These dates speak for themselves. There were turbulent events going on around me and I am now taking up the tale more or less where I left off.
"I was a boy once" – those were the opening words of Lord Baden Powell’s book "Scouting for Boys"; he meant that he was thus equipped to tell us how to become good Boy Scouts. These words say much more: the adult looks back and says "See what happened" and shifts him back to the boy standing on the threshold of the unknown future – what he wants to do with it and what it's going to do to him.
So we seven boys from Marton Road Junior School stood on the threshold of Middlesbrough High School for Boys at the corner of Clarendon Road and Dunning Road. From there we used to come in the back entrance and park our bikes in the huge bike parking shed. A prefect would stand at the entrance from the school-yard to ensure we entered in an orderly fashion – the more we got used to him the more he suffered – such as having his waistcoat ripped open in a flash stroke by one of us. There were two "Forms" (classes) for new boys called Lower IV A and B, so we from Marton Road must have made up about 10% of those who won free places. The use of IV seemed to be a left over from the six years in the private prep(aratory) schools. Every form had its own Form Master and the teacher for each subject would come to the classroom. Teachers wore a black academic gown (except for the rebels amongst them) and the tails were sometimes used to wipe the blackboard clean of chalk. The boys were assigned to "Houses" (named after teachers) on an individual basis. I was in Gough's House and had red stripes on my school hat. This system was essential for competitive sports. In fact the whole education system was competitive. We got to the High School after passing the "scholarship" and as in the elementary schools, marks were added up and at the end of the term you knew your place in the class. At the end of school there would be a handful who would get scholarships to free places at University. The Education Committee of the town controlled the system. As at the elementary school, secondary education was absolutely free. At the beginning of the year each Master (teacher) would come in with a pile of used text books and we came up and took one from him. If at the end of the year you didn't return it you had to pay. Even exercise books were free, usually one for rough work and a hard cover one for fair copy to hand in for marking. When an exercise book was full we went to the man looking after the store which included laboratories equipment and materials (I think his name was Chandler) and he would tear off a corner of the exercise book and give a new one. “Fountain” pens were then coming into use but inkwells and nibbed pens were provided. We kept our books in a box whose lid served as a desk and everyone fixed a padlock. There wasn't a lot to carry home for our homework which meant work on about 3 subjects per day. When we started wearing long pants at the age of fourteen or so, we were encouraged to wear a black jacket and black-striped or grey trousers. For me this was no problem because my Father was a tailor but under conditions of free education no boy could be coerced as far as clothes were concerned. Caps were a different matter: we had to buy our caps and wear them outside of the school. Discipline in the classroom was fairly well kept: this was largely due to the system of punishments. For light offences you were told to report to the Detention Room after school hours and round out in "copperplate" a number of lines for instance "Silence is Golden". Serious misdemeanours were dealt with by the Master inviting the culprit to come before the class and take a whacking on his bent over backside from the Master's cane. Three were usually the maximum but six "of the best" was also heard of. Of course the recipient had to show what a hero he was which meant sometimes putting a rubber eraser between his teeth so that he wouldn't yell. Two boys sat at each double desk and there were cases where an over zealous Master would bang their two heads together if they had been talking. Some Masters went a bit too far – for instance in the first year a boy was playing with his watch instead of paying attention – the Master took the watch, looked at it, said out loud that it was shock-proof and dropped it on the floor. If a Master couldn't deal with a boy he was sent to the Head (Master). I only remember one instance when almost the whole class got out of hand. Tiny toy pistols became the vogue when the Japanese were exporting cheap goods to Britain: these pistols were fed with thin compressed sand sticks and when the trigger was pulled a short length was released with terrific velocity. If you got one of these pellets on your face it really hurt. If a shipment was late in coming in you could see boys on bikes milling round the shop waiting. Open battles took place in the classrooms and after efficient confiscation of the pistols, the matter died out: fortunately before anyone lost an eye. So coming back to starting at the High School, the bright sparks coming from each elementary school found themselves moving into high gear. The school motto was AUT DISCE – AUT DISCEDE which in common Middlesbrough parlance meant "Swot or bunk". Competition was felt most of course in sports: football and later rugby, cricket, light athletics and gymnastics. If you couldn't come to the "Gym" lesson or sports field on a Wednesday afternoon you had to bring a doctor's note. Competition between the "Houses" bred a very strong esprit-de-corps. The saying goes that the wars of Britain were won on its playing fields. In football I soon found that I was committed to the left wing having the big advantage of being "left-footed", being a good sprinter and having behind me my "dribbling" experience from the yard of the Cheder (Hebrew School). Unfortunately the washing and toilet systems in the changing rooms were in complete disuse and I couldn't fathom this considering the importance of sport. Adjacent to our fields were the fields of the Girls' High School and they played net-ball in summer and hockey in winter. They had to wear a regular sport dress of black gym-slip, black stockings and black knickers and the boys used to gather around to watch them flourish their gym-slips above the gap that their shortish long stockings left. In those days a boy wouldn't be seen playing net (basket) ball which was only for girls.
We had a long day from 09:00 to 4:30 p.m. with an hour's break to get home for a midday meal. The curriculum was crowded. In the first Lower IV Form (12 years old), we had to cover the following subjects:
English History )
English Literature )
English Grammar )
Woodwork ) all these were given marks
Freehand drawing )
These appear on my school report dated June 1936. Apart from this we had Physical Exercises in the Gym and Games on the sports field, which weren't listed on the report.
I gained the 2nd place in class in the first 2 terms of the year and 3rd place in the 3rd term. The Masters had to work hard and quickly to get all these results sorted out.
The Masters were a most interesting band. Except for a few younger ones they seemed to be mainly ex-officers of the Great War. The boys used to have legends about each one of them. The gym-master Jones who was stone deaf had been in the Infantry, the physics master Gough had been in the Cavalry because he had bow legs, Francis had been in the artillery because he wore glasses and Plant had his feet crushed in some war event (he insisted on directing rugby games even though he hobbled). Leahy, who had a House named for him didn't seem to be credited with a war record. He was a short tempered ebullient huge red faced fellow who loved poetry and the boys used to say that he had been a known rugby player and was now fond of the bottle. I remember him pacing up and down in front of the class proclaiming:
Slowly, slowly Cape St. Vincent
To the North-West died away
Sunset ran one glorious blood-red
Fading into Cadiz Bay
And all the time flicking off dramatically with fore-finger and thumb anything that my have disturbed his right nostril. I never discovered who wrote those lines.
