Sunday 26 February 2012

Childhood Ramblings - part two

One of my life long interests has been aircraft and living as we did in Kingsley we were not so many miles from the RAF Base at Odiham were squadrons of new jet powered fighter aircraft were based.I would spend many hours outdoors looking heavenwards and listening for the distinctive whistle and whine of a jet engine. One aircraft in particular was called the Gloster Javelin and was a twin engine, delta winged fighter. This aircraft was developed as a Night Fighter and thus would fly mostly at night. The engines produced a particularly ghostly howl which I found rather frightening as I lay in bed. Other jets based there at roughly the same period where De Havilland Vampire and the Gloster Meteor which first saw service at the very end of WWII gaining some success in downing the German V1 flying bombs or 'doodle bugs'.

When he could be persuaded, my father took me a few times to the Farnborough Air Display where Britain's finest aircraft were shown and a few white elephants also. The 'sound barrier' was the big topic of the time and a few of the jet fighters were capable of 'breaking the barrier'. The 'barrier' was officially broken in America on 14th October, 1947 by Charles Elwood "Chuck" Yeager in an experimental Bell X-1 rocket powered aircraft. At least two American pilots were believed to have broken the barrier earlier but their claims were not officially recognized.

At these Air Displays famous pilots of the time such as Neville Duke, Mike Lithgow and John Derry could be seen performing incredible acrobatics and high speed runs very close to the crowds. John Derry I believe was the first British pilot to pass through the sound barrier and sadly was killed later in a terribly crash at the 1952 Air show when his DH110 broke up as it made a high speed turn over the thousands of spectators. He and his Observer were killed and 29 spectators on the ground. Following this incident, many changes were mad to ensure the safety of the paying public at air displays all over the world.

At that time, breaking the sound barrier could only be achieved by first climbing the aircraft to around forty thousand feet and then diving at full power until they gained the necessary speed of around 760 miles per hour to produce the sonic boom or double bang which so pleased the crowds before continuing on downwards to fly along the length of the runway at hedgerow height. The spectators were aware of something flashing silently past them to be followed several seconds later by the enormous noise. By that time the aircraft had almost disappeared as it climbed rapidly back to altitude. I never failed to be in awe of these manoeuvres even in later years. Many complaints were received of broken glass in greenhouses!

I had mentioned in my earlier article that the Police House was at the other end of the row of houses we had moved to. People with better recollection than me may be aware of earlier 'bobbies' but the first one I remember was Mr Poulter (Polter?). He was a man to be feared and controlled the village with stern face and an iron hand. He was not averse to giving an errant youth a clip around the ear before escorting 'him' home to stand aside whilst the parent also administered appropriate punishment!

A later occupant of the Police House was Jack Lucas who had an altogether a different style of policing the village. He and his wife where great cyclists and even though he had cycled for several hours carrying out his duties around his patch, they would get on their bikes and accompanied by their two children would set off to Blackmoor or somewhere equally distant to a fete or some such activity.

One of my brothers best mates was James Parker who joined the Black Watch Regiment (correct me if I am wrong) and could be seen on occasion marching through the village in full Highland uniform when home on leave. A memorable sight if ever there was one!

In 1954 I was approaching eleven years of age and the words 'eleven plus' started to be heard. School lessons became rather more intensive as an attempt was made by Mrs Morris to school us in readiness for the day when we would have to take this dread examination.

I cannot remember exactly how many of the Kingsley children took the exam early that year but I do remember getting onto a coach to be taken to Alton County Secondary Modern where we took test papers in Maths, English and Intelligence. Sad to say, I did not gain sufficient marks to go to Grammar School so in September of 1954 I joined a great number of children of the same age from the surrounding villages, entering this enormous school feeling very bewildered. My exam results must have been border line as I was placed in Class 1A with the other first year classes extending alphabetically down through to E.

There were 43 children in Class 1A which was probably over double the number of pupils in the entire school I had left in Kingsley and I remember feeling very intimidated sitting in such a large class. I struggled through that first term and after the Christmas exams found myself at the bottom of the class The lowest three pupils were relegated to 1B leaving me effectively at the bottom of the class.

Secondary school gradually became more interesting and although I lived out in Kingsley, I joined one or two after school activities including a theatre club. After finishing one or other of these activities, I would spend my bus money on sweets at the 'Bon Bon' shop and proceed to walk the five miles home. I would 'thumb' the few cars that came along and don't remember having to walk the whole way as someone would invariably stop for me. There never appeared to be any concern as to the possibility of some unsavoury person picking me up, although we did have the occasional warning that somebody suspicious had been seen on the Common and were kept nearer to home for a few days.

My education continued and I must have got some things right as I gradually worked my way up in the classroom rating as time passed. Maths however was not one of my successes and I well remember being awarded two percent by the maths teacher for spelling my name correctly at the top of the paper!Sporting activities were not high on my list of achievements and the dreaded weekly 'cross country run' was guaranteed to cause me loss of sleep the night before. The route from school extended for about three miles and soon after the start it took us through the water cress beds which still existed at the lower end of Lenten Street, extending onwards out over some fields to return back through the same place and thus to the school.

I and one or two others would stop running as the class went off into the fields and re-join at the rear upon their return. On one particularly icy day I slipped and fell into the River Wey as it passed through the beds leaving a very wet and bedraggled boy to drag himself back to an enquiring teacher.School leaving age at that time was at the fifteenth birthday. By the time I reached my final year I had dragged myself into the top one third of Class 4A. The big question then was 'what can I do when I leave school'?

You will find out in my next 'Rambling!'

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