The 1940s - Reminiscences of Brian Hester (HCS 1940-47)

I remember  Randall Williams.  Randall Williams ran a ship that was tight enough for the purpose but did not over do it.   His wife, always "Lady Alice" was a good sport and attended a lot of functions.   Late in his career,  Randall Williams  took holy orders so sported a dog collar sometimes.  At swimming sports day the two of them sat at one end of the pool where the main objective of the competitors was to splash them both rather than win!  They alway took it in good spirit.

Randall Williams had a close friendship with the head of Harrow School, who was an outstanding person but who died tragically of lung cancer at a young age.  Because the school was left short of class rooms when the extension was not completed as planned in 1939-40, arrangements were made for the sixth form and some junior forms to have classes in the old Harrow Tech building and at Harrow School. We used Harrow School facilities for all our lab work in Physics and Chemistry while I was in the 6 th form. We also had a lot of lectures there. We would be included in various demonstrations held for the Harrow School boys as well. I suppose we got our value out of our taxes! Having to move between schools as we did gave us carte blanche to wander around town at all hours, so we would go for coffee in one cafe near the old Granada cinema. All went well until Randall William took some governors or other bigwigs there for coffee and was unable to find a table! That was the end of that venture! I was fortunate in not being there that day.

H. W. Brister was a good organiser and teacher. We had an Air Training Cadet squadron during the wear which was headed by Bill Duke with Brister as adjutant.  Other officers were Robinson (geography teacher) Dr. Hartland (French, who taught morse code but was not in uniform) and S. F. Fooks (English) who looked after drill and other functions. R.S. King was in uniform as well. We used to go to air force bases on weekends and once a year to the U.S. at Bovingdon for experience flights. We had a one week camp once a year as well.  The Air Cadet Squadron used to hold parades on Sunday mornings.   The whole thing packed up when Simpson came and he changed over to army cadets. We were 551 Squadron.

I heard Brister went downhill very much when a favorite daughter died. Fooks lived to be over a hundred. I wrote to him for his century and we exchanged letters for a while. He sent a book of poems he had written.  George Neal was the art master. He produced some quite good water colours but I found him a dead loss as a teacher. He was deep into organising registers of people who arrived late and that sort of thing. He started at the school in 1911 when it opened. A W. H. King (Whiffy) started a term after Neal.   He taught French and was very dynamic. He would enter the classroom and say something like "this place smells like the attic of a fourth rate Marseilles street walker" and throw all the windows open. Anybody's exercise book that deserved the fate would be thrown out of the window. His was quite the act. He lived to a great age, well into his nineties.    Crowle Ellis (Headmaster 1945-46) went to Harrow Weald. He was a bachelor and quite the raconteur when dealing with the sixth form. Randall Williams went off as a full time vicar for a few years I believe.

The basement was made over into an air raid shelter. The outside doors and windows were covered with brick walls and the inside supported with 8 by 8 timbers and rafters. During the incendiary bomb scares and during the V-1 bomb raids, the senior boys took turns to stay on the roof all day and night so they could ring a bell if anything serious approached and put out any fires on the roof. The practice stopped just as I reached the appointed age.  Randall Williams was a great orator and would hold forth after school assembly had done with prayers and hymns. On one occasion he produced a letter from an irate neighbour who wrote complaining that he had not expected to tolerate minstrel shows on the roof of the school at three in the morning.  We all left the hall duly subdued.

We had a chemistry master called J. D. Cast (Jerry) who had most unusual teaching style and a dry sense of humour. He sported a red tie with small hammers and syckles in yellow although he never pressed us with his political leanings. He could not stand Simpson so after a year took a job at St. Mark's teachers training college. The joke was that he had misheard the name as "St. Marx".

There was also a George Thorn who was Head of Music and who wrote the music of the school song while Randall Williams wrote the words.  George Thorn also taught general science and had what we all thought were "suspicious" tendencies.  I could go on, and on..... I'll think about some.

I was in Welldon House and we never won much either.  Whiffy King was house master then.   Cardew Robinson, who was a minor comic in his time came to talk us occasionally but I do not recall that he said a great deal of value but suppose he tried.

