Harold Ernest Montague Newman
1900 - 1991
These second"Reminiscences" cover his years at Wellington College from 1914 to 1918 which coincided almost exactly with the duration of the First World War.
REMINISCENCES Part 2 - 1914-1918
Memory is too befogged for any consecutive saga to emerge, and I can only attempt a category by category summary of Wellington College, perhaps to be followed by a similar one devoted to the RMA Woolwich.
It was twilight on a mid-January afternoon that I bade good-bye to my parents on the Reading platform of Wellington College station. We had changed there that morning from the GWR non-stop from Paddington. This procedure was quicker than using the SE&CR the entire way from Charing Cross which I later perforce used on the so-called 'School Special', and which involved a long loop south via Redhill etc. with frequent intermediate stops. The station's name in those days was indeed 'Wellington College'. Crowthorne had been a mere hamlet when the college was officially opened in 1859. Gradually it grew commercial-wise because of the school, and also residentially, especially for commuters from the surrounding townships, until Crowthorne traffic predominated and the railway responded by changing the station's name. I had indeed glimpsed the college on a day trip the previous autumn with the family, but even so I strolled alone apprehensive as to my initiation into college life. I returned to the Hill (my elected dormitory) to find there two more new arrivals equally on edge. We were all soon to become 'squealers', the contemporary name for everyone under puberty.
The college ambience was rural, largely among pinewoods, whose dull dark green-blue never varied throughout the seasons, which, upon later reflection, ensured that I would never choose the like for permanent residence. However the grounds were extensive and self-contained, and from my later acquaintance of many other school situations in, or on the edge, of towns, or even beside farmland, I became grateful for the comparative isolation that I remember.
The main entrance to college, Great Gate, faced north and was approached by a short drive, rhododendrons to either side and with one of our lakes in the far background. This drive debouched from the long kilometre drive running east and west between Wellingtonias, with an ornamental wrought iron gate at either end opening onto a public thoroughfare.
Passing through Great Gate one came to the front quadrangle, separated from the rear quadrangle by Great School, at this time a Natural History Museum. To either side of the two quadrangles at ground level were classrooms surmounted by eight dormitories, each named after one of the Iron Duke's (Wellington's) generals. Each pair occupied two storeys one above the other. These dormitories were the equivalent in all respects of houses in other public schools apart from our sharing a communal dining hall. The Hill was the lower dormitory under the Lynedoch on the west of front quad. Each pair of dormitories was served by staircases within one of the towers to either side of Great School. Down the middle of each dormitory ran a wide corridor between two rows each of about 15 or 16 cubicles fronted and separated by wooden partitions (known as 'Tish') with a gap between tish and ceiling of about 5 feet. Each cubicle with its own large window served as bedroom and study, and it contained standard furniture: bed, desk, wooden chair, a bookcase above the bed, a padded seat below the window, and a circular bath tub with a large water-can under the bed. A big water pipe ran under the window seat to serve as radiator in cold weather, but it became so choked with lime during the autumn that the flow was inadequate to be effective during the Lent term frosts. All garnishes such as pictures, a wicker armchair, cushion covers and curtains were matters of private choice and purchase. The privacy thus provided was unique amongst public schools where even studies had to be shared. The lower of the dormitories terminated in balconies which in summer provided fresh air, a platform from where several chaps could view the scene below, and where imminent leavers had access to a wall on which to carve their names in memoriam. Between the classrooms and the lower dormitories were the annexes containing yet more cubicles though with lower ceilings. House masters called "Tutors" supervised the inmates of each dormitory. One each was the general rule, but married tutors had suitably large quarters either side of Great Gate so that we shared one with the Lynedoch, and likewise the Anglesey and Blucher opposite had one. To reduce their responsibilities somewhat, our annex was uninhabited, whereas the other annexes were all shared between the two dormitories concerned, slightly handicapping us having less to choose from when it came to competitive games. The bachelor tutors all lived in 'Siberia' along first floor passages around Green Quad immediately to he west of the Hill.
