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Early Days at School in Trowbridge

by Stanley H Jones

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Stanley H Jones
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Stanley Jones
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17 February 2004

Recently I have visited a primary school in South Wiltshire to tell the smaller children what it was like to go to school in the forties. It was only then as they listened so fasciniated and asked many questions that I realized how those far off days were so different to schools of today. Not for us the colourful classrooms, with pictures and charts all over the walls. We sat in rows of desks - two to a bench with no backs, and teacher up the front. I had to try to describe what a blackboard looked like! My time at infants and junior school fitted in almost exactly with the duration of the war. I should have started school on the 4th September 1939 but because of the national emergency I know now from research into records that schools started two weeks late . Off I went to Margaret Stancomb's School. Complete with gasmask. This was in a black small tin with a string over my shoulder. Ileft junior school a few weeks before VJ Day. Whilst therefore these recollections are largely of early school days and some may have already have been previously included in a different context they are so interwined with those days as to be worthy I feel of a further chapter of WW2 memories. What were my first memories? Before the war I was told a large hand bell had been to used to call the chldren into school. Church bells would only be rung if the Germans invaded and as the Headmistress considered the school bell as part of this we were summoned into school by the banging of a tin drum in the playground! As the war intensified during the summer of 1940 and air raid warnings increased we spent more and more time sitting in the draughty corrider which separated our Victorian classroom from what was then the newer part of the school. We would sit facing each other with our backs to the wall and windows and to pass the time we sung the children's songs of the day. I still remember singing Nicknack, paddywhack give the dog a bone, ten green bottles hanging on the wall and such like. Immediately after returning from dinner coconut matting was laid out the classroom and we all had to 'sleep' for half an hour. The mats were always in a pile in the corner of the room and each chld had to pick one up. Its a wonder there was any time for learning. I can still remember my teachers. I will call the first one Miss T - and she certainly had today what would called a short fuse. Our classroom had a door, the original entrance to the school, which led directly down some steps to the gate. It seems that one day we were particularly badly behaved and she dashed out of the room in a temper leaving us on our own. After calming down she then returned to continue the lesson. The little ones of today are amazed that there was no electricity for power points. Only lights. No computors or television. We didn't have a radio. How did we learn numbers? On our desks were coloured counters and this was how learned to add and take away . The cat sat on the mat and such sentences repeated over and over were our first introduction to reading. I also learned to write my name in large square letters. Soon I sent up a class - my teacher was then Miss Keeping- a gentle but always in my mind elderly lady. The Headmistress was Miss Collier who also had a class. She never taught me but I have one abiding memory of her room. One day I decided I didn't want to go to school. My mother chased me round the table, caught me and marched me to school and straight into Miss Collier's room. Who should be there but the attendance officer, a man in those days to be feared. I never tried this again, but my brother went one better. One day during playtime he decided enough was enough, escaped from school and ran about half a mile home. It must have been a terrible time during that summer for our teachers and parents as invasion threatened. We were too young to really understand but to hear our parents saying what would happened if the Germans arrived really frightened us. My dad used to take me out on his bicycle. He had a saddle on the cross bar and one evening we went to see some relatives at Ashton Common outside the town. When we tried to get back along Hilperton Road, what is now the A36l the road was completely blocked with barbed wire and armed soldiers. They let my dad push his bike through a small gap on the pavement. I have often wondered whether this was an exercise or nightly precautions. Certainly in the town there were tank traps (concrete blocks) at the river bridges but they were so firmly fixed in the ground at the side of the road it might have been dificult to put them in place had the tanks arrived.The school still kept special days despite the war and we danced around the Maypole and celebrated Empire Day. So those days passed. One evening we met Miss Collier again. This time I think I may have been too big to be on the saddle of my dad's bike. As dad thanked Miss Collier for all she had done he said "So the last of the family have left your school" My sister had also been at there before us and it was the end of an era. We went on our way - and very soon I would be entering the new world of the junior school.

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