btsarnia

A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

A Guernsey Childhood

On the 8th February 1941 Edward Torode and Alice Salmon married at the Greffe in Guernsey. Alice was already three months pregnant with, what was to become, Brian Edward Torode. At the time Alice and Eddy were living with Eddy’s sister, Florence Ward, and her husband, Ivor, at 19 Saumarez Street, St Peter Port, a large Georgian terraced house, one of several properties belonging to Ivor’s parents.

The Island Hospital at the time was at The Catel. It was there that I was born, after a long and hard labour, on 4th July 1941. Alice was thirty-nine at the time and had never wanted children because she saw them as a tie and I suppose in a family where she had thirteen siblings she had seen enough of having to share.

Certified copy of an entry of birth in the parish of Castel, in the Island of Guernsey.
No 119; 1941 July 4th. Brian Edward, masc. Father Edward John Torode, mother’s name before marriage, Alice Beatrice Salmon. Born at Emergency Hospital, Father’s rank, motor driver. Birth Registered July 17th 1941.

I was baptised on 20th July 1941 at Parish Church, (Town Church) St Peter Port. My father’s job was given on the baptism certificate as Motor Driver and mum as unemployed. My Godparents were Florence Ward, my aunt; Arthur Salmon my uncle and Edward John Torode my father. The baptism was administered by Agnew W Godfrey Giffard, the Rector of St Peter Port and Dean of Guernsey.

On 30th November 1945 I was inoculated against diphtheria for the first time, the second inoculation taking place on 21st December on which date the States of Guernsey Board of Health Certificate of Inoculation against Diphtheria was signed and issued – Certificate A 3332. The doctor was the family doctor, Dr Sutcliffe.

Towards the end of the War dad’s parents were living in George Street, St Peter Port, from where grand dad, George Torode, was buried. My parents and I moved to a rented cottage, named Uxbridge, at Les Croutes, right in the shadow of St Stephen’s Church. It was lovely, very small, a typical Guernsey worker’s cottage situated half way between St Peter Port and the Foulon Cemetery.

I recall happily playing in the street with a stick and an old bicycle wheel and playing football with woolly jumpers as goalposts; but not really having any family peers to play with. Cousin Denis had been evacuated to Manchester, Cousin Esmee was an adult teenager and working, Shirley had not yet been adopted and Shelagh’s father had not yet met Esmee.

Just before the War was over dad and mum were offered a large terraced house, 2 Emma Place, in Victoria Road complete with a basement. They accepted the offer and took Granny Torode to live with them. The attics were not used but the rest of the house was ours and Granny Torode had her own rooms.

Whilst living in Victoria Road I paled up with a son of a friend of my mother, or rather a work mate, he was called Brian Pengelly. They lived at the top of the Bouillon Steps which led from Vauvert to Mount Durand. One late afternoon we, the two Brians, escaped from the house after curfew and half-way down the steps we were accosted by one or two German soldiers in full uniform. We were shouted at in German so we turned tracks and climbed the steps. The soldier grabbed hold of me and I slipped and cut open my chin. My mother must have been with Mrs Pengelly in her house. Hearing the cafuffle they came running out of the house to find me in the arms of the German soldier. How or by what means mum, the German soldier and I ended up at the hospital. I received four stitches. So good was I during this ordeal that I never shed a tear and I was rewarded with something that I had never seen before – Chocolate! I still bear the scars to this day.

Another memory of the War was at the time of the Liberation when all the German troops were marched from where they were billeted down to the Harbour. As they marched down Victoria Road the householders lined the streets cheering or perhaps jeering. The British Forces threw out chocolate to bystanders.

At the Channel Islands Hotel on the Esplanade the Bailiff and Royal Court welcomed the British Troops of the Liberation and from the balcony threw down bars of chocolate and packets of ten Woodbines scattering like confetti the crowds of people cheering below.

One incident – of which details are blurred – concerns Dad who worked for the States during the Occupation but under the control of the German authorities. Towards the end of the War, when food supplies were scarcer than they had ever been, he and some colleagues were directed to the Airport to unload a consignment of food for the German forces. Little known to the Germans the Guernsey men had arranged to organize a crash at the top of The Grange and when this happened the road was scattered with food, parcels and tins which soon disappeared into the hands of the local people. The German forces arrested some of the Guernsey men and they were taken to the Commandant and threatened with deportation. My father had done ‘some good deed’ for the Commandant who recognised him and he was just given a severe reprimand. In the event none of the others was deported.

