Geoffrey Marsh: WBHS during WWII

Last updated: 4 August 02

Geoffrey’s CV – do you remember him?

  • Joined the illustrious band in Oct 1939 (while waiting for the Air Raid shelters to be finished). Member of the “B” classes with Senior cap in July 1942.
  • Left in July 1944 (after scraping 6 credits + 3 passes).
  • Articled to Architect,  attended part time courses in Architecture at W’ton Tech. and School of Art. “Called up” July 46. Served Royal Engineers, (mainly Suez Zone).
  • Demobbed Dec 48. Returned to architectural part time studies (including “Testimonies of Study” designed by some infidel to make study courses last longer).
  • Qualified Associate Royal Institute of British Architects in 1958. (Phew!).
  • Continued on Local Authority circus, then formed own practice. This led to partnership which subsequently failed to prosper, so undertook lecturing!! – (incidentally what happened to my close friend Mr Horne?).
  • Happily married to Phyllis Marjorie who looks after me with great care in my dotage. Have 2 children and 2 grand-children (18 and 16).
  • I enjoyed my years at WBHS and I’m sure most others did.

And now, my schooldays in more detail …

Entry

My 11+ Examination results turned out to be successful and I was looking forward to joining my new High School in Wednesbury. Letters duly arrived requesting me to attend an Interview and Oral Examination and on the appointed date I was taken to the School by my mother to undergo the next ordeal.

I still vaguely recall being taken into the Headmaster’s Study to confront the Head (C S Kipping), the Chairman of Governors and one teacher. Their questions were not as easy as I had anticipated and by the end of the proceedings I wasn’t too happy about my prospects. My doubts were confirmed a few days later when I received a letter from the School stating that the results of my Oral examination were too low to warrant a free scholarship. It stated that I would be accepted in the “B” stream classes provided my parents paid school fees of £4-4s-0d per term. This put a complete blight on the proceedings until my father told Mr Dean (who had recommended the school) what had happened. The latter immediately told Dad that his salary would be increased to cover the extra cost of these school fees. I WAS IN!

At the end of August 1939 I was dragged around by my mother to various shops (Horne’s, etc) and kitted out in school uniform (including sport attire).

On 3 Sept 1939 the Second World War commenced and a few days later my parents received a letter from WBHS stating that the September school start needed to be delayed until sufficient air-raid shelters and other precautions had been completed. Consequently I enjoyed a long summer holiday (cricket, football, fire-cans etc.) and started school in late October 1939.

Travel

I got to school from 57 Evans Street, Willenhall by

  1. bus from Neachells Lane to Willenhall;
  2. train from Willenhall passenger Station (Rose Hill) to Wood Green, Wednesbury;
  3. a 3/4 mile walk from station to school.

The total time took about 1½ hours (and I had to get up early!). The return journey was similar provided I caught the appropriate train and sometimes I needed to walk to Pleck Station (or across town to catch a bus on the Walsall/Wolverhampton route).

Getting to and from school in this manner was very long-winded and did not improve until I was allowed to use my bike by the time I’d reached the age of 13. (I recall pedalling along via Darlaston, into Wood Green, and then quickly donning my school cap as I turned into St Paul’s Road – zooming through the school gates and into the right hand bike sheds.)

Generally I’d remain at school during the lunch break and eat sandwiches etc. made up by my mother. (There were no school dinners provided until about 1944 when meat-pies were served at a price in the Common Room adjacent to the Headmaster’s Study).

On Wednesdays and Saturdays I rode to school for morning lessons and then rode the 5 miles back home for lunch before returning for the afternoon Sport activities. (The aggregate 20 mile cycle route probably kept me fit).

Morning Assembly

C S KIPPING – alias “the Boss”, alias “George”, our Head martinet and Chemistry and Chess “prof” – took morning prayers in the Assembly Hall and castigated pupils for their previous day’s misdemeanours. (He alone was authorized to give the cane and sometimes there was a lengthy queue outside his Study at 9:30 am!)

“Dapper Sam” MANGAN (French and Sports master) was the accompanist on the piano (sitting there playing without socks since it was his practice to wear sandals only whatever the weather!).

Other Masters and Sixth Formers added punishment rolls and it sometimes seemed that the complete complement of approx. 250 pupils were forever doing extra “prep”, excersises or writing “lines”.

Classmates

I can recall the following pupils who were in my class during the period November 1939 – July 1944: Alan Baugh, Bissell, Blount, Cartwright, Cherry, Barry Gibb, Alan Fisher, Fletcher, Keith Jones (a sporting star who made 1st eleven at cricket and football by the time he was 13 and then suffered a heart valve problem in his later teens), Lloyd, Ken Morgan (my cousin who died in 1988), Tony Parsons, Lightfoot, Latham, Alan Morris (a former friend at Moseley Village Primary School Wolverhampton who unfortunately died in 1940), Pye, Ken Russell, Sylvester, Taylor, Geoff Wilkes.

Teachers

The war disrupted the teaching staff. Male staff either volunteered or were conscripted for war service and were mainly replaced with female staff (which was generally bad for morale and morals!)

I recall Mr LEGGE the Art teacher being replaced by Miss HELLIWELL, a very good Art Mistress whose ample proportions quickly earned her the name “Bellyswell”. (Her movements were watched at every turn, and pencils and rubbers accidentally bounced on the floor as she passed between the single desks, as innocent pupils attempted to gauge the height of her stockings.)

