After six years of fierce fighting, the Second World War ended with the official Victory in Europe (VE Day) on May 8th 1945. This war involved the vast majority of the world’s nations and resulted in between 50 million and 75 million fatalities. Old Danes and former masters were among those who gave their lives for their country. In February 1952 the country mourned the death of King George VI. Just over a year later and it was time for celebration with the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953 which St Clement Danes School boys were able to watch from the Embankment in London.
Ian Williams (Burleigh 1946-51), John Cox (Dane, 1948-53), William Luckett (Dane 1949-54), Bill Braidman (Lincoln 1949-54), Geoff Skinner (Lincoln 1949-56), Peter Boon (Clement 1942-48), David Beaton (Temple 1950-57) and Les Deacon (Clement 1943-48) tell us of their schooltime memories.
Mr Cox recalls: “The first classroom I was in had been badly damaged by bombs. The wooden partition was the only protection from the elements because the classroom on the other side was almost non-existent.”
Mr Williams adds: “There were no changing rooms or showers available for gym periods so changing took place on a staircase. I vividly remember the opening of the rebuilt section in 1949 and experiencing the luxury of a hot shower for the very first time.”
The school had a small intake of scholarship boys – some of whom travelled for an hour by bus and train to get to and from school. Smog was a huge problem in London and students and masters would sometimes struggle to see a few feet in front of them during their journey to and from school.
The school day was hectic and ran from 8.50am until 3.30pm with all students receiving a free hot dinner at noon. Thirty or 40 minute lessons were taught in English, Maths, History, Geography, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Latin, Art, Physical Training, Religious Instruction, Woodwork and French or German.
Technology was basic - this was the blackboard and chalk era.
Break time was spent in 'The Cage'
Break time was spent in ‘The Cage’, a dusty or muddy area enclosed by a high wire mesh fence.
Sport was important to the school. St Clement Danes was the best school in the country at both football and cricket. Former student Hugh Lindsay even became a soccer Olympian. The cricket record was even more impressive and it took years before the school lost a match!
Students also did boxing, swimming, athletics, gymnastics, fencing, cross-country running and table tennis. Tennis was frowned upon because it was said to spoil the stroke when playing cricket!
The quality of teaching varied and there was only one female teacher in 1949. Punishment included half-hour detentions (Saturday detention was taken by the caretaker) and lines, a clip around the ear, a smack with a slipper, chalk thrown at you, and a head master’s caning.
Mr Skinner recalls: “I think that most Masters, if not all of them, were genuinely concerned to help us by providing us with a sound basic education and, where possible, with presenting us with new, wider, horizons. Of course they were a mixed bunch and they had mixed success. Discipline was important. A few could not keep order, and boys were quick to exploit their weaknesses. Others could quell a form with a glance. Still others never had to do that; boys simply behaved well in their presence.”
Mr Braidman adds: “Teachers were strict, but fair. One used to smoke in class. Imagine all this in today’s world!"
Mr Boon remembers: "As a grammar school we were highly selected and were well aware of the ultimate penalty - expulsion (which was just below capital punishment!!) Suspension came next for fragrant disobedience of a school rule such as visiting the driver's cafe opposite in school hours - it had a pin table so was a den of iniquity!!"
Mr Deacon recalls one Master who would throw any books he found (that were not his own) out of the first floor window!
The school was not without its odd features. For many years one of the first year forms had a special duty. Twice a day quartets of boys would go to the kitchen and collect jugs of coffee or tea and cups and saucers. They would gingerly climb an otherwise forbidden staircase to deliver their precious burden to the staff room on the upper floor of the school.
Old Danes also remember X-Day. Although the school worked a five-day week, the timetable was for six days – Monday to Friday plus X-Day. Then X-Day would replace Monday in the second week, Tuesday in the third and so on until an ordinary Monday to Friday week came round again.
Mr Skinner says: “Forget X-Day and you could find that you were unexpectedly encountering a master whose homework you had thought would not be collected for a couple of days more. X-Day might rob you of a valued double period of games, or it might impose an extra ration of some subject you did not like. It certainly kept us somewhat on our toes.”
St Clement Danes School provided a good education and developed character
The overall impression from Old Danes is that their school days not only gave them a good education but also helped to develop character.
Mr Boon recalls how advanced the school was in introducing 'streaming'. The top students would study for the elite Matric qualification in English, Maths, a foreign language and two other subjects, while the rest of the students would study for the School Certficate.
Mr Braidman explains: “The school was wonderful for developing character and values which continue to this day" and Mr Deacon says: "Although I did not appreciate it at the time, school gave me a really good all round education, some of which I can still dredge out of my subconscious mind!"
Mr Beaton says: "Many of us were proud of our school and tried to do well in inter school competitions. These included not only sport but also debating and dramatics. Without the support and encouragement of specific masters I would never have got to Cambridge and had such a successful life afterwards."
Mr Luckett adds: “My school days were very, very happy days. I was able to obtain a good job and an enthusiasm for learning more. It opened the whole world to my eyes. I am proud to have been at St Clement Danes School.”