Chapter XI

Fairbourne Again


I HAD A very busy time in Leeds before going back to Fairbourne on 13th September. My black-out was decidedly inadequate, so I had to work hard at that. Then, of course, there was the packing and posting of numerous parcels and all sorts of arrangements to be made before leaving my home again.

I took a party of boys back by train, thought I had lost some of their luggage—there was such a lot to keep my eye on—was accused by the boys of boarding the wrong train but, surprisingly, I was right.

Back to a much-changed Hostel. We now had a resident matron. Miss Veevers, who was very popular with the boys. Her people lived at Fairbourne, they frequently invited parties of boys to tea, gave them fruit, corn cobs and bamboos. The last were very useful for making into fishing rods—we on the staff found another use for them! We were all very grateful to the Veevers and to Canon and Mrs. Ragg, for their great kindness and hospitality.

I went back to my old digs at the Rosery and life was made more cheerful by the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Wells were also in digs there.

ONE VERY BIG change at the school was the admitting of girls as day pupils. The Headmaster of Rugby had a house at Fairbourne; his family stayed there during the war, he inveigled our Headmaster to take his small girl, Jill, aged about six I think. So that opened the gates for girls as day pupils at Leeds Grammar School! We did not like it at all but got used to it before the war was over.

Mr. and Mrs. Brittain returned to Leeds and boys and Staff were extremely sorry. Mr. F. Chippindale, who had just joined the Staff, came to Fairbourne and brought all his imagination and inventive powers.

The Headmaster made two houses: Spitfire and Hurricane. Mr. Wells was housemaster of Spitfire, I of Hurricane. Strange to relate, often during an inter-house contest on the sands a Spitfire would fly over— never a Hurricane! We had great contests. Soccer or cricket, according to the season, hockey, swimming—records were kept and the ‘Cock’ house announced.

THAT TERM a very small boy took refuge with us, coming all the way from Dagenham. He was the smallest and youngest of the boarders and looked very pathetic but his looks belied him. This was, of course, the time of the Battle of Britain. Even the boys were keen to hear the news on the wireless then; generally their own chatter and games took precedence. For us grown-ups it was a terribly anxious time, our extreme busyness was a blessing in disguise.

The Headmaster decided we ought to have a library; every time he visited us he brought piles of books in his car. I was in charge of the library. I had reached my late forties and thought that I had finished playing most games. However, I played soccer with the boys and also hockey. We had one or two hockey matches—Ladies v Boys. In the first match, much to our surprise, the boys beat us. They suddenly seemed to remember all they had been taught and kept their places wonderfully, a thing they could never be induced to do in a practice game. The only bruise I received during that match was one caused by a good whack from my sister back!

VERY OFTEN the weather was too wild, or the tide was wrong, for games on the beach. The walks were limited, one tried to vary them by having treasure hunts and various other games en route. One game I invented (?) for “off” times on the sands was the chasing of each other’s shadow; it sounds silly, but it was quite good fun.

When kept indoors we had ping-pong, including a “knock out” tournament, charades and other entertainments, rehearsed and otherwise. Instead of the games hour we had P.T., we found the boys really in need of this. In their own spare time, they invented many kinds of games which they called “crazes”. Each “craze” lasted about a week. During Mr. Wells’ time there, the boys were very keen and proficient in making things of wood and Perspex.

I still feel a pang when I think how scornful the boys were about my conjuring tricks. I really failed there.

STAMP COLLECTING kept them busy for many hours. I got a parent to bring my collection from home. There was much interest and “swapping”, I remember some tears when stamps were missing. We used to find them lying all over the Hostel!

I remember well an impromptu concert one wet afternoon. We had some excellent fooling from Michael Wood and Peter Sleight. St. George and the Dragon was acted, but, for variation, we had two St. Georges to one Dragon!

On Saturday nights we had our own cinema—at first it was a silent one, I was allowed to work that, but I was never allowed to touch the later “talkie”. One night I was in a quandary when the film snapped: I sent a boy at top speed to the Headmaster. He came down at once and asked me if I had any liquid nail polish! I wondered why but understood later.

