Memories of Audrey Jackson

Maypole School 1939-1945 Audrey Jackson (now Hughes)

I lived in North Cray Road, Bexley and my parents obviously preferred the Maypole School to the village one (where I might have become accepted by my peers rather than "stuck up’ which took some surviving!) I should have started school after Christmas, but whooping cough kept me home until Easter, so I had just one term in school before the war started. My first day is fairly vague, except the teacher seemed rather elderly and rather distant and the boy next to me made a puddle on his chair - what kind of a place was this!

After some six weeks in North Wales at the tiny cottage of Auntie Mae in Penmorfa, we decided the invasion scare was a myth and the family returned to Bexley, where my parents became fire-watchers, we acquired a displaced person for a lodger, then mother went to work for the Ministry of Food and father eventually went away to police Avonmouth Docks. The Anderson shelter arrived and was soon full of water and frogs (we used the cupboard under the stairs instead). Air raids became commonplace, most of our window glass was replaced at least twice and my shrapnel collection grew. At school numbers had fallen because of evacuation and for some months about a dozen of us met for a few days a week at the house of Sylvia Guiselman in Baldwins Park for our lessons.

Eventually children returned and school reopened with an underground shelter in the playground and an overground one behind the hall. I see it is still there as a store. I was then in Miss Cousins’ class and seemed to be there for ever. Perhaps it was more than a year because of the disruption of evacuation.

I suspect it was here I realised I hated needlework. It must have been only one afternoon a week, but seemed endless. My dishcloth knitting improved, however, and I still remember the stitch, so impossible to rescue if you made a mistake. Here my ability to drink large quantities of very cold milk increased, as I surreptitiously consumed that which others hated.. I was really looking forward to moving up a class to where one could play on the other side of the coal hole, as "chasing" was my favourite game (my skipping was indifferent, but improved later). Poor little round, worried-looking Miss Cousins, she seemed so serious and hardworking, then she would walk both ways to and from school, much further than I went on the bus (a penny fare, I remember, on the 401). Just occasionally I would walk home for lunch with my grandmother, but blotted my copybook seriously when I stopped to play on a sandhill near the gardens of Hill Crescent with Ursula Ayscough and was extremely late.

We also used to walk down the dip to catch the bus at Baldwins Park instead of at the Hospital, when the game was to keep ones feet off the pavement all the way and this entailed walking along the sloping top of the wall on the right. I remember seeing a wheel from a tractor which had fallen off and hit a pedestrian (possibly fatally) and the retribution that fell when I lied to my mother about throwing Hugh Hawes’ hat in the road when there was a car coming and Alan Coast reported me – I guess I deserved my regular smackings!

At last I moved up to Miss Burr’s class and I was very happy and comfortable there. I’m fairly sure she lost her fianc
é during the war, but I believe she only took one day off. Finally it was the top class with Miss Gaspar, our fierce headmistress, she of the heavy hand, ruler and cane for our misdemeanours. I must have been a great disappointment to her, as I was regularly "top of the class" and, just as regularly, smacked for talking too much, for shaking Norman by the hair for letting our team down in PT and a good many other sins.

I remember wearing a school uniform of brown gymslip and beret with brown lisle stockings in winter, well darned at the knee because of my occasional weak ankles. I remember being fairly cold in class in winter and sometimes sitting in our coats – sitting on the radiators would have produced some terrible unmentionable disease! I remember school concerts where I usually ended up reciting poetry wearing some unsuitable costume I had begged from a friend – I still blush at the thought of the fairy – definitely not me. Each year I seemed to catch the going "bug", measles, chicken pox, mumps and finally german measles, but none of them were particularly bad and just gave one a boring four weeks at home.

In school I remember the crowded cloakrooms, one at each end of the building and the smelly outside toilets, where you could watch the boys "perform" if you were so inclined, as there was a wide gap opposite their urinal area. The back playground was always shaded and damp and we never used it. We drank our milk on the verandah (open air then) and in the top class we took turns to make tea for the teachers. Playing chasing or release-oh, I managed to fall and cut my chin on the wire round the air-raid shelter (I still bear the scar), but there didn’t seem to be many accidents. We were very well drilled in filing out of class and down the steps when the warning sounded and often we would hear the anti-aircraft guns open up from the other end of Dartford Heath. One day from home we saw a plane crash out of a dogfight and hoped it was "one of theirs", but it wasn’t and on the way to school next day we could see the wreckage in the garden of a house near Baldwins Park junction. The pilot parachuted safely, but was caught up in a tree in Joydens Wood for a while.

Towards the end of the top year we went to the County School to "do the Scholarship". After the Maths, English and General Knowledge papers, a group of us walked back from Shepherds Lane to the Maypole, calling in at John Sharman’s house on the way for a drink of squash. I told my mother about it afterwards and she was surprised I was so unruffled by the experience, but we had so many tests, it did not seem much more than a day out. After I knew I’d passed, however, it must have gone to my head, as I was caned or spanked every day for the next fortnight!
I remember quite a lot of names from my class, Peter Lane, who was always top boy and, I heard, went to South Africa, Beverley Thompson, a clever girl, a year ahead of her age group, who came to Dartford Grammar School for Girls (the name had changed by then) a year after me. Michael Walker was the only one faster than I was, Clare Hayes and Megan Foster came to DCS with me, Ian Hellyer, John Sharman and John Charman, Hugh Hawes, Ursula Ayscough, George Clack, a Neil, a Norman , an Elsie and a Hazel (I think) also just a few older and younger ones, but it was all a long time ago……….

Mum later worked in the stores department of Bexley Hospital for a while and bought a bicycle for me from a colleague after my scholarship. I still have the letter from father agreeing it was a good idea. This started my interest in cycling, first with dad, then with the Cyclists’ Touring Club and it is still my chief hobby after 50 years.

The Maypole (and most of Bexley) seems to have shrunk since I attended school here. I’m sorry it has been demolished, but it is much too cramped for the number of children it serves now, so I wish its successor a great future.

See what Audrey says about herself on Friends Reunited

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