The SE corner of the rear quad led to a covered passage leading east past the school library, which projected into the South Front, on the way to the Chapel, to the north of which was the Combermere Quad, nonexistent in my father's era, longer than it was broad, and named after the lower of the two new dormitories at its eastern end. Above it was the Hardinge. The complete quad was overlooked from the west by the Beresford and Orange. On its north side at the far end was the Ushers' (Assistance Master's) Common Room. Next came the Dining Hall and kitchen complex. This Dining Hall had to be built because the original one in the back quad was too small to accommodate the two new dormitories. The old one had been completely filled with chairs for use as a lecture hall, and as a venue for the whole school whenever "The Master" found it necessary to address us on disciplinary matters or what-have-you. And during WW1 the candidates taking the Woolwich/Sandhurst entrance examinations sat there instead of going to London headquarters of the Civil Service Commissioners hard-by the Royal Academy. The Matron's quarters were attached to the west-end of the Dining Hall. She did not attend to our health, but was responsible for unpacking the launderable contents of our luggage, stacking it in the multitude of compartments from which we each received a bag-full every week, and sent back to her the equivalent for washing. If ever during the week an extra item was required, one entered and bawled down the stairwell one's requirement and one's school number and, lo, it came! Incidentally my school number was the remarkably simple No.2. Besides all this, she organized the 'Mart-hags', a squad of whom came to each dormitory once a week to sweep up all the dust and cobwebs.
Between the Dining Hall and the Anglesey and Blucher were the changing rooms opened probably in 1915. Prior to the opening we changed for games and washed down afterwards in dormitory, using as of a morning, the hot water obtainable in the washhouse room just behind the dormitory doors. I must add that our morning bath-water, dragged into the corridor, invited a raspberry should the prefect on duty detect no symptom of soap having been used!
At the NE corner of the Combermere Quad emerged a staircase from the subterranean passage which led to The Picton, a dormitory since 1910, which in my father's day was Griffith's House, and straight below the end of the Combermere a passage led to the 'Tin-Tabs' (Tabernacles). These were three classrooms in a row cheaply built of red corrugated-iron walls and roofs, and lined with timber. To the right and beyond a grass lawn was the small music school after which came the gymnasium with the armoury attached; the carpenter's shop; the miniature range; and one or two other insignificant shacks whose purpose I cannot remember.
Now for the houses, There were four of them. The register tells me that in 1914 they acquired permanent names, until when they were known by the names of their respective house-masters; for my generation it was these old names which remained in general use. So at the eastern end of the long drive Pompey's (Pearson's) was officially The Wellesley; opposite was 'Tigs (Roger's) The Talbot. Shoddy's (Upcott's), The Stanley, was not far behind The Picton on the lane which connected it diagonally with the long drive. Lastly came Bevir's, never to be nicknamed. To reach it one left the back quad by the passage from the SW corner, taking one past the physics lab, and its store on the other side manned by one Arvold, who sold us such things as films; then, out by the "Path of Duty" gate passing the Master's Lodge and bearing half left along a narrow lane. Halfway between Bevir's and Turf, the expansive cricket ground, was the "Sanatorium". At the far edge of Turf and beyond "The Rockies" football ground were the swimming baths, The open-air swimming bath remains as it was, but what is now the cinema was in my time the heated indoor bath where I passed my swimming test first time in, and was thus not involved in the official training that many had to undergo.
