KES ARCHIVE
The Boarding School
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon 1914-1945

 

Bill Collins remembers the war years at school, 1939-1945

 

I passed the scholarship from the C of E School to KES in 1938 when I was ten, and left in 1946 so most of my schooldays were spent under wartime conditions. During the 1940 summer holidays the school ran an activity holiday; we went to school but had organised sport, swimming and cycle rides to the Cotswolds - and cleaned desks! Some of the younger masters joined up; Mr Horn and Mr Foster to the RAF and Mr Moore to the Tank Corps. Most of the other masters joined services like the ARP. There is a photograph in Douglas and Dennis's, "Memories of Stratford-upon-Avon", of the ARP Control Centre staff standing on the steps of the old theatre, which includes Messrs Evans, Walpole, Webber and Ferguson. The school's air raid shelters were dug in the headmaster's garden behind School House (now demolished to make way for the Swimming Pool, car park et al) and at intervals we would file into them for a practice, a popular activity which got us out of lessons and gave opportunities for horseplay. More usefully, we collected salvage, money for war charities, helped to gather in the harvest (more time off school!) and, when old enough, became messenger boys in the Civil Defence and trained in the ATC or Army Cadets.

Most boys joined the cadet corps under the command of Major R H Walpole, assisted by the Reverend "Skeats" Martin. Cadets parade was held on Friday afternoons with drill and weapons training but we also "marched out" to fight mimic battles on the Welcombe hills, and took part in Mayor's Sunday and Remembrance Day parades and parades for the National Savings Weeks, like Wings for Victory Week. The school's National Savings were collected in SH5 by Mr Webber. The cadet band headed our parades with bugles and drums and my friend, the late Russell Rubio, clashed a pair of cymbals almost as big as himself. The band's first drum major was another friend, the late Ray Watson.

I must admit that, until I reached the fifth form, I was not fond of school apart from English, history and geography, but I always looked forward to games on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. As my father and three uncles had been active members of the town boat club, I joined the school boat club as cox in 1940. Dick Spender gave me my first lessons in coxing but I never got to be 1st IV cox - Rubio was too good - so, in 1944, I started rowing, coached by Mr Walpole.

 

As the town boat club had closed "for the duration", we repaired the landing raft, the fixed tub and the boats under the guidance of Glynn Thomas and tried to keep the grounds in order. In 1943 the Old Boys' race was revived and I was their cox. Mr Walpole revived the Ball Cup as a small regatta for schools, though it was dominated by Oundle who only had to split their 1st VIII to win. I remember Dick Spender coming down to the boat club in his London Irish uniform and we all felt a special sense of loss when we learned of his death in Tunisia. His fellow oarsman, Roger Miller, had already been killed in the Battle of Britain. Malcolm Kennard, another 1st IV crewman, joined the Merchant Navy and was lost at sea on his first voyage and Roland Megainey, whom I coxed in the 2nd IV, was killed serving as an RAF pilot officer.

One of the few bombs to fall on Stratford fell in the school field behind the old pavilion early one morning. It broke windows in the pavilion and in Banbury Road, and sent splinters through two match bats. The next day a neighbour dug round the crater to find bomb splinters for the boys who had come to look. Some benefited from the air raids; any air raid in Birmingham was a perfect excuse for the "Henley Gang" to be late.

At the start of the war the boys and staff of Bordesley Green Technical School were evacuated to Stratford and shared facilities until the main blitz was over. I fancy, that if the admissions registers for the period were analysed, it would be found that there was a very high turnover of pupils: evacuees and servicemen's sons joining the school and then moving on. During the V1 and V2 attacks, for example, my cousins, Barry and Keith Collins, were evacuated to Stratford and joined the school.

Thinking back, despite the war and its shortages, the changes of staff and interruptions to the lessons, KES gave us a good education; I shall always be grateful to Mr Webber for knocking some maths into my thick skull and to Messrs Evans, Smallwood and Ferguson for the pleasure that their history and English lessons gave me.

W T Collins, pupil 1938-1946
writing in 1999

'Rosalind' rowing crew 1945. Bill Collins standing on left, Robin Walpole seated centre'Rosalind' rowing crew, 1945

 

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