Cosy Corners in Depression and War
Autobiography of Joan Hughes
The story of one person's nests

Star School, London, 1933? to 1939


The school was situated in Greyhound Road, but was oddly named "Star Road School". Star Road was an adjacent street. At first I did not query this name, but before I left, at the age of eleven, I heard a teacher discussing this with our class. The school badge was a star, not worn by many on clothes, but used as a symbol, in awarding marks. We were divided into four houses, red, green, blue and yellow, and for good work were awarded one star of the appropriate colour. On totalling 5 stars, we were awarded a gold star. For bad behaviour, we were given "order marks", but these did not affect our total of stars.

When discussing the school's name, the teacher concluded that the school was named Star Road, because a star made a good badge. Occasionally stars were appliqued to a school navy-blue "tammy". There was no official uniform, but in winter, we were expected to wear navy-blue gym-slips.

The teacher remarked that it possibly should be Greyhound Road school, as the greyhound would also make a good badge. However, I wondered about the difficulties of cutting out small greyhound shapes!

We started in the infants school, in which there were about six classes, and successful pupils moved up one class each term. From the very start we were made to sit in old -fashioned rows in small desks. At first we did not use ink, but sand and Plasticine to model shapes, progressing as soon as possible to pencil and paper. In three months I was able to read, and thereafter enjoyed most reading books on my own at home. I read voraciously all the fairy stories, previously read to me by my mother at bedtime, and soon asked for more books.

As soon as possible, I joined a children's library, which I visited once a week after school. My mother was delighted to take me as she also enjoyed reading novels, mainly detective stories, by authors such as Edgar Wallace. I started with "easy books".

In the infant school, there were no formal tests. We were all considered ready to be divided into boys and girls at the age of seven. I remember being friends with someone called John Platt. In infants school we sang a song called "Oh, no, John, no John, no!". That was the refrain. Each girl stood beside a boy, turning to him and singing the refrain, over and over again, so I thought it wonderful that the little boy next to me was actually called John.

At the age of seven, boys disappeared from our lives in school. I had done quite well, by this time being able to read and write, probably still printing in pencil. We also used slates with chalk, but principally for writing down answers to short questions, often in arithmetic. There were no other lessons, except possibly chanting multiplication tables, but that may not have started until later, and art. Drawing in coloured pencil started quite early on. I cannot remember the shape of the room in the infants' school, but the colour of the walls was uniform, dark green and cream, the standard institutional colour which was meant to be calming.

Once I was attending "Big Girls" school, work started in earnest. There were "examinations" which were pencil and paper tests, at the end of every term, and there were three terms a year. Pen and ink was introduced as soon as writing in pencil reached an acceptable standard. There were inkwells in each small desk which had a groove for pens; these were wooden with steel tips, split into two sections. Constant dipping into the ink was necessary and the result was messy if due care had not been taken.

I think the introduction of the ball-point pen around 1945 was a major improvement, leading to speed in writing. I would never have been able to take copious notes throughout years of evening class attendance without it.

At junior schools in the 1930's, end-of-term tests were informal, lasted perhaps half a day, and were confined to testing writing, spelling, English composition and arithmetic. The term "English" was not used widely as it is today, but the tests simply called composition, spelling, writing and so on. Reading aloud was practised frequently, but not subjected to formal tests.

At the end of every term, we were given a chance to rise a class. The result was that within two years I arrived in Class Five at the age of nine. I remember Class Five vividly, partly because I spent two and a half years in it, arriving probably in April 1937, and staying until July 1939, just before the outbreak of the second world war. My experiences in the preceding classes have become shadowy in my memory.

Class Five was divided into an upper and lower division, partly because it contained about fifty pupils. Like everyone else, I started in the lower division. The subjects taught were reading, writing, spelling, composition, mental and written arithmetic, history, nature study, art, physical education called "drill" and games, singing and needlework, as in the lower part of the school. As a startling innovation, a subject called hobbies was introduced in the Upper division of Class Five, when the girls were free to do what they liked, provided it did not involve talking. Most girls chose knitting, embroidery, art or reading from the school library. Quietness was the universal rule, and was expected to continue, even when the teacher was out of the room. We were not expected to talk to each other at all while seated in the classroom. Gossip was tolerated in school corridors while queuing up to enter another classroom for some specialist subject like history. History was dignified by not being taught by the class teacher, but by a specialist teacher, called Miss Cunliffe. who taught throughout the school.