There was talk of bringing gas chambers to the Channel Islands because of the scarcity of resources. Granny Torode was supposed to be one of those who would have been gassed but the gas chambers fortunately never materialised.

Lots of other memories come to light. In fact they are more likely to be what I have heard talked about rather than my own personal experience. After all I was only four years old when the Occupation ended! I remember Field Marshall Montgomery coming to Guernsey. I was standing with Dad at top of The Grange as he drove past standing in a landau and waving. I think he came because troops were being deployed to help re-establish normal services.

After the Liberation Aunty Millie and Uncle Cliff returned from England and moved into a large house near to the top of Victoria Road and eventually Granny Torode left us and moved in with them. There had always been a bit of tension between her and my mother.

Shortly after returning to Guernsey Millie and Cliff adopted Shirley. Shelagh’s father, Denis Donovan, one of the Liberating Forces, returned to the Island and married Esmee, the daughter of Florence and Ivor. Denis was a widower who soon brought back to the Island his daughter Shelagh. Young Denis returned from Manchester and now the kids were altogether on the Island of Guernsey.

SCHOOLDAYS

Immediately opposite our front door in Emma Place, Victoria Road, were two large imposing iron gates from which a footpath led to an enormous fountain which lay at the bottom of a flight of steps. These steps led to a wealthy, mysterious and forbidding house. Here lived Canon Hickey. He was the Roman Catholic Parish Priest of St Peter Port and Dean of Guernsey. Behind the house was the beautiful Pugin-designed Church of St Joseph and every Sunday morning we were awoken by the sound of bells calling people to Mass. Attached to the church was a fairly large Catholic secondary school and also an infant school. Most of the teachers were nuns and they lived in the Convent opposite to the main entrance to the school, called Cordier Hill. I also remember Mr. Cooper who later became head teacher of Les Chaumieres.

As this was the nearest school and possibly because of my mother’s French background and her tentative links with the Catholic Church I was enrolled at the infant school. Shelagh followed. Denis enrolled at the senior school as did cousin Shirley.

The nuns wore their habits – cowls and wimples – and they had leather straps. The head teacher was Sister Francis de Sales, a dragon! Head of the infant school was Sister Marie Joseph and I was her little pet. I well remember playing with modelling bricks – building houses, bridges and farmyards. We were taught to read and write in the morning and during the afternoon we were allowed to be more play-focussed. Each classroom had a big open fire and activities were arranged around the room and, on the words “All Change”, each group moved so that by the end of the day each group had experienced a little heat from the fire.

Sisters sat at old-fashioned up-right teachers’ desks with open fronts and I well remember being told off, in front of my mum, for causing a disruption in class because Sister, who was sat down at her desk, pulled up her skirt to scratch her leg, and I saw that she was wearing bloomers just like my Granny wore.

I loved Sister Mary Joseph – especially her smooth skin and her youthful looks, although, in reality, to a six-year-old child most of her face was partially hidden by a wimple.

I have a photograph of one of our school plays – ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’. I must have been seven at the time. My bride was Joan Randall; Robert Lynch was the priest; Valerie Charman and Rachel Duquemin were bridesmaids; Peter Malley and his sister and Beryl Houlihan and David O’Toole and Carol Duquemin were the other characters. I had a soft spot for Joan right up until I left junior school. I liked her and her brother and we often used to play together at their home, a large house at the end of Doyle Road. Their parents were quite well-off. One day I kissed Joan at her parents’ house and I was frightened to return to school in case the nuns found out. In fact I made out I was sick for three days!

At the age of seven I transferred to the junior school attached to Notre Dame du Rosaire Church. This was run by French nuns and occupied a big impressive building on two floors. On one side of the school was the Church of Notre Dame and a large presbytery which was originally built as a hostel for French students. On the other side of the school was the convent, the home of the nuns.

