Sidney Roland James (wig10a)
CUMBRIA SPEAKS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
13 WEST STREET
TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW
2017 Cumbria Speaks Oral History Project
Respondent: Sidney Roland James
Date of birth: 14/06/1921
Date of Interview: 17/07/2017
Interviewer: Trevor Grahamslaw
Interview conducted at The Shieling, Bolton Low-houses.
SUMMARY OF MAIN CONTENTS OF TRANSCRIPT
Part one of 3 interviews
TG This is Trevor Graham Slaw recording an interview with Sidney Roland James known as Jimmy at the Shieling Bolton Low Houses on the 17th of July, 2017.
T Hello Jimmy, could you please give me your full name.
J My full name is Sidney Roland James but I’m commonly known, as you’ve already heard as Jimmy. I live at er the Shieling, Bolton Low Houses which is just a mile or two outside Wigton. I was born in Durban, South Africa, ah on the 14th of June, 1921. I was the eldest of the family, the eldest of six, er four boys and two girls. I was an only child for two and a half years until my brother Howard Bakey was born in 1923. This was followed later by a sister, Mary Barbara in 1927, a brother David Earnest Richard in 1928, a second sister in 1931 and then after a quite a long gap in 1937, Roger Michael. Coincidentally, Roger Michael is precisely sixteen years younger than I am, he too was born on the 14th of June but this was 1937. (1.31)
My parents were both Missionaries. They’d emigrated, if you like to put it that way, in April 1920 from this country to South Africa. They er, they’d both been anxious to be missionaries from very early days when they first met in about 1913 but the great war got in the way. In the end they were married in 1918 and I don’t know the precise circumstances by which they got appointed by what was an American board; Congregationalist missionary organization which was based in New England and which worked in South Africa. (2.14) But that was, that was what happened. They were based at a place called Inanda, which was just outside Pietermaritzburg in Natal. The nearest big city was Durban and that’s why Durban was where I was born because when mother was due to have me, we, we were moved down to the Dr McCord Hospital which was based in er Durban was in fact a missionary hospital run by Doctor McCord. (2.45) My parents both taught in Zulu school, native school and they were very happy there indeed and as I say, it was there that my younger brother was born. But all the time my father was studying to be a minister in the church but in 1924 it was decided to return to… this country where in fact he was ordained as a minister in the Congregational Church and where in fact having resigned from the American board he was appointed to the London Missionary Society which of course no longer exists now because it’s been subsumed into the bigger church missionary society, this one of the Church Missionary societies but had been founded in 1795 and worked extensively in Africa, the Far East and also in places like Madagascar. (3.43) My parents had expected to return very quickly to Africa but in actual fact the society appointed them to Madagascar. This was an acute disappointment for my father who’d wanted to work in Bechuanaland, however…my mother who’d wanted to resign because she said that this was not what she’d been originally promised failed in her attempts and my father said no, he’d appointed himself or applied for the London missionary society and he would remain loyal to them even though they’d not posted him where he’d originally intended them to do. So to Madagascar we went and we arrived and docked, I remember clearly eh on Christmas day 1925 at Tamatave which was the main port. We had to go ashore by lighter there were no harbour there and then we travelled up to the capital Antananarivo, spent a few days there. That was by train, that was the only train line in Madagascar in those days and then we travelled by car for two days down south to Betsilao where we were established. (4.55)
TG You’ve described there two long voyages at a very early age, do you have any memories of the voyage from say South Africa to England, and your age?
