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Oakham School Archives

Explore the history of the school through the documents and objects that have been left behind...

OO Memories

We have contacted several Old Oakhamians who were at the school during and immediately after the war. They have been very kind in answering some of our questions about life and big news stories at the time. 

OO Memories

Did anything change during your time at Oakham?

Owen attended ‘43-‘50, so he was a student during the final 2yr of the war and 5years thereafter. He said that the curriculum and the sports were no different between the war and the post-war.

What was the country like generally after the war?

The first thing he said about the post-war was the welcoming home of the military from Europe and the Far East. He said also that they “didn’t try nasty things towards Europe” (I guess he was comparing events with those after WW1).

Was there rationing at School and home? What was a typical meal like?

Rationing was similar for him during and post-war, only easing a bit post-war. He remembers bananas being delivered via convoys from the Far East during the war so they were strictly rationed. From ‘51-‘54 Owen attended Keble where he said they also rationed, but it was a little better there. Breakfast was toast, cereals, porridge. Lunch was limited, sandwiches perhaps. If he was out rowing during the midday break and returned then to Keble for a bite, there may not have been much left. Supper was meat and potatoes, with limited quantities. (I asked Owen if he and the team ever went to a pub for a lunch on the rowing days, but he said no. I’m guessing that pubs were rationed also.)

Can you remember anything about world events and rising tensions between East and West?

Regarding East/West, Owen did a gap year at Harwell nuclear research facility (see below regarding military service for more details as to why this occurred). He was working on some component of the hydrogen bomb. He said the attitude was that they were being “precautious”. They definitely saw Russia as the enemy.

Did you attend the Festival of Britain? If so what was it like?

Owen did not attend the Festival of Britain. He was still at Harwell in the ‘51 summer, and of course there was much secrecy about the projects. Their movements were controlled, and they were not to mix with the public.

Do you remember the Queen’s accession and coronation? If so, please give details about what you remember and how you felt?

He does remember the Accession and Coronation but did not listen to them. In Feb ‘52 and Jun ‘53 he was deep into studies at Oxford and focused on his work.

Did you or anyone you know go on to do National Service? What was your opinion of it?

No, no national service for him. He had a letter from a doctor stating he should not go into the forces. That was spring of ‘50. He had a letter of acceptance to Oxford but by the time of his review for the forces it was too late to head to Oxford. He was offered either an observatory or Harwell as a year placement until he could start Oxford, and he thought the latter would be more interesting than staring at the sky and waiting for a specific rare event to occur. (He does enjoy astronomy, but not so focused as this project appeared to be.) His brother, Alan, 2 yr older than Owen, did go into the navy, and used his engineering training there, and continued in engineering afterwards. He served in the Far East during the Korean War. Alan was quite pleased with the navy experience overall, other than the bullets fired at their boat (!).

What new technologies and gadgets came out that helped in everyday life?

Owen’s comment about gadgets and inventions was that things were made “automatic”.  He was thinking about cars specifically. Then, we noticed in 2014 episode of Escape to the Country yesterday that they talked about Bubble Cars, the 3-wheelers with motorbike engines. Very economical post-war, then replaced when the Minis came along.

Did you use the NHS in its early years? If so, what was it like?

When Owen went to work for Northern Aluminium after Oxford, he was in a car accident - - there was something “dodgie” about the car they proved afterwards. Anyway, his arm was broken and they moved some bone from his leg into his arm and did some sort of pinning. He still has the scar and one leg is a bit shorter than the other. During a subsequent stay in the “Manchester Royal Infirmary” he called it, the doctor (Charnley?) noticed the surgery hadn’t been done properly and he corrected it. So, initially all did not go well, but subsequently it did.

I was at Oakham 1943 to 1948 so the main change was that we won WW2. I followed the war in the Wharflands newspaper and rejoiced at Russian advances in the Eastern Front, the D-day landings in 1944 and the subsequent collapse of Germany. Being in Bob Duesbury’s History 6th sharpened my interests in what was going on. The Headmaster, G. Talbot Griffiths, used to hold debates in School House. I attended but was no good. We also got copies of “The Spectator” which I did not enjoy or understand as much as I do now. In the school the only change I recall was the founding of Deanscroft house, next door to Wharflands, where GTG was Housemaster.

