Memoirs of Ron Bromley

2 Off to School

There was no fuss about me attending a new school, as a family we were never very demonstrative. I was just told I would be going, and although I realised my life would be changed I just accepted it. Up to that time I was devoted to the farm and spent every minute I could on it. There was just one thing I got a bit upset about. My uniform was to be one of brother Frank's "reach up downs" and as the trousers were somewhat worn from bicycle riding they were to be re-seated. I could not stand the thought of having a large circle of material on my backside. Fortunately mother relented (she pretended she had been kidding) and I was given a brand new set: black coat and waistcoat and pin-striped trousers, a black tie and an Eton collar. I am not sure whether the juniors wore the collar all the time or only for high days and holidays.

I thought Frank would be a great help to me in starting at the school, but all he did was lead me to the front door and say "You go in there". He then went off to the senior school a mile away. I found it was a convention that elder brothers had no contact with their younger "pests". No conversation even in the playground or tuck shop.

Everyone (brothers apart) was friendly and I settled in very quickly. In knowledge I was behind all the town boys who had been taught in classes with everyone of the same age and had specialist masters to teach them. With hard work and plenty of time spent with homework (something new to me) I struggled on not falling further behind but still remained at the bottom of the class with only one idiot keeping me above the floor.

In one way the first year was a disaster. Our form and French master was ill with TB and could not keep boys in order. In fact on occasions he seemed to pass out in his chair. Starting in form 2X it was the intention we should do the first two years French in one. In fact we learnt nothing. He left at Christmas and died soon after. He was not replaced and for the rest of the year we had any master who had a free period to teach us. French remained my "bête noir" the whole time I was at school.

Sometime during my first year I did an appraisal of my situation. I looked at what other farmer's sons had done and were doing. Generally I found they took things very easily. They seemed to have as much to spend as anyone and were always the first to get permission to ride motor cycles to school. Usually they left on reaching the school minimum departure age and returned to the farm slightly better educated than they would have been had they remained at the village school.

This was not good enough for me, I would show the "townies" that I was as good as them. I gave up anything to do with the farm, even telling Dad that I no longer wished to ride Charlie the grey horse. My whole time, except during school holidays, was devoted to school. It was either study or sports: cricket, soccer, rugby and cross-country running. My village friends seemed to accept the situation and we got on well during the school holidays, working on the farm still for 2d per hour.

The second year when we became 3B the whole school moved into a brand new building. It was large and built into the top of a hill and seemed to complement Dover castle which was on another hill on the other side of town. It was opened by the Duke of Kent who came with only one escort (no security in those days). His car was an MG and when we looked around it when the Duke was dining with governors and masters we were overcome by the smell of perfume.

It was a truly magnificent school. The lower level which was cut into the chalk hillside led out onto the upper playing field (he had used the playing field for a few years prior to the school being built). over this was the dining room, woodworking shop and the engineering shop. This was topped by the playground (please call in the quad). Here was the main entrance with two floors of classrooms to the left, in the centre a large assembly hall with a stage, a balcony with an organ.

The head loved assembly. We had prayers, speeches, notices and if the music masters could keep awake long enough to play the organ we finished with a hymn.

To the right there were science labs, art room and general studies room, also a tuck shop. We were very proud of our new school.

At the start of my third year we moved up to form 4. Five of us from 3B were promoted to 4A (the A stream). We were never told whether it was because we were too good for the B stream, or perhaps it was just to level up the numbers. The A stream took Latin and as it was too late to start us on the subject, during Latin classes we had private study in the subjects at which we were weak. Naturally I was allocated French. I was given a large volume of French idioms to learn by heart. The only one that I can recall is "Vèndre à condition" which means I think to buy on appro (approval).

I was making steady progress and in end-of-term examinations I could sometimes get the top mark in physics, chemistry, maths, history and geography. We were fiercely competitive and kept a tally of our marks as they were given out. At the start I could sometimes be leading everyone, but when the dreaded French results appeared (they were usually late) I would slip well down the order.

