In today’s post Marcus Webb shares another of his dad’s wonderful stories taking us back to 1915. I especially love the tale of the trainee pilot:
Dad’s memories of his time in the village school at Cockfosters from
around 1915 until after the end of WW1 included a beloved lady teacher whose motto was “Good, better, best, never let it rest, ‘til your good is better, and your better best!”. This was reiterated to me in my youth, and I found it a rather daunting aspiration, although it always pleased dad to have it quoted back at him.
In addition to the lady teacher, the headmaster was a man of his time whose cane, dubbed “Tickle Toby” was always placed in a prominent position, ready to be brought into play should there be any infraction of behavioural rules.
The schoolroom was heated by a large cast iron coke burning stove, upon which those fortunate enough to be provided with a midday meal by their mothers could heat up their victuals in the winter. My grandmother provided my dad with such meals, which he took to school with him as he walked up Cat Hill from East Barnet. They were placed in a pie dish which was placed on top of the stove to provide a nourishing hot meal for the lad.
The school backed onto Trent Park which had had a polo field before WW1. With the enormous expansion of aerial warfare after 1914, the field had been modified as an aerodrome for training pilots before they were dispatched to the Western Front. In those days, there were no dual control aircraft, and certainly no flight simulators. The neophyte pilot would be told what he was supposed to do, placed in the cockpit, then instructed to fly solo, being led by the experienced pilot in another ‘plane, who communicated by means of hand signals and gesticulations.
On one day of unprecedented excitement, a trainee pilot come in too low, and was heading towards the school playground- at playtime! He managed to pull up sufficiently to avoid what would have been a horrendous situation, but just beyond the school there was a line of Lombardy Poplar trees which he failed to clear. The ‘plane hit the trees and crashed to the ground, a total wreck. Very fortunately, the pilot sustained only minor cuts and bruises, and there was no fire. But right to the end of his days, the smell of Castrol“R” would bring the memory of that occasion back to him with undiminished clarity. ( Castrol“R” is based on Castor Oil, a vegetable rather than a mineral oil and used to be used in high performance engines and motorcycles).
In the great celebrations of summer 1919 to mark the end of the War ( The Armistice of November 11 1918 had marked the end of hostilities but not the official end of the War) , the school organised an outing to Enfield, where a large fair and general high jinks were being held. So in the company of his school colleagues, a 9 year old dad was transported by a large horse drawn cart along the lane between Cockfosters and Enfield. Dad was so engrossed in the attractions that he missed the cart going home, and as the evening fell into dusk he had to tread a fearful, lonely way along a now deserted lane overhung with tall hedges to accentuate the gloom. After around 4 miles he at last arrived home in East Barnet, and my grandmother, who had been beside herself with worry, was so relieved to see him that he escaped with a light scolding and comforting refreshments. That lonely, overhung lane is now the A110…..
Many thanks to Marcus for sharing these ‘memories’ with us. If you enjoyed this and would like to take part in this blog, with either your tales or those of a member of your family then please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org ……
What are your earliest memories of schooling and when was it?