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15 October 2014
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My School Days at Westminster City Schoolicon for Recommended story

by Bramley History Society

Contributed by 
Bramley History Society
People in story: 
John Parrot
Location of story: 
Tonbridge, Kent and Exmouth, Devon
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4551374
Contributed on: 
26 July 2005

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This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bramley History Society and has been added to the website on behalf of John Parrot with his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

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Charles (Ted) my father was a grounds man at the Whitbread Estate, Southill, Bedfordshire. He married Mabel and moved to London to join the Metropolitan Police, and had me, and my sister Diana was born six years later. At the outbreak of war my father was a sergeant with duty at Buckingham Palace. We lived-in a police flat as part of the complex of Rochester Row Police Station. In London I went to school at Greycoats Girls School but not for long for then the bombing started again and shrapnel falling onto the balcony- we used shelters in Westminster school grounds in Vincent Square.

We went to my grandparents farm Chisterton Fields, Bicester, Oxfordshire in the holidays and stayed and went to school at Kirtlington, cycling to school, picking up conkers, making clackers with fag packets on the brake bracket and flicking in the spokes of the back wheel. I got a right rollicking for climbing on the school wall and scuffing the toes out of my new shoes.

I could not stay, so I went to Southill to stay with my aunt Ada over Christmas and the winter of 1940-1. There was lots of snow, and I was late for school playing snowballs, and Broom Road was a sheet of ice. Cousin Neil was an organ and piano player, one Saturday he went to Old Warden to practice on the church organ and I went to blow the bellows. Coming back it was blowing a blizzard and we were pedalling, heads down against it. I ran my front wheel between the legs of somebody walking the same way. I backed out and rode like hell!

Granny Litchfield died in January 1941 and was buried on my birthday. The daughters’ had been taking it in turn to look after her. I stayed at home and read to my sister Diana whilst the others went to the funeral. We could see London burning and stood outside in the evenings listening and looking.

Mother then found us more lodgings with the verger of Southill Church with a big garden on the other side of the road. I had a piece to myself something took my seeds so I set a trap and caught a blackbird; I was very upset. I sang in the Southill choir and helped dig graves where care was needed, so that the grave next door did not fall in and previous bones were dug out. I went to cricket nets in the Whitbread estate and chased balls for army men practicing. I took the eleven plus exam and passed. I went to Bedford to take another exam. I don’t know what for. I needed a haircut so Mum used a village chap who did a No. 1 with just a quiff. I felt terrible. I had an interview with Westminster City School which was closest to home in London, a grammar school, and I was accepted.

Westminster City School was evacuated to Tonbridge in Kent. On moonlit nights the mist that hung in the valley showed the reason for picking Tonbridge for evacuation for it could not be seen at all. The school had a master dedicated to finding digs for all the boys. The whole school had moved down to the Judd School where we had lessons three days a week and the other two days with lessons in various halls around town.

I had four different billets around town. The first two were with Mum and Diana, the second I remember was near the railway. Then they went back to London. The paper headlines and pictures were of El Alemain. I had two others, the first of these I do not remember much about except they pinched some of my chocolate biscuits I had brought from home. The second was with a Baptist minister. They were quite a strict family, but they had a smashing daughter of about nineteen! No drinking whilst eating. 1lb of jam had to last the month, own butter for the week. It’s where I learned to go without sugar in tea if I wanted it on cereals. I got told off for using a candle to read (the 39 steps) after I was supposed to be in bed. I regularly walked to church on Sundays.

Highlights of what I remember.

Having ringworm behind my knee.

Buying cherries from a barrow in Tonbridge High Street at break time on the two days in church halls.

Buying buns from the bakers at the top of the High Street.

Borrowing a bike to get my P E kit one lunchtime and going over the handlebars and breaking my left arm. I was taken from Tonbridge to Tunbridge Wells Hospital for setting which then became a regular journey for the rest of the football season. I so often think of the help and honesty of people — the bike and the PE kit was taken back to school and wonder if it would happen today.

Playing football and cricket on the sports ground down behind the library next to the Medway.

Joining the Army cadets — the first uniforms were World War 1 Types — breeches and puttees but always interesting field craft.

Weapons drilling shooting at Tonbridge School range with .22 ammo. The last billet was at the top of the hill overlooking the town.

In April 1944 I went to Chisterton Fields for the Easter Holiday. Whilst sawing wood the bow saw jumped and cut the knuckle of my left thumb, which I then got dirt in whilst planting potatoes the next day. In late May I was taken ill at school, the headmaster told me to go to the doctors; so I walked down to the surgery in the middle of the town. He diagnosed blood poisoning and told me to go to Tonbridge Cottage Hospital. So I walked up to the billet at the top of the hill, picked up my pyjamas and toothbrush and walked further up the hill to the hospital- with a temperature of 104! M and B was the only means of helping with poisoning and the first night was terrible with hallucinations and a feeling of being overwhelmed, but all in all it was not a bad fortnight; helping the nurses make beds and chasing them when matron was not there. For the rest of the summer I went to Chisterton Fields and by this time I had been driving the tractor for three years, so was quite helpful for harvest.

During the summer of ’44 the thousand bomber raids to Germany were taking place, I used to lie out in the fields after supper and watch these planes flying overhead. It was also the time when the V1’s —doodlebugs - were dropping on to London and its approaches. So Tonbridge was not really a good place to be and Westminster City School moved to Exmouth in Devon. It took over a big house with a couple of Nissen huts in the grounds. It was very cramped but at least the school was together and safe. I met the rest of the school chaps and a master at Waterloo and we travelled down ; but for some reason the master took us off the train to Exeter and went down to Sidmouth where we had to wait a couple of hours which made us very late getting to Exmouth. I was billeted with a family with a son my own age and we collected wood from Exmoor, tied it to our bikes and took it down for firewood. Some things stand out. Exmouth has a wonderful sandy beach but it was full of barbed wire and other defences; and out of bounds, the West Country mist and drizzle which was most of the winter although there was one spell of snow, but not cold. The cadets went to the commando training grounds and had a go at the course, but the best bit was the tea in the mess afterwards. We had had four years on rations, seldom without but never excess, so to be given slices of bread an inch thick and being told to really plaster the butter and jam on top- wonderful. I was becoming more passionate about football and playing any minute possible. I remember having to go to the Deputy Head for sweeping the ash off a smashing slide we had going down the drive that the caretaker tried to stop us using. As I had all the prefects with me, I got off with that one. In April 1945 the school decided that any of the 4th year downwards could go back to London and start in the old buildings again although they had been bombed, so I opted to come home, and spent the Easter holidays clearing up some bits around the school ; and so ended evacuation.

I was very lucky. I did not have a nasty billet. I was never hungry; the schools I attended were brilliant and now having done a bit of teaching I know how good those I encountered were. They were not young, the young had gone to war. The classrooms were crowded, there were no facilities except blackboards and chalk; but they made things work.

What else can I remember? Gas masks and how they got bashed about. Air raid shelters, Judd School ones, dug into the sports ground, those in London in Vincent Square and under the Inspector’s office in the station; living out of a suitcase for years, playing in Southill with my cousins in the stage coach, seeing the V 1 drop on to the Guards Chapel, walking with my friend Tony Freeman to Croydon see were the V2 had dropped. On the last home coming, the look on the cabby’s face when I asked him to go into the yard of 67, Rochester Row- a police station! It was good to be back, although only for a year, and then, never again.

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