T 020 8688 4014
F 020 8681 6336
E This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Archbishop Tenison's

Church of England High School

Archbishop Tenison's CE High School
Selborne Road

Chapter 6 - Beyond the Classroom

Although the average wartime Tenisonian's life was necessarily focused on the school and its educational program, that only accounted for a relatively small proportion of our total time. In the environment of evacuation, the masters assumed indirect if not actual responsibility for the general welfare of the pupils. I don't think that they were ever burdened with too many of our personal problems but they were generally there if needed. The situation may have been different for the later batch of Craigmore "live-ins" where the school became the foster parent as well. We were entertained from time to time by Mr. Henderson's recounting of the antics of the juniors on the top floor. One incident that comes to mind was "hair cream soup". Our headmaster was quite disturbed one evening when he interrupted the creation of an evil blending of all the various hairdressings possessed by the boys. In those days, boys' hair would be slicked down with any of a wide variety of creams, lotions and other mysterious inventions. Presumably, it had been decided that the better properties of each could be combined into one all-powerful witches' brew. And that apparently is what it looked and smelled like. Its effectiveness was never determined as the mess was confiscated and conveyed to the garbage disposal. But the incident made a good story for Mr. Henderson to recount, as occasions demanded.
Not too many extra-curricular activities were organized for the students at Tenison's. On one occasion however, a group of us was invited to attend a variety show put on by one of the local army units at the community hall near The Cross. During the war, many military organizations, sometimes down to company or squadron level for land-based personnel, had rounded up all of the musical and acting talent contained within their groups, and cultivated some remarkably effective entertainment units. Some artists devoted more of their war to entertaining than they did to the functions for which they had enlisted. Thus the residents of Crowborough were able to enjoy a performance that exploited the gifts of a locally camped regiment.

