Schooling In The War Years

Dalton & Listerdale Infant & Junior School

Below is a piece of writing my father wrote regarding his early schooling years in Wickersley, South Yorkshire:-

My early years of life were spent in growing up in a semi-rural, private housing estate, about three miles east of Rotherham, an industrial town in the bottom of a valley.

The whole of my formative education took place at Dalton and Listerdale School, in the period of time which is closely parallel to the duration of the Second World War.

If this period of strife and conflict was indicative of this particular time, it was mirrored by my battles and skirmishes with some of my fellow school mates and authority in the persona of the Head Teacher.

With the onset of war came rationing of clothes, food, and associated wants and unfulfilled needs and desires.

Some of my earliest memories were of school. I must have been an early reader, as I can remember helping other children to read.

A sturdy climbing frame, built into the wall in the infants playground, was a particular favourite. As I made my solitary progress around the labyrinth of steps, ladders and tunnels, my imagination conjured up images of heroic deeds accomplished by past, long dead warriors. For a brief time, I was in heaven!

The teachers were quite a diverse collection of individuals. Some time served professionals, some of uncertain age and qualification, brought back into service by war demand. Some not loath to use ruler or fist, when their patience ran out.

One teacher, a choleric Welshman with the predictable name of Morgan was a truly alarming figure. At best a genial, kind hearted man, able to instill learning into his charges, at worst, violent and subjected to rage. I recall him beating a friend of mine, a mild mannered boy, around the classroom, because the culprit, had the temerity to draw a line without a ruler.

Miss Hiscock, a gentle, a self effacing, late middle aged lady, left no enduring memories.

Miss Ward, 35ish, suave and efficient poise, commanded whole hearted respect from the toughest of boys.

And Miss Bracegirdle, quite young, with sturdy build and eager manner. Nothing girlish, with her and her “jolly hockey sticks” approach.

But the memory invoked by the Headmaster remains permanently engraved on my conscious. With his misplaced humour and malicious sarcasm, meant his teaching methods were fatally flawed. For years the recital of multiplication tables gave me problems, as a result of his teaching methods.

Ironically, later, when we took our two eldest children to Dalton and Listerdale for their education, Mr. Lake was still incumbent at the school, and they left at the age of eleven, with no noticeable adverse, effect on their psyche!

For my cousin Dorothy, who was in the same class, conditions were more pleasant.

In one lesson where I failed to give a satisfactory rendition of the nine times table, Mr. Lake, with fiendish relish, seized the chance to compare my abject failure to my cousin’s obvious, intellectual superiority.

Needless to say, cousin Dorothy passed the intelligence quotient at eleven and I failed.

The daily routine started in the school’s main hall. Proceedings got underway with a prayer, followed by Miss Ward accompanying the pupils, on the piano. Traditional songs were sung, some with rousing air such as, “The British Grenadiers” and the “Men of Harlech” then to the lifting refrain of the “Lincolnshire Poacher” and “John Peel” to the hauntingly score of the “Ash Grove”.

Then the Head Teacher addressed us on points of order and interest, such as, allowing the girl whose father was a sailor, to show us a bunch of bananas, or naming pupils who had transgressed the school’s good conduct reputation by their obnoxious behaviour to some one or something, usually out of the school’s bounds.

The assembly was brought to a close by the singing of hymns and the saying of the Lord’s Prayer.

The mid-day meal was brought from outside kitchens and was served in the main hall. The cost of the meal was half a crown, or 12.5p, a week.

Prunes and custard was a regular feature, and flat sponge puddings in a large tins, tasted of salt on the underneath.

There was infrequent dance lessons which I enjoyed. I learnt the “Saint Bernard” Waltz, from that.

There were no excursions, educational or otherwise, but with the school being juxtaposed with the wood, there were occasional forays with the class on nature walks.

There was plenty of recreational space at the front and back, most of it grass covered. In the warmer weather most of the children played on the grass, often involving the boys wrestling. There was one incident, where boys wrestling on the grass started to fight. I was involved. I cannot remember the reason for the dispute, just that I was very angry. The boy I was fighting was, older, bigger and enormously tall! I mounted a ferocious assault, throwing my punches in a frenzy of hate, all of which he blocked, with his massive arms. Finally I stopped, exhausted. My opponent, then, disdainfully, threw me down, sat on my chest and spat in my face!

Popular games were marbles and, in season, conker playing. Horse chestnuts were in abundance in the adjacent woods. Of course, collecting of the great tree’s nuts was great fun.

Most food was rationed. Even so, we never went hungry. Cereals: Weetabix, Corn Flakes and Shredded Wheat were usually available sometimes depending on supply or the number of food coupons in the ration books. A favourite for breakfast was tomato dunk. My granny fried canned tomatoes, and passed slice after slice to me and my brother.

