Hugh Smailes’ Schooldays - reminiscences of a very Old Edwardian

It is now over sixty years since I left King Ted’s but memories of my years there are still quite clear. At my age, this may not be the case much longer. My time at KES spanned the duration of World War II, a difficult, and different period for both staff and students. I hope that this narrative of what school life was like in those days will be of interest not only to Old Edwardians but to the present generation.

I sat the entrance exam to the Junior School whilst a pupil at Fulwood Church School and began life at KES in J2B. Very few of my primary schoolmates followed me there, so it was necessary to make new friends in a new and different environment. Clarke House, the home of the Junior School, had once been a private residence. It was a pleasant and airy building with extensive and well-kept gardens. Mrs. Mitchell was our form teacher, a kind and gentle person who soon made me feel at home. I remember particularly well her fascinating Nature Room and the industrious silkworms nibbling away at mulberry leaves. Two other Junior School teachers live on in the memory. Mr Sibley was the handwork teacher – very ex-Indian Army, and very pukka. ‘Mickey’ McKay was a New Zealander who took us for Maths, Geography and History The Kiwis at that time had not begun to pronounce their I’s as ‘U’s (we had to wait until the 70’s for this phenomenon, which causes endless amusement to Australians) but ‘Mickey’ did pronounce his ‘A’s long, which put a new perspective on his oft-used epithet of “silly ass”. He was encouraged to use this expression as much as possible and I often wonder if he understood why it caused us so much merriment.

The greatest character of all was the Junior School Master, ‘Toby’ Saville – a small, gnome-like personage with a heart of gold and a fine sense of humour. He was not a regular teacher of mine but occasionally he took us for maths. When some of us had difficulty in dividing vulgar fractions he would always call Smailes out to the front of the class to demonstrate. Why I was selected I do not know – perhaps it was because I was small and light He then grabbed me by the ankles and held me upside down – the eclectic collection found in every schoolboy’s pockets – penknives, conkers and the bus fare home – spilling on to the floor. “This is what you do,” he explained, “reverse them”.

For many years ‘Toby’ ran the school camp at Winchelsea in Sussex. I spent most of August 1939 there, which was to be the last time the camp was ever held. The following year we were at war and Sussex was in the front line after the fall of France. I had just finished J2B and was the youngest camper there. We slept twelve at a time in ex-army bell tents, toes pointing to the centre pole. ‘Toby’ lived in a disused railway carriage which also served as a meeting room and mess. The cook’s hands were always black with grease from handling the sausages, but none of us seemed to come to any harm. In the evening we would drink enamel mugs of cocoa in the railway carriage whilst ‘Toby’ read us extracts from “Three Men in a Boat” by the light of a hurricane lamp. Quite memorable was the ‘three-holer’ toilet which became quite a social centre after breakfast . Trips to nearby towns and other attractions such as the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch miniature railway, were arranged every other day. We would travel in a bus and were always given a cornish pastie and a bottle of “Tizer“ (“Tizzer”to Toby) for lunch. When we arrived at our destination we were allowed to wander off and explore. However, I soon learned that the most interesting time was to be had by sticking with ‘Toby’.

World War II was imminent at that time, but that did not seem to worry us much. I do remember, though, that when we crossed London to change stations, there was a tangible air of foreboding. Few people were on the streets, other than newspaper sellers with their gloom-laden billboards.

When we returned from Winchelsea, war with Germany was expected to be declared at any moment. Plans had already been laid by my parents and within a few days of return from Winchelsea my brother and I were on our way to the Cheshire countryside. My godfather (always known as Uncle Tom) was the vicar of Cotebrook where he lived with Aunt Sheila in a huge house known as “The Curatage”. They had bravely agreed to accept my brother and I, as well as several other children, as evacuees. Uncle Tom and Auntie Sheila had no children of their own – so this must have proved no mean challenge. Auntie Sheila did have some experience of children, being a former teacher of the ‘clap hands and pay attention’ school. Discipline was fairly strict here. A chart appeared on the dining room mantelpiece with each child represented by a coloured token, which was moved up (or down) the ladder, according to behaviour at table. “Open door, Mary “ Auntie Sheila would chime out periodically, to remind Mary that she was eating with her mouth open. On Sunday we had to attend three church services, as well as Auntie Sheila’s Sunday School. This was followed by afternoon tea in the drawing room where we all had to sing or recite something of our choice.

An attempt was made by Uncle Tom to get me into the local Grammar School at Winsford, but as I was still a year too young, this was unsuccessful. There was no alternative but for me to attend the Cotebrook village school. The pupils here were, for the most part, destined to spend their future lives as farm workers. My attendance there put the staff into quite a quandary as they just did not know how to handle a chap from a city Grammar school. I went along with the standard schoolwork for the most part, except for Wednesday afternoons. Once a week the older class was taken out to local farms for practical work. I would have loved to join them, to learn how to milk a cow or drive a tractor, but this was thought inappropriate. Instead, I had to stay behind on my own and work my way through a book of mathematical exercises. The head teacher was a Miss Platt. At roll call “Present, Miss Platt” was abbreviated to “Splatt”. Quite meaningful, I thought, as Miss Platt’s favourite method of punishment was to bring you to the front of the class, get you to clench your knuckles which were then given a sharp rap with the edge of a ruler.

The effect on evacuees of being taken out of a loving environment at a tender age and placed with strangers far away from home was incalculable and little understood. Although we were fortunate enough to be placed with near-relatives of whom we had always been quite fond, the partings and the new domestic disciplines, proved to be too much. My brother responded by bedwetting whilst I developed a severe stammer. Only those who have suffered this affliction can understand how devastating it is. You can only communicate slowly and with difficulty and, especially in those days, you were often subject to mockery. A stammer usually remains with you for the rest of your life. These days you would be attended by hordes of speech therapists and counsellors, but then you were just thought to be putting it on. Even my mother would snap “Stop that Hugh, don’t be so silly”.

Strangely enough, a stammer does not affect one’s ability to sing. Uncle Tom had asked me to sing the part of the page in “Good King Wenceslas” at a pre-Christmas Evensong in his church. After the performance, which went quite smoothly, a lady in the congregation rushed up to the choirboy next to me and gushed “Were you the boy who sang so beautifully”. “Yes” was his reply. I should have punched him on the nose.

The period between the outbreak of war in September and the following Christmas is often referred to as the ‘phoney war’. Action at the front in France was at a stalemate. Hitler had not invaded Britain and the Luftwaffe had not yet begun to bomb British cities in any serious way. The catchcry of the day was “It’ll all be over by Christmas”. Our parents well understood our unhappiness (they must have missed us too) and decided that it would now be safe to take us back to Sheffield. So, in January 1940 I returned to King Ted’s. Because of the break in my education the school decided to place me in J1C where the gentlemanly Mr Wright was our form master. Here I flourished and came 6th in order of merit at the end of the year. Not surprisingly, I topped the form in Divinity! I worked hard to overcome the stammer now I was back in the home environment. It is to the great credit of Mr. Wright, the other members of staff and of my classmates that I was never ragged about my stumbling speech – in fact it was ignored. By the time I entered the Senior school the stammer had gone – for ever. I was very lucky.

My last term in J1C spanned the period of the British retreat from Dunkirk. One memorable, and beautifully sunny and peaceful afternoon, we were all assembled on the lawns of the Junior school and told the grim news. It never even entered my mind that this could soon be followed by invasion – and I think most of we boys thought the same. It just seemed unimaginable.

The move to the Senior school involved a huge leap from a C stream form to 2A which was then under the direction of “Tweeny” Lee. In retrospect, I think it would have been more beneficial for me to have gone into 2B. Dr. Barton seemed to have this odd idea that I had greater ability than I ever showed. But I was intellectually not on a par with ‘A’ stream boys who, after all, were the intellectual ‘crème de la crème’ of Sheffield youth. ‘A’ stream boys were totally focused on academic achievement and little else. They were less rounded than the more worldly boys of the ‘B’ streams who dubbed them “mirror-brains”. I managed to keep my head above water but always came in the lower half of the order of merit.

Anyone who was taught science by “Tweeny” Lee will recall that his experiments were sometimes rather adventurous and were not always crowned with success. However, he did manage to convince us of the weight of air pressure impacting on our bodies by drawing the air out of a can by replacing it with steam, then sealing the can and letting the steam condense. If he got it right the can would crumble with a satisfying clunk. “Tweeny” also taught maths and every Thursday morning would get one of us to go to the blackboard and prove a theorem. Most boys had little difficulty but in my case maths was, and still is, a mystery and was always my worst subject. The thought that one day I would be called up filled me with such terror that I used every means to avoid going to school on Thursdays. I would wake up at 6am. and begin violent bouts of coughing. Sometimes this fooled my mother, sometimes it didn’t – but even though I could not always evade school I somehow managed to evade the ordeal for a whole year.

Sport was played on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, weather permitting or not. Sport meant cricket and soccer, nothing else, and was compulsory. Because of this I developed a lifelong hatred of these games which I found boring and pointless. This is something which is just not understood in my present home country, Australia, where sport dominates to such an extent that all one’s non-working hours (and much of one’s working hours too) are spent either watching or discussing sport – especially Australian rules. I spent my last year of secondary school at Darlington Grammar. This was a Rugby school but there it was appreciated that some of us preferred competitive sports to team games and were offered cross-country running and swimming as alternatives. I enjoyed and participated in both.

We had only one cross-country race a year at King Ted’s though there was some wonderful running country in the Whiteley Woods area. We also had the best indoor swimming pool in Sheffield right on the school grounds. This had recently been built there by the Council as we had the room for it by replacing the old swimming pool which was open air and a great breeding ground for algae, but it was really for the benefit of all Sheffield schools. Not many other schools came after the experience of Nether Edge Boys school – which I will relate later. Perhaps they were scared of us! The City Baths in Glossop Road dated back to the Victorian era and were quite primitive. They were pretty filthy too – and often covered in scum from all the unwashed bodies! We were allowed to use the KES pool during school holidays and I spent many happy hours there.

It required a good deal of resolve and ingenuity to escape the playing fields. One strategy was to be put on detention, but this was not the ideal. Those of us who did not belong to any team had to assemble outside the pavilion where we were formed into scratch teams by the groundsman, Mr. Waghorn. One day, when there were enough stragglers to form two cricket teams, I was recruited and not only that, was made captain of what was laughably termed the Fourth Eleven. I lead this team to glorious defeat and the Fourth Eleven, the first one ever, fell into oblivion never to rise again. During the football season the stragglers were again assembled at the pavilion and teams chosen from amongst them. The trick here was to avoid getting picked and then to follow up at the rear as the teams walked up to the playing grounds. At the opportune moment, when no one was looking, you would slowly peel off and make a dash for it to the comparative safety of Whiteley Woods. Even here you were still not quite out of the woods as prefects had been stationed at most of the obvious escape routes. I had the advantage of being on home ground and through local knowledge I found a way to avoid the guards.

The young Smailes in
his new suit for 3B

Despite my miserable results in 2A Dr Barton signed off my last report saying that I had completed a satisfactory year’s work. I was promoted to 3B whose form master was Vyvyan Richards. He was a humane and understanding teacher well liked by his form. He was interested in astronomy and would sometimes invite those of us interested to his home to observe the heavens through his telescope. He had received an injury of some kind which required him to sit on a rubber ring at his desk and to spend much of his spare time at home in the bed from which he received the astronomers. He never complained and I never knew the nature of his complaint.

Vyvyan Richards had been at Oxford with T.E. Lawrence and the two developed a friendship of sorts. Vyvyan fell deeply in love with Lawrence but his ardour was not returned. Their mutual correspondence (which can be found on the internet) shows Lawrence to be indifferent. It is thought in some quarters that Lawrence too was homosexual but it is my belief from reading the correspondence that he just did not like women. Whilst still at Oxford plans were made that the two of them would one day establish a high quality bookshop. This never came to pass, of course. Lawrence’s parents did not like, and were suspicious of, the older Richards. The rest is history.

My recollection of Richards is that, although we suspected he was homosexual, he never interfered with boys in 3B. The recollections of some of my correspondents since first writing this narrative are quite different. Two scholarship boys from 2D have told me that, on occasion, they were called up to Richards’ desk and were fondled by him. The whole class was aware of this but his molestations were never reported by the victims. In those days they would never have been believed and would probably have been punished for their temerity. The class did wreak its vengeance, however. Richards’ desk, as did most masters’ desks, sat on a platform to give him added authority. One lunchtime the boys from 2D broke into the classroom and placed a dead fish or two under the platform. The resulting stench was so great, and its source so impossible to trace, even by the indefatigable Gillman, the school porter, that the classroom had to be closed until the fish were discovered or no longer smelled.

Despite having a good form master, 3B was not a happy place for me. I was nearly a year younger than the form average and could not keep up with these more mature boys. A year is a long time at that age. Mr. Richards described me in his final report as “immature as yet, but interesting”. It was kind of him to say something encouraging when signing off on a rather poor report. Dr. Barton was far less understanding. On the previous term’s report he said that I had the ability to be in the top half of this form and demanded “next term he must see that he gets there”. When this did not happen, I was beaten – as though this could possibly be of any use. On another occasion, a poor report led to detention on Wednesday afternoon (at least this was an escape from football). I had to report to the Headmaster’s study after lunch to be given my assignment. Dr. Barton sat in his chair and I was told to stand beside him. He then grabbed me by the upper arm and ran his fingertips across my biceps – looking up to see if it was causing me any pain. It was - but I tried to conceal it. Barton was well known for his seeming lack of humanity, his coldness, his aloof manner and indeed, his cruelty. Yet somehow, one continued to respect him. He ran a good school, employed the best teachers he could find and set high intellectual and moral standards. One recognised that he wanted KES to be the best school there was – even if his methods of achieving his aim were sometimes hard to live with.

This was the time when British fortunes were at their lowest ebb in the struggle against Germany. A year earlier, when I was in 2A, the blitzkrieg came to Sheffield. Late in 1940, just before the school broke up for the Christmas holidays, the Luftwaffe virtually destroyed the city centre dropping HE bombs on Thursday night followed by incendiary bombs on Sunday. Most of the big stores were gutted and trams lay badly damaged where they were when the bombs rained down. Little, if any, damage was done to the steel works – Hitler was thought to be about to invade and would have found the extra steel production capacity very useful. These raids brought home to us that this was the Home Front and that we civilians were as much in the front line as our troops. At this time I was in the Scouts led by the redoubtable Mr. Gaskin (“Gassy”). I was called in to school shortly after the raids to do my scoutly duty. The then empty school premises had quickly been commandeered by the Council to provide a temporary home for the unfortunate people who had lost theirs. The place was hardly recognisable. The areas most affected by the bombing were the slums; the unfortunate people who were now occupying our school had faced years of unemployment and poverty – and now this. One could only feel a sense of hopelessness – but worst of all it was hard to feel compassion for these poor souls who came from such a different world to our own. The kitchens were used to provide a sort of stew to feed these unfortunates – the stench of which was quite sickening. My mother (father was now in the army) took us off to Lincolnshire to stay with another uncle – also a country vicar – whilst she considered our next move. Our empty house was immediately commandeered by the Council and a homeless family was placed there. Mother was anxious to get us back to school at the beginning of next term and asked if she could have her house back. After many abusive letters from the then occupants, she succeeded. We returned to a house drenched in urine and a destroyed Dinky toy collection of which I had once been very proud.

In 1941, Britain faced the Axis Powers alone and invasion was expected at any time. Fortunately, Hitler, having lost his air superiority in the Battle of Britain, decided that Britain could wait and turned his attention towards Russia whom he had always regarded as his greatest threat. Though not the great strategist he thought he was, Hitler realized that Germany at that time did not have the resources to wage a successful invasion of Britain, though his generals had prepared elaborate plans for what they called Operation Sealion. Germany had lost its fighter aircraft superiority in the Battle of Britain and bombers would not have been able to withstand the RAF fighters. The German navy consisted mainly of submarines which would not have been of much help, whilst the British Navy was still the world’s most powerful and would have sunk a German invasion fleet (consisting mainly of river barges never designed to be sea-going) without trace. The whole British army was now at home and, aided by the Home Guard, would have quickly disposed of an invading parachute force. Germany had no equivalent to the PLUTO pipeline and Mulberry harbour used by the Allies in 1944 and could not, at that time, have supported an invasion force.

Life was quite difficult now. I was getting poor reports from school, my father was in the army (and how I missed him). My mother, left alone to bring up two boys, had succumbed to severe migraine and often had to spend days in bed in a darkened room. I had to care for my younger brother and my mother as well as try to perform at school. The possibility that there could be difficulties at home which were affecting my performance were never taken into account by the school. I suppose we all had our problems.

Another example of Barton’s insensitivity emerged when the family was invited to spend a weekend with friends in Chesterfield. This required that I be excused school on the Saturday morning. Mother made a formal request in writing. When he received her letter Barton called me to his study and embarked upon a detailed interrogation on the arrangements, of which I was only partly aware, not having made them. Apparently, in Barton’s opinion, our stories did not quite match up. He rang my mother and told her “either you are lying, or your boy is”. To mother, normally a quiet, unassuming person, this was like a red rag to a bull. She immediately came to school to beard Barton in his lair, arriving unannounced at his study door. Brushing aside his proffered hand, she gave him “what for” – with a vengeance. Probably, no one had ever stood up to him like this before and he was clearly taken aback. I got my Saturday morning off and nothing further was ever said though I do believe that Barton held a grudge against me from then on.

Barton had concluded that the pace in 3B had been too much for me. I was nearly a year younger than the average age of the form and it was thought that another year in the Thirds would be beneficial. So, once again, I was back in the ‘A’ stream (known to the less academic of us as “mirror-brains”) in 3A. Our form mistress was the redoubtable Miss Daft. Could any teacher have ever suffered from so great a handicap as having such a name? But such was the power of her personality that she always commanded the utmost respect. Never once did I hear anyone make a mocking or derogatory comment about her.

The “School Shout” – an annual review by the students in which anything went and which gave us a rare opportunity to lampoon certain masters in public, had just been established (or perhaps, re-established). Miss Daft decided that instead 3A would do a “Sweeney Todd” sketch. She wrote the scenario and we all had a part to play. Our efforts received polite applause on the night – but most of the audience preferred the not always respectful take-off of the senior masters. The performance took place in the Assembly Hall with a stage and proscenium built on the platform where the senior masters sat at morning assembly. In those days, we always had a short service in the Assembly Hall with a hymn and prayers. The hymns were accompanied by a trio of musical masters – Maestro Baylis at the Bechstein grand, Marcus Watling on double bass and, if I remember correctly, Goofy Smith on violin. I imagine that the Assembly Hall remains as it was over the last hundred years. The junior forms sat in the ‘dress circle’ which is steeply tiered. Bashings on the head with hymn books were regularly inflicted on the boys in the row below. Even worse than this though, was the disposal of unwanted chewing gum on an unsuspecting scalp. There is no way that chewing gum can be removed from one’s hair other than by cutting it out. I wonder if this still happens?

I did not perform as well as expected in 3A and I used to dread taking home the end of term report. Academically, I was no match for the many gifted boys in that form who, as I have already said, were the “crème de la crème” of Sheffield youth. I made up for this by undertaking daring feats to impress my fellows. One of these exploits took place in the woodwork class which was under the direction of an amiable old craftsman by the name of Mr. Tory. He reminded me of Gepetto in Disney’s “Pinocchio”. He was a warm, friendly man who could never maintain discipline and had long ago given up trying. I got permission to go to the “backs” and confided in my classmates that I would return via a drainpipe on the outer wall of the school. Halfway through the ascent, with the class urging me on through the windows, I was unfortunate enough to be spotted by the school porter, Gillman. He rushed up to the woodwork room, exhilarated by the certainty that here was a boy who would get his just deserts. He reported the incident (which had gone unnoticed by Mr. Tory) insisting that I be beaten, not by Mr. Tory who would be too gentle, but by Mr. Carter, a senior master in the room next door. Carter was well known to have a heavy hand and always ready to oblige his more timorous colleagues. To his credit, Mr. Tory stood up to Gillman and told him to make himself scarce. Gillman departed in fury, no doubt vowing revenge. Mr. Tory then gave me the choice of a ‘token’ beating from himself or a more thorough dispensation of justice by Mr. Carter. None of us was quite sure what was meant by a ‘token’ beating, but it sounded like the better option. I accepted the ‘token’ beating, which amounted to no more than a gentle tap on the backside with a T-square. Would that there had been more like the gentle Mr. Tory (who, I believe, was later sacked by Barton for not maintaining discipline in class).

I was not the only one to take advantage of Mr. Tory’s lax discipline. On one occasion, two classes were put to work in the woodwork room at the same time. Inter-class rivalry was such that it was decided that this was an excuse to undertake open warfare. Most of us had given away school satchels at this stage and we carried our books in small attaché cases. For the purpose of the forthcoming staged battle some of these attaché cases were filled with ex-RAF film (readily obtainable at ex-army stores) which was non-flammable but which gave off pungent smoke when a match was applied. The cases were all lined up from one side of the room to the other and their contents lit. Battle lines were drawn up on each side of the smokescreen and a fierce engagement with rulers took place. Mr. Tory carried on with the non-combatants as though nothing had happened.

There is a valedictory article in the KES Magazine of May 1959 when Gillman retired. He is well-spoken of there but all I can say about him is that he must have mellowed with the years as my experience is quite different. We both arrived at KES at about the same time. Apart from the above incident I did not have much personal contact with him but he was ever-present. He lived in a house on the school premises. He was obsequious to those few he considered his superiors and dismissive of the rest. He genuinely seemed to delight in making sure that boys were chastised if he felt that they deserved it. After all, he had probably suffered the same fate in his years in the army.

One of his duties was to open the doors at either end of the school at 8.30am. and to close them promptly at 8.50am. Any boy arriving after this time was deemed late and had to enter the school by the main entrance. Gillman was there with his notebook in which he joyfully recorded the names of all latecomers. This list of miscreants was then given to Mr. Nicholas and these unfortunates had to report trembling to the masters’ common room after assembly to be given a severe dressing down. This was a fate to be avoided at all costs. It is hard to convey the fear which “Nick” inspired in us – I have never been so fearful of anyone before or since.

It is quite difficult to explain why Nick was so feared. He resembled a grizzled old warrior and had a most forceful personality and bearing, yet he would show traces of wry humour on occasion. If Dr. Barton was absent. Nick, as second master, would stand in at Assembly and give out the school announcements. On one occasion, as their form master had reported sick, he instructed 3D to go to their classroom and read a chapter from Cervantes’ “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” “And most appropriate too” added Nick.

He was senior maths master and only those doing advanced maths ever entered his sanctum (still Room 63, I hear) on the top floor, even when they were there to be beaten. His class must all have been auto-didacts as he spent little time with them. He would leave his post five minutes after start of the lesson and not return until five minutes before the school bell rang to announce change of class. He would spend most of the intervening time prowling the corridors looking for offenders of one sort or another. Some masters (and in particular the lady teachers) would send out a tiresome boy to stand in the corridor knowing that, sooner or later, they would be discovered by Nick who would leave them trembling wrecks before being , in many cases, beaten. Myself, and Mr. Baylis’ elder son, my best friend Terence, were once confronted by Nick in the corridors during classtime and we had to explain why we were wandering “without visible means of support”.

Punishments were often meted out for seemingly trivial offences. One lunchtime, in the Dining Room, I was fiddling with a drinking mug waiting for the first course to be served. For some reason I started to sing into it. The sound was amplified and suddenly a hush fell on the whole assembly. All eyes were fixed on me, especially those of the masters on the high table. In resonant tones Nick ordered me to stand on the bench where I sat and to remain there until he left for his classroom at which point I had to follow him within the next half hour. I got four of the best for that.

The masters were not alone in giving us a hard time (usually well-deserved). We gave some of the masters a hard time too, so much so that King Ted’s gained the reputation in the teaching profession of being a “tough” school. Schoolboys are quick to detect and to exploit any weakness in a teacher. During the war, with most of the younger teachers serving in the forces, the school had to employ some temporary staff of limited teaching experience, especially in the type of school KES was. One source was the many German Jews who had fled Hitler’s Germany whilst they could. Those who were recruited by Dr. Barton included Messrs. Woellhardt and Rosenberg. Both were strict disciplinarians and had little difficulty in adapting to the KES environment – but poor old Dr. Behrend could not – he was ragged unmercifully. I still feel sorry for what we did to him to this day. We did not know his background (he had been the Headmaster of the Kaiser Wilhelm Realgymnasium, an elite school in Berlin) but probably he had suffered greatly under the Nazis and needed our understanding. He wore a loose-fitting jacket with open pockets and wandered up and down the aisles between the desks as he taught. It was too much of a temptation not to drop something, such as an unopened horse chestnut, (later to produce a ‘conker’) into his pockets as he passed by. He would eventually discover these and hurl them to the floor one by one accompanied by a Germanic oath. We would secretly slip live match heads into the face of his blackboard rubber, with alarming results. Carbide crystals were dropped into the inkwells to cause their contents to froth and bubble everywhere. Someone once slipped a kipper between the radiator panels. Possibly the worst trick we ever played on him was one by one to put our hands up to ask permission to go to the “backs”. As no one ever returned the class became smaller and smaller. When he at last realized what was happening he refused to allow further excursions to the “backs” shouting “I am an old man – if I can hold it, you boys can too!” His patience finally broke when someone exploded a paper bag behind him as he was letting us into the classroom after lunch. The loud bang probably reminded him of an unhappy experience in Nazi Germany. The culprit (me!) was caught and caned, not by an unwilling Dr. Behrend, but by Sam Carter – always happy to oblige.

Mr. Gaskin taught geography and was famous for his lantern lectures. He had been with the school for many years and now was getting older and finding it increasingly difficult to maintain discipline. When he got frustrated he would fly into a rage shouting “Oh, you boys!” and bang his fists on one of the front desks. The desks in his room were rather unusual in that they had swing tops and were easy to dismantle. The lock on his classroom (room 29) door was easy to pick with a penknife, which every boy carried. One lunch time someone broke into his classroom and removed the bolts holding together one of the front desks. Of course, the desk fell into a heap the next time Gassy let fly with his fists.

I hear that the air raid shelters built under the Close at the beginning of World War II are still there having, until recently, been closed since the end of the war, and are to be used to house archives. I cannot recall that these shelters were ever used during an actual air raid, but we visited them many times, armed with our gas masks, for evacuation drills. It was compulsory to carry gas masks at all times (at least in the first part of the war) and woe betide any boy caught by Mr. Nicholas without one. KES survived the war without bomb damage, but St. Marks Church, on the other side of Glossop Road, scored a direct hit and lay in ruins for many years. It has now been completely rebuilt and is again open for worship after a gap of 60 years. The only school in the area to be damaged was a council school close to Crookes Junction, which was burned out. Rumour had it that this was not necessarily due to enemy action.

After the blitz in 1940 Sheffield was let off more or less lightly by the Luftwaffe. The occasional bomb was dropped, usually by a plane returning to Germany, to lighten its load. We were woken one night at home by a passing “buzz bomb” (a pilotless plane, known as the V1). This was way off course and landed harmlessly in open countryside. The V1’s were usually targeted on London, as were the much more deadly V2 rockets which were to come later in the war. There were other reminders of war, however, which could prove extremely disturbing. One afternoon, in February 1944, as I was cycling home from school I saw a plane, obviously in trouble, nosediving earthwards with smoke pouring from its tail. Eventually, it disappeared behind some trees in Endcliffe Woods followed almost immediately by a loud explosion. Against my better judgment, I hastened to the scene where I was one of the first to arrive, before the police and fire brigade. The body of one of the crew, all Americans, had been thrown from the bomber on impact. This body, with new leather flying jacket still intact, was minus its head with nothing but a small part of the spine protruding from where the neck had been. This was the first dead body I had ever seen and the experience left me horrified and trembling. The image of this dead young man has remained with me to this day. The pilot, knowing that he and his crew were doomed, managed to keep the damaged plane in the air until he was able to crash land in open woodland, thus saving many more lives on the ground. I found later that the plane was a Flying Fortress named “Mi Amigo” returning from a bombing mission over Alborg in Denmark (where Germany had its principal northern fighter base). The plane had been damaged by German fighters and its navigational gear disabled which why it was so far off course from its home airfield in Northamptonshire. The pilot tried desparately to find an open space in which to attempt a landing but, in trying to avoid a playing field on which a game of football was being played, he had to crash land on a hillside, knowing that he, and all his crew, would not survive. The bravery of this captain and his crew was recognized by the people of Sheffield who erected a memorial, surrounded by ten oak trees, in their honour. A book was written in later years about this incident by researcher David Harvey.

Warfare of a different kind once took place on the Close. In the early days of the war schools such as KES, who had already built air raid shelters, had to share their premises with other schools until their own shelters were built. KES at one time opened its doors to the Nether Edge Boys School – a decision not welcomed by KES boys. It proved to be an ill-advised move, and a short one. We did not mix with these aliens and regarded them with some hostility. One winter’s day, when snow lay thick upon the ground, the opposing forces took up their positions on the Close and the snowball fight to end all snowball fights ensued. Each snowball was armed with anything to hand – rocks, glass, broken concrete. No one came to any harm but the message was clear – schoolboys are highly territorial. Our visitors left shortly afterwards – never to return.

After my not too successful year with the mirror-brains of 3A, I was thankfully demoted to the B stream. My year in 4B was the happiest of my school years. At last I was with a group of similar age and ability and, as a bonus, we had as form master the admirable Fatty Magrath. I do not remember Fatty ever resorting to the cane and he was respected all the more for this. I was told later by one of my correspondents that this was far from the truth. Fatty kept a cane in a cupboard which he once used on this unfortunate boy for chattering in class, with good effect. Contrary to the protocol of the day he actually apologized to his victim afterwards!

The form photograph (minus myself - I was absent sick on the day) is on this website - a happier and more likeable group of boys it would be hard to find. I made some close friends in that form – John Woodward, Peter Lloyd and Brian Palfreyman, in particular. (Hi! to them, if they are still in contact and ever get round to reading this.) I can still remember the names of most of the other boys.

One of the more enjoyable features of wartime life at King Ted’s was the annual farm camp. A special bonus was that you could extend your summer holiday and enjoy the fresh air for a couple more weeks if you opted for the final month. I went on two of these camps – the latter at Scopwick in Lincolnshire, where another uncle was the local vicar, and where our family had fled after the 1940 blitz. We all slept together on palliasses in the village hall where we chatted, farted and joked until the early hours.

Messrs. Gaskin and Rosenberg were in charge. Some of the work was quite backbreaking. Our first job was “muck-plugging”, that is, forking out the three foot depth of wet winter straw and droppings in the cattleyard and carting it to the pastures as manure. Potato picking was equally arduous. When we had filled a cart with spuds we had to lead horse and cart to the potato clamp, a long wall of potatoes which were later covered with straw. We would add the latest consignment to the end of the pile. My horse, Silver, was a highly-strung creature and somewhat mentally retarded, I thought. As we were approaching with the latest load, Silver suddenly took fright and lunged forward, mounting the potato pile and coming to a sudden halt atop the clamp, his legs straddling it. He could not move backwards or forwards because of the cart. The look on his face as he considered his next move had to be seen to be believed. I had to leave it to the real farm hands to rescue my unfortunate steed.

The small group of us working on this farm had noticed a nearby apple tree, laden with fruit, as we cycled by in the morning. After we had finished work for the day and as there was no one around, we climbed the tree and began filling our pockets. We became too engrossed in our task to notice a silent band of rustics, armed to the teeth with sickles and scythes, gathering around the base of the tree, menacing looks on their faces. Shamefacedly, we descended the tree and returned our loot to its rightful owners. The matter was reported to Mr. Rosenberg, a figure almost as frightening as Nick. We were soundly dressed down and issued with stern warnings not to repeat this adventure.