Did anything change during your time at Oakham?

I am not sure that I can be of any help because I was one of the generation before the mid-1950s but I hope that my recollections may be of some help.  I came to the school in 1936 and left in 1947. In those days the entry age at junior level was eight but I had an elder brother and my father said that the school should take both of us or neither so I entered Junior House (now Chapmans) at the age of seven.  I don’t remember anything of significance in the early days other than my father not being best pleased when the school, in about 1938, asked for a contribution of £5 per boy to fund the building of air raid shelters.  £10 was a lot of money in those days. 

What big news stories can you remember occurring whilst you were at school?

The biggest single event in my time was of course the outbreak of WW2. We lost a few of the younger members of staff who volunteered for the forces and certainly one of them (Crighton – the PT master) lost his life.  In the early stages of the war we took life very seriously, carrying our gas masks at all times and going into the shelters when the sirens sounded , which normally happened in the middle of the night! Later in the war – certainly when  I was in  school house from about 1942, we ignored the shelters and went into the ground floor of the study block which was far more sturdy than a shelter.  I remember standing at a window in the school house dormitories in about 1944 and watching and listening to a V1 (the buzz bombs) passing overhead. You were quite safe while it was making a loud engine noise but as soon as the engine cut out we all dived under our beds as that was a sign that the bomb would drop. I don’t recall any buzz bombs landing in Rutland.

School work carried on normally other than in the winter terms we had afternoon lessons from 2 to 4 pm on 3 days a week so that we had less sport. This was necessary because the school couldn’t black out all the classrooms so lessons had to take place in daylight hours.

We grew our own potatoes and vegetables in a field in what is now Farside, near the railway. The school food was not up to much and in those days there was no central feeding; each house did its own catering so the standard depended on the kitchen staff of the house.  Masters wives took a lot of time in helping with the catering but school house had a bachelor master so our food was not very exciting!

I can only recall two events which brought the war into my notice. One was at evensong in the chapel om Sundays when the Headmaster read the Roll of Honour and towards the end of the war names of boys who I could remember started to appear on the Roll. The other event was in the autumn of 1944 when paratroops were training at Ashwell or Langham camps.  We could see the men dropping from the school and we knew that it was training for something pretty serious when the King (George V1) came and inspected a parade of paratroops on Oakham Showground in Barleythorpe Road, Some days later we heard and read of the battle of Arnhem and within  a week or so the town became a very sombre place when the wives, mothers and girl friends descended on the town to try and find out from those who came back what had happened to those who didn’t.  The Headmaster and Trustees acted with commendable speed in organising the Roll of Honour in the Chapel which was dedicated in the summer of 1946 only about a year after the end of the war. 

There was of course no major development at the school during the war but one matter stands out when the school purchased Deanscroft in about 1943 and it was put into use as a boarders house after the war. 

Did you or anyone you know go on to do National Service? What was your opinion of it?

This was compulsory as soon as you left school and although we all grumbled about it, I believe on reflection that it wasn’t a bad thing. These days the school leavers often take a year off to travel; ours was provided by the government by way of National service. It put us 2 years back but as everyone had to take part it didn’t really matter. I was fortunate in that I trained in Belfast and then moved to Eaton Hall (the estate of the Duke of Westminster) for officers’ training and then to Egypt and Transjordan. I was very lucky in being able to visit Petra in 1949 – again as a guest of HM forces – which was a wonderful experience. As soon as I left the army I went to Oxford and I think that I went there as a slightly more mature student than if I had gone straight from school. Certainly in 1949 I felt that the undergraduates were more anxious to get on with their lives than they are now.

Did anything change during your time at Oakham?

My time was just after WW2 and I remember some staff who had been in the Forces returning. Some were injured from war wounds. The headmaster was Talbot Griffith who was very good. I was in the lower 5th and he was the form master. We were in the building at the top of the quadrangle.

What was the country like generally after the war?

The country was in a state of turmoil with many people returning from the Forces having been demobbed.and having to adjust to civilian life. For some this was difficult. Also Churchill had lost the election much to peoples surprise and horror. (Later in life I was the Chairman of the International Churchill Society so got much involved with the family and Americans who were much more impressed by WSC than us !)

