the efforts of the incomparable Patrick Leigh Fermor, reporting - (belatedly, though not as belatedly as me) - to SOE HQ in Cairo from wartime Crete.

THE SMITHERMAN FILE

1) J. S. H. SMITHERMAN - THE MIND

"IT'S NOT COMPULSORY -  (BUT YOU HAVE TO DO IT!)"

I seem to remember reading  somewhere, that a typical and unmistakable characteristic of psychopathy - even, indeed, serious insanity - is the ability of the infected mind to believe in at least two mutually exclusive propositions at one and the same time.  Each conviction is almost always held with equal fervour and the mind is frequently entirely unaware of what is going on. (If you run across one that actually IS aware of what it is doing, watch out - you are entering Hannibal Lecter territory!)

While this kind of mind-bending was by no means as common in the Britain of the 1950s as it has become over the last three or four decades - (throughout, more or less, the entire First World - at least!) - it was by no means unknown. 

At Woolverstone, we had a prime practitioner of this kind of mental procrastination.  He was, to my knowledge, the first example of the species to whom I was, personally and extensively, exposed. (Other boys may have been less fortunate.) I refer, of course, to the entirely unavoidable J. S. H. Smitherman, our first Headmaster.

The "in quotes" part of the Chapter Heading above comes directly from his very own lips and was, in its day, repeated with the frequency of a mantra.  (The first half, that is - the bit in brackets was only revealed some time well after the first part had been drummed into us in the guise of some sort of benign slogan - similar in tone to such friendly admonitions as "Live and Let Live!", etc.)

Smitherman had, of course, numerous other equally sting-in-the-tail exhortations, usually, but not always, offered without built-in time-lags. The above is, however, the one that sticks in my mind even today, because it was the one over which we first crossed swords - and the one which, eventually, by another & entirely unforeseen route, led him to his downfall.

Personally, I had never paid much attention to these oracular announcements from our Head, largely because most of them were obviously silly. Of the rest, most were simply neither accomplishable, nor enforceable. Little more than wishful thinking, really. The remaining few that, by some accident or other, sported teeth, seemed, on the whole, to have very little direct relevance to me. So, like any sensible schoolboy, I simply tuned the Smitherman Signal out of my reception wave-lengths and got on with something - anything - else.

After a while, the excruciating boredom that overcame me while attending any sort of religious gathering - especially those at which J. S. H. Smitherman was the presiding orator - built up a pressure that was little short of overwhelming. Even at that age, I couldn't remember ever having believed a word of any of the attempts at Religious Instruction to which I'd been subjected either at my Puritan Protestant Granny's knee, or at a very happy Infants' School in the Lancashire village of Ormskirk, or at Essendine Road Primary School, London, West 9. and, since then, neither Assemblies, nor Church Services, nor the graces garbled at Woolverstone mealtimes had done anything to persuade me of the error of my ways.  

Yet here I was, spending an unconscionable amount of time and effort - (quite a startling total, when you came to add it all up) -  each and every day on nothing more constructive than tuning out unwanted disinformation and brain-washing. It was getting to a point at which I was having to put so much brain-power into maintaining my anti-counterthought-warp shield, that I was left with hardly enough mental energy for any sort of positive or creative - or even just enjoyable - thinking. I was even failing to stay awake under my blanket during nocturnal Ashes commentaries from Australia. Clearly, something had to be done. 

Before doing it, however, I thought it best to play safe and get the latest from the horse's mouth. So, in the presence, I seem to remember, of another couple of skulking dissenters, I asked straight out, "What do you mean by, "It's not compulsory?"

"Exactly what I say, Suh-pay-zee!" neighed our Horse-Head at full volume. "IT IS NOT - COMPULSORY!"

That was good enough for me. Who was I, not to take our Headmaster at his word? I now felt fully authorized to do the right thing. So I proceeded at once to be absent from Church services and Assemblies.

