2. My Very Early Days
As Groucho Marx once said “I must confess, I was born at a very early age”
And as this statement also applies to me: I remember very little of my early childhood days; so I can only really recall what actually sticks in my mind.
Born in November 1936 I first went to Middleton, Leeds infant school round about the same time as World War 2 had been declared. My Dad worked at the Yorkshire Copper Works munitions factory and Mum as a seamstress in a tailoring factory, they both started work very early of a morning. I remember also going to school an hour earlier than normal and having my breakfast and dinner there. It was years into my adult life before I realised that dinner is classed as the evening meal and Lunch is the meal taken around mid day.
Once a week, the whole class would parade outside the headmaster’s office and each pupil would be given a spoon-full of malt treacle. Nowadays Treacle is usually sweet, this dollop was far from sweet and we all hated it. Although it would have been pointless to complain for a clip round the ear, or slipper to the seat of ones behind, would have been the result. In those days an order, from a person in charge, had to be obeyed. God forbid if I had complained to my parents about a teacher or even a policeman’s assault of my person, I would only have expected either parent to say “You must have deserved it” So complaining was always a pointless exercise
I had a very happy childhood and I gratefully thank my parents and my grandparents for this.
Mother Anne and Father John, although not rich, were both hard workers and provided me with everything I wanted or needed. I wasn’t spoilt but I wanted for nothing.
My brother Jim was born six years after me and Sister Linda, 10 years.
My maternal grandmother, Lily Howcroft, was like a second mother to me, and as each of my siblings were born, she to them. During the war years my mother worked full time and my Nan looked after me. Taking me to early school and picking me up in the afternoon.
The only thing I remember of my infant school days was my first playground fight it remains uppermost in my memory. Really it was to sort out the pecking order amongst the bigger boys of the class, although of course at that age I knew not what ‘pecking order’ was all about. I was challenged by Brian H. with the words, “Cock or Hen?”
Most boys would reply “Hen” signifying acceptance of the challenger’s fighting ability and would then be left alone. To reply “cock” denoted that you accepted the challenge and a fight would ensue to secure your place within the pecking order.
I don’t remember what my reply was but certainly it would not have been “Cock” for I was completely afraid of the challenger and so must have replied something unconfirmative (Is unconfirmative a word?) like, “I’m no hen”; but by the same line of reasoning I didn’t feel like a cock neither”
Further challenges were uttered but I could not back down and so a fight ensued.
Usually these playground fights consist of shouldering or pushing ones opponent; much like stags do showing strength but because I felt that I was fighting for survival, I must have struck out and a proper fist fight commenced.
The upshot of the battle was neither a win, draw or lose, for me but I must have given a decent account of myself because from that point onwards I had no more challenges from him, or anyone else for that matter. I never had to fight anyone again until my senior school days
Although during the whole of my education from infants to junior to senior schools I was always in the A Classes I was never academically minded. The annual school exams always confirmed that I was neither brainy nor was I a dunce. Of forty or so pupils in each class the best position I ever achieved was 12th and the worst was twenty third. Usually I came in about eighteen or nineteen.
I now know why I failed my Eleven plus exam it was though rushing. All my life I have always had the urge to get any job or task done as quickly as possible and then idly rest after. I reckoned that this attitude was just my lack of patience. In those days there were no lessons in preparing for forthcoming exams. No exam technique or the like, one just sat down and got on with it.
The eleven plus exam would decide whether I was to be educated at a grammar or a secondary school.
I turned my exam paper over as instructed and my first impressions were how easy the questions were. Unbeknown to me they were, to start with; but they became harder as one progressed through the paper. As usual I was the first one to finish and for the next 20 minutes or so I just idly sat there until time was up, in my certain knowledge that I had passed with flying colours. My parents had promised me a new bike if I passed the exam and I just sat there dreaming what colour bike I was going to chose
I now realise how wrong I was, I should have used the time to check all of my answers for even a few corrections may have made all the difference. The bike I did not get until very much later.
My progression through infants and junior schools to the seniors must have been very uneventful as nothing comes to mind until entering senior school at the age of 11
Senior School held pupils for the 4 years between the ages of 11 to 15
The pupils in each year were streamed and had 3 classes A, B, & C. Each class was of around 40 pupils
All pupils on entrance to the senior school were designated a house partition. The names of the houses were McCauley (Red), Cook (Blue), Priestly (Yellow) & Turner (Green).
I was assigned to Mr Westgarths class of 1A class and the Turner House.
My first impressions was how big all the other boys of the upper classes were; not necessary in my class because I was slightly above the average size but certainly all the boys, who were a year or more older, were.
At that time I had a friend called Clive, he and I had a hobby of collecting steam train numbers and often spent our dinner, sorry lunch, hour down by the train line about a mile away from the school, noting down train numbers and underling them in the reference books we had. During morning and afternoon breaks we ran around the outside of the playground pretending to be trains, puffing air out of our mouths making engine noises and revolving our arms pretending they were steam pistons.
About four weeks into my first term in senior school and older boy, bluntly said, “What are you doing”?
I replied quite proudly “I’m Mallard pulling out of Leeds Central Station.” Mallard was the famous blue streamline locomotive that had set the world speed record for a steam train.
He sneered and said” You're in the senior’s now, only kids and infants play trains” and with that he walked away in contempt.
I remember this incident vividly because to me he sounded so profound. I realised that I was now grown up and I wasn’t a young child anymore.
From that point on I never had the inclination to pretend to be a train nor did I ever collect another train number, although even now I often reminisce in the steam era.
I now realise how harsh the winter of 1947 was and how obtaining coal was in great demand. The open coal fire was the main source of heat for our house. Dad, being a good worker, could afford to pay for coal but the supply was the problem. He decided that the family, mam, dad, younger brother Jim (sister Linda hadn't been born yet) and myself, would begin living in the main bedroom with the gas fire constantly on. Those few weeks remains uppermost in my memory; it was a great few period. The whole family in one cosy, warm room. Whilst the snow rose higher outside, we played cards, board games and listened to the radio. I was quite disappointed when the bad weather dissipated and we moved back into the house as normal. That year dad decided that he wouldn't put his family through such cold again and decided to get a job at the local coal mine, Middleton Broom Colliery. Which he did. A concessionary coal allowance being the spur. When he was a younger person he had worked at various pits so he knew what he was doing. I have got to put on record that at no time did I ever feel cold that, or any other winter.
Back to school; throughout the year a pupil, if he did well may receive ‘points’ or ‘marks’ from a teacher or have points deducted for minor bad behaviour. (The cane was always given for bad behaviour) All points were added up at the end of the year and a half day holiday was granted to the winning house. Most pupils took points scoring very seriously.
Being an all boy’s school all the masters were male. Most of them commanded respect and if they didn’t it get from a pupil, would not hesitate to use the cane to get that respect. A small number of the masters who caned indiscriminately got respect but it was for the cane and not the man.
Most adults remember a particular teacher for whatever reason which tends to prove how important they are in ones upbringing.
Which brings me round to the master I have uppermost in my mind, Mr Wiggins.
I thought I was his favourite and he always seemed to spend more time teaching me rather that the other members of our class.
I now know that was not true, for most of the other pupils probably would have said the same thing that they were his favourite. That was the mettle of the man, all and every pupil was as equally important to him and he made it show.
It was only very much later in life that I found out that he had died in Morley near Leeds. Had I known at the time I most certainly would have attended his funeral to pay my respects to his family and to relate to them how much of a positive influence he made to my life.
For most of my first year nothing to note happened I must have just kept my head down below the parapet and not got shot at. Shot at proverbially I mean
During the year inter house competitions were held. Athletics in summer, boxing in winter, swimming in spring and Rugby in autumn
It was a few weeks before School sports day and the class was in training for the athletic events.
I was no good at running but managed to be chosen for the high jump.
I managed to come first in the inter school house competition that then qualified me to enter the Leeds Schools Children’s Day Championships at Roundhay Park.