The Woodwork teacher was a generally helpful old boy whose name I have unfortunately forgotten and I was a very enthusiastic learner. I had already started doing fretwork in plywood at home and had bought tools out of my pocket money, and fixed them up in a woodbox, which had once contained bottles of Teacher's Whisky. I still have some of the tools, etc. At home I used to make all sorts of gifts in wood for the family mainly of my own design, out of various thicknesses of plywood; as I mentioned previously I set up a first aid box and drew, cut out and painted the Royal Coat of Arms for the Headquarters Scout Troop to which I then belonged and also the insignia of the Habonim Youth Movement. For getting the blades into the plywood I had a little Archamides awl which disappeared and I still miss. Glueing wood in those days was done by melting down brown sheet glue and boiling to a liquid. I can still see we boys standing round this dear old teacher taking the chisel in his right hand which had a chronic shake and saying to us "Take the chisel firmly in your right hand and hold it down with your left", and despite the shaking he would come down dead on the right spot.
For an art teacher we had Mr. Stoddart who I looked upon as a gifted artist – who wouldn't, when you saw him blindfolded draw on the blackboard the face of anyone in the class! Maybe inspired by him I found I had a penchant and gift for drawing faces, which hobby I continued until I left school and thereafter neglected it. Art lessons were only for the first two years. Strangely enough my total marks for these years were not outstanding. When it came to the School Certificate (Matriculation) examination I wanted to take the exam in Art and Stoddart gave me a book to read on Composition, so without formal preparation I managed a "Credit".
Pritchard taught Latin and Greek. He knew how to lay the law down if necessary with his cane, but by and large he was very helpful and I remember him trying to interest me in Greek sculpture and the Greek way of life – for this he lent me a big book called "Pallas Athenae" for my edification. Later on I learnt that about 2000 years ago the Greek Culture and Jewish-Hebrew culture clashed philosophically and militarily with the Greeks making many adherents amongst the Jews of the time.
George Mack was the main English Literature teacher for the advanced forms and must have been just too young to serve in the War but he loved showing a military touch and thought that war was somewhat ennobling. The boys classified him a past rugby player with some artificial piping in his arms!
Amongst the younger Masters Bream stood out. He acted as Scoutmaster in the school troop, taught French and made it his aim to educate in the full sense of the word, namely to bring out and develop the innate qualities in every student and in that respect did not confine himself to French. He taught one methodology in the study of literature and logical assessment of all matters and expressing your own individuality. He taught me certain tricks of the trade in making notes while reading. The main one was to note down every worthwhile item either read or developed on a separate card or paper and then when the point came to write the essay, to organize the cards according to the planned development of the essay. He insisted that, on reading something or meeting a situation, there was no need to hurry to make notes, but it was essential to note down first impressions so that within the framework of "forme et fond" the personal nature of the essay would come through. He told us to make small wads of cards and write on one side a word in English and on the other, the translation in French as any other language being learnt and by fiddling with these cards held by an elastic band, in odd moments one could quickly add to one's vocabulary. He once remarked that my pronunciation in French was better than my English – that is Middlesbrough English, and in this respect I recall the Head Master W.W. Fletcher saying to us, of course as a Southerner, "I don't want to hear you boys saying –“Me Father werks in the werks". Inevitably I came to the conclusion that the inimitable Middlesbrough accent was the product of it being the "Mushroom town of the North". Most people must have flocked in from the Geordic side of the Tees, the North Riding, Ireland, Scotland and so on. Even today when my accent has been modified by my travels, I slip back into the original easily as soon as I have a Middlesbrough conversationalist.
Anyway Bream would spare no effort to get us to co-operate. When he took a holiday to Paris he sent everyone a picture postcard in French and asked us to keep them – when he got back he made an exhibition of them. No detail of living was too small for him to be interested in: he even taught us how to hold a sweeping brush. When the school was evacuated out of town and he saw us reading and eating at the same time, he would tell us that reading sent the blood to the brain and left less for digestion! In no way did he ever seem to be a nudnik (Yiddish for someone who is an interfering nuisance).
The Head Master W.W. Fletcher had a string of degrees and was religiously inclined. When seeing the good results of my first year he called me in and made a suggestion about the next year. He claimed that the school had a very good reputation for scientific studies and he wanted some of the boys with high marks to go over to Classics – that is to give up Chemistry and Physics and study Greek instead. I told him that I wanted to be a doctor and he parried by saying that some of the doctors in town had a classic education before studying medicine – gave as an example a doctor with the impressive name of Longbottom. I think I talked this over with my sister Blanche the teacher, but I don't remember her trying to influence me. I must have been swayed by the Head's compliments and made my own decision to take Greek. It was a mistake I have regretted ever since but it was my decision and I had to get over the pitfalls of my own making. This change seemed to affect all my studies and I plummeted down in the second year in the Upper IV Form. When I went up to the 3rd Year the Lower V Form I took ill with suspected diphtheria and was hospitalized in the town hospital. Being all alone in a big glass walled room day after endless day wasn't easy for a 14 year old and then there was the trauma of the glass wall to the corridor being curtained off while bodies were being trundled out. My school report showed that I was absent for 45 days which meant nine weeks. At the end of it all it turned out that I didn't have diphtheria but a bad dose of tonsillitis! All that put paid no any chance of my recovering from the set back of changing to Greek and I had to stay in the Lower V Form for another year. In later years I was comforted by hearing that Churchill was wont to repeat the same scholastic year to which he attributed the development of his literary abilities! I regained a position near the top of the Form and continued thus until I took the School Certificate (Matriculation) exam after five years instead of four. I actually began to appreciate the style of Greek Literature and with this came an absolute dislike of Latin.
The Head Master second was Van Der Heiden who was the main Master for teaching Mathematics. He was an elderly but powerful man and taught with great gusto. He could lift a 16 year old up, carry him to an open window and suggest that he remember what he had been taught. When it came to Algebra he would turn to me to ask the questions we had to learn by heart using Hebrew letters – instead of a2 – b2he would say Aleph squared minus Beth squared. Some of us would take lessons in life-saving from him at the Public Swimming Pool and in March '39, when I was 16, I got my Bronze Medallion in Life-Saving.
