Robert Barltrop was born in Walthamstow in 1922, his family having lived there since 1811. He is the author of The Monument (1975);Jack London: the Man, the Writer, the Rebel (1977), which has been translated into several languages; Revolution: Stories & Essays by Jack London (1979, editor); The Bar Tree (1980); The Muvver Tongue(1981); and A Cockney Dictionary, published by The Athlone Press(1985). He has written for numerous magazines and papers, has broadcast on several occasions, is a consultant on Cockney language for both the BBC and ITV, and has appeared on television.
We are very grateful to Robert Barltrop for permission to include extracts describing the Monoux during the 30's from his trilogy "Growing up in North East London between the Wars". He attended the school in the years 1933-39 and describes life in the school very much from the point of view of a typical young Walthamstow boy, in a period when children began to be offered opportunities denied to their parents.
This trilogy is published by the London Borough of Waltham Forest Libraries & Arts Department, and Robert Barltrop holds the copyright for the extracts presented here.
PART I. MY MOTHER'S CALLING ME: describes a boyhood in the 1920s and early 30s, never far from the High Street market. Home life, and aunts and their young men; shops, playground games and fights; beggars and strange characters. Trips to the seaside and days at the Hollow Pond; the Walthamstow Palace, cinemas, the old speedway at Lea Bridge; illnesses and calamities. All this, and a school 'like a shabby fortress' - the life of a boy about the streets.
PART II. A FUNNY AGE: tells about the Monoux Grammar School in the 1930s, in a transition from fee-paying boys to 'little monkeys from back streets, who had passed an examination'. For some of this time the writer lived at Epping, and he had to help his father on the horse-food round in East London; but school life in Walthamstow continued. Sports and politics in and out of school, and an extraordinary headmaster; morals, manners, Scouts, and the struggle for jobs.
PART III.BRIGHT SUMMER DARK AUTUMN: recalls going to work, first in Spitalfields; then a butcher's boy in Higham Hill, a shop porter at Sainsbury's in Chingford, and a boxing career. Playing in a local football league, for a team that could not win. Then the outbreak of war in 1939, and the start of the Blitz on East London - the writer watched it from a rooftop. Bing Crosby records in the air raids, and nights on ARP.
The scholarship examination was held in the Central School opposite my home. The day before, Mumford came into our classroom and asked: 'Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?' Hands shot up, offering to give our opinions. He pointed to me and I said confidently: A pound of lead. Mumford shook his head sorrowfully and said to Kay; 'It looks bad for tomorrow doesn't it? I felt crestfallen and gloomy, and sure I had no hopes of passing.
Each of us had a card with a number, which was to be put instead of names on our papers: mine was 1326. We sat at single desks, spaced well apart, with Central Schoolmasters invigilating. I remember hardly anything of the question papers: only that the essay subject I chose was 'My ideal half-holiday', and we had to correct ambiguous sentences one of which was "After partaking of a hearty breakfast, the balloon set of". I did not think I had done well at all.
The first intimation was an official letter to my father from the Essex Education Committee, requesting him to state his income. It must have come by the evening post; I remember him opening it at the tea table. As he realized what it meant, a great smile spread across his lace and he said: 'You've done it!' The next morning Mumford, also highly delighted, told the school that three had passed for the Monoux School this year: Eric Harris, Dennis Sewell and I. We had to go and stand on the platform and he clapped. After that came a list of schools my parents might choose from, and the Monoux School's prospectus.
Eric Harris's mother told mine that they were unsure about letting him go to Monoux. It was not just keeping a boy at school until he was l6 instead of 14, and buying the uniform; there would be extra expenses all the time. He did go, but in later years I met men who had passed scholarship examinations and not gone for the same reason: their families could not afford it. A number of my friends at the Monoux School existed in a continual half-guilty state, conscious that their parents were making big sacrifices for them.
My parents talked to other people too. One of them was Mr Holdsworth, who had a clothing shop in High Street. His sons had both passed the examination a few years before, and he said he decided to let them go because he was doing all right in business at the time (one of them became Judge Holdsworth). There was also somebody who knew a Monoux master, and he had assured them that scholarship boys were treated the same as others. That was beyond me; I did not know what my mother was talking about when she told me
Despite the applause in the Gamuel Road hall, getting a scholarship led to a lot of ill-feeling. It would be easy to suggest that boys were jealous, but I think it was something deeper than that. I had alienated myself from their world. Obviously I had not done it on purpose, but I had accepted it; and they were showing that they knew and did not like it. Some of my classmates were half-hostile, and I found friends picking quarrels; I had fights. One of them was a close and long-standing friend, and we flew at each other on the waste ground in Longfellow Road with a crowd watching us and yelling. My bony fists did unexpected wonders, and his mother came to our house to complain about his split lip and bloodshot eye.
Other Grandma bought my Monoux School uniform for me. We were sent a list of the things obtainable only from Henry Taylor's. The whole lot - blazer with the school crest embroidered on its pocket cap which also had the crest, grey short trousers, knee length black socks with red rings round the tops, and black and red tie - cost just under 27s. The most expensive item was the Melton cloth blazer; that was 14s. There were other things which my father had to get: a new white shirt, football jersey, plimsolls and shorts for PT. The list said a white singlet for PT as well, and he forgot that; on the first day my mother rushed to a shop and bought one (1s.6d, and then it was not required after all).
As the family prepared for me to become a Monoux boy, the school was in a transition. Before the first world war admission to it was simply by paying - it advertised on the front of the Wakhamstow Guardian every week; five guineas a term. Three of my great-uncles had gone there, although one, Donald, ran away at 15 and went to the South African War. For some years now scholarship boys had been admitted in increasing numbers and by 1933 most of the new boys had come via the examination. A good many of them knew one another because they were from Selwyn Avenue. The others were handfuls from junior schools scattered about the district: Maynard Road, Winns Avenue, Chapel End, Coppermill Lane and so on. Some boys came from Chingford and one or two from Leyton. My two companions from Gamuel Road went into different classes, and I saw little of them.
The change to all scholarship entrants was as great an upheaval in the school as its becoming 'comprehensive' thirty to forty years later; and the same things were said. In the old order, Monoux boys represented the well to-do section of Walthamstow. The school had had 'tone', and the scholarship boys were reckoned to be the ruin of it - Without doubt some would have come to the school as paid-for pupils - but too many were little monkeys from back sweets, who had passed an examination but had neither money nor manners. The scholarship boys raised the school's academic standards considerably; we and Monoux did each other good, but until that became clear the time was traumatic for both.