Like all new arrivals I was allotted a room near our balcony from which the only view was of the slate roof covering Tutor's house, Great Gate, etc; but like our predecessors, one was permitted to change to a better cubicle when it came vacant through someone leaving. We were surprisingly kindly treated, free from fagging duties for three weeks while learning what was necessary to be learnt about local geography and normal routine. There was a small printed map-sheet clearly showing the many out-of-bounds areas free only to College prefects. It was customary for every prefect, both College and dormitory prefects, to choose a room fag (to keep his room tidy) and a brew fag - brewing signifying making cocoa at the gas-heated urn just outside the doors at the end of the corridor in the autumn and spring terms, and similarly preparing cold drinks during the summer, presumably procuring all the ingredients from "Grubbies". (Incidentally, the gas ring roasted the chestnuts that we collected in season in the woods adjoining the road to the Finchampstead Ridges). These special fags were excused from general fagging duties: these involved the last to arrive at a prefect's door after he had bellowed 'Fa-a-a-ag'! Any potential fag found to be shirking his duty, skulking in his room, received six of the best the same evening. Jobs were reasonable. One could be sped to buy something at Grubbies, or at John Hunt the bookseller, or the outfitter on the opposite side of the road, which were indeed the only shops 'in bounds' for us; or to take a message to another dormitory about an impending team game to take a few examples. Being the custom I felt no resentment, and in due course came to consider the practice a healthy lesson in humility for those who had become little 'tin gods' at their preparatory schools. After all, one begins from the bottom in all walks of life. The head of dormitory was G.C.K. Watson, fair and considerate, towering above us and revered. In the 1937 Waziristan fracas we met again, he commanding an Indian Mountain Battery, I similarly with a Field Company of Sappers and Miners, in one or two perimeter camps. We much enjoyed reminiscing during the evenings. Sadly he died fighting in North Africa. Another, much younger, to me memorable head of dormitory was Marcus Crofton, the son of an Irish peer. Under his leadership we became something of a democracy. I was never lucky enough to meet him subsequently.
The routine ran more or less as follows: - the Dormitory-man having cleaned the shoes that we had put out the previous evening, picked up one of them and used it to rap at every door either side of the corridor at 7.15 usually, but at 6.30 in the summer for early school when that preceded chapel and breakfast. Otherwise it was breakfast first to be followed by chapel, and classrooms as per timetable. The morning quarter-hour break was principally to enable us to change books etc. in one's room, and there was another interval before lunch. Thursdays and Saturdays were half-holidays, otherwise we had afternoon school, in summer about 2.00 to 4.00pm, and in the Lent and autumn terms 4.00 to 6.00pm, after which came tea. Then preparation from 7.00 to 8.30pm followed by 'swipes' (supper) - the name surviving from my father's time when the fare included weak beer, hence the word. Now it was bread and Bovril! Then came evening chapel except on Thursdays when Tutor took prayers in dormitory. Finally more 'prep' time till lights out at 9.45pm for the lower school, and 10.00pm for the rest of us, bar the prefects who were exempted. Every weekday we were obliged to perform a "change" in the afternoon, which implied, if not an organized team game, then some exercise at squash of fives, or going for a run, or a parade once a week for those in the OTC; or it might be net practice or a 'punt-about ', according to season. One could only be excused by a medical certificate from the Sanatorium stating a disability. Sundays differed: 8.00am communion for the confirmed; a roll call in the front quad at 8.30am form by form; breakfast; divinity lesson at 10.00am; Matins at 11.00am and after lunch a walk. Dormitory was declared out of bounds from 2.00 to 3.300pm; on hot afternoons in the summer reading prone on the South Front or beside one of the lakes was permitted. Evening chapel was at 5.15pm from which even a Sunday leave-pass did not provide exclusion.
I notice from the modern Register that a chaplain has now to be appointed. In my day there were no less than seven Reverends on the staff, who took turns to lead all the chapel services a week at a time. Moreover W.W. Vaughan was the first lay Master since inauguration. The first was Edward white Benson, sometime Archbishop of Canterbury, whose overlong Bidding Prayer preceded every sermon. (Almost as long was the daily Grace read before lunch by the Usher on duty.) Gone too now is the Wellington College Hymn Book of which my specimen is still extant in one of my bookcases.
