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Pontefract Letters Page

MEMORY IS A VERY STRANGE THING

ADDED 22 AUGUST 2007

Memory is a very strange thing; on one hand I can remember insignificant conversations I had over 70 years ago, but if asked, I often forget what I did or where I went, yesterday. Two or more people can experience certain events and yet have completely different memories of what happened. This fact was brought home to me when I read William Wood’s very informative article about Pontefract Northgate Senior Boys. Four of us went from Carleton School to Northgate in the period 1942 to 1945; David Mercer, Ronnie Senior, Colin Hawlor and myself. It seems to have been the policy of the school to ‘Divide and Conquer’ when it came to House selection. David went into ‘Fairfax’, Ronnie into ‘Cromwell’, Colin into ‘Morris’, whilst I went into ‘Gaunt’. This policy changed us from the ‘Carleton Gang’ into four adverseries when it came to House competitions. What a shame that this policy is not carried on by many schools today.

When we were at Northgate there was no kitchen and dining hall. Each day at lunchtime we were marched in crocodile fashion to the Town Hall, the entrance being, I believe, just past the old Fire Station, where Gillygate and Market Place met. We went upstairs into a large room filled with trestle tables.

As to the teachers, Mrs Dalgleish took 1A, Mr (Tojo) Smith took 2A, Mr (Wilky) Wilkinson took 3A. These were the three forms that I was in during my time there. The other teachers were Mrs Murray or Morrell, who was Mrs Dalgleish’s sister, and both of them being Scots, they each wore Tartan Tweed skirts. Then there was Mr Heath, Mrs Hunt, Mrs Wilkinson (Wilky’s wife) and Mr Wood the music teacher who left to go into the British Film Industry I believe. ‘Daddy’ Howells was the Headmaster of the school.

Contrary to William Wood’s experinece, I found Mrs Dalgleish to be a lovely lady. One day she asked me to stay behind after school and confidentially asked me if I found the body odour of the boy sitting next to me, offensive. The lad was of rather untidy and grubby appearance and I doubt that his hair had even seen a comb, but in those days most boys smelt of one thing or another. I used to help out on a farm and I was used to bad smells, so I said that it didn’t bother me.

‘Tojo’ Smith was a different kettle of fish when I was in his form 2A. People will find it hard to believe now, but there was some kind of underground intelligence service operating among some of the pupils at that time. Older brothers, and friends of some of the Ponty lads, had paased their experiences on to some of the lads in our class. Not only was Tojo our form master, he was also the Geography teacher and I well remember one lesson in particular.

Several of the lads knew about Tojo’s weakness and decided to exploit it. We were supposed to be learning about the effect of wind on the climate and Tojo mentioned that the prevailing winds blew across the Atlantic from west to east. That was the only bit of geography we learned that day, after one of the lads asked how this would affect the efficiency of Flying Fortresses on their way to bomb Germany. The lesson then degenerated into a discussion about the merits of the various bombers in operation at that time; Halifax bombers, Wellingtons, Fortresses, Lancasters etc. By the time the bell rang for the end of lessons we had learned no Geography, very little about bombing, but quite a lot about deviating Tojo from his subject.

One day we were up in the laboratory where Tojo was going to allow us to do the experiment of the effect of magnetism on iron filings. He passed around some sheets of waste paper on which we were to place the iron filings. I was down at the far end of the room and whilst waiting for the monitor to bring round the filings, I noticed that my sheet of paper had two words printed on it; ‘Geography’ and ‘Games’. I picked up my pencil and idly crossed out the word ‘Geography’ and ticked the word ‘Games’. I must have been almost thirty yards away from Tojo, but he was watching me. “Come here Lambert, and bring your paper with you”, he said. The whole room went deathly quiet and I walked towards him and handed him the paper. “Now you can go down to my room, give Mrs Dalgleish my compliments, and ask for my pointer”, he said.

I went down to Mr Smith’s classroom, knocked on the door and waited. I heard Mrs Dalgleish call for me to enter and went in to pass my message. “Mr Smith sends his compliments and may he have his pointer?” Mrs Dalgleish looked at me, handed me the heavy black pointer which was about an inch in diameter and said sadly, “Oh dear, have you been naughty?”. The whole class in unison said, “Oooooh”, which didn’t make me feel any better.

I went back to Tojo, handed him the pointer, and held out my right hand. He brought the pointer down so hard on my hand that I thought my fingers must be broken. I then held out my left hand and Tojo hesitated for a moment before bringing the pointer down hard once more. I bit my lips and tried to hide the fact that I was in agony. “Wasn’t one stroke enough for you?”, asked Tojo, and I realised then that I could have got away with just one stroke, but I was so used to seeing other lads get two strokes of the stick; that was why I had held my left hand out also.

Cliffe Lambert


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