In 1950 my parents chose Wycliffe, not just because of its educational reputation but because it catered specifically for vegetarians. We lived in Surrey, but that was not seen as a problem and in the next 9 years I grew to love Gloucestershire and Wycliffe. The happy memories still occupy my mind.
The first four years were spent in Sherwell, where Bertie Robertson was housemaster. His main claim to fame was winning the English cross-country championship in 1947, as well as breaking fell-running records in Snowdonia and beating Chris Brasher in the process. He was well liked by the boys, not least because he drove a sports car, an open-topped Sunbeam Alpine. Conditions in Sherwell were pretty spartan, but one luxury I recall was Sunday evenings, when the older boys were allowed to listen to the radio in Bertie’s office, sitting on the floor, while a tray of sweets was passed round, from which we could take two of our choice. Sugar rationing was still biting. The Prep School, then run by Thomas Sibly, was soon over and I moved on to the Junior School, where I learned to swim under the guidance of Charles Ellis and play cricket with help from John Camm. I remember him saying to me “one more round-arm delivery, Francis, and you’re not bowling again”. I was never a great cricketer, but went on to captain the 3rd eleven in the Senior School, mostly as an administrator I suspect. We were eo-opted into farm work occasionally, which led to an accident, when I fell off the top of a trailer load of hay pulled by a tractor. I can confirm that the expression “seeing stars” is no exaggeration. Senior School memories are a little sharper, in Springfield, initially under Rev Thomas Dixon, a good man with a rather pretty daughter. lt would be fair to say that she did not go unnoticed by the 50-odd boys in Springfield. The demolition of Springfield in the 1990s was a great disappointment. The facilities were excellent, especially the croquet lawn, the billiard room, the library, the table tennis area and the photographic darkroom, all of which absorbed me consistently. In about 1957 Noel Johnston took over as housemaster and remained a friend for some years after my school days. lt was also at the time when the chapel, over the road, was being repaired and refurnished after the wartime damage. Our woodworking skills were put to the test, mainly making chairs to a standard pattern, under the guidance of Pally Parrott, the woodwork master.
One of the other features locally was the excitement created by the RAF station at Moreton Valence, where the Gloster Meteor planes were still in the development phases. The Meteor was the first fighter plane to use a jet engine and the Mark 7 and Mark 8 were constantly overflying the school. The war had not long gone, so fighter aircraft and small boys were a natural combination. Cycling, our only means of personal transport, made our horizons much broader. Every term had a Whole Holiday, when we were allowed to engage, within reason, in an activity of our choice. On one occasion three of us decided to cycle to Stonehenge and back, a distance we later discovered to be 110 miles. How we got permission is a mystery, especially since our bikes were not up to the challenge any more than we were. All went well for a while, through Stroud, Nailsworth, Tetbury, Malmesbury, Chippenham and Devizes. Then the slog across Salisbury Plain left our bikes in even worse condition than ourselves, so fairly extensive repairs were undertaken and we let the school know we would be late. We got back at about 10.30. I can’t imagine any such venture being sanctioned today. But that was not the worst cycling adventure. I used to play golf regularly on Minchinhampton and in December 1957, on my own, coming down the hill from The Bear with the golf clubs across my back, I was watching a game of hockey, on a pitch to the left of the road. Unfortunately a man was sitting in his stationary car in front of me was also watching the hockey. When I looked up the car was only a few yards in front and the next thing I remember was waking up in the sanatorium, saying “what a bloody silly thing to do” and Sister Martin saying “Peter, language!”. Apparently I hit the car at full speed, went over the top and landed on the road, with the clubs going in all directions. The driver somehow realised I was from Wycliffe, so took me and the wreckage back to school. I was lucky to suffer only extensive grazing, it could have been so much worse. The damage to the bike was terminal though, it was sold for one pound ten shillings for scrap metal, and I was fined two pounds ten shillings for driving without due care and attention. Difficult to argue. We had some superb school holidays in those days. Two weeks in Oslo and Bergen and the next year in Austria at Seefeld and Hochsolden stand out, but a three week trip to Sweden and Brussels was top of the list. During the scout jamboree in Birmingham in 1957 the Swedish scouts stayed around Stonehouse, so the Swedes offered a few of us a free holiday in Sweden the following year, after which we stayed a further week in Brussels, to enjoy the Expo.
I left Wycliffe in 1959 and, with maths as my only evident talent, largely inspired by George Loosley, I went straight into articles with London Accountants, Rowland & Co. In the next few years I qualified as a Chartered Accountant, married Heather and we emigrated to Sydney in Australia, which cost us £10 each! We loved Sydney, where I worked for KPMG, and we had the first of our three daughters there, but after 3 years we returned to UK. The next 34 years were spent working in industry, which included a lot of travel, until retirement in 2004. In the meantime our daughters had all married and happily produced 5 grandchildren. My Wycliffe connections are ongoing, at the London receptions and the OW golf society games, both of which I can strongly recommend.