Several of mum’s siblings had also attended Notre Dame School. It was certainly very convenient for me and I was able to walk to school with mum. She dropped me off and continued her journey to work as the housekeeper in the home of Major and Mrs. Weatherall. At twelve o’clock there was always a race between mum and myself to see who could get home first. Lunch normally consisted of a sandwich and a cup of tea. Sometimes dad would join us but this depended on where he was working. He was a decorator in partnership with Arthur Stewart – then very much the junior. When he was working a distance away he took his packed lunch. We had a cooked meal in the evening.

I was usually allowed to return to school on my own in the afternoon and at the end of school, because I lived so close and was from a ‘decent family’, I was often sent home with a little note to ask mum if on the following day I could stay after school to go shopping with one of the nuns. Then they were not allowed out on their own.

The head teacher of the school was Sister Cecile and her blood sister was another Cecile whose name had another appendage which I cannot now remember. Their brother was mum’s insurance agent. Third year teacher, Sister Marguerite, ruled her children with a rod of iron. Her favourite punishment was rapping knuckles held out stiffly in front of her with two rulers held like chopsticks. There were a couple of non-religious teachers of whom one was a Miss Moignahan. The French parish priest in my time was Pere Bourde de la Rogerie.

Friends of mine at the school included David Baisnard in particular. Neither of us were Catholics but we were ripe for conversion and served at weekday Masses much to my Granny’s annoyance! That was in the old Notre Dame Church and I have a lovely framed photograph of the sanctuary and altarpiece. I only went to Mass there sometimes – when it was something to do with the school and, of course, we had a little school choir.

One of the great ‘privileges’ for Peter, David and myself who served during the week, was to be able to take home for the weekend a wooden model altar with all of its furnishings. We used to practise serving at Mass in the attic of 2 Emma Place. I dressed up and we took it in turns to be the priest. My parents didn’t mind what we were doing but Granny was not too pleased.

These nuns too wore full habits but only very small wimples. Their faces were partially revealed and I delighted in observing a few wisps of hair. I vividly remember how kind the nuns were at Notre Dame and how they had great concern for the well-being of their pupils. On one occasion their appearance at my bedside almost convinced me that I had gone to heaven!

I was just ten and had violent appendicitis. I was rushed into the local hospital for an emergency operation and, I suppose, a couple of days after the operation I dropped off to sleep in the children’s ward. When I woke up I found a Sister Cecile on either side of the bed, each holding one of my hands. They were saying prayers for my speedy recovery.

One of my embarrassing memories of the nuns of Notre Dame again concerned bloomers. It was one of the evenings to go shopping with Sister Marguerite. I had been told to wait in the playground but I grew impatient and decided to climb the wall which separated the playground from the adjoining convent garden. I was horrified to see two clothes lines of one-size-fits-all bloomers. Did I have tales to tell the next day!
In Year Six I was the Head Boy and, one morning, our radio programme ‘Singing Together’ was interrupted by the announcement that his dear Majesty King George VI had passed away during the night. Sister Cecile ordered us to stand up. She led us in some prayers and then I was told to go and toll the school bell. She then sent another prefect to go around the school to inform the other teachers of the sad news. With all this drama unfolding Sister Cecile forgot to tell me to stop ringing the bell. Eventually one of the other nuns came rushing from the convent to enquire what-on-earth was going on. I returned to class and then Pere Bourde came in to school to lead us in more prayers. If our parents were at home we could take the rest of the afternoon off if not we were to stay in school and engage in appropriate quiet games.

Each year there was an inter-island football match for the Muratti Cup. It was hosted alternate years by each island. 1952 was the turn of Jersey. I had never been to Jersey before and I was excited when mum and dad said that we would go together. It was a Wednesday afternoon. When a note was sent in to Sister Cecile to explain my absence she was furious as the Eleven Plus Examination had been set for the Thursday, the day after. My father insisted that we went and we were certainly not popular with Sister Cecile as she had high hopes for me. We returned by boat from Jersey on the Wednesday evening and I was in school in good time the next day. As I arrived Sister Cecile said sarcastically – “nice of you to come”. I made some cheeky remark and taking a few steps backwards I fell right into a waste paper basket. Not a good beginning! The examination commenced – dip pen and ink in those days. Sister was reading out some of the questions and we had a few seconds to answer each one. Meanwhile another sister was patrolling the room silently pointing out errors or miss-spellings. When she came to me she said, “Brian, is that your best hand-writing?” to which I gave the expected reply, “No, Sister”. Quick as a flash out came her strap and in time with the words, “Well it ought to be”, my pen had been struck out of my hand and ink blobs decorated the page. I was allowed to continue but had to re-write the whole page in my own time. I think she attached a note to my examination papers before submitting them to the Education Committee stating that I had had a little accident.