One of the parents, Mr. Askew, had made a film of the boys and some of the staff carrying out various activities. We showed this often. I always used to re-wind it on the machine, and it was much more fun shown backwards—smoke going back into a funnel, boys getting out of line before going to Church, Mr. Ince and Mrs. Terry Thomas, separately, tripping daintily backwards into the Hostel! I wonder what has happened to that film. I should love to see it again.

We had a Hallow-e’en party that term, as we did for the next two years, and it was very good fun. Generous parents, living at East Keswick, sent us stones of apples for apple-bobbing. We found the boys so vigorous in this that we made them strip to the waist. Even then we were flooded! We had ghost tales, fireworks, ate toffee made on the premises, and did the difficult and amusing acrobatic feat of sitting astride a broom, which was put through the handles of a clothes basket—feet inside the basket, stick for balancing, and the broom ends resting on chairs. Object—knock off four pennies from chairs, one chair in front and one behind the performer. Boys do not mind falling about, the grown-ups were not very keen on trying.

ONE DAY, when I went to the Church Room after break to teach I found a very small boy there aged about three. He was punching all the big boys he could get near, they were enjoying it very much. I got hold of the small boy and asked him his name. He would not tell me and started to punch me! I got a boy to carry him bodily to the Post Office, that was the only thing I could think of doing.

Another incident I remember was one evening when four of us were having a game of bridge in the kitchen, all the boys being in bed. A small figure in dressing gown burst in to tell us that a boy in his dormitory was behaving very queerly and shrieking. He had had a nightmare followed by mild hysterics. We brought him into the kitchen, gave him a drink, and tried to soothe him. I can still see H. M. W—— playing pontoon with the boy with one hand, and playing a good game of bridge with us with the other hand. The Matron was out that night.

THE FACE of our beach was changed that term. Tank traps, commonly known as “Oxo cubes”, and so called by “Haw-Haw”, of unpleasant memory, had been placed all along the beach, concrete huts had been erected and barbed wire had been put all along. So our entrances to the beach were restricted, and I suppose we all felt that the war had come nearer to us.

We were to have had a Pantomime at the end of that term, but there was illness at the Hostel, an outbreak of German measles. Mr. Chippindale had written the words and lyrics; it was a great pity that pantomime never materialized.

I THINK Mr. Chippindale will not mind my telling the following tale against him. He started to say grace after one meal, I was standing opposite him. “For what we have received may the Lord”—then he came to a dead stop and looked pleadingly at me. So, in a stage whisper, I gave him the rest. He bowed his thanks and finished the grace. He told me afterwards that his mind had gone more or less blank, the only thing he could think of was, ‘May the Lord have mercy on us’, and he knew that was not right.

I tried very valiantly to learn Welsh and bought various books. I longed to be able to know what people were talking about in trains and at whist drives and on other occasions. Those whist drives were unique, three-quarters in Welsh and a quarter in English; how keen those people were, how quick in their play. I mastered the pronunciation of Welsh, but weakly gave up my effort to master the grammar when I faced the adjectives and all their various changes.

When German measles broke out at the Hostel, the day pupils were all taught at the Shoe (Mr. Lyon’s house). I did most of the teaching there, and was recalled early in January 1941 to go on with this teaching.

DURING THE Christmas holidays at Leeds we had Air Raid alarms and gun fire on four successive nights, so I was not sorry to take my jagged nerves back to Fairbourne; even though most of Fairbourne was frozen up, various bursts, and no electric light!

THEN A VERY sad and tragic happening. A fighter ’plane with two Poles on board crashed upside down in the sea almost within reach of land. This happened in the middle of the night. The ’plane had to be cut in two in order to get at the bodies.

When our boys came back to the Hostel they were very excited about it and seemed sorry to have missed it!

THE WEATHER was very bad in January; there was much snow, and the drifts were as high as the station gates. One day only those boys who had Wellingtons were allowed to go out. I took them to the beach where we had a grand snowball fight. That day the lights failed after Prep., and they did not come on again for six days. There was a great run on candles and the village supply was soon exhausted. So a good many stories (ghost and otherwise), were told by the hall fire.

