Olive Wright 1921-2006 - Education

My name is Olive Adams and I as born at Pickworth near Folkingham, Lincolnshire, on March 17, 1921. When I was three years old we moved to Sapperton. I started at Ropsley school when I was six years old. I was late starting school because I was ill. I had some sort of chest ailment, similar to the one I suffer from now. I can`t remember having any treatment for it except Scott`s Emulsion. I did not go to hospital and only saw the doctor occasionally. He said it was muscular something or other. I did not know I was ill, I just played happily at home. My brother was a year and a half older than I was and each day when he came home, whatever he had done at school I did it again with him. I could read before I went to school, which came about because the Attendance Officer, it appeared, was looking for this Olive Rastell (as I was then). Well, he found me and off I went to start my education.

I was only in the infants for a week and then I went into the Juniors. The Infants and Class 1 Juniors were in one big room. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons the girls did sewing or knitting. The boys did plasticene. I can still smell it, ugh! Nasty dirty greyish-brown stuff! I hated sewing. The first thing we had to make was a calico doll. The calico was very tough material and it was very hard to push the needle through it even with a thimble. I got more blood on the doll than enough. I never did finish it. The other girls finished theirs and stuffed them with sawdust and put frocks on them, but I never reached those dizzy heights. Sewing lessons became quite a nightmare to me. I could not sew, and I talked a lot as well. So I spent much of my time in the corner with my face to the wall. There was another girl in the class named Olive and the teacher used to take me and show me her beautifully neat work. I could have stuck a pin in her, but I daren`t. I never did much sewing, at least not at that school.

I had always wanted a baby sister. A neighbour had told me that they had got theirs from Woolworth`s and it cost sixpence. So every time we went to Woolworth`s, I clutched my sixpence and searched the shop but never found one. I soon came to the conclusion that babies were not on sale in Woolworth`s! Nevertheless, my dream came true. When I was ten years old, my mother gave birth to a baby girl. No-one in the village knew that she was expecting a baby and it didn`t show hardly at all. I was so thrilled but when I told my teacher, she took me behind the blackboard and told me that I shouldn`t tell fairy stories. `But it`s true! `I insisted over and over again. But she didn`t believe me. At dinner time, she, like the rest of us, went home. Her husband was the local taxi driver. `You'll never guess who I took to Sapperton this morning to look after her sister who has just had a baby!' he said. `Don't say it's Mrs Rastell!' `How did you know?` he asked. She had the grace to apologise to me that afternoon, but I was very offended that she thought me capable of lying.

The headmaster`s wife took one of the classes. She was noted for her hasty temper. She would box your ears if you misbehaved or got something wrong. I remember not knowing how many pounds there were in a stone and I got a sharp slap for that. I must say I never forgot the right answer for the rest of my life.

Time passed and I progressed up the school. Nobody ever said anything about my work, whether it was good, bad or indifferent. I got ticks and that but I thought I was quite ordinary, nothing special. Then came the year when we were sorted out for the Scholarship Examination for selection to the local grammar school, the Kesteven Girls` Grammar School at Grantham. A small group of children were chosen and given exercise books and extra homework, which they would do every night and bring to school the next morning for marking. My cousin, who sat next to me, got one but not me. I didn`t expect it. Nobody said anything to me about extra homework. I just soldiered on.

When we took the 11-plus, as the examination was called - because you took it in your eleventh year three girls passed and I was one of them. This was the first part of the exam. The father of one of the girls withdrew her application, I don`t know why, so just my cousin and I went to Grantham to take the next part in the school itself. This examination paper held things I had never seen before, like tick this or tick that. I recall one question clearly because of the answer I gave: What is a female wizard? I wrote: A wizardess. I remember I was interviewed by the headmistress and I had to read to her.

In the following June, one morning in school the Headmaster said, ` We have had the results of the scholarship examination. Olive Rastell has passed and we are very sorry that Evelyn hasn`t`. And that was it. That was the only time anybody said anything about my work or anything until one day after I had left the school my mother met my teacher and when asked why I had not received any extra coaching, the reply was - ` Oh, we knew that Olive didn`t need any!` But nobody had told me. Nobody said it was good or untidy or messy . They never said anything about it!

