My results at Rutheglen Academy must have been pretty awful because, at sixteen, after consultation with a pedagogue and with the financial assistance of my grandmother no doubt, I was sent to Wycliffe, at that time evacuated to St. David’s College in Lampeter, central Wales. Life was to change dramatically for the better. The dormitories were full, so I boarded with Mr. & Mrs. Goodwin, one of the teachers, and soon adapted to a very different way of life. I was absorbed by the daily routine of the school but there were extracurricular activities which were new to me. New friends guided me to an abandoned gold mines supposedly permanently closed where we dug for gold nuggets, and also to piles of ex-military items such as smoke bombs which we lit was delight, filling the valley with smoke. Half-hols were wonderful occasion to discover the wonders of the neighbouring countryside.
I joined the Scouts and obtained my King’s Scout badge. On an Air Training Corps camp I was able to pilot a Doncaster bomber for a full 30 minutes, The pilot and crew played cards in the rear of the plane as I kept the plane on as even a keel as I could, keeping my eye on the controls. On returning to the cockpit, the pilot could not work out where we were! Throwing the plane this way and that, he finally recognised a landmark and turned for home. Flying a plane was easy!
The scout troop camped near a beach for a week in 1944 which included June 6th, the day on which the long awaited ‘Second Front’ opened, with the Allies landing in Normandy. As the news spread, we celebrated by shooting our tin plates into the sky, like Frisbees! They were an early type of flying missiles!
In my first year, I worked hard for the School Certificate trying to catch up the years I had lost through illness, and obtained two Distinctions, five Credits (and a fail in Religious Education!) The Reverend Brompton-Harvey was not very pleased!
After twelve months, the school returned to Stonehouse, where my brother David joined me. Working even harder, I obtained two Distinctions and one Pass, mostly thanks to Mr Evans, History and Geography teacher. As I neared eighteen, I felt I had something to show for my truncated school career. The two years at Wycliffe were of the very best. They were enhanced with plenty of sports, activity clubs and organised cycle rides on ‘Half or Whole Hol’ days. I joined the Photo Club with my box camera which, among other things, allowed me to perfect what I claim to be the first remote control camera, as shown in the photo!
The Headmaster, and Housemaster for Springfield, was William Arthur Sibly (or WAS for short) one of the new breed of modern educators and ran a very fine school.
WAS loved cycling and led long expeditions to all parts. He often boasted in his broad accent ‘I can remember when I was the fastest thing on the road’. He loved his work and his cycle, and he loved animals. He would stop to pick a worm off a path and remove to the border for instance. One evening, four of us in our dormitory were following a moth with our torches as Searchlights had once followed bombers in London. As it flew about the room, we were making a good deal of noise. WAS came in ‘Wa, Wa, Wa, What’s all that noise?’ he muttered as we pointed out the moth ‘Put those lights out. You will hurt its eyes’ came the swift reply.
Dave and I arrived in Stonehouse a few days before the autumn term started and helped out with various jobs for a couple of weeks. We must have got into some sort of trouble so were made to work in the garden for two hours. Dave was stung by a bee and complained to WAS who promptly replied: ‘Serve you right. Now that bee will die because of your bad behaviour.’
Grace always preceded the main, vegetarian, meal at midday. It was nearly always a long Latin prayer whilst we waited impatiently for the food, or the shortest grace I have ever heard, ‘Benedictio benedicat’. I presumed it meant ‘Bless these blessings’ or words to that effect.
Discipline was maintained by the imposition of ‘blogs’, a run round the cricket field. Blogs were awarded by teachers and prefects for any infringement of rules. The ‘blogs’ not only maintained discipline but also ensured the rugby teams were amongst the best in the area! Twenty or more, you were ‘gated’ and had to report to the Duty Prefect within 30 seconds, any Wednesday or Saturday afternoon, as soon as the school bell was rung. This limited your free-time activities somewhat!
I discovered that school was a pleasant and useful occupation, as it was meant to be I felt sure.
My brief stay at Wycliffe was a very positive experience and I am grateful for those who made the sacrifices that allowed me to profit from this experience.
P.S. The Latin no doubt needs correcting!