by Halina Watts
For a budding freelance journalist like me any work is great work. So when the Old Wandsworthians Trust asked me to interview a number of old boys and compile an oral record of their years at Wandsworth School, I jumped at the chance. And what a fascinating project it has been. But before I reveal any OW’s darest deeds, I would like to thank the wives of all the old boys so far interviewed for their warm hospitality and great lunches.
Those evacuated to Little Firs during the Second World War all seemed to have had fun filled adventures, while those who remained in London enjoyed the drones of doodle-bugs, V2s, eerie air-raids and even scoured the neighbourhood collecting shrapnel to indulge their own imaginations. In fact, from what I hear, the war turned school life into an exhilarating journey through adolescence. Rationing and national service meant those sent off to Woking and Little Firs were not the most material bunch of lads. Many went there with only the clothes on their back and a bit of encouragement. And it wasn’t all conventional success. While some were naturally clever and picked up from where a useless maths teacher left off, others broke the rules and maximised their fun factor by sneaking out of bounds and exploring the countryside around.
At the end of the hostilities the evacuees returned to the School in Sutherland Grove and lapped up the fantastic facilities on offer; a swimming pool, an equipped gymnasium and great classrooms. Of course many of you joined after the war when night raids and underground shelters had become distant memories. Tony Attfield was one of the first Old Boys I interviewed and he kindly took me to see the old school in Sutherland Grove. It was strange to see a building which once educated a generation of young boys, now hosting other lives through converted flats and apartments. The imposing building stood tall, as images of my dad as a nervous eleven year old walking up the long drive to be interviewed by the awesome headmaster, H Raymond King, consumed my mind.
It’s funny how so many lives passed through these grounds, all with different backgrounds, different aspirations and values but with an overwhelming gratitude for having been there. That has been one of the most interesting aspects of these interviews. While some excelled in maths or science and others only attended for the fast-paced sports on offer, the School and masters played a great part in moulding their characters and careers. It seems participation was the ethos that ran through the school and left its mark on the Old Boys. Maybe this is why although the School is no more the Wandsworthians spirit has endured for so long, working as a constant tool to reflect about school times and shared experiences.
It was also extremely entertaining to hear about the teachers who influenced your time at school. After several chats, a pattern began to occur and the likes of the terrifying French teacher Joe Asher put a smile on my face. The traits of George (Chewy) Elms also popped up frequently. Through each story a colourful picture has been painted of time well spent. It has been illuminated as a tight community where bullying was minimal and friendships were strong.
Hearing about the raucous rugby Easter Tours spiced things up a bit. A few home truths about my own dad, Tony Watts were revealed which made me chuckle. Love for the rugby sport permeated most discussions but it was always acquainted with confessions about the great social side the Old Boys lived out. As the festive season is approaching fast, one memory I would like to leave you with is Christmas Day sometime in the early sixties. I heard how Bob Hammond would call on Clem at around 10am for a taster, then on to Murray (Mud) Deards for another drink, then to Dave Snare followed by my Gran’s, then to Twilley Street and all the other old boys in the area, until they arrived at the Lord Palmerston completely sozzled.
I think this is a great memory, filled with youth, freedom and most importantly great friendship. Hopefully these interviews will revive such precious moments and the Old Boys vivacious stories can be firmly imprinted in the club’s history book.