The Maltonian Web

Maltonians' Memories

Barbara Johnson (nee Nicholls)

June 2002 Barbara shared her memories of school during wartime.

I was a pupil at MGS from 1938 - 44 when there was only one form for each age group. It was an attractive building with four classrooms across the front of the school. One of the two front doors was beside the female teachers' room and the other beside the headmaster's room - Mr T A Williams (or Taw) as we nicknamed him. Both were sunny light rooms overlooking the lawn and flowerbeds. What a contrast to the men's staff room. Being sent there on an errand was not a pleasant experience! When the door opened the smell of stale cigarettes met you and on entry, you peered through the smokey haze trying to locate the teacher you were seeking. Some of the male teachers, whose gowns were no longer black, but a greyish orange because of the impregnation of nicotine brought the reek of cigarettes into the classroom with them. How times change! In those days a cigarette was considered to have a soothing therapeutic effect on anyone suffering from stress. Watch any old film and you will see a lit cigarette put between the lips of service men injured in wartime.

For it was at the beginning of my second year at MGS on 3rd September when war was declared. It was the date of my 13th birthday - an unlucky day! Wartime brought changes. Carrying a gas mask in its cardboard box was as essential as carrying text books for lessons. When the first air raid siren came we all assembled in the corridor and sat with our backs to the wall anxiously clutching our gas masks and expecting to be bombed or gassed at any moment. To keep up morale the staff lead us in community signing. It was the first time I'd heard "On Ilkla Moor bah tat" and in those days broad Yorkshire was not expected to be used by grammar school pupils. I remember thinking how inappropriate and I was glad my mum didn't see my lusty singing. Needless to say we were not bombed or gassed but were relieved when the all clear went.

A Roman Catholic girls' school from Middlesbrough was evacuated to Malton and for a short while shared the school premises with us which initially meant that MGS pupils used the school in the morning and the Red Army - so called because of their maroon coloured uniform - were taught in the afternoons. Difficulties arose for pupils travelling in from outlying villages (I lived in Ampleforth) due to restrictions on the use of public transport. Consequently quite a number of village children had to be catered for in the afternoons because we could not travel home at lunchtime. The woodwork room, not being required by The Red Army, became our base when members of staff arranged extra curricular activities. It was at this point in my schooling at MGS that I learned to play the recorder.

Mr Barty arranged map reading expeditions and one incident I particularly remember. We were navigated by various members of the group - map in hand. Having reached the far end of Middlecave Road, we turned right on to the path through the wood which lead us to Broughton Road. Traversing this road we eventually took a path through a field which would take us into Broughton. We were soon approached by an irate farmer saying that it was obvious we had come into his field to raid his walnut tree which was just ahead of us. A heated argument took place with Mr Barty repeatedly referring to the map whilst we stood open mouthed!

As petrol became scarcer more restrictions were put on to buses, which meant that, as there were so few pupils from Ampleforth and Gilling, the school bus would only come as far as Oswaldkirk. This meant we had to cycle to Oswaldkirk, leave our cycles at a villager's house and walk to the top of Oswaldkirk Bank which was the limited distance for the bus to travel. Cycling in spring and summer was enjoyable and with a back wind we could often free-wheel from Ampleforth College to Oswaldkirk, time permitting. Winter time wasn't much fun, snow, ice, rain and just a glimmer of light from our dimmed cycle lamps proved somewhat hazardous. However this was wartime and we were doing out bit but it was after 6 p.m. before we reached home. The bus did not leave Malton until after 5 p.m. because we had to travel on the public service bus - it was so timed that people in the villages could get home after work. It was often overcrowded and government posters on the windows reminded us "Careless talk costs lives" and "Coughs and Sneezes spread diseases".

Fundraising was a way in which we contributed to the war effort. I remember each house responded to Mr Barty's appeal to help finance the good work being done by Toc H. My house, Carlisle, decided to hold an auction of anything that would sell. All kinds of items were brought including items of food which were strictly rationed. Farming families donated eggs, butter and other farm produce which needless to say produced brisk bidding. A substantial sum of money was raised - of course to Mr Barty's delight.