For the summers of 1943 and 1944 the school ran harvest camps in the elementary school at Haddenham in Bucks. I went for the full month each year. The school that went there in 1942 finished up in a pitched battle with the local lads and had to leave! R. S. King knew the village from his days at Thame and quickly organised a cricket match followed by a tea provided by our school cook. The HCS team was cautioned to put on a good show but not to win!  We had no trouble with the local lads after that. I believe the school harvest camp in 1942 was at Pershore.

On D-Day in June 1944 there was an announcement on the radio early in the morning that Churchill would speak over the radio at one o'clock.  At lunch time, it was announced that all boys interested would be allowed into what was then called the New Chemistry Lab to hear Churchill's speech.  We all sat there in rows listening to a table top radio in a wooden case as churchill announced the successful landings in Normandy.

Simpson (Headmaster 1946-65) was a major cultural shock when he arrived!

R. S. King spent the time between graduation and returning to HCS at Lord Williams Grammar School at Thame in Oxon where among other achievements, he played tennis with my father and taught a cousin!  He was an excellent teacher of applied maths -  at least I found him so.  There was a major tragedy in his life when his wife and two sons were returning from a holiday in France in a DC-3.  The pilot had miscalculated his fuel reserve and glided part way across the channel, managing to ditch the plane just short of the beach at Dover.   Many passengers swam ashore but Mrs. King and one son were drowned.  I believe this was in 1947 or 48 just after I left.   I was there 40-47.

Lady Alice was a good old girl.  Very supportive of her husband.  She would turn up fairly frequently and strut her stuff. Quite a challenge in front of 900 boys! 

R. R.  "Jumbo" Jones was a very pleasant person.  He could control a class of unruly boys simply by his mere presence combined with his mellifluous, Welsh-accented voice. He taught us arithmetic and Latin. In the former, I recall his teaching us an arithmetic method for deriving the square root of a number - something I subsequently found to be completely useless but which I can still remember! I am left wondering how many eleven year old pupils could conduct the procedure today! In Latin classes, "Jumbo" would move slowly down the aisles touching each of us on the top of the head with a clenched fist which included a signet ring on the small finger as we dutifully declined or conjugated some word or other. Those who fumbled were rewarded with a somewhat harder "tough". I wonder how many now bald Old Gaytonians still bear the imprint of the signet ring, and if so, what the crest was!

Alec Amos.  When in the lower forms I was convinced by Amos's treatment of us that his previous job experiences must have included a stint as prison officer in a military prison such as the one depicted in the movie "The Hill". I note several other contributors still carry the same conclusions. Looking back, Swanny has my sympathies. He was always working against the clock trying to get herds of us small boys in and out of gym or swimming kit quickly enough so that we might accomplish something in the remaining portion of the period. He generally gave a warning before descending on a culprit "That boy. Stop- do - whatever, or you'll get a crack!". He also had the unenviable job of organising entry into the school at the beginning of morning and afternoon sessions at what was termed "parade", while his be-gowned mates were up in the warm common room taking a last drag on their cigarettes. At the first "peep" of his whistle, we were all required to freeze in position ready for the second "peep" when we would all run to stand in lines. Previously identified miscreant stood in front, while forms two, three and four formed successive lines behind. At the flick of his finger, we all trooped into school but before this sign was given, Swanny required everyone's undivided attention. Woe betide the boy who was trying to catch up on some homework. Swanny would dive through the ranks, which divided before him like the Red Sea parting before Moses, to drive out the wretch who would be required henceforth to stand with the other miscreants at the front for the rest of the term. It was not until we had several children of our own to get organised in the mornings that I began to sympathise for Mr. Amos!  One useful thing he taught me was how to decimalise the old money. He would do this whenever he had to supervise a class for an absent master. Out would come Swanny's stock in trade class and we would be taught how to decimalise. When the currency was finally decimalised, I recalled what he had taught us and found it very useful!

We used to have house concerts every Christmas.   The first year Simpson was there we put on the Welldon show as a skit on Treasure Island with the captain speaking with a strong Scottish accent telling the crew that every misdemeanor was a clear case for keel-hauling.  It went over very well except with Simpson who announced later that "some of the shows were not up to standard".    I was the prime author but my identity was not enquired after.  There were no shows for several years I believe.

Brian Hester, a retired geologist, lives in Canada.

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