I was born a New Zealander. Lived beside the Waihopi River in Invercagill, bottom of the South Island where the Bluff oysters come from. Dad had fought in the NZAF with the Americans in the Pacific. Never said a word about it. Spent some time in America teaching aircraft recognition, somewhere on the East Coast. My first memory of seeing him was when I was about 4 years. Now he was Editor of the Southland Times.
I went to Waihopi School. Kind of place where most of the kids went bare foot. Can’t remember much about it. Dropped a desk on my big toe carrying it back after sports day; so my big toe still carries one memory. I suspect I was a pretty poor student. Classes of 40 or so. I remember the teacher’s fame was measured by what he had done to make the strap he used to beat his students particularly painful. Baked in the oven, treated with special oils and so on. I suddenly became famous because Dad got a job in London. Lund was going to London or ‘home’, as New Zealanders like to call it. I remember my Maths teacher pulling me out in front of the class. I had to pay the penalty for some misdemeanour. Yet again: 4 wacks on the hand with the strap. ”Lund” he said (wack), ‘you may be going to London”(wack) “but you’ll never” (wack), “never know how to divide” (wack). He was right. And it took about 4 days for the welt on my wrist to subside.
We took the Rangitata to England in 1947. One of the New Zealand Shipping Line ships famous for taking the assisted UK migrants to Australia and New Zealand. Dad went on ahead to find a home. How Mum put up with 3 squabbling kids in a small cabin for more than 5 weeks heaven only knows. We chugged our way across the Pacilic and through the Panama Canal, broke down outside Caracas where I saw my first dead ‘monkey’, all with the NZ Scouts on their way to the 6th World Scout Jamboree in France. So we learned the Haka, crossed the Line, raced to catch apples floating in buckets of water; and my elder sister had a scout to kiss in one of the lifeboats. Smoggy, damp Tilbury was my first glimpse of ‘home’. And there was Dad with his new car too.
Dad took us to our new home in Northwood, just outside London on the Metropolitan Line. My first English School was St Martins Preparatory, founded by Lionel Woodroffe, then the Headmaster. He had been persuaded to take me on mid-term. Imagine this nervous 9 year old schoolboy standing there waiting as the doors from morning roll call burst open and what seemed like 100 boys descended on him: “Who are you?” ‘What’s your name?” ‘Where are you from?” ”Why do you talk like that?” and so on. But it was a lovely little school and I was introduced to Latin and French and Art. Great sport, the ‘playing fields of England’ type of thing, cricket, soccer, rugby, swimming, all in its own facilities. Early on at my first rugby training session I was thrown the rugby ball with the words ‘Go on then. Show us how to play rugby’. Embarrassingly rugby was started a little later then in NZ.
A few enjoyable years rolled by and then the conversations started on which public school I should be sent to. You can imagine my father’s excitement sending his son to an English Public School. Stowe and Haileybury were the choices. My father was persuaded to chose Haileybury. I was sent to learn to board at St. Martins. Passed common entrance and I was on my way. I don’t think my father understood at the time that St Martins was a funnel for better sportsmen to arrive at Allenby House with the key purpose that Allenby should continue to be Cock House (Cock of the Roost?) at Haileybury. That is, with the dominating theme of inter-House sporting rivalry then at Haileybury, Allenby should succeed in its quest to win just about every competition there was in order to be nominated Cock House at the end of the year.
ARE YOU A MOUSE OR A MAN?
Arriving at Haileybury was a pretty daunting experience for a 13 year old in the 1950s. Mum and Dad dropped him off and were told not to contact him for three months ‘to give him a chance to settle in’.
Haileybury was the old East India Company College which trained administrators for the Colonies, you know, the people who set off into the unknown of distant lands with the confidence to cope with whatever they should find. In 1942 it merged with the Imperial Service College, which itself had subsumed the United Services College, to become known as Haileybury & ISC. So you can see it was a pretty tough tradition to live with.
Allenby House, presumably named after Field Marshall Allenby (nicknamed Bloody Bull), was unusual at Haileybury in that it sat separately from the main school and grew its own strong identity and ethic. In a nutshell, you just had to fit in. You couldn’t just ‘escape’ by nipping across to the Library or a friend in another House. My House Master for a short period was the very well known RL Ashcroft who, when he died, drew the headline ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’.
So the new boy would be taken down narrow corridors, whose pavings were hollowed out by the feet of history, to the dormitory where he would sleep. You know, everything painted in that ageing, ‘dark’ yellow and green. After a few days to find his way around he had to undergo the initiation ceremony. That meant standing on a chest of drawers at the end of the dormitory while previous years hurled slippers and generally not too hard things at him before he ran the gauntlet through them. He then became the fag of one of the House Prefects. This meant getting up early throughout the term to polish his prefect’s shoes and wash the dishes from the Prefects’ Common Room’s previous evenings cooked snacks, usually things like bacon and eggs and baked beans. The difficulty here was there was no hot water at the basin; and the free running mice had left their teeth and claw marks and shit embedded in the frying pan fat. He also had to prepare his prefect’s kit, blanco, brass and boots, for the Combined Cadet Force Wednesday activities, well-known at Haileybury.