My first Tutor was the Rev. C.T. Lavie, an O.W. (Old Wellingtonian) whom my father remembered. After one term he replaced' Joey' Bevir, another OW, as house-mater in the newly named Benson. We then had a year under the Rev. 'Tom' Lemmey, the best we were to get. He left to take over the Wellesley, to be followed by (Major) Collett, who in turn went to the Stanley in 1918, giving me just one term under the Rev. (Bounder) Wright. E.M. Eustace came as a stopgap for one term, but which I forget. These rapid changes were deplorably destabilizing.
One's Tutor visited us all in turn of an evening for a friendly chat. It amounted to about once a fortnight. He distributed mail in the dining hall; he banked one's 'capital' at the start of each term to be drawn piecemeal as required; and he handed out our weekly pocket-money, a mere shilling! One went to him for a chit to see the doctor, and for a leave-pass whenever family or friends invited one out, and he distributed railway tickets for our journeys home at the end of each term.
The mention of Sunday walks above suddenly reminds me of my first one which I took in company with a certain Verschoyle, my classroom neighbour whom I liked. There was a sharp reprimand for me that evening because he was a member of Bevir's Dormitory; relationships must never again be so polluted!
As regards the dining hall:- as one entered it there were long tables to right and left. Each lower dormitory occupied one on the left, each upper one to right. The Hill and Lynedoch were the furthest away from the entrance. Centrally behind us was an alcove wide enough to provide one door trough to the kitchens, and several serving counters from which the waiters (jallyhos), our dormitory-man included, served our meals. The jallihos were smartly dressed in brown morning suit type coats with brass buttons, red waistcoats, and navy blue trousers. We squealers began life at the bottom of the table, gradually progressing up as the leavers departed, the head of dormitory supervising us from the very top. College prefects occupied a separate table on a dais with The Master. All food was supplied barring jams and marmalade which we brought each term in our wooden tuck boxes. Food supplies were ample to begin with but when rationing was introduced during WW1, one was confronted at breakfast, as an example, with a hunk of bread and a lump of margarine with no chance of obtaining more, and other items of diet were equally restricted. Sugar shortage meant jam shortage, even at home; honey was just about unobtainable. For a while they recorded our weights every so often in the Gym (fortnightly of so) to ascertain if there were adverse effects on our physique.
WW1 affected us in other ways. The entire school used to run from Great Gate around Broadmoor Asylum (for the criminally insane) and back again every Shrove Tuesday afternoon (to help us to digest pancakes?), and I took part in 1914 event. This was discontinued because of the food restrictions. Likewise, the Kingsley races, also in the Lent term. Speech Days were also cancelled. I was present for the 1914 event, but the dining hall where the speeches and prize-givings took place was filled by the somewhat senior chaps and their parents, so that I never witnessed the ceremonial routine. Book production was reduced and shoddy to boot, so that, what were hitherto prize books, became mere paper certificates to be substituted for books at the end of hostilities. There were fewer inter-school matches for us to watch, and by the time I was 15 years old and eligible to attend OTC camps, they had given way to Harves Camps for the assistance of farmers whose labour force had been depleted by conscription. I attended two of these, one at Raglan Castle and another at Docking in Norfolk, near Hunstanton. A melancholy feature was the steady accumulation of Rolls of Honour listing O.W. war-dead, each pasted to and covering more of the dormitory corridor 'tish'.
All in the lower school who failed to reach the top few in the fortnightly form order placings, did their 'prep' in the class-room at the bottom of the dormitory stairs under the supervision of an usher. The privileged remainder performed theirs in the silence of their cubicles, a silence liable to be punctuated by the noise of a door opening and the occupant calling "Speak to (so-and-so) please" to seek consultation over some point, and requiring a prefect's permission to do so; or it might be "Half way down please" indicating the need to visit the loo situated down the stairs half-way down to ground level, and only unlocked over night for such emergencies. The daytime loos were situated at the end of a covered passage beyond the left-hand corner of Green Quad.