The friends which I had at school were mainly those who I was in touch with in activities outside the school. Playground activities amongst the boys were very well developed: taking a running jump to leap over a long line of boys bent double ending at a wall, and playing squash against a wall. Squabbles were usually good-natured, bullying was marginal – a bully could be met with shouts of "Go and pick someone your own size". One in my class, called Sutton, when in a lower form used to pick a wrestling match with me. I think his motive either was to repair his image of a less than mediocre student or he didn't like my background but couldn't say it – it just wasn’t done in secondary school: unfortunately he had developed a knack for getting a head lock on me until I had to give up. Friendships in the framework of the school definitely developed when during the years 1939-1942 the school was evacuated which I will tell about later.
My activities outside of school were many and varied. I managed this mainly because there was no school on Saturdays and Sundays and two short and one long holiday periods per year. During the normal week however my programme was packed. From the time that I had homework to do my attendance at Cheder (Hebrew Evening Classes) became haphazard. The Chazan (Cantor) taught me privately for my Barmitzvah (confirmation) event which was to take place on the Sabbath near to my 13th birthday. On Saturdays (Sabbath Day) I used to get to the Shul (synagogue). From Friday Eve to Saturday Eve I didn't do homework or handwork, travelling or participate in organized youth activities. My Mother, my younger brother Hymie and I somehow kept the flag flying.
I joined the 4th (Jewish) troop of Boy Scouts led by Nat Bharier and participated in the Scout Jamborees at Raby Castle in 1936. Nat's friend Bill Sacks had a big car and he transported all our gear to the camp. When the Troop disbanded probably due to lack of members it was arranged to set up a Jewish Patrol (The Peewit Patrol) in the Headquarters troop led by Jim Senior. I became troop leader —I was older than the others. I learnt a great deal about Scouting and how to carry on in outdoor conditions and this developed a resourcefulness which I have always valued. The troop had an agreement with one of the farmers and we would help catch rabbits at harvesting time, spread muck on the fields, tie our knives to our Scout poles and clean thistles from the fields. The farmer allowed us to axe trees when it was necessary. We knew how to make field toilets and leave the area as if no one had touched it. We had a pool which had been dug out near a hillside and water collected there – it was only big enough to swim a few strokes. To the tune of one of the Marches from Faust, we sang:
O Jemimah look at your Uncle Jim
He's in the duck pond learning how to swim
First he does the breast stroke and then he does the side
And now he's under the water swimming against the tide.
Jim was a fine swimmer but he didn't like being parodied so we left off. Baden Powell had held up the outdoor life of the natives of America (Red Indians) as an example of Scouting and we all had to take Red Indian style names (Hiawatha style). I chose “Fleetfoot” because I was a good runner. Then a friend from my class called Norman Bashford joined and he was in a quandary because he was a better sprinter than I so he chose the name “Swiftfoot”.
At the same time I joined Habonim (Zionist Youth Movement) under the leadership of Sydney Segerman. Early in 1939 he was conscripted into the Army and I, again being the oldest in the group, took over the leadership at the tender age of 15. My Second was my class mate from school, Freddy Levy. We met at the synagogue buildings, hatless according to Zionist Socialist style. I mention this because the Rav's younger son was in the group and he wasn't going to bare his head. A big camp was to take place in the summer at Bedford for groups from all over the country and I organized the Middlesbrough contingent – we knew how to get our equipment together, we planned the rail journey, Barney Gattoff's uncle came and gave the health check that was required. We also had advice from a Habonim Veteran Charlie Gillis from Sunderland. We got there and shared a bell tent. The group was made up of Freddy Levy, Barney Garroff, Eric Brown, Jack Morris and my brother Hymie. We all had a great time in meeting and palling up with the outside world. We got back a few weeks before World War II started.
From the start of High School big events were taking place in the world. News of this filtered through to me and I remember being very much aware of them. News in picture houses showed Hitler militarizing Germany, Fascists in the big cities led by Sir Oswald Mosley started marches dressed in uniform – they were called the Black Shirts. They provoked Jews in the East End of London and street fights took place between them and young Jews. I would hear stories of even school mistresses visiting Germany and being favourably impressed by the German military orderliness and disciplining of civilian life. Booklets were published, many by non-Jews, warning against Anti-Semitism. Jews, who had been summarily imprisoned in Germany, got out and published the facts. However in the community there didn't seem to be any undue concern on what was going on.
Then things started to move. Mussolini invaded Abyssinia using modern methods of warfare against the unarmed natives. This was in 1936 and the boys used to sing to the tune of a popular song:
Will you come to Abyssinia, will you come
Bring your own ammunition and a gun
Mussolini will be there, shooting bullets in the air
Will you come to Abyssinia, will you come.
In 1937 General Franco and his rebel insurgents attacked their fellow Spaniards in the Socialist government with the help of German and Italian arms. The International Brigade was formed to defend socialist Madrid and numbers of young Jews from the UK, socialists and communists went to serve. Madrid fell. In 1938 German Jewry was attacked one night by mobs instigated by the Nazis and shops and synagogues were destroyed and set ablaze. Then European and American Jewry woke up. I learnt later that the Nazis at first wanted to make Jews flee from Germany but the nations of the world by and large wouldn't take them in and at this time the British Mandate government in Palestine which had been set up to establish a Jewish Homeland gave up and tried to appease the terrorizing Arabs who were backed by the Nazis and wanted to stop Jewish immigration into Palestine. There were even Jews in the Diaspora who didn't want to rock the boat -- they were afraid to be too active to lobby for taking in refugees in case they would be accused of double loyalty. That I learnt later. Britain however agreed to take in 10,000 Jewish children who could leave Germany but without their parents (this was called the Kindertransport) and we met some of these children in Middlesbrough. Jewish communities in Britain organized foster families even amongst non-Jewish families and set up hostels where necessary. In Middlesbrough there was a hostel and others were with Jewish families. I and other boys and girls from the community used to play with them but we just didn't feel the terrible calamity that had fallen on them. The Nazis were now pushing out their borders and duping Europe into thinking that appeasement would limit their appetites. In 1938 Britain was waking up. I joined the Local Defense Volunteers (LDV), the precursor of the Home Guard, and went to assemble gas-masks when I could. At home I fixed up blackouts for the windows from black paper and wooden slats in areas of the house which were most used. There were also black curtains fixed up where necessary, but not by me. I remember going upon a ladder to paint a sky-light black.
