Grass Roots Open Writers

Childhood Memories

Tribute to a teacher.

A young lady teacher came to our North London school in 1947.

She had recently finished her training, and entered our class like a breath of fresh air.  I have not seen her since that day, but she made a lasting impression on me, and may have influenced my future work in the voluntary sector.

It is so strange how a single saintly gesture can leave so poignant an impression on a young person, I was 10 at the time and Miss King was 20.  She would be 86 now and if by some quirk of fate she should see this, then it is a big thank you to her.

When this young and beautiful teacher started her lesson, she asked us all to write our name in turn on the black board.  We were so pleased to go up and stand next to her.  My turn came and I was so nervous that I made a chalk mark before writing my name and Miss King reached in front of me for the board buffer.  At that moment, I instinctively flinched and this caused her to gasp,

"Good heavens David, did you think I would strike you?"  I said,

"No Miss King."  She was clearly upset, and she told us all to sit down at our desks.  She kept her back to the class while taking a handkerchief from her bag.  She then turned to the class and said,

"I want you all to know that I could NEVER hurt any one of you."  There was so much silent tension in the class of 40: some even cried a little.   We all loved her at that moment.  She continued the class like a modern day stand up comedian and had us all laughing by the time she left.

She never returned.

I understand that a movement of young teachers then put their job on the line and started the campaign: S.T.O.P.  This was the School Teachers Opposed to Punishment.  Many lost their jobs and any chance of promotion, but they succeeded, after years of petitions to the government and the law was changed.  I somehow know that the valiant Miss King would have been among these devoted movers and shakers.

We later noted, when she left our class she had written in small words on the blackboard: 'Violence breeds violence.'   W.S.

David Rex

My school days in North London in 1949.

There may even be people who know of my old school and they will know the former name as it has now changed....

A clue is that the headmaster was Mr. Daniels and our form teacher was
Mr. Jackson, who later became the headmaster.  That info should be
enough to jog the memory of any who went to my school.

Mr. Daniels ruled with a strict no nonsense method which insured good
attendance and discipline.  We enjoyed his leadership and did quite well in most subjects but this was mainly due to Mr.Jackson's old slipper, which was on view at each lesson upon his desk.

In those days the teacher had a raised platform for his desk to enable
him to look down over the entire class of forty boys aged eleven.

More of the slipper later, but the outdoor games were held on Hampstead Heath, which we would walk to twice a week in all weathers.  The swimming pool was near by and we were all taught to swim there. Some even became champions.  Many people came to watch us young boys racing across the ponds and we often came out of the cold water more blue that white.

While Mr. Jackson would insist that we changed in record time then run
back to school.  This made us rather warm by the time we started the
last lesson of the day which was maths.  If Jackson pointed to you and
called out 9X6 you had better call out 54 sir!

If you were unlucky enough to give him the wrong answer, he would pick up his old gym shoe and slap the palm of his hand with it and tell you to come up to his desk.  As we still had on our gym shorts it was easy for him to pull the legs up and bend us over his desk.  He held the heel of the slipper so he could hit us with the wide foot part.  Gosh did it sting!  This went on rather slowly till we gave him the right answer after we had had six or more.  The class was very silent except for the loud crack or slap sound of each contact on that part.

We all know that this teacher would have been sent to prison these days, however, we all respected him and would get far worse at home if we told them we had been punished.  We would never wish to be sent to the headmaster as he used the dreaded cane behind a closed door.

All this seems so different from today, but we had no bad behaviour, and although we would never say these were good times for children, there seems to be a need for some kind of deterrent now if only extra homework.

This headmaster and his deputy were doing their best under the guidelines from the government of the day, yet when we look at all the actions against those who have behaved so badly to young people, one has to ponder if these, long dead, teachers will also come under the threat to their existing families of charges from the past. I do think this would be a step too far.

Best wishes, D.Rex


I am a coiled spring.
What I really like best is to unwind.
My friends like to go boink and play.
I spread out waiting to be wound up another day.

