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A Polish ex-soldier lives with an English woman. On Sunday she serves him beans on toast for lunch… Fantastic, he has never had anything so good before! He makes sure she is happy. So she serves beans on toast on Monday… Wow! Lovely, and he laps it up...
So she serves beans on toast on Tuesday…. and on Wednesday… and on Thursday… and on Friday… but when she serves the same on Saturday, the man gets up in anger and smashes the plate with beans on toast into the bin!
His woman looks at him in shock and horror. “What’s wrong with you? I thought you liked beans on toast? You ate it on Sunday, on Monday, Tuesday, Friday…. Why suddenly you don’t want it on Saturday????”
Maybe he didn’t know English well enough to tell her what’s the problem? the thought crossed my mind. Mikołaj then turns to me – "So you see, when you grow up maybe it’s better you marry your own kind – a nice Polish girl."
KELVEDON CAMP SNAPSHOT - 11
Tatuś told me that when he was my age he spoke Polish only at home and with close friends, but had to speak German at school. Mom also spoke Polish only at home but Russian at school. Now I speak Polish at home and with friends, while everybody outside our Camp speaks English. My friendly English Bobby doesn’t understand Polish, and Bolek made sure that my ginger-haired friend in the shop knows all the right words in Polish and he now uses all the g and d words to make us laugh and buy left-over cakes at full price. When I asked my Mom about the d*** and g**** words, she pointed to the leather strap still hanging on the peg and said – ”Don’t you ever let me hear you use these words - never!” Yes, it was obvious Polish is OK at home, but I really need to learn English, and quickly, if only not to be cheated at cakes by my ginger-haired friend and to help Mom with shopping. One day Mom said that come September I will be going to my first proper school – English primary school; I must work very hard and be on my very best behaviour – always!
And so it was. Tatuś said I can now call him Dad. Mom walked me to the bus stop and left me with her words of advice –
”On your best behaviour - remember!” The school-bus arrived I got in, a bit anxious after Mom’s parting words… and there it was – my first proper school – English school. LOVELY!
I have never before seen anything so perfectly clean, a large classroom, a crowd of English kids, all clean and friendly. Only we, the Polish kids in our Sunday best outfits for this first day at school stood out from the rest… and then my eyes fell on the most beautiful creature I had ever seen - forget the beauty of the Kazakh steppes in their springtime glory; forget the trees turning golden brown in the Autumn in our Camp; Mary stood out from the rest – brown hair, brown eyes sparkling with life, and that most captivating smile… and her intriguing habit of playing with the zip on the left hip of her elegant grey skirt. I was trapped, totally – love at first sight!
My feelings were on the point of exploding. I wanted to tell her – ”Mary, kocham Cię” - but she didn’t know Polish and I didn’t speak English well enough – not yet. My class teacher noticed quite early on that I was exceptionally keen to learn to speak English and she went out of her way to teach us Polish kids the complexities of the English language like – write, writhe, right, rite, ride … but all I wanted to know was how to say “kocham Cię” in English, but the teacher didn’t understand Polish. I could have asked Bolek – he for sure would “know” what to say but I didn’t trust him, and what if he too fancied Mary? I would then have to knock his head off even though he was my friend. No, I will wait a little, I am sure I will learn English very quickly…
And the day came when I was ready – tomorrow for sure. I was going to pluck a wildflower and say “Mary, will you marry me please?” and all the way home I was practicing – Mary, marry me, marry me... At supper Mom said - "You know today was your last day at this primary school, you are now 11 and you will be going to the Secondary School in Witham in September." ”WHAT? But Mom! I have got to be there! I have something terribly important to do! You won’t even guess.” ”Why? What have you done now? Maybe you’ve got a girlfriend there… come on, tell your Mommy...”
Anyway, the School is closed now.
Oh, Fate can be so cruel to small boys like me! But… maybe it’s not going to be so tragic after all – maybe, if I fall in love for the first time when I am only 11, I will have plenty of time to fall in love again, and again, and maybe again, even if it will not be so good for me any more? But now I had six weeks ahead of me before September and the new school – what if I won’t be able to get Mary out of my head? Yep, work and more hard work, that’s the solution and, anyway, I needed some more money to buy myself a brand-new bicycle – like BSA make with proper gears and in brilliant red colour. And so it was – picking piss, or peace or peas till all was picked, then I picked strawberries till I was red in the face, then apples till the farmer told me not to come again when he saw the masses of cores of his precious apples at my feet!