At this time we were without a cook, Miss Veevers gallantly acted as cook, as well as doing her matron’s job. I helped as much as I could in the kitchen.

Soon we got a cook with red hair. She used to throw things about when she was in a temper. She did not stay long!

When the thaw came our handyman was away, so the stove in the Church Room was not lit. The boys tried to get it going but could not manage it. So I had to clean the whole thing out and light it before I was able to start the lesson!

MANY A TIME since I have been at Leeds Grammar School I have tried to correct Yorkshire broad u’s. J. M. W—— at Fairbourne was very bad, and I tried him at first with Mr. Johnson’s “Mother come up and have a bun”. Then I tried to work in every word mispronounced and the short sentence grew to “Mother, come up at once and have a funny coloured bun under the trunk of the ugly old plum tree, with a dove or something on it.” I cured J. M. W—— after making his life something of a misery and I received grateful thanks from his mother and his aunt, and in later years, from him.

Just recently, after attending a performance in Scholes Village Hall, I was hailed by an Old Leodiensian, a very young one, who thanked me for making him speak properly and not broadly (there had been a good deal of dialect in the play). This boy asked me if I remembered the ‘poem’ I used to make him repeat. That puzzled me but he just meant my long sentence.

Back to Fairbourne!

ONCE AS I WAS passing a table at dinner-time, L. J. T——looked pityingly at me, and, apropos of nothing, said, “Miss Christie, I am sorry for you because you don’t make friends”. This rather took my breath away and I tried to find what he was driving at. The boy explained that he had many friends in Leeds Market and he could get oranges and all sorts of things from his friends. “A schoolmistress can’t do that because you don’t make any friends.”

I managed to get hold of some good books for reading aloud and am very grateful to Dennis Wheatley for two of his thrilling tales, and to a son of Canon Ragg for Buzzards, Pick the Bones. The scene of this last book was laid on and near Cader Idris. We did see some buzzards when we eventually climbed Cader.

Apart from the reading, I introduced nearly all the games I had ever known—Crimes, Telegrams, Coffee Pot, etc. Then I had to invent others.

AT THE END of the Spring term 1941, most of the boys went off home on 9th April by bus, singing as they went. Sweets were not so difficult to get in those days, I managed to distribute toffees all round. That day I took up residence at the Hostel for holiday duty. A good deal of spare time we spent rehearsing scenes from Tyll’s Merry Pranks which I adapted from the book, and very good fun they all were.

Mr. and Mrs. Bardgett were also in residence, so we were all cheery and lively. One day I took a party of about a dozen to Barmouth, walking both ways. I took my cycle with me and ‘turns’ on it were much in demand. How well I remember J. H——’s feet—he always had great trouble with them, his shoes always seemed to be too big or too small. This day they kept slipping off, we had repeatedly to stop and try to fasten the things on. In desperation we bought him a pair of gym shoes at Barmouth. After that our going was easier.

We took the boys to a children’s service on Good Friday and spent the rest of the day playing rounders and hockey on the beach. I note my ‘tiredness’ in my diary that day. Hockey is a very vigorous game if you have not full sides. I was in charge of the Hostel during part of those holidays and I remember a terrible billeting document I had to complete. The war news was still very bad, I recall the Headmaster’s telling me to cheer up and that the war would not be won by looking glum. I am afraid I certainly needed admonition like that but perhaps it ought not to have been so kindly.

TOWARDS THE END of those holidays I went home for a few days. The night before I returned to Fairbourne I had only one and a half hour’s sleep owing to bombs and gunfire. On the way back in the train I saw Manchester after its bombing. I could hardly recognise the station. That night at Fairbourne I slept through two air raid alarms, two ‘All clears’ and heaps of Nazi ’planes passing over. That was one of the nights when Mersey-side was bombed. My landlady’s daughter lived at Liverpool, after one of these nights my landlady broke down badly.

