Posts Tagged ‘shortage of books’

West Mon’s “Spitfire”

July 31, 2008


As the war wore on into 1943 and 1944, the blitz was over and it seemed that the allies were gaining the upper hand. Consequently we heard the air raid sirens less and less and, even when they sounded, we just carried on in school. Few people continued to carry their gas masks everywhere and we were all a little more relaxed.

We had become used to the shortages of course and had learned to cope with the rations we were allowed. As we had more margarine than butter some people mixed the two together to make a slightly more palatable tasting substance. Also we were able to make our own small piece of butter by taking off the cream from the top of the milk bottle and putting it in a jar of some kind – we used a Horlicks jar – and by continuously shaking this for about 20 minutes or so, which was a job I liked to do, we produced a pale version of “butter”. I suppose it was really clotted cream but we added a little salt and it helped out on a few pieces of bread.

The Deputy Headmaster at West Mon was Mr Reginald Thomas Mole; he taught art and manual instruction and, after 41 years at the school, retired at the end of term in July 1946. As he was also the master in charge of stock, we were continually told by him to use every single page in our exercise books; indeed it was useless to ask for a new book if you didn’t comply with this as he used to flick through every old book presented to see that all the pages were full. If they were not, you didn’t get a new one. The quality of the paper in the books fell off as the war wore on with the surface becoming rougher.

One thing I was terribly disappointed about was not being able to do any woodwork. When both my brothers attended West Mon they used to arrive home, from time to time, with a variety of items they’d made in their woodwork lessons and I just couldn’t wait until it was my turn. I just managed one single lesson before the stock of wood was exhausted. Then it was announced that there would be no more woodwork lessons. That was something else Hitler had to answer for!

Some time during the war, I’m not certain when, an Air Training Cadets group was formed at West Mon. It was not something which was widely advertised amongst the boys and I gathered that it was something to keep the boarders occupied. As the master in charge of the boarders, Gilbert Garnet, was also the officer in command of the cadets, that is quite probable.

We boys were very interested in aeroplanes and my best friend, Eric Smith, who sat across the aisle from me in 2A, and who lived next door to me at 8 Wern Terrace, spent hours drawing bombers dropping bombs, shells exploding near them and fighters shooting them down. One Monday morning we arrived at school to find an air of excitement about. Someone told us that there was a real aeroplane in the quadrangle at the side of the new building. Hardly being able to believe this we made straight over to investigate and, sure enough, there was a low-wing monoplane parked there. We could actually walk around and touch it and even get up to look inside the cockpit. We referred to it as our “Spitfire” though I don’t think it could have been as the Spitfire was a very new plane at that time. Still, it caused a lot of interest and excitement until it was finally removed and, I suppose, loaned to some other school.

I imagine this was an effort to get boys interested in the Royal Air Force as no one knew then how long the war would last. I distinctly remember some of the older boys, who were prefects when I started at the school, who were called up almost as soon as they had left and visited the school later in their forces uniforms. Two years after leaving West Mon I was in the Royal Air Force doing my two years national service, though by then the war was over.


Subsequent to this posting, I received an interesting email from Glyn Payne of Newbridge (25/1/2010) which adds some interesting details to the above:

“Much of my time I was in the ATC.-637 Squadron which included Abersychan Grammar School as well. During that time I actually flew over the School & could see the “Spitfire” near the toilets adjacent to the Science Block. It was actually a Parnall Heck two seater. The nearest they ever came to being a fighter aircraft was being used to develop gunsights & a few other things for Spits & Hurricanes.”