As it was, three of us, all boys, were selected for interview which consisted of a visit to the school by the Principal of Elizabeth College, the Reverend W.H.G. Milne. We were interviewed individually, asked about the test, our future dreams, and, of course, why we would like to attend Elizabeth College. I said that I wanted to be a bank manager – my reason being that bank managers spent their time dealing with money and I liked money.

Some weeks elapsed and eventually our results were given to us in sealed envelopes which were to be taken home to our parents. I was too frightened to hand mine over so when I called into the little dairy shop, where I used to call in every day to see the shop-keeper, Mrs. Renouf, I hid the letter behind two milk cans which she had on the counter. I went on home but meanwhile my mother had been out and about and she just happened to have met the parent of another child who had returned home with the results. Mum knew that the results had been handed out so she asked for the letter. My response was, “Oh, I must have left it at Mrs. Renouf’s” She promptly replied, “Well then, we had better go and look for it”. I was literally dragged down Victoria Road only to meet Mrs Renouf who had the offending letter in her hand. Mum took it and opened it. I had been offered a choice of two scholarships – one to Les Vauxbelets College, where two of my Heume cousins already had places, or Elizabeth College. Les Vauxbelets was run by French monks and its future then was probably not entirely secure and also partly to placate Granny Torode it was decided that we plumb for Elizabeth College.

Peter Keeling took his place at Les Vauxbelets and also Peter Malley but I was the only pupil from Notre Dame to go to Elizabeth College. How strange it would be coming from a very small religious Roman Catholic primary school with no male staff to attend an all boys, Church of England foundation, with no female staff but that is another story…

GUERNSEY LIFE

Summer was a great time and after school, at weekends, late in the afternoon and evenings too, in fact whole days, were spent on the beach, usually at the Bathing Pools, opposite Castle Cornet. Here we soaked up the sun and spent more time in the water than on dry land. By ‘we’ I mean friends like David Baisnard, Leona King, Beryl Fletcher – kids I knew from either school or the neighbourhood. But, one day, pleasure turned to disaster. I was scampering over the rocks and I trod on a broken glass bottle which almost cut through my right foot. I was rushed to hospital, had several stitches, and spent a couple of weeks off school.

Sunday afternoons usually involved lunch at home which dad cooked and he and I would work away in the kitchen so as to give mum a break. He would then potter in the garden whilst mum slept in front of the fire or, during the summer, in a deck chair outside.

We had quite a big garden and dad’s pride and joy was his Logan berries. These he trained along the whole length of the south-facing granite wall of the garden. Also he had lovely displays of sweet peas, cabbages and the usual array of summer produce.

Another pride and joy was his rhubarb. Whenever we heard the clip clop of a milkman’s horse it was “Quickly, get the shovel” and several of us kids would appear in the street shovelling manure to feed the filling for the Sunday pie.

Living on an island we must talk about fish. During the height of summer the warm Gulf Stream brought shoals and shoals of sea water Mackerel to the east coast to such an extent that at least once every year the beaches along the front and the bathing pools themselves were filled with fish struggling for survival. The controlled pools were drained and by the end of the day almost full of these dead fish. States’ lorries were deployed to remove as much of them as possible and they were burned on the north of the island. Conversely in normal temperatures fishermen made a good profit returning at five am in the morning for a good mackerel catch – some was for the local fish market and some hawked through streets such as Victoria Road where you would hear, “mackerel, mackerel, a penny a piece”. These were one of the few things that mum could cook really well.