During the summer holidays of 1939 a plan for evacuating school-children from target areas being bombed was put into effect and I and my brother Hymie, with our parents' consent, agreed to be evacuated. One of the considerations was that the Head Master and the main teaching staff would also be included. War was declared at the beginning of September and we reported at school with our suitcases and packs. I was coming on for 16 and Hymie just starting High School and almost 12. For some reason or other I felt I had to be at the head of the line trooping out and I remember afterwards composing a poem on the event. In short we got to Scarborough and there we were billeted in hotels along the sea front. Scarborough was noted as "Queen of the Watering Places": I presume they had natural mineral waters there but when we saw that there were numerous public toilets in the town it tickled us pink. Freddy and I shared the same room, we didn't eat the meat so got something in place like a pickled onion. From home I received a parcel occasionally with some meat from the meager rations. Hymie was billeted in a different place.
The rationing system was in full swing and everything was on coupons so I learnt to think twice before bothering my family. We went to school in some unused school building. It was all a bit of an adventure – I remember being hauled over the coals by Van Der Heiden for having an excess of "joie-de-vivre". Freddy and I used to do some sketching including sketches of the Regent Hotel (at 20 The Esplanades). Incidentally there was a plaque on the hotel which said that it had been hit by a shell from a German warship in the Great War and the saying went that a shell never hit the same place twice – so we were safe. We also sketched the statue in the Italian Rose Garden. Plant organized chess competitions – I won, also table-tennis – I won. He gave me a most interesting detective story as a prize "Trent's Last Case". Then the severe winter set in. The Rose Garden with its raised platforms at each end became a snowball battlefield and I just revelled in storming the opposite platform. My shoes wore out so I just put a piece of thick cardboard inside. Plant and his wife were living in the same hotel to keep an eye on us and there was also a prefect. I gathered rose hips, took out the hairs from the seed pods and coated the prefect's pyjamas with them, as a substitute for itching powder. Freddy and I organized a knotted towel attack by us boys on the top floor against those on the floor below. By this time Plant had had enough of us and he threatened that if we didn't take the punishment he was going to mete out, he would ask our parents to remove us from the school. We agreed to take punishment. I came to the room and saw that he had prepared a clear path for making a run at the end. I was told to bend double over the edge of the bed at the end of the run and I presume he took a run at me with his cane flying because I felt cut in two – I got another two whacks and left but I think I walked out straight. We were arranged in some other billet and I had Dennis Andrews for a roommate. It was so cold that I remember hanging my pants up drenched from snow-fighting from a mantelpiece over a fire-side in which there was no fire and finding them frozen stiff like two pipes in the morning.
I arranged that Freddy, Hymie, Barney Garroff and I should meet occasionally just to give some Jewish content to our situation. While in Scarborough I drew portraits of Dennis, Freddy and other friends. While Dennis was in my room he learnt from me a song in Hebrew "Ba'a menuchaleyageya" meaning "rest comes to the weary", which was an ode to agricultural pioneering in the Jezreel Valley in Palestine. We did some stupid things in Scarborough – at the seafront where waves dashed against the rocks, we would race over a dry stretch before the waves came up to the rocks. Once walking along the sea front promenade we came to a completely fenced area and couldn't continue. This I wasn't ready to accept. The iron fence came up to the sea wall and curved round in a semi circle – I climbed down to the protruding end of the fence and hoisted myself up on the other side – it wasn't worth it. I had recurring dreams of hanging over the sea wall with the waves dashing up.
In the spring of 1940 something must have gone wrong with the project of evacuation to Scarborough and we were returned to Middlesbrough and resumed where we had left off. Middlesbrough was an industrial area and therefore a target for bombers. At 11:00 pm prompt the droning of the Heinkel bombers was heard and search lights lit up the skies. A brick shelter had been set up in Egerton Street off Southfield Road not far from our house and those of us at home went down into the shelter. Nothing happened in our area and we would come back into the house in the early hours after the "all clear siren", that is except for my Father who wouldn't leave his bed.
The School Certificate exam was coming up in June. I managed to study until 11:00 but after being in the shelter and losing sleep I had to get up and be at school at the usual time. There was some damage from bombing and people were killed and maimed but not in our area. Some other towns, London, Manchester, Coventry and big centers were heavily hit. Some civilian areas were razed to the ground. Every night before going down to the shelter I would hear the news and mark out on the map of France the line of the British retreat after the Germans attacked by the end of the Maginot Line through Belgium. The "Blitz" from the air which was meant to prelude the invasion of Britain was in full swing but British fighter pilots put paid to this in the Battle of Britain, as it was to be called. We heard of a beach at Dunkirk where the retreating British Army was cornered, bombed and machine-gunned from the air and almost everyone in Britain with some sort of sea-going craft went to pick up troops. I believe a great number went out from Tees-side. During all this I sat for my School Certificate exam and managed quite well. I remember arriving for the exam in French with a running nose so in order to save time wiping it I fixed the ends of a big handkerchief round each ear and carried on. The army was now disengaged but bombing continued – a lady was overheard saying "It's not the sojers as are sufferin' in this war, it's uz human be-ins."