J: Well I think er memories at a young age, are really like (as I’ve said before on occasions) snapshots rather than continuous processes. What you remember are single photographs and I suppose at the age of three I already had one memory, I could remember the occasion my brother was born. When he, well he was two and a half so er, years younger than I am so I would be two and a half when I had that memory. And I can remember calling to my mother when a pet monkey came in through the window and crawled over his cot, calling out to her and saying “Mother, there’s a monkey on the baby’s cot which I think is probably the first sentence I spoke anyway. Er I, I can remember that but she also recounted the story to me later in life. Er my other memories were much on the sea voyage home, erm I can remember that there was an older girl, as children play together we used to play together on deck, and I remember losing my hat which I was very fond of, a white floppy hat and er being very distressed and her coming and cheering me up by saying ah “never mind, never mind you’ll be able to come back and get it when the sea dries up” and even at that age whilst I trusted most people I think I was a little suspicious about feminine deception but no matter, we wont go into that now. (6.40)
Erm, later on I can remember very much visiting St Alino er, and seeing a ship flying the yellow flag and being ex, having it explained to my father that that of course was a sign of a plague ship. Because in those days when epidemics broke out on a ship when it was going back to India it would go into isolation until er it was cleared and it was safe for them to come ashore or for other people to go aboard. One other interesting thing that happened to me there was that w’ father was very interested in Napoleon and the history of the past so we were taken to er visit Napoleon’s home and I can remember clearly being shown the chair in which it’s alleged he actually died, er this is a memory that stayed with me and may possibly account for the fact that I became interested in history later in my life. We also, I remember, stopped at Madeira, in those days the port had not yet been expanded and developed as it is now and I can remember seeing donkeys being slung from a big ship by the belt, er by belts onto small lighters to be taken ashore. Er I don’t remember a great deal about the voyage from England to Madagascar, I don’t quite know why but I just don’t. The one thing I do remember very clearly however is, er the arrival at Tamatave, on that occasion I think it, it was Christmas Day and we, we were just about to go ashore er and er my mother gave us er some sweets, some little baubles and said “I’m sorry it’s Christmas day but this is all you can, all I can ha- give you today” I think it was probably one of the most exciting days of our lives after a long boring sea voyage but er none the less err…er the least number of presents at that age which we’d ever had. (8.49)
The base we were….. going to live in, where my father was going to work from, was a place called Ambohimahasoa that’s er roughly translated into English as the place of good health. But when we got there of course the house wasn’t ready for us to live in. Er, we were to be the only missionaries of the London Missionary Society in that area but er approximately 45 miles south of that was a place called Fianarantsoa which can be translated roughly into the place of good learning. And that was the capitol, the most important town in that area, the area of Betsilao where the main French administration was because you have to remember that Madagascar at that time was a French colony. And so it was decided that we would go and live for a few weeks or months in Fianaruntewer in the house of a lady who was on furlough, furlough was the word we use to describe people who were on leave back in this country. Most furloughs would last 18 months because most of the periods you stayed out there were six to seven years so we were going out there for seven years.(10.07) So we spent several months in Fianaruntewer before we moved to ambohimahasoa . When we did we moved into the mission house which was a 4 square house built of local materials, local bricks which are clay bricks and plastered over and with a veranda all the way around the house. It was a big square ro’ building with four rooms upstairs and an extra one to the side which made five which was a kind of bathroom and four rooms downstairs with a kitchen added on, so in other words we had five rooms upstairs and five downstairs and a veranda all the way around at first floor level as well as at ground floor level. And that was to be our house where we lived (with short periods away down at Fianaruntewer) so.. until 1932, That was our home. We had a big garden and er also a wooded area to the south and er father used to employ one or two people and he did some of the work himself and we had fruit trees, we had gardens, we grew all our own vegetables and we used to pick fruit. I can remember often picking plums and peaches and we used to grow pineapples, most of the tropical fruits so very largely we, in terms of vegetables and fruit, we fed ourselves. (11.43)
Erm the 45 mile distance was er over rough road so we were a long way away and there were no other English speaking people in Ambohimahasoa. There were two or three French families but we didn’t see very much of them. So we didn’t see many other European people at all. Er and er most of the people we saw were native Malagasy people of the Betsilao tribe. Er we ….. were flown out of Fianaruntewer for special occasions, the missionaries in the area, there were aproximatley 6 missionaries covering the whole of Betsilao and they were well scattered and so every six months usually they used to come together for a meeting you know discussion. Quite often they used to bring the families together as well. The other thing too was that if Mother was going to have another baby it use to be down in Fianaruntewer where the French hospital was. And so of course it was not long after we’d been there when in 1927, the beginning of 1927 we had to go down because my sister Mary was coming although I was quite unaware of it at the time. I always remember there we stayed again in the house which we’d stayed in for a few weeks at the beginning and er Father came and told us one morning that m’ we had a sister and it was arranged that we were going to go and