St Margaret’s School
When I was living at home with Mummy, I met some of her friends and I read an enormous amount, often by torchlight once my light was supposed to be off; I was a great reader, and I still have many of the books that I read then. Our house is full of books as Graham and I are avid readers.
In the summer we often went swimming at the baths in Folkestone where Cross Channel swimmers would come to practise, and we also spent a lot of time at the beautiful pebble beach. There were many apple orchards around Kent; it was the garden of Eden and during late summer in England there were masses of wasps. On one occasion my mother was sitting on the beach and about to indulge in a jammy dodger; she bit into a wasp hidden in the biscuit, which stung her tongue. It started to swell, and we raced to the doctor who told her she was jolly lucky it wasn’t a bee, because if it was a bee, the swelling would’ve been much worse, and she could’ve choked to death. The ordeal was rather scary. We carefully inspected biscuits before eating them after that.
When I was nine years old, my mother went to work as a school matron somewhere, and I became a boarder at Saint Margaret’s School. Maybe she needed the money or maybe she had suffered a nervous breakdown, I don’t know. I discovered later that Mummy did have mental health issues. Being matron of this other school meant she could take the school holidays off and it worked out very well. I had a great time at school, and I loved it. I already had friends and now I made even more friends with the boarders; I thought it was marvellous.
However, I remember one particular incident at school. My mother didn’t believe in girls wearing liberty bodices, she thought they were unhygienic. It was two weeks into the school term and when I took off my vest somebody went “Ooooh look at you!” I was all spotty and one of the matrons heard this and raced in and said, “Oh no! German Measles; now the whole school is going to have to go into quarantine.” It was a big deal and before vaccines and just about everybody in the dormitory contracted the highly contagious disease. School life carried on; we just weren’t allowed to go out for a few weeks until it passed.
Eleven-year-olds seemed absolutely amazing to me as a nine year old as they were junior prefects and one was chosen as keeper of the tuck cupboard; then suddenly I was eleven years old and the keeper of the tuck cupboard. Everyone was given tuck when they arrived at school, comprising sweets and biscuits and their own books, and it was put in the tuck cupboard, which was only opened on a Friday evening. I held the key and it was my job to open the cupboard, and then to ensure that the boxes were put back. I thought it was a huge responsibility!
Academically Saint Margaret’s was a very ladylike school. The students didn’t sit the eleven-plus exam, which is an examination that all children at state primary schools took in those days. Through sitting the eleven-plus exam, you were segmented into grammar school or secondary modern but in a private school it wasn’t necessary because it was assumed that you’d continue with a private school education. When my mother married again, we moved to Portsmouth, where Bob owned a big double-fronted house at 211 Havant Road, Drayton. One of the huge rooms at the front contained a boat that Bob was building, and I thought it was really funny; but it was a big house, and it didn’t matter that a whole front room housed a half-built boat. My mother met him through some sort of early dating system, and he came with two daughters, Mary the eldest of the two, and Ann. His wife had dropped dead from a coronary heart attack on the stairs in front of the girls when they were nine and eight-years old. His girls were motherless, and my mother felt it was high time I had some sort of father figure, so it was most probably a marriage of convenience.
I spent ten days with my godmother Aunty Una who, incidentally, had mumps at the time, which fortunately I didn’t catch. None of us girls attended their wedding. When I reached my new home in Portsmouth, shock horror, the girls were at the local primary school, just down the road and I had to go there for a term. When I started, they said, “Goodness gracious, you haven’t done your eleven-plus!” The exam was usually held in February each year, but there was a contingency date in late May or early June for children who had missed the exam due to ill health etc. Primary school children were geared up for eleven-plus and questioned on a range of subjects throughout the school year. I arrived at Portsmouth Primary School and my teacher was Miss Moore who wore a bun on the top of her head and possessed a terrifying collection of canes of different lengths and thicknesses. Seven of them sat on the top of her desk; I’d never seen anything like it. She called children up and if they couldn’t answer the times table questions quickly enough, they received a whack around the back of the legs. I was told I needed to take the eleven-plus and I asked what it was. “Oh, this child knows nothing, she’ll never pass,” they said. I passed it with flying colours. While I’m no academic I am academically inclined and a quick learner.