I managed a third place there which gave me such a buzz; yeah! only third place but it also meant, to me, that there was only two other boys in my age group in the whole of Leeds that cold jump higher.
In those days during the austerity of the post war years we only received a paper certificate, which I still have, but if they’d have given me a gold watch I wouldn’t have been any prouder.
Each subject taught was usually a by individual teacher. As each lesson finished the whole class would decamp to another teacher and classroom.
One particular lesson the classroom overlooked the playing field and a rugby match was in progress and I was sat near the large French windows.
The teacher gave us some written work to do and then announced that he had to leave the room for a few minutes.
As soon as he left the whole class looked over to the windows and the rugby match.
“Get your fat head out of the way Galey! I can’t see the game.” Hollered George C.
I pretended not to hear him for George was one of the ‘names’ of the class and I had always tried to keep my head down and not be noticed.
“Did you hear what I said Galey” This time he shouted louder making sure the whole of the class heard. It was a direct confrontation, he was high in the pecking order of the class and I wasn’t even placed.
“I’m trying to watch the match as well.” I weakly replied.
If you don’t move I’ll get you at dinnertime.” It was a direct challenge now.
“Suit yourself” I replied, I was quite literally shaking in my boots. I am tempted to report that I was shitting myself but as I’ve promised myself whilst writing my story that I will refrain from expletives I won’t say that, but I most certainly was. George was an inch or so shorter than myself but wider in the shoulders and heavier.
“Right dinnertime it is”
I was praying that George would forget his challenge but inwardly knew that the rest of the class wouldn’t.
Dinnertime came for me sooner than normal and as we trooped out of school someone suggested that the fight should be held on the spare piece of land behind the local Tivoli picture house, well out of school bounds. This meant to me that a teacher would not be on hand to break it up.
I would be exaggerating if I said there were hundreds forming a large ring around George and me but it did seem to me that the whole school was in attendance, waiting to see George giving me a good hiding.
The fight started by George rushing across the circle in my direction with all arms flailing. I moved to one side and stuck him about the head with a left clenched fist. It was so easy I was very surprised how easy it was. George was as surprised as I for he immediately turned around a made another rush at me. Again his arms were punching where he thought I would be, rather than where I was, he wasn’t looking at where he was aiming for.
We fought this way for some time and I’m glad to say I kept out of harms way. George realised that he was taking far more punches than he was giving and accepted defeat and I gladly accepted the end of the fight. We shook hands, as one did in those times and a mutual respect was established.
I know now, which I didn’t then of course, that George wasn’t a boxer, he was a fighter. Fighters are usually willing to accept more punches from their opponent as long as a few of theirs land on the mark. Usually a fighter’s punches, when they land, are heavier and very effective.
A boxer will use his feet to get in and out of punching range, picking off his opponent as circumstances permit. He usually will not willingly trade punches blow for blow.
Advice, which I received later, was that a boxer who feels he is losing a fight against a better boxer should resort to fighting him. And vice versa
I was naturally a boxer
From that point on I became a respected member of the class and my pecking order was raised.
The second year started uneventfully and in November the whole school began preparation for the coming inter house boxing tournament.
During Physical Training sessions the PT master would arrange PT benches in a square and give general instructions of how to box. He then paired up pupils of around the same height and weight, and set them boxing. The ones he thought had potential he recorded their weights and slowly the four inter house boxing teams were formed.
I was chosen to box at my weight for my team Turner.
My father in his youth had had a number of professional fights and boxed under the pseudonym ‘Sandy Gale’. He was never nationally famous but quite well known around Yorkshire
When I got home and told my father that I was to box proper he showed me some basic stances and moves and the many types of punches, especially the straight left which if delivered correctly can have a demoralising effect on an opponent. I found that type of punch was quite natural for me to deliver. He also showed me how to manoeuvre the inside padding from the front of a boxing glove to the side so that less padding is in the front knuckle part of the glove. When punching an opponent he would feel more knuckle than padding and strictly illegal of course. One cannot do that with 'modern' gloves but in those day glove were not very well made.