I was unlucky with my intake. There were only two of us. There were 4 the previous year which meant they exercised power over us easily. This was made rather worse by the fact that the previous year had a successful sportsman amongst who became ‘king’, and a rather unpleasant one as I thought then. Unfortunately, I also knew him from St Martins and would not ‘buckle down’. I paid the price.
There were certain rules at Allenby which the previous year policed. For example, you weren’t allowed to talk to anyone more than two terms senior to you unless spoken to first. And you had to stand back sharply in the corridor to let the older years pass. If you failed in this, or a complaint came through, you were ‘nervy’ and the senior term punished you as they thought fit.
Interestingly the House Masters very seldom came into the boys part of the house. Authority was exercised by the boys themselves, varying by seniority. The House Prefects also carried out the caning for certain misdemeanours. For example, you got beaten if you did not exercise daily. If there were no sports, you had to run round a prescribed run. The caning meant kneeling on a hard-backed chair, reaching over the back to hold the legs near the floor. Makes an good target. These 18 year old prefects, who did the beating, also amused themselves by seeing each day who amongst them could deliver the longest, complete turd. This meant a judged measuring with a ruler.
The living conditions were spartan too. Allenby was lucky to have 3 dormitories. Most of the Houses had one dormitory where 60 or 70 boys slept. Cold baths every morning, only to be relaxed when snow was on the ground. Water froze in the mugs in the dormitory.
I remember I cut my foot badly on a bottle neck while getting my rugby boots from the locker room. House waste was collected in the same room. Anyway there was blood everywhere. I was half carried to the Sanitorium. The doctor there, a retired Navy Commander Medic, put 4 stitches into my foot without anaesthetic. It was immensely painful, the needle pushing through the thick skin while I lay on my stomach clutching at the bed rails. The doctor commented to my housemaster on how well I had coped with the pain.
The toilets at Haileybury are worth a comment. At Allenby they were few in number and pretty disgusting, harking back to times immemorial. Three or four stand-ups and three or four sit downs, the seat made into the china, with raised partition cubicles. The lights frequently didn’t work and it wasn’t unusual to hear your delivery landing in dry paper. I can’t remember basins but, if they were there, there certainly wasn’t soap. (Maybe we were being immunised against what we could catch in the Colonies.) Haileybury’s food was very poor (though served in a magnificent communal dining room) and not unusually, for 2 or 3 days every week, everything stank of rotten cabbage, even the boys.
The toilet for the main part of the school was a work of art. It should have been Grade 1 listed. It was known as White City. Imagine entering a place and walking into an open area with perhaps 50 stand-up porcelain toilets in a semi-circle in front of you, magnificently white with gleaming fittings. Overhead a short glass roof, just enough to stop the rain hitting you while you are peeing. Completing the semi-circle in a straight line were the sit-downs, maybe another 40 of them, two rows facing each other with a raised partition in-between, just enough so you couldn’t see the person opposite. Each toilet had embedded strips of wood as a seat and fitted into a cubicle with raised partitions and no door. Presumably this was to reduce the risk of you playing with yourself while you were in there. Again, a short glass roof meant the rain couldn’t hit you (unless in exceptional weather) and the wind whistling around everywhere meant there was no smell and presumably little bacterial action. Unfortunately it has now been removed; but the Old Boys will miss it.
There was an undertone of homosexuality at the school, not surprising, you think, with all that testosterone locked in there. But it made it very difficult for the new, young boys who were ‘smooth’ skinned, pretty and very much out of their depth. They were known as ‘tarts’. I don’t know what went on but presumably something did; and the House Masters were seldom to be seen in the House except perhaps just to say goodnight.
For me this came to a head, surprisingly, at my German class. Books were handed round and collected at the end of each lesson. Inevitably it meant the boys could write comments about each other in the fly leaf; and inevitably one boy started writing sexual comments about other boys. It was exposed. I was taken before the Headmaster and asked if I had written it. ”No”, I said. I was called back again a few days later and told they had sent the books away to handwriting experts who had agreed it was my handwriting. ”No”, I said.”It is not mine”. Anyway the boy who faulted was sacked (the Headmaster had the nickname The Boot); and I was beaten for good measure.
I was aflame with the injustice of it all. I complained to everyone who would listen. At last I was hauled before the House Master. “Lund”, he said (and I paraphrase) “I hear you have been complaining about your beating by The Master. Right or wrong, it is over now and, at Haileybury, you must accept your punishment like a man, and without complaint”.