Still talking about fish I used to love – I suppose really detest – going to the market on Saturday mornings, quite early at about eight o’clock, to get the Sunday joint from the butcher. We always walked through the fish market, we passed Mrs Merrienne’s fish stall where, at that early hour, the fresh crab supplies had arrived; the gas copper boiler was bubbling away and the fishermen dropped the live crabs into the boiling water. How they shrieked! In those days spider crabs were almost two-a-penny and on Sundays provided an appetizing afternoon tea. We used to sit at table covered in newspaper with a hammer or stone from the garden and crack and suck our way through crab claws together with Guernsey butter and Planche cake. The body of the crab had previously been prepared by mum and dad. We all had our little bowls of water to wash our fingers in and after we had done our banging and cracking the remains were rolled up in the newspaper, placed in the dustbin and the table re-set for the ‘polite tea’.

Ormers were a rare delicacy and I remember going with Dad around Castle Cornet rocks at Ormering Tide, crow bar, sack tied to his waist, wellies and hammer. He turned the rocks whilst I unravelled the seaweed and on good days we would find five or six. The early bird always caught the worm. Most ended up in hotels or being exported to France because of their scarcity so much so that laws were introduced to restrict the hours of ormering and the size of those that could be removed. Heavy fines were imposed upon offenders. The catch was taken home, de-shelled with great effort, laid on a wooden table in the kitchen covered in flour, and beaten with a hammer or stone until they were half as thick but twice the size. Casseroled or fried they were a poor man’s luxury!

Just after the war, when food was scarce, on Saturday mornings, it was common to go with Dad to the bottom of the Pollet where there was a private little bakery with open ovens roasting hot. We would arrive early in the morning, Dad carrying a large bean jar filled with Harricot beans, pig trotter and whatever vegetables we could get, some garden spices were added too. When the night-time baking had finished the baker kept the ovens burning and regulars, like my dad, were always welcome to put their bean jars in the ovens to be collected before the end of the day. Bean jar was something very special and nutritious and often other members of the family took it in turns to provide it for Sunday lunch.

Shrove Tuesday in Victoria Road was our big religious event of the year. Granny had a little iron frying pan, about ten inches across, which was brought out once a year, never washed, but wiped with newspaper before being put away again. From early morning her living room became a pancake parlour and she would bake an appropriate number of beautifully cooked fruit or plain pancakes for each family and they were always ready for collection by mid day, wrapped in greaseproof paper or sometimes brown. There was a pile for the Wards, for the Shilvocks, for the Torodes and for the Donovans. I don’t think we ate anything else on Shrove Tuesday and at Emma Place, once I had collected them from Gran on my way home from school, we indulged in pancakes, home-made jam – loganberry of course – and, if you fancied – evaporated milk. Sheer luxury! Poor old Gran she must have been exhausted as they were all cooked over an open fire.

Sunday afternoon was always a relaxing time but tension arose on one occasion. I had been across the road to see Brian Pengelly to see if he wanted to come out to play. He didn’t so I crossed the road and, walking down Victoria Road, were two of the young nuns from St Joseph’s. I spoke to them and told them that I used to go to the infant school. Then I asked them if they would like to come in for a cup of tea. Surprisingly they did. Dad was in the garden – vest and braces and mum was slouched in a deck chair – knees to the sun. I proudly announced that we had visitors and in response there was embarrassed chaos – panic, panic! The young nuns were offered tea but declined. Dad gave them a little tour of the garden and then they left seemingly very happy to have met mum and dad.

Evenings during the summer were times when we made our own entertainment. If it was fine Brian Pengelly, Jill Morman, the Fletcher family and other children from the neighbouring houses used to arrange road races, hop scotch, skipping that is until one of the parents was brave enough to shout “Enough, Brian, bed time”. That was in the days when Victoria Road had two-way traffic and this included buses. We also had Valnore Road behind us which was safer and we had access to Farmer Bailey’s field where we built dens, climbed trees and enjoying being out in the open air. A lot of these boyhood pleasures ceased on my admission to Elizabeth College.

Because Grandad Torode had associations with the Bordage Mission Hall, where he was a lay-preacher and from where he had been buried, I used to attend Sunday school there infrequently. Through this church I became very friendly with members of the Berry Family who were small-scale market gardeners in the Forest. The Bordage had a good children’s group and the main attractions were the Christmas parties and the summer parties of which there were two or three each year. Buses would be hired and members of the congregation together with children from the neighbourhood would set off from the Bordage on a little island tour with streamers flying out of the windows. We were taken usually to Lancresse for a whole day out. Weather not permitting the tour still took place and we would return to the mission hall for the party otherwise it would be outdoors in the sun. This association continued well into my College days. The Bordage then moved to the new purpose-built Green Lanes Gospel Hall.

