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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Early years of school in 1940s
wartime Britain

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A recent photograph of what was Edgware Primary School in the 1940s

A 21st century photograph of what was Edgware Primary School, courtesy of Tony Woods.

My first school was Edgware Primary School in Edgware, Middlesex, north London - now Edgware Infant and Nursery School. 'Primary' was the term used for 'infants and juniors'. The headmaster was a Mr Bird. I started just before I was 5 in 1944 while the Second World War was still on, and I left at 11 for my grammar school.

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The reception class

The first class was known as 'The Babies', and my teacher was Miss Reebold. That was how her name sounded, but I have no idea of the spelling. Although the main playground was at the front of the school, we 'babies' had our own small grey stone-walled playground leading off our classroom. I always thought how neat and friendly it looked.

The classroom furniture was tables and small chairs.

Edgware school class photo, c1945

My year class at Edgware Primary School: I never knew how to spell my classmates' names, and their names here are as they sounded to me. Left to right, where I can remember:

Back row: Christopher Cooper, -, Harvey Selby, Michael Shiner, James Ballantyne, Stephen Newing, -, Stephen Golland, Robert Levin.

Second from back row: -, Christopher Richardson (Kit), Roger Warrington, David Arnold, Roy Boskin, Colin Brooks, -, -, Ian -,Tony Wilson..

 Middle row: Rhona -, Janet Steele, Helen Davis, Pamela -, -, Ann Dempsey, Brenda Mialls, Daphne -, -.

Second row from front: Myra -, Hazel Waterfall, -, -, Janet Saunders (Ginny), Pat Clarke (me), Jennifer Moss, Margaret Rennie..

Front row: Susan Knapp, Ann Rogers, Corrine Less, Jean Breedon, Susan Turner.

After the first few days when our mothers walked with us to school, we always walked just with the other children from the road where I lived, Brook Avenue. It never occurred to anyone that it might be dangerous. I suppose there was some safety in numbers, and there was certainly almost no traffic around then as there was petrol rationing due to wartime and post-war austerity.

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Other classes and classrooms

There were 30-40 children in a year group.

All the classrooms after the Reception year were simple large flat rooms, and the furniture was identical to what my mother described for the early 1900s classroom: a wooden high desk and chair for the teacher, a wooden-framed blackboard on an easel and two-seater desks for us children.

Other teachers included Miss Ackroyd, Mrs Harmer, Miss Scutt, Mr Dashfield, Miss Sturdy, Mr Duckett, Miss Weinstock and Mr Perrett.

Miss Weinstock was my first teacher at Edgware Primary School and I always remember her kindness when Mr Bird summoned her to come and collect this very frightened little girl on her first day there, and how she held my hand all the way to the classroom and was kindness itself in helping me settle in to a new situation.

Sally Lawson (formerly Sally Porte)

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The caretaker

To the back of the Reception playground was the caretaker's house where Mrs Milner lived. I suppose there must have been a Mr Milner although I don't remember him. Mrs Milner, like most women of her age, was large, as if she had had many children, and she was always sour and bad tempered. Maybe she had good reason to be: it was wartime and who knows who she had lost in her family.

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Free school milk

It was the caretakers job to wash the beakers that we drank our free school milk from, and they always stunk of sour milk. I always tried to find a mug that didn't smell - but so did all the children. The caretaker would see the children smelling the mugs and got very cross.

In freezing weather our milk crates often arrived frozen. So they were kept by a radiator to warm them up.

Lyndsey Hogg

Much later, the milk arrived in crates of small third of a pint glass bottles and the children drank directly from them using drinking straws.

The 1/3 pint bottles in my area closed with foil tops, but some dairies closed their 1/3 pint bottles with waxed cardboard disks. Both are illustrated on the page on milk bottles.

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School lavatories 1940s style

Another thing that stands out in my memory from Edgware Primary School is the lavatory floors. They, like other loos of the time, were of a stone-like composite, particles of which glistened in the light. I used to try to get to one of the 'sparklers' to pick it up, but by the time I reached it, the light was no longer on it and it had turned to dull grey stone. The lavatories themselves were low, and they flushed with a pull-chain - so things in the 1940s had improved since my mother's experience of school lavatories in the early 1900s!

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Teachers' favourites

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

Once the war was over, Britain was gripped in even worse austerity, particularly with food shortages. My class teacher was a Mrs Harmer, and I used to wonder why certain children in my class were so obviously her favourites, as I couldn't see any difference between them and me. Only later did I realise the significance of their parents being managers of food shops.

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Illness and absenteeism

When a child was ill and off school, it was often for quite some time because the childhood illnesses like measles, mumps and whooping cough were rampant. As few households were on the phone, schools seldom were told why a child was absent. So there was a man - I don't know what he was called - who visited homes to document why children were absent. Our man was of indeterminate age and was probably in a reserved occupation. All I remember is that he seemed to spend time just complaining about the difficulties of the war.

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The 11 plus exam

In my last year at Edgware Primary School, we children were prepared for the 'scholarship', ie the '11 plus exam' as it later came to be called. All the children in the class sat for it, and the outcome determined whether their next school would be a grammar school or a secondary modern.

The class teacher was a man, a Mr Perrett, who was wonderful at his job. I don't know whether he was back from the war or whether he had reason never to have been called up for service. In that year, I was awarded the class prize for progress - even though as far as I was concerned I didn't do anything differently. I suppose that Mr Perrett was interesting and logical, and just made work a matter of course. In his care I also passed the 11-plus exam to Copthall County Grammar School, the best grammar school in the area. I remain eternally grateful for the excellent and free education I received there under the headship of Miss Heys-Jones. She even bothered to summon my father to the school when she found out that I was to leave to train as a shorthand typist. "That girl", she told him, "deserves a university education, and there are grants available so that she can get it." Her word was law, and to University I went. That was the beginning of a career that I have found stimulating and enjoyable.

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.