The women pickers from the Camp now showed me great respect and envied my Mom – so young and he’s already a “stachanowiec” – good at hard labour. But there were moments when I really missed Bolek and Lolek, missed all the fun and those crazy ideas… like when we “borrowed” a bicycle to try cycling in a novel way - Lolek standing with one leg on the pedal on one side, me with one leg on the pedal on the other side of the bike and launched ourselves downhill – up and down the pedals went and we both went up into the air and came down to earth with a big thump… or the time when all three of us got into a big luggage cart and launched ourselves downhill – it was all fun until one wheel hit a boulder and the cart somersaulted with us trapped underneath – lucky we!
But all that was nothing compared to what happened to Mom – it was when we still shared one barrack with other families. We had a big wood-burning stove in the middle of the barrack to keep us all warm; the stove was red-hot on the day and Mom and some other women were standing around it to keep warm, someone had put a pan of water on the stove, it was boiling, someone trod on the base-plate of the stove, the stove rocked and boiling water spilled all over Mom’s leg! Mom was in terrible pain from the scalding, so I ran as fast as only a 9-year-old madman could to fetch the doctor… Even now that scene makes me cringe. But all that is now history, and sadly so is Mary... New school now, new adventures…
KELVEDON CAMP SNAPSHOT- 12
Waiting for more education
Six weeks in between schools was quite enough time for new disappointments. I felt I have been in the junior scouts/cubs (zuchy) for far too long; I wanted to be a proper SCOUT. So one moon-shot night the scoutmaster took the group of us, aspiring scouts, to prove that we merit to carry the scouting knife. Well hidden in the bushes, we squatted on the periphery of the aerodrome; no Spitfires will bother us tonight – not in 1950.
”OK then… see that abandoned control tower over there? The window has been left open… who will go there, climb into the tower and tell us what’s there? It’s full moon tonight; you don’t need a torch. So… who’s first?? Anyone?”
Silence… ”OK, I will go,” I heard myself whisper. And so, I went. It wasn’t far to go, but the path leading to the tower was completely blocked by the ghosts of all the RAF men killed at this aerodrome, all wanting to see what fool dared disturb them on this moonlit night. My hair rose, my body cringed … but - I did volunteer! So head down, one step forward, two, three… and to my great relief, as I stepped forward the ghosts stepped aside to let me pass… So go boy, go, quick, pull the window open, one leg over, the other leg over and I am in... It’s empty! No skeletons, only some rubbish on the floor - absolutely nothing to fear! So, signal the scoutmaster with my torch and get out – fast!
And all the ghosts now stand in line along the path and SALUTE this new recruit! I have done it! I am a SCOUT now; I have earned my scouting knife! The next day, very proud of my prowess, I told my Dad that the local Scouts will accept me now; it’s like the Ułani, our cavalrymen, had to earn their ostrogi (spurs) in a bloody battle before they were fully accepted into the regiment, I have earned my scouting knife. But to my great surprise Dad said "NO – the local scouts are too political!" TOO POLITICAL?? But Dad was a member of the SPK so he should know. Perhaps I should never have mentioned “Ułani” – Dad was in the infantry… But surely, Mary would have been proud of me now... OK, OK boy, so you’ve got your scouting knife – now concentrate on learning English and earn enough money to buy your dream-bicycle.
The Polish “pickers” at the Camp already knew that I was a good worker – a “stachanowiec” they said, now I am going to show them I am the best at reconnaissance. So, I “borrowed for keeps” a bicycle I found left at some building, and every evening after an early supper of my favourite vermicelli-milk soup, I set out on the bike to look for fields where pickers for peas, beans or strawberries were needed the next day. I knew all the farms in the neighbourhood and all the trails well by now and always found some good work for the next day – perhaps that’s why no one reported a missing bicycle. Saturdays were the best days during summer holidays. “My team” would be setting out early in the morning with me in the lead; my sister would come too and her friend Bronia… Bronia was quite a few years older than me so I felt my heart was safe but every time l looked at her I saw those lovely brown eyes sparkling with life and good humour and those dimples! in her cheeks when she smiled at me – oh, how she reminded me so much of someone I have been trying to forget.