The inter-house boxing tournament was held in the afternoon
The boxers were not informed who their opponents were until actually entering the ring it was then that I found out I was matched against George (another George) H
George H had a Leeds coat of arms cloth Badge sewn onto his boxing shorts. This denoted that he was the reigning Leeds Schoolboy Champion so I was obvious underdog.
The fight started somewhat slowly as we both circled the ring, George began a two handed attack and I counterpunched with a straight left which luckily connected.
Much of the fight went that way and although I was very happy when the final bell sounded after three rounds I felt elated and, I hoped, given out as many punches as much as I took.
The three Leeds Schools ABA judges adjudged me the winner. Me! I had beaten a Leeds champion.
From that point on my pecking order within the school soared. Older ‘names’ now accepted me and I was cock a hoop.
That year, after fighting through four heats I won the Leeds Schoolboy championship at my weight. I further went on to win this championship at my weight a further two times making it three in all.
When I won on the last occasion, and being fifteen years old I was eligible to box for the Yorkshire championship.
Again I had to box four preliminary bouts before the final.
The Final was held in Doncaster and my opponent was a lad called B.Woodcock.
(One of the reasons I remember the lads name is that there was a Bruce Woodcock who was a British professional heavyweight boxer whose career began just after the war 1946 and was came to an end in 1950 of course this is not the same person)
At the weigh in the afternoon I weighed in at 2 and a half pounds over the weight limit which was 8stone 4pounds.
I had around 3 hours to get the weight off or I had to sacrifice the fight,
My father who always attended my fights asked if there was a boiler room or some such within the building. We were directed to an adjacent annex. My father then found some clothing from goodness knows where and I was overdressed He then instructed me to begin skipping and running round the room. I was sweating almost to near exhaustion. These exercises carried on for an hour or so. I was not allowed any drink during the session. Just a few minutes before the last weigh in time he instructed me to go to the lavatory and force myself to expel any urine and other. Just before standing on the scales before the last time He told me to take off all clothing except for my jock strap and my boxing trunks.
I must have been exactly on weight limits for the officials began having a slight disagreement whether my weight was acceptable. The scales were very accurate designed and fit for purpose.
My father offered to have me remove my trunks and jock strap which he reasoned would take me an ounce or so below the limit. It may have made a difference for the officials agreed that I could fight.
We retired to the dressing rooms and from goodness knows where my father produced a gi-normous bar of chocolate and a bottle of milk to drink. I was instructed to tuck in. He reasoned that the energy I had spent during the weight loss training had to be replaced. Normally I loved chocolate but having to eat it took away the pleasant taste.
The upshot was that I lost the fight on points by majority decision meaning that one of the three judges deemed me the winner. It was the first time that I had lost a boxing contest. I was devastated and even now writing this I think if only all things being equal I would have loved to fight the fight again.
The Leeds City School Swimming Organisation’s Gala was forthcoming. Our PT teacher let it be known that anyone interested in trials to put their name forward.
He timed all the interested trialist’s over 25 yards. Although I had no swimming technique I gave of my all and was accepted into further training.
The upshot of it all was that I became the Leeds city free-stroke champion over 25 yards. My prize was free admission for a year at the union Street baths and personal tuition from a dedicated swim trainer. He refined my freestyle stroke which made me much faster and so for the following two years I won and so became three times Leeds City champion.
I was also a member of the school Cricket team and Ruby League Team, although not really excelling in either sport.
In the first week of my fourth and final year at school the headmaster announced during assembly that elections were to be held to elect eight prefects. The old prefects had now left school.
All pupils of the school were given a small piece of paper that had twelve names that the masters had originally chosen. The pupils were instructed to put a tick against eight of the names.
I was later informed by the headmaster that I had been one of the eight to be elected and because I received the most votes I would be made the head boy.
This became and still is the proudest moment of my life.
My last day at school became very emotional for me. I remember walking home from school knowing that was my last day; and from then on my life was to change very dramatically. I had been a very big fish in a small pond and now I was but a tiny tiddler in a very large pond.