see her. So he managed to get the two of us up because Father was finding dealing with two little boys something of a chore and he got us dressed and ready to go and I remember we were outside and er we’d been playing with a ball, er as one does the day before and the ball had got thrown up and had come down the guttering into the water spout and had jammed at the bottom and in the ra.. night it had rained heavily and that morning we were both all ready to go in our Sunday best while Dad went up and got himself dressed and my younger brother who then was about two and a half or three suddenly saw this ball which we’d lost, which had come down the spout, stuck at the bottom of the drain so we went went and pulled it out and out behind it bucketed all the dirty water which had piled up in the drain and soaked him to the skin. To my father’s distress he had to come down and re-dress my brother and I always remember when we got in to see my mother and he told her the story, we looked at the little baby girl she said “Jim, how often have I told you that you dress yourself first and the children afterwards”. Stop. (laughter) (14.34)
Now through all those years, er when .. up until the time when in 1932 I was 11, er it was my mother who taught us, well remember my mother was a trained teacher and she had this absolutely organised and we had an.. a clear arrangement whereby we started lessons, my brother and I at a parti’ set time each morning and we did these lessons five days a week and we worked through till lunchtime, we didn’t in the afternoon, quite often we had a sleep in the afternoon when it was quite hot. Don’t forget the temperature was tropical, it was, kind of er er it was …. not far from the equator and our days therefore were the same, winter and summer they didn’t change very much, it got dark around about six, it got light around about six. Er so the day was well organised in that way. And she had various materials. We concentrated particularly on English and arithmetic. And we learnt to read very early on and I can remember when I was only er five, reading a, getting my reading going because I was left to read aloud to my brother. In fact when I was about six mother came and said “You are not to read to him because he wont read as long as you read stories to him so I had to stop reading to him then when I was about six. And we had encyclopaedias and because we were living out there we were always sent books for presents from England so it was usually books we got at Christmas and birthdays and I, I read a great deal. I always remember one of the main sources of information I had was Arthur Mee’s Encyclopaedia which people of my age may well remember and I can remember reading all sorts of stuff out of that Encyclopaedia. So although we er never went to school we were pretty thoroughly grounded in English and maths and of course because we were living in a French colony er we were speaking Malagasy the native language but also I was taught French, a good deal of French. So in, in some ways I was trilingual. In fact at one stage for a time Mother had a rule and I can’t remember which way around it was, we had three meals, breakfast, lunch and tea and er we used to have to speak at table each of the languages during the day so one, one, one meal would be French, one meal would be English, another meal would be Malagasy and in fact we were fluent, we were fluent in Malgash. I can’t remember a great deal of it now. I can remember things like good morning you know, manahoana heanou and things of this sort and how to count I could remember ..iray roa telo that was one, two, three and things of this sort but we were actually quite fluent. I didn’t learn to read, my younger sister, later on in the thirties when she went back again with my patents she became a fluent reader of Malgasy as well but I didn’t. I read French and English but not Malgash. (18.00)
Erm, and I also of course on a Saturday morning the er head of the local school would come in and he in French would teach me about history, geography Malagasy, mala, mal, malag Malagasy history and French so I became grounded in er some of some of the background history of the island and also the geography of it. Er, So, so by 11 er I was in some ways ahead of my contemporaries in this country, in other ways of course very naive and behind. (18.49)
Returning to the family, erm my brother of course was born soon after, quite soon after my sister, my fourth brother and we had to go down to Fianaruntewer again for that cause that’s where the French hospital was. And I remember that visit very clearly because er in the garden there, er where we visited the doctors er garden they had a lot of Limas and that was the occasion when I was nipped by a Lina by a Lima by being too familiar with it it nipped me in the back of the leg. I always remember I must be one of the few people who can claim to have been bitten by a Lima but no matter. Erm but by the time we got to my fifth er er member of the family, my sister Sheila who was born in 1931, it was decided to have her at home so in fact we were visited by a Norwegian nurse who’s maternity nurse who was a missionary out there as well because we were not only yea…… er .. the London Missionary society but also the Norwegian had a strong protestant Missionary presence in Madagascar. And so my sister was born at home now I always remember waking up the morning she was born, not having realised even that the mother was pregnant. I was remarkably naïve at the age of ten an, ten and a half I still haven’t, hadn’t appreciated, was quite amazed when I found out that I’d go a small sister in the morning and I always remember going in when she was about 6 hours old, going into the bedroom and being given the privilege of holding a baby in my arms and I always remember that. Ah I’ve never forgotten it. I remember saying it at the time look, I’m going to be actually holding a baby for the first time. That was made a great impression on me but I was ten and a half but you can see how naive in many ways about things that happened around me. Ah, I was naïve about things like birth and other things like that, I’d protected I suppose in in many ways because we live in a com, lived in a compound. We did travel around a good deal and that’s the one thing I want to come on to (21.18) because my father er w was the missionary for that area but the area he had was massive, I suppose you might say that