I was there the whole summer term and regardless of whether it rained or shined, we lined up in the playground and were counted before being issued with a third of a pint bottle of milk. The milk crates were kept in the sun so when we finally received them the milk was warm and revolting. That was a real eye opener.
Suddenly it was very exciting for me; I was the eldest of three, living in a big house with a huge garden, my stepfather was busy building a boat and I had two sisters to play with all the time. I thought Bob was wonderful, but I didn’t have anything to gauge a father-figure by as all my mother’s friends in Folkestone were widows. Looking back, I probably lived quite a disadvantaged early childhood, but I never considered it to be deprived at all, ever. My childhood was wonderful as far as I was concerned.
My stepfather Bob, I always called him Bob, had worked in the development of radar and so he joined the Admiralty Surface Research Establishment (ASRE) on the hill up above Portsmouth, where they were housed in a forbidding set of red brick buildings. He was an electrical engineer and a brilliant scientist. During the war Bob was instrumental in developing the JYA Table – sort of a radar in a table. People often asked me why I was Edwards and everyone else in the family was Harris. Even at such a young age I felt it important to maintain my own surname.
What Bob lacked in affection my mother made up for plentifully; she was always affectionate. She was very good at keeping us all in order. We were all required to help, and we received pocket money. As there were three of us there was a washer, a dryer and a put-er-away-er, and it was always a fight over who was going to do what, so we made a roster. We’d all come in from school and there’d be tennis rackets, or school stuff thrown all about the place. When we were out doing something, my mother went around with a large box and put anything in it that wasn’t where it was meant to be. She only gave the item back when we paid her some of our pocket money, which for us was disastrous. It worked very well, we learnt quickly not to leave gear scattered around or we’d have no pocket money. We employed an ancient and very deaf gardener, George, who looked after the large garden once a week, and Mrs Paice, a very large cleaner with an annoying little girl, who trod on my precious Lonnie Donegan ‘78 rpm record. I never left a record on the floor after that.
In the past, my mother only needed to cook for two and she never cooked much as she had so little money, it was very simple food; meat and two to three vegetables. Now she needed to cook for five people, so she was able to experiment a bit. Bob’s mother, Grandma Harris would come up from Devon and she taught my mother how to make junket, which my stepfather loved, especially served with clotted cream. Grandma would come to stay, and I would go into the kitchen and say, “Mummy, what is that?” and it would be a tongue, unprocessed lying on the table. “Oh, Grandma is here.” She made what I call, old-fashioned dishes. My stepfather was an extremely fussy eater. If he took us to a restaurant, which he did on our birthdays or Mummy’s birthday, he always ordered Dover sole, never meat because he couldn’t bear fat. If the slightest piece of fat reached his mouth, he’d leave the table, and you wouldn’t see him for hours. Bob loved steak and kidney pies, and pasties which Mummy made, but she had to ensure the meat was clean as a whistle with not a scrap of fat.
As children we had been taken to Swanage for a beach holiday, but generally we stayed local, people just didn’t go overseas for holidays in those days. We often visited Grandma Harris who lived at Newton Ferrers, a beautiful village on the River Yealm in South Devon. She lived in a bungalow that looked out onto the best view in the village, over the pool where all the yachts were anchored. It’s a very picturesque part of the world. We owned a canoe and we enjoyed amazing summers every year there. Bob’s carvel built boat, which had taken so much of his time to build, had been towed to Newton Ferrers and we loved going out in it. We all learnt to row in a little clinker built pram dinghy which was exciting as unless you pulled evenly on the oars you just went around in circles! Bob didn’t sail though, because on one occasion he sailed out past the Mewstone, which is a small island out from Newton Ferrers, and the wind dropped. By the time he returned the pub was shut, so he never sailed again or so he said.