Granny Torode came now and again to the evening service but she preferred Salem Methodist Church. It was at Green Lanes Gospel Hall that I learnt lots of choruses many of which I can still remember today. It was here too that I learnt by heart the names of the sixty-six books of the Bible.

Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephanai
Were the only two who ever got through
To the Land of Milk and Honey

The Berrys, Roger the son in particular, were very supportive of my early days at College. Roger was also at Elizabeth College but I sensed that his family was disappointed because I seemed more attracted to Anglican worship.

Bible study, youth groups, Gospel Hall were by now all part of my weekly schedule of activities. We had stamps for attending on a Sunday and we all had to do ‘Young Sower’ projects – which were usually quiz papers with clues and the idea was that you had to find the answers to the questions in the Bible – a sort of ‘Bible Search’. Prizes were awarded when the Sunday School held its annual prize giving ceremony. I still have several books recording my attendance and good marks:

Daddy’s Sword’ by Amy Le Feuvre – Bordage Hall presented to Brian Torode, marks 296 out of 312, December 1949.
‘The Little Discoverers’ by Amy Le Feuvre – Bordage Hall Sunday School presented to Brian Torode, marks 264 out of 312, December 1950. 
‘The Luck of the Golden Salmon’ by Conor O’Brien – Bordage Hall Sunday School presented to Brian Torode, marks 294 out of 312, 1952.
‘Jungle Doctor’ by Paul White – Bordage Hall Sunday School presented to Brian Torode, 276 marks out of 312, 1953
‘Jungle Doctor and the Whirlwind’ by Paul White – Bordage Hall Sunday School to Brian Torode 90% Marks 1954. 
‘The Venturesome Third’ by Dan Robson – Bordage Hall Bible Class presented to Brian Torode 1955.

The leader of the Gospel Mission at Green Lanes was a Mr. Pitchford and he was a well-respected businessman in town. He had a son, John, who was also at Elizabeth College, about my age, but sadly he died as a teenager.

Not far away in Brock Road at a house called ‘Carfin’ lived Aunty Flo and Uncle Ivor who had moved there from Saumerez Street. Just up the road lived Aunty Millie and Uncle Cliff and Shirley and Don were with them for part of the time together with Granny Torode. A little further down the road were Arthur and Winnie Selous and just beyond Victoria Road Chapel was 2 Emma Place. All were within easy reach of each other and all of these homes were open to one another. It might be tea at one and then the next day at another.

The big ritual was a Monday when everyone turned up at Aunty Flo’s for the big wash. Aunty Flo was the only one with a working copper and each family would take along their own detergent and everyone’s sheets would go in together followed by underwear and towels etc. These were all pummelled in turn with a big thick club, the fire was fed to keep the water on the boil and then each item would be taken out and placed in a two handled bath and rinsed in cold water from the tap. The washing was taken out into the garden and each item in turn would be delicately passed through a two handled roller mangle. Obviously the day’s activity was punctuated with tea and chat and gossip – everyone seemed to be totally part of the family.

But, whilst all this was going on, Shelagh and I often made our escape back to 93 Victoria Road and here we would raid Granny Torode’s wardrobe and dress up in her clothes and parade up and down Victoria Road. On several occasions we met a neighbour, Vin Brehaut, who was somehow related to Granny’s family. She used to like her tipple. She would meet us in the street and ask us to take her home and she would tell us not to tell her sisters how we had found her. The Misses Dumont shared the house with her and were very prim and proper. We agreed to keep the secret as long as she didn’t let on about us dressing up in Granny’s clothes.

The Dumonts had a little manual pedal organ in their front room. I had open access to play it whenever I fancied. I think that they thought that I had a taste for church and they wanted to encourage it.

