||May 1946 to July 1950|
I was a pupil at the Prince of Wales School from May 1946 to July 1950, having previously been at Arusha School.
I was in Junior House, then Intermediate, under Peter Cobb, (called 'Munya' behind his back), then Hawke House, and
then the newly formed Scott House.
The Prince of Wales School under Percy Fletcher was a great school, tough, moral, and, on the whole, fair. It was capable
of assimilating boys from a variety of backgrounds, as long as they tried to do what the school was best at, sport.
However, there was much excellent academic teaching, maths by Fletcher, history by Goldsmith, Latin by Boase, Chemistry
by Fyfe, French by Dominic Spencer, (doing well in Somerset at the age of 93). English was, if I remember, taught by
Cheadle, who affected a pipe with a lid attached to the bowl by a delicate little chain. One day one daring wit
wrote on the blackboard the enigmatic question “ does the pipe go out when you pull the chain”, which was high humour
for us all.
The school produced boys who were outstandingly good at games, in my day up to international and Olympic standard. I
recall ‘Sondi’ Munro and Jack Simonian among them, the latter perhaps in his day the best hockey goal-keeper in the world.
We had an ex-army P.T. teacher called Johnny Riddell, an effective keep-fit fanatic, and, for an extra, an ex-Olympic
diver of Czech origin, called Jonke. Riddell treated us as men, which did us no harm. He was also not averse to the
occasional night out, and seemed to feel at ease in female company.
There were other masters, like Ken Fyfe, excellent, admirable and dedicated teachers, bound up in the life of the school,
and also the occasional eccentric like Bill Liversidge an amusing and versatile man.
Percy Fletcher was a formative influence on most of us. I remember him as a truly great and good man. He gave the
impression of some slight eccentricity, with his neighing laugh and untidy appearance, but he was a man who knew boys
through and through, and who could bring out the best in each of them. When he thought it was justified, he fought for
them too. What is more, he was, even though he could not have come from a more typical public school background, open
minded, tolerant and far-sighted. He was a man of high principles, who made it his business to pass these on. If anyone
knew right from wrong, he did, nor did he hesitate to tell you about the distinction. If necessary, he was ready to back
it by physical punishment. He also tried to teach us to be well behaved in our daily lives. He discouraged profanity and
bad language. I well remember his talk to boys about to leave school, warning them against certain temptations of which
we knew little at the time. His advice to those who were tempted by persons of doubtful character was that one should
raise one’s hat and say “no thank you, madam”.
One remembers well his tall figure, sparse ginger hair, untidy appearance, commanding presence and frightening insight.
One also remembers his patent love for his school as a unique institution. I think we became better men because of his
influence in our lives.
Corporal punishment was part of our daily life. In my day as a prefect we replaced it by press-ups, which I thought was
better for both parties. I do not recall any thanks for this attempt at modernisation.
For many of us, the introduction to the School started with the journey from our homes. In my case, it was by train from
Tabora (in Tanzania), to Mwanza on Lake Victoria, where one spent a day, usually at the Club, waiting for the lake
steamer. The club had facilities for swimming in the lake, by way of an old anti-submarine net, intended to keep out
the crocodiles. Nobody seemed to think it necessary to point out that a net which would keep out a submarine was not
necessarily a deterrent to a croc. If the steamer went clock-wise round the Lake one would go to places like Bukoba,
the far end of the world, on the west side, before going on round past Uganda to Kisumu, and if one was lucky, it went
anticlockwise, which only took a day and a night. One then disembarked at Kisumu, and had to wait for the next train,
which usually came on the same day. Again, we would try to find something to do. On occasions, we jumped over the fence
into the Kisumu Club, to use their pool. The train took a night and a day to get to Nairobi, but by then numbers of other
boys had joined the train, and the journey was fairly eventful, especially for new boys. Bullying started at that moment.
The train did not go very fast. It was possible to get off it, run alongside, and get on again. It was also possible to
get on the roof of one’s carriage and jump from one carriage to the other, all the way along the train.
The train stopped near the school grounds, to allow the boys to disembark, and to stagger up to the school, each
carrying the vast regulation tin trunk, usually, in true African fashion, on his head.
