Secondary School in London
I started at Regent Street Polytechnic Secondary School for Boys, 309 Regent Street, two or three weeks before my 11th birthday.
The Regent Street Polytechnic Secondary School for Boys was a very unusual if not unique school. Situated in the heart of London, it drew pupils from the centre of the City to the suburbs. The pupil intake was cosmopolitan - sons of diplomats, of refugees, and of various kinds of professionals as well as scholarship boys and those awarded a Free Place after competitive examinations. The school had the benefit of the very good facilities available on site for the higher and further education work of the Polytechnic, such as the physics and chemistry laboratories, workshops, library, swimming pool, rifle range and restaurant. The institute's excellent playing fields, athletics track and other sports facilities were at Chiswick. The Polytechnic's travel enterprise (which became the Lunn Poly) arranged school trips, including regular summer visits to its own chalets in Switzerland. Morning assembly was in the adjacent Polytechnic cinema with its plush tip-up seats and Compton cinema organ, which the public enjoyed later each day.
I travelled daily by a No.7 bus from St. Mark's Road to Oxford Circus. My elder brother, John, had preceded me at the school but had left for a career in the Civil Service. My two younger brothers, Alan & Ron, followed me into the school at 4-year intervals. My sister Mary, Ron's twin, went to Burlington School where Sheila, a prefect, gave her lines for misbehaving!
My studies followed the normal pattern except that my asthma proved a problem. As a result, although my performance in the Lower 5th form was good enough for me to go straight to the Upper 5th it was decided that the reduced stress of taking an extra year by going into the 5th form might reduce the severity and frequency of asthma attacks. It didn't work out but by a special concession of being allowed to use the lift rather than having to climb the many stairs and with the fortunate proximity of the UK office of a German Company specialising in the latest atomiser treatment of asthma I was able to get by.
Home life was lively and interesting. My father bought had bought a bull-nosed Morris and then a year or two before the war a Wolseley 14 saloon. We had regular holidays and breaks. In the three years leading up to the war we stayed for a month at a cottage in Morfa Bychan, near Portmadoc – at least my mother and we children stayed the whole month but my father could only get away for two weeks.
Around 1936 we moved from 54 Highlever Road round the corner to 21 Kingsbridge Road. The family needed a larger house and as one of the rooms in our new home had been built or extended to accommodate a full-size billiard table, it was particularly suitable.
I sang in the choir of Holy Trinity Church in Latimer Road (otherwise known as the Harrow Mission) where my father was organist and choirmaster and I often accompanied him when he acted as relief organist at other Churches, sitting with him on the organ stool but on one occasion hand pumping an ancient instrument.
My father was very keen on self-education. Thus he would solve crossword puzzles with us and took us to museums. We also accompanied him to musical events such as Proms at the Queen's Hall, Hansel & Gretel at Sadlers Wells and a staged Hiawatha at the Albert Hall. Piano pieces and broadcast Sunday afternoon symphony concerts filled the house.
From time to time my father gave me sixpence to deliver parcels of printing to various addresses and it was from the sample on the outside of what was inside that I learned that there was something called Freemasonry and that my uncles Wal and Fred were involved in it. My father told me he was not a Freemason but he sometimes played the piano at its events, for example accompanying Arthur Askey at an entertainment at the Clarendon Hotel.
Secondary School in Minehead
Accompanied by my brother Alan I went with the school when it was evacuated on Friday 1st September 1939. Pupils of the School assembled that morning at 309 Regent Street. We were getting towards the end of our summer vacation but we had been coming to No.309 each day from the previous Monday, ready to be evacuated should the Government so decide. The Government announced on Thursday 31st August that evacuation would take place the following day so when we arrived on the Friday it was all systems go. We were addressed by the president of the Polytechnic, Sir Kynaston Studd, and shortly after 1030 in the morning we started our procession, accompanied by policemen, to Oxford Circus Underground Station. By the evening we were scattered in four small villages in rural Somerset. War was declared two days later - and three weeks after that we were living in and around the small seaside town of Minehead.
Before the evacuation took place the homes of the masters and boys of what was essentially a Public Day school were scattered over Greater London and it was rare for the masters to meet their pupils outside school hours. Suddenly, from the day of the evacuation, all that and much else changed. The masters became responsible for the boys 24/7 in a school that had become a Public Boarding school, but with the boarding scattered in numerous billets in rural Somerset. Moreover the masters had to find homes, move their families and teach in unfamiliar surroundings with far fewer facilities. The boys were transported in one day from a city environment to the countryside, which for most of them was completely new territory where farming, hunting and other rural pursuits were the norm.
The Headmaster in 1939 was Dr. B.L. Worsnop, a distinguished physicist who had joined from King's College London to head the Maths and Physics department of the Polytechnic. He had then transferred to head the school on the departure of his predecessor, F. Wilkinson, to Latymer Upper School. 'Nobby' Worsnop was the steady hand steering the school during the difficult and uncertain years of its evacuation.
Accommodation at the Minehead County School premises, which we time-shared with the local pupils, was not sufficient for the Polytechnic so the Headmaster had to hire extra accommodation, namely the Methodist Church Hall, where I took my ONC exams, and the Masonic Hall, where I was taught as a 6th Former. Thus I had my second introduction to Freemasonry - not that I learned much at the time for when I enquired what lay beyond a blocked portal I received an obfuscating answer. Some 60 years later, having discovered that half our masters were Freemasons, I myself entered the portal as a Freemason, gave a talk on THE Polytechnic, Minehead and Freemasonry and made a speech at a Dinner in the room in which I had been taught as a 6th Former.
The manner in which the evacuation took place, the trials and tribulations of the School in wartime, the history of the School together with accounts and photos of reunions of evacuees which took place from 1991 onwards are set out in Regent Street Poly School section of this website.
Throughout the School's stay in Minehead there was constant awareness of the war. For example AA guns sounded from across the water from South Wales, there were the pill boxes, one near the Station disguised as a bookshop, air-raid shelters and sandbags. The Poly masters and most of the senior boys were active in the Minehead Home Guard.
The countryside around Minehead was delightful and it was a great pleasure to explore it as well as enjoy the facilities of the town itself.
I was soon involved in musical activities, which included the provision of gramophone music at the Polytechnic School's Sunday morning Service at the County School and arranging recitals of music on the gramophone. However, as an evacuee I greatly missed radio broadcasts of choral and orchestral concerts. These had been a regular feature of life at home but there was no interest whatsoever in music broadcasts in the family with which I was billeted. It was making up that lack which got me interested in the technical aspects of radio. It was probably in early 1940, on a short visit to home in London that I bought a 1-valve radio for 2s 6d (12.5p) in a Church jumble sale. There was, however, one major problem - the batteries required by the radio were much too expensive for me on my pocket-money allowance. The answer was a crystal set and earphones which I bought for next to nothing at a second-hand shop or another jumble sale.
The contact with the technical aspects of radio led me to change from arts to science subjects at school and from then on it was a natural progression to the diverse and rapidly changing field of electronics, which became my life work so far as science and engineering was concerned.
Schoolwork continued at a high standard and in the HNC exams I obtained a Good in mathematics and a Pass in all the other subjects, except that in Chemistry it was only at subsidiary level. So, in the Summer of 1942 I left the School having been awarded, on the Headmaster's recommendation, a Bursary to study Physics at his old College, King's College London.