Places at the school were not free to all scholarship boys. The full fee of eight guineas a term (£190 might be the present-day equivalent) still had to be paid by parents whose income was above a certain level; and proportions of it down to £4 a week, below which the place was free. This was the purpose of the form about income that my father received. On the first day of each term the Clerk to the Governors came to the school and toured the classes collecting fees. It is a little strange now to think of boys going to school with fairly large sums of money in their pockets, to take out to the Clerk who put it all in a cloth bag; the thought that it was unsafe never occurred to us. About a third of the boys paid fees, and the public collection of them was a standing reminder of social status.
At the beginning of September 1933 I was on the brink of a new world. There was an evening for the families of new boys, to look round the school and be addressed by the headmaster. The walk from the gates to the arched entrance was an experience in itself. My parents wore their best clothes, and talked in low voices as if it were a church; but a sudden burst of animation came when they saw the caretaker in his uniform - his name was Ernie Ames, and he and my father had played football together. In the lofty panelled hall the head was every inch the part and used words like 'idiosyncrasy' which we never heard at Gamuel Road. (He advised parents not to over-feed their sons with Cornish pasties for lunch; I had never seen one, only mentions of them in books.) Our anticipations were prolonged because Monoux had longer summer holidays than the other schools. I saw my friends going back, to Markhouse and the Central, and waited in excitement mixed with apprehension.
The first day at the school in September 1933 was awe-inspiring, as it was bound to be. From 'big boys' of junior schools we had become little ones, while boys who were almost adults walked the corridors. The masters swept about in gowns. There were 105 new boys, and we were divided alphabetically into three classes; I was in Form 1A, surnames from A to F. We had a late addition, a boy who had done badly the previous year and was being kept down in the first form. He was able to show us the ropes, tell us about the masters and what their nicknames were.
We could not help but notice the traces of public school life as we had read about it in The Magnet and The Gem. I think we were slightly disappointed that the masters did not wear mortarboard caps as well as their gowns, although the headmaster carried his mortarboard to assemblies in the mornings. In Greyfriars and Rookwood stories the boys were often in a mysterious place called 'the quad'; so were we now, as the school had a pair of quadrangles. We had a 'tuck shop', but it was nothing like the place where Billy Bunter gorged. It was a side window from which sweets were sold at playtimes (the favourite for a penny was 'a ha'penny Lyons and a doorstep' - a small bar of Lyons' chocolate laid on a thick strip of marshmallow the same size).
If those were coincidence, all through the schoolboys used terms which were deliberate aping of public-school language. The first year - more loosely, all the smaller boys - were called 'fags' by the rest. The warning word which meant 'Take care, a master is coming' was 'cave', and a boy stationed as lookout was 'keeping cave' (it was pronounced 'kavvy'). Illicit copying was 'cribbing'. We called the head 'the old man', sometimes 'the beak', and he alone could give us 'a whacking'. I remember one master threatening to send a boy to the headmaster 'for a flogging'. Perhaps the most socially revealing piece of school vocabulary was in our timetables. For the first three years we had a period of woodwork every week, but it was not named woodwork: it was 'manual work'.
The school was jealous of its reputation for having a high tone. We had to wear our caps and ties except in the summer term, and it was understood that overcoats and raincoats should be navy-blue to match the uniform. The prefects, 5th- and 6th-form boys of great majesty, had special caps which were presented to them at school assemblies (the school captain was Douglas Vicary, who is now a Canon at Wells Cathedral). Outside school, including in the holidays, when you saw a master you had to raise your cap to him, or in the non-cap months perform a forelock-touching action.
We quickly learned that a lot of the public judged Monoux boys' behaviour and, in school uniform, we were on show in the streets. I remember when another boy and I stood looking at saucy comic postcards in a shop window in Hoe Street; we were astonished and embarrassed when some passers-by chi-iked us - 'Look at the grammar school boys doing their homework!' Another time in my first year, a parent wrote to the school complaining because he had seen a Monoux boy eating chips out of a paper in the street. The head showed signs of amusement; nevertheless, he advised those who were 'prone to fish and chips' to save them for indoors in future.
We had to adapt ourselves in other ways. I still saw boys who had been at Gamuel Road and were now at Markhouse or the Central, and they asked me what it was like. When I mentioned the gym and the showers, they were incredulous: had you really to let all the others see you with nothing on at all? It was contrary to all the ideas of decency we had been taught, let alone any experience we had. The boys from middle-class homes, and those who had been to Scout camps, tried to be more blasé about it; but I think we were nearly all in the same boat, and the showers took a lot of getting used to.
I look now at the photograph of my form towards the end of our first year. We were all in short trousers. Taller boys, of whom I was one, went into 'long 'uns' at twelve, but a good many stayed in shorts until they were thirteen or fourteen.
Masters as well as boys came to school by bus and tram and on foot. The car parking space round the main entrance had only one vehicle on it, the headmaster's modest Ford saloon. During my first three years 'Tubby' Taylor often came in a little sports car. It was usually parked at the side of the building, as was the only other motor - Mount joy's Morris Cowley. This car was an endless joke in the school, although it must have been invaluable to Mountjoy. He came every day from Otford in Kent, where he was said to have a small farm. He was a tall, lean man approaching sixty, with a weather-beaten face, and always wore a tweed jacket with leather buttons.
The car was a two-seater with a dickey-seat. It was almost khaki-coloured, and fearfully shabby - I remember that the windows had brown blobs all over them that came from the mica in old-fashioned safety glass. Mountjoy gave a lift every morning to another master, small owlish Bud Watson who lived in Orford Road. Their arrival was an amusing sight: the dilapidated car turning into the school drive, with Watson perched in the dickey - trilby, overcoat and big scarf, pipe sticking out of his mouth, and often a sack of potatoes beside him.
Three or four masters came on bikes, and the rest of the twenty-three or -four of them walked or used public transport. A good many boys used bikes too; there was a long cycle-shed with racks behind the school. For a time in my second year roller-skates had a mild vogue, and a few boys of about my own age came on them. They rode them in the roadway, which indicates the sparseness of the traffic compared with today.
