Barry attending grammar school 'didn't go down well with locals'
THE family home in Newbold Avenue in the 1950s was not centrally heated and there were coal fires in the bedrooms, as well as the living room. Chilblains became an occupational hazard.
If a coal delivery failed to materialise, Barry's mother, Kathleen, was forced to improvise.
He said: "My mother remembers walking down to Gypsy Lane when the delivery had not happened to collect coal left by the itinerants."
Winters were bitter, typified by the awful outside toilets at the village primary school which froze in winter and the "ice slide" all the way down the playground.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Wednesday, May 22 2013
But these miseries were offset by the pleasure of getting home in the winter to unfreeze in front of a roaring coal fire, with toast and butter for tea. Despite the food rationing that was still in place for a few years after the war, the Wilkinson family dined well on home grown vegetables, rabbits and, at Christmas, a goose, courtesy of Church Farm, where the family had initially lived in an improvised flat.
Kathleen was friendly with the wife of the estate manger at Elvaston Castle and Barry recalls visits to a large thatched cottage in the grounds, which had a wonderful inglenook fireplace, "marvellous at Christmas time".
As parents, Bob and Kathleen were strict but fair. Barry recalled: "We were always encouraged to dress properly and to have short haircuts but were also given the opportunity to express ourselves."
Treats might include the works outings with Perkins Clean Milk Company to resorts such as Skegness, Bridlington and Scarborough, with holidays spent visiting family at Ipswich, commandeering a beach hut at Felixstowe or the occasional caravan break at Skegness.
Taken as a whole, they were hard but good days.
"This opinion was cemented when listening to stories when I joined the Royal Navy. I had a far better childhood than most," added Barry.
Like so many other local children, Barry and his younger brother, Keith, were taught by the Miss Johns sisters at the village primary school in Victoria Avenue.
If owning a car denoted a certain social status, the Miss Johns' vehicle spoke for itself.
Barry said: "They had a very large car, a Humber Snipe, and they used to drive down to the school every day, even though they only lived a short distance away on Victoria Avenue."
Barry never had any problem at the school although he admitted to being in the "favoured" part of the class.
His school memories have a sensational flavour. "I clearly remember a tragic event that occurred while I was at Borrowash Primary, when the father and elder brother of one of the pupils were tragically drowned, up near the cooling towers, while fishing.
Other memories were of an earth tremor which occurred one afternoon (no damage done, thankfully) and of one of the Johns teachers reading out an account of the torpedoing of the City of Benares by a U-Boat which took many lives of child evacuees en-route to Canada in September 1940."
As primary school days drew to a close, the 11-plus examination loomed – the pinnacle of educational achievement for a Miss Johns protégée.
This examination – regarded by some as a passport to the type of lifestyle formerly enjoyed only by the recipients of privilege or by others as an elitist tool, designed to teach working class children their place – was, in reality, neither.
Certainly, Barry's career would have taken a very different course if he had not passed and been awarded a place at grammar school.
But educational success or failure was dependent upon more variables than the outcome of a one-hour examination.
Barry said: "The family home in Newbold Avenue was a council house and, while in those days there was no stigma about living in a council house, I did wonder why my two uncles in Chaddesden owned their houses and we did not."
The culture in Newbold Avenue was neither conducive to academic achievement nor supportive to those of its number who achieved it.
"There was certainly a lot of opposition to the 11-plus in those days and me going to grammar school did not go down very well with the locals."
Barry's new school was Long Eaton Grammar, instead of the secondary modern school, Spondon House, which was attended by children who had either failed the 11-plus or had not been entered for it.
His first days at his new school were memorable – but not in a good way. He said: "I remember my first days at Long Eaton Grammar School quite clearly and I was in my new school uniform.
"Nobody else in the road had ever gone to grammar school and this singled me out for some abuse from my so-called friends! My mother also took some stick – I think this is one of the reasons why we moved to Allestree.
"My parents, especially my mother, had standards and these did not necessarily fit in with the rest of the people who lived in Newbold Avenue."
The bullying seems to have derived from the usual stimulus; an individual standing out from the crowd by virtue of being "different" in some way, rather than a symptom of inverted snobbery. "I do not think the same thing happened on the Priorway Estate, simply because it was larger and more kids had passed the 11-plus."
But it was an unfortunate start to grammar school education and Barry became uncomfortably aware of other disadvantages. He did not gel with the ethos at Long Eaton which, like the majority of grammar schools, had modelled its curriculum upon that of fee-paying public schools.