At the start of the new school year another evacuation was organized. This time we were sent to villages in Teesdale. Freddy and I were billeted with a middle aged couple by name of Beale. We heard he had been a Major in the Great War. It was a large house and we slept in what was a small library and there was a fireplace where we could get a fire going. There was a toilet upstairs but we were asked to use the outside soil privy. Mrs. Beale had a huge kitchen where she made cheeses and cats seemed to swarm everywhere. Our room had a wonderful selection of books and I was so impressed that I made a catalogue of them which didn't serve any sensible purpose. Next to our room was a little dining room where we two ate and took an occasional apple from the drawers when they had been put after being picked. Poor Mrs. Beale didn't know how to cope with our strange dietary reservations and I think we finished off a big tin of pilchards every day between us – they can't have been rationed. We used to take sardine sandwiches to school until she gave up and gave us some cash to buy something at the school canteen. I used to help in the yard of the house. I learnt to milk the goat and in time learnt how to stop it from putting a leg in the pail of milk. I learnt how to make butter by rotating a barrel full of richly creamed milk until the milk divided up into a lump of butter and thin skimmed milk. I used to go up the hills above the village with Mr. Beale occasionally – he had land and sheep there. There I saw how invaluable the sheep farmer's dogs were in directing the flock. The sheep roamed free amongst the fields fenced with mortarless black stone walls. In a snow storm the sheep would crowd together in the corner of a field and I dimly recall an incident when the snow continued to fall on them and made a thick layer covering them until they were led out. The snow didn't make it easy for us to sit in the privy at the end of the back garden and we found other alternatives instead of doing a trek in the snow for a pee. I would occasionally sneak up to the inside toilet. I don't quite know what happened but we were moved to other billets: I think it was too much for the Beales to be saddled with the job of looking after evacuees.
In Romaldkirk I volunteered for the village Home Guard. Major Bailes who lived in a village mansion was active in this – I remember seeing him squeezed into his war uniform with one sleeve flapping loose. Before this the schoolmaster Jones, who had been an infantry major, took the older boys out to show them a bit of infantry field craft and communication. Some time after joining the Home Guard the local bobby came to me to find out what age I was – I hadn't given my age when joining the Home Guard because I knew you could only join if you were 17. I was surprised that the authorities went to all this trouble in the middle of a war because at 17 I joined again. For my first activities I had a powder musket with a ram rod which must have been from Wellington's time. Anything which looked like a gun was put to use for training. Over the period until spring 1942 when I resigned because of pressure of school-work and my extra duties as Senior Prefect, I progressed on to carrying a double-barreled shotgun with 6 cartridges with which I would go up on the hills outside the village (sometimes with Jones) to wait for German parachutists who never came. We eventually got tin hats, uniforms and rifles from the Great War with a chest band of 50 rounds of bullets which I had to keep in my room.
When we were in the village our centre was a room in the Village Hall and up on the hill there was a vacant farmhouse. I was told the story that 2 of my village colleagues went up the narrow path banded by those black stone walls equipped with their tin hats and rifles over their shoulders. They seemingly told the story that they were pelted with stones from behind the walls by Germans and took the knocks on their helmets. We deduced that they had heard some night animals moving, swiveled round and clapped each other on their tin hats with the barrels of their rifles. I got into a flap once: I was taking a rest in the Village Hall and fell asleep with my tin hat on and face down on the table – when I woke and before lifting my head I felt I was clutching a cold dead hand. When I peeped up I saw it was my other hand which had been numbed by the heavy pressure on it.
I was next billeted on my own with the Allinson family in a much smaller house. Mrs. Mary Allinson had been widowed in the Great War. Her son Bobby was now in the Air Force and daughter Becky was at home. Staying with the Allinsons was a very special experience. I felt accepted as one of the family in every respect. Bobby was married to Lena from a neighbouring village. When he was around he took me once to do a bit of poaching for trout in the pure crystal stream that ran through the fields. I had to lie on my stomach with my hands dangling over the edge of the stream. The edge had been hollowed out underneath by the water and in this shady overhang the trout would rest. I had to lower my fingers gently under the overhang and feel for the belly of the trout. This was called "tickling" or "guddling" the trout. When the trout had been mesmerized by the tickling I was to close my hands on it and flick it out of the water. Sorry to say I was just no good at it. Bobby then showed me how to catch an eel he found curled round a small rock in midstream: he hung over it with a foot on each bank (the rivulets were narrow) and suddenly pounced with his hand, grasped the slippery eel and threw it onto the bank. Once back in the village he took it to the grocery store keeper who was an expert in preparing it. For me it wasn't included in the permitted dietary laws. I found that the mesmerization of creatures was very interesting. In the Scouts one of the ways of catching a rabbit was for the boys to crowd in a sprint after the rabbit roaring at the top of their voices. The rabbit would stop in its tracks and could be picked up by the ears! I had also discovered that stroking a frog under the chin would mesmerize it.
The daughter Becky was about 10 years older than I and she eventually married a flying officer in the RAF, Edward Machell who was unfortunately killed in a flying accident when training in Canada. Bobby died before his time after the war: He and his wife Lena had children. So after the war there were three brave widows. After 65 years I am still in touch with his daughter Karen. Becky became sadly chronically ill in a Home and died in December 2008, at the age of 95.
I was very much taken with the pastoral life in Teesdale and with the people, despite the fact that I was away from home and a Jewish environment. We "townies", as the lads of the village called us, got on very well with them. I remember Jolly the son of the Rose and Crown innkeepers and the Baile's boy and the farm boys who used to gather outside the Village Hall. One day when we passed they called out to us to try and take them on at their wrestling bouts (Cumberland and Wesmoreland style). Two opponents could take a closed fist grip round each other, one arm over one shoulder of the opponent and one arm under his other shoulder. When a grip was broken or one was thrown on the ground that was the end of the round. After watching a while I took up this challenge, there was nothing to lose, the game was completely harmless – so there I was as thin as a rake but fit clutching a real tough farm boy. To my complete and utter surprise I threw him. That upped us a bit. I would go out running cross country over the fields every morning at 6:00 and that probably helped. We played cricket on the village green and gathered under the one lonely tree there. At the corner of the common was the well. There was no running water in the house and I would help to bring buckets of water. In the cold winter the pump would freeze up and we couldn't get water from there. There were limitless lovely walks to take in the district – the upper reaches of the Tees was just below the village. I remember walking by myself and being rooted and immobilized by the serene beauty by this or other beauty spot. Down near the river there was the strong scent of wild garlic. Further down there were spots where the river was broad and deep and we would go swimming with Jones. I would take a walk up to Eggleston and other hills round about – there was no end to it. I was told that every year a "bor" – a wall of storm gathered water would come crashing down the river and lives were lost in this sudden phenomenon. Freddy and I took a hike one April day to High Force, the waterfall which is the source of the Tees near Middleton in Teesdale and looked on the gushing waterfall from above. I learnt recently that the Vicar of the Romaldkirk Church (in my time) lost his life there by getting too close.