On other occasions Shelagh and I would meet Granny’s daughter-in-law, ‘Cuckoo Annie’ – she was short and hunch-backed and she always gave us money – “Here’s sixpence and don’t spend it all at once!” Aunty Annie was married to Granny’s eldest son, by her first marriage to Edmund Bourgaize, and they had a lovely little cottage at Le Mont Sint in Saint Saviour’s Parish. Alfred was a market gardener, always belt braces, cap and cycle clips. He was very rosy cheeked and he and Annie had no children. More about them later…

Bank Holidays were always fun and the spring and autumn ones always brought the fair to St Peter Port and, what we would call today, an open market. This was held at the Model Yacht Club close to Castle Cornet. In the warmer weather there was the choice of going there or going to the west coast beaches. Obviously whilst Granny was still alive it was more appropriate to go in a Castle Cornet direction because of her age. In which case Mum and Dad often stayed at home catching up on those household chores undone – such as gardening and decorating. I would go off with Gran to the fair and we would not return home until about five o’clock. We would meet loads of her country relatives who had come into town for a good old gossip. Gran and I would wind our way home to Emma Place and Mum and Dad would usually be waiting with the table laid. Dad would nip down to the ‘chippy’ at the bottom of the road and bring back a fish and chip supper for all of us. Gran would then stay the evening and Dad, sometimes Mum and I, would walk her home to ninety-three and end up with a night cap in the Victoria Arms. Dad was always up and ready to start work the following day.

A special day was ‘Liberation Day’, celebrated on May 9th. The day, a public holiday, started early. All of the streets of St Peter Port were lined with on-lookers as the Jurats, Bailiff, Crown Officers and anyone else in public office processed through the streets in full regalia led by the Salvation Army band or the band of Elizabeth College. They made their way amidst the crowds to the Town Church where there was the annual Service of Thanksgiving. Those not attending the service would amuse themselves in the cafes, pubs and the one or two open shops. After the service the procession made its way back to the Royal Court stopping at the Cenotaph where, at mid-day, a cannon at Castle Cornet would fire a salute.

During the afternoon there was always a cavalcade which processed from St Sampson’s Bridge to the Esplanade. Most of the exhibits reflected some aspect of the occupation. As the cavalcade dispersed most people made their way again to the fun fair at Castle Cornet. During the evening the bands played along the quays and finally there was a massive fire work display over Castle Cornet. As you can imagine school attendance was often a bit low next day.

On the west coast there was always an August regatta consisting mainly of competitions – boating, fishing and decorated floats – nothing hugely exciting! However, it offered a chance for the still French-speaking community to gather together, to talk and to put the world to rights, and for the tourists to see us as we really were. Mum and Dad, Gran and I, would usually attend but Mum and I often felt a bit left out. Once Gran and Dad met old friends and neighbours and colleagues English gave way to patois so Mum and I made for the beach to lie in the sun stuffing ourselves with ice cream. We always took the long bus route home which wound its way around the coast. Sometimes we arrived home once more ready for a fish and chip supper at other times just a night cap in the Victoria Arms – without Gran of course!
These sorts of activities continued even in my early years at Elizabeth College. Gran was always very proud to be seen with me hanging on her arm sporting my college cap. Whenever she introduced me to anyone she always made it clear, “he goes to college, you know” which they could well see from the cap which was perched on my head.

I visited Granny every day as I went past her house as I went to and from school. I often called in on her for a cup of tea and cake in front of the fire. This was normally served on a table covered with old newspaper as cloths were only for Sunday. There was always a kettle or teapot on the hob in front of the fire and although she had a gas cooker she was frightened to use it and always boiled a summer kettle down below in Aunty Millie’s kitchen.

Sunday afternoons I was free until about six o’clock having been to College chapel or St Stephen’s or occasionally Notre Dame. Then I would meet Gran and sometimes ‘Aunty’ Cecile at Salem Methodist Church. After the service we would go back to Granny’s where we read a bit of Bible in French and said a prayer in French. After some supper I would go home to bed. Sandwiches of cucumber soaked in vinegar were always a favourite of Gran and afterwards those puff pastry ‘traffic lights’.