A couple of weeks before my new school was due to start Mikołaj, Dad’s friend from Monte Cassino days, came to visit us. He was bubbling with life and energy and kept his hair under a hairnet to keep it sleek as if he was still in the army. I was in the background listening to his story. He was living with an English woman somewhere in Essex… what’s the point of getting married when we don’t know how our future will turn out to be - he might yet have to go back to Poland… Anyway, he works, he gives her money, she cooks and irons, he makes her happy. But here’s a story, a joke, circulating among the Poles to show the difference between the Polish and English mentality:
”Your Dad tells me you are going to a MODERN Secondary School! Well done! But you can’t go to a MODERN school in your Dad’s army shorts, it’s time you wore long trousers. Come on, I will make you a present of a proper man’s suit.” And so, he took me to Witham and bought me a great suit – light brown with darker stripes and long trousers – fantastic! The jacket fitted very well but the trousers were too long. That’s not a problem! He took a pair of scissors from Mom and shortened the leggings –"Try it on now…" Great they were the right length now except that one legging was visibly a bit shorter than the other. Not a problem, easy to fix that too! But this time the other legging was now a bit shorter!" Oh, we can’t let you go like that" – he will fix it this time for sure. And in the end Mikołaj did fix it! And I went to my new MODERN school wearing a brand-new MODERN jacket and matching brand-new MODERN pair of SHORT trousers. I was so proud.
KELVEDON CAMP SNAPSHOT - 13
Now for some proper education
5th September 1950. The great day has arrived; time to catch up on my education at Witham Modern Secondary School. Say “Good morning” to our friendly English Bobby stationed at the bus stop and, with his warning “now don’t you fight on the top deck,” still ringing in my ears I get onto the bus with ten or perhaps more Polish boys and girls from the Camp.
It wasn’t very far to Witham and our new school but far enough to make many of us cower on the rear bench dreading the image of a strange new school or, for the gutsier boys to forget our tour friendly “Bobby” and jostle for a place on the front bench of the top deck. It’s at moments like this that I really miss my friends Bolek and Lolek... Oh wow! It’s a huge school, miles bigger than the primary school in Silver End. I had a very good first day at school; I was lucky – I was placed in stream “C” of Year-1 in a mixed group of English and Polish boys and girls, about forty of us in our class.
But first signs of trouble showed up as soon as we got used to our surroundings. A cheeky boy called Day (I have forgotten his first name) came up to me one lunch-time break saying:
"You have a funny name – “Dzia…roslau...”
”Funny did you say?" I inflated my chest as much as I could and showed my clenched fist up to nearly touching his nose; I must have looked like Desperate Dan though I had no stubble on my chin yet.
”Funny, did you say? Really? Punch me in the chest, go on, punch.” Day looked surprised but he punched me as hard as he could. I didn’t flinch – he did! and went on to explain in a meek voice with no sign of any cheekiness now – ” You know, we all have nicknames, even our headmaster has a nickname; the older boys call him “Sniffer” because when he takes a class he sniffs all the time as if he had a runny nose. How do you want us to call you?”
Nobody could pronounce “Jarosław” correctly so I said – “Jerry”, and this nickname stuck to me ever since.
I loved Desperate Dan comic books and from my early days at Witham, he was my hero. Or maybe it was part of my nature – that of a Polish boy who would be a soldier to continue his Dad’s fight for Freedom of his Homeland. Somewhere and somehow I must have figured out that “attack is the best form of defence” so whenever a threat or opportunity arose I would do the Desperate Dan – blow out my chest, fold my arms, stick out my chin and throw the gauntlet in the face of any boy that dared cross my path – ”You want a FIGHT?” And surprisingly, it worked – boys older than me, the 15/16-year-old boys didn’t want to fight just in case they get a black eye from me or get a black mark from “Sniffer” in their School Leaving Certificate; boys my age didn’t want a fight, they didn’t have the guts.