Aside from games, and drill, in which I was awkward, needlework was my worst subject. I could not use a small needle, and besides neatness was not my strong point. But I liked knitting and embroidery with a large needle. Even games always seemed interesting when compared with drill, which I detested. I don't know whether I ever succeeded in touching my toes! But running in a race was a joy. This took place once a year on Sports Day. We practised these races for a few weeks before the event in the school playground.

There was another sport which took place regularly, perhaps once a week during summer months. This was dancing round a maypole. Up to twenty girls, each holding a coloured streamer, in red , white or blue, running in groups in different directions in circles were able to weave the streamers in a variety of patterns. When complete, the coloured ribbons were intertwined in the form of a web, or alternatively, wound tightly round the pole in a regular pattern. By changing the numbers of girls in each circle, the patterns could be varied, and our class teacher was very skilled at this.

In spite of history having a specialist teacher, it was not very well taught in Star Road primary school. All I can remember from these early lessons was something about King Alfred burning the cakes, and perhaps the figure of a crusader and a knight in armour. Queen Elizabeth 1 in her elaborate dress, and King Henry 8th must also have been prominent, if for no other reason than that our history lessons were based on illustrations. We were provided with books filled with blank paper and told to buy "history pictures" from our local newsagents. This was the reason for my poor marks. Every history picture that was bought and correctly aligned and pasted into a page reserved for a set period in history, for example, the Elizabethans, the Tudors or the Stuarts was awarded a mark in the form of a star. These stars were pasted on to a card. The colours of the stars were green, red, yellow or blue, depending on which house the girl belonged to, but whatever the colour, each star had the same value in the marking system. Stars of course were awarded for subjects other than history, and it was for these other subjects that I got my stars. I obtained no stars for history because my parents could not spare any money to buy history pictures. I cannot think of a more unfair marking system. However, perhaps it was meant to encourage parents to take an interest in the children' lessons and give the money for the pictures; and perhaps to encourage children who were poor in arithmetic and English to think, "Well, this is one subject in which I can succeed." For me, this meant a definite disincentive for studying history in my early school life. Fortunately, this was not a permanent effect. In later life I have often read historical books, especially on social history, which I have found fascinating.

I never received any turn-off against nature study, and this was always my favourite subject, apart from arithmetic, which I enjoyed, until I got bored with the repetition. Arithmetic was the subject in which I could achieve top marks and rarely made a mistake. This meant I was number one, top of the class in this subject, which the class teacher also favoured, and an object of jealousy for the less numerate. My friend Fay Nicholls however, was equally a candidate for top of the class in arithmetic; sometimes she held the position and sometimes I did. Fay and I were both members of Green House. Two monitors were chosen for each house. These were meant to show an example to the rest of the school, not only in school work but in good behaviour. In the last year at school, in 1939 Fay and I were the monitors for Green House. We were called Captains or Green Captains.

Beryl Thomas, a daughter of the local newsagents, where I often bought papers or cigarettes for my father was one the Blue Captains. I remember this because she was the one and only Captain who was demoted. Captains wore coloured sashes in their house colour. Blue Captains wore blue sashes instead of the usual black through the loops on the gym-slips which were our winter wear. Beryl was demoted for bad behaviour, but I did not realise it was bad behaviour, but thought it was fun. Beryl was also one of my close friends.

[school playground

Fay, Beryl and I often played and talked together during school outdoor playtimes. These playtimes were inflexibly outdoors whatever the weather. There was a shelter in one corner of the playground which we stood under, when it rained. In a few local schools in Hackney, where the same building is still being used that was probably there at the turn of the century, these shelters still remain. They were very solidly built, it appears. This shelter was known colloquially as "the shed", though it was open to the air. It was a flat roof on pillars, mostly brick-built stout pillars.

In 1939 the Girls' playground was re-asphalted. In those days asphalt remained soft for several days, but could be walked over. This was the occasion of Beryl's bad behaviour. Many of the girls found that by turning their heel in the soft asphalt, they could make a circular indentation. They thought it was fun to do. I saw these indentations one playtime and asked Beryl if she knew how they were made. She showed me by turning her heel in the asphalt. I was going to make one also, but she stopped me. "No, if you haven't made one, don't do it now" she said. "We are going to get into trouble".