Others have described the first frightening days at school, and the cry of “rabble” that was part of the system of
fagging then in operation. One soon settled down to find one’s place in the order of things. As the years went by
one also found some sporting talent, which helped. Fairly ferocious fights also took place as boys found their place
in the pecking order. All this kept us very fit.
On one of the Old Cambrian web pages there is a picture of
Jack Rodda as the base of a pyramid of three other boys.
I remember the occasion of this photograph, probably taken in 1948. Jack Rodda, always called Jake, was in the same
House as I was. He was popular, an independent minded young man, keen on fitness, as we all were, tall, rangy, and,
although not the greatest academic, mature for his years. There was a brief period when we were told that there was a
gang of town boys intent on ambushing Prince of Wales boys when we went to town on the weekly shopping lorry. We were
all perturbed, and discussed possible defensive tactics at length. Jake, however, went off to see someone who had a
metalworking shop. He came back with part of a lorry leaf spring, straightened, pointed, sharpened on both sides,
and ground into a huge combination knife and knuckleduster. He brought it into the school concealed down the front
of his shorts, an act of characteristic bravery from several points of view. The weapon was never tested in battle,
but its existence was a great boost to morale, and its deterrent effect was overpowering.
At this time, the School was good at boxing. It had a boxing coach in the person of the R.A.F welterweight champion,
Warrant Officer Wilby. The best boxer in the School, by far, was one Hatfield, an extremely nice young man, who
carried his prowess lightly, and never abused it. He was an excellent boxer, with an economic style, and crisp,
clinical, powerful punches. None of us could stand against him. If we were to enter a competition with other schools,
it was on condition imposed by the others that he did not take part. He left School to join the Navy. While still at
Dartmouth as a Midshipman he won the Navy middleweight title. We heard with distress that he had been lost at sea, and
I still hope that isn’t true. The second best boxer in the School was Sandy Munro. His first name was always pronounced
“Sondi”, apparently an attempt to pronounce the name Sandy with a Scottish intonation. He was the best sportsman at the
School, by far, at any sport. He also was too good a boxer to be accepted by any outside opponents as part of the school
boxing team. He left school, and joined the Kenya Police.
The third best boxer at this time was Jake Rodda, fit as could be, whose long reach made him difficult to hit, and, of
course, allowed him to punch while out of reach of retaliation.
The photo in question shows Jake at the base of a pyramid. On his shoulders stands one Dikes, whom I don’t remember well.
On one side there is Conway Plough, another fitness fanatic, who played for the school at scrum half. On the other side
is John Redman, another popular young man. He suffered at the time from a stutter, and it says a great deal for his
character with the rest of us that he was never teased for it. Both Plough and Redman became prefects.
My own school career was undistinguished. The best moment was when I became, for a short time, captain of the tennis
eight, not because of any special talent, but because I was the only one who had the cheek to cycle to the Kenya Girls
High School to invite them to a match. Better players soon took over.
For anyone who might be interested, after leaving School I read Law at Durham University, (Newcastle), and Lincoln’s Inn,
was called to the Bar, joined the Kenya Judiciary, left that in 1965, joined the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, then
moved to the European Parliament in Luxembourg, and then spent six years as Registrar of the European Court of Justice,
before returning to this country nearly twenty years ago, to become a part-time Professor, part-time chairman of various
tribunals and other bodies. My wife and I now live in Somerset.
In these parts, one sees few Old Cambrians. There is Admiral Anson, who was at the School before my time and who lives
in the West Country. Renn Davis, who gave me the cane for allegedly throwing a piece of cheese at Basil Johnson,
became in spite of that fact, Chief Justice of the Fiji Islands, but is now sadly dead. Andrew Brooks, my
contemporary, became a Judge in this country, and is now retired.
I recall the Prince of Wales School with pride. It was not always fun, but it was unique. Sensitivity was not on the
curriculum, nor were music, media studies, batique or basket weaving. However, I don’t recall that we were given to
lying, cheating or stealing. We were well taught in the basic elements of knowledge. Critics might perhaps say that
it was a little narrow-minded. It was a rough, tough, outdoor environment, but it taught you simple essential values,
independence, resourcefulness, how to stand up for yourself, teamwork, and, I think I can say it after all these years,
a certain uprightness of which we need not feel ashamed.
(Registered - 8th March 2007)
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