I started at the Kesteven Girls` Grammar School in September 1932 and I was there seven years. I liked it there and I think I had a very good education. I took English literature and language, maths, history, my favourite geography, French, art and sewing. I was never very good at Maths. In the sixth form I took calculus though I never understood it. I did art though I couldn`t draw. In the dreaded sewing we had to make a laundry apron during the first year, and in the second year we did laundry where we learnt how to wash various materials, which to boil and which not, and how to iron. The high spot was to learn to iron the school blouse. You did not iron a crease down the school blouse. I still iron Fred`s shirts that way, without a crease. I still have my school books about laundering etc upstairs somewhere. When we did cooking, I really came into my own. I won a prize one year for my cooking. Fred`s sister was in my class and in cookery we would go round breaking their eggs for the other girls. They had never done any cooking, I don`t think, and they were too scared to break an egg! I loved cooking, I still do.

When it came to sitting for my School Certificate, I got two credits and passed in all my other subjects. In the mock exams I got 10 out of 100 for my maths. I couldn`t concentrate, I just couldn`t. Fred had been posted overseas the day before and I felt really upset. I got special tutoring after that and did pass the Higher School Certificate maths. For that exam I took English and geography as well, and I did not pass in geography, my favourite. I was very upset. I had taken two 3-hour exams in one day when I was not at all well. My mother was ill at the time, and I had to look after my father and my little sister before I went to school in the morning and again at night. I also took subsiduary French which I got.

I met Fred through his sister when I was about thirteen and I didn`t like him at first. I thought he was very bossy. He used to push us out of the way when he was cross-country running because he wanted to be the first back. Later I got to know him better when he was about nineteen and was in the RAF. I always tell him it was the uniform that attracted me. They were all quite surprised at school to learn that I had a boy friend. I was always such a quiet girl, except for the giggling.

When it was time to leave school, I applied to work for Doctor Barnado`s. I filled in the forms and everything but then I discovered that I could get a grant from Kesteven County Council to go to college to train to be a teacher which was what I really wanted to do, so I decided to try for a place at college. My father did not want me to go, I don`t know why. He had stayed on at school as a pupil teacher but when he was sixteen, his father took him out of school to work on the farm. You`d think he would want me to be a teacher as he was so disappointed, but he didn`t. However, my mother did and so I applied.

When the time came there was the choice of three colleges, Leeds, Hull and Lincoln. The headmistress at school said, ` Not Leeds, dear, I don`t think Leeds would suit you`. I don`t know why she said that, she never explained. I can only think it was because Leeds was co-educational. There were boys there! I didn`t want to go to Lincoln so I applied for Hull. I had to go to Lincoln for an interview with the head of the college. Her name was Miss Cumberbirch, but all the students called Miss Humberbitch. Well, she lived on the Humber! She was very severe and the first thing she said to me when I went in was ` Oh! I see you wear dentures!`

I was flabberghasted, I didn`t know what to say. Of course in those days, many dentures were badly fitting, and they slipped about. Perhaps she thought I would not be able to speak clearly to the children. I thought she was terribly rude. However I soon recovered from the shock and she did not put me off. I was accepted. I should have started in September 1939 but the war had started by then and the college decided to evacuate to Bangor, North Wales. Off went my luggage to Bangor and then I got a letter telling me to stay at home. I did postal tuition which was very strange, writing to people I had never met and getting letters back. We never did go to Bangor. By November, shelters had been built at the college and so I started there as planned.

Once we got well into 1940 we spent most nights in the shelters from three or four o`clock in the morning. The raiders would go over to Liverpool and other places that way. The siren always seemed to go just when the tea was on the table and we had just started to eat. We had to push in as much food as we could in the shortest possible time, run upstairs for our bags and gas-masks and so on and dash for the shelters. They only had narrow wooden seats, very uncomfortable, and there we stayed until the All Clear sounded and we could go back to bed. Then it was up at the normal time to continue our studies. It was a terrible time, awful. Later on, they put bunks in the shelters so that we could get some sleep. Well, I did, though many of the girls couldn`t . I just put my head down and went off. I felt perfectly safe but I don`t suppose I was. The shelters were above ground and built of brick.

By now we had been evacuated out of the college to lodgings all round the outskirts of the town. I stayed with a lady called Mrs Priestly and we used her shelter in the garden. One night a land mine exploded nearby and the blast lifted us up to the roof of the shelter. Down we came covered in whitewash. In the morning we went back to the house to find all the windows blown out and the electric fittings hanging down. We were very lucky to come out of it. The burning and the noise and the smell was dreadful. The worst thing was going into college and watching as the chairs filled up for breakfast. Luckily, none of the students or staff was hurt. Even the college buildings survived, although the centre of the town and down by the docks was flattened. I think the college is still there, I have never been back.

