Ted's story

Privilege and privation

At my boarding school in Reading I would lie awake in the dormitory watching the searchlights make patterns in the night sky and heard the brm-brm-brm of bomber engines. When the sirens went off, the first move was downstairs to the dining hall where we played Strip-Jack-Naked or Solo through the night - that was great fun. There were shelters, but I remember only going there for practice drills. All the ground floor windows had walls built around them. Great plywood sheets covered the upper floor windows, and those in the stair well were difficult to manipulate. One Wednesday afternoon, there was a hell of a crash and I thought a prefect had dropped one. No - it was just one plane jettisoning bombs that hit the Heelas department store in the centre of town, the only raid to hit Reading. Why do I remember it was a Wednesday? It was early closing day, and the town was nearly empty. Later, there were doodlebugs and one came down out of harm's way in nearby Whiteknights Park

 

Food was very good in the boarding house, especially with my mother's weekly tuck parcels. The biggest decision I had to make was what to do with the one tiny pat of butter allotted each day. Shall I spread it all on one piece of bread and really enjoy it, or thinly on several pieces where it could not be tasted? I became expert at filleting kippers and slicing bread. The only traumatic memory is the time we were served burnt liver for lunch, and I couldn't stomach it. The housemaster insisted that I eat it, and when I refused he flew into a rage and accused me of defiance and insubordination. Cost me "four of the best" and a sore behind, but I still couldn't eat it. Towards the end of the war, we received 5 gallon cans of orange jelly from some benefactor in America, to use as jam. Yum yum. It was some time in 1946 when we saw the first banana. What luxury!

When I first went there, we were very well served by a large staff. Then "boots" retired and we had to polish our own shoes. Next, they couldn't even get Irish maids and we had to make our own beds. Only cold meals on Sundays. Such hardship! At least starched Eton collars were consigned to history, thank goodness.

Our schoolmasters were nearly all veterans of WW1 and seemed vastly ancient, but they had plenty of ancient wisdom to impart. Then came that extreme oddity in a boys' school: a female teacher! Normally, the house matron and the housemaster's wife were the only specimens of that peculiar section of humanity we ever saw.

 

Our main hobby was building balsa model fighter planes, and I envied the detail and finish others were able to produce. Meccano contraptions were more in my line, and models made from cardboard cutouts. At the time of El Alamein I think I must have just learned about the Trojan Horse, because I set about designing an armoured vehicle disguised as a camel, driven by a perpetual motion engine of my own invention!

 

Ted Webber
October 2002
Ted now lives in Queensland, Australia. If you have have any questions you can write to him by clicking here.
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