What was it like?

Ottershaw School - The introduction When my parents first told me I would be attending boarding school I was filled with trepidation. They explained to me that as my father would be moving around the country due to his work, there was a need to provide me with a more settled education. They informed me that I would have to attend an interview at Ottershaw School where the headmaster was a certain Mr Foot. In the coming weeks I found out only two things about Mr Foot. It was believed he was related to the rather charismatic labour MP Michael Foot, but I was not sure in what way he was related; but more relevant was that I heard he was most particular about the state of pupil’s shoes. I was therefore most careful to ensure my shoes were immaculately polished for my interview.

My parents took me to the school by car and I clearly remember entering the main gates for the first time. It was awesome - like going into another world. The long winding drive past the out-buildings and then under the little bridge to the school seemed to go on forever. I remember noting an old fire engine parked outside of what I later learned were the school workshops. When I came face to face with the mansion for the first time it seemed like a castle, huge, cold, slightly forbidding, mysterious. We rang the bell and were soon quickly escorted though the massive bronze looking doors to the interior and then shown up the huge oak staircase to the first floor and on into the headmaster's study were for the first time I came face-to-face with the man who was to become my new headmaster. Wearing his university gown, but not a mortarboard hat as I had expected, Mr Foot slowly stood up from behind his huge desk at the far end of the rather large room which was his study. For a full minute he looked me up and down over the top of his half spectacles and then eventually asked my parents and I to sit - but then he seemed to stare at me for several moments more before sitting down himself. He appeared to have an almost mystical air and you definitely knew you were in the presence of someone very important. I cannot recall what was said at the interview but I did note on several occasions he did appear to look at my shoes and so I felt pleased that I had paid so much attention to them. After the interview he showed us into the room next door to his study, the unique octagonal dormitory which was called Galsworthy where all the windows were wide open and a freezing gale seemed to be blowing though the room. Mr Foot chuckled slightly as he pulled some of the windows closed and casually explained how the boys all liked the fresh air. To me it seemed I had entered a freezing hell. I was sure this was not the place I wanted to be.

A few weeks later I was to return to the school with my parents for a proper look around. A boy from East House called Jacobson was to be our escort and he spent almost three hours showing my parents and I all around the school and the grounds. I can remember thinking I didn't want to be sleeping anywhere in the mansion, to me it felt creepy and intimidating. I was sure I would want to be in the new more cosy and friendly looking buildings that we had seen which were West and Tulk houses. Eventually my parents received a notice to say that I would be joining the school later that year. I had been allocated to North House and this alone gave me my first feeling of dread as I knew this was to be in the mansion. I had also been assigned a strange number, OTT812 and to me this confirmed I was indeed entering some form of prison or perhaps place of terror.

Ottershaw School - The first day

On arrival on the first day at school I was of course just one of many other new boys, none of whom I knew. With our huge trunks in tow we were shown to our dormitory on the second floor, Masefield, and introduced to our dormitory leader a boy called Trant. After we had dropped off our trunks, we were each introduced to our guardians, these were older boys who were to be our guides and mentors for the next two weeks.

My guardian was a boy called Lewis whose job it was to ensure that I as the new boy got to know all the rules as quickly as possible. Lewis was quick to impress upon me that if I made any mistakes that he would be the one who would get into trouble - so I had better be very careful. This was the first hint of how strict the North House regime was going to be. Just a few hours later this was reinforced when all the new boys were called together by their guardians and were warned just how difficult life would be if we did not follow orders and keep out of trouble. On hearing the other more senior boys refer to my guardian as Bunny I also called him by what I supposed was his nickname, and for that rash behaviour I received my first Josh Knock, a sharp rap on the top of the skull with the knuckles from a clenched fist. All new boys soon learned this painful practice was the principle punishment metered out by senior boys for any form of disrespect or cheek.

At sometime during that day the new boys were lined up outside a little office situated at the end of the dormitory floor. We entered one by one and were introduced by our guardians to our new house-master, Mr Oettinger. He smiled and welcomed me to North House than then proceeded to detail how much pocket money I would have and recorded this on a yellow sheet of paper which had all the North house boys names listed in number order. After this briefest of welcomes we were sent on our way. Lewis then made me collect all my shoes and shoe cleaning kit from the dormitory and led me to the bottom corridor where he pointed to a small white door in a long line of wooden lockers. This was to be my shoe locker where footwear and shoe cleaning equipment were to be stored. After depositing my things I was told to remember the number on the door as there would be trouble if I was seen opening anyone else’s locker. Much later that afternoon we were introduced to our toyes, strange desk structures with an extended back which would be where we did our homework and private study. I was allocated to the Green Room, one of two toye rooms used by the boys in North House. The other was called the Brown Room although it too was mainly green, but here some of the woodwork was brown and thus the distinction in the names. The only free toyes were those in groups of four in the centre of the room as the senior boys had already grabbed the more prized ones around the edge of the room.

On that first evening, all the new boys were taken to the workshops where there was a pile of wood and several tools laid out on the benches. We were told we should try and make something to do with transport – and so I spent the next 90 minutes or so building a ship by shaping a piece of 4”x2” into a hull then adding a superstructure and finally nailing on to that funnels made from pieces of which looked like broom handle. I thought it looked pretty good and later I was told I had won a prize and of course was very pleased. My reward was an extra allowance for my pocket money but I cannot remember how much that was although the sum of five shillings seems to ring a bell. We were then recalled to our respective houses for evening roll call. This consisted of a parade in the main hall where our names were called out in number order along with those form East House and after responding and clicking our heels we were dismissed and allowed to go for cocoa – or rather hot chocolate which was being served in thick glasses from a wooden trolley in the bottom corridor. I remember with horror seeing thick skin floating on the top of the many of the glasses of cocoa but the boys did not seem to mind. The cocoa was hot and sickly sweet but seemed to taste good after such a long day. I don’t recall much else about that first day apart from I was very glad to get to bed that night as I was exhausted, confused and feeling very vulnerable yet pleased about winning the model making competition. I found I could not get to sleep as all the more senior boys were talking and joking for what seemed the whole night joking about strange topics, some of which to me seemed extremely rude. And so began my education at Ottershaw.

Ottershaw School - Day 2

The first morning began with a thud on the door followed by a rough shaking. It seemed as if I had hardly slept and at first I did not know where I was. Looking up I became aware of the intricate plasterwork of the ceiling high above and realised where I was. It was so early though – why were we all being awoken so early – and why was everyone rushing around yelling at the new boys to hurry up? No sooner was I up and dressed than my guardian arrived and grabbed me – come on or we will be late. I was not sure what we could be late for – it was so early - what were we supposed to do? I soon found out – squad duties – the school’s way of giving everyone a worthwhile job to do before breakfast. Lewis told me that he and I had to sweep the back stairs.

We collected our brooms, dustpan and dusters from the storeroom in the lower corridor and then climbed to the very top of the back staircase. Looking down through the centre of the stairs I wondered who would be sweeping the lower sections which seemed so far below – but of course no one was going to help us – we were on our own. We had just 45 minutes to complete the task and Lewis showed me the correct way to sweep each stair and collect the dust. The broom had to be manipulated precisely to tease out every bit of dirt from the corners of each and every step. Lewis followed me down using a large duster to wipe the woodwork and thus we made our way very slowly from the top to the bottom. I forget how many stairs there were but it was at least 5 flights each set out in three short sets of about six steps and with a short landing on each floor.