Graces were another matter. No matter how light you might be on your feet, nor how quick of eye and hand, missing grace would put you at such a disadvantage against a tableful of ravenous "Woolvies" that you'd be lucky to end up with even a mouthful of whatever might be going. Growing boys need grub - no matter how inedible. So Graces stayed. Usually, these were mercifully brief and often in Latin, so not at all intrusive.

I had just settled gratefully down to a stimulating and restful routine of single-minded absenteeism, when I received the summons. To the Headmaster's Study. At the double. 

My absences had been noted. I was invited to explain. I had just got to, "As you yourself said - Suh - "It's not compulsory - " when the luxuriant military moustache wiped the board clean at a single twitch and the first salvo landed - "It's not compulsory - Suh-pay-zee - BUT YOU HAVE TO DO IT!"

So now I had the second half of the Commandment. Smitherman's secret weapon. His second Tablet of Stone landed "whack" on my head and the artillery barrage that followed immediately, buried my thoughts. 

      "... BUT YOU HAVE TO DO IT!" 

This horse-speak with forked tongue, piped a small voice in the back of my mind. 

      "IT'S NOT COMPULSORY." 

Beneath the din, I could sense generations of Redskins cackling with laughter. Now you see Paleface for yourself, Little Boy - ho-ho! 

     "... BUT YOU HAVE TO DO IT!" 

No good be brave. No good speak true - forked tongue - Big Voice - too strong. 

     "IT'S NOT COMPULSORY, BUT ... "  We know. We gone. 

     "... YOU HAVE TO DO IT!"

There being no point in attempting any further dialogue with our own Big Voice, I slipped back into the main stream of schoolboy life and got on with getting round whatever could be got round and not worrying too much about whatever could not. We perfected thought-filtering and selective-hearing and developed our Woolverstone Hall School Spartan Era Patois, (a form of Lower Royal Navy/Upper London-Delinquent Argot), until it was pretty much impenetrable to eavesdropping staff irrespective of IQ and we could switch from Patois to Queen's English and back again in mid-syllable and without batting an eye-lid.

Occupiers and occupied rubbed along in a deceptively formless enclave of fleeting hours and fuzzy days. Boys did not bother their heads much with the thought-processes of Masters  - (except for at certain moments of dire emergency) - and Masters - except, perhaps, for the occasional rare white raven like manly Mr. Rowlands - did not concern themselves with the alien thought-processes of boys - (except for at certain moments of dire emergency). 

Deformed mutations of  quasi-reasoning and manic opinion continued to emanate from Mount Smitherman. From time to time, a few Masters assisted in directing the flow of lava. Most, sensibly enough, stayed away from the heat. There were always some - at least at certain times - who kept alive the spirit of the search for knowledge and truth; encouraged the development of minds so that they might have a chance of fulfilling something of the best potential that lay within them - and helped to develop the ability of boys to think for themselves. 

This last was, of course, ruthlessly honed by the rambunctious and almost ceaseless cut-and-thrust of boyish debate inside, around and, sometimes, well outside the grounds of Woolverstone Hall School. Needless to say, nothing - no subject, no viewpoint and, certainly, no word - was out of bounds. There were no taboos.   

Almost imperceptibly, then, we meandered, with apparent aimlessness, along the pathway that would lead. in the fullness of time, to the secret world of adult conspiracy and compromise, which is one of the most eagerly sought and, yet, in the end, perhaps the most disappointing of all the roads that lead from childhood to the estate of man.

Even so, as subsequent events revealed, there must have been more steel being tempered in that pulsating hive than immediately met the eye and the twisting and turning and cropping and binding of minds that filtered, intermittently but continuously, down from on high must have left more scar tissue and unhealed wounds than could have been observed from outside.

Perhaps, it was really, as much as anything else, a stubborn alliance of still open sores  that did for old Smitherman when the time came for the final show-down.

 

2) J. S. H. SMITHERMAN, Esq - THE MAN

Tall - 6 foot-one, or thereabouts. Beefy. Paunchy. (At least 16 stone.)  Heavy features, thick of skin, with large pores and of ruddy complexion. Luxuriant moustache and unruly, dark-brown hair severely constrained by a ruler-straight side-parting and raked to one side across his skull with military firmness.  Big, fleshy nose and huge, yellowing horse's teeth. An enormous, strutting man, of oddly hollow ferocity.