I still feel rather sorry for the boy who was sacked. He had been drawn into the practised idiom and had acted unwisely. I hope he found his way. On my ‘final farewells’ when I left, I told The Boot that I had been unfairly treated to which he replied that he was glad I brought this up with him and that he would note it in his report and mention it to my House master. All very East India Company stuff.
The sport at Haileybury was great, particularly if you played rugby or cricket, which I did with some success. If you played tennis or rowed you were probably slightly ‘wet’. Squash, Fives and Raquets happened somewhere else distantly.
The classroom stuff was pretty humdrum but no doubt learning was there if you wanted to find it. The teachers were largely left over from the war years, people like Blimp, Bugger, Boot and Bogue (all the Bs!). One day my House Master gave me the key advice on how I should manage my stay at Haileybury. ”Play for the Eleven and the Fifteen, become a College Prefect; and do as well as you can with your exams”. As it happens, it was only the Navy who asked if I played for the Eleven or the Fifteen; and I didn’t really want to be there doing National Service anyway. Everyone else, including the American University I went to, asked me for my grades. I hadn’t a clue!
The new, young cadre of teachers came in towards the end of my stay. One at least put his foot down, insisting that the rugby master be sacked or at least removed from his 1st team prematch, evening get-togethers during which, apparently, he would spend much of his time on his hands and knees polishing their shoes.
After Haileybury, I was conscripted into the Royal Navy as a National Service man. Life on an HMS frigate, training midshipmen in heavy seas and weather in the English Channel, living in a junior mess with 23 people and only 14 hammock slinging spaces, using one bucket variously to wash the floor, wash the dishes and throw up in…….no problem at all.
Probably the single, great learning from the Haileybury experience and similar is that you, the individual, come second to the greater good. This lesson learnt made life much easier for those who went on for National Service and is, perhaps, the reason why so many people have regretted its passing. In my case, the other two significant impacts of the Haileybury experience are that now I can survive well on my own, possibly not the greatest asset if you are planning to stay married; and I am very driven to succeed competitively (if only on a ‘I’ll show you bastards’ basis). And one more thing. I almost forgot. If ever I am faced with calamity (like when I heard, while working in New York, of Kennedy’s death) I find myself in a church. Chapel at Haileybury every day, and 3 times on Sunday, has done that. And another thing, I am only really happy if I do some exercise every day. The threat of canings must have imprinted that.
Putting all this stuff down on paper makes me think of one of Merchant Taylors greatest old boys, Robert Clive, a.k.a. Clive of India. The report I heard was that he was a huge success in India ‘securing the military and political supremacy of the East India Company’; but, when he came back to England, things didn’t go so well. Maybe people were just jealous. The parliamentarians made his life a misery. So what did he do. One evening he held a dinner party at his home. At the end of the meal, possibly after port, he excused himself from the table and went to the toilet…where he committed suicide. As he said: “Take my fortune but not my honour”. To my mind, he could have been an Old Haileyburian.
Incidentally Haileybury also boasts, amongst its Old Boys, 18 Victoria Crosses and 3 George Medals.
Our favourite newspaper diarist, Nigel Dempster, when asked what he had gained most from the public school(s) he had attended, said that, if he got 8 years in prison, he would come out reasonably sane. Yes. I can understand that.
Rumour has it that a very wealthy, famous industrialist and Old Haileyburian was asked to contribute significantly to a Haileybury Fund. ’You must be joking” he apparently said, “my years at Haileybury were the most miserable and unhappy years of my life”.
I revisited Haileybury in the 1990s. A business colleague of mine, who had had State education and had made some money, wanted his son to go to Public School (as they do!). We had a business meeting in Hertford so it was easy to detour for a brief visit. The main quadrangle and the classical terrace at Haileybury are clearly magnificent. Seeing them again, I thought to myself “What have you been going on about?” Then we went into some of the Houses and classrooms. It had barely changed since I was there: the same gnarled and ancient dilapidation. ”So how will your boy enjoy this”, I asked. ”I think James will miss his home comforts” came back the reply.
It may have looked the same visually. No doubt though the new generations of teachers have made their mark; and girls as students there must help too.
I had spoken to a number of business colleagues over the years who had ‘suffered’ similarly at their schools and vowed never to expose their children to the same experience. But they have, almost to a man, relented. They didn’t want to endanger their children’s future in any way. It’s a thing about England’s better off middle classes, both with health and education: if you have paid for it, at least you have tried.
My view, for what it is worth, is that children of 14 and younger should not be sent away from the love and support of their own families unless there are exceptional circumstances. And again, if it is true 50% of education should be gained from the parents, then I should prefer my children to grow up to benefit from my family standards and experience rather than those of people I know nothing about and perhaps have never met.
|Mottoes||Fear God, Honour The King
Sursum Corda (Lift up your Hearts)