by Frank Smith (1935-42)
I was Head Boy at Ermysted’s, but only for the one term, Autumn 1942, before I took up a war-time Government Scholarship at New College, Oxford – which included a fast-track programme to a Commission in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR).
I came back for the Autumn term with the idea of trying for the Petyt Bursury at Cambridge, or maybe a County Major Scholarship from the West Riding to go to Manchester University. Realistically, I knew that I didn’t have much chance, because my HSC results were only moderate, and I knew that I would be conscripted for war service as soon as I left school.
So, what were the duties of the Head Boy of EGS in 1942? In my day we only had about 350 day pupils – plus about 50 boarders in School House, from outlaying villages, with only about 30 in both the Modern and Science 1st and 2nd years together in the 6th Form. The school had a 2 stream entry, taking a kind of 10 + entrance exam, from volunteers within the primary schools in the catchment area with I don’t know how many being offered free scholarships. But there seemed to be quite a lot of fee-payers in the B streams.
Some time in August 1942 I received a message from the Headmaster Mark Forster to phone him at school to make an appointment to go and see him the next day, which I did. I was most gratified to receive an invitation to become Head Boy at the start of Term. I later found out that only 4 of the dozen or so who had got their HSC in the Summer term had come back in Autumn, so there was not much competition!
On the first day of term, everybody waited in the Quad as usual, to be told by some loud voice to go to their last term form room. The 6th Form room for 1st and 2nd years Science and Modern in those days was the specialist Geography Room, situated next to the Staff Room at the top of the first staircase from the Quad. It was a larger room than the other classrooms in the block, down 3 steps – which everybody jumped. On each side it had low fitted storage cupboards with sliding doors. There was a big teachers’ desk at the front. There was a slate made, suspended globe, and a glass cabinet with meteorological instruments. At the back, there was a door to a small store room with an outside door leading down steps to the Quad, or on to the Gym changing room and the big Gym.
I can’t remember whether we had an assembly in the Hall or ordinary timetabled lessons that first day or not. I had a short session with the Head who briefed me on my future duties, and gave me a list of the appointed Monitors and Sub-monitors. I had to draw up a rota of duties for all the other monitors and their duty stations, and to see that they did them.
I gathered that the chief duties of the Monitors was to keep order in the corridors and classrooms before morning and afternoon sessions. “NO RUNNING! KEEP TO THE RIGHT!……NO LITTER!”
We also had to dish out the morning break milk (with several left over from absentees for ourselves). A senior monitor was also required to supervise Prep last lesson each day in the form rooms of 1a and 1b, which with the Prep Form (young fee payers) were on the short corridor from the Quad to the Hall in the Old School. We also had to supervise all the boys leaving their Form rooms coming in to the Hall every morning for Prayers, Hymns and Notices. Senior forms in chairs on the left, and Juniors standing on the right. A few Masters would appear at the last minute to sit along the back wall. When the Head appeared from his study on to the stage, I would have to lock the door and then let the Catholics in for the notices afterwards. At the end of that the Head would invariably ask to see me. If he asked to see anybody else, it was to give them the cane! Then me and another monitor would supervise all the boys leaving, and I would go behind the Hall to the Head’s study.
The Head and his family had private rooms in the old part of the school, where upstairs were dormitories, common rooms, toilets and washrooms for the Boarders – including one or two live-in teachers. I never once was invited upstairs to see anything. Also in the Old School downstairs was the Dining Hall for some day boys and the Boarders. I remember that the Library had a fiction section as well as academic shelves. Most lessons for the Modern Sixth were held here, 1st year and 2nd years timetabled together for 8 lesson but taught separately for 4 lessons for yearly differences of the curriculum. We were given the nod that each year group could disappear for private study if they so desired.
The Monitors and Sub-monitors were given powers of punishment – a maximum of 50 lines, or a detention period of 30 minutes after the end of morning school on Saturday morning. Saturday mornings, which were not very popular with Monitors or boys, had a shorter session of 3 lessons. Saturday afternoons were devoted to First Team and Colts Rugger or cricket competitive Home and Away games against other schools like Sedbergh, Lancaster, Bradford etc – but not scruffy places like Keighley or Colne!
The biggest job I had to supervise that term was a commercial project by a private firm to photograph each boy in the school – a black and white head and shoulders picutre. I had to take the orders, collect the money and deliver the orders too. I remember that I had a bit of trouble collecting the money, but I soon made it a rule not to accept any IOUs. My first lesson into book-keeping!
1942 of course was at the height of the war, and we weren’t doing very well. There were blackouts and food rationing, but I remember that the school dinners were very good to a hungry 18 year old lad. Life was serious. We all felt that we had to do our best to justify our soft life in ‘Civvy Street’, and we realised that we were very lucky in Skipton not being air-raided. A little ray of social life, however, was Saturday night – when about half a dozen of us 6th form reprobates used to walk up to Embsay to a dance in the village hall and compete for a chance to walk a girl home back to Skipton. Then I had to walk myself back to Carleton! There were no family cars to borrow in those days. Then in January 1943 I was ‘called up’ to the RNVR cadets and a whole new chapter in my life.
About Frank Smith
Frank attended Ermysted’s from 1935 to 1942 and was Head Boy in the Autumn Term of 1942-3. During his time at EGS he was also Head of Toller house and Captain of Cricket. Now 92, Frank lives on the Isle of Man./a>.