Stories about my Dad (3)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  gave up his exciting job as a Brylcreem Boy of Bomber Command and signed up to be for what was called at the time “emergency training” as a teacher. It has always intrigued me as to how many veterans of Bomber Command became teachers. And I have my own ideas about that! Fred finished up getting a job quite near to his home, at a school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. The school was built in 1898 for 420 children. Fred taught there until the mid-1950s.

Here’s a modern map of the area. The Orange Arrow points to where Hastings Road School used to stand before it had to be demolished in the late 1950s, lest the subsidence problems made it collapse completely with the teachers and children inside :

When my Dad, Fred, worked there, the vast majority of the children were the sons and daughters of miners, both of coal and of clay. They were all what you would call “rough diamonds”.

Most of them, therefore, were far from sophisticated, either in their knowledge or their behaviour or, indeed, their hygiene. Fred used to tell the story of having a boy in his class called “Stinky Roberts” . At the beginning of the school year, Fred was given the helpful advice by his colleagues never to let this particular boy sit next to a hot radiator under any circumstances. If he sits next to a radiator, then make him move!

Whether it was because Fred did not believe the other teachers, or whether it was because, in the absence of any particularly obvious hygiene problem, he quite simply forgot their advice, remains unclear.  But on one unfortunate day, when “Stinky” did get to sit by that scorching radiator, the wisdom of his colleagues became manifest, as the unbelievable stench of long unwashed filth and ancient, uncontrolled urine wafted inescapably around the room. In this way, Fred learnt one of the most important basics of teaching, namely that no boy is ever given a nickname without very good reason.

At one point, Fred had a bet with another teacher that he could leave his class working quietly while he went down to Lloyds Bank in Swadlincote to draw out some money. The pupils were told to behave themselves properly while he was away, and to continue with their work. This they duly did, and Fred won the bet.

In another variation of what was obviously the same story, Fred did not go down to the bank in Swadlincote, but instead, went to post a letter at the Church Gresley Post Office, a destination considerably nearer to Hastings Road School, and, from the point of view of unsupervised children, a much shorter, and therefore, perhaps, a more plausible time to be away.

One of Fred’s more pleasant jobs was the fact that he ran the school football team. He was partnered in this by his young friend, Vernon Langford. We do actually have a misty photograph of the staff at Hastings Road. Here it is :

The teachers are (back row), Mr Morris, Mr Roberts, Mr Baker, Mr Picker, Mr Goodall and Mr Knifton. The front row comprises Miss Rowe, Miss Smith, Mr Handford, Mrs Errington and Mrs P Middleton.

Fred’s teaching career at Hastings Road reached its pinnacle when he was conducting a lesson in Physics. At this time all secondary school teachers, even those who were trained to teach Geography, were expected to be able to turn their hand to more or less anything.

Fred’s brief was to demonstrate the effects of air pressure, so he took a pint glass, filled it with water, and then put a sheet of card over the top. He then explained that in a moment, when he turned the glass upside down, the contents would not spill out, because the air pressure on the card, which was equal to hundreds of pounds, was pressing down and keeping it in place. This news was received by the children, of course, with immense scepticism.

When Fred turned the glass over, however, perhaps as much to his surprise as anybody else’s, the rather unlikely result was that the card did actually stay in place, and the water did not spill out. The children’s reaction was astonishing. They were all totally amazed. One boy stood up, and shouted at the top of his voice, “A miracle ! A miracle ! Mester Knifton’s worked a miracle ! ” And then he ran out of the room and around the school, still shouting

“A miracle ! A miracle ! Mester Knifton’s worked a miracle ! ”

I believe that this incident was the closest that Fred ever came to being regarded as divine. Here’s a video of a mere mortal man trying out this trick:



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Humour, my Dad, Personal, Science

23 responses to “Stories about my Dad (3)

  1. Excellent. I remember school in the 1960s and a family of Andersons, about 6 of them, and they all smelt so bad no one wanted to sit next to them.

    I would have liked to be in a class taught by your dad.

    • Yes, hygiene was a lot more sketchy in the 1950s! In actual fact, I was in a class taught by my own father when I went to Junior School. He did quite a lot about nature and always had good poems and stories to read out to the class on a Friday afternoon, when everybody, teacher included, was tired and looking forward to the weekend.