Certainly I grew closer and closer to Granny and I loved her dearly and this was sometimes resented a bit by my own mother. I would spend much of my holiday times with Gran and I remember those walks from St Peter Port to St Saviour’s Parish, via Torteval and Le Ray, visiting one cousin here and another cousin there. We would usually take with us a few presents – Guernsey Gache, Blanche Cake or other ‘bought produce’ from the town. We always returned with baskets more fully filled than what we had set out with – mainly fresh fruit, rhubarb, apples, peas, peaches, apricots, tomatoes and Cannon Hall grapes. After a visit to George Savident at Le Falconte we would be laden with freshly-picked ripe figs too. A huge tree grew right next to his house and in autumn the leaves were bent double with the weight of the fruit. My mother loved figs, I liked figs, but no one else seemed to appreciate them. Mum and I indulged and often later suffered! Our return journey from the country parishes was always made, like the outer one, on foot, and so through Granny’s many visitations I came to love the Guernsey lanes, to discover the remoter places of our island and to know some of the people who dwelt in them.

Of course, as I got a bit older, and Granny got older too, some of these excursions were curtailed and my friendships with college boys, especially Geoff and Ray, developed. Gradually my interests lay elsewhere as they had bicycles and tents. Some of the summer and Easter holidays were spent camping in Sark and Herm. We rather cheated on Sark because a family friend of Geoff owned one of the hotels and we only actually slept in a tent in their garden. For toilets and other needs we were able to avail ourselves of the hotel’s facilities. The weather was always good in those days. On one occasion we even booked in to a boarding house on Alderney and enjoyed a week of hiking and exploring.

ELIZABETH COLLEGE

The first steps into Elizabeth College in September 1952 were somewhat daunting to say the least. The exterior of the building was so familiar and its clientele were always regarded by the people of my social background as ‘the elite’. Scholarships were few from state schools – most were fee-payers – sons of local professional people and not a few from the Colonial and Military services. I was dressed out in my finery which had been contributed to by Aunty Millie and Aunty Flo as so to help my parents’ budget. Although mine was a full scholarship it did not include all the ‘extras’ for sports trips etc.

I entered the huge gates from The Grange, walked across the forecourt, climbed the imposing steps to the main entrance and was met by ‘Jack’ (?), the porter, – “Good Morning, Sir. New boy are you? Come this way.” I had never been addressed as “Sir” in my life and at only eleven too! I was taken into the main hall and sat down with about thirty others. And then a prefect outlined from the stage the proceedings for the morning. We were then taken on a tour of the school, returning to the hall where the the Principal, The Reverend W.H.G. Milne, offered a formal welcome. He told us about the wonderful tradition that we had been called to uphold. We then met our form master, Major Manchester. We were given books, pencils etc and a timetable. All of this seemed so formal when compared with Notre Dame.

Many of the staff had achieved military rank and they did not require a formal teaching qualification to teach us. An academic qualification was considered quite sufficient for foundations such as Elizabeth College. Major Manchester was in charge of the boarding houses and I immediately realised my good fortune in that I was not a boarder, after all, I lived only twelve minutes away from the school gates.

Having made a start we then had to give a little autobiography to the class. As I listened to the others it transpired that two other boys in the class lived quite close to me but they had attended different junior schools. Geoff Denning lived almost next to St Joseph’s Church in Le Coudre and Roy Wailes lived almost opposite Aunty Millie. Geoff attended Amhurst School and Roy was at Vauvert School. He was from a staunch Salvation Army background. We had paled up by the end of the morning and for most of our College career we were known as ‘The Three Musketeers’. Geoff was a sportsman, Roy a musician and I was the linguist.

We soon got to know the college masters – some of whom seemed to have sadistic tendencies. Major Caldwell, the Vice-Principal, was the only one allowed to administer corporal punishment and I only experienced this once and it worked.

On the first day we were allowed home at one o’clock, given some homework for the next day and then the term began. Life was now very different – there was mid morning canteen. Mid day meals were for the boarders and those who could not get home. Geoff, Roy and I never partook – we went home.

From the age of fourteen Tuesday afternoons were devoted to combined cadet corps. Thursday and Saturday afternoons were for sport and on Sunday mornings there was morning chapel in St James’s Church – but this was not compulsory for day boys. Every evening after school there was some club or other but these were mainly frequented by the boarders. I attended the debating society and also the Pioneers.

(Brian dictated these recollections during his final illness. Further material will follow in due course)

One comment on “A Guernsey Childhood

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