During some of the worst bombing attacks on London, instead of travelling from Worcester to school at Letchworth, via Paddington and Kings Cross, my brother and I were dispatched via Oxford and Reading, a long and dreary route without the benefit of our school mates as company on the train. Instead of being met and transported across London by my father’s sister, my parents arranged for an organisation called Universal Aunts to get us from train to train at the intermediary stops. They are still in existence, and still performing the role of proxy parents (among many others) all these years later. They have been going since 1921, and I have taken the liberty of reproducing one of their archive pictures of ‘Meeting the train’.
I have written before of the vegetarian diet at our boarding school. At the start of the war meat dinners were on offer twice a week for those children whose parents wanted them to have meat. But these were soon abandoned, due to the difficulties of buying both meat and vegetarian food with ration books. Although I thrived on the vegetarian diet, and thought I might remain vegetarian after leaving school (I did not in fact), I still had an occasional yearning for meat. It was one of our regular naughty escapades to go down into the town where a mobile café served spam and chips for an affordable sum. Another of our favourite food supplements was a threepenny Lyons Individual Fruit Pie from the local corner shop.
None of this can really be called hardship, but we were called upon to make some contribution to ‘the war effort’. There were days when we were sent off to help local farmers with lifting their potato crops, armed with a packed lunch and a large bottle (glass of course) filled with weak sweet tea. There were also harvest camps in the summer holidays, when we went off to stay on farms in Lincolnshire for a week or two during the harvest season. It was extremely hard work, but fun as well, as this sort of communal effort usually is. The picture shows washing up duty on a day when I was not sent out into the field. [Double click on it to see a larger version.]
Oh yes, and I was elected to the Economy Committee in my senior years, which entitled me to go around annoying the hell out of people by switching off unnecessary lights and turning down central heating. I wasn’t all that popular anyway, but I couldn’t resist the bossy role!
Some of our male staff left to go to war, of course, and one of them became a well-known war correspondent for the Daily Telegraph (Christopher Buckley). Sadly he lost his life later in Korea, having almost taken the decision to retire after World War II. Another was the housemaster of whom I wrote in my blog “Escape artist”. He left behind a disconsolate wife and small son, and I do remember that her temper became extremely short during his absence, which I hope we had the understanding to forgive.
That lovely couple, who ran their school boarding house with a firm but enlightened hand, has remained in my heart, along with the principal and his wife, as the role models of my choice. Some thirty years later I had the good fortune to find myself on a channel ferry with them crossing from Belgium to England, and they carried me off to have breakfast with them in Cambridge, where I had a date with my dentist. They had left the school eventually to run an international school of their own in Switzerland.