Harrow County School for Boys

Happy Memories

by Don McEwen, Physics Master at Harrow County and Gayton High 1956-82

Jeffrey Maynard has asked me to write of many happy hours spent at HCS.

I was lucky to have had a sound basic education at Tottenham Grammar School for Boys in the years 1932-37.  I didn’t go on to university as very few boys did in those days, only those with ‘well-off’ parents.  It was much the same for trips abroad.  On leaving school I went to work in an office in Clerkenwell Road.  I was only there for a few months before I got a job with the MCC, (no the Middlesex County Council!) in a workhouse.  Then shortly afterwards we all moved to Chase Farm, Enfield in what was opened as the most up-to-date old peoples’ home in the country.   Sadly it was not long lasting as the Munich Crisis caused the old people to be moved out and dispersed so that the home could become an emergency hospital in case of war.  Chase Farm Hospital is still very much in existence and was recently in the news, having taken in some of the Potters Bar rail crash victims.

I went in the RAF in 1941 and came out in 1946 having spent three of those years in the Middle East and two of those in Aden!

On coming out of the RAF I met a group of young people at a local church youth group.   I found among them, several who had science or engineering degrees and realised that quite ‘ordinary’ people could attain higher educational qualifications.   I then embarked on further education.  I submitted the few qualifications I had and London University accepted me to do either an engineering or science degree course.

My original aim was electrical engineering but the stumbling block for me was Chemistry.  It was required at A level then!  Therefore I turned to Physics which I studied at Acton Technical College.  I travelled 40 miles a day on a BSA motor bike and went to classes five nights a week and Saturday mornings in order to complete my practicals.  Then I had a stroke of good fortune.  One of my lecturers offered me a job in the Physics Department as a lab assistant.  It meant a drop of 80 a year in salary but I took the job and it was one of the wisest decisions of my life.  80 a year may not sound much in to-days terms but at that time I was getting 27 a month and raising a family – 2 boys.

I spent many happy days in that Physics Department and eventually got a general science degree.  I was not especially pleased with the result however and so I stayed on for another three years and finished up with a second class degree in Special Physics.  I then taught for a year in the technical school attached to the College.

Imagine my surprise and delight when having applied to HCS I received the ‘call-up’ for an interview.

I duly attended the interview.  It was conducted by ‘Doc’ Simpson, Tom Busfield, Cecil Groombridge and, I think, a representative of the Education Office.

I was offered the job and I started the following September, 1956.  I was to stay there for the next 25 years.  The first 18 years were very happy years, full of variety and challenge, the next 7, until I retired at 60, not so happy.

Imagine my trepidation on going to HCS.  There I was with Acton Tech as my ‘alma mater’ going into an establishment where most of the Staff were graduates of Oxbridge.  I felt very insecure.  However I was soon reassured and very quickly made friends with a very helpful and pleasant group of academics!

My departmental boss, Cecil Groombridge, proved to be a very good friend and colleague.   We made a good team.  He was extremely sound in solving problems from first principles and I was more inclined to the practical side.  He left the running of open days to me and I thoroughly enjoyed setting up the various demos.

Cecil Groombridge was a dedicated schoolmaster.  He did not partake in extra-curricular activities but concentrated on his pupils.  He used to sleep with a notepad by his bedside so that if he woke up with a solution in the middle of the night he could make a note and remember it in the morning.

In the first two or three years I helped out with the lighting of the stage and enjoyed it.

However Norman Tyrwhitt joined the School some years later and took over the lighting on a more or less permanent basis.  He became King of the Tower.

As an ex-member of the RAF I was and still am very interested in all things aero-nautical and so I became a civilian lecturer to the RAF cadets.  Later I took a commission in the RAFVR and became firstly, a Pilot Officer, and then rose to the heights of Flying Officer.  I enjoyed my time with the cadets and particularly enjoyed the company of Norman Anderson and Don Wilkey.  My two sons, both of whom, went to HCS were quite involved with the RAF cadets.  Robert, the elder, was senior cadet and went to the States on an RAF sponsored trip and had a most exciting time.

I was very friendly with Gordon Underwood in the PE department and used to go to Old Gayts rugby matches to watch him and Malcolm Clarkson play.  Gordon Underwood was quite ambitious academically and went on a years leave to Leeds University to obtain higher PE qualifications. I think he eventually became a PH.D

He finished his career at Canterbury and living in a small village on the road from Canterbury to Dover.

Sadly, at a relatively early age, Gordon suffered a heart attack on his way to buy timber for a job he was doing at home and died before an ambulance could reach him.

I was extremely fortunate with my teaching schedule.  Generally every lesson I took was different.  Some of the teaching was extremely challenging.  I remember well sessions with Tom Lake and Andrew Kasriel two very inquisitive chaps.

After a session with them, I often came out of my lab feeling like a wet rag, so persistent were they to have answers to tough questions.

One of the most endearing characters of my time was Tom Carne.  Tom was a most unassuming chap who was extremely talented at Maths.  I used, openly, to ‘pick his brains’.  He went on, I believe, to become a maths Don at Cambridge.

I always said and felt that many of the lads I taught had far better brains than I but since I had lived longer, I had experience and that I could advise them from that point of view.

Harrow County School for Boys was a great school in many ways.  I am very proud to have had the privilege of teaching there and associating with so many ‘brainy’ people, staff and boys.  I was also very fortunate that my two sons attended there and as a result received a very firm foundation to their education.

Don McEwen, 2002

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