From Frank Bailey

Hastings Grammar School and 24th Hastings Scouts at St Albans

Frank was in the Troop during and after the war, and I am grateful to him for sending us this account of those days from New Zealand, where he now lives.

I cannot recall when exactly the HGS was evacuated to St Albans but I suspect it was either 1940 or '41.  Most of the younger masters had been called up for military service but because of the age factor, Com (a.k.a. L H G Baker B.A.Hons.) continued in his role as Deputy Headmaster to M G G Hyder.  However, Com was generally known to the boys as 'Strube' - a character epitomising the 'little man' created by the New Zealand cartoonist (Sir) David Low who also gave us the eponymous Colonel Blimp.  The reason for the title 'Com' is that it was short for 'Commodore' since the 24th began as a Sea Scout Troop with the cutter 'The Pelican' in the centre of most of the activities.  Harold Bowmer was second-in-command and he was always known as 'Cox’n' whose main duties at camp were to provide interesting and nutritious meals.  When 'Bish' Byrom returned after war service in the Navy he was officially the 'Bosun' although he rarely used this title, his nickname being just one of many given to masters and had been passed on, some since World War I and whose origins were lost in the mists of time. 

When the School first arrived in St Albans, it was given accommodation in the local King Edward Grammar School but as this did not work out, alternative room was found in the Chapel in Spicer Street and also at a large private house known as 'The Elms' situated to the north of the city.  Science classes were taken at the Tech. Inst. near the railway station.   On the outskirts of the city was a large tract of heathland known locally as 'No-man's-land' which was the ideal locale for the many wide games that Com devised and one image I still have firmly in mind is of him signalling to one of the Patrol Leaders who must have been a good kilometre away; this was definitely in the 'cool' category.

click to enlarge Despite evacuation, the traditional pantomime still took place and I can still remember, seventy years on, the sensation of having greasepaint applied and the smell of the make-up room.  Mrs Akerman used to provide the costumes - always made from donated material and Mrs Bowmer played the piano.  Cox’n was also very musical, possessed of a fine baritone voice and was responsible for preparing the songs with the boys having voices not yet broken playing the parts of the girls.  From these humble beginnings, many a spark was fanned into flame for more ambitious roles.  From a personal perspective, it fired me into being the hind legs of the pantomime horse when I went into local government whose personnel, known as the NALGO Players and inspired by the inimitable Reg Taylor, gave an eagerly awaited show at the White Rock every Christmas with packed houses.  From thence I graduated to 'The Hastleons', the light operatic society.

At the bottom of the hill on which the Abbey was built lies the Roman ruins of Verulamium and adjoining this was the country estate known as 'Gorhambury', originally built for Sir Francis Bacon who, some people aver, was the true author of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets.  Set there in was a small grove of horse-chestnut trees (conkers if you will) known as 'Kettlewell' and this was the site of Whitsun and Summer camps.  Recalling the many camp fires there will bring pleasure to those remaining Scouts who will never forget the sight of Com and the scouters with ex-head boy and naval officer Bob Wisdenclick to enlarge outstanding in their particular rendition of 'Fershan Swore a Feud - against the Clan MacTavish' and capering round the camp fire as the sparks flew upwards and the flames reflected grotesque shadows on their bodies.  Solo items were encouraged as were Patrol skits and this unearthed many an unsuspected talent.

Notably, one of these was a classmate 'Gubbins' Nash, now a J.P. former schoolmaster comfortably retired to Devon.  A more deliciously funny Widow Twankie than he was a couple of years on I have yet to see.  He and I eventually became A.S.M.s in the senior troop for a few years before we both shook the pebbles of Hastings out of our sandals and sought greener pastures. 

Being the regular winner of the school art prize, my talents lay elsewhere at that time and I was dragooned into painting the scenery for a couple of the shows when we returned to Hastings in the autumn of 1944.  As an aside to this observation, I can still vividly recall standing in the garden of my billet, watching DC3s towing Horsa and Hengist gliders pass overhead (6 June) on their way to Normandy, the occupants of which were sadly to land in marshland, weighed down by heavy equipment and thus drown owing to the fact that the Germans had unsportingly flooded the area.

Finishing on a personal note, I am not proud to own that I was given the 'swish' in my first week at school by 'Strube' and this for the heinous crime of being caught eating an Oxo cube in the singing lesson since sweets were to all intents and purposes not available.

In conclusion, I would like to pay tribute to a man who greatly influenced my life and who saw teaching as a vocation and gave so much of his private time to encouraging boys to reach their full potential, even if it was just to hit the target as often as possible with his Daisy air-rifle at his digs in Holywell Hill.