Another feature of dormitory life was the collection of a shilling from each member at the beginning of every term to finance the buying of records for the Dormitory gramophone that stood on a table midway along the corridor. The purchases were discussed and voted upon, and consisted mainly of revue and music hall songs with one or two classical favorites, and the playing of them was restricted to limited hours of the day. Radio broadcasts were unimaginable then, and portable radios arrived only after WW2. I hate to contemplate the cacophony that probably results from them nowadays.
Head-cover out of doors for men, and for women (even indoors on occasion), was then universal, and for us caps in the dormitory colours were obligatory at all times other than in classroom, chapel, and tutors' studies. Only college prefects remained bare-headed as evidence of their universal authority. (I recall seeing them decked in morning coats and pin-stripe trousers at my one and only Speech Day). Custom dictated tiny caps which covered us only from the nape of the neck to a line inches back from the forehead. The Hill cap was violet-blue with a white button at the point where six white stripes met at approximately the crown of the head. The concentration of caps of multi-colours (the colours all listed in the Registry) served to brighten the environment, in contrast with the drab shades of human hair which prevail nowadays, and contrasted then with the uniform dark blue serge suits, our only permitted attire, to be slightly relieved each summer at the Master's dictate that gray flannel trousers (bim-freezers) might be worn. These same bimfreezers were indeed worn year in year out by all prefects to distinguish them from the hoi-poloi.
Our collars of white starched linen followed current fashion. The lower school wore Eton collars, the broad ones that folded over the jacket collar. At what precise stage we assumed the adult style I cannot say, probably at some step in the form ladder. Eton collars were always in a small minority. In the heat of summer straw boaters with dormitory coloured ribbons were permitted to the watchers of cricket matches and for Sunday afternoons.
We quickly leaned the etiquette to doff our caps whenever we passed The Master out of doors, and to 'tig' the ushers in like circumstances. Tigging consisted of bending the right elbow so as to raise the right hand shoulder high. I wonder if such gestures persist: certainly that for The Master cannot.
Dormitory discipline was ultimately enforced by six strokes from the cane. Prefects seldom used it. However I remember suffering on three occasions, the reasons for two forgotten, but for the third it remains clear. It was the speedy loss of a second eleven dormitory cricket match which so aggrieved the hierarchy that we were condemned to an extra net practice after tea. It was a rule that that net pitches always had to be rolled after use, and on this occasion three of us were so angered by our treatment that we rolled into it our three cricket balls.
Anticipation was the worst part of a beating. It stung at the moment of impact of impact, but it was quickly over and soon came an after-glow which was not unpleasant. Two or three days later one could sit again in comfort. It was preferable to writing innumerable lines for an usher impatient with one's performance.
I have mentioned the OTC as regards camps. Fifteen was the minimum age for joining as a recruit, which for me meant the Lent term in 1916. Memory is blurred in this connection, but I do recall the sweat of polishing brass buttons, the belt buckle, and cap badge, for the weekly corps parade. For short supplementary parades it was sufficient to fall in with a belt around one's suit jacket. We were armed with the long Lee-Enfield rifle, the pattern issued for the South African war, and we wore the leather belt and pouches also of that era. We learned to shoot with live ammunition on the miniature range with .22 ammunition, graduating thence to .303, firing on the open range against a hillside to the SE of the road passing the Gymnasium.
The battalion consisted of three companies, A, B and C, we and the Lynedoch composed No. 5 platoon, i.e. at the front of B Coy. The drum and bugle band was composed of individuals from all dormitories and of all seniorities. There were periodical field days in which Bradfield and Eton OTC's often took part. The latter wore German-style grey uniforms as opposed to our khaki, and this resulted generally in our representing opposing forces. It was said to be our custom to cut off the trouser buttons from any Etonian captured, but I was never in a position to corroborate this. There were occasional route marches. Marching at ease whenever the band ceased playing we used to bawl out in chorus the contemporary marching songs and many catches from the music halls in appropriate tempos. The corps was solely military. Cadres for the Navy and the Airforce were introduced, I believe, only after WW2. I reached the dizzy rank of corporal and passed the test for the so-called Certificate A, thereby adding a paltry 400 marks to the 12,000 or more required for success in the examinations for entry into the RMA Woolwich and the RMC Sandhurst, and this brings me at last to the academic side of Wellington.