We had at the hostel two new Jewish boys who stayed with us for a very short time, but they made a lasting impression on us. The younger one had to be spoon fed at first, as he refused to eat otherwise. He was also very frightened of water and had to be carried, kicking and screaming, to his bath. He kept the whole hostel awake the first night with his screams. The mother brought these two boys and had a long confidential talk with me, specially about her younger ‘problem’ child. She gave me a tip of 3s. 6d. at the end of the talk, the only time I have received a tip since I grew up! Miss Veevers was given 5s.—worth 1s. 6d. more than I! Later in the term I had some youngsters, including this boy, at my bathing hut for a picnic tea. As soon as I mentioned bathing the boy burst into floods of tears. His brother, who could not swim, was very keen on the sea, and nearly always contrived to get almost out of his depth.

Against the tale of these Jews, I set the one of a small Jewish boy we used to call ‘Gulliver’, because his former school was ‘Lilliput’. I cannot remember his real name. Once during lessons his mother came through the Hostel door and the boys told me that it was Gulliver’s mother. Like an ass, I greeted her with: “Good morning, Mrs. Gulliver”. Her son was very keen on everything connected with the Hostel even joining in our prayers. He left for home early one morning and walked the length of the hall singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” at the top of his voice.

HERE I WILL tell a few tales of episodes or sayings which brightened our lives from time to time.

The first term there was some trouble from horse flies, many boys were bitten. One boy asked me quite seriously: “Please, Miss Christie, are horse flies as big as horses?” This I related to Canon Wynne-Edwards in a letter which was otherwise gloomy and self-pitying. I had a salutary letter from him, telling me what he thought of my attitude, and he said, “Collect your horse flies.” So I tried to.

The word ‘puppy-hood’ occurred in one lesson. I enquired: “Have you had a puppyhood, any of you?” J. C—— commonly known as ‘Pussy’ said, “Yes, Miss Christie”. The boys decided he might have had a ‘kitten-hood’.

In Mr. H. Thomas’s time, this same boy was very sick in the dormitory. Mr. Thomas and I had to deal with the dormitory and some clothes which had been splashed. It had been a ‘tuck’ day, and Mr. Thomas enquired what J. C—— had had for tea. On being told something like ‘sardines, honey, Oxo, pastry, jam, cake’, Mr. Thomas said: “Oh, you should not have mixed all those”. J. C—— at once said rather indignantly: “Please sir, I did not mix them.”

D. S—— told me that a guinea pig was a pig without a tail.

Amongst the day pupils we had a small, rather babyish boy, called John King. In a nature lesson we talked about frog spawn, and I could tell that many of the boys had never seen it. So I described it to the best of my ability. John King’s face lit up and he said: “Oh, I know, we have it sometimes here for dinner”.

J. E. C—— to the question: “What happened in 1910?” said: “The Battle of Hastings”.

P. H. E—— a day pupil, told of some astronomers: “One night they looked through and they saw sun spots shining in the middle of the moon.”

T. A. R. E—— asked quite genuinely I think: “If you bury some bread, will it come up corn?”

M. C—— told us that beer is an extract of beef.

ONE MORNING, just as we were starting lessons, we heard a most unearthly wailing and shrieking noise coming from one of the dormitories.

Turning pale, I jumped up, feeling quite sure that one of the boys was being murdered. It was only R. B. R—— commonly known as ‘Cheeky’. He was gargling.

We had a horrible scare when many boys had a queer outbreak on the skin and a Towyn doctor diagnosed scabies. How ashamed we all were—a disease of dirt. All the cases were isolated, but more and more boys went down with the disease, so highly contagious. The Staff were frequently scratching themselves. I used to anoint the whole of my body every night with T.C.P. Miss Veevers bought up all the sulphur in Barmouth. We could smell those sulphur baths all over the Hostel.

One day Miss Veevers took all the cases to Towyn. She dared not risk a public conveyance, of course, so she and the boys walked all the way. The other doctor (partner of the first) said that the trouble was harvest bugs! The first time I told this tale was to a doctor uncle and I said ‘rabies’ instead of ‘scabies’. I wondered why he looked so startled.

