06 February 2008

page 8

page 8

Petrol was available only to essential users during the war. There were few cars in private ownership anyway and I knew of only one boy in my group whose father had a small car which he had chocked up onto piles of bricks under the axles and removed the wheels. It stayed liked that in his garage for the duration of the war. Occasonally I saw cars with a voluminous gas bag on the roof or else towing an attached gas bag on a trailer. This was a cumbersome alternative to the use of petrol. Steam-driven vehicles were still quite common for road haulage. I had seldom, if ever, even had a ride in a car until I was well into my teens.

My personal means of transport was an upright Hercules bicycle which had belonged to my father. Bicycles were obtainable only as second-hand and many of my friends did not have their own. You scanned the newspaper advertisements and had to be quick off the mark ‑ which is how my brothers eventually got their first ones. The crowning glory of my bike however was that it had a three-speed gear fitted. This placed me in a superior ownership stratum and engendered many offers for sale of my bike. Living. as we were, in a steep hilly environment, gave my gears premium value. I personally cycled a great deal.

At the age of eleven and with the war about two and a half years old, I won a scholarship to Peter Symonds School at Winchester. Peter Symonds was, in those days, a fee-paying establishment with two houses for boarders. Provision was made (rather reluctantly, I always felt) for a number of 'boys from poor homes, under the charitable bequest of the school's founder, who also had provided alms-houses near the cathedral. At the time of my acceptance the provision was for a very few boys per year. The number was subsequently expanded and both my brothers (twins) gained scholarships.

Some of the school's facilities, in particular its games and sports amenities, had to be shared with the boys of Portsmouth High School who were semi-evacuated to avoid the bombing that Portsmouth was getting. In consequence we had no school on Wednesday afternoons but had to attend on Saturdays up to 1230. I cycled the two miles each way between home and school ‑ in all weathers. I am aware that I took a lunch box during a brief phase but mostly I cycled home.

There was a barrage balloon in a corner of the school playing field. Silver skinned and usually a bit saggy. I saw it in the air a few times but generally it was tethered close to the ground and I never discovered its purpose.

We had wood-work classes where we participated in the construction of Horsa glider wings. Mr. Laverty (known as 'Bogs' for fairly obvious reasons) was the handicrafts master. He was good-natured, rode a bicycle and lived just down the hill from me on the council estate. He held a commission in the Volunteer Reserve of the RAF and, as such, helped to run the school's Air Training Corps unit. I would sometimes ride home with him and he did much to encourage my interest in both wood and flying. Interests which I have retained and exploited.

I am not convinced I got a particularly good education at Peter Symonds where you were streamed into Science, Literature or General. 1 started off in 'Lit' in consequence of which, at the age of eleven, 1 had three languages to cope with ‑ French, German and Latin. I slipped subsequently into the general stream where I did a lot better, having dropped French.


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