Or so he seemed to me as an impressionable Woolverstone Noodge, on chilly  autumn days in the East Anglia of 1951 - and so does he seem to me still in the fine warmth of a spring day in the flowering borderland of the Partium, as I - a disillusioned hermit now -  watch him in my mind's eye, still posing and parading, and as big and as brazen-eyed as ever he was in far-off Woolverstone.

Soon enough - back then - (over 60 years ago now, would you believe!) - we all became aware of the domineering voice and posture and cock-of-the-walk strut as he flicked the tassel of his mortarboard from side to side and backwards and forwards with quick twists and turns of his heavy head and gathered his gown around him with both arms as if he were a giant cockerel huddling into the comforting plumage of his wings. 

Of all members of Staff, he was the most given to wearing gown and mortarboard, even though, of all members of Staff - (apart from Mr. Mayes [Cricket]; Mr. Hanson [Woodwork] and Mr. Matthews [Seamanship]) - he was clearly the least academic.

By the end of the first term, it was also already clear - to most of the "London Delinquent" stream, if not to the intake from military families, that J. S. H. Smitherman might not be all he would appear to be.  (I must confess, I was not really aware of the existence of this "Military Stream" as such, until it was recently brought to my attention by Eric Coates.)

Certainly, J. S. H. behaved as if he were undisputed cock-of-the-walk and certainly Masters seemed to defer to him in a manner that often seemed little short of servile.  Indeed, to many of us this looked not so much like officers acknowledging the superiority of a respected General, but very like grown men groveling to safeguard their jobs. The shadow of the thirties still lay over 1950s Britain and the freewheeling 60s were still a world away. 

J. S. H certainly seemed to regard himself as lord of all he surveyed. The Delinquents among us soon suspected that this only applied within his little kingdom of Woolverstone Hall School and did not stir up much breeze anywhere else.

Then there was the cumulative effect of the Contradictory Commandments and numerous actions and utterances that not even the dimmest junior could seriously regard as signs of intelligence. The real banana skins, however, were the summer terms. Not only was J. S. H still King - he was also Captain of the Staff Cricket XI. It took no more than a year or two of his company to convince even the most casual observer that here was a man well past his prime. Not only that, but it did not look as though this particular man's prime had ever been anything to write home about in the first place.

BUT - here on his own cricket pitch he could not only select himself to play, he could appoint himself Captain and order all the other members of his team around to his heart's content. It must have been obvious to everybody that here was a  full-grown - indeed, overgrown - adult man living out the kind of fantasy that most boys wallow in during childhood, but grow out of by their mid-teens.

While possessing no hand & eye co-ordination whatsoever, he could, as a batsman, by means of simple serendipity occasionally lay willow on leather, particularly if bowled dollies. Never mind agility, even bending down was beyond him, so fielding was out of the question. Bowling, however, was Smitherman's forte. 

Utterly unable to throw, he, nevertheless, contrived to bowl by raising a stiff right arm and letting it fall forward as if it were some ponderous pendulum and then releasing his grip on the ball at what he deemed might be the appropriate point in the arc thus described. 

This usual resulted in the ball looping over the 22 yards of the pitch with gravity-defying slowness until it fluttered past above both batsman and wicket-keeper at a height well beyond the reach of either. There seems to have been no such thing as a vertical wide in those days, while a  back-stop was de rigeur when J. S. H. was bowling. 

So all-consumingly single-minded was his Captaincy, that, despite being very low on fitness, he often kept himself on for stints that clearly lasted well-beyond the limits of his physical capabilities. After one of these extended efforts, he would puff and pant and towel his streaming face with a capacious handkerchief and, having done his bit for the team well above and beyond the call of duty, he would totter off the field for well-earned rest and refreshment.

Visiting spectators found these performances baffling to say the least. School spectators - especially the younger boys still in search of heroes - found them embarrassing beyond endurance. Somehow, most of us managed not to be caught laughing out loud. After a summer of Smitherman's Captaincy and super-slow spin bowling, the crown never sat straight on his head again.