Only once I had run into possibly serious consequences. It happened one summer break – a group of three or four Polish 15-17-year-old boys was having a sneaky smoke at the entrance to the Camp and as I walked past them one looked at me and said – ”Hey, I saw you playing with that girl Mila!” I spun round in anger and embarrassment at such ridicule – “Zamknij sié bo ci morde zbiję!!” (shut up or I will smash your face in). They looked startled by this outburst from an 11-year-old kid, then the boy who uttered this insult very gently pushed me away… and as he did so I realized he must have eaten an awful lot of spinach for his arm was the size of Popeye’s in the cartoon film I saw yesterday. Oh well – maybe I will ignore this insult and let him off THIS TIME. Yes… maybe that’s best.
I really liked my teachers in my new MODERN school. Somehow, they knew I was very keen to learn though I was never the one to put up my hand to answer the teacher’s questions. But my teacher of English language and literature was special – I loved her curly mop of brown hair and the dimples in her cheeks when she smiled. Lessons were intense and started with a long list of English words I had to get right – first and foremost the peas, peace, piece, piss… then the write, writhe, right, rite, ride… the Thank you, not Sank you and then all the other words essential in daily English usage.
I remembered Bolek once telling me that all names beginning with O’… are Irish, not English so when I asked my teacher if it’s true that all words like O’Hell, O’S***, O’F*** are Irish, not proper English… I was surprised to see the shock in her face… ”Jarosław! Don’t you ever let me hear you say these words again!”
Perhaps I should have known better but now I was sure – Bolek put me up to this! Lucky for him he had already gone to Canada… I should have asked Mr Wnuk first; our omniscient teacher at the Camp, he would surely know the difference between the Irish and proper English words. So to get back into my teacher’s good books, I asked her what I should do to improve my English… read GOOD books, read David Copperfield, Tale of Two Cities… read all the Classics of English literature… O.K. but these titles sounded like books for girls, not boys who would be soldiers; I preferred, and read avidly, books like Captain Horatio Hornblower, Flight of the Heron, about Gordon and Khartoum… and comic books like Dan Dare, Cortez and the conquest of the Aztecs and Mayas … books truly for boys. But then, I couldn’t honestly expect any lady teacher to appreciate the difference.
KELVEDON CAMP SNAPSHOT - 14
I don’t recall ever saying Hello or Hi to anyone at the Camp or Witham Secondary School. Of course, we boys would greet the grown-ups with the usual “good morning”, but we would always salute ourselves with “wutcha” – this was the ESSEX way and we were ESSEX boys!
Curiously, I don’t remember ever saying “wutcha” to girls – maybe we just ignored them. But there were some exceptions, like the girls from domestic science classes; we held them to ransom whenever they baked cakes – share or we start/stop pulling your hair! On one such occasion, I was the closest ever to my Mom applying that leather strap to my bottom but I got away with it that time when I explained to her that this Polish girl probably likes me as she had never told on me before.
But we had much greater, though riskier fun at our teachers’ expense. Only with “Sniffer,” our headmaster, we had to be more cautious. Sure, he had a big nose and we all “bounced in our chairs from fright” every time he sniffed, but we also knew he had a cane and had actually used it on some boys.
Our favourite teacher was a ruddy-faced middle-aged man who was supposed to teach us agriculture and gardening but my classmates from local Essex farms already knew what there was to know about cows and bulls and it didn’t take me very long to catch up on these facts. Many of the boys had already driven tractors and other farm machinery so they were not very attentive. When the class was getting too much out of control, our dear old teacher turned to teaching us music! Of course “Sniffer” wouldn’t let us play on drums or trumpets, and the piano was for the girls and for proper music lessons only, but we could make our own recorders from bamboo and learn to play simple melodies. This was a great idea but our teacher forgot that bamboo doesn’t grow in England and imported bamboo makes foreign sounds. For instance, I made a bass recorder some two or three feet long but I couldn’t make it play “Good King Wenceslas…” and if I tilted my head well back and blew hard, my recorder sounded more like an elephant in distress blowing its trunk and nothing like the “Frere Jacque” or the “King Wenceslaus” I was coaxing it to play.
And if the class was getting totally out of control, one game was sure to calm us all down – “Postman’s Knock“. One day it was my turn to collect and pay the postman knocking on the door. I gently pushed the door open and… Lorna was there! A flimsy summer dress hung loosely on her slender body, blond hair reached carelessly down to her shoulder blades, and her pale blue eyes swam in a mystic and a bit scary anticipation. I was conscious of something unreal about Lorna at this moment, but as the time allowed to pay the postman was so precious our heads drew closer and closer together and our lips touched in a shy and hesitant kiss… my legs buckled at the knees and a magical carousel spun at dizzying speed in my head… Fortunately, I had the iron will of a future boy-soldier so one last tender look at Lorna and I marched back to my desk; nobody would have guessed what had just happened, though seeing my beetroot-red face some might have wondered.