I HAVE TOLD about our shrimping. Once we all brought home a fine catch, after the cooking of it the boys helped to skin the shrimps. We all enjoyed them at tea time. Alas, when bedtime came, there was an outcry. Many of the tops and tails of the shrimps had found their way into the boys’ beds. So shrimping was ‘off’ for some time.

I trotted out my perennial joke “Why (y) is the fourth of July?” This can, of course, be asked, or stated on appropriate days of all months ending in ‘y’. The boys all saw it, except J. E. C—— who said: “Why can’t you say ‘e’ is the fourth of June?”

John King, when we had mentioned “The Wise Men of Gotham”, asked rather pathetically: “Am I wise?” This boy did not know his alphabet when he came to us. He told me he would know it in 10 years time if he learnt it every day. I wonder if he knows it now.

In 1941 I had my first bathe on 10th May. There was great clamour from the boys when they knew; I took them in for the first time on 29th May. I used to hire a bathing hut for the season and invited each dormitory in turn for a tea party there. It was always good fun. I have records of these parties in the shape of snaps. Alas! I cannot put names to all the boys now. After tea we generally had another bathe; then the boys had to rush back to the Hostel for Prep. Once two boys, P. S—— and ‘Lord Fairbourne’ arrived at my hut wearing monocles, for some time they talked and behaved like monocled gentry.

WHEN WHITSUNTIDE came we had two days’ holiday only. Later we had a ‘teacher’s rest’ in turn. On the Saturday afternoon, Whitsun Eve, many parents arrived and there was great excitement. On the Monday several fathers joined us in a game of cricket on the sands. That afternoon I tried to get a little rest and peace by sitting on those same sands. But an imp of mischief was in the boys and they ‘undermined’ every place I chose. Only one youngster, Margaret, a sister, took my side, but two females were no good against all those boys. That evening we gave a concert for the parents—scenes from Tyll’s Merry Pranks and a sort of variety show. It all went well but not so well as the rehearsals had done.

Unluckily, at this time, there was an outbreak of mumps at the Hostel. Some boys spent their two days’ holiday in isolation, receiving their parents in the dormitories. On Tuesday morning we all saw the parents off. They came and went by bus I think. Spirits were not quite so high after this but they soon recovered. In the afternoon Miss Veevers and I took about a dozen boys for a picnic to Barmouth. On account of the mumps the boys were not allowed to go into shops, so the two of us were kept very busy shopping for them. Church was also out of bounds. We used occasionally to have a service at the Hostel on Sunday morning.

During this term two of the day pupils brought their black Labrador dog to school, much to the delight of all the boys. He used to queue up for his ‘elevenses’ with the boys, and behaved much better than most of them. However, he was something of a distraction in lessons, so we had to forbid his owners to bring him—not before I had given a successful French lesson on him: ‘le chien est noir’ etc.

ON MY BIRTHDAY, which is the same day as the school’s birthday, three boys arrived early at my digs with an enormous piece of cardboard with ‘Many Happy Returns’ on it. Later in the day J. M. W——tried to give me 1s. 6d. to spend!

Bathing was made more exciting this term, as the boys made themselves a raft which they ran on wheels down to the sea from the Hostel. After one picnic I was taken down to the sea on this raft. As far as I remember the raft did not float very well, it had to be held up by several strong boys when it was required for diving purposes.

After our red-haired cook was dismissed for bad temper and swearing, we got two real treasures, sisters—Maggie and Louie from Bramley. They were very fond of the boys, inclined to spoil them and naturally the boys were very fond of them. They did not like the boys being punished in any way. On more than one occasion Maggie recited “Bramla’ Town Band” for us.

In July we had some swimming sports between Spitfires and Hurricanes, including a successful relay race, all rather difficult to run in the sea. Then the cricket match—Hurricane House won without losing a wicket.

LIFE WAS MADE rather complicated for me at this time, because I had to move all my belongings out of both my sitting-room and bedroom, as my landlady had let both rooms for the holidays. A parent of three day pupils was very friendly in offering me some accommodation for my things, but it was all rather difficult in the midst of teaching.

