RANDOM REMINISCENCES - 1916-1920
By W. E. HUGGETT
I ENTERED the School in 1916 on a scholarship in the days when there were only about ten or twelve free places going - the first of a line of four Huggetts - as my three sisters followed during the next ten years. Thinking back, now, on starting to write these memory jottings, I realise what very full and interest days they were.
I was in Central House - I seem to remember that in those days a boy was put into a House according to the area from which he came. I found I had come into a world of nicknames; there was "Wagga" Watts, "Algy" Huber, "Fatty" Chippendale and, one rather odd one, "Blob" Bluemel.
I wonder why the schoolboy's passions for nicknames is insatiable? For no particular reason that I ever discovered, I was quickly rechristened "Shucks". My first House Captain was Arthur Barrett, whom I have met since on several occasions, both of us having followed the call of the chemical industry. He was really responsible for my ever playing football, encouraging me to attend practices and turn out for the House Competitions - to the great delight of my father, who, in his youth, was a keen amateur footballer.
Great Days of Soccer and Athletics
It is my regret that I only attained the First XI after what was really the hey-day of the School's football achievement. If my recollection is right it was the 1917-I8 First XI that covered itself in glory - including an almost fabulous win of something like 30 to 1 against some now forgotten rival team.
In those old "Beckton" days we enjoyed none of the luxury of school football. In fact it would be what jack Train refers to as 'utilitarian' and sometimes barely that. The First XI were privileged to use a shed for a dressing room. The fact that the shed was used to house cows during the week did not detract from the honour! Small fry, like the second, third and lower XIs were only permitted to use the surrounding fence as a dressing room.
I remember, too, 1920 - my last year - when, I believe, the School won every senior event in the Inter-County Secondary School Sports and, with the gallant assistance of the juniors, walked off with the Champion B, Russell Cup that year. I believe the Head was so pleased with this success that we were all promised a souvenir in the shape of a medal or certificate - but I can't recollect that we ever received one! We took our training very seriously in those early days. George Bray and myself went running in Central Park every morning at 6.30 a.m. for months on end, with Harold Gossman, our self-appointed and wry honorary trainer. I shudder to think of it now on cold winter days, but we did it then. I doubt whether I could run 20 yards now without danger of collapse!
Cadets and Zeppelins
How many remember the Cadet Corps? My own recollection is of the occasion when, abetted by friend Gossman (who was corporal of the section) I asked for, and got, a transfer to Signals. Carrying a flag appealed much more to my mind that lugging around an angular, heavy Lee-Metford rifle. I'm afraid my crafty move was only short-lived, however, as I failed ignominiously to pass my Morse test and got kicked out-back to gun lugging!
While in the Cadet Corps I had a first-hand experience of the big daylight raid on London - some time in 1918 or it may have been the back end of 1917, I can't quite remember the details. But I do remember distinctly we were drilling on the old playing held at Beckton at the time. The raid (which was quite a new experience for London in those far off days) grew in fury, while in the next field there was an anti-aircraft gun which blasted forth, making considerably more row than the raiders and probably scared us all rather more than the Hun. Whilst all this was going on our Company Commander (who was the then Chemistry Master, Mr. Griffiths) seized the opportunity to give us some drill on moving in extended order - under what we fondly imagined, no doubt, to be active service conditions! I often wonder if it was really the correct procedure to carry out during an air raid, but, I suppose, it kept us busy and perhaps helped to take our young minds off the raid.
Armistice Day 1918 stands out in my memory rather clearly, indeed, it must do in any Londoner's. Not so much, perhaps, for the excitement, the bonfires and processions but for the fact that our contribution to the uproar consisted of putting sticks of phosphorus and wads of sulphur and chlorate compound on the tram-lines running past outside the School! No mean contribution either. Word swiftly went round that the next boy found doing so would be expelled!
One of the places out of bounds to us was the little baker's shop near the School at which we used to buy (risking disciplinary action if caught) great hunks of some kind of cake which we called "yellow peril". It had a curious indestructible texture and must have been altogether hideous - but it was a good "pennorth" for ever-hungry schoolboys. I wonder if the little shop is still there?
Origin of the War Memorial Fund
Among my other memories is the organisation of the great School Bazaar in 1920 which raised the initial amount of cash that later grew into the War Memorial Fund. A good thing, to our youthful minds, about the affair was the fact that we were able for a short time to mix with the girls in this good cause. (Although we were a mixed school, strict segregation of the sexes had been the inviolable rule hitherto.) My own particular job during this Bazaar (or "Conversazione" as I believe it was called) was to demonstrate some chemical experiment, but I don't remember ever being called upon to perform, which might have been just as well!
How many old scholars can remember, I wonder, the famous (or should it really be "infamous"?) Captain Kyle, who visited the School during the First World War and stirred our young blood with his daring tales of naval battles in the South Atlantic. Fierce, thrilling encounters with the German ship "Emden" that enthralled the whole School - only to learn later that the man was an impostor. I bet we enjoyed the tales anyway.
I started my chemical lecture, under Doctors Dunstan and Thole - the authors of the text book which was used in the School, who were, later, to become leading technicians with the Anglo-lranian Oil Company and internationally famous men. Under these two, and other science masters, I received my basic training and a sound technical education. This, together with some large slices of luck, has enabled me to earn a living in the scientific-industrial world.
Looking back, I realise today how much I owe to the School, the Staff who guided and drummed knowledge into me, and to the friendships made in those formative years. We laughed, learned and leaped eagerly forward to the life ahead, and it is only in the later years that one really understands how much that life is in debt to the earlier days at the old School.