John M's story

The Exploding Headmaster


It was first lesson Monday afternoon, a music lesson in June 1944. We were standing around the piano in the hall of Epsom Grammar School with a rather grumpy teacher called Mr. Clover, when the sirens went. This meant we had to stop immediately and walk in single file out to the air-raid shelters on the school field. As the siren died away we could hear a flying bomb approaching. We could not see it as there were no windows on that side of the hall, but we could certainly hear it-the frapping sound was unmistakable-and it was definitely both close and low. Outside the hall was a corridor with large plate glass windows on the right and, on the left, doors going into various school offices. By this time the doodlebug was right overhead and very low. It was making so much noise that the teacher was having to bellow to make himself heard. He was shouting, "Walk, don't run!"

Suddenly the engine spluttered and there was a terrible silence. We all knew what that meant: and knew what to do about it. We threw ourselves flat on the floor with our arms shielding our eyes. If it was a direct hit, we would all be dead; if a near miss, cut to pieces by flying glass. We hoped it would be a direct hit, because we did not want to lie there wounded. I dropped on the floor on the left-hand side, away from the windows, and it just so happened that I was lying right across one of the doorways. As luck would have it, it was the door to the headmaster's study... and he was inside. He must have heard the buzzbomb cut out and decided to get out… quickly. He wrenched open the door and came rushing out, failed to see the small boy lying across the threshold, and tripped over me. I looked up just in time to see him do a wonderful nose-dive. Just as his nose hit the ground there was a deafening bang. I thought it was the Headmaster exploding. The whole building shook. Dust flew up into the air. The blast lifted me momentarily into the air.

But the strange thing was that there was no sign of the doodlebug: no wreckage, no crater and, apart from a few broken windows, no damage. The next day we discovered that it had come down in a disused brickfield just beyond the school field. The steep sides of the quarry had forced the blast upward, so, although it made a lot of noise, it did little damage.

This turned me, briefly, into something of a local hero, at least in the eyes of my schoolmates, for Mr Clarke, the Headmaster, was definitely not the sort of man one went around tripping up. For several months afterwards, whenever a boy started boasting about the things he had done, I would say, "But have you ever tripped up a headmaster?" and they would have to take a back seat.

But for my parents it was the last straw. On the Friday of that same week my brother and I were evacuated again, for the fourth and last time.

John Matthews

Johnmatthews has written other stories about his childhood :



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