Life at Quinton Church of England School in wartime

by Charlotte Tate

I began my education in September 1940, close to the first anniversary of the war, at the village school in Quinton. There were no school uniforms for infant and junior schoolchildren. Only Grammar School pupils had uniforms. In August my mother took me to buy all my school clothes in the village. Where are the useful shops in Quinton now?

Firstly we visited the Municipal Bank close to the corner of College Road to withdraw the cash to pay for the clothes. The bank was always quiet and dark. Our footsteps echoed on the shiny floor and we spoke in whispers. A short walk then took us to Miss Parkes' drapers shop. There, mother purchased white cotton vests with little sleeves, a set of navy blue knickers, which had pockets in them to hold a handkerchief, pairs of socks and stockings and two liberty bodices. Liberty bodices, for those who do not know, were quilted, fleece-lined, sleeveless over-vests, with vertical stripes of ribbon and heavy machine stitching. Suspenders were sewn on the bottom hems of the liberty bodices to hold up the black woollen stockings that we wore in winter. Houses and schools were cold then when winter arrived.

Next we walked down College Road and crossed over to the row of shops that fronted on to the Hagley Road West almost opposite the Danilo Picture House. There used to be a shop there called, 'WanstalIs'. Wanstalls sold high quality baby wear, children's clothes and ladies blouses and jumpers. One could see most of the stock through the gleaming glass fronts of the drawers that lined the walls. Mother purchased a red tartan kilt for me. It was secured at the front by a large, fancy, silver pin. Next she chose a matching red blouse and a red 'Pickwear' jumper which was trimmed across each shoulder with silver buttons decorated with an enamelled red stripe. Lastly a dark navy blue topcoat was purchased.

We left Wanstalls and walked to the hairdressers shop in High Street. Here my white blond hair was cut and styled into the fashionable "Dutch Girl" cut. It was the haircut that Christopher Robin has in the "Winnie the Pooh" books- though his would have been called "The Dutch Boy" cut.

Finally we crossed the Hagley Road West to David Cutlers' shoe shop. The shop always shone with cleanliness and smelled of polish and new leather. Mrs.Cutler, a quiet, reserved lady, measured my feet and spoke softly to my mother. Her eyes twinkled a smile at me through her round, horn-rimmed spectacles as she produced shoes from boxes for me to try on. We chose a pair in black leather with a bar across the top of the foot, which fastened at the side to a small, round, metal button. Mrs.Cutler polished my shoes, even though they were clean and new, then she wrapped them in tissue paper and placed them carefully in the box. She tied the box up with string, leaving a loop by which I could carry them. Mr. Cutler repaired shoes in a workroom behind the shop and he came out to speak to my mother before we left.

I walked to school for the first time feeling smart in my new clothes, carrying a square, cardboard box with a shoulder strap made from string. Inside the box was a red "Mickey Mouse" gas mask with a wobbley nose.

The school was a brick built Victorian building with some Gothic windows. The infants' classroom was a separate building but close to the junior school. The playgrounds were blue brick and the toilets were out-of-doors, across the playground next to the cemetery wall. All was situated behind the Church, well back from the busy main road. Big iron gates, dark blue in colour, closed off the playground and path. A policeman, Mr.Banyard, manned the Belisher crossing outside the school gates every day and saw us safely across the road.

The teachers in 1940 were Miss Ford, who taught the infants, Miss Cutler, Miss Smart, Mr.Ashman and Mr.Clark, who was also the head master. The Misses Cutler and Smart had taught my mother, Doris Masters and her sisters and brothers from 1908 when the Masters family came to Quinton. Mr. Masters was the village fireman.

Miss Ford took me to the infants' class. She had a pretty freckled face, dark curly hair and a cheery, jolly, energetic manner. She always wore gym shoes, a dark skirt and a bright, flowery, overall top. She played the piano well. It was a large class of about forty children. She seated me in a double desk next to a little blond boy called Philip Riley. She then called the register and we were told to answer, 'Yes Miss Ford,' when she called our names. We were given a tin of plasticine, a small hand-held blackboard, some chalk and a blackboard rubber. I do not remember using paper, pencils, crayons or paint whilst I was in that class. Written work, maths and most of the art work were all done on our blackboards. We were given coloured chalks to colour in our pictures and plain white was used for the more formal lessons. Some maths and artwork was done using squares of sticky-backed, brightly coloured paper, which we cut into shapes with little rounded scissors.