Back at my desk, I knew - that’s it! No more messing around for me! My Dad said he is not going to some place in Canada; he is staying put, here in England, to give me an education and a better chance in life. I cannot disappoint him; I must be diligent; I must work hard. I tried to rule Lorna out of my head but my parting image of her left standing so forlorn with her arms listless down her side wouldn’t evaporate so easily and I couldn’t help wondering – was it her first, like mine – kiss? But somewhere I found “Lorna Doone” book by Richard Blackmore that filled out many gaps in my imagination and became the “best read” in my English literature selection.
KELVEDON CAMP SNAPSHOT - 15
Goodbye Witham Secondary School
As it was the end of my school days at Witham, Mikołaj, my Dad’s friend from Monte Cassino days came to visit us again. Mom showed him my School-leaving Report and as he studied the pages, he suddenly exclaimed looking at me –The Report says your best subjects are Art and English! But this is crazy! You were always 1st in Science and very good in Arithmetic but now they say your best subjects are Art and English – OK, English is useful, but Art? What can you do here with Art - paint cow’s arses with dung? There’s no future, no jobs in that. Maybe if you did Carpentry or Metalwork you could at least hope to get a job at the Crittalls factory where your Dad works… but Art?
My boy, you have to go back to school, to a better school, where you will get some proper EDUCATION to set you up for life in today’s world… And this “Group H” you are in – What’s that!? You were top of the Class in Group C, then top of the Class in Group B; they should have put you into Group A not some Group “H”!
That’s it – his outburst confirmed my parents’ and my decision – I am going on to another school where I can expect to get proper Education as my Dad had always wanted for his children, an education that will give them a better chance in life than he had ever had in his youth in Poland. I had already applied to do GCSEs at the Mid Essex Technical College in Chelmsford and that’s where I will go if I get a place to do Science. They also have a School of Art there but I want to do SCIENCE.
But that “H” in “Group H” is puzzling – does “H” stand for “History” perhaps? They did ask me, at the end of year 3 what I am interested in. Of course, history was much more interesting than science and arithmetic; history was fun even though I had a lot of catching up to do.
There was that time in my year 2 when we were queuing for lunch; I was happily wondering what will be served today – perhaps my favourite toad-in-the-hole again and trifle pudding for desert… when “Sniffer” appeared to announce in a very somber voice that the King has died. I knew of King Herod and the three other Kings… there was a King in Poland once but King George VI of England? We were still stuck on the Roman Empire in our history lessons, and the Romans didn’t have kings, they had Cesar. While I was doing History at school, I was taking correspondence lessons in Polish history and literature at the Camp; and as I was getting deeper into the subject I was beginning to feel a strange kind of uneasiness – I had one foot in English history and one foot in Polish history – two very different stories. On the English side, I had great men like Drake, Nelson, Wellington, its Kings and the entire British Empire – victory after victory, after victory. In contrast, on the Polish side I had the “Liberum Veto” and the anarchy that went with it; I had the Polish Nation proud of its insurrections against the mighty Tsar of Russia but always ending in defeat, a Nation always ready to fight for the freedom of other nations but never gaining its own freedom. And then, when at last, the Nation won its freedom under Marshal Piłsudski, half the Nation turned against him…I was beginning to feel I had to make a choice – both feet in which camp? But I was growing up happily in my new adopted Homeland and secretly I had to admit to myself, and only to myself, that the history I was learning at school had a greater pull… but it came with a strange feeling of guilt.
But then, I wasn’t so bad at sport; no I didn’t play “English cricket”, I was much better at “Czyżyk” the Polish version of cricket played at the Camp. We had Mike Higgins at school, he was very good at football – I could only kick the ball, he could juggle it and score goals … but I was chosen to represent the school in putting the SHOT at Essex County games! After the competition I showed our sports master, a pushy Scot with closely cropped hair and a ruddy face, my bronze medal – he was impressed but obviously surprised. I told him I was second in the shot put competition; after a moment he asked how many competitors were there in the shot put? TWO – I wish I had never told him that I was SECOND. Clever Scot! I still remember the look on his face when I told him.