After we had finished we had to get the duty prefect to check our work. He was not impressed as when he swept a portion of the floor himself he managed to gather up a minute amount of dust. Lewis was not impressed either and warned me that the next day I would have to do better. No sooner had we finished then it was back to the dormitory where there was a frenzy of people making beds. I had never done a hospital corner before and my first attempts were laughed at by the seniors – my bed was then quickly made for me with the threat that if I did not do it myself in future there would be trouble. Then the breakfast bell rang and we all trooped towards the dining room. Lewis asked me where my comb was – I didn’t have one why? – do your hair he snapped offering me his comb - you will loose points if your hair is not tidy and make sure you have your own comb in future.

As we filed into the dining room a prefect looked carefully at each boy as they approached and some boys were turned away due to having untidy hair or their ties not being straight. The dining room door was then closed and we stood to attention at our tables. After grace, we all sat down at large wooden tables and then the boys who were turned away were allowed to enter. Their names were duly noted on the little pink note-pads, the contents of which we would soon learn would dominate our lives.

Breakfast consisted of porridge which was followed by a cooked breakfast of sausage and tomato. A large loaf of bread, a bowl of marmalade and a huge pat of butter were placed on each table. Each table also had an enormous two handled teapot and large enamel jug full of fresh milk. Strangely I thought, tea was served in glasses. Anyway I loved the porridge but most others did not.

After breakfast we retuned to the dormitories to complete bed making and make the rooms tidy. We had to lie on our backs under our beds and ensure there were no tags, i.e. loose bits of sheet or blanket hanging down. Some boys were dispatched to the changing rooms to make sure there were no clothes were left there and waste paper bins had to be spotless. Both CDICR (Clothes Down In Changing Rooms) and WPBNE (Waste Paper Bin Not Emptied) were cardinal sins and would cost the dormitory valuable points. We then had to make sure our shoes were clean ready for assembly.

When the next bell rang it was time for assembly – we all trooped into the hall where morning assembly for the whole school took place. After an official welcome by the headmaster to the new boys and the normal hymns and prayers we had to click our heels as a mark of respect as we were dismissed. And so began our first day of school. I don’t remember anything about the classes on that first day, only that at the morning break Lewis came and found me and quizzed me on my work. He then hurried me to the dining room where we queued for “slices”, bits of left over bread heavily doused with butter and marmalade. I reached out for one of the tastier looking ones but was barged away by an older boy who informed me seniors had first choice – plebs like me would have to be content with what was left. And so it was I ended up with a piece of cold fried bread which I then laced liberally with margarine and marmalade – I loved it and never minded again being last – for me the cold fried bread was better then the fresh bread..

There were more lessons and then lunch, with the filing into the dining room and again the weeding out of boys with untidy hair or loose ties. This time there was a member of staff at each table and at the head of the top table sat our housemaster Mr Oettinger. I remember thinking he looked like a walrus with his balding head and whitish moustache. After the meal and after the other staff had left he rose and spoke to the boys. It was a long speech about how the new boys were now part of the North House family. In a way it was quite rousing but in another a little intimidating but it left no doubt at all in anyone’s mind that great things were expected of all North House boys. After lunch we retuned to our dormitories for what was termed rest hour – which was actually around 45 minutes. During this period we had to lie quietly on our beds and rest or read. Prefects called at random to ensure everyone was on their beds.

On the first proper afternoon all the new boys were herded into the main hall, an impressive room with the two huge green agate pillars at one end .We queued to be issued with our school clothing; each boy being given a blue school blazer, a grey and blue cap, a tie, a pair of sports shorts, two sports shirts, (one blue and one white), a house vest, in my case bright yellow, a sweat shirt and I think a pair of sports socks. There might have been more but I really can’t recall. Later these items had to be taken to the sewing room where our numbers which were embroidered onto name tapes would be stitched into them by one of two middle aged ladies – however as I never learned their names they were forever after to me always simply the sewing room ladies. After we had got our clothing we went down for tea – a glass of orange squash and a slice of bread and jam – then I was horrified to learn we had to return to classes. This late working was a real shock to the system but one which supposedly allowed the most to be gained from the day. By the time lesson ended and supper time came around I was starving again and welcomed the evening meal. After that it was time to work in our toyes. First we had to don our house-shoes before sitting for about 50 minutes at our toyes, On that first evening I had virtually no homework to do so I tried to write a letter to my parents but was soon told I was not allowed to do that. There was to be no communication with parents for the first month. Now I really knew I was alone

Then came the routine of evening parade, cocoa and bed. That evening the senior boys talked louder and for longer and even ruder than ever and I started to feel very alone and desperately wanted to sleep but could not. It was on that second evening for the first time in my life that I started to feel homesick.

Ottershaw School - Settling down

Over the course of the next few days I was to learn much more about how life would be at Ottershaw. Every boy had been appointed a tutor – a member of staff in whom he could confide or ask for help. Mine was to be Mr Wigram who I learned was also the music and Religious Instruction teacher, but somehow I could not see myself confiding in him about anything. He seemed to be very religious but pleased that my parents had wanted me to take piano lessons and said I would be attending classes during the rest hour each Wednesday with Mrs Mencher who was the wife of my English teacher. It was then that I realised that not only did the boys live at the school but also all the staff and their families as well. Married staff had houses somewhere on the estate and single members of staff had rooms or small flats somewhere amongst the many buildings that made up the school Mr Wigram said he would be asking all new boys if they wished to join the school choir and wanted to know if I had done any singing before. I mentioned I played the recorder and had a guitar but he seemed distinctly uninterested in that. In due course all the new boys were lined up in the music room and asked to sing a few notes after which Mr Wigram selected those boys he thought could be useful in the choir. I was one of those and told I would be a treble and given a new hymn book which had the not only the words but the melody line of the music as well.

Choir practice would be once a week and I had to remember to bring my new hymn book with me. In that first week we were introduced to many more wonders such as the underground passage which took us from the mansion to the gym for our PE lessons and the wind tunnel where clothes were dried after games. The PE teacher, Mr Reynolds introduced us to the use of the gym and quickly took us to the swimming pool. Many of us did not have swimming costumes and so it was that several nervous and naked little boys were made to try and swim the length of the pool to see if they could indeed swim or if they needed further coaching. We were told that it was the intention that all boys should be able to swim by the end of the term.

We soon had our first experience of estate work. I was issued with a relatively blunt saw from a store in the underground passage and sent off along with many others to help cut logs in a small clearing just off the woodland path some way between the mansion and the new block. The more senior boys with quickly sat on the logs, they said to stop them moving, whilst the younger boys struggled with their huge saws to cut as many logs as possible in the time that was allotted.

As time passed gradually things started to drop into place. Our whole regime we soon appreciated revolved around bells. Bells governed almost every aspect of our day from the time we awoke until the time we finally went to bed. The most important thing on hearing a bell was to react quickly and not to be late for anything. Being late would cost dearly. Every time you were late your name was added to one of the little pink books and every time that happened you were a step nearer to being punished; and as we were later to find out, those punishments could be very varied indeed.

