“I shortly made my way into another world”.
My train rides to the little school at Earlswood came to a halt and I found myself on the way to Dr Barnardo's Homes.
It was a world I’d heard of, without ever imagining that I would be part of it. I don't actually recall any of the detail of
this presumably traumatic upheaval except, that at the time, I concluded that the reason for this intrusion upon my
newly found school life, was that my mother couldn't afford to pay for my upkeep any longer; hence the 'no-charge'
option of Barnardo's. Therefore, on 9th September 1943, I entered the gates of Russel- Cotes Nautical School at Poole,
Dorset.. I am now a Barnardo boy.
IN AT THE DEEP END
Now this was a different proposition. A resident of a 'technical' school no less. What a place to be a member of - I was
going to learn a trade - surely this would lead me to better and greater things. ? I was now a 'mature' 14yr old !
Supposedly fragile, and very bullyable.! Also very agile and of quick reaction.! The second kept me away from the first.!
I settled in amongst these two hundred or so boys, and, in fact, never did get bullied; I was too mentally and physically
sharp for any would-be attackers. Later on (post-Barbardo's), these same abilities were to be very useful in my football.
I settled into the permanent position of Left-Back. Me, with my frail stature ! Left-Backs were supposed to be burly,
strong, forceful, dirty, and sadly lacking in finesses, and the finer points of flair and imagination. Not so with me. I was
faster and more imaginative than most of the wingers I had to deal with. They could clobber me from pillar-to-post, but
I’d just bounce. (my gymnastic training at R.C.N.S.)
This was a 'trade' school, and glory be we were given a free choice as to the trade we wanted to pursue. Admittedly, by
today's standards the choices were fairly limited. I think the full list was: Printing - Horticulture - Boot-repairing
(snobs) - Engineering and Tinsmith. So, given the choice, I put into practice what became a lifelong talent, for making a
studied analysis of all pertinent factors, arriving at correct possibilities, then making the 'wrong' decision ! In this
instance I chose to be a Tinsmith. At the time I wasn't at all disappointed with my choice. I looked forward to a
successful and rewarding career. I also enjoyed it. It involved a fair degree of geometry and mathematics, coupled with
the facets of artistry, and an ‘eye’ for line etc. I assumed that people would clamour for my skills, and back this up with
financial remuneration ! But it wasn't to be. I was to learn that the skills of the tinsmith were no longer part of modern
man and his technology. In essence, what I could make in three days, to finish up with a beautifully engineered single
piece, could be made by a production line a thousandfold. Nonetheless, this was my choice and I got on with it.
I also got on with the task of mixing with a couple of hundred other boys. Although we had the normal institutionalised
camaraderie, I can't recall that many of us confided in each other, as to our former lives, our reasons for being there, or
our family backgrounds. We would swop stories of our previous Barnardo places of residence (if applicable), but beyond
that, very little else. In many instances of course, this was simply because the more pertinent details of our earlier
existence, were not known to us. I have often wondered since, whether or not boys who are thrown together in this way,
'throw' away aspects of their past, as a physchological response to the thought that they, in effect, were thrown away by
others ! Be that as it may, we were all in the same boat, and so between us, we established identities, hierarchies, and
pecking orders. We were all 'inside' whilst the rest of mankind was 'outside'.
Occasionally some of us would try and alter the status quo by “doing a bunk” This was quite exciting, and I tried it once.
I took with me a packet of 'Craven A' cigarettes to bolster my manhood. I had no idea where I would go, or how, but I
finally settled into the gorse bushes on Hertford Common to smoke my first packet of 'fags'. A very silly fifteen-year-old
now became violently sick, found himself unable to proceed further, and within a short time, having sampled a few hours
of painful freedom, was caught by the authorities and marched back from whence he came. Punishment ensued. This was
administered by our gymnastics master, with a wolfhound, a fully equipped gymnasium, a dilapidated recreation hut and
a vivid imagination. In the gymnasium we hung from the bars attended by the wolf-hound, and he also stood guard while
we clambered round the bench in the hut. I survived of course, but decided that gaining my freedom in this fashion was
but fruitless and painful. Never again.
So, I got on with my life at “Goldings” This being the common name of the school. It’s proper title so I believe was The
William Baker Technical School. I participated in every sport available to us. Which included swimming, gymnastics,
football, and table-tennis. Although we were very short of first-class facilities, the school encouraged all affordable sports,
to the extent that we participated in the local 'outside' leagues. I thoroughly enjoyed this side of our existence. And
although I was not excellent in any one thing, I had some prowess at table-tennis, and won the school championship.