My mother had arranged a job with my uncle. He was a tiled fireplace fitter. in those days most homes had a cast iron range, usually a 'Yorkshire range', fitted in the main room of the house. When house were first designed most did not have a separate cooking oven so cooking was done on the Range. As hoses were fitted with a gas oven then the ranges became obsolete. The style at this time was to remove the iron range and replace it with a Tiled open fire place.
I began work the following Monday.
By Tuesday I hated it. It was the most dirtiest place imaginable to work in. Taking the old ranges out uncovered many years of soot that always seemed to settle onr me and my lungs. The soot engrained itself into the very pores of ones skin and took hours of washing to get oneself clean.
I worked for Uncle John W. for almost 6 months and although the work for him was rewarding and satisfying, for me it was exactly the opposite. Is this all I have to look forward to?
The only memorable thing I can recall is: John was removing a back boiler fitting and I was stood there watching him. He looked at me and said. "What am I going to do next?"
I replied. "You are going to unscrew the boiler nuts".
"What am I going to unscrew them with?" he said.
"With a spanner of course."
"Where's the spanner then?" he retorted
"In the toolbox" I knowingly said
"It shouldn't be in the toolbox! it should be in your hand, ready to hand it to me. Now use your head and start to think ahead!"
I didn't like it at the time, but this taught me one of the great lesson of life and I thank John for it.
My father said to me, " If tha wants, I'll get thee a job down't pit" And I seriously began to think about it!!!!!
During my teen years there was a youth club held within the school rooms. Many different activities were held, weight training, sports, dancing, music, boxing, drama and many more. Most of the youth of Middleton attended the youth club and most teenagers attended it responsibly. In fact I met my future wife, Brenda there.
One evening the youth club head asked me if I wanted to consider myself to attend the Outward Bound School in the Lake District. Leeds city council were sponsoring four places. He explained that it was a character building course that was full time for 26 days. I agreed to him putting my name forward for interview. After attending interview later I was awarded a place. Little did I realise what was in store for me.
The Outward Bound Mountain School set in the Eskdale area of the Lake district was miles away from any other habitation. The main house, or should I say 'the mansion' was set on a slight hill overlooking a lake. Well they called it a 'tarn', which was a new word for me. We were soon to learn that at 'reveille' again a new word to me, we were required to run around the tarn then jump into the water, which involved total submersion, before being dismissed to get dressed ready for breakfast. This was in November, so believe me the water was very cold, sometimes jumping in meant breaking the surface ice. I soon leaned to dread the sound of the bugle call to get out of bed and do the run., although I've got to admit that after the dip I felt much better for it. On the first day we were divided up into troops of eight, although in ours there was nine. In our troop there was a student from the RAF one from the Army and one from the Navy. They were regular boy servicemen and when they became Eighteen they would attend their officer training colleges to become regular officers. There was also one who had been sent by the company, whom he worked for, in preparation for high office. And one who had attended a public school and had very rich parents. I seemed to be the only one who was 'normal', well what I considered normal.
The principle of the school was Sir John Hunt, although he hadn't been knighted at the time, becoming a 'Sir' after being the head of the expedition that first climbed Everest. in 1953 During the day we attended lessons in, Fell Walking. Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Orienteering, Map Reading, Self Awareness and many other akin subjects. After the first week we were supposedly adequately trained for a 2 day expedition. We were given a simple map reference and after reaching it would find a 'clue' to a further map reference. At the end of the first day we would erect bivouacs in which to spend the night before setting out again early the next morning. These expeditions gradually became longer and the clues harder to find as the course wore on.
When my mind was occupied in lectures or on expeditions, I enjoyed myself but in 'free time' I was very homesick. It really was the first time away from home for any period of time, although I would never have admitted homesickness to anyone, for I considered it a weakness but I was; added to this fact was that I was missing my girlfriend Brenda. The upshot of it all was that I completed and passed the course and was glad to get home to 'normal' life.