Life with the Allinsons was quiet, homely and interesting. I managed a diet free of rabbit or meat and would occasionally get meat sent from home. I had the parlour for studying with a fire going in the winter and when it was brought deliberately to my notice that another fire in the house was a bit of an expense I participated in covering it. The Government had made emergency regulations and surveys of spare rooms of houses in places where they were needed and would pay the householder for taking in evacuees but I very much doubt that the Government stipend was adequate. I had electricity in my bedroom but as I used to study into the early hours I would do this by the light of a candle after usual hours, standing it in front of the mirror on the table – thinking that this would give me double candle power. At one time Hymie who was billeted elsewhere came to stay with me in my room and had to get used to the sight of me fighting off sleep to try and contend with the mass of studying I had to do. Studying in a state of fatigue didn't help me much. I hadn't realized at the time how I was over-straining myself but it had to do with the everyday pattern of activities. We were not living as boys in a normal day school in town. We were billeted out, we had to catch the local train to take us and boys from the other villages on the route to the nearest town, Barnard Castle and from there we walked to the Bowes Museum. Bream the French Master was also billeted in Romaldkirk at the home of an old lady from whose window all coming into the village on foot or bicycle could be seen – an essential in village life. The old lady together with Bream would ask a few of us in for an evening cup of coffee (not tea). The evening could have competed with the Geisha tea ceremony. The coffee beans were roasted and ground in situ and then brewed with plenty of rich village milk and all with an intelligent discussion thrown in.
Health-wise there didn't seem to be any special problems that I know of: I myself experienced one special event. I had toothache and the Head advised me to make my own arrangements to get it put right: however we had been given to understand that because of the special circumstances the school would arrange matters: he finally agreed and sent me to a "dentist" in Barnard Castle. The result was that I lost a couple of precious teeth and had the unique experience of a cavity being cleaned out by a drill which the "dentist" operated by a foot pedal similar to the pre-electric sewing machines. There was no small difficultly involved in keeping the drill on its target. I lived through it.
Bowes Museum was a big imposing building and classes were improvised in areas amongst the exhibits. The floors were of parquet and boots had to be taken off when entering the building and slippers worn. The place for changing boots was in a big dimly lit cellar with a strange open pit below floor level in one corner. There was a canteen and plenty of open space outside. Freddy and I made sketches of the building. There were no labs for the science students and no library to speak of. At the age of 17 with 2 years of study before me to the High School Certificate the Head Master W.W. Fletcher made me Senior Prefect – apologizing that he couldn't use the normal title Head Prefect because the school wasn't operating in normal conditions, saying that some of the school was left in Middlesbrough! But these were abnormal conditions with a vengeance. Whereas the main duty of a Head Prefect at the High School in town was to stand on the podium in the school hall every morning and when everyone was collected to go and report to the Head who would then come with him to read the Morning Prayer (School and Church not being divided in Britain). I was charged with keeping discipline and was answerable to the Head and this included:
- Managing the team of prefects
- Keeping an eye on the conduct of the boys in the villages
- Ensuring orderly behaviour on the trains
- Seeing that the changing of footwear in the conditions I mentioned was orderly and quiet
- Seeing to it that the boys respected and did not damage the Museum exhibits and facilities
The Head would saddle me with specific problems. The boys were writing ditties on the white painted walls of the toilets – "Get hold of who did it and bring him or them to me". I played the detective and by making a study of handwriting examples settled the matter. Then "There's a book circulating amongst the boys called "No Orchids for Mrs. Blandish", find it." This book which I never managed to read myself was supposed to be somewhat "risque" and unsuitable for young minds. Maybe the Head had read it. I found it and in the process was tickled to learn that Hymie had read it.
I must say that in summing up at the end of my school reports the Head began to appreciate what I was doing and began to call me Captain of the school. I wouldn't say that my loyalty to him endeared me to the boys – I saw this on the Rugby field when one of the older ones tried to pin me down brutally after a tackle. There was a most trying situation when I once went down to the cellar when the boys came in to change footwear. Things were flying and the commotion was out of hand. In the dim light I saw that one of the older boys was the source of the trouble. I made my way over to him and unceremoniously slapped him across the face. There was silence and I walked out but with the feeling that my back was too exposed. The shock treatment worked and no one tried to lynch me. One day some boys came to me and said that there was something behind the door in one of the toilets that made it impossible to open the door. I pushed the door until I managed to squeeze in and then I found a stranger who had come into the building, got into the toilet and collapsed and died there. I managed to get the body out.
We were few who had continued into the 6th Form both in Humanities and Sciences but it was a relief that I had good friends as prefects to back me up. There was Freddy of course who was studying Science and the unforgettable "Sam" Renton who was studying Humanities with me. Sam gained his name when he was a boy scout in the High school Troop under Bream and he would come to school in uniform on the day of the meetings when we were in Middlesbrough. At that time there were story cartoons. I think in the Gazette, about Sammy the Scout so the name stuck to him. He always had a ready partee for any teacher, and one teacher on being met with this said "I suppose you are the wit of the form" and another in the class not lacking far behind said "No Sir, he's the half-wit". Sam's real name was Raymond Bruce and his black hair maybe was a Celtic heritage. He was enthusiastic about becoming a writer and whenever he heard, saw or read anything of special interest he would whip out his notebook and record it. He was not short of anecdotes and once said to me that his father noticed a protruding vein beating on his temple and took him to the doctor who on examination said "Bring him back to me when it stops beating and I'll give you a death certificate". He also used to come rushing with me to the market to pick up old books. I remember when at the end of school I gave him one that I had picked up dated 1700 and something. On coming near to a fence or metal trellis that looked like prison bars he was liable to grasp it and scream "Let me out" – I do this today to entertain the infants in the family.