Ottershaw School - The first term

It took many more weeks before all the aspects of the daily routine really became understood and a regular part of life. Nearly every new boy, and I was no exception, fell foul of the system sooner or later by accumulating too many entries on the little pink pads. No one seemed to escape. Once you had collected enough entries you were summoned before the head of house on Sunday morning, in those early days it was a boy called Moscrop. From the interior of Mr Oettinger’s little study he would deliver a firm reprimand and then pronounce sentence. My turn came around soon enough and for my sins was woken very early every morning for a week by the duty prefect and made to wash his white shirts using only a sink of tepid water and a bar of soap and a scrubbing brush. It was hard work and the prefect wanted perfection. The slightest mark left on any shirt meant the whole job had to be done again - and frequently was. On reflection those shirts must have been made of tough stuff as despite all the rubbing and scrubbing they seemed none too worse for wear. Other punishment jobs included cleaning football boots, washing socks or other games clothing.

Despite living in a very closeted way, we did have a little contact with the outside world, and that was mainly through newspapers which were displayed daily on large wooden reading boards in the main hall. Boys would rush to be the first to read the papers after they arrived and I was surprised that not only were the so called good papers such as the Times and Telegraph available, but also several of the tabloids such as the Daily Mirror and the Daily Sketch. Every morning the radio would be on for a short while before breakfast, mainly to get the time signal so all the clocks around the school could be put right but this also afforded an opportunity to listen to the news. It soon became clear that North House was regarded as being very strict within the school. The North House boys were often referred to as Daddy Oet’s Little Robots but we had to ignore that. We were told we were the best and to prove it were expected to win almost every inter-house competition that existed. In our first term we played rugby and so on every available free period we were expected to “volunteer” for rugby practice. We had no choice – no one dared not to volunteer.

On our first weekend I was horrified to find we had classes on Saturday mornings – and for some – if you had got into trouble in class, there was even what was termed sixth school on Saturday afternoons where you would forfeit your free time to attend class and make up for what you had not done during the week. Sundays were different – and they were the one day you could lie in a little in the mornings – and almost every one did. There were no squad duties on Sundays and even Sunday breakfast was different, this being the one day of the week that porridge was replaced by cereals and we always had boiled eggs and toast.

On Sundays many boys would have a day out with their parents or some family member, or go out somewhere on their bikes. New boys were not allowed either of these privileges and as we were not allowed out of the grounds for the first month those first weekends revolved around exploring the grounds and buildings and getting to know all the places where pupils could hide for a crafty cigarette. It was during those early days that some friendships started to form. For me my first friend was David Turner (OTT821). He was lucky as he had an older brother at the school and at that time all siblings were always put in the same house so he had someone to help him a little though those early days.

We gradually became aware of the different clubs within the school, the most well known and productive being the Printing Society which operated from a small room on the lower corridor and would for a small fee print business cards or headed notepaper. You could always tell when something was happening there as the smell of the ink would pervade the whole lower corridor. There was also a photographic society complete with darkroom and the more mysterious Radio Club which although I did not know it then, was later to influence several aspects of school and later life. The school bursar, known as the Burzarum due to his way of talking, ran the school sailing club, taking boys out on one of the two school boats, an aged Enterprise and a GP16. There were also the more formal things such as the orchestra, the choir and of course the CCF. Boys could not join the CCF in their first year so had to watch the others dressed in their uniforms having fun and playing with real guns. And thus the scene was set for the rest of my Ottershaw School life.

The next four year were going to be most complex. I would meet many people, some of whom I would learn to despise and others who I would come to admire. The time to follow would prove to be interesting, frightening but also rewarding and for many reasons shape much of the rest of my life.

Ottershaw School - The first year

In my first year I was to find out many things about both myself and the school. Firstly I was no good at cross country running and nearly always staggered in last with my new friend David Turner. However I was quite good in the gym where I was selected for the house PE team. I was no good at boxing either and after only one session in the gym I received a bloody nose within 5 minutes of starting and so I never again attempted the sport.

Mr Foot and I met regularly – almost every week in fact due to my having found out very early on about another infamous Ottershaw practice, that of being issued with a Buff Card. To me it seemed that once you were on the Buff Card system you could not get off. It was a bit like a treadmill – you seemed always to come back to the same place. With the Buff Card I had to get the teacher to sign the card after each and every lesson but I often forgot and so the following week was issued with another card. It was not possible to get a teacher to sign after the event – or if they did they would add the word “late” to their signature and this would confirm that another card would be issued the following week. Even my gallant attempt to carefully forge Miss Bach’s signature after a biology lesson was quickly discovered and earned me yet another Buff Card.

Once a week Mrs Foot would preside over the tuck shop which was located in a curious little room accessed from the back staircase and which overlooked the main hall though a semi circular window at near floor level. We were not allowed to have money in our pockets but had to sign for any goods we bought and the money would then be deducted from our pocket money accounts which were held and maintained by our house-masters. In the first term alone I managed to spend far more money than I actually had on wine gums and as a consequence was then faced with a complete ban from the tuck shop for the whole of the next term.

On Saturday evenings there would be an entertainment. This could be a film, usually black and white, or a copy of a radio panel game such as Desert Island Disks. On many occasions it was a slide show given by some visiting person or friend of the headmaster who had perhaps visited Africa or some other exotic place. We were all expected to attend and as there was no TV at the school at that time the organised entertainment became the highlight of the week. The first entertainment I attended was indeed a slide show in the main hall but which was interrupted on several occasions by Mr Foot yelling at the boy operating a very aged projector to get the picture into focus.

Sundays started with breakfast followed by morning parade – an inspection of dormitories, our shoes and shoe lockers and our and finger nails. Boys with the slightest growth of hair were singled out to have their hair cut by the barber who once a week took up his position in the lower corridor between the East house prefects room and the music safe. After supper on Sunday evenings there was the weekly service in the assembly hall. For this all boys had to wear white shirts instead of the more normal grey ones. At Christmas the choir performed Handel’s Messiah – and this was the first time I had ever sung in any type of production and at that time it all seemed very grand. Meanwhile my piano playing seemed to improve only a little but I did not seem to get on very well with my teacher, Mrs Mencher.

Suddenly my interest in music shifted after hearing one of the senior North House boys practicing on the Clarinet in preparation for the school Christmas concert. His name was Measure and he seemed to be able to play the instrument with such ease and skill that I became totally captivated by the sound he produced. I vowed I wanted to learn to play and from that moment on lost all interest in the piano. During the Christmas holiday I visited a second hand shop in Leeds where for £2 I managed to buy a very old and battered clarinet on which I then attempted to play the piece made famous by Acker Bilk entitled Stranger on the Shore. After several months I was able to do this reasonably well and eventually during the following Easter holidays my parents agreed I could drop the piano lessons and take up lessons on the clarinet instead.

