- Contributed by
- 2nd Air Division Memorial Library
- People in story:
- Howard Temperley
- Location of story:
- Penrith, Lake District
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 May 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Jenny Christian of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library on behalf of Howard Temperley and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
The original idea was to send me to Canada, but the ship on which I was to have travelled, the City of Benares, was sunk. My parents, therefore, decided to send me to Penrith, in the Lake District, instead. Partly to avoid the anticipated bombing, but also with a view to turning its facilities over to the military, the Newcastle Royal Grammar School had moved there at the outbreak of war. It had therefore been in situ for two years by the time I joined it in September 1941, having become, in effect, a boarding school, albeit in a decidedly improvised fashion.
On the eve of my departure, my father, uncertain as to how I then aged eight would cope away from home, gave me a little lecture: I was to stand up for myself and not go complaining to teachers when things went wrong. My mother, more concerned about my physical welfare, thoughtfully packed a large jar of malt in my trunk. Bless them, they meant well.
The School had laid on a special train for the trip. So there we all were in Newcastle Station, our mothers smartly turned out for the occasion, we in blue caps and blazers. Last hugs and kisses were exchanged and off we went across the Pennines to such fates as awaited us. In my case this meant being put on a bus for Beaumont, on Beacon Hill, where, having lugged our trunks upstairs, we were put to work peeling potatoes, mine somehow disappearing in the act of peeling.
Later that evening I made a horrible discovery – my jar of malt had shattered. I closed the lid of my trunk and said nothing. The following evening I suffered a further misfortune. On the waste land behind Beaumont there was a sten-gun firing range. Tucker Anderson, the master in charge of Beaumont, warned us strictly not to go there. But what possible danger could there be when they weren’t firing? Besides, all that separated the Beaumont garden from the waste ground was a straggly barbed wire fence. The wire broke as I climbed over, cutting a deep wound in my thigh. Fortunately it was covered by my trousers. Again, I kept quiet.
This second misfortune was more immediately inconvenient than the first in that it meant that I couldn’t have a bath. Beaumont had only one bathtub for the thirty or so boys living there, who were accordingly bathed in groups of eight or ten at a time, so my absence was never noticed. After a while another complication arose in that my wound turned septic and I developed a large lump in my groin. However, I had a penknife and a handkerchief and when no one was looking I would creep away and doctor it, either in the toilet or under the bushes. Thus, from the very start, I had a secret life, concealed even from my roommates. After three or four weeks my wound began to heal and the swelling in my groin went down. More alarming was what was happening inside my trunk. When no one was around I would peek in it from time to time where I found that the original sticky mass had acquired a furry mouse-like mould that gradually transformed itself into an all-encompassing fungal growth.
And so the weeks passed with me still wearing the same clothes that I had worn when my mother had bravely waved me off at Newcastle station. I wrote no letters home because I didn’t know my address. Nor could I tell the time, but that didn’t seem to matter because our days followed a regular pattern. And always there was the horror of what was happening inside my trunk. What eventually brought it to light was the preparation of the laundry bills for us to take home at Christmas and the belated discovery that the only article I had sent to be laundered was the handkerchief I had used in the course of my surgical operations. I still recall the heavy tread of the posse that followed me upstairs, the dragging out of the trunk and the intake of breath that followed the flinging open of the lid.
I was duly cleaned up and sent home, but it was plain to my parents that all was not well and a letter was duly written. Anxious not to be returned to Penrith I sought ways to break my arm but to no avail. At Easter a letter from Tucker Anderson arrived saying a vacancy at Woodland House had occurred and so I could be transferred there. But being put in a hostel designed specifically for Junior School boys looked to me like a demotion, so I refused
Why, at the age of eight I had been put in a hostel with boys whose ages ranged from ten to eighteen I have never understood. Terrible bullying went on, mostly among the 11-to -13-year-olds. As I have since observed with flocks of birds, those picked on were the weak and timorous. By way of proving that I was neither I performed acts of lunatic bravery, climbing trees and jumping out of windows.
My decision to stay was affected by the fact that after the first term we all moved to Hazelbank in Yanwath, on the road to Ullswater, two miles out of Penrith. Being in magnificent country and on the edge of what was then a vast military training ground, this opened up all kinds of new possibilities. Sentries guarded the roads, but cutting across the fields we found we could wander pretty much at will through a landscape scarred by tank tracks and careered over by armoured cars. The soldiers we encountered didn’t seem to mind. Later on there were Americans who gave us sweets and chewing gum, occasionally cigarettes. The command headquarters was Lowther Castle, its Oriental gardens now neglected and overgrown, providing vantage points from which we could watch the staff cars coming and going.
Older boys had homework; we younger ones did not, or if we did I can’t recall spending any time on it. Ill prepared though I was in other respects, I did know how to snare and gut rabbits, my father, originally a country boy, having taught me. My first effort, to judge by the missing peg and circle of trampled ground, had snared a cow. I expected terrible repercussions but nothing happened. After that I had more luck, selling my catch at half-a-crown each in Penrith market. With the proceeds I bought gin traps. Tucker Anderson caught me with my first and confiscated it; after that I was careful not to bring them anywhere near Hazelbank.
In time two other boys, both somewhat older than me, Rex Tate and Fungus Young, joined in and together we went off on bushwacking expeditions, finding young woodpigeons, which we plucked and gave to the woman at the pub to cook for us, and hedgehogs which we sought (unsuccessfully) to cook Gipsy-fashion wrapped in clay. On one such expedition a rabbit in a trap alerted us to the fact that another trapper was at work. We took not only the rabbit but as many of his traps as we could carry.
Of classroom instruction I have only the haziest of memories. Although I spent five days a week in class my mind was mostly elsewhere. The centre of my life was Hazelbank and the countryside beyond, which I had come to regard as one vast adventure playground. And adventures there were in plenty, as on the day an ammunition lorry blew up scattering shells in all directions. I managed to retrieve one, which we spent hours trying to take apart. Eventually we gave up and buried it in Hazelbank grounds, where presumably it still is.
When the time came for us to depart, bombing of the North East having ceased by 1944, we gathered up our traps and buried them. What we got away with still astonishes me. Tucker Anderson had a good idea of what was going on, but being in charge of billeting the entire school he already had more than enough on his plate. Mrs. Wood, the housekeeper, mostly sat in the kitchen with her cat, showing no inclination to bother us so long as we didn’t bother her. And so we enjoyed a kind of anarchic freedom which, were it to happen nowadays, would soon have the police and welfare services calling. But in wartime the authorities had better things to do than worry about our petty delinquencies. There were, to be sure, much nastier things that went on of a kind that Shurman only hints at and which I won’t go into here.
True, I never learned my tables, and cannot to this day readily tell you the sum of 8 x 9. But what I got from Beaumont and Hazelbank was an education of quite a different sort. Partly it was a confidence that came from having survived; partly it was a matter of learning about human potentialities; and partly it was the sheer magic of being allowed to run wild in a way Wordsworth would have appreciated and which I daresay few were allowed even back in his day.
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