The first winter that we spent in Crowborough was unusually cold. The normally beautiful English countryside lost a great deal of its charm. Outdoor activities were definitely not a favourite pastime. Without the protection from the weather that we take for granted nowadays, chilblains and other cold-weather disorders were plentiful. Indoor activities at Mrs. Adams's house were somewhat limited. But in those days, early-to-bed was the order of the day for juniors so, after homework had been dealt with, there wasn't much time for doing anything else anyway.
As the spring of 1940 began to make its presence known, we explored father afield. Wild flowers sprang into bloom beside the paths through Pilmer Woods, where we would walk for the sheer joy of doing so. In fact, practically everywhere we went was a journey on foot. Very few had bicycles. A few old, dilapidated bikes were available for rent at exorbitant prices from a run-down shop on Whitehill Road. However, among the natives that was something of a joke, as one could almost be guaranteed a walk back from wherever the machine had taken the borrower before breaking down. So we walked. One Saturday, Len Ryall and I decided that we would like to visit Tunbridge Wells. I suppose we could have gone by bus but that would not have been much of an adventure. So we walked. Armed with sandwiches from Mrs. Adams and an over-abundance of enthusiasm, we set out early from Queens Road for the 20-mile round trip to the place that neither of us had visited before. Although he refused to admit it, I could see that Len was as tired as I was when we reached our goal. I don't think we were as impressed by the scenery as we would be today so we rested well for the return trip. The journey back to Crowborough took a lot longer than we anticipated. With every muscle aching, we staggered back into the billet just before dusk settled. We were tired, dirty, thoroughly worn out but elated with a sense of our accomplishment. When we duly reported the event to our school peers, we received looks suggesting we were either stupid, liars or both.
The season warmed and small groups of us would visit a local park to play soft-shoe soccer, with heaps of jackets for goalposts, and generally let off steam in the ways that young teenagers would. The venue was probably Wolfe Recreation Ground, on Blackness Road. One evening, I was challenged by Ed O'Brien (known universally as "E'O") to lay on the grass while he jumped over me. That did not seem to require much of an effort so I readily agreed. However, when I discovered that he meant to jump longitudinally and not transversely, apprehension set in. E'O moved back far enough to get a long run before take-off, turned and came barreling back along the grass with every appearance of becoming successfully airborne. He probably would have made it too, if one of his feet had not caught on one of mine just as he left the ground. It ruined the whole performance. With limbs flailing, he landed in a heap on top of me with one knee firmly embedded in my eye. The rest of those Tenisonians present helped to disentangle us but there was not very much that could be done to repair the damage. E'O was full of remorse and I was full of pain. By the time I got to school the following morning, my appearance was even worse than normal. The Masters expressed great concern at the large black decoration to my face and although there was adequate explanation of the cause, I am not sure that they believed we had not been fighting. Mr. Garland, always a gentle and understanding person, seemed particularly concerned with my welfare.
When the summer arrived, walks to the Ashdown Forest and the Millpond became a favourite way of passing a pleasant hour or two. The area appears to have been built upon now but during the war, it was accessed from Beacon Road, probably about where Highlands and Sheiling Road are located. On one such occasion, I was scuffing through the underbrush beside a path, returning to the billet, when I tripped over something protruding from the ground. Upon investigation, I discovered a piece of rusting metal about 3 or 4 inches long that was almost flush with the rotting bracken. I pulled at it but whatever it was had become firmly embedded in the soil. I pulled harder and it started to yield until finally, a rather messy, thin object about two feet long emerged from its burial place. It was apparent that the object was not the usual sort of discarded ironmongery. It had what appeared to be a brass handle at one end. Further investigation was required, so I cleaned off the worst of the mud and woodland debris and carted it off, back to the billet. It took a lot of subsequent cleaning to restore the thing to its original recognizable form. The result was, to say the least, surprising. The brass "handle" turned out to be the hilt of an old style of bayonet, complete with dovetailed groove for attachment to a rifle and a spring-loaded button in the side to engage with some sort of detent on the muzzle of the gun. The "blade" was circular in cross section, tapered and terminated in a small spherical end. Although the surface was somewhat corroded, the peat-like environment in which it had been buried probably inhibited serious surface decay. In view of a superficial similarity to a ball-ended practice rapier, I assumed that my discovery was probably some sort of a practice bayonet. I took it into the school to show Mr. Garland, to get an opinion on what the origin and use of the weapon may have been. He was quite puzzled and suggested that I should hand it over to the police, which, in retrospect, I most certainly should have done. However, it was obviously harmless and of historical interest so I kept it. It was sometime later that I noticed a small crack between the "blade" and the handle. Something was loose so I worried it until it became obvious that the "blade" was in fact a scabbard. After much pulling, the real blade emerged from its case, as bright and shiny as the day it had been sheathed. But it was not an ordinary blade. It was cruciform in cross section, tapering to a point and with no sharp edge at all. The mystery was heightened and ultimately never solved. Despite attempts to determine its origin, I was not able to find a reference source that gave a proper description of it, or any indication of its history. Adults became concerned about me having such a dangerous object so I swapped it with Mickey Gower for his German steel helmet.