he would cover the same sort of area over rough country as the North of England, in other words, er Northumberland, Cumberland, Durham, parts of Lancashire and parts of Yorkshire. It was a big area and he worked there with people who local Malagasy pastors and teachers and in fact he .ha….. I remember his telling me once that he had 52 separate little churches and schools which he visited in the area. His role really was more akin to the kind of thing you would associate with a Bishop in other words he had these various schools and churches all over the vil.. area which he was expanding and developing. In actual fact he was confined mainly to Betsilao which was in those days which was high prairie kind of country. Ah we were 5,000 feet above sea level because Madagascar was a big plateau tipped plateau with low coast round it but high in the middle. Er And he would travel and we would go with him sometimes in season. Mother in the same way that she had regular teaching would give us regular breaks, regular holidays and I can I remember we used to go and stay with him sometimes and that would mean travelling out, he had a car er er er er an old French car er which was by modern standards pretty er er pretty basic but it was just well it was basic because he maintained it himself he had to. Erm I can remember once going out with him once because when I was 8 he would take me out with him on occasions and I can remember when we broke a spring and er we spent about 4 hours out in the sunshine there, bright sun with my father under the car mending his spring, er mending the spring. But in some places the car wouldn’t go it was just impossible, there were no roads and then we used to travel by Filanzana. Now the filanzana was a kind of sedan chair, it was very simple chair and it was slung between two poles and you sat in the chair and it had been the native method of transport. Er it was rather like a rough sedan chair of the 18th century and they were carried by teams of 4 men and if you were going long distances you would have teams of 8 men or 12 men because 4 would carry it, 4 would run beside and then they’d take over and if it was really long you would have 12 men so you’d have them or they would be carrying your luggage, porters if you travelled long distances and Father used to travel by Filanzana quite a lot because often places were tracks that you had to get to. And we used sometimes to go out and stay out in the country with him er for maybe 2 or 3 weeks so that er we weren’t always on our own. But very often he would be away for maybe 4 weeks, travelling and er mother used to keep in touch with him with a runner. Er er that was one of his men who would er er come home with a biscuit tin,carry a biscuit tin, in it would be his letters er and anything else and then she, mother would give him the biscuit tin back and maybe would have some little bits of kind of food you wouldn’t get when he was travelling because you’d live mainly on rice and the basic product of the countryside where you were. Er and the runner would go running back with the letter and there was a sense in which when I was 8 or 9 when I began to feel much more responsible person er ah in having said I was naïve about many things in some things I became much more responsible I began to be very protective of my mother and my mother used to talk to me about her worries, she had no one else to because father was away. And sometimes there would be crises and difficulties and she used to talk to me, there wasn’t much I could really do positively but I think she found me a pretty sympathetic sounding board, very concerned about my father and one thing and another and er this was the kind of life we led and I’m merely telling you that because it illustrates the kind of er the kind of life we had. (26.10)
Er I also usually when I talk about this would mention food, people have wondered about food, I’ve mentioned already we had a garden. We grew a lot of vegetables and stuff like that ah but there were we… and mother to er would take out with her some supplies er that would be expected to last. I can remember she used to take out from this country ah or have sent out to her er Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits in these hermetically sealed tins and that would keep them for quite a long time. But we never had sweets, er we never had that kind of stuff er we didn’t see sugar, we didn’t see butter. Er …… there were cows, there were a lot of cattle around but there wasn’t much milk of much quality. Er ….. ah and we, we didn’t see many horses either because horses were suspect with the with the flies and disease and so on. Ah but there was plenty of meat but o.. our main meat source was chicken. Er there was lots and lots of chicken and er we kept chickens. I can remember I once had a chicken with 13, a hen with 13 little chicks running around and which I looked upon as mine and I used to shet… take them around. So we, we were quite well supplied but it was a fairly limited diet but it was a good diet. And er, we used to enjoy that. Er I can remember most of those things. (Pause)
T: Okay. (27.50)
J: I think there are two other things I should mention before I leave Madagascar, and one was the er experience we had in 1927 in 1927 there was a, a very serious cyclone, ah they get cyclones fairly regularly, coming in off the Indian Ocean but sometimes they’re far worse than others and this was a notable one which stood out. Er and I always can remember it er when it hit we were told we had to stay indoors there was no choice the weather was absolutely wild. And I can remember standing at the window, looking out and seeing trees, quite thick trees being snapped off at the roots and blown across the road. And there was a big tree outside our house and I was looking at that and suddenly my mother realised where I was and rushed in and pulled me away from the window because at that time, just at that moment a big branch came off and at the last minute the wind seemed to catch it and dropped it beside the house instead of on the house. But the other memory I have of my father fighting with sheets of corrugated iron, trying to fill up and nail up gaps in the place so that the wind shouldn’t get in under the roof. We survived the cyclone but it cause an enormous amount of damage and a lot of people appeared to have been either drowned or killed during in it so the the 1927 cyclone was quite a thing.
