I can’t honestly say I can remember my first day at secondary school, but I would think it would have been a very nervous time for any 11 year old. The school was at Crownhill Plymouth on the opposite side of Manadon Naval college (where my Father was working) from my previous school, Chaucer Way. This came in very handy as I could walk into the college when school finished and get a lift home instead of getting the bus.
I can’t remember a time when I had any other ambition than to follow in Father’s footsteps and join the Royal Navy, so walking around this huge establishment where there was so much ‘Navy stuff’ to see was a great thrill for me.
I think we were molly coddled a bit when we started at the secondary school as we had our own small playground for the first year. The school was actually fantastic with so many facilities. Metalwork shop, woodwork shop, Physics lab, Chemistry lab, Library, Geography room, Technical drawing room, Art room, gymnasium, sports fields with athletic facilities, outdoor swimming pool and even a small observatory. What I was yet to discover though was the sailing club!!
The teachers seemed very strict after primary school of course, as they needed to be! I seem to recall the classes being fairly large, but cannot remember many of the names. John Sanger, Christopher Bowden (who I think also joined the RN) Michael Blackledge, were all my particular buddies. Unfortunately I have NEVER managed to contact anyone I was at school with since the day I left. This is a great shame as I would love to know what became of them all. Did the bad ones end up as vicars and the goody goodies end up ‘banged up’ for some horrendous crime. I would love to know. So if anyone out there reads this and can give me any clues I would be very grateful.
We started our secondary education under the wing of Mr Davies (Taff. Welshman of course). A lovely, gentle man who I seemed to get on well with. He was our form master and also our English teacher, which is probably why I got on with him. It was one of the few things I was reasonable at.
At the end of every period, the bell would sound and about 400 boys would move from one classroom to another. That was always fairly chaotic with much noise and teachers trying to keep some semblance of order. I have never forgotten my first ever French lesson. Usually when you arrived at your next classroom the door was open. But on this occasion we found it shut. This caused much confusion and discussion. Eventually it was decided that one ‘brave soul’ should knock on the door. This was tentatively done which resulted in a loud shout of “ENTREE!!” This of course lead to much more discussion about the meaning of what was shouted. The door was again knocked on with the same, even louder, result. Again after much discussion another brave soul decided we should open the door. Only to be greeted with a further barrage of french inviting us to come in, shut the door, sit down and be quiet. I dont recall the teachers name but he was quite a character who would not abide any boy fiddling with a pen or similar. He would march up to the offending boys desk and announce….always in french, what he was fiddling with. “Ah, regardez, la crayonne”. He would then walk to the window “Regardez la fenetre”. Open the window. “Ouvrez la fenetre”. He would then deposit the offending article out of the second floor window (may have been third floor) “La crayonne gone!” You could always see who had just had a french lesson as they were picking up their belongings from the grass outside afterwards! I was never really any good at french but he must have been a damn good teacher as I was surprised when I actually went to France how much I could actually understand.
One of the few things I enjoyed was art. The art master was quite an eccentric man called Mr Waters. He had a sort of ‘Einstien’ look about him. Unkempt long greying hair. Scruffy tweed jacket (with the obligatory leather elbow pads of course) and brown corduroy trousers. Always smelled of the pipe that he smoked. (often in the store room during class). He was a great shot with a piece of chalk or a board rubber. It was not unknown for him to launch a glass jar down the classroom at some offending boy! Sometimes if you were chosen to hand out the paper, you were invited into the store room to watch him count out the required amount of sheets. This he did by grabbing what appeared to be a random handful from a pile, holding it to his ear and flicking through the sheets while listening carefully. He would then hand the pile to you to hand out. He was never more than one or two out! Knowing what class was due in he probably had them pre counted, but it was damned impressive to an 11 or 12 year old boy.
I also enjoyed Woodwork (which I did try really hard at due to Dad’s trade but never really mastered) Metalwork, Technical drawing, physics and geography. Apart from English which I seemed to be ok at, everything else was a ‘black art’ for me. Once I started learning my trade at HMS Collingwood, I realised that it was all down to what was relevant for me. I didn’t care how long it would take 3.5 men to build 4.5 walls!
History just left me cold and that was the one thing my Father used to forgive me for as he agreed it was not important. Strangely my daughter was totally the opposite at school. Loving history and maths. Religeous education never did a thing for me and to this day I have no time for religeon whatsoever. Great respect for anyone who is religeous, but its not for me thank you.
After some time, I discovered the sailing club. This was run by the Physical education master. Mr Wall. Not being a great one at ANY sports we didn’t really get along too well at first, but once I exhibited a huge interest in sailing we got along a lot better. The school had 2 GP14s and 4 cadet sailing dinghys which were kept at the Barbican at Plymouth Sound. Boathouse number 8 was ours to be precise. I remember that because my Father gave us a metal cast number for the door.
We all started off learning the basics on one of the larger GP14s under the tuition of Mr Wall, graduating to crewing and eventually taking the helm of a cadet dinghy with another boy as crew. One of my finest moments was at the helm of a GP14 when I won an inter school sailing race.
That Sailing certificate!
One of the school masters. He was also an ex-Navy man and he had a small yacht, which I think was moored on the River Yealm. He needed someone to crew for him on a race around the Eddystone light house. He asked if I would like to go. MY parents allowed this and I experienced my first yacht race. It was only about 30 miles in total I guess and I dont suppose we did very well, but it was quite a thrill, having stayed onboard the night before the race as well.
Once a year the school used to organise a week at a school camp. This was at Rame head in Cornwall at a village called Maker. We took our own boats across to use while we were there and I was allowed to sail one over. It seemed a huge voyage to me all the way across Plymouth Sound from the Barbican to Maker village, but was probably less than 5 miles.
After managing 4 years at secondary school and with ‘O’ levels looming, it became obvious to everyone I think that I was never going to achieve anything great at that level. I went to the Naval careers office on my own and took all the relevant tests required to join as an electrical mechanic. I remember doing a paper which seemed extremely basic asking what tool should be used to hammer in a nail or screw in a screw etc….This is no problem I thought. Then came the maths test. Now I was not stupid and could actually do most basic maths reasonably well, but slowly. Therefore whenever I was given a test with a time limit all was lost. In the finish I was 5 marks short for my intended career even though most of what I had done was correct.
When the verdict was given, I asked what my options were. I was told I could try again in 3 months time, which would mean me returning to school, or I could choose another trade. Returning to school was just not on my agenda so I enquired about other options. It had to be something reasonably technical if I was to stand any chance of my parents blessing so when Naval Air Mechanic was offered, I jumped at the chance.
Consequently I was ‘invited’ to join the Royal Navy as a Junior Naval Air Mechanic second class, on 20th September 1971. Four days before my 16th birthday.
During the school summer holidays prior to me joining up, my parents had a loft conversion done on the bungalow which was being done by just one man. Knowing that I was at a bit of a loose end before going to Raleigh, he offered to take me on as unskilled labour. This was great! I enjoyed the work and it put a few quid in my pocket so I was not totally skint when I left home. As a foot note here, we did have a lot of trouble getting the promised money out of him at the end of the job but after much ado, I was paid.
So that was the end of my childhood schooling. Not much to show for it really. A one mile swimming certificate and a dinghy sailing award. Hey ho, now to see if the Royal Navy can do any better!