Chapter XII



ABOUT A DOZEN boys from Fairbourne, Miss Veevers, Mr. Cooper and I went to Buckden in September 1942. Mr. Harvey was in charge there, he had been ever since Buckden House was used as an evacuation centre. He had seen tougher times there, when the nearby stream was the boys’ ‘bathroom’. When we arrived, hot and cold had been laid on, there was a bathroom on the ground floor with an enormous zinc bath which would hold eight or ten boys, and there were lavatory basins in the same room.

As there were only three of us on the staff, supervision was heavy; one day in three being a very full day, lasting sometimes 13½ hours. (Mr. Brittain’s name for the master on duty was P.B.M.—an apt one). A difficult job was taking charge of the baths and the washing. Eyes at the back of one’s head would have been useful; if one faced the bath, the basins were behind one. The bath had a shower, I allowed the boys to use this if they behaved really well and had succeeded in getting themselves clean. They were very much inclined to play, lose the soap, and ‘swim’ about looking for it. The first time the shower was turned on I had a good drenching; I had not realized that the range of this shower stretched beyond the bath! Of course the boys were delighted.

Those of us who came from Fairbourne missed the sands—our playing field—tremendously. Walks were limited on account of the short time at our disposal in the afternoon; my inventive faculties worked overtime in trying to vary the walks.

BEFORE THAT Autumn Term started I had a chance of getting used to the place, as I went with Dr. Osborn during the summer holidays, taking charge of a party of boys there. Domestic difficulties started then and continued until we gave up Buckden House. During those holidays we climbed the Pike. A Bristol bomber had been wrecked on the slopes, the boys were very keen on collecting scraps of metal as souvenirs.

All who have been to Buckden and that district know what a delightful place it is, and how exhilarating the air. We found the Dalesfolk charming and very kind. Mr. Fred Falshaw was our milkman and postman, he always had a friendly smile and enjoyed a joke. Mr. Dinsdale was the gardener, a very hard job he had, as he had to look after the garden across the road as well as the one belonging to the House. The boys were never allowed to play on the lawn. I always thought that a great deprivation; but the grass had to be preserved. Mr. Dinsdale used to cut the boys’ hair—no, not with garden shears; he used scissors.

Miss Lily Webster had a firm footing at the school and was an excellent cook. She was rather easily offended, so she wasn’t with us always. Mrs. Varley used to do a noble job of cleaning. She died while we were there, we were all very sorry. Mr. Jack Hudson was the forester of the estate and had a small farm near. He often used to cut my hair, he was most unwilling to accept payment. Mr. Billy Gill was the kindest and most considerate bus driver I have ever known.

THE MITTONS’ farm was a source of pleasure to the boys, they were sometimes allowed to help, though, whether or not they really helped only the Mittons know. It was good to meet those farmers, especially Mr. Horner, who was always most kind to his animals; we had known farmers of a different type in Wales.

The Dixons were always good to us; Jenny attended the school (we had five or six girls there); she has told me since that the boys were great teases. ‘Bertie’ B—— was the worst; he used to tread on her feet whenever he got a chance.

Mrs. Jimmy Falshaw ran the village shop, as her husband was away in the forces. She was always most patient with us and with the boys, we must have often pestered her.

For the rest of our shopping, we had to go to Skipton by bus (there were very few buses during the war). Skipton is 20 miles away, there lived our nearest dentist. So, many valuable ‘halves’ had to be spent there; one always had commissions from others; and one had often to combine a free afternoon with escorting a boy to the dentist.

I HAD a very welcome break that first term—a week-end with the Wynne-Edwards at Austwick. That was my last visit in Canon Wynne-Edwards’ life-time. He went to the Brotherton Wing in December, I visited him there several times. He refused to regard himself as an invalid, he thoroughly enjoyed his stay there; this was because so many Old Leodiensians and other friends visited him. He did not realise that it was the beginning of the end. He died at Austwick on 13th February, 1943.

I WAS NOT in residence at Buckden House, except during the summer holidays. The first year I was a paying guest with Mrs. Schofield at the School House. Her two children were at school with us. Buckden House was one of the very few houses with electric light; Mrs. Schofield had lamps and candles. I learnt the advantages of the ‘super’ Aladdin lamp—also its disadvantages, when it went black and we had to wait in the semi-darkness until it recovered! There was a covered bath in the kitchen with a cold tap only. What a performance when one bathed—all the things to move off the heavy board which covered the bath, then the bath to fill from a fireside copper and from pans and kettles; one really needed a bath then!