College was divided into Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools; the Middle and Upper split between the Classical and Mathematical sides, the latter heavily predominant. The Lower, Middle and Upper IVth A and B forms, composed what was known as the IVth Block. The Middle Classical School were the Lower, Middle and Upper Vths, and the Upper school were the Lower and Upper VIths. Latin and Greek were their essential province with French, Maths, and Science minor appendages. The Maths side Middle School were the IIIrd and IInd Blocks, each split into Lower, Middle and Upper forms, and its Upper School consisted of the Ist Block, split into three like the rest, with just one Mathematical VIth at the top.
My Common Entrance results landed me in the Upper IVth A under the Rev. (Teddy) Larmour, not a very loveable character in my immature opinion. (John Forbes, destined to become my longest outstanding friend, joined one term later as a failed scholarship candidate: his dormitory the Angelsey, incidentally my father's also). My impression now is that, unlike the higher blocks, Teddy took us in all subjects save Drawing, and the Drawing school presided over by the perpetually 'rag-ridden' Hagreen was on the opposite side of the passage running under Siberia beside the Green Quad. I did not function well my first term, perhaps in disarray in the new strange surroundings, but next term I pulled my socks up and finished near the top. Then in August the catastrophic WW1 burst on us. Imagine my surprise when the autumn term began to find myself not just removed, but double-removed into the Middle Third. The spontaneous patriotic fervour and the consequent rush to join the forces had resulted in the unprecedented number of school leavers: chaps who in normal circumstances would have remained reading for university entrance. I had opted for the mathematical side as my Latin, as indeed my French, had never been among my best subjects. The organisation of the forms in the Middle and Upper Schools was more complicated. Actual forms were restricted to English subjects. The rest, Mathematics, Science (divided into Chemistry and Physics), French and German, were taught in sets, three grades to each block, the higher the set the higher the proportion of marks fed to the Form Master with which to determine a form order for eventual promotion. I experimented with German for one term, but my enthusiasm waning I swapped it for higher mathematics, which was to stand me in good stead. John Forbes joined me and thence-forward we climbed together form by form. I do not recall the steps in this climb, but I do know that I spent an entire year each in the Upper Ist A and the Mathmatical VIth, and that the promotion to the VIth did not involve change from the Ist block set system. John, in parenthesis, achieved the top set in French which is more than ever I did.
What of the high spots? A particularly LOW spot occurred in the summer term of 1915 in the Middle IInd, the form master, 'Jock 'Cave, an unpredictably irascible type. One morning in early school, i.e. pre-breakfast, the subject was French translation. We all in turn had to read in English a paragraph from some French book, and a certain L.F.R. Kenyon, later to become a sapper, offered the word 'modern' for, I think the French word 'mondaine' (fashionable). Jock took him by the scruff of the neck and marched him out of the room. Some minutes later both returned, Kenyon having received 'six of the best 'in Jock's quarters. A unique and shocking episode.