I was on holiday duty from 25th July to 9th August. Several boys who were with us in 1939 came, and some prefects came to help. The opinion of some small boys about our task, told to me in confidence, was: “It is just like a holiday for the Staff all the time. They can talk and laugh when they like. There is no Headmaster there to worry them.”

THAT SUMMER the Germans were advancing against the Russians, and there was little to cheer us in the news. We heard of the death of H. S. Wynne-Edwards and we heard that D. A. Shepherd was missing.

The mumps epidemic lasted throughout the summer term. I did continual shopping for the boys—all their sweets twice a week, very complicated it was taking the orders and trying not to get mixed in purchases and finances. The grocer at Fairbourne was not a very easy man to deal with, he shouted at me on more than one occasion. The Headmaster thought it was salutary for us to have to deal with him and others like him. He was really kind at heart but he almost frightened the life out of us.

There were changes in the Staff at Fairbourne in September 1941. Mr. Wells went back to Leeds, so did Mr. Chippindale. Mr. Henry Thomas came as master-in-charge and Mr. Cooper joined us. Eryl Terry Thomas joined the services and we all missed her very much. There was a new curate-in-charge, a Mr. Hopkins, very Welsh, he was a great favourite with the boys. He used regularly to come to our Bible reading on Sunday evenings. He talked seriously for a short time, then ran a sing-song, told jokes and ghost stories. His children’s services at Church were very popular, he often had the boys giggling happily during his address.

AN EXTRA BURDEN at this time was the fact that we had to see the day pupils into the train every afternoon. Often the train was very late and one was due for games on the beach at the same time. My landlady went away for a fortnight during that term and I had to ‘do’ for myself. One night, owing to some scare I had about the black-out, I shut myself out of the house. I went to the Hostel and told my tale of woe. Mr. Thomas very readily came, B. B—— followed, saying he would love to be a cat burglar. We tried, unavailingly, all windows and doors downstairs, finally we carried a heavy ladder from the Hostel.

Mr. Thomas confided to me that he was no good on a ladder, even in the daytime and would be dizzy. So we fetched a plumber, as he started climbing up towards my open bedroom window the ladder, which was a double one, collapsed. Luckily he had not gone up far. I was very worried the second time he tried, in case the same thing should happen again. However, all went well, and I can still remember my utter relief when the front door was opened. It seemed worth much more than the money I gave him, but he was quite pleased.

Our half term was on 3rd November. Again, many parents visited us, this time they ran the party to give the Staff a rest. They caused a good deal of amusement by disguising themselves and letting the boys guess who they were.

Mrs. Terry Thomas and I introduced badminton and gave a demonstration. I think this game was short-lived as there were only two rackets.

One day in November there was a terrific storm and both the water and the electricity went off!

ON 30TH NOVEMBER a Spitfire crashed into the sea. One of our boys found the body. It was all very upsetting, but the boys seemed rather thrilled than otherwise. Miss Veevers was in bed ill, I was doing some nursing and some first aid. B. R—— had two slightly septic knees; both were bandaged and he had been told to rest, which he did in lessons, putting his feet up on a chair in a somewhat lordly way. The morning after the crash I had just started teaching, and I noticed that B. R——’s bandages were round his ankles. So I took him along to the surgery for repairs, asking him how he was feeling ‘apart from his knees’.

“Not too good just now, after seeing that body.”

He had run to the beach, he ought not even to have walked anywhere. My sympathy melted giving place to another feeling!

WE HAD A grand opportunity for studying stars as we could see such a wide expanse of sky. I had given a few lessons in astronomy, I used sometimes to make a special visit to the Hostel at night in order to point out the constellations. Perhaps prep. was disturbed, but the boys found it a pleasant interlude. In December a mine was washed up on the beach, so that was out of bounds until the mine had been dealt with. Some of us wondered if we might be blown sky-high first!

Just before the end of that term, we went out Carol singing, with very few books and fewer flash-lights—which conked out one by one. We did very well; visited many houses, the Hotel and the Church Hall, where a Whist Drive was in progress. This was held up while we sang a few carols, then the hat was passed round. We sent nearly £2 to Leeds Infirmary. Mrs. Terry Thomas severely reprimanded some boys for not keeping to the right side of the road. Then she found out they were village boys!

