I used to take the field days very seriously, and even wore two pairs of spectacles so that I could shoot off my blank cartridges more accurately at the ‘enemy’. One of the attractions of the first camp was a mock dogfight between two aircraft. The wings were doped with stuff that made them semi-transparent. The other demonstration that excited me was shooting off mortar shells at an ‘enemy’ trench (unmanned).
The masters were a mixed lot, but there was one man called Adams, the housemaster in the junior ‘A’ House, whom I admired enormously. He was severe, because it was the code, but he took a humane interest in his boys. Later he joined up in the army, and was killed in Flanders. He had sent back word that his books should be distributed among a few boys whom he named, of whom I was one. I have never been sadder over the death of anyone than I was about this man; he was a fine man, and in the absolute prime of life.
Marlborough, Wiltshire Map Tourist Attractions Photo Gallery
There was something mean and niggardly about our existence at Marlborough; we seemed to be mentally, morally and physically constipated. The whole emphasis was on what you must not do, and I consider that I am only now beginning to shake off the deeply-rooted inhibition which had gripped me by the time I left. One instance of the effect of this is that until recently I would shake with fear if I had to get up and speak to more than half a dozen people, because the terror of doing or saying anything which would not be approved of by a mob code was so rooted in me.
On the credit side, I did make some good friends at Marlborough. By the time I was a sixth former, and entitled to a study, three of us became almost inseparable. One was John Paterson, the son of a clergyman at East Bergholt in Essex. He was good-looking, dressed well and was good at games. The second of our triumvirate was M. E. Rowe, whom I christened ‘The Mole’, because of his sharp twitchy nose, shaggy eyebrows from under which he peered hard at you, and his untidy forelock (although perhaps that is unusual in a mole). Paterson joined the army, and was killed in Malaya in the Second World War; Rowe became a QC. Both these friends became prefects, but not me. I was regarded as too much of a rebel, I think.
Another friend I made was Fred Smyth, who came not far from my home in North Devon. Fred also was good at games. I was very fond of his mother, and used to walk over every Sunday afternoon to their place at Stoke Rivers to have tea with them. Fred’s mother made some wonderful rock cakes. The walk was 6 miles each way, but I used to look forward to it all the week. They were all ‘horsy’ people, and Fred became a first flight point-to-pointer. I used to be keen on bird-nesting. To add to my collection of birds’ eggs was the nominal motive, but I think what really attracted me was the sport of climbing difficult trees after finding one with a nest in it. I used to go out for the whole day, roaming through the woods, which grew on the slopes of our Devon valleys. I could travel all day without ever emerging for more than a few yards from woodland, and it was part of the fun never to be seen by anybody. A buzzard’s nest at the top of a tall tree, with no branches at all for the bottom twenty or thirty feet, was always a challenge. I don’t think I ever took more than one egg from a nest; it was just a trophy that I was after.
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