Thank You For The Memories
by David Walker
The first was Geoff Crambie’s, Failure to Freeman. Like Geoff, I too failed my scholarship and again like Geoff, went to Primet, albeit four years earlier in 1947. What first struck about Geoff ‘s article was that the barbaric initiation ceremony, sticking needles (benching) in newbies (boys only) backsides had returned with a vengeance. Unlike Geoff, I survived my first day without my posterior being punctured, but a couple of days later another newbie had to be rushed to hospital with blood poisoning. I am pleased to report that he recovered, but his parents caused such a fuss that this horrible and dangerous practice was severely clamped down on.
Going from the close confines of Lord Street School with its classrooms set around a central hall, Primet with its (reputed) eighth of mile long main corridor, two quadrangles, wings, and second story central section seemed huge and my initial fear was that I might get lost. (By the way, pictures on Google Earth show that its footprint is even bigger today.)
After assembly on the first morning, we newbies, nerves as taut as piano wires as we wondered what was coming next, were lined up in the hall. Eventually a teacher walked down the line. As he tapped each one of us on the shoulder, he muttered, either Malham, Haworth, Townley, or Whalley. We were then told to remember the name we had been given, mine was Townley, as this was the house we were assigned to. Next, we were put into our respective year groups, which if I remember correctly, were 1A, 1B and 1R, and then marched off to the classrooms.
The Headmaster was Mr Bowker, and the teachers were, Mr. McGinn (History). Mr. Richardson? Miss Ashton, Art. Mr. Peel, Geography. Mr. Dowson, Science/Surveying and Mensuration. Miss Edmondson, Maths. Mr Bannister, English. Mr. Brindle, Biology. Miss Martindale, Domestic Science. Mr. Proctor, PT. Mr. Sharples, Woodwork, and Miss Blezzard.
There were two teachers you had to keep on the right side of. The first was Mr Sharples who was quick to use his strap should you misbehave, the second was Miss Blezzard. It was particularly difficult with the latter because she had a very short fuse. It was not unknown for her to hurl your exercise book across the classroom, but her usual punishment was to deprive you of your playtimes by keeping you in to write lines. So that she could monitor the situation, your name and the number of lines given would be added to an already lengthy list on the blackboard immediately behind her chair. Each day, after she had scrupulously checked the number of lines you were were claiming to have written was correct, (and you had not rigged up a multi pen speed writing gizmo) you deducted the amount from the figure on the board.
I once made the mistake of thinking I could beat the system by chalking in a lower number. When I entered her classroom the following playtime, all she did was turn to the blackboard and point at my name. To my dismay, the number of lines I still had to write had increased fourfold!
I have no regrets about not passing the scholarship. The reading, riting and rithmatic skills patiently drummed into me by the teachers stood me in good stead for the rest of my life and in hindsight I am sure that I would have struggled at the Grammar School particularity with subjects like Latin.
As to rising Phoenix like from the ashes of failure like Geoff, unless you count being made Captain of Townley house and winning a Marksman badge while in the Army, then I have no claim to fame.
Which leads me nicely to the second article, The Forgotten Killer of Fulwood Barracks.
Two days after my 18th birthday, I received a letter summoning me to attend a government facility at Penwortham where for three hours I suffered the indignities of a medical to see if I was fit enough to serve Queen and Country. All the boxes must have been ticked, (either that or they were desperate) and in October, another letter arrived instructing me, under a threat of prosecution if I failed to comply, to report to Fulwood Barracks in Preston.
I had only ever passed through Preston station on my way to family holidays in Blackpool so I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to have a look around the town and have a bite to eat before I presented myself at the barracks. The Army however, had other ideas. It may have changed, but then Preston station had two platforms, one for westbound trains, the other for eastbound. To reach the main concourse from the westbound side a bridge spanned the rail lines and this is where my plans went astray. Standing at the foot of the steps on the eastbound side were two uniformed figures. As I neared them the taller of the two blocked my path. Two beady eyes ranged over me and my suitcase. “Fulwood?” he snapped. I nodded. “Get in the truck at the entrance and wait.” “ B-b-but,” I stammered, “I thought before I went to the barracks, I would have a look round the town first.” “Thought you would have a look round town did you eh?” he sneered. “Well let me tell you son, you’re not on your daddy’s yacht now, you are in the Army and for the next two years we’ll be doing your thinking for you!”
My home for the next 12 weeks was opened in 1842 and was the last and largest of a chain of barracks built in the North West in the wake of the Chartist riots of the 1830s. The only concession it had made to the 20th century was installing electric lighting. Barrack rooms still had open fires and the washrooms and latrines were in a separate building a few yards from the barrack block.
At first Army life took a bit of getting used to but once you settled into the routine, the weeks flew by and before we knew it we were preparing for our passing out parade.
Although it was well past midnight, the barrack room was still buzzing with activity as uniforms were pressed, webbing blancoed, brasses burnished, and boot toecaps polished (bulled) to a mirror finish. Suddenly the door burst open and an ashen face Lance Corporal rushed in. Recognising him as one the cooks. I shouted, “Wrong block Corporal. Try next door.” “I know, I know, but I’ve just seen a ghost.” he blurted. “I were outside having a fag when I saw this figure coming towards me. At first I thought it were Duty Officer on his rounds, but when it got nearer, I could see it were like floating just above the ground. Then it disappeared. Scared the ****** pants off me.” Despite being told that all he had seen was probably someone dashing to the loo,” he remained unconvinced and left vehemently insisting that he had a seen a phantom figure.
The passing out parade, and a couple of weeks furlough before leaving Fulwood to join the regiment in Germany made the incident fade into obscurity… that is until I opened my copy of Northern Life.