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Rushden Boys at Wellingborough Grammar School in the 1940s

The name Wellingborough Grammar School is in a fundamental sense a misnomer.  On the front of the school, the name was given simply as "The Grammar School". 

It and the High School were designed to be the Grammar Schools for the surrounding area; it was situated in Wellingbrough because that town had the largest population of school children. 

Rushden school boys were NOT interlopers, WGS was designed as their school just as much as it was Wellingborough's, and Rushden deserves the kudos and brickbats of WGS's achievements just as much as does Wellingborough.

Bert Catlin was of course, after being a WGS boy head of Rushden Boys Secondary Modern and Comprehensive.

Graham Tall

The school formed an ATC group probably early in my time.  Some of my age group joined and, probably sometime in my third year, I decided to join too.  It was run by Mr Nicholas who went on summer courses to train as a Flying Officer as did his second in command Pilot Officer Finlay. We were issued with uniforms and wore them to school on Wednesdays when the two periods between break and lunch were devoted to ATC work.  We always started with foot drill where Finlay instructed us in how to march and turn, to stand to attention and at ease and to salute.  After a while Flying Officer Nicholas appeared and with us smartly (as we thought) standing to attention the officers exchanged salutes and the F/o inspected us.  After that we learned the details of how to identify aircraft.  

We probably did other things on those Wednesdays but that’s what I remember.  We met again on Monday evenings to learn about navigation, which involved a lot of trigonometry, star patterns and how the compass works.  I took a pride in belonging, wore my ATC badge in my buttonhole and liked the sense of unity with my form mates.

Opportunities to fly were much appreciated and with a training airfield only a few miles away at Sywell it was easy to reach by bicycle.  They were always signalled in advance so that we could go dressed in uniform.  I flew twice.  The first time was one Wednesday morning when an Airspeed Oxford, a twin engined multi purpose plane, was delivering something to Sywell. Arrangements were made for the aircraft to remain for a while for some of us to be taken for a short flight.  We saw the plane arrive and soon were climbing in.  No seat belts, in fact no seats.  We sat on the aluminium floor and slid around a bit from time to time, got a peep out of the windows and came back feeling quite exhilarated.  Sywell airfield was used for preliminary pilot training with Tiger Moths, an elderly biplane with open cockpits one behind the other.  The training schedule sometimes allowed time for ATC flights on a Friday afternoon and with advanced notice a few of us went for our turn.  We were dressed in warm over-suits and hoods and helped one by one into the rear cockpit, strapped into the seat and had inter-com sets put over our ears so that we could listed to the pilot telling us where we were and what he was doing.  The engine revved up and away we bounced over the grass of the field — there were no runways at Sywell I believe.  Airborne and in level flight with a wonderful rush of air around my face the pilot asked if I could hear him on the intercom. Satisfied that I could he asked where I lived. ‘Rushden, sir, I replied. ‘O K’ came his friendly voice ‘we’ll go that way. It’s a bit far to fly over the town, but you’ll be able to see it’.  And we did.  Then returning to the ground I realised that my mentally stored log of time spent flying had advanced to twenty minutes. By this time I had received the little embroidered star on my arm showing that I had passed the first level of competence.  Eventually however the corps faded as an interest and in my school certificate year with exams approaching I resigned, handed in my kit and spent a bit more time on school work.  

David Bradshaw (1940 — 1945)

Father made an appointment with the Headmaster, Mr Woolley, and we went to see him in his Victorian detached villa in Wellingborough. We sat there in his front room and I was speechless. Fortunately I was not asked to say anything. The circumstances were clear enough and I was accepted as a fee paying student. The term fee turned out to be fifteen shillings. Early in 1942 fees in publicly financed Grammar Schools were abolished in anticipation of the forthcoming socialist welfare state that we were all dreaming about. Only one term’s fee was ever paid.

My best friends went with me to Wellingborough Grammar School, David Clark, Colin Craddick, Jack Hodgkins; except Jack Cook went to Wellingborough School; other kids went to the Intermediate School in Rushden which was a new prototype Comprehensive School, and was not highly regarded because the school certificate was not available.

I thus became only the third person in our wide extended family to embark on a first class Grammar School education following on from Uncle Tommy and cousin John Hanger, also at WGS. In those days 5% of kids got scholarships to a county funded Grammar School. Another 5% of kids went to private Public Schools, that is, posh private schools…..

….. Back home we went to school by bus as usual. Britain was short of oil and a coke burning gas producing trailer was attached to the back of the bus. The double decker buses now moved much more slowly. Uncle Harry Froggat was often the conductor. He was a stickler for keeping the bus on time and looking at his half hunter watch he would lament the slowness of his bus – at home that is. On the bus itself, he never compromised his important official duty as a bus conductor by so much as giving me a wink.  The double decker United Counties bus started at Raunds via Higham Ferrers, Rushden and Irchester to Wellingborough with a second bus from Rushden.

At the final physical training period at school we were weighed and measured and the information was entered on our school reports. I was 10 stone and 10 lb and 5 foot and 10 inches. This is only 6lb lighter and ¾ inch shorter than now so it can be said I was fully grown before I was 15. Wartime food was probably better for us lucky people than pre-war food, in health terms. We were probably the fittest generation ever, because kids became progressively less fit in postwar years……

…… I answered an advert for a job at Fred Hawkes, a small light engineering works supplying the shoe factories with reconditioned machinery, grindery and other requirements. They were looking for two well educated boys to train up in the brave new post-war world. A boy from Wellingborough School was taken into the workshop and I was taken into the office with pay of twenty-two shillings a week. When the school certificate results came out I had the best results of any Rushden boy; six credits and two passes; my very poor memory made any distinctions too hard to get. I failed French.     

 Alan Bonham (1941)

On virtually my last school-bus journey home to Rushden from WGS I was carrying a heavy bag containing books, papers, sports gear etc and getting somewhat fed up with two younger students taunting each other.  The noise was ear splitting so, as the senior prefect on the bus, I decided some action was needed.  I grabbed the handles, or rather one handle, of the bag and lunged across the seats aiming a precise blow with the bag onto the shoulder of the chief offender.  At that moment the bus turned the sharp corner at the bottom of Wellingborough Rd and the back of a seat drove itself into my goollies!  The bag handle broke, I let go in pain and the bag flew like a missile through the window scattering glass in the bus and over the road!  Needless to say, my bus pass was confiscated and as I walked back up the road to recover my bag there was a lady ready to hand me a broom to sweep up the glass.  Just about everybody I knew passed by during the next 10 minutes!  I decided to catch the next bus back to Wellingborough to give Dick Wrenn the true story before it had been inflated by other observers.  Again, the response was typically mature, as he returned the bus pass, with the warning as I was about to go up to UCL, 'don't do such a thing on a London red bus because response may not be so understanding!'   

Some of the Wellingborough Grammar School Boys
who gave their lives in WWII
Francis Causebrook of Rushden
Harold Cheasman of Higham Ferrers
Peter Felce of Higham Ferrers
Frederick Furr of Bozeat
Ronald Hales of Higham Ferrers
John Loake of Rushden
Brian Peck of Rushden
Colin Penness from Rushden

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