In that first year the cross country run for juniors was known as the “short aerodrome”. The “long aerodrome” being for the seniors. The short aerodrome run took us from a start at the mansion, and down the internal road past the masters’ houses and West House and out along the old drive onto the main Woking Road just below Ottershaw Church. We then turned southwards toward Woking running along the side of the road for about a mile until we came to a path on the left which took us behind Fairoaks Airfield and through what appeared to be a pig farm where at times we had to run though what seemed like very deep areas of pig slurry. The path eventually brought us back onto the Chobham Road where we re-entered the school grounds via the sunken gardens and finished up back at the mansion.

Taking a shower after a run or after any sport was fraught for the younger people. There were only six showers in the North house changing rooms and so there was always a queue. Those lucky enough to be dismissed from games early could enjoy a nice long piping hot shower but those who arrived later were not so fortunate. Despite there being a queue to use the showers, senior boys would always push past the youngsters so the new boys were always the last to get their shower. By this time most of the hot water would have been used and so for us our showers were always either just warm or even cold.

The school year revolved around a series of inter-house competitions. There were taken very seriously and before each event Daddy Oet would lecture us on how important it was to “go in hard”, or to “try that extra bit”. Maybe it was due to his way of providing inspiration or perhaps it was something else, but at that time North House did hold most of the sports trophies. One cup North did not hold though was the music trophy, which was in the form of a silver bugle and held at that time by East house. East were very proud of the fact that they had held the music trophy for many years and did not seem keen to let it go - and in that first year it did indeed stay in East House.

In each of the three academic terms a different set of sports were played. In the Autumn term until Christmas we played rugby and did cross country. In the winter term until Easter we played soccer and in the summer term we played cricket and did athletics. For each sport there was an annual competition and all boys were encouraged and expected to take part and in the weeks before any competition the prefects would ensure we would volunteer for extra training. And so in that first year we had a seemingly endless round of the inter-house competitions; boxing, rugby, music, soccer, cross-country, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, squash, athletics and finally cricket.

Once a week there was a dancing class held in the main hall. This took place during the toye period and in the early evenings. For the first half of the class boys would be paired together to learn the basic steps of the waltz, quickstep and foxtrot. Later a group of girls would arrive – from where I never learned – but they provided partners for the boys for the rest of the lesson. The music for the classes was provided by a boy called Roger Chesher who using a home made amplifier and very large loudspeaker produced the very loud Victor Sylvester music to accompany the dancers which seemed to wail though the whole mansion until quite late into the evening. Whilst most boys filing out of their toyes were keen to look at the legs of the girls, I became fascinated by the glowing valves of the home made amplifier.

The summer term was the one preferred by most boys. We had lessons in the morning as normal and also in the early afternoons which were then followed by tea then games or estate work – this afternoon arrangement being the reverse of what happened for the rest of the year. After supper in the summer we had what was termed as a free hour – time when we could do almost anything we wanted. With the long light evenings this time was later to introduce me to a club and activities which still influence my life to this day. It was during the first summer term that I first began to listen to music. This began when John Wilby started to play some of his own records on the school gramophone in the main hall. To be able to do this was a privilege which had to be applied for but one which once granted could then be enjoyed by all those in the hall at the time. Pop records were not allowed but Wilby had persuaded the powers that be, mainly Mr Wigram, that the singing of Franciose Hardy was not really pop music and so on many a sunny evening or afternoon, the strains of her voice singing sometimes in French and sometimes in English would waft through the quiet of the mansion.

We had regular spelling tests and general knowledge tests. These would take place once a term. We were given a sheet of things to learn and then be tested a day or so later in class. During one particular spelling test in response to being asked to spell the word corrupt, Mr Reynolds was asked by one boy, how do you spell that Sir? He started to spell out the word before realised he had been tricked which of course raised a great deal of laughter – Mr Reynolds also saw the funny side and laughed too.

At the end of each term we had to choose and learn a poem. On the morning of day before went home we had to recite our poems to a group of teachers – but if we failed to remember the words we would miss out on our remaining free time. We had to return to our toys or dormitories and ensure we learned the poems which had to be recited word perfectly the following day before we would be allowed to go home.

In the final term of that first year, we learned that Mr Foot would be retiring at the end of the academic year. His replacement was announced as Mr Dodds but no one seemed to have heard of him or knew anything about him. At that time we had no idea what this change would mean for the school but as I prepared my things to leave for the long summer holiday I already felt a deep dread that something in my life was about to change again and that feeling was most unsettling. And so it was that I went home for the summer holidays not knowing quite what to expect on my return or even if I wanted to return.

Ottershaw School - A new era begins

On returning to the school after the long summer holiday it immediately became apparent that some things had indeed changed. Of course it was now Mr Dodds who was the headmaster standing on the stage to welcome us all back but straight away it was noticed that the boxing club and thus the boxing competition had both been disbanded. It seemed as though Mr Dodds had already started to exert his influence. The dropping of the boxing club was welcomed by many but just as much despised by others who thought this was a good way to toughen up young boys. There was a feeling in many that the school may be going soft.

Later we would learn that the cross country course had been changed. No longer would we run the short or long aerodrome routes. These runs had been replaced by the less demanding and perhaps less dangerous Beech Hill Clump run which would consist of either a single or a double circuit which remained almost entirely within the actual school grounds. The new runs would take us from the mansion down past West House and to the edge of the grounds by the main Woking road before returning though the woods again to the playing fields which we then skirted running on toward Beech Hill which was the small rise directly behind the mansion. The run would then continue over Beech Hill before returning onto the playing fields which lay on the aerodrome side of the mansion and then back to just behind the Mr Stowell’s classroom which was under the stage at the West side of the mansion. If you were in year three or more you then had to repeat the whole process over again.

Soon after the term started we were told that boys would be used to help construct a new master’s common room on the piece of land which lay on the path between the lower corridor entrance and the squash court. Work would start as soon as possible. A little later in the year Mr Dodds announced we were to have a new school uniform. Our near royal blue blazers would be replaced by sports jackets and we would not have to wear caps. He invited boys to identify possible materials from samples he had in his study but apparently the choice of the boys was not at all to his liking and so we all ended up with his choice which was pale blue/grey jackets.

Some things did appear to actually be a little better. The tuck shop was now run by Mrs Dodds the new headmaster’s wife – and she was very attractive and very good humoured and would often spend a little time to talk to the boys who were her customers. She thus became a very popular figure around the school and I suspect for some a sort of substitute mother figure. In the outside world things had also changed that summer. The Beatles were now the main influence for young people and seeming increasing in influence were the Rolling Stones. Pirate radio stations had also appeared in the summer in the form of Radio London and Radio Caroline and were now avidly listened to by most boys using tiny transistor radio sets connected to long lengths of wire to act as an aerial in order to receive the faint signals from those little ships at sea. In response to the rise of the pop culture Daddy Oet gave us a very long speech about the decline in standards being set by these new pop groups and warned us not to try end emulate them with their long hair and trendy clothing and disrespect for society and the better things of life. I think he was truly worried we might all take to drugs and loutish behaviour. True we had been allowed once a week to listen to Pick of the Pops on the BBC radio but this rather sanitised and censored programme did not play a lot of the music we wanted to hear. Surprisingly neither did Mr Dodds or Daddy Oet try and ban the use of radio sets in the dormitories and so we were able to tune into the pirate radio stations every morning and for the first time ever could listen to real uncensored pop music at the school.