The school conducted itself as if its business were preparing boys for the universities and higher professions, but by the time we reached the third year the position was clear.. A minority had that sort of future; most of us were going to be clerks in banks and offices. Moreover, the labour market was crowded and employers demanded 16 year olds with the matriculation certificate to have a chance, you had to work to secure that. In one of our English lessons several of my form-mates protested to the master, A.G.Brobyn, that we were getting too much Shakespeare and poetry. Were they not a waste of all-important time, when what mattered was passing the examination so that we could get jobs? He answered that this was 'culture' and would enrich our lives, but the boys remained discontented.
However, our teaching was thorough We had to learn basic things by heart and recite them in class. In French, we started with drill in the proper vowel sounds: blown-up photographs of mouths in various configurations, which we had to imitate! The French manual, Siepmann's Primary French Course, was as demanding as it was superbly attractive (I have a copy of it now; the illustrations, done in 1902, boys in sailor-suits and their mothers with Gibsongirl coiffures, were out of date in 1933 but still delightful). The first year's English was dominated by analysing sentences. We divided double-pages of our exercise-books into columns for noun, verb, adjectival and adverbial clauses nouns in apposition -I found it a kind of torture.
We had Twentyman's English text-books. Bud Watson, who took us for English at the outset, would enter the classroom and say imposingly: 'Take out your Twentyman-fold the desk - and sit up straight!' He meant 'fold your arms on the desk', but it caused confusion among us when we were new; some boys believed that he said 'hold the desk' and adopted strange rigid postures. Under my first piece of work Watson wrote: 'This writing is not good enough. Do ten lines of copperplate.' I had no idea what copperplate was, and did lines in the best handwriting I could muster; he seemed satisfied
In the second year we took up another foreign language and started chemistry. The language was a choice from Spanish, German and Latin, but not everybody had the one he chose. Only a small number wanted to do Latin, while we were told that Spanish was the world-wide commercial language of the future because the South American countries were about to become another USA. It was a misjudgement; and the result was a big demand for Spanish compared with the other two. I suspect that the boys who were given their choice were those who had done well at French in the first year, and that the duds and don't-knows were put in the Latin form (we became 2S, 26 and 2L). But the language masters were all outstanding. Tall, silver-haired Dr Edward Lloyd, who 'imparted to us an excellent Spanish accent which came from Cheshire; energetic, spectacled A.E. Hammer, the German master. We nicknamed Hammer "Horace", but he reminded me of "the efficient Baxter" in P.G. Wodehouse's Blandings Castle novels.
As for Dr.Reaney, who took Latin, he was the most terrifying figure in the school. After he retired from teaching he became known as the leading English authority on names; while I was still at school he produced The Place Names of Essex, and in 1958 his Dictionary of English Surnames. He walked slowly, and his facial expression never changed. Even the most daring boys never tried anything on with him, and we had the impression that the other masters were nervous of him too. He was wrong over one name, at least. In the introduction to his dictionary he refers to his Monoux School nickname, 'Kip', and says it came from Skipper. Alas, it did not; it was short for 'Kipper-face'
On the other hand, we took every advantage of one or two masters who were weak disciplinarians. Nice old Mountjoy seemed resigned to being treated disrespectfully, and seldom did anything about it. In the first year he took us for nature-study walks in the forest near the Waterworks. As soon as the walk was under way. boys in twos and threes would dodge behind bushes and make off to catch a tram home, leaving Mountjoy to point out the lichens and fungi to an earnest handful. In our third year we had a weekly biology lesson with him. It was followed by physical training; while he sat at the front desk talking about the amoeba we all gradually removed our clothes and put on our shorts and plimsolls. When the bell rang we were stripped and ready, and dashed straight into the gymnasium.
The master to whom we showed inexcusable cruelty was Bernard Bromage, and I feel astonished now when I recall it. He came to the school in 1934 and stayed about a year and a half; he took my form for English. He was a sturdy, appetizing-looking man who wore good clothes; he wrote books on the occult, was widely travelled and had done many things. What he could not do was manage boys. Every period with him was a bear-garden. Boys stood up, shouted, sang and overturned furniture on various pretexts. Of course Bromage lost his temper - he barked at one boy that he had 'a face like a chicken's backside'. We jeered him; but it went beyond simple ragging. His notebook, full of material he had gathered for a book he was writing, was stolen by somebody in my form. The headmaster came and spoke seriously to us about it but the notebook never reappeared. Two boys loosened the wheel nuts of his bike. and it came to pieces and almost threw him as he was riding up Chingford Road.
The curious thing is that we liked Bromage. He was pleasant and interesting to listen to, and we should have been glad if he had kept order in lessons. But the onus was on him. not us; if he did not know how to stop us getting on top of him, he was fair game. One of his accomplishments was piano-playing. He gave recitals to paying audiences in the school hall, to raise money for the school to buy its own grand piano. While he was there the custom was started, and it continued throughout the rest of my time at school, of having a piece of music at the end of assembly every morning. Boys and masters played instruments or sang; some of the pieces we heard are still favourites of mine.
One long round of sports meant football one afternoon a week, or cricket in the summer term, and two periods of physical training. For football the first and second-year forms went to Wadham Lodge, in Brookscroft Road, and had teams which played one another. The boys who were left out of the teams, and those who would rather not have been there at all, were called 'the odds' and had a game on their own with anything up to twenty a side.
There was not much organization or encouragement. Pairs of masters took turns to supervise the Wadham Lodge afternoons; they walked about chatting and looked after boys' money and valuables. Getting a worth-while game depended chiefly on having played for your junior school's team, and that repute was also the basis of the school teams. It did not matter to me because had I been good enough for a school team I could not have gone to play on Saturday mornings anyway; but there was a feeling of the football teams being closed circles. It changed later, when REHodd came to teach geography at the school. He was a big, fair-haired young man who played at full-back for Wimbledon and then for Ilford; he reorganised football, arranged coaching and put new life into it.
We were taught the tradition that the true sportsman is an amateur and does not make too exclusive an occupation of it, but there were naturally some outstanding players. Len Rose, a senior when I first went to the school, became a professional footballer with Fulham and Queens Park Rangers. Goldsworthy, a forward for Leyton who were then one of the dominant amateur clubs was an old Monoux boy. And I remember specially Ron Barry, whom I went through the school with. He worshipped Walthamstow Avenue; he sold programmes outside the ground on Saturdays, and his greatest ambition was to play for them. I met him near the Waterworks during the war, when he was at King's College and playing for London University. He went in the services. Some time later I saw in the Wa!thamstow Guardian that he had played for the Avenue; and shortly after, he was killed.