Mr. and Mrs. Gray, who lived at Ivy Cottage, were most hospitable to me. John Gray attended the school; the Grays, like the Schofields, were evacuees. They offered me a weekly bath which I gladly accepted; they always gave me a sumptuous tea, then we played cards.

In my second year I had a bed-sitting-room at Mrs. Tomalin’s house. The room was on the ground floor; when the window was open at the bottom, passing cows used to put their heads in and moo at me! I was told by the Vicar that the net curtains were no good as a screen!

AT OUGHTERSHAW HALL lived the Rev. T. B. Woodd, a very dear old parson, with a great fondness for boys, naturally he was very popular with them. When he visited us he always preferred to have his tea with the boys rather than in the Staff room. He once gave us a most interesting lantern lecture on missionary work in India. Once every summer we all spent a day with him at his home, taking our own food and being provided with liquid refreshment. It is six miles to Oughtershaw; some of us had cycles; the others had to walk both ways. We tried to choose a fine day, never setting off in the rain. Those who know the Dales will recollect how quickly the weather can change; one can be drenched in no time on those hills. Mr. Woodd did his best for wet visitors; I once shuffled about in a pair of his very large slippers!

What treasures he showed us! He was a descendant of Capt. Basil Woodd, who was with King Charles when he was on his way to his execution. Mr. Woodd had, amongst his most treasured possessions, a gauntlet worn by King Charles, also his ‘star’, both given by the king to Capt. Woodd. He had too a lock of John Hampden’s hair, but, as a very keen Jacobite, he seemed rather ashamed of this. He had a priceless collection of stamps; the boys were rather shameless in begging duplicates from him. They got so many from him during one visit that I insisted on making a collection of their duplicates, and the following Saturday, several boys and I cycled to Oughtershaw with these stamps. Mr. Woodd seemed very pleased.

His dining hall was full of ‘exhibits’ having a seventeenth century fireplace, in addition to suits of armour and ancient weapons, most of them belonging to his ancestors. I can hear him now saying: “Oh, that belonged to one of my ancestors.” The day after one of our visits, ‘Fatty’ F——, whose parents were staying at the Buck Inn, gave a vivid description of the house and garden. At the bottom of the garden was a stream, in which the boys caught trout—occasionally they used to present Mr. Woodd with some of their catch. The boy’s mother was most interested in her son’s description and said: “What a marvellous place it must be. I should love to see it. But a big place like that must take a lot of cleaning.” “Oh no,” said the boy, “his ancestors do it all for him. It’s a bit dusty, but they don’t do badly.” The boy did not know why all the people in the lounge laughed at him!

THE REV. W. R. MENZIES was vicar of Hubberholme at this time. When Mr. Harvey was in charge, Mr. and Mrs. Menzies used to come to us every Friday afternoon to practise the hymns for the following Sunday. The people of Buckden and Hubberholme are very proud of their ancient and beautiful church, but their attendance there left much to be desired; so the boys formed most of the congregation. It must have cheered the vicar to have the church filled regularly. After Mr. Harvey went back to Leeds Mr. Ashworth was in charge. He was a musician, so the Menzies relegated their hymn practice to him. But, alas, he was a true artist, and often on Saturday night the hymns had not been touched, so it fell on me to practise them, picking out the tunes with ‘one hand’.

Miss Veevers was most punctilious every Sunday morning before the boys started for church; every button had to be in its place, the shoes had to shine, coats had to be well brushed, a clean handkerchief to be in situ, hair at its tidiest. Sometimes all this led to a very quick march in twos to cover the mile to church in time.

The Menzies were very hospitable to me. Breakfast at the Vicarage after Early Service was soon an understood thing. In those days Mrs. Menzies used to play the harmonium in church, so Mr. Menzies had an easier time, in one way, than does the present vicar.

When illness or infection (or impossible weather!) prevented the boys’ attendance at church, we used to have a service in the hall. I often took it. We had a collection and sent the money to the vicar.

A tale against Mr. Cooper here (I hope he won’t mind). He was an inveterate smoker of Woodbines. On one occasion when he had taken the boys to church, during the sermon he took out a cigarette, put it in his mouth, got out the matches, was on the verge of striking one, when he remembered where he was! The boys had been watching him open-mouthed, and were very disappointed when he did not complete the act. I need not say that Mr. Cooper was somewhat absent-minded!

THE RIVER was always the chief thrill after church, specially if anyone could spot a trout. The way home was easier than the way there, no regimentation about the return.