It was not really until the second year in Crowborough that we were severely bitten by the aeromodelling bug. By that time, materials were getting harder to obtain. Rubber, for turning the propellers of flying models, was an early casualty and those who were lucky enough to have supplies stashed away from better times became the envy of the modelling community. Many hanks of 1/4" by 1/16" rubber were re-cycled from model to model until they became too old to withstand the stretching. Then we moved over to gliders. Balsa wood, the basic ingredient for flying models, was not only becoming more scarce but the quality of what could be found was falling off considerably. We assumed initially that supplies from South America were no longer available. What we didn't know then of course was that the wood was going into the core of skin laminates for the deHavilland Mosquito bomber. (Nowadays, plastic foam is used between layers of carbon fibre or fibreglass for the same purpose in sailplanes.) The staple items in the construction of slab-sided flying models were 1/8" square balsa strips for the stringers and 1/16" thick sheet for the ribs. However, it was a lot less expensive to buy the material in sheets 36" long by 3" wide, and cut off the strips as required with a razor blade. But then razor blades became hard to get and we had to learn how to sharpen the old ones. There were many schemes for achieving that, none of them very satisfactory.
As far as aeromodelling materials were concerned, it was a sellers' market. A small shop at the Broadway end of Croft Road usually had a nominal supply of wood, paint and model kits, but the prices were exorbitant. We used the place for emergencies only. The best source, while supplies lasted, was undoubtedly Hunts, in South Croydon. Consequently we would stock up as far as possible on weekend trips back to our homes and struggle to get the delicate stuff back to Crowborough without too much damage in the crowded trains. As the war dragged on, alternative materials began to appear, none of them quite satisfactory. Many unusual woods crept onto the market in very limited quantities, a lot of them from Africa. A yellowish wood, probably birch or poplar was offered for aeromodelling but it was too dense, too hard and too brittle for the purpose.
The golf course in Crowborough was an excellent venue for flying model enthusiasts. We could generally find places in the rough from which to launch our machines without getting in the way of the golfers. In those days, without the benefit of radio controls, we kept in fine physical shape chasing wayward models. If a thermal happened to catch a model, it could end up anywhere, although I think only one or two were ever lost. Damage on landing was not uncommon and most of the machines were adorned with an array of patches. Some did not survive landings at all and then there would be grieving and sadness at the loss.
The most popular form of modelling during the war was probably 1:72 scale solid model aircraft. It became almost patriotic to participate in that activity, particularly as the models were considered an important factor in aircraft recognition. The Air Cadets regarded the hobby as an important factor in the training programme. Models were constructed either from commercial kits or from scratch. In the former case, components were generally supplied roughed out to shape and plans and paints provided for finishing. But the quality frequently left a great deal to be desired and the accuracy of the drawings could be questionable. Those of us who preferred to work from scratch needed suitable scale drawings, which, in the secrecy-shrouded wartime environment, were not always readily available. We cobbled together whatever information we could find from photographs and other sources and made our own drawings from which to work. When the Harborough Publishing Company introduced its popular series "Aircraft of the Fighting Powers" early in 1941, the problem of reasonably accurate drawing was more or less solved. But at a price of 12s. 6d., it was not until the end of the year that I could afford to obtain a copy. Ultimately, I collected volumes 1 through 5, all of which I still have.
The most suitable wood for construction of solid models was what we then knew as "American whitewood". (Today, in North America, we would call it "clear pine".) It was usually possible to scrounge enough small pieces for modelling purposes. And then sandpaper became hard to get. As a substitute we found that a piece of broken glass made an excellent scraper for roughing out the final shape of models, leaving our precious supply of sandpaper for the finishing process. If model cement supplies dried up, we resorted to a thicker mixture of the amyl acetate/acetone/celluloid chip concoction.
In Crowborough, as well as most other places in Britain, local volunteer organizations would frequently mount contests and exhibitions of models, either as self-standing projects or as part of larger undertakings. The modellers at Tenison's invariably participated in these events and sometimes enjoyed recognition or awards. It was a risky business submitting models to these shows as their delicate nature was not always understood by those handling the exhibits. On one occasion I was late in arriving to retrieve a model of a Hawker Hurricane and by the time I got to it, it was dumped in a garage somewhat the worse for wear.

For those of us who had elected to join, the Air Training Corps kept us busy out of school. Headquarters were located in an old school on Crowborough Hill, on the opposite side from Craigmore Hall and about halfway toward Mr. Perry's farm. It was probably the Sir Henry Fermor School. We met there once or twice a week to learn the rudiments of parade-ground discipline, theory of flight, navigation (or 'how to pretend you weren't lost over enemy territory') and other aspects of anticipated life in the Royal Air Force. There was great rivalry between the cadet units of each of the prime military organizations, but we joined the other, inferior groups in the patriotic parades of "Wings for Victory", "War Weapons" and other inspirational displays of the country's military might. In 1942, a photograph of our group was taken and an extract from it is shown as picture number 9. Mr. Pratt is identified in the front row and I am two rows above him and one body to the right.
From time to time, groups from our flight were hauled off to Gatwick for a day of indoctrination with real airmen. Gatwick was the nearest base to our cadet unit and we visited there for instruction that could not be obtained in Crowborough. The aerodrome was first licensed as such in 1930 and by the outbreak of war in 1939 it boasted a modern, circular terminal building and a feeder railway line. But then its development suddenly ceased, except for adaptation to the needs of the R.A.F. as a training and communications centre. The Link Trainer that had been installed by British Airways in 1938 was put to very good use during the war. Cadets were allowed some time on the machine and the half-hour instruction that I received on it from a bored instructor was my only training on such a device. On October 4th 1942, a handful of us were selected to enjoy the delights of a first flight. The weather was very blustery, with low scudding cloud. When my turn came, I was supplied with a far-too-large flying helmet and fitted into the rear seat of a Tiger Moth. It was normal for the instructor to be in the rear seat but on this occasion he elected to fly from the front end because of the weather. After a very rough 15-minute ride, we landed back at the airfield and discovered that in view of the weather, we had had the last small 'plane flight of the day. But that didn't matter. Even on the ground I was still walking on clouds.