The other thing I was going to mention is the fact that we did have the joy of meeting other children, English speaking children once or twice a year. when the missionaries got together for their committee meetings we would move to either Fianarantsoa or on one occasion they came and stayed with us at Ambohimahasoa. And there were two other families who were in Fianarantsoa and so when those ham came there would be a week where the mums and dads well the dads would be in conference discussing the work they were doing, my father actually was the treasurer for the local ah group of missionaries because they worked as a group sometimes although often they were individually active. And er those were the occasions when the other children er we made friendships with those children which I’ve always remembered because they were about the same age as we were because most children had to come home round about 10 or 11 so we were all round about the same age. And so it went on until in 1932 ah it was time to come back to this country for the first furlough.
T: Okay (30.45)
J: By now it was time for us to come home the planning for the trip began and er we were due to come home in June and er I always remember my father saying that er we would go by a new route, I know you need to know something about the geography of Madagascar to understand this but we first had to travel from Betsilao in the south from Mamboy Marsoa up to Tanna Marive . Now when you got to Tanna Marive the usual way was you went by train down to Tamatav and you caught the bus the the ah not the bus, the the the ship there you got on the ship there and sailed back to France but that ship when it sailed back to France it used to sail round the coast of Madagascar and call in at a place called Brazgunga in the North of Madagascar, not quite in the north but fairly well north. But until 1932 there was no proper communication between Tamatav and Mushunka but in 1932 the French government were building a new road. so my father said, “We don’t want to spend five days or a week on the boat going round we’ll go up from Mushunka”. So my mother said “But there isn’t a road” he said
“But they’re building one and we can get a car that will get us through there”. She said
“But no ones ever gone up that way before”,
“Oh yes”. He said, “they have” and he mentioned two Frenchmen and she said,
“They are two gold prospectors and you’re asking me to take five children of whom the youngest is 6 months up this particular way”
“Oh” he said “I think we can do it” and we did, we went that way. And we had this big car, which drove us and in some places we would come to places where we would drive across fields or tracks and the road wasn’t build, the important thing was the bridges weren’t build so when we came to rivers there were were rafts there which were canoes tied together with boards on them. They would manoeuvre the car down the bank onto the canoe and then paddle it across to the other side and at one stage my mother would not get in the car while it went down the bank she stood on the bank side of the bank with the baby in her arms rather than get in the car but I always remember these trips across and we worked our way up. One night we stayed in a hotel place which was really no more than a camp for workers there but they were absolutely amazed to see a family coming through. And I always remember the night there because the rats ran that night and I can remember my brothers teddy bear having his toes bitten off by rats. Er er father was sort of getting up at night and shooing them away. Ah we we really, we really roughed it that trip up and then we got up to er Moshunga and I remember we were, stayed in a, in a hotel that night which was quite, which was a very different kettle of fish from the prospectors village we’d stayed in on the way up and then we got into the luxury of the ah of of of the Sarge Maritime liner ready come back to this country. Er from there we sailed back er and I remember calling in, calling in a Djibouti and er er the boys used to come swimming out and dive off the ship, they would climb up the liner they would dive off the ship down under the ship and up the other side, holding out their hands for coins that the passengers would throw coins and they would do this diving for coins. Erm and then I always remember the Suez canal, very well indeed. Er during the…. … ??? it was extremely hot in the Red Sea…. and we all of us got er sun rash Ahh, but came through. I remember the Suez Canal and then when we came to Port Saied we went into, stopped at Port Saied that’s where the Gilly Gilly men came aboard and they were the magicians who would turn little day old chicks into pellets and pellets back into little day old chicks see. The tricks they were allowed on for passengers they were to earn money er showing these various little er tricks they could do. (35.29).