Every winter we had an afternoon off lessons to watch the ~ehoo1 First Eleven play the Old Boys, on the pitch beside the school. In the summer there were cricket matches against the parents and the staff. And twice we had afternoons off to go and see Walthamstow Avenue. The Avenue then were kings of amateur football, and had bigger crowds than most professional clubs outside the First Division do today: 3,000 regularly, and between five and seven thousand for big games. That season, about 1935, they beat Northampton Town 6-1 in the third round of the FA Cup. In the next round they played Exeter City, and the game was abandoned through fog. Walthamstow, and the school, were \venue-mad; and the headmaster conceded that we could all go to watch the replay with Exeter on Thursday afternoon. I remember Mr Lloyd in raincoat and beret standing on the terrace cheering. The Avenue were beaten, but their glory continued; later in the season they played Arsenal in the London Challenge Cup and we had the afternoon off again.
One phenomenon of our football and cricket days was the non-games room', the classroom where boys went who were not playing. I went to it for a month in my third year, when I broke my wrist. About fifteen boys sat therewith a master; he read to them, or let them do their homework. A few were there because their parents could not afford football gear or cricket flannels; some had medical reasons, and some were dodgers. If health was the reason you had to take a note. After I became interested in handwriting I was able to do various scripts and scrawls, and my friend Bill Woods got me to write a note for him nearly every week: I said he was unable to play football because he had a cold or was bilious, and signed it 'Mrs Woods'. One week Reaney was in charge of the non-games boys. He read Bill's note, then sorted through a file and brought out a dozen previous ones. In his expressionless voice he asked: 'Why is your mother's handwriting different every week?' I don't remember how Bill got out of it; perhaps Reaney had more of a sense of humour than we thought.
Physical training was a different matter. The school had a modem gymnasium, splendidly equipped. Alfred Ninnim, the PT master, had started in 1932. He had been in the Army; he was tall, lean, erect and ruggedly handsome, with a sergeant-major's voice. In white jersey and flannells, he was every inch the part; we called him 'the Colonel' and joked about him, but we had to be smart and on tiptoe in his presence. He started a jujitsu team (the name for it now is judo). It was a rare thing for a school to do and often brought newspaper photographers to Monoux. Later there were a boxing club and a gymnastics team, and he built up athletics remarkably in a few years.
For some time the gym was a disaster area for me. I was overgrown and had missed sports. I tripped over vaulting horses and landed on his foot, fell off beams, flung my arms upwards when they were supposed to go outwards; I remember his incredulous glares. Gradually, largely through his perseverance also, I think, because the physical work at greenmeat did me good I learned to use my limbs and muscles properly. The turning point was when I was discovered to be a good runner, and then I joined the boxing club and shone at it.
The running began by a fluke, when classes were out on the playing field one day. Ninnim told four boys to pick teams for a contest on the track, and one of them put me in the quarter-mile race. I streaked ahead of the rest and won by a long distance; I kept looking behind me because I was astonished. In the following weeks I won more races, still looking behind. Ninnim tried to cure me of it. He made me promise that in a half mile, with him and a lot of boys watching me, I would not do it whatever happened. About a hundred and twenty yards from the finish I was in front and he started shouting that someone was gaining on me. They all joined in; not turning my head, I pounded on as hard as I could. I found that nobody had been near me, and I had broken a record. I spent the summer games afternoons and hours after school training on the track.
The Colonel and I were friends for the rest of my schooldays. I saw him in 1978 when I went to a supper at the school: he was in his early eighties, and he died the next year. Standing there, he was still a fine upright figure. I made my way to him, and he said 'Barltrop! You were one of my special boys, weren't you? Still got your straight back: that's what I like to see!'
In my last year I was one of a group of Monoux boys who were sent to a week's athletics course at Whitsun for grammar- and public-school boys in the Southeast. It was held at Bancroft's School - Jack Cater was one of the party. The coaches and speakers were mostly men whose names we knew from the Olympic Games of 1936. Harold Abrahams was in charge, and my group was taken by Geoffrey Dyson. Besides being coached at running, I learned something about long-jumping and even tried the pole-vault. A boy from Bancroft's was outstanding on the course. Tall, slim and dark-haired, his name was Richard Howgill. It was so obvious that he must become a champion that when I never heard his name later I guessed what had happened, and I was right, Howgill was killed in the war.
Some other sports were played a little at school. There was an asphalt tennis court at one side, and in the summer a few masters including the head played doubles there at dinner times. Tennis was allowed as an alternative to cricket, but it was not practised much or seriously. Some of the 6th form boys played badminton with masters in the gym after school. In my last two years, when we were going to the Salisbury Hall fields instead of Wadham Lodge for football, there was a weekly game of Rugby. At the back of the school was a box shaped space between two parts of the building, and the headmaster often spoke of his wish to have a fives court there. It was never taken up, and I think few of us knew what fives was.
And the cross-country run held in January, in the forest. I remember it only in my first two years, so I suppose it was discontinued. Every fit boy had to take part, with a longer course mapped out for the seniors. We went to the Jubilee Retreat on Chingford Plains. The Retreat was a popular p1ace in the summer; it had a tea pavilion and fairground swings and a silver-painted helter-skelter tower, which was a landmark. There were stables and sheds where ponies and donkeys (or rides were kept, and those were our changing rooms. A lot of us put football boots on because the forest was all mud.
The run was two or three miles. From the Plain we crossed Rangers Road and plunged into the forest towards Woodford; then the route made a semicircle to re-cross the road farther on. At Connaught Water was a water-jump, and masters and non-running boys stood round it in a little crowd to ensure that everybody went in - the water came up to our waists and chests. Then, soaked and muddy, a half-mile back to the Retreat. The proprietor had a collection of zinc baths and bowls, and hot water heated on a stove; jostling together in the sheds, we washed ourselves as well as we were able to.
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.
I suppose that in the eyes of conservative-minded people the head was pumping propaganda into us. During the war of 1939-45 I heard it said that Walthamstow Town Hall was full of conscientious objectors produced by Goodall at the Monoux School. In reality his influence was slight. The statement about the Town Hall was not true, and I doubt if the number of ex-Monoux conscientious objectors was any different from what it would have been without him. Walthamstow was a pro-Labour district, with various political factions; like other boys, I was already disposed towards some of the views the head pushed. But, although he commanded respect, his snobbishness and sarcasm made him a rather unsympathetic figure for most of us; besides the fact that other influences are nearly always stronger than school. A measure of whether Monoux was made a radical hotbed was provided when the head organised a mock election at the time of the General Election in 1935. There was great activity on all sides, and the Conservatives won.
