My daughter  posted earlier this week about her first days in school when we moved to Wales and it woke up memories of my first days in school, (66 years ago!)

I started school in September 1944. In those days you started school when you were five, there were no nursery schools to “break you in” gently,  it was straight in and start learning. No sand pits, dressing up box or Lego etc.

Bentinck Road school was a red brick Victorian building at the corner of a busy cross roads. One road was the main route into the city from the suburbs and villages to the North, so there were green city buses and blue country buses passing every few minutes. The other road was the route for the trolley buses, so we very soon learned the Green Cross code!

Across the road was the church we attended, one of the other corners had a pub, so we just missed being on what I think was called a “damnation corner” as there was no pawn shop i.e. education, salvatation, ruination and damnation. Next to the pub was a large bomb site which acted like a magnet to some of the boys who went searching for shrapnel until they were chased off by a vigilant adult!

It was both a primary school and a secondary school, mixed infants and juniors on the ground floor and senior girls upstairs. All the teachers were female and (in my memory) all quite old.

There were two asphalted playgrounds, one for the lower school and one for “the big girls” and we congregated in these before school started at 9.15 am, then the teachers came out and blew a whistle whereupon we formed lines and marched into school.

It was a large classroom with double desks in rows facing the teacher’s desk and the blackboard. I think there were about 40 in the class, roughly equal boys and girls. This was quite a change for me as I had never had much contact with girls of my own age, being the only girl in my immediate family, my extended family of cousins and also in our road.

Paper was in short supply so we used little blackboards and chalk. We had been told to bring a bag to keep our chalk in and my mother and some of the others had made nice little “Dorothy bags” which we could hang over the back of our chairs, but others just had paper bags which had to be tied up with bits of string.

I had been longing to start school and had pestered my mother and my brother to teach me to read and count, so I started at a great advantage. They ran the school like an old Dames school and children had to stay in the same form until they had reached the proficiency expected of them, so, as we went up the school there were varying ages in the class.

They concentrated on the three Rs and we had spelling bees, mental arithmetic tests and reading aloud sessions, but we also had a nature table, music, dancing, PT and games. We also did handycrafts and both boys and girls learned to knit and simple sewing such as darning, sewing on buttons etc. The first thing we knitted was a dish cloth and then we knitted slippers in khaki wool. We had to take an old felt hat of mother’s to make the soles. 🙂

Halfway through the morning we had playtime when the small bottles of milk were handed out. I didn’t like milk, but there was no choice you had to drink it.

Dinner time was 12.15 -2.0pm and you either went home (as I did ) or went to a nearby annexe for a school dinner.

The afternoon session was from 2pm to 4.30pm, with a short break halfway though.

They didn’t have a cane, but they did smack hands with a ruler if you misbehaved. They were quite keen on deportment and we had to march smartly into school and sit up straight in class!

On Mondays they sold dinner tickets for those taking school dinners I think they were 4d (under 2p!). They also sold saving stamps which we stuck in a book supplied by the Post Office, 6d and 2s. 6d.

I soon made friends and my best friend was Jillian, an only child whose mother had also taught her to read, write and knit before she started school so we had a common link.

Once a year we had a medical examination and “Nora the nit nurse” came round every term. I was always fearful  that I would be shamed by getting one of the dreaded yellow letters, luckily I never did, but my mother still went through my thick blond plaits with a fine tooth comb every week.

I stayed at that school until I was eleven and then was fortunate to pass the scholarship exam and went to the Grammar school. Sadly Jillian had to wait another year as the cut off date was December 31st and her birthday was January 1st!

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