I used to have so many faces.
You would find me in open places.
But now I am being replaced by batteries –
Some are not included.

Don’t you remember your bicycle-bell
That served you so well.
The power of your thumb
Let others know “here I come.”

Now, when we're broken we are just discarded.
But before, we were always restarted.
Later that day,
A spinning top came my way.

Such fun we had together,
Comparing revolutions,
Sharing recollections.

I felt the key engage with my shaft.
I’m ready to go.
My winders found me so cute,
They laughed.

I wish I could wind myself up.
What a novelty that would be.
Oh no, they’ve lost the key!

Robert Brandon


I was only three when World war II started, so was in the very fortunate position of growing up with the situation and having no first hand knowledge of those long gone halcyon days called 'peace' to which my Mother often referred.

I often wonder how the present generation of young people would handle the circumstances of the early forties - I expect they would act in the same way that we did.  

To us, death and destruction where commonplace; when I look back and realise that any day that I left the house for school might well have been the last time I would ever see my Mother, it seems strange to recollect that these thoughts never once crossed my mind. Such was the degree to which we were accustomed to those times.  

But what were those times like exactly?

Well, as I have already said, I was used to growing up in what effectively was a front line battle zone. In those days everyone pulled together to help their neighbour. I remember the lounge of the next door house being filled with racks of clothing which belonged in a shop owned by a friend of our neighbour who had been 'bombed out' - this being the term used for such unfortunate circumstances. If you were out anywhere and not close to a public air raid shelter, you would be invited into the nearest private one by the occupants, some shelters where actually inside and it is hard to imagine nowadays inviting perfect strangers into your home.  

The highlight of life was, after a raid, to go out to collect shrapnel which was collected and recycled (incidentally, that word was unknown then, the shrapnel simply went towards the war effort), and when you were lucky enough to find an intact shell nose cone - well, wow! you were head of your gang for the rest of the day! I remember personally finding several and the receipt of the accolades which went with such a find.

Of course every thing was on ration with endless queues for their purchase, and so many things we take for granted now where simply unavailable then, I didn't taste a banana until I was gone ten, oranges, lemons too were unavailable. But, for some reason which I cannot understand, rice was in plentiful supply - we always seemed to be having rice pudding for school dinners which is why I hate it so much. Fuel for private motoring was not allowed, many people laid their cars up for the duration but some discovered the possibility of running cars on town gas. You would see a car with a large bag on its roof, this contained gas filled from a domestic gas point indoors. Another method involved having a trailer which carried some sort of furnace which produced gas (methane I think in this case). I recollect seeing buses towing these gadgets.  

Some enemy pilots considered it good sport to shoot up innocent civilians, a school friend of mine was walking down the road when he hears the unmistakable sound of an ME109 (we all knew them all) He dived for cover into a shop doorway but in so doing left his brightly coloured scarf lying on the pavement. The fighter having passed over, he picked up his scarf only to find it riddled with bullet holes!  

Later on, we had the first of the V1's or 'Doodlebugs' as they were called. The first came over on June 13th 1944, and I recollect very clearly leaning out of my bedroom window wondering what it was. The drill soon became established, if you heard one and the engine stopped, throw yourself flat and hope, you had about ten seconds before the explosion to sort yourself out. Far deadlier and sinister were the V2's. These were the first ICBM's, they arrived without warning and the philosophy was that if you heard the explosion you had survived, if you hadn't then it didn't matter anyway.  

I always liked it when either the King or Mr Churchill broadcast on the wireless on account of my being allowed to stop up late to listen, and when, on May 8th 1945, it was over at last, I recollect all the great rejoicings and street parties which took place. By then I was coming up to my ninth birthday, so my most formative years were spent in a war situation. Thanks to my parents, at no time was I worried or scared although they must have been frightened over the possibility of a Nazi invasion in the summer of 1940. The two legacies I have most inherited from this period are a reluctance to throw anything away and being a heavy sleeper - we lived some five miles from Biggin Hill airfield during the Battle of Britain. The guns never kept me awake!  

(c) Henry Dallimore


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