The election was, again, an unusual event at a school then. At the outset four or five candidates were proposed at meetings held in the larger rooms. I do not remember what happened to the Liberals, but the Communists and the British Union of Fascists group soon abandoned their campaigns and threw in their lots with Labour and the Conservatives. The Labour candidate was Ben Cluff. A dedicated activist - he was often seen in Walthamstow in the evenings dashing to meetings on his bike. In his husky voice he spoke passionately about the social evils crying out to be remedied. Hills, the Conservative, had no such fervour; he was for commonsense, against upheaval, an advocate of keeping to the established order. On the day before polling two of the candidates in the real election came and made speeches at the school. Sir Brograve Beauchamp, the Conservative for East Walthamstow, and his Labour rival Harry Wallace. As at Monoux, the Conservatives won that constituency (East Walthamstow, which contained the 'select' parts of the town, was marginal, but the West side was always solidly Labour).
For those who wanted it, there was plenty of political activity. The majority of boys at school did not want it although they made their sympathies known. In the Spanish class somebody would always chant 'Arriba Rojos!' on the blackboard, to be cleaned off hastily before Dr Lloyd came in - that was for the Republicans in the Civil War in Spain. There was always support for Ben Cluff when he spoke in the school debating society on such motions as 'That the Means Test should be abolished'. But to be definitely committed, and engage in activity outside school, was a different thing. At least, it would be a distraction from working for the all important examination; more seriously, to become known as a partisan of any views except the most conventional ones could damage your chances of getting a job - and things were bad enough.
However, a few boys belonged to the Young Communist League, and others to the British Union of Fascists. The latter tried coming to school in their black shirts and ties with embossed Fascist belt - this was before the Public Order Act prohibited such uniforms - but were immediately reminded that school rules required white shirts. They persisted with black ties, since these were permitted for mourning, but the head soon made an announcement; permission did not extend to those who were only in mourning for a dead cause. (That was witty but, unfortunately, inaccurate.)
Both sections made as much noise as they dared in the school. They pinned sloganeering bills on the notice-boards by the lobbies. I remember one about the Basque refugee children who were being received in Britain as victims of the fascists in Spain; the school sent money for two of them in a home at Theydon Bois. The BUF's poster said: 'They Basque in publicity while British children go hungry'. The Fascist boys sat in the gym changing-rooms singing their anti-Jewish songs. At week-ends both factions went on marches and demonstrations which more often than not culminated in violence and forcible dispersal by the police. The boy who was the leader of the school's Fascists showed some of us the breadknife, which he carried, down his long sock under his trouser leg, in demonstrations. Another was slashed by a razor and came to school on Monday with a long stitched cut on his cheek.
About the beginning of my fourth year, meetings of an organisation called the Schoolboys' United Front were announced. Nobody seemed to know where it had come from, or who convened it; it comprised boys from Monoux and the Central schools and Central and High School girls. Of course the Communists through the YCL got it up. I went to three or four of the meetings, in the William Morris hall. People were pressed to go on demonstrations, and we passed resolutions (which, again, appeared to be already prepared) and sent them to the West Walthamstow MP, Valentine McEntee.
Because I was interested, someone took me to the Communists place in Markhouse Road one night. It was a disused small shop in the row opposite the Markhouse Road school: bare, a gathering-place more than anything else. A few young men were standing about talking, and others came in and out. Alan Winnington appeared; in his mid-twenties, dark-haired and handsome, he was obviously a leader. Two youths approached him and said they had been whitewashing slogans on walls, and he said in a loud disapproving voice: 'Nobody's had orders to do any whitewashing!' The two looked thoroughly abashed. My escort showed me the under-stairs cupboard, where various weapons lay - pieces of wood, a couple of breadknives, and sticks with doorknobs screwed on their ends.
For the next few weeks I received duplicated letters telling me where to report for meetings. I went once, to Chingford Mount; I did not know what was supposed to be happening there. Two young men whom I recognised from Markhouse Road were standing opposite the Prince Albert, but nobody else turned up and we went home. I quickly realised that I did not like the Communists much. They gave one another clenched-fist salutes and said "Comrade" in heavy voices; that put me off. I disliked the slavishness. Whereas I wanted to form an understanding of things, the idea seemed to be to note what was said by Harry Porritt and repeat it. Moreover, I had an antidote at my old haunt Knight's boot repair shop, where I went more frequently now. The talkers were only too ready to listen to my questions. When I told them about the razor-slashed boy, and Communists getting themselves arrested, somebody said: 'Well, any fool can do that.'
Nevertheless, I still listened to the Communist meetings on Saturday nights in High Street. They usually finished about halfpast eight and were followed by Labour Party meetings: on the corner of Cleveland Park Avenue, opposite the library, with crowds of two or three hundred. Winmngton spoke most Saturdays in his drawling, autocratic voice. (He was a journalist for the Daily Worker. In the early 1950s, when he was in Korea to report the war there, the British government removed his passport; later he went to East Germany. His brother Richard was the film critic of the News Chronicle.) Another speaker was Jack Rogers; there was a scrawny, humorous young man with lank fair hair and glasses; and several others. The most popular Labour speaker was Jimmy Dixon, the Central School teacher who later became headmaster.
Sir Oswald Mosley came to speak in Walthamstow too. The meeting, held at the corner of Church Hill, was unlike any we had seen before. Blackshirts stood in a circle round the platform, and police lined up in front of them, while loud-speakers carried Mosley's speech across and along the street. It was a series of bombastic declarations, with the Communists chanting and jeering and a huge crowd drawn by curiosity and the publicity given to the event. Afterwards the Fascists marched to their headquarters in Exmouth Road, and we read in the Walthamstow Guardian that Mosley addressed them 'from the balcony'. My father laughed, because we knew the place; it belonged to one of our Barltrop relatives. It was a former stable squeezed between the houses, and was used previously by a small printer -'balcony' meant that he stood in the hayloft. It was not so funny really. Part of the menace of the Fascists was this seediness, the humourless pretence of being masterful.
What was the attraction of these organisations to boys of my time, in the 1930s? For some of us it was idealism; we were shaping convictions which eventually we would hold all our lives, though not necessarily in the same form. Others were following ideas from which they would part company later, which is why I have refrained from mentioning names. One school friend of mine joined the BUF; all he would say at the time was that he hated Jews. He dropped it after he left school, and years later told me that travel among different people had altered his views a lot.
