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   Alistair Robertson


Alistair Struthain Robertson

House: Grigg
Years: 1960-1964

Memories of school:
I was one of the last generation of pupils at school who had to respond to a ‘Rabble call’. This was in the 1960s, when an older boy in senior dorm shouted "rabble" - those of us who were in junior dorm had to drop everything we were doing and run like hell to senior dorm where we formed a queue. The unfortunate boy who was last would then be selected to perform some task, which could be anything from washing a shirt, ironing a pair of trousers, or cleaning football boots or dress shoes. The school banned the practice of rabble calls towards the end of 1960.

In addition to this some lads were chosen by prefects to ‘fag’ for them. A prefect’s fag had many tasks, washing clothes, making his bed in the morning, running his bath, cleaning his shoes, or running errands.

School routine seldom left us with much spare time and was, I recall, as follows:

The day started with getting up at ‘rising bell’ then ablutions followed by making one’s bed. The breakfast bell would ring, and anyone who wasn’t ready would be awarded an hours working party by an irate prefect. Breakfast was followed by assembly in the chapel, except for Saturday’s when we had divisions in the school quadrangle.

Once assembly was over we headed to our respective classrooms for lessons which apart from a mid -morning break lasted until lunch time. Prep was next on the agenda, held in the common room, where we would spend a hour or so transferring scribbled notes in our rough books into our files or exercise books. Strict silence had to be observed during prep, which was supervised by a prefect. Transgressions of this rule earned the culprit four strokes of the cane, known as the ‘‘cuts,’’ which was administered in the boot room by the Head of House.

At the end of the prep period, we would make our way to our dormitories for rest period, a time when one could have a nap, read a book or write a letter home. Letters from home were handed out at dinner time. The all too short rest period came to an end with the clanging of the tea time bell, tea usually consisted of jam sandwiches and mugs of steaming sweet tea.

Games were the next activity on the list, each term hosting a different series of sports, football and cricket one term, rugby and athletics the next, swimming and hockey ending the year.

Hungry and tired, we would leave the playing fields and head to the bathroom, where the rule was, due to a shortage of hot water, two boys to each bath, when they had finished two more boys would take their place, and so on until everybody had been washed. Anyone who was a bit slow, ended up in something resembling a mud bath!

Time spent between bath time and evening meal was spent in the boot room cleaning football boots and shoes, particular attention being paid to dress shoes as dirty shoes resulted in an hours working party being awarded. These cleaning activities ceased when the dinner bell rang and we all assembled in the dining room for our evening meal. At meal times we all stood at our allotted places at the table, whilst the Head of House said grace……. ‘‘For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful,’’ was the prayer said before each meal.

Once dinner was over, the prep bell would ring again, and we would undergo another hour and a half of prep. If anyone was to be punished, towards the end of prep the Head of House would enter the common room and read out a list of names; these were the boys who were to be caned for one offence or another. The boys would have to line up outside the boot room and enter when their name was called. On entering, the unfortunate lad would bend over the bench where four strokes of the cane would be administered by the Head of House. Between each stroke there was a space of some four to five seconds; enough time to let the pain sink in before the next stroke was delivered! When the caning was completed the victim would stand to attention, shake hands with the Head of House, and say "thank you", very often with tears running down both cheeks. It was best to be caned first as the boys waiting outside the boot room could hear the swish of the cane and the occasional grunt of pain thus adding to more apprehension to the events.

Those boys who were not on punishment detail, congregated in the dining room for supper, more jam sandwiches and tea, before returning to their dormitories, where everybody prepared for bed. At 22.00hrs, the lights out bell would ring, and the prefects would turn off the lights.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons there were no games. Tuesday was cadet evening when we did our military training, such as drill, shooting, field craft, map reading etc. Thursday evenings were 'free' and we could use the time as we liked with certain reservations. Any cadet committing a misdemeanour on cadet evening, was put on ‘jankers’ and jankers was on a Thursday evening. The usual chores for jankers were tidying up the armoury, cleaning the .303 Lee Enfield rifles, and any other tasks that Sergeant Major Maynard could come up with.