We finished school on 19th December, and apart from poor J. C—— who had a rash, we all returned to Leeds by bus. I was in sole charge, and it was a big responsibility. Several boys were sick on the way, one boy several times. I had to telephone to the Headmaster when I got home to report safe arrival. So apparently I was not the only one who felt anxious.


THE RETURN to Fairbourne was made by bus the next term. We had a slight breakdown near Huddersfield, so the boys decided we should all have to go home again. They were very cheerful all the way and sang a good deal, but when they were going to bed that night, they asked for electric blankets and hot water bottles! We had some snow that term and some good fun on a slide the boys made.

The news was bad. Rommel was making a mighty thrust in Libya, and we lost all the ground we had gained. Only the Russian news was good. We lost Singapore, one very cheering (?) friend reminded us that Lord Roberts had said that if we ever lost Singapore we should lose the Empire. The same friend also said that what had happened in Singapore and Crete could easily happen here. One day we heard that the Gneisnau and the Schaarnhorst had escaped from Brest; we learnt that we had lost 48 ’planes, including 20 bombers. This same day—and how the gift cheered us!—some partridges arrived from generous parents living near Wetherby. So we had a feast that night in spite of the news. We saw a large flare in the sky after our feast. No one knew what it was.

At the next singing lesson we sang “Land of Hope and Glory”. I asked the boys to tell me why we were singing a patriotic song. With one voice they replied: “Because we are losing the war!!” I was no more cheered by a certain lieutenant, who told me that the war would last my life time, and that I should live another 30 years! Mr. Ince was much more cheering, on one occasion he just said: “Leave it to me”.

AND SO ON through that Spring term, with the news apparently getting worse and worse, subduing even the boys at times. We had no half-term holiday, and on 10th March we heard that the Hostel was to close for Easter and close down altogether in July. Work went on as usual; we had various interludes: one boy was taken off suddenly to Towyn Hospital with acute appendicitis. There was a strong appeal in the newspapers for paper salvage, there must have been some sort of warning against waste, because the boys were rather scared and thought they might be imprisoned! Guilty consciences?

Some of our Old Boys were in the O.C.T.U. at Barmouth. It was good to see them. Two came to tea at the Hostel—I noted their appetites, yet, in spite of that, I invited them to tea at my rooms one Sunday; and I invited an Important Person to meet them. They never arrived, so the Important Person and I had tea together; there seemed to be no difference in the food when she had gone. So I went to the Hostel, and four or five wardens (senior boys) came to supper. There was nothing left when they went at 9.30!

The two original guests had had to return to Barmouth with all speed because they were wet through. One of them, Martyn Hutton, got a commission in the Green Howards and was killed in Burma.

ONE SATURDAY at the end of the term we had a concert, partly impromptu. ‘Eggy’ talked on ‘carrots’ for 10 minutes, most amusingly and cleverly. A man in the audience said the boy ought to become a lawyer. I believe he went to the School of Dramatic Art.

We returned to Leeds again by bus but came back on 27th April by train. We had the terrific Fairbourne wind for several days.

We had depressing news of air raids nearly every day—York, Norwich, Exeter, Bath.

It was a poor summer with only four or five lovely days. So our bathing was restricted.

We had no Whitsuntide holiday, though the boys had one day off when they went to Cregennon Lakes.

We decided to give a farewell concert at the end of term. I ran rehearsals whenever I could, and was very busy with costumes, etc. The final item at the concert was to be a list of over 50 “Thank yous” in alphabetical order. I composed this list, and chose four boys to read each ‘thanks’ in turn. I tried to be thorough in rehearsals, three of the four boys thought I was being too thorough or fussy.

One night, after a rehearsal, one of the four would not say goodnight to me when I went into the dormitory, so annoyed was he with me. I may say that on the night the ‘Thank yous’ went very well indeed, the audience clapped and laughed. The offended boy said in a most surprised tone: “They thought it funny”. I replied that I did too when I wrote it.

