Updated 15 May 2011

Retford Grammar School

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Memories 1947-50

by James 'Dickie' Lees

James 'Dickie' Lees was at Retford Grammar School from 1947-50. He very kindly supplied the scans below, and the description of his life at Retford. He is now living in North Germany, near the Dutch border.

Memories of King Edward VI Grammar School
and life in Retford 1947 - 1950

    In early 1947 my father, a Midland Bank manager was appointed as manager at the East Retford branch situated in Carolgate. Consequently I had to move from the King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford, I had passed my 11+ in 1946, to the King Edward VI Grammar School in Retford. I started at the school in the summer term 1947. Unfortunately I have never had a good memory for names so these memories will be devoid of names but hopefully interesting in incidents. My classroom was in the new block on the ground floor. Obviously I walked to school from my home next to the bank in Carolgate. I stayed at the school until 1950 when my father was moved again to Nuneaton, so I had to move again this time to the Dixie Grammar School Market Bosworth. My memories of life at school are rather patchy but what I do remember are quite vivid. Regarding education I think I achieved reasonable results and I did enjoy exams, I must have been a masochist. The exams were always written on lined foolscap paper, starting with Name, Subject neatly written and underlined at the top of the first sheet. Due to my three grammar schools in 5 years my English grammar and literature education was a bit disjointed but I do have memories of studying the novel A.G.Street’s “Farmers Glory”, Longfellow’s Hiawatha and Shakespeare’s Henry IV part II. My memory of the interior of the school is virtually non existent but I do have memories of the large grass area at the rear of the school that was used for sport. In 1948 London hosted the Olympics and like many kids I followed the exploits of the athletes. I have memories of large posters showing the American sprinters and hurdlers. Although I was never really a sprinter I was taken with the hurdling action and I started to compete in the school athletics as a 100yd hurdler, concentrating on the hurdling action which helped to overcome my lack of speed! I did take part at an interschool competition between Retford and Newark, I think at Tuxford, where I came second. The winner was a boy from Newark and fourth place was a boy from Retford called Limb. Two sports that are not heard of these days were the standing long jump and throwing the cricket ball. I have memories of one senior boy throwing the cricket ball a prodigious distance at the back of the school and probably due to my size I was quite good at the standing long jump. Swimming was another aspect of my education at RGS, we used the Retford Public Swimming pool situated on the road to the railway station next to the river Idle and the canal. I believe the water for the pool was pumped from the river. I started to learn to swim in the pool but was having difficulty in achieving a “width” until summer 1948 when I went on a cycle tour with my father that passed through Morecombe. In the open air pool in Morecombe that was filled with sea water I suddenly got my confidence, something to do with more buoyancy in salt water, and returned to Retford to gain my Intermediate Life Saving Certificate in 1949.

    As I said at the beginning of this piece I have a terrible memory for names, so maybe the next tale will trigger someone else’s memory. During my time at Retford I was the owner of an Webley Air Pistol, which I am now ashamed to say I used to shoot sparrows with. However, at this time a good friend of mine, a farmer’s son, took a liking to my pistol. I used to cycle to his parent's farm which was in a village somewhere near Rampton mental hospital. I used to enjoy searching for eggs in the barns and watching him start the single cylinder Field Marshall Tractor, I was only allowed to watch! Anyway as I said he wanted my air pistol so I agreed to swap for two bantam chickens, a cockerel and a little rose comb hen. As we had a walled garden at the bank they roamed free in the garden keeping the garden free of pests but doing little damage and dear little rose comb produced a regular supply of small brown eggs. When I left Retford in 1950 I took the hen to our new home where she sat on a goose egg and hatched it. An amusing sight to see a little hen protecting a large gangly gosling! I am sorry to say I cannot remember what happened to then cockerel. If anyone recognises this story I would be most interested to hear from them.

    During the late 40’s the roads had few cars and lorries on them and bicycles where very much the transport of young people. I remember my parents buying me a lovely red Raleigh drop handled bar bicycle from the small cycle shop, virtually next door to the small entrance to the school, by the new block. It had a hub dynamo and a Sturmey Archer three speed gears. I was also equipped with an aluminium water bottle and a patriotic small Union Jack flag mounted on the handle bars. I remember I was a little envious later on, when a friend arrived with a more upmarket racing bicycle, a Carlton I think with Reynolds 531 tubing and high pressure tyres. In 1949 my father took me on a tour of Holland to visit a family who had billeted him in the war. [See "Through Holland on two wheels", Retfordian 1949 July p26, (CD only)]. The enclosed photo shows the cycling dress of the day, long trousers and sports jacket and in my father’s case, a handkerchief in his top pocket. As well as cycling to my friend’s farm, I also cycled to a friend who lived in Worksop to pursue our hobby of aero modelling. I remember cycling home one night in the pouring rain and darkness, something that I suspect parents would not allow today. Talking about aero modelling reminds me that probably in the autumn of 1947 schoolboys were employed in potato picking. I remember travelling to a farm in a lorry and lunch being brought to us in the field. My pay from this work allowed me to buy an Amco 3.5 aircraft model diesel engine, which was an improvement on my ED Bee engine. Other memories that boys who lived in and around Retford at this time might be fishing in the canal near the gas works, cycling to the disused airfield at Gamston and climbing the water tower or going into the woods nearby and appropriating coils of cordite from an ammunition dump to use to try and make an explosion. Luckily I never succeeded and the lid always blew off the small glass jar that I was using!!!!

    Stamp collecting was also a hobby at the time and it was not unusual to see boys from the school appropriating stamps from Woolworths until a police visit to the school and an announcement by the headmaster at assembly put the fear of God into me! Another point of interest was theatrical. My father was a member of the Operatic Society and the Little Theatre. Consequently I had a small part in “Merry England” as a page boy to Queen Elisabeth, performed in the Majestic cinema/theatre and a non-speaking part in a Little Theatre production. Other memories are visits to a coal mine, a rubber factory making condoms among other things and a steel wire factory. Train spotting is also on the list as well as falling into the canal out of a rubber dinghy with my mother's travelling clock in my pocket, given to me to see the time to go home! No watch in those days. Needless to say mother was not impressed.

    I hope that these memories may be of interest and anyone one who recognises the tales or people I apologize for not remembering names


James Lees and father on bikes.
James Lees hurdling, Inter School Sports at Newark 4 Apr 1949.
Swimming, July 1949
James on the Ijsselmeer, July 1949

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