Mr John B. Williams, OBE, MA was the house master of New Kenwyn throughout my school career. He had been that from the term it opened – shortly before I arrived in the other junior school house, Crossways. I remember Colonel Williams best as the C.O. of the CCF. This not because the Cadets had anything to do with the junior school, but every Tuesday he would appear in his uniform, complete with green commando beret. We thought that green beret was very special.
He was a junior school teacher, and unlike Mr Addleshaw and his successor at Crossways Mr Hughes who were masters who took languages throughout the school he was not involved in senior school teaching. I remember that he took me for English; he also took me for PE and was the person who taught me how to swim. He took me for boxing, which I did for a couple of terms when I was eleven. If you did boxing you did not have to go on cross country runs, but in the end I preferred running to boxing, although I did not enjoy runs either!
I would like to take you on a brief digression on the subject of boxing. Training was fine when it involved throwing medicine balls at each other, and shadow boxing was harmless enough. Sparring was a bit more gruelling, especially when Mr Williams came up behind you and grabbed your begloved hands and took over directing your punches. He was a lot more interested in getting a good jab in than in keeping up my guard, which of course was my primary concern. Worst of all were boxing matches. The ring would go up with ropes around it off which you could bounce with alacrity. That was fun, but everything else was scary. You had to wear a red or blue sash and have somebody tie up your gloves. We had no head protection or even a gum shield in those days, but we were only small and could not damage each other very much. Of all the blows your opponent could legitimately land on target, a punch in the solar plexus was the most disabling. A blow on the chin could theoretically knock you out, but not I think when delivered by pre-teenager.
I was involved in two match fights on separate occasions. In the first I was matched with a much better boxer who thoroughly beat me; the second one however I won! I was scrapping in a half-hearted manner with Olly, a day boy, when Mr Williams arrived to take our English period. ‘Right,’ he said,’ you two can sort it out in the ring in the gym’. This he could easily arrange as he took us for PE as well as English. This wasn’t really fair, because although I wasn’t a good boxer I had at least an inkling of what I was meant to do. Poor Olly hadn’t a clue and came at me wildly waving his arms out sideways. He had no guard at all, which allowed me to go straight in with blows to his head. It was as I said a most unfair contest, but I loved it.
To return to Colonel Williams; the only thing he did as a master in the senior school was to run the Corps. His period in charge was mostly before I arrived at the school, but he was still in charge of it for a year when I was old enough to join. We went on summer camp at the end of that first year (1964) to Near Orrest Farm on Lake Windermere. I believe that it was as a result of his war experiences Mr Williams had contracted polio, but in a relative mild form which affected mainly his fingers. They were slightly paralysed and with typical schoolboy cruelty one of our nicknames for Colonel Williams was banana fingers. More kind was the name Wilbo, but these nicknames were whispered when we thought he wasn’t listening; had no trouble keeping us in order.
It was two years after I left school that Mr Williams retired, I believe to run an antique shop. He had a farmhouse near Reepham. He had been awarded his OBE for his services to the Cadet Force. He was perfectly fair, firm and had a twinkling smile which would shine out behind his hooded eyelids. A real character.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE