School was not all strict academic learning; we had P.T. (Physical Training) every day. It took the form of constant movement games such as “Squadron Leader” where you would be split into teams of four, with a nominated leader. The idea was that you “Took Off” and followed your leader, arms had to be extended fully out to the side, thumbs pointing forward as “guns”.
Once you were “airborne” you could not stop, if you did you were deemed to have crashed and out. Your leader had to be followed and you had to avoid other squadrons, contact would result in “aircraft damage”. This would continue for at least five minutes or more, at a pace of a trot as a minimum speed, if you slowed down, you were adjudged as entering a stall and crashed.
Another was called “the Battle of Britain”, here you would have a piece of material stuck in the rear of your waistband. It was a free for all, the idea was that you had to stop someone pulling the material out of your waistband, while you went after anyone to get their “tail”. Again this could go on for a long time, anyone capturing 5 or more tails was an ACE.
Outside at playtime, also referred to as piece time, the boys would have sessions of “Headers” or “Heiders” in the local parlance. Here with the use of an old tennis ball and a pitch laid out using some items of clothing, such as jackets etc., a heading contest would take place. The idea being to score as many goals as possible, the game would end when the Janitor rang the bell signalling the end of playtime.
The winner would be the lad who had scored the most goals, in the event of a tie, goals plus corners would decide. Perhaps the Football world could learn from this as a better system that penalty kicks. The downside was that there were more than a few “discussions” as to whether it was a bye or had he touched it before it went out, and “That was over the Bar” and not a goal.
The girls would also have a long skipping rope, with two holding the ends and turning the rope, the rest would form a line and dive in at the right time, skip three times and then out. If one of then fouled the rope whilst skipping, they would change places with the one rope turners. They also had a “throw and catch” game with a small ball, during which a rhyme would be spoken. You would face a wall and throw the ball up against to wall and catch it on return. As I recall it went something like this :”one, two, three, O’Leary”, during the O’Leary call you had to spin round on the spot and still catch the returning ball, if successful, you would continue “four, five ,six, O’Leary”, the spin turn direction would alternate each time, and so on. It was great for hand eye coordination.
The Palace Cinema, or “the Picture House” as it was known, was the venue for the Saturday Matinee, the weekly highlight. With no sweeties to be had, you would be given three pennies for the occasion. The first one was spent at “Jenny Scots” the Greengrocer shop at the apex of the corner between the Main Street and Murderdean Road, now a Beauty salon, formerly George Cummings’ shop. Here you could buy two carrots, then join the queue for the “pictures” and spend the waiting time scrapping the outside of the carrots with one of the remaining two pennies. The Lady in the Ticket Booth was not always pleased to get pennies soaked in carrot juice, she claimed it “gummed up” the ticket machine.
The Matinee always had a serial, I suppose you could say it was an earlier form of Soap Opera. A typical ending would see our Hero, usually a cowboy, enter a cabin which would then blow-up. We would go back the following week to find that in between hi entering the cabin, there would be an additional insert that saw him dive out of a window just before the explosion, and carry on the fight another day.
The list of matinee favourites were Tom Mix, Bill Boyd, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey, Gabby Hays, the Three Stooges’, Charlie Chaplin, Tarzan and Cheetah, to name but a few. If the main feature film had been a Western, it was quite normal to see most of the boys going down the Main Street with the left hand holding imaginary reins whilst slapping their posterior to speed their way home.
Behind my Dad’s Bake House there is a building that once was a stable that was used by Tom Reid the Coal Merchant. He kept two Clydesdale horses in there, these were his working horses that pulled his single axle coal cart around the village. Being a single axle wagon he could easily access the vennels and back roads to all the houses from 1st Street to 10th Street delivering the coal in bulk.
On odd occasions if he happened to stop at the Post Office for his newspaper in the morning at a time that I was out and going to school, and if he were going my way, he would lift me up and put me on the back of his horse and give me a lift all the way to school. When my maternal Grandmother died in 1943, Tom and his wife moved into the house at 26, 8th Street.
During 1940 my Parents and Grandmother became guardians to two of my cousins who were evacuated from London. One of my mother’s younger sisters had married a Dalkeith Policeman, Bill Steel, a few years before the War started.
He transferred to the Metropolitan Force in 1938 moving to Wray House in Chelsea. When the war started many children in the south were evacuated for their safety, away from the Bombing. Isabel and Jim Steel, their children, were therefore brought north to 8th Street to stay with their Grandmother who was assisted by my parents. They were a few years older than me but still within the Primary School age group. They were enrolled at 6th Street School and stayed here until 1944, moving to stay at Bank Buildings when our Grandmother died.
When they returned to their London School they found that they were at least a year ahead, in terms of education, than their counterparts, the days when a Scots Education was “Top of the Class”. Their parents came up from London to collect them on a Motor Cycle; an Ariel Square Four as I recall, with a “Two adult sidecar” with a luggage rack on the back of the sidecar, Uncle Bill had saved up his and some of his colleagues petrol coupons for the Journey.
Unfortunately although the mass bombing had abated significantly, they arrived back in London just as the V1 Flying Bombs came in to use, to be followed by the V 2 rockets. Mercifully they survived physically unscathed, but mentally alarmed, they lived with a window open all the time, listening for that distinctive throb of the V 1, waiting anxiously for the moment of silence, then diving under the bed or table whichever was nearest.
School holidays were just that, there was no possibility of jumping in an aeroplane to go abroad of course. I was lucky in that I spent nearly all my Easter and Summer holidays in East Wemyss in Fife. I had an Auntie and Uncle who stated at No. 5 Shand Terrace, named after Jimmy Shand who was born in the village. My Mum and Dad would spend the first few days of the Trades Holiday in the Summer Holiday with me at Shand Terrace, my Dad would have to return to Newtongrange to restart the Bakers Business up again, my mum would follow later and I would stay until near the end of the Holiday period.
In 1941 Newtongrange Scouts trekked south to Heriot, where they had the use of a field and a derailed cattle wagon.
During the first night of the Camp, an enemy aircraft was heard overhead, it appeared to be circling, probably lost and attempting to orientate itself. Presumable with no success it jettisoned its bombs, which fell close to Heriot fortunately missing the campsite. A story that was still being related when I joined the Wolf Cubs in 1944.