St Brendan's - before the war

By Michael Pierce, February 2010


St. Brendan's was my first school, which I joined in 1936, aged 5 years.  Two years later I was joined by my brother Roger.  In retrospect it was idyllic.  Early lessons were writing, which involved copying the alphabet letter-by-letter.  Mathematics was taught by reciting tables and basic tasks such as addition and subtraction.  We read aloud from nursery rhyme books as an introduction to literature.  History started with the Ancient Britons, but did not get much further during my time at St. Brendan’s.  However, I do recall an annual ‘Parent’s Day’, when we all trouped off to the hall over the Telephone Exchange in Church Road for a display of ‘talents’ by pupils.  My modest effort was to be one of several Ancient Britons sitting on the stage in sackcloth, chewing at large animal bones.

Back to class-work, where we also studied Geography.  A truly uplifting subject in those days, with tales of ‘The Empire On Which The Sun Never Set’.  I suppose it was because St. Brendan’s was a Girls School, which took boys into the Kindergarten, we also had practical lessons.  I can never forget that in my year it was raffia work because I still have a small wooden stool with raffia top to remind me.

This was all too easy for a dreamy imaginative boy, who was not disciplined enough to fully absorb these vital early lessons.  So here I am, more than 70 years later, utterly relying on my laptop’s ‘Spell Checker’ and easy access to an electronic calculator.

Spring was the very best term when ‘Nature Walks’ and Gardening were added to the curriculum.  Even before outdoor activity commenced, I would gaze through the window at the flowering Cherry trees growing in the back garden, without chastisement, more’s the pity!  To add to the distractions, there was a jar of tadpoles on the window ledge.

Release into the open air was a true delight.  We each had a small patch of garden in beds surrounding the back lawn for which I was given a few Chionodoxa (we called them Glory of the Snow) to grow in ‘my garden’.  I have purchased such bulbs over the years to have a living reminder of halcyon days in the several gardens I have owned during my life.

Also in the back garden was a chicken – run and being invited to assist with feeding and egg collection was always a great treat.  Something must have rubbed-off because my daughter is a keeper of Bantams and her children are being ‘schooled’ into chicken management.

Behind the chicken run was a vegetable patch, which was spread with quicklime at the appropriate season.  Although ‘fenced off’, we were given dire warning of the danger of touching this dangerous product.

The other outdoor activities were Gymnastics, Sport and my favourite, Nature Walks.

These activities were held in a meadow behind the school adjacent to a Golf Course.  The Gym Mistress was a precursor of the character created by Joyce Grenfell in the ‘St. Trinian’s’ films.  Marching and arm swinging were main exercises, to the accompaniment of Susa marches on a portable clockwork gramophone.

I do not recall sport starting until Sergeant Bannard joined the staff to teach boys cricket and boxing.  ‘Dreamy Boy’ was useless at sport to the extent that he stood gazing into space whilst a well-aimed cricket ball stuck him full-on the chest.  I still wince when thinking of it.

Nature Walks appealed strongly to me.  Wandering along hedges, picking wild flowers, looking for birds, perfect activity.  And, except for picking flowers, I am still doing it, but 70 miles south of Stanmore.

This ‘dream’ was shattered whilst on holiday with the rest of the family in September 1939.  My mother, brother and I stayed on the South Coast as ‘voluntary’ Evacuees until Dunkirk, when it was deemed sensible to return to Stanmore.  But now, for my brother and I, being 8 and 10 years old respectively, there could be no return to St. Brendan’s.  Boys of that age went to the late, great Darcy Yeo’s Alcuin House School in Old Church Lane.  That is quite a different story!