Sure enough, we did get into trouble. Our class, together I suppose, with those lower down the school, were asked to put hands up if we had made any dents with our heel. Beryl, together with half the class put up their hands. Beryl was the only one of the eight school captains who raised her hand. The class was reprimanded as a whole, then Beryl was singled out for a special telling-off in front of the class and made to hand in her blue sash. For the rest of that term there was only one Blue House captain, but I don't remember her name. Fay and I remained firm friends with Beryl.


Music was taught inexpertly by the class teacher. There were no musical instruments available in those days, except for percussion instruments, but I never looked on this as "real music". However it was fun, and unlike singing, was something I could take part in, with minimum standard of performance. In an old box were kept two drums, two cymbals, and a large number of castanets, triangles and tambourines. The class teacher was our conductor, and I was given what was considered the easiest instrument, the triangle, because of my previous utter failure at singing. But in the percussion band we could not be out of tune. These performances were a rare treat, at the end of term, probably combined with sports day, which I shall describe later. In music, the usual lesson was called singing. We did not use the word music, which I believe was reserved for lessons on real instruments, which were only undertaken privately, by those girls whose parents could afford and were willing to pay, and such lessons had no connection with the school. For some years I had been singing unselfconsciously, along with the rest of the class. In the infants school nothing wrong had been noticed with my singing of "Oh, No John!" However on arrival in Class Five, higher standards were expected. The singing lesson was often devoted to practising the song "Nymphs and Shepherds, come away". Class Five was to take part in massed singing by combined school choirs in London, probably at the Albert Hall, or some other large hall, in 1938 and 1939. The teacher came close to every girl to listen to her singing. Three of us were picked out as singing out of tune. We were not able to improve. I could never tell one note from another at that time. So we were told not to sing as we were putting the others off. This was a disappointment for the three of us, as it meant that we did not go out with the class on the appointed day for the concert. School outings were very rare. I can only remember three or four during the course of the year, so this was a major disappointment to me, not because of my keenness for singing, but because of my keenness for outings.

The other outings were attendance at St. Andrews Church at the bottom of May Street on Ascension Day, a visit to a grassy playground for School Sports Day, and a visit to a film show in a room under a shop in North End Road. The main film was called "The Story of Coal". North End Road was the site of a busy street market, and contained our nearest large shops.

School Outings

Once a year on Ascension Day, the girls were taken to St. Andrews' Church. Probably the boys went too, but I did not notice them. The under-sevens however were not, as far as I recall, taken out at all. No-one asked if we were members of the Church of England. Nobody opted out, so the Methodists, Baptists and the non-believers also attended. My parents had never suggested that I go to Sunday School, though I knew that I had been baptised as a Roman Catholic. As I knew no more than that, I went to St. Andrews' Church with the rest. This was of interest as an outing, though only five minutes walk away, between my home and school. The morning service consisted of four hymns, two psalms, and prayers. There were no concessions to children; it was in no way a "children's service" but was also attended by those devout churchgoers who were not at work, mostly women and the retired.

I think there was one other occasion when I attended St. Andrews'. This was for a memorial service for a former teacher at Star Road School, who, incidentally, we had never met. By the ancient but small St. Andrews', which I passed every day on my way to school was a line of plane trees. It was my delight in Autumn to walk through the fallen leaves, listening to the rustle; this is something I still like to do, at age 64, when the opportunity arises. I can never resist walking through a heap of dry leaves.

Perhaps more well-remembered is the Class Five visit to the private cinema in North End Road. This was merely a basement room under a shop, leased for showing short films with a small projector. From the age of nine I attended here, so must have seen "The Story of Coal" three times, as I was still in the top class, Class Five, at the age of eleven, in 1939. There were other short films in the programme. All were concerned with "Nature Study". Apart from arithmetic, Nature Study was my favourite lesson, and I still remember scenes from the Story of Coal. The trees were shown falling into the swamp in a reconstruction of the Carboniferous Era. This was my favourite well-remembered scene. No doubt we were also shown images of dinosaurs, and other prehistoric monsters, but my favourite was "Coal". It was connected to the black stuff burning nightly in winter in our grate at home, our friendly coal fire.

At school our nature study lessons consisted of drawing sections through flowers, such as daisies, labelling petals, sepals, stigma, stamens, and perhaps drawing a section through a tomato, as an example of "fruit" of the plant.