What big news stories can you remember occurring whilst you were at school?

I don't remember any big news at school. We just carried on as before. But going back to the war years I remember vividly the days that the Airborne troops in Dakotas before Arnhem flying overhead and us boys looking up at them.

Was there rationing at School and home? What was a typical meal like?

There was rationing at school and certainly at home up to about 1949. I remember school meals being pretty stereotyped and spotted dick and custard sticks in my mind to this a day !

Can you remember anything about world events and rising tensions between East and West?

I don't recall much about World events. I don't think that at school we took much notice as it was exam times. School certificate and matriculation in those days. Having said that some may have been interested but there was no coverage in the lessons that we had that I can remember.

Did you attend the Festival of Britain? If so what was it like?

Festival of Britain. Remember it happening that was all.

Do you remember the Queen’s accession and coronation? If so, please give details about what you remember and how you felt?

I remember the Queens Accession and Coronation very well but not relate it to school life. I was in the Army by then.

Did you or anyone you know go on to do National Service? What was your opinion of it?

I started my army life in January 1949 and being sent to Catterick on a very cold day. The regiment us NS lot went to was awful and could not have cared less about us.. Fortunately volunteers were asked for to go the Household Cavalry at Windsor. My name was first on the list and I joined The Life Guards who were totally different, Strict but very caring for us. ( We were taught to iron our clothes and to this day I still do some ironing and say to my wife that Cpl Humphries would approve of that or otherwise!). National Service was good in many ways and taught discipline to many who otherwise would not have had it. However, later in life in the army one got used to training NS men and then as they became useful off they went so we started again.

What new technologies and gadgets came out that helped in everyday life?

None that I can think of. Not sure when mobile phones came in.

Did you use the NHS in its early years? If so, what was it like?

No because I was in the army and we had the RAMC.

Did anything change during your time at Oakham?

The return of experienced masters at the end of war

The purchase of Deanscroft and conversion into a boarding house. Boys were moved from School House and Wharflands.

The roll of honour of boys killed in the war placed.

What was the country like generally after the war?

Rather grim. Living conditions remained unchanged for a long time.

Domestic problems emerged with husband returning, after years of absence from their wives P.T.S. must have been prevalent but perhaps was not recognised at the time.

Bomb damage in the major cities to be cleared.

What big news stories can you remember occurring whilst you were at school?

  • The invasion of Sicily and Italy
  • D. Day June ‘44
  • Arnhem, V1 and V25
  • VE Day and VJ Day (following atomic bombs)
  • Election of Labour Government and nationalisation
  • Berlin air lift

Was there rationing at School and home? What was a typical meal like?

Rationing lasted throughout this period. Menus were very limited and poor at school. I was caught pinching a dry bit of bread – no punishment ensued.

During a 4 week holiday at home I put on ½ stone – that says it all!

Can you remember anything about world events and rising tensions between East and West?

I was aware of growing tensions with Russia particularly after Churchill’s speech at Fulton Missouri and then there was the Berlin air lift.

Also leaking of Atomic secrets to Russia via Fuchs and others.

Did you attend the Festival of Britain? If so what was it like?

Aware of it but no [?]

Do you remember the Queen’s accession and coronation? If so, please give details about what you remember and how you felt?

‘Out of a hat’ I lined the route of the Coronation near Stanhope Gate. Weather was appalling. The person who seemed to put up [with] better than [?] was the Queen of Tonga!

Did you or anyone you know go on to do National Service? What was your opinion of it?

National Service for me was 1949 – 1951. Perhaps because of my patriotic school background I was able to put up with it (at least the basic training) better than most.

Out of an intake of 72, I was the only one with that background.

‘It made an enormous difference to most of the intake. They came in scruffy and ill disciplined. They were unrecognisable 12 weeks later.

I spent about a year as a national service officer in Germany. Some of the regular officers were affected by being demoted from more senior temporary ranks during the war.

What new technologies and gadgets came out that helped in everyday life?

Nothing I remember, perhaps too early.

Did you use the NHS in its early years? If so, what was it like?

As for 9.