My War Years Memories - Chapter 2 (3 of 4)

War time affects the School Curriculum

The first of these was, due to considerable falling off of bombing attacks on the UK by the Luftwaffe, half day school had ended which meant that the Wednesday afternoon physical activity now affected the whole school. The second significant change that had taken place had done so beyond the boundaries of Palmer’s School in the wider community. Under aegis of the British Government, the country’s youth in the shape of all boys and girls above 14 years of age were being encouraged to join in with organised groups and to, thus, maximise their individual effort towards winning the war. As I have described elsewhere, this affected Laindon in a number of ways and led eventually to the establishment of the Laindon Youth Centre. Before this, however, organisations affiliated to and sponsored by the UK armed forces were also established of which, in Laindon, the Air Training Corps (ATC) flourished.

This latter effect led directly to the pre-OCTU at Palmer’s Boys School being modernised, although as I was to experience that process did not much alter what happened on its Wednesday afternoon parades. However, in one respect, it definitely was modernised. The military authorities at the time, having declared Palmer’s Endowed School for Boys a fully-fledged Army Cadet Unit, promptly made available to all its members a battledress blouse, trousers and forage cap in keeping with those issued to the adult army. The WW1 long puttees were withdrawn and replaced with webbing gaiters in keeping with the belt of the same manufacture for the waist. As before, however, there was no issue of footwear and no matter how hard a boy who only had shoes tried the effect of being a smart soldier was never quite there! To me, the effect that this new-found, officially approved status for the school on Wednesday afternoons seems to have taken over completely.

In early 1942, although still too young to be granted uniforms it was as though we were considered members of the Army Cadets since the principal activity was that of toughening us up by expecting us to run a mile in under five minutes. This was done on the lower sports field off the Chadwell Road. The upper field on the opposite side of the same road was reserved for the practice of the foot drill that characterised what I suspect “Bunny” Abbott liked best about “his” cadet force. Occasionally we were embraced into the foot drill process in order that we became conversant with its moves in due course. By the end of 1942 we, too found ourselves absorbed into the cadets and it soon became clear what it was all about. “Bunny” Abbott’s particular enthusiasm for sticking by the manoeuvres that the pre-OCTU had been practicing for years soon became apparent. It was based on the sort of ceremonial drill that was practised by the Guards’ regiments like the Grenadier or Coldstreams on occasions like the yearly trooping of the colours on Horse Guards Parade! Quite what his motive was was not quite clear unless the fact that he, personally, bore the honorary rank of Colonel as a consequence and always changed into his uniform complete with red hat band and lapel tabs. As he also wore his clerical collar with a purple-coloured shirt at the same time, to some there seemed to be a faint whiff of unreality; a war-mongering priest! Other members of the teaching staff, the Masters, also appeared in military uniforms; the MC holder bearing the military rank of Major.

The regular practices of foot drill that took place so often on the upper field, it turned out, were all directed at one thing; the annual inspection by some retired general. This parade, accompanied as it was by a military band composed of those school pupils who had given up their own free time to mastering the various instruments (as well as supplying their own) was the nadir of the year’s events. Parents were invited as spectators and the whole event took the form of an inspection by the visiting bigwig followed by a series of March pasts while he “took the salute”. It was the preparation for this aspect of the parade that seemed to occupy so much time. Taking the salute consisted of the inspecting general standing on the saluting podium while the assembly marched past him in a series of increasingly complicated manoeuvres that even the guards, for instance, found difficult.

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