For my later prowess in the army exam I am particularly indebted to two ushers: the Rev. Tom Lemmey, and the little lame man McNeil. The former taught chemistry in the laboratory to the NW of College beyond the Green Quad and overlooking Turf. He knew the exam syllabus inside out. We were constantly involved in experiments using Bunsen burners, test tubes, flasks, etc., but at the beginning of the first of two sessions each week he dictated the specifications of one or other element, its properties, in the same strict order of presentation:- atomic weight, valency, colour, taste, smell, etc. etc. We had to learn them by heart in the prep before the second session where we had to reproduce it word for word. For the least error we had to proceed to his residence in the Wellesley during the ensuing weekend and write the damn thing out three times at his dining room table. One did not err too often, virulent cramming though it was. Notes on other matters were equally cogent. The science Paper in the Army exam contained equal numbers of Chemistry and Physics questions. I rattled through the Chemistry and did the minimum number of the Physics and came top of the entire list! Tom's wit was caustic. John Forbes, as I remember, made him a clumsy verbal reply one day to a question evoking: "O you mouldy mushroom, Forbes; you're only fit to be kicked by the hoof of a cow!"
McNeil took the top-most Maths set. We had to bring to instant recall trigonometrical formulae and the common equation forms, likewise those in the Calculus and Analytical Geometry. Each of the six lessons per week began with our having to write down on slips of paper the brief answers to a dozen or so questions as quickly as he could read them out. This stood us in excellent stead. I, with time to spare over my elementary and middle Maths papers, obtained full marks and I was close to top in the final total in all the papers.
It was the English and French that let me down.
However my other great indebtedness has always been to R. St C. Talboys who was form master for the Upper IstA. He was an aesthete who, for me certainly and probably others, persuaded one as to the worth and meaning of art. Hitherto poetry, and Shakespeare in particular, had been matters to be learned by heart or transformed into prose to extract a literal 'meaning'. This had been discouraging drudgery. Nothing of the sort ever happened with him. He began by reading poetry to us; then came expatiation from which one grew to understand that the purpose was, from the sonorities and rhythms of the words, to stretch the emotions in all directions beyond the literal dictionary definitions of the words involved. In a Shakespeare play, parts were distributed around the class and we were led gently into how the text could be read effectively. It did not take me long to extend this approach to the appreciation of other art forms, an interest that I have pursued and expanded during an entire lifetime, possibly a distraction from routine affairs that might otherwise have served me materially. Sometimes he read to us leading articles from The Times on potent world affairs such as the deposition of the Russian Czar in 1917, and Divinity periods might be diverted, before finishing, to readings of romantic short stories, or from other sorts of literature. I spent three terms with him, and during my first term in the Mathematical VIth he departed for temporary service in the Admiralty.
The Master, W.W. Vaughan, was less sensitive but artistically inclined, and we spent one term pursuing the development of Italian renaissance art illustrated by reproductions. I recollect Byzantine art being quoted as one influence, and I was ignorant enough to ask where Byzantium might have been. He came over, wrapped my head in the sleeve of his gown and metaphorically wept for me.
I have elsewhere referred to the boredom of waiting about for activity in cricket to which I was always averse. Mitigation broke in the summer of 1917 by when conscription had swallowed up the bulk of the labour force. A result of this was a roster for the whole of College allocating half-holiday afternoons to assist the head gardener to continue to supply the fruit and vegetables required in the college kitchens. We were naturally unskilled but I think we helped at least in removing weeds. Obviously, in view of our numbers, turns came round infrequently.
I have touched on the Harvest camps. It might have been that preparing for these prompted Joey Bevir to initiate what he called 'The Push and Pull Society'. He asked for volunteers to assist any local farmers who might welcome our help as labourers on half-holidays. Nobody had hitherto been permitted to bring a bicycle to College, but members of this society were to be accorded them as essential for transport to and from the farms. I most surely volunteered and in clement weather thoroughly enjoyed the outcome. Bicycles were also necessary at Harvest Camps for the same reason, and they accompanied our baggage in the luggage van of the train taking us to the camp: such vans as are nowadays obsolete. How non-members fared I do not know: perhaps they hired bikes at the destination.
