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More from those pesky vacuees


During 1940, A Government Decree forbade the ringing of church bells, school bells and such other bells (except for hand held bells) reserving their use to be rung only for a German paratroop drop or invasion landing. The school’s own intact bell hung from the main classroom gables in the main playground. One lunchtime, whilst two of us were attempting to learn dance steps inside the school, the school bell started to clang, single clangs, not regular. We all froze. Miss Wren, the duty teacher, rushed out and demanded to know who was ringing the bell by throwing stones at it (two home made catapults were being tried out for distance and accuracy). No one answered. Miss Baker arrived on the scene and ordered everyone back inside the school. The same question was asked as to who rang the bellstill no answer. Miss Baker then informed all of us that a serious offence had been committed, therefore as a punishment, all the senior boys would be awarded a punishment of 500 lines each to read “Ringing Bells in England Means Invasion.” and to be handed in by 3pm Friday. There was a stunned silence, five hundred lines, wow! – the highest amount of lines ever given (two hundred being the most ever given before) and with a two day deadline. Would Derek Butt remember attempting to clip three pens together so he could write three lines in one go?


Being urged to “Dig for Victory” and “Give a Hand on the Land,” the Education Authorities informed rural head teachers that if farmers asked for volunteers for harvesting, boys over the age of 12 would be given afternoons off school to help farmers harvesting. A rate of pay was set at between 3 pennies and 4 pennies per hour, (6 pennies equals 2 ½ pence in our modern decimal currencyAgriculture workers pay was atrocious then, on average 70 shillings for a 56 hour week (about £3-50 in modern terms) with less being paid for each year of age under 21).

At age 12 I was still much of a townie and naive about agriculture work, so when one farmer applied to the school for boys to help in potato picking, I volunteered. Oh dear! What a shock. Four hours of grubbing through soil on hands and bare knees being unable to bend over through back ache, and not doing too well at filling buckets. I was paid a shilling (5p). The look of horror on my mother’s face as I proudly held out my shilling! My hands, knees, trousers and face where I rubbed the sweat off, covered in soil, whilst my only good school shoes looking like cast-offs. My mother forbade me ever to go potato picking in school clothes again.

The Education Authorities decided that our School should have its own garden or allotment to produce food. The site selected was then part of Childe Okeford House grounds, the south side of Rectory Lane. Frank Highman who was a professional gardener (and father of my later chum John Highman) became our gardening instructor.

Small size forks and spades were sent to the school and issued to the boys who wrote their names in pencil inside the forked handles. This was to ensure that each boy thoroughly cleaned his own implement after use. We made two plots out of what were then overgrown lawns and in the course of time under Mr. Highman’s instructions, produced some decent crops.

Periodically, we had spasms of playing-up Mr. Highman one way or another. This usually resulted in one boy being sent back to the school to inform Miss Baker that we would not work. This was a charade as the lads all stopped playing around and re-commence work, Mr. Highman and ourselves knowing that the boy sent back to the school would tuck himself away for ten minutes before returning and nothing else was asked.

However, during our 15 minute break one day, we were all afflicted by devilment. Instead of getting on gardening, we started playing games, chasing one another, having rough and tumbles and not heeding a single request by Mr. Highman. Four of us evacuees were having a grand time and not heeding Mr. Highman even when he did his usual – sending a boy back to the school. Unfortunately, the boy he sent was a new boy and did not know the system. The other lads gradually stopped but our four continued the rough and tumbling.

Suddenly through the gate appeared Miss Baker carrying a cane and bookthe punishment bookjust in time to see us four finish throwing one another around. The other lads were by then standing around with their forks and spades looking on and like Mr. Highman were aghast to see Miss Baker appear. It was a short conversation, something like, “I have seen the problem Mr. Highman, these are the culprits” pointing at us four. Poor Frank Highman could only nod. Without more ado, Miss Baker called us to her one by one, entered our names in the punishment book and informed us were to be caned.

I was not too worried, for it had been the norm in my London school to get one or two handers from any type of indiscipline; running in corridors, answering back a prefect, talking in class, failure to do homework or climbing up the play shed iron work. Fighting was worth four handers. Any bullying was an automatic six hander. I had had my share of one and two handers. We were never given lines which were considered ‘cissy’. So, we were going to be given two handers each, one on each hand. At that time I was about two inches taller than Miss Baker and when I stood in front of her and stretched out my arms she could not use the cane. “Robert please lower your arms so I can cane you ” – “Yes Miss” – “Thank you.” I lowered my arms about a foot and received my two handers. Regretfully, the other three would not cooperate and it caused Miss Baker some considerable embarrassment.

After Miss Baker left, all the others rounded on the new boy demanding why he had gone to the school instead of playing the game and waiting out until things had settled down. Poor lad was not forgiven by the others for a long time. It had one good result. The incident had rather upset Frank Highman and we never played him up again. Our first good year of crops was also nearly the last. Someone had decided that we could buy the produce but would pay the shop prices. Kilos of tomatoes and other salad food wilted away.

Miss Baker asked me quietly why no one would buy the food we had grown, I had to tell her that most of the villagers grew their own vegetables better than those we had grown and, also, parents objected to paying shop prices when it was food we had produced and should have been offered at half price. I believe that all that year’s food was finally sent down to The British Restaurant, which provided ration free dinners to the school and other villagers.