 In the eyes of the Spartan Era, the coup de grace, the last straw, the final, irretrievable loss of face for J. S. H., came not from cricket, but from the Battle of the Bleeding Rabbits. By the early fifties, the numbers of rabbits introduced into Australia had reached pandemic proportions.  The no-nonsense Aussies fought fire with fire. To counter one plague, they introduced another. In this case, Myxomatosis.  

Virally contagious, this left infected rabbits bleeding from eyes, nose, ears and mouth and incapable of seeing, hearing or scenting. Unable to find food, they grew ever more feeble, until they eventually died of starvation. Of course, no predator would kill them. 

Smitherman organised most of the middle and lower school into squads equipped with wooden battens and detailed us for mercy killing. We duly assembled on the Sunday morning ordained and milled around waiting to set off. Eventually, our Captain strode up to lead the troops. Eyes blinked and jaws dropped in astonishment. 

 J. S. H. was accoutred from top to toe in full and obviously expensive hunting gear and carried upon one shoulder an equally obviously grandiose and expensive,  shot-gun of no small bore. Stifling our qualms - more or less - we all marched out behind  our leader to do battle with Evil.

I seem to remember we ended up on sloping ground somewhere not far from the school. The ground was clear enough to easily see and swipe at very slow moving rabbits, but there were still plenty of tussocks, clumps of long grass, shrubs, bushes and so forth, into which the doomed creatures often seemed to blunder and get stuck. These gave them enough protection from our light battens to make it surprisingly difficult to get a good whack at them.

The boys set about their work with no great enthusiasm. It did not, somehow, really seem like an act of mercy to wallop a little creature giving out forlorn little whimpers as it crawled along inch by inch on its stomach. Also, the rabbits were entirely unaware of our presence and were, in any case, quite unable to take any form of evasive action. This was not exactly the Three Musketeers versus the Cardinals villainous henchmen.

There was also something else disturbing us. We didn't want to put it into words, but the thought was undoubtedly not too far back in every boy's mind. What was our Headmaster intending to actually do with the large gun that was no longer on his shoulder? Surely, he could not seriously be thinking of emptying one - (or both?) - barrels into any of these defenceless bunnies?  Why, if he were to squeeze one - (God forbid both!) - of those triggers while the barrels were pointing at a bunny, the concept of "overkill" would be instantly redefined. On the other hand, most of us knew that where J. S. H. was concerned, it was very unwise to consider any possibility quite unthinkable.

Without saying a word, we drifted surreptitiously on paths that left around our Headmaster a wider and wider space empty of boys. The whimpering and crawling continued. The whacking gradually petered out to a stop. Our Headmaster's gaze seemed to get beadier and beadier. The whimpering went on. The barrels fastened on an approaching intruder and followed the unsuspecting creature with professional steadiness as it came nearer and nearer. Boys - (and, surely, not a few birds and insects) - held their breaths and bit their lips. On and on came the whimpering bunny. The barrels followed it with remorseless purposefulness as, inch by inch, it came closer and closer. Sweat spurted on brows. Hair stood on end. "Whimper" went the rabbit. "BANG!" went gun. Boys gulped and gasped, aghast. A deep and savage groan blotted out the sounds of the rabbit-filled slope as our Headmaster keeled slowly over like a hump-backed whale falling back into the sea after breaching and lay flat on his back on the rough grass. Dying but unscathed, the rabbit, let out yet another uncaring whimper and crawled on.

The same thoughts flashed through every mind." Oh, no! This cannot be! But yes! It is, it really is! Smitherman has pulled off the unthinkable! Yet again! Our august Head has shot himself in his very own foot with his very own very large gun!"

At once and in less than the twinkling of an eye, the entire slope was cleared of boys. Only crawling rabbits, emitting intermittent squeaks and whimpers and the huge and stranded whale, emitting deep, marine groans at strangely regular intervals, remained. Behind every clump of grass and tussock and shrub and bush hid a boy, quivering like a jelly as he strove manfully to strangle the laughter in his throat.