On Sunday afternoon letters were written home. These had to be inspected, if not read. No one could go out until his letter had been passed. Poor R. P—— suffered much at my hands. He seemed unable to control ink, thinking that about two dull lines would constitute a letter; he was sometimes glad to write at my dictation.

THE WAR NEWS at this time was decidedly more cheering than it had been at Fairbourne. On 15th November, 1942, the church bells were rung because of our victory in Egypt. I believe the bells had been silent throughout the war, they were to have been pealed as a warning of German invasion.

I must mention the great kindness of Mrs. Vaughan Jones, a doctor. She was living temporarily at Burnsall. She attended our boys at Hartlington Hall and at Buckden without charging any fees; she said she regarded it as her war work. (She is a Scot; so that disproves a popular conception about Scots!) She was exceedingly considerate and attentive, never minding how often we sent for her. As a doctor she is cheering and charming. As I was not in residence, I had a feeling that I was not really entitled to trouble her always, and I consulted a Skipton doctor. I found him very expensive.

Mrs. Eastwood’s goodness of heart I shall not forget. Her cottage was an ‘open door’ for me. She and her small daughter (the latter came to school) were voluntary evacuees; Mr. Eastwood often came for week-ends. He used occasionally to take Soccer on Saturday afternoons, thus relieving me. This was after I had engineered the use of a field (at 2s. 6d. a week) belonging to Mr. Horner. The field was rather like a golf course—full of bunkers! Unfortunately it was at the other side of the river about a mile from the school. It was a hard task to get the boys back at a jog trot, driving them before one; this had to be done to avoid their catching cold.

SO FAR I have not described the school. Many people know Buckden House; in there we ate, slept, had prayers, played and did our evening prep. We had lessons in the Studio, so called because it had been used as such by Miss Stansfield. There were three form rooms, two big, and one very small. Here let me pay a tribute to Mr. Harvey’s discipline. He had the small room. He could go out of the building, and there was never a sound from his form, they worked as if he were there. Very few schoolmasters can achieve such behaviour from their pupils.

Heating! It was often very cold and draughty in the Studio. We had a paraffin stove (two stoves if we could get them) in each form-room. The cleaning, filling and carrying of the stoves devolved on the staff. It was not an easy job, and quite impossible when one stove had been filled with disinfectant instead of paraffin! We had central heating in the house but it was not adequate in the hall which had a large fireplace.

The Headmaster gave orders that the fire had to be lit daily in the cold weather. Apparently we were short of coal and coke, so this fire had to be made of logs, generally damp. We had no bellows, so the boys and I used to take it in turns to kneel down to blow. We spent much time and energy in collecting and sawing wood, and we collected a goodly pile. I nearly cried when the gardener used our whole collection, by mistake, on the central heating stove. My last job, after a day of duty, was to clean the fireplace and move all the ashes to a dust bin (outside in the pitch dark).

WE EX-FAIRBOURNE people missed very much the sea bathing. We did have occasional bathes in the river but it was not often warm enough. Our walks to and from the river were marred by ‘clegs’. How they bit! Once I was talking about the school and about ‘clegs’ to Mrs. Mitton, when she said: “They leave on the 16th.” (July.) I thought she was referring to the boys, as that was the date of our breaking up. No, she meant the ‘clegs’ which would clear off after the grass had been cut on the 15th!

We were all delighted with quantity and variety of most beautiful wild flowers. In the woods there were snowdrops; later masses of primroses, bluebells and water avens. In the Grass Woods near Grassington there were quantities of lilies of the valley. I was told that they used to grow at the foot of the Raikes but the roots were removed by vandals. Then there were mealy primrose, butterwort, sundew and grass of Parnassus in the fields beyond Hubberholme. I ran a Botany competition; the prize for the largest collection was won by a girl! One Christmas, most of the boys took home large bunches of holly—not easy or safe to manipulate in a crowded bus!

WE STILL HAD the tearful partings from parents at the beginning of every term. One boy, David S—— had a red and swollen face, with so much crying on the platform at Leeds. It seemed to be something of a ritual between the boy and his mother. I saw David’s first postcard to his mother after one of these partings. The chief news was “Stopped crying Skipton”!

We always enjoyed the visits of parents to Buckden, and they were very good to the staff. We used to give concerts and run parties for them. Two of the star turns were Billy Hellewell and John Bradley. The latter made a very good ventriloquist’s doll; at a performance in Buckden schoolroom, when we were raising money for some fund, his tongue ran away with him and he said one quite shocking thing, which nevertheless amused the audience.