The main routine however differed little and despite reinforcements in the form of a batch of new boys, life went on pretty much as before. I took up my clarinet lessons and after just one term was invited to join the school orchestra. This was really my first real success at the school and one of which I was very proud. My interest in the equipment of the boy with his home made amplifier continued and after mush pestering he allowed me to see the inner sanctum of the mysterious radio club. It was like entering a different world. Inside a small room in the upper floor of the bothy were a few wooden benches covered with the guts of radios and other electronic equipment. Moreover, the whole floor was covered with the remains of broken valves, wires and things which I later learned were the various components of electronic equipment. There were several mains sockets on the walls each with several wires pushed into them and held in place with the plug from a soldering iron. The boy I was to know simply as Chesher informed me if I was interested I could help him by carrying equipment from the radio club to the dance class each week and if I was good enough he may even let me help him connect it up. I took up this with relish an over the next months leaned how to connect record deck to amplifier and loudspeakers and the preparation of the equipment for the weekly dance class became one of my allotted tasks. To further my knowledge for this fascinating new work I began to read two monthly magazines which were available in the library, these were Wireless World and Practical Wireless which later became known as Practical Electronics. In the magazines were articles about how to construct things such as radio sets, transmitters and amplifiers. They also contained arrays of adverts mostly of valve numbers which then meant nothing to me. Over the next three years I was to learn more about electronics than almost anything else and this though the activities of the Radio Club and the boy who ran it, Roger Chesher.

That second year went by quickly. The new master’s common room was indeed started using the labours of volunteers on Sunday mornings and in free periods. By the early summer the foundations had been laid and a block-work plinth built on which a prefabricated building was to be erected. It was during the construction of the plinth that Mr Foot paid a visit to the school and as I was sitting in a trench at the time holding onto a line to keep the block-work straight I did not dare stand up although I knew I should. When he spoke to me I think he saw my dilemma and he smiled before going on to see other boys. Afterwards Mr Oettinger assured me he had remembered me and did not mind I had not stood up on this occasion. That was to be the last time I ever saw Mr Foot, and it may well have been the last time he saw the school. His death whist playing tennis on Hayling Island was announced not too long afterwards. At the end of the second year I felt I had become more integrated in the school. I had made a few friends there and had started to train to be a lifesaver. I had also joined the army section of the cadet force and was also interested in going on a skiing trip to Switzerland in the following winter if my parents would allow. I went home that summer feeling quite buoyant little knowing what the next year was to behold.

That year my parents took the family to Bude for a holiday and there I noticed the buses all had number plates exactly like the school numbers – I even spotted one sporting my own OTT 812 and to this day wish I had taken a photo but I did not. After I left the school I wanted to try and buy the number for my own car but in the years that came I forgot to even try. It was whilst on that holiday in Bude that by chance I one day picked up a newspaper and in it read that the son of a headmaster had been critically injured in a road accident. Reading the details it soon became apparent that the headmaster concerned was in fact Mr Dodds. Again though a newspaper a few days later I learned that his son did not survive and for the rest of that holiday I seemed numb – I simply could not imagine what it would be like to return to the school. Would other people know? What would we say to each other? I really dreaded the idea of returning that year.

Ottershaw School - The Third Year

On retuning to school for my third year, it was immediately obvious that most boys knew of the tragedy that had happened during the summer break. Instead of the normal hub-bub of chatter and excitement which was the norm at the beginning of any term, everyone seemed very subdued and spoke in whispers. In fact the whole school was eerily quiet. At our first meal, almost choking with emotion, Mr Oettinger informed us of the details of what had happened. He also said the best we could do help the headmaster was to try and continue as normal as best we could. Very quietly we left the dining room to return to our dormitories to reflect. Naturally the conversation revolved around what would happen now.

At the first assembly we witnessed a very sombre Mr Dodds on the stage. His face appeared thinner and very pale and he spoke in a low voice and tried hard to give the appearance that things would carry on as normal. However, for many boys I think the greatest shock came when we first saw Mrs Dodds at the tuck shop. She had appeared to have aged considerably and the grief was clearly written on her face. She tried hard to converse with boys as normal but we had no idea of what we could possibly say to her so ended saying nothing which on reflection must have seemed quite insensitive or even rude. Through her somehow it seemed we could all feel some of the pain that the headmaster and his family were going though. Life did continue though, and after those first numbing weeks the routine picked up again although life at the school was never to be quite the same ever again.

We had another batch of new boys so no longer was I a pleb. No more waiting to be last for showers or anything else for that matter. In fact it was our turn to be the ones to make the lives of the newer boys a misery and regretfully that is what several of us did. It was learned behaviour and really brought out the very worst in many people. Of course we were still bullied by the seniors but that did not seem to matter quite so much.

A large television set in a huge wooden cabinet appeared in the main hall of the school that year. At first we were not quite sure what it was and had no idea how it would be used, but it certainly was not meant for entertainment. However, Mr Dodds did relent for the 1966 world cup and for the first time ever at the school, the little wooden doors were opened and TV used for a non educational purpose. You can imagine the delight when England won. Of course, a select few of us had had access to TV for some time.

In the Radio Club we had managed to repair an old TV set which had been donated for components and so could watch a tiny black and white picture in a darkened room – BBC only of course but the programmes available during our free time in the evenings were not that interesting and in the afternoons there was only the test card.

Most of my free time was divided into two activities, playing the clarinet and advancing my knowledge of electronics in the Radio Club - the latter gradually becoming the more dominant. I attempted to build several amplifiers and after burning my fingers with the soldering iron and getting many electric shocks I eventually managed to produce a small device that actually worked. I also learned how to blast the carbon rods out of U2 batteries by connecting them across the mains and how to explode electrolytic capacitors by connecting them in reverse across a high voltage DC power supply.

One of the more fun things was to produce a tiny transistor sound generator which fitted neatly into a tobacco tin. When activated it produce a very high whining noise which could be varied in pitch at the turn of a knob. I had great fun turning it on in class and watching the faces of the teachers who could not tell where the sound was coming from. On one occasion in an English class the teacher went around the class room touching things such as the radiator and the light fittings to try and see where the noise was coming from. Every time he touched something I changed the pitch a little so it seemed the noise was reacting to whatever has doing. I also tried it with Mr Reynolds in geography in the Log Cabin but he guessed it was me straight away so that was the end of that.

In the Radio Club no one appeared to have any fear of electricity and completely unsupervised we experimented rashly with dangerously high voltages, up to 10,000 volts on one occasion, and created monstrous things such a huge power which was supposed to supply the CCF transmitter. This device would build up vast charge up over 1500v which we would then discharge with such force it would instantaneously melt the end of a screwdriver. This also created such a loud bang that on one occasion it brought Mr Goff scurrying from his flat at the far end of the building to see what was happening - he never twigged though. Thinking back now it was a wonder no one was electrocuted. On the other extreme we constructed a rather nice little heater so we could enjoy illicit hot toast in the clubroom and would repair radios for masters which sometimes earned us a few shillings.

Mid way though the year the masters common room was approaching completion and was later to feature on the BBC news and would show some boys working on various items. Trant, my former dormitory leader was shown fixing a tap onto a wash basin then turning it on and for water to be seen gushing out!