And then we came back across the Mediterranean and I can remember looking out and seeing er er seeing strongbony smoking er the Mediterranean and er we got back to … Marseilles and there from Marseilles we came overland by train and erm er and er erm I remember we were, we were er …. er we were, we were travelling on a train and we would have to go down the train to the dining car for a meal and erm there was the routine was there we had a compartment to ourselves …. remember there was seven of us. And I always remember one occasion we were we were going down, father would lead, I would follow then my brother all in order and then Mother would bring up the rear with the baby and I always remember we got into the dining car sat down once, mother was laughing and she said to Dad she said, “you know that American who had stood to one side of course he’d seen Dad coming down he had stood to one side in the train corridor to let us all past and he sort of moved out and then back, moved out and then back and there’s mother who’s passed him with the baby he said “My Goowd”! (both laugh) to see a family travelling like that because we were ….. there were, there were …it was very rarely that those kind of things were seen in those days. And then we got back to England and I always remember father giving me a foxes glacier mint or something like that on the channel over, he said “suck that and you wont be sick. Ah but erm I wasn’t anyway. And we got back to London I remember clearly on the 30 June 1932 and we were met by an uncle and and aunt and we put up at the Russell hotel in London and I always remember I thought that the sugar when I saw the white sugar I started to use it as salt because I’d never seen white sugar, not seen granulated sugar, that was the first time I’d seen it. And I thought it was salt and I always remembered that. (37.47)
I also remember another fascinating little incident, which I think I ought to recount. That was that that evening we stepped out, it was one of these glorious summer evenings we looked up and the Zeppelin came across. June the 30th, 1932 I remember it clearly and the Zeppelin came across, the German visitors, we were watching them and I of course said that was what it was you know they were coming over with passengers and so on.
Many years later when I was in the air force and I was in occupied Germany, I went into ah a ruined flight office which had still not been cleared up because we were still there so soon after the war when I was on occupation forces and I, we were looking through the draws err of this er wrecked control office of the German Luftwaffe and there were photographs in there and I picked up one of the photographs was and aerial photograph of London dated 30th of June 1932 in other words they’d been taking cover photographs of London as they sailed over in peace time already (laugh). (39.08)
Well having arrived in England in 1932 we moved down to my mother’s home er where we were er put up and er looked after by her parents er at Wyke Regis, Weymouth in Dorset. And we were in fact stay there for er the next couple of years. Ah, mother and father were obviously faced with the question of educating us and doing something about it er which would be, which would, which would suit us. Ah so although they intended eventually to send us to boarding school they decided to send us to Weymouth college ooo, prep school. So at the age of 11 for the first time in September, ah 1932 I found myself at Weymouth College as a new boy. Um Sitting at the back of a little class of about 20 and er finding it all rather strange. Ah at the end of the first fortnight, that was a little prep school where at the end of each week or fortnight, I think it was a fortnight, all the marks that you’d had in the various exercises that you’d done were added up and the boys were seated in order, they they came er ah in the order of merit, in the marks it was a bit of an antiloop, antediluvian thing to do but they did that and low and behold the basic teaching I’d had from my mother landed me in first place, from being put in at the back when I first arrived. That hardly made me popular and what I had to suffer at my first two years at school were a significant amount of bullying. So if anyone talks to me about bullying let me tell you that I know all about it, I have been the recipient of a bullying regime which was never really controlled by the staff. Ahh, I probably asked for it, I probably was as a, as a boy who’d been on my own, who’d been the eldest, I probably accept the fact that I probably asked for it but none the less it was a pretty painful experience. Er but it was a day boy that I was so I got home in the evenings. Er and ah but I did extremely well there. Of course I started off with Latin but my French was already far ahead of anybody else’s there and my English and Maths was far ahead of anybody else’s so clearly mother had based us well. I spent two years there and then in 1934 of course ah, my, my er, father was due to go back to Madagascar. And so ah, my brother and I were sent to Eltham College. Now Eltham college is a school which was a boarding school as well as a day school and it being founded in 1842 for the sons of you.. London missionary society’s missionaries and Baptist missionary society’s missionaries. And that had been it’s main purpose, er it had been based in a house at Black Heath and then in about two th.. 1911 it had moved to Eltham and had taken over a big Georgian mansion, er which became the boarding house er and then it