Miss Ford taught us to sing the alphabet, the National Anthem, hymns, songs, counting rhymes, action songs and percussion. She would play the piano for us to sing to, standing around her as she played. When we accompanied her with percussion, we stood in rows playing triangles, clappers and tambourines. We enjoyed those lessons. She also taught us Country Dancing in the Parish Hall. When we knew the steps we would dance to records played on a wind-up gramaphone. Free play with our plasticine was fun; we made worms, hedgehogs, cottage loaves and fairy tea sets. She also encouraged us to come in front of the class to sing a song, recite a poem or tell a story to the rest of the class.

A big coke fire surrounded by a very heavy iron fireguard heated the infants' room. When the weather was very cold the caretaker kept the fire well stoked up to keep the little ones warm. On snowy days, when our gloves were wet from playing in the snow, the fireguard would be festooned with damp gloves drying in the warmth of the fire. The junior school was heated with hot pipes fuelled by a coke boiler.

The school used the 'Beacon' reading scheme in 1940. The early readers were about life on a farm. The farmer was called 'Old Lob' and the animals could speak. These books were nicely illustrated and pleasant to handle and I soon learned to read and was moved on to the 'Beacon' storybooks. These were a pleasure to read. They contained traditional stories and poems that every child should know. It was a good scheme and I loved those books, I tell the stories to my grandchildren now and they enjoy them too.

Behind the Parish Hall was a brick built air raid shelter. We regularly had air raid drill, just as schools today have regular fire drill. The head master would blow a whistle and we would file with our teacher into the air raid shelter. We sat in a row on a long, narrow bench and put on our gas masks. The staff would make sure that the masks were in place so that no gas could seep behind them should there be a gas attack. We infants had red 'Mickey Mouse' gas masks with wobbly noses and we would sit and waggle our noses at each other. I do not remember if any daytime air raids took place during school hours. It was generally known that the bombs that were dropped on Quinton were aimed at Birmetals (Birmid Industries) factory, near Woodgate. The German bombers never found it, however they rocked Quinton three times, to my knowledge, with their near misses.

P.E. used to be called 'Drill'. This lesson was held in the Parish Hall. The class would stand in neat rows and copy the exercises from the teacher who stood at the front of the class or follow the teachers orders, such as, 'hop on your left foot', 'hop on your right foot ... .. jump up and down on both feet,' etc. The junior girls had lessons in dance from Miss Ford in the hall and the boys worked in the school garden learning to grow vegetables and soft fruit. The garden was situated then in the field on the Ridgeacre side of the Parish Hall land.

We went to church for special services such as Harvest Thanksgiving. Our mothers would give gifts of food to take to Church, which were to be distributed to poor people and hospitals. We would file into church singing the hymn, 'Here Lord we offer Thee all that is fairest' and place our gifts on the carpet in front of the alter, then take a pew. These were really precious during the wartime rationing. People would send homemade cakes, bunches of flowers, packets of tea and sugar and tins of food. I was always given a basket of eggs, cushioned in straw, to take to this service from my family.

Every summer the church had a garden party and the infant boys and girls always took part. Displays of many kinds took place on the Reverend Palmer's lawn behind the vicarage. The piano was placed there and Miss Ford's infants were the first to perform Country Dancing. We had practised hard for weeks. The music would begin and then we would all skip onto the lawn with our partners to applause from our families. We would take our places and perform our dances in the sunshine. I remember receiving a reward for good behaviour from my mother of a bag of black cherries when the dancing was over.

Other displays followed the infant dancers. The scouts from the Stoney Lane scout hut would entertain the crowd. Coral Broughton's Ballet School would dance for everybody. Other displays that I can remember being held on the Vicarage lawn included cake competitions, dog shows, fancy dress parades and suchlike.

Stalls were set up in the Parish Hall and in the field behind it where various games were played for prizes. There was a coconut shy, lucky-dips from a bran tub, bowling balls into special buckets, throwing darts at targets, guess the number of beans in ajar, guess the weight of a fruit cake and 'hit the ham'. The 'hard' was a sack of sand, suspended in the air on a rope. Contestants were blindfolded, turned around and given a stick with which to try to hit the ham. Should one hit the sack a prize was given.

Afternoon teas were served. There were stalls selling items such as toys, books, handicraft work, bric-a-brac, lavender-bags, homemade fudge, cakes and biscuits.

Our Garden Party was a very happy occasion and everybody in the village seemed to take part in some way and work hard to make a success of the afternoon.

© QLHS 2005

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