For tea, we had, sometimes, a boiled egg and slice after slice of bread and margarine, thinly spread with jam.

There was virtually no evidence of sweets, biscuits or such. I recall one occasion when I was finishing off the remains of an apple, when a school mate said “gis your cob”. Even though they were not rationed.

“Crisps” were in short supply. Favourite place to get some, was in the local pub, if you dared to risk going in.

On rare occasions, my mother used to bring Walls ice cream, wrapped in newspaper, from town. To this day, I still prefer to eat ice cream, preferably “Walls”, nearly melted.

On Saturdays I did the week’s big shopping for the weekend. You were registered with a butcher, who took care of your coupons, and in return provided you with so much meat. My mother designated the type, and I chose the joint.

For a while I walked round to the shops. Till one day I noticed my dad’s “push-bike” in the coal place. I did not own a bike, but I learned at eight to ride. This was a highly traumatic experience. My brother purloined a dubious specimen and set me off on a steep hill. Careering wildly down the hill without much control, I crashed into a hedge at the bottom. But from that day, I could ride.

With the village being in the country, it was surrounded by woods and farmlands. In consequence, crops of of potatoes, peas, turnips, as well as the usual wheat corn and such.

When I was aged eight, I went out, one day, with my brother and two friends, and we decided to get a turnip. Of course the turnip was in a farmer’s field. We were just about to eat the turnip, after skinning it with a sharp knife, when the farmer, Mr. Burden came up to us. He said he was going to report us to the police. Which he duly did. With the result that the village “Bobbie” Mr. Baron knocked at our back door, after a few weeks, investigating the alleged crime. He came again, and again, and again. When I used to see him coming, I made a hasty retreat, to the back garden, where we kept two rabbits. Anyway, the Policeman’s visits, came to an end, when my brother received summons to attend the West Riding County Court. He was found guilty of the charge of stealing a turnip from Burden. Because of his age, eleven, he escaped more severe punishment. Later on, in life, he was in court for a minor traffic offence, and the “turnip” was on his criminal record. I did not have to attend, because of my age.

A common practice was to keep livestock, to help with the ration. We had rabbits, which were “Flemish Giants”, and were of gigantic proportions. When I lifted them out from the hutch, after biting my fingers, they often managed to escape. Their usual goal was the vegetable plot, where their voracious nibbling reduced the salad crop to a minimum.

Like most kids I loved to read comics, but they were in short supply. You were very lucky to get a “Dandy” or “Beano” at the newsagents, you had to be early. So we had to exchange old comics. It was a common experience, to answer the door to one of the friends, who wanted to “swop” his comics for yours.

There was no T.V., so the “wireless” was the major entertainment in the home. The “pictures” were favourite. The local chapel showed “silents”, two hours for 6d. Further afield, in Rotherham you had a choice of six picture houses and a theatre.

With my father working on the L.M.S. Railway, we had cheap travel on holiday. We went to relations in Crail, Scotland, travelling for about thirteen hours.

Our back garden led directly onto waste land, where a saw mill’s shavings were dumped. We used to jump from quite a height into the shavings. It was quite a risk, because sometimes, if the shavings were freshly dumped, it was red hot in the centre.

There was a company working a stone quarry, which closed down early on in my life. The stone was soft sandstone. Later we came across a number of large storage buildings with a vast number of carvings in the stone. It was wondrous behold. Of course they were carvings for graves etc.

I have no recollection of any adult taking me to school; apart from one occasion, on a half day holiday, for eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday; when my father noticed me meandering, forgetfully, on the track, and carried me home on the crossbar of his bike.

I had two main routes to school, which was a mile away. One was the “woodway” from the bottom of the Listerdale Estate and top of the woods. The other was the “roadway”, the main road from Listerdale to the Brecks. Both routes had their attractions but the roadway gave the chance to see heavy “Churchill” tanks and other military hardware passing the school. Another attraction on this route was the ornamental pond, in the grounds of Lister’s ‘Castle’. This was full of marine, wildlife, which we, often, observed from the bank side.

Lister’s ‘Castle’ was a pseudo semi-castellated edifice; which to us looked very grand; built, in the 1930’s by housing magnate, Joe. Lister.

A mandatory piece of equipment which all school children must carry to and from school was the gas mask which was designed to protect from poisonous gases dropped in an air attack.

Special test centres were set up at school, where the efficacy of the masks were assessed by using school children in simulated gas attack conditions.

There was an air raid shelter built at school, where we had practice drill.

When the air raid warning sounded, when we were at home, it did not mean a dash for the local shelter, because my mother decreed that we were safer at home.

James B. Mollekin
23 March 1998

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