began taking day boys from around the place so the school had expanded and by the time I got to it it was a school of about 400 odd, 450 but it had a boarding house of 90 of us and we were all of us boys who were sons of missionaries from different parts of the world, er Africa, Madagascar, China, South Seas in fact practically any country that had missionaries, ah you would find that we were represented there. So we had a good deal in common and also we had a staff that were highly sympathetic to boys who’d been bought up in different countries who had problems, whose parents were abroad but who had guardians, er and er we had a pr a good sick bay because we all of us came back with problems from the counties we’d been living in for example I came back with s, ah malaria which in fact I suffered from from bouts of malaria until I was about 17, ah and that would land you back and we also none of us had picked up the childhood diseases, I’d had mumps earlier on but er that was the only one so as a, it was as a teenage that I went through chicken pox and measles and things like that at 16 or 17 and, but we had a very good a, we had a very good a,er Matron with a sick bay and all the facilities we need for that, urm I also suffered very badly from the cold. Erm, Kent was cold winters erm and I remember I mean those days we all wore shorts until we were about 14 and I remember as a special concession because I had chaps, I had bleeding chaps, as a special concession I was put into long trousers a year earlier than the others because of the way in which I suffered from the cold. Er but er but we coped, we managed er and er er we settled down and I had a very very happy existence at Eltham , I enjoyed it, the staff was good, we were well looked after. And although I’m going to say this to myself now I was very well taught indeed, er and er spent the next er until 1939 I was actually at the school until 1940 but in 1939 we were moved. In 1939 we’d had a very happy 5 years there. (45.40)
And it was here of course that I became interested in history because I was fortunate in that I had er a quite histor, history teacher. And I think that you can say that it was partly because of him that I continued. Erm he was a man called Scott, he was the Deputy Headmaster and in charge of, of the history department. He had been a Quaker, he’d been a Quaker who’d been imprisoned in the First World War for his Ah principles but he was a man of enormous breadth and his teaching was inspiring and so em practical. Under him in those years in the 30’s I probably learned more than many about the nature of what was happening in Germany, in Italy and in Spain, I became acutely aware of the nature of fascism and the nature of the conflicts which we inevitably going to face. Ah he er understood these things and discussions and irrelevancies from the syllabus were frequent and this is of course what I took too into my teaching, I was perfectly happy to be irrelevant because I regarded the role of a school master, the role of history as being one to educate not merely to start reproducing knowledge from some other source, people needed to be taught to think for themselves and he, he, he did that and I was blessed that I went into the 6th form in 1938 with him. And I was also blessed in the fact that because of the way that the numbers went at that time I was in a very small lower 6th, so with only about 4 or 5 of us discussions and general talk were er common. And although I had to leave that school for a year before I took my higher school certificate, because of the war, ah, his influence remained with me. So I’ve been ever, forever grateful for, to Scott for the influence he had on me. I don’t think there’s need for me to say anything else about the school erm except for my house master, er a man called Occamore, who was the physicist and had taught me physics until I was past the school certificate level and I’d got, I’d passed and got my credit but he was my house master and he also was an extremely valuable influence in the way in which he would look after and provide parental support in a way that a boy like myself probably needed with his parents abroad because both my mother and father were in Madagascar. So the other aspect of my life was of course that er I last saw my parents 1934 and throughout that period of school ah, the contact from my parents was purely by letter. We had guardians, I had an uncle and an aunt who were designated as our official guardians but we would stay with different people through our holidays. We would go to Weymouth, ah but one of the great joys we had was of course we’d go on a farm. Ah at er it was called Redfault Farm, they were ….. old friends of my parents and to us they were an uncle and and aunty and my brother and I use to spend significant periods of our time in our winter holidays and in our summer holidays on, on this farm in north Dorset, where we leant a lot of the farming skills of those days which now of course are seriously out of date I mean I learnt how to milk cows, I learnt how to help make hay and things of this sort, I learnt how to make cheese and things and er we really enjoyed the time there which we had on the farm and it was a wonderful relaxation and they were extremely good to us. And we stayed, stayed with other relatives, we used to come up to Lancashire to see my grandmother there er so during the holidays we, we, we moved to different places, different people but our base was essentially down at Wyke Regis in Weymouth. Erm and we there.