“Sniffer,” our Headmaster, took us for Arithmetic in our final year at Witham, and now, with the School-leaving Report in mind we were all quite well-behaved, but he was never our favourite. My favourite in this final year was a plump-ish , grey-hair man with a kind face. He took us for Civics, a new subject at school. I once told him I want to be a soldier in the Army; he listened and told me frankly – you don’t have a chance to be an officer in the British Army – not with your background and not from a school like this one; and you can never be an MP in the Parliament as you are not English-born. Good that he told me all this as I could now get all the soldiering out of my head. He and I often played the game of checkers; he said I was good but he had this knack that even if I was nearly winning the game with my two or three queens when he had only one left, he could still “kill” all my queens with one single move to win the game. Still, I really did like him, he always had a lingering quizzical smile on his face when he won the game – perhaps he reminded me of my father when in good mood.
KELVEDON CAMP SNAPSHOT- 16
More education please
Huffing and puffing a monstrous caterpillar with a huge steam engine for its head pulls into Witham railway station…
”Stop! Stop! Please! I want to get on!” “So where do you want to go young man?” “I want to go to CHELMSFORD Mr Driver;
I need to get some more EDUCATION…” “ Education, eh? – I wish I had picked up some of that stuff when I was young. OK get on young man” … and Mr Driver pulls on a chain, and WOW! The monster screams in protest, spits fire, belches steam and smoke but moves, reluctantly, slowly at first then faster and faster and faster to, at last, stop in CHELMSFORD.
Go right at the exit, then left towards the Police Station, left again, walk on a bit further, 15 minutes in total and you are there … but remember! Don’t ever say WUTCHA to the teachers at the MID ESSEX TECHNICAL COLLEGE or they may think you were born in a pigsty at some farm in rural Essex – remember!
Up a flight of steps to the first floor, knock on the door of Mr GRIDLEY, HEAD OF SCIENCE DEP. (remember!)
”Good Morning Mr. Gridley”… ”Ah you are Jaroslaw Kubica – come, sit there.”
Wow - he pronounced “Jaroslaw” almost correctly – he must be clever! Mr Gridley sat at ease looking at me with his bulging big brown eyes in a full face; there was something both kind and distant about him at the same time that put me at ease but if he were a teacher in my old Witham school I would have given him a nick name “fish eyes” even though his eyes were brown not blue.
"So… you want to do Science?”... “Yes Sir, I want to do GCSE O-levels and GCSE A-levels and…. go on to University.”
”Oh... and University too? You know... we have quite a few Polish young men at the College here, they call themselves „Junacy” – Cadets – they all say they want to study but they spend more time smoking, playing cards and talking politics in Polish then learning English; are you sure you want to study?”
“Oh yes Sir!” .... “You know… we have many boys and girls from Grammar schools here; you are from Witham Modern Secondary School. Hmm… I see you have a very good report but you will have an awful lot of catching up you do – are you sure you up to it?”
“Oh yes Sir! I promised my parents I will work very hard – I will not let them down!”
“OK then I will have a place for you.” “Thank you Mr Gridley!” And so it was.
The same caterpillar with that huge steam engine for its head now took me back to Witham and I told my Mom and Dad the good news – I will work hard to get the GCEs, the “Matura” – something the Poland in the early 1900s never gave my Dad a chance to get in his youth. It was my turn now. Now we all had a job to do – I had to study, so in my “beczka śmiechu”, our “home” at the Camp, I had my own little place – a small kitchen table and table lamp and chair; my Dad’s “job” was to bring home that grey envelope with his weekly wages every Friday, so he continued working as a labourer for WC French, and Mom looked after the household – she made sure I got my milk soup with noodles, or “gołąbki” or “pierogi,” and anything else I may need to nourish my resolve to get those GCSEs.
And so, for the next three and bit years at MID ESSEX TECHNICAL COLLEGE it was hard work indeed, but it could also be fun and sometimes an unpleasant surprise. My class master who was also our Physics lecturer wrote in my Report at the end of my first year “must improve his English”. What does he mean – improve my English?! At Witham Modern Secondary I was often the best or near the top at English language and literature tests but here? It’s true I had no chance of being the best here – not in English language. We had one boy in my class, tall and thin like a stick but he carried the whole English dictionary and book of English idioms in his head; he must have been going to the best Grammar School in the county of Essex!