Another feature of the classroom were the tanks containing tadpoles and waterweed on the windowsills. I never remember any of the tadpoles developing into frogs, and our classroom would certainly have been an unsuitable home for amphibians. What the teacher did with the larger tadpoles was unknown to me. However, I gained the impression the tadpoles grew into newts, and then the newts grew into frogs. This was a misconception which remained with me a long time, as I studied very little biology in later life. Nowadays, I am very much aware that newts and frogs are quite distinct species, as I have had newts and frogs running about in the long grass and nettles in my back garden, these last four years. They walk over from my neighbour's pool.

We did no chemistry or physics, which I believe, is taught in today's primary schools. This did not stop me making observations in my own time. When taken to a chemist' shop, at the age of eight, I gazed at the three containers of red, blue and green liquid, traditionally placed in chemists' windows, and said to my mother, "That is what I want to do, when I grow up". " What?" asked my mother. " Serve in a chemists' shop", I said. " I hope you will do something better than that", said Mum. But I could think of nothing better.

I have in fact never served in a chemists' shop, or as it is more accurately called a pharmacists', but have spent many years working in a chemical laboratory, or "playing with coloured liquids" as some people might say.

At that time my mother went into the chemists' mainly to buy cough-mixture, regarded as a necessity, but was not keen on the chemists' and did not linger inside to chat, as she did in some shops. I don't think cosmetics were sold there in those days, but in any case, my mother did not use any. She had an old lipstick, which she said she had had since before she was married. On rare occasions, for an evening out, she would use this. When she put some on she usually rubbed half of it off and said "Do I look as though I have lipstick on?"

"No" I would say, thinking "Well ,it is mostly rubbed off!" Apparently, she wished to appear natural, without lipstick, as if the red colour was natural.

School Sports Day was an annual outing. There were eight different kinds of races possibly, which the girls had prepared for in games lessons in the school playground. But I can't remember any ball games. We had possibly not sufficient room to practice these. Races included such things as the egg and spoon race, a three-legged race in which two girls had legs tied together, a sack race which meant girls jumping along with their legs in sacks, another race, or maybe a walk, with books being carried on heads, some plain, straightforward races and finally a train race. The train race was the finale, and the girls chosen only included those who had won other races. It was very complicated and so had to be limited to about eight participants. I qualified one year by winning the egg and spoon. But I was last and perhaps disqualified in the train race. This was because I finally ran back to the starting line instead of continuing to the finishing line. Midway down the long grassy track were laid a pile of clothes, umbrellas and small cases. They were all muddled up. The idea was that we ran as far as the pile, and dressed "to catch a train", by grabbing and donning a coat, hat, maybe a scarf and gloves, and an umbrella, which we had to open, and a case held in our hands. When correctly "dressed" we ran to the finishing line. The person who won this race received the top prize. Prizes were usually books or needlework boxes; nothing related to sport was available. The books and needlework boxes were also the standard prizes for success in end-of-term exams.


Every school day started with assembly. The whole of the junior girls' school, all five classes, aged between seven and eleven assembled in the hall. This hall was also used for exercises or drill. The school was addressed by Miss Tremeer, the headmistress, at 9 o'clock each morning. We were probably urged to behave well and work hard. The assembly ended with the Lord's prayer and some typical "Church of England" hymn. Those which I can remember were "All people that on Earth do dwell" and "All things bright and beautiful". This was the only religious activity in this school. It was not religious instruction, because the words of the prayer and hymn were never taught. It was assumed that we knew them, and if not, we picked them up gradually.

Good news or bad news was also announced occasionally at assembly. During the diphtheria epidemic, two seven-year-olds died. We were shown their wreaths, and a cold chill stole over me. As yet, I had not thought of death happening to the young, only to the old; people like my grandmother, who died in 1936, She was over seventy and to me had always looked old. But it was probably 1936 when the two seven-year-olds died. I did not know them personally, as I was eight and in Class Four.

Luckily there were few deaths from diphtheria and none from Scarlet Fever in those years in our school. Though immunisation was not available, these two serious childhood fevers were not widespread. An epidemic meant a few cases only. There were strict quarantine rules. Children when recovered were not allowed out for many weeks afterwards; and I have been told, some may have been kept in a kind of quarantine hostel, separate for each type of fever.