My mother came back from Ah Madagascar with the younger children in 1939, so she got back just before the war ended, my father was due back a year later. erm Mother had come back in 1939 to put the younger children into school. And then of course the war broke out in September 39 which changed everything, ah for one thing, the Eltham College was evacuated so Ah just the boarders, the day boys stayed but the boarders were evacuated to Taunton School, public school in Taunton which also had Congregationalist connections. And er the Eltham boys, there were 90 about 90 of us, we became a House, a separate House, boarding house down in Eltham , er in Taunton and er I became head boy of that, of that group. (51.25) Er, and er for that one year so I had one year er in which I took my higher school certificate and of course there was very little teaching to be had so most of my year was spent private study. Er I had some guidance in History, a little bit in French er and I had to drop the Latin so instead of three subjects which I’d been studying back in Eltham I had to do just three subjects. So I was reduced to History, Geography and French Ah and I got some help in French, some help in History but none in Geography at all. Ah so I took my higher School certificate er down in Exeter Ah, in J, in June 1940, just about the time that Paris fell, I remember this. Ah but ah, even so, Eltham still was quite strong they’d been supporting me with my University applications which I’d put in in the Autumn term of 1939 and I was interviewed and I did an entrance exam for for Wadham College er but I’d also applied for two London university colleges and I was fortunate enough I was offered a place in all three so naturally I chose Wadham College Oxford because the school had had some connections with Wadham. Ah and er er , in 1940 I went up to Wadham. After had, had quite a long discussion with my mother about it, she said “Go on, this war’s still got a long way to go you’re going to find yourself involved in it anyway, you might as well get your feet under the table up at College”.
So I went up to Wadham for a year and when I got to Wadham ah, I joined the University air squadron and that meant that I’d volunteered for the Air Force and I got the first stages of both my degree and my univ.. my, my training as a, as a, as a Pilot at the same time. Ah I went through part one then evenings and at the weekend we went and did the initial training wing, training for er air crew. We went through your medical, you we.. we had our medicals, we were, we joined effective practically, we joined the Air Force but remained undergraduates for that year, ah so that eventually I was ah, put on uniform in the summer of 1941. (54.08)
One very different aspect of this whole event from the family point of view when the war broke out was the fact that my father had been due back in 1940, just at the time when France fell. This had been his booked route back and the other thing to remember was that of course Fra.. Madagascar was a French colony and therefore he was stuck, he was unable to get out, in no way could he get out of Madagascar. When he was due to come back after his six year stint. Without going into any detail now the re, some result, total result of it was that my father never got back to this country until 1946, six years later. So in actual fact I never saw my father for 12 years, from the time I was 12 until the time I was 24 which I think was a, a, an event of some significance in, in, in my life and in his. That applied also remember to my brother and six years of it to my younger brothers and sisters and to my mother too. It was something which I think the family probably never really recovered from the results of it, from the effects of it. I won’t go into those now but I thought that it was important to mention that this was going to create very serious problems for my mother in the bringing up and the, the dealing with, financially and in every other way of the family because she in fact was left to deal with not only myself and my brother but the other four siblings and in this ah point I think it’s worth to say how grateful the family were to her parents because they provide a home for them through the war down in Wyke Regis, Weymouth where they continued to live with my Grandmother and my Granddad who in actual fact lived to be nearly 90 and died in about 1949. So er, that was a blessing which we had to deal with an extremely difficult circumstances and it was only after the war was over a long time later that I really fully appreciated just what an absolute heroine my mother had been in the way she had coped with such difficult circumstances and don’t forget they were living in an area close to a naval base which was under attack quite often and they had some very rough times there. (56.54)