In addition to normal school activities we had to take our turn at ‘trades’. There were two types of trades - there were house trades and dining room trades. On house trades there were two boys, and their responsibilities were: to arise before the rest of us, ring the rising bell and unlock the main doors, as the accommodation block was some distance from the dining room. They were also responsible for ringing all the other bells at the appropriate times. In the evenings they locked the main doors and rang the lights out bell.

The boys on dining room trades - there was one boy to each table - also had to be up early, as they had to lay the tables before breakfast, then wait on them after grace was said. Lunch time trades were worse, especially for the lads in Grigg/Hawke and Nicholson/Rhodes houses, as it involved a headlong sprint from the classrooms to the dining room to set the tables before the other pupils arrived. Each person on trades did the job for a week.

On Saturday mornings, after Divisions, a tradition from the schools Navel heritage, we had classes until lunch time. Saturday afternoons were free time except for a period of prep, and those boys who had to attend their working party. Working party was given for minor infringements of the rules, and the main jobs were cutting the house quadrangle grass, weeding, or repairing the prefects’ bikes. Anyone who had accumulated more than 4 hours working party, got the cane instead!

Once a month on Saturday evenings we were treated to a film show in the old school hall. The films were hired from a company in Nairobi and played on an old 16mm projector.

If in a particular subject, a master thought that there was room for improvement, the master would give the pupil a ‘satis’ card. This card then had to be reviewed at the next lesson, if there had been an improvement the master would write satis in the appropriate box. If there had been no improvement, he would write non satis. Each non satis entry resulted in one hours working party. Three in a row was a caning offence, four non satis entries earned the culprit a caning and being gated on Sunday.

Sundays were a fairly slack time, except for those on trades. We had an extra hour in bed, and cornflakes instead of porridge for breakfast! We still had our eggs and bacon though. On Sundays we had to wear our number 1 uniform, because we had to attend the school chapel after breakfast. In the afternoon we were allowed to cycle into town to go to the pictures, but we had to be back in time for dinner, and woe betide anyone who missed evensong in the chapel. Every 4th Sunday was classed as ‘Sunday out’ - on these days there was no chapel, so our parents would pick us up at 08.00 hrs and bring us back for 18.00 hrs, unless they had special permission to be a little later. Those boys who were gated were not allowed out.

Once a term we held a house dance, and the boys in senior dorm were allowed to invite a girl, usually from the Kenya Girls High School a.k.a the ‘boma’. These dances were held on a Saturday night and everyone, including the boys from junior and intermedia te dorms, helped to decorate the common room. These dances were popular and were one of the few occasions when we were able to mix with women.

By todays standards, life at the Prince of Wales School may seem harsh or cruel. We came in to the school as boys but left as men! Life’s hard knocks seemed nothing in comparison to the discipline and character building that we experienced at school.

Post School Activities
After leaving school I was accepted for an apprenticeship as a mechanical fitter by a company in Derby. Life in a large factory was not however to my liking, so as soon as I had come out of my time I moved into the mechanical construction business. My first large contract was at Ironbridge power station in Shropshire. Towards the end of this contract I moved to Didcot power station in Berkshire, and was then transferred to Hartlepool nuclear power station in Co Durham.

I was then engaged on shutdown/repair for a year on power stations throughout the British Isles.

My next adventure was to go to Nigeria on construction of an oil refinery at a place called Warri, which is some distance upriver from Port Harcourt. After my six month stint at Warri I returned to England and started work at Haverton Hill Shipyard in Middlesbrough. There I was employed on main engine erection and ultimately on sea trials. The writing was now on the wall for British shipyards, it was obvious that there was no longer a future in ship building, so I took advantage of transfer to a maintenance contract which the shipyard had, at Monsanto chemical works on the Seal Sands at Middlesbrough. Monsanto eventually sold out to B.A.S.F. although I remained working there. I am still at B.A.S.F. but now as a Lead Mechanical Technician on the Nylon department.

(Registered - 30th Oct 2004)

If anyone wishes to contact Alistair, please e-mail webmaster@oldcambrians.com to obtain his contact details - no e-mail at present