DURING THAT TERM came the bad news about Libya—the Eighth Army cut in two, Tobruk surrounded, Tobruk fallen, 25,000 of our men prisoners, Egypt in danger. Then when the boys came to bathe, instead of being their lively, noisy selves, they were quiet and seemed depressed.

On two or three days the top form did some sketching out of doors, first of the Hostel and later of the Church. There were some very good results, in spite of horse flies and other insects which did their best to drive us away.

At the beginning of July I heard that I had to go for a fortnight’s holiday duty to Buckden also that I was to be sent there the next term.

Just before the examinations started, the W.V.S. pressed all the women they could find into knitting gloves for our P.O.W.s. I started a glove while supervising the first examination! I found it difficult amongst so many other jobs. I finished only one glove, returned it and the rest of the wool with a sigh of relief.

ALL THROUGH the term there were murmurs that we ought to climb Cader. We tried on 5th July. I was not weather wise, thought it was going to be a good day, did some forceful persuasion and was, as a result, cheered by the boys. We had terribly heavy showers, sheltered in a hay-shed with a calf to eat our lunch, got as far as Cregennon Lakes and all got wet through.

We did conquer Cader on Sunday, 12th July. It was the best and hottest day of the term. Miss Veevers, Mr. Cooper and I took the bigger boys. I was the oldest and fattest member of the party and found the going hard. R. B——, also rather fat, joined me, and we were left far behind, almost losing the others. Most of the party had been to the summit when I arrived. A kind boy, G. O. P——, escorted me and took a photograph of me looking like a dying duck. I felt like one. On the way up I felt extremely thirsty, saw some bilberry plants, and asked the boys if they could find any bilberries for me. They looked in a desultory way, saying there were no berries.

On the way down I was thirstier still, and in a rash moment said: “A ha’penny for every bilberry you bring me”. Then the boys found quite a lot, ripe and unripe, and, as they pressed them into my hands, they told me what I owed them. I paid up later at the Hostel, I have never had such an expensive thirst-quencher. Two or three boys seemed rather diffident about taking the money but they were persuaded fairly easily.

On my birthday I cycled six miles to fetch some strawberries. I had a huge cake with candles on, for the three years at Fairbourne; everybody had a share of the cake, but I had to make an invidious distinction in sharing the strawberries, I gave some to all boys who were going to Buckden.

THE END OF the summer term is not an easy time at any school. Then, in addition to reports, examinations, we had the concert, all the winding up to do, all books to be packed and everything cleared from the hostel. The concert was on the 17th and it was a great success. The hall was packed; we made no charge as we wanted the concert to be a gesture of thanks to the people of Fairbourne. It was something of a variety show.

Mr. Cooper put on some scenes from Midsummer Nights Dream: I ran the rest of the programme, scenes from Alice, songs, a ukulele with ‘minstrels’ and finally the ‘Thanks’. I was behind the curtain ready to prompt when I was told the curtain should be drawn further back. I nearly fell down four steps and was caught by J. S——, who was acting as call boy. When I was called to make a speech, I passed the honour over to the Headmaster, who made a humorous and appropriate speech and said he would ‘get his own back on me’. He did, quite soon!

The next day a most sumptuous tea was provided by all parents. Some were there with us. They made speeches, most kindly giving presents to the ladies of the staff. The following day was a day of photographs. Many were taken by a local professional. Unfortunately the results were rather disappointing.

On 20th July I got up at 5.45 and went to the Hostel to say goodbye to the boys. I think Mr. Cooper took them back to Leeds. A lorry carried them from Fairbourne to Barmouth Junction. Miss Veevers and I went in the lorry with them. I believe the village must have been wakened by their singing, but I know every boy was sorry to go.

SO THREE YEARS at Fairbourne came to an end. I stayed on at my rooms until the 24th, clearing up, sending off parcels (how bored I got with parcel making during those war years), bathing each day, and saying farewell to people. I said goodbye to more than 80 people. There were tears in some eyes, probably in mine too. It hurt to leave my very kind landlady.


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Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7
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