There was the genera] feeling of the time: not only the "next war" talk, but an atmosphere of flux-anything could happen. The left-wing doctrine of the thirties was that the capitalist system would inevitably collapse. Standing in the crowd round a meeting, the speaker's voice rising above the bustle of High Street on a Saturday night, there was a sense that some change was imminent and just by being there you were helping to push towards it. One other factor for us was that the political groups were a social experience, introducing us to some people who were out of the ordinary-and to girls. My BUF friend said, later, that this was one of the attractions for him. The YCL held a summer camp for both sexes. Segregated as we normally were, it added a spice to upholding the cause.
The chance to smoke in comfortable conditions was provided by Speech Day. In the fourth year we were seniors; the junior school had its Speech Day in the afternoon and ours was in the evening. Thus the afternoon was free. Seven or eight of us went to the Granada, and bought a packet of cigarettes. My father had taken to Churchmans Tenners, ten for 4d; I thought favourably of them because their card-pictures were sepia photographs of footballers and boxers, and if he smoked them they must be all right. (During the war Tenners became a national bad joke because after 1941 when cigarettes were hard to get they were usually the only brand shopkeepers offered, and their quality was dreadful. Once the war and the shortage were over, they never reappeared.)
We sat in a row, watching a Will Hay comedy film. After a little while I got out my packet of Tenners. The others paid no attention, and I smoked them as my father smoked - one after another. I got through six: then I clutched the arm of the boy next to me and said: "I don't half feel bad." He said it served me right. The remaining four cigarettes stayed in the blue packet in my coat pocket for many weeks; I gave two of them away, but it never occurred to me that I was not going to smoke eventually. I resumed it after I left school, and became a heavy smoker when the Blitz was on.
There was a June afternoon when the Old Boys' cricket match was staged at the Walthamstow club ground in Buck Walk, near Whipps Cross. All the school went to watch it. As I left home after dinner I saw that the barometer needle had gone a long way back, and I took my raincoat. It was sunny when the game began, but in the middle of the afternoon the sky darkened and a thunderstorm with pouring rain came. The match was abandoned. We stood sheltering in groups, wondering how we should get home; we heard that roads were flooded. Peter Hunt and another boy came up to me and suggested that we strip except for our raincoats, and run. Peter was a year younger than I, but I knew him from the running track; he was an athletic, sunny-natured boy who lived in Rowden Road, near the Stadium - sadly, he too was killed in the war.
It was a marvellous idea. We made bundles of our jackets, trousers, shirts and socks, and hung our shoes by the laces round our necks. Naked under the raincoats, we ran steadily up the roads to St Mary's, through the churchyard and down to the Belt. When we got to the Crooked Billet the whole area across the roads was under water - it always flooded there in heavy rain We splashed through it, and Chingford Road past the Stadium was our last lap. The storm passed over as I reached home. My raincoat and shoes were soaked but the rest of my clothes, held under my arm beneath the raincoat had come to no harm; and we had had an exhilarating afternoon.
The headmaster asked some of us to give up the first day of our summer holiday to act as guides. Parties of children from slums were being brought for a day in Epping Forest; some of them had never seen a tree, he said. Two others and I went to Chingford station and met a crowd streaming off a train, with a couple of men in charge of them. I do not know where they came from; they were eight or nine years old, shabby like children from Gosport Road, and wild with excitement. There were also three High School girls, brought on the same mission. 1 went with about thirty of the children, a man and two of the girls to Connaught Water. There was not much guiding to be done. The children whooped, shrieked and ran everywhere, and occasionally the man came and asked me something; I spent most of the day hanging about. The girls found a place to sit, and stayed aloof; one of them knitted, and they conversed occasionally. I suppose they were as embarrassed and uncomfortable as I was.
One of the best things in the senior school was the fortnightly lecture in the hall. Sometimes the speaker was one of the staff. More often, it was a visitor with a special subject; all kinds of windows were opened for us. We had Stephen Jack, a BBC repertory actor. He had tremendous presence, and fascinated us with a variety of dialects and readings in which he brought out to the full the magic of words. A man from the Smoke Abatement Society, talking of how the smoke and fog and grime that we took for granted in cities could be made to vanish - we saw his vision come true thirty years later. And a little bubbling man with a goatee beard, from the Esperanto Association: he made it sound easy and delightful, and a lot of us bought his threepenny books on the international language.
The lecture, which we all took most seriously, was the one on modern warfare. The prospect of the next war was every bit as terrifying as it is today. We were told about poison gas, which the Italians had already used in their war in Abyssinia, and the destructive power of high explosive bombs. The speaker described protective measures, but we had no difficulty in imagining cities devastated by aerial war. About the same time, the cinemas showed H.G.Wells's Things to Come: civilisation itself all but destroyed by these kinds of weapons. It was 1936 or -37, and the war was only three years away.
Going abroad, or any contact with people from other countries, was a rare and glamorous thing. I saw foreign seamen and immigrants in the East End, and would have given anything to go into one of the dark-shuttered Chinese restaurants in Limehouse (not foreseeing a time when every shopping street round London would have a Chinese take-away). I liked the Sikhs who came from door to door, in Walthamstow and Chingford and everywhere else, with suitcases full of cheap haberdashery to sell. My father talked about India, where he had spent several years as a soldier. He knew Hindustani words, and although he had no taste for classical music he would always listen to Ravel's 'Bolero' on the radio because it reminded him of music in the Indian bazaars. Boys of my time could hardly imagine what life in foreign lands, even in Europe, was like; what we saw in films and read in stories only added to its mystery.
There was a trip to Denmark when I was in the fourth form. I think it lasted eight or nine days, and the cost was £9. I did not go, and did not mention it at home. Afterwards my parents were reproachful because I had not asked them: I should not have missed the opportunity for such an experience. The trouble was that they talked like that when things were all right financially, but were only too likely to fly off the handle if I made requests at other times: I never knew what to do. But the boys who went were not thrilled, as they had expected to be. John Cohen told me that it was slightly dull, and they spent their pocket-money on white bread because the black bread given to them was horrid.