As we settled into life at Crowborough, some of the boys brought their bicycles down from home. The machine that had served me well before the war had been passed along to my younger brother so I was back to walking everywhere. And then one day, quite out of the blue, E'O asked if I would like his bike. Thinking that he was joking, I replied with an enthusiastic "yes!" But he was not joking. He invited me to his billet to collect it. In an atmosphere of disbelief, I went along, wondering what the catch could be. When I got there the unasked question was answered. The bike was totally disassembled and somewhat the worse for wear. E'O had given up on it. Undaunted and grateful, I hauled the pieces away and set about restoring the thing to working order. In view of the shortage of spare parts, that turned out to be a formidable task. But after a lot of cleaning and a reasonably good paint job, it began to resemble its original form if one could ignore the rusty chrome. It had dropped "racing" handlebars, a most uncomfortable seat and a fixed wheel, with no brakes. I managed to obtain one caliper brake from somewhere and fitted it to the back wheel. The solderless nipple anchoring the cable into the lever was held in place by a setscrew. A fine idea in principle, but one that almost precipitated disaster. A few spokes were missing from the front wheel and those that remained needed a lot of tightening. But what the heck! It was a bicycle.
Soon after the rebuild was more or less complete, Phil Clarke and Tony Perrott announced that they were going to cycle home to Croydon for the weekend and I could join them if I wished, providing I could keep up. The distance was just over 30 miles each way, not an insurmountable journey. And so with a backpack carrying enough bits and pieces to see me through the weekend, I set off with the other two after school on a Friday afternoon to surprise my parents. And were they ever surprised! Furiously so! In view of the state in which I arrived, I suppose their annoyance was justified.
The journey started off well enough, despite the nuisance of not being able to freewheel down the hills. Then about halfway through the journey, we came to a long downhill section of road running between open heathland on either side. Hurtling down the slope, my mount took over and my legs could no longer keep up with the rotating pedals. So I kept my feet out of the way and enjoyed the exhilarating speed. About halfway down the slope, I was horrified to see that tanks traversing from one side of the heath to the other had torn up the road ahead. I squeezed the brake lever but the cable pulled out of its nipple and I was left brakeless. By some miracle I managed to negotiate the chunks of road but upon emergence, the front wheel had lost more of its integrity. As I arrived home in Croydon, the front wheel just about collapsed. After my father had overcome his annoyance at my unscheduled arrival, he scrounged a few new spokes, probably from Arnold's Ironmongery at the corner of The Chase and Stafford Road, and rebuilt the wheel. He soldered a proper nipple onto the brake cable and my bike was back in business.
I don't remember what happened to that old machine. I do know that in 1942, Arthur Mason sold me his Raleigh bicycle, complete with Sturmey-Archer 3-speed, for a rather nominal sum. That lasted for quite a few years. It went back to Croydon with me as luggage on the train after the Oxford exams had been written in December.

The Regent was the only cinema in Crowborough. It was located on Broadway near the intersection with Croft Road. Although it seldom had up-to-date films, it was our refuge from the burdens of learning. The Masters could not find sufficient derogatory comments to make about the place, although I did see them there with their families on occasions. We attended as frequently as funds and homework schedules would allow.
Before candy (or sweets, whichever description you prefer) became rationed, supplies were not easy to obtain. Miss Best had a small sweet shop on Crowborough Hill, probably on the corner with Mill Drive, or thereabouts. If candy was available, Miss Best could usually find some for the kids. As we entered the shop, a bell would ring and the owner would emerge from the rear of the premises to attend to our needs. But as time passed, supplies dwindled and then she would have to tell us that she had nothing to offer. I often wondered what happened to her little business.

© Archbishop Tenison's CE High School