It was decided that the family would stay in Worthing, with my father commuting most weekends to and from Stanmore. This temporary arrangement continued until late summer 1940, when we made a permanent return to Stanmore.
Now too old to return to St. Brendan’s, my brother and I joined Alcuin House School in Old Church Lane. This school prepared boys for the Common Entrance exam. to gain entry to a Public School. Discipline was strict, punishment for misdemeanours sudden and effective. Well aimed chalk and twisting of ears, quickly brought any stupid behaviour or lack of attention to a close. Vigorous games on the grass sports field and mini- warfare in the playground, proved a successful means to drain off surplus energy from lively boys.
The school’s Principal, Mr. T. Darcy Yeo had developed the application of ‘stick and carrot’ to a fine art. He took the top class himself, with assistant teachers looked after kindergarten and junior classes. Study in the top class concentrated on obtaining success in the exams. As light relief, he usually completed each day with readings from books such as Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and delightful little essays by the Canadian writer Stephen Leacock.
Two events stick out in my memory. The first was during my first year in the junior class. To close each day our teacher Miss. M.Keast, made us stand up whilst she gave us a few parting words. At the back of the class an unfortunate lad was desperate to go to the toilet. He continued standing there as long as he could, but the waterfall started whilst Miss. Keast was still talking. Realising what had happened, the rest of us were bursting to break into laughter, so we were trying to contain our guffaws until we were allowed to leave. The effect on us once outside was almost hysterical.
The other event was in Mr. Yeo’s senior class. During a mid-morning break we streamed out into the playground. Two of the largest chaps started wrestling, then rushed to the French Doors, which stuck. Their combined weight and momentum pulled the door-frame apart, but luckily, the glass stayed intact. Feeble We were all called back into class and told that we were all guilty of rough behaviour so the whole class would have to stay late in detention.
Air Raids were a feature of life in Stanmore during the early 1940’s, but I do not recall that they seriously affected school life. Raids were usually at night, when the family would descend to our night-shelter, which was one the strong-rooms below the bank.
When raids started early evening we would watch the increasing glow of fires in central and east London. Even more dramatic was the sound of anti-aircraft gunfire. But best of all, for excited young boys was the firing of rockets from Hyde Park (10 miles south of us). Although noisy and spectacular, I doubt whether they shot down many bombers.
One summer evening we were standing on the backdoor step during heavy gunfire, when we heard eerie whistling sounds. father quickly pulled us back and closed the door, just before shrapnel from anti-Aircraft shells clattered onto the garden path.
Another feature of life in wartime which did not cause us distress was rationing. I suspect this was because it came in gradually so that we got use to it.
Films were a popular entertainment at this time, but night raids deterred people from travelling to nearby towns for cinemas, The Institute Club, of which my father was a member, obtained a projector to show films in the Institute. At first, these were silent films; Charlie Chaplin and the like, but later a loudspeaker was obtained, so that more interesting films could be shown.
Fire Watching was carried out on a rota of people living in the village and occasionally, training exercises when a bonfire would be lit on waste ground where Stirrup Pumps were used to douse it with water. Young boys endeavouring to join in were told to stand back out of the way.
As the threat of Air Raids lessened children were allowed to wander off to places such as Stanmore Common. Being on the northern edge of London suburbia, we were in walking and cycling distance of other rural areas.
With RAF Fighter Command at Bentley Priory, airmen and WAFs were everywhere. Later Polish, then American personnel filled the streets. This also affected the road traffic, military vehicles of many types came through Stanmore. Some very strange vehicles came through, in particular a chassis with four wheels, engine gearbox, steering wheel, brakes and transmission. A temporary seat enabled these ‘frames’ to be driven to another factory where the vehicle body would be fitted. Drivers had no protection from the weather.
When 1,000 or more bombers were assembled to raid Germany, they seemed like enormous flocks of birds slowly circulating in the sky, before moving out to their targets. Later with the preparations for D-Day, convoys of vehicles would trundle through for hours on end and military police would arrive by motorbike to direct these convoys through the Broadway, Church Road, Stanmore Hill junction.
During the final year of the war, I gained entry to Merchant Taylors’ School at Moor Park, some eight miles from Stanmore. Daily travel was by bus and train, except in summer when I cycled between home and school. This move into secondary education, making new friends who lived some miles away and becoming more adventurous with travel, was the start of the loosening of the strings attaching me to Stanmore.
The winter of 1947 was one of the most severe of the 20th. Century. It was the only occasion I recall seeing a thermometer register 0º Fahrenheit (-18º Celsius as measured in the 21st Century). Transport was severely disrupted, causing long delays during the commute between home and school. Power Stations ran out of fuel which resulted in loss of electricity supply for hours at a time. Candles and oil lamps were used for lighting and to maintain heat at home, we had to collect solid fuels by car direct from the LMS Station Goods Yard in Old Church Lane. Food shortages were also a problem. The harshness of these conditions was more severe than anything we had experienced during the war.
In 1948, I left school to work in the City of London, then nine months later was called up for National Service. Within a few weeks of completing National Service in 1951, we all moved to the South Coast which broke our connection with Stanmore.
I was fortunate to be able to travel from time to time within The British Isles and abroad during my working life. On two business trips in the 1970’s and 1980’s I selected routes to enable me to make brief stops Stanmore.
Walking around my old haunts, I was horrified to see the extent to which the place had changed. So many of the properties had been replaced by soulless modern buildings that the village atmosphere had gone completely. People walking the streets were so different from those I remembered from the 1940’s, that I felt I was in a foreign land.
So now I only recall my happy times in Stanmore and have to accept that all that is left of the place I once new is what I retain in my memory.