We also had visits from boys whose languages we studied. In 1936 Arturo Rico came from Spain, but he returned hurriedly because of the outbreak of the Civil War; and the following year there were German boys. There were about eight of them, 15 and 16-year-olds from a school at Frankfurt-on-Main. I do not know if they were specially picked, but they were a magnificent advertisement for their regime and made a little blaze of excitement in the school. Fair-haired and fit-looking, they all had good clothes and exuded self confidence. On our Sports Day one of them gave a display of javelin-throwing - we had never seen it before. They joined in a concert in the hail and sang rousing songs to us, and one recited a poem from the Hitler Youth. It was in German, but the lad's face shone with fervour and his voice rang out as he delivered the verses; he was applauded wildly.
A number of boys were strongly impressed by these young Germans. Everything about them made a striking contrast with the meagreness of life for youth in Britain; 1 heard boys say openly that they would like to be on the tree which bore such fruit. At the same time, there were chilling stories of goings-on in Germany My Jewish friend David showed me photographs of elderly Jews being forced to scrub the streets, and accounts of atrocious things being done to their bodies. We heard, repeatedly, references to concentration camps.
"Horace" Hammer, the German master, gave the senior forms a talk on life in Nazi Germany. He stressed the achievements, the revitalising which had taken place, and treated other aspects with guarded frankness. He knew of a man who had criticised the regime in a restaurant, and was now in a concentration camp - many things which were best not commented on. Hammer was a decent man, and probably more upset than he showed. It was the orthodoxy of the time: don't enquire, don't make trouble.
I did not learn to swim until some time after I left school, although we had weekly periods at the baths in the winter Several forms went together, and some of the masters came in the water and swam about. Ninnim would stand on the side and direct boys how to dog paddle, but there was no organised instruction; the swimmers swam and the rest of us played in the water. Before going in we had to pass a little wet tiled cubicle where the attendant eyed our feet. If they looked grubby we had to stop in the cubicle and wash them on a huge block of hard mottled soap. In the third year we had the second half of Thursday morning. A new row of shops had been built on the other side of High Street, in the place of Gillards' wall, and one of them was a fried-fish restaurant; it was good to go there feeling fresh and hungry after the spell in the water, and eat a threepenny and a penn'orth.
The school had a swimming team, which had contests with other schools, and there was a Monoux swimming gala every year. It was transferred from the High Street bath to the more modern Leyton one at the Baker's Arms; there, I remember, a superb exhibition of acrobatic diving from the high board was given by a boy named Ken Pawn. He was an all-round athlete and gymnast, and at the beginning of the war he won the title of 'Britain's best-developed man' awarded by Health and Strength magazine. Later he became an actor under the name John Dearth.
The worst of the depression was over, although there remained more than a million and a half unemployed until 1939. In this relative improvement, all kinds of physical exercise were popular. The hiking craze continued; at summer week-ends Chingford station disgorged people of all ages in shorts, carrying knapsacks, striding across the Plains or along the Epping Road. Sun-bathing too - that was part of the attraction of Larkswood Pool, to try to get ones limbs bronzed.
As the last terms at school, and the examination, approached I had a problem. We called it 'matric' because that was what we aimed for. In fact it was the examination for the London General Schools Certificate. The pass mark for the certificate was 40 per cent, but we were conditioned to aim for the 50 per cent that gave 'matriculation exemption'. Without that, you could not stay on for any higher course if you wanted to; and better-class employers were all supposed to demand matric.
The problem was that you had to pass in all the subjects: English language and literature, maths, a foreign language, a science, history, and an optional subject (mine was art). Every year there were boys who - an uncle or family friend having spoken for them - had been promised jobs in banks and other companies so long as they achieved matric, and failed it in one or another subject. They stayed on for another try six months later, and some even had to sit for a third time.
However, if I had stayed at school for another five years I should not have passed in science. I was poor at maths but had a slight chance of scraping up some marks, and good at the other things; but over science there was no hope at all. We took chemistry from the second year onward and physics from the third, and both were incomprehensible to me. I suppose that, having no interest in them, I had failed to learn the basics. Early in the fifth year we sat for a 'mock matric' exam. I did not take physics, and got something like 3 per cent for chemistry.
Dr Whitt, the senior English master, asked me something about the examination and I told him I had no prospect of passing. When I explained why, he said he had similar problems in his own schooldays: there might be a way out. He led me down to the school office and got out the printed regulations for the General Schools Certificate. I had never seen them, and had not dreamed that there was such variety and so many permissible permutations of subjects. Going down the list of 'sciences', Whitt found that Spanish - of all things - was acceptable. Thus my difficulty was disposed of: I would do French as my language and Spanish as my science. ('Billy' Whitt, as we called him, was a pleasant unpretentious man. Many years later a Walthamstow headmaster told me that he used to travel on the bus in the mornings with him. As it neared the Monoux School, Whitt would say in his slow voice: 'I am now going to cast imitation pearls before real swine.')
What were we going to do when the exam was over and our five years at school were finished? A minority of boys were staying on and becoming 6th-formers to take the equivalent of the present day A-levels. Then it was 'inter', the intermediate stage of a BA or BSc, which was necessary for getting into a college or university. A number remained for six months and took the Civil Service Clerical Officers' examination. That was increasingly popular in the late thirties - someone described it to me as 'the finest thing a young fellow can do these days'. The school instituted a 'Civil Service 6th' form specially for it, and there was a longer course for the Executive grade. We had a few boys who came from the Central schools at 14 to take matric with a view to college or the Civil Service.
But the majority of us were going to be on the labour market looking for jobs. Despite the unemployment problem for a Monoux boy to fail to get a job promptly was a disgrace; he was said to be 'letting the school down' and a parasite. It had to be an office job - manual work meant that you had wasted your education and sunk into the lower section of the working class. Three or four boys, including a close friend of mine, grabbed opportunities of jobs and did not stay to take the examination.
There was not much outlook for other bents or ambitions. I went to the art room after school one day to finish a picture I was painting. Alfred Hayes. the art master, did not mind you doing that, he always pottered about the room until quite late. While I sat working, he said to me from the far end: 'What are you doing when you leave here, Barly?' Looking for a job like everybody else, I said. That was wrong, said Hayes in his brusque manner-he was a little military-looking man. He had meant what art school was I going to; it was unthinkable that I should do anything else. and I had better speak to my parents at once and fix it up. I was astounded. I had never known that I would be considered good enough for an art school. As far as I knew, you had to be well-to-do because your parents would have to support you; that made it out of the question, and I never said anything about it. But Hayes did not offer any information, or return to the subject.