Mrs. Schofield, whose house adjoined the schoolroom, had made lots of buns and tarts which were on sale afterwards to augment the fund. On another occasion she organised a successful treasure hunt in her garden and the adjacent Raikes. The boys loved this, they were very fond of Mrs. Schofield who was always very hospitable to them. She was also most good-natured to me, she even used to come and play the piano for me when I took singing. It is a great advantage to be able to face one’s pupils, specially if they are boys. When one had to face the piano the boys had great scope behind one’s back!

WE HAD TWO big efforts to raise funds for soldiers or airmen; the boys and I had a line of ‘pennies’, but, owing to folks’ generosity, there were just as many of the larger coins as there were pennies. One lady promised a penny for every ‘ship’s’ halfpenny we could collect. The boys saw to it that this promise cost her a good deal. We raised over £9. The village ran an auction sale in the evening; the boys had disgustedly gone to bed, but one boy sent a banana—very rare in those days; his brother in the R.A.F. had brought him some bananas. The banana was raffled and raised £1.

Women’s Institute meetings took place once a month in the Township Hall. When there was a suitable lecture the boys were invited. I remember a good one on gypsies by Archdeacon Ackerley. Another time we had a woman lecturing about Careless Talk. At the end, the lecturer invited questions. One of our boys shot his hand up immediately. How everyone gasped when his question came: “Please will you tell me how to do long division of money?” Poor lad—his secret trouble!

The arrival of letters and parcels was the most exciting event of the day, as it was at Fairbourne. The post used to arrive after breakfast, so there was no time for distribution before school. I generally chose to do the job after dinner, often varying my method. Sometimes I used to ‘mouth’ the name or whisper it or I used to describe the recipient. There was a self-imposed silence for this. How I wished one could always get the same close attention during lessons.

DURING MY FIRST term at Buckden, the Headmaster decreed that there should be some sort of entertainment every Saturday night. This was something of a headache for me, as I had to do the organising. I believe that during my two years at Buckden I was always ‘P.B.M.’ on Saturday. On duty days one had to be at school betimes—before breakfast, generally in time to ring the getting-up bell. Once when I was at Mrs. Tomalin’s I overslept so two boys were sent to wake me!

The orderlies had to carry food from the kitchen to the long tables. This was a pleasant job, but not so pleasant was the orderlies’ job of washing-up four times a day. This had to be strictly supervised by the master on duty, as this sort of thing obviously does not come naturally to boys. They are inclined to think that a plate looks clean, and put it away after a glance instead of a wash.

They would hide scraps of food in a handy place; so, after the washing-up, very strict scrutiny was necessary, while the poor orderlies stood to attention until their work was ‘passed’. The sweeping and cleaning of the dining-room were inspected, and after breakfast one had to dash upstairs to inspect all dormitories and beds. Boys are easily satisfied with the making of a bed, they did not appreciate prying female eyes. It was quite a big strain to get all this done and ring the bell punctually for school. My friends will, I think, know that I dislike unpunctuality.

There was one lesson every afternoon except Saturday, and there was a short walk or a game before tea. The hall was used for reading and quiet games. The ‘play room’ was upstairs, this was used for more vigorous activities. The room had an open fire-place: when the fire was lit I hardly knew a moment’s peace. Boys have been known to play with fire! Unfortunately one cannot supervise in more than one place at a time.

SATURDAY WAS a specially heavy day for duty, as all the form-rooms had to be swept by the boys. One had to watch and often help through clouds of dust. As soon as that was done, there was a rush to get the weekly laundry prepared at the House, and brought downstairs before dinner. Saturday was a favourite day for visits from parents; it was difficult to attend to them and the laundry.

Quite often all the teaching fell on me, owing to illness or upset domestic arrangements, while Mr. Harvey and Mr. Cooper did a wonderful job in the kitchen. It is not easy to teach three different forms in as many rooms. I was most grateful to Mr. Menzies for his timely help; he came to take Divinity several times, once he sent his youngest daughter on Sunday afternoon to relieve me. She took the boys for a walk. I was rather nervous about this, but she reported that they had behaved well.

At the end of one Saturday morning I found J. H—— in tears in my form-room. He had had news by post of the death of a friend, an old man. It was J’s first loss by death and he was very sad and upset. We had a long walk together, I did my feeble best to comfort him.