In the summer of 1941 he, Freddy and Ghandi Cannon (so called because his elder brother got the nickname after dressing up as Ghandi in fancy dress) and myself decided to cycle round England. Sam had an elder brother, not at school, and he got us to agree to let him join. But his brother was too eccentric for me especially after he told us that he had taken home a souvenir from a German plane that had been shot down – an airman's boot complete with foot. Ghandi however was the essence of common sense or at least we thought so till we heard that after school he had tried to steal a plane and take off to avenge I think his brother, who had been shot down. So we organized ourselves to do the trip. Freddy, Sam, Ghandi and I were all experienced in Scouting. I borrowed a tandem bicycle from my brother-in-law Joe who was in the army and there were two ordinary bikes, one belonging to Freddy. The tandem had a speedometer and we could reach 30 m.p.h. – downhill. There was a trolley fixed to the back of the tandem which was very useful for some of our luggage. Food was available on coupons because of the rationing, but I think we existed mainly on unrationed food of which bread was a mainstay. There were blackberries on the hedges and vegetables in the fields. Freddy and I shared a bivouac and the other three another tent. The bivvy served us well but one night we must have set it up near a grazing horse which came to visit us in the dead of night —it was a strange experience waking up to a horse nuzzling up to your face! I remember that it happened once before at a Habonim camp but then it was a cow that unceremoniously trampled through part of the tent in order to see if there were any grazing possibilities there!
We pooled the expenses and Freddy and I did the organizing . Sam's brother used to say that we were sitting in the tent “plotting”. Farmers that we met were very accommodating and allowed us to pitch our tents, or even sleep in a barn. I sent letters of thanks to them when I got home. I was surprised because they weren't worried about us setting fire to something. We even did a few days work for some. I once tried sleeping in a cowshed in order to be off early and not to bother with the tent. I woke in the night and wretched my stomach out. We had one day of loose stomachs and we put it down to eating some turnips that Ghandi had picked from a field – but it turned out to be mangel-wurzel -- the only sympathy Ghandi could give was "Well they give them to cattle". It was a terrible day and we pushed on jumping off the bikes rather too frequently. I don't know how we managed to keep ourselves from being dehydrated.
Our first main stop was Leeds, when we stayed at my sister's house. Then we moved south heading for Luton, where one of the girls from the Bedford Habonim camp had been evacuated. Then we moved on towards London and it was on the way that we realized it had been a bad decision to include Sam's brother in the trip. At a roadside break he threatened Freddy with the bread knife. We decided to break up. Freddy gave one of the others his bike and he joined me on the tandem. I don't remember them telling us later which route they took or how they managed. When we got to London there was still trouble from air-raids – we visited another of the girls from Habonim in Hammersmith. I think she was later killed in an air raid. We slept in an underground air raid shelter and went though London heading south. I remember the astonished faces we saw as people gawked at us – a couple of dust covered cyclers on a tandem pedalling through the city streets. Then we were off further south in the direction of Portsmouth then Southampton and back up north to Bristol and Gloucester the Severn Valley skirting Wales: up to Birkenhead and through the tunnel to Liverpool. In Liverpool we stayed with Freddy's brother Mark who was studying there and then made for Manchester where I had a married sister and from there over the Penines to Leeds. I can't remember where we stayed this time in Leeds but I dimly remember that it wasn't the most secure plan for leaving our luggage – but there was no need to worry – during all our trip nothing ever went missing. This night in Leeds we managed to find clean trousers and a shirt in our luggage and go to a Jewish Dance Hall. I can't remember how we knew where to find the place. I only know that in the blackout I came a cropper or a short pillar standing in the middle of the entrance to a footpath. From Leeds we made a beeline for Middlesbrough. In the middle of the way a tyre burst and we didn't have a spare. The inner tube was O.K. I had thick string with me and I bound the tyre round the inner tube and the wheel rim: there was a constant shuddering as we moved but we just made it back home. We were determined to do the last 65 miles in one day. We were five weeks on the road: no one at home knew where we were: I reckoned that I was out of pocket less than £2. We didn't have a camera with us and didn't do any sketching. Freddy and I each kept some sort of desultory diary. In returning we just carried on where we had left off and got ready to go back to our billets and school in Teesdale, and other activities.
I once organized an inter-House long distance race. I can't remember which House won – but I remember disqualifying myself for mistakenly doing only one round of the home pitch when I myself fixed that there were to be two.
Plant, who was umpire, wasn’t thrilled – we were in the same House and he “let me have it”.
Back at school all my activities taxed me to the utmost: being responsible for discipline in the building and outside of the classrooms, serving in the Home Guard and contending with a heavy study programme under difficult conditions. I remember being able to take history notes from Plant while in a stupour of fatigue. I took to musing about why the dickens I was doing all this as if my life depended on it and what man was supposed to do with his life – so I would sit and philosophize to myself on the whole gamut of creation, life, society, war and what not, and how were we to fix guidelines for living through all this. And so with my scant knowledge of the universe and global science, Man's history of national, political, social and religious development became a fascinating armchair occupation – and this with a pleasant and exhilarating surprise that what I knew of the Jewish way of life, its philosophy, theology, social inspiration etc. came nearest to what conclusions I had arrived at. Then I could get up from the armchair and start my rough week again. In my bouts of what one would call meditation today I recall a remark of my Father's: he was not a great conversationalist but had brought some pithy Yiddish expressions from the Continent: I remember him saying in Yiddish when I was a child deep in thought "What are you trying to work out – how a goose pees?" I took a bit of the work load off in Spring '42 when I resigned from the Home Guard – I had my High School Certificate exams coming up in a few months. After the end of the War I received the Defence Medal for my service in the Home Guard.
There were many interesting events during my stay in the Tees-side district. In Barnard Castle, every Wednesday was Market Day. Amongst the stalls was a book stall – presumably stocked by old books being sold from homes after their owners' deaths. There were books printed in the 19th century amongst them and they were cheap. Bream used to get out of school before Sam Renton and me and pick the best. I picked up some real bargains for instance Shakespeare's Complete Works with a foreword by Dr. Johnson for 6 d. The first thing I did was to check why the school editions had sudden long lines instead of words: it turned out that Shakespeare could be quite bawdy at times and this was not for schoolchildren. One day I saw a book which didn't mean anything to me and I didn't even open it. On coming back to the Allinsons I saw the book on the table. Becky had bought it. It was called the "Works of Flavius Josephus." This was then a recounting from the story of Creation to the Revolt of the Jews against Rome in Israel. Josephus, from the priestly family of Cohanim, was a general in the revolt but saw the futility of the rising and went over to the Romans. Despite the fact of him being looked upon as a traitor in those days, his descriptions of antiquities are still valid today and relate well to archeological findings. It turned out that Becky was well conversant with Jewish History much better than I: she also brought home a copy of Israel Zangwill's "Children of the Ghetto" about Jewish life in London's East End. When I left Romaldkirk I asked Becky to give me Josephus's book and she kindly let me take it with me.