We had a new metalwork teacher that year, Mr Thomas. He was very tall and thin and drove around in red mini. He was immediately popular with the older boys as he owned a real go-cart and would allow them to drive it on the playing fields. During that year I became a lifesaver gaining my Bronze Medallion so was able to take others in swimming. One particular boy, Tim Pesikasa was instrumental in building my confidence up and I ended up being really quite a strong swimmer. I think it was also that year that there was a skiing trip abroad with Mr Reynolds and his wife and a group of boys to Kandersteg in Swizerland. That was to prove a great experience. A sea trip followed by a long overnight train trip from Calais to Basel and then the following day another train to Kandersteg. We had great fun going out to bars in the evening. My limited German came into play and at one bar, Chez Max, which lay some distance from our wooden hotel and out of reach of the teachers, we were free to drink beer and smoke. The bar had a small group who on seeing we were from England played House of the Rising Sun for us - we loved it. The skiing was great too and were we taught by an elderly man called Hans. I still have the cloth badge that we were given and somewhere there should also be the little certificate book and metal pin badge that we were presented with, but I have not seen these for some time.

It was toward the end of year three that my confidence began to grow and in that summer I discovered by pure chance I had a knack of throwing the discus. Although my style was very unorthodox the discus somehow went some distance and this gained me a place in the school athletics team which meant I got to go on trips out to other schools which was great.

After exams that year, Chesher was given the project of completely rewiring the stage lighting system – a formidable task involving stripping all the existing cabling and installing new with additional lights as well. In my free time I would assist him by holding the ladder or some such thing but really I just wanted to learn more about how all the lights worked. As I seemed to do the work quite well Chesher promised I could take over the some of his special jobs such as the dancing class music as he would be leaving at the end of the summer term. By this time, in the radio club I had managed to build a fairly formidable valve amplifier of some 20 watts which almost unbelievable power in those days. I had also inherited the very large mains driven loudspeaker used for the dancing club. I was so proud of this I took it all home in the summer holidays much to the horror of my parents, but to the delight of the members of our local youth club where the high volume of sound it could all produce was much appreciated.

I think it was in this year (although it may have been the next) that Bert Butler also announced he would retire. Bert was the school cleaner but in reality he was far more than that. In the earlier years he had the ear of Mr Foot who would sound him out about what was going on in the school, especially the mansion. Bert, not being teaching staff could observe first hand the many goings on in the mansion and could offer a unique perspective on both pupils and staff. Whether Mr Dodds used him in the same way I never found out. Despite his seemingly menial position, Bert was very much respected by boys and he acted as an unofficial guardian to many of them, helping them overcome problems and simply being an ear in times of need. It was a sad day when we saw him leave for the last time wearing long his trench coat and riding on his immaculately polished motorcycle combination.

In addition to Bert there were also the Botley Boys - the collective name give to a group of unfortunate men who would work at the school washing up in the Butler’s Pantry and on cleaning duties. They all came from the residential hospital know as Botley Park. Alas with their lower IQs they were an easy target for the boys who frequently abused them verbally. This practice was totally frowned on, especially by Mr Oettinger who had made one of the Botley boys responsible for his new careers room which was once the old masters common room in the lower corridor. That young man took a real pride in his work and polished the floor and furniture every day until it gleamed. Nevertheless, due to him having a rather severe body odour problem he was still frequently called names which I know troubled both he and Mr Oettinger greatly.

It was at the end of that term that I knew this summer holiday would be a little different – I was to go with the CCF on summer camp to Thetford. Instead of leaving with our parents on the final day we packed up our kit and headlined out to East Anglia. Mr Veal had recently been made an officer and so accompanied us along with Mr Oeken. At the camp we were allocated a typical army Nissen hut. However the weather was cold and wet and so our accommodation was not very pleasant. In the centre of the hut was a large metal stove and so we tried lighting it using fir cones as fuel and although this worked well, we soon ran out of fuel. We noticed there was a huge pile of coal kept in a secure bay by the kitchens and so we devised a plan to get some of it into our hut to use in the stove. Each afternoon and evening a well organised raiding party would set up look outs before others would scale the fence and collect a small bag of coal. This was passed over the fence to the rest of us who secreted it in the bottom drawers of the metal bedside lockers in the hut. After the first few days we had collected enough coal to last for the entire camp and thus our hut was always warm and cosy. In the evenings we were permitted to visit the bar where there was a juke box but as we had very little money we could not afford to either the music or to drink very much so spent much of our free time in our huts. We had numerous exercises and parades in the day which were great fun but we were pretty well exhausted by each evening. After the camp we were all issued with travel warrants and using these made own way home to enjoy the remainder of the holidays.

Ottershaw School - My final year

My fourth year at Ottershaw was going to be my final year although I was not aware of that fact when I retuned to school after the summer holidays. Also this year was to be one of many contradictions. Over the holidays I had done some rough building work for pocket money and my physique had strengthened and with that had come more confidence.

On arriving back I was keen to see what privileges I had been granted and what new roles I had been allocated. I was pleased to have been given the job of official winder of clocks and bell ringing – in essence I controlled the time of all school activities which meant I could never be late and also gave me one of the easiest of all the squad duties which did not ever have to be checked by prefects. It also afforded me with my own copy of the key to the school radio so each morning I could check the clocks against the BBC time signal. I also got the job of providing the music for the dancing club but was disappointed not to get the job of projectionist which had been one of the things I had been keen on, nor was I given the job of stage lighting but this blow was softened by being given the task of providing sound effects for the school play.

The first term of course was Rugby and for the first time ever I actually enjoyed playing. My improved physique and strength enabled me to run well and I had some good games and was complimented on my performance by Mr Oettinger during the inter house competition. This feeling of being good at something gave me even more confidence. In the cross country running I decided I did not want to be last any more and so almost welcomed the enforced practice runs where I noticed I was getting better every time. By the time the competition run came around I was pretty fit and came in well up in the field. Standing at the finishing line afterwards watching the final few coming in, Mr Oettinger who was standing closest to me commented to one of the prefects that he had not seen Lovegrove yet – but I was there beside him and he had not even noticed. I was mortified by this and felt all the effort had not been worth it. I had wanted so desperately to gain his recognition that I had made so much effort - and now the only real chance of doing so had gone. At least the Head of House had noticed and I did get complimented by him which was some consolation. However I never ran another cross country after that.

We had regular exams – the smell of the duplicating spirit used to print the questions almost knocking us out as we sat in crowded classrooms at the end of term. We all had to decide which subjects we would take at O level and were limited to a choice of about 8 subjects. I decided on Maths, Physics, English, History, Geography, Art, Tech Drawing and Metalwork but Mr Dodds told me I could not take metalwork as my class was not having metalwork lessons that year. However, with support from Mr Thomas I was eventually able to put my name down for metalwork when he agreed to tutor me for the exam but I had to attend informal classes once a week in my own time.

At the end of each term we had a report and during that year my physics master, Mr Johnson stated that as I did not appear to pay any attention in class I had no chance of getting anywhere. My parents were therefore very upset when on the same report my exam mark for physics that year was 96% - the problem was that Mr Johnson had written the report well before the exam results had become known. He never commented on that though.