It occurred to me that I might be able to get a job in a studio. John Cohen, Frank Bishop and I went to the Juvenile Employment Bureau, which was in the Old Monoux School in High Street. We saw the man in charge: Frank wanted to be a librarian and John an architect, and I said I wanted to become an artist. The man told the three of us to forget it. He said thousands of college graduates were walking the streets. qualified for such jobs and unable to get them: none of us had a chance. The best thing for us was to pass our examination and search the Daily Telegraph for clerical vacancies.
At the beginning of my last term at school my blazer spit for the last time. That had been a constant problem since I was thirteen. Growing broader as well as taller, I burst the jackets at the armpits; my father took me to an alterations tailor in Shernhall Street, who let in pieces of navy b1ue material for about three shillings each time. With only another three months to go, it was decided that I should have a suit, which I could wear when I went for interviews and started work.
It came from the Fifty Shilling Tailors at Chingford Mount (they had branches all over the place). The single-breasted suit with a waistcoat was £2 10s 0d, but my father accepted the assistant's proposal to add an extra pair of trousers which brought the price up to £3 7s 0d. It was a dullish blue with a thin stripey pattern; I was measured, went back a week later for a fitting of the half-made suit, and had it to wear a week after that. The Fifty Shilling Tailors was not the cheapest available - a small chain named Berg's would make a suit in a few days for just over £2.
I went to school in my new suit, and inevitably had the rise taken out of me; but others were now wearing suits and sports jackets for similar reasons. It underlined the fact that most of us were leaving soon. In class one day boys who intended to become teachers were called out; four or five of my form went. After being with them for five years since we were 11, it was hard to believe. Fancy So-and-so, with whom you had lain in the long grass poring over Breezy Stories, being a teacher. A man came from the Essex Agricultural College and spoke on farming as a career. Hanging about outside the Prefect's Room, I was astonished to learn that a boy I knew was going to become a clergyman.
I had no idea of any job which attracted me, apart from drawing. Except those who were preparing for universities or definite careers, office work was pressed on us; and I did not want to do it. It was not only the school. For our parents, to see us in respectable jobs - specially in the City - was a fulfilment justifying the sacrifices they had made. They were considered to have a duty to direct us to the futures they wanted for us; quite commonly, men talked of putting their sons into particular occupations (and, later in life, one heard people say they had been put into these jobs by their parents). My mother urged me towards office work. I think my father had mixed feelings because he knew he would have found existence in a office intolerable; but since I had had the education it was what I was supposed to do. We all knew that manual work was inferior.
The greater part of our school work now was revision for the exam in early June. We also had to prepare for the oral examinations in French and Spanish, which took place earlier. The examiner for both languages was a Mr Bithels; we heard that he never failed anybody, but that was not the kind of hearsay you could rely on. In the Spanish class we had to sit in groups of half a dozen and hold conversations in the language, while Dr Lloyd moved round listening-in. We conversed all right, but most of it was in English. I was telling a scabrous joke, and suddenly became aware that Lloyd was standing over us. With a faint smile he said: 'Why, I almost thought that I was in Spain.'
When the oral came, it was held in the school library. We had to go in one by one. Mr Bithels was elderly., small and kindly. He had some heaps of cards, and on each was a comic picture with a French or Spanish caption; he selected one, and we had to read the words aloud and then translate them. The test must have taken less than two minutes. A week later Harry Hyde, our French master, came to the form-room door and called out; "Mr Bithels has graciously consented to pass all of you". His voice conveyed that he thought some of us did not deserve it.
Then the exam itself, the series of papers for the General Schools Certificate. They were all done in the school hall, except art. Our desks were spaced well apart in lines; masters acted as invigilators, and told us carefully at the outset that they could not answer questions once the allotted time began. At the end of each paper, boys clustered together eagerly; voices were heard saying how easy the questions had been. There were only about thirty of us for art, and we sat in the school's art room. The work we had to do was very formal, although the only one of the three subjects that I remember was a pencil drawing of a pile of books set in front of us.
After the week of examinations we were virtually free. I suppose that for the boys who proposed to stay on at school, or needed matric for a promised job, it was an anxious time. But for us who were leaving, there was a sense that bridges were burned; passed or not, our school lives were almost over. The results were made known on the day after school broke up for the summer holidays. In the few weeks until then we were expected to register at nine every morning, but thereafter had the time to ourselves. It was a long, fine summer; games of cricket went on every day, groups went to the swimming pool at Larkswood. During this period we were given our testimonials, a letter from the school for each of us on how we had worked and conducted ourselves as Monoux boys.
School broke up for the holidays. The head read out lists of achievements, and told us that old Mount joy was retiring; he had wanted it kept a secret, but a lot of us had got to know 'in the way that boys do', said the head. One of the few Bible readings he used in his morning assemblies, for its splendid phrases rather than its religious content, was the passage from Ecclesiastes beginning 'Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth'. Now he gave us from the Apocrypha: 'Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.'
I went to school again next day. A lot of the fifth form were there; others had already been and gone. The examination results were pinned up on the notice board outside the lobby, lists stating what our marks had been. I had got my General Schools certificate, with good marks in everything except maths. Some boys - not many - had failed. We drifted about the lobby and the quadrangles, talking to one another, looking through windows into the empty locked-up rooms. Congratulations and relief and mild excitement; murmured condolences here and there. A few weeks later we received our certificates, our names written-in in copperplate script by Hayes the art master.
For hunting jobs, we were in the same position as the school leavers described by James Hilton in his memoir of the Monoux School before 1914: like shopkeepers with a small, half-obsolete stock. We had our exam passes and the testimonials. I could type with two fingers but I had never used a telephone, had no idea of book-keeping or filing; we were not even shown how to write a letter applying for a job. Our languages were linked to literature, not commerce (we were told that South America would be in the fore of world trade - but not that South American Spanish is different from the classical Castilian which we learned).
Nevertheless, we were privileged boys. To have been kept at school until we were 16 or thereabouts was special in itself, when the majority were pushed out into the world at 14. We had a prolonged physical education, and most of us were almost certainly fitter and better developed than we should have been if we had gone to elementary schools (there was an 'experimental class', a year younger than mine, that had extra gymnasium periods daily; I wonder what the results were). Basics of various kinds of learning, which people often struggle to acquire at evening classes, were given to us. The boys and girls from the technical and commercial schools had practical skills which we lacked, but were at a greater disadvantage simply because they had not our education. We were brought into contact with a body of tradition and introduced to literature, music and ideas. The experience rubbed off on even the least grateful of us.