It took at least a quarter of an hour before anyone could master himself sufficiently to head back to the school to bring help. To the boy's of Woolverstone's Spartan Era, this was a sort of last straw. Whatever was left of Smitherman's credibility after his Commandments and his Cricket was lost for ever among the doomed rabbits of that now almost forgotten field.

So there we were - about 360 boys from various, usually somewhat deprived backgrounds, but with a good sprinkling of outstanding results from the infamous 11+ exams, holed up in a muddy backwater on the outer fringe  of, perhaps, the most neglected rural area in England, shepherded by a staff of, shall we say, "interesting", Masters and other ranks and presided over by a Headmaster, who was an incurable fantasist and an unmitigated buffoon. 

In the towers of power back in London, Conservative MPs regarded Woolverstone Hall School as a thorn in the flesh and the thin end of a wedge that threatened to undermine the entire Public School system of the United Kingdom. They even went so far as to "ask questions in the House"!  These struck panic in the heart of our J. S. H. Smitherman and spurred him into launching an all-out drive to gain as many places at Oxbridge as possible, as soon as possible. He wanted irrefutable proof that his school was an academic success. (Regrettably, even I did not manage to wriggle out of his dragnet.)

At the same time, the then mighty - (annual budget exceeds that of Pakistan!) - London County Council defended and championed the school as an experiment in egalitarian education that was rich with promise. (How on earth the L.C.C. came to administer the school and how people like J.S.H. got appointed - presumably, by that in several periods nigh on Communist institution - should be something well worth knowing.)

Time passed. The injured foot was milked for all it was worth as a heroic war-wound - but eventually recovered. Earlier, simpler vintages of Head Boy, Prefects, Blues and Seniors grew out of the school and moved on. Masters left and came. Winds of change began blowing through the halls of British Academe and stirred leaves even as far down as distant Woolverstone.

Modern, advanced, experimental methods of education and attitudes to pupils were much discussed and some were even tried out in practice in various places. The names - (which at this moment escape me - "Summerhill", perhaps?) - of several modern, advanced, experimental schools were much bandied about and mulled over. Newer, more subversive vintages grew into Head Boy, Prefects, Blues and Seniors. 

Two new houses were established exclusively for "Noodgies" in their first year and operated as sort of prep-Houses for eventual ascension to the Senior Houses of Hall's, Hanson's, Corner's and Johnston's. In the last flowering of the Spartan Era, the school seemed to attempt a much more civilized, sophisticated, mature - not to say, modern, advanced, even, at times, dare we say - experimental - approach to things. Seniors, certainly, seemed to behave more like young men than older boys. In nothing, perhaps, was this maturing and modernizing more apparent than in the matter of smoking. 

Looking back now across the great divide that separates the present era of Smoking Banned In Public Places and Compulsory Health Warnings from the Golden Age of Tobacco, it is quite difficult to believe that once there was a time when Smoking was THE THING.  But it was so. Everybody, everywhere smoked, more or less, all the time.

Read books of the period - almost every character is incessantly lighting up.  Look at the films. Actors of great talent built whole careers upon the ingenuity with which they handled that elegant, white cylinder and the fascinating ways in which they inhaled and exhaled tobacco smoke. From the All-American Sophistication of Humphrey Bogart throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood to the Gallic Sexiness of Jean-Paul Belmondo in "A Bout de Souffle", Close Ups of Stars Smoking were everywhere, all the time and non-stop. 

I sometimes used to wonder whether any of those Stars ever got paid anything for all that stupendous advertising with which they provided the Tobacco Industry. Anyway, the fact is that almost everybody smoked - there was no stigma attached and everybody loved it. That included schoolboys. You got the occasional crack about smoking stunting your growth, but then almost everything that was enjoyable seemed to be supposed to do that, so not too many boys - (and girls) - paid any attention to that.