That final year did however have many good moments. There was the annual dancing club night ball held in the library and was regarded as the event of the year. The girls arrived early for the dance which for an hour or more continued as normal with boys and girls gradually getting to know each other and dancing. However then the lights were extinguished and I was told to continue playing quiet music whilst the dancers attempted to do what boys and girls do when left together alone – which from all reports was a lot of fumbling and giggling and little else. It was with much bravado that boys many boys would the next morning declare their conquests but I doubted how much truth there was in their claims as from my unique position of invited voyeur, I saw very little evidence of anything untoward. At least afterwards I got to take keep the small mountain of rather good uneaten cakes and sandwiches which I took to share with my dormitory companions later that night.

Every summer term there was a free weekend when boys were permitted to leave the school for a whole weekend and go pretty much wherever they pleased so long as they said where in advance. A small group of us elected to go to Climping where we intended to camp out near the sea. We were not allowed to make contact with anyone but one of the boys had alerted his parents to our plans and his father met us off the train and took us by car from Littlehampton to the woods close to the beach. Alas we were soon spotted by the local police who informed us we could not camp there and so we were forced to march on for a few miles or so back towards Littlehampton where we eventually made camp in the sand dunes on the beach. We spend most of the time lazing about in the sun and drinking cider but did little else. It was just the feeling of being free which was so good. It was like being a thousand miles away from the regimented routine of the school. As we had very little money we spent much of the time exploring the dunes and spying on the courting couples who appeared to favour that location probably believing they were well away from prying eyes.

Our GCEs came and went. The exams themselves were held in the gym but there were then several weeks before the end of term. It was around this time that Mr Dodds once again called us all one at a time into his office to say if we were to be invited back for the 5th year. He had looked at me despairingly and said that there seemed to be no point in asking me to return – I felt he was really saying we don’t want you any more and so that seemed to be that. After that Mr Oettinger had to council all those who would be leaving at the end of the year and give careers advice and it was suggested a good future for me might be to join the police force. No attempt was made to persuade me into further education. It seemed to me as if I was a lost cause and they were going to be glad to be rid of me. We did however have several careers talks – these were new – and at one from a famous brewing company we saw a high pile of boxes containing cans of beer on the stage which we assumed were going to be given to the staff after the talk. We were wrong, and afterward we were all treated to a can or two of their produce to sample – it was probably the only careers talk I remember anything about.

It was at this stage of that final year that I started to really notice the changes which seemed to be creeping into the school. Discipline appeared not to be quite so strict and boys appeared to be doing some outrageous things; for example a group of Tulk House boys now kept an old motorcycle and sidecar in the woods somewhere near the school and they used this to go out on illicit excursions at weekends. I seem to recall the body of the sidecar had been removed to be replaced by a large pink arm-chair which was bolted to the chassis. Through a strange quirk of fate I was to meet one of those boys very much later on in life.

In those final weeks after the exams the boys who had taken exams were allotted to various projects. At first I was included in one which was to repair a building somewhere near Farnborough. We were bussed out there and worked in the daytime repairing walls and erecting false ceilings on some very high rooms. We took turns to sleep over at the place and when our turn came around to stay, we could enjoy evening trips out to the local pub. There I was brave enough to buy my first ever real drink - Gin and Lime – the only drink I had heard of. Later I was taken off that project and given another with my friend David Turner.

David and I were given the task of preparing the school field ready for the end of term athletics competition and sports day. To assist us we were given the use of a strange and rather unreliable machine which was essentially a two wheeled tractor to which could be attached a mower, roller or a trailer. With this we spent those last summer weeks driving the machine round and round the playing fields mowing and rolling the ground until we had produced a running track worthy of the Olympic games.

During that year Mr Oettinger had been given an old Austin A35 and a spare engine. The engine was carefully sectioned and painted so all the internal parts could be seen. The whole thing rotated so you could see the inner parts working and there were even little light bulbs soldered to the ends of the spark plugs which lit up to show when the spark would fire. The little green car he proceeded to cut up then re-build into a type of super go-cart. Essentially it was a solid steel chassis with the engine and running gear from the donor car attached. It was probably the most dangerous vehicle ever constructed with its short wheelbase, exposed engine and live running gear, but is served as a very educational tool for teaching us about how cars worked and more essentially it really ran so boys could also be taught to drive. The first outing of the vehicle was on that final sports day where small obstacle course had been marked out by the cricket pavilion. Mrs Dodds was the first person to publicly drive the car and she, egged on by a very excited John Lawry and others, completed the course perfectly to great cheers from boys and staff alike. She seemed very pleased with herself and I remember thinking at the time that was the first time we had seen her really smile and laugh in two years.

The end of term arrived soon enough and I prepared to say goodbye to my school chums. I was still going to attend summer camp with the CCF having gained my first stripe and first class shooting badge - and this year is was in Gemany. I vowed to my friend I would return and see them soon and so my days at the school ended. At that summer camp in Germany we were exposed more than ever to the hard and real life of the army. We were each assigned to a unit in Nery Battery, part of the Royal Artillery. My particular unit drove an armoured control vehicle, a bit like a tank crammed with radios but without a gun. Others enjoyed being in one of the several Abbot armoured guns – again a bit like a tank but this time with a huge gun. We spent virtually all our time with the regulars apart from when in camp at night when the cadets slept in groups in very large tents. It was on this trip when travelling back from a night of drinking with the regulars that one night we were stopped by a prostitute. She appeared a little drunk but that did not stop many of the regulars going off into the woods with her one at a time whilst the rest of us all had to wait. The soldiers tried hard to get us boys to go too but although we were very tempted, we had never been exposed to anything like this before and were all far too shy and perhaps a little scared - and although none of us accepted, we all wondered what it would have been like.

It was at that camp that one particular cadet started to use his seniority to bully others. He made the lives of those in our tent a misery and one day after he was sick on the floor and refused to clear up the mess he had made that I decided to confront him. I would never have dared do this in the past at school but with my increased confidence and physical strength, along with the fact that I knew he could do nothing to me in the future as I would not be retuning to Ottershaw, I not only confronted him but also threatened him as well and forced him to clear up the mess he had made. It was all much easier than I had ever expected and made me realise that standing up to a bully is the hardest part but once you did so you had nothing to fear. As I left the camp I had no idea what the future was to hold. All I knew was that I would not be going back to Ottershaw – and at that particular moment I did not really care less.

Ottershaw School - After leaving and looking back

About mid way though the summer holiday after I had left Ottershaw I received by post a little slip of paper announcing my GCE O level results and I was amazed to find I had passed in six of the eight subjects I had been allowed to take. My parents were of course pleased for me but furious with the school having been told in the final reports that I had little chance of passing anything as I never paid attention. Somehow I expected to receive an apologetic phone call from Mr Dodds pleading with me to return to the school but that never happened. In fact I never heard from him again until I met him on the open day just before the school finally closed. Realising from my results I did indeed have a future other than as had been suggested, I enrolled at a local comprehensive school where later I was to take further O levels and after 2 years my A levels before gaining a place at teacher training college. So much for the police force!