Good news usually came at the end of a term, possibly at Eastertime, when scholarships and special places for the Grammar school were announced. The girls with these awards were required to stand up and go to the front, and face the school. They were then clapped for a minute or two, in front of the whole school. I wondered if that would ever happen to me. It would be pleasant, but I dreaded facing an audience.

Examinations loomed over the pupils in Class Five. The "eleven-plus" examination divided eleven-year-olds into a few who attended Grammar Schools, a large middle group who went to "Central Schools"; these were largely places where girls learnt shorthand and typing; and the "unlucky ones " who went to "elementary secondary schools". After 1944, I believe the latter were re-named secondary modern schools. There were also technical and art schools, similar in status to the Central Schools. The availability of these depended on where one lived.

The aim of the teacher who prepared girls for the eleven-plus was to win scholarships or "Special places" for grammar schools. At that time, girls who did not pass the eleven-plus, but who attained a reasonable standard in an independent test done by the particular school could attend grammar schools by paying fees.

The eleven plus consisted of tests in English, arithmetic and an IQ test. From the age of ten, the girls were required to do weekly tests in these subjects. For example, the spelling test required correct spelling of twenty fairly difficult words. The marks were twenty out of twenty, and the words were usually of three or more syllables. Likewise twenty questions in arithmetic, graded from simple addition to long multiplication, fractions and decimals, were done weekly. While this was being performed by the 25 girls in the upper half of Class five, the lower half, another 25 girls, were sent to another teacher. The full class of fifty was only together for "Non-examination" subjects, which was everything except English and arithmetic. IQ testing was not a subject; the official view is that we cannot learn to perform better in this. But practice can improve scores by getting us used to the tests. Our class teacher was an enthusiast for this, and personally, I found IQ tests were "fun". Doing little puzzles seemed like play, not like learning. Late in 1938, the class of all the ten-year-olds who had attained to Upper Class Five status took the preliminary examination. Only those who passed this were eligible to take the full "scholarship" examination. Out of twenty-five, eight girls passed. I remember this distinctly, as I had a quite formal birthday party for my eleventh birthday. Dad, who was ambitious for me, urged me to invite the eight scholarships girls. I agreed to this, even though some of these were not my special friends. But I also included a couple of "extras", even someone who was eleven but was still in Class Four, through "lack of ability". She was quiet , lived near and I liked to play ball with her.

My preparation for the examinations was gruelling. My father never thought I did anything quite well enough, and was always urging me to work hard. In the six weeks of the summer holiday in August 1938, I took home a book of arithmetic questions, and was expected to do one every day. I did not like school work during holidays and preferred to spend all the time out-of-doors. I even preferred weeding the garden! However, I knew I had to complete the questions, so usually sat down and did a batch of ten questions at one sitting. I found the questions easy; they did not stretch me, but the teacher always insisted on lots of repetition. She was terrified that her best pupils might "slip back". Each week, we had to send the batch of questions back to the school by post. This went on for six weeks.

In the autumn of 1938, we took our preliminary exams. I don't think the results came in until January 1939. Eight of us were summoned to the head-mistress's room and were told we had passed. Besides myself, there was my best friend Fay Nicholls, also Beryl Thomas, and Christine Ormond. Christine must have been one of the "better-off", as she said her parents were going to pay for her at Grammar School if she failed the exam. I don't remember the others very clearly. Some of them might have been Esther Anderson, who was Scottish and wore a tartan skirt out of school, and Vera Daly, who I met once more in later life, in 1950, when she had become a secretary.

The head -teacher said, "Although you have all passed, not one of you have done as well as last years' girls. You will have to work very hard indeed if you wish for a scholarship, and you only have eight weeks to do it in".

"Eight weeks", I thought," and I am not good enough. I will work every day, at home." I knew my mother would not mind one way or the other, but I felt I had to please my father too. He would not be pleased unless I passed. But I don't know if this was the only reason. We were supposed to have a better future if we went to a grammar school, and I thought "Maybe it will mean that I can work in the chemist's shop, when I grow up."

