SCHOOL UNIFORM (AUTOBIOGRAPHY 43)

JM as a boy in St Msry's school uniform

JM as a boy in St Mary’s school uniform

This is me in my school uniform. I was aged about seven which would put the date of the picture as 1956. You cannot see the colour, but it was brown with gold piping – unusual but smart. You will see the colour in the next photograph. Apart from my cap, which is pushed much too far back on my head, I could be going to St Mary’s School in Bungay (closed over 50 years ago). In fact I am digging a sandcastle on the beach! Extraordinary as it may seem today, once I had a school uniform I wore it day in, day out, whether it was school time or holiday time. I just didn’t have anything else to wear.

The blazer pockets were very useful to a young boy. What exactly they held I cannot now remember of course, but I suggest that a rubber, pencil, pencil sharpener, some Polo mints, a couple of ha’pennies and a paperclip might well have been among the treasures. More exotic items like a length of string and a cockle shell could very well have been included, for remember I was on holiday. On a more mundane level pockets always contain fluff.

The tie was brown and gold and a tie was an essential part of the ensemble for males; the requirement began at an early age – about three, when it had to be tied for me. My father had to stand behind me in order to do this. He wasn’t adept at reversing all the usual operations, which he would have had to do had he stood in front of me. My mother was much better at doing this, probably because tying a tie is not second nature to a woman, as it was to a man. Tie wearing continued through adulthood and retirement until advancing years relegated the wearer to a bed-bound status, and pyjamas did not have a tie. The ‘other ranks’ in the armed forces did not always wear ties, and those doing heavy manual labour such as miners and farm labourers didn’t either, but virtually everybody else did. Even engine drivers and firemen, in spite of the dirty nature of their work, would report for duty wearing their ties.

Joe at Covehithe, 1958. The swan had flown into power lines.

Joe at Covehithe, 1958. The swan had flown into power lines.

Eventually I rebelled against wearing my school uniform when I was on holiday, and persuaded my parents to buy me some mufti. By the time I was nine I was wearing a blue pullover on holiday at Southwold, although the grey shorts below look suspiciously as if they could have been part of the school attire. The brown part of my uniform ended at my waist with my blazer. I don’t remember what colour my socks were, but from the photographic evidence I appear to be wearing short pale beige ones, with sandals. My shorts were  beige too, but the long trousers which I had graduated to by the time I was ten were grey.

Before I was eleven I had gone on to another school, and another uniform. New rules went with the new clothes. A cap no longer appeared as part of the uniform; indeed no headgear at all, apart from a sou’wester to be worn only in the fiercest of winter storms. Also, having only just managed to get my parents to allow me to wear ordinary clothes at evenings and weekends, I was again doomed to wearing school uniform for weeks on end, because this was a boarding school. All my socks were long grey ones with elastic garters that my mother had to sew together before I left home. For PE I wore merely a pair of  white shorts and plimsols (no shirt). Otherwise shoes had to be black leather lace-ups – no more brown sandals. No satchels were to be used; you either carried your books lunder you arm or used a brief case. And most vexing of all, after persuading my mother to let me go to school in long trousers at St Mary’s, I was relegated to wearing shorts once more – and this went on for years.

Basil Kybird in Bungay Grammar School Uniform.

Basil Kybird in Bungay Grammar School Uniform.

This dressing in uniform continued throughout my schooldays until I was nearly nineteen. A few details altered when I went up from the junior school to the senior school; grey shirts gave way to white ones with detachable collars, and I had to learnt the intricacies of collar studs. At last I was able to go into long trousers again. Essentially however I was still dressed as a schoolboy. A year or two before I finally left school the most senior boys were allowed to wear sports jackets instead of blazers – it was the nearest thing to civvies the school allowed. This privilege was reserved for school prefects, and as I never progressed beyond house prefect (and only attained that position by the skin of my teeth) this did not include me. It was with some relief that I left school and its uniform behind.

This picture of Basil Kybird was taken in 1941 when he was a pupil at Bungay Grammar School. When I asked if he could remember what colour it was he said he couldn’t. Note that even as a Grammar schoolboy he was still wearing shorts. In the 21st century shorts are popular leisure wear for any male under the age of 50; they just remind the wearer of long hot summers. They have none of the overtones of immaturity that they used to have, because the very young no longer wear them.

Norwich High uniform

Norwich High uniform

My sisters were at Norwich High School which then had an attractive apple green uniform – not today’s dark green. This picture was taken in 1949 when colour photography was not yet as good as it later became, but you can get an idea of the colour of the uniform as worn by my sister Margaret and Christine.  Christine is wearing a blazer and skirt while Margaret is in her summer dress of green gingham.

At Gresham’s School my blazer was blue of the same hue as it still is at the school. Gresham’s has the distinction of having two crests on the pocket, one for John Gresham the founder, and one for the Fishmongers Company, the governing body. This wearing to two coats of arms is technically incorrect and is frowned on by the Royal College of Heralds. As it is a practice whose origins in Holt are lost in the mists of time I don’t think the school is expecting to come into line any time soon.

The two coats of arms of Gresham' School.

The two coats of arms of Gresham’ School.

This despite the fact that a single coat of arms was produced for the school by the Royal College of Arms in time for the 400th Anniversary in 1555. This combination of the two coats of arms was revealed on the programme for the centenary celebrations, but the blazer badge still remains with its two shields.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

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