With the departure of the headmaster, Mr Graham, in December 1938, the Lent Term of 1939 found Mr Nicholas (Nick) in charge for what was to be a two term interregnum. In February 1939 there was a knock on the door of formroom J3 in Clarke House and the imposing figure of Dr A W Barton quite literally stooped as he passed under the lintel. Copanobs (Miss Copley) introduced him as our future headmaster and so the scene for change was set.
Nick did very well as acting headmaster although he was careful to retain his usual routine. This began each morning with his progression down Newbould Lane timed for an 8.35 am entrance through the door in the wall. This was signalled by a progressive mass movement away from the area by those waiting for Gilman (the porter) to unlock the two lower doors into the school building. Those left nearest to the advancing Nick were inevitably summoned to his presence with the command “Boy - pick up that paper - see me after assembly outside Room 63”. The penalty was usually to copy out Theorems 29 and 30 (Pythagoras and its corollary) in different letters unless you happened to be a member of Chatsworth when alternative and unpredictable consequences might well follow. If questioned on your favourite meat, the answer had to be beef (corned beef would produce a marked rise in his blood pressure): if the question was a more generalised one pertaining to diet, a safe answer was ‘custard’ provided it was made clear this was of the egg variety and not powder.
But I digress. Even as an eight year old, one sensed all was not well in that summer of 1939. Parents were uncertain whether to sanction attendance at the August camp at Winchelsea which in the event was to be the last for both us and Mr Saville (Housemaster of Lynwood and Headmaster of the Junior School at Clarke House) who recalled that not since the School started in 1905 had there been a break, although in 1918 the roar of guns across the channel could be distinctly heard.
On Monday, 4th September 1939, the School informed all parents that boys were not to return the following week and further information would follow regarding arrangements while air raid shelters were being constructed on the School Close. Thus began ‘Home Service’, an arrangement whereby pupils of all ages living in the same locality were allocated to create groups of about twelve which rotated every two or three weeks between the homes of parents who had volunteered to turn one of their rooms into a formroom. While we stayed put, staff visited us in rotation and we soon got used to the system of work allocation and collection with a little teaching thrown in while they enjoyed a cup of coffee prepared by the lady of the house.
In January 1940 we returned to a very different environment from the one we had left the previous summer. The School Close was hopeless for football, the tunnel air raid shelters having been constructed on a cut and fill basis. Coke fuel had been stockpiled in the fives courts and the swimming bath was unheated, although John Watson always claimed the chill was taken off.
School life soon settled into a pattern which was to continue almost to the end of hostilities in Europe. No gatherings outdoors, for example on 11th November at the war memorial or for school photographs; membership of the Air Training Corps (ATC) and aircraft recognition classes - even now I can not be certain that what we thought was a low flying Blenheim one afternoon was not in fact a Heinkel He 111. Interminable air raid precaution practices - the intermittent ring of the bell triggering an orderly procession to the shelter where we sat on wooden slats arranged down both sides of the tube; meanwhile members of staff consulted stop watches to decide whether or not we would have survived an actual attack. On one occasion the lights were extinguished to test whether the emergency system would cut in - it didn’t!
So who were the characters of the war time staff common room? The demands of the armed services made it inevitable that ladies began to appear to make good staff shortages. Nick, whose number two teaching mathematics rejoiced in the name Miss Manners, capitalised on the situation by instituting an alternative to “Theorems 29 and 30 in different letters” being to write out a hundred times “Manners maketh man”, but then to be fair I believe Nick had been at Winchester. Perhaps that explained why, like a true gentleman, he always coughed a warning as he approached Room 63 where his mathematics class had been left to private study.
Science was fortunate to have had Mr Bowman who taught chemistry and was reputed, according to the script writer for the School Shout (a light hearted look at school life performed each Christmas), to have christened his son ‘Faraday’. Physics in the able hands of ‘Trotsky’ otherwise known as Mr Redston held sway in the Large Lecture Room separated from Mr Bowman in the Small Lecture Room by the Preparation Room. Mention must be made of ‘Tweenie’ Lee, scientist and form master of 2A, who introduced so many of us to the mysterious world of science. His initial demonstration of vacuum by boiling water in a light tin can, corking it and allowing it to cool and buckle - Invisible Hands - never failed to impress. His acute sense of smell - he could detect acetylene from 1mg of calcium carbide in an ink well at 30ft - was an asset to any chemist but not to members of 2A!
Classics of course was ‘Marcus’ or Mr Watling. His performance with chalk was deadly - accuracy, precision and power to the rearmost desk quickly followed up by the instruction ‘face’ such that the offending individual wondered quite what had hit him as Marcus returned to the front of the class.
It would be invidious to single out any of the ladies who, on balance, coped well - especially in the matter of discipline where they were astute enough to recognise that Nick often walked the corridors during class time, so they simply invited wrongdoers to stand outside the door. From there justice was duly administered in Room 63 at the end of the day.