  2. Mr Knifton looks a jolly fellow, as befits these tales. We had a Stinky Lemon in primary school.

    • Yes, I think he was a fairly happy chap although he was still affected by the war right up to the late 1960s.
      He could be strict though, as with a class of forty 14 year olds in a mining village they were always keen to take an inch, and then, if the teacher said nothing. to take as many miles as they could get away with!

      • My paternal grandfather made the opposite switch after the First World War. Because he had been a schoolmaster (owning and running the Norwood School for the Sons of Gentlemen) he was assigned to teaching flying. When he came back he could no longer work inside, and bought a removal firm.

  3. Love reading these stories about your dad.

    • Thank you, that’s very kind. He certainly had a very full life, much of it from being in WW2 and seeing and doing things which, thank goodness, we have very little chance of doing in our lives today.

  4. What delightful memories of your father’s days as a teacher. To have witnessed a miracle must’ve been unforgettable for those young minds 🙂 Poor “Stinky Roberts”! In primary school, run by the nuns, we six-year-olds received practical lessons on general hygiene.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I do sometimes wonder if his pupils, who are nowadays mostly old men over seventy, still remember my Dad’s miracle, which was only simple Physics, yet so spectacular and unexpected.
      “Stinky Roberts” was not unique, I’m afraid. Many parents back then were only able to achieve standards of parental care slightly inferior to those the family dog received.

  5. H.J. for avian101

    That’s a lovely story of Fred, your Dad. This story I’m sure makes you proud, silently. Thanks, John. 🙂

    • Thank you for your very kind words. You are absolutely right. I am quietly very proud of my Dad, despite any faults he might have had. He passed on a lot of stories to me, but there were many others, no doubt, which I shall never know.

  6. Thanks for sharing and thank you again for sharing wonderful, interesting stories about you Father!!.. could also be a history lesson for today’s world, especially the story about Stinky to remind us that there are those less fortunate than we are…. 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May your troubles be less
    Your blessings be more
    And nothing but happiness
    Come through your door
    (Irish Saying)

  7. My pleasure. I am so pleased that you enjoyed it. My Dad would have been both amused and amazed to read that his “miracle” was being discussed all across the world, from California to India via Texas and Hampshire. The wonders of technology!

  8. Wonderful memories 💖 Thank you for sharing.

  9. I think we all have all taught at least one child who has stuck in our mind for one reason or another. Young ‘stinky’ sounds a real character and the one you would put next to the annoying child you ‘don’t like’. I like how your dad left the class and went out of the building, you’d be hung, drawn and quartered for simply leaving the room to go to the toilet these days. Great reading John.

    • Thank you very much, I’m glad that you enjoyed it! I think if my Dad had not been a rookie teacher at the time, he would have thought of putting Stinky next to Mr Obnoxious, but I suppose that’s what experience is all about!

  10. Chris Waller

    Teaching in Gresley in those days your dad must have felt like Daniel stepping into the lion’s den. I would imagine that a majority of his young male charges saw little purpose in schooling since they probably expected a life ‘down the pit’ or on one of the pipeyards, like their fathers and uncles. Some though may have made the transition offered by the 1944 Education Act. For all my antipathy towards the grammar school, I do concede it moved me a few rungs up the ladder that my dad could never have climbed. Your dad, I would imagine, was imbued with the optimism that one would naturally feel after emerging from a war.

    • I’m not too certain that my Dad was ever optimistic!
      I don’t know how my younger brother knew this, but he always said that my Dad was not so much optimistic after the war, as a PTSD sufferer with a moderate drinking problem. He wasn’t helped by the fact that, despite his being a volunteer, the RAF kept him in well into 1945. He missed the FA Cup Final victory by Derby County in May 1946, for example.
      To be honest, he only ever told me funny stories about his early days teaching.
      The same also applied to the RAF where horrific tales of what he had seen were very rare, whereas there was always lots of humour. I really do wish that he’d opened up more, or that he’d just told me more of his stories without having to drag them out of him. I wished too that I’d tried harder to elicit things from him, but I was only 15 or 16 at the time.
      He told my daughter far more stories than he ever did me, some of which are really quite amazing and difficult to sort from what could be called “plausible fiction”. Missed opportunities !!

  11. What an absolute delight reading about your Dad, John. Thank you for sharing him with us.

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