Sport, for example, was taken extremely seriously, which put Barry at a disadvantage. He said: "My parents were not interested in sport in the slightest, which did hold me back a bit."
Life at grammar school was predicated upon particular assumptions, including the ability of children to motivate themselves; cushioned by the external support of a family background that, if not intellectual, was at least aware of the importance of education and the need to study.
Barry said: "I got little encouragement from my parents, especially my father, to study and, as a consequence, did badly in end-of-year exams."
Detractors of the grammar school system would have seized upon customs at Long Eaton to prove the truth of their argument – that grammar schools benefited a minority of children from comfortable backgrounds and confirmed the rest in their own limited expectations, ambitions and station in life.
According to Barry, little time was wasted upon the poor performers. "Long Eaton Grammar School's method of dealing with them was to put all those who did badly in the bottom class for the next year, which soon gained the stigma of being the 'no hopers' class."
He had now lost most of his pals from Borrowash and was failing at school. It is difficult to see how he could have smashed a glass ceiling dictated by money and background in the supposedly "classless" 1960s without a change in the family fortunes – represented by a bungalow in Allestree.
The area, and the fact that the bungalow was privately owned, re-set Barry's life on an upward trajectory – aided by a change of school.
Long Eaton Grammar School had been a missed opportunity. Ecclesbourne, in Duffield, was a new start.
In Allestree, grammar school children ruled the roost. Barry said: "The majority of us where we lived were either at Ecclesbourne or Bemrose and the secondary modern kids (including my brother) were in the minority."
Ecclesbourne Grammar School opened in 1957; but the school that Barry attended in the 1960s was wedded to older traditions. "It operated on very strict discipline and most of the teachers were ex-servicemen, too. When I joined the Navy, it was just a different uniform and shorter haircut!
"The headmaster was a strict disciplinarian and caning after Friday assembly was a common occurrence. I found Ecclesbourne difficult at first because the academic standard was so much higher than at Long Eaton Grammar School.
"Teachers were larger than life characters, such as my maths and form teacher, the redoubtable 'Norman' Else – an ex-RAF flight sergeant who had a fearsome reputation. I believe he had been at Bemrose prior to Ecclesbourne. Norman was an avid fan of the TV detective series that were popular at the time and any misdemeanour was thoroughly investigated, 'Z Cars' style"!
Barry found that a determined attitude began to pay off and was also influenced by making new friends, who were working hard at their studies.
He developed an interest in reading and passed his English O-level at 14.
A further three O-levels were added to the tally of exams passed – including, "by some miracle", maths.
It came as a shock to Mr Else, too. "He was convinced that I had somehow cheated and his interrogation stood me in good stead for the future."
University, or any type of further education, was not considered to be an option for Barry and, after leaving Ecclesbourne, he joined the Royal Navy and began basic training at HMS Ganges, Suffolk, on November 11, 1963.
His choice of career owed more to his roots than anything he had learned at Ecclesbourne.
"There is a strong family tradition. Both of mother's great uncles were naval officers and my paternal grandfather and my father served in the First and Second World Wars."
HMS Ganges was well known to Barry from childhood visits but he had been sent to the wrong place. "Ganges was for boys who joined at 15 and I was 16 and six months old. Boys aged 16 and over went to HMS Raleigh in Cornwall, where the basic training was only six weeks, as opposed to 12 months at Ganges."
His fellow recruits were not academic high-fliers. "In the early 1960s, the school leaving age was 15 and, of course, a lot left without any qualifications. The services were a good option for those who wanted to get out of their environment, especially those living with relatives, or orphans.
"There was also a hangover from National Service, which had ended in 1959. Those who struggled with learning went into the Army infantry because they were easier to train."
The training at Ganges was 12 months because the boys had to play catch up! "The first six weeks were spent in the annex, doing all the basic stuff and then we moved over to the main establishment.
"About two weeks in, we were given a maths and English test and, of course, I got nearly 100%, having got my maths and English O-levels. It was a pretty basic test."
At Ecclesbourne, Mr Else had accused Barry of cheating in his maths O-level examination. Now history repeated itself and he was accused of cheating in the Navy tests. There was nothing for it but to confess.
He said: "I declared my O-levels! This led to an interview with the officer in charge, who wanted to know why a 15 year-old had arrived at Ganges with such qualifications. My real age was discovered and, apparently, there had been a simple mistake in the recruiting process. I went off on Christmas leave and then came back to find that I was on my way down to HMS Raleigh. Compared to Ganges, Raleigh was a doddle!"
Helen concludes Barry's story tomorrow.