Reminiscences of 1953-60 at John Lyon’sby Leslie Allen-Williams
This year our cohort were hoping to have a 60 years-on get together, but because of Covid 19 that opportunity has been put on hold. However, I was in the process of looking out some old photos from my time at the School for the Lyonian Association website photo gallery, when Suzannah suggested I might like to link them into a few anecdotes/reminiscences. This short article is the result, coupled with a few photos.
When I arrived in 1953, R.F.B. Campbell was Headmaster and during my time he advanced the reputation of the School and increased the scholastic standard. ‘Ron’, as he was affectionately known, had his office at the top of the ‘Old School’ with the School Secretary, Mrs Cosgrove, strategically placed in an office just one flight below, able to act as a filter to those wishing to see the Headmaster. The first two years, after we had survived the initiation ceremony of ‘The Wacker’, were spent in this building and gave us a chance to get acquainted with the Masters and their various foibles: English with Gordon Blythe, a stickler for identifying the clauses of a sentence, or ‘Sammy’ Cowan who had a wonderful fund of ghost stories, which sometimes he would read to us on Friday afternoon. I can remember ‘Spike’ Hughes, toiling up the hill with his bicycle most mornings, was very keen that coloured maps should be included in your homework.
Several other characters emerged in those early years, of which perhaps the most respected by the boys was Mr Walker, or ‘Sarky' behind his back, who taught Latin and held discipline by speaking quietly and lacing his comments with a high degree of sarcasm! Latin homework was either presented in an exercise book or sheet paper. On one occasion, Dave Perryman asked on what should we do our homework, to which Sarky replied “do it on a brick”. Duly, Dave presented his Latin sentences neatly chipped and inked in on a brick (plus I think a paper copy) and I believe the brick was returned with the appropriate corrections.
Moving up into the third year meant going in to prefab classrooms ‘down the slope’, which incorporated the biology lab. The third year gave the opportunity to join the CCF, which most of the year joined. Being children of the Second World War, I think we expected to have to join the armed forces for at least National Service and the CCF would give us a chance of becoming officers. Every year in the summer term, there would be a full CCF parade on Harrow School’s Parade Ground, which was inspected by some notable senior military figure. My first photo (below) shows us on parade before Field Marshall Earl Alexander of Tunis, which I believe was my first ‘full parade’. On hot days these parades were punctuated by the sound of a rifle butt scraping across the tarmac followed by a dull thud as another cadet passed out! Overall, I enjoyed my time in the CCF, which apart from developing self-responsibility, gave me a good grounding in map reading and taught me to handle weapons in a safe manner. Never being particularly good at sport it provided me, as a Staff-Sergeant, with the chance to gain my House Colours leading our squad in the Inter-House competition.
Above: CCF Parade (c. 1956) on Harrow School Parade Ground with Field-Marshal Alexander of Tunis.
Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Form years were spent in the ‘New Building’ where exam pressure, O’s and A’s were to become a more serious factor. It was early in these years that Tom Robertson was appointed Biology Master. His domain was of course the Biology Lab, ‘down the slope’, which became more of an attraction for me as these years progressed. Tom ran a moth-trap over most nights in the summer term and arriving early at School meant you could help him with the catch. By the time we were in the Sixth, lessons in the Biology Lab were much appreciated as he allowed us to brew up coffee during the long practical sessions. He certainly influenced my future career as an Ecology Lecturer and Applied Entomology Researcher at the University of Hertfordshire. I remember that when Tom lectured on aspects of the blood system or a complex dissection, he would give all the gory details first to see if anyone in the class was going to faint, and it happened on at least two occasions. He was respected by his pupils and rarely had any problems with discipline.
It was during our Sixth Form time that 'Ron' commissioned photos of various classes and one (below) shows our small ‘A level’ group in the Biology Lab with Tom Robertson – happy days!
The Biology Lab – ‘Hut’! Dogfish dissection – probably cranial nerves (1960). Left to right: Tom Robertson, Les Allen-Williams, Dave Perryman, Neil McKintosh, Godfrey Smith, Norman Hunt
Because at that time a fair amount of scientific literature for physics and chemistry was in German, it was felt that all sixth-formers studying science should take a Scientific German course and this is the ‘subject’ of my third photograph (below). We were taught by Mr. Millett, who was noted for his rapid throw of the board duster to re-focus the attention of boys, who might perhaps have drifted into reverie. Hence Norman Hunt (sadly deceased) and myself sitting in the front row had to be adept at the equally rapid ‘duck’!
Scientific German lesson (1960), with Mr. Millett of board-duster throwing fame!
Back row, left to right: Godfrey Smith, Chris Barber, Peter Natress
Second row, left to right: Paul Slade, Malcolm Garrett, Steve Adamson, ‘Lefty’ Wright
Front row, left to right: Les Allen-Williams, Norman Hunt
The last of my photos (below) was taken in The Red House garden, where a small mixed group of the Sixth posed, probably to show off the pleasant surrounds, and we are apparently studying! Having messed up my Chemistry ‘A’ level I returned into the Upper Sixth where I became a School Monitor and ‘C’ Company CSM attending my final CCF camp on Dartmoor in pretty grim weather. Funnily enough it wasn’t many years before I was back on Dartmoor teaching my students High Moorland Ecology.
In the Red House garden (1960)
Left to right: Les Allen-Williams, John Pullen, Anthony Blackett, Tom Young, Nigel Young, Malcolm Garrett, Paul Slade
I am pleased to say that due to the persistence of Michael Heryet and Peter Thompson ‘those remaining’ are still in contact and having missed the pleasure of a 60 years on reunion this year are determined to get together in 2021.
Best wishes to all Old Lyonians and especially the 1953 to 1960ers.
Note: below are two further photographs of some of the pupils mentioned above. Please do add you own memories below or email then to Suzannah.firstname.lastname@example.org. We are currently planning to have the 60 years-on reunion next summer.