This interview must have taken place some time in January 1939, because on February 25th 1939, I was still thinking in terms of eight scholarship girls, when I invited them to my 11th birthday party. This was, I think, my only birthday party with formal invitations. Previously it was a case of just inviting my cousin Leonard, 18 months younger than me, my third cousin Stella, one year older than me, and maybe Fay Nicholls and some school-friend living nearby. There were always jellies and cakes for tea, the receiving of a small present from the guests, and afterwards, games. In my home, living conditions were fairly restricted, as two rooms, or sometimes a complete floor was let to lodgers; so games had to be quiet. We could not run about the house playing hide-and-seek or "sardines" as we did in Stella's house. Instead we played a pencil and paper game called consequences, sitting together in the same room, and possibly a card game or a board game. If Leonard was the only boy present, which he must have been, he probably found it hard to concentrate, particularly, as on this one day, the party included girls only, apart from Leonard; and some of the girls had party-dresses, and were more conscious of their clothes than at any other time. I was nervous because I had no party-dress, which was a commercially bought dress, with a frilled skirt, usually in some bright colour. Instead I wore a white dress, which had been hand-embroidered by my mother; it had a plain skirt, which fell limply, unlike the standing-out skirts of one of my friends. Most people would have said that this dress was just as attractive as a shop-bought one, but it was not "fashionable". But in the excitement of the birthday party, I soon forgot my clothes, which friends told me were "nice". This cheered me up. Fay Nicholls, being the child of a widowed mother, likewise , could not afford a fashionable party-dress.

This party I particularly remember because it was connected with my school life. It was the only formal party I ever had. Before then, I had been too poor, and wartime absorbed the rest of my childhood which changed my way of life completely; I lost touch with former friends and there were no more birthday parties, formal or otherwise.

Once the party was over, I resumed practising arithmetic and spelling every day, in preparation for the big exam. It must have taken place in March soon after the party, because there were only eight weeks between the previous results and this exam. This subject filled my whole life; I had never worked quite so hard at school work before.

A hall was hired for the exam. The eight girls were seated between rows of strangers. We did as well as possible, but none of us had the confidence to think we had passed. It was perhaps another eight weeks before the results were published, and what intervened was the school journey. I just forgot about the exam, because this was another bright spot in my life.

THE SCHOOL JOURNEY - [August 1939]

Usually, August holidays were spent with my grandmother, but in 1939 I had an entirely different experience, two weeks away with the school. My mother had anxiously considered whether she could afford the cost, which was £2 / 10s. The teacher persuaded her that it would do me good. I had never been away on a school holiday before, and this would be my last chance. She thought it would help me to overcome nervousness when with strangers and as she expected that soon I would be going to a strange new grammar school, she thought I needed all the help I could get. She mentioned that the cost could be spread out in weekly instalments; so from the beginning of 1939, I took one or two shillings per week to school, and for each shilling, a stamp was affixed to a card. By the time the beginning of May had arrived only about one pound ten shillings had been paid. "Don't worry," said the teacher. "You can pay the rest when you return. It can be spread out over the whole school year."

Probably about thirty girls made the journey with two or maybe three teachers to the Trouville Hotel on the Isle of Wight. It seemed that we occupied the whole of this modest, sea-front hotel for the two week period. The holiday was arranged for the first two weeks in May. It will be cold I thought. "Nonsense!" said our class-teacher, Miss Bunce. "Not on the Isle of Wight". Sure enough, when we stepped off the train and into the Isle of Wight, the weather was warm and sunny. The older girls from Class Five occupied rooms on the top floor. I shared a room for three with Fay Nicholls, my best friend, so was well satisfied. Beryl Thomas was supposed to be with us, but had been taken ill. We left an empty drawer below a big wardrobe for her clothes, in case she arrived later. However we saw nothing of her. Fay and I had one small chest of drawers each. When unpacked, we were asked to go and help with the younger girls; the seven- and eight-year-olds, who were on the lower floors. After this first day we did not see much of these younger ones, as we were divided into two groups for excursions. Class Five girls, about 15 in all, were accompanied by Miss Bunce. A lot of our time was spent on the beach. We had competitions. One was for the best model in sand. Fay and I did a model of Culver Cliff as suggested, but it was a dismal failure. The prize went to Maisie Moffatt, a younger Class Five girl, who did a model of a Roman mosaic pavement, which we had visited earlier in the week. A lot of time was also spent in collecting as many different varieties as possible of sea-shells. In this, I think I had the most extensive collection. We were also taken for country walks, where we gathered wild flowers for pressing. The pressing between books had to be done the same evening. The idea was to obtain one good specimen of each variety; to learn their names and label them correctly. We used common English names.