I continued to play league and tournament table-tennis ( off and on), until the ripe old age of forty two years odd, with
varying degrees of success.
Like Russel Cotes, this school too was very regimented, and awash with discipline. Naturally, as healthy teenagers we
didn't at the time appreciate discipline, and all that it meant. Parades were the order of the day, with army-like drills etc.
just an extension of what we went through at the nautical school. Occasionally we were subjected to parades and
inspections for visits by royalty and various other dignitaries. I don't think such visits meant much to me. I have never
been of a mind to be influenced by, or deferential to, people with titles or positions of power. This has never altered, and
I'm still of the same mind. I don't think it has anything to do with complexes about being part of the lower order of things.
Probably more to do with a 'sense' of equality which institutions tend to engender. I suppose, because we were all in the
same circumstances of being separated from normal society, we were, more or less, all equal. This, I think, developed in
us a sense that nobody is really any more important than anyone else. This is something else which has stayed with me
for life. ( I wonder if I’m looking for facts to fit a theory ) ?
Nevertheless, we had a healthy regard for authority in a place where, like all other Barnardo establishments at that time,
hey continued to instil into us the Victorian ethics and morals espoused by our previous Homes. Later in life, and even
today, these Victorian values proved appeared to me, to be grossly out of step with a large slice of mankind. It was indeed
a 'play up, and play the game' scenario, involving decency, honesty, and trust. Apparently on a level which ordinary
society could not, and would not produce. I can only speak for myself when I say that my upbringing to this point, had
manufactured a boy who supposed that the 'outside' world and it's people, were indeed what Barnardo's told us they
were. Honest, trustworthy, responsible, decent, and fair-minded. This proved not to be the case and I have suffered ever
since with a certain amount of disillusionment. But, I wouldn't have it any other way.
During my stay at Goldings, however, I did get the opportunity to partake in a few interesting experiences. One was to
be selected as a ball-boy for the Wimbledon Championships in 1946 and 1947. I had the good fortune to be selected to
do this on the Centre Court, where I played my part in the finals of these two years. T’was was a marvellous experience
for we kids. Every day we would travel by coach from Hertford to Wimbledon, and for this alone it was well worth being
selected. Each day, upon our arrival, we would be taken to our special rooms, where we were overseen by an elderly
gentleman, who became our coach, master, and disciplinarian. I cannot recall his name, but he was a splendid person of
the old school. We daren't disobey a word he said. Off duty we wandered around freely, having access to all the players
and their autographs. We participated with relish in the time-honoured tradition of strawberrys and cream. Our actual
job on court was very exciting, and gave us the opportunity of being right in the middle of the action. All this, every day
for a whole fortnight. And, would you believe it, on top of all this, we would be paid 19s 6d a week for the privilege. I had
never dreamt of such wealth before, and it all belonged to me. I probably wasted it all, but it matters not. These were
moments of glorious escapism.
Upon our return to the school and normality, chunks of wood fashioned from any tree we could get access to, acted as
our rackets, alongside any spherical objects we could find to act as balls. I very swiftly established myself as Wimbledon
Champion, and in all humility it was common knowledge that I was vastly superior to any of the actual champions. We
would mimic these heroes with their 120 mile-an-hour serves, overhead smashes, and cleverly angled drop shots. But,
tennis was not for Dr Barnardo's and it's inmates - far too expensive and elitist - so we contented ourselves with
homemade equipment, used on tarmac courts which doubled as a parade ground. Thus was our Wimbledon experience.
My sojourn at Goldings came to an abrupt end on 15th July 1947. It's hard to imagine what it was like to be told that
I was going to be deposited into the outside world, as a bona fide citizen. In essence, for the first time in my life, I was
about to go into a mode of being where, at least at certain times of the day and night, I, and I alone, would be able to
decide what I did, and how I did it. Absolute magic to these young ears.
My report at this stage read thus:
Name: Colin Leaney.
Age: 16 . 25 yrs.
"I have had this boy under observation for a period of 2 yrs at Goldings".
General Character: "Very Good".
Truth & Honesty: "Very Good".
Habits: "Clean intelligent boy, very good footballer and table-tennis player"
Usefulness: "Should be a credit to us at work, and in the home.
a boy of independent mind"
Date: 7th July 1947.
Signed: R. F. Wheatley--- Headmaster
I wish I'd written this - but I didn't - these are the unadulterated words of the Goldings headmaster. Quoted verbatim,
with not a hair out of place. So, the first 16yrs of my life had resulted in the above testimonial, according to Mr Wheatley
that is. This information has only recently been made known to me, and I take delight in believing in the integrity of this
man! A splendid chap. !
Colin Leaney 45-47