There has been no mention of holidays so far. As far as my parents were concerned, they dispensed with them throughout the War. I was more fortunate in the first two pre-harvest-camp summers. From early on, my particular pals in the Hill were P. (Phil) D.H. James and E.S. Strencham ('Stench') Master, both one term senior to me. We became inseparable. James's parents lived at Forton, Somerset, about 1½ miles S.E. of Chard, where his father was proprietor of a lace mill, and they invited both Stench and me to spend three weeks with them at the beginning of the summer holidays. Each time the first two days were at Forton. I can recall one event there following the local otter hunt. I remember no kill but that it provided my introduction to 'scrumpy' at an inn in the neighbourhood. We were however for the bulk of the time installed in their rented house at Woolacombe at the north end of Morte Bay (North Devon). They were marvelous holidays and I can never forget this family's kindness. Phil had three sisters, two senior to him, and Heather, the eldest, became a great friend with whom for several years, I used to correspond. Only a minimum of incidents come to mind. One day I found a conger eel stranded in a rock pool towards Morte Point which I managed to grip and swing on to the sand where I battered it to death. We ate it for supper, and I was deemed lucky not to have been bitten. The house overlooked the bay and just below it and to the left were the public tennis courts. One day participating in a local tournament, having drawn from the hat a pleasant girl of about my age, we did not survive the competition very long. The third episode covers a spur-of-the-moment escapade. We set off one morning on bicycles with sandwiches in our pockets for Baggy Point at the southern end of Morte Bay. From there we spied Hartand Point at the far end of Bideford Bay, actually to prove further off than was Baggy Point from Woolacombe. It tempted us, and we pushed on through Braunton, Barnstaple, Bideford, and Clovelly. The day was closing when we started back from Hartland Point. Our joint wealth amounted to 3/6d (three shillings and sixpence, equivalent to 17½ new pence). What to do? If we sent a telegram we should starve. So we pedalled back until darkness fell, pulled some corn-stooks down over us just behind a roadside hedge and spent the night there huddled together sleeping fitfully till dawn. We set off again, bought bread butter and mineral-water at the first village store that we found open, and eventually returned to the worrying parents about lunchtime, feeling ashamed and foolish.
The unique events in March 1916 may not be relevant here but they are worth recording nevertheless. The College lakes were frozen hard enough to provide safe skating over fully three weeks, and the Master, surprisingly but reasonably in view of the rarity of such a phenomenon, pronounced each working afternoon to be a holiday until the final thaw. It so had happened that my father had presented me with a superior pair of skates the previous Christmas accompanied by an old pair of his London boots on which to screw them. There was no tuition and my skating remained embryonic, but I spotted that Mr. McNeil was an expert at figure-skating and I strove to copy his technique. It involved curves on both edges of the skate and pivoting on the front points. It was difficult but I did manage a rudimentary 3 or 2 (quite illegible).
Finally I can but recall the culmination of my college education: the fortnight's Army Entrance Examinations at the end of June 1918. They had been preceded by weeks of hectic revision, shelved, from good advice, for at least a day before any of them was due. The reaction during the remaining weeks of the term was dreary boredom. I could not leave because, had I done so and failed I should not have been allowed to return for a second attempt. We were barred from our classrooms and so had to fend for ourselves as best we could. I spent many hours digging for nuggets in the college library, that place to which the few Roman Catholic representatives were confined during our weekday chapel periods.
Eventually while I was labouring at the Harvest Camp in Norfolk, the examination results arrived. They were addressed to our homes and my father had opened mine. He wrote to me at once in ecstasy. Apparently Vaughan, The Master, had communicated to him a month or two before that my prospects for attaining Woolwich were pretty slim, but in the event I was placed fourth in the list, just one place behind D.C.T. Swan, my exact contemporary in the Hopetoun. We had both been awarded prize cadet-ships thereby relieving our parents of certain cash payments normally required of them. I am vague as to the precise savings, but am pretty sure that they included our final equipment with revolver, prismatic compass and binoculars. Anyway, along there came a parcel from him containing a pipe, pouch, and a packet of tobacco. Adulthood? Well pointing that way, anyhow!