THE ROSE GARDEN, numerous beds with very low hedges, must have been a wonderful sight at its best. I tried to keep it weeded, sometimes with the help of the boys. Some were voluntary helpers, some did the job as ‘fatigue’. The work went better after I had invented a game. The weeds were all Germans; the rank varied according to the size of the weed, from Generals Sycamore and Ash to Private Groundsel! I wonder if that rosebed is in existence now.

In September 1943, there was a case of scarlet fever at school. I took the boys home to Leeds and I taught for a week in the middle school, taking the place of a master who was away. That was a rest!

When I arrived back at Buckden I developed shingles in an arm, and I was told by the doctor to keep away from the children as they might catch chicken pox from my shingles. Another rest, but I did not feel well enough to enjoy it.

Unfortunately there were more cases of scarlet fever, and several were taken to hospital at Skipton. I spent some time writing letters and sending what I thought were amusing rhymes to the victims. The rest of the boarders were sent home again; I was given the task of teaching the day pupils in the Township Hall. I had to get books from school and have them all stoved before use. Before we re-opened at Buckden House, I helped to get it ready for the return of the boys. In my diary I have a record of an ‘endless washing-up’! What a sorting of books there was; to get them all back in their right form-rooms and arranged in piles for the owners. Obviously they could not be kept in any order when they were stoved.

ON 23RD NOVEMBER, a Lancaster bomber crashed near Whernside, and all the crew were killed. We heard the crash. In December there was another bit of bad news: the Prime Minister had developed pneumonia when in the Middle East.

Neither of our winters at Buckden was a very severe one. The boys got very little in the way of winter sports, they longed for a typical winter—which is by no means appreciated by the residents!

In the Spring of 1944 we had the usual outbreak of influenza; Miss Veevers went down with it, so someone had to do her surgery and attend to the sick boys.

On 26th February, many parents came for the half-term. We had a big party that night in the Township Hall, with games and scenes from Tylls Merry Pranks, which I had rehearsed at every opportunity.

ONE NIGHT two boys, whose spirit of adventure was rather marked, ran away, climbing through the bathroom window. They got as far as Kettlewell, saw a policeman and turned back. They came in by the same way as they had gone out. In the morning Matron wondered why the bathroom window was so wide open. These two boys had tried to get others to join them but had failed. I believe they managed to collect a good supply of ‘tuck’ to sustain them. The Headmaster paid a visit soon afterwards, interviewing both boys.

LIFE AT BUCKDEN was very strenuous and it left its mark on me. During 1944 I had a tired heart, high blood pressure and some sort of digestive trouble. I had to see a specialist, and in May I spent ten days in the Brotherton Wing of Leeds General Infirmary, having unpleasant treatment. I was discharged without any serious trouble having been spotted, and was made to follow a strict diet. While I was there, the landings on the Normandy beaches took place, there was great excitement, even at Leeds General Infirmary. A Grammar School boy was very ill in a room near me; I used to visit him. The poor boy died soon after I left.

Throughout that term we heard sad news of the loss of many of our bombers and of the deaths in battle of Old Leodiensians.

One event, cheering to me, was the visit from an Old Leodiensian—R. P. D—— and his wife. They stayed at the ‘Buck’, and invited me to dinner and tea there. They are a charming couple.

We had no Whitsuntide holiday, though each of the staff had a short break. The boys tried all sorts of pranks; some new, some old. Once, as a punishment, I kept them all in the garden during the afternoon; gave them Physical Training, organized running and a tug of war. The verdict was that it had been as good as a free afternoon, so my punishment did not have much effect.

ON 3RD JULY, 1944, we heard rumours that Buckden House was to be closed at the end of July. On the 18th we had confirmation of this from a parent of one of the day pupils. The next day the Headmaster gave us orders about closing. He helped me by taking back to his house a parcel of some of my heavy things. The boys were due home on the 21st, so it was quite impossible to do all the packing and clearing up before then. I spent the last few days of my holiday at my digs. A very helpful neighbour, who had business in those parts, brought home my parcels in his car. What an unpacking there was. Some of the staff, and I believe, Sgt. Young, went to Buckden House during the holidays and did the clearing there.

I was very sorry to leave behind friends I had made. I spent week-ends with the Grays before they returned to their home in London. I have stayed at the ‘Buck’; and also I have stayed with friends, the Menzies’ successors at the vicarage; I have stayed there several times. I love the district and am always glad to revive happy memories. So, back to Leeds, before the war was over; after the travels and trials and a good deal of fun of nearly five years of evacuation.


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