Soon after my 17th birthday I took and passed my car driving test and in the Summer term decided to drive down to the school to pay a visit on my former classmates. I drove down one summer weekend and soon met up with several of my former collegues. Of course I had expected there would have been some changes especially as now Mr Weston was the North housemaster but nothing could have prepared me for the extent of the changes which I was to see. It was as though someone had torn up the rule book - I was amazed to learn how boys were permitted out of school in the evenings, a group of us actually went out to a pub that night and did not return until almost 10pm - an activity which would have been totally unheard of just only a year before. Of course I wanted to see Mr Oettinger who greeted me in a rather strange way and sheepishly congratulated me on my exam results admitting I had surprised everyone. I later found out that I had gained at least as many and often more O levels then many of the boys who had stayed on and this gave me very mixed feelings indeed. On the one hand I was glad to have proven the system wrong, especially when I found out that that my results had been far better than one particular boy who had always been held up to me as an example of how I should be; but I was also angry that my achievements had never been properly acknowledged – and why had I not been asked back for the 5th year? I was never to find out the answer to that particular question and to this day it is one that I would have liked to have had an answer to from Mr Dodds.

A few more visits to the school showed over time an even more changing regime. Boys wore their hair longer and longer and sported casual cloths and by the time the school had an open day just before its closure, the day to day routine described to me appeared to be totally unrecognisable. On that final visit, Mr Oettinger was there but no longer recognised me, not even after a short conversation could he seem to remember anything about me. Of course a lot of water (and boys) had passed under the bridge by then but I had somehow hoped there would have been a flicker of remembrance. That final open day was a strange one – I did manage to meet a few people from my school days and of course we talked over many things. I did not however see any of the friends I had made apart from one person, John Lawry.

And so that really brings me near to the end of my story. The school later closed and all we appeared to have was our memories. However, as life goes on we soon realise that our school days were in fact most instrumental in forming who we are and how we think, and so even now it is impossible to ignore the effects the school had upon us. The fact I am writing this proves that Ottershaw is more than just a memory – it was/is a piece history, but one which for the moment can still be remembered by several generations of people. The Old Boys' Society and the two Ottershaw websites prove that for many, their times at school were very important and influential and it is good that systems exist so these memories can be recorded. I have no idea what is was like to be at the school either before my time or after, and I suppose many people even within my own time will have memories which differ from my own. Taking the whole existence of the school, I guess there must be a great many more stories and experiences still untold than there were pupils who attended and so it would be a shame if all these were allowed to die without being properly recorded. Once we are all gone the opportunity will be lost for ever.

So before I wind up; what where the things that made being at the worthwhile or otherwise?

The negatives :
In my time the school had several Flashman types of character but appeared to do little to address that.
There was frequent bullying and this behaviour was infectious and plagued my life for my first two years and later I fell into the trap for a short time of treating some others as I had been treated.
There was no preparation for life outside of the school. No proper sex instruction or advice on relationships. This made it harder to form proper relationships after leaving school and I know from my recent contacts with several old boys that I was far from alone in that respect.

The positives: -
Receiving a first class education. -
Being encouraged to do better than I though I could do myself and learning about things I would never had had the chance of learning anywhere else. -
Being given responsibility in demanding situations. -
And I suppose having a pride in being one of those relatively few people to have attended a truly unique school.

So what’s left? -
For me just a few unanswered questions.
Where is David Turner these days? Did Roger King really go and work for Ford as was his burning ambition?
Did Lol Parkinson make it as a professional musician with his trumpet?
Was North House as successful under Tom Weston?
What became of the Radio Club and the huge CCF T1154 transmitter?
What became of the Caxton fire engine which greeted me on my first visit to the school?
And finally - Why was I never asked back for the 6th form ????

What it was like - an update:

A few years have passed since I wrote all that and a few things have happened in that time. Over the past 7 years I have made contact again with Roger Chesher, David Turner, John (now Khalil) Lawry, Roger King all of who I contact quite regularly but that has led to me meeting several other people as well. We now all meet up regularly with other Old Boys in July each year - and every time more people join our little group. Click here for more on all that! The fate of the Caxton fire engine is not fully resolved but an article appeared in the Gazette some time ago about it. Roger King did indeed work for Ford and we have met several times. David Turner came to visit me in Spain a couple of years ago. Would still love to know more about Lol Parkinson although I understand he still plays trumpet.    

RE: What it was like

By Scrochio - I believe that Roger King did work for FMC. Some years back I did a search, and someone of that name working for them turned up in it. I failed to save the results. Lol Parkinson; I did a search for him, also a number of years ago, and think that I found a candidate. I was unable to replicate the find tonight. It has to be remembered that the funnel narrows as we get older. Even though we males live for longer, we still do not live as long as women. It's not epidemiologically inconceivable that some of us will not be directly discovered, except perhaps for a tombstone or death certificate. I apologise if this sounds grim.

RE: What it was like

I think you were probably a prefect when i was in North house i remember a lot of what you have said and i remember John Lawrey although we only ever were aloud to use surnames.For what i can remember i spent a lot of my early mornings having to empty the prefects common room cleaning it and then puting it all back.I remember two brothers that started and one had the misfortune of being OTT999 he was called bogbrush for some reason and they both left after one term because of the bullying.i remember Lawrey because i was rubbish at xcountry and he used to make me do extra.I left in my second year because mr Western was fed up with me keep getting caught smoking and i was always in trouble.I used to spend a lot of my time trying to learn the piano on the old one that used to be by the bio class an old sit up one that was more out of tune than my playing.I cant remember the names but there were two brothers and one of them had a gold front tooth.The only boys names that come to mind are a dep prefect Chris King and one of my dorm leaders called Hill and another chap called Manceni.You are right about the education when i left i went back to an ordinary school and i found i was about a year ahead of them.I found the bulling was a bit ott and swore i would never send my kids to a boarding school,but it served me well when i joined the army in 1969 firstly as a boy soldier. It has been interesting seeing the school again and reading your account as plebs (a word i have not heard for years)i have looked back quite fondly on those times. I look forward to logging in again sometime and see if anyone remembers OTT959.

OTT959

OTT959 Peter Christmas accused of smoking in my dormitory prefects would not listen to my story of the smoke coming from the floor below where some nn-academical staff were residing

RE: What it was like

Not Andrew Hayne from Oz by any chance? I joined up in the same year, also as a boy soldier. What an interesting way to repeat a mistake, eh?

OTT959

If I remember correctly OTT959 is Peter Christmas ... or similar surname. At the time you were asked to leave the school I was your dormitory leader, and was put under great pressure to say that you had been smoking in the dormitory, which I might add was top dormitory every week that term. Oh how important that was in those days. However I endeavoured to explain that the smoke was actually coming up from the floor below where some of the non academical staff were residing. This had no affect at all, the prefects wanted blood so they went ahead with what they thought they knew whether it was right or wrong. I have no idea whether Peter actually smoked in the dormitory or not. However the other boys blamed me for PETER'S EXIT FROM THE SCHOOL which I had bear for a term or so. I guess everything works out in the end and we all go on and achieve things in our own way.

OTT958

OTT959 Peter Christmas accused of smoking in my dormitory prefects would not listen to my story of the smoke coming from the floor below where some nn-academical staff were residing