While we always enjoyed these trips to Newton Ferrers, Grandma Harris never fed us enough and it felt like we were always hungry. She was like a little bird and figured that we’d eat the same amount that she did. We were three growing girls and my mother hid food in a hollow tree stump that my grandmother couldn’t see from the house. My mother bought Lardie cake or Dough buns for this purpose from the local bakery or she gave us money and told us to use it to buy a pastie each.
Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE)
In August 1946 the United States passed the McMahon Act, stopping its wartime collaboration with Britain on nuclear weapons. From June 1947, Britain began the development of its own atomic bomb under the Ministry of Supply Research Division at Woolwich and the Armament Research Establishment (ARE) at Fort Halstead in Kent.
On the 1st April 1950, high explosive research (HER) work, the expression used to signify atomic weapons research, was moved from ARE at Fort Halstead to a new site at Aldermaston, near Reading in Berkshire (previously an aircrew holding centre for the Royal Canadian Air Force). Other research on the British atomic weapons programme carried out at the Armament Research Establishment in Kent, was transferred to Aldermaston in the same year. In charge was Dr William Penney, who had been one of the British scientists at Los Alamos during the war. In 1954 AWRE was transferred to the newly created United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.
Aldermaston was the target of many famous Ban the Bomb marches, in the late 1950s and 1960s where upwards of a hundred thousand would march for four days from London to protest against nuclear warfare. It is also the focus of the Women’s Peace Camp and Campaign, started in 1985, against weapons of mass destruction.
Newbury County Grammar School
Learning to drive
Bob had taught me to drive boats, which was easy, and I thought driving a car would be too. I went on an AA junior driver course with three other learners in the car and an instructor, and our class took up the whole Sunday morning. It cost the princely sum of ten pounds for ten practical and ten theory sessions. The first person got behind the wheel and drove for half an hour while we watched all the mistakes and tried to remember how to improve. Then the second person and then the third. Each person actually drove for an hour after spending two hours observing the other people making idiots of themselves.
“Yes, I do,” I said.
“Well why are you turning the wheel that way?”
“Well, if you want a boat to go left you push the rudder right, and the boat turns left, and right if you want the boat to go left,” I told him.
“Oh, my goodness!” he said. “I have never come across that in my life!”
Anyway, after ten sessions and ten Wednesday night tutorials on how to change a fan belt, what road signs meant and what one should do after an accident, I had learnt to drive. My mother never learnt to drive so it was my stepfather who took me out for practise every week, and as soon as the course was finished, I was booked in to sit the driving test. When I came back the tester said, “I have to tell you, Miss Edwards…that you have passed.”
“Oh! That’s great, thank you, I’ll be back later Bob!” and off I shot around the block. I came back and picked him up of course, I just wanted to drive on my own. It was such an achievement; I was so thrilled. I even took Mary for her practise driving and one day four girls in school uniform were travelling to school in the Mini when a large policeman stopped us at the end of Wendan Road and asked who the licence holder was. Mary was driving and L plates were on the car. “I am,” says I. “Congratulations,” says he, “but I’d still like to see your licence.”
To this day I love driving. For my seventieth birthday our eldest son, who is a brilliant giver of appropriate presents, gave me a Red Letter Day for Thruxton Motor Circuit, one of the racing circuits in Britain, to drive a very posh Porsche and I raced around the circuit six times.
Guiding and Waterside Youth Centre
Queen’s Guide Award
The Queen’s Guide Award was established circa 1940 and is the highest attainable award for members of Girlguiding internationally. It is a challenging programme comparable to the Queen’s Scout and is considered higher than the Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. The Queen’s Guide Award’s syllabus has changed numerous times but traditionally covers five areas: service in guiding, personal skill development, community action, outdoor challenge and a residential experience. The syllabus is normally completed within a year to eighteen months and at the conclusion, the participant submits findings and reports to a suitable peer group.