A memorable outing one day was to Carisbrooke Castle, near Newport. On the grassy slopes there were wild orchids. We were not allowed to gather these.

"These are very rare flowers", we were told.

At Carisbrooke, there was a very ancient well open to viewing. I believe that we were allowed to throw a stone into it. The teacher had the idea that we could gain an impression of the extreme depth, by listening for the splash as it hit the water. An old guide-book tells me that the well is 161 feet deep, and was sunk in 1150. The well-house dates from the 16th century. But I don't think our experiment was very successful! After some attempt at historical instruction, scrambling up steep flights of ancient steps to the Castle Keep and other well-preserved ruins made an interesting day for active girls.

I don't remember much else about the holiday, except that the weather was pleasantly warm and sunny, but not overpoweringly hot; and that our last day was spent on a tulip-farm. I had about one shilling left to spend. We had spent very little during the week, as excursion expenses were all included. Our remaining money we were required to spend on flowers to take home to our mothers. The tulips were three-halfpence each and the irises were a penny each. After heeding Fay's advice not to buy fully open flowers, I bought six tightly closed tulips and three blue irises for my shilling, and thought how expensive the flowers were, not having ever bought any before. But my mother thought this was a splendid present.

The holiday over, we settled down to a rather dull routine in the summer of 1939. War was looming, but the adults around us were pretending or maybe actually believing that it would not happen; in spite of the fact that I had an Anderson shelter in the garden, I did not consider war as a serious thing. My cousin and I used the Anderson shelter as a play-house during our daytime play hours.

But at school we could learn nothing more, but merely mark time. I was bored with this, especially as the Scholarship results had not come in, even by June 1939. Our teacher said she believed this was because no-one had passed. This was a poor year she said. She thought this because one result had already been received from the boys' school. David, my friend Lois Eynon's older brother, about the same age as me, had won a scholarship, but he was the only successful boy of his year, out of a class of about 25 or 30. "Such a poor year," moaned our class-teacher.

Then unexpectedly, a result came through. "There is one Junior County Scholarship awarded", said the Headmistress one hot summer morning at Morning Assembly. "Will Joan Martin, come to the front of the school, please". I stood up, and was trembling with nervousness. I stood transfixed to the spot, while the school clapped. "You have got to go to the front", people said , ignoring my protests. So eventually I stumbled up to front, and looked out over a sea of young faces and heard the noise of clapping hands going on for a very long minute or two. This was a moment of triumph meant to be enjoyed, but I was glad to sink down again into the back of the hall with my class-mates. I was upset because Fay Nicholls' name had not been called. A few weeks later, I was glad to hear that she had been awarded a "Special Place" at the grammar school. This meant paying no fees, but there was no grant for clothing. I was sorry about that; as I knew school uniform was expensive. But I did not see Fay Nicholls again. She had been taken ill, and had to stay away from school for a few weeks. She had not been too well on the day of the exam; that was why she had only a special place and not a scholarship, her mother told my mother.

There were more exams for me. I had to take an entrance exam at the school which my parents had selected. "I don't want to take another exam", I protested. "I have already passed". But I went along to the school, and was given a simple test in arithmetic and English. "It's all right. You have done well in it", I was re-assured on the very day I took the exam. There was not much formality. It was marked on the spot , while I sat in a waiting room.

I also had to pass a medical exam at County Hall. This was run by the London County Council in those days. "Do try hard to please the doctor", said my teacher. "We don't want you to fail the medical exam"; as if by "trying hard" I could do better in a medical exam. The reason was that I particularly afraid of doctors and could not relax with them. The test I feared was having my throat examined with a spoon inserted. I practised and practised until I could display my throat without a spoon. This was the way I passed the medical exam!

The preparations were all in vain. This I was not to know. The preparations all took place before September 3rd 1939, and the grammar school year started afterwards, and I was no longer in London to attend the school. Instead I stayed temporarily with my grandmother in Manningtree, Essex. Neither was Fay Nicholls there. I heard shortly afterwards that she had been evacuated by sea to Canada. I never heard any more about her, and missed her friendship for a long time afterwards.

This was the end of my primary school years, and on the whole I had enjoyed them.

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Copyright Joan Hughes 1993-1997. Published with permission.