The year is now 1936. Although I was never particularly bright at ‘junior school’, especially as regards reading and writing, I amazingly gained a scholarship to Marlborough Grammar School. (only one or two places from the village were given each year). I am sure there were other more worthy candidates (including my friend Gordon), but parental support was always a problem because the prospect of keeping youngsters at school an extra two or three years was a financial burden many families could not (or would not) afford. I am so grateful that my parents made sacrifices to keep me at school until I was 17, and I am only too sorry that I did not reward them by gaining better academic qualifications. Although I did make up for it later by studying hard after I married and had a family. It would have been so much easier while I was at school! (youngsters of today please note)
At first, transport from Aldbourne to Marlborough was not easy, so the County Council paid for the boys to stay in private lodgings Monday to Friday. The girls had a special house to stay in, Wye House. Initially the Bristol Bus Company provided a connection via Ramsbury and later on when there were more students Barnes Coaches ran a special bus, which never let us down in spite of some atrocious winter weather conditions. On reaching the age of fourteen most of the boys preferred our own transport, our bicycles.
I was lodged with a dear Christian lady who lived in a very old three story house with no bathroom, no electricity and the only heating a small coal fire in the living room. I took a candle to light the way up a spiral stair way to the cold bed room at the top of the house, this room was later shared by two other boys. We were provided with stone hot water bottles in winter.
Moving from the small village school to the much larger Grammar School where I had no friends of my age was traumatic, I even became lost in the school on the first day. Living away from home for the first time compounded the feeling of strangeness (perhaps it was a touch of home sickness). Children soon adapt, and after a few weeks I felt happy again, and looked forward to my weekends at home.
With the outbreak of war in 1939 some of our teachers were enlisted into the armed services and there was a sudden intake of evacuees from other more vulnerable parts of the country. These newcomers did not have to conform to the school dress code and the girls in their smart dresses were very popular with the boys, probably much to the chagrin of the gymslip wearing girl majority. (Are there any wartime M. G. S. scholars reading this? If so I would love to hear from you) Lessons were often interrupted by aircraft noise. Just to the south of the town there was a practice emergency landing field where training aircraft would land and take off at frequent intervals. The noisiest by far were the North American Harvards.
Due to the influx of students, there was a scarcity of class rooms. The Art Room for instance was located in a store room of a shop at the far end of the High Street. For the students this was a welcome deviation from the normal quick change of rooms in the main school, and even more agreeable for the boys as the Art Master had been replaced by a rather attractive Art Mistress. I did well at Art! (as well as Maths, English, Science and Woodwork you understand , but hopeless at History and French). A nearby church school room was also used for lessons, and I remember on one occasion there was a coffin ‘parked’ in the next room, waiting for a funeral.
Soon after the war started the Air Training Corps was formed and I quickly enlisted. A Marlborough Schools Squadron was formed (Squadron 529), embracing the Marlborough College, The Grammar School and other local Schools. We held regular training sessions after school and at weekends. We were often invited to air training establishments, with which we were surrounded in those days, where we were introduced to the various aspects of life in the RAF. ‘Air experience’ flights were common place in Tiger Moth, Airspeed Oxford and Avro Anson aircraft. By this time German aircraft rarely penetrated as far west as Wiltshire, so we felt quite safe. There was one air station, Uphaven, to which we were never allowed to return. It was there that one of my fellow cadets sat in the cockpit of an advanced trainer, a Miles Master, and triggered the engine fire extinguisher. The Commanding Officer was furious, and I don’t blame him.
How disappointed I was to find out later that my childhood ear problem ruled me out of any aircrew duties. I did so want to join the RAF and take a more active part in the war effort when I left school, as did many of my peers. Some sadly at the cost of their lives. So for the remainder of the War I was ‘grounded’, working as a civilian on naval radio communications and direction finding equipment. Ironically, many years later, my first jet powered flight would be in a Lufthansa flight to Munich on business. Much more pleasant than in a cold, dark, noisy and draughty bomber which was being shot at, praise the Lord!