An event at a previous farm camp was equally memorable. This farm was a wool and sheep producer. At one stage a number of sheep had wandered into a field of growing corn and consumed large quantities of grain. The result of this was that when they next drank water, the wheat expanded and some of the unhappy sheep literally exploded. The only way to prevent further casualties was, as the farmer put it “to give ‘em the shits”. I was chosen for this delicate task. I was provided with an elderly sheep dog and a map and instructed to walk the sheep to a neighboring farm, some ten miles away. This was quite a task to give to a 14-year old city lad and it was certainly a memorable journey. The dog proved worse than useless. Whenever we passed a field of growing corn the sheep would all pile in, having learned nothing from the supreme sacrifice of their former comrades. The farmer followed up at the rear to collect the bodies of those who had fallen by the wayside. Eventually the treatment began to work and we did not suffer further casualties. The destination farm was on the far side of a small town and I had to drive the sheep through its narrow, winding streets. The iron railings in front of each property had long since been taken away to be made into tanks and guns. As we passed a nunnery, the sheep took a fancy to their neat garden and all piled in. The nuns watched on with horror and began waving white cloths out of the windows until I had the sheep under control again. The survivors were eventually delivered to their new quarters and I was given a welcome lunch before the long trek home with the dog, who did not deserve any lunch.

From 4B I progressed to the Fifth Form – Modern Side to begin a year of hard study for the School Certificate. It was now 1945, the big events of that year being the end of hostilities with Germany in May and with Japan in August. VE day was declared a public holiday. There was much rejoicing, bonfires and fireworks then back to study for the big exam in July. Despite some reservations by Dr Barton that I would get through at all, I managed a Distinction and four Credits – enough to qualify for University entrance for a Commerce degree. I spent two terms in the Transitus, just filling in time really whilst awaiting call-up for National Service and in the meantime having a good time without too much serious work. This life of the lotus eater came to an end in March 1946 when my father’s employer moved him to Darlington and he insisted that I study for my Higher School Certificate at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School there. I was successful, but it was hard work as I had to complete a new syllabus with only four terms to go. I obtained exemption from National Service for three years after I was admitted to the Faculty of Commerce at King’s College, University of Durham (later to become the University of Newcastle)

One significant event in my last year at KES was the revolt against Dr Barton which took place in 1944. Many boys considered the Barton era to be a reign of terror. . In our boyish imagination some believed that he was actually a German spy who had been sent by Hitler as part of a plan to demoralise and subjugate British youth! A group of senior boys (assisted by a past student then at university) devised a plan to humiliate Barton. The glass-fronted Headmaster’s Notice Board, a sacrosanct area if ever there was one, was forced open and to various notices signed by Barton was appended the qualification “NBG”. Other things were done, such as hanging a pair of braces on the Head’s study door. Barton was white with fury and began a manhunt so thorough that it would indeed have done justice to the Gestapo. Suspicion fell on certain boys who had been acting as firewatchers at night and therefore would have had the building to themselves. It would have been impossible to break into the notice board during school hours without being seen. Some days later, a flag was hoisted on the school roof bearing the banner “KES – REVOLT AGAINST TYRANNY” The culprits were eventually hunted down and were treated, in my opinion, with excessive harshness. It would have been too easy to expel them there and then so Barton assigned each one to a senior master whose sight he could not leave. It was even rumoured that this was a 24-hour vigil and that the boys had to go home with their guardians after school – but I do not know how true this was. One of the senior masters was my French teacher, Mr. Scutt, and I well remember his unfortunate charge having to sit in front of the class, observed but incommunicado, for the whole lesson. All the culprits were eventually expelled, I believe. The press got wind of the affair and the “Revolt at KES” was well aired in the “Daily Mail”. These reports are probably still on record, but I wonder how many remember this incident. (Now recorded in some detail in John Cornwell’s book “King Ted’s”.)

I would like pay a final tribute to our PE master, Major Axon, who was one of the few to give me a good report in the dark days of 3A despite my farting loudly (but inadvertently) in the gym whilst performing a strenuous exercise!

Hugh Smailes, sea-farer

My love and affection go to Maestro Baylis. I was hopeless as a performer but he kindled in me a passion for music which has grown throughout my life and is a great solace to me in my old age. He was, I think, form master of J1A and I was never in that class. When in the Junior school I used to long for Wednesday afternoon which started with music and finished in the swimming pool. His two sons, Terence and Timothy, have been my lifelong friends, though Terence, sadly, died a few years ago. Tim, like myself, soldiers on and we still correspond regularly as we have for 60 years. I spent many happy holidays at the family home at Hailsham in Sussex. Timothy has visited us in Australia and we have stayed with them at their home(s) in Leicester.

I only visited KES once since leaving. This was after I had left Darlington Grammar and was about to start at Durham University. Dr. Barton was still there and, much to my surprise, gave me a very warm welcome and was genuinely delighted that I had done well enough to get into University.

Hugh Smailes, Apollo Bay, Victoria, Australia
Email: smailmail*at* (change *at* to the obvious symbol)
July 2007
Revised May 2012


Hugh and Jill Smailes with 3 grand-children in 1997