Fortunately this interest quickly waned and after a couple of months we concentrated on what she said, not on her gymnastics.

Our Junior French master was “called up”, as was Mr COOMBES (Latin). Female replacement teachers were recruited to teach English Grammar and English Literature (eg (i) Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” and “MacBeth”, (ii) writings by Siegfried Sassoon and poems by John Keats etc), but unfortunately these teachers had little control and were poor communicators with classes of rowdy boys.

One male replacement was the notorious Mr HORNE (alias “Honk”). Nobody seemed to have any idea where the “Boss” found him – (and my class wished that he would quickly lose himself). He was scruffy and wore old grey “bags” (occasionally with the fly open) and a brown check sports jacket. He hadn’t the ability to teach adequately and tramped the aisles between our desks peering at our “work” and then stepping backwards and clouting individuals around the neck if they attempted to speak. There was silent retaliation in the form of “pen flicking”, whereby as he passed we flicked the blue ink from our porcelain inkwells onto the back of his jacket. (Fortunately he never did a proper neck dislocation job but his crafty clouts did start a couple of stand-up fisticuffs: (i) with Tony Parsons (who had been knocked off his seat), and (ii) with Geoff Wilkes who, despite his gentle religious manner, suddenly decided that enough was enough, and retaliated. (Needless to say “Honk” did not pursue these retaliations).

Meanwhile we were getting first class tuition from the old stage teachers such as “ABE” TURNER (Maths), “SMITHY” SMITH (Geography), “GHANDI” EDE (History – and ambidextrous with it), HATCHER (Deputy Head) who had been injured in 1st World War and taught Geography and often took my class for Chemistry. A late replacement in the form of KEN HOPKINS arrived circa 1942 and at last taught me some Physics!

The Headmaster

The “BOSS” concentrated on administration and Chemistry. He skirted around the corridors in a shiny black robe and a mortar board covering his bald head, – chewing small red pastilles and bellowing orders such as, “You Boy!”, “Stop Boy!”, “Don’t run Boy!” etc. (I doubt whether he knew my name until I filed into his Study to shake his hand at the end of each term, but the term “Boy!” which he shouted always seemed to refer to me – and kept me in order!). His Chemistry lessons included:

  • cutting up small slivers of Phosphorus or Sodium with his penknife, picking them up with his bare nicotine fingers and shouting the warning “never do this, boys!” – as he dropped the pieces into water (causing accompanying plops, fizzes, flames and bangs);
  • sticking his head in the “fume cupboards” and preparing various experiments which resulted in billowing acrid orange fumes etc;
  • lighting the Bunsen burners and undertaking endless experiments with “acids” + “bases”, (salts + water etc.) and fixing our minds with atomic and molecular weight “tables”.

(NOTE:- As the Problem Editor of the “Chess Magazine” and an International Player, the “Boss” was determined to improve his pupils’ powers of concentration to assist in their general education. Consequently Chess became part of the curriculum for each new class. He gave lectures and detailed instructions about the game, using a large 3 dimensional board set on an easel and “fret-cut” ply pieces, painted red or black to indicate movements and strategies. His efforts were well-rewarded and subsequently he became responsible for the development of “Kipping Chess Clubs” throughout the Midlands.)

Random Memories

  • The “Tuck Shop” in the Quad which sold sweets and crisps during the Morning Break and closed in early 1940 because of “Rationing”.
  • The old “Bristol Bulldog” (?) plane located in the the corner of the rear garden which vanished circa 1940.
  • The appearance of Smithy’s Morris car after the gas bag fuel tank had been fitted to overcome the petrol shortage. (We thought that it would fly away!).
  • The occasional practice of school cap “chucking” – from window to window of the “school” train.
  • Operating the innards of our Cricket Scoreboard which in the 1940’s almost matched any County Standard.
  • Seeing the “Boss” with his old grey raincoat and trilby hat (with its greasy black band and turned up brim) “squatting” on the top of his cleft walking-stick, in the middle of the roped-off cricket square.
  • The lunch-break chess games with the “Boss” (in the Common Room next to his Study) in which he played at speed with a line of six or more of us and gave any winning pupil a 6d piece. He moaned about our moves as he quickly moved along the line and rarely lost money.
  • Harold Rich’s jazz repertoire on the school piano in the Assembly Hall during lunch breaks. (A foretaste of things to come!).
  • “Digging For Victory” in the rear gardens by the Tennis Courts. The “Boss” was very keen on this weekly exercise of potato and turnip or artichoke growing. I never knew where the produce went since we had no school kitchen,  (on reflection they may have been sent to the local “British Restaurant”!).
  • The end of term reports and prize-giving in the Assembly Hall with the “Boss” juggling on stage with oranges,  and our pea shooter activities from the Gallery.

Conclusion

My five years at Secondary School quickly passed without too many mishaps since I’d managed average performances in classwork and sport and had “got” my Senior Cap (the normal method of assessing success) by Easter of my 3rd year. I sat the Northern Universities School Certificate Examination in June 1944 and gained the Matriculation level with 6 Credits (in Art, Chemistry, English Literature, History, Maths, Physics) and Passes in English Grammar, French, Geography. I left School happily, looking forward to an interesting career (with a large salary!).

Geoffrey Marsh

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