The "home from home" which I found at the Allinsons's came to an end which I finished school and the exams for the Higher School Certificate and returned to Middlesbrough. The results of the HSC came out fairly quickly and I didn't make the grade for getting a State or Local Scholarship. So that put paid to the idea of switching over neatly to Science and pre-medical course (as Freddy's brother Mark had successfully done a few years previously).
Coming back to Middlesbrough meant that I renewed contact with the community. The house was now fairly empty: Dora had married in '41 but was living at home as her husband was in the Army and she was working as a practical nurse. Linda was around and working as a nurse. Sadye was sometimes at home, her husband Joe was in the Army. Anne stayed all the time in her house in Leeds. Her husband Ben had been called up with the first conscripts and was serving in the East and only came back at the end of the War. Bertha stayed in her house in West Hartlepool and her husband Leslie was in the Air Force. Sam and Phil were in the Middlesbrough Fire Service and so not far away from their home there. Blanche was way down south after eloping with her husband Kim. Rae's husband Bernard was not called up and they were in Manchester. Hymie had come back home with me for the holidays but he would be going back to the evacuated school in Teesdale. I don't think very much work came to my Father and he was already suffering from heart disease but wouldn't take treatment. The town was not troubled now by air raids but the state of war was now an accepted way of life.
I don't know where we got the information from but Freddy and I learnt that Harvesting Camps were being set up for students who were being encouraged to work on the land where farm workers had been mobilized. Accommodation was provided and the project was a sort of a working holiday. At this time there were refugees from Germany and Austria who had arrived in England with the Kinder-Transport or by other means. In 1938 and before, when they were in their teens and for ideological and utilitarian reasons had set up together with British born Jewish Youth communal training farms to work and train in agriculture with the ideal of eventually returning to Zion and rebuilding the Land of Israel, then under the British Mandate, to facilitate a Jewish National Home in Palestine.
There were three movements involved but apart from their common Zionist aspirations, they each had a different way of going about it. These training farms were set up in the style of the kibbutzim already existing in Palestine. The most popular of them was Habonim (the Builders) whose ideal was moderate socialism acknowledging Jewish tradition but keeping a safe distance from it. The less popular was Hashomer Hazair (the Young Guard) whose ideal was more left-wing socialism and fervently anti-religious. But they had every intention of staying Jewish by race. The third movement was called Bachad which was a abbreviation of the Hebrew for the Covenant of Religious Pioneers. This was a movement to develop a full Jewish way of life together with agricultural work within a communal moderate socialist framework. Communal living virtually demanded a socialist framework. The umbrella organization was Hapoel Hamizrahi (The Eastern Worker) which also included the Torah V’Avodah Movement (Religious observance together with work activities – not necessarily agriculture) It’s junior movement was Bnei Akiva (the sons of Rabbi Akivah, a scholar of 2000 years before). It was Bachad which caught our attention and in short we with Hymie in tow arrived at the centre "Avoncroft at Bromsgrove College", Worcester near Birmingham. Students had been invited to join under the Harvesting Camps scheme. The students participating were in the main born Jewish Britishers who had never come across a Jewish farm worker, Freddy and I knew something about it from the Scouts and Habonim: apart from that I did have a vegetable patch in our back yard and tried to keep the front garden tidy.
Anyway arriving there was a real culture shock, we were to stay there only a couple of weeks or so but the effect was lasting. There were boy and girl students from all over Britain. It was there I met my future wife Esther, who came from Edinburgh together with her brother Shimon Caplan and two cousins Asher (Zelig) and Mordecai (Moccy) Kaufman. Others well remembered were the Menchovsky brothers from Leeds, Vivian (Chaim) Herzog from Ireland – Israel, Norman Cohen from London, Maurice Chazan from Cardiff, Esther's friend Minda Cain from Newcastle, and Max Haga-Birn from Salford. We made good friends amongst the permanent people at Aroncroft. Esther and I met a few of them in later life, Pumi Engels on Kibbutz Lavie, Aharon Ellen at Kochav Hashachar, where his son Jonathan became the Rav and I met Alex the Milkman in the Army, who later had joined Kibbutz Lavie. Of the participants in the camp a good number settled in Israel amongst them Shimon (z"l) Esther's brother, Ephraim Menchovsky and Asher Kaufman. Vivian Herzog who had completed his law studies at Cambridge was soon to make his name in the British Army, become a General in the IDF and President of Israel. He had been my partner picking potatoes together with a hand girl (girls were mobilized to do agricultural work in a quasi-military framework). We met about 25 years later when I was assistant director of the Technical Office for the Jerusalem District Area Housing Ministry and after his discharge from the IDF he was the lawyer representing the prospective developers for Ramat Sharett in Jerusalem, but not surprisingly couldn't recall that minute incident of his very busy life. At Avoncroft he gave most interesting talks on Israel and life there. His Father became the Chief Rabbi of Israel.
Shimon, Esther's brother was soon to go in the Army after a couple of years studying medicine and proceeded to Fort George in Northern Scotland.
The meeting of local Jewish students with the largely immigrant boys and girls at Avoncroft was to have a deep and lasting effect. The Jewish student met with a different way of Jewish life which was refreshing, inspiring, and worthy of adopting: hard physical work by day, Torah study, intellectual and cultural activities in the evenings, and a Shabbat in which the accent was not on what you desist from, but rather what you actively engage in. Music and Shabbat communal singing seemed to round off the experience.
Before leaving for home I was asked by a senior member of Bachad, Arieh Handler, who was visiting, that on my return to Middlesbrough I should set up a branch of Bnei Akivah. As opposed to Habonim this step would have to be taken with the support of the Rabbi. Freddy and I got the group started but within a short time I was in the Army; nevertheless Freddy carried on successfully.
While waiting for my call up I spent a few weeks studying Biology, Physics and Chemistry as a first step to a pre-medical course. In October I was on my way to Fort George near Inverness in the North of Scotland. I left the student behind and became a soldier.
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