W.H.S was no exception. There was, in any case, quite a robust tradition of smoking left over from the Naval School days. Of course, we were not supposed to smoke. It was not officially accepted as suitable activity for young boys, so nobody wandered about blowing smoke rings in public - but we had no shortage of out-of-the way places where a quick - or, indeed, relaxed - snout could be enjoyed.

The great difference between the early days of W.H.S. and the last period of the Spartan Era was that smoking did become officially acceptable. I seem to remember that there was even a Prefect's room in which Seniors could smoke as freely as if they were in their own homes.

This laissez-faire sophistication did not really - officially - extend to Juniors. (I can't really recall, at present, at what age - or Form - the line was drawn.) However - officially prohibited it might have been - BUT, in practice, Junior smoking was generally viewed with a very benign and very blind eye. 

There was, moreover, plenty of trade in cigarettes flowing from Juniors to Seniors. (There was quite a good reason for this, though for the moment, the reason for it escapes me.) Suffice it to say that no Senior - of any rank - even contemplated the thought that any thing should be done about Junior smoking. Least of all, by them.

And this was where the Devil hid. The bone of contention - the Casus Belli - had nothing to do with Smitherman's affair with Matron Williams. I can't remember any boy who felt in any way offended by this. (There were one or two, who wondered what on earth Matron - who was a bit of a favourite with all - could see in the old fraud - but that was all in the way of disapproval.) This was post WWII Britain - not pre-Boer War Britain.

The particular subject of disagreement was Junior Smoking. J.S.H. decided - for some reason that escapes me now - even if I - (or, indeed, anyone else) - ever knew it - that - no matter how modern, sophisticated and advanced W.H.S had become - something definitely had to be done about Junior Smoking. (The fact of it not being officially approved was a total irrelevance.)  Nothing short of stamping it out - root and branch - would do.  The exacerbating factor - which really did poison the situation - was his insistence that it was the Senior boys - now the "Young Men" - who had to do the stamping out. 

When asked how this should be accomplished, he had the bare-faced effrontery - or psychopathic reflex - to describe methods that were pure K.G.B. Everything was permissible - the end justified the means - nothing was barred: spying, eavesdropping, grassing, physical intimidation, punitive confiscation, deterrent punishment, entrapment, blackmail, coercion of Juniors to report on and betray each other -  Lavrenti Beria would have been proud of the old Captain.

All this went down with our "modern, sophisticated, advanced and experimental" Seniors like a ton of bricks. I can't really at this point remember who was involved. Indeed, I think I was keeping a very low profile as I was probably already edging towards the exit from W.H.S. - but I seem to remember Andrew Hunton being prominent, and he was a real poacher turned game-keeper and couldn't have liked this business one bit. 

Anyway, I don't think J.S.H. was turned down point blank and there might have been a short period of trying to manage the crisis in the hope that it might blow over  - but J.S.H. reverted to Contradictory Commandment mode - "It's not compulsory, but you have to do it!" became: "You don't have to behave like K.G.B. thugs, but you - despite the fact that you are Senior Smokers - have to totally wipe out smoking among - your good friends - the Juniors, by any and every means!"

Smitherman seemed to have no more understanding of what he was saying than in his "It's not compulsory ..." days.

The Seniors did not crumble. J.S.H. would not budge. Push came to shove and somehow it was decided that hardball would be played. Smitherman was informed that unless he "modernized, advanced and civilized" his stance, his affair with Matron would be made public. L.C.C., News of the World, whatever. Not that any of them would give any more of a monkey's than the boys did about whether and with whom our Headmaster was having an affair. But the L.C.C. were in the position of being employers and had enough trouble defending the school without their Headmaster being seen as Bluebeard the length and breadth of the country. Also there were plenty of present and potential parents of pupils who might well take a dim view of the whole thing.

For whatever reason, J.S.H. decided that as he was back in the territory of Contradictory Commandments, he might as well shoot himself in the foot again. So he told the Seniors what they could do in no uncertain manner.

They did what they had to do with equal resolve. I seem to remember it was actually D.V. Bailey, who had a very helpful uncle with a car and a camera, who actually recorded the happy moments at the Soho hotel in which both Matron and Smitherman met their nemesis.