On completion of the programme the participant is presented with a silver brooch, and a certificate signed by The Queen. In the UK the participant usually has a presentation and celebration locally and is invited to a national celebration held occasionally in London. Although originally awarded to Guides, it is now only attainable by members of the Senior Section (including Rangers, Young Leaders and Leaders) aged between sixteen and twenty-five years old.
I don’t remember a great deal about the trip, although I do remember having to carry the canoes up the Caen Hill locks, a series of twenty-nine locks, also known as the Devizes Ladder, that were all unusable. A climb of seventy-two meters in just over three kilometres, or one in forty-four gradient. I do know that we ruined the coarse fishing for a few days, as no one had been along the canal for years, and the locals had the fishing to themselves. One lock keeper’s cottage was lived in by Bertha Louisa Tubb who had a licence to sell beer. No singing, no dancing. We sat on narrow wooden benches around the walls in what was effectively the front parlour. Pints of beer, mild or bitter, appeared through the hatch from the kitchen where Bertha pulled them. We drank our beer pretty quickly, partly because some of us were just underage, and partly because of the glares and grumpy remarks from the thwarted fishermen.
The other hazard was mute swans. They also had the canal to themselves, and rushed us on several occasions, but despite our fear, they did not manage to capsize any of the canoes. We actually only canoed as far as Kintbury as time ran out, but we had demonstrated that the canal could be used for recreational purposes if only planning, time and money could be found to restore the canal to its former glory. Thousands of people now use the Kennet and Avon Canal every year especially those in canal narrow boats; Graham’s mum even had her ninetieth birthday party on the Kennet Rose, a commercial narrow boat.
The Kennet and Avon Canal
With an overall length of a hundred and forty kilometers and incorporating a hundred and five locks, the Kennet and Avon Canal is a waterway in southern England. First mentioned in Elizabethan times the waterway follows the natural course of the River Avon from Bristol to Bath before the canal links it to the River Kennet at Newbury, and from there to Reading on the River Thames. It’s made up of two lengths of navigable river linked by a canal. The name is commonly used to refer to the entire length of the navigation rather than solely to the central canal section.
In the early 1700s the two river stretches were made navigable, and the ninety-two kilometre canal section was constructed between 1794 and 1810. After the opening of the Great Western Railway in the late 19th century the canal gradually fell into disuse and was almost derelict in the early 20th century. However, in the latter half of the 1900s the canal was restored in stages, largely by volunteers. After decades of dereliction and much restoration work, it was fully reopened in 1990. The honours were performed by the Queen in acknowledgement of the importance of this restoration inspiring many others. Today the Kennet and Avon Canal has been developed as a popular heritage tourism destination for boating, canoeing, fishing, walking and cycling, and is also important for wildlife conservation.
Outward Bound’s founding mission was to improve the survival chances of young seamen after their ships were torpedoed in the mid-Atlantic. The first Outward Bound school was opened in Aberdyfi, Wales in 1941 by Kurt Hahn and Lawrence Holt with the support of the Blue Funnel Line – one of the UK’s larger ship owning and operating companies founded in 1866. It operated merchant ships for a hundred and twenty two years and had a significant role in the country’s overseas trade and in the First and Second World Wars.
The name Outward Bound derives from a nautical expression that refers to the moment a ship leaves the harbour. The Outward Bound motto is: “To Serve, To Strive and not To Yield.” Community service has been an integral part of the programme since the inception of Outward Bound, especially in the areas of sea and mountain rescues and this remains an important part of the training for both staff and students, who range in groups from teenagers through to adults.
Between 1941 and 1965 in the UK the philosophy of the school evolved from ‘character‐training’ to ‘personal growth’ and ‘self‐discovery’. An educational charity, named The Outward Bound Trust, was established in 1946 to operate the school and the first Outward Bound programme for females was conducted in 1951. Outward Bound schools opened throughout the world during the 1950s and 60s with Outward Bound New Zealand founded in 1962.