confirmation cert
Confirmation 1932

I passed from form 4A to 5A at the end of which year we sat our school leaving certificate. I obtained two distinctions, five credits and passed sufficiently well in French to be awarded matriculation. I was never quite sure what it meant, but I think it was a prerequisite to enter university. At this stage many pupils left to start work, but others passed into the sixth form to study for university entry. Normally we only had two classes of study, arts and science, but this year an engineering faculty was started and I elected to enter. I was never too keen on university, in fact never thought much about it. As a family we had no-one who had been to university and there was no-one to guide me. To me it seemed something just over the hill. Dad was no good; he paid for his boys to go to a good school and he expected the school to do everything. The master who was in charge of engineering was a good friend of mine but unfortunately for me he left before the term started and the form was left with no-one in charge. It was quite scandalous. Someone (the woodwork master I think) gave us some text books and told us to carry on with private study. The parents of all the other boys in the class either put their sons to other schools or apprenticed them to engineering firms. I was the only one to be left. Why? Because I told my father nothing but continued to go to school. We had a beautifully equipped workshop and I busied myself each day using the lathe and other equipment. I obtained a reputation for making drawbar gear for motor cars. Caravanning was becoming all the rage and masters wanted to get moving as cheaply as possible. I got on well with the physics master (a) because I was good at it (b) I played rugby for the school and he was the rugby master and (c) he was in charge of the cadet corps and I joined very late as he found he was short of boys of my age who were required as NCOs. He was writing text books with a lot of new ideas. One was electricity and I did all his experiments, tabulated the results, drew the diagrams and generally helped him. He made certain I attended his classes but he was not too bothered on what else I did. One day I was paged on the internal telephone to go to the head's study. I ignored it, but was caught by his secretary in the boy's loo of all places. I was given an egg whisk to repair. I spend a good deal of time on it cutting out and shaping a new piece, drilling, tapping and screwing and produced the product almost as good as new. As a matter of interest I costed it out using a skilled fitter's wage scale. It came to approx seven shillings to repair something that had cost 6d in Woolworths.

In the afternoons I would help the junior sports master in the field if the weather was good. If not I helped the boys with their homework.

This went on for the two years and needless to say I did not reach the required standard for entry into university. The only subject I reached the required standard in was physics. When I told Dad he asked what I was to do next. I replied "I don't know". It was then he gave me the only piece of advice that I can remember, to the effect that I take off the stupid cap I was wearing and get on with some work, and what was it to be? I was just 18 at the time and still wearing a school cap, at least to pass through the school gate. I replied that I wanted to be articled to a borough engineer. Dad's reply: "Well you'd better get yourself articled"; end of conversation.

I wrote to all the borough engineers that lived in the part of Kent where we call ourselves "men of Kent". It seemed a forlorn hope as such favoured positions were sought after months if not years before entry. However, at Canterbury one lad had done very badly at school so his father sent him back to school for a further year. Mr Enderby - the City Surveyor - "the term surveyor is better Bromley, Wren was a surveyor and he built St Pauls", said he would give Dad and I an interview. "Interview for a job? I am a boss, no interview for me" exclaimed Dad. I then got erudite with Dad and said it was a tripartite arrangement. The surveyor would provide the knowledge, I would provide the diligence, and Dad the most important part, the money. He then agreed but said it would have to be in the evening, he could not afford time in the day.

I did a recce and found Enderby lived in a large new house in a good part of Canterbury overlooking the county cricket ground. I found a little side road in which to park the van in which we would be travelling. I thought it would look bad to have a five-hundredweight Ford van with A W Bromley Milk Cream and Eggs on the side parked in front of the house. Mr Enderby employed a full-time "live-in" maid and a gardener-handyman.

We were greeted by the maid dressed in a white starched overall and cap. She held out a salver and I thought Dad was going to disgrace us by putting his bowler hat on it - but he was restrained. He did however in my opinion create a faux pas. In the study in the fireplace was a Magico fire - two bars of electricity surmounted by imitation logs with a flickering light to simulate flames. What did he do? He knocked his pipe on it. How he came to be smoking his pipe in the first place I shall never know. I wanted to get out and get home as soon as possible. Unfortunately at that time all commercial vehicles were limited to 30 mph and Dad put on the dash light and glared at the speedo the whole of the 20 miles home.

The next day - I think - I went to the Cadet Corps, my last school activity. The weather was good and I did my best to forget about Canterbury.

On open day Frank brought Mary and two of her school friends to visit. One I knew (probably the better Pat) but my eye fell on the other and I invited her to the cinema. She accepted and it started a two-year relationship, only to be terminated when I was buttonholed by her mother. The elder sister had got engaged which annoyed her mum as she told me she always wanted to see her girls married at a joint ceremony. I was in no position to get married for at least 4 years. When I explained this to Myrtle in the front porch of her house she passed out. This scared me a bit and I agreed to carry on, but I made myself so objectionable to everyone that when I did depart everyone was pleased to see me go. Rosemary's fiancee had I think already put out feelers with a lad at his office so Myrtle was soon fixed up, I was pleased to learn.

When I returned from camp I was told that I had been accepted at Canterbury. The only snag, it was Easter Saturday and I was to start on the Tuesday. Where oh where had my 7 weeks school holiday gone.

Articles of Pupilage

©2003 Ron Bromley