But my Physics lecturer wasn’t so good at English himself – he couldn’t say the word “column” properly; it was always a “cAlumn” of mercury, or water, or whatever else, but never a cOlumn, so we gave him the nickname – Calumn. He was a bit strange too, quite tall and thin, ginger-ish hair, always wore a green corduroy jacket, talked to the blackboard and not to the students, never at ease delivering the lecture… so whenever we could, we would taunt him; one boy in particular was very good at this. “Danny” was the spitting image of Danny Kay in his teens; he was also very good at writing stories and he could play on a very small mouth-harp that made very strange twangs. When Calumn wasn’t looking, Danny would duck under the desk and twang his mouth-harp! By the time Calumn spun around, Danny and all in the class were sitting as normal, looking towards the windows and whispering – “oh the larks are larking around again”. Everybody knew that Danny was very clever and the word was that Danny is a Jew – what that had to do with Calumn or the mouth-harp I never knew; nobody talked about “Jerry is a Pole…”
On the other hand, we had Mr Wathey who took the class for mathematics; he was very different, he commanded respect; there was something military about him – he always stood back-straight, faced the class but always looked detached, impersonal, and whatever he wrote on the blackboard was perfectly horizontal; his examples of solutions to mathematical problems were always very clearly set out. I thought he was very clever but one day he put up a very difficult problem on the board – ”Who can solve this, he challenged us?” I couldn't but we had an Iranian student, somewhat older than the rest of us, he put his hand up – done! Mr Wathey couldn’t quite believe it; he came over, looked at the boy’s solution and was obviously astounded. Our Iranian boy showed Mr Wathey a much simpler solution to the problem – he must be brilliant at Maths… or maybe Mr Wathey wasn’t quite so clever after all.
My best subjects while at Mid-Essex were Biology and Chemistry – the two lecturers were really great but very different in character. The Biology teacher was a lovely man; he was so nice in fact, that he was asking for trouble – and he got it. A few of us, boys, would start a game of handball at the exit from our building while waiting for the teacher to come out and – PING! Our ball would somehow “by accident” bounce off his head! Of course, it was despicable behaviour on our part but I am sure we all loved him and his lectures and he took these “accidents” with good humour .... until the day when we were playing with a cricket ball!
I did get into trouble once. We were having a Zoology lesson with another lecturer and when he was dissecting a rabbit he pointed to the innards and asked – ”Anyone knows what this is called?” Of course, I should know; I was supposed to be very good at Biology –”That’s a PENIS Sir”… And instantly I became aware that girls started giggling; why, did I say something wrong? The teacher gave me a long derisory side-glance as if to check whether I am trying to be funny on purpose…
”These are two KIDNEYS” he corrected me!
OK, OK, so I was wrong but why were the girls giggling? Maybe like in Physics my English still wasn’t up to the standard required for Zoology either?
Mr Hendry, our Chemistry lecturer, was a Scot and much older than the other lecturers – grey hair, a little moustache, his left leg much shorter than the other so he wore a special shoe but still limped noticeably and looked so very grey in his white lab coat… but he was such a decent man that you had to respect him; half the class did and listened to his every word while the other half just did their own thing – quietly. His mantra was –”If you are not interested in Chemistry, that’s OK with me but if you are, I will work with you.” In my case, he made Chemistry a fascinating subject. I WAS interested.
And now I did work hard! The teachers must have noticed and wondered how come this Polish boy from Kelvedon Camp was 9th in the class of 50 when he came to school, but by the end of the first year he was top of the class and 1st in Science. Maybe they thought this was just a fluke so they kept me in Group C in Year 2. But when this boy came top of the class in the 2nd Year too, they moved him up to Group B for year 3. And at the end of the 3rd year this boy, now in Group B, did it again – 1st in the Class of 36, “very good” in Science and, to everybody’s surprise, he came 1st in the English language and literature exam!
Of course I didn’t dare tell anyone that my English teacher’s mop of curly brown hair, her constantly smiling hazel eyes and dimples in her cheeks were the secret of my success.
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