Memories of my time at Harrow County

Ronald W. Cornish

Through the Lower Forms

I was a member of the 1939 entry and was allocated to the A-stream. Our start was delayed by about a month due to the outbreak of war although we had been given some homework when we initially reported. Our 2A classroom was adjacent to the Assembly Hall but when air raids became more frequent we had to use the lower ground floor which had been specially reinforced with heavy beams. Many lessons were conducted in such cramped conditions but despite those difficulties I managed to settle into the 2nd form routine quite quickly. Our Form Master was Mr P.A.R. Street who taught us General Science. I found my best subjects were Maths, Latin and French.

As travel by bus from where I lived was rather impractical I used to cycle to school. Cycle storage space was rather limited so only pupils who lived more than 2 miles away were able to use it – permits were issued by Mr George Neal – Art Master and general administrator - very strictly! Whenever I could I cycled home for dinner – I rarely had school dinners.

PT with “Swanny” Amos could be rather exhausting – he was such a daunting tall figure with a sergeant-major attitude and Heaven help you if you forgot your plimsolls! Field sports did not really appeal to me much although I did quite well at the 100yd sprint but could never keep up with Peter Bellamy– he was a real champion runner and won many events. Cricket for me was rather a dead loss and rugby usually too vicious and muddy for my liking. Some time later some of us had a few sessions on rowing with Dr Bradley on the Serpentine – well it made a change I suppose. I also remember when in the sixth form having a go at discus throwing and javelin throwing – great fun but I never got very far with that either. All in all I don’t think I was cut out for Sport!

Moving up to the third form meant getting used to a new Form Master R. R. Jones, who also took us for Latin, and of course to several other new teachers. All this in addition to coping with the 1940/41 air raids at home as well as at school. Our General Science Master was George Thorn who stayed with us up to the fifth form. I found his method of teaching rather strange at first. He used to demonstrate an experiment in great detail and then dictate exactly what we had to write down in our exercise books using such headings as “Experiment – 2 dots and a dash”, “Apparatus - 2 dots and a dash”, and “Method – 2 dots and a dash”. Woe-betide any individual who didn’t write everything neatly and exactly as dictated. Unfortunately my writing was always “very untidy” and lost me marks! However I did get a little better by the fifth form. George Thorn was also our Form Master in the fourth form and always wrote his reports with a green pen. I don’t remember much about events in the fourth form – I think it was a case of plodding on through more of the dark years of the War.

We were all encouraged to save to help the war effort and every week we would dutifully queue up to hand over our sixpences and shillings (no doubt supplied by our parents) for National Savings stamps to stick in our savings books. The scheme was run by some of the teachers generally during one of the breaks. It certainly enabled me to acquire some Savings Certificates and get into the habit of saving which I still have!

Our Form Master for 5A was Mr W F (Wiffy) King who also taught us French, which he delivered with a very precise accent. He, together with the other 5A teachers, had the task of steering us towards the General Schools Certificate both for mock and for real! They must have done a good job as I managed to achieve grades sufficient to move up to the Lower Sixth. Although I had started in the Arts oriented A-stream I was finding the scientific subjects more absorbing so I chose Science and studied the usual syllabus of physics, chemistry and pure & applied maths.

Sixth form memories.

Our Form Master for the Lower Sixth was Mr E A S (Easy) Evans and he took us for Applied Maths. I always found him quite helpful and encouraging when I later started to study Advanced Maths and prepare for some London Inter-Collegiate exams. Pure Maths was taken in the Lower Sixth by Mr W T (Bill) Duke at the Harrow Tech. and in the Upper Sixth at the school by Mr H W (Joe) Brister who was then our Form Master. Mr R S (Killer) King then took us for Applied Maths. I found all these also to be helpful.

Physics was taken generally in the labs with Mr W T (Spadger) Heys but for Chemistry, because of chemi-lab shortage, arrangements were made for us to use the well-equipped labs at Harrow School. This meant a bike ride up Peterborough Road - with a bit of pushing up the hill but a speedy free-wheeling down! Our Chemistry Master was Mr G D (Gerry) Cast. He was quite helpful to those who were keen on Chemistry by making arrangements for them to purchase various bits of apparatus such as retorts, beakers, funnels and filters direct from the supplier through the school. Our association with Harrow School was quite beneficial as apart from using some of their lecture rooms and labs some of us were permitted to use their rifle range near the labs.

Each year in the sixth form we were required to give a short talk on some topic that we had researched. Resulting from my hobby of making “wireless sets”, started in the third form, I was able the first year to talk about the basic principles of “Wireless Receivers”. In the following summer holiday period I was able to arrange with Mr Heys to use some lab equipment to measure performance characteristics of some thermionic valves used in wireless sets. This gave me the subject for my following year’s talk. I don’t suppose many of those assembled to listen found the subject very interesting!

During the time of the V1 doodlebug raids some members of the sixth form were involved in going on to the roof to listen out for the typical droning sound made by these weapons and, when detected, to sound the alarm for the whole school to take cover. I remember once being on the roof and on hearing a V1 approaching raising the alarm, just before the engine cut out, then hurriedly getting down under cover! The missile fell not far away in Kenton.

I joined the School’s ATC because of my interest in aircraft recognition and the desire to learn Morse code as part of my long-term interest in SW radio. On Sunday mornings we generally had parade in the school playground but I remember once we had to march to Edgware for some special event – a very hot August day spent in a uniform which was rather rough and itchy! We later had a week’s camp at the Air Station at St Merryn in Cornwall reached after a dreadfully long train ride which took all day! In camp we slept in hammocks – not very comfortable – and were up early every morning for a cold wash outside. This was followed by the daily stint of square bashing and generally looking around some of the Station’s facilities. I can’t remember what else we did but on one occasion I got fed up with waiting to go on a flight on one of the aircraft so, after talking to one of the Station radio personnel, I decided to walk down to nearby Padstow and bought some amateur radio books. I never did learn much of the Morse code!

In the summer of 1944 I was with a contingent of boys from the school who got bussed out to a farm somewhere near Barnet to undertake “stooking” in the fields. For some reason I was given the task of keeping records of the hours each boy worked. These had to be submitted to the School Secretary Mr Atkins to claim for the work done and then I had the job of giving out the amounts due to each boy – my first taste of basic book-keeping.

In the summer of 1945, just after I had left school, I was with two or three others from the school who decided to do some tractor driving in Buckinghamshire. We had to sleep in tents in the back garden of a hotel near Amersham. Local farm hands drove the tractors to the fields as we were allowed to drive only in the fields. All good fun but I had to wait 8 years before I could afford a car of my own!

Colleagues I remember most are those I worked with when moving up to the sixth form. I particularly remember Dennis W Woods (“DW”) and used to cycle to and from school with him. We also shared a common interest in radio and audio amplifiers. He stayed on at school for a further year to go to King’s College London and after graduating he moved to Harrogate. Others I associated with included John B Rose (always known as “JB” to avoid confusion with J C Rose) and Gordon (?) J Hunt (always known as “GJ”). JB was very keen on chemistry – he even had a shed set up as a chemi-lab in his parents’ back garden. He went to University College London and eventually gained his PhD. GJ was always hot on maths but I don’t remember what he did after leaving school.

The time I enjoyed most at school was in the sixth form and, thanks to the very helpful teachers I had, my Higher Schools Certificate results enabled me to attend Queen Mary College, London, to read Physics. After graduating I spent 22 years in the aircraft industry and a further 21 years in defence electronics.

Ron Cornish

May 2006


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