Why did Matron & J.S.H. go off to a weekend together when they had been told what was planned against them - who can say? Possibly, they simply didn't believe schoolboys would carry out something like that. Big mistake. Many of these schoolboys had been Delinquents from way back and were no strangers to run-ins with Authorities of various kinds  - so they had no undue respect for almost anyone. Also, they had after all, for a good year or two by then - become "Young Men".

Who won? Who lost? Well, for a long time, even after his tendencies became obvious, it looked as though Smitherman did. After all, he did stay in his, presumably, well-paid and not too onerous post for quite a long time.  Then - for a short time - after he had to resign - it looked as though the boys had won.

On the other hand, viewed from this distance in time and taking into account that the showdown was about smoking and bearing in mind what has happened to the whole business of smoking since then - one might well ask the question - was it worth it?

Also, I seem to remember that J.S.H. didn't do so badly out of his fall - didn't he go back to being Headmaster of some Army school or other in Germany?  Presumably, he would have rowed a very steady course there for a few years, until he qualified for a nice, fat pension, whereupon he probably retired to a comfortable semi-detached in Bournemouth or Weston-super-Mare, or some equally pleasant spot. 

Unless, of course, Smitherman's heavyweight English Rose of a wife really did get her hands on most of his money in settlement for their divorce - as she threatened to do in one of her Berners' forecourt rants in which she denounced him for having done this to her when she was no longer young enough to hook herself another meal-ticket  as juicy as he was.

And Matron Williams? How did she come out of all this? Without really knowing any details, it does not seem that she was much at fault. Apart, perhaps, from the matter of her taste in men - which is, after all, not yet an offence punishable in law. 

As for the Young Men who brought their Headmaster down - how have they fared?  Where is the LCC, itself, now? Gone, of course - turned into prime Real Estate by the Magic Wand of Maggie Thatcher.

And, lastly, Woolverstone Hall School itself - also gone the way of the LCC. Surely, it could not have been the aftermath of the foibles of a military buffoon - or even the fall-out therefrom - that brought about the demise of a school that seemed to me - admittedly from some distance in time and space - to be on the verge of becoming something quite valuable.

So - who did win this idiosyncratic and long-drawn-out duel in a muddy backwater of post-war England? And, sadder still to ask - who cares?


Dear Eric, me again. Very much a First Draft, I'm afraid. But I'm too tired to go over it for the moment.  Even though this is the first day I have been free - ish from pain since I fell through the floor of the outside bog. At least, I haven't had to take any painkillers today - yet. 

      Well, hope you have a good read & look forward to hearing from you,

                            Yours,

                                       ASz 047


Footnote - Chris Snuggs

Arriving in 1958 I was aware in my second year I think of a rumour about Mr Smitherman having an affair with Sister Williams, but that was all I knew. The above account is all completely new, and though I was not into gossip none of it was common knowledge during my time at WHS. The whole thing is rather sad.

Sister Williams was I believe universally liked. She was not in the first bloom of youth but was nonetheless very attractive and I liked her very much, especially after she cured an infection threaenting to gangrenise my left forefinger.

Mr Smitherman interviewed me at Country Hall. I always found him personally fair, and believe he did an incredible job of launching W.H.S. from zero to become a well-respected and high-achieving school in the space of just one decade, a process he was massively helped in by Leslie Johnstone and a number of real educational heavyeights such as Bob Rowlands and others.

I don't doubt the general veracity of Andrew's astonishing account, but it does make for sad reading.

SMOKING? Well, it is indeed catastrophic for the health, and a crusade to eliminate it hard to criticize. As for the methods? I suppose - given the disastrous effects of smoking - the key question is whether they worked. How can one evaluate that?

I don't remember smoking being a huge problem during my years from '58 to '65. I was never tempted to smoke myself - even in those days the idea that it was sensible to combine sporting ambitions with smoking seemed insane.

I think one thing is true: W.H.S. would almost certainly have turned out very differently had Mr Smitherman not led the school in its first decade. May he and Andrew alike Rest In Peace with our thanks.