The headmaster P. Denis Goodall had come to the school in 1931.Though we called him 'the old man', he was in his late thirties. He was a bachelor, balding, stylishly dressed, and spoke in a slightly supercilious Noel Coward voice. He had Arts and Science degrees.
Outside the school, particularly after the war started, he was called Walthamstow's "Bolshy headmaster"; but that was malicious and wide of the mark. It is hard to put a label on his outlook. He was 'modern', undoubtedly; perhaps 'progressive', one of the vogue-words of the time, would be nearer. He was an agnostic, a pacifist, a vegetarian (although he smoked a great number of cigarettes), and derided the royal family. He reduced the religiousness of the school assemblies to a minimum - when I started there we had to intone the General Confession every morning - and substituted passages from literature for the Bible readings. He had a boy take him the Daily Worker every day, claiming that if he read that as well as The Times, he would find the truth between them. He preached scientific enlightenment about politics and in life generally.
He was also a snob of staggering insensitivity. The head seemed to find the school's milieu contemptible - 'not done by decent people' was his constant phrase. He was sarcastic over our speech; he had boys with Cockney vowels (1 was one) stand and speak in front of classes while he ridiculed them. When he saw a boy from the school walking along with a girl he spoke about it at assembly: he called than 'Arry' and 'Arriet', his lip curling. He sneered at 'jazz music' and at the cinema, which he pronounced 'kinema'.
Yet the same man had an inscription put up in the school hall: 'Du1ce et decorum est pro humanitate vivere' (Horace's pronouncement 'it is a sweet and glorious thing to die for one's country' changed to 'to live for humanity'). It was above the stage-arch in big letters; there were objections to it both inside and outside the school, but it remained. The head promoted political discussions and debates. The school had a branch of the League of Nations Union, which he attended, and he brought speakers on disarmament. A drama group made up jointly between Monoux and the girls' high school presented peace plays to us. I remember that one of them ended with a woman stabbing to death a scientist who had devised a fearful weapon for mass destruction.
All this was a great question of the day. Bitterness over the 19 14-18 war ran deep in areas like Walthamstow; in those years almost every home had a sepia photograph on the wall or the mantelpiece of a young man in khaki, one of the family who had been killed. In 1933 the Oxford Union passed its famous resolution 'That this House will in no circumstances fight for King and Country'; the Peace Pledge Union was formed and gained a large membership, and in 1935 the result of the referendum Peace Ballot was declared. At the same time 'the next war' was spoken about continually, because it seemed the only outcome of the world-wide build-up of armaments. Patriotism was preached as much as pacifism and some masters in the school talked with pride about their service in the war.
The headmaster made clear where he stood. Once he walked into the gymnasium when Ninnim was haranguing my form and exhorting us to manliness - our uncles and brothers who were killed in the war, they were men and we must try to emulate them. Ignoring the professional rule that a teacher never disparages colleagues in front of the pupils, Goodall stepped forward and said: 'You boys are to take no notice of what you have just heard. You are not to believe that what a soldier does is honourable. It is not; his occupation is utterly contemptible.'
He sent boys along Hoe Street giving out handbills which said 'Boycott Japanese goods' - Japan had invaded Manchuria and resigned from the League of Nations, and cheap goods from Japan were held to be a cause of unemployment in Britain. At other times he had the seniors in the hall to listen to Bernard Shaw on the radio; showed a film of the Bournville factory and garden suburb as the kind of thing which could replace industrial slums; read to the senior boys articles by Julian Huxley and Bertrand Russell on why they rejected religion. He gave lessons to the 5th forms on 'the facts of life', a particularly daring thing to do at that time.