Tag Archives: Hastings Road

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:

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

Stories about my Dad (2)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  left the Brylcreem Boys of the RAF and Bomber Command, and signed up to be trained as a teacher. He finished up getting a job quite near to his home in Hartshorne Road, Woodville. It was at the school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. He taught there until the mid-1950s. In the 1990s, when I used to go and watch the local football/soccer team, Gresley Rovers, I met one or two of his erstwhile pupils who all remembered him, as a very strict teacher who brooked no nonsense. That might well have been because the teenage sons of coalminers at Hastings Road would have been a tough proposition to keep under control in classes of more than forty, especially for a first time teacher. I can quite well imagine that Fred would have had to employ what DH Lawrence, faced also with teaching the teenage sons of coalminers, called “three years’ savage teaching of collier lads”.

Here’s Hastings Road School. I have used one of the reprinted Victorian maps of England sold by Alan Godfrey . Hastings Road is in the middle of the eastern edge:

Notice how many “Old coal shafts” there are, even in this small area. Just after the war, there were up to 17 coal mines active in the area, as well as numerous vast open cast clay mines. Just try to imagine how small a human figure would be on this postcard, if those are full sized factory buildings in the background. Open cast clay mines were really gigantic…….

All of these activities, of course, left the entire area prey to subsidence. I found a very short article about this particular area on the internet. It said that

“…….the subsidence here was so severe the town’s plight became a national embarrassment. Schools, libraries and even entire streets were either propped up or knocked down as the town sank at an alarming rate.”

As a little boy in the late 1950s, we often used to drive up to Church Gresley to see the houses which had been damaged by the subsidence, which was produced by a 150-odd years of intensive coal mining. These houses were easily recognisable, being  propped up with huge beams of wood or extra long railway sleepers. Here are some of the less serious supports in a picture from a 1949 newspaper. I can remember enormously thick beams of wood when I saw them in the late 1950s. The houses must have been in an even worse state by then. Most of them had, in fact, been evacuated.:

The caption reads:

“SOME OF THE HOUSES IN CORONATION STREET” Built between the two great wars, and therefore comparatively new, as age is assessed in terms of bricks and mortar. There are nearly 50, supported by great baulks of timber, like those shown above and bound together with iron rods. Two are empty, being quite uninhabitable, and in others ceilings are falling, windows cracking and doors refusing to function.”

If the the houses were built in a coronation year, “between the two great wars” they can only date from 1936 and were thus only thirteen years old at  the time of the newpaper photograph. There is a very short video available.  The title refers to “Swadlincote” which is the name of the local area:

Thirty, forty years after my Dad had left Hastings Road School. I went to Hastings Road to take some photographs of the school. Alas, the buildings were no longer there, and had clearly fallen victim to the subsidence that I knew had claimed so many local houses. I began to investigate but I couldn’t find anybody who knew for certain the true detailed story of the demise of Hastings Road  School. Perhaps one day, the beams arrived, and the next day, before they could be put into position, the whole school fell down. That must have cheered up all those “collier lads”. Here’s the school today. Today’s pavement would have been directly in front of the school’s front wall:

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The place where I grew up, Woodville, in World War 2

I grew up in a small village called Woodville, just to the south of Derby, in more or less the centre of England. Cue “The Orange Arrow” :

The village used to be called Wooden Box because of the large wooden box occupied by the man who operated the toll gate on the toll road between Ashby de la Zouch and Burton-upon-Trent.  The name Woodville first appeared in 1845. Nowadays, there is a roundabout where his box used to be, although the location itself is still called “Tollgate”. Here’s an old postcard of the “Tollgate” :

My Dad, Fred, told me that the majority of the people in Woodville were pretty much unaware of the existence of World War Two. It had comparatively little impact in this mostly country area, where rationing was offset by the inhabitants’ ability to grow food for themselves, and even to raise their own pigs and chickens. Food, therefore, was relatively freely available, if not abundant, and the war seemed to be very distant. Woodville seemed to be an unchanging pastoral paradise:

The twenty year old Fred despised the comfortable lives of the older people in Woodville. They would live out their humdrum lives without any risk whatsoever, while he was laying his life on the line pretty much every single day in Bomber Command:

The contempt he had for the inhabitants of the village, though, was perhaps a measure of his own fear at being asked to fly over burning Bremen or Cologne, or some other heavily defended Bomber Command target :

Young men, of course, went away from Woodville and from time to time their parents were duly informed that they would never return:

It was only too easy, though, for others to view that profoundly sad process as similar to that of the young men who might have moved away from the village for reasons of employment, or even in order to emigrate to another country.

Occasionally, enemy aircraft would fly over Woodville, identifiable by their particular and peculiar engine noise. On one dark night, on November 14th 1940, many local people, Fred included, walked up to the Greyhound Inn near Boundary :

Everybody stood on the opposite side of the road from the public house and looked south. The view from that spot stretches thirty or forty miles or more into the southern Midlands

As they stood and looked, they were able to see the bright glow in the sky as Coventry burned, a city whose centre was almost completely destroyed by the Germans. There was, though, very little direct effect of German bombing on the local area around Woodville.

On one occasion, a Heinkel III night bomber, panicking about where he was, possibly pursued by a night fighter and perhaps worried that he might not make it back to the Fatherland, jettisoned all his bombs over the nearby village of Church Gresley. Look for “der fliegende orangefarbene Pfeil” :

The bombs all landed near Hastings Road, not far from the school where Fred would teach immediately after the war. They demolished an entire row of houses which backed onto Gresley Common, and all the inhabitants, almost thirty unfortunate people, were accidentally killed.

Years later, in the 1990s, Fred was able to explain these events to a man digging in the garden of his new townhouse, built recently on the site of the Second World War disaster. The man could not understand why the soil was so full of broken bricks, bath tiles and so many smithereens of old fashioned blue and white patterned crockery:

The only other direct connection with World War 2 was the unfortunate soldier and ex-prisoner-of-war who finally returned to Woodville in late 1945 or early 1946, having spent years as the unwilling guest of Emperor Hirohito, and the Japanese Imperial Army.

The poor man was unbelievably gaunt, and he had lost so much weight that his clothes flapped on his body like sails on a mast:

He did not receive as much sympathy as he might have done from the citizens of Woodville, though, when they found out that he had actually eaten snakes in his efforts not to starve to death. “Really ! Snakes ! ! ” Here’s snake soup, a delicacy in China but not as highly prized as bat and pangolin, apparently:

Fred, of course, had a view of such events very different from that of the average native of Woodville. Almost sixty years later, when I cleared out his house after his death, there was not a single Japanese electrical device to be found. Everything came from the factories of Philips in Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

 

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Filed under History, Personal, the Japanese, war crimes