After that they sent the Senior students away so that they could get some rest before their final. Half the year went to Ripon College and the other half to Bingley College in Yorkshire, including me. I had to share with a room-mate who kept all her belongings carefully wrapped in tissue paper. She would rise early in the morning and the rustling would start. It nearly sent me mad. I spent most of my time sleeping as we were worn out . The pure country air of Bingley must have helped. It was a such a lovely change from the smoke and dust of Hull. My room-mate revised all the time. She would draw a diagram and meticulously label it, and do it over and over again. Then she would ask me to test her. When it came to the final examinations, I passed well, better than she did in fact in spite of her struggling.

I now set out upon my teaching career.

First I went back to Hull as a probationer to Daltry Street Infants School but as the infant building had been bombed, we shared with the Juniors next door, in a building without any glass in the windows. Before I started teaching proper, I helped out at Scarborough Street infants during the holidays. Hull Education Authority kept the schools open during the summer holiday to keep the children from running about the streets. We did a sort of `holiday` teaching. The children I helped at Scarborough Street were infants, tots of five years old. I moved on to Daltry Street and I learnt later that a bomb had fallen on the air raid shelter at Scarborough Road killing all those dear children I had taught. I just carried on with my job, as you had to. If you stopped to think about it you could not survive.

We still had to go into the shelters often as the raids were daylight as well. The shelters were like those up at the college, brick built above ground giving little or no protection against a direct hit. I was often in charge of eighty or more children in a shelter during an air raid. We would pass the time in singing Ten Green Bottles or This Old Man. The head would say, ` You take the children, I`ll come if the raiders are actually overhead,` but she seldom came. After we had been in the shelter for fifteen minutes, it was sweet time and the tin would go round. Each child took one sweet and passed the tin on. I`ll give those children their due. No child ever tried to take more than his share. Next day, those who could would bring a two or three to fill up the tin again ready for next time. If we heard that a shop had a supply of sweets in, we would all go and queue to fill the sweet tin. Although these children came from poor families on the whole, living in the dock area, they were very good and well-mannered. We never had any problems with discipline.

In September the boys would be sewn into their clothes with folded newspaper inside their trousers and under their jumpers. They wore the same clothes day after day. Nobody thought anything of it; it was the accepted practice. Mind you the classroom took on a smell of its own. I can still smell it. The newspapers came out in March although they may have been changed meanwhile.

A lot of them had been evacuated. It must have been traumatic for them to be sent off by train to Halifax, to be herded into a church hall and then handed out to strangers. Actually, we didn`t think of it like that. It was a necessity because of the density of the bombing so off they went. I remember going with some of them and if they made too much noise in one of the carriages I went and told them to shut up. Nobody made a fuss, least of all the children. Some of the exacuees drifted home after a while when things calmed down somewhat. Their parents must have decided that as the bombing became more widespread, they would be as safe there as anywhere.

My probationary year finished in 1942 and now I was a certificated teacher. I continued to teach at Hull but soon applied for a move to Lincolnshire as my mum was ill. I was evacuated to Corby Glen where I taught for six months, the worst six months teaching of my life. The head was not a nice man he used a big stick regularly on the children, which I thought was a terrible thing to do. He did not allow me my own class, but sent me to various classes as needed round the school. The head would come in and sit interrupting and criticising me in front of the children. I had to take the senior children sometimes even though I had trained to teach infants. Imagine me taking boys who were two feet taller than I was, taking PE exercises on the field!

I left in July 1943 and obtained a post at St Anne`s school in Grantham. Miss Pick was moving to Gonerby and she wrote to me that her job was going and suggested that I applied for it, which I did and, I`m glad to say, I got it. I started at St Anne`s in September. Kesteven County Council had lent me 100 to go to college, and I had paid it back by January 1944. I had also paid 8 in Income Tax as well as paying 1. 10 shillings for board and lodging. My salary was 156 per year which was less than I received in Hull. The reason for that is that in Hull I got city rates whereas Grantham counted as rural. I supposed they reasoned that you could live on less in the country.

I was married in 1944 and I left St Anne`s and moved to Northamptonshire. I had applied to the Northants Education Committee for a post without getting a reply, so I went to the offices and demanded to know why they had not replied to my letters. I was quite a feisty young lady then. The deputy-director gave me a job at Corby on the spot.

After I gave birth to my first son, Denis, I gave up teaching for 14 years whilst I had my other three boys. When the youngest, Geoffrey, was eight years of age, I responded to the call for teachers. There was a serious shortage of teachers at that time, 1960. The newspapers were full of adverts calling for ex-teachers to return. Fred had been posted to Church Fenton in Yorkshire by this time, and the boys were getting tired of their teacher being absent so much. They had a succession of supply teachers and they suggested I went to teach at their school. So I called to see the head teacher. He was near to retirement and perhaps he was feeling tired because he said to me `You organise it`. So I wrote to Sir Alan Clegg and started doing supply work at Church Fenton school. The teacher was absent for a whole term. I put on a nativity play while I was there. I don`t think they had ever had one before. I remember tearing up my sheets for the angels` costumes. Perhaps they are still there, I don`t know.

The following January, three headteachers came to offer me a permanent job and I chose the one nearest to home. This was at Ryther Infants School. I bought myself a bike and cycled to school each day. The headmistress offered me a lift but she was so unreliable I preferred to cycle.

As Fred was moved around the country in his work, I did supply at many schools. At one of them, a nice new classroom was built with radiators and toilets nearby. I had the job of equipping this classroom and almost as soon as it was done, Fred (and his family) were sent to Singapore. I understand my efforts were most appreciated by the teacher who took over.

In Singapore, we stayed in a hotel for ten weeks until a married quarters was free. The regulations stated that I could not apply for a teaching post before leaving England, but I could apply to the Singapore authorities when I got there. This meant a great disparity in the pay. I received about a third of that paid to teachers who came under the English Education System and who had come out from England specifically for the work having no connection to Her Majesty`s Forces. They were very superior in their attitude and looked down on the likes of me. School was mornings only and when I suggested we stayed open for artwork and other creative activities, they were horrified. They liked their afternoons off!

Of course, being the newcomer I was given the class with the problem children in; and they were! You had to watch them like hawks or they would disappear, helped by the open plan arrangements in the school. For instance, there were no doors. Two escaped me one day and I saw them coming from the Naafi with sweets and goodies not paid for of course! One boy who was older than the others, was particularly difficult. The children had milk at playtime just as in England except that here we had strawberry, chocolate and plain flavours. This particular boy who was milk monitor, went outside and poured the whole lot into a filthy fire bucket and proceeded to drink it. I was horrified. I thought he would go down with some dreadful tropical disease. But he didn`t. He was perfectly all right, but the children did not get their milk that day. We had to teach reading by the phonetic alphabet which was very difficult, for me as well as the children.

The children came to school in gharries, ( sort of coaches) and went home at lunch time. They were cared for by their ayars ( nurse maids) who could not speak English to any great extent. Most of the mothers, as far as I could see, spent their days in playing golf, or visiting or shopping. I would have been so bored; it is not my kind of life. Another problem was that, being a school for Service children, there was a constant coming and going of the pupils as their fathers were posted on. We had to write three reports for each child when they left, one for the parents, one for the school in Singapore and one for the school to which they would go back home. I seemed to spend all my time writing these reports. I am sure that when these children went back to school in the UK they would be well behind the children of their own age by about two or even three years. This was because they did not get enough teaching.

We were in Singapore two and a half years, and then found ourselves back in N.Lincs, at North Cotes and at Tetney. Years afterwards I was left some money in her will by one of the teachers at North Cotes. I was surprised. We moved about quite a bit and I remember a shock I had at Henlow, where once again I had a class of disturbed children. I looked up one day to see a boy at the back with a plastic bag over his head. I ran to snatch it off. I had nightmares about it afterwards.

A happier memory is that at Henlow, Near Hitchen, where a child brought me six apple seeds. Five of them survived, two are in Spittlegate school ( Grantham) grounds and three are growing here in our garden and they had delicious apples on them eaters and cookers, though one of them has only just fruited after 30 years.

We moved to this house in 1974 and I used to teach at Knossington. I would drop Fred off at North Luffenham and pick him up in the afternoon.

My last post was at Spittlegate school, Grantham, and I retired in 1980.

I had always wanted